Thursday, 28 November 2013


Title: Boardinghouse
Director: John Wintergate
Released: 1982
Starring: John Wintergate, Kalassu, Lindsay Freeman, Joel Riordan, Brian Bruderlin, Selma Kora, Tracy O’Brian, Mary McKinley, Rosane Woods, Cindy Williamson, Christopher Conlan, Elizabeth Hall, Tom Mones, Dean Disico, Elliot Van Koghbe

Plot: The Hoffman house was originally the scene of several mysterious deaths and now ten years later the house is reopened as a boarding house by Jim (Wintergate) who has recently inherited the house. Now filled with attractive young women, the killings suddenly start again.

Review: What is it that makes a movie a cult favourite? Is it a question of humour, characters or perhaps it’s the endurance race of awfulness it puts the viewer through which might especially be the case with this film, which for one reason or another have over years become quite a cult favourite. The reasons why I still can’t really explain even as I sit here wondering how I can even begin to try and describe the randomness of this film, which was given to me to review by my friend and fellow obscure movie fiend Jenn over at “Cavalcade of Perversions” who I gave free reign to name any movie for me to review for her birthday.

First it is worth nothing that this is one of those rare films which was intentionally shot on video, something legend goes was the result of producer Elliot Van Koghbe reading an article in “American Cinematographer” about George Lucas experimenting with producing films shot on video as opposed to film. Of course this was all the inspiration that he needed to team up with Director Wintergate to produce this low-budget horror film with plans to transfer it onto film, because of course that wouldn’t make it look any worse than it already does, but alas they still went ahead and did it anyway. Needless to say if that bit of history wasn’t enough of a warning, then trust me the finished film is way worse than you could imagine, especially when the film has no logical storyline and generally seem like an excuse just to shoot frequent scene of gratuitous nudity which go a way to explaining its popularity.

So while the plotline might seem straightforward and just general slasher fodder, this film manages to do a remarkable job of making things way more confusing than they ever should be, not doubt thanks to the film makers being so preoccupied with cramming as much nudity into every shot of this film, meaning that it largely plays out like an 80’s version of “Girls gone wild” video. Of course a film can’t survive on just T&A alone (no seriously it can’t) so to break things up or when they seemingly couldn’t think to do next we also get to enjoy the oh so very cheap special effect shots, many of which make no sense what so ever such as the girl whose face randomly turns into a bargain basement Halloween mask for no explainable reason.

Not content though it would seem with horrible looking practical effects, Wintergate also throws even more horrible looking computer effects, such as the pixaly swirling mass which randomly appears or the titles which appear in lines in much the same way that pictures used to back when we all had dial up internet. These effects were all shot by producer Van Koghbe who it seems was equally ashamed of these shots that he is listed as Obee Ray or perhaps this was just a way of disguising the lack of crew clearly working on the film.

Elsewhere we not only have Wintergate playing the Vietnam veteran who randomly appears to do nothing but provide red herring (something given away way to early). We also get the random psychic abilities of Jim which not only generally involve him sitting around in his underwear bug eyed but also never seem to be overly useful at any point other than doing cheap parlour tricks like making the soap in his bath float aswell giving an excuse for a confusing psychic battle at the end, which fails to really make like the rest of the film a whole hold of sense, but alas this is the slow death that Wintergate chooses for the film.

The real piece de la resistance here though is the William Castle inspired warning gimmick were either a black glove appears on the screen, or a piece of cheap synthesiser music is played so that if you have a weak heart or “easily frightened by shocking gore”. Sadly this gimmick is used haphazardly for the first half of the film before being forgotten completely and ultimately comes off as a weaker gimmick than the “Fright Break” featured in “Bloodmoon” were audiences could leave and get a refund if they felt that they couldn’t watch the end of the film, but most of the audience used this chance to claim back their money only because of how bad the film was rather than anything to do with it being scary. Needless to say this gimmick like so much of the film being handled so sloppily ensures that it is just another thing which is memorable about the film for precisely the opposite reason Wintergate intended.

