Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Werewolf Shadow (1971)

Title: Werewolf Shadow (a.k.a. The Werewolf vs.Vampire Woman) (1971)

Director: Leon Klimovsky

Writer: Paul Naschy, Hans Munkel


If you are a horror fan, and avidly watch and discuss horror films with your horror loving buddies, chances are that Paul Naschy’s name will pop up in conversations and reviews. I started watching mostly American horror films, then like many others have, I worked my way towards horror films from across the world. Usually, that’s how it goes for an American horror fan. You start watching Carpenter, Raimi and Craven and as many American horror films as you can until you’ve seen them all, and then you end up branching out towards horror films from across the world. Usually, this leads horror fans to discover the works of Argento, Fulci Soavi and eventually if you keep searching further down, you discover the wonderful world of Mario Bava’s gothic horror films. But Naschy for me is the filmmaker I ended up discovering after I’d seen all of those. To me, Naschy and his films were something I’d eventually get to after I’d seen all these other horror films and directors I had to discover. Kind of the same way I felt about the Coffin Joe series of films. They were always something I’d eventually get to, but wasn’t in any rush to see.

But my time finally came! I’m glad I finally got to see some Naschy films, because now, it’s a whole other world I have to discover. After doing this huge post on werewolf movies a while back where a couple of bloggers and myself explored werewolf movies from all over the world, I decided that my time had come to finally see some Paul Naschy films. Truthfully, a recent article I read on Rue Morgue magazine which explored this late Spanish director’s whole filmology sparked my interest in his films as well. So I went to a buddy of mine who I always go to when I want to see horror films from across the world (thanks Beto!) and Voila!, I finally had a Paul Naschy film in my hands! The film was Werewolf Shadow, the film I will be reviewing today.

While researching Naschy’s body of work I came to realize that Werewolf Shadow is actually the fifth in a series of 12 werewolf movies in which Naschy plays the same character, Waldemar Daninsky. So I guess I sort of started watching Naschy’s films right smack in the middle of the franchise. That’s okay I guess, these films function in the same way that the Hammer Dracula’s did, you can watch any of the films in the series and it wont affect continuity, because they are all stand alone stories that are loosely connected to one another by the same character. The whole series is made up of the following films:

The Mark of the Wolfman (1968)

Nights of the Werewolf (1968)

The Monsters of Terror (1969)

The Fury of the Wolfman (1972).

Werewolf Shadow (1971)

Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman (1972)

The Return of Walpurgis (1973)

The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975)

Return of the Wolfman (1980)

The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983)

Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders (1996)

Tomb of the Werewolf (2004)

Werewolf Shadow felt like one big homage to Hammer and Universal combined. To me, this was very much like a Hammer film because it has that premise where a group of people end up stranded in a castle in the middle of nowhere and a strange alluring individual offers them his hospitality only to later end up threatening their lives. It’s the same old trick Christopher Lee’s Dracula would pull off on anybody who suddenly showed up at his castles doorstep seeking shelter. Sure, come right in! Later, in the middle of the night, I’ll try and suck your blood! This is the premise for Werewolf Shadow as well. Two girls suddenly find themselves at Waldemar Daninsky’s castle. They are searching for the remains of an age old vampiress known as Countess Wandessa. A powerful vampire queen that was buried somewhere nearby Daninsky’s castle. So Daninsky welcomes the girls and offers both of them a stay in his castle.

The one thing about Naschy’s werewolf films is that he is not really the villain in them. Most of the time, the werewolf is seen as a villain that has to be destroyed, but not on Naschy’s films. Daninsky uses his Werewolf powers for good. Though at times he can get out of control and loose it, most of the time he uses his anger and strength to help the good guys. This is exactly the case in Werewolf Shadow were Daninsky ends up protecting the two girls from the vampire queen whom they resurrect entirely by mistake. I enjoyed the way they depicted the vampire queen, whenever she shows up, she moves in slow motion. These scenes were kind of hypnotic to me because she dresses up in these awesome clothes that look great in slow motion. She kind of hypnotizes you with her slow-mo dancing, which I’m guessing was the directors intent. This film is similar to Hammer films The Vampire Lovers (1970) in which Ingrid Pitt plays the vampire who falls for her female victim. In other words, even though this is primarily a werewolf film, it also has a bit of that lesbian vampire vibe seen in films like Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Daughters of Darkness (1971).

