Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) review

Gremlins 2 posterDirector: Joe Dante

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Christopher Lee

“Because of the end of civilisation, the Clamp Cable Network now leaves the air. We hope you’ve enjoyed our programming, but more importantly, we hope you’ve enjoyed life.” (Public service announcement, Gremlins 2: The New Batch)

The success of Gremlins in 1984 meant than a sequel would be inevitable, but director Joe Dante didn’t want anything to do with it at first. The film lingered in development hell for years until the promise of a much bigger budget and full creative freedom convinced Dante to return and helm the sequel, which was finally released six years after the original.

Gremlins 2 is a very different beast to its predecessor. While they’re both horror-comedies, the first film focuses more on the horror whereas the sequel plants its best foot firmly in the comedy camp. The first film was genuinely dark – the Gremlins killed people and some aspects of the script certainly weren’t suitable for children (such as Katie’s story about her father dying when she was a child after he dressed as Santa and broke his neck climbing down the chimney, where he lay for five days.

Gremlins 2
“Do these glasses make me look ugly?”

This time around there’s no such nastiness, as Gremlins 2 instead packs its 106 minutes with silly jokes and parodies of other movies. Not that this is a bad thing, of course, it just feels different to the original.

Not that you’d know it based on the plot, mind. Once again the cute and cuddly Gizmo finds himself away from the safety of Mr Wing’s shop, this time ending up in a scientists’ lab at the futuristic Clamp Enterprises office building. Once again, Gizmo ends up meeting Billy (Galligan) and Katie (Cates), who are coincidentally both working at Clamp Enterprises, and once again Billy warns the others that Gizmo shouldn’t get wet, be exposed to bright lights or eat after midnight. And once again it all goes inevitably wrong. Continue reading “Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) review”

Zombie Strippers (2008) review

Director: Jay Lee

Starring: Jenna Jameson, Robert Englund, Roxy Saint, Penny Drake

“Let’s see if I got this straight. Our best stripper is a reanimated corpse who is feeding off the living flesh of our customers, who in turn reanimate, even if they’re just a fucking head? You don’t see this as a problem?” (Ian, Zombie Strippers)

Usually when a film has such a blatant and exploitative title as this it’s using that title to draw people to a film that in reality can’t live up to the name (hang your head, Alien Terminator). Zombie Strippers however not only successfully does what it says on the tin, but crams so much of both aspects into said tin that you’d need some sort of special spatula device to be able to scoop out the tightly packed contents. What I’m basically saying in a needlessly elaborate way is there’s a lot of zombies in here, and a lot of stripping.

"Stand back, I know CPR"

It begins, as so many zombie films do, with a secret government research facility making an arse of things. They were trying to create a bunch of super soliders that could come back to life after being killed, but naturally what they made instead was a bunch of zombies. After a failed attempt to destroy them, one escapes and makes his way to a strip club where he attacks Kat – a stripper (Jenna Jameson) – and bites her neck out. And if you think I’m going to stoop to the obvious “deep throat” joke there, then I’m frankly stunned.  Continue reading “Zombie Strippers (2008) review”

Dead Heat (1988) review

Director: Mark Goldblatt

Starring: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Lindsay Frost, Darren McGavin, Vincent Price

ROGER – So what’s the story on these John Does? What’s so unbelievable?

CORONER – I’ll show you. The teeth and fingerprints are practically worthless but I noticed one thing – stitches. You can see where the cut was made, traversing the sternum and incised with an electric saw.

ROGER – They had surgery?

CORONER – Nope. They had autopsies. They’ve been here before, fellas. I certified them myself.

Dead Heat is an 80s cop movie in which one of the cops is a zombie. There you go, that should be all you need, enjoy.

Fine, I suppose I’ll elaborate for the sake of making this review worth your while, but that description really does sum up what I believe is one of the most criminally overlooked cult gems of the 1980s.

"Sorry lads, the lookalike agency needs to save money and Luke Wilson and Chris Kamara just aren't popular enough"

Detective Roger Mortis (get it?) and his partner Doug Bigelow are called to a robbery at a jewellery store. As the crooks leave the store they pull out shotguns and start shooting at the countless officers who have surrounded the area. Although the officers score a number of direct shots on the criminals, it doesn’t appear to harm them and they continue to shoot cops dead until one is blown up and the other is run over.

Roger and Doug reckon there’s something funny about this so they ask the coroner (and Roger’s ex) to look into it. It turns out the criminals had been dead before, and had somehow come to life. Dum dum dummm.  Continue reading “Dead Heat (1988) review”

The Monster Squad (1987)

Director: Fred Dekker

Starring: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Tom Noonan

“The Creature stole my Twinkie.” (Eugene, The Monster Squad)

Kids’ films in the 1980s were much better than they are today. They had an edge to them, a realism that most of today’s films are too scared to address. You only need to look at Spielberg’s 2002 re-release of ET, in which he digitally removed the guns being held by the agents and replaced them with walkie-talkies. In short, today’s children’s movies are for pussies.

Anyone who’s recently watched The Goonies will know exactly what I mean. The kids in that film acted realistically, they had an attitude, they got into nasty scrapes, they wanted to see women’s boobs, they make fun of the fat kid, and every now and then they’ll swear to sound tough (but only in each other’s company, mind, never when an adult’s around). It felt real. Ditto, then, with The Monster Squad, a similar film of that era which for some odd reason never gained the same cult following as that other much-loved “group of kids go on an adventure” movie.  Continue reading “The Monster Squad (1987)”

Creepshow (1982)

Director: George A Romero

Starring: Ed Harris, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Stephen King, EG Marshall

“You see that crap? All that horror crap? Things coming out of crates and eating people? Dead people coming back to life? People turning into weeds, for christ sake? Well, you want him reading that stuff? All right then! I took care of it. That’s why God made fathers, babe. That’s why God made fathers.” (Stan, Creepshow)

If you’ve read my previous review of Creepshow 3, you’ll have noticed that it has the dubious honour of one measly Trevor mask as its rating. This wasn’t just because Creepshow 3 is bad – it most certainly is – but also because its predecessors were so good that the third film let the entire series down. To cheer myself up then I decided to re-watch the original Creepshow over the festive period.

Well, it certainly beats a caterpillar cake

If you’re not familiar with it, Creepshow is a collection of five short stories written by Stephen King and directed by George A Romero (back when he was still good and not slapping his name on any old shite for a fiver). It’s an homage to the old EC comics of the 1950s like Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror, and as such each story starts and ends as if it were in a comic book, with garish colours and speech bubbles. It’s an interesting style that not everyone will love but it’s fun and keeps things light-hearted. Make no mistake, this may be a collection of horror stories but (much like the EC comics themselves) its tongue is planted firmly in its rotting cheek and its five tales of morality are much funnier than they are scary. Continue reading “Creepshow (1982)”

Leprechaun In The Hood (2000)

Director: Rob Spera

Starring: Warwick Davis, Ice-T, Anthony Montgomery

“A friend with weed is a friend indeed, but a friend with gold is the best I’m told.” (Leprechaun, Leprechaun In The Hood)

By the time the Leprechaun series reached its fifth instalment horror’s pint-sized Paddy had already terrorised a young Jennifer Aniston, hunted for a bride, rampaged through Las Vegas and even gone into space. Logic therefore dictated that there was only one place left for him to go – the hood.

It probably goes without saying given the title and the premise, but this film is madder than a caravan filled with seahorses. Rapper-turned-actor Ice-T plays Mack Daddy, a pimp who discovers the Leprechaun in a fossilised state and steals his magic flute, which gives him the ability to enchant anyone who hears it.

Oh, did I mention the Leprechaun also has three demonic fly girls? Well he does

In time Mack Daddy becomes a huge rap star thanks to the flute, but when a trio of young up-and-coming rappers ask him for some help and he “disses” them (as the youth of today say) they break into his house, steal the flute, hide out at a drag queen’s house for some reason then use the flute to kick off their own rap career. Oh, and during all this, the Leprechaun’s come out of his stony state and is ready to fuck up whoever has his flute.  Continue reading “Leprechaun In The Hood (2000)”

The Boneyard (1991)

Director: James Cummins

Starring: Ed Nelson, Deborah Rose, Norman Fell, Phyllis Diller

“The bodies… the bodies we saw? They’re not dead.” (Alley, The Boneyard)

This one’s a little off the wall. Alley Cates (Rose) is a psychic who’s been asked by the police to help them figure out what’s happened to three young children whose naked, rotting bodies have been found. When she gets to the morgue (which, conveniently, is underground and difficulty to leave quickly) she realises that the ‘children’ are actually zombies who were afflicted with an ancient Chinese curse and are ready to wake up and munch on some human.

