TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE SOLDIER (1982)

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THE SOLDIER (1982)

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James Glickenhaus’s follow-up to The Exterminator finds a special black ops operative code-named “The Soldier” (Ken Wahl) called into duty when rogue KGB plant a nuclear weapon in a Saudi oil field. Their objective is to force Israel off the West Bank, or they will destroy half the world’s oil supply. Aided by an Israeli agent (Alberta Watson), The Soldier’s objective is to stop them at any cost.

James Glickenhaus writes and directs what basically is a grind-house version of a James Bond movie. As such, we just wish it was a bit better, even if it does try hard. There is plenty of action, but Glickenhaus hasn’t completely honed his craft yet and there are some moments of sloppy filmmaking that hold it back. Where Bond has style and class, this film has graphic violence and the subtly of a sledge hammer. That would be fine if it didn’t get more and more ludicrous as it goes along, yet is taken a bit too serious to have a fun time with it. It’s also disappointing that it’s climax is almost action-less and The Soldier himself is barely involved with the proceedings, while his team takes desperate…and ridiculously far-fetched…measures. As for the globe trotting locations, they are used so poorly the whole thing could have been filmed here in the US and no one would have noticed the difference. There is still some amusement, like a ski chase that begs the question, if you all had guns why didn’t you pull them out to begin with and a U.S. President (William Prince) who seems a little too trigger happy to go to war with our Israeli allies. There is also a cool soundtrack by 80s soundtrack specialists Tangerine Dream and a brief appearance by Klaus Kinski as a double crossing agent. As for Wahl, he tries hard but just doesn’t have the charisma for a big screen leading man…not that any of the other cast members should win any awards, for their work, either. A sad disappointment as this could have been a lot of fun had Glickenhaus just went with the absurdity of it all.

Overall, while a grind-house James Bond flick sounds like a blast, Glickenhaus drops the ball with a ludicrous script taken way too seriously. He also has a few sloppy moments, probably by trying to accomplish too much on a small budget and it’s climax is more silly than spectacular. Despite some globe trotting locations, they are used so poorly the whole thing could have been film here in the US and no one would have noticed the difference. Glickenhaus would make up for it with his underrated Shakedown six years later.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 bullets.

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983)

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THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983)

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The Deadly Spawn is an 80s low budget Sci-fi/horror with it’s heart firmly planted in the 50s. The story opens with two campers in the woods seeing a meteorite crash-land nearby a la The Blob. They go to investigate, but are soon attacked and killed by the meteorite’s passenger. This venus flytrap on steroids crawls into the basement of a nearby house and not only begins to snack on the house occupants, but grows and multiplies, it’s spawn spreading out into the neighborhood, during a fierce rain storm. The house survivors desperately try to find a way to fend off the alien creatures, while the rest of the neighborhood is slowly being added to the menu.

It’s difficult to be too hard on a film that is basically an ambitious home movie. The flick was made in my home state of New Jersey for just $25,000, which was dirt cheap even in the early 80s and has developed a cult following. The film is a strictly bargain basement but fun movie written and directed by Douglas McKeown from a story by he and Special FX man John Dods and producer Ted A. Bohus. There is a lot of heart here, but it is still very amateurish on a production level. The film is directed rather by-the-numbers by McKeown and there are some scenes that are obvious filler and seem to go on and on and not accomplish much. A lot of the sequences are also clumsily staged, especially the laughable neighborhood clean-up in the last act where people are obviously just wandering around without much purpose or direction. What makes this work is some impressive monster and gore effects done with far more ingenuity than cash and while the budget doesn’t afford us too much monster on the loose stuff, what it does gives us is rubbery and bloody fun. There is plentiful gore and while the acting is wooden across the board and the dialog downright terrible at times, there is still fun from watching the effort by cast and crew to give us a 50s monster flick 80s style. There is a very 80s electronic score by Michael Perilstein to add nostalgia and atmosphere and the film looks pretty good for such a low budget shoot under Harvey M. Birnbaum’s cinematography. A cheesy labor of love from a group of Jersey monster movie fans that may be strictly amateur, but has a lot of heart and some delightfully rubbery critters to go along with it’s cliché characters and table top miniatures.

