HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANGUS SCRIMM!

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Today marks the birthday of horror film legend Angus Scrimm! Renown to fans worldwide as Phantasm‘s Tall Man, he has terrified and delighted us with his legendary performances as one of horror’s greatest icons for over three decades with a 5th Phantasm film on the way!

MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse celebrates the legacy of Angus Scrimm and his contribution to horror and fantasy cinema on this, his birthday!

For a review of the coinciding Angus Scrimm film, just click on the poster

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-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: NOT OF THIS EARTH (1988)

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NOT OF THIS EARTH (1988)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Roger Corman production is most famous for being the first mainstream movie to star notorious underaged porn star Traci Lords after her scandal broke in 1986. It was also made on a dare as director Jim Wynorski (The Lost Empire, Return Of Swamp Thing) bet Corman he could remake his 1957 original with the same budget and on the same shooting schedule. The result follows the original’s plot with nurse Nadine Story (Lords) as she is asked to be a live-in caretaker for the mysterious and apparently fatally ill Mr. Johnson (Arthur Roberts). Little does the sexy angel of mercy know that Johnson is an alien visitor whose planet is dying and needs the blood of the human race to survive.

Flick is a goofy but fun exploitation flick that is purely tongue in cheek and never tries to be anything more than it is. Wynorski rolls out the jokes and boobs, especially that of his star, who is paraded around in a sexy nurses outfit, bikini or less. It’s pure junk food but it does amuse and what do you expect from a remake of a cult classic made on a dare? There is a lot of stock footage from earlier Corman flicks, including an entire sequence lifted right out of Humanoids From The Deep with a re-filmed climax that uses a completely different actress. Low Budget filmmaking at it’s finest! And what makes this work as well as it does, as with laughably cheesy dialogue and over-the-top performances, is that you can tell the cast and director were just having a good time. It does spread to the audience and it is entertaining in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way. Production wise it looks cheaply made and makes no effort to hide it and has a great 80s electronic score from frequent Wynorski composer Chuck Cirino.

Lords was looking to go straight after being outed as an underaged adult video performer and costing the industry millions as all but one of her films had to be destroyed. Typical of the crafty Wynorski and Corman, they took advantage of her notoriety and actually got her a start in what has turned out to be a prolific mainstream film and television career. She’s not bad in this and one of the few cast members to play it straight and she makes a good heroine despite the nonsense going on around her. Arthur Roberts also plays it straight as the alien Mr. Johnson who is like Mr. Spock meets Count Dracula. In support Ace Mask as Dr. Rochelle, Lenny Juliano as small time hood turned chauffeur, Jeremy and Rodger Lodge as Nadine’s cop boyfriend, all ham it up with an appearance by 80s icon Kelli Maroney in a small role as Nurse Oxford. A cast obviously having a good time.

I like Wynorski’s flicks, this one included. Sure, on one hand they are silly junk, but they have their heart in the right place and are unapologetic when it comes to what they are and what their intent is. Not Of This Earth is a goofy flick made on a bet and simply to be enjoyed with a six pack on the couch…and that’s just fine with me.

MonsterZero NJ Personal Nostalgia: In 1986 I was working in a Palmer Video when my boss frantically came in one morning and ordered us to remove all of Traci Lords’ films from the adult video room stock. He told us why and of course we went through the stock and did as he asked. I remember all that day we kept getting people calling and coming in asking if we had any of her movies to rent. Sadly, we had to disappoint them. Another fond memory of my days in the long gone era of the video rental store.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 transfusions of audacious silliness.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE LOST EMPIRE (1983)

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THE LOST EMPIRE (1983)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

