The Bad Movie Report
Flashes in the Brain Pan
Flashes in the Brain Pan
Flashes in the Brain Pan

I watch a lot of movies (there will now be a brief pause so you can put on a shocked face and gasp, "No!"), The trouble is, not every movie will support my normal several thousand words of ranting and raving. What to do? As usual, my show biz training comes to the rescue, with its main dictum of "If something works, steal it!" Ken Begg has been grouping smaller (yet somehow still massively dense) reviews in his monthly Video Cheese articles, so I have shamelessly ripped him off yet again. If I had a Playstation 2, I could blame Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (or what I like to call "The Amorality Simulator"), but I don't, so I'll just cite desperation during the inevitable confessorial press conference and weep copiously.

The Oblong Box

Of all the AIP Poe films (with the exception of The Haunted Palace and The Conquerer Worm, both of which appropriated Poe titles for marketing purposes), The Oblong Box has the least to do with its source material. With the exception, that is, of all the other Gordon Hessler-directed Poe pictures (Cry of the Banshee, Murders in the Rue Morgue). Inspired by Marlowe's site The Duck Speaks!, which examines B-movies and their literary roots, I pulled my copy of The Annotated Complete Tales of Edgar Allen Poe down from the top shelf, and had a go at it.

In case Marlowe has this one earmarked for review soon, I won't go into the original Poe story. Suffice to say that isn't Poe at his best, and the only thing it shares with the movie is both feature an oblong box at some point.

In 19th century England, Sir Julian Markham (Vincent Price) cares for his brother, Edward (Alister Williamson), who was attacked by an African tribe in the opening of the movie. This left him apparently mutilated and slowly going violently insane, chained in a secluded bedroom in the dark, creepy manor. The incident in Africa was sparked by something that happened at the Markham Brothers' plantation, and if you believe in such things, Edward is under a curse.

Things are not going well for this particular revival of "The Odd Couple"Edward puts in motion a complex scheme to escape, utilizing Julian's most trusted underling, and a witch doctor imported from Africa. A potion supplied by the witch doctor puts Edward into a coma indistinguishable from death. The underling is initally stymied when Julian locks the coffin up before the burial, then callously decides not to risk digging up Edward, dooming him to an agonizing death. Fate and crap movie coincidence takes a hand in the form of a resurrectionist robbing graves for a local doctor (Christopher Lee). The revived Edward, wearing a mask to conceal his disfigurement, blackmails the doctor for shelter, then proceeds to track down and kill the men who betrayed him.

The script is sadly dismal, following a slow hackneyed course to a bafflingly mean-spirited ending. Edward carries out his vengeance as slowly as possible, oftentimes flying into a homicidal rage and killing people who might have helped him. The movie comes to a dead halt when Edward goes to the Bad Side of Town looking for a servant girl who was nice to him. Then the dead halt comes to an even deader halt as we watch a protracted sequence of the drunken revelry in the pub. No lie, this sequence takes ten minutes, and adds nothing to the story.

In an interview at DVD Drive-In , Hessler mentions that AIP was happy with the dailies they were getting and gave him an extra week of shooting, asking him to "make it bigger". The rowdiness at the pub seems to be a prime example of this. Overall, The Oblong Box really seems to wish it were a Hammer movie... Hammer excelled at scenes of people misbehaving drunkenly... but Oblong Box isn't even up to the lesser Hammer outings. Well, okay, maybe it compares to Dracula A.D. 1972 or Scars of Dracula, but that's no excuse. The Corman-directed AIP Poes had an immediacy, a drive to the proceedings, but The Oblong Box manages to make voodoo curses, vengeful maniacs and premature burials paradoxically languid and diffuse.


 

The BoogensFor years, people told me that I really should check out The Boogens, that it was a "decent horror movie". Well, I finally checked it out, and it is. Notice they didn't say great horror movie, though. The box bears a glowing recommendation from Stephen King, but in the 80s, what the hell didn't?

The opening sequence is damn clever, I must admit: newspaper headlines from the 1880s provide the backstory underneath the credits. A big silver strike births the boom town of Silver City, but things soon go sour as mysterious attacks begin decimating the ranks of the miners. The Army Corps of Engineers eventually arrives and dynamites the mine shut. End of story.

Rather, end of credits, as a four man crew arrives in the present day of 1981 to blast the mine back open and prep it for operation. Of course, since we're here to watch a horror movie, we're pretty sure that whatever was attacking the miners at the turn of the century is still down there, and it's likely powerful peckish at this point. It doesn't help that in the silver mine's heyday, connecting tunnels were dug right into the homes of Silver City...

