Garden Variety (Slugs the Movie, 1988)

slugs_the_movie_posterThis movie about slugs with teeth that eat people is called Slugs the Movie because it is based on the book, and they wanted to make sure you understood they were connected.  There was a second book by the author Shaun Hutson about man eating slugs.  Think about that.

The hero of the film is a health worker named Mike Brady.  The slugs are very calculated at first, making sure to leave the scene of the crime.  Of course, Eagle-Eyed Brady (it is never used in the movie, but I am sure that is what everybody calls him) finds a trail of slime at the scene of the crime.

This may surprise you if you have never seen a nature themed monster movie, but nobody really believes Brady.

This is after a guy rips his face off in a restaurant full of customers because he has slug based parasites in his brain.  It was not the fault of the restaurant, his wife made a salad with a slug in it.  Anyways, with the help of a scientist, the hero and his small team come up with a chemical to kill all the slugs.  They go to the nest, the slugs apparently swim (they attack a guy in a boat on a lake and the devour a guy in a water tank where their nest is) and so the nest is in the sewers.

The cast is pretty stiff, and there are not really any names in the film.  A lot of this has to do with the film was main in Spain and there appears to be a fair amount of dubbing.  The effects are pretty solid compared to the times.  They use shots of regular slugs mixed with fake slugs which has…well, mixed results.  Some of the ways they achieved shots is kind of interesting.  Slugs is also a very slow paced film, this in spite of having a kill every ten minutes or so.

slugs_blu-rayArrow Films has released a special edition Blu-Ray which is packed with features.  There are several interviews with cast and crew.  They are very interesting and informative.  The interview with Special Effects man Carlo De Marchis is especially illuminating with behind the scene photos of the effects.  De Marchis has worked with Ridley Scott and Steven Speilberg, so he has a strong effects background and shares some great stories.  All but one of the interview featurettes are in Spanish and have subtitles, but this really allows the interviewee to not spend time searching for the right English words to express.

The Blu-Ray contains two commentaries, and one is with the author of the novel, Shaun Hutson.  This commentary is a lot of fun, and Hutson is quite entertaining.  For example, Hutson was hired to write the novelization of the Terminator.  After the novel was printed and being shipped, there was a discovery that the rights had not actually been obtained, resulting in someone else writing a novelization of the film.  Hutson mentions how when seeing Slugs in a theater, he kept turning to his wife (asking if various scenes were in the book).

Arrow has put together a nice package here that is informative and entertaining, even if the film itself is not amazingly good.



Let’s Visit Texas Part 7 (Texas Chainsaw 3D, 2013)

texas_chainsaw_3d_posterPicking right up where the original film ended, Texas Chainsaw opens with a recap of the original Massacre.  This is one of the best parts of the film as the remastering on the original film’s footage is really nice.  The film starts it’s own story with the town sheriff driving out to the Sawyer clan’s house.  He confronts the family, but a lynch mob shows up.  A fire is started and the mob celebrates the Sawyer family demise.  One of the mob discovers a mother and her baby, he kills the mother and he and his wife raise the baby as their own, naming her Heather.

40 years later, Heather is about 24 years old.  Yes, the film starts in 1974 and picks up in 2012.  Yes the young woman is clearly in her twenties.


Anyways, Heather gets a special delivery package telling her that her biological mother has died.  Her friends pack up a van (what is it the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and vans?) and head down to Texas for her inheritance.  She finds out she has inherited a very large house.  She also finds that her grandmother was not particularly liked by the local townsfolk…what with her being related to the Sawyer clan and all.  The mob ringleader Burt is now the mayor, and he offers to buy the property.  Heather politely declines.  While partying at the mansion, Heather’s friends start getting picked off by Leatherface (who apparently ages at the same rate as Heather).  She manages to reach town, which alerts Burt and the others that Leatherface is not dad as previously assumed.  And this is when Heather discovers that the townsfolk are as much a threat to her as Leatherface.

And herein lies the biggest problem film.  It makes Leatherface more sympathetic and less of a villain than other characters in the film.  He is more sympathetic than Burt and his cronies, to the point that the Sheriff refuses to interfere when Leatherface gets the upper hand.  Heather takes him home and takes the role of caretaker for Leatherface.

