Saturday, 20 June 2009

No. 158 : Witchboard

Next up is ‘Witchboard’ a film you may have seen gathering dust on your video shop shelf unaware that it’s actually spawned a few sequels, none of which will darken the door of the ‘W’ Movies Quest. That’s not to say the original is terrible but it’s far fetched premise wears thin half way through this one so gawd knows what part four is offering.

The film should in fact be called ‘Ouijaboard’ as it has nothing to do with witches and everything to do with that staple of teenage parties where everyone has heard of but never seen flying wine glasses and shit. Shit is the worst of course, terrible stains.

Anyway, the film opens with a party for some douche bag 30 somethings with a bit of tension in the air between two men who used to be friends but now are bitter rivals after falling out over Tawny Kitaen - perfectly understandable. One chap with blow dried hair is a total tit and goes to parties armed with a ouija board as a way to get chicks or get out of dancing, it isn’t really explained. He goes into some tale about a dead boy named David whom he has regular chats, presumably when Mother Palm and her five daughters are all tired out.

He summons the spirit and after a few questions the sprite gets understandably bored and causes a bit of damage before disappearing - wish I’d thought of that one post 1985 party! We hope that’s it, but of course it isn’t and the bad boy David starts a murderous rampage that sees a few deaths, a possession and a killer shower.

After ouijaing him back to stop his pocket money our hero is shocked to learn that David isn’t the bad spirit and the true demon is some serial killer dude who lived in their house before. With him using Tawny as a portal the now reunited friends set off to save the day; but their conclusions may be as rubbish as their friendly sprite’s spelling.

This is an easy film to pick nits with what with its terrible acting and dreadful dialogue but I actually quite enjoyed it. It wasn’t played entirely straight with a few wacky characters such as Zarabeth the medium thrown in for a few laughs and a quick despatch. The script is truly awful however with some of the most preposterous lines you’ll ever hear spoken with a straight face.

It doesn’t help that the lead is a poor man’s David Cassidy but to his credit he maintains his douchey character throughout. His pal, the failed and bitter doctor, is little better but at least he is the one voice of reason, joining every viewer in a chorus of ‘what a load of rubbish’ every time a daft utterance is made.

The possession angle was reasonable well played out with a couple of minor surprises thrown in to keep you guessing. The denouement where the titular board takes a few slugs underlines the tongue in cheek aspects of the film as does the closing shot that basically confirms the sequel is shooting straight after lunch.

Overall the film is a decent ride with a heady mix of murder, the supernatural and a friendly demonic shower that send our favourite cast member running for her towel. By no means great but at least it won’t leave you board. Ja?

Best Bit : Ooh that’s a bit hot
‘W’ Rating : 15/23

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

No. 157 : Willard (1971)

Having looked at the 2003 remake yesterday, today we’re looking at the original. That’s just the kind of crazy back to front film reviewing you can expect here at the ‘W’ movie challenge.

For the most part the two films follow the same plot with some sequences intact in both. In this film Willard Stiles is played by Bruce Davison whom I also remember as the senator who gets filled with water in ‘X2’. He works in the office of a steel mill under Ernest Borgnine’s tyrannical boss. At home he lives with his mum Elsa ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ Lanchester who is a lot more mobile here than her corresponding character in the sequel.

After a tough day at work Willard returns home to his sprawling family mansion and is greeted by a surprise party for his birthday hosted by his mother and attended by a gaggle of her crusty friends. After hearing one home truth too many Willard retreats to the garden where he shares some cake with a passing rat. After some nagging Willard plots to kill the rats but after being impressed by their ingenuity he befriends them and soon forms an affinity for a white rat whom he names ‘Socrates’.

His mum soon takes to bed and dies shortly thereafter. Willard’s boss Mr Martin sees this as a chance to get rid of Willard and buy his house, which he plans to turn into apartments. With his now trained rat friends Willard exacts some small revenge by invading his boss’ party, an exploit that cheers up his co-workers no end.

With death duties now due Willard has to resort to crime to save his house while slowly falling for Sondra Loche’s willowy temp. When Willard takes some rats to work Socrates gets killed by Mr Martin, sending our man over the edge. With Mr Martin in the firing line Willard has to juggle his crimes and love life with a falling mental capacity and the malevolence of king rat Ben.

This film was OK but I have to side with the 2003 remake as my favourite rat fest. The original is clearly a lot cheaper and has the look of a TV movie. Obviously there is no CGI to increase the rat numbers but sometimes it looks like there are barely a dozen rats bringing a man down - never heard of a good stamp?! It is clearly of it’s time with a beige look and an invasive score that often sends the film into melodramatic territory.

