Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - Jared Rivet ""

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Jared Rivet

Things have changed a bit since Jared Rivet last contributed a Film Discoveries list back in 2015. First and foremost, his feature screenplay JACKALS has been turned into a feature film directed by Kevin (SAW VI, SAW 3D) Greutert. The thriller starring Stephen Dorff, Johnathon Shaech and Deborah Kara Unger has recently completed post production and should start making the festival rounds in 2017. Second, Jared graduated from Dead Right Horror Trivia player to dedicated co-host with Rebekah McKendry after his team (Zombie Redneck Torture Family) retired with a record twenty wins back in October of 2015. The monthly event now takes place at Blast from the Past in Burbank. Jared has also written, directed and acted in further episodes of the Earbud Theater podcast, including the Audio Verse Award nominated episode ON THE LINE and the site record-breaking ARE YOU SLEEPING? starring Clarke Wolfe, Tracy Clifton and Chelsea Ricketts (www.earbudtheater.com).He is currently developing a horror project for television along with his next feature screenplay.
On twitter: @JaredRivet1
On Instagram: @scribejr
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GHOST WARRIOR aka SWORDKILL (1984/1986, dir. J. Larry Carroll):

My field is oriental history, and they questioned me closely trying to determine the limits of my experience. My weak point was that I could speak little Japanese but they let that pass, something more important was on their minds…”

In 2016, Scream Factory continued their streak of feeding my addiction for Blu-ray editions of obscure Empire Pictures productions from the 80’s, including this fun, fish-out-of-water action film. Did I mention it was from the 80’s? Let me know if you can think of a more 80’s premise than this: a fully-intact, 400-year-old samurai (the admirably stoic Hiroshi Fujioka) is found encased in ice in a cave in modern day Motosuka, Japan. He is then shipped to Los Angeles (of course) where a group of scientists use sophisticated, cutting edge techniques (there’s a swirling, blue laser and computer banks involved) to revive the centuries-old warrior from his frigid slumber.

Soon the samurai escapes from the lab and makes his way through 1980’s L.A., encountering television, cars, sushi bars, gang members, and helicopters. The movie really takes off once Hiroshi Fujioka’s samurai character befriends a retired Army vet played by Charles Lampkin, but this chunk of the movie is short-lived as Janet Julian’s vapid “oriental history expert”(whose aptitude for Japanese is better or worse depending on the needs of the scene at hand) eventually goes on the run with Yoshi, attempting to help him evade both the LAPD and the heartless suits from the “California Institute of Cryosurgical Research.

Featuring some wink-wink nods to earlier Empire productions (GHOULIES star Peter Liapis plays a vengeful gang member; DUNGEONMASTER star Leslie Wing cameos as a sushi barpatron who mistakes Fujioka for Toshiro Mifune; and the W.A.S.P. nightclub sequence from THE DUNGEONMASTER is playing on television at one point) and featuring a lush, symphonic score composed by Empire stalwart Richard Bandand conducted by Shirley Walker (with notable echoes of Goldsmith’s score for FIRST BLOOD), GHOST WARRIOR is an entertaining, guilty-pleasure-programmer that I may have missed out on back in the day but thankfully Scream Factory hasthawed it out and resurrected it for all of us.
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SLITHIS aka SPAWN OF THE SLITHIS (1978dir. StephenTraxler): 
Dr. John: Scientists named this organic mud: Slithis.”
Jeff: “Why?”
Dr. John: “For the same reason your parents named you Jeff, who knows??”

In early October 2016, the evil genius revival programmers at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles scheduled an irresistible weeknight triple feature of late 70’s horror delights as an appetizer for the all-night six horror movie marathon set to happen just two days later. I almost didn’t go to the triple feature, intending to rest up my soon to be cinema-seat-planted-ass for the all-nighter, but the line-up was too good and boy am I glad I went. 35mm prints of TOURIST TRAP, THE DARK and SLITHIS (aka SPAWN OF THE SLITHIS, which was the title of the print that was screened).

I had seen TOURIST TRAP and THE DARK before (though my memory of THE DARK was hazy and having just seen it again, it still is), but I had always wanted to see SLITHIS, a movie whose poster art always gave me the impression that it was some kind of space monster movie. What I got instead was not only the movie high point of the night, but an absolute hoot of bad cinema, a kind of Ed Wood-level fusion of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and JAWS set in L.A.’s Venice canals.

A series of mysterious animal mutilations along the shores of the Venice canals are initially chalked up to cult activity. But when a married couple living on the canals is found dead in their home under similar circumstances (after being attacked by a subjective camera POV that looks like it’s being shot through the bottom of a drinking glass)a curious high school teacher with fantastic hair takes it upon himself to investigate, eventually discovering that nuclear waste has accidentally leaked into the Pacific, thus giving birth to Slithis, a humanoid, amphibious, radioactive,mutant monster, hungry for blood. Slithis starts going after local homeless people, houseboat dwelling swingers, fishermen, and turtle race enthusiasts.

