Red Planet Blues – Robert J. Sawyer (2013)

January 13, 2017

red-planet-bluesAuthor Robert J. Sawyer is obviously a film noir buff based on the many references, both overt and surreptitious in his novel Red Planet Blues. The noted science fiction author is no stranger to mystery fiction as several of his novels focus on courtroom drama as plot elements but here he takes it up a notch as his protagonist is an old school gumshoe who has to solve several enigmas on Mars starting off with a good old fashioned murder.

The cover of the novel states that it contains Sawyer’s highly lauded novella “Identity Theft” which I had not read prior. But reading the plot arc of the first few chapters it was clear that that first section was the novella, which I found to be both a source of great pleasure and at the same time a mild annoyance as I’ll explain.

In the not too distant future after a pair of explorers discovered fossils of ancient life on the planet, Mars now sports a dome city of New Klondike that operates much like the Dawson City which once rose from the ashes of the Gold Rush. Like gold, the commodity of highly valued fossils is now a scarce resource of riches – meaning that New Klondike and it’s denizen have seen better times. With transformance technology available to those rich enough to afford it people can discard their frail and eventual terminal bodies and migrate their consciousness into android bodies. These so called Transfers are not only durable and stronger and may have optional specialized upgrades, but they can also be manufactured to look like anyone. Some opt to look like their former selves – perhaps with a few esthetic ‘touches’ – or they can be any celebrity, or just a complete redesigned human.

When a woman enters Alex Lomax’s dingy detective agency seeking help to find her missing husband we may as well be seeing Ingrid Bergman meeting Humphrey Bogart but without the cigarettes. The simple case turns out to be much more complex as Lomax learns that a physical Transfer can really have any former person within the new shell.

But once past the “Identity Theft” plot arc the novel takes up where the novella left off and delivers a much more complex story regarding the rediscovery of the long lost ‘mother lode’ of fossils which created the initial frenzy. From there we get many twist and turns to secure that knowledge, a bevy of new characters – both human and transfer, good and evil – all vying for different personal goals. This extension of the original storyline, while not altogether inadequate is not as intriguing. Like any good mystery it does have a number curves in the plot and and does tackle some new ground, but at the same time it does stretch elements to the point of incredulity.

The “Identity Theft” portion is a great tale, full of suspense and serves a great plot twist at the end. As a standalone whodunit story it is easy to see how it garnered both Hugo and Nebula nominations and is worth the price alone of the book. As for the rest, it’s interesting but certainly not Sawyer’s best. The character of Lomax was really what kept me going on as he certainly was a likeable yet imperfect character that perfectly fits the film noir mold and one I hope Sawyer gets back to him at some point.

Last but not least, the novel has many notable ‘nods’ that I always find enjoyable. The brief ‘tip of the hat’ include one to Ray Bradbury, and even the oft forgotten Raymond Z. Gallun. More interesting is naming one of the spaceships Katherine Dennings which makes me wonder if Sawyer is a fan of the actress (not that that is a problem as I’m a fan myself). And finally, Planet of the Apes fan, Sawyer being an avid one, will be sure to get a particular short descriptive sector that certainly had me smiling.

Here’s looking at you Rob, as I tip my fedora until the next adventure.

Movie Reviews 284 – Theater of Blood (1973)

January 8, 2017

Theatre of BloodThe late prince of horror Vincent Price had a knack for coming back from the dead and tormenting those who have crossed him in the past. He did it in the role of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, in which he took revenge on the doctors who were unable to save his wife after a car accident injured her (and supposedly killed him). As professor Henry Jarrod, his partner at the House of Wax thought he had killed him for the insurance money before Jarrod started creating remarkably lifelike wax creations of his victims. In Theater of Blood Price once again becomes an afterlife tormentor, this time focusing his daggers on a circle of theater critics who denied him his due.

Rejected a theatrical award he believed was rightfully his, Shakespearian thespian Edward Lionheart (Price) confronts the circle of critics who humiliated him and, snatching the trophy that was withheld, makes one final dramatic posture as he throws himself into the river Thames to end his life. But soon after those very critics start dying one by one, in each case the fatal injuries exemplifying scenes from a Shakespeare play. It does not take long for the police detective on the case to tie the murders into a pattern, the common thread being a playlist of Lionheart’s oeuvres.

