“Attacked by ‘uge fookin ‘owlin things!”

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Werewolf films are often quite stagnant. Steeped in folklore, with tropes we all know far to well, the opportunity for growth within the genre is often very rare. Then along come Neil Marshall’s directorial debut and while even borrowing heavily from other films, manages to give us a breath of fresh air. How did he do it? He didn’t make a Werewolf film that has Soldiers in it…he made a Soldier film with Werewolves in it.

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Our story finds a squad of Soldiers dropped into the Highlands for a training exercise against a Special Forces group. Unbeknownst to them, they are intended to be used as bait for a pack of Werewolves in the area, in hopes of capturing one of them. As one can expect, plans go pear-shaped and the plucky squad must retreat to a local cabin and try to fend off the furry brutes. The squad is led by Capt. Harry Wells(Sean Pertwee), the second in command is Pvt Cooper, and is rounded out by Spoon, Joe, Terry, and Bruce. The bond between this group runs very deep and despite their good natured bickering back and forth, you can tell that these are men who will be prepared to lay down their lives for each other. One criticism I’ve heard is that the squad seems too calm and cool when faced with a Werewolf assault. I’m not the least bit surprised, these are Soldiers, trained to kill, trained for combat in hellish conditions, and more than that, they have each other to keep their mood light. If any of these men were to face the same situation alone, I would expect far more terror.

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The beasts look very unique, and leave nothing to the imagination as to their nature. You look at these creatures and you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are seeing a fucking werewolf. Not some escaped Looney (although Cooper does reference this possibility…), not some giant wolf, no. These walk tall on two legs and have shaggy Lupine heads. With a small budget, the practical effects aren’t the best around, but still serve the purpose quite well. Cinematography, setting, score, and performances create a great atmosphere of both mirth and genuine dread. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is about this film, but whenever we get a brief glimpse of one of the creatures, be it a blood-soaked snout fogging up the window, or an out of focus reveal in the background, there is something so unnerving about these wolves. Somehow, “the little monster film that could” has tapped into something primal. I almost wish the direction had been tweaked slightly and the film had played this up more… Almost.

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Just as the creatures hunt with a relentless pack mentality, the Squad has no quit in them either. Sarge is a hard as nails man of experience who sadly spends most of the action portion of the film on the sidelines after having his guts literally slashed out and then stuffed back in. He’s not afraid to die, and in fact takes several opportunities to order that he be left behind to give the rest a better chance of escape. Cooper is calm and cunning, he leads well in the absence of the Sarge but doesn’t seem comfortable in the role. During the siege on the cabin, Cooper mostly goes back and forth helping his lads in their skirmishes rather than standing and fighting by himself. And then there is Spoon. Fuckin Spoon! This is a scrappy little bastard with a penchant for smart quips. Between using a kitchen pit to bash snouts, hammers to dash fingers and genuine fisticuffs to combat the wolves, Spoon has not an ounce of quit in him, even down to his last words before being eaten.

There have been rumours of a sequel for years, and in recent times, even a few false starts…whether we ever see anything else from this property or not, this film stands as true original…that somehow borrows heavily from An American Werewolf In London, The Evil Dead, and The Howling. Werewolves in film can be so hit and miss, the bad is really bad, but the good is really good. This is a perfect example of a Werewolf film done right!

Overlooked Event

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Anytime I mention this film to someone, I’m always met first with confusion, then vague recollection. “Event Horizon? No, I don’t think I know that movie”…” Oh yeah, that one, totally forgot about that…”. Admittedly, 1997 was not the greatest year for major studio Horror Films, with such releases as An American Werewolf in Paris, Leprechaun 4: In Space, and Alien Resurrection. This was the same year we got Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer firmly establishing the new wave of Teen Horror films. Say what you will, but for better or worse, they made money! We also got some great under the radar films such as Lost Highway, Cube, and Event Horizon. These last 3 films defy conventional classification and often are forgotten by fans…but never by Dr. Havok!!!

