Despiser (2003)

Holy shit, this movie.

Gordon Hauge (Mark Redfield) gets fired, kicked out of his apartment and dumped by his wife Maggie (Gage Sheridan) all in one day, then wrecks his car and wakes up under attack by the Ragmen and Shadowmen of purgatory, the world between heaven and hell. He soon meets others who are trapped here because they ended their lives in a moment of noble sacrifice, all united in combat against the dreaded Despiser, a horrific blast of 2003 CGI that crashed into our planet when his spaceship slammed into Russia in 1908 and caused the Tunguska event.

Despiser feels like a Canadian movie but it’s made in Virginia.

It has the tones of a faith film but is packed with tons of violence.

And it feels like parts of The Wizard of OzThe Stand and Lord of the Rings yet has so many strange ideas inside it that it feels like nothing else. Or, as the official site says, writer Philip Cook “was intrigued by the idea of an alternative world like ours, recognizable but skewed, dark and ominous—a blend of our culture mixed with macabre fantasy. This concept became the purgatory, a place where, after death, one’s soul is purified of sin—by suffering. But in this story, something has gone terribly wrong with it. It’s no longer a clearinghouse for confused souls; it’s become bottlenecked, out of balance and fraught with conflict.”

Keep in mind that this isn’t a movie with a multimillion-dollar budget but instead is a combination of green screen shot on video footage and all the CGI money could buy in 2003. If you liked the strange worlds that show up in Fungicide, good news. This goes even harder, if that’s possible. It feels like if you stare at it long enough, you’ll be able to see a sailboat in its pixels.

It even has some intriguing heroes beyond Gordon, like Nimbus (Doug Brown), a soldier who has been in purgatory since World War One, kamikaze pilot Tomasawa (Frank Smith), Jake (Michael Weitz) and Charlie Roadtrap (Tara Bilkins).

Joe Bob gave this three and a half stars and had these totals: “Forty-nine dead bodies. Five gun battles. Three crash-and-burns. Four motor vehicle chases. One sucker punch. Two body-transformation scenes. One hydrogen explosion. One Viking funeral. One peasant riot. Flaming church. Flaming car. Upside-down crucifixion. Grotesque insect destruction. Doll-stomping. Gratuitous shipwrecks. Kung Fu. Grenade Fu. Bazooka Fu.”

For those that look at the cover image for this and instantly think, “I need to know more,” or loved staring at blacklight posters at Spencer’s or played enough Gamma World, this is for you. It’s definitely for me.

You can watch this on Tubi.

DISMEMBERCEMBER: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure (2003)

On December 20, 2003, NBC ruined many Christmas holidays by fostering this mess of a movie — directed by Nick Marck and written by National Lampoon publisher Matty Simmons, who at one time was the Executive Vice President of Diners Club. He is not John Hughes, Doug Kenney, Henry Beard or Michael O’Donoghue, as this film will show. I don’t know — maybe I just hated this movie so much that I am minimizing his contribution. Maybe he was a good writer. This movie doesn’t prove that.

Look, we all love Cousin Eddie. Do we love him enough to watch him as the main character for an entire movie, along with his family, which includes Catherine (Miriam Flynn), Clark the third (Jake Thomas), Audrey Griswold (Dana Barron, the first time someone has played a Griswold kid more than once) and Uncle Nick (Ed Asner). They even got Eric Idle to show up for a bit, bringing back his character from National Lampoon’s European Vacation.

Eddie gets fired by Fred Willard because he’s dumber than a chimpanzee, who then bites him and earns his family a settlement that turns into a Hawaiian vacation guided by Muka Luka Miki, who seems Hawaiian but is not, but neither is South Korean actress Sung Hi Lee.

It’s a rough watch and one that makes you wonder whether this needed to be made. Eddie is the steak sauce on the prime rib that are two of the three Vacation movies, but a steak covered in A1 tastes horrible. Follow that rule and avoid this.

