Circuitry Man (1990) Review by RevTerry

For a very long time I, ever begrudgingly, worked in the computer repair department of an “electronic” store. You know the one, the only “electronic” store left in most of the United States. Let's just say my uniform involved a clip on and white shirt, but I was surrounded by people in blue. As the corporate face of residential IT, technology and repair, you get use to a few endlessly repeated questions. “ Will this play World of Warcraft?” , “Can you make this faster?”, “How many ‘jigglebits’ should I have ?”, "What should I do to stop my son from visiting Russian cam sites?"…… etc. The worst of these questions are the ones you can never seem to answer right. In those situations where, because you're confined to this reality, you can't fulfill the customer's preconceived plan. I tried not to hold it against anyone-- experience comes with perspective. I understand that without some knowledge in specific areas, certain things can seem like they shouldn't be a problem, when they are. We all have our areas of expertise. Still, a person can only take so much, and it seemed like everyday I explained to what looked like the same lady, the reasoning behind why there isn't just a “regular” cord with USB A on both sides, or why a device to convert VGA to DVI costs a hundred and some dollars, while converting DVI to VGA could be done for little under twenty (at the time). It would get to me a little I'll admit, although I always did my best not to be one of the stereotypical asshole nerd-guys. I'm already skinny and unkempt, so  I definitely do not that need that added to my description. During my time in that vocation, more than a few customers had inquired (sometimes urgently) as to where they could locate some kind of universal connector unit, one that had all inputs and outputs for every (or almost every) device you might run into. Sometimes, even swearing up and down that they saw it on TV or their acquaintance had one. It's a semi-reasonable request, I guess, but one with a complex answer. I mean, technically what they were looking for was just called “a computer”, but they were thinking about something more portable (for lack of a better word), for maybe plugging their iPod into random holes they found around town. Like some kind of device protocol unifying Babel Fish. You should make one of those, they would say. I didn't know how to answer other than, “haha yea…”, trying to control any involuntary sarcasm, because like I said-- no one likes a jerk off geek. They wanted magic, and if I had powers at the time, I certainly wouldn't be making damn near minimum wage fixing computers, dressed as a Mormon missionary. Without recourse, usually I would stop listening and let my mind wander to a slightly related film. I was lucky enough to catch it a few times on tv as a child, during those HBO free previews they use to do. It was the first time I was posed with this universal connector idea. Except, this version was attached to the noggin of the aptly named villain Plughead from Circuitry Man (1990).
The planet is a wreck. The water supply has run dry, and the air has become unbreathable, so as a last-ditch effort by the government, mankind was shuffled underground where oxygen could be supplied artificially. Somewhere along the way, society collapsed as well, and all that is left is a subterranean wasteland of advanced technology, criminal enterprise, cops and soft jazz tunes. After quickly filling us in on the story's setting, the movie starts by introducing us to Lori (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), a bodyguard in underground Los Angeles who services are being sought by the local crime boss, Juice (Lu Leonard).  Lori has recently hung up her ass-kicking shoes and stopped providing protection to lowlifes to pursue a quiet life of dressmaking. Unfortunately, after her boyfriend sets her up, she is left with no other choice but to take up the shady former employer on a job. Forcefully brought in by Juices right-hand flunky Yoyo (Barbara Alyn Woods), she is taken along to a back alley exchange. Juice has a large microchip deal going down and feels the need for added protection, the kind only Lori can provide, I guess. The shady exchange is with criminal mastermind Plughead (Vernon Wells), a former physiotherapist with various implanted wire ports in his skull who uses the microchips to get off. The whole thing starts out at a table with a noisy audience, like they are going to arm wrestle before they break out the cliche, brown briefcases and get to dealing. During the meet up we are introduced to Danner (Jim Metzler), a “pleasure” robot who has been manipulated into retrieving the chips from New Yolk by Juice who implanted memories of a fictional captive lover. After he bursts in and unsuccessfully threatens to kill himself in exchange for information on his girlfriend ( that never existed), the whole deal goes south. Some of the crowd that is standing around while this techno-drug deal goes down, turn out to be cops, and everybody tries to make a break for it. Lori escapes with the chips, but in the madness, Plughead kills Juice and recruits Yoyo in his pursuit of the contraband. Lori decides to run away to New York with the chips but will need Danner’s experience if she is going to make it. Danner agrees but only after she lies and tells him she knows his imaginary lover's whereabouts. With the murderous Plughead on their tail and love on their side, the duo makes the sordid trek across the underground United States. Along the way, they will have to deal with bullshit cops, backstabbing wastelanders and the uninhabitable outside world, they may also fall in love--or at least the soundtrack is pretty sure they are going to.
Circuitry Man is a romantically charged, gauntlet style action film that takes place in a vault dwelling, dusty ass, post-apocalyptic world. While any combination of those words has a chance to be a pretty fun watch in movie form, the film stands out by borrowing the smoky, dreamlike feel of classic noir cinema. The result is something like an episode of the Red Shoe Diary's set after a mass extinction event, but in a good way. It wears its dry dime store, crime novel persona like a disguise, hiding cyberpunk concepts and violent slapstick behind soft jazz segways. The physical setting is similar to its higher budget, blood relative Cherry 2000 (1987), a used up wasteland, styled by unproportioned technology and poverty, only in this case, mostly taking place underground. Its opening crawl has a vibe that's reminiscent of a corny 80s romantic comedy or sappy TV show. The floating renegade tone never really leaves as the film continues on, instead it just evolves, lingers and blends with the goofy sci-fi or random sexual tension to create the film’s style. There is some Blade Runner (1982) in there of course, but it takes more from its source, having some of Philip K. Dick’s more pulpy and emotional tendencies. It also pulls a lot from William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy (or Sprawl trilogy), beating that universe's official adoption (Johnny Mnemonic 1995) to the cinematic punch by five years. The act of "plugging in", some of the artificial intelligence shit, and the fact that all the badasses are female, all harken back to Gibson’s work but with a lighter take. Strangely, the story is never really mean-spirited. it has a constant good-humored nature, despite tangled wires, gruff characters, and dark tunnels. At times, its attempts at an anti-hero come a little too close to a family film scoundrel instead, but it works.  It's consistently engaging throughout. I find myself caring more than the outside appearance and simple core story would initial indicate, but I have also always been a sucker for human-robot love affairs.
