Monday, July 12, 2010

Short Film: Smile (Israel, 2005)

In Hebrew with English subtitles, Smile was made by Noam Abta and Yuval Markovich in 2005 while they were students at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design Jerusalem. The film is a highly effective, mature and individualistic product for a student film, and features an interestingly weird combination of live action and 3D animation: the scenes were shot with the actors Yuval Segev, Adar Parnas, Yaara Gotlieb and Michal Fish, and then their faces and other details were modified or replaced by computer graphics. But for the bizarre aspect of the animation, Smile is a straight horror film, an edgy tale of the everyday slowly twisting into a situation of increased paranoia and fatal danger.
Abta & Markovich have some other highly entertaining shorts on YouTube—namely Sarge, Episode 1: Happy Birthday Sarge; Sarge, Episode 2: Family Matters; and Urbunnies. All three are extremely hilarious examples of multi-violent black humour. For Smile, wisely enough, they dumped their humour for an unsettling visual surrealism.
Noam Abta, whose hobby (among others) is “naked horseback riding” and who counts Deep Throat (1972 / opening credit sequence) among his favourite films, and Yuval Markovich, about whom I can find very little info on the web, went on after art school to found the animated short-film portal, which they left to move from product and technology into game design. The result is and the popular aiPhone app, Rasta Monkey.

Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat (USA, 2002)

