Feature Presentation:Santa Claws (1996)

Welcome back to week 3 of Feature Presentation:The Nightmare on Christmas. Having already seen wrestlers grapple with puns in Santa’s Slay and why traumatized kids should never grow up to play Santa in Silent Night, Deadly Night, this week’s feature includes a special Christmas treat for me, or so I thought.

As I’ve stated many, many, many (perhaps too many) times on The Lair, I have quite a predilection for the films of Debbie Rochon. After seeing her in a bit part in Mulva:Zombie Asskicker and taking the lead role in the sequel Mulva 2:Kill Teen Ape, I quickly became a fan and began to track down her films. So when i came across this Christmas themed flick which promises festive slasher goodness with not only the pedigree of Ms Rochon but also veteran horror flick writer/director John Russo, I thought I was in for some fun. Well there is a little fun to have but overall I wish I had never crossed paths with….


Santa Claws (1996) starring Debbie Rochon, Grant Cramer, John Mowad, Marilyn Eastman, and Karl Hardman. Directed by John Russo.

Rayven Quinn (Rochon) has got it all, or so it seems. She’s a top b-movie actress for Scream productions and she’s got two darling daughters, but there’s trouble at home between her and her photographer husband Eric (Mowad). While he goes off to the midwest for a photo shoot,Rayven is left to prepare for Christmas on her own.

santaclaws2Little does she know that mild mannered next door neighbor Wayne is actually a former killer. When he was a kid he shot his mom and her boyfriend in a fit of oedipal rage. Now on the streets and reformed, he has found a new obsession in the Scream Queen starlet. He hordes tons of memorabilia of Rayven’s films including the garden tool used to dispatch victims in her latest flick. After hearing of Rayven’s troubles, Wayne sets out on a path to kill anyone who might stand in the way of her success or their presumed happiness.

wolverinexmasFilm Facts

–The character of Rayven Quinn is rumored to have been both based on Brinke Stevens and originally offered to her.

–Marilyn Eastman and Karl Hardman are members of the original Night of the Living Dead cast. John Russo was the writer of that film.

–This was actor John Mowod’s last role. (Thankfully)

The Bug Speaks

71228etf3yl__sl500_aa280_You’ve no doubt heard that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Well, you can’t judge a movie by one either it seems. The box touts the films association with John Russo and the NoTLD cast members and also sports a synopsis that states that Rayven Quinn is a porno actress. While the former is just unfortunate, the latter is just plain wrong. Perhaps the confusion is the movie within a movie that is being made. It is simply a Christmas themed T&A flick starring horror actresses for-filling fan boy dreams. While this leads to many (and I mean many) scenes of various ladies writhing before the camera, it’s not porn. Nor is it erotic in any way.

santaclaws5So you may have gotten the idea by now that I thought this flick was abysmal, and you would be correct. The 90 minute running time is usually what I call the perfect length for any film. This time it was at least 30 minutes too long.

Wayne is perhaps the least threatening slasher I have ever seen. The simple truth is that slashers should never have sensitive guy pony tails if they expect to be menacing. His back story of repressed mommy love really doesn’t ever fit in with the rest of the tale, and to make it worse the film which promises a killer Santa doesn’t pay off until the last 15 minutes. Most of the time Wayne runs around in black sweats with a mask and dispatches people with a 3 pronged garden tool. Perhaps it was supposed to be tongue in cheek, but if so the film needs to at least imply it.

santaclaws3The rest of the film is a mess. The side story of Rayven’s failed marriage and her husbands hotel tryst with a nubile model is boring at best. With no basis in the husband’s character or why he left, there’s no reason to care if they’re together or not. The only good thing about that plot line is the appearance of Eastman as the husband’s mother.

The acting is overall very bad with Debbie seemingly trying to hold the film together, but there’s not much she can do with what she’s been given. Her performance was actually good (perhaps only in comparison), but the terrible acting from the likes of Cramer, Mowad, and the bevy of vapid “horror actresses” bring the movie plummeting down. I perhaps should have looked up to see what John Russo has been up to in recent years. If I had I would have recalled that he was the brainiac behind the Night of the Living Dead 30th Anniversary Edition where they inserted new footage into the classic. I’ll give him credit for writing the original, but as with all revisionist film making, (cough, cough, Lucas) all it succeeds in doing is marring the good name of the original. I can’t imagine how horrid it might be to someone who accidentally picked up that version for their first viewing.

cap014But I digress. Perhaps the highlight of the film finally came at the 1:06 mark when Ms. Rochon finally delivered her strip tease. While about as exciting as a burlesque movie, I have to admit that it did fill me with holiday cheer when the finally “unwrapped the presents” shall we say. In the end, this film really doesn’t offer up enough of anything for me to recommend it to anyone beyond a Rochon completest like myself. Better skin can be seen readily on the old Internet or late night on Cinimax, better killing in nearly every film made since 1970, and better plots in Joe Bazooka comics and you get gum with those. This is one to miss folks, but don’t worry I have many days of X-mas treats still coming your way, and next week on that crazy Canadian holiday Boxing Day look for the Canadian X-mas classic Black Christmas.

Grave Encounters 2: Because ‘Graver Re-Encounters’ Just Didn’t Have the Same Ring

mv5bmtm2ntizmdq0nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwotq3ntm0oa-_v1-_sy317_cr00214317_Hello folks, and welcome to October. Let me tell you, I’m super excited for Halloween this year. It’s my favorite time of year, as I am sure it is for many of the LBL’s readers, and it just so happens that I have an incredible way to kick off the month. What I’m talking about is an early look at Grave Encounters 2. You may recall my review of Grave Encounters which I paired with the classic British spookshow Ghost Watch for an article I cleverly titled Grave Encounters on a Ghost Watch. The first Grave Encounters focused on Lance Preston (Sean Robertson) and his band of Ghost Adventuresque paranormal hunters who stumbled into an abandoned asylum which was filled with actual ghosts. Through the found footage film, we see the team gets picked off as time and space begin to have no meaning in the supernatural vortex in which they have stepped. In other words, it was one of my favorite movie conceits, ghost hunters find more than they were bargaining for.

viciousbrotherspremieregraveencountersrzjgriwpt0plGrave Encounters was easily one of my favorite movies of 2011, and I’ve actually gone back to it on a couple of occasions when I wanted to watch a quality spook show. So when I got the e-mail inviting me so see a pre-release screener ofGrave Encounters 2, I leapt at the opportunity. While I didn’t know what direction the film might take, I was interested to see what driving force, The Vicious Brothers, had in mind for this installment. Generally sequels are a tricky proposition, and sequels to found footage films are even more bothersome (I count myself as one the folks who lost all interest after Paranormal Activity 1.) as there has to be some cogent reason why all this footage has been found. Well, The Viciouses, who ceded the directing duties to first time feature director John Poliquin, figured a neat way around that problem and many of the issues I could have had with a sequel.

