Mini-Review: Hell Asylum (2002)

AKA Prison of the Dead 2

Starring Debra Mayer, Tanya Dempsey, Sunny Lombardo, Stacey Scowley, Olimpia Fernandez, Timothy Muskatell, Joe Estevez, Brinke Stevens, Matt Moffett, Trent Haaga

Directed by Danny Draven

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


My first exposure to director Danny Draven was with his most recent directorial work for Full Moon: Reel Evil. That movie stands firm as one of the worst Full Moon movies in my eyes, so to start up Hell Asylum and almost immediately feel similar vibes, I knew I was in trouble. While the plots aren’t exactly the same, from what I remember of Reel Evil you could almost call it a remake of Hell Asylum. Both films feature a group of people trapped in a “real” haunted asylum to film a show/movie, expecting scares/FX but getting killed by real ghosts. Reel Evil goes into a more direct, found-footage direction to capture the proceedings, but the seeds of that are in Hell Asylum as well, with headset cams that annoyingly cut in and out to static every few seconds.

My predisposition to dislike a movie like this is not the only concern with Hell Asylum, either. It’s barely over an hour long, but something like 20 minutes of that is just unnecessary setup and filler. First we see an overlong pitch meeting — scored with ominous music — where an executive (Joe Estevez, the film’s bright spot) is sold on the idea of five hot chicks in an old mansion/asylum getting scared for the chance to win a million dollars. Then we see the girls’ audition tapes, where they explain themselves and their darkest fears. Using their fears against them was the most intriguing part of the pitch, reminding me of the Stephen King novel It, but there’s nothing engaging that actually comes of it. Next is a lengthy explanation of the rules of the game. It all adds up to extreme boredom and disinterest. Lot of repetitive, meaningless talking heads do not make for a good horror film.

Other than the presence of Joe Estevez, the only redeeming quality of Hell Asylum is its approach to gore. Full Moon’s films are generally light in this department, and Hell Asylum looks like it wants to make up for lost time. There is a distinct choice in favor of ridiculously over-the-top gore, particularly featuring lots of ripped-out intestines. I appreciated this desire to spice things up where other Full Moon films have failed, but the thing I found most enjoyable was the very small diameter of the intestines they used. We all have a basic idea of what human intestines look like, but whatever is in Hell Asylum is much smaller and stringier. Whatever they were or were supposed to be, I don’t honestly know, but wondering about this was the closest thing to engagement that Hell Asylum provided.

I put a lot of time into my writing hobby, but I don’t consider amateur writing to be hard work. Sitting through Hell Asylum, though, was a tough day at the office.

Next time I get around to a Full Moon movie I’ll be checking in with Ted Nicolaou’s Moonbeam film Dragonworld! See ya then!

Micro Mini Kids (2001)

Starring Chad Gordon, Kyle Chaos, Jessica Taylor, Debra Mayer, Sam Page, Lauren Petty, Robert Donavan, George Cost, Tyler Anderson, Rhett Fisher, Colin Bain

Directed by Bruce McCarthy

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Micro Mini Kids was one of Full Moon’s final kid-focused productions, and it’s a shame because it’s actually one of the good ones! The performances are fun and the characters are oddly well-defined (relatively speaking in terms of Full Moon). The FX sequences are also imaginative and enchanting (despite the seams being quite apparent at times). And probably most importantly in a film directed at kids, it teaches a nice double lesson of learning to accept yourself as you are, and that you shouldn’t assume you know what other people are thinking. The major stumbling point is that it’s very formulaic so the ending is obvious once the pieces are in place, but this doesn’t matter so much because the journey is fun.

Micro Mini Kids was started under the direction of the prolific David DeCoteau, but according to the IMDB trivia he left after only four days of production. Regardless of this, the film feels more like a DeCoteau film than anything else. The movie is credited to Bruce McCarthy but as soon as I saw the bodyguard duo in shades and black vinyl I knew DeCoteau was lurking around somewhere in the film’s development. No one ends up in their underwear, though; a clear sign that DeCoteau did not complete the film. 😀

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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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Groom Lake (2002)

groomlake_2AKA The Visitor

Starring Dan Gauthier, Amy Acker, Tom Towles, William Shatner, Dick Van Patten, John Prosky, Dan Martin, Rickey Medlocke, Duane Whitaker, Brenda Bakke, J.T. Colosa, Debra Mayer, Chuck Williams

Directed by William Shatner

Expectations: I’m a big Star Trek fan, so I’m oddly and probably misguidedly excited for this one because of Shatner.

On the general scale:
halfstar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


There’s no way around it: Groom Lake is not a good movie. It fails at nearly every turn, in spite of having many intriguing elements with potential. Even if you do manage to care about the characters and what happens to them, nothing really comes together well enough to form a cohesive experience. I remember having similar feelings the last time I watched the Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, so I suppose the two films together form some kind of evidence that if you’re not suited to the task of directing and telling stories visually, it doesn’t really matter how much money you have.

