The Master Demon (1991) Review by RevTerry

Demons are tricky mother fuckers. It would seem everyone's demon has a particular set of rules or requirements to be dealt with. It could be a special necklace, some bloodletting or a fucking priest spouting gibberish. You never know, so you have to have to ride it out till it makes a little sense and you can try out some cures. That’s if it ever reveals a weakness. It's always possible the demon cannot be defeated at all or will keep coming back for sequel after sequel until your character dies off and beyond. Worse still, each of the beasts comes packing a unique technique or instrument of torment, with varying degrees of discomfort. Your demon could be the kind that runs around wearing your persona to mess with your folks, a surprise scary face in the mirror at night or the simple version that sticks to pointy metal and violent disfigurement. There are no real rules to how and why you end up with one, but It's not entirely random, because the negative power is personalized by case. It's always perfectly crafted to prove a point. While at the same time, there isn't a predictable merit system or anything to look for. Of course, some people go searching for cursed objects or will invoke an evil presence willingly. But you don't have to do something stupid to summon one or two into your life. If there is some science to it, I can't figure it out. While one person can get a demon that looks like Scott Valentine with a mullet and a tail (possibly annoying but not fatal), others get completely screwed. You could just as easily end up on the wrong side of an evil Kung Fu entity, who only possesses large bald men and calls himself The Master Demon.
Long ago, two mighty warriors were having a death battle for the fate of humanity in a lovely green field somewhere. After some dramatic sparring, the larger combatant, a bruiser with a red gi and some nasty blackheads, appears to best his opponent with a deep cut to the side of his torso. This seems to be the end of the ordeal, but surprisingly, the skinny hero dressed as every member of Van Halen at once jumps up slicing off an appendage with one swipe. The rest of the violent aggressor then disappears, leaving his bloody hand behind as a parting gift (because apparently, that guy was a demon in a colossal human suit that could use the leftover chunk to resurrect himself). Without a pause, the wounded hero hobbles his way towards the local temple. Once he has successfully found a trustworthy looking monk and handed off the gruesome baton for safekeeping, he then mumbles loudly and dies, having saved the world (for now). Centuries later, the modern ancestor of the guardian/hair metal warrior Tong Lee (Eric Lee) has had his sleep disturbed by recent dreams about his great (great, great, etc.) grampa's final exploit. Sometime during the night, it was explained to him that the entity known as Master Demon (Gerald Okamura), once again, will walk the earth. What's more, being the "white warriors" kin, it's Tong’s job to stop him this time using the family sword. Sure enough, across town, a convoluted, unlucky series of events involving burglary, an artifact dealer with lousy timing and Pugsley on steroids has awoken the demon and set things in motion. Incomplete, the diabolical being dispatches his best woman from the nether-realm--a muscle-bound blond, lightly wrapped in leather, named Medusa (Kay Baxter Young) to locate his missing limb now in a dusty box with a flesh-colored hockey puck. Sooner or later, this all lands at disheveled PI Cameron's (Steve Nave) doorstep, and in turn attracts the attention of his creepy cop homie Wayne (Sid Campbell). After meeting Tong, the two are skeptical of the whole immortal evil part but sign up for the chance to punch randos without so much as a handshake to signal the newly formed team. Various displays of martial arts, bromance, and sloppy dialogue follow as the heroes race to stop the demonic threat and ultimately save the world. Also, Wayne gets an extended sex scene that is about as sensual as his greasy lip hair.
An epic of no-budget trash hopped up on John Carpenter sized ambitions, The Master Demon is essentially an American made, 90s love letter to outlandish Kung Fu cinema and buddy-cop action flicks. Whenever possible, it recreates the feel of martial arts related b movies, cracks and all. Some of the more isolated scenes nail the motif to the point that it feels like they were lifted from older films, Godfrey Ho style. It's aware, filled with gags, and proud of its cornball nature but never in full parody. With drug trip insanity, it takes itself seriously enough to elicit unintentional laughs when characters aren't getting punched or acting crazy. At face value, it feels like an earnest attempt to tribute the greats by a fan who has only seen the films dubbed on VHS while high and then filled in the blanks from cartoons later. However, there is a huge inspiration from Big Trouble in Little China (1986) in both the content and the approach. This goes as far as some shameless use of copied moments that are only slightly altered to fit the scope. I think the private detective is supposed to be a neo-noir Jack Burton, but with the scale and internal dialogue, it comes out more along the lines of Cody Abilene (from Malibu Express, 1985) mixed with a confused John Ritter. In place of a setup, half explained tangents play out in sequence as if from two different films. The only relationship building within the trio comes when the martial artist progeny breaks through the slacker PI's window dressed like an Easter Sunday-Morrissey circa 1993, and the mustached guy shows up afterward to ask about the ruckus. That's it. Once they have briefly greeted or reintroduced themselves, it's time for adventure, and shit hits the fan. The magic and time-travel, concocting some good adventure tones from babble, remind me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993) for some reason. I mean that it in the best way possible, like when I first watched it as a kid, not like those two times I have tried to watch it since. It's all pretty stupidly engaging and provides enough random weirdness to stand out as its own thing, despite being a heap of recycled schlock.
