2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 12: Scary Tales (1993)

DAY 12 — CAMPFIRES & FLASHLIGHTS: One where a character tells a scary story and then . . . flashback.

As part of our annual “Slasher Month” last October, we reviewed Snuff Kill (1997), the third film — and best known and distributed film — from homegrown Baltimore SOV filmmakers Doug Ulrich and Al Darago (Ulrich also came to work with our SOV hero, Don Dohler, on 2001’s The Alien Factor 2). Now it’s time to take a look at their debut film, the anthology Scary Tales that, while released in 1993, had a long-in-development on-off shooting schedule that began in the mid-’80s. As with Snuff Kill — in which Al Darago portrayed the rocker-slasher Ralis — he and Doug Ulrich provide the film’s original tunes (“Destined to Love,” “She’s a Good Time,” “Let It Go,” and “I’m in Love”) as well as take care of all of the other film disciplines.

As the film opens, we meet a hooded, faceless storyteller with glowing eyes who weaves three tales from an ancient text to a group of ghostly, silhouetted children: “Satan’s Necklace” concerns an evil piece of jewelry that possesses its owner’s soul. In “Sliced in Cold Blood” a man loses his sanity upon discovering his wife’s infidelity. Then things come very close to our current techno-reality in “Level 21,” as a man loses his soul — literally — to a PC-based video game.

Amid the expected muddy-to-distorted audio, Spirit Halloween-effects, and accepted non-thespin’, we get an inventive against-the-budget human-transformation-to-vicious, man-eating demon, lots of heads split-open or decap, a knife out through the mouth, demons breath fire flumes, and in the final Tron-inspired tale (but closer to the lower-budget “The Bishop of Battle” segment starring Emilio Estevez in the 1983 Universal-produced omnibus, Nightmares; even more so to Charles Band’s 1984 tech-manteau The Dungeonmaster with Jeffrey Bryon sucked into a netherworld overlorded by Richard Moll), we get a gaggle of netherworld dwarfs and ninjas in an ambitious against-the-budget Dungeons & Dragons playing field. Remember the computer non-effects in Jerry Sangiuliano’s tech-slasher Brain Twisters? Well, it’s like that, and not the least bit “Tron.” But that’s okay because this movie splatters to the side of bountiful, which is why we rented home video SOVs in the first place.

Look, if you’re expecting a celluloid-perfect homage to the ’70s Amicus anthologies that inspired Ulrich and Darago’s debut film, then just keep on walkin’ past the crypt and go watch George Romero’s Creepshow. In the end, this is The Night of the Living Dead-era fun, as we’re living vicariously through Doug Ulrich and Al Darago, two guys just like us, who, instead of watching, reading and writing about films, they went out and made them. (And watch Scary Tales instead of the yawn-inducing Creepshow 2. Yes, I am saying team Ulrich-Darago’s film is more entertaining than a George Romero comic-book based sequel.)

You have to give team Ulrich-Darago their props as — unlike most SOV auteurs, who only managed one film — our SOV duo from Baltimore made four, including Darkest Soul, the aforementioned Snuff Kill, and 7 Sins of the Vampire, in quick, back-to-back succession. The only other SOV’ers to pull off multiple films as quickly was Christopher Lewis with Blood Cult, The Ripper, and Revenge . . . well, because of Blood Cult’s rep as the first mail-order SOV, Lewis is the best known. But there’s the crowned king that is Dennis Devine of Fatal Images and Dead Girls fame that’s still making them, albeit digitally these days (his latest is 2020’s Camp Blood 8). And porn-funded British SOV purveyor Cliff Twemlow (with his directing-partner, David Kent-Watson) knocked out six film in quick succession in the wake of his SOV pinnacle, GBH. Jeff Hathcock made his debut with Victims! in 1985 and during the next seven years pumped out three more: Night Ripper!, Streets of Death, and Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombsell. Yeah, you’ll SOV-drop fellow Baltimorite Don Dohler with his ’80s shoestring trio of The Alien Factor, Fiend, and Nightbeast released between 1978 to 1982 — but while they have that SOV-couch change stank on ’em, those were shot on film.

