Tuesday
May272014

Monster-Slasher Movie Trash: THE ABOMINATION (1986) Review

 

Obscurity is an odd little two-way street. There are a lot of movies that strive for greatness only to see their ambitions squashed, grinded into a fine powder (like cocaine), and spread across the world for only a few to fine. I, and if you’re reading this, you too, come across these kinds of movies nearly every day, so it’s really something special to come across a movie that strives to be that powder from the start. I can’t say for sure that this was the intention of the sophisticated minds behind The Abomination, but I’m going to wager it was. This is the definition of a film that thrives on obscurity. Any serious VHS collector dares not say that title above a whisper, because the power contained within the dusty plastic of this particular VHS tape is too rare to even comprehend. Yes, this film’s major claim to fame is just how hard it is to find on video. And I’ll admit it: I’ve yet to grace my eyes upon an actual, physical copy. But I have seen the movie, even though the experience probably isn’t even close to comparison to watching it on a VCR.

 

THE ABOMINATION (1986) Review

Cody isn’t living the good life. He lives in the middle of nowhere with his only forms of interaction coming from his girlfriend, his two other friends, a jerkwad of a boss at the auto shop where he works, and an overly religious mother obsessed with a TV evangelist named Brother Fogg. On top of that, his mom is thoroughly convinced she has a tumor in her throat, despite the doctor confirming she’s perfectly fine. One night, after a particularly holy Brother Fogg sermon, she actually coughs up a bloody tumor! Naturally, she tosses it in the trash can and goes about her business, but the tumor isn’t content with that! The tumor makes its way over to a sleeping Cody, crawls in his mouth, and it’s all over from there. Because this isn’t a normal tumor...it’s THE ABOMINATION, a parasitic creature that takes over Cody’s mind and forces him to kill everyone around him so he can feed them to it and create more abominations. Can these ungodly creatures be stopped?

What an apt title for such a weird-ass movie. There are a lot of strange films on this site, but The Abomination is a movie that seems to defy description. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it so-bad-it’s-good? Is it fun? Is it unwatchable? The answer is, really, all of the above. But the thing is, despite its multitude of ambitions, when you get right down to it, if you’ve watched the trailer (or even if you’ve seen the artwork), you’ve seen the movie. What is to be gained from the movie, at least. This is most definitely an Evil Dead inspired backyard attempt at “throw some guts at the camera and see if we make a classic” filmmaking that seemed to define a lot of the best eighties trash horror. The whole film as the aura of sitting on your porch on a muggy July day and not wanting to go inside because the AC’s busted. Not necessarily a good thing, but at least it’s something.

The Abomination is equal parts crazy-ambitious and lazy as hell when it comes to the plot. I was taken aback by how ambitious the initial setup was, complete with monstrous tumors and heavy religious overtones resulting in a frenzied mix of gory slasher movie and ultra-gory monster movie; you just don’t get a lot of those anymore. However, despite the filmmakers having the right idea in mind, the execution feels really sluggish. This might be due to the padding (if you didn’t learn from the Night of Horror, you’ll know I just love driving montages), inconsistent tone (one minute it’s trying to be disturbing and nasty, the next there are loud farting noises coming from a bathroom; granted, it’s still nasty), and a narration throughout as Cody recounts his story that really isn’t necessary. I don’t want to say it’s boring, but it is. I know that I found myself going into a braindead trance while watching it, along the lines of when one views Boardinghouse, but I also found my attention continuously drifting to other, non-abominable things. The film also opened with a very catchy synthesizer score that reeked of fun ahead, and better yet, it plays over an opening dream sequence/montage of EVERY GORE SCENE THAT HAPPENS IN THE MOVIE. Seriously, it goes on for 3 ½ minutes and you get to see EVERYTHING. And then they copy and pasted the montage to make the trailer! It’s like they acknowledged they made a bad movie and to make it up to the viewer, they put a Cliff’s Notes Abomination in the beginning so we didn’t have to sit through another half-hour of trash (it would have made my life if the tape stopped after those three minutes and a text screen reading “There you go” appeared).

