Sunday, June 30, 2013

Oddball Film Report: THE MENACE WITH FIVE ARMS (2013)

   Josh Kennedy strikes again!

   Very recently, the town of Edinburg, Texas was treated to the premier of the newest Gooey film, THE MENACE WITH FIVE ARMS. J.K.'s earlier works tended toward whimsy. ATTACK OF THE OCTOPUS PEOPLE is a send-up of 50's monster movies, VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF TEENAGE CAVEWOMEN a play on 60's Italian space operas, and MIRANDA GRACIA MEETS FRANKENSTEIN a fun poke at low budget film production itself. Each film gets slicker and slicker, so why not experiment a bit? Breaking from the previous number, THE MENACE WITH FIVE ARMS is a gritty drama built upon the 70's Nature Strikes Back genre.

   The film is more a character piece, and works incredibly well as such. For one thing, Josh did what I thought would be impossible! He took the threadbare and tiresome Battle of the Sexes ploy and actually made it work. The film is a great watch, and the scenes of our leads butting heads are just as pleasant to watch as those of our heroes working together.

   The Plot: Newly minted Sheriff Joe Kerwin is faced with a mystery in the usually quiet desert town of Santa Mira. The town's major water supply has been cut off with the sudden and mysterious collapse of the water tower. Joe finds the fallen tower void of moisture but littered with tiny bits of 'skin' he has sent to the city for analysis. Near the wreckage, he also happens onto a school girl who has been almost fatally drained of fluid. Exposure is ruled out as the girl has only been missing for an few hours. She is, however, in shock.

   In a later scene, the girl's doctor shows her a series of photos of animals. A sketch of a starfish sends the girl into panic and she snaps out of her shock. The shock broken, the characters go back to business as usual, which is a very real bit of scripting. Unfortunately, the girl doesn't tell anybody about the monster....

   As the townsfolk start to panic over their lack of fresh water, the 'skin' samples have gotten the attention of marine biologist Carla Joyce. Although discredited in the scientific community, Joyce figures the tissue to come from a prehistoric starfish and heads to Santa Mira to investigate further. Eventually, it becomes quite clear there is a monstrous starfish crawling around the desert looking for moisture, and human beings are the most handy source!

   Our heroes manage to track the creature into a local cave, but a drain pipe gives the creature direct access to New York city.....

Afterthoughts - 

   All the Kennedy touches are there: characters and places named after friends (even yours truly, in the mention of near-by Baker's Rock!), dialog borrowed from earlier films ("now the ocean knew the middle of a desert was a pretty silly place for it to be.."), in-gag references to previous Gooey films, a reference to THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, a shower scene, bikinis, and so forth. Filmed in super wide screen (Gooeyscope, according to the film's preview) and moody black and white, the film is a wonderful new wing on the ever expanding Kennedy library!

   This one is definitely an actor's film, and the roles reflect that. The characters are given considerable depth, and the acting itself is a treat. 

   Josh himself plays Sheriff Kerwin, a man trying to do his job despite no help from the townsfolk who feel he's at best a faint echo of the much-loved former Sheriff Dewey (who's sudden death has thrust Kerwin into a position of much greater authority and responsibility). I like that Kerwin must deal not only with mysterious disappearances and inexplicable events, but also such mundane matters as civil affairs like tourism. His spendthrift girlfriend of six months adds to his troubles when she takes up with an old flame and then uses it as leverage to get a commitment from Kerwin. This confrontation is a very effective scene.

   Dr. Joyce (Ayssette Munoz), meanwhile, is the sort of character that in lesser hands could have been quite annoying. A young female scientist in a male-dominated field, her previous printed theories have made her the subject of much mockery and shunning from the larger scientific community. This actually lends some weight to her quick-to-judge nature concerning men who she feels are condescending to her. As Kerwin discovers, that's just about any man in a position of authority! Her past has also made her very weary about confirming her conclusions regarding the starfish, something Kerwin reacts rather hotly to when he discovers she has known all along what's going on and hasn't told him.

