Article: Ghosts of Mars Is Not Bad At All

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John Carpenter is universally regarded as one of the true ”masters of horror”, but he hasn’t always been held in the highest regard by fans and critics alike. There once was a time where the classic, The Thing (1982), was critically panned; but throughout the years it’s grown to become one of the most beloved horror films of all time and you’d be hard pressed to find many who don’t consider it a masterpiece. By no means has his career been a stranger to negative press, but as time has progressed, most of his movies have garnered appreciation and love. They Live (1988) has gone on to become a cult classic with poignant social commentary considered ahead of its time; In The Mouth of Madness (1994) was initially met with scorn, but is now considered one of the most underrated entries of his entire filmography, and it doesn’t end there. The point I’m making is: Much of Carpenter’s movies are like fine wines, more appreciated in hindsight than on first impression. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for Ghosts of Mars (2001); a movie that was such a commercial and critical flop that it effectively killed the little directorial enthusiasm he had left and sent him into semi-retirement, only to resurface in 2010 to helm the generic, but competent chiller, The Ward. I have no doubt in my mind that was more about that money than getting his feet wet again after a long vacation. But who can blame him? After a 30 year career, with the majority spent without an instant hit, who would want to rush back in if they didn’t have an overwhelming desire to create? That being said, Ghosts of Mars was unfairly maligned, and despite the negative feedback, is still a feature Carpenter can be proud of. It might be a flawed movie, but it’s also a fun one, with an original concept that makes for some fine popcorn entertainment.

Ghosts of Mars followed Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Prince of Darkness (1987) as the final installment of his ”siege” trilogy, a brothers in arms concept inspired by the westerns Carpenter grew up aspiring to make; set on Mars in 2176 AD, it follows a group of commandos sent to bring a dangerous criminal to trial, only to encounter an uprising of ancient Martian ghosts who want to slaughter the living inhabitants on the planet and reclaim it as their own.

Make no mistake about it: Ghosts of Mars is a B movie in every sense, from cast to set pieces to dialogue and performances. The cast comprised of an up and coming Jason Statham, Ice Cube, Pam Grier and Natasha Henstridge, so marketable talent it had not; but B movies with B list actors has been a norm for Carpenter throughout his career, and with those ethos he managed to conjure up a few modest financial hits. So what made Ghosts of Mars such an impotent thrust on the box office that was lampooned by everyone and their grandmother this side of the Red Planet?

The biggest criticisms towards Ghosts of Mars are the set designs, dialogue and performances from the actors. Although no stranger to the corny side of cinema, this was considered to be an all time low for Carpenter. Like I said earlier, this is a B movie in every sense of the word and the criticisms are true to an extent; but, for me, that’s what makes it so much fun. By no means is Ghosts of Mars a bad movie, nor is it a great one; but it has the charm of modest budget sci-fi films from the 80’s, and considering the budget it was made on, the set pieces are impressive.

However, those criticis failed to acknowledge the positives: As a horror film it works; full of tension, atmosphere and scary looking creatures, it ranks among some of his finest work. Furthermore, like most of his movies, it’s not without its deep rooted themes and playfully explores the battle between the sexes, as well as incorporates elements of the 1974 movie Zulu; so much so that the creature designs resembled African tribal warriors.

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Thankfully, over the years the Carpenter faithful have given this movie the respect it deserves, but one can’t help but feel it deserves more. It keeps its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and is meant as nothing more than mindless entertainment. In those regards, it succeeds triumphantly and in this day and age I’d like to see more movies with this level of imagination. It’s a shame we lost Carpenter to the directors retirement home as a result, but if history is any indication its audience will keep growing over time as it did with most of his films.

