Before he was interviewing movie stars or producing podcasts, horror fandom stalwart Tom Elliot was sharing his thoughts on the genre with the GeekPlanetOnline community. From grim 1970s slashers to modern CGI murder, if you need the opinion of a gorehound then Tom is your man...
Another regular feature within That Horror Thing will be an occasional look at some recent/upcoming horror releases. This time, I’ve been looking at the latest releases from budget label Brain Damage. Their goal is to provide independent horror films at a cheap “try it you might like it” price (£2.99), giving horror fans the chance for reasonably priced entertainment, and indie horror films a chance to be distributed.
Awaken the Dead
See a priest with a troubled past and an assassin's daughter trapped together in a house surrounded by the undead. Connected by fate, they are forced to battle each other and the zombies outside as the secret threads of their past lives bind them together in a web of conspiracy and death. Their only hope for survival lies in facing their greatest fears and their darkest secrets. As the truth about them surfaces it becomes apparent that the real monsters may actually be inside and not outside the house.
Awaken the Dead seems to be a film that’s been built around one thing that the writer/director thinks is cool; the concept of the badass Priest. How badass is he? Well, he has a black crucifix tattoo down the length of his back (that looks like it’s been drawn on with a black marker pen), he opens his letters with a knife that your average Klingon warrior would be proud to brandish, and he’s tasty with his fists and a gun when he’s in a tight spot. But of course, he displays the requisite guilt at having to stoop so low as to use violence….oh and he has a mysterious past that he doesn’t like to talk about; so far so cliché.
It might seem harsh to criticise a low budget film for looking like a low budget film, but Awaken the Dead is punching so far above its weight that you can’t help but sit there and marvel at how spectacularly it fails. Everything is shot in the over used black and white of the student film maker, and given a grainy make-over in an attempt to mask its shot on video look. The action is where it’s over ambition really shows. The priest starts pulling off sub par matrix moves as the camera swirls around him, and pretty much every time he shoots someone, he holds the gun sideways….because that looks cool right? No, not really.
Unfortunately the dialogue and acting is as spectacularly bad as the action scenes. Every line seems to have been written by a twelve year old who’s seen every action movie of the eighties. Cliché after cliché is uttered by the wooden cast who exist in a permanent state of over acting. The explanation for the outbreak is as uninspired as the dialogue. Yet another government conspiracy to use zombies as weapons. Not even enjoyable cheese.
Fist of The Vampire
From Len Kabasinski, director of Curse Of The Wolf, comes Fist of the Vampire, winner of the Best Horror Feature award at the 2007 Great Lakes Film Festival. Detective Lee Southward's latest assignment is to infiltrate an illegal underground fighting tournament and bring down the organizers. As he battles his way to the top of the tournament in an attempt to get closer to the organizers the clues he uncovers during the investigation take him back to an unsolved murder case from decades earlier. But that's not all. He quickly discovers the people he is trying to bring to justice are not even alive – they are members of the undead, flesh-craving zombies with an unquenchable blood lust. With the help of an undercover female office, Lee must fight his way through an underground world of sex, drugs and violence while attempting to stop the undead in their tracks.
Again you wonder why whoever is making these things isn’t using their meagre budgets to make something a little more achievable. Fist is obviously trying to be a vampire/martial arts mash up in the vein of the Blade trilogy. There is a modicum more success achieving its lofty goal than there is with Awaken the Dead, but that’s not to say it gets anywhere close to reaching it. There do seem to be some genuine martial artists in the film, and while the fight scenes aren’t great… or good, they’re not all terrible… bad but not terrible. There are several occasions where you’ll see performers pausing that little bit too long before or after being hit, so the fights have an obvious staged feel to them.
The story of the son avenging his parents death at the hands of a group of vampires is as cliché ridden and riddled with hammy dialogue and acting as Awaken the Dead, but slightly more palatable this time round. Credit where credit is due, there are some CG effects that are quite impressive for the budget. A vampire burning early in the film is particularly effective. That’s not to say this is a film worth taking a chance on, it isn’t. So, if Brain Damage need a DVD box quote for future releases, please feel free to use “Fist of the Vampire – it’s not as bad as Awaken the Dead” – Tom Elliot – Geekplanetonline.com".
It’s better, but not worth another point.
Bachelor Party in The Bungalow of the Damned
Sammy's got access to a genuine bungalow in the Hamptons and is about to throw the ultimate bachelor party for his best friend, Chuck. The only stipulation is that he must invite the house's caretaker, the prude yet sexually ambiguous Gordon, to the festivities. When a trio of gorgeous strippers arrives to give Chuck a taste of the lascivious delights he will soon forego, it looks being the best stag party ever. But what the guys was don't know, but are soon to find out, is the bungalow is possessed and soon to be filled with vampires. Even worse, Chuck's fiancée is about to turn up.
Now there’s a title that suggests a cheesy and titillating good time. Shame it’s the best thing about this limp horror comedy. Once again, we’ve got the horrid soulless photography, but give them their due, they don’t try to hide it this time with grain effects or black and white photography they just let it be as cheap and nasty looking as it is. Our bunch of rambunctious bachelor party guests are unsurprisingly devoid of anything resembling acting ability, comic timing or even enough likeability that you don’t want them to be eaten by the vampires.
