Monday, October 16, 2017

Mutant (1984) review


Wings Hauser (Josh Cameron), Bo Hopkins (Sheriff Stewart), Jody Medford (Holly Pierce), Lee Montgomery (Mike Cameron), Jennifer Warren (Dr. Myra Tate)

Directed by John "Bud" Cardos

The Short Version: FVI's tale of toxic horror had a similarly poisonous effect on audiences back in 1984. Starting off on a high note, the flick briefly segues into a Southern Gothic MACON COUNTY LINE (1974) thriller before returning to horror, then action horror for the final thirty minutes; there's even a surprising amount of exposition to go around, so it's a busy, fleetingly suspenseful, if unsuccessful movie. No reason is given, but toxic chemicals are being dumped into the water supply of a small town turning the inhabitants into blue-faced bloodsuckers that drain the plasma from their victims through these slits in their palms that ooze acidic green goo. It's silly fun, if slow in spots. MUTANT is reminiscent of those lower-tier 50s SciFi'ers and about as memorable.

Two brothers traveling in the south are run off the road by a truckload of rednecks. Left stranded, they find their way into a small town and immediately notice something is wrong. The townsfolk become increasingly ill, bodies turn up, and and much of the population slowly disappears without a trace. It isn't long before it's discovered a toxic chemical spill is having a deadly effect on the citizenry.

One of the last movies to be released through Film Ventures International before their bankruptcy in November of 1984, MUTANT isn't particularly memorable, but it is a decent time-waster if you don't mind your movies percolating from the B category. The reliable John "Bud" Cardos fumbles a bit considering the movie mutated from its origins; but manages to drum up some genuine suspense in a few sequences. The bulk of these come during the last 30 minutes when the action is more or less non-stop.

MUTANT begins as a straight horror picture--crossing over into MACON COUNTY LINE (1974) territory; then casually adds action sequences to the mix. There's lots of running and physicality with the title deformities once we get to see them. It's important to note that if you've only seen the promotional advertising for this movie, you may be disappointed to discover there's no mutant monsters to be found; they're actors painted blue with black circles around their eyes! Somebody must of been a fan of CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1961). Their hands have these vagina-like slits in the palms that secrete this green, acidic goo that burns anyone they touch--shades of THE CHILDREN (1980). Essentially vampires, the blood from a victims body is sucked through these palm labias. Even though the script wasn't taking any cues from Romero's flesh-eating favorites, the smell of zombie funk is in the air just the same.

Beginning life as 'Pestilence', two young writers (Michael Jones and John Kruize) fashioned a story about the military dumping toxic waste in a small town turning the population into monsters.This was back when you could submit unsolicited material and sell it. Producers Igo Kantor and Ed Montoro thought it was a good script, but changed the responsible party from the military to some local company. Another writer (Peter Orton) was brought aboard to work on it and the title was then changed to 'Night Shadows'.

Mark Rosman, a former assistant to Brian De Palma, had just come off of the stylish THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983), was signed as director. While Rosman fashioned one of the best 80s slashers, he was unable to handle MUTANT--a film that began as a horror picture, but rapidly turned into action-horror. Reportedly, Rosman was having difficulties handling action sequences so John "Bud" Cardos was brought in to direct 2nd Unit before ultimately taking over as director. Rosman left a week into production. It was said to be a mutual parting of the ways.

In a Fangoria interview, star Wings Hauser nearly left the production after Rosman made his exit. But upon talking with Mr. Cardos, he became more comfortable working with him and decided to stay on. 

Ambitious, but riddled with faults, MUTANT played to empty theaters much like the increasingly desolate town in the movie. Still, it had no shortage of press back in 1984. Fangoria gave multiple coverage in two issues; it even made the cover of issue #34. The film's failure hastened FVI's bankruptcy filing in November of 1984 and eventual selling in 1985. Reportedly, FVI owner Edward L. Montoro divested one million from his company and fled. Thought to have headed for Mexico, he has never been seen again.

