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A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

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The Wynorski Project Part Twelve - "976-EVIL II"

The Wynorski Project

Part Twelve




Police think they’ve caught the serial killer responsible for at least 5 local murders, thanks to an eyewitness who saw a community college dean named Grubeck impale a buxom blond with a fake stalagmite (or stalactite? Google it yourself). Little do they know that Grubeck is in the thrall of Horrorscope, a supernatural phone service that bestows gifts upon its callers, so long as they are willing to make certain sacrifices. Thanks to Horrorscope, Grubeck is able to leave his body and escape the confines of jail, allowing him to continue his murder spree and pin his crimes on the lovely co-ed he lusts after. Minimal boobs are shed, stuff explodes and the power of evil is too strong to allow for a happy ending.

In Popatopolis, the documentary that helped inspire me to begin The Wynorski Project, there’s a moment where JW gives his documenters a tour of his house, which serves as a shrine to his decades in the film industry. His walls covered with posters from his past films, he points over to one of them and comments, “976-EVIL II, which I believe is even better than 976-EVIL 1.”

As this project continues, the central question that seems to keep popping up again and again is: Does Wynorski give a fuck? Is it he purely in it for the cash and tits, or does he actually aspire to create worthwhile cinema, but pretends not to because either A) he has never been given the opportunity to do so or B) he couldn’t even if he tried? Watching the films themselves, it would be easy to assume he is the epitome of the hacky opportunist who can’t be bothered with such a pretentious notion as “quality filmmaking”, but then in an interview or commentary you’ll hear him say something like the quote above and it becomes clear that the truth isn’t that cut and dried.

The fact that Wynorski is so quick to insist that a sequel he made to a terrible film no one cares about is better than the original is a sure sign that his seemingly dismissive attitude towards his own work shouldn’t be taken at face value. People, including the Jim Wynorskis of the world, are way more complicated than that.

I know this, because I have a surprisingly lot in common with Wynorski, beyond the obvious simularities found in our portliness, fondness for buxom women and facial hair.

For a major part of my professional life, I worked in a literary atmosphere similar to the one Wynorski found himself in when he started working for Roger Corman. The paychecks were laughable, but were more than made up for by the opportunity to honestly claim I was a working writer. Like Wynorski I ended up working on sequels to projects I did not originate and in genres I disdained. I wrote the books under extremely tight deadlines that did not allow for much in the way of second drafts or revision—if I didn’t get it right the first time, there was nothing I could do about it but hope no one noticed.

To make up for my dissatisfaction, I would amuse myself by sneaking in sly jokes into the material, knowing 98% of my audience wouldn’t get them. The books were inevitably released without fanfare and the feedback I received from the public was minimal at best. If I did find a positive review/comment, chances were I’d soon find a negative one to counteract it. The young goth girl on MySpace who called Gothic Ghost Stories her favorite novel of all time was quickly canceled out by the reviewer who said the same book was uninspired and obviously written by a vocabulary-deprived narcissistic goth lesbian.

I’m not making that up.

For the sake of my own sanity I had to pretend like I didn’t care. That I just wrote the books because it was my job and I had no interest in what happened to them after they were released. But, of course, I did care, because I knew that I was still trying to do the best I could under the circumstances. As much as I hated working on Ghost Stories of Missouri, I never wanted the people who bought it to feel the same way about reading it. It’s impossible for me to believe that anyone but a true sociopath can invest a part of their life into a project—no matter how pathetic or laughable—and not find themselves at least partially invested in it. Just as Wynorski clings to his belief that 976-EVIL II is better than ­976-EVIL, I have to believe that my Campfire Ghost Stories II is better than Campfire Ghost Stories, even if no else is inclined to agree.

That said, is 976-EVIL II better than ­976-EVIL?

Yes, but only because 976-EVIL is actually unwatchable, while Wynorski’s sequel is merely really, really boring. The original has the distinction of being the worst film ever written by a future Oscar winner (L.A. Confidential scribe Brian Helgeland), although I suspect most of the blame for the film’s failure has to go to first-time director Robert Englund, who proved that being a horror movie icon in front of the camera doesn’t necessarily translate to magic on the other side.