More spunk then actual resources, The Master Demon is at its technical best when people are getting beat up. For all its silliness (intentional or otherwise), it throws a pretty good fight scene in every once and a while and nails the vibe on some of the throwback material. It's not Sonny Chiba caliber shit, but somewhere between The Karate Kid (1984) and Walker Texas Ranger. The skilled showcases would feel out of place with the rest of the film's quality if it didn't awkwardly cut to zany antics at random. In the final quarter of the run time, practical gore starts showing up and gets gradually more extreme as the film concludes. All the bloodshed is relatively well done and brazenly announces itself for cheesy shock values. To illustrate the demon’s hold over a vessel, Gerald Okamura’s body is shown breaking down through facial prosthetics. In one instance this means Trypophobia inducing wounds and later an almost full transformation into Jay leno, both equally scary. The neon-colored, drawn-on lightning effect from The Golden Child (and Big Trouble, I just didn't want to mention it again) makes several haphazard appearances in a budgeted form that doesn't quite line up on the screen. It looks like shit, but drawing magic lines on each frame is hard, and I would have been bummed if it wasn't there. The film’s score plays as almost wholly independent of the movie, keeping most of the intentional humor at bay by staying dramatic at inappropriate times. As far as some of the lousy dubbing goes, I can't tell if some of that was on purpose or not. Sound problems would be typical for the actual era and budget, while at the same time it would be incredibly fitting coming from its apparent motivations. If it is on purpose, it is fucking perfect, if not, they have made a movie where things like that can be confused for technique. So good job either way.
 The 1991 straight to video release was Brooklyn born Samuel Oldham's 2nd directed full-length feature after low budget zombie film Tales of the Unliving and the Undead (1988) and his short entries into the collaborative anthology Dark Romance Volume 2 (1990, he worked as an editor on volume 1). Actively fulfilling a range of roles, Oldham has had a part in a variety of interesting (sometimes nutty) projects since the early 80s. As a director, he followed Master Demon with Close Encounters of the 4th Kind: Infestation from Mars, a science fiction film about space conspiracies in 2004 and Yuri Gagarin Conspiracy: Fallen Idol, a 2009 "documentary" which I haven't seen (but I think is about space conspiracies). Since then he has mostly kept to editing, possibly plotting which cult film type to tackle next. Steve Nave plays the cliche private dick Cameron. Not in on much action, the character is played mostly for laughs or possibly as a misguided avatar for the audience. I thought I recognized Nave from a few things, but it turns out he looks like fifty percent of all 90s TV actors. Despite the loud wardrobe choice, Tong Lee is unquestionably the more talented of the crew and isn't afraid to get on all fours pretending to be a dog in the middle of a fight. The goofy but almost superhuman hero is played by Eric Lee who appeared in Big Trouble as "Wing Kong Hatchet Man" and provided ass-kickings (one way or another) in over thirty titles since.  Lee is also credited as one of the stunt choreographers and producers on the film, possibly accounting for inconsistent high quality when it comes to certain beat downs. It's kind of a bummer we don't see him in more starring roles, as he is a blast to watch and evidently brings a lot to a production. Even though their crusty-cop homie gets the least backstory, Wayne takes up the most screen time overall, showing off his barrom style punching or his prowess with the ladies. Played by Sid Campbell, the character is the most perplexing thing about the whole insane mess for me, for whatever reason. He just tags along, seemingly coming out of nowhere, to fight goons and fuck secretaries. He is like a bargain Sgt.Taggart from Beverly Hills Cop (1984) who had been hypnotized into thinking he is Burt Reynolds. Reminiscent of a modern competitor trying to build a Marvel/Disney/StarWars-esque universe, the movie shoves in a hoard of fully formed side characters with little real connection. If a major studio made it today, I would assume it was wishfully laying the groundwork for a slew of tie-in material; sequels spin-offs the whole nine. Among them is an odd take on Moneypenny where Ava Cadell, for most of the film, plays only a bizarrely referenced sex object before unexplainably joining the final battle and taking on grabby henchmen all by herself. An array of action figure worthy cliches makes up the army of foils. This includes Medusa, a mix of Roxanne Kernohan in Critters 2 (1988) and a possessed American Gladiator whose superpower is putting people in headlocks. Played by Kay Baxter Young, she's probably my favorite bad guy--although "random executioner in a room, removing a man's face" was pretty cool too. The most familiar face, Gerald Okamura, plays the film’s main threat and most consistent element. Further linking the film with Big Trouble, the cult veteran's frequently utilized characters trope seems almost tame with all the lightning and professional wrestling going on.  I have to give many props to the whole cast, no matter how eccentric or left field the role, they seem to get it and go all in. Everyone plays their ridiculous part to a hundred and ten percent and makes the randomness of it all work in a fashion that's a hearty blend of a video game midboss and the GI Joe television series.
The Master Demon (1991) is a film equivalent of sneaking into three random action movies, getting hyped, then going home and playing out epic improvised showdowns with every one of your toys (as a kid obviously...I'm an adult. I don't bang mine together like that anymore--it fucks them up). A penniless bastard child of action cinema, it borrows heavily from a range of influences with unabashed love and scrappy spirit. I dig that. As far as I'm concerned, it's a success story of imitation, ingenuity, and imagination on a budget. It's cheap, dated and full of problems, but it is easy to find entertainment in the gumption, mania and blatant flaws. It honestly makes more sense than is necessary, as far as low budget, time jumping, American supernatural Kung fu movies go. Plus, I think on some level, I relate to being assaulted by an inherited demon.
1h 21min | 1991
Director: Samuel Oldham
Writer: Samuel Oldham


