Night of the Demons III (1997) Review by RevTerry

There is something about Halloween that seems to call for a little hell raising. I guess it's different as an adult-- from what I understand, you move farther from the spirit world as you grow older and move closer to things like a prison sentence, if you get in trouble. As a card-carrying adult, at best I get drunk in a costume and say something I shouldn't, which I guess still counts. As a kid, however, Halloween was time to fuck shit up and eat candy. Trick or treating provided apt cover for all kinds of juvenile criminal activity. Maybe on some level, I thought the authorities of the world would be too busy dealing with the undead or goblins (or whatever) to deal with boring old me, even if I too was up to no good that particular night. It is tradition, as indicated by the “trick” part of the “trick or treat” phrase-- although by the time I was out doing my costume thing for candy, the term had culturally become an idle threat, if that. I don't even think I knew it was a threat, just something I said when the person opened the door.  Even still, I understood the true spirit of the night. There is something about the whole holiday's motif that just begs for a little hooliganism. Officially, I think it's customary to do your bullshit the night before (during "Devil's" or Mischief night), but then you lose the protection that comes from being just one of many flocks of masked kids out at one time. Back in the day, even some of the stricter parents dressed their kids up and let them loose on the streets. If you didn't get a little crazy, it would feel like you wasted an opportunity, one that came only once a year and had the best alibi. Good-humored trouble for the most part, just kid stuff--maybe a little fire here and there, but no attempted murder, like the bizarro Scooby gang that make up the lead of Night of the Demons III (1997).
We open at the Hull House on Halloween night as a police cruiser rolls through its gates and up its driveway. After complaining to dispatch about having the “shit detail” and getting creeped out by what sounds like an unseen KMart Halloween decoration, the cop enters the house, flashlight in hand. He examines the house a little before being greeted by a woman who seems to be oblivious to the fact that the house is abandoned and creepy as fuck. The ghostly surprise host, who we know (having seen the first two films) is the demonic earthly leftovers of Angela (Amelia Kinkade), debates the extent of the law concerning private property with the lawman before using her ghost/demon powers to snatch off his sheriff badge and lodge it into his forehead like a ninja star. The scene fades away on a pumpkin (consumed in bad CG flames, I think) into the credits which, for some reason, have been baked on top of a god awful music video-esque art project that looks like the deformed, nonsensical love child of the ReBoot cartoon and the first Resident Evil video game. Once that monstrosity finally ends (in flames again, I think), we meet a van full of assholes as they demonstrate the entire current hierarchy and power struggle of their congregation in less than five minutes. Most importantly, we learn they are delinquents of some kind, and the film quickly moves on to the home of Abbie (Patricia Rodriguez), coincidentally, just as she is getting dressed. After being thoroughly interrupted by her siblings, her friend Holly (Stephanie Bauder) arrives with plans for them to head to the Halloween dance together. Without missing a beat, she gets undressed as well, and the two discuss college (and other important things) for a little while--topless. Back in the douche-wagon, the group takes turns threatening each others lives, and then they discuss their plans for the night. As luck would have it, the gang comes upon Holly and Abbie who have broken down on the side of the road. With mixed intent, the aggression-squad pulls over to offer them a ride,  which the girls reluctantly accept after they verbally agree to drop the duo at the school dance. The banter in the van goes about as well as you would think for cliche, fictional high school personalities, before the alpha male with the parted bangs (Kristen Holden-Ried) has them pull over at a gas station for some cigarettes and beer. Inside the store, one of the hooligans (Joel Gordon) makes quick work of aggravating the store clerk with a fake ID and some “momma” jokes, which by pure luck and ridiculousness, leads to a standoff between the group's de-facto leader and a bunch of cops. A police officer is blown through a window with a shotgun, and the kid with the shitty fake ID takes one in the stomach before the crew finally escapes the disastrous beer run and makes it back on the road. They don't go very far, however, before realizing the gas tank of the getaway ride has been damaged, and they are forced to seek refuge from the law in the first spooky ass, abandoned house they see. Of course, the only one they can find is the now famous Hull House with its occupant Angela who coincidentally loves entertaining parties of mature looking teenagers on Halloween.
In a lot of ways, NOTD3 follows the same basic premise of the first two Night of the Demons films: A collection of “teenagers” made up of both “bad kids” and “good” kids holed up in the Hull house for Halloween night. Angela returns, and kids alternate getting skin conditions to kill each other until there is a select few left. Unfortunately, the third entry manages to hit all the same points without supplying many memorable plays on the theme. This is mostly in comparison to the others, as both before it managed to cram a lot of personality into their cheesy packaging. The third feels more generic, for lack of a better word, and it has little of the wit or satirical time appropriate attitude. None of the characters really stick with you and are barely fleshed out enough to hold a conversation. Mostly, they fall back on well-used tropes--non critically, almost missing the traditional wink at the camera. The partygoers of the first two seem like satirical representations of their era’s “teen” demographic respectively, in the vain of the Return of the Living Dead’s punks (incidentally, Linnea Quigley was in both-- Night if the Demons in 1988 and Return in 85). As far as I can tell, these are less a comedic sample of social groups and more just random horror movie victims.  It's not without merit, however, as it is a simple, entertaining watch and avoids putting a wrench to the series. Just as it makes no extreme positive effect on the “Demons” films up to that point, it safely has no damaging impact. Oddly enough, this makes the original three-film series something of a rarity among its peers. Other American horror film series’ of its type had gone through extreme transformations as they made their way from the late 80s and into the 90s (see The Prom Night series). Even with the more one-off feel of this third example, the Night of the Demons movie canon stays virtually intact. It seems kind of weird that this makes it stand out, but the fact that nobody shoved an unrelated, reworked film into this series is actually kind of amazing. Even with the reboot that was made in 2009 to cap it off, the whole series degrades nicely and makes a good, trashy October marathon.
