Christmas Evil (1980) Review by RevTerry

The holidays can make people lose their shit, and in very special ways. It would seem we all were gifted our own custom brand of madness early on in life, and we can't help but break it out come December. I mean, there are some really common core elements to the crazy-ass outward shit we do. You have your Yuletide-disciple types, with twenty-five different seasonal outfits, who make sure every speaker is producing Christmas music like it's their fucking job. These are the self-proclaimed traditionalists, like the office party coordinator that has already sent out three themed emails to the whole workplace by the 19th. Some of them have, in recent years, also enlisted in a kind of war that involves disposable coffee cups and loudly saying “Christmas” immediately after an unfortunate blasphemer mistakenly wishes them a “Happy Holiday”. There are then the scores of militant shoppers who use this time to get out the year’s aggression in the retail arena in fully sanctioned combat. Cutthroat anger radiates from the battle-torn aisles of Walmart (or Target if you're fancy), where many fall slain to the increased pushy ass demands of commercials and misplaced guilt. In the year’s closing, the purchase-addicted are given the ultimate excuse--credit cards get maxed, and the CEOs of retail giants have an extra incestuous money pile orgy (on top of their usual monthly money pile orgy), it's a national tradition. Seemingly, on the other end of things, you have a large part of the population that just looks fucking bummed around this time, or even agitated. All the talk about quality interpersonal relationships and the emphasis on spending money can be the perfect combo for feeling like shit if you don't have people in your life or money to spend on them. None of this is really that simple though, because everybody adds their own twist, or remixes a few parts. The yearly escapades are tied heavily into the important things in your life, like family, finances, or even whatever hell you call a workplace. Everyone feels the impact, you can't dodge it without a time machine. Its been happening your whole life, developing further after each year's winter. The best part is, nobody receives your personal concoction of cheer and trauma, you own it. For several reasons, the spiced traditional blend of fuck-it-all capitalism, stolen seasonal celebrations, and the imaginary judgmental fat man have made monsters of us all. So during this time, try to remember that everyone is out of their fucking gourd, including you. It is the fucking season for it.  You're just going have to make it to January without killing someone, unlike the woefully confused Harry in Christmas Evil (1980).
As children, Harry and his brother Philip stayed up late one Christmas Eve to watch as Saint Nicholas dropped off gifts and munched on some cookies they left behind. After the mythical intruder had made an exit, their mother quickly shooed them to bed, where the two boys argued over the validity of the Kringle encounter. After a few faith-based quips, Harry became fed up with his unbeliever brother and stormed out of the bedroom to get his mom to back him up (or something). Unfortunately for little Harry, Santa hadn't exactly left and was instead passionately licking mom’s leg in front of the fireplace ( picturesque stockings and all) when he entered the living room. Finding out Santa is fake is hard for some kids, but walking in on your parents fucking is rough on anyone, so Harry finds a dark corner and does some creepy shit to cope. Fast forward to a fully grown, balding Harry (Brandon Maggart) who now works at a toy factory, of all places, and is the bain of his successful family-man brother's (Jeffrey DeMunn) existence. Recently, Harry has received a promotion to a desk position but still lends himself to ridicule from his coworkers back on the line, even being muscled into one of their shifts while they go drinking. It isn't all bad, as he has a deep love for toys, and lives for anything Claus related, so the job fits. His apartment is fully lined in holiday decorations, and he spends his free time in his Santa Claus outfit, seemingly, year-round ( although it is almost Christmas so we can give him the benefit of doubt). He also has the totally normal hobby of documenting the neighborhood children's misdeeds in leather-bound books, deeming them good or naughty based on his judgment of their actions. For whatever reason, this particular year’s approaching 25th takes a drastic toll on Harry, and, along with the added bullying from his former linemates, elevates his already problematic obsessions into full-on delusions. In the midst of some kind of breakdown, Harry begins donning his outfit outside the house, acting as if he was Saint Nick himself. This includes doing things he thinks Father Christmas would do, like giving gifts to orphans, telling kids to be good, and stabbing mouthy yuppies in the face with a sharp toy (the good old days of playtime craftsmanship). Of course, everyone gets weirded out (except the kids who are easily swayed by toys) and tries to ruin Christmas by stopping the good-natured rampage. Harry, however, is sure he has enough holiday spirit for all and isn't going down easy. 
Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) is a mixed bag of emotions, and it pulls full force into each. At its core, it's less a horror film and more a psychological thriller or drama. The film's world is cruel and filled with selfish manipulative people, making a few passing comments about our application of the holiday in our actual society. A lot of time is spent watching Harry as he reacts to the realistic, regular disappointments in life.  His problems are restrained and ordinary but trigger a slow downward spiral into quirky madness. This core dissent takes more from Maniac (1980), Taxi Driver (1976) and even Psycho (1960) than it does any of the emerging slashers that came before it. At times it also comes close to striking the same cords Falling Down (1993) would play to in the 90s. Our killer is the film’s main character and extremely human. It almost hurts to watch him break further from reality as it moves along. The plot makes stops to build up embarrassing moments to a point of being felt. Its narrative sometimes indulges Henry's vision but often drops off into repercussions. Despite his obvious delusions and increasing creep factor, you start to root for the poor bastard, and the perspective almost allows it. Without mentioning too many Scorsese/De Niro movies, it feels like the killer Santa Claus version of The King of Comedy (1982).  It is consistently a Christmas movie, complete with would-be touching moments, only tainted by an uneasy foreshadowing. In fact, I'm pretty sure, it’s a morbid, unofficial remake of  Miracle on 34th Street (1947). It mirrors the classic tale’s plot but twists each event in awkward, mean-spirited ways, even inexplicably borrowing some elements from its closing scene (what the fuck was that?). In the same vein, there are moments of unaligned comedy, although it's hard to know what to laugh at during Harry's awkward interactions. Any humor is blended with realistic social anxiety and an ever-increasing threat of a breakdown on Harry's part. The confusing drive to the film helps create an awesomely unnerving story that builds up to its main characters eventual violent rampage. If it's a slasher (like the cover seems to promise), then it's only during its final thirty minutes. Our killer isn't superhuman, undead, or the product of special circumstances, his life resembles our own in many boring ass ways, he just didn't handle the Yuletide bullshit very well this year.
