The Brotherhood (2001)

thebrotherhood_1AKA I’ve Been Watching You

Starring Sam Page, Josh Hammond, Bradley Stryker, Elizabeth Bruderman, Forrest Cochran, Michael Lutz, Donnie Eichar

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


The Brotherhood is a perfect example of a B-Movie that I would have never fully appreciated a few years ago. As a David DeCoteau film, it’s one of his most accomplished, and when seen right alongside the work he did for Full Moon around this time, The Brotherhood stands out as something unique. The films for Charles Band were work for hire, crafting movies for Full Moon as it tried to stay afloat in the changing video market. The Brotherhood was the film that launched DeCoteau’s own Rapid Heart Pictures, and its differing style and focus feels as if DeCoteau was finally making a film for himself (as a producer). This is a subtlety that would’ve remained obscured for me a few years ago, so I’m glad to have come to this pivotal DeCoteau film at just the right time.

In terms of general story, The Brotherhood is a standard tale about an innocent being drawn into the darkness. He is courted and converted as expected, but here it’s more about the specifics than the overall. This is a vampire story, but it replaces almost all the traditional vampire tropes with a brand new, enchanting mythology. Ritual elements figure prominently, and all the afflicted wear a medallion called a taltra (which means Eternal Hunter). It serves as symbol and identifier, as well as a functional purpose in their feeding rituals. Vampire films are fairly stuffy and stale at this point, but The Brotherhood is a wonderfully imaginative take on the classic monster. It’s also constructed in such a way that a great moral lays beneath the vampire angle, telling a tale of finding yourself in college and how falling in with a charismatic leader can define your identity (for good or bad).

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Haunted Tales (1980)

hauntedtales_2Haunted Tales [碟仙] (1980)

Starring Ching Li, Ling Yun, Lin Chen-Chi, Lau Luk-Wah, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Shen, Shum Lo, Liu Lai-Ling, Sa Sa, Lau Nga-Ying

Directed by Chor Yuen (The Ghost, Story #1) & Mou Tun-Fei (The Prize Winner, Story #2)

Expectations: The poster is great, so I have high hopes.

threestar


Haunted Tales is a two-film horror anthology from the Shaw Studio, but those expecting a common theme between the tales should seek such synchronicity elsewhere. The first story is a reserved, classically styled ghost story, and the second is a debaucherous, exploitative morality play that’s closer to something Kuei Chih-Hung would have made. But while the tales do not complement one another, they are both engaging and quite entertaining in their differing ways, so Haunted Tales comes out as a great Shaw Brothers take on the horror anthology.

My research on the film led me to this post on the wonderful and always informative Cool Ass Cinema website. I encourage you to read the post if you’re interested in this film, or just some behind-the-scenes ideas of how the Shaw studio was run, and while you’re there explore the site a bit. It’s full of great stuff! Anyway, the gist is that the first story (The Ghost) began life with Chor Yuen as Hellish Soul in 1975, but production shut down and a few years later Ho Meng-Hua was brought in to complete some re-shoots (which also resulted in an unfinished feature). The Prize Winner, Mou Tun-Fei’s short that closes the film, also began shooting as a feature. Instead of completing the features, they were salvaged and combined into Haunted Tales. That explains the differences in tone!

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Talisman (1998)

talisman_1Starring Billy Parish, Walter Jones, Jason Adelman, Ilinca Goia, Constantin Barbulescu, Oana Stefanescu, Claudiu Trandafir

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Like a lot of B-Movies, the logic employed in Talisman is shaky at best. What separates Talisman from the pack, though, is how well-realized and enjoyable it is; multiple times while watching it, I thought, “Wow, this is legitimately a good movie!” I don’t think it’s quite there for straight-up mainstream people, but Talisman is far better than your average late-period Full Moon film. I’ve held off on watching this one because, for reasons I’ve forgotten, I thought it would be dumb, so it’s a nice surprise to find it’s actually a competently made picture from underrated low-budget maestro David DeCoteau.

Elias (Billy Parish) is a new student at the Gornek International School for Boys, a boarding school where troubled kids are sent when they’ve exhausted their last traditional option. Apparently, there’s only seven kids who fit this description, and judging by the dominance of Burke (Jason Adelman) over the “student body,” the school isn’t all that strict. They might have some strong disciplinary measures, like locking everyone inside their rooms at night, but the rehabilitation of these delinquent youths is obviously far from the minds of the staff. But whatever, this isn’t called Boys School, it’s called Talisman, so I don’t care if the fictional school makes sense, or is “doing the right thing for these kids.”

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Spirit of the Raped (1976)

spiritoftheraped_1Spirit of the Raped [索命] (1976)

Starring Liu Wu-Chi, Tung Lam, Wong Yu, Wong Chung, Wang Hsieh, Teresa Ha Ping, Tin Ching, Lau Wai-Ling, Chan Lap-Ban, Lam Wai-Tiu

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Kuei Chih-Hung! I hope it’s great.

threehalfstar


Spirit of the Raped couldn’t be a more perfect contrast to last week’s Shaw film, Night of the Devil Bride. The two films share a ton of broad similarities, but where Devil Bride was disappointing and unfocused, Spirit of the Raped made good on all of its promises and puts the sympathetic character front and center to heighten our emotional engagement. Not that movies can’t experiment with their object of focus, it’s just that some films need a certain something to stand on their own. In any case, Spirit of the Raped is a great film from Kuei Chih-Hung, and one that foreshadows the gooey, gross-out territory he would later explore and define in Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen.

Liu Miao-Li (Liu Wu-Chi) and Chen Liang (Lam Wai-Tiu) are a young couple riding in the back of a minibus. They’re excited to be married soon, and Liu has just informed Chen that they’re also expecting a child! Their whole lives are ahead of them, until just a few minutes later when a trio of thugs rob the minibus. One of the criminals (Wong Chung) finds a stash of money the couple were trying to hide, so he kills Chen with a heartless blow to his neck. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of Liu’s horrendous misfortune.

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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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Night of the Devil Bride (1975)

nightofthedevilbride_2Night of the Devil Bride [攝青鬼] (1975)
AKA Night of the Devil’s Bride, Devil Bride

Starring Lo Lieh, Chen Ping, Ku Feng, Ai Ti, Lam Wai-Tiu, Lau Wai-Ling, Chan Shen, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Yeung Chi-Hing, Helen Ko, Kong Yeung, Teresa Ha Ping, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chang Il-Ho

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful. I love Hong Kong horror.

twohalfstar


It’s hard not to be intrigued by a film called Night of the Devil Bride, but I should know by now that a great title does not always equal a great film. In this particular case, it equals an OK movie with untapped potential. Night of the Devil Bride was directed by Korean filmmaker Chang Il-Ho, who also made a couple of mediocre kung fu movies at the Shaw Studio (The Deadly Knives and The Thunderbolt Fist), so maybe I should’ve known better from the start. The film was originally to have been a co-directed affair between Chang Il-Ho and Shin Sang-Ok (the director behind A Thousand Year Old Fox and the lost Shaw film The Bandits), and what remains bears the marks of this. Night of the Devil Bride is not the most cohesive movie, and anytime a movie is only 75 minutes long it’s logical to suspect problems, either budgetary or otherwise.

Night of the Devil Bride begins with moments of tenderness between Shui Lien (Chen Ping) and Kao (Lo Lieh), a married couple living in a modest home outside of town. Shui Lien is afflicted with a bad case of tuberculosis, regularly losing her hair and coughing up blood. The town doctor is treating her, but she’s having a hard time recovering. Since she’s homebound, the film follows Kao as he ventures around town trying to raise funds to support them. But it’s quickly apparent that Kao is not the tender husband he first appears to be, and that in fact he’s willing to do most anything — good or evil — to better his place in life.

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Song of the Vampire (2001)

vampireresurrection_2AKA Vampire Resurrection

Starring Denice Duff, James Horan, Jillian McWhirter, Frank Bruynbroek, Marilyn O’Connor, Geoffrey Lewis, Julie Michaels, John Mese, Scott Spearman

Directed by Denice Duff

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Song of the Vampire is a classic tale of a supernatural being searching for the reincarnation of his lost lover. I’m not sure where this type of story originates from, but I’m most familiar with it from the 1932 film The Mummy and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’m a huge fan of both of these films, so to say that Song of the Vampire had a lot to live up to is an understatement. But since Song of the Vampire is such a low-budget film, holding it up against two of my all-time favorites would be dooming it to a pit of comparison and utter disappointment. On its own, Song of the Vampire is an average vampire tale that could have been better with a tighter focus.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the idea that in addition to the vampire, Jonathan Travers (James Horan), hunting down Caroline (Denice Duff), her abusive ex-husband, Marty (Frank Bruynbroek), is fresh out of jail and on her trail, too. One pursuer is a supernatural entity that feeds on life, hoping to reconnect with his lost love and be with her forever. The other is a truly evil man with nothing but malice in his heart, completely obsessed with Caroline and literally willing to do anything to have her life back under his control. Both men share a clarity of purpose, and they’re both willing to do horrific things on their way to Caroline. Since this is a romantic vampire tale, Jonathan is clearly intended as the heroic male, but I couldn’t really get into rooting for him. Caroline never asked for either man’s undying, obsessive love, so instead I hoped that she would transcend both of their desires and end the film as a powerful character living on her own.

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