Amer (2009)

You know, the films of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani kind of frustrate me. I want to love The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears and Let the Corpses Tan, but they felt like they were at times more concerned with their own style, particularly the former. But man, I must have been in the right mood because Amer worked just fine.

We follow the life of Ana, whose life-long search for carnal pleasures is also haunted by the specter of death itself, symbolized as a black lace hand that holds her screams inside her body. There are three different stories and three different versions of our heroine as she grows from a frightened child into, well, a frightened woman played by three actresses: Cassandra Foret, Charlotte Guibeaud and Marie Bos.

The Variety review of this claimed that this film has “virtually no plot to speak of, and repeated use of shock zooms, jump cuts, monochrome filters and hissing sounds.” So, basically a giallo, right?

The soundtrack shines, as all manner of 70s Italian murder ballads play, including songs from The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (Bruno Nicolai), What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (Stelvio Cipriani), Black Belly of the Tarantula (Morricone), Killer Cop (Cipriani), The Great Kidnapping (Cipriani) and Adriano Celentano’s “Furore,” which played over the opening titles of Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, which totally fits into this film.

Sadly, we won’t ever live in the glory days from 1970 to 1975, when films like this were playing. But we can dream, can’t we?

Skull Heads (2009)

Written, produced and directed by Charles Band — I mean, it has small puppet-like killers and how can we even keep track of the demonic toys, devil dolls, worry dolls and skull heads at this point; also why was this not called Skull Headz and part of Full Moon’s urban films? — this movie starts by having Naomi Arkoff gettingis tortured on a rack for having a cell phone. Obviously, the Arkoff family is non-traditional and they also live in a castle in Italy, which would be the other Charles Band leitmotif.

Those little tiny Skull Heads protect the Arkoff family. Originally, the Romans buried the dead in catacombs and built the home that they live in to guard against grave robbers. And the little guys were created by witchcraft to keep people from messing with the dead.

Can you guess that the Hollywood producers who come to film the castle really want to steal what’s inside the tomb? Also, you may not realize it, but you’re going to watch a family drama that goes on for nearly an hour before the occult comes in, which is…well, it’s exactly the kind of movie I expect from this studio.

Beyond finding this movie under another title — Devious — this also shows up in a cut-down remix within Full Moon’s The Haunted Dollhouse. It may actually be better in this short format because it cuts out all the real people and gets us to what we really want: Skull Heads.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

You know, I purposely didn’t watch this movie because it was rated PG-13.

I’m a moron.

Co-written (with his brother Ivan) and directed by Sam Raimi, this is the kind of delirious rollercoaster kind of movie that I love.

Loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) wants a promotion but has to show that she can make tough decisions. When an elderly woman asks for the third extension on her mortgage, Christine says no. The woman begs her on her hands and knees for mercy and Christine calls security on her.

Later, as Christine walks to her car, the woman attacks her and places a curse on one of her buttons. That night, her nose begins to bleed after a fortune teller says that a dark force is after her in the form of the demon Lamia. In three days, Christine will be dragged to hell unless the old woman forgives her. However, that seems impossible, because she’s dead.

Maybe a sacrifice will help. At least that’s what the fortune teller explains to our heroine, who goes home and kills her cat. Well, the only thing that does is make me hate our lead. Then there’s the attempt to place the demon into a goat and that goes about as well as you can expect Finally, they learn that she can pass the curse off to someone else, even someone dead, so she digs up the old women and shoves the button into the woman’s dead body.

Of course, it’s a horror movie, so it’s not over. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I loved the ending. Actually, I liked the whole movie, even if the effects dated a little sooner than the filmmakers planned. Any movie that takes inspiration from Night of the Demon is going to be just fine with me.

Deadtime Stories (2009 and 2011)

I characterize George Romero’s post-Creepshow output the same way that I do Lucio Fulci’s post Manhattan Baby output, except that, you know, I actually like some of what Fulci did. His films feel like a man struggling for relevance, falling back on outdated tropes and the same old, same old one more time.

But man, as rough as Fulci’s life got, he never started a middling anthology film off with absolutely dreadful dialogue like “Now I lay me down to rest, but there’s a goblin upon my chest. He’s grey and ugly and very gory and he wants to tell me a deadtime story.”

For shame.

