Thursday, September 20, 2012

'Killjoy Goes to Hell' is like classic Full Moon

Killjoy Goes to Hell (2012)
Starring: Trent Haaga, Victoria De Mare, Jessica Whitaker, Stephen F. Cardwell, Aqueela Zoll, John Karyus, Jason R. Moore, and Randy Mermell
Director: John Lechago
Producer: Charles Band and John Schouweiler
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After one of his victim's escapes death by his hand, the demon-clown Killjoy (Haaga) is called before Satan himself (Cardwell) to answer for his failure... and for not being evil enough. Will his ex-lover Batty Boop (De Mare) and the rest of the demonic clown posse come up with a way to save him before all his names are struck from the demonic record and he fades into oblivion?

"Killjoy Goes to Hell" is another Full Moon winner for John Lechago. In this direct sequel to "Killjoy 3" (which is being re-released by Full Moon under the new name "Killjoy's Revenge"). he builds on what was started in that previous film while taking Killjoy and related characters in a completely different and unexpected direction. The result is the sort of crazy mix of fantasy. humor, and horror present in some of the greatest Full Moon releases of years past. We also have some honest-to-God plot and character development present in this film, something which has been lacking in most recent pictures from the Band fantasy factory and which has been in short supply in the "Killjoy" films until now. To make the package even more enjoyable, the film features passable digital effects, nice sets, and great make-up jobs.

Trent Haaga, in this third outing as the demonic clown, gives his best performance yet, actually managing to give a little depth to what is basically a killer cartoon character. Similarly, Victoria De Mare, returning as the clown succubus Batty Boop, as quite a bit more to do than just be silly and look sexy and deadly--like Haaga with Killjoy, she gets to give Boop some texture and depth.

In fact, every single character in the film--from the girl who survived Killjoy and his clown posse's rampage  in the previous film (now committed to a mental hospital) to minor characters like the Demonic Bailiff--has one or two character defining moments if they utter any dialogue at all. Even the do-nothing character of Freakshow from "Killjoy 3" serves a purpose and gets to shine in this outing.

And because writer/director Lechago actually took the time and effort to write a decent script that gave the actors something to work with, there's enough material that he was able to create a full-length 90-minute movie, instead of sneaking over the finish line with 65-70 minutes that seems to have become the Full Moon norm. The strong script also makes the fairly pointless side-business of a pair of homicide detectives trying to piece together the truth about the events of Killjoy 3" tolerable even while you're wishing the film would get back to the insanity of the trial in hell.

The fact this film is as good as it is is even more remarkable when when considers the fact that it was made on an extremely small budget, was shot over 7 days in May of 2012, and that I am writing this review in late September of 2012, not from a rough edit but from the final version that will be on sale at in two weeks and showing up in Redbox rental outlets in time for Halloween.

Is it perfect? No, but most of the problems I could call attention to would amount to little more than nitpicking. This is a fun flick that is full of the spirit that old time fans loved Full Moon for back in the 1990s. It's the sort of film I hope for as I keep coming back to the House That Band Built... and it's a film that has just put John Lechago high on the list of names to watch for. He's two for two as far as Full Moon films go! (Three for three overall, if I count his non-Full Moon picture that I've seen.)

 Note: Full Moon Features provided me with a review copy of this film, free of charge.

Monday, June 25, 2012

'Decadent Evil II' improves on the original

Decadent Evil II (2007)
Starring: Jill Michelle, Daniel Lennox, John-Paul Gates, Jessica Morris, Ricardo Gil, Mike Muscat, James C. Burns, and Rory Williamson
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Dana K. Harloe, Bill Barton, and Joe Megna
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Kindhearted vampire Sugar (Michelle) and her would-be paramour Dex (Lennox) follow the trail of a master vampire to Little Rock, Arkansas, hoping to obtain the means to restore their deceased, vampire-hunting friend Ivan (Gil) to life. But identifying the master vampire turns out to be harder than they had imagined, and soon the hunters become the hunted.

Daniel Lennox and Jill Michelle reprise their roles from the original film

"Decadent Evil II" is an improvement over the original film in the series in several areas, but it is still a weak effort and a far cry from what we all know Charles Band is capable of delivering.

Like the first film, this one is a cheap and sleazy effort--more sleazy than actually decadent... and even more sleazy than the original because from the "gentleman's club" where most of the action takes place to the motel where the main characters are holed up, to the junkyard where the final confrontation takes place, the film has a rundown, cheap feel to it. Decadence is still somewhat in short supply, but there more evil present than in the previous film.

There's also a better script, with some nicely sinister bad guys and enough of them and nicely done misdirections that it's not completely obvious who the vampire lord is before the Big Reveal near the end. (That said, it turned out to be the character I thought the most probable, but dismissed because the script was by August White who has turned out some real dogs over the years. Turns out, though, that I for once was assuming sloppy randomness where some thought and honest-to-God plot was on display.)

