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Hobo with a Shotgun

For Hauer's Blue Eyes Only ...
A decade ago now, when "Hobo with a Shotgun" instantaneously became a modest cult hit upon its release, something strange happened. I hated it. I hated it with a passion, even though it was supposed to be straight up my alley and featured all the things I normally worship in horror/cult: uncompromising violence, 70s grindhouse atmosphere, Rutger Hauer, sadist gore and whatnot. I reckoned it was due to a strange short-circuit in my brain, and didn't even submit a review.

Ten years and another two-thousand genre-movies later, I was quite sure I'd love it this time around, but alas. For once and for all, "Hobo with a Shotgun" isn't for me. Released in a period when, thanks to Q. Tarantino and R. Rodriguez, the 70s drive-in/exploitation cinema was going through a revival, this film started out as a fake two-minute trailer. "Machete" already proved fake trailers shouldn't be turned into long-feature movies, and this "Hobo with a Shotgun" confirms that theory. Trailers are edited together out of movies, and not the other way around. Also, it's perfectly possible to capture the 70s grindhouse spirit in a two-minute trailer, but it loses its charm quite quickly when stretched out for an hour and a half.

None of the hundreds of 70s exploitation movies I watched is anything like "Hobo with a Shotgun", by the way. Instead of shocking, this film is just tasteless. Instead of provocative, it's vulgar. Instead of explicit, it's mindlessly gory and dumb. I love horror and cult, but I personally draw my limit with movies where a school bus full of children are torched to death, or where innocent hospital staff is strung up the ceiling. I also don't want to blatantly give a rating 1/10, because Rutger Hauer remains a fantastic actor, and the opening credit sequences (filmed from inside a train) are stunningly beautiful. In fact, the opening credits are the only part of the film truly breathing genuine 70s exploitation cinema.

Yes, I know, I'm a whiny old sourpuss...

Mutant Species

"Gentlemen, we have to shoot this secret military weapon to the moon! ...Or, to some random Redneck USA backwoods area, that's also fine.
If you're in search for a couple of laughs, with supposedly dead-serious sequences you aren't supposed to laugh with, I can warmly recommend "Bio-Force 1". However, if you want to burst out with hysterical laughter, I do insist also checking out the trivia-section here on IMDb afterwards. There it is stated director David A. Prior originally wanted to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Ironside, Dee Wallace-Stone and Bill Duke for this film. Well, sure... Personally, I want to have a baby with Scarlett Johansson, but I'm pretty sure I don't have the money, nor the talent, nor the competences, and nor the Hollywood status to attract her attention. Maybe, just maybe, the reasoning is similar for you, David... Truly sorry!

But don't let the absence of the aforementioned stars ruin the fun for you! First of all, there are replacement stars, albeit admittedly not of the Schwarzenegger-caliber. We have Wilford Brimley, but I think he flew in from a beach holiday in the Bahamas just to cash his paycheck, because he wears a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses even though he's supposed to be an army general. And Powers Booth, but I guess he starred for free because he gets a kick out of depicting the most cold and heartless villains imaginable.

The plot is vintage Prior, meaning dumb but amusing. The US-military created a biohazardous weapon so deadly and unpredictable they allegedly decide to shoot it to the moon. Instead, though, super-mean army dude Frost deliberately lets it crash in a backwoods area and sends a bunch of soldiers after it to test how the effects. The further the plot unfolds, the dumber the situations and dialogs become. Also typical for Prior-screenplays is explicit but un-shocking violence, shamelessly stolen elements from other (better...) blockbusters, and a too-ridiculous-for-words finale. Thank you, David A. Prior, and rest in peace.

The Hallow

Decent, but sadly unmemorable, "there's-something-in-the-woods" horror
The sad but honest truth is that I already have trouble remembering what exactly happened in "The Hallow", and yet it's only been 2 or 3 days since I watched it. I certainly don't want to sound too harsh because this little Irish horror tale benefices from an admirably dark & sinister atmosphere, fantastically horrific filming locations, and strong performances by unknown but devoted cast members. I guess the familiar plot outline and the almost complete lack of shocking highlights causes for "The Hallow" to remain unmemorable, but it's nevertheless worth checking out for fans of obscure indie-horror.

The description of the plot probably won't persuade anyone to immediately put "The Hallow" on top of his/her must-see list. A young couple and their newborn baby move from Belfast to a ramshackle old cabin at the edge of a remote forest, where the husband is assigned to mark trees for logging. Of course, they aren't heartly welcomed by the conservative locals. Of course, rocks are flying through the windows as a warning shortly after their arrival. Of course, the family dog quickly starts barking at "something" sinisterly moving between the trees in the backyard. I can list another handful of similar clichés if you want. What writer/director Corin Hardy admirably accomplishes, however, is that he remains fixated on bringing the Irish folklore legend accurately rather than reverting to a gory horror flick with hideous woods-demons and a high body-count. Throughout the entire running time, "The Hallow" remains a sober and atmosphere-driven fright tale with a few unusual and courageous plot twists. You have to at least respect that.