The first film has three stories:

  • Valley of the Shadow, in which a woman takes people into the jungle on a cursed trip to find her missing husband)
  • Wet, the story of digging up a mermaid
  • Housecall, which has a doctor visit a boy who claims to be a vampire.

At least Tom Savini directed the last story and tried. The rest of this, put together by Michael Fischa (My Mom’s A Werewolf) and Jeff Monhahan, who appeared in Romero’s films Two Evil Eyes and Bruiser, made me question just how bad movies can be and I just spent a week watching every Bruno Mattei film I could get my hands on.

The second film finds Fischa and Monahan returning to direct a segment each, with Matt Walsh directing another.

Sadly, it’s no better:

  • The Gorge is about three friends whose hiking trip ends in an avalanche and cannibalism.
  • On Sabbath Hill is the closest the film gets to something unique with a tale of a professor’s dead girlfriend coming back to haunt him.
  • Dust has a doctor discovering that Mars dust can cute cancer and the security guard who steals his breakthrough.

I really hope that Romero at least got some money for these films, because I see no reason that he should be involved in these pictures. I struggled to get through these. Don’t make the same error that I did.

Tubi has Deadtime Stories: Volume 1 and Deadtime Stories: Volume 2 streaming for free, just in case you don’t believe me.

Rocaterrania (2009)

Renaldo Kuhler was a scientific illustrator who invented an imaginary country to survive his childhood and kept his country alive throughout his entire life. He drew every single person in this country, knew their songs and is able to tell you the history and geography of this country, which of course does not exist.

The methodically detailed maps of the imaginary country and tales of the politics and upheavals of this small country are as rich in the mind of Kuhler as if they are real life. Brett Ingram is an amazing filmmaker, as he was able to somehow turn this into a movie that makes sense.

I’ve been recommending this movie to everyone, because it completely blows my mind that this country lived and breathed. I wonder if, like Gardner Fox’s theory, that this place is real and that Kuhler was a receiver of all this data.

This movie has my highest recommendation. Track it down if you can.

Kyûketsu Shôjo tai Shôjo Furanken (2009)

Monami is a transfer student with a secret and a burning need for Mizushima. As Japanese women share chocolate to show their love, a piece of the candy with her blood in it has brought him into her world of vampires, while his jilted girlfriend Keiko pays the price by accidentally dying, then coming back as an undead creature still in love with him.

That description is a poor — and oh so quick way — to explain to you the insanity that this movie has within it. Starting with a knife battle between zombies and our heroes and expanding to include a Kabuki mad scientist who works alongside the school nurse — who has eyeballs embedded in her breasts — who creates the Frankenstein Girl; Japanese girl cultures like Lolitas and Ganguro; a wrist-cutting competition; and finally the Tokyo Tower being used to create a near-indestructible creature seeking revenge.

Yoshihiro Nishimura, who directed Tokyo Gore Police, and Naoyuki Tomomatsu, who made the Lust of the Dead series, combined efforts to make this film, based on a manga (where the title characters never met).

Also — on the subject of Ganguro, it was a “fashion trend among young Japanese women that started in the mid-1990s, distinguished by a dark tan and contrasting make-up liberally applied by fashionistas.” The first tour I went to Japan, I was shocked to see so many young girls basically wearing blackface. Then again, it is also influenced by kabuki and noh dress, as well as the yamanba mountain witch. It’s a really strange look and while this movie takes things way further than they are in reality in so many ways, the look of the girls in this is actually pretty close to the trends that it’s parodying.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Drive-In Friday: Dennis Devine Night

We’ve already taken a look at Double D’s best-promoted and best-known film — via the back of pulpy, ’80s monster mags — Dead Girls, and his latest, 30th film, Camp Blood 8 — each part of our respective “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week II” and our October “All Slasher Month” tributes. And, the best part, Dennis is a D-Town brother: yep, the land of Jim Morrison’s doppelganger from 1974, that wizard of “the D,” The Phantom of the Divine Comedy fame (no pun intended). Devine was born and raised in Detroit and graduated from Eastern Michigan University before heading to Los Angeles, graduating from Loyola Marymount University’s film school, and forming DJD Productions.

So, for this Drive-In Friday, lets load the projector with four more of Dennis Devine films. And not all of them are the horror films you expect them to be.