The Lost Empire is a fun B-movie exploitation flick from writer/director Jim Wynorski (The Return Of Swamp Thing, Chopping Mall), who made a career churning out comic book-style cheese like this. In his first film, Wynorski spins a James Bond-esque yarn with hot girls and evil bad guys, with some supernatural elements as well. An attempted robbery in a Chinatown antique store brings hot inspector Angel Wolfe (Melanie Vincz) on the case. As her policeman brother Rob (Phantasm’s Bill Thornbury) was mortally wounded during the incident, this one is personal. The trail leads to the mysterious and powerful jewels, The Eyes Of Avatar and to the island fortress of Golgatha where cult leader Sin Do (the legendary Angus Scrimm) is building an army. Wolfe needs to infiltrate the island and find out why Sin Do wants the Eyes Of Avatar so badly. She brings Native America warrior Whitestar (Raven De La Croix) and ex-con Heather McClure (Angela Aames) along with her, to even up the odds. Once there, the three women must somehow stop the mystical Sin Do’s diabolical plan and get off his island fortress alive.

Obviously, this flick is not to be taken seriously for one minute and Wynorski knows this and flaunts it. He has a fun time with his 007 style plot with it’s island fortress and megalomaniacal villain and instead of a dapper British agent, throws in three gorgeous stripper types instead. He fills the island with beautiful women and evil henchman…all seemingly played by movie bad guy Robert Tessier…and gives us a delightfully over the top villain from Scrimm. The sets are 70s TV show cheesy, as are Ernest D. Farino’s SPFX and Steve Neil’s make-up, but it’s all in good fun, so who cares? The acting by our three babes is fairly wooden, but they give it their all and the delivery of the cheesy dialogue…Raven De La Croix’s constant Native American puns are hysterically awful…makes one giggle in spite of one’s self. Wynorski takes any opportunity to show some skin from some of our female players, but evens things up by having his hotties kick some bad guy ass as often as they shed their clothes. It’s all in exploitation movie fun and and even comes wrapped in a very 80s electronic score by frequent John Carpenter collaborator Alan Howarth. It’s a B-movie good time and a good example of exploitation cinema at it’s most fun.

This is an entertaining, goofy B-movie that makes no apologies for it and revels in it. It has a silly sci-fi/spy movie plot that is a flimsy excuse to get it’s three beautiful leading ladies into flimsier outfits and less. It’s got low budget action, cheesy SPFX , over-the-top villains and a horde of hardbody hotties and just simply has a lot of fun with it all. Very 80s and sadly the type of movie they don’t make anymore.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Actor Blackie Dammett who stars as the evil Prager is the father of Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 butt kicking, clothes shedding hotties.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE I & II

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Watched both these flicks recently and for the first time and thought they’d made a good double bill…for obvious reasons!

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SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE (1986)

Writer/director Carol Frank has some serious Halloween envy in this 80s slasher. The story has a deranged killer (John C. Russell) escaping from a mental institution and going back to the house where he slaughtered his family 14 years ago. The house is now a sorority and he focuses his hunt on Beth (Angela O’Neill) who is the sister he failed to get the first time. Sorority members and their male guests drop like flies as he carves his way toward his sibling…sound familiar? (Though we didn’t find out Laurie Strode was Michael’s sister till Halloween II)

Despite director Frank trying real hard to catch the Halloween vibe with Carpenter-ish tracking shots and POV angles, it’s not nearly as successful, especially as it was shot in a TV friendly format…this was now the direct to video age. She doesn’t generate much suspense as her story is far too familiar and the heavy 80s atmosphere adds a cheese factor which only helps for the wrong reasons. The cast are all bland, including lead O’Neill and killer “Bobby” generates very little threat or fear. His escape from the mental institute is also laughably too easy. The killings are routine bloody stabbings and even Jamie Lee Curtis was smart enough to run out of the house when threatened. Still there is a nostalgic entertainment factor here and the cheesiness entertains to a degree, though for all the wrong reasons…but entertainment is entertainment and with my pint glass at my side, I can’t say I had a bad time with this.

Despite not achieving her high aspirations, Carol Frank’s film does pass the time and supply some grins and giggles. It was also groundbreaking for a woman to write and direct horror at this time and as the film comes from Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures, it’s no surprise. Corman was hiring female filmmakers to do horror decades before trendsetters like The Soska Sisters showed up. Mildly entertaining for all the wrong reasons, so it’s worth a look especially if you’re an 80s horror completest like me.