It is hard to really pin down all of its influences, and there are most likely a bunch more than I could mention. Some of the adventure aspects could, as far as I know, be torn from those romantic novels with the man-meat covers you see old ladies reading, only with a dirty cyberpunk paint job. It definitely has moments akin to something like Romancing the Stone (1984).  As I Mentioned before, the film only lightly touches on the few hard sci-fi elements that it borrows from its literary sources. It successfully brushes passed each as if they are universal constants, while still detailing enough to justify their use. The range of biohacking from utilitarian brain downloads to euphoric drug like sensations (mostly directly cribbed from Gibson and maybe a little Dick), could have seemed to be parodying more celebrated favorites like The Matrix (1999), had it been released almost ten years later. The AI is presented as a given in-universe, in this case, with a focus on manufactured companionship for humans. Where Cherry 2000 sexbots were lifeless mimics and more the sought after “object”, the android seen in this film is more than human enough to relate to. As if it was the flip side of Blade Runner's slave labor but for just loving instead. For all we know, there was a thriving synthetic human industry somewhere, at some point, we just happen to meet a sex robot--a sex robot with a heart of gold. Take away from that what you want. The heartbreaking fake memories of a partner (who never existed) used to control the synthetic Romeo is an interesting (although not super uncommon) plot point. Later, similar themes will be explored in depth in science fiction flicks like Moon (2009- dammit, now I'm bumming myself out). 
For it's modest budget it fills out well. The surroundings feel busy with lively embellishment that makes use of societies leftovers. It feels fittingly cramped and stale in the overcrowded vaults. Frequent washed out lighting and rooms filled with solid primary colors on the cheap get closer to those made for the Emmanuelle in Space (1994) series than the 80s sci-fi motif it seems to be going for, but it's a good middle ground for the rest of the film’s style. Despite being dripping with corny-ass romantic feels, and out of place sexiness, it has little nudity. I can't help but see this as a plus in this very specific case--hear me out bro--it all works out really fucking well in my opinion. It walks a very thin line with it's more shallow, sappy qualities. A little more nudity and a little less well-read sci-fi creativity, and you have something closer to a Shannon Tweed movie. Not that this is a bad thing, but in the case of Circuitry Man, we would miss out on some unique-ass shit, had it veered too far in any direction. Most of the more violent actions are done off screen, so there is not much in way of gore either. It makes up for the lack of sleaze with an assortment of practical effects. Some highlights include (of course ) Plughead’s prosthetic scalp and a shell-shocked mechanic with oversized robotic legs. The soundtrack is one of my favorite parts, it is smooth AM radio jazz throughout. Deborah Holland provides a soundtrack that can only be described by oxymorons, all the way up until the point it disappears explicitly. The film’s dramatic end scenes are suspiciously devoid of musical backing. Everything up to that point is bizarre and pretty fucking amazing. I don't think I would really enjoy whatever movie those songs actually belong in, but I dug the fuck out of them in this flick.
Jim Metzler plays Danner, the android that sees suicide as the only recourse for his lost love. If you watched tv in the late 80s/90s, you have most likely seen his face before. Half systematic repetition and half manic loneliness, Metzler does well as the lovelost robot. Dana Wheeler-Nicholson is the grumpy badass Lori. This is one of my favorite roles of hers, but she will forever be Agent White on the X-Files episode, Synergy (aka the mystery of the horny beast) in my eyes. Vernon fucking Wells plays Plughead. He always does the bad guys in entertaining ways, but the extra bit of ham is just right for the semi-titular character. The best of the film's moments involve his over the top (personal space invading) cyborg psychotherapist antagonist. The supporting characters seem extremely detailed with busy lives and motivations of their own. Of note, Barbara Alyn Woods as Yoyo, Plughead’s newest bloodthirsty lackey. She makes a good contrast to the (would be) retired bodyguard Lori. Everyone one seems to be having a blast making the film, especially Wells who would return with Metzler for the sequel.
Circuitry Man is a mix of interesting science fiction and out of time romance, that I would have never guessed I wanted. In many ways, it's a tribute to classic works that came before it, but it has a soul that is entirely its own. It has a simple story but packs it with a lot of odd styles, great characters and what should be clashing aesthetics. It goes well alongside other semi-sensual, post-apocalyptic road films like Cherry 2000 (1987) and Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988). Of course, it's not for everyone, but that shouldn't stop everyone from trying it, because it can't be judged by its name, cover art or opening crawl (or really my review for that matter). I really enjoy the shit out of this flick--plus it truly helped me meditate away, in those dark moments in my life where I was at risk of being an angry nerd guy that yelled at frantic soccer moms and lost his shitty job. It's actually one of my (million) favorites and I would say “highly recommended” like other movie reviewers--but then I run the chance of becoming that stereotypical asshole nerd-guy that tells folks to watch weird movies involving robot-fucking. I'm already skinny and unkempt--I definitely do not that need that added to my description.
