Abner the Invisible Dog (2013)

Mark Lindsay Chapman sounds like the name of the man programmed to kill John Lennon, Mark David Chapman, which kept him from playing the man who put a tampon on his head and yelled “I love May Pang” in John and Yoko: A Love Story, a biographical NBC made-for-Tv movie that had involvement from Yoko Ono, who liked his audition but felt it was bad karma and Mark McGann got the role instead. Chapman did end up playing Lennon in Chapter 27 and got killed by real life cult leader Jared Leto who played Chapman.

Chapman — the actor, not the MK Ultra killer carrying a marked-up copy of Catcher in the Rye — is the voice of the invisible dog Albert in this movie.

As for the movie, imagine Home Alone with an invisible dog who is not above dragging its hero whenever he screws up — which is often — and burglars trying to get a secret hidden in a birthday gift.

Common Sense Media said that this movie was the “familiar tale of a boy and his dog running from wacky criminals who are trying to get back a secret formula.” Have we as a movie-making society become so cynical to film that there is more than one canine espionage movie? I mean, Abner is an English sheepdog, which explains his accent and sometimes that’s enough for me. Throw in David DeLuise and David Chokachi from Baywatch working from a story by Andrew Stevens and how can you watch any more, Common Sense Media? You warned parents that this movie has scenes in which “elderly folks are the butt of numerous jokes; there are farts aplenty and some mild sexual innuendo” and to me, you’re describing pretty much the movies that I wish were being discussed by Film Twitter’s most tight assed and unhumorous critics in the same way they point their magic fingers at a film no one has cared about ever and made it something worthy of pedestal raising. I implore you, do the same for Abner the Invisible Dog!

It has to be better than how Common Sense Media summed up this Fred Olen Ray movie: ” A time waster for all but those kids who think it’s hysterical to hear dogs fart and watch brainless grown-ups trip on banana peels, smash their fingers in doors, and react to stink bombs.”

For shame.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 18: The Lone Ranger (2013)

So who is this movie for?

Anyone that cares about the Lone Ranger is either ancient or so deeply invested in a character that hasn’t appeared in popular media since 1981’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger. Sure, there were comic books from Topps and Dynamite Comics, as well as a collection of short stories and a 2003 WB TV movie that had Chad Michael Murray as Luke Hartman instead of John Reid. Actually, nobody really saw that movie as it was a pilot for an unpicked up series that was played in summer when nobody really ever watches.

Columbia Pictures had wanted to make a Lone Ranger film since 2002, as The Mask of Zorro was successful. Columbia wanted Tonto to be a female love interest, which would have made a small number of fans upset, but by 2005, the project was in turnaround.

Entertainment Rights eventually brought producer Jerry Bruckheimer in and got The Lone Ranger on board with Walt Disney Pictures, who were looking for another Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. They doubled down on that, casting Johnny Depp as Tonto and had Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio start writing a script that may have been about supernatural coyotes.

Finally, Gore Verbinski was hired to direct and Armie Hammer was selected to play the Lone Ranger. But the film was nearly canceled when Disney CEO Bob Iger and then Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross had concerns over the film’s budget. Once Verbinski, Bruckheimer, Depp and Hammer deferred 20% of their salaries to minimize the overall cost, production began in February 2012. And then Ross was out and Alan F. Horn was in and he was already concerned. After all, bad guy Butch Cavendish ate the heart of the Lone Range’s brother.

Wasn’t this a family movie?

Who was this for?

If you can’t answer that, then how can you put $250 million into production and $150 million into marketing?

Even though the movie made $250 million worldwide — which is a great showing — it didn’t have a chance of breaking even.

So why did this movie get made?

I wonder that myself.

Why does it start not with the origin of its characters but instead with an old Tonto sitting inside a museum display?

Why do the Lone Ranger and Tonto come to blows in the film?

And again, who wanted this movie? I mean, I love The ShadowThe PhantomGreen HornetDoc Savage and other radio era heroes, I also realize that I am not the audience that makes you money.