"I was dropping hints just as Navy men drop soap in the shower."
Trixi Treeter

92 min | 99 min (director's cut); cut scenes here.
Assuming you already know who H.G. Lewis is, then you can well skip the next three or four paragraphs. Otherwise, have a bit of history before the review.
More so than the names of the Englishmen Terrence Fisher, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, the genre of splatter, of unadulterated gore, owes its genesis to two people: the US Americans David F. Friedman and Herschell Gordon Lewis.
In most discussions on the topic, Friedman is generally overlooked in favor of H.G. Lewis, an act that owes its justification to the fact that during Friedman's long career in exploitation he chose to usually take back seat as the producer—and, on occasion, writer or background actor—and rarely took a director’s credit. Lewis, on the other hand, did everything: writer, voiceover and background filler, "special effects" and cinematography, producer and director. Likewise, unlike Friedman, Lewis not only often claimed that he came up with the idea of excessive blood while searching for a new gimmick, but also regularly continued to return to the genre of cheap gore long after he and Friedman went their separate ways after their tertiary joint blood-drenched film, Color Me Blood Red (1965 / trailer). Thus, as the pop film critic John McCarty wrote in his early treatise on the genre, the long out of print book Splatter Movies (FantaCo Enterprizes, Inc. 1981), H.G. Lewis "[…] holds a preeminent position as the man who brought the splatter movie into full being. He literally was the first."
H.G. Lewis originally joined forces with Friedman to make nudie-cutie films, but the slow death of the Hays Code began to make that type of product redundant. In need of a new angle to compete, he knew that "roughies" like his Scum of the Earth (1963 / trailer) weren't the answer; coming up with the concept of excessive gore, he introduced it to an unsuspecting public with Blood Feast in 1963 (trailer). The film was a hit, as was the follow-up splatter effort, the legendary 2000 Maniacs! (1964 / trailer). A year later, however, Friedman departed to go to Los Angeles (and partake in such exploitation and x-rated classics as—to name but a few—The Budding of Brie [1980 / opening sequence], Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS [1975], Trader Hornee [1970 / scene], She Freak [1967 / trailer], and The Defilers [1965 / trailer]) while Lewis remained in Florida, where his career had its ups and downs—mostly downs—until he finally left the exploitation film business in 1972 after The Gore Gore Girls (1972 / trailer) to go into advertising.
Lewis left behind a legacy of ineptly made but unforgettable trash classics and non-classics. Now easily available (see here, for example), for years they were the stuff of legends: seldom screened, they circulated mostly as crappy VHS bootlegs, gaining ever-increasing repute amongst fans of "Incredibly Strange Films". But who would have ever thought that one day, someday, H.G. Lewis would ever return to the genre to make yet another gore-laden filmic excess. But he did: thirty years after The Gore Gore Girls, and a full 39 years after he started it all with Blood Feast, H.G. Lewis returned with Blood Feast 2: All U Can East, a sequel to his first gore film.
Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat is an oddity in that it is all H.G. Lewis even as it sometimes feels it isn't. That the film is a gore-laden excess in the tradition of his early films is without a doubt, right down to the occasional use of obvious but fresh offal. In this sense, the film segues smoothly into his oeuvre as yet another fine example of laughable gore trash. But Lewis’s best films of yesterday were funny, if not examples of fine camp, in spite of themselves and not on purpose: although he did intentionally fuse farcical humor into his ridiculous plots occasionally—a prime example would be the nipple-cutting scene in The Gore Gore Girls in which chocolate milk spurts from one mutilated mammary and white milk