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Messiah of Evil

Posted by On October - 30 - 2011

Written by – Prof. Aglaophotis

Messiah of Evil (1973)
Director: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
Writers: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
Starring: Michael Greer, Marianna Hill and Joy Bang

The Plot: The story opens with the despondent diction of Arletty Lang, a woman who was placed in an asylum after her encounter in a small town called Point Dune. She had gone there in search of her father, Joseph, a local painter who moved there after Mrs. Lang passed away. In the ensuing years, his letters became Arletty’s only form of contact with her father. Sensing something was wrong from his depressing and threatened messages, she drove to Point Dune. Upon finding his house empty, Arletty discovers she’s in a town filled with strange people, and is forced to trust a trio of swingers: Laura, Toni and Tom, the latter of whom is also searching for Joseph. Tom is a major in mythology who wants to learn about the town legend that the moon on the side of Point Dune turned blood-red back in the 1800’s. As the four of them stay in the Lang house, strange events occur as the people of Point Dune begin droning around the town at night. Soon, Arletty will discover what’s so important about the blood moon as well as her true role in searching for her father: as the Messiah of Evil rises back into power.

The Review
Amidst its montage of ambiguity, weak budget and slow pace, Messiah of Evil (aka: Dead People) is a highly memorable and creepy look into supernatural horror as seen from the eyes of genuine visionaries. Directed by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, the couple who co-directed Temple of Doom, Messiah of Evil is the reason why I love watching obscure Horror movies: amidst all the stones, you’ll occasionally find a gem like this one.

Messiah of Evil is a very atmospheric Horror movie. While it has its share of blood and gore, its primary terror is focused on build-up, subtlety and stark imagery. This atmosphere is reflected in the razor-sharp cinematography. From the very haunting opening asylum narration, to the mundane but out-of-place locales, the movie sets up real-life locations that are visually unsettling or quietly wrong in their bleak emptiness. Have you ever wandered your neighborhood at night when its really quiet, especially on a normal night when there should be some late night drivers or some activity? You know that eerie feeling with that lack of human activity going on, that social emptiness enveloping everything? That’s the kind of atmosphere this movie has. The empty, noiseless town of Point Dune makes for a creepy sit.

The many extras in the movie add to the great cinematography, such as the Drones of Point Dune who stare vacantly at the main characters or the changing color of the moon. En masse, the Drones of Point Dune are a genuinely scary force; one may equate them to pre/1970’s Rage Zombies or may even call them the living dead, but they are of a much different caliber of group-conformity cannibals… especially when you find that they are not zombies or the living dead in any way shape or form. What makes them so creepy is that, unlike today’s squealing, wiggling, obnoxious Rage Zombie, they are very quiet. The only noise you hear from them is the ravenous chewing and wide mouth eating of flesh they make. Every scene they’re in makes them a genuine threat, be it the streets, the grocery store or even the movie theater.

Also, mostly done by the great Jack Fisk, the art direction is pretty top notch in the movie. We first get a hint of the art direction in the beach house of Joseph Lang. The walls are all painted with the faces of people in every day situations, but the color to every person, the shading and detail of the paintings make them look alive. Even the movie’s use of colors in various scenes helps add to the tension. While it’s mostly an overuse of blue lighting effects, the hue gives every scene a rather ghostly feeling. I won’t spoil it for you, but one of the best set pieces they use in this movie is a vary particular window. Christ, the location scout for this movie was awesome!

The soundtrack makes this movie great in many ways. It not only escalates the atmosphere, but it also gives the movie the synonymous tone of the ‘70’s Horror movie: electronic, ambient music. The kind of stuff you’d hear in a game composed by Akira Yamaoka or Nathan Grigg. Composed by Phillan Bishop, the soundtrack emphasizes on the haunted feelings of the movie and the all around bleakness of its settings. Come to think of it, the in-town ambiance actually sounds like the underwater ambiance in Deep Fear which kind of makes sense. I once slept in a beach house one summer, and the sound of the water from indoors almost sounded like a muffled rain. There are a lot of songs in the movie that give it its strange and chilling personality such as the opening narration, Arletty reading one of her father’s memos or intended letters, characters exploring the town at night, the humming of a character introduction or a scene of exposition. I know it’s barely audible, but the music that plays when Tom describes his dream to Arletty really serves the movie’s tone: quiet and peaceful, yet despondent. There are a few kooky tracks in the movie though, like when some of the Drones attack Arletty near the end or how every now and again a cat-noise effect is used for a surprising Drone attack. Still, the main theme of the movie, “Hold on To Love,” is a very pretty song and is just as haunting as the rest of the movie.