The film borrows much of its technical style from family Christmas films, and large chunks feel like they came directly from a 1980s made for TV movie. Because the killer’s identity is known, and he is the film’s subject at all times, there is none of the classic stalking and concealment that had already almost become a cliche for American horror by that time. It’s definitely dingy but not intentionally dark, and any grime is a happy side effect of age and budget. Throughout, the editing feels broken and unfinished, as if rushed. Early on, there is a low-balled attempt at using young Harry's delusional perspective that doesn't fly very well, along with a few post-involved errors. The mangled jumps and cuts are a low point, but they still assist in moving the somewhat slow story along at a tolerable pace. Only slightly lost in the paste job, all the camera work is beautifully set and with purpose. It brings over classic composition and lighting from its out of place, fairy tale DNA, adding off-kilter impact to the subject matter. The gore comes in late, and it doesn't stick around long. There's more stock put into the tension proceeding the violence. What blood splatter you do get is pretty fun, and because it is restrained, never really loses its bite. Really, there is little explicit content outside of these moments, leaving it up to less-than-trashy psychological scares for better or worse (depending on who you are or what mood you're in).  Unsurprisingly, the movie is lined with Xmas tunes, and it brings in random jingle bell noises with some great timing, adding to the fucked up mix of moods.
From what I understand, the film was writer-director Lewis Jackson’s third feature as well as his last.  Jackson reportedly set work on the film ten years prior, completing two films before seeing it realized. It would also his be only surviving work, as his previous films, The Deviates (1970) and The Transformation: A Sandwich of Nightmares (1974) are seemingly lost to time (or maybe a divorce).  A lot of the film's effectiveness is in its homicidal Kringle, played by Brandon Maggart. Maggart’s killer's almost childlike and naive worldview drives home an eventual violent climax to a memorable degree. He never feels anywhere near evil, just dangerously damaged and unable to function in society. Maggart, who is apparently in a ton of shit I don't remember him in, does a great job blending the contrasting scenes with his take on the trope and material. His blood soaked Christmas comes early in a long list (see last year's List of Killer Santa Flicks), but still stands out as distinct and fresh to this day. The brother is played by a younger Jeffrey DeMunn, who I definitely recognize. DeMunn has a long career in small (angry) mainstream film and TV roles, but will always (in my mind) be the scientist that was buried by his homies in the first X-Files movie (Fight The Future,1998). He comes in a little hammy, but the later scenes foreshadow the latter half of his career in a positive way. There's plenty of terrible acting, and some of the delivery of the side character is laughable, but great acting isn't really something I have come to expect in holiday movies, so it's actually doing pretty well in that department. Plus look out for an (extremely) quick cameo by the films Director Lewis Jackson as a bartender at Harry’s office party.
Christmas Evil is a family holiday film that has, seemingly, undergone back alley surgery to have its cheer removed and replaced with uneasy dread. It's almost a difficult film, but its eclectic mix of feels is too bizarre to be truly dramatic. It works, but only on its own seasonally depraved terms. Next to other killer-Kringle flicks, it comes up short on instant gratification and titillation, but it can make a good break from cornball holiday slashers while keeping with the theme. It has a little more to chew on than its peers. Just because the main character has stabbed a dude in the eye, doesn't mean you can't have a touching moment where he hands out presents to orphans-- life is complicated. Obviously, I wouldn't for health reasons, but part of me just wants to give Harry a hug. The holiday really did a number on him. Christmas has a fucked up power over all of us, so don't feel bad if you start to crack this season. Stop short of skull-fucking random assholes with toy soldiers, and you should make it through another year like everyone else.
 1h 40min | 1980
 Director: Lewis Jackson
Writer: Lewis Jackson 

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Werewolves on Wheels (1971) Review by RevTerry

I have always loved free coffee. As kids, my friends and I would ride our skateboards around to each church in the area on Sunday morning, helping ourselves to the breakfast table before riding off to cause more minor trouble. Nobody said shit (for church reasons I assumed), and a few awkward moments was well worth some shitty coffee to me at the time. It was fun, mostly because of the free coffee, but I also derived some kind of pleasure from the holy dine and dash itself. Nowadays though, when I think back on those moments, I'm sure I must have dodged a bullet. What the fuck was I thinking? Knowing what I know now, Im lucky I made it. What if they were just letting us get away with it? They could have been making us think we were making off with some free donuts, when in reality we were opening ourselves up to their freaky drugs or potions (as opposed to just passive aggression). That could have been the plan the whole time-- entice a bunch heathens with snacks and refreshments with plans for torture, a curse of some kind, brainwashing experiments, or who knows what else. I have learned a lot from cult films (about cults in particular) and one of those lessons is, that you should never take food from religious groups. I definitely know better now. I certainly do not go seeking out pastries from zealots, and when offered, I politely decline or duck away to dispose of the likely tainted specimen. It’s a wonder I made it this far, drinking the liquids that cult members handed me like a naïf in my youth. The older wiser me knows that drinking from the wrong cup, from the right church (or maybe vice-versa) can end terribly. One swig and it's lights out, then you might wake up as a live sacrifice, possessed, or fucking knocked up by a god-monster. No coffee is worth that. I'm not going to say free refreshments don't exist, but if a bunch of similarly dressed dudes offer you some snacks, on their way to do some chanting, you should probably just pass. It could end up biting you in the ass like in Werewolves on Wheels (1971).