A truthfull assessment with Naschy’s films is that they feel like a Universal horror film; the only difference being that Naschy’s films offer more nudity and gore in them. And it’s true. Sometimes, when watching a Universal Horror film you feel as if they could have taken things a little further, as if they could have been more daring and not so held back. I guess this had to do with the amount of horror people could take at the time. Back then, Universal films were considered frightening by those who went to see them in theaters upon their original release. Yet when we watched these movies now, they entertain and they exist in that world of horror where vampires and werewolves are real, but they never went too graphic or gory. Truthfully, Universal horror films are very tame and can be considered light horror in that sense. Paul Naschy obviously loved those old horror films and paid homage to them, but he did push the envelope a bit further as far as the nudity, sex and violence went.

I mean, lets face it, Universal’s The Wolfman (1941) is a great atmospheric film, but rarely do you see the monster ripping someone into shreds, gnashing at flesh, and drooling huge amounts of blood and saliva. Not so in this film! Naschy’s wolfman is a freaking savage beast! I personally love the look of the monster, obviously a loving homage to Lon Chaney’s take on the character. The final confrontation between Werewolf and Vampire Woman is a memorable one, and again pays homage to Hammer films. Some complain that the film is slow at times, but what ever, not all films got to go at a breakneck pace. Some films, especially older horror films thrive in their deliberate slow pace. In fact, Hammer or Universal films were never fast paced either, the main emphasis on those films, as is the emphasis on Werewolf Shadow as well, is in the atmosphere. The fog, the lonely places, the full moon, the wolfs howl, the castle at the top of the hill and the spooky Halloween score. I thoroughly enjoyed this old school flick and will certainly explore the rest of Paul Naschy’s legacy. Look for more reviews on Paul Naschy films in the near future!

Rating: 4 out of 5

By the way, for more Paul Naschy goodness, visit Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies where The Vicar of VHS is hosting an awesome Paul Naschy themed blog-a-thon with tons of articles, links, pics, images, and everything you ever wanted to know about Paul Naschy and his films!

Werewolf ShadowWerewolf's ShadowCountess Dracula / The Vampire LoversVampyros LesbosDaughters of Darkness

Monday, November 29, 2010

Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

Title: Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

Director: John de Bello

Cast: George Clooney, John Astin


Some of you might not know it, but George Clooney took his first shots at acting by appearing in extremely low budget horror films. Yup, like many A-list actors in Hollywood (Meg Ryan and Renee Zellwegger for example) George Clooney started dabbling with the acting thing in low budget horror features like Return to Horror High (1987) and the film I will be reviewing today, Return of the Killer Tomatoes. As the title suggests, this is a sequel to an obscure low budget horror flick from the 70’s titled Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978). I saw the original one many, many years ago when I was but a kid. All I remember about that one is that the hero in the film runs around dragging an opened parachute through the floor everywhere he went. After having so much fun with this one, I think I want to revisit the original. But seriously folks, this is the kind of movie that entertains simply because it's so zany and full ideas. Its as if everyday the whole cast and crew was looking for new ways to make the movie that much crazier! Gotta hand it to them, I think it worked!

A Motley Crew if there ever was any!

Story goes something like this: a mad scientist is hell bent on world domination. His way of achieving this goal is by taking ordinary tomatoes and transforming them into muscle bound Rambo-like tough hombres with machine guns and bandanas! Sounds crazy right? Well, trust me, it gets crazier. One of the good guys falls for a girl who is half human, half tomato! She’s kind of like a were-tomato-girl? She transforms into a tomato whenever she hears a specific song. So the good guy is confused, should he love her or squash her? It’s up to the good guys to stop the mad scientist from achieving his goal and finding a way to get were-tomato-girl to stay human forever. That’s about as far as we go in terms of story.

A girl and her baby tomatoe

But essentially, what we have here is a super funny movie. I never thought I’d end up enjoying a movie about killer tomatoes. Though, to be honest, there aren’t any actual killer tomatoes perse on this movie. At least not like in the first film. What we get on this sequel are tomatoes that are transformed into these hulking tough dudes with machine guns with a striking resemblance to Rambo. So any desires you might have for seeing actual giant tomatoes trying to kill people you can squash immediately, cause that’s not what this movie was going for. The filmmakers thought it would be way cooler to have a bunch of Rambo wannabe’s doing all the damage this time. And honestly, it was funny seeing these tough oiled up dudes walking around with machine guns. And hers the punch line: the filmmakers make the Rambo clones look all red because they used to be tomatoes! As a bonus, when this movie isn’t turning tomatoes into Rambo replicas it’s turning them into hot bikini clad beach babes! So the film evens things out that way.

