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Mad God, Morbius, Frankenstein Unbound, and Death Count
Weekly Horror Bulletin Newsletter 176
We’ve got our usual collection of four horror films and a short film for you this week. We'll start off with the weirdest animated film we've seen all year, "Mad God." Then we'll look at probably the only Marvel horror film ever, "Morbius," and then the sorta-futuristic, but very strange "Frankenstein Unbound" from 1990. Finally, we'll wrap up with the upcoming film "Death Count" releasing in July.
Bonus reviews at
"Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff" (1943)
"Fire in the Sky" (1993)
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Mad God (2021)
Directed by Phil Tippett
Written by Phil Tippett
Stars Alex Cox, Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda
Run Time: 1 Hour, 23 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
An animated man goes on a very strange journey through a very confusing world. There's not a lot of plot, but the visuals are amazing.
We begin with a tower that is surrounded by clouds. Credits roll. We then get a long threatening quote from God; it's from Leviticus, and that was the Tower of Babel we saw getting destroyed.
There's another tower, this one with searchlights and weapons. Something is parachuting down; it's a pod with a man inside. The guns fire, but the pod descends well beyond the surface. He passes many layers and levels of strange things, but finally hits bottom. He leaves the pod and explores. He's got a rapidly-decaying map.
There's all kinds of strange creatures and sights down here which I'm not even going to try to explain this time around.
The man is eventually captured and sent to a lab to be dissected and experimented upon. Eventually, they find an Eraserhead-style baby inside. They then drill into the man's head, send in a probe, and watch his story.
Actually, I don't know what was going on through most of it; the man walks through a weird apocalyptic Hellscape and sees various things. That's... pretty much it.
Watch this one is for the visuals alone; there is no dialogue at all, and there's no plot to speak of. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it sure is fun to watch. There's lots of body horror and gore, and some of the creatures are definitely nightmare fuel.
It's art to be sure, but whether or not you'll like it is anyone's guess. I think I might want to watch this again at some point in the future, but... not anytime soon.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Written by Matt Salaam, Burk Sharpless
Stars Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona
Run Time: 1 Hour, 44 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
The origin story of Morbius the Living Vampire. It was okay. Just okay. Don't overthink the science at all. Or the physics. Or the way real people act and talk. But it was okay.
In the jungles of Costa Rica, a helicopter lands. The pilot warns that they shouldn't be here once it gets dark. Because of a jungle monster? Some hideous beast that hunts man at night. No, just lots of bats. Dr. Michael Morris gets out of the copter, but he's on crutches and can barely walk. He's here to investigate vampire bats. He cuts his hand, on purpose, and it attracts a swarm of vampire bats. Apparently in this universe they are the piranha of the skys.
We flash back 25 years earlier, in Greece. Michael gets a new roommate at the hospital named Lucien, but for some reason, Michael calls him Milo. They both have an incurable DNA disease. The only way to stay alive is with a transfusion three times a day. The doctor in charge, Emil Nicholas, wants to send Michael to a school for gifted children in New York. Michael leaves, but promises Milo that he'll find a cure.
Michael grows up and becomes the world's leading expert on blood diseases; he even invented synthetic blood. He works at the hospital with Dr. Martine Bancroft; they are working on combining human and bat DNA. Well, that's what Michael is doing. She's there to tell him that he shouldn't be doing that. Milo is tremendously rich and has been financing the experiments. Michael injects the cure into a mouse which promptly dies-- no, it gets back up again. It worked!
Michael goes to see Milo, who is still under the care of Dr. Nicholas. They're both still very sickly and walk with crutches.
Later, Michael and Martine sail out into international waters because the cure is super illegal and dangerous. She injects Michael with the cure, and they wait. Michael turns into a fanged monster and kills one of the security guards. He dodges bullets and moves with super speed, killing the other guards and the sailors too.
When the sun comes up, he turns back into his human-looking self again, except now he's ripped and healthy-looking. He sees what he did on the security cameras and is surprised.
Agent Stroud is in charge of the investigation into all those dead, bloodless bodies. Milo hears about the carnage on the news; Martine is in a coma after being injured during the attack. As he goes back to his lab, he starts weakening again; he still needs to "consume" blood. He starts pigging out on the artificial blood, but he knows that's not gonna work forever.