The Devil’s Advocates are your average late 60s nihilistic biker gang, spending days enjoying the freedom of the open road, doing nondescript drugs, and accosting various residents along an unnamed California highway. The gang is led by Adam (Steve Oliver ), who sometimes says deep things and takes advice from Tarot (Gene Shane), the gang's resident psychic. One day the gang, after roughing up a local for running a member off the road, comes upon a religious construct of some kind, nestled in a suspiciously green area (in the desert). Since being in league with the devil is kind of the group's thing, they ignore the warning of the spooky stick in the mud (Tarot) and decide to take a well-earned rest. After they have been hanging out for a while, some synchronized men in hoods show up to offer them food and drink that the extremely trusting gang members consume without question (because no one would try to poison a bunch of assholes, who just got done beating and harassing randoms). Most likely drugged from the grub, the bikers unsurprisingly pass out in front of what ends up being a church of some kind, and the cultists go about their creepy business, which includes killing a cat for some reason. Aroused by the sermon, Adams Girlfriend, Helen (Donna Anders), wakes up in a daze before anyone else, and the members of the cult quickly teach her new dance moves involving a human skull, a snake and her birthday suit. Sooner or later the bikers wake up, start kicking in church group faces and finally make a break for it. Weirded out, but mostly just chalking it all up to bad drugs, Adam and the gang go back to getting fucked up in the desert like usual. Unfortunately, members begin getting ripped to shreds or disappearing, and it starts looking like, just maybe, shit is more complicated than they thought. People start sprouting hair, there is some more chanting, and for some reason, a pile of cars is set on fire. Then, everyone meets back up at the church to finish off the bread and wine leftovers.
I'm going to guess there are mainly two camps of expectations going into this film, based on its title and poster alone. There will people who go into the flick expecting werewolves on motorcycles (as implied by the title and depicted in the accompanying artwork), and they might be a little disappointed. Those familiar with the classic b movie sales pitch, however, will be glad to know that the film does feature both motorcycles and lycanthropes. In fact, it's even the bikers that are turning into wolves--they just never quite reenact the scene on the poster (it's arguable). The actual content is almost a 60/40 split between a biker road film and an occult exploitation flick. Holding it together and making up the motivation of the film’s paper-thin plot is a basic thrill of the open road outlaw flick, following the group of ruffians as they enjoy serene rides down dusty highways (and beat people up). It's an almost serious attempt at the subgenre at first, introducing the film’s subjects as free-spirited bad boys with passionate (but nonsensical) philosophes. It takes its cues from the Angel Unchained (1970) side of the “Outlaw Biker” trend. Like a lot of its peers, there's definitely some Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, and Dennis Hopper soaked into the characters, but the flavor is less Easy Rider (1969) than it is The Wild Angels (1966) or  Hell's Angels on Wheels (1967), with The Trip (1967) sprinkled on top. Our main characters aren't what you would call good guys, but they seem to have a lot of fun with their life choices-- really, all the way up until the wolfman thing. The bikers’ initial meet-up with the cult members is dreamlike and reminiscent of Odysseus’ run-in with Circe. The genre-bending clash feels like a double feature that has folded over on top of itself. Before you can make sense of where the new setting and motif come from, the group is taking food from strangers in cloaks and people start dancing with human bones. The shift into hooded chanting sleaze is undoubtedly abrupt, but the purest approach to both subgenres compliment each other. Any rough parts in the stitching of barely related scenes get smoothed over by the consistent tongue in cheek humor. At times it seems extremely self-aware and always keeps it light-hearted through beat downs and demon worship. Even with the humor injection, it never quite tips over into any one type of film. All at the same time, it is a unique, critical art piece, derivative near-parody, and rip-off. A manic amount of conflicts are introduced (of various sizes), but none of the many subjects gets more than a surface level detail before taking their place in the chaos. If you have seen or heard of its many influences, you can fill in the possible blanks throughout. The religious depictions come in full force with random jargon and lots of flame overlays. It is a fantastical cartoon level depiction of evil that reminds me of Ted V. MikelsBlood Orgy of the She-Devils (1973) or bargain basement The Devil Rides Out (1968). By the time anyone actually turns into a werewolf, enough random threads have been introduced to fill a few movies. The wolfman plot comes in at first with a low balled mystery and finds a way to bring out the spaghetti western influences from the diverse mix of random shit. There is kind of a campfire Paul Naschy thing going on at one point, while being spliced with visions of brimstone and satan induced nudity. There's no real point to much of it, but it's never boring. Scenes feel like natural additions to the yarn, whether or not they add any value to the story.  It's a disjointed, messy blend of its era’s favorite sleaze, served with an entertainingly quick pace and an extra layer of intentional cheese.
The varied methods on the technical side of things fit well attached to the engaging but unfocused story. The “road” scenes are oddly organic and for all the silliness that they actually tie together, they still come off feeling a lot like a documentary at times. As if from another film completely, the motorcycle-centric chunks have an aspired clunky editing that strings together biker lifestyle shots with aesthetic nature footage. Sooner or later, it leads to things like a naked skull hula, but the intro sets up a mood that would give a few of its bikesploitation peers a run for their money.  For its satanic rituals and such, the film switches bases completely into artful madness without notice. Just as motivated as the more grounded moments in the film, the occult depiction bundles borrowed techniques into a unique outlandish style. The camera, more or less, takes flight during these flashy rituals, pausing its frantic twirling only for shit like eyeball close-ups. As quickly as it shifts from the two extremes, it drops all stylization for most of the last quarter. The movie’s wolfman effects are a low point, somehow being less intimidating than the shorter haired bikers. It's more than a little lackluster in the monster department, however, that does lead to some of the film’s best carnage. Eventually, there are some practical gore effects that can be pretty brutal, even a little ahead of their time, but they take forever to show up and include a ridiculous fake cat sacrifice. Each theme in the film gets its own extremely fitting soundtrack. Avant-garde, instrumental 70s guitar laces the trashy black magic psychedelics, leaving the biker scenes to a playlist of folksy 60s rock. 