1h 33min | 1990
 Director: Steven Lovy
Writers: Robert Lovy, Steven Lovy 

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RevTerry


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Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) Review by RevTerry

I like to think most people have awoken in an unfamiliar place before and in a panic had to rewind the night's events in their mind. If not most people, then a good chunk. Sometimes, that shit goes down and you wake up at the park, some strange bathroom or wrapped in a sheet you do not recognize.  Sometimes you just have to find your pants and deal with it. You make your way home by whatever means possible, while trying not to draw too much attention, then you strain to remember the details of whatever event brought you to this state and try to forget it ever happened-- forever. If everyone hasn't experienced that at least once, they should--for like... perspective. It's probably a bad thing if it occurs regularly for extended periods of time, as you may have some kind of problem that needs attention. It's worse still if you wake up wearing nothing but blood. Maybe you made your way to a really theatrical rock concert at some point or acted out some kind of performance art-- but chances are, something really fucked up happened. Like something involving violence (and not the completely fun kind).  Even if it's not your own blood, unexplained bodily fluids are some spooky shit. It's a lot more difficult to make the sprint home nonchalantly when you look like the literal definition of gore-porn. I mean, once you realize the current line up of GWAR isn't touring, and the chunks of flesh in your teeth rule out any artistic endeavor, you have a few possible explanations left. The coolest of which would be that you had been inflicted with the legendary disease known as lycanthropy, aka you are a “werewolf”. I say coolest because a “sicko that bathes in entrails and then takes a nap in the woods” doesn't have as many perks and is a hard sell for sympathy. On the bright side, both lifestyles can make a pretty good movie or sometimes an enjoyable shitty movie. For an example of the werewolf variety, we can look at Howling VI: The Freaks (1991).
The film opens with an awkwardly lengthy sequence involving a girl running in slow motion from what we can only assume is a cameraman with respiratory issues. After the chase and implied “attack” ( POV creature-vision style), we cut to a man walking into a sleepy southern California, desert town El Mariachi style carrying a ripped up teddy bear instead of a guitar. The man, Ian (Brendan Hughes) is quickly greeted by local law enforcement and after being pocket checked is informed he is too broke to stick around. Just when he is about to be kicked out (back into the desert), another local, Dewey (Jered Barclay), comes to his rescue with an offer of room and board in exchange for “wood” work. Ian agrees, and he and his new pal Dewey head back to his pad, which turns out to be a beat-to-shit church. After he meets his host's daughter Elizabeth (Michele Matheson), the two set to work. A buddy montage follows of the two working diligently and developing a bond during an unspecified period of time. Among the heartwarming antics, Ian also finds time to start up a relationship with Elizabeth (because that's what happens in movies). Everything seems to be coming together fantastically, that is until Harkers World of Freaks comes to town. The traveling freak show headed by R.B. Harker (Bruce Payne)  acquires performers by holding people with deformities against their will and brainwashing them. We are introduced to Harker and his crew as they have just abducted, and quickly indoctrinated, a new “alligator boy”, before quickly shoving him on stage. It's pretty sleazy business practice, but it gets worse, when an untimely full moon outs Ian as a werewolf, and Harker realizes he doesn't have one of those yet.
As the title implies, Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) is the sixth installment of the loosely connected Howling series that started in 1981. If you have sampled a few of my other reviews, you may have noticed that I have a soft spot for bad sequels and will do my best to find a silver lining (poor word choice) in some of the more left field and unloved, supposed follow-ups. A few of the films that make up The Howling series would be an exponentially harder task to church-up, in that regard than others. The franchise could be best described as an anthology or collection of takes, as there is little to no connection from film to film, and the qualities range drastically. Like the original Howling, most of the films presumably take cues from Gary Brandner’s book series of the same title (1977).  The first film is a straight classic in my opinion, with a more viral outlook on the furry infliction and an awesome transformation sequence. The film was directed by Joe Dante and featured effects by Rob Bottin (originally Rick Baker was involved but left for American Werewolf in London--a topic for another article).  The second film, Howling II: ... Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985), was a more comedic take on the source material and is virtually the only entry that follows its predecessor's storyline. However, while some of the characters carry over, it is more light-hearted and the tone changes dramatically. It does feature Sybil Danning, Christopher Lee and makes a fantastic, trashy watch. That was followed by an Australian production, The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987), which comes across as the Ninja III: The Domination (1984) of werewolf films, only not nearly as effective. It retains a somewhat decent budget but is jam-packed with random concepts and unnecessary lore. At that point, series continuity was thrown out the window, and the rest of the franchise just continued the trend of completely losing its shit, with an arsenal of bad monster effects and loose logic. Outside of a few nods and the ambitious, ugly clip show of a seventh film (Howling: New Moon Rising 1995), there is little to bridge any of the tales (the eighth even tries to reboot the series...I think). There is a lot more fun stuff to talk about, including the original author Brandner’s involvement with (and distaste for) the series and a dude name Clive Turner-- but that can wait for a movie they are involved in (more). Despite being one of the more frugal (and less affected by Clive Turner or Gary Brandner), the sixth film, for a few reasons, has always stood out of for me as one of the more memorable examples in the franchise.