This is an ultra low budget flick that looks and feels it, too. The makers did have a love for what they were doing and obviously, for the films that inspired them and that makes up for a good deal of the cheesy, low budget badness the film carries. Sure the dialog is terrible, the acting awful and the directing very-by-the-numbers, but it has charm and is a noble effort with some entertainingly rubber monsters and surprisingly effective gore. A cult favorite flick that deserves it status and shows what you can accomplish with very little when you put your heart into it.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) spawns.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: AVENGING ANGEL (1985)

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AVENGING ANGEL (1985)

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Sequel to New World’s exploitation hit Angel was rushed into production and released just under a year from the 1984 original…and it shows. The story has Molly/Angel (now Betsy Russell) off the streets and in college for four years, thanks to Lt. Andrews (now Robert F. Lyons). When Andrews is gunned down by a group of mobsters, Molly returns to the streets as Angel to track down his killers. Helping her are her old street ‘family’ Kit (Rory Calhoun), Solly (Susan Tyrrell), Yo-Yo (Steven M. Porter) and witness Johnny Glitter (Barry Pearl).

While the creative team of writer/director Robert Vincent O’Neill and co-writer Joseph Michael Cala return, lead actress Donna Wilkes and actor Cliff Gorman did not and it hurts the continuity of the flick. Add to that a new cinematographer, Peter Lyons Collister, giving it a different look and new composer, Christopher Young giving it a new score and you get a film that barely registers as a sequel if not for Calhoun, Tyyell and Porter to give it a familiarity with the first flick. That aside, the exploitation elements are really watered down and it feels like a TV movie. O’Neill gives it none of the style and fun trashiness of the original and the story is very uninspired. There seems to be an effort to clean it up for more mainstream consumption to the point of a baby being added to the proceedings, which is completely unnecessary. It’s got none of the energy the first flick had either, nor the atmosphere of the streets that the first flick used so well. The acting is very wooden, except for the delightfully energetic Calhoun and Tyrrell and despite being quite a fox, we don’t endear to Russell’s Angel as we did with the sympathetic teen street walker of Wilkes’s incarnation. It feels like a totally different film and a totally different kind of film, as it tries to be more action flick than exploitation movie…and being an exploitation movie was part of what made the first film work. A high school hooker being hunted by a serial killer is sleazy fun, some college girl avenging a friend’s death in fishnets and a miniskirt, not so much.

I actually saw this chapter in a theater and it was very disappointing. The original Angel nailed the exploitation tone perfectly for a story about a high school student turning tricks as a Hollywood hooker and this film tries to downplay it’s sleazy roots and go for a more mainstream low budget action flick and fails. None of the style or trashiness that made the first flick so enjoyable is there and one wonders if writer/director O’Neill wanted to do this movie at all and was just accepting a paycheck. If not for a few supporting characters being present and acted by their original performers, this would not feel like a sequel to the 1984 hit. When you throw in the baby and a lot of broad humor, it almost isn’t. Despite under-performing at the box office, there were two more sequels with two more actresses as Angel. Avenging Angel also stars Escape From New York’s Frank Doubleday as a mobster’s arrogant son.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 hot, but yet, not Angels.

avenging angel rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)

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SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)

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British/American co-production is a routine and silly slasher flick that for some reason needed three writers and three directors (Mark Ezra, George Dugdale, Peter Litten) to churn out a reasonably forgettable horror with a very generic plot.