The origin is pretty good, though. Lawyer John Reid is returning to Texas on one of Latham Cole’s (Tom Wilkinson) trains, which also has Tonto and Cavendish (William Fichtner, who I love and would cast in any movie) on board. The Texas Rangers, led by John’s brother Dan (James Badge Dale), have captured Cavendish, who is soon rescued by his gang. With the train derailed, Dan deputizes John just in time to walk into a trap where everyone dies except John, who Tonto believes can’t die thanks to a white horse hovering over the not dead man’s grave. Now, the world may believe that John is dead, but he has a mask, a mission and a silver bullet made from the fallen Rangers’ badges. Tonto tells him to use it on Cavendish, as he thinks that the criminal is actually a wendigo.

How did Tonto come to believe this? When he was young, he rescued Cavendish and showed him a mountain full of silver ore in exchange for a pocket watch. Later, Butch murdered Tinto’s tribe to keep the location a secret, leaving the Native American burdened with guilt.

But man, the rest of the movie is a mess. It’s a big loud mess and I should love it, but I just see so much excess on screen when this could be lean and fun and the same budget could have made five of these movies. How much did this movie lose? Studio president Alan Bergman was asked if Disney could recoup its losses on The Lone Ranger and John Carter through subsequent releases or other methods and he said, “I’m going to answer that question honestly and tell you no, it didn’t get that much better. We did lose that much money on those movies.”

I mean, as written many times, a bomb doesn’t necessarily make for a bad movie. And I’m guilty for looking at those issues as much as the film, just like Verbinski, Bruckheimer, Hammer and Depp all said, claiming that bad reviews were influenced by all the production troubles and big budget.

Westerns have continually failed over the last few years and even though I’m the kind of weirdo who can tell you that there’s a scene in this that is taken directly from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and got the John Ford reference, you have to sell audiences as to why a Western works. That’s why The Hateful Eight works and this doesn’t. Then again, that’s not a big franchise movie and hey, Tarantino picked this as one of his top ten movies of 2013.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this movie is that I had never seen Armie Hammer in a movie before, but knew him from the allegations that he had asked a girlfriend to remove one of her ribs surgically so that he could eat it. Another girlfriend claimed that he repeatedly wanted to eat her flesh and would lick cuts that she had.

Everyone’s kink is everyone’s kink, but wow, dude.

And Johnny Depp…

Anyways. Let’s get past the budget and scandal and think to something Bruckheimer said.

“I think it is going to be looked back on as a brave, wonderful film. I’ve been through this a lot with journalists. We made a movie years ago called Flashdance, and I remember one journalist just giving us the worst review ever. Then, about five years later, we get this kind of love letter – that he totally “missed” it. That he loved the movie, and it’s kind of the same with you that, any time it’s on, you have to watch it. It happens, you know.”

This is not that love letter.

The Lone Ranger is a movie that thinks that putting huge set pieces in the place of human drama equals a great movie. And I get it, I know how blockbusters work, but after two Lone Ranger movies with good Butch Cavendish actors and not much else, do I have to wait until 2057 for someone to do it right? This is a few steps removed from The Wild Wild West, another heartbreaker of a movie because it’s a franchise that only fat old men like me care about and the movie was made to totally not be for us — rightly so, because it needs a mass audience — but it no way connects with anyone other than the whims of its filmmakers.

Eurociné 33 Champs-Elysées (2013)

The Awful Dr. OrloffNightmares Come at Night. A Virgin Among the Living DeadFemale Vampire. Golden Temple Amazons. The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus. Helga The She Wolf of SpilbergManiac KillerThe Man with the Severed Head. The films of Eurociné — more than a hundred movies — may not be considered as anything more than schlock, but this documentary by Christophe Bier attempts to change all of that.

Marius Lesoeur was a carnival man who used the same ballyhoo to make movies, which mostly were about wild animals and exotic dancing, which are both subjects that we can get behind, as well as violence, action and nudity, all of which made their way into the films of his new studio. This movie posits Lesoeur as the Roger Corman of France, yet perhaps a bit sillier and at an even lower budget. Then there’s the theory of just shooting movies and dubbing later, as well as using the same footage and costumes as many times as possible. Anything to make a movie!

