Wednesday, October 13, 2010

31 Days of Horror!

Buddha Man's Jack o' Lanterns!

More of Buddha Man's mini reviews, this time hollowed out and with a candle inside!

Part of the 2010 Halloween Film Festival
Dead Man's Hand: Casino of the Damned  (Full Moon Features, 2007)  Charles Band produced and directed this little number about a haunted casino as a tribute to The Shining, or so he says in the behind the scenes featurettes on the DVD. The storyline revolves around a long closed casino in Las Vegas where the mob gambled in the 1960's and where five people met their ends in a bloody massacre around that same time. As the picture opens in the modern day a caretaker type and a real estate agent are checking the place out prior to an inspection. It seems the joint has just been bequeathed in a will, and this duo is supposed to make sure the place is okay. It turns out the place is not okay, and soon both lie dead in the depths of the place from some kind of supernatural attack - one of them killed pretty spectacularly. Now we settle in for a bit of story as we meet Matthew (Scott Whyte) and JJ (Robin Sydney-The Gingerdead Man) and their pals Paige (Krystyn Green), Skeeter (Kavan Reece), Emily (Lily Rains) and Jimbo (Wes Armstrong). Matthew has just received the casino from the reading of his late uncle's will, and all three couples are heading out to see their pal's new property. Unfortunately for us, they take their time getting there and settling in, padding the running time a bit with no budget walking and talking around the cobwebbed and dusty casino (which is, I must say, a pretty danged impressive set for a film of this budget.) I also have to admonish the film for setting up a potentially interesting byplay between Paige and Emily that seems like it's headed for the lowest common denominator, but then never pays off (good casino jargon there, eh?). Finally, at about 40 minutes in, the movie kicks it up a notch when the two guys featured on the DVD box finally show up: Sid Haig (The Devil's Rejects) and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes '77)! At last! Haig plays the mob rival of Matthew's uncle, killed in a massacre 40 years before along with his henchman Gil (Berryman). Now they're ghostly wiseguys, back on earth and looking for revenge. The other three casino employees also killed in the massacre show up as ghosts as well, and now the kids must play games of chance for their lives. The prize -  a load of silver hidden by Matthew's uncle back in the day; and freedom to walk away from the casino. Of course, the deck is stacked against them, and soon the blood starts to flow. 
Paige refused to look at Skeeter until he combed his hair and straightened the lampshade.

As these things go, this was not bad at all. It suffers a bit from the budget deficiency all of Charlie's movies of late have, but it stretches the budget that it does have pretty well. After a stellar opening, it does slow down for the next half hour or so, but it's not murderous waiting for the top billed stars to appear. A lot of the movies I watched as a kid took a while to get going too. And it is great to see Sid Haig and Michael Berryman sharing the screen, though admittedly neither do all that much once they show up. But their presence alone lifts this production up by its bootstraps at least one notch. It's simply better to have genre favorites and familiar faces in these kinds of movies. I know Charlie doesn't usually agree (he said so last year at the Full Moon Roadshow), preferring a younger, less known cast, but I think that's just the pennypinching producer in him. These guys add invaluable production value, in my opinion. The rest of the cast is decent; the direction is tight - though the budgetary limitations show themselves here too as there aren't many varied setups in any of the scenes - a sign that they shot pretty much every scene from the same camera setups - but maybe that's not that noticeable; the creatures and effects are snazzy - I love the ghostly ghoul lady with the slot machine eyes (I do have to ask though, did they mean that one spectral dealer/creature to look so much like the Gingerdead Man?) Well, he does, and interestingly, he's played by Kristopher Logan, who's been acting in Charlie Band's movies as far back as Crash and Burn (1990) and most effectively in Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991). Leads Whyte and Sydney are okay, though her angelic positive support of everyone throughout the movie in every scene gets to be a bit much before it's all over. The supporting characters are a mix of the fun (Paige and Skeeter - they're supposed to be the oversexed duo, but he's having problems - if you know what I mean and I'll bet you do - and all their noisy play is faked, which is pretty funny - until you realize that means no sex scene on view - Charlie!) and the overdone (Emily and Jimbo - they're that couple from movies where he's into her, and she's sorta into him but enjoys insulting him all the time but he never takes it seriously and just keeps hanging around...meh). In the end, it's one of Charlie Band's more recommendable recent efforts and well worth a look, especially for fans of Haig or Berryman, so check it out!