from the other—most of the humor was (seemingly) unintentional, based more upon the general inability of the cast and filmmaker than any premeditated thought. Indeed, while Lewis has never had a pleasant word to say about the "acting ability" of the female lead of his first two gore films, the former Playboy playmate Connie Mason (shown to the left here), her inabilities simply match the ineptness of the direction and filmic technique of the films themselves—a technique that did not improve in the nine years of Lewis’s active career thereafter. And it is this very inability, this unbelievable cinematic unprofessionalism of Ed-Woodian proportion, that help lift Lewis’s best early films (gore or not) from the masses, that make them such a memorable experience (or, in the case of his lesser films like This Stuff’ll Kill Ya [1971 / trailer], a painful experience).
And here lies the big differences between Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat and Lewis’s films of yesteryear. Blood Feast 2 may not feature any amazing directorial touches, but in comparison to any and all still-existing Lewis films, it seems downright professional. And the acting, while often bad, is obviously bad on purpose: if Mal Arnold overacted as Fuad Ramses in the original Blood Feast simply because he was a bad actor, in Blood Feast 2 J.P. Delahoussaye as Fuad Ramses III overacts with obvious intention—as do most of the other characters. Likewise with the humor: if the laughs instigated by the first feast were mostly unintentional, those of the second feast are intentional attempts. Too intentional, in fact, as it often becomes annoying and is almost detrimental to the film—prime examples being the names of the female victims, the food obsession of Dt. Dave Loomis (John McConnell of Running Wild [1995 / trailer] and The Reaping [2007 / trailer]), the total brainlessness of Dt. Mike Meyers (Mark McLachlan of Crocodile [2000 / trailer]), the ladyfingers scene or that in which Dt Meyers drools his shirt full with blood, and the stupid body of the deceased Mr. Lampley (Chris Mauer), which turns up in every other scene and is noticed by nobody. (With so many obvious jokes, it seems odd that he didn’t work one in about artificial additives during the scene in which the silicone-pumped naked lady gets a corkscrew in her head.)
On the other hand, while it might have been a pleasant surprise had Blood Feats 2 proven to be just another apple off the same tree, such "improvements"—or differences—from his earlier film can be overlooked (if sometimes with gritted teeth). At least Lewis uses the same cheesy, cheap sets as before and a comparably idiotic story—indeed, it is virtually the same story. Likewise, not only did he obviously buy out a slaughter house for his films, the prop dummies and bodies are a substantial improvement from the obvious showroom dummies of his early films. In the end, despite whatever differences the film has from vintage Lewis, Blood Feast 2 is still pure, unmitigated trash, existing for no reason other than to bathe in excessive gore and play for cheap laughs. And if you like films like that, you’ll probably like Blood Feast 2 as well.
The plot, as already mentioned, is simply that of the original Blood Feast, but 30 years later and with a new cast of characters: Fuad Ramses III (J.P. Delahoussaye) comes to town after inheriting the storefront of the original Fuad. In no short order he is not only a slave of Ishtar, but has been hired to cater the marriage of Tiffani Lampley (Toni Wynne of Piggy Banks [2005 / trailer]) by her bitchy mom Mrs. Lampley (Melissa Morgen). One by one he works his way through the bridesmaids as he puts together the blood feast needed to bring his goddess back to life.
Give it a try—but only the unrated version, The R-rated version lacks a full seven minutes of tits and gore, and it is the tits and gore that make the film. Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat ain’t Shakespeare—hell, it ain’t even Amanda McKittrick Ros—but it does go relatively well with a six-pack and even better with some good sensimilla.