As Grave Encounters 2 has not actually made its debut yet (it hits VOD tomorrow, October 2nd, check your local listings to see if you can get it or go to Tribeca Film for a list of available areas and theaters on October 12th), I want to be as spoiler free as I possibly can with this one, and I am going to limit my synopsis to the party line taken from the official website:

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was a found-footage horror phenomenon that many people believed was just a movie.  Film student Alex Wright is out to prove them wrong in GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2.  Alex is as obsessed with the first film, as the 20 million people who viewed its viral trailer on YouTube.  While he and his friends research the events and visit the real psychiatric hospital depicted in the original film, they find themselves face-to-face with unspeakable evil, banking on the hope that their knowledge of the original film will help them survive the sequel.

ge2As the synopsis hints, Grave Encounters 2 begins by touching on the internet buzz that created such a boon for the first film. I admit, as a person who reviewed the film right after it came to Netflix Instant (where you can still check it out), that it was a pretty awesome way to hook me into the movie. Lead actor Richard Harmon, as amateur film maker and Vlogger Alex Wright, comes off like a guy I could have easily met somewhere in the horror community, and holds the movie together single-handedly at times until the last third of the film when a familiar face pops up to somewhat take the reigns. I also want to give a lot of credit to Stephanie Bennett as Alex’s gal pal, Tessa. She carried the emotional weight of the film on her shoulders, and her acting often made the found footage style very believable.

director_johnpDirector John Poliquin does an admirable job replacing The Vicious Brothers, and with a clever script by the Brothers, he managed to amp up nearly every aspect of the action across the board. The characters are more real and fleshed out, the special effects are bigger and scarier, and the story expands on the original’s premise by adding in enough new to keep a sequel watcher happy.  There were, however, a couple of areas where the film came up short. GE 2’s premise being that the first movie is real is the central idea to The Human Centipede 2 as well, and certainly obsession with the first film became a very pivotal idea in Grave Encounters 2 as well as the aforementioned ass-to-mouth linking tale. There is also an element that seems very similar to the science fiction film Cube, where the rooms of the asylum shift, but along an appointed pattern. I think in a third installment that this would be an area ready for exploration.

ge2-1My only other criticism of Grave Encounters 2 has to do with the running time. While the first film clocked in at a perfect 90 minutes, Grave Encountersclocks in closer to two hours. Much of this time is frontloaded with Alex’s research into the first film and the asylum, and while much of that is interesting and creates a lush backdrop for later events to transpire against, it takes a good portion of the film away from its real purpose, scaring the pants off people. While some good tension is built with several of the scenes, there is little payoff until the back half. Even the one jump worthy scene in the early portions of the film, where the hollowed eyed ghosts of the asylum make an appearance elsewhere, is never gone back to or expanded upon.

ge2-2Despite what I felt was a slightly long running time and a few squandered opportunities, I have very little negative to say about Grave Encounters 2. I actually had fairly low expectations going into the film. With the change of directors and the fact that it was making its debut only a year after the first film, it seemed less likely that the second installment would match the quality of the first. However, I have to say The Vicious Brothers and John Poliquin did it. In fact they did it exactly. I gave Grave Encounters a 3.5, and you’ll find that rating, pretty high praise in the Bugg’s book, is the same rating  I gave for the sequel. If you’re looking for something new and scary to watch this Halloween season, there’s not much better out there than Grave Encounters 2. So check VOD or your local cinemas for listings, but if you can’t see the sequel and you haven’t seen the first, I really encourage you to check that out on Netflix.

grave-encounters-2-2012-movie-poster-600x776Well that brings us to the end of the Grave Encounters 2 review, but not to the end of what you’ll be hearing about Grave Encounters 2 this month. Tomorrow, I will be speaking to director John Poliquin and getting to ask him a few questions about GE2. I’m super thrilled to have the opportunity, and I’ll be sharing everything he has to say with you folks right back here in a few days. Until then, the 31 posts in 31 days will roll on, and in case you didn’t know The Bigger & Badder Halloween Top 13 is starting up October 19th. Get your lists of favorite giant creatures, critters, and monsters into me to take part in the festivities this year! Until then, Grave Encounters 2. Do yourself a favor, watch it.

B.L.O.G Presents Vice Academy (1989) with Ginger Lynn Allen

Welcome back to B.L.O.G. and the second week of looking at porn stars gone mainstream. When I think porn stars certain names come to mind right off, Seka, Christy Canyon, Anna Malle, and Raquel Darrian always spring to mind. These are the gals that I discovered early on in my porn watching life, and they still rank as some of the best I have seen. While none of these stars ever made the break into mainstream movies, there is one actress who not only gave it a shot, but also still occasionally shows up in a major motion picture. She’s the ultimate girl next door, a blonde goddess, a porn legend, and she is…

In 1983, after answering an advertisement for a modeling agency, Ginger Lynn made her adult debut in the pages of Penthouse magazine, and less than a year later, she was shooting her first adult scene with none other than the Hedgehog himself, Ron Jeremy. Ginger starred in 69 films over her three years in the adult industry, but starting in 1987, she began her transition to mainstream films with starring roles in Blow Off! (1987), Wild Man (1989), and Hollywood Boulevard II (1989). She would continue to appear in films over the years, but missed her chance at a big break when she almost landed the Sharon Stone part in Casino. Recently, as well as returning to porn, Ginger Lynn appeared as the object of Captain Spaulding’s fantasy girl in The Devil’s Rejects.

