Execrable: Contamination

Contamination (A.K.A. Alien Contamination) (1980)

Directed by Luigi Cozzi
Written by Luigi Cozzi, Erich Tomek
Produced by Claudio Mancini, Ugo Valenti, Karl Spiehs
Starring Louise Marleau, Marino Masé, Ian McCulloch, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn, Carlo De Mejo, Carlo Monni, Mike Morris, Brigitte Wagner

Synopsis

Intercepted en route to New York City, a freighter contains a crew of corses, and gooey, thermoreactive eggs filled with bacterial silicon that induces the internal explosion of any organism it splatters. They’re tracked by the colonel (Marleau) of a clandestine governmental agency to a Colombian coffee plantation and exporter, where she’s headed with a police detective (Masé) and former astronaut (McCulloch) to exterminate their source.

Script

Apparently enthralled by Alien, Cozzi (ill-)conceived his first draft of this script as a sequel to the classic horror, then revised it in accordance with budgetary limitations. This schlocky, successful ride on those long coattails is less irksome for its derivation than his insufferably immature trio, who are as emotionally incontinent as addled adolescents.

Direction

Besides some excessive close-ups and zooms thereto, Cozzi’s direction is fair. He’s credited once again under his preposterous pseudonym, Lewis Coates.

Cinematography

Giuseppe Pinori’s photography is similarly satisfactory.

Editing

Perhaps once or twice a smidge too sudden, neither can any other complaint be lodged against Nino Baragli’s theatrical cut.

Histrionics

As simply scripted, everyone plays their puerile parts broadly or blandly, but only the leads rankle. Late Masé’s spunk is gratingly unfunny, McCulloch’s querulousness miffingly melodramatic. Marleau has all the allure and presence of a dead fish; Cozzi wrote her part for luscious Caroline Munro, which is why everyone’s so taken with this frump.

Score

Some quirky riffs by Goblin are expectedly catchy, though hardly their best work.

Highlights

Opening aerial shots of NYC focusing on the Chrysler Building, World Trade Towers and Statue of Liberty are directly arresting. In slow motion, fulminations of eggs, then polluted people entertain. A climactic confrontation with the picture’s final boss, a massive, slimy, cyclopic extraterrestrial, and his thrall (Rauch) is gruesomely goofy to behold.

Flaws

Who can fathom the measure of Marleau’s colonel?! She’s sanctioned to command strike forces domestically, but not abroad. The stipulations by which she performs her mission furnish incentive, but make no sense. Her hunt for the alien scourge is intrepid until she’s locked in a bathroom with one of its eggs, whereupon she panics like a halfwit rather than forcing open its visibly flimsy door. In one inexplicable scene, Masé avows his enduring affection and yearning for Marleau, but they’ve known each other for three days. When he finally stops whining and seizes the day, McCulloch’s hero is a relief from his annoying allies.

Conclusion

It’s not scary in the slightest, but this Italo-German production is too irritating to view without an expert riff.

Instead, watch Lily C.A.T..

Execrable: The Children

The Children (1980)

Directed by Max Kalmanowicz
Written by Carlton J. Albright, Edward Terry
Produced by Carlton J. Albright, Max Kalmanowicz, Edward Terry
Starring Gil Rogers, Martin Shakar, Gale Garnett, Shannon Bolin, Joy Glaccum, Tracy Griswold, Jessie Abrams, Jeptha Evans, Clara Evans, Sarah Albright, Nathanael Albright, Julie Carrier, Michelle La Mothe, Edward Terry, Peter Maloney, Rita Montone, John P. Codiglia, Martin Brennan, June Berry, Suzanne Barnes

Synopsis

Symptoms suffered by schoolchildren (Evans siblings, Albright siblings, Carrier) who’ve been zombified by radioactive smoke fumed from a nuclear power plant include lethargy, periorbital dark circles, blackened fingernails, homicidomania, and a deadly touch. When these juvenile undead terrorize a tidy town in New England’s countryside, a sociable sheriff (Rogers) and a whiny wimp (Shakar) trace a trail of scorched corpses.

Script

As in so many other B-movies, the heroes of Albright’s and Terry’s dragging story could twig and resolve their disaster if they’d average IQs. They don’t, so 40 minutes of plot is extended to 93 that are largely dilatory, containing scant surprises and no suspense.