 -MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 knives!

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SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE II (1990)

Sequel isn’t connected to the first film other than taking place in a sorority house that was the scene of a mass murder years before. This time a group of five hot foxes buy the former murder site cheap and plan to turn it into a sorority house. They spend the night in the empty house and during a drunken seance, they mistakenly summon the spirit of the killer, Clive Hokstedter, who proceeds to gruesomely continue his work.

This installment has no less than three writers credited, but does have underrated B-movie director Jim Wynorski (The Return Of Swamp Thing, Chopping Mall) at the helm. Wynorski knows exactly what his material is and just has fun with it, as with all his cheesy low budget delights. The film is all T & A and spilled blood as our nubile sorority sisters all look like playboy bunnies and are frequently taking their clothes off and not wearing much when their clothes are on. There is little or no suspense, but there is a lot of fun as our ladies are stalked by the possessed individual whose identity is kept a secret until the end. The film may not win any awards, but it is very entertaining due to Wynorski’s mix of comic book and exploitation styles and it does what a cheesy late 80s exploitation slasher should do, shower us in blood, boobs and giggles. It’s bad on purpose and Wynorski is one of the few directors that can do entertainingly bad on purpose and do it well…normally, that has to be a happy accident. Corman was smart to keep him in his stables…and he is still there to this day.

A fun movie in it’s cheesy badness and while it is far less serious than it predecessor, it is a lot more entertaining. Definitely worth a look, especially if you are a fan of Wynorski’s cheesy style. Stars hotties Gail Harris, Melissa Moore, Stacia Zhivago with Barbii and Dana Bentley. Also features Peter Spellos as the creepy neighbor, Orville Ketchum, who may…or may not…be host to Hokstedter’s homicidal spirit.

 -MonsterZero NJ

3 knives.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SWAMP THING and THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING

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This week’s double feature puts together two films based on DC Comics Swamp Thing character that were made during the 80s. One directed by horror legend Wes Craven and the other by prolific B-Movie director Jim Wynorski. So, head into the bayou for some comic book-style fun and action!…

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SWAMP THING (1982)

As a big fan of Wes Craven it is rare to hear me say the legendary director may not have been right for a project, but this might be one of the few cases. I saw this flick with friends at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and wasn’t all that impressed with his take on one of the more bizarre comic book heroes. It’s not a bad film, but it seemed to take itself a bit too seriously and didn’t have the fun it needed to really win me over.

The movie written and directed by Craven tells the comic-based story of government agent Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) who is sent into the Louisiana swamps to work with brilliant scientist Alec Holland (Ray Wise). Holland is doing genetic research to find a way to combine plant and animal DNA to make hardier plants to grow food in harsher environments (Monsanto anyone?). His resulting formula is a volatile one, but appears to allow plants to grow wherever it touches. When his lab is attacked by the evil Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) and his mercenary thugs, Holland is covered in his serum by accident and sent running into the swamp ablaze. Cable is the only one who escapes alive and is now being pursued by Arcane and his men for the notebook she has recovered. Unknown to her and Arcane, Holland has undergone a transformation, merging him with the fauna of the swamp, and now he seeks to rescue Cable and exact revenge against Arcane as the powerful but noble Swamp Thing (stuntman Dick Durock)!