American Wedding (2003)

The only theatrical American Pie movie in which Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), Vicky (Tara Reid), Oz (Chris Klein), Sherman (Chris Owen), Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) and Heather (Mena Suvari) don’t appear, American Wedding was to be the last film of a trilogy. But hey — there was more to come. Even with a reduced cast, this cost way more than the first two put together — $55 million.

Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are getting married and if Steve Stiffler (Seann William Scott) can settle down, he’s allowed to plan the bachelor party. That said, once he and Paul (Eddie Kaye Thomas) see Michelle’s sister Candence (January Jones), all those promises go up in flames.

Is it any good? Well, Roger Ebert said that this film “is proof of the hypothesis that no genre is beyond redemption.”

It’s actually pretty fun. I mean, you get Eugene Levy and Fred Willard in a movie together. And it’s the only sex comedy I can think of that one of Bob Dylan’s son’s directed. Actually, it’s kind of cool that a teenage sex comedy can grow up — well, not much — and embrace marriage as something worth looking forward to. Who knew we’d get to that place for a movie centered around a teenager putting his penis inside a hot piece of dessert?

PITTSBURGH MADE: Bringing Down the House (2003)

Most of Bringing Down the House — directed by Adam Shankman and written by Jason Filardi — is shot in Los Angeles, but some of it was in Pittsburgh and I guess that’s good enough to be included in this week of Pittsburgh-shot movies. There’s also an appearance by the LA headquarters of Mellon Bank, so maybe that’s a little more yinzer in this.

Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is seperated from his wife Kate (Jean Smart) and ends up chatting with Charlene (Queen Latifah), a woman who he’s surprised to learn is an escaped convict. And oh yeah, black. If that upsets you, this movie has plenty more race related humor and gets some of its few funny moments from having Eugene Levy say black slang as he woos Latifah. Kimberly J. Brown from the Halloweentown movies and Angus T. Jones from Two and a Half Men play the kids, Betty White is the next door neighbor and Missi Pyle has a decent fight scene with Latifah.

If anyone knows where in Pittsburgh this was filmed, let me know.

SLASHER MONTH: Puppet Master: The Legacy (2003)

Directed by Charles Band and written by C. Courtney Joyner and David Schmoeller, the eighth Puppet Master movie takes us back to the Bodega Bay Inn where rogue agent Maclain (Kate Orsini) is reading the diary of André Toulon. I should write she was, as it soons goes up in flames.

In the basement, she finds Eric Weiss (Jacob Witkin) talking to Blade, Pinhead, Jester, Tunneler and Six-Shooter. She threatens him but he refuses to share the secrets of Toulon, but does play a recording from him.

Through flashbacks — and by that I mean footage from the older movies — we learn that Weiss is really Peter Hertz, the boy who Toulon saved from the Nazis in Puppet Master III. Then, the war between the puppets and the totems of Sutek in Puppet Master 4 and 5, as well as the events of Puppet Master 2 are remembered.

This is the final appearance of the original puppets created by David Allen and Dennis Gordon. They were sold at an auction one year after this movie.

Full Moon, I have to tell you, there are so many of your movies I’ve started and realized that I’ve seen before but you’ve repackaged them. There are only thirty minutes of new footage in this one. It’s like a Puppet Master supercut. The greatest hits, sold by K-Tel?

VISUAL VENGEANCE BLU RAY RELEASE: Blood of the Chupacabras (2003) and Revenge of the Chupacabras (2005)

Visual Vengeance has brought back two Blockbuster Video shelf favorites, both concerning the infernal Mexican goatsucker known as el chupacabra! In the book Latinos and Narrative Media: Participation and Portrayal, these films are credited with starting the trend in movies about the chupacabras.

Blood of the Chupacabras (2003): If you read any reviews that came out on this movie’s original release, they all decry the fact that the poster and cover art are so amazing and the actual monster is not. But you know, that’s part of the charm in director and writer Jonathan Mumm’s movie (he also edited and composed some of the music).

