Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, October 31, 2008

L'altro inferno (1980)

...aka: Guardian of Hell
...aka: Other Hell, The
...aka: Presence, The

Directed by:
Bruno Mattei

Occasionally gruesome, sometimes tasteless and pretty entertaining nunsploitation terror from Italian schlock shock guru Bruno Mattei, who directed under the name "Stefan Oblowsky" and also co-wrote the original story with scriptwriter Claudio Fragasso. Mad, seemingly possessed nuns are butchering other nuns in a convent, leading to a wave of panic and hysteria. Seeking some help, Father Inardo (Andrea Aureli) is called in to try to cleanse the convent and rid it of demonic forces, but his efforts prove futile and he is engulfed in flames before he can complete his task. Feeling drastic measures are needed, an unorthodox young priest/investigator named Father Valerio (Carlo De Mejo) is drafted to get to the bottom of things. A self proclaimed "ecclesiastic detective," Fr. Valerio begins investigating the murders, scouring the convent for clues and going through the nun's personal belongings looking for some reasoning behind the senseless slayings. Initially doubtful that demons are actually involved, he senses something is a little off with stern and overprotective Mother Superior, Sister Vicenza (Franca Stoppi), who tries to keeps her fellow sisters from talking, seems to be hiding something and refuses to let anyone get near the attic. Is it indeed a case of possession or are the nuns just finding therapeutic new ways to deal with their repression? The explanation behind it all, surprisingly, isn't bad, and this movie is far more competent than most of Mattei's other films.

Even though it drags from time to time, L'altro inferno still has many things going for it. First off, the performances are pretty good. Stoppi, who has a very expressive, somewhat sinister looking face, gives the standout performance as the secretive head nun. De Mejo is also tolerable as the hero and all of the smaller roles seem to be done with some skill. Secondly, there's some imaginative set design inside the convent. One corridor is lined with hundreds of skulls, leading up to a secret alchemist's lab (?) complete with a fiery cauldron, bubbling test tubes, beakers and coffins. Upstairs is another strange room full of cobwebs and angelic-looking mannequins hanging from the ceiling. Definitely not the same kind of art direction you typically seen in these kind of films. Another memorable thing about this one are some truly tasteless touches, notably when a crazed nun cuts the vagina (!) out of a corpse. A newborn baby is even tossed in a pot of boiling water at one point. The themes here cover most of the bases of religious-themed horror; possession, stigmata, the birth of the Antichrist... Surprisingly, there's almost no nudity (the only nudity is from a corpse). The score by Goblin is mostly lifted from the previous year's Buio Omega (aka Beyond the Darkness), which also starred Stoppi.

★★

Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti (1974)

...aka: Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue
...aka: Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead
...aka: Don't Open the Window
...aka: Fin de semana para los muertos
...aka: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
...aka: No profanar el sueño de los muertos
...aka: Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
...aka: Zombi 3 (Da dove vieni?)

Directed by:
Jorge Grau

Probably the best zombie film to be released in between Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (68) and DAWN OF THE DEAD (78). In rural England (where this was filmed), biker George (Ray Lovelock) is left stranded in the country when his motorcycle is accidentally hit by Edna (Cristina Galbó), who’s also just arriving in town to help her brother-in-law Martin (José Lifante) commit her frantic, drug-addicted sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre) for treatment. Nearby, some agricultural scientists are experimenting with ultra-sonic radiation to decrease the insect and pest population in the area. Instead, the sonic rays have an adverse effect on the nervous systems of bugs, infants… and the recently deceased. The living dead are soon shambling their way through town, killing and consuming victims. But these aren’t your usual run-of-the-mill pale-faced, red-eyed animated corpses, but ones with super-strength and the ability to raise other stiffs with fresh blood. Can George and Edna convince the authorities what’s going on before the zombie population gets even more out of control? Can they convince name star Arthur Kennedy, playing a screaming police sergeant who hates long hair, “fag clothes,” sex and drugs and seems to have a bone to pick with everyone in the movie, of anything?

All-around, this is a very nicely done horror film with decent acting, a fast-paced and environmentally conscious storyline, stylish photography, some suspense and an excellent, bizarrely disquieting music score comprised of natural sounds (whispering, distorted voices, underwater sounds, etc.). There’s also an excellent cemetery sequence (with the zombies trying to bust down a door with tombstones they pluck from the ground) and a real bloodbath of a hospital climax (which includes a woman getting her breast ripped off). Released theatrically in the United States as DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW! (often double-billed with the completely unrelated DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) and first available on tape (heavily cut) as THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE. The disc from Anchor Bay is a very good looking print and comes with a long interview with Grau, plus an introduction, TV and radio spots and still gallery.

★★★

Exorcist III, The (1990)

...aka: Exorcist III: Legion

Directed by:
William Peter Blatty

Taking a much different approach than the first two EXORCIST films will either infuriate or please viewers and there's just no arguing with people on the merits of this film, because something can be said for those who love it and for those who hate it. I definitely am in the former camp, but regardless you have to admire the nerve it took William Peter Blatty to bring his distinct vision to the screen and take some big creative chances with this film. It's intelligent, overly-complicated and at times quite messy, but there's nothing else out there quite like it. Skeptical police lieutenant Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott), investigates a series of ghastly decapitation murders in Georgetown which seem to bear the trademark of James Venamun (Brad Dourif), "The Gemini Killer," a sacrilegious sick-o who struck the town years earlier. The only problem is the killer was executed fifteen years ago and it was on the same night as Father Damien Karras' plunge down the stairs after performing the exorcism in the original. Locked up deep in the bowels of a mental hospital is Patient X (Jason Miller), who bears a striking resemblance to Karras and has first-hand knowledge of the crimes, both new and old. Did the Gemini killer somehow take over his body prior to his death? And exactly who has been going around town killing people?

The scenes of Nicol Williamson as an exorcist who seemingly comes out of nowhere toward the end were added because the producers felt the film needed an exorcism scene so audiences wouldn't get confused, which basically means the studio who financed it take the general viewing public as idiots. I guess they figured audiences would be disappointed without the literal exorcism taking place. Wrong! Despite getting critically blasted upon releases, this film has developed a strong fan following over the years. Does it deserve one? In my opinion, yes.

The entire cast (especially Scott, Dourif and Miller) is excellent, the characters are well-defined, the dialogue is intelligent, there's creepy atmosphere to burn and some wonderfully creepy and scary scenes (though many of the horrible things to occur in this film are implied, not graphically shown). One scene in particular, set in the hospital where most of this film takes place, is an absolutely brilliantly staged shock that gets just about everyone who views it. The film as a whole is challenging, sometimes frustrating and doesn't always run as smoothly as one might hope, but give it a chance. And give the director credit for trying something different, including a dream sequence set in heaven featuring Big Band music, tarot card readers and winged angels (including Samuel L. Jackson, romance novel cover boy Fabio and basketball star Patrick Ewing!). Dr. C Everett Koop and Larry King both appear as themselves, and Colleen Dewhurst provides the voice of Satan. Blatty scripted from his own 1983 novel "Legion."

★★★1/2

Quando Alice ruppe lo specchio (1988)

...aka: Touch of Death
...aka: When Alice Broke the Mirror

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

Lester Parson (Brett Halsey) is a middle-aged gambling addict who has an interesting way of clearing his debts; scouring the "Lonely Hearts" personal ads, meeting wealthy widows and then murdering them for their money and jewelry. He's first seen sharing a fine roast with his cat Reginald and watching a home video of a woman taking her top off. Immediately afterward he walks into a room with a dead, naked female corpse (the woman from the video) who's missing a huge chunk of meat missing from her thigh. Guess we know where that juicy rump roast came from. The body is then lovingly dismembered with a chainsaw and in typical Fulci fashion we get close-ups of all four of her limbs, her torso and her head being sliced off (the gore make-up is actually excellent in this one). He grinds up her flesh into hamburger meat, slops his pigs with her guts and dumps the remaining body parts elsewhere.
.
Lester meets a second rich woman who's got a facial hair problem and hairy moles on her breasts. He gets her drunk and tries to poison her in an amusing scene where nothing goes his way. She mixes up her drink with his, and then when she's given a second poisoned cocktail, she immediately runs into the bathroom and starts puking it up. He barges in and bashes her over the head with a stick. As blood gushes down, she flees in terror and is bashed over the head several more times until blood is pouring out everywhere and her eyeball falls out. Still not dead, he sticks her head in the oven and roasts her until her flesh starts melting off. Her body is dumped at a construction site in a hole full of wet concrete. A bum sees what he's doing and tries to blackmail him, but Lester runs him over with about a dozen times him with his car. Next up is an obnoxious, shrill soprano named Alice who never stops singing and likes to be slapped around. I'm guessing this is where the silly original title comes from, which translated to WHEN ALICE BROKE THE MIRROR. Lester finally shuts her up with a whip and dumps her body. The police and TV news seem to be keeping up with the crimes even though Lester appears to be doing a sufficient job of disposing of the bodies. But how?