In the lesser-accomplished SOV canons are Leland Thomas of Bits and Pieces, John Henry Johnson of Curse of the Blue Lights, Georgia’s William J. Oates of Evil in the Woods, Alaska’s Blair Murphy of Jugular Wine, the SOV-tag team of Bill Leslie and Terry Lofton of Nail Gun Massacre, sci-fi space-jockey William J. Murray of Primal Scream, porn purveyor Justin Simmonds of Spine, Brixton Academy owner Alan Briggs of Suffer, Little Children, Brian Evans of Tainted , and Canuxploitationer Andrew Jordan of Things fame — each who pulled off one film. Nick Kimaz of the ambitiously-failed Space Chase managed two (1988’s Rage of Vengeance), while the equally ambitious-better Philip J. Cook of Beyond the Rising Moon pulled off three (Invader and Despiser in quick succession), while SOV apoc’er Armand Garzarian did two with Games of Survival and Prison Planet, and then made three more, and still sits behind the lens for other filmmakers.

However, of all of those films and their makers, we’ll always pencil-in Doug Ulrich and Al Darago on the top of our SOV lists courtesy of their Wiseauian heart and tenacity to release their quartet of films in quick succession — while showing improvements in their storytelling and effects skills along the way. Sure Tim Ritter of the SOV classics Truth or Dare and Killing Spree and Donald Farmer of Demon Queen and Scream Dream are still makin’ movies into 2021 and should be at the top of the list for their still growing, extensive resumes . . . well, I don’t know . . . I just dig what Doug and Al loaded into the SOV canons. I like ’em, so sue me . . . plus: we haven’t gotten around to reviewing Ritter or Farmer flicks on the site — at least not yet. Too many films, so little time.

And you can learn about the new Blu-Ray release of Scary Tales at Vinegar Syndrome. But we found a VHS rip on the very cool You Tube home to all things SOV, with the fine folks at Letterboxd Funtime.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movie

SLASHER MONTH: Mahakaal (1993)

There are people that are just going to watch this movie — which combines Freddy Kreuger, Michael Jackson, Bollywood song and dance numbers and a low budget — just to laugh. And you know, I kind of dislike that foreign remix cinema is seen as such a joke. You try making a movie that lives up to a Hollywood big budget movie within a country that can’t raise those funds while working within the confines of the way movies are presented. Most of u slack the imagination and sheer nerve to do it.

So when Seema has a nightmare of a scarred man wearing steel claws, our western minds instantly see this as a cheap knock-off. But the film plays with expectations, as the villain is not some average custodian, but the evil magician Shakaal, who needed children to increase his magical powers and was only stopped by Anita’s father, who has kept the claw glove in a drawer all these years later.

An American — even an Italian — remix film would not take everything. Bad Dreams may have a burned up villain and Taryn from Dream Warriors, but it is very much its own film. Night Killer only takes the mask. Mahakaal takes everything, even the actual music from the first two A Nightmare on Elm Street movies and keeps on giving.

There’s also the Michael Jackson-loving Canteen, who becomes a werewolf by the end of the movie because, well, who knows. This isn’t the kind of linear cinema that you grew up on. Strangely — or not hat much when you think of it — there’s another Bollywood Elm Street cover called Khooni Murdaa that even takes the end of Dream Warriors but redeems itself because it tells the origin story of Ranjit — Fareed Krueger — who escapes prison and gets thrown into a campfire, creating the dream version that destroys everyone else.

You can watch this on YouTube.

When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)

Fourteen years after When a Stranger Calls, this TV movie brings back Cheryl Wilson, Carol Kane and Charles Durning as Mrs. Schifrin, Jill Johnson and John Clifford, as well as director Fred Walton.

The opening of this movie is great. Julia Jenz (Jill Schoelen, an unsung scream queen) is babysitting when she hears a knock on the door. Smart enough to not let anyone in, she tells the man on the other side of the door that she can call a tow truck for him but won’t let him in. When she does try to call, the lines are cut and as she begins lying to the mysterious voice, she realizes that someone is coming in and out of the house. It’s too late — the children she was watching have been abducted.