The makers of the film like to claim that this was the first shot on video horror, which of course anyone who seen the wonderful documentary “Rewind This” will know was in fact the equally little seen “Sledgehammer” a horror I’m quite content to put off like “Black Devil Doll” for the time being, especially as I’m still left confounded by this film and this was just the original cut of the film and not the stonking two hour plus directors cut released by Slasher // Video something else I can’t say I’m exactly in a rush to watch. Perhaps seeing how nonsensical this cut comes off perhaps the gaps are filled in the longer cut and what this version essentially could be is just the pervert cut. Even now I’m still unsure if Wintergate even was trying to make a decent film, or if his ego was so out of hand that he deluded himself into the idea that he had actually made something half decent, after all who could write scenes for themselves like the one were several of the girls are sitting with Jim in a hot tub and telling him how sexy he is while rubbing his chest. At the same time I have to wonder if I watched this film in the right setting, seeing how it was by myself when the majority of positive reviews of the film come from group viewings, which I can see making this film a lot more enjoyable and possibly the only way I might venture a second viewing for as cinematic endurance tests go this one is a doozey.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Machete Kills

Title: Machete Kills
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Released: 2013
Staring: Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Lady Gaga, Sofia Vergara, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Plot: Following on from the events of the original film, Machete is put on the path of revenge when his girlfriend Sartana (Jessica Alba) is killed by a mysterious masked man while attempting to capture weapons dealers supplying the Mexican drug cartels. Now recruited by President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen, here appearing as Carlos Estevez) with the promise of citizenship, Machete is sent to eliminate Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir) who is currently threatening to fire a nuclear missile at the White House.  Soon however Machete discovers that the mysterious masked man might also be linked to the plot aswell.

Review: For a film which started out as a joke trailer in the financial misfire (yet critically acclaimed) “Grindhouse”, Machete has turned into quite the trilogy while at the same time certainly doing no harm for Danny Trejo’s stock. Launching him from token bad guy to recognisable leading man as in the wake of the original “Machete” it seemed that everyone couldn’t get enough of the former bare knuckle boxing champion of San Quentin and young offender councillor. Needless to say it was only a matter of time before director Robert Rodriguez gave the world a follow up to his cult favourite.

While the original film might have been the tale of a badass seeking revenge after he is double crossed by his employers, this film decides to spin the franchise off in a new direction as Machete here takes on more of a “XXX” style spy role as he dashes for the border with Marcos, who has hardwired the nuke to his heart and eventually sets out to foil the Bond villain esq schemes of the “Star Wars” obsessed weapons manufacturer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson).  It’s a certainly an intresting change of pace and one which actually benefited the film, especially when the original always felt that it was being hampered by being built around its fake trailer and as such was just finding a way to link each of the trailers set pieces together.

This time taking sole ownership of the director’s chair having previously co-directed the original with his long term editor Ethan Maniquis, this time it is truly Rodriguez’s film and one which certainly finds him a playful mood once again, as he aims to maintain the Neo-Grindhouse aesthetic from the fake opening trailer for “Machete Kills Again… In Space” and classic feature presentation title card, through to even throwing in an old school 3D sequence (yes the old blue and green glasses style) to rival his breaking film scene in “Planet Terror”. Equally at the same time this also see’s him throwing plausibility out of the window as the franchise doesn’t so much jump the shark but the whole freaking aquarium! Needless to say this is a film which like its closest comparison “XXX” works best when you’re not questioning what you’re watching and just enjoy the ride. After all there are countless movies and franchises currently obsessed with realism so what’s wrong with alittle raw escapism which is what you get here.

