Time is running out on our 31 Days of Spooky Stuff, and you’d think I wouldn’t have a lot of stuff to get to. But you’d be wrong. In today’s Journal, I look at seven films, all featuring some monster or supernatural force or another. I’ll be looking at recent flicks UNLUCKY CHARMS and SCARE ZONE, Frank Henenlotter’s BASKET CASE, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the softcore parody THE EROTIC WITCH PROJECT, the Halloween-themed JACK-O and PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE. And not to show all my cards up front, but there aren’t any total losers in the bunch.
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.
What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 84
(31 DAYS OF SPOOKY STUFF – DAY 29 – OCT. 29, 2013)
BASKET CASE (1982) – Dwayne is a strange young man with an unruly mop of hair and a basket that he carries everywhere he goes. He checks himself into a dingy apartment on 42nd Street where he plots the next step in his revenge scheme. Hidden in the basket is a creature named Belial that is more monster than man. Nevertheless, Dwayne sees the person within Belial and loves him unconditionally. He has to, Dwayne and Belial are brothers.
Conditioned by a life appreciating the grindhouses of Times Square, Frank Henenlotter unleashed this as his first film. It practically reeks of the cheap hot dogs and lack of cleanliness found in one of those theatres. It’s one of those rare exploitation films which, like William Lustig’s MANIAC, really feels like 42nd Street.
Henenlotter’s film is certainly offbeat. He has developed an original narrative with an unlikely protagonist, a unique monster and an irreverent execution. It would be wrong to suggest that everything works here. It doesn’t. But the film has continued to impress people for thirty years for the precise reason that there is nothing else out there quite like it. Highly Recommended.
JACK-O (a.k.a. JACK-O LANTERN) (1995) – A young boy is haunted by visions from another time and the pumpkin-headed monster, Jack. As Halloween approaches, the visions get worse and worse and Jack does indeed come back to life. The only one who can kill the beast is the latest descendant of the Kelly family… which just happens to be the boy.
JACK-O is produced by Fred Olen Ray and directed by Steve Latshaw (DARK UNIVERSE, RETURN OF THE KILLER SHREWS). There are touches throughout the film that seem like a Ray production, such as the numerous appearances by genre stalwarts Cameron Mitchell, Brinke Stevens, Dawn Wildsmith and John Carradine. Most of the footage of these exploitation favorites was intended for other productions that didn’t happen and used as B-roll for a horror marathon within the film. In face, Carradine and Mitchell had already passed away by the time this film came around. One exception to this rule is Linnea Quigley, who does her usual fine job in a supporting role as a well-meaning babysitter. Latshaw is also kind enough to treat us to an extended scene of Quigley in the shower, so thank you for that.
There are other moments of interest, such as some proto-Tea Party types getting their just desserts. But the whole thing doesn’t come together like it should. The director’s son, Ryan Latshaw, may have been a nice kid but he just isn’t an actor and therefore can’t handle the lead role. The Jack-O monster itself doesn’t really get to do much here either, perhaps because of its lack of articulation. A mixed bag for sure. Barely Recommended.
PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE (1996) – Jennifer (Rosalind Allen) recently divorced defense attorney having a hard time balancing her career with raising her daughter. Her little girl eventually develops an attatchment to Pinocchio puppet, which she was mistakenly given as a birthday present. That doll happened to belong to the serial killer Jennifer was unable to save from the electric chair. The little girl’s behavior seems to change and it seems as though the puppet might have a mind of its own.
In the past work, I’ve reviewed Kevin Tenney’s WITCHBOARD 2 and devoted an entire episode of MOVIOCRITY of his film, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. Now I’m reviewing this and it’s starting to feel like I’m stalking his filmography. PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE feels different from those earlier films and at times almost appears conventional. This gets thrown out the window in favor of a unique approach that saves the film from being just another killer doll movie. Throughout the film, there is a question over how real Pinocchio is. Is the doll guilty of the crimes or could there be some sort of influence on the little girl? It’s a ballsy move and keeps the viewer guessing. Recommended.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) – Three people go into the woods outside Burkittsville in order to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch. They get lost and start hearing noises. All of this leads to the deterioration of the social dynamic within the group. And then, the forces close in.
