There’s a difference between critical review and pure appreciation.
That’s the dirty little secret of any review site or critic: the experience changes by the very fact of critical assessment, of tearing a thing apart into its constituent parts: what works, what doesn’t, who or what it draws from, what if anything it has to say.
The casual view, on the other hand, is far more passive in nature – receptive rather than reflexive, absorptive rather than analytical. Dionysian rather than Apollonian, if you will: a more immersive, direct experience. Both have their merits, but when all’s said and done, the latter is far preferable in an experiential sense.
And so it is that this review comes so late in the game. Because since before my interview with Code Red’s Bill Norton Olsen nearly 4 years back, I’ve been stumping for someone to get on the stick and finally release Frozen Scream…possibly with the infamous Executioner Part II as a chaser.
Let’s be honest: after waiting so damn long, wouldn’t you want to just kick back and enjoy the show?
And I certainly did.
A strange cross between The Frozen Dead, Deathdream and the general no-budget creepy aesthetic of films like Mark of the Witch or Death by Invitation, Renee Harmon’s Frozen Scream is a real doozy of a film…but not for the reasons you’d expect.
It’s creepy, atmospheric and moody, with a freaky electronic synthesizer score. If Renee Harmon and her what the fuck did she just say uber-thick Teutonic accent weren’t leading players in the proceedings, this would be an effective no-budget 70’s chiller in the vein of Bill Rebane’s Demons of Ludlow, or perhaps another Bob Clark/Alan Ormsby production just preceding the aforementioned Deathdream, namely Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.
There’s even an early sequence involving, at separate ends of a phone call, Dr. Tom Girard and his wife Ann (Lynne Kocol), which is very evocative of Messiah of Evil crossed with the shrink’s office sequence in Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (!)
Then “the angels” arrive…
“A pretty bad acting job, I’d say.”
While the surreal, otherworldly atmosphere of the film lends itself to such bizarre personages as Harmon and fellow “Doctor” Sven Johnsson (Lee James) to a degree where viewers find themselves barely batting an eyelash at their respective acting idiosyncrasies, the fact remains that Harmon is simply a figure of fun, no matter how serious the production surrounding her may or may not be. There was a line in there about her Dr. Lil Stanhope going to “have a chat” with Ann, to which my wife responded, exasperatedly, “how can you have a frigging chat when you can’t even understand her?!?”
“This is all very pagan, isn’t it?”
The story is pretty straightforward with a pair of mad scientist college professors experimenting on students in an attempt to unlock the secret of immortality. Cryogenics and metaphysics collide when their “successes” turn out to be (literally) soulless murdering zombies…a hip philosopher-priest is on hand (Wayne Liebman as “Father O’Brien”), but offers no solution or help as the murders continue, and things approach ever more of an occultic bent…
There are certainly a few absurd moments to be found, such as a positively awful band who really gets into their Jerry Lee Lewis/Bill Haley knockoffs (with ridiculous lyrics about “one potato two potato” and “jacking around the shack”) as the Bob Fosse school of dance starts doing ballet pas de deux in response, but overall, this is a serious, grim trippy take on an effective zombie film, and I absolutely loved it.
On the other hand, we have Executioner Part II, not to be confused with the far more entertaining Exterminator 2, which featured Robert Ginty as a garbageman fighting the escapees from Breakin’ 2 for hobbling his talentless barroom stripper girlfriend’s brilliant future in dance. Now that’s a good cult film.
No, this is the Renee Harmon version, where the first line of dialogue comes from some post-dubbed Gomer Pyle soundalike, Aldo Ray’s drunken ass doesn’t keep him from becoming police commissioner and the nigh-incomprehensibly accented Harmon can somehow score a gig as television news reporter.
There’s a whoooole ‘nother universe out there, where these things can happen, folks.
There are awkward acting bits galore, everything seems off (from the crap dialogue to the misaligned sync of the audio to the unintentional shakycam and poor framing throughout), and you get a whole lot of folks with thicker New Yawk Yiddisher accents than Roberta Findlay.
The entertainment value here rises in direct proportion to the filmmakers’ ineptitude, which on paper, sounds a whole hell of a lot like cult film gold. But compared to Lady Streetfighter or a Dick Randall/Bruce Le epic such as Challenge of the Tiger, Clones of Bruce Lee or Ninja Strikes Back, for all of its unintended amusement factor, Executioner Part 2 barely holds up.
Same ballpark, to be sure. But definitely no cigar.
Essentially, think of Executioner Part 2 as a Cannon Film as done by Carlos Tobalina (but minus the sleazy, unerotic sex) and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect here.
It’s a genre already rife with unintentional hilarity and ripe for active derision of their hysterical reactionary conservativism, so it’s not too huge a step up from an actual Bronson, Norris or Dudikoff film of the era to Harmon’s “Death Wish 3: the Retarded Version!”
It’s definitely unbelievable and kind of fun in a way, but doesn’t quite live up to its sordid reputation. Face it, the Death Wish films were funnier in and of themselves.
Surprisingly, there’s actually an extra: “the executioner’s song”, an interview with director James Bryan (Don’t Go into the Woods, Lady Street Fighter, Dirtiest Game in the World) where he tells of producer Renee Harmon’s career path from Teutonic war bride to Hollywood indie mogul and how the majors killed independent filmmaking in the wake of Spielberg’s Jaws.
Bottom line is, these are Renee Harmon films. Fans of bizarro cult film ineptitude on the order of Miami Connection, Samurai Cop and the Dick Randall productions know exactly what to expect here, which is some serious Code Red-style party film hilarity.
But as a lifelong aficionado of 70’s cult horror, I found I actually enjoyed Frozen Scream, for whatever measure of doofiness and filmic missteps Harmon injected into the otherwise pretty straightforward and, let’s be honest, successful proceedings.
And while there are certainly laughs aplenty to be found therein, that makes the inexpressibly stupid neo-con Cannon ripoff Executioner Part 2 pale all the more miserably by comparison.