The Card Player (2004)

Look, I’ll come clean. I’ve outright written off Argento’s post-Opera work without putting the work in, but that’s because the films I have seen have upset me so greatly — and in no way a good way — that it felt like putting in the work to watch another one after Sleepless felt like, well, work.

This was originally going to be a sequel to The Stendhal Syndrome and titled In the Dark, but everything changed when Asia Argento declined to be involved.

The biggest issue is that the story is intriguing but as you wait for the visuals, nothing much happens. If this were any other director, I’d be fine with this movie. But with Argento, perhaps unfairly, I want more. I want bullets tearing through keyholes and eyeballs, bodies crashing through windows, menacing forests and colors that burn their way into my ventral occipital lobe. Instead, this looks no better than a TV procedural.

The Card Player is a masked and black gloved killer who kidnaps women in Rome, then challenges the police to play internet poker with him for their lives. If the police lose, they get to watch someone get tortured and killed Red Room-style online.

There’s a great close with a train bearing down on the killer and a victim who play poker right up to the end. Sure, the effect that follows is poor, but getting there isn’t horrible.

What is bad is that this entire movie is based around watching people play video poker. While we can argue whether or not Argento was inventing Twitch, the fact is that 1972 Dario would shoot a poker game like cards were flying at us filled with mystery and menace. Instead, we simply watch cards slowly get dealt out.

Man, Dario. I really want to see you do something great. And I get it. You already did. Maybe I should take it easier on you. But we always want more from the ones we love.

Taking Lives (2004)

While not perfectly a fit into the giallo, Taking Lives does have a heroine who gets involved with the killer, a Phillip Glass score and the changing identity of the killer having a central part of the story.

D.J. Caruso has some interesting films like Disturbia and The Salton Sea to his credit — we’ll ignore I Am Number Four and XXX: Return of Xander Cage — and this time, he’s telling the story of Martin Asher, a serial killer who assumes the identity of life of each victim he kills.

FBI Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) has traveled to Montreal to get treated poorly by male cops and help solve the case. She soon discovers that Martin felt unloved and in the shadow of a twin brother, whose death pushed him into madness. In the childhood home of the killer, she finds a passageway that reveals Martin’s special room, a place in which she’s attacked by someone who runs before she can catch him. Her only lead comes from art dealer James Costa (Ethan Hawke), who was a witness to Asher’s last murder. And, as these things happen, the two engage in naked investigative action while surrounded by murder photos and James bleeding everywhere from stitches he needed after his latest run-in with Asher.

It’s not all that simple, of course.

Wait — where’s Kiefer Sutherland? Well, he has around three minutes of screen time in this. He still got billed third, so the real star of this movie is his agent.

Taking Lives is fine for an American thriller. The ending has some nice twists and Gena Rowlands is great in her small role. For a movie with four writers (there was a lot of script doctoring), you may expect a bit more, though.

Tomb of Terror (2004)

Sure, we have a Full Moon Week coming up, but there are definitely two different ideas behind what the studio is. Are they the America Filmirage, making low budget horror that looks decent and is way better than the money spent would suggest? Or are they the studio that knocks out inferior sequel after sequel, direct to streaming digital video junk and endless repacks of the same movie?

They can be both!

“Ascent from Hell” is really 1994’s Dark Angel: The Ascent, in which Veronica Iscariot (Angela Featherstone, Linda from The Wedding Singer) gets sick of tormenting sinners in Hell and decides to punish the wicked on Earth. But hey — she falls in love with a doctor named Max Barris who tends to her injuries. This was directed by Linda Hassani, whose last movie was Bunker of Blood: Chapter 5: Psycho Sideshow: Demon Freaks.

“Infinite Evil” may be familiar as the Full Moon adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear. That 1994 released was written and directed by C. Courtney Joyner, who directed Trancers III and wrote From a Whisper to a ScreamDoctor MordridClass of 1999Prison and Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood. It’s all about Leffert’s Corners, a place that has been plagued by unearthly beings for decades. It’s basically abandoned except for a few hearty souls like a priest and now John Martense, who is in town to put his family’s estate in order. We all know what happens to people who come to claim inheritances in horror movies. Jon Finch, who was also in Frenzy and Murder on the Nile, clashed with the director and refused to even listen to him say cut. Ironically, the worries that David Hemmings would do the same led to Finch being cast.