Had MUTANT contained some splashy gore, we possibly would've had a minor cult item instead of the forgotten obscurity it remains today. Both Kantor and Montoro were adamant about delivering a PG rating, but they got an R anyways; so this was a missed opportunity. Even more sad, with MUTANT's failure and FVI's downfall (it was sold to another company), other movies in the production pipeline fell by the wayside--such as 'The Most Dangerous Man Alive' to have starred James Ryan of KILL OR BE KILLED (1976) and KILL AND KILL AGAIN (1981); and a sequel to KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977) then titled 'Deadly Encounter'. Cannon would try to get a KINGDOM sequel off the ground in the late 80s, but it didn't materialize then, either.

As for the performances, the script does make an effort towards exposition--particularly with Wings Hauser. Playing the memorable psychopath in VICE SQUAD (1982), Hauser essays the hero this time out. The rapport between him and Lee Montgomery is good as the two brothers. He really throws himself into the action scenes, too. There's no choreographer so these sequences are sloppy in places; or inadequacies are covered up with editing. If nothing else, Hauser's enthusiasm keeps things moving and you from tuning out.

Having played a crazed sheriff in A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS (1976), Bo Hopkins has a badge once more; only now he's on the right side of the law. It's not expanded upon, but this sheriff has a bit of a backstory. Hopkins has played many memorable characters throughout his lengthy career. He's good here, but MUTANT is of minor note. In an interview with Fangoria, Hopkins enjoyed working on the picture and added some additional characterization that wasn't in the original script.

Arguably, the best hand MUTANT plays is in Richard Band's energetic, oppressively moody score. The opening cue immediately grabs your attention. Unfortunately, the score occasionally feels like it'd be a better fit in a bigger, better movie. Still, it does improve the viewing experience.

MUTANT is one of those movies you'd see on the video store shelf back in the day and pass it by dozens of times, never to rent it. Well, it's actually a pretty decent, if underwhelming movie. It's akin to many of those 50s SciFi programmers that were fillers for double bills. The cast and director are the major selling points, so it's not a toxic waste of time.

You can purchase the bluray HERE.

This review is representative of the Code Red bluray. Specs and Extras: 1080p 4K scan from original negative 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen; audio commentary with Lee Montgomery, John Cardos and Igo Kantor; interviews with Bo Hopkins and Lee Montgomery; original trailer; running time: 01:39:00

Monday, October 9, 2017

One Dark Night (1983) review


Meg Tilly (Julie Wells), Melissa Newman (Olivia McKenna), Robin Evans (Carol Mason), Leslie Speights (Kitty), Donald Hotton (Dockstader), E.G. Daily (Leslie Winslow), David Mason Daniels (Steve), Adam West (Allan McKenna)

Directed by Tom McLoughlin

The Short Version: Smack in the middle of slasher country came this intriguing telekinetic ghost flick that, while ambitious in its wacky storytelling, ends up a dull experience in paranormal horror. Totally out of place among the burgeoning popularity of 80s blood and gore, McLoughlin's movie feels more like a TV production till the last fifteen minutes when the payoff finally rises from its tomb. Prior to that, his picture has that British Gothic horror vibe going for it among some other qualities, if only it moved faster than a Romero zombie at high noon. Even at 90 minutes, this is ONE long DARK NIGHT.

The bodies of half a dozen young girls are found in the skid row apartment of a famous, and dead Russian occultist named Raymar. His alienated daughter learns from one of his colleagues that her father had become a sort of psychic vampire who fed off the bioenergy of his victims. Meantime, Julie, a young high school girl wishes to become a member of a sorority known as The Sisters. Her initiation requires she spend the night alone in a spooky mausoleum where Raymar has recently been interred. The few members of the sorority decide to terrorize Julie throughout the night; but what they don't realize is Raymar is slowly reviving himself from the fear of the women trapped inside... and soon to feed off of their lifeforce.