The film has a distinct rustic flavor to it, as well as an eye for strange details. I do not know what plot points it takes from the book series (I have only read the first in the series and can not comment), but it seems to take cues from Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, more than anything. As far as I can tell, it doesn't make any strides to connect to the other films in the series, outside of a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo ( which the following film elaborates on-- kind of...) and of course...the werewolf stuff. Because of its restraint when it comes to Ian's hairy side, it could easily fit inside the patchwork world that was haphazardly assembled in the other Howlings before it (aside from maybe the effects of a full moon thing that goes back and forth in canon). The isolation helps with it being a “one-off”, taking place in a small town and involving a traveling circus on the fringe. The contained plot would fit nicely in a horror anthology television show and, with little alteration, could have been a monster of the week for Kolchak or the X-Files crew. It crawls a little, but that comes with some surprising character development and motivation.  Most of the intentional humor left over in part Part V is lost to a more dramatic tone.  It takes a more classical note and plays it closer to something like Naschy's Wolfman meets The Last Unicorn (1982), with an attached moral about not judging skin conditions. It isn't some kind of masterwork by any means (it may be even a little stretch to say it is “good”), but it's engaging enough and miles ahead on the four sequels before it, story-wise. Even with better intentions, It's still pretty fucking silly. The attempts at a gothic vibe fall somewhere closer to Full Moon Productions circa 1990 than the more celebrated influences it has. Some of the logic is a little fuzzy, and it's admirable but shallow message comes off heavy-handed. It plays with the carny feel in a few ways that contrast preconceived notions, but the bulk is cliched circus tropes. Somehow, with all it's borrowed pieces, it manages to be its own thing. There is a slightly surreal atmosphere that blends with the subject matter and brings up its fairy tale roots. It employs a more dramatically driven story and sets it in a universe of frequent supernatural forces. It dodges some of its peer's pitfalls by being character focused and not divulging an unnecessary amount of details about the nature of lycanthropy. Like a few of the other Howling films, it skips over the parts where the main character must come to initial terms with the fucked up changes of being a man-wolf, which (after hundreds of were-movies) is to their credit. In this case, Ian wanders into town, looking for work, already well accustomed to his wolf-hood and even plans out his outburst with a calendar. Apparently, day work and going homeless was his initial life plan, post lycanthropy-- this is supposed to be just another stop on that journey. This film not only presupposes you know what a fucking werewolf is, but also avoids a few (genre typical) cliches and doesn't add unnecessary inconsistencies in the already destroyed series canon by doing so. There is arguably no large fictional world-shaking discoveries in were-studies, outside of some kind of magic dog whistle. It's a more earnest try at radically imposed upon characters within a dark but fantastic world. The drama still plays goofy as all hairy fuck, so in the grand scheme of things, that probably doesn't mean much, but I for one can appreciate that shit.
The film was one of only three directed by Hope Perello, who also had a production credit on things like Puppet Master (1989) and Robot Jocks (1989). She doesn't have much in the way of style, to speak of, but her contributions are more than competent in this case. It's mostly boilerplate placement and framing, with little experimentation. There are a few highly inspired moments in the direction reminiscent of early wolfman flicks, although these are sparse and most are eventually fumbled in some way. The more generic camera work isn't a great match for the slower pacing of the script, and some of the “fully transformed” action scenes could use a little flare. It all holds together well enough to take on a dusty folk-horror atmosphere that lingers throughout. The lighting displays some affectionate practical coloring when it is at it's best and encompassing darkness at its worst. The introduction of the traveling carnival arrives with an atmosphere of pinks blues and, yellows (etc). The movie obviously had a very limited budget that was used effectively (mostly). The werewolf looks like a bad tv effect from the 70s, and there is very little of him (transformed anyway) actually in the film-- it's kind of depressing. The big transformation starts off promising but ends up being the major let down of what is otherwise an upswing for the series. I honestly would have taken whatever the fuck that was in number four. The carnival “freaks”, on the other hand, are pretty well done or least within reason for this kind of film. Outside of a color choice on the final boss (which makes him look a little like the bad guy from the first power rangers movie), the non-werewolf special effects were a plus. Its extremely light on the sleaze on all accounts (I don't even remember a “swear word”) . There is little gore, outside of some blood and a lot of biting. Any truly gruesome stuff is covered in darkness. The horror aspects mostly exist inside dramatic moods--some work, and some, not so much. The final battle suffers greatly from stiff camera work, the shitty wolfman get-up and a tacked on feeling of the segment. All together the technical aspects and direction make for an enjoyable enough watch but not one for those who need their cheese served neat and at a rapid speed.
 Brendan Hughes plays Ian as a blood relative of Vlad, his character from 1988’s romantic vampire flick To Die For. He doesn't quite have the technical backup from that film, but fans of his moody vampire will most likely dig his grumpy werewolf. He also supposedly had an uncredited werewolf part in An American Werewolf in London (1981) so he has some previous fursuit experience. Bruce Payne plays the sinister ringleader Harker, and up until the final battle, he is a highlight of the film. Payne plays closer to the horror cinema roots and carries a few scenes almost solo. Most of the various circus performers were almost perfect and helped with the bizarre mood. The rest of the acting is a mixed bag, but everyone is well placed and looks relatively believable in their role. There are a few serious exceptions, but mostly they provide more unintentional comedy than damage.
I like a lot of what the Howling VI brings to the table. The freakshow motif pairs naturally with the tormented werewolf schick. It almost accidentally jumps over most of the cliched issues within the franchise. It takes the series in a different direction, and it is a better corny wolfman flick for it. Ultimately there are a lot worse movies out there on the subject matter but not a lot with effects as shitty when it comes to the actual werewolf. It's not going to change your life, but its has a little story going on in there, and it follows through in a few ways. Most importantly, it has inspired a good life plan in case I wake up having caught wolfman-itis myself. I can simply add it to the list of things that can begin a Bruce Banner-like trek to nowhere. Yep, just hit the fucking road meeting people and solving/starting problems while dealing with my hugely destructive flip side. Then, all I need is an iconically depressing hitchhiking theme played on a piano.
