Film Review: Death Spa (1989)

Also known as: Witch Bitch (alternate title)
Release Date: December 1st, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Michael Fischa
Written by: James Bartruff, Mitch Paradise
Music by: Peter D. Kaye
Cast: William Bumiller, Brenda Bakke, Merritt Butrick, Robert Lipton, Karyn Parsons, Ken Foree

Maljack Productions, Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

Death Spa is a film that feels like it was made five years earlier than it actually was. It feels like something from 1984 and not 1989. I know that’s not a big passage of time and the ’80s are the ’80s but it had a sort of mid-’80s pizzazz to it, which was working its way out of cheap horror films by the time this came out and really, it didn’t hit the U.S. market until 1990.

It also feels like it was made by an Italian director on the cheap. It has the same sort of visual vibe as something by Lamberto Bava. It reminds me of his first two Demons movies in its aesthetic, even though it isn’t as gross as those films. This still has some killer gross out moments though, just nothing as utterly insane as Bava’s Demons pictures.

This is also notable for being the final film of Merritt Butrick, who most people will remember as Capt. Kirk’s son David from Star Trek‘s II and III. Weirdly, he is also named David in this. Additionally, this picture has a very small role for Karyn Parsons, who would be best known as Hillary Banks on the ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and as Kid’s girlfriend in Class Act. We also get to see Ken Foree strut his stuff but this is no Dawn of the Dead.

Death Spa isn’t a classic, by any means, but it is strange and bizarre. It has a sort of endearing quality because of its uniqueness.

The threat in the film is this health spa that is haunted by what seems like ghosts living in the club’s high tech system. But then we learn about this dead sister character and she has some sort of witchy powers. I don’t know, it’s a mess and kind of confusing but I don’t watch pictures like this for any sort of coherent anything. Death Spa is really just a total mind fuck.

There are good gory bits like a chick being melted by some sort of acid stuff and a guy whose stomach area starts spraying blood because a workout machine crushes his arms or something. The physics and general anatomy rules that apply in the real world just don’t apply here. It’s very apparent that the filmmakers slept through school, probably flunked out and stole a camera and the keys to a gym to make this picture. The cast was probably just paid in cheap beer and Quaaludes.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Killer WorkoutChopping Mall and Hide and Go Shriek.

Film Review: Season of the Witch (1972)

Also known as: Jack’s Wife (working title), Hungry Wives (original title), George A. Romero’s Season of the Witch (alternate title)
Release Date: May, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: Steve Gorn
Cast: Jan White, Raymond Laine, Ann Muffly

Latent Image, Jack H. Harris Enterprises 130 Minutes (original cut), 89 Minutes (theatrical), 104 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“[reading from the Witchcraft primer] ‘The religion offers, further, a retreat for emotional women, repressed women, masculine women and those suffering from personal disappointment or nervous maladjustment.’ Christ, what other kind of women are there? No wonder this stuff’s getting so damn popular.” – Shirley

Season of the Witch is kind of a weird movie. While it has some horror themes to it, it really isn’t horror in a traditional sense. It’s got some witchcraft and some creepy imagery but ultimately, it is more of a feminist drama.

The film was originally called Hungry Wives and wasn’t marketed in a way that showed that it was a film about witchcraft. In fact, it was pushed out like it was a softcore porn film in the height of the grindhouse era. Upon its initial release, the film was a failure.

The story is about a bored and abused housewife from suburban Pittsburgh, who meets a local witch and develops an attraction for her pagan practices. She starts doing things that were once uncharacteristic of her, like having sex with a young charmer that had sex with her daughter earlier in the film. She also finds herself and develops confidence and her own power.

The film was directed by George A. Romero and he came up with the idea while researching witchcraft for another project. Around the same time, he also became aware of the Feminist movement and was inspired by it.

Ultimately, the film is pretty dry and certainly won’t satisfy the palate of Romero fans looking for something similar to his more famous work. There is little to no terror and dread in this other than a few visions and a creepy mask.

Also, the original negatives are lost, as is the original cut of the film. All that’s left is a chopped up, much shorter version of the final film. So some of Romero’s vision is probably lost and it’s possible that the quality of the film suffers because of this.

Still, what has survived makes a coherent enough story to follow and yet it is still rather boring apart from less than a handful of scenes.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Romero early films: The CraziesNight of the Living Dead and for something more modern, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch.

Film Review: Predator 2 (1990)

Release Date: November 19th, 1990 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
Written by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Morton Downey Jr., Adam Baldwin, Kent McCord, Calvin Lockhart, Elpidia Carrillo (cameo), Kevin Peter Hall

Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 108 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t see the eyes of the demon, until him come callin’.” – King Willie

I know a lot of people that don’t like Predator 2. Those people are assholes and their opinion doesn’t matter.