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Movie Review: Easter Casket (2013)

Comedy, Horror, Movie Reviews

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It’s strange to think that Easter is a relatively unexplored holiday in horror films; you’d think with all of the religious mythologies and potential killer rabbits it would be a gold mine for material, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s fairly untapped.  However, Dustin Mills saw this gap in the market, and thanks to the power of his wizardry, we have an annual holiday viewing that’s absolutely essential for your holiday horror hurrahs.  If you’re familiar with Dustin’s work, you know to expect something original with each of his offerings, which is why his fan base has been loyal and steadily growing since his first feature, The Puppet Monster Massacre (2012), which was, if anything, an unforgettable introduction that introduced us to a unique talent.  Easter Casket, like all Dustin Mills movies, could only come from the mind of Dustin Mills; a micro-budget horror comedy about a puppet rabbit hellbent on destroying Catholicism and reigning in the Apocalypse isn’t your standard fare, but that’s what makes it so wonderful.

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Easter Casket centers around Father Asher (Josh Eal), a warrior priest tasked with stopping The Easter Bunny, who is killing the clergy and Catholic school girls because the Church wants to do away with rituals not pertaining to Christ.  Needless to say a full throttle rampage ensues and the less said about it the better.  The element of surprise and unpredictability in store for you will only enhance your experience.

Dustin Mills really pulled the rabbit out of the hat with this movie, because despite being made for pennies, it’s impressive in so many ways.  First of all, it’s visually stunning and wildly creative; the lack of budget is a blessing in disguise as it encourages creativity and making the best of what’s available.  Puppets and toys are used to great effect, only adding to the films charms.  Its low budget is certainly not to its detriment as the inventiveness is what makes it so alluring.  However, the films greatest strength is its story; it just goes to show how far an imaginative, well crafted mythology can go and the tale of Peter Cottontail (aka The Easter Bunny) is engaging.  I’ve always felt that horror movies should explore unique mythologies more often as their creative scope is limitless; let those imaginations pour out all over the screen, I say.  Throw in a hilarious script, puppets at a coke orgy, female nudity and a Mega Pope and you have a certified cult classic on your hands.

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From an objective point of view, the only criticisms I can give Easter Casket are the obvious low budget constraints, which might not sit well with some viewers.  But, as I said earlier, I felt they worked in the movies favour.  At times it feels like a larger than life movie, set in a massive universe adjacent to our own.  Not since Astron-6’s masterpiece Manborg (2011) has a low budget movie had so much charm and high concept ideas that it sucks you into a world you’ll get lost in. This is the type of creative spirit that makes being a film fan the greatest joy on Earth, and discovering talents like Mills is just as good as rubbing one out when the house is empty and you can watch your porno with the volume up full.  9/10

Writer & Director:

Dustin Mills

Starring:

Josh Eal, Erin R. Ryan, Jason Crowe, Dustin Mills, Dave Parker

Genre:

Comedy Horror

Movie Review: Iron Sky (2012)

Comedy, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi

iron If horror movies were history lessons, the Nazi’s would be a laughing stock: Throughout the years they’ve went from the most despicable people in history, responsible for the Holocaust and countless other atrocities, to space invaders who live in a swastika shaped space station on the moon.  But that’s no bad thing; if history has been good for anything it’s providing source material for ludicrous entertainment.  When I think of Adolf Hitler now, I picture him wearing a cape in Inglorious Basterds (2009); and when I think of Nazi’s I imagine zombies from the countless number of movies they’ve risen from the dead to munch on the living, regardless of their views on a potential Third Reich.  But now, thanks to Iron Sky, when I look at the sky at night and see the moon, I imagine a Nazi’s looking back at me as they plan another coup for world domination.  Nazi’s, eh?  Gotta love ’em.  Of course that all changes when I watch Schindler’s List (1993) and hit a 2 week depression…

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Now don’t get this twisted as me being a fascist prick who likes Nazi’s, but I’ve always found attractive women wearing skimpy versions of their uniforms to be incredibly sexy, so forgive me for falling madly in love with Julia Dietze at first sight in Iron Sky.  Even though she turns out to be a misinformed Nazi who’s actually a sweetheart who harbours no hatred towards a race of people or the desire to destroy Planet Earth, I’d still love her even if she did.  The same goes for Sheri Moon Zombie in Rob Zombie’s faux trailer Werewolf Women of the SS (2007), which he really needs to make someday.  Anyway, now that you know about my sick fetish, we can move on and get on with the review clouded in judgement.

