Well, there goes my Valentine’s Day

I think I would have preferred that the DHL carrier just punched me in the face rather than deliver this to me.

“Witless Protection,” in theaters February 22. It is your civic duty to make sure this movie makes as little money as possible.


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Scare of the Day: “Voodoo Moon”

I gotta tell you, I haven’t a clue how long this has been sitting around my office, waiting to be reviewed; worse, my wife watched it when it first got here, and she can’t remember how long ago that was. The best I can offer you is that it was originally released on October 3, 2006, so we’re almost certainly looking at an entire year…and while I realize that I should feel embarrassed about the fact that it’s been loitering around here for so long, the best defense I have is that it’s a Sci-Fi Channel original film, and, statistically, those things are generally best left unwatched.

In the case of “Voodoo Moon,” I’ll at least say this: it’s a far cry from being the worst Sci-Fi Channel original film that I’ve ever seen. In fact, at times, it feels like a cross between “Fallen” (the Denzel Washington flick which probably blew most of its budget just to license The Rolling Stones’ “Time Is On My Side”) and “The Crow,” though the latter comparison probably only comes into play because the film’s lead, Eric Mabius (“Resident Evil”), walks around wearing a long black trenchcoat for the majority of the movie.

Mabius plays Cole, who basically spends his life practicing voodoo and hunting demons, one of which – a dark fellow named Daniel (Rik Young) – keeps popping back into our realm when he’s not wanted. Daniel’s been a thorn in Cole’s side for years, growing stronger each time he returns, and, now, he’s back for a final battle. To draw as much strength as possible, Cole draws together a group of folks he’s helped over the years, and they’re more than willing to step up and help him defeat Daniel. Also in the mix is Cole’s sister, Heather, played by Charisma Carpenter; it’s pretty clear that Carpenter didn’t have to stretch much to play this role, which has her reacting to things in much the same way she did when she played Cordelia Chase on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” John Amos (“Good Times”) plays a biker buddy of Cole’s, and there are also appearances from horror flick stalwarts like Dee Wallace Stone and Jeffrey Combs. Amos is great, but that’s also probably the least surprising revelation about the film, given that he’s usually entertaining in any role; Combs, however, is part of the most entertaining subplot of the film, playing one of Cole’s cronies who gets killed on his way to assist him but refuses to let little things like death or rigor mortis get in the way of doing his part. Young is pretty entertaining with his portrayal of the evil Daniel, too:

As with any Sci-Fi Channel flick, there are plenty of moments which will inspire you to yell at the screen because of their stupidity, but Jenn – my wife and my regular “Scare of the Day” viewing companion – became very vocal about her issues with a small moment in the movie. It occurred when Heather stepped into the hallway of the hotel where she and Cole were staying, only to get immediately stabbed in the leg with a fork by an old woman who’d been possessed by Daniel. Heather’s reaction was basically, “Ow, that hurt,” taking it pretty much in stride when Cole yanked out the fork. “Oh, my God!” yelled Jenn. “You would so NOT act like you’ve just gotten a slap on the leg if you’d been stabbed by a fork!” This really, really bothered my wife. Later in the film, Heather accidentally cuts herself on a broken glass and barely holds it together, at which point Jenn yelled, “Suck it up! You took a fork in the leg…and I know that hurt worse than that!” I won’t waste your time or mine by regaling you with the other fork-related references made throughout the course of these 89 minutes, but suffice it to say that the issue was still going strong even as I was typing this paragraph.

The special effects range from the not-bad to the outrageously-crappy, with the battle royale between Cole and Daniel falling somewhere in-between the two poles, but probably the most annoying thing about “Voodoo Moon” is that it’s one of those movies where you’re always aware that there’s a good idea getting the shit kicked out of it by poor execution. The character of Cole is actually a rather interesting one, particularly the idea of a demon hunter who has a team of people he’s saved working with him (it reminds me of “The Shadow”), but the concept is wasted here.

Oh, well. It’s not like I had high expectations, anyway.


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Scare of the Day: “Welcome to the Grindhouse: ‘Black Candles’ and ‘Evil Eye'”

Damn you, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez! Damn you all to Hell!

I love those guys, don’t get me wrong, but it’s because of their “Grindhouse” flick that I received a couple of DVDs from BCI / Eclipse, each of which features two of the sort of exploitation films from the ‘70s and ‘80s that served as stylistic inspiration for “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof.” When I got them, I mistakenly thought that I might actually enjoy watching these old-school flicks and at least appreciate their kitsch value…and when I saw these descriptions, I thought, “This is Scare of the Day material if I’ve ever seen it.”

Black Candles: Carol and her boyfriend, Paul, travel to England after the unexpected death of her brother. Once there, she finds out her sister-in-law is involved in a satanic cult, and she finds out that Paul is being drawn into the cult.

