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Cry of the Winged Serpent (2007)

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Cry of the Winged Serpent reviewStarring Maxwell Caulfield, Robert Beltran, Carlos Moreno Jr., Adrian Alvarado, Sonia Satra, Brooke Mason

Directed by Jamie Wagner AKA Jim Wynorski


When last I reviewed a Jim Wynorski movie it was last year’s Komodo vs. Cobra, a film I found so indefensibly worthless that it caused me to go temporarily insane. I confess I wrote the review immediately after watching the film and my emotions were still raw and the bile was still great within my throat.

I’ve been hearing about a new Wynorski-helmed creature feature entitled Cry of the Winged Serpent for awhile now and thinking it sounded like it had potential. If nothing else, the plot didn’t make it sound like it would be his fourth reworking of his Curse of the Komodo screenplay. My hungering for a decent monster movie is so strong of late that I actually went out of my way to purchase a recently released Russian DVD of the film. I don’t know why the Roger Corman-produced Cry of the Winged Serpent has yet to see the light of day domestically. It looks and feels like something tailor-made for the Sci-Fi Channel even though they’ve yet air it and there’s currently no word of even so much as a DVD release anywhere in the world except for the former Soviet Union.

Good news, Mr. Wynorski; I commend you for cranking out a good one this time. Cry of the Winged Serpent – warts and all – is in my humble opinion the most enjoyable movie Jim Wynorski has made in close to the last twenty years. Though it’s not without its problems, those problems are not movie killers. I’d dare say those problems give the film a rough around the edges feel that enhances its B-movie goodness. As far as modern B-monster movies go, this one is a real treat.

The first thing I learned from watching Cry of the Winged Serpent is that Catholicism in Mexico is a lot different than it is everywhere else in the world. Given an ultimatum by a drug kingpin that could result in the death of innocent peasants, a Catholic priest won’t turn to God or Jesus but rather Quetzalcoatl. He whips out a magical amulet from his pocket and summons the Aztec winged serpent deity to lay waste to the armed thugs holding them at gunpoint. Then after being mortally wounded and passing on the amulet to Miguel, a young villager whose family had just been massacred by the drug lord’s thugs, he orders the twenty-something to go get revenge for their people. Now I don’t recall if there’s anything written in stone that states just because you’re a Christian you have to give up your ancestral pagan ways, but a priest using his dying breath to get another person to vow murderous vengeance against those responsible just doesn’t strike me as something the Pope would condone.

Contrast that with the Los Angeles-based Father Juan that takes in the young man from the Yucatan. The dying priest told Miguel to seek out Father Juan to help guide him in the ways of Aztec mysticism yet Father Juan repeatedly urges Miguel to use the power more wisely, preferably with fewer casualties. Riiight. As if there’s ever a wise way to summon a 25-foot winged serpent deity and not use it as a means of deadly force. This Catholic priest talks up the power of their Aztec ancestors even as he chastises the young immigrant for using that very power, outright condemning him as the dead bodies rack up, even though all those bodies belong to the violent thugs that work for a murderous crime lord that the Mexican priest who bestowed upon him this amulet specifically told him to seek vengeance against.

Aztecatholicism is clearly a religion of many contradictions.

Franco, meanwhile, grows increasingly desperate as his men turn up dead, his money goes missing, and Miguel keeps calling the young Scarface wannabe on the phone to tell him that his days are numbered. Franco grows increasingly paranoid and rightfully so since Miguel is being assisted in the vendetta by someone within Franco’s criminal organization. The identity of the mole is kept a secret until the finale even though it’s hardly a mystery to figure out who it is and why.

Cry of the Winged Serpent reviewAs Franco’s men turn up increasingly dead, having been clawed or bitten or impaled or merely dropped out of the sky (the film’s funniest moment coming during a televised baseball game where an outfielder goes out to catch a fly ball and nearly catches a falling corpse), hardboiled cop Griffin (a gruffer than usual Maxwell Caulfield) and his perky female partner, who really seems more like a plucky gal Friday than a policewoman, are hot on the trail. Their pursuit to put Franco in the slammer soon turns to an on-going multiple murder investigation as they try to figure out who is killing off Franco’s foot soldiers. It’s obvious to see where Wynorski’s head was at when co-scripting this one given that Griffin keep questioning witnesses of Mexican descent that continually refer to the winged beast they saw as “La CaCanya,” a term used to describe the giant bird monster in the infamous 1950’s cheesefest The Giant Claw. Despite sharing a name with another mythical flying creature, Griffin refuses to buy into the whole flying serpent that materializes out of the sky theory until he finally sees it for himself.

Cry of the Winged Serpent is quite the hodgepodge, combining elements of Larry Cohen’s cult classic Q, The Winged Serpent, the 1946 George Zucco not-so-classic The Winged Serpent, pretty much every movie where a young person gains an otherworldly means to seek righteous vengeance only to begin going mad with power, and late Seventies/early Eighties era TV cop shows – back when cop shows were more lightweight, the lead was always a maverick prone to using excessive force, his partner the voice of reason, and the dialogue always featuring snappy banter. Only thing missing is the police chief forever yelling at the tough guy cop about procedural violations, but at least we do get the terminally unhip coroner who tries and fails to keep pace with the main character’s snappy comebacks. All these elements combined make for a good natured creature feature. Although by the time the closing credits began to roll I was overwhelmed with the sense that I’d just finished watching the full-length pilot for an early 80’s TV cop show about a crimefighter that uses a dragon-like creature to help him bust criminals. Believe it or not, I do mean that as a compliment.

One usually doesn’t expect such tame fare from a Jim Wynorski production. Perhaps that’s why the film has yet to get released domestically. Profanities are mild, bikini cleavage is the most T&A the film musters, and the goriest moments come in the form of a few tail impalings that are still nowhere near as gory as they could have been. Quetzalcoatl mostly slaps bad guys around, flings them through the air, or fatally swats them. Even clawings and bitings are devoid of the level of carnage usually seen in modern monster movies. The relatively bloodless nature of the monster-on-human action will no doubt disappoint some. I, however, found this approach gave me a warm feeling, harkening back to the milder monster movies of the glory days of cinema. Monster movies don’t always have to be a bloodbath.

Despite some rough patches, such as an ineptly staged dream sequence based around the murder of Griffin’s wife and being told that the person that wields the amulet is as invulnerable as Quetzalcoatl itself doesn’t exactly jive with Miguel’s ultimate fate, Cry of the Winged Serpent still sports a solid storyline, above average special effects, peppy dialogue, and playful performances.

Speaking of performances, busty Wynorski movie regular Glori-Ann Gilbert appears briefly in what I believe may be her most clothed role ever. Here she attempted to stretch her acting muscles by doing something she’s never really done before – actually trying to act. A very short scene that makes for quite an entertaining trainwreck.

I also found it amusing that Wynorski is using yet another alias with this one: Jamie Wagner. At least that was the one listed in the film’s opening credits. The ones on the DVD case credit the directing duties to “Jay Andrews”, one of the many aliases of Jim Wynorski. Come to think of it; The Many Aliases of Jim Wynorski sounds like a great name for his biography should anyone ever write one.

Even though Jim Wynorski’s real name isn’t slapped all over the movie’s credits, I give the man his due on this one. And Roger Corman. And co-writer William Langlois. Cry of the Winged Serpent is ferociously fun.

3 1/2 out of 5

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

Directed by Greydon Clark

Distributed by VCI


The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

“Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
  • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
  • Photo gallery
  • Satan's Cheerleaders
  • Special Features
1.3

Summary

Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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