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.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

Directed by:
Frank Agrama

Treasure or not, it's never a good idea to hang around newly discovered Egyptian tombs, and as Dawn of the Mummy goes to prove, it's also never a good idea to relegate most of your gory action to the last 15 minutes. Granted you can hang in there past the more boring passages, this does have some decent moments here and there. After a brief prologue set in "3000 B.C.," three modern day New York fashion models and a small photography crew (a couple of guys and a female make-up artist) head to Egypt to do a shoot. Deciding to try for something new since shooting at the pyramids and sphinx has been done to death, they take their jeeps deep into the desert to snoop around and see what else they can come up with. Lucky for them, a previously undiscovered tomb has just been discovered by some excavators looting the place. It's complete with hieroglyphic covered walls, lavish crypts, catacombs, secret passageways, statues, torches, pots, sarcophagi and even a musty old mummy laid out on a stone tomb. Perfect! Disregarding a freshly decapitated head they found nearby earlier in the day, the crew decide to pitch their tents, hang out and do the photo shoot there. A horse is found gutted, some acidic gunk burns a woman's hand, a guy pops up with half his face ripped off and a crazy old woman is lurking around screeching warnings of impending doom if they stay. And that's all during their first full day there! The women all want to leave, but the guy in charge of the trip (magazine head honcho and photographer) demand they stay to finish. You see where this is going, don't you?

A very tall, skinny, imposing, acidic (?!) and oily looking mummy (the make-up design is actually excellent) comes to life and resurrects his legion of zombie followers, who rise from the sand to help their good old buddy kill everyone off who has desecrated the tomb. Well, not just them it turns out, but basically anyone in the general area. A throat is ripped out, a body is pulled into the sand, a head is split in two with a butcher knife, people are dismembered, have their guts ripped out and eaten and have their eyeballs poked out. Much of this happens at the very end of the film, when the mummy and zombies crash a wedding being thrown in a nearby town's city square. It's an awkwardly directed / edited sequence but it's lively enough and even ends in an explosion.

The dialogue is awful, the acting is average at best (most overdo it a little bit, but it could have been worse) and the print quality of the DVD I watched was pretty dark and murky. However, the tomb sets are good, there's plenty of gore and even one terrific jump-out-of-your-seat moment almost identical to a famous scene from The Evil Dead.

★★

Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)

...aka: Blood Freaks
...aka: Blood of Frankenstein
...aka: Blood Seekers, The
...aka: Revenge of Dracula, The
...aka: Satan's Bloody Freaks
...aka: Teenage Dracula

Directed by:
Al Adamson

THE BLOOD SEEKERS was Al Adamson's unfinished gore epic (well... actually it started life as a biker flick, but that's a long story...) filmed in 1969. He decided to shoot framing scenes adding the whole Dracula/ Frankenstein angle in 1971, and the whole package goes as follows... Mad Dr. Frankenstein (J. Carroll Naish) is busy at work reconstructing dead bodies while retarded manservant Groton (Lon Chaney, Jr.) spends most of the time whimpering and petting a puppy. When the doctor injects Groton with a special serum it transforms him into a lurking, laughing, sweating, beach-bunny-decapitating, axe murderer. The cops are already after them, but even more troubles arise when the echo-voiced Count Dracula (Zandor Vorkov) arrives and blackmails the mad doc into resurrecting the Frankenstein monster and giving him the blood of his victims! Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, a lounge singer (Regina Carroll) performs a lounge act called "She Travels Light." They try to make it look like it's a big production number by filming it in a large auditorium, but we only see an audience of about four people. Miss Carrol gets news of her sister's disappearance and heads off to Venice Beach looking for answers. She goes to a club, is slipped LSD in her coffee, has a substandard 70s trip out scene, then teams up with three hippies (led by Anthony Eisley) to find out what's going on.

Possibly Adamson's most famous film, and even though it's cheap, silly, trashy and completely nonsensical, there's enough going on here (and an interesting enough cast) to qualify it as a must see to die-hard horror fans. The cast is just overloaded with familiar faces. Aside from those already mentioned, Russ Tamblyn, Jim Davis, Forrest J. Ackerman (who plays a victim and also credited as the "technical advisor"), Angelo Rossitto, Gary Kent (also the assistant director and one of the make-up fx artists) and other swell folks appear. Future director Greydon Clark (of SATAN'S CHERRLEADERS fame) also has a small role, as does cinematographer Gary Graver, who also shot this one. The executive producer was Mardi Rustam, who also produced PSYCHIC KILLER (1975) and Hooper's EATEN ALIVE (1977). If none of these names are ringing a bell or if you're just not interested, then chances are you aren't going to be very amused by what you see here.