Where The Abomination really excels is in the gore department. The effects range from “wow those abomination monsters sure do succeed in impressing me” to “is that supposed to be an arm stump or a loaf of bread,” but the bloodshed is plentiful no matter what the effects are like. The final few minutes are 100% composed of Cody feeding the abominations a plethora of guts and it is, to put it elegantly, bitchin’. The other gore scenes are all awesome, and the mayhem includes everything from a pitchfork impalement to a chainsaw decapitation. Aside from the gore, the only other things to praise are a few laughable bad moments here and there. The voiceover-doctor’s narrating skills are monotonous to the point of a droning synthesizer (which there’s already enough of here). Cody’s boss’s hair (facial and otherwise) is a sight to behold, and really gets to cut his acting “chops” when an abomination in a cooler snacks off his hand to hilarious results. And then my favorite, how the sole trait that distinguishes “Good Cody” from “Evil Cody” is that Evil Cody is rocking some radical shades (as seen on the artwork), because with the guy’s acting, there’s no other way you can tell the two apart!

This doesn’t feel right. Reviewing this movie at all. I really feel like I’m trying to cut heads off a Hydra, and I’m only digging myself into a deeper hole with every word I write. This movie was made for VHS obscurity. Sorry The Abomination; that’s pretty much all I’ve got for you. If you saw that artwork and immediately felt a deep yearning to see the madness displayed there, then I’d say to definitely seek a copy out. If the artwork simply piqued your curiosity and you read on to see if this is a diamond in the rough, it’s not; proceed with caution (although if you are looking for a diamond in the rough that bears a lot of similarities to this one, check out The Deadly Spawn). As previously mentioned, The Abomination is an infamously rare VHS tape that was also released on an OOP DVD alongside Ozone! Attack of the Redneck Mutants, and it also got a limited edition VHS re-release by Massacre Video (which is also OOP)! In other words, if you want to own a non-bootleg copy of The Abomination, you’re screwed! It isn’t too hard to find it on sites like YouTube, so if you’re a true trash-horror aficionado, give it a watch. It’ll be a one-time watch, but a watch nonetheless. It may grow on you, but then again, so do tumors.

The Verdict: The Abomination is a genuine abomination of surreal homegrown splatter filmmaking complete with droning synthesizers, library music, monotone acting and direction, and oodles of gore. It’s fun, but at the end of the day, it’s more fun telling people you’ve seen it than the actual process of seeing it.

Score: 5/10

 

Thursday
Apr172014

Happy Easter: THE NIGHT BEFORE EASTER (2014) Review

 

It still boggles the mind why more people haven’t made slasher movies centered around Easter, yet there’s a large variety of Christmas-themed horror flicks to choose from. Both are religious holidays with an easily identifiable mascot, yet Easter takes place in the spring so it’s much easier to film at any time of the year (it’s hard to make an effective Christmas horror movie without snow). There is the obscure Canadian TV movie Till Death Do Us Part from 1982 that, while very entertaining, didn’t even do much with the holiday. There’s also Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill!, but that’s one I haven’t gotten around to checking out despite its massively alluring title. Thankfully, this dry spell was broken very recently with an über-low-budget slasher tapping directly into the vein of the eighties slashers (yeah, but how many times have we heard that one before?). It’s incredible that the guys behind it got the movie made with the budget they had, but does it even hold up?

 

THE NIGHT BEFORE EASTER (2014)

   Review

The night before Easter, chipper Kelly (Emily Chidalek) invites her old friends to a fun get-together in a storage facility, which is owned by one of their fathers. The night starts off as a good time filled with beer, hide and seek, and good-old shenanigans in general. However, the night takes a turn for the worse when a raging hellbitch going by the name of Melissa (Bonnie Marilyn Jean) shows up to make everyone’s life considerably more miserable, especially Kelly’s. Just when you thought the night couldn’t get any unholier, a psychopath donning an Easter Bunny outfit shows up to hack and slash his (or her?) way through anyone and everyone. Could it be Alex Sykes, the infamous Easter Bunny murderer, who has just escaped from the mental hospital? Or is it one of the group gone berserk?

