King Cobra (1999)

Directed by David Hillenbrand [Other horror films: Survival Island (2002), Game Box 1.0 (2004), Transylmania (2009), Grave Secrets (2013)] & Scott Hillenbrand [Other horror films: Survival Island (2002), Game Box 1.0 (2004), Transylmania (2009)]

This straight-to-video movie featuring one snakey boi is about what you would expect. It’s certainly silly and ridiculous at times, but it still feels like a much, much better film than many of the newer-age Syfy snake films. King Cobra’s not as good as Silent Predators, and hell, I might even like Python (2000) a little more, but this still has charm.

And Pat Morita, to be sure.

King Cobra’s plot is about what you’d expect also, what with some drama between Casey Fallo’s and Scott Hillenbrand’s characters (one wants to move to the city, the other is okay with small-town life), only to be interrupted by the introduction of a 30-foot terror (or the snake, in other words). Fallo and Hillenbrand are both okay here (and on a small side-note, both of them appeared in Piñata: Survival Island a handful of years later, partly, I imagine, because Hillenbrand directed both this and Survival Island), but neither one is much in the way of memorable or inspired.

Pat Morita was more exciting here, but unfortunately, he never used any kung-fu against the 30-foot boi (that pleasure instead went to Hillenbrand’s character). Morita was still somewhat fun, though not quite as much fun as I’d have hoped. It was actually more a surprise to see Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn’s Malachi) at the beginning, and throughout, Hoyt Axton (Gremlins) appears as the town mayor, making his final appearance before his death.

If the feature characters had been Axton, Gains, and Morita, I’d probably have found the movie more memorable, but alas, that wasn’t to be. Regardless, it’s not as if there are many kills or special effects here that are overly noteworthy. I sort of like the design of the snake (without CGI, it seems more honest), but it doesn’t look that great, and none of the kills are gory whatsoever.

All things said, you get from King Cobra exactly what you’d think, which is a bit underwhelming. The finale is decently fun (and that dream near the end was fantastically amusing), but it’s not a movie that’s something I’d consistently go back to. Shame that two tanks of sleeping gas wasn’t enough to keep down the scaly boi, though, so I’m hoping for a sequel.

6.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

Frightmare (1983)

Directed by Norman Thaddeus Vane [Other horror films: The Black Room (1982), Midnight (1989), You’re So Dead (2007)]

Funny story – I saw this one once before many years back, but upon watching it for the second time, literally all of this seems new to me, which goes to show that I was either distracted when I first watched it or Frightmare is a pretty forgettable film. Truth be told, it’s probably a combination of the two.

The best thing about this one is a decapitation toward the end of the movie. Oh, also a young Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator and From Beyond) appears. Otherwise, though, Frightmare is pretty much a mess with little going for it.

I can’t say that the atmosphere wasn’t okay at times, but there’s only so much an 80’s aura can do when the story itself suffers, and ultimately it didn’t help much here. It’s the weak story here that was the biggest problem, and boy, does it drag at times.

Also, it’s rather nonsensical. So, I sort of get why fans of a recently-deceased movie star would abduct his corpse, but – no, wait, I don’t get that. This might be unnecessary to say, but stealing the corpse of anyone seems pretty damn disrespectful, and these kids don’t seem interested in honoring the recently-deceased Conrad Radzoff whatsoever.

Once the action starts up, there’s not a whole lot in the way of memorable kills. Like I said, the decapitation is pretty solid, and there was a pyrokinetic kill, but the tongue scene wasn’t near as fun as you’d hope it’d be, and most of the others were just somewhat baffling (especially the way in which Scott Thomson’s death was cut).

Ferdy Mayne did a solid job as playing a hammy, Christopher Lee/Bela Lugosi rip-off, and he’s probably one of the few commendable performances here. Otherwise, we’re stuck with Luca Bercovici, Jennifer Starrett, and Donna McDaniel. Jeffrey Combs was nice to see, no doubt, but he didn’t particularly stand out here, and our eye candy in Carlene Olson is barely memorable at all.

This one may sound like an 80’s flick that might be worth checking out based on plot alone, but that is really not the case, as Frightmare is truthfully pretty forgettable. Obviously, see it for yourself, by all means, but I would really not go into this one expecting an unseen masterpiece.

5.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast – listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Frightmare.

The 27 Club (2019)

Directed by Patrick Fogarty [Other horror films: N/A]

Well, I wasn’t expecting much, and I certainly got it. The 27 Club had a somewhat interesting story and certainly had potential, but boy, it really dropped the ball with the route the film took.