Flick has a gang of popular high schoolers led by Carol (British babe Caroline Munro) playing not one but two mean spirited pranks on awkward chemistry nerd Marty (Simon Scuddamore). The second leaves him horribly scarred and institutionalized. Ten years later the same gang is invited to a high school reunion, only to arrive and find their former school empty and abandoned. They investigate anyway and find it indeed set up for a celebration. The reunion may actually be a trap, though, as only the members of this clique were invited to this shindig. Now someone has locked them in on the eve of April Fool’s Day and is stalking and killing the popular crowd in cruel and bloody ways. Has Marty returned for revenge after all these years…or has someone else got a grudge against those who ruled the school back in the day?

This is a very boring and routine slasher that offers nothing new to the genre. It was filmed in England and cast with English actors, while trying to pass itself off as American. Epic Fail. The actors barely hide their accents, one doesn’t try to at all and the location has a very European look to it. The film is very jokey and silly for the most part but, then suddenly expects us to take it seriously when the murders start and the hunting down of the survivors begins by our jester-masked killer. It’s shocking this bland and style-less slasher took three people to script and direct, when it barely gives the impression that there was even one creative mind on-set. The accents aside, the acting is bad and most of the cast look like they’re pushing forty much less their late twenties. Munro was 36 at the time. There is some decent gore but, the killings are preposterous and would take a lot of work and money to set up the elaborate demises such as pumping acid into just the right plumbing and someone drinking just the right beer. There is a lot of convenient actions by our victims to ensure they are in the right place and time to meet their ends, too. Even in a silly flick like this, it’s just too hard to swallow. When the film tries to be a bit clever in it’s final scenes, it even blows that, too. Aside from a score by Friday The 13th composer Henry Manfredini, there is little to recommend here.

Quite obviously, I found little to like about this film even with buxom bird Caroline Munro as it’s lead. The story is routine and uninspired, it has a jokey tone to it and the British actors are wooden and doing a poor job of trying to pass themselves off as Yanks. There is some good gore but, most of the kills are a bit far-fetched and hard to believe that circumstances worked out so perfectly for them to occur. Characters seem to walk into their demises…as if scripted…and it took three people to write that unimaginative script. Definitely one of the lesser and forgettable 80s slashers. Not even the nostalgia factor could boost this one.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1/2 jester killers.

slaughterhigh rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FEAR NO EVIL (1981)

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FEAR NO EVIL (1981)

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This 80s religious based horror is an absolutely terrible movie from future The Lady In White writer/director Frank LaLoggia. It literally takes the on-going battle between Lucifer (Stefan Arngrim) and three Archangels, Mikhail (Elizabeth Hoffman), Rafael (Frank Birney) and Gabrielle (Kathleen Rowe McAllen) and places it in a small town high school setting. The film has The Devil incarnate as an odd high school student named Andrew (Arngrim) who allows himself to be teased at school yet, demonically torments his parents at home. He is pursued by archangels in the form of a priest (Birney), a local woman (Hoffman) and a pretty fellow student (McAllen) that leads to a castle set confrontation between good and evil with a small town, a Passion Play production and a host of zombies, caught in the middle.

I’m not a fan of LaLoggia as a filmmaker but, at least The Lady In White had some positive qualities. This flick is a dull, schizophrenic mess that is both laughable and tragic. While I can appreciate the risk of taking a biblical battle of good and evil, literally involving Lucifer and The Archangels, and setting in a small town high school, this just comes off as a ridiculous mess. LaLoggia throws in everything but, the kitchen sink when some subtlety would have work much better. We get zombies, homosexual overtones that don’t seem to have a point…other than to shock, as it was the early 80s…and a laughable demonic assault on a production of The Passion Play. The final showdown resembles a cheesy 80s heavy metal video as Arngrim goes from creepy school kid to androgens rock star, when Lucifer finally battles Gabrielle in her cute, girl-next-door guise. Add in some truly cheesy special visual FX and some only moderate effective make-up and gore and you have a mess that is barely coherent and overly bombastic. Yes, in a way there is some entertainment to how blatantly awful it is but, ultimately it’s a waste of your time. Too bad, the story at least has an audacious, ambition to it but, it is just carried out in the worst possible way on pretty much every level.