This has to be one of the hardest films I’ve ever reviewed. I don’t recall ever seeing a film with this much ambitiousness and geist, while also having one of the lowest budgets I’ve seen in a very long time (about $4,000). I always try to factor in the attitude that seems to radiating from behind the camera with these kinds of movies (I’ll keep saying it: it’s the little things that count), but should they totally forgive all the faults committed by the film itself? Well...no, and I will admit that it’s hard to look past the restraints placed on the production by lack of funds. In some ways, The Night Before Easter reminds one of a particularly good SOV slasher and does bring back memories of films like Blood Lake (okay, maybe that comparison will make people instantly scratch this off their watchlist, but bear with me), and I’ll get to why.

I figure it’s best to start with the film’s weaknesses first, then move towards what I enjoyed about it. Segwaying from that comparison to Blood Lake (which I’ll forever regret; no film deserves that), the pacing in The Night Before Easter is a bit wonky. The film starts out strong with a fun “film-within-a-film” sequence, followed by two murders, a great April Fool’s Day reference, and some great opening credits accompanied by the glorious soundtrack. Then we go to the storage facility and settle down with the characters...and boy do we settle down. It builds up nicely to when our resident psycho begins picking the characters off (about thirty minutes, which is the perfect amount of time in my opinion), but when he/she does, the death scenes only last a few seconds with almost no build-up, so the long scenes of what amounts to nothing going on never really feel worth it until the last ten minutes or so. This mirrors Blood Lake’s pacing (from what I remember) with the copious amounts of character development followed by death scenes that, for the most part, aren’t worth it (the murders are where the budget really shows). The acting in the flick is a mixed bag of “wow that’s actually pretty solid” to “what the hell is that guy even doing,” but that’s not too big of a quibble. However, what also comes off as distracting are the camera shots. The camerawork in the film has the mark of somebody with a lot of ambition; maybe a little too much ambition. Most of the shots are at some strange angle, when using straightforward angles followed by the creative stuff during the murder scenes probably would have been much more effective.

Phew...that’s enough negativity; let’s get into what I dug about this flick. First: the aforementioned score. I’ve pretty much had it up to here with grating, retro synthesizer scores in independent movies, but the music here is most definitely an exception. The music oozes a good-times vibe missing from a lot of slasher throwbacks and succeeds in conjuring up sweet memories of the synthesizer music in the brilliant Blood Rage, so major bonus points for that. And the reason that The Night Before Easter succeeds for the most part and Blood Lake succeeds in falling on its ass is due to one detail: characters. Even though the acting is a little spotty, the characters are (almost) all written to be totally likable, and they pretty much are. Each has a distinct personality that I could follow, and I really enjoyed that. A personal favorite is Dante, a dude obsessed with money, but the real gold is in his heart (I’m so sorry). I was actually getting annoyed with how friendly everyone was...until Melissa showed up. With a name directly taken from every slasher fan’s favorite bitch (from Friday the 13th Part VII, for the uneducated) and the personality to match, Melissa isn’t the bitch the world deserves, but the bitch the world needs. She’s rude, manipulative, and an all-around despicable person, but one you’ll love to hate. Also, despite the budgetary restrictions limiting the gore effects, I liked the variety of methods used to dispatch the characters, and the moment we first see the Bunny in the storage facility was shot very, very well. Pile on to this a final girl I couldn’t guess and a unique setting, and you’ve got a heckuva lot of compensation for the negatives. 