People either love or hate this film. For myself, I have always had a very high opinion of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. The idea that you could never see the witch is one of the things that worked for the film. Everything was about mood and suggestion and unlike many recent films that use that excuse as a cop-out, this is a film that used it to amplify the terror. For me, the greatest fascination never came from the witch, but watching this small group crumble under the pressure. The whole thing feels absolutely genuine and the actors involved don’t get enough credit for how well they pulled it off. Particularly great is Heather Donahue who sees her status as group leader come crashing down around her.
On a more personal note, if you were one of those people who were disappointed when you found out THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, I have to ask what the deal is with you? For one thing, of course it wasn’t real. For another thing, to be disappointed that these three people weren’t actually dispatched somehow in the woods seems just… weird. It’s like being disappointed that you didn’t get to see a snuff film.
Anyway, the film is brilliantly put together, and one that will likely divide people for decades to come. The Best.
THE EROTIC WITCH PROJECT (2000) – Three young women go into the woods to investigate the legend of the Erotic Witch. At night, they hear moaning and wake up to sticks arranged in sexually provocative poses. They get lost and one by one are overcome with lust that can only be satiated with some serious girl-on-girl groping.
There were a million parodies of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Most of them were horrible, exhibiting a pathetic mixture of snarkiness and hipsterism over actual comedy. This one is one of the most successful of the parodies (Jim Wynorski’s similarly themed THE BARE WENCH PROJECT is also pretty amusing). It’s the film that pretty much put Seduction Cinema on the map for a few years. John Bacchus threw in a bunch of humor that kept this from being just another skin flick. In the years to come, e.i. Independent Cinema would put out dozens of films like this and give birth to stars such as Misty Mundae (a.k.a. Erin Brown), Julian Wells (a.k.a. Suzy McCoppin), A.J. Khan and Darian Caine, who is the only one of these actresses to appear here. Recommended.
SCARE ZONE (2013) – I didn’t get to go to Halloween Horror Nights this year, but I did get to see this film, which was filmed at the Universal attraction a few years ago. It’s just now getting a DVD release and despite only using one house as a location, they sure do get a lot of use out of it.
SCARE ZONE takes place at a funhouse that opens its doors for a few days each year. A group of young people are hired to serve as actors in the attraction. But it seems as though someone is killing off some of the employees and the rest of the group doesn’t find out what’s going on until a few of them have already been taken out.
SCARE ZONE suffers from a villain who hams it up waaaay too much. An encouraging goth character (Arian Waring Ash) is also somewhat undermined by a well-meaning but ineffective denouement at the end. Otherwise, SCARE ZONE kind of works. It’s not going to be anyone’s favorite horror film, but as a 90 minute haunted attraction of its own, it serves its purpose. Jon Binkowski (THE VISITANT) balances drama and humor well enough to keep things moving at a good pace. Recommended.
UNLUCKY CHARMS (2013) – A group of impish creatures from the netherworld have been summoned to wreak havoc on the mortal world, without knowing why. The leader of the group, Farr Darrig, is conflicted by his duties and hence wants to find out who is ordering them to kill a group of wannabe supermodels. The culprit is an aging model who is selfishly using the magic of the creatures and the blood of innocents to extend her own youthful appearance.
This is a 21st century Full Moon movie, which has settled into its own style, just as surely as the Full Moon titles of the 1990s did. If you aren’t receptive to them, you probably won’t change your mind here. As for me, I’m a fan of Charles Band and company from waaaaay back and hence I found a lot to like in this film. There’s an interesting angle with the characters, from a couple protagonists to the growing cynicism. The over-reliance on digital effects is problematic but hardly a deal breaker. Recommended.
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 345
Miss any of the previous Journal entries? Check them out here!