Saturday, March 31, 2012


United States/1985
Directed By: Josh Becker
Written By: Josh Becker, Sheldon Lettich, Bruce Campbell, John Becker, and Scott Spiegel
Starring: Brian Schulz, Sam Raimi, Robert Rickman
Color/83 Minutes/Not Rated

The Film
The tag line reads "When violence demands revenge..." and that about sums it up. THOU SHALT NOT KILL... EXCEPT is one of dozens of vigilante films that would be released from the late 70s through the 80s. Marine Sergeant Jack Stryker has been sent home from the Vietnam War after taking several bullets to the leg. Now at home and walking with a cane he is struggling to readjust to civilian life. After rekindling his connection with his dog Whiskey, he is persuaded to visit an on old girlfriend, Sally, by her grandfather who is a friend and owns the local bar. As Stryker hits it off with Sally some old friends come to visit him on the day of his first "big date" with Sally. They pass the time until the next morning when Stryker realizes that Sally never came to pick him up and Whiskey is missing. The group spreads out to look for Whiskey and each of them stumble across a different scene of terror and madness as a gang of drug riddled hippies have taken the campgrounds that Stryker lives near hostage and are performing bizarre acts of violence and sacrifice. Stryker visits Sally's house to find a bloody mess with her grandfather murdered on the floor and no sign of Sally. This sets up the meat and potatoes of the film, which is why we all sit down to watch it. The Marines battle it out with The Manson Family and the blood goes flying.

Shot on a microscopic budget in and around the Detroit area THOU SHALT NOT KILL...EXCEPT looks the part. It's rough around the edges, the lighting is almost entirely natural and the scenery is drab and dreary. This is just fine with me. We didn't sign up to have our minds challenged, we signed up to see some baddies get what they have coming. The acting isn't great but everyone involved is passionate and puts their all in to it. The writing is a bit slow going in the beginning but when things get going it is pedal to the metal and the action doesn't let up until the credits roll. You won't find any surprises with THOU SHALT NOT KILL...EXCEPT. What you will find is pure and shameless exploitation of the 60s and 70s, and it just feels right.

The Picture
THOU SHALT NOT KILL...EXCEPT makes it's debut on Blu-Ray with a brand new 2K high-definition transfer from the original negative in an anamorphic 1.66:1 Widescreen presentation and is generally a success. Flesh tones are represented nicely and the reds of the blood shine. Night time scenes suffer from a heavier digital noise similar to the Italian Blue Underground titles. The noise is present in other scattered scenes but to a much lesser degree. The positives certainly outweigh the negatives with a number of scenes looking fan-fucking-tastic (check the murdered sheriff shot) and I doubt the film has ever looked better or will ever look better. Please Note: Screengrabs were taken from the DVD copy of the film.

The Audio
A DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is the only available audio option and gets the job done just fine. It is a clean track free of any hiss or crackling with the dialogue coming through clear. The soundtrack (which is surprisingly good for a film of this type) is crisp and the levels are mixed appropriately so one doesn't interfere with the other.

The Extras
If you asked for quantity or quality Synapse Films would laugh and give you both. This Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack is absolutely loaded with special features.

-Made In Michigan: The Making of THOU SHALT NOT KILL...EXCEPT - This is a great documentary with several people involved in the making of the film including the director Josh Becker and Ted Raimi. Clocking in at over half an hour this covers everything from the inception to the short film that this would turn in to and international distribution.