Evil Eye: Peter Crane is having nightmares about murdering someone. His psychiatrist, Doctor Stone, has him hospitalized for being unable to differentiate between dream and reality. Soon, people start turning up dead at the hospital. Is Peter really a killer, or is there something more sinister afoot?

I…I don’t even know what to say about “Black Candles,” except that, despite the suggestion that this story is predominantly about a satanic cult, that aspect is quickly forgotten in the midst of more softcore sex scenes than you’d find on your average Saturday night on Skinemax. There’s oral sex, mutual masturbation, man on top, woman on top, orgies with not-terribly-attractive participants, guy on girl, girl on girl, girl on goat…and, yes, you read that right. A woman has sex with a freaking goat. I mean, you don’t really see anything, thank God, but let me assure you that it’s still no less disconcerting when she shifts from “ow, that hurts” into the unbridled throes of pleasure. In fact, I was reaching for the remote when the camera suddenly focused on the goat’s eyes, and the look made me laugh out loud. It was, like, “Dude, what the fuck?” (Yes, it’s confirmed: the idea of bestiality is just as weird for the beasts as it is for us.)

In between all of this sex, you’re left with a movie that’d be perfect if The Playboy Channel ever decided to do its own version of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” with bad foreign dialogue dubbed into bad English dialogue. Once you take the goat out of the equation, the only remotely scary moment during the first hour of the film occurs when a face unexpectedly appears in a window, which is pretty pitiful for a movie about a satanic cult. Mind you, ten minutes before the movie ends, we do get a thoroughly revolting sequence where a greasy fat man gets a sword shoved right up the ol’ poop chute, but it’s hardly a moment that you’d describe as a saving grace. When the movie ends with the revelation that all of its events were just a dream, your only wish will be that you could say the same. Then again, I should’ve known this thing was going to suck just based on the fact that its original Spanish title literally translated into “The Sex Rites of the Devil”; anyone who wastes a perfect good title like that by changing it to “Black Candles” clearly doesn’t know the first thing about quality motion pictures.

On the flip side of the coin, “Evil Eye” is extremely entertaining…though, okay, it’s as much for the wrong reasons as for the right ones. There are some highly disconcerting moments here…and not the having-sex-with-a-goat-kind, but some legitimately creepy stuff. Unfortunately, there are also moments which are so awful that I’m still tempted to declare it to be one of the best bad movies I’ve seen in years. Frankly, it earned that honor with one line, then permanently secured it with another…but I’ll get to those in a moment.

As noted above, the film’s premise revolves around a rich playboy named Peter Crane (Jorge Rivero) who keeps having nightmares about having murdered people. Director Mario Siciliano, who was also responsible for “Happy Sex,” “Erotic Family,” and “Orgasmo Non-Stop,” somehow manages to resist his baser instincts and avoid incorporating too many sex scenes into the proceedings, even scoring several legitimately creepy moments over the course of the film’s 90+ minutes, but it’s the dialogue that dooms “Evil Eye.” Blame the melodramatic dubbing into English if you wish, but the lines themselves are the real killer here, such as when Peter complaints to his psychiatrist (played by Robert Conte, a.k.a. Don Brizio in “The Godfather”) that he’s having awful dreams. When he’s asked if he takes drugs, he snaps back, “No way, I don’t like that crap…unless you count whiskey and tobacco as drugs.”

My personal favorite amongst the film’s many completely surreal lines comes via this conversation, where Peter’s longtime paramour meets his psychiatrist’s lovely partner.

Tanya: Who’s the lady?
Peter: Dr. Sarah Turner, this is Tanya.
Tanya: Well, I don’t her very much.
Sarah: Yes, you’re probably just tuning in on my reaction to you.
Tanya: I do tune in on grand pianos.

Um, what?

“Evil Eye” is definitely a must-see film…as in, “You must see just how bad the dialogue is.” But unlike “Black Candles,” at least you won’t feel like you need a shower after watching it. I should mention, though, that the DVD offers the full “grindhouse” experience by providing the original trailers for other films in the series, and while I can’t say they necessarily look any better, they were enough of a hoot that I almost wanted to check them out.



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Scare of the Day: “Sometimes They Come Back”

Movies based on Stephen King novels and short stories are a dime a dozen, but it’s pretty well documented that King’s track record for his adaptation has never been spectacular, and it’s only gotten worse in the years since he’s starting embracing television. After watching “Sometimes They Come Back,” however, one wonders why he opted to make it a TV move rather than a theatrical release; it’s actually one of the better films to have been based on one of his works.

Tim Matheson plays Jim Norman, an idealistic young teacher who returns to his hometown after a several-year absence – now with a wife (Brooke Adams) and son (Robert Hy Gorman) in tow – in order to teach at the local high school. The reason for his departure is an ominous one: his older brother was stabbed to death by a group of local hooligans, who promptly got their just desserts by having their car be hit by an oncoming train while they were still inside. Now, he’s back in town, but being older and wiser doesn’t mean isn’t still haunted by the events of his past…and we do mean that literally.