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Witchboard III: The Possession (1995) Review by RevTerry

Ouija boards are pretty cool in my book. I have had homies in the past swear by them, and they can put on a good show with the talking board as a centerpiece. Also, the idea checks out for me anyway. Ghosts can't just say "yo" so they need an intimate conduit of some kind. I can follow that (at least just as much as any other invisible thing that I can neither prove nor disprove). I dig the look too; even the Walmart bought Parker Brothers version has a little spooky Twister thing going on that I can get behind. My only beef is the time it takes to make something happen. It's a fucking long-ass process. A simple swear word can take hours, no matter how many teenagers in the circle have the same idea. Maybe you could stick to “yes” or “no” questions if you get somebody on the line, but that can only take you so far. You have to ask at least a name in most cases, right? If I was to talk to a spirit, would it get pissed off if I used one hand for multitasking? It's just not in my nature to sit that long, let alone spelling out a single word. It doesn't seem so tedious in the movies--maybe it's the editing. Usually, people are either in an enthusiastic group, rapidly reading off letters like they are translating a scroll--or one person with intense eyes, alone, sweating bullets as the words are swiftly pieced out. It's more like a genie's lamp; it just needs some hands to get going, and then something magical happens. Then again, in the films, it always turns out bad like in Witchboard III: The Possession (1995).
Julie (Elizabeth Lambert) and Brian (David Nerman) are a young couple in love who have recently been forced to move to a small dingy apartment complex after Brian lost his job. Not having any luck in finding a new one, the unemployed half spends his time looking defeated when not amid a loving embrace. One day, while getting the mail, he bumps into his landlord Francis Redman (Cedric Smith) who invites him over for a drink and conversation. After showing off his collection of creepy stuff, the eccentric older man tells Brian that he was able to retire wealthy, utilizing stock tips from a friend. Brian is intrigued for apparent reasons, and Francis agrees to introduce him to his broker buddy, but instead pulls out a fancy Ouija board. Dismissive, Brian ends up playing along, and the game leads to some letters being spelled out, which he indeed recognizes as a commodity, California Orange Juice, (just like all of it, I guess I don't know how stocks work). When Julie comes home that night, she is surprised to find Francis, and a passed out drunk Brian in the couple's apartment. Since she doesn't know the dude, and he was sitting in the dark, the situation is a little weird, but Julie just shrugs it off as part of her partner’s downward spiral. The next day, the oracle’s stock tips pan out, and a reinvigorated Brian immediately hits up the source for more. Mr. Redman and the board accommodate, but the foretold stock, Coffee (again, can you just buy a "coffee" stock, like in a video game? What the fuck? I feel like I need share in Coffee), is a little more costly. This complication results in a shady-ass deal with local loan shark Finch (Addison Bell), who (even as backroom money lenders go) doesn't have the best terms and requires the cash returned in twenty-four hours, with interest. Brian, figuring he has the nether realm on his side, agrees, but unsurprisingly, Coffee doesn't pay out in time. Desperate, Brian calls on Francis, who takes him out to a balcony to babble on about having kids or something. He then gives his ring to the younger man, recites a line from the 1920s and jumps off the fucking porch, killing himself. Still without options, Brian figures the magic money-making Ouija board is now his, and he packs it up in a briefcase. For whatever reason, he decides to take it down to Finch to explain himself/ask for mercy--which ends up working out, because the cryptic object kills every bad guy in the room. What's more, Coffee stock goes up the next day. Life is good again, so the happy (and now rich) couple goes back to making love in precise positions so you can't see genitalia-- only something isn't quite right. Things add up over the coming days, and it becomes apparent that Brain has changed drastically, leaving Julie to unfuck the situation on her own. New hairdos, murderous infidelity, and board game abuse follow as Julie faces off against the deadly entity. Also, the evil being is trying to spread his seed, as in having a kid, you know, demon stuff.
With the swagger of a television movie, Witchboard III makes a run for ridiculous supernatural action, sexy thrills, and steamy hamfisted drama. Using the original series concept as a backbone, it lays the focus on to the possession trope, sprinkles in some sleaze and haphazardly forms cliche relationship issues common to the 90s Showtime lineup.  Although dry, it runs at a quick pace, keeping it alive as an entertaining piece of supernatural schlock. There isn't much mental fat in the plot available to chew. The somewhat messy, elongated introduction only works to set up the unholy playing field. There is plenty of supposed drama in the air, but the tone never makes the sale. It's hard to take seriously, and it doesn't really seem to care all that much, intent on getting few cliche details in to pad the predictable, amusing payout. A somewhat atypical horror character, Julie is the most filled out aspect of the film and avoids some of the normal trappings for a quasi final girl. The story seems to have some stock in her strength and mental state as she deals with her hubby being a demon but never actually puts enough on screen to drive it home. Instead, the tale mostly follows along with the demon, once he has lept off the board and taken control of Brian. It's not an original arch but allows the film to engage in some b movie chaos as the evil ghost executes his convoluted plan in the physical realm. His path of silly destruction takes shape in 90s extremes, and he even slicks his hair back, so you know he is the evil version. The positionings surrounding his spiritual abduction are mostly just technicalities patching a way to fun occult cheese. Host body Brian isn't that likable to start, with his only real character traits being desperation and ungreased hair. The titular arcane object has a limitless arsenal of powers with associated triggers like a low budget flattened lament box. In fact, in a lot of ways, it feels like it was one franchise license (and a few years) away from being one of the many straight to video Hellraiser sequels.  Probably to its benefit, there is no twisting in the plot. It's pretty loose with the logic, but generally speaking, things line up in the end. Altogether, It’s fully functional as slightly sleazy, black magic junk food, although maybe not as filling as its predecessors.
Witchboard 3, as the title implies, is the second official sequel to 1986s Witchboard. It is the only film in the series directed by someone other than Kevin Tenney, who wrote and directed the original two as well as a spiritual successor (for legal reasons) with another production company. Tenney is credited on writing the original script in this case, with edits by Jon Ezrine and director Peter Svatek. Besides the fact Witchboard, as a series, has little continuity outside of the Ouija board shtick as a 90s third entry to an 80s horror franchise, The Possession holds the line comparatively well. Tenney's absence is felt, however, as the tone has changed, and it's missing his style of character focus. In many ways, it feels like a low budget pilot for a television show based on the franchise, something along the lines of Highlander: The Series. Witchboard 3 was made two years after Witchboard 2. The budget came in at about $2,000,000, and production took place in Canada as opposed to LA in the first two. Before the sequel Director Peter Svatek's only full-length feature had been The Mystery of the Million Dollar Hockey Puck (1975),  where he co-directed alongside Jean LaFleur (Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia, 1977). The following year he would make Sci-fighters (1996 with Roddy Piper and Billy Drago), and slimy (lose) HP Lovecraft adaptation Hemoglobin (1997). Still active today, Tenney has made his permanent home primarily in television drama. Seasoned voice actor Cedric Smith appears as the demonically possessed landlord with the on-the-nose name. When this movie was released, little RevTerry was enjoying him weekly as Professor Xavior on X-Men: The Animated SeriesElizabeth Lambert provides a little extra depth for her character and gives a solid overall performance that, if anything, seems a bit chopped up in the final product. B-movie regular David Nerman essentially portrays two people using the same body, which he plays out like those movieland high school transformations, where the kid comes back after summer, suddenly cool but douchey. It's probably the weakest acting from the leads, but the animated intensity and various awkward facial expressions are appreciated.
On the technical side, the flick fits generically between VHS era trash and Cinemax original nudie pictures. Think more Red Shoe Diaries than Emanuel 2000 (what? You don't know your softcore porn nuances?) The camera quality is broadcast level and all the sound fits. There is a range of editing styles on display, some better than others. Further pulling away from any real emotion, the camera angles showcase a few cartoon performances out of the actors, which might not be the most effective choice for the subject matter, but it's pretty enjoyable to watch. Similarly, the editing is all over the place. With a rapid pace, the cuts keep it from it dragging but frequently make it feel cheaper than it possibly had to. A mixed bag of techniques form the special effects, ranging from goofy practical fun to god-awful computer-generated transformations. Once or twice, the inept level knocks the wind out of otherwise serviceable supernatural violence. There are some spaced out worthwhile kills and a little gore, the best of which is slightly tainted by the appearance of the monsters true face via burred digitally imposed excrement. I dug the full-on horned beast crafted for the finale, it had a Wishmaster 3 vibe only with more rubber and a hunch. It doubles the amount of nudity for the series, but it feels tame in the Shannon Tweed style tale. Cheap, low balled and full of that bad movie smell, the film is perfectly watchable late-night cable edition to an already low budget series. I can get behind that.
One part its namesake and one part 90s softcore porn, Witchboard III: The Possession (1995) brings back the Ouija and few other tricks for a 90s run through, Skinamax style. Outside of an underutilized character, it's nothing new, but the satanic cliches and sleaze have a lot of miles left in them as far as I'm concerned. For a horny 90s sequel, it fits well enough in its 80s based series, although, in this case, the target was a little wide. It's a small scale, trashy possession story with minor splatter and some boobs, and I'm ok with that. I just have to hope there is a better way out there to talk to dead people (and demons), because if I could sit patiently while something dusty was spelling out words, I would have done better in school.
 1h 33min | 1995
Director: Peter Svatek
Writers: Jon Ezrine, Kevin Tenney