Ironically, in continuing the series Wynorski and his collaborators turn not to Englund’s film for inspiration, but to his most famous character instead—Grubeck here being a low-rent version of Freddy Krueger, which Wynorski cheerfully admits via a cheap one-liner.

While in the case of Chopping Mall he was at least semi-successful in combining horror with humour, here they just don’t mix. Instead of making the movie move more quickly along, the obvious “Wynorskian” one-liners only highlight how contrived and hokey everything else is. At its best 976-EVIL II plays like one of the worst episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series, without the charms of Louise Robey to make everything feel okay.

The film is especially hurt by the score of Chuck Cirano, whose work is often the best thing about Wynorski’s films, but in this case is way too old-fashioned to be effective. Instead of placing us in a modern horror film, it transports us to an earlier era in a way that distracts from what is going on onscreen.

Like the Nightmare on Elm Street series, there is some cleverness to be found amongst the mostly sucky bits—especially in a scene where a character is transported into a scene from It’s A Wonderful Life, only to have it transform into Night of the Living Dead (although I will admit I admired this more for the clever combination of two iconic public domain sources than its actual execution), but it’s not nearly enough to make the film worth sitting through.

Other reviewers might be tempted to praise the film’s dark ending, in which the heroine (whose tendency to pass out a lot seems directly tied to the tightness of her jeans) is unable to provide reasonable explanations for the supernatural events that have occurred and is arrested for murder, but I found it to be completely out of step with the film’s semi-jokey tone and another example—a la Sorority House Massacre II—of Wynorski sadistically punishing his final girl in the name of avoiding cliché (which would be a lot more acceptable if he didn’t embrace every other cliché in the book).

Beyond that, the only other thing I wanted to note is the fact that in this, her penultimate appearance in a Wynorski film, Monique Gabrielle plays a buttoned up D.A. whose entire performance is clearly dubbed in by another actress, which marks another indignity she can cross off her list.

Sadly, I have to report that next week marks the first instance of the Internet failing to provide me with a resource I require. Having exhausted every avenue I could think of that didn’t require the spending of actual money, I have failed to locate a copy of Munchie for review. For that reason I shall skip ahead to Sins of Desire and you’ll have to wait for my take on the whole Munchie-verse when I examine Munchie Strikes Back in Part Seventeen.

Next Week

Sins of Desire

The Wynorski Project Part Eleven - "Scream Queen Hot Tub Party"

The Wynorski Project

Part Eleven

Scream Queen Hot Tub Party



Five famous “Scream Queens” (Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, Roxanne Kernohan, Monique Gabrielle and Kelli Maroney) are invited to the home of Count Byron Orlock to attend a seminar on" How to Make A Good Horror Film." But when they get there, they find the house is empty and decide to pass the time by stripping down into nighties, consulting an Ouija board and then getting into a very small hot tub. While they sit crammed together they discuss the lectures they planned on giving had the seminar actually occurred. Then they take their tops off and lather each other up with soap. (Archival footage) blood is shed, breasts are bared (more often than they are covered), stuff explodes (once again thanks to the archival footage) and the film doesn’t so much as end than run out of video tape.


From a critical standpoint there’s really not a lot to say about Scream Queen Hot Tub Party. The title pretty much says it all. There are Scream Queens. They get into a hot tub. And they proceed to party. Run credits. In a way it’s an even more reduced version of the already bare bones Sorority House Massacre II and Hard to Die, stripping away all notions of character and plot and simply providing the nudity and lame jokes.

Running just 46 minutes, minus the credits, half of its running time is taken up by clips from other movies, meaning it only features about 20+ minutes of original material, the majority of which features its cast in a visually pleasing state of undress. Because of this you would think it would be a relatively easy film to sit through, especially if you fast forward past the scenes from movies you’ve already watched, but the truth is SQHTP is interminable and proves that gorgeous nude bodies alone are an important b-movie side-dish, but virtually impossible to digest as the main course.

And this is not a lightly made statement. SQHTP features five of the hottest b-movie actresses of the 80s and 90s, all of them at the peak of their physical attractiveness, yet the effort is an embarrassing, unwatchable mess that perfectly illustrates the point that it is actually possible for a filmmaker to aim for the Lowest Common Denominator and still manage to miss the target.