There is some mild unintentional humour though. When the boys are settling in to party for the night, and the three (secretly vampire) strippers arrive, you’d think they were Playboy Playmates by the reaction they get. In reality they’re more like off duty dinner ladies squeezing into un-flattering lingerie. One of the vampires seems to have a catchphrase that she uses before each kill. There’s no “impressive for the budget” CG effects this time, even vampire attack scenes where a bit of practical blood would suffice are rendered in abysmal CG.
Not funny, not gory, not sexy, not worth the cost of the disk it’s burned onto.
Hell House: The Book of Samiel
Before the beginning of time, Demons ruled the darkness. After humans took possession of the Earth, several books came into existence - books of ancient knowledge with pages containing rituals and incantations, one for each of the God Demons. The pages were to be used to banish the dark things that lurked in the shadows. Throughout the centuries, these books were passed down amongst an elite sect of soothsayers and have been highly sought after by the demons. Now those demons have found a way to re-enter this world to take back what has always been theirs. The awful truth is discovered lying dormant in an old house by a group of friends who must seek the aid of the last soothsayer if they are to stop the evil from returning to engulf the earth.
Cold sweat running down my back… the creeping dread… the anticipation of the vile spectacle to come… just three of the things I felt putting this disk into the player after viewing the previous three Brain Damage releases.
The setup seems relatively simple at the start; four friends agree to spend the night in a creepy house. After half an hour of mind numbingly boring conversation and pretty much bugger all happening, they finally get to the house, and we the viewers wish them a quick death so we don’t have to suffer this garbage any more. Unfortunately, there’s another hour of this nonsense left.
Just to illustrate how shockingly bad this film is, let’s take the first kill of the movie. A man performs oral sex on his lover, a possessed man enters the room, and begins to force the man’s face into his partners groin. She however doesn’t notice, until her lover dies from suffocation and falls to the floor.
Looking beyond the usual bad acting and hammy dialogue, the level of “horror movie stupidity” on display goes above and beyond the usual. Bearing in mind this is an abandoned house that the characters are staying in, what does one of the characters do? She takes a bath. Not only does she take a bath, but she’s brought along a vibrator and proceeds to masturbate, because that’s what you do when you’re staying in an abandoned house with your friends.
Taste of Flesh
When four hot young female co-eds receive an invitation to a rave they find out soon after arriving that it's not quite the party they were expecting. Instead, they become the prey of a stalker known as The Hunter and a brutal sadist called The Chef, who has countless sick and demented ways of creating a delightful menu that will satisfy The Hunter's craving for human flesh. Together, these two psychopaths are about to put a whole new slant on the phrase ‘don't play with your food'.
At this point it’s becoming hard to come up with anything different to say for each film. The problems of one seem to be the problem of them all. Taste of Flesh at least seems to at least have a more achievable goal. The scenario of some girls trapped in a warehouse while a hulking masked killer stalks them and delivers them one by one to his friend who cuts them up and cooks them should be easy enough to do on a low budget. Unfortunately, the again soulless visuals and turgid dialogue and acting ensure misery to anyone who watches.
The killer is a large man with a sack over his head, pretty much in the Jason/Leatherface mould. One difference though, this one likes to crack jokes. The dubbing of this character is so obvious that it is slightly unintentionally funny, as are some of his lines, “This is not going to be pleasant – who knows, you might enjoy it, I know I will” he tells one of his victims before killing her. Coupled with the failed attempts at comedy dialogue are ridiculous comic moments like the masked man smoking a cigarette after eating part of one of his victims. One of the cardinal sins of horror is making a joke of your monster. This film does it in spades.
A final mention goes to the quite funny barbed wire scene. A girl running from the killer dives headfirst into a tiny patch of easily avoidable barbed wire and thrashes around in it even though she was initially inches away from the barbs. Don’t let this fool you into thinking that this is a “so bad it’s good” film to enjoy with drinks and friends though, it’s terminally boring.
Curse of The Wolf
Being a werewolf pretty much precludes having a normal life, but one monthly victim of the full moon is going to give it a shot. Dakota thinks she's got things under control until she tries to break the bonds of her furry, sharp-toothed comrades. They're not an accepting bunch, and they're determined to bring her back into the fold whether she likes is or not. Run as she might, they're on the hunt and using everything from their claws to hired guns to bring her back. When a lecherous night club owner gets in on the action it becomes a battle between Dakota's will to return to humanity and the influence of the creatures of the night who want to keep her in the dark.
One hour and 45 minutes of boredom. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Again the film aims too high without a hope of reaching its goals. The werewolves while initially cut around quite fast to hide their rubbish-ness, are soon revealed in all of their cheap shoddy glory. This film like all of them is tedium personified.
I’ve watched a lot of rubbish in my time; I usually like to look for diamonds in the rough, finding smaller horror films that have some spark of creativity that elevates them and makes them more than the sum of their parts, but unfortunately, there were none here. Brain Damage will really need to find some better material to put out, otherwise anything good that they do actually acquire and release will go un-noticed. Once bitten, twice shy.