There are two big issues with this flick that stand in it’s way of being a far more entertaining movie. First off is that Craven had yet to really hit his stride with A Nightmare On Elm Street and directs this with the heavy hand of one of his early horror flicks. True, the comic has a serious atmosphere, but his script and tone take things far too seriously and the film is humorless and has the very moderate pace of this era’s horror movies. Adding comic book-style wipes between scenes doesn’t a comic book-style film make and this is simply too morose to really be fun and the action scenes too by-the-numbers. The other problem is that the make-up/creature FX are terrible. I understand that the Swamp Thing costume was originally made for stuntman Bob Minor, who, for some reason, couldn’t do the film and there was no time or money to build a new suit, so it was ‘altered’ to fit Durock*. But even so, the costume is flat and rubbery and just looks awful. The creature costume for the transformed Arcane for the climactic fight is equally bad and when your main character is a man in a rubber suit, that suit needs to look good as he is on screen quite a lot. It kills the illusion that the costume is so bad looking. Also not helping is Harry Manfredini’s Friday The 13th-ish score witch adds to the horror film atmosphere instead of lightening things up a bit and adding a little energy to the proceedings. I get that this comic character certainly has horror film elements, but the film just takes itself far too seriously to be really fun. It looks good and has a good enough cast, but is too slow paced and just doesn’t have enough fun for even a horror-themed superhero like Swamp Thing.

As for that cast, Ray Wise is fine as Holland though he has little screen time to really solidify the character. Durock actually does a nice job emoting with his eyes behind all the rubber and does make a noble hero as the transformed Swamp Thing. Barbeau does her tough chick thing from Escape From New York again here, but it works OK and this was the legendary actress in her prime, so she does provide some eye-candy along with her hard-nosed heroine…who also has her damsel moments, too. Louis Jourdan seems to be the only one who realizes this flick needs a little over-the-top and chews up the scenery just right as the evil genius Anton Arcane. He makes a good villain surrounded by bland characters. Rounding out is Last House On The Left villain David Hess and Don’t Answer The Phone psycho Nicholas Worth as Arcane’s lead henchmen and they are adequate though unremarkable. Some livelier performances or more larger than life characters would have really perked this film up.

In conclusion, Swamp Thing is an OK flick, but one that would have been a lot better with a bit lighter touch and a far less down-to-earth approach. The flick needed a bit more over-the-top and some of the fun and energy that Wes Craven gave Scream many years later. It’s watchable, but takes itself far too seriously to really entertain and perhaps Craven was still too early in his career to stray from his dire horror film style and tone to really give this comic book-based flick the color and life of the swamps it was set in.

* I read this account of the Bob Minor/Dick Durock costume issue in either Fangoria or Starlog back in the 80s when the film was released.-MZNJ

2 and 1/2 Swamp Things

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THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989)

Seven years after Craven’s film, the guardian of the swamps returned in a film that was a lot more fun and over-the-top…maybe a bit too much so, in comparison with the more serious tone of the comic, but it is silly good fun and B-Movie director Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) cranked up the camp and gave us a flick that is giddily comic book with a touch of James Bond…and we got a far more convincing suit for returning Dick Durock to wear.

Sequel has the villainous Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) back in action and trying to hunt down Holland/Swamp Thing in order to use his genetics to help Arcane and his beautiful assistant Lana (Sarah Douglas) defeat the aging process. At the same time Arcane’s ditzy valley girl step-daughter Abigail (Heather Locklear) comes to visit to ask questions about her mother’s death and one of Arcane’s mutant experiments has escaped and is chowing-down on anyone who gets too close to the swamp. But, Abby’s DNA could also be a help to Arcane’s work and the young girl has captured Swamp Thing’s heart, guaranteeing a showdown between these two mortal enemies once more!

While, overall, Wynorski and writers Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris may have taken this goofy, fun flick a little too far in the opposite direction of Craven’s dour version, but it is a unapologetic good time with it’s bombastic creature battles and explosion filled action scenes. Gone are the bland henchman and stiff scientists, now Arcane is surrounding by a bevy of armed beauties, including exploitation film fixture/Penthouse model Monique Gabrielle and campy mad scientists like Ace Mask’s Dr. Rochelle. The tone of the film is a mix of the 60s Batman TV show and a Roger Moore James Bond movie, complete with underground lair and  dozens of uniformed soldiers more than anxious to use their machine guns. Wynorski gives it a fast pace and a candy-colored production design aided by Zoran Hochstatter’s cinematography and the film’s cartoonish atmosphere is enhanced by Chuck Cirino’s lively electronic score. The film may be silly, but far more resembles the panels of a comic book than Craven’s far too grounded flick. The creature FX are far better than the first flick and Durock really looks like the embodiment of the comic character with the much improved suit. He has a couple of amusing monsters to battle, though, he could have used a far more lethal opponent at the climax than the transformed, but still asthmatic, Dr. Rochelle. Wynorski is a B-Movie director through and through and he films this flick with enough explosions, carnage and cleavage as the PG rating would hold and brings it in at a tight 88 minutes. The movie never overstays it’s welcome.

