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 imdb.com
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.
(IMBD - WIKI)

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 (contact@videoreligion.net), 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.




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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


Review by:
RevTerry

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Carnival of Blood (1970) Review by RevTerry

My only experience with carnivals comes from a small racket that would visit an empty lot in my insignificant California town. It was pretty lame. I only remember it because my dirty teenager gang somehow got thrown out three years in a row for being intoxicated, and for a time afterward that was a bragging point for me (mostly while drunk). I don’t remember much of the three evenings in question, but I think they were otherwise uneventful. At one point, I recall someone making a choice between a picture of Britney Spears in a cardboard frame and hopeless goldfish, but I'm not clear on which one they chose. I have spent a lot of time at fairs, as my dad used to sell blenders when I was really young (trust me-- that correlation makes sense). But those had farm animals and bonus washed-up star performances. I don't think Carrot Top was at the carnival or that dude from Herman's Hermits. Other than the fact they serve fried food, real life carnivals seem lame. It's possible, however, that my disposition is incorrect or just due to the era/location I grew up in, because there are some differences in what the media portrays. Fictional traveling carnivals are where the fucking magic goes down in movies-- that's where you get your age advancing fortune from a mechanical guy or your soul captured for eternity by a dude in a top hat (probably Satan). They house unicorns or werewolves in freakshows and spread occultist lore throughout the land. There is always something special about their parking lot occupation or extra attractions not included in the advertising, like a tendency for patrons to throw loud fits and then get torn apart as in Carnival of Blood (1970).
The film opens to some folksy jam about love played over a man and a woman loudly debating whether or not to head home from the carnival. It seems the woman (Linda Kurtz) has not had her fill with the grease-flavored festivities, while her husband (William Grannell from the "Ginger" films), on the other hand, is demanding they leave. The fighting goes on for a while, along with the contrary tune, intercut with credits that display the woman's disembodied head alongside the cast and crew names (she might also be mouthing the lyrics...she is doing something with her mouth). At one point a machete cuts the head in half, and the title card appears. Cut to Dan (Martin Barolsky), sitting on the porch amid a touching moment with his girlfriend Laura (Judith Resnick). While they hold each other, Dan announces that he has just been promoted to the office of the district attorney, and to celebrate, surprises Laura with a ring. She happily congratulates him on the forward movement, puts on the jewelry and leads him inside to do some naked hugging. Shifting back to the less happy couple still divided on leaving (and back to nighttime). As they are walking, a fortune teller (Kaly Mills) lures them in for a quick card reading. The mystic takes hubbies "bowling money," but after babbling for a little bit, appears to get spooked, gravely declares she can no longer speak to them and kicks the complaining pair out. Next, they visit a balloon popping booth operated by a sympathetic Tom (Earle Edgerton) and his unhealthy assistant Gimpy (Burt Young credited as "John Harris"). The man doesn't have much luck, but his wife won't have it and begins demeaning him in front of the crowd. All the loud complaining visibly annoys Tom who hands over a bear, despite the futile attempts to score enough points. With a new stuffed animal in tow, the still unhappy pair come to an agreement that the next cart ride will be the last. As they approach, they are greeted by a recording of overbearing, continuous clown laughter coming from the tunnel. They strap in, and the ride comes alive with a kaleidoscope of imagery. Suddenly the lights flash on and off, then the woman screams as it all goes black. When they come out the other end, it is the man instead who is wailing and sitting next to a bloody headless corpse that is spurting red juice like a ruptured pipe. You would think one person gored in a funhouse would be enough to shut down the ride at least, but as it turns out, this wasn't the first time this has happened. Apparently, someone has been using the carnival as their regular human hunting ground, and the killer has a thing for pissed off ladies. The park has the latest dead-body mess cleaned up remarkably soon, and it's back to business as usual (fried food, clowns, that kind of shit). Everyone seems to get over the tragedy quickly enough, all except for the moderately vigilant Dan, who assigns himself the case. Lucky for him (and justice), there are very few characters at the event with speaking parts so his suspect list should be pretty short.