The stronger script also results in some actual moments of horror in this film, and a general atmosphere of dread that permeates everything once the film gets going. If not for an ending that is somewhat botched story-wise, atrociously edited, and just all-around badly staged from an action point of view, this could well have earned a low Five rating instead of the Four it's getting.

The actors are all decent in their parts, even if Daniel Lennox reminds me of the bland leading men from the 1930s B-pictures I review over at Shades of Gray. Jill Michelle did a better job at playing the lead than I figured she would have based her performance in the first film, but Jessica Morris still out-shined her in the few scenes they have together; Michelle may be pretty but she doesn't have much of a screen presence. The cast and the film in general did benefit from the fact that all the characters have at least one moment of importance as the story unfolds. Even Marvin the Humonculous, who in the original was just the obligatory Band Puppet/possible toy fodder without any real purpose beyond that, serves a key role in the story. (The downside here is that he hasn't improved much as a puppet.)

This film is still a far cry from some of the great flicks during the 1990s, but if you're a fan of Charles Band, and if the preview embedded below looks at all appealing, I think you'll find the film entertaining enough, despite its terrible ending.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Charles Band-produced Frankenfilm!

Savage Island (aka "Banished Women" and "Prison Island") (1985)
Starring: Anthony Steffan, Ajita Wilson, Stelio Candelli, Christina Lai, Luciano Rossi, Linda Blair, Leon Askin, and Penn Jillette
Directors: Edoardo Mulargia and Nicholas Beardsley
Producer: Charles Band (as Roger Amante) and Mark Alabiso
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

An escapee from a hellish work camp (Blair), where enslaved women mine emeralds, holds its owner (Askin) at gunpoint while she relates the tale of how her allies (Steffan and Wilson) infiltrated the facility and destroyed it.

"Savage Island" is a Frankenfilm in the grand tradition of so many Godfrey Ho-assembled ninja pictures. It's made with pieces from a pair of commercially-failed South American women-in-jungle-hell-prison movies, "Hotel Paradise" and "Escape From Hell", sandwiched between footage featuring Linda Blair and a vengeful she-demon in a cheap fur coat, and kinda-sorta glued together with narration from Blair.

Unlike many Frankenfilm's this one benefits from the fact that three actors (Anthony Steffan, Ajita Wilson, and Christina Lay) are featuring prominently in both the original films, playing largely similar roles in each. The same is true of several of the supporting cast members. Further, both films were directed by the same man, and set in nearly identical locations, so the "meanwhile, in a different movie" sensation that so often creeps into Frankenfilms--where locations and tone and focus characters change back and forth--this one comes across as, more or less, a unified whole.

That's not to say that whole isn't a mess. To start with, the pieces from which "Savage Island" is assembled came from films with highly illogical plots that feature characters going through the motions to make sure all the standard elements of a "women in jungle prison" exploitation flick get included; character actions are dictated more by plot and genre needs than anything that even comes close to sense. Combining the two films--one about revolutionaries infiltrating a diamond mine worked by enslaved women, and one where the abused prisoner's in a women's prison convince the prison doctor to help them stage an escape-- while adding the third element of Linda Blair "masterminding" a jewel heist didn't improve matters at all.

Further, while it appears characters remain present throughout the film, they only do so with some bizarre continuity glitches. Anthony Steffan switches back and forth between outfits with no apparent rhyme or reason, and Ajita Wilson's hair gets longer and shorter and longer between scenes. I also think the same supporting actress was murdered by angry prisoners twice.

In the end, as Frankenfilms go, this isn't a bad attempt. In fact, it probably ranks among the better of its kind. However, it might not be worth going out of your way for, unless you're a big lover of cheesy jungle films, or a huge fan of Anthony Steffan or Ajita Wilson--although in the case of the latter, you'd be disappointed because her assets are nowhere near as fully on display here as in other films she's been in. Fans of Penn and Teller might also be curious to witness the first film appearance (and on-screen death) of Penn Jillette.

(Full disclosure: This review is based on a screener copy of the film given to me by Full Moon Pictures.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

I REALLY wanted to like this one....

The Dead Want Women (aka "Haunted Hollywood") (2012)
Starring: Jessica Morris, Ariana Madix, J. Scott, Robert Zachar, Jean Louise O'Sullivan, Circus-Szalewski, Jeannie Marie Sullivan, and Eric Roberts
Director: Charles Band
Producers: Charles Band, Dustin Hubbard, Tom Landy, and Rick Short
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A pair or young realtors (Madix and Morris) think they've finally managed to unload the supposedly haunted mansion of long-dead silent movie star Rose Pettigrew (O'Sullivan), but they instead learn that the legendary hauntings are all too real.

