Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I’ve had sequel columns before, but this one really runs the gamut of what makes for a good and bad follow-up. Along with the second outings, I tossed in some other films involving twos that seemed fitting as well. So enjoy all of that below!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER (1964)
Retro-review: THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (1967)
Retro-review: THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (1967)
Retro-review: POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE (1986)
Retro-Review: TROLL II (1990)
Retro-review: CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH PART 2: SUBHUMANOID MELTDOWN (1991)
Retro-review: JEEPERS CREEPERS 2 (2003)
DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)
SADAKO VS. KAYAKO (2016)
STAKELAND 2 (2016)
And finally…Suspense: You Can’t Die Twice!
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Kino Lorber Redemption!
DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER (1964)aka THE MISTRESSES OF DR. JEKYLL, BRIDES OF DR. JEKYLL, DR. JEKYLL’S MISTRESSES, THE SECRET OF DR. JEKYLL
Directed by Jesús Franco
Written by Jesús Franco, Nicole Guettard, A. Norévo
Starring Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui, Luisa Sala, Hugo Blanco, Agnès Spaak, Perla Cristal, Magda Maldonado, Pepe Rubio, Pastor Serrador, Marta Reves, Daniel Blumer, Manuel Guitián, Mer Casas, Rafael Hernández, José Truchado, Juan Antonio Soler, Javier de Rivera, Julio Infiesta, Ramón Lillo, Julia Toboso, Maribel Hidalgo, Pedro Fenollar, Jesús Franco
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Jess Franco’s loose follow up to THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, which borrowed aspects of many mad science films, does the same with this one. Still, with DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER (note the odd difference in spelling of Orlof from the first film to the second), Franco manages to offer up the filmmaker’s most genuinely fun monster movie magic.
In the opening minutes, Dr. Orloff passes on his knowledge of “creating a robot” to his student Dr. Conrad Jekyll (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui) from his deathbed. Jekyll, who was recently betrayed by both his wife and brother Andros (Hugo Blanco), murders his brother and uses the body to create an automaton which is basically a reanimated corpse revived by sound waves. Jekyll then proceeds to use Andros to fulfill a bloodlust that has cursed him since his betrayal. When Andros’ daughter Melissa (Agnès Spaak) arrives at Jekyll’s castle to claim an inheritance, she finds herself in the middle of a murder spree and the reanimated corpse of her dead father.
Much like THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF before it, Franco’s script feels like it has been cobbled together from parts of other films. There’s the mad scientist angle from FRANKENSTEIN, the use of a robot like minion to carry out evil deeds from THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and an out and out swipe of the name Jekyll from DR. JEKYLL & MY HYDE. Still, despite the lifts from other films, the film itself plays out rather nicely. Orlof (or Orloff) isn’t really a major part in this film. His work, though, lives on beyond him and seeing all of these elements play out through Franco’s gothic lens is rather amazing. Franco makes all of the elements work even through the story is a bit rocky.
Franco does this by constructing some fantastically moody and atmospheric scenery for this wacky tale of mad science to play out in. The cobblestone ruins of the castle and the dark streets Andros walks through make for long and creepy shadow-play. Franco seems to be championing the Universal style here, but his European roots highlighting some more sophisticated work with lights and darks really do shine through here. While this is a very dark film, it is never obscured to the point where you can’t tell what kind of action is going on and these scenes of action punctuate a truly lurid and sordid tale of deceit, revenge, and murder.
Shades of Franco’s later work which focus highly on the female form come to play heavily here as well. Jekyll tends to hang out in opium dens and brothels, giving Franco the opportunity to screech the narrative to a halt in order to focus on a sultry dance number by a scantily clad woman. These scenes become more prominent in Franco’s later films, but here at least he injects more story in between dance numbers. In addition to trailers, 11 minutes of footage is offered up in the special features that “fleshes out” these dance scenes and the dressing room sequences that highlight more of the murders Jekyll commits through his proxy Andros. All in all, DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER offers up another mad scientist in the halls of horror. While he is not so original, Franco’s Orloff does feel like a nice mix of the headier and more experimental horrors of European cinema set to the template of a typical Universal monster movie.
Sorry, couldn’t find a trailer for this one.
Retro-review: New this week on DVD/BluRay from Synapse Films!
THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (1967)aka THIS NIGHT WILL MAKE YOUR CORPSE INCARNATE, TONIGHT I WILL EAT YOUR CORPSE, TONIGHT I WILL ENTER YOUR CORPSE, TONIGHT I WILL MAKE YOUR CORPSE TURN RED, TONIGHT I WILL PAINT IN FLESH COLOR, TONIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE
Directed by José Mojica Marins
Written by Aldenora De Sa Porto, José Mojica Marins
Starring José Mojica Marins, Tina Wohlers, Nadia Freitas, Antonio Fracari, Jose Lobo, Esmeralda Ruchel, Paula Ramos, Tania Mendonça, Laércio Laurelli
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The second Coffin Joe film, following AT MIDNIGHT I WILL EAT YOUR SOUL (which I will be covering in an upcoming column), is another mouthful of a title THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE. Not to be confused with Coffin Joe’s final film, NEXT TUESDAY I WILL WEAR YOUR ASS AS A HAT…
Joking, of course. But the Coffin Joe phenomenon is something I have yet to cover here on AICN HORROR and with Synapse’s rerelease of José Mojica Marins’ first two Coffin Joe films, it’s a damn fine time to do it.
THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE is a pretty phenomenal little film which begins right where the Coffin Joe’s first film AT MIDNIGHT I WILL EAT YOUR SOUL leaves off. Coffin Joe or Zé do Caixão (writer/director José Mojica Marins) survives and is revived in a hospital where he may continue to look for the perfect woman to mate with so that he can create the perfect child. Upon release of the hospital, a half dozen women disappear from the city’s streets. Able to put two and two together, the town immediately blames Zé do Caixão, but he proclaims his innocence and vows to find the kidnapper. Meanwhile, back at his lair, he puts the women through a rigorous test to see which is the most perfect in order to have his child. But as one of them dies, she curses him with the phrase “This night I will possess your corpse!” which Joe initially scoffs at, but after he impregnates the daughter of the town aristocrat, he begins to have fever dreams of going to hell and is overcome with guilt over killing his victims. The whole thing ends Universal Monster style with the townsfolk taking up axes, torches, and guns to hunt down Coffin Joe for his nefarious deeds.
Mixing the classical Universal Monster style with some psychedelic trippyness and a pinch of philosophical existentialism, THIS NIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE is actually a pretty heady little film. Unlike many one dimensional moustache twirling villains of the past, Coffin Joe has a real motivation to live on through his son. Now, he also wants to be immortal and pass on his power to his son, but this film really does have an emotional core that runs deeper than most monster movies of its time. Coffin Joe himself is sort of a mix between Count Dracula, in that he is talking about both immortality and uses seduction as a means to achieve his evil means, and a mad scientist pontificating about the thin barrier between man and god and life and death.
Much of this film is made up of Coffin Joe pontificating about life and death to his hunchbacked man-servant or his intended victims (and sometimes directly to the audience themselves). This can get to be a bit tedious and overly melodramatic at times and I must admit there were a few times I was looking at the clock on the wall wondering how long this film actually was. That said, without getting too deep, Marins does make everything look gothic and fun. His gaunt persona is completed by wearing a top hat and cape and sporting extra long fingernails which actually seem to be real (according to the documentary footage), Coffin Joe is an iconic persona that isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions, not really worrying about finding the answers. If anything, these Coffin Joe films depict a man in search of the meaning of life, thinking he can control it, and then coming to the grim conclusion that he cannot. In THIS NIGHT I WLL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE, his character goes through this complete existential metamorphosis and while as times I admit to being a bit bored, it is a rather fascinating and sophisticated journey.
This is especially impressive because Marins did so much with so little. The effects on display in this film are rudimentary to say the least. Real spiders and snakes are used and while they look creepy crawling over the bodies of the beautiful women, there is still an air of hokiness as we know these creatures are pretty harmless. Marins places the entire film in a typical gothic style town with brick streets and ramshackle buildings. But his real attention to warped detail comes from the scenes within Coffin Joe’s lair which is full of uneven angles and gothic architecture. Marins goes all out during the dream sequence which takes place in a Technicolor hell where and endless line of souls are tortured by demons brandishing tridents. The climax of the film goes back to the gothic with a chase through a swamp filled with smoky forest, quicksand, and floating skeletons.
There is a lot of flowery speech and elaborate spectacle in THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR SOUL, but there is also a definite talent behind Marins rudimentary film. This macabre anti-hero is made fascinating by a more complex back-story than most and the surroundings Marins put him in makes for a film that looks like a classic from the beginning of cinema but with the questions and sensibilities of a more modern film.
This Special Edition release comes with a few featurettes; a making of the film documentary, a tour of the Coffin Joe Museum, an explanation of the Universe of Coffin Joe, an interview with the writer/director/star as well as trailers and a still gallery of rare photos. If you’re a fan of Coffin Joe and the cinema of the weird, you won’t want to miss this one.
Retro-review: Recently released on BluRay with THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST Collection from Arrow Films/MVD Visual!
THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (1967)Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Written by Allison Louise Downe
Starring Elizabeth Davis, Gretchen Wells, Chris Martell, Rodney Bedell, Ronnie Cass, Karl Stoeber, Dianne Wilhite, Andrea Barr, Dianne Raymond, Sherry Robinson, Marcelle Bichette, Mike Todd
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The amazing Arrow Films and MVD Visual have put together the ultimate collection of films and specials focusing on the true Godfather of the Gruesome, Herschell Gordon Lewis. I totally missed the news that Lewis passed away this past September and hearing the news really hit me this week as I had a chance to chat with Lewis a few years ago and found him to be an absolutely charming and fascinating man. Here’s another one of his most infamous films, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME from this awesome collection.
THE GRUESOME TWOSOME begins with two Styrofoam heads done up to look like women wearing wigs talking to one another about the premise of the movie. This conversation goes on for an excruciatingly long time (later I would read that the film’s length was so short, Lewis decided to add in the extra scene to make the magic 70 minute mark), until we switch scenes to a wig shop owned by a kindly looking old lady named Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis) and her mentally challenged son Rodney (Chris Martell). Mrs. Pringle prides herself on the most realistic looking wigs in town and it seems all the girls are cutting their hair short just so they could wear her wigs. But Mrs. Pringle’s trade secret is that her wigs are made from actual scalps taken from beautiful young girls who happen to enter the secret back room of the shop occupied by Rodney and his cutlery instruments. One by one, the ladies end up being sliced and diced by Rodney until one Junior detective named Kathy (Gretchen Wells) with a tendency for getting herself caught up in trouble begins to track all of the missing girls to the wig shop. Besting the police and the newspapers, Kathy ends up getting closer to the truth, but will she survive once she uncovers it?