Direction

Kalmanowicz helmed this with slightly more skill than that observed in the usual fodder for double bills at drive-ins.

Cinematography

Some scenes are dingily defaced due to substandard stock or storage, but Barry Abrams’s photography is otherwise as vibrantly attractive here as it was coterminously in Friday the 13th.

Editing

Perhaps Nikki Wessling wasn’t judicious to apply a magnifying glass and paper guillotine in lieu of a flatbed editor.

Histrionics

Rogers is likably wild-eyed in his authoritatively folksy lead role. As hammy Shakar’s gaumless, expectant wife, Garnett voices her idiocy with lumpen intonation. Glaccum, La Mothe and Montone are easy on the eyes, but only flirt and die horribly. Neither is much comic relief rendered by goatish, deputized local yokels played by co-producer and co-screenwriter Terry, and Maloney, a prolifically versatile ancillary who wasn’t above slumming in low-budget fluff between prominent roles in classics like A Little Romance, Breaking Away, and The Thing. Those titular kids (two of whom are the offspring of producer/screenwriter Albright) seemed to be enjoying themselves. Brennan reportedly dealt copious cocaine to the cast and crew, which clarifies his fruitily catty connection to Montone’s heedless hussy, and quite a lot else.

Score

Equally synthesized and orchestral, Harry Manfredini’s score isn’t as memorable as that composed concurrently (again!) for Friday the 13th, and encompasses his perennial plagiarization of Bernard Herrmann’s music (specifically, themes and cues from Psycho.)

Highlights

In the third act, several malevolent tykes are shot at point blank range and dismembered. That’s the most you can expect from this movie: minors assaulted with firearms and killed with an o-wakizashi.

Flaws

Until and after the abovementioned child abuse occurs, this is boring and unfunny. An unspeakably lame, final “shock” can be foreseen at least an hour in advance.

Conclusion

Death and pablum are easy. Craft and parenting are hard.

Execrable: Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill!

Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill! (2006)

Written and directed by Chad Ferrin
Produced by John Santos, Trent Haaga, Giuseppe Asaro, C.W. Ferrin
Starring Timothy Muskatell, Charlotte Marie, Ricardo Gray, Granny, David Z. Stamp, Jose I. Lopez, Marina Blumenthal, Amy Szychowski, Kele Ward, Trent Haaga, Ernesto Redarta

Synopsis

While working her nursing night shift, a sonsie single mother (Marie) intrusts her retarded, adolescent son (Gray) to the care of her boyfriend, a sordidly psychotic career criminal (Muskatell) who invites a bloated, crippled drug dealer (Stamp) and a pair of putrid prostitutes (Szychowski, Ward) to party at her residence. Neither they nor other lurking malfeasants (Lopez, Blumenthal, Redarta) are safe from a stealthy, resourceful murderer who’s observing Easter behind a leporine mask.

Script

With repulsive prolongations and domestic disputes, Troma alumnus Ferrin stretches 25 minutes of story to occupy 90 minutes of running time forming his trashy, inane, admittedly fun farcical horror, which piques a lot of laughs but no scares for anyone beyond their pubertal years. Its comic crudity is as stupidly amusing as one could hope for.

Direction

His claustrophobic close-ups, zooms, full-figure and drifting shots (no few of which shamelessly blazon busty Marie’s considerable cleavage) are all framed with calculated carelessness, but Ferrin has a knack for capturing his players’ most unflatteringly, goofily humorous angles.

Cinematography

Most of this flick’s interiors are lit like begrimed bedrooms from which camgirls stream, and the lurid hues clothing Giuseppe Asaro’s shiteo beseem its sleazy cheese.

Editing

Jahad Ferif hacked Ferrin’s footage together with occasional flair, though this reviewer can’t readily tell how many of his overzealous cuts are imputable to ineptitude or imitation of B-schlock.

Histrionics

In adherence to Ferrin’s style, everyone onscreen overplays their one-dimensional roles by yards over the top to some risible effect. As the fat, flagitious felon, Muskatell seems lucky to swagger and fume through the movie without suffering cardiac arrest. Only Granny, a plumply precious rabbit cast as the pet of Gray’s peevish peabrain, performs naturally.

Score

Synthesized noodlings and tacky, often funky prog rock courtesy of Goblinishly epigonic duo The Giallos Flame is crummily fun, like most else here.