Tonight I want to talk to you about one of the mainstream films Ginger is most known for. It’s not one of her biggest roles, but perhaps one of her best. Plus, she wrestles with Linnea Quigley. With that being said who wouldn’t want to enroll in….


Vice Academy (1989) starring Linnea Quigley, Ginger Lynn Allen, Karen Russell, Ken Abraham, Jayne Hamil, and Jean Carol. Directed by Rick Slone.

untitledNearing graduation at the Vice Academy DiDi, Shawnee, and Dwayne (Quigley, Russell, and Abraham) are in need of a few arrests. They must fill their quotas o they can graduate, but when the porn ring they busted goes free, they are left with only 24 hours to orchestrate a major bust. They go after Queen Bee (Carol), the head of all the drugs and girls in the city, but when Dwayne and Shawnee are captured, it’s up to Didi to save the day

The Bugg Speaks

Try as I might, I could not work Ginger Lynn into that synopsis without going into a ton of exposition. Suffice it to say that, as in almost every school-based film, there must be a spoiled girl who is used to getting her way. In this case, its Ginger’s Holly Wells, the police chief’s daughter. The film actually opens with Ginger using her feminine wiles to make a dug bust, and I was a bit disappointed that she was not in the film more than she was. Once the action gets kicking, it’s Linnea’s movie. Which is not a bad thing, Quigley is one of my favorite scream queens and in Vice Academy, and she proves that she also has some good comic timing.

Now there’s only so much comic timing can do when a script is written like this. Rick Slone, the writer/director behind such other films as Hobgoblins (1988), The Visitants (1986), and five sequels to Vice Academy, packed this film with a lot of jokes, and he’s a man after my own heart. The film is so packed with zingers that only half of them work, and personally, I am a big proponent to the scatter bomb technique of comedy. If you tell enough jokes, one of them is bound to hit the mark. Many of them do, and the ones that don’t are so cringe worthy or groan inducing that they keep the film lively throughout.

viceacademy-aWhat really makes this film work is the vast number of entertaining performances. Ginger Lynn is deliciously fun as the bitchy Holly, and I will be looking forward to checking out more of the Vice Academy series in the hopes that her role expands. Linnea Quigley is great as always, and as usual, her performance raises the film up quite a bit. I almost didn’t recognize Karen Russell with all her hair. She was sure a lot better looking with a full head of teased out 80’s hair than the horrible mohawk she sported in Phoenix the Warrior. Russell had the best running gag in the film. When asked how she would disarm an assailant with a gun, she just pulls out her boobs. Naturally, and quite expectedly, this comes into play later in the film, but on many levels, the joke was worth it.

I have two more actresses that I just have to talk about. The first is Jayne Hamil. AS the head of the Vice Academy, Hamil seemed to be channeling a bit of Mary Woronov’s character from Rock and Roll High School. However, unlike that shrewish principal, no amount of dressing Hamil down could disguise that she was quite the attractive lady underneath. On the other end of that spectrum is the completely freakish Queen Bee. Eating honey, wearing a corset, and with a massive “stinger” attached to her rear, Jean Carol’s criminal mastermind is quite the odd sight. Add to that look an enormous domed head of wispy blonde hair, and you have one of the most unique looking baddies in film history. Carol would go on to a career that included an extended run on the soap Guiding Light, but I suspect she left her giant hair and butt stinger at home for that job.

viceacademy-eThe film looks just as you might expect. It’s a low budget ‘80’s sex comedy (without much sex, this is no Hardbodies) so don’t check this film out looking for artful direction or cinematography because you will leave sorely disappointed. Also to the music lovers out there, if you’ve ever wondered what a series of those preprogrammed demos that used to come on Casio keyboards would sound like as a movie score, now’s your chance to find out. Each time I thought the music could not get much worse; it managed to trump itself. However, it did seem to fit in with all the rest of the cheapo ‘80’s earmarks.

While the film didn’t deliver on either the amount of nudity or Ginger Lynn that I was expecting, I had a great time watching this one. Its chock full of cheap jokes, crazy eighties fashions, and enough hairspray was used that I think we can safely blame global warming on the making of this film. Vice Academy starts the series off with some good times, and I can only hope that as I get to see the sequels they will be as entertaining. I’ll see you folks back in two week for another XXX queen gone mainstream, and don’t forget to check back here next week for another edition of Ladies Night.

Falling Down (1993): Crazy Never Sleeps

fallingdown1993From the first shot, a intense close-up of teeth that pulls out slowly to reveal the sweaty upper lip, the eyes, and the horn rim glasses of William ‘D-Fens’ Foster, director Joel Schumacher establishes the pressure cooker feeling pervades his 1993 film Falling Down. As he sits in a traffic jam, the inside of his car seems to be visibly steaming with heat as he sits motionless. The world is a cacophony of sound. The air conditioner doesn’t work. The window won’t roll down. A child stares. The sharp, pointed,painted on teeth of a stuffed Garfield doll suddenly become filled with malice. William Foster has had enough, and all he wants to do is go home. So he gets out of his car and begins a journey that will take him far into the depth of Los Angeles and far out of his mind.

imagesThese days Joel Schumacher is best remembered as the man who put nipples on Batman, but in the late ’80’s he was on an incredible run of films that conventional wisdom would say started with 1985’s St. Elmo’s Fire. If you ask me it kicked off two years earlier with D.C. Cab. I mean that film had Busey in it, and that alone merits it a mention in a post about crazy people in films. After looking at all sides of death with Flatliners, The Lost Boys, and Dying Young, Schumacher turned his eye to the world of the living with Falling Down. The script by actor and occasional screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith was so prescient of the tension building on the streets of L.A. that while the film was being shot, the riots that followed the O.J. Simpson verdict broke out.

fallingdown1993-1After Falling Down came out, Michael Douglas’ performance as the out of work defense worker William Foster became the poster child for the “angry white man”. In many publications his character was cast as the embodiment of the marginalized white male. A man feeling attacked by the wilting economy, his broken marriage, and the perceived infringements of his liberty by government, immigrants, and big corporations. While there is always a fringe element that’s political or moral beliefs stray outside the norm, it always scared me that Foster was sometimes perceived as a heroic character. Falling Down is being included in 30 Days of Crazy not because the world around the protagonist had gone mad, but rather because Foster becomes completely unhinged, disregarding anything but his own rapidly warping moral compass. In simple terms, he was a massive, massive wing nut.