Luring his former detractors, Lionheart’s kills are as dramatic as his performances, first reading the defamers back their derisive reviews of particular past performances of his which he has meticulously clipped and saved from newspapers over the years. After each scalding review is brought back to remind the critics of their stinging scrutiny, Edward then fashions their impeding methods of dying based on the very acts of death in those plays. With the final recitals exhausted, his doomed victims get their comeuppance in grisly fates that include quartering, stabbing, heart extraction, force feeding, swashbuckling swords, vat drowning, and (my fave) decapitation.

The few leads the cops have in trying to apprehend Lionheart include tailing his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) and vainly trying to sequester the remaining critics from opportunities to snatch them. But the dimwitted and vain ensemble each have their vices which, exploited by Edward, are often the eventual cause of their ruination.

The prose of Othello, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus are all delightfully mixed in with a few corny one liners to make this film enchanting. Whether you’re a fan of the Bard or not, you’ll relish this film. Honestly, this is the only way I can really sink my teeth into Shakespeare.

Movie Reviews 283 – Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

December 28, 2016

frankenstein-and-the-monster-from-hell

As a tail end baby boomer who loved genre films, when it came to horror the prevalent and easily accessible films were not the Universal studios classics but the Hammer gothic renditions that, pardon the pun, gave new life to the old staples. Those late sixties and early seventies Dracula flicks gushed with the blood the early censors forbade, gave glorious morbid colors to the black and white celluloids, and for good measure threw in a bit of sex taking advantage of that revolution as well. The Karloffs, Lugosis and Chaneys were replaced by Hammer principals Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and I loved every minute of it.

As much as I enjoyed The Curse of the Werewolf, The Horror of Dracula, Quatermass and the Pit or a personal nostalgic favorite The Reptile, it was impossible to catch them all in the pre-videotape, pre-DVD days. And Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was one of those movies that I never managed to catch. Until now…

Simon (Shane Bryant) is a young doctor infatuated with the work of Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and vainly tries to recreate some of his experiments in body reanimation as he studies Frankenstein’s notes and publications on the topic. When his hired body snatcher gets caught he leads the police to Simon’s makeshift home lab where he is arrested and brought before a magistrate who summarily sentences him to the local asylum for his crimes. Unfazed, Simon goes to the asylum and immediately runs afoul of the director, who instructs the guards to ‘give him a good washing’. But the spectacle of his torturous cleansing under a high pressured hose with an audience of the other inmates is interrupted by the asylum’s medic, who is none other than Baron Frankenstein himself.

Initially an inmate, Frankenstein had managed to usurp power over the director due to some indiscretions, and then had the director fake Frankenstein’s death in order to assume a new identity. Working within a secret lab in the asylum, Frankenstein has continued his experimentation. Simon immediately recognizes Frankenstein, and devoted as ever, begs him to let him learn more as his apprentice. With his own hands scared and useless, Frankenstein had been using the mute Sarah (Madeline Smith) as his hands for surgical procedures. Learning that Simon is a surgeon by trade, he agrees to let him help with his experiments. But Frankenstein does have some dark secrets he keeps to himself.

Simon soon learns of a monstrous creature (Dave Prowse, a semi Hammer staple himself having played a completely different looking Frankenstein creature in The Horror of Frankenstein) Frankenstein has caged in his lab, but is astounded by the progress Frankenstein has made. But Frankenstein is not as pleased with the shortcomings of his creation – feeble minded and with hands as useless as his own. Fortuitous events in the form of timely passing of other inmates allow Simon and Frankenstein to give the creature new eyes, dextrous hands, and finally a brilliant brain.

But just as Simon begins to take Frankenstein to task on his methods to acquire suitable body parts, the creature goes on a rampage. The end is grisly but almost without skipping a beat Simon and Frankenstein begin planning their next experiment …

While not as highly regarded as many other Hammer horrors, I must say that I was more than pleased upon finally seeing this one. There are a few additional angles lurking in the plot which includes Sarah’s secret, and the past of some of the other inmates. Cushing is more cold and callous than his usual Frankenstein, and the other actors all hold their own. One aspect that may have been received negatively is the unusual, grotesque non-traditional look of the Frankenstein monster, but I thought it’s uniqueness entrancing just the same. The Hammer touches are all present with the gore mostly delivered via the surgical procedures.