The acting is pretty spot-on, too. Marianna Hill does a good job of the Daddy’s Girl character and carries a very gentle personality to her character. She seems toughened only by the mundane, yet shows signs of bearing a psychological fragility throughout her performance; overall, she makes a good lead character and so does Michael Greer. Micheal Greer’s character Tom is a very cool cat. He’s charming, but quiet. Charismatic, but collected. When things start going crazy, he becomes a very likable survivor of the madness. If anything, I’m pretty sure Greer’s suits ate a good portion of the film’s budgets; there’s no way they got those at a thrift store.

I gotta admit, this movie really opened up my interest in actress Joy Bang, because she plays a drug using, supposedly teenage, quasi-hippy girl (okay, so, my first girl friend), and her screen presence was pretty fun. I’m actually kind of a Royal Dano fan by heart but the role he gets in this movie is perfect. The magnitude of his lines and intensity of his character’s presence just drips with this otherworldly sense of importance, not just to the scene but the movie.

It’s funny seeing Anitra Ford as one of Tom’s girls in this movie. not because she fits the part and is very attractive, but I’m always reminded of her role in Invasion of the Bee Girls every time I see her on screen. During that hair-dryer scene, I thought she was going to have big black insect eyes when she walked out! It’s also fun seeing Charles Dierkop (Silent Night Deadly Night) in the movie too, though he doesn’t do much this time around. I have to mention the Albino Trucker character. I don’t know where they found that guy, but the character was delightfully creepy in every scene he was in and actually, pretty well acted (“DO with them? I EAT them, that’s what I do with them”)!

As much as I like the cannibal Drones of this movie, there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding them. For example, whatever is infecting them seems to affect people at random and out of nowhere. It has no effect on Tom’s trio or the town drunk, yet they’re in the town as much as the next person. It’s clearly not a viral infection going around, but a little information would help explain why the Drones seem invulnerable to bullets, but die instantly with a whack to the head. In fact, there two scenes where female Drones are taken down simply by pushing them to the floor!

There are a lot of notable and awkward moments in the movie, though. Whether it’s a bad editing choice or a moment where they clearly didn’t have the budget to show what was happening/supposed to happen, the lacking funds are noticeable. There’s only one scene where the police intervene, and it barely lasts a minute. What’s really funny is how the car drives up, the cop inside orders the Drones to disperse, and both cops just start shooting at the oncoming drones. That, along with a scene where a woman from the suburbs goes into town to get help, seems to suggest the magnitude of this event, we just never see or hear of it anywhere else.

Also, there’s this insane editing bit where Tom is out walking at night. He sees someone running away from something, so Tom runs after him (Why?). Tom looks over his shoulder to see a crowd of Drones chasing him, but in the next scene he’s all alone. Then one Drone attacks him, disappears and reappears in the next shot whereupon he pushes her to the ground. I wish that was it, but the ending takes the cake for terrible movie editing. I realize this movie had a limited budget and probably had time constraints on it, but the final scene mostly consists of narration describing what happened to Arletty, and describing her current situation. We barely see anything of the movie’s actual climax which consists of two shots before going back to the asylum from the movie’s opening. It’s kind of a bummer, too, because one of the characters pulls a dual role in the movie, but it’s never elucidated on in the final version of the movie.