Series 7: The Contenders (USA, 2001)

Opening Scene of Series 7: The Contenders:

"He is in intensive care following a self-inflicted knife wound to the back."

According to imdb, Daniel Minahan originally conceived Series 7: The Contenders as a weekly television show and even pitched it as one in 1998, a good two years prior to the debut of either Survivor or Big Brother. One assumes, however, that the series version would have been acted as well and not “real” reality TV.
Series 7: The Contenders is a satire of the modern true reality shows of America's Most Wanted, Cops and ilk, and as such it owes more to Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal than, say, Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998 / trailer) or The Running Man (1987 / trailer). When watching The Truman Show and The Running Man, one always knows that the film is a film, whereas when reading Swift’s A Modest Proposal one feels that the proposal is serious no matter how far the writer takes it (which is one of the reasons it was so scandalous upon its original publication).

Series 7 has the same effect: in theory, you logically know that the film is just a fictional film, but Daniel Minahan, in his directorial debut, has such a sure hand of the visual vocabulary of true reality television that it becomes very easy to forget that one is not watching the real thing; it could actually be yet another reality television program, only this time around one in which the contestants kill each other. (Minahan’s excellent grasp of the language of television might also explain why he has since only directed episodes for television series, abet the cooler ones.)
The six contenders of Series 7 face off in "Everytown" USA, as represented by the fictional location Newbury (as in "Newberry"), Connecticut. The reigning champion is Dawn Lagarto (Brooke Smith, who played the kidnapped daughter of the senator in The Silence of the Lambs [1991 / trailer]), a single woman in an advanced state of pregnancy; if she wins, it is her last turn on the series and she is free to offer her child a good life with the reward money. Returning to her hometown of Newbury, she has to face off against Tony Reilly (Michael Kaycheck), an unemployed father of three and bad husband; Connie Trabucco (Marylouise Burke), a religious ER nurse that is practiced in euthanasia; Lindsay Berns (Merritt Wever), an 18-year-old self-confessed virgin with high SAT scores; Franklyn James (Richard Venture, who made his film debut in 1965 in Dark Intruder), a loner conspiracy theorist; and Jeffrey Norman (Glenn Fitzgerald, ex-Calvin Klein model), a terminally ill artist and ex-boyfriend of Dawn. The contestants are chosen randomly in a lottery (thus offering a shade of a modernized take on Shirley Jackson’s classic tale The Lottery), but later events in the film lend credence to the concept that the games are as controlled by unseen forces as the games in The Running Man.
We meet Dawn as she enters a convenience store to do her last kill of "Series 6", an event that leaves the customers around her relatively unfazed and which ends with her looking for some bean dip (she is, after all, a vegetarian). In Newbury, "Series 7" follows the various characters, interspersing the scenes of the hunt with personal stories and glimpses into their private lives. The dry humor that arises here is in the apparent realness and mundanity of their stories and personal tragedies. One by one the contenders drop, and not necessarily in the expected order, but complications arise when Dawn and Jeffery realize that they are still "soul mates"...
An odd side effect of being so realistic is that Series 7 also suffers from the occasional dry stretch, when characters or contestants about whom one cares little orate a bit too long about themselves and their situation; but this is to the advantage of the film, as these interludes, dryly realistic recreations of nobodies baring their soul and inner-secrets to the television masses during their 15 seconds of fame—fame has gotten more ephemeral since the heyday of Andy Warhol—intensify the realism of the (fake) program. At these points, the film takes well-aimed pot shots at the average person’s total lack of shame and their overriding desire to sacrifice all personal borders of privacy to the television-watching masses.
Initially, the acting seems oddly out of whack, but if it is so, it is only so because one starts out watching a "film" called Series 7. Once the jump is mentally made from the film to the TV show, the acting is suddenly totally in tune: the people aren't actors anymore, they are Joe and Jane Everyman in the spotlight of the camera. They aren't "acting" half as much as they obviously out-of-place and uncomfortable, eternally conscious of the fact that they are on camera.
As a satire, Series 7: The Contenders is realistically dead on target. It has, perhaps, lost some of the punch it must have had when first released 9 years ago, for in the interim reality TV—and public surveillance—has become too prevalent and normal to shock and bother people anymore. ("Big Brother is watching" has long since stopped being an evil concept in our world of today, much less nasty than, say, freedom of speech or separation of government and religion.) Nonetheless, the film is an interesting and effective satire and social comment, and far more entertaining than the embarrassing real thing.