1h 42min | 1991
Director: Hope Perello
Writers: Gary Brandner (novels), Kevin Rock 

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Vampires: The Turning (2005) Review by RevTerry

I hope this doesn't get taken the wrong way, but I'm hardly ever on the side of the vampires in a movie. They just don't click with me and never really have, at least compared to other monsters of their stature or fame. As a child, I was much more likely to pick Frankenstein's monster or a werewolf during any creature vs creature “ who would win” discussions or monster based role-playing game (i.e. running circles, yelling and magically dodging invisible projectiles) on the playground. In the classic Hammer or Universal films, I could always somehow find a way to relate to most of the monsters, if for anything--at least bad luck. Not so much with Dracula, the snobby undying rich dude. Don't get me fucked up, I have a love for bloodsucker based movies and literature of all kinds, and some badasses have portrayed various versions of Nosferatu. There is plenty of vamp-related shit that one would call “essential” viewing.  I just rarely find myself rooting for the leach-like predators themselves. As far as monsters go, they are usually less the misunderstood underdog and more some kind of overpowered aristocrat. When the classic Dracula preys on a young, ample town's person or an unsuspecting visitor, it's pretty much just a rich guy sucking the life out of some working poor asshole. If it's vampires versus werewolves, the furry guys are always depicted as some kind of shapeshifting hobos--who are only mad because they have been locked away from the benefits of rich, thirsty-goth living. Whenever it's some kind of monster all-star, supergroup type situation in a flick, the vampire is always placing themselves in a leadership position or as the mouthpiece--everyone else is just a mindless pawn. In a way, they effectively still represent the wealthy, heartless bastards Bram Stoker had in mind when making Dracula. We still have rich assholes who would drink your blood and kill you to sustain a life they have already had for a very long time. It is hard for me to root on that kind of dude even with some fangs and maybe a cool cape thing. Of course, because there are so many films that include the time-honored parasite, a few have tried to think outside the box when it came to its pathos, with a range of results. Since there's a chance that a dose of kung-fu will make anything better, we can include the surprise action film Vampires: The Turning (2005)  among that group.
 A couple on vacation in Thailand attend a rather large scale kickboxing event. Amanda (Meredith Monroe) isn't really digging the sport-violence, which leads to a spat between her and boyfriend Connor (Colin Egglesfield) outside of the arena. It doesn't go well, and she storms off into a crowd, leaving Connor to try and follow. The distance between the two grows amongst the dense pedestrians and in the frustration, Amanda loses her sense of direction. Sometime during the chase, she gains the attention of a local who also starts to follow behind (but more effectively). The tail approaches when she is mid-panic and, with a shifty smile, he politely asks if she would like to go down a creepy dark shortcut with him. She agrees (because that's the kind of shit you do anywhere let alone, in a foreign land), and the two make it about halfway through the alleyway before he surprisingly gets in her personal space to bite her. Connor catches up just in time to see some suspicious embracing and another assailant scooping up his girlfriend on a dirt bike. He gives chase, but this only leads to a hand to hand showdown with the initial attacker. During the fight, the kidnapper kicks it into vampire mode, and it begins to look like Connor might be pretty fucked--when out if nowhere, some bald dude lops the monsters head off. He tries to tell his new hero about the ordeal, but the mysterious stranger just tells him to take his ass home and bounces out. Still perturbed from seeing his girlfriend ride off unconscious on the back of a motorbike, Connor doesn't listen and instead follows the grumpy savior with the hope of figuring out what the fuck is going on. His snooping leads to an encounter with some apathetic vampire slayers and a group known as the Song Neng. The ancient order of vampires refrain from human blood, avoid senseless killing and were, in fact, the source of every vampiric species. Sang (Stephanie Chao), the group's uniformly old but still extremely beautiful leader, is on a mission of martyrdom, as it turns out it was her own mistake that created the whole lot of “bad” bloodsuckers worldwide. To reunite with Amanda and possibly get some fanged love on the side, Connor joins their cause. Motorcycle sword action and surprisingly brutal fight scenes follow as he battles his way through Thailand's neon goth underground in order to save his girlfriend from becoming a human Capri Sun.
Let's just get this out of the way. Technically, Vampires: The Turning (2005) is the third film in the Vampires film series that starts with the John Carpenter film in 1998. The first film, which starred James Woods, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and one of the shittier Baldwins, is a fucking classic in my book, along with most of Carpenters work. The second film, Vampires: Los Muertos (2002), was directed by longtime Carpenter collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace and starred pop-rock legend Bon Jovi as the main monster slayer. Wallace is proficient with the smaller budget (like always), and his entry has no trouble fitting into the world created by Carpenter in the first (who served as producer). Bon Jovi's cool uncle routine isn't really a great replacement for balls-out nutbag, James woods, but he seems to just lean into the cowboy thing and they make it work (deeadd or aaliiive). This film, Vampires: The Turning (originally called Vampire III: Throne of Blood) was the first in the series to be made independently from Carpenter. As a sequel to one of my longtime favorites (and it's mostly nifty Jovi-rific follow up), The Turning doesn't quite hold up. Any effort to connect to the rest of the series is minimal or forced, and it contradicts the established lore within the opening monologue. The tone clashes against that of the first two in an awkward way, and they make shitty companions. On its own, however, it's an engaging action flick with not only moody vampire politics but martial arts. I like to pretend it's autonomous, and luckily the generic title helps. I could have told you it was a sequel to Vampires: Out for Blood (2004) with Lance Hendrickson and it would have made just as much sense. Honestly, if you remove the intro and replace all the mentions of “vampire” with “immortal” then you could easily have a Highlander movie that fit better in that (fucked up) timeline than the original cut of Highlander II: The Quickening (1991). 
