6 more from Brain Damage

Monday, 19 October 2009 17:49

Six more movies have been released by Brain Damage Films in the UK on 12 October, once again bringing across the Atlantic extracts from their American catalogue of releases – which to date number some 146 titles! This particular batch of releases are all Certificate ‘18’, and priced at £2.99 each. They include no special features other than some trailers. So, prepare for all the information you could ever wish for on “Awaken The Dead”, “Fist of the Vampire”, “Hell House – The Book of Samiel”, “Curse of the Wolf”, and “Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned”.

So where did Brain Damage come from? Well, they are a full service distribution house and a film production company. They note on their website that they are “dedicated solely to scaring the hell out of you!” Indeed, they even ask that if you’ve made a horror film yourself to send it over to them, as they can distribute it worldwide and domestically. Brain Damage also produces original horror content for worldwide release. It should be noted that the releases in the UK are far cheaper to buy in the UK, as most titles ship for $9.99 each Stateside.


“Awaken the Dead” (2007)

Awaken The Dead on UK DVD“Awaken” definitely falls into the sombre zombie movie category. There is some humour, but by and large Jeff Brookshire’s film is all about redemption, coming to terms with your identity and self-preservation. Gary Kohn stars as Christopher, a priest with major personal demons thanks to a dark past and an even bigger drink problem. He receives a strange red envelope giving him instructions to go to a house.

At the same time, Mary (Lindsey Morris), a hard-nosed young woman who happens to live in the self-same house also gets an envelope; hers tells her to stay put. After some initial trust issues are resolved, Mary grudgingly accepts Christopher into her home. They realise that Jeremiah, her father - and a “business associate” of Christopher’s - is behind the letters, and is apparently on his way to meet them to explain further. He does not turn up at the allotted hour, but our heroes are instead kept busy by a wave of zombies!

Just prior to the first attack, we witness a strange government agent spying on the house from across the road; after speaking into a mobile phone, a crop-spraying plane flies overhead and contaminates the area. People start mutating into zombies soon afterwards. Whilst Mary and Christopher sit tight inside the house, which luckily for them is virtually impregnable, uninfected outsiders keep turning up, pleading to be let in.

Amongst them is Stanley (Nate Witty), a vulnerable Jehovah’s Witness who has just seen his brother succumb to the zombies. As wave upon wave of zombies attack, our makeshift team must try to work out what is going on, and how they can get to somewhere more favourable for long-term survival. The house might be relatively secure to outside attack, but each time they let a panic-stricken human in, it exposes their defences, never mind if they accidentally take in someone who has just been contaminated by a zombie...

As with many of Brain Damage’s releases, “Awaken” is a bit of a mixed bag. Its strengths are its characterisation and the interplay between Mary and Christopher. It is a relationship thick with conflict, and the parts are gradually fleshed out as we learn what makes them tick and why they are such messed-up human beings.

Mary would prefer to keep everyone out, including any survivors, whereas Christopher desperately wants to help anyone and everyone. Stanley is the main source of comic relief in an otherwise dark and moody film, and although he is a more superficial character, Witty’s performance means you cannot help but find yourself warming to him. He starts out like a timid, naive child but eventually embraces the very faith he has been busy peddling to others and uses it to grow stronger.

The movie’s main problem is the imbalance between dialogue-heavy scenes and action. Obviously the low budget has a part to play in this, hence most of the film is staged inside the house, but it is sometimes frustrating that nothing much happens for a while, then there is a quick burst of action followed by another long period of inactivity.

The characterisation helps paint over the cracks some of the time, but it cannot make up completely for this deficiency. Added to which, the action is frequently shot in a jerky, motion-blurred and hand-held fashion with the focus far too close to the subjects. It makes for uncomfortable and frustrating viewing as you struggle to work if it is our heroes or the zombies who have the upper hand. The entire movie has a bleached, grainy quality to it which does take a bit of getting used to, but ultimately makes it feel more apocalyptic. The zombie make-up is pretty basic but it does the job, and the soundtrack is an effective mixture of nihilistic rock and synthesized orchestral music.

To sum up, “Awaken” is one of the better releases from Brain Damage Films.


“Fist of the Vampire” (2007)

Fist of the Vampire“Fist” is similar in tone to the “Blade” trilogy, in that it is set in the present day, features “cool” underground vampires, a loud rock soundtrack and lots of violence. Directed by Len Kabasinski (also director of “Curse of the Werewolf”), the movie centres on Detective Lee Southward’s undercover infiltration of an illicit fighting and gambling circuit.

In between bone-crunching bouts of fisticuffs, Lee (played by Brian Anthony) cautiously gathers evidence to take down the shady organisers, oblivious of their supernatural identity. He is aided by sexy fellow cop Davidson (Cheyenne King) and Agent Williams (Victor Kuehn), his sardonic handler.

