Tuesday, February 9, 2016

All Hallows' Eve 2 (2015) review


Andrea Monier (Girl in wraparound), Damien Monier (Trickster), Helen Rogers (Elizabeth), Tyler Rossell (Jack), Ron Basch (Jack), Emily Alatalo (Kate), Bob Jaffe (Abraham), Jared Mark Smith (Isaac), April Adamson (Andrea), Robert McLaughlin (Killer), Bill Oberst, Jr. (Sade), Griffin Gluck (Max), Christie Lynn Smith (Loraine), Michael Serrato (Mr. Tricker), Carrie Seim (Monica), Sergio Beron (Dale), Paula Carruega (Melina), Pilar Boyle (Alexia)

Directed by Jesse Baget, Bryon Norton, Antonio Padovan, Marc Roussel, Ryan Patch, Jay Holben, Jon and James Kondelik, Elias Benavidez, Mike Kochanskey, Andres Borghi

The Short Version: The terrifying Art the Clown is sorely missed in this second go-round of tricks and treats; instead, we get a standard slasher substitute that the credits refer to as Trickster, a far less scary, pumpkin mask-wearing killer with zero personality and a major flaw in how he/it fits into the plot. Damien Leone, director of the first ALL HALLOWS' EVE, returns as a producer and continues the anthology format; this time in the vein of THE ABC's OF DEATH with 8 (short) films to die for--all of which vary in quality. The first and last tales are stunning examples of horror and directors to watch for. Higher production values among many of the shorts means this sequel comes out more polished than the first time around. Even so, this 78 minutes (minus 12 minutes of end credits) of All Hallowed Horror is anchored by an incredibly weak wraparound that poorly repeats the one from the first film.

Alone on Halloween, a woman sees a mysterious figure watching her from the street below. Hearing a knock on her door, she finds an old VHS tape left outside her apartment. In an age of DVD and Bluray, she only has a VCR so she pops in the tape to view its contents. As the various stories unfold, the horror film-loving lady receives an unwanted guest later that night.

The first ALL HALLOWS' EVE (2013) was a nifty little experiment, stitching two previously made horror shorts with one new segment to formulate a full-length feature. This sequel does the same, amassing old and new shorts (one of which dates back as far as 2004!) with a newly shot wraparound; only this time, the approach is similar to THE ABCs OF DEATH (2013), with eight shorts, one of which was intended for ABCs OF DEATH 2 (2015). 

This idea of combining short films to make a feature isn't new, though; back in the 1970s, Shaw Brothers of Hong Kong had done the same thing; only in many cases, a film intended for theatrical release would be abandoned for whatever reason, finding an all-new purpose as part of an anthology instead. This happened with such films as FEARFUL INTERLUDE (1975) and their five film CRIMINALS series. It's a bit of economic genius when you think about it, although it doesn't guarantee a brilliant result.

Getting back to ALL HALLOWS' EVE 2, only three of the segments deal with Halloween; not counting the wraparound that simply, and quite lazily, copies the nerve-jangling, and far superior framing device of Damien Leone's original.

In the first AHE, Leone introduced a purely evil villain in the form of Art the Clown. Ostensibly a supernatural entity, Art was, in one way or another, a thematic link in each of the segments in the original movie. For this sequel, Art is abandoned (presumably Leone is using him in a full-length feature tailored for the character) and a new maniac, Trickster, is introduced. Aside from a second or two in between stories, he is only seen in the beginning and ending of AHE2. Compared to Art, Trickster has nothing up his sleeve and nothing to offer to make for an interesting antagonist. A totally weak villain, he is basically a Michael Myers clone wearing a pumpkin mask.

The stories run the gamut in quality as is the norm with anthologies; at least two are absolute crap, a couple average entries, and some truly impressive shorts. The acting is surprisingly good all around, as is the photography. As a whole, ALL HALLOWS' EVE 2 is weaker than its predecessor, but surpasses it in production values. Now about those stories....

