Tuesday, February 17, 2015

V/H/S: Viral (2014)

V/H/S: Viral (USA, 2014) - Color, Director(s): Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento, and Nacho Vigalondo
MPAA Rating: R
Approx. 82 min.

Z-rating: 3 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 3 stars out of 5

So despite the VHS motif, this time we're going with a viral video theme. The last two movies tried to stick to the concept even though there was no way some of the segments could possibly be recorded on VHS (i.e. the Skype segment from the first one or the prosthetic eye segment from the second one).

The wraparound segment this time isn't about people watching VHS tapes. Instead, an ice cream truck is leading the police on a high speed chase through L.A. and everyone is trying to get their own footage of it. One guy runs out into the street in time to see the truck pass and his girlfriend disappear. How any of this actually leads into the various segments is not explained.

Regardless, our first segment is about a stage magician, Dante The Great, and his assistant. Dante was a nobody until he somehow got ahold of a magic cloak that supposedly belonged to Harry Houdini and becomes the greatest magician in the world. This is easily my favorite segment in the entire movie. I don't want to spoil too much of the story but a stage magician playing with dangerous powers he might not fully understand is a fantastic concept.

Next up, we have a Spanish-language segment is about a guy who builds a portal to a parallel dimension in his basement. After opening the door, he is greeted by an alternate version of himself and they agree to switch places for 15 minutes so they can explore each others world. The more time he spends in the alternate dimension, the more he realizes that things are not what they seem. Takes awhile for this one to get going but once it starts to ramp up, it gets really nutty before you know it. This segment does lose some points for teasing a Satanic orgy and not following through. 

A group of douchebag skaters travel to Tijuana in search of good times and a location to finish their skating video in the third and final segment. I don't have a problem with skaters in general but these guys are really obnoxious. Things get interesting when they stumble upon what appears to be a sacrificial site and they're suddenly surrounded by members of a bizarre cult. Any tension this scene might've had is completely broken by the hilariously stupid comments of the skaters. "Yo, do crackheads have fire blood?" Next thing you know, the segment turns into a first person shooter (à la Doom) as one of the skaters start shooting undead cult zombies. The beginning of this segment almost reminded me of Larry Clark's Kids.

Nudity: Pretty much none. They tease nudity on a couple occasions but nothing is explicitly shown. The beautiful girlfriend, Iris, in the wraparound segment teases flashing her breasts to the camera but it's covered up by static. There's also a bit in a taxi where a girl is taking her clothes off but she only gets down to her bra and panties before stopping. 

Gore: There's some gore in this movie, a police officer is hit by the ice cream truck and his severed arm lands on the sidewalk. There was also tons of blood during the skater vs. cult members brawl. Nothing too visceral but lots of blood spewing.

Awesome: The ending to the wraparound story didn't make a whole lot of sense but that's true of the series as whole. I just think it's funny that we see all these VHS tapes and tracking adjustments but everyone's got a smart phone and digital camcorders. I will give it credit for not wasting too much time before jumping into something interesting since found footage films tend to waste at least a half hour setting up the plot. I can't really say this movie was scary but it was interesting. The magician segment is definitely my favorite and the one about parallel dimensions was bizarre, like a live-action Japanese hentai. The skaters' segment was starting to get good but it ended before anything cool happened. Worth checking out if you're a fan of the series thus far. The Blu-ray comes out today, so click here to buy your copy. From what I understand, a segment directed by Todd Lincoln was cut from the original release but will be included as an extra for the DVD/Blu-ray release.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

10 Awesome VHS Covers

Back in the day, I used to go to the video store with my dad to check out the different movies they had on the shelves. This was obviously long before I owned a computer or was able to check the internet for reviews. Other than short blurbs on the back of the tape, all you really had to go on was the cover art.

The home video companies all knew this so they would put some of the most kick ass artwork on the boxes to make their movies as attractive as possible. Of course, some of these were a just a flat out lie and did not accurately represent the movie at all. The following are a random assortment of VHS covers that I definitely would've rented just for the kick ass box art. 

1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) - Check out that cover! Some guy wearing a leather vest is screaming as he fires his machine gun into the air. Below him, a Mad Max-esque motorcycle gang looks like they're riding straight out of hell and charging into action.