What I loved most was seeing scenes from so many of these films — with the logo and artwork before each movie — and the breakdown of how it was made, why it was made and how audiences reacted, as well as stories about the filmmakers. This movie could have been nine hours long — it clocks in at a short 77 minutes — and I’d watch it more than twice.

 

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Revenge of the Alligator Ladies (2013)

After Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies, Al Pereira (Antonio Mayans, who directed the film after the death of Jess Franco, who started it) is so disappointed that he never wants to work with Franco again. Yet Franco keeps begging, the Alligator Ladies (Carmen Montes, Irene Verdú and Paula Davis) are still after him and he has a crisis of faith, family and sexuality to solve.

From seeing Franco make the movie and interact with fans, as well as the typical Franco slowed down women stripped and rubbing one another scenes, the new story directed by Mayans has Al in Germany, caught by his daughter as he’s in the midst of a threesome. Also, he sees a dead body and has no idea who the killers are after: the actor, the actor playing the actor in the movie within a movie, he himself as the director, Franco or Franco within the movie, even saying dialogue like, “It’s a decomposition of human matter in cinematographic expression.”

Also — a tender man on man scene? And Franco trapped — happily — for all eternity endlessly filming girl on girl love?

Heady stuff, but mostly it’s Alligator Ladies stripping with those video effects Jess was doing before his death. Even this close to death, the man was still making filth and for that, we should always love him.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: A Ritmo de Jess (2013)

With no budget and no real script, an 82-year-old Jess Franco is alone — his muse and wife Lina Romay died a few months before — and directing his final movie, Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies.

With Paula Davis (Paula-Paula), Carmen Monte (Killer Barbys vs. Dracula), Irene Verdu and Antonio Mayans ready to act, Franco remains filled with energy despite his age and depression. There’s one moment where the older maniac’s energy is too much for the young crew, who tell him they can no longer rub their body parts together, and he loses it on everyone, retreating to close his eyes and just deal with reality. It’s also inordinately depressing because Franco really looks ready to die.

The way that his movies are made looks exactly like I thought they would. It’s boring at times, yet at others you can see the fire in the faded eyes of a man who made hundreds of movies. This movie made me confront my mortality in ways that other high art minded movies never could.

Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (2013)

How much do you love cinema? Are you willing, like the threesome known as the Fuck Bombers in this movie, willing to put your life on the line to film real violence in the guise of creating a good movie? Will you be like the crime boss Ikegami, who is so obsessed by samurai films that he turns his gang’s base into a castle and forces everyone to wear costumes? Or would you be Sasaki, a man who other see as potentially the next Bruce Lee?

Why Don’t You Play In Hell? finds the Fuck Bombers separated ten years after their failed prayer to the God of Cinema, hoping to finally make a movie they can be proud of.

In the past, a mob boss named Muto defeated a home invasion, killing everyone but Ikegami. Now so many years later, they have both gained followers and are destined to battle one another, as the Fuck Bombers have the destiny of capturing it all on film.

Here’s to director and writer Sion Sono, someone who is so willing to make it great while keeping it weird as it gets. I get the feeling that much like his heroes in this film, he is willing to die to create something that pleases the God of Cinema.

We should all love movies. We should all be willing to die for them, but as you will discover, Fuck Bombers never die.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

An international co-production of the United States, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, Frankenstein’s Army puts zombie soldiers created by a descendant of the mad scientist against the Red Army at the end of World War II, all seen in found footage format.

Director Richard Raaphorst was frightened of Frankenstein’s Monster when he was young, so a movie filled with multiple creatures would have really freaked him out. While this movie has plenty of CGI, it also has more than enough practical FX and stunts. The look is great, a worn steampunk-esque world of rust, gore, meat and murder.

I’m not a fan at all of found footage and find it a silly gimmick outside of obvious masterworks like, well, Cannibal Holocaust is one of the few I can dredge up. The creature design in this, however, pushes this movie well beyond any concerns I have with the way that it was filmed. It’s a delight to take in all of these creatures. It looks like my high school notebooks come to life.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Hotel Inferno (2013)

Giving the job of assassinating a couple in their hotel room, contract killer Frank Zimosa finds himself fighting for his life in a maze-like building filled with demons. Yeah, it’s kind of like a first-person shooter, except that it’s an Italian movie literally overloaded with gristle, gore and all manner of gross-out violence. Welcome to Hotel Inferno.