A freshly-woken Cher reaches for her makeup case

Typically the morgue’s exit is blocked, trapping Alley, an experienced police chief, his young deputy, a mortician and a suicidal young woman who was pretending to be a corpse. As you do. They need to figure out a way to get out of the morgue while also killing the three zombie children and any other monsters that turn up. And trust me, they do.  Continue reading “The Boneyard (1991)”

Gremlins (1984)

Director: Joe Dante

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, Corey Feldman

“I warned you. With mogwai comes much responsibility. But you didn’t listen.” (Old man, Gremlins)

When it comes to Christmas presents, some people like to keep it simple. A few DVDs, a book or two, maybe some flowers or the ever-reliable box of Quality Street. Not so with Randall Peltzer’s dad. A dodgy inventor by trade, Randall decides that this Christmas he’s going to surprise his son Billy with something he’s never seen before in his life. While on a trip through Chinatown selling his wares, he comes across just the thing – a mogwai.

After naming it Gizmo, Randall gives Billy the mogwai while also passing along three very important instructions given to him by the shop owner – keep it away from bright lights, don’t get it wet and, above all else, don’t feed it after midnight. It’s like taking care of a fat goth, basically. Anyway, guess what happens next?

"I thought you said you were going to install seat belts in this bastard"

That’s right. After getting Gizmo wet and discovering it makes him multiply and spawn loads more mogwai, Billy’s clock dies and he accidentally feeds these new mogwai after midnight, causing them to turn into evil monsters called Gremlins.

At the time, Gremlins was a revelation. The creature effects were incredible, its sense of humour was the exception rather than the rule and it gained a large following, and for good reason. These days, sacrilegious though it may be to say it, Gremlins suffers from the same problem as Child’s Play in that it spends too long revealing what we already know. Whereas the sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, kicks off the action fairly early into the film, the original spends a lot of time faffing around with the rules, letting us get to know Gizmo and only revealing the monsters at the end of the second act.

Chainsaw versus baseball bat. Hmm

What’s more, moments that would have been hilarious at the time are merely smile-inducing these days, with the exception of the fun bar scene in which the Gremlins smoke a lot of cigarettes and generally take over the place.

If you’ve never seen it and have somehow managed to avoid the whole integration of its ‘three rules’ in popular culture then Gremlins is worth a watch because it’s still a fun movie, albeit one whose structure has been mimicked and refined many times by other films over the years. Otherwise, if you already know the deal with the Gremlins and you don’t want to spend the first 50 minutes waiting for the other characters to catch up with you, it might be worth skipping straight to the sequel first.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Director: Stephen Chiodo

Starring: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Nelson, John Vernon

“Killer clowns? From outer space? Holy shit.” (Mooney, Killer Klowns From Outer Space)

Sometimes a film is so clearly ridiculous it doesn’t pretend otherwise and instead proclaims through its title: “if you buy this film, you’re in for some weird shit”. As you can no doubt imagine, Killer Klowns From Outer Space falls directly into this category.

It was created by the Chido brothers, a trio of siblings with a love for the weird and wonderful and an admirable passion for film-making, in particular puppetry and special effects.

In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve seen their work before, because in recent times the Chiodos have made occasional contributions to The Simpsons (like the Gravey & Jobriath cartoon), and more notably created all the puppets in Team America. It’s fairly clear, then, what sort of sense of humour they have.

Yes, because that clown definitely looks 100% trustworthy

Killer Klowns From Outer Space, however, was the only time the Chiodos worked together to create the story, do the special effects and direct a whole movie, and while many these days regard it as a “good bad” movie among the ranks of Troll 2 and Howard The Duck in reality it’s actually pretty well made for its budget, hammy acting and ridiculous plot aside.