The slasher boom of the 80s had hit its peak by 1983 and it took director McLoughlin a few more before doing his own interpretation with JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI (1986). Not having a liking for that sort of thing, he co-wrote this peculiar paranormal tale that has become a minor cult item over the years.

McLoughlin's skills were also a writer and even a mime. The latter came in handy prior to his becoming a director when he got inside Tom Burman's mutant bear suit in John Frankenheimer's eco-horror PROPHECY (1979). 

McLoughlin's first feature as a director initially came to life as 'Rest In Peace', but was eventually changed to ONE DARK NIGHT when it hit theaters in 1983. The director and his co-writer Mike Hawes (a gravestone in the opening credits bears his name) were really high on this story; it's not like anything else that was done at the time. The nearest comparison could be PHANTASM (1979) or POLTERGEIST (1982). It has that same otherworldly vibe about it. Unfortunately, there's not enough sustainable metaphysical elements to keep the film's stamina up.

Unfolding like a throwback to the type of horror the British used to make, the film feels more like a glossier Made For TV horror picture than a theatrical one. Interestingly, McLoughlin would go on to a vibrant career directing television pictures. As for ONE DARK NIGHT, its PG rating might repel some viewers, but reward them with some corpse gore during the finale--brief that it is. By comparison, TOURIST TRAP (1979) is PG, but far more frightening than anything in ONE DARK NIGHT. That's really the biggest fault found here is that the pace is as slow as a recently risen corpse. It simply doesn't move. Very little happens till the last 15 minutes. That's not to say McLoughlin's movie isn't free of merit, it's just that the leisurely pace wrecks havoc with what little suspense is derived. At just 90 minutes, it feels more like two hours.

Even though most everyone involved in the picture was relieved to not be doing a slasher-type thriller, McLoughlin's movie isn't bereft of ideas customary to that genre. The plot device of Julie having to spend the night in a creepy mausoleum only for her sorority sisters to torment her was similar to HELL NIGHT (1981) from a couple years earlier. The bad girl trope is also accounted for in the form of Robin Evans in her first movie role. Her last was as Sho Kosugi's wife in RAGE OF HONOR (1987).

The work of Tom Burman and company (Ellis Burman, Bob Williams) offer up 14 ghoulish cadavers that float after the fleeing females during the finale. Melting dead-people flesh is another highlight for those looking for something to push the PG rating to its limit. Sadly, there's not enough of these moments; the few on hand are reserved for the ending. If your attention is held for 75 minutes, you do get a good payoff.

Some other things the picture has going for it are some suitably atmospheric photography, lighting, and a good score--particularly strong cues during the last half when the focus shifts to the mausoleum. Burial chambers were centerpieces in some other horror films around this time such as MAUSOLEUM (1982) and FRIGHTMARE (1983). In opposition to ONE DARK NIGHT, both those movies took advantage of their exploitation potential going for the gore and overall outrageous scripting ideas.

Meg Tilly hadn't been acting for very long prior to starring in ONE DARK NIGHT. It was her first major role, and a few other genre roles followed including a co-starring turn in PSYCHO II (1983). Her character is well served by the script--spending just enough time for some audience identification. Meg is the younger sister of Jennifer Tilly who horror fans will know from the Chucky series of killer doll movies.

Batman himself, Adam West, has a supporting role playing the husband to Raymar's daughter, Olivia. He doesn't have much impact on the movie and nearly all his scenes are inside his house. This was his first horror film and, according to a Fangoria article from the time, he seemed pleased with the film and working under McLoughlin's direction.

If you're a fan of this movie the new Code Red bluray is an essential purchase for the extras alone (see below). Among these is a work print version of the film that runs a little over a minute longer than the theatrical release. As for the film itself, it has some recommendable qualities such as its unusual storyline; only the telling of it is done in a lackadaisical fashion. Akin to its antagonist that subsists on the life force of his victims, there's simply not enough energy to sustain interest for many beyond the cult film crowd that has kept it alive all these years. Those with a taste for 80s horror will be the best audience to undertake the horror found during this Dark Night.