Agatha Christie's Marple: The Pale Horse
Episode 1, Season 5

The Wicker Marple
Miss Marple, as created by the almighty Mrs. Agatha Christie, is - hands down - one of the most wonderful fictional characters ever brought to life. Anyone who ever read an original Marple-novel, though, knows that she's at her finest when she remains a quiet and inconspicuous spectator from the sideline. Especially within the boundaries of her secluded community St-Mary Mead, the friendly old spinster is a master in observing and deduction the behavior of fellow human beings, and thus reveal the solution of murder puzzles.

Christie wrote a total of 11 novels featuring Miss Marple, but there are 23 entries in the "Agatha Christie's Marple" film cycle. That's where the creators of this series made their biggest mistake. They adapted other Christie novels and short stories, and replaced the different protagonists with the character of Miss Marple. This led to stories, and "The Pale Horse" is one of them, where the supposedly inconspicuous Miss Marple suddenly becomes an intrusive and relentless investigator, which really isn't her true nature. Admittedly Julia McKenzie is a more "fit" and "energetic" Miss Marple, but this is not what dame Agatha wanted.

The source material obviously remains a very intriguing and convoluted murder mystery, with a dazzling finale and several exciting plot twists. In "The Pale Horse", Miss Marple's search for the murderer of a befriended priest (who got brutally beaten to death in the heart of London) leads her to a remote countryside hotel. At the traditional hotel "The Pale Horse", old folklore and pagan rituals supposedly inflict death curses on innocent people, but our clever spinster reveals that the truth is instead old-fashion murder.


Re-Animating Private Ryan
Of all the possible genre-combos, my personal least favorite mixture is horror and war movie. Horror is war, but war is not necessarily horror. There honestly only exist one or two movies that successfully blend genuine horror with devastating war epics, and even though the concept of Nazi-Zombies admittedly sounds cool, only "Shock Waves" is remotely worth watching. So, despite the fairly high rating and the involvement of wonder-boy J. J. Abrams (as a producer), I was rather skeptical with my expectations towards "Overlord".

Let's start off with the good news, and confirm "Overlord" is a surprisingly good and entertaining film. However, I do believe this is because the film is 80% war-movie (young air force platoon on a mission to bomb a German radio tower in Nazi-occupied France prior to the Normandy invasion on D-Day), and barely 20% horror flick (the same platoon stumbling on a secret Nazi-lab where a type of Mengele conducts experiments with dead bodies and a sort of re-animation serum). The WWII footage is impressive, shockingly realistic, and explicit. If you manage to accept the historical inaccuracy (like black soldiers and even sergeants-in-command), you might find "Overlord" similar to "Saving Private Ryan". Young and naïve soldiers are literally being dropped in overseas hell to fulfil a mission that is practically suicidal. They are confronted with agony and hopelessness. The horror aspects are derivative, but nevertheless entertaining to watch. Fallen Nazi soldiers resurrect as indestructible super-monsters with half of their faces blown off and their veins almost bursting out their necks & arms. It's undemanding, over-the-top fun, plain and simple.

A Tattered Web

Before "The Stepfather", there was ...the Father-in-Law!
The most entertaining aspect about "A Tattered Web", I think, is the short description on the back of the Dutch DVD-release. Here it says about Lloyd Bridges' character: "he's a mean person, but we understand him...". Excuse me? Speak for yourself, will you! Bridges depicts a dictatorial patriarch who murders a girl in her own apartment, and then abuses his power and authority as a life-long police detective to frame an elderly drunkard for his vicious crime. I, for one, have absolutely no respect or understanding for anything this man does.

That being said, "A Tattered Web" is an obscure and inconspicuous, but nevertheless solidly engaging made-for-television thriller from the early 70s, with a simple but effective plot and competent people in front as well as behind the cameras. TV-regular Paul Wendkos ("The Legend of Lizzie Borden", "Haunts of the very Rich") directs steadily, and the cast contains a handful of familiar faces, including Lloyd Bridges (yes, in a serious role), Frank Converse, Murray Hamilton and Broderick Crawford. There's a fair amount of suspense to enjoy, especially when the titular web closes around Sgt. Ed Stagg and he's running out of cover-up options.

The Andromeda Strain

From New Mexico to Utah, and from brilliant to average...
Having recently re-watched the 1971-version of "The Andromeda Strain" taught me one thing: the original is still a near-perfect Sci-Fi landmark and never will a remake, whether in the form of a film or a mini-series, be any better.

But okay, I'm not here to elaborate on the superiority of the Robert Wise classic. The mini-series has reason to exist as well, although it never really surpasses the quality-level of "average". Literally everything about "The Andromeda Strain" 2008 is average;- whether it comes to the added storylines versus the original film, the acting performances, the action/horror sequences, or the special effects. The foundations of Michael Crichton's genius novel are luckily kept intact, give or take a few minor details. When a satellite crashes back onto earth, almost the entire population of the nearby little town Piedmont, Utah, literally drops dead. In the original film, Piedmont was located in New Mexico, but I guess that's one of the few minor details. A handful of eminent scientists are escorted from all corners of the US of A to a top-secret governmental underground facility in the desert to examine the unearthly substance attached to the satellite. What's different or additional compared to the '71 version is that there's a sub-plot with a research journalist, bigger political involvement (including a role for the US-President), nastier intentions by the military and a couple of utterly grotesque theories with wormholes.