   This particular scene may be my favorite. Kerwin is fully justified in his anger with Joyce, who's inaction has resulted in several needless deaths. Joyce tries to hold herself together by going back to the fire-brand righteousness that has always been her SOP, but Kerwin is having none of it and lays everything on the line in a way that Joyce can't ignore. Knowing she's lost but too proud to admit it even to herself, she storms out. This may be one of the best written and acted scenes I've seen in any film of recent vintage!

   Kat Kennedy, happily, makes an appearance as Kerwin's assistant Peggy. I love watching Josh and Kat play off of each other, and this is a fine part for Kat. For the most part, she's the loyal and affable sidekick to the boss, doing what she can to make his job a little easier. She has her weaknesses too, however. In a big scene, the starfish attacks a local get-together which is being held against Kerwin's direct orders. When he arrives on scene, he is surprised to find Peggy. She tries to bluff her way out of it by making up a story about why she's there, but then comes to grips with what she has done and breaks into tears. This razor fine turn from comedy to tragedy within a second is one of the film's real highlights.

   That's not to say the film is flawless, by any means. There are a few scenes that can be a tad confusing because of the back-drops chosen. Many of the characters look to be standing in front of a big black barn wall, but there are moments when it's obvious this is supposed to be the night sky (actually, this is probably Josh's nod to MISSILE TO THE MOON). In one scene, two characters are seated in a car. This is done in split-screen because the two actors were filmed in different locations! The effect actually works pretty good, and the delivery of the lines is very natural so you'd think the were on the same set. The only problem is that the background lighting is higher for one of the actors so the shot calls attention to itself. (These issues are not evident on all screens it seems, as the theatrical showing saw not a hint of this effect!)

   Most of the film is given a vague Outer Limits feel, with it's focus on strong performances and mystery. The final reel, however, set in New York, is almost surreal. Needless to say, I can't really go into detail because it's the climax of the picture!

   The dialog and mood are spot-on 70's drive-in much of the time, although some modern vernacular and automobile-action keeps it from being a period piece. The script is given to occasional fits of profanity, as is fitting the 70's films it seems to be duplicating, although with an eye for 50's CinemaScope. Josh himself (wearing a beard he'll be needing to play Captain Nemo in an upcoming stage production) resembles a young James Brolin, hightening the 70's vibe.

   Josh also manages that most difficult of things, an effective shock-jump scene! 

   This should act as a bit of a primer for a picture one hopes will be in official DVD release sooner than later. Running a full 90 minutes, Josh has reached the big features, and his presence is more than welcome. I can't wait to see what he does next!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Happy Birthday to Josh Kennedy!

What do you get for the man who has everything? You make a sketch based on one of his favorite movies, natch!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Video Cheese: BEYOND THE DOOR III (1989)

Note: this review originally appeared at as part of a series called Video Cheese. It has been reprinted here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

BEYOND THE DOOR III (1989 - color)
American students again regret travelling the European back-country, and this time find themselves trapped on a demonic train.”

   Leonard Maltin’s video guide mentions a late-70′s Italian Exorcist knock-off titled Beyond the Door, and it’s in-name-only sequel produced around the same time. Since supernatural (at least demonic) horror films are seldom written by anyone with any spiritual knowledge, sitting through them tends to be more aggravating than entertaining. Because of this, I can’t say that I was in a big hurry to view the third film in the series, especially if it had any connection to either the first or second films which go by the same title. I’d be completely lost if there was a back story I needed and didn’t have access to.

    Being better than my expectations, though, Beyond the Door III seems to tell a story independent of any earlier flick. Also a bonus was the fairly eventful plot once things got going. At times, it played like a more fantastic version of Race with the Devil, a classic chase movie where Peter Fonda and his friend (Warren Oates, if my memory doesn’t fail me) witness a sacrifice made as part of a cult ceremony and must flee from the pursuing satanists. Beyond the Door III isn’t that good, of course, it’s a completely different animal. But it wasn’t as bad as I naturally expected it to be.

