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Saturday, Oct 14, 2006


Alicianne Del Mar has been hired by the Nordon family to serve as nanny for their youngest, oddest child, Rosalie. Seems the girl has never truly gotten over the death of her mother and spends far too much time in the local graveyard, remembering the funeral and communicating with her “friends.” Anti-social and abrasive, Rosalie threatens everyone around her, claiming she will call upon her cemetery pals to punish those who bother or have wronged her. No one really takes her seriously (she’s just so…strange) but perhaps they should.


For you see, Rosalie has psychic powers and the ability to reanimate the dead. She’s been hanging out in the boneyard working on bringing the local residents back to life. And it’s these flesh hungry fiends that Rosalie commands to do her evil bidding. After several of the local townsfolk turn up dead, all eyes fall upon this disturbed and destructive kid. Unfortunately, she has that undead army to protect her, and when Alicianne and Len (Rosalie’s older brother) try to escape, the ambulatory, angry corpses chase the hapless duo into an abandoned lumberyard. There, it’s a final showdown between the living dead, their intended victims, and the evil mastermind behind the mayhem…The Child.


For a low budget, even lower expectations exploitation horror movie, The Child is a surprisingly effective and incredibly creepy zombie workout. The movie mingles aspects of the classic Dead films and American Gothic style horror with references to other “evil children” films like The Bad Seed and Village of the Damned. The small budget and atmospheric locations bring an aura of authenticity and naturalism that an overly produced Hollywood film cannot create. While Rosalie Cole (in the role of…Rosalie?) is a little dull (she comes across as more spoiled than scary, more amateur than menacing), the rest of the cast is first rate, selling the terror and terrorizing seriously and realistically.


There is a feeling of uneasy suspense and foreboding created, in both the sets and direction. The Nordons live in a very spooky and atmospheric house, and there’s a scene during a blackout that really heebies up the jeebies. In addition, the final showdown between little Rosalie’s living dead “friends” and our heroine/hero is also exciting and terrifying. Thankfully, there is blood and gore aplenty, especially in said climax and the scene where the groovy ghoulies slaughter an old neighbor woman. Anyone expecting a cheap, cheesy slice of drive-in style dreck should walk away from The Child with their bloodlust sated and their reanimated corpse craving satisfactorily quelled. While not up to the standards set by someone like George Romero, or even some of those pus loving Italians like Fulci, this is still a solid, claret spewing creep fest.


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Saturday, Oct 7, 2006


As the video revolution of the ‘80s proved more profitable than any other facet of the fledging multimedia, distributors were desperate for anything that would make for a viable VHS presentation. Naturally, the simplest genre to jump on was horror. For as long as there was an outlet for motion pictures, macabre has been seen as the easiest way to make a mega-fast buck in the business. Since most home video fans were adolescents, unable to access these slice and dice spectacles theatrically because of the everpresent “R” rating, dumping as many onto the easily rentable VCR arena seemed like a solid idea. As part of Empire Pictures exploitation-oriented production ideals, which included such schlock classics as Ghoulies, Zone Troopers, From Beyond, Creepazoids and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama, a take on what is perhaps the most terrifying place for most people – prison – was commissioned. Written by company scribe C. Courtney Joyner, who himself would give birth to such future cinematic cheese as Puppet Master III, The Class of 1999 and Dr. Mordrid, this latest effort would be another in a long line of potentially profitable titles for the inventive entertainment entity.


Somehow, the filmic fates smiled on the simply named Prison, providing it with a stellar cast that included future stars Viggo Mortensen and Lane Smith, and an inventive novice Finnish director named Renny Harlin. Making his American moviemaking debut, Harlan wanted to impress Western audience with his style and cinematic sparkle. Taking the standard storyline, he added substantial visual panache to a film’s basic vengeful spirit plot. When an old abandoned prison is reopened to accommodate that bureaucratic certainty known as overcrowding, an ancient evil is reawakened. Becoming part of the structure itself, the malevolent force (the remnants of an inmate wrongfully executed years before) manipulates wires, walls and other intimate elements to wield its wicked payback. In the process, guards are garroted, inmates are maimed, and secrets long buried in the prison grounds return from the grave to kick ass and take names. While much of the movie seemed silly, and overloaded with jailhouse jocularity, Harlin hemmed in the more ridiculous aspects to deliver a fascinating piece of horror pop art.