I'm starting to know what fans of Dario Argento feel like when they keep hoping for another "Deep Red" or "Cat o' Nine Tails" and instead get "Do You Like Hitchcock?" or worse. Because I keep hoping and hoping for Charles Band to bring me another "Trancers" or "Puppet Master" or "Head of the Family" or even "Crash and Burn" or "The Creeps", but he brings me stuff like "Gingerdead Man" and his latest effort "The Dead Want Women" instead.

And I really thought I would like "The Dead Want Women". First of all, it's a great title. Second of all, it's rooted in old-time movies, a topic I love so much I write reviews whenever I watch a old-time movie. Thirdly, it stars Jessica Morris who was one of the best things about "Haunted Casino". And, last but not least, I LOVE haunted house movies--and, again, I love them so much I write about it whenever I watch one!

And make me even more excited about the film, I loved the approach Full Moon took to marketing it. Once again, it had fabulous preview/trailer and the "who is the secret big-time movie veteran in our new movie?" teasers on the web-site were nicely done.

And the main titles sequence is also extremely well done. It is perhaps the best credits sequence for any Full Moon film... and long-time fans know how Full Moon loves its long main title sequences.

Unfortunately, once the credits run their course, this turns out to be another one of those Charles Band films that doesn't live up to my expectations. It's not the worst he's done, and it's far from the worst that's been released under the Full Moon logo, but it's a disappointment.

It's not the actors' fault. They all do the best they can with what they have to work with, but the problem is they don't have much to work with. In fact, it's a testament to the great degree of talent of everyone on the screen that the film comes across as entertaining as it dopes, because the actors are dealing with a pretty awful script here.

When I reviewed the last film Band directed--"Killer Eye: Halloween Haunt"--I complained that the script was flimsy. That complaint applies here as well. In fact, worse, "The Dead Want Women" feels like it was shot using a partially finished first draft that was missing part of Act One and all of Act Three.

This may, hands down, be the worst script that has ever been the basis for a Charles Band moviem and it's a testament to the talent of the actors that it doesn't come off worse than it does. The preview for the film has a better dramatic structure than the film itself, because the way the real movie unfolds it's hard to tell where the focal point of the story was supposed to be... and not just because the characters are universally badly defined. In fact, just as the film seems like it's finally starting to get going--after opening with one of the most listless Roaring Twenties parties you'll ever witness on film, a secret Satanic sex orgy that makes me wonder if Band is longing for the days of Surrender Cinema, and some truly dull bits with Jessica Morris and Arina Madix playing the BFF realtors getting the house ready to show to their mysterious client--with the evil ghost of Miss Pettigrew and her sidekicks doing their thing, the film ends. Like most Full Moon pictures these days, the film barely breaks the one-hour mark... and in this case the run-time is not only half of what we expect from most movies, but the MOVIE is half of what we expect from most movies.

Viewers looking for lots of female nudity will enjoy the film--there is an actress who is naked for literally 99% of her time on screen. Hardcore Full Moon fans will also be able to enjoy a few of those Charles Band touches we know and love--but they will mostly be outweighed by truly awful moments of lazy writing and lazier direction. (Ohmygod... the ghosts have our hapless realty ladies chained up and they are about to do horrible things to them. Oh wait. One of them just undid her shackles easier than I undo my belt when I need to take a dump. And now she's freeing the other chick just as easily. WTF? When did she get possessed by the spirit of Harry Houdini?! And where did the ghosts suddenly disappear to? WTF?!)

The Two Rating might be a little harsh... it film really is teetering between Two and Three. But in this case, I am being miserly with my rating, because this film could have been so much more with just a little more effort. Meanwhile, here's the preview for the film. If the finished product had followed its flow, it might have been a little stronger....

(By the way, is it coincidence that in the past month, I've seen two movies with Eric Roberts doing a goofy accent? He does a Texas/Oklahoma kinda accent in this film, and he did Russian in "The Tomb." Is that something he's known for, and I've just not noticed until now?)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

'Meridian' is pure gothic romance

Meridian (1990)
Starring: Sherilynn Fenn, Malcolm Jamieson, Hilary Mason, Charlie Spradling, and Phil Fondecaro
Director: Charles Band
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A young woman (Fenn) returns to Italy to claim the castle and title that is her family heritage... but at the same time she claims the family curse.

I'm not sure why it's titled "Meridian," but this is perhaps the most pure cinematic gothic romance in a modern setting that I've ever seen.

None of the acting is particularly remarkable, but no one is awful. The film is a bit slow-moving, but every scene is well-staged and dripping with mood. In fact, there are few movies that so dedicatedly click the boxes of "dark gothic romance content" as this one. Because it's so faithful to all the various genre conventions, it's a bit predictable... but this is as much a weakness as it is a strength. "Meridian" is like that favorite sweater or that favorite kind of ice cream. There are no surprises left in it, but the familiarity is part of the enjoyment.

If you're a fan of gothic romance (including the "gothic fantasy" that was the hallmark of the Ravenloft game line I used to work on), I think you'll enjoy this film.