Director and writer Giulio De Santi has made three sequels to this movie with three more n the way. He’s also the founder and president of Necrostorm, a multimedia company that produces and distributes movies, games, cartoons, comics, music and merch, often serving as each production’s writer, director, art director, lead animator, digital effects director, producer and editor.

It soon turns out that everyone in the building is a killer and they’re all here to be offered as a sacrifice, as has been done for hundreds of years. Except that Frank thinks that he can beat the devil.

This came out three years before Hardcore Harry tried the same trick and has about a hundredth of that movie’s budget (and voice acting ability). That said, the scene where the occultist covered in flies writes the spells on a wall approaches near murderdrone levels in its movie drug intensity. This is definitely a movie that you should at least watch for a few minutes, as it’s a pretty insane way to make a movie.

Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

The seventh — and promised to be the last, but come on, who were they kidding — Texas Chainsaw movie, this was at least the last film for Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen. It’s also pretty cool to see Bill Moseley play Jim Siedow’s role, as well as John Dugan be Grandpa again.

But they’re going to keep on making these movies long after I’m dead.

Platinum Dunes, who made the other new ones, decided they didn’t want to make another Leatherface movie, so Twisted Pictures, Nu Image and Lionsgate Films took over from New Line Cinema but only LionsGate’s name is on the movie.

Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome, but I kind of like the central idea of this movie. After the events of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the town sheriff arrives at the Sawyer house demanding that Leatherface surrender. The family complies just in time for the entire town of Newt, Texas to burn down the Sawyer home and kill everyone except a baby kill. In fact, after she’s saved, her mother is killed. The man that murdered her, Gavin Miller, and his wife Arlene raise the baby as their child.

Fast-forward and we meet Heather Miller, who learns that her grandmother has died and left her an inheritance in Newt, Texas, a place she’s shocked to learn that she was from. Her friends join her on the trip to find out what the will has in store for her, but when one of them starts casing the house to steal things, he meets Leatherface. Actually, she shouldn’t get too close to any of her friends because the most famous of the Sawyer killers just wants to wipe out everyone and anything, then make face masks out of their bodies.

The other part I kind of love about this movie is that its lead comes to accept the burden of family and realizes that if she takes care of him, he will always protect her. That’s a strange close to a film series that usually has Leatherface whooping and dancing and upset that he didn’t get to murder everyone.

Slasher Month: 7 Sins of the Vampire (2013)

(I know: This is technically a “vampire” flick, but this chick removes hearts and penises after sucking ’em dry. That’s “slashy” enough for me!)

Here’s the rub with 7 Sins of the Vampire: You’re watching and wondering why it looks the way that it does: like an ’80-era VHS SOV release — considering this came out in 2013, the era of digital cameras and software editing suites. Well, that’s because 7 Sins of the Vampire — shot and private-press released as Blood Seduction (year unknown) — was completed in 2002; its production began in the late-90s, not long after the completion and release of Snuff Kill in 1997. Personally, when considering how much Doug Ulrich and Al Darago improved as filmmakers across their three films, and the positive reception given to their best-known and distributed film, Snuff Kill, I’m shocked that it took a decade for the film — shot in Dundalk, Maryland — to make its first baby steps into national distribution platforms.

Another alternate title for the film — which sometimes appears as a tagline on alternate DVD pressings — is Invasion of the Vampire Hookers. Now, is team Ulrich-Darago going for an Al Adamson-patch job-starring-John Carradine vibe — without (thankfully) any John Carradine footage dropped in from another film? Probably, because these guys are one of us and have probably VHS O.D’d on way too many Al Adamson flicks with superfluous, edited-in-from-another-picture John Carradine (in lieu of superfluous John Rhys-Davies and Eric Roberts). Ugh. You’re making me remember Cirio H. Santiago’s inept Vampire Hookers and Nai Bonet’s inert vanity-fanger Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula — both with John Carradine. Oy. I don’t know if that’s a good thing . . . or a bad thing.