The film is a mostly made of kung-fu action sequences with attempts at bloodsucker drama. Horror elements are used as the set dressing, or merely flavor, for gang warfare and fancy sword fights in exotic locales. Think more like blood sucking Point Break (1991), or that one straight-to-video Fast and the Furious sequel. The vampire war (between mean vampires, nice vampires, and slayers) in Thailand is surprisingly civil. I mean heads get cut off and mass murder happens, but I remember only one instance of someone getting dragged screaming into the sunlight and exploding. Our main character quickly becomes one of the title monsters (hence “the turning”) and with additional flashy combat, each “slaying” is traumatic. The story is told completely from opposite the slayer faction, seeing them more as a heartless antagonist that puts money over everything. In this world, bloodsuckers meet up in a dirt bike circle like kids in Akira (1988), and peaceful vampires make tense deals with slayers as if they are high ranking mafia bosses. It passes through a few lulls as it attempts to realign with its characters original motivations, but nothing outside of the usual goofy action movie character development. Vampires and kung-fu isn't a wholly unique concept but manages to become memorable by taking both elements seriously at all times (with varied success, but that's less important). The film’s gung-ho pace benefits from the straight face it holds tight throughout the sillier moments, never taking time to break character. It really is more fun than it has any business being, even as it fails at establishing the character-driven revenge/rescue motives it goes for in the face of its predecessors. The main story gets kind of lost in some doomed love triangle that kind of just dies out before the conclusion, which is less than complete. As a third horror-comedy sequel, its existence is a hard fail in almost every regard. Instead, what transpires is entertaining kung-fu flick with ancient lore obsessed vampires and the poachers from Jurassic Park 2. A lot of it feels out of time, and it's hard to remember while watching, what time it was actually made. Large chunks feel straight out of a 90s Van Damme flick while a bunch of the dialogue could have come from something you would see between Jack of All Trades (2000) and Cleopatra 2525 (2000-2001).  In fact, (including its extremely soft ending) altogether, the whole mess has a lost 90s tv show vibe going on (but with better fight scenes). It never really gets boring. For what might as well be a backdoor pilot shoehorned into the canon of a perfectly simple film series, it's a surprisingly solid watch in its own corny ass way.
The film uses bad CG emphasis at uneven points throughout, that look they might lead into an episode of CSI (or one of its many sister shows). Outside of the awkwardly spaced computer generated bullshit, the majority of the film is technically sound and surprisingly proficient. There are scenes of capable practical lighting, and the overall direction pins together the mostly scattered plot with no issues. The locations and set dressing were inspired and hint at the larger underworld not fully explored. The fight choreography is by far the main draw for the film, and while it's nothing to call mom about (I mean...you can), it packs quite a few intense practical (as in no CG or shitty angles) one-on-one bouts. Some are better than others, and they are all sandwiched between hilarious slices of dialogue, but the no-nonsense throwdowns are worth a watch alone. The kung fu comes as a surprise, being that this is supposedly the third in a series about Catholic, cowboy vampire slayers (that kill shit with spike guns and a backhoe), but it all works out. The gore and nudity are a bit skimpy for an “R” rated vampire flick, adding more to the already strong TV show feel. The little bit of bodily harm that does make it in there is amusing enough, when it's not being dampened by CG. The vampiric features of the monsters amount to glowing blue eyes and if they get really amped--some facial get-up straight out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It suffers from extremely generic and increasingly out of place canned tunes that mostly hurt any attempt at serious moments. There have been far worse musical choices in the history of both action and horror (including plenty of vampire films), but I was not digging it much. I felt the copy I was watching had its original soundtrack removed due to copyright concerns, and some intern replaced it with unused early 2000s video game music.
Because of the cheesy dialogue, Conner’s confusing logic and Colin Egglesfield’s cardboard acting, the devotion to finding Amanda feels hollow as fuck. The character is stripped a little of the classic (fancy pants) vamp feel that might have been in a film like this, but the result is more a whiny and unloved c-list X-Men character than anything better.  You follow him as the film’s default protagonist, but it's hard to give a shit about what he does after a certain point. He does, however, make up for many of the pitfalls in the fight scenes, of which it looks like he performed himself (so don't tell him I said he was a shitty actor). As Amanda, Meredith Monroe spends a lot of time laying around being pale, so I couldn't really speak on her abilities passed that. Most of the gangs on either side (both “good” and “bad”) seemed to be selected for their face kicking ability alone, and I'm fine with that (in most cases). Stephanie Chao plays Sang, the leader of the well-meaning crew (The Song Neng). Her ability is quite a few steps above most of the surrounding players, although that means little in this case. For whatever reason, even with a role that seems to teeter on eye candy, and despite feeling like she walked out of another film completely, her character is one of the highlights in the acting department.  Dom Hetrakul, seemed like a weird choice for the“king vamp” role at first. Far removed initially from the normal dapper Nosferatu, his unique route eventually gets to the right place for a bloodthirsty badass. I thought he looked familiar, and it turns out it was a hazy memory from a dark time in my life when I was drinking Jameson out of the bottle and watching Bangkok Dangerous (2008) on repeat (which he's in). Anyway he was cool, and I will have to keep an eye out for his other shit (and possibly rewatch Bangkok Dangerous, partially sober).