Well, there's something weird afoot and a copycat killer at work, who seems to be murdering the same people Lester is. In addition, the second killer is leaving behind evidence to implicate him. It's either a doppelganger a la THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE or it's all in Lester's mind. I honestly found it hard to care what was going on; this element to the story is confusing and far less satisfying than the straight murder/gore scenes. There's also Virginia (Zora Kerova), a woman with a badly scared lip who enters Lester's life and seems a little more aggressive than the other victims. Wonder what she's up to?
.
There are many attempts at black comedy in this one. A few are amusing, most aren't. Lester always seems to have a difficult time disposing of the bodies. One body in a trunk has legs that keep popping out and must be hacked off. A dead body won't sit straight up in his car and keeps falling over when he's pulled over by a cop for speeding. The quality of the photography is a little flat looking (I believe this was made to be shown on Italian TV), but some of the camerawork is alright and there are several memorably gory scenes, most of which ended up in Fulci's NIGHTMARE CONCERT/CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990). Also with Al Cliver, Ria De Simone, Sacha Darwin, Marco Di Stefano and Maurice Poli.

The Shriek Show DVD comes with English dubbed or Italian language/English subtitled options. It also features an audio interview with Fulci, a photo gallery and two filmed interviews, one with Zora Kerova, the other with Fulci film historian Paolo Albiero. There's also a promo trailer and additional trailers for SYNDICATE SADISTS, THE ORACLE, ZOMBI 2 and WARLOCK MOON.

★★

Voodoo Swamp (1962)

Directed by:
Arthur Jones (?)

Contained as a surprise extra on Media Blasters' BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE (originally titled THE DEAD ONE) DVD, this amateurish feature-length (70-minute) effort is a real chore to sit through. As far as I know, the film had not previously been released theatrically, nor did it ever see the light of day on a home viewing format until the recent 2003 DVD release. There are no credits, so the production history is pretty much unknown. There's also no music score. Much of the dialogue seems to be post sync; check how many shots are of the back of someone's head when they speak, with some of the most annoying voices ever used used for the dubbing. Sometimes there aren't even sound effects when people are splashing around in water or doing other things that would normally make sound. And that's only the beginning of the technical ineptitude. The worst part could possibly be the strange overlapping effect used for scene transitions in editing. I have no clue what was used to put the scenes together, but it's incredibly annoying throughout. There's also a completely pointless silent clip montage at the very beginning; a woman tied to a pole moaning for about 30 seconds, a rattlesnake, a crocodile, fire, a guy diving underwater, a guy hunched over on a bar, and other stuff that really doesn't seem to have much to do with anything until we later learn these are actual shots from the film thrown together at the begin to pad it out.

Around New Orleans, Marie Ryan shows up looking for her missing twin sister Vicky. She enlists the aid of detective Jack Craig to find her. Unfortunately, Jack is made out to be an obnoxious dick in the dub, so it's impossible to care much as you follow him around the swamps looking for the missing girl. The two learn that Vicky had moved in with a strange woman named Olivia and disappeared soon after that. Olivia turns out to be a voodoo priestess with a bodybuilder-sized "zombie" sidekick (in no makeup) who runs some slave camp deep within "Voodoo Swamp." Marie and Jack hop in a canoe and decide to see if they can find her, and run across all kinds of horrors, such as deadly animals (rattlesnakes, a tarantula, a crocodile) that never cross into the frame with the actors, a skull on a stick and (gasp!) some guy standing in a field picking cotton, which requires a couple of long shots. It's every bit as exciting as it sounds.

The action, horror and excitement quotient is almost nil, and you'd be hard pressed to find a movie with this much filler. At the beginning there's a brief scene at a titty bar with two brief shots of a stripper wearing silver pasties. And there's a flashback where some woman at a party unenthusiastically dances for a couple of minutes next to a table with two candles and some beer bottles. And there's an underwater wrestling match between Jack and the zombie bodybuilder that ends in Jack - still alive - being picked up and hurtled toward the shore. Marie (who looks an awful lot like BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE star Linda Ormond, and might actually be her) gets wet and has to change clothes, so there's one muddy shot of her in her bra and one from behind as she puts on a new bra (nope, no nudity... hey, this is 1960 something). The last couple of minutes finds time for a decapitation and our "hero" crashing a voodoo ceremony with a machine gun, but it's too little, too late and too badly done. And despite the constant incompetence, there are just a few choice bad movie cheap laughs; my favorites being the dubbed over kid's voice (obviously an adult imitating a child) and during the climactic voodoo ceremony when they apparently couldn't find a drum so they just had one of the black extras beat against the side of a boat.

In short, this is certainly some kind of discovery. How many unreleased, unheard of regional horror films from the 1960s do you see cropping up on DVD these days? Still, it's very easy to see why this never really saw the light of the day until 40 years later. It's ineptly made, obviously no one even bothered to finish it and worse of all, it's incredibly boring from start to finish. I've read on some websites that this was made by the same people behind BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIE/THE DEAD ONE (Mardi Gras Productions Inc. and director Barry Mahon), but have been unable to verify that. Another source (which I'm more apt to believe) states that the film was directed and produced by former strongman, and the founder of Nautilus, Arthur Jones. The guy playing the big zombie henchman is Bill Pearl, a five-time Mr. Universe.

NO STARS!

Black Roses (1988)

Directed by:
John Fasano

A rock group called Black Roses decide to open their tour in a small town and the teens go wild, causing a commotion from parents groups (led by Creature from the Black Lagoon star Julie Adams in her one scene cameo). This time the old folks are right, though, because the band has already sold their souls to the devil and are now on a quest to collect some followers. Teenage head-bangers become amoral minions of Satan, dress in leather, start using lots of hairspray and kill off their parents using supernatural powers. Lead singer Damian (Sal Viviano) has hilarious teased hair, wears shoulder pads with fringe, black gloves and tiger-print bikini briefs over his leather pants and turns into a giant lizard at the end. The hero ends up being the friendly high school English teacher, played by John Martin. There's plenty of bad 80s music, topless scenes and fun special effects (a guy sucked into a speaker, zombie groupies...); making this one of the better and most entertaining entries in this particular sub-genre. It's also notable for coming in a cool VHS box with a puffy 3-D cover that lots of people remember fondly. Vincent Pastore (later of the hit show The Sopranos) has a small but memorable role as a bad dad and Carmine Appice of the group Vanilla Fudge appears in a supporting role as Vinny.

For more of the same see Rocktober Blood (1984), SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK (1987), DEAD GIRLS (1990), Trick or Treat (1986) and ROCK 'N' ROLL NIGHTMARE (1987; which was also made by Fasano and is probably the worst of the lot).

★★1/2

La frusta e il corpo (1963)

...aka: Body and the Whip, The
...aka: Night Is the Phantom
...aka: Son of Satan
...aka: Way and the Body, The
...aka: What!