Slugs: The Movie (Spain, 1988)

Nothing quite like a truly trashy Mother Nature on PMS film, a genre to which the film Slugs: The Movie definitely belongs. Slugs: The Movie is a another masterful film by the unheralded Spanish master of cheap exploitation Juan Piquer Simón, or J.P. Simon as he is normally credited in his American releases. Although Simón has pretty much disappeared from the screens since the turn of the century, during the 1970s and 80s he regularly directed (or wrote for others) wonderfully sub-standard but deliriously gory and/or totally ridiculous flotsam. Amongst his more noteworthy cinematic debris are the non-bloody Supersonic Man (1979 / trailer), the cheapest Superman (1978 / trailer) rip-off ever; the infamous and bloody 42nd Street classic Pieces (1982 / trailer); and La mansión de los Cthulhu (1990 / trailer), easily one of the worst H.P. Lovecraft “adaptations” ever. Slugs: The Movie is based on a book of almost the same title (guess which part is different with the book) written in 1982 by the great unknown writer Shaun Hutson who, as he himself states, "still refutes claims that he has done for the English novel what Hitler did for Poland."
But where does Slugs: The Movie fit within Juan Piquer Simón's amazing oeuvre of uniquely entertaining cinematic jetsam? Well, it is cheap, it is badly made, it has a script with bigger holes than Amy Reid, the dubbing and dialogue falls below the lowest standards set by Italo-trash, and continuity seems almost accidental—in other words, Slugs: The Movie is one hell of an enjoyable masterpiece of gory worthlessness, guaranteed to satiate any and all desires for a good crappy film. Much like David Keith's wonderfully stupid and gruesome "trashpectacle" The Farm (aka The Curse / trailer) of 1987—to which it shares more than one basic plot point—Slugs: The Movie is third-rate sleazy Europroduct of the kind that you either love or hate; and while the latter is easy to justify, the former is less so. But then, why bother? It isn't as if anyone can really logically justify liking Troll 2 (1990 / trailer), either.
As might be expected, Slugs: The Movie stars a lot of nobodies, and the few that ever did anything else are hardly a household name in any country (filmed in the state of New York and in Spain, the dubbed actors vary likewise in nationality). The basic premise is all Jaws (1975 / trailer): Killer creature(s) on the loose, those in the know are ignored because of business concerns—in Slugs: The Movie, it's the deal for a new shopping centre that has to be closed (and, indeed, is closed, despite the wonderfully gory inside-out meltdown of one of the negotiators at an Italian restaurant, one of the best-staged—if not effectively horrendous—deaths of the entire film, next to the young couple in a scene that just has to be seen to be believed). The actors, like the director, obviously take the project very seriously, which for a change helps the film.
The killer slugs of the film are the result of genetic mutation caused by toxic wastes—say, isn't it about time for a horror film entitled something like "Love Canal Creature"?—which has made them both inordinately large and aggressive, not to mention meat-eaters. (Actually, while the slugs do have teeth, as is revealed in the quick but classic scene of a slug biting a finger, they really aren’t all that large if you consider that the largest slug known to man, the limax cinereoniger, can grow to 30 centimetres in length. But then, Slugs: The Movie isn't too tight on the facts; among other facts it completely overlooks is that slugs are not water-dwelling creatures and, in fact, can drown if submerged too long in water—I drown them all the time in my Schrebergarten, although I usually go the euthanasia route by tossing them into a bucket of cheap beer; that way they drown happily drunk.)
The first to go in Slugs: The Movie is a young fisher, his death due to a lack of testosterone (i.e., had he only screwed instead of fished, he might have survived), soon thereafter a drunkard is slimed. (Why they didn't let the girlfriend of the fisher take off her top before her screaming scene is a true mystery.) Many gory highlights follow, although in between them Slugs: The Movie is rather a dull affair; luckily, as is often the case with this type of dubbed euro-products, the dialogue in between is good for an occasional laugh so the film never actually becomes tedious no matter how idiotic it is. And unlike most horror films, it is not above pointing out a real-life truth: that a virginal good girl is just as likely to die as the good-time babe that puts out, and that a would-be rapist has as good a chance of survival as the heroic husband has of dying.
Between the Oscar-worthy dialogue and the illogical plot turns, the sex-hungry teenagers wallowing on a floor of “meat-eating” slugs (to do that is what I call professional commitment), exploding greenhouses and so much more, Slugs: The Movie ends up being a truly unforgettable and entertaining piece of gold-plated crap. Watch it, now!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash (USA, 2006)

