Documentary Review: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)

Release Date: February 7th, 2019
Directed by: Xavier Burgin
Written by: Ashlee Blackwell, Danielle Burrows
Based on: Horror Noire by Robin R. Means Coleman
Music by: Timothy Day
Cast: Robin R. Means Coleman, Ashlee Blackwell, Rusty Cundieff, Keith David, Ernest R. Dickerson, Ken Foree, Richard Lawson, Kelly Jo Minter, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Paula Jai Parker, Jordan Peele, Ken Sagoes, Tony Todd, Rachel True

Stage 3 Productions, Shudder, 83 Minutes

Review:

I’ve seen quite a few documentaries on the history of horror as well as ones on blaxploitation and grindhouse movies. What makes this a unique film is that it examines the history of black horror, specifically.

This is well organized, fabulously presented and the thing that really gives this a lot of life is all the people that they were able to bring in and chat about the subject matter.

Also, this was told from the perspective of black people. We were able to see how certain things in movie history effected them, which is refreshing when most documentaries that cover black cinema usually feature a lot of white voices trying to interpret what they assume black people were feeling.

I think that this film gave a lot of clarity to the cultural impact of certain horror tropes regarding minority characters, as well as Hollywood tropes about race in general.

Most importantly, this honors the films it features, as well as all the talent that worked behind the scenes and on the screen.

This is a Shudder exclusive but between this, the new Joe Bob Briggs show and all their great horror film selections, you should already be subscribed. Plus, it’s cheaper than all those other streaming services.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other retrospective documentaries on horror and blaxploitation cinema.

Film Review: Death Spa (1989)

Also known as: Witch Bitch (alternate title)
Release Date: December 1st, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Michael Fischa
Written by: James Bartruff, Mitch Paradise
Music by: Peter D. Kaye
Cast: William Bumiller, Brenda Bakke, Merritt Butrick, Robert Lipton, Karyn Parsons, Ken Foree

Maljack Productions, Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

Death Spa is a film that feels like it was made five years earlier than it actually was. It feels like something from 1984 and not 1989. I know that’s not a big passage of time and the ’80s are the ’80s but it had a sort of mid-’80s pizzazz to it, which was working its way out of cheap horror films by the time this came out and really, it didn’t hit the U.S. market until 1990.

It also feels like it was made by an Italian director on the cheap. It has the same sort of visual vibe as something by Lamberto Bava. It reminds me of his first two Demons movies in its aesthetic, even though it isn’t as gross as those films. This still has some killer gross out moments though, just nothing as utterly insane as Bava’s Demons pictures.

This is also notable for being the final film of Merritt Butrick, who most people will remember as Capt. Kirk’s son David from Star Trek‘s II and III. Weirdly, he is also named David in this. Additionally, this picture has a very small role for Karyn Parsons, who would be best known as Hillary Banks on the ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and as Kid’s girlfriend in Class Act. We also get to see Ken Foree strut his stuff but this is no Dawn of the Dead.

Death Spa isn’t a classic, by any means, but it is strange and bizarre. It has a sort of endearing quality because of its uniqueness.

The threat in the film is this health spa that is haunted by what seems like ghosts living in the club’s high tech system. But then we learn about this dead sister character and she has some sort of witchy powers. I don’t know, it’s a mess and kind of confusing but I don’t watch pictures like this for any sort of coherent anything. Death Spa is really just a total mind fuck.

There are good gory bits like a chick being melted by some sort of acid stuff and a guy whose stomach area starts spraying blood because a workout machine crushes his arms or something. The physics and general anatomy rules that apply in the real world just don’t apply here. It’s very apparent that the filmmakers slept through school, probably flunked out and stole a camera and the keys to a gym to make this picture. The cast was probably just paid in cheap beer and Quaaludes.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Killer WorkoutChopping Mall and Hide and Go Shriek.

Film Review: The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Also known as: House of 1000 Corpses 2, House of 2000 Corpses (working titles)
Release Date: July 22nd, 2005
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Written by: Rob Zombie
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, Matthew McGrory, Ken Foree, William Forsythe, Leslie Easterbrook, E. G. Daily, Geoffrey Lewis, Priscilla Barnes, Kate Norby, Lew Temple, Danny Trejo, Diamond Dallas Page, Brian Posehn, Michael Berryman, P.J. Soles, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Mary Woronov, Tyler Mane, Tom Towles (cameo)

Cinelamda, Lionsgate, 109 Minutes

Review:

“I am the devil, and I am here to do the devil’s work.” – Otis Driftwood

This was a film that I had in constant rotation for a few years after it came out. It has been quite a long time since I’ve seen it, however.

Most of what I remember is that I love the characters of Captain Spaulding and Otis and that they made it a fun experience. Granted, I recently revisited House of 1000 Corpses, so I was reminded of my appreciation for these characters. But they are played by Sid Haig and Bill Moseley, so why wouldn’t they be fantastic?