The film opens with a tow truck making its way over desert roads towards a butte. Mystical lights, similar to the Aurora Borealis, shimmer in the sky over his destination, and the driver, Dietz (Tom Towles), is intent on seeing just what the hell is up with all that. When he arrives, he jumps onto the back of his truck and approximates Arnold’s “I’m here! C’mon! Do it!” speech from Predator, telling the presumed alien ship, “I’m here, you son of a bitch!” The son-of-a-bitch alien does not respond; the lights merely dissipate and leave some sparkly residue on the man’s hands.

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Speck (2002)

Speck_1Starring Doug Cole, Beverly Sotelo, Stacy Cunningham, Flynn Beck, Kaycee Shank, Sunny Lombardo, Cinderella Gatcheco, Dawn Hawley, Erin Shayla Cullen, Debra Mayer, Larry Dirk

Directed by Keith Walley

Expectations: I don’t know. Not much.

halfstar


Speck is of the rare breed of low-budget horror films that go the arthouse route. This is always shaky ground, because unless the filmmakers are very competent, “artful strokes” very quickly devolve into boredom and pretense. In the case of Speck, this is definitely the case. To be fair, Speck is made with some amount of skill, but its arthouse leanings never translated to any kind of meaning for the audience. I had lots of thoughts about the film while watching it, but instead of looking for insight into its murderous lead character, I found myself wondering more about the filmmaker behind it and why anyone would want to make this movie.

Speck seeks to dramatize a true story. On July 13, 1966, Richard Speck entered a Chicago home and one-by-one murdered eight student nurses who were living there. This brief description also serves as a plot synopsis for the film, as Speck is very much focused on this night and not much else. The film shows us the world from Richard Speck’s point of view, and it’s colored with hateful narration that informs us of his views on humanity and how we’re basically all worthless maggots. His victims are nothing more than women in a room in Speck — we know nothing more about them than Speck does — and their status as student nurses is only conveyed to us through some on-screen text as the film opens.

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Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain (2004)

drmoreau_1Starring John Patrick Jordan, Jessica Lancaster, Jacob Witkin, Peter Donald Badalamenti II, Lorielle New, Ling Aum, B.J. Smith, Debra Mayer, Laura Petersen

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau is a classic of horror literature. It’s been adapted into many film versions, starting all the way back in 1913 with The Island of Terror. But for fans looking for stories that go beyond the scope of the original novel, your options are far more limited. Enter Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain, a sequel of sorts to the original novel, telling the story of how the good doctor set up shop in a Hollywood mansion in the 1940s after leaving his island behind. Oh, what’s that? Dr. Moreau died in the novel? Oh… well… uh… no he didn’t!

Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain opens with boxer Eric Carson (John Patrick Jordan), journalist Mary Anne (Debra Mayer), and their friend Judith (Jessica Lancaster) in a car talking about how Eric’s brother Roy has gone missing. He frequented the bar they’re parked in front of, so I guess the plan is to go in and gather information. I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention. I know, I know, the movie just started and my attention shouldn’t be wavering, but hear me out. Eric is played by the same guy that plays the lead in the Evil Bong films, so all I could do was theorize about how this 1940s John Patrick Jordan was somehow the grandfather of Evil Bong‘s Larnell. Which then led me down the mental path of trying to connect the creepy kids show host Hambo, who is featured in most of Full Moon’s recent films, and surmising that he could actually be one of Moreau’s creations. Perhaps the next Evil Bong sequel will also be a sequel to this film!

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Decadent Evil (2005)

decadentevil_7Decadent Evil (2005)
AKA Decadent Evil Dead

Starring Debra Mayer, Jill Michelle, Raelyn Hennessee, Phil Fondacaro, Daniel Lennox, John F. Schaffer, Hazel Dean, Roger Toussaint

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


The experienced B-movie viewer is well aware of the “no bad movie can be short enough” principle, so any movie artificially trying to extend its runtime is immediately suspect. I’d guess that even Charles Band wouldn’t hold it against you if you judged Decadent Evil harshly in the first 15 minutes — which consist of 10 minutes from Vampire Journals, three minutes of opening credits, and two minutes of actual movie. And that’s the real shame about Decadent Evil: it’s actually pretty damn entertaining underneath all the low-budget shenanigans. It’s a film that reminds me how some stories just aren’t meant to be feature length; once you get past the padding, Decadent Evil is about as long as it needs to be. Part of that is that it’s built upon a foundation of vampire movie cliches and the characters are all fairly one-note, but nearly every element of the film is fun, which makes up for a lot of the so-called shortcomings.

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