The second he’s back in town, Jim begins to find himself flashing back to the day of his brother Wayne’s death, and it only get worse when it turns out that the ghosts of the punks who killed Wayne have found their way back to town and into his classroom. They’re “up from Milford,” as they put it, and to make room for themselves in the class, they have to kill other students; unfortunately, no-one seems to see their death car, as it were, except for the victims and, naturally, Jim himself. It’s a horrifying situation for Jim, and it gets worse as the local law enforcement begin to suspect him in the deaths of his students; eventually, he realizes that the only way out of the situation is to confront the demons head on.

“Sometimes They Come Back” is an enjoyable flick that keeps the suspense level pretty high throughout, but it’s also the kind of film that’s best appreciated when one turns their mind off and simply accepts the premise. Otherwise, you’ll be asking questions about the consistency of the ghost’s rules…like, say, why they can be seen when they’re in the classroom but not when they’re tooling down the highway in their muscle car. Just don’t worry about it; just be creeped out.

But, y’know, honestly, I’m not entirely sure why “Sometimes They Come Back” has suddenly gotten a reissue; it might look better than it did in its previous release, but it certainly doesn’t have anything in the way of special features. Still, if you’re a King fan and this one’s flown under your radar for all these years, you might as well enjoy a version that looks pristine. Just stay away from the two sequels, which have precious little to do with either the original film or, indeed, anything King has ever written.


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Scare of the Day: “Starz Inside: Bloodsucking Cinema”

This feels like a complete cheat of a Scare of the Day, but yesterday was a long damned day, and, frankly, I went for the shortest thing in my pile that was even remotely appropriate to the concept: a screener of the new Starz documentary, “Bloodsucking Cinema,” which – shocker! – offers up an hour-long history of the vampire as portrayed in motion pictures. (Given the title, I’m sure you in no way saw the subject matter coming.)

Unfortunately, the first reaction that the documentary is likely to inspire is the realization that there have been a lot…a LOT…of not-great vampire movies in recent years. It’s all but a universal truth that flicks like 1922’s “Nosferatu the Vampire,” with its uber-creepy performance from Max Schreck as the title character, and Tod Browning’s 1931 version of “Dracula,” which proved to be the defining moment of Bela Lugosi’s career (not to mention the albatross around his neck for the majority of his life), are all-time vampire classics. Unfortunately, it’s not like any of the principals from those movies are still among the living to discuss their experiences…but, hey, Uwe Boll and Kristanna Loken are chomping at the bit to chat about “BloodRayne”! Same with Len Weisman and the “Underworld” flicks, Stephen Sommers and “Van Helsing,” and Stuart Townsend and “Queen of the Damned.”

Not exactly on the same level, is it?

On the flip side of the coin, though, the conversations with Cheech Marin reminded me that it’s been too long since I last saw “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn,” and the interview segments with John Carpenter and John Landis and the clips from their respective vampire films – “Vampires” and “Innocent Blood” – made me think that I should give those flicks another chance, that maybe they’re better than I remember them. (In particular, the moments I saw of James Woods’ performance in “Vampires” during the special made me wonder why the film doesn’t stand out for me; he seemed to be having a ball, and yet I can’t for the life of me recall a thing about the flick, even though I know I’ve seen it.) I’m still not convinced, however, that watching Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” again from start to finish wouldn’t leaving me feeling like a week had gone by, but, dammit, I was almost tricked into thinking otherwise. It was also nice to see Joel Schumacher reminiscing about “The Lost Boys,” though seeing Corey Haim only served to remind me how awful “The Two Coreys” was, and as a comic geek, I took great enjoyment in seeing an on-screen interview with Marv Wolfman, co-creator of “Blade.” (Oh, yeah, and writer / director David Goyer shows up to discuss those films as well.)

To give credit where credit is due, however, “Bloodsucking Cinema” does offer a bigger-picture view of the vampire film, even if its talking heads tend to represent sub-par examples of the genre. It does indeed stretch all the way back to “Nosferatu,” then moves forward, stopping long enough to speak of Lugosi, Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Dracula in the Hammer Studios films, the underrated Mexican vampire films which served to inspire “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn,” and even offers brief mentions of comedies like “Once Bitten” and Mel Brooks’ “Dracula: Dead and Loving It.” The differences in the vampire mythos from film to film are compared and contrasted, and by the end of the special, things have gotten downright philosophical, with Carpenter musing about how he would deal with the curse of eternal life.

“Bloodsucking Cinema” actually premiered on Friday night, but it’s being re-run on Halloween night at 9:00 PM EST. I know, it’s hard to accept that anything involving clips from “BloodRayne” is worth seeing, but this is worth catching. It’s certainly not all-inclusive (what, no “Blacula”?), but given the financial limitations inherent in cross-studio clip borrowing, they do they best they can, and the results are quite enjoyable.


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