People like Benjamin Bratt and Christa Miller are decent performers, but they fail to be very plausible as brilliant scientists. Still, they are not as implausible as - say - the numerous mutations of the virus, or the insane explanations of where it supposedly comes from. The mini-series was released in the same year as the original author, the mighty Michael Crichton, passed away. I sincerely hope this wasn't the last adaptation of his work that he had to see.


Portman in mutation-Wonderland
To put it short and rather bluntly, I'm sure there exists an audience for "Annihilation" but I'm not a part of it. I'm also convinced the film deserves its place in horror history, right now as well as in many years from now, but I'm not likely to ever watch it again. Movies like "Annihilation", and probably even the entire repertoire by Alex Garland, require a specific type of patient and open-minded viewers. It's slow paced, extremely convoluted, philosophical, and constantly raises more questions than any screenplay could possibly ever answer.

I found most of the film rather boring, quite frankly, especially the long build-up to the expedition and the exaggeratedly psychedelic last half hour. The middle section contains a handful of powerful and exhilarating moments, notably the ones involving mutated animals (like crocs and bears) and bonkers ecological phenomena, but gets ruined by supposedly clarifying flashbacks that clarify nothing at all. There are some bright ideas in the basic premise, the visual effects are impressive, and the cast is excellent, and yet "Annihilation" is a very frustrating effort.

Willy's Wonderland

Ka-Ching! Another easy paycheck for Nic...
Since a few years now, I am wondering how Nicolas Cage manages to lead star in so many different (up to 5 or 8) movies per year. Admittedly, most of these films are terrible, but he nevertheless needs to be physically on set and memorize his lines, right? Is Nic maybe homeless and living on film sets nowadays? Does he have a small army of clones working around the clock to pay off his debts and alimonies? Quite frankly, it doesn't really matter, because a) Nicolas Cage will always remain one of the coolest dudes alive, and b) he also turns up more and more frequently in over-the-top gory and violent horror movies! And I love those. After "Mom and Dad", "Mandy" and "Color out of Space", this is once more a gloriously insane B-movie starring the one and only Nic Cage!

And, well, the argument of memorizing lines at least doesn't count for "Willy's Wonderland". Cage's character is a mute and nameless weirdo who speeds around in a fancy car, drinks gallons of energizer-soda, and has a fetish for old-fashioned pinball machines. He strands in a godforsaken little town where the locals trick him into spending the night in a rundown funhouse called - you guessed it - "Willy's Wonderland". The barbaric plan is to sacrifice him to a bunch of animatronic killer-puppets, who are actually possessed by the spirits of child murderers who committed ritual suicide, but they didn't count on a "victim" being thoroughly unimpressed with the situations he's facing. Nic beats the murder-dolls to pulp and splinters, has a soda, plays some pinball, and carries on with his janitor work.

Sounds like mindless fun and great entertainment, and that's correct, but "Willy's Wonderland" is also a forgettable and sorely lacking film. Cage's character being silent is the most annoying flaw, in my humble opinion. It's okay to have a strong and silent hero, but he could have at least said a few things to give a bit of insights in his thoughts and personality, right? There are massive holes in the logic and continuity as well, but there's hardly any use in elaborating on those. The special effects are good but not great, the supportive cast members are literally just there as cannon fodder, and the supposedly lewd girl keeps her bra on during sex. That's a horrible rookie-mistake.

The Amusement Park

This is a Public Service Announcement... Have you hugged your Grandmother today?
A good two years after his passing, relatives of the great George A. Romero discovered and professionally restored a (short) movie the master himself directed in 1973 already. Evidently that, for many diehard horror fanatics - myself included - "The Amusement Park" promptly became one of the must-see genre events of the decade! Seriously, how could this go wrong? Especially with an awesome film poster like that, and the knowledge Romero helmed this little project during his most genius period as a director (namely in between the "Night" and "Dawn"), this was going to be a guaranteed winner!

"The Amusement Park" was apparently never meant to be an actual film, but more like an educational/awareness video message to make clear to younger generations that we are mistreating our senior citizens, and to urge everyone to treat the elderly with a little more respect and dignity. It's somewhat of an extended Public Service Announcement; - if you will! Of course, in the hands of the natural born rebel and anti-conservative George A. Romero, the concept immediately became a grim, shocking, and pitch-black social satire the producers never even dared to unleash upon the world. What a bizarre idea to hire Romero for a PSA-video, anyway. That's like asking Rob Zombie to direct a commercial for diapers, or recruiting Michael Moore to shoot a presidential election promo-video for the Republicans.

