Drive-By DVD Reviews

And now for some quick reviews for movies I've seen in the last few weeks...

Alright, So I’ll admit that Nosferatu is old. 1922 silent film old. But it’s been over ten years since I saw the movie and honestly, my film aptitude has grown exponentially. I’m not sure what led me to recently search out this vampire classic but I’m glad I did. And rather than settle for an online, streaming version of the movie or a cheap, poor quality DVD release, I hunted down the Kino edition that features a newly restored, hi definition transfer of Nosferatu with accurate color tinting and two musical scores in digital stereo. That may sound kinda film school snobbish but all you have to do is see some of the crappy DVD transfers of Nosferatu compared to the Kino edition to see that it makes a difference, especially when watching a movie that is 85-years-old. That being said…

Aside from the story (which is essentially a plagiarized adaptation of Dracula), I was amazed by how amazing Nosferatu is cinematically. I mean…wow. I got the same reaction the first time I saw Citizen Kane. Both movies and both directors (Orson Welles and F.W. Murnau, respectively) are working on another level entirely. Their use of composition, contrast, and shadows is stunning, creating two perfect examples of film as veritable fine art. Watching Nosferatu got me so excited that I immediately went out and bought Shadow of the Vampire; a fictionalized account behind the making of Nosferatu where the title character is not an actor, but rather, an actual vampire.

If you’ve never watched Nosferatu and you’re a fan of film or horror, you owe it to yourself to see this incredible piece of art.

After penning the first two Blade movies and directing the third in the trilogy, David Goyer has settled nicely into the director’s chair with his latest movie, The Invisible. Overall, the flick was entertaining, primarily due to the amount of time the film devotes to introducing the characters before going into Twilight Zone land. In the role of the main character, actor Justin Chatwin comes off as an intelligent albeit repressed teen in a seemingly standard genre outing that could’ve taken the easy CW/OC/I Know What You Did Last Summer way out. If I have a complaint, it’s in the ending. Things get WAY too melodramatic in the last few scenes to the point where I found myself laughing out load at how ridiculous things were playing out. But aside from that, it’d say it’s a 2 ½ star rental.

So after the Miramax-Weinstein split, The Weinstein Company brings along directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez to direct the two-biller Grindhouse. What could’ve been the first of a series of genre double feature flicks unfortunately turned into box office disappointment. What’s a Weinstein Company to do? Well, if you want to make up some of the money you lost you break up Grindhouse into two DVD releases with next to no special features and hope that film fanatics will snatch them up twice when the eventual unrated/unedited/extended edition hits DVD shelves. Until then, I was happy to part ways with a few bucks and rent, not buy, both Grindhouse movies and watch them back to back.

First up: Rodriguez’s Planet Terror...

If anyone can hang their hat on guerilla film-making, it’s Robert Rodriguez. So after seeing Planet Terror, I was rather disappointed. The man behind El Mariachi who used a ladder in the bed of a pickup truck to get a moving crane shot and a wheelchair to get a dolly shot resorts to a faux grindhouse look in order to pull off his end of the double bill. Don’t get me wrong; the script, the B-list actors, and the gore are all in tact. Those elements of the movie feel genuine enough to pass the grindhouse smell test. But the phony film dirt, scratches, and CGI trickery distract. It’s like Rodriguez was trying so hard to make a true grindhouse film that he forgot to hold himself back from using the digital tools at his disposal. After the Spy Kids movies and Sin City, it’s obvious that the director can do CGI on the cheap and do it right. But it comes off as too much for a movie that is attempting to emulate the grindhouse filmmakers that had so little to work with.

Aside from that knock, Planet Terror was a lot of fun to watch. A part of me wants to pick it up on DVD but I’d rather hold off for the full Grindhouse DVD experience with special features galore and all the other fake trailers that were not included in this release.

And now for Tarantino’s Death Proof...