According to the commentary track (yes, SQHTP has a commentary track) the project originated when Wynorski and his cinematic doppleganger, Fred Olen Ray, got together for dinner and Wynorski proposed they do a film that eschewed a plot and consisted of nothing more than “Scream Queens” doing striptease routines. It was Ray, inspired by a classic Eddie Murphy SNL bit, who added the hot tub angle. The whole thing was shot on video in the course of one long Saturday. Within 15 years, this kind of production would represent the bulk of both of their careers.

That the film actually proved quite successful when it was released on home video speaks volumes about the affection b-movies fans of that era had for these actresses. With the exception of the previously reticent Maroney, it required no effort at the time to see any of these performers naked, so that alone doesn't fully explain its apparent appeal.

In fact, during this period Michelle Bauer’s name in the credits was a virtual nudity guarantee, as she was frequently cast for no other reason than to remove her top. Probably the most egregious example of this being David DeCoteau’s Deadly Embrace in which she is credited as the “Female Spirit of Sex”—a role that consisted entirely of shots of her staring into the camera while caressing her naked body, which were  then intercut with the film’s abundant sex scenes simply in order to pad its minimal running time.

What this means is that SQHTP is a film that exists only to showcase several attractive bodies that were often harder to find clothed than otherwise. So, yeah, it’s pointless and I’m clearly struggling to come up with anything more to say about it.

Aum…That Monique Gabrielle was sure hot, huh?

Okay, I give up.


976-Evil 2: The Astral Factor

The Wynorski Project Part Eight & Nine Concluded

The Wynorski Project

Part 8 and 9

Sorority House Massacre II & Hard to Die

Part Three

Last week I discussed my belief that by completely stripping his films of any discernable subtext, Wynorski ended up producing works that are ultimately guilty of every criticism (usually unfairly) thrown at the slasher genre. For all his humorous riffing, the results are every bit as misogynist and misanthropic as most ignorant people incorrectly believe horror films to be.

What I didn’t say is that despite (or—more accurately—because of) this the two films are compulsively and irresistibly watchable. As disdainful as Wynorski seems to be of his audience, there’s no denying that he’s giving them massive heaps of what they want. The overt sexuality of the films goes beyond mere prurience to pornographic excess, but the quality of that excess is such that it’s very hard to look away. Wynorski clearly knows this. ‘Give ‘em enough T&A and they’ll forgive you anything,’ being the apparent unspoken motto that defines much of his work.

But is he truly at peace with this? After watching his brief cameo in Hard to Die this becomes a legitimate question. The scene in question occurs when two detectives (who only appear in the film because they also appeared in Sorority House Massacre II and no one could be bothered to figure out how to get rid of them in the rewritten script) break in on a porno shoot to interview an adult film actress (Wynorski regular, Monique Gabrielle, who appears twice in the movie—billed first as“Carolet Girard” in the part of the porn star and then as “Lucy Burnett” for the part of a homely Chinese food delivery woman, which is very similar to her short cameo in Not of This Earth. Two years later she would play the final girl in Fred Olen Ray’s Evil Toons, which is as much a remake of SHMII as HtoD is) who used to work at the lingerie company where all the mayhem is occurring. 

Playing the part of the exasperated director is Wynorski himself, who—when accused of making “pornography”—defends himself by saying “…It’s tough enough making a picture these days without making certain—shall we say— ‘concessions’ to public taste….” On the face of it, it would seem like he’s winking at his audience again. Giving them an in-joke they can chuckle over and appreciate for its self-deprecating irony, but this ignores the fact that when the movie was made in 1990 Wynorski was still a fairly anonymous Corman hack who most genre fans wouldn’t recognize in a police line-up, much less in an in-joke cameo.

This makes me wonder if maybe he cast himself as the pornographer not because a handful of Corman insiders would find it amusing, but as a form of cinematic Freudian slip. Is it possible that Wynorski really imagines himself as an artist forced to debase himself to satisfy the public’s need for sex and violence?

Probably not, but it will be interesting to see if any similar cameo’s are made in later productions where he abandons all pretense of respectability and just flat out makes softcore porn (see future reviews of The Bare Wench Project 1, 2 & 3). I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the cameo is just a goof, but it’s the kind of goof pretentious asshole reviewers like me cannot help themselves from grasping on.