As it comes in an era before most of the slasher cliches, and probably alongside some hallucinogens, its structure is a unique, broken narrative with little to grab on to. There is no friend group of victims to plow through or lone teenage girl survivor to be forged in blood, and it veers away from its sleazy thriller roots with no substantial focus on the investigator. The plot is almost a series of severed vignettes, where different people generally follow the same path before being murdered in gruesome but funny ways. There is a lot of duologue flying around, but almost no exposition-- just bits of arguments, awkward carnie interaction, and the occasional teddy bear mention. None of the unlikeable patrons give you much to chew on, aside from doofy asshole Dan who seems to be the only one cryptically affected by the foul play at hand at all, if only slightly.  If it weren't for the decapitation fifteen minutes in, it would feel like the set-up for an early seventies romance flick, as it is merely montages of two couples bickering and visiting attractions. It wavers in a trance between events with a handful of style choices in repeat until an abrupt dismemberment ends the plot thread and picks up another. About halfway through, just before the almost overdue second kill leads to disembowelment, it reminds itself that there is a mysterious killer and forms a casual game of whodunnit. Any guessing is short-lived, however, and the mood shifts drastically to present the killer's pathos with a wonderful, disturbing thud. Schlocky, undeveloped, and broken, the compost clump of American culture is inexplicably entertaining. The mean spirited butchery breaks apart the long, dragged out, dreamlike moments without finesse or build-up (besides spooky chuckles coming from nowhere).  Every murder feels sudden, and clashes with the already confused mood, making the cartoon extremes more effective. Inadvertently, it creates a surreal, jagged flow from unexplained visuals and half baked conversation with sudden spikes of fucked up violence. 
Making a poster child for 70s horror cheese, Carnival of Blood's production values are a well-balanced medium between era-appropriate porn and a personal hygiene video featuring a cigarette smoking doctor. Filmed in 16mm, the picture is dingy, yellow, and riddled with blemishes. The primary setting/location is well utilized and fully embraced, although I don't know if Coney Island truly counts as a carnival. Most likely by accident, the movie scoops up a handful of its era and sells its "carnival" atmosphere more than anything. When showcasing the festivities, it plays like a flashback reel pieced together from a drunken father's (vintage) vacation footage. This mostly cheerful filler would feel just as much at home in a documentary examining Coney Island in the early 70s and brings some authentic, candid vibes. The montages usually have nothing to do with the main characters and feature background attendees who may not even know there was a film being made. With the rest of the movie, the production seems content just making sure everyone is in-frame, but little else. Whoever they had holding the camera, wiggles around like they always have to go pee. Auxiliary locations are skimpy, and everyone looks like they live in a retirement home for some reason. Taking an obvious cue from Herschell Gordon Lewis, the film halts on some of the few mutilations, while the killer plays with their remains in grotesque ways for extended periods. The first victim's decapitation is probably the least enthusiastic of the gore effects, but it makes up for this by having the boyfriend regurgitate a hot dog afterword. None of the carnage looks incredibly real, but it's good old-fashioned, over the top fun. All sounds overlap with no master leveling, making it hard to discern which of the several lines of chatter is essential. Unattached sound effects come out of nowhere like an arthouse film and get lost in the cacophony of bitter complaining. I'm under the impression the crazy laughter that washed everything out when someone was about to get sliced was coming from the tunnel of death, but I could be wrong since it starts up when they are nowhere near it and hangs into the next scene ungracefully. Only appearing to make things weirder, the music is a meditative mix of upbeat 70s folk with a little bit of relaxing jazz. It makes absolutely no sense with anything else that's happening, adding a strange contrast to the bizarre experience. I assume they just forgot movies needed music and grabbed the first cheap rights laying around in 1970. It is one of my favorite parts and really holds the hot, confused mess together like the crust on a deep fried twinkie. 
Carnival of Blood (not to be confused with Malatesta's Carnival of Blood released in 1973) features Burt Young (Paulie from Rocky 1976, Chinatown 1974)  in his debut performance as Gimpy, the child-minded carnie with some kind of skin disease. Some would say his performance was hamfisted (and probably ill-advised career-wise), but I would argue that he is the only one in the production that knew it was a comedy. One of the most memorable performances comes from Glen Kimberley, who is supposed to be a drunken sailor but instead makes his best impression of a stoned head-trauma survivor. The film is written and directed by Leonard Kirtman, most known for his long-running adult film studio,  Kirt Films. It would be one of few non-erotic movies released by Kirtman who left the business sometime in the 80s. If I had to guess, the career diversion was part of an effort to grab some of that sweet horror, drive-in dough. The project was completed in 1970 but mostly stayed shelved until a theatre run in 1976 following Burt Young's appearance in the mainstream hit Rocky.
