Monday, 16 April 2012

Blood Symbol (1992) Maurice Deveraux

Of all the obscure and ill starred slasher productions of the 1980's, Blood Symbol must be among the very most troubled that actually managed to get completed and released. With production beginning in 1984 and ending in 1991, with the gap down to lack of funds and possibly other issues, it is understandably pretty messy. But with plenty of directorial flourish and a couple of rather inspired scenes it manages to be rather fun and more memorable than various of its more polished contemporaries. The plot has student athlete Tracy menaced in dreams and visions by a creepy looking killer cult leader, appealing then to supernatural slasher tropes as established by the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise as well as devil cult superstition, and though the structure is significantly flawed, with dodgy pacing and a weak switchback final act coming after a rather fun peak around the hour mark, on the whole the film comes through as a pretty engaging, unexpectedly psychotronic and occasionally mean spirited piece. The visuals are key, employing red and blue lighting as well as nicely placed black and white nightmare sequences, a couple of strobes, some cunning camera angling and movement (though migraine sufferers should be advised there is a fair amount of handheld work)and bursts of editing frenzy in the early 90's music video style, while the extended stalking sequences feel a bit too much like an imitation of Carpenter the direction and editing are actually pretty interesting when they go for the insane sledgehammer effect. However they don't entirely cover the fact that the body count is rather low and only one of the deaths is really satisfying, so one could be forgiven for disappointment, perhaps a feeling of plenty of sizzle but little steak, or even too much sizzle as well as too little steak. Personally I like films of this level to have as much sizzle as possible even if there isn't much steak, countless slashers at almost every level have handled the meat and potatoes of the slasher format well, but somewhat fewer of the really cheap ones actually muster the delectable weird vibes that get my mouth watering even without all that much good for the eating. I'm not terribly bothered about films not being nourishing, to be honest I watch stuff like this for self flagellation as much as anything. Oh, and speaking of weird vibes, fans of bad continuity will have a blast here as the production woes resulted in some actors, most noticeably the leading lady, changing in appearance between scenes, their age somewhat showing. Also, the acting is witheringly dreadful, though to be fair the original voices were dubbed over because they apparently sounded too French-Canadian. I would have preferred the original even if it was difficult to understand, French-Canadian accents get me all tingly inside and I found the leading lady (Micheline Richard) somewhat comely in a frizzy haired goof kinda way. The other victim girls were pretty cute as well, though shamefully no one gets at all naked, or even wears revealing/amusing clothing. So I guess there you have it, no tits, a bit of blood, some weirdness and meanness. Pretty much only a film for those out there that "have" to see it, but it worked well enough for yours truly

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Blood Nasty (1989) Richard Gabai

Blood Nasty seems to be one of those films that has gained somewhat more cachet among the 80's trash fiend crowd than it really deserves, mainly because few people have actually seen it. It got a VHS release in Canada, and Greece (from which I saw a rip, complete with trailers for Kadaicha and Innocent Prey, both of which it seems I should track down post haste), but a decidedly minimal one in the US, such that before viewing I could only find a couple of reviews of it. The sad thing is that it really could have been classy stuff and it even has some pretty cool scenes, but overall is weighed down by hysteria that lacks an appropriate level of gore to balance it out. The plot is somewhat inspired, a loser type is killed by his partners during a grave-heist in Mexico, then the plane he was supposed to be fleeing the country on explodes mid air (for no reason) and a spark contrives to fall to his grave site and wake him up again. Unfortunately he is now possessed by the spirit of the owner of said grave,  a serial killer called Blade. Also even though his double crossing partners were out to steal an apparently valuable ring from Blade (and go to the length of cutting the poor stiffs finger off to get it), our hero wakes up with it on. And he also has a pipe sticking through his chest, although I could have sworn he was impaled with a shovel rather than a pipe. Anyways, he eventually returns home, where his white trash stereotype family are not best pleased with him nor his newfound fondness for killing, as they now have the benefits of a fat insurance settlement from his death. Oh, and Linnea Quigley is in on the whole business as well. So everything is assembled plotwise for a great horror comedy of murder, greed and good old fashioned American family values, but generally it never quite comes together. The women are all perma-set on shrill, with  a mother (Cathrine Grace just a few hateful brush-strokes short of an Andy Milligan character, Allison Barron as a notionally sympathetic daughter who keeps moping that "It's all my fault" and Linnea Quigley as a brassy and mostly boring stripper (we do at least see her tits one time) and the men are all dreary dopes, with the occasional exception of Todd McCammon as the possessed lead, he conjures the odd spark of pathos and is mildly menacing when in evil Mexican mode. There's a certain nihilistic fun to watching a film where pretty much every character is either loathsome, an idiot or both, especially in a film from 1989, back when being loathsome and or an idiot in singular or family unit form was less of a mainstay of popular entertainment, but the film is never terribly well written and the obnoxious vibe doesn't take long to become a bit of a drag. There are a few good chuckles and affairs stay just about the right side of boring but its a stretch at times, the film really needed Milligan-esque misanthropic venom or more heart and less obvious straining to crudity.I could have forgiven these problems, but then there's the pesky lack of much gore. A few violent moments yes, but far less in the way of general bloodshed than there should have been, in fact just one scene stands out in that department, mostly the nastiness is offscreen. Probobly due to the low budget, but even the crudest of effects would have elevated this one enormously. Sadly no dice. Ultimately this is a definite thumbs down, but it didn't make me want to jam them through my eye sockets so that's a definite plus. Probobly a bearable one time watch if you happen to be one of those who just has to watch films like this, everyone else should stay away.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Black Noon (1971) Bernard Kowalski

