Saturday, June 8, 2013

Oh La La: Fantastic French Film, Part 1

Back with a short entry into the Monster! Blog, this time around with a brief review of four French films about the undead which I found had merit. Why French films? Well, I've tried my hand at watching a variety of USA made horror films on the subject.  Granted, most of these have been Netflix streaming movies, and their selection of English language zombie and ghost films is somewhat limited. 

Some of the films I suffered through have included ZOMBIE DIARIES 2 (2011, unredeemable trash which lasted all of fifteen minutes before I switched it off), BONG OF THE DEAD (2011, seriously few laughs throughout what I could stand watching), ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS ZOMBIES (2012, pretty much what I expected -- so I wasn't too disappointed), ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE  REDEMPTION (2011, another dull artless bit of drudgery, this also was shut down after a about a half an hour), and, well, the list can go on. I gave them all my best shot.

And don't get me going with the TV show THE WALKING DEAD. Season one was okay... haven't been able to get into the show anytime thereafter. 


An African zombie flick in THE DEAD (2010)
I found those giant monster films on The SyFy Channel to be more satisfying. Maybe it was the commercial breaks. I'm not sure, but Eric Forsberg's MEGA PIRANHA (2010) was far for entertaining that, say, BLOODLUST ZOMBIES (2011) with its tired chemical spill resurrected undead. I haven't seen all the living dead films ever made that much is sure. There are a whole lot of American-made productions, as well as those from other countries the world over. I hear that the Indian zombie flick GO GOA GONE (2013) is fairly interesting. And the one filmed in Africa (not just someone backyard in California masking as a stand-in for Ghana, etc.) THE DEAD (2010) was okay so far as the plot ambled on a bit to a very predictable conclusion.  I wanted something better than what I saw. I wanted something that would take hold in my psyche ans not let go for a while. 


I'm dead serious about my zombie films. I love a good one, and really, really find the lame half-assed productions and their attempts at exploiting the flesh-eaters for a quick buck offensive. Not that I am some kind of activist for the rights of the undead, but I want my zombie films to be memorable. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979), ZOMBIE (1980), NIGHTMARE CITY (1980), DR. BUTCHER, M.D. (1980), DEAD & BURIED (1981), and even RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985). All those films had at least five minutes of redeemable material in them. Most are classics. Each added to the lexicon of the undead in their own fashion. 

Just sayin'.

Fast forward to today's entry and I had a fun night of watching four French films which deal with the undead in all sorts of manner. First up are the zombie films, then tomorrow if I have time there will be some mummy movies. I had read some quick reviews of both LA HORDE and MUTANTS (both from 2009), but I wasn't in the mood to be disappointed yet again.  Luckily, a miserable afternoon at my job and feeling uninspired to write for my magazine lead me to start flipping through Netflix to see what was available for streaming. 



LA HORDE begins with a police raid gone terribly wrong. A group of rogue officers with personal gruges decide on attacking a small group of drug pushers holed up in a shitty apartment building somewhere in France. The thugs in the condemned complex murdered a police officer and the group of his close friends decide taking vengeance. In what I though was going to be a nod to Romero's opening scenes of DAWN OF THE DEAD, the officers decide advancing through the apartment building looking for the drug smugglers. I half expected them to open a door full of flesh-hungry ghouls and unloading their hi-powered weaponry. Nope... they just get themselves shot and captured away by the criminals.

What happens next is a fun romp throughout the building as the remaining cops and robbers teamup to dodge the very hungry ghouls/zombies that are after them. Not much is added to the lore of zombidom within LA HORDE, nevertheless the director sets up some very memorable sequences and allows the characters to be fleshed out somewhat before their ultimate demise. Without giving too much away, the scene where one of the cops is surrounded by hundreds of zombies is handled well, and the final three minutes (while depressing) does makes sense if you take into account the characters and their emotional state. 