Reminiscent of a walk to the bathroom after a handle of cheap vodka, two funnel cakes and a ride on the Gravitron, Carnival of Blood is a dizzying, directionless stumble towards a violent mess. It's mostly fun to watch for its failures, but it is also a memorable disaster of a proto-slasher that went along its own path entirely. There isn't much of a compelling plot; however, there is folk music, toxic relationships, carnies, and campy gore. It is undeniably "bad" by reasonable terms, but so fucking bad it could almost be confused for a piece of misunderstood art, although, I wouldn't waste too many brain cells on it. Overall it’s insane, mean spirited trash with a dirty carousel, and I dig it.  Also, next time I get the chance, I'm checking out an actual carnival to take it all in. There has to be one out there with some mystery to it, or at least a more relaxed policy regarding my level of intoxication. 
1h 27min | 1973
 Director: Leonard Kirtman
Writer: Leonard Kirtman

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Beyond the 7th Door (1987) Review by RevTerry

Rich people fuck shit up, in the worst ways. I somehow now live in the middle of rare beautiful landscapes. I mean it's a desert, so it's mostly just different types of dirt, but it looks cool as fuck. There is almost no light pollution, so the night sky is impressive compared to what I have been used to in the past. We have the otherworldly "Red Hills" with their rusty, iron oxide plateaus that take on different picturesque qualities throughout the day and in viewing distance no matter where you are in town. Literally across the street, you have the "Black Hills", a formation of scarce brush and lava rock born from a now dormant volcano. There's nothing like it in any of the places I have been (not that I usually can be found in “pretty” places). Unfortunately, every fucking natural beauty in my vicinity now has a mansion sticking out of it like a skin tag on a hefty man's neck. It's as if an infection of cancerous growths has broken out and spoiled the skyline. The affluent seem to look upon an awe-inspiring object and jump straight to, not only owning but ruining it for everyone (and everything) else. Something is baffling about that thought process. I mean that's just lame, for one, and rude as shit for another. Also, I think if you're going to be an annoying asshole with your exuberant housing, you could at least make it more exciting. Do something rousing. Build a giant pink castle in a neighborhood of all tan tract houses or a one-story complex that looks like a dick for overhead planes. Do something interesting with your eyesore other than destroying a resource we can't get back--what about well-buffed chrome? Better yet, you could pour your millions into the inside instead. Get crafty with your greedy sadism and install a series of chambers with puzzle-like locks so you can catch burglars and watch them fumble around until they eventually die like in Beyond the 7th Door (1987).
Inept criminal Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is finally out of prison and ready to start fresh. Once he has been given back his denim outfit and had his first cigarette as a free man, he hunts down his estranged lover who now works as a disgruntled maid. His ex, Wendy (Bonnie Beck), isn't really stoked to see him, having had her fill with unsuccessful robberies. Boris immediately assures her things are going to be different this time before laying out a half-assed scheme to rob her boss. Well known locally, the employer Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), is a wealthy eccentric in a wheelchair that supposedly keeps a stache of "treasure" locked up in his mansion. Boris figures Wendy can collect enough info to make the jack-move a breeze from her position inside the house. With only a little convincing, probably because her boss treats her like shit, Wendy agrees to assist in what still only seems like an incomplete idea at best. Soon, the night arrives when the two set forth on their "easy" robbery attempt, and only after entering the fortress does the duo realize Breston is more prepared for this kind of thing then they thought. Through a loudspeaker, the surprise host informs them the stories are true, and there is, in fact, a treasure of some sort. Unfortunately, to obtain the prize, the “guests” must make their way through dangerous rooms that contain complicated, sometimes nonsensical puzzles to be solved before advancing. It’s a good thing Boris brought Wendy because he doesn't really seem like a brain teaser guy. Also, they can leave but don't, because that would mean losing out on some unspecified, unvalued, possible treasure.
The plot is a children's fantasy adventure novel that skipped school to get high and watch Tales from the Darkside recorded on VHS. By the middle, it's damn near nonsense, but quirky enough that it never brushes up on boring. It is a mash-up of unlucky criminal tropes and a cartoon treasure hunt laid out in a drunken Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It's hardly horror, although many of the puzzles involved remind me of the first Resident Evil game.  In many ways, it serves as a precursor to the later horror films Cube (1997), Red Room (1999) or even Saw (2004). It’s a cruel and modern twist on the fantasy gauntlet, complete with a sequence of impractical tasks and a mysterious prize. Most of it is enjoyable because it's incredibly awkward, and from writing to execution just generally fails in memorable ways. However, its fast-paced hijinks land on a genuine, adventurous spirit that even some sword and sorcery films miss. That's not to say it's thrilling, or even good-- just a blast to sit through. You're not exactly going to be breaking out the pad and paper for the puzzles, but they are much more engaging than they have any right to be, even while sometimes not making sense. It's as though someone plopped some genre trash into a made for TV movie for tweens and just worked the resulting concoction into an hour plus of unexplainably enjoyable confusion. Almost like a Charles Band production but with a lot less money, no experience, and more denim. Even though It never really finishes the moral gotcha it seems to be working towards, and the twist doesn't quite make sense, it's pretty fucking satisfying garbage when the credits roll.