Romero's interpretation of the sadly factual and relevant social theme is nothing short of amazing, though. The film, which starts and ends with long speeches by lead actor Lincoln Maazel who elaborates on the subject, is overall extremely powerful, impactful, and very VERY depressing. Fancily dressed and in a joyful mood, our elderly protagonist hopes to have a fun day in a crowded amusement park. He quickly experiences, however, how he and other people of his age are constantly ripped off, patronized, humiliated, ignored, abused, and even physically hurt by all the so-called active and more productive members of society. Various metaphorical sequences are incredibly confronting and harrowing, like how the bumper carts turn into a recognizable traffic situation, or how elderly people are often denied to spent time around (grand-)children. It's a crude but eye-opening film, and it honestly doesn't even matter that it remained shelved for 45 years, because it is still more or less applicable today. Life-expectancy has gone up significantly, but for issue like loneliness and digital analphabetism are the new challenges.

The Last Wave

One...Two...Mulkurul is coming for you!
It doesn't happen too often that a film has such a powerful and promising opening sequence as here in "The Last Wave". Playtime at a little countryside school in central Australia, during a sunny & cloudless November day, gets brutally interrupted when a ferocious hailstorm breaks loose and practically destroys the classroom. What an amazing start, especially if - like me - you have a fondness for cataclysmic situations and ecologic horror!

The plot then moves to big-city Sydney, but also there is heavily and non-stop raining the entire time, through which writer/director Peter Weir creates a foreboding and genuinely unsettling atmosphere. In Sydney another crucial theme of the film comes to the surface, namely an extreme clash in cultures. In one of the greatest roles of his career, Richard Chamberlain depicts lawyer David Burton, defending five aboriginals accused of murdering one of their own. Whilst getting more and more persuaded they are forming a traditional tribe within the city, Burton sees one of the aboriginal in his dreams and suffers from increasingly apocalyptic premonitions. It's almost as if our white liberal lawyer is spiritually connected to the aboriginal deity Mulkurul; - but the rebirth of Mulkurul goes hand in hand with the Armageddon!

"The Last Wave" doesn't necessarily has the most plausible script, and is quite honestly a hodgepodge of loose ideas, but Peter Weir is such a fantastic storyteller, and he makes such excellent use of locations, set-pieces, music and the rich Australian culture/history. Notably the extended sequences guided by constant didgeridoo tunes are sending shivers down the spine, and some of Burton's visions are also very depressing. The final, say, 10-15 minutes are a bit disappointing in my humble opinion, but nevertheless a recommendable Aussie cult film.

The Andromeda Strain

Pure and brilliant Science. But ... is it also Fiction?
"The Andromeda Strain" is a collaboration between two of the most genius professionals in their own area of expertise. Around the late 60s/early 70s, Robert Wise already was a multi-experienced director who helmed a variety of genres, including Sci-Fi and horror. Michael Crichton was still a young author, and this was his first novel, but he wrote it when he was still studying at Harvard Medical School and thus a subject expert on the matter of meticulous scientific research. The result of their collective work is one of the most unconventional and - admittedly - often difficult to watch Sci-Fi movies ever, but simultaneously also one of the purest, intense, disturbing, and utmost intelligent landmarks in cinematic history.

Why is it unconventional and difficult to watch? Well, "The Andromeda Strain" isn't exactly a Sci-Fi motion picture like most people imagine them to be. It's slow-paced, full of medical slang and complex dialogs, and the set-pieces are sober and neutral. The story doesn't feature any gigantic slimy alien monsters, oddly designed spaceships or famous A-listed actors heroically battling galactic enemies with laser guns. Especially considering its release during the era when Sci-Fi cinema began booming, it is quite unusual but courageous to make a film that solely revolves on script-strength and brooding atmosphere. Why is it pure and disturbing and intelligent Sci-Fi? Because Crichton's novel challenges the viewer to think far beyond the fixed limits of our well-known Sci-Fi culture. What is the most realistic doom-scenario to overcome earth, you'd say? An all-destructive and virulent extraterrestrial attack, like in "War of the Worlds" or "Independence Day"? Or perhaps that, somewhere in outer space, there exists a microscopically small germ that promptly mutates into a deadly virus when entering the earthly hemisphere? Hollywood movie producers know what is the most spectacular scenario to turn into a movie, for sure, but which of the two is the most unsettling?

Besides all the intellectual superiority, "The Andromeda Strain" also remains an incredibly tense and mesmerizing film to behold. When a space satellite crashes back onto earth, almost the entire population of a nearby little town literally drops dead at whatever it is they are doing. Promptly, four eminent scientists are escorted to a top-secret governmental underground facility in the desert to examine the unearthly substance attached to the satellite. The safety procedures and careful research processes form the main part of the film, but the exploration of the stricken town - Piedmont, New Mexico - represents the most haunting parts of the film. Everything aspect of the film is flawless but also so serene! Like the visual effects by Douglas Trumball, the music by Gil Mellé, and the performances by relatively unknown but excellent cast members, like James Olson and Kate Reid. As I said already, a genius film.

The Last Winter

Dying in a Winter Wonderland
Ah, Alaska... The Final Frontier. By far the most breathtaking place on earth, and still the most magical place I ever visited - and probably ever will visit - in my life. Since I took a road trip there (nowhere near the North Slope, obviously) I try to watch as many movies as possible that are set in Alaska, especially if they are horror. So, regardless of how good or bad Larry Fassenden's "The Last Winter" turned out, at least I was fairly confident the filming locations and the photography would be astounding.

