Saturday, March 20, 2010

Zombie Self-Defense Force

Zombie Self-Defense Force is the first of Naoyuki Tomomatsu's trio of zombie productions. I've had this movie for probably six months before I actually got around to watching it, but now that I have I think I just might be intrigued enough to look into those other two. That's not to say that it's a great film (it's not), but in this case I think that this trainwreck turned out to be hilarious enough for repeat viewings, from several angles.

The movie starts out with a ridiculous CGI spaceship being seen over Fujiyama, Japan. After a drawn out display of every single Japanese citizen's reactions to the U.F.O. the thing crashes, bathing the surrounding landscape in an electric green light.

As luck would have it, the Kibara platoon of the Japanese Self-Defense Force is in the forest already, on a "routine mission."

When we meet them they're just arriving at a corpse hanging from a tree. They see the spaceship, but decide to take care of the body before heading out to the crash site. While they're digging a grave for her, the dead woman suddenly springs back to life as a green-skinned zombie.

Also we find out the forest is haunted by ghost soldiers...

Wow. Things are really picking up fast now, and it hardly ever slows down again. We get one ridiculously gory gag after another as we plod along a truly skeletal plot. Essentially if you were to take zombies, aliens, ghosts, robots, and volcano eruptions (and the rest of this post's tag list), and come up with some ridiculous way to string them all together and throw them on screen in the span of 45 minutes or so, then you'd pretty much have the plot of Zombie Self-Defense Force... so long as you sprinkled in a healthy dose of sword fighting and arterial spray. With that being said, this isn't exactly a plot-driven movie anyway. As a cheap romp through a sequence of sight-gags and gore effects, this is actually pretty entertaining.

It's most easily compared to the scores of Troma films that follow about the same formula. While I personally don't mind some of Troma's more self-indulgent melon-crushing escapades, the quality bar's not set very high on a lot of those, and that's about what I was expecting going into Zombie Self-Defense Force. To my surprise, this actually turned out to actually be better than a lot of the Troma stuff.

Here are some of the high points:

Long, weird, but interesting opening propaganda spiel about why the U.S. government and its military actions are bad, but hamburgers and George Romero are good.

A flying zombie fetus that explodes from the womb of a dead, but pregnant, zombie...

... which then immediately lassos the innkeeper with his umbilical cord and goes Blanka on the innkeeper's face.

We eventually meet the aliens that are causing all of these problems... this is what they look like. As it turns out they're not built for dealing with robots + swords.

The final showdown between robot-lady and ghost-man. Same as all the other fights, but with even more sparks and hilariously inappropriate sound-effects than usual to indicate how epic it is.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


"What the fuck?"

While I still maintain that Phantasm possesses one of the creepiest villains of horror, most of what happens in this movie will leave you feeling about like Mike up there.

We start off seeing a couple of kids sexing it up in a cemetary. They seem to be having a great time until she suddenly turns into a balding man and stabs him. WTF?

We then cut to the guy's funeral, where we meet Jody, who was one of the dead guy's friends, and Mike, Jody's younger brother. We also find out that Mike and Jody's parents are dead and Jody has his first run in with The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who manages the cemetary and giant mausoleum / casket showroom / funerary superstore.

The guy stands 6' 7", fits into tiny suits, and glowers menacingly at the distraught family of the deceased, but no one seems to really take notice.

Pretty soon we meet Jody's still-living friend, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), a guy who looks like a cross between David Koechner and the Ice Cream Man, coincidentally (or maybe not) Reggie is actually an ice cream man.

Jody chases girls for a while, and Mike goes around acting weird and having strange nightmares. Eventually Mike goes to explore The Tall Man's place, ends up getting caught by the cemetary caretaker, and then escaping from him just in time for us to be introduced to The Tall Man's signature weapon.

His balls... WTF?

These balls, along with the sinister Tall Man himself, are the two main things that redeem this movie. Not only are they completely unique, they actually pull off a convincing usage of the "pull object away, print film in reverse" trick to make them look like they fly around on their own. The balls fly around under their own power using some sort of rudimentary vision. When they spot their target, they extend two forward-facing spikes, aim at the forehead of the victim, and speed up.

After Mike struggles with the caretaker for a while, he manages to slip away right before the sphere gets to them, so the sphere ends up striking the caretaker instead... bringing us to the second thing these balls do to their victims.

Once the two spikes are embedded in the victim's forehead, a drill extends from between them and drills into the victim's brain.

Awesome, but WTF?