Howlingly bad performances, frightfully silly plot points, awkwardly staged suspense sequences, and a charmingly fakerubber-suit monster that looks like a cross between the Gill Man and something out of Sid and Marty Kroft make SLITHIS bad monster movie nirvana. Keep an eye out for a strategically placed framed portrait photo that inexplicably changes into a drawing during a Slithis attack, and a late-in-the-game MVP performance by Hy Pyke (Taffey Lewis from BLADE RUNNER!) as a police lieutenant whose ACTING transcends any notion you may have previously had about someone going over the top. (Think Jon Lovitz as Master Thespian…and then crank THAT up a few notches.)
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SUPERSTITION aka THE WITCH (1982/1985, dir. James W. Roberson):

You have a 20th century mind, you may soon regret it.

I somehow managed to completely miss this Canadian/U.S.“kitchen sink” horror movie from 1982 (not released in the U.S. until ’85) until I luckily managed to see that it was coming on cable in HD last year. It was one that I had always wanted to see (I remember the ominous image on the video box cover with its monstrous, claw-fingered, shroud beast silhouette carrying an unconscious female victim down what looked like a staircase to hell) so I set the DVR and gave it a spin.

If I hadn’t known any better, I might have thought this was aslightly restrained entry in the Filmirage ”LA CASA” series of unofficial Italian EVIL DEAD sequels (it even managed to show up on the UK “video nasties” list), but no, it’s a Canadian production which was shot in Silver Lake (?), exec produced by the Carolco guys (Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar), and featuring Lynn Carlin (DEATHDREAM), Albert Salmi (EMPIRE OF THE ANTS), Stacy Keach Sr., and young Billy Jacoby (CUJO, NIGHTMARES, BLOODY BIRTHDAY, X-RAY), with no cheesy voice dubbing or Goblin-esque prog-rockin sight.

Hunky Reverend Thompson has been put in charge of selling off a house on some land owned by the church. The abandoned house and nearby pond have had more than their share of unfortunate mishaps and deaths over the years, probably because of the demon possessed witch who was drowned at the stake (?) there in the 17th CenturyThe fairly wide-ranging curse she placed on the area seems to not only threaten the descendants of those condemning her to death, but also to pretty much anyone and everyone that lives nearby, seemingly forever.

Before the new family even moves into the house, we getseveral spectacular deaths, including a teenage prankster cut in half while trying to climb out of a second story window after witnessing his buddy’s head explode in a microwave, and mypersonal favorite, a priest killed by a runaway circular saw blade, which flies off of a running table saw and continues to spin at full speed while it minces its way through poor Stacy Keach Sr.’s torso.

The family of five moves in anyway (the laughably ineffectualReverend Leahy, his wife, two teenage daughters and son) while Rev. Thompson and Albert Salmi’s detective character inexplicably hang around the place, worrying or arguing about what terrible things might inevitably happen, ogling the Reverend’s teenage daughters (Detective: “Well, I’m glad to see you notice women. I must confess, I’ve always wondered about you men of the cloth.”), tearing down walls to hidden rooms,uncovering evidence of the curse, and generally pushing the plotalong while the oblivious family keeps having terrible things happen all around them.

What sort of terrible things, you ask? A creepy little ghost girl in a white dress starts showing up doing what creepy little ghost girls in white dresses do. The aforementioned claw-fingered shroud beast pops up from time to time. Some of the deaths are telekinetic “accidents,” while others are flat out slasher-murders. An ancient crucifix becomes a defensive weapon in the mode of a vampire movie. A simpleton man-child caretaker (I think he’s supposed to be a red herring character?) takes on the cops with his bare hands not once but twice. An all-knowing old woman who lives in a shack on the property (I think she’s supposed to be a red herring character?) says portentous things with wild eyed glee. Doors explode, bloody spikes crash through the ceiling, wine bottles burst, dismembered hands grab ankles,demonic voices cackle, “Dies Irae” blares on the soundtrack, and an evil old book holds all the answers (at least I think it does).

If you’re as big a fan of 80’s kitchen sink horror as I am, you will find a lot to enjoy with SUPERSTITION.
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CENTIPEDE HORROR aka WU GONG ZHOU, CENTIPEDE CURSE (1982/1984, dir. Keith Li):

“Mummy has said that this necklace can exorcise evils, I want you to wear it.”

A hardcore horror friend of mine loaned me their DVD-R copy of CENTIPEDE HORROR with very little orientation or preparation. After watching it I’ve done a little research online and discovered that it appears to be part of an unofficial Hong Kong horror subgenre involving evil sorcerers and black magiccurses and puking. I will label it as a whole other level of grosskitchen sink horror and give it my stamp of approval*. (It also falls into the Hong Kong “Category III” rating, which was basically the Chinese equivalent of the NC-17.)

