Thursday, January 23, 2020

Scream and Scream Again


Scream and Scream Again (1970)
Dir. Gordon Hessler
Written by Christopher Wicking, based on The Disoriented Man by Peter Saxon
Starring Alfred Marks, Michael Gothard, Vincent Price, Christopher Matthews, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing (cameo)



SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN would be more accurately called SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN AND THEN SCREAM A THIRD TIME, because it’s all about threes. First, its three producers: Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky of the venerable also-ran British horror house Amicus studios being joined in this case by the equally venerable Louis Heyward of American exploitation house AIP. Second, its three “stars” – Amicus regulars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, along with AIP go-to Vincent Price, probably the three biggest marquee names in horror at the time, together for the first time, no less! And finally, its three plots, because it begins by introducing us to three seemingly unrelated storylines. In the first, a jogger who runs with an unimpressively floppy form (prolific British bit player Nigel Lambert) has a heart attack, only to wake up in a mysterious, sinister hospital where they slowly amputate his limbs. In a second, a sadistic military officer (Marshall Jones, CRY OF THE BANSHEE, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE) steadily rises through the ranks in an unnamed European dictatorship. And in the third, a no-nonsense police superintendent (Alfred Marks, THE FRIGHTENED CITY, VALENTINO) and, I guess, an assistant coroner (Christopher Matthews, SCARS OF DRACULA), who sort of gradually turns into the protagonist through a process of attrition and the need for this sort of movie to have some blandly handsome British youngsters, seek a mystery killer in a series of apparently vampiric rape-murders. How on Earth could this all fit together?

Indeed, how could three sets of such unusual triplets fit together? Well, the answer is that they don’t entirely, because the movie’s a weird mess. But I confess to rather enjoying the messy, confounding, winding journey it takes. I’ll be damned if I know what to do with it, but give SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN credit for this, at least: it’s probably not what you’re expecting. First of all, it’s really more of a science-fiction thriller than a horror movie, despite the presence of Price, Lee, and Cushing (and they’re not much of a presence at that; Price eventually gets a bit to do, but Lee is a minor character and Cushing has just one throwaway scene). But second and most importantly, it’s a pretty wild --practically deranged!— ride, but for all the insane convolutions it takes, it turns out there really was a discrete destination in mind the whole time. It’s going somewhere. I’m not saying it makes sense, exactly, but somehow the movie does sort of tie everything together at the very end. But I do mean the very end; for the vast majority of its none-too-hurried 95 minutes, it seems like we’re watching a bunch of utterly unrelated lunacy, three paranoid, surreal plotlines playing out completely parallel to each other with no obvious connection of any kind.  



Like many movies of the period, it feels a bit dawdling when it would probably benefit from a breakneck pace, and also like many movies of the period, it gets painfully bogged down in groovy pandering to the swinging youth (two lengthy club scenes prominently featuring a trendy British-invasion rock group (in this case Welsh soul outfit Amen Corner). But unlike many movies of the period, it also features the credit “police chase arranged and executed by Joe Wadham,” and for a 1970 British B-movie, this thing’s a real doozy. It involves a diabolical vampire date-rapist (Michael Gothard, THE DEVILS, LIFEFORCE[!!], FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) in a red convertible sportscar (apparently a 1955 Austin-Healey 100/4) tearing around London and the surrounding Surrey countryside with dozens of expendable police cruisers in hot pursuit, and ends up blossoming into a lengthy --in fact, almost comically extended-- foot chase capped with several bouts of superpowered fisticuffs. It isn’t exactly jam-packed with jaw-dropping stunts or eye-popping spectacle, but clocking in at close to 15 minutes of screentime (pointedly beating BULLITT’s 10 minutes, a point of reference clearly on its mind), it ends up building momentum out of sheer moxie. Normally this sort of action spectacle is death for a horror movie, which thrives on tension rather than excitement. But a few touches of grotesque weirdness --the killer rips off his hand to escape a handcuff, and can crack a human skull with his punches— help resolve the disconnect here. It’s classic action cinema, but with a touch of the genuinely weird, both exciting and a little disconcerting. It honestly makes me wonder if these two genres aren’t as mutually incompatible as I’d always assumed.