But "The Last Winter" has more reasons for existing than just its Alaskan (and apparently also Icelandic) filming locations. It's actually a rather ambitious, creative, well-acted and contemporary relevant combo of supernatural horror and climate fiction. It's not great, but compelling enough to keep you entertained throughout its running time. A hardened crew of the North Corporation, led by the robust Pollack, is making the final preparations to start drilling for oil, in spite of doubts and warnings from the independent environmental counsellor James Hoffman. Whilst Pollack and Hoffman are constantly bickering, and not just over the environment, other crew members are behaving increasingly strange and unpredictable. Are they being haunted by the Wendigo, are toxic gassing emerging from the soil, or are the geographical isolation and working conditions just becoming too unbearable?

Mind you, I'm not upholding the mystery with that final sentence. I genuinely had no clue what was going on! Near the end, Larry Fassenden loses his grip on the plot and the overall film, but compensates the lack of logic & coherence with a couple of spectacular scenes and visual effects. The global warming and ecological morals are omnipresent in Fassenden's script, but never shoved down our throats - which is good! The cast is fantastic, the final sequence is lousy, and the film as a whole is somewhat in between.


Domo arigato, Ulli Lommel-O!
Ulli Lommel, may he rest in peace, is definitely one of the most incomprehensible and enigmatic horror film directors who ever lived. One of his very first films, "The Tenderness of Wolves", is a personal favorite of mine, and honestly also one of the most intensely disturbing serial-killer thrillers ever. A couple of years later, Lommel left his native Germany and made a couple of more than decent and infamous horror gems, like "The Boogeyman", "BrainWaves" and "Olivia". Then, he must have fallen off a cliff and lost half of his brain capacity, or something, because suddenly Lommel's films became really bad, dumb and soulless. Stuff like "Revenge of the Stolen Stars" and even this "Overkill" can only be enjoyed if you watch it in group, with friends and plenty of alcohol nearby. In the 1990s, Lommel ended up in video-hell, but then in the early 2000s another terrible tragedy must have overcome him. I don't know, maybe a head-on collision with a truck, or so, which cost him the remaining other half of his brain capacity. How else would you explain the giant tidal wave of unendurable and downright abominable handheld-camera trash he "directed" between 2003 and 2012?

Now, back to "Overkill", which is a masterpiece compared to Lommel's post-2000 movies but a lousy 80s B-movie by all other existing standards. It's a lame attempt to mix tough street action with martial arts and buddy-cop thriller, but the script is really poor. Steve Rally is the LA copper Mickey Delano who proclaims his beloved city - as well as the entire West Coast - is being taken over by the Japanese Yakuza; - exactly how the Italian mafia took over the East Coast. He's right, of course, but none of his superiors care. When his own partner gets killed, Delano teams up with a Japanese cop who traveled to LA to avenge his family members that were killed by the Yakuza because they refused to pay for protection. Admittedly the violent parts in "Overkill" are enjoyable, with a handful of nasty shootouts and graphic close-up kills, but the rest of the film is clichéd, dull and predictable.

Interesting detail: usually in this type of low-keyed 80s action trash they cast a few former Playboy bunnies to insert some gratuitous nudity. For "Overkill", though, Ulli Lommel did the opposite and cast Playgirl's "Man of the Year" for the lead role. Steve Rally therefore barely ever wears a shirt throughout the entire movie.

The Invisible Killer

The also made boring rubbish in the 30s, after all...
In my head, it always seems as if every movie made in the 30s and 40s is good and worth seeking out. Stuff like "The Invisible Killer" prove that dreadfully boring, rubbishy, and utterly pointless movies have always existed. Apart from a man who picks up the phone and spontaneously drops dead, there's absolutely nothing interesting happening here. Heck, even that scene itself is fairly lame. There's only talking, talking, talking. Endless talking. Whenever they are not bickering with an over-ambitious and intrusive female reporter (Grace Bradley), two police detectives must look for a killer within an illegal gambling ring. 62 minutes rarely lasted this long.

I coltelli del vendicatore

Mario Bava to the Rescue!
Yours truly hasn't got any affection with the Sword & Sandal whatsoever, but hey, since it's a Mario Bava film, and since I consider him the greatest director of all times, "Knives of the Avenger" somehow became a must-see after all. I stand corrected, though, as this wasn't initially meant to be a Bava-film. It became a Bava-film when the production badly ran into trouble, and he was needed for re-writes and a timely delivery. The fact that one man was capable or replacing a fired director, alter an entire script and finish a reasonably okay film in less than a week proves once more that Mario Bava was the ultimate cinematic genius.

The plot and set-up are extremely simple, but fairly efficient. A mysterious, blond-haired warrior protects a fugitive mother and her son from a merciless gang of outlaws led by the cruel Hagen. The story is supposedly set in the Viking era, but I didn't spot anything (costumes, ships, Northern locations) to emphasize this. Bava worked with what he had available, clearly, namely a fairly good cast (with adequate performances from Cameron Mitchell and Fausto Tozzi) and violent battle sequences. Unless you have - like me - a specific interest in the work of the director, "Knives of the Avenger" is a dull and unmemorable period piece, NOT worth tracking down.