So, while I let a lot slide with some films as long as they entertain…especially 80s flicks…this one is just too much of a ridiculous and misguided mess to enjoy. While I do feel the basic idea was a bit daring, the execution and result is too bad to even laugh at…OK, I did chuckle a little. It’s an incompetent and sometimes ludicrous attempt to combine a high school horror with a battle between good and evil straight out of the pages of The Bible. Maybe a more gifted filmmaker could have pulled it off but, LaLoggia loses control from the first frames and never gets it back. Awful.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 androgynous, 80s rock star-ish incarnation of evil.

Fear No Evil rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ANGEL (1984)

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ANGEL (1984)

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Angel is a fun exploitation flick that is not only very 80s, but the first movie released by New World Pictures after being sold by Roger Corman…and it was their first hit, grossing almost six times it’s original cost back.

The film tells the story of 15 year old Molly Stewart (Donna Wilkes), a scholarly prep school student who supports herself, after being abandoned by her mother and years earlier by her father, turning tricks on the Hollywood strip. Hooking under the name Angel, Molly is working at a dangerous time. There is a serial killer (John Diehl) on the loose targeting the ladies of the night and more than one of Angel’s friends have been slaughtered. Worse still, is that Angel has seen his face and is now a target herself. Will Angel be just another victim or will the resourceful teen turn the hunter into the hunted?

Flick is directed by Robert Vincent O’Neill, who co-wrote with Joseph Michael Cala and despite being an exploitation flick through and through, O’Neil manages to give it some heart. He surrounds Angel with an eccentric group of colorful friends, such as former cowboy star Kit (Rory Calhoun), foul mouthed dyke Solly (Susan Tyrell) and transvestite Mae (Dick Shawn). There is actually a bit of a sweet element to the story, underneath the blood and boobs, as Molly yearns for the day she can get off the street and the sympathetic cop (Cliff Gorman) who would like to see her succeed. Sure the story is cliché and we know the moment it begins, her life as a hooker with a heart of gold will be discovered at school, but O’Neil does have fun with his story without ever making fun of it. He also does provide some suspense and generates some sympathy for the killer’s hooker victims. This because the street people are portrayed as human beings who are a community among themselves and it is only a somewhat bland killer that fails the film a bit. That and his unintentionally funny…or maybe it was intentional?…choice of disguising himself as a Hare Krishna, when on the lam from the cops and on the hunt for Angel. Otherwise the film achieves what it sets out to do in grand exploitation style.

The cast won’t get any awards, but fill their parts well. Cutie Donna Wilkes was 24 when hired to play the 15 year old Molly and she’s fine. She gives us a sweet but very tough young girl who refuses to be a victim. She could have had a bit more range, but for a B-Movie like this, she’s more than adequate. Same can be said of Gorman’s tough cop. His character is a bit of a bland cliché, but works in the context of the film. Again, the silent killer (he only speaks once) played by Diehl is a bit bland, but is creepy enough to make it work. The supporting characters really shine as Calhoun, Tyrell and Shawn all add some life to the proceedings with their eccentric portrayals of some of the lost souls of the Hollywood Strip. They also do well in creating a foster family for Angel and they look out for her and their affection for each other seems genuine. Also worth mentioning is Donna McDaniel who gives her hooker Crystal a very likable personality in her brief screen time.

This is not Shakespeare, but it is fun. It’s an exploitation flick and knows it and never apologizes for it. It gives it’s cliché story a bit of a heart and treats the story with respect even if it is a B-Movie about a teenage hooker and a serial killer. It’s not a great flick by any stretch, but it is entertaining for what it is and gives us some surprisingly sympathetic and likable characters. Add a lot of fun 80s nostalgia and you have a perfectly suitable Saturday Night flick on the couch with some of your favorite poisons. Box office gross of Angel generated 3 sequels, none of which equaled it’s success.