By utilizing a real rundown penitentiary (the brooding Wyoming State Prison) and accenting the acting and effects, Harlin avoided many of the frustrating formulas that fluster your basic scary movie. Thanks to the atmosphere of dread inherent in the backdrop and the gory greatness of various set piece deaths, instead of a typical trip into direct to video drek, Empire ended up with a wonderfully effective fright film. Harlin’s handling of the project was so well-received that he was immediately hired to direct A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Child, which in turn lead to his leap into the big time – helming the Die Hard sequel Die Harder. Sadly, most fright fans have forgotten, or even worse, have yet to see this excellent exercise in terror. Long unavailable in any format – and YET to be released on DVD – this is one lost fright flick that could really benefit from a digital resurrection. Prison may not be the best convict-based creature feature ever made, but it’s certainly worth an aluminum disc revisit. It stands decapitated head and shoulders about its ‘80s overkill brethren.


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Saturday, Sep 30, 2006


It was meant to be the sword and sorcery equivalent of Star Wars (Jedi was about to break and finalize the trilogy), an epic fantasy that was part space opera, part Renaissance fair, and all speculative spectacle. What it ended up being was a massively hyped flop that saw more merchandising then moviegoers over the course of its limited box office run. Oddly enough, the most lasting element of this otherwise forgettable battle between good, evil and a strange circular weapon (called a “glaive”) was a video game that stormed arcades for months after the movie was more or less forgotten. Still, over the years, Krull has developed a determined following, devotees able to overlook the narrative’s nonsensical elements (Laser spears? A less than convincing Cyclops?) to enjoy the average adventure at hand. In the hands of the prolific Peter Yates (responsible for such ‘70s classics as Bullitt and Breaking Away) what should have been an epic entertainment stumbled under Lucas like expectations, poorly realized effects, and performances that seemed pitched just a tad too high for the relatively low brow material.


Featuring a “dark” beast who lives in a constantly movie fortress of blackness, a prince with the power to control “the elements”, an apprentice wizard with a reckless habit of ill-timed shapeshifting, a dainty damsel in distress, and a band of compassionate criminals lead by Liam Neeson and featuring Robbie Coltrane, Krull‘s confusing mythology left many an intended audience member scratching their adolescent head. Main characters died for relatively dopey reasons, plot points got lost inside all manner of interstellar/medieval malarkey, and the polished level of visuals that fans were used to (thanks to American companies like ILM) was all but absent in this bungled British production. Still, in its own awkward way, Krull creates a kind of amusement amalgamation, a formula for fun that argues it attributes in the following fashion: if you don’t like one particular character or circumstance, just wait - something completely different is just around the corner. Today, such an all encompassing approach is part of cinematic sensibility. But back in the early ‘80s, film wasn’t supposed to be so fractured.


As a result, Krull is the perfect pick up film – a movie you can catch in snatches while it plays on some pay cable channel. No matter what point you come in on the story, no matter what sort of scene is playing out before you, the lack of continuity and context actually allows you to take pleasure in the individual moment, and if so inclined, to stick around for another exciting sample in just a few minutes. Things do sort of come together at the end, especially when the prince and princess jointly use their love – or some other manner of emotion – to provide power to smite the beast. As the monolithic castle implodes upward, moving shard by shard into the stratosphere, we are overcome by a feeling of ridiculous resolve. Evil has been defeated, virtue has triumphed, and miniature pieces of a movie set are flying off into space. If that doesn’t sum up a typical Greed era entertainment, what does?