When I saw Death Proof in the theatre, I was getting impatient about ten minutes into the movie. I’m all for patented Tarantino dialogue but for my part, he was pushing it, especially since Tarantino was bringing up the rear of the double feature. Now on DVD, in the comfort of my living room, Death Proof doesn’t play nearly as slow as it did at my local Cineplex. The conversations between the two sets of girls are entertaining enough to keep things moving considering that nothing is really happening. But when the shit goes down, Tarantino drops the hammer and goes into full grindhouse gear. The last twenty minutes are particularly sweet.

As a side note, I remember reading that Mickey Rourke was originally going to play the movie’s baddie. However, Rourke bowed out and Kurt Russell swooped in. That’s the best thing that could’ve happened to the film because there is no way in heaven I could ever see Mickey Rourke as a charming AND crazy psycho. Crazy? Sure. Charming? Not so much. Nine 1/2 Weeks was a long time ago.

So what’s the final verdict? Definite rental.

Zombies. On a plane. Pretty simple…and pretty decent. I was expecting this to be half insulting, half abysmal but the movie is solid. Here’s yet another situation where Denny Green’s logic comes into play: Flight of the Living Dead is what you would think it is. Again, Zombies…on a plane. So crown the director for a sound direct-to-DVD zombie flick and let’s get on with the apparent sequel - Flight of the Living Dead 2: Grounded.

There are times when you have to ask the big question: Why? I know the George Romero helmed original is in public domain which makes the movie’s title and the premise fair game but, seriously…3D? It didn’t work for Jaws. It didn’t work for Jason. And it doesn’t work for the undead.

All you have to do is watch the making-of featurette on the DVD to realize that this movie is going to blow serious chunks. The producer/financier, in his infinite wisdom, was only willing to produce and distribute a horror film if it was a recognizable brand. Thus, Night of the Living Dead. But then to add that extra layer, the film would be in 3D. And not to be completely unoriginal, this remake would replace the solitary house from the original with a marijuana farm. Cheech and Chong meet the undead. Wow. I’d give the director credit for working under these outlandish conditions but in his infinite wisdom, he felt it was crucial to the film’s success to cast actor Sid Haig because, you know, he’s so amazing. Don’t get me wrong; I dig Sid Haig. He was awesome in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. But any production that feels it necessary to cast Sid Haig in order to be an achievement has problems.

Don’t rent this movie and certainly don’t buy it. Stay far, far away.



The Beyond

And last but not least, here is the last of the “best of the worst zombie-related horror flicks” I’ve had the privilege of sitting through. Having mentioned the Italian horror cinema scene made famous by such directors as Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, and Dario Argento in my last review for Messiah of Evil, I wanted to highlight what in my opinion is one of the best spaghetti-zombie flicks…

In 1964, Sergio Leone would direct A Fistful of Dollars; a gritty western based on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and starring American television Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name. The following year, the Man with No Name would return in Leone’s For A Few Dollars More. Finally, in 1965, the Italian director produced the western to end all westerns in the epic The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Although the movies feature some of the same actors and some of the same characters (and even that’s debatable), the three films have become known as Leone's "Dollars Trilogy”.

Similarly, following the release of his 1980 zombie gore fest City of the Living Dead (and upon the insistence of the European money men backing his productions), Lucio Fulci went on to direct two more films that have very little in common with each other aside from their emphasize on the reanimated dead: 1981’s The Beyond (aka Seven Doors of Death) and The House by the Cemetery. Unofficially, the three movies are known as the Gates of Hell trilogy. Of the three, The Beyond is by far the most successful and is considered to be one of Fulci’s best films.

The Beyond revolves around a young New York woman named Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) who inherits an eerie Louisiana hotel. Unbeknownst to her, the hotel also happens to be one of the seven gates to hell. After moving to the bayou and working to renovate the premises, Liza is assaulted by the unexpected: an admonishing apparition in the form of a blind girl, ferocious flesh-eating spiders, an undead artist who opened the evil portal, and (of course), his zombie legion.