fallingdown1993-2Many of us might have a passing daydream that we could leave our car in traffic, demand that the fast food place serve breakfast after the cut off time, or call shenanigans a construction crew repairing a road that seems just fine. The average person will stay in their car, settle for an apple pie and just call it breakfast, and just find an alternate route around traffic all the while saving up their anger to take out on friends, wives, husbands or other relations like normal people do. ‘D-Fens’ Foster felt that the world had taken everything from him and it was time to take something back. When I watch the news and see some extremist, homegrown or foreign, taking lives to prove their point or moral stance, my thoughts instantly go back to the special insanity exhibited by Michael Douglas’ character.

fallingdown1993-3While Falling Down also features an excellent performance by Robert Duvall as the cop spending his last day on the job following Foster’s bloody path, Duvall’s solid acting is quickly overshadowed by Douglas’ more inspired character and performance. In 1993, Falling Down served as a warning to a world that would see homegrown terrorism and radicals rise up in the next few years during events such as Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Okalahoma City bombing. All of these groups were lead in some way by white American men who felt like their voice had gone unheard and had clearly also gone Kookoo for Cocoa Puffs. Today we live in a world where folks regularly show up at political rallies with a firearm in tow, and people like William Foster that sit in their homes absorbing a stream of politically television designed to feed the ostracized‘s paranoia. Falling Down should serve as more than just a reflection of the early nineties tensions. It is also a warning that there will always be a danger in society lurking as close as the next disturbed person that gets pushed too far.

Thanksgiving with Alejandro: Fando y Lis (1968)

horn-of-plentyHeya folks. Welcome to my second new feature this month, Thanksgiving with Alejandro. When I was trying to come up with a feature this month, I really wanted to feature a director I wasn’t all that familiar with and do something with Thanksgiving. Perusing my DVDs, my eyes landed on my as yet untouched Alejandro Jowderowky box set, and I thought, “What person would be stranger to have at your family dinner than the legendary Mexican freak out director?.” It didn’t take much thinking after that to come up with the feature, and that brings us back to today. Jowderowky is a director who I’ve read plenty about, heard several pod casts about his films, and seen some clips in various film documentaries, but I’ve been hesitant to check out his films. I like to profess I would give any film an even shot, but art house films, of any stripe, are something of a sticking point.

poster-fando-y-lisThat being said, I chose to review Alejandro’s films in order. It left me in the uncomfortable position of my first film being his most art house, Fando Y Lis, a film that had drawn comparisons to the work of Luis Buñuel and Fedrico Fellini. A film so revolutionary in 1968 to the point where it caused rioting when it appeared at the Acapulco Film Festival and went on to be banned in Mexico for years. Needless to say, I had no idea what I was getting into, and the experience turned out to be as difficult as I expected. Alejandro’s film is full of unexpected wonder and strange imagery that didn’t make me want to riot in the streets as much as scratch my chin as the film unfolded.

Fando (Sergio Kleiner), an impotent, possibly sexually confused dumbass, travels the post apocalyptic wasteland of the earth rolling his paraplegic girlfriend Lis (Diana Mariscal) around on a cart. On their journey they meet socialites, people who take their mud baths really seriously, and gangs of transvestites, while intermittently separating due to Fando chaining Lis up or dragging her around by her feet. Their destination is the legendary last city in the world, Tar, where paradise and healing await.

2305838586_a664718e99Leaving no stone of his main character’s psyche unturned, Alejandro takes a look inside their brains and pulls out all the nasty business. Neither Fando nor Lis come out seeming sympathetic, though Fando with his rampant misogyny and temper tantrums is an especially distasteful person. Portraying the characters that way was very strange to me. Not that I hadn’t seen movies with unlikable characters before but rather because one of the founding scenes of the film was a flashback to a conversation Fando had with his father that seemed to be about never giving up hope. Fando gives up everything, including being any kind of companion to Lis, at the drop of a hat and when faced with any kind of adversity. Lis on the other hand seems completely ok with Fando’s treatment of her just as long as he doesn’t leave her, a literal and figurative co-dependent.

protectedimage-phpI can’t say that I really understood much of what Alejandro was getting at. There were bits and pieces that worked for me, all subject to simply my personal interpretations, which I suppose in the end can be said about any film. What kept me watching beyond the muddled and confusingly symbolic storyline were the incredible imagery. From flaming pianos to diabolical puppeteers (played by Jowderowky himself) to the oozy zombie-like mud people, the camerawork captured by the director and cinematographers Reynoso and Corkidi rank up there with anything Fellini cooked up in Satyricon. Fando and Lis also featured an interesting score that was part atmospheric progressive sounds capes and hard bop jazz.

fando2For a first experience with Alejandro Jowderowky’s work, Fando y Lis is rough going, and from what I understand, it doesn’t get to be much easier with more familiarity on the subject. However I hope that as the month goes on and I watch more of his films I can look back on Fando y Lis as the seed from which the director’s more popular and better known grew. I still can’t see myself going back for a second look at Alejandro’s first film. The impenetrable artiness that pervades the film only serves to reinforce my inner resistance to the art film especially when there are so many genre goodies out there waiting to be watched. Still I have high hopes for next week when I sit down for my second course with Alejandro and check out his seminal 1970 film El Topo.

I, Madman (1989)- Reading Might Be Fundamental, But It Can Be Murder!

untitledOnce again, it’s time to throw open the video tape vaults here at the Lair and delve into another diabolical selection from the world of VHS. That’s right; it’s time for another thrilling installment of It Came From Video Tape. Today’s selection, I, Madman, is one that I recall staring at me from the racks of my local video emporium, and now that I got my hands on a copy, I cold not resist firing up the old VCR and giving it a whirl. Plus, I love things that start with I and a Comma, I, Robot (Asimov’s book not Will Smith’s travesty), Christopher Lee’s I, Monster, and the British mini-series I, Claudius come to mind. So with a name like I, Madman and the director of The Gate at the helm, it’s time to press play and see if I‘ll be a happy Bugg or if it ends up with me being I, Mad Man.