Mike then faces off with the Tall Man himself. Mike runs away and manages to lock a door between them, although the Tall Man's hand gets caught in the door. Mike does what any logical 13 year old would do in that situation. He cuts all the guy's fingers off, watches them squirt yellow goo and wriggle on the floor, and then sticks one in his pocket to take home with him.


The finger convinces Jody that something's up, and then transforms into one of the most ridiculous things in the movie.

Really, an evil housefly? WTF?

Jody heads back to the Tall Man's mortuary alone, and is immediately attacked by a Jawa straight off of Tattooine. I guess the business of selling stolen droids has dried up for them lately over in the Star Wars universe.

Wait a minute Star Wars toy, who's copying who now?

Jody escapes the jawa by apparently shooting himself in the head, and then he runs back out of the mortuary.

Yep. I double checked and that's aimed right at his own head... WTF?

Jody runs away, meets up with Mike and his friend Reggie, and they all set off for the mortuary again. They go inside and find a weird room full of barrels containing more jawas in storage and a weird interdimensional gate. Mike pokes his head in and gets sucked through to the Tall Man's world. It's red and boring. No wonder he came to visit our world.

After Mike's quick look, he gets pulled back out by Jody. Somehow Mike ends up with total insight about why the Tall Man gathers corpses to make into jawas. "The dwarves, they're usin' 'em as slaves. And they gotta crush 'em because of the gravity... and because of the heat." WTF movie... Alright, if you say so.

Reggie, being a tuning-fork buff, sees two posts and realizes that he should touch them to destroy the interdimensional gate once and for all. He does, and it does. The house disappears.

As it turns out though, that's not terribly helpful since the Tall Man's on this side of it. Mike runs away, while the Tall Man slowly walks after him looking like a badass. Just as the Tall Man's about to get Mike, he darts away again, leading him into a trap. The Tall Man falls down a mine shaft and Jody, who was apparently at the top of the hill watching the whole time, borrows the Indiana Jones boulder, rolls it down the hill, and seals off the hole.

And... roll credits.

Or not quite, there's still time to squeeze in a bad ending for the purpose of adding more confusing nonsense.

Mike wakes up to find that Jody's somehow died in a car accident and he's living with Reggie (who's moved into Mike's house apparently). Mike goes upstairs to his room where he finds that the Tall Man actually does exist although he's had a haircut.

Mike turns and sees him just in time to get pulled through his window by jawa hands. The End.


As I've pointed out, the story of this movie is needlessly complex to the point of just not making much sense at all in a lot of areas, yet somehow most people seem to look back on this as a good movie. There are a few reasons why, and I think they just might be enough to carry the movie entirely back into good movie territory.

First of all, as I mentioned earlier, The Tall Man and his weapon of choice. They're both perfect. If anything I would've liked to have seen more scenes of those silver spheres in action, but those are about the most effects-heavy shots in the movie, and I'm sure they didn't come cheap. So I can understand that there's only really one kill with them.

Next there's the score. It is excellent. I'd venture to say that it's every bit as chilling and iconic as that of Friday the 13th or Halloween.

Lastly, as often as possible, Coscarelli creates some beautiful and iconic shots. Usually they're done for one of two reasons (you can check out examples of both in the trailer below). The first is to make the protagonists looks small, helpless, and insignificant relative to either The Tall Man, or the expansive mortuary itself. The second is to set up shots that make the villain, which is essentially a thin, elderly man, look like a real badass.

While I'm definitely coming away from the movie with some mixed feelings, I still really enjoyed it and can appreciate the areas where it really excelled. And above all, I now remember why The Tall Man creeped me out so much as a kid.

Available on Amazon: Phantasm

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Terror at the Red Wolf Inn

We start off by watching Regina bicycle around town for a while. Usually these drawn-out extended opening scenes are pretty boring, but she seems so klutzy that I was watching just because I expected her to fall over at any moment... especially since we see that she can hardly ride on flat ground without running into people, just before she turns and rides down sets of stairs.

As soon as she arrives at home, she gets a phone call letting her know that she's won a vacation. She mentions that she didn't enter any contest, and they don't tell her where she's going... but none of this really seems to bother her. She's just excited about winning something.

She soon gets on a charter jet and flies out to wherever they take her. Upon landing she's picked up by Baby John. One car chase later, they arrive at the Red Wolf Inn. They're greeted by Evelyn (Mary Jackson) and a few other girls who all seem to have won the same sort of free stay at the inn. The girls talk a bit, and Evelyn goes off to prepare what she promises will be a marvelous dinner.

Regina is still a little curious, and goes into the kitchen to offer her help. Evelyn declines, but quickly gives her a task to do when she shows interest in exploring the walk-in freezer.