“Evil Never Dies” is re-cut from 1998’s Talisman, in Theriel the Black Angel is summoned from his resting place to usher in the end of the world by killing seven different people. He decides that two teens will help him, but they just may save us all. This is yet another of the many, many David DeCoteau films that I have been lured into watching. His goal was a “male version of Suspiria.” I leave it up to you to decide if he was successful, but I don’t remember the scene in Argento’s film where dudes in their tighty whities made one another do push-ups and watched from bunk beds.

I really should make a list of good Full Moon versus bad Full Moon, but who can say which is which? In the case of remixed ones like this, it gets even harder. But just imagine: how can you take a 90-minute movie, jam it into 30 and then hope to have any narrative sense? And they didn’t just do this once. They do it all the time, like some content engine that does not care at all about quality.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Horrific (2004)

This is less an anthology film than an attempt to take old Full Moon movies, edit them down and make them into a whole new movie. If you’ve added the same Full Moon movie to your collection because of repackaging, congratulations! You’re one of us!

2000’s Prison of the Dead has been edited down to become “Crypt of the Undead.” This David DeCoteau-directed story, an eccentric rich guy tricks his friends into a reunion by pretending that he’s dead. Somehow, this leads to some undead executioners killing everyone after the adults playing teens play Ouija in an abandoned witches’ prison.

1999’s The Killer Eye is now “Terror of Vision.” Another David DeCoteau movie, this one even had a sequel Killer Eye: Halloween Haunt. To add a bit of spice, this movie is bold enough to recycle the Linnea Quigley shower scene of Creepazoids in the laziest possible manner: it’s playing on the TV in a scene. The main idea of this story is that a doctor is experimenting on male prostitutes by giving them eyedrops that allow them to see the reality beyond death and then he’s shocked when tentacles emerge out of their eyes. There’s also a giant eyeball that enjoys impregnating women, which is a fetish that I’m cynically — and sadly — sure that someone gets all hot under the glasses about*.

1999’s Totem has become “Master of Death.” Guess who directed it**? Six people are trapped in a cabin — they have been brought their by means they don’t understand other than it was an obsession — and three of them will kill the other three by the words of a prophecy. For some reason, DeCoteau was embarrassed by this. He was allowed to direct Voodoo Academy if he directed this film first.

Somehow, even cut down by a third, these movies still seem way too long. I have a weakness for movies where giant eyeballs attack people, so the second story at least held my interest.

*The Japanese invented oculolinctus for us — also called worming — which involves erotically licking your lover’s eyeball. This has led to pinkeye outbreaks.

**If more men are shirtless than women, David is behind the camera. Hey, I’m all for a little more fairness when it comes to onscreen flesh.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Halloweentown High (2004)

Another Halloweentown, another jump two years into the future. Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) prepares for a new school year as she works to build the relationship between the world of magic and our normal dimension. To do so, she proposes bringing a group of Halloweentown students to her mortal high school. The big worry? There have been signs of the Knights of the Iron Dagger, a fanatical order that wants to destroy all things magic.

However, the Halloweentown High Council agrees to the plan after Marniebets all the Cromwell magic that her plan will work. If she can’t show why this was a good idea by Halloween, her entire family will lose their magical abilities. Luckily, she has the support of her grandmother Aggie (Debbie Reynolds).

It turns out that there are both humans and magical beings that don’t want our worlds to cohabitate. Things were better when they were status quo, which Marnie and her family are rallying against. These are big things to consider within the context of a Disney Channel movie, but here we are.

Mark A.Z. Dippé worked on the special effects for The Abyss and Terminator 2 before becoming a director. He’s made plenty of straight to video Garfield movies, but is best known for directing Spawn.

Disney live action fans will either be pleased — or dismayed as it’s a modern remix — to hear “Let’s Get Together” from The Parent Trap in this movie.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Mondo Cannibal (2004)

If there’s something that all cannibal movies seem to have in common — beyond scenes where white people mistreat the native populace, real animal atrocities and copious levels of gore — it’s the idea that mass media is the root of most of the modern world’s issues. Italian exploitation filmmakers were several decades ahead of the mistrust of what many would call fake news today and their human beings devouring human beings offerings often placed documentary filmmakers or network television reporters as the reason why all of this chaos is taking place. The natives were just fine doing their rituals and eating random folks in the jungle. The white people bring cocaine and their modern perversions into the unspoiled green inferno, ruining everything.