The film does not start promisingly, featuring a flashback to a family’s murder in 1977 at the hands of the vampires. The footage has been modified to make it look old and scratchy, but as a side-effect it is also unbelievably dark. In fact the entire film is quite dark, and as a lot of the scenes take place at night it is sometimes hard to make out what is going. Much of the detail is lost in the murk. Fortunately things do improve somewhat when we get to the fight scenes. There are quite a lot of them and most of the actors evidently know martial arts or have practised a lot, as the choreography flows quite nicely and the tone is satisfyingly brutal.

The film is less strong when it comes to the occasional fire-fights. Actors sometimes stand still, right in front of an automatic weapon, and yet escape unscathed. The producers have made copious use of home-grade special effects to illustrate the muzzle flashes and ricochet sparks; combined with some dodgy, repetitive sound effects, they sadly fail to convince. One wishes they had stuck to resolving conflict solely through hand-to-hand combat. On the other hand, some of the special effects are quite well done, especially the smouldering, flaming vampires who stray into the sunlight.

The matching sound effects (fried eggs, anyone?!) made me laugh, though.  There are also a couple of embarrassingly turgid sex scenes thrown in for 'good' measure.

The script, acting quality and charisma of those involved varies quite wildly. Brian Anthony certainly looks the part, with rippling muscles and a chiselled jaw, but unfortunately he utterly fails to make the audience care about his mission.

Partner King does better, though she could have featured more prominently. As is often the case, the baddies get the better roles. Brian “Blue Meanie” Heffron shines with comedic menace as their leader, Nicholas (complete with daft beard and skull-topped cane), and Leon South makes a fitting henchman as Reno.

To sum up, in my opinion “Fist” is sadly a bit of a ham-fisted effort with too many flaws to make it worth tracking down. It did win the “Best Horror Feature” award at the 2007 Great Lakes Film Festival, though, so somebody obviously enjoyed it!


“Hell House - The Book of Samiel” (2008)

Hell House on DVD“Hell House” is another entry in the haunted house genre, made famous by the likes of “The Amityville Horror”. The blurb on the DVD mentions ancient demons trying to break through to our realm and mystical books, but you do not really need to know any of that!

At its heart, this is a film about an abandoned house with a dark and bloody past, and a group of adventurous young adults who cannot resist the challenge of an overnight stay. They make the effort to visit a soothsayer beforehand, but her grave warnings fall on deaf ears.

And so, as is always the way, the over-sexed, over-confident youths stumble into something far more terrifying than their worst nightmares. Once trapped in the foreboding house, can they escape with their lives and sanity intact?

Directed by Jason Morris, the movie is a patchy affair. At its best, it establishes a reasonable sensation of dread and discomfort, if not actual terror. The fateful four – Paul (Michael Anthony Carlisi), Dani (Sheila Kraics), Steve (Geof Libby) and Sasha (Jessica Marie) gel reasonably well, and make convincingly naturalistic couples. This is handy, because the film features a generous dollop of gratuitous sex and nudity; scenes that fortunately do not fall totally on their faces because of the characters’ chemistry.

Scares come from predictable places, such as when figures are glimpsed in mirrors or characters are possessed and take on a hideous, demonic appearance, but because there are plenty of visions and nightmares, we and they are never quite sure if they are in immediate danger or just imagining it.

The flashbacks to previous murders involving the house do become a bit tiresome, not to mention a little confusing as to what is transpiring now, and what has already happened. Unfortunately, the atmosphere and tension built up over the relatively strong middle section of the movie dissipates as the tone becomes less concerned with fun and excitement, and more with the tedious plot.

The over-arching theme of violent, over-protective and inadequate fathers is not explored in sufficient detail to make it heart-felt, and it drags the film down right when it matters most. Finally, the sound design is just as uneven as the film; some well-chosen music suffers from being too echo-laden and occasionally so loud that it drowns out the dialogue.

To sum up, “Hell House” is a horror film that shows glimpses of real potential, but a lack of consistency proves to be its undoing.


“Curse of the Wolf” (2006)

Curse of the Wolf DVDRenee Porada stars as Dakota, a Buffy-esque babe with serious kung fu abilities who is desperate to suppress her lycanthropic tendencies and just get on with her life. Unfortunately, her old clan of ragtag werewolf buddies led by Michael (Todd Humes) will do anything to bring her back to the fold, and stop her exposing their secret.

She goes on the run, starts a new life as a veterinary assistant (the drugs come in handy for calming her wild side), but it is not long before the gang track her down. Dakota reluctantly seeks the help of a territorial night club owner, Logan (1980s WWF wrestling star Lanny Potto, aka The Genius) and his motley crew of gun-toting, ass-kicking bouncers to level the playing field a little. However it pans out, it is going to get bloody!