Acting-wise, the movie has little to brag about. Louis Jourdan is once again a fun villain who understands just how serious to play it and how much scenery to chew on. Durock again emotes very well under the rubber and, while I’m not sure if it was his voice used, overall creates a very noble and likable plant man/hero. Douglas is sexy and sinister as Arcane’s assistant Dr. Lana Zurrell and these three help keep things somewhat respectable in the performance dept. Not fairing so well are Loclkear who just mugs for the camera, though is a good sport considering her dialogue and having to romp in the swamp with a 7 foot plant man. The rest of the acting is shamelessly over-the-top such as Ace Mask’s Dr. Rochelle, Joey Sagal as security head Gunn and the lovely buxom Ms. Gabrielle…who was hired because she is lovely and buxom and not to perform Hamlet. Thanks to the giddy over-the-top tone, some of the bad acting fits right in.

I like this flick. It’s certainly an 80s guilty pleasure action flick and a fun movie if you cut it some slack and go with it’s outrageously cartoonish style. Sure some of the acting is pretty bad, but as it does resemble the 60s Batman series but with more of an 80s slant, it fits right in with the unabashedly goofy tone. It’s a lot of fun and best enjoyed with a few of your favorite brews.

This movie was followed in 1990 by a TV series that lasted for 3 seasons and not only saw Durock return to the role once more, but found a happy medium for it’s tone which was more serious than Wynorski’s flick, but not quite as droll as Craven’s movie. It also stared Kari Wurher as Abigail and Mark Lindsay Chapman taking over as Arcane.

3 Swamp Things!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CHOPPING MALL (1986)

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CHOPPING MALL (1986)

Chopping Mall is a fun 80s guilty pleasure that works because it knows it’s a silly film and just goes with it and has a good time…and so do we. Goofy horror tells the story of four young couples, including 80s B-movie icons Kelli Maroney and Barbara Crampton, who decide to stay and party at one of the mall stores where a few of them work, after the mall has closed. But there are 3 new hi-tech security robots on patrol and when a freak lightening strike hits the building during a storm, it reboots their directives and now these 3 well armed machines are out to kill anything that moves…ID badge or not. Now with the mall in high security lock-down, the young intruders are trapped inside with the mechanical security drones and must fight for their very lives as these robots won’t stop until they are all dead.

As directed by Jim Wynorski, Chopping Mall is a fun 80s movie that just has a plain old good time with it’s delightfully ridiculous story. The film plays itself just seriously enough so not to make an outright comedy out of it’s scenario, but has enough campy humor so that we know that at no time are the filmmakers trying to pass this off as a serious horror and we should just have a good time with it. The young cast serve their purpose playing the stereotypical characters that we expect to see in a film like this and that is intentional. They play their parts straight, but we can tell they they are having fun and that the tone of the material has not escaped them. The gore FX are fine though, except for an exploding head, are fairly limited and the robots built by Robert Short do the job as our villains and do have a bit of personality as well. There is a very 80s electronic score by Chuck Cirino and fun cameos by Dick Miller, Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel.

Chopping Mall is filled with 80s nostalgia to go along with the fun with it’s very 80s hair and fashions, as well as, it’s poking fun at the mall culture of the time. A really enjoyable B-movie that has developed a bit of a well deserved cult following. Also stars, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd and Suzee Slater. Actually saw this in a theater back in 1986 and it was a lot of nostalgic fun revisiting it.

3 mall roaming security robots.

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