Having established the Mexican James Bond vibe early on Rodriguez really works it in every conceivable way, with Machete getting to utilise a number of customised machete’s including a tri-bladed model which his beauty queen liason (Amber Heard) refers to as the swiss army knife of machete’s  while still managing to keep the character every bit as gritty as he was in the first film, with Trejo with his trademark tattoos and tanned leather features fully embodies this character even more so the second time around, as he makes even Machete’s habit of referring to himself in the third person sound cool. This Bond theme also continues to the main villain here as Voz is every bit the bond villain with his scheme sounding very familiar to that of Drax’s in “Moonraker”, but despite this similarity here we get to see Mel Gibson on truly bonkers form, as he embodies the role even when engaging in a machete / sword fight while wearing a cape! Thankfully Rodriguez is one of the few people in Hollywood able to separate Gibson’s troubled personal life from the actor as he is truly one of the big draws here and perhaps only rivalled by the multiple personality antic’s of Birchir’s Mexican revolutionary Mendez whose hyper personality makes him another fun character while never pushing it so far that it becomes irritating.

Much like the first film Rodriguez has assembled a great ensemble cast to flesh out this colourful world he continues to craft here and one which see’s “Modern Family” favourite Sofia Vergara cranks up her crazy to psychotic as brothel owner Madame Desdemona who not only has her own army of prostitute assassins (a nod to Blaxploitation favourite “Dolemite” ) aswell as a twin minigun bra she refers to as her “Double D’s”. Equally game is Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lady Gaga as the various faces of shape shifting assassin El Camaleón a role which not only sees Gooding Jr. giving his best performance in years, but also proving that Lady Gaga is more of an accomplished actor than first suspected, especially when I was left wanting to see more of her in this film and something which could be corrected in “Machete Kills Again…In Space” if the fake trailer is to be believed. True there are so which might argue that she has already had enough practice with the antics of her usual disco punk persona, but here she is in perfect form as she sneers her way through the film.

Upping the ante in every way possible from the first film, Rodriguez fully up the splatter as heads roll and helicopter blades especially are put to creative use on more than one occasion. The action scenes aswell are fully stepped up a number of fantastic set pieces including a “Mad Max” inspired car chase complete with George Miller style speeded up shots. Rodriguez though once again shows himself as a director with an eye for action, even if he might not be known as an action director, here he once more shows that he knows his way around a set piece and with his cousin Trejo he really does have the perfect grizzled action hero.

After the patchy “Machete” this film really steps up the fun of the first film, while correcting many of the mistakes made first time around, even if like the original it still suffers with a bloated third act. So with Sci-fi set to be the theme for the third and final part I can only imagine how Rodriguez plans on topping the madness of this film,  but if anything this film has certainly laid down a strong foundation, so leave your expectations at the door, just buy the ticket and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Title: Blackfish
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Released: 2013 

Plot: A two thread documentary, the film investigates the orca Tikilum who has been responsible for three death aswell as the treatment of the species being kept in captivity with particular focus being placed on those kept by “SeaWorld”.

Review: It has been said that a great documentary moves their viewer as it informs, while a truly great documentary changes how we think and view the world around us and it’s the latter category I truly believe that this documentary belongs to. 

Largely comprised of interviews with ex-trainers, the history of Tikilum and his history in captivity is a compelling one starting with his capture in 1983 in incident which lead to the death of three adult whales, which as one of the divers reveals was also covered up by submerging the bodies. From here the film follows him as he was first moved to the now defunct “SeaLand”  which would be the site of his first attack on a trainer, before being finally bought by his current home “SeaWorld”. Along the way the film documents the cruelty such as inadiquent sized pools and underfeeding, aswell as the fact that he has frequently suffered aswell as attacks from other Orcas.

One Part nature documentary and the other animal activism piece, the film explores the nature and behaviour of Orca, while drawing comparisons to how captivity can changes their behaviour especially when kept in tanks and sheds too small to house creatures of their size, while also increasing aggression between orca’s as seen in the damage inflicted on Tikilum by two females he was put with as the film showcases footage and photographs of teeth raking and scaring inflicted on him from these confrontations.
While this the documentary might be unbalanced in the sense that all those interviewed are against the keeping of Orca’s in captivity, it is a strong case which is certainly put forward and in a sense only made the stronger by no representatives from “SeaWorld” being willing to contribute their side to the film, leaving their imput coming solely from the testimonals from the court cases featured here aswell as their history of attempting to cover up the attacks and place the blame on the trainers rather than admit to the risk which Tikilum poses to the trainers working with him.