Predator 2 isn’t as perfect as its predecessor, which was a true masterpiece of ’80s action filmmaking. It is impossible to follow up perfection with more perfection. Well, not impossible but incredibly hard, especially in Hollywood where chasing the money usually leads to shoddy results.

Still, Predator 2 is a damn fine picture that is true to the spirit of the original while being its own thing, in a different setting and expanding on the Predator mythos in new ways.

Most of what we know about these alien creatures came from this film. It’s the first to really sort of showcase the psychology of the alien. You understand why it is doing what it is doing a bit more, you come to see that it isn’t just a cold blooded killer. The alien has rules and just appreciates a good hunt and going toe to toe with good game. It also shows that they are a society of respect for those they hunt against, if they just so happen to be bested in battle. Plus, it throws in an Easter egg to the Alien franchise, letting us know that these different alien species exist in the same universe.

Like its predecessor, this film also boasts a large cast of really talented people: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Morton Downey Jr., Adam Baldwin and Calvin Lockhart, as an evil voodoo drug kingpin that is maybe more chilling than the Predator itself.

I think that doing a sequel in a different environment was a good idea. I also feel as if the film took its cue from the success of Robocop and other ’80s films that took place in a near future urban environment with extreme crime and chaos. This is set in Los Angeles but it very much feels like the Detroit of Robocop 12. Frankly, I love the setting and I love seeing the Predator come between a massive gang war and drawing the attention of the LAPD, most notably the task force led by Danny Glover’s character.

We also get Gary Busey and Adam Baldwin as FBI agents that know about the alien and are trying to capture it alive in an effort to study it and steal its advanced technology. Busey’s group are a real thorn in Glover’s side but the two do get into a really cool sequence where they fight the Predator in a meat packing plant.

Alan Silvestri returned to score this picture, which was fantastic, as he did such an incredible job with the first movie. All of his iconic Predator themes are here but he adds in some new stuff and tweaks some of the other themes and presents them in new ways, which works really well.

I also want to point out that by Bill Paxton being in this, he is the only actor to be killed by both a Predator and a xenomorph from the Alien franchise. That’s a pretty significant honor.

This is just a cool movie. For people that grew up in the ’80s loving the action movies put out by Cannon, this is like a balls to the wall Cannon film but with a much larger budget.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Predator and Predators.

Comic Review: Fatale – Book Two: The Devil’s Business

Published: January 15th, 2013
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Dave Stewart

Image Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

Since I really enjoyed Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale – Book One: Death Chases Me quite a bit, I didn’t want to waste time jumping into the second of the five installments.

Like its predecessor, there is still a healthy amount of noir and Lovecraftian horror in this tale.

I really loved this book. It took what was established in the first, expanded on it greatly and upped the ante as well.

With this volume, you really feel connected to Josephine and her “curse” or whatever the hell it is, we still don’t know exactly by the end of this tale. We just see more history on how her appearance in men’s lives causes severe pain and human wreckage. You also still aren’t sure if she is wholly innocent, a victim of her condition or if there is something more sinister in her past.

This story takes place in ’70s Los Angeles and the antagonists are a Hollywood cult similar to the Manson Family but much more evil and expansive. In fact, the story makes reference to Manson and how even he was speechless in the presence of the cult leader in this tale.

While this is set further away from the traditional film-noir era than the previous book, it feels more in line with a true noir. The darkness of noir and horror merge seamlessly in this and from a stylistic standpoint, this volume is more fine tuned than its predecessor.

The story is dynamic, entertaining and you care about these characters, even though you know that most of them won’t live beyond this dark tale.

Brubaker has really found his groove with Fatale and I absolutely love Sean Phillips artwork.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other volumes in the Fatale series. Also, B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick series, as both share a lot of similarities with noir and the supernatural.

Comic Review: Tiki Surf Witches Want Blood

Published: December 4th, 2016
Written by: Will Penny
Art by: Nik Poliwko

Sex and Monsters, 40 Pages

Review:

What a unique comic! I kind of wish there were more of these but since this also serves as a cocktail recipe book, a lot of preparation and drunk nights would probably have to happen before any other issues could be created.

If you are into Tiki culture and love Tiki drinks, this is a must own. Especially if you love comics too.

The art and the story are hokey yet fantastic and feel like an authentic work of pop culture from a bygone era. The art is incredibly Tiki-esque but also has the feel of old Tales From the Crypt comics.

Two surfer dudes fly their seaplane to Diablo Island, a supposedly cursed place, but old fisherman tales and boogeymen aren’t going to keep these two guys from surfing the most killer waves on Earth.