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Saturday, Sep 23, 2006


Granted, it’s not the smartest sci-fi action film ever made. Indeed, with Equilibrium helmer Kurt Wimmer in charge, Ultraviolet is nothing more than a surreal slice of future shock that is all approach and pure artifice. Attempting a recreate the look and feel of a comic book come to life (there’s an original idea) and utilizing the fanboys favorite faux action queen – Resident Evil‘s Milla Jovovich - Wimmer wanted to exploit the notion of vampirism without having to deal with all that hoary old mythology. Instead, he envisioned this epic as a deconstruction of health-based racism mixed with Big Brother style government malevolence and a healthy dose of swordplay. He almost succeeded. In fact, Ultraviolet may be the most ambitious, over the top and shamelessly guilty pleasure ever created. Filled with stunning and stupid action setpieces, it’s the kind of craven confection that would have Big Jim McBob and Billy Saul Hurock of SCTV‘s Farm Film Report fame stating – “it blowed up good. It blowed up real good!”


But all predominant pyrotechnics aside, a great deal of Ultraviolet‘s delight comes from the film’s flawless hyperstylized design. Wimmer is someone who believes in a new variation on that old adage, ‘less is more’. In his mind, more is never enough, and extreme excess is the only way to create plausible entertainment pleasure. Why have one villain when you can have 50? Why fire off 10 rounds of ammunition when 10,000 are so much more…ballistic? Vistas need to fill the screen, technological advances require massive amounts of CGI candy coating. True, somewhere in the middle of all this optical falderal is a slightly stupid story about a genetically engineered weapon (who turns out to be a boy) and the super-powered heroine trying to protect him. But the narrative is substantively secondary to all the bells, whistles, sleek surfaces and whiz-bang gadgetry. So sit back, turn off your brain, and let your amusement aesthetic cruise on pure pulp adrenaline. You’ll feel sorry afterwards, but as a mindless, misguide movie, Ultraviolet goes down incredibly smooth.


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Saturday, Sep 16, 2006


Something is dangerously wrong with filmmaker Damon Packard. Just clicking on his official website leads to a plea for financial help and a list of purchasable cinematic oddities, all accompanied by an eerily reverberating version of The Carpenter’s “Rainy Days and Mondays”. Lost somewhere within his own unsettled mind and a fatalistic love of the ‘70s, Packard has produced dozens of short films, motion picture experiments and long form features. Perhaps his most notorious – for reasons both artistic and legal – is Reflections of Evil. In it’s original format, this stream of crackpot consciousness masterwork used found footage, bootlegged film clips, material recorded off television and a healthy homage to the ABC Movie of the Week to craft a totally surreal supernatural mystery. Unfortunately, when Go-Kart Films tried to release a DVD version of Packard’s perturbed vision, massive edits had to be made. The result was an equally brilliant, if substantially different look at one man’s battle for persona, and professional redemption.


The narrative – if there is one to mention – centers on an angry, morbidly obese street vendor (played by Packard) who’s haunted by the death of his sister. Roaming the sidewalks of LA, screaming at himself in animalist grunts, Packard’s camera catches real people panicked over his obvious psychotic ranting. His curse-laden tirades seem aimed more at the cosmos, however than the surrounding modern world. Buried in between these slapdash sideshow antics are reenactments of Steven Spielberg shooting the genre gem Something Evil, sequences from the Universal Studios tour, and ethereal inserts featuring a near perfect capturing of the slow motion depiction of television terror. But this is just part of the story. Behind the scenes, after completing the project, Packard made more than 20,000 DVD copies. He proceeded to distribute them all, free of charge. He left them around the city (in stores and at ATMs) and mailed many directly to celebrities. He got the occasional response (several messages, both good and very bad, have been catalogued on Packard’s Web site), and found a champion in Sylvester Stallone’s son Sage. But most of the response was vile and hateful.


Of course, for this decidedly disturbed director, such rejection was a sign of the social significance in his work. Packard perceives Hollywood, and those bound to its influences, as a disease overloaded with conspiracy and cabals. To him, modern movies are forged out of a Free Mason sense of secrecy with the studios purposefully setting out to subvert the efforts of those wanting to make a difference. Reflections of Evil is a stuttering shock treatment approach to understanding this indecipherable design, a movie masquerading as a madman’s mission statement. No one said the truth would be comfortable or easy. No one said the past was pain-free. Packard understands this all too well, and just like his motion picture protagonist, he also suffers with the obvious oppression of everyday life. This is an amazing cinematic shriek, a primal scream in the face of aesthetic helplessness. It is also one of the finest experimental films ever made.


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