The romance aspect is a lot more pronounced in the original and I think the sequel was right to largely jettison this plot strand as unnecessary and largely unbelievable - the guy hangs out with rats for goodness sake and Sondra can snare Clint Eastwood! Bruce Davison is good as Willard but I prefer Crispin Glover’s creepiness, a quality that the role really demands. Borgnine is similarly good as the brutish boss but I preferred the bluster of R Lee Emery in the sequel - he’s a bone fide bastard and it shows.

People will tell you that the original is always the best as it’s, well, original. I can see this point of view to some extent but when the remake extracts the essence of the film and expands and improves upon it, it’s clearly a worthwhile venture. My own view is echoed by the voters of the IMDb who give the remake a full star more than the original. Nothing to get ratty about, they are both good pictures - I just need my rat obsessed nut job to be that bit more creepy and my bastard bosses that bit more bastardly.

Best Bit : Boss’ Party Tanks
‘W’ Rating : 15/23

Sunday, 14 June 2009

No. 156 : Willard (2003)

For a special treat, seeing as you’ve been good, the ‘W’ Movie Reviews will feature the same title for two days running. Aren’t you glad you weren’t bad now? I’d seen ‘Willard’ around the time of it’s release in 2003 but had no idea it was a remake. But it is following from the original which came out in 1971, a bit like myself. The two reviews will show the differences between the two films and declare the winner in the all comers Willard championship.

This film (and possibly the other I haven’t watched it yet) concerns the lonely Willard Stiles who lives alone with his elderly mother following the death of his father (in a nice touch all the pictures of the dead Dad show the actor Bruce Davison who played Willard in the original). He works for his father’s former business partner Mr Martin (played by the great R Lee Emery - the drill sergeant out of ‘Full Metal Jacket’) and doesn’t get along well with his boss who’d have him out if it weren’t for an agreement with his dead dad.

One night Willard’s mother hears scurrying in the basement and dispatches her boy to buy traps. The rats are too smart for the traps but the following night one gets stuck on a glue patch. As he’s about to kill it Willard feels an attachment to the rat and names it ‘Socrates’. Word gets around the rat community and pretty soon Willard’s basement is knee deep in rodents, including the massive Ben. The rats are more obedient than you’d expect and soon Willard has them trained to do his bidding. An early attack on his bosses car gives him a new will to live but that’s short-lived when his mother dies and he starts getting hassle from Ben who challenges his authority.

Added to his woes is the loss of his job and after contemplating suicide he decides he’s be better off paying his boss a visit with a few thousands of his pals. With the boss suitably chewed Willard panics and tries to kill off his former friends but the rats are legion and won’t go quietly. Willard has a small chance at a normal life with his one female friend from the office but it may be that he’s already gone too far down the road of madness.

I really like this film, with it’s creepy overtones and malevolent rats. Crispin Glover (George McFly in ‘Back To the Future’) give a cracking performance in the lead role and I doubt anyone else could have pulled it off as well. A lot of his screen time is spent talking to rats and he does it so well that you start to buy into the different personalities that he confers upon the rodents. His interaction with people is like his wimpy McFly role and it’s only towards the end that he really lets rip.

The boss played by R lee Emery is a great character although his demise was poorly timed - let the man look at his smutty web sites in peace. The rats themselves do wonders with them seeming really friendly and appealing one miniute and the next they’re a peeling the skin off someone’s face!

The general mood of the film is dark and gothic and if it weren’t for the absence of an annoying Danny Elfman score you’d swear it was a Tim Burton film. That said it’s hard to see how you can do a film about a loner who trains killer rats to be anything other than dark.

There are plenty of light moments however and there is enough to keep your interest throughout. I wasn’t really convinced by Willard’s change of heart that saw him gassing a lot of his pals but I guess if you buy an unhinged character you’ve got to go with it.

All in all this is a real gem of a movie that the original will have to do well to match. It does have Ernest Borgnine as the boss so that’s a good start. See you next time for more ratty fun.

Best Bit : Boss reaches For Mouse
‘W’ : Rating 20/23

Thursday, 11 June 2009

No. 155 : WrestleManiac

Here we go with yet another slasher pic where the bad guy hacks his way through a group of kids leaving just one to run around finding the other’s bodies before a final confrontation. The twist here? The bad guy is a former wrestler, and that’s about it really. God knows why films like this are made when they have nothing new to offer apart from a few slightly different murders. There are a couple of crumbs of interest but far fewer than you’d need to justify watching, even with a skinny 75 minutes run time.

Despite it’s barely feature length running time the film has a leisurely four minutes of pre-credits which are shown over some vintage footage of Mexican wrestlers - mood setting or run time padding - you decide. Our group of fodder are three guys and three girls in a van who are scouting locations for a porn film they plan on shooting in Mexico. Given that they only have one camera you’d think they’d be better off filming in someone’s flat but these are clearly amateur pornographers.

