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13th Alley, The (2008)

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The 13th Alley reviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Robert Carradine, Amelia Jackson-Grey, Randy Wayne, Shayne Lamas, Robert Thomas Stetson, Bobb Hopkins, Laura Lyon, Jessica Alexander

Written and directed by Bobb Hopkins


Friday, June 13, 2008: On the same day that saw The Incredible Hulk and The Happening open in theaters were any of you aware that an independently released slasher flick called The 13th Alley also slipped into theaters under the radar? I’m guessing this is the first you’ve heard of it given not a single horror site I know of has ever mentioned it and you won’t even find a listing for the film on Rotten Tomatoes. Its only internet presence is an impoverished MySpace page. Me, I only learned of it thanks to a message board poster giving me a head’s up. Luckily for me, one of the only 72 theaters it opened in was within reasonable driving distance.

Simply put, The 13th Alley may very well be one of the worst movies of all time. It’s simply awful, really awful, “Oh, my god, I cannot believe I saw this in a theater” awful; the kind of awful that actually transcends awfulness and becomes entertaining in spite of itself. This is one for the ages. I haven’t laughed out loud this much at a movie in a long time. Trailers for The Love Guru and Get Smart preceded this film and I guarantee you neither of those movies will generate as many intentional laughs as this film did unintentionally.

As I begin writing this review I honestly don’t know what possible knife rating to score it with because this is a movie that’s only redeeming quality was being entertained by the sheer badness of it. How do you score a film like that? Just be glad I’m not going to dive heavily into spoiler territory otherwise this review would be 30-pages long, cataloging the plot holes, logic gaps, and continuity problems.

The 13th Alley is an inconsistently low rent campy slasher flick of the straight-to-DVD variety about a bunch of useless college kids after hours at a bowling alley being killed off by a mysterious masked psycho. The bowling alley setting of course explains why the killer runs around dressed like a medieval executioner. WTF?!?! Sporting a big executioner’s axe and dressed in a black cloak, the moment you get a look at the mask any pretense of terror is shattered. One of the looniest slasher masks ever, that thing on the killer’s head appears to be the sort of medieval fantasy helmet you’d find on a heavy metal album cover, yet it’s more like a metal box with eyeholes and a slight point in the front that some teenager welded from scrap metal in their high school shop class. Go watch the trailer and see for yourself.

Now let’s enjoy a few sample snippets of the script’s Diablo Cody-esque exposition.

“This ain’t a time to be a bitch, bitch.”

“This is going to be a great fucking pizza!”

And let’s not forget these wonderful guy-girl exchanges:

“Get naked!”
“Fuck you!”

“Do you like my ass?”
“I like your vagina.”

The 13th Alley reviewSweetening the pot further, one particular comely young victim is Lorenzo Lamas’ daughter, Shayne, last seen being chosen by last season’s “The Bachelor”, and if the history of that TV program continues on track, she will soon be dumped by the bachelor, if she hasn’t already. If this film is any indication of things to come, Shayne Lamas is poised to proudly follow in her papa’s B-movie footsteps.

The young and vacuous female characters consist of a hot blonde, a slutty blonde, a shy brunette, and a Jamaican gal who really ought to have shaved her armpits before appearing in a movie. All have bikini model bodies except for the brunette girl who still has a nice body but just isn’t as well toned as the others which is most likely why they cast her as the nervous girl insecure about showing off her body.

On the male side of the spectrum, given their personality traits, the three guys should have been named Dumbass, Dipshit, and Fucktard. Two out of three of them have underwear model bodies; the other is a bit beefy but still gets a hot blonde to make out with him.

The reason I mention their bodies so much is because the movie opens with these characters (except the Jamaican girl who comes later) playing a game of strip bowling – stripping down to their underwear, at least.

Someone finds time to tell the others about how some murders supposedly once occurred at this bowling alley that involved bowling with severed heads. This’ll lead to a practical joke involving a fake severed head coming out of the ball return that causes the brunette to totally spaz out in unconvincingly hysterical but hilarious fashion. Something about her father years earlier having gone nuts and decapitated his boss, I think; just one of the film’s many inconsistent and underdeveloped factoids thrown out there in random spurts of dialogue.

Little did they know Hal was watching them the whole time and, being a pious man, Hal does not approve of their lewd behavior and vows to show these “Sodom and Gomorrah poster children” the right path by putting the fear of God into them. Robert “Revenge of the Nerds” Carradine chews the scenery with gusto as religious zealot Hal, an ex-priest turned bowling alley technician who quit the priesthood because, as he puts it, he couldn’t control his evil thoughts. Written and played with all the subtlety of an atomic bomb blast, Hal’s intensely creepy over-the-top caricature of a religious wacko character eventually, and rather abruptly, becomes an outright comedic parody by the end. The moment I laughed out loud hardest was when Robert Carradine put on the priestly garb that he just happened to keep in his bag with him at all times so he could run around with a Bible in one hand, a power drill he’s deemed his instrument of God’s handy work in the other, dressed like a Mexican priest circa the Wild West era. WTF?!?! indeed.

Also spying on them was security guard Zeke (writer-director Bobb Hopkins pulling triple duty), who is also not without his personality issues, such as his constant talk about the devil.

There got to be so much religious talk for awhile there I began wondering if The 13th Alley wasn’t actually a Christian recruitment movie being deceptively marketed as a slasher flick to lure in unsuspecting potential converts. At one point Hal even chastises the young FX artist wannabe behind the fake severed head for committing the sin of scaring others. I was not aware scaring people was sinful. No need for Bobb Hopkins to worry because there’s nothing scary about his film. But I knew this couldn’t possibly be because what kind of Christian filmmaker would try to get their message across by making an R-rated slasher flick loaded with severed heads and girls dancing in thongs? My kind of Christian filmmaker! But, alas, that is not the case here.

The 13th Alley reviewThe days following will see the teens being stalked by someone through a telephoto lens and having sick practical jokes played on them: fake blood pours out of a beer tap, a bleeding baby doll is discovered, spring-loaded cat doll jumps out at someone, and other stuff that wouldn’t even cut it on the worst episode of “Scare Tactics”. They still decide to have another after hours, nudity-free strip bowling session.

Replacing the freaked out brunette from the week before will be the hoochie-dancing Jamaican gal who claims she can hypnotize others by challenging them to a staring contest and then rolling her eyes around like a loon. What she doesn’t know is that actors aren’t supposed to look directly into the camera. She’ll provide another great LOL moment when she strips down to her underwear and as everyone around her is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, there she is playing directly to the camera making seductive faces.

Once again, Hal and Zeke, neither of whom seems to have a life outside the bowling alley, are on hand to spy on them. Once again, the prank with the severed head is played again – for real this time. Cellular phones can’t get a signal out, business phones are dead; everything in the place is dead except for an electronic message board informing them “You … Will… Never… Escape… HELL” and unlucky lane 13 is still active for reasons that matter little. Everyone’s locked in (except for Hal and Zeke for some reason) and there are no windows for anyone to shatter to escape out of (except for the all those painted windows we see that, apparently, don’t count as windows).

About the halfway point when the slasher angle kicks into high gear is also the point where the movie began to drag a bit. That’s what happens when there’s no suspense or rooting interest and what too few kills there are end up being fairly unimpressive, sometimes even off-camera. Certain characters will even break into casual chitchat as if they’re not particularly concerned that their lives are at risk.

Topping it all off is a twist ending that is sooooooooo bad, B-A-D bad … We’re talking the kind of bad twist ending that leaves audiences wanting to throw tomatoes at the screen. Not just any tomatoes, mind you, I wanted to throw some of those tomatoes tainted with salmonella that have been making so many people sick of late.

What a piece of crap! What a stupid, stupid movie! Even if some of the stupidity was intentional, still, what a stupid, stupid movie. How the hell did this get any kind of theatrical release? Yet here I am laughing and smiling even as I write about it so it must have done something right even as it seemed to do everything else wrong. Can’t say the same for the only other person in the theater with me who high-tailed it out of there less than a half hour in. I know can’t in good conscience recommend this movie to everyone and yet…

One billion knives! I’ve settled on my knife rating. One billion knives! I don’t know how Johnny Butane will work it out, but I’m giving The 13th Alley one billion knives. Woohoo! Make of that what you will. One billion knives, baby!

“>

1,000,000,000 out of 5

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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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Black Christmas Blu-ray Review – Making Its U.K. Debut From 101 Films

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Starring Keir Dullea, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Art Hindle

Directed by Bob Clark

Distributed by 101 Films


There is only one Bob Clark Christmas movie I watch each year and it doesn’t feature Ralphie and his Red Ryder fantasies.

The endurance of Clark’s 1974 legendary slasher, Black Christmas, can be chalked up to a number of factors but the greatest is this: it is a disturbing film. I frequently come across horror message board topics asking for genuinely scary titles devoid of jump scares and excessive gore, but oddly enough Black Christmas doesn’t get many mentions. Maybe because it has been relegated to the “seasonal viewing only” heap? Regardless, fans will agree that the unsettling events portrayed don’t diminish with repeat viewings; if anything, subsequent watching serves to reinforce that it is a standout among a sea of imitators. The film is also a noted influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – arguably the granddaddy of slasher films – adding a bit of prestige to its legacy.