While never breaking the mold or even truly filling it, NOTD3 still provides schlocky demonic possession in a fast-paced and entertaining manner. The story is kept simple. Our signature ghost, Angela, is found still just chilling at her house on Halloween, waiting for her next victims-- no special magic ritual required for return (or whatever). Logic seems a little shaky, but the film really seems oddly grounded, coming from the kung-fu nun with a barrel full of holy water in the NOTD2. There is nowhere near the level of camp of the first two. Instead, it takes on a mean-spirited, but bubbly indifference towards its characters--outside of Angela. At the same time, it leans into a less-than-spooky family film vibe--think, those live-action Casper the Friendly Ghost movies but crass and nihilistic. The pacing is brisk, and no time is spent getting to some on-screen action. It's hard to give a fuck about anyone involved, but that really doesn't take too much away from what that the film has to offer. It feels like an Angela side quest, or just the less significant story, depicting a time she and the haunted house screwed with some other assholes. I don't know what the fuck she does all year elsewise, or why she is the only ghost that comes back, but I enjoy the idea that she gets to dispatch with one would-be party crew annually, after the events of 1988. Maybe this particular Halloween Angela and the Hull house seem to have run a little low on creative steam and budget, but they still dust off the demented muppet voice to get the job done. Noticeably absent is the signature body horror moments the first two set forth. In particular, the affinity they had for luring a victim in using some boobage, only then to have the breasts themselves turn on the horndog in some nightmarish way. It's hard to follow up Linnea Quigley's disappearing lipstick trick, but number two at least tried, and it kind of seemed like a signature move of sorts, up until this point in the series.
The budget seems to be scaled down considerably in this entry. Admittedly, the scariest moment in the film is the bare-bones 90s CG intro, which had me worried it would be done entirely in that style. Luckily, while the film does have some truly terrible computer-generated special effects mixed in, it still squeezes in some of the familiar possessed prosthetic makeup. This go-around it is a little more Buffy the Vampire Slayer and less Demons (1985, I always dug that the makeup was reminiscent of the classic Bava series with “demon” in the name, but that can wait for a review of the first film). Most of the gore and kill effects worked for me when on camera. The splatter is kept mostly practical, and what it lacks in imagination, it tries to make up for in abundance. The biggest disappointment of the film comes when one of victim’s arms is turned into a snake`a la some terrible 90s graphics. I think it's supposed to be the film’s surreal kill, replacing the haunted rack scenes from the first two (as mentioned above), but it falls drastically short if that's true. It goes nowhere, and looks like a shitty superpower from an off-brand X-Men or something. Only the horror-gods know what that scene was going for there, but I only see an undiluted mix of bad ideas and soulless special effects. Like a grip of films from the same time, there’s an awkward balance between the types of techniques it uses to bring its visuals to life, in this case, when it's not using video game garbage and sticks to the gooey shit, it has inspired moments. The editing is fair, for the most part, but gets a little choppy. Part of this may be due to rating edits, as I have seen multiple cuts of the film at this point.  It also recycles a few scenes from the first film of Angela getting her float on, which feel a little jagged. The music is all over the place. Best I can tell, someone used a time machine to ransack a Richard Band catalog from future Full Moon films and only threw in little chunks to throw him off (and not affect the time-space continuum). The soundtrack really only matches up with rest when it wants to, and at its best helps a joke fall flat. There is some budget hair-metal in the end credits, but it's kind of too little, too late. Altogether it's an “OK” use of a smaller budget and suffers greatest from its era’s cheap special effects.  Even feeling slightly broken at times, it amounts to a van full of one-sided assholes getting disposed of by a demon, so it works.
The film is directed by Jim Kaufman, who does most of his directing for television and holds a first assistant director credit on the early Cronenberg racing film, Fast Company (1979). The first film’s director Kevin Tenney wrote the script, coming back to the series after nine years. Along with Night of the Demons (1988), Tenney gave us a handful of watchable trash flicks including the first two Witchboards (1986,1993). Reportedly, Tenney would later indicate he wasn't happy with his script or the film's final product, but I won't hold his change of heart against him. The sequel is Amelia Kinkade’s third appearance as the (now) demonic Angela. Counting the obviously reused segments, she has more screen time here than the last film and at times feels like the main character. Kinkade seems to have a blast in the role and brings the Angela character right back to life despite the obviously lowered quality around her. Her lines aren't half as fun as her banter in number two, but she is instrumental in making the film work for the series. As a candidate for Most Level Headed Lawmen in a Horror Film Lieutenant Dewhurst, we have veteran voice actor Vlasta Vrana. His character here is a hardly seen and almost useless but somehow a highlight nonetheless. Vrana has a lengthy filmography that continues to this day, including providing personalities for video games and animated features, as well as appearing in a wide range of films (including the Cronenberg flicks, Rabid 1977 and Shivers 1975). The rest of the cast is made up of frequent mainstream movie and TV show filler actors, who make the best of what is possibly left over oneliners from the first two films. 
Night of the Demons 3 isn't nearly the essential viewing of its predecessors, but it's a trashy enough third helping for a seasonal marathon. Being that it is the second sequel in a horror franchise, it could have been very different. I have no problem watching it yearly, as its a relatively inoffensive addition to the series, even with its flaws. It is wholesome holiday fun with plenty of brainless nudity and some splatter. Plus, it's good to let kids know there are limits to Halloween hooliganism, and that you should pick your crew well. I feel like this is especially important in today's world. Holiday shenanigans should be about having fun and fucking shit up, not taking gas station clerks hostage. Don't be that guy, or nobody will care when you end up dead in an abandoned house due to sketchy circumstances.