The opening of the film presents us with an attractive lady all alone on Halloween tinkering with a Ouija Board seeking answers as to why a guy she's interested in isn't returning her calls. She's immediately interrupted by a noise outside and sees some weirdo wearing a pumpkin mask doing his best Michael Myers impression. She soon gets a knock on her door and not only finds a well-worn VHS tape on her doorstep, but the Michael Myers wannabe standing in the hallway doing that head tilt thing. Seemingly unfazed by this, she casually closes the door and pops the tape in a convenient VCR, ready to watch its contents on her LCD monitor television set.

This framing device dispenses with the babysitter and kids of part 1 to focus on a single woman; and unlike the original, the bits in between each story add nothing to the wraparound. Now, the point of the framer in ALL HALLOWS' EVE was that Art the Clown used the tape to make his way into our world. This sequel replicates that very thing, even though Trickster, as he's referred in the credits, is clearly seen in our reality before the woman ever gets a hold of the tape rendering the last few moments not only meaningless but pointless.


On Halloween Night, a babysitter and the boy she's watching carve a pumpkin with deadly results.

This first segment gets ALL HALLOWS' EVE 2 off to a delightfully morbid start with an 8 minute ghoulash about the dangers of pumpkin carving. Utilizing the urban legend of eating watermelon seeds as a foundation, the filmmakers substitute pumpkin seeds that equal the same disastrous results. The spirit of the holiday is beautifully captured in the short's brief running time. Playfully simplistic, its creativity recalls those 5-10 minute short films you used to see on the USA Network in the 80s used to flesh out a two hour timeslot. One of the best, and the goriest, of the eight segments.


Sometime in the near future, society has fallen into a dystopian nightmare. On Halloween Night, four trick 'r treaters have a sinister surprise in store for those who don't open their doors.

This is another good segment, a flashier version of a TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (1983-1988) episode; not as enjoyable as the first, and lacking much in the way of a story even though it runs a little longer at 11 minutes. Some sort of apocalypse has taken place and kids, at least these four, still cling to tradition of going door to door for candy on Halloween... only these kids aren't what they appear to be. The main point of interest are some fantastic makeup effects adjoining a nice little punch at the end. Based on a comic book, this is the one short that fills like it's been edited from a longer piece.


A father and son travel deep within the woods one cold, winter night to leave an offering for something dwelling in the forest.... something not human.

The third short explains about as much as the previous entry; and at 7 minutes gets by on minimal tension created before the sort-of payoff. Some choice snowy photography enhance the scenario. Basically this father and son get together to drop off a bowel of fruit, a bird talon, and other items for a midnight rendezvous with whatever it is out in the wilderness. Unfortunately on this occasion, the father forgets one of the ingredients, the most important one. If you recall the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac then you'll know what's happening here. Hovering close to being an above-average entry, this award winning segment, while not showing much, offers a little more than expected.


Andrea goes to visit a friend and discovers she's been murdered and proceeds to hide from the killer who is still inside. Six weeks later the survivor is leaving work late one night and ends up on the elevator with the man she saw murder her best friend.

Arguably the best story of the eight and easily the most intense. Another festival winner, ALL HALLOWS' EVE 2 shows a bit of diversity with this 12 minute suspenser; a short film armed with a high caliber of quality from director Jay Holben. Claustrophobia is the theme, first within the confines of a closet then the main setting of an elevator. Props like a ringing cell phone are key to the terror quotient. The tone is psychological as opposed to supernatural of the preceding shorts.


Three boys go to a bizarre carnival where their attention is grabbed by an attraction called 'The Masochist'. Instead of throwing baseballs to knock down objects, you sling weapons of death to kill a bound and gagged individual.

Originally intended for ABCs OF DEATH 2 (2014/2015), this 3 minute waste of film is the absolute worst story of the bunch. Not putting the utterly bland framer into the equation, 'Masochist' is the first major bump in the road for ALL HALLOWS' EVE 2. The one saving grace is the acting of Bill Olberst, Jr. as the maniacal, rhyming carny beckoning the kids to hurl assorted weaponry at the title abuser tied up on a spinning wheel. Still, one gets the impression that this thoroughly weak segment might make for a better concept stretched out to feature length... akin to other carnival horrors, or something like CIRCUS OF THE DEAD (2015), which happens to star Bill Olberst, Jr.


A small boy with a vivid imagination, still mourning the loss of his military father, tries to convince his mother that a monster resides somewhere in his room.