In the years since this was released, I was disappointed every single time that Rob Zombie made a new movie. Each one seemed to get worse and he showed himself to be a one trick pony. In fact, I gave up and I think I’ve missed a couple of his pictures now.

That being said, this is Rob Zombie’s best movie, as I assume that even the last couple don’t measure up, based off of what I’ve read about them.

This takes the world of House of 1000 Corpses, a decent homage to slashers and the “creepy family in the woods” shtick, and turns it into something else entirely. Where the first film feels like a combination of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, this film is more like Natural Born Killers. This takes the three main characters from the crazy killer family and puts them on the run from the law. And the law is led by a cop that turns out to be just as insane as the killers.

The most interesting thing about this picture is that it flips the script on the bad guys. The ones who tortured and murdered countless people end up in the victim’s chair when the sadistic cop finally has them in his possession. The hunters become the hunted and really, this is a film full of nothing but shitty people doing shitty things to one another. But it is still a neat little experiment to experience.

Sid Haig and Bill Moseley really take their game to a whole new level here and both were fantastic, charismatic and entertaining. Unfortunately, Sheri Moon, Rob Zombie’s wife that he always puts front in center in all of his movies, is pretty terrible. She sort of just exists to be some psychotic eye candy that spends more time showing her butt to the camera than doing anything worthwhile. I’ve also always found her voice to be annoying. Sorry, she just sticks out like a sore thumb in the worst way possible in everything that she is in. This film is no different.

One things this film does well, is it utilizes a lot of old school horror legends in good ways. The characters played by Ken Foree and Michael Berryman are entertaining and add a lot of depth to the film, as just following the three main characters starts to wear thin. Foree really comes in at the right time, diverting some attention away.

The film also has a cool bounty hunter duo played by Danny Trejo and Dallas Page. I liked them a lot and actually wish they got some sort of spin off. They had good chemistry, were enjoyable in their roles and probably have some other stories worth telling.

The most impressive performance, however, was by William Forsythe, who played the psycho sheriff hell bent on revenge against the killer family that murdered his brother in the previous movie. Forsythe was sick and twisted but had a badge and police force to back him up.

The Devil’s Rejects is far from a perfect film but it is better than House of 1000 Corpses and certainly a lot more polished than that film was.

Apparently a sequel is coming, even though the family gets gunned down in the final moments. I’m not looking forward to it though, as this was a good ending to the story and Zombie’s track record since this picture has been terrible.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Its predecessor House of 1000 Corpses.

Film Review: From Beyond (1986)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond
Release Date: October 24th, 1986
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli, Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon
Based on: From Beyond by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

Empire Pictures, 80 Minutes, 85 Minutes (unrated cut)

Review:

“Humans are such easy prey.” – Dr. Edward Pretorius

From Beyond might not be as well-known as Re-Animator but maybe it should be. It is made by the same creative team and even features two of the stars of Re-Animator. Plus, this is also a modern adaptation of another H.P. Lovecraft story. Stuart Gordon made his career off of adapting Lovecraft and this film, may be the most bizarre of all those stories.

To be honest, I like this slightly better than the original Re-Animator but not quite as much as Bride of Re-Animator, my favorite from the series. It is insane in the same way those other films were but this one is different. Where Re-Animator was more like a Lovecraftian version of a Frankenstein story, this is more like Lovecraft mixed with David Cronenberg’s body horror style. Think films like VideodromeThe FlyScanners or The Brood.

Jeffrey Combs is a scientist in this film too but he isn’t like Dr. Herbert West from Re-Animator. He is a good guy that got pulled into some really bad stuff and has been horribly effected by it.

Ted Sorel plays the evil doctor in this. His insane and disfigured Dr. Pretorius (named as an homage to the mad scientist from Bride of Frankenstein) is very similar to David Gale’s villainous Dr. Carl Hill from the first two Re-Animator films.

Barbara Crampton reunites with Combs, as the sexy doctor that is interested in the weird experiments in this story but also gets in way over her head. Horror icon Ken Foree gets some good moments in this film and looked like he was fully invested in his part, especially the more physical demands of this picture.

The special effects in this are friggin’ impressive and eclipse what Gordon and Brian Yuzna did in Re-Animator, a year prior. This is such a colorful film with great lighting, mostly employing a lot of high intensity reds and blues at different levels of depth in the shots. While the visual style probably disguised issues with some of the practical special effects, it actually makes them look even better, as the vivid colors just add to the otherworldly feel.

From Beyond is highly underrated and underappreciated. It is sort of lost to time. When I come across fans of the Re-Animator films, I always ask them what they think about this picture. Often times, I discover that they have never even heard of this movie.

This film is bizarre and unique and a hell of a lot of fun. It is disturbing and uncomfortable but has a charm about it. If you like Re-Animator, I don’t know why you wouldn’t like this.

Film Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Also known as: Zombi (Italy)
Release Date: September 1st, 1978 (Italy)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: Goblin, Dario Argento, De Wolfe Music
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, Joseph Pilato, John Landis

Laurel Group, United Film Distribution Company, 116 Minutes (Italy), 127 Minutes (US)

Review:

I’m reworking my way through The Living Dead series of films. I’m going through the George A. Romero ones first and will then look at the films involving John A. Russo, as the two split the franchise down different creative paths after they made the original Night of the Living Dead in 1968.

The second Romero film and the most highly regarded of the series is this one, Dawn of the Dead.

This film came out ten years later and was a co-production between the United States and Italy, as Romero teamed up with Italian horror and giallo maestro Dario Argento. Argento edited the film for Italian audiences, who would see it first, and also brought in Goblin, who worked with him on the music for several of his pictures, most notably Suspiria, which came out a year before this.

In Italy, the film was released as Zombi and it would spawn a series of unofficial sequels, the most famous being Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. That was released in the States, oddly enough, as Zombie.

To start, Dawn of the Dead is a damn good zombie picture. However, I am in the minority here, as I don’t consider it to be the best of the Romero Living Dead mythos. I actually prefer the other two of the original trilogy and especially consider Day of the Dead to be the best. But I’ll get into why, when I review that one.

Dawn of the Dead is still pretty stellar and it does show the world in a much broader sense than the original. The thing I really liked is that the zombies are everywhere but society hasn’t fully crumbled at the start of the film. Things fall apart over the course of the story, as we learn through television and radio broadcasts until things from the outside world go silent.

In this chapter, two SWAT team members, a helicopter pilot and his girlfriend land on top of a mall. They decide to live there, as it has power and it has all the things they will need to survive and then some.

The bulk of the story deals with the men cleaning out the zombies and securing the mall. They take out the living dead and fortify the entrances by moving semis in front of them. Eventually, things go south when a biker gang shows up, trashes the mall and bring the outside zombies swarming in. This isn’t just a movie where our heroes fight zombies, they also have to deal with a biker gang who want to take their home but ultimately ruin it for everyone.

This is the first film, that I know of, that shows humans having to defend themselves from other humans in a zombie scenario. This was the prototype of almost every zombie story after it. Hell, The Walking Dead is, at this point, a seven season television series based on this concept.

Dawn of the Dead is one of the best zombie movies ever made. To many, it is the best. The trilogy of films it is a part of are responsible for creating the genre and its tropes. It is also interesting, when compared to modern zombie entertainment, as the zombies are still fresh and newly created and therefore, aren’t just ragged flesh hanging off of bones.

Film Review: Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

Release Date: January 12th, 1990
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: David J. Schow
Music by: Jim Manzie, Pat Regan
Cast: Kate Hodge, Viggo Mortensen, William Butler, Ken Foree, Joe Unger, Tom Everett, Toni Hudson, Miriam Byrd Nethery, R.A. Mihailoff

New Line Cinema, 81 Minutes

leatherface_tcm_iiiReview:

This film series just doesn’t hold a candle to A Nightmare On Elm StreetFriday the 13th or Halloween. Already, by the third movie, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise was dead in the water – unlike that magical waterproof and buoyant chainsaw at the end of this film. But if there’s something positive to be said, the film series does get even worse after this.

There really isn’t anything in this chapter of the series that is worth seeing. Sure, it has Viggo Mortensen and horror icon Ken Foree in it but they are also in much better pictures.

As far as personality, Leatherface is a completely different character in Leatherface. I guess he was supposed to be New Line Cinema’s take on the character, as they bought the rights to the series from Cannon Films in an effort to milk a new franchise and iconic monster like they had done with five Freddy Krueger movies before this.

The one takeaway from this movie, is how boring it is. How can a film with a crazy cannibal family and a chainsaw-wielding brute be boring? Somehow director Jeff Burr managed the impossible. Then again, he is also synonymous with directing awful horror sequels. I mean, he directed Stepfather IIPumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, as well as Puppet Master 4 and 5.

Viggo Mortensen and Ken Foree are about the only people with any sort of charisma in Leatherface. The acting is pretty atrocious, all around. The creepy cannibal girl is just bizarre in the worst way, the helpful girl in the woods is pointless and the two main actors weren’t likable. The cannibal family wasn’t even remotely scary, they just seemed like throwaway redneck side characters.

The final battle between Ken Foree and Leahterface is one of the worst fights I’ve seen in a horror movie from this era. I’m not sure how a chainsaw runs and floats in the water with the blade upright. Apparently, no one who worked on this film understands common sense physics.

Leatherface is an awful film.