Not to be confused with 1969's Waldemar Daninsky opus LOS MONSTRUOS DEL TERROR (aka ASSIGNMENT TERROR aka DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN) or Jess Franco's goofy DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (1972 aka SCREAMING DEAD aka DRACULA VS. DR. FRANKENSTEIN). Another side note - Some nudity and violence seem to have been removed so it could pass with a PG rating.

★★

Death Faces (1988)

...aka: Beyond Reality
...aka: Death Faces IV
...aka: Dying: Last Seconds of Life

Directed by:
Victoria Bloodhart

Time for more gross-out "thrills." Well, not exactly... Someone at a party I was at eventually had to pop this one out because it was making everyone sick. Several shots of Jose Cuervo didn't even help. I did get to see a pus-infected eyeball, experimental brain surgery, corpse burning and cannibalism, then later on basically just fast-forwarded through the rest of the boring stock footage. It's cheap-looking, grainy and sometimes gross, of course, but this tape and everything spawned from it is an elaborate rip-off that's been making a lot of money for some con artist for almost twenty years now. Understandably, no one involved used their actual names ("Victoria Bloodhart" ... "Damien B. Gravenhorse" ... "Professor Bizarro Blackstone" ... give me a break), so I don't even have anyone to single out and chastise. It was released many times under many different titles and many people were tricked into renting this out or even buying it more than once, especially since it was released once as DEATH FACES and then later as the "sequel" DEATH FACES IV, when in fact it's the exact same film! The version released by Fame Entertainment (under the title BEYOND REALITY) has a little newly added footage. There was also a companion tape that re-used some of the same footage called BEYOND REALITY II, which itself was released a second time as DYING: LAST SECONDS OF LIFE PART II, a "sequel" to yet another of DEATH FACES's alternate titles! More footage from this was even recycled in BANNED FROM FACEZ 2000, PART TWO, as well as other tapes. Blah. These things suck!

NO STARS!

Daddy's Deadly Darling (1972)


...aka: Daddy's Girl
...aka: Horror Farm
...aka: Killers, The
...aka: Pigs
...aka: Strange Love Exorcist, The

Directed by:
Marc Lawrence

Lynn Webster (Toni Lawrence) is sent to an asylum for shock therapy after killing her father when he tried to rape her. She escapes, steals a car and ends up in a small farming town where weird truck stop owner Mr. Zambrini (Marc Lawrence) gives her a waitress job in exchange for room and board. The relationship ends up working out nicely for both parties as Lynn goes on a killing spree after almost getting raped again, while Zambrini covers her ass by hacking up the bodies and feeding them to his flesh-craving pet pigs he keeps pinned up behind the restaurant. Familiar veteran character actor Marc Lawrence made his directorial debut (and as “F.A. Foss,” also his screenplay debut) with this very cheap and dark-looking, but fairly well-acted, gritty and sometimes creepy low-budget backwoods horror flick. It sat around collecting dust for about 12 years before being released, but I've honestly seen much worse. Leading lady Toni is Marc's real-life daughter and Jesse Vint co-stars as the sheriff. During the video revolution it was put out by a variety of different companies under a variety of different titles. The most common alternate title was PIGS, which featured a giant pink cartoon pig on the cover and strongly hinted this was actually about killer pigs. Kind of misleading, eh? No more so than THE STRANGE LOVE EXORCIST, I guess.

★★

Frozen Scream (1975)

Directed by:
Frank Roach

After opening narration with keen insight into the mysteries of life ("Immortality? Why would anyone want to live forever in a world like this?"), mad Dr. Sven Johnson (Lee James) and his evil assistant Lil Stanhope (Renee Harmon) are shown trying to reverse the aging process by experimenting on tied-up captives. They send out ridiculous-looking, hooded, laughing, bug-eyed zombie henchmen with scythes to gather victims. Jumbled nightmare/flashbacks featuring wrist slashing, blood-drinking, a topless blonde who smashes her arms against her bare chest most of the time so you can't really see anything and zombified teens chanting "love and immortality!" around a campfire will make you think you're losing your mind. Meanwhile, a band at a pool party sings "Jack Around the Shack" (?!) to the tune of Rock Around the Clock! Nothing in this very bad (but rare) movie makes a lick of sense, the droning narration goes on and on (if fact it often goes right over some of the dialogue!) and the entire monotone cast acts brain dead. Harmon, who has an odd Eastern European (Swedish?) accent I can't quite place, also co-wrote the original story and produced, proving she is just as awful behind the scenes as she is onscreen.