"I was in love with a girl once… she’s dead now. I only ever been good at two things, killing people is one of them…"

The engagingly titled film Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash, a low budget independent production from Seattle written and directed by Sam Akina, is one of those types of film that you want to like more than you do, and perhaps even end up liking more than you should.
The debut (and to date last) feature-length film of Akina is ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Ronnie Sorter’s 1996 film Ravage, only much better. Sorter once claimed that he made his film because he had seen so much bad low budget trash that he decided he could surely do better. While a similar statement is not known to have been expressed by Akina, when one watches his violent and over-the-top revenge drama Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash one gets the feeling that although low budget trash may have indeed been an inspiration, the main source that he was attempting to emulate was Quentin Tarantino.

Well, Akina did well enough that the source can be recognized—particularly in the editing, intermixing of temporalities, convoluted plotting, extreme violence and over-the-top characterization—but Akina is hardly an equal to the Hollywood master in his pop dialogue or camera work. But to give the kid a break, Akina made his, uh, (to date) masterpiece with an initial budget of only $25,000—it’s doubtful that Tarantino could even make a decent short with that budget or, for that matter, with Akina’s final, full budget of $50,000 (the additional money was achieved after the rough cut was produced).

The plot of Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash is deceptively simple for a film as convoluted as it is. Basically, some big, muscular and not-too-bright dude (Tom Doty) named Cash—his first name is his last, his last name is his first—who never gets naked is released from jail after ten years and beelines to the big city (Seattle) to seek revenge on those that both double-crossed him ten years earlier and also raped and killed his wife. The fragile truce between the various crime rings unravels due to both the trail of bodies he leaves in his wake and a series of misunderstandings that he indirectly causes. One by one most of the kingpins fall—including Bill Nguyen (Toan Le), the boss of the Vietnamese mafia; Tommy Two Toes (Dex Manley of Bloody Mary [2006 / trailer]), the Italian mafioso; and Pablo Valdez (Rodrigo DeMedeiros of Tex: Vampire Hunter [2010 / trailer] and Son of Terror [2008 / trailer]), a Columbian drug lord—until Cash finally confronts his most hated enemy, Hector Gonzales (Jerry Lloyd of Creatures from the Pink Lagoon [2006 / trailer] and The Thing on the Doorstep [2003 / trailer]), a cold-blooded strategist out to rule the city.
As the title implies, there is a waft of Spaghetti Western in the entire proceedings, underlined by such things as the occasional use of Morricone-inspired music, the continual twirling of guns, and the ease with which everyone walks around in public bearing arms. But the Western is just a light spice in the events; first and foremost the film is a hardboiled revenge drama, something Jim Thompson—or maybe Hemingway—might have spit out had they written violent, bloodily camp, low budget films. Perhaps the plot tries too hard to be clever, and perhaps the tweaking of the narrative timeline is a bit too cute, but truth be told, not only does Akina do a good job at keeping everything under control but it is exactly these and other quirks—like the over-the-top, consciously campy violence—that makes Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash fun to watch, that makes the film ever-so-slightly different from all the normal crap out there.

The flaw in Bullets, Blood and a Fistful of Cash which makes it almost impossible to recommend is that there is seemingly no full version of the film in general release. According to imdb, the only version that Akina views as being approval-worthy is an unreleased Director’s Cut of 2 hours and 6 minutes. The versions currently available on DVD, however, range from 104 to 115 minutes—which means that they are missing between 22 and 11 minutes of material. And it’s noticeable: more than once the cut is so jerky that continuity is almost lost, and little in the film is half as bloody as the bloopers underlying the end credits would lead to believe it should be.
In the end, the experience is comparable to the 34 double-D you finally get home only to discover that from A to D is just Kleenex. It’s fun anyways, especially since personality does go a long way, but something is still missing.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Botched (USA, 2007)

"I am, what psychiatrists call, alpha male."

After a botched diamond heist in Nice, professional thief Ritchie Donovan (Stephen Dorff of The Gate [1987 / trailer], Space Truckers [1996 / trailer], Blade [1998 / trailer], Cecil B. DeMented [2000 / trailer], FeardotCom [2002 / trailer] and the incomprehensible Uwe Boll film Alone in the Dark [2005 / trailer]) is given a second chance by the Russian mobster Mr. Groznyi (Sean Pertwee of Event Horizon [1997 / trailer], Dog Soldiers [2002 / trailer] and Doomsday [2008 / trailer]) to clear his slate of debts: he is sent to Moscow to steal a priceless, jewel-studded gold cross from the penthouse apartment of the descendants of Ivan the Terrible. Assisted by a choleric Russian named Peter (Jamie Foreman, the actor son of the former British mobster Freddie Foreman and familiar face from films such as Gangster No. 1 [2000 / trailer], Saving Grace [2000 / trailer] and the excellent Layer Cake [2004 / trailer]) and his idiot brother Yuri (Russell Smith), they get the goods but things go awry and while making their escape they suddenly find themselves stuck on the unused 13th floor with a batch of seven hostages, including the token babe Anne (Jaime Murray of The Deaths of Ian Stone [2007 / trailer] and the 2007 season of Dexter), the wimpy "reporter" Dmitry (the ever-excellent Hugh O'Conor of Rawhead Rex [1986 / trailer], The Young Poisoner's Handbook [1995 / trailer] and Deathwatch [2002 / trailer]), the religious fanatic Sonya (Bronagh Gallagher of The Commitments [1991 / trailer] and Malice in Wonderland [2009 / trailer]), and the “alpha male” security guard Boris (Geoff Bell, a bit player seen in RocknRolla [2008 / trailer] and Solomon Kane [2009 / trailer]). The first attempt to negotiate with the supposed police ends with the beheading of the hostage Alex (Zak Maguire), and from then on their numbers dwindle as they face off with the crazed, blood-thirsty descendants of Ivan the Terrible, who just happen to be the owners of the building...
Why hasn't anybody heard of this movie? The deadpan debut film of director Kit Tryan, Botched was an audience favorite at the Fantasy Filmfest (in Berlin, Munich, et al) in 2007 and also wowed the crowds the same year at the New York City Horror Film Festival, where it pulled in the Best Actor (Brad Dorff) and Best Feature awards, and then it more or less simply fell off the face of the earth—and totally, thoroughly, completely, absolutely unjustly so.
Botched is a fun and entertaining ride, well acted and well shot, a perfect balance between blood-drenched violence and effective comedy. The laughs are instigated from verbal and visual gags that veer from dry humor to total slapstick, and despite being given virtually no time to establish any characterization virtually all the given actors master their stereotypes (and dialog) so well that even the least likable "good guy" manages to establish a level of audience sympathy, thus making most of them more than mere body-count fodder.