Not to be outdone by the famous “drill to the skull” scene he pulled off in City of the Dead, Fulci filled The Beyond with even more graphic imagery. A dog rips out a person’s throat. A lynch mob pours acidic lime on a persecuted artist. A horde of tarantulas dig into a man’s face. And last but certainly not least is the infamous “nail to the eye” scene (which Fulci would revisit in his Haitian undead horror film, Zombi, proving you can never have too much ocular carnage).

After years of bootlegs and edited versions of the movie, Quentin Tarantino was responsible for releasing an uncut, uncensored print of The Beyond in theatres back in 1998 after acquiring the US distribution rights through his Rolling Thunder Production company banner. That’s when I first saw the movie, at a small Chicago theatre with an affinity for midnight movies (The Music Box, for those in the audience keeping score). And in October of 2000, the fine people at Anchor Bay released The Beyond on DVD with all the picture, audio, and special feature frills it deserves. You can even get the limited edition DVD that comes in a collectible tin limited to 20,000 copies along with a 48-page booklet and six 5"x7" international poster replicas.

With over ten years of hindsight since I initially sat through the movie, aside from the almost nauseating I-could-do-without-it-but-I-get-it gore, The Beyond stills makes quite an impression and is one of the most suspenseful, surreal, and polished Euro-horror flicks I’ve ever seen.



Scrap Mettle

I’m a huge Scott Morse fan. Huge. And for that I gotta thank fellow artist, Cream City faithful, and good friend Amado Rodriguez.

Amado and I met over three years ago and immediately his love and passion for indie comics, particularly their creators, became infectious. He introduced me to hip indie cats such as Jim Mahfood, Dave Crosland, Sam Hiti, Rob Schrab, and Jamie Hewlett. I can’t say I remember the exact day or manner that Amado dropped Scott Morse’s work onto my lap but the effect of Morse’s genius did not go unnoticed.

First, I hunted down Smack Dab. Then I snatched up Soulwind, Volcanic Revolver, Ancient Joe, Visitations, Magic Pickle, Barefoot Serpent, Southpaw, and Spaghetti Western. With most of his older books in my grubby little hands, I’ve also been diligent in keeping up with Morse’s most recent releases: Little Book of Horror: Frankenstein, Noble Boy, and The Ancient Book of Myth and War. As if my fascination with Morse wasn’t already in the realm of awkward, I was beyond excited to pick up his new art book from Image Comics, Scrap Mettle.

Clocking in at 400 pages, Scrap Mettle is a monster of a hardcover book. It’s best described as a stocky coffee table book/bar room brawl bruiser filled with scraps of “fast art” Morse has produced in his everyday creative process. The artwork comes from the artist’s personal Holy Trinity of mediums: inks, watercolors, and cell vinyl.

Now, if you’ve never seen Morse’s work, imagine a colorful amalgamation of kid’s book illustration, animation, and abstract painting. He was mentored by legendary American animation great Maurice Noble whose contributions to the medium, along with Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, introduced a fine art sensibility, particularly in background design. Accordingly, there is an emphasis on shapes and mood in Morse’s work. It’s not about clean, crisp linework. It’s about the colors, the movement, and the tone conveyed in the overall piece. That may sound like Art History 101 speak but when you look at Morse’s paintings, you’re not looking at “comic book” art; you’re looking at fine art infused with a love for animation that brings his creations to life.

The widescreen format of Scrap Mettle and its design (courtesy of AdHouse's Chris Pitzer) gives each piece of artwork more than enough breathing room for maximum viewing enjoyment and exploration (or in case, uncontrolled drooling). We get to see behind Morse’s creative curtain and sample some of his loose inks. Considering that the artist has made a living by rendering left-handed boxing tigers and magic pickles, it’s interesting to see that the majority of his subjects in his inked odds and ends appear to be people he’s observed in his everyday travels. While the inks are a fascinating look at Morse’s creative work out, the section featuring the cell vinyl style he is known for really make Scrap Mettle shine...