The movie is Michel Levesque first feature as a director. Levesque would direct the trashy revenge thriller Sweet Sugar (1972) the following year before spending the next few decades as an art director, doing work for Russ Meyer early on and even bringing to life some junk food for television in the 90s. The stunts in the film were orchestrated by Charles Bail, who would very soon afterward direct blaxploitation classic Black Samson (1974) as well the cross country comedy The Gumball Rally (1976). Taking the leadership role here, Steve Oliver had already donned a leather jacket in the relatively grounded Angels from Hell (1968). Child star (Father Knows Best 1954-1960) Billy Gray was, kind of, doing a bad boy thing after his pot arrest in 1962, although it would be a whole eight years after this flick that he would show up in anything else unrelated to Father Knows Best. Folk rocker Barry McGuire is in there too, for some reason. Apparently, it was one of two forays into acting (I think he's making songs about Jesus exclusively now). The film’s de facto antagonist is played by Severn Darden, who was already a veteran in 1971 and would appear as Kolp in the last two Planet of the Apes films (plus like, 120 more films). Legend has it that much of the gang was filled out with a real outlaw motorcycle club, who for the most part acted out the scenes with little direction. It's pretty obvious from watching that everyone had a lot of fun making the film.  I also have to assume that Rob Zombie is a fan, as he has sampled the film in two songs and made nods in his own film works.
Werewolves on Wheels is a standoff between commonly used grindhouse tropes on a dusty American road. It's wonderfully goofy garbage that makes me wish Paul Naschy and Dennis Hopper would have gotten together in the late 60s to ride motorcycles, take acid and fight random doom-cults. The plot cramps every genre trope it can fit in its runtime, while still moving along quickly enough to keep it simple and consistently entertaining (all it's really missing is hippies). It makes me feel better that even some badass bikers fell for the old free food at church routine. By dumb-luck alone, I made it through my more trusting youthful indiscretions. I don't know if fourteen year old me had it in him to punch enough old people in Sunday clothes to make it out of a scenario with the same gusto that The Devil's Advocates had. Although, now that I have typed that out it, it seems like something little RevTerry might have been into trying, at least.
1h 25min | 1971
 Director: Michel Levesque
Writers: David M. Kaufman, Michel Levesque 

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Rot (1999) Review by RevTerry

I was a grimy punk kid for a good chunk of my life and like to think that I still am, in some ways. I slept in squats, dumpster dove at a Trader Joe's a few times, and wore pants (with the appropriate patches) for weeks at a time. I can say that I have slept dangerously sloshed in a public park with an empty, blown up wine pouch (aka space-bag) under my head, and had woken up happy that I scored the makeshift pillow--that time. However, I know for a fact that when it came to being crusty, I was in the minor leagues. I am sure of this for two main encompassing reasons. First, I'm a little afraid of germs. Even at my most hardcore (or inebriated), I was pretty fucking wimpy in that area (any further insight here I might sound nuts). Let's just say, sometimes I can't hang. Secondly, in my various travels, I have run into some individuals who truly excel in being disgusting and take real pride it. Certain folks take the crust-punk lifestyle to the next level. It's definitely something to be admired but, you know, from afar. Stink is true cred to an elite crowd, and status can be measured in layers of vomit ingrained in the “battle vest”. For them, puke is a big deal or, more accurately, less a problem than with normal people. The truest practitioner of the gross-arts can throw up all over their Fleas and Lice t-shirt, in the middle of the pit, without skipping a beat, and even give a few hugs after. Not me, as (far as I can remember) blowing chunks on myself means the end of that party. I'm not talking shit-- I'm envious. We were all out there talking the game, and they were living it--pure, stinky ass freedom. I'm not a stylish person or a meticulously clean person, I just wasn't wired for a lot of what must be endured to rise through the rankest of ranks. I suck at snot rockets, won't smoke meth, and refuse to eat McDonald's, let alone half a Mcgriddle found on the ground. I also never contracted a disease from fucking dead people, like in Rot (1999), which sounds like it would be worth a lot of punk points.
Sarah (Tiffany Stinky) has a problem, well a few problems, but one really pressing one. She has been spending a lot of time at the funeral home lately, under the guise that she is using the cadavers as inspiration for art. Unfortunately, while swept up in her character study, she accidentally copulates with one of the stiff ones and contracts some kind of flesh-eating virus. Before she fully understands the scope of her infection, she gives the dead-guy-STDs to her boyfriend Muzzy (Billy Scam) who is somewhat perturbed when he finds out. The two begin to, literally, fall apart, and not having many courses of action, they decide to go around town causing mischief and possibly starting a worldwide zombie-dick-disease epidemic to a steady playlist of 90s street punk riffs. Things aren't as natural as they seem, however, as the disease (code name ROT)  is part of a somewhat murky plan devised by the diabolical Dr. Robert Olsen (Joel D. Wynkoop), a discredited former leading force in the government’s biological warfare program and part-time funeral home employee. On the upside, he has a cure for the infliction and something of a crush on Sarah. Before a deal can be worked out though, government intervention adds guys in dark suits and sunshades into the chaos. Sooner or later, everything is covered in vomit, people are full-on melting in alleyways, and we all learn a good lesson on safe sex.
Rot is Nekromantik (1987), some Twisted Issues (1988) and a tiny bit of Repo Man (1984) recorded over the family birthday VHS. It's a strange intersection at the SOV markets for gross-out horror and niche punk community films, however, (somewhat unsurprisingly) the two disciplines complement each other well. The concept alone should shake a few from putting it on at all, and it makes itself known in the first ten minutes, if you didn't already read a synopsis. Jörg Buttgereit's DNA is heavily present in a lot of the film's story, especially on paper, but implanted inside a muted Slime City (1988) for the grimy 90s kid. It goes for the nice and easy shock--very quickly you go from dead people fucking to a disturbingly dark colored projectile barf with little foreplay. The mess isn't going to come close to breaking anyone who is already accustomed to its precursors, nevertheless, it is successfully demented. It helps that the film fills the moments in between gross-out scenes with punk “lifestyle” hijinks and low rent Natural Born Killers (1994) relationship moments. There are flashes of passed around tapes like The Edge of Quarrel (2000) or even Thrust in Me (1985), where it's obvious that it's a group of friends making a film very (very) loosely based on their daily life and conversations. More frequently, it feels like the dysfunctional necrophilia version of Jimmy and Judy (2006), somehow placing our cadaver boinking maiden as the relatable narrator who is young, in love, and seemingly just along for the ride. The mix of extreme horror and crime couple tropes with the “how we live” filmmaking makes an awesomely confusing tone. Somewhere, I think there is supposed to be some allusions to addiction in there, although it falls into the larger, over exaggerated street kid theme without much impact.  Dead bodies show up much less than one would think, but the corn and sleaze ratio works for the most part. Later on, it gets a little thick on the silly mad scientist shit, which wears a little more than the rest, despite that the film seems to move extremely quickly all-around. Without ever deciding what kind of mail order tape it wants to be, it pulls off being a wonderfully awkward and unique piece of trash. 
