Friday, October 3, 2014

Worth Mentioning - The Continuity of Blood

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.


As a Full Moon shines, Cody witnesses horror from Brazil, Paris, and very close to home.


DOLLMAN VS. DEMONIC TOYS (1993)

Full Moon Entertainment head Charles Band knew even before the company's 1992 release Demonic Toys had reached video store shelves that he wanted to make a crossover film featuring the movie's killer toys encountering characters from another Full Moon property. In fact, in the Video Zone behind-the-scenes featurette that followed the movie, Band himself announced, with promo art and all, that the Demonic Toys would be returning to do battle with the Puppet Master puppets in Puppet Master IV, which was soon to go into production.

That didn't happen. Puppet Master 4 became a different story, and although Full Moon tried for years to get Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys together, it didn't get made until 2004, when Full Moon sold it to the Sci-Fi Channel.

While the puppets were off dealing with their own story, Band decided to instead cross the Demonic Toys over with another character from the Full Moon library - Brick Bardo, a.k.a. Dollman, played by Tim Thomerson in the 1991 film directed by Albert Pyun. Band saw the police officer from the planet Arturos, who crash landed on Earth to find that he stands just thirteen inches tall on our planet, as a sort of "tiny James Bond", he wanted to make a whole series of Dollman adventures, so why not start the sequels off by pitting the character against the Demonic Toys?

Bardo had previously made a cameo at the end of another 1992 Full Moon movie, Bad Channels, in which he was seen making his way to the small town of Pahoota to introduce himself to a young woman who had been shrunken down to his size by an alien that took over a radio station.

Of the people had been shrunk over the course of Bad Channels, including nurse Ginger, teenager Bunny, and waitress Cookie, the only one who remained miniature at the end of the film was Bunny. In his cameo, Bardo says he's going to Pahoota to meet Bunny. For reasons I'm not clear on, the crossover retcons the still-shrunken one to be nurse Ginger. Maybe Bunny actress Daryl Strauss didn't want to return, maybe they thought it would be odd to pair Dollman with a teenager, I don't know. Whatever the case, it's Melissa Behr's tiny nurse Ginger that Bardo hooks up with in Pahoota.

An interview with Dollman and Ginger catches the attention of police officer Judith Grey, the heroine from Demonic Toys. Ever since the horrific events that transpired at the Toyland Warehouse a year earlier, Judith has been staking the place out, sure that the demonic activity there is not truly finished.


She's right. When a drunken homeless man breaks into the warehouse, tries to take a tricycle for a spin, falls over and busts his head, his blood brings the Demonic Toys back into our world: foul-mouthed baby doll Baby Oopsy-Daisy, razor-toothed clown jack-in-the-box Jack Attack, and lazer-blasting robot Mr. Static have returned, this time with their teddy bear cohort from their first movie replaced by a psychotic soldier called Zombietoid.

Judith can't get the police force to believe her story about the killer toys, so she recruits Dollman and Ginger to help her raid Toyland and take the Demonic Toys down once and for all.


There's not much to Dollman vs. Demonic Toys. The movie runs just 64 minutes, and that's including a 4 minute title sequence, a 4 minute end credit sequence, and a bunch of stock footage flashbacks to Dollman, Demonic Toys, and Bad Channels in between.

Its story may be overly simplistic, but the film - written by Craig Hamann and directed by Charles Band - does deliver on what the title promises. The heroes arrive at Toyland at the 35 minute point, and from then on it's all action as this mixture of characters from multiple franchises face off against each other.


Due to the size Bardo and Ginger are supposed to be, that means the Demonic Toys are actually around the same size or bigger than them, requiring the toys to be brought to life not just through puppetry but also by actors inside suits on oversized sets. For example, when Tim Thomerson and Melissa Behr are on a set with Baby Oopsy-Daisy, the baby doll is actually being portrayed by a performer in a costume that stood eight feet tall.

