Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Hearse

Director - George Bowers (Private Resort, The Dukes of Hazzard)
Starring - Trish Van Devere (The Changeling, Messenger of Death), Joseph Cotton (The Survivor, Tales of the Unexpected), and David Gautreaux (The Night Shift, Star Trek: The Motion Picture)
Release Date - 1980
Genre - Horror
Tagline - "The barrier between life and death is no greater than the thickness of a door.  And now...the door is open!"
Format - Bluray (Personal Collection) (Screener)

Rating (Out of 5):

     It's not often that Vinegar Syndrome releases a film that I have heard about before.  That is one of the many reasons I enjoy their releases.  So many companies re-release classic horror films like Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and the like instead of giving fans something they may have never heard of before.  I love when a company, like Vinegar Syndrome, releases a film that has never had a proper release before.  Sometimes these films were only released on VHS if they were mass released at all.  Other times they are films that may have been released on DVD but the quality just wasn't there.  Recently, Vin Syn release the 1980 gothic thriller The Hearse on blu.  This is actually one of the films I had acquired over the years collection in a box set.  When I tried to watch it the film was so dark I couldn't tell what was going on.  It was easily one of the worst looking DVD transfers that I had ever seen.  When Vin Syn announced the release I was excited.  I was finally able to see a film I had owned for so long.  Thanks Vin Syn for the hook up!
     The film follows Jane Hardy (Devere) is a woman close to the edge.  She recently lost her mother in the midst of a horrible divorce.  She decides to get out of the city for the summer and go stay at her aunt's home out in the country.  The caretaker and town clerk is bitter that she is claiming the home instead of giving it to him and the townsfolk are not happy she is staying there either.  The home is known around town as being haunted and many suspected her aunt was into Satanic worship.  The longer she stays there the more strange occurances she encounters like a black hearse following her and terrorizing her at night and other supernatural activity late at night.  Is she finally going crazy or is something more sinister lurking in the shadows of her late aunt's home?

     I've always like the artwork for The Hearse.  The artwork is haunting and one that I've always associated with Halloween.  I know the film has nothing to do with Halloween but just looking at it really helps you get in the holiday spirit in similar fashion to the posts for Something Wicked This Way Comes, Lady in White, and Watcher in the Woods.  Sadly, the film does not do a great job at capturing that same feeling.  The film isn't bad.  In fact, I really enjoyed it but it doesn't capture that gothic haunted mansion tone that the artwork portrays so well.  The acting in this one is decent.  I really liked Trish Van Devere but I feel as if she was unclear how to handle her character.  Was she supposed to be a strong female lead or is she close to a mental breakdown similar to Beverly Murray's character in Cathy's Curse?  The writing or direction should have made this a little more clear.  The supporting cast, sadly, isn't anywhere near Devere's talents which makes it a very uneven film in terms of casting.  The story for this one is rather bold for the plot but does have a hard time figuring out the direction it wants to go.  The film tries to be a haunted house tale with the house almost taking a life of it's own with the doors and windows opening and closing on their own.  We are made to believe that it is a drunk doing this in order to scare her off, which is a smart angle, but the film doesn't dedicate enough time to this to make it work.  The hearse angle is great.  It's spooky at times and really works but we don't get it enough.  For a movie titles The Hearse you would expect more hearse!  The film has a great pace and so many layers but they are unable to pull them into a story with the gothic atmosphere that most expect from a haunted house film.  Finally, the film does have a few death scenes but they are not bloody and gory.  The story could easily be passed as a children horror film in the same line as Lady in White.  In fact, I wish it would have.  I could see this plot being an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?.    The film doesn't really offer up effects but does give the viewer a very character driven story.  Overall, The Hearse is a fun PG rated horror film that you can watch with the kid.  No blood or gore but it does hit the spot for those that enjoy films like The Gate, Poltergeist, and Monster Squad.  Check it out.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Malibu High