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 The plot centres around an African American astronaut who lands on the moon in 2018, only to be captured by Nazi’s, who we find out have been living there since 1945.  The astronaut being sent to the moon is a publicity stunt by the right-wing president of the US in a bid to appear as equality driven in the eye of the public.  However, the Nazi’s assume that Earth is planning an invasion, so they send representatives to Earth who end up getting involved in the US Presidents warmongering plans; meanwhile, elsewhere, our African American astronaut hero now roams the streets as an ”Aryanized” hobo, after being dyed white through a science experiment.

To call Iron Sky ridiculous would be an understatement, but the overall product is merely average; the first half hour of the movie is absolutely fantastic as we’re introduced to the Nazi’s on their moon base, which is a tremendous feat in special effects considering the low budget it cost to make it.  The early stages provide some of the movies best gags too; ranging from irreverent racist humour (they are Nazi’s after all) to the advancement of technology.  The mad scientist steals the show as a racist Einstein spliced with the professor from Back To The Future.  He’s one of an array of over-exaggerated characters chewing scenery, but he just so happens to be the best of a fun bunch.

Once they arrive on Earth, things go drab for awhile and the movie starts to drag at points.  The humour even begins to get somewhat tiresome as it repeats itself, but the sub-plot of the African American astronaut’s stint as an Aryan hobo manages to provide enough entertaining scenes to carry it towards a thrilling climax.

Overall, Iron Sky is a movie with a great concept that could have been so much better; a screenplay revision and a few trimmings here and there could have elevated it towards masterpiece status, but it bogs itself down with pacing issues and some humour that falls just flat of tickling the funny bone.  However, when it hits the mark it’s a hilarious, goofy political satire with some dazzling special effects and fun performances from a cast boasting the likes of Udo Kier, so there’s enough going on to ensure the lows don’t disappoint your overall experience.  7/10

Director:

Tito Vuorensola

Writer:

Jarmo Puskala, Johanna Sinisalo

Starring:

Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby, Gotz Otto, Udo Kier

Genre:

Comedy, Sci-Fi

Running Time:

93 mins

Movie Review: Faust: Love of the Damned (2001)

Horror, Movie Review

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Faust: Love of the Damned will always hold a special place in my heart as I spent the majority of my early teens watching it obsessively.  This was long before I was ever a fan boy of the director, Brian Yuzna, whose work I regard as some of the most enjoyable in horror.  But when I was in my formative years as a budding horror buff, this movie was one of the first to get the ball rolling, so to speak.  I remember borrowing it from my friends big brother, who had it recorded on a blank VHS along with Army of Darkness (1992) and scenes from a late night soft core sci-fi porno.  Suffice to say these movies made an impression on me growing up; especially that soft core sci-fi porno.  Anyway, having not watched Faust: Love of the Damned in about 10 years, I thought it was time I paid a visit to an old friend to see how he was holding up; and much to my delight he was doing just fine.

The fable of Faust is a German legend about a man who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for omniscience and worldly pleasures.  Throughout the centuries it’s provided source material for all forms of artistic merit, ranging from literature, music, art, poetry and film.  Faust: Love of the Damned is based on a comic book of the same name written by Tim Vigil and David Quinn, and is about a man who sells his soul to a devilish character named M in exchange for vengeance for his murdered girlfriend.  Vengeance comes in the form of Wolverine-like claws, which allow him to hack and slash his enemies.  But when you bargain with the Devil and his agents you’re in his debt, and Faust’s is to kill on behalf of M.  However, once he meets a psychiatrist by the name of Jade, his humanity is restored somewhat, and with the power of Hell in his blades he sets out to exact vengeance on M before he summons the Homunculus; a dragon from the underworld.