MonsterZero NJ extra trivia: Cinematographer on this flick was Andrew Davis who went on to direct Chuck Norris in Code Of Silence, Steven Seagal in Under Siege and Harrison Ford in The Fugitive!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Angels.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: LADY IN WHITE (1988)

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LADY IN WHITE (1988)

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I have to admit I only just saw this for the first time a short while ago. One of those flicks that slipped between the cracks. I’ve watched it twice now and, to be honest, can’t say that it really worked for me. Film, based on a real legend from Rochester N.Y., is considered a bit of a classic and tells the story of young Frankie Scarletti (Lukas Haas) who sees the ghost of a murdered girl and is almost himself killed by the man responsible. Now the spirits of the girl and her mourning mother, known as The Lady In White, won’t let Frankie rest till he solves the mystery of who done it…a mystery that could add him to the list of the fiend’s young victims.

Biggest problem for me is that the tone of the film is all over the place. One minute it’s a whimsical Spielberg-ish comedy such as in the opening scenes, the next minute a supernatural thriller in a Disney vein complete with floating, glowing specters and the next, a serious drama dealing with racism and the murder of little kids. It goes back and forth and writer/director Frank LaLoggia never settles on exactly what film he is trying to make. And when it comes to it’s more whimsical moments, the whimsy often slips into outright silly. LaLoggia does have a sumptuous visual eye and the film looks great, especially during the fairy tale-like supernatural scenes but, those scenes and the slapstick humor don’t gel with the more serious issues such as the murder of young children and the accusing of the wrong man solely because he is black. LaLoggia’s scene staging is also a bit clumsy and his work with actors isn’t much better as most of the performances across the board are wooden and even from veteran actors like Len Cariou and Alex Rocco, though Haas does good work for a kid his age. The fact that Frankie’s family is filled with cartoonish Italian stereotypes also weakens any potency the film tries to build…especially when it tries to make statements about racism and prejudice…and the dialog all-around is weak at times. Not to mention that we the audience have solved the who-dunnit long before the last act reveal. Overall, the film comes across as very corny, silly and a bit bombastic at times, which overpowers some of the simple charm it develops in quieter moments. The FX are also pretty cheesy by today’s standards and it’s hard to be chilled by what they represent. On the plus side, there is an atmospheric score by LaLoggia himself and Russell Carpenter provided the beautiful cinematography which really shines when the film delves into it’s more fantastic elements.

So, I can’t really say I like the film, because I really didn’t. There are some nice fantasy sequences and the visuals are sumptuous but, the tone is uneven and LaLoggia isn’t really a good director when it comes to getting performances out of the actors and staging scenes. He doesn’t seem to know what kind of film he really wants to make and never decides on a tone to properly set his tale. He also is overindulgent when subtle was working just fine. The film has some nice moments but, is too scatterbrained to be completely effective. Overall, it’s a bit of a silly film that has serious aspirations that just don’t blend with the more whimsical and fantastic elements. At least it is far better than his Fear No Evil, which is absolutely awful.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 ladies in white.

lady in white rating

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: NEON MANIACS (1986)

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NEON MANIACS (1986)

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Not exactly sure what Neon Maniacs are, though, as a variety of mutant creatures that stalk about in costumes, they seem like a horror version of the Village People. There’s a cop, samurai, caveman, biker and even a Native American mixed in with some harder to identify monsters. We are also never given much of an origin or explanation to their appearance/existence, aside from some vague opening narration. All this silly and virtually plotless film tells us is that they live inside the Golden Gate bridge and leave a trail of green slime wherever they go…and can easily be killed by simple water. Which begs the question as why they live under a bridge, much less in a costal city. Flick has them appearing out of nowhere and killing a group of high school partiers with only pretty Natalie (Leilani Sarelle) escaping with her life. The rest of the film has the creatures hunting her down with a climactic…actually, anti-climactic…showdown during a school band competition…and then it just ends. Yup, that’s it.