Aside from the poor showing of the previous tale, 'A Boy's Life' is a major step up in quality, but feels woefully misplaced. Bearing a Spielbergian tone of child-like wonder, Elias Benavidez's mini-movie feels more like a dark episode of AMAZING STORIES (1985-1987) than a full-fledged horror short. Well acted and often touching, the patience of some horror fans will be strained by this story. Considering everything that's come before it (and the two after it) this tale is as alone in its thematics as the little boy in the story. At nearly 20 minutes (edited down from 23), it's the longest of the 8 segments. Again, the diverse styling is welcome, but this one barely qualifies as horror, never really venturing there till the last few seconds, culminating in an abrupt, tone-altering finish.


A neighborhood eccentric has an unusual preference for Halloween decorations.

It's difficult to discern which is worse, the 'Masochist' short or this atrocious 5 minutes of horror(ible). There's this John Wayne Gacy type killer who keeps victims tied up in metal dog kennels; even padlocking them, despite the fact they could easily stand up to escape. Elsewhere, the darkly humorous tone is upset by hinting Mr. Tricker might be doing other things with these young boys than torture and killing them. The narrative thrust is that this neighborhood psycho uses real corpses for his Halloween decor; nor does he let the light of day, out in the open, hinder him from getting into the haunted holiday spirit when an annoying neighbor shows up to admire his work.


Franco's ex-girlfriend, Alexia Thomas, committed suicide a year ago and tonight is her birthday. Already seeing another woman named Melina, Franco peruses Alexia's Facebook page, pondering whether to finally remove himself. Unfriending her, something sinister begins reaching out to him through social media.

Thankfully, ALL HALLOWS' EVE 2 ends its 8 tales on a disturbing high note, closing out with a superbly frightening 10 minute shocker. In this award winner from Spain, THE RING is an obvious influence. It would also appear the makers of the recent UNFRIENDED (2015) have essentially made a feature-length remake of Andre Borghi's short-film skin-crawler. The only negative of ALEXIA, which is no fault of the original filmmaker, is that the producers compiling the shorts couldn't be bothered with adding English subtitles (you can watch it subbed HERE)! This is a shame since ALEXIA is so well made, and manages to tell a story, via a simple Facebook conversation, within a ten minute time-frame. The imagery and grotesque makeup design sells the horror, augmented by nerve-shredding music found in all your finer vengeful ghost movies. Andre Borghi is certainly a talent to look out for.

ALL HALLOWS' EVE 2 (2015) succeeds in a lot of areas but is nearly paralyzed by a couple horrible shorts that are aided and abetted by an incredibly boring, soulless wraparound. The framing device is seemingly the only exclusive footage. It's unfortunate that the high quality of some of the shorts must carry the weight of a weak opening and even weaker ending--two points by which a film should grab you and leave you wanting more. Taking its strengths at face value, celebrating another ALL HALLOWS' EVE could become a holiday tradition.

This review is representative of the RLJ Entertainment DVD. Extras and Specs: 1.85:1/2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; 91 minutes. There are no extras.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sword of the Conqueror (1962) review


Jack Palance (Alboin, King of the Lombards), Eleonora Rossi Drago (Rosamund), Guy Madison (Amalchi), Carlo D'Angelo (Falisco), Ivan Palance (Ulderic, Prince of the Lombards), Edy Vessel (Matilda), Andrea Bosic (King Cunimund), Raf Baldassarre (Sylvester)

Directed by Carlo Campogalliani

The Short Version: Director Campogalliani oversees an exciting mix of the historical and every Sword and Sandal staple within reach. The filmmakers could just as easily have made a tension-fueled dramatization of the famous tragedy but, in accordance with then current trends, squeeze an abundance of torture scenes, bloody violence, and an intrusive hero in the form of American western star Guy Madison to satisfy the fans of similar material starring Steve Reeves, Gordon Scott and others. Despite the presence of a heroic character, Jack Palance dominates the screen with unkempt, but calculated villainy while the elegance of Eleonora Rossi Drago wages war with Palance's brutish tendencies, often defeating them. An exceptional entry in a genre that would peak by 1962 and fall like Pompeii by 1965.

