Tag Archives: after they were famous

The only thing to fear is fear itself. And cars.

penny-dreadfulPENNY DREADFUL

3 Stars  2006/93m

“Don’t forget to breathe.”

Director: Richard Brandes / Writers: Diana Dionol-Valcroze, Arthur Flam & Richard Brandes / Cast: Rachel Miner, Mimi Rogers, Chad Todhunter, Liz Davies, Mickey Jones, Tammy Filor, Michael Berryman.

Body Count: 6

Dire-logue: “Do you wanna be a pathetic freak for the rest of your miserable life?”


What’s worse? Being stuck in your car for hours on end, say, in a traffic jam or waiting for someone… Or watching a film about someone stuck in a car for hours on end? Possibly watching the latter during the former.

Arguably, ‘real’ horror is found in inescapable situations rather than being chased through the woods by Jason, such is the objective of this choppy flick which, along with Dark Ride, was part of the 2007 ‘After Dark Horrorfest’. Although, Lake Dead was also featured in one of those and look how that turned out.

Ex-wife of Macaulay Culkin Miner does well with her character Penny, who has amaxophobia, a fear of cars, hereafter to be known as car-ophobia because it makes more sense to me. She picked this up by surviving the traffic accident that killed her parents some years earlier. Her therapist Orianna (Rogers) is intent on helping her past the problem by driving her out to the mountains where she and her folks were headed before. Two women driving into the wilderness is a new and refreshing opus, isn’t it?

Sure...it looks beautiful NOW

Sure…it looks beautiful NOW

On route, Orianna accidentally clips a hitchhiker in the dark and then offers the winter-coated stranger a lift down the road to a campsite. Hitcher, face shrouded by the hood, proves to be pretty bizarre, eating what appears to be a raw meat kebab, and the women are glad to be rid of him until they discover one of their tyres has been pierced with a barbecue skewer…

Orianna heads off to find better phone reception, leaving Penny alone in the car. The car she has car-ophobia of. In the woods. In the dark.

penny3Penny freaks out and goes to look for Orianna but instead encounters the creepy hitcher and knocks herself unconscious fleeing from him. She wakes up later to find herself back in the car with Orianna’s dead body and discovers the car has been wedged tightly between two trees: the doors won’t open, the glass won’t break, the keys are AWOL.

Claustro-amaxo-car-ophobia panic ensues as the options are struck off one by one and some extra victims are provided by a couple of forest workers and the woman one of them is secretly shagging – but it’s all about Penny and the car.

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Given the lack of space allocated to the set, things begin to get as boring as being sat in a car for hours on end would be as time grinds on. Yeah, so there’s a throat slashing every now and then and the killer returns to torment Penny and cuts off her toe but I soon find myself obliviously doodling the word ‘boring’ on my notepad as the seconds on the DVD display seemed to tick-tock over at an ever-decreasing speed.

The eventual outcome of things houses a twist that the producers probably thought would provide an astounded ‘oooh’ from the audience is simply too little too late. This sliding scale into disappointment like an hourglass of gloom steals a lot from this sometimes atmospheric chiller, which would’ve been far better as a 45-minute late night TV special, proving there’s only so much you can do with a girl stuck in a car.

So the title is an open-invitation for ridicule but Penny Dreadful is good (enough) once. Italics should be strictly observed in that sentence: you won’t want to watch this twice, even if Michael Berryman appears as the chirpy gas station attendant.

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Blurbs-of-interest: If you don’t know that Berryman was in both of Craven’s Hills Have Eyes films then slap yourself upside yo head now. Not knowing he was also in Deadly Blessing and, more recently, Mask Maker, is forgivable.

It’s my party and you’ll die if I want you to

hbtmcoverHAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

3.5 Stars  1981/15/106m

“Six of the most bizarre murders you’ll ever see.”

Director: J. Lee Thompson / Writers: John Beaird, Timothy Bond, Peter Jobin & John C.W. Saxton / Cast: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker, Frances Hyland, Tracy Bregman, Lisa Langlois, Jack Blum, Matt Craven, Lenore Zann, David Eisner, Richard Rebiere, Lesleh Donaldson, Michel Rene LaBelle.

Body Count: 9

Dire-logue: “Murder…then suicide. Now they’ll all know just crazy little [SPOILER] really was!”


One of the first genre films I saw on the back of reading Vera Dika’s Games of Terror book, which provided a deep formula analysis of nine early slasher films. This Canadian entry into the burgeoning trend is a comparatively lush entry for its time. Using experienced director J. Lee Thompson and starring Glenn Ford, Happy Birthday to Me used these advantages as wisely as possible.

hbtm11The result of these impressive involvements is a mixed bag. On the one had, this is one handsome devil of a horror film, with well crafted photography and characters drawn beyond the airhead regulars associated with sharp-object wielding killers. The Yin to this Yang is that it thinks above its station to some degree, attempting to spread its wings beyond the boundaries of what the audience most probably expected back in the day.