The Return of Dr. X (1939) Although the title seems to have been crafted to make audiences think it was a sequel to Warner Bros. own Dr. X (1932), this is actually a completely separate movie. Wiseguy reporter Wayne Morris finds famed actress Lya Lys dead in her apartment, and reports it to the police and his newspaper. Imagine his surprise when he is soon after brought to police headquarters where is introduced to the same woman, very much alive! Now in hot water with his boss and the police, he calls in his doctor pal Dennis Morgan, and the duo begin an investigation with all clues pointing to mysterious Doctor Flegg (John Litel) and his creepy assistant Quesne (Humphrey Bogart). This one gets dismissed in all the reference books other than to mention Bogart, since it is his only horror movie, but it's actually a very well done little flick. The plot is clever and surprising (The scene where Morris is introduced to Lys, alive and well, is really well done), Morris and Morgan are a compatible lead duo, and Bogart is genuinely scary as Quesne, whether he liked being in the movie or not. If you enjoy old school horror now and again, check this one out!

It's Alive (1968) American International Pictures moved into television in the mid 1960's with a package of their black and white 1950's movies, which local stations would purchase and then show during their movie programs . But the value of the package would be more if AIP could include more color films with the black and white ones, so the ever clever heads of AIP, Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson, came up with a plan: give somebody a tiny amount of money, some color 16mm film, and access to the scripts of those earlier movies and let that someone produce some color remakes with new titles they could include in their movie package to boost its value. The someone in question was Texas filmmaker Larry Buchanan, and for about the cost of one of AIP's color Poe films, Buchanan produced eight (!) movies for AIP! This particular movie was not a remake, but a second movie to re-use a monster suit Buchanan had previously featured in Creature of Destruction, one of the AIP remakes. This time out a guy named Greely (Bill Thurman) out in the boonies around the Ozark mountains supplements his failing exotic animal roadside attraction with a real humdinger: a prehistoric creature in a cave behind his house. The problem is, once you go into the cave to look at the beastie, the completely insane Greely locks you in for feeding time. Guess what the monster gets for dinner? Former Disney star Tommy Kirk (The Shaggy Dog) serves time in this filmic purgatory as a forest ranger captured by Thurman along with a married couple who had the bad luck to run out of gas right outside Greely's house. Lots of talk ensues. Then, finally the creature pops up very briefly well into the running time to claim the young husband, and good ol' Buchanan doesn't even try to camouflage how crappy it looks with some smoke or weird camera angles. No, he shoots it straight on, giving the audience a good look at a man in an extremely ratty rubber body suit topped off by a dime store monster mask with ping pong ball eyes. –sigh- After this wonderful moment, the creature goes back into the depths of the cave and the movie somehow manages to slow down further by having Greely's long suffering housekeeper Bella start hanging out near the prisoners so she can relate how she came to be in Greely's clutches in a loooooong flashback obviously added to get this thing up to feature length. From there, the creature returns for his second and final appearance as we amble into a climax of a sort and the movie comes to an end, or at least to a stop. To sum this one up: it's pretty sad to see poor ol' Tommy here, sliding down several notches below Disney and even a few from the beach movies he'd made for AIP the previous couple of years; on the other hand, Thurman is actually pretty good as the nutjob, the story idea is not bad, and before it stretches out far too long Bella's flashback is pretty grim and creepy. But these elements are lost in a talky flick that doesn't even give the viewer regular monster breaks but tries to make do with those two paltry creature cameos. I can only recommend this one to Tommy Kirk completists.

And that concludes this presentation. Entrances are to the side and rear. And always remember, righty tighty lefty loosy.

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