-The original 8mm film STRYKER'S WAR starring Bruce Campbell - This is what Within The Woods was to The Evil Dead. A very cool thing to have

-Two (yes 2!) commentary tracks with director Josh Becker, star Brian Schulz and co-writer Bruce Campbell

-Deleted scene with optional director's commentary

-New video interview with Bruce Campbell

-Alternate title sequence

-Original theatrical trailer

-Reversible cover artwork

The Bottom Line
THOU SHALT NOT KILL...EXCEPT comes to us from Synapse Films and is a very impressive release. From the film itself, to the restoration work and the impressive slew of supplements I have no problem highly recommending this release. THOU SHALT NOT KILL is available for pre-order here

Film - 7.5/10
Video - 7.5/10
Audio - 8/10
Extras - 9/10
Overall - 8/10

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

PHANTASM Series Retrospective

From the opening moments of the first film in the series we are are faced with the horrors within. From The Tall Man and his surreal mind tricks, to his dwarf zombie slaves and the diabolical silver spheres, to the overbearing feeling of dread and unease. The central theme is fear and how it can play with your mind.

The first of four films, PHANTASM was released in 1979 on a very small budget but found very big results. Director Don Coscarelli used every penny of that small budget (reportedly $300,000) to have the film dripping with thick atmosphere that reminds me greatly of Lucio Fulci's City Of The Living Dead and The Beyond (with this film predating both of those films by a year or 2 respectively). There is a dream like quality to the entire production, where nothing is quite as it seems until it slaps you in the face, and even then you may be left wondering what exactly is the truth.

Jody (Bill Thornbury) has been left with the task of raising his little brother Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) after the death of their parents. He uses the family's good friend (and neighborhood ice cream man) Reggie (Reggie Bannister) for support. After the death of Tommy, Michael sees the undertaker lifting the coffin off the ground and into the hearse and drives away. This is of course The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who seems to be the ring leader in the madness surround Morningside cemetery and funeral home. As Michael digs deeper into what is going on Jody and Reg both get involved and we find out how far reaching The Tall Man's powers can reach with fear.

PHANTASM is a great representation of it's time. The bridge between the late 70s and early 80s before the slasher film took over. I've already made mention of the Euro-horror feeling it has, but it also has a few moments of well placed dark comedy to balance things out a little bit. And enough gore (and other bodily fluids) to have initially earned this film an X rating. PHANTASM is a horror film that should satisfy any niche of horror fan.

8 years later the first of 3 sequels was made and the theme of fear is immediately evident in PHANTASM 2 when the film opens with a young girl waking from a nightmare to enter it in her dream journal. It becomes apparent that she is now telepathically linked with Mike and Reggie (by default). She has visions of The Tall Man and his dwarf zombies and the spheres. Mike and the girl are linked through The Tall Man who is also playing with their mind and endangering their lives in order to draw his victims to him. Reggie jumps on board with Mike to hunt down the tall man after a near death experience with an exploding house. The film then turns to a road trip hunting of The Tall Man. There is no doubting the influence this had on John Carpenter's VAMPIRES from 1998, a full decade later, with vampire lord Valek taking the role of The Tall Man and James Woods' character in the linked hunter position of Mike and Reg. When they finally find The Tall Man, they also find Liz, Mike's ESP friend. There is a lengthy stay in the dizzying halls of the funeral home filled with all of the perils and henchmen you've now come to know to do The Tall Man's work.

Just as PHANTASM was a movie of it's time, it's first sequel is as well. Don Coscarelli certainly had no problems adapting to the "more is more" attitude of horror films of the 80s with PHANTASM 2. There is a lot more gore, more nudity, more corny one liners. And in the midst of the ramped up action much of the atmosphere and the theme of fear is lost. More isn't always more. That said, it works. And it fits nicely with the first film. This isn't the classic that the original is, but it is a really fucking fun follow up.

Filmed in 1993 and released straight to video in 1995 PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD starts with a brief recap of the previous entries and picks up right from the end of part 2. The search for The Tall Man continues but a kink is thrown into the plan as Mike is captured and much of the movie is spent with Reggie meeting new characters, a few of which become a large part of the movie. This entry is without a doubt the cheesiest and most cliched of the bunch. That isn't to say it's bad. It is extremely entertaining and expands on a few ideas that we've seen in the earlier chapters. There is a bit more sci-fi here that is interesting and gives us a little bit deeper look in to the evil forces present in the series.

