TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE EVIL CLERGYMAN (1988)

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THE EVIL CLERGYMAN (1988)

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In 1988 Charles Band was preparing a three story anthology film called Pulse Pounders. The film was shut down before post production was completed when Empire Pictures collapsed and the footage was thought lost. In 2011 a VHS work print of the film was discovered and while inferior to the original filmed footage, Band decided still to restore the three segments, one at a time. One segment was a sequel story to Empire’s Dungeonmaster, another was a sequel to their popular Trancers flick. The third segment was The Evil Clergyman which was based on an H.P. Lovecraft story and starred alumni from Band’s other H.P. Lovecraft based productions Re-Animator and From Beyond… *

The Evil Clergyman is a spooky segment with a bit of an erotic tinge. The story finds a young woman (Barbara Crampton) returning to the old rat-infested house where she had a tumultuous affair with a handsome priest (Jeffrey Combs), who recently killed himself. When entering the room where the two committed their passionate acts, she finds the priest alive…or so she thinks. She also finds herself in a nightmare, as her lover’s intentions for her were apparently far more sinister than just sinful and consorting with her wasn’t the only consorting he was doing.

Chilling segment is directed by Charles Band from a script by Dennis Paoli, based on Lovecraft’s story of the same name. It has atmosphere and there are some very creepy moments when things start to go wrong for our pretty heroine. Aside from Crampton’s Said Brady entering the castle-like home and confronting the landlord (Una Brandon-Jones), the rest of the segment takes place entirely in one spooky room. Band gives it some decent chills and there is a little fire in the sex scene between Crampton and Coombs. What limited make-up FX we see, such as David Gale’s rat demon and the wounds on David Warner’s spectral bishop, are well rendered by legendary FX man John Carl Buechler. It ends on an unsettling note and works well enough on it’s own and thus probably would have been very effective as part of the anthology, as originally intended.

The cast are all good. Barbara Crampton is sexy and very effective as the first elated, then terrified Said Brady. Coombs is spooky and sinister as the title clergyman, Jonathan. He and Crampton work well together as they have before and this wouldn’t be the last time, teaming again on Trancers II for Band and Castle Freak for Stuart Gordon in the 90s. The late David Gale is creepy as the rat demon with a human face and David Warner as well, as a ghostly bishop apparently murdered by Coombs’ priest. Last but not least, Una Brandon-Jones is solid as the judgmental and angry landlord. A good cast for what would have been a solid segment for this unfinished anthology flick.

Overall, this was a spooky little short film and it’s cool Full Moon restored it, so it can be seen. At some point it is said that they intend to put all three segments together as intended, but for now The Evil Clergyman is available for free streaming on Tubi and Full Moon’s own streaming channel. Trancers: City of Lost Angels can be seen on Amazon and Full Moon streaming, too. Dungeonmaster 2 seems to be the only segment left to be yet restored, but time will tell if that will emerge out of obscurity, too.

-MonsterZero NJ

*Sources: Wikipedia, IMDB and the segment’s own opening notice.

Rated 3 (out of 4) rats without human faces.

 

 

 

 

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Trailer for the Pulse Pounders anthology including The Evil Clergyman…

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DOLLS (1987)

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DOLLS (1987)

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Dolls is the third picture directed by Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon to be produced by Brian Yuzna for release by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. It tells the story of seven year-old Judy (Carrie Lorraine) who is on vacation in the English countryside with her father, David (Ian Patrick Williams) and her shrew of a step-mother, Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy Gordon). A storm strands them and three other people (Bunty Bailey, Cassie Stuart and Stephen Lee) at an old mansion inhabited by a charming old couple, Gabriel (Guy Rolfe who played Andre Toulon in Band’s Puppet Master series) and Hilary (Hilary Mason) Hartwicke. Gabriel is a toy maker and the house is filled with old dolls he’s made. At night Judy thinks she sees one of the young women dragged off by “little people”. Her parents don’t believe her, but kind-hearted Ralph (Lee) does and the two soon find out, to their horror, that the Hartwicke’s dolls are frighteningly alive and quite homicidal when you piss them off.

Written by Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk The Kids) and directed by Gordon, this is an amusing 80s horror flick, though a step down from Re-Animator and The Beyond. What makes the film a little uneven is that Gordon can’t seem to decide whether he wants to make it a dark fairytale or an outright horror film. There are some very violent moments with some graphic gore, then there are sequences that are more darkly whimsical. It’s not totally off-putting, but doesn’t help the overall film that there are tonal shifts. Sometimes it seems this is a spooky tale for kids in the spirit of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, that would premiere five years later, but then there are some very vicious and violent moments. The Hartwicke’s seem like well-meaning folk with some strange powers, yet their dolls do commit some very nasty and cruel acts. So, are these dolls to be viewed as good, as they only harm those with ill-intent, or are they something we should be afraid of, as they can be very violent. It makes things a bit uneven and when we get an explanation, we’re still not sure the kindly old couple are to be completely trusted. There are some spooky moments and the gore and prosthetics are well done, as is some stop-motion animation from the late, great David Allen. It’s an OK horror thriller that could have been something better had it picked a tone and stuck with it. In it’s favor, the 80s nostalgia does help a lot when viewed today.