The Hellstrom Chronicle

How so "fake documentary"? What do you mean "fictional"?
Be wary and skeptical towards reviews that put too much focus on "The Hellstrom Chronicles" being fictional and a pseudo-documentary. Although most people acknowledge how great and visually stunning it is, they seem to think the "fake" aspects are much more important to write about.

What's so fake about it, I ask? Okay, the narrating scientist - Swedish Ph. D. Nils Hellstrom - doesn't exist, and thus didn't do all the entomologic research he so convincingly proclaims he did. Other entomologists did, though, because all these staggering insights and dazzling particularities we learn about the insect world are factual and captured in the tiniest detail. Lawrence Pressman is an actor, so "The Hellstrom Chronicle is fake. So if, say, David Attenborough or James Earl Jones had done the voiceover instead, it would have been okay?

Before watching the film (on a big cinema screen, which was awesome!) and based on its reputation, I was led to believe "The Hellstrom Chronicle" would spawn grotesque theories around conspiring against all other life-forms, human in particular, or gradually metamorphosing into indestructible monsters. It does nothing of that sort. Hellstrom merely demonstrates, meticulously, that insects are much better equipped and emotionally immune enough to survive and quickly repopulate after whatever type of potential apocalypse overcomes the world. This is not only correct, but also plausible and even probably. And the documentary doesn't even biblically state this will happen tomorrow or in a hundred years, just in the even of. Quite obviously, the tone of the narration and some of the footage is heavily dramatized, but can you honestly blame the producers for inserting a bit of sensationalism? After all, the early 70s was the era of flamboyant ecological horror and dystopian Sci-Fi cinema.

In 1972, "The Hellstrom Chronicle" won the Academy Award in the category of best documentary. I, for one, think this is more than deserved! Apart from the fascinating subject matter, it's also a supreme work of craftmanship. The film is more than half a century old now, but the cinematography and the editorial/technical knowhow have barely aged. I don't watch many documentaries, but this one can still easily compete with all the widely acclaimed stuff National Geographic and the BBC are producing these days. The voiceover monologues are almost like poetry or advanced literature to listen to; - full of superlatives and a wide range of synonyms. And, last but not least, even as a diehard horror fanatic, I occasionally squirmed in my seat when beholding close-up footage of - for example - the Black Widow destroying her mating partner, or a massive colony of legionary ants devouring an adult Komodo lizard!

In short - and apologies for the lengthy review - "The Hellstrom Chronicle" is an absolute must-see!

The Ultimate Thrill

Britt Ekland is the ultimate beauty. The film, alas, is the ultimate bore...
What happened here, seriously? With its clever pitch, awesome cast and breathtaking filming locations, "The Ultimate Thrill" easily could have been one of the greatest and most original American action movies of the 70s. However, due to bad writing, absent direction and the incomprehensible choice to stuff the film with random stunt-skiing stock footage, it became one of the most frustratingly dull failures ever.

The basic idea is awesome. The title refers to the rather unusual hobby of lead character Roland Parley (Eric Braeden). He's a millionaire who seemingly has everything, including a stunningly beautiful wife (Britt Ekland) and a luxurious lodge on the top of a mountain in a fancy Colorado skiing resort. The sole thing that provides him with the ultimate thrill, though, is hunting down and killing innocent men. In order to give himself an excuse, he lures tourist skiers to the lodge and almost straight into the arms of his wife, just so that he can pretend to be the jealous husband with a shotgun!

So, in other words, what we have here is a clever variation on the 'hunting human for sport/kicks' theme (originating from "The Most Dangerous Game") in a stupendous setting full of snowy mountains, deep ravines and potential avalanches. This really should have been an awesome thriller, and there aren't any excuses for its incompetence. The cat-and-mouse chases are exhilarating (death by helicopter!) but too short, and neither the plot nor the characters are elaborated properly. How come? Well, because half of the film exists of padding footage! It looks like a marketing video to promote the wonders of winter sports.

Malibu Express

Depending on your mindset, "Malibu Express" is either the greatest movie ever made... or the dumbest.
Wow, I honestly never thought I'd be writing like this, but ... After seeing "Malibu Express", I've seen enough big naked breasts to last me a couple of months! There were boobs - big ones - everywhere! This entire film feels like a promotional campaign to sell subscriptions to Playboy Magazine. I never heard of writer/director Andy Sidaris before, but I'll definitely be seeking out the rest of his repertoire now. What a pleasantly deranged old pervert he must have been.

Regarding "Malibu Express", I haven't yet figured out how to rate it. This is either a brilliant and deliberately tongue-in-cheek parody of typically 80s P. I. movies and TV-series, or a hopelessly inept but genuine attempt to make one. With all do respect, but to be brutally honest, I really doubt Andy Sidaris is intelligent enough to come up with such an effectively biting satire, so why don't we just label it a lucky shot or a "so bad it's good" classic.