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The Nest (1988) Review by RevTerry

Bugs ( insects, spiders, etc., not the bunny) and I have a complex relationship. I think they are amazing-- anatomy, behavior, the fact that we have very little in common. It all intrigues me immensely on both a curiosity and an aesthetic level, even if sometimes it takes me a few minutes to appreciate it. Also, generally, I prefer not to kill things, if it's avoidable. Trying to build good karma is hard enough without me ending tiny little lives when I get spooked in the kitchen. Instead, I try to overcome my lizard brain, wait for any surprise to subside, scoop the little alien-looking assholes up, and release them back into the wild (out the front door). Unfortunately, while this nonviolent policy worked well back in my home town in California, the stakes are higher here in the desert. Before, the worse thing I could run into (bug-wise) was a black widow. Currently, I spend my summer months bumping into all sorts of random, real life, Creepy Crawler mother fuckers with a range of weapons and attitudes. They still look cool. If anything, many of them seem more badass, and they are smart too, but that makes it worse. Take the scorpion for example, as I don't go a week without finding one in the vicinity of my sleeping place (a pile of laundry/tapes with 2 X-Files action figures, a portrait of Ray Bradbury and a lamp next to it). You don't just capture or "squish" a scorpion, you engage in mortal combat, and not in the exciting way with the "K" instead of "C." The fucked-up kind, like when two plane crash survivors are forced to fight over the last ounce of a stewardess. Everything about the moment's struggle feels more substantial than your average reckless act of human superiority. Both parties give off an air of desperate strategy and the room has a strangling musk to it. I can't explain in full but put plainly, it's hardcore shit and reminds me more of a street fight with a stranger, than a one-sided extermination. Plus, if I win (it's a statistics game at this point), I have to deal with that later. How am I supposed to live after killing something nearly as smart as me because I was afraid of his poison-butt-spear and secretly know I'm the real invader? It could be worse, I guess. I could be in a New England fishing village, facing an infestation of chemically enhanced roaches with a taste for flesh and a knack for lively impressions.
A small-town sheriff Richard Tarbell (Franc Luz) awakens one afternoon to call into the station for an update and takes a drink of day-old (at least) coffee with a cockroach swimming in it.  After spitting all over the floor, he heads down to the local diner where his hard-working waitress girlfriend Lillian (Nancy Morgan) is employed. He engages in some warm banter with his sweetie and her senile eccentric thief father "Shakey"Jake (Jack Collins) and grabs a kiss before immediately heading down to the dock to pick up an ex-girlfriend arriving by private plane, Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois). On the way back into town, Richard informs his old flame that he has become a sheriff in her absence and offers some small talk before quickly making things more awkward by blurting signs of affection at an increasing volume. It goes over better than you would think, as Liz seems morosely interested. Soon it’s like she never left (and he never started dating old whatsername, who is probably back at her actual job, working). Once the two have arrived on Main St, they are hailed by the local librarian. Mrs. Pennington (Diana Bellamy) frantically informs the duo that the binding has been removed from all the books overnight and demands justice be served in some form. The untrustworthy law enforcement agent remarks to the distressed civil servant that since it's most likely some kind of pest, and there is nothing he can do to help. He then leaves to drop off his old/new romance with her dad, the corrupt elected official, mayor Elias Johnson (Robert Lansing). While the heiress checks in at the mansion for a dramatic reunited embrace, Richard rides off alone to do some sheriff-ing. Well... kind of, he mostly just plays with his radio, implies to the crazy larcenist that he intends to marry his poor daughter or at least "likes her a lot" and circles back to Casa de Johnson. Upon returning to the area, he (somehow) finds Elizabeth wandering around near a dilapidated trailer. It's a good thing too because as he is walking up, she discovers a pile of mangled canine remains in the grass. Mr. Sheriff examines (pokes) the carcass with a hunting knife and finds the insides riddled with hungry baby beetles. Since rapidly fucked up bug situations are overshadowing his love triangle, Sheriff Tarbell decides to look into a possible connection. So after some more drama, he meets with every expert in town including Homer The Exterminator (Stephen Davies) and the insect-specific, super-scientist Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas) who just happens to be playing Dr. Moreau with some cockroaches. Soon, it looks as if fucking up the town's literature was just the start, and an entire species of superbugs have made drastic changes to their diet recently, namely adding human meat to the menu. It's up to the sheriff, to rally his gang of ex-girlfriends and local nuts against the insect take-over. More bug related doom follows as well as some shoddy relationship examples and a bloody blob of bug parts with a human face. Also, Dr. Hubbard really likes being bitten by her pets at the lab, like, a lot.
