May 30th, 2008

WRESTLEMANIAC (2008) ** ½

A bunch of amateur porn stars on their way to a film shoot down in Mexico get lost and wind up in a ghost town where they are terrorized by “El Mascarado” (lucha libre legend Rey Misterio, Sr.), a psycho killer made up from the best parts of three of the greatest Mexican wrestlers of all time.  When the porn starlets wander away from the shoot, they get offed one by one by the demented luchador, who gets his jollies by ripping their faces off.  The knowledgeable porn cameraman Steve (Jeremy Radin), a wrestling fan, deduces that the only way to stop the killer is by taking his mask off (the ultimate humiliation for a Mexican wrestler, for those who don’t know). 

 

I don’t want to give anything else away, but all I’m going to say is that the killer keeps his mask firmly on his face for the whole movie.   

 

Basically the flick is a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre except with a crazed Mexican wrestler as the antagonist.  (In fact, the original working title was The Mexican Porn Massacre.)  Most of the murders happen off screen, but we do get a decent throat gouging (complete with spurting arterial spray), teeth pounding, pole skewering, and of course some pretty sweet face ripping scenes.  Not a lot is really done with the whole porn subplot (save for an excuse to show some gratuitous nudity), but I did like the scene where one porn starlet was able to cram herself into a small hiding space thanks to her contortionist skills.

 

Wrestlemaniac is a fun, breezy way to spend 75 minutes, but my biggest quibble with the film is that the killer never really used any wrestling moves on his victims.  While he does give one girl a backbreaker, he doesn’t frequently resort to any other ring techniques until the final battle with the overweight cameraman.  Can you imagine how great the film COULD have been if it was nothing but El Mascarado body slamming and suplexing video vixens for an hour and fifteen minutes?  Oh well. 

 

While not perfect, Wrestlemaniac effectively combines porn, horror, and wrestling, which are three things that society as we know it today was founded on; so what more do you want?

 

Of the cast, Radin easily gives the best performance and gets the funniest line of the movie:  “They gave him fifty lobotomies and it didn’t help for shit!”

SWING PARADE (1946) * ½

 

After nearly 200 short films for Columbia Pictures, The Three Stooges co-starred in this embarrassingly bad musical comedy for the poverty row Monogram Studios.

 

The plot has a crusty newspaper owner who tries to cockblock his son from opening a “swinging” nightclub.  He sends a feisty ingénue singer to gum up the works, but they predictably end up falling in love.  If all this romantic angling wasn’t enough, there’s also an assortment of bit players (including one annoying kid who does sound effects) who perpetually slow the flick down.  Thankfully, The Stooges play a trio of waiters at the club and make you occasionally chuckle during their woefully limited screen time. 

 

Stooges fans will check it out sight unseen, but the boys are mostly just supporting comic relief meant to play up the bland romantic leads (similar to what The Marx Brothers were often reduced to).  The film is filled with too much “romance”, an overabundance of “plot”, and way too many “swinging” musical numbers, leaving very little time for the Stooges to do their shtick.  There’s hardly any of the team’s patented slapstick here, but there is a good scene where Curly tries to fix a leak. 

 

Curly suffered from a debilitating stroke the same year this was released and had to quit the team.  Director Phil Karlson went on to direct such drive-in hits as Ben and Walking Tall.

 

AKA:  Swing Parade of 1946.

HOUSE OF THE DAMNED (1963) * ½

 

An architect and his wife go to a ramshackle castle to do a survey.  They end up spending the night and they are soon menaced by the deformed circus performer squatters who are living in the basement.  

 

House of the Damned is roughly in the same vein as House on Haunted Hill (it even features a similar scene where a crazy looking old biddy jumps out of a closet), but it’s nowhere near as good.  Even though the film was produced as a second feature, it was still filmed in eye-popping Cinemascope, so at least it LOOKS great.  Despite the scant running time (just over an hour), the film is rife with jokey stalling tactics (like receiving the “13 Keys” from the Groucho lookalike realtor) and is seriously lacking in the chills department.  Director Maury (Mini-Skirt Mob) Dexter provides an atmospheric moment or two (like the legless guy shuffling along a darkened corridor at midnight), but Harry Spalding’s script is hopelessly thin. 

 

The biggest letdown has to be the ending.  I mean the story builds up the haunted house angle so much and then it “surprises” the audience by giving us the road company from Freaks hanging out in the basement in lieu of any real ghosts or monsters.  Besides the legless guy, there’s also a living torso, a fat lady and a giant played by Richard Kiel.  While it’s always fun to see a pre-Jaws Kiel in a supporting role in a cheesy horror movie, he isn’t really given a whole lot to do in this pseudo-shocker besides stand around and be tall. 

 

Richard Crane (TV’s Rocky Jones) gets the best line of the movie when he says:  “Lawyers don’t carry guns, their clients do!”

 

Spalding also wrote the much better The Day Mars Invaded Earth for Dexter the same year. 

THE STRANGERS (2008) ** ½

 

The Strangers was probably a little bit more effective for me than it will be for most viewers seeing as though I just had an odd experience a couple weeks ago where a belligerent man came ringing on my doorbell in the middle of the night and wouldn’t go away.  Although I was perfectly safe because I called the cops on him PDQ and 5-0 was there in no time flat, it was still quite an unnerving experience.  Scott (Underworld) Speedman and Liv (Lord of the Rings) Tyler aren’t so lucky in this flick.

 

Basically they play an unhappy couple (the long and the short of it: he proposed and she said no) whose home gets invaded by a trio of psychos in shoddy Halloween masks who fuck with their minds for 75 minutes before tying them up and mistaking their abdomens for Ginsu cutting boards.

 

I liked how first time director Bryan Bertino slowly built up the suspense during the first half of the movie.  He efficiently used eerie sound effects (banging doors, scurrying footsteps, etc.) to ratchet up the tension and delivered at least one quality scare when the sicko with a gunnysack over his head made his first appearance. 

 

After a strong start though, the movie kinda fizzled out towards the end.  Bertino ran out of tricks at the homestretch and eventually he had to resort to cheap shock tactics and ho-hum scenes of torture.  While the three masked killers conveyed an adequate sense of menace and had a high creepy factor to them, their Jason Vorhees ability to magically disappear and reappear without a trace whenever they needed to got a bit much as the film wore on.  The gore was sparse, but at least there was a top drawer shotgun blast to the face scene about midway through.

 

The Strangers is definitely not Top Ten material, but it’s got enough jolts for a ** ½ rating.