2Virginia (Jenny Wright) just can’t get enough of Malcolm Brand’s books. After reading his first novel, Much of Madness, More of Sin, she scours the used bookstore she works in to find his other tome, I, Madman. She can’t find it, but when she comes home from acting class, she finds a package containing the book on her doorstep. Virginia can’t put the book down much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Richard (Clayton Rohner). She is deeply disturbed by the book, but can’t get enough of the story of the demented Doctor Kessler. In the book, Kessler is harvesting facial features to make himself more attractive to a girl who says he is ugly. As Virginia gets deeper into the book, the book gets deeper into her world. Murders that are eerily similar to the ones Virginia reads about begin to happen around her, and Virginia begins to be stalked by a man she believes to be Dr Kessler.

2-1Apart from a few supporting players that stumble in their roles, I found I, Madmanto be a highly entertaining film. While it doesn’t ever rise too far above the average, it contains an entertaining mystery, some bloody murders, and a trio of solid performances from the lead actors. I, Madman was the follow up to director Tibor Takács’ demons in suburbia film, The Gate. I saw The Gate years ago, and I can’t quite recall what I thought about that one so unfortunately I can’t comment on if this one was better. Takács brought the script by writer David Caskin (Nightmare on Elm Street 2, The Curse) to the screen with exceptional style, and I really liked how it seamlessly moved from 1989 Los Angeles to the noir world of the book. The film has a quality that felt like what might have happened if Dashiell Hammett and Steven King had a baby and it wrote a book. Sure, it would be ugly as hell, but the book it could write would combine horror, suspense, and paranoia with a helping of detective fiction.

2-2While Takács directed the film with a steady hand and it has its share of cinematic tricks that kept me wondering what would happen next, the film really shines when it comes to the acting. Jenny Wright’s Virginia is a fascinating heroine, and she never comes off as weak or corny. While everyone else thinks she’s off her rocker, she continues her amateur investigation without pause. She also looks pretty good doing it, and her first appearance in a nightie and lace panties instantly grabbed my attention. Wright is probably best known for her role as Mae in the excellent 1987 neo-vampire flick Near Dark, but she also starred in such cult gems as 1989’s Twister with Crispin Glover, the Michael Caine thriller A Shock to the System, and, less impressively, The Lawnmower Man. While Near Dark has all right to be her best known film, I, Madman deserves a special spot on her résumé.

2-3It took me some time to place her co-star Clayton Rohner. Turns out that my geek knowledge paid off, and I realized that he had played an Admiral that aged backwards on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Meanwhile, my wife who was watching this with me pulled out even more geek knowledge when she pegged him as appearing on an episode of Joss Whedon’s Doll House. Rohner was very good in the film, but I would have to say that playing a cop is not his strong suit. The scenes where he was less cop and more boyfriend were much better overall. He also has a seriously hair sprayed coif in parts of this film, and at one point, I feel certain it extended four inches straight from the front of his head.

Really putting on a show was Randall William Cook, a man usually known more for doing effects than being them. A couple of years back Cook picked up an Oscar for his special effects work on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, but someone should have given him some kind of award for his intensely creepy role as the psycho from literature. Cook also headed up the make-up department, and he did a hell of a job with the Kessler makeup that goes from a featureless gruesomeness to an even freakier look later in the film. I’m glad they held off on the reveal of the character in full until the climatic scene as it added to the mystique. While Kessler is not a character that could or should have returned for sequels (even though the cover of Fangoriafeaturing this film read “Move Over Freddy”), he is a character I will not soon forget. I also have to mention that Cook provided some really cool looking stop animation for this film, and it made me happy seeing practical effects done with such style.

2-5At one point in the film, Virginia describes Malcolm Brand’s book by saying it “makes Steven King read like Mother Goose. It’s horrific, but passionate like Poe.” While the film never reaches such a horrific height as she describes, it surely stands out among a sea of mediocre films from the same era. For a night of literary horrors, may I suggest throwing on Tenebre, I, Madman, and In the Mouth of Madness for a triple features of books exacting horror on real life. While I, Madman may be the lesser of the three films, I think you’ll find it an entertaining and all but forgotten film. So check it out. It just goes to show again that you never know what you’ll get when It Came From Video Tape.

La ragazza dal pigiama giallo [a.k.a The Pajama Girl Case] (1972): The PJs That Leave You D.O.A.

laragazzadalpigiamagialloSo last week I took some for watching non-traditional giallo The House with Laughing Windows and coming away with less than a smile on my face. For this week I thought I would look at another giallo that doesn’t fit the typical mold. While La ragazza dal pigiama giallo (a.k.a The Pajama Girl Case or The Girl in the Yellow Pajamas) definitely doesn’t try to be your average giallo, but it maintains some elements including the amateur detective (sort of), stylish locales (well, Australia), and foreigners (in this case an Italian) living abroad. By taking elements from gialli and mixing them up with a clever twist, director Flavio Mogherini created a singular film that stands out from the legion of rote gialli.

1When a woman’s body in yellow pajamas is found on an Australian beach, the police are baffled, but retired detective Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) takes the opportunity to get back to solving crimes. Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro) is a promiscuous young woman with a trio of lovers, a distinguished college professor, a macho lunkhead, and a sweet waiter who worships her. She marries the waiter, but that doesn’t stop her from seeing her other lovers. As Thompson closes in on the killer, his story and Glenda’s draw ever closer. When they meet, the solution to the crime becomes all too clear.

1-1In some ways Mogherini’s film is like an ancient episode of Law & Order, and if Milland’s Inspector was not retired, I would be tempted to call this one more of a poliziotteschi than a giallo. Another thing that might almost knock it from the giallo label is the absence of a pile of bodies as the film only boasts two murders. What was key to me deciding if I was going to call this one a gialli were the earmarks that were present. Other than the amateur detective, foreignness in a far off land, and cosmopolitan feeling of the film, there were plenty of red herrings, striking images, and lovely ladies to go around. The concept of the giallo stems directly from pulpy thriller novels, and Mogherini definitely captures that feeling.