Directed by:
Mario Bava

Made around the same time as Mario's classic three-part horror anthology Black Sabbath, this deserves the same accolades as his other more famous work. Upon release, Whip was unfairly neglected, hacked up, censored and critically frowned upon for the subject matter (sexual violence). Next to Rabid Dogs (1974), it was also the most difficult of Bava's genre films to acquire in America; I'm not even aware of an accessible home video release until just recently. All but forgotten for decades, but now finally available in a gorgeous restored cut on DVD from Sinister Cinema, Whip is an absolute must see for Bava fans and very highly recommended for aficionados of Gothic horror. It is also a film that demands to be seen by any person interested in film-making as art - in set design, costume design, lighting schemes, color, shadow and music used for the creation of atmosphere and mood. Every single frame is composed with the utmost care and every inch of the screen exhibits such astonishing attention to detail that it almost begs to be watched in slow motion to soak it all in. Bava is a rare cinematic artist; a true visionary who uses celluloid as his palate; painting all the colors of the dark on drab, dank and dreary castle walls and corridors. Even though the story slips into the routine at times, it's still above average; progressive, serious, entertaining and even extremely ballsy for the 1960s in that it dares to romanticize sexual violence and sadomasochism.
.
Christopher Lee (who considers this one of his best films) is perfectly hateful as Kurt Menliff, a cold-eyed sadist who returns home to his family's seaside castle after being banished years earlier. His ailing father (Gustavo De Nardo as "Dean Ardow") calls him a serpent, his brother Christian (Tony Kendall aka Luciano Stella) has since married Kurt's beautiful raven-haired ex-fiancé Nevenka (Daliah Lavi) and the loyal housekeeper Giorgia (Harriet Medin), whose daughter, Tanya, had taken her own life after being seduced and abandoned by Kurt, quietly plots her revenge. Also in the house is a pretty, but plain, young cousin named Katya (Ida Galli as "Isli Oberon"), who is actually in love with Christian and would undoubtedly make a much better mate for him. No one exactly welcomes Kurt home with open arms, so when he's found dead with a dagger driven into his neck (the same fashion Tanya ended her life) it isn't a surprise, though it does create a shroud of suspicion over every person in the castle. Even worse, Kurt seems to have returned from the dead to haunt, terrorize and inflict damage via the lash on poor, emotionally fragile Nevenka.

The most interesting and complex character in the film turns out to be Nevenka herself. Her love-hate relationship with Kurt is unique and memorable. Though Christian is handsome, gentle and devoted to his bride, she obviously has the strongest passion (and love) for the cruel Kurt, who claims the reason he came back to the castle in the first place was that he heard his brother had married his former lover. Kurt's return has nothing to do with guilt over his immoral actions, but everything to do with control over Nevenka. It is made very clear during a beach love scene right before Kurt is murdered that the two do share a deep personal bond and a sexual secret. Right before his death, Nevenka is reminded by her former lover, "You haven't changed... You always loved violence!" before he alternates viciously whipping her with his passionate kisses. And she likes it so much you get the strong feeling that her 'straight' life with Christian was miserable for her. Kurt and Nevenka's love is a love of pain and mutual violence, but also of understanding that their mutual love for the sadism is a hard thing to come by. Their love is forbidden, but it is still distinctly, uniquely theirs... even into the grave.

As he proved in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and other horror films, Lee is more than a tall, towering figure, but one capable of subtly and effectively conveying menace even when given little to no dialogue. He's killed off fairly early here and appears sporadically throughout the film as a silent 'ghost,' but is all the more effective in his elusiveness. Cast-wise, the movie however really belongs to the beautiful Lavi, who was a former Miss Iran. She's excellent in her role and should have gone on to a career similar to that of Black Sunday star Steele, who in many ways she resembles. The entire supporting cast, especially Medin, is very good. Bava's mastery of the medium  is on full and vivid display her. He offers up twisting doorknobs, disembodied voices, creaking floorboards, secret passageways, muddy footprints, hands reaching out at you from the darkness, horse rides along the beach and other Gothic trappings with his exquisite flair for the visual, making this a painfully underrated gem of Euro-shock cinema.

Some notes: * Bava used aliases all around - "John M. Old" for director and "Dick Grey" and "David Hamilton" for his cinematography. * A scene of Lavi moaning in ecstasy as she's being whipped by Lee was so controversial that it was excised from most prints when originally released * It was filmed on location in France * Co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi also wrote The Horrible Dr. Hickcock (1962), Torso (1973) and many other notable Italian horror films from the 60s, 70s and 80s. The DVD comes with a few trailers for Bava films (including the French version of WHIP), four bios, photo and lobby card gallery, soundtrack access and the original U.S. main titles (under the name WHAT).

★★★★

4 mosche di velluto grigio (1972)

...aka: Four Flies on Grey Velvet
...aka: Four Patches of Grey Velvet
...aka: Four Velvet Flies, The
...aka: Quatre mouches de velours gris

Directed by:
Dario Argento

Pretty good giallo from Argento; part of his "animal trilogy" along with THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969) and THE CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971). While not quite as good as Bird, it's at least on par with CAT in my humble opinion. Michael Brandon stars as Roberto Tobias, a young man trying to make end's meet as a drummer for a struggling rock band but ably supported by his emotional wife Nina (Mimsy Farmer), who has collected a healthy inheritance. One night Roberto decides to confront a mysterious man who had been stalking him for a week. He chases the man into an abandoned theater, accidentally stabs him and knocks his body into an orchestra pit. Roberto flees the scene of the crime but someone wearing a cherubic mask is watching him from one of the booths and snaps a few pictures of him committing the crime. Later on, Roberto finds himself being stalked by the blackmailer, who keeps leaving incriminating pictures inside his apartment. The blackmailer is also going around murdering people Roberto knows. What does the psycho want from him? And what gives with all of those strange dreams/premonitions Roberto keeps having that involve a public execution (a beheading to be exact)?

There are plenty of suspects and victims to go around, including an older maid named Maria (Marisa Fabbri) who is secretly in love with Roberto, Nina's sexy relative Dalia (Francine Racette) who comes to stay with them, a couple of nosy neighbors and several guys who hang out near the home (spaghetti western regular Bud Spencer plays one of them, who goes by the name "God"). Roberto hires flamboyant (i.e. flaming) private eye Gianni Arrosio (Jean-Pierre Marielle) to try to get to the bottom of things. Professors at a local university also employ an interesting technique to try to catch the killer that has something to do with catching an imprint on the cornea; the final image seen by one of the victims before dying. In this case it happens to be four flies.

Based on a story by Argento (who scripted), Luigi Cozzi (who also plays a couple of tiny roles here) and Mario Foglietti, this is bit slow going at times but has enough twists and turns to keep giallo fans interested for the most part. As expected, there are lots of stylish sequences, some great camerawork and some interesting camera placements (including one inside a guitar). Most of the performances are decent enough (though a few seem like they'd rather be elsewhere), and the Ennio Morricone score is exceptional (the end theme is especially haunting). Unfortunately, this film is the hardest of Argento's genre pictures to find. It was never released to video here, there isn't a current R1 DVD release (though the film has been in several other countries, including Germany) and the Luminous Film & Video Wurks release that I watched is an ugly washed out print of the film with very bad sound. I may boost the rating a full point if a nicer print is ever released because this is a pretty decent effort overall.

★★1/2

Necrotic, The (1978)

Directed by:
Louis Ferriol

Remember an independent New York-based label called Vidimax who put out a few homemade horror movies in the 1980s? Me neither. This is one of their ultra-cheap direct-to-video releases and it probably didn't manage to make its way to many video stores during its day. A woman goes to a doctor for a throat infection, gets an injection of something and ends up going home and getting sick. Meanwhile, a biker named Howie (Anthony La Russo) encounters a young, blonde female drifter named Alicia (Regina Kelly) out on the street. Howie still lives at home with his parents by court order for dealing drugs and Alicia's just your typical female runaway looking for a place to stay. Famished and fatigued, Alicia passes out at a diner. Thankfully, Dr. Steven Steiner (Rodney Williams), a friendly-seeming recent widower whose wife has only been dead a few months, is there to help out. He takes her back to his clinic so she can get some rest, tells her that Howie just left her there even though he told him to go home and then decides to let the girl come stay in his home with him, despite warnings from his cautious and level-headed sister Deana (Lori Smith).