The movie is basically two people in a series of rooms bitching at each other. The real magic is the presence of both “lead” actors (there are only four people in the movie, and one is a dead guy) and for drastically different reasons. Lazer is insane. Of course, I don't know the guy personally, but what comes out on screen is just perplexing in the best way possible. It's an early role for the cult heal and a rare look for him as a protagonist, even though he is still playing a version of the same screwy character he will become known for, only here with more lines to mumble. His bizarre delivery and overall style are something of a mix between Billy Drago and a heavily scarred Lou Diamond Phillips. He can also apparently kick through solid walls, and he sports a headband to robberies (I have learned not to question headbands in cinema). As his opposite (in every way), Bonnie Beck gives us a lesson on endurance, somehow reciting batshit lines with depth and emotion while locked in tight spaces with a babbling costar. Beck popped up in a few other flicks around the same time, pulling off similar tricks before she left the business in the late 90s, so maybe she just liked being the best actor in bottom shelf productions. Both characters could have walked out of the background of a street scene in a later Death Wish film and are written with only the most basic of details. There isn't really any character development, instead just odd chemistry. Outside of the awkward flirting/ clothed sex scene, the two playoff well, and the odd pairing fills-in the vast open space in the script. The writing holds some unintentional high points, but it's possible with different on-screen talent the whole mess would come along like a disturbing episode of 90s hip educational program Ghostwriter, high on airplane glue. 
The epic is written and directed by Bozidar D. Benedikt, who is known in some circles for his work in written fiction. Specifically, "religious thrillers", which I have no experience with because that sounds awful. He made the move to filmmaking with a handful of low budget Canadian productions after having made only some sporadic shorts a decade before. Beyond the 7th Door was one of two Lazar-heavy features he released in 1987, coupled with crime drama Brooklyn Nights where Rockwood plays a homeless artist with a hunchback. According to Benedikt, he met his star when Lazar was working as a painter, and the two formed a kind of friendship based on a shared, deep love of film. The acquaintance led to Benedikt writing scripts with Rockwood in mind and fashioning Beyond the 7th Door to some of the actor's desired specifications (i.e., hang out with a pretty lady without male competition). The Yugoslavian born author has released only two films since, The Graveyard Story (1991) and Vanessa (2007), with over sixteen years between them. As far as I can tell, he is still considered "active" so fingers crossed on the sequel.
On a production level, the quality hits a note somewhere between Canadian soap opera and backyard camcorder production. Various small locations are used to make each chamber in the mansion unique with little decor. The puzzles seem to be worked out according to the bare room with interesting but sometimes fragile core concepts. Outside of the noteworthy use of cramped industrial spaces, the work is amazingly terrible to the point that it provides the film humorous, rewatchable qualities. The bright washed out lighting differs a little from room to room, probably less based on the shot and more where it could be placed in each location. Similarly, each stop has only a handful of angles that it cuts between at random, favoring extended shots of the two making faces for noticeably long periods. Despite a pointless shower and some unwatchable dry humping, there is no actual nudity. Same goes for gore, in fact, I think the only violence included is some dramatic swearing, half-hearted threats and Lazar Rockwood taking off his shirt at some point. The soundtrack establishes itself as one of my favorite parts early on, invoking both golden era computer gaming and sweaty action films like The Beastmaster (1982). Sometimes it seems to be more excited than the script, but it's the perfect theme for the one of a kind bastard quest.
Beyond the 7th Door (1987) could be the awesomely bad, no budget adaptation of an 80s point-and-click adventure video game that never existed. While its more than a little bonkers and in reality, little happens, it's a fucking odd ride with a makeshift, unconventional soul. Maybe it's just my lifelong desire to have competed on Legends of the Hidden Temple, but I have a lot of fun with an almost alien dungeon crawl idea no matter how incomplete. I also really dig the idea of rich people making weird traps for robbers versus fucking up my majestic natural outside view. I look at the mountains all the time, and I rarely break into a paraplegic’s houses looking for treasure anymore.