1h 25min | 1977
 Director: Jim Kaufman 
Writer: Kevin Tenney

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Jack-O (1995) Review by RevTerry

I fucking hate gourds and their brother the squash (if there is a fucking difference--I'm not an expert on the Cucurbitaceae family). You don't have to eat every fleshy plant just because it has vitamin C in it. That shit is gross. No hate if that's your thing. A lot of people swear by the disgusting ground-fruit, so it might be me. I find the taste is a complex mixture of earthy and bitter, with notes of packing soil. And the strange stringy ass texture doesn't help at all. It’s not all bad though, I guess... This doesn't make me want to eat it, but sometimes when it's cooked just right, it looks like the Graboid guts from Tremors (1990), and that's cool. Oh, and pumpkins are alright in my book because they are a special case. I certainly don't like the taste of pumpkin--it's just as bad as the rest of the squash/gourd family (if not worse for the whole pumpkin-spice factor that gets forced down your throat), but I'm always happy when they start showing up around town. At some point, in Samhain's transformation into the modern Halloween, people stopped carving faces into turnips and shit and settled on the pumpkin, presumably for its optimal carving husk (and because they are more fun to stab). The fruit itself is not particularly thrilling, but I have come to recognize it as the normal person's signal for “it's time to get spooky”. Some of us never really leave the Halloween spirit behind when October ends each year (watching horror movies year round on the regular, just being a creep daily etc…). But when those organic, lumpy basketballs finally return to Walmart, it means that, for a little while at least, the rest of America is about to get a little creep-tastic as well. The pumpkins mark that occasion. I also get a kick out of carving one up into a scary face or some shit. Not usually a tradition kind of guy, I still find it hard not to love playing with knives and making a mess (as long as I don't have to taste any of the offensive orange flesh). Even better is seeing what other people manage to stab out of their own pumpkins. I love checking out the neighborhood and inspecting what those on the block have hacked on to their own fleshy canvas. You don't even have to be a great artist to make something Halloween appropriate. Just as long as it's spooky, which is key. I'm not down with the pop culture, comedic or cute pumpkins. It has to be a scary face or just do the triangle eye classic. Keep it appropriate for fuck's sake-- for the kids. It's Halloween. You have to at least try and elicit a few scares--like the movie Jack-O (1995).
The film opens with a man and boy as they sit on logs in front of a campfire. Abruptly, the adult (Bernie Fidello  in a weasley voice fit only for a creepy bus driver or something) starts into the story of a vengeful spirit known as Jack-O, as the boy, Sean (Ryan Latshaw), listens on like an unmanned muppet. Apparently, the incident, which involved a wizard and an ancestor of the duo (played by Ryan Latshaw as well), invoked an unkillable monster with a seasonally appropriate giant, glowing pumpkin for a head. The creature, forged from the wizard’s hatred with a bone to pick, runs around killing those with the last name Kelly and anyone else that gets in its way. As the father barks this at Sean, a mysterious woman watches from the woods but does not rouse the attention of the two. Instead, the movie cuts to the boy waking up in his bed in fright, as if both the campout and the father's tale had been a dream. He jumps from his bed and runs to the window where he peers out into the backyard. Its extra spooky out there, so he jumps back in bed and (his best creepy kid voice) whispers “the pumpkin man” straight into the camera. The credits play over stock footage of lightning, and afterward, we see Sean and two other children on the way to school. The neighborhood decorations bring the kids to a very natural sounding discussion about “Jack the pumpkin man”. One of the kids is very hostile about the whole thing, and after verbally and almost physically assaulting the other two for not being Jack-O believers, he decides to throw rocks at some lady for being a witch. Luckily he isn't a very good shot, and his first handful lands embarrassingly short. When he goes for another try, Sean, sick of his bullshit at this point, tells him to cut it out. Unsurprisingly, the kid with issues and a handful of rocks doesn't take criticism well, so he knocks Sean down for the ol’ movie-kids-fight ground and pound. Before any real damage is done, the would-be stoning victim (Catherine Walsh, who unbeknownst to Sean had been lurking in the woods during his quasi-father-son camping trip, that may or may not have been a dream) runs over to break up the beating. After scolding Sean's ex-homie, the stranger, who introduces herself as Vivian Machen, accompanies him home for whatever reason. After a short walk, she meets his father (Gary Doles ). Vivian explains Sean's honorable tussle and insists on helping his father decorate for Halloween.  She hangs out for bit, mostly long enough to also tell a version of the Jack-O VS the Kellys legend, adding an emphasis on the Kellys’ role and the possibility that the pumpkin-headed demon was still out there doing his thing. It's about this time that Sean really starts tripping balls, having visions of creepy mood lighting, fog, and of Jack-O himself. In these strange waking nightmares, he is visited by a babbling man in a hood and the bloodied ghost of Jack-O’s victims. Having had three people recite the legend to him recently, and being a pretty reasonable pre-teen, Sean tries to shake off the hallucinations as his imagination. Sure enough, as Halloween draws closer, the bodies start piling up around town, and Sean's visions start to seem more tangible. It becomes apparent that the Jack-O is more than just a legend and might be out for Sean and his entire family.  Decapitations and low-rent slasher style babysitter shenanigans follow, as the living embodiment of an after-Halloween sale at Walmart stalks the fictional town of Oakmoor Crossing.
Jack-O (aka Jacko Lantern) was directed by Steve Latshaw and produced by Fred Olen Ray. It was the third film in three years that Latshaw directed for Olen Ray’s American Independent Productions, following Dark Universe (1993) and Biohazard: The Alien Force (1994). All three films were quickly shot in 1993 in Florida, utilizing much of the same cast and crew.  After the partnership, Latshaw continued to work in low budget cinema, predominantly as a writer providing the script for things like Megaconda (2010, directed by Fred Olen Ray’s son, Christopher Ray) and The Curse of the Komodo (2004, Jim Wynorski). Latshaw’s longtime collaborator Patrick Morgan pulls double duty on Jack-O as he did with the other two aforementioned films, being credited as both a writer and as the actor behind the titular monster mask. Moran had previously worked with Latshaw on their debut film Vampire Trailer Park in 1991, and the two would reunite behind the camera for Return of the Killer Shrews in 2012.