As a fifteen-minute chase scene tangent might suggest, the three plotlines are all a little shaggy, which makes a little more sense when you learn that the credited author of the novel which became the basis for SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (originally titled, appropriately, The Disoriented Man), one “Peter Saxon,” is actually a pen named most frequently used by Irish journalist, pulp author, and editor W. Howard Baker, but, the novel itself was apparently written primarily by fellow pulp author Stephen Frances, with additional possible input from Martin Thomas. All three men were veterans of the Sexton Blake detective stories which are said to number over 4,000[!] entries, and it’s unclear which of the three, if any, was the dominant creative force here. Several websites –all unattributed, I’m afraid—suggest the novel was the result of a “round robin” type writing exercise, which would obviously do much to explain its otherwise befuddlingly unconnected trio of storylines. But whatever the explanation, each tangent affords at least a few oddball pleasures. There’s not exactly a surplus of whammy (the gore is infrequent, though impressively gnarly and clearly shot when it does happen), so with Price, Lee, and Cushing only rarely on-screen, the movie must primarily rely on its pervasive strangeness to keep engaging. Fortunately, it is indeed very, very strange, so that works out.

How strange, you ask? Strange enough to feel completely comfortable removing the novel’s explanation –BOOK SPOILERS it turns out the villains are aliens! END BOOK SPOILERS —and replacing it with… nothing. No explanation at all. It’d be pretty weird to just throw extraterrestrial conspiracies into the mix of a movie which already contains a vampiric car chase, but it’s even weirder to just leave it unexplained, and that’s the kinda shit we’re rolling with here. SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN doesn’t give a fuck about your pathetic need for explanation. It’s just gonna let its freak flag fly, and you’re gonna have to deal with it. Some may find this intolerable; me, I was kinda disappointed to hear there ever was an explanation. I prefer the film’s satisfaction with the vague, uneasy ambiguity of it. So the movie is definitely weird, but obviously I’m on its wavelength.



Well, mostly, anyway. One weird thing which is less effective is the jazzy, sunny score by David Whitaker (VAMPIRE CIRCUS) which is, one can’t help but notice, monstrously inappropriate for such a bizarre, unsettling thriller, and does a great deal to undermine whatever tension director Gordon Hessler (MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE) might be building up. Not that the movie strikes one as being impeccably planned by a master craftsman or anything, but there’s weird which is productive, and weird which is counterproductive, and the groovy Bond music knockoff soundtrack is probably the latter. I might be more inclined to tolerate this kind of tomfoolery in an Italian flick, but it’s an ungainly and awkward look for the British. Italian genre films are the cinema of pure sensation, content to luxuriate in any sufficiently evocative artistic element; British films, especially from the 70’s, have a stiffer and more calculated feel, making an inappropriately funky soundtrack feel less like an indulgence in extravagant overstimulation and more like a misjudged attempt to feel hip. But no matter, few 70’s horror flicks, and especially British ones, feel as wildly out-of-control and unpredictable as SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN manages, and if that blurs its focus, it rarely blunts its impact. And that’s enough to recommend it all by itself.




CHAINSAWNUKAH 2019 CHECKLIST!
For Richer or Horror

TAGLINE
TRIPLE DISTILLED HORROR... as powerful as a vat of boiling ACID! I should probably mention that yes, there is a vat of acid in the movie.
TITLE ACCURACY
Completely meaningless, but that just add to its weirdo vibe.
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
Yes, from the pulp novel The Disoriented Man by “Peter Saxon” (actually some combination of W. Howard Baker, Stephen Frances, and Martin Thomas).
SEQUEL?
None
REMAKE?
None.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
UK/USA
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Boy, um, gosh. Vampire, I guess? Sci-Fi Horror?
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
None
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, though none are especially prominent and Cushing in particular only has one throwaway scene.
NUDITY? 
My teenage self would never have believed it, but I swear I don’t even notice anymore. Those creeps on IMDB do include “Frontal female nudity” in their keywords, so I’ll bow to their superior collective horniness.
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
Yes
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
None
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
None
POSSESSION?
No
CREEPY DOLLS?
None.
EVIL CULT?
No
MADNESS?
No
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
None
VOYEURISM?
None
MORAL OF THE STORY
Gosh, um. I dunno, man, “don’t go jogging because you’ll look like a dork and then have your limbs cut off” is about the best I can do for you. Otherwise…