Sadly this was the last Frankenstein movie that Hammer made, a tragedy that may be corrected with the recent rivival of the studio.

Movie Reviews 282 – The Toxic Avenger (1984)

December 23, 2016

The Toxic AvengerThe Toxic Avenger was not only an indie horror sensation, it was what made Troma Entertainment a household name in the B-movie industry and introduced us to the straight-laced but dark minded Lloyd Kaufman, producer and frontman for the enterprise. The character of the toxic avenger, now revered and affectionately nicknamed Toxie by fans, became the de facto mascot for the company and spurned a number of sequels over the years, but it all started right here.

Melvin Ferd (Mark Torgl) is a mop slopping human punchbag at the gym he works in, the perennial butt of jokes and target of muscled jocks and workout leotard wearing prima donnas alike. After one particular incident Melvin gets chased by the entire gym and thrown through a second storey window only to land in a barrel of toxic waste that is conveniently located on a parked truck out front. With oozing and bubbling skin he then transforms into a toxic monstrosity taking another dent in his already pathetic social life and any chance of getting a hot chick like those who surround yet despise him.

But things take a turn for the better when he rescues Sarah (Andree Maranda) from a bunch of thugs robbing a restaurant, an act that not only begins his career as a vigilante but ends his search for love and acceptance. From that point he begins to clean up the town of all evil, moving into a dilapidated makeshift home in a junkyard surrounded by bubbling slime and puffing swamp gases. But for a time he is happy as long as Sarah doesn’t accidentally kill him with her cooking.

Unfortunately his efforts to cleanse the town does not sit well with the evil mayor and his crony councilors who practice all manner of illegal activity and strong arm tactics backing their embezzlement and narcotics operations. Worried that Toxie will eventually get to them, they decide to throw all their resources to taking him down while he continues to aid the poor, the elderly, the downtrodden, and any victim of crime.

Pushed to the limits, the mayor manages to get the US army tanks and troops staring down their barrels as Toxie stands in front of his home as the town dwellers, friend and foe stand as an audience to the final showdown.

Like a modern day Frankenstein, Toxie is the embodiment of the outsider who only searches for acceptance in society. But instead of dark gothic drama The Toxic Avenger delivers the story amidst blowups, boobs, and flying bodies. The effects, while decidedly low budget are effective, but most of all fun.

The success of this movie gave rise to three sequels, a Saturday morning cartoon and even a musical. I especially looking forward to watching The Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie if only for the numerous celebrity cameos. And you may want to keep a lookout for Marisa Tomei as she is in this first film. My 15th anniversary DVD was chock full of goodies including a whole bunch of clips showing the Troma studio digs in Manhattan and what other goods lurk in the offices and corridors. I think I spent as much time checking out the Extra Features as I did watching the movie.

The Comet Kings – Edmond Hamilton (1942)

December 16, 2016

The Comet KingsI thought it was high time I read a cheesy, old school, space opera novel so I just pulled the first musty smelling pulp off my shelves which was Edmond Hamilton’s The Comet Kings and give it a whirl.

Set in a future where man has conquered space and spaceships seem to be a dime a dozen zipping throughout the solar system, the story begins with authorities receiving reports of ships mysteriously disappearing in a area between the planets Jupiter and Uranus. The government officials are perplexed and at their wit’s end as scouts sent to investigate also disappear without a trace.

When Captain Future (real name Curt Newton), hears that the last such ship that disappeared had as passengers Joan, the woman he loves and Ezra, an old friend, he dutifully volunteers his  rag tag team of the Futuremen to head out and solve the mystery. Lead by Captain Future, The Futuremen consists of Otho the synthetic android, Grag the robot with superhuman strength, and Simon who is just a highly intelligent human brain encased in a floating protective enclosure.