1h 23min | 1987
 Director: Bozidar D. Benedikt
Writer: Bozidar D. Benedikt

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Olivia (1983) Review by RevTerry

I recently made a trip to the contested national monument Gold Butte for some desert sleeping and drunken campfire tales. On the way to that part of the wasteland, I noticed a few signs mentioning a particular bridge known in schoolyard rhymes for falling down, (falling down). By the third or fourth, I turned to my longtime homie, designated driver and defacto local guide and casually inquired as to why. 
"What the fuck is up with Arizona and the London Bridge?"
 At first, his reply was simply that they "own it," but there is only so much you can do in a car, and my interest peaked, so I pressed for more information while loudly eating Funyuns. It turns out that in the 60s the "modern" London Bridge (there were several before including the more famous London bridge from medieval times) was indeed crumbling and in need of replacement. To churn up some cash for a new one, a city councilor named Ivan Luckin devised a plan to unload the bricks on some gullible foreigners and headed to the states hyping it up as a timeless landmark. Sooner or later the pitch caught the attention of eccentric landowner Robert McCulloch who hoped a "historical" attraction would bring visitors to his land in Lake Havasu. This meant completely dismantling the bridge, transporting the literal rubble and then reassembling it in the desert. McCulloch was wrong, and no one seemed to give a shit. I had visited lake Havasu twice with two different parties, and neither had seen nor heard of the ridiculous attraction while there getting sunburned and paying too much for beer. However, once my travel-mate had officially schooled me on the Arizonian artifact, I realized that I had heard tell of this obscure multicultural trivia before in Ulli Lommel's film Olivia (1983).
When we first meet Olivia, she is a young girl who, by using one of those old-timey keyholes, secretly observed her prostitute mother's brutal murder at the hand of a deranged John. The understandably disturbed child soon grows up to be an unhappy young housewife (Suzanna Love), whose only outlet comes by watching the neighborhood hookers from her window. Bored with the lifestyle, she attempts to take a job at a local pub, only to have the notion vetoed by her piece of shit spouse, who demands she tends to chores or something instead. Stuck in the house alone when Richard (Jeff Winchester) leaves for work at nights, she begins hearing her mother's voice from beyond the grave. Her mother, who is a just a tad more ghastly than before, implores Olivia to suit up in some pink leather that's just laying around and hit the streets to look for a customer. Olivia complies and, after pissing off the under-bridge regulars, finds an interested party. The dude is a real winner and brings her home to his mannequin collection for some strange discussion and rope-play when mom has her kill him instead. This becomes a recurring activity and leads Olivia to an American by the name of Michael (Robert Walker Jr.), who is on business in London. The two begin a passionate secret affair, meeting at the bridge nightly for their steamy romance. Unfortunately, hubby grows suspicious and catches the two mid-make-out sesh. The gotcha leads to a scuffle, and Richard is flung from the bridge to his death. Fast forward a few years, Mike hasn't seen Olivia since that night (shit must have gotten weird after the dead husband thing) and is leading the pieced transportation of the London Bridge to Arizona. Once again, Olivia comes into his life with a new American accent and death following close behind. Also, she can open a beer cap with her teeth, which hurts to watch.
The narrative is an unorthodox, compounding sleepwalk through dark moments with surreal, bitter outcomes like a disturbed retro Lifetime movie that took too much acid in high school. At first, it can be hard to follow as it moves forward in random time increments and without clear resolution. While never really landing a twist, it feels like anything could happen, and takes place in a dark poetic reality. It makes up a coherent set of events but does so in a daze and without giving any hints as to what it is working towards while it's happening. The focus gets stuck on painting the turmoil in broad, aesthetic strokes, and the exposition stays light. It's broken into distinct abrupt acts that together depict a person's downfall in seasons as a nightmarish fable. All of the supernatural elements are up for interpretation, but the tale could easily have been a ghost story had the roles of the main characters reversed. Never fully decrypted, the character of Olivia is a mysterious, alluring death magnet invoked by a haunted item she is shackled to by unseen forces. To Michael, she is a specter who pops in and out of his life (to have steamy moments and cause chaos) whenever he is around the almost arcane object.  As a centerpiece, the bridge itself is always present both in the direct plot and the background. It serves as the vehicle of fate with no explanation and sets up coincidence like a romance flick only for it to be revealed as a curse shortly afterward.