Emperor Justinian of Byzantium, fearing two barbarian factions--the Lombards, led by King Alboin, and the Gepids, led by King Cunimund--starts a war between the two allies. During their first battle, a treacherous scheme leaves the Gepids beaten and blame is placed on the king's most loyal cavalry commander, Amalchi who is stripped of his title and thrown in jail. In a surprising, if politically motivated maneuver, Alboino doesn't wish to conquer the Gepids, but wants their friendship so long as he has the hand of Cunimund's daughter, Rosamund, in marriage--part of his greater scheme to conquer Rome. However, Rosamund and Amalchi have maintained a secret relationship, even having an illegitimate child together since her father refuses to accept a union between them. She agrees to this marriage if it will bring peace between their two peoples, but it leaves Amalchi enraged. Meanwhile, both sides are unaware that King Cunimund's minister, Falisco, along with Emperor Justinian's advisers, are secretly plotting their doom....

Jack Palance headlined three Sword and Sandal movies in the early 1960s; those being REVAK, THE REBEL (1960), the classic THE MONGOLS (1961), and SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR. Much like Gordon Mitchell, Palance's craggy visage was better served as the bad guy. His ability to comfortably wear menace like a glove is the defining factor that makes the last two titles so memorable. SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR is among the most polished of the formulaic peplums; as well as one of the most entertaining to not feature a musclebound hero hurling men and monsters from one end of the screen at regular intervals.

Originally to be directed by Primo Zeglio (THE RELENTLESS FOUR [1965]), the writer/director referred Campogalliani to helm instead. Zeglio had previously co-directed the Steve Reeves adventure MORGAN, THE PIRATE (1960) and SEVEN SEAS TO CALAIS (1962) with Rod Taylor. Interestingly, MORGAN's co-director, Andre De Toth, would direct Palance in 1961s THE MONGOLS. He would often write and direct his films, but Zeglio co-wrote this one with his wife Paola Barbara. Three other writers contributed to the screenplay (including seasoned director Campogalliani) in what became a problematic production.

Reportedly the main source of the problems was between the director and star Jack Palance--neither of which liked the other. Running a week over its scheduled five week shoot, AD Romolo Guerrieri (JOHNNY YUMA [1966], YOUNG, VIOLENT, DANGEROUS [1976]) directed some of Palance's scenes to move things along. Palance's reputation for being difficult to work with wasn't confined to Hollywood as sources state he didn't get on too well with his co-star, Anita Ekberg, in THE MONGOLS, either. 

The finished product is quite good and overly violent in a comic book sort of way. It's very much in Campogalliani's style as displayed by the excessive brutality in his hit film starring Steve Reeves, IL TERRORE DEI BARBARI (GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS [1959]). Like that picture, Campogalliani and his team include virtually all the genres familiar elements in this one--such as the all-important whipping scene, an Iron Maiden, assorted challenges for the hero, beautiful women in distress, a dance sequence and lots of macho posturing.

It's also an historical drama detailing, in fairly faithful fashion, the relationship between Rosamund and Alboin (the film's Italian title). Sources vary, but the story that would become a famous Italian tragedy sees the Lombard King, Alboin, defeating the Gepids, decapitating Cunimund in battle, and marrying his daughter. Using this marriage as an opportunity to avenge her father, Rosamund, after several years of mental torture, had Alboin assassinated. In real life, and unlike the film versions ending, Rosamund did not have a happy ending.

Elsewhere in contrast, the writers interrupt the title tumultuous union to include a hero in the form of another American actor, Guy Madison. By adding this character, SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR (1962) sometimes feels like two different movies. Madison encapsulates the typical Torch and Toga machinations while Palance and Eleonora engage in a duel of emotions exacerbated by various plots and back-stabbings that play around with the history and speculations of the story.

The inclusion of Madison's Amalchi feels intrusive at times; and Madison is unsuccessful in conquering Jack Palance's indomitable persona. He does provide the thrust of the action quotient, though. Madison, however inconsequential to the narrative as he comes off, is essential to crucial events playing the fall guy on multiple occasions. 

