Starring a bunch of celebrities
Directed by someone with way too much time on their hands
Take MTV’s "Fear," move it to VH1, replace actual contestants vying for money with D-list celebrities and former reality show contestants that are apparently now considered celebrities in their own right for reasons unknown, and you get "Celebrity Paranormal Project".
Five celebs are assembled at a location reputed to be haunted to investigate it from sundown to sunrise. The story behind this facility and its haunting are recounted to them in both written form and via a video documentary/cheap computer effects heavy video presentation. They assemble inside a mobile home outside the facility to suit up with camera harnesses that allow them to be filmed individually in facial close-up ala Blair Witch Project. Two at a time, celebs head into the abandoned facility to reach specific paranormal hot spots within the place. Once there, they’ll be instructed via radio by the celebrity back at home base serving as task leader to say or do specific things that will supposedly entice the spirits into manifesting themselves. All throughout these proceedings we get more cheesy reenactments of supposedly true paranormal events that occurred in these places and those asides that have become all to common to reality programs where the people involved are recorded later telling us what they were thinking about at the time.
I’d be lying if I said that I had any real expectations of seeing quality entertainment going into this show, but I was willing to give it a shot anyway just based on the cornball nature of VH1 doing "Ghost Hunters" with that channel’s usual allotment of celebrity nobodies and has-beens. It’s VH1; the best you can hope for is a guilty pleasure. Well, this show is definitely guilty alright. It’s not often that I use the phrase "an affront to human intelligence" but this is a special occasion. "Celebrity Paranormal Project" is an affront to human intelligence. It’s insulting to its audience. It’s insulting to people that actually do real investigations into the paranormal. Hell, it’s even insulting to ghosts.
Hal Sparks: "Gary, take the EFM meter."
Gary Busey: "What’s an EFM meter?"
Moccara: "I heard a door slam."
Donna D’Errico: "That’s kinda scary."
Those two vapid dialogue exchanges from the first episode pretty much sum up this program in a nutshell. Every celebrity that appeared on this show needs to give their agent a serious ass kicking because all of them come across as such an uninteresting lot of vacuous personalities that you come to realize why they are so far down the totem pole of fame that appearing on a crap show like this might have seemed a good idea.
The first episode of "Celebrity Paranormal Project" takes place at the allegedly haunted Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky where 63,000 died from Tuberculosis back in 1926. Let’s meet our celebs for the premiere episode.
Gary Busey – He tells us that he believes in the supernatural because he’s been to the other side. I don’t doubt him because its obvious part of him never came back. Busey is his normal flakey self; he will open the proceedings with a group energy blessing hug and ends the program babbling about having heard "the mechanical tiger." Even Busey’s wacko factor cannot salvage this nothing of a show.
Toccara – Since when does being the 6th runner-up on "America’s Next Top Model" qualify someone as a celebrity? You may have appeared on television but you’re not really famous. The model proves her worth in the opening minutes by requiring someone to explain to her what the word "Tuberculosis" means.
Hal Sparks – The former "Talk Soup" host describes himself as self a "professional jerk." I’d always thought that Andy Dick had that phrase copyrighted exclusively for himself. Sparks is obviously there to provide the comic relief during the proceedings. He fails.
Jenna Morasca – She was the big winner on "Survivor: The Amazon". I again question her status as a true celeb. At least she actually won the show she was on as opposed to having been the sixth runner up.
Donna D’Errico – Former "Baywatch Nights" actress, Playboy Playmate, star of Candyman 3, and soon-to-be ex-wife of Nikki Sixx. She confesses up front that she had no clue what she was getting into with this show. Before it’s over she’ll damn near have a nervous breakdown after getting badly spooked. I’m bet even watching that remake of When A Stranger Calls could terrify this poor girl.
So in a nutshell, a bunch of celebrities that barely qualify as celebrities have cameras strapped to them so they can wander around the dank, darkened rooms and corridors of the interiors of a place that look like it’d be perfect for the sets of the next installment in the Saw franchise so that they can say the most insipid stuff, experience varying degrees of being scared, a lot of obscenities get bleeped out, then they begin yelling at one another, and finally they return to home base to tell everyone how scared they were and claim to have felt the presence of someone or something otherworldly. And this is supposed to be entertaining how?
One big part of the first episode was talk of "shadow people," creepy shadows seen in the Sanatorium that are believed to be ghostly souls. Yeah, or maybe they’re just shadows? Look, if you take a person and fill their head full of ghost stories and then send them into a dark, decrepit building, you don’t even need actual ghosts to show up because a person’s imagination is going to be working overtime as it is. What these people do in terms of ghost hunting makes the average Scooby Doo investigation look like National Geographic quality analysis. But then it’s hard not to get the sense that the producers weren’t sweetening the pot so to speak. More on that in a moment.