I’m not even going to say the story itself was bad – I just didn’t like it. Maybe it will gel with some people, but as for me, as soon as one of the main characters becomes a demon somehow (because before they even became possessed, they still had some sort of telekinetic power, apparently?), I was pretty done. There’s a story here, but it was far more muddled than anything really calls for, especially regarding the roll of Todd Rundgren (of such classic hits as “I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me”, two songs that have been on my iTunes for over ten years but I’ve never once consciously listened to) played.

Oh, and those black-and-white sequences featuring deceased singers giving random and pointless monologues? Yeah, I could have done without that.

Maddisyn Carter was cute, in that fucked up and drugged-out way, but I didn’t care at all for where her character went, or the deal with the devil, or the finale, or pretty much anything past the 30 minute mark. As for Derrick Denicola, he was decent (and a somewhat unconventional protagonist), but by the end, it didn’t seem his efforts amounted to much, dampening the impact he left on me.

The idea behind a type of curse that befell those famed musicians who died at 27 via a deal with the devil is interesting, and the whole documentary idea, I had no problem with. However, this somewhat unique take gets muddled down with all these unnecessary additions, including a killer in a cult, a mysterious book and necklace, a professor who is maybe part of the plot to… what, exactly? Past a certain point, I honestly lost the train of the film’s thought, which is a shame.

Another small point before I give The 27 Club a well-deserved low rating: at times, the movie feels far too glossy, especially during the kills. Even during other scenes, though, things just seem shinier and end up feeling somewhat hollow, in my opinion.

I didn’t go into this one with particularly high expectations, and the opening was certainly weak, but I did sort of want to like this one, but it wasn’t to be. It’s not a movie I had a good time with, regretfully.

4/10

Fertile Ground (2011)

Directed by Adam Gierasch [Other horror films: Autopsy (2008), Night of the Demons (2009), Tales of Halloween (2015, segment ‘Trick’), House by the Lake (2017)]

I feel like Fertile Ground had potential, but it really didn’t work, and generally, I thought the story here was pretty weak, and ended up feeling a bit hollow.

Which is a shame, because given this movie follows a young woman who has had a recent miscarriage, it really shouldn’t come across as soulless as it did. Partly I feel it has to do with a somewhat undeveloped plot, and the movie just becomes forgettable after a while.

It also feels somewhat cheap, especially with those segment names (such as ‘The Gathering,’ or ‘Moving In,’ or ‘Strange Happenings’) – I don’t get why they named the segments when it was pretty obvious from what was shown on screen that, for instance, they were moving in, or that, later on, there was a gathering of friends. I didn’t get the point, and it just struck me as amateurish.

Another small thing, and certainly this is one of the lesser offenses of this I’ve seen, but there was a short scene from Night of the Living Dead here played on television that a character’s watching. I understand the movie’s in public domain, but if you watch lower-budget horror, you’d think Romero’s classic is the only horror movie that’s played on television. Just a pet peeve of mine.

I don’t really want to take away from Leisha Hailey’s performance. I don’t think she did a great job, mind, but I thought there were far bigger problems than somewhat sub-standard acting (and to be fair, there were a few really solid scenes she gave). Gale Harold (who consistently reminded me of Mark Ruffalo for some reason) was decent at times, but I don’t think we ever learned enough about him to make him that interesting a character.

Movies that deal with a couple moving into a remote country house and finding that either some supernatural haunting or mental instability is afoot is nothing new. This throws in the miscarriage angle, but that didn’t really amount to much, especially, as I said, since this movie feels more hollow than anything.

For a small piece of amusing trivia, I actually saw Fertile Ground once before. I can’t remember how long ago, nor the circumstances (aside from that I think I saw it on Chiller). It was so long ago, though, that I literally remembered nothing from this one. To me, it’s always sort of funny when you’re watching a movie you know you’ve seen before but remember so little of it.

After revisiting this one, though, and given how generic many portions seem to be (especially regarding JoNell Kennedy’s character route), I can certainly see why it didn’t stick with me. Not an awful film, but definitely not a memorable one, and I wouldn’t really recommend it.

4.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one below.

Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)

Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante [Other horror films: Boo (2005), Headless Horseman (2007), Hansel & Gretel (2013), Sharknado (2013), Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015), Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens (2016), Forgotten Evil (2017), Sharknado 5: Global Swarming (2017), The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time (2018), Zombie Tidal Wave (2019)]

Well, the first movie was pretty awful, but I still found aspects of it moderately enjoyable. Unfortunately, this one felt a bit more over-the-top to me, and while I had occasional fun with Sharknado 2, overall, it was more of a cringe-worthy grind than anything.