It doesn't hurt that the lead actress, Claude Perron, resembles a French woman I used to date around 10 years ago. The actress also showed up (albeit briefly) in a few additional wonderful French films such AMÉLIE (2001) and RENCONTRE AVEC LE DRAGON (2003, aka THE RED KNIGHT). In LA HORDE Perron plays a tough-as-nails female police officer who knows how to slug it out with zombies as well as handle guns. She's no withering female. You gotta love a chick who knows how to fight and carries a big gun. 
Well, I do. 

One gripe, and a small one, is that noone got it into their noggins that unloading an automatic weapon into a rampaging's zombies chest and legs isn't the way to kill them (again). Scene after scene when the creatures attack not one of the characters (who I assume know how to use a gun) took the required head-shot to bring a zombie down. There were some impressing fist-a-cuffs and an effective use of a refrigerator to exterminate a monster, but blasting one in the forehead (as in any Romero film) didn't occur until an undead school teacher was subdued and then taken out with bullet to the brain.

Small gripe.

Otherwise LA HORDE loped onward with a reasonable clip to its only logical conclusion with tight camera work, good acting, and only a minimal use of computer generated gore.  And, thankfully, Netflix only had the subtitled version (I have no idea if there is  dubbed version out there, but I find most post-1980s English dubs horrible and unsatisfying -- probably because I grew up on watching dubbed foreign films on TV or at the drive-ins and got so used to the voice actors who did the dubs that anything new is just annoying at best)

Whereas LA HORDE borrowed the hyperactive virus-infected zombies from 28 DAYS (2000, which wasn't the first film is have incredible fast and ferocious zombies on your tail -- check out the before-mentioned NIGHTMARE CITY from Italian director Umberto Lenzi) and pretty much used them as a foil for its characters, the next film, MUTANTS, had the ultra-fast creatures but with an added twist. The virus that reanimates the dead also causes the living to become a monster when bitten. Lenzi explored this somewhat with his film. When I first saw NIGHTMARE CITY at our local drive-in (under the moniker CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD) I was expecting a Fulcifest of rotten reanimated corpses spewing worms and rot. 


Nope, Lenzi presented us with humans changing into something else entirely, as does MUTANTS. The virus caused folks to get all gross and scabby then go nuts for human flesh.  Lenzi may not have had the budget to get that MUTANTS look to his blood-thirsty monsters, but he was on the right track. 


The film opens are an ambulance is racing along a lonely stretch of road some here in France. Inside we have a dying man coughing up blood, an edgy military officer, and a husband and wife paramedic team.  The bloodied man dies and is dragged from the ambulance by the soldier and shot in the head. Later on we begin to learn that some weird virus has taken control of France (and maybe the world) and all hell has broken loose. After killing the soldier in a gun battle over the survival of a (possibly) uncontaminated young man, the couple take shelter in an old hospital, the man possible mortally wounded by the gunfire.  His wife treats him and his wounds heal overnight leading us to discover he has become infected with the virus. The remainder of the film is about his gradual change into a monster and his wife's problems with other (violent) folks who also take refuge in the building.
MUTANTS is stark and moody with a (thankfully) minimal musical/weird ambient effects soundtrack and some decent acting. It doesn't hurt that the script is sparse with the dialogue rather short and curt -- giving the actors involved time to stretch their skills between sequences. 

The monsters ---- well, I gotta say that they're okay. Not the most original looking creature effects, but much better than, say the similarly bald and hyperactive mutant humans that inhabited Frances Lawrence's 2007 fuck up of Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND. At least these are monsters created with practical effects and not the cartoony CG denizens that inhabited the Will Smith flick. They bald, scrappy, have some nasty teeth and weird eyes. Okay. I can live with that.

And, a strong willed female lead. As I said before, I love 'em.



NEXT WEEK: FRENCHIE FIENDS PART 2









Monday, February 18, 2013

THE MOON BEAST

DVD Sleeve art.
It's tough to be kind to a film when the director plays the same old game of hide and seek with the titular creature. But I have high hopes with AMBULI, a Tamil horror from from 2012. I mean, look at this DVD sleeve art. It's old school with a large clawed hand dripping blood. The film's poster makes the critter look kind of like the little brother of the alien from PREDATOR (1987) with its dredds and so forth.

