Film Review: The First Power (1990)

Release Date: April 6th, 1990
Directed by: Robert Resnikoff
Written by: Robert Resnikoff
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Tracy Griffith, Jeff Kober, Mykel T. Williamson. Elizabeth Arlen

Nelson Entertainment, Interscope, Orion Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“See you around, buddy-boy.” – Patrick Channing

I remember seeing this film when I was in sixth grade. I rented it from the video store because kids could do that shit in America back before parent groups ruined our culture and started coddling children into pussies suckling the teat for participation trophies.

I also remember thinking that this movie was cool as hell and it burned Jeff Kober’s face into my mind due to how terrifying and creepy he was in this as the killer. So whenever I see him pop up in things now, like Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead, I return to the fond feeling I had for this movie when I was in my first year of middle school.

The film also made me have an even deeper appreciation for Lou Diamond Phillips, a guy I really liked in Stand and DeliverYoung Guns and La Bamba. Nowadays, he’s a guy whose work I absolutely love because of how great he is on Longmire and how much I enjoyed him popping up in The Ranch.

Unfortunately, The First Power is not as good as I remembered it. Give me a break, I was like eleven when I saw it. It is still entertaining and effective though but so many similar films have come and gone that are much better in the genre.

Basically, you have a cop (Phillips) that is in pursuit of a Satanic killer (Kober). He catches the killer and sees him killed in the gas chamber. However, the killer has made some sort of unholy deal and is basically an unstoppable, unkillable force of nature like Jason Voorhees but with more personality and a broader objective.

The cop teams up with a psychic (Griffith) and a nun (Arlen) and they try to stop the killer. In the process, a lot of crazy shit happens and there is a cool scene where the killer rips a ceiling fan down and somehow electrically animates it to use as a shield and to repel our heroes away, as they don’t want to be sawed in half.

The killer’s mask is also pretty cool, even though he doesn’t wear it nearly enough and spends most of his time showing his face or possessing some random person in an effort to surprise the heroes.

I still liked this movie, not having seen it in like twenty-five years, but it wasn’t as dark and insane as I thought it would be. It hasn’t aged well but it also hasn’t aged so poorly that it is a bad film.

Film Review: Hatchet For the Honeymoon (1970)

Also known as: Il rosso segno della follia, lit. The Red Mark of Madness (Italy), Blood Brides (UK), An Axe for the Honeymoon (alternate)
Release Date: June 2nd, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Mario Bava, Santiago Moncada
Music by: Sante Maria Romitelli
Cast: Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, Laura Betti, Femi Benussi

Manuel Caño Sanciriaco, Mercury Films, Pan Latina Films, Películas Ibarra y Cía., 105 Minutes

Review:

“My name is John Harrington. I’m 30 years old. I’m a paranoiac. Paranoiac. An enchanting word, so civilized, full of possibilities. The truth is, I am completely mad. The realization which annoys me at first, but is now amusing to me. Quite amusing. Nobody suspects I am a madman. A dangerous murderer. Not Mildred, my wife. Nor the employees of my fashion center. Nor of course my customers.” – John Harrington

For those who read this site fairly regularly, my love of Mario Bava and the giallo genre in general should be pretty apparent. As I’ve been working my way through Bava’s oeuvre, I have come across several films I know and some I have never seen. Hatchet For the Honeymoon is one I have known of but never had the pleasure of experiencing.

While it is generally a giallo, it differs from what I’m used to in that the identity of the killer is known upfront. There is no mystery about the killer’s identity, although the motive isn’t entirely clear until the end and there is still a bit of mystery thrown in. In fact, this film takes some crazy twists and turns in the narrative, as you never really know what’s real or if the main character is just imagining things.

This film plays kind of like American Psycho well before American Psycho, the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, was even written. Our killer here is a high society type, incredibly insane and violently kills those around him. Except our main character isn’t a successful Wall Street player, he is the head of a very successful fashion house in Europe.

He has an obsession with brides and wedding dresses and believes that a woman should love once and die before marriage. While he is in a disastrous marriage himself, he often times seduces beautiful women he comes in contact with through his work. It doesn’t end well for these women.

Hatchet For the Honeymoon is an alluring picture. It uses the vibrant colors of a typical Italian giallo, employing the visual style that Bava helped to create and that several other directors have tried to emulate for decades. While this isn’t as overtly colorful as Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, it still looks like a painting come to life.