Back in the early 1980s, Continental Video released FROZEN SCREAM on a double tape with the equally awful EXECUTIONER, PART II, which was also written by and starred Miss Harmon. She was also in HELLRIDERS (1984), LADY STREET FIGHTER (1985) and NIGHT OF TERROR (1986). I dare you to watch two of her films in one night!

NO STARS!

Faceless (1987)

...aka: Depredadores de la noche, Los
...aka: Prédateurs de la nuit, Les
...aka: Predators of the Night

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

Franco is one of those directors who seems to miss ten times more than he hits. However, he did make a handful of OK genre films that, while wildly uneven, at least managed to merge the director's excesses to create an entertaining film. While FACELESS has myriad production woes (loopy plotting, big holes in the story, a very out-of-place/silly pop tune that is repeated about twenty times...), it is surprisingly good in other areas; particularly the excellent casting, the professional photography, the high production values (René Château produced and it was released through his own company), the location work in and around Paris, the fittingly gruesome make-up effects and some effective sick/trashy passages. By dropping the empty pretension that plagues much of his other work, Franco basically gives the intended audience a more straight-forward horror story sparked by exploitation elements hearkening back to Euro-horror cinema of the past, notably Franju's classic EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) and Franco's own AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, from just one year later.

Crazed Parisian plastic surgeon Frank Flamand (Helmut Berger, who played the title role in DORIAN GRAY back in 1970) wants to restore the beauty of his distraught, slightly disturbed, facially-scarred sister Ingrid (Christiane Jean), who had acid thrown in her face by one of his disgruntled former patients. His clinic is not only a place to work on wealthy older women (including acclaimed French actress Stéphane Audran of all people!), but also (in a hidden wing of the hospital) a place to keep beautiful young ladies prisoner in padded cells. He plans on removing their faces and transplanting them onto Ingrid once he gets the technique down. Aiding him is his icy blonde nurse/lover Nathalie (former Euro porn queen Brigitte Lahaie), a hulking, perverted, semi retarded behemoth with shaved-off eyebrows named Gordon (Gérard Zalcberg) and Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon, only in one scene), who sends him some help in the form of Nazi war criminal/doctor Dr. Karl Heinz Moser (Anton Diffring), who had previously caught fire experimenting on full face transplants. Meanwhile, New York City detective Sam Morgan (Christopher Mitchum) is on the case after Terry Hallen (Telly Savalas) hires him to find his missing, troublesome, pampered, drug-addicted model daughter Barbara (Caroline Munro). Guess where she disappeared to?

There's plenty of all-around sleaze to keep trash movie fans glued to the screen... Rape, heavily implied incest, voyeurism, necrophilia, threesomes, male gigolos, lesbians, a flamboyant fashion designer, bad disco dancing, decapitation by chainsaw, a needle piercing an eyeball in close-up, two full face scalpings (one of which is extremely messy!), scissors stuck in a neck and much more. Interestingly (and surprisingly) in the uncut version I saw, there is almost no nudity. It was shot in English, with only some of the supporting actors dubbed. The ending was unexpected and right out of Poe. And like I mentioned before, the cast is excellent.

It's hard to imagine a classier and more sophisticated couple of sick-o's than Berger and Lahaie. Both look great cruising the club scene for victims, engaging in kinky scenarios and lashing out violently at victims in the calmest, coolest fashion imaginable. I was particularly impressed with Lahaie. Of course she looks gorgeous (and naturally gorgeous, at that), but she also has great presence as a villainess. She is dubbed in this film, but it's easy to see why she has received mainstream work along with the sex films. Diffring (who has the most incredible pair of eyes in show business) adds his usual stamp of class and a much needed injection of credibility to his final role; a virtual replay of his famous CIRCUS OF HORRORS character. Even though he has nothing to do but sit behind a desk, Savalas is the consummate professional and doesn't embarrass himself. Neither does Munro, who spends most of her scenes in a cell trying to fend off Gordon and gets to show more emotion than usual. The only bad performance out of the principles is Mitchum, who is dull and one-note throughout. Florence Guerin (in an in-joke appearance as herself) and Lina Romay as Mrs. Orloff (she has one line of dialogue) are also here, albeit briefly.

The Shriek Show DVD has very good interviews with Franco, Munro and Mitchum, audio commentary from Franco and Romay, partial audio commentary from Mitchum and some trailers.