We'll have to see. I'm 45 minutes into the film and the monster has yet to show itself. So far we get a blurred image as it dashes through a cornfield to snatch and eat a child. The story so far:

AMBULI 3D - film poster.
It seems that decades ago a woman gave birth to some monstrous baby. And the "Sir Wellington College of Arts and Science" has something to do with it.

As with Larry Cohen's IT'S ALIVE (1974) the creature can kill from the moment it's delivered into our world (as shown in some cartoony flashback; we see that the monster demolish a few folk and then escapes into the field). Apparently it has lived there for years, occasionally snacking on both people and animals. Two college kids stumble on the village's monstrous secret: after the child was born and it escaped into the field a wall was erected to encase the monster within the boundaries of the college and its estate. 

The witch from Louis KAALO (2011).
The film looks pretty good for what it is, and that says a lot since a similar monster flick like Louis Wilson's KAALO (from 2011) was such a major disappointment. At least AMBULI doesn't suffer from "I am a cool guy director who thinks he's Guy Ritchie" syndrome that plagued the look and pace of  KAALO. AMBULI on the other hand is a straight forward, rarely dull, monster tale straight out of the 1980s. There's a lot of talk, some musical numbers, and a monster. If you want to compare the two films further, KAALO and AMBULI are both folklore based horrors, albeit directors Hari Shankar and Hareesh Narayan do inject some elements of SF into the backstory of their film's creature. It is less a supernatural monster like the flying witch from Wilson's film, and more of something borrowed from H.G. Wells.

Turns out that the monster is a creation of the old head master of the college. In 1947 The English founder of the college, Sir Wellington, was a guy who liked to dabble in science. He gets his hands on some "neaderthal extract" (I think that's what was said in the film) and he then experiments with it on a local village woman who is having a difficult pregnacny.  On the night of the child's birth, which happens to be on date of a lunar eclipse, the super-human/neanderthal hybrid is affected by "lunar radiation" and our headmaster got hisself a monster. The unfortunate child is named Ambuli, which menas moon in Tamil. The film bogs down a bit towards the middle and we're treated to a few musical numbers that are less than thrilling. 

I'm twiddling my thumbs ... waiting for Ambuli, which is apparently the monster's name, to show.  90 minutes and I still haven't had a good glimpse of the thing. KAALO is starting to look better and better (at least  you got to se the monster fairly frequently, even though the horrible CG effects and arty cinematography made it cringeworthy). But I'm cheering for AMBULI.

Waiting for the pay off...

+++ SPOILER ALERT+++

The three students and the caretaker of the field track the creature to the ruins of an old underground temple (shades of JAANI DUSHMAN!)  where it turns out that Ambuli is a gorilla like ape-man. AND I am very happy to reprot that he's also a good ol' fashion fur covered rubber monster! Thank god, I was afraid it would have been CG.

RRRROWL!
We see a lot of the monster when there's an extended battle between Ambuli and some of those meddling kids. Just before our monster is about to smackdown the humans, the army shows up with tranquilizer guns and captures it. You see, this super human creature is just what the army ordered for its new Super Soldier program. 

Oh yes, I'm expecting a sequel any day now.

One of the best features of the film?  During the end credits we get some behind the scenes make-up footage of the actor playing Ambuli.  Cool. 

AMBULI
2 hours 12 minutes
in Tamil with NO ENGLISH SUBTITLES. 

Colour supplement ad for the film. Luckily, AMBULI works well in 2D without any of those annoying "in yer face" scenes.







Saturday, October 13, 2012

Horrible Hairy Horrors of India, part 2


Hairy monsters have always been the rage in Indian cinema. I mean from the very beginning (from what I can find) to the mid-2000s. After that time monster-oriented horror or supernatural films have become a rare species with only a few bits and pieces of fluff like RAAZ 3 popping up now and then. But hairy monsters. Yea, with monkeys abundant in India, its no wonder they are so often the villians in their cinema.