It’s set in a small country town, where one night a couple on a date see a flaming meteorite enter the atmosphere in the distance and land with a crash. When they go to investigate they find a circus big top in its place. They enter the big top and discover that it’s actually an alien spaceship, where aliens who look like clowns are abducting the townsfolk, placing them in big cotton candy cocoons and draining their blood to drink it.

This year's X Factor auditions were without a doubt the worst yet

While the acting is by-and-large horrible throughout the film (with the exception of Dirty Harry and Animal House star John Vernon as the police chief), there’s no denying that Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a labour of love, not just by the Chiodos but by the entire cast as well. They may not be great actors but by God you can tell they’re giving it their all.

Somewhat more impressive is the excellent clown costumes. While it would have been perfectly acceptable to just say “well, they’re from space, so let’s just say all the clowns look the same”, the Chiodos made all sorts of weird and wonderful clowns so that each looks completely unique. It’s a pleasant attention to detail that really gives the film a sense of character.

You’ll see a lot of things in Killer Klowns that you’ve never seen in any other film. Popcorn that comes to life and eats people, for example. Or custard pies that actually contain acid. And, of course, the classic scene where a group of people are eaten alive by a shadow puppet.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is silly fun, and fantastic proof that a low budget doesn’t necessarily mean a film should be lacking in originality and great ideas. Get some mates around, get some (non-killer) popcorn and enjoy some proper low-budget ’80s comedy cheese. Oh, and the music is awesome too, as you can see by the trailer below.

Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001)

Director: Sam Irvin

Starring: Cassandra Peterson, Richard O’Brien, Scott Atkinson

DR BRADLEY – “The village people say this castle is evil.”
ELVIRA – “Meh, who listens to the Village People any more?”

If you’re not familiar with Cassandra Peterson, she’s a comedy actress most famous for her alter-ago, the campy vampire Elvira. Elvira used to introduce old horror films on TV back in the 1980s and her cheesy jokes and – let’s face it – enormous chest made her a cult favourite among horror fans. In 1988 Peterson wrote and starred in a horror comedy called Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark, a film that’s since become the guilty pleasure of many a hardened horror nut. A sequel was planned, but after many years being screwed over by various studios she finally decided to go indie and make the film herself. The result thirteen years later was Elvira’s Haunted Hills.

Elvira's answer to an 1800s jacuzzi - getting your maid to blow bubbles into your bath

Set in 1851, Haunted Hills sees Elvira travelling through Europe to perform a show in Paris but finding herself lost in Romania in the process. After hitching a ride with a creepy-looking coach Elvira meets Dr Bradley, a posh-sounding Englishman who offers to take her to a castle to stay for the night. What he neglects to tell her is that the castle is owned by Lord Hellsubus (Richard O’Brien), a rich maniac who lost his wife many years ago and never recovered. Oh, and his wife haunts the mansion and looks just like Elvira. Cue the antics!

Richard O'Brien tries to explain the Crystal Maze format to a confused Elvira

Make no bones about it, this horror-comedy has much more of the latter and hardly any of the former, but that was always its intention. It’s a spoof of the various Roger Corman and Hammer movies of the 70s and 80s set in the same time period, with nods to The House Of Usher and The Pit And The Pendulum throughout (though you don’t need to have seen those films to ‘get’ it).

Haunted Hills packs an impressive number of jokes in its 90-minute running time, and while some of them are fairly cringeworthy (comedy ‘boink’ sound effects and sped-up scenes will never be funny, and the numerous long screaming scenes are intensely irritating) there are a decent number of jokes that hit the mark, mainly those from Elvira herself.

"I agree the painting's shit but setting fire to it seems a wee bit severe"

Indeed, it’s little wonder Elvira is the star of the show, because she’s the only truly entertaining character in the film. Her down-to-earth nature and modern, dry sense of humour provides a funny juxtaposition with the 1851 setting and she still seems young and full of life despite being over 50 when the movie was filmed.

If you want to see what the big deal is with Elvira then Elvira’s Haunted Hills is a decent way to find out. It’s by no means a great film but her performance shines through and turns a potentially humour-free mess into a chuckle-filled cheesefest.

If you’re a UK subscriber to LoveFilm then you can stream Elvira’s Haunted Hills for free as part of your package. Otherwise, you can buy the region 2 DVD by clicking here. American Elviraphiles can buy the region 1 DVD by clicking here.