Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shock Waves (1977)

Without a doubt, the Nazi’s have gone down in history as one of the most despised and hated groups of all time, and with darn good reason. Besides being hateful, racist, murderous, war-mongers who wouldn’t turn down the invasion of a country even if it were populated by an unstoppable army of syphilis-infested, cyborg Rosie O’Donnells, they are also responsible for giving us the song, “99 Luftballoons.” But, being a believer in giving credit where credit is due, one thing has to be given to the Nazi’s: they make a damn fine movie villain. Think about it. If it wasn’t for the Nazi’s, as well as a few other select evil groups (communists, drug overloads, serial killers, religious fanatics, Wang Chung), movie makers would be left with pretty slim pickings when it came to coming up with proper foes for their heroes and heroines to deal with. Can you imagine a Nazi-less “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “The Sound of Music” de-Nazified? Without a good Nazi or two to pepper your film with, it just wouldn’t be the same. Indiana Jones would be stuck fighting off evil hoards of cultist blood-sausage makers and the Von Trapps would be required to give up their music to run and hide from an invading force of imperialistic Hummel manufacturers. Yes, the Nazi’s, along with their trusty side-kick, nuclear radiation, have long provided horror movie fans with a bevy of horrible villains, mutated monsters, and goose-stepping baddies. And today’s movie, “Shock Waves” is no exception. Nazis abound in this film, being more ubiquitous than Yoda puppets at a Star Wars fan-boy circle jerk. But these are Nazis with a difference. Besides being your average evil, racist, murderous, “Luftballooning” Nazis, these are underwater, zombie Nazis!

After a brief intro, “Shock Waves” opens, as movies often do, with an overly sun-burnt woman being rescued from a derelict dinghy by a Bubba Gump shrimping boat. We are quickly flashbacked to an earlier part of the story where we will learn how this woman, Rose (played by Brooke Adams of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” fame), came to be in her predicament. [Not to give anything away, but we sadly never learn the back story of the Bubba Gump boat crew.] In one of the best moments of the movie we are provided a excessively long shot of our heroine (sans sun-burn and obviously in much better health) swimming through the ocean in a particularly nice yellow bikini. There was a voice over during this part but I can’t remember what was said because, for some reason, I was distracted at the time. In any case, she soon pulls herself up onto boat where she and her yellow bikini proceed to take a sunbath. The story from this point forward becomes a little clearer for me as film-doms equivalent of a cold shower is introduced: John Carradine, who plays the part of “Cap’n Shabby,” the commander of the vessel. His only other crew members are the first mate (who looks like he should be sporting a “Mustache Rides” t-shirt) and the cook (who resembles Ron Jeremy after he went to seed.) Accompanying these four are three middle-agers who apparently are into paying money to travel around islands in a rickety old boat captained by a crotchety old man. In any case, as the boat proceeds on its journey, some strange events begin to happen. First, someone pisses on the film. Actually, what happens is that the sun suddenly turns everything around the voyagers a bright putrid yellow which, for reasons that are never really explained, causes a sunken ghost-ship to rise to the surface. Later that night, Cap’n Shabby’s ship of fools, piloted by mustache-boy, runs into the ghost ship, causing it to run aground and forcing the passengers and crew to abandon it for a nearby, seemingly deserted island. However, after exploring for a while, the doomed party soon comes across a dilapidated mansion.

Enter horror-legend, Peter Cushing, looking like he could play one of the zombies without requiring much make-up. Cushing, we eventually find out, is a former SS Officer who was responsible for commandeering a group of undefeatable Nazi soldiers (called “Der Toten Korps”) who were genetically created to not need oxygen so that they could man U-boats without needing to surface. They are said to be neither dead nor alive, but somewhere in between, sort of like Harrison Ford’s career. It would seem that these soldiers have been lying dormant for many years under the ocean waves but, holy Schnitzelbank, our unwary travelers have now awoken them!

Here are a few points worth noting (Warning: Achtung! Vee have vays of making you vatch Spoilers!):

  • Star billing is given to Peter Cushing and John Carradine; however, the combined screen time for both of these actors is about 10 minutes. Directors need to take that into consideration next time they put Ben Affleck in a starring role.