Rot is shot on video with minimal Florida locations and with presumably no budget. There is only a handful of settings, which includes parking lots and more than one bathroom. Parts of the film are too dark or manic to decipher what's happening, leaving you with some laughable struggle sound effects and a black screen for minutes at a time. Although constantly cramped, it takes a few great lessons from its resourceful influences to create some creepy mood shots and keeps pace with quick cuts between its available angles. Most of the inconsistent lighting works out, giving each of the limited settings their own flavor of grit and coloring. The effects build up strength as they go and are heavily boosted by the creative passion behind the scenes but never really come close to the wince-inducing gore and explicit content of its spiritual parents. Don't get me wrong, it's not a movie to watch while having dinner, the subject matter just puts it in a league with some nasty fucking classics.  It's a lot of puking-- a medley of spew-- chunky, creamy, strange colors. There is at least one vomit exchange (two I think) that your mom is not going to dig (that's not fair, I don't know her, but really most people aren't going to like it). The rotting flesh is pulled off with a mix of inventive ooze, “cake zombie” type makeup and camera grain. Once people really start getting sick, the film utilizes several different clever and frugal techniques for things like conveniently timed body melting. Gore-wise, its relatively high-quality stuff, especially when compared to the other technical aspects of the film. At its worst, the faces of the main characters look like they are going to see a Mercyful Fate show, and that's still pretty cool. Sound gets patchy on some dialog and on a lot of the effects, which is most likely tied (again) to each location. If there is any scoring, I don't remember it. There is an abundant soundtrack of 90s punk rock (plus some industrial metal, I think), and that's a pretty good consolation prize.
The film's director, Marcus Koch, would go on to spend most of his time in special effects, producing flesh and slime for a range of straight to video horror to this day. Rot was an early experiment for Koch and his first directorial effort. His three other feature films (100 Tears 2007, Fell 2010 and Bloodshock 2015) lay heavier into the torture porn angle, with his most recent being a part of the American Guinea Pig series, which has gained some followers (and returned to the viral infection concept a little). I assume most of the roles are played by Florida locals, having no other discernable credits (that I know of). The exclusion being Joel D. Wynkoop who had already received a b-movie doctrine, appearing as the recurring character DR. Dan Hess in a series of shoestring films by Tim Ritter (starting with Wicked Games in1994). Wynkoop continues to work in the genre currently, with over one hundred roles to his name, including a wide assortment of disheveled antagonists and a few detectives. All the dialog is pretty terrible, but Wynkoop comes out looking the worst, as the film spends extended periods of time circling him as he monologues about his origins and his plans. Basically, the happy couple at the focus of the film, Sarah (Tiffany Stinky) and Muzzy (Billy Scam) just yell things at each other. Still, I have seen films with a lot less chemistry that didn't start with undead infidelity.
Rot is homegrown SOV horror adorned in plenty of bile and some hand me down Doc Martin's.   It's probably going to succeed in grossing some people out (rightfully so, as it spends a lot of the movie in bathrooms that look the part), which I think everyone will count as a win in this case. I get a lot of joy out of the clash between two of my favorite things--body horror and 90s punk rock. I guess, being the crustiest is just like anything else, there is always going to be someone more hardcore than you. It doesn't matter how many times you puke on yourself, somewhere out there, somebody is fucking a corpse with the perfect soundtrack, and you can't beat that (nor should you want to).
1h 20min | 1999
 Director: Marcus Koch 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Radioactive Dreams (1985) Review by RevTerry

Ever since its introduction in 1945, science’s most notorious contribution, the atomic bomb (and its after effects) has been fuel for a wide range of fiction-- some inherently more positive than others. I personally have the irreversible, devastating weapon to thank (at least in part) for a substantial amount of my favorite things-- for instance post-apocalyptic movies.  No matter how bleak it may appear on the surface, the idea of mankind having a future of any form after a world erasing event (such as a nuclear fallout) is inherently optimistic, if not narcissistic. It's an extension of classic escapism--a concept set forth by the same generation that trained for nuclear attacks by hiding under door frames. The somewhat encouraging outlook has stayed buried inside the subgenre, even through its repurposing, multiple resurgences, and many iconic moments up to this day. It's at the core of the trope, man's remnants wake up sparse but scrappy, after truly fucking everything up, and begin to scrape together a new society, starting again from the wreckage. Even if that future begins with eccentric gangs and wars for water, that's still an upswing from the much more plausible outcomes of self-induced ecological remixing. But a plucky can-do attitude about the destructive tendencies of the human race isn't the only thing that has held over from the nuke-related fiction of the 40s. Somewhat inexplicably, the dapper sepia tone of the times has ingrained itself to the subgenre as well. There is a certain aesthetic appeal to the specific pairing of atomic bombs and the outward ideals of that generation. I'm not super sure about the reasoning behind it, but the look and feel of the early nuclear era managed to stay somewhat in fashion for genre fiction. Even as we sit in a future that would surely blow anyone from that era’s fucking head up, the slightly misinformed alternatives the people of the past dreamt up are just as interesting to us (if not for completely different reasons). The most obvious, and currently popular example, would be the Fallout games. Debuting in 1997, the game series features a wide range of references to other classic works and time periods, but its overall motif has come to be a mix of old-timey radios and the Duck and Cover cartoon. Twelve years before Interplay Entertainment put out the first Fallout game for PC (and long before they got their own game repoed by Bethesda), Albert Pyun put together his own ambitious tale about a possible 1940s influenced post-nuke lifestyle -- Radioactive Dreams (1985).