Highlights

Marie’s buxom mother alternates between indulgence and violent discipline while voicing minced oaths; the piggish pervert portrayed by Stamp is gleefully aroused by a chance to prey on a mentally disabled teenager; every exchange and murder is in some way funny.

Flaws

True to his roots, Ferrin created a video that’s as embarrassingly edgy and intensely ugly as it is legitimately laughable. Every shot is shoddy, and all presagements patent. One predictable twist is explained with a fatuous flashback.

Conclusion

This is less like exploitation movies from the ’70s than how Xers and early Millennials would like to remember them. If you’ve an appetite for raunch and gore, and absolutely nothing better to do, it’s a tickling way to pass 1.5 of your overtly disposable hours.

Execrable: Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween (2015)
Directed by Dave Parker; Darren Lynn Bousman; Adam Gierasch; Axelle Carolyn; Lucky McKee; Paul Solet; Andrew Kasch, John Skipp; Mike Mendez; Ryan Schifrin; Neil Marshall
Written by Dave Parker; Clint Sears; Greg Commons; Axelle Carolyn; Lucky McKee; Molly Millions; Andrew Kasch, John Skipp; Mike Mendez, Dave Parker; Ryan Schifrin; Neil Marshall
Produced by Axelle Carolyn, Mike Mendez, Shaked Berenson, Patrick Ewald, Sarah Gorski, Charles Arthur Berg; Mike De Trana, Jace Anderson; Tada Chae, Michael Arter; Vanessa Menendez
Starring Adrienne Barbeau; Cameron Easton, Daniel DiMaggio, Austin Falk, Madison Iseman, Hunter Smit; Barry Bostwick, Marcus Eckert, Christophe Zajac-Denek; Casey Ruggieri, Trent Haaga, John F. Beach, Tiffany Shepis, Mia Page, Marnie McKendry, Clay Keller, Kennedy Fuselier, Sage Stewart, Bianca Rose Miller; Keir Gilchrist, Gracie Gillam, Booboo Stewart, Noah Segan; Alex Essoe, Lin Shaye; Pollyanna McIntosh, Marc Senter; Dana Gould, James Duval, Elissa Dowling; Nick Principe, Amanda Moyer, Jennifer Wenger; Sam Witwer, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Ben Woolf, John Landis; Kristina Klebe, Pat Healy
It’s a fait accompli, so any ordinance dictating that 80% of all motion pictures produced in Los Angeles county must be idiotically infantile and scored to the hacked hilt would meet with sweeping, immediate compliance and probable applause for its foregone success by Ellay’s dim and demented Board of Supervisors. Of course, such a rescript betrays a self-awareness that would forefend the unsatirical majority of those prescribed movies, as this omnibus of ten edgily adolescent chapters about a gluttonous revenant (Easton/Smit), mayhem instigated by a cartoonishly dapper demon (Bostwick), trick-or-treaters (Page, McKendry, Keller, Fuselier, Stewart, Miller) who wreak bloody vengeance on two married couples (Ruggieri, Haaga, Beach, Shepis), revenge realized by the conjuration of a timorous victim (Gilchrist), a single woman (Essoe) stalked by a story’s spirit, the psychotic downward spiral of a wretchedly childless couple (McIntosh, Senter), altercating Halloween decorators (Gould, Duval) who come to blows over their clashing bedizenments, one hulking, rural serial killer (Principe) confronted by a tiny extraterrestrial, abductors (Witwer, Cantillo) who struggle to ransom the seeming son (Woolf) of a wealthy industrialist (Landis), and a police detective (Klebe) who pursues a sentient, rampaging jack-o’-lantern. All of these demonstrate Hollywood’s inability to tickle or terrify, now that it’s overrun by unimaginative drug addicts straining to rekindle but a spark of the magic plied by American wizards like Romero, Carpenter, Raimi, et al. before their output in the ’90s declined, anticipating this dreck. For this, an embarrassment of obvious references to genre classics, lovable Barbeau’s mellow narration and cameos by Barbara Crampton, Stuart Gordon, Felissa Rose, John Landis, John Savage and Joe Dante are more dispiriting than diverting. This is almost unwatchable in toto, an example of what happens when gruesomeness and frivolity are accorded anteriority, absent substance.

