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Berdella

Posted by On August - 5 - 2010
The Plot: Bob Berdella, a real life serial killer and the subject of this feature film, was a hidden menace within the Kansas City community. A homosexual man with homicidal tendencies, he took the lives of six men who he raped and tortured for weeks on end. Berdella is this story fleshed out, focusing primarily on the period that saw Bob Berdella at his most violent. We follow this odd character during the day where he looks after his own occult book/item store and we follow him at night where we see him try to socialize within the gay community where he hopes to find a new victim.



The Review
I found myself contacted a few short weeks ago by independent filmmaker Bill Taft who asked me to take a look at his indie feature: Berdella. Although I do not review as much independent film for Varied Celluloid as I do for RogueCinema, I have never been opposed to giving any film a fair shake. Berdella had a couple of key advantages going for it that immediately perked up my ears like a dog looking for a bone. First of all, it deals with a fairly obscure serial killer. I think the majority of horror fans are ultimately interested in the “serial killer” phenomenon. If one is interested in the macabre, then it is suffice to say that they are interested in those who live macabre lives. The second aspect that drew me towards the film was the interesting marketing. The artwork and posters for the film give it the appearance of being a grizzly shocker or at the very least a violent character study. I don’t want anyone to get their hopes up at this point however, a disgustingly violent gore film this is not. However, if one has the patience and the inclination to sit through a truly independent film – they might find something of interest here.

The real Bob Bordella was as interesting as most serial killers tend to be. The DVD for this film actually comes with a biography about the man as well as a time-line that describes his crimes and life. This very mundane man was, as they often seem to be, an exemplary citizen with a rough past who for the most part would not turn any heads on a day to day basis. Like most serial killers, his killings came about due to his intense sexual desires. A homosexual with a control disorder, his sadistic killings were the definition of cruel. The feature film Berdella looks to examine this character and delve into his psychotic mind, but they do it in an interesting way. Although it at times is not the most obvious point about the film, there appears to be a certain tongue-in-cheek quality that carries the film along. The comedy doesn’t come right up and bite you on the lip, but there are moments (mostly instigated by the character of Bob Berdella) where these tiny seeds of humor and entertainment seem to frolic and keep the film afloat. The filmmakers manage to keep this film as dark and bleak as the material certainly calls for it to be, but this character of Bob Berdella simply will not be contained in the mold of your average sociopath.

Played by Seth Correa, Bob Berdella comes across as a rather quirky and pathetic little creature who ultimately takes advantage of those around him who slip up and fall into his little games. The performance, while certainly not earth shattering, is interesting and different enough that I felt that he was able to carry the weight of the project. Giving his voice a slightly feminine quality, Correa plays the role without going over the top and making the character a stereotypical “queen”. The character walks the line between feminine and masculine, and could seem either orientation in a public setting. However, there is something slightly off about the way Correa brings Berdella to life, and I loved it. Donning a false-mustache that is as obvious as eye liner on Marilyn Manson, the character comes across as being utterly bizarre and out of his element at all times. In the same way that the beards were obviously fake in Cannibal: The Musical, I found it easy to forgive the cheap looking prosthetic due to how much it added to the quirky qualities of this character. While it may not be perfect, a lot of the enjoyment you will derive from the feature may very well come from these strange aesthetic choices.

The violence is likely to be a key issue for many who read this. The artwork for the film, which seems to scream out “torture” and “violence”, obviously declares some depraved content will be on display. However, that ultimately doesn’t prove to be the case. Although Berdella is most assuredly a violent film, it doesn’t load the audience down with gore. From their not being able to afford the FX or simply a conscious choice to avoid the exploitation in such an obviously sexual case, much of the violence is shown offscreen. There are still several choice moments where we see Berdella taking part in extremely brutal activities. Including the disposing of a body and a sequence involving a drill, some draino and a miniature axe!