After getting lost they stop at a predictably run down gas station and are given a warning from a crusty stranger. A seemingly legendary town is nearby and they shouldn’t stop on pain of death. One of our team is luckily an expert on Mexican wrestling lore and insists that the town is the next stop. Legend has it that in trying to secure an Olympic gold the authorities chopped up their three best wrestlers to make one superhuman fighter. He turned out great but sadly maniacal so they stuck him in some remote town and forgot about him.

You can probably guess the rest!

The gang set about making the tamest porno you’ll ever see but one by one they drift away for their appointment with doom. Most of the deaths are seen from the killer’s POV so obviously that saves on the special effects budget. The killings are pretty routine but in keeping with the Mexican wrestling tradition of unmasking opponents he rips off their faces and sticks them on the wall. The wrestling expert deduces that they can stop the bad guy by removing his mask but this proves to be easier said than done.

Soon enough we’re down to just one lady who runs around screaming and finding all the bodies. Can she possibly best the greatest wrestler in history and get away in the van? Hmmm, possibly not.

This was a competent enough slasher film but it offered little of real interest and it’s basically just a run of the mill picking them off cookie cutter special. The wrestling angle was OK and offered some decent plot points but it effectively boiled down to the masks thing and that wasn’t enough to hang the film on, even one as short as this. Of the cast I liked Alphonse the best as he has a bit of sass and the few decent lines all to himself. The fat wrestling nerd never convinced and the woman severed only as eye candy and for screaming a lot.

You’ll see worse but probably nothing so derivative of the genre as this, and frankly you’ll get a more original script from the WWF. Three count? Three out of ten if you’re lucky!

Best Bit : here comes the plumber!

‘W’ Rating : 6/23

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

No. 154 : Whip and the Body

It’s a dark and stormy night as this period Italian drama opens and if you think that’s the end of the clichés you’d be wrong! The stormy night rattles a blood stained dagger that is exhibited in a fancy glass case - you can’t beat those 19th century craftsmen. We learn that a servant’s daughter killed herself after being pumped and dumped by Christopher Lee and the dagger has been kept in the hope that it can be used to exact revenge.

As luck would have it Kurt (Lee) shows up at the castle the very same day. His father is dying and Kurt is keen to make amends for his many disgraces so that he can have his share of the fortune resorted to him. While his Pop lies dying Kurt takes the chance to go riding and have a bit of kinky sex with his brother’s wife courtesy of her riding crop. When the she doesn’t return a search party goes looking while Kurt has a fatal tussle with the curtains which result in the now liberated dagger finding its way into his neck.

With half an hour gone and the bad guy dead you may think that you’re in for an early night, but no! The grave can’t hold this kind of bastard! The ravaged lady soon starts to see Lee’s ghostly image in the window and muddy boot prints cover the castle. Pretty soon she is being whipped again by forces unseen and the crack of lashes is heard continuously. When the father is found dead in his bed we have to wonder if revenge is being exacted from beyond the grave or whether someone is using that illusion to further their own means. Or it could be some one going a bit mental, it’ll be one of those for sure.

This film was made in 1963 and has all the hallmarks of a Hammer horror film from that era such as Christopher Lee, busty wenches and ropey special effects. It is in fact an Italian film, a fact disclosed as soon as anyone opens their mouth and the badly dubbed dialogue spews forth. It looks like Lee did his lines in Italian but they got someone else to dub them in English which gives you the distracting effect of having a name actor talking with some one else’s voice.

A lots of things work well in the film such as the setting, costumes and general unsettling mood. The acting is hard to critique due to the dubbing but there are certainly too many brooding silences for my liking. These are mostly cut short however by the overly dramatic score that demands attention at every turn. Lee does well as the whip cracking bastard although it’s hard to see how all the ladies fall under his spell. The idea of a love story that transcends death was a good one although the finale and revelations kind of undermine that.

It is a pretty decent stab at a period horror/romance and although never scary it does tread a somewhat dubious line at times, with the lady clearly loving the damn good thrashings she regularly receives. Perhaps not a main feature but a perfectly serviceable ‘B’ movie oddity, especially if you like the crack of a whip yourself, you kinky people!

Best Bit : “Open the tomb!”
‘W’ Rating : 14/23

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

No. 153 : Wilderness

Here’s a familiar film even if you haven’t seen it before. ‘Wilderness’ is a decent enough effort but the list of films like it are is as long as your arm. Basically what you get is a group of people trapped in the woods who are gradually whittled down by a mystery assailant. Let’s see ‘Severance’, ‘Dog Soldiers’, ‘Southern Comfort’, ‘Wild Country’ - the list is potentially endless. Clearly the format is a winner what with it being cheap and an easy narrative along the lines of ‘10 Little Indians. That’s not to say that you won’t enjoy the film, just don’t expect anything new or innovative, apart from a couple of neat killings.