The subtitles on the DVD-R weren’t great, which just added to the baffling “anything goes” parade of weirdness on display, but I was still able to follow the plot. An evil sorcerer in Southeast Asia inflicts a Chinese family with a black magic curse, making them pay for the sins of their ancestors. The curse involves centipedes, lots and lots of centipedes, which have a habit of massing and overpowering their victims before entering and exiting their bodies in a variety of unpleasant ways. A white wizard is eventually called into service to do battle with the evil sorcerer, using incantations and martial arts-style hand gesturesto summon reanimated chicken skeletons, mystical lasers, and fireballs to try and defeat the baddie.

Somewhere in there was a nudity-filled exorcism sequence involving dead ghost children assistants in the form of smoke which enter the possessed female host through both ends and eventually help her to expel tainted blood and live scorpions from the same orifices. You might need to break that last sentence down into its individual components to really begin to understand the implications, but I promise you that’s what happens in this scene.

And yes, a woman eventually vomits live centipedes. And not in a phony, special-effecty way either, we’re talking actual, wriggling centipedes come out of her mouth and what I can only assume is genuine regurgitation (wouldn’t you?).

As a side note: for a film score junkie like myself, the (probably unauthorized) usage of snippets of scores from other well-known American films was amusing. I noted excerpts from CAT PEOPLE, ROCKY, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, POLTERGEIST, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, MANIAC and OBSESSION thrown around on the soundtrack with differing levels of effectiveness, though in most cases serving as a humorous distraction from the wacky shenanigans happening on screen. It added an extra layer of “what the fuck?” to the already WTF-level viewing experience.

*Be warned that there is a scene of animal cruelty involving a live chicken.

TICKS aka INFESTED (1993/1994, dir. Tony Randel):

“People, please refrain from further stupidity. You’re wasting my bullets.”

And now we segue from centipedes to ticks. Remember when I mentioned the New Beverly all-night horror marathon a little earlier? I make it a point of honor to not only hit the all-nighter every year, but to also make sure that I make it all the way through to the end of the last feature of the night without falling asleep. The final film in 2016’s all-night horror line-up was 1993’s (or was it ’94?) straight to video fan favorite, TICKS.

Strangely enough, I had never seen TICKS before. I think I hit a “horror snob” phase in the early 90’s, a notorious dry-spell for the genre, when there not only wasn’t a whole hell of a lot of material coming out, but the quality ratio of bad horror to good horror was about five to one. (This is the era that Fangoria had to resort to doing cover stories on TERMINATOR 2, BATMAN RETURNSand JURASSIC PARK to stay afloat.) To make a long story short, I started dismissing a lot of straight to video horror out of hand, especially movies with titles like TICKS.

In recent years, with boutique Blu-ray labels and streaming services resurrecting forgotten horror titles from every conceivable era, I have been consciously seeking out a lot of these 90’s underdogs (movies like NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, JACK FROST, the NIGHT OF THE DEMONS sequels, the SCANNERS sequels, the LEPRECHAUN sequels, and all of those Charles Band/Full Moon movies) and TICKS was definitely high on my wish list.

Which made the surprise 5am unveiling of the 35mm print of the never-theatrically-screened straight-to-video TICKS a special treat.

Not only did I underestimate Tony Randel’s killer bug movie (it’s actually quite good), but a lot of my other assumptions about the movie proved to be wrong as well. First and foremost, 90’s scream queen Ami Dolenz is NOT the lead (contrary to her prominence on the video cover art), that honor falls to Seth Green, who I didn’t even know was in the movie. Not only doesthen teenaged Green give a solid performance (full of earnestness and great touches of cynical humor), but all of theensemble actors perform admirably, with surprisingly well-written, likeable characters to breathe life into. (Bonus points for not only giving Clint Howard a couple of fantastically gross scenes to run around in, but then doubling down by having Rance Howard show up as the local sheriff.)

Who winds up being a real standout? Alfonso Ribeiro! Yes, Carlton from FRESH PRINCE. I can’t rave enough about the guy’s performance here. And not one sign of the Carlton Dance.

I also wasn’t expecting the sheer volume of top notch practical effects on what had to be a modest budget. The impressive hordes of steroid-swollen monster ticks (and the nasty, overblown after-effects their bites cause) culminate in the climactic entrance of an uber tick, which bursts forth from the corpse of a fallen victim in a show-stopping, body-ripping sequence comparable to Chris Walas’ Oscar winning work in THE FLY.

The plot is wonderfully straight forward: A group of inner-city teens is taken by well-meaning social workers to a wilderness retreat (filmed in Big Bear) unaware that a nearby pot farm run by shady lowlifes has been using herbal steroids to accelerate their plant growth. The shoddy equipment has caused the steroids to leak into the ground. Regular wood ticks come into contact with the steroid solution and blammo: they are transformed into aggro-ticks the size of softballs. Gooey, pus-filled deaths ensue, and these mismatched misfits have to work together to survive.

I can’t rave enough about TICKS, a true “film discovery” I am happy I got to make under such once-in-a-lifetime circumstances in 2016.
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