Instead, watch Trilogy of Terror or V/H/S.

Mediocre: Beyond the Gates

Beyond the Gates (2016)
Directed by Jackson Stewart
Written by Jackson Stewart, Stephen Scarlata
Produced by Barbara Crampton, Jackson Stewart, Stephen Scarlata, Ian Keiser, Jon Kondelik, Amanda Mortimer, Georg Kallert, Rob Schroeder, Chris Delp, Sarah Stewart, Nils van Otterloo, Brad Wright, Donna Kinni, Lynn Kinni, Ted Kinni, Tim Kinni, Mike Murphy, Gabby Revilla Lugo, Cyrus Stewart, James West, Tony Zika
Starring Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton, Matt Mercer, Jesse Merlin, Justin Welborn, Sara Malakul Lane, Henry LeBlanc
“To each his own nostalgia” seems to be an unspoken precept of genre cinema created by late Xers and early millennials, which is fated to mine every last phenomenon of pop culture from the ’80s. On the seventh proximo following their widowed father’s last of numerous disappearances, two alienated brothers — an uptight cut of office veal (Skipper) and a scruffy layabout (Williamson) — reunite to liquidate his video rental store and sell their childhood home. In the shuttered shop’s office remains a singular video board game hosted by a theatrically threatening blond (Crampton), and played to preternaturally, progressively perilous interactivity — the only means by which they can find what befell their dad since they left home. Commendably novel, and acted with unexpectedly expressive nicety by its leads, this economically budgeted horror/fantasy skimps on neither gore nor gimmickry when it isn’t dwelling on its fraternal protagonists’ rousing retrospection — much of which justly laments the deterioration of the nuclear family. Alas, Stewart and Scarlata spoiled their momentum with a few too many breathers, and their third act is preoccupied with ridiculous roughhousing when its fantastical and locational potential should’ve blossomed. Brendan Wiuff’s design for the game is also of a mixed caliber: its logotype, and box’s, board’s and cards’ artwork fit their epoch, but their hot pink accents and typefaces are less redolent of Kiddie City circa ’86 than Spencer’s or Hot Topic in ’98. An absorbing montage of a VCR’s working innards during the opening credits is enlivened by Vincenzo Salvia’s synthesized Outrun With the Dead, which overshadows Wojciech Golczewski’s flatly hackneyed score. All its shortcomings notwithstanding, this imaginative and entertaining effort deserves a look; younger viewers will accept all those errors they can’t see.

Recommended for a double feature paired with The Gate or Ring.

Execrable: Liquid Sky

Liquid Sky (1982)
Directed by Slava Tsukerman
Written by Slava Tsukerman, Nina V. Kerova, Anne Carlisle
Produced by Slava Tsukerman, Nina V. Kerova, Robert Field
Starring Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady, Elaine C. Grove, Stanley Knapp, Jack Adalist, Lloyd Ziff, Roy MacArthur, Sara Carlisle
Squalid tommyrot ensues after a little flying saucer lights upon the roof of a tiny penthouse occupied by a fashion model (Carlisle) and a performance artist (Sheppard), and proceeds to terminate numerous sleazeballs therein by harvesting their endorphins during orgasms or narcotic highs. Tsukerman’s script, direction, production and editing are aggravatingly amateurish, but the Soviet expatriate’s slipshod execution slipped the attention of gaumless hipsters, junkies and critics whose patronage made this stupid, slapdash sci-fi the most successful independent feature of 1983. Lenna Rashkovsky-Kaleva’s, Marcel Fiévé’s and Chris Evans’s imaginative makeup, flashy costumes fashioned by Marina Levikova, Yuri Neyman’s and Oleg Chichilnitsky’s briefly intriguing special effects and a few amusing moments can’t at all compensate for how poorly this picture was shot, cut, scored and performed. Carlisle woodenly created dual male and female roles as though to stress her absence of charisma as either, but she isn’t a tenth as nettlesome as Sheppard, who plays her pretentiously pettish poet with the condescending comportment of a villainess from a children’s cartoon. Despite their heroin chic, Tsukerman’s one-dimensional characters — inspired by his superficial conception of NYC’s new wave — are as crudely unsophisticated as his style. His movie’s consequently edgy in the tiresome manner of huffy teenagers transported in their mom’s minivan to a performance by Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM or Type O Negative, circa 1996. Fatuous whenever it’s supposed to be clever, this is unique in the worst way, for the ingenuity of so many unappealingly bad ideas. Eschew it for the sake of precious time and forbearance.