This review is representative of the Code Red bluray. Specs and Extras: New 2016 HD master; 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen; work print version of the movie; behind the scenes (40 minutes); audio commentary with director McLoughlin and writer Hawes; new audio commentary with director McLoughlin and producer Schroeder; interviews (7 in total); Paul Clemens Scrapbook; original trailer. running time:01:28:32

You can purchase the bluray HERE.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reel Bad Cinema: Night of the Lepus (1972) review


Stuart Whitman (Roy Bennett), Janet Leigh (Gerry Bennett), Rory Calhoun (Cole Hillman), DeForest Kelley (Elgin Clark), Paul Fix (Sheriff Cody), Melanie Fullerton (Amanda Bennett)

Directed by William F. Claxton

"Jud... calm down... the rabbit's gone."

The Short Version: Leapin' Lepus's! A movie about giant flesh-eating rabbits devouring the human population in a small Arizona town fails not only as a serious slice of environmental SciFi, but also as an unintentional comedy. It would take Monty Python to make rabbits legitimately hilarious a few years later. Shot like a western (Claxton directed lots of them), it plays like one more than it does a horror picture. Instead, it's just a horrible picture. Had they replaced the ridiculous rabbits with wild, rampaging buffalo, the film wouldn't work as western horror, either. Bert I. Gordon could've done more with this silly premise and made a genuine knee-slapper out of it. If you have THE GIANT CLAW (1957) handy, make it a double Terrible On the Rocks.

Two scientists, a local doctor and a rancher (sounds like the start of a joke... well, it is!) attempt to halt the rapid multiplyin' of rabbits on a Southwestern range land by injecting a few dozen problem hare's with a hormone. Instead of solving the problem, it magnifies it... literally. It isn't long before giant rabbits--having sworn off carrots--decide to take a bite out of man instead.

Despite the laughably vague trailer as to the nature of the "mutants" and "devil creatures", NIGHT OF THE LEPUS gives its killer kritters away during the first two minutes; prompting the audience to quickly decide whether they wish to stick it out or make for the exit and hope they'll get their money back. Based on the book, 'The Year of the Angry Rabbit' by Russell Braddon, the movie version deviates from the complexities of the source to settle for the usual killer animal style of 70s eco-horror. And therein lies LEPUS's biggest problem--there's nothing remotely scary about it... unless you put it in the context of just who in the hell thought this was a good idea.

If ever there was one movie I'd be most intrigued to learn every aspect of its making--from pitching the idea to the actual filming--it's NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972). How in the world this got the greenlight is a question that desperately needs answering; as well as knowing if the cast were in such dire straits to sign on to this pile of regurgitated kibble. Normally, when big name actor appear in foreign films that amass critical derision the excuse is always they wanted to take vacation there; that excuse cannot apply in the case of LEPUS since it was filmed at Old Tuscon Studios in Arizona.

How do you approach somebody like wild west star Rory Calhoun--who was appearing in his first genre picture--and say, "Look, Roy... we want you to do this movie.... it's about rampaging, killer rabbits." It's worth mentioning that it was just eight years later that Roy donned a severed pig's head and swung a mean chainsaw as rural cannibal cultivator Farmer Vincent in MOTEL HELL (1980). 

Back to the bunnies, the big pitch for LEPUS may have went something like this...

Producer: Okay, whaddaya got for me?

Pitchman: (slight pause) Giant.... flesh-eating rabbits... (clenches eyes tight as if in ecstasy) IT'LL BE GREAT!

Producer: (long pause) Have you been drinking?!