Little Carrie Lorraine stands out cast-wise. She’s a cute kid and she gives Judy a sense of wonder and she is also very courageous when forced by her jerk of a dad to investigate the mansion’s creepy goings-on with Ralph. The rest of the cast are a bit bland. Stephen Lee is OK as Ralph and gives him sort of a big kid quality. Williams and Gordon are fairly stiff and unlikable as Judy’s selfish father and his bitch of a new wife…though they’re supposed to be unlikable. Rolfe and Mason are adequate as the charming yet slightly spooky old couple and Bailey and Stuart are stereotypical teen delinquents. Aside from Lorraine and some of John Carl Buechler and David Allen’s doll creations, no one else in the cast really stands out to make an impression.

Overall, this is an OK and somewhat amusing horror flick that can’t really decide what it want’s to be. Is it a dark fantasy or outright horror?…that depends on which sequence we’re watching. Gordon does create some spooky scenes and there is some atmosphere, but the tonal indecision doesn’t help keep any steady tension. Aside from our young lead, the cast aren’t overly impressive, though the FX in the portrayal of the dolls and the havoc they create, is pretty decent for a low budget 80s flick. It’s a decent night’s watch from a filmmaker that sadly never hit the same stride he accomplished with Re-Animator, which even today still remains his best flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Mr. Punch’s.

dolls rating

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: PRISON (1988)

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PRISON (1988)

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This late 80s film is one of Empire Pictures’ better titles and the first foray into horror for prolific director Renny Harlin, who would make one of the best Elm St. sequels The Dream Master later that year.

Prison tells the story of the re-opening of the abandoned Creedmore Prison due to the lack of state funds to build a new incarceration facility. Warden Sharpe (Lane Smith) is set to take back control of his former prison with a slew of new inmates, including quiet loner Burke (Viggo Mortensen). No sooner is the prison inhabited, then strange things start to occur and inmates and officers alike start to die horrible deaths. Is someone in the prison a psychotic murderer…more-so than usual…or is there some truth to the growing rumor that an inmate executed over three decades earlier, Charlie Forsythe (also Mortensen), is haunting the prison and back to avenge his wrongful death.

Prison is a solid horror as directed by Harlin from a script by Irwin Yablans and C. Courtney Joyner. It is also a routine one and kinda forgettable despite some nice atmosphere and very effective moments. Maybe because it’s basically just a haunted house movie reset in a prison and with some very gory deaths added, that it doesn’t really stick with you after it’s over. Harlin does a good job. There is tension and some nice horror set-pieces, as well as, a nice purveying feeling of dread. As usual with his films, it looks good production design-wise and Mac Ahlberg’s cinematography is crisp. The FX work is very effective and there are some unsettling and imaginatively gory deaths. The drawback is that basically when you strip away the setting, it is indeed your basic haunted house flick with a vengeful spirit back to reveal truths and punish those responsible for their unwarranted death. We have seen it before and the prison setting and competent direction doesn’t hide it. I enjoyed it when I saw it in a theater back in 1988, but the film never stuck with me and it was only recently, that I felt the urge to check it out again. It had the same effect. It was solid horror entertainment while it was on, but it doesn’t last after the film ends.

The cast is efficient and effective. Mortensen does the quiet loner thing very well, as does Smith make a serviceable bad guy with something to hide. Chelsea Field is a state official trying to fight corruption and over-crowding within the prison system and makes a solid heroine. She and Mortensen work well together when she tries to investigate the mysterious deaths. Lincoln Kilpatrick is solid as Creesus, an inmate who was imprisoned there before and knows far more about Forsythe’s execution than he lets on. We also get Tom “Tiny” Lister as an inmate and fan favorite Kane Hodder as Forsythe’s manifested spirit under full make-up. It was Hodder’s work with make-up man John Carl Buechler on this flick, that got him the role of Camp Crystal Lake’s most famous resident when Buechler directed Friday The 13th Part VII.