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Event Horizon is essentially a Ghost story told aboard a derelict Space Ship, and makes use of the common tropes you would expect. We’ve got jump scares, ominous noises, bad CGI (although for the time it looked great!), and derivative script elements. How derivative you ask? Let’s just say I would bet good money that the last 3 films watched by the director prior to filming were 2001: a space odyssey, Hellraiser, and Alien. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation…the influences are worn proudly on sleeve throughout the feature, but if you are going to draw heavy influence from other films, that’s a damn fine list to select!

Everyone knows that the Event Horizon blew up on her maiden voyage seven years ago, it was the biggest Space Disaster in recorded history. So you can imagine the surprise when a distress signal is received from the Horizon in a decaying orbit around Neptune. During the journey, the designer of the Horizon briefs the crew that the EH was built to test an experimental Gravity Drive capable of faster than Light travel. Dr. Weir explains that the gravity drive opens dimensional portals between two points in space allowing the Event Horizon to pass through instantaneously. The Gravity drive functions by creating black holes which are used to rip holes in our dimension and…y’know what? I don’t need to pseudoscience to be totally sound, and nor should you.

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Once aboard the Horizon, the rescue crew finds ominous logs left by the EH crew, mutilated corpses, and a ship that may in fact be sentient. Seems that when the ship jumps through these portals, it travels through a dimension of pure chaos and evil, not unlike hell. That should be spoilers enough for you, but the rest should be seen firsthand. The effects are well done, the score and tone are perfect, and the talented cast is full of enough “holy shit its that guy” moments to keep you entertained.  Also, there is a blood orgy. Why don’t more films have blood orgies? I’m frequently asked “What are some good Horror Movies I should watch?”, and this is one of the films I often recommend. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

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The Northwest Horror Show!!!

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It wasn’t that long ago that i wrote about the Authentic feel of Grindhouse cinema being largely lost(https://doctorhavok.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/42nd-street-forever-bring-back-the-grindhouse/), and now Northwest Nightmares Entertainment decides to roll out a Festival tailor made for Doctor Havok! I’m egotistical as fuck, so I’m going to pretend the organisers are readers of mine and did this solely to please me, despite any and all improbability.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I was not able to take in the full festival, as I would have liked, so I had to pick carefully. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to catch anything on Saturday night because of my commitments to ECCW Wrestling, so that limited my viewing choices somewhat. Friday nights line up was 1985’s Demons (preceded by shorts “M” is for Montage, and Inder Nirwan), and 1988’s Brain Damage (preceded by shorts Pumpkin Spice, and Seeing Red), and concluded with Cannibal Holocaust (preceded by short El Gigante). Saturday saw screenings of Massacre: Mafia Style(1975), Gone With The Pope(1976), Trailer Apocalypse (a collection of trailers presented by Grindhouse Releasing), and Pieces(1982). I didn’t bother to find out which shorts were shown this day because…well, I knew I couldn’t attend. Sunday wrapped it all up by screening the 1980 schlock-fest Nightmare City (with short Say What!?), and Lucio Fulci’s 1981 classic The Beyond(preceded by short Fruit of Thy Womb). I wound up seeing Cannibal Holocaust, Nightmare City, and The Beyond. I bought some Blu Rays from the Videomatica booth, I won a “Demons 2″ steelbook, I got some free posters and tips about upcoming festivals and genre screenings, and I got to talk to other genre fans. All in all, I would say that for a first outing, despite modest attendance, The Northwest Horror Show was a success!

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Each film was presented in 35mm print, and as you can expect, the quality was seriously degraded. Scratches, distortions, breaks and patches in the reel were all on the menu…and it was incredible! It felt raw and dirty, just the way these films were meant to be viewed. The venue felt like an odd fit though. Maybe I’m biased, but The Rio would have felt more fitting for a show such as this. Hopefully this will be an annual event and the NWHS will grow bigger and bigger. I see no reason why this couldn’t expand to a weeklong fest, with panels, short film contests , seminars and more classic films. If we want to see more events like this, we need to contact the organizers and demand more! As always, check your local screenings and stay informed, because you never know what awesomeness might be playing near you.