Instead, watch I Come in Peace.

Execrable: Listening

Listening (2014)
Directed and written by Khalil Sullins
Produced by Jamal DeGruy, Travis Nicholson, Khalil Sullins, Pardis Sullins
Starring Thomas Stroppel, Artie Ahr, Amber Marie Bollinger, Christine Haeberman, Steve Hanks, Arn Chorn-Pond, Pamela Cedar
A compelling concept and some deep, decent concerns regarding the societal dangers of abused technologies are buried under a crushing cumulation of clichés, inanities and melodrama in Sullins’s first (and mercifully only) feature. Two reputedly brilliant educands (Stroppel, Ahr) enrolled at Caltech develop an apparatus that digitally transcribes thought; in collaboration with another decidedly dubious student (Bollinger, who resembles a tentatively reformed stripper), their invention is upgraded to enable wired telepathy. Disaster arises from a series of timeworn tragedies, inexplicable personal and ethical idiocies, and infringement by a covert division of the CIA, which impresses both undergraduates and expropriates their technology to further a program of mass cerebral control. “Primer for morons” was a phrase popularly applied online to this daffily disappointing science fiction upon its initial release, and more than a few elements seem lifted from Shane Carruth’s microbudgeted masterwork: two geeky protagonists, one of whom is miserably married; betrayal inspired by desperation; blued and yellowed footage. Comparisons are otherwise invalidated by stale, stupid theatrics, bountifully discomfiting dialog, frequently overcut sequences, and Edward White’s conventionally overwrought and relentless score, all typical of Hollywood’s hokum. Sullins frames his shots well, but he’s a schlocky storyteller. Every other turn of his plot is either a gaping hole or simple improbability, and its climax and conclusion alike are palpably predictable. His actors aren’t guided any more capably than his script’s written, wavering as often as not between ham and lumber. Worst, adolescent sexual sensibilities are incarnated in Ahr’s obnoxious character and ridiculous exhibitions of Bollinger’s figure, such as a close-up of her cleavage during a pivotal moment. Scenes set and shot at a Buddhist temple in Cambodia are as mustily conceived as anything else here, but almost refreshing in contrast to the stifling ugliness of the movie’s interiors, as well as urinary tints that ruin otherwise adequate photography. What a wonder of irony is a decerebrate thriller concerned with cerebration.

Instead, watch Scanners or Brainstorm.