Ian Ziering plays his role so serious here that, somewhat paradoxically, he’s very hard to take serious. He can fly through a sharknado with a chainsaw and cut him up some sharks, though, so kudos there. His family, though, or more specifically, his sister’s family, were pretty much all useless. Courtney Baxter was sort of cute, but I didn’t know her name was ‘Mara’ until an hour and ten minutes in, so she certainly was important.

It was sort of funny to see Judd Hirsch pop up (I know him best from Numb3rs, a show I loved the hell out of), playing a taxi driver (which is a role he played in some 70’s show I’ve never seen). Hirsch is decently fun, but I sort of think they overused him without really expanding on his character. We know about as much about him at his last scene as we do his first, so the fact he appeared as much as he did felt sort of hollow. Also, Richard Kind (who I know from Gotham) appeared, which was almost welcomed, but then he hit a home run with a shark, and I can’t deal with that kind of descent into stupidity.

Like I said, I really think Sharknado 2 goes overboard on it’s intentionally silly plot. The first twenty minutes, in which Fin was dealing with a sharknado while on a flight to New York, was bad enough (I was even hoping that it’d be a dream, but alas, no), and of course threw in a reference to the classic Twilight Zone episode ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,’ but it only gets worse, and overly bombastic, the worst thing being a buzz-saw being attached to a woman’s recently bit-off hand. The baseball thing was bad, but boy, this was horrible.

To be sure, I wasn’t expecting a great movie, but it’s worth noting that the first movie is the lowest-rated of all six Sharknado flicks on IMDb, meaning that this one is somehow better? I know I didn’t see it. Some portions were okay, but more than anything else, I couldn’t get past how utterly ridiculous this all was.

4/10

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999)

Directed by Scott Spiegel [Other horror films: Intruder (1989), Hostel: Part III (2011)]

This straight-to-video sequel is about what I was expecting. Seeing some familiar faces was sort of nice, and I’ll touch on that a bit, but really, the story here felt quite weak, and though I’m no fan of the first movie, this was pretty much worse on every level.

Robert Patrick was one of the few here who stood out. I thought his character, along with pretty much all of these characters, was a cookie-cutter cut-out of no interest, but he was still nice to see. The same could be said for Raymond Cruz (Tuco from both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, not to mention Alien: Resurrection, which I’ve had the displeasure of recently seeing), though admittedly I think he did poorly here. Muse Watson and Bo Hopkins were also solid, though the story really didn’t do them justice.

At this point, you may be wondering what makes the story so bad. Here’s one of my problems – that was way, way too convenient and quick a solar eclipse. All it gave us was more painful action scenes which really didn’t move me. It’s never really explained why exactly these vampires are robbing a bank (even somewhat lampshaded by the end), and that didn’t help.

What annoyed me more than that, though, is that this wasn’t even some master plot from the vampires. Bank thief #1 becomes a vampire, and instead of going with the other vampires (who turned him), he gets with Bank thief #2, #3, #4, and #5, and slowly turns them into vampires. It just felt off. Once two of the five are vampires, you think that there’d be some way of noticing, but no, aside from slightly impulsive behavior, they’re pretty much the same.

The special effects throughout Texas Blood Money were weak, no doubt about it, but the story here was so unengaging that it wouldn’t have mattered if Savini did them. Like I said, I’m not that much of a fan of the first movie, but boy, was it higher quality than this. If you want a solid late 1990’s vampire flick, just go with Carpenter’s Vampires. I wouldn’t really bother with a movie that’s destined to be a TBS rerun at 3:00 am.

5/10

Sorority Row (2009)

Directed by Stewart Hendler [Other horror films: Whisper (2007)]

I’m somewhat lukewarm when it comes to The House on Sorority Row. I thought some portions were certainly decent, and the movie does possess that 80’s atmosphere I value, but I wasn’t blown away by most of it. This re-imagining too has some okay parts, but boy, for quite a bit of this movie, I definitely struggled.

A movie following a bunch of bitchy sorority girls accidentally killing one of their own, only months later to be stalked and killed by a mysterious figure wasn’t much my idea of entertainment. This comes partially from the fact that literally none of the sorority girls, even the “good” one, Cassidy (Briana Evigan) are in the least bit sympathetic. Worse still, the most amusing one, Chugs (Margo Harshman) was one of the first to go.

For some reason that eludes me, I just couldn’t care that these terrible individuals were getting killed. A few of the kills were okay, to be fair (such as the tire iron being thrown), but I just didn’t get much a sense of tension for many of them, and when even the supposedly sympathetic characters, such as Cassidy and Maggie (Caroline D’Amore), turn out to be horrible, it just doesn’t do the film any favors.