The Boogens is a fairly typical monster movie. There are few surprises as the plot unfolds, except that incidents that provide leaden filler in other horror movies are actually entertaining here. The characters are very likeable, and the leads are cast a little against type. Although lead female Rebecca Balding (of Soap and Silent Scream) isn't the typical pin-up beauty that seems to be expected in these flicks, she is goshdarn cute, which has the interesting effect of making me want to protect her even more. Shown as being smart and resourceful throughout the movie, the movie hits a false note in the climax by playing the Screaming Panicky Female Card, which is unfortunate. The Odious Comic Relief is among the first to die, which always ensures the movie a special place in my tiny black heart. Director James L. Conway delivers a solid piece of work; he helmed another low-budget movie that's fondly remembered, Hangar 18, and has since gone on to direct a slew of TV episodes, in series like Charmed and Enterprise.

As ever, though, we're here to see the monsters, and, ah...

Sigh.

Throughout the movie, the filmmakers play it cagey by not showing the beasties, which is SOP for monster movies that aren't total crap. A tentacle here, some sort of extensible slashing claw there, they're presented as being pretty frightening... until they have to be shown at the end, and then they're pretty laughable, appearing to be some sort of mutant turtle with tentacles and beach ball heads. I've seen much worse, though, and so have you. Probably recently.

Though I can't recommend you rush right out and find this movie, I can say it's more than a painless way to waste an hour and a half, it's a pretty enjoyable way, and sometimes that's enough.

 

The Anasazi Mummy.  Because nothing says "terror" like cheap computer-generated titles

Sometimes I get screeners. Before you get envious, let me point out that these are rarely screeners for movies I actively desire. There are rare surprises like Bram Stoker's Shadowbuilder, but most of them run to the quality of Sorority House Vampires from Hell, which, I must admit, actually survived three stomps before breaking. So when I received a tape of The Anasazi Mummy with a note from the producer/director, Stephan T. Ripps that read "Hope this makes your 'Worst of the Worst' list!" let's just say confidence was not high.

I'll start by saying The Anasazi Mummy has a few things going for it. First, it's only 29 minutes long. Second...

...um...

...Okay, let's see what we get in our 29 minutes.

2 Minutes of set-up as our protagonist meets three guys in a café who want him to come out to the desert and party with them. The protagonist (never given a name, and henceforth referred to as Proty) turns them down, and proceeds to tell them about the time he went into the desert with a group of students and was the only one to come back alive. The two minutes include the opening credits. Fair enough.

2 minutes of recruitment footage as University of Nevada at Las Vegas student Robert asks various people to come out to the desert with him to dig for Anasazi relics. I don't know about you, but nothing says archeology to me like impromptu outings. This is probably the first sequence to be shot, as some of the "actors" have not yet suppressed the need to glance at the camera before, after, or during the scene. Robert asks one person in a commons area with vending machines, and in the reverse shot, the answering person is mysteriously outside, in front of a shopping center.

The reasons his expedition members - apparently chosen at random - agree to go are at least varied. Proty agrees because... well, somebody has to survive to tell the story, I guess. One guy agrees because a gang is looking for him, and he needs to get out of town. Another pops open a can of Mountain Dew, announces that the Anasazi did peyote, and that's good enough for him, and immediately throws the can away. The one female member (the one who teleports outside for her consent) is a semi-Goth chick * who agrees to go because the Anasazi were supposed to be cannibals.

2 minutes of Robert grappling with The Man to get faculty consent for his trip. Why this is necessary is beyond me, but the faculty of UNLV are stone fascists, maaaaan, and they're giving him the runaround.

4 minutes as Robert recaps everything we already know to student activist "Paco" and "Paco" recounts the methodology of his successful campaign to prevent an "illegal format change" at the campus radio station. Given that there is a Brian "Paco" Alvarez in the credits, there is a good chance that this is a true story. It's certainly tedious enough to be one.

1.5 Minutes of Robert walking around campus, climbing stairs, and meeting with "the Professor", as arranged by "Paco", to find out they're leaving at 7am the next morning. Go, "Paco"! "The Professor" manages, in just one scene, to look at the camera more times than the rest of the cast combined. Go, "the Professor"!

1 minute of loading everybody in "the Professor"s truck for the trip to the desert. I guess this is why they needed the faculty - nobody else has wheels.

4 minutes of driving out into the desert. Proty informs us this would have been really boring without "the Professor"s stereo and Proty's brand new Swallow This CD. So we get to hear a song by Swallow This while watching desert scenery creep by through the windshield.