Beyond Wynorski’s cameo, though, the other interesting part about this scene is that it is clearly based on the scene in SHMII where the same two cops (the female half of whom is played by Wynorski regular Toni Naples, working under the name Karen Chorak) go to a strip club to talk to the younger sister of the girl who killed the maniac whose spirit is causing all of the mayhem back at the sorority house.


Watching as a hyper-aware genre-enthusiast, it was this scene that caused my brain to start doing backflips, because with it Wynorski manages to take SHMII and turn it from being an unrelated in-name-only sequel to Sorority House Massacre into an alternative universe sequel to Slumber Party Massacre, from which the flashback footage is taken. Having at that point already written about Slumber Party Massacre II (rather successfully—if a comment made at the 37 minute point of this YouTube video is to be believed) I was dumbfounded to see Wynorski take the character Deborah Brock had cast as a virginal member of an all-girl pop band into a slutty, fishnet clad stripper.

My first thought was of Uatu the Watcher, the big-header star of Marvel Comics What If…. series, in which popular Marvel Universe stories were upended with simple twists of fate. For example, issue #7 dealt with what would have happened if someone other than Peter Parker had been bit by that radioactive spider that fateful day. The most amusing aspect of the series was how it allowed the writers to let loose with their wildest apocalyptic, nihilistic fantasies, as virtually every scenario seemed to end with the destruction of the universe (thus proving that the way it “really happened” was truly meant to be).

As unintentional as this had to be on Wynorski’s part, it does force an inevitable comparison between his and Brock’s takes on the slasher genre and it’s one where he definitely does not come out on top. Whereas Brock was able to make the first slasher film that was set entirely in the pov consciousness of a young woman’s mind, Wynorski was only able to deliver a film that aims for moronic parody and fails.

 More telling, though, is the profession chosen for the character in SHMII. The fact is that in a film already so full of gratuitous nudity the strip club sequence is by far the unnecessary and redundant. Knowing what I do about his previous work, I suspect both it and the rest of the police sequences were added late to the script when it became evident the original draft was too short. I’d even guess they were shot long after the film was first completed, were it not for the fact that the same scenes are all essentially replicated in Hard To Die, making this scenario highly unlikely.

Whatever the reason for the sequence, it speaks volumes about who Wynorski is as a person and filmmaker that in his universe, this character turns out to be a stripper. Brock imagined an innocent girl driven to insanity by her horrific experience, while her Corman co-hort simply saw an opportunity to add another pair of tits into the mix.

I strongly suspect that out there is an alternative universe where I prefer his take on the material over hers, but only Uatu truly knows.


Okay, so that’s it for these two flicks. Next week I’ll discuss a more serious work in the Wynorski canon that the director has gone on record as stating that he personally hates.

Next Week

The Haunting of Morella

The Wynorski Project - Part Seven "Transylvania Twist"

The Wynorski Project

Part Seven

Transylvania Twist



At the urging of his Uncle Ephram, Dexter Ward seeks out Marissa Orlock, a beautiful blond recording artist whose father, Marinas, disappeared decades earlier with a dangerous mystical tome capable of unleashing terrible evil on the world. Just minutes after they meet, Marissa and Dexter learn that her father has died and they must travel to Transylvania to claim her inheritance and find the book. At Castle Orlock they are joined by her father’s old friend and executor, vampire hunter Victor Van Helsing, Marissa’s evil Uncle Byron, his manservant Stefan and his three busty “adopted daughters” Patty, Laverne and Maxine. Blood is shed, a lot of cleavage is exposed (but no breasts are bared), stuff explodes and there’s a happy ending for everyone but Uncle Byron.


I find myself stuck in a difficult position discussing Transylvania Twist. The problem is that I think there’s a lot of potentially great material in the film. Jokes that—on a purely conceptual level—display a lot of insight and wit. But I never laughed once. Intellectually, I appreciated what Wynorski and R.J. Robertson, the film’s screenwriter, were trying to do, but I never actually connected to the material. And I’ve yet to figure out why this is. Hopefully I’ll figure it out somewhere around the 1000 word mark.

Despite all of the humour found in his previous films, Transylvania Twist represents the first outright comedy Wynorski directed that was actually intended to be an outright comedy from its inception (unlike Deathstalker II, which turned from a straight sword and sorcery movie into a comedy during production).