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While far from being a masterpiece, the critical lambasting this film took upon release was unfair and misleading; critics lampooned it for its excessive, tasteless schlock, low budget effects and poor acting, but it did receive praise for the same reasons by notable horror publications.  Although cheesy and corny, it’s actually an insanely fun romp with a high body count, plenty of gore and impressive special effects courtesy of Screaming Mad George.  As for the acting: Aside from a hilariously bad performance by the lead, Mark Frost, the supporting cast are solid, with genre legends Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) and Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster) as good as they’ve ever been.  It’s not Yuzna’s best movie, but it’s in the same vein as his typical output, which has garnered him iconic status within the horror community.

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Faust: Love of the Damned is a perfect movie for switching your brain off to and watching bad guys get decapitated.  There’s plenty of blood, T&A and corny one liners to provide cheap, mindless fun and that’s it.  It’s a great popcorn movie with more positive aspects than negative.  So leave your brain at the door and let it dazzle you like the seductive little fiend it is.  7/10

Director:

Brian Yuzna

Writer:

Tim Vigil, David Quinn, Miguel Tejada-Flores

Starring:

Mark Frost, Jeffrey Combs, Andrew Divoff, Isabel Brook

Genre:

Horror

Running Time:

98 min

Movie Review: Witching & Bitching (2013)

Comedy, Horror, Movie Review

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Divorces can be messy: especially when there’s a child involved who’s caught in the middle of a custody battle between his feuding parents.  Some movies in the past have shown how some parents go to extreme lengths to spend time with their kids; in 1993 Robin Williams even went as far as becoming a cross dresser and falsifying his identity just so he could enjoy quality time with his children while his wife was banging James Bond.  However, I don’t recall any parents ever taking their children to a stick up in a jewellery store then trying to flee the country: not until Witching & Bitching that is, the 2013 horror comedy from critically acclaimed Spanish maestro, Álex de la Iglesia.

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Jose (Hugo Silva) is a recently divorced petty criminal with no job and no money; this means that he can’t afford alimony payments, so he disguises himself as a silver painted Jesus and robs a jewellery store of its wedding rings along with a band of misfits dressed up like Spongebob Squarepants, The Invisible Man and a soldier.  It also just so happens to be the day he has guardian rights to his son, so he brings him along for the robbery to.  Nothing quite like some father-son bonding, is there?

After the robbery, the soldier, Jose and his son hijack a taxi cab and take the driver and passenger hostage to escape Madrid and get to France; while they make their way to the border, they bond over their unanimous hatred of women, unbeknownst that the trouble that waits for them ahead makes being taken to the cleaners for all your worth seem like chump change.  In pursuit of them are 2 police detectives and Jose’s psychotic ex-wife, Silvia (Macarena Gomez), who will stop at nothing to get her son back.  In order to get to France, they must pass through the village of  Zugarramurdi (a place in which there was a real witch trial in the 17th century), only to be captured by a coven of witches who want to eat them for dinner and use Jose’s son for their own personal apocalyptic agenda.

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Witching & Bitching is, quite simply, an absolutely bonkers battle of the sexes which pits a group of chauvinists against a group of cannibalistic women; the witches are portrayed as men hating, bloodthirsty fiends and the men are inept idiots, so any notion of it being sexist can’t be targeted at one particular gender as they’re both shown represented by their worst stereotypes.  But it leans a little towards women being the stronger and deadlier of the species; which as a man myself I can confirm to be an accurate assessment.  Those boobs hold power, and their ability to control, intimidate and manipulate is indubitable when you’re as nuanced as irresolute as the men in this movie.

Cannibalistic witches and silver spray painted Jesus’ aren’t the only deranged delights provided in Witching & Bitching: The insanity ranges from peeping toms living underneath lavatories and 50 foot obese naked Pagan goddesses, which fit in nicely with all the splattery goodness, dismembered fingers and kids in ovens.  Man’s tendency to think with his meat stick is also explored; it doesn’t matter if a coven of witches is trying to eat you for dinner and sacrifice your son to their goddess, but when the attractive one pours frogs blood over her barely covered bosoms and gyrates on a broomstick, everything else on earth might as well be non-existent for those few minutes.