We open in a young offenders institution where a new lad, who’s obviously going to be the hero, is having his first day. They stay in a dormitory and two wimpy boys are bullied by some of the others. After one pee soaking too many, one kills himself much to the umbrage of the governor who sends them away to an island as punishment. The island is supposed to be uninhabited but it’s positively teeming with people including four girls from another institution who had double booked the place and an old tramp who turns up dead with bite marks after running afoul of two of the inmates.

Things take a predictable turn when prison warder Sean Pertwee makes his customary early exit due to some crossbow arrows and for being some Alsatians’ dinner. With the two groups now united they have to join forces to try and survive in the wilderness. Soon they start dropping like flies and they deduce that the mystery killer is the dad of the boy who killed himself, who happens to be ex-special forces and pretty good with a crossbow, man traps and dog training.

With the inmates starting to account for each other as well as falling into traps it’s soon time to take bets on who will survive and escape the island. It’s who you’d expect, really.

Despite a glaring lack of originality I quite enjoyed this film. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and there are several laugh out loud moments as well as a few ‘eeewwws’. The best one for me was the man’s ingenious way of extricating himself from a man trap when the dogs were sighted - that’s gotta hurt!

There is not a lot in the way of characterisation and most of the borstal boy stereotypes are present and correct. There is one wrong foot near the end but if you don’t see that coming you must have a bag over your head. The death effects are largely good with Sean Pertwee suffering a graphic fate that goes on a bit long even for there desensitised eyes.

The ‘mystery’ element is discarded right away with an early suggestion on a monster attack quickly jettisoned for a straightforward survival thriller. That was probably a good choice, although I wonder if it was done late in the day due to budget concerns as the set up of ‘a disused military base’ was signposted strongly quite early on. As it was, it was your standard hunt ‘em down fare and although it was nothing new there is a certain comfort in a run of the mill killing off young people gore fest.

Best Bit : Sean’s Pedigree Chums
‘W’ Rating 15/23

Monday, 8 June 2009

No. 152 : Wheels Of Terror (1990)

Here’s the first doubler of the ‘W’ quest with this feature unrelated to the Ollie Reed World War 2 fest we enjoyed slightly way back when. This film has an iconic poster that I remember from the home video hay day of the early eighties. I never saw the film then as the shop never had it in but having seen it now I wish I had kept the air of mystery as it is complete crap.

It was made as a TV movie so you have to give it some latitude but not much as it’s patently awful. The film is effectively one big chase with a few bits of nonsense bolted on for the sake of the running time. We open with a single mum moving to a remote town. She has a history of being a driver (remember that) and has a job driving a school bus which has a souped up engine courtesy of a friendly Mexican (remember that too!).

Mother and daughter relocated to get away from crime ridden LA but wouldn’t you know it that the small town is being menaced by a bad car complete with its own ominous musical cues. We know the car is bad as it has blacked out windows and is a bit dirty. Despite the town being tiny no one seems to notice this dirty Dodge Charger crawling about outside the primary school. Soon a girl is abducted and is retuned interfered with so we know we are dealing with a nonce with a dirty car - the worst kind.

He soon elevates his crimes to murder and the local town meeting is in brouhaha crisis although they pooh-pooh the bad car stories. Despite being the main voice of caution the bus driving mum sees her daughter taken next and embarks on a half hour cross country chase in her school bus to reclaim her captured child. After the seemingly endless chase the car goes off a cliff but then reappears suggesting something supernatural, but then it goes over again and into a dynamite shack for good measure and that’s that.

This film marks a nadir in The Quest and frankly I’m regretting some of the low ratings I’ve issued before as this is the worst of the lot. The ‘bad car’ just comes across as daft and annoying. We never know the driver or his history and all attempts to make a character out of the vehicle itself fail miserably. It does have headlight eyes and a growly voice but that’s it. It’s not even that fast failing to out run a school bus (albeit a souped up one) and it’s really wimpy when given even the slightest bump.

The heroine working mum struggling with her single parenthood and holding down a job is a real cliché but she does buck that somewhat by doing some mean driving stunts in a bus. The seemingly endless chase sequence is really poor with the same put the bad guy into a spin move done a dozen times. There are a couple of humorous moves where the car jumps out, especially one where it flattens a motorcycle cop, but it never graduates from the ridiculous. The coup de gras ending where it lands on a hut marked ‘EXPLOSIVES’ is straight out of Looney Tunes and is a fitting ending to a rubbishy and far fetched TV movie that wants the style of ‘Vanishing Point’ but has all the charisma of vanish stain remover.

Best Bit : Watch out for the TNT shack!
‘W’ rating : 1/23

Sunday, 7 June 2009

No. 151 : Welcome To The Dollhouse

Another slice of life now in the shape of this pretty horrible tale of a girl being bullied at school. There are a few light bits but on the whole the film will be a depressing experience for anyone who wasn’t a cool kid in the playground. Not me of course, I was well liked.