Movie 1: Fatal Images (1989)

Next to Dear Girls, this debut feature — produced for $10,000 and shot-on-Beta with Dead Girls’ Steve Jarvis — is my favorite of the Devine canons and the Cinematrix imprint.

Starring Kay Schaber, Angela Eads, and Brian Chin from the later Dead Girls, they’re three of several people victimized by a Satanist-worshipping photographer-cum-serial killer who — instead of sealing his body in a doll, ala Chucky in Child’s Play (1988; 2019), Devine’s writing cohort, Mike Bowler (Hell Spa, Things, Things II, Club Dead, Amazon Warrior, Chain of Souls, Haunted), who spins an inventive change-up to the spiritual hocus pocus — commits suicide before the police can catch him, and seals his body inside a camera.

Years later, Amy Stuart (Lane Coyle who, in typical Devine fashion, never appeared in another film), an aspiring photographer who works for the town’s newspaper, purchases the vintage camera from a pawn shop staffed with a creepy, ulterior motive shopkeep — and everyone she photographs is tracked down and murdered by the killer’s spirit.

What helps this along is the effects that come courtesy of the iconic Gabe Bartalos, who worked on Dead Girls, as well as Frankenhooker, Spookies, Brain Damage, and the Fright Night, Basket Case, Leprechaun, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Gremlins and Watchers series. And don’t forget: Gabe’s in the directing business with Skinned Deep (2004) and Saint Bernard (2013).

You can watch Fatal Images as a free stream on You Tube. Do you need a more expansive, second look? Then check out Sam’s review of Fatal Images. It’s true! We love this film and Mr. Devine.

Movie 2: Things (1993)

“A horrific and sexy romp in the dark.”
— Joe Bob Briggs

Now, if that tag from the guru of Drive-In fodder on the VHS “big-box” doesn’t make you want to mail order this third effort from Dennis Devine, then nothing will. And yes . . . multiple titles alert . . . here are two movies carrying the “Things” title: the first is the infamous Canuxploitation-North of the Border Horror, Things (1989). And the three sequels from 1998 and 2017 to Devine’s film have nothing to do with the Canux one — or with each other — for that matter.

This “Things” is an anthology-portmanteau film in three parts: “The Box” directed and written by Devine,” “Thing in a Jar” written by Steve Jarvis and directed by Jay Woelfel, and the wrap-around/linking segment written by Mike Bowler and directed by Eugene James. All are film school friends and DJD cohorts, natch.

The segments come together as a woman kidnaps her husband’s mistress and tells the mistress two horror stories involving “evil things” — that’s all converged in a related, twist ending. And unlike the classic Amicus and Hammer omnibus flicks it homages, Things dispenses with the atmospheric-gothic angle of its Brit forefathers and goes straight for — the bountiful — guts n’ gore. The first tale concerns hookers who meet their fate to a cursed creature kept in a box; the second is about a woman haunted by is-it-real-or-nightmares “things” concerning her abusive husband.

You can watch Things on TubiTV. There’s no online copies of 2 or 3 (aka Deadly Tales, aka, Old Things) currently streaming online, but you can watch Things 4 on TubiTV. And again, DO NOT confuse this with the “North of the Border Horror” Things from 1989 . . . as that is a whole other “thing” to watch.

INTERMISSION: Short Film Time!

The Things about Things Sidebar: Battlestar Galactica fans know Jay Woelfel as the director of Richard Hatch’s failed 1999 BSG theatrical reboot with the short “pitch film” Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming that Universal rejected in lieu of the eventual SyFy Channel series. You can watch Hatch and Woelfel’s vision on You Tube. As you’ll see the, concept of “evolved Cylons” and the new Raiders design for the series was pinched from this version — and the most popular characters and actors returned. Woelfel is still at it: he recently edited Art of the Dead (2019). We also reviewed his debut effort, Beyond Death’s Door, as part of our “Regional Horror Week.”

And back to the show . . .

Movie 3: Curse of Pirate Death (2006)

It’s more goofy, ne’er-do-well college kids of the Scooby Doo variety heading off — not into the Norwegian Slasher Wood (as in Camp Blood 8) — but the ocean, Pirate’s Point in particular, as they research the myth of a centuries old killer, Abraham LeVoy, aka Pirate Death. And if they find his legendary treasure along the way, all the better for Shaggy and the Mystery Machine gang.