What follows is about 10 minutes of all the girls and the family gorging themselves on the Evelyn's food. Everyone loves it and eats as much as they can handle.

A little more than they can handle actually.

The girls all head to bed, and the next morning, one of them is gone. Evelyn says she left early in the morning and no one presses the issue any further.

Regina explores a bit outside, and we're introduced to one of the first instances of the truly awful soundtrack of this movie. There's a couple of minutes of what's supposed to be tension-building violin screeches, but it just sounds there's a fly buzzing by every few seconds.

Regina soon ends up going to the beach with Baby John for some sandwiches and romance. Baby John kisses Regina a little awkwardly for a while, until they notice that he's got a bite on his fishing line. When he looks over to it, we see that apparently the fish reeled itself in, because there's a small shark on the beach. Baby John runs over to it, picks it up by the tail and swings it against a log until it's head is falling apart, then he drops it and punches it a few times because... why not. This awkward situation transforms into something wonderfully ridiculous when Baby John suddenly looks up and says, "I think I love you," making it one of the best scenes of the film.

Shark destruction starts at about 4:20

No animals were harmed during the making of... Oh, nevermind...

That night, we see Baby John and his grandfather (Arthur Space) kill Edwina in her sleep with some sort of poison and carry her downstairs to the big kitchen to butcher. The next day, Regina finds out that Edwina is missing and knows something strange is happening. She tries to get Baby John to run away with her, but he's not sure he can leave his grandmother. Eventually Regina gets a chance to have a look at that walk-in freezer, so she does, and finds portions of her friends there. She screams and the horrible sound effects provide us with about a minute of car horns for no good reason.

She tries to run away, but they're in the middle of nowhere and she just gets picked up by Evelyn and Henry again.

Baby John convinces Regina to come down for dinner, and she does, but gets sick when she's served some Edwina rump roast. Henry and Evelyn tell Baby John that they'll have to take care of Regina that night, but Baby John isn't too happy about that so he rushes to tell Regina that he'll run away with her.

They make an attempt but get caught by Evelyn and Henry. Henry comes at Regina with a cleaver, we get a close up of Henry and Evelyn's excited faces (complete with train sound effects), and then we see Regina scream and blood splatter across the ground.

But as it turns out, Baby John jumped up and saved her at the last moment. And now that they've got the house to themselves, Regina's actually not in such a hurry to leave... and since she's been eating people for the last few days anyway, it seems a shame to let the two grandparents go to waste. So Regina takes over as the cook the Red Wolf Inn.

Terror at Red Wolf Inn really took me by surprise. While it's not a great film, it's pretty fun and has a lot of character. It's sort of odd in that it's a movie about murder and cannibalism shown by way of a PG rated film, but here the fact that we never actually see the older couple murdering and butchering people means that we only ever see them being really nice to the girls. And frankly that just makes the whole thing creepier.

This movie doesn't have scare shots or gore, and hardly any violence at all, but it does actually succeed at keeping you feeling uneasy the whole time because everything is just so damn weird. Once the killings start, the film starts working in some subtly humorous things, but it's never overt enough that you're taken out of the story, so the extra weirdness just adds more strange creepiness to the situations.

The front of my VHS copy declares "In the tradition of The Addams Family and Beetlejuice," and while I can see how you could say that they were all comedic with a creepy flair, Terror at the Red Roof Inn isn't really that similar to those other two at all. The film does try to at least end on a fun note with Regina and Baby John taking Henry and Evelyn's place, and while that absurd twist does seem like it should be humorous, they're still just a couple of people driven insane, eating human flesh, while their victims' heads sit off to the side.

Even if no one else notices that this scene might not be the fun romp it's trying to be, Henry does. So after the credits finish his head turns and winks at the camera in one last attempt to defuse the creepiness.

Future War

The movie tosses us right in as our characters are sneaking slowly through a barn's, smoky, "tunnels."

We see them wander around a bit, and eventually the camera starts zooming in on the characters one at a time to visually introduce us. First there's the sleeveless-flannel-clad, generic brand Jean-Claude Van Damme as "the runaway" (Daniel Bernhardt). Believe it or not, this guy actually starred in a lot of stuff. You may recognize him as Agent Johnson from The Matrix sequels.

Poor guy got typecast into roles involving only futuristic robot wars apparently.

Next there's a large black man who seems like a really poor choice for subterranean sneaking.

And also there's a blonde woman with a magic mouth. When we reach her, she mouths about 3 words and this is what we hear:

"Four days ago a fire fell from the sky, and it brought a man that would change my life forever. But also came a pack of dinosaur-like creatures, in various ages, shapes, sizes, and etzmysterz (Not sure what she says last, but that's what it sounds like). For all the questions I had about the heavens, all it brought was hell on earth."

