Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ruthless Pictures beats Universal to the punch with Frankenstein vs. The Mummy

Yeah, I thought The Asylum would be the studio involved with the first of the Universal Monster Universe mashups.  But it appears the first is coming soon from Ruthless Pictures.  The studio responsible for Day of the Mummy, The Black Water Vampire and All Hallows' Eve is getting the jump on Universal with Frankenstein vs. The Mummy.  Check out the trailer below....

It appears a young, handsome Dr. Frankenstein is conducting his experiments at the same university where a young, pretty archeologist is studying a mummy that comes to life.  The bandaged corpse may have his eyes on the fetching scientist, while the good doctor is working to bring life to his collection of human parts.  Either way, the stage is set for an "epic" smackdown.

I'm not saying the film will be bad, though the trailer don't make me want to see the film the day it's released on home video or VOD.  But I am surprised a studio is trying to beat Universal Studios to the punch so early.  Perhaps this film was plannned before the Unified Monster Universe was announced.  But, after watching the trailer, I suspect the film was rushed into production soon after the Unified Monster Universe was announced.

And I think The Asylum is happy to let Ruthless Pictures get the first Universal Monsters mockbuster out, as I suspect they plan to release their own films closer to the Universal release dates, given the studio's past history.

Still, if this first one does well, expect Ruthless Pictures to start releasing more public domain monster smackdowns in the future.  Too bad the studio won't be able to add the Gillman into the mix, unless they get more creative with their creature designs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Giant Claw (1957)

If you’ve ever watched a bad movie and wondered how talented actors could wind up in an awful flick, The Giant Claw is a cautionary tale of good intentions gone bad.  This film contains effects so horrid that star Jeff Morrow walked out of the screening, in his hometown, midway through the movie.  Then, depending on the story you want to believe, he either went home or found a bar to drown his sorrow concerning the audience’s laughter at the sight of the titular monster.
And you can’t blame the audience, as the monster looks like this….

Wait, why is everyone laughing?

Which, for some reason, reminds me of this….

"I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee...."

It didn't help the movie that Beaky Buzzard was introduced over a decade earlier, and the audience for The Giant Claw probably remembered the goofy bird from their youth.  And, as the promotional artwork hides the titular critter, one has to expect the studio heads knew the bird would lay an egg.  But it’s a shame, as this was a decent B-movie in the making. 

Morrow plays Mitch MacAlee, a pilot and electronic whiz, is testing some science thing for the Air Force.  He happens to see an Unidentified Flying Object, as big as a battleship, but radar searches and a bunch of scrambled jets find no trace of the object.  Mitch is ridiculed, for a bit, but a series of attacks on aircrafts convinces the government that he might be telling the truth. 
The threat is a giant bird from space, deciding to make Earth its nesting ground. Now Mitch and his assistant Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) must find a way to get around the bird’s anti matter shield so the US military can blast it.

Which should give the movie ample opportunity to wow you
with effects like this!

Okay, the science is wonky, as it searches for a way to make the creature near invulnerable.  It’s a common troupe in the giant monster movies of the 50s.  The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had radioactive blood, It Came From Beneath The Sea was only vulnerable with an short range targeting system and as for Them!,well, it’s a big colony, and flying queen ants and, whatever.  The idea is that most of the giant monsters of the era had abilities to protect them from the normal weapons of humanity, making the film more suspenseful than if we could just wipe them out with a single cannon blast.

I shouldn’t need to mention the plot is pretty stereotypical.  Mitch and Sally bicker, the Armed Forces don’t believe Mitch’s UFO report until several other disasters occur, and Mitch learns to calm his anger with a few healthy swigs of Canadian apple cider.

Yeah, it was the 50s and the solution to most of life’s problems was a stiff drink away.

The downfall to this movie isn’t the script or the acting.  The cast is quite good, delivering wacky lines about anti-matter and UFOs with convincing dedication.  And it might surprise modern audiences that Sally is a pretty good 50s heroine.  Despite falling for stereotypically loutish Mitch, she displays scientific knowledge that sets her above the typical damsel in distress common to movies of the time.  And she's a damn good shot with a rifle, an equal to Mitch.

No, the film fails with the first clear glimpse of the extraterrestrial bird.  Ray Harryhausen was slated to do the effects, but declined (for budgetary reasons).  So producer Sam Katzman went with a low-budget special effects crew to create the titular monster, and the rest is bad movie history.  Morrow has gone on record that none of the actors knew about the creature's appearance until the film hit theaters.  One can only imagine the shame they felt being involved in a project that promised top notch effects and delivered a monster that might have you singing, "I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee."  Yep, that will sink your film right away.

Come on, quit laughing.  I'm scary, SCARY...

I’m not suggesting a puppet wouldn't be effective in a giant creature flick.  Hell, I love movies like The Giant Shrews or The Green Slime, so you know my standards are rather low when it comes to the presentation of the monster.  But the design, not the execution, of the monster in The Giant Claw is so bad, so goofy, that it’s hard not to laugh, even as the beast gobbles up helpless parachutist. 

Hey, movie audience.  I’m being eaten alive!!  Why are you all laughing?