Knowing the independent film world as I do I already knew what to expect in terms of acting and production, where some of you reading this may not. Although it does its best to hide its budgetary restraints, there is no slipping it past the audience that this is indeed a piece of independent film. The filmmakers did do a nice job in adding color, varied lighting and canted-angle photography, but the budget is obvious from the outset. Most of the actors are stilted in their delivery, due likely to inexperience, but there are a few actors who actually craft something out of their roles. It is a sad fact, but no-budget cinema does not offer the comforts of decorated cast members or high quality camera work. So, if you are a film-goer who criticizes the acting in big budget Hollywood features – this level of acting may come as a shock to you. However, if you have suffered through a few independent films then you likely already know what to expect.

The Conclusion
Although it has its issues, I did ultimately like Berdella. The filmmakers took what they had and they actually managed to deliver a dramatized version of this obscure murderer and they made it work. There are some facts that they shied away from, mostly in terms of the sexual mutilation and torture that Berdella put his victims through, but that is understandable as it would be difficult to find five male actors willing to strip nude and be demeaned for either no money at all or very little. This remains a seedy little number and a interesting watch if you run across it. You can read more about Berdella as well as order it from the official website at: BobBerdella.com



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Massacre in Dinosaur Valley Review

Posted by On July - 16 - 2010
Well, I told you I would get it done and sure enough here we are! Michael Sopkiw is back in action with this piece of pure Italian exploitation! Is it great or is it just about what you would expect from an Italian cannibal film? Read on to find out!

The Plot: Kevin Hall (Michael Sopkiw) is a archeologist on the hunt for the great land known as Dinosaur Valley. A nearly prehistoric land within the Amazon where it is rumored that many great archeological wonders are just waiting to be uncovered. Hall manages to hitch a ride into Dinosaur Valley with a well known professor who just so happens to be going there for the same reasons. Along for the ride is a Vietnam veteran with power issues, two models who can hardly keep their clothes on and the professor’s beautiful daughter. As they approach Dinosaur Valley their plane has issues and they crash land into the jungle. Some are killed, many are wounded and now this rag-tag group are forced to band together in order to take on the local head hunters who have made it apparent that they do not appreciate these Westerners. How can this group possibly survive?





CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

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Massacre in Dinosaur Valley

Posted by On July - 16 - 2010
[imdb]0089562[/imdb]


Purchase The DVD
The Plot: Kevin Hall (Michael Sopkiw) is a archeologist on the hunt for the great land known as Dinosaur Valley. A nearly prehistoric land within the Amazon where it is rumored that many great archeological wonders are just waiting to be uncovered. Hall manages to hitch a ride into Dinosaur Valley with a well known professor who just so happens to be going there for the same reasons. Along for the ride is a Vietnam veteran with power issues, two models who can hardly keep their clothes on and the professor’s beautiful daughter. As they approach Dinosaur Valley their plane has issues and they crash land into the jungle. Some are killed, many are wounded and now this rag-tag group are forced to band together in order to take on the local head hunters who have made it apparent that they do not appreciate these Westerners. How can this group possibly survive?


The Review
It is no secret to those who know my cinematic tastes, or generally keep an eye on Varied Celluloid, I am a die hard fan of the Italian cannibal genre. It is a fan club meant only for a select few and the only requirement is an extreme leniency towards really bad movies. From all of the various sub genres that made it big within the world of Italian genre film, the Cannibal film movement may be one of the most absolutely base, dumb, poorly executed and poorly conceived cultural passions to ever be seen within the world of cinema. So, why exactly do I love them so much?

To be perfectly honest, and this might solely be my own opinion, there is a certain quaintness to these pictures that could have only been established during the prime years of the Italian film industry. When you pop in Massacre in Dinosaur Valley, Cannibal Terror or Cannibal Ferox for that matter, you know precisely what you are going to get. This is a movie made entirely for the exploitation of one facet of a cultural obsession. Starting with the craze of Mondo Movies created by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi (Mondo Cane, Goodbye Uncle Tom, Africa Addio), the obsession that Italy had with native inhabitants and their bizarre rituals seemed to last throughout the 1960s all the way up until the early half of the 1980’s. Within these two genres, the Mondo documentary and the Cannibal exploitation world, this fascination lasted for roughly twenty years. So, with so much attention to this genre, you begin to know what to expect. That familiarity is part of what keeps me coming back as a viewer. Despite the nature of these movies to be threatening to the audience, in delivering shocks that they normally wouldn’t see outside of these particular movies, there comes a certain sense of expectation within them that a select few audience members come to find solace in. Sound crazy? Well, we probably are.