Five years later and Julia is still traumatized, with whoever stole the children continuing to break into her apartment. She’s helped by counselor Jill Johnson, but the constant abuse causes her to try and kill herself with a self-inflicted head wound. Julia and John Clifford decide to figure out who the stalker is, a man who can throw his voice and has special makeup and clothing that allows him to blend into the walls of Julia’s apartment.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Dream Lover (1993)

Nicholas Kazan’s first films flirt between historical movies like his scripts for FrancesPatty Hearst and Reversal of Fortune with stories of murder with tinges of the otherworldly like Impulse and Fallen, as well as the neo-noir At Close Range. And oh yeah — Matilda.

He only directed two movies, one an anthology TV movie called The Edge and this one, which moves from the standard thriller to perhaps a flirtation with the giallo form in that the main character begins to doubt his own innocence and identity as he finds his life unended by manipulation that began seemingly before he even meets his second wife.

James Spader plays Ray Reardon, a recently divorced architect who bumps into Lena Mathers (Madchen Amick) at a party, at which points she reacts as if he slapped her. She sticks in his mind, because when he sees her at a grocery store, he stalks her and ends up sleeping with her. Within minutes of the film beginning, they’re married and with child.

But even the most normal details of his wife’s life all seem like lies. When he meets someone who graduated from the same college as her, none of the people that are mentioned are memorable to Lena, including the President of the school dying during a major assembly. Ray’s suspicions get to him so much that he travels to a small town in Texas where he learns that his wife’s abusive past never happened; her family is surprised to learn that he’s not in the CIA.

And that’s when he discovers the bruises. The kind that you get from making love to another man.

Lena goads Ray into the unthinkable, as he slaps her, an act which lands him in a mental hospital. And it’s there that she reveals her long con, to have his children, to take his money and to leave him behind. But the game isn’t over yet.

Dream Lover is more interesting when we don’t know if Ray is guilty or innocent. Once it tips its hand. it loses that momentum. I do love the twist ending and you could argue that Ray really is deranged and everything from the slap on is inside his head, as there’s no way that the police would arrest you and place you in a mental ward for months without a six-month observatory period. But you know, it wouldn’t be a movie without a lapse in logic.

Oh yeah — there are also circus clown-filled dream sequences that have nothing at all to do with the narrative, so that leads me to definitely include this as an American giallo. Because when things seem to make no sense for a very specific reason, that’s when they become a giallo, right?

Also: Why do I love James Spader, who plays a jerk in nearly every movie and gets to make movie love to Machen Amick, but think of Michael Douglas as a complete jerk? What a blind spot to have, as they both were 90s erotic thriller/American giallo-adjunct male stars!

Body Bags (1993)

Showtime was looking for Body Bags to be their Tales from the Crypt, yet the plug was pulled after just three episodes. That’s a shame because this show had some great talent behind it. I mean, John Carpenter hosting and directing along with Roc Hooper? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

“The Gas Station” may as well be a side story to Halloween. When a young college student starts her first all-night shift at a gas station near Haddonfield, she learns of a breakout at the local mental hospital — hello Smith’s Grove — and is told she needs to stay inside because the door will lock her out and stay locked until the morning. After a series of strange visitors — George “Buck” Flower, Wes Craven, Peter Jason, David Naughton — and a scrawled demon drawing in the bathroom, she learns that the man who hired her — David Carradine — is the killer.

“Hair” has Stacey Keach dreaming of having a full head of hair and doing whatever it takes, even getting a transplant from an alien. Between Sheena Easton as his wife, David Warner as the doctor who makes it happen, Debbie Harry as his nurse and cameos by Kim Alexis, Greg Nicotero and Rock and Roll Fantasy star Attila in the only other movie he ever made.

Finally, “Eyes” has everyone from John Agar and Roger Corman to Charles Napier, Twiggy and Mark Hamill in the lead role of a pitcher who gets an eye transplant from a killer.

By the end, Carpenter’s coroner character reveals himself to be a zombie as Tobe Hooper and Tom Arnold start to cut over his chest cavity for an autopsy.

Man, Body Bags has a great score and seems loads of fun, way better than the junk that passes for horror anthology stuff today like Shudder’s abysmal Creepshow reboot. At least we have these three episodes, I guess.

You can watch this on Tubi.

beDevil (1993)

The first feature directed by an Australian Aboriginal woman — Tracey Moffatt, who also made Lip, a mashup of black servants in Hollywood movies talking back to their bosses — BeDevil was inspired by the director’s childhood.