★★1/2

Evil Below, The (1989)

Directed by:
Jean-Claude Dubois

Ambitious Sarah (June Chadwick) charters a boat from the gruff, bearded Max Cash (Wayne Crawford) to search for the missing "El Diablo;" a 17th century sunken treasure ship carrying stolen religious artifacts and gold, off the coast of Florida (this was actually filmed off the coast of South Africa). As they get closer to the sunken ship, an ancient curse is unleashed to protect the booty. Everyone who tries to help them dies, and there are two menaces to look out for... the 300 year-old black-garbed guardian Adrian (Ted Le Platt) and a mutant, shark-like creature with big claws. Extremely low on gore, THE EVIL BELOW has too much talking, too many underwater swim scenes, spends too much time of a romance subplot and the monster is only briefly seen, but it also has some good moments and ideas here and there and the lead actors do a good job. Another release from the same people was HEADHUNTER (1988), which also took place in Florida, also was actually shot in South Africa and also featured Crawford and Chadwick.

*For the record, Mr. Crawford is listed as being the co-director of this film on IMDB. Since he is not credited on the version I saw, I'm not listing him.

★★

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

...aka: Eyes

Directed by:
Irvin Kershner

Faye Dunaway (who had just won an Oscar a few years earlier for NETWORK) stars as a clairvoyant fashion photographer who sees murders before they happen and makes a living taking pictures of her visions: controversial hybrids of sex and violence. Things hit close to home when she discovers the killer (whose trademark is gouging out eyeballs with scissors) is targeting her, her friends and a group of lovely up-and-coming models. Tommy Lee Jones costars as the cop on the case who she falls in love with. Though nothing really special, it's an acceptable murder mystery featuring good performances all around, a fun script (co-written by John Carpenter), a glossy visual approach and a pretty low violence quotient, but enough (probably too many) red herring suspects to keep you guessing till the (ridiculous) climax. Dated fashions, music and mannerisms add up to somewhat amusing entertainment. A definite sign of things to come for co-star Brad Dourif, who plays Dunaway’s dedicated chauffeur. Also with Rene Auberjonois, Raul Julia, Darlanne Fluegel and Steve Marachuk. Barbra Streisand sings the theme song "Prisoner" and was once slated to star. Thankfully she found something else to do.

★★

Night of the Zombies (1980)

...aka: Cannibal Virus
...aka: Hell of the Living Dead
...aka: Virus
...aka: Zombi 4
...aka: Zombi 5: Ultimate Nightmare
...aka: Zombie Creeping Flesh
...aka: Zombie Inferno
...aka: Zombie of the Savanna

Directed by:
Bruno Mattei

Bruno Mattei, the man responsible for such cinematic classics as S.S. EXTERMINATION LOVE CAMP and WOMEN'S PRISON MASSACRE, used the alias "Vincent Dawn" for this dreary, dull and dire mess of a zombie flick, which was released on video and DVD under about ten different titles to throw you off. Hope Center 1, a secret laboratory on a secluded island working on a new form for population control, instead accidentally release a toxic green gas into the air that cause the dead to rise from their graves. The zombies, just like in almost every other post-Romero movie, feast on human flesh and are killed by smashing the brain. The make-up designs alternate between being acceptable to downright awful. After an extremely blatant rip-off of the tenement scenes in DAWN OF THE DEAD (complete with soldiers in blue uniforms versus unlawful citizens with guns against the same exact Goblin score used in DAWN!), four television reporters show up in a deserted town in New Guinea. One of the guys is eaten by a zombie kid and a woman is killed and strung up. Only Max (Selan Karay) and Lia (Margit Evelyn Newton) survive, they are joined by four of the blue garbed infantrymen and venture off toward Hope Center 1 to find out what's going on. On the way, they come across a primitive tribe and Lea (with formal native training) opens her top, paints her body and goes undercover to investigate. This is when we get lots of mondo footage like real dead bodies (scenes were snagged from the documentary DES MORTS/OF THE DEAD), a real alligator gutting and real maggot eating (it's brief, dark and hard to see). Yum!

