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From Here to Obscurity: Annihilator (1986)

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PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.

From Here to Obscurity: Annihilator review!Reviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Mark Lindsay Chapman, Susan Blakely, Catherine Mary Stewart, Lisa Blount, Geoffrey Lewis, and (maybe) Brion James

Directed by Michael Chapman


I have a sneaking suspicion the pitch meeting for the sci-fi horror actioner Annihilator went a little something like this, “Think The Fugitive meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Stepford Wives with just a dash of The Terminator!” Yeah, I bet it went something like that alright. If not, it should have because that’s precisely what Annihilator is.

The concept of an otherworldly force snatching a plane from the sky and replacing its passengers with evil robotic doppelgangers fulfilling a sinister agenda is a promising one. That the obvious culprit is an alien power yet the movie also loads up on enough religious imagery to make one wonder if maybe these evil robots might actually have a satanic origin to them is just another dynamic that makes Annihilator an interesting failure. Don’t usually hear about Satan going the mechanized route to takeover the world, do you?

Whatever unknown force was behind the robot replacements we’ll never know. I should probably specify right now that Annihilator was a feature length pilot that aired back in 1986 for what would have been an NBC Network television series had the network not passed on it. That means we’re guaranteed 90-minutes of set-up with no real pay-off or hard answers. That withstanding, the pilot is ultimately done in due to the combination of a stuffy lead, some weak acting all around, a tone that teeters between being mundane and unintentionally silly, and a script that simply wasn’t particularly well thought out.

Annihilator is also disgustingly Eighties, thus making it highly dated by today’s standards. Look no further than when a third of the way in it completely devolves into a rather lengthy music video montage complete with plenty of MTV effects tricks of the era set to a mid-80s pop cover version of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes”.

Starring is Mark Lindsay Chapman who got the lead role in the Annihilator pilot as a consolation prize from NBC after they initially cast him to play John Lennon in a big TV movie they were planning; he ended up losing the role after a public outcry due to the unfortunate reality that Mark Lindsay Chapman is awfully similar to Mark David Chapman, the name of the man who murdered John Lennon. Many of you might also know Mark Lindsay Chapman from his turn as the evil Dr. Anton Arcane on the USA Network’s “Swamp Thing” series.

Here the British-born Chapman plays newspaper editor-turned-robot battler Richard Armour. Though a perfectly fine actor, Chapman comes across as too British, too refined, and too mannered for the role he’s cast in here. He doesn’t convey that dapper yet scrappy quality that Pierce Brosnan had playing “Remington Steele” on the network around the same time. He’s just something of a stiff – not the kind of quality you look for in a series lead.

From Here to Obscurity: Annihilator review!The set-up has San Francisco newspaper editor Richard Armour at the airport awaiting the return of his girlfriend and fellow reporter, Angela, played by quintessential Eighties B-movie “it” girl Catherine Mary Stewart. One little problem: her flight is late, and by late I mean it has completely vanished from the radar screen. The plane finally rematerializes after a few tense hours and nobody getting off, including Angela, seems aware there was any sort of a problem.

But problems there most definitely were and for Richard Armour they’ve only just begun.

Angela begins behaving strangely and by “strangely” I mean killing their dog because it won’t stop barking at her, writing strange editorials vehemently supporting experimentation on lower animal life forms, and eventually revealing herself to be a murderous robotic duplicate. Killing her proves to be a Sarah Connor-esque task; ramming her with a jeep that explodes ultimately does the trick. Problem is he now finds himself wanted for Angela’s murder and because this whole incident took place in federal woodlands while they were on holiday at a lake house her “murder” is considered a federal offense and the FBI are hot on his trail.

This is where “The Fugitive” aspect comes into play. Richard is on the run from the cops and the feds for his girlfriend’s murder even though she was actually a killer cyborg look-a-like and doesn’t know who he can trust because other killer cyborg look-a-likes are after him because he’s stumbled upon their otherworldly conspiracy. Richard gets a hold of the plane’s passenger list and begins making the rounds to find someone who might know what the hell is going on, but mostly keeps finding himself confronted by other killer robot doppelgangers.

Director Michael Chapman (All The Right Moves, Clan of the Cave Bear) and the writer’s of the movie pilot made the mistake to structure the story so as to start smack dab in the middle of the tale. A very 80’s TV cop show car chase kicks things off, a bad choice given we initially don’t who it is being chased or why yet we’re supposed to be riveted. Things will soon settle into flashback mode for the entire first half until the story intersects and rejoins where it opened and moves forward from there. I wouldn’t be shocked to know it was the network that suggested they kick it off in the middle just so things would open with an action scene. Because of this misguided storytelling technique and other plot problems to come Annihilator ends up feeling clunky, clumsy, and so disjointed that it sometimes felt more like a movie compiled from several episodes of a series and not just the full-length pilot for one.