Although the film is sometimes classified as a slasher, those elements are quick and few. Instead, it comes along as a trashy, psychosexual tribute to classic cinema. Most transparently, the film makes several callbacks to Alfred Hitchcock, including borrowing some moments outright. Every few scenes forcefully craft an opportunity to pay homage to the famous body of work, with mixed results. Lommel’s freeform and sometimes amateur style never quite hits its mark as intended. Instead, it takes on a fashion that is equal parts classic dark noir and sleazy corn, draped in an almost fantasy-like atmosphere. Along with Hitchcock, the film reaches towards the work of Brian De Palma and Roman Polanski in a similar fashion. Less intentionally, it reminds me of the European sleaze of the 70s, as it is derivative of many of the same sources and ultimately too idiosyncratic to fully mimic them.  It never truly comes around to the qualities of its influences but crafts an engulfing dark fable from lofty ambition.
In both story and production, it feels like two films connected by small details. Whether wholly intentional or not, the wide technical discrepancy between parts fits well with the dual personality theme. Most of the changes come with location, a few key elements following across, but with a separate visual attitude in every case. There is a constant haze in London, and a dingy, dim grain to Arizona, both creating their type of shading. I can't speak for the UK, but the Lake Havasu depiction rings partially true, though I do remember the place being brighter. Made for $500,000, it often looks like a higher budget film from ten years before, while still feeling adequately dirty. There are various methods employed to highlight important parts of the screen, creating an effect somewhere between Casablanca spotlights and those photos you get at the mall with the fuzzy blurred circular frame. The camera work gives away its influences making hearty tries for shots mastered by directors from the eras beforehand. There are full fluid swings between classy drama and late night fare where the entirety of the production follows. The competing styles are drastic but make oddly complementary partners, wading artistic craftsmanship on shoe string cheese. Often beautiful, some of the shots breed a unique and lasting sadness. A lot of work and thought seems to have been ingrained into the imagery of every scene. There is little actual violence and much less gore then some of the advertising implies. The on-screen murder that does take place puts style over splatter and replicates iconic angles from past eras. In general, it's less explicit than it seems, giving up more effective sketchy vibes than visual sleaze. The evolving nature of the work is tied down with a haunting score from Joel Goldsmith that gives each sectioned piece a uniform dreary sound that reminds me of a haunted lighthouse for some reason. Most of the technical flaws seem to have their place in the bizarre, depressing experience, and the overall passion comes through exceptionally well. Altogether, it's a great use of resources, and well-worked tricks to make something effective, fucked up and unique.
Olivia (or Prozzie, Mad Night, Double Jeopardy) was co-written and directed by Ulli Lommel, closely following his sci-fi psychological thriller BrainWaves (1982). Initially an actor, Lommel took part in arthouse projects working with cult names like Russ Meyer, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Andy Warhol. After directing ten films, Lommel made a jump to the mainstream horror with The Boogey Man (1980), which saw considerable box office success on the heels of Halloween (1978). Developing a taste for FX blood, the director stuck pretty close to the genre throughout the 80s, tackling popular themes and tropes. Immediately following Olivia, Lommel would make Boogeyman II (1983), The Devonsville Terror (1983), and the singing sci-fi oddity Strangers in Paradise (1984). He would revisit Olivia (kind of) twenty -three years later when reworking some footage into Ulli Lommel's Zodiac Killer (2005). Continuing to work until his death, he had several projects slated for the coming years, including something called Boogeyman: Reincarnation. A legend in her own right Ulli Lommel's wife at the time Suzanna Love played Olivia with a distant aura of isolation and quieted baggage. It is one of several projects the two worked on together. As a duo, they seem to compliment each other's style and would continue to collaborate after their divorce. It's hard to say if the film would work without her as she provides a good chunk of the cryptic depth. According to legend, the two were visiting Lake Havasu in preparation for Boogeyman 2, when they learned about the London Bridges relocation. Lommel found the attraction fascinating and fashioned the film's plot around it. Opposite Love is screen great Robert Walker Jr. during his less active years. The role is awkwardly developed, but Walker gives a solid, reserved delivery and has the perfect confused scowl.
Olivia is a twisted fairytale filled with loneliness, guilt, and Hitchcock references. Borderline messy and blatantly uneven, the storytelling manages to be cryptically engaging and filled with otherworldly atmosphere. A thick cloud of fantasy and depression elevates the common sex thriller tropes to an interesting tale of woe. It's not a slasher or in line with the classic cinema that it attempts to replicate but is well crafted all the same and clearly a work of passion. The movie is dry, derivative and weird as fuck which I can get down with. Plus, that's pretty fitting for a film centered around Arizona's globetrotting, recycled desert bridge.