That’s all pretty lengthy, but what it all boils down to is that The Night Before Easter is decent. It hasn’t made a major impact on the slasher subgenre, and it’s neither so good nor so-bad-it’s-good so that it might one day become a cult classic. But it does make for a pleasant enough Easter afternoon viewing and is worth a rental. After I watched The Night Before Easter, I caught up with Machete Kills, which impressed me by showing how much a movie can be a throwback and do almost everything wrong, and that just made me appreciate this film more, because these guys at least know what they’re doing with the source material (or, at least, make it seem like that) It’s currently available for either purchase or rental (see link below), plus you can purchase that jammin’ soundtrack alongside it (once again, check out those links). Also, not to over-plug the stuff the makers of TNBE are putting out, but they also do a fantastic podcast with two other people purely on slasher movies, and it’s called The Hysteria Continues. If you enjoy films for likable characters, entertaining bitches, solid final chases, astounding scores, cool killers, and a lot of heart, this is pretty much made for you. But for real; get these guys a budget because they are totally on the right track and I'm anxious to see what they do next.

The Verdict: Whether or not you should see The Night Before Easter almost entirely depends on your ability to look past certain flaws, like a lack of bloodshed, professional acting, and plot, but the merits and good vibes are too strong to advise you against seeing it.

Score: 5/10

The Night Before Easter - Trailer from Joseph Henson on Vimeo.

 

http://the-bodycount-continues.com/index/viewpage.php?page_id=11

 

Wednesday
Jan012014

Happy New Year! NEW YEAR'S EVIL (1980) Review

 

After ushering in the New Year last year with the travesty that was Bloody New Year, I knew I couldn’t make the same mistake twice. So this year we’re going to be exploring a film I had only seen once before a long time ago, and now I’m dusting it off. It’s a slasher set on New Year’s released the same year as another New Year slasher, Terror Train. Can it even compare to that classic, or will New York not be the only thing that drops the ball for the new year?

NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980) Review

Diane “Blaze” Sullivan is the hottest punk-rock icon on the scene, so it makes sense that she’s the one hosting a New Year’s Eve extravaganza featuring non-stop live new wave bands all the way to midnight. It’s also a hotline for people to call in and vote for their favorite song of the year, but that’s not what one person is using it for...this person is using it for...EVIL. Making a bone-chilling promise on air to murder someone every time the clock strikes midnight in each US time zone, then following up on it, Blaze is the clearly the target, and Evil is saving her for last. Even the police can’t seem to catch this fiendish maniac as he slashes his way through California, but if they can’t, who can put an end to the madness before the PST clock hits midnight and Blaze hits the floor...dead?

If I can give props to Bloody New Year for one thing, it’s that there was a lot to talk about when I reviewed it. Sure, it was a terrible movie, but it was fun to write about. When I first watched New Year’s Evil all those years ago, all I remembered was being bored by it, so I was dreading having to churn out a review of it if there was nothing to talk about. Well, after watching it again, not only did I find a new appreciation for it, but there is actually a lot to talk about here! So without further ado, let’s start with the basics: some background. New Year’s Evil was one of Cannon Films’ (known for amazing Chuck Norris action movies, ninja movies, Electric Boogaloo movies, etc.) first forays into the horror genre; a genre which they wouldn’t really find success in until the late eighties with movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 and Lifeforce. This probably wasn’t the box office sensation Cannon was looking for (just based on its status today), which surprises me. This was right at the start of the slasher movie boom, and if I was a horror junkie at the time, you can bet your sweet buns I was first in line opening night to see a movie called New Year’s Evil!

Now, I’m not saying that New Year’s Evil should be taken seriously, because if you do, you’re in for a bumpy ride. What makes this flick noteworthy is, like in most slasher movies, the little things. The minute details that those that don’t adore this subgenre will totally overlook. Sure, it does have some half-decent suspense, and I’ll admit it, I jumped at the first big scare. The acting isn’t terrible either, even with half the cast looking bored (especially the cop in charge of the investigation). One knock against the film is that most of the kills aren’t very memorable. It’s all switchblade fun time, and the only really awesome death is a girl getting asphyxiated with a huge plastic bag of kush! It’s blood-lite too, and there’s zero nudity. With all of this, it’s easy to see why this one isn’t often praised as a classic of the genre. The music in it is...so-so. The film opens with one of the greatest title songs I’ve heard, and then it gets played again not ten minutes later! It gets played again over the end credits, but in between, none of the music numbers are particularly memorable. There is a fun one called “Dumb Blondes” that coincides with the killer picking up two (you guessed it) dumb blondes.