When they do arrive, they are greeted by talking shrunken heads. Then they find themselves surrounded by topless island women who are surprisingly hot, look like white girls and know English. They decide to party with the girls and drink their potions, which are magical Tiki drinks. They soon discover that they are to be sacrificed to some powerful island god. However, the two girls that like the surfer dudes must concoct something to appease the god’s appetite and save their new surfer boyfriends.

The story is written as a way to drop in Tiki drink recipes. Every time the surfers encounter some new and bizarre twist, there is a drink to go along with it.

This comic is a rare and uncommon find and I really wish there was more stuff like this out there. Kudos to Will Penny and Nik Poliwko, the two guys behind this cool, bizarre and spectacular experience.

Now I need to go buy some rum and get to work.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: This is pretty unique but if you’re into Tiki culture, this goes good with B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick series.

Comic Review: Fatale – Book One: Death Chases Me

Published: July 10th, 2012
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Dave Stewart

Image Comics, 144 Pages

Review:

Ed Brubaker is one of the most prolific creators in comic book history. His work has been everywhere but there is something extra special about his personal work. While he’s penned stories for DC and Marvel for years, whenever he puts something out on his own, it’s a real treat for comic book fans.

Being that I also love film-noir and Lovecraftian horror, seeing those two things come together in a Brubaker story is really exciting stuff for me. Now this series has been out for a little while but I didn’t get my hands on it till just recently when Comixology was having a sale on Brubaker stuff.

Man, I’m really glad I picked this up, as it was a cool experience and maybe my favorite indie series alongside B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick, which also took noir, supernatural elements and mixed in a Tiki vibe.

Fatale is almost standard noir but it has a dark, gritty horror twist with some H.P. Lovecraft flavor. This comic series goes places that others don’t and it’s uniqueness is refreshing.

This first story arc, there are five total, introduces us to this strange world. We meet Josephine, a seemingly standard femme fatale. However, we learn that she is apparently immortal and that there are some dark forces at work that she is involved in. It seems that every man she comes in contact with has their lives ruined in some way. She has this magical ability that hypnotizes men into obsessing over her, even if she wants them to or not. She is pursued by a violent cult that worships cosmic gods. Jo has some sort of relation to these gods.

This story arc takes place in the 1950s but other stories happen at different points in time.

The stories of Brubaker backed by artistic mastery of Sean Phillips is just such a great fit, especially with the visual and tonal aesthetic of this series. They collaborated on other projects, all of which were critically acclaimed: SleeperCriminal and Incognito. I’m sure I’ll read through them after I get through the five volumes of Fatale.

I really liked this book and I look forward to what’s next. This story served as a solid introduction to a world I had no idea I wanted until I jumped into it.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other volumes in the Fatale series. Also, B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick series, as both share a lot of similarities with noir and the supernatural.

Film Review: Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Also known as: Tales of Terror, Terror of the Doll (alternate titles)
Release Date: March 4th, 1975
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Written by: Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan
Music by: Robert Cobert
Cast: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Cirlc Films, ABC, 72 Minutes

Review:

“This can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!” – Amelia

Trilogy of Terror was originally made to be a television movie. It is an anthology horror film with three different stories, all of which star Karen Black. In fact, it is this movie that may have truly cemented her as one of the top scream queens of the ’70s.

The first story is about a timid college professor becoming the obsession of a student, who drugs her, rapes her and takes pornographic pictures of her to blackmail her into doing his bidding. It’s a pretty good story with a nice twist.

The second chapter is my least favorite of the three. It deals with two twin sisters, one of whom is like a puritan nun type of character, the other is a slutty wild child. The nun-like sister believes the other to be the embodiment of evil and decides to use voodoo to destroy her and vanquish the evil once and for all. Like the previous story, this one has a big twist. The reason why this one didn’t work for me, is that I predicted the big twist almost immediately. It may have worked well in 1975 but it’s a story horror fans have seen a dozen times.

The third and final episode in this anthology takes place in just an apartment. Karen Black’s character buys this cursed tribal doll for a guy she likes. While taking a bath, the doll comes to life. The rest of the story is about the woman trying to survive being trapped in her apartment with this insane and relentless killing machine. It sounds cheesy and strange, which it is, but the doll is so incredibly nuts that it just works. Where Chucky from the Child’s Play films could be like a great white shark, this doll is more like a school of piranhas.

Trilogy of Terror isn’t great but it is entertaining, very short and goes to show the range that Karen Black had. She could play a sweet character, a killer and really, anything in-between.

Plus, that killer doll is one of the best horror monsters of the 1970s.

This TV movie was pretty popular, developed a cult following and was one of the most traded VHS tapes that I used to see at conventions when I was a kid. These days you can stream it in HD.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Trilogy of Terror II, other horror anthologies: CreepshowTwilight Zone: The MovieTales From the Darkside: The Movie.