With any given piece of Italian cannibal sleaze, we know to expect a select number of reoccurring items. We have natives, we have nudity, we have a very poor English dub, we have gore and we have very simple plots with no need for any actual interesting narrative devices. However, when we see one of these films actually delve outside of their safety net, interesting things can happen. While Massacre in Dinosaur Valley has universally been panned (and rightfully so) as one of the weaker entries in the Cannibal subgenre, I have to congratulate it for a few very different exceptions to the genre stereotypes. The very first thing that stands out as being different and/or interesting about the movie is the sense of humor that it carries. Not that Massacre in Dinosaur Valley could ever be construed to be a comedy, nor even a darker version of one, it does have a healthy sense of comedic timing that borders between chuckle-worthy and blatant cheese. The mix of comedy and legitimate human horror however is mangled throughout and the first half of the movies comes far lighter than the second half which takes on the premise of a generic jungle survival movie.

Michael Sopkiw surprisingly did not have a massive career in the number of projects he was associated with. However, he was very lucky to have been a part of several movies that would later turn up as Cult Classics within the realm of Eurocult cinema. He last graced the pages of Varied Celluloid in my review for Lamberto Bava’s less than classic Rambo knockoff Blastfighter and he returns here in an equally obscure title only this time he plays the role of a Indiana Jones knockoff. A archeologist tough guy, who wears a brown jacket and gets into an adventure while searching out priceless treasures and uses comedy in order to fend off danger? This seems familiar! However, much like the humorous element that dissipates slightly in the second half of the movie, the allusions to the Harrison Ford character become invisible the longer the movie goes along and Sopkiw manages to deliver an interesting performance if nothing else. Also, he traded in Indiana’s whip for a shotgun, so who is to say who would win if the two characters did battle!

Sopkiw and his charisma, which I didn’t see much of in Blastfighter, actually carry the movie for the most part. His antics are the main reason that this movie is actually getting the score that it is. Whether it be his overwhelming sense of self worth or his tendencies to play the part of the playboy, I was sucked in by his ridiculous charm. The rest of the cast are generally serviceable and serve as fodder for random death scenes that pop up throughout. The body count is relatively high, but the actual level of violence that the movie provides is relatively tame. I dare say it may be the least blood Italian cannibal movie I have seen up until this point – and I believe I am only a few titles away from having seen them all. If you’re looking for exploitation however, there is still plenty of nudity to be had. Including a Cinemax-worth sequence where Sopkiw is “thanked” by one of the models mentioned in the plot synopsis. Apparently one night stands are a customary form of gratitude in Italy. That works for me!


The Conclusion
Overall, if you have seen the best and you’re looking to delve into the rest, there are hardly worse places to look than with Massacre in Dinosaur Valley. It has an interesting premise, some standout moments but it is generally a forgettable but fun time waster. I give it a three out of five as it stands just at the border of mediocrity and a film of interest. Check it out if you’re wanting a piece of Italian cannibal sleaze that isn’t Cannibal Terror.



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Prime Evil

Posted by On July - 7 - 2010
Review submitted by our good friend Prof. Aglaophotis!


The Plot: The story starts during the mid 1300’s when the Black Death struck Europe and monks across the continent felt their faith was being tested by God during the plague. However, Lucifer decided to use this time to offer a charismatic, faithful former servant of God an offer of eternal youth by rounding up his own faith-hood who wanted to avoid the Black Death; all the recipients had to do was sacrifice one of their immediate relatives. Thus enters brother Thomas Seaton (Beckwith) who is chosen to fill this role with an iron fist and he starts by subjecting his convent to join his side and live eternally or die right there on the spot.