You’ve got — even though some are cut-a-ways or off-camera (ugh, damn budget) — a high kill count and lots of zombie-ghost pirate fighting that reminds of the great Amando de Ossorio’s third entry in his “Blind Dead” series, The Ghost Galleon (1974; the one with the living corpses of the Satan-worshiping Knights Templar hunting for human victims trapped on a 16th century galleon), but it’s definitely not as good as a de Ossorio flick (and what film is). Yeah, this one’s suffering from its ultra-low-budget that lends to sketchy cinematography and strained acting in places, but this has the usual Devine heart n’ soul with a mix of dark humor and horror that lends to its fun, snappy pace. Bottom line: If you want to see porn-provocateur Ron Jeremy (Boondock Saints/Overnight; also of Devine’s Night of the Dead from 2012) get a (cut-a-way) sword in the gut, this is your movie. If you want to see girls dressed as a sexy cop and German Beer Wench (Get that Bud Light chick outta ‘ere, I want a St. Pauli Girl!) stranded on an island dispatched by a dead pirate with guacamole smeared on his face, this is you movie.

One of the few Devine movies available through the service, you can rental-stream Curse of Pirate Death for a $1.99 on Amazon Prime. The DVD has a director-actor commentary track, along with a making of, gag reel, and meet the cast vignettes. The Amazon Prime stream offers a clip sample and You Tube offers a trailer via the film’s distributor, Brain Damage Films.

Movie 4: Get the Girl (2009)

Dennis Devine makes the jump from the pulpy lands of back-of-a-monster magazine-mail order SOVs to the streaming world of Netflix in this pretty obvious Judd Apatow-influencer. It concerns a geek (Adam Salandra of Devine’s Don’t Look in the Cellar) who masters Guitar Master (aka a chintzy Guitar Hero knock-off) to impress a sexy-brainless co-worker, much to the chagrin of his dowdy, co-worker gal pal. Guess which girl he gets. (Yeah, I’d want to “get the girl” with the ponytail and eye glasses, too.)

You can watch Get the Girl as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTV. Other films in the Devine comedy canons include Kid Racer (2010; yep, go-carts), Dewitt & Maria (2010; a rom-com), Fat Planet (2013; aliens into food), and Baker & Dunn (2017; that also works as mystery thriller).

For you Devineites (Or is that Devineheads?) check out his TubiTV page to watch the horrors Don’t Look in the Cellar (2008), The Haunting of La Llorona (2019), and the comedy Fat Planet (2013).

We wanted to do Devine’s Vampires of Sorority Row (1999), Vampires on Sorority Row II (2000), and his campy-vamp comedy Vamps in the City (2010) for our recent “Vampire Week,” but were unable to locate online streaming copies for you to enjoy — free or otherwise. The same goes for the Reggie “Phantasm” Bannister-starring Sawblade (2010) for our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week II,” about an extreme-metal band a trapped-in-a-haunted house-for-a-video shoot tale (i.e., Blood Tracks and Monster Dog).

You need more Dennis Devine? Check out this Spotify podcast (that streams on all apps, and browser PCs and Laps) courtesy of Inside Movies Galore in promotion of Devine’s latest film, Camp Blood 8. You can also catch the podcast on streaming provider, Anchor.

From the Shameless Plugs Department: Yeah, I wrote a couple of books about the 1974 mystery of the ghost of Jim Morrison and the Phantom, with his Detroit-based band Walpurgis and Pendragon.

Is it Jim or just record company tomfoolery?

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

The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll (2009)

We briefly touched upon this feature film writing and directing debut by Scott D. Rosenbaum during our tribute week of reviews to the works of Mark L. Lester and his 2010 rock flick, Groupie.

The connection came courtesy of Tayrn Manning, who stars in this indie rock flick alongside the always awesome Peter Fonda (of Easy Rider; here, he is the wise ex-rocker, natch), along with Jason Ritter (the son of Three’s Company John, as the troubled rocker) and Lucas Haas (of Last Days, here as the intrepid journalist).

The inclusion of Fonda is no accident: This is a “road movie” where the legends of the “27 Club” meets Eddie and the Cruisers — only with a dramatic arc and production quality that rises it to the level of Almost Famous (based on the downfall of Humble Pie) and British-made Still Crazy (based on the ’80s Animals reunion) — in tale about a a gothic-rocker (with a heavy Cobain influence) whose sophomore album for his band The Lost Soulz flops; he returns to his hometown to make amends (i.e., suck up) with the incognito-music teacher responsible for writing the songs for the first album.