It is a visually nice film, but the characters are paper thin archetypes.  The continuity is pretty shoddy.  Where did all the Sawyer family members come from at the beginning?  It is not really clear.  How is Heather not nearly 40 in the film?  Why doesn’t Leatherface know Heather is coming?  I mean, aside from it makes more sense when he initially tries to kill her.  Texas Chainsaw is a very weak film (though the 3D works pretty well).  Sure, it is better than Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III or the abysmal Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.  But that is not saying a lot.

The Hunger (Microwave Massacre, 1983)

microwave_massacre_videoI vaguely remember seeing the cover in video stores before VHS died out…I never got around to renting it…and part of that is because the Cannibal Genre was never my thing.  Monster movies and some slashers?  Sure.

So when I sat down to watch the film, I was unaware of it’s status as “The Worst Horror Movie of All Time”.  As the film began, I cringed…for awhile, I could not understand why it was considered a horror film.  And I thought…wow, this is terrible.

A lot of whether you are entertained by a film can be based on your understanding of what you are walking into.  And Microwave Massacre is not a horror film.  It is a very dark comedy.  One of two movies directed by Wayne Berwick and based on a story by Minnesota Native Craig Muckler, the film stars Jackie Vernon as construction worker Donald.  Donald has two buddies who work with him and are both…well, kind of burnouts.  Meanwhile, Donald struggles with his overbearing wife who has decided they should only eat gourmet meals.  One night he gets so frustrated with her he kills her…and to hide the body?  Well, this is where the cannibal part comes in.

This entire film is on a tight budget with only one big name (which is not a criticism, just an observation).  Jackie Vernon is very well known to almost everyone old enough to see TV in 1969 and on.  He was the voice of Frosty the Snowman in three seasonal cartoons that still air around the Christmas Holiday.  A stand up comic, Vernon brings a certain goofy quality to Donald.  He is not scary, in spite of being a cannibal.  I would not proclaim every moment comedic gold. His buddies do add some comedic touches as well.

The effects are very low budget and unconvincing, which actually works in the film’s favor.  Everything looks so fake, it is hard to be grossed out by it.  This is a film that most will like be turned off by, but for those who appreciate the dark side of comedy, it may be worth checking out.

microwave_massacre_blu-rayLast month, Arrow Films released the film on Blu-ray.  The picture (from a 2K restoration) gives the film a cleaner look than it ever could have gotten in all the years on VHS.  There is a documentary My Microwave Massacre that gives a lot of background in interviews with Berwick, Muckler and actor Loren Schein who I thought I recognized from multiple roles only to find this was his only acting role.  I realized later that he kind of reminded me of Special Effects King Rick Baker.  It would have been nice if they could have included more cast and crew, but I also realize that it can be hard to reach people who disappeared from the business quickly (a majority of the cast have this one movie as their only credit).  The audio commentary with Muckler is fun and informative.  He and the moderator have a solid rapport (oddly, the disc menu says the commentary is with Berwick).

Let’s Visit Texas (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning, 2006)

texas_chainsaw_massacre_beginning_posterThe very nature of a horror movie prequel is pretty bleak.  If you are going back to “the beginning”, you pretty much wreck any hopes for a happy ending.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre the Beginning follows two couples.  The young men are brothers, one returning to duty in Vietnam and the other joining him.  Except the younger brother really does not want to go.  In what seems like a small action, he starts to burn his card, but they find themselves in a car accident.  Who should find them?  Sheriff Hoyt.  Except, now we discover that Hoyt is not the Sheriff at all.  Young Thomas Hewlett went on a slaughtering spree the day they closed the only job he could love…working the slaughterhouse.


When the sheriff stops Thomas, he is killed and Hoyt took over the role. When Hoyt finds the burned draft card, he gets irate and starts torturing the brothers.  One of the girlfriends got away, but the other suffers all sorts of torment.  The “Final Girl” (a term used very loosely here) tries to save her friends, but the situation just gets worse, right to the bitter end.  You know she cannot get away…the Hewlett’s have to make sure nobody gets away.

Everything is pretty by the book, and the film lacks any real twists, as it is super busy filling in the blanks from the first film.  These were not necessary to fill in, as they were things like “How did that old guy lose his legs?”  Or “How come Hoyt has fake teeth?”  The answer is that everything happened in this one moment of time in the 60’s.