According to the Internet (an admittedly shaky source of information) Wynorski actually replaced Charles B. Griffith, the screenwriter of the original Not of this Earth, The Little Shop of Horrors and Death Race 2000, as director. While Griffith had moved on from scripting to directing with efforts like Smokey Bites the Dust and Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II, the fact that Transylvania Twist was written by Wynorski’s good friend and frequent collaborator, Robertson, suggests to me that he had always been its intended director, even if Griffith temporarily got the assignment first.

 Unlike their previous three collaborations (Big Bad Mama II, Deathstalker II and Not of this Earth), Transylvania Twist marked the first time Robertson and Wynorski were able to create a completely original work, which I think explains why it doesn’t feel as laboured and tedious as those other films. Unfortunately they chose to strike out on their own in a genre that had already been mined clean over the past few decades.

Successful parody, I find, is very rare. Either filmmakers fail by being too toothless and doing little more than acknowledging a series of broad pop-culture references (see Repossessed or any of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s films) or they become too savage and essentially denigrate any audience knowledgeable enough to appreciate its jokes (Slaughter High strikes me as the best example of this). Even the most famous parodists exhibit, at best, spotty track records. Mel Brooks gave us the transcendent Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (a film whose success I believe should actually be credited more to star/screenwriter Gene Wilder than anyone else), but he also made Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It, both of which suffered from being too overtly influenced by the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker Airplane! school of rat-ta-tat-tat 100 JPS comedy.

Not only does a film like Transylvania Twist suffer in comparison to a much better film like Young Frankenstein, but it also suffers when its inevitably compared to a much worse film like Transylvania 6-5000 (a film written and directed by occasional Brooks collaborator Rudy De Luca), because the association alone is enough to bring it down.

In terms of actual content, the film Transylvania Twist most resembles is John De Bello’s Return of the Killer Tomatoes, a film which does a good job of finding the fine line between childish mockery and prescient satire. Many of Twist’s best moments are ones that poke fun more at the medium itself than the horror genre. For example I appreciated the scene shot in one take in which the cameraman has to run through library stacks to catch up with his subjects, only to become distracted by a blonde’s abundant décolletage:


It’s a fun potshot at the pretentious done-in-one camera shots made famous by Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese, even if it doesn’t even come close to matching their bravura grandiosity.

Equally good is the moment where Marissa (80s sitcom star Teri Copley) becomes aware of the sound of the bassoon playing on the soundtrack, only to open her closet and find Patty (Wynorski regular Monique Gabrielle who is oddly credited as “?” in the end credits) sitting there playing the large woodwind instrument. Pretty much the exact same joke can be found in De Luca’s Transylvania 6-5000—with a violin substituted for a bassoon—but it works much better here thanks to the way Copley and Gabrielle downplay it, refusing to offer any acknowledgment of its absurdity.


Unfortunately as clever as these moments seemed, they still failed to make me laugh. Some of this, I think, can be blamed on Wynorski’s failure to maintain a consistent tone. A dilemma faced by filmmakers who enter into this kind of comic territory is that much of the material will inevitably seem juvenile and broadly simplistic, which often makes the more sophisticated and adult material seem out of place. Another explanation is that for every clever conceit that comes close to working, there are several that fail abysmally instead. The best example of this is the scene where Marissa and Dexter wander onto the vacant set of The Honeymooners, which turns their world black and white and causes their every statement to be followed by canned studio laughter. Not only is it a detour away from the film’s horror parody theme, but it’s a terribly dated and tired reference even when you remember that the film was made 22 years ago.

And despite the bassoon episode I mentioned above, Wynorski ruins a lot of jokes by flashing a bright spotlight on them. Not intent on just being the 1000th director to feature Forrest J. Ackerman in a wordless cameo, he also has to make sure we get it by having the former publisher hold a copy of his Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, despite its incongruity with his role as funeral director.

Also adding to the lack of laughter is Wynorski’s tendency to direct his actors to play the material as broadly and over-the-top as possible. Many potential parodists forget that what made the early Z-A-Z films so enjoyable was that they featured recognizable actors playing their roles completely straight. Airplane! succeeds because it features Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves giving the same performances they would have given if they had been cast in a drama instead. The humour comes not from any feigned wackiness, but instead the hilarious contrast between the normal and absurd.