Film directed by Joseph Mangine and written by Mark Patrick Carducci (Pumpkinhead) has no real beginning, end or even story. We never get much of an explanation as to where these freaks come from or why they choose Natalie and her friends as their first victims. The fact that it’s established early on that they can be killed with water, only weakens what little threat factor they have. And as for personality, it seems the filmmakers felt dressing them up in costumes was enough and we get no real threat development or character depth. They just appear and kill randomly while trying to track down sole survivor Natalie. It’s pretty boring and slow moving for a 90 minute flick and the kills are few and far between after the opening scene. The make-up FX are adequate but, there is very little gore to even be of interest on that level. To be honest, aside from the amusing title and lead Leilani Sarelle being filmed wearing a bathing suit quite often, there really is little point to this flick at all. There is some nice 80s nostalgia and loads of references to other movies but, that is enjoyable due to the passing of time and not any effort by the filmmakers at making something memorable.

There really is little to recommend about this odd flick except for it being hopelessly 80s. It’s not scary, it’s not funny and it has barely what could be called a story. The title is never explained nor are the title creatures given any origin, purpose or personality. What little threat these mutants have is totally eliminated by the lame plot device of having them easily dispatched with simple water. Definitely for 80s horror completests only! At least Leilani Sarelle had a large part in Basic Instinct to overshadow this on her resume, as did writer Carducci with the classic Pumpkinhead he wrote two years later.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1/2 neon maniacs.

neon maniacs rating

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE STRANGENESS (1985)

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THE STRANGENESS (1985)

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You know when the only thing really recommendable about a film is it’s cheesy stop-motion animated monster, that looks like a green penis with a vagina on it’s tip, you’ve got trouble. In a plot reminiscent of the 1981 The Boogens, a group of people are going into an abandoned mine to determine if it should be re-opened again. The mine was initially closed for decades because of a number of disappearances and deaths and the local Native Americans also say there is a creature there who is not happy about the intrusion of the white man on sacred land. If that is not a recipe for a cheesy horror movie, I don’t know what is, so…add a group of explorers/victims and off we go!

Despite a premise ripe for cheesy entertainment, this flick is very slow moving and dull with very little actual monster action. It was directed, co-produced and co-written by Melanie Anne Phillips under the male pseudonym of David Michael Hillman and she directs with a very leaden hand. The pace is lethargic and the actors either perform with a complete deadpan delivery or over-the-top yelling and eye-rolling. Very little middle ground performance-wise. If the dialog by Phillips and co-writer/co-producer Chris Huntley wasn’t so dreadfully awful, we might actually enjoy their bad thesbian-ship. The actors are all unknowns and it appears they stayed that way and for good reason. On a technical side, the production looks cheap though, a lot was shot on dark mine sets, so they get away with it. There is some limited and phony looking gore as our creature seems to coat it’s victims in some sort of corrosive liquid and the stop-motion animation of the sex organ-looking critter is decent at best. Being a sucker for old fashioned stop-motion animation though, I still thought it was kinda cool. The film does have a very 80s electronic score, too. Some of it is lawsuit-worthy close to segments of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York score.

Overall, there isn’t too much to recommend about this flick other than a curiosity watch. I’ve never even heard of it till recently and it looks like exactly what it appears to be, a horror flick put together by people who wanted to be filmmakers. And while I always champion the amateur filmmaker, it doesn’t seem like a big surprise that they went on to other things. A curiosity and a rarity, but don’t expect much unless animated monsters resembling human genitalia is your bag, baby!

-MonsterZero NJ

2 cheesy stop-motion hybrid penis/vagina creatures.

strangeness rating

Couldn’t find a trailer but, how about the whole movie!…

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