Saturday, October 16, 2021

Mujeres de medianoche (1990)

... aka: Midnight Women

Directed by:
Christian González

A guy dressed in all black and wearing a leather cap picks up a hooker and takes her back to his mannequin-filled apartment. There, he presses a knife up against her crotch, tears off her clothes, cuffs her hands behind her back and then bends her over a table. While in the middle of raping her from behind ("No! Por favor!") as she screams and cries, he then drives a grand total of six knives into her back as she screams and cries some more. Just in the first five minutes we've already half-filled our exploitation movie bingo card with T&A, rape, blood, gore (including close-up shots of the knife blade going into the victim's back) and a complete lack of good taste and subtlety. This also looks just as cheap and grimy as the subject matter. But just when you think this has nowhere else surprising to go, well, it does... by suddenly becoming a lightweight sex comedy! And then it bounces back and forth between being funny (er, well, at least TRYING to be funny) and the bloody, nudity-filled exploits of the serial killer!

At first I thought I was going insane, but then I started looking into matters and this strange production kinda sorta started making a little more sense. This appears to be at least a partial remake of a Rear Window-inspired comedy called El chismoso de la ventana / "The Gossiper from the Window;" which was directed and co-written by Gilberto Martínez Solares all the way back in 1956. The plots of the two films are nearly identical, as are a lot of the character names, and Martínez Solares is also credited here as a producer and writer. So what we likely have is a case of penny-pinchin' producers wanting to make a cheap exploitation movie for the video market and, in lieu of writing an entirely new script, simply opting to recycle an old one. Lazy? Sure. But this still somehow results in a film that's not only unique but also oddly enjoyable.

After the opening murder, we venture off to meet the rest of the characters. Much of the action is set at an antique shop managed by "El jefe" (Claudio Báez), who's your typical obnoxious asshole manager with a superiority complex. Two women work there (both subject to some very questionable behavior from their boss), along with another guy played by Roberto 'Flaco' Guzmán, who is listed as playing "Anacleto" in the credits but is referred to as "Flaco" in the film itself. As for why this tiny little store needs four employees, your guess is as good as mine.

The employees all bicker, randomly start dancing and then the manager gets mad, starts to strangle one of the women (?) and then grabs a bunch of vases and flings them around, eventually nailing one of the girls in the back of the head with one and knocking her out (??) One would almost suspect the filmmakers were trying to make this guy out to be a red herring in the murders except for one little thing: We've already seen the killer. So I really don't know what in the hell that was all about.

Thanks to a mix up in the mail, wealthy antique store owner Mr. Godinez (played by wig-wearing dwarf José René "Tun Tun" Ruiz) receives a plantain in the mail while Flaco receives an expensive telescope meant for his boss. Instead of taking it back, Flaco and his friend Leandro (César Bono) use it to spy on the neighbors, especially the ones who also happen to be young, female and enjoy stripping in front of open windows. They first become interested in a punk girl (Lizbeth Olivier), who dances around topless, smokes a lot of weed and "entertains" two guys who stop over. They then check out a hot little number dancing around in a lime green thong bikini and high heels. Most of the action is seen through a telescope POV circular cut-out. Other "comedic" scenes center around Leandro's hot-blooded Cuban wife Lorena (Yirah Aparicio), who's a terrible cook and is constantly screaming at him, hitting him, pulling his hair, beating him with her shoe and bossing him around. I'd imagine if the genders were reversed on these roles, the audience would have far less to laugh about.

The two plot threads intersect a little bit, with the people in the comedy scenes watching news broadcasts and reading the paper about the killer's exploits. Dubbed El descuartizador ("The Ripper") by the press, the psycho (played by Roberto Ballesteros) ties his next victim up in the bathtub, slaps her around, drowns her, stabs her to death and then fills the bloodbath with flowers. All of Flaco's peeping eventually finds him turning his telescope the killer's way just in time to catch him playing with the decapitated head of a victim. Except Flaco barely pays any attention to that and just moves on to another half-naked lady!