We follow a few days in the life of Dawn a 14 year old who looks a lot like Olive out of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. She has the unfortunate surname ‘Weiner’ and gets bullied for her looks and is accused of being a ‘lesbo’. Although she doesn’t react to her tormentors she does pass on the ambivalence to her younger sister in the shape of cutting up her Barbies and by calling her a ‘lesbo’.

She has a brother who is also seeking a bit of acceptance by befriending a cool kid by helping him out in class and by having him in his garage band. Her parents aren’t much use either insisting that she dismantle her gang hut so that they can have a party in the garden.

Dawn is also blossoming into womanhood and a has a younger, nerdier suitor but she’s more interested in the unobtainable Steve, who is as hot as all Steves are. In the meantime she has to make do with bully Brandon who schedules regular dates with Dawn so that he can ‘rape’ her which never gets beyond some awkward kissing. Things come to a head when Dawn, after being humiliated at her parents’ party, lets her sister get stranded and then kidnapped. With Dawn now ignored by the frantic parents she falls into a fantasy world where she saves the day, but can she save herself or at least get a date?

This was seemingly quite a successful film that won the Sundance Film Festival but I’d never heard of it before. It’s not that its low budget and independent as ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ did well from a similar starting point, but what this lacks that the former doesn’t is a big heart.

Dawn isn’t a particularly nice character and although we’re lead to believe that’s because of her maltreatment elsewhere it’s hard to care when she has troubles when we see that she’s just as bad a bully as her tormentors. The fact that she uses the same insults as are used on her show that she’s just paying it forward but it’s not exactly an endearing trait. The best scenes are those that involve wannabe rapist Brandon who’s just as big a misfit as Dawn. He too has a dysfunctional family so it’s not hard to see that it’s the home environment that’s getting the blame for this one.

It’s by no means a bad film but there isn’t that much to like and the heart warming is kept to a bare minimum. The lead girl does well in an unflattering role but we have no empathy for her despite a real grim rite of passage. The fantasy sequence towards the end was one of the few joyous moments and if the film had a few of these peppered throughout it’d have been a far more rewarding experience.

Best Bit : Dreamy Dawn Saves The Day
‘W’ Rating : 14/23

Saturday, 6 June 2009

No. 150 : Wake of Death

Good old Jean Claude Van Damme, he’s never one for lofty aspirations like doing Shakespeare or Brecht, he knows his audience and sticks to a strict formula for every film. ‘Wake of Death’ is as you’d expect a revenge thriller with high kicks and a high body count but what did you expect?

To give some credit they do try and be a wee bit clever with a big car chase and deadly peril for JCVD right at the start. Before he cops it the film flashes back and it’s over an hour before we get back to the opening scene again. I hope Jean Claude’s fans weren’t too confused by this non-linear experiment but don’t worry it’s not ‘Memento’ or anything, just a cheap way to open with an unearned bang.

Anyway Jean is a club owner who has just retired from his job as a hench man for the local mafia boss. He has a pretty wife and young son and wants to be nice. Fat chance! The wife works at immigration and when a boat is found full of Hong Kong refugees she takes a little girl home, like you do. But no! This little girl saw her Dad kill her Mum and she’s on the run.

Nasty Dad touches down in LA minutes later and sets about reclaiming his daughter. After some gratuitous sex Van Damme heads to work only for his wife to be killed by the baddie with his big stiletto knife. Claude has about 30 seconds of blubbing and flashbacks to happier times before a chinaman jumps through his window with a samurai sword and it’s game on.

The rest of the film is basically Jean and his pal high kicking their way through the Yakuza. He uses his underworld contacts to do some pretty nasty torture on his behalf and lets his pal do most of the high kicking as he’s getting on a bit himself. As the end nears and we pass the bit we saw earlier we have to wonder if Jean will reclaim his son, save the nice little girl, get the bad guy and have a little bit of redemption for himself.

If you put your brain in neutral you’ll have a good time with ‘Wake of Death’. It ticks most of the boxes with some good fights and explosions. You also get a small dose of angst, some nudity and a man being stabbed in the balls. The plot is as predictable as they come but at least some effort is made to show that Jean isn’t a totally nice guy and some of the deaths are brutal to say the least.

The villains are a bunch of oriental caricatures but this was never going to be a film with a layered and fleshed out bad guy. The ending on a ship, in the fog at night was a straight lift from ‘Lethal weapon 2’ and ‘The Usual Suspects’ with every door offering a fresh seaman for a colourful dispatch. The ending may have a small element of surprise but that’s the only bit in this workmanlike, straight forward and highly enjoyable thriller.

Best Bit : Wife makes up for the Chinese Takeaway
‘W’ Rating 13/23

Friday, 5 June 2009

No. 149 : War Wolves

We’ve seen a few werewolf films recently here at the ‘W’ Movies Quest but none have been as bad as ‘War Wolves’. The first clue of its crappy quality is the (TV) after its title on the IMDb. This of course means it’s a television movie, or at least that’s where it premièred after all the distributors no doubt chose to pass. Frankly I’d agree and would say that passing water over this effort would be too praise it to highly.