“It’s sort of like the Tonka Truck of the paint world, this cell vinyl. When I was first introduced to it, Maurice Noble insisted we use it….Maurice was old school, from a time when they still painted everything. Photoshop and telecine color corrections made him cringe. If you went into painting something with the intention of changing it in the computer later, you weren’t doing your job right. You were half-assing it. You should have painted the color you wanted the first time and moved on. Think twice and paint once.”

That’s a hard quote to follow so I’ll leave it at that. I could write up a few more paragraphs about how awesome this book is but ultimately, it’s an art book and you have to see it for yourself to either love it or hate it.

You can pick up a copy of Scrap Mettle over at Amazon or at Bud Plant where you get an exclusive and limited bookplate signed by Morse. And if you want to check out some of Scott Morse’s artwork and keep up with his ongoings, visit his website and his blog.



Messiah of Evil

In my continued attempt to highlight some of the best of the worst zombie-related horror flicks I’ve had the privilege of sitting through, today's featured movie is...

In 1962, maybe four, even five people saw Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls; the story of a young girl who mysteriously survives what should’ve been a fatal car accident only to be haunted by a creepy apparition when she becomes the organist for a small town church. The film was black and white, low-budget, and very surreal. Eventually, it would grow to cult status among the horror-loving community.

In 1968, a young Pittsburgh filmmaker named George Romero directs Night of the Living Dead; the father of all zombie movies to come. Night of the Living Dead focuses on a small group of folks who hold up in a farmhouse after the dead inexplicably come back to life. The film was black and white, low-budget, and rather graphic for its time. Eventually, it would grow to cult status among the horror-loving community.

In 1974, after writing American Graffiti for George Lucas and before they worked on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Howard the Duck, writers/directors Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz moved onto their newest project, a small budget horror flick titled Messiah of Evil.

Messiah of Evil (aka Dead People, Revenge of the Screaming Dead, The Second Coming) centers on a young woman (Marianna Hill in the role of Arietty) who has arrived at the coastal town of Point Dune in search of her missing father. In his recent letters, Arietty’s father believes he is being enveloped by evil and losing his mind. Being a dutiful and concerned daughter, Arietty does some searching and stumbles onto the strange townspeople of Point Dune, a rich playboy (Michael Greer) and his two female companions who are investigating the town’s supernatural history, and eventually the real reason behind her father’s disappearance.

Like Carnival of Souls, Messiah has an abstract, somnambulant feel that makes the viewer feel like they are watching an extended dream sequence. Everything is a bit hazy and you’re not quite sure if what you’re experiencing is real or a product of Areitty’s overly distressed imagination. Even when they introduce a few outside characters to clue you in on the reality of the situation, you get the sense that the plot is playing out like a study in mass hysteria, especially when the supernatural elements kick into high gear. Beach fires and arcane rituals. Rat eating albino locals. Talk of a rising Blood Moon. Ramblings of the second coming of a Dark Stranger. It all adds up to a muddled, ambiguous narrative that owes its tone to the macabre Italian horror genre made famous by Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, and Dario Argento. But to balance those elements, Messiah of Evil looked to Night of the Living Dead and imported ferocious, visceral, cannibalistic zombies. See for yourself in this creepy 6-minute theater scene from the movie…

Quote of Note:

Supernatural aficionado/Bored playboy/Thom: Would you mind unzipping…my vest.

Arietty unzips his vest and walks away slowly, half looking back in his direction. Thom leaps at Arietty, grabs her in his arms, and pulls the woman tightly towards his chest.

Thom: You can’t unzip a man and walk away.