Dr. Steiner starts treating Alicia like a queen; giving her spending money and taking her out to dinner. While Alicia is out window shopping, she runs across Howie again and the two spend the day frolicking around in a long music montage set to a cheesy love song called "Look at Me Now." Then we learn that a medical examiner is investigating the good doctor. Apparently, many of the patients who showed up at his clinic with only minor injuries ended up dying soon after receiving treatment. So what's Dr. Steiner up to? Well it has something to do with administering shots of curare (poison) instead of Pinicillen and Cortizone and something to do with some strange bedside habits involving a few corpses (including one belonging to his dead wife). At least that's what I made of it.

Technically speaking, this is about as incompetent a production as I've seen. It reminds me a lot of the movies friends and I made in high school. It's flatly photographed, the sets look like porn movie sets, the editing is downright brutal, a few very brief gore insert shots of autopsies seem to have been tacked on at a later date and the end sequence is one of the most sloppy and nonsensical of any I've seen. What's worse is that the sound quality is consistently awful and much of the dialogue is difficult to hear. In fact, there are several scenes where badly inserted music intentionally drowns out the dialogue. One sequence unwisely filmed near a busy road starts with a hard-to-hear dialogue exchange between Alicia and Howie and ends with them standing around moving their lips while a heavy metal song (by some group called Metal Church) is played over top... for like over a minute.

It's kind of fascinating in a cheap movie sort of way and I actually did enjoy some of the scenes and performances. Two things I'm not going to knock are the plot and the actors. While this story is hardly anything new, it did manage to keep my interest for the most part. It's just too bad it failed to bring it all together at the end. The actors ranged from tolerable to awful, but some of them delivered lines like the people in John Waters movies, and I kind of liked that. The actress playing Alicia reminded me a lot of the late Cookie Mueller and the doctor sounded a little like the late David Lochary. The movie is also surprisingly tame, with very little profanity and almost no violence. There is a bare breast seen for about one second and a tiny bit of blood, but these shots seem like they were edited in later and aren't going to fly for the people wanting to see a cheap exploitation horror.

The uncut version of this film runs only 44 minutes, but the version I saw ran just 39, and that's including about five minutes of credits. It claims to have been re-edited and re-mastered in 2007 by a group called Questar Media, but looks just like any other terrible VHS to DVD transfer I've seen.

Nightmare in Wax (1966)

...aka: Crimes in the Wax Museum
...aka: Monster of the Wax Museum

Directed by:
Bud Townsend

Along with his turn in the supa-sleazy 'classic' THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1977), this is considered the ultimate bad Cameron Mitchell horror effort. It's a little too slow-moving for my tastes, has zero likable characters in it and not much action until the very end, but Mitchell's dedicated central psycho performance as vengeance-minded whack-job Vincent Rinard is fun. Not Anthony Perkins good, mind you, but definitely fun enough. As a spoof of the shallow conceit that is Hollywood, it's only so-so; as a horror movie it's also only fair. And even as just a simple vintage exploitation picture, it's just OK. I'm a big fan of the unnecessary gratuitous dance sequence, so I was also thankful for the appearance of the Gazzarri Dancers, who just rule. Five of them do a crazy hair-thrashin', floor-slidin', hip-shaking' go-go dance routine to "Don't Cry, Look For the Rainbow" by the T-Bones. Watching these ladies bounce around with huge smiles on their faces in their fringe-covered bikini top and parachute pants ensemble is a defining reason why I give this a slightly higher rating that usual. And now through the magic of YouTube, you can now watch the Gazzarri girls and the, uh, T-Boners (?) in action!




Former movie make-up man Vincent Rinard ("The best since Lon Chaney!") goes after people at Paragon Studios. A flashback shows how Max Black (Berry Kroeger), a jealous and drunk studio executive, flung wine in Vinnie's face right when he was about to light a smoke. He's engulfed in flames and dives into a pool, but not before scarring up one side of his face and losing an eyeball (not to mention his sanity). Now employed by the "world-famous" Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, California, Vincent uses a special serum (described as a mixture of truth serum, nerve medicine and special "vitamins and minerals"... Watch out Centrum!) to paralyze victims. They disappear and the dense detectives on the case (headed by Scott Brady) act baffled as new 'statues' are put on display in the museum. Vince talks to himself ("I'm a terribly nice man!"), chain-smokes, mumbles, hisses and describes how he gets "excited" by the sound of a woman's scream.

He also has to deal with a bunch of back-stabbing scumbags and self-absorbed witches, most of whom will deserve what's coming to them. There is also Nick (Hollis Morrison), a boozy, inept museum tour guide who sees a 'statue' blink, but doesn't go to the cops. Aside from Max (a real Grade-A jerk... who doesn't even die!) and the stupid cops, the other two lead roles are women and both are pretty atrocious. Marie Morgan (Anne Helm) is not your typical innocent heroine; this tramp has been engaged to no less that five different characters in this movie (!), including Vince, Max and two of the wax dummies/missing male stars (I guess she never had time to make a go at the one missing girl). For some reason, she also begs and pleads in her irritating baby-voice for Vince to give her a 'replica' of the head he's designing of the newest missing actor (and fiancé Number 5) Tony Deen (Phillip Baird). She doesn't know that Vince has already jabbed a syringe in the back of his neck, but I love it when Mitchell dryly agrees with her demands "so you can completely retreat for reality." He also wants her to 'pose' for him, which means she's eventually held prisoner in a box. Unfortunately, the box has a hole where her head sticks through so we have to continue getting aurally assaulted by her high-pitched whines.

The other "woman" is Theresa (Victoria Carroll), one of the aforementioned go-go girls. She's first seen proving she is thoroughly rhythm-deficient by jiggling on stage in a lime-green bikini. Theresa is tolerable before she talks, but when you realize her grating presence combines the abrasiveness of Lorraine Bracco with the airhead mentality of the Landers sisters, you wish Vincent would inject her with the serum as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we're first subjected to a scene of her making endless demands to the studio head honcho and running around in the museum trying to avoid Mitchell. She and the rest of the characters are completely unsympathetic, but function as a way to poke fun at the Hollywood system in general, I guess. And I'm probably giving this movie more credit than it actually deserves. The pluses are few and far between, but (other than Mitchell, the band and the fringe-worthy dance routine) include, colorful, slightly stylized lighting and a bizarre ending that seems to suggest that Rinard will be severely punished for his crimes by spending the rest of his life in his own personal hell... Married to Marie! Yikes, now that is scary.
.
So good it wasn't released until 1969.

Also in the cast are director John "Bud" Cardos (also the production manager) as a police sergeant, James Forrest as a film director, Virgil Frye as a statue, Rini Martin as a dancer and Kent Osborne as a bartender. Many of the people who worked on this one (including executive producer and script-writer Rex Carlton) also worked on the Al Adamson movie BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE and other atrocities.

★★

Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)

...aka Castle of Dracula
...aka Dracula's Castle

Directed by:
Al Adamson

Considered the worst vampire movie ever made by many (nah!), this Al Adamson bomb is nonetheless chock full of laughs and tacky entertainment value. Mr. and Mrs. Dracula (Egyptian born schlock star Alexander D'Arcy and Paula Raymond) disguise themselves as the Count and Countess Townsend and are living it up in Falcon Rock; renting a secluded castle located in the middle of what appears to be a desert (a great place to avoid the sunlight, eh?). The castle comes complete with the usuals... lavish rooms, coffin-filled bedroom chamber, candles, a large dungeon, a pool table (?!) and two faithful employees who have to do all the dirty work as the bloodsucking duo lounge around spouting their insipid dialog. The two servants are a hulking, facially-scarred, hunchback retard named Mango (Ray Young) and a slack-eyed butler named George (John Carradine), who worships the "great God Luna." Mango kidnaps beautiful girls (because, of course, the blood of 'beautiful young women' always tastes the best), takes them to the dungeon and chains them to the wall as a sort-of personal live-in blood bank. George uses a huge syringe to extract blood from victims and serves it up as cocktails to Dracula and wife.