Director - Irvin Berwick (Hitch Hike to Hell, The Monster of Piedras Blacas)
Starring - Jill Lansing, Stuart Taylor (The Waltons), and Katie Johnson (The Operation, Tracey On...)
Release Date - 1979
Genre - Crime/Drama
Tagline - "Every teacher in school wanted to FLUNK her...but nobody dared"
Format - BluRay (Personal Collection) (Screener)

Rating (out of 5):

       I decided to step away from horror for a little bit and check out some Vinegar Syndrome releases that have been placed on the back burner since I became ill.  After watching the unusual erotic crime film China Girl I decided to keep the sleaze going and toss in Malibu High.  The artwork put me in mind of a late 70s and early 80s teen sex comedy like Porky's and Meatballs.  Sadly, it was neither.  The film was not bad in anyway but the artwork did not fit the film.  Malibu High was actually a very dark and bleak crime drama but we still got some sleazy scenes.  Thank you Vinegar Syndrome for allowing Horror Society and myself the opportunity to check this one out!
     The film follows highschooler Kim Bentley (Lansing) who was just dumped by her boyfriend for another girl.  She gives up on academia and starts slacking.  Overtime her grades start reflecting her negativity and risks not graduating so she sets in motion to seduce her mail teachers in order to get an "A" in her classes.  When this works satisfactorily she decides to become a prostitute and make some serious cash. When her pimp fails to offer her the right percentage she leaves him for another one that turns her into a hired gun.  While pulling a hit she finds herself taking out the father of her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend. After she takes him out she is spotted by them and is forced to make a run for it before the police arrive.
     Malibu High was not the film I was expecting.  My initial thought of the film is that I was going to watch a sleazy comedy from the late 70s but the film is actually a little more to it than that.  There is no humor but it is gritty and fast paced.  I enjoyed it but I'm still a little mad that the artwork was not an accurate depiction of the film.  The acting in this one is entertaining.  The cast could have used a little more experience but its far from being bad.  Jill Lansing is great as portraying a bitch.  Her character is really hard to like but she is pretty and does a solid job on her performance.  The supporting cast is solid as well but no character truly stood out...not even Jill Lansing's Kim.  The story for this one is very entertaining.  Following a beautiful young woman as she screws her way to a diploma before killing people was fun but I do have some problems with the overall film.  It is awkward watching a supposed high school girl sleep with teachers.  Putting the setting in college would have made it less awkward.  I did enjoy the speed of the film and how quick the story was to pick up.  Finally, the film does have several on screen kills.  These kills are extremely lackluster and unoriginal.  The effects were nonexistent making it impossible to enjoy.  Overall, Malibu High is not the film you expect but you will still enjoy yourself.  It is sleazy at times before it gives us grit.  Check it out!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

China Girl

Director - Paul Aratow (Doctor Dracula, Bizarre Devices)
Starring - Pamela Yen, Annette Haven (The Huntress, Body Double), and James Hong (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Spawn)
Release Date - 1975
Genre - Erotic
Tagline - "Pleasure so intense it's almost unbearable"
Format - Bluray (Personal Collection) (Screener)