Although the baby doll was a female in the first movie, Oopsy becomes a male in this sequel and was given an awesomely goofy voice by highly prolific (more than 700 credits!) voice actor Frank Welker. Oopsy's sex change is important to the plot, given that the demonic scheme at play is that Oopsy is going to be inhabited by the spirit of his evil master at midnight, become anatomically correct, and then impregnate Ginger with a child that will be his master's Earthly vessel.

The fights and interactions between the characters are highly entertaining, having the Demonic Toys encounter actors on their scale was a really fun idea. Bardo tussles with Zombietoid, shoots it out with Mr. Static, Ginger gets chased around by the monstrous Jack Attack, Thomerson and Behr have to play scenes with the ridiculous looking Oopsy.


At one point, Dollman gets captured and there's a toybox variation on a classic torture/murder device: he's tied between two RC cars operated by Oopsy that threaten to tear him apart if Oopsy hits the accelerator toggles.

The final fight takes place in a dollhouse bedroom. Dollman vs. Demonic Toys is extremely silly, it knows it, and I love it.

Much like he is as Jack Deth in Full Moon's Trancers series, Tim Thomerson is the epitome of cool in the role of Brick Bardo. I really wish Band's plans for the character had come to fruition, because I would have loved to have gotten a long-running series of Dollman movies. As it is, Dollman's second full adventure is still, as of twenty-one years later, also his last adventure. I guess he and Ginger have gone on to live even more happily ever after than Band intended.



AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964)

An independent production from director/co-writer/star José Mojica Marins, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma in its native Portuguese) is most notable for being the first horror movie to come out of Brazil.

The film gets off to a rousing spook show-esque start with a title sequence that plays out over glimpses of the terrifying events we will see as the movie goes on, accompanied by sights and sounds that bring to mind Halloween and the celebration of the ghoulish - cemeteries, flames, the howling of wolves, a cacophony of screams and maniacal laughter. The music composed by Salatiel Coelho and Herminio Giménez pulls the viewer further into the horror mindset.

It then segues into a scene featuring an old gypsy woman, clutching a human skull, who with her voice echoing on the soundtrack breaks the fourth wall and warns the audience not to watch the movie that follows, as those who want to show bravery by watching it will suffer.

This has all set the stage for the feeling that the viewer is about to be privy to a movie that is going to attempt to scare them out of their wits with classic horror elements. Perhaps it will be a Brazilian take on the Universal horror offerings. But this isn't a story of monsters or mad scientists, not even of zombies and slashers. At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul is, for the most part, a character study of the worst human being on the planet.


Played by Marins himself, the lead character is a man called Coffin Joe, an undertaker who feels that everyone around him is inferior to him in every way. Their crying at the funerals annoy him, he finds their religions ridiculous. He's married to a woman named Lenita, who he no longer treats well since finding out she's infertile. The early scenes establish Coffin Joe as a total creep, one which the locals live in fear of. He gets in an argument with Lenita and smashes a plate, childishly berates the beliefs and superstitions of others, eats meat on Good Friday in full view of the celebratory procession, then forces a religious man to eat some of the meat as well. He also gets physically violent. When a man he plays a hand of cards with refuses to pay his losses, he severs some of the man's fingers with a broken bottle. He whips another who dares to stand up to him.

Joe is completely dismissive of his wife because, as far as he's concerned, a woman who can't conceive is worthless, as the point of life is "the continuity of blood". He's determined to have a son, no matter what he has to do and who he has to hurt in the process.

He has his eyes on Terezinha, who just happens to be engaged to his best (and only?) friend, Antônio. After Terezinha rejects his advances, he comes to believe that a rampage of rape and murder is the way to achieve the things he wants. Terezinha will be his, whether she likes it or not, and anyone who stands in their way is murdered in horrific fashion.

There are moments of gore in this movie that were shocking to me, despite the fact that at this time H.G. Lewis, the "godfather of gore", was bringing bloodshed to U.S. screens in vibrant color. I just didn't expect to see such acts in a black and white movie from a third world country in the '60s.