Monday, December 16, 2019

DeepStar Six




DeepStar [sic] Six (1989)
Dir. Sean S. Cunningham
Written by Lewis Abernathy, Geof Miller
Starring Taurean Blacque, Nancy Everhard, Greg Evigan, Miguel Ferrer



            It’s hardly surprising that a movie as successful and iconic as ALIEN would spawn its own subgenre of ripoffs, but an odd blurring of that inevitability began to set in the late 80s. For some reason, possibly the upcoming release of James Cameron’s followup to ALIENS, Hollywood really got stuck on the idea of doing “ALIENS but underwater” and for the next two decades it kinda became its own subgenre. I mean, you could loosely include THE ABYSS, DEEPSTAR SIX, THE EVIL BELOW, LORDS OF THE DEEP, THE RIFT, LEVIATHAN, DEEP RISING, BELOW, VIRUS, SECTOR 7 and SPHERE in that category, and that’s pretty much off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more. Obviously it was a concept far too creatively rich to stop with just ten.

            Weirdly, six of those –THE ABYSS, LORDS OF THE DEEP, THE EVIL BELOW, THE RIFT, LEVIATHAN, and today’s subject, DEEPSTAR SIX—came out within a year of each other, from 1989-1990. So I guess I can understand why audiences’ patience for them was wearing a little thin. Still, even with that in mind, the hostility with which DEEPSTAR SIX was met seems unwarranted, particularly since it was the first such film out of the gate, hitting theaters in January 1989. It’s currently sitting at an impressive 0% on rottentomatoes, with excoriating contemporary reviews from Gene Siskel (who called the film “tiresome” and complained that “the women are aggressive”) and Janet Maslin (who called the film “not much more interesting than the average bedroom closet” [?]). Words like “tedious,” “tiresome,” “predictable,” and “derivative” recur. Even the most positive review I could find –Richard Harrington’s short take in The Washington Post, January 14, 1989, calls it “well shot, well edited, and well paced” with a “competent cast” and visual effects which are “often quite good, if not plentiful enough”—can barely summon the energy to defend it, musing, in the end, that it “seems to have gone to the idea-well just a bit too often -- or is that not often enough?”



            That sort of ambivalence seems common to most of the reviews. They’re confident it’s garbage, but they can’t really settle on why, except that it’s broadly derivative. Which is, like, not exactly an unfair characterization, but jeez, if they thought this was derivative, wait til they see THE RIFT. In fact, considering the genre and its pedigree –directed by FRIDAY THE 13th's Sean S. Cunningham, fresh off three immediately forgotten teen flicks--, DEEPSTAR SIX is an almost unbelievably classy joint, with a production and performances which come perilously close to “real movie” level, a result incalculably more unlikely than the odds that it would be derivative. Not that it’s an unfairly maligned classic or anything, but there’s far more good than bad about it.

            Crucially, it’s one of the very, very few post-ALIEN ripoffs to come anywhere near recapturing that film’s unique “truckers in space” aesthetic. Sure, these “truckers” are a mix of military and civilian crew on a experimental deepsea colonization mission, but nevertheless they’re a scruffy, easygoing lot, more CLERKS than THE RIGHT STUFF. They’re mostly young, green, low-skilled, poorly trained, much more experienced with the grinding monotony of submarine life than with white-knuckled danger. Even our blandly attractive co-leads (Nancy Everhard, THE UNTOUCHABLES, the Dolph Lundgren PUNISHER, and Greg Evigan, prolific TV and SyFy channel actor) seem believably blue-collar, pretty but approachable, competent but fallible. They’re backed up by an excellent supporting cast, including Taurean Blacque (Hill Street Blues, inexplicably given top billing for a comparably small role) a very young Nia Peeples (HALF PAST DEAD, 130 episodes of The Young And The Restless, the video for Prince’s Raspberry Beret) Cindy Pickett (Ferris’ mom in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF!), Matt McCoy (ABOMINABLE!) and most notably, Miguel Ferrer (ROBOCOP, Twin Peaks) as the high-strung dumbfuck who is gonna snap and get everyone killed.