The first episode ended with Hal Sparks declaring that "Gary is the scariest thing in this whole place." You know what would have made this episode acceptable? If Gary Busey had just gone nuts with hacksaw and dispatched with this band of saps.
But I still decided to give "Celebrity Paranormal Project" a second chance. Hey, any show can have a bad first episode and then improve from there on out, right? Okay, I admit I really wanted to see if the second episode could possibly be worse than the first. It was. Episode two proved even more boring and asinine, and this time it was completely impossible to not notice the obvious manipulation on the part of the people behind the show.
The second episode was set at someplace called the Warson Asylum for the Criminally Insane, located somewhere in New England. The place is said to have been home to a patient possessed by a spirit named Perl – a spirit that now supposedly haunts the place. This week’s celebrity rubes included model/actress Rachel Hunter, some comedian I’ve never heard of named Godfrey, hyperactive personal trainer and infomercial guru Tony Little, Baywatch babe and Playboy Playmate Traci Bingham, and another "Survivor" winner named Ethan.
How bad do things get this time? Jittery from the get-go Traci Bingham has to hold a pendulum over laughing lunatic Tony Little who is required to put on a straightjacket and sit on the floor of the once rubber room where the possessed inmate resided. We and these celebrities are supposed to believe that the combination of a guy in a straightjacket and the swinging of a pendulum will somehow entice Perl to make its presence known. Little begins sweating from wearing the straightjacket and suddenly everyone hails the temper change as proof of Perl’s presence. This would seem especially dubious as the show went on since everyone would keep claiming that it kept getting cold whenever the spirit was present. The whole episode featured crap like this. I swear if someone had farted they’d have sworn the foul odor in the air was proof positive of the spirit’s presence in the room.
Aside from a frightened Traci Bingham offering to take Perl’s spirit on a Rodeo Drive shopping spree and her uttering "Oh, my god" more times in a row than she ever has in a situation that didn’t climax with an orgasm, the highlight (or lowlight) of the show came when they actually managed to get a spirit on video with one of their thermal cameras. Think for a second about the ramifications of this. We see this footage clearly showing some humanoid shape quickly passing by the camera. Imagine how any other show about the paranormal would treat such an event. Imagine how many replays, slow motions, freeze frames, etc. we’d get of this followed by in-depth scientific analysis of the footage by experts. This show gives us one quick glimpse of the footage and when everyone realizes something just happened, we get a quick replay of the footage – and that’s the end of it. That something as amazing as capturing a ghost on film could be as quickly glossed over in favor of more facial close-ups of the quivering lips of nervous D-list celebrities sends a clear message that this was either a fraud being perpetrated by the show’s producers in a desperate attempt to liven this boring piece of crap show up or the people responsible for this boring piece of crap program are unquestionably the stupidest friggin’ people to ever walk the face of the earth. Personally, I’d guess a lot from Column A and a little from Column B.
I don’t doubt for a second the fear these celebs experienced was genuine. But like I already explained, take some people that are skittish to begin with, fill their heads full of ghost stories, toss them into a scary dark place, and let the imagination run wild. Whether what precipitates these responses stems from their own imagination, the normal creaks and shadows that come with places like this, some audio/visual sweetening courtesy of the show’s producers, or even the presence of actual ghostly spirits, it still makes for extremely bad television. A variety of media outlets are going to begin releasing their lists of the best and worst TV shows of the year in just a few short weeks from now and if "Celebrity Paranormal Project" isn’t at least somewhere in the top three on every last one of those worst lists then it’s proof that these critics never bothered to watch a single episode of this show.
"Celebrity Paranormal Project" is boring, insulting, and just plain pitiful. For the life of me, I do not understand what the hell the point of this program is. It fails on a scientific front to an appalling degree yet it takes itself far too seriously to be any fun in that "Celebreality" subgenre that VH1 foolishly prides itself on. The point of the show seems to be for audiences to derive pleasure from watching these D-list celebs acting scared, but there’s nothing remotely amusing about it since even their fear feels monotonous and everything else that comes out of these people’s mouths is hopelessly vapid. I don’t know who VH1 expects this show to appeal to but whoever it is out there that derives genuine entertainment from watching this program – I honestly don’t know what to say to you other than you must either be starved for entertainment or live truly a sad existence.
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
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.
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.
Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!
Starring 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”.
- 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
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.
The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross
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.
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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