Black Noon seems like many of its made for TV horror brethren to have laid lasting impression upon the tender psyches of those who saw it at a young age. This of course does not mean much to those of more contemporary age, especially those such as I weaned on the up front violence and silliness that became prevalent in the genre since the 80's. Which is not to say that Black Noon doesn't work, just that it isn't some lost classic that can realistically live up to the hushed reminiscence of the older generation. The great problem with Black Noon is not age, but the fact that if you know anything about its plot and the genre preoccupations of its era it is from start to finish predictable as the seasons, and even if you enter it blind the very first scene gives a pretty clear indication of what the situation is going to be. So rather than say anything about the plot I'll just get straight to the actors driving the thing. Roy Thinnes is a fair hero, sympathetic in his way but somehow a bit too low key and gullible, a bit too much of an obvious patsy to really get behind. Ray Milland on the other hand holds the attention very nicely as a warm, helpful host, every bit a good old fashioned gentleman. Henry Silva is a bit underused but still good fun as a one dimensional hissable villain, a vicious outlaw cliche who entertains through an entirely unselfconscious, unforced turn. Lynn Loring is at times too hammy as the heroes wife, Gloria Graham has a small but pleasant role as a nice old lady, but best of the women is the lovely Yvette Mimieux as a teen mute adept at crafts. Her clammy allure is a class act and lights up every moment in which she appears, which fortunately are many. Everyone gels pretty nicely and the pacing is fair, offering a steadily mounting atmosphere and sense of ill omen, though things are hardly surprising there's some nice imagery and a sense of commitment to the tale which belies its ultimate predictability. The short runtime (just over 70 minutes) really works in the films favor, as one can watch the pieces all slot into place with gratifying speed before the finale, which when it comes is creditably unnerving. No great shocks, but a little different from the standard model and appropriately downbeat and mean. The direction is pretty perfunctory (from Bernard Kowalski, who gave us killer sleeping bag classic Attack of the Giant Leeches) but keeps everything together and pretty watchable. Really this one isn't strong or strange enough to be a real contender, but as far as time filler chillers go its perfectly acceptable. Worth a watch if you have a horn for this sort of thing, but otherwise not one to make to much effort to watch I'd say.

The Devil and Miss Sarah (1971) Michael Caffey

The western has never been a genre that particularly entices me, and as a consequence I have seen little more than ten or so of them, though in recent years I have become marginally more interested, the deserts and open skies an apt contrast to the struggles and deep crevasses of man. I have on the other hand been somewhat noted as a horror fan by those that know me, and have in that regard always been a fan of films mixing horror and any other genre. This interest led me to The Devil and Miss Sarah, a film that while of no great import as horror (being chiefly a western with supernatural overtones), is still a rather fine watch and thus worthwhile to the more eager of genre fans. The set up is simple, farmer Gil and his wife Sarah encounter a wounded Marshall escorting a particularly tricky prisoner by the name of Rankin, a gentleman suspected by the local American Indians to be the Devil himself. When the sheriff expires Gil takes it upon himself to take Rankin to his intended destination, despite the better judgement of his wife who possesses powers of premonition and suspects Rankin may indeed be more than the average outlaw. And so begins their trek, and combat of wills, which by the by is joined by a couple of businessmen who take a rather more pragmatic outlook than the driven Gil. It's rather slim stuff truth be told, lacking any grand revelations or especially macabre manifestations, a low key and ambiguous piece that relies on its players and well spun writing. James Drury makes for a good stolid hero, a small man and aware of it, and a reasonable one too, even though the metal he finds inside to keep him on his mission is just a little iron. The lovely Janice Rule is subdued but powerful as his wife Sarah, conveying the right sorts of far off dimensions of soul. Gene Barry is really the star as Rankin though, charming as much as cunning, menacing but not malicious, sinister yet rakishly likeable in his way. He knows just when to be soft and when to put weight into his lines, when to be quiet and when to let invigoratingly loose. Donald Moffat and Logan Ramsey are somewhat less effective as businessmen Holmes and Appleton, but they provide the necessary counterbalance well enough. Long running TV regular Michael Caffey directs well, pitting the splendid isolation of the Utah desert and overwhelming sky against well handled facial close ups, the lines of time and effort etched into his characters a tiny mirror of the rugged terrain. Sadly the script does not often go the for psychological jugular and the action is pretty restrained until the exciting two punch finale, but things move along pretty nicely with only a couple of lapses in interest. No blood, gore or nudity on account of it being made for TV, but the film never feels bland or lacking, its ambiguities are intriguing enough and its characters bear them well. I doubt this is a film that will really impress many, but personally I found it a very solid affair, and for those who can deal with restrained and classy approaches to their genre fare this is definitely worth a look if you have a dull afternoon to spare.