Directed by Charles Band, Ted Nicolaou, Peter Manoogian
Never let it be said that Charles Band doesn’t know how to squeeze nickels until they shit quarters.
For the past several weeks Redbox’s website has been listing the March 6th release date for a new Charles Band movie called Devil Dolls. I could find nothing about this movie on the official Full Moon website and no listing on IMDB. That’s especially strange coming from a man who sends out email to hype the date when the world will get its first look at a new Puppet Master for a Puppet Master sequel that still doesn’t even have a filming start date yet. All I knew going in from the Redbox description was that Devil Dolls is an anthology film and that one of the doll heads on the cover looks an awful lot like the evil baby doll from Demonic Toys.
You don’t suppose Charles Band just chopped three of his past killer doll movies down to a half-hour each and re-released them as an entirely new anthology film, do you?
You better believe that’s exactly what he did.
New opening credits and some really cheap looking animation wrapping around the segments are all that is new here; the rest is reduced and recycled previous material. The nickels have shat quarters once more.
Chapter One is entitled “Doll Cemetery”. Or as it was called when I reviewed the full length version back in 2005: Doll Graveyard.
I’ve got no problem telling you I completely fast forwarded through this entire segment. I found it to be an underwhelming poor man’s Puppet Master knock-off seven years ago, and condensing it to a half-hour wasn’t going to suddenly make it fun. Read my review of Doll Graveyard, and you’ll understand why.
It’s about a kid named Guy who unearths some turn-of-the-century action figures in his backyard that Puppet Master to life and try to kill his sister and her friends when they have a party in the house. The original version felt long at 71 minutes. Minus 40 minutes of filler, I can only hope it didn’t still feel long. I wouldn’t know because I moved on.
“Voodoo Doll” is the name of Chapter Two. Ragdoll was the name of the feature version released all the way back in 1999. I had never seen this one before so I did not fast forward.
Ragdoll came along back around the time Band was trying to create a line of horror films that appealed to the urban market. A predominantly African-American cast in a true-to-form Band-ish killer doll tale with a voodoo twist. Up-and-coming rapper Kwame refuses to sign a record deal with a local gangster wanting to be his manager, and the thug sends his grandma to the hospital. Kwame does makes a deal with “the shadow man” (aka Black Satan) to get revenge; that revenge comes in the form of a murderous ragdoll that’s sort of like the Aunt Jemima version of Trilogy of Terror’s Zuni Doll.
Because there’s a halfway decent story here and some enjoyably hammy acting bolstering it, I can’t help but wonder if this one might actually be better in its original full-length form. As is, it plays less like a true short film and more like a film that has obviously been shortened. There is no flow, no natural build-up to anything, just a series of plot bullet points and kill scenes.
While the unholy ragdoll is more outrageous looking than terrifying, I can’t say anything I saw it do fell into either category. The Butterfly McQueen of Charles Band’s puppetverse just doesn’t deliver the goods when it comes to toy-on-human violence, and isn’t that what we’re really tuning in for?
Hmm, maybe chopping it down to a half-hour really was for the best.
The third and final tale is the terribly retitled “Treacherous Toys”. Yep, it’s Demonic Toys.
The moment it begins there is a very noticeable change in the film stock. I mean it was actually shot on film. 20 years ago! Ragdoll is over 10 years old, but the way it was shot doesn’t differ all that much to how Doll Graveyard looked when it was shot 6 years later. Demonic Toys was released in 1992. Some of you reading right now were still in diapers. Some of you weren’t even born yet. Tracy Scoggins was middle-aged when she starred in this movie; today she qualifies for AARP. That’s how long ago this was. It shows its age in every single frame.
I myself had not seen this one since it was first released. Back then I watched each and every Full Moon movie and looked forward to new releases with bated breath. I’d watch the movies, the Video Zone segments after the films, and would have ordered merchandise from the catalogue had I had the money. I still remember what my reaction was at the time upon first watching Demonic Toys: disappointment. I liked the concept in spirit more than I actually liked the actual movie. Enjoying it more for nostalgic purposes than actually liking what I was actually seeing on the screen is how I can now describe revisiting the film 20 years later in a condensed format.
Pregnant cop. Fast food delivery guy. Security guards. A warehouse mostly filled with empty cardboard boxes. A satanic kid. Classic childhood toys brought monstrously to life murdering people. The third writing credit of a then fledgling screenwriter named David S. Goyer. He’s gone on to pen both better and worse than this.
My assumption is that Devil Dolls is not aimed at hardcore Full Moon fans since all that’s being offered up here is unsatisfying small doses of movies they should already be quite familiar with. If the idea is to appeal to a new audience and make some new fans, honestly, I don’t know if these are the three I would have chosen. More likely this anthology exists as an easy way for Charles Band to make a few quick bucks without having to do much more than press some DVDs.
I paid $1.28 to rent Devil Dolls from a Redbox, and about $1.28’s worth of entertainment is what I got.
2 out of 5
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
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