The most recent addition to the harem is Ann (Vicki Volante, a star of many other Adamson movies), who has a bad habit of passing out whenever the going gets tough... a problem that got her dumb ass abducted in the first damn place. She screams her head off when a rat gets within ten feet of her, has a tarantula crawl on her dress and may end up being the chief sacrifice to Carradine's Moon Cult (yes, there is also some kind of black magic mumbo jumbo going on here). There are a few other prisoners as well; two or three other ladies in ripped-up dresses whose expressions never change despite what is going on around them. When one of those ladies is all used up, Mango is given permission to drag her off into a dark corner of the dungeon (hmm... For what, I wonder?) This comfy living situation is threatened when the owner of the castle dies, leaving the place to a favorite nephew (Gene O'Shane), who wants to boot them out and move in there with his fast-track fiancé Liz Arden ("Barbara"/Jennifer Bishop). Liz is a model and aspiring "Universal Magazine" cover girl, who will end up having more problems to deal with than being upstaged in her saggy bikini bottoms by dolphins, seals and a flipper-chewing walrus while at Sea World.
.
And as if that isn't enough... There's this family friend named Johnny Davenport (Robert Dix), who has just bought his way out of prison. Get this... A guard accepts five thousand dollars to let Johnny out. But to make it look more convincing, the guard actually turns around and allows this convicted mass murderer to knock him unconscious! So, not surprisingly, instead of just laying him out, Johnny just beats the guy to death before taking off! Before making it to the castle, Johnny has a fun-filled day of murder and mayhem. He's chased by a posse with dogs, drowns a woman in a polka-dot bikini under a waterfall, bashes an old man over the head with a rock, shoots a hitchhiker in the face with a rifle and wrecks a stolen car over a cliff. There is mention of Johnny being a werewolf, but there are no make-up effects to convey it.

When Liz and Glen arrive at the castle, they sleep in separate bedrooms. And when she hears one of the women downstairs screaming, he comforts her by saying "I think it's probably someone using an electric tooth brush that just got short circuited." (??) After an encounter with Mango, the two find themselves prisoners in the dungeon as well, but they manage to escape after being forced to perform in a black magic ceremony. During a struggle with Johnny over the gun, Glen aims the gun way off target, but ends up pulling the trigger and shooting Johnny in the stomach. Carradine falls down a flight of stairs and attacks with a whip. Will Liz, Glen and the imprisoned lovelies escape with their lives? Does this entire film seem like an odd extended dirty metaphor for the joys of S&M? Also in the cast are future director John "Bud" Cardos (who was also the production manager) and Ken/Kenny/Kent Osborne (who also did the make-up). It was shot by "Leslie" (Lazslo) Kovacs, who also worked with Ray Dennis Steckler before becoming a respected Hollywood cinematographer, so you know this movie looks pretty good. Gil Bernal performs the non-hit single "The Next Train Out." I've seen the production year on this film frequently listed as 1967, but according to the original credits it is 1969.

So yeah, not the "worst vampire movie ever made..." Bad, but pretty fun schlock.

★1/2

Daai se wong (1988)

...aka: Terror Serpent
...aka: Thunder of Gigantic Serpent

Directed by:
Godfrey Ho

At a heavily-guarded military lab, scientists are working on a top secret experiment called The Thunder Project, which can make animals or plants grow up to 1000 times in size. There's a lot of talk about a special "formula" being utilized but it's really just a little glass box that shoots electricity into whatever is inside and makes it grow. After making a frog quadruple in size, the lab is attacked by a group of armed terrorists who want to get their hands on the formula. Most are shot dead, but one lady scientist manages to escape. During a car chase she throws the box out into the brush and fakes her own death by jumping out right before sending her car over a cliff. She ends up in a hospital, the terrorists continue searching for the box, the military and local police get involved and an American mercenary named Ted Fast (Pierre Kirby) tries to hunt down and kill the man responsible for things getting out of hand in the first place.

Meanwhile, a pudgy and extremely whiny little girl named Ting Ting is trying to keep her pet snake Mozlar hidden from her serpent-fearin' momma. Mozlar is no normal snake, though; it nods and shakes it head to answer "yes" or "no" when Ting Ting asks it questions! Ting Ting eventually finds the glass box outside on her back porch and decides that's the perfect home for her pet. She puts the snake inside, flips a switch (thinking it's a light), electricity shoots out and next thing she knows her pet is so big she has to keep it outside in a large storage building. Mozlar helps her defeat bullies in a game, plays ball and hide-and-go-seek with her and saves her life when she's trapped in a burning building. Eventually the terrorists show up and set a trap for the snake. It's electrocuted again and grows to a huge monstrous Godzilla size. Ting Ting is kidnapped by the lead terrorist and Mozlar goes on a rampage trying to save her. It knocks over a bridge, derails a train, busts a dam and eventually enters a large city and reduces skyscrapers into piles of rubble, while fending off tank and fighter pilot attacks sent out by the military.

If you've seen a giant monster movie from Asia before you pretty much know what to expect here. Horrible dubbing. Check. Hokey fx. Check. Stock footage. Check. Crowds of screaming people running through stairwells and city streets. Check. "Moral of the story" lines slipped in at the end. Check. The snake special effects, a combination of medium and large model snakes and miniature city model mock-ups may be a bit cheesy, but they still look better than the majority of crappy CGI effects utilized nowadays. This one doesn't have quite enough snake rampage action for my tastes (too much time is spent on various shoot-outs and karate fights) and you'll want to strangle the little girl by the end of the movie, but it's still watchable for fans of silly Asian monster movies.

As per his usual, Ho used his cut-and-paste method for this one. Much of the footage - including all of the stuff with the little girl and the monster snake - comes from a 1984 Taiwanese film called Da she wang ("King of Snakes") directed by Yu-lung Hsu.

★★

Walls Have Eyes, The (1969)

Directed by:
Gene Martyn

This 55-minute "skin noir" masterwork - also available in a shortened 28-minute version - features legendary muscle-head Steve Hawkes of BLOOD FREAK (1971) fame in his triumphant feature debut full of chills, thrills, spills, canned music, trend-setting landing strip hair-dos, bad post sync dialogue and continuity errors. Before playing Herschel the pot-addicted turkey monster or 'Zan of the Jungle, Steve played brutish boxer Jack Owens. First seen laying into a punching bag and beating up four punks in an alleyway, Jack is so brutish that even our friendly narrator predicts he'll be the hero about thirty seconds into the film. He's just that kind of guy. Professional stripper Jody Baby also puts in an award-worthy performance as Connie Martin, a wealthy nympho who becomes so distracted shooting up dope and massaging her breasts in front of a two-way mirror she doesn't even notice the pervert motel manager (Bill Henry) standing behind it photographing her! Through a magical technique never before seen on screen, the manager is able to stand in just one location yet get footage both in front of and behind Connie, as well as close-ups and high camera angles looking down upon her as she thrashes around on bed licking her lips. During the heart-stopping climax the ruthless manager lures nubile young Connie back to the hotel to show her his footage of her motel romp. She's aghast when she discovers she was photographed without her knowledge. I mean, the lighting conditions are totally unflattering and it was so dark she had no idea she just screwed the love child of Sylvester Stallone and Elvis Presley. And now the guy wants five thousand dollars? The horror! Can Jack get there in time to beat some sense into the blackmailing creep? I guess you'll just have to watch to find out.

NO STARS!

Demon of Paradise (1987)

Directed by:
Cirio H. Santiago (R.I.P.!)

In Kihono, Hawaii, some scaly, clawed hands emerge from the waters and start shaking the boat of a bunch of dynamite fisherman, causing one of the guys to drop a stick of lit dynamite that blows up the boat. Those scaly hands naturally belong to a silly-looking man-in-a-rubber-suit creature that starts causing the usual problems in and around a tropical resort. Well, it's supposed to be a tropical resort, but they must have been filming during the off season because the scenery isn't even all that great in this one. Don't expect to see bikini-clad babes frolicking in the waves, long sandy beaches stretching for miles or sunlight glistening off of crystal blue water. Here, the clouds are dark, the sky is overcast and the water is murky and muddy. Now while the "filming locations" section over at IMDb claims this movie WAS actually shot in Hawaii, I have my doubts. Not only is it a Filipino/US co-production, but the director is from the Philippines and normally films his movies over there, so I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this one was filmed there, too. The native vegetation, the waterways, the buildings and much of the supporting cast certainly don't look Hawaiian to me, though I could be mistaken.