In 1986 the nuclear shit hits the fan. Somehow, during a worldwide incident, almost every atomic bomb in the world was launched, effectively hitting the global reset button on society and plunging the world into dusty chaos. The remaining nuke, which needs two separate keys to be armed, becomes the stuff of legend among the dystopian cities that remain. The idea being-- whoever held control of the remaining weapon would be the ruler of the new world. We know all this because it says so on bumpers before the movie starts. Sooner or later, we meet Phillip (John Stockwell) and Marlowe (Michael Dudikoff) who have survived the nuclear fallout by being locked away in a bomb shelter for the last fifteen years with nothing but a stack of detective novels for an education. Longing to make it in the outside world as “big dicks” and maybe score a few “dames”, the two hit the road in a classic convertible after tunneling their way out. Unbeknownst to them, while the duo had been safely locked away, practicing narration and nifty dance moves, the rest of the world has plunged into a radioactive wasteland ruled by warring gangs. In no time the boys are faced with obstacles that vintage pulp fiction did little to prepare them for, including armed, foul-mouthed children, enterprising glam cannibals and more than one attractive, double-crossing siren pretending to be a tour guide.
  For some, the name Albert Pyun might bring up certain expectations about a post-apocalyptic film. The man that gave us Cyborg (1989), Dollman (1991) and the Nemesis (1992) has a few favorite concepts that come up frequently in the bulk of his work. In fact, many of his films seem to thematically share the exact same futuristic setting. From what I understand, classic Pym is somewhat of an acquired taste, or at least that's what I have gathered from forcing everyone I know to watch Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995). Personally, I have nothing but love for the cyberpunk wonderlands he is known for, and that goes double for anything with Tim Thomerson in it.  Radioactive Dreams (1985), however, is something of an anomaly. The setting is still the dusty sci-fi wasteland, but it strays away from the cyberpunk aspects for somewhat symbolic anachronisms. In several ways, it comes closer to the mood behind his more ambitious fantasy or drama films (think, Alien from L.A. 1988 mixed with The Sword and the Sorcerer 1982), feeling closer to a straight-up adventure tale than a series of action sequences tied together by the central character. It also leaves behind the normal machismo for silly doe-eyed innocence and feels like a more earnest attempt at engaging the audience on levels outside of his normal tricks. It's still a Pyun movie (especially towards the end), and detective-noir is a theme he would visit again (and again), but it's fun to see him come at it with a more adventure-centric, almost family friendly attempt.
While the characters, Phillip Chandler and Marlowe Hammer, are undoubtedly influenced by Bogart era cinema, every other wasteland character or group has their own generation that they represent as well. The 40s influenced duo meets representatives from each following time period with a focus on the youth and music of the time. I can only speculate on the meaning behind it, but as the boys clash with greasers, hippies, punks and even disco, they openly try to avoid adapting each group’s cynicism. Before starting their path, the two make a pact to reach their goals without compromising their outlook, which essentially becomes the film’s theme throughout. Each new group brings with it a moral degradation, and the main conflict at any moment is surviving each encounter, using stand up “dick” style problem-solving, in a world that has moved on. It's not a deep movie, but there is some stuff to pick at, if you have the time, and it can do well as simple entertainment otherwise. Like its main characters, the film has a certain naive air to it that sticks around till the end and creates some of its charms. There is little realism to any of it, the logic is borderline cartoon, and the surreal nature of the world becomes apparent early on. There is a comfortable layer of whimsical cheese throughout, as if it's the post-nuke answer to The Wonder Years. In the best way possible, it never lets you forget that it is fiction. The storytelling makes attempts at a “classic” approach, sprinkled with 80s ridiculousness. It never really decides what type of film it is and could only be put in some kind of unnamable subgenre next to Circuitry Man (1990) and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). The film’s action exists at some kind of strange three-way stop between films like One Crazy Summer (1986), Tuff Turf (1985) and Battletruck (1982). It's almost always light-hearted, even when the cannibals show up,  making stops for things like blossoming young love (wasteland be damned). Setting wise, it's a pretty general post-nuke landscape, with a pop-up-society of scoundrels per the usual, but they are less The Warriors (1979) and more Adventures in Babysitting (1987).  The villainous, eccentric groups that make up the dirty-ass new world are closer to the surreal foes of the 80s “teenage” romantic comedy than our usual Mad Max clone. It is quickly paced and somewhat bubbly, so it has no real lulls, just a few awkward moments that take the cute culture clash thing a little too far. The characters stumble from one encounter to the next--the entire timeline of the film taking place on the main character’s first day outside. The method of effectively falling into each scene reminded me of After Hours (1985) but mixed with the inventory system of an RPG video game (like Fallout for example, where key items can open new encounters).  In the tail end, the film shakes off most of the slapstick and takes on a more serious attempt at a final battle. It's kind of abrupt and on first viewing can feel a little lost, but it makes up for that by closing the movie out with a full-on dance number.
John Stockwell plays lead and part-time narrator Phillip Chandler. Stockwell pulls off the boy-in-his-dad's-suit-look well but could have benefited from watching The Big Sleep (1946) a few times to get ready for the role. Michael Dudikoff (aka the motherfucking American Ninja) appears in a rare, humorous part as Marlowe Hammer. It took me a second to even realize it was him, as he is the film’s main comic relief, and I don't think Cannon had taught him any martial arts yet. Despite being completely outside of what he would be known for, and employing a slightly obnoxious voice, it works out pretty well for some reason. Lisa Blount plays one of the romantic interests, appearing later the same year in the (much) more violent exploitation flick Cut and Run (1985). Veteran Don Murray makes a somewhat brief but important cameo, and even George Kennedy shows up to bookend the film. Keep an eye out for the demonic paperboy from Better Off Dead (1985, and his name is Demian Slade, which is kind of fitting) as one of the foul-mouthed greasers.