They wander a little while longer, and suddenly they stumble upon two dinosaur torsos with bodies extending off camera in precisely the way a puppet's might.

Not hand-puppets.

Now presumably, this is exactly what they were looking for, and the reason they were being slow and quiet. But they have forgotten this by this point because as soon as they see the dinosaurs, they immediately scream and run around.

They retrace their steps to get out, but on the ladder towards the end, the fat guy turns out to be just a little too slow.

The responsible dinosaur turns on his heat lamp before eating to prevent indigestion.

The movie goes back to the opening titles, and spends about five minutes there. When it runs out of names it transitions to telling us the second half of the backstory. We find out that cyborgs invaded, humans are bred as slaves, dinosaurs are bred to track escaping humans, and that heaven is a place on earth.

Five minutes of opening credits, and they couldn't squeeze in a writing credit to Belinda Carlisle?

Jean-Claude wakes up on a beach for some reason, and goes crawling away. We then see that someone's walking on the beach tracking him with a dinosaur on a rope. When we get a good look at the dino-handler, it turns out to be one of the aforementioned cyborgs.

Pictured: T-1000, Angry Mime Limited Edition. Now with robo-mullet.

The runaway guy eventually throws enough kicks and empty cardboard boxes at the cyborg until he's knocked out for a while. The runaway... well, runs away...

And is immediately run over by a nun.

The nun runs off to get help, and finds another sleeveless-flanneled person and another large black man.

Also in flannel... everyone's in flannel.

The nun turns out to know these guys actually, and so the nun talks to her a while and then spends the night. By the next morning she's changed into a flannel shirt too. The runaway apparently spent the night there also, and he spends the morning playing with the radio and eating noodles with his fingers.

The nun tries to communicate with the runaway, and finds that he can't really talk. As it turns out he doesn't know English at all, so she teaches him some basic gestures for "yes" and "no." She then leaves him to babysit. Within a few minutes of watching a kid play with a Talkboy, he's learned English and is talking just fine.

Unfortunately, all he can talk about is bible verses it seems. The nun doesn't have time to hear that sort of thing all the time, so she tries her best to get rid of him but he refuses to leave her alone.

Apparently the filmmakers ran into Forrest J. Ackerman at this point, because they now throw in an unrelated scene of him getting ambushed in the park while he reads a Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

Once that's over, we cut back to the runaway and the nun walking along the street. Soon enough, they're picked up by a cop on his way to another box warehouse. There is no conversation, so we're left to guess why exactly they were picked up on his way there.

Already at the warehouse, we find a pretend-news team reporting on the situation with their pretend-news-camera.

Tape + Cardboard Box + Lens drooping off the front = Video Camera

One of the police already on the scene heads into the box warehouse to sneak around in the boxes. Eventually he finds blood, so everyone else comes in too. While they're looking at the blood, they hear gunshots in the other room. I assume we're to believe that the dinosaur was firing the gun, because he's the only one in the room when they get there. All the policemen immediately begin firing their guns at the dinosaur, who doesn't even seem to notice. Luckily for them, the runaway has arrived as backup, carrying a knife. He runs in and swings at the dinosaur, and apparently misses, but the dinosaur still falls down dead. I guess he was just aiming at the strings controlling it.

Either way, the dinosaur is dead. Also it explodes. The runaway tells the cops that the dinosaur is not alone and that there are more that will keep coming until they find him. The cops listen carefully, and then arrest him.

The nun heads back to meet with her pre-nun business associates, her former gang members, to discuss "monsters in the hood."

But first they all go to their formal gang-boardroom to discuss the details.

The runaway gets back out of jail and tells the gang that they need to go near water where the dinosaurs will be congregated, so the whole flannel gang heads on over to a parking lot in a warehouse district, nowhere near water, and heads into a weird tunnel.

Everyone in the gang is carrying guns, but rather than use them, they start setting up elaborate, Home Alone-style dinosaur traps. The improvised spear and electro-net make short work of the two dinosaurs and then there's a surprise fight with a second cyborg. This second cyborg fight doesn't last very long though. Everyone has to run back out of the tunnel because an unexplained bomb is about to go off.

It's assumed that with the two cyborgs dispatched, everything is fine now. So everyone heads over to some sort of chapel for the nun-reinduction process. Things go well enough for a few minutes, but then the ceremony is interrupted by cyborg #2 again.

You wouldn't think a villain based on the TRON guy would be so persistent.