The film's story is pretty standard cornball stuff padded with dead ends and stock footage. Latshaw plays it seriously, almost entirely, using only a few intentionally comedic lines (that I can remember). It's almost endearing how much the film is not in on the joke. Trying it's best to establish a lore for its creature, it repeats it's “old nursery rhyme” numerous times, which only seems less authentic or spooky with each rendition. I think parts are supposed to be ripped off from Pumpkinhead (1988) and have taken its title to a literal extreme, but they come off more like the 90s gritty reboot of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966). There is a ton going on, especially considering how much actually happens when you add it up in the end. It introduces characters seemingly by the minute sometimes, they appear, blurt out a few lines and just kind of meander off, possibly being killed, taking their plot points with them. The chunk of the film, pre pumpkin -man massacre, would feel like unrelated television episodes--if the same wooden kid didn't show up every so often to link them. There are some strange winks at the father's infidelities, shrugged off nonchalantly, with no purpose. Leana Quigley’s shower scene comes out of nowhere, intercut with unrelated subplots for ten minutes (not a complaint) before she is even introduced, and she is one of the more lasting characters. It's a fucking mess of stolen elements and fillers that have been strung together to somehow to make a warm b-movie blanket, perfect for fall. It's really the lack of tongue in cheek humor that makes it great. There is no point in charting the holes in the story of the film, and it will be more fun to experience them yourself. It's never boring, even as it struggles through long periods of broken dialog, as its beauty lies in its pure awkward, unintentional humor and straight-faced love of the holiday.
Along with its intentions of being a serious horror film, it also makes some earnest attempts at being a Halloween “holiday” movie. The slice-of-life scenes really want to go for that Stephen King family retro thing (the late 80s/90s one, not the 2017 IT, Stranger Things one we have going on now, think more Silver Bullet and 1990's IT) and tries to impose a whimsical vibe despite its bloodshed. It picks up the familiar yearly horror marathon moments from Halloween (1978) as well as a few flea market versions of its characters and soundtrack. The holiday is its unifying feature and it is prominent in everything, from all the random pointless subplots to its makeshift monster's legend. The whole thing feels like a crowd-sourced list of favorite Halloween related cliches acted out in a local school play. No matter how ridiculous it is at any given moment, it stays true to the holiday spirit. Just like John Carpenter's genre-defining classic (only much less successful in this and many regards), it yearns to be the kind of flick that gets played on through the years in Halloween movie marathons. It partially succeeded in at least that one regard, as I watch it yearly myself, although it may not be for entirely intended reasons. At its best moments, it feels like an extra bloody Halloween special of a 90s family TV show (like the Friday night kind), but at the same time, behind all the stolen pieces and goofy ass moments, there is a lot of love for the only holiday worth celebrating, I can get behind that.
In the spirit of true honesty, Jack-O is damn near pure garbage. Every release I have seen has terrible sound that seems to get the loudest just as an actor’s voice breaks or gets too squealy. There's a possibility that before editing, some of the story made more sense but was chopped into a cinematic salad. More than once we see a character’s face on the screen without knowing who the character is, as if it was just a leftover snippet from a later part of the film, and it somehow slipped into the wrong pile. The film also features more than one point where a character must wake up twice inside of a nightmare. A trick that doesn't go over well when done just once on TV shows for comedic effect and is even less effective in a “serious” horror when done multiple times (for no reason). The lighting is somehow too bright and too dark at the same time, which is a neat trick. Most of the nighttime moments look like they were filmed in a dark fictional interrogation room with the spotlight haphazardly placed on some of the important action. To its credit, the color pallet was chosen well for every scene to help make it feel like the right season, and to give it a suburban fall flavor despite being filmed in February. There is a pretty high body count, with most of the victims being decapitated. Rolling heads and blood splatter are the go-to, but there is a few uniquely goofy kills, including an old lady that accidentally gets cooked into a Kmart skeleton by her pop up toaster. The music, provided by Jeffrey Walton, does it's best to follow along with the familiar elements by cribbing the soundtracks of the classics that came before it. It all comes together as the kind of entertainment that's going to lose a few types of viewer in its first few scenes but can provide yearly holiday cheer for the right crowd.
As per her usual, all-time favorite Linnea Quigley is easily the highlight of another b-movie. In this case, not only is she the most engaging of all the actors on screen, but she also provides ninety percent of the nudity and fifty percent of the film’s sparse intentional humor. Both John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell appear in the film posthumously via Fred Olen Ray's canned footage stash. Mitchell’s horror TV host filler is one of my favorite parts and helps with the whimsical mood of the film. The Carradine footage feels disconnected, but most of his later roles were phoned-in anyway, so it's not too jarring (even being filmed eight years prior). Also making the cast via cut-and-paste, Brinke Stevens is seen briefly on the Kelly family's television, running around in a black cape.  Among the cast carried over from 1994s Biohazard, Steve Latshaw brought Catherine Walsh and his son, Ryan Latshaw. Ryan who also previously had a role in Latshaw’s Dark Universe (1993), plays this film de facto lead with the grace of a sentient wounded piece of wood. It really is some terrible acting and there is a lot of him in the film. In his defense, it works with everything else the film has going on, and frankly, ninety percent of child actors suck, especially in horror films.
Jack-O is a special kind of enjoyable holiday garbage. Is it a well-made movie? No, not at all. It's very, very fucking bad in almost every respect. But it fails in such entertaining and oblivious ways, that I find myself watching it once a year, right around the time the pop-up costume stores open their doors for business. It doesn't get much more seasonal than a killer demon with a pumpkin for its head. Plus, It may not be scary, but it gives it a fucking try, and that's all I ask of anyone on Halloween. So this year, when you carve up the one exclusion I have to my almost universal hatred of squash, Remember Jack-O and resist the urge to cut yourself short by going cute, funny or meta with your pumpkin. Instead just try your damnedest to make something scary, even if you fail miserably...