I hope you’ve read my reviews for Doug and Al’s previous three films (Scary Tales, Darkest Soul, and Snuff Kill) and previous SOV film reviews and analysis of the genre (click the “’80s SOV” tag at the end of this review to populate the site’s SOV reviews). You know how I feel about SOV films — and the respect I have for Doug Ulrich and Al Darago, who grew up as longtime, Patterson High School friends. Sure, 7 Sins of the Vampire is technically rough — and what SOV, whomever makes it, isn’t — and there’s artistic-disciplinary miscues, especially in the acting department. But team Ulrich-Darago’s storytelling matured in this ’70s drive-in styled, supernatural detective tale — that reminds of the law enforcement horrors of Christopher Lewis’s Blood Cult (1985) — concerned with two detectives who come to discover the recent rash of murders plaguing their city are being committed by a vampire pimp and his bevy of vampire hookers. And our vamp-pimp is a chauvinist and there can only be one: he can bite and turn any woman he wants, but the girls, after feeding, need to de-heart the Johns so they don’t turn. Oh, and remove their penis.

Groper and Butkus (our filmmakers Al Darago and Doug Ulrich) are rival cops, one always trying to outdo the other, always butting heads on cases. So, when they both end up at a crime scene with a man hanging by his neck and his guts slit open, Grouper calls it a murder: Butkus, a suicide. But that’s their relationship: opposites attract. Meanwhile, Groper’s grizzled “Dirty Harry” gets assigned a Slimski: a baby-faced rookie for a partner — whose teenage sister is the latest vampimp (a new word!) victim. It all comes to a head — pardon the pun — at the pimp and hooker’s abandon warehouse lair. It’s all very Carl Kolchak: The Night Stalker on a shoestring and couch change — and I like it. And it’s all wrapped up in just over an hour, making it the shortest film of Al and Doug’s quartet of films (Snuff Kill was the longest, at 80 minutes).

Is this gory? Of course. How gory? Well, when a John picks up one of our fair-fanged hookers, she doesn’t just fang ’em: she rips out his throat. And don’t forget the heart removals. Oh, and the penis-ripping. Oh, and this SOV ups its game with the casting of professional Baltimore-based actors — a first in the Ulrich-Darago’s canons — George Stover (100-plus credits; including John Waters films and Don Dohler’s The Alien Factor and The Galaxy Invader) and Vincent DePaul (140-plus TV and film credits).

So, yeah. Heart and penis removals . . . with subsequent licking, sucking, and munching. Lovely.

The DVD, a well-pressed and easy-to-purchase release via Amazon Prime and other online retailers, features a “Making Of” featurette, along with actor screen tests and make-up effects tests. Also featured is the 15-minute, black-and-white thriller-short The Devilish Desire of Dario Dragani (2012; thus why the DVD was issued in 2013). Shot by Mark Mackner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for $100, it’s a modernized re-telling of the silent German short, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). (But I’d have to film-drop the really cool Michael Caine black comedy, A Shock to the System (1990), with his put-upon executive resorting to murder to move up the corporate ladder.)

Here, Dario Dragani’s desires take a supernatural turn: he uses an office underling, Cecil, as a somnambulist to murder those who stand in his way to promotions — and winning the heart of Jane, the office heartbreaker. It’s very retro-homagey and very nicely done. You can watch a rip on Vimeo. Mackner — who has made four features films since 2008 — is completing his forth feature: Daisy Derkins and the Dinosaur Apocalypse. Now how can you pass up a film with a title like that?

The embedded clip below — courtesy of DarkFallFx — features the trailer and a couple post-production clips and camera test vignettes. When you go to that You Tube portal, you can also watch the short film The Prophet of Oz (2013), Doug Ulrich’s Christian-based inversion of The Wizard of Oz.

I’ve had a lot of fun revisiting and reviewing the Doug Ulrich and Al Darago canons this fine, and viewing-appropriate, October. I dig these dudes and so will you. Stream ’em.

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