Starring Sid Haig, Robin Sydney, Scott Whyte, Kristyn Green, Michael Berryman
Directed by Charles Band
The following “exciting/suspenseful” things occur during the first 25-minutes of Charles Band’s newest Full Moon production, Dead Man’s Hand: Casino of the Damned:
Then a really hot blonde started doing a striptease and suddenly I was lulled out of my slumber, though points must be deducted for lack of nudity. Still, it was something.
And now that the film had regained my attention, director Band wisely used this opportunity to once again bore me back into my stupor with ten more minutes of exposition and wandering around. Not a whole hell of a lot going on in this movie. Well, to be fair, a toilet did overflow with what looked to have been blood and a slot machine appeared as if it may have paid off with a couple small body parts. The characters didn’t seem to care much about any of this so why should I?
Finally, after more of the same, around the 42-minute mark and the movie halfway over, the supernatural aspect of the plot kicks in. Even then it felt the movie was just trying to buy time until the one hour mark when something genuinely resembling plot advancement would begin to occur.
Given how little this movie made me care, I’m just going to copy and paste the plot synopsis:
“After inheriting a casino from his dead uncle, Matthew Dragna, his girl friend J.J (Robin Sydney) and a group of friends take a road trip to the outskirts of Las Vegas, where they find the run-down Mysteria Casino. But the trip takes a frightening turn when the kids discover that the casino is haunted by the ghosts of Vegas mobsters Roy “The Word” Donahue (Sid Haig) and his goon Gil Wachetta (Michael Berryman), looking to settle an old score. Matthew and J.J. must fight for their very souls as the ghosts seek their gruesome vengeance, and in the vein of The Shining, this horrifying tale builds to a bloody and surprising climax.”
I assure you that climax is neither bloody nor surprising.
Anyone watching this movie solely for Sid Haig and Michael Berryman are probably going to be a bit disappointed. The two of them have maybe ten minutes of screen time. Haig can play this sort of well spoken creep role in his sleep, and though he does have a moment or two of vintage Haig-ness, the script gives him virtually nothing to chew on. Berryman has even less to do aside from just behind Haig just looking like Michael Berryman dressed like a flashy mobster. Their whole beef with the protagonists stems from getting snuffed out by Matthew’s uncle long ago and a lost fortune in silver hidden somewhere within the casino. It all culminates is a rather spiritless game of cards with souls at stake.
The other friends get to take turns falling victim to either a demonic card dealer who plays for body parts, a demonic roulette dealer who looks like an inflatable version of the Gingerdead Man in a casino uniform, and a sexy ghostly cocktail waitress who transforms into something resembling The Cryptkeeper but with slot machine eyes that spin various death related symbols. Outside of the goofy sight of the demonic zombie with the slot machine eyes (that only appears once), none of the life or death games of chance or the unholy entities running the rigged games do much to frighten or entertain. There’s nothing especially wrong with the actors other than they have nothing to work with.
I realize Band is working with a very low budget but this lethargically paced flick seems to have had more thought put into the brooding production design and snazzy opening credits sequence than ever went into the screenplay. Everyone gets short-changed by a talky script that could have made for a mediocre episode of “Tales from the Darkside” episode, but instead Dead Man’s Hand: Casino of the Damned is an often punishing 80-minute bore of which practically the entire first hour consists of dull exposition and drawn out stuff that feels like padding. Almost nothing of any significance occurred until the last 20-minutes and even then it wasn’t much to get excited or scared over.
There’s a short “making of” extra on the disc in which Charles Band repeatedly invokes The Shining, a mind-blowing comparison on any level given how lackluster his movie proved to be. Everyone talks up how great everyone else was to work with and what a terrific job Charles Band and company did creating the sets with such limited resources, but I couldn’t help but notice a distinct lack of talk when it came to putting over the film’s plot. Gee, I wonder why? I also couldn’t help but hear Band repeatedly gush so lovingly over actress Robin Sydney to the point that I found myself wondering if there was more to their relationship than just director and leading lady.
Band wraps up the segment talking about future Full Moon productions planned for 2007-2008, including another doll-themed movie to be called Worry Dolls. It’s to the point that even he can’t help but scoff a little when talking about making a new puppet movie. He also states sequels to old school Full Moon films Dollman and Doctor Mordrid are in the planning stage, as well as a brand spanking new Puppet Master flick next year.
We also get somewhere in the neighborhood of ten Full Moon trailers on the disc, one of which is for Full Moon’s next release, Decadent Evil 2. Ugh!
1 out of 5
2 out of 5
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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.
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