  • While there are some genuinely well shot underwater moments that are fairly creepy, the sight of the undead SS mucking around slowly beneath the waves really puts the kibosh on the impact and, at times, just looks ridiculous. On the other hand, the shots of the zombies rising up out of the water is sometimes effective but they are shown ad nauseum (hey, as the saying goes, if you’ve seen one undead Nazi rise up from the water, you’ve seen them all).
  • This film has one of the more unique kills in a horror film that I’ve seen lately: death by sea urchin. Come to think of it, though, killer sea urchins might actually be a more terrifying monster than underwater, zombie Nazis.
  • Although Brooke Adams looks damn fine in a bikini, she needs to not scream on camera because she resembles Skeletor when she does that. Not a good look for her.
    An important health tip: Never eat food prepared by a cook whose kitchen walls are plastered with porn.
  • The music in Shock Waves is pretty effective at times, providing some good ambient moments to compliment the creepy underwater sequences. At other times, though, the music sounds like someone just got a new Casio keyboard for Xmas and has just been dying to try it out.

It can easily be said that “Shock Waves” is the “Gone with the Wind” of underwater, zombie Nazi movies, but that’s not saying much. It’s certainly the best underwater zombie Nazi movie ever made, but the same can be said of “Piranha 2” being the best flying killer piranha fish movie. As a horror movie, “Shock Waves” is about as dull as a butter knife after cutting through a cement block. The deaths aren’t gory, the tension is non-existent, and the pacing is slower than pouring frozen peanut butter through a funnel. On the other hand, as a “B” movie, I found it reasonably enjoyable, though not on a “Blood Freak” or a “Monster-A-Go-Go” level. In short, it wasn’t good enough to be good and it wasn’t bad enough to be bad. As such this is not a film that I’m going to be returning to very often, unless I’m really in the mood for some heavy duty mediocrity, or if I’m itching to see Brook Adams in that yellow bikini again.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole film, be sure to check out my video of “Shock Waves – The Good Parts!”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Any good history book will tell you that that for millennia, going back even so far as ancient Greek and Roman times, leeches were once used for medical purposes in a process known as “bloodletting” which involved putting leeches on a sick patient’s skin in order to suck the diseased blood out of them. For more than a century, however, this ignorant viewpoint has largely been dispelled and leeches are now put to more proper and useful purposes, namely dumping salt on them and watching them melt. And, if you’re Roger Corman, they make a damn fine (and relatively inexpensive) movie monster!

Attack of the Giant Leeches (aka “The Giant Leeches” aka “Attack of the Blood Leeches” aka “Demons of the Swamp” aka “Swamp Hickey from Hell”) tells the saga (in just over an hour) of one town’s battle with the forces of darkness in the form of giant, mutant leeches. After the credits roll, the movie opens up with what at first appears to be a rather depressing episode of “Hee Haw,” complete with hicks, overalls, a general store, and lots of “corn licker.” We are soon introduced to Dave Walker (played by Bruno VeSota looking like a cross between Hoss of “Bonanza” fame and William Conrad of “First Alert” fame) who is married to young, hot, and white-trashy “Liz” (played by Yvette Vickers). [Note: You might think that the prime “suspension of disbelief” necessary for this film comes from the acceptance of the giant mutant leeches, but that is far outweighed by the disbelief that the young and hot Yvette Vickers would be in holy wedlock to this man without the cultural impetus of arranged marriages.] Despite Walker’s intense love (lust?) for his wife, it’s soon learned that Liz has long since tired of cold, doughy sex with her husband and has recently been filling in the gaps of her sex life by engaging in extra-curricular activities with another man (played by Michael Emmet who also played the shrimp-infested victim in “Night of the Blood Beast”). When Dave discovers this, he becomes insanely jealous and chases the two adulterers into the local swamp with a shotgun only to lead them into the mutated-arms of a couple of oversized, blood-sucking, leeches! The leeches pull the doomed lovers under the surface of the swamp and take them to their underwater cave where they proceed to feed off of their blood. Walker tries to convince a few of the townsfolk of the horror that he’s just witnessed but they, of course, laugh it off and instead lock him up for murder. Then, in the supreme head-scratching moment of the film, he proceeds to hang himself not out of guilt, but out of fear of the leeches (Here’s a better idea: just stay out of the swamp you big, dumb bastard!). When some of the residents hear of Dave’s death, instead of concluding that he was either guilty of murder or crazier than a dog-shit casserole, they start wondering if the monsters might be real after all.
Enter Game Warden Steve Benton (played by Peter Graves doppelganger, Ken Clark) whose specialties include knowledge of wildlife, warding locals off from using dynamite to catch fish, telling the local law enforcement to go soak their fat heads, and being covered in more chest hair than your average yeti. Initially Benton is under the impression that Dave simply murdered his wife and her lover, but when a couple of other people go missing, and after some further investigation, he comes to a shocking conclusion. It turns out that every 50s horror film’s good friend, radioactive sludge, has been up to its old tricks again by allowing itself to be dumped into the local swamp and this has caused the resident leech population (but nothing else for some reason) to mutate into enormous, bloodthirsty monsters! Not only this but they have also grown fairly intelligent (as demonstrated by their newly developed human-harvesting abilities), sprouted arm-like appendages, and begun to emit a sound not unlike an outboard motor slogging through tapioca pudding. Now it’s up to Benton and the rest of the town to rid themselves of the slimy monsters before they are all sucked to death!