As it so happens, the area in question is also where Halley’s Comet is sauntering during one of it’s cyclical visits. With space barren of any other ships the Futuremen approach the comet only to be sucked into it’s coma (or nucleus if you will). Incredulously the Futuremen discover an entire civilization within. They soon learn that the residents, some of which include the missing personnel from all the lost ships, are now aglow with electric energy. But the Futuremen also determine that the other inhabitants, called the Cometae, were responsible for modify the abductees with the energy force which also makes them immortal, also hold now hold them as de facto prisoners, Joan being one of them, as they are bound to the energy source within the comet. But those who refuse to join the Cometae are thrown into prison where the Futuremen soon find themselves. They then learn that the Cometai are themselves ruled by the Allus, a mysterious unseen alien force who are really the ones responsible for the energy forces.

The Allus who come from the 4th dimension have nefarious plans to suck out all the energy from one conquered planetary system to another and will soon be draining our own. I comes down to the Futuremen to save everyone, but complex questions remain. Why, for instance did Joan agree to undergo the transition? Will Captain Future be able to reverse the process even if he rescues her? Will she even want to revert to being mortal again or has she has she embraced her newfound immortality?

It’s all good swashbuckling space opera fare, none too deep in character development but with enough of a zany plot and action to keep one amused. The Allus use mind control to keep a tight leash on their captives, but they also use it in more interesting ways such as leaving doors wide open and then embedding mental blocks so that captives cannot escape despite no barrier. The effect of the electrical lifeforce that the Allus accord to the Cometae also means that the Futuremen effectively cannot touch them and since they wield weapons that emit electrical discharges, getting ahold of those weapons would still be useless to use on the Cometae. These are all obstacles that the Futuremen have to circumvent in their efforts to combat the Allus.

There are also a number of secondary cardboard characters that have a few scant lines of dialog and hardly figure into the story. These include Cometae king, queen and evil wizard who forms the alliance with the Allus, a few helpful guards that form the seed of a Cometae revolution, and a helpful martian scientist. Even Joan has but a few lines and honestly hardly serves a purpose other than to be Curt’s driving force. Paint by the Numbers space opera.

I’ve since found out that The Futuremen was a fairly renowned series of books to which Hamilton was the most prolific contributor and the person largely associate with the series although he was not the originator. Also of note to those who may be interested, I learned that there was a Japanese anime made based on the characters and it was also translated into French as “Capitaine Flam”.

My only regret is that I was deceived by the fabulous cover art (artist anyone?) in that there was no creature as the one depicted to be found anywhere in the story.

Movie Reviews 281 – Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)

December 10, 2016

silent-night-deadly-night-2Last year I reviewed Silent Night, Deadly Night, a great movie about an axe wielding Santa that begins with a great backstory, delivers innovative kills, and was overall a whole lotta fun. As my DVD also included the sequel, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, I thought it best to set it aside and save it for this year’s holiday horror viewing pleasure. As I began watching the sequel, I wondered if I would remember enough of the first movie to make sure I got any contextual references. To say I need not have worried is an understatement. Let me explain…

The original movie recounts the story of little Billy Chapman who watched in horror as his parents were slaughtered on a roadside by a Santa suit wearing convenience store robber. Traumatized, he gets shuffled to an orphanage run by a unscrupulous Mother Superior that and torments him at every opportunity and refuses to acknowledge his residual anguish when confronted by any image of Saint Nick . When he is finally old enough to leave Billy gets a job at a toy store and, as luck would have it, finds himself obliged to don the store Santa suit on Christmas eve. Pushed one time too many, he cracks and goes on a rampage as he makes his way to his final intended victim, the Mother Superior.

But on that night of his parent’s murder so long ago, Billy’s little brother Ricky (Eric Freeman) was also present, just a baby left crying in the back seat of the car as Billy endured the carnage. While this movie is about what happened to Ricky after the events of the first movie, the first 45 minutes (more than half of the 88 minutes in this film) are just flashbacks to the first movie as Ricky tells the story to a psychiatrist, himself now in a mental institution.