The film opens with some soldiers having some R&R while abroad on duty. For no obvious reason we get a full five minutes of the touch football games which involves a strange unit that has both men and foxy chicks. Later while out on patrol the group is caught under fire and eventually decimated by some locals wearing toy store fangs.

We skip six months later and one of the survivors is working in a store. He keeps getting flashbacks to the wolf related incident and we’re pretty sure that he has been infected. Meanwhile the oldest two mercenaries in town are on the trail of three ladies who also exhibit symptoms of cheap transformation effects. Our man is met by another who gives him training in his new powers while the ladies are looking for him to join their group. When he’s cornered at a motel by the mercenaries he has to choose whether to stay or leave with the ladies in a ZZ Top style exit.

This is a strange film to categorise. Although it’s unintentionally funny it isn't a comedy but there isn't enough gore to merit calling it a horror. There is not enough characterisation to call it a drama and it’s certainly no adventure. Low budget crap fest would cover it, but sadly Blockbuster has yet to introduce that section.

The biggest laugh comes with the make up which is easily the worst I've ever seen. I know we have been accused of hyperbole before but trust me on this, you’ll never see anything poorer. Basically a ‘werewolf’ consists of 99p Dracula fangs and some green contact lenses. If you want full transformation add in some Spock ears and some boot polish for your nose. Once your actor is all dressed up have them arch their backs a bit and you're all set. It really is laughably awful and how the actors kept a straight face is beyond me.

The plot is all over the place too with an alcoholics anonymous storyline running parallel with the wolfie one. I think the director was trying to show how both curses can be damaging but are conquerable but it just came across as a load of preachy guff.

In mitigation you do get John Saxon for your money but he looks about 70 and daft as a mercenary. At one point some one throws him a shotgun and it looks like he’s about to fall over. The three female wolves are all very pretty but very shy, in a genre known for a bit of spice. No messy transformations for them of course just the occasional howl to disguise the crappy effects and hole filled script.

You’ll probably have trouble tracking this one down unless you find it on the Sci-fi Channel late at night, so just be grateful for that small mercy!

Best Bit : Hay loft tussle
‘W’ Rating : 1/23

Thursday, 4 June 2009

No. 148 : Wendy and Lucy

I’d have loved to have seen the original pitch for this movie. I guess it was ‘Woman loses dog and then finds it, the end' and the movie executive shouted ‘Solid gold!’. If that plot summary sounds simplistic it’s not really. The whole film takes place over a couple of days and hardly moves from a supermarket parking lot where it begins. Michelle Williams plays the titular Wendy a kind of oddball loner who is travelling to Alaska to get work at a fish cannery.

She stops overnight in Oregon and sleeps in her car with faithful pooch, Lucy. She's awoken by a security guard who wants her to move off but her car won’t start. This starts a series of events that try the patience of both Wendy and the viewer as she tries to keep body, soul, dog and car together. Her downfall is her own fault when she tries to secure a bit of five finger discount at the supermarket. A vigilant employee, who’s meant to come across as a dick but really isn’t, insists on handing her over to the cops.

The cops takes ages to process our light fingered heroine and by the time she gets back to the supermarket, where she left her dog, it has gone. The remainder of the film concerns the quest for the canine as Wendy gets frantic with worry for the fled fido. While the search is on her car is under the mechanic and it’s not looking good. Can the dog be found and will the car be fixed. Can we bear the suspense of these life changing questions?

This is a pretty decent slice of life that’s pretty inconsequential but an interesting insight all the same. We don’t get much back story to Wendy so her motivations aren’t that clear although we suspect something was afoot with the brother in law given her sister’s frosty reaction to her call. She’s not particularly likable with the shop lifting and general mooching all a bit of a turn off. She obviously cares for the dog but everyone else is just a means to an end.

It could be viewed as a fable for our troubled economic times but I thing that would be mining a subtext that isn’t really there. You could also see her as a modern day Blanche Dubois relying on the kindness of strangers. I was reasonably engaged by the film and keen for the inevitable reuniting scene, but as it approached the sense of a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ ending became overpowering and true to form it delivered.

I thought Michelle Williams was decent as the lead although I never really got the sense of desperation from her that her character seemed to be demanding. The rest of the cast were only bit parts although I did like the nicest car park guard in movie history.

Not a film to cheer you up or offer comfort at a time of belt tightening but as an exercise in ‘at least I’m better off than her’ it does a pretty good job.

Best Bit : Shopping the cheap way
‘W’ Rating 13/23

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

No. 147 : White Zombie

Here’s an early talkie featuring horror maestro Bela Legosi dating from 1932 which was feared lost bur rediscovered in the 1960s. When you see the print and hear the sound you may think that it would have been better off staying lost but that would be to deny yourself a cracking film with some real iconic moments.