The first story “Mr. Chuck” is about an Australian boy haunted by the spirit of a drowned American soldier, with the experience seen through the eyes of the boy as a man looking back on his youth and a white woman whose family colonzied Australia. And it’s presented as a series of documentary interviews, heightening the strangeness of it all.

In “Choo Choo Choo Choo, Moffat plays a character who might even be herself as a train continues to haunt a family as it runs on invisible tracks through Queensland, even decades later.

The last story is “Lovin’ the Spin I’m In,” during which a doomed couple tries to leave their community behind to escape racism, their death ends up trapping them in an eternal dance.

beDevil has been compared to Kwaidan and that’s an apt comparison. It feels like it came from a darker world than our own to explain and help us get past the darkness in our own place. Please try and seek it out, as it’s an amazing film.

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)

H. P. Lovecraft (Jeffrey Combs!) tells his cabby (Brian Yuzna) to wait outside the monastery — he’s got a Necronomicon to find. As he races to find a copy before the monks stop him, he’s locked inside a room where he gets to discover the future through the book.

The first story, “The Drowned,” is loosely based on “The Rats in the Walls.” It tells the story of Jethro De Lapoer (Richard Lynch!), whose wife and child died in an accident, causing him to set a Bible ablaze at the funeral. He brings them back to life with the Necronomicon, but the green glowing eyes of his family as they rise upset him so much that he leaps to his death. His nephew has no such compunctions and brings back his wife Clara (Maria Ford), who comes back in the same way, nearly causing his death. Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak was also inspired by this same story. This story and the framing story come from Yuzna.

“The Cold” is based on the short story “Cool Air” and has Dr. Madden (David Warner!) injecting spinal fluid and staying inside a chilled room to stay alive forever, at least until the power goes out. Dennis Christopher, Gary Graham and Millie Perkins are also in this story, which you may have seen in Alberty Pyun’s H. P. Lovecraft’s Cool Air or the Jeannot Szwarc-directed, Rod Serling-written Nighy Gallery episode. This was directed by Christopher Gans, the director of Brotherhood of the Wolf and Silent Hill.

“Whispers” is based on “The Whisper in the Darkness.” This one has monster bats and all the gore you’ve been looking for, as if the last segment wasn’t packed with enough melting people. This one comes from Shusuke Kaneko, who made the Heisei era Gamera movies Gamera: Guardian of the UniverseAttack of Legion and Revenge of Iris, as well as Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.

At the end, Lovecraft avoids the monks and runs into the night. This film may not be completely successful at making an anthology of his stories, but it’s pretty entertaining. It was well-received in the U.S., but a much bigger success in Europe and Asia, where it played theaters.

Philippine War Week: Firehawk (1993)

Our beloved Cirio H. Santiago is back in the Vietnam-doubling Philippine jungles — along with the ubiquitous stock footage — in another Roger Corman-backed Rambo romp. And Cirio’s — always welcomed — stock company is back: Jim Moss, James Gregory Paolleli, and Vic Trevino. And yes . . . that is T.C Carson from Fox-TV’s Living Single starting out his acting career.

And if we have to explain the greatness of Martin Kove to you, well, then you’re no longer allowed to surf the pages of B&S About Movies, for Sam and I can no longer be your retro-VHS senseis. But we’ll mention that Kove’s co-star, Matt Salinger, made his film debut in Revenge of the Nerds and had high hopes in his first marquee role as Steve Rogers in Cannon Pictures’ Captain America. That film — and Matt’s performance — we so poorly reviewed, it was three years before he reappeared in Firehawk. And he’s actually very good here, owning his role as a racist who loves his copter-mounted machine gun to mow down the Viet Cong — and you’ll notice how he creatively repurposes a Confederate Flag bandana into a “star” that homages his best-known role.

Courtesy of jwidner-2011/eBay.

Kove is the cigar chompin’ Stewart, a helicopter rescue pilot. During a Ramboesque rescue mission in Vietnam, Stewart and his five-man crew are shot down and they must fight their way back to the Cambodian border. They soon come to discover that their ‘copter was sabotaged — and one of them is a traitor assigned to assure the mission failed.

If you’ve hung out with us all this week during our “Philippines War Week,” you know how it all goes: Lots of huts obliterated. Lots of explosions. Lots of stock footage recycling. Lots of bodies fall to the ground in hails of bullets. But you also get pretty solid acting from everyone — Kove’s really good — and all of the expected, solid action we expect from Cirio’s Corman-backed war coffers.