That said, there is a great performance in Transylvania Twist thanks to Wynorski veteran Ace Mask (also a highlight in The Return of Swamp Thing), who plays Van Helsing. The flashback scene between him and Brink Stevens is about as close as the film came to arousing a chuckle out of me.


The rest of the cast is unfortunately hit and miss. Robert Vaughn as Uncle Byron never gels into his role, while Your Show of Shows vet Howard Morris as Marinas Orlock comfortably plays out the same shtick that made people confuse him with Arte Johnson for decades. Steve Altman as Dexter was obviously cast for his impression skills, which go a long way towards reminding me why I innately dislike impressionists and Angus Scrimm appears to have been cast as Stefan solely to justify the Phantasm joke that comes near the end. Even Boris Karloff, who provides a posthumous cameo via clips from Roger Corman’s The Terror, fails to come off that well.

As per usual in a Wynorski film, the female cast was clearly chosen more for their ability to properly fill out their sexy costumes than to sell jokes. Copley tries her damnedest to do a good job, but at a certain point her Marilyn Monroe act starts to feels too overtly contrived. And I suspect that the kind of professional jealousy alluded to in the most recent commentary for Not of This Earth might explain both Gabrielle’s stilted, unconvincing performance and the bizarre non-credit she receives at the end.


In the final analysis Wynorski’s seventh film is one I wanted to like, but whose simple failure to compel the correct response from me forces me to deem it a failure. I dunno, maybe I was just in an especially assholish mood this week….

Next Week

Sorority House Massacre II/Hard To Die

Part One

The Wynorski Project - Part Six "The Return of Swamp Thing"

The Wynorski Project

Part Six

The Return of Swamp Thing



Beautiful blond Abigail decides it’s time to leave the safety of her plants and find out what really happened to her late mother. This means leaving California and visiting the estate of her evil stepfather, Anton Arcane, deep in the Louisiana bayou. Turns out he’s almost dead himself and requires Abby’s perfect genetic structure to complete the rejuvenation process necessary for him to survive. Fortunately for her, his mortal enemy is a dreamy living plant with muscles known as Swamp Thing, who takes an instant liking to the blond vegetarian. Very little blood is shed, no breasts are bared, stuff explodes and there’s a happy ending for our unique onscreen couple.

It sounds bizarre to suggest that a film that features a love story between Heather Locklear and a stuntman (Dick Durock) in a green plant suit is probably the closest Jim Wynorski has ever gotten to a making a satisfying mainstream movie, but it’s true. Of all his films so far documented on this blog, The Return of Swamp Thing is easily the most entertaining and professionally made. The film especially deserves credit for being better than the first Swamp Thing, a film directed by the more talented Wes Craven, that suffered due to unforeseen budget setbacks and the fact that the original Swamp Thing costume had an unfortunate tendency to disintegrate when put anywhere near an actual swamp.

While still full of classic Wynorski-isms (jokey references to his actors’ past work, Abbott & Costello type comedy, Monique Gabrielle, Ace Mask, running time lengthening opening and closing credits) the film doesn’t suffer under the weight of them like Deathstalker II and Not of This Earth did. I suspect a large part of the credit goes to producers Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan, who both remain best know for their involvement in the Batman franchise, beginning with Tim Burton’s 1989 film all the way to the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises, but it is entirely possible that this is just a coincidence and the film is simply proof that even a broken clock can be right two times day (see also Fred Olen Rey’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers).

Despite not being credited for the screenplay (that honour goes to Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris), Wynorski’s influence on the script is obvious and in his commentary he credits Chopping Mall’s Steve Mitchell and Deathstalker II’s John Terlesky with helping him on the rewrite. It isn’t hard to guess who wrote what in the film, as certain scenes and jokes definitely feel more Wynorskian than others (ie. the subplot involving the two boys trying to get a picture of Swampy, the scene where Monique Gabrielle and Joe Sagal flirt—three years before Lethal Weapon 3by comparing scars a la Jaws, all of Heather Locklear’s one-liners), but in this case Wynorski was fortunate enough to have a cast talented enough to wring some entertainment out of them.