(I was unable to locate a good trailer, let me know if you have one)
 1h 20min | 1983
 Director: Ulli Lommel
Writers: Ulli Lommel, John P. Marsh, Ron Norman 

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The Astro-Zombies (1968) Review by RevTerry

The Misfits were an early favorite of mine and had a lasting influence on what would become RevTerry. Anyone who has ever ridden in a car long enough with me has been part of a serenade/karaoke rendition of Hybrid Moments or Last Caress at some point-- it just happens. They were one of the first "real" punk bands I became familiar with as a kid, and their music pathed a straight road towards things like psychobilly and other horror-centric genres. I never really dug Kiss or Guns and Roses, so instead it was The Misfits who showed me that bickering men in makeup, elaborate hairdos, and leather pants can construct timeless masterpieces. Even outside of music, the band had an impact on my life. I bonded with several people over the group--girlfriends, lifelong homies, scary-violent drunk people. Their existence was a natural, common ground in circles I frequented. Movie-wise, I got a lot out of deciphering the lyrics. Danzig, or whatever actual demonic being helped him write in his salad days, used some great references. A song title alone led me to the wonderful work of Ted V. Mikels long ago, by way of 1968s The Astro-Zombies.
After the opening (where someone gets killed with a gardening tool) and fifteen minutes of vintage toys on a sidewalk with war sound effects, the film moves to a fresh fucked up car wreck. As the driver moans away with some almost comedic leg placement, a strange figure approaches from the horizon. When the hobbling responder (William Bagdad with a hunched back that screams "lab assistant") gets to the wrecked vehicle, he reaches inside, grabs the injured dude and drags him out the way he came. Later, at a military facility of some kind, government stooge Holman (Wendell Corey) has called a very important secret meeting. It turns out--bodies have gone missing a lot lately, and by some miracle of detective work, they have traced the cause to their own labs. Through unintelligible means, it is determined the culprit is no other than Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine), a former colleague of the attendee Dr. Petrovich (Victor Izay). Before being fired, DeMarco was working on making super soldiers out of dead people for the Air Force, and the official's fear he has gone rogue with his experiments. After some discussion, the guys in suits play with a brain they just had hanging out on the desk to better illustrate... something. Anyway, the theory soon proves correct as the notoriously cracked researcher has successfully completed his project on the down-low with the help of his standard issue lab tech Franchot (the body snatcher from before). Unfortunately, before the mad doctor could celebrate, his two prototypes escape and hit the streets for some murder. Somewhere along the way, this attracts the attention of local bloodthirsty gang-leader/spy-person Satana (Tura Satana), who decides she could use some zombies for her criminal empire. Espionage, super science, and long-winded conversation follow as the team of officials try to bring down the franken-soldiers and prevent the technology from reaching the wrong hands. Also, the astro-people are bulletproof and powered by photovoltaics. Any light will do, a flashlight works well in a pinch.
The film's plot is a chimera of The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962), Perry Mason, and multiple Outer Limits (1963-1965) episodes, let loose penniless in the late-late 60s, while unknowingly dosed with a hit of acid. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is frequently present in the tale, both the original story itself and its various film incarnations, but with the bare minimum of deeper meaning or warning. Logic, technology, and science all play by different rules in the world of the film, and it becomes clear early on what you're in for. There's a lot of downtime spent hanging out in offices or the lab where the excessive amount of random ideas floating throughout each get their focus. Just as entertaining as the awkward violence, the exposition is a torrent of bizarre detail marinated in pulp and left-field imagination. Globs of zany off-base dialog fall out of the characters as they stand in crowds doing exciting things like looking at a table or making faces at each other. The playful lack of realism and direction never hurts, as it's all part of the package. Plus, every silly fictional bit of science you should ever need to know (and then some) is at some point explained to the viewer like a vintage, convoluted school film reel. In its own way, the gobbledygook is thought out. It has no real life base but makes perfect sense in the bizarre ageless universe the epic takes place in. Undeniably, it's slow and meanders around without cause. With a runtime of ninety minutes, it feels like three hours worth of rickety super science, non-sequiturs, and mayhem. It's a unique flavor type of trash that lands between Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein, an Eddie Romero-Hemisphere production, and student theater. Astro Zombies is exemplary of the inexplicably entertaining wayward plod found in every Mikels film. It never really makes a ton of sense (to the viewer anyway), but the dry concoction of sci-fi tropes, implied sleaze and untamed imagination have an output you can't find anywhere else.