Vampires: the Turning isn't likely to become your favorite vampire flick, and it is a terrible example of a 2000s name-only sequel to a classic 90s film as well, but somehow it's still a nice watch all the same. Sometimes you have to just isolate the situation in your mind, get rid of the baggage and enjoy watching monsters rumble like its the fucking Outsiders on kung-fu inducing crack. I'm told there are far worse vamp flicks that involve a love triangle out there, and I have seen enough fucked up Fright Night rip-offs myself to know this is very far from the bottom of the blood barrel. It's in good shape for a film of its type, and it moves at a quick enough pace to be an entertaining play on a few overused themes. It didn't quite make me sympathetic to the plight of the vampires in the story, although the Muay Thai moves were part of a valiant effort. I'm glad I can still enjoy vampire movies anyway, because I hardly ever relate. Semi-immortal powers like life-stealing and an advanced eye for fashion are nothing special in my world--I can get that shit on reality TV shows about rich people's kids.
 1h 24min | 2005
Director: Marty Weiss
Writers: D.B. Farmer, Andy Hurst

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Within the Woods (2005) Review by RevTerry

Recreational outside sleep comes in several flavors.  The two most common types I see are camping-camping, the classic--where you retreat to the wild to disconnect on some level and do shit like hike or take fewer showers, and then drunk-camping, the one where you get intoxicated somewhere remote so no one calls the cops. They can be pretty fucking different types of experiences, but the overlap is possible as well. The first is the kind of thing that you might do with your family and bring along special supplies for. I'm good to go with the right clothes, a tent and some food. You can make it on that and a fire alone, but a lot of people go all out with special camp vehicles equipped with more electronics than the fictional middle-class home in the Best Buy ad. It's a relaxing excuse not to do regular human shit, for most, but an over vocalized hobby for others. In the drunk version, you and a bunch of friends go to a campsite with good parking and get fucked up, that's it. You can bring a tent or a camper, but sleeping is optional, and you really don't want to bring anything too valuable as shit has a tendency to go down. It's not always easy to tell the two types apart at first, but it's usually pretty evident which one you have had by the next morning. I guess both are pretty equal as far as enjoyment goes, in my opinion, although I need to be in the right mood and with the right people to really have fun with either. Horror films depict a third type which, luckily, I have never experienced. I call that one murder-camping. It's kind of a mix of both usually, but perfectly calculated to separate participants so they can be killed. There is a little drinking, some campfire stories, maybe a wiener roast, but at some point, some extra happy campers pair up to do some nature fucking, or some asshole goes off alone to piss and never comes back. A lot of the time it can take place in a cabin, and there can be various underlying initial reasons for the camping trip. I assume you can tell that version of camping has occurred when (if) you wake up the next morning as well. It's not to be confused with the Murder-Summer Camp, which is pretty much the same thing but with counselors. For an unabashed, derivative example of Murder-Camping we can look at the third flick in the straight-to-video Camp Blood series: Within the Woods (2005).
The story picks up after the events of the first two films (Camp Blood 1 & 2) and the legend of clown-guy has only grown, despite the other two having the "twist" in their endings. To capitalize on the notoriety of Camp Blackwood AKA Camp Blood (which is possibly a different location from other two films in actuality, but still hardly a “camp”) a sleazy tv producer, Tony (David Sobel), develops a reality TV show based around blood-soaked events and their folklore. We hear all of the underdeveloped details of his pitch as he leads his assistant, Ingrid (Janelle Herrera), blindly to the location he has scouted out (supposedly the location of the other murders). The show’s premise revolves around having five attention starved contestants all competing for a cash prize, the idea being that those who make it twenty-four hours, without chickening out, can split the pot. He shows Ingrid the cameras he has hidden in trees and introduces her to Griff (Jeff Swarthout), his hired clown killer impersonator. Tony figures if he scares everyone off, it will equal big ratings and he will be able keep the dough that's up for grabs. He then ditches Ingrid out there with Griff for … reasons and heads to some brick and mortar facility somewhere to watch all the shit play out on CCTV while eating jelly beans out of a vase. Pissed off because she has just been taken to a crime scene and was dropped off without warning, Ingrid stops to unbutton her shirt (for some reason) but is interrupted by Griff who already seems to be practicing his creep routine. Very soon afterward, when she has finished whatever she was doing with her shirt, poor Ingrid is hacked to death by a man in a different (definitely more expensive but somehow shittier) clown mask. Tony takes her radio silence to mean that she has left the project and starts yelling at Griff after he says he hasn't seen her in a while. The contestants begin to meander in and meet up by chance in “the woods” as, seemingly, the show has little in the way of a host (I mean even survivor has that dude in cargo shorts). Only four of the show's participants turn up at first, luckily they are pretty well-rounded cliches, having a sleeveless jock (Phil Lander), the fame-hungry blond (Erin Holt), a chain-smoking stoner guy ( in one of those stupid floppy fisherman hats) and a school teacher (). By the time the fifth member of the party shows up, Griff (unbeknownst to anyone) has already been killed in some surprise clown-on-clown violence, and the jock, Russ, is holding the wannabe pop star, Kat’s, hand like they have dated since high school. Camping shit follows as in, a fire gets made, there is some more killing, and sooner or later someone gets to pull off the killers mask like at the end of a Scooby Doo episode.