Now, I’m on record professing that good acting rarely contributes much of real value to genre films, which are so much more about incident than character. But here, as in ALIEN, much of the film’s texture comes from its evocation of a believable world populated by workaday, relatable adults (in itself a significant pivot for Cunningham, who had previously worked almost entirely with teen casts) put in a difficult, high-stress situation full of tough choices. That’s where having such a venerable ensemble of character actors, well-versed in taking small roles and making them feel distinct and vivid, pays off; even once the dialogue turns definitively to yelling exposition (“these cartridges expired six months ago!” “What happens when it goes supercritical?”) they still seem like genuine humans and not just expendable body count. MVP indisputably goes to Ferrer, though, who goes way above and beyond to make his hapless fuckup somewhat sympathetic. Entirely through his performance, he informs us that this guy is certainly an abrasive asshole, but he’s in no way a villain; he’s just a dumb kid who’s just barely qualified for his job, cracking up under pressure, and overcompensating by being a dick. And the rest of the cast seems to respond to that, acting sensibly and compassionately instead of sliding into the usual contentious screaming match. Even once Ferrer starts getting people killed, almost everyone is very understanding and forgiving; he’s much harder on himself than they are, but that just pushes him to act more rashly. The character is bedrock standard for the genre and transparently a lazy plot device on the page, but Ferrer’s performance, and the way the cast react to him, feel unexpectedly legitimate and maybe even tragic, turning some plotting which could deservedly be called “derivative” into something more compelling and vital.



Which is good, because it turns out that DEEPSTAR SIX is actually more of a survival-adventure film than a horror flick for the majority of its runtime. I can dig that; the cast is solid enough to keep it functional, and there are a few genuinely well-structured suspense scenes (one of which recalls, in a good way, the terrific "cliffhanging" sequence from JURASSIC WORLD). But I will concede it’s just as well that a giant monster puppet eventually does turn up. It’s obviously better to be a low-rent ALIENS than a low-rent POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Fortunately the wait is worth it; the final critter, designed by Chris Walas (THE FLY, GREMLINS) and built by Mark Shostrom (EVIL DEAD II, THE BEYOND, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3) is great, a practical effect that looks genuinely alive and completely novel (it has a crustacean or arthropod feel to it; some reviews compare it to the extinct "sea scorpion" Eurypterid). It’s obviously a gigantic and impressively detailed puppet, so it’s a real shame that Cunningham doesn’t do a better job establishing its size in relation to the actors. Once you’ve actually built the thing and it looks this good, why not make every effort to put it on-screen with your actors as much as possible? I get it when you’re stuck with a prop that doesn’t work well or doesn’t look great, but by all available on-screen evidence that’s not the case here. I suppose back then audiences were more used to the unmistakable tacticle sense that comes from real physical props and just didn’t think much about it, but in today’s world of weightless CG, you wish they’d lean into the physicality a little more, especially since they put in the effort to, you know, make a giant killer crab puppet. But oh well, you can’t have everything.

Anyway, DEEPSTAR SIX has its problems --it’s a little too slow-moving and talky to motivate one to shout its praises from the rooftops-- but in the not-especially-prestigious “ALIEN on a submarine” genre it’s practically LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. If it’s a little shaggy, it’s certainly also likeable enough to go down easy. If the writing can’t exactly be called urbane, at least the performances are winning. If there’s not exactly an avalanche of whammy, both gore and creature effects are gnarly and clearly shot enough to make a strong impression when they finally begin in earnest. But most of all, it’s just solid. At the time it may have been dismissed as a low-rent genre rip-off, but thirty years later, it feels almost destabilizingly serious and competent. It doesn’t comport itself like it’s just a trashy creature feature, it comports itself like a real movie with characters and shit it expects you to actually invest in, not out of some pretention that it has something to say but just out of the basic assumption you would be interested. It even has an august, earnest orchestral score by Harry Manfredini. I guess it says something about how badly standards have slipped that something broadly sniffed at as lowbrow b-movie garbage on its release now seems about on-par with something like EUROPA REPORT, which was released in art theaters to broad critical acclaim a couple years ago. Which I don’t mean as an aspersion on either movie; it’s just kind of sad that a movie like this –a simple, competently assembled adventure story for adults that just wants to entertain in a way that doesn’t patronize its audience—has become something a rare and prestigious commodity worthy of celebration in 21st century, rather than a basic expectation.

But then again, maybe I’m just old and grouchy. Anyway, whatever it’s rightful place in the pantheon of American pop-art, I think it’s safe to say that it’s probably one of the best Alien-on-a-boat ripoffs from 1989-1990.** And that may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but for someone like me, it makes it worth appreciating.

