Another feature of...
Plot: Viet Nam vets take back the Street! Again!
Coming fairly late in the "vigilante Viet Nam vets" cycle – a full five years, for example, after the somewhat similar Kill Squad – The Annihilators proves yet another cheesy Death Wish knock off. Once again a violent, if admirably multi-ethnic, gang of scum have taken over the streets. Luckily, one squad of warriors ain’t playing that no more.
With an opening credit sequence seemingly designed to invoke the A-Team, we head back to the war to meet an elite team of soldiers. Or so we’re told, anyway, as their Sarge confirms that "you’re the best there is." If so, it explains why we lost the war.
Ray, the group’s Psycho Guy (Gerrit Graham!), for instance, spots a tripwire while on patrol. (Probably because it’s clearly in plain sight, which sort of gets away from the ‘booby trap’ thing.) Now, a tripwire can mean a lot of things, but Ray leans against a tree, puts his canteen atop his noggin – did guys in Viet Nam really have plastic canteens? -- and treads on the line. A log with a spike swings down and impales the container. Man, if a really, really unobservant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had been stumbling through the area he might have been skewered right through the head! All the cagey Ray has to worry about, meanwhile, is dying of thirst due to a lack of drinking water.
The team moves on. Aside from Ray and Sarge, the grizzled squad leader; there’s Garrett, the Black Guy (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs!), Woody, the, uh, other guy; and Joey, the lovable Guy-From-Brooklyn-esque nebbish. Eventually the guys meet up with some VC and Joey is shot down while crying out a warning.
Cut to "ATLANTA NOW." Or the Atlanta of 1985, anyway. We catch up with Joey, now confined to a wheelchair. Rolling down a desolate urban street, he pauses to scoop up some garbage and toss it into a trashcan. But then kids run by and knock it over, spilling the entire contents to the ground. (It’s a Metaphor! Or something.) Joey then joins some small shop owners in complaining about the extortion payments they must make to the local band of miscreants. Joey proposes standing up to them, but the others are unsure. The group also includes the Obligatory Quisling, who fearfully counsels not rocking the boat. "They leave us something," he blats.
Later the gang, having learned of Joey’s impudence, accosts him in his grocery. For those who have never seen one of these things before, the gang is comprised of Roy Boy (!), The Sadistic Leader; the Redneck, the Black Guy, and the Muscular Bald Dude. Joey is tied up, beaten and forced to watch as the Black Guy eats his chips – without paying! – while Redneck Guy molests and then murders a buxom customer wearing only teeny blue panties under her dress. (Sadly, this would prove to be actress Becky Harris’ only role. Farewell, Becky, I’ll never forget how you flashed your breasts for the camera and then were stabbed to death. Well, OK, I probably will.) Then they hack off one of Joey’s fingers and stove in his head with a meat tenderizer. Boy, that guy just can’t catch a break. Anyway, if you haven’t gotten the point yet, it’s that the street gang is EEEEEEE-vil. Oddly, though, this bit pretty much used up the entire film’s nastiness quotient. After this it’s PG mayhem at best. Action fans hoping for a hardcore Exterminator-esque sleazefest – seemingly promised by the video box’s hilariously misleading Frazetta-like cover art -- will find the remainder of events distressingly innocuous.
Cut to Joey’s funeral, which Sarge is attending. Need I mention that, like Joey, he hasn’t aged a day since the war, or that his hair is the exact same length as it was then? You’ve really got to like a hairstyle to still be wearing it fifteen years later. Angered by Joey’s fate (sort of, actor Christopher Stone, being, shall we say, aptly named), and realizing what kind of movie he’s in, Sarge contacts the other squad members. We next see Garrett in a heartrending – well, more nearly stomach rending -- scene, as he leaves behind his loving wife and son to join the effort. This thirty second of ‘characterization’ behind us, we move on to watch Ray as he joins up with Garrett and Sarge. Garrett’s wearing a T-shirt and suit - jacket - with - the - sleeves - pulled - up combo that perhaps, just maybe, was inspired by Miami Vice. Finally the group picks up Woody, who now appears to be more or less a drunken bum. He’s the only one for which this situation represents a step up in life.
Soon the four are instructing the locales on self-defense techniques. Hmm, either this film is ripping off Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, or vice-versa. Soon the citizens are taking back the streets, much to the displeasure of Roy Boy and his gang. We also get the obligatory subplot about the cop angered by having vigilantes in his midst. (Humorously, this guy’s the only person in the film who affects a Southern accent, despite the film being set in Georgia.) Meanwhile, Woody learns from a homeless woman, due to his ability to quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning -- don’t ask – that it was Roy Boy and his punks that killed Joey.
Woody, Garrett and Ray see the killers enter a deserted building. Deciding that the chance is too good to pass up, they decide to skip waiting for Sarge and attempt an ambush. Thinks go awry, however, and the gang members escape. Then more stuff happens, or, in this case, doesn’t happen. Eventually Ray is killed during a gun battle while protecting a young child – not the most effectively filmed sequence I’ve ever seen – in a rather halfhearted attempt to inject some pathos into the proceedings. This is followed by a cop reporting to his superior that they’ve "got bodies shot up all over the alley," despite us clearly seeing that there was a sole fatality there.
Given the kind of movie this is, it’s not the bad guys who’re brought in by the cops, it’s Our Heroes. Even so, Ray’s death has hardened the resolve of the survivors. Quickly sprung, the guys examine Ray’s plan to set up a "Hogan’s Alley," a booby trap laden zone to lure the gang into. This is all part of their master plan to highjack one of the gang’s newly arrived drug shipments, which would in turn get the gang in hot water with the Columbians. Or something. I don’t know, does it really matter?
For this purpose they ambush Roy Boy’s crew right after the drug pickup, instigating another shootout. Being outnumbered, the three are soon in some distress. However, a mystery person purloins the truck with the drugs in it, stopping only to rescue Sarge. At this they drive off, Roy Boy and his guys following close behind. Garrett and Woody, wondering whom their benefactor is, head off to trigger the arranged traps. Their planning pays off and Roy Boy and his gang are cut off from pursuit. (Of course, better booby traps would have finished the gang off entirely. However, there’s still a half hour of running time left, so they can’t really kill off the bad guys yet.)
Soon all heck breaks loose – the film’s budget won’t afford for any ‘hell’ – and Roy Boy shows up for a showdown armed with a flamethrower. (!!) In a bit that seemed a trifle farfetched, the quisling who throughout the entire film has advocated subservience to the gang decides this is the right time to go out and "make a deal." Needless to say, he almost reaps the Coward’s Reward, although he is saved from a fiery death by one of his fellows. (It seems a little weird to bring a flamethrower into a picture like this and then not kill anyone with it, but there you go, that’s the movie in a nutshell.) Meanwhile, get ready to use your remote when a gang member drops an M16 from a rooftop. Watched in slo-mo, the fact that the falling weapon is a rubber prop is all too apparent.
Another rather lame gunfight breaks out. The fact that no one seems able to hit anyone else hardly serves to heighten our interest level. Hell, in Death Wish 3 Charles Bronson was mowing ‘em down by the dozens at this point. Moreover, our three protagonists just seem to run around randomly, somewhat undercutting the film’s contention that they are highly skilled elite soldier dudes. Sarge continues blasting away with one of the most magical self-loading guns I’ve ever seen. He must fire off a thousand rounds or more here, considering that he’s blazing away in full auto, and without ever seeming to reload. Not that he manages to hit much anyway.
Here the locals start beating out a recurring one-two-three tattoo with whatever implements are at hand. This is supposed to be a ‘big’ moment, auguring their intentions to join the fight, but it didn’t exactly have chills running down my back. The fact that the signal beat can be barely heard, when it should be ear-smashingly loud, might have something to do with it. Still, one woman tosses boiling water on a gang member from her upstairs window (ow!), and another hood somehow ends up with a prop cleaver attached to his back. "They’re all fighting!" one guy notes. "I mean everybody!" This while the camera pans around to show that, in fact, no one is fighting.
Cornered (well, supposedly), and having seen Dirty Harry, Roy Boy has an underling grab a nearby bus full of kids. When he threatens to start killing the children, Sarge has no choice but to tell Garrett to get the gang’s truckload of drugs. However, some of the older kids had seen Ray’s earlier demonstration on how to stab somebody in the throat with a pencil – another urban mentoring program pays off -- and they manage to kill their guard. Frankly, Roy Boy’s bunch isn’t exactly bucking for membership in the Miscreant’s Hall of Fame. The bus drives off and the rather slapdash gun fighting antics resume. Ho hum.
Garrett drives up with the drug truck, but seeing that the situation has changed (I guess), he jumps out and starts blazing away. Amazingly, he actually manages to hit a couple of guys. Meanwhile, a girl that Woody’s developed a crush on gets kidnapped. This leads to about the film’s only hand-to-hand fighting sequence, and it’s way too little, way too late. Meanwhile, even Quisling Guy is getting into the spirit. However, although he successfully attacks the gang’s Muscular Bald Guy – oh, yeah, I’d have picked the gang’s biggest member too – he decides after knocking him down to stop hitting the guy (!). Maybe he thinks he’s in a slasher movie, where people often get the upper hand over the murderer only to mysteriously pause their assault. Anyhoo, this respite allows Baldie to get up, draw a knife and prepare to gut his attacker. Luckily, he is felled by a ninja star (?!) slung by Garrett.
Meanwhile, up on a rooftop Roy Boy manages to ambush Sarge. After wounding him, though, Our Villain runs out of bullets. Being the hero, Sarge moves in for some hand-to-hand action, rather than just picking up his own gun and shooting the guy. He prevails, of course, telling Roy Boy that he’ll be turned over to the cops for killing Joey. (Yeah, too bad you have no evidence or anything.) Roy Boy makes the mistake of calling Joey "a sh*tty little cripple," resulting in Sarge kicking him off the roof. Gee, who would have thought Roy Boy would end up going off the roof? Not me. No sir-ree bob. Then there’s a twist ending, or something, revealing the identity of the guy who earlier saved Sarge’s life, but it’s really not worth going into. Woody ends up giving up the booze and getting the girl. Garrett and Sarge, meanwhile, exchange some dialog meant to set up a sequel in case one was required, which, thankfully, it wasn’t.
Summary: Half-assed and surprisingly mild ‘80s trash, brought to us by the writer of Claws and the director of Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Plot: Big crocodile eats people. Again.
We open with a fairly stylish scene, reminiscent of a nightmare. Elliptically glimpsed people, treading water after leaving a sinking boat, are attacked by an unseen something. (I have my theories about what is it, though, given the art on the DVD box.) Fountains of blood erupt in the water as they are dragged from sight.
This leads us into a rather episodic picture. We open in some islands off, I think, the coast of Australia. A crew including a producer (the film’s Obligatory Rat Bastard Capitalist), a camerawoman (the film’s Obligatory Woman Who Doesn’t Flash Her Breasts for the Camera) and two surfer dudes (the Obligatory Hero and His Goofy Deadmeat Sidekick) are looking to be taken to the infamous Lido Reef. This proves an area rife with man-eating sharks. The idea is to film the guys doing some ‘blood surfing,’ which entails surfing through shark-infested waters while trailing blood behind you from open wounds. They don’t state it explicitly, but this is presumably for some ‘extreme sports’ show or other.
The sequence gets filmed, with the surfers dodging various CGI sharks. That night, though, the native family that boated our Heroes out to the reef gets et. (Albeit after the hot daughter has a Gratuitous Sex Scene with the Deadmeat Sidekick.) After this crazy old salt Dirks takes center stage, rescuing the survivors but subsequently acting out his inevitable Quint-like grudge with the enormous crocodile. Dirks, needless to say, proves to be the captain of the boat we saw in the opening scene mentioned above, when the beastie ate all his passengers.
Then there’re some pirates…things started losing focus at this point, which didn’t help things. Moreover, they didn’t have nearly a big enough budget to make this film. All the techniques to realize the croc; a bit of CGI, some hand-puppetry and miniature work, a big prop head, even a little stop-animation at the end; are not only evidently fake, but you can usually identify exactly what technique is being used at any one time. Even so, I felt a grudging respect for the filmmakers, if only for so gamely biting off more than they could chew.
I liked parts of this movie more than the sum of it, and it did start losing my interest by the end. Moreover, the characters started to become increasingly more like, well, movie characters. For instance, at one point they all start making wisecracks when a member of their party gets killed. Still, it’s not the dumbest of these I’ve seen, nor the most boring or worst acted or poorly directed. Although, between this and the recent Tobe Hooper Crocodile, you have to wonder why filmmakers think giant crocodiles can make mighty vertical leaps up from the water. In both films it looks really fake, although more so in Hooper’s movie.
Blood Surf remains, of course, horribly predictable. You can identify immediately every character that’ll end up being whacked, which is just about all of them. For instance, one woman makes it through much of the movie, but since she’d acted a bit slutty earlier, we know she’s going to get it sooner or later.
The middle part of the film, meanwhile, is almost a scene-for-scene rip-off of Jaws. Even so (or perhaps because of this), this remained my favorite part of the movie. The director also throws in, as indicated above, some exceedingly gratuitous nudity and sex, for good or bad, which is actually a bit odd these days. Between that and some of the gore the film’s almost a throwback to the more excessive ‘80s.
All together, in the Killer Crocodile/Alligator pantheon I’d put it as fairly high. (Not that that’s saying much.) It’s nowhere near the undisputed peak of the sub-genre, which remains John Sayle’s Alligator. Yet it was better than the Hooper’s Crocodile. I’d personally rate it as higher than Lake Placid – again, no great praise – although for most viewers, I’m sure, the much lamer special effects would keep them from agreeing.
The cast is OK, pretty good in fact. A better script might have allowed them to shine a little more, but at least they didn’t always look like complete idiots. (Only sometimes.) The flashiest/goofiest performance award goes to Duncan Regehr as the Quint-guy. He’s a bit of a genre vet, having played Dracula in Monster Squad and Charles in the ‘V’ TV series. Still, if you upgraded the budget a bit, and replaced Regehr with Lance Henriksen, you might have really had something. Not a great movie, certainly, but perhaps a pretty good one. Watch the scene, for example, where a guy surfs right into the jaws of the crocodile. It’s pretty badly executed, due to monetary constraints, but they had the right idea. You kind of wish they had, not tens of millions of dollars, but maybe double whatever amount they had. I have the feeling that a bit more money might have resulted in a much better picture.
The DVD comes with extra footage that’s pretty interesting, mostly special effects stuff that didn’t work – shots of the croc puppet where you can see the hand slit, for instance.
The film was directed by pro hack James D.R. Hickox (Children of the Corn III), who comes from a family of such. His brother is Anthony Hickox, who directed Waxwork and its sequel and the fitfully amusing Mario Van Peebles werewolf/cop flick Full Eclipse. Their father, meanwhile, was Douglas Hickox, who in his time directed such fare as The Giant Behemoth and the lovely Vincent Price classic Theatre of Blood. His sons, meanwhile, have become cinematic jacks-of-all-trades. Aside from writing they act, produce, edit, do cinematography, etc., often on each other’s films. James returns to the big beastie flick sometime in 2002, with the scheduled Sabretooth.
Summary: I can’t really defend it, but I kinda enjoyed it.
The Curse of the Screaming Dead
Plot: The South Rises again. Or at least some deceased Johnny Rebs do.
We open with some economical ‘establishing shots,’ apparently taken by a guy shooting out the window of a moving car. Unsurprisingly, these images tend to be a little shaky. The vehicle pulls to the side of the road and we see that it’s one of those teeny ‘70s RVs. Three scruffy looking guys are in the cab. Mel is the jerk, Bill is the One Becoming Responsible and Wyatt is the One Who Looks Like George Harrison. Their Lynard Skynard haircuts, facial hair and leather and denim jackets tell us we’re down South in the ‘70s, as does their habit of downing beer as they drive. This stop allows for an excruciatingly long ‘character’ dialog sequence – lasting four straight minutes -- during which we learn that one guy has a new girlfriend and another has a ring they spotlight, meaning that we’ll be seeing it later. [Future Ken: Actually, the ring turns out to have nothing much to do with nothing.]
Finally, a less than artful segue takes us into the RV’s interior. We meet blonde Sarah, brunette Lin, who sports a Joyce Dewitt haircut, and Jill’s sister Kiyomi, who is blind. (And none too convincingly, I might add.) We are unsurprised about this, since the opening credits promised a "Blind Kiyomi." Lin is a harsh taskmistress, bent on teaching Blind Kiyomi to act in a self-sufficient manner. The girls begin to decry hunting. "Everything has a right to live," Joan exclaims. Gee, I wonder if this will prove an ‘ironic’ remark later in the film. We also learn that Mel and Bill are ex-Marines. Blind Kiyomi notes that it’s hot (oh, brother), and begins searching for her bikini. This inevitably prompts Sarah and Lin to strip down – no, no nudity, chaps, sorry -- and change into their bikinis as well.
More time-wasting character stuff ensues, followed by the entire gang unpacking their gear. Mel explains that he’s brought "exploding bullets," by which he means, I suppose, those Teflon super-kill things. Of course, with the kind of movie we’re looking at here, they might just literally mean "exploding" bullets. Hmm, I wonder if these will be used against the titular Screaming Dead later in the proceedings? Blind Kiyomi has a crush on Mel, and they brought fireworks, and…oh, why bother. The best bit is when she complains after Mel fires his gun. "I can’t take loud noises," she says. (Hey, will her enhanced Blind Girl hearing come into play later in the film?) Yes, that’s the kind of person to take on a hunting trip, I guess. Then it’s off into the brush with their guns and giant cooler full of beer.
Suddenly, Blind Kiyomi’s enhanced Blind Girl hearing comes into play. (That didn’t take long!) She hears bells, ones the others don’t. "Blind people generally have better hearing than the rest of us," Sarah explains. Mel goes to check things out while the others settle down for a rest. Mel wanders around for a good long while, eating up the old running time. Eventually he comes across a remote graveyard festooned with Styrofoam headstones. He also finds, and explores at tedious length, the ruins of a church. The blaring and quite lame music during all of this ain’t exactly helping, either. Eventually, he finds a trunk containing an old Confederate flag and a diary.
At this the bells toll again loudly, so that all can hear them. Or maybe only Blind Kiyomi can, I couldn’t really tell. Oh, only Mel didn’t hear them. Whatever. "They sounded like a funeral," Sarah notes, whatever that means. Then Mel leads the others to his find. They examine the old flag, note that there’re "fifty or sixty guys" buried in the graveyard, and other such stuff. Stuff, that is, of the Time-Wasting variety. Blind Kiyomi, meanwhile, proves to be the designated Girl Who Knows Something Sinister Is Afoot. Wyatt agrees that the flag should be left behind, despite Sarah – who turns out to be quite the bitch -- snorting that it only belongs to some "dead rabbles [sic]." That’s rebels, dear.
Sarah stalks off, ending up *gasp* in the graveyard. Here they’ve obviously completely altered its previously established position to the church. I guess they thought no one would notice. Then we get a couple of gag tombstones, one for Tonny Starke (the film’s ‘story’ was provided by Tony Starke) and another for John Carpenter. What a homage! Boy, the buttons must be popping off of Carpenter’s vest, eh? Then Sarah gets scared by something. Oh, I guess the stone cross she was leaning against ‘moved.’ Ooooh, spooky. I’m sorry if I sound kind of incoherent, but some films are hard to track.
Anyway, the group camps for the night, drinking beer and wasting more of our time. Let’s see, Blind Kiyomi and Mel make out (yuck), Sarah gets scared by a bug, and so on. Then they see a bunch of lights off in the woods. Although, and this is pretty funny, they didn’t have the budget to actually show this. Instead, the actors just stand around and describe the lights to Blind Kiyomi. Meanwhile, we cut away and see -- sort of, it’s pretty darn murky -- your standard Dead Rising From Their Graves sequence. Here we do see flashes of light, where they apparently scratched the film negative with a pin (!). Ooh, ahh, special effects. This is all, needless to say, portrayed in slo-mo, and takes rather more time than was perhaps strictly necessary. Let’s just say that I wasn’t exactly filled with awe and terror at the sight. Still…hmm, zombies, campers…OK, I think I see where they’re heading with this.
Later that night we see (three guesses) some long, boring footage of the three couples in their tents. In one, Blind Kiyomi asks Mel to read to her. From this she learns that he took the diary from the churchyard. Oh, boy, that’s just the sort of excuse the Living Dead are always looking for to justify their flesh-eating escapades. Anyhoo, a zombie stumbles into camp – literally, of course -- and the guys team up and manage to kill it…somehow. But other zombies approach. (Oddly, one of them is the one they just killed, which is supposedly still lying at their feet!!) "Spread out," Wyatt calls, which
There’s an attack sequence, although it’s so poorly lit that we can’t really see much. Wyatt, having seen Night of the Living Dead, calls out to "Aim for their heads!" Following this we see a zombie noggin violently blow up, presumably the result of one of Mel’s ‘exploding bullets.’ Then…man, how do I even describe this? Anyway, Wyatt drops a paper grocery bag, supposedly containing the previously established fireworks, into the campfire. They then explode – sort of – causing some of the zombie heads to explode. (??) All this, by the way, is indicated by matting actual fireworks explosions, like the ones from the credits of Love American Style or The Honeymooners, over further under-lit footage of the zombies. This in not one of the more successful special effects concepts I’ve ever seen.
The characters make their escape. The zombies, meanwhile, search the camp -- well, OK, one backpack -- presumably looking for the diary that Mel still has in his coat pocket. Then it’s the next morning, whereupon we find our cast lost in the woods. (Great, it’s "The Blair Witch Project 1979.") Yeah, right, three hunters in the woods and no one has a compass. Then the zombies pop up and attack and stuff, all of which is, you guessed it, boring. I have to say, Marine combat training back in those days wasn’t very impressive. Still, there are stray good bits, like when you can clearly see a suburban house behind characters supposedly lost in the ‘deep woods.’
Eventually evening approaches again, and the characters look for a place to camp. Mel and Lin wander off, and bump into some cops. You know, the deep woods type of cops. They talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, and finally one cop goes off to reconnoiter. Then it’s rather suddenly night. The one cop off on his own gets attacked in a less than entirely chilling sequence – we can see that the zombie attacking him is wearing a rubber mask, and some of the footage is undercranked, like in a Benny Hill routine -- while the other characters end up by the police car.
The zombies attack the group, and a lame (in)action sequence results. If I were to guess, I’d say it was a really untalented guy’s version of the siege scenes in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Anwhoo, Bill and the other cop buy it and get gorily et up via the "stuff entrails in the actor’s shirt" f/x technique, the cop car somehow gets blown up (don’t ask me) and the survivors run back into the woods. Needless to say, this all takes a lot longer to watch than to describe. The ‘munching on the guts’ scenes alone last a good, or rather bad, three minutes.
The survivors split up -- good idea -- with Sarah and Blind Kiyomi going off with Mel and Lin and Wyatt heading their own way. Then it’s back to the zombies for a couple more minutes of munching-on-the-guts stuff. Finally the Lead Zombie gives a sort of Rebel Yell (see the title) -- and calls his, er, men back into formation. Soon they attack Mel’s party – cripes, this is dull stuff – and it just goes on and on. They are beaten off, but Blind Kiyomi is hurt. Mel grabs her up and the three run of to find Wyatt and Lin. Then they run into more zombies – please, shoot me – and Mel accidentally shoots Wyatt when the latter wonders into view. Despite the whole ‘exploding’ bullet thing, Wyatt only takes a minor shoulder wound, and doesn’t seem very upset by the whole thing. Talk about maintaining an even strain.
The characters find an ‘abandoned’ farmhouse, just like the one in, hey, Night of the Living Dead. Needless to say, they are quickly besieged. Here the others learn of the diary, which records how the Reb soldiers had been tortured to death by Northern troops. Outside, the zombies all start incoherently yelling, so as to justify the film’s title. There’s some gobbledygook about voodoo or something, I don’t know, my brain doesn’t work so good anymore, and Blind Kiyomi and Sarah get et up, and then Mel buys it of course, because he started it all, and then Wyatt and Lin give back the diary and the zombies walk off and the movie, thankfully, just ends.
The saddest thing is that this is a remake (!) of director Tony Malanowski’s own earlier Night of Horrors (1978). Actors Steve Sandkuhler (Wyatt) and Rebecca Bach (Sarah) apparently appeared in that one, too. In fact, Bach was credited with the script for the first film. Rumor has it that the original is even worse (?!) somehow. I’m not really sure I want to find out.
Sandkuhler appeared only in these two films, and no one who’s seen this will question why. Christopher "Mel" Gummer – Gummer, not Plummer – however, appeared not only in our current subject but in The Alien Factor and Nightbeast. (Gosh, the guy’s a regular Bela Lugosi.) Hilariously, while Gummer didn’t appear in both of Tony Malanowski’s Confederate Zombie films, he did the same thing for director Don Dohler, whose Nightbeast is basically a remake of his earlier The Alien Factor. Unfortunately, Gummer didn’t go for the trifecta when Dohler remade the story again in The Galaxy Invader.
Rebecca Bach only did the two Malanowski films. Jim Ball (Bill) only appeared here. The IMDB says he also appeared in a TV movie called Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan, as "Militant Black Man." Since the Jim Ball here is white, though, I think it might not be the same guy. Mark Redfield, who (sorta) played the Zombie Captain, only appeared in this until 1997, when he was in a TV movie called In the Grip of Evil. The following year he wrote, starred in and directed the obscure Conjuring Aurora. Then he retired, I guess. Richard Ruxton (The Police Chief) appeared with Christopher Gummer in Nightbeast, and then went on to be in The Galaxy Invader. Then, after a nearly fifteen-year gap, he appeared in Barry’s Gift (1999) and the TV movie Harvesters (2001). Thus, with five credits, he had the best movie career of anyone in the cast. Sadly, his "mini-biography" on the IMDB reports "His best known role is as Captain Hal Fritz in The Curse of the Screaming Dead." Yep, he’s with the Immortals now.
Malanowski himself went on to cable movie fame by editing such Cinemax mainstays as Judy Landers’ Dr. Alien and Dinosaur Valley Girls. Many of the films he edited, mainly for schlock mainstay David Prior, sported prominent B-Movie casts. Felony co-starred (get this) Jeffrey Combs, Leo Rossi, Charles Napier, David Warner, Joe Don Baker and Lance Henriksen. Mutant Species has Rossi, again, as well as Denise Crosby, Powers Booth and Wilford Brimley (!). Raw Justice boasts Rossi (a third time), Robert Hays, Pamela Anderson, David Keith, Charles Napier again, and Stacy Keach. Deadly Embrace sported Jan-Michael Vincent, Jack Carter, Michelle Bauer and Linnea Quigley. Malanowski also worked on Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers with the latter two. Night of Horror and Curse of the Screaming Dead remain his only directorial efforts, and thank goodness.
Summary: Amateurish stuff, about two steps up from a home movie and twice as boring.
Plot: Swamp monster antics.
I miss the days of regional filmmaking. Not because the movies were any good, since they usually sucked. Still, the heyday of video brought to a national audience the work of many auteurs previously unknown outside their narrow territories. The drive-in circuits of the ‘60s and ‘70s allowed for exploitation flicks to be made locally and turn a profit whilst only being shown in the surrounding area. Then the video era in early ‘80s, before many of the major studios had committed to the format, briefly reenergized the phenomena.
Earl Owensby is perhaps the most famous of these auteurs. An ex-marine and local businessman, he built a movie studio in North Carolina and pumped out films in which he generally played the lead. These tended to be, unsurprising, mostly action and horror fare. Other such filmmakers included Larry Buchanan in Texas; Bill "Capture of Bigfoot" Rebane of Wisconsin; William Girdler in his early days in Kentucky (details of which can be found at the superlative williamgirdler.com, one of the premiere film sites on the web); William Grefe down in Florida – see the awesome Death Curse of Tartu/Sting of Death DVD, which includes commentaries for both films from Grefe, moderated by cult director Frank Henenlotter; and many others.
Unsurprisingly, though, many such efforts didn’t result in ongoing cinematic careers. Don Keesler made Bog in Wisconsin, and not much else. The same here. Terror in the Swamp co-directors Joe Catalanotto and Martin Folse didn’t do much aside from making this film down in the swamps of Houma, Louisiana. But hey, they tried, and my cap’s off to them.
We open with a Monsta -- as in Dr. Freex’s classic formulation, "Rah, I’m a Monsta!" -- growl and the title in blood red letters. This is, at least, a better idea than beginning things with sustained close-ups of the film’s no doubt low-rent monster suit. See Octoman for an example of the latter. However, I could have hoped for something better than a collage of swamp footage. (Or maybe I couldn’t.) Anyway, we do get the obligatory Monsta POV shots. There’s some water. There’s a gator. There’s some swamp. There’s a crawdad. There’s a…well, you get the idea. This goes on for a while. If you guessed the lighting on all these segments might not perfectly match, give yourself a cookie.
An injured (or something) otter looks like it’s going to be Monsta food. However, the unseen beastie is distracted by a nearby shotgun report. This issued from your standard Scuzzy Swamp Poacher. And, yes, he is drinking from a bottle of hooch, now that you ask. This fellow, needless to say, proves a bit more tempting than that scrawny li’l otter. Actually, given latter events, the animal is probably a nutria (also called a coypu), a small beaver-like aquatic rodent. The guy shoots the nutria – hey, when your time’s up, it’s up – gaining the attention of Frank, the local game warden. The latter is riding around in one of those airfoil boats that constitute the primary special effect in ninety percent of movies filmed in swampland. (See the previously mentioned Sting of Death for more airfoil action.) However, by the time he arrives it’s…too late. The poacher’s been mauled by a barely glimpsed Furry Whatzit.
Frank finds the body, which looks OK except for a bottle of ketchup that apparently was spilled over the guy’s head. By the way, did you ever notice that in many movies like this, featuring a creature that presumably kills people for food, the bodies almost always get left behind. What’s up with that? If the Monsta here isn’t killing for food, why is it killing? Because it’s a Monsta, and that’s what Monstas do? I don’t know, that kind of writing’s just lazy.
We follow this with a scene on the town fishing dock, allowing for some of the director’s friends – or maybe investors -- to make cameos and provide a little local color. If you ever thought there couldn’t be any examples of Cornpone Humor too stupid to be used on Hee Haw, try this:
"Hey, Cal. Do you know why I don’t go elephant huntin’?"
The Sheriff and various cops and medical authorities arrive at the dock, meeting Frank as he brings in the body. (Another advantage of making movies in your backyard is cooperation from thrilled neighbors. One doubts the filmmakers paid for the ambulance and police cars we see in this scene.) The coroner is stumped by the condition of the body. The wounds, supposedly grievous, don’t correspond to anything known to be in the swamp.
Soon we catch additional glimpses of a Bigfoot-like creature in the swamp. This is also witnessed by Jesse, a scuzzily bearded Jr. Samples-type local in dirt caked overalls. He tries for a shot at the beast, but ends up nearly shooting his equally obese and even sweatier brother T-Bob. T-Bob had heard a strange howl, dropped his shotgun and run off. He and Jesse backtrack to reclaim his gun, only to find that its barrel has been bent back. Back home (which proves a rather nice place), they are berated by their White Lightnin’-swillin’, Mean Ol’ Son O’ a Bitch Papa Joe. I always like to give a film credit when I can, and I like T-Bob complaining that he’s only had his ruined shotgun for two years. It’s a throwaway line, but for rural folks a good long arm represents a major investment, and it’s a nice bit of color to acknowledge it. Assuming the incident was a trick by some rival poacher, Pa orders his sons to follow him back out there.
Meanwhile, we meet an older guy called the Professor and a younger fellow named Spenser. Spenser thinks they should "go to the authorities," the Professor refuses. Uh, oh, it’s Science Gone Amok again. Like all Mad Scientists, the Professor fears becoming a "laughingstock in the scientific community." (That just be a very enclosed world, considering how many laughingstocks they’ve had over the years – not to mention how often they’ve pronounced one of their members to be mad.) When Spenser offers take the blame, the Professor notes that he sounds like "Baron Von Frankenstein." Uh…Ok.
As if this wasn’t all damning enough, the two are soon meeting with two very suspicious guys. After all, one is clearly a foreigner, the other a dude in a conservative three-piece suit. For those not up on their ‘80s couture, the vest clearly identifies the latter guy as a Businessman. And since he’s the sort of Businessman who’d wear a vest, he’s all but wearing an "I’m Evil" sign. The two are threatening to stop funding the Professor’s research unless they get the inevitable Immediate Results. Gee, I hope this doesn’t cause the Professor to remove whatever safeguards on his Dangerous Experiments are still in place. These involve work with nutria that will make them more useful to the *gasp* fur industry.
Meanwhile, Jesse and T-Bob are out looking for the purported poachers. Here we learn that Jesse murdered a man earlier, and that T-Bob is the archetypical Nervous Brother. They meet up with Game Warden Frank, and Jesse begins assaulting him. The much smaller Frank punches him in the groin, however, and Jesse folds up and starts vomiting. Which is what would actually happen, although in movies guys often have the amazing ability to recover from such blows in a couple of seconds. Franks warns that next time he comes into the swamp, he’ll bring the Sheriff with him.
Frank meets up with a bunch of other officials at the town diner. This includes the Game Warden Captain, the town Sheriff, a callow deputy and the Coroner. The latter explains that the evidence suggests that the dead poacher Frank found earlier had been killed by a freakishly huge nutria. His assertion is met with various degrees of derision, as nutria don’t get anywhere near that large. (Unless, of course, someone were to trod where Man Was Not Meant To Go.) Frank also makes plans to go out to Papa Joe’s place with the Deputy.
We get a (slightly) better look at the Monsta when it attacks Sally, an old swamp woman. Through a slightly opaque window we see that it’s basically a Bigfoot-type suit adorned with clawed hands. I don’t know why the Professor’s experiments to breed larger nutrias would result in a Nutriaman, but there you go. (Oh, wait, I do know why they resulted in a Nutriaman. Making the Monsta man-shaped was the easiest thing for the filmmakers to make a suit for.) A panicked Sally fires a gun at the creature and it runs off.
The Professor boats over to Papa Joe’s place. He wants to hire the clan to capture more nutria for him to work with. Meanwhile, a neighbor boats up with a nearly comatose Sally, who’s ranting about the Nutriaman. Here the Professor explains that he needs additional nutria to work with, and begins explaining about his experiments to create much bigger specimens. Hilariously, no one puts this together with Sally’s ravings about a giant nutria beast. Even so, I’m not too sure why the Professor would want to be spreading word of his work around. Given the circumstances and all. In any case, the increased bounty for the animals sends Papa Joe and his boys scrambling out to trap some.
The Professor offers to take Sally to see a doctor, but actually takes her to his lab. He shoots her up with sodium pentothal – every good scientist has some – and learns about the Nutriaman and how it’s now wounded. This makes Spenser even more nervous, and he renews his pleas to go to the authorities. Pleas that, naturally, fall on deaf ears. We also learn the origins of the creature, which is that Spenser "mistakenly" injected nutrias with human hormones. First, good laboratory. Second, man, it sure is easy to make a Monsta.
The Professor goes into town and posts notices offering a large bounty for the creature’s capture. (These blames the existence of the mutation on the local drilling done by oil companies – a touch whose drollery I can only assume is accidental.) Again, you’d think they’d want to keep the beast a secret, but what do I know?
The next day Frank and the guys have another meeting at the diner. We meet Zack, an ex-Green Beret who leads a sort of SWAT team. Zack and his crew have been ordered to go into the swamp and see what’s to be found. Then, that night, the Nutriaman lurks near Papa Joe’s house. He’s drinking when the lights go out. (Nutriaman, apparently, is quite technologically adept.) When the old man heads outside to check the generator, he’s heard screaming. The next day T-Bob finds his father’s mangled body, and Jesse vows revenge.
Various stuff happens. Drunken parties of bounty-seeking hunters, right out of Jaws, take their boats into the swamp. Meanwhile, the leaflets have put heat on the Professor, especially when he learns that his corporate sponsors are prepared to let the whole thing land in his lap. I can’t tell if this is supposed to be venal or not, but all the illegal shenanigans have been committed by the Professor. So there’s no reason why his sponsors should take any blame anyway. Anyway, since he has "the formula" (to do what, make Nutria Monstas?), the Professor decides to leave town. Sally, still being held prisoner, reveals that she knows a secret boating path through the shallows of the swamp. The Professor has Spenser load up a boat and they prepare to leave.
Zack and his team are dropped into the swamp via helicopter. Oddly, despite being a "special detachment from the Sheriff’s department," they are wearing Army-style Green Berets and camouflage gear. Even more odd is the variety of the weapons they field. Zack’s associate is carrying what appears to be an M-1 carbine, a Korean war-era rifle, while Zack sports a Mac-10 machine pistol. Frankly, neither of them moves with the grace you’d expect from Green Berets, either. Then we see a police helicopter order the numerous boats of bounty hunters to leave the swamp. One of the guys reacts to this by lifting his rifle and firing on the cops! (This movie must take place in the same universe as R.O.T.O.R.) The ‘copter wisely flies off.
Jesse, T-Bob and a pal are also slogging through the marshes. Jesse had earlier stolen some dynamite – this was when he killed that watchman – and plans on getting it and using it on the Monsta. The Professor, Spenser and Sally, meanwhile, get into some boat trouble and decide to hoof it the few miles to the highway. Frank, on his part, asks a crop dusting buddy to drop some non-lethal but highly irritating pesticides on the flotilla of hunters. (!!) The pilot does so, swooping over again and again, accompanied by Dukes of Hazzard-style banjo music. Chaos results, or as much chaos as they could achieve without actually smashing up any of the boats. Not in the budget, don’tcha know. Apparently someone thought this was pretty neat stuff, because the scene goes on for three or four straight minutes.
More low-grade hijinx ensue. Zack’s men hear something in the brush and open up, spraying automatic fire all over the place. (These guys were Green Berets?!) Inevitably, they didn’t hear the Monstra but just a hunter. Who somehow manages to avoid being cut to pieces by their fusillade. Ha. Ha. Hey, you know, it’s almost like that scene in Jaws when all the boatmen point their rifle at a ‘shark,’ only to learn that it’s two young boys playing a prank with a cardboard fin. Well, no, actually. Thinking back, that scene was both suspenseful and funny. While the scene here is neither.
Then we see more hunters. They shoot the Professor’s boat guy. (?) Man, we keep jumping around so much it’s like watching an especially boring Altman film. More stuff happens, and the Nutriaman claims some additional victims. I think. Some of these scenes are rather dark. More stuff. Eventually all the characters converge in the same area. Everyone ends up at an old houseboat where Jesse’s unpacking his explosives. The Monsta appears there, while Zack’s team has surrounded the structure, waiting for an opportunity to open fire. (They don’t know that Jesse and his sidekick are in there – T-Bob, being kind of an innocent, dropped out a while back, so that the movie didn’t have to kill him.)
And so all the villains go at once, more or less. A cackling Sally tricks the Professor and Spenser (who was a coward more than anything else) into marching into some quicksand. Meanwhile, a miscommunication sets Zack’s troops to firing into the houseboat, including with a rocket launcher. (!!) Up go the Monsta, not to mention Jesse and his sidekick. And so it goes with those who would Tamper in God’s Domain.
Summary: Those lusting for a "Bog II" will find this close enough.
-by Ken Begg