It is interesting in this respect that the majority of the interviews are with ex-trainers, however these are not disgruntled staff but people who truly loved their job and the animals they worked with. They are however more than happy to shed light on the poor practices and conditions used for keeping Orca’s in captivity. It is equally worth noting that none of the trainers carry any kind of training or any form of qualifications to work as animal trainers but rather hired for their swimming ability and general enthusiasm which was something which came as a surprise to me, especially after years of thinking that the trainers must have some background in marine biology to work at the park. A myth which is only further highlighted during the section which exposes the various false pieces of information that guest are frequently told, such as the lifespan of orca being around 30 years when they can live to 100 in the wild while the dorsal fin collapsing so that it flops over is something which is something which only happens in captivity, again something which the park are keen to write off as being normal.

It is a shame that “SeaWorld” refused to be involved in the documentary if only to provide some form of balance, to proceedings rather than “SeaWorld” being portrayed as little more than corporation intrested in little more than making money with little concern for the welfare and treatment of both Orca’s and trainers. Needless to say following the release of the documentary they soon released the following statement to CNN

"Blackfish is billed as a documentary, but instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family, friends and colleagues. To promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in a zoological setting, the film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld -- among them, that SeaWorld is one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research. Perhaps most important, the film fails to mention SeaWorld's commitment to the safety of its team members and guests and to the care and welfare of its animals, as demonstrated by the company's continual refinement and improvement to its killer whale facilities, equipment and procedures both before and after the death of Dawn Brancheau."

True this film can be written of being the documentary version of an animal rights pamphlet, especially as it lacks any kind of subtly with the facts much like both “The Cove” and “Sharkwater” which came before it, but at the same time these films are about inspiring change and reform and to this extent “Blackfish” more than succeeds in its aim. Needless to say after viewing this film I would find the prospect of watching an Orca show all the harder to stomach, while equally make me wonder if we are soon to see an end of animal acts in the same way that Circus’s no longer feature animal acts, I guess only time will tell but this documentary certainly provides much food for thought.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Jedi Junkies

Title: Jedi Junkies
Director: Mark Edlitz
Released: 2010
Starring: Eduardo Sanchez, Ray Park, Peter Mayhew, Olivia Munn, John Bardy

Plot: A documentary exploring the lasting appeal of "Star Wars" and the various ways the fanbase choose to celebrate this love, from collectors and cosplayers through to fan film directors the documentary meets them all.

Review: Star Wars fans have always been something of a curiosity, even to a lifelong member like myself. As possibly one of the first groups, to actively voice their love for a series which essentially for the longest time told only the second half of a story. Before Trekies (and certainly well before Trekker’s ), ringers the Star Wars fans were voicing their love for their franchise while finding new and ever inventive ways to promote this love. Despite this these fans have never had a real fanbase name (as far as I know) though each documentary which comes along to explore the passion of these fans has tried to brand them unsuccessfully with one name or another, as previously seen with “Star Woids” and now with this latest documentary…sorry if you though this was going to be the Star Wars version of Trainspotting.

Unlike the aforementioned “Star Woids” this film seemingly has no real interest in finding out what the lasting appeal of Star Wars is but rather sets out to look at the some of the various groups of fans and collectors who share an undying love for the saga, which seemingly even two questionable prequels and Jar Jar Binks have still not killed off. Unsurprisingly though by just reviewing the current landscape of the fan community there is little to be seen which hasn’t essentially wasn’t known by anyone whose happened to go to a sci-fi convention recently. So hence we get to look through the collections of obsessional collectors, whose obsession is so great that they can’t stop at having one boxed X-Wing and aren’t happy unless they can boast a whole squadron. Interestingly amongst these obsessional collectors is Eduardo Sanchez who directed “The Blair Witch Project” so if anyone who’s been wondering what he’s been doing since then, it would seem the answer is amassing an impressive Star Wars collection, which he is more than happy to show off like all the collectors featured here, which also serves to remind us that.