From Here to Obscurity: Annihilator review!Annihilator starts with Richard already on the run from the cops and lugging around a shotgun he’d acquired, as well as a little kitty from the home of a woman he found murdered after she’d discovered her husband had been replaced. Now despite Richard supposedly being this really smart newspaper editor, he never once suspects this woman he carjacks and forces at gunpoint to take him someplace where he can hideout could have more to her than meets the eye, even though her response to his threatening actions is to calmly take him back to her place, make him a spot of tea, and tell him the reason she’s treating him more like a stray puppy she’s brought home rather than a shotgun-toting abductor is because he was carrying a cat with him and she likes cats. This right there should have been fair warning that she’s clearly not human one way or another. This right there also should have been fair warning to the producers that the script needed another rewrite.

Sure enough, she’ll eventually turn out to be one of them, but it’s not so bad because she’s a “good” killer robotic duplicate. And by “good” I mean she’s a robot trying to understand this very human emotion called love even as she fails to resist her preprogrammed urge to try and turn Richard into roadkill.

Again, an interesting premise with plenty of avenues it could have taken; instead all those roads lead to someplace stupid. The stupidity is often amusing, but disappointingly stupid nonetheless because of all the potential the premise holds.

Much of Annihilator‘s sometimes inspired silliness will involve Celia, Angela’s best friend and co-worker who had accompanied her on the flight and has also been replaced with a killbot. Somehow having a fire extinguisher thrown at her in a stairwell causes cyborg Celia to get her arm stuck in the guard railing so tight she has no recourse but to rip her own arm off to get free. She’ll then use that same severed robot arm as a weapon to both throw at Richard and beat him with like a club. In the pilot’s most unintentionally hysterical moment, Richard escapes a Celia severed arm sidewalk beatdown; she’ll then step out into traffic and get rundown by a bread delivery truck in a moment staged almost exactly like Bela Lugosi’s demise at the beginning of Plan 9 From Outer Space.

But that won’t be the last we’ll see of robo Celia. She’ll show up again later and kill a woman who was a passenger on the flight yet didn’t get replaced with an android because she slept during the whole thing. Figure that one out. While you’re at it attempt to figure out how they expected us to believe even a cyborg can kill a human with nothing more than a weak looking slap across the face. One-armed cyborg Celia can literally pimp slap people to death.

From Here to Obscurity: Annihilator review!Richard will eventually find himself at a house out in the country populated by an entire family that’s been replaced with mechanized masqueraders, including a very young Nicole Eggert who will explode after getting crushed by a bulldozer and Geoffrey Lewis as her professor father who will reveal some insight into their bionic nature starting with the fact that they are called Dynamatars (sp?). We’ll also learn each Dynamatar is individually programmed for the person they’re replacing yet answer to an unspecified collective.

From what we’ve already seen, Dynamatars can also make their eyes glow, looked to be really good at taking massive amounts of punishment without bothering to put up much of a fight, and female Dynamatars for some reason are prone to screaming like wild animals when in kill mode. Also, if you bash their heads in enough they’ll start behaving more like Dynamatards.

Richard will comes to learn that it wasn’t just a case of everyone being misfortunate enough to be on this one particular flight. They were after specific people in positions that could benefit their agenda such as himself had he not let his girlfriend take his place on the flight, and other flights may have been involved.

The ending, clearly setting up a potential weekly series, will see Richard still on the run from the law while setting out to track down the remaining names on that passenger list in order to unravel the truth, clear his name, and save the world from what is either an alien or unholy (Richard describes them as “demon spirits” during his climactic voiceover) invasion of cybernetic clones setting up their never specified masters’ conquest of Earth.

The late great Brion James is billed in the credits as “Alien Leader” but I don’t recall ever seeing him in the movie, unless he was the mysterious man in black with the blonde hair carrying a puzzle book that kept popping up for seconds at a time never saying a word. If so, it didn’t look like him. Does make me wonder if his scene got cut out to maintain the ambiguity of the Dynamatars’ creators?

In better hands with a better script and a better lead it might have worked. As it is, Annihilator is modestly entertaining even as it underachieves and it’s easy to see why the network execs opted not to greenlight it as a regular series. If this pilot was a taste of things to come I strongly suspect it would have been a very short-lived series anyway.

The set-up is still strong enough that some enterprising producers today really ought to consider giving it a revamp. Then again, “Battlestar Galactica” has pretty much already cornered the insidious robots masquerading as human beings concept. Ah, well…

And if anyone is wondering why the show was called Annihilator in the first place, keep in mind it was the mid-Eighties, the concept was killer robots plotting to conquer the world made to look like ordinary people so as to blend in, and The Terminator had been a huge hit just two years earlier – you do the math. I’m sure NBC had a great big board of terms that sounded similar to “Terminator” to choose from and Annihilator was the one they threw the dart at.

2 ½ out of 5

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.25 (12 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.11 (18 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 4 (17 votes)
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