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Iglesia’s previous feature The Last Circus (2010) portrayed the workings of a madman on screen; in film we call that an artist.  A true out-of-the-box thinker, his warped vision is continued in Witching & Bitching, and is a must see for those who appreciate transgressive cinema with sweet comedic sprinkles on top.  Best served with an open mind, but an absolute treat if you have the acquired taste.  9/10

Director:

Álex de la Iglesia

Writers:

Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Álex de la Iglesia

Starring:

Hugo Silva, Mario Casas, Pepón Nieto

Genre:

Comedy, Horror

Running Time:

112 min

Bucktown (1975)

Action, Blaxploitation, Movie Reviews

bucktown-1On paper, Bucktown is a dream come true for blaxploitation fans; although Pam Grier and ”The Hammer” Fred Williamson would go on to star in other movies together, Bucktown would mark the first time the King and Queen would share the screen.  With that being said, does a movie with such automatic high expectations deliver when it comes to living up to it’s potential?  Well fear not my funk soul brothers and sisters; not only does it live up to expectations, but it just so happens to be one of the best blaxploitations ever made.

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Bucktown opens with Duke (Fred Williamson) getting off the train in Missouri to tend his dead brothers affairs; in the will, Duke also inherited his brothers nightclub, so he decides to hang around and keep it open until he can legally sell it.  However, the cops of Bucktown are corrupt rednecks who try to extort his business for $100 a week, which only causes Duke to fight back and call in some of his friends from back in the city, led by Roy (Thalmus Rasulala).  Once Duke, Roy and the gang clear the town of the corrupt police officers all seems well and good; that’s until Roy and his friends realize the gold mine they’ve walked into and start extorting the town for more money than the cops.  Now it’s up to Duke to put a stop to the people he brought in to help him in the first place.

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In order to fully appreciate Bucktown, it’s important to leave your logic at the door, and accept that 1970’s Missouri was like The Old West; a place where the sheriffs were corrupt and outlaws could take over the town without law enforcement batting so much as an eyelid.  But we don’t watch blaxploitation for its regard for the law and consequences for breaking it; these folks are bad asses who do whatever the hell the please whenever they feel like it.  Bucktown is essentially a western; only cowboy hats have been swapped for flannel jackets and saloons have upgraded to flashy red light district nightclubs.

Pam Grier and Fred Williamson are on top form, but those used to seeing Pam as Foxy Brown (1974) or Coffy (1973) might be disappointed.  Here her role is much more subdued; opting instead to play a supporting role as Fred’s nagging love interest instead of the femme fatale killing machine we all love.  This marked a change of pace for her at the time, and she played her part with conviction still, demonstrating a versatility that would contribute to her getting the part of Jackie Brown (1997) 22 years later .  This movie is the Fred Williamson and Thalmus Rasulala show; and even though we don’t get to see as much of Pam as we’d like to, it doesn’t detriment the film at all.

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The action scenes are nice and gritty, like a 70’s action movie should be; there’s some bar fights which include pool queues being broken and bottles being smashed; the brawling is rugged and manly, with enough testosterone on show than a John Wayne movie, and a final showdown that makes you want to go build a shelf afterwards just to score man points.  Right after I watched this movie I put on a Lumberjack shirt, grabbed my axe and took to the forest to chop wood as I dreamed about being able to fight in fine clothes and bed women like Pam Grier.

So is Bucktown worth your time?  If you can track down a copy I strongly urge you to check it out.  It doesn’t break any new ground, but it delivers all the goods a gritty action movie should.  The setting of Missouri is a welcome change as well; blaxploitation movies were mostly set in cities, with the exception of a handful.  I love Bucktown and so would you.  8/10

Director:

Arthur Marks

Writer:

Bob Ellison

Starring:

Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Carl Weathers

Genre:

Action, Blaxploitation

Running Time:

94 min