Somehow, 24 years after Cannibal Holocaust, a 73-year-old Bruno Mattei — using his Vincent Dawn alter ego — would find himself in the jungle trying to bring back the sick feeling you get in your stomach when mass media goes to places that they should have known better to avoid.

Grace Forsyte (Helena Wagner in the only role of her career) was once a big deal in the world of television journalism, but the fickle whims of fate have cast her into the pile of the also-rans. She decides to reverse her fortunes by heading into the belly of the beast and capturing Amazon cannibals on video along with another once-famous telejournalist named Bob Manson (Claudio Morales, who was also in Mattei’s A Shudder on the Skin and Orient Escape).

The footage that they send back gets big ratings and makes them both stars again, but the TV news industry runs on blood, so they’re forced to get increasingly violent and horrifying images to continue getting those big numbers.

Look, this movie is also called Cannibal Holocaust: The Beginning and Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Beginning, so Mattei wasn’t even trying to hide what he was trying to do here. It’s a shot on digital video cover version of that film, along with a hilarious subtitle typo (some mouths later instead of some months) and a lot less real animal violence.

This was shot at the same time as In the Land of the Cannibals with much of the same crew. Is that one any better? Look for the review soon.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: In the Land of the Cannibals (2004)

Bruno Mattei uses the name Martin Miller here, but come on. The moment we see that this movie is pretty much Cannibal Holocaust with soldiers, we know who is behind this movie. To make sure that we’re completely certain that Bruno is in directing, the fact that footage from Predator is completely stolen and placed within this film is a neon sign saying, “Sam watch this.”

You have to give Bruno credit for naming one soldier Romero and another Vasquez. It’s as if he’s saying, “Guys, I can’t help it. I just like to see how much stealing I can get away with.”

So yeah. These commandos go into the jungle to rescue a senator’s daughter, but she’s gone native and is now part of the tribe. This would be why this movie is also known as Cannibal Holocaust 3: Cannibals vs Commandos.

Shot at the same time as Mondo Cannibal, this may not be as good as that film, but it has refreshingly little real animal violence. Yes, I can watch all manner of people be masticated upon, but cut one turtles head off and I get squeamish.

Shaolin vs. Evil Dead (2004)

Man, if the Italians found out about this movie*, it would have been a La Casa film for sure. As it is, it references Evil Dead while ripping off the look of the Mr. Vampire films while placing Gordon Liu into a battle between the shaolin monks and the living dead.

Mr. Liu was already a major star before Tarantino tapped him to appear in the Kill Bill films in two roles (Johnny Mo, the leader of the Crazy 88s and Master Pai Mei). His first break happened when he played San “Iron Arms” Te in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Sadly, the star had a stroke that gave him a speaking slut and confined him to a wheelchair in 2011. It’s a pretty rough story about his second wife’s family taking much of his money, but luckily today he has entrusted his estate to his friend, actress Amy Fan.

Here, he’s Pak, also known as Brother White, teaming with Siu-Wong Fan (who was, of course, the title character in Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki) as Hak, or Brother Black. They’re up against a vampire king and evil Yat. You know, most of the reviews I’ve read of this hated it, but it has a child eating a magical egg and pooping out a magical shaving cream-covered full-sized kid who keeps calling the other little boy his mommy. Also, it just ends because they wanted to set up a sequel that took three more years to come out.

*It was released as Evil Dead 4 in Pakistan.

You can watch this on YouTube.

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Back on March 30, 2020, we covered a whole bunch of giant monster movies in preparation for Godzilla vs. Kong. Then COVID showed up. Luckily, we can recycle that work and bring it back to celebrate this monster mash finally coming out!

Huh? What, pray tell, does the 29th film in the Godzilla franchise and the sixth and final film in the franchise’s Millennium period, as well as the 28th Godzilla film produced by Toho Studios overall, have to do with Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s fifth album, 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery?

Please, don’t say “who” when I say, “Keith Emerson,” ye youthful movie and music fan. Here’s a link to the full soundtrack, also embedded below.

As result of today’s classic rock FM radio eliminating the ELP catalog from their playlists (come on, even “Lucky Man”?), all you horror hounds most likely know Emerson through his Italian giallo soundtrack work for Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980), Lucio Fulci’s Murder Rock (1984), and Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989). In addition to Sylvester Stallone’s Nighthawks (1981), Emerson also composed the soundtrack for Toho Studios’ Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)—which serves as his final work as a film composer.

