Category Archives: Crappy Movie Roulette

Crappy Movie Roulette: Puppet Master (1989)

Puppet MasterDirector: David Schmoeller

Writers: Charles Band & Kenneth J. Hall

Cast: Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Robin Frates, Matt Roe, Mews Small, Barbara Crampton, Kathryn O’Reilly

Plot: Following an opening sequence comprised of close-up shots of various puppets, we begin with an old man (William Hickey) painting and talking to a series of puppets that are moving independently, intercut with scenes of what appears to be the point-of-view shot of another puppet trying to sneak into a hotel, the Bodega Bay Inn. The puppet, a hook-handed creature with black eyes (Blade, according to Wikipedia), eventually makes it to the old man’s room while evading a pair of men in trenchcoats. As the two men – Nazis, as it turn out – approach, the old man hides his puppets and kills himself.

Fifty years later, we meet Alex Whitaker (Paul Le Mat), a psychic plagued with dreams of violence. He contacts three other psychics: Dana Hadley (Irene Miracle) and the husband-wife team of Frank Forrester (Matt Roe) and Carissa Stanford (Kathryn O’Reilly). The four of them are summoned to the side of their old acquaintance Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs) to compare notes. Upon arriving at the Bodega Bay Inn, now owned by Neil’s wife Megan (Robin Frates), they find Neil has committed suicide.

That night a puppet with a tiny head (Pinhead, evidently) climbs out of Neil’s coffin and begins roaming the hotel. At dinner, Dana tells Megan that Neil only married her for her money, prompting Megan to leave. Alex follows her and apologizes, explaining how Neil called them together years ago to study an Egyptian secret for imbuing life to inanimate objects. Later, Pinhead murders the hotel’s housekeeper and Megan faints when she finds that someone has propped up Neil’s dead body in a chair. As the psychics retire to their rooms, the puppets begin to roam the hotel, murdering Frank and Carissa in the midst of a sex-fueled “psychic experiment.”

When Neil’s body again is moved, this time to Dana’s room, she tries using her skills as a fortune teller to put him to rest. She’s instead attacked by Pinhead, who breaks her ankle to slow her down. Pinhead chases her to the elevator, where Blade slices her throat. Alex has a dream about Megan dancing with a masked man – Neil, as it turns out — followed by a flash of the three other psychics dead, with their heads in his bed. The real Megan arrives and tells Alex she has something to show him, just as she did in his dream. She’s found the diary of the old Puppet Master, who calls his creations “harmless,” but fears what they will do in the wrong hands.

In the dining room, Alex and Megan find the murdered psychics propped up at the table. To their surprise, they find Neil seemingly alive and well. He explains that he did, in fact, commit suicide, but not before using the old Puppet Master’s secrets to grant his body immortality. He had to kill the others, he explains, because their psychic link would eventually have led them to him. He’s tired of the puppets, though, and he tosses one aside, shocking the others. He also confesses to killing Megan’s parents to manipulate her into marrying him, granting him access to their hotel and leaving him free to search for the old man’s secrets. The puppets revolt, turning on Neil and killing him for good.

Thoughts: This is an odd sort of film, the kind of movie that has something to it, but overreaches. It’s a clear attempt by Full Moon Entertainment to start off their own horror franchise in the vein of Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street, and it would seem to have been at least partially successful… after all, as of this writing there have been a whopping ten sequels to this movie. On the other hand, those sequels (and this original) have all been direct-to-video and have limited cultural impact. If you were to show the average person a picture of Blade, the franchise’s most iconic puppet, they wouldn’t have any idea what they were looking at, and may even mistake him for a creation from the Saw franchise.

That said, let’s talk a little bit about what this movie does right. First of all, the puppetry is honestly not bad. The close-ups of the puppets, all done in a 1989 before CGI took over the movie landscape, appear to be legitimate puppet work, and it’s impressive. It’s slow, and it’s creepy, and that works to the movie’s favor. The shots that require a full-figure puppet to walk around in the frame are all stop motion. It’s not as impressive as the puppetry, but it’s not terrible. The greenscreen used to add them into the scene, however, is pretty bad, full of nasty and highly visible artifacting that pulls you out of the reality of the moment, such as it is.

It’s this, more than anything else, that hurts the movie. The puppets stumbling around in stop-motion look like nothing so much as a cartoon, and a silly one. Once you start seeing that, the fear level drops. You’re already dealing with puppets, after all, you have to work to convince the audience that they’re threatening. Child’s Play did it fairly well, but this movie doesn’t. The scene where Dana throws the Pinhead doll across the elevator looks like exactly what it is – a woman chucking a doll. It robs the creatures of any menace they possess. Sadly, it doesn’t go quite far enough to reach the “so bad it’s good” level of entertainment.

The characters are all pretty bland. Megan and Alex are both completely dull and blank, Dana is a stereotypical bitch (she even refers to herself as much) with a tacked-on southern accent, and Frank and Carissa seem to exist only to throw in a quick sex scene prior to kicking off the murder spree. You don’t feel for them, you don’t get to know them, you don’t care when they die and you don’t care if they survive.

Neil, as a villain, is weak as well. We’ve got the standard immortality motive, with a tacked-on excuse for him to murder the others. Why did he need to murder the other psychics? Because they would have found out he hadn’t really killed himself. Well… okay… but why did he feel the need to fake his suicide in the first place? Did the magic that animated him need his “death” in order to take effect? Could they have made that a little clearer? Or did he just get off on killing people – he did murder Megan’s parents with no remorse long before he was immortal, after all. Or maybe – and I know I’m reaching here – maybe the screenwriter just didn’t think things through all that well.

There’s a weird sort of attempt here at a Twilight Zone-style morality play. Neil wants something mankind isn’t supposed to have, he employs some homemade monsters to try to get it, and in the end those same creations turn on him. But that said, it fails to live up to the standards of Rod Serling, with a half-assed attempt at an ironic moral that might actually have worked in a half-hour TV show, but loses its steam in the film’s 90 minute running time.

In the end, Puppet Master is the sort of movie that isn’t quite good enough to be good and isn’t quite bad enough to be fun, which is the saddest kind of film to watch. That said, I’ve got other films in the franchise amidst my collection of crappy movies, and those may well be worth the watch. It’s often from mediocrity like this that truly insanely bad movies, the ones that are a blast to make fun of, flow in future installments.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!


Make Me Watch a Crappy Movie Take II

Hey, friends. A few weeks ago I asked you guys to choose a movie from my vast collection of crappy horror and sci-fi movies to make me review. The result was The Invisible Maniac. I’m still trying to heal. But that doesn’t mean I won’t do it again! I’ve only got a few scant days of summer left before I go back to work, and how better to spend one of them than reviewing a movie of your choosing? Here, once again, are five movies plucked from the wealth of multi-packs I’ve got on my shelf. Whichever gets the most votes by Monday, August 5, will be the second feature for Crappy Movie Roulette!

984potf984: Prisoner of the Future (1982)
Directed by Tibor Takac
Written by Peter Chapman & Stephen Zoller
Starring Stephen Markle, Andy Adoch & Madeleine Atkinson
Synopsis: A corporate executive is taken prisoner by an underground organization known as The Movement, and is turned over to a ruthless interrogator.
Why you should vote for it: Because don’t we all really want to see a corporate executive tortured by a ruthless investigator?
Current IMDB Rating: 5.2/10
984: Prisoner of the Future at IMDB

CHUDC.H.U.D. (1984)
Directed by Douglas Cheek
Written by Shepard Abbott & Parnell Hall
Starring John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry & Kim Greist
Synopsis: A rash of bizarre murders in New York City seems to point to a group of grotesquely deformed vagrants living in the sewers. A courageous policeman, a photo journalist and his girlfriend, and a nutty bum, who seems to know a lot about the creatures, band together to try and determine what the creatures are and how to stop them.
Why you should vote for it: So that with my expert analysis, you’ll finally get that joke on The Simpsons when Homer is afraid of going to New York because of the CHUDs.
Current IMDB Rating: 5.3/10
C.H.U.D. at IMDB

DescendantDescendant (2003)
Directed by Kermit Christman & Del Tenney
Written by William Katt & Kermit Christmas
Starring Jeremy London, Katherine Heigl, Nick Stabile, William Katt, Whitney Dylan & Matt Farnsworth
Synopsis: A young novelist, tormented by his family’s history and haunted by the specter of his long-dead, more famous ancestor, falls in love with a woman, a distant relative of his ancestor, whose friends and family begin to disappear mysteriously.
Why you should vote for it: Because you want to know if they’re going to even touch upon the incest-y vibe of the novelist falling in love with “a distant relative of his ancestor.”
Bonus reason to vote for it: The inclusion of William Katt virtually guarantees at least one Greatest American Hero reference in the write-up.
Current IMDB Rating: 4.4/10
Descendant at IMDB

Puppet MasterPuppet Master (1989)
Directed by David Schmoeller
Written by Charles Band & Kenneth J. Hall
Starring Paul Le Mat, William Hickey, Irene Miracle, Mews Small
Synopsis: André Toulon is a puppet maker and the best of the kind. One day he happens upon an old Egyptian formula able to create life, so he decides to give life to his puppets. The Nazis seek to use this knowledge to their advantage and in desperation, Toulon commits suicide. Some years later four psychics get on the trail of a former colleague who suddenly commits suicide, and they decide to investigate the mansion he killed himself in. Along with his widow, they uncover the secrets of the Puppet Master.
Why you should vote for it: Because they’ve apparently made at least nine movies in this franchise. NINE. Don’t you want to know if there’s any conceivable justification for that?
Current IMDB Rating: 5.3/10
Puppet Master at IMDB

Vampire HappeningThe Vampire Happening (1971)
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Karl-Heinz Hummel & August Rieger
Starring Pia Degermark &Thomas Hunter
Synopsis: An American actress inherits a castle in Transylvania. What she doesn’t know is that her ancestor, the Baroness Catali, was in actuality a vampire countess, and emerges from her tomb to ravage the nearby village and Catholic seminary.
Why you should vote for it: Because it’s gotta be better than the other “Happening” movie you’ve heard of.
Current IMDB Rating: 4.6/10
The Vampire Happening at IMDB

Cast yer votes!

Crappy Movie Roulette: The Invisible Maniac (1990)

Invisible ManiacDirector: Adam Rifkin

Writer: Matt Devlen, Tony Markes & Adam Rifkin (as “Rif Coogan”)

Cast: Noel Peters, Shannon Wilsey, Stephanie Blake, Melissa Moore, Clement Von Franckenstein, Claudette Rains, Eric Campanella, Debra Lamb, Gail Lyon, Marilyn Adams, Kris Russell, Rod Sweitzer

Plot: When young Kevin Dornwinkle (Kris Russell) is caught by his mother (Marilyn Adams) spying on his neighbor girl undressing, his mother brutally warns him that women are evil. Twenty years later, Kevin (Noel Peters as an adult) has become one of the preeminent scientists in the world, but fails in his attempt to turn himself invisible, instead going mad and killing four of his fellow scientists. He’s institutionalized, but escapes a few months later and gets a job as a physics teacher at a summer school, where he overhears a student named Gordon (Rod Sweitzer) planning to tease and torment him. At home, he continues to experiment on his failed invisibility serum, finally making a rabbit disappear. He uses the serum on himself, becoming invisible, but crashing to intense dreams about women teasing and taunting him, followed by an insatiable desire to use the serum again.

He’s later approached by a student named Vicky (Shannon Wilsey), who offers to do “anything” to get an A in his class. The same day, Gordon and his friends begin their campaign to antagonize Kevin, beginning with a belch and proceeding with the classic “everybody drop your books at the same time” trick. As they laugh, Chet (Robert R. Ross Jr.) is summoned to the principal’s office. The principal, Ms. Cello (Stephanie Blake) offers to help him with his grades in exchange for “special attention,” giving further credence to the audience’s theory that this movie was written by a repressed 12-year-old boy. Kevin later summoned to Ms. Cello’s office, where she tries to seduce him. When he rejects her, she threatens to call the police over a syringe she found in his classroom. To protect himself, he kills her. He returns to his class, where he’s hit by a good ol’ bucket of water over the door, then goes mad(der). He locks the doors to the school and goes on a killing spree, beginning by choking a student to death with a sandwich in what is probably the best scene in the film.

Having killed everyone else, Kevin returns home where he’s pursued by Chet, who’s got a gun and apparently word-a-day toilet paper, as he uses the word “astute.” Don’t give him too much credit, in the same scene he actually shouts, “Die, you invisible jerk!” Anyway, both Chet and Kevin wind up invisible and start pounding on each other before the gun goes off and a headless body appears. A pair of police arrive, find the corpse, and declare it a suicide. As they leave, Kevin reappears, laughing maniacally.

Thoughts: I asked you guys last week to pick a lousy movie for me to view in the first installment of “Crappy Movie Roulette,” and I’ve gotta say, you didn’t let me down. This is one of the worst produced movies I’ve ever seen.

Released in 1990, I’ve got to imagine this film had a budget of approximately seven dollars and eighty-three cents, most of which went to craft services. They couldn’t pay for any sets, clearly, or even bother to re-dress any of the sets they got for free. The top scientists in the world, for instance, meet in what appears to be the side conference room of a neighborhood church community center, which Adam Rifkin no doubt had to lie to get access to. There’s even a weird sense that we’re getting the opposite of product placement in this movie, outright product rejection, in that there are several close-up shots of radios and tape recorders, all of which seem to have had their labels peeled off in a half-assed attempt to remove the name brands. Casio wanted nothing to do with this film.

Rifkin is attempting to draw on the wild era of great 80s slasher movies, and as so often happens when people come in at the end of a trend, he takes it to ridiculous lengths. In 80s horror, of course, the killers’s victims are usually suffering a metaphorical punishment for their crimes – drugs, sex and alcohol being the most popular choices. In the world of The Invisible Maniac, that idea of the world providing the killer a slate of deserving victims is utterly absurd. Every woman in this movie exists for one of two reasons: to torture Kevin (his mother, the women in the scientific community), or to tantalize him (the girls in the class, and even the principal, who whips out the phone number and address of a student from her bra a good twenty minutes before summoning Kevin into her office for some quality time). Even the layout of the school seems to work against him. For the obligatory “sneaking a peek in the girls’ locker room” scene, rather than even trying to come up with some sort of plan (even Porky’s went to the trouble of showing them drilling a hole in the wall), the jock peeks through an air conditioning vent in the school gym, which apparently opens up directly into the shower. Purely from an architectural standpoint, that seems dubious.

Like any terrible movie, this film also has huge gaps in logic. What summer school, for example, has a need for a cheerleader squad practicing in full uniform? Why is it, just two weeks after escaping from a mental asylum and being all over the news, the principal who hires Kevin doesn’t recognize him as a psychopathic killer? Even in 1990, there must have been some sort of background check. And why do Dornwinkle’s clothes vanish with him when he turns invisible?

What’s more, this film doesn’t seem to have any sense of time. Young Kevin – as well as the neighbor girl he spies on – dress like refugees from a campy Saturday Night Live skit set in the 1950s… but when the “Twenty Years Later” card appears at the end of the scene, we jump to 1990. What’s more, this could easily have been avoided by just changing the card to read “Forty Years Later,” because Noel Peters looks like he’s at least 50 when he first appears on screen.

Nobody in this film can act, either – stiff line deliveries, melodrama that would get you kicked out of the least professional community theater, and worst of all, very few of them seem to be aware of the fact that they’re in a terrible movie. Only Gail Lyons, who plays the doomed April, seems to be in on the joke, hamming up her death scene as she’s strangled by the titular Invisible Maniac. She commits to pounding on air and even rolls her eyes as she dies in a method that seems to indicate she knows she’s in a flop and is making the best of a bad situation.

People often talk about bad movies, and about movies that are so bad that they’re good, movies that can be enjoyed in an ironic fashion, laughing at the absurdity of a failed attempt at art. There is, however, another level – the movie that is, as TV Tropes tells us, so bad it’s terrible. This is a film so poorly made that it actually laps itself on the bad movie scale, becoming something that’s not only painful to watch, but utterly absurd. Showgirls is the classic example here – so much blatant, absurd sex that it’s no longer even titillating, but just dull. The Invisible Maniac treads very close to that line, and even crosses it a few times before coming back at the end, where the death scenes are poorly shot and stupid enough that they’re laughable again. Drowning a girl in a fish tank? You got it. Submarine sandwich stuffed down a kid’s throat until it blows up like a cartoon fire hose? Done.

Is that enough to recommend the movie? Not really. It might find a worthy place in a bad movie night with your friends, and I’d love to hear the RiffTrax crew take it on, but it’s not really worth watching on its own.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

Make Me Watch a Bad Movie

Welcome to the first installment in Crappy Movie Roulette! As you guys may have noticed, I watch a lot of movies. And I own a lot of movies. If video stores were still a thing, I certainly have enough inventory to open one on my own. And I’ve got your local Redbox beat for selection hands-down.

But neither of these should be mistaken as a statement that I’ve watched every movie I own. Truth be told, I haven’t, and the big culprit in this are multi-packs. You know the ones I’m talking about — the ones that package together four, eight, ten, even fifty movies in a single DVD set for a low, low price. Now this low, low price often is accompanied by low, low quality, but because you can often get these packs for as little as five dollars, if there’s even one movie in the set I like, I’ll bite, because I would have paid five bucks for that movie alone, and now I’ve got a bunch more. It’s the collector’s mentality, I know. When I die, you’ll be able to commission a very bored artist to create a 20-foot statue of me out of my DVDs.