Initially, Alboin decides to align with the Gepids after defeating them... so long as the King hands over his daughter in marriage. He agrees, which sends Amalchi into a tailspin. Already angry that he is falsely blamed for a treacherous loss on the battlefield, the real enemy, Falisco, plots yet again to ruin what is already an uneasy truce between former allies. Alboin sends his brother Ulderic (played by Palance's real life brother, Ivan; see insert) to issue terms and, in what is to be a friendly exchange of skills, ends in disaster after Falisco's subordinate, Sylvester, sabotages Amalchi's lance for the joust. This not only frames Amalchi yet again, but sets up the Gepid's for the slaughter, and setting a revenge in motion that could've been averted if not for duplicitous, prejudiced advisers.

Both Madison and Palance are in competition for stand-out sequences. Madison's involves a scene where he attempts to convince a neighboring tribe to attack Alboin's forces. Before they agree, Amalchi must pass a test. This particular trial involves crossing a precipice where a rope is tied from one end to the other. There are three perils--the rope is frayed and has spikes inserted into it. If the rope breaks, Amalchi will not only fall, but he'll be impaled on dozens of arrows jutting up from the ground.

Madison may get the bulk of the physical action, but Palance chews the scenery the rest of the time. Arguably his best moment is the scene where, just prior to marrying Rosamund, he asks she prove her love for him by drinking from a very special goblet... and not just any goblet; this one is made from the skull of her slain father! Alboin smiles as she drinks from the ornate cranium, this convincing him that she loves him and that he has finally conquered yet another "war"; only he's been fooled not by strategery of men, but the wiles of a woman. It's a really powerful scene and one that's taken from the actual story. 

As cruel as Alboin is to Rosamund, it's clear that the man does indeed wish to love the woman, even if he seems incapable of doing so. Alboin is so used to taking what he wants, he conquers Rosamund the only way he knows how--through suppression and submission. He tries to break her down, but this only works against him as the film plays out. 

Speaking of Rosamund, Eleonora Rossi Drago gets a great scene of her own. In it, Alboin, having occupied the Gepid fortress, threatens to feed Rosamund's people to a dozen or more hungry lions. She asks a favor that he spare three women to be her personal assistants. Alboin grants her wish and she walks among the captives, one of which is the sister of her lover, Matilda (played by Edy Vessel;see insert in middle). There's a twist to this sequence, and it's one of the moments where the scriptwriters add layers to Palance's character depicting him as a bit more than a simple, war-loving barbarian.

There's another interesting character that is familiar to these movies--the scheming adviser to the ruling body who plots to usurp the throne. In the case of this movie, it's the character of Falisco (played by Carlo D'Angelo;see insert at right). Meeting secretly with ministers of Emperor Justinian, these deceitful, effeminate men are, in contrast to Alboin and Amalchi, weak in body but strong in mind. Their detestment for testosterone is evident in an early dialog exchange wherein Falisco lets his feelings known about barbarians... "You don't know how I despise them. I can forgive a people anything, even cowardice; but I can't bear their ignorance and an appalling lack of culture!"

Unfortunately for Falisco and his clutch of deceivers, Alboin is far smarter than they give him credit. 

Director Campogalliani was an old hand at this sort of thing, having both acted in, and directed several of the Maciste movies starring Bartolomeo Pagano from the early part of the 20th century. During the 60s boom, Campogalliani was the guiding force behind only one Maciste movie--the unusually violent MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1960). Some striking, yet brief nudity and a highly sexual dance/seduction sequence from hot tamale, Chelo Alonso, added to that film's appeal. Violence was likewise an eyebrow raiser in the filmmaker's sole outing with Steve Reeves, the aforementioned GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS (1959); again with the fiery Alonso. Campogalliani's career ended in 1964 with THE AVENGER OF VENICE, followed by his death in Italy ten years later on August 10th, 1974.

In its native Italy, SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR was released on August 24th, 1961. In America it marched onto movie screens in September of the following year. Palance, on a bit of an Italian roll, had another movie coming out in Italy with THE MONGOLS debuting a week later in 1961. 

Fans of Sword and Sandal get the best of both worlds in this one--drama and action--spearheaded by an intermittently raving performance by Jack Palance. Director Campogalliani was in his late 70s when he made this so the level of polish is even more impressive. A sturdy actioner with plentiful sword battles, double crosses and brutality, fans of peplums and Palance will most likely enjoy watching him conquer the 98 minute running time. 
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