FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Perilous Weather!

Perilous Weather and Viewing! By Kristin Battestella

Lighting, mountains, bears, and storms – some of these horror movies are just as dangerous as the dark skies onscreen!

A Lonely Place to Die – Beautiful but perilous vistas, thunder, and misty but dangerous mountains – a risky place to whip out the camera! – open this 2011 hikers meet kidnappers parable starring Melissa George (Triangle), Alec Newman (Dune), and Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey). Eagles and aerial views quickly degrade into mistakes, hanging frights, and upside down frames. Ropes, gear, risk – people cause disaster among the otherwise still, respected beauty where they aren’t supposed to be resulting in cuts, scrapes, and falls. Weather interferes with their plans to climb the next killer facade but wishing one could paint the lovely forest and rocky scenery uncovers mysterious echoes from an ominous pipe and a trapped little girl. The hikers split up – several take the longer, safer route back to the nearby town – however there’s a more difficult path called Devil’s Drop that one couple brave climbing to reach help faster. Unfortunately, short ropes and sabotaged equipment create shocking drops and fatal cliffs. They aren’t wearing helmets so we can see the heroics, but no gloves against the sharp rocks, rough trees, and burning ropes, well that’s as dumb as not having a satellite phone. Unnecessary fake out dreams, annoying shaky cams, and distorted points of view detract from both the natural scary and the mystery of who else may be out there – fear on people’s faces is always more powerful than effects created for the audience. Guys with guns encountering more crazed men all in black with yet more kidnappers in pursuit also break the isolated situation too early. Unknowns snipers would better layer the environmental fears, raging river perils, terrain chases, and gunshots. Attacks from an unseen culprit are much more terrifying than knowing what poor shots they are even up close and with scopes. Injuries, screams, thuds, and broken limbs provide real menace, and we really shouldn’t have met the killers until they are over the victims asking them how much the price of their nobility hurts or what good compassion did for them today. Although double-crossing criminals playing the mysteries too soon compromises the good scares and surprise fatalities, fiery sunset festivals progress the mountain isolation to a ritual village suspicious. Fireworks and parades mingle with hog masks and alley chases – again suggesting people are where they shouldn’t be as the hiking dangers become congested public confrontations. While the crooks’ conspiracies get a tad ridiculous when innocent bystanders are killed in plain sight, this is a unique natural horrors cum kidnapping thriller remaining tense and entertaining despite some of those shout at the TV flaws.

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Dead of Winter – Lovely snow-tipped trees, mountains, and chilly rivers begat hiking perils, rock tumbles, ropes cut, snowy crashes, and hungry wolves in this 2014 Canadian geocaching terror. Of course, there are bus driving montages, DUI histories, annoying music, getting gas in middle of nowhere clichés, and ridiculously hammy dialogue like “Is your cock ever soft?” “Only in your mommy!” WTF. One jerk films everybody in a camcorder point of view even as they clearly all have chips on their shoulders, but the sardonic documentation is forgotten as we quickly meet the cliché, overly excited nerds, angry lesbians, and the dude bros who want to watch amid nighttime scenery, windshield wipers, and the increasingly icy road. Although people are bundled up for this snowy treasure hunt, their faces are still Hollywood exposed as the teams run to and fro in the woods following creepy clues in a kind of humorous montage before no phone signals, a bus that won’t start, garroting logger cables, and explosions. If they’re stranded two hundred miles and at least four days walk from anywhere, why doesn’t anyone stay near the fiery bus for heat and signal fires? Everyone continues following the increasingly bizarre geocache reveals such as a gun with no bullets and a stopwatch promising screams in ninety seconds despite falling snow showers, waterfalls, and damaged bridges. One dumb ass know it all thinks a creaking old wood bridge with over a foot of snow on top the buckling boards is safe so they all go for it because he says there’s a quarry shortcut and a convenient cabin nearby, too. Somebody has to take a dump in the snow, it’s obvious who’s going to die next – cough one lesbian and the black guy cough – and the hip acting hampers the finger-pointing group divisions. Thanks to the straightforward rather than herky-jerky filming, we can see the bloody hangings, torn limbs, and splatter gore, but arrows and crossfire reveal the killer far too soon when a movie about a treasure hunt shouldn’t give up its reward until the end. Head scratching cutaways, airplane rescue fake-outs, and whining about missing pizza further break audience immersion as no one complains about blisters, cold, or frostbite on their gloveless hands. No one is tired – least of all the driver who drove all night and then drank all day who says he’ll stay up on watch while the others sleep. They didn’t follow the river but are later glad to have handy flashlights and booze to drink as they joke about eating the tubby jerk first rather than addressing any real cannibalism horror. Jealously, one person that is not so mysteriously absent, a knife plus a pen and suddenly anybody can do an instant tracheotomy – it takes an hour for someone to realize this was planned revenge thanks to some prior competition because geocaching is a mad competitive and dangerous sport! The riddles and underground hideouts run out of steam with sagging contrivances and overlong, predictable explanations. This is watchable with entertaining horror moments, however the cliché points and outlandish but wait there’s more on and on will become too laughable for some. Our survivors may have beaten the horror hunt, but everyone apparently forgets they’re still stranded in the wilderness before the fade to black. Oops.