Superstitious local villagers do a hilarious ceremonial hula/fire dance, chant and throw leis into the ocean to try to appease the beast, but it kills their tribal leader anyway, so they begin to flee the area. Not so easily scared off is herpetologist Annie Essex (Kathryn Witt), who is on the island researching "the legend of the Akua." She teams up with skeptical new-sheriff-in-town Keefer (William Steis) to investigate. There's a bare minimum of character development between these two; she's ambitious and wants to discover a new species, while he is a widower who has come to the area to escape "the psychotic bulls**t" he encountered at his previous job in Reno. There's also a half-baked romance that starts to develop between them, but it's not really followed through with. Also sticking around are pushy, bearded, unbelievably obnoxious news reporter Ike (played by screenwriter Frederick Bailey), drug-addicted skin mag model Gobby (Lesley Huntly), British photographer Ted (Paul Holmes) and a slew of criminals who specialize in making illegal explosives. Also there is Ms. Cahill (Laura Banks), bitchy owner of the Paradise Resort, who uses the legend of the sea beast to bring in more tourists, against the wishes of the sheriff and lady scientist. The actors (who are mediocre, but not too bad) get to hurl around lame insults such as "You incompetent slouch!" and "Take a hike spaz ass!" The rest of the dialogue, as well as the plot, characters and horror/action scenes, are hopelessly clichéd and fail to save this from becoming a complete bore.

As far as the monster is concerned, it's a standard issue rubber suit with some seaweed glued on it, and we barely get to see much of until the very end. The doctor refers to it as a "carniverous lizard man of the Triassic age" and says it's a nocturnal eater and light sensitive, which doesn't really explain why the first two attacks take place in broad daylight. The creature does manage to cause around half a dozen explosions in the film, though. It even manages to make a little water front dynamite factory blow up. The National Guard are finally called in and show their professionalism by igniting sticks of dynamite with a lit cigarette to hurl down at the beast from a helicopter above. From a stationary position in the water, the beast manages to leap upward about fifteen feet, grabs the copter and pulls it down into the water. The almost entirely submerged aircraft then manages to explode. So much for realism...

There's also a monster egg hunt at the resort (don't ask), a police shoot out, one topless scene (from Ms. Huntly during a topless photo shoot) and overuse of a fog machine during all of the night scenes. The violence is very mild, most of the kills take place off screen and the gore is minimal. Not much else to say about this one, other than you've probably seen it all before. There are both better and worse films out there with nearly the same exact plot line, which doesn't make this any less monotonous to sit through for anyone who has ever seen a monster movie before.

1/2

Tormented (1960)

... aka: Eye of the Dead
... aka: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Top-Heavy Torch Singer Scorned (ok, that's just a joke)
... aka: Tormented by the She-Ghost of Haunted Island (wow, this one is actually real!)

Directed by:
Bert I. Gordon

Director Bert I. Gordon was a man obviously fascinated by size. He made quite a few movies featuring enlarged people, bugs and animals that wreak havoc on us puny humans. These giant movies contained everything from 60ft. plutonium-exposed army colonels (The Amazing Colossal Man) to giant arachnids (Earth vs. the Spider) to giant, super-intelligent ants (Empire of the Ants) to giant hot-blooded teenagers (Village of the Giants). If that wasn't enough, he also gave us miniaturized people with his 1958 effort ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE. Though best known for the type of movies listed above (which earned him the nickname "Mr. B.I.G."), Gordon also seemed interested in plot-lines which dealt with the supernatural; witchcraft, ghosts, possessions, etc. And that brings us to this 1960 effort, which is surprisingly not bad at all despite being saddled with a tiny budget. It benefits from a lively, incident packed screenplay (based on a story by the director) written by George Worthing Yates, who had helped write several notable classic sci-fi/horror flicks, such as Them! (1954), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), among others.

Jazz pianist Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson) is engaged to wholesome and well-bred Meg Hubbard (Lugene Sanders), but first has to call things off with his other lady friend, busty blonde sexpot Vi Mason (Juli Reding). Late one night, Tom meets Vi at a lighthouse where he comes clean about his affections for Meg and tells her he's no longer interested carrying on an affair with her, but Vi doesn't like to take no for answer. When her attempts at seducing him fail, she threatens to blackmail him with an incriminating letter. Unfortunately for Vi, she doesn't get to do much else when the railing on the upstairs balcony breaks loose and she takes a tumble down into the sea below. The next morning, Tom finds Vi's dead body floating in the water. He retrieves it and drags it to shore, where it does an odd time-lapse change into a pile of seaweed. Tom thinks he's just seeing things and decides to hide all evidence and go about his business as if he'd never even known Vi. And that's when a bunch of strange and unusual things begin happening... The smell of perfume fills the air... An extra set of footsteps follow him and Meg down the beach... One of Vi's records ("Tormented") plays by itself... The lighthouse (right down the beach from Tom's home) shines its light seemingly by itself...

Vi - in nagging ghost form - feels like she was done wrong (Tom could have actually saved her but chose not to), warns "No one will have you but me!" and goes out of her way to destroy Tom's upcoming wedding, which is just one week away. As family members start coming to the island to help get things set up, Vi's restless spirit returns to spoil all the fun. She swipes Meg's wedding ring, ruins Meg's wedding dress by covering it with seaweed and starts driving Tom bonkers by showing up at the most inopportune times, including in a photograph. Bert's own little daughter, Susan Gordon, has a major role and does a fine job as Meg's inquisitive 8-year-old kid sister Sandy, who loves Tom but inadvertently uncovers some dirt on him. Lillian Adams also does a respectable job in a supporting role as a blind real estate agent. To add extra complication to the story, a seedy shuttle boat driver (Joe Turkel) finds out about Tom's affair and Vi's disappearance and then tries to blackmail the groom into giving him five thousand dollars.

The film starts out with some voice-over narration, so we get to hear Tom's inner thoughts, but that approach is curiously dropped early in the film. Thankfully, the performances are all pretty decent (Reding is particularly fun), and some of the special effects (devised by Gordon and his wife, Flora M. Gordon) are amusing and entertaining. Best of all is a memorable and hilarious scene where Vi's disembodied head pops up on a coffee table screaming "Tom Stewart killed me!" over and over again. Unlike many low-budget films from this time period, this one never seems to drag. There's always something interesting going on and the pace is pretty brisk. The beach locations along Catalina aren't bad to look at either, though the cinematography isn't exactly inspired. All in all, it was much better than I expected.

★★1/2

Hell Spa (1992) [filmed in 1990]

Directed by:
Mike Bowler

I went into this expecting to laugh my ass off at a cheap, tacky, shot-on-video slasher flick set in or around a health club / spa. It even comes in a laughable video box that looks like it was designed by an eight-year-old, with poorly stenciled, blood-dripping lettering for "Hell" followed by an equally childish looking drawing of a barbell reading "Spa" right below. Hey, that's the mark of Raedon quality for ya. Instead, what I got was something much more serious-minded and ambitious than that. Not that this film is perfect. Far from it. It's very limited in its budget and tries to accomplish too much with too little. However, I ultimately ended up sort of liking this one because you can tell that both the filmmakers and the actors took it seriously and actually tried their best. I can see pinches of both David Cronenberg and Larry Cohen in the plot at times. Not that the end results even come close to the films of either of those two directors, but I still appreciate the effort.

A middle-aged woman is pursued by a shadowy figure who warns "You can never leave us" before killing her. On a primitive computer screen we then learn that the woman is part of some kind of strange organization whose members face dire consequences if they try to quit. The computer also spits out the names of the victim's daughters; Maggie and Marcia, a couple of college students who must also be "terminated" to eliminate any kind of incriminating evidence. We soon find out that the murderer - a tall, good-looking, pale-faced man dressed in black pants, a black top hat, black gloves and a black trench coat - is named Mr. Ex. Mr. Ex has been busy funneling money into failing local businesses, which miraculously seem to improve once he becomes involved. The owners of the dying businesses also seem to suddenly become much healthier and younger looking as a result... Who or what is Mr. Ex? Is he a vampire? An alien? A demon? A ghost? An ageless puppet master? Satan himself? It's hard to tell, but the fact the movie keeps that character completely ambiguous actually works in its favor.