Mutant Clusterfuck

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Right, So awhile back i received an email from a chap who’s name I’ve forgotten and am far too lazy to look up, nor do i care to shame the man. He asked if i would be interested in reviewing a film he had been a part of creating, called Mutantis. He described it as an “old School Horror-Comedy/Sci-Fi gorefest”. It sounded promising enough, so I agreed and provided my address for a screener copy to be sent. Months went by and no DVD, and when i made attempts to contact this chap and inquire, I got no response.  I had resigned myself to selecting something else that had been emailed to me by readers, but due to an email mishap, any and all fan submissions were lost. Fuck! Still the spectre of Mutantis lived on…so much so that my Girlfriend ordered the damn thing from Amazon, because she HAD to see it. I feel I need to say that I’m not mad at this afore mentioned chap, maybe a bit annoyed, but thats the way shit goes. At the end of the day I can’t complain about not receiving something for free, so I just need to assume that he didn’t give a fuck. So, Amazon comes through, we watch it that very same night…and it becomes painfully clear that NOBODY involved with this film gave any fucks at all.

Go ahead and watch the trailer…not only does it paint an accurate depiction of the film, but this brief glimpse is actually far more watchable than the film itself. Lord knows I am a fan of Campy Retro Horror films, and even the wave of modern homages flooding the market…but this is just too much. Far too often will I see a newer film trying to pay tribute to the cheesy gems of old by intentionally making a shitty movie, but they are missing the point! For the most part, filmmakers were trying to make the best film possible with their meager means, or had accepted the fact that their budget wouldn’t allow for much, so just had fun with it. Mutantis can only be explained as the filmmakers getting together a very small budget, and TRYING to make the shittiest film possible. The costumes are worse than the Peace River High School Drama Department(Highschool shout-out!), the acting is ridiculous, almost every actor is in bad drag for no reason, characters are played by multiple actors again for no reason, and all the dialogue is horribly dubbed in the most annoying way possible. Everything about the movie is designed to suck. There are poorly focused shots, heads out of frame, dialog exposition, colour grading issues, etc. Whatever can be done badly, has been done badly.

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Mutantis itself looks appropriately crap, a throwback to the creature features of yesteryear. I’m reminded of the classic “It Conquered The Earth”. Nothing that looks like this can be taken seriously. The whole thing is laughable, and damn it all, i did get some laughs out of the film. Props to the writers for the inventive kills Mutantis enacts on its victims. Penis dismemberment, death by extreme fellatio, cunnilingual face mastication, titty chopping, this film has it all covered. Sure the FX are amateurish and cheap, but at least it’s not CGI (No way they could have afforded CGI gore…)and it’s quite gruesome and rather funny. You have not lived until you see a man die from an explosion of semen pouring out of his eye sockets and a giant monster penis bursting out the back of his head, let me tell you.

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How do I feel about this movie? It’s harmless I suppose…at least it KNOWS it’s crap and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. I’ve recommended it to a few friends, but even then it was pretty much in a “Troll2″ kind of way. Since the bar was set so alarmingly low for this film, it was easy for the filmmakers to achieve what they set out to do, so as long as you can keep your expectations similarly low, then this may be worth checking out.

Let’s get NASTY!: Contamination (’80) and Dead & Buried (’81)

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Yet another Italian film makes the list, yet another film with a score by Goblin, another run of alternate titles ( Alien Contamination, Contamination: Alien on Earth and Toxic Spawn), and still another film that I have no idea why it was banned. The film itself is nothing special, with a great score, decent gore, and mediocre story. A derelict vessel drifts into New York Harbour. Seemingly abandoned, the ship is discovered to be carrying large containers of coffee, hidden inside of which are a series of football-sized green eggs.