Mario Bava weaved an interesting tale with this picture. While it isn’t my favorite of his films, it still enchants like Bava’s more superior work. It draws you in with its strong grip and doesn’t let go until the final moments. It is engaging and beautiful in all the right ways.

Film Review: Vampire Circus (1972)

Release Date: April 30th, 1972 (UK)
Directed by: Robert Young
Written by: Judson Kinberg, George Baxt, Wilbur Stark
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Adrienne Corri, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder-Brown, Lalla Ward, Robin Sachs, Lynne Frederick, David Prowse

Hammer Film Productions, Rank Film Distributors Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 87 Minutes

Review:

“The Circus of Nights! A hundred delights!” – Michael

Vampire Circus is a little known Hammer Studios film from the early 1970s, when they were on their way out as a dominant horror studio. It came out at the same time that Hammer’s Dracula series was winding down.

I have always liked Hammer’s non-Dracula vampire spectacles, however. And to fanboy out a little bit, Vampire Circus has always been a favorite of mine. That may have something to do with Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, being in the film, as well as one of my favorite Doctor Who companions of all-time, the second Romana, Lalla Ward. Realistically, I just love the premise.

The story is pretty original and really fun. A troupe of circus gypsies shows up in town and captivates the people. The reality is that they are vampires out to get revenge on the town for killing their master Count Mitterhaus.

Speaking of which, the opening sequence, which features the original defeat of Mitterhaus, is one of the best things Hammer has ever created. It was also a great way for director Robert Young to start his career, as it was the opening to his first feature film.

Vampire Circus is really imaginative and it certainly isn’t a cookie cutter vampire flick. The circus twist is really cool and freshened things up for the genre. Everything from the live performances to the animal stunts just added a really cool vibe to the picture. It certainly had a bit more flair than other Hammer vampire movies.

Additionally, the cast was really good. I really enjoyed the performances of Adrienne Corri and Anthony Higgins. Higgins was particularly mesmerizing as the sexy male vampire that transforms into a black panther. Skip Martin, as the sinister dwarf, was a big highlight too. He was legitimately scary and intimidating for a little fellow. He played up the creepy clown shtick quite well, before creepy clowns were even a thing.

The style of the film mimics what was the norm for Hammer’s gothic horror pictures. Even if it may have felt dated for the time, its creativity certainly makes up for it being stylistically derivative. Plus there is a naked body painted tiger lady that rolls around all frisky and seductive.

Vampire Circus is probably only a good film for those who love the work of Hammer Studios in their heyday. But if you are one of those people, this is a unique experience that deviates quite well from their typical formula while not venturing so far away that it isn’t a Hammer picture.

Plus, Count Mitterhaus, Emil and the Gypsy Woman were pretty cool villains, as was their troupe of circus themed henchmen.

Film Review: Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994)

Release Date: October 19th, 1994
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: Constantine Chachornia, Ivan Chachornia
Music by: Jim Manzie
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Ami Dolenz, Soleil Moon Frye, J. Trevor Edmond, Hill Harper, Alexander Polinsky, Linnea Quigley, Mark McCracken, Steve Kanaly, Roger Clinton Jr., Kane Hodder, Gloria Hendry, Joe Unger

Motion Picture Corporation of America, Live Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You will die! You all will die! Miss Osie curses every one of you to the vengeance of Pumpkinhead!” – Miss Osie

Pumpkinhead is a solid late 80s horror flick. Its straight-to-video 1994 sequel is not solid. Well, at the very least, the monster still looks damn cool and he still rips people to shreds.

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings does stay afloat but that is mainly due to its interesting ensemble cast. You have Andrew Robinson, who was damn good in Hellraiser, as the police chief. You also have Ami Dolenz, who I really just like to look at because she is mesmerizing. Then there are a couple 80s sitcom stars, Soliel Moon Frye (Punky Brewster) and Alexander Polinsky (Charles In Charge). You even have small parts given to Kane Hodder (the best Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th film franchise) and Gloria Hendry, who kicked ass in several 1970s blaxploitation movies. I also can’t forget scream queen Linnea Quigley and her famous boobs.