Melissa Sue Anderson, breaking free of her Little House on the Prairie character with veritable gusto, is Virginia Wainwright, member of the preppy Crawford Academy’s ‘Top Ten’, the creme of the crop in terms of popularity, although why some of these twats are held in such high esteem is a mystery the film chooses not to deal with.

Virginia is new to the school and has some issues regarding amnesia and the death of her mother in recent history, one of the plot elements that is gradually unfurled throughout events, which follow the unidentified killer doing away with members of the Crawford Top Ten in black-gloved giallo style. To Virginia and pals, they’ve just taken off for reasons unknown…

hbtm2Ford is her shrink, trying to help her recall the deep-rooted trauma that plagues her and suss out the connection with the disappearances. Suffice to say, it’s all tied up together for the Scooby Doo reveal at the end.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on inbetween the more unfitting moments of the film; the killer – who appears for the first few murders dressed in a sinister black costume – executes the spoilt teens in some inventive ways, including death by motorcycle wheel, barbell weights and shish-kebab. Midway through proceedings we’re shown the killer’s face, which is a pretty damning indictment – but you just know that there are further tricks up the sleeves of this one…

hbtm3Interplay between the teenage characters also provides an interesting distraction from the trivial prank and sex-centric shenanigans that occur in your basic Friday the 13th wannabe. The Crawford kids have got rich parents and therefore their attitudes to the welfare of their missing buddies is intoxicated with a competitive venom: they swap lovers and stab each other in the back (not literally, quite yet) and evoke little sympathy from the viewer. Even Virginia is a flawed heroine, almost as unlikeable as the others from time to time. Alas, not all of them appear to be in danger… Hmmm.

Okay, so Dika’s book gave away the identity of the killer before I’d seen the film so the twist wasn’t a shock to me. On the road to the finale, which is fated to occur on Virginia’s birthday, we learn about the death of her mother, which evidently plays a large part in why the killer is doing what he or she is. Flashback scenes thus far have shown us a grisly close-up of Virginia’s post-accident brain surgery (including an icky brain-swell) but now we find out why. The scene is a sad one as Virginia is alone at her own birthday party, social death for any child, for sure! This results in a we’ll-show-them reaction from her jar-tapping mother and, well, you’ll see for yourself…

hbtm7The ending to it all is a great scene: Virginia gets her party and those who snubbed her before will definitely show up this time. Confusion follows before the naff reveal, which is laughably realised but credited with a nice little exposition from the killer before the final twist is played out. The motive will be familiar to those of us who saw a certain genre revival flick some 15 years later, where it was slightly more credibly realised, though not as much fun.

In spite of its high(er) budget, there are some curious oversights in Happy Birthday to Me‘s continuity: the car that falls into the river, the body found in the bath – clear one second, bloody the next, the extensive damage sustained by Greg’s car that miraculously disappears five seconds later… Whether any of this stuff is supposedly attributable to Virginia’s damaged memory is unclear.

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Nothing good can come of this scenario…

The DVD release for this film has garnered much complaint for switching the gorgeous score for a cheesy disco number at the start. The Region 2 disc has the original soundtrack on the German audio selection but Syreeta’s haunting end credits song is intact on both versions.

Blurbs-of-interest: Lawrence Dane later appeared in Bride of Chucky; Lesleh Donaldson was also in fellow Canuck slashers Curtains and Funeral Home; both David Eisner and Lisa Langlois were in Phobia; Lenore Zann was in fellow Canuck slashers American Nightmare and Visiting Hours. Thompson directed 10 to Midnight two years after. I love the Canadian casting love-ins!

Death is just a click away

imurdersiMURDERS

2 Stars  2008/15/99m

“You don’t know who you’re talking to…”

Director: Robbie Bryan / Writers: Robbie Bryan & Kenneth Del Vecchio / Cast: Terri Colombino, Frank Grillo, William Forsythe, Gabrielle Anwar, Tony Todd, Joanne Baron, Charles Durning, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Billy Dee Williams, Brooke Lewis, Miranda Kwok, Christie Botelho, Dan Grimaldi.

Body Count: 5

Dire-logue: “It’s difficult to put the milk back in the carton when you’ve already had the cereal.”


Look at that cast roster! Forsythe. Todd. Anwar. Durning. How could this film fail, you might ask? And yet…

iMurders is a strange one. It’s a film that borders several genres and has so many criss-crossed mystery plot threads that the writer’s of Lost would be envious. There’s a lot to resolve in just 99 minutes and things would likely work out better were this a mini-series like Harper’s Island.