Initially, the film’s plot and general motif are that of every Jaws rip off mixed with a little of Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). These borrowed moments are lovingly shoved together into the dated frame of a classic creature feature. Outside of some cars, the finale’s effects and camera quality, the project could have been made for the drive-in crowd, cashing in on the earlier era's animal attack craze. Compared to films with similar themes, where the vintage cheese is played for laughs, The Nest approaches the source material with a mostly straight face. Knowingly, It leans hard into the b movie tropes, cliches, and format without overt meta-reference or a snubbed nose. As the plot moves along from animal attack movie into schlocky sci-fi, it takes on a few self-aware qualities but holds tight to its earnest ambitions. The desire to thrill or scare makes the dialogue all the campier in savory varieties lost on parody. I'm pretty sure everyone knows it's ridiculous, but by not continually pointing that out in a self-defeating way, the viewer can engage with (or giggle at) the mixed bag of silliness on any level they choose. Almost nothing substantial happens for much of the early storyline, and we are left with bits and pieces of small-town melodrama told with an out of place whimsical undertone. It's more fun than it should be and ends up landing a carefree vibe even with the whole creepy asshole protagonist thing it's got going on. I don't know if its the fact that it takes place at a waterfront, that it's mostly lifted from Piranha (1978) or that I associate bugs with warmer months, but it has a real "summer" vibe to it. The seasonal vacation motif sticks around until it explodes into messy mutated carnage, never looking back and rendering most of the relationship shit null. As a more era-appropriate riff, this latter chunk seems to pull from Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) pretty heavily as well as Carpenter's The Thing (1982) and tosses in some unsavory implied eroticism for extra flavor. Hollow but satisfying in some of my favorite ways, it's a tour of vintage genre trash with a finish that's all late 80s. I make no claims to be a bug expert; however, I would probably leave your life science textbook on the shelf and just enjoy the silly, sometimes sticky, ride.
If it wasn't obvious, Roger Corman fingerprints are all over the late 80s outing. Through  Concorde Pictures, his wife Julie Corman served as producer, and Roger reportedly ponied up some of the dough for production, which features many of his trademarks throughout. In a lot of ways, it serves as "best of" when it comes to the nature-attacks films he has laid hands on but with cockroaches and some awesomely morbid late 80s trends thrown on top. It ends up being a solid example of that subgenre, at least in part due to the direction of Terence H. Winkless. There are a lot of great updates to the format, but while the majority of them seem to emphasize the comedic aspects of the golden age of Corman shlock, here Winkless puts forth an attempt to scare and/or thrill. It's not wholly effective, if at all, but the serious route makes for a different kind of derivative b movie enjoyment.  As was the norm for Concorde releases at the time, there is recycled footage intercut from other features to pad up the action with more explosions. It's not exactly subtle (talking like Sgt. Kabukiman Car Crash style), and if your up on your deep-dwelling Humanoids then you will probably see through the "sneaky" splicing. In-kind pieces of The Nest would later be utilized in the piecemeal Dino flick, Raptor (2001), as well as other Corman linked productions. The rest of editing is functional, at its best it invokes some of the film’s oddly satisfying, laid-back vibes. At worst, it ruins the set-up on the intentional comedy.  Reserved primarily for the second half, the real payoff comes from the properly grotesque, all-in practical effects. They are nowhere near the best the era had to offer, but they have moments of true gooey greatness and are consistently well designed. Possibly due to a lack of help from editing and angles, the monstrosities can look a little stiff in action at times, and like the rest of the film, the gags can be somewhat familiar. Though flawed, the effects are still worth the wait for any era-appropriate goo fans, even if you weren't digging the throwback vacation-town drama. The production brought in its own real-life infection by using over 2,000 real cockroaches, which they graciously left behind at the studio in LA.
The cast features a large chunk of Star Trek alumni from the various space-faring series in well-placed roles, even if the most seasoned of them Robert Lansing doesn't seem super stoked about the material. As the grumpy, nefarious and stubborn mayor, Lansing sometimes feels like he is reading someone else's lines. Luckily, the veteran exudes classic but adequately cornball authority without really trying. His schtick here is kind of low rent Ronny Cox meets evil Andy Griffith and is probably the most lackluster element in the film, but he is also responsible for some of the movie’s best unintentional comedic lines, so it works out (that might also be why he is pissed though). My favorite character, crazy science lady Dr. Hubbard is played by Terri Treas, who I can't see without remembering her rubber alien cranium prosthetic from the Alien Nation TV series(not that I spent a year watching that entire series on sci-fi reruns, instead of going to school). Her character here takes a few cues from iconic fellow mad-scientists but amps up some unique aspects to make it her own. The story doesn't even explain or further utilize half the crap she says or does, but it's all trashy gold to me, and Treas seems to be having a blast being weird as fuck. She has never been in a Star Trek series, which I find to be a shame as she handles jargon well here, and we already know she can do rubber headgear. Franc Luz takes up the most screen as Richard Tarbell, while Lisa Langlois plays damsel/other women/awkward love interest, Elizabeth Johnson. The two have a creepy relationship that is baked prominently into the banter, awkward looks, and circumstances. I had chalked it up to just being bad, confusing fictional relationship dynamics, but after repeat watches, I'm starting to wonder if that speaks to some rambling exposition stuck in the bug shit later. There is also a good chance I could be overthinking, which is both not an effective way of watching this and really an all-around unhealthy thing to do in these situations.
The Nest (1988 film) is squirming shlock casserole made from generations of monstrous seafood leftovers, body horror, and cockroaches. It's a classic nature-attacks drive-in flick with a gnarly VHS practical effects point on its tail end. I wouldn't say it's going to become your favorite Corman-flavored nugget from the 80s, but it's a fulfilling alternative update of the "King of the Drive-in"s more celebrated years. It's also not a smart movie despite "science" being at the forefront, just good squishy pulp with a noticeably gung ho spirit. Speaking of which, did you know scorpions kind of pop when you smash them? It's true. I hear it over and over, every night while holding back tears. 
1h 29min | 1988
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Writers: Eli Cantor (based on the novel by), Robert King

