AUGUST 23 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2
Written by Alex Russo for VHS WASTELAND
Fright Night Part 2
The Dr. Thunder of Horror/Comedy
In 1985 audiences were gripped by one of the first main stream Horror/Comedies: Fright Night. It had great chills, funny characters, and some great gore effects. Fast forward three years later and a sequel is released. They've switched up the writer/director from Tom Holland to Tommy Lee Wallace, but the cast remains more or less the same. I guess Holland was too busy that year making Child's Play to bother with a sequel and Wallace had done Halloween 3 some years previous so he doesn't seem like a bad substitute, and really he isn't.
Wallace sets the movie an appropriate three years later, with Ian Vincent still hosting his late night show and Charlie in college pursuing cute co-eds. Charlie has undergone a great deal of therapy and has come to the conclusion that vampires aren't real and the events of the first movie were a kind of group hypnosis. This all works as a great premise since Charlie and Vincent need to reconnect and Charlie gets to re-discover vampires, plus college seems like a great setting and the next logical step. No sooner has Charlie decided to introduce Vincent to his girlfriend than he sees all the signs of vampires moving into Vincent's building. The plot is afoot!
Now, it's clear that Wallace wants to achieve the feel of the first movie and he succeeds in getting it right off the bat. Fright Night Part 2 feels like an addition, not a copy or something different, so kudos to Wallace. That's hard to do. Unfortunately, after the first act he doesn't seem to know where to take the rest of the film. None of the characters are really developed in any major way, particularly Charlie's friend Richie, seen for all of 10 seconds in Charlie's room thus establishing their friendship. The plot is super basic, pretty much a point A to point B affair. Of course one does not watch a Horror/Comedy for the plot. It's the jokes and the effects that move these puppies off the shelves (or digital queues these days).
Some of the jokes are pretty good, like a vampire acting like a vampire under the guise of a performance artist or a vampire psychiatrist. There simply don't seem to be that many of them to go around. Many of the ones that are there are good chuckles but that's it. A window shutting on vampire talons is a nice gag but you really need to be able to step it up later on. The gore is...well, there isn't much of that either, at least not until the end. In fact there aren't that many deaths to speak of. I think the vampires only manage to kill five people over the course of the film. All the cool effects come at the end and although they're on par with the first film they're just too quick. They also highlight my major misgiving with Fright Night Part 2: Apparently vampires are really easy to kill.
Fright Night Part 2 introduces the audience to a small gang of blood suckers led by the main villain, each with their owns quirks and specialities. Two are vampires. Another seems to be a ghoul-like vampire minion, similar to the one seen in the first film. An amusing Jon Gries hams up a performance as the vampire who hunts in a wolf-like form and can scale buildings. Then we have the hideously-80's-styled vampire on roller-skates and the bug-eating minion, a mind controlled human charged with protecting the vampires during the day. (A fantastic Brian Thompson, who I also loved as the shapeshifting Alien Bounty Hunter in The X-Files) The problem with these guys is that they're completely under developed. Even though they get a fair amount of screen time they never seem to do anything. When it comes to the climatic battle they're picked off pretty easily, although their deaths are a treat for the effects lovers out there. The confrontation with the main villain is a bit meatier but it still seems short and unsatisfying. They defeat the vampire by shining a small beam of light down a large elevator shaft. I loved it in Legend but here it seems like something the vampire could have just side-stepped, suffering nothing more than a sun burn. Similar, but not as well delivered, to the first film.
There is also a vampire bowling scene. This takes what could be a great opportunity to show the gang killing people, having fun, blowing off steam, and developing character and turns it into a giant waste of screen time. We aren't treated with visuals of the two deaths that do happen and then it's just a montage. You don't have to be undead to look like a tool bowling in roller-skates, the living can do that too.
I think I'm upset about the bad guys in this flick because most of them were such fun ideas but nothing was done with them. The first film doesn't necessarily raise it's villains up any higher than funny cliches, but at least we get to see them really give our heroes a run for their money.
Wallace and his fellow writers were also trying really hard to work in all the Dracula mythology they could. Having read Dracula, a vampire turning into a wolf-like creature and scaling a building is expected, but maybe a less avid vampire fan would be a little confused. The heroes also burn a vampire's mouth by sticking roses in it, which is such an obscure reference that they have to tell us it was from the book right after they do it. This really should have been a red flag in the writing room. Charlie's love interest also knows how to speed read. This is how she is able to read all of Dracula and learn the rose thing in just a few hours. It's probably another red flag in the writing room if you have to give a character an unexplained and uncommon ability just so that they'll be able to do something for two seconds and then never use that ability again. It was nice however that Wallace tries to get more into vampire mythology, few directors do that and his efforts do spice up the film.
