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Fallen Ones, The (2005)

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Starring Casper Van Dien, Kristen Miller, Tom Bosley, Robert Wagner, Navid Negahban, Geoffrey Lewis, Irwin Keyes

Directed by Kevin VanHook


I swear if Cannon Films was still around today The Fallen Ones could have easily been their discount answer to the bloated Mummy franchise. Believe it or not, I mean that as a compliment.

Heck, if The Fallen Ones had been set in the 1930s, replaced the male and female leads with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, had a megabudget allowing for masturbatory overuse of shoddy computer effects, and went out of its way to sacrifice the tone of nearly every single scene just to work in a cheap laugh then this could very well have been Stephen Sommers’ newest Mummy sequel. But instead The Fallen Ones is a B-movie in the grandest sense. It has B-actors involved in a B-plot brought to life with a B-budget and I personally found it to be far more charming than either of those overblown moron movies.

The Fallen Ones kicks off in Sumeria thousands of years ago where Ammon the Destroyer, an angel of death of truly Biblical proportions, meets with his high priest and 42-foot giant of a son to discuss how they’re going to work around this little flood God is getting ready to unleash upon the world. The solution is simple: kill his son and mummify his corpse so that he can be resurrected at a later date while Ammon himself seeks political asylum in Hell for the next 3,000 years. Unfortunately for the forces of pure evil, something appears to go wrong during the mummification process and Ammon’s gigantic warrior son ends up becoming a gigantic mentally retarded mummy. I’m not sure what baring that particular plot point has on anything to come other than I suppose it explains why the giant mummy is only capable of growling and roaring upon its resurrection. Stephen Sommers never even bothered trying to give any possible explanation as to why the mummies in his films roared so The Fallen Ones is already one up on them even if it didn’t intend to be. And everything about this pre-title sequence from the effects to the dialogue feels like it came straight out of an episode of “Hercules” or “Xena”. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s off to present day Arizona where the incomparable Casper Van Dien is an archaeologist working on an excavation in the desert for development magnet Robert Wagner, who plans to develop the land in order to build a fancy resort hotel. Just as a pretty blonde is brought in to micromanage things and simultaneously annoy and arouse his Van Dieness, the place is rocked by a sudden earthquake that unearths an underground chamber containing the remains of what appears to be a 42-foot tall human being. Making things all the more bizarre, the corpse appears to have been mummified in the Egyptian style and his body is surrounded with ancient Sumerian markings.

This mysterious discovery leads Van Dien to bring in his old mentor, Rabbi Eli, to translate the Sumerian text. Tom Bosley, best remembered as Mr. Cunningham on “Happy Days”, plays the Rabbi Eli character in very much the way I’d expect him to play a stereotypical Jewish character on an episode of “The Love Boat”, and doing so makes this character so patently campy that you’d really have to be a hardened cynic not to get a kick out of it. I swear listening to Bosley milk that fake Jewish accent for all it’s worth I could envision the Fonz walking in at any moment and going, “Oy Vaeeeyyyhhh, Mr. C”.

So in between discussions about the very nature of their discovery and some very lame romancing between our impossibly bland leads, the site is attacked by a gaggle of purple-shirted goons that proceed to kidnap workers to be fed to the soon to be awakened mummy. Their attempts to kidnap Van Dien and company results in the sort of fistfight you’d have seen on the old “Batman” TV series.

Van Dien complains afterwards to the Robert Wagner character about several missing men and the fashion victim henchmen but Wagner doesn’t want to call the police because they would just shut them down and he can’t have that. Instead, he decides to bring in a top-notch private security firm to guard the site. The head of this armed band of personal security guards, you guessed it, it’s Ammon.

The surprising thing about Ammon is that he’s actually a compelling villain played with sinister zeal by Navid Negabahn, fresh from his stint as a terrorist on this season’s “24” proving yet again that if you’re an actor in Hollywood with Arab features you’re pretty much guaranteed to end up either playing terrorists or cast in mummy movies. His best moment comes during a confrontation with Rabbi Eli that manages to explain his origin and agenda in a way that doesn’t just bring the movie to a halt for an extended flashback sequence as Stephen Sommers has done before. It also features a nice exchange where Eli reminds Ammon that the Book of Revelations already makes it perfectly clear that his plan is going to fail to which Ammon casually replies that he at least has to try. You got to admire an apocalyptic destroyer with a “can do” attitude. I’ve seen so many movies with demonic entities hatching apocalyptic schemes but very few ever feature a scene where someone brings up the fact that the very thing they’re setting out to do is preordained to fail.

The biggest negative regarding the Ammon character is the revelation that the pretty blonde lead just happens to be the reincarnation of sorts of the mortal female he spawned with originally to give life to his immortal giant sons which of course means that he wants to procreate with her to bring about more. I’ve always hated when movies pull out that lame reincarnation cliché as it smacks of plot convenience and desperation. Although frankly I’d be far more concerned with her character mating with Van Dien’s since melding of their nearly flawless Aryan features could conceivably spawn Hitler’s master race. But I digress. On the plus side, this subplot does lead to one of the film’s goofiest lines of dialogue. When shaking Ammon’s hand upon meeting she becomes overcome and nearly faints. An annoyed Van Dien apologizes on her behalf and explains that she was probably just dehydrated from having been horseback riding that morning. Say what?

It seemed at times as if the objective was to make Van Dien’s character a blithering idiot without letting him in on it. He gives a speech early on attributing the giant’s size on Acromeglia, a disease that causes giantism in people such as legendary pro wrestler Andre the Giant, who was still only around seven feet in height. Van Dien’s character actually believes that disease could have caused someone to grow to King Kong size. Yep, he’s a blithering idiot all right.

The Fallen Ones also boasts the single greatest “what the f***?!” moment of any film I’ve seen in quite sometime. Ammon’s disciples somehow manage to build a giant mechanical effigy to the giant mummy they worship. By that, imagine the giant mechanical spider from Wild Wild West only built in humanoid form, covered with corpses, and piloted by a guy that repeatedly chants Ammon’s name non-stop. All of this comes from completely out of nowhere with no hint as to how or why they built such a thing, which is all for the best because the effigy is toppled just as quickly as it appeared.

Now mind you I am reviewing the Sci-Fi Channel version of The Fallen Ones and part of me can’t help but to wonder if they butchered this movie in order to squeeze it into a two hour time slot with their usual 35 minutes worth of commercial breaks. Almost every single time they came back from a commercial it seemed as if the movie had jumped ahead from where it left off and I got the feeling there were other little bits missing too. For example, the dig’s foreman played by veteran character actor (and Juliette Lewis’ dad) Geoffrey Lewis, just up and vanishes from the film with no explanation as to what became of him. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a scene that got cut out explaining the mechanical mummy. I definitely plan to check this one out again when it hits DVD just to see what I may have missed.

Now I’m sure by this point most of you want to know about the giant mummy since that is the whole point of the movie. It turns out that giant mummies when brought back to life pretty much behave like giant apes do in the movies. He roars, hurls huge boulders, chases after moving vehicles, and snatches helicopters from the sky. The sight of a giant mummy doing all of this makes things that much more entertaining. My only beef with the mummy other than his all to brief appearance is pretty much the same beef I had with all the villains in the movie; that being that they’re all too easily defeated.

And how did Ammon know to go to the dam at the end anyway?

Probably the most amazing thing about The Fallen Ones is that it was written and directed by Kevin VanHook, whose only other filmmaking credit was Frost: Portrait of a Vampire, a film so boring and pointless that I consider it to be one of the single worst movie-watching experiences I’ve ever had. Talk about a complete turnaround. It even looks and feels like a more professional, almost theatrical quality production than the typical Sci-Fi Channel movie fare. While The Fallen Ones might be goofy and more than a little nonsensical at times, it’s a lively romp that brings to mind memories of the old fashioned Saturday matinees.

Oh, for those of you that are dying to know how a giant Egyptian mummy ends up buried in the American Southwest, well, it seems Ammon had several giant sons (SEQUEL ALERT!) that he had buried all throughout the world in secret places where even God himself could not find them. I guess that means that while God is all knowing and all seeing he really sucks at scavenger hunts.


3 out of 5

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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!

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Beyond the 7th DoorStarring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman

Directed by B.D. Benedikt

Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision


Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.

Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.

Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.

The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.

Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.

The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.

There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.

“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.

“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
  • Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
  • The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
  • Beyond the Seventh Door
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.

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The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross

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Starring Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu

Directed by Xavier Gens


Claiming to be inspired by actual events, director Xavier Gens’ The Crucifixion forgoes the affecting shocks and awes, and instead beats its audience into the ground with a laundry-list of ho-hum dialogue and lesser-than-stellar instances…forget the priest, I need a friggin’ Red Bull.

A 2005 case is spotlighted, and it revolves around a psychotically damaged woman of the cloth (nun for all you laymen) who priests believed was inhabited by ol’ Satan himself. With one rogue priest in command who firmly believed that this was the work of something satanic, the nun was subject to a horrific exorcism in which she was chained to a cross and basically left to die, which ultimately resulted in the priest being stripped of his collar and rosary…how tragic. Enter an overzealous New York reporter (Cookson) who is intently focused upon traveling to Romania to get the scoop on the botched undertaking. After her arrival, the only point of view that seems to keep sticking with interviewees is that the man who sat close to the lord killed a helpless, innocent and stricken woman, that is until she meets up with another nun and a village priest – and their claims are of something much more sinister.

From there, the battle between good and evil rages…well, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t exactly “rage” – instead, it simmers but never boils. Unfortunately for those who came looking for some serious Father Karras action will more than likely be disappointed. The performances border on labored with cursory characters, and outside of some beautiful cinematography, this one failed to chew out of its five-point restraints.

I’d normally prattle on and on about this and that, just to keep my word limit at a bit of a stretch, but with this particular presentation, there just isn’t much to bore you all with (see what I just did there). Gens certainly had the right idea when constructing this film according to blueprints…but it’s like one of those pieces of Wal-Mart furniture that when you open the box, all you can find are the instructions that aren’t in your language – wing and a prayer…but we all know what prayers get you, don’t we, Father?

My advice to all who come seeking some hellacious activity – stick to The Exorcist and you’ll never be let down.

  • Film
2

Summary

The Crucifixion is one of those films that needs the help of the man above in order to raise its faith, but I think he might have been out to lunch when this one came around.

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User Rating 3.32 (19 votes)
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