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The crew sent in to explore the ghost ship find the mutilated remains of the former crew gathered in one place, and they soon discover the reason why: when heated up enough, the green eggs explode, spraying a viscous liquid over everything. The liquid is toxic to living creatures, and causes the body to immediately explode. The ensuing investigation links the eggs to a secret mission to Mars and results in the trio of a sarcastic New York Cop, an attractive Military Scientist(or at least I assume she is supposed to be…her face looks kinda weird. Almost like someone spent good money to buy a “Beautiful Woman” mask, and then didn’t bother to apply it properly) and the lone surviving astronaut from the Mars mission journeying to Coffee headquarters and discovering an alien plot involving a Cycloptic Octopus with slimy munchy parts…

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I won’t waste time going into fantastic detail about the plot, because even at the best of times, it is pretty flimsy. How this film wound up on the Nasties list, I will never know. It is worth noting that while the film made the DPP list, it was NOT successfully prosecuted. At the end of the day i suppose I’ll have to write this one up as a victim of the times. While the image of humans exploding outward in slow mo in all their bloody glory is pretty tame by today’s standards, i can imagine that Stuffy Olde England might have thought differently. As a Nasty, I can’t help but feel this falls very short of any expectations I had going in. I was expecting a cross between Zombie Flesh Eaters and Street Trash, not a cheap Alien rip off. If you take the film for what it is, and weren’t aware that it had been banned, maybe it would have been a more enjoyable viewing experience.

 

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Just one title? Made in America? Holy shit! Time for something different! Dead & Buried surprised me quite a lot, and it wasn’t until half way through that i realized I had seen this years before and forgotten. Going through no less than 3 separate production companies, this film was a bit of a Nightmare behind the scenes. At some point Dan O’Bannon was attached in some capacity as a writer, but the finished product bears little if any of his influence, and he has since disowned the film.

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The plot concerns a sleepy little town called Potters Bluff whose Townspeople act as a Murderous Mob, collectively murdering their victims right under the nose of the local Sheriff who tries in vain to learn the identity of the killers and their motive. Red Herrings abound with suspicious behaviour from the Sheriff’s wife, as well as discussion of Voodoo and Witchcraft, all adding to a genuinely creepy atmosphere and a conclusion that reminds be of the old EC Horror comics.  The murders are brutal! The first victim is lashed to a pole with a fishing net, set aflame, only to somehow survive! After being bandaged up at the local Hospital, an assailant sneaks in and finishes the job by jamming a huge needle into his eye…and all right under the nose of the Sheriff!

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Stan Winston provides superb FX work in this film, making great use of puppets to achieve stunning shots that even impress by todays standards. The scene in which the Mortician rebuilds the head of a deceased girl, undoing the damage inflicted by her attacker, making her fit for her funeral display, making her beautiful again is shown in a brilliant time-lapse type shot, switching seamlessly from the puppet and the actress. Another film that was acquitted of Obscenity charges, this film stands out from other Nasties in terms of quality as well. Creepy and effective, low-key and full of twists, this is a genuinely good horror film that really does make you wish they still made them like this today. If you get a chance to see it, please take it! You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

42nd Street Forever! Bring back the GRINDHOUSE!

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Did you see 2007s Grindhouse in the theater?  I hope to fuck that you did. Im not sure how many times i went, but I know it was more than 3, less than 7…so lets say 5. the last 3 times were at the departed Granville 7 cinema. You had to see this place, i never saw more than 20 people show up for any screening, so the place always felt nearly deserted. it was dark, creepy, and felt seedy. Located at a spot downtown that could be either skeevy or decadent, depending on which way the wind was blowing, I don’t think anyone who entered Granville 7 was ever in any real danger of being mugged or raped, but there was that subtle vibe all the same…

 

This did wonders for the viewing experience! Here I was, paying very little money to watch a double bill of Violence, Gore, Sadism and Thrills, complete with shitty image quality, and ridiculous trailers for films that if they existed, i HAD to see! Sadly, this is as close as i would ever get to the Grindhouses of New Yorks 42nd street. Actually, that isn’t true, Vancouver still had The Fox Cinema, a XXX theater institution on Main Street. I had gone to the Fox several times, and soaked in(figuratively speaking at least…literally speaking was always a risk you took) the spectacle and the sleaziness of it all. On any given occasion, you could see what looked like deranged 80’s time travelling hookers nodding off in the seats and benches, creepy dudes doing their best Joe Spinelli in Maniac impression, shifty looking dealers offering even shiftier looking drugs, The occasional public display of fucking by patrons…which sometimes had other patrons lining up for their turn. And of course there was the gay cruising. Apparently there was a whole system of etiquette and codes associated with this, something about which rows you sat in and changing rows to express interest…I dunno, I found that if anybody made me any kind of offer i didn’t want, a simple “Fuck Off”, was enough to get them to leave me alone. Why would anyone other than a dedicated pervert (no shame, perv hard!) venture into this place? For the experience. Sure it was dirty, and skeevy and you can’t imagine what the fucking bathroom smelled like, but it had that element of danger that I crave in cinema.