It’s not going to make many top-ten cult classics lists and, understandably, most horror lovers would rather spend their time with Suspiria, The Beyond, and Vampyr. But before you dismiss Messiah of Evil as derivative-70’s-wannabe-Italian-horror-zombie fare, hunt down a copy on DVD, and watch it for yourself. Fortunately, the film has fallen into pubic domain and is readily available in cheap two packs, horror movie collections, or just download it right here. Unfortunately, until someone like Anchor Bay gets their hands on Messiah of Evil and produces a remastered version of the film, you’ll have to settle for a sub par transfer.



I Eat Your Skin

In my continued attempt to highlight some of the best of the worst zombie-related horror flicks I’ve had the privilege of sitting through, today's featured movie is...

As you watch the first few minutes before the credits roll in 1964’s I Eat Your Skin (aka Eat Your Skin, Voodoo Blood Bath, Zombie), the viewer is treated to a scantily clad bikini babe dancing her cheeks off in the middle of a voodoo ritual.

And then they bring out a goat.

Immediately you get the impression that this is either going to be greatest crappy horror movie ever made or…just crap. Luckily, if you’re anything like me, the mixture of camp, comedy, horror, scantily clad women, 60’s swinging sexuality, voodoo priests, calypso music, and zombies will make the movie an automatic cult classic in the vein of Horror of Party Beach and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies (yes, that’s a real movie…seriously).

So here’s the skinny: In 1970, Cinemation Industries’ distributor Jerry Gross was in search of a horror movie for a double bill he was putting together. He already had his first film - the in-house produced I Drink Your Blood. Somewhere along the way, Gross stumbles onto the unreleased Voodoo Blood Bath that had been gathering dust for six years. Of course, to draw in the kids, Voodoo Blood Bath is changed to I Eat Your Skin in order to work better with I Drink Your Blood. And there you have it! Instant money maker!

The plot: The hero, successful writer/ladies man/James Bond stand-in Tom Harris (William Joyce), is forced to travel to Voodoo Island by his alcoholic agent to conduct research for his latest opus. You see, a scientist is working on a cure for cancer on said remote island and his professional advice would be invaluable. Along with the agent’s wife (expertly/annoyingly portrayed by actress Betty Hyatt Linton) and the scientist’s beautiful young daughter, the foursome almost fall into the clutches of voodoo-loving natives (thus the name of the island), a world conquering wannabe, and (you betcha) zombies.

The verdict: Contrary to the movie’s title, there is no eating of skin to speak of. None. Not even a little cannibalism by the Voodoo Island natives. As for the zombies, their makeup is best described as dried oatmeal for skin and egg yokes for eyes. Yummy but not creepy by any means.

The film’s saving grace comes at the hands of our hero in his full campy, swinging glory. When he’s not fighting off the undead with machetes and boxes of TNT, Harris surrounds himself with a crowd of bikini babes or busies himself by wooing impressionable young women into the night…and into the morning (woo!). All that and the playboy still finds the time to get up early and write his next best-selling novel.

If all that sounds interesting, you have no choice but to see I Eat You Skin for yourself. DVD you ask? Oh yeah. You can buy your own copy right here.



King of the Zombies

In my continued attempt to highlight some of the best of the worst zombie-related horror flicks I’ve had the privilege of sitting through, today's featured movie is...

King of the Zombies (1941) begins with our hero (Bill Summers played by John Archer), his loyal servant (Mantan Moreland as Jefferson 'Jeff' Jackson), and pilot James 'Mac' McCarthy (Dick Purcell) flying over the Caribbean in search of a downed Navy Admiral. A savage storm forces the trio to crash land on a nearby island where they are fortunate to find the mansion residence of the creepy Dr. Mikhail Sangre (Henry Victor). Unfortunately, the trio find that the not-so-good doctor is mixing it up with Nazis, local voodoo rituals, and (you guessed it) zombies. Horror and hilarity ensue, the latter coming from Moreland’s portrayal of the trusty sidekick.