His interrogation by the psychiatrist then continues on to tell Ricky’s story of being adopted by a couple, seeming to blend in, but similarly traumatized on occasion by nuns and red Santa regalia. It’s only when his foster father passes away that Ricky becomes slightly unhinged. At first he just gets easily annoyed by any matter of contention, but even so manages to have a girlfriend and lead something of a normal life.  But his anger grows and eventually he too goes over the edge and goes on a short killing spree of his own. He soon manages to snag the obligatory Santa suit before heading towards fulfilling his brother’s last act -getting even with Mother Superior.

With the exception of some decent effects shots (death by umbrella!), Ricky’s binge is shoehorned into the plot and makes little sense. The best parts of the movie is the reprise of the first movie from which just about every decent scene was stolen.

So is it a good movie? Only if you haven’t seen the first movie. In fact the end credits had to include everyone that worked on the first movie along with those who created the limited additional content for part 2. Call this one “Silent Night, Deadly Night 1.5”!

Movie Reviews 280 – Fail-Safe (1964)

December 7, 2016

fail-safeDuring the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union the world sat around as the two superpowers constantly increased and intensified their respective nuclear arsenals. Beyond any sane tipping point, the discussions eventually became doomsday scenarios, with global obliteration should either side spark a conflict. If either side side sensed an immediate threat to their country it was clear that there would not be any winner left remaining.

When it came to films anyone could be forgiven if only Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove came to mind as it was, and remains, the categorical classic comedy on the subject. There have been a number of movies of a more serious nature – Seven Days in May comes to mind – but most have been action oriented and with spies and conspiracy theories as the driving forces thrown in for suspense. But there exists a film that in many ways is the exact opposite of Dr. Strangelove, plays out pretty much the same scenario, is just as good and yet has been largely forgotten by cinephiles and history.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, a masterful filmmaker in his own right, Fail-Safe is the definitive movie that depicts the threat of Cold War nuclear proliferation, and is presented without comedy, action sequences or surreal plot devices. Instead the drama is played out in monotone meetings with sombre faced dignitaries, sweaty brows, and tense knuckle wrangling when the unthinkable becomes imminent.

The premise of the movie has military brass conducting a presentation to dignitaries visiting the Department of Defense central command and explaining how airspace is constantly monitored by radar. Any anomalies elicit the deployment of retaliatory aircraft which, under usual circumstances, are simply recalled when the anomalies turn out to be stray airliners or other radar phenomena. They reassure everyone that fail safes have been put in place to ensure that should threats not be discounted, a presidential order is still required to have a counterattack proceed to any final target. Of course the scenario of an errant airliner then plays out live as everyone watches the big board and a cascading sequence of events lead to a blissfully ignorant rogue squadron, believing that the US is already under attack, dutifully continue to carry out orders to bomb Moscow . This leaves the president with some dire choices and the fate of humanity in his hands.

What makes Fail-Safe that much more interesting is when we compare it to Dr. Strangelove, noting the many parallels and yet at the same time being orthogonally different. The parallels begin with scenes depicting the central command showing symbolic planes against an outlay of a world map which eventually becomes concentrated on that last, lone squadron heading in with misguided intentions. We also have the lone strategist who continually posits that the situation, no matter how it changes, should call for an immediate first strike since war is imminent. And finally both have a president that has to try to convince the Soviet leader that it was all a mistake and that everything is being done to avert the drop.

But where this movie gets turned on its head when compared to Dr. Strangelove is just as interesting. Instead of having a comical Peter Sellers as president we have the stone cold portrayal of Henry Fonda. Instead of having George C. Scott as the warmonger, we have Walter Matthau, which is doubly ironic given that both of these actors were playing non-traditional roles, Scott doing comedy and Matthau playing a heavy. The role reversal continues with comedian Dom Deluise in a very minor early role but one that performs a critical act with all eyes on him.

The truth is, if you just want to watch a movie about imminent nuclear war you will be more than satisfied with Dr. Strangelove. But if you want to see a realistic movie that will scare the bejesus out of you as you consider how the fate of the world can be left in the hands of one person, the President of the United States (notwithstanding the fact that in a few weeks buffoon Donald Trump will be that man), you have to watch Fail-Safe.