Flaco becomes smitten with one of the girls he's watching, who spends most of her time crying and praying while strutting around in lingerie. The girl - Gloria (Michaelle Mayer) - is sometimes seen arguing with another man who brings a little boy over (whom he assumes may be an ex-husband and her son but are actually her brothers) and suffers from a lot of Catholic guilt over to her chosen profession as a nude model. In an earlier scene, she's shown confessing her sins to a local priest (played by Santos Soberon, also one of the producers) and then immediately skipping on over to an artist's studio and posing topless. Not content with just spying on her, Flaco starts stalking her in an attempt to ingratiate himself into her life.

Meanwhile, "The Ripper" chloroforms a girl, takes her back to his apartment, strips her naked, uses a lipstick tube to draw circles around her nipples (in a bit stolen from the Linda Blair teen vigilante classic Savage Streets) and then sinks six knives into her stomach. Next up is green bikini girl (Ivonne Bardett), who gets kidnapped after taking a shower. He hangs her upside down in a closet, rips off her top, slashes her throat with a switchblade and then spray paints her corpse. Hey, did I forget to mention that "The Ripper" is also a pretentious artist who seems to take styling tips from Walter Paisley?

While the slapstick silliness (which is not above comically sped-up chase scenes, usage of a slide whistle and the two stars constantly fighting over use of the telescope and bumping their heads together trying to get to the eyepiece first) don't gel with the serial killer's sadistic murder spree at all, this is never boring and it's at least something different in the overcrowded serial killer / slasher genre. The horror scenes are all played dead seriously, are unpleasant and fairly gruesome and actually done quite well. The gags are a bit more hit-and-miss, though there's a smile-inducing goofiness to this entire bizarro production that helps you sometimes overlook that.

Adolfo Martínez Solares, son of Gilberto, co-produced and co-wrote this along with his father and also has a cameo as a TV reporter. This one's currently available only in Spanish and the print quality (as you can probably tell from my screen caps) is pretty rough.


Friday, October 15, 2021

Earth vs. the Spider (1958)

... aka: Die Rache der schwarzen Spinne (Revenge of the Black Spider)
... aka: Earth vs. the Giant Spider
... aka: L'araignée vampire (The Vampire Spider)
... aka: Spider, The
... aka: Spindeln

Directed by:
Bert I. Gordon

When her father doesn't return home from a late night trip to Pasadena, high school student Carol Flynn (June Kenney) talks her boyfriend Mike (Eugene Persson) into borrowing a car and retracing her father's path. They soon stumble upon an accident site and some jewelry the dad had purchased for Carol lying on the side of the road. Locating the vehicle wreckage over an embankment, they venture on to a cave that's rumored by locals to be cursed. Those who've ignored the "No Trespassing" sign posted out front have a bad habit of never being seen again. Nonetheless, the teens figure the father may have been injured in the crash and wandered inside for shelter. They descend deep into the large cave, finding skeletal remains along the way, and then are almost impaled by a stalactite. After falling over an unexpected drop-off, they find themselves landing on something sticky and silky, which turns out to be a giant spiderweb. They then meet the beast of the title, which is mostly played by a regular sized "bird spider" (tarantula) made to appear giant through Gordon's (cheap and usually unconvincing) rear-projection fx.

Managing to escape from the spider's lair, Carol and Mike make it back to town to try to warn everybody. Their visit to Sheriff Cagle (Gene Roth) is a bust as he doesn't believe them, so they immediately go to their science teacher, Dr. Art Kingman (Edward Kemmer). Art convinces the Sheriff and his men to organize an expedition to search the cave. There, they find the remains of Carol's dad and then run across the spider. Though it kills the deputy, they manage to fill it with lead and hit it with a powerful concentrate of DDT. Now with the spider dead, the Sheriff proposes sealing up the cave entrance, while Art has another idea: Take it out of the cave and give it to the university so they can learn more about "genes that control organic growth." The teacher gets his way and the spider is temporarily transported into town and put on display in the high school auditorium.