2Perhaps the thing I liked most was the performance of Ray Milland. I’ve always enjoyed Milland ever since I first saw him in Dial M for Murder, and even his performances in lackluster films like Frogs and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes did nothing to dull my love for the actor. In the mid- to late ‘70’s, many forgotten American actors found work in foreign cinema, and Milland starred in films such as Cuibul salamandrelor (a.k.a The Billon Dollar Fire) and The Pajama Girl Case. Though Milland’s Inspector Thompson does have a few moments of unintentional (or maybe intentional, it’s hard to say) creepiness, he cultivates an endearing character that seems like one part Colombo and one part everyone’s Grandpa. The scene that best illustrates his character comes when the police decide to put the dead girl’s body in a glass case in hopes that someone will identify her. The solemn, disappointed, pained expression that Milland conveys when he visits the deceased young woman that has been turned into a curiosity perfectly conveys everything you need to know about the character.

1-2There are several other performances that deserve to be noted. Dalila Di Lazzaro really captured my eye as I watched the film not only because of her good looks (and she’s got plenty), but also because of the raw vulnerable performance that she turns in. In the back half of the film, Di Lazzaro character really hits an emotional low that is both painful and revolting to watch. I wish I could go further into her scenes, but her most powerful moments all but giveaway the central conceit of the film. I do have one thing to say about her character Glenda. I don’t know what you have to do to make a lesbian pass at her and make sure she knows it, but it must be an astounding feat. Also turning in fine performances were Ramiro Oliveos as the misguided police inspector Ramsey, Michele Placido as Glenda’s doting husband, and Mel Ferrer as Glenda’s lover the dickish college professor.

1-3Perhaps the strangest thing about this film is that, unlike most gialli, The Pajama Girl Case was based on a real murder in Australia. It seems that back in 1934, while walking his new prized bull toward his home in rural Albury, Australia, Tom Griffith spotted something strange. When he went over to take a look at it, it seemed to be a mangled and burned corpse. After the authorities were called in, they determined it to be a petite female, in her twenties, who had been shot in the throat, and bludgeoned. The only clue to her identity being the partial, oriental-style silk pajamas that survived the flames, identification of the victim proved difficult, and when a couple of missing persons leads didn’t pan out, the local authorities allowed the body of the now dubbed “Pyjama Girl” to be moved to Sydney, where it was embalmed, preserved, and put on public display for identification. I bring this up because it adds an extra layer to the film that, when I read about it, added to my appreciation of the film. (There’s a pretty interesting Newsreeel about the case that can be seen here)

200px-soundtrack_-_the_pyjama_girl_caseGetting back to the film, Mogherini really picked some great people to work with on this one. The soundtrack was written by Riz Ortolani with songs written by model, and one time girlfriend of Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, Amanda Lear. Ortolani provides great tense music throughout the film, but the real standouts were Ms. Lear’s two songs. At first when the title song, “Your Yellow Pajama” came on, I didn’t think much of its Leonard Cohen meets Roxy Music meets sad Blondie vibe. Yet when it came back around in the film, I really appreciated how much it actually fit the tone, and that goes equally, if not more, for the other track, “Look at Her Dancing”. The cinematography of the film, which boasts some great lighting and perfectly placed swooping shots, was handled by two men, Raul Artigot (Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein) and Carlo Carlini (Cry of a Prostitute, Seven Deaths in a Cat’s Eye). These two experienced men translate Glenda’s oppressive, murky world of sex and Thompson’s strange investigation to the screen perfectly.

3The Pajama Girl Case might straddle the line of what might or might not be considered a giallo, but in my eyes, either way you call it this is an excellent film. Anyone who has seen the film will know that there is a major twist about 20 minutes from the end. It was subtly telegraphed, but so expertly executed that it didn’t bother me. Instead it made the film for me. I wish I could share with you folks more about why I thought I was so good, but there will be no spoilers here. Like any great mystery, it’s one that I will have to leave you intrigued enough to pursue yourself. When a director takes a standard form and puts his own stamp on it, it can go two ways. In the case of The Girl with the Yellow Pajamas, the film itself goes in two directions and both are equally as satisfying.

Get to Know Your Horrorhound Weekend Indianapolis 2011 Attendees

As I wasn’t able to get around to as many of the Horrorhound Weekend attendees as I wanted to, I thought I would compile this little primer out of the Lair’s archives for myself and anyone else that’s going to be in attendance.


I guess I’ll start off with top billed Corey Feldman. While I recall liking some of the two Coreys movies when I was a lad, they haven’t really stayed with me, and as one of the few horror fans who could care less about The Lost Boys, Feldman doesn’t really excite me much. He was in Gremlins though, and here’s a review of the film from a previous Ladies Night that never mentions Corey at all.

Now, let’s move on to people I actually look forward to seeing if not getting a chance to meet.


First off, Barbara Steele. I’m totally stoked she’s going to be in attendance, and I am definitely going to meet her. I don’t have anything brilliant to take to have her sign so I might try and find something once I am there. I hold Ms. Steele in the highest regard, and I have fond memories of old favorites like Black Sunday and She Beast as well as more recent watches like The Horrible Doctor Hichock,


Then there’s Sid Haig. Ask ask of my friends and they’ll tell you that I love this guy. Plus he worked with Eddie Romero, and I’m interested to ask him about any recollections of The Woman Hunt. (review is about halfway down the page). He’s also appearing for a special ($50) photo op in his Captain Spalding makeup. It’s kind of going to be hard to pass that up, and well, I might not.


Andrew Robinson,sheesh. You’re talking about a guy who co-starred with Pinhead and Dirty Harry. Robinson looks like a creep naturally so I expect to see him and be creeped out. But he did also play Garick on Deep Space Nine where he co-starred with…..


Jeffery Combs who played the serially cloned character Weyoun….. and yes, I am a dork on many levels. Maybe I can reinstate some horror cred with these reviews of Castle Freak and The House on Haunted Hill. (Though probably not because it is shameful I haven’t wrote a word about Reanimator and that Castle Freak review is ancient and quite cringe-worthy.)