The film is set on Haiti and a young man is bringing his girlfriend home to the family plantation to marry her. On their way to the house their coach is set upon by some zombies. Their driver explains that these dead people have been reanimated so they can work the farms. The mysterious and aptly named Murder Legende (Legosi) is nearby and manages to swipe the bride to be’s scarf.

Understandably a bit upset at the zombie infestation the couple bunk down for the night but elsewhere nefarious plans are afoot. Another suitor of the lovely girl won’t give her up and seeks advice from Legosi, who predictably enough comes up with a diabolical scheme involving his zombie raising powers. Using the stolen scarf and some nifty candle carving skills he kills the new bride much to the overacting of her groom.

With the bride in a box the husband hits the bottle while Legosi gets ready to reanimate the body. All is not well however as the reanimated woman isn’t quite the life and soul of the party that the suitor believed. A bit like the old joke really - I think my wife is dead, the sex is the same but the washing up is piling up. Having being clued up by a local missionary the husband sets about recovering his wife and taking revenge against Murder and his cadre of corpses.

At only 65 minutes this film stuffs a lot in but given the crappy quality of the stock you have to be grateful for that. My summary is based on watching the film but having read some other comments it appears that different interpretations can be made. This is understandable as I’m a bit slow and at times it was impossible to make out the audio. It also doesn’t help that the narrative gets a bit confused in the last quarter and that the two love rivals look a lot like each other.

On the plus side you do get the first ever screen appearance of zombies and they haven’t been as scary since, They aren’t flesh eating or anything mental just mindless slaves capable of any evil command. They are all under Legosi’s direct control and this leads to a funny scene at the end once Legosi has been knocked out. As they all strive for the perfect dive.

Of the actors Legosi steals the show although sound may not be his forte as he often just strikes a menacing pose and holds it. The worst is the missionary who flubs every line and clearly doesn’t believe a word of the tosh he’s spouting. Similarly bad is the butler who has the presence of mind to hold his nose when he’s thrown into the seas by the zombies.

The direction is really impressive and certainly ahead of its time. You get fancy split screens, match cuts and some pretty convincing ghostly special effects where our pissed up man keeps seeing his dead wife floating about. Legosi hogs most of the screen when he’s on set but when you see his evil face you’ll know why. The other leads are OK but nothing notable apart from the lead zombie who basically sewed up the genre look in this outing.

The ending is a bit pat but overall the production is pretty lavish with the sets a rival to the great Universal epics. Before we close a word on the title. The ‘white zombie’ is the lady and the title is to separate her from all the other zombies who are largely black plantation workers. You wouldn’t get away with that kind of profiling today - you’d have to call it ‘White Living Impaired Individual’.

Best Bit : Zombie Dive Off
‘W’ Rating : 17/23

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

No. 146 : Werewolf Woman

We round off our recent trio of werewolf films with perhaps the most mental and skuzzy offering you’re ever likely to see. Seemingly a favourite of Quentin Tarantino ‘Werewolf Woman’ is a tacky Italian offering that marries soft porn with people being eaten.

We open with a group of villagers hunting a monster with torches, perhaps 200 years ago. A naked woman dances over the front credits before she is cornered by the townsfolk and slowly transforms into a kind of Chewbacca sex doll. This outfit, complete with four inch nipples, has to be seen to be believed. Not overly turned on by her charms the mob readies to burn her before a woman identical in appearance to the pre-wolf wench wakes up. It was all a dream or was it? No, it was the lady’s ancestor and we have to worry that the wolfie gene may still be active.

The lady is called Daniella and she suffers from voices in the head and an aversion to clothing. Her Pop takes her out to the country to convalese but before long the urges take her over and she takes a bite out of her sister’s husband - at least the sister can take solace in the fact that he enjoyed several minutes of graphic lovemaking before he got chomped. Daniella is understandably committed the to the nut house but she is soon free when another patient loosens her bonds so they can enjoy some explicit lesbian sex. Any theme starting to show up yet?

Daniella takes to the road and is offered a lift and lodgings by a balding and badly dubbed man who, after getting a surprising refusal, announces "You whore, I’m gonna rape ya” before getting his just desserts. Daniella takes flight once more but is again offered a ride and a place to stay, this time by a far sexier man who is a movie stuntman who naturally lives on a wild west set. Although the bloodlust grips her again, Danielle manages to overcome her bitey habits due to love. Obviously we can’t have that so three men break in to rape her and kill her beau. Can our girl exact her revenge and will she overcome the curse once and for all?