Also, I’d like a little credit for making it through this whole review without a single Sealab 2020 reference, if that’s not too much to ask.

         
           
   
*  Obviously THE ABYSS is better, let’s not kid ourselves here, come on.

               

CHAINSAWNUKAH 2019 CHECKLIST!
For Richer or Horror

TAGLINE
Not All Aliens Come From Space. Which, uh, first of all, a little on the nose, there, don’t ya think? And also, wait, is that even true? If it’s from the Earth, isn’t it de facto not an alien?
TITLE ACCURACY
I’m pretty sure their sealab base or whatever is named DeepStar Six, so sure, fine, whatever.
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
No.
SEQUEL?
None
REMAKE?
None.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
USA
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Creature feature, ALIEN-underwater
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
None
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
Though not specifically a horror icon, I’m gonna go ahead and count Miguel Ferrer
NUDITY? 
None.
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
None
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
Yup
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
None
POSSESSION?
No
CREEPY DOLLS?
None.
EVIL CULT?
No
MADNESS?
Slight madness
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
None
VOYEURISM?
None
MORAL OF THE STORY
The only monster on this submarine base is a lack of proper respect for the rules. Although also there’s a 40-ton homicidal crawfish, so I guess that too, now that I think about it.





               

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Zombie Nightmare




Zombie Nightmare (1986 / 7)
Dir. Jack Bravman, John Fasano (uncredited)
Written by John Fasano as "David Wellington"
Starring Adam West, Tia Carrere, Jon Mikl Thor, Shawn Levy



I’d been on the trail of ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE for years before I finally caught up with it, going back at least to 2014, when I discovered its existence after mistyping the search terms for HARD ROCK ZOMBIES. At the time, though, I simply couldn’t get ahold of a copy – couldn’t find it on pirate bay, wasn’t streaming, no DVD available, VHS copies on amazon running for more than the zero dollars I was willing to pay. I settled for its sister film, the delightful ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, also released on video in 1987 (Wikipedia claims, with no citation, that ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE received a “limited release theatrically” in the US in in 1986; I have my doubts). Even aside from their analogous sobriquets, the films have much in common: both were shot in the Canadian suburbs around the same time, both were the creative brainchild of the underrated John Fasano (director of BLACK ROSES, THE JITTERS and ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, who, despite receiving neither credit on-screen, seems to be generally regarded as the writer-director here), and, most importantly, both feature the involvement of a man named Jon Mikl Thor, bodybuilder, actor, former Mr. Canada, and “Legendary Rock Warrior” as he billed himself in his bands Thor (just Thor), Thor and the Imps, and, if his Wikipedia page is to believed, “Thor and the Ass Boys.”

ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE is a goddamn masterpiece of Z-movie goofiness and monster puppets which really took me by surprise when I blindly watched it after having failed to secure a copy of ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE back in 2014. So when its elusive zombie-themed brethern suddenly showed up out of the blue on Prime streaming –in a pristine HD print, no less!— of course I jumped at the opportunity. That’s the weird thing about the brave new world of streaming; in some ways, it’s probably made the job of the offbeat cinephile more difficult, turning films into transient, ephemeral things which can suddenly vanish from the world in the blink of an eye and be utterly inaccessible to anyone who lacks a real-world video store which held onto an increasingly rare physical copy. But on the other hand, every now and then wildly obscure, impossible-to-find stuff just shows up, a click of the finger away, apparently unaware that yesterday it was more recherché than unicorn steak. If that diminishes the thrill of the hunt somewhat, it does afford the pastime a giddy quality of capricious fate; apparently the universe would like me to see ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE now, one says with a shrug. Yesterday this would have been a Herculean task, today it’s instant and free. C’est la vie, apparently the quantum physicists were right and anything can happen at any time for no reason, and you might as well just surrender your free will to the fickle vagary of a random, meaningless universe where Trump is president and now, for some reason, ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE is just there, waiting to be watched.