The cast is pretty decent, and again Ermey is disturbingly entertaining.  But other then that, nothing really stands out.  It is gory and gritty, taking it’s look from the previous film.  But it never quite grabs the viewer in any way.  The characters are under developed, and while sometimes a film can be entertaining enough to give that a pass, this is not the case here.

One interesting note is John Laroquette reprises his role as narrator again, though the film closes with his narration instead of opens with it.

Fishies Pt 5 (Piranha 3DD, 2012)

piranha_3dd_posterThe surprise success of Piranha 3D (which has a 73% Fresh Rating) resulted in another 3-D sequel.  Apparently the takeaway for this film’s “creative team” from the previous film’s success was boobs.  The title, Piranha 3DD?  The posters?  The plot?

The story centers around a water park run by David Koechner’s Chet and the return of his step daughter Maddy (Danielle Panabaker, the Flash).  Maddy’s mother has died and Chet is a classy guy introducing an adult section to the Water Park.  Maddy is appalled, but also happy to be back to see her friends.

The prehistoric fish are back, having escaped into a water supply, ultimately reaching the lake by the water park.  There are corrupt cops (Maddy’s boyfriend, because…oh who cares) working with Chet to turn a blind eye to his cost cutting ways.  The fish get into the park’s water system, eat people and cause carnage.

This film is gleefully trashy, yet manages to miss the mark entirely.  The jokes are a bit more mean spirited and the characters are, at best, not terribly interesting to  to watch.  At worst, they are pretty unlikable.  Keochner’s Chet is unlikable, but that is typical for characters he plays.  So, as opposed to other unlikable characters, he is hilarious in his unlikable nature.

The film just falls apart and the plot becomes lost very quickly.  The cameos are, mostly, not clever.  Other than David Hasselhoff, the cameos have no real connection to water based horror.  I mean, Hasselhoff is part of water themed horror.  But Gary Busey?

Along with Koechner, there are some other bright spots.  Paul Scheer and Ving Rhames return, in spite of it appearing both died in the last film.  To be fair, Scheer literally disappears from the movie.  He and Rhames have come to the park to challenge their fear of water (apparently the piranha attack in Lake Victoria was traumatic…babies).  When the Piranhas show up, Rhames reveals his fake legs are also shotguns.  Oddly, Rhames does not appear in the credits.  David Hasselhoff is amusing portraying himself as a rather detached and delusional star.  And  Christopher Lloyd makes a reappearance as entertaining as the previous film.  But it is a pretty short scene.

But this film stumbles in trying to outdo the gore and nudity of the previous film.  It makes Aja’s film to look like art.  Heck, the closing credits take forever, because they are filled with “gags” and “bloopers”.  This film fails while trying to imitate it’s predecessor. Remember that Piranha 3D Rotten Tomatoes rating of 73%? 3DD is at 4%…and deservedly so.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 5 (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2003)

texas_chainsaw_massacre_2003_posterPeople stopped trying to make sequels and the franchise looked to be quietly slipping into history.  Then, in the early 2000’s Michael Bay formed Platinum Dunes and purchased the rights to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Instead of going the sequel route, Bay opted for a remake.  This was also a reboot of the franchise.  The film was still set in 70’s and featured a young CW TV type of cast…before the CW existed.

The film opens with the same basic narration of the original (with John Laroquette reprising his role as narrator-which is a fun reference to the original) before introducing us to a group of friends on a road trip.  They pick up a hitchhiker (much like the original), a young woman who seems very traumatized (unlike the original).  She kills herself, which results in the kids looking for help.  They meet local sheriff Hoyt.  He is gruff and seems a bit off, but it is only later the kids realized what danger they are in.

Directed by music video director Marcus Nispel (among his video work?  An Amy Grant video short) the film is definitely stylish.  There are all sorts interesting camera shots (one gruesome shot pulls out from the terrified friends through a head wound an out of the bullet hole of the van’s rear window).   The various citizens of the small Texas Community are all slightly creepy. Every location is unnerving.  The film’s color scheme causes it to feel like it could be filmed in the 70’s, giving a gritty look to the film.  Nispel went on to direct the glossy Friday the 13th reboot a few years later.