What also doesn’t help was the identity of the killer, or more particularly, the reason behind the killing. That character always felt out of place to me from the beginning, to be honest, and once they’re discovered as the killer, the personality they have, that uber-crazy, psychotic serial killer à la Urban Legend, I just didn’t care.

Also, and maybe this is just me, but that house fire at the end didn’t look that great. The whole “epic battle while the house is burning down” wasn’t near as fun as I’d have hoped, but that’s this remake for you.

Sorority Row probably isn’t as bad as I might be making it out to be. It was definitely generic and pretty unremarkable, but I don’t think it’s terrible. I just can’t see myself really taking this movie that seriously, and while it might be okay for a watch every now and again, I have a hard time believing I’ll ever really like the movie, and if I want to see something like this, I’ll just stick with I Know What You Did Last Summer.

5.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the movie.

Midsommar (2019)

Directed by Ari Aster [Other horror films: Hereditary (2018)]

I went into Midsommar with admittedly high expectations. I wasn’t that much a fan of Hereditary (and just to get this out of the way, I definitely think Midsommar’s a better movie), but from the get-go, the trailer for this one intrigued me, and though the movie is almost more an experience than just a film, it’s certainly an experience that I’ll remember.

There’s a longer version out there (one that runs at two hours and 52 minutes), but I just saw the two hour and 30 minute version. Just two hours and 30 minutes. Hahaha, yeah, this movie was a long one, and I know that some people thought it wasn’t warranted by the content, but I think the increasingly uneasy feel that the characters get from their surroundings and mysterious circumstances help increase enjoyment.

Florence Pugh was put through the wringer in this one and gave a fantastically emotional performance (that shocking opening sequence was more than enough, but the movie kept throwing stones at her character). As interesting a character as Pugh’s Dani was, though, I personally think that William Jackson Harper’s Josh was a very stellar character himself. His already-existing knowledge was interesting (him asking if it was going to be a real ättestupa, and then getting all quiet, added a lot of dread). To be sure, his character made a rather idiotic mistake, but I think he’d have made an interesting focal point.

Both Will Poulter (who I recognized from We’re the Millers – talk about a different type of movie) and Jack Reynor were dicks in their own way, Poulter being the most annoying, but Reynor’s character being one of the worst. I can’t say that I don’t feel a bit bad for him come the ending, but the way he treats Dani throughout the film was contemptible. Vilhelm Blomgren as Pelle was another unique character, and was one of the kindest to Dani, so at least that was nice.

Being Ari Aster, there was a definite beauty in the carnage. During the tense ättestupa ceremony, which was probably the earliest indication that something was definitely wrong there (if you can ignore the somewhat grisly banner indicating how a woman can get a man to fall for her). It’s a very tense scene, each second longer squeezing out unease, and it’s no surprise when the two individuals jump, or the gory conclusions.

And no doubt there are other disturbing scenes of violence, one that especially struck me as brutal, being an individual captive who long should have been dead, instead being ritualistically dismembered yet still on the verge of life. The maypole dance was strangely enchanting, the psychedelic drugs definitely hyping up the uncomfortable aura, all of which finishes off in the mysterious triangular structure come the brutal finale (and the composition during the finale – just beautiful).

With the drawn-out nature of Midsommar, not to mention the already stylistic feel of the film, it being Aster’s work, Midsommar isn’t an easy movie to digest or one that I suspect many would quickly watch a second time. It’s a long movie no matter which version you watch, and it’s an uneasy and unforgiving one. I definitely found it a strong addition to the genre, and if anyone’s a fan of The Wicker Man or perhaps Apostle, Midsommar is not a movie that should be slept on.

8/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the film.

An Eye for an Eye (1973)

Directed by Larry G. Brown [Other horror films: N/A]

Ever since I first heard the plot to this one (from IMDb: A children’s television show host stalks and murders abusive parents), An Eye for an Eye was an obscure flick I rather wanted to see. Finally having done so, I can’t say that much about the movie surprises or amazes me, but it’s a tolerably dreary, pretty somber film, and definitely a product of the 1970’s.

Sometimes known under the title The Psychopath (not to be confused with the 1966 Amicus movie), An Eye for an Eye isn’t a well-known film, which is a bit of a shame, because I think the idea here is a good one. It’s not a great movie, but I definitely appreciate the atmosphere of the film, so it has to get some credit.

The biggest disappointment here are the kills. I guess more specifically, the lack of gore, because some of the kills themselves are decent. However, when a woman gets ran over by a lawnmower, you sort of expect to see something, but no such luck. Another abusive parent got her back massacred by multiple swings of a hatchet, but again, no blood. This isn’t deeply detrimental, especially given the available print (with, for some reason, Greek subtitles) is already rather shoddy, but still, it stuck out to me.

