Friday, October 21, 2011

Worth Mentioning - Dead or Just Dreamin'

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.


This week, Cody witnessed vampires, ghouls, Billy the Kid, Abbott & Costello, and rewatched a slasher for the first time since childhood.



DESTROYER (1988)

"Maybe he's like that guy in the Halloweens, keeps gettin' killed but Bobby Ewing's wife keeps wakin' up, so he doesn't know if he's dead or just dreamin'..."

Ivan Moser, a mountain of a man and an indiscriminate rapist/murderer of twenty-three or twenty-four victims, sits on death row, squeezing a baby doll head like a grip exerciser. The date of his execution has arrived, but he's unconcerned about his last meal or even his impending death. All he's interested in is the Wheel of Fortune-esque game show he's watching on TV and whether or not anybody's going to ask for a "B". His last request is that the TV be turned to face him in the electric chair.

The switch is flipped, Ivan is zapped with thousands of volts of electricity, then mid-execution the power goes out. A record-breaking riot ensues in the prison, leading to the place being closed down. Ivan is presumed dead, but his body is never found. We know he's not really dead, otherwise there wouldn't be a movie.

Eighteen months after the riot and failed execution, a film crew is using the jail to film a terrible "women in prison" exploitation flick. (Yes, it has a shower scene.) Little do they know that Ivan still dwells within the prison, and with so many people around he's not going to miss the chance to add some more victims to his résumé.


One of the most notable things about this film is the fact that it has a pretty cool cast. NFL defensive lineman Lyle Alzado stars as Ivan Moser and is quite an intimidating presence. I wouldn't want to run into him in a dark abandoned prison. Anthony Perkins has a small role as the director of the film-within-the-film, Death House Dolls, and was apparently a last minute replacement for Roddy McDowall. Jim Turner, best known as MTV personality Randee of the Redwoods (in the '80s, when MTV personalities were awesome), plays a goofy special effects guy. Our screenwriter hero is played by Clayton Rohner of Just One of the Guys and April Fool's Day, and as his stuntwoman girlfriend/the final girl is one of my favorite actresses, Deborah Foreman of Valley Girl and... April Fool's Day.


Before rewatching Destroyer this week, I hadn't seen it in over twenty years, not since it came out on VHS. Elements of the movie had still stuck with me over the years, though. Moments of Alzado's performance, the fact that this movie claims that prisoners making license plates is just a TV cliché, at this prison they made safety beacon "highway flashers" for road construction sites. I still don't know if prisoners actually do make those things, or if they were just put in the movie to look nifty. And what I remembered the most about this movie was the VHS cover art itself. I have a clear memory of seeing the VHS many times in local video stores, specifically a little, now sadly demolished place called Harvey's Market.

Destroyer seems to be rather obscure now, that it hasn't had an official release since VHS doesn't help, but it's a fun '80s slasher that deserves to be remembered.



ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (1955)

While in Cairo, Abbott and Costello get mixed up in horror/comedy shenanigans involving treasure, cultists, and of course a shambling, bandage-wrapped mummy.

When you're in the mood for something fun to watch, you can't go wrong with some Abbott and Costello. This was the next-to-last film for the comedy duo and their final at Universal Pictures. While I enjoy Meet Frankenstein more as far as their horror mash-ups go, Meet the Mummy is very entertaining in its own right and features some very funny bits. The "take your pick" routine is a standout for me. Almost twenty years into their career together, Abbott and Costello were still at the top of their abilities. It's hard to believe while watching it that Lou Costello was just four years away from his too-young passing when this film was made.



DEAD & ROTTING (2002)

Hollis, Eric and J.B. are a trio of friends suffering from arrested development. Seemingly in the range of thirty to forty, these guys act more like teenagers, they're known for their pranks with fake poo and whoopee cushions. When we first meet them, they're driving into the deep woods to get a look at a house in which a witch is rumored to live, making bets with each other over whether or not they'll soil themselves at the sight.

They're scared off from the witch's property by a strange young man who they nickname Jackal Boy. They encounter Jackal Boy again in town soon after and it doesn't go well. The situations and confrontations between the trio, the young man and the witch gradually escalate until they go too far.

Soon the witch is out for revenge, and to do so the old crone transforms herself into Debbie Rochon in order to get closer to the three men. It works.


This is a fun, very low budget horror movie, produced for Full Moon by J.R. Bookwalter, co-written and directed by a frequent collaborator of his, special effects artist David Barton, and filmed in their old stomping grounds in the Akron, Ohio area. The cast is quite good, featuring the aforementioned Rochon, Trent Haaga, Jeff Dylan Graham, Barbara Katz-Norrod, and Tom Hoover, who appeared in Bookwalter/Tempe releases previously mentioned on the blog Galaxy of the Dinosaurs and Chickboxer. Hoover also played the villain in Bookwalter's great Polymorph and in one scene is actually watching that movie on TV.



BILLY THE KID VERSUS DRACULA (1966)

There are many legends and theories about what may have become of Billy the Kid. Was he really killed by Pat Garrett at the age of 21, or did he go on to live a full, quiet life?

This film brings us the true facts - Billy the Kid survived his encounter with Garrett, gave up the outlaw life and dropped his nickname, going by William Bonney and getting a job working on a ranch, where he fell in love with the ranch's beautiful young owner, Betty Bentley.

Billy's happily ever after didn't come so easily, though. Turns out that the infamous Count Dracula was also travelling through the American West in the 1880s, and when Betty's mother shows him a picture of Betty during a stagecoach ride, Dracula is instantly smitten. He bites a Native American girl and frames the attack on the stagecoach passengers, setting them up to be killed by the girl's tribe. Dracula then makes his way to Betty's ranch, intending to make her his bride while weaseling his way into her life by presenting himself as the uncle she's never met. Introducing himself as an uncle to the girl he intends to "wed" may seem counterproductive, but it doesn't really matter since Dracula's equipped with a hypno-stare and can win her over regardless.

Billy knows that there's something odd going on, and with people in town telling tales of vampires, he sets out to get to the bottom of things and save his beloved.

Given my childhood interest in Billy the Kid and my love of horror, it took me way too long to get around to watching this story of worlds colliding. It's no great shakes, but it is an entertaining mixture of horror and Western and an easy watch at a brisk 74 minutes. Genre regular John Carradine makes for a good Dracula, though the name Dracula is never spoken. Chuck Courtney plays the heroic character who has no real reason for being named Billy the Kid other than to draw extra attention to the film.

Written by Carl K. Hittleman and directed by William Beaudine, this was shot and released back-to-back with another Hittleman/Beaudine/Old West legend/horror combo, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. Beaudine shot a few TV episodes afterwards, but these films brought to a close his feature directing career. By the time of his death in 1970, Beaudine had been working in the film industry for over 60 years, with 366 directing credits.

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