This man is seconds from saying "sorry ma" with the highest possible volume of Canadian-ness 

 I guess the universe knew what it was doing this time, though. It turns out to be a damn good thing that it was so easy to watch, because it’s disappointingly boring. It would have been kind of a bummer to eventually get desperate and, like, order some Vietnamese bootleg DVD for $35 only to end up with this. Where ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE was packed to the gills with silly gimmicks, hair metal excess and a veritable menagerie of homicidal muppets, ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE offers fairly scant pleasures. There is, for example, only one zombie, and his rampage is hardly a nightmare unless you consider killing the five teenage hooligans who ran you over and fled the scene a “nightmare” instead of a “public service.”  

Still, credit for this: the script by Fasano (hiding behind the mysterious name "Dave Wellington" for reasons he claims have to do with the Canadian copyright law and not shame at having been associate with this debacle) is, like his ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE script, actually at least a little smarter and coherent than you would assume at first blush. It begins with something completely unexpected, anyway: some indeterminate number of years before the main events of the movie, a young African-American girl (Tracy Biddle, SNAKE EATER II: THE DRUG BUSTER) is walking home, only to be accosted by two racist punks (possibly Tony Blauer [nothing] and Mark Kulik [“boy in line” in the 1987 Tommy Lee Jones starring TV movie BROKEN VOWS], both of whom are just credited as “teenager”). Fortunately, there’s help nearby: stocky local baseball player William Washington (Fasano himself!) intervenes, only to receive a fatal stabbing from one of the young rascals as they make a getaway! Meanwhile, William’s young son Tony watches in horror.



Flash forward to today. Woah! Certainly not the way I was expecting a movie called ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE to begin. This rather shocking prologue of racist violence helps inform our understanding of why young Tony has by 1986 grown up to be a baseball-playing bodybuilding sweatpants aficionado played by Jon Mikl Thor (RECRUITS, INTERCESSOR: ANOTHER ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE). And it makes his willingness to put his life on the line in a Steven Seagal-esque* attempt to foil a grocery store robbery all the more psychologically rich, as we worry that history will repeat itself and this second-generation good Samaritan will suffer the same fate as his old man. But no, he tosses the miscreants out on their asses with a righteous professionalism that would make Patrick Swayze in ROADHOUSE proud, and it seems for a moment that this might bring some closure to this saga of multigenerational heroism. I mean, he doesn’t look like he’s thinking about it too deeply, or noticing the unmistakable patrilineal synchronicity he’s enacted. But then again, he doesn’t have much time to reflect, because about four seconds after foiling the robbery, he’s run over by an unrelated car and killed. Damn.

I guess he technically one-upped his dad by at least surviving til the end of the encounter, but still, one can understand why his mom (Francesca Bonasorsa, nothing) takes this turn of events pretty hard. “They won’t do this to me again!” she fumes. And she means it, because next thing you know she’s called in a favor; it seems that the young woman her husband died protecting all those years ago has grown into a Voodoo practitioner of some renown (Manuska Rigaud, nothing) and, with a little coaxing, is willing to resurrect the fallen lad as a vengeance-minded zombie who sometimes is (and sometimes is not) still played by Jon Mikl Thor.

Look, I'm not going to try and claim this is not racist, but all things considered, it's probably as minimally racist as it was possible to be with this premise. At least she's the good guy!

 Meanwhile, the offending teens go about their life, amazingly unconcerned about the little vehicular homicide they’ve perpetrated. Despite our intimacy with the now-decimated Washington family, they will be something sort of like protagonists from now on, and the only people who could reasonably claim to be afflicted by zombie nightmares of any kind. This imparts upon the movie something of a slasher structure, with a central killer gradually murdering his way through a list of the people who wronged him. That's an unusual move for a zombie movie (and one which anticipates the plot of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER by an entire decade, not that this is exactly something to feel overwhelmingly proud of, though to hear him tell it in the commentary, Fasano definitely does), and one which in retrospect may have been somewhat ill-advised, because a slasher lives and dies on its kills, which are uniformly underwhelming here. And as is tradition in that venerable subgenre, the movie is at its worst when we're enduring endless scenes of its obnoxious victims, which in this case makes up a downright indefensible portion of the runtime. 