Sarah Douglas, for example, is typically excellent as Dr. Zurrell (an almost Kryptonian sounding name that recalls her most famous role as Ursa in Superman II), as is Wynorski regular Ace Mask, who adds a layer of hilarious banality to his evil mad scientist. Sagal and Gabrielle are both great as Arcane’s chief henchpeople and the scenes featuring the two young boys are all saved by the gleeful performances of RonReaco Lee and Daniel Emery Taylor.

Both Louis Jourdan and Durock return from the first film and both give the weakest performances. Jourdan disdained the movie and returned only for the paycheck and his indifference is evident onscreen (Wynorski gets him back by having a parrot make a Gigi joke in one scene), while Durock was clearly cast more for his physique and experience as a stuntman than his dramatic chops. It doesn’t help that his voice is clearly dubbed by another (uncredited) actor.

That said, a huge amount of credit for the film’s success has to go to Locklear, a TV actress whose comedic talent has often been overshadowed by her seemingly inhuman blond California beauty. I remember that when the film first came out, my local newspaper reviewer suggested in his review that he couldn’t tell if her performance in the film was one of the best or worst he’d ever seen. That it’s impossible to tell whether or not she’s in on the joke is the key to the film’s success. As Abigail, Locklear is often funny, but never campy, a distinction that is also true for the whole movie as well. 

Of course, though, the film’s humour is likely to be the element that alienates most comic book fans, who resent the dark worlds they take seriously being lightened in any way. This is especially true for Swamp Thing, a character who grew infinitely more complex after the 1982 release of Craven’s film via the pen of Alan Moore, whose reputation as the genre’s great literary genius was first earned from his work on Saga of the Swamp Thing. Fortunately for my enjoyment of the film, I’ve never actually read any of those comics and am therefore immune to any of the potential sacrileges committed onscreen, leaving me to admire it for what it is rather than detest it for what it’s not.

Truthfully, though, it is difficult to imagine how any filmmaker could be expected to bring the true comic book character onto the big screen. In comics the Swamp Thing is able to transcend his appearance and become a noble, tragic figure, but on film he’ll always be a guy in a silly green suit or (sometime in the future) a CGI cartoon. That’s not to say it couldn’t be done, just that in 1988—when the sequel was made—the budget Wynorski had to work with simply would not allow for a serious take on the material. And, it has to be said, if that was what the producers actually wanted, they never would have hired him in the first place.

Still, The Return of Swamp Thing isn’t a perfect film. It’s chief flaw being the kind of simplistic plot that people who’ve never actually read comic books typically associate with the genre. Were it not for the humour and absurdity of its central romance, it would be a much less satisfying, empty film where not much of consequence actually happens. The saving grace of Wynorski’s tone being that by reducing the dramatic stakes, it allows us to ignore how small the film really feels and instead enjoy it for what it is.

Six films in and I fear we might have reached the pinnacle of Wynorski’s career. The Return of Swamp Thing truly represents the bizarre miracle of cinematic alchemy in which a hack filmmaker's usual formula for once turns to gold instead of remaining lead. Knowing what I do about Wynorski's later work, it’s hard to hold out hope that I will be happily surprised to see its success replicated somewhere along the way. Perhaps there’s a hidden gem lost somewhere in his Jay Andrews filmography, but since that seems doubtful, it’s hard not to end this review without feeling a touch of melancholy. Is it possible that our subject made his last good movie over 20 years ago? For my sake, I hope not….

Next Week

Transylvania Twist

The Wynorski Project - Part Four "Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans"


The Wynorski Project

Part Four

Deathstalker II



Life gets exciting for Deathstalker, the womanizing "Prince of Thieves", when he rescues beautiful blond "seer" Reena from a trio of violent soldiers. After she convinces him that a vast reward awaits the man who stops the evil sorcerer Jarek from his reign of terror, they go on an adventure filled journey (Zombies! Female wrestlers! Amazons!), where our hero learns that Reena is a princess in exile, replaced by a mystical look-a-like who must consume men whole to survive. Blood is shed, breasts are bared, stuff explodes and there are happy endings for everyone who deserves one.

Before I begin, I want to say that the following might read more vitriolic than I intended. It is my belief that Deathstalker II is a bad movie, but the truth is that there's nothing wrong with being a bad movie. Bad movies make the world go round. And the fact is that as bad movies go, Deathstalker II isn't that bad. I just didn’t think it was very funny, which is somewhat problematic for a film that’s supposed to be a comedy.