It would be easy (and understandable) to label Mantan Moreland’s performance as a racial stereotype of blacks in American society and entertainment during the 30’s and 40’s. Throughout the movie, you can see the “black face” caricature come through in Moreland’s mannerisms and dialogue. So if you you’ve actually watched the movie and hate it for that reason alone, I don’t blame you. But, for my part, what could easily be dismissed as uninspired, black-and-white horror film fodder is elevated to cult horror/comedy classic status behind Moreland’s comic genius. Along with such actors as Sam McDaniel and Stepin Fetchit, Moreland was the master of the nervous, easily terrified valet.

Aside from Moreland, the film doesn’t have too many highlights. Main baddie Henry Victor plays his part as a taller Bela Lugosi, which makes sense since Lugosi was the first choice for the evil Dr. Sangre (obviously, Lugosi declined, along with Peter Lorre). And at 67-minutes in length, King of Zombies feels like it could’ve been a really long Three Stooges skit or one of the Abbott and Costello meets (insert ghoul here) series of films. At least during its initial release, King of the Zombies was nominated for a Oscar in the Best Musical Score of a Dramatic Picture category. But don't let all that 1940s critical acclaim fool you; this is an entertaining b-movie romp of the undead variety.

Quote of note 1:

Main hero Bill Summer (John Archer): "When a man's dead he's dead."

Trust sidekick Jefferson 'Jeff' Jackson (Mantan Moreland): "Well supposin' he's dead and don't know it?"

Quote of note 2:

Kitchen maid Samantha (Marguerite Whitten): "Imagine that, us havin' a white zombie for dinner."

If you have anything other than a dial-up connection (or a lot of patience), you can actually watch the movie online for free courtesy of the Internet Archive. The public domain film is available for streaming and download right here.

However, if you feel the unexplained urge to add King of Zombies to your movie collection, the DVD is available here.



The Thirsty Dead

Planet Terror, the second half of the Tarantino/Rodriquez helmed Grindhouse two-biller, hits DVD shelves everywhere today. In celebration of the grindhouse genre and the recent outpouring of undead love, I wanted to highlight some of the best of the worst zombie-related horror flicks I’ve had the privilege of sitting through. First up…

They need a special liquid to stay young. It is red, thick and warm!

The Thirsty Dead (aka Blood Hunt, The Blood Cult of Shangri-La) was released in 1974 and revolves around four young girls who are taken captive in Manila by a cult who drinks “red, thick, and warm” liquid to maintain their immortality. The liquid in question? Um, blood, of course. Obviously, the creative marketing executive who thought up the movie’s tagline felt it would be even creepier not to use the word “blood”.


During the 88-minutes running time, the four girls overact their way through pagan rituals, PG torture scenes, failed escape attempts, and poorly edited attacks by potato sack-cloth wearing zombies.

Quote of note:

Captive girl 1/Claire the stripper: “The girl most likely to be sacrificed to a pagan god. Oh well, think of the honor of it.

Captive girl 2/Laura the heroine/Girl being sacrificed: “I don’t mind.”

Warning: This movie sucks in the best possible way. Subtle scenes of 70’s sexuality, un-graphic gore, and dismal special effects. Do not watch it unless you are a true zombie fanatic, drunk, drinking, or desperate. If you happen to fall into at least two of those categories, you can order your own DVD of The Thirsty Dead right here.



R.I.P. Draven 08/21/1994 - 10/02/2007

In respect to my best bud's best bud.


Attic Bugs

I had a chance to meet fellow artist/creative genius J. Chris Campbell at Wizard Chicago this past August and we got along like gangbusters.

J. Chris was nice enough to share a copy of his Zig Zag comic with me and after reading it, I fell in love with his little critters - The Attic Bugs. So here's my rendition of the two bugs enjoying a nice bike ride...
And make sure to visit J. Chris' blog this October and check out the month-long monster love!