We now take the story to present day New York where Seaton runs a church and his believers, old and new, are living long by individually sacrificing a relative of theirs every thirteen years. We quickly get acquainted with the soon-to be victims of the thriving cult, the main one being Alexandra (Moore), a social worker for the female criminal frame. Alexandra’s grandfather George and his own Satanic relatives are getting ready for Alexandra’s sacrifice, all the while George has every intention of filling Seaton’s shoes seeing how he’s the oldest living member next to Seaton. In the midst of this, Sister Angela of Seaton’s church is coming on to the cult’s activities as she is familiar with their home wrecking sacrifices and, with the Minister’s help, plans to thwart the up-coming sacrifice before another life is lost. Who will win in the bloody battle of good and evil?




The Review
Ah, the classic good and evil Ritual Sacrifice Horror movie. I must admit, I’ve never been an avid fan of the sub-genre, but I’m always willing to give these types of movies a watch because you never know that there’s good in a film unless you watch it. Sadly, there is some good in it, but you’d have to hold your breath to ward off the severe stink of crap inundating almost every aspect of the film in order to find it. Although once you do find some good in this movie, you’d probably choke from the remaining fecal matter the film manages to reproduce before you have enough time to savor the goodness. Leave it to the ex-wife of Micheal Findlay, who together filmed classics like Snuff, to make such a choppy, exhausting and stupid movie.

To sound less impetuous in my pessimism, the movie offers a fair premise with a compromising background and one convincingly deep heroine with a small assortment of good acting. All of these were wrapped tightly to a constrictive budget that wanted to do bigger things with its already small production value. Prime Evil is boring and lagging as it presents far more unimportant scenes of dialogue in abundance, making the scenes that are important whiz by in a manner of seconds. Worst of all, the beginning of the film is actually very hard to follow because it starts out with every separate scenario for various characters with quick jump cuts that never bother to tie together until the middle of the movie. Whew, now that I’ve got the summary out of the way, let’s look at what tries to make this movie what it could’ve been, shall we?

The cinematography was a bit varied as the movie starts out with a fairly lucid flashback coupled with some rather tiring narration. The disjointed scenarios following immediately afterwards don’t help our early understanding of the plot’s direction, which makes the movie feel like it has a number of different plot lines in different universes going on simultaneously until characters from each scenario start meeting up with others (sort of like Pod People, except the monster in this movie looks cooler… but more on that later). The lighting is pretty bad as every shot is dependent on natural light and very few artificial lights are used for certain scenes, making it difficult to find the details of many of the scenes.

The music has a half-and-half effect for the movie as the soundtrack is composed from a z-grade keyboard that’s similar to various spiritual mischief films of the eighties (the first two Ghoulies movies come to mind); the nutty evil-mischief sounds however are often coupled with pseudo mystical/evil chant tunes and some neat ambient notes. The sound effects seemed a bit bungled as well: a few sound effects are much louder than the dialogue. The sound shared a cheesy attribute to the movie as there was one scene in which one of the characters swears on screen, yet it’s cut out by the sound of someone’s feet shuffling across tile floors… yet all the characters present in that scene are standing still.

The visual effects in the movie were fair yet revealed a mass of cheapness to them as one character brandishes an obviously fake combat knife in preparation for a kill scene. The gore effects resorted to a few close ups of sharp objects going into flesh and one decapitation, yet most of which are sadly cut out. Apparently the version I got and the only version commercially available on DVD is censored of gore, a few possible breasts and the one curse word in the entire movie, though there’s little information about the possibility of there being an available uncensored version, not that there would be a significant difference (just more breasts and Argento style stab-wounds). The most remarkable effects would have to include some random page burning during a sacrifice that the antagonist performs, in which all of the papers come from a random book that are stuck on a knife and held over a candle, but instead of slowly burning, the pages immediately incinerate into a ball of fire. The pages were obviously flash paper, the kind you use for a magic show or MST3K skit (Manhunt in Space), but it was effective for the scene none the less. The demon I mentioned was fair as well, though far from scary as it was obviously a foot tall marionette used for one scene and a few quick shots. Still, it was refreshing to look at as its skin-less he-goat appearance was ghastly none the less. It didn’t have the same creepy effect as the horny he-goat demon in The Church, but it was still kinda cool.

