Prison of the Dead (2000)

prisonofthedead_1Prison of the Dead (2000)
AKA Castle of the Dead, The Game

Starring Patrick Flood, Jeff Peterson, Sam Page, Kim Ryan, Alicia Arden, Michael Guerin, Debra Mayer

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Prison of the Dead is a horrifically bad movie by traditional standards, but for B-Movie fans who venture into this early 2000s era, it should satisfy quite nicely. The potential for a great horror movie is hidden beneath the surface of the film’s low budget, and while that’s a bit frustrating, DeCoteau delivers with what he has at his disposal. This is the kind of movie that rewards the hardened B-Movie fan who has sat through hundreds of hours of drek, because with that kind of context behind it, Prison of the Dead is the cream that rises to the top.

A group of friends are traveling to view the body of Calvin, their recently deceased mutual friend from college. They haven’t all been together since the good ol’ days, back when they’d all investigate paranormal sites and myths, so their reunion is both exciting and bittersweet. And it’s about to get worse, because Calvin’s body isn’t in a normal mortuary, it’s in a castle built on top of a prison used by hardcore Puritans to imprison witches! You might think that’s no big deal, but one of the group has brought along a Ouija board to contact the lingering spirits. Within seconds of bridging the gap between worlds, a lion statue cries blood into the ground which then seeps through the earth and onto the corpses of the Puritan executioners.

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Virgins of the Seven Seas (1974)

VirginsoftheSevenSeas_1Virgins of the Seven Seas [洋妓, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen] (1974)
AKA The Bod Squad, Enter the Seven Virgins, Foreign Prostitutes

Starring Sonja Jeannine, Diana Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Yueh Hua, Lau Wai-Ling, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ko, Li Min-Lang, Kong Yeung, Wang Han-Chen, Law Hon, Chan Lap-Ban, Chu Yau-Ko, Sai Gwa-Pau, Aai Dung-Gwa

Directed by Ernst Hofbauer & Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Low. I’m expecting something trashy.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


In addition to being the year of newfound freedom, 1974 was the year that the Shaw Brothers invested heavily in partnering up with other international studios to co-produce films. They had done a few films like this scattered throughout the years (their first being the 1961 comedy The Three Ladies of Hong Kong, produced with Toho), but there were seven co-productions in 1974 alone! I imagine they had hopes of reaching new markets with these films, perhaps in an attempt to replicate what Golden Harvest & Warner Bros. had done with Enter the Dragon. Virgins of the Seven Seas is the second Shaw co-production I’ve seen, and it also holds the distinction of being the trashiest Shaw Brothers film I’ve seen yet. And to be honest, I don’t know that I expect any future film to unseat it!

The film features a simple tale of human trafficking and revenge, but mostly it features a lot of nudity. These poor actresses spend almost the entire film topless, tied up or having simulated attempted rapes inflicted upon them; I can’t imagine it was a great filmmaking experience for them. But these are the sacrifices you have to make when filming a movie about five German women kidnapped by pirates who learn kung fu and take revenge on their captors. The film is not shy about being as trashy as it wants to be, but I must admit that the nearly non-stop nudity does give the film a quality of reality that it would not otherwise have. Is it gratuitous? Of course, but because of the gratuity and the relentless aggression of the villains, the women’s fear and vulnerability never left my mind. The film is an exploitation sex comedy with kung fu, so it’s about as far from a message movie as you can get, but regardless it made me reckon with the horrors of human trafficking and the the victims of the sex trade in a heightened, visceral manner.

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Dr. Alien (1989)

dralien_2Dr. Alien (1989)
AKA I Was a Teenage Sex Maniac, I Was a Teenage Sex Mutant

Starring Billy Jayne, Judy Landers, Olivia Barash, Stuart Fratkin, Raymond O’Connor, Arlene Golonka, Jim Hackett, Robert Jayne, Julie Gray, Scott Morris, Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Not much.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Looking at the poster, it would be easy to assume that Dr. Alien is nothing but ridiculous, low-budget trash. Even with that weird alien face, it doesn’t look especially interesting to me. But over the last six years of reviewing films here at Silver Emulsion, one truth has continued to resonate: Keep an open mind. It’s a good piece of advice in general life, as well; being closed off to the unknown corners of the world doesn’t allow for much personal growth. I’ve also come to look forward to the David DeCouteau movies, as they are generally some of the better and more interesting offerings among the Full Moon catalog. So I started Dr. Alien hopeful and optimistic, despite not expecting much.