Do I even need to talk about the special effects in the movie? There’s a very unconvincing puking scene that, in theory, would be genuinely unnerving, but the effects are unintentionally funny. Needless to say, a real live beetle with some muddy bile effects on em’ would have made that scene chilling. Hell, even the rat scene required a bit more fake blood. Many of the death scenes do not require Grade-A effects, but some animal intestines from the local butcher would have escalated the gruesomeness immensely. Instead, one character gets drowned in thick, red, fake blood, while in one scene I swear they used a fried pork chop for the effect. Then there’s the occasional poor use of a stock sound effect, like a wolf howl or a distant scream. I’m surprised they didn’t use the Wilhelm scream for the police shoot out.

According to one of the actresses, the movie’s investors threw up their hands near the end and the rest of the film was finished by an outside source who bought the rights to the unedited portions of the film. It’s one of those The Slaughter/Snuff kind of scenarios, where a lot of interesting stories could be told about the movie’s making and it’s fascinating to think what the movie would’ve looked like had things gone the way they were supposed to. Would it have been better or worse?

I give it a veritable recommendation, even despite its glaring budgetary and editing problems. From an Art Film perspective, the movie is clever and carries a lot of social commentary on its shoulders like the significance of the Blood Moon to most of the Drone attacks happening in places that contribute to mass consumption and sociological gatherings. From a Horror movie perspective, the movie is all about build-up, atmosphere and tension.

The Conclusion
I don’t know how many times I can say this, but I encourage you to watch this movie. Halloween party or not, Messiah of Evil is a crazy, creepy and very thoughtfully put together movie despite its budget. As far as availability goes, your options are limited. It stayed in the Public Domain for a long while and was featured in a Brentwood 10 DVD box set called Tales of Terror and it was released as a double feature with The Devil’s Nightmare. I own it on VHS just to add to the grainy feeling of it all, but it did recently get a 15th Anniversary DVD release. Regardless of which one you get, you are in for something unique. On a final note, I kind of wish they didn’t show such a chopped up trailer for Gone With the West during the movie because as fun as that movie is… ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ sounds like a damn cool movie.


Halloween Horrors #20: Slumber Party Massacre II

Posted by On October - 30 - 2011

Tomorrow is Halloween! Wow! That means we had better put the foot to the accelerator here at Varied Celluloid! With a few horror reviews left to go, today and tomorrow should see the Halloween season come to a close. Although it will no doubt be a limited number this year, due to school, it was certainly made better by the variety of films chosen! Right now, we jump back into the American slasher market with Slumber Party Massacre II. Remember to click on the poster art for the full review, and enjoy!

The Plot: Courtney (Crystal Bernard) is the younger sister of Valery, our protagonist in the first Slumber Party Massacre film. In the proceeding years after the events of the first film, Valerie has been locked away in a mental institution and Courtney has finally shed her tomboy phase. Courtney has been the perfect daughter in recent years and consistently does what her mother tells her to, however, she looks to finally break away and do something rebellious when her crush finally shows some mutual attraction. Courtney agrees to meet the young man at a special slumber party that her friends are hosting at a out of town beach home. As it turns out, things won’t be that simple for young Courtney. She finds herself having nightmarish visions of her sister being executed by a strange rock & roll murderer. This man in “greaser” attire carries with him a guitar fashioned to look like an electric drill, and he continually threatens Courtney. Once the kids arrive at this beach home, Courtney’s nightmarish visions quickly escalate to the point where she can barely distinguish her reality. As she drives her friends crazy, Courtney begins to doubt her own sanity. However, as it turns out, she isn’t crazy and her dreams become a frightening reality.