Anyway, the movies in these packs are frequently of the caliber we call… oh… bad. Otherwise they wouldn’t be selling them fifty to a pack. But there’s also a real charm to be had in bad movies sometimes… sometimes. Not all the time. That in mind, I’m here to institute a new irregular feature here at Reel to Reel: Crappy Movie Roulette. Every so often (I’m not going to marry myself to a regular schedule here, it’ll happen whenever I feel like it) I’ll choose five movies from my vast collection of crappy movies that I think might be fun to watch. It won’t necessarily be random — in fact, two of the choices this week are favorites of the Flop House Podcast‘s Stuart Wellington, which is how they got on the list. I’ll give you guys the IMDB synopsis of each of my five choices and let you vote, then sometime soon (probably next week) I’ll watch the winner and write up a Gut Reaction review. Sound like fun?

Here are your choices for the inaugural Crappy Movie Roulette:

Chopping MallChopping Mall (1986)
Directed by Jim Wynorski
Written by Jim Wynorski & Steve Mitchell
Starring Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson & Barbara Crampton.
Synopsis: Eight teenagers are trapped after hours in a high tech shopping mall and pursued by three murderous security robots out of control.
Why you should vote for it: Again, remember, I have never seen any of these movies. But between the synopsis and the poster, this sounds like insane 80s slasher excess at its best. Murderous security robots, people. Murderous. Security. Robots.
Current IMDB Rating: 5.3/10 Stars
Chopping Mall at IMDB

Godzilla Vs BiollanteGodzilla Vs. Biollante (1989)
Directed by Kazuki Ohmori
Written by Kazuki Ohmori & Shinichiro Kobayaski
Starring Kunihiko Mitamura, Yoshiko Tanaka, Masanobu Takashima, Kôji Takahashi, Tôru Minegishi.
Synopsis: After rising from his volcanic grave, Godzilla is threatened by a mutated rosebush.
Why you should vote for it: Because obviously, the natural progression for threats to the greatest giant monster of them all is “space turtle,” “robot duplicate,” “rosebush.” Also, it still can’t be worse than than the Matthew Broderick movie.
Current IMDB Rating: 6.3/10 Stars
Godzilla Vs. Biollante at IMDB

Head of the FamilyHead of the Family (1996)
Directed by Charles Band
Written By Charles Band & Benjamin Carr
Starring Blake Adams, Jacqueline Lovell, Bob Schott, James Jones, Alexandria Quinn, Gordon Jennison Noice
Synopsis: The “head” of the family is literally that–a giant head on a tiny body, who psychically controls the rest of his even weirder family.
Why you should vote for it: Look at that lil’ guy. Look at that lil’ guy with the great big head. Idn’t he CUTE?
Current IMDB Rating: 4.9/10 Stars
Head of the Family at IMDB

Invisible ManiacThe Invisible Maniac (1990)
Directed by Adam Rifkin
Written by Matt Devlan, Tony Markes and Adam Rifkin (as “Rif Coogan”)
Starring Noel Peterson, Stephanie Blake, Melissa Moore, Clement Von Franckenstein, Eric Champnella
Synopsis: A budding young scientist lad is caught by his mom checking out the lady across the way with his telescope, whereupon she lectures him on the evils of women. Twenty years later and all grown up, the scientist announces his theories of invisibility, and his colleagues laugh, to which he responds by killing four of them. He escapes from the loony bin and gets a job teaching summer school physics at a high school. The students decide to tease him about the same time as he perfects his invisible juice, and he goes on a spree of vengeance.
Why you should vote for it: I don’t even know what else I need to say. I do find it interesting that this film had by far the most detailed synopsis on IMDB.
Current IMDB Rating: 3/10 Stars
The Invisible Maniac on IMDB

Werewolf Vs Vampire WomanThe Werewolf Vs. Vampire Woman (1971)
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Written by Paul Naschy & Hans Munkel
Starring Paul Naschy, Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell, Andres Resino, Patty Shepard
Synopsis: Elvira is travelling through the French countryside with her friend Genevieve, searching for the lost tomb of a medieval murderess and possible vampire, Countess Wandessa. They find a likely site in the castle of Waldemar Daninsky, who invites the women to stay as long as they like. As Waldemar shows Elvira the tomb that supposedly houses the countess, she accidentally causes the vampire to come back to life, hungrier than ever. Daninsky has a hidden secret of his own, but will it be enough to save the two girls from becoming Wandessa’s next victims?
Why you should vote for it: Because it says right there on the poster, “See it with someone you hate.” This is my chance to invite Channing Tatum over and watch a flick together.
Current IMDB Rating: 5.1/10 Stars
The Werewolf Vs. Vampire Woman on IMDB

There you go, guys. Cast your vote, and whoever is in the lead come Monday morning will be the movie I watch for the first Crappy Movie Roulette!