I’m not going to call New Year’s Evil “so-bad-it’s-good” either, but man is it hard not to! The really awesome part about it is that it’s stuck in a weird (and radical) culture overlap where a lot of the styles and fads popular in the eighties are rearing their heads, but seventies fashion and music choices also find their ways into the mix. That’s right; if you’re looking for a scene with a mob of punks “dancing” (oh boy is that a sight; especially the slow-dancing!) to punk rock immediately followed by a scene in a bar featuring disco music and the hottest fashions of 1977, you’ve found the right movie! Then there’s our killer, who uses a voice disguiser that makes him sound like Harvey Fierstein having a stroke and brings about the third link to Terror Train (after New Year’s and 1980): a killer who’s a master of disguise. We see his face the whole time (aside from at the end where he dons a ridiculous mask), but over the course of the movie he poses as a mental hospital attendant, a priest, and even glues a fake mustache to his lip! Even though New Year’s Evil desperately wants you to take it seriously, there is a very-much welcomed moment of comic relief when the killer picks up a girl at a bar, only to have her invite her roommate to come with them, leading to a very annoyed killer dealing with a gregarious bimbo and classic dialogue like this:

Dumb Blonde: “Zen...oh boy, that was some sort of spiritual trip. Now, I’m writing ‘high-kuss’!”

Killer: “Haikus?”

Dumb Blonde: “That’s Japanese poetry!”

That’s just a small portion of the dialogue, and reading it just doesn’t do it justice.

Everything isn’t peachy in New Year’s Evil either. For one thing, the “final girl” is absolutely awful. I would even say that Blaze is about as unlikable as the killer; she’s a terrible mother (just watch how she treats Grant Cramer, her son), she does nothing to even attempt to stop the killer at the end, and she only shows concern for her well being and her all-important show. Having such a weak final girl does nothing to lessen the accusations against the movie that it’s misogynistic. The centerpiece deaths are all women, and even the killer’s motive is purely anti-female. Although to be perfectly honest, I was having too much fun with the movie to get bogged down by a few details that can really be applied to several other slashers (especially in 1980). Although there is a scene with a girl begging for her life in a car that brings all the good times to a screeching halt and is just unpleasant to watch.

Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that New Year’s Evil is the best New Year’s-themed horror flick to watch every year, even more so than Terror Train. Terror Train is a better movie in all regards, but this movie is one fine blast of a party movie! I was chuckling the whole time at the parade of dated fashions, new wave music, absurd killer, and the bonkers plot details! A random biker gang hunting the killer, a mentally unstable son messing with pantyhoses, and an elevator finale that’s at least pretty original. The kills and final girl, two essential ingredients in a slasher, are both disappointing, which are a setback, plus a pretty obvious twist if you're looking for it. Regardless, I’d say this is worth owning on home video. It has been released on a DVD-R by MGM, it is on Netflix, and it pops up on TCM occasionally in the wee hours of the morning, plus it’s available to watch on YouTube! Really, if there’s any movie you don’t have an excuse for not watching, it’s this one. It’s not the best, for annual New Year’s viewings...it’s a scream.

The Verdict: I’m a sucker for movies with kick-ass theme songs. I’m a sucker for ultra-cheesy early eighties slashers. I’m a sucker for goofy serial killer shenanigans. I’m a sucker for New Year’s Evil. It has its fair share of problems, but if you’re a sucker too, it’s essential. You can call it trash, you can call it a treasure, you can call it totally reprehensible...just remember to call it...EEEEEVVIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLL!

Score: 7/10

And don't forget to jam to this sweet number!

