Friday, January 11, 2019

MRS. CLAUS (2018) Slasher Friday Holiday Horrors | Review by Dan Taylor

“I pray that this Christmas fills you – with anguish!”

Remember the good ole days when you could count the number of Christmas-themed horror movies on two hands? BLACK CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS EVIL, the SILENT NIGHT flicks, ELVES, DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, SANTA’S SLAY and a handful of others provided horror fans jonesing for seasonal fright flicks after Halloween with enough tinsel and gore to make it through all those cookie swaps, holiday parties, and family gatherings.

Thanks (?) to cut-rate budgets, significantly lowered expectations and streaming outlets simply screaming for content, Christmas has become THE destination holiday for horror filmmakers. Take a cursory look at any streaming service and you’ll find yourself knee deep in titles like SLAY BELLES, CHRISTMAS SLAY, RED CHRISTMAS, ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE, CHRISTMAS BLOOD, SECRET SANTA, CHRISTMAS WITH COOKIE: LOCKED AWAY, GOOD TIDINGS and enough Krampus-inspired fright flicks to fill the Manson Family’s stockings.

Troy Escamilla's MRS. CLAUS (2018) – not to be confused with 1996’s MRS. SANTA CLAUS starring Angela Lansbury, Charles Durning and Michael Jeter – finds the horribly annoying sisters of Delta Sigma Sigma celebrating Christmas, bitch, and not any of those made-up holidays.

When the president of the sorority decides to remind one of the newbies “who’s in charge” it all goes horribly wrong and ends with a murder by dong (sorta) and suicide by rope (totally).

No tears were shed by the survivors.

Fast forward a decade and the gals of Delta Sig Squared are back at it, including Danielle (Hailey Strader), the sister of the dead sorority president from earlier in the film. Now, you might be asking yourself, why would she pledge the same sorority where her sister was murdered? And you would not be alone, as one character asks the exact same question.

Danielle, who is dating the brother of sorority sister Kayla (Heather Bounds), continually forgets that her sister was a serious bitch and doesn’t seem capable of handling stories about her dead sibling. Who, may I remind you, was a serious and total bitch.

Once again, “why would you pledge the same sorority where your sister was murdered? I don’t get that.” None of us do, none of us do.

Eventually, the titular Mrs. C starts sending cryptic e-mails and the poorly attended Delta Sig holiday party turns into a D-grade BLACK CHRISTMAS as sorority gals, weirdoes, potheads, horny jocks and a campus rent-a-cop (genre vet Brinke Stevens) become victims and/or suspects in this Yuletide slasher.

Admittedly, I absolutely HATED this flick upon first viewing and wasn’t even going to bother giving it a review. But the holiday spirit – is that you, Mrs. Claus?! – moved me and I gave it another shot. A second viewing made me feel slightly more charitable to the proceedings and I’d give it a grudging recommendation as long as you know what kind of low-budget holiday hell you’re wading into.

I’d also recommend being slightly buzzed. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and The Hungover Gourmet. He is determined to finish up reviews of the other holiday horrors he watched. 

MRS. CLAUS is available from Amazon.




Friday, January 04, 2019

THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971) Directed by Tom Hanson | Review by Louis Fowler

The sheer balls these 70s filmmakers had, to exploit a serial killer while the bodies were still warm, all under the guise of "helping" to catch the bloodthirsty deviant.

Still, with no disrespect to the actual victims, 1971's THE ZODIAC KILLER (now available on Blu-Ray from AGFA and Something Weird) is an enjoyable piece of trash, for all the wrong reasons. Starting off with a title card practically saying this film was not made for awards and, instead, in the public interest, well, you mostly succeeded.

In a particle-board California community where every single man is apparently a misogynistic pig with a "bitch" ex-wife, a woman gets stabbed in the broad daylight as young children watch. I'm not really sure if this is the startling opening of the movie or a California tourism advertisement, but it's pretty effective on both counts.

As the supposed murderer reads off a generically psychopathic litany of stereotyped weirdness, the audience is meant to perpetually guess who the killer is; running through the large list of red herrings, is it the bitter postman put upon by harridans, the divorced daddy with a shrewish ex-wife or the one seemingly normal dude with a need to rant on about his future zombie slaves from the lost continent of Atlantis or some such junk.

Like a MGTOW spank-bank come to life, David Fincher it's not.

