Writer’s block happens to us all (or at least those of us who write). I don’t care if you’re a journalist, blogger, fiction author, screenwriter or Dungeon Master, you will eventually run out of ideas and need to find a way to break through your brain blockade.
The following two films are just that: cures to the inconvenient cranial choke. One is an assemblage of under-developed premises tossed into an anthology, much like a read through a writer’s notebook. The other sees its filmmakers ditch a sleazy series in favor of adapting a literary classic. For better or worse, the filmmakers revived their arrested apex and came out with a finished product.
BLOOD: A mild amount
BUDGET: Apart from the fees of both Ms. Lorraine and Ms. Krause, I couldn’t imagine it above $1000
If you can say one thing about director Jim Haggerty, it’s that he doesn’t let an opportunity for full frontal nudity go un-exploited. Unfortunately, apart from copious amounts of skin, this anthology of unrelated stories isn’t much to look at.
After a scene where Tina Krause gets nude and murdered, the plot device that links the stories together is introduced when her killer flips on the radio. Playing through the tiny speakers is DJ Roxy (Suzi Lorraine), taking calls from listeners with scary stories. Two callers spin yarns that are very par for the course of the Tales from the Crypt-inspired subgenre (i.e. adulterous liaisons gone wrong, killer pets). Roxy’s show wrap ups, but producer Beth (Natalie Bryant) shares the final scary story.
The victim of a torrid affair that ends up killing her (literally), Beth comes back to life to torment her murders. Spending most of the film’s running time hilariously making faces in response to DJ Roxy’s questions, Beth is a lovably perky vindicator, and a highlight of the film.
When Death Calls isn’t all bad, but it really feels like something that could have used a little more work. The dull, predictable stories come off like those of a writer spread thin and with Haggerty making four films in the last three years, this could very well be the case.
RUDYARD KIPLING’S MARK OF THE BEAST
Starring Debbie Rochon, Dick Boland and Phil Hall
Directed by Jonathan Gorman and Thomas Edward Seymour
Written by Sheri Lynn and Thomas Edward Seymour
Blood Bath Pictures
BLOOD: Enough to be realistic, but not over the top
BUDGET: From the look of it, a bit over $10, 000
There’s something to be said for lack of originality. It’s hard to think of a great story, so why not crib from one of the masters? Mark of the Beast does just that. Taking a deep cut from Rudyard Kipling’s massive oeuvre, what could have been another bikini-clad bloodbath in the track record of directorial duo Jonathan Gorman and Thomas Edward Seymour, is instead a harrowing little film.
Written pre-Jungle Book, this tale is about the horrific things in nature and the horrific nature of humans. Protagonist Debbie (Debbie Rochon) and her alcoholic buddy Fleete travel to the secluded cabin of their police officer buddy, Stickland, to celebrate the New Year. The next day, while exploring the wooded surroundings, the bumbling Fleete runs afoul of an animalistic leper, gets bitten and slowly degenerates into a vicious zombie. Debbie and Stickland take it upon themselves to capture the leper and force him to turn their friend human again.
The film’s image is coated in a garish sepia tone with a distracting, scratchy film effect on top, like it’s trying to annoy you on purpose. Voice-over clearly ripped from the short-story pages is overused, and despite being incredibly well written, feels outdated and pretentious. There is also a bit too much fat around the edges, even at a brief 72 minutes. Characters who weren’t in the original story (including one played by Ellen Muth of TV’s Dead Like Me), are added to the mix and developed, but to no avail. However, against all odds, Mark of the Beast still emerges victorious.
This Mark, set in the North American wilds (the original story takes place in India), is smart enough to simplify the plot. Fleete desecrates a sacred primal altar, gets bit and quickly begins to turn, wisely leaving out the original story’s temples, priests, etc. Debbie Rochon is a stand-out, wearing little to no make-up (showing off how stunning she really is) and demonstrating some serviceable acting chops instead of her usual hammy performance. The direction is relatively invisible and really shows off the story. When Stickland and Debbie capture the disgusting looking leper (kudos to the make-up dept.) and brutally torture him, emotions are brought to the forefront, rather than technical problems and over-the-top gore.
Known for a trio of Bikini Bloodbath movies, directors Gorman and Seymour and actor/co-writer Sheri Lynn (who acted in all three Bikini Bloodbaths), have outdone themselves simply by choosing a relatively obscure and horrific story. They picked out the best parts, and allowed them to speak for themselves. If they had chosen to embrace originality, we might have just ended up with a Bikini Bloodbath in Space instead.