The girls of Pi Kappa Sig are throwing a holiday party before the Christmas break when, toward the end of the night, they receive a phone call from a man they’ve been calling “The Moaner”, who has a habit of calling and making unusual noises. Jess (Olivia Hussey) initially accepts the call but also allows her other sisters to listen in, prompting outspoken Barb (Margot Kidder) to jump on the line and goad this mystery man. She and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) argue over the possibility this guy may be more threatening than anyone realizes. Unbeknownst to the ladies partying downstairs, however, moments before the phone call came through an unidentified person (very likely this same caller) snuck up the side of the house and into the attic. And once the party wraps up that same person is found hiding in Claire’s (Lynne Griffin) closet, whereupon she is strangled and placed in a rocking chair in the attic.

The next day Claire’s father comes to the campus to meet her and is understandably stood up. He heads to the sorority house and reports her missing, at which point the girls and their housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), agree to help him locate her. The file a report with the police, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), and Jess also wrangles in Claire’s semi-boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), who helps bolster the search by raising hell at the station. Jess, meanwhile, is having problems of her own after confessing to her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), she is pregnant. She wants an abortion; he is vehemently against it. Claire’s absence grows more concerning when another missing girl is found dead in a nearby park, prompting the cops to ramp up their efforts. The girls are being picked off one by one as the unseen assailant remains hidden in the attic, continuing his phone calls that come after each murder. The cops suspect Peter may be a person of interest, as his interactions with Jess have become increasingly aggressive, but everyone is in for a shock when a tap on the line reveals the true source of the calls – they are coming from within the house.

With the film having been around for over forty years, and fans having been sold one “upgraded” home video version after the next, I suspect most readers are more interested in how Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stacks up against similar editions – which is basically my way of saying this review is a bit glib. For the uninitiated, however, let me say that I cannot overstate how exceptional Clark’s film is – never giving the killer an identity, an entire subplot concerning abortion, a palpable sense of grief for Claire’s father, a cast of interesting, unique people who don’t ever feel like archetypes, and a potentially downer of an ending. Some of his moviemaking tricks are brilliant, like the decision to create Billy’s voice from a combination of three different people (one a woman) and using interchangeable actors to portray the killer so you’re never quite sure who is in the attic. Carl Zittrer’s score is disorienting and minimal, making use of odd instrumentation to add extra unease; it also appears infrequently, giving the movie more of a real life quality. Black Christmas was a reasonable success upon release, more so commercially than critically, but time has been kind to this old gem and many now view it as an outright horror classic.

Hell, it was Elvis’ favorite Christmas movie.

Cult label 101 Films is giving the film its U.K. debut, presenting a transfer that is nearly identical to the remastered version Scream Factory released last year in North America. That 1.85:1 1080p picture is very likely the best this film can and will ever look. Black Christmas has a long home video history of looking very grainy, murky, dulled, and soft. I can’t say the new disc’s results are far off that mark but there are clear improvements. For one, grain has been resolved in a tighter field that looks less “noisy” and more “grindhouse-y”; do not expect an image clear as a crystal unicorn by any means. There is still softness to many faces and objects though detail looks far better here than it ever has before. Colors are more vibrant, too. Black levels run on the hazy side but they’re more stable than ever. The only noticeable difference between the Scream Factory and 101 Films versions are the latter is a touch brighter, allowing for a little more detail to filter through.

Audio is available via an English LPCM 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo option. The multi-channel effort grants the unsettling soundtrack and Billy’s insane vocalizations more room to breathe, ratcheting up the creepiness thanks to the sense of immersion. Unlike the Scream Factory edition, the original mono track is not included.

Only a handful of extra features have been included, all of which can be found on the Scream Factory edition, too.

“Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle” – Hindle, who still owns that jacket, talks about being a working actor in Canada when there wasn’t much work, as well as how he wound up auditioning for Clark for a different role.

“Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin” – The actress who is most famous for having a plastic bag over her head tells a few tales from the set.

“Black Christmas Legacy” – This is a lot of interviews from the film’s actors and notable fans. I found it to be a bit tedious.

A handful of original TV and radio spots have been included, along with the “40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014”.

The package also includes a fold-out poster, reversible cover art, and a DVD copy.

Special Features:

  • Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
  • Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
  • Black Christmas Legacy
  • Original TV and Radio spots
  • 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
  • Black Christmas
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

This is an easy recommendation for purchase if you live in the U.K., since this is the film’s Blu-ray debut. Stateside readers may find this region-free version attractive due to the price, but know that it does contain significantly fewer extras than the in-print Scream Factory release. Either way, fans on both sides of the Atlantic have a version worth buying.

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