All in all, this is an effective and entertaining horror. It’s well made, but due to the overall familiarity, it’s not a film that really sticks with you. It’s a sad case of a good flick that just lacks the key elements to really make it memorable. It’s too routine and too familiar to warrant much thought after it’s done. Definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it, but nothing you haven’t seen before despite a good effort by all involved.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 electric chairs.

prison rating

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ENEMY TERRITORY (1987)

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ENEMY TERRITORY (1987)

Enemy Territory is an obscure and currently unavailable 1987 urban action exploitation flick from Charles Band’s defunct Empire Pictures that I was fortunate enough to have seen at the Hyway Theater in Fair Lawn N.J. during it’s release in the late 80s. It was unusual for Band to produce a straight action film without killer dolls, robots or creatures and it’s controversial storyline of a white insurance agent being trapped in an inner city tenement and pursued by a black youth gang, may be one reason the film appears to remain out of print. But it is an exploitation film and it is the nature of the beast with such flicks to present controversial or taboo subjects in an entertainment format and Enemy Territory is no different. I had an opportunity to revisit it, recently and see if it was still the entertaining B-Movie I remembered it to be. It is.

The film takes place in NYC and tells the story of down on his luck insurance agent Barry Rapchick (Gary Frank) who is desperate for cash and goes into the crime-ridden ghetto neighborhood of Lincoln Towers at dusk to get a policy signed that will net him a big commission. But a run-in with a young member of the Vampires gang, a gang that rules the night in Lincoln Towers, leaves the youth (Teddy Abner) and a security guard (Tiger Haynes) dead. This makes Barry a marked man and a man hunted through the embattled tenement by the vicious gang and it’s psychotic leader (Tony Todd) who torment and kill anyone who gets in the way of them catching their prey. Befriended by sympathetic phone repairman and army veteran Will (Ray Parker Jr.) and some good natured tenants, Barry might have a chance to survive. But the Vampires are many and Barry’s allies are few and it’a a long way down to the ground floor and a longer way till dawn when the police would even dare enter the notorious neighborhood.

Low budget thriller is directed by Band regular Peter Manoogian, from a script by Stuart M. Kaminsky and Bobby Liddell and is an entertaining and suspenseful B-Movie, that manages to make good use of the isolated and claustrophobic setting of it’s inner city tenement building location. Manoogian overcomes some cheesy dialog to create some nice atmosphere and tension and give us some effective low budget action scenes to punctuate all the hiding and running around. And the film can be very violent and bloody at times as a result of that action. There are certainly some characters (the gang) that were stereotypical of movies of this era, but there are also some down to earth and very human characters (the tenants) to balance it out. The performances from the principles are better then you might expect in such a low budget flick with Gary Frank being effective as the ‘humbled’ white yuppie, Barry and singer Parker, giving us a noble working class man who believes in doing the right thing, as Will. Frances Foster is solid as Elva, Barry’s client, a good Christian woman who becomes one of his allies against the brutal gang members. Fan favorite Tony Todd is appropriately over-the-top as the psychotic gang leader, “The Count” as is Jan-Michael Vincent as Parker, a well-armed but paranoid and bigoted, wheelchair-bound Viet Nam vet, who lives in a fortified apartment in the tenement building and gets drawn into the conflict. Rounding out is sweet but street-tough Toni, played well by Clueless’ Stacey Dash in her first film. On a technical side, the film uses a lot of location shooting, so it looks solid on a meager budget and the cinematography is by future Spike Lee DOP and established director in his own right, Ernest R. Dickerson.

I can see how in today’s easily offended and overly-sensitive times where a lot of this flick’s racial content could make distributors wary of releasing it. I have yet to find definitive proof that the film’s blunt portrayal of racial issues, stereotypes and prejudices is the reason it languishes unreleased on DVD or Blu-Ray, but I do feel it’s a good guess. I don’t get the impression the film was trying to be crass in it’s portrayal of a white man caught in the middle of inner city violence. And despite being an exploitation flick, it never seems to make light of gang violence and though presented in an action film content, I don’t think there is any intent to make light of the negative aspects of inner city life or the unfortunate prejudices between the races, either. As I stated earlier, for every stereotype, there is a more down to earth character to demonstrate that the stereotypes do not represent the community as a whole. Remember, it would be a few years yet before filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton would present to audiences a far more serious look at life in our country’s ghettos for minorities and raise awareness and sensitivity toward the subject. This is an 80s flick and it has a heavy 70s vibe. Even if Enemy Territory‘s grim depiction of urban life is a bit more comicbook-ish, it still has some resonance beyond the over the top gang characters and gunfire. Overall, it is made to entertain and is far from a message film, but in my opinion, if you watch the film objectively, it does ultimately show that there is good and bad in everyone and prejudices are based on exceptions and not the rules, even if the flick’s first concern is telling an entertaining action story…and as low budget action flicks go, Enemy Territory is actually pretty good, if viewed simply as the action/exploitation flick it’s meant to be.

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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