And that musician analogy continues as director Ryuhei Kitamura (Clive Barker’s 2008 The Midnight Meat Train starring Bradley Cooper; 2012’s No One Lives) compares his contribution to the Godzilla cycle to that of a musician’s “best of” album; Kitamura picked what he felt were the best elements from the past Godzilla movies that he loved. He chose that approach as result of his being unsatisfied with the Godzilla films of the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s and he wanted to bring back the messages and themes of the times those films reflected in their plots.

And “greatest hits” he gave us . . . and then some!

In addition to the big guy, Kitamura brought back Angurius, Ebriah, Gigan, Hedorah, Kamacuras, King Ceasar, Kumonga, Manda, Minilla, Monster X/Keizer Ghidorah, and Mothra—along with a slew of other monsters via stock footage and toy placements throughout the film. And the alien Shobijin twins—from 1961’s Mothra—and the Xiliens—from 1965’s Invasion of the Astro-Monster—are back. Then there are the ships! Yeeeessss! The Gotengo from 1963’s Atragon (and 1977’s War in Space) is back—along with the all-new kaiju-battling weapons: the Earth Defense Force’s Éclair, the Karya, and the Rumbling. Then there are the new, reversed winged Dogfighter jets, and the good ‘ol Heisei and Millennium-era Type 90 Tanks and Type 90 Maser Cannons are back.

Mada watashi no kokorodearu: I am in Kaiju Tengoku.

So film 29 picks up where the initial attack on Tokyo in 1964’s Godzilla left off: the green guy trapped under the Antarctic ice after losing the fight against the original Gotengo battleship. As the years pass, the Earth’s environmental changes (yes, the “message” is back) results in the mutations of more giant monsters and superhumans, aka “the mutants,” the genetic offspring of humans and the Xiliens.

One of those returning classic monsters, the Manda, from 1963’s Atragon (aka, Destroy All Monsters in the U.S.), goes up against the Gotengo once again, and the drilling battleship, piloted by Captain Doug Gordon (MMA and UFC, and New Japan Pro-Wresting champion Donald Frye!?)—loses the battle and Gordon is stripped of his command.

Helping in the battle are the mutant solider Shinichi Ozaki (Japanese musician Masahiro Matsuoka of top-selling pop-rockers Tokio), who protects U.N biologist Dr. Miyuki Otonashi (Rei Kikukawa, the lead in the awesome action flick, Crazy Gun: 2 Beyond the Law; You Tube clip), as she studies a mummified monster.

And a deus ex machina teleportation device zaps them to Mothra’s planet and the Shobijin twins warn of a coming battle of good and evil. Then the Haisetsu-mono wa fan ni atarimasu and all manner of monsters and aliens attack.

I’m on Kitamura’s side: I’m an Old Milwaukee or Miller Beer guy; get away from me with that fancy imported swill. I want the Godzilla monsters of my youth and not so much the ones from the ‘80s or ‘90s.

So, Keith Emerson brought me here . . . but Ryuhei Kitamura made me stay to see the show. It’s a sushi-splashing kitchen sink of craziness that rivals the hard to beat insanity that was the pseudo Planet of the Apes romps Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)—my favorites of the franchise (Kitamara cites the first as his favorite of the franchise as well)—that I watched in the darkened duplex all those years ago. The kaiju special effects—all shot in-camera with no CGI assists—combined with the present-day Mission: Impossible and The Matrix-inspired live action sequences, only enhances the film’s awesome retro-throw back qualities . . . and you get a ripping Sum 41 tune, “We’re All to Blame,” too?

Wow! What a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Godzilla franchise!

You can stream the film—and watch the official trailer—on Amazon, Vudu, and You Tube. And, yes! Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train and No One Lives are both streaming for free on TubiTv.

Looks like a Kitamura marathon night! Life does not suck.

Hey! Don’t stomp off yet, green guy!

If you jump on Netflix, you can check out the Reiwa-era trio of the latest animated Godzilla flicks: 2017’s Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, and 2018’s Godzilla: The Planet Eater and Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle. The first Reiwa-era film, 2016’s live action Shin Godzilla, is available on Amazon Prime and Vudu.

Of course, the whole reason for our March 2020 “Kaiju Week” blowout was to celebrate the release of Warner Bros. Studio’s Godzilla vs. Kong that, if you’re nuts for the green guy and keeping track, is the fourth film in Legendary Studio’s (the studio made their debut with 2005’s Batman Begins and 2006’s Superman Returns) “MonsterVerse” and serves as a sequel to Hollywood’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Kong: Skull Island (2017).