Ex's next target is a small health club that's about to be shut down. Distraught, club owner Rona Benson (Deirdre West) takes up Ex's offer to loan her money to fix her place up so she can compete with a larger gym in the area. Soon enough, people are flocking to her establishment to try out a guaranteed weight loss program called "Plan Ex," which promises to make you lose weight or you don't have to pay. Sounds too good to be true... and it is. Meanwhile at a local print shop, struggling newspaper editor/reporter Catherine Clark (Lisa Bawdon) gets thrust into the middle of things when her friends, the aforementioned Maggie and Marcia, disappear. She and two of her co-workers; plucky, pudgy reporter Doyle Shakespeare (Leonna Small) and musclebound computer expert Ken Brock (Raymond Storti), as well as print shop owner Roque Jarvis (Augie Blunt), end up getting involved. When Doyle and Ken turn up missing, and several people who tried to help her turn up dead, Cathy decides to break into Mr. Ex's corporate headquarters to get to the bottom of things.

Even though I didn't expect this film to even have a plot, it did. And even more surprisingly, the plot managed to keep my attention for the most part. I felt that the lead actors did a surprisingly good job, and the characters they played were relatively appealing. Lead actress Bawdon was decent enough, and West and Small were both great. "Ron Waldron" is credited as playing Mr. X. "Waldron" is actually an actor by the name of Tim Abell, who I recognize from many Fred Olen Ray movies. He does a pretty effective job as well. The movie also has some fun, clever touches, such as a commercial for the new and improved health club that's constantly playing on TV's.

Some parts don't really work, though. Cathy tries to get help from the authorities, but the detective doesn't believe her and seems too busy trying to cut an apple using a medieval axe (?!) The next time she pops in, there's plastic covering the floor. He says his office is going to be re-painted, but I instantly knew the filmmakers didn't want get blood on the carpet of probably "borrowed" space for an upcoming death scene. Hilarious! There's also some goofy dialogue at times. One girl claims she's on the "San Francisco Diet," which is "all fruit." Har har har. And who could forget the infamous line "There's something out there... and it took my beans!" The film is also a little too long; clocking in just ten minutes short of the two hour mark, and I'm sure some people out there will find it too talky and not exploitative enough. There's only a tiny bit of T&A during a brief shower scene, and not much gore either; though one poor guy gets his finger hacked off with an electric carving knife just for eating a candy bar at one point!

Written by Dennis Devine (who made the above average slasher DEAD GIRLS around this same time), this saw a second release in 2000 under the title Club Dead, which supposedly has new footage added to it. And now I just need to watch Aerobicide... and then Death Spa... Maybe throw in some Dance of Die... Don't you just love the 80s?

★★

To Kill a Stranger (1982)

...aka: Kidnapped
...aka: Matar a un extraño
...aka: Secuestrada
...aka: Trampa nocturna

Directed by:
Juan López Moctezuma

This entertaining Mexican/U.S. production seems to have a slight identity crisis, but has enough horror touches in the first half to be considered a genre picture. Singing star Cristina Carver (Angelica Maria, who performs one song) is on her way to see her husband John (Dean Stockwell) when she wrecks her rented BMW. She walks to a gas station, gets a lift from wealthy Colonel Kostik (Donald Pleasence, who really steals the show her with a creepy/sleazy characterization) and goes back to his large house to use his phone. He turns out to be a psychotic sex predator who lies about having a wife, tries to rape and strangle her and then chases her around in his front yard with a shotgun. After hitting him over the head several times and shooting him, he finally dies, she panics, throws the body in a well and buries the evidence, scared his stature and reputation as a respected war hero will kill her chances at a fair trial. She's right, of course. Though a bit far fetched, this thriller (which was filmed in 1982 but not released in the US until 1985) is making a serious statement about police and military corruption in South American countries and of the poor legal rights given to international tourists abroad.

Other than Pleasence and Stockwell, people may be interested in seeing Aldo Ray in a minor role as a police inspector and Playboy cartoonist Sergio Aragonés (who was very badly dubbed) as a military officer. American director Paul Leder (of I DISMEMBER MAMA fame) was the post production supervisor and the director himself pops up in a small supporting role. Director Moctezuma is best known for his atmospheric Satanism flick ALUCARDA (1975); several of that film's cast members (Martin Lassalle, Susanna Kamini) show up in minor roles here, as does the director himself.

★★1/2

Unseen, The (1981)

Directed by:
Peter Foleg

Three women from a television station show up in a small California town to cover a parade and can't find a hotel vacancy. A weird museum curator (Sydney Lassick, in one of his rare lead roles) offers up his secluded home to the girls, who agree. I wouldn't! You should see the way he acts! They arrive and meet Lassick's manic-depressive wife (Lelia Goldoni), who's actually his sister (!?), then two leave so the third can take a nude bath and get pulled down into the cellar by someone... or something. When the camerawoman returns, she's killed too, so Jennifer the reporter (Barbara Bach) finds herself facing off against "The Unseen" all by herself. Turns out "The Unseen" is actually "Junior," (Stephen Furst), the deformed, fat, filthy, full-grown "baby" son in a diaper (the result of incest, naturally) they keep locked up in the basement. The director doesn't really take the perverted story aspects far enough to make this good sick fun. The result is an unscary, boring, slow and generally stupid movie that's still somewhat watchable. Craig Reardon did the slight make-up and a real chicken is beheaded.

1/2

Thirteenth Reunion, The (1980) (TV)

Directed by:
Peter Sasdy

I've decided to include all thirteen episodes from the short-lived TV series "Hammer House of Horror" on this website. There are two reasons for this: 1.) Each episode runs 50 minutes and is in essence a feature (short films technically clock in at less than 45 minutes). 2.) More importantly, in the mid-1980s each episode was released separately on video by the ThrillerVideo label and was further padded with commentary from horror hostess Elvira. Since these were very well distributed titles, and in keeping with the video-store feel of the website, I felt it important to keep these titles in the database and review them all individually.

The second aired episode of the series is a winning combination of black comedy, social satire and horror. Dowdy reporter Ruth (Julia Foster) is sick of working on stories about furniture and fashion for the women's page of a publication, so her editor (Dinah Sheridan) sets her up to go undercover at a weight loss facility after some complaints. On her first day there, Ruth discovers the unorthodox techniques to get people to lose weight include degradation, humiliation and completely breaking down the person's self esteem. She also meets a guy there who strikes her fancy. Too bad he's dead the very next after a car "accident." Ruth begins getting suspicious and, with help from an equally suspicious mortician (Gerard Kelly) who has noticed some strange behavior from those at the clinic, begins investigating. What they discover is best left obscure by me, but let's just say it includes grave robbing and a reunion of people at a mansion who all managed to survive a plane crash.

Well written by Jeremy Burnham, this has several good twists, some insightful dialogue, funny jabs at silly societal trends, black comic moments, a gradual building of suspense and a fairly surprising ending (though the very last scene could have used a bit more oomph). Foster is terrific in the lead role and there are effective turns from Richard Pearson as the owner of the clinic, James Cosmo as an obnoxious fitness guru and pretty much the rest of the entire cast.

★★★

La muerte viviente (1971) [filmed in 1968]

...aka: Cult of the Dead
...aka: Isla de los muertos
...aka: Isle of the Living Dead
...aka: Isle of the Snake People
...aka: Living Dead, The
...aka: Snake People, The

Directed by:
Jack Hill
Juan Ibáñez

Echoing narration informs us about the "diabolical" new threat of voodoo on the island of "Korbai" near Haiti and a laughing, sneering dwarf in sunglasses cuts the head off a (real) chicken. Then Anabella (played by Julissa), a member of the International Anti-Saloon League informs some soldiers that, "Modern science has proven that alcohol is responsible for 99.2% of all the worlds sins!" She arrives on the island with others to visit her uncle Carl von Molder (Boris Karloff, or his masked double). Meanwhile, blue-faced zombies are overrunning the island. Voodoo cultists kill soldiers with a blowgun, strangulation and machete and regularly resurrect the dead with the help of the dwarf (who whips them). Rabid zombie women eat a man and one soldier adopts one as his girlfriend to scratch his back and fan him. ("Imagine a beautiful woman that can't talk. Every man's dream!") The niece has an extremely bizarre dream of her evil double suggestively sucking on a (real, live) snake before kissing her (?)