There is a big difference between a goofy looking monster (like those in The Green Slime) and a creature that is just goofy.  Sure, the audience can chuckle at it's first appearance, but if they continue to laugh as the monster tries to bring humanity to it's knees, it's time to pull a Morrow and walk out of the theater to the nearest drinking hole.  

And yes, I saw several shots lifted from other films.  But that was a common practice, along with recycling music cues, and even that doesn’t sink the film.  The Giant Claw is a rare low budget horror feature, derailed not by the acting or screenplay, but the effects alone.  Had the monster looked better, this film might have become a beloved B-Movie classic.  Instead, it’s a stark example of how the best intentions of a cast and crew can be derailed by the choices made by a producer in the creation of the titular monster.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

CthulhuCon PDX brings Lovecraftian insanity to Portland this spring!

If you need a bit of cosmic insanity after you finally complete and mail off your taxes, plan to make your way to the Crowne Plaza (1441 NE 2nd Ave in Portland, OR) for CthulhuCon PDX on April 25 and 26, 2015.

This con is NOT taking the place of October's film festival, but will focus more on gaming, panel discussions and author readings.  You know, all the things you miss at the Film Festival because, well, you're too busying taking in all the cinematic wonders.

The festival will include a few films, as well as a vendor's area.  Stay tuned to The Shadow Over Portland for more details as they become available, or check out the Facebook Event Page for up to the minute information.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Manster (1959)

Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”  If that is true, then one must assume Sam Raimi saw The Manster, as the final act contains sequences that feel lifted for Army of Darkness.  I’m not saying that‘s a bad thing.  But astute horror fans will watch this film and  not have to wonder where Raimi’s inspiration came from.

A US/Japan co-production, The Manster follows American news correspondent Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley), stationed in Japan, as he follows a lead about research that could hold the answer to the cause of evolution on Earth.

Too bad Larry doesn’t know that Dr. Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura) isn’t the most ethical scientist around.  Having subjected two family members to his enzyme treatment, with disastrous results, Dr. Suzuki decides Larry is the subject needed to prove his theory.  Doping the poor sap, Dr. Suzuki injects Larry with his serum, than proceeds to show Larry a good time around Japan, in order to monitor the results. 

Of course, the experiment will succeed with an American male as a subject.  
That doesn't sound too outdated, does it?

Which, of course, involves lots of sake, visits to geisha houses and a mineral bath with Suzuki’s lovely assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern).  But Larry’s wife, Linda (Jane Hylton, Dyneley’s real wife), isn’t happy with his sudden behavior change and flies to Japan to save their relationship. 

However, Larry has bigger problems.  He’s blacking out and committing murders, all while doing his best to kill off his liver and, oh yeah, growing an extra eye out of the injection site on his shoulder.
Soon, Larry’s grown an extra head, and yes, mayhem ensues.

Nope, never seen this before.  Especially not in a Sam Raimi movie!  

The funny thing about The Manster is it sounds like a horrible movie.  Just the title alone might turn some people away from this film.  But, I figure the title came from the same place that lead Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman’s character in Matinee) to title his movie Mant.  “Half man!  Half ant!  MANT!!”  The Manster feels more fitting than other titles for the film, including The Spilt (the UK title) and The Two-Headed Monster.

Seriously, that last one loses to The Manster by a wide margin.

Getting back to the film, it’s strangely watchable, even though the audience is left with no one to become invested in.  Suzuki isn’t portrayed as an evil scientist, just misguided, but his ethical lapses are quite villainous.  Tara claims to be emotionally scarred, unable to care for another person, which makes her the perfect choice as Suzuki’s assistant.  Yet she falls for Larry, despite his loutish behavior. 

Yeah, Larry is her only chance a love.  Right.....

As for Larry, it’s hard to feel sorry for the guy.  Not that he deserves to be experimented upon, but the character’s behavior is hard to dismiss.  He proclaims his love to his wife (in an overlong, saccharine-filled phone conversation that feels hollow), yet he’s off enjoying all the decadent pleasures of Japan just a few days later, ignoring his job and his spouse.  One could say it’s the enzyme treatment causing this change, but the script offers no hint that Larry wouldn’t have behaved any different had Suzuki exposed him to sake, geishas and Tara without the injection.   

Making it harder for a modern audience to empathize with Larry is the moment when he sexually assaults Tara at the bathhouse.  Sure, the scene fades to black as Larry is racing up to Tara from behind as she is getting into a bathrobe, but the implication is quite clear.  As fading to black often implied sex (just ask Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo), one is left with the uncomfortable fact that Larry rapes Tara.

Yep, just looking at my toes and paying no attention to the naked woman on the other side of the screen.
Nothing of interest back there.  Nope. 

Of course, the following scene is a montage of the pair enjoying all the nightlife Tokyo has to offer.  Again, a modern audience will strain to understand why Tara becomes infatuated with this doltish, sexually aggressive ass.  She claims she was traumatized as a child, implying her emotions were shaped by the events of World War II.  But these scars are healing, thanks to the behavior of an American taking in the exotic pleasures her country has to offer, yet showing no respect for her culture and history.

But the true subtext in the script becomes clear when Linda arrives in Japan.  She knows Larry is having an affair with Tara (again, never shown, but implied), yet she is going to fight for her man and the sanctity of their marriage.  And, aside from never allowing one’s self to be drugged and used as a guinea pig for a crazy scientist, I think The Manster is trying to be a warning to Americans about the dangers of exotic, overseas countries.    

Despite what the history books (and Happy Day reruns) imply, the 50’s were probably the start of the sexual revolution.  Playboy was outselling Esquire magazine, the Beatniks were doing drugs and calling for an end to sexual repression.  American soldiers returning from overseas during WW II were exposed to forms of art and literature that was not as suppressed as in the homeland.

And Americans were more likely to “seize the day” than previously suspected.  In a paper that reveled an increase in unwed pregnancies during the 40s and 50s.  In his paper, UF History Professor Alan Petigny suggests, “After 15 years of depression and war, there was also a desire on the part of Americans to live in the moment and enjoy life, and they were acting accordingly less likely to defer to traditional restraints on their behavior (see link for more 

Given such a backdrop, The Manster can be viewed as a belated cautionary tale, attempting to guide Americans back to the morals of “good old days.”  Women, who were the backbone of the industrial machine in World War II a decade earlier, are now implored to be good, glamorous housewives (just look at Hylton’s poses during her first scene) and help their husbands resist the temptations of the more erotic influences from overseas.  As for men, well, the exotic countries are enticing, but beware, lest your other head takes control.

Yep, this is what it was like to be a woman back in the 50s.  
Please insert sarcastic tone at any time....

Okay, I was waiting to use that pun, but it feels appropriate, given Larry’s personality change once he’s immersed in a more hedonistic lifestyle by Suzuki .  Whether the filmmakers created a morality play or not. it’s hard not to see the film as anything other than a backlash against changing American values. 

And, on that front, the film fails.  Larry and Linda talk about their love over the phone, despite being separated for years, but it never rings true.  I’m not making a commentary on the relationship between the actors (as I mentioned, they were married at the time), but more on the script, which gives no sense of a believable relationship.  And, as Larry becomes such a drunken lout early in the film, the script doesn’t deliver a character the audience can sympathize with in any manner.  Larry is less the upstanding, moral American corrupted by foreign influences, but more a sexist jerk looking for the nearest outlet for his libido.  Again, this is more a modern viewer’s outlook, but it can make the moral tale within the script hard to swallow. 

And no, I have not forgotten my Sam Raimi reference.  But here lie SPOILERS!

Larry gains a third eye on his shoulder, the site of this unknowing injection, echoing Ash’s third eye after swallowing one of the mirror Deadite versions of himself.  And, though the special effects are understandably better in Army of Darkness, both protagonists separate into two beings, one good and the other evil, in scenes that are eerily similar.

Good, bad, I'm the one with....
Oh damn, wrong movie, no shotgun.

Again, I’m not saying this was a bad movie to rip off.  The Manster is a solid watch for B-movie fans, with some nice effects and some very creepy moments.  You just have to get past the idea that Caucasian women are virtuous and only concerned for a man’s well being, while foreign women will bring a man to ruin.  An outdated message, to be sure, but it's a nice little film as long as you don’t think too hard about the stereotypes and moral overtones. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Universal Studios to take the Horror out of their Classic Monsters

You can't say I didn't warn you of this.  The Hollywood Reporter sat down with the heads of the major studios for a roundtable discussion of their future plans, and Universal announced the studio will turn their Classic Monster Universe into a realm of superheroes and villains.

If you don't want to scroll through the article, here's the message delivered by Universal Studio's Donna Langley....
Donna and Brad, how do you get into this game? Donna has said that Universal's monster movies are not competitive with the superheroes.
LANGLEY To Alan's point, we have to mine our resources. We don't have any capes [in our film library]. But what we do have is an incredible legacy and history with the monster characters. We've tried over the years to make monster movies — unsuccessfully, actually. So, we took a good, hard look at it, and we settled upon an idea, which is to take it out of the horror genre, put it more in the action-adventure genre and make it present day, bringing these incredibly rich and complex characters into present day and reimagine them and reintroduce them to a contemporary audience.

Yep, the studio failed to deliver decent horror films over the years, so rather than figure out how their previous attempts went astray, the studio heads have decided to turn their library of Classic Monsters into action heroes and villains.

And, giving the additional footage inserted into Dracula Untold, as well as the CGI heavy action sequences in the film, one can't help but feel the studio is banking on turning their creatures of the night into supernaturally powered versions of the characters they are competing with in the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universe.

And you can't say I didn't see this one coming.  I was writing about the problems Universal had translating it's Classic Monster franchise to modern audiences back in 2012, as a writer for Planet Fury.  And, although I can not find a link to my article, as the website is closed (I would have provided a link for this article, but it wasn't available.  You'll have to take my word on this.), here's a quote from my computer of the article I wrote back in July, 2012 concerning the studio's attempt to launch an online game filled with their Classic Monsters.

And this screen shot.
As to the game, I can’t comment on how it looks.  But I can say that I doubt the programmers and designers have never seen a Universal monster movie before, as the game’s objective is to, “Defeat your opponents – get the girl!”

Had the game designer had watched a film like Creature from the Black Lagoon, they’d understand why the Gill-Man shouldn’t get the girl.  Yes, he might be a misunderstood monster looking for a mate, but we know date rape would not be problem for him.  And the Frankenstein’s Monster doesn’t have a stellar track record with girls (though, judging by the site’s artwork, the damsel in the game is at least 18 years old).  The goal of having the monster return to their base with the girl ignores the simple fact that the monster has plans that aren’t in her best interest.

No, nothing nefarious going on here.

Besides, turning the monsters into heroic figures robs them of their power, the mix of sympathetic creature and terrifying beast that makes them special.  Instead, players will control another superhero with a set of special attacks and abilities, at least as long as you have your credit card handy (of course, Bigpoint is going to make a buck off this “free” game).

Fans shouldn’t be surprised that Universal is mismanaging their monster franchises.  The studio has a history of missteps and mistakes date back to the late 30s, and the most recent efforts to revitalize the monsters (Van Helsing and The Wolfman) were colossal flops.  Yet it’s surprising the studio can’t make the monsters work for a modern audience.  After all, the early films followed a similar game plan to Marvel Studio’s recent success with The Avengers.  All Universal need do is find talented filmmakers with an enthusiasm for the project, or the skill sets to make each creature shine, then produce a series of fun, successful solo outings before bringing all of them together for a big monster mash. 
Wow, can't say I didn't see this one coming.

As for their current plans, I think Universal is over thinking things.  Rather than try to make a blockbuster series right off the block, the studio should reintroduce their Classic Monsters in a series of more modestly budgeted films.  This approach, coupled with filmmakers who have an understanding of the Classic Monsters rather than those interested in generating a franchise, would introduce a new generation of filmgoers to what makes these monsters so special, while keeping the elements that resonate for older fans.  And a lower budget will allow the studio to up the budget for the following films while garnering audience interest into these characters, until they can release an all-out brawl worthy of the Universal name.

But no.  Rather than blazing a new trail, one more rooted in horror rather than super-heroics, delivering moviegoers something they haven't seen in a long while, Universal is intent on forging the monsters into the realm of superheroes.

After all, why tell a story when we can do this?

I guess it's easier to CGI a massive fist of bats than write a script that is scary or original.  I'm just glad to have the original films on DVD, so I don't have to watch this catastrophic mess in the making.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Joe Sherlock talks about his new movie, Blood Creek Woodsman!

Northwest horror filmmaker Joe Sherlock premieres his latest film, Blood Creek Woodsman on Sunday, November 16, at The Clinton Street Theater in Portland, OR at 4 pm.  Tickets are only $5 (cash only), so be sure to come out and support homegrown horror.

Joe was kind enough to answer a few questions about the film via email...

The Shadow Over Portland : What can you tell readers about Blood Creek Woodsman?
Joe Sherlock: My frequent film buddy John Bowker wanted to do a body count movie. He had just finished directing a project he wrote and I shot and acted in, so asked if I wanted to direct this one and produce it with him. John wrote it and really crammed in a lot of kills and we used literally gallons and gallons of fake blood! If you like bloody b-movies, 80s slashers, etc., you are likely to dig Blood Creek Woodsman.

 TSOP: It sounds like a slasher film, but so did your last film, Drifter.  Are supernatural elements in this film?
JS: Maybe. We start off finding out about Bud Kindrick, a logger who found out a terrible secret and went on a killing rampage. Then we shift to a year later and a series of bloody killings have begun. Many think it's Kindrick, back from the grave somehow, but that's the mystery - who is doing these new killings? The sheriff, his deputy, estranged wife and a nosy reporter are all trying to find out what's going on, as the body count rises around them.
TSOP:  What inspired you to make this film?
JS: As I said, John's initial inspiration was to do a body count movie, a throwback to the slashers of the 80s. I was excited by the challenge of it, since it was a big cast and lots of creative death scenes to stage, but also looked forward to putting my own flavor in the movie: a sense of fun, cool camera angles, attractive ladies and some cool gore shots.

TSOP: Can you tell us a bit about the locations where you shot the film?
JS: I had already shot one of my movies, Underbelly, at my friend's restaurant/bar and house out near Mt. Angel, Oregon. Knowing we could should there again, John had those locations in mind when writing the movie. Once we began, however, we also were shown some great places in and around the Mt. Angel/Silverton area that we took advantage of to give the movie a great rural feel. 
We also shot at an old house in Peoria, Oregon, one that we'd used before on movies like Twisted Fates and Platoon of the Dead. Another great location was a rustic cabin on a lake south of Salem, Oregon. We had shot a couple of projects there in the early 2000s and once again, it lent a terrific rural feel to the movie.
One other thing that was great was that a regular at the bar was a guy who bought, stripped and resold retired police cars. He let us use one of his cars and a couple of light bars. With some vinyl lettering and a custom door magnet, we upped the production value with some decent-looking police vehicles. 

TSOP:  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this film was shown at Cypticon Seattle a few years ago.  What have you done to the film since this screening?
JS: Yes it was, and not a whole lot. Honestly there was a bit of sound tweaking, some tightening of the edit, a bit of music enhancement. Also, we spent time getting a behind-the-scenes featurette, commentary track and blooper reel together for the dvd. With other projects going on and people being busy it has just taken a while to get all the details finished up. 
 TSOP:  I understand you’ll have a Q and A after the screening.  I assume you’ll be there.  What cast members will also be attending the premiere? 
JS: I will be there, along with John Bowker, who wrote the script. A whole bunch of cast members are planning to be there including Adam Paris, Bob Olin, Bryn Kristi, Rob Merickel, William J. Bivens and Craig Farrell. We'll also have some prizes to give out.
TSOP:  Will you have DVDs of this movie, and others in your filmography, for sale at the screening?
JS: I should have copies of Blood Creek Woodsman available along with my other stuff, including Drifter, Twisted Fates and others.
TSOP:  What’s your next project?
JS: I am at the very tail end of my weird horror/sci-fi thing called Odd Noggins. I have just a few pick-up shots to do, a small bit of editing and it will be done. Hoping to have it done and a screening set up before the end of the year if I can. You can see more info at
TSOP: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.  And I hope the screening is a big success.
JS: Thanks so much, Chris. Love the blog and hope all the Portland horror and b-movie fans will come out for the Blood Creek Woodsman screening!

If you'd like to learn more about Joe Sherlock and his projects, read my interview with him before the Portland premiere of Drifter here.  And be sure to head to The Clinton Street Theater on Sunday for the premiere of Blood Creek Woodsman and support local horror filmmakers!  And be sure to bring a few extra bucks and pick up a DVD or two!!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Shark Attack in the Mediterranean (2004)

Okay, I thought I was done with the shark attack movie reviews, but I picked up this DVD and had to share the cheesy goodness.  A German television production known as Hai-Alarm auf Mallorca and Shark Alarm, this film fits into the so bad it’s awesome category of shark attack films.  You might still find the dubbed DVD version around and, if you love cheesy shark flicks, just buy it.  You’ll thank me later.

The film opens as Sven Hansen (German bodybuilder turned actor Ralf Moeller) is reconsidering his life in the island of Mallorca.  His wife was attacked and killed by a shark, and he feels the need to leave in order to help alleviate his grief. 

Hanging onto his job as a helicopter pilot, he picks up marine biologist Julia Bennett (Julia Stinshoff), heading for her new job at a shark research facility on the island.  Their flight to Mallorca is interrupted by a distress call from a boat that lowers tourists in a cage to view the sharks that call the island home.  The captain, in a display of sheer stupidity dictated by the script, trapped several tourists in shark infested waters by trying to relocate the boat without bringing up the shark cage.  Sven and Julia rescue the tourist, but Sven’s not happy to find that his daughter Maja (Oona-Deva Liebich) is part of the crew.

Upon their rescue, the tourists report that something big came out of the local trench and scared the other sharks away.  Soon, people start dying and Sven is convinced the shark that killed his wife is back, bigger and badder than before.

And, as expected, Sven is right.  The institute’s head doctor, Verena Bandauer (Katy Karrenbauer), is hiding the fact that a megalodon escaped its pen and killing Sven’s wife before disappearing into the trench.  Now it’s back, full grown and ready to unleash itself on the population of Mallorca.
Toss in Maja disobeying her father by taking part in a jet-ski competition and a cover up involving the local authorities, and you can just sit back and you know that mayhem will ensue.

I told you I was right!

I should warn you, the shark attacks is minimal, with most of the onscreen mayhem confined to the final act.  This shouldn’t be a surprise, as the film was a TV production, but the script makes up for the lack of megalodon action with lots of fun little action sequences and amazing (and possibly unintentional) campy bits that manage to keep your interest.

For example, the institution is willing to kill Sven to keep him from pressing about the shark.  So we get the moment when Sven is run off the road by a truck, leading to an amazing WTF moment, as Sven jumps out of his jeep midair after he’s run off a cliff.  The moment is crazy enough, but add in scenes of some nameless rich dude explaining to a bevy of bikini-clad women how to properly cook meat on a grill, and how a true grillmaster doesn’t fall from the sky, makes the moment Sven drops into the pool, while his jeep explodes behind everyone more enjoyable than it should be. 

I don't notice the fireball behind me, as I'm
so enthralled by Sven.

The rich guy returns later in the film, as Sven has to borrow another of his cars.  As expected, the rich guy submits to Sven’s masculinity and admits, “I suppose I can’t stop you.”  Seriously, the scriptwriters (Jorg Alberts, Roland Heep, Frank Koopmann and Don Schubert) deserve some recognition for that moment if the dubbed version is even close to the original script.  The scene is played so seriously that one can’t help but laugh. 

Yes, the film is dubbed, but the voice actors are as serious as the actors on screen, which adds to the camp factor.  And I have to mention that the film contains a rather satisfactory ending for a character working with the nefarious institution.

Adding to the craziness is a scene with German pop star Jeanette Biedermann, as a band member at the big jet-ski competition, performing a song with the chorus, “Hey, hey, hey, do the 69!”  I don’t jet-ski, so I wondered if this was a mix of race logo with a racy implication.  Than I saw the cover for her album Break On Through (the song 69 is listed as part of the Platinum edition) and I didn’t even bother trying to look any further into jet-ski terminology.

Yeah, that should eliminate any doubts about what the song is about.

Despite the faults, the film manages to be engaging during most of its 93 minute running time.  The pace is fast enough to keep from dragging out too long, and some of the dialog makes more sense when you know the background of the actors.  For example, Moeller was in the running to play the T-1000 in Terminator 2, until the filmmakers decided to go with a skinnier actor to play against Arnold.  So, when Julia mentions to a police officer, “I’ll be back,” before running her car into the station to free Sven, it’s easy to snicker at the moment, rather than feel it’s just a blatant rip-off moment (which, to be honest, it is).

And when the shark finally attacks, the scenes are pretty good.  Okay, the effects fall short at times, as parts of the shark become transparent or the shark’s scale is questionable.  But the attack scenes are well staged, and the effects department was smart enough to create a wake around the shark’s fin, which is more than can be said for some other giant shark movies out there.

Yeah, the scale and perspective is screwed, but this shot still looks cool.

It’s goofy fun, and worth a look if you can get it.  Whether the cheese was intended or not, Shark Attack in the Mediterranean is one of those perfect rainy Saturday morning movies, when it’s time to curl up on the couch with a blanket and a bowl of sugar-filled cereal and let your inner five year old run wild.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Interview with Dima Levanchuk, Northwest filmmaker and his Kickstarter campaign for Rayke

The Shadow Over Portland: I’m talking with Dima Levanchuk, Northwest filmmaker who’s launched a Kickstarter campaign for his latest short, Rayke.  Can you tell me what the movie is about?

Dima Levanchuk: The movie is a short creature horror movie, about a group of friends who go into the woods.  And, being party animals, they disturb the spirit of the forest, so a creature comes out of the ground and attacks them, killing them and all sorts of horrible things.

The film will be shot in Seattle and we’re looking at filming in November and early December.

TSOP: Have you delved into public funding before? 

DL: We’ve never done Kickstarter before.  This is our chance to see how it works and such. 

TSOP: You’ve directed several shorts, and a feature called The Tramp.

DL: Yes.  I’ve been shooting films for almost five years now, and we’ve been collecting a bunch of awards here and there.  Best director, best special effects, and others. 

Than we decided to try shoot a feature about a woman who is brutalized, gets a bunch of weapons and kicks ass.  That one won awards down in Texas at a film festival. 

But we want to stay in Washington, and bring actors, make up artist and such to work here.  There is a lot of horror work, but, unfortunately, not a lot of big work, but our goal is to change that.

TSOP: Do you have an estimated running time for Rayke?

DL: Yeah, about 11 minutes long.  Of course, the more money we get, the longer it could run, as long as it’s entertaining.  I don’t want it to run too long.

TSOP: Is the monster an original creation, or one based on folklore?

DL:  We’re combining a few elements from the Berwick Monster legend and creepy pasta creature Rake.  So it’s a new creature, just a mix of different ones.  Though, if you look a rendition of the Berwick Monster, I guess it’s based on a legend.

TSOP: The actors you’re hiring, are they local?  Have the worked on films before?

DL:  We have one actor from Portland and four actors from Seattle.  All of them have worked on short movies, and one is a theater director. 

TSOP: Your creature will be a full body prosthetic creation. 

DL: Yes, Adam Lee Matthew will be doing prosthetics on hands, back, feet.  Lily Wilson, who’s a makeup artist, she’ll be applying the prosthetics.  And, of course, we’ll have blood and all the fun stuff.
The prosthetics will probably be about 4 to 5 hours of application time.  And the actor will be running around in the Northwest weather in November and December, practically naked except for the prosthetics.  Though he says, “I’ll suffer for it,” we’ll figure out how to take care of that. 

TSOP: Now, you’re filming in November and December in the Northwest, and it’s going to rain.  How will that affect the creature makeup?

DL:  We are going to use materials that are not as affected by water.  Adam says the makeup be okay in water and other stuff.  We considered that, because makeup in the rain can look like crap.  But, we have an experienced crew and I know they will pull it off. 

TSOP: If people are interested in seeing your previous work, where can they go to view your other shorts, or the feature?

DL: Well, my central hub is (, which is where I will put all of our project information.  It’s how people can get a hold of us and check out our stuff.

TSOP: The Kickstarter campaign runs through October 30 (at 11:11 am PST).  How are you doing so far?

DL:  It’s okay.  Not were we want to be, but if the Kickstarter campaign doesn’t go through, we’ll figure out how to get the money together and make the film.  Either way, we’ll make the film. 
That’s indie filmmaking.  It’s hard to find money.  But you keep working at it and eventually you find something. 

TSOP:  I see you have some interesting incentives, such as prosthetics from the monster. 

DL: Yes.  Adam is going to be sculpting something we can put in a little jar with Northwest moss, or a lower jaw all hacked up and destroyed.  And, about 10 minutes ago, I added a new incentive, where you will get a statue, about 6 inches tall, of the creature.

Adam, who’s doing the sculptures, he has a Masters Degree in sculpture from University of Washington, so he approached the design like an artist.  He was, this is a really good piece, and I’m like, yes, but it’s part of a movie.  Now, he’s like, “I want to sell this for like, $1000,” and I’m like, “You can’t, it’s an incentive.”  It’s this creative battle, with an artist who wants to promote and sell his work, and the fact that it’s a incentive for the movie. 

TSOP:  A list of all the incentives is available on your Kickstarter page.

DL:  Yes, and whether we collect the money or not, we will put them on the movie webpage,  So people can go there and decide that want something and it will be available.  So, if they want to give us some money for the film, we’ll send them something.  Just because the Kickstarter campaign is over, it doesn’t mean people can’t get anything. 

TSOP:  What are your plans for Rayke once it’s completed?  Will it be released on a website, or are you going on the festival circuit?

DL:  Well, the idea is to see if people want to see something like this, if they are interested in a creature movie.  If they are, we’ll look into doing a feature.  This is to test the waters, see what people think about it, to find out if it’s creepy or not, if people are as excited about it as we are.  And if they are, we’ll try to come with a feature concept, and funding for the movie. 

So, yes, we’ll have it online for people to see.  And we’ll bring it to some local film festivals, because we love to support the local area. 

TSOP: Dima, thanks for taking the time out of your schedule for this interview, and best of luck on the Kickstarter campaign.

DL:  Thank you.

If you’d like to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, visit this link for more information and a list of the incentives available to contributors.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Poltergeist remake is rated PG-13, which is no reason to freak out

If you're a horror fan on the Internet, I'm sure you've heard the news that the Poltergeist remake has been given a PG-13 rating by the MPAA, for "intense frightening sequences, brief suggestive material and some language."

And, despite the fact that the rating description seems appropriate for the material in the 1982 original, several websites are framing this as another less-frightening Hollywood remake, thanks to the lack of the coveted R-rating that denotes a "true" horror film.

But, should you be up in arms about the remakes rating, I suggest you calm down and remember that the original was rated PG.  Yes, back then, the PG-13 rating had yet to be created.  Poltergeist, as well as Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, were films that pushed the Motion Picture Associate of America to create the PG-13 rating, a way to designated a film was fine for teens, but might not be suitable for younger children.

Yeah, this scene won't give toddlers nightmares.

And I won't deny that, since it's inception, the PG-13 rating has become both a marketing ploy and a joke.  Films that should be PG (like The Avengers) add enough of certain element to gain the rating as a way to imply this film is too intense for kids, attracting the teen crowd.  Meanwhile, other films cut back on the blood sprays (Expendables 3, I'm looking at you) to make the action sanitized enough for a PG-13 rating, aiming gain a few extra box office bucks from a younger demographic.

It's silly, to say the least, when a film featuring the murder of countless people can earn a PG-13, while a movie like The King's Speech earns an R rating because someone uses the F-word a few too many times.

And it's rather silly that I have to use the term "F-word" in order to not be listed as an explicit blog, but that's our current state of the nation.  Mowing down rows of evil soldiers is okay, but saying the F-word is bad.  Or showing too much nudity, regardless of the content.

But I digress.  Let's get back to Poltergeist.

The original film proves that buckets of blood and topless women aren't needed to scare you.  Hell, I still get chills from the originals, while many of the slasher films I saw in the 80s are little more than fond memories.  Sure, the effects are awesome, but the combination of boobs and blood isn't really scary.

Now, the creepy clown doll freaks me out.  Even more than 30 years later.

If this scene doesn't send chills down your spine, you can't be human.

Which is why I'm going to see the remake of Poltergeist.  If it's a bomb, it's a bomb.  But, as Spielberg and Hooper proved, it's not the rating that makes a movie scary, it's what the filmmakers do with the material.  Hell, I sat through 2013's Evil Dead and, despite some amazing practical effects, my mood went from boredom to annoyance by the final reel.

Though I doubt this remake will be as good as the original, I'll give it a chance, regardless of the rating, as should fellow horror fans.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Event Horizon (1997)

A bomb upon its initial release, Event Horizon has gained a bit of a cult following over the years.  Originally compared to films as diverse as 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Black Hole, to Alien and Hellraiser, such comments showed critics were off the mark.  The film is a high tech version of a classic haunted house tale, more akin to films like The House on Haunted Hill or The Legend of Hell House.  It's easy to envision Hammer, back in the 60s, making this film, had the budget and technology allowed such a production.
The film follows a deep space rescue ship, Lewis and Clark, as it heads into orbit around Neptune.  Upon awaking for suspended animation, Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and his crew are given the details of their secret mission by Dr. Weir (Sam Neill).

Weir designed a ship, the Event Horizon, with an engine that can bend the fabric of space and allow for exploration into the farthest regions of space.  But, on her maiden voyage, the Event Horizon vanished.  Reappearing after seven years, Lewis and Clark has been dispatched to find out what happened to the ship and her crew.

I suspect they didn't find a place full of rainbows and unicorns.
Just a guess...

As expected, the captain of the ill-fated ship was able to release one last, cryptic message.  While no one has been able to figure out what was being said on the recording in the past seven years, one of the crewmembers of Lewis and Clark recognizes the language used as Latin and offers a rough translation, “Save us.”

Of course, all sorts of spooky things occur once the crew boards, and are marooned on, the Event Horizon.  Dr. Weir (yes, his name is one letter away from Weird, a not very subtle bit of foreshadowing) starts seeing visions of his dead wife, Miller sees the burning corpse of a crewman he left to die on an earlier mission, and the resident Latin expert realizes he might have mistranslated the message.

Yep.  Nothing creepy about Dr. Wir's design.

I’m not spoiling anything by saying a mysterious force has infested the ship (it’s another bit of early, unsubtle foreshadowing), which attacks several crewmembers before driving Dr. Weir insane.  Or, at least crazy enough to let the remaining members of the Lewis and Clark that, on its maiden voyage, the Event Horizon traveled through Hell and is planning to return there with a new crew.

Yes, mayhem ensues.

Taken as a haunted house film, Event Horizon is quite a bit of fun.  Despite the clumsy foreshadowing, Philip Eisner’s script is a nice, slow burn, which works by not only giving the audience time to accept a haunted (okay, possessed might be a better word) spaceship, but it makes Weir’s journey into insanity believable.  By slowly revealing what building the Event Horizon cost him, his transition into an emissary of Hell becomes quite plausible, keeping him from becoming a simple Pinhead rip off. 

Though scenes like this might have mislead a few people.

Given his later projects, such as the Resident Evil series, director Paul W. S. Anderson (credited as Paul Anderson) does a great job at keeping the pace restrained until the final act, despite a few minor burst of cinematic excess.  It isn’t until the final act that Anderson allows the action sequences to become more akin to his later films, giving an interesting looks at a director who could deliver something more enticing that a kickass zombie action flick. 

But the film’s success owes much to the sets.  The Event Horizon is dark, foreboding and quite different from the other ships in the film.  Bathed in shadows, with curved archways, an endless hall, and an engine room that looks more Gothic than a futuristic society would design, the ship is more like a haunted house than a futuristic space vessel.  Had Weir had mentioned the design of the ship took advantage of eldritch geometric patterns, I’d suspect the crew passed a bit to close to Azathoth rather than into Hell. 

Yeah, not Lovecraftian at all.

It’s unfortunate the intent of the being that inhabits the Event Horizon is never made clear.  The ship is making people relive their hidden “sins,” but only Weir seems to have any reason to feel guilt for the event he is forced to relive.  Miller did let a man die during a rescue mission, and he has every right to feel bad for leaving him behind.  But his action wasn’t based on cowardice (at least such motivation isn’t made clear), but rather to save the rest of his crew.  Another crewmember sees distressing visions of the son she’s left on Earth during her tour with the Lewis and Clark, yet the boy is with his father and, again, the script never suggests the father might be harming the child.  Again, she might feel guilty for her actions, but it is not sinful.   

And killing off crewmembers is not a good way to drag the crew to Hell, especially if their sins aren’t enough to cause eternal damnation.  The script never explains how killing off the crewmembers benefits the ship or works to achieve its ultimate goal.  It seems a better plan, once the crew is marooned on the Event Horizon, would be to rev up the drive right away and open the gateway back to Hell.  Yet, this doesn’t happen until a few crewmembers die because of the ship’s actions, lessening the people/souls it can bring back to Hell.  It’s not clear which the ship prefers.  While Weir states the ship wants another crew to bring back to the chaotic realm it re-emerged from, one has to wonder how killing off crewmembers will accomplish that goal.     

And when I said the action sequences become absolutely unbelievable during the climax, all I need mention is one character’s return to the Event Horizon, after being blown into space on the wreckage of the Lewis and Clark.  The moment stretches probability in the same way Gravity did at times (yes, I said it, and I stand behind it), making the moment more laughable than exciting.  And, of course, we have an unrealistic decompression sequence, which might have been easier to overlook had the missing crewmember not shown up outside the ship a few seconds earlier.

But the most glaring error is the electronic score during the film’s opening and closing credits.  Given that rest of the score is more fitting to the atmosphere of the film, the electronic dance number used during the closing credits is quit jarring.  Perhaps a slower piece of music to start, transitioning to the techno score, would have worked better, rather than punching the audience in their face with an inappropriate music choice when the ending credits start to roll.

Soundtrack created by DJ I've Come For Your Soul

Regardless of these few missteps, Event Horizon is a creepy little haunted spaceship tale.  It’s not perfect, but it’s better than some of the haunted house movies in recent years.  And it’s nice to see a film that relies more on setting and atmosphere to generate a sense of foreboding, rather than upon props, such as creepy dolls or strange looking demons, to generate a flurry of jump scares in a sophomoric attempt to frighten the audience.