As with many of Lewis’ films, the premise is better than the execution. Filmed on a zero budget, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME seems to want to make you laugh as much as wince. But while the effects are nice and gory, the humor lacks as much potency. Those looking for old school gore effects are going to have the most fun with this film as Lewis isn’t shy on the red stuff. And while there are extended scenes of Rodney dissecting his victims and playing with the organs, the Day-Glo red blood and the fact that the victims can’t keep their eyes from blinking and moving (despite the fact that they’re supposed to be dead) really make it hard to take seriously. At the same time, though, the attempts at humor, such as Mrs. Pringle announcing every line she utters to the back bleachers, and her constant references to her stuffed cat Napoleon, flop like pancakes over and over.
THE GRUESOME TWOSOME may not be high art, but it does have some moments of absurdity that make it somewhat digestible such as the aforementioned Styrofoam head monologue and an odd scene where all the gals dance in their bedroom whilst eating fried chicken. Still, this film is going to be tough for most to stomach. Not for the gore, but because it really is amateur filmmaking at its worst. Horrible acting, featherweight story, and paced to ensure boredom, this is not one of Lewis’ best. It is interesting that Lewis attempted to add humor to the gore, but still, that doesn’t make it entertaining. See it for the gore, fast forward past the rest.
Somewhere Lewis is looking down and smiling that this collection was made and more people can be nauseated and offended by his legacy. I can’t wait to revisit the rest of the films in this collection. Look for more reviews of Lewis’ films featured in THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST in upcoming columns of AICN HORROR!
HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE
THE WIZARD OF GORE
THE GORE GORE GIRLS
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from TheShout Factory!
POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE (1986)Directed by Brian Gibson
Written by Mark Victor, Michael Grais
Starring JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O'Rourke, Oliver Robins, Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sampson, Julian Beck, Geraldine Fitzgerald, John P. Whitecloud, Whit Hertford, & Noble Craig as the Vomit Creature!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I’ll most likely get to reviewing the original POLTERGEIST one of these days, but I did review the POLTERGEIST remake a while back, so returning to this series to check out the sequel was a joy for me as I remember loving both this film and the original very much as a kid. Revisiting POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE ended up highlighting some huge flaws with the story as well as the way they are executed, but I still found some stuff to like.
Set a short time after the events of the first film; the Freeling family are still homeless after poltergeists destroyed their first home and living with the mother of Diane (JoBeth Williams). Diane’s mother Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald) notices that cute little Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) has psychic abilities which make her a target for dark forces on the other side of life, including one particularly creepy, evil spirit named Reverend Kane (Julian Beck) who lead his flock to a cave that happens to rest on the same site as the old Freeling home. Now, with Carol Anne once again in danger of abduction by evil spirits, a Native American shaman named Taylor (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST’s Will Sampson) prepares Freeling patriarch Steven (Craig T. Nelson) to defend his family from these evil forces.
Upon watching POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE I noticed something interesting. This sequel does a complete 180 in terms of who those pesky poltergeists really are. In the original, it is said that the cause of the problem is that the house rests atop a Native American burial ground, but in the sequel, the “real” cause is the religious folk lead by Kane buried…under the Native American burial ground, I guess?!? This shifts the cause of the calamity from the noble Native Americans to a white religious zealot misleading his flock to perish in the caves below. I don’t know why this change was made in 1986, though if it were made today with the abundant PC culture guiding the way, I would understand the change a bit more. Either way, it really muddies up the connective tissue between the original and the sequel.
The story itself is kind of a mess, retroactive history aside. The film seems full of inconsistencies and moments that seem rushed or truncated. The final showdown with Kane (who passed away before his part could be completed) is especially short, taking only about five minutes for the whole family to band together in order to defeat it with the power of love. While there is a strong familial bond exploited in this film, it relies way too much on the relationships that were developed so well in the original. Had one gone into this film not knowing about the strength that the family portrayed in the first film when their daughter was sucked into the television, they definitely wouldn’t have seen it here as there seems to be more attention focused on the shaman stuff rather than actual strong moments of familial strength.
That said, this film gets pretty damn nasty when it wants to be. I remember always getting a sick feeling about this film when I used to watch it on Showtime many moons ago. But upon re-watching, I realized that there are portions of this film that go darker than the Amblin-esque original ever intended. This is most evident when Steven swallows a Tequila worm and becomes possessed by Kane’s spirit. He then proceeds to attempt to rape Diane while telling her that she wished she had never had Carol Anne (within earshot of Carol Anne none-the-fucking-less). While the original had the pizza faced guy ripping his face off, creeping meat, scary clown dolls, trees with mouths, and a pool full of skeletons, it doesn’t get into the dark abuse stuff that shows up here and this scene in particular seems to be way out of left field. There’s more than one instance of a reliance on the sauce in this one too as we find out, while Steven’s choice of booze is tequila, Diane prefers Jack Daniels on the rocks. Again, I don’t know why everyone is drinking so much. Maybe it was a sign of the times, but it just felt less sweet and saccharinated as the original.
While this film lost a lot of it’s family friendly luster, it does have a few horrific moments that almost redeems it. Kane (Julian Beck) is iconic in every scene he is in (though he is only in three scenes of the film). His thinly veiled friendliness is menacing coming from his gaunt visage and wispy voice. The scene where he is screaming at Steven to let him in through the screen door is nightmare fuel. Also effective is the vomit monster which Steven pukes up after overcoming the possession by Kane. ALIEN designer H. R. Giger wasn’t happy with the way his designs for POLTERGEIST II were brought to life, but his vomit monster, which is obviously played by either a short person or a man with no arms and legs, is memorably grotesque. Too bad the final beast creature which is supposed to be Kane’s true form (a design used to make up for Beck’s absence after his passing) is never really seen other than in quickly edited and blurred action shots. Even obscured by edits and camera trickery, the monster simply lacks bite and doesn’t stand up to the power of Beck’s gaunt look in the first half of the film.