Clooney sarrounded by tomatoes left and right

I loved how they do a recap of the events that occurred in the first film, where we see the giant tomatoes rolling around the streets following people trying to kill them. It’s actually a pretty straight forward sequel, totally alluding and referencing the previous film. In fact, many characters from the first film actually return. I especially enjoyed seeing John Astin who played Gomez on The Addams Family TV Show playing the role of the mad scientist, Prof. Gangreen. Actually, its Asting who steals the show in this movie. He is the one responsible for the tomatoes mutating and he was perfectly cast in this role. This actor has such a zany looking face, the kind of face that  a mad scientist would have! He has that smirk on his face through out the whole movie, makes him look all nutty. As an inside joke, at one point Astin is actually wearing the suit he wore in The Addams Family! His plan is to use the mutant tomatoes to build an army to take over the world. The funniest thing is that the machine that transforms the tomatoes is activated by putting a quarter in it! And when it’s turned on, it plays this rock and roll synth tune! It was hilarious! You could tell that he was having fun with the role. Same as George Clooney, who looks half like he wants to make the movie, and half like he just doesn’t give a damn. It’s hard to think that such a respected actor like Clooney started out in such a sleazy b-movie like this one! I guess it’s true what they say, everyone has to start somewhere!

John Astin cant believe he is in an even weirder gig than The Addams Family

This movie comes to us from the Zucker/Abrahams school of filmmaking. Yes my friends the comedy in this film is a lot like the comedy we see in films like Airplane! (1980) and The Naked Gun (1988) where we simply get an avalanche of slapstick with no respect or desire to respect any conventional film rules. On this movie we see characters breaking the fourth wall; we get to see the filmmaking crew behind the cameras, hell, we even get to see the films actual director show up at one point to tell everyone that they ran out of money for making the movie. Seriously, this is that kind of movie! The cast and crew of the film actually stop the film halfway through to see what idea they can come up with to raise money for finishing the film; their solution? Product placement! So from their on in, we see a whole lot of product placement on the film. To the films credit I will say that they managed to turn the whole product placement gimmick into a pretty funny joke. Every time we see some sort of product placement in the movie, it is hilarious! In this way, the film reminded me of Wayne’s World (1992) where they have this whole sequence where they do the exact same thing. Only Return of the Killer Tomatoes did it first! Actually, there are a lot of jokes on this film that are similar to the jokes we see in Waynes World, where they play around with things they can pull off in a movie.

 Product placement is no joke. It can happen to all of us!

Example: the film starts off with another film. Actually, the film starts off with the producers talking to us telling us how shitty this sequel is going to be which lets us know that these guys knew they were making a bad film from the get go. They knew they were making a b-movie and they had fun with it. They exploited that angle as much as they could, and I have to say it worked because I couldn’t stop watching this movie. Actually, I was laughing out loud so many times, it surprised me! One scene that had me rolling was when they explained that the mere mention of the word ‘tomatoes’ caused chaos, and they show this guy in a library, with a bunch of people sitting around him calmly reading their books and suddenly with a grin on his face the guy says the word “tomatoes” and everyone in the library goes bats shit insane screaming and hollering! I was laughing so hard I had to pause the film. Honestly, this movie needs more recognition. If you are in the mood for some laugh out loud, silly, slapstick fun, of the kind that doesn’t give a damn, then Return of the Killer Tomatoes is the movie for you! During the film credits, the film promises us that the killer tomatoes will return in The Killer Tomatoes Eat France!. Now, here I thought this was just another one of those movies that promises a sequel but never delivers (like Masters of the Universe!) but to my surprise, while researching this movie I discovered that it has not one but two more sequels! Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1991) and Killer Tomatoes Eat France! (1992) And they were both made by the same director who made the first two. You can bet your collective asses I will be seeing and reviewing them soon! Especially when this film ends with the uprising of The Mutant Carrots Army!