Elsewhere a whole different kind of fan dedication is seen with the guys who constructed a life sized Millennium Falcon in their backyard which was used in the fan film “Stuck On Star Wars” filling me with a slight twinge of jealously especially as I couldn’t figure out a way to convince my wife to put such a thing in my own yard, while it is equally heart breaking that it is later revealed to have been destroyed in a storm. Needless to say lightsabers play a big part in this documentary from the New York based performance group who put on lightsaber displays, through to the a closer look at the construction of these lightsabers which equally serves to show the level of detail which the fans are willing to bring to their own creations. Equally at the same time its hard to tell if such focus and naming of this particular brand of custom saber isn't just some advert sneaked in under the geise of cosplay.

Now I know that the one question you’re all dying to know and that’s if “Leia’s Metal Bikini” are featured and I can happily report that they are, while the iconic costume itself receives a fair amount of attention, as the documentary not only look at the members of the group, but also those who use it for the basis for other Star Wars activities including Leia Burlesque and even Leia belly dancing, while Olivia Munn from “Attack of the Show” highlights the downside to wearing this fan favourite at conventions.  Sadly these ladies are the only real insight we get on the female fan community, as the only other female contributions given to this documentary are with the snippets of general fan love that provide the filler between segments, outside of this it is from with any other female insight coming from the wives of the collectors or are psychologists attempting to explain the obsessions of the collectors.  As such it only further highlights the frequent feeling in the fan community that women are largely invisible unless providing some form of fan service via a revealing costume, something only further reinforced by having one of the Leia girls on the cover, no doubt to catch the attention of those skimming through their Netflix list.

Unsurprisingly while the documentary does not feature interviews with member of the Star Wars cast it isn’t with any of the big three (Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher) or even George Lucas, but instead with Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and the always enthusiastic Ray Park (Darth Maul) who even joins in on the discussion as to who would win in a fight between Darth Maul and Darth Vader. Unsurprisingly Park feels that Maul would somehow have the upper hand, but it’s nice to see him still enthusiastic about the role, especially when so many of the cast are just about sick of talking about it. One of the main downsides for me here is the overwhelming focus on Fan films the documentary has, more so the fact that it chooses to focus on several rather uninteresting additions to this genre, in particular “Tremors of the Force” which gets given way too much attention, while its director John Bardy seemingly believes it to be a lot bigger than it is. Needless to say if you were going to look at fan films there are countless better examples out there such as “George Lucas In Love” , the valley girl antics of “Pink 5” or just the rapid fire humour of “Cheap Seats” to name but a few better examples of the fan film.

Unquestionably this is a films which will only appear to the established fans, as the noticeable absence of voice over, while the general structure of the film feels very thrown together with no real order or flow to how the footage has been pieced together, especially when the film looks at collectors only to then later in the film to return to the same collectors again with no real difference of insight than was given the last time we see them. In the end I was left with a slightly hollow feeling, seeing how the documentary fails to shed any really light on the fan community or at the same time show us anything new. With this in mind I would recommend hunting down “Star Woids” or a much more rounded insight into the cult of Star Wars, even if it lacks the psychological insight that this film attempts to bring, only to end up being at best a one watch documentary and one which barely provides anything to deserve a second watch.

Monday, 4 November 2013

The American Scream

Title: The American Scream
Director: Michael Stephenson
Released: 2012
Starring: Matthew Brodeur, Victor Bariteau, Manny Souza, Lori Souza, Richard Brodeur, Tina Bariteau

Plot: Director Michael Stephenson who previously brought us “Best Worst Movie” about the making of cult favourite “Troll 2”. Now he looks at three families in Fairhaven, Massachusetts who every Halloween transform their backyards into extravagant hunted attractions.