I loved the Freelings from the first film and I guess it was good that we got to see them again in this sequel. By this second film, Williams and Nelson seem comfortable together. Carol Anne is still cute. And Robby (Oliver Robins) again proves useless to the plot and only serves to have another kid in peril—this time his braces animate and mummify him in the bathroom. There’s a few flying tools (one of them a chainsaw which felt like a nod to the original director, Tobe Hooper’s roots) and some decent animated ghost things, but way too much of this film relied on the shaman stuff involving some lame running gag about Steven’s car being unhappy and Steven and Taylor bonding in a sweat teepee. With the first film basically being the template for all haunted house films to follow (even to this day), the second seems to want to try something new, but failed miserably. While there are some fun effects, the film lacks the heart and soul of the original and leaves you with too quick a resolution and lame jokes.
This new Shout Factory Special Edition BluRay comes with audio commentary tracks from writer/producer Michael Grais and POLTERGEIST II Webmaster David Furtney, an new interview with Robby aka Oliver Robins, a new interview with special effects designers Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson & Screaming Mad George, a new “Ghosts Of Giger” which highlights Giger’s contribution to the film, plus vintage featurettes “They're Back: The Making Of Poltergeist II,” and “Monster Shop And Ghostmakers: The Magic Of Poltergeist II.”
Retro-review: New this week as part of a Double Feature Bluray from The Shout Factory!
TROLL 2 (1990)aka TROLLS, GOBLINS
Directed by Claudio Fragasso (as Drake Floyd)
Written by Rossella Drudi & Claudio Fragasso
Starring Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie Young, Robert Ormsby, Deborah Reed, Jason Wright, Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman, David McConnell, Gary Carlston, Mike Hamill, Christina Reynolds, Glenn Gerner
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Not that the original TROLL was a masterpiece, but compared to this sequel it’s damn near Shakespeare.
In TROLL 2, a kid pisses on a dinner table, murders an entire town with a double-decker bologna sandwich and good vibes, then peeps on his mom in the shower. More happens in TROLL 2, buts that’s basically the stuff I took away from it.
Dubbed one of the worst movies of all time (though I’ve seen worse, unfortunately, while writing this column), TROLL 2 really has nothing to do with the original TROLL film other than the fact that some folks are turned into trees and some of the horrible, un-articulated Troll masks might have been swiped from the original’s storage locker. The story begins with a peppy young lad frolicking through the woods when he is suddenly accosted by a tribe of spear wielding trolls. Turns out this opener is a tale told to a young, freckle-faced boy named Joshua Waits (Michael Paul Stephenson) by his elderly Grandpa Seth (who, we find out later, happens to be dead). Turns out Joshua and his family are going to do a house-swap with a family from the country town of Nilbog (I guess they did that back in the day in the same alternate reality this film was made in). Upon arriving in Nilbog, Joshua is sent a vision from his grandpa that he is in grave danger and the young boy is the only one who can save them. Meanwhile, a trio of dudes follow the family to Nilbog because one of them is dating Joshua’s sister Holly (Connie Young) who is a horrible dancer and apparently, a weightlifter. The evil Goblin queen Creedence (Deborah Reed) is stalking the family and trying to get them to eat her cursed baked goods in order to turn them into goblins like the rest of the town of Nilbog, which is the word “goblin” spelled backwards. Yep, that’s as clever as this one gets, folks.
TROLL 2 was made by an Italian director named Claudio Fragasso who didn’t speak English with a cast that didn’t speak Italian. I also found it interesting that all of the actors who auditioned for their roles in TROLL 2 were there to play extras, yet somehow got leading roles in the film. These two reasons might be what makes TROLL 2 feel as if it were made on some other world by something other than human beings. Apparenly, Fragasso and his co-writer Rossella Drudi wrote the script not knowing English and instead of make it feel more naturally American and having the cast rework their lines, the director insisted that they read the line verbatim. This would account for such horrific lines like “I'm the victim of a nocturnal rapture. I have to release my lowest instincts with a woman.” and “There're sandwiches for tonight in here! It'll go easier on you if you eat'em. It'll make our work easy. Otherwise, we'll be forced to kill you VIOLENTLY!” and who can forget “They're eating her... and then they're going to eat me... OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!” Some could accuse David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, and Kevin Smith of writing unrealistic lines, but at least they make sense to the story and have some kind of artistic merit.
With TROLL 2, not only are the lines unnatural, but they are uttered in a robot-like fashion as if the cast is reading from cue cards just off camera (see any skit from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE for a prime example). Nothing is natural in this film. Logic is tossed out the window. The acting is either wide-eyed and seemingly fearful of being in front of the camera (Margo Prey’s mom character is the worst) or playing to the cheap seats (Deborah Reed’s Creedence is the perfect example of that). You know it’s pretty bad when the kid actor is the best of the bunch. And even any inkling of artistic merit either feels lifted from other films (the Grandpa telling the story to the kid opening is straight from THE PRINCESS BRIDE) or simply rushed together in order to get to the end of the story.
Nonsensical, poorly made, and utterly pointless, TROLL 2 is the type of film you watch while drunk with friends. It’s something to laugh at. It’s quite obvious that no one in the film knew how to make, write, or act in a film before. It’s the worst type of sequel—the kind that has nothing to do with the original and only uses the name as a marketing tool to fool viewers into watching it.
This double feature Special Edition Bluray is light on special features, but it does come with a commentary track from actors George Hardy & Deborah Reed, as well as a second disk featuring the documentary about the making of TROLL 2 called BEST WORST MOVIE.
Retro-review: Available on Bluray from Troma!
CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH PART 2: SUBHUMANOID MELTDOWN (1991)Directed by Eric Louzil
Written by Lloyd Kaufman, Matt Unger, & Carl Morano (original story), Lloyd Kaufman, Matt Unger, Carl Morano, Eric Louzil, Mark F. Roling, & Jeffrey W. Sass (screenplay)
Starring Brick Bronsky, Lisa Gaye, Leesa Rowland, Michael Kurtz, Scott Resnick, Jackie Moen, Robert Dawson, Phil Rivo, Erica Frank, Sharon E. Gardner, Bea Lindgren, Paul Borghese, Lloyd Kaufman, Alex Pirnie as the Mutant Squirrel, and Thomas Perry as The Toxic Avenger!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I recently covered RETURN TO CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH, a spinoff of this sequel to the Troma hit CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH from Troma’s heyday. This sequel is light on plot and even lighter on class, but still manages to ooze that Troma goodness we’ve all come to know and love.
A buff and naïve journalism student named Roger (Brick Bronsky) volunteers at the highly radioactive Nuke ‘Em High at the Tromaville Institute of Technology for a sex experiment in which he must wear a blindfold and have sex with a nubile young test subject named Victoria (Leesa Rowland). Turns out Victoria is one of many radioactive experiments grown from a Petri dish by the genius, buxom, and high haired Professor Holt (Lisa Gaye). Roger and Victoria end up falling in love, but they don’t know that eventually, all of the synthetic people (who happen to have mouths where their bellybuttons should be), will melt into little balls of growling green goo. Now Roger and Victoria race against time and a giant, rampaging, radioactive squirrel to save their lives and their love.
Guys, this is Troma. But it’s mid-eighties Troma, so that means it’s going to have a lot of sleaze and a lot of gore. And that’s pretty much the only thing CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH has going for it. The acting is putrid and the film seems like it was made with a bunch of folks you meet in a dive bar who showed up to the filming for free food and beer.
But for what it is, which is sleazy, this film does its job very capably. Every woman in this film is wearing a bikini and most of them take them off numerous times for no reason at all. When I first saw this film as a budding teen, I loved it because of all of the gore and nudity, and if you want to embrace your inner hormone driven teen, you probably will love it too. Story, plot, and acting aren’t really a concern. But hey look—BOOBS! That’s basically what this film does and, putting my inner film snob away, I have to love this film for it. As always with Troma films, the movie doesn’t really end as much as it kind of just erupts into a street party with all of the characters, but they do end up trying to tie the plot threads together in a semi-functional way by resolving the conflict between the star crossed lovers. All in all, this is just another excuse for the freaks at Troma to have another party and film it. Not as much fun as the TOXIC AVENGER movies, but better than most Troma stuff, CLASSOF NUKE ‘EM HIGH 2: SUBHUMANOID MELTDOWN excels at what Troma does best—gore and BOOBS!
If you’re looking or class, though, try another high school.
BEWARE: This trailer has lots of boobs in it…radioactive boobs! But it’s TROMA so what do you expect?
Retro-review: Available on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
JEEPERS CREEPERS 2 (2003)aka LIKE HELL: JEEPERS CREEPERS 2, JEEPERS CREEPERS 2: THE SECOND NIGHT
Directed by Victor Salva
Written by Victor Salva
Starring Ray Wise, Nicki Aycox, Garikayi Mutambirwa, Eric Nenninger, Travis Schiffner, Lena Cardwell, Billy Aaron Brown, Marieh Delfino, Diane Delano, Thom Gossom Jr., Tom Tarantini, Al Santos, Josh Hammond, Kasan Butcher, Drew Tyler Bell, Luke Edwards, Shaun Fleming, Jon Powell, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck as the Creeper!
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
JEEPERS CREEPERS was a film that came out of the gates with both guns blazing. Sporting an iconic character, a simple road movie plot, some fun acting, and a taste for gore and perversion, the film really did hit home with audiences and the Creeper became somewhat of a household name. The follow-up, while lacking in a few essential things that made the original a modern classic, still delivers some down-right horror movie goodness.
Every 23rd Spring, it feasts for 23 days. That’s all we get in the opening scrawl of JEEPERS CREEPERS II before it leaps right into a daytime horror scene set in an open field as a boy hangs up scarecrows. After the boy is abducted by the Creeper, leaving grieving father Jack Taggert (Ray Wise) behind, we cut to a busload of jocks and a smattering of cheerleaders and coaching crew as they make their way home after winning the big game. When the bus breaks down in the middle of open fields on either side, they soon realize that the Creeper has his eye on a select few of the kids on board and with one night left to feed, the Creeper is bound and determined to get what he’s hankerin’ for. Meanwhile, Jack Taggert is on the road with a while lot of vengeance on his mind and a harpoon gun in the back of his truck.
Now, I know it is hard to look past Victor Salva’s notorious past for many. While I try to judge a film on its merits, not on the history and personal life of the people behind the film, it is difficult to do sometimes and that is especially true with JEEPERS CREEPERS II as Salva seems to go out of his way throughout the film to depict the entire football team as shirtless boy-beasts running around grunting tough guy lines. The sheer amount of scenes where these guys, for no real reason, take their shirts off was enough to make me squirm. But even while one could say this is an establishing shot of the kids set up in a clever juxtaposition and scene transition (the teens sunning on the bus is set up to be in the same position a picture of one of the Creeper’s knives is in making for a fun little bridge between scenes), it still feels creepy and fetishistic and it’s a feeling that is hard to shake given that scene after scene of shirtless teens occurs throughout this film. One would think that Salva would avoid this, given his sordid history, but its almost an in your face F.U. to his critics who gave him crap about the relentless pursuit of Justin Long by the Creeper in the original, filled with all sorts of perversions such as sniffing his underwear and tearing his shirt off to reveal a tattoo on Long’s bellybutton (something that is highlighted once again in this film in a dream-like flashback). Given that this is a film about a monster who stalks teens in the middle of nowhere, maybe this is Salva’s way of taking care of his inner demons. Either way, it made me feel rather ooky the entire way through.