The production was put on with more determined love than physical resources. According to the filmmaker, it was shot in six days with a budget of around $37,000 (including staff and actors). Most of the film takes place in bare rooms with the lighting of a government PSA reel. The mad doctor's lab looks like a stripped down Universal set with the patchwork addition of tubes and a few fish tanks. Outside of the Astro Zombies themselves, attire is strictly suits and lab coats with little variation. The camera work and framing function well enough, although more than half of the shots have to be simply a crowd of people looking downward. Scenes go on long past their purpose and cut off abruptly. Every version I have seen comes equipped with plenty of film defects, mostly a constant, large grain. There is a fun contrast between drab, blank tones and unrealistically bright coloring, that can only be achieved by accident and in the late 60s. Menacingly unemotive the Astro-man get-up is essentially a rubber mask and a metal fanny pack. The headwear alone completes a beautifully over complicated look to go with its back story. Blood is plentiful, but it's usually during science time and looks a lot like Kool-Aid. Almost all violence is done off-screen with the classic red splatter coming from outside of the frame. Cheap but fully operative, the throbbing dismembered specimens are a highlight for me, even if the table cloth moves along with the rubber brain. It's the kind of hokey flawed filmmaking that's often parodied but never replicated without the genuine blind ambition.
Even among the eccentric greats of B movie history, Ted V. Mikels stands out as a distinctly flamboyant and unswervable character. By all accounts, the filmmaker was a weird fucking dude, both behind the camera and in his day to day life. For later products, the enterprising salesmen would have theatergoers sign a health waiver as a gimmick and hire an ambulance to park outside. At his height, he lived in a sizeable maze-like mansion in California dubbed "the castle" along with a group of females described as a "harem." Both the fantasy decorated villa and the rotating gang of bunkmates played critical roles in his projects during the time, such as The Corpse Grinders (1971) and Blood Orgy of the She-Devils (1973). Staying busy in the seventies, he put out a variety of features including, politically charged revenge drama The Black Klansman (1966), gross-out comedy The Worm Eaters (1977), and the genuinely creepy, damn near Mormon adventure-piece Alex Joseph and His Wives (1977). Though sporadically, he continued his proclaimed life mission in entertainment for the next three decades by any means necessary, completing films with little to no funding. Mikels died in 2016. At the time, he was hard at work on a sequel to Ten Violent Women (Ten Violent Women: Part Two was released posthumously in 2017), and as far as I know, still rocking a waxed mustache without his top buttons buttoned. He has been credited with inspiring Ivan Goff and Ben RobertsCharlie's Angels, as well as countless genre filmmakers. Quentin Tarantino listed The Doll Squad (1973) among his essentials and included an almost outright reference in Kill Bill (2003). Reportedly, he never received payment for Astro Zombies, as the distributor retained all rights during its run. The script was co-written by Wayne Rogers (Capt.'Trapper John' McIntyre on M*A*S*H) who had previously collaborated with the director on the 1964 comedy Dr.Sex. Mikels would turn out three sequels, first returning to the subject thirty six years later with Mark of the Astro-Zombies (2004). 
I have never been quite sure who the main protagonist is, multiple parties are given equal screen time and empathy. I usually root for Tura Satana's “Satana” despite her cliche character’s antagonistic ways, mostly because it's fun to watch her punk people. According to the legendary actress (and sometimes Mikels), the film had been written around her character after the director had attended a dance performance and developed a crush. The role veers heavy into James Bond bad-guy territory and makes me wish Satana would have had a chance to fuck up Sean Connery at some point. John Carradine plays Dr. DeMarco through a constant squint and probably for little more than gas money to his next stage acting gig. Daddy Carradine seems half out the door as the morbid researcher, but his theatrical delivery plays well with the exaggerated surroundings. He also adds some (probably unnecessary) human depth to the scientist that wouldn't be there otherwise. The rest of the cast looks either bored or goes over the top in just the right fashion. I get my money's worth just watching Wendell Corey do crazy shit with his eyebrows.
Astro Zombies is a slow-motion submersion into a sea of insane explanation and low budget B movie cheese. It lives in its own world, stocked with genre tropes, outlandish pulp, and rubber. It is not for everyone as its pacing shakes even some "bad movie" fans, but in my opinion, it's too surreal ever to call boring. Personally, I have no trouble getting lost in the warm, trashy experience. I enjoy the fuck out of it. There is just something special about the dull thud of a Ted V. Mikels flick. Thanks, Misfits for teaching me so much. But just to be clear, I'm definitely not advocating the use of Danzig as a role model, that would be a truly terrible idea. 
1h 32min | 1968
Director: Ted V. Mikels
Writers: Ted V. Mikels, Wayne Rogers

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