The town that this takes place in has near Andy Milligan level supernatural coincidences: there’s a witch. There’s an old vampire hunter. There’s a singer. There’s an old prospector! And yes, there’s a chupacabra controlling possessed townsfolk from within a cave.

There are so many people in this town and let me tell you, I kind of love that the majority of this movie is people arguing over rent and trying to figure out how to survive in their downtrodden lives and then realizing, “Oh yeah. There’s a monster that kills goats in a cave.” That’s how real life is. You know that there are so many evil creatures in the woods outside of town but you live in a capitalist society and the cogs of the military-industrial complex are greased in the blood of the working man.

In addition to all of those characters — seriously, if you missed meeting new people in the new COVID era, get ready to meet so many people and then meet some more people — this movie has a synth score that in no way tries to sound real. You may be too young to remember organ stores in the mall and the poor souls that worked there that had to non-stop play synth and organ ditties while we shopped around them. Who were these people buying these gigantic organs? Where was the budget to hire so many people to play them? Where did they all go?

I digress.

I love when people review this movie and say it has so much talking. Yes, it’s a 1950s drive-in movie with no budget shot on video (with some 16mm from the first pass at making it) with rubber suits, early CGI and untrained actors. Revel in it. Soak it up. We should all be so lucky to live in a world that this movie exists and we do.

Revenge of the Chupcacabras (2005): 

Just look at that image of a humanoid chupacabra and remember 2005, a time when life was much, much simpler than today and we had no idea. We could still rent movies in stores. And yeah, things are probably more convenient today, but we also had movies with chupacabras. Two in a row, no less, from Jonathan Mumm, who directed and wrote this.

You know what’s really crazy? This movie isn’t even about a chupacabra. It’s about a kidnapping. A chupacabra shows up — and it looks better than the first movie because people whined that they got a cool looking poster and that monster wasn’t in the movie and have you people never watched an exploitation movie before?!? — but this is really about a kidnapping. I am all for the bait and switch, folks.

Also in 2005, you could kidnap an attractive college student and ask for $2 million and no one laughed at you. Today, we don’t believe in science so we would just giggle and try and negotiate the ransom.

This movie makes me want to love it and as such has a scene where a priest investigates the possessions going on in this small town and gets killed by a chupacabra and honestly, that’s all I want movies to be about.

The tagline is “It can smell your fear.” Can it also smell how happy I am to look over and see this movie on my shelf and be so happy that I own it, much less the gorgeous Visual Vengeance blu ray? You got me goat killer!

You can get this from MVD. Bonus features include:

  • Both available for the first time ever available on blu ray, scanned from the archival SD masters from original Betacam tapes
  • New audio commentaries on both films with director Jonathan Mumm
  • Archival behind the scenes features
  • Blooper reels
  • Archive video from premiere and festival appearances
  • Super 8 movie: Professor Bloodgood
  • Limited Edition Slipcase by Earl Kessler — FIRST PRESSING ONLY
  • Collectible Mini-poster
  • Stick your own VHS sticker set and more

For more details on the label and updates on new releases – as well as news on upcoming releases – follow Visual Vengeance on social media – IG, Facebook or twitter

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MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Through the Decades: 2000s Collection: 21 Grams (2003)

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga made a “Trilogy of Death”, starting with  Amores Perros and closing with Babel. This film comes in the middle and has the past, the present and the future come together united by a hit and run accident that changes every life.

Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro) is a man of faith who has conquered his demons.

Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a math professor with a fatal heart condition and a struggling marriage to Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a recovering drug addict and now a suburban mom who has left her past life behind.

Their lives meet on the night that Jack accidentally kills Cristina’s husband and children while driving home. Her husband’s heart is given to Paul and his life comes back as his marriage ends. He finds out from a detective whose heart is in his chest and begins to follow Cristina. Meanwhile, Jack’s former life of faith has fallen to nothingness. He turns himself into the police and while Cristina refuses to press charges, he finds himself unable to rejoin the human race or his family, instead working as a laborer and pretty much waiting to die.