One to Skip

Backcountry – From packing in the parking garage and highway traffic jams to embarrassing sing a longs and a Cosmo quiz for relationship backstory, this 2014 Canadian survival thriller from writer and director Adam MacDonald (Pyewacket) has plenty of cliches for this city couple in the woods. Sunlit smiles, peaceful canoe pretty, and happy hiking montages can’t belie the ominous when the audience enters in with full knowledge of the impending horror. At the country rest stop, a ranger warns them of bad weather and closed, out of season trails, however our big man insists he doesn’t need medical kits or a map. He ignores minor injuries, mocks his inexperienced girlfriend’s preparations, leaves his ax behind, and lights a fire before leaving it to go skinny dipping. Not only do these actions completely contradict everything Survivorman taught us, but these people also don’t know they are in a scary movie. A sudden stranger at their campsite creates obvious jealousy and inferiority complexes but weird accents, racist questions, contrived dialogue, and stereotypical characterizations interfere with the attempted tension. Fortunately, askew angles on the trail, going off the path doubts, isolated nature sounds, and lookalike trees invoke better suspense as the camera blurs and pans with confusion or pain thanks to disgusting toenail gore. Up close views inside the cramped, not so safe tent build fear alongside snapping branches and bear footprints, but of course this guy doesn’t believe the supposedly overreacting woman who wants to go home when she hears something amiss. No dumbass, it isn’t acorns falling on the outside of the tent, and you should have never taken her phone and left it in the car! It takes a half hour for the innate wilderness horrors to get going, but the suspense is continually interrupted by the obnoxious behavior – wasting water, blaming her for their situation when it is clearly his fault, and her apologizing after confessing he is a loser just trying to impress her. Why couldn’t they have gone on an easier hike when she never wanted to go in the first place? Proposal excuses aren’t enough when you continually ignore dead carcasses nearby and claim it was just a raccoon that ate your food. Drinking the mini champagne bottles is not going to help their situation! Despite well-done heartbeats, ringing in the ears, and tumbling down the ravine camera views, there’s simply not enough character development and story here to sustain the wait for the superbly bloody, frenetic bear attacks in the finale. Gore, scares, screams, growls, and maulings fall prey to a just missed ’em helicopter rescue opportunity as our final girl inexplicably becomes an expert runner, rock climber, and field medic before pretty deer and dumb luck save the day. Is this uplifting music and girl power ending just a dream of what she wishes happens because otherwise, it is ridiculously unlikely. Where Pyewacket expressly defies the horror tropes checklist, this does nothing but adhere to it – becoming only worth watching if you want to yell at the people or fast forward to see them get what they deserve. ¯\_()_/¯ The bear isn’t the villain, human superiority is!

Camp Country

Stormswept – Grand columns, bayou scenery, candles, thunder, ghostly gusts, and possessions start this almost seventies feeling 1995 romp starring Kathleen Kinmont (Renegade) amid realtors avoiding a house of horrors disclosure and muddy accidents. The chandeliers and staircase grandeur can also be seen in North and Southbut there are spiders, covered furniture, and flashes of past boobs, blood, and some kind of skeleton dildo thingie. Saucy paintings abound, naughty books contain graphic ejaculation or cunnilingus art, and red four-poster beds await. This is obviously low budget Skinemax style – so despite the eerie atmosphere, some scary filming, ominous silhouettes in rain slickers, and frightful reflections in the window, one can’t tell if everyone is going to die or have sex, probably both. Four women and two men are Marilyn Chambers numbers! It takes too long for the crew to get stranded at the plantation, but the film within a film chases feature girls in white shirts and no bras while playing into girl on girl fantasies with let’s get off your wet clothes talk and accidental towel drops. I laughed out loud at that, I really did! Although the dated midriffs, acid wash jeans, giant old portable phone, and faxed paperwork are bemusing, most of the sexual dialogue is uncomfortable. The men say once a guy has sex with another man he’s a homosexual but it’s okay for the women to experiment for them as it doesn’t make them lesbians. Truth or dare demands the women kiss, word association games start with “pink” – it’s disturbing the way actor turned luxury rehab guru Justin Carroll’s director character has these women trapped, doing what he wants and not caring if anyone is upset by the sex chats. Whooshing storm effects live up to title and there’s a torture history binding everyone to the house, but not much sense is made of this evil spirit driving one and all to sex and kill. The overlong wet dream confessions and lez be friends scenes embrace the step above soft core rather than exceed that lower rung with the horror. I almost wish this could be redone to be more quality. Hidden people in the basement, secret diaries, murders – but our actress has never had an orgasm and it’s more important for the manipulative director to hypnotize her into touching herself in front of everyone like Showgirls thrashing in the pool. She recalls painful abuse and incest memories, but he tells her she need not be guilty over masturbating with her brother and can go ahead and have her ultimate sexual fantasy about Alex Trebek. O_o o_O I thought this was supposed to be a horror movie! While terribly laughable and base level entertaining, I just… insert Nathan Fillion confused gif here. Is there even a saucy ghost or is this what happens when you lock messy horny people in the house on a stormy night?

Revisit More Dangerous Weather Viewing:

Water Perils

Witches and Bayous

Forest Frights

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Dead Man’s Gun / Season 1

Dead Man’s Gun Debut is Uneven but Weirdly Promising

by Kristin Battestella

Produced by Henry Winkler and narrated by Kris Kristofferson, Showtime’s 1997-98 western anthology series Dead Man’s Gun debuts with twenty-two episodes of somewhat rocky but no less entertaining weird and vengeful parables.

Originally, the first three episodes of Dead Man’s Gun were shown in a television movie block opening with John Ritter (Three’s Company) as an ambitious sideshow assistant in “The Great McDonacle.” He’s tired of trick shooting and buys the titular gun despite warnings that the devil himself made it such bad luck. The poor Shakespeare shows and bad saloon singing are slow to start, however, the six shooting spectacles, bullets caught between the teeth, and obvious kiss before the shot add to this business of illusions. He’s not a real marksman, so why does he need a real gun? Playing against the odds with one more shot, unfortunately, proves costly amid well-done character interplay, shootouts, and Billy the Kid references. Seemingly slick thief John Glover (Smallville) steals money, documents, and our gun in “Fool’s Gold” before selling a $200 claim to local rube Matt Frewer (Orphan Black) and making moves on saloon girl Laurie Holden (Silent Hill). Bankers, mining equipment deals, bets on recouping the cost of this speculation, and contracts with survivor claims lead to some hefty interest policies, double-crosses, and blackmail. Fortunately, this gun comes in handy for eliminating all those little technicalities. Producer cum down on his luck peddler Henry Winkler (Happy Days), however, takes a dead man’s identity as well as his gun and employment papers to become the next town marshal in “The Impostor.” He’s thrust into a standoff and inadvertently saves the day – earning free meals, service, and respect as he settles local disputes and finds romance. Our town hero begins believing he can stop bank robbers and help others, but we know such innocence doesn’t last long on Dead Man’s Gun. This first episode of the series proper is a much better start to the series than the spliced feature, and dreaded undertaker Larry Drake (Dr. Giggles) pilfers jewels, boots, and clothes off the dead in “Buryin’ Sam.” He reuses the linens and rusty nails in the caskets but charges the bereaved $12 for all the trimmings. Shootouts from our gun are good business when not pursuing widows – after all, it’s really about comforting the living. Interfering heart conditions and indirect fatalities, unfortunately, lead to murder, lightning, and supernatural betrayals as empty graves and night time burials invoke fine horror elements. Nightcaps, syringes, and killer sex for “The Black Widow” leave the titular Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place) with will readings, black veils, and our inherited gun before she sets about ensnaring a local jeweler. Hot air balloons and romantic picnics quickly lead to the marital grand manor complete with a pesky old maid, locked attic, and treacherous stairs. Gems, fortunes, and memento mori accent the suspicions alongside poison mushrooms, nitroglycerin, well-done suspense, and deadly interplay.

A birth in the brothel and the Dead Man’s Gun is offered as doctor William Katt’s (House) payment in “The Healer.” He insists on helping a dying gunslinger after a standoff in the saloon, and the townsfolk quickly turn into a trigger happy mob. They want him to look the other way while they ‘take care’ of a feverish patient who will hang anyway, and past rows reveal they never really were that neighborly. The doctor’s missus has some history, too, and it all comes out thanks to a dreamy romp in the hay. Though rough around the edges, the vengeance, responsibility, and consequences here make for an interesting gray. Of course, racism abounds with buck, squaw, and redskin talk in “Medicine Man” as Adam Beach (Windtalkers) receives a bottle of whiskey instead of real payment for his work. His father Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) dislikes his cold gun with an evil spirit and wishes his son would return to the chants, drums, and teepees – but these are a proud people made low, warriors with nothing left to hunt. The Nez Perce language is minimal and some of the Native American motifs are stereotypical, however, this parable is told from the proper point of view and the audience understands the anger and rage. Dreams and spiritual wisdom add a slightly supernatural touch, but the gun only makes it easier to pursue ruthlessness, and revenge only begets more revenge. In “Next Of Kin,” Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) invites Helen Shaver (Supergirl) and the rest of the snotty, presumptuous family to finalize his will. Can they stay the weekend enjoying his gourmet food and luxuries to prove themselves worthy of his legacy or will they bicker and toy with his priceless loaded gun? Despite blaming, blows, and supposed self-inflicted gunshots in the night, no one’s willing to leave and lose their fortune. The accursed gun is tossed into the fire, where it doesn’t get hot or burn, but its E&S initials – Latin for ‘ruin and destroy’ – glow. Certainly, there are similar mysteries and horror tales, but the period dynamics and stir crazy of our looming heirloom make for one of the season’s best – a superb little potboiler with kinky relations, past bitterness, and bodies in the hall. Blacksmith Meat Loaf (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), however, is displeased when his new wife arrives with a son for “Mail Order Bride.” On top of this awkward situation, he recognizes our gun that keeps coming back to haunt him. The tender father-son bonding is somewhat try hard, too on the nose with its lessons, but Meat Loaf’s fine performance raises the uneven drama and keeps things intriguing as the gun falls into the wrong hands.

Fire eaters and carnival atmosphere accent “The Fortune Teller” when charlatan Elizabeth Peña (La Bamba) really beings to see the future in her crystal ball after coming into the Dead Man’s Gun. The town is at odds over believing the tea leaves and tarot cards or ignoring the hocus pocus, but the price to hear of one’s adultery, murder, or vengeful fortunes goes up from fifteen cents to a dollar! Eerie images and a unique hedge maze finale converge as the gun brings the visions to a sharp point. He cures sleeplessness with stimulation through the power of the mind in “The Mesmerizer,” but this doctor is really using hypnosis to assault the lady patients and steal from the gents. Stealing our gun, however, makes the power of suggestion stronger – enchanting people in the streets, using old ladies to rob a bank, and invoking new death bed will signatures. Though similar to Poe’s The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, we want the nastiness to get its due, and Dead Man’s Gun provides it with deathly vengeance and full-on horror in the just desserts. By contrast, the sepia stills and vintage equipment of “The Photographer” seem so quaint until Gary Cole (Veep) takes a photo of our jinxed gun in action. He has no qualms about snapping pictures of the departed, and townsfolk are shocked when he captures a bank robbery – unlike today where smartphones galore make everything an Instagram story. Is he a vulture seeking disturbing images or a chronicler capturing fatal action as it happens? After selling his graphic photos to the local gazette, national papers write that they will pay top dollar for more scenes of a violent nature. After all, folks who can’t read buy the paper for the scandalous pictures! As he snaps more shootouts and convinces dangerous outlaws to pose before his camera, our photographer traces the gun as it changes hands five times, and it would have been interesting to have had this period premise that’s still relevant today featured regularly throughout the season. Despite a strong mid-season, Dead Man’s Gun is quite uneven in its first half with an often embarrassingly wooden secondary cast and continuity issues despite the anthology format. Instead of completely tracing the gun’s travels from one episode to the next, our inanimate anchor is picked up at the end of one hour with our never knowing what happens next. Likewise, openings that had more to tell dump the piece onto the next victim as Dead Man’s Gun further misses the opportunity to have Kristofferson (Blade) appear as a sage in pursuit. After a few clunky episodes, my husband wrote off the series as being too “random” in its gun portrayal. Fire and brimstone Tim Matheson (The West Wing) is putting on the healing under the revival tent in the penultimate “Wages Of Sin” with plants in the crowd and holy elixir shams. He charms the ladies and convinces a violent brother to give up his tool of evil. From fevers to blindness and broken wings, our reverend begins to believe in the miraculous nature of our gun. He wants to build a permanent temple thanks to wealthy neighbors and tempting blondes, but some pay for seeing through the con and double-crosses as the gun giveth and taketh.

Although the narration calls the weapon legendary, it’s sentient or evil nature is not fully explored – it’s not infamous and is passed on quite innocuously at times. Some own it decades despite its misfortune while others are done with it in a few days. Beyond a general Old West, towns and locations are never mentioned, and while all these bads probably don’t take place in the same town, every place sure looks the same. A Horse or carriage ride scene opens every episode, any kids seen are dang annoying, and the nineties flirtations are laughable amid the try-hard speak older. Dead Man’s Gun also has a noticeable abundance of lookalike blondes – several each episode where having had one woman witness it all would have been more interesting. “My Brother’s Keeper” is the weakest of the initial three television movie segments, as poor brothers in bar room quarrels and quick draw fights are somehow slow to get to the point. It’s too early for Dead Man’s Gun to seem like it will be the same episode all the time – if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The shabby boarding house of “Highwayman” is different from the usual lookalike town, but the weak, undistinguished cast and thin story also contribute to that same one-trick pony feeling. A then unlikely shorter episode order would have kept the series taut instead of repetitive. Despite a shopkeeper looking for dime novel excitement and a creepy old lady customer offering our gun as payment, the dream sequences in “Bounty Hunter” are too hokey. A wife so young she could be his daughter is just obnoxious, and the powerful temptations for a man-made small by his station in life are somehow too plain. Sage characters in these faulty episodes also add to the ambiguous nature of the gun – which can be triumphed by a good person or consume one in an evil that was already there. Is it the person or the gun’s influence? Some stories portray the philosophical debate well while others remain inconsistent. When grieving mother Kate Jackson (Dark Shadows) demands justice in “Death Warrant,” the gray area between legal bounty hunting and killing an innocent bystander is disappointingly lame, even pointless thanks to bad faux southern accents and greasy styling. Everybody looks rode hard and put away wet thanks to some juicy out of place saloon girls showers, and ultimately, the gun is an afterthought. “Stagecoach Marty” Jo Beth Williams (Poltergeist) handles holds ups and precious silver cargo before buying lavender soap and getting a makeover that catches a handsome passenger’s eye. Unfortunately, the sassy woman humor and unladylike likable awkwardness are too unevenly mixed with suspect romance, decoy wagons, and secret heist plots trying to do too much. A drunk ex-gunslinger returns to form in “The Resurrection Of Joe Wheeler,” but the slow start is laden with rapacious violence, thuggery, and incompetent town officials. Outlaws are raiding the town, and Dead Man’s Gun resorts to the same old one man with issues and a blonde on his arm. Of course, the straights, flushes, aces, and pairs pile up in “The Gambler” until a sassy blonde in a cowboy hat joins the high stakes game. Here the impressive gun action – one must kill to keep his luck – simply can’t overcome the contrived romance, card-playing montages, and streaky where is this going plot, for hot hand run cold stories are as old as the West itself. Likewise, Union troops are having a terrible time thanks to an inept young officer in “The Deserter.” No matter how many mystical riding montages we have, he keeps returning to the same painfully obvious cornfield, and the overuse of both slow motion and hectic for the cowardice feels D.O.A. before we even get to the soldier being tied up and bathed by a bunch of women. The titular safecracker in “Snake Finger” faces a newly designed, supposedly full proof, time-release safe installed at the local bank while romancing the owner’s daughter. The drama is never sure if we’re supposed to like the charming crook or support the crusty lawman in pursuit, and what should be an exciting cat and mouse is ultimately a sappy finale with little connection to our gun.

Fortunately, covered wagons, horses, painted ponies, gun powder, long rifles, and mud set the Dead Man’s Gun mood alongside western facades, saloons, spurs, stagecoaches, hay, and saddlery. While the slow-motion strobe when the gun’s firing is unnecessary, the ominous music themes and subtle guitar strings are a fine touch. Rays of light through doorways, silhouettes, and reflections in mirrors or windows also make for interesting visuals. Our holstered gun is often in the foreground ready and waiting amid lanterns, candles, old fashioned money notes, ticking pocket watches, period patterns, chewing tobacco, and wanted posters. Corsets, bustles, parasols, lace, chokers, ruffles, and bobbles provide a feminine touch while rustic outdoor filming, bitter snow, and shabby slat homes contrast luxury luggage, grand staircases, fancy mansions, and Victorian gardens. Sound effects and more foreboding lighting invoke spookiness as needed while flies buzz around the horses or the dead, yet Dead Man’s Gun is surprisingly colorful with rich greens, maroon, and purples highlighting rugs, antiques, and velvet sofas. Cigars and smoking are a realistic touch obviously not seen as much today, but how did they film that real rattlesnake bite?! The sex scenes, however, are totally lame with little to see, and nothing steamy before Showtime goes overboard later in the season without of place butt shots and side boobs. There’s a warning on the video that the picture quality is old, and indeed the nineties production looks VHS flat on a 4K television with some dark, tough to see nighttime photography. The relatively late Dead Man’s Gun DVD release also has no subtitles, and the episodes are spread out across a lot of discs despite the otherwise slim and bare-bones set. Thankfully, Dead Man’s Gun makes the most of its real locales, a pleasing sight compared to contemporary CGI. There isn’t an over-reliance on action or blood, gore, and typical western fast. Instead, the gunshots are realistically blunt with just enough splatter and drama to the shootouts. Such choice use makes the anticipation all the more intense and violent when gun action happens. After all, Chekov says that trigger’s got to be pulled!

Though occasionally rerunning on western themed channels, creators Ed and Howard Spielman’s (The Young Riders, Kung Fu) series always seemed unloved by Showtime and Dead Man’s Gun remains a little elusive. I remember waiting for new episodes back then and was disappointed when the more recent DVR was likewise filled with the same few reruns, so it’s pleasing to see all the episodes here almost anew. While some legs are better than others are and the series doesn’t go as full-on horror or mystical as some audiences may like, Dead Man’s Gun is the perfect weird western for steampunk-ish viewers looking for something that’s not your daddy’s western.

Interested in More Horror Westerns? See:

Brimstone

Bone Tomahawk

Penny Dreadful Season 3

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Top Horror Television!

 

Say hello to our favorite HorrorAddicts.net 10iversary television blogs!

 

The Addams Family 1 2

Buffy The Vampire Slayer 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Dark Shadows Video Primer

The Frankenstein Chronicles

Friday the 13th The Series 1 2 3

The Munsters 1 2

Penny Dreadful 1 2 3

Tales from the Crypt 1 2 3

Tales from the Darkside 1 2 3

Thriller 1 2

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Full Eclipse versus The Howling II

Bad, Bad Dog: Full Eclipse and Howling II: Your Sister is A Werewolf

By Kristin Battestella

Somehow, I managed to stumble upon not one, but two questionable tales of wolfdom- the 1985 sequel Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and the 1993 HBO original movie Full Eclipse. Ruh-roh!

LA detective Max Dire (Mario Van Peebles) loses his wife and his partner and can’t quite deal. Fortunately, new special officer Adam Garou (Bruce Payne) invites Max to join his exclusive criminal task force- composed of other quality, but struggling cops like Casey Spencer (Patsy Kensit) who take the law into their own hands. The team injects themselves with a special serum designed by Garou, giving them superior prowess against the crime on the street…and a few werewolf tendencies.

Director Anthony Hickox (Waxwork) and writers Michael Reaves (Gargoyles, Smurfs) and Richard Christian Matheson’s (The A-Team, and yes, son of Richard Matheson) standard, undeveloped cop story has its share of script issues as it weakly deals with all the typical detective traumas like alcohol, empty marriages, and corruption. More repeating clichés and meandering plots waste far too much time for a 90-minute movie. Worse still, Full Eclipse never decides whether it’s a cop movie or a horror film- this wolf unit is supposed to be so total justice and badass, but the entire idea is just too preposterous even for fantasy. The dark realism attempt comes across as totally hokey, and a lot of the poor design work is too dark and tough to see anyway. Though dated by the nineties fashions, the lingering low budget feelings and mismashed plots are worse than any of the old motifs. ‘Looks old’ you can forgive if the tale holds up, but this nineties badass isn’t really that badass at all thanks to too much useless, bad action and slow motion police work. And all this is before all the cheesy werewolf mess! There’s simply not enough mystery or scares to accept the crappy effects, wolverine like wolf claws, and cops suited up like cannibal superheroes.

Fans of Mario Van Peebles, thankfully, can find a few things to enjoy in Full Eclipse. Granted, Peebles (Damages, All My Children, New Jack City, Heartbreak Ridge, Posse, Solo, I’ll stop) is kind of just being himself as always, but it’s juicy, cocky, and fun to watch as expected. Likewise, Bruce Payne (Highlander: Endgame) is freaky fun. The script and goofy wolf serum plot don’t serve him well, but some might enjoy his violent creepy, disturbing as that it is. Unfortunately, it’s Patsy Kensit (Emmerdale, Lethal Weapon 2, music chick and rocker wife) who drops the ball most in Full Eclipse. Yes, there’s plenty of nineties rowdy English rose pretty, but she’s also pretty obvious and absolutely unbelievable as a cop- much less an action hero with hairy secrets or a meaty attitude. Actually, there’s no chemistry among the cast, and Full Eclipse isn’t nearly as sexy as it could have been. And that ‘love scene’ between Kensit and MVP is just pathetic. I’ve never seen people bump and grind whilst being so far away from each other!

Likewise, fans of that horror titan himself, Christopher Lee, can attempt the badly bizarre novelty of Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. But of course, Sir Christopher’s voice is great as always- and I do so love the way he insistently repeats that subtitle! He certainly looks the classy werewolf hunter, or excuse me, the ‘occult investigator’. Big C always comes to play even in a bad, bad movie such as this, but the classy older Lee going for those funky white sunglasses and red leather jacket for some undercover eighties clubbing is just….no. In some scenes, it’s like there’s Christopher Lee, and then there’s everyone else- and to top it off, he has the Holy Grail in his wolf arsenal. I kid you not. Lee’s Occult expert Stefan must convince reporter Jenny (Annie McEnroe) and Ben White (Reb Brown, Captain America) that his sister- the reporter Karen White from the 1981 film The Howling– is now a werewolf needing to be staked in her crypt. To stop all the virile werewolves from rising with the full moon, the trio must travel to Transylvania and destroy the ancient wolf queen Stirba (Sybil Danning) before she makes hairy werewolf love in a spectacular eighties light show. I repeat, I kid you not.

Truly, this cast is so, so bad (I made a mistake when I typed my notes and wrote ‘sos’ bad, as in ‘S.O.S’, wow!) Annie McEnroe (Beetlejuice) is a totally unrealistic and mousy reporter with pathetic delivery. In her scenes with Lee, it feels like he would have been better off talking to a wall because it is that one-sided of a conversation. None of it sounds right, especially the bad howling during the weird wolf sex. While I love the idea of a sexy and badass black wolf chick stealing the show, Marsha Hunt (Dracula A.D. 1972) isn’t given the proper treatment. Her makeup and over the top wolf plots are too eighties to be sexy, and the full doggy getup ends up looking more like a drag queen. It’s an utter injustice for what could have been hot hot hot. Thankfully, Sybil Danning (Amazon Women on the Moon) is totally fetching despite that scary and violent leather bodysuit. The incredibly weak script gives her nothing to say but growls and gibberish- was that aged 10 millennia did you say, really? Danning looks perfectly perky and kinky in her prime, but if only we could have seen more of her and Lee together in something more Hammer juicy. Alas, instead we get the very disturbing Little Person Werewolf Hunter Jiri Krytinar (Amadeus), who unfortunately gets his brain imploded by Stirba before turning Don’t Look Now. Ouch.

 

This utterly preposterous story from director Phillippe Mora (A Breed Apart) twists source novelist Gary Brandner’s mythos and also goes by Howling II: Stirba- Werewolf Bitch. Well, I may as well stop reviewing right there, for there isn’t anything major wolfy or bitchy here. This 1985 sequel is a far cry from its cult treat predecessor, with nasty werewolf implications that don’t go far enough and awkward, reaching ties to the original film. Too many changes to the werewolf essentials almost turn Howling II into a vampire move. These Transylvania wolves are immune to silver and can only be stopped by titanium stakes through the heart. Every eighties horror shtick possible is used – fire magic wolves get their powers binded by Big Christopher in what is a completely random and unfulfilling attempt at sexy horror and wolf comedy. Everything about Howling II is mistaken, from the bad, unnecessary eighties music over taking everything to the low of the lowest budget 1985 design. The punk teen Euro wolfy fashions, horrible lycan effects, awful zooms, and disastrous attempts at what you don’t see horror- really; these werewolves toss crates to ensnare their victims! Likewise, they themselves are caught in some bad action scenes and get captured with fishing nets!

I’m harsh, yes, but Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and Full Eclipse can be entertaining believe it or not- if you really, really like bad wolfy movies or are seriously jonesing over the leading men. It’s ironic because Mario Van Peebles and Christopher Lee are probably as far from each other in the leading man spectrum as you could get, but both deserve to be in a quality wolf horror movie. Nonetheless, their fans can still have fun here. However, if you are a highbrow fright connoisseur and expect some sense of credibility or logic in your lycan films, then move along doggie.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Mirrors and Superstitions!

 

Mirrors and Superstitions!

By Kristin Battestella

I don’t know about you but I won’t purchase a second hand mirror thanks to these reflective frights!

Dark Mirror I stumbled upon this 2007 thriller late one night on IFC and enjoyed the unique aspects here. It’s so nice to see a non-blonde or idiot buxom pretty perfect lead in Lisa Vidal (New York Undercover). An ethic mom with issues like sneaking a smoke, possible marriage trouble, unemployment, and creepy neighbors- we haven’t seen the likes of this realistic well-roundedness in a horror film in sometime. The intriguing twists on cameras, mirrors, flashes, glass, and illusions are well done- not overly excessive but better than other similar films like Mirrors and Shutter.  Even Feng Shui gets involved in the twisted mythos here. The spooky L.A. house design also has some non-Sunny SoCal flaws, complete with hidden objects, altered reflections, deadly history, deceiving twists and turns and an unreliable narrator hosting the entire picture. What exactly are we seeing? What is real and what isn’t? Some of the storyline is a little confusing, and not all the acting is stellar, but the freshness here is entertaining and thoughtful throughout.

Mirror Mirror – Ironic country music and frightful orchestration accent the bloody period introduction of this 1990 teen creeper. Yes, that’s a generic title complete with a barebones DVD and no subtitles, but the spooky mix of antiques, hats, and shoulder pads make for a gothic mid century meets eighties style. Like dentistry, the innately eerie mirror aspects pack on the macabre along with blue lighting, distorted demonic voices, gruesome dreams, and bugs laying on the atmosphere. The 30-year-old looking teens in too much denim are mostly tolerable thanks to relatable new kid in town outsider feelings and feminine spins. Rainbow Harvest (Old Enough) is perhaps too wannabe Lydia from Beetlejuice and there is no sign of authority or investigation whatsoever, but the dark tone, a bemusing Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) handling the research, and the neurotic Karen Black (Burnt Offerings) make up any difference. This is a solid R, but the blood, nudity, water frights, and dog harm are done smartly without being excessive. The familiar Carrie, Teen Witch, and The Craft designs will be obvious to horror viewers, but it’s a fun 90 minutes of out of touch parents and teachers, high school cliques, and escalating creepy crimes. The titular evil from the other side takes hold for a wild finish – but never, ever put your hand down that garbage disposal, ever!

Oculus – Family scares, guns, and glowing eyes creepy get right to it as siblings are trying to both remember and forget their past tragedy in this 2013 mindbender full of askew dreams, unreliable memories, statues covered in sheets, and one cursed antique mirror. I would have preferred leads older than their early twenties – clearly appealing to the young it crowd – and despite an understandable awkward or instability, Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Brenton Thwaites (Gods of Egypt) are too wooden at times. Fortunately, the more mature Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Galatica) and Rory Cochrane (Empire Records) and child support Annalise Basso (The Red Road) and Garrett Ryan (Dark House) do better. The non-linear past and present retelling, however, is confusing – the parallel plots aren’t quite clear until the paranormal investigation brings everything together in one location with elaborate equipment, carefully orchestrated timers, and fail safes for a night of ghostly activity. The video documentation makes for smart exposition at the expense of a larger cast or showing the accursed historical events – replacing the tried and true research montage for today’s audiences without resorting to the found footage gimmick. There are no in your face camera effects or zooms with booming music when the frightful appears, and the viewer is allowed to speculate on the seen or unseen reflections, there or maybe not whispering, and distorted blink and you miss them doppelgangers. Is there a psychological explanation or is this all supernatural? Although the recollections or flashbacks of the crisscrossing events should have been more polished – are we watching two, four, or six people as this battle replays itself? – the paranoia builds in both time frames with canine trauma and alternating suspense. Yes, there are Insidious similarities, the product placement and brand name dropping feels unnecessary, and the uneven plot merge cheats in its reflection on the warped or evil influences at work. The finale falters slightly as well, however, there is a quality discussion about the titular manipulation, and the time here remains entertaining as household horrors intensify. WWE Studios, who knew?

The Witch’s Mirror – Oft spooky actor Abel Salazar (The Curse of the Crying Woman) produced this black and white 1962 Mexican horror treat with Isabela Corona (A Man of Principle) as a creepy housekeeper amid the excellent smoke and mirrors and titular visual effects. From a macabre prologue and illustrations to Victorian mood, candles, and rituals, El Espejo de la Bruja has it all – love triangles, jerky husbands, revenge, betrayals, grave robbing, and ghoulish medicine. The plot is at once standard yet also nonsensical thanks to all the sorcery, implausible surgeries, ghosts, fire, even catalepsy all building in over the top, soap opera-esque twists. The sets are perhaps simplistic or small scale with only interior filming, but this scary, play-like atmosphere is enough thanks to wonderful shadows, gothic décor, and freaky, sinister music. Several language and subtitle options are available along with the feature and commentary on the DVD as well – not that any of the dubbing, subtitles, or original Spanish completely matches. The audio is also messed up in some spots, but the script is fun and full of cultish summonings and medical fantasies. Maybe this one will have too much happening for some viewers, as every horror treatise is thrown at the screen here. However, this is a swift, entertaining 75 minutes nonetheless and it doesn’t let up until the end.

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Doppelganger – The opening Drew Barrymore suckling scene feels a little too carried over from Poison Ivy, but the follow up blood and screams with mom Jaid Barrymore add to the 1993 kitschy. The very dated style, light LA grunge feeling, and passé cast are way over the top, and vampire lovers are removed from an onscreen script rather than a shoehorned in plot necessity like today. Thankfully, Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H) is bemusing and so is the “Hey, it’s Danny Trejo!” moment, but seriously, George Newbern (actually the Adventures in Babysitting guy) isn’t Paul Rudd? Sadly, the slow motion soft core wanna-be shots don’t work until more blood and creepy aspects enter in- symbolic windows bursting open and yes, growling winds just make things laughable. It’s all too quick to get to the sex and titillation- casual lesbian on the dance floor motifs and forced use of the word ‘twat’ feel more awkward than cool.  The scares are obvious, and poor music choices, sound mixing, and bad dialogue re-dubs don’t help as Barrymore comes off more like a PMS queen or mental bitch rather than an innocent girl with a slutty, killer lookalike. Though the plot itself is too thin, things becomes more interesting when the murder investigation raises a few questions. Unfortunately, even the FBI agent (Dan Shor aka Billy the Kid from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) lays the smack on really thick! Barrymore doesn’t have a full command on the dry dialogue scenes, either. However, despite the baby doll dresses and old lady headscarf, teen Drew is looking flawless. I’m sure there’s a male audience that can have fun with that, the unintentional camp, and the cheap entertainment value here- except for the finale. Good Lord, what happened there?!