The plot is of minor importance, obviously, but the lead hero Cody Abilene is a wonderful character. He's a clueless P. I. who can't properly shoot his firearm, but thanks to his impressive moustache, muscular torso and dimwit macho charm, all women literally throw themselves bare-chested at his feet. Abilene lives on a boat with an entrance gate, the titular "Malibu Express, and drives around in red DeLorean. Whenever he's not being assaulted by half-naked babes or illegally street-racing with a family of hillbillies, Abilene infiltrates into a rich family full of adulterous people, in order to find out who leaks government information to the Russians. "Malibu Express" is often genuinely funny, the finale is unexpectedly clever (with echoes of Agatha Christie) and the women in the cast are just indescribably gorgeous! Sybil Danning is the most famous, of course, but many others are equally breathtaking: Kimberly McArthur, Lynda Wiesmeier, Barbara Edwards, Lori Sutton, Lorraine Michaels, Suzanne Regard, and even that odd-looking Robyn Hilton.


Duel in Dutch
Already half a century old - that's fifty years, folks - and yet Steven's Spielberg's simple debut feature "Duel" is still one of the most influential, unsettling and disturbingly relevant thrillers ever made. In fact, the plot of a banal traffic dispute escalating into a life-altering nightmare is nowadays even more accurate than during the early 70s, since people - and particularly in traffic - have only become more obnoxious, selfish and aggressive over the years.

That's also what the Dutch, and clearly talented, writer/director Lodewijk Crijns must have thought when he penned down his modest but engaging road-rage thriller "Bumperkleef". Apart from the vehicle duel between the robust and clinically white transporter van of the killer and the family Volvo of his victim, the primary duel revolves around who is the most loathsome character. Is it the cruel killer who doesn't even hesitate to spray insecticides at young children, or is it the supposedly sophisticated family father who is too stubborn to admit his mistakes and needlessly puts his wife and kids in danger?

"Bumperkleef" is a solid little thriller from The Netherlands, with genuine moments of suspense and a couple of impressively staged bits of stunt work. The performances from the entire cast (even including the children) are terrific. It is truly regrettable this film didn't doo well at the box-office, and especially that reviewers around here are referring to it as lousy, because "Bumperkleef" honestly is as good as Dutch thriller/horror cinema gets.


Horror movies don't provoke violence. Period. Long live the "Video Nasties"
Enid Baines, an extremely introvert and inconspicuous woman in her late twenties, works for the British Board of Film Censors during the early 1980s; - around the time of the infamous "video nasties". She has the reputation of being strict and prudish, but she also carries with her the unprocessed childhood trauma of when her sister Nina disappeared in the woods although Enid was supposed to be looking after her. During the censor screening of a horror film named "Don't go in the Church" - got to love the title -, Enid sees scarily accurate details from the day of Nina's disappearance, and even recognizes her now adult sister in the B-movie lead actress Alice Lee. Enid goes on a private quest to discover whether or not the mysterious director Frederick North kidnapped her sister.

Being an obsessive horror fanatic, with a particular fondness for extreme stuff from the 70s and 80s, I was obviously very attracted by the thematic. My movie-buddies and me have seen all titles on the legendary "video nasty" list, and it was definitely interesting to see an actual genre film truthfully incorporating the modus operandi, parameters, internal debates and decisions of the censorship commission. And, of course, writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond simply must underline the main moral a couple of times, namely "NO to censorship". Movies don't provoke violence, people with unsane minds commit violence. It's a moral I support for a full 100%, evidently!

The mystery/thriller plot itself is also better than expected, with some compelling sequences and a forceful performance by Niamh Algar. Enid's descent into paranoia is far from plausible, but there's pitch-black humor and a bit of nice gore.

Tip for fellow video-nasty fanatics: spot all the little references, clips and homages to contemporary horror classics and guess the titles!

Hell Up in Harlem

And to think Larry Cohen and Fred Williamson didn't even quit their day-jobs!
You know how people say "don't quit your day job" when you want to do something very much, but haven't got the talent, skills or resources? Cult/exploitation masters Larry Cohen and Fred Williamson definitely turned this expression upside-down! They owned all the required skills to make a great sequel to the massively successful "Black Caesar", and yet they still opted NOT to abandon their regular day jobs in order to do so! Around the time of filming, not even half a year after the release of "Black Caesar", Williamson was working hard on "That Man Bolt", whereas Cohen was making his beloved horror-oddity "It's Alive". The studio persisted to have the sequel ready asap, and so Cohen and his crew just filmed "Hell Up in Harlem" during the weekends. Now, that's what I call dedication!

Much later, Larry Cohen admitted in an interview that "Hell Up in Harlem" was a largely unprepared effort. Well, that must be the understatement of the (previous) century! From the opening sequences, and until the end-credits start rolling, the script of "Hell Up in Harlem" appears to be improved on the spot, and the dialogues/monologues ad-libbed. This resulted in a film with a minimalistic plot and an incredibly hectic narrative structure, but with also a lot of awesome and ingenious action sequences. Numerous pieces of action footage are downright unforgettable, contrary to thin storyline of Tommy Gibbs introducing his father to the criminal world and his warfare against the corrupt NY district attorney. The fantastic opening scene, for instance, in which Tommy's friends take an entire hospital hostage at gunpoint in order to prevent him from getting arrested immediately after his treatment to remove a bullet. There's also the violent invasion of a Florida Keys' island, complete with trigger-happy black maids and Kung-Fu bikini babes. And so many more highlight, including a chase on the airport luggage transporter, a "he-died-with-a-hotdog-in-his-mouth" moment, and - my ultimate favorite - Gibbs impaling a sunbathing gangster (during broad daylight at a crowded Coney Island) with a sharp beach umbrella.