An early example of a hairy monster appeared in unofficial Indian Tarzan film from 1934 called TOOFANI TARZAN (तुफानी टार्सन). Tarzan is thrown into a pit with a crazy hairy humanoid that is just about to munch down on Jane. Trazan gets his butt kicked until he gets the one up on the monster and demolishes the creature.

In an earlier post I discussed the hairy giants that appeared in JAANI DUSHMAN and AJOOBA KUDRAT KAA. Both of these monsters where fairly detailed creatures. Costumes that were very advance and populated two films that had fairly large budgets (for an Indian film). This time around I'm going to jump into the lower end of their film making.

There have always been films made on shoestring in India. In fact, since there so many movies made every year in that country it's hard not to have a slew of bottom of the barrel productions. And in India that barrel is nearly full.

For the past year I've been wading through a lot of these films. If you want you can pick up a copy of my magazine Weng's Chop and I cover Indian cinema in every issue. I suggest visiting amazon.com for Special Issue Zero or Weng's Chop #1

SAU SAAL BAAD – 1989, Director: Mohan Bhakri; Cast: Hemant Birje, Amjad Khan, Jonginder, Sahila Chadha, Sunil Dhawak, and Yash Sharma

One of the first of the cheapie horror films to be made after the Ramsay Family began the boom in the late 70s. SAUL SAAL BAAD is a tantric horror film. That is, all the problems caused in the film come from a sex-crazy magic hoodoo man and his monstrous hairy side kick.

The film opens a hundred years or so ago when an evil tantric woos and then captures the heart (by magic of course) of a royal maiden. The wizard brings the girl back to his cave and is about to consummate their unholy union when the local raja brings his holy man to the party. The woman is turned into a statue and the bad guy is killed. After disposing of the evil tantric his lair is sealed up and Shiva's trident is used as a seal.

Decades later a group of folks manage to unleash the tanrtic from his tomb and he uses his magic to conjure up his hairy henchman:

video
After running rampant and killing random people, the hairy monster kidnaps a woman who is the splitting image of the woman the tantric once desired. The monster brings back the woman but unfortunately also runs afoul of a male Naag (snake) demon who is out to destroy the monster and his master. The final ten minutes is a wild throw down between good and evil.

videoSAU SAAL BAAD is not a bad film, although it does foreshadow the dreadful stuff to come from some of the same people who worked on it. The utter cheapness almost ruins the film, but, luckily, the plot is rather old skool and doesn't rely heavily on sleaze to push the envelope. Sure there are some wet sari sequences to keep the ramble in the theatres fixed to the screen, BUT it isn't as skuzzy as later films by Kanti Shah...
Now we move directly to a film that, while as cheap as SAU SAAL BAAD, it manages to take what budget it had and run with it.

HAIWAN – 199?, Director: V Prabhakar; Cast: Silk Smitha, Gowthami, Chitra, and Disco Shanthi

Our next entry is a film that is a total mysyery to me. HAIWAN is yet another low-budget horror film with a furry beast, but it does have a few good... no great (!) aspects to its production. But first the mystery.

First off, the date of release that I can find anywhere for HAIWAN is 1998. The film bills Silk Smitha, even though the real star oif the film is the actress Gowthami. Former “adult” film star Smitha died under mysterious circumstances in 1996 during negotiations that would have seen her return to Indian cinema as a producer rather than stat. Plus, her appearance in the film is very brief. My guess is that this film was partially in the can when she died and it sat around until Gowthami was found to replace the dead starlet. Or, since Smithna's role is pretty vague, her scenes maybe inserts from a previously unfinished film (something that is not uncommon, as there are a few post-1996 films which “star” Silk Smitha in musical numbers).

However, upon closer examination of the film other factor shave helped me come to the conclusion that the 1998 release date is just plain wrong. While the film is mentioned as one of the few Hindi productions on Gowthami's bio, it doesn't appear on her official filmography and was “made” in 1998, a time period where she took time off from film to start a family. There is little info on this film other than the same incorrect info regurgitated over and over no matter what site I visited (I did correct some of Wikipdia's data).