The guy on horseback seems to be holding a flare or maybe his hand has been replaced by a flamethrower that's spewing a cloud of flames into the air. Is he a Horseman of the Apocalypse? The backdrop is New York City and everything is engulfed in fire.

The line at the bottom reads "A Heavy Metal journey into an urban hell where everything has gone wrong!" Who knows what the hell could be going on? The summary on the back of the tape makes it sounds like The Warriors meets Escape from New York. Bonus points for having Fred Williamson on the cover!

Dr. Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974) - It's no secret that I'm a fan of monster movies. I've been a huge Godzilla fan since I was a kid and I've always loved the classic Universal monsters. One of the most appealing aspects of Godzilla movies is that he usually fights another giant monster.

There isn't too much going on in this cover but Frankenstein's monster is battling another monstrous, muscle-bound beast on the edge of a cliff and that's totally awesome! The setting is a simple one, a full moon on a dark and stormy night. The tagline reads "A bloody battle between stone-age goliaths" I'm not sure who that other guy is supposed to be but this image brings to mind The Hulk battling Grey Hulk.

The back of the tape says that a Neanderthal man is killed by the townsfolk and brought back to life as a Frankenstein monster. Meanwhile one of the assistants that was banished finds another Neanderthal man(!) who eventually must battle the first monster. If I rented this as a kid, I would've expected this to be like The War of the Gargantuas

Robo Vampire (1988) - Alright, this is one of the ones I was talking about when I said the covers are sometimes a flat out lie. If the cover was to be believed, this would be the coolest movie EVER! RoboCop is fighting a horde of jianshi (Chinese hopping vampires) while cop cars are exploding in the background. I honestly can't think of anything that could possibly be cooler.

The back cover is missing in the picture above but I've actually had the misfortune of seeing this one. A narcotics agent is killed and brought back to life as a tin foil robot that fights a "jiangshi" wearing a gorilla mask. Alright, in all fairness, the "RoboCop" was wearing a silver outfit and a silver motorcycle helmet but the "jiangshi" is literally wearing a gorilla mask.

I can't even imagine what this movie would've looked like on VHS. I saw the DVD version and it looked like it was filtered through someone's asshole. I've never been more disappointed.

Chopping Mall (1986) - This is one of my favorite covers for one of my favorite cult films. A shopping bag filled with assorted body parts is held up by Doctor Claw's hand. A simple cover but it gets the point across. Although I would've assumed this would be a slasher film just going by the front cover.

The movie is about a group of teens that are partying in a mall after hours and, unbeknownst to them, the mall just got a new security system in the form of three robots designed to disable intruders by non-lethal means. A lightning storm short-circuits the robots however and turns them into killing machines!

The movie is pretty cheesy but an exploding head and a pinch of nudity makes this a great B-movie to watch with a couple of buddies. Order a pizza and crack open a few beers, it would make a great double feature with Evolver!

Invasion of the Bodysuckers [a.k.a Blue Monkey] (1987) - I just LOVE the drippy font the title is written in. I love that it's green and looks like slime but most of all, I love that the entire slip cover is one big poster. The creature is shrouded in the shadows but you can tell it's a giant insect creature and in one of the screenshots on the back, you can see a giant worm either crawling in or out of someone's mouth. There isn't a summary on the back but you can imagine the movie being a throwback to Sci-Fi flicks from the 50's.

Neon Maniacs (1986) - Here we've got the Japanese cover to Neon Maniacs. I doubt this is something I would've come across at the video store but I know I would've rented the shit out of this movie if I ever saw it sitting on a shelf. A bunch of monsters with one decked out in full samurai gear look ready for a fight. The cover doesn't really tell us what's happening and I wouldn't be able to read the summary on the back but that's just too awesome not to rent.

Bonus points for taking place in my hometown of San Francisco. (Even though that looks suspiciously like the Twin Towers in the skyline next to the samurai's head) The movie is apparently about a group of teens that find a nest of monsters living under the Golden Gate Bridge. I never would've guessed that by the cover.

Raw Force [a.k.a. Kung Fu Cannibals] (1982) - I love busy covers that have a lot going on and this is one of the craziest I've seen! From the top down, there's a line that reads "Raw Force! Untamed and Unleashed to Kill!" followed by a statue of a deity directly beneath it.