This entry asks you to turn your brain on and off in order to enjoy it a couple times throughout the movie and if you're willing you'll have a good time. A tighter script with less generic horror movie fluff would have helped PHANTASM 3 be a special sequel but as it stands it is still an entertaining film.

Now under the watch and partial control of The Tall Man, Mike is taken to Death Valley where he dreams of The Tall Man performing macabre surgical procedures in a Civil War camp. Jody, through his spherical form persuades Reggie to continue the hunt to save what is left of their friend and brother. While in Death Valley Mike is stalked in a scene straight out of STAR WARS, and finds a desert devoid of all life containing the dimension forks and a hanging tree. Mike strings himself from the tree with a noose and begins to have dreamlike flashbacks as he clings to life. The Tall Man cuts him down and Mike runs to the dimension fork and enters it, where he's transported back in time and meets Jebediah Morningside. Mike discovers the origins of The Tall Man and uses his secrets to battle him once and for all.

PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION was released in 1998 after a bigger Phantasm production was unable to get enough funding. This entry was written as a pre-cursor to that in hopes of generating the money for it, which never happened. As it stands the fourth entry in to the series is a worthy and successful entry (and possible finale) to the series. The brief but intriguing look into the origins of the central villain of the series was great and gave us a little more understanding as to how and why he works his evil. The dark humor and cornball horror elements are there, but Don Coscarelli is never to heavy handed with them, leaving the feeling of dread and despair to be the main themes. While some fans may find this conclusion to the series to be a let down and unsatisfactory I think it plays into the original theme of fear as well as the Tall Man's ability to manipulate space and time through vibrations and dimensions extremely well.

Four films over 20 years, all written and directed by Don Coscarelli (BEASTMASTER) encompass the PHANTASM series. While each was influenced by the time in which they were made the series never became a parody of itself. Many of you know that is an achievement worth making note of for any horror franchise that spans two decades. From the iconic scenes chronicled on several TV Halloween programs over the last sever years to the ramping up the gore and campiness of the sequels, and turning Reggie Bannister into a balding Bruce Campbell, Coscarelli always kept the scripts smart enough to allow for more lighthearted fun without. The performances from the cast were shaky at times, with probably the best of the bunch being Angus Scrimm in the role of The Tall Man receiving about 15 lines per film on average, but they were sincere. Even in part 2 when the role of Mike was switched from A. Michael Baldwin (parts 1, 3-4) to James Le Gros. The sincerity of the acting is evident throughout and Coscarelli was smart here in that he kept the entire main cast throughout the entire series, which no other horror series that I can think of did. HALLOWEEN had Laurie Strode come back after 5 movies and FRIDAY THE 13th had Tommy Jarvis in 2 movies but PHANTASM kept the core group together without hampering the stories. That allowed for some character depth and exploration that most horror films don't have and builds a bond between the audience and actors that lasts the duration of the series. There is no denying the science fiction elements present in the series, and the series wears them proud. From discussing the vibrations in humans and how the interdimensional travel effects them to the barren lands held within some of the dimension forks that resemble Mars.

PHANTASM has been overlooked in favor of the more popular series with Freddy, Jason, Michael and more recently Jigsaw and all of the SAW ripoff type films. And it doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon. The found footage movies like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY are making a killing at the box office as the modern audience would rather be scared with cheap jumps than a well written and atmospheric horror series that also provides all of the staples they seem to love. I mentioned earlier that OBLIVION may be the conclusion to the series. It has been rumored on and off for the last few years that part 5 might happen. The cast has seemed to be behind it and Coscarelli does too so it really seems like a matter of financing. I truly hope someone steps up and gets it together because another PHANTASM film would be a welcome addition to the series and my collection. As long as Angus Scrimm still walks the earth there is hope.

Series Breakdown
Phantasm - 9/10
Phantasm 2 - 8/10
Phantasm 3 - 7/10
Phantasm 4 - 8/10

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Innkeepers (2011)

Holy wild hogs Batman, that was a bore!