Leatherface is big and imposing…and R. Lee Ermey steals a lot of scenes with a character who is like his Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant, but slightly nicer.  Okay, kidding.  Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt is disturbing and genuinely frightening.

The film’s cast is actually quite good, though the central young women are overly sexualized (not a big surprise from a Bay production).  The film lingers especially on shots of Jessica Biel in her midriff top (well, technically, Erika Leerhsen is in less).

This is one of those remakes that manages to be pretty decent in it’s own right.  It manages to take the things that matter from the original while choosing to tell it’s own version of the story.  After the first two films, this is probably the strongest entry in the franchise.

Fishies Pt 4 (Piranha 3D, 2010)

piranha_2010_posterIt is spring break in Lake Victoria and the kids are hear to party…get drunk, flash people, have sex…you know regular spring breakin’.  The local sheriff (Elizabeth Shue)is trying to keep things in control, and needs her son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) to watch his younger brother and sister.  Except he has been hired by Derrick (Jerry O’Connell) to take him and his crew around to the best Spring Break Locations.  Derrick runs a website called Wild Wild Girls* and wants to take advantage of the crowds at Lake Victoria.  Jake schemes, leaving his sibling home alone so he can hang out with Derrick and his group (including two Wild Wild Girls).  Unexpectedly, the girl he has a crush on, Kelly, gets brought on to the boat.

A research team headed by Novak (Parks and Rec’s Adam Scott) arrives to investigate a recent earthquake.  With the help of the Sheriff, they discover the earthquake opened an underground lake and has freed carnivorous fish.  And then the race is on to find the fish and stop them.

Of course, you know they will not succeed and spring break is an all you can eat buffet.  The fish work their way through the winding lake until they get to gorge themselves on swimmers.   In spite of not being shown for critics, the critics were pretty generous with this film.

The reason is, the film does not take itself seriously.  It is gleefully trashy and has fun with that.  There is no message about ecology or anything.  It is just about big and hungry fish.  And people in swimsuits.  The big sequence is a ridiculously over the top gore sequences as the Sheriff and Novak work alongside the deputies trying to save the Spring Breakers.  The effects are largely very good (though some digital moments are pretty obvious) and the film is carnage candy.

The movie has a very firm tongue in cheek attitude.  This is shown in it’s cameos, which are pitch perfect.  Eli Roth is an obnoxious Wet T-Shirt Contest Host.  Christopher Lloyd is a Doc Brown styled ichthyologist and the film opens Richard Dreyfuss slyly portraying his Matt Hooper character from Jaws.

The performances are really fun.  Ving Rhames is enjoyable Shue’s right hand man Deputy Fallon.  Paul Sheer is a goofy crony of of Derrick’s.  And Derrick?  O’Connell has one of the best lines of the entire film.  He plays Joe Franc-uh Derrick with no fear of the edge of the ledge.  I am a big fan of Adam Scott, and he is a lot of fun…it is kind of like he is playing a Action Ben Wyatt.  Kelly Brook’s performance is no major star turn, but her character Danni is likeable and seems keen on getting Jake and Kelly together as a couple.   Jessica Szohr is a lot of fun as Kelly, who is the kind of person to step up to the plate when challenged and when it is suggested she is maybe a bit uptight, shows Jake she is more than willing to cut loose.  Probably the supporting cast member to get the short end of the stick is Crystal, played by Riley Steel.  She has very little personality and pretty much is there to look good in a bikini.

This film should fall squarely into terrible, yet it has a lot of personality and makes for a real fun “Guilty Pleasure” movie.




*Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis wrote an angry letter to the producers and Jerry O’Connell repeatedly said he was playing Francis…upon threat of a lawsuit, O’Connell changed it to “For Legal reasons I play someone loosely based on Joe Francis”.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 4 (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Next Generation, 1994/1997)

texas_chainsaw_massacre_the_next_generationWritten and Directed by original Chainsaw co-writer Kim Henkel, this was meant to be the “real” sequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (it references the two previous sequels in it’s opened scrawl as “minor incidents”).  And it was so good that it was shelved for a few years, like you do with wine.  It went the festival circuit briefly a Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre briefly before being shelved.  It reached readiness in 1997.  What magical thing happened?  Well, in 1996 Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger hit it big with a Time to Kill and Jerry Maguire.  Oh, did I forget to mention that they were in this?  Their talent agency tried to block the release.  And I will say, it is pretty understandable  why they would try and keep this one under wraps.