Review: This year when Halloween when was fast approaching some of my more excitable neighbours already had their decorations out ready in anticipation of most peoples second favourite Holiday, while my neighbour across the road from me has already got a Jack-O-Lantern out, which looking at its current decomposed state 2 days before the big night left me really hoping that they were planning on putting out a fresh one by the time Halloween rolled around. Still all of these pale in comparison to the “Home Haunter’s” featured in this documentary which Lindsay over at the amazing "French Toast Sunday" brought to my attention.
While the documentary might be about the three families, the real focus is more on the husbands who also to the ones most keen on spearheading the construction of their individual attractions, starting with Victor Bariteau who works at a financial company, replacing servers while desperately trying to support his family especially as he currently finds himself with the constant risk of being made unemployed. Next we have the father and son team of Rick and Matt Brodeur, a pair of part time clowns whose basement supplies them with the majority of their haunted house props. Finally we have Many Souza, who frequently helps Victor with his props and sculptures, when he’s not working on his own haunted house.

All three subjects in focus have their own approach to their work with Victor being the most serious, as he openly expresses how stressed the lead up makes him, while equally happy to admit to suffering from a short temper as he gets closer to his deadline. This however is not so much his personality, but rather a genuine love for what he does and the constant search for perfection and to top what he achieved the previous year, as he listens constantly to podcasts in his car, while even attending expo’s dedicated to the helping these home haunters improve and hone their skills, as seen with the footage taken from one seminar Victor attends, were the speaker is shown stressing the importance of planning scares and their build up. Manny on the other hand while dedicated and certainly competitive as he likes to keep track of all the other home haunters in the local area is perhaps less detail focused than Victor who favours the quantity of props and sculptures over quality, believing that the people who come through his haunted house care more about the scare than the details which have gone into them. Finally Rick and Matt’s efforts could be considered the most amateurish out of the three, while their overcrowded basement resembles a jumble sale, yet to them is a treasure trove of lights, costumes, signs and other props which they have amassed over the year. Needless to say they represent the vision most people have when they think of people constructing their own haunted houses, yet despite this they don’t seem deterred that their efforts might be over shadowed by the setups of Victor and Manny, while at the same time they still appear to have little trouble attracting an equal size crowd of thrill seekers.

Needless to say the families in focus of their light hearted documentary, really love Halloween or more precisely the men of these households who spearhead the yearly efforts to pull out bigger and better shocks for the delight of the local neighbour, with their efforts and hard work not being for profit with seemingly any money they make being given to charity, but out of pure love for the joy of scaring the hell out their neighbours. What is most interesting about them though is the fact that these are not professionals who work in the special effects industry, but rather average guys who have taught themselves how to make their attractions, slowly building on what they learn with each passing year. Still despite the men being at the center of the documentaries focus it also takes time to look at their families and friends, many who work behind the scenes with costuming and make up, while really coming into their own on Halloween night as especially true with Victors house were it seems that he has a small movie production happening just from looking at the sheer amount of people involved. What is really touching though is how far they are willing to go to help them realise their vision, something no truer than with Victor’s wife who despite the long hours which Victor puts into what is essentially his hobby, she still stands by him and his vision even if you do get the feeling that she isn’t as into the whole event as much as he is, though it is certainly a love shared by his 10 year old daughter who can be seem mutilating her Barbies for inclusion in her father’s haunted house, while even relishing the celebrity status she has in her school for being Victor’s daughter.

While this documentary is a lot of fun it does however run alittle too long leaving you no doubt feeling that it would have been perfect it had been cut down to an hour, especially with the focus being soley on the three families and no voice over the end result can seem alittle tedious in places, especially when some of the footage is not overly remarkable or insightful. No doubt this extra length could have best been used for perhaps interviews with speakers at the seminar or perhaps one big name name from the special effects industry given their own opinion on the home haunter trend.
True this is far from a perfect documentary especially with its length and footage selection, it is still at times a touching documentary about a group of people who not only love Halloween, but genuinely get a real kick out what they do.
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