The film’s cinematology (Charles Minsky) is somewhat inspired, if not a little torn apart, by editing. Most Scenes are set with intent, either pulling heavily from one of its influences or to create a unique contrast of elements. There are some color effects tied to certain locations, but most of the film’s shots bounce from fittingly bright desert landscapes and naturally dim underground layers. If anything, the camera work falls apart during the heavier action sequences, not quite knowing what to do with the comedic tone it has cultivated. There is a small range of practical effects, all of which work within the reality of the film. It all holds up today, in part, because it never tries to be too gritty or flamboyant.  There is definitely a ceiling in its special effects budget, but Albert Pyun can stretch with the best of them, using the restraints to create a style of sorts. The film’s cut-up seems a little broken and could possibly be damaging some memorable camera work. You get the feeling there may have been more there originally, and that it has been shaved for time. Music is a big part of the film and without legally having access to some actual classics from the time periods, it still gets a lot of the moods right. The bulk of the soundtrack is made up of some awesomely electrifying 80’s jams that seem to be written for the film, including the titular track by Sue Saad that has been stuck in my fucking head for three four days now. 
Radioactive dreams is a fluffy, post-apocalyptic ride through the history of American pop culture with mutants and extra cannibals. It was born from a sense of nostalgia, and here in the actual recycled future it definitely provides some--whether that's for vintage storytelling or zany 80s antics. If either of those things sounds appealing at all, I recommend giving it a try, even if you never really dug Cyborg. It's a different kind of Albert Pym grimy apocalypse movie, and honestly, it's a wonder it hasn't found a real fan base yet. Especially since some extremely popular mediums are currently playing with a similar blend of themes. The threat of fallout begins in the 40s, so it's only natural that our fictional depictions would return to it from time to time. Something about the “can do”,” future on the horizon” aesthetic just goes really well with a self-inflicted near-extinction.  We should be so lucky. If you think as a species we are going to pop back up after turning the whole world into a chemically induced Arizona (let alone have any kind of fashion sense), you are giving humans too much fucking credit.
1h 38min | 1985
 Director: Albert Pyun
Writer: Albert Pyun
Review by:
RevTerry


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Psycho Kickboxer (1997) Review by RevTerry

I'm under the impression that you can make any topic into an entertaining film idea just by adding “psycho”, “killer” or “maniac” to the title. For example, I might watch a movie about zebras, if it was on--I mean zebras are cool, and I like to learn shit. If, however, you have a film about killer zebras, I'm fucking down right now. Bloodthirsty, striped, safari horses sound like something I would like to see (at soonest convenience).  It works for all kinds of stuff, and it can be the least threatening thing that jumps to mind. Say the word “mailman” to me, and for some reason I instantly picture the kindly postal employee from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood stopping by to drop off letters or packages with a big honest smile on his face. Now, while poor Mr. McFeely had a very unfortunate name that elicited a few chuckles out of me later in life, he seemed like someone on the up and up. The mail person is so standard in society it's almost a comfort, but it's also hardly a concept at face value that I'm excited for. I see a title like Maniac Mailman, and I picture a hard-nosed civil servant that snaps one day and starts delivering death door to door (rain, sleet or snow). Which sounds like it would make a cool movie, if not a little offensive to our USPS friends in the field. The best part is that these combinations pretty much write and sell themselves. By placing any of those words in front of another usually unrelated, typically contradicting word, you not only have a title but as much plot as you would generally need to get started on a trashy splatter flick. A fIlm which someone like me will probably watch, no questions asked. If a word can make something usually lame into a cool movie title, then it goes double for something that already implies violence of some kind. For example--Psycho Kickboxer (1997).
Alex Hunter (Curtis Bush) is a kickboxer with a career on the rise. When he is not having romantic getaways, he spends his time kicking the shit out of sparring partners at the gym while supportive onlookers with mullets cheer him on. Having just proposed to his beautiful girlfriend, the couple attends a romantic dinner with Alex's cop father (George James). After congratulations, they spend the night appropriately discussing the police officer’s latest case involving the high profile mob boss “Houthorn” (Tom Story), of which he feels pretty secure in being able to prosecute. Mister Houthorn’s ears must have been burning from his minimalist bad guy HQ, because after having some dude's hand chopped off, he instructs his cronies to abduct the Hunter family. Catching the trio as they are leaving the restaurant, the mobsters get the jump on the (extremely well trained) martial artist and his (veteran police officer) father, loading the whole group into a limo with little issue. The men take their captives to a dark underground structure, where they tie them up for some shit talking and torture. At some point during the kidnapping, Alex pisses off the head goon who rewards him by forcing him to watch as they blow his father's head off and rape his girlfriend. Left for dead, Alex is rescued by a Vietnam vet (Rodney Suiter) who heals him with unshown magic and pep talks. As luck would have it, the highly motivated coach/nurse also has his own beef with the mob boss --and a plan. Using long-winded speeches, he tells Alex that to properly seek revenge, he must be trained under his guidance and also wear a ninja outfit. Understandably, Alex is reluctant at first, but since everyone thinks he's dead anyway, he is soon running the streets in black, breaking heads for justice. With his vet homie’s guidance, Alex is somehow transformed into a vigilante with superhuman powers--such as the ability to cave in heads--and begins working his way up the criminal empire. Along the way, some muggers get the shit kicked out of them for practice, a rambunctious reporter (Kim Reynolds) gets involved, and Alex has to fight in some kind of tournament-of-death for whatever reason.