Set on prom night in Texas, Renee and her friends get in a car accident…they run into the Slaughter clan.  Terrible things happen.  Leatherface is now a sort of transvestite.  The reason they are the Slaughter family instead of the Sawyers is unclear.

This film has the worst Leatherface mask…it looks like it was made by a junior high student.  Leatherface seems to pointlessly chase Renee for like…fifteen minutes.  This is what the They Live fight would have been like if it was terrible.

Some have tried to claim the film is a horror comedy.  But it is pretty terrible at that…since it is not actually funny.  One of the jokes is one of the evil clan ordering vegetarian.  HI-larious.  Admittedly, McConaughey does turn in a decent performance and seems to be having fun in his own little movie.  Zellweger is okay, but she is playing a stock character with little room beyond running and screaming.

I will give them credit for one thing.  The film puts the “camera screech” to an original use as it plays while prom photos are being shot.

Anyways…even the trailer is terrible.


Fishies Pt 3 (Piranha, 1995)

piranha_1995_posterProbably the most interesting fact of the Piranha remake is that a twelve year old Mila Kunis plays the daughter of the Greatest American Hero.

In 1995, Roger Corman and Showtime started remaking Corman “Classics” like Not of This Earth and Humanoids From the Deep.

Piranha was part of this series and the worst thing about it?  It is not bad or good.  It is just there.  It exists.  It is a pretty straight remake, just with a different cast.

William Katt (The Greatest American Hero & House) and Alexandra Paul (Baywatch & Christine) head up the cast.  The film follows  the original beat for beat.

There is not much to say, the effects are updated (yet there are many effects shots from the original film used in place of shooting new footage).  But the film brings nothing new to the story and ends up being so close to the original, it feels pointless.

The Showtime films somehow managed to tame the source material, which ends up making them…well…toothless.  It lacks Dante’s flair and has no chance of unseating the original.  This explains why the film is largely forgotten.

Just one random observation of both the original and the remake.  Somehow, when people start getting attacked while on docks or in boats, they are unable to remove legs or arms from the water…people are even pulled from boats by the piranha.  Because they are super strong…I guess?

Let’s Visit Texas Part 3 (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, 1990)

After the failure of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, New Line Cinema got the the rights.  And they were determined to make the Texas Chainsaw Massacre into a franchise in line with their Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.  Let me get this out of the way.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 has one of the best Teaser Trailers Ever:

leatherface_tcm3_posterOf course, absolutely to be expected the movie is just not as wonderfully absurd as the trailer.  Truthfully, the most interesting aspect of the film is they tried to get Peter Jackson to direct and the film stars Future Aragorn, Viggo Mortenson.  Unlike the second film, this one goes for darker and gorier.

A young couple runs afoul of Leatherface and his new family.  Leatherface is the only returning character (to be fair, all the others died in the second film) and his new family is a different approach.  They are more of a traditional family.  You know, a traditional family who hacks people up.  But a traditional family.  A mom, dad, kids, a guy with a weird eye.  And a big, big chainsaw.

Again…traditional family.

The film’s cast was mostly unknown at the time, though they did include genre vet Ken Foree. The cast is generally likeable, but the story is kind of dopey.  The story includes all sorts of references to the original film, but they feel like moments where the film makers felt they should be following the original closely without directly ripping it off.  At the same time, it is clear that the first time screen writer David Schow was trying to take the series in a slightly different direction that made the sequel open for more sequels.

The film also had many re-shoots that significantly altered the story.  One character clearly dies at the hands of Leatherface.  And then shows back up at the end.  A lot of what is happening gets confusing.

Director Jeff Burr had made the entertaining horror anthology Whisper to a Scream (also known as the Offspring).  The film was made bloody, but it then cut extensively to satisfy the MPAA.  So gore hounds were not going to be satisfied, while people looking for a great scary story were not going to get that either.  Everybody involved seems to have put a lot of effort to do it right…but there were to many cooks in the kitchen.

Looking back, most of the crew is pretty honest about how terrible the film turned out to be.  I had a conversation with Jeff Burr back in 2004, and he made no pretense about how it would be a good film “if only”.  And I honestly enjoy that kind of honesty.  Here is a short documentary about it.

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