For the most part these victims are too shockingly bland to be worth discussing, although two of the actors portraying them subsequently proved noteworthy: the role of Jane A. Finalgirl is played by future Hollywood superstar Tia Carrere (WAYNE’S WORLD, TRUE LIES) in her first role (despite being so much more attractive than anyone else that it's functionally destabilizing for the movie, she still barely registers in a part which barely qualifies as a role), and, even weirder, future Middlebrow Hollywood Hack director Shawn Levy (CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM) appears as the most intolerable asshole of the group. Even with Carrere in there, though, the idea of spending a whole movie focused on these dipshits is laughable, so once the teens start getting bumped off one by one, the movie offers a new possible protagonist (at more than 40 minutes in!), police detective Frank Sorrell (Frank Dietz,THE JITTERS, BLACK ROSES and ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, also a longtime Disney animator, with various credits on HERCULES, MULAN, TARZAN, and FANTASIA 2000, among others). And here the movie gets very slightly more interesting, because Sorrell has a vague suspicion that his shady boss Captain Churchman (Adam West, among other things, episodes of The Love Boat and The Adventures of Pete and Pete) would prefer this whole thing to just go away, and isn’t interested in getting to the truth.

Unfortunately the zombie killings themselves are pretty dull stuff, mostly bloodless affairs which grind endlessly on as the incredibly inept victims ineffectually try to get away from a slow, stumbling assailant in matte gray makeup and uncomfortably revealing sweatpants. The first two kills, at least, have the advantage of taking place in some sort of bizarre dystopian modernist nightmare rec center, which affords a touch of actual unsettling ambiance which is otherwise almost entirely lacking. But when even the murder of the biggest jerk in Canada --by impalement with a baseball bat while he’s attempting to sexually assault a waitress, no less!— feels perfunctory and bloodless, I think it’s time to admit you don’t really have a movie, here. It’s nice to see West dutifully show up every now and again (even if he’s visibly reading his lines off the paper in front of him in one scene) but a few clips of Adam West and a few more of a pale-faced guy in sweatpants stumbling after a handful of screaming teenagers does not a Zombie Nightmare make. It’s not even colorful enough to be worth laughing at its incompetence, because for the most part there’s just nothing much going on.

I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that this film is probably most known for the famously savage reception it got on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

 Credit where it’s due, though; just like ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, it ends with a bit of a twist which retroactively makes it seem, if not smarter, at least more intentional than one would be led to believe based on the meandering nothing that makes up most of the runtime. I guess it would be a spoiler of sorts to explain exactly what’s going on, but suffice to say a number of seemingly random details end up paying off in a way which is, if hardly mind-blowing, at least narratively satisfying. On one hand, being impressed by a film merely for having a baseline functional story is the height of damning with faint praise. But on the other hand, try finding me a $100,000,000-budgeted film today which can meet that low standard. For all ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE’s dull, time-wasting tomfoolery, at least it seems like it wasn’t just made up on the spot as it was filmed. Or at least not entirely so. In something this low-rent, that’s actually sort of miraculous, or at the very least not something you could have reasonably expected. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me to hold it against ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE if it had a random hodgepodge of plotlines that went nowhere. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed. So even if this is by far the weakest work in the Fasano cannon, at least we must again take note that he was trying harder than he had to by any reasonable metric for z-movie genre schlock.

In the Jon Mikl Thor cannon, this also leaves a little to be desired, particularly for people who enjoy seeing Mr. Thor on-screen. Apparently production began with a different Canadian bodybuilder in the title role (a Mr. “Peewee Piemonte” if IMDB is to be believed, a prolific stuntman and sometimes actor [UNDER SEIGE, BATMAN FOREVER, WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S II])** and obviously they shot a good bit of the zombie footage before he departed, because maybe as much as half the zombie shots are obviously a different actor with short, dark hair instead of Thor’s flowing hair metal mane (he also has a less prominent package, making the jarring continuity something of a mixed blessing). But if the movie shortchanges you on the Thor zombie action, it makes up for it with more Thor in every other part of the movie. Aside from intermittently playing the zombie, Thor did everything but cater the meals on the film; he wrote and performed the incidental music (under the clever nom du guerre “Thor and his Thorkestra”), and produced the extensive and inappropriately hard-rocking soundtrack, which at first glance seems to be a varied rouges gallery of unknown Canadian metal bands, until you look at the credits and see that Thor himself wrote, produced, and appears on over half of them.