Rating (out of 5):
     I watched a few films recently that was made to appeal to horror fans but was actually not horror films.  These movies, After and Union Furnace, had the horror look but was more of a darker drama or thriller than they were horror.  I was afraid of finding another one of those films in my review stack so I decided not to review horror but to venture to somewhere else...somewhere sleazy.  The first film that caught my eye was the Vinegar Syndrome blu release of the 1975 film China Girl.  This is a strange sexploitation flick that actually functioned as an actual crime drama but with unsimulated sex scenes.  It's also strange seeing James Hong in a sexploitation flick.  I want to once again thank Vinegar Syndrome for sending this one my way.
     The film follows a an evil organization that is attempting to steal a secret formula for a potential buyer.  The entire formula is split into two segments with one being with a male scientist and other a female scientist.  The evil company brings the male scientist to their hidden lair where they give him a drug that prevents him from reaching sexual climax.  They then send in gorgeous women to fulfill his sexual desires.  After some time the man finally breaks and gives up his part of the formula.  They then kidnap the female scientist and attempt to do the same but they underestimated her sexual drive.  When they fail to break her they call in Chan (Hong) to break her but his partner, Madame Woo (Yen) has fallen in love with her and helps her escape.
     I was expecting sleaze with China Girl but I didn't expect to enjoy the film as much as I did.  I was even shocked that the film itself had a cast and story as this one did.  China Girl was a film unlike any other I had seen before it.  The acting in this one is great.  I am really surprised to see James Hong in a sexploitation flick.  I've seen him in so many films prior to this and it still blows my mind even as I type this.  His performance was great and he actually came across as menacing.  Annette Haven was great as well.  She has a natural beauty that is unrivaled and does a great job in her role.  I've seen her on other films where she did not deliver a fun performance as she did here.  My favorite of the film is Pamela Yen who portrays Madame Woo.  She was my favorite in the film and absolutely gorgeous.  I wish she would have went on to star in other films.  The story for this one is fairly simple but works so well for the type of film we have.  People being screwed as a torture technique for an evil group of people to steal a top secret formula is so outlandish that it works as a 70s sexploitation flick.  The film does have a few slow moments but picks up as the film progresses.  Finally, this one doesn't have blood and gore.  Instead, it is a sexy and sleek film that is more about story and character development than anything else.  Overall, China Girl is perfect for the sleazy cinema fan.  If you like films raunchy then China Girl is your movie.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Union Furnace

Director - Nicholas Bushman (Stranger in the Dunes, Sandbar)
Starring - Mike Dwyer (Stranger in the Dunes, Sandbar), Seth Hammond, and Keith David (They Live, The Thing)
Release Date - 2015
Genre - Horror
Tagline - "Place your bets"
Format - DVD (Personal Collection) (Screener)

Rating (out of 5):

     Movie posters and DVD artwork is a critical part of the film.  I'm a horror fan and have been for years but it is impossible to know every horror films.  Especially when there is hundreds of indie productions being released everyday under the radar.  When I go out hunting for movies to add to my collection or receive press releases for new films I tend to judge a book by its cover.  Several weeks back I received a press release for an indie horror film titled Union Furnace.  The title confused me because Union Furnace is a town in Ohio.  I know this because I've recalled signs for it while driving to Cinema Wasteland every April and October.  The artwork sent over for the film was very underwhelming as well.  It was very bland, basic, and unimaginative.  I wasn't initially interested in it because it just didn't look that appealing but when I was asked to check it out I decided to check it out.  I'm glad I was open minded to the film because it was definitely entertaining.
     The film follows a petty crook named Cody Roy McCloud who scoops up a small car to try to get some quick cash.  When his buyer fails to pay he tries to return the car before he encounters a large truck that eventually runs him off the road.  The driver of the truck gets acquainted with Cody and takes Cody to where he is staying.  He then instructs him to answer the phone when it rings because he will have a way he can make some money.  Cody agrees and late that night he gets the call.  He does as instructed and is taken to a secret area where there are seven other people waiting.   They are on a stage while the others around them are wearing masks.  They are instructed that they will go through seven games in the course of the night and with each game the loser will be forced to leave while the winners get paid.  The contestants agree to the terms but after a few games they start to fear for their safety and turn on each other.  Are the losers taken our back and murdered and what will happen if Cody loses?
     This is the second film in a row that I watched thinking I was being tossed into a horror film but this was not the case.  The first film, After was mostly fantasy mixed with some elements of a thriller.  Union Furnace is not a bad film at all but I feel that labeling it a horror film would be doing this film an injustice.  The acting in this one is fucking fantastic.  Mike Dwyer and Seth Hammond were fantastic.  Dwyer is great as the sensitive male lead that steps up when he has to.  He is not your typical strong lead but he is one that the viewer can really get behold and root for.  Hammond is fantastic.  His showman's ship through the entire film is award winning.  After looking through his imdb page I became a little depressed.  He needs more films under his belt.  The supporting cast doesn't touch a candle to these two.  Even Keith David, who did a fantastic job, doesn't stand toe to toe with these two.  The story for this one is very interesting and story driven but there was several missed opportunities.  The story doesn't give too deep into the backstories of the other characters but it does offer up a lot of character interactions with rich dialogue similar to the early works of Quentin Tarantino.  It does take a few minutes for the film to get rolling but once it does it becomes fun and violent.  My biggest complaint is that the games played by the contestants arte not that menacing or fun to watch with the exception of the hot plate and metal pipe.  I would have liked to see more games that were menacing.  Finally, this one is not that bloody.  We do get a little blood splatter and a few on screen kills but it doesn't make it the gore soaked film you may be looking for.  The kills we do get are well shot and executed with great practical effects but they are limited.  I was expecting a lot more bloodshed than what we actually got.  Overall, Union Furnace did not disappoint.  The film was not what I was expecting which makes me want to beg those involved to change the film's artwork!  Be sure to check this one out because it deserves to be seen!