But enough of those oddball facts, on with the monster movie.

The film opens as a group of scientist inject some sort of serum into the body of a corpse. The dead body is revived and goes on a killing spree. Nothing can stop this giant crazy dead man as the serum that awakened the deadman also made him indestructible. The monster chases a young woman and even after being shot repeatedly and burned to a crisp (he regenerates) the thing is unstoppable. It isn;t until a police officer uses his unique kung fu to catapult the giant into an abandoned well.

Roll the title credits. Yep, all that action happened within the first five minutes of the film! Which leads me to believing that HAIWAN is a sequel of sorts to a previously unknown film. One could say that the intro is a direct rip-off of the 1982 Chuck Norris film SILENT RAGE wherein Norris, as a small town sheriff, battles and indestructible madman played by the awesome Ron Silver. There are more than a few visual references to that film in that short prelude just to keep you scratching your head in wonder. (and Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, which you could consider SILENT RAGE ripped off). Was there an Indian SILENT RAGE? That would not be uncommon as the Indian cinema is full of such rip-offs.

Cut to years later (I assume), and the old well, overgrown with weeds and vines, becomes disturbed during a violent thunderstorm. And wouldn't you know it: the giant emerges from the pit, this time instead of the human-looking indestructible man it's a hairy creature with fangs and claws. The monster crawls from the well, bellows and screams, then ambles into the darkness not be seen again in the film for about 40 minutes. In the meantime we have a few musical numbers and then the monster reappears to kill a few guys and snack on their bones before the next song and dance interlude.
video

Just as the film begins to get bogged down in the typical miasma that is Indian cinema (i.e. insufferable comedy and convoluted sub-plots) things begin to pick up. There are a few additional random killings, a musical number and then the fun begins.

The monster begins a non-stop killing spree the last 25 minutes of the film, annihilating out a few folks (including the comic relief, thank god) before turning its attention to our heroine (played by the lovely Telugu actress Gowthami). She flees in terror as the furry fiend stalks her. This is where the fun begins which includes some fairly decent action sequences including this scene where Gowthami is fleeing from the monster through her house:

video
The creature chases her out of her house and eventually into an abandoned gas station. There she manages to lure the monster into the building and then sets the station on fire. The resulting explosion catches the creature setting it a blaze. The crispy critter falls to the feet of the terrified woman only to rise again and the chase is on once again.

videoShe flees to a nearby factory where the monster follows and stalks her (TERMINATOR style) throughout the building. In the end the monster is finally vanquished (spoiler) when a police officer shows up with special bullets that blow the seemingly indestructible monster away.

video
Oh, this could have been a doozy of a film if only the producers weren't so occupied with the comic relief and half-baked musical numbers. Money was spent on the look of the creature, but its appearance in the film wasn't properly exploited. Sources around the Web say that this was a "made-for-video" release. But it just doesn't look like it. The film is nowhere near the abysmal quality of something made by Kanti Shah and the fellow filmmakers he ran with from 1994 to the late 2000s.

DANGEROUS NIGHTS – 2003, Director: Muneer Khan; Cast: Sapna, Amit Pachori
Here's snap from a no-budget thriller with one of the worst moth-eaten monster suits EVER. And, yes, it has something to do with Kanti Shah other than star his boobalicious bombshell of a wife Sapna Tanveer...

who just so happens to be in another hairy monster film, and one that is a remake of a 1979 monster mash...

DUPLICATE JAANI DUSHMAN - 2003, Director: J Neelam; Cast: Shabnam, Sapna

I bought this film - went out of my way to purchase it from an even more obscure website that I usually frequent - just because it was a "duplicate" of JAANI DUSHMAN. Oh, and it also stars Sapna playing one of her tough-as-nails female hellions. 

If you have seen (and you should) the original film, then you know the plot. A hairy werewolf-cum-bigfoot monster terrorizes a village of brides-to-be, murdering the women. Well, this "duplicate" version sort of follows JAANI DUSHMAN ... kinda... sorts.  There is more of Sapna and her amazing breasts than a hirsute critter. But this is a film produced by... yep... an associate of Kanti Shah (or maybe Shah himself under some pseudonym).