But then this might be expected for a film that didn’t start out as a comedy. Originally written as a straightforward sequel to the original Deathstalker—a film best remembered today for featuring an early appearance by the late Lana Clarkson and the scene in which Barbi Benton’s see-through robe is rather redundantly torn off her bound body—Wynorski decided just as filming began in Argentina that the only way to save it from being a complete fiasco was to rewrite it on the fly with help from his leading man, Chopping Mall’s John Terlesky. Inspired by Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night and old Looney Tunes cartoons, they decided to turn it into a wacky road comedy.


This ad hoc approach to the screenplay is clearly evident onscreen. The script’s reliance on old jokes and routines borrowed from every comedy team filmed in the 30s and 40s is so blatantly predictable you find yourself mouthing the punch lines before the characters even have a chance to get to them. Though evidence of it could be found in all of the three films that preceded it, Deathstalker II is the first film to really establish Wynorski’s lack of an original voice. He’s the directorial equivalent of that guy at work who thinks he’s being clever by repeating jokes he’s heard in movies or on TV, seemingly oblivious to the fact that true wit requires you to come up with your own quips and observations, not merely parrot someone else’s.

But even more problematic to me is the ethical question Wynorski’s decision raises.

Now I realize “ethical” isn’t a word you hear used a lot in low-budget b-movie film reviews, but in the case of Deathstalker II I think it’s apt. As strange as it may sound to those of us who have seen the original Deathstalker, the very fact that its producers felt it was financially worthwhile to produce a sequel suggests that they believed there was a large group of folks who wanted to see that story continue. This being the case, Wynorski’s on-the-fly decision to turn the film into a comedy strikes me as an ultimately narcissistic move that—at best—represents a breach of trust.

Without a doubt had Wynorski filmed the original script without deviation the result would have been terrible, but it would have been consistently terrible with the first film and would have likely entertained the audience it had been produced for. The irony of Deathstalker II being that rather than save the film from descending into the laughable unintended camp of the Italian-made Ator films, Wynorski’s deliberately comic take only made the film terrible in a different way—one that undoubtedly ended up alienating the very audience who wanted to see it in the first place.

And here, I think, we get the first clue into the potentially unjustified negative feelings I had towards his work that I discussed in the introduction of this project. Despite his subject matter and apparent lack of pretension, Wynorski seems little different from those self-obsessed, self-proclaimed art house “geniuses” who make their films only for themselves and not their audiences. In his case though, his reasons for doing so isn’t to produce a work of “art”, but instead to make some money and hang out with pretty girls with big tits (which is, admittedly, a far more noble motive, but no less selfish and inconsiderate).

Truthfully, though, I’m somewhat dubious about Wynorski’s claim that the decision to turn the film into a farce was made at the last minute, if only because it’s very hard to imagine his chosen cast playing their roles in a non-comic capacity.

With his slim-build and jockish demeanor John Terlesky looks like he should be playing the bully in a teen comedy, not a medieval “Prince of Thieves” and it’s impossible to watch villainous John Lazar without thinking of his hilariously campy performance as Z-Man in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. As Sultana, Toni Naples looks good in a series of fetching outfits but is unable to do anything with the material she’s given. Of them all, it’s Maria Socas as the Amazon Queen who comes off the best, if only because she was the only actor already familiar with the genre (The Warrior and the Sorceress) and had the benefit of having all of her lines dubbed in by someone else.

That said, the film’s most memorable performance comes from Monique Gabrielle, a well-known 80s b-movie star who clocked more onscreen time naked than she ever did fully clothed. Deathstalker II features what is probably her most complex and difficult role, requiring her to take on the dual parts of the innocent exiled royal Reena and her evil, cannibalistic mystical doppleganger Evie. She’s not particularly convincing in either part, but this is more than made up for by her ability to carry off a series of nonexistent costumes that certainly leave a lasting impression on any heterosexual male who’s taken the time to watch the film. At the risk of blowing my already nebulous credibility, these costumes—and the moments she spends out of them—almost make Deathstalker II worth watching despite all of the objections I noted above.

Next Week

Not of This Earth