Movie Reviews 279 – Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

November 27, 2016

chernobyl-diariesThe spectre of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster shocked the world in 1986 and that horror, while now contained in a man made ‘bunker’, still has lingering effects more than 30 years later. I recall reading Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl, a book detailing the disaster which was written by one of the American doctors called in to assist with the aftermath of the explosion. The book described in detail the effects of radiation and the grisly injuries inflicted on both some of the staff nearby when the explosion occurred and worse, the higher radiation doses subjected to the first responders called to address the situation, some knowingly sacrificing their lives to avert an even greater global disaster.

Another aspect dealt with in the book was how Pripyat, the small city neighboring the facility, basically created as a home for all the families of those who worked at Chernobyl and only a mere three kilometers apart, ended up being the epicenter of the crisis. A city literally vacated within hours, with residents dropping everything with minutes to spare as the evacuation roundup progressed.

Now that decades have passed since the disaster (sadly overshadowed by Fukushima), the area remains radiated but only mildly compared to the initial contamination. While still uninhabitable it has become safe enough to visit for brief periods. To serve the curious, the daring and perhaps the foolish, a small but vibrant tourist trade has sprung up in the last few years.  There, for very short periods, the curious and those seeking exotic adventure can briefly enter the restricted zone and linger for a few moments to take in the ghostly vistas of the desolate city ruins.

Chernobyl Diaries blends the tourism terrors of Turistas, the unseen dangers of The Descent and the bleak city landscapes of post-apocalyptic movies to deliver a quaint, semi-original tale.

A young couple Chris (Jesse McCartney) and Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) tote Natalie’s best friend Amanda (Olivia Taylor Dudley) to the Ukraine with plans to hook up with Chris’ brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) before heading of to Moscow as the next leg of their worldwind vacation. With great reluctance on the part of Chris, Paul convinces the gang to forego Moscow and instead take up the offer from his  friend Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko) who has a small business that  provides semi-official tours of the dilapidated Pripyat.

As they embark on their excursion they are joined by another young couple of foreign adventurers, Michael and Zoe, and together the entire gang take a two hour trip in a van to the derelict city. After a few interesting and scenic sights, it’s time to head back to safety but the van falters leaving them in a sticky situation.

With no communication, nobody on the outside knowing that they have gone there, tens of kilometers away from the nearest civilization, the group ponders staying stranded for the night. But Pripyat has a few secrets and the noises emanating in the dark may only be the rabid dogs they’ve heard stories about, or something else altogether.

The plots devolves into characters that go missing, get injured and die, but other than glimpses of humanoids scurrying in the background, we don’t learn much more. There is some tension, some question of trust, especially that of Yuri, but once that is settled, the movie just becomes a chase and survival flick. Too easy.

There are horrors that eventually reveal themselves but the the real horror of the Chernobyl tragedy surpases this lifeless cinematic opportunistic film. Watch a documentary on Chernobyl instead.

Movie Reviews 278 – Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

November 17, 2016

Scouts Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseLife long friends Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller), and Augie (Joey Morgan) have also been boy scouts for as long as they can remember. But life moves on and both Ben and Carter are feeling the strains of being uniform wearing outcasts. Besides, they’ve discovered girls. Trouble is, they have remained members of their pathetic troop, only themselves and the dorky scout leader Rogers (David Koechner), because of their sympathy for Augie since the loss of his father a few years earlier. But Carter has pressed the point with Ben and the two have decided to come clean with Augie and let him know they are quitting. As Augie is on the brink of receiving the highly honoured Condor patch award with only one more night camp out required, the boys plan to seize that opportunity to tell him. The timing however could not be worse as Ben and Carter they have just been invited to the “Big Party” that very same night. Even worse is the fact that due to a “janitorial mishap” at the nearby laboratory a plague has been unleashed on the unsuspecting town. Thus, making use of all their acquired survival skills, the boys provide viewers with the Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

OK, we really didn’t need another zombie movie this late in the craze, but while a lot of the tropes are just played out, there are a few good laughs, a few good kills, a touch of pathos and if that wasn’t enough they threw in a strip club with a zombie stripper just to make things interesting. But don’t worry, the brains and guts in this zombie fighting team aren’t the boys at all but the cocktail waitress (not stripper! Denise (Sarah Dumont) from the club who leads (and saves) the boys before they launch the final scout charge.