That said, I have to give it to Salva, he really knows how to make a thrilling movie on a somewhat simple, yet still most likely bigger budget than most, budget. The film takes place in and around a bus on a small stretch of the road for the better part of the film. That’s not a lot of sets to manage, but Salva makes the most of it. One would think that setting the whole thing on a crowded bus would get tedious, but there are enough adventures in and around the bus that occur in this one to make it last. Salva does have a gift for setting up some tense scenes, as he does numerous times leading in to the discovery of just what is stalking the kids and swooping around the bus like a circling vulture.
The story of JEEPERS CREEPRS II is a mixed bag of fun little details and some what the fuck moments of script-fuckery. I love the idea of Jack Taggert roaming the countryside with a giant harpoon gun strapped to his truck like a modern day Ahab after his white whale Creeper. While Wise’s Taggert is not in this film a lot, he does make for the most thrilling scenes as Salva evokes films like JAWS as the Creeper gets tethered to the truck and ends up dragging it across the road and into the bus. The way Taggert yells at his son is reminiscent of the way Quint screams at Hooper in Spielberg’s shark tale.
But then, as a means for the kids to understand just what the fuck is going on, Salva injects a psychic girl Minxy (the adorable Nicki Aycox) who dreams about the Creeper and his victims and suddenly becomes an info dumpster, reciting what the Creeper is and what his purpose is. I don’t know why the kids need to know all of the details Minxy tells the crew. I think it would have been more powerful for these kids to face the Creeper without knowing shit about him and having to survive on their own wits without the help of a psychic dream. This felt like Salva painted himself in a corner script-wise and used magic to get himself out. In terms of story, the film’s main problem is that there are too many characters and not one clear central character. I guess one would say the emotional investment is in Jack Taggert and his quest for revenge, but that would make the busload of kids tertiary. But since the film focuses most of the action on the kids in the bus, it doesn’t make sense to only show your protagonist in a few key scenes. In some ways, this makes it harder to pin down the usual horror movie tropes as to who lives and who dies, but it also feels like we never really get to know anyone enough to care.
As with the original, the effects here are pretty amazing. Be it the cool way the CG Creeper flies away with its articulated bat wings or the simple practical effects when the Creeper is blown to bits, yet still relentlessly pursuing its prey. All of this looks great here and while I think the flirtation scene where the Creeper picks his favorite kids from a lineup from outside the bus was a little over the top, Jonathan Breck does a great job of bringing some iconic menace to the character.
This Special Edition BluRay goes all out in terms of bells and whistles. It’s got two disks full of features such as audio commentary tracks from writer/director Victor Salva and cast members, another by Jonathan Breck (The Creeper), Brad Parker (Production Illustrator) & Brian Penikas (Special Effects Makeup), new featurettes “Jeepers Creepers 2: Then And Now” interviewing cast and crew, “A Father's Revenge” interviewing actor Ray Wise, “Don't Get Off The Bus” interviewing actors Tom Tarantini, Thom Gossom Jr. & Diane Delano, “A Day In Hell” taking a behind the scenes look at a day in the filming of the movie, “Lights, Camera, Creeper: The Making Of Jeepers Creepers 2”, “Creeper Composer” interviewing composer Bennett Salvay & writer/director Victor Salva, effects featurettes “Creeper Creation” and “The Orphanage Visual Effects Reel”, storyboard renditions of scenes not filmed such as the Creeper’s Lair and the Creeper’s Ventriloquist gag, deleted scenes, photos, and trailers.
That’s a whole hell of a lot about a sometimes disturbing, yet still technically awesome little film.
New in select theaters and On Demand from IFC Midnight!
DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)Directed by Caradog W. James
Written by Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler
Starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton, Nick Moran, Jordan Bolger, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Richard Mylan, Megan Purvis, Callum Griffiths, Celyn Evans, Gabriel Trimble, Broughton Davies David, and Javier Botet as the demon-witch thing!
Find out more about this film here, @DontKnockTwice, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While films of this kind, where a woman faces a terrible curse that threatens to wreck her family, have been a cornerstone of horror for ages. Still, the recent glut of movies of this type which seem to want to be a tentpole film for either a rising female star or a possible franchise comparable to the INSIDIOUS/CONJURING/SINISTER films or both is getting really tiresome. That said, DON’T KNOCK TWICE, despite some moronic rules and an all over the place ending, contains a few nice jolts and some decent performances.
Recovering addict Jess (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’S Katee Sackhoff) has straightened out and makes a living as a sculptor, so she decides it’s high time to try to reconnect with her teenage daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton). Growing up in an orphanage, Chloe has had her fair share of trouble, including driving a local old lady nuts by continuously knocking on her door and running away. Seems the old lady ends up hanging herself when the elderly shut in is accused of kidnapping a local missing boy. As a lark, Chloe and her boyfriend decide to knock twice on the abandoned home of the old lady for old times sake. But when her boyfriend disappears, Chloe believes the ghost of the old woman is out to get her and she decides to take Jess up on the offer to stay in her new home. This pairs mother and daughter against a twisted demon creature who likes to rap twice on your door before dragging you to hell.