Below that is a spirit swinging a Katana with an exploding yacht to the left and some women in cages to the right. Those are either crazed monks or possibly witches laughing at them in the cage.

Below them is a James Bond looking fellow checking out baskets full of emeralds, or more likely, jade. In the center is a shirtless fellow throwing a dragon kick out towards the screen and on either side of him are random people armed with machine guns, including a sea captain and a blonde bombshell.

Directly above the title, we get a peek at a few gravestones while the shiny 3D font is popping out at us below. There's even a ninja star with a taijitu (yin-yang) in the middle of the "O" in "Force" with the taglines "One Blow! The Deathblow!" and "...Invaders of the Jade Tombs!" surrounding the title.

Without the back cover, I couldn't even begin to imagine what this movie could possibly be about. Seems like every type of movie from Action/Adventure to Kung Fu and even Women in Prison films are covered here.

The alternate title (Kung Fu Cannibals) makes this even more awesome and the actual summary from IMDb talks about an island of martial art ghosts, female slavery, cannibal monks, piranhas, zombies, and a Hitler lookalike! I still have no idea what's going on but this movie just got a Blu-ray release a few months back. They even kept the incredible cover art!

Mind Killer (1987) - A Sci-Fi nightmare indeed. Look that thing! It's like something out of Doom. A one-eyed, drooling, sharp-toothed, brain monster with electrodes sticking out of its face. I can also make out some clawed fingers down at the bottom. I would've rented this on the cover alone.

According to the summary on the back, a librarian reads self-help books that expand his mind to the point where he develops telekinesis and mind-control powers. (I really need to read more!) After losing control of his powers, his brain actually turns into a monster and goes after his love interest. I hope to track down a copy of this movie cause it sounds totally awesome! I'm expecting something like The Brain.

The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) - Our second cover to come from Japan is for the sequel to Swamp Thing. I've seen a couple different variations of this cover and they all feature Swamp Thing carrying the incredibly sexy Heather Locklear in her nightgown.

What I liked most about this one were the comic book-style speech bubbles with things like "BANG" "Vicious Mutants!" and "Raw Terror!" all over the front and back cover. Also, check out the awesome panels that look like they were lifted straight from the comics.

I understand this sequel is supposed to be more of a comedy but I love how the speech bubbles try to sell it as a straight up horror movie. What's funny is that the speech bubbles actually make it seem more like a comedy. I would definitely rent this if I saw it sitting on a shelf.

Deep Rising (1998) - The last poster I have for all of you is another Japanese variation. Deep Rising is about a band of hijackers trying to board an ocean liner and rob everyone on it. Unbeknownst to them, the ocean liner was attacked by giant sea monster.

Check out the wicked awesome tentacle monster on the cover! The always beautiful Famke Janssen is on the spine and the back cover has screenshots of a guy melting with a couple more of the tentacle monster looming. For comparison, here's the boring American version.

You can't even tell that it's a monster movie judging by that cover! Maybe the whole point was to push it as an Action movie instead but I would've passed this up on a shelf. In fact, I must've scrolled past this movie a dozen times on Netflix while looking for something to watch.

One day I did a search for sea monster movies because I have a MASSIVE fear of the ocean and this title came up in a list. I remember being surprised when I went looking for it and realized how many times I've scrolled past this movie.

Maybe the distributors didn't think it would sell as a monster movie but the Japanese cover makes this look awesome!  

On a related note: Tom Hodge a.k.a The Dude Designs, who designs some of the GREATEST movie posters I've ever seen in my life, has a book coming out on this exact topic. If you enjoyed this post, pre-order your copy of VHS Video Cover Art on Amazon today!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Zombie Blood®

I don't run any ads on this blog because I don't want to feel like I'm getting bought off to push products onto the awesome people who visit it. I also like being in control of what's promoted on my blog, though sometimes I do whore it out in support of stuff I genuinely think is really cool. I've done it a few times before to promote things like Cinema Sewer, Horror T-shirts, and even the Mortal Kombat game I was super excited about. But I want to be clear that I was never paid or given anything in return for a favorable post on any of those things and this situation is no different. I'm not a big alcohol drinker myself but I got a tweet on Halloween day asking me to spread the word on a new drink coming out called Zombie Blood®. I'd be lying if I said my interest wasn't immediately piqued. After checking out their IndieGoGo campaign, I was sold.