We also get nonstop nature footage of monkeys, lots of birds and other animals doing their thing in slow motion to pad out the running time. After lots of close calls, the group (who behave like morons the entire time) finally make it to their destination only to be slaughtered by zombie lab technicians. There's lots of gut munching and one memorable scene involving a face getting ripped apart. Euro horror regulars "Frank Garfield" (Franco Garofalo) and Victor Israel pop up in small roles, and the highly annoying José Gras, star of the appallingly awful biker/gore/rape-revenge "classic" MAD FOXES (1981) is one of the infantrymen. Writer Claudio Fragasso claims to have directed at least half of this... and I believe him! The best thing about this movie is the reused Goblin music (some of which came from Luigi Cozzi's ALIEN CONTAMINATION). Anyway... Why not just go for the real deal and rent DAWN OF THE DEAD again?
.
One more thing - This one's not to be confused with the American Nazi zombie film of the same name that was made around the same time. That film actually changed its title to NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES II for the video release so it wouldn't be mistaken for this one, while this one possibly changed its original release title VIRUS so it wouldn't be confused another 1980 release called, you guessed it - VIRUS. Got that?

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Directed by:
Tom Savini

Don't expect this remake to do justice to the 1968 original (it doesn't even come close) and you won't be too disappointed with what you see here. After the famous "They're coming to get you Barbara" line is annoyingly wasted as a blank screen voice over at the opening, the clever graveyard sequence that follows will provide a great jolt for those familiar with the original film. After Johnnie (Bill Moseley) gets his head bashed into a tombstone, Barbara (red-headed stunt woman Patricia Tallman) flees to a secluded farmhouse where Ben (pre-CANDYMAN Tony Todd, who is very good here) and the other five principals (Tom Towles, William Butler and three unknown actresses) turn up to fight for their lives... and fight with each other. Zombies are still all over the place and they've naturally been 'improved' through elaborate contemporary makeup designs, but the only two other major differences here (other than the fact it's in color) are... 1.) Instead of losing her mind, Barbara is a tough, take charge Sigourney Weaver-type. Though fairly well played by Tallman, this is such a predictable way to "update" a central female character in today's age it's almost groan-worthy at times... and... 2.) Romero's ironic ending, you know the incredibly downbeat one that shocked the hell out of audiences during its day, has been changed. To be perfectly honest, I have no clue why they scrapped it and replaced it with been-there-done-that redneck posse 'day after' scenes as well as one of the silliest 'eye for an eye' style twists I've seen in awhile, but they did. In my opinion the new ending stinks, though I know others who seem to like it.

Violent acts are more elaborate when the zombies are killed than in the original, but gore is toned down for the human deaths in an interesting contrast. Unfortunately this technique also helps to lessen some of the more frightening material. For instance, the supremely eerie cellar death of Mrs. Cooper in the original has been replaced by a scene that's best described as supremely lame. The zombie make-up designs and overall effects are excellent, it's well photographed and edited and most of the cast acquits itself well enough, though I got highly annoyed by Judy's non-stop screeching every time a floorboard creaked and Towles (HENRY) seemed to be playing the asshole Harry character for high camp value. It's nowhere near as scary, atmospheric, inventive or intelligent as the first, but taken on its own terms its slightly above average as far as zombie films are concerned. Bill Cardille (whose daughter Lori starred in Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD in 1985) has a cameo on a TV set, as does Russell Streiner, who pops up briefly as a sheriff. George A. Romero scripted and was one of the executive producers.

★★

Opera (1987)

...aka: Terror at the Opera

Directed by:
Dario Argento

Another extremely entertaining, imaginative outing from Italian horror master Dario Argento; arguably his last really good film (though I do also somewhat like his 1996 film THE STENDHAL SYNDROME and his latest release MOTHER OF TEARS). An avant-garde reworking of Verdi's operatic stage version of Macbeth at the beautiful La Scala opera house in Rome sets the scene as troubled, reluctant understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is given the lead role after the original Lady Macbeth is struck down by a car while crossing a busy street. Even though she's worried about the "Curse of Macbeth," her debut performance is triumphant enough to spark the interest of a crazed admirer, who proceeds to terrorize the poor girl. He trails her, ties her up and tapes a line of needles across her eyes, forcing her to watch him brutally kill off her coworkers and friends. The suspects are numerous; including the diva she replaced, an intense horror movie director turned stage director (the late star of CHARIOTS OF FIRE, Ian Charleson) and just about everyone else on the set. Clues from Betty's childhood (seen in hazy flashbacks) hide the identity of the killer.