 

Wednesday
Dec252013

Merry Christmas! TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980) Review

 

As I’ve said before in my review of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, I’m a total sucker for a good Santa slasher movie. Hell, not even a good one; if there’s a movie with some sort of villain in a Santa suit, I’ll always enjoy it to some extent. The “And All Through the House” segment of 1972’s Tales from the Crypt anthology is probably the first example of this, and Silent Night, Deadly Night is definitely the most infamous, but one that gets swept under the rug the most is the low-budget, sleazetastic…

TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980) Review

 

It’s Christmas break at the Calvin Finishing School For Girls, everyone at the sorority is leaving to spend time with family and old acquaintances. Everyone except a few girls, who’ve decided to stay at the sorority house, along with the housemother and the quintessential creepy gardener. But things shouldn’t be too boring, because not only have a group of boys flown in to spend time with the isolated babes, but someone has donned a Santa costume and is eager for bloodshed. Will anyone make it through the night, and does this murder spree have anything to do with the sorority sister that died several years ago during a horrific prank?

Appreciate the little things in life. You do that and you’ll be much happier. That’s common knowledge, so why isn’t it common knowledge that everyone should enjoy To All A Goodnight? Okay, I can certainly think of a few reasons, but it’s the little things that make this effort noteworthy. For starters, this was indeed one of the pioneers in the killer Santa sub-subgenre. 1980’s Christmas Evil also featured one, but that was more of a “one-man’s-descent-into-madness” movie than a slasher (*Sidenote* Where were all those bitter housewives that protested Silent Night, Deadly Night for using a murderous St. Nick when these two movies were released? Hmmm…). The second noteworthy fact is that this is the sole directing effort by the late David Hess (Hitch-Hike, Last House on the Left), one of exploitation’s greatest villains. Unfortunately, this flick didn’t launch him into a successful career in a new frontier, and he soon returned to what he did best.

I sure am glad those two details took up an entire paragraph, because there really isn’t a lot to discuss here. Those two are the main draws to the film, because the rest of this movie is almost as straightforward as they come. To All A Goodnight is one of those movies that has a lot of things in it that I truly enjoy (the kills, the end twist, the score) but it has almost an equal amount of things I dislike (the direction, the setting, the characters), so it’s a very bipolar (or bi-North-polar) viewing experience. The kills, which are the main draw for pretty much every slasher film, are great, especially considering it’s only 1980 (very early in the slasher game). They’re not as gory as a Friday the 13th movie, but that doesn’t stop them from being pretty nasty. Death by crossbow, battle axe, airplane propellor (the real standout), and a vicious garroting (my favorite); writer Alex Rebar (The Incredible Melting Man!) may have been new to the slasher film, but it’s obvious he knew what his audience was looking for. The killer is actually really cool, because this is the first Santa slasher to feature a Santa killer sporting an actual Santa mask, and it looks really creepy! The end twist shouldn’t pull the rug out from any seasoned slasher fanatics, but for its time, it’s pretty original, so props for that. The score is destined to turn some people off with its madcap synth rhythms and drumset beats, but I thought it worked and added some much-needed atmosphere to the proceedings.

But as much as I loved all that, I really can’t get over more technical aspects of the production, like the way it was filmed. The first problem is that there wasn’t any creativity put into the camerawork. All the shots feel very staticy, and end up making To All A Goodnight feel like a TV movie, with that illusion only shattered by some full-frontal nudity and gore. The second problem is that it’s way, way too dark. The only way to see this movie is on a VHS that was released towards the beginning of the VHS boom, so the picture quality is pretty damn terrible. It’s often hard to tell exactly what’s going on in night scenes, and that’s if you have a good copy. Also, for a movie set at Christmas, there’s a disturbing lack of snow. I know it takes place in California (I think), but just tossing some powder on the ground would’ve gone a long way and made the atmosphere levels skyrocket. Now...the characters. I know the standards for characters in slasher movies has always been pretty low, but at least give them some fun dialogue and not just constant sexual references. I found myself rooting for Ralph, the creepy gardener, because he had to put up with these people! And then there’s the final girl, who’s just too clean. I enjoy nice final girls, but at least give them some sort of badass edge so that they can kick some tail when they eventually become the killer’s prime target!