| 1995
Director: Steve Latshaw

Writers: Brad Linaweaver, Patrick Moran and Fred Olen Ray

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Death Machine (1994) Review by RevTerry

Nothing feels quite like building a computer. It's just the right mix of control and random variables, where hard work comes out the other end as a tangible product for my sole consumption. It's the rush of designing and putting something together yourself blended with the satisfaction of purchasing a new powerful toy. I mean, I guess, technically I build computers all the time. But I'm not talking about work--where I tear down and build back up poor workhorse Dell PC's in an endless cycle. The physical actions are for the most part the same, but there is no real risk, reward or, most importantly, connection to the object when it lights up at the end. Those unloved machines are all the same, and if one is truly too toasty to repair, then there are hundreds just like it. Sad as it is, downtrodden work computers just don't have the same soul as personal computers. When it comes to your own PC, you can feel like an important part of its conception, an integral spark to its existence.  There is a connection built between you and the machine born out of the entire process involved. It's in the excitement and financial masochism that comes with making a decision for each piece based on your exact needs (and just maybe how it looks), or when all the parts finally arrive, each separate, neatly wrapped and awaiting your embrace to release them from their idle plastic and cardboard homes. There is indescribable joy in the moments spent taking stock of the (expensive) lifeless mess, as it lies in front of you, each piece destined for a crucial slot in the coming machine. Thick, long minutes are laced with anxiety as you place extremely small pins into plastic slots, without bending one of them, and try to line precise materials up just right to bring you that ensuring click. It all comes down to that first press on that power button, as there is never a guarantee. Each part may have its maker, but you are the final product’s manufacturer and that comes with unique complications. There are a million things that could go wrong.  Pieces are bunk right of the box, or you could get too crazy on one of those tiny ass pins--but when it works, it feels fucking amazing. The emotion cannot be bottled or described and only granted by spending more than you have and putting in a little work. What were once static parts of plastic and metal, now are together as a living whole, with incredible possibilities. In a sense, you picked out all the parts, each for a specific purpose and toiled in its manifestation, and so it adopts a part of your personality. That is, if it turns on. This kind of project is probably not universally enjoyable, but I assume everyone has their version of the new PC indulgence. It just feels good making something like that work from a perceived ground level. I guess it would be different--if it then got up and started killing people. Unless, that's just what you had mind when you put it together, like in Death Machine.
The film opens with a devastated backroads gas station, lined with flipped cars, fire, and bloodied corpses. A shaky sheriff stands alone with his gun drawn at nothing particular among the wreckage. He seems relieved when a black-clad military-like group in full protective gear arrives on the scene and informs him they will be taking over. After the armored assault team files into the gas station, they come upon a large cyborg (read a big guy in uncomfortably bulky armor) punching a wall repeatedly as a woman in the corner screams in fear. The leader of the (ultimately pointless) crack squad halts the group and mockingly recites what is presumably the commercial tagline for the defective robot-soldier.  There is some judgemental head shaking, then one of the group goes to engage the defective unit but gets told by his superior not to bother, that the man-borg will just burn itself out sooner or later, and  “ it happens every time”. Following the credits we see the sheriff from earlier being warned to keep his mouth shut regarding the incident, and that effectively it never happened. The choke order must not have been too successful however, because the next scenes are made up of the scathing media coverage regarding the event. Apparently, the company responsible for developing the cyborgs, Chaank Armaments, had been under fire for unsanctioned testing, and the recent event further fueled public outrage to problematic levels. At the center of the viral scandal is Hayden Cale (Ely Pouget), a chief executive charged with squashing the issue. New to the boardroom, Cale soon learns that the company's lead scientist, Jack Dante (Brad Dourif ), an eccentric recluse, has been conducting cruel experiments on the companies dime, including some shit involving infants. Figuring the best way to clean up the company’s act is to get rid of the resident mad scientist, she pursues firing Dante but gets pushback from the other uppity-ups. When she attempts to inspect his laboratory, she gets mostly insane back talk. She learns that he has been, basically, acting upon his own accord, diverting resources, hacking the company's system and working on a personal project. After a meeting with Jack himself, which doesn't go very well, she also receives a warning from a coworker informing her that questioning the crazed engineer might be dangerous. Yutani (Martin McDougall), another public face of the company, informs Cale that, at some point, a different CEO once looked into the matter and ran into some bad luck involving lab equipment. Cale seems to take the warning in advisement but remains vigilant. At the same time, as the company's image is being destroyed, a group of eco-terrorist led by Raimi (John Sharian) infiltrates the office building with plans to destroy some documents on a server (or just fuck shit up in general to raise awareness). When they let themselves be known and start making demands, Jack uses the ensuing chaos to let loose his pet project that he has been saving for a special occasion--the semi-sentient kaij┼ź monster made of metal, Frontline Morale Destroyer (aka The Warbeast). As his beloved metal baby goes around chomping douchey businessmen and radical environmentalists alike, Jack singles out a few people for taunting while doing an Elmer Fudd impression. He also develops a creepy-ass mommy crush on Cale, who is among those now locked in the building.  Trapped in a seemingly never ending research and development department, Cale teams up with the remaining activists to stop the battle-bot-raptor, save the day, and avoid having to play whatever fucked version of house Jack Dante has in mind.
Death Machine teeters between indulging its dark horror science fiction elements and it's blatant meta references. It’s made up of common genre pieces in tongue-in-cheek form, but almost all are followed through without winking. Hidden in the cracks are great moments of out-of-place intentional comedy that the film moves through with a straight face. Everyone (and thing) stays in character, and, even in the silliest moments, the movie goes for broke. It is an odd vibe but a healthy alternative to the near-parody style used in other heavily derivative films. The film takes place in the near future of 2003 (ten years from its release date of 1993), where humans have developed cool/fucked up cyborg tech (and various other shit), but everyone is still using CRT monitors on their supercomputers (not a bad trade actually). The little bits of its future we do get a taste of in the limited settings, hint at a dystopian culture made up of recycled trends and (verbal) callbacks to the 80s. It was probably less a prediction on culture to come and just more a side effect of its underlying humor. Though, what I can gather about the youth of the fictional 2000s ( from the eco-terrorists mostly) is that their culture mostly consists of retro styles, sensationalist media and bad pop association, which is kind of on the money in some regards. It's not really speculative science fiction, but it makes a few comments regarding types of progress and keeps the discussion open. While technology is the centerpiece of the plot, little time is spent on any real details or even surface-level jargon. Technology is the film’s monster, or a form of magic that can be used against someone. The film’s world feels alive with deep issues involving the repercussions of artificial intelligence and the ethics of human interfacing computer technology (with dead people and shit), but the story that unfolds only touches relatively lightly on each, keeping the viewer and most of the characters in the dark. It uses its higher concepts for dark satire, only tucked under several layers or just lying around as decoration. Classic, deep sci-fi ideas are in reach the whole time, as well as a few jabs at societies tendencies, but none are really ever explored to completion. Instead, they are just kind of brought along for the entertaining, violent ride. It never picks whether it's gritty or goofy and works best somewhere in between. The movie’s logic gets a little loose at times but seemingly only when it may get in the way of entertainment. It proudly refers back to several cerebral sci-fi works, but in the end, it is mostly the brainless kind of fun with bonus flesh-chomping.