The budgetary limitations of the production do sometimes sneak in at the edges (the rat, for example, is funny but never achieves any level of verisimilitude), but Kit Tryan has a fine directorial eye and grasp of the camera: aside from the pleasantly edited opening tracking shot, Tryan continually offers some truly inspired framing and never slips up the visual continuity of the narrative. Never overly flashy, his directorial technique is informed and professional and does much to keep the wacky story under control.
In a 2008 interview at The Den of Geek about the film (which had been in development since 2003), Tryan talks about his intended goal of achieving a “unique flavor” in the manner of such classics of the 80s and early 90s as Tremors (1990 / trailer), The Evil Dead (1981 / trailer) or Brain Dead (1992 / trailer). Botched, for all its blood, never reaches the delirious gory heights of the latter two films, but it does achieve the difficult balance of humor and horror found in all three, as well as achieve an overall personal look and feel all of its own.
Regrettably, despite being the type of film that should be hit—it is, in truth, far more successful overall than the uneven but entertaining Hollywood horror comedy Zombieland (2009 / trailer)—Botched has seemingly simply disappeared into the limbos of direct-to-DVD lowest-shelf hell. A loss for fans of well-made and funny horror films with personality, to say the least—but rest assured, Botched is surely destined one day to become a rediscovered cult classic.
Go ahead, watch it: be different, be brave, be the first on your block to rediscover Botched!

Space Raiders (USA, 1983)

"Peter, listen to me. Things are always happening that we don't expect. You can think of them as an ordeal, or you can think of them as a great adventure. It's the adventurers who make it."
Hawk (Vince Edwards)