Seriously though folks, Ti West has been talked about so widely for the last few years as being a genius director or the best director in horror or any other positive you can come up with. He's heralded as the next great horror director to put it simply. His latest effort THE INNKEEPERS is an underwhelming bit of rehashed crap.

During the final days of the century old Yankee Pedlar Inn two young employees attempt to prove the haunted nature of the building that dates back to it's dark past. Claire (Sarah Paxton) is an awkwardly cute, pretty nerdy front desk worker who has to spend the last weekend of the inn's life with her co-worker and friend Luke (Pat Healy). Together they hope their amateur paranormal hunting skills can prove that the inn is haunted by Madeline O'Malley, the wife of a former owner who supposedly killed herself after being stood up on an important night. The duo deals with a creepy old building filled with history and a few unique guests who have planned stays on the final weekend for various personal reasons.

I can't waste any time... this is essentially the same movie as Ti West's HOUSE OF THE DEVIL but with a slightly different climax. It is essentially a young girl walking around a creepy old building trying to find out what's wrong with it while hearing noises and seeing things for a good portion of the duration. The cast does a fine job, Paxton is convincing in her reactions to the main scares and situations and her co-star Pat Healy plays well off of her. The cast is no problem, and Ti West's direction has never been a problem in my opinion. The young director can handle a scene just fine. West knows how to put a movie together. The problem lies within the writing. THE INNKEEPERS is your run of the mill ghost story. It is a slow burn but without the pay off of better ghost films so it is just a chore to sit through. It is easily 50 minutes into the film before anything of any significance happens. When something does happen, it is generic and bland and just doesn't send shivers down your spine or goosebumps up your arm like a good ghost story should. It's rough when you realize the entire movie will be this predictable when the first scare of the movie is a fake one that anyone with a computer in the last 10 years will see coming from miles away.

Believe me, I respect Ti West as a director, he has no problem handling a film and making it flow and work. I just don't buy his work until he gets a screenwriter that gives him a script where something fucking happens. I don't care how well he can film a girl walking up and down a flight of stairs for 100 minutes when that is the bulk of the film. A little originality could have carried THE INNKEEPERS a long way but it played out like so many other generic haunting stories that it's painful. Ti West is able to direct just fine but until he works with a separate writer I just don't know if he'll ever meet his true potential.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Skew (2010)

Simon, Rich, and Eva head out on a road trip to attend a friend's wedding with Simon's brand new video camera in hand. The trio of friends start out having a great time on their midsummer escape with plenty of laughs and a cooler of beer to keep them busy. The trip slowly starts to descend into anger and paranoia as a series of tragic events seemingly centered around Simon's camera derail the fun and reality comes crashing down.

Just moments into SKEW and I couldn't help but think "another found footage movie?". It is quickly becoming a cliche within the horror genre and is quickly becoming something I don't particularly look forward too as it is rarely handled with skill. I then immediately remembered that this production on this film began in 2005, before this style of film making had flooded the market. Luckily for us director Seve Schelenz handles the Verite style mostly with grace. There are a few moments that could have been more effective had the style not been used so much in the editing of the film, I'm speaking of one scene in particular towards the end of the film where it was unnecessary. These moments are few and far between and the principal cast does a nice job with making it seem real.

The similarities between SKEW and The Blair Witch Project are painfully obvious from the trio of young adults, 2 male and 1 female to many of the shots being very reminiscent of the 1999 cult hit. While SKEW trades the woods of my native Maryland for a Canadian road trip, mainly confined to the inside of a Jeep or hotel room, they play out largely the same, exchanging a folk lore witch for a deadly video camera. Take from that comparison what you will, but SKEW does stand on it's own feet.

While I could go on and on about the comparisons to other films, this is a film that shows promise for a new director and a film that is largely successful at what it set out to do within the limitations of a $25,000 budget.