On a positive note, Tom Basham’s performance as the host going after abusive parents was spectacular. Playing a character with some type of developmental disability, he really connected with kids (and often spoke in much the same way), and he had a good heart, and really, his show (which included puppet shows) was probably quite fun for kids. When he finds out that some kids are abused by their parents, he becomes reasonably upset, and goes after them, which I thought was a positive move.

Being a 70’s movie, An Eye for an Eye takes child abuse very seriously, and there’s a scene in which a nurse is showing a detective the impact of abuse that was really pretty touching (as it so happened, Basham’s character was in earshot of this conversation, which spring-boarded his revenge scheme). What’s more, because abuse is cyclical in many cases, the ending of the film goes a very somber, totally 70’s route, which, had the movie been more well-known, would probably come across as controversial.

Unfortunately this movie’s not that well-known, and it seems that those who seek this out tend to do it due to the fact it’s John Ashton’s first movie. Ashton, of course, is best-remembered for his role in the Beverly Hills Cop movies, and somewhat amusingly, though this came out 11 years before the first movie, he looks pretty much the same here (and also does a few things that, as a police officer, should definitely have got him fired), It’s interesting to see him here, but I don’t know if it’s worth seeking out just for his relatively small role.

As decent as aspects of An Eye for an Eye are, it does begin to drag a bit toward the end. There was a scene I enjoyed, in which a father is about to be killed, but then reveals that he’s definitely not okay with child abuse, and so Bashman’s character lets him live (he may have been mentally unstable, but at least he was consistent). Overall, I wouldn’t say the movie is that great, but it is a nice example of the 1970’s style of horror, and if the plot tickles your fancy, there’s no reason not to throw this one more attention.

6/10

Blacula (1972)

Directed by William Crain [Other horror films: Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)]

Despite the ridiculous title, Blacula plays itself as straight as any other 70’s horror, and while the movie’s not great, it’s okay, and if you’re into vampire films and have overlooked this one, I’d recommend another look.

The story here is pretty interesting, and casts a very sympathetic light on William Marshall’s vampiric character. Attempting to stop the trade of Africans, William Marshall plays an African Prince who speaks to Count Dracula, who refuses and turns the Prince into a vampire. He returns 200 years later, and the snazzily-dressed Marshall goes after a woman who reminds him of his late wife.

Blacula, as it was shot on location in L.A., really has that 70’s feeling that I appreciate. There’s some socially conscious dialogue I appreciated (such as Rasulala’s mentioning that crimes against African-Americans aren’t focused on near as much as crimes against whites), though their depiction of a homosexual couple (which was progressive for the time, to be sure) was certainly cringe-worthy. Still, credit to Ted Harris and Rick Metzler for playing (however stereotypically) a biracial gay couple.

William Marshall does quite well as a vampire here. Like I said, you can sort of feel for his character, and while he does cause multiple deaths throughout the film, you can’t help but feel just a bit sorry for him, because you can tell from the beginning of the movie that he’s a good person. Marshall had a strong personality here, and it did wonders for the film.

Also doing wonders was the main protagonist, played by Thalmus Rasulala. A pathologist for the police department, his character really commanded his screen-time, and much like how you couldn’t help but feel bad for Marshall, I couldn’t have stopped myself from cheering for Rasulala for anything. He kicked ass, sucker-punched some vampires, and really put in his all.

While it’s true that the presence of Gordon Pinsent, Denise Nicholas, and Vonetta McGee are appreciated, the only other actor that stands out here is Elisha Cook. When I first saw this film, I immediately recognized him as Pritchard from House on Haunted Hill. He definitely looks a bit older here, but he has the same face, so it was sort of nice to see him 15 years older than I usually do.

I think that, if Blacula has a main problem, it’s the lack of scares. There was a pretty good graveyard sequence, and also a scene that took place in a warehouse in which twenty or so vampires jump the main characters, but otherwise, I didn’t really get a big feeling of dread here.

Even so, there’s some funky music here (just look at that animated title screen), and the songs we heard at the club (‘There He Is Again‘ and ‘I’m Gonna Catch You‘ are both performed by The Hues Corporation, a soul trio from the 1970’s) were just really catchy, despite it not really being the type of music I generally gravitate toward at all.

All-in-all, Blacula’s not a great movie, but it can be fun, and it gets the job done competently enough, along with possessing an interesting story. As far as blaxploitation horror goes, I have to suspect this is one of the better ones, and may well be worth a watch in spite of it’s flaws.

7/10