I have no idea what this stuff tastes like and I don't really care. To have a drink called Zombie Blood® that looks like blood in a bottle that glows-in-the-dark is just too awesome. What really sold me was the haphazardly choreographed Thriller dance at the end of their promotional video. Also, for them to reach out to me on Halloween, I couldn't help but find this whole product charming.

With the previous things I mentioned promoting earlier, I actually had the product in hand and could recommend it with confidence. I'm not telling everyone to start throwing money at this product blindly. Let me just reiterate that I wouldn't know if this stuff tasted like putrid shit leaking out of a rotting zombie carcass or not. I just thought the promotion for this product was on point and wanted to share it with anyone who might be interested, because I really wouldn't mind seeing a bottle of this stuff on the shelf the next time I walk into a bar.


Friday, October 31, 2014

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (USA, 1973) - Color, Director(s): William Friedkin
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 122 min.

Z-rating: 5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

Often called the "scariest movie of all time," The Exorcist is based on the book that's based on the real-life exorcism of a 14-year-old boy. Roland Doe, a pseudonym given to protect the child, was allegedly possessed by the devil and had as many as nine Jesuit priests involved in his exorcism. As an only child, he was particularly close to his Aunt who was a spiritualist and introduced him to the Ouija Board. After she passed away, they began experiencing strange disturbances such as furniture moving and objects levitating across the room. Some believe the child may have attempted to contact his aunt using the Ouija Board. When the child began acting strangely, he was examined by medical and psychiatric professionals who found nothing wrong with the boy. Turning to the church, they got approval and the boy received a number of exorcisms. During one of the failed exorcisms, the boy's hands slipped free of his restraints and used a bed spring to slash the priest's arm. The details of the exorcism vary from one account to the next, some saying that the words "evil" and "hell" appeared on his body. Others say the word "hello" appeared on his chest and the face of the devil appeared on his leg. Scratches, seemingly made by claws, were also said to appear on his body.

This almost never leads to anything good...

The story made it into the papers where it inspired William Peter Blatty to write a novel based on the exorcism, he also wrote the screenplay for this film adaptation. In it, a 12-year-old girl named Regan becomes possessed by the devil after playing with a Ouija Board. Her mother, who is an actress, takes her to doctors and psychiatrists but they are unable find anything wrong with her. At the same time, a priest named Damien Karras is shaken by the loss of his mother and his faith begins to waver. Father Karras is the one who collects evidence of Regan's possession and presents it to the church. The bishop green lights the exorcism and brings in Father Merrin, who has experience with exorcisms. As it turns out, Father Merrin has previously "defeated" Pazuzu, the demon possessing Regan.

Up until the exorcism, we're just watching this innocent little girl plan for her birthday party. The first half takes its time slowly setting up for the second half, things get completely out of control when the exorcism begins. Some things were obviously exaggerated for the movie, for example, I doubt Roland Doe's head turned completely around. In real life, some people suspect that Doe may have either suffered from a mental illness or that he might've been faking the entire possession. In the end, they were able to "successfully" exorcise the child, who supposedly went on to live a normal life. There have been documentaries that explore the story of Roland Doe, In the Grip of Evil is supposed to be a good one.

Nudity: None. Although Regan spouts some really vulgar things while she's possessed like "Let Jesus fuck you!" while repeatedly jamming a crucifix into her crotch. Then she screams "Lick me!" while pushing her mother's face into her bloody crotch. This is one of the most disturbing things in any horror movie ever.

Gore: There isn't much blood or guts but the special effects are really disturbing. Regan's make up is horrific and her head spins around on her body. She vomits on the priests performing the exorcism, which is famously known to be pea soup. The famous spider-walk scene, performed by a contortionist that was suspended by wires, was originally cut from the theatrical release because the wires were visible. In the later home video releases, the wires were digitally removed and the scene was added back into the movie.