The sad thing about this film is that I was hoping that the monster would be more than just a guy in a gorilla suit with fake hair glued to his face. The director,  J Neelam, a man responsible or three other atrocities, does flaunt some few okay musical numbers and does let Sapna ham it up. 
video

The monster transfers its essence from man to man turning its host into a hairy horror. Um.... see the original. It has a better monster AND a better soundtrack. 

I think I've covered enough Indian monsters for a while. Next time something different. Unless I uncover more wonderful treasures like HAIWAN


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Stop Naaging Me, preview

Just to keep up with what I promised (which would have been a posting every two weeks), this week's post is a bit on the fluffy side. Part two of my Indian Snake Goddess Films retrospect will eventually happen. Seems like I keep unearthing more and more obscure titles that I want to include in the filmography.

It's an addiction.

Ssssssssssso.... in the meantime, here are some scans of DVDs, VCDs, and poster art for some of the film I'll be covering.

Eventually.

Pretty soon.

In about two weeks.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Very Late Edition

Better late than never...

I had rightfully assumed that I would make bi-weekly installments into this blog, not unlike my Monster! fanzine of old. A bold statement indeed, and one that I failed to follow through with. Times are not what they were when I first published MONSTER! in 1988. Back then MONSTER! was a bi-weekly single sheet 'zine that was free (postage donations appreciated). I did all the writing for most of the first ten or so issues.  After a review in Factsheet Five other faithful monster-addicts donated their time and talents. The rest was a minor (or major, depending on who you talk to) publication in the bustling Silver Age of Fanzines (1985-1995) before the implosion of distribution.  The Internet made-self publishing a heck of lot easier ... albeit electronically.

With David Todarello (left) on the set of our 1988 TV movie cable show.
Now back to 2012...
and trying to get back to a schedule. When a zine (eventually) paying subscribers like I did with MONSTER! I had to get the zine out on a regular basis. This web-based version does lend itself to sloppiness as I have no subscribers that pay for what they read. I do have electronic followers (hey!!!), but this blog is free. I don't feel all that bad when I'm late with an article or whathaveyou; even when I'm a month over due (like today). Back in the 80s and 90s folks expected an exciting zine  chockfull of reviews and articles.

This is 2012 and time for some filler.

For those of you that may have missed out on my paper-zine, here are some photos to peak your interest. One of these days I'll get around to scanning in what I have of my MONSTER! fanzine and make them available as Print On Demand. But... that's a project for later this year or next (if at all, depending on if I get okays from various authors of some of the important articles and reviews by folks in the know).

Two 90s Movie Zine classicks can be your for only $10!
MONSTER! had something like 50 issues.. well, kind of. I cheated with some double issues when longer articles from folks like Horacio Higuchi became regular contributors. These lead to a 1990 ( or 91?) over-sized yearbook of reprints (which I have no copies of), a limited edition MONSTER! ZERO and eventually the magazine MONSTER! INTERNATIONAL (see photo to your right) which ran for four issues.

For those interested, copies of MONSTER! INTERNATIONAL #3 and 4 are available for $10 ppd in the USA. For folks over 18, please.  Interested? My PayPal address is "orlof@oberlin.net". Overseas or Canadian orders contact me first for S&H rates. I will even throw in a copy of PHOTO FIENDS #3, a zine I published while I was in High School -- if you promise not to laugh. It was 1978 and my composition skills were even worse than they are now! However, I did score with a Paul Blaisdell interview.

Yes, I admit it, this was a blatant attempt at unloading some of my old magazines.

This weekend (fer sure) I'll have something with a little more BITE. In the meantime, here are some additional MONSTER! related images. Caio.


Badly scanned page from MONSTER! ZERO special edition

Assorted beat-up issues of the digest-sized 'zine MONSTER!







































COMING SOON: Print On Demand....