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - 25th Anniversary EditionReturn of the Killer Tomatoes!Killer Tomatoes Strike BackKiller Tomatoes Eat FranceReturn of the Killer Tomatoes / Return to Horror High

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Expendables (2010)

Title: The Expendables (2010)

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Writers: Sylvester Stallone, David Callahan

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lungdren, Jet Li, Eric Roberts, Bruce Willis, Charisma Carpenter, Arnold Schwarznegger, Randy Couture, Steve Austin


The Expendables to me, was a celebration of 80’s awesomeness. I didn’t get to see it upon its initial release, because the damn recession is holding me back from going to the movies as much as I’d like. Sad but true. But finally when I saw the box at the video store, I swear I heard a choir of angels singing as I reached for the dvd and rented it! I was finally gonna get to see this bombastic explosion of 80’s style action. But the question remained: would it disappoint? Or would it be a great film? At the very least, I expected the film to be fun. I mean, seeing all these action stars up there was gonna be a treat no matter what my expectations for the film were.

Story goes something like this: Stallone is the leader of a group of mercenaries that call themselves The Expendables. They go around taking missions and getting paid huge amounts of cash for doing them. They kill terrorists, save hostages, you know the drill. Well, one day a guy called Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) offers The Expendables a mission. They are to go and kill a dictator named General Garza. When they get there, they realize that what they really want to do is help the rebels fight against the dictator and the men who manipulate him. Will they succeed in their mission?

I enjoyed this movie far more than I thought I would. It wasn’t a perfect film, it had its glitches here and there, but for the most part I really dug everything about this movie! Especially the themes it’s playing with. Let me tell you guys a little something about the island of Puerto Rico, where I reside. In our last elections, a new governor was chosen to rule over our land. Everyone had high hopes for this guy because the previous one had driven the country to poverty, having to close down schools and government offices for months on end. But hey, it was the beginning of the recession and anyone governing the island during those years would have had a hard time doing it anyways. So in comes this new guy offering to do things right, offering the proverbial “change” that everybody needs. So of course he won the elections. Everyone put their trust in him to make things right, to work for the people, to work for our interests. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Once in power, he fired more than 30,000 government employees and used the police force and the national guard to instill fear upon the masses by having them hit anyone and spray pepper spray on anyone who dares complain or exercise their right to speak up against the oppression. He is the kind of polititian that feels more like a businessman than a politian. This is a guy who doesn’t really care about running a country, his priorities seem to be making money, Nixon style. Hell, many have compared the guy to Hitler himself. I don’t believe there has been a more hated governor in the history of Puerto Rico, and believe me, we’ve had our share of assholes in command.

So when I see a film like The Expendables, where it criticizes this kind of abuse of power, it makes me happy to see somebody notices. I saw a documentary a while back on Jamaica called Life and Debt (2001) that showed how Americans got their hotels and their resorts in one part of the island, and now Jamaicans themselves need to have a special card to go into that section of the island. How fucked up is that? Jamaicans themselves can’t go into the exclusive American section of the island? What gives? Sad to say I am seeing the same thing developing in our own island of Puerto Rico. Tourists visit only the capital of Puerto Rico, where the grand majority of the hotels are at, while the government is making it increasingly more difficult for locals to go to that area. Now, don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t hate Americans or anything, my motto is the same one that Jackie Moon had in Semi-Pro (2008) E.L.E. Everybody Love Everybody! But seriously, this situation makes me want to puke! The situation in Jamaica is freaking sad! Governments know that tourists can bring money to the island, so they sacrifice everything else for that?? The rest of the island is falling apart! You should see how many local businesses have closed down, how many buildings are abandoned. It’s an alarming amount. Yet foreign companies like Wal-Mart and Burlington Coat Factory thrive. There is a Walgreens literally on every corner of my town (literally) while I’ve seen more then one local pharmacy go down.

So hurray for The Expendables and hurray for Stallone in wanting to shed some light on this type of behavior. I thought it was extremely interesting how the island under the dictatorship in the film is unnamed and fictional; it could probably represent Puerto Rico and Jamaica or any other country in which the same situation is happening. I identified with the character of Sandra, the revolutionary who wants to stay and fight against the evil dictators and businessmen, to fight for the freedom of her people. There is one awesome scene in which Eric Roberts (representing big business) tells General Galarza “I own you” and basically lets him know that he has to do whatever Big Business tells him to, because the funding comes from them. And of course, I love the fact that the good guys realize this is all wrong and that something has to be done about it. This let’s me know that The Expendables has its heart in the right place, at least these guys are killing and blowing shit up to stand up for what is freaking right! An action movie with a conscience! Holy shit that’s unheard of! Let’s not forget that Jason Statham stands up for women’s rights as well, defending the love of his life from an abusive boyfriend. Hurray for this movie yet again.