Focusing on the good first; there are quite a few nicely choreographed scare scenes that I will admit gave me a start. These mostly are simply well constructed jump scares, but at least they aren’t the typical false jump scares, as they actually have some scary imagery to back it up. These scares occur in the earlier parts of the film as we are trying to figure out just what is going on, what are the rules of the horror in this movie, and the like. Director Caradog W. James, who dazzled in his first film THE MACHINE, at least knows how to set up scares in a way that really do work. I also have to compliment the actors Sackhoff and Boynton. Both of these actresses are strong in their roles and really do make you want to care about these characters even though they do some pretty dumb stuff later in the film.
The whole premise itself is rather flimsy. Who knocks twice? For the most part it’s usual a triple tap or an incessant knock till the door opens, but knocking twice just doesn’t seem like something someone does. Maybe it’s something I missed in my novice years in knocking. But if that were the only problem with this film, I wouldn’t have much issue with it. The main problem with DON’T KNOCK TWICE comes towards the tail end of the film where the film sort of just flops in on itself. There are red herrings, false endings, and then there’s the whole part where they get the bright idea to burn all of the doors in the house in an attempt to keep the demon from knocking. This is followed by a scene where the demon basically says, “Fuck you, you door burning mother ‘effers! I can make a door wherever I want!” and swiftly does so, making the hours the Sackhoff and Boynton spent taking all of the doors off the hinges, carting them to the front lawn, and setting them ablaze utterly pointless. It’s nonsensical decisions like this that make the latter half of this film simply ineffective and illogical since the film is so busy trying to throw people off and set up red herrings that it forgets to really establish a world and rules as to what this creature is and how it can be defeated.
Speaking of the creature, it is once again played by Javier Botet. I say once again because if you’ve seen MAMA or if you’ve seen another door movie called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR or if you’ve seen [REC], then you know this actor (he is currently filming another creepy role in the upcoming IT movie). He is a lanky, Doug Jones body type, who mainly is shown either standing in the distance awkwardly or crawling towards the hero/heroine like THE GRUDGE girl with knobby outstretched fingers. This is admittedly a gruesome effect, but I feel Botet needs to up his repertoire a bit as he basically is doing the same crawls, scary walks, and posing that he’s done in the aforementioned films. Having seen these films, seeing him crawl, scary walk, and pose the exact same way in DON’T KNOCK TWICE is simply ineffectual after multiple viewings. The guy is creepily proportioned and always brings it in each performance, but directors, have Botet do something different please.
DON’T KNOCK TWICE isn’t a bad film. It’s just confused at the end as to where it wants to end up. There are plenty of great scenes that highlight both Sackhoff and Boynton’s skills as actors and director Caradog W. James’ ability to make potent scares on a smaller budget. The problem is that too much of this film has been seen before and the attempts to make things new and different end up being not well thought out.
Available now exclusively on Shudder!
SADAKO VS. KAYAKO (2016)Directed by Kôji Shiraishi
Written by Takashi Shimizu, Kôji Suzuki
Starring Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro, Aimi Satsukawa, Misato Tanaka, Masahiro Kômoto, Masanobu Andô, Ichiruko Dômen, Maiko Kikuchi, Masayoshi Matsushima, Rintaro Shibamoto as Toshio Saeki the Meowing Boy, Runa Endo as Kayako Saeki and Elly Nanami as Sadako Yamamura!
Find out more about this film here, @kayakovssadako, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
I really haven’t covered much of the J-horror phenomenon. The trend was sort of fizzled out by the time I began reviewing for AICN HORROR in 2010. So other than the truly forgettable SADAKO 3D,which was released a while back, I can’t say I’ve been up on my crawling, clucking, meowing, hair in the eyes, pale, Asian nightmare people. But even though I am somewhat of a novice when it comes to THE RING and GRUDGE movies…I’m sorry, RINGU and JU-ON movies, I don’t really feel you have to when it comes to enjoying SADAKO VS. KAYAKO.
The cool thing about SADAKO VS. KAYAKO is that is basically tells two movies in one. For a large part of this film, we are told two separate tales, both of them typical RINGU and JU-ON narratives. One if them where someone finds a video tape, plays it, and then has two days before Sadako shows up crawling at them from their TV, the other about someone wandering into a cursed home to find the croaking Sadako and her meowing brother Toshio creeping at them. The film captures everything you see in your typical RINGU and JU-ON films pretty succinctly and while the narrative is sped up a bit, it gives the viewer a gist of both films before clashing them together. This is something that gives this film a pale leg up over its American counterpart FREDDY VS. JASON as that film spent most of the film trying to have both antagonists work together for the most part to take on some pesky teens before they started throwing blows at one another.
This may be because the nature of both of Sadako and Kayako is that they are both curses of a kind. So arguably, they can function on the same plane of magical thought. In FREDDY VS. JASON, the hurdle was that Jason occupies the real world while Freddy occupies the dreamworld. In this film, there really is no hurdle like that, so the battleground is more of a level playing field. Unfortunately, it also shows how similar these two curses really are. The only real thing separating Sadako and Kayako is that one stands silently and one crawls and croaks. Yes, Sadako has hair powers and Kayako has that weird little meowing boy with her, but for the most part, they could most both even be played by the same person as they are both pale, Asian girls with long hair.
Even though they might not be all too different from one another, SADAKO VS. KAYAKO capably embraces the differences between the two, namely the curses themselves. While VHS tapes were on their way out when the original RINGU was released, the story finds a clever way to incorporate this antiquated means of entertainment into the narrative by way of a class which studies modern urban legends and a not so happenstance finding of an old VCR. I like it that the tape cleverly finds a way of getting played. That’s a prominent feature of the RINGU and RING films and it works here as well. Same goes for the creepy house from JU-ON which tempts people to enter, so that the two ghosts inside can attack. Both curses play out pretty well in tandem with the connecting tissue between them being a pair of paranormal shamans (Kyozo played by Masanobu Andô and Tamao played by Maiko Kikuchi). These two shamans are interesting enough to carry their own films as Kyozo serves as a sort of bawdy rockstar magician while the real power of the duo is the child medium Tamao is clad in red with large circular glasses. Early in the film, a professor of urban legends list off a few other modern myths along with the cursed tape and the haunted house. It would be fun to see these two mystics take on those spiritual creatures as well.