The events of its story are isolated and general enough that they could easily fit into any similar film universe. It reminded me of Soldier (1998), in that it could have very well happened in the timeline of countless other sci fi films, only in this case, behind the doors of an office building. It's kind of got a Futurama thing going, because, I assume the experience depends on how many of the Easter eggs you can identify. The movie is a love letter to the genre above all else. It feels like the film manifestation of a long, drunken conversation between two horror nerds. The main characters have names referring to influential genre filmmakers, with little disguise--Jack Dante(Joe Dante), Scott Ridley (Ridley Scott), John Carpenter and Sam Raimi (...John Carpenter and Sam Raimi), and the rest of its writing is just as covert about its roots. It makes loud calls to Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987), with things like POV monster chase cam, solid color, comic book-like lighting and attempts to convey madness on screen. It ends up more adequately emulating Sam Raimi’s TV work than anything,  more a live-action cartoon with stylized violence (an art Raimi mastered through the 90s on the boob tube). In many ways, it could serve as a prequel to Universal Soldier (1992) having tech and politics. It could probably just be added to the start of that film with little retconning (or at least far better than some of the “official” sequels did). Some of Paul Verhoeven’s storytelling comes over with the borrowed RoboCop (1987) pieces, but it's missing any of the direct jabs at commercialism that stand out in his fake tv clips. It's just as much a tribute to infamous rip-offs, incorporating some of Shocking Dark (1989) and R.O.T.O.R. (1987) DNA into the mix. There are more than can be mentioned, but Aliens (1986) becomes the dominant influence during the films tail end, minus any of H. R. Giger’s otherworldly style, substituting a sharp-toothed killing machine for the xenomorph and adding a Dr. Smith like character to serve as robot-baby daddy. It could also be Hardware’s goofy ass brother and features a similar monster in a few ways but none of its moody atmosphere. Although the entire thing is stitched together from more remembered things, it ends up with a vibe all it's own, and the parts it borrows are more in the spirit of a tribute than they are larceny.
We don't see much of the movie’s world, outside of super-science and shrill business practices, the normal 80s stuff (minus the Verhoeven swipes at advertising that are noticeably absent). Almost the entire misadventure takes place in some kind of office building/lab/maze of blank walls and metal doors, with endless corridors that someone can be stalked or chased in. This makes it easy for the set to take on a cyberpunk atmosphere, but sometimes it feels a little like someone just pinned a another white sheet to each set to make them different. The film’s editing and stylization jump around from one 90s extreme to the next, with a hint of the late love 80s colored lighting. It employs several effects that vary from scene to scene, stylized as newscasts, security footage, and the killer robots view. The cuts are erratic but help keep a nice pace that is never boring, even if it reminds me of soda commercials from the early digital age. To match its story, the style never tries for hyper-realism. The designs are gritty, but it's the kind of grime you find drawn in a comic book, not brutal or grotesque like some of its influences were. As a highlight, it mixes in some CG sparingly on top of mostly practical effects. The majority of the monster’s appearances hold up, not having the luxury to fall back on one hundred percent computer generated bullshit, like it may have a few years later. There is plenty of blood splatter and some adequate gore (depending on the cut you watch), though some of it loses its edge with the music video editing job. The soundtrack plays heavily to the more comedic nature of the film, which worked for the most part, but did end up telegraphing some of the more nuanced directing. There are a few cuts of the film and, depending on the version, it can feel a little choppy in some areas, but the story is simple enough that it doesn't suffer much.
The film is written and directed by Stephen Norrington, who has a pretty solid history in creature design, including some work on the robot in Hardware (1990). He would direct the mainstream hit Blade (1998) four years later, continuing to employ the nu-metal music video style of the 90s. Unfortunately, his next big-budget film, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), seems to have stunted the directing portion of his career. Death Machine feels more like a passion project compared to the aforementioned film. Reportedly, he wasn't happy with the original studio edit of the film, hence the multiple edits. For the most part, Norrington's creative control comes off as the work of a fan who has built his own world from classic highlights.  Brad Dourif plays the mad robo engineer Jack Dante. Dourif is, kind of, all over the place in this one but is still the highlight of the whole flick. It seems like he never settles on a crazy for Dante, appearing with a different silly voice or abrasive behavior in each scene. Both Andreas Wisniewski and William Hootkins play sweaty, post-80s businessmen that could have walked out of the RoboCop films. Ely Pouget plays the lead role Hayden Cale, and pulls off the character’s various stages as well as anyone can expect. She has the task of playing a character that rips off three other characters--and each in different points in the film. It would be easy for that to come off as a Naked Gun type thing, but she somehow avoids it.
Death machine is tribute laden, a solid chunk of science fiction horror cinema. It's more funny than scary at any given moment, but it never feels like a parody, and its comedy is nuanced. There is probably enough action for anyone, once it gets going, but it's got an I Spy thing going, for those already indoctrinated by the films that came before it. I enjoy the shit out of it. Under all the classic callbacks and 90s cyberpunk flavor, there is a story about a dude who is really excited about the computer system he has just put together. I mean, sure, it kills people, and he has some mommy issues-- but when he pressed the power on Warbeast it booted right up, lights and everything. I can't help but be happy for him.