Director - Ryan Smith (Devil's Shoestring, The Debt)
Starring - Steven Strait (The Covenant, Sky High), Karolina Wydra (True Blood, Justified), and Madison Lintz (It's Supernatural, The Walking Dead)
Release Date - 2012
Genre - Horror/Thriller
Format - DVD (Personal Collection) (Screener)

Rating (out of 5):

     After making my way through the 5 film set The Paul Naschy Collection and The Walking Dead Season 7 I decided to take a little break from polished films.  I wanted an indie flick that would offer up something a little different.  As I made my way through my review stack one film caught my eye. The film was simply titled After and the artwork for it stuck out.  The artwork could be split in two.  The bottom half was a darker image of a teenage boy or a young man sitting among thousands of keys while the top portion of the film showed an obscure image of some sort of creature.   I really enjoyed the artwork so I decided to give it a go.  Thank you MVD for sending this one my way!
     The film follows Freddy (Strait) and Ana (Wydra) who are on a bus headed to their home town.  Freddy starts talking to Ana and learn that they grew up fairly close to each other when they are suddenly in a crash.  They awake sometime later and things are unusual at first.  They realize that a month has went by and then they find themselves alone before running into each other.  They look through town and find themselves reliving fond memories of their past before encountering a black fog approaching them at a very slow pace which they suspect will engulf the town in three days.  While they are in the hospital they discover that they are actually in a comma and will be removed from life support.  They rush to figure out how they can get out of their current version of life and back to reality.
      I didn't know what to expect from After.  I was looking forward to a complex monster story that was more character centered instead of lacking originality.  After was a very unique film in regards to story but I wouldn't call it a horror film.  In fact, it is more like a dark thriller than it is horror.  The acting in this one is entertaining.  There is times where it was awkward to watch Steven Strait and Karolina Wydra interact.  They have great chemistry but they sometimes have a hard time keeping their emotions in check.  They come unhinged and emotional at times where they really shouldn't.  It made the scene feel less dramatic.  The supporting cast does not play that much into the film but they do a decent job as well.  The story for this one has a lot going on but would have benefited from cutting some of it out.  The film has two angles going on.  The film feels like a dark thriller or fantasy following two people lost in their own world who race to get back to real life.  This story was very promising but mixing it with the horror angle diluted it.  The monster angle could have been completely removed and placed into an entirely different film.  These two parts of the story just doesn't fit well into the same film.  Finally, the film doesn't have blood and gore.  It is void of any practical effects and the red stuff that most horror fans love.  We do have a CGI monster that looks horrible which once again supports my opinion that the film should have avoided this all together.  Overall, After is a visually pleasing film with a very ambitious story that fails to successfully incorporate everything into a coherent film.  I still recommend it but there is story issues.