This is a really awful film that comfortably fits in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. The title is a bit of a misnomer as Daniella never becomes a werewolf but only acts under its spell or influence. This is fine by me as the make up in the opening scene was dreadful and I can only assume the director ordered a rewrite to keep it off the screen. Although they persist with the mystical gubbins the obvious answer is that the woman is totally bananas and just likes biting throats. The lead actress, Annik Borrel, is pretty enough but she takes her clothes off so often it gets to the stage where you think ‘C’mon luv put ‘em away’ just before she gets them out again. I’m all for nakedness but she does a good job of seeming mental so it’s not so much a turn on as pretty unnerving.

Sometimes in a dubbed film it can be hard to judge the acting but here it’s mostly bad given the reactions and facial expressions. The pursuing cops are your usual gang of nitwits while the bad guys still have the outline from where the cookie cutter stamped out their characters. The director does his best with a bad lot but must be held accountable for a really poor ‘falling in love’ montage. The lover is a stuntman so we get three separate scenes of him executing a stunt before they embrace - those saloon windows don’t come cheap you know!

The dubbing and translations are laughably bad with great outrages greeted with the most sober of responses such as the man on finding his lover being gang raped by three men = “hey”. It is of course tailored to a certain market of exploitation fans with the next death or nude scene never more than five minutes away. No effort is made to explain the curse or to find a cure and the ending can be described as enigmatic at best. Overall ‘Werewolf Woman’ does what it says on the tin. As long as the tin says ‘naked women and grisly deaths’.

Best Bit : Opening wolfiness
‘W’ Rating : 14/23

Monday, 1 June 2009

No. 145 : Werewolf of London

Having recently reviewed one of the most recent werewolf films let’s have a look at one of the earliest. ‘Werewolf of London’ dates from 1935, several years before Lon Chaney Jnr. made the monster famous in ‘The Wolf Man’. This effort is very dated and seems more like a comedy than the horror that the dramatic score suggests. It doesn’t even have Warren Zevon on the soundtrack - what a rip off!

We open on a sun baked ‘Tibet’ which looks suspiciously like that California desert where they always film ‘Star Trek’. On checking I found that the whole effort was shot in California so let’s hope for some authentic London touches later on. Anyway, our hero is an adventurer botanist who is in Tibet to locate a rare flower that only blossoms by moon light. He manages to find one in a valley where no one has ever emerged from but gets bitten by a man in a mask for his troubles.

Back in London our hero, Dr Glendon, holds a society bash and is met by a mysterious Dr Yogami who needs some of the flowers to help some werewolf men who are terrorising London. Clearly seeing him as a nutter Glendon sends him n his way but gets a bit concerned when his hands go hairy - mother always warned me about that. He finds that the juice of the plant stops the onset of wolfiness but is in trouble when an unseen robber steals the last of the blooms.

The next full moon Glendon transforms and after scaring a society lady chooses to kill a well dressed street walker instead. The police are obviously baffled and choose to ignore the young detective who guesses the wolf related problem at once. Glendon reads up on his situation and sees that he’s most likely to kill the one he loves most and so chooses to move away to a remote boarding house run by a nice drunk lady. After another killing he returns home to get some more flowers, only to be met by Yogami who has a similar need for the blooms. We learn the two have met in the past and soon realise that there is only one way this is going to end.

Although by no means a classic there is a lot to like in this film. It’s very of it’s pre-war day with the ladies knowing their place and everyone being very mannered except for the working classes who are all drunks. There are only two killings, both off screen, and both victims ‘deserved it’, one being a prostitute and the other an adulteress. The werewolf itself is extremely non scary with the costume consisting on some hairy gloves and a wig. The transformations are done in a very rudimentary fashion with cuts visible as our man passes some pillars, growing more hairy at each shot. Later on match cuts are used but these look too obvious to be convincing.

The wolf man himself is a strange creature, choosing to put on his coat, scarf and cap before heading out on a blood frenzy - doesn’t he realise that he’s got a fur coat on? He’s also a bit wimpy getting beaten up by an upper class twit - I guess they had to show these common wolf types their place. ‘London’ looked OK and they wisely kept away from any landmarks. The streets are all fog and carriage lamps and there are enough English character actors peppered about to keep things somewhat on topic.

Most of the acting is dreadful with a lot of dramatic pauses where the actors struggle to remember their lines or at least utter the fanciful dialogue they’ve been given. Worst of the bunch was Warner Oland as the enigmatic Dr Yogami whose slow delivery accounts for about half of the film’s 70 minute running time. He is better known as cinema’s Charlie Chan, a stereotype far more suited to abilities.

Many of the familiar werewolf conventions are missing with no silver bullets in sight although he does go to visit wolves in the zoo - a scene laterreprised in ‘An American Werewolf in London’. The film doesn’t scare in the slightest but as an oddity it’s quite interesting both in terms of the genre and of the period as a whole. The class divide shown is unimaginable today in terms of the portrayal of the working classes and their expendability. The toffs on the other hand are a bunch of party going gadabouts, so no change there then!

Best Bit : Boarding house banter
‘W’ Rating 13/23