Pitchman: No, no, no, no... we make the rabbits BIG, see? Like those 50s movies with the giant bugs only we're gonna use bunnies! We make'em BIG and make'em mutants... at least we tell people they're mutants in the trailer; (with a look of optimism) unless... you guys wanna pony up extra money for makeup FX to make the rabbits scary lookin'.

Producer: (long pause) Are you sure you haven't been drinking? If there's problems at home....

Pitchman: Trust me! And we'll get some big names to do it!

Producer: (long pause) Why rabbits? I mean, all I can imagine is a pissed off Bugs Bunny. Bugs Bunny was even funnier when he was pissed off. Remember 'Rebel Rabbit'? Christ, that was hilarious. Nothing at all scary about that; nor do the words 'bunny' or 'rabbit' sound the least bit dangerous. Why not something more practical... like a big mutant bear?

Pitchman: (laughs) We won't sell'em as rabbits in the title, see... we'll use the Latin terminology of Lepus. We'll call it... (in a scary voice) 'Night... of the Lepus'...! (smiling while overcome with confidence) Yeah, that's it! (pause) A giant mutant bear? Naaah, that would never sell.

If only someone had been mindful of the shock and awe-ful of THE GIANT CLAW (1957) with its cracked-out turkey monster from outer space. That film was taken totally seriously by the actors as well; the difference being Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday didn't know what the monster looked like till the film wrapped. In LEPUS, everybody already knew it was an army of killer Easter Bunnies. Apparently the writing on the wall wasn't legible enough.

The same would apply to certain aspects of the script. Such as a peculiar sequence where Calhoun and Whitman attempt to bury the big bunnies in a mine shaft. It seemingly never dawns of them that rabbits do in fact dig burrows in the ground--so it isn't problematic for them to dig a hole out of it. Elsewhere, rifles seem to bring instant death to the hungry hare's yet when the military comes in and brings out the heavy artillery, machine gun fire doesn't slow them down at all. 

Some of the dialog in this hare-raisingly horror-ible movie makes you wonder if actors were given sedatives to maintain their composure when given lines like, "Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There's a herd of killer rabbits headed this way....!"

The special effects are a step up from any of your finer Bert I. Gordon macro-enlarged monster flicks. Actually, Gordon would've been able to instill a lot of charm had he been assigned to the project; his own style of then outdated special effects techniques would be recycled a few years later in FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) and EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977). Saying "plague of rabbits" just doesn't have the same ring as "plague of locusts".

The model work in LEPUS distinguishes itself nicely from the carnivorous bunnies that hop along through the toy sets. Unfortunately, as good as the miniature farms and town are, the rabbits refuse to strike fear in the audience; the growling sounds given them do not help. Even with their movements slowed down there's still no sense of gigantism. The close-ups of stuntmen in obvious rabbit suits viciously nibbling away at the cast derive more menace mainly because the editing is pulled off to efficiency.

Aside from the good acting and serious tone afforded a movie that didn't deserve it, the picture has a few shocking instances of gory violence toggling between real-life footage of farmers shooting dozens of rabbits; and fake violence of humans torn limb from limb by the least fearsome creatures imaginable. 

As for the actors, Stuart Whitman does come off the best as the lead Tough Guy, his shirt with the top couple buttons laid bare allowing his hairy chest to get its own closeup. Rory Calhoun does just fine, although he looks like he took a break from a western and on his way back, wandered onto the wrong set and just ran with it. Janet Leigh probably wishes she'd of died in a shower again; and DeForest Kelly was likely longing for the sick bay on STAR TREK.

A misfire on virtually every level, LEPUS goes limp almost immediately. A chore to get through, it warrants at least one viewing just so you can say you actually watched a movie about giant bunnies that eat people. If you can't get enough of flesh-ripping rabbits, see MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975)--it's intentionally funny. Even so, it is said that anything is possible... anything that is, except making rabbits scary in this movie.

This review is representative of the Warner Brothers DVD. Specs and extras: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; original theatrical trailer; running time: 01:28:19

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