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Meaty Bits: Short Reviews and a Digital Religious Artifact

Short Reviews

While I usually spend a few days with a single film for the "reviews" for this site, watching and rewatching, making notes, editing (etc…), I thought I might change it up this week. So below are some quick thoughts on shit that I have checked out for the first time within the last few days. This includes some relatively more mainstream media, recent random finds, and my usual weird fare. Unlike my other reviews, I have only watched these things once. As these are mostly knee -jerk reactions, all are subject to me completely changing my mind on a second viewing, absolute misunderstanding on my part, or a full "review" at a future date.

Midsommar (2019)

promotional picture via
A beautiful, finely detailed piece that has just enough unnecessary spinning camera tricks to effectively utilize the style choice. I fell in love with the pacing, and the bits of gore kept their impact with some unexpected comedy. In all honesty, it was one of the best mainstream theatre experiences I have had in months (not actually saying much). Those up on their 70s classics (or at least Shirley Jackson’s written work), will find no surprises in the plot, aside from the variety of execution. Fortunately, the whole thing works on several levels without a defined twist.

It Came! (1993)

What initially starts out with an inebriated Richard Jenkins look-alike describing drinking game rules, goes on to be a trashy SOV ode to something like Zapped! (1982) mixed with a crude version of Shocker (1989) and an action film that Troma would have picked up from a third party in the middle of the 90s. I wasn't mad.
(IMBD - Source Toxic Filth)

Stranger Things - Season 3 (2019)

I don't want to say anything negative, so I'll just instead say, it would have been a more fitting "homage" to the third movie in an 80s genre series, if they would have cut the budget in half and maybe switched an actor in the main cast and played it off like it was the same person or killed someone off-screen in-between seasons.
(IMDB - WIKI - Source Netflix)

The Lazarus Effect (2015)

How come no one told me they remade Flatliners in 2008? I guess I remember hearing something about it, possibly scoffing and then just ignoring it, so maybe it's my bad. Anyway, time (and the three dollar DVD bucket at Walmart) has a way of changing perspectives, so we made our way to each other sooner or later. Surprisingly, unlike the official remake, which plopped out nine years following as one of the many soulless poster children for unnecessary remixes, this rip off has some angry (and angsty) kick to it. It didn't blow me away, and the jump -scare stuff falls flat, but it has a few solid performances and some spirited context on top of the b-movie format that I can get behind. Also, and not to hark on this, it really makes that 2017 Flatliners feel all the more worthless.
(IMDB - WIKI - Amazon)

VigasioSexploitation Vol.2 (2011)

As far as I can tell, the film follows a large breasted woman who is gifted a magic mustache from a skull mask-wearing wizard. She then suits up in some leather and goes out to fuck some shit up and get laid while mad scientists and possibly sinister aliens work together on a race of superhuman extraterrestrial hybrids (I think). I won't ruin anything else (fucking titty guns!! Okay nothing else). It was like Jess Franco adapted a hypersexual anime with someone more basic (and a little more generic) controlling the camera. I was both entertained and thoroughly confused, which is one of my favorite states of being. It wasn't the most awkward chubby of the month, but it was up there.
(IMDB - Source Toxic Filth)

Digital Religious Artifact 

FOUND FOOTAGE "...the big three..."