Argento reworks some themes from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (which he also filmed - rather badly - in 1998) for this beautifully photographed movie; standard (some would even say, senseless) plotting is enlivened and overcome with imagination, visual flair, a pulse pounding score (by Claudio Simonetti, Bill Wyman and others), memorably brutal murder sequences (including a brilliant bit involving a handgun and a peephole) and some awesome camerawork (my favorite bit being a crow POV shot as it slowly spirals down toward the audience in a packed opera house). There are many Italian horror movie regulars in the cast, most notably Daria Nicolodi in the thankless role as Betty's agent (though she does get the film's best death scene), Urbano Barberini (DEMONS) as a police inspector and Coralina Cataldi Tassoni (who also appeared in Argento's PHANTOM remake) as the wardrobe mistress. Also with American actor William McNamara, Antonella Vitale, Barbara Cupisti, Maurizio Garrone, Carola Stagnaro and Michele Soavi in an uncredited cameo as a policeman (he was also the second unit director). Some of the opera vocals are performed by Maria Callas.

Unfortunately, it was a financial flop in Italy (Dario's first) and the initial U.S. straight-to-video video release TERROR AT THE OPERA was cut (both the R-rated and unrated versions are trimmed). The DVD release from Anchor Bay is a great print and has a very good documentary on the production called CONDUCTING DARIO ARGENTO'S 'OPERA' (2001), which was co-directed by William Lustig and features interviews with Argento, Barberini, Nicolodi, Claudio Simonetti, special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti and cinematographer Ronnie Taylor.

★★★1/2

Mangiati vivi! (1980)

...aka: Cannibal holocausto 2
...aka: Doomed to Die
...aka: Eaten Alive!
...aka: Eaten Alive by Cannibals
...aka: Emerald Jungle, The

Directed by:
Umberto Lenzi

An asian blowgun assassin takes out victims in Niagara Falls and New York City before getting run over by a car. Sheila Morris (blonde Swedish babe Janet Agren, given a hilarious "Southern belle" dub to show she's from Alabama) finds a connection between these killings and the disappearance of her sister Diana (Paola Senatore) and sets out to investigate. This brings her to New Guinea where she promises a sleazy guide (Robert Kerman aka American porn star R. Bolla) 80,000 dollars to help locate her sister. After barely making it through a jungle full of bloodthirsty cannibals, they finally locate Diana, who's under the control of Jim Jones-type cult leader Jonas Melvyn (Ivan Rassimov). Jonas does the typical mad guru-style things, like passing out LSD, initiating group suicide, threatening to kill anyone who disobeys him and raping Agren with a giant dong dipped in cobra blood. Every once in awhile a character will look to the right or look to the left and see a gory scene lifted directly from either Deotato's JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1976) or Lenzi's MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972). Guess it was a nice way to save time and money. I'm pretty sure they also use footage from at least one other source. Here we get the expected animal slaughter scenes (gutting a gator; natives eating live snakes), plus some additional nudity and a castration. Me Me Lai shows up in her third and final cannibal movie to give her breast implants another workout playing a widow who is gang banged by three of her brother in laws on top of the ashes of her freshly cremated husband. Mel Ferrer also briefly appears as a professor, but is given nothing of interest to do.

So anyway, with MANGIATI VIVI! you pretty much get a promise fulfilled with all the nudity, gore, dead animals and bad taste you expect with one of these titles, so if you're a sleaze hound, by all means watch it. Personally, I got bored with it about midway through and just wanted it to end. The original (heavily cut) U.S. release in 1985 was titled THE EMERALD JUNGLE in order to trick people into thinking they were actually renting John Boorman's EMERALD FOREST, which I find absolutely hilarious for some reason!

1/2

Gate II: Trespassers, The (1989)

...aka Gate II
...aka Gate II: Return to the Nightmare

Directed by:
Tibor Takács

THE GATE was a pretty dumb 80s horror flick with some very cool special effects. It somehow managed to make some money, so the director was hired to do another one (which was filmed soon after the first, but ended up being shelved until 1992). Every bit as silly and stupid as the original, this one looks cheaper and doesn't even have good enough fx to fall back on. Of course, there's one pretty good stop-motion "minion" (micro-demon) here, but the rest is so lame, it's not worth sitting through to see it. Louis Tripp and his annoyingly pubescent voice return as the heavy-metal loving teen nerd Terry. His father's a drunk, his mom's dead and he's a depressed loner with no friends at school, so it doesn't come as any surprise when he reaches new depths of desperation (and stupidity) by foolishly toying around with Satanism again. He and a few others summon a little demon from "the other world" that's able to grant wishes (new car, money, etc.). Unfortunately, the wishes backfire and some of the characters end up becoming big demonic monsters themselves. One has a huge pus-oozing zit that continually leaks yellow goo. Get it, a teen monster with acne problems? It's supposed to be