You can watch Firehawk on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Philippine War Week: Kill Zone (1993)

Roger Corman producing a Cirio H. Santiago Philippines-ripoff of Rambo starring David Carradine? No, back up that half-track, soldier! In addition to Rambo, we’re getting an inversion of Brian De Palma’s Causalities of War. See? Roger Corman is never one to allow a major studio theatrical hit go to waste.

The “Tony Dorsett” starring alongside David Carradine is, in fact, the Rochester, Pennsylvania-born Tony Dorsett, who served as a running back for the Dallas Cowboys from 1977 to 1987. And there’s Vic Trevino, who played Ricardo in HBO’s Pee Wee’s Playhouse (and also starred in Cirio’s Firehawk), and Ken Metcalf, who goes all the way back to the 1974 exploitation classic TNT Jackson (and also starred in Cirio’s apoc-slopper Stryker). Fans of the short-lived CBS-TV sci-fi series Space Precinct and Fox TV’s Melrose Place will also notice Rob Youngblood in the cast. If you’ve seen Black Mamba (1974), then you recognize Vivian Velez. And if you’ve seen any Philippines action flicks from the late ’80s — post-apoc or war — you know Jim Moss and Nick Nicholson.

Of course, while all of the actors look familiar . . . you also notice, as with most of Cirio’s flicks: stock recycling of war footage from Cirio’s other films is afoot.

Courtesy of darksidelouisville/eBay

Our man Carradine is, of course, the hellbent and perpetually cigar chompin’ Col. Horace Wiggins inflicting the war casualties as the commander of his own, unauthorized fighting force in Cambodia. And despite the orders of his superiors to not cross the border, he’ll burn the Viet Cong to the ground — no matter the cost. And Tony Dorsett is the just soldier who takes it upon himself to stop Wiggins.

And that’s pretty much it. Lots of huts blow up. Lots of bodies are mowed down by a never-ending stream of bullets. But there’s also a lot of philosophical war babbling. But when those last ten minutes of film roll . . . pure Cirio . . . stock footage be damned. The man knows how to put on a Corman-ploitation styled war drama.

You can watch a very clean upload of Kill Zone — along with a dozen other Cirio H. Santiago films — on Tubi TV. What’s great about this upload — unlike the numerous, washed-out VHS rips we usually get of Cirio’s work on You Tube — is that we can see how well his films were shot.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Vampiro: Warrior of the Night (1993)

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can check out Paul Andolina’s review of this movie too.

Vampiro came to lucha libre from Canada and with his look, physique and martial arts movies became a near-instant star, kind of like Konnan to the point that the two hated one another. Born Ian Richard Hodgkinson, he had already been a security guard for Milli Vanilli and a professional goaltender before he trained with Gene Anderson, Ian Richards and Abdullah the Butcher in International Wrestling.

Known as Vampiro Canadiense (Canadian Vampire) at first, Vampiro became such a big star that he got to follow in El Santo’s footsteps and make a movie.

Directed by José Nieto Ramírez — who made several movies with comedic actors Manuel “Flaco” Ibáñez and Pedro “Chatanuga” Weber  — this film concerns an evil supervillain who has a metal glove that allows him to control people. He nearly kills Vampiro in a match with Pierroth Jr. and then sends his evil female henchwomen to keep rubbing up on our vampiric tecnico.

Meanwhile, there’s an alien woman named Larossa and her pet bear Mascota — who sounds like the weirdest mix of feedback, beeps and blips — who have also come to Earth to get the aid of Vampiro in some battle. Somehow, Vamp spends most of his own movie chained to a bed with those goth evil girls caressing him, which doesn’t sound like all that bad of a time when you really think about it.

The film looks great, filled with fog and colored gels, giving it a near-late 80s Italian look. Plus, if you’re a fan of 90s lucha, you get to see some of the biggest stars, such as Negro Casas, Ultimo Dragon, Faby Apache, Art “Love Machine” Barr, Norman Smiley, Pirata Morgan and Haku. Trust me, you won’t be bored, even if you don’t really like wrestling. You will be confused no matter what because none of this makes any bit of sense.

You can watch this on Shout! Factory TV.