Sometimes it’s under his own name (as in the epic prog anthem “Rebirth” by Thor) sometimes it’s in disguise (“Dead Things” by The Things and “Zombie Life” by Knighthawk have the same lineup as Thor’s band), sometimes only as a producer (“I’m Dangerous!” by Death Mask, produced by Jon Mikl Thor and Steve Price), sometimes in rather more esotetic ways (The “Pantera” who sings “Midnight Man” is not, in fact, the Pantera you’re thinking of, but rather Thor’s wife Rusty Hamilton, herself an actress*** and nude model who also sang backup for Thor).**** In fact, one of the few tracks which does not feature Jon Mikl Thor is also the one you would figure would be too expensive for the movie – Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades,” which inexplicably plays during the opening credits. I don’t really know why they would feel the need to begin a movie which is in no way rock and roll (and, in fact, begins at least a decade in the past) with the hard-driving sound of Motörhead’s most recognizable single,*****  but it definitely imparts upon the movie an unearned sense of credibility for it to fail to live up to.

Anyway, the whole thing is kinda a debacle and an inauspicious start for all involved. Still, especially after listening to the commentary with Fasano, Dietz, and an over-the-phone Thor, it’s hard not to feel at least a little well-disposed to such a scrappy little film, made by people dedicated enough to just replace their lead zombie halfway through and keep moving forward. It’s a movie without much whammy to speak of, but with no shortage of charming, handmade oddness. That’s not enough to keep its unassuming 89 minutes from dragging a bit, but at least it’s something. And unlike most regional horror flicks which were shot for less than $180,000 (most of which, reportedly, went to West), this time we have the added comfort of knowing that most of those involved don’t need to settle for a patronizing “well, at least you tried.” This movie didn’t really work out, but they moved on to better things. Let that be a lesson to you: never give up. Sure, a lot of times life just doesn’t work out the way you want, and you end up making (or watching) a ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE. But if you stick with it, just around the corner could be your ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE! Amazon may want to convince us that the world is random and meaningless and anything can happen for no reason, but good old fashion misplaced optimism, feckless ambition, and hopeless persistence can still pay off in the end. And if not, at least you can come back as a zombie and brutalize your enemies.

  

** Weirdly, Seagal will remain a theme here. Not only is it an extremely Seagalesque move to open a movie by foiling a small-time retail robbery, but Thor claims that Seagal himself taught him how to stage fight scenes! And, as we will discover, the "other" Thor who appears on-screen had his own run-ins with Seagal as a stuntman on several of his films.

** Including, according to IMDB, in JACOB’S LADDER (uncredited), THE GODFATHER PART III (uncredited), OUT FOR JUSTICE, UNDER SEIGE and… NEWSIES?

*** She appears as “The Seductress” in ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, and has a stunts credit in the 1992 Willem Dafoe action flick WHITE SANDS.

**** Please note the seemingly unimportant detail that the soundtrack was recorded, in part, at Ontario-based Triton Studios. This turns out to be vital information for your understanding of ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, because in that movie Thor’s band is called “Triton” and his character is named “Jon Mikl Triton.” There. Now you know something.

***** Website horrormetalsounds.com reports that “John Fasano originally wanted to use another Motorhead song Killed By Death as he thought it would fit the movie better, but Lemmy insisted they use Ace Of Spades." I don’t know why he would insist on that, but who am I to tell Lemmy his business? Anyway, it definitely makes both the movie and the soundtrack initially feel way more legit than they actually are.


               

CHAINSAWNUKAH 2019 CHECKLIST!
For Richer or Horror

TAGLINE
And Here’s A Zombie Tale That Will Give You The Creeps. I appreciate the tagline starting with “and,” a startling bit of grammar-bending ambition which imparts the sense that you and the poster are old chums already deep in conversation.
TITLE ACCURACY
There is a zombie, but “Nightmare” is sure pushing it.
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
No, good god, no.
SEQUEL?
None
REMAKE?
None.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Canada
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Zombie, revenge thriller
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
I can’t in good conscience call Adam West an A-lister, or even Tia Carrere, but it’s kinda impressive to have em both in here.
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
John Fasano
NUDITY? 
None.
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
One teen meets his end while assaulting a woman, although it’s pretty tame
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
None
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
Yup
POSSESSION?
No
CREEPY DOLLS?
None.
EVIL CULT?
No
MADNESS?
No
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
Thor into Zombie into different guy zombie
VOYEURISM?
Some zombie-vision, as you might expect for something with a budget of O
MORAL OF THE STORY
You gotta learn to walk before you learn to ROCK N ROLL NIGHTMARE.