At about the one hour mark, the film begins to bring the two curses together with the two women cursed with the “Grudge” curse and the “Ring” curse doubling down on the curses to that both spirits fight over their souls. This leads to the main event the whole film was made for and while it goes by rather quickly, it does offer up some fun and iconic scenes such as Sadoko’s hair strangling and gagging Kayoko and Kayoko crushing Sadoko’s video tape with her bare hands. There is one very goofy part where the two curses sprint towards one another with the cursed girl in the middle, resulting in a hair and slime explosion. For the most part, this confrontation is less epic than the lead up. Most likely folks will be less than thrilled by the way it all turns out. But the first hour of the film does a fantastic job of whittling away the nonsense and getting to the good stuff. What began as an April Fool’s Day joke becomes a film that does a great job of encapsulating the coolness of both series. SADAKO VS. KAYAKO may leave folks a bit unsatisfied in the final reel, but it does a good job of letting us know why these two J-horror franchises are as popular as they are. Fans of these types of films have a lot to digest with this film and those unfamiliar with the series will be able to follow along too. All in all, I found the film to be much better than the last installments in each of their series. If you’re like me and unable to get out to see RINGS this weekend, you can stay in and watch SADAKO VS. KAYAKO this weekend instead and I’ll bet you’ll have more fun.
New on BluRay and DVD on 2/14 and on digital HD and On Demand this week from Dark Sky Films!
STAKE LAND 2 (2016)aka THE STAKELANDER
Directed by Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
Written by Nick Damici
Starring Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Laura Abramsen, A.C. Peterson, Steven Williams, Bonnie Dennison, Kristina Hughes, Zane Clifford, Jaime Bird, Nicole Garies, Blaine Hart, Kathryn Bracht, Alex Arsenault, Tim Lynchuk, Larry Fessenden, Trevor Aikman, Josh Strait
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The original STAKE LAND was a mighty fine piece of hard-hitting, post apocalyptic, vampire horror that hit at the right time as it fed off of the day-to-day survival feel of THE WALKING DEAD and served as an appetizing alternative to the sparkly romanticized vamps made trendy by the TWILIGHT films. It was a simple style of film that basically took the zombie movie template and replaced the zombies with vampires. And dammit if it didn’t work.
Not really wanting to change a formula that was working, STAKE LAND 2 aka THE STAKELANDER (a title which gives me a chuckle) follows the same template as it continues the story of Martin (Connor Paolo) as he seeks to find Mister (Nick Damici) after a vicious female vampire murders his family. Once he tracks down Mister, the two are accompanied by a feral girl named Lady (Laura Abramsen) and some old friends of Mister, Bat (THE CONSPIRACY’s A.C. Peterson) and Doc Earl (JASON GOES TO HELL’s Steven Williamson) who live in a compound. Protected by sunlamps and barbed wire, Martin and Mister feel relatively safe, but the vampires and the holy Brotherhood who worship them are out for blood and will stop at nothing to drain every last human clean of their blood supply.
STAKE LAND 2 is pretty much a pitch perfect horror Western as it has all of the usual tropes often found in an Old West flick. You have the old nameless gunfighter. There’s the town under siege by the bad guys. There’s even a saloon where some hooch is passed about. There’s even a standoff where the hero goes out in a blaze of glory. It’s stupendous. Take away the vampires and you have yourself and old school Western and that’s the charm that exudes from every pore of this film.
One can tell this is a film written by folks really invested in the story of STAKE LAND. Nick Damici (who co-wrote the original with Jim Mickle) gives these characters a natural evolution. It’s one that is reminiscent of the relationship between Martin and Mister in the original, but if it ain’t broke… Martin is older and more jaded now (you can tell because he has longer hair and a beard this time), and looks to be following in the footsteps of Mister as a loner, wandering the wastelands whose only purpose is to kill every vampire he sees. Mister sees more in Martin than that and is trying to encourage Martin to let go of the rage as it has eaten up his own life. At the same time, there is a bit of hope for Mister as well as he seeks redemption by taking care of Lady and finally seeing Martin as a son-like figure as well. Having been unable to save his own family, through Damici’s tough exterior as Mister, you can see these glimmers of humanity between grunts and stoic stares.
As with the original, this film highlights the sheer power of Nick Damici both as a writer and as an actor. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Damici is a modern day Charles Bronson with his silent but violent demeanor and a look that tells a thousand tales without muttering a word. STAKE LAND 2 and its predecessor shines brightest when focused on Damici and this film gives fans of the original a lot to love. Though not as powerful as the original, STAKE LAND 2 is a worthy successor and definitely worth seeking out as proven with this column—good sequels are often hard to come by these days.
And finally…here’s another old timey radio horror show from the year 1949. From the series SUSPENSE and narrated by Edward G. Robinson himself comes “You Can’t Die Twice!”
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is M. L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 15 years & AICN HORROR for 5. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller and on his new website collecting posts for AICN HORROR as well as all of the most recent updates on his various comic book projects on MLMillerWrites.com.
Look for our bi-weekly rambling about random horror films on Poptards and Ain’t It Cool on AICN HORROR’s CANNIBAL HORRORCAST Podcast every other Thursday!