   Points at least for going in unexpected directions. As we open, a group of high-schoolers (or are they supposed to be in college? I’d think so, based on their ages, but I’m not sure this is spelled out) are flying to Europe to engage in some occult studies or some such, NEVER a good idea in these things! Their guide turns out to be Bo Svensen made up to look like Dracula with a beard. At least Bo seems to be more engaged here than he usually was during this period, actually trying for a complete performance, including an accent. He even looks less craggy than he usually does.

   Okay, there’s one girl in the group, Beverly, who seems seconds away from freaking out at any given moment. Beverly’s mother is an immigrant from the very part of Europe the class will be visiting. It’s pretty clear right from the start that weird things are going to happen to Beverly. Firstly, she has a huge curved birthmark on her tummy (which, I suppose, is meant to look like flames). We’re given a good look at this in the film’s single* nude scene as Beverly showers.

(* I point this out mostly because it's so odd for a film like this to try and actually tell a complete story instead of serve up periodic sex and nudity. That too, was a refreshing and unexpected turn.)

   Beverly's classmates know of this mark. I’m not sure how this works, given that Beverly gets picked on for being prudish so it’s hard to imagine they ever saw her in a bikini, let alone in the raw. Her being a virgin is highlighted, and her supposedly adult classmates really enjoy snickering at this. (I admit, I haven’t been in school for a long time, but would this really be such a big deal and point of ridicule? I mean, I know some jerks would bring it up around girls, but I don’t think the entire class would be hung up on it, would they?)

   Anyway, Professor Bo hands out some medallions to identify the group’s members if they get lost in the field. These look amazingly like Beverly’s giant birthmark. Rather than leave upon seeing her medallion, which you have to figure might ring some alarm bells, Beverly stays with the group. (And despite establishing these medallions, they are never seen again.)

   Meanwhile, Beverly’s mother is horribly decapitated when a car purposefully brakes in front of a cargo truck hauling metal beams, one of which flies through the window of her taxi. Dark forces are already afoot. 

   Bo intercepts a telegram to keep the news from Beverly. They indicate that Beverly notices this, but she still doesn’t make a run for it. In fact, she’ll allow Bo to comfort her with a long embrace moments later!

   On site, the kids hike out to a remote village where an annual ‘passion play’ is recreated, one which dates to before the time of Christ, and involves a beautiful young virgin (snicker snicker). Okay, Beverly isn’t beautiful or anything, but she should be putting the pieces together here. I mean, she’s nervous, but she’s always nervous, so I don’t understand why Bo is able to convince her that she should stay with him for the night.

   I doubt this will shock anyone, but she ends up being drugged. Perhaps not as expected is when unconscious Beverly is felt up by a blind old “Gipsy” woman and proclaimed to be virgin. (By the way, that’s how they spell gypsy in the credits, with an ‘i’ where the ‘y’ should be. It’s their mistake, not mine.)

   Anyway, the other kids are rounded into primitive, almost Ewok village-like cabins. When they’re asleep, the townsfolk nail the doors shut and set the houses on fire. Although they slept through the hammers banging on the doors, the fire finally wakes them up and they make a break for it. One of their number, though, in a sudden trace, burns alive.

   Running away from the village, the kids find an approaching train. Most are able to climb aboard, but one girl falls behind. One of the guys jumps off to help her, but breaks his leg in the process. The two then have to make their way on foot. Meanwhile, the others find refuge on the train when the conductor promises to take them to the authorities. The trip will take some while, though, as the train is “non capitalist” and has no radio to alert the station ahead of their arrival.

   About here it seems the producers had two movies in mind and decided to make both as one picture. One idea involved the kids being tracked by the cult, the other a story about a runaway train. You see, evil forces take control of the train and kill the conductor and engineer (one poor guy actually gets sucked into the furnace) and the train steams along under supernatural control!