But let’s face it, we came here to have some fun and I gotta say I had tons of that! What I enjoyed the most was the dialog believe it or not. These guys are all aging action stars (most of them anyway) and they have a history behind them of action films. What I loved about this movie was how they kept referencing their personal lives and their film careers through the dialog of the film. Example: when Arnold Scharznegger walks into the film and he and Stallone meet we are led to believe that they are both leaders of different mercenary groups and that at one time, they worked together. Translation? “We both used to be action stars at one point”. Arnold says he doesn’t need the gig so he is giving the mission to Stallone and his crew. The dialog that follows that conversation goes something like this:

Arnold: “Give this job to my friend here, he LOVES playing in the jungle, right?

Stallone: Right.

Arnold: Hey, how about dinner?

Stallone: When?

Arnold: In a thousand years?

Stallone: Too Soon.

Bruce Willis: What’s his problem?

Stallone: He wants to be the president.

In this conversation, the animosity that Arnold and Stallone had during the 80’s is alluded to. You remember how it was right? They use to make fun of each other in their respective movies. They kind of acknowledged each others existence and were willing to make fun of each other, but they still kind of hated each others guts. I always got the idea that it was all in good fun anyways, this movie proves it. And the line “he loves playing in the jungle” is an obvious reference to Stallone’s Rambo films. And then the two go on about weight, and Stallone tells Arnold, “whatever weight I loss you found pal” And the film goes on and on like that. Speaking of Arnold’s participation in this film, it is so freaking robotic. He kind of like walked through the scene not even trying to act, he had this silly grin on his face the whole time, honestly people? To me, Arnold was the worst thing about this whole movie, and in all honesty, that whole scene (though kind of funny) was terrible because the dialog felt robotic. I almost got the feeling like none of the actors were actually together; it felt as if they all filmed their scenes separately; the one sour note in an otherwise great flick.

Its all in good fun!

Speaking of performances, I was amazed to find out that the best actor in the whole film ended up being Dolph Lungdren. Man, Lungdren is a better actor now then he ever was! EVER. The guy hasn’t stopped acting and let’s not forget he directs his own films, so as far as I’m concerned, the guy is still very much in his game. Lungdren has actually gotten better with age! Holy shit, he was devouring his scenes, making all the other action stars including Stallone himself look bad. There is this moment in which Mickey Rourke shows up and tells this story, it is a small part, which can be considered a cameo, but damn, he really gave it his all. Kind of makes you wonder what’s a real actor with some real acting talent doing in the midst of all these action guys, who’s one specialty is kicking, punching and blowing shit up? Lungdren and Rourke both surprised me, and stood out like a cockroaches in a chicken dance.

Statham, taking action to a whole other level!

I liked that fun vibe the film had; it reminded me of the silly premises and ideas that we used to see in films of the 80’s. I mean, seeing these guys flying around on a plane, as if they were this special team of rebels going up against the evils of the world, I kind of got the feeling I was watching another version of the A-Team. Cigar chomping tough guys with secret handshakes, beautiful women, fighting over who kills the best and who kills the fastest.

Stallone, behind the camera, directing

It seems to that with this film, Stallone is passing the torch to Statham as the current king of action films, not a bad assessment. The film ends with Statham and the rest of the crew relaxing at Mickey Rourke’s tattoo shop (makes perfect sense for his character to have one don’t it?) having a knife throwing contest, all the other action stars kind of miss, but Statham ends up winning, perfectly hitting the middle of the mark with the knife. It’s as if Stallone was saying “this is the guy who’s taken my place okay and I give him my blessing” Plus, its obvious Stallone likes Statham. Statham is the one with the most screen time out of all the action guys and hes always next to Stallone through out the whole film. Hell, he is next to him in the freaking poster. So, according to Stallone, Statham is this generation king of action films.

"So you want it to say Schwarznegger sucks? You Sure?"

Final words: fun times. Storyline might be generic cause we’ve seen this story of the good guys going against the oppressive government before, but hey, guess what? This type of thing is still happening in the world, so it’s freaking relevant. We need some real revolutionaries NOW, but whatever, till they arrive, I guess we got The Expendables to take care of business and make things right, at least in the film world.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5

The ExpendablesThe Expendables (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)The A-Team


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