Milo comes to the lab for a visit and thinks Michael has found a cure. Milo wants the cure, but Michael says the cost will be too high; he's killed people. They argue. Meanwhile, Martine wakes up in the hospital and talks to the two investigators.
That night, a vampire-monster-man-thing kills a nurse. Michael wonders if he did it himself. The detectives show up and ask Michael some questions about his research. He runs and jumps with superhuman speed, but they get him anyway. They take him to the station for the murder of the nurse. Milo visits him in jail and slips him a bag of blood. We notice that Milo's not limping anymore...
Michael breaks out of jail and tracks down Milo as he's killing a newsstand guy. He admits he killed the nurse; he couldn't control it. But he's okay with that now. "We can do anything," Milo tempts. "We've evolved!" Milo then kills a bunch of cops. The detective decide to keep an eye on Martine, but even she knows how to lose these cops.
He takes over the lair of some counterfeiters and uses their lab equipment to get to work on a cure for the cure. Michael and Martine have some "me time" as Milo listens with his super hearing. The cops figure out that the killer isn't Michael. Dr. Nicholas sees all this on TV, and he recognizes both vampires. He pays a visit on Milo, and the two of them argue. It ends poorly for Dr. Nicholas.
Michael finds Nicholas' almost dead that evening, just alive to give Michael dying words of encouragement. Milo gets Martine, and Michael can't rescue her in time. Michael and Milo fight, and there's lot of CGI and CGI bats and more CGI. Michael eventually injects the poisonous antidote into Milo, who dies. Martine, on the other hand, wakes up as a vampire.
The equipment used for counterfeiting money is the same as that used for DNA gene splicing drug creation? Mmmmkay. It's just one of the ways this movie brutalizes science. The performances and acting are all fine. The science is ridiculous. Jared Harris is wasted in a minimal role.
So there was all this origin story for Michael and Milo, and then they had a big fight, and then it was done. This movie was missing a middle act. Well, it was there I suppose, just really weak. Not only that, but almost the entire final battle was pure CGI, and I have to wonder how much Jared Leto and Matt Smith were even involved in that final scenes.
It's not as bad as people would have you think, but it's definitely got some serious issues. It ended, and I was like, "Wait-- That's it?"
Short Film: Estigma (2022)
Directed by David Velduque
Written by Marco Laborda and David Velduque
Stars Alvaro Fontalba, Manuel Tejera
Run Time: 14:34
It's Friday night and Alex's parents are out. As usual, his room is the perfect refuge to escape from reality. However, an unexpected visit will break into his universe, turning a quiet night into the worst of his nightmares.
That's not the way a hookup is supposed to go. Always watch out for bedbugs!
Anyway, I'm pretty sure this is a metaphor for him catching and dealing with HIV. It's well-filmed, nicely acted, and the gore effects literally made me cringe more than once.
Frankenstein Unbound (1990)
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Brian Aldiss, Roger Corman
Stars John Hurt, Raul Julia, Bridget Fonda
Run Time: 1 Hour, 25 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Combine the classic Frankenstein story with time-traveling science fiction, and you get this mash-up which ended up being really entertaining. As long as you suspend a lot of disbelief. The acting outshines the special effects and story, but it still gets the job done. Thumbs up overall.
Joe Buchanan wanders through the frozen wasteland, and he says a record must be kept. “I’ll start when the timeslips were just beginning.” In the year 2031, Buchanan was a scientist who invented a new weapon that simply makes the enemy disappear. Suddenly, outside, weird things have been happening: time slips, missing people, and weird weather. Could this project be causing the problems? “When the weapon takes something out of time, it sort of leaves a door open,” he explains. The targets apparently aren’t destroyed, they are sent away to some other time and space.
He goes out and gets into his science-fictional self-driving car. He arrives home in time to find children holding a funeral for an obsolete bicycle. The storm gets worse, and a Mongol warrior rides through. It soon vanishes, however. The portal closes and sucks Buchanan through to the other side along with his car. The car can’t access the mainframe anymore. “There are no satellites,” it explains.