A handheld shot film with different colors for each character and film techniques for where their lives are at, 21 Grams is an emotional film despite the jarring way that its narrative is delivered. I think about it quite frequently. It was a movie I didn’t like upon my first watch but as I continued going back to it in my mind, I’ve watched it several times and found so much more to like. It rewards further watches.

The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 2000s Collection has some great movies for a great price like Nurse BettyOne Night at McCool’sSpy GameThe Emperor’s ClubThe Shape of ThingsBaby Mama, State of PlayThe Hitcher and Cry Wolf. You can order it from Deep Discount.

MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Through the Decades: 2000s Collection: The Shape of Things (2003)

The Shape of Things was directed and written by Neil LaBute and based on a stage play he also created. It tells the story of Adam Sorenson (Paul Rudd), whose life is changed after he begins dating Evelyn Ann Thompson (Rachel Weisz). She convinces him to eat right, work out, change his clothes, be more confident and even get plastic surgery. His life gets better, even if she ruins the relationship between his best friend Phillip (Frederick Weller) and his fiancée Jenny (Gretchen Mol), as well as tell Adam to leave them behind.

The darkness within this film is that everything is a lie. Adam is part of Evelyn’s MFA final project. She set out to change his world through their relationship and presents everything in their life together in an art gallery, including a sex tape and the engagement ring that Adam gave to her. We’re left with her telling him the only bit of honesty was what she whispered to him while they made love; he keeps watching the clip over and over again in tears, straining to remember what she said.

Not since The Last American Virgin has a female character so utterly devastated the male protagonist.

The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 2000s Collection has some great movies for a great price like Nurse BettyOne Night at McCool’sSpy GameThe Emperor’s Club21 Grams, Baby Mama, State of PlayThe Hitcher and Cry Wolf. You can order it from Deep Discount.

Final Examination (2003)

Shane Newman (Brent Huff, Cop GameThe Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak) has moved from Los Angeles to Hawaii which I don’t think is a police transfer that works in the real world, but we’re in the Fred Olen Ray universe now.

There’s a reunion in town and some of the Omega Kappa Omega girls have been invited to shoot nude photos — yes, I get that this doesn’t happen in most class reunions but again, we are in Ray’s world — by Derek Simmons, the editor of the Cavalier Magazine. One of them, Terri Walker, is soon found strangled with a final examination certificate next to her body.

It’s up to Newman and his new partner Julie Seska (Kari Wuhrer) to solve the case — cases, because women keep on taking their clothes off and dying — which has ties back to the suicide of Rachel Kincaid, a member of the class of students meeting in Hawaii.

This is a nice mix of erotic thriller, giallo and slasher with some familiar Ray stars like Debbie Rochon and Amy Lindsay. Sean O’Bannon, who wrote plenty of films for Ray (Mom’s Outta SightInvisible Mom IIInferno) and Fred’s wife at the time Kimberly were on the script. It’s exactly the kind of movie you’re looking for after three in the morning, which is a positive note.

I’m all for any movies that Kari Wuhrer makes, especially if she’s a sarcastic cop.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 29: Watch the series: Freaky Friday (1975, 1996, 2003, 2018, 2020)

Freaky Friday started as a novel written by Mary Rodgers, based on Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers by F. Anstey, a story in which the protagonists are father and son. In Rodgers’ book, 13-year-old Annabel Andrews and her mother spend time in each other’s bodies. The novel was so popular that Disney as made it four times an Rodgers also mae several sequels herself, such as A Billion for Boris/ESPTV and Summer Switch (which ABC made into TV movies). The major difference between the novel and the films is that an outside influence switches the mother and daughter against their wills.

Freaky Friday (1976): “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day.” That’s all it takes to start off this crazy adventure for Ellen Harris (Barbara Harris) and her daughter Annabel (Jodie Foster).

Based on the 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers — who also wrote the screenplay — the magic that switches the mother and daughter in this movie is quite simple. In Friday the 13th, all you have to do is say, “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day” and it happens.