Yes sir, that's one sneaky Injun.I'm not sure how you young'uns classify your music these days, but in my time we probably would have called Swallow This "punk" or "hardcore". I'm sure "the Professor" loved hearing it, which is why he boots them out "400 miles southwest of Las Vegas". And apparently hotfoots it back to civilization, probably muttering under his breath the whole way.

2.5 minutes of our cannon fodder hiking "7 or 8 miles" through the desert, to the toe-tapping tunes of Swallow This. Somebody's carrying a shovel, and somebody else is carrying what looks like an unrolled sleeping bag, but overall these guys seem woefully unprepared for a couple of days in the desert. Nobody is wearing a hat, Robert never wears anything but black concert T-shirts, and absolutely nobody is carrying water. Guess it's a good thing they're doomed.

Oh, yeah, there's an Indian following them. The accompanying Swallow This song runs a little long, so we get to see that shot twice.

1.5 minutes of orange-tinted footage (the sun is setting) as the party unearths a mummified Anasazi Witch Doctor. As the mummy is barely under the surface, we must assume that the coyotes in this neck of the desert are not particularly pro-active. The Indian, Edward Two Dogs, crops up for some exposition. Unfortunately, the camera mike is no match for the desert wind (which keeps threatening to blow off Edward's hat), so the wily Indian must teleport to another location so he can give his speech about the Medicine Man Mummy coming to life every now and then to drive off palefaces. Robert is having none of this as he just spent 22.5 minutes getting to this point, so Edward moseys off and the party proceeds to pitch camp for the night.

"Camp" is a very loose term here, as our party mainly sit on the blue-tinted ground and talk silently, probably wondering why none of them thought to bring a tent or water, but somebody sure as hell brought the stereo and Swallow This CD, so we can listen to them for the next 2.5 minutes.

Dick Clark prepares to host another New Year's Rockin' Eve.Somebody comes back from being "on watch" to tell Robert the mummy is gone. Robert immediately assumes that Edward stole it, and heads out into the blue tint to get his mummy back. Robert never returns. Lucky bastard.

Now, at 24 minutes, with barely five minutes left to go, our title character shows up. He's not bad - the mask is pretty darned good, in fact. The white robe costume is okay, if suspiciously clean for being in the ground for so long. The hands appear to be gloves from a Jack Skellington costume, and we see the actor's fleshy forearms between the sleeves and the gloves a little too often, but what the heck.

So for 2.5 minutes we get the Anasazi Mummy death-a-thon set to the immortal strains of Swallow This. First the Mummy shows up with "the world's largest diamondback rattler". Damn, that thing is huge! Almost like it was, I dunno, a python or something...

The Mummy crops up with a bow and arrow for the next guy. We see the Mummy pull back his bow (he's standing six feet from the guy, who never notices) , then we cut to his victim with successively more arrows stuck in the paperback book that's hidden under his shirt. Watch this sequence for the novel "Is the camera on? Okay, then I'll act!" form of his death throes.

The Semi-Goth Chick gets lifted off the ground by her neck (this is required by law in all crap zombie and mummy flicks) and then she magically transforms to the bug wrangler so we can see a scorpion and a tarantula caper about her body. That the poor arthropods only want to get out of the frickin' sun by crawling under her body is all too obvious.

Well, it's Proty's turn, but in a startling 15 seconds, Edward Two Dogs appears, throws his zippo lighter off-camera, and the Mummy is wreathed in digitally-superimposed flames, which somehow manages to actually be more effective than a similar effect in The Dead Hate the Living. So much for ancestor worship.

NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!And, back in the present, Proty storms out of the café. The three guys left behind decide to go into the desert anyway. Oh, look, the Mummy's still wandering around. Oh, look, the credits. Oh, look, I can buy a Swallow This CD. Oh, look, the end. Oh, look, I seem to have accidentally slashed my wrists at some point...

I'd hate to disappoint Stephan, but I don't make lists. The Anasazi Mummy is pretty bad, though - it never rises above its home movie origins. Post-production is evident in some of the transitions, the titles, the tinting, but the whole enterprise needed a little more up-cutting to excise actor flubs and at least one instance where the camera accidentally shoots a little footage when it wasn't supposed to be on.

So what is The Anasazi Mummy , really? Home movie ...or marketing tool for Swallow This? (I'm voting for the latter). I'll just say that the best part of the flick is the old guy in the café who's obviously wearing a long-haired wig ("You bring the bud, and I'll bring the Bud Lite!"), and the fake critical comments on the movie's Website, which you can also visit by clicking "Own It!" below. But should you own it? Cripes, don't be layin' that on me, man. I've done my job.


 

- November 12, 2002