Things begin usually enough with a woman returning home to find a blonde riding her husband’s lap. Faces are obscured and we flick to the exterior as voices are raised and a gunshot sounds.

Ten months later, Colombino’s pretty singleton, Sandra, moves into a new apartment and quickly connects back on to ‘FaceSpace’, the social networking site she’s obsessed with. FaceSpace. I think I hear you groaning!

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A group of eight super-friends meet religiously for online chats, during which LA FX artist Mark sets them a contest, the winner of which will be rewarded with some movie memorabilia. However, during their chat, Mark cops a powerdrill in the back of his head, which the others, watching over cams, believe is just trickery in accord with his Halloween-themed task…

Sandra becomes romantically involved with brooding ex-cop neighbour Joe, whose sister is an FBI Agent looking into both the chatroom murders and Billy Dee Williams’ crooked lawyer, who sets up attacks on people and then sues for them. His latest client, Anwar (the trigger-happy Fi from TV’s excellent Burn Notice), is a model whose face has been permanently scarred after she was attacked by a knife-toting loon in a nightclub. Consequently, she spends the entire film with a giant square band-aid stuck to her cheek.

Elsewhere, Forsythe is a philandering college professor trying to hide his ways from his missus and discourage an amorous co-worker. Durning is a shrink with a bizarre young client who babbles incoherently about the number 666, the chatroom and her dead lesbian lover, which allows, yet again, for a sleazy girl-on-girl scene.

Another murder occurs and brooding cop’s FBI sis and Agent Tony Todd (!) – for once neither a hook-handed urban legend or a death savvy mortician – sweep in and arrest bad lawyer and 666-girl and discover another of the chatters slain. As the script steers us towards suspecting Sandra of the killings, we think twice and realise that the killer is most likely that other person who’s always there, loitering…

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“I hear if you chant “iMurders” 5 times in front of your screen…absolutely nothing of interest happens…”

iMurders is a good looking production. I mean, if the director could get that cast, then he obviously knows how to call in favours. Its ambition is what uploads a virus into it; the top-heavy plot structure is simply way too much for the film to adequately cope with. In addition to this there are too many characters and the killer only manages to knock off a dismal three of the eight chatroom members. The token gay character is done away with first and the murders are too tame for a slasher flick and too brutal for a TV movie. CTRL+ALT+DEL out of this one.

Blurbs-of-interest: the music was composed by no other than Harry Manfredini, who scored nine of the Friday the 13th films; Anwar was also in Crazy Eights; Forsythe was in Hack! and the Halloween remake; Dan Grimaldi was in Don’t Go in the House; Todd was also in Final Destination‘s 1, 2 and 5, Hatchet (and its sequel), Jack the Reaper and Scarecrow Slayer; Charles Durning was in both of the When a Stranger Calls films plus Dark Night of the Scarecrow.

Ain’t nothin’ like the reality thing

killermovieKILLER MOVIE

3.5 Stars  2008/93m

“Fear reality.”

Director/Writer: Jeff Fisher / Cast: Paul Wesley, Kaley Cuoco, Gloria Votsis, Jason London, Cyia Batten, Al Santos, Adriana DeMeo, Torrey DeVitto, Robert Buckley, Nestor Carbonell, Hal B. Klein, Andy Fischer-Price, Maitland McDonnell, Leighton Meester, Stephen Pelinski, Bruce Bohne, J.C. Chasez.

Body Count: 11

Dire-logue: “A woodshop is a dangerous place…these things just sometimes happen.”


A TV crew are making a documentary about a hockey team who, after 100 years of failure, look set to make the state playoffs. When the director (JC Chasez from N Sync) is fired by bitchy producer Lee, recently out of work and dumped stand-in Jake is summoned by schmaltzy agent-to-the-stars Seaton (Nestor Carbonell, who plays the guy who never ages in Lost).

Jake is packed off to White Plains, North Dakota, with his dog Bongo to pick up where things were left, which coincides with the murder of a local girl, though as always is the case, the locals are told it’s just an accident. The kind of accident one has when driving a quad bike into a piece of wire suspended between two trees… Bitchy Lee informs Jake that the hockey show is just a front and that the real story is about the series of ‘accidents’ that plague the township. Dead chick’s dad has just been released from prison and is thus suspect number one.

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Shot as the far better sounding Dead of Winter, Killer Movie functions differently to your usual slasher pic, using interviews with the crew members to fill in gaps rather than have them awkwardly acted out. This informs us that things are about to get worse with the arrival of Blanca Champion, a Hilton-like ‘actress’ – played by Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory - who wants to be taken seriously in her next role as a TV producer and so signs on as an assistant for the documentary. Meanwhile, bitchy Lee is seducing nubile PA Phoebe, the sound guy and Blanca’s male assistant are both lusting after her and Jake only finds sanity with Kier (can’t remember what her job was) and camera guy Luke.