Slumber Party Massacre II

Posted by On October - 30 - 2011

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)
Director: Deborah Brock
Writers: Deborah Brock
Starring: Crystal Bernard, Jennifer Rhodes and Kimberly McArthur

The Plot: Courtney (Crystal Bernard) is the younger sister of Valery, our protagonist in the first Slumber Party Massacre film. In the proceeding years after the events of the first film, Valerie has been locked away in a mental institution and Courtney has finally shed her tomboy phase. Courtney has been the perfect daughter in recent years and consistently does what her mother tells her to, however, she looks to finally break away and do something rebellious when her crush finally shows some mutual attraction. Courtney agrees to meet the young man at a special slumber party that her friends are hosting at a out of town beach home. As it turns out, things won’t be that simple for young Courtney. She finds herself having nightmarish visions of her sister being executed by a strange rock & roll murderer. This man in “greaser” attire carries with him a guitar fashioned to look like an electric drill, and he continually threatens Courtney. Once the kids arrive at this beach home, Courtney’s nightmarish visions quickly escalate to the point where she can barely distinguish her reality. As she drives her friends crazy, Courtney begins to doubt her own sanity. However, as it turns out, she isn’t crazy and her dreams become a frightening reality.

The Review
The original Slumber Party Massacre film was both everything that I expected as a fan of slasher films, but also shockingly generic for a film written and directed by women. The series has become quite well known for this fact over the years, and it is well known that the first entry into the series was intended to play out as a black comedy of sorts. However, knowing Roger Corman’s general hatred of horror/comedies, it isn’t surprising that the film inevitably became a much more conventional slasher feature. Although the first sequel, Slumber Party Massacre II, may also seem like your run of the mill slasher flick upon first glance, it is hardly that. Potentially the strangest serial killer film the world has ever seen, Slumber Party Massacre II demonstrates a knack for the surreal that I have rarely seen in this genre. This does inevitably lead to a film that is horribly disjointed, but the head scratching logic of the film is also one of its greatest asset.

Immediately, there seems to be something different about Slumber Party Massacre II. It doesn’t rush directly into the nudity in the same way that the first film did. The movie doesn’t outright present itself as a piece of pure exploitation sleaze, either. It instead goes after the sentimental angle, where Crystal Bernard (best known for her role on the television series Wings) is presented as the ultimate quiet and sincere “final” girl. The introduction of our main group of girls as a band is also certainly befitting of a slightly more mature group than was shown in our previous film. The girls are all slightly less antagonistic with one another than in the previous movie, and you generally get the idea early on that these filmmakers weren’t entirely interested in revisiting everything that the first movie did. However, they did manage to sneak in some requisite sexploitation. There’s an otherworldly topless dance sequence that seems to be totally a service towards Roger Corman and the fanboys, but the scene somehow manages to come across more puzzling than erotic. If you’re looking to see Crystal Bernard go topless, however, you may leave disappointed. The closest you’ll get to seeing her do anything suggestive is a fairly strange scene featuring the girls all sitting around eating corndogs, and the imagery seems to border on obscene in how phallic theses breaded pieces of meat seem to be.

Over the top is the best way to describe Slumber Party Massacre II. In every aspect, this is a movie that takes things to their utmost extreme. The gore is ramped up from the original, the overacting is almost on pace with a Troma production, and the driller killer in our movie is… well, how does one even describe him? Looking like a combination between Andrew Dice Clay and the lead guitarist for nearly any glam-rock band of the 1980s, the killer inevitably makes this movie the far fetched and utterly insane piece of cinema that it is. When he seems to escape the dream reality that he has apparently lived within during the first three quarters of the movie, he manages to spit out line after line of cheesy dialogue while killing off our teen stars. This third act plays out a lot better than the introductory sequences where we have to deal with Courtney having her delusional fantasies. The film essentially runs these bits into the ground in a PAINFULLY cliche manner. It really is the Michigan J. Frog effect to its most painfully obvious extent. While I respect that the filmmakers were trying to establish a “boy who cried wolf” atmosphere around the Courtney character, this doubt ultimately doesn’t have much of a payoff (other than causing the police to doubt Courtney). Instead, we find ourselves continually infuriated by the cliches that the film tries to bolster. Finally, when our Diceman look-a-like escapes into reality we are alleviated of the previous stupidity by watching the majority of these teens killed off.