  As if that isn’t enough to reckon with, Beverly’s travelling companions start dying in gruesome fashion while trying to stop the train. At this point, you could almost say it turns into an imaginative slasher flick of sorts. Anything after this will be a spoiler, so turn back if you don’t want to learn the rest.

   And now, the rest of our story.....

   As the train barrels out of control, the authorities attempt to derail it, but the train is under demonic control and doesn’t require a track when it wants to leave it! In one scene, the track shifts and the train bulldozes across the wilderness to turn around and start hauling its captives back the way they came from. (A mix of pretty good and pretty bad model work depicts this).

   Now moving in the other direction, the authorities try to derail the train before it can collide with another train coming up the same line. They remove a section of track, but the train speeds right along and finds the track again. The other train is history.

   In another scene, the train changes course into a swamp so it can run over the two kids that got away earlier. I tell you, there are moments when this would be sort of neat were it not so profoundly goofy. One curious detail we learn is that if you’re standing in a rowboat and a train comes crashing into you, your head is cut off…. clean, like under a sword…..and your severed noggin will end up in the middle car of the train…somehow….

   Ultimately, the forces of darkness manage to kill all of Beverly’s friends before the train comes to a stop. She’s then surrounded by the cult.

   Okay, here’s where things get REALLY confusing. There were a couple of other characters on the train. One was a young woman who steals and uses her wits to survive in the third world country where all this is taking place (charmingly, she looks like she never saw a shower, but she’s wearing lipstick). She buys it when she tries to stop the train with a makeshift bomb.

   The other character is this guy who sits in the corner and doesn’t do anything but play a flute. We’ve forgotten all about him until he suddenly enters the plot again: Beverly is surrounded and soon to be offered to Satan himself as a virgin bride, the flute-player removes his hood and seduces her. I was thinking this guy was supposed to the Devil himself, but no. Weirdly, this is only the beginning of the craziness which follows.....

   Beverly is next seen outside the train, dressed like a widow with a sheer front so as to let us again see her goofy birthmark. She’s wearing make-up now too, which I guess is important, but I’m not sure how. Bo arrives to pick her up and ride her back to the village in a horse-drawn buggy. She seems to have embraced this whole wife-of-the-Devil thing, which pleases Bo.

   Later, she’s about to be… Now, how do I describe this. Okay, there’s this big black cube in a barn or something, and glowing smoke occasionally rises from the top. Beverly is placed on a platform with a narrow bed atop it and she lies down near the top of the cube. Then, what looks like a block of ice (?) rises from the top and inside that is a silly-looking rubber Devil…. Words fail me.

   Anyhoo, the “Gipsy” wanders over to give Beverly a last-minute check and then freaks out because Beverly has been deflowered. Now, as important as this supposedly is to this ritual, you’d think they would have checked this status earlier, but I guess “Gipsy” wasn’t around to grope her until this minute…. At any rate, this apparently spoils the whole ceremony and the congregation melts to death. This seems to be a standard means of destroying cults, now that I think about it.

   Beverly is free to go, and I guess the cult is washed up for good. Somehow, Beverly makes it back to the airport and heads for home. In an ancient book her mother gave her way back in reel one–and we haven’t seen it since–Beverly learns that the guy who did… you know….. to her, was a 16th century saint who, I guess, returned to earth just to rob her of her virginity in order to stop a satanic ritual! (The exact nature of the ritual I was never clear on. Was Beverly supposed to give birth to the Antichrist?)

   Talk about wacky! I already had mixed feelings about the whole steal-her-virginity-before-she-can-be-used-by-Satan thing, but this revelation is positively screwball!

  Sadly, this was better than most devil movies I’ve tried to watch. If nothing else, I must tip my cap to the film for going in completely unexpected directions. Multiple times at that. I’m not saying they were always good moves to make, but they did keep me guessing!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Dinosaur Girl returns!