The series is the brain baby of Brad Sykes. Presumably conceived after spending two weeks locked in a house with the entire Friday the 13th collection, some ICP CDs and a tube of airplane glue. He brought the first three Camp Blood films to life starting with the “original” in 2000. Into the Woods originally served as the third film in the series which capped off the low budget trilogy. It was the last Camp Blood with Sykes involvement before the series was picked back up in 2014 by Mark Polonia with his sequel Camp Blood: First Slaughter. For whatever reason Polonia’s “found footage” entry, First Slaughter, ignores the events of Within the Woods and even uses the name Camp Blood 3 on some media. The film was followed by its own sequels Camp Blood 4 (2016 Dustin Ferguson), Camp Blood 5 (2016 Dustin Ferguson), Camp Blood 666 (2016 Ted Moehring) and  It Kills (2017 Mark Polonia). I don't really understand the retcon; It does nothing for the handy cam garbage film that followed. The subsequent films are watchable but somehow lose a little of the original trilogy's soul. They don't quite hit the right notes, and come across less fun(for lack of a better word). Maybe it's just me, but the three original movies make a nice little trash trilogy, and really all the world needs is another senseless retcon.
Made with very little money and shot on location in the closest thing to a forest available, Within the Woods, like the previous Camp Blood movies before it, is a very special type of garbage. There is some kind of enigmatic joy that can be squeezed from the shaky, flawed footage and whatever-works, frugally thrown together effects. The third film in the series steps up the game a little. The cinematography seems to be more controlled than in the first two, and the sound matches up when people are talking (for the most part). There are a few moments in the beginning that almost reach the heights of cable TV movie quality, and it's even got its own crap-pop theme song. This one feels a little less like a messy clip show of various women running through a field, as a Jason clone in a clown mask stalks awkwardly behind them. I mean that still happens a lot, but there is an overall improvement to the editing and cuts.  Aside from the slight technical advances, the film is a lot more of the same for the series. This includes terrible dialogue, ambitious (but frugal) gore, random breaks for amateur nudity and all with a low rent, half-assed, Friday the 13th feel. The higher quality camera is a double-edged sword, helping a ton with the lighting but also bringing out the film’s various blemishes as well. There are some nice kills for the budget, including a dislocated eyeball, but others are completely ruined by the strange choice of camera angles. That goes double for the blatant fact that they are not actually in what would traditionally be called “the woods”, which might have been hidden a little better with some strategic framing. There are a few scenes where the boom mic makes a cameo-- even damn near takes center stage at one point. My biggest beef would be with the new mask the killer wears. It made Mr. Clown guy look like he was constantly shrugging and might tip over at any moment. The lopsided, rubber head looks like someone painted a misshapen Gilbert Godfrey mask in bright patriotic colors. It's more a spirited horror flick, than an effective one and barebones as it gets, but it all works in its own way, if you know what you are getting into. Honestly, having gripes about the technical quality of this kind of movie is like demanding modesty in a strip club-- you knew what you were in for when you paid the cover.
 The film wallows in the cheese and the shamelessly stolen elements it lays out proudly, some of which, by this point, have become bastard calling cards for the series. It's what I would mean if I ever uttered that overused saying  “it's so bad it's good” but  I fucking hate saying that, so I won't, and people that do are usually referring to something with sharks on the SciFi channel. Many things are so bad they're good, Camp Blood is shitty horror incarnate with all the warts, bruises and dead air that this kind of story can have. It has frugally sourced parts, Frankenstein-stitched together and powered by pure spirit. It is somehow wholesome in its confused, shoestring admiration and simplified, raw replication of its influences. Movies such as this are like the horror equivalent to backyard wrestling, built on the bloody backs of determined fans of the genre with little to no budget or resources. The plot to this entry in the series actually seems to make a little more sense (then the first two) and fills in the canon with several (albeit useless) details. It feels like it's in on the joke for some of the sillier moments but never loses its authentic shitty b-movie feel. There is plenty to laugh at throughout its duration, but the film intent is more tribute than parody. Its dialog and exposition is filled with determined foreshadowing and stabs at character development. Most of it never amounts to anything worthwhile, but it's a pretty hefty step up from the long moments of camera hiss and goofy exclamations called human communication found in the first two. There are no IT references if the clown had you worried. The dude in the mask doesn't so much as giggle or crack a joke.  Largely influenced by the F13 series (hence the Camp Blood title) it stays in that ballpark, and out of all its callbacks, I can't think of one that screamed Pennywise or any other killer clown (unlike 2017s sequel that uses the Asylum-esque name “It Kills” and a party balloon themed subplot).  Like its title (Within The Woods was the original Evil Dead short film) the film’s story, dialog and kills are all borrowed elements. If anything can be said about the writing with confidence, it would be that it is well versed in the camp slasher sub-genre. It's pretty much all dude-in-a-mask killer cliches and tropes you have seen before, just this time with almost no budget.
 There are those classic, well made, almost flawless pieces of film in the world and then far, far away, on the other end of the spectrum, there are the movies like Within the Woods (2005). In some cases, and depending on my mood, they both can have their night at my house. Make no mistake, it is a truly bad movie and probably not one for the homie that brags about making it all the way through Sharknado or whatever else Tara Reid is in these days. Just like camping, it's the kind of thing to be enjoyed with the right crowd. On the other hand, you could just surprise that unsuspecting friend (or friends) with it on movie night and see if they can hang, it works for drunk camping (sometimes). Real life camping can be fun, whether it's the drunk kind or the old-dad type. I'm sure Murder-Camping can be pretty nifty too, with all the fucking and other gratuitous hedonism that goes down in the beginning...before all the killing and running stuff.
1h 25min | 2005
Director: Brad Sykes
Writer: Brad Sykes 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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