When the film ended 80-some minutes later, with a big grin plastered on my face and my commitment to pursuing artistic, creative endeavors bolstered, I was shocked. Dr. Alien might be one of DeCoteau’s best films; it’s certainly one of my favorites. Sure, it’s got all the dumb jokes and female nudity you’d expect of an ’80s sex comedy, which will definitely turn off some viewers (and keep the film out of the Criterion Collection), but it is a real achievement on DeCoteau’s part to craft a film that satisfies on both a lowbrow and intellectual level. Perhaps I’m overselling it, as the morality only comes in at the end, but regardless, the film excited me thoroughly. I expected sex comedy and nudity, but to leave the film reinvigorated in my appreciation of art as a vital component of the human experience, that’s something special.

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Arnold Quick Takes: Happy Anniversary and Goodbye, Dave, Beretta’s Island

happyanniversaryandgoodbye_3Happy Anniversary and Goodbye (1974)
twohalfstar

Starring Lucille Ball, Art Carney, Nanette Fabray, Peter Marshall, Don Porter, Patricia Blair, Doria Cook-Nelson, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Directed by Jack Donohue

I’ve been a Lucille Ball fan for pretty much my whole life, but I’d never seen anything other than I Love Lucy and The Long, Long Trailer. Judging on Happy Anniversary and Goodbye, I don’t know that I was missing much. The hour-long TV special presents the story of Norma and Malcolm Michaels, a married couple who have exhausted about every shred of love their relationship once had. After the first scene, composed almost solely of yelling, name-calling and snide remarks, the couple has decided to divorce. The special punctuates this real-life drama with levity, but it often feels odd to laugh when this couple is at such a low point. I have a hard time imagining a similar special being made today. Their personal journeys while separated are much more successful, though, with some classic-styled Lucy antics and a cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger at nearly the start of his career. I doubt anyone involved thought his acting career would amount to much, as his usual spark is missing completely. It’s still fun to see him at his rippling, bodybuilding peak. This one can surely be skipped, but as a fan of Lucy, Art Carney and Arnold, I did enjoy it overall.

Dave_1Dave (1993)
twostar

Starring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, Ben Kingsley, Charles Grodin, Faith Prince, Laura Linney
Directed by Ivan Reitman

Ivan Reitman made Dave in-between two Arnold vehicles (Kindergarten Cop and Junior), and Dave is every bit as unbelievable and outlandish an idea as Arnold teaching five-year-old kids or carrying a baby to term. Dave is a regular guy who gets to be the President of the United States after the real guy has a stroke. At first he’s just a simple stand-in, but as Dave’s personality shows through, the people love him. He cuts budget items as quickly and easily as you’d make a grocery list, he does magic tricks to cheer up a homeless kid, he uses giant robotic arms to tell fishing jokes; Dave does it all. Except the film itself is not nearly as charming as they make Dave out to be; it’s actually fairly slow and plodding, existing in a middle-ground between unfunny comedy and ineffectual drama. Arnold’s cameo as himself is ultra-minor, but it reminded me of going through the Presidential Fitness Tests at school. At the time, I thought they were super cool because they were affiliated with Arnold, and that if I did good, maybe I could meet Arnold. Alas, I wasn’t good enough (nor did I look enough like an actual winner to impersonate them, Dave-style).

BerettasIsland_1Beretta’s Island (1994)
On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar

Starring Franco Columbu, Ken Kercheval, Elizabeth Kaitan, Van Quattro, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jo Champa, Tammara Souza
Directed by Michael Preece

If you’ve seen Pumping Iron you probably remember Franco Columbu as Arnold’s workout buddy and co-competitor. Their friendship continues to this day, and in a lot of early Arnold movies Franco is somewhere in the background in a small role. So it only makes sense that when Franco finally had his own starring vehicle that Arnold would cameo in it! The buddies pump some iron together in an early scene, spurring each other on in much the same way I imagine they do in real life. It’s nothing special, but it’s one of the most honest and believable moments in the film. The rest of the film is some of the most ridiculous, dumb-action-movie stuff ever crammed into a low-budget movie. Franco plays Franco, a retired Interpol agent now living the high life in LA… so basically riding his motorcycle, pumping iron and making wine. But he gets a special assignment to go back to his beloved Sardinia, now plagued with drugs and the associated villainy, and because this is a dumb action movie, the drug lord lives right next door to Franco’s best friend.

Beretta’s Island has so much to offer the B-Movie aficionado who harbors a special love of Arnold and the general ridiculousness of the ’80s drug lord action film. Things like: a couple of lengthy workout scenes, an ’80s-style score, and Franco shirtless at every opportunity and then some. In addition to being a vanity project for Franco, Beretta’s Island is also a cultural love letter to his Sardinian homeland with its multiple sequences of folk music, traditional festivals and dancing, horse racing, soccer, boxing, making out on the beach, etc. Beretta’s Island is the kind of movie you can’t recommend because virtually no one will like it, but I had a total blast with it and I know some like-minded soul out there would too. So get in the right mindset and give it a shot! You’ve never lived until you’ve seen a shirtless bodybuilder jump onto a motorcycle to chase the drug lords he recognized in the crowd of the boxing match he was coaching and then started fighting himself because the opponent was on cocaine. 🙂

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

starwarsholiday_2Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, James Earl Jones, Harvey Korman, Art Carney, Bea Arthur, Diahann Carroll, Mickey Morton, Paul Gale, Patty Maloney, Jack Rader, Michael Potter, Claude Woolman, Don Francks

Directed by Steve Binder

Expectations: Super low.

twohalfstar


The Star Wars Holiday Special was once the holy grail of nerd-dom, but the Internet has diminished its luster a bit by making the special readily available for anyone who wants to see it. Shall I let this modern age of access and information sully the legend of The Star Wars Holiday Special? No! For me, this special is still quite special, regardless of the fact that I didn’t have to buy a 5th-gen VHS from a shady guy in the corner of a convention hall. Y’see, despite being a supreme nerd and lover of Star Wars for my entire life, this was the first time I saw The Star Wars Holiday Special. And boy, let me tell you, it was an experience.

For those that don’t know, The Star Wars Holiday Special was a variety show produced by CBS because… well, I don’t know why! But I do know that George Lucas approved it because he thought it would be a good idea to stave fans off waiting for him to desperately think up a story for a sequel that he never planned for hone the Empire Strikes Back script gathering dust on his shelf. Anyway, I don’t know if it really worked to tide people over like he thought it would, but people did go see Empire Strikes Back and perhaps they might not have without the good ol’ Star Wars Holiday Special! Everything happens for a reason, doncha know.

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The Incredible Genie (1999)

incrediblegenie_2Starring Matt Koruba, Tom Fahn, Stacie Randall, Biff Manard, George Miserlis, Amanda Fuller, Dean Scofield, Justin Brown

Directed by Alexander Cassini

Expectations: Alakazam! I wish for a good movie!

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


I doubt there’s ever been a genie-based film that didn’t cover the “Be careful what you wish for!” adage, so when The Incredible Genie hits those notes it’s expected. What came as a surprise is that I would genuinely enjoy The Incredible Genie for its reckless, independent spirit AND for its message of friendship and putting the best version of yourself forward. They hit the message pretty hard towards the end of the film, but in this movie it’d still be easy to miss amidst all the insanity being thrown at the screen. The Incredible Genie is essentially a family film, so don’t expect anything traditionally associated with B-Movies and “insanity,” although you can totally look forward to a Snake Man being skewered on a collapsing spiked wall in a booby-trapped jail cell. Gather ’round, kids… it’s time for a Moonbeam movie!

The Incredible Genie opens with Peter Dopler (George Miserlis), a researcher, and his Egyptian guide out a-hunting for tombs. Guess what? They found one! And you’ll never guess how they get in — Peter leans up against the stone door and it just collapses! Wow, what luck! This stone has stood tall and strong for thousands of years, warding off tomb raiders and the sands of time, only to fall when one oafish dude takes a breather. This is merely the tip of the B-Movie iceberg, and within a few minutes we’ve been introduced to “Aura-Detecting Goggles” rigged to view mystical power sources, a magic lamp, and a mummy who tries to hug Peter to death but instead has his burial wrappings unfurled and used as a rappelling line so Peter can make a quick exit from the tomb.

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Ghoulies IV (1994)

ghoulies4_3Starring Peter Liapis, Barbara Alyn Woods, Stacie Randall, Raquel Krelle, Bobby Di Cicco, Tony Cox, Arturo Gil

Directed by Jim Wynorski

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Many moons and black magic spells ago, I reviewed the first three films in the Ghoulies franchise. I purposely chose to avoid Part 4, based on my highly negative reaction to the third film and the bothersome idea that the ghoulies of Ghoulies IV were actually dudes in suits and not puppets. Five years of writing for Silver Emulsion has cured my brain towards B-Movies far more than I could have ever imagined, so I felt it was finally time to take on Ghoulies IV. I even re-watched the other Ghoulies films in preparation and didn’t completely hate Ghoulies III! (It’s still shitty, but I was able to have fun with it this time.)

Even with these multiple years of thick B-Movie watching under my belt, I still entered Ghoulies IV with trepidation. The first two films in the franchise hold a special place in my heart as they were somewhat responsible for sending me down this B-Movie path, and I feared that Ghoulies IV would further trash the Ghoulies name as the third film had. But then the film opened with an explosion that ripping a door from its hinges, thru which a leather-clad buxom female emerged, and within a matter of moments she’s thrown a ninja star into the forehead of a well-meaning security guard. I was instantly won over — explosions and ninja stars are a quick way to my heart — and I am pleased to report that the rest of the movie continued this trend of tightly packed B-Movie thrills.

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