The film is built around the lead, Curtis Bush, and his very real ability to fuck people up with his extremities. Essentially, a well mannered, gunless Punisher in a ninja costume, at no point does the main character give off a psychotic vibe. In fact, he never even edges on anti-hero, he is just a full-fledged old school do-gooder. He does dispense vigilante justice outside of the law, but he generally catches his criminals right in the middle of some kind of openly illegal activity and, for the most part, only kills the really bad guys (who fucked with his family first). So, while the story doesn't quite live up to the psycho part of the film's title, it does make an adequately simple backbone for random ass-kicking. Mostly, it's a low rent, cornball revenge flick in the vain of a Van Damme vehicle from the same time period, but with gore, more grime, and less money. The pacing drags a little when people aren't throwing blows, but the slower moments pack enough laughable dialogue to keep interest. In some ways it carries itself like a horror film, even though what's on the screen is completely made up of comic book elements and action movie cheese.  What actually plays out is a bare, but extremely spirited fight movie with extra blood. Unlike movies produced after UFC, and its influence on the fight movie genre, it has the benefit of being born from the tropes common in Bloodsport (1988) and the first five Kickboxer movies. The trashy tribute to martial arts feels like a scrappy, less well-off cousin to the Don “The Dragon” Wilson lead Bloodfist series. It has only a fraction of its less-graphic counterpart’s money to work with but makes up for it with a blood-soaked soul. There is a great grimy feel to it, but it is bizarrely light-hearted for a gore-filled revenge flick. It has more in common with something like Lady Avenger (1988) than Deathwish (1974), never quite selling the emotional gut of what's going on. Brutal acts happen on screen, but nothing feels grounded enough to matter in a meaningful way. There is little logic to what's happening, but it's never complex enough to matter. The pep talks our hero receives from his, almost mystical, Rocky style coach, about things like hate and inner strength, are borderline nonsense. Though for some reason, I have no issue with the fact that they seemed to be an integral part of his psycho-kickboxer trainer. That kind of shit can make sense in a place like this. If you took the Lundgren Punisher (1989), Hard to Kill (1990) and The Hammer of God (1970), chopped them both into pieces, (lost some), then boiled that medley in  watery juices, left over from a straight to VHS slasher (served undercooked), you would get something close to this film's motif.  There are only enough bits of a story given to grease a sleazy, fun ride through a fictional 90s underworld with a guy who breaks people with his feet.
All of the fights look semi-realistic, brutal and are well performed. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite have the camera work or editing quality to match the skills of the performers. Each scene only has a handful of angles, even during fights, sometimes producing a less than helpful look. The squandering of expert high kicks just goes to show how much work actually went into some of the classic hate dancing in other films. Curtis Bush and company know what they are doing, but without technical support, it ends up looking like someone’s Handycam recording of a seedy sparring competition.  Although somewhat handicapped, the brawls are a cut above what you might find in another no budget, beat-'em-up flick with a similar plot. Outside of the throwdowns, the technical side is more in line with a shoestring horror flick. Much of the movie takes place in dim basements or in alleys illuminated by street lights. Sometimes, at its most together, it reminded me of a Canadian TV show. Think, The Highlander TV series, but filmed in a basement (minus swords and immortals). The highlight of the features is ample gore which seemingly took the whole Budget. It's not quite Riki-Oh (1991) or anything, but there is a notable escalation from bigger action flicks that it otherwise imitates. The practical effects for the splatter are a step above most everything else in the film, and the movie takes pride in making a mess. People make low powered fountains when busted open properly, reminiscent of the bloodier Shaw Brothers films but with more realistically colored fluids. The music is kind of fun when it makes an appearance. It starts off strong with some video game worthy synth but goes quiet for large parts of the film. The sudden lack of soundtrack adds to the misappropriated horror tones, leaving whole scenes with only background noise. The best part of the musical choices is a makeshift theme song that accompanies the credits. It’s as if Tone Loc was in charge of making Mortal Kombat’s soundtrack but had only a low-end Casio and a Yak-Bak. Every aspect of the film crashes against its limited resources with optimistic bravado. I'm pretty sure most of the scenes were done in one take, as I doubt some of the mumbling was scripted. Most likely, editing was more worried about sampling the best action than getting the wording perfect--it’s that kind of movie. With that kind of budget and priorities, there is plenty to poke fun at, but it goes for broke on the face smashing which is pretty damn respectable in my book.
 At the center of the mayhem is Curtis “The Explosive Thin Man” Bush, a real-life 90s world champion kickboxer, who not only takes the lead in the film but was also the driving force behind its production. According to legend, Bush dreamt up the film with his then-girlfriend Kathy Varner after his role as a foot soldier in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990). Bush, inspired by Bruce Lee and the film careers of other similar martial artists, persuaded his friends and family to invest in the project and shopped the idea to studios. After about five years and multiple setbacks, including being robbed of his film’s funds by an associate, Bush found some kindred spirits in the form of David Haycox and Mardy South , who took on the passion project as their own. They brought on Danny Dennison who provided some script work and the scant tunes. Even the completed film, also referred to as The Dark Angel: Psycho Kickboxer (unrelated to Dark Angel 1990, or the 10+ other releases with that name), had trouble obtaining distribution until Alternative Cinema picked it up in 1998.  As stated above, Bush is obviously skilled as a fighter, and it comes through even in the film’s most ridiculous fight scenes. He isn’t much of an actor, to the point that every one of his lines is almost inaudible (and I don’t think I missed anything important), but he does make up for the atrocious delivery by just looking like he is having a blast the whole time.
Psycho kickboxer runs almost completely on hand to hand combat, fake blood and ambition. It's a cheap, brainless experiment that doesn't have much to offer, outside of well-trained fights and extra gore, which is sometimes exactly what I want out of a movie. It squeezes a lot of trashy entertainment out of its resources, even though the kickboxer is never what I would call psychotic. I don't even feel tricked, they got half the title actually in the movie and somehow that's relatively good for some of the movies I watch.
1h 30min | 1997
Directors: David Haycox, Mardy South
Writers: Danny Dennison, Kathy Varner

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