Although his movie was banned in some areas of his home country, some states citing Coffin Joe's blasphemous nature as the reason for the censorship rather than the gory moments, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul was a breakthrough production for José Mojica Marins and Coffin Joe became something of a sensation. Marins built a career on him, making a couple sequels, putting his name in the title of a movie he's not in (The Strange World of Coffin Joe) and even portraying the character for his own horror host show.

He's a striking figure in his black suit and top hat, but I really can't see why people wanted more of Coffin Joe. There is no fun in watching his escapades, unlike other successful horror icons. He's not an entertaining character, he is completely despicable.

Confusion over how the character at its center became so popular aside, when looked at as a standalone story At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul is exceptionally well made, with an intriguing story. It may not be the classic horror tale that its opening moments set up, but it does manage to be creepy in its own way. Coffin Joe is a man so unpleasant that it makes your skin crawl to watch him, and as he causes death after death, mocks fate, and challenges the supernatural, ranting in a cemetery and raging at a thunderstorm, we know that he's going to get his comeuppance. His actions are stirring up something beyond anything he believes in. Something not of flesh and blood.

The supernatural elements really take over in the third act, when the predictions of the local gypsy woman begin to come true on the Day of the Dead. Much of the film may deal with the type of heinous acts that are committed in the real world every day, but when it ventures into supernatural territory, the darkness is palpable and the movie effectively puts the viewer on edge. Even though whatever bad things are in store are going to be happening to a very evil man, it's still unnerving. It's a credit to Marins that he can make his lead character so thoroughly unlikeable and yet also make audiences worry about what the spirit world has in store for the ending.

Why Coffin Joe ever returned to the screen remains a mystery to me at this point, but I can fully understand why José Mojica Marins was able to continue his career based on the success of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, because with it he had produced a great little indie horror tale in which he showed a lot of promise as a filmmaker.



AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (2014)

The Dowdle brothers, John Erick and Drew, certainly haven't broken any new ground in their careers with their latest entry in the horror genre. To date, they've been known for found footage movies (The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Quarantine) and a story of evil in a confined space (Devil), and now with As Above, So Below they have made a found footage movie about evil in a confined space.

This time around their confined space is not an elevator, but the bone-lined corridors of the Paris catacombs. A group of people - a female archaeologist, her pal who can translate Aramaic, her documentarian, and a trio of Parisian locals - descend into the catacombs, solving ancient clues in a search for the Philosopher's Stone, an item that is said to have very powerful magical properties.

As the characters go deeper and deeper into the catacombs, filming themselves with the documentarian's RED camera and pin cameras on their headlamps, things get stranger and stranger. Some corridors collapse, but the doorways to some others impossibly disappear, as if they never existed. Paths take them in circles. They begin to see haunting visions. Something supernatural is clearly at play. They may not only be travelling through off limits areas and hidden chambers, they may be passing through the gates of Hell itself.

As Above, So Below is often very effectively creepy. The thought of being in the characters' shoes, trapped deeply underground and constantly going deeper, keeps audience members unnerved and on the edge of their seat, while the aspect of the characters messing with ancient mysticism and shrugging off religious warnings further enhances the creep factor. The catacombs are a perfect setting for such a horror tale, and some of the spaces the characters pass through are so cramped that it even made this non-claustrophobic viewer feel like the theatre walls were closing in on me.

October would have been a better release month for the film, because it is essentially a walkthrough of a very messed up "haunted house". The characters go from chamber to chamber, witnessing increasingly bizarre and terrifying tableaus, with things jumping out at them from time to time. Seeing As Above, So Below back-to-back with going to a haunted house attraction would be a fun night out.