Overall this film is far from bad, if you're a big fan of the first or you're into Horror/Comedies and it's the only thing at the store then it's worth checking out. Fright Night Part 2 has a nice taste but the flavor is hardly full bodied. Best served as part of a double feature with friends, you won't really need to pay attention and the other movie can make up for its shortcomings.
AUGUST 23 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : ZOMBIE 90 : EXTREME PESTILENCE
One thing you learn with alarming rapidity as a fan of schlock horror is that there’s always somebody worse. You think Joe D’Amato sucks? Ha! I’ll see him and raise Bruno Mattei. And if you’re another old hand at this business, then you’ll see Mattei, and raise David DeCoteau or Andy Milligan. Even when you get all the way down to the dregs of the dregs, the principle still applies; through Danny Draven and Lloyd Kaufmann on to the likes of Todd Sheets, there’s always somebody worse. All of which brings us, dear readers, to Germany’s Andreas Schnaas, a filmmaker beside whom Sheets looks, if not like Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick, then at least like Lucio Fulci or Wes Craven. It fills my heart with terror when I try to imagine the director who is even worse than him…
Those of you who have been reading my reviews for some time will recognize, I think, that it is no trivial matter for me to say that, as of September 28th, 2004, Schnaas’s Zombie ‘90: Extreme Pestilence is bar none the most pointless and idiotic movie I’ve ever seen. In fact, so crudely moronic is it that for the first ten or fifteen minutes, it’s fairly entertaining in its blithering incompetence, but the malaise that sets in thereafter deepens relentlessly with each passing second, until the final half-hour will have you cursing the gods for permitting the development of the inexpensive video technology which made this movie possible. Over what I take to be television news footage of a military cargo plane taking off, some voiceover guy who is trying way too hard to sound portentous and grave tells how the aircraft on the screen embarked on a secret mission that somehow involved “untested chemicals.” Don’t ask me. Anyway, Herr Voiceover explains that the plane went down in the woods, but we don’t get to see that because things like plane crashes cost money. We’ll just have to content ourselves with a few shots of some metallic junk that looks very little like the wreckage of an aircraft lying in a forest clearing somewhere.
We’ll also have to take it on faith that the opening crash has something to do with what happens throughout the rest of the film, for Schnaas has assumed, perhaps with some justification, that uttering the words “military” and “untested chemicals” in the same breath constitutes sufficient expository setup for a movie of this type. Rather than going into any sort of detail about the downed plane or its secret mission, Schnaas cuts instead to some sort of hospital, where a scientist or a surgeon or maybe just a veterinarian (subsequent dialogue is, shall we say, a bit contradictory) named Dr. Bern (Matthias Kerl, I think) has to fight his way past a bunch of people who are probably supposed to be reporters, who want very much to talk to him about zombies. ‘Cause, you know— we’ve seen so many of those in the movie thus far. On one of the lower floors, Bern interrupts an autopsy being conducted by his colleague, Dr. Simon (Ralf Hess, maybe?), just in time to shoot the subject through the head when he comes alive on the operating table. Cue main titles and opening credits.
Now, in an effort to convey some sense of this movie’s sheer, random senselessness, I’m going to take it on a strict scene-by-scene basis— at least until I get bored. Hell, it would probably even add to the desired effect if I just up and stopped without any warning at all. So: Bern and Simon pack up a second corpse, and carry it over to Bern’s home laboratory. If some sort of purpose is to be served thereby, Schnaas never bothers to mention what it is. While the two doctors are at work on this seemingly meaningless autopsy, some zombies show up and attack the house. Bern kicks their asses.
Elsewhere, some guy is sitting in his car. When he gets out of it, a zombie attacks him with a chainsaw. The man running the saw from off-camera in the closeups is wearing a different color of shirt from the zombie in the long shots.
Elsewhere again, two girls are taking a steam bath together and complaining about their boyfriends. The fat girl leaves the sauna to hit the showers, where she is set upon by zombies. Her friend joins her a moment later, and the zombies get the second girl, too.
Bern and Simon drive to the woods where the cargo plane crashed, coming this close to introducing some meaningful exposition to the film. They bring radiation suits, gas masks, and a small electronic gadget which doesn’t look even a little bit like a Geiger counter. There are zombies. Bern kicks their asses.
A guy sporting a Teutonic variation on the mullet sits in his car. He gets out to piss by the side of the road. He pisses and pisses and pisses. Zombies come. So long, Deutschmulleter Guy.
Dr. Simon was wounded while fighting a zombie in the woods, so Bern packs him up and starts driving to the nearest hospital, admonishing his injured companion to “Try not to bleed, now…” all the while. They pass a car parked by the side of the highway, and Bern stops to investigate. In the front seat of the vehicle, a zombie hooker is giving her zombie john a zombie blowjob. Bern kicks their asses.