I can dig To All A Goodnight. It’s clunky, sure, but it has an earnest charm to it that fits well within the holiday season. This is very familiar territory we're in, so it all plays out exactly the way you expect it to. It even features one of my favorite horror cliches: the old "severed head winding up in an random location" gag, and it's a hoot! If you have never seen a killer Santa movie, don’t start with this one. Start with Silent Night, Deadly Night or Christmas Evil, and once you’ve acquired a taste for them, swing by this one and give it a shot. The problem is that this hasn’t, and likely will not, receive a DVD release. A shame, because a cleaned up transfer and some interviews with the people behind the film would be great to see. The closest we’ve come to getting full insight behind the scenes was an interview with David Hess about the film from 2004 (link at the bottom). Hess reveals that the film definitely had a troubled production, and it shows in the actual film. But that doesn’t stop it from being a serviceable holiday timewaster for the whole family...or just the cool members of your family.

The Verdict: To All A Goodnight is a real oddity in the Christmas horror subgenre, but it’s strangely appealing with its great kills, bizarre score, and brief splashes of originality within a very generic flick.

Rating: 6/10

David Hess To All A Goodnight interview:                                                                       http://retroslashers.net/to-all-a-good-krug-the-david-hess-interview-2004/

P.S. Can we talk about that cover art up there? I have no idea what/who that face is supposed to be, but that artwork is gorgeous! They sure don't make 'em like they used to.

 

Sunday
Oct132013

Film By Film: My SCANNERS Marathon

 

I had a bit of spare time on my hands not too long ago, so I decided to sit down and knock out every film in the Scanners franchise in one go. Needless to say, I’m still recovering, but I think getting my thoughts on each film in the series down on the website for October (yeah, they’re mainly sci-fi, but there’s definitely some horror elements). I’m keeping my thoughts brief because I would definitely go for giving some of them the full review treatment someday. Nevertheless, it would probably be a good idea to brace yourself for some maple leaf telekinetic madness:


Film By Film: The SCANNERS Series

Scanners (1981)

Scanners really isn’t one of David Cronenberg’s finer efforts, truth be told. Don’t get me wrong; I really like the film, but it has a very weird feeling throughout where it’s straddling the border between a genuinely good sci-fi/horror/thriller worthy of mass acclaim and a cheap Canadian exploitation flick with a convoluted plot looking for ways to make people’s heads explode. And in the end, it’s both. The story, centered around a young man with extraordinary telekinetic powers (referred to as a “scanner”) is recruited by a medical organization to track down a rogue scanner (Michael Ironside!) bent on world domination, isn’t told very well, it feels like Cronenberg is bullshitting his way through some scenes and hoping the audience doesn’t call his bluff. But if you can get past those moments, Scanners turns out to be an engaging sci-fi/thriller that’s, well, thrilling. Toss in the greatest exploding head effect you’ll ever see (alongside other great gore and make-up effects), a record shop called the “Disc-O-Mart” (not a pivotal plot point at all but that’s still great), and a more-awesome-than-you’d-think final telekinesis battle, and this one comes with a strong recommendation from me as, technically, the “best” Scanners movie.

Scanners II: The New Order (1991)

Get this: a sequel to a David Cronenberg movie not made by Cronenberg and made ten years after the original. This should be a disaster. But for some reason, I found myself really digging this trashy Canuxploitation flick. Here we have another scanner who’s recruited by the commander of the police force to help stop crime and ultimately rise to power. The scanner uncovers his dirty secrets and sets out to stop him and his planned “new order.” Let me paint a picture of Scanners II for you: take all my complaints about the first (convoluted plot, wooden acting), multiply them by fifty, and add in even more exploitative gore effects. That is this movie. I do think the original is much better, but this one moves at a faster clip so it’s more suitable for casual “I need something to do that doesn’t require brain activity” viewing on a lazy afternoon. There’s some painfully dated early-nineties culture on hand too, but the one thing that has aged well are the gore effects. TWO exploding heads this time and other assorted effects inserted just because they could. It’s a pretty trashy good time, and it’s occasionally boring, but trust me, the night is still young.