   After an absence from a few issues of Femforce, a new Dinosaur Girl episode has just been drawn and scripted and turned in! Keep your eyes peeled for it!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What an honor!

An upcoming publication from Main Enterprises, ROCK ON! is a spotlight book of 80 pages. Among other things, the book will be filled with several pinup sketches by myself, inked by an array of exceptionally talented people! The inks and colors for this piece are by Jeff Austin!

This is such an honor, and I don't know what to say except thank you for the support! God bless you all!

(The cover character, by the way, is Swingy. She was a cartoon featured in 'TEEN magazine in the 1960's, drawn in a squat Peanuts-style form. I decided I'd like to see what she'd look like with normal proportions, and here she is!)

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Note: This review first appeared at and has been re-printed here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.


"The further adventures of Nostradamus the Vampire..."

  Needless to say, Nostrodamus didn't stay buried for long following his presumed demise at the end of CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS, although there’s no indication how much time passes between chapters. 
   We open with some kids skipping school (which doesn’t let out til after dark, it seems) discovering and creeping into the castle of Nostradamus. They’re chased out by the hunchback, and they somehow manage to lead him across the body of his master. Quickly dusted off, Nostradamus is back in action and ready to finish bumping off those 13 people he promised to. 
   On the plus side, his enemy the Professor gets some help from a professional vampire hunter who comes to town looking for Nostradamus!

   I must note I got the Professor’s name completely wrong last time. I kept calling him Calderon, yet here he’s introduced as Professor Dover. Later on, though, he’s called Professor Dolan, so I don’t know what to call him! In an interesting touch, he’s on the verge of being kicked off his council to fight superstition since he’s come out making reports about the vampire.

   The thing is, Nostradamus would stop killing people if the Professor would just admit that there was something to the prophet’s activities. Given he’s accepted the existence of a vampire, why does he have so much trouble recanting his statements about the vampire’s direct ancestor? Is he letting people be put in danger because of his pride?
   Nostradamus gets some new superpowers in this installment. Not only can he instantly teleport out of the path of a bullet (which he demonstrates to Tony and the Professor a good six times in a row, as the men continue to open fire long after its obvious he can move faster than their trigger fingers -and where did this new power come from, anyway?), but he can make his own vampire/zombie slave!
   He also establishes his fear of sunlight in this episode (and how is it a guy who can see the future can be taken by surprise by the rising sun? Or the Professor producing a cross from his jacket?), some of which actually happens during the day! He’s also the latest target of a mysterious count whose family has hunted and destroyed vampires for generations.
  Given that there’s two more films after this, I might as well describe the abrupt ending, which I found rather amusing. Our heroes trap Nostradamus’ slave vampire/zombie in his tomb and stake him. Elsewhere in the castle, Nostradamus grabs his chest and falls off some steps. The end!
   For what its worth, this entry is a bit livelier than the first one.  For one thing, the sets are more impressive, and the camera work is much more fluid (we even get a zoom shot which reverses itself as a character walks toward the camera, a very elaborate gag for a Mexican pic). The pace is better, and there’s some really nice sequences here that might have breathed some much needed life into Curse of Nostradamus. In one moment, the Professor goes back to his darkened study and lights a match to light a candle, and Nostradamus is standing right in front of his face! The two men then calmly discuss their situation.
   Sadly, they still use the hokey rubber bat from the first film (although it must be noted it isn’t the worst such rubber bat in movie history, it just looks like an effect from 30 years earlier).
   The print is better this time too. Now I can see that Nostradamus is not wearing a top hat, but a high derby. The title card by the way reads The Monsters Demolisher, not The Monster’s Demolisher as might make more sense. I would have gone with Castle of Nostradamus, myself.


A panel detail from my monstrously larger graphic novel project. Still planning for the first issue/chapter to be released this year!