A distraught Carol convinces Mike to go back to the spider's cave to help her find a bracelet she dropped (the last thing her father ever got her). Meanwhile, Joe (Troy Patterson) convinces janitor Hugo (Hank Patterson) to let him and his band mates into the auditorium so they can practice. The janitor agrees and then Joe instructs everyone to play so "loud enough to wake the dead." Some drama students wander in and start dancing and then the spider springs back to life... Revived by rock 'n' roll! It then breaks down a wall and then wreaks havoc on the isolated mountain community of River Falls.

After the spider adequately rampages about town, almost getting Art's wife Helen (Sally Fraser, from IT CONQUERED THE WORLD) and their baby in the process, it finally makes its way back to its cave home. Deciding that the Sheriff's initial idea to seal it inside was the correct one, they follow is back to the cave, place some dynamite and set off an explosion that causes a rock slide that closes off the entrance. Good, right? Well, not quite. Unfortunately, Carol and Mike are still inside and have had to make their way out onto a narrow ledge the spider can't access. The pest exterminators then have to turn into a rescue team and find a way back inside to retrieve the kids while also trying to find a way to put the spider out of commission for good.

Spider is part of size-obsessed director Gordon's cycle of schlocky giant whatever films that also includes the titular giant reptile of King Dinosaur (1954), the giant grasshoppers of Beginning of the End (1956), the giant rats, wasps, worms and chickens of THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) and the formidable Formicidae of EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977). He also made a bunch of movies featuring extra-large people, like the one-eyed giant of The Cyclops (1957), the radiation-enlarged scientist in THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) and WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958), and the gigantic juvies of Village of the Giants (1965). For a slight change of pace he also made the miniature person movie called ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (1958). Aside from Cyclops, Food and Empire (which they probably couldn't get the rights to), all of the other films listed above plus two other Gordon efforts were ridiculed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which gives Gordon the distinction of being the most covered director in that show's history.

Irregardless, Spider actually isn't that bad, at least as far as entertainment value is concerned. Sure, the film has some major problems, like stiff amateurish acting from some of the cast (though leads Kemmer, Kenney, Persson and Roth are decent), thirty-five-year-old's laughably being cast as high school students and a plot almost completely lacking in originality. The worst aspect is the completely unconvincing special effects for the spider... and not just because you can sometimes SEE THROUGH it! This film loses an entire half point just for breaking one of my biggest monster movie pet peeves: Inconsistent size. You'd figure a director as caught up with proportions as Gordon would be a little more OCD about such things but, seeing how the spider looks the size of a car in one scene and then towering over buildings the next, that doesn't appear to be the case. Still, I must point out that as bad as the fx are at times, they're still more convincing than the majority of modern B-movie fx in that they used a real spider instead of a computer-generated cartoon one.

Not that this doesn't have its good points. It's pretty fun and upbeat most of the time. It's also seldom given credit for being one of the better-paced 50s monster movies and generally avoids the feeling of being needlessly dragged out. There's even a pretty good sense of humor at times, as well as amusingly shameless self-promotion. Gordon is wily enough to make the Mike character the son of a theater owner and the father a big fan of the director's work. There are posters for The Amazing Colossal Man outside and Mike initially puts up some resistance to taking Carol to the caves cause "My dad just got in a new picture and I haven't even seen it yet. It's something about puppet people. Sounds pretty wild."

Gordon not only wrote the original story and produced, but he also did the special effects along with wife Flora Gordon and Paul Blaisdell, who's given a "special designer" credit. The cave scenes were filmed at both Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico and Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles and Universal Studios backlots were used for the exterior town sequences. This was "remade" (well, they at least reused the title) into a 2001 cable TV movie starring Dan Aykroyd, which was also executive produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff.

Spider played theaters as both a standalone feature and as part of a double bill that also included THE BRAIN EATERS (1958). There were DVD releases from both Lions Gate and MGM/UA as well as a DVD release of the film with MST3K commentary from Shout! Factory, followed by a Scream Factory Blu-ray release in 2020.

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