Lead actors Kevin Zegers (Damian Daalgard in TV’s Gossip Girl and Mel in AMC’s Fear of the Walking Dead) and Jason Ritter star and provide the vocals to the original songs “Turn Me On,” “Sweet Rock Candy,” “Without You,” and “Lonely Planet Boy.”  The soundtrack also features atmospheric songs by Nirvana, Aerosmith, Violent Femmes, and Jane’s Addiction. Both are stunning in their dual-duties.

The script displays Rosenbaum’s keen knowledge of the Grateful Dead: Lukas Haas portrays a rock journalist named “Clifton Hanger,” which was the name late Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Myland used when checking into hotels. Peter Fonda appears as road manager “August West,” which is a character in the Grateful Dead song, “Wharf Rat.”  Making his acting debut: blues great Pinetop Perkins.

You can also find this in the overseas marketplace under the title, Coda, which also serves as the title for the 2005 short film in which this is based. Sorry, no freebies on this one, kids. You can check it out as a VOD on Amazon Prime (where it pulls 4 to 5 stars and a 91% approval), Apple iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and You Tube Movies.

Great stuff. Watch it.

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

Saw VI (2009)

Yes, somehow I am on my sixth Saw movie in the same day. Seriously, people, I’ve made it through all The Howling films, The Twilight Saga and numerous Jess Franco movies, but nothing has tested my resolve quite like these movies.

Kevin Greutert made his debut directing this and would also made the next film, Saw 3D — yes, I understand that that would be the seventh film and not the third, but when you have more sequels in front of the name of your name than most studios release in a year, you don’t care about things like that.

Greutert will not be returning for Saw IX in 2020, the first time in the series that he’s not had any involvement in since the franchise began in 2004.

Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) has become Jigsaw and unlike his mentor, he has no compassion toward his victims. I mean, Jigsaw also cut off the feet and heads of his victims, but come on, he kind of loved them, right?

Of course, he has one more test for Hoffman, which ends up locking his head in a reverse bear trap, thanks to his wife Jill Tuck (Betsey Russell). Of course he escapes. How would we have Saw Whatever Number afterward? I fully realize Tobin Bell’s character died movies ago and he keeps showing up as well.

They gave this movie $11 million in budget and it turned out $68.2 million worldwide. It’s the same model studios have always used with genre films. They’re movies that they don’t like to talk about, but they provide the fuel that allows them to make the movies that they want the world to really know about.

That said, of all of these movies, I liked this one, as it puts Jigsaw against people who prey on their fellow humans, taking out a predatory insurance company. Where can they go after this? Well, we have two movies left this week — and of course, another Saw coming later this year — so we’ll find out.

The Final Destination (2009)

Written by Eric Bress (Final Destination 2) and directed by David R. Ellis (who also worked on that film, as well as Snakes On a Plane), this was both the best performing and worst-reviewed of all the Final Destination films. Instead of being called Final Destination 4, they were with a name that made it seem like it may not be a sequel, which it isn’t.

Eight years after the disasters of Flight 180, the Route 23 pileup and the Devil’s Flight, a group of teens are at the McKinley Speedway when one of them has a premonition. You may have a similar one if you’ve seen even one of these films.

This one adds 3D to the equation, which really would have made more sense in the third movie. Tony Todd’s absence in this movie really takes things down. At least the opening credits replaying all of the kills from the last three movies is pretty cool.

Like all of the films in the series, there are references to horror actors and directors. The first movie used Lon Chaney, George Waggner, Tod Browning, F.W. Murnau, Max Schreck, Val Lewton, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Don Siegel and Alfred Hitchcock. The second had names that paid tribute to Roger Corman, John Carpenter and Robert Dix. And in the third, Benjamin Christensen, Edgar G. Ulmer, Herschell Gordon Lewis, George A. Romero, Robert Wise, Karl Freund and Victor Halperin. Seeing as how they used up nearly everyone across three previous films, this one pays tribute to Dan O’Bannon, Sean S. Cunningham, Andy Milligan and Jim Wynorski.

I can also tell you that the movie in this movie, Love Lies Dying, is really the end of The Long Kiss Goodnight with music from Dark City.