2h | 1994
Director: Stephen Norrington
Writer: Stephen Norrington 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Slumber Party Massacre III (1990) Review by RevTerry

This might sound sarcastic, but I love the haphazard world-building in your average horror film series, especially during the 80s, where an originally semi-grounded flick seemed to be under contract to introduce some comedy or a new supernatural element (or both) in its sequels. Any character could have a previously unmentioned sibling or child, and if you had an unmade horror script just laying around, you could always just move stuff around to fit it into a series on the fly. I fucking dig it. Somewhere out there in slasher-land is a bunch of unlucky families, quite a few cursed objects and oddly enough, a ton of homicidal people who can't be killed a single time. Films frequently bend over backward to do something like reviving a slain killer, that is if they acknowledge the death at all or refrain from retconning it. “Reaching” for a sequel is a tradition that lives on in modern horror, a staple of the straight to video market. A film like Wrong Turn (2003) comes out in theatres with little fanfare or unexplored concepts, and eleven years later we have five follow-up movies and one fucked up timeline of manic elaboration. The movies are mostly horrid shit, but just the time I have spent thinking of ways to make sense of the defecated upon, expanded canon is entertainment enough for me to feel like I got my money's worth out of the 6-pack from Walmart. At this point, the unnecessary sequel (or prequel) is a time-honored art in the genre (or just movies in general) right next to re-titling which is it's own (long) conversation. There are a lot of ways a film series can go about this, but few heavily utilized methods. He wasn't the very first, but I feel like Jason Voorhees set a precedent for left turns into murky supernatural madness. In fact, the Friday the Thirteenth series has utilized several of the common methods in it's eleven(ish) films (if it didn't pioneer them), having to think of new ways to keep unkilling Jason (or ways not to) each time. Along with the Prom Night films, which just shoved in a two-part ghost story in-between unrelated films (which I have touched on before), the Slumber Party Massacre films are some of my favorite examples of fuck-it worldbuilding. In the first Slumber Party movie (1982), an escaped serial killer named Russ Thorn wreaks havoc on a group of girls during a slumber party using a large power drill, simple enough--but it doesn't leave a lot of loose ends to tie up in future films. The next film (Slumber Party Massacre II 1987) also featured a slumber party, a power drill of sorts, and includes the younger sisters of one of the first film’s victims. It resurrects a dead killer to jump-start its story as well, only not the guy from the first film. Instead, we get an unrelated 50s rockabilly ghost that attempts to mix the essence of Andrew Dice Clay and Freddy Krueger. I enjoy it. But from what I hear, it kind of splits a crowd, and in all honesty, makes absolutely no sense. Following that, I guess they were out of ghosts and blood relatives, so they dialed it back a little bit, stuck to the basics and didn't worry too much about the in story’s connection to rest of the series, outside of making sure to include a drill and skimpy bed wear. That gave us today's subject, Slumber Party Massacre III (1990).
The film opens with a montage of family photos (which may have been laying around from some failed 90s tv pilot) that fade in and out like a PowerPoint presentation alongside the credits. Afterward, we come in on a very chaotic but competitively lax game of beach volleyball already in progress. During the game, we find out that one of the girls, Jackie (Keely Christian), is planning a slumber party because her parents have gone out of town and she has the house to herself. Between turns at the net, the females in the group discuss party favors and who they are crushing on currently. The festivities are slightly disrupted by the uninvited appearance of a lone dark, overdressed stranger (Yan Birch) with a staring problem, but he just kind of sits in the sand and disappears before too long. Since not all strangers are created equal, Juliette (Lulu Wilson) introduces herself to fellow beachgoers with a bowl cut (Brittain Frye) who she invites to the party. When a little of the romantic logistics of the group have been discussed, and everyone gets sick of taking turns serving, they leave the beach with plans to go to Jackie's house later for the get-together. Everyone except Sarah (Devon Jenkin), who instead gets killed by an unknown assailant, in her back seat with a large power drill.  The rest fair much much better as they all carpool together in Frank's convertible, for a scenic montage to pop music through sunny California (why the dead chick wasn't invited, I don't remember, maybe not enough seats). Frank (David Lawrence) drops off Jackie last, so the two can awkwardly flirt and confusingly lay out a few ground rules about their blossoming relationship. When she arrives at her parent-free home, she is startled to find her tall lurching neighbor (Michael Harris) has already invited himself inside. He tells her that the door was open, and he came inside because he saw the house was for sale. She tells him to show himself around, (because that's an okay thing to let creepy neighbors do). He pretends to check out the place, then before leaving, informs her that he owns a telescope. Sooner or later Jackie’s female friends arrive, and the gang quickly starts drinking and talking about boys again. Only like a half beer later, the girls are cheering each other on, in an impromptu striptease. The male half of the friend group decides the best way to make an entrance is to break into Jackie's house with masks and scare the girls-- mid inexplicable dance scene (in a nod to the original). After that goes as well as it sounds, and the girls have forgiven them, the real party begins, which really just means they pair off every so often to cuddle.  When the weird proto-Hot Topic kid from the beach pops up again, Jackie tries to call the cops, but the officer down-plays the situation as drunken sleepover antics, so they all go back to eating pizza, wearing pajamas and splitting up to get killed. Normal sleepover slasher madness follows as a body count builds behind the clueless group of grown-up looking kids. At some point, enough people are found dead, so that everyone starts to panic. Finding that the cops are still no help, the leftover gang is left to fend for themselves and figure out exactly who is drilling large holes in every one of their friends, before they all suffer the same fate. Oh, and someone gets electrocuted to death by a wet dildo in there somewhere.