The problem with Pumpkinhead II is that it disregards the first film completely and just does its own thing. However, apparently the mutant kid that becomes the new Pumpkinhead in this movie was the illegitimate bastard son of the first Pumpkinhead and some insane girl that had sex with him. She was probably raped though, honestly. Then again, I knew this Craigslist hooker that lived in my complex and she probably would have given up the ass to Pumpkinhead for a drive to K-Mart and a big bag of Skittles.

Anyway, this movie doesn’t totally suck, it’s just lame that it didn’t continue on from the first one. The sequels after this are more direct sequels to the original but I haven’t seen those yet.

Pumpkinhead II sees the monster brought up from the grave of a dead mutant looking kid. He is summoned by a witch that wants revenge for the people who wronged the boy in the 1950s and for the kids who let her house burn down.

I have to give props to the creature effects. Even though Stan Winston wasn’t involved in this, as he was very involved with the first, the new team did a better than decent job at keeping the monster awesome. He looked the same and even got to move around a bit more. This version of Pumpkinhead was just more mobile and not as limited as the original. This made for better action and more versatile shots, where in the first film, they had to shoot it in a way that hid the monster’s limitations.

While the story and the action aren’t bad, this chapter in the series just doesn’t measure up to the first one. It’s not a waste of time and it is enjoyable if these kind of movies are your cup of tea. It is better than most pointless horror sequels and it had a decent cast. Although, I really just want to check out the third and fourth film to see if they right the ship.

Film Review: Lisa and the Devil (1973)

Release Date: May 9th, 1973 (France)
Directed by: Mario Bava (as Mickey Lion), Alfredo Leone (English version scenes)
Written by: Alberto Cittini, Giorgio Maulini, Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, Francesca Rusishka, Mario Bava, Alfredo Leone
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Alessio Orano, Alida Valli

Euro America Produzioni, Cinematografiche, Leone International, Roxy Film, Tecisa, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I prefer ghosts to vampires, though. They’re so much more human; they have a tradition to live up to. Somehow they manage to keep all the horror in without spilling any blood.” – Sophia Lehar

I’m a pretty big fan of Mario Bava’s work. Some of it is brilliant but some of it misses the mark. Unfortunately, Lisa and the Devil is one of the films that fits in with the latter.

I checked it out because I also love Telly Savalas and Alida Valli, due to her work with Dario Argento, most notably Suspiria and Inferno. Also, the premise sounded really cool.

The story is about an American woman who is sightseeing in Spain. She sees a fresco that features the Devil. She then bumps into a man that looks exactly like the Devil from the painting. She tries to avoid him but he keeps popping up. Eventually, after losing her tour group, she takes a ride from some aristocrats who break down in front of a Spanish mansion in the country. The mansion’s butler is none other than the man the American woman kept seeing. Stranded at the mansion, things get interesting.

Well, things should have gotten interesting but they really don’t.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it is so surreal that it is hard to follow. It is also disjointed and takes rapid twists and turns that don’t really do anything other than complicate the narrative. To be completely honest, I have no idea what the hell was happening in this picture from the midpoint on. The American edit of the film is even more confusing, from what I’ve heard, as it had major changes that complicated it further, as it tried to mimic The Exorcist and ultimately got critically torn apart for blatantly ripping off that superior film.

The positives of this film are too scant to really redeem it in any way.

Telly Savalas is cool as the Devil character but he just isn’t explored enough.

Also, the cinematography and use of colors was cool but it didn’t save the cheap looking sets and poor overall design of them. The mansion comes off as just pieces of ornately painted flat walls, which it probably was.

Lisa and the Devil was most likely a failure because it had too many chefs in the kitchen and Bava went too far over the top and needed to reel it in a bit.

Film Review: Pumpkinhead (1988)

Release Date: October 14th, 1988 (limited)
Directed by: Stan Winston
Written by: Stan Winston, Richard C. Weinman, Gary Gerani, Mark Patrick Carducci
Music by: Richard Stone
Cast: Lance Henriksen, John D’Aquino, Kerry Remsen

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 86 Minutes

Review:

“When we get out of here, Joel’s going to be carrying his balls home in a knapsack.” – Tracy

In my preteen years, I discovered Pumpkinhead on the shelf of a video store. I noticed it was directed by Stan Winston, who did the special effects of several films I loved, and it starred Lance Henriksen, who was in a bunch of movies I loved. It was also a supernatural horror film in a similar vein to a slasher picture, so as far as I was concerned, it deserved my attention.