Still, when the Zodiac does appear on-screen, clad in his remarkably clean uniform with crosshairs on the front, it's darkly chilling to know that the acclaimed killer was probably in the theater, pleasuring himself to the clumsy filmmaking on bad film stock, languishing in the fictionalized outings of his silver screen alter-ego. That's gotta be a bigger rush than a double-murder on Lover's Lane, I'd suppose.

In addition to THE ZODIAC KILLER, included as a bonus feature is ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977, written and directed by Dave Adams), which I know sounds like a wacky summer comedy about an inept serial killer and his dog pal going on a dingy New York murder spree, but instead is an equally garbage flick about a mental patient who knows some sweet speedboat stunts.

But, for the price of admission, it also features the public domain ramblings of lounge-singer extraordinaire Johnny Charro, whose concert footage is a might scarier than both films combined. – Louis Fowler

Louis Fowler is a longtime contributor to ER and The Hungover Gourmet as well as The Lost Ogle, Bookgasm and The Impulsive Buy

THE ZODIAC KILLER is available from Amazon and Diabolik DVD



Thursday, December 13, 2018

HOLIDAY (Sorta) HORRORS: Tell Me a Christmas Story... That Rips Off Classic Horror Flicks

When I picked up NIGHT TERRORS (2014) at a horror convention I thought, "Cool... holiday horror meets anthology... sounds like my kinda flick". After screening it I'm reminded of the classic SOUTH PARK episode where Cartman insists that his hand is Jennifer Lopez (you have to see it to believe it).

When confronted by his pals (plus, um, a lovestruck Ben Affleck and the police) he admits his hand isn't J Lo but is actually a con man named Mitch Conner. After getting his pals to admit that what happened was possible he taunts Stan and Kyle by saying "I gotcha kinda... I gotcha kinda..."

This is how NIGHT TERRORS makes me feel.

Based around the old anthology flick chestnut of "world's worst babysitter tells kid horrific stories" a la BURNING MOON, NIGHT TERRORS valiantly tries to replicate the VHS experience of the 80s – complete with a warning that the VHS effect you're seeing is intended and that this is "not a defective product". Yeah, I'll be the judge of that.

The holiday horrors ball gets rolling as Maddie (Alyssa Benner) – stuck at home babysitting while her pal wants her to come out and party – complies with her little brother's request to "tell me a Christmas story". I'm guessing the kid did not have this poor man's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT in mind but his twisted sister unspools the sordid tale of a savage Santa who butchers some heavy metal dude ringing a Salvation Army bell then heads to a squat where he hacks his way through a bunch of punks gearing up for a night of beer and Oi. One can only imagine the lengths Maddy had to go to in order to explain squatting punks and Oi to her little brother.

Despite the very obvious rubber dummy that Santa axes and the myriad of period details the segment – and the flick as a whole – gets wrong, at least you can have some fun looking at the classic hardcore show fliers that dot the squat's wall. Little did I know that '34th Street Massacre' would be the anthology's only "holiday horror" – and the evening's highlight.

'Baby Killer' mines more familiar territory as mad scientist Dr. Herbert Cain (Richard Hackel) must resort to boosting supplies from the ol' university lab in order to work on the cure for his daughter's disease. Not a big fan of kid peril or baby murder, so I'm pretty much out on this one despite the protestor in a Misfits shirt and the acid bath given to the janitor's face.

The flick wraps with 'Abstinence', which I'm sure was meant as a well-intentioned homage to Fred Dekker's classic NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (one of my all-time favorites). I'll use "homage" because nobody making a horror flick would be so blatant as to lift dialogue straight from the flick and have the nerve to use Tom Atkins' oft-quoted "Thrill me" and think they could get away with it. Unfortunately, the hijacked plot-line, woeful casting and period details pulled me right out of the story, no matter how many people puke blood and pull out their own teeth.

In a nutshell, NIGHT TERRORS – written and directed by Alex Lukens and Jason Zink – offers up watchable but largely forgettable Grade D riffs on three great slices of 80s horror. Granted, it isn't like those flicks cornered the market on evil Santas, mad scientists or college mayhem, and I've enjoyed countless variations on said themes. But if you're going to advance the premise that these segments – and the wraparound – are 80s-era artifacts, at least try and get the details and casting right. I understand that you take what you can get when casting a low-budget, straight-to-video horror flick (friends, relatives, people who will work for food), but nobody walking around a college campus in the 80s gauged their earlobes, the only people who had tattoos were bikers and veterans, and don't cast a "college frosh" who looks old enough to be some dad visiting for Parents Weekend.