Of course, we finally “kaiju’d” COVID! And that’s why were are here today with this crazy one-day, “Kaiju Marathon” blowout: To celebrate the release of Godzilla vs. Kong — finally — in theaters on March 25, 2020.

Hey, wait! Do you need a little more Godzilla in your Kong?

Then check out our “Kaiju Week” reviews from last March 2020 with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), which also ran as a two-fer review from our January 2020 “Ape Week” blow out to celebrate Disney green-lighting their entry in the Planet of the Apes saga.

Screw you, COVID! We win!

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Here’s some of the other Kaijus (and sort of Kaiju) that we’ve reviewed. For the rest that we’ve recently reviewed to commemorate the March 2021 release of Godzilla vs. Kong, enter “Kaiju Day Marathon” in our search box to the left to populate that list of films (you may see a few reposted Godzilla reviews, but many new film reviews concerning Godzilla, Kong, and other creatures from the Lands of the Rising Sun).

Gamera vs. Barugon
Gamera vs. Gyaos
Gamera: Guaridan of the Universe
Gamera vs. Guiron
Gamera vs. Jiger
Gamera 2: Legion
Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris
Gamera Super Monster
Gamera vs. Viras
Gamera vs. Zigra

Godzilla: Final Wars
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
Terror of Mechagodzilla

Bakko Yokaiden Kibakichi
The Beast of Hollow Mountain
Daikaiju Mono
Gakidama: The Demon Within
Gappa: The Triphibian Monster
The Iron Superman
The Great Gila Monster
King Dinosaur
Orochi, the Eight-Headed Dragon
Planet of Dinosaurs
War of the Gargantuas
Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters
Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts
Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare

King Kong Escapes
King Kung Fu
Queen Kong

Torque (2004)

We gleaned over this biker flick as part of our “Exploring: The Clones of the Fast & the Furious” featurette during our first “Fast & Furious Week” back in August. And since John Doe shows up as tough-ass sheriff, we decided to bring it back with a review proper for our “John Doe Week.”

That’s right. If you have a hankering for a movie that stars one of the guys from N.W.A and one of the guys from the Los Angeles punk band X — then this is your movie.

That’s not your rods n’ cones, that’s the copy. The guys who made the Fast and the Furious, XXX, and S.W.A.T made this.

Now, if this Ice Cube-fronted two-wheeler sounds a lot like the Laurence Fishburne-fronted Biker Boyz, you’re probably right, as both films went into production at the same time. But the better known Ice Cube John Doe one was concocted by the production team of the Fast & Furious franchise. And Dreamworks wanted some of that Warners Bros. F&F stank on the screen, so they came up with their quickie mockbuster knockoff, got it?

So, is this The Fast and the Furious . . . only on motorcycles? Well, do you see any Torque sequels on your streaming service? No, you don’t. And that’s what happens when you get a $45 million box-office return on your $40 million investment: for Torque is one of those films where its performances, writing, and direction are slagged across the board . . . but everyone praises the stunts — so much so that it was nominated for several Taurus Awards.

Taking its cues from those juvenile delinquency films of the ‘50s and ’60s, the Sharks and the Jets the Hellions and the Reapers are illegal street racing-cum-biker gangs that compete on the two-lane blacktop and in the crystal meth business. And one of those members of makes the mistake of returning from Thailand to set things straight with his estranged girlfriend. Is any one woman worth it? Apparently so: for when she’s kidnapped for leverage, her ransom is the delivery of two bikes filled with crystal meth because, well, illegal racers always deal meth to finance their bike builds. Complicating problems is yet another gang member who wants our on-the-run biker wusspud from Thailand for the murder of his brother.

Damn right our favorite punk bassist steals his scene/courtesy of

Along the way, Joe Doe shows up as the bad ass Sheriff Barner. Oh, and the always badass Dave Wyndorf and Monster Magnet appear in a club scene to perform “Monster of Light” from their sixth album Monolithic Baby! (2004) — which did nothing to place the song on Top 40 Active Rock charts. So, we’ll give Torque bonus points, not only for quenching our John Doe jonesin’, but for giving Wyndorf a line and letting him kick a little ass, and for ripping off George Romero’s Knightriders with a sword-jousting scene that inspired us to watch Knightriders, again.

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