Circus Kane

Killing off influencers is always fun
"Circus Kane", not to be confused with "Citizen Kane" (joking; of course), is a mundane and derivative piece of slasher/clown-horror, but it nevertheless features a number of effective gross moments and creepy set-pieces, as well as one genuinely nasty clown and an eerie jester. At least that's more than what I saw in many other recently released and lousy horror movies revolving around clowns ("Clowntergeist", "Clown Town", ...).

Like several fellow reviewers righteously pointed out already, the makers of this film have an unhealthy obsession with the style and persona of Rob Zombie. The lead villain Balthasar Kane, as depicted by Tim Abell, even bears a strong physical resemblance to Zombie, especially during his Hellbilly Deluxe period. The plot of "Circus Kane" also feels somewhat like a crossover between "House of 1,000 Corpses" and the more recent "Escape Room" thrillers. A bunch of annoying and disposable persons, horror cinema influencers of some sort in this case, must escape from the titular circus (which is actually a house) in order to win $250.000, but naturally the whole place is one giant death trap with swinging pendulums, barb-wired labyrinths, and axe-wielding clowns.

Everything about "Circus Kane" is predictable, and the characters are hopelessly dumb (they deliberately run into barbwire, for crying out loud!), but admittedly the sequences inside the house are quite atmospheric and the make-up effects are deliciously gory. The flashback sequences and Kane's endless monologues, on the other hand, are extremely boring. All his screen time should have been replaced with extra footage starring the clown, the jester, and the doorman who looks a lot like Angus Scrimm from "Phanstasm". The "twist" - if you can even call it that - at the end is lame, and won't surprise anyone who ever watched a horror movie before.

PS: I just learned, via this website - of course, that the director Christopher Ray is the son of the infamous 80s/90s low-budget trash director Fred Olen Ray. This surely explains why one of the characters wears a "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers" shirt, and it is further proof of a well-known expression involving a tree and an apple.

Die Gruft mit dem Rätselschloss

Fun Krimi with the Usual Suspects.
I love these German adaptations of Edgar Wallace novels, really do, but I just wished they had been a bit more creative and out-of-the-box when it came to their casting choices. It's the 10th, or so, Krimi that I've seen, and Eddi Arent stars as the excessively talking and irritating comic relief character... again. Klaus Kinski stars as the mysterious but relentless and silent killer ... again! Other than that, though, "The Curse of the Hidden Vault" is a very decent and enjoyable thriller with a compelling plot, far-fetched but imaginative twists and a number of ingenious gimmicks, booby-traps and killing methods. The story seems complex but is actually fairly straightforward. Now that he has reached his final years, a former gangster and dubious casino owner becomes remorseful and intends to donate his entire fortune to the daughter of a man he wronged many years ago. All his previous partners, enemies and competitors know the entire inheritance is stored in a secret, hi-tech and heavily booby-trapped vault that no one ever managed to even reach. Now the word is out that the vault will soon be opened, every gangster in London wants to use to girl to get to the fortune. Good pacing, regular action and solid performances from the ensemble cast (also including the great Werner Peters) ensure this is an above average and very entertaining Krimi.

Escape Room

Where can I sign up my colleagues?
When I hear or read the words "Escape Room", I automatically think about those horrible - and sadly mandatory - team building activities I had to participate in the past couple of years. Escape Rooms are undoubtedly one of the most annoying and useless hypes of the 2010's. Few things in life are more irritating than having to solve stupid puzzles with people you can barely stand, only to discover that the answer to the puzzle leads you towards a new and even bigger puzzle. Giving the concept of the game, it obviously was just a matter of time before an Escape Room would get used as a location or as a gimmick in a horror film. It's a concealed space full of potential torturing devices; so basically, just a blending between "Cube" and "Saw". Between 2017-2019, at least three or four uninspired horror movies centering around escape rooms were released. They don't even bother to come up with a decent title and are all called "Escape Room".

Until now, I had only seen a 2017-version written and directed by Will Wernick. It was awful, and I'll gladly admit this 2019 film (by Adam Robitel) is a massive improvement. This particular "Escape Room" has the best rating, the most favorable reviews and already turned out successful enough to have spawned a sequel. The stories of all "Escape Room" films are identical, obviously, but there are at least some likable characters in this one, and the writers undertook some effort to give them a bit of intellect, emotional depth and background. The deaths aren't excessively gruesome or bloody, but still painful enough for me to want and subscribe some colleagues I cannot stand. It's still predictable nonsense, though, as it takes far too long before the players realize their little game is deadly serious, and the "twist" at the end is blatantly stolen from a certain Eli Roth film released in 2005.

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