Meditation seems like something I could use in my life. I have known people fully practiced in the art and have seen the benefits. It's pretty basic stuff. The idea is to clear your mind, find a center of some kind, get extra relaxed, and reap the benefits of the more composed. I could do with a “centering” and some composure. Unfortunately, I have trouble with the "clearing" part, I think I'm chronically cluttered. I have tried a few techniques, including some guided practice. Can someone be immune to this kind of thing? I try to give in to a simpler state of thought, but as soon as my mind can declutter, it's conjuring monsters, boobs, killer robots or all three with explosions and narration by Jonathan Frakes. However, today, I am proud to report that I may have come close while engulfed in the following clip.
Listening to an elderly man's aimless commentary while he pans around documenting his yard in analog seems to do the trick.
 What are his motives for making this 8MM time capsule? Who is this footage for? 
In that beautiful alien moment, I care not, those things don't matter-- it simply needed to happen. Accompanied by a loved one with symphonic chaos, the nameless geriatric makes sure to capture every detail for some forever mysterious posterity. The grainy, pointless tour is, for whatever reason, a calming blanket on my soul and brings me to a place of almost spooky stillness. Thanks, man with Sanyo VISION 8 Camcorder from the past, for your guidance in my path to Nirvana.
(Source: Magnetic Catacombs Youtube)

New full review coming next week. In the meantime, if there are any Digital Religious Artifacts you think I need to see, send them my way by way of email (, social media, or the comment section below--along with your own reviews, love letters cut from stolen magazines and or critical animosity written in crayon, etc.


