Clive Barker’s Candyman is bar none one of the best horror films ever made. Many factors can take credit for that, but the two chief among them are Tony Todd’s performance as Daniel Robitaille, the hook handed, honey voiced spectre that haunts even the frames he doesn’t appear in, and Philip Glass’s beautiful yet terrifying electronic score that rips through the story like a rogue orchestral piece with a life of its own. Production design and locations are also key here, as they filmed in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini Green Project for real, and it makes all the difference. Candyman is one of those urban legends, the angry ghost of an ex slave who was murdered, and now gets resurrected to raise hell whenever someone says his name in a mirror five times. That someone here happens to be college professor Virginia Madsen, who has heard whispered rumours among the locals and decides to research it a little too closely. Before she knows it she’s seeing Robitaille everywhere, dead bodies are starting to pile up and she begins to look an awful lot like the culprit. With the help of her boyfriend (Xander Berkeley) and colleague (Kasi Lemmons, always fantastic) she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery but Candyman is a tough curse to shake, and the killing doesn’t stop. Many of the actors here are genuine residents of the Green, providing both authenticity and a very human quality to the film. Todd is now something of a household name and has achieved cult status for this role, it pretty much set him up for good in the horror genre and it’s no wonder, he’s a hypnotic dark angel as Robitaille, with both seething menace and a crazy calm lurking behind those eyes. There’s moments of real fright that hold up to this day as truly chilling shockers, such as a kid getting ambushed off camera by Candyman in a park restroom and the horrific aftermath of a dog’s murder coupled with a missing baby, brought to life by Vanessa Williams’s vivid, heartbreaking performance as the mother. This is how you create an effective horror film, by balancing gore with story and character, creating an atmosphere in which we feel both lulled by the sights and sounds but always unsafe as to what could be lurking through that bathroom medicine cabinet or dark, graffiti scrawled hallway. A classic. There’s two sequels that aren’t too awful thanks solely to Todd’s presence, but they come nowhere close to this one.
iMurders. Just let that title sink in. It’s worse than it sounds. A movie about a series of murders related to an online internet chat room should at least have the trashy decency of something like Pulse or One Missed Call, but this thing plays like a soap opera that got cancelled after the pilot. Cheap, lazy and ridiculous, the only saving grace is the comforting presence of a few character actors to brighten your day. It’s a roundtable whodunit with a series of characters, all who might be the killer stalking them via ‘cutting edge’ technology that resembles nothing Apple has actually ever put out. There’s a tragic shooting from years before that has somehow spurred this lunatic to torment a MySpace group like this, but honestly it’s all a bunch of narrative mud. There’s a scandalous college professor (the great William Forsythe), Gabrielle Anwar (who honestly deserves better than this) as a girl with a few skeletons in her closet, a detective (Frank Grillo) with some personal ties to the case, and more. The one decent strand sees a mysterious psychiatrist (Charles Durning) interviewing a girl (Miranda Kwok), and the two appear to be in some weird other dimension, probably one where the horror films are better than stuff like this. Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd shows up as a sarcastic FBI agent. The whole thing has a silly Fisher Price feel to it and we never buy anything as legit, and even on the standards set by B Movies this is shameless, and that’s all I have to say. Oh and Billy Dee Williams is apparently in it too, but I’ll be fucked if I remember who he is.
If you ever find yourself in conversation with Tom Hardy at some cocktail party (one can dream), Minotaur is the film you bring up to both flabbergast and embarrass him, if only for your own amusement. It’s one of those low budget sword & sorcery schlock-fests that the SyFy channel used to broadcast at two in the morning on sleepy Saturday nights, to serve as background noise for whatever hedonistic shenanigans are going on in the living room. It’s Tom’s first ever starring role, and therefore should never be forgotten, like those old camcorder tapes of kids learning to ride sans training wheels for the first time. The story borrows from the legend, adding its own lurid, t&a soaked flair that only SyFy can get just right. Tom plays the son of a Viking chieftain (a brief Rutger Hauer), who goes looking for his true love, one among a few of the village’s youngsters who get kidnapped every year by a freaky pseudo African tribe of weirdos who sacrifice youths to the mythical Minotaur, residing in rocky catacombs beneath their city’s surface. Led by supreme weirdo Deucalion (Candyman’s Tony Todd, hamming up every scene), who fervently wants to impregnate his own hot sister (chill, dude), and oversees this theatrical occult ritual with obscene relish. This is one of those creature features where you barely see the beast for the first two thirds of the film, save for a quick snaggle of fur or fang rushing by in the shadows, and suspiciously looking like a bearskin rug cello taped to antlers and a hobby horse. Hardy does get an eventual confrontation with the Minotaur late in the game and deep in the maze, providing a few schlocky moments that are worth the ride, but it’s silly stuff most of the time, scraping the bottom of a barrel that does lower than the maze of the bull. Totally tagging Tom in thee blog post though in hopes that he sees this and it brightens his day just a bit.