Slumber party massacre III pulls back from the stylization that the second brought to the series. It also does away with any supernatural or fantasy elements (other than whatever makes the jackhammer drill-thing run with no power). A paint by numbers slasher, it has none of the wit or satire that the first film was built around. In fact, when taken at face value, it would seem to be exactly the type of film Slumber Party Massacre originally sought to lampoon, falling back on standard slasher roles without commentary. Strangely, it is presented with a straight face and plays it seriously, even at its most laughable moments. It's hard to believe it is not in on at least some of the joke, being part of a series which, up to that point, had been adorned in a variety of tongue in cheek horror tropes and table-turning. There are still the comedic cliches like the first two had, but they come off as less intentional. Further deviating from the flimsy brand of its predecessors, it employs a level of mystery to its antagonist. Part III opts to substitute the larger than life bad-guy for some stray creepy characters and dead-end plot points to keep the killer’s identity a guessing game up until till the latter third of the movie. Amidst the cliches and despite the fact that the writers ( possibly more the editors) didn't quite understand foreshadowing, it actually manages to pull off a low rent classic whodunnit vibe at times. I had fun trying to pick out the killer from its unblended red herrings the first time around (even with no real build up for it). With its shallow, bargain basement, Clue-like elements and it's focus on suspense, it puts more into audience participation than it does any kind of aesthetic. Our killer barely gets a backstory, although there are a few unexamined hints at some kind of plot thrown in at random ( eg the photos in the credits). Without spoiling it for those yet to experience the film, I'll just say-- all we end up knowing about the guy with the drill, is that he's a crazy douchebag with a bad haircut, and he possibly, maybe comes from a family with a history of crazy douchebags (although I'm not sure about the haircut part). The cartoon side characters are more vivid and spirited than the main cast, even just being undeveloped diversions. It kind of (just kind of) rubs up against a 70s giallo murder mystery vibe with its telescope equipped, creeper neighbor and the angsty dark outsider, conveniently hanging around (although no one has a cool scar or disfigurement, which would have helped). It keeps a lively pace that ramps up a little after the mystery has dissolved and has a bountiful (bloody) payoff of sorts. It's mostly basic stuff, but there may be a well stocked, somewhat engaging slasher in there. If nothing else, those who don't appreciate its attempts at a thriller-like atmosphere can get something out of the unintentional humor.
On a technical level, the film is mostly solid, if not a little on the mediocre side. It plays it safe with colors and lighting, not employing any of the music video-like effects that part II used. For better or worse, it's a very brightly lit film and seems to have chosen white as the center pallet theme. There is very little intentional aesthetic for the style’s sake at all, somehow falling into a flavorless hole between the gritty neon late 80s and Trapper Keeper art of the 90s. It's a neatly wrapped B movie and easy to watch, although it feels a little too clean without the grime. The editing is quick and helps keep it's involved pace during the less violent acts. The sparse crazy-ex-cop uncle shit and the other fragments of backstory suggest something was left on the cutting room floor, but the cut doesn't feel broken, and it glides over the holes with the help of the simple plot. Shot placement gets the job done but brings nothing special to the table, outside of avoiding some of the slapstick feel the first two had. A lot of the suburban feel from the other “massacre” films is absent, in its place a cliche California beach town atmosphere. The beginning scenes verged on Saved by the Bell College Years type stuff (minus any flashy paper cup art), especially the convertible sing along montage. I'm not sure, but I think the supplied pop music would have sounded dated even in 1990. The rest of the soundtrack reminded me of bad educational PC games and KidVision VHS tapes. It features some good gore effects but pulls away from some of the action in the earlier kills. People still get drilled frequently, the body count is high, but it's just not quite as gruesome as it could have been at times, partly due to the squeaky clean technical aspects. Of course, to fulfill the requirements placed by the film’s title and subgenre (and I think Roger Corman at that point), there are several scenes of pointless booby action if you get bored (naked dance time is standard at sleepovers right?). There is even some nudity and violence at the same time to kick it up a level during the latter rampage. Its formulaic mean spirit comes through in its production and blends well with the comedy.
I would be a liar if I said the acting was good, it’s mostly awful. Some of its characters are so off, it's easier to believe that the effect was intentional. That being said, it has a great cast in my opinion. Among the ill-fated slumber partiers, we have Playmate Hope Marie Carlton as Janine, who along with being a card-carrying member of Andy Sidaris L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies, has appeared in a few other goofy horror flicks, including Ghoulies Go to College the following year. B-movie legend Maria Ford appears as... Maria, while wearing an oversized red wig for some reason. She's not given anything at all to work with (other than the wig, I guess) but she is always fun to watch even in the most awful of shit. Keely Christian plays Jackie Cassidy who I assume is the lead because she gets a last name. She brings the series into the 90s by playing Jackie with the (possibly slow) careless valley girl trope and a variety of dim stares for the dramatic moments. The rest of the female gang is made up of familiar faces from genre films and tv. As the lurking neighbor Morgan, Michael Harris was one of the highlights of the film. You know he is not the killer from his overcooked introduction, but it's an entertaining addition that reminded me of classic murder mystery films, and he really had the creep thing down. The douchey young male victims are expertly played by people with funny hair and very punchable faces. They are all just fucking shit actors and chronically less interesting than the female cast, but it works pretty well (although one had a lopsided unibrow that was distracting).
The film is the only directorial credit for Sally Mattison who produced classic garbage like The New Gladiators (1988) and Silk 2 (1989). It was written by Catherine Cyran who continues to write for straight to video flicks to this day. It was the third and last official entry into the Slumber Party Massacre film series. The trilogy is often noted for being both written and directed entirely by women. Like the first two, Slumber Party Massacre III was produced under the (reportedly menacing) eye of Roger Corman and can be considered part of the larger “Massacre” series which includes the Sorority House Massacre films (1987, 1990) and Hard to Die (1990 my review here).
It is served a little dryly, but Slumber Party Massacre III has most of the ingredients needed for some fun slasher sleaze. While not super creative, the movie shows up to kill some, mostly, attractive people with a drill, and it does just that.  The added murder mystery and supplied suspects are fun additions. It has its own vibe, but in the end, if you enjoyed what the other two had to offer, you will probably be satisfied (or possibly even relieved, if Elvis impersonation dream ghosts aren't really your thing). Still, it's a complete U-turn to close out the trilogy. Essentially, it’s an updated but brainless remake of the first, with added beach sand and a killer that uses a mask for the first half. It could have gone a lot of ways, following the ode to Meatloaf's character from Rocky Horror that proceeds it. In this case, it avoids trying to explain something like, how the killer came back, or that the murder-gene (or curse etc) had been passed on to someone's sibling (or whatever). Instead it just links the three films a with similar taste in power tools and the appearance of pajamas at some point. On screen, it paints a world where almost anything can happen but hardly anything does--beyond a lot of showering and some murder. In reality, it's just the relateable growing pains of an exploitation horror series akin to realizing you didn't die in your twenties like you thought you were going to, so you’d better get serious and get a real job. You have to keep moving forward, and sometimes that means not mentioning your colorful rock n roll ghosts.
 Director: Sally Mattison
Writer: Catherine Cyran

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RevTerry


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