 

Back to the topic at hand, Tarantino and Rodriguez gave me, and presumably others, a taste of something magical we had only heard about, knowing it was long gone and never to return. We wanted more! Why not a film showcasing franchise jumping Sheriff Earl McGraw? Maybe the Backstory of El Wray, that was only hinted at in Planet Terror? What about those incredible fucking trailers? Machete, Werewolf Women of the SS, Don’t, and Thanksgiving had me more excited for upcoming(?) films than i had been in years! Over the years since, I had heard various reports that these films may one day see the light of day. We saw Machete, which i felt lived up to expectations but i would have enjoyed more if it had a more degraded film look and DID NOT use a body double for the Lindsay Lohan nude scenes. We also saw the release of Hobo With A Shotgun, which started as a contest winning fake trailer, tacked on to later screenings of Grindhouse. Since then, there have been several new films that seem intent on capitalising on renewed interest in grindhouse style films. Astron 6 pretty much owes their careers to Grindhouse with releases like Fathers Day, Man-Borg, and The Editor. Other modern gems such as Dear God, No!, and Run Bitch, Run! bring the goods and wrap them in a vintage grimy package…there are tons more, keep your ears and your eyes open.

 

Im currently in talks with several other like minded fellows to put together a proposal and acquire sponsors to rent local theaters with a certain “Charm” to host regular Grindhouse nights, complete with trailers, double bills, buckets of bodily fluids and every manner of chills and thrills imaginable. We’ll never be able to go back to the Glory days of old, sensibilities have changed, and the world of Cinema has moved on. Grindhouse Cinema died young, left a ragged but slutty looking corpse, and was buried by the mainstream. But dammit, we might be able to bring it back for a few nights at a time. It won’t be easy, but if enough of us demand it, then our voices will be heard by someone determined to make a buck off of us. Don’t get me wrong, the Multiplex and Blu Rays might be enough for the majority…but it’s not enough for me. I want my films to be dangerous again. I want an Exploitation Explosion! I want a new rise of the Nasties! I want to go back to the Grindhouse.

 

 

 

The Cryptid Crypt: Exists

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Is it even possible to do a found footage film anymore without including the Supernatural, or Bigfoot? These two subject have pretty much dominated the medium in recent years, and aside from creative standouts like the VHS series, most filmmakers seem content with this route. I’ve reviewed a total of 3 FF style ‘Squatch-fests for this column, and for the most part, they tend to be the same. A small group goes looking for Bigfoot, stumbles across him, still acts skeptical, runs, cries and films in equal measure. All of these films seem to offer more questions about Sasquatch than answers, and heaven fucking forbid we get a good look at the beast! That is, until Eduardo Sanchez returned to the woods with his camera to remind us all how it is done.

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Sanchez, after co-directing and writing The Blair Witch Project, is Found-Footage Royalty. His work on BW, VHS2 segment “A ride in the park”, and now Exists, shows a skilled hand at work, maximizing the medium and adding believability and practicality to the shots. It makes perfect sense that our camera-man won’t stop filming, He set out to make a “kick-ass YouTube video”, so his handheld is constantly running, and Go-Pro cameras are strapped to nearly everything that you could think of.

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The best and worst of Sasquatch films often has the same problem, The creature looks like shit. Not only does Exists bring a realistic, believable looking Sasquatch to the screen, but they let us see juuuuuust enough to appreciate the design, and to keep a bit of the mystery. This is a beast that is fast, brutal, and intelligent. Fully capable of stalking us and killing us 1 by 1. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I strongly suggest making a point of doing so. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I’m confident you will too.

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