The acting, though straddling the lines of fair and pretentious, actually had some credible roles to them. Alexandra got to expose a few aspects about her childhood trauma in a wonderfully expositive scene (probably my favorite scene in the whole movie) and the fellow playing Father Seaton, though stereotypically one-dimensional and a little silly, played a wonderfully sinister antagonist; perhaps the only other actor I can think of that could match this actor being John Phillip Law of B-movie fame (Barbarella, Marylin Behind Bars & Space Mutiny). The dialogue seemed to fit for most of the characters: those important to the plot had clear, competent lines while those unimportant to the plot got to fill the screen with irritating, unbearable dialogue. Sadly, the latter group is the one we hear the most from. Halfway through, I was begging for the villains to kill off Alexandra’s friends, relatives, associates and the two cop characters; funny enough, I think most of those wishes came true.

None of the good bits in this movie save it though, Prime Evil is still a stinker. For one, it’s a great exercise in pointless scenes. The number of different scenes where Ben, the burly ‘garbage man’ for the cult (and probably my favorite character next to that he-goat/demon marionette), had to perform the task of kidnapping random young women off the streets and swimming pools of New York to use in the cult. You’d think this unfortunate young ladies would be used in some humiliating ceremony out of a warped John Van Meale painting, but no, this is what they do with the captured women: Padre Seaton gazes into their eyes a la Dracula, hypnotize them into getting into slinky robes, initiate them in horribly cut topless scenes where each girl gets a gash on the wrist and then they spend the rest of the movie standing around holding books for him to read!!

You mean to tell me this cult is so evil it has to kidnap people just to get a bookstand?! What, were actual book stands expensive in the eighties? Furthermore, what the Hell was with the random scenes of Alex talking to her porker friend at the local gym?? It led us into Alex’s character the first time around, juxtaposing her to a seemingly ‘bad’ girl, but later in the movie we get the same kind of scene, with no purpose, yet with deplorable length! Just the two of them talking, while Alex’s friend indulges in junk food as she exercises, expressing bad dialogue and brandishing bad clothes for no other reason than to piss me off!



The Conclusion
All in all, Prime Evil is left in obscurity for a pretty good reason. The only way I can recommend it to anyone is if you happen to find the unrated version of the movie as finding and watching that may be a bit more worth your time… that is, if it exists.

Stinger: “Well maybe I am just a bit extreme! But you’re extreme too, the OTHER extreme!”



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House of Traps Review

Posted by On July - 4 - 2010
Well, it’s not quite Kung Fu Christmas just yet, but I couldn’t help but take some time out for some Chang Cheh goodness. House of Traps may not be his finest hour, but it is most certainly a great piece of entertainment!

The Plot: Taking place in the Sung Dynasty, we are treated to a tell of espionage and ever-twisting loyalties. Our story begins with the death of Emperor Kuang Yin, who was rumored to have been killed by his brother De Zhao. When the new Emperor Guang Yi took the throne he immediately ordered De Zhao to commit suicide. We skip forward several years and now De Zhao’s son Zhao Jue has been crowned as the prince of Xiangyang and he has his mind set on vengeance. Zhao Jue looks to overthrow the Emperor and he starts off by ordering his men to steal several precious objects from the current government. Zhao Jue keeps himself locked away in his House of Traps, where he fears no spies due to the massive number of booby-traps within this home. Inside of the House he keeps a membership list that holds the name of all those who have joined his rebellion, as well as the precious jade and ivory horse that he has stolen from the government. Zhao Jue has his eyes on becoming all powerful, but at the same time Judge Pow (Chien Sun) is heading up an investigation into the accusations that Zhao Jue is a traitor. As Judge Pow heads off to do some investigating, the prince sends out two pair of hitmen in order to end his snooping. Along the way the judge, who is not skilled in kung fu, runs into Pai yu-tong (Chin Siu-Ho) who is enlisted as a bodyguard and defeats the men. As the tides keep turning, other groups continue to step into the battle. Who will win in this battle of government officials and rebels?



CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

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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.

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