You know what thrills me? An appearance by


’cause he’s a badass. He was a highlight in Two Evil Eyes, one of the best parts of The Fog (a movie that is awesome to begin with), and of course Night of the Creeps. Mr. Atkins is appearing at this convention as part of a Halloween III: Season of the Witch reunion along with a couple of his costars including Dick Warlock (who also played Micheal Myers in Halloween II). I’m not a big fan of Myers, but I am a fan of anyone with the last name Warlock (and it has nothing to do with Charlie Sheen.).

There’s also going to be a House by the Cemetery reunion including the lovely…


and the very annoying…


….who in my mind will talk with the same shrill overdubbed voice even as an adult. I hate to blame the guy for someone else’s voice, but…. yeah, I’m gonna.

Just a couple of days back  I was talking about….


..and his film Lightning Bug. He’s also bringing along his buddy Chromeskull. I wonder how many runs to AutoZone will have to be made for polish ?

Also I understand Tim Burton’s ex will be on hand.


I haven’t reviewed anything she’s been in, but I do look forward to seeing her in person.

Anyhow, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I love it. Not as much as the first one, but it is pretty close. That’s one reason I’ll be bringing along my own stock of Shiner Bock, the un-Official beer of TCM2 (seriously it’s everywhere in that film), as my adult libation of choice. I met Bill “Chop Top” Mosley last time..


,This time Bob Elmore, who played Leatherface unbilled in several TCM2 scenes, will be on hand. I will also be on hand to bitch about the good old days when you could tell someone you were a fan of Saw and it didn’t  conjure images of a little puppet on a trike. But I digress..


Last week I wrote about Peter Giuliano who played the prowler in The Prowler. I hope he has on a all black WWI outfit so I know it’s him.


A pair of supporting actresses from Susperia are going to be there, but….


…was in Cut and Run which in my eyes makes her that extra bit of awesome.

Speaking of being awesome, let’s speak about…


Not only does this bring the count to three Devil’s Rejects alums, but it also means that Black Santa is making the scene. Ok, seriously, Foree was in Dawn of the Dead which topped my list of favorite sequels a couple of years back.

The next to last one here is a late choice that just got added as far as I call tell…


That’s right! Dan Hicks! One of my favorite parts of Intruder, a film I didn’t like so much, but I really wanted to like more. One of the main reasons is Dan Hicks who also has memorable little roles in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II and Darkman.

Just the other day I talked about Joysticks and how much I can’t wait to get my copy ofBlack Shampoo signed by…


But the Numero One-o person that I am going to Indy to meet, it has to be…


I already have my copy of Joe Bob Goes to the Drive In laid out and ready to go. As far as writing about movies, I doubt there has been a bigger influence on my writing than Joe… Mr. Briggs….(no need to worry about what I’m going to call him I likely will be struck dumb.)

Well that’s a little look into who’s going to be there celebrity-wise. There’s tons more, but either I haven’t seen anything they were in or they’re Boondock Saints. I’ll probably not post anything while I’m at the convention so join me back here Monday for my recap of the weekend!

Mental Health Awareness Month: Cat In The Brain (1990)

Hello folks and welcome to week three of Mental Health Awareness Month. This week’s post is special to me not only because I once again get to revisit one of my favorite directors, but today is my 200th film review. I am very happy to have reached this milestone, and I hope to be here posting reviews for a long time to come. Some may say that kind of devotion is insane or that I’ve gone round the bend. It’s just something in me that I’ve got to get out like a….


Cat In The Brain (1990) [Italian: Un gatto nel cervello] [a.k.a Nightmare Concert] starring Lucio Fulci, David L. Thompson, Jeoffrey Thompson, and Malisa Longo. Directed by Lucio Fulci.

704-fi-x491-dvd-catAfter filming a particularly brutal scene in his new film, director Lucio Fulci finds himself troubled by visions of blood and gore wherever he goes. Seeking the help of a psychologist, Professor Egon Schwartz (Thompson), Fulci undergoes hypnosis to rid himself of his nightmarish hallucinations. Unfortunately, Professor Schwartz is an aspiring killer himself. He implants a trigger to worsen Fulci’s visions and soon the director begins to believe that the Professor’s victims are his own.

The Bugg Speaks

I had long awaited seeing this film, and after tiring of the dreaded Netflix “short wait”, I went out and purchased the shiny new 2 disk edition recently released by Grindhouse Releasing. This film had long been out of print, and for starters, I’d like to say that Grindhouse did a bang up job on this one. It’s a gorgeous transfer, contains both the Italian and American trailers, interviews with Fulci, and a neat little book inside with pieces by Fulci’s daughter, Antonella, and the horror community’s favorite punching bag, Eli Roth. All in all, a wonderful package, and I only wish I had pre-ordered this flick so I could have gotten the limited edition holographic cover. But I digress; after all, I’m not here to review the set itself.

What I really want to talk about is the film, and what a film it is. Serving as a more meta (and decidedly more gory) version on Fellini’s 8 ½, Cat in the Brain is at once a film about the man Fulci and more importantly the myth. Surprisingly, Fulci, who had a habit, a la Hitchcock, of making cameos in his films, proves himself to be a surprisingly agile actor, and his decent into madness is both believable and highly entertaining. When it comes down to brass tacks, this film is a two person affair, and both Fulci and first time actor David L. Thompson do wonderful jobs and their performances are what really sell this film.

catknifeThroughout the film we are shown scenes of the different films that the fictional Fulci has directed. While a few of the scenes were culled from the recent Fulci flicks, 1989’s Touch of Deathand 1988’s Ghosts of Sodom, many of the scenes are pulled from films that the Godfather of Gore did not direct. Scenes from Andrea Bianchi’s Massacre (1989), Leondro Lucchetti’s Bloody Psycho (1989), and Giovanni Simonelli’s Hansel e Gretel all make appearances. I think this mixture of Fulci’s own work and the work of his contemporaries not only adds to the gore quotient (and it does), but it allows the fictional Fulci to becomes something of a representative of all horror movie directors. In spoofing the reputation that directors of gory goodness get, that they are sick, disturbed individuals, Fulci was poking fun at all the rumors and suppositions that dog men in his line of work. It comes are no surprise that when Fulci is confronted with a photojournalist in the film, the man appears to him to be a Nazi in full regalia. Sensationalizing the aspects of the horror director character and exploiting it to full effect gives the film an edge of dark humor that I really liked.