Mediocre: Holidays

Holidays (2016)
Directed by Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer; Gary Shore; Nicholas McCarthy; Sarah Adina Smith; Anthony Scott Burns; Kevin Smith; Scott Stewart; Adam Egypt Mortimer
Written by Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer; Gary Shore; Nicholas McCarthy; Sarah Adina Smith; Anthony Scott Burns; Kevin Smith; Scott Stewart; Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Produced by Tim Connors, Kyle Franke, John Hegeman, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Louise Shore, Aram Tertzakian, Dwjuan F. Fox, Brian James Fitzpatrick, Spencer Jezewski, Gabriela Revilla Lugo, Olivia Roush, Georg Kallert, Rob Schroeder, Peter J. Nieves; Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer, Jon D. Wagner, Adam Goldworm; Jonathan Loughran, Gary Shore; Stephanie Paris; Jonako Donley; Nicholas Bechard; Joshua Bachove, Jordan Monsanto, Kevin Smith; Amanda Mortimer, Jaime Gallagher, Jason Hampton, Sharmila Sahni; James Avery, Andrew Barrer, Nate Bolotin, Roger Coleman, Gabriel Ferrari, Will Rowbotham, Nick Spicer
Starring Madeleine Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, Rick Peters; Ruth Bradley, Isolt McCaffrey; Ava Acres, Petra Wright, Mark Steger; Sophie Traub, Aleksa Palladino, Jennifer Lafleur, Sheila Vand, Sonja Kinski; Jocelin Donahue, Michael Gross; Harley Morenstein, Harley Quinn Smith, Ashley Greene, Olivia Roush; Seth Green, Clare Grant, Kalos Cluff; Lorenza Izzo, Andrew Bowen, Megan Duffy
The best among this octad of shorts set during popular holidays are amusing or arresting, and the worst will leave one wondering how much sway and resources were wasted to insure their inclusion. Both a homely teenager (Coghlan) and her pretty, popular bully (Kennick) long for the affection and attention of their handsome swim coach (Peters); as Valentine’s Day and a talent show organized by the bitchy blond to raise money for his coronary surgery approach, her harried victim dementedly devises a way to kill two birds with one rock. After a one-night stand during St. Patrick’s Day, a childless teacher (Bradley) finds that her creepy, newly-enrolled student (McCaffrey) is inexplicably aware of her gravidity, but an anguine offspring isn’t what she’d expected. A trepid little girl (Acres) terrfied by sacred and secular legendry is scarcely stanched by her single mother (Wright) on the eve of Easter, and a nocturnal encounter with a stigmatic, leporine monster (Steger) confirms that her fears are not merely justified, but consubstantial. One young woman (Traub) is cursed to conceive — regardless of contraception — for her every copulation; following nearly a score of abortions, her physician (Lafleur) refers her to a woman (Palladino) who conducts ceremonies to promote fertility in the high desert, and meditates to celebrate Mother’s Day by cultivating hew latest attendee… Recorded by her dad (Gross) on the Father’s Day when he vanished decades before, an audiocassette’s program guides a lonely schoolteacher (Donahue) back to the littoral locus where it happened, and possibly to his fate. Rather than let the camgirls (Smith, Greene, Roush) in his employ out to party for Halloween, a perverted, pigtailed pimp (Morenstein) tries to rape one of them and falls afoul of their revenge. By theft and criminal negligence on Christmas Eve, a gutless father (Green) procures for his son (Cluff) immersive VR glasses that rely on online information to personalize each wearer’s entertainment. He’s commoved and contrite to discover that they also channel mnemonic data, but soon learns that he’s not the worst malefactor in his household. Seeking another date after he murders his first (Duffy), an awkward, hypersensitive, homicidal maniac meets a lonely lady (Izzo) on New Year’s Eve, but may not live to regret that they’ve too much in common. First, the worst: like all of his output, Smith’s segment is obnoxiously overacted, shoddily shot and cut, aggressively unfunny and pointless save as an excuse to grant both his annoying daughter and fellow epulose parasite Morenstein more undeserved screen credits. That a man with over twenty years of professional experience still produces movies this amateurish is astonishing. Better yet tiresome, Kölsch and Widmyer’s cordial contribution is well crafted but perfectly predictable, for which Kennick’s porky performance seems less an homage to De Palma than to Tarantino. Neither has (S. A.) Smith any surprises in her hoary ode to unbid maternity. Mortimer’s handling of Kölsch and Widmyer’s second script is equally mediocre though much more lively, gorily ringing in a new year. A cut above these, McCarthy’s syncretic reconception of the messiah is just clever enough to deserve a viewing. His sillier, superior, serpentine synthesis of Irish and Norse folklore results in Shore’s pompadoured black comedy, one of St. Patty’s few filmic lampoons. Eminently photogenic Donahue’s once again a believable unfortunate in Burns’ genuinely original, recursive vignette, in deserted settings of which he cumulates tremendous suspense with fine composition and his star’s potent presence, regrettably squandered on a silly climax undermining a conclusion that might’ve been chilling. Stewart’s penultimate comedy is probably the best of these, working a fun scenario and Green’s terrific comic knack for hilarious results. Promotional materials touted this anthology as “subversive” at the honed edge of X-treme marketing, but there’s little here that one could consider genuine subversion, itself a fait accompli imputable to commerce. At this late date, the jest in a few of these is but an afterthought. A salient absence of Jewish and Muslim holidays further explodes any lingering pretense of authentic audacity. Those few palatable portions do not a tasty cake make, the most significant slice of which oughtn’t have been intrusted to the moronic, perennially feckless celebrity.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Tales from the Crypt.