Some of the fun comes from the Dolly Parton worshiping scout leader and his home museum dedicated to the country star that includes a Dolly pinball machine. The opening scene with the pothead janitor who unleashes the peril while slacking on the job is pretty hilarious, but there are a few other decent jags and kills to keep things interesting. We also have the mandatory bit of teen love, teen lust, and teen coming of age. In the end the scout Oath prevails over all, including zombies.

So I recommend you watch this movie and earn your own Zombie Merit Badge before the craze ends. I think you have to watch at least 100 zombie movies for the badge, though. Going to have to check my 1976 scout guide book, because yes, yours truly was a scout that year. I like to think I survived that even if I had no zombies to contend with. But that is a different horror story…

Movie Reviews 277 – Strangeland (1998)

November 12, 2016

StrangelandWhen Twisted Sister hit the airwaves with their hit “We’re Not Gonna Take it” back in the mid 80’s, I didn’t think much of the group or their long frizzy haired lead singer Dee Snider. While taking a cue from other rock groups that employed exotic makeup and wardrobes as defining styles, the rouge faces and excess blue eyeshadow made them look like dolls rather than give them any desired appeal. Little more than one-hit wonders I thought, and with the sporadic output that followed, Snider and the band faded as quickly as they arrived.

So I was reluctant to pick up the Strangeland DVD when I came across it diving into DVD bins a few years back. Branded “Dee Snider’s Strangeland”, the DVD cover was interesting enough featuring a stitch-mouthed girl, but it also boasted Snider with the writer’s credit as well as the  starring role.  I chucked it into my buy bag and promptly forgot about it. Later, whenever I scanned my DVD shelves picking my next movie to watch, I just as quickly drifted over the title figuring I must have something better to watch.

Then a few months ago, I came across a new video of Snider singing a remarkably different rendition of “We’re Not Gonna Take it” as part of magician Criss Angel’s charitable venture for pediatric cancer. Now riding on low octane, his voice was in top form. But more impressive was that Snider was imparting an older, wiser, poised, concerned look. He sure has come along a long way I thought. Which got me to thinking about this movie on my shelves.

While not a remarkable movie, Strangeland does have a few things going for it and yes, Snider is one of them. Snider plays the role of “Captain Howdy”, the online alias he uses to lure young men and women to his den of torture and degradation.  When Captain Howdy makes the mistake of luring a cop’s daughter, her dad, detective Gage (Kevin Gage) manages to track him down and bring him in and even save her.

But Carlton Hendricks, Captain Howdy’s real name, is declared insane and ends up being rehabilitated in a psychiatric hospital only to be released a few years later as a weak, quiet and sedate, even fearful of retribution citizen which. This displeases not only Gage but many other locals as well, and it’s those locals led by a particularly overbearing redneck (Robert Englund) decide to take matters into their own hand. This is when Gage, sitting in his car in front of Hendrick’s house turns a blind eye to the deed. Hendricks is beaten, hauled to a hangman noose and left for dead. Instead of ending the nightmare, this leads to the resurrection of “Captain Howdy”, now worse than ever and with revenge in his blood.

Dee deftly plays the role of the psychopath Captain Howdy whose physique is heavily adorned with ‘body art’ and other artistic modifications. The transformation between Captain Howdy, Hendricks and then back again to the Captain is jarring. And that’s one of the few problems with the film. As Hendricks, Snider is just too placid and quiet and despite the fact that he’s on medication it’s a bit unconvincing given Dee’s stature and especially given his prior Captain Howdy persona. With that and the the almost laughable Internet ‘chat’ application (yeah this was pre Internet 2.0, but still), my only other minor gripe was that the story could have used a bit more to the plot.

The gore is as the poster/DVD would suggest and does deliver the depicted scene but it’s tastefully handled (as much as such a scene can be) along with a few other scenes featuring body centric implements of torture.

The clear attraction here is Captain Howdy and I’m glad to have just learned that Snider is putting together Strangeland 2 at which point we’ll all be able to say “Howdy” once again to this Captain.