The prospect of a dream becoming real is tackled by the film very late in the overall runtime, to be honest. It is such a bizarre and ridiculous concept for a series whose introductory title was so obviously based within reality. This isn’t the Nightmare on Elm Street series where the supernatural was a part of the norm, and it isn’t even a series with the longevity of Friday the 13th. If you remember, the Friday series didn’t really venture into the supernatural until the sixth film, and that was the only supernatural sequel that ever truly appeased the fans (Friday 7, 8, 9 and 10 were all duds). Still, Slumber Party Massacre isn’t dumb about how it plays with the surreal. The filmmakers establish some very nifty twists and turns that come about during the final ten minutes, and despite it seeming slightly tacked on, it still works to great effect. Like I always like to point out, if the filmmakers are deviating from genre conventions even by a little bit, they are doing a good job.

The Conclusion
The movie is absolutely bonkers, there’s no denying this fact. While I won’t argue that it is a better made movie than the original The Slumber Party Massacre, I don’t think there is any argument that this is the more entertaining movie. Although it is more fun, I still give it roughly the same score. A three out of five. I figure if you order the full Slumber Party Massacre collection from Shout! Factory, for these two movies alone you are getting your money’s worth. Definitely check it out.

Ti West has already paved a very interesting road for such a young director. Similar to his fellow peer Adam Greene, he is a filmmaker who seems wholly dedicated to being a “genre” director.

Taking influence from the glory days when such filmmakers were shown a certain degree of respect, West has been coming into his own and receiving a similar amount of praise from both genre fans and critics in general.

From his first film, The Roost, up until his breakout success with The House of the Devil, he has shown considerable improvements and continues to grow as a storyteller. His latest, The Innkeepers, looks to return to the atmospheric pacing that House of the Devil became famous for.

Magnolia, who are releasing the film, have just released the poster artwork (seen up above) and have also just went live with the green band trailer. As big fans of Ti West, we here at Varied Celluloid are incredibly excited for this title! Released On Demand December 30th, and the film will also hit theatres starting February 3rd. For those interested, here is the official plot synopsis and a link to the green band trailer.

After over one hundred years of service, The Yankee Pedlar Inn is shutting its doors for good. The last remaining employees -Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) – are determined to uncover proof of what many believe to be one of New England’s most haunted hotels. As the Inn’s final days draw near, odd guests check in as the pair of minimum wage “ghost hunters” begin to experience strange and alarming events that may ultimately cause them to be mere footnotes in the hotel’s long unexplained history


Mystics in Bali

Posted by On October - 29 - 2011

Mystics in Bali (1981)
Director: H. Tjut Djalil
Writers: Jimmy Atmaja and Putra Mada
Starring: Ilona Agathe Bastian, Yos Santo and Sofia W.D.

The Plot: Catherine is a Western girl who is obsessed with black magic. She has previously learned Voodoo in Africa, but now that she is in Bali she is obsessed with learning the notorious Leak black magic. Leak is a form of magic that is so powerful that it allows its user to shapeshift into nearly anything they want. Cathy eventually meets Henthra, a local boy who she quickly starts up a relationship with. Henthra is soon talked into leading Catherine into the dark jungle so that she may meet a powerful Leak master! When Henthra and Catherine stumble off into the jungle, they do indeed meet a mysterious laughing woman who claims to be a Leak master. Catherine convinces the woman to allow her as a disciple, and before long the young Western girl is practicing the ancient black magic traditions of Bali. This Leak master, however, isn’t as nice as Catherine at first takes her to be. She has her own goals, and she intends to use the detached head of Catherine in order to do her bidding and bring her new life!

The Review
We here at Varied Celluloid have certainly shown an affection for Indonesia cinema in the past, and it was only a matter of time before we delved into their rich history for yet another dose of their special brand of genre-film insanity. Along with Lady Terminator and The Warrior, I have found myself in love with the crazy days of Indonesian exploitation. Mystics in Bali is yet another title to take the mythological superstitions that were prevalent within Indonesia in the past, and deliver upon these myths with a very unique modern twist to them. For Western eyes, these concepts of magic and sorcery are completely unknown due to the limited knowledge that most people have about Indonesia in general. Mystics in Bali thus seems even more foreign to any potential Western viewer. A strange and thoroughly puzzling piece of exploitation, Mystics in Bali attempts to craft a combination of “cutting edge” special FX (at least, for 1981) with some fairly gruesome horror-movie violence. A grotesque trip into the magical world of Indonesian horror stories, Mystics in Bali is something entirely different than what you have likely ever seen.