Little of this movie makes sense and the ending stinks, but it has some weird, senseless stuff to recommend. Lots of Mexi-horror regulars in this one - Carlos East, Rafael Bertrand, Tongolele, Quintín Bulnes and Santanón as the dwarf. It's one of four much-hated movies Karloff did in 1968 before his death, constituting his final film work. The other three were La camara del terror (aka THE FEAR CHAMBER or Torture Zone), Invasion Siniestra (aka The Sinister Invasion or Alien Terror) and Macabre Serenade (aka House of Evil or DANCE OF DEATH).

1/2

Slime City (1988)

Directed by:
Greg Lamberson

In New York City, college art student Alex (Robert C. Sabin - I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE) decides it's time to live on his own and stumbles upon an ideal apartment that almost seems too good to be true. The landlord seems kind of quirky but she sure is friendly, it's well located, it's spacious, it's affordable and he no longer has to deal with his obnoxious and immature friends, such as Jerry (T.J. Merrick), on a daily basis. Hell, he's so pleased with his new digs that he's even considering letting his blonde girlfriend Lori (Mary Huner) move in one day, despite the fact she doesn't put out (she's a virgin). Soon after Alex gets settled in, he learns the place has a sordid history and finds himself caught up in some Troma-style mutation shenanigans. Well, Troma-style minus the fart humor and with an even lower budget, even worse acting and even cruder special effects. To make a short story shorter, the three-story apartment house used to be home to a supposedly dead Satanist/alchemist named Zachary and his small but loyal coven of followers, whose experiments centered around bodily mutations as well as body snatching. Zachary has found that the best way to eternal life it by transferring souls of the elderly and aged into younger, healthier bodies. Somehow he's able to accomplish this by tricking people into eating some slimy, runny pea green food substance, as well as drinking different colored "wines" that are kept stored down in the basement. New tenant Alex is, of course, the next on their list for bodily takeover.

Everyone else who lives in the building are in on the scheme. Other than the landlord (Bunny Levine), there's an elderly, seemingly senile old lady (Jane Doniger Reibel), an intense, punk/junkie look guy (Dennis Embry) and a sexy female dominatrix (also played by Huner, wearing a long black wig and miniskirts). Side note: I have to give Huner credit for the dual role because I had no clue she played both parts until I saw the credits. Anyway... Once Alex ingests a few spoonfuls of the slime-food (called "Himalayan yogurt") and drinks some of the wine (referred to as "elixir"), he starts temporarily transforming into a yellow-faced murderous mutant with a huge, fanged mouth growing inside his stomach (when one punk punches him in the gut it bites his hand off). Victims include a black gang member, a homeless man and an Asian hooker. After Alex goes out and kills, he returns home, goes to sleep and then wakes up, not remembering what had happened the previous day. A detective (Dick Biel - SPLATTER UNIVERSITY) is on the case. The more of the stuff Alex eats, the more out-of-control he becomes. Things end in a "gore-fest" dismemberment finale where Alex and Lori face off. It features multiple limbs hacked off, some minor air bladder facial effects, link sausage and lasagna noodle looking innards, a decapitation, a head splitting open and a crawling brain. The effects are OK for the budget range, I suppose.

Now I actually somewhat enjoyed the first 30 minutes or so of this movie. Sure it's badly made and stupid and horribly acted by most of the principals, but it had that same sort of quirky/seedy low-budget independent feel that Frank Henenlotter's BASKET CASE and Troma's THE TOXIC AVENGER (which this obviously copied) possess. Some of the dialogue was even pretty amusing, if unnatural sounding, at times. Unfortunately, once the story and characters were fully established, the film seemed to stall and became a little too repetitive and monotonous. Certain subplots (such as Lori visiting a psychic, and Alex visiting Lori's parents) didn't add much to the overall film other than slowing it down and introducing a few new horrible non-actors who can't handle the little dialogue given to them. It's all watchable I suppose, but my interest started waning around the midway point and the film never managed to reel me back in. Perhaps the people behind this ran out of time and/or money? The budget was only $50,000, the run time is around 80 minutes and it has been released on DVD recently from EI Independent Cinema, along with a short documentary featurette and another feature by director Greg Lamberson called NAKED FEAR, which has many of the same actors as this film.

★★

Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie (1984)

Directed by:
Myron C. Gold

I literally cringe at the thought of ever stumbling across something as bad as this in the future. To make it worse, the damn thing goes on forever. Over TWO HOURS of horrendous, non-amusing gags, merciless mugging, serious overacting, stupid dialogue, multiple senseless flashbacks (not that the main plot-line makes much sense), 'comic' sound effects, toilet humor, cartoonish dubbing (on the Mexican extras) and various scenes that seem like rejected outtakes from YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. It might also be noted that this shot-in-Mexico cheapie was of mammoth mini-series length (!!) at one point and the version I saw is actually the condensed version of the story! No way in hell am I ever going to punish myself by trying to seek out the full-length version. There's a period setting, costumes, cars, etc., but the time frame is never revealed other than a title card that says "100 Years Later." Donald Pleasence has (possibly) the worst role of his entire career; even worse than his noxious Roman emperor Claudius in WARRIOR QUEEN (1985). He's Baron Victor Frankenstein, who shows up in the small Transylvanian village of "Mucklefugger," along with his "190-year-old" feminist "aunt" Fraulein Matilda "Tillie" Frankenstein (Yvonne Furneaux) and mega-busted, mega-stupid blonde wife Randy (played by over-the-hill former sex-pot June Wilkinson). The three inadvertently stir up a variety of problems for the townspeople, who have been free of the antics of the Frankenstein family for over a hundred years. Tillie saves the "Cradle of Compassion" orphanage and holds "ERA" rallies where the women protest for equal rights by holding up signs that say "No Vote, No Whoopee!" They spray seltzer water on cops, demand a woman get a place on municipal counsel and wear "bloomers" to piss the guys off. Tillie and co. must also come up with money to pay back taxes on the castle before it is repossessed and discovers a Frankenstein monster in the basement, that is brought back to life for more lame gags. The creature is big, blue, has bangs, wears suspenders and has very little to do in this movie.

Pleasence, acting drunk and/or senile throughout, mumbles through most of his dialogue. During one scene, he is seen running around in a dress, lipstick, a frilly hat and an apron, sniffing shoes and playing the flute to calm down the monster. Not a pretty sight. Poor Donald. Poor Furneax, too. She gave excellent performances in two genre classics: playing one of Hammer Studios' all-time finest heroines in THE MUMMY (1959) and then Catherine Deneuve's self-absorbed sister in Polanski's REPULSION (1965), before being reduced to garbage like this. Wilkinson has always been a low-grade schlock regular whose massive mammaries do the acting for her. She almost does a nude scene after a bubble bath, has multiple scenes in bed with Pleasence and always wears clothes so tight they can barely contain the "twins." The other two notable guest stars here are Aldo Ray (playing it completely straight) as Burgomeister Niederhangen and Zsa Zsa Gabor (!) as Clara, Victor's first wife. Gabor must have had a larger role in the unedited version, because here she is seen for a few seconds in a silent flashback lying in bed with Pleasence, which is an effortlessly campy sight if there ever was one.

There's also an incredibly mind-bogglingly bad gag poking fun at the original FRANKENSTEIN (1931). When the monster (Miguel Angel Fuentes) approaches a little girl named Maria by a pond playing with a flower, you almost expect him to pick her up and throw her in. Instead, the little girl says "Want to play with me? On second thought, you're too old for me. Why don't you play with my sisters over there? Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey, Happy, Horny and Doc." (??) The 'sisters' then do a frantic dance in Capri pants, disappear and reappear in long flowing white gowns doing ballet (???) Another example of the general level of comedy in this mess is a sign hanging on the castle gate saying "Beware of low flying bats." Another oh-so-unfunny moment has two guys trying to spy on the Frankenstein family using binoculars. One says "I can't see a damn thing," so his buddy removes the lens covers for him. I'll just stop right here.

NO STARS!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...