When I was a young lad of about five or six (or maybe seven)—in any event, long before I developed pubic hair—my sister and I were sent for a summer to stay with my cousins in what was then a blink-twice-and-you-missed-it mill town in Massachusetts called Lee. (I imagine Lee, which I haven’t visited for over 25 years, is probably relatively gentrified by now—the Main Street and Victorian houses were always too beautiful to leave to the natives alone.) It was there that I was allowed to see my first scary television show, though god only knows what it was called. It was either a Rod Serling show or a Rod Serling rip-off, but the title, like the plot of the episode, has long passed from my memory. What I do remember is that it was, at the time, the scariest thing I had ever seen in my life. When the mother was confronted by the ghost, I ran from the room in terror and couldn't sleep with the lights out for days, and I forever remembered exactly how horrifying it was.
Years later, while going to Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles (back when it was located next to MacArthur Park) one night during the heights of my drug excesses while I was in a fog from too much beer, too many Black Beauties and probably some bad, bought-on-the-street weed cut with oregano, I happened to be alone in the dorm TV room when some late-night local station reran the program—naturally, due to the condition I was in at the time I really can’t remember what it was titled or what the plot was now, but I do think it may have starred the late, great Sylvia Sidney (of Hitchcock’s Sabotage [1931 / full film] to Burton’s Mars Attacks [1996 / trailer]). As fucked up as I was, one thing I was able to comprehend: the show that had scared me shitless as child, that I held in cherished memory as one of the scariest things ever made, was a total piece of shit. The ghost that once had me poop in my britches was, in all seriousness, a man with a bed sheet over his head.
So, what does all that have to do with Space Raiders? Not much, really, other than I kept thinking of it while watching Space Raiders, which a friend told me was one the best sci-fi films he’d ever seen as a kid. And going by the paeans found on IMDB—which all have "as a kid" in one form or another sewn into the praise somewhere—many a person out there cherishes Space Raiders as one of the best science fiction films they ever saw as a child. Well, all I can say is things are different as a child, a time when Santa Claus still exists, adults never tell lies, storks bring babies, Jesus is the son of god, girls are icky and we all know we’re going to grow up to be president. But, as an adult, reality and facts are the way of the world—so, folks, I have to tell you: like that TV show I saw as a kid, Space Raiders is basically crap, and not even good crap at that.
Space Raiders is the second film of Howard R. Cohen, who wrote and directed six films of questionable quality before dying of cancer on April 3rd, 1999. His best film was probably his first, a totally ridiculous but oddly effective (particularly if you’re stoned and/or undemanding) horror spoof from 1981 entitled Saturday the 14th (trailer), while his worst could well be the 1988 sequel Saturday the 14th Strikes Back (trailer). The quality of Space Raiders may lie someplace in between the two, but it definitely tips towards the latter.
One could argue that since Space Raiders is a kiddy film it should deserves some leeway, but just because a film is for kids, doesn’t mean that it has to have retarded plot development and be laughably and terribly acted and directed. Besides, just how “kiddy” is a kiddy film in which virtually everyone (except the kid, regrettably) dies? Space Raiders is far less a kiddy film than it is simply another attempt by producer Roger Corman to milk as much as possible from the space battle scenes he originally had shot for the much more entertaining Battle Beyond the Stars (1983 / trailer), whence he also recycles the James Horner soundtrack. In doing so, plot and logic take a back seat to filling the 84-minute running time.
Space Raiders begins at the loading dock of some warehouse of “The Company” on some barren planet where “cute”, little Peter (David Mendenall) is playing with an alien stop-motion bug as C-3PO clones load and unload stuff. Suddenly there is a raid by a group of, dunno, mercenaries / pirates / intergalactic thieves who basically kill dozens of company cops before hijacking a cargo spaceship (that later proves to be empty!). Little Peter, instead of high-tailing to safety, stows aboard the cargo ship and once discovered requests that they take him home—and the group’s leader Hawk (Vince Edwards of The Killing [1956 / trailer], Cellar Dweller [1988 / trailer] and The Fear [1995 / trailer]) actually promises to do so. Adopted as some sort of mascot, in the course of the film Peter learns how to drink beer, cuss and shoot the spaceship ray gun—the last being a particular important skill when he has to face off the big bad previously completely unstoppable killer spaceship The Company has sent out to obliterate those who steal from them. In between, Peter continually wanders into trouble from which Hawk and his men (and obligatory gal Amanda [Patsy Pease of He Knows You’re Alone (1980 / trailer, Tom Hanks' debut film) have to save him. (More than once the viewer can’t help but shout—alas, to no avail—“Let the little snot die, whydonchya!?”)
The most entertaining aspects of Space Raiders is how everyone aims above their target when shooting but always makes a direct hit and the groan-inducing platitudes of the dialog. Other than that, although Peter also gets a lot of laughs for his utter inability to do anything that comes close to being called acting, the fact that he is directly responsible for the deaths of the entire crew doesn't exactly help make him sympathetic to the viewers. The film is bad, and regrettably, bad kiddy films are not as entertaining as bad films for adults, which at least usually balance their inabilities with explicit sleaze, violence, gore and other entertaining assaults on good taste.

That said, if you want a good kiddy sci-fi film from the same period, skip this turkey and go for The Ice Pirates (1984 / trailer), cause at least you don't have to have seen it as a kid to enjoy it now.

For your viewing pleasure, the first ten minutes of Space Raiders:

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