“Curse”, directed by Len Kabasinski (see also “Fist of the Vampire”), is a lot of fun; sometimes it is for  the right reasons, often for the wrong ones. It has the distinction of being the first film (as far as I know) featuring werewolves who prefer to use karate to despatch their prey rather than just ripping their heads off (though they do that here as well). It makes for a highly amusing spectacle as muscle-bound hunks and lithe women go toe-to-toe with upright wolf-people still sporting most of their pre-transformation clothing. As with “Fist of the Vampire”, Kabasinski uses Leon South’s choreography skills to inject the film with a number of memorable and exciting fight scenes, though here the action is much easier to make out, and less leadenly directed.

A key element in any werewolf movie is how credible and entertaining the transformation effects are, and how convincing the beasts look at the end. Given its meagre budget, “Curse” does a half-decent job, relying heavily (and sensibly) on extreme close-ups of shifting hands and human skin being shed, all accompanied by delightfully squelchy, bone-crunching sound effects. Once in full werewolf guise, the actors look like they have bought up-market Halloween costumes, and then embellished them a bit. Given the tongue-in-cheek tone of the movie, this look does not feel out of place.

The best characters are Dakota, played pretty straight and very athletically by Porada, and Michael, whom Humes portrays with bucket-loads of ham and pantomime menace. He literally spends the entire film with a fixed scowl and steals every scene next to some hideously wooden co-stars. Potto tries his best to out-do everyone else thanks to his WWF schooling, but ultimately I think Humes wins the “prize gammon” award.

Dakota gets the best line, though, stating to an oblivious colleague that she might be feeling down “because it is that time of the month.” It is not all good news, though, as some of the dialog is delivered in an abysmally leaden fashion, the film is perhaps 15 minutes too long, and there are some crazy continuity issues with the time of day jumping from daytime to dusk to night at the drop of a hat.

“Curse” is definitely geared for post-pub viewing, and its light-hearted, action-packed essence ensure it is worth a go.


“Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned” (2008)

Bachelor Party DVDI watched this movie hoping that it would be in the category of being so bad it's good. Unfortunately it fails, it's just quite bad.  The CGI is terribly done, and whilst some of the effects aren't objectionable, the blood isn't particularly realistic and there's a part with a splinter that's just, well, I'm pretty certain that I could go to the Halloween party of my local youth group and provide them with liquid latex and fake blood, and they'd be able to produce a better effect. 

Still, there is a somewhat loose plot and if you're interested in bare-breasted ladies this movie won't be a disappointment, or not too much of a disappointment at least. Of course, you may be expecting more nudity given the James Bond-esque intro credits. 

The whole idea is quite silly really, it's a typical bachelor party just with a lot fewer guests. The local strippers that have been hired also enjoy a sideline in prostitution and turn out to be vampires who kill in interesting ways.  The acting, whilst not brilliant, isn't over the top, and the best man (Greg Aaron Greenberg) manages to seem almost ambivalent about the whole thing, but even an Oscar winner couldn't do much with the badly-written script. 

The best part of this movie was the end credits, not just because you had reached the end of the movie but because Brian Thomson, who is basically responsible for almost everything in this movie, admits that it isn't that great and adds some amusing things into the credits that made me laugh.  Ubfortunately for him admitting it's not a good movie doesn't make it a better movie.


“Taste of Flesh” (2008)

Taste of Flesh DVDFoolishly I let this movie compare itself in my mind with "Delicatessen" and "Bad Taste" before I put it into the DVD player.  I knew it wouldn't be anywhere near as good as either of these movies, but the premise simply wouldn't let me stop thinking about it and the comparison would never help this movie. 

On watching the movie itself I realised it reminded me of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" due to similarties in the main characters, but there the comparions should end.  Considered a classic by many I never really liked "Texas Chainsaw ..." but it's so much better than "Taste of Flesh" it's scary, probably the only scary thing to come out of watching this movie.  The horror was in sitting through the whole thing not anything in the movie itself. 

I expected more gore from a movie with this title, but whilst you see severed limbs you don't see much of the actual torture that goes on.  I'm usually an advocate of not showing things if you can't do a good job of it, and fully believe that special effects are overused at times in horror movies where allowing the imagination of your audience to run wild can do far more in building suspense.  However, this movie needed something more, here your imagination could never manage to build suspense because the script just isn't good enough, and whilst all the real action happens off screen even when it is on screen the bad lighting and camera work means you can't always tell what is going on. 

The plot could have been written on the back of a postage stamp, and about the only thing that showed any originality was the idea of showing the totally unaware police officers sitting in a squad car just outside the warehouse where all this torture was happening. Just a shame that nothing more was done with this idea really.  Overall I'm very glad that this movie was so short... I'm not sure I would have been able to keep watching it for much longer.  If you like B-Movie horror this would probably be something you'll be interested in, if only to show you just how bad some people can make a movie...

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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