Shrunken Heads (1994) Review by RevTerry

When I die, cut off my head and shrink it. I have been thinking about this. I originally wanted to be buried, unmarked, in a field somewhere to get my rot on like nature intended, but I guess that's illegal in most places, and I wouldn't want to get any loyal compadres in trouble posthumously. As a plan b, I thought someone could just burn my dead ass. I'll take up little to no space, and I enjoy a good fire. That scenario led to imagining a piece of me preserved in a jar for eternity, and subsequently, the chance that I could end up on a shelf next to my favorite movies made me want to fit the motif a little better. It could also be that vases are lame, even when they have dead people dust in them. Either way, I've decided--shrink my fucking head when I conk out for good. Can a blog post count as a binding will and testament? I once saw a few authentic shrunken heads at the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum as a kid. They were less the creepy, mystic artifact I had envisioned, more like a rabbit's foot with a mean mug. From what I understand, after you have chopped my dome piece off and disposed of the leftovers, you poke some holes and boil it--or something. I don't actually know, maybe find a professional when the time comes. That way, my loved ones can keep me in the family room on a shelf between horror and sci-fi, on a bed stand or maybe even take me for trips. I could hang on a rear view mirror or be carried around in a purse. Friends can take pictures of me at coffee houses and waterfalls for my Instagram like a celebrity's cat. For the first few months, any time someone gives their condolences, the keeper of my head can whip me out so those fake bastards can say it to my face. If at a point, nobody wants my free range nut, throw me in the toy aisle at Ross or a random hotel drawer like I'm a Gideon bible, letting fate take its course. That is unless I'm still able to talk like in Shrunken Heads (1994).
Vinnie (A.J. Damato) and his crew of angry knock-off Firebirds are a nuisance in the local community. When they are not committing overcomplicated acts of larceny, they make difficult the lives of the suspiciously younger looking teens on the block. Seemingly, none more so than hardworking Tommy Larson (Aeryk Egan) and his two homies/fellow DC comic book fans, the chocolate-addicted ginger Bill (Bo Sharon) and recent transplant Fredrick "you can call me Freddie" Thompson (Darris Love). Their conflict comes to a drastic head when Tommy openly snitches out the vintage looking thugs to the local police. The arrest catches the attention of Vinnie's boss the city's criminal overlord Big Moe (Meg Foster), and an order is issued to have the three kids kidnapped. That goes over easy enough until the kids escape the room they are locked in at bad-guy H.Q. and get away with some incriminating documents (the office full of evidence is a great place to keep prisoners). Big Moe blames Vinnie for the whole botched ordeal and sends him out with a shotgun to take care of it  (kill some minors). Reluctantly, Vinnie follows through and lays waste to the kids in the middle of a street somewhere. Upon hearing of the tragedy, the local newspaper-stand owner/retired cop/necromancer (Julius Harris), who had mentored the now dead boys, immediately decides some spooky vengeance is in order. So with some help from Tommy's new girlfriend Sally (Rebecca Herbst), he gathers the corpses after the funeral. Then, at a shack somewhere, the two cut up the cadavers--and in a ritual that's two parts movie voodoo and one part reanimator super science, bring them back to life as floating malformed heads. Equipped with a random array of powers, the three disembodied dome pieces commence to dispensing justice throughout New York, all while looking like some ugly-ass balloons without a string. The dead kids seem to dig it though, which is cool because I think they are stuck like that forever.  Also, they sometimes turn people into community service zombies that do shit like pick up trash and clean up graffiti.
To borrow a term of endearment from the vice principal at my first high school, Shrunken Heads (1994) is an “ungrounded odd duck with no place in the world.” A flamboyant, juvenile tale of grim revenge, it's as if the Puppet Master series had adopted the abandoned love baby of The Crow and The Sandlot, raising it into its early teens on a steady diet of Cheese Wiz and paint chips. It's a live-action cartoon that lives in its own reality, with loose logic and no clear cut motive. Unconfined, the story is set in a fictional era, detailed by a pseudo-nostalgic mix of Saturday morning heroes and coming of age tropes. The murderous gang of Jr wise guys is a malt and cigarette flavored blend of both groups from The Outsiders (1983) and the psychopathic Kiefer Sutherland from Stand by Me (1986). Their repertoire of mischief includes boosting car tires like it's the 50s, while a kid dressed in 70s attire captures the scene with a 90s tape recorder. It's not a thinking movie--best to just succumb to bubbly madness and come to peace with nothing making sense--at least not in a traditional fashion. There is always something off about it, like you missed part of the joke but can easily laugh anyway, albeit nervously. The ever-present sense of chaos, obtuse character choices, and the anachronisms are all part of the unexpected entertainment. It introduces itself as a juvenile fantasy and serves up an undead revenge tale with dark comedic delivery while acting as if that is the status quo. With inexplicable innocence, the whole thing is a special kind of demented wrapped in happy-go-lucky fluff.  While it's technically built around something morbid, it is somehow never mean spirited in the slightest. As if unaware of unsettling details and implications of its premise, the tale about floating, severed, reanimated thirteen-year-old heads is played off as a comic book hero origin story. Sometimes it's a full-on kids movie, but the kind we only saw in the 90s going straight to tape, far removed from Disney's vetting and filter. Starting out squeaky clean and with several "cute" moments, it doesn't have a swear word until twenty minutes in, then it slips out distressing content just as easily as the occasional “shit.” By the time we get to floating heads, it is hard to determine who exactly this film is for--I assume just Richard Elfman, some 90s latchkey pre-teens with a Blockbuster card and me.
The movie represents a collision of niche worlds and may come with some predisposed enjoyment on my part. Both the Elfman and Band families have been instrumental in making me the upstanding, well rounded (extremely popular) individual I am today, and the novelty of the collaboration is enough to win me over. To be all the way straight, I'm just glad it exists. While it's not the masterpiece of strange I would have imagined, it's thoroughly entertaining and utterly confusing. As it's directed by an original Mystic Knight of the Oingo Boingo, it's a tad unfortunate that more of that particular camp doesn't bleed through; however, it's definitely present. Those familiar with the Full Moon filmography will recognize many of the calling cards. It is built from the same resource pool and has the usual centerpiece of bite-sized lovingly crafted creature effects (etc.). In this case, however, Elfman's warm signature brand of weirdness brings the familiar parts to life in a unique fashion with added enthusiasm. In a way, it feels more complete or natural, as if it makes perfect sense to somebody, somewhere. Just as left field as any other Full Moon miniature monster fest, the gags are more alien than awkward, if that makes sense. I personally enjoy the fuck out of ninety percent of Full Moon’s catalog, so I wouldn't say it was better, just satisfying in a different way while using a lot of the same pieces. It captures the spirit of those Prehysteria! movies that I rented over and over as a child, with a morbid filter that I can still appreciate now. The marriage is inconsistent, but when the overlap is just right, it's something like a coked out Tim Burton's low budget answer to Power Rangers.
Elfman makes great use of the frugal stage play set dressing by embracing an unrealistic presentation style. Adorned in shadows, exaggerated angles, and colorful tones, the shots are reminiscent of the eccentric noir made popular by the Burton Batman films. It's not an uncommon theme choice, especially for the period, but the partnering subject matter and handling are twisted enough to make it stand out. The film’s on-screen magic combines cheese ball special effects with well crafted but exaggerated practical work. It's not Full Moon’s best in this category by a long shot, as its most memorable “creature” moments are the accidental byproduct of its comedic bad cut paste effects. Instead of puppets, the titular heroes are (usually) the young actor's real faces painted up like zombies and superimposed into each scene. It reminds me of something you might find on intentionally irrelevant current comedy shows today, like Tim and Eric or The Mighty Boosh designed to give you the uncomfortable willies. Aside from some swearing, it's in the PG rating range, although that includes some extra guidance for the decapitation I guess and a scene where one of the heads awkwardly motorboats his school crush. The director brings along his brother Danny Elfman for the main theme while the other Band sibling Richard scores the rest of the film.
The project marked Richard Elfman's return to filmmaking following the cult classic Forbidden Zone fourteen years prior. It was produced from a script by Matthew Bright and a concept by Charles Band. As a writer, Bright had previously worked with Elfman on Forbidden Zone (1980) and would shortly start work on Freeway (1996), where he would direct as well. Marking a first for Band’s Full Moon Entertainment, who until then was strictly a straight to tape distributor, the film saw a limited theatre run on release. The legendary Meg Foster plays the crime syndicate boss, in one of her most entertaining and bonkers performances. I'm not too sure what was going on, but it is undoubtedly a highlight of the film and invokes the playful pulp of Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy film with a hint of John Waters. Among some familiar faces is the talented Julius Harris in his last film appearance as Mr. Sumatra. Everything Harris says sounds intense and wise despite his lines being gibberish with some seriously shaky moral ground. The protagonists are children and do the best with willfully over the top dialogue. I assume there were also some interesting filming situations (being floating painted up faces for half the film). I don't mean horror movie-like shaved adults in high school either, real-life young teens, so the fact that they don't get unbearably annoying gets a thumbs up from me. Another Elfman, Richard’s son Bodhi makes a zombiefied cameo as "Booger" because nepotism is not a bad thing if you're an Elfman. The more, the better as far as I'm concerned. I get the feeling holiday get-togethers are some next-level shit in that clan.
Shrunken Heads is a carefree block party between the neighborhoods of peculiar concepts and familiar themes, where sometimes children get their heads chopped off. It doesn't have any peers, but the iconic qualities of its combined DNA are evident in the silly madness. It often feels like a kids movie, though there's a good chance it is too bizarre for parental approval, and while it's pretty fucked up if you think about it too much, it's not really a horror movie. Even if I can't explain it or show the other grown-ups, it has an inappropriately authentic soul I can get down with. Plus, it only strengthens my new resolve to have my head shrunken when I bite the big one. I just need someone healthy enough to preside over the process when the time comes. I couldn't find any professional services for it on Google, so they should probably be handy with a hacksaw and a bucket as well.
1h 26min | 1994
Director: Richard Elfman
Writers: Matthew Bright, Charles Band

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The Master Demon (1991) Review by RevTerry