And so it goes. On and on and on it goes, as a matter of fact, never adding up to a story, rudely waving its private parts at the entire notion of cause and effect. Eventually, Bern falls down a hill for no reason and knocks himself unconscious. This triggers a dream sequence that pits him against the reanimated bodies of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison in the ruins of his parents’ house (Kerl [or whoever] has to announce his assailants’ identities, since we’d sure as hell never figure it out from looking at them), which culminates in a POV shot prowling through every room of the empty house before closing in on the doctor (‘cause it was cool when Sam Raimi did it…). When Bern wakes up, there’s a zombie at his throat, and that’s the end of him. (Simon had succumbed to the Extreme Pestilence some time earlier, forcing Bern to put him down like the dog he was.) Then we see a bunch of zombies trudging across a suspension bridge (‘cause it was cool when Lucio Fulci did it…), and the movie comes at last to a blessed halt.
If Andreas Schnaas had set out deliberately to make the shittiest zombie movie in the world, he couldn’t have done a whole lot worse than Zombie ‘90: Extreme Pestilence. In addition to being utterly devoid of story, it is appallingly acted, ugly and uninteresting to look at, and plagued by an almost inconceivably lousy soundtrack. Longtime Schnaas collaborator Steve Aquilina is a strikingly inept and unimaginative cinematographer. He’s having a good day when he manages to keep the camera at a distance from the performers that strikes a workable balance between filling the screen and allowing the audience to follow the action, and those very few shots that display more forethought than “point the camera at the set and press ‘record’” are visibly copied from other films by more reputable filmmakers. Only one scene shows any indication of having been lit specifically for filming, with the result that Zombie ‘90 takes on the flat and characterless look of a videotaped wedding reception at the neighborhood Elks lodge. And for a movie in which outrageous gore is the entire raison d’etre, this one displays an often stunning lack of effort on the special-effects front. To be fair, there are a few neat tricks here (a couple of the numerous exploding heads turned out quite well, for example, and you have to give Schnaas a bit of credit for even attempting the baby-eating scene on his budget), but for the most part, we’re just looking at the usual combination of indifferently employed meat byproducts and watered-down red paint— and the mockup torsos for the sauna girls are on par with their counterparts in Criminally Insane. The zombie makeup is another woeful shortcoming. Most of the undead just have dirt and grime smeared on their faces, and while this is hardly convincing, it at least looks better than the alternatives Schnaas came up with for a few featured ghouls. Some of these have their faces covered with what appears to be a thin coating of liquid latex, which was torn and abraded after it dried in an attempt to simulate decayed and peeling flesh. This is actually a pretty clever idea in principle, but in order for it to work, it would be necessary to paint the latex in some remotely plausible skin-tone. That evidently never occurred to Schnaas, and the effect fails miserably. The worst zombies of all, though, are a few that wander around with no makeup beyond a coat of blue paint on their hands and faces. Even George Romero had trouble making that approach work, and his makeup people tried pretty hard to find just the right shade to represent cyanotic flesh. The lustrous ultramarine shade Schnaas uses makes his zombies look like they must have died in a tragic car-detailing accident!
As clumsy and amateurish as Zombie ‘90 looks, however, it sounds even worse. The music is awful, a combination of crappy Goblin-wannabe electronic scoring and only-slightly-less-lame speedmetal. There is little evidence of Foley work; from the sound of things, Schnaas just trusted his camera’s on-mount microphone to catch all the necessary noises, and if the acoustics on the set didn’t cooperate, then that was just too bad. The dubbed dialogue is the real killer, though. In fact, I’m tempted to seek out the German version now, just to see whether or not the original dialogue track was any better. (I’m also a bit curious to see what else beyond virtually the entire zombie-sex scene lies hidden in the ten minutes that were cut out of my copy [the edit included as a bonus feature on the Shock-o-Rama DVD of Schnaas’s later Zombie Doom].) Lord knows the German dialogue can’t have been any worse. In the US version, lines are frequently clipped off either at the beginning or the end, and the dialogue routinely comes out the loser in its battle of wills against the “background” music. But more importantly, the way the voices were dubbed is completely beyond my understanding. Many of the Expendable Meat voice-actors are clearly reading their lines right off the script, and their delivery suggests that they did so without a single rehearsal, or even a cursory glance at what they would be expected to read. More amazing still, the fat girl in the steam bath is dubbed by a man, who makes barely any effort to conceal his gender. Worst of all are our heroes, whom we will, alas, be hearing regularly throughout the film. Dr. Simon is dubbed so as to sound like Snarf from the old “Thundercats” cartoon, while Dr. Bern is given the voice of a blaxploitation action hero, even though he’s really a white guy from Germany!!!! Can somebody please explain to me what the fuck is going on here? Anyone?
Because you can never have too many putrescent corpses shambling about chewing on people, the B-Masters Cabal has decided to join Cold Fusion Video in dedicating the month of October to zombies, zombies, and more zombies. Click the banner below to drop in on Undead Central.