Cyborg #2 and the runaway have a boring fight for a while, during which we see the runaway with wounds that spontaneously appear, disappear, and the reappear over and over. Eventually the fight is over when the cyborg inexplicably blows up... for good this time.

The runaway talks a little more about the bible with the nun and then the credits roll, leaving us to ponder how we made it through the entirety of Future War without ever seeing a war or anything from the future.

According to IMDB, the director was actually kicked out of the production at some point, and a salvage crew brought in to finish the movie. For their sake, I'll just assume that their aim was to salvage the movie by cobbling together what they had into a comedy. If that's the case, then they were pretty successful. If you're a fan of bad dinosaur movies like Carnosaur (also by Doublin), silly effects, or flannel, then you'll probably enjoy this laughably bad movie.

Available on Amazon: Future War

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nine Dead

People suddenly wake up in a dirty, industrial, mysterious room and find themselves chained to pipes and at the mercy of a mask-wearing, deep voiced killer. It seems like I've heard this before...

Earlier this week I noticed that Chris Shadley's contribution to the ever-growing pool of Saw-clones, "Nine Dead" (also his directorial debut), was available on Netflix Instant Play. I wasn't terribly interested in it, but Instant Play makes me do crazy things sometimes.

Now I've always liked Melissa Joan Hart for some reason, probably just residual Clarissa Explains It All nostalgia-cred... but by about the 20 minute mark, I just had to admit the truth. Watching Melissa Joan Hart trying to act in a serious role is just painful to watch. Very little about Nine Dead isn't bad, but she still manages to be one of the worst things in it.

I won't even bother with a plot synopsis with this film. If you've at least read the back of the Saw DVD, then you know the premise of Nine Dead. There are several important differences though, and those are what I'll focus on. That and why all of them are reasons that Saw was successful and this film is a failure.

The Villain:

Personally, I always found the Jigsaw mask to be not so much frightening, as just plain silly... but it is iconic in a way that a nondescript rubber mask is not. You will forget this character by the time the movie is over.

With a movie that has no real substance and only promises that nine people will die, the only way it can deliver is if the deaths are somehow interesting. Here, every 10 minutes the killer enters the room, shoots someone (off camera), and pulls them out of the room. Every death is anticlimactic and boring. In fact, the only interesting thing about it is that every ten minutes we know we have one less annoying character to deal with.

In Saw there are only the two victims, the entire movie is character development, you understand the characters, and have come to like the doctor well enough that you can actually care when he breaks down later.

In Nine Dead, you have nine victims, and they're all irritating and whiny. There are some attempts to develop a couple of the characters (all by way of the awkward "tell a story while looking off into the distance, fade to flashback" plot device), but it's just too little too late. We already hate these characters and just want them to hurry and die.

One of these flashbacks shows us that Kelley (Melissa Joan Hart) was at one point captured and tossed into a rapevan. The guy ripped into her clothing while she noticed that the floor was dirty.

When she says he ripped her clothes off, she actually means he made two ridiculous cuts with a pair of scissors... I can only hope that they fired who was in charge of costuming after this scene.

At some point she noticed a bat in the van, so she beat the guy to death with it. This is the goriest scene in the movie and the camera never leaves her face to show what she may be doing. As with every other death, the filmmakers leave us to see her hitting something off camera. I can't imagine why this movie got an R rating, it seems pretty adamant about not leaving PG-13 territory.

Oh, and about that flashback... It's completely irrelevant to the rest of the movie.

With Saw, there is a well done twist that actually does something aside from just pissing you off. The tension builds to a climax and then leaves you with a finale everyone talks about afterward.

In Nine Dead, there's a sort of twist... the killer gives up, frees everyone, and then Kelley shoots him and the two other survivors to keep a secret from her past from being revealed (the secret's not anything interesting). This was obviously the direction things were going, and unless you've been dozing off throughout the movie it comes as no surprise when it happens.

At the killer's last moment though, he alludes to the fact that everything that's been happening has been recorded/broadcast and the police now know everything that's happened. So Kelley runs out of the room to try to escape capture while a S.W.A.T. team makes their way up. Just when you think that the movie might redeem itself with Melissa Joan Hart dying in a hail of bullets, she goes around the corner in the hallway (with the S.W.A.T. team just behind her) and the movie fades to black and rolls the credits. If anyone's left talking about that ending afterward it will just be about how it badly it pissed them off.

Considering that the Saw formula isn't exactly complicated, and Nine Dead had three times the budget of Saw, what we're left with is just an inexcusable trainwreck of a film. Avoid it at all costs.