Dark Reel is severely damaged goods no matter how you look at it. It sucks because there’s some good ideas trying their best to flourish beneath a mountain of sludge, but nothing of any value can breech the surface of this purely shitty B movie with scant traces of a decent outing. It starts off with a black and white prologue that looks like the only part of the film that wasn’t shot with an etch-a-sketch. Scarlett, a young aspiring actress, is lured into a dark abandoned set warehouse under the pretence of an audition, and brutally murdered. Fast forward about six decades, where a young groupie (Edward Furlong, looking like a sack of shit warmed over) wins a walk on role in a sickeningly trashy B movie monstrosity, starring a legendary scream queen (Tiffany Shepis, also a legendary scream queen in real life). It’s not long before so,done with ties to the murder in the prologue starts skulking around the set after hours and hacking people to pieces in ways that are as tasteless as they are cheap looking. The film has one redeeming quality, if you are a fan: Lance Henriksen. He plays Connor Pritchett, schlock movie producer and general whacko. Lance seriously plays the part like he has no idea what the script is, making up verbal diarrhea on the fly, undergoing titanic mood swings and displaying the coherency of someone with serious issues. It’s fun to watch him crash and burn, and even in the most awful poop material like this, he still shines, as batshit crazy as he is. There’s also a cop played by Tony Todd who acts just as unstable as Lance, and Todd rides the wave of his awfully written dialogue and poor direction like a sheepish pro. This is literally one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and the funny thing is that it didn’t have to be. The premise itself is great, and even on the couch change budget it was stuck with, they could have at least tried. But no, they threw in the bloody towel and instead of a gem or even an admirable failure we get this monumental piece of festering garbage instead. I had to keep myself occupied in any scenes without Henriksen by hitting half speed fast forward so the characters sound like chipmunks. It says a lot about a flick when you have to do that. Avoid at any cost.
Sushi Girl. What a title for a film. Could go one of many ways, and the filmmakers here have wrought a neat little genre package that would make Tarantino applaud. It’s bloody, pulpy, larger than life and a siful little cinematic treat. After a diamond heist blows up in the face of a group of hapless criminals, they gather in a dank warehouse to smoke out and eliminate the one who has betrayed them, inch by ultraviolent inch. Their leader Duke (the awesome Tony Todd) is a dangerous dude who will go to any lengths to obtain the stolen wealth. Fish (Noah Hathaway) is the punching bag for their little inquisition, taking quite a disturbing beatdown at the hands of Crow (Mark Hamill) the deranged lunatic of the group. Hamill steals his scenes, injecting a bit of his Joker persona and a whole ton of really scary energy into a psychotic performance that keeps the intrigue buoyant and electrically charged. The other two members of the group are two unsavory lowlifes called Max (Andy MacKenzie) and Francis (James Duval). The group doesn’t know how to play nice, especially Hamill, and we are treated to delightful vignettes of profanity, distrust and extreme violence for much of the film. This all plays out while a nude girl (Courtney Palm) splays out on the table in front of them, covered in sushi prepared by a strange chef (Sonny China, who else). This seems arbitrary.. trust me, it’s not. It’s pure pulp with a vague horror vibe, due to the presence of such genre titans and the graphic nature of the violence. It’s also got a brain in its head, a geniune story to tel which took commendable effort, and a cast that’s game to have a little fun as they take a trip into a twilight zone that’s part Reservoir Dogs, part Agatha Christie with just a dash of the macabre. Watch for a trio of hilarious cameos from Danny Trejo, Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn, who are short lived in the film, playing the joke to the hilt.
Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder is a completely awesome little horror flick that has gathered copious amounts of dust since it’s mid 90’s release. Forgotten and forsaken, it should have spawned an epic frachise in the vein of stuff like Wishmaster, but oh well, we’ve still got the original beloved entry. Now, just exactly how much of what we see in the film is based on actual Bram Stoker work is up for debate and a little beyond the scant research that I have done, but it’s a tidy little concept that’s executed with B-movie earnestness and a love for the spooky corner of cinema. The plot concerns a priest named Father Vassey, played by genre titan Michael Rooker. Vassey is probing the rural Midwestern belt of the US looking for an ancient demon that’s something like a shapeshifter who deeds on both darkness and human souls, which resembles a cloud of dust reflected through hundreds of chrystal prisms, from what i remember. He’s not your garden variety preacher, sporting two laser sighted semi automatic handguns which come handy in tight shadowy corners, and the jaded will to kick some supernatural ass, not so much in the name of the Lord (he doesn’t believe in god anymore) but more for a dark and personal crusade against the Shadowbuilder. The demon hovers around a young boy, hungering for a soul within that has the potential to both become a saint and also open a doorway to hell in one stroke. Vassey is a determind and resourceful badass, relying on nearby townsfolk for help and support, and Rooker sells the schlocky tone with remarkable gravity that is his trademark. He almost always plays extreme characters in tense narratives and keeps up the energy like clockwork. There’s a hilarious turn from a dread lock adorned Tony Todd (Candyman) as Evert Covey, a backwoods eccentric with a penchent for rastafarian speech and a part to play in the drama once we realize he isn’t there solely for comic relief. This one is hard to find and almost no one has seen it, but I’m hoping my review will change that, because it’s it’s a little treasure and a fantasy horror classic for me.