Execrable: The Midnight Meat Train

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by Clive Barker, Jeff Buhler
Produced by Clive Barker, Gary Lucchesi, Eric Reid, Tom Rosenberg, Jorge Saralegui, Richard Wright, Beth DePatie, James McQuaide, Peter Block, Jason Constantine, Joe Daley, Anthony DiBlasi, Robert McMinn, John Penotti, David Scott Rubin, Fisher Stevens
Starring Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones, Roger Bart, Brooke Shields, Barbara Eve Harris, Tony Curran
His movies have only ever been tolerable — and occasionally enjoyable — for their expert choreography, involving production design and photogenic performers; with only the last of those three elements present in this dreary, typically overproduced American foray, the limits of Kitamura’s directorial deftness are particularly prominent. To satisfy the demands of an influential gallerist (Shields) and his ambition to capture treacherously intriguing imagery, a photographer (Cooper) stalks, then investigates a spruce, burly butcher (Jones) who extends his labor into an avocational late shift by hammering, hooking and exsanguinating passengers of a subway’s nightly route. Very few of Barker’s stories have been competently dramatized, and the antic appeal of Kitamura’s cartoonishly artificial CG and gimmicky, slow-mo or whirling panoramic and perspective shots mesh poorly with Buhler’s tiresomely prosy, humorless screenplay. Digitally rendered trains, bullets, blood, limbs amputated, organs eviscerated and enucleated appear doubly fake in contrast to several impressively realistic practical effects. In observance of two cinematographic trends, Jonathan Sela’s photography is nicely shot in very high contrast, but many scenes are ruined by their excessively applied tints. Cooper and most of his co-stars have screen presence to spare, but they’re unmemorable for dialogue so musty that it sounds like mad libs. Shields makes the best of her role as an imperious socialite, and thewy footballer Jones is certainly imposing as the industrious serial killer, but neither are framed effectively. Now lagging well behind Larry Fessenden in their unwitting(?) undertaking to match Danny Trejo’s mortal onscreen record, Ted Raimi again plays one of several brutalized victims. This is somewhat engaging until its insufferably inane third act, which leads to a predictably cyclic conclusion from which the Lovecraftish abominolatry of Barker’s short story was expunged in favor of still more gore that’ll only satisfy the most undemanding splatterhounds.

Instead, watch The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or Train to Busan.

Execrable: Phoenix

Phoenix (1995)
Directed by Troy Cook
Written by Troy Cook, Jimmy Lifton
Produced by Dan Bates, Troy Cook, Jimmy Lifton, Morgan Salkind
Starring Stephen Nichols, Billy Drago, Denice Duff, Brad Dourif, Peter Murnik, William Sanderson, Robert Gossett, Betsy Soo, Jeremy Roberts, Leland Orser
Most of these rather languorous, fifth-rate fantasies that aired during afternoons of the nineties and early aughts on the Sci-Fi Channel (to the middling approval of children and teenagers) seem less produced than cobbled for prompt airplay. In this one, the bloody insurgence of military androids posted to a lunar mining colony provokes their manufacturer’s oily CEO (Drago) to dispatch a strike force under the oversight of his testy lackey (Dourif) to neutralize the offending automatons and their undersized honcho (Sanderson). Treachery, corporate conspiracy, psychic side-effects of the mine’s exclusively extracted element and a few instances of shocking ineptitude create complications substituted for any sort of plot. Nichols is blandly macho as the team’s commander, lacking a dash of chemistry with his dubious love interest (Duff). His team’s cadre are stock stereotypes: doomed black lieutenant (Gossett); tough hussy (Soo); brainish clown (Roberts). Usually a reliable character actor, Sanderson is here either deliberately stiff or merely sedated. Dourif’s contrarily seething overperformance is amusing enough, as is a single sinister note played greasily by Drago. Expenses incurred by what passes for this flick’s production design certainly couldn’t exceed any budget in the low six figures; most of the costumes are inferior to middling togs of cosplay, and off-world mines, corporate complexes and hospitals of the future respectively resemble boiler rooms, warehouses and dentists’ offices of the ’90s sparsely adorned with neon lights. Congruous spacecraft consist of adorably toylike miniatures and graphics to rival those in cutscenes of coexistent shmups. Excepting a few unintentionally hilarious lines, most of Cook’s and Lifton’s dialogue is as shopworn as their story defined by derivation; even the malevolent corporation’s eponym Rydell is suspiciously similar to Tyrell. This is recommended only for indiscriminate potheads and Dourif’s fans, especially those who supported the twitchy thespian before Peter Jackson revived his career.

Instead, watch Scanners, Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell.