Tuesday, January 30, 2007


While Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's Oscar-nominated documentary JESUS CAMP centers on the slow decay of the separation of church and state in Bush Jr.-era USA, to me it is a film about child abuse. At a summer camp for kids in North Dakota, a pentecostal minister admittedly "uses" children and their families to further the political agenda of the evangelical christian right. She is shown seriously praying to God to bless her Powerpoint presentation, speaking in gibberish, and forcefully denouncing Harry Potter as an evil warlock. One woman home-schooling her kids teaches them "science never proved anything" and compares arming young people with such knowledge to extremists in other parts of the world teaching 6-year-olds how to use a machine gun.

Ewing and Grady do an excellent job of presenting these characters in a very truthful way, very unobstructed by any sort of bias they may personally have toward the rational point of view. Rationality is thankfully represented in this film by christian radio commentator Mike Papantonio ("Ring Of Fire") who offers occasional insight as to the damage these folks are really doing to these kids, the country, the planet, and humanity as whole. The saddest part in this writer's opinion is the fact that several of these kids are intelligent, articulate and naturally kind. Seeing them made to cry and get on their knees and throw their arms around a life-size cardboard cutout of president Bush is heartbreaking. Not only are they being deprived of the sort of fun life every kid deserves, but they are being mangled, warped and lied to by politically-motivated authority figures. I hope these young peoples' smarts eventually lead them to reason before they become little Timothy McVeighs and Paul Hills.

Mercifully short and devoid of Michael Moore-type dramatics, JESUS CAMP is less about religious weirdos (see George Ratliff's 2001 doc HELL HOUSE) and more about the roots of supremacy.


In my 2002 write-up on the first TERROR TOONS, I used words like "bizarre" and "original" to describe FX master Joe Castro's wild cinematic trip. Five years later, it has attained cult status and remains one of the most creative and ambitious low-budget genre films ever made. So when I got word that a sequel was completed, I was quite literally unable to imagine what it could possibly be like. Would it be more of the same, or (gasp!) even weirder?

Dear readers, Castro and nimble-fingered editor Steven J. Escobar have not only topped themselves, but they have succeeded in creating what I can only describe as an exploding vomit-bag of cartoon color, sound and fury. From its 10-minute opening sequence featuring b-movie legend Brinke Stevens as a giant witch to the G.I. Joe in Hell climax, TERROR TOONS 2: THE SICK AND SILLY SHOW is, and I shit you not, a wall-to-wall eye-popping FX madhouse. Everything in this movie either screams, bleeds, pukes, mutates, burns or explodes - and some of the unluckiest ones do all of the above and more. Castro and Escobar use a combination of gore, puppetry, creature suits, blue screen, digital and frame-by-frame animation to pull off a comedic massacre 10 times as supercharged as the first film. The excellent lighting, looney-tune score and sound effects only serve to elevate this movie to an almost unclassifiable category.

No one is making movies like this. I don't think any sane filmmaker would even think this stuff up, let alone attempt to actually bring it to life. It's like someone took Joe Dante's segment of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and let Peter Jackson, John Waters and Tex Avery handle everything else. Folks, this is comedic creature carnage at its absolute finest. Fans of HAPPY TREE FRIENDS, as well as connoisseurs of imaginative horror deaths will definitely eat this one up. And later on, when they get sick, their vomit will most likely be filled with neon confetti.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Never before has a modern film so perfectly succeeded in capturing the look, style and feel of the 70's Sexploitation classics. Anna Biller's VIVA is an explosion of color, humor and schlock done to the nines,
besting attempts made by far bigger-budgeted flicks like AUSTIN POWERS and GRINDHOUSE in truly recreating a bygone era.

It's a true skin-comedy epic that delivers everything the gorgeous promotional art promises, and will no doubt become a cult classic among those with a true affinity for well-done homage. I watched this with some friends and there were times when we had to actually stop the DVD because we were laughing so hard! The prostitution and nudist camp scenes are
simply unbelievable.

Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007


New DVD label Camp Motion Pictures is releasing Jon McBride's 1998 shot-on-VHS gore fiesta CANNIBAL CAMPOUT this month along with its predecessor WOODCHIPPER MASSACRE. Both films have been given great transfers and extras with the cooperation of the filmmakers, and best of all the original poster art is used for the DVD sleeve.

While fans of Tromatic grade-Z splatter flicks will dig the film for its violent and cheesy content, it's today's DV horror filmmakers that should really be checking this disc out. The selling point here is director McBride's feature-length commentary track detailing just what it was like to make a film like this. In many ways, not much has changed: he had to deal with the same issues with nonprofessional crew and actors as well as cheap fx and location problems that any low-budget filmmaker today faces. However, the fascinating part comes with McBride's detailing of shooting with a VHS camcorder (some of you remember how heavy these were), using its on-board mic for sound, and deck-to-deck editing. We sometimes take for granted the fact that editing on a computer is such a breeze, and this track puts it all in perspective. McBride's a smart guy with a great sense of humor, and filmmakers can learn a lot from listening to him.

Check it out.

Monday, January 15, 2007


FINALLY. This past October, Unearthed Films released this lovely special edition of one of my all-time favorite b-movies, FRANKENHOOKER. You can read my original review from several years back if you want to know what the movie's about and what's in it (just be warned, I used to write movie reviews in the Joe Bob style so it's not the greatest quality), because in this new review I'm just focusing on the new disc.

Unearthed has done an excellent job with this release, and that's coming from a fan who has been waiting many years for this flick to get a worthwhile digital treatment. It's evident just from the menu screens that it's going to be a reverential affair: glowing purple is all over the place! And someone clearly understood the comic genius of my favorite character Zorro the Pimp, whose scream of "What the FUCK?!" is heard during one of the menu transitions. The movie is presented letterboxed and looks about as good as it ever will, definitely better than the VHS I've had since I was a teenager. It's the full uncut version so you get maximum boob and lesbionage (I just made that word up!) during the legendary exploding hooker sequence.

Lots of extras to be had here, thankfully. The commentary by director Frank Henenlotter (a renowned exploitation/b-movie historian in his own right) and FX man Gabe Bartolos is briskly paced and never gets dull, with Bartolos acting as moderator when not doling out fascinating info about the mammoth task of creating all the bizarre original makeups and gags for the film. My only gripe is that the volume on the commentary track is very very low and I had to turn up my TV considerably to be able to hear it. There are new interviews with star Patty Mullen and hooker extraordinaire Jennifer Delora as well. Mullen talks enthusiastically about everything from getting the role to being in all the makeup (she even dons the original purple wig at the end!) and Delora presents tons of cool polaroids she took on the set. Both women are very very funny and thankfully the interviews give them ample time to give fans what they want. Lastly is the substantial documentary about the FX hosted by Bartolos. No stone is left unturned here, people. Thanks to lots of video archive footage and photos, you truly get a sense of just how much work was done to bring this memorably freaky vision to life.

Thank you thank you thank you Unearthed Films. You did good.


If you've seen this flick on video store shelves, this cover isn't going to be familiar to you. The one they used has Salma and Penelope looking all airbrushed and stylish, which is not how they appear in this film. I chose this alternate cover image because it more accurately represents their characters and the feel of the movie. This is probably the first-ever comedy western starring two latinas, and I loved it.

The setup is pretty basic. Salma plays the president's overpriviledged daughter while Penelope plays a dirt farmer's daughter, and the two must become allies when whitey comes to take over their small Mexican town. The two become bank robbers and give the money back to the people, dodging whitey's bullets and eventually enlisting the help of a bumbling crime scene scientist (Steve Zahn - always funny).

The reason this movie is so good is because of the chemistry the two leads have, and the filmmaking know-how of producer Luc Besson. The fights and action scenes are all excellent, particularly an amazing train car shootout sequence full of flying bullets, knives and explosions. But the bottom line here is Salma and Penelope ARE FUNNY. Truly funny. It's sad that a movie like this would never stand a chance of making box-office bank. I blame whitey, as usual.


At first it didn't make sense that the follow-up film by the guy who made late 90's cult hit OFFICE SPACE would get extremely limited theatrical run and go straight to DVD just like its predecessor. But after watching IDIOCRACY it all became clear: this is a high-concept comedy that's more disturbing than it is funny. It's like a fucking nightmare, honestly. It goes far beyond thinking persons' comedy and into the realm of apocalyptic cynicism.

Luke Wilson plays an average Joe slacker who participates in a US Army crogenics experiment along with prostitute Rita (SNL's Maya Rudolph). They're only supposed to be frozen for a year, but of course something goes wrong and they wake up 500 years in the future where people have gotten so lazy and stupid that Joe and Rita are quite literally the smartest people alive.

Sounds like a great idea for a movie, and it is, but filmmaker Mike Judge's exaggerations about where we're possibly headed aren't so ridiculous and far-fetched as they are very plausible and unsettling. No one reads, everyone wears clothes adorned with advertising logos, cities are surrounded by miles-high garbage dumps, buildings are held together by ropes, TV sets are 10 feet wide and people sit in La-Z-Boy chairs complete with on-board toilet, a movie called ASS has won the Best Picture Oscar, and a pro wrestler is president of the country.

IDIOCRACY also boasts some very convincing FX courtesy of Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios, including a mammoth Costco store with a parking lot that looks like something out of Mad Max. All these elements make a very ambitious film that probably cost Fox a ton of money they'll never see again, and the movie will definitely grab a cult following, although one different from OFFICE SPACE. Whereas that film was relateable and fun, IDIOCRACY is funny too - just in a much much darker way. In other words, most people will probably only need to see it once.