He hides the car and walks toward the town in the distance. On the way, he finds some mutilated animals. When he arrives in the village, it’s not what he expected. He sits at a table and notices the year on the newspaper is 1817. He introduces himself to the other man at his table, who is impressed with Buchanan’s digital watch. His name is Dr. Victor Frankenstein. “I’ve heard of your work,” says Buchanan, who jumps on the back of Frankenstein’s carriage. Buchanan soon watches from the shadows as Victor and his monster argue.
The next morning, Buchanan returns to his car and gets it calculating a way to return to the future. He walks back to town and buys a less noticeable suit of clothes. He spots Victor once again and follows him to a courtroom, where he meets Mary Shelley. The man on trial says there was a huge brute who killed his sheep, not the girl who is on trial for killing William Frankenstein. She is found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Buchanan follows Frankenstein once too often and finally encounters the monster in the daylight, and he’s... something. He wants a mate so he won’t be alone, but Victor refuses. The monster runs off, and Buchanan tells Frankenstein what he knows about “the work.” Buchanan tries to guilt Victor in helping the doomed girl. He shows his car to Victor, who is just as impressed with a ballpoint pen.
Buchanan goes to see Elizabeth to get her to help with the girl’s conviction. That doesn’t go the way he expects, so he drives to the Shelley estate. He sees the timeslip cloud in the sky. He talks to Mary Shelly, Percy, and Lord Byron, who thinks the cloud is a “gateway to a distant world.” He could be right! He rushes to the gallows to save Justine, but he’s too late. The villagers throw Buchanan into the river for interfering.
Buchanan has a vision about the future. Mary pulls him out of the river, so he shows her his talking car. He explains about being from the future and that he’s read the book she just started writing. The car gives her a printout of “Frankenstein.” They talk about the real Frankenstein, who lives up on the hill. He really did make a man up there. Buchanan and Mary have some personal time.
Buchanan confronts Victor about killing the monster, but Victor has decided to make it a mate after all. He asks Buchanan for help with the electricity. Buchanan shows him the book too, as a sort of warning. Elsewhere, the monster goes after Elizabeth and tears her apart. The villagers blame Buchanan, but the monster attacks them before they can take revenge.
Back at Frankenstein’s castle, Buchanan refuses to help Victor, but the monster encourages him. They bring in the car to process the electricity, and the car says that time and space are coming apart, and it’s probably not reversible. It might be possible to transport somewhere else though.
Buchanan sets up his laser-implosion gun that’s luckily in the car and hooks it up to the electrical cables that are running up to the lightning rod. Inside, Victor has dug up and “improved” Elizabeth’s body and plans to reanimate her tonight.
Lightning strikes, and both Buchanan’s laser-implosion device and Frankenstein’s lab get the energy they need. Just as Elizabeth wakes up, the laser goes off, opening the portal and sends the whole castle, and everyone inside, to somewhere really, really cold-looking.
Elizabeth wakes up and doesn’t like the looks of her mate. Victor shoots her, sorta-kinda by accident, and the monster breaks Victor in half.
Buchanan pursues the monsters through “this frozen tomorrow,” and finds remnants of a future civilization. Buchanan finds a tunnel in the ice that leads him to a bunker full of technology. Technology that recognizes him. Somehow it’s his own lab in this alternate future and alternate timeline. The monster calls it “the last refuge of mankind.” Buchanan shoots him in the head, but that’s not enough.
The monster tears off his own arm and chases Buchanan around the lab with it. Finally, Buchanan cuts the monster to pieces with his lasers. Buchanan then walks off toward the futuristic city in the distance. ..
Time-traveling to meet a fictional character doesn’t seem to phase John Hurt in the least, almost like he expected it. How does he drive all over the countryside and not be burned at the stake or something. No one seemed to really say anything about the car when they did see it.
There’s a lot here that doesn’t work. The visions/dream sequences don’t really go anywhere or mean anything. Percy and Byron don’t go anywhere or do anything relevant. Even Mary is only there for a brief love interest distraction. Why was Buchanan so invested in saving Justine in the first place? Yes, he knew her innocence, but he ought to know about getting too involved with past events. And why, if Buchanan knew his weapon was causing that level of environmental damage, would he continue testing it?