Pumpkinhead is a movie that I consider to be a classic. While it might not be as highly regarded by most people who have seen it, the cinematography and the monster are friggin’ amazing!

Sure, the acting is sub par but it also isn’t as awful as a typical low budget 80s horror film. Stan Winston, for a rookie effort behind the camera, did a great job of getting the most out of his actors. Plus, Lance Henriksen is talented enough to level out the playing field. Also, the witch is scary as hell in every way and she has a strong presence that is long lasting.

The real star of the film is the monster Pumpkinhead. He is a demon that rests in a pumpkin patch on a mound. He is called upon when someone wants violent and murderous revenge and doesn’t want to get their own hands dirty. In this case, Lance Henriksen wants to seek vengeance for his son who was killed in a drunken dirt bike accident. Maybe Henriksen shouldn’t have left the tiny tot alone with a bunch of rampaging teenage motorcycle maniacs outside of his store but lets just blame the teens.

The monster is seen in the intro to the film, which I feel was too early for a reveal. However, he really doesn’t show up in all of his glory until the second half of the movie. However, the slow build to his appearance is well handled and the first half of the film has a solid pace that doesn’t feel rushed or too drawn out.

When the monster does show up, he is an amazing sight to behold. Stan Winston made a literal Hell beast in every sense. Pumpkinhead is just cool and menacing and bad ass in a way that all monsters should be. For a more modern reference, he looks very similar to the deathclaws from the popular Fallout video game series.

I mentioned the cinematography earlier and I have to bring it back up to point out the superb lighting in this movie. There are vivid lights and a good use of contrast. Visually it is effective and makes this movie feel otherworldly. Additionally, the film employs a strobe light effect when Pumpkinhead appears in a scene. While this could have turned out horribly, it just works here and it makes the feeling of dread feel more extreme.

Pumpkinhead is a damn good horror picture from a decade that gave us a lot of great movies in that genre. It is overshadowed by the more famous monsters and films of its era but it is much better than its lack of recognition would suggest.

The film also spawned three sequels. They weren’t as good but they do feature this amazing and scary monster.

Film Review: Petey Wheatstraw (1977)

Also known as: Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-In-Law
Release Date: November 1977
Directed by: Cliff Roquemore
Written by: Cliff Roquemore
Music by: Nat Dove
Cast: Rudy Ray Moore, Jimmy Lynch, Leroy Daniels, G. Tito Shaw, Ernest Mayhand

Comedian International, Xenon Pictures, 94 Minutes 

Review:

“Shut up! Shut yo ugly old time ancient ass up! If you say one more word to me, I’ll have that lady take one of her titties and beat the shit outta you! And I ain’t lyin’ either!” – Petey

I love Rudy Ray Moore, as the guy has made me laugh since I was a teenager when I first discovered Dolemite. However, Petey Wheatstraw is a horrible movie that fails to even come close to the greatness of Dolemite or its sequel The Human Tornado.

In this, Moore is not Dolemite, he is essentially the same character but his name is Petey Wheatstraw. He was born during a hurricane in Miami and came out of the womb as a ten year-old boy. He is destined to become the future son-in-law of the Devil. You see, the Devil has a ugly and disgusting demon daughter and he wants Petey to marry her. The Devil uses all types of tricks to lure Petey in and Petey even gets a pimp cane that is a magical wizard’s staff.

The premise is ridiculous but sometimes, a ridiculous story can lead to awesome places. Petey Wheatstraw does not.

The film is an absolute mess. It is disjointed, confusing and half the time, you have no idea what the hell is happening. It was made by people who had no business making films on their own. Ultimately, it made me wish that Moore still had his creative partner Jerry Jones to help him reel it back in.

While Cliff Roquemore directed Moore in The Human Tornado, that film was a step down from Dolemite but it had much better writing than Petey Wheatstraw. Not only do I questions Roquemore behind the camera but I can definitely say that he shouldn’t have written this script. Moore had more movies and was more famous but he wasn’t able to tap the well for better talent going forward? Or maybe the Dolemite shtick just ran its course with Dolemite and didn’t have much life beyond one film?

I could accept The Human Tornado and the fact that Moore’s later films wouldn’t be quite on the Dolemite level but Petey Wheatstraw is unacceptable from top to bottom.