Based upon actual Indonesian rituals and magic, Mystics in Bali has a certain history behind it that may not be immediately visible to Western viewers. Thankfully Mondo Macabro, the folks responsible for the DVD release within North America, provide a small little text document dealing with the history of Leak (pronounce lee-ack) magic and its reputed powers. It is quite interesting to read about the potential powers of Leak magic, all of which seem to revolve around time consuming rituals, and then seeing them displayed on the full screen in a very speedy and unnatural series of events. This speed and delivery is part of the film’s major problem, unfortunately. Episodic at times, it is very difficult to keep up with the timeline that our story is supposed to take place in. It could have been a few days that young Catherine learned all that there is to learn about being a Leak master, but it might have also taken weeks. The film isn’t very clear in its narrative, which gives it a feeling of incoherence. While our guide to Leak magic obviously points out the time and dedication one would have to have in order to attain the powers of transformation, the film seems to show Catherine reaching this goal in potentially one or two days. Yet, this sort of cinematic ADD can also be seen as part of the film’s charm.

While there are many glorious aspects that make Mystics in Bali such a memorable movie, you really have to give it credit for the transformation sequences. Much like the majority of the special effects work seen here, the transformations are gloriously bad. The effects are of the cheap and homemade variety, which is weird to see in comparison to the overall quality of the production. Shot with an eye towards the stylish, Mystics in Bali actually looks very good in almost all facets. The jungle surroundings are brilliantly green, and the sets, which look cheap, are still lit very well and given a surreal tone within many scenes. All of these facts seem in direct confrontation to the utterly ridiculous special effects work that singlehandedly tries to undo all of the quality cinematography that the movie attempts to employ. The transformations, such as the pig and snake sequences, are done in a time lapse fashion that shows us the actresses having makeup piled on top of them little by little. There’s also a decent amount of, what appears to be at least, shot-on-home-video footage in the midst of the film. The quality of the footage seems to take a downward spiral and the two different film stocks are blatantly obvious.

Told in a nearly incompetent fashion, the narrative direction within the film is certainly a part of what makes it so special, but it also prevents it from being a complete classic in the “what the…” genre of cinema. Although being a little episodic, or out of touch with time, isn’t such a bad thing for a film that actually proves itself to be great in most regards. Mystics in Bali however doesn’t prove to be as “great” as something like The Stabilizer, which was gloriously over the top and found just the right pacing. Instead, Mystics in Bali takes its screen time and often wastes it in the wrong areas. Although the pacing isn’t horrible, the movie does seem to waste a great deal of its screen time on ridiculously long and boring scenes that work against its more fantastical sequences. A “favorite” bit of mine that illustrates this, would be the scene where the Leak master, who later becomes Catherine’s teacher, decides to hide in the bushes while Catherine dispenses blood for the witch to drink. The scene seems to drag on forever as the two separate parties debate the grounds for the inevitable training courtship. While a scene such as this one, which primarily shows our lead actors talking about nothing that adds to the overall narrative, seems to be given a great amount of screentime, the much more psychotic and humorous sequences where Catherine’s disembodied head goes on a rampage are given a much less attention. What would you, as a viewer, rather watch: a woman talking to a bush for eight minutes, or the detached head of a Western girl eating people? I know where my vote lies.

The Conclusion
Poor dubbing, silliness shown in all aspects, and a considerable amount of violence, that is what this movie proves. With this in mind, there’s no question that Mystics in Bali is absolutely worth searching out. I will not give it my vote for the best piece of Indonesian exploitation that I have ever seen, but it is certainly very enjoyable for its cheesiness. I give it a three out of five. If there had been a slightly more resilient pace within the film, I would have easily made it to a four. Regardless, a three is still a good score and I would certainly recommend it.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.