The standout thing about this film has to be the casting. John Hurt and Raul Julia steal the movie. The design of the monster looks more like something out of “Hellraiser” than a Frankenstein movie, but he’s definitely unique and interesting.
It’s an interesting take on the old story, and it’s not exactly what I’d call very good, just a weird story with good actors.
Death Count (2022)
Directed by Michael Su
Written by Rolfe Kanefsky, Michael Merino
Stars Costas Mandylor, Michael Madsen, Robert LaSardo
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
A little of Saw meets Untraceable meets Ten Little Indians while still managing to be its own unique story at the same time. It’s well written and well done, overall one to watch.
A woman wakes up in a cell. She has no idea why she’s there, but she looks around and notices food, water, and other things. There’s a monitor on the wall that shows other people in other cells, and she knows them all.
A strange-looking man called the Warden comes on the screen. He says they’ll play a little game called “And then there were…” He looks more like a comic book supervillain than a prison warden. He wants the prisoners to do whatever they have to do to earn “likes” on social media. The woman we saw earlier is player 3. The player with the fewest likes will be eliminated.
#6 (Robert Lasardo) objects to the game and threatens the warden. He refuses to participate, so the Warden explains that each of them has an explosive device implanted in their skulls. #6 is not convinced. The Warden explodes #6’s head.
#8 thinks he can get out of the collar, that it’s an “escape room” kind of game. He finally gets the collar off, and the device explodes automatically. Two down, six to go…
This is all being broadcast live on the Internet, and the police are soon inundated with phone calls. Detective Casey thinks it’s all a hoax. #3, Rachel, talks to #5, Selena. It seems that they are all teachers and school employees. #7, the gym teacher, gets torn in half by a contraption designed to do that.
#6’s nephew shows up at the police station and says he recognizes his uncle, the school janitor, the first to die.
The Warden gives orders to #3 to place a knife under her thumbnail and cut it off. She does it. #2, the coach complains that this is not a game since there’s no skill involved.
Meanwhile, on cable news, everyone is talking about the Warden’s show. Is it real? This, of course, only boosts the show's numbers.
Round 2 begins. Everyone has a toolbox full of stuff, and they all get to work, except for #1, the head of the school board, who whines about just doing his job. Warden commands each of them to perform an act of non-suicidal self-mutilation with the instrument they have chosen. #5, Serena cuts herself. So does #4, John. #2, the coach, attacks the camera and gets shot in the face with acid. #3, Rachel stabs herself in the hand as well. Turner, #1 refuses, since he’s a role model in the community. He chickens out at the last minute and cuts off his own finger with a pair of scissors. Serena gets the least likes, so her cell is filled with gas.
Meanwhile, Detective Casey complains about the price of gas. The call comes in connecting the teachers to Wooten High School.
Round 3 begins. Same basic game: pick something from the toolbox and use it on yourself. This time, however, the audience gets to pick the tool, and they choose the pliers. “Extract a tooth of your choosing.” Once again, the coach refuses, so he’s injected with horse steroids. He flips out and tears his own skin off. He then collapses and dies.
A photo of a girl we don’t know, Charlotte, appears on the screen. She has something to do with all this. Rachel knows who Charlotte is, the former theater teacher who had her budget cut. They all signed off on the petition to eliminate her budget. The play she wanted to do was too violent for high school kids, “Ten Little Indians.”
Round 4 begins. This time it’s a power drill. Turner, #1, argues and gets set on fire. We hear that Rachel #3 had accidentally slept with Charlotte’s husband; John, #4, told Charlotte about it. Charlotte then killed herself.
Time for the final round… Will anyone actually get out of this?
Michael Madsen, with each passing year, looks more and more like a talking, slightly overcooked biscuit: puffy, baked, and flaky. Costas Mandylor isn’t really recognizable in the hood and prosthetics. Robert Lasardo, the only other recognizable actor, only gets one brief scene as the soon-to-explode #6.
The gore, on the other hand, is all really good and realistic. Yes, this is another torture-porn movie, but it’s a fairly good one. The “Ten Little Indians” song plays after each death, and it’s a hilarious choice. I would say it goes on a little too long after the main game is over, but it’s overall pretty good.
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