Awesome: When I first heard the reputation this movie had for being the "scariest movie ever" I just had to see it for myself. I rented this and watched it with my mom but was disappointed when it didn't scare me so hard that I pooped a duke. I've definitely grown to appreciate this movie since, especially after having seen more films in the genre. Every exorcism film has pretty much tried to copy this movie with limited success. This is still the granddaddy of all exorcism movies, with its chilling atmosphere and haunting special effects. There's no denying the massive impact this film had, everything from Scary Movie 2 to Futurama has paid homage to this film. I know full-grown adults that still refuse to watch it to this day because of how much it traumatized them as a child. The Exorcist (hell)spawned two sequels, one of which was written and directed by William Peter Blatty himself, and two prequels. None of which would even come close to capturing the creepy and truly terrifying imagery of the original. Don't let this movie's reputation build your expectations up too high to where you'll be disappointed though. Just let your guard down and watch this with an open mind. This film will undoubtedly have a stronger effect on those with a religious background but if you believe there's even a slight possibility the devil exists, this movie will chill you to the bone!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Alien (1979)

Alien (USA/UK, 1979) - Color, Director(s): Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 15]
Approx. 117 min.

Z-rating: 4 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

What the hell are all those lights for?

When talking about the Alien franchise, most people think of Aliens, the action-packed sequel by James Cameron. Most of the video games based on the franchise have been shooting games, so it's easy to see where the association comes from. The original is much more of a slow, atmospheric horror that takes its time building up tension. Set designs and special effects are mind-numbingly detailed and look fantastic, even by today's standards. Much of the look is due to the work of H.R. Giger who designed, among many other things, the alien creature. Anyone who's seen enough Roger Corman pictures can tell you that a set can be quickly and cheaply built to look like the interior of a space ship, but they look so realistic here that it's easy to forget you're watching a movie.

We start with the Nostromo, a commercial towing vehicle with a crew of seven people, on its way back to Earth. The crew is awakened from stasis by the ship's computer after it intercepts a transmission of unknown origin from a nearby planetoid. They're ordered by the company to investigate the source of the signal, so they land on the planetoid. A member of the team accidentally gets a face-hugger attached to his... well, face that they can't remove. Every time they try, the tail wraps tighter around his throat. When they try to cut one of its legs off, it bleeds acid that burns through 3 levels of the ship. The crew is stumped about what to do when the thing just falls off and dies. The guy whose face it was on just gets up like nothing happened, so everyone just forgets about it and they have their last meal before returning to stasis. During the meal, something bursts out of his chest and runs off. The crew goes after it but it rapidly grows to over 6 ft. tall and starts killing off the crew one after another.

This movie is often referred to as a slasher in space because the alien creature, eventually dubbed "xenomorphs" in the the sequels, stalks the crew around the spaceship like Jason stalks teenagers through the woods. There are also some false scares like when they think they found the xenomorph using a motion tracker but it turns out to be the cat. Ripley, as the final girl, is the only one who wants to follow protocol when the face-hugger is attached to the guy's face. Ultimately, she's the one who figures out that the company wanted the xenomorph, a "perfect organism" they want to weaponize, brought back even at the expense of the entire crew. 

Hug me, dammit!

Nudity: At the end of the movie, we see Ripley strip down to her panties and an undershirt. The panties are so skimpy that we see some plumber's crack when she leans forward.

Gore: There's the famous chest bursting scene, which is probably the most famous scene of the entire movie. There are also splatters of blood each time someone is killed by the creature. The part where they beat the crap out of the android and all that white, milky stuff comes out doesn't really count.

Awesome: Very. The confined setting creates a suspenseful atmosphere and the crew being so helpless is what makes it terrifying. They aren't prepared to fight this thing and can't use conventional weapons because it bleeds acid. I think this movie is a masterpiece but the action-packed sequel is what really put this franchise on the map. I have to admit that I've always preferred Aliens because it's more exciting and has more than one alien. Even though it's more of an Action/Sci-Fi film, it's still scary as shit to know they were actually prepared to fight these things and still got their ass handed to them. Alien 3 had Ripley on a prison planet where another alien is running amok, killing inmates. Also, she finds out that she has an Alien Queen growing inside of her. Alien Resurrection takes place 200 years later with a Ripley clone. Obviously, they were trying to breed the aliens and end up letting them escape. Eventually, we got two Alien Versus Predator movies that were really lackluster. Much like Freddy vs. Jason, we were promised a crossover between the two franchises for many years. There was a comic book crossover way back in 1989-1990, a bunch of toys were released during the mid-90's, but we didn't get a movie until 2004! Unlike Freddy vs. Jason though, the AVP movies did not live up to expectations and many fans were disappointed.

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