June 18th, 2008

CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1966) ** ½

Chamber of Horrors is a leisurely paced but entertaining horror flick that was originally supposed to be a TV pilot for a weekly version of the great 1953 Vincent Price shocker, House of Wax.  The network bigwigs decided it was “Too gruesome for television” (which is always a good thing in my book), so it wound up going to theaters instead.  To hide some of the trappings of a Made-for-TV production, the studio added two great gimmicks called “The Fear Flasher” and “The Horror Horn” to warn potentially fragile minded audience members of the “Four Supreme Fright Points” of the film. 

 

The excellent opening scene sets the mood nicely.  In turn of the century Baltimore, the mad Jason Cravette (Patrick O’Neal, doing a remarkably eerie Vincent Price impersonation) holds a reverend at gunpoint and forces him to perform a marriage ceremony.  The bride?  A corpse!  When Cravette eludes the police, two amateur detectives (Cesare Danova and Wilfred Hyde-White) who also run their own House of Wax, investigate the crime while simultaneously immortalizing the killer in one of their macabre wax displays.  The crime-solving duo catches the killer with his pants down at a brothel and he’s quickly tried and sentenced to hang.

 

On route to the prison, Cravette escapes by chopping his own hand off and soon shows up using an alias looking for revenge and wielding a hook hand.  When he finds the judge who put him away, he puts a meat cleaver on his stump and hacks him to death.  Next he takes his hook to the psychiatrist who declared him insane.  The cleverest death though comes when Cravette puts a gun on his stump and covers it with a fake hand and blows away the officer who arrested him.  Finally he comes after Danova’s head, which leads to a pretty good fight scene, complete with a fun demise for our killer. 

 

The film has it’s share of stylish touches (the trippy courtroom scene is pretty damned cool), but the downside to all of this is that since the original pilot was only 60 minutes long, that meant that the studio had to add another 20 minutes or so of gratuitous padding to get this up to feature length.  Also, the flick suffers from a TV style budget and some of the scenes reek of the small screen (like the obvious set-up for next week’s episode that closes the film).  Another problem with the film is when the Fear Flasher and Horror Horn sound, nothing really “scary” happens.  Director Hy Averback keeps most of the horrific stuff off screen and the blood is kept to a bare minimum.

 

Danova and Hyde-Whyte are fun to watch and have an easy chemistry together and Tony Curtis of all people has a head-scratching cameo as a poker playing brothel patron.  It’s O’Neal though who steals the movie as the homicidal Cravette.  He’s quite good at waving around his multipurpose death stump while spouting such scenery chewing lines as, “Yes, I’m dead!  Won’t you join me?”  But it’s Hyde-White who gets the best line of the movie:  “Anyone who can carve a paperweight out of a dead body deserves to be taken quite seriously!” 

SNAKEHEAD TERROR (2004) * ½

 

Okay, I don’t know if you guys remember me saying a few weeks ago that I was going to stop taping these crummy Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies off of TV.  Well, I’m sorry, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.  You know, I sit down in front of the tube and I’ll see ONE name in the cast, and I’ll be like, “Okay, I’ll give this one a chance, cuz it’s got that dude in it.”  Yeah, I know they all end up sucking hardcore, but I’m sorry I just can’t help myself.

 

This time, I saw the name Bruce Boxleitner and said, “Fuck, when’s the last time I saw Bruce Boxleitner in ANYTHING?”  So I said to myself, “Okay, I know this is just the seventh billionth Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie where Human Growth Hormones turn Killer Fish into GIANT Mutant Killer Fish that attack a small town during it’s big fishing tournament weekend, but dammit, this time it isn’t Jeffrey Combs, Gary Busey, or Lance Henriksen fighting the Giant Mutant Killer Fish, it’s Tron for God sakes!!”  

 

Too bad he forgot his high tech Frisbee. 

 

Despite the presence of Boxleitner, Snakehead Terror is the same old, same old.  Everything you usually see in a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie is here:  Underwater stalking scenes, annoying teen characters, shoddy CGI effects, dead dogs, a gruff sheriff (Boxleitner), a morose coroner pulling Giant Mutant Killer Fish teeth out of dead bodies, the mayor who refuses to close the beaches, the slow-witted deputy, the sexy biologist played by a former model (Carol Alt), the wormy tabloid reporter, etc., etc., etc.  The only difference between this flick and the myriad of others you see on Sci-Fi is that the monsters in this one are amphibious so they can stalk their prey in the water AND on land.  That means that not only do we get plenty of Jaws style attack scenes, but also a Night of the Living Fish ending as well. 

 

In short, it’s nothing you haven’t already seen a thousand times on Sci-Fi already.  I’m starting to resent why they call these things Sci-Fi Channel “Originals” because there isn’t anything “original” about them.  They’re all the same damned movie if you ask me. 

 

The gore is surprisingly decent for this sort of thing (severed torsos, severed legs, severed heads, etc.) and there’s a nifty scene in which a voracious snakehead gets shoved into an outboard motor, but that’s only enough to bump this thing up into * ½ territory. 

 

Hey, you watch a crappy Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie about Giant Mutant Killer Fish on the strength of one 80’s has-been, you get what you deserve.

 

One of the annoying teenagers gets the movie’s best line:  “Tell me where that giant piece of sushi is going!”

ZOMBIE HONEYMOON (2004) **

 

While Denise (Tracy Coogan) and Danny (Graham Sibley) are lying on the beach enjoying their honeymoon, a zombie comes out of the ocean and pukes black bile into Danny’s mouth, turning him into a zombie.  Unlike most zombie movies though, Danny’s decomposition is gradual but eventually he’s chomping on some poor schmo’s guts.  At first Denise is upset, but then she remembers that whole “Death Do Us Part” (or in this case “Undeath Do Us Part”) thing and helps him cover up the corpse.  But things start to spiral out of control when Danny starts eating travel agents, close relatives and finally a bunch of cops. 

 

And you thought your marriage had problems.

 

This flick is similar to a glut of a lot of recent indie produced flicks (like Suburban Nightmare) that use horrific themes to explore relationship type stuff.  A lot of director Dave Gebroe’s intended subtext doesn’t exactly work, but I guess he was at least trying to do something a little different with the genre.  The humor isn’t as broad as you might think, although some of this is actually kind of funny.  The gore is more than decent as we have plenty of gut munching, nose biting and throat ripping and the performances by Coogan and Sibley are just fine, but you can only imagine what they could’ve done if the writing was a bit stronger.  In the end, Zombie Honeymoon is moderately amusing; it just doesn’t all quite work as well as it should have. 

 

Sibley gets the best line of the movie after he pukes someone else’s guts out:  “I guess vegetarians don’t make good cannibals do they?”

HELL’S TRAP (1990) * ½

 

A Mexican dude named Nacho (who wears the Hell out of acid-washed jeans and dons a mullet that would make Billy Ray Cyrus blush) gets challenged by his smarmy paintball rival to go out into the wilderness to see who can be the first one to hunt down a vicious killer bear that has been terrorizing the populace.  What those lame-brained Taco Heads don’t realize is that it’s not a bear in those woods, but a deranged homicidal Nam vet who drapes himself in fur pelts, wears a pale-faced Halloween mask and slashes people’s throats with a homemade Freddy Kruger glove.  After catching and killing a couple teens in his Ewok technology traps, the kids finally start to fight back and successfully shoot the crazy dude’s hand off.  That just makes him MAD and he proceeds to pull a Rambo on those testosterone filled turkeys by blowing them away with a semi-automatic weapon.  When the cast finally gets whittled down by the stumpy lunatic, only Nacho is left standing to bring his reign of terror to an end. 

 

Padded with lots of scenes of people driving around endlessly, this South of the Border horror flick takes FOREVER to get going.  Once the crazy dude with the Freddy glove pops up, things start to improve, but not much.  Too bad the movie is halfway over by that point.  Hell’s Trap runs a mercifully short 75 minutes, but with the current Mexican exchange rate, it feels much, much longer than that. 

 

The death scenes feature an acceptable amount of blood but things are pretty light in the gore department.  The overall look of the killer is cool, but his shameless derivativeness (he’s basically Rambo with a Michael Myers mask and a Freddy glove) ultimately makes him pretty lame.  Director Pedro Galindo III returned the next year with the mini-classic, Vacation of Terror 2:  Diabolical Birthday.