Well played, NIGHT TERRORS. You got me kinda... you got me kinda... – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and he promises more Holiday Horrors before Christmas. This review previously appeared in ER #53 which is is available from AmazonNIGHT TERRORS is also available from Amazon.




Tuesday, November 27, 2018

David Allen's THE PRIMEVALS Finally Seeing the Light of Day?!

If you were a fan of Empire Pictures and Full Moon, you probably spent a good part of your life waiting around for films that may or may not have ever happened. Or were even started.

I myself waited for years from the time I saw the full-page ad in Variety for PULSE POUNDERS until the lost footage was finally discovered and released piecemeal on various Full Moon releases. (See our review of the surprisingly sleazy THE EVIL CLERGYMAN here.)

Of all the projects backed by Charles Band that never saw the light of day, the most anticipated may be legendary effect expert David Allen's THE PRIMEVALS. An epic undertaking (especially for Full Moon), the film was to combine stop-motion with live action and was Allen's passion project until his death in 1999.

The film's history is a recurring theme throughout the recent Full Moon tome IT CAME FROM THE VIDEO AISLE!, with what seemed like hundreds of the book's real-life characters toiling on it in some capacity over the years.

Now, ComingSoon.net reports that Band has assembled a team led by Chris Endecott (AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, DEADPOOL) to finish the work Allen left behind after his death.

You can contribute to the project here and help THE PRIMEVALS finally see the light of day. – Dan Taylor

Monday, August 06, 2018

RECENT WATCHES: Dutch Slashers, Demon Winds, Albino Apes and More

We're officially in the dog days of summer here in Maryland and this year that has meant a multi-week stretch of heat, humidity and rain of Biblical proportions that has kept us from doing fun stuff like drinking beer and reading men's action novels by the pool. Luckily it has not affected our ability to drink beer and watch movies.

Between streaming, rentals and the box of 400+ genre titles I recently picked up to sell on eBay (check our store for the latest offerings) viewing has been all over the place of late. Also happy to finally move past "PG only" flicks with my daughter, which certainly opens up our options.

"Are we having fun here?" I'm surprised it took me so long to catch up with AMSTERDAMNED (1988) from director Dick Maas (THE LIFT). An oddball blend of the slasher and aqua-horror genres I love so much, AMSTERDAMNED follows decorated but world-weary detective Eric Visser (Huub Stapel) as he investigates whatever is emerging from the canals of Amsterdam to hack and slash unsuspecting hookers, boaters and bikini-clad babes. There are plenty of suspects to go around – including a fellow cop still bristling because Visser stole his gal – and a meh subplot featuring Visser's daughter and her oddball pal who thinks he's psychic, but Maas packs the flick with enough blood and action to keep you guessing. Feels a bit rushed and anti-climactic but still an enjoyable enough genre mashup.

In ACTS OF VENGEANCE (2017) Antonio Banderas stars as a hot shot lawyer whose wife and kid are killed, leading to a so-so revenge flick from the usually reliable Isaac Florentine. There are some major plot holes and plain old gaffes along the way but it's a halfway decent time-waster and I'm enjoying Banderas' work as he joins the ranks of the Straight To Redbox All-Stars (including SECURITY [2017] which pits Banderas against the always reliable Ben Kingsley in a low-rent riff on DIE HARD.

RAMPAGE (2018 aka THE FAST AND THE CURIOUS) stars Dwayne The Rock Dwayne Johnson as The Rock... nope, wait, Hobbs... nope, uh, Davis? Yes, Davis, some sort of zoological expert who can sign language with a giant albino gorilla (and I don't mean Vin Diesel) named George who goes all ape shit after huffing the contents of a space experiment gone wrong. Unfortunately the space doobie also affected a wolf and gator so we get a loose approximation of the awesome multi-player video game that I dumped a zillion quarters into while waiting for movies to start. Totally worth the $2.12 rental and an instant Background Flick All-Star. Here's hoping the next Godzilla flick is this fun.

“And now my pig… you die!” After a Depression-era prologue we’re thrust into the early 1990s as Cory and the world’s most inexplicable group of “friends” travel to a cabin in the woods and encounter slimy demons in Charles Phillip Moore’s 1990 way out horror flick DEMON WIND. You’ll need more than a handful of beers to get through this blend of Raimi demon gore and dopey Craven dream shenanigans complete with a guy who does magic tricks and front spin kicks.

Other recent watches include: the incoherent AMERICAN STREETFIGHTER (1992) with Gary Daniels; Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm in BRAINSLASHER (1992 aka MINDWARP), which seemed sorta fun but the print made half the flick unwatchable; a busty Linda Blair in the frat horror HELL NIGHT (1981); and THE DARK (1979), which I missed at the latest Exhumed Horrorthon, tried watching three times and finally gave up on. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and The Hungover Gourmet. No new issues are in the works but he is hard at work getting ER 51 back in print and compiling a Hungover Gourmet omnibus featuring writings from the blog, zine and more.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Mack Bolan and Cult Horror DVDs: Dan's Funky Finds for 6/8/18

The kids are almost out of school and one of my summer projects is to devote more time to the social media aspects of my businesses, including the reseller biz.

So welcome to the first of what I hope will be a continuing series of videos featuring everything from what's been recently posted to the store (like today's installment) to treasures we've found in our travels.

Thanks for watching and don't forget, everything you see here and much more is available at the Dan's Funky Finds store on eBay!

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

DIRTY HARRY #10: THE BLOOD OF STRANGERS (1982)

While the first original Dirty Harry novel – DUEL FOR CANNONS – benefitted from the ghostwriting of Ric Meyers, the genre vet had to pass on certain installments due to his commitment to other "Men of Action" entries like The Ninja Master (written as Wade Barker). DIRTY HARRY #10: THE BLOOD OF STRANGERS is one of those installments and Meyers' deft touch with the material is definitely missed.

Even for a longtime fan of the original films, DUEL felt like an authentic Dirty Harry film adventure ported over to a pulpier environment, right down to Meyers' descriptions of fight scenes and our hero's sparse dialogue hissed through clenched teeth. STRANGERS – authored by Leslie Horvitz (THE DONORS, DOUBLE BLINDED, THE DYING) – feels more like a generic men's action novel whose main character just happens to be the beloved Dirty Harry. A suitably Eastwood-esque mug graces the cover but the man on the pages inside could be any random cop who gets mixed up in a terrorist plot funded by a Middle Eastern arms dealer.

In a terrifyingly lax pre-9/11 San Francisco, a couple of terrorist scumbags blow up part of an airport terminal and off some nosey patrolmen, which naturally draws the attention of Dirty Harry. But things get a little hard to swallow when our hero gets plucked off the streets to go undercover as "Dan Turner", a fill-in bodyguard for Gamal Abd'el Kayyim, a suspected arms dealer visiting California. After Harry/Turner foils an assassination attempt he finds himself moving in Kayyim's inner circle just as suspicion about him begins to boil over.

With every cop that could potentially ride shotgun either killed off or mortally wounded, Horvitz gives Harry a partner/love interest (of sorts) in Ellie Winston, anchorwoman-turned-reporter (Patricia Clarkson would play a similar role in 1988's THE DEAD POOL). Though it's hard to believe a seasoned San Francisco reporter wouldn't know who Callahan is, Winston finally realizes there might be a story in him and follows the cop from San Francisco to LA, Beirut and El Salvador as Harry's cover is blown and he finds himself matching wits and weapons with international arms dealers playing for both sides.

Brimming with head-exploding violence, THE BLOOD OF STRANGERS is a quick but instantly forgettable read. Whereas Meyers "gets" Callahan and the beats of the original films, Horvitz's attempts at harnessing their vibe fails and jamming Harry into international locales like Beirut and an Italian villa feels forced and more suited to an installment of Don Pendelton's Mack Bolan: The Executioner.

After twelve "Never before published or seen on screen" novels the Dirty Harry series (pulp division) ended with 1983's DIRTY HARRY #12: THE DEALER OF DEATH in which Harry's beloved .44 Magnum is stolen and used in a series of murders intended to frame the cop. After seven years away from the character, Eastwood agreed to once again strap on the badge of Inspector 71 for 1983's SUDDEN IMPACT and, coupled with the fizzling men's action market, that meant the end of the books.

Though I'd certainly recommend other men's action books of the era over this one, the couple Dirty Harry novels I've tackled have been quick reads and brought back fond memories of a character I spent many hours with over the years. I'll certainly be keeping my eyes peeled at garage sales and thrift stores, hoping to grab installments where Harry battles filthy pirates, watches a family reunion go south, or has to clear his name. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect. This review originally appeared in Exploitation Retrospect #52 available from Amazon and direct from the publisher.