catchainAdding another layer of enjoyment to the film is the score by frequent collaborator Fabio Frizzi. This time Frizzi partially departs from the dark synthy sonics of his Zombi 2 or City of the Living Dead work and puts forth a soundtrack that features some jazzier numbers. One of them in particular had the feeling of a New Orleans jazz combo that I really liked. Another interesting musical cue comes via Edvard Grieg’s composition “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. Many film fans will recognize this as the tune whistled by Peter Lorre in the Fritz Lang classic M when he was stalking his prey. The tune accompanies many of the film’s murders and adds something extra to the feeling of the movie reality within the film.

cat-in-the-brain-4Speaking of the movie world this film exists in, I think it might be one of Cat in the Brain’s greatest strengths and one of the things that will put some people off the movie quite quickly. As the film begins, we are greeted with an overhead shot of Fulci as he rattles off a laundry list of horrors. The camera moves in close to the bald pate of his head and then cuts to a very fake looking cat ripping away at some pretty unconvincing brain matter. This scene alone is laughable, but I think that’s the point. Throughout the film, the effects often look cheap and, in some cases, just plain bad. By utilizing effects that are not up to the usual graphic awesomeness of Fulci’s other work, he creates a world that feels more like the reality of a film set, something a director would know very much about. That Fulci’s character’s hallucinations share these characteristics is a stroke of genius, and I applaud him for taking the chance.

My favorite scene in the film has to be the nod to Hitchcock’s Psycho. The infamous shower scene is recreated, and while it is nearly matched up shot to shot, Fulci adds his own twist, Replacing the chocolate syrup down the drain and Janet Leigh’s near nudity, we instead get tons of blood and full frontal nudity from the young lady. This scene encapsulates the essence of Fulci, a reverence for the masters, but with the need to take it one step beyond decorum.

I loves me some Fulci, and I loves me some dark comedy. With Cat in the Brain, you get the best of both worlds. While there are inconsistencies and plot holes a plenty, they are easily overlooked. After all, there has to be some gore or Fulci in a sweater vest right around the corner, and the ending to the film is both deeply satisfying and laugh out loud funny. If you’re not versed in at least some of Lucio’s earlier work, the joke may be lost on you, but for fans of his work, this is an invaluable film.

Turkey Thursday:The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976)

sundownWhen I first looked up the IMDB page for Charles Pierce I was quite impressed. I scanned down the role of credits Coffe, Black Belt Jones, and The Outlaw Josey Wales among them, but then I noticed that those credits were for set decorating. Needless to say even though all three of those movies have a great and very specific look, I had never taken a long look at the sets. I skimmed down and saw he did have some other directing credits including the beast flick, The Legend of Boggy River. I wish that were the film we were here to discuss tonight, but instead we’re going to learn a lesson in why I dread voice over as badly as…

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) starring Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, and Charles Pierce. Directed by Charles Pierce.

town-dreaded-bIt’s the spring of 1946, and life is as peaceful as can be in Texarkana, Arkansas. That is until the night in March when a couple are found after being beaten on a lover’s lane. Their white hooded attacker had all but killed them, and the peace of the town was shattered. Slowly over the next month things got back to normal, but 21 days later the attacker struck again. This time he killed the young man and woman. Deputy Norman Ramsey (Prine) almost caught him that night, but the killer managed to slip away.

town-dreaded-cWith fear gripping the community legendary Texas Ranger Captain J.D. Morales (Johnson) is called in to assist on the case. Three weeks to the day after the last killing, they set up decoys to ensnare the killer. They stock cars on lover’s lanes and lonely roads with undercover cops posing as guys and their dates. The killer finds another set of victims instead, a young couple just leaving their Senior prom. Right under their noses he strikes again. It’s up to Morales and Ramsey to get a lead and bring him down before night falls again over Texarkana.

Film Facts

town-dreaded-d–The film was based on true events that occurred in Texarkana, Arkansas in the case of the Phantom Killer or the Texarkana Moonlight Murders.

–Dawn Wells, Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island, makes an appearance as one of the killers victims.

–There have been similarities mentioned between these killings and those of the Zodiac killer.

The Bug Speaks

I’m so glad I get time to speak because the narrator in this film will not shut up. There are very few times that narration has worked in something without feeling shoehorned in. Fight Club, A Christmas Story, The Wonder Years, and maybe a few others, but on the whole it’s just not good. This film is no exception because it turns what could be a lackluster American International picture into a cross between a school filmstrip and prehistoric History Channel. The whole film comes off like a reenactment, and yes, I know it is. What I mean is instead of being able to get into this world, you’re closed out by the feeling like someone is keeping you at arms length.

It’s too bad because the story itself is very interesting, but I got more out of it on the Wikipedia page than from the film. It’s also very unfortunate that director Pierce found in necessary to break up the still procedural drama with punctuations of the most off key comedy I’ve seen in a while. By the time they are after the killer and launch a car into a lake Dukes of Hazard style, I was about ready to start dreading even waking up today.

237I may be being a bit harsh. Some of the performances were, well, adequate. Veteran actor Ben Johnson seemed sturdy as Moralas, but I had a feeling he was there for a payday. Andrew Prine was the shining moment of acting in the film as the solid and determined Ramsey. Pierce appears as screwball deputy “Sparkplug”, and if the movie had been a broad comedy about a crazy bunch of cops, he probably would have been at least tolerable. However, playing a performance like that in the midst of some fairly sadistic murders would seem crass if it already wasn’t so unbearably lame.

The best thing I can say for this film is that the killings were pretty brutal proto-slasher affairs. We only see the whole ordeal of one of them, but the white hooded killer is menacing, and his look seems to summon up visions of a later slasher when Jason donned a sack on his head in Part 2. The killer is featured on the poster, and I think the film may have gotten half a bug from having a cool poster and tag-line.

In the end I can’t see how anyone would get much out of seeing this film, so I suppose I’ve made it once again. With only one more Thursday to go in this month, I am getting more and more thankful each week that it’s almost over. So I’ll see you back here next week. Check back to see if I make it though the last Turkey myself or end up soaking in basting, putting myself in the oven for 3 minutes a pound, and waiting for that little thing to pop in my side and let me know I’m done.