The problem is, the film has a great set-up, but the payoff is lacking. It never quite goes far enough with the horror. This is an R-rated movie about characters possibly spelunking their way into Hell, but while the Dowdles could have gone all-out with the rating and left their audience traumatized, they soft-pedal it. If this is their version of all-out, it's very weak. It's a shame, because this film had the potential to be a lot more than what it is. It put me on edge, but then it let me down gently. I started hoping for Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Italian horror sort of imagery, but the movie never even got close to that.

I didn't have great expectations for As Above, So Below going into it, but as the film went on, I began to feel like it could end up being amazing. Instead, it feels like a missed opportunity. It is quite creepy for good portions of its running time, but never takes the path to being truly scary.



HER NAME WAS TORMENT (2014)

I've been a fan of Ohio-based indie filmmaker Dustin Mills ever since sitting in on a screening of his debut movie, The Puppet Monster Massacre, at the spring 2012 Cinema Wasteland convention. Over the years since, he has continued to impress with his steady output of films like Night of the Tentacles, Skinless, and Easter Casket, movies that never let their miniscule budgets get in the way of their unique and imaginative stories.

While Mills will continue to put out his more polished efforts under his Dustin Mills Productions banner, he has also started making darker, meaner, sleazier exploitation movies to be released as Crumpleshack Films, his version of the grindhouse style.

The first Crumpleshack release was Her Name Was Torment, a highly experimental project that is an all-out audio/visual assault on the viewer for the entirety of its 50 minute running time.


The film is made up of two scenarios that are intercut with each other. One is of a psychiatrist's recorded sessions with a female serial killer whose name is unknown, but the word "Torment" flashes on the screen when she's asked what it is. There are no records to go on to figure out her identity, it's like she never existed before she began murdering people. She was arrested for committing twenty-seven murders, but deemed unfit to stand trial. Oddly, twenty-four of her victims remain unidentified. It's like they, like her, never existed. As the psychiatrist describes it, it's as if this woman was a ghost killing ghosts.

The other scenario is the prolonged, torturous murder of one of her victims, who is tied in a chair in her garage and slowly taken apart by her, piece-by-piece. She wears nothing but a mask, gloves, boots, panties, and a plastic smock as she dissects and disassembles this young man, collecting all of his pieces into bottles, vials, and buckets as if she's taking samples.

As the psychiatrist interviews the woman, whose face is blurred out and her voice distorted, he begins to discover why she has committed these horrific acts... but the reasons she gives are stories of angels and a god-like entity called the Overseer, and her belief that the people she killed were not people.


I don't generally like the type of mean-spirited torture movies that were popular for a while during the last ten years, but when Mills decided to make a movie of his own with a prolonged torture sequence, he took a different approach to the gory centerpiece, creating a mythology to give purpose to it. This torture isn't about people wanting to harm their fellow man for a thrill or some creep thinking he's teaching his victims lessons by causing them great bodily harm, there's something more going on here. What I was reminded of more than anything as the story played out was the Bill Paxton film Frailty, due to the "on a mission from God to kill" aspect.

Her Name Was Torment really only gives us the set-up, providing the foundation for a story that Mills wants to continue telling over the course of sequels. There are no solid answers, nothing about the movie is straightforward, not even the way the footage is presented. The film is primarily in black and white, sometimes very scratched-up black and white, with blasts of color here and there. Some shots are presented as if they were filmed with an old Super 8 camera, other scenes look as if they're being played on a VHS tape with tracking issues. There are crackling sounds and whispering voices on the soundtrack, there are flashes to demonic (or angelic) visions.

Torment is a very unpleasant movie to watch, a departure from Mills's usual fare and yet with a story that is distinctly his. The style of the film and the images it shows can be very off-putting (I didn't even mention the scene of necrophilia) and I can't say I'm a fan of it exactly, I certainly wouldn't recommend that the average movie watcher check it out and I don't know who I would show it to, but I'm very intrigued by the element of the angels and the Overseer and look forward to seeing where it all goes in future installments.

There is currently an IndieGogo campaign to raise funds for Her Name Was Torment II, with the funding of part 3 included as a stretch goal.

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