There are a lot of characters to deal with, including some locals: dead chick’s boyfriend, who is the hockey team star, his dad, who doubles as the coach, a bimbo cheerleader, the bolshy cheerleading coach, some more crew members and finally the killer to trim the roster and make it easier to manage things.

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Hooded and masked, the loon begins offing the crew – all the while making his own reality show – and some of the locals one by one, usually pretty gorelessly, although there’s a neat hand-loss moment and lots of bodies are found missing heads, with slashed throats et cetera. As numbers shrink, Jake and the smart ones become wise to what’s more than likely to be going on and try to round everyone up to escape, leaving ditzy Blanca alone at the school… “Come with us or stay here” / “both those choices suck!”

With a decent whodunit subplot, Killer Movie is, for the first two thirds, an engaging and well made film, with an emphasis on the authenticity of the production and stocking it with likeable characters (unless intentionally otherwise), marred only by Blanca’s comic relief, which is too off the wall to mesh well, especially when she faces off with the killer and also the pointless lesbianism, which is becoming annoyingly frequent – would they ever show two guys making out?

killer moviedead of winter

Things begin to fall to pieces once the fiend is unmasked: it took me several minutes to even recognise the schmuck and the motive provided made little to no sense when you think back to some of the earlier killings… This doesn’t ruin the film so much as it stops it becoming a hidden gem, which is a shame as it does so well for the most part. There’s some good dialogue, the stalking scenes are reminiscent of old Friday the 13th‘s and the soundtrack is well selected (especially Benjamin Bates’ credits song Two Flies.) Originally intended for a theatrical release, things fell through and it ended up going to DVD instead but uber-observant slasher connoisseurs should be able to pick out the many familiar faces as noted in the blurbs…

…of-interest: Kaley Cuoco was in The Hollow; Gloria Votsis was in Train; Cyia Batten was in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning; Al Santos was in Jeepers Creepers II; Torrey DeVitto was in I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer; Robert Buckley was in When a Killer Calls; Jason London was in Mask Maker.

“Pain can be fun.”

trainTRAIN

2 Stars  2008/18/91m

“You’re in for one hell of a ride.”

Director/Writer: Gideon Raff / Cast: Thora Birch, Gideon Emery, Kavan Reece, Derek Magyar, Gloria Votsis, Konya Ruseva, Valentin Ganev, Todd Jensen, Vladimir Vladiminov.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “Screw you, you un-circumsized little fuck!”


Bored of torture porn? Sick of Hostel and Turistas? Me too! Let’s throw ‘em on the next train to Eastern Europe! Oh bugger, American college teen alert…

Train was originally slated to be a remake of Terror Train, with Thora Birch donning Jamie Lee Curtis’ role. Fortunately, the idea was derailed and the film became independent of such comparisons, bar the choo-choo setting. Thora is part of an American college wrestling team on a tour of Europe. In the unspecified country of their most recent match, she and four others sneak out to a party, thus missing their connecting train in the morning.

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Their retentive coach is offered a ride on another train, which they merrily skip aboard. Something ain’t right about this loco though, which we soon learn is actually a sort of mobile donor clinic, taking people in need of black market operations out into the country and taking advantage of dopey lost tourists, who get sliced up carefully for some organ harvesting…

The conductor, a Bond-villain type lady doctor and some hulking goons are all in on it, picking off the kids one by one for some eyeball-plucking, spine-severing, penis-chopping and leg-hacking before carrying out the operations in the onboard clinic! Yes, there’ surgery taking place on a rickety ol’ train. We’re later expected to believe that the recipient of an eye-transplant could recover within a day!

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Birch’s reluctant girl-wrestler Alex is predictably the last one standing and must try to save the day and herself, while her boyfriend, coaches and pals are cut up whilst still alive, save for the other girl, who is instead ‘given away’ as a bribe to some horny soldiers and, presumably, left in Europe to be repeatedly raped.

Hostel had some gross parts, which made me cringe. Part II upped the ante somewhat. Turistas was tamer, but a bit crap. Train trumps all three in terms of gruesome bloodletting: while the on-screen gore is carried out only against male characters, there were one or two moments where I looked away (…plus I was trying to eat a sandwich) and I actually placed my hands over my eyes at least once! It’s quite sick and pushes the boundaries of acceptable entertainment.

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Fortunately, Alex’s revenge on the fiends is quite delicious, as she takes on towering goons and is challenged over her morals! Birch looks disinterested for the most part though, with little to do but sneak around and hide. Her co-stars’ roles pale by contrast as they fulfill their obligations as pieces of meat to be hacked up and defiled in other ways. The set of villains are interesting enough but you can’t help but feel that these films are sponsored by some stay-in-America tourism foundation. Maybe it has a mantra like; “leave our borders and you will DIE!!”

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