Scanners III: The Takeover (1991)

Hey, hey you there: take everything I just said about Scanners II and multiply that by a hundred. While that movie danced in and out of trash territory, Scanners III slams its foot on the gas and roars into it full-speed. This is probably my favorite of the Scanners movies (it’s also the one most people dislike the most, go figure) all due to sheer camp value. The plot this time around revolves around a young female scanner who takes an experimental drug to suppress her scanning-migraines but the drug has a side effect that turns her into a raging mega-bitch. She then begins a takeover of her father’s company with plans to ultimately take over the world, and only her scanner brother can stop her. That plot alone sounds like good fun, but the details are what make this flick crazy. Pantless dance scenes, the funniest “scanning faces” in the series, outrageous deaths (including a hysterical finger explosion effect), terrible one-liners, and so much more. It’s easy to tell that no one’s taking anything seriously, and I am oh-so fine with that.

Scanner Cop (1994)

There really was nowhere to go after Scanners III was gloriously vomited upon the world, so the Scanners series pulled a Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and gave it a new look. This one’s about police officer Sam Staziak, who happens to be a scanner. A disgruntled criminal (Richard Lynch!) is hypnotizing innocent civilians into killing cops at random and it’s up to Staziak to track him down using his telekinetic powers. Scanner Cop is the “best” film in the series right after the original, but unfortunately, it’s my least favorite out of all of them. It retains a lot of good things found in previous entries, like phenomenal effects work (this time from John Carl Buechler) and adds in better acting and a better plot. However, it probably wasn’t a good idea to watch this one right after III because the two are radically different. Scanner Cop takes itself entirely too seriously, which is one of its faults. The really major fault is that Sam is the sole scanner in the whole movie. This elements a lot of suspense in the fight scenes because you always know who’s coming out on top. But despite not playing a scanner, Richard Lynch is still his rugged villain-y self, and that’s always surefire entertainment. Plus there’s an interesting, if really out of place, plot point where Sam goes to Hell via his scanning powers, but nothing is really done with it. It also feels a lot less Canadian than the past three films, which might also be why it’s not up to snuff. Eh. It’s not a bad watch, but it could’ve been better...

Scanner Cop II (1995)

...like this. Why couldn’t the first one have been like this? I’m glad the marathon was ended on a positive note because Scanner Cop II surprised me with how entertaining it was. The big reason why? There’s a scanner antagonist. This sequel finds Staziak facing off against a diabolic scanner that escaped from the mental institution Staziak put him in. Now he’s sucking the life force out of other scanners and gaining power to destroy Sam. This one’s got everything I was looking for in the first Scanner Cop movie; classic scanning battles, fun action scenes, lots of gooey gore (the melting effects are frequent and fantastic), and some likable characters. But only one head explosion though. What up with that?

 

I’d like to compare the Scanners series to sloths: they contribute nothing to society, they don’t get anything done, but I love them to death. Seriously, I wouldn’t have minded if this series went on until the end of time and just got crazier with each passing film. Even the weakest film is still pretty darn good, and that’s a feat not many series that have spanned five-plus films can say. It’s a really good marathon if you ever have eight hours to spare, despite the drastic tonal shift from Scanners III to Scanner Cop. So go ahead; bask in the head-exploding, vein-popping, constipation-faced, horribly dated Canadian-ness of them all. You won’t regret it.

 

Rankings:


1. Scanners III: The Takeover

2. Scanners

3. Scanners II: The New Order

4. Scanner Cop II

5. Scanner Cop

 

And a great supercut of Scanners III promoting the Blu-Ray (yeah, it’s on Blu!):