Here are a few points worth noting (Warning: Spoilers are for suckers!):
  • This is a heavy contender for the award for cheapest movie monster ever. The giant leeches are clearly people inside large black trash bags which have had a few items glued onto them (including anus-like blood sucking appendages) to turn them into the unconvincing leech-monsters. But you gotta hand it to Corman who was truly a master of milking a budget but still turning a profit!
  • One of the movie’s taglines, “Massive Blood Sucking Monsters!” sounds a lot like one of my former bosses.
  • This film was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski who also directed “Night of the Blood Beast” which came out the previous year. And that’s not the only thing these films share: Both were also produced by Roger Corman, shared some of the same actors, and even used the same musical score! On top of that, both films have been used for episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K).
  • Here’s a little known fact: leeches, like earthworms, are hermaphrodites. This means you can tell a leech to go fuck itself and it can!
  • Although this movie is in the public domain and can be readily obtained at archive.org, there are a number of “for sale” editions that I highly recommend. The first is the aforementioned MST3K version (part of their “volume six” set) which is supremely hilarious. The other is the “drive-in” disc from Elite Entertainment which allows you to view the film as if you were at the drive-in, complete with trailers, concession stand ads, and cartoon shorts. The “surround sound” version of the DVD even recreates the drive-in experience by putting the film’s audio only in the front left speaker while the other speakers have the sounds of cars driving by, crickets chirping and annoying people talking. Ultra groovy!
Although this movie breaks the goof-o-meter at just about every point possible, it does provide some fairly good entertainment for a midnight movie or a “scary” family movie night (though perhaps not for very young children). Despite its extremely low budget and ridiculous plot, it actually provides a few decent chilling scenes, mainly when showing the blood drained victims being helplessly sucked dry (though kept just barely alive) or the shots of dead bodies floating to the surface of the swamp. And considering it’s only 62 minutes in length, you can watch it and not feel that you’ve sucked too much of your day away.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mausoleum (1983)

Wikipedia, that treasure trove of valuable and semi-reliable internet information, defines “mausoleum” as: “an external free-standing building constructed as a monument enclosing the interment space or burial chamber of a deceased person or persons.” Killer Shrew, on the other hand, defines “Mausoleum” as “a near worthless, piece-of-shit early 80’s horror film with some good T&A, a paper thin plot, a few decent gore money shots, a pair of demonic boobs, and a former child evangelist as one of its stars.” I’m tempted to stop the review at this point as that sums up the movie pretty nicely, but I know that readers will want to know a little more since some of the elements in that description can be equal to a pretty damn good evening’s entertainment provided the right combination of them as well as copious amounts of alcoholic stimulants.

The film opens on a sunny day at a cemetery as a young girl, Susan, is shown at her mother’s gravesite alongside of her Aunt Cora, her now caretaker. When her aunt tells her it’s time to leave, Susan rebels and runs away, stopping in front of a large mausoleum which, for some reason, is shrouded in cheap special effects depicting smoke and rain. Susan becomes curious and walks up to the door only to discover that it is locked but after waiting a moment, the lock suddenly bursts open allowing her to gain entrance. Forgetting her grief over her mother’s death, curiosity gets the better of Susan and she walks into the monument eventually arriving at a crypt which is covered in rats and has a metal archway over it that says “Nomed.” [Note: For those who with an IQ below that of George W. Bush’s, Nomed spelled backwards is “Demon!”] Eventually the crypt opens up and a demonic hand menacingly emerges.

Jump 20 years into the future. Susan, played now by Bobbie Bresee*, is now a grown woman and married, but her aunt is concerned because she is starting to act like her mother just before she died. There’s good reason for this concern because this involves Susan frequently behaving like a nymphomaniac while having her eyes glow green. She also sometimes emits a sound like a katydid on meth and kills people for little apparent reason. It turns out that Susan is suffering from that ailment which affects so many women upon reaching the age of 30: PMS. Actually, she is possessed by a demon which, for a reason that is never quite fully explained, has been plaguing the Nomed family for centuries. It is now up to her husband, Oliver, her Aunt, and her psychiatrist, Simon, to rid her of this evil spiritual force before she kills again!

[* For those keeping score: acting = 5/10, face = 7/10, body = 9/10 ]

Here are a few points worth noting (Warning: Spoilers ahead):

  • The male lead of this film, Oliver, was played by none other than former 4-year old preacher/faith healer extraordinaire, Marjoe Gortner. Marjoe, who eventually became a fairly common face in 70’s and 80’s schlock films (including “Food of the Gods” and “Earthquake”) as well as T.V. shows such as “The A Team” and “T.J. Hooker,” had left the evangelism scene in his teens when he became disillusioned with the whole manipulative and deceptive nature of it. His bizarre first name (actually his second name) is a combination of Mary and Joseph.

  • The maid in the movie, who provided the “comic relief” in a film that was already pretty comical in its own right, was played by none other than LaWanda “I could stick your face in some dough and make gorilla cookies” Page of “Sanford and Son” fame (aka “Aunt Esther”). I was so wanting her to come face to face with the demon and say, “Watch it suckah!” but, alas, it was never meant to be.

  • While the special effects in this movie are somewhat shabby (including poorly constructed rubber masks, cheap levitation images, and cheesy glowing green eyes), the gore is sometimes noteworthy including a man impaled on a mall-sculpture spike, a woman's chest bursting open (while levitating! - see image below), and a man having his chest ripped open from the back.

  • Many movies have their one moment that people will never forget, moments that live on in people’s memories and become part of the fabric of cinematic history. In “The Shining” it was Jack Nicholson’s leering face yelling, “Heeeere’s Johnny!!” In “Rocky” it was the image of Sly Stallone running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and raising his arms in triumphant victory. In “Mausoleum” it’s puss-oozing, demon-faced rubber boobs. ‘Nuff said.

  • This film is loaded with numerous WTF moments, but none is more WTF-ish than the final shot showing the Farrells’ gardener, Ben, who was previously seduced and then butchered to death by Susan (I believe his corpse is even shown rotting in the dusty attic of the Farrell’s house, further confirming his demise). In the end, for some fuck-tarded reason that is supposed to be shocking or revealing (but is neither), he is shown sitting outside of the titular mausoleum dressed like either a monk or a Jawa, strewing flowers and acting as some sort of guard of the haunted monument to keep people out. The reason is never made clear, possibly because it would be impossible to do so (or because it would be so stupid as to cause your brain to leap from your skull, bifurcate in two, sprout legs from each half, and run off in separate directions). Just before the credits roll, the gardener-turned-guard looks at the audience and laughs, waving his hand malevolently as if to say, “And you think you’re going to get your money back on what you paid for this festering pile of monkey dung?”

So is “Mausoleum” worth watching? If you’re looking for a movie that provides answers to deep, probing questions about the nature of religion, spirituality, and man’s place in the universe, you’d be better off sticking to films like “Gandhi,” “Ordinary People” or perhaps even “Air Bud.” On the other hand, if a booze-influenced late night of gore, schlock and boobs (demonic or otherwise) is more your ticket, then this does a fairly decent job of filling the bill. Beyond that, though, you won’t get a whole hell of a lot out of it. So give it a look once, maybe twice, then move on to the next ultra-cheesy, sub-par 80’s horror schlock-fest.