Actually, this whole thing reminds me of Goofy Minds the House, a 1977 Disney Wonderful World of Reading storybook that features the character Goofy and his wife switching jobs for one day and learning that they both have rough lives. That story was based on a Norwegian folktale and taught me that women were much stronger than men. Also — Goofy once had a wife named Mrs. Geef and Mrs. Goof, but now he’s thought to be dating Clarabelle the Cow, so something happened at some point. Perhaps even odder, Goofy was once called Dippy Dawg.

But I digress.

Just as much as that story is part of my childhood, so is Freaky Friday, a movie that I know for a fact that I saw at the Spotlite 88 Drive-In in Beaver Falls, PA.

Ellen Andrews and her daughter Annabel are constantly battling with one another until they switch places, which enables each of them to see life from the other side, connect better with other people and, of course, water ski.

The cast of this movie is made up of people that a five year old me would see as big stars, like John Astin, Dick Can Patten, Charlene Tilton, Marc McClure and, of course, Boss Hogg. Strangely enough, George Lucas wanted Foster for the role of Princess Leia, but her mother wanted her to complete her contract to Disney.

Disney can’t seem to stop remaking this movie. And really, no one else can either, because it’s the mother of body switch comedies, including 18 Again!All of Me, Dream a Little DreamVice Versa and Freaky, a film which combines the Friday the 13th of this story with the slasher side of the holiday.

Freaky Friday (1995): This made-for-TV movie has Shelly Long as Ellen and Gaby Hoffman (the daughter of Warhol superstar Viva) as Annabelle. A pair of magical amulets causes the two of them to switch bodies in this version and waterskiing has been replaced with diving.

Ellen is also a single mother dating Bill (Alan Rosenberg) and designing clothing, which is the 90s version of being a housewife. What livens this up is a great cast with Drew Carey, Sandra Bernhard, Carol Kane and the much-missed Taylor Negron.

Writer Stu Krieger wrote The Parent Trap IIA Troll in Central ParkZenon: Girlof the 21st Century and Phantom of the Megaplex while director Melanie Mayron is probably best known for playing Melissa Steadman on Thirtysomething even though she has more than sixty directing credits on her resume.

The other big change is that when Annabelle is in Ellen’s body, she tells Bill exactly how much she dislikes him, thinking it will push him away. Instead, he proposes.

Forgive me for being weird, but…do these characters ever have to make love in these bodies? Because, well, that could be awkward.

Freaky Friday (2003): I spoke too soon about the sexual side of Freaky Friday, as this movie, while chaste, does not shy away from the fact that Jake (Chad Michael Murray) has feelings for Anna (Lindsay Lohan) no matter if she’s in her body or the body of her mother, Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis). The attraction that Jake feels, while mental, is way hotter than the way Marc McClure reacted to Barbara Harris.

Written by Heather Hach (Legally Blonde: The MusicalWhat To Expect When You’re Expecting and a gym teacher in this movie) and Leslie Dixon (OverboardLoverboy, the 2007 Hairspray) and directed by Mark Walters (who worked with Dixon again on Just Like Heaven; he also directed Mean GirlsGhosts of Girlfriends Past, the gender-swapped He’s All That and Mr. Popper’s Penguins), this take on the story retains the single mother idea from the 1995 TV movie and has Mark Harmon play Ryan, the potential new father in Anna’s life.

Lohan’s character was originally written as a goth girl and she didn’t think anyone would relate to that, so she showed up dressed like a preppie. Somehow, she was convinced to play a grunge girl instead. I mean, she has a band called Pink Slip and plays guitar instead of water skiing or driving.

The McGuffin that drives this film is a pair of fortune cookies mixed with an earthquake switches bodies for Anna and Tess, which leads to Anna lecturing teachers and Tess being more loud and wild.

As for the casting, it really works. The original idea was for Jodie Foster to play Tess, but she didn’t like the stunt casting. Then, Annette Bening and Kelly Osbourne were going to be the leads — with Tom Selleck as Ryan — but Bening dropped out and Osbourne’s mother got cancer.

Probably the only downside is that this movie falls back on that Hollywood cliche of Asian people being able to magically change lives.

Is it weird that I know that the band Orgy taught Jamie Lee how to play guitar? Why do I have these facts inside my head? And how weird is it to hear “Flight Test” by the Flaming Lips in a Disney movie? Or Joey Ramone covering “What A Wonderful World?”

Freaky Friday (2018): It’s wild that Steve Carr made Next Friday and a Freaky Friday sequel. And this time, I had no idea I was getting into a musical. Cozi Zuehlsdorff from the Dolphin Tale movies is Ellie Blake and her mother Katherine is played by Heidi Blickenstaff, who played the role on stage. Seriously, this is a full-blown bing singing musical and also a version of the story that leans in on Ellie being a total slob with a filthy room, a girl who always wears the same clothes every day and who would totally be the kind of arty disaffected young girl who I’d be too shy to talk to and leave mixtapes in her locker. Or maybe text her Spotify links now, I guess, right?

A magical hourglass — given to Ellie by her late father, a Freaky Friday story beat retained from the last few versions — is the storytelling device that switches the daughter and mother. There’s also a scavenger hunt that an entire school is absolutely obsessed by, making this also an updating of Midnight Madness.

This was the first Disney movie made from one of their stage plays and it didn’t get great ratings. It’s fine — obviously there are a ton of different versions of Freaky Friday for you to watch. I’d place it slightly ahead of the Shelley Long version, but way behind everything else.

Freaky (2020): By all rights, I should hate this movie, a semi-remake of Freaky Friday that instead subverts the source material by turning it into a slasher. But you know, it ended up hitting me the right way and I was behind it pretty much all the way.

Directed by Christopher Beau Landon — yes, the son of Michael — who wrote Disturbia — that’s not even a word — and several of the Paranormal Activitymovies before directing the Happy Death Day films. If you liked those, well, this will definitely give you more of what those movies offered, this is set in the same universe — Landon said that, “They definitely share the same DNA and there’s a good chance Millie and Tree will bump into each other someday” — and was originally titled Freaky Friday the 13th.

Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton, Big Little Lies) is a teenager who has been tormented by bullies, both of the teenager and teacher* varieties. Meanwhile, the urban legend of the Blissfield Butcher continues, as he keeps killing her classmates. Now that he possesses a McGuffin called La Dola — an ancient Mayan sacrificial dagger — he looks to gain even more power. But when he runs into our heroine — her mother (Katie Finneran, who is great in this) has left her behind at a football game where all she gets to do is wear a beaver mascot costume — she battles the Butcher and when he stabs her, they end up switching bodies.

So yeah — this turns into a body swap comedy and you’d think, after the gory as hell open, this is where they lose you. But no — if anything, this gets way more fun.

Millie’s friends make for some of the best scenes in the film. Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) have been with her through the worst parts of high school, so having their best friend in the body of a killing machine is just another trial to be endured.

Speaking of that killer, Vince Vaughn shines in this. There’s plenty of silly physical comedy, but also some really nice scenes like when he admits to the love interest that she left the note he treasures (body swap pronouns are a little hard) or when he has a moment with her mother while hiding in a changing room.

Landon — who wrote the movie along with Michael Kennedy — said that the film was influenced by the Scream series, along with Cherry FallsFright NightJennifer’s BodyThe Blob and Urban Legend. There’s also a fair bit of Halloween in here, particularly the opening series of murders, and references to Heathers, Child’s Play, Creepshow, Galaxy Quest, Carrie, The Faculty, The Craft and Supernatural. There’s also a bottle down the throat kill that came directly from the 2009 slasher remake Sorority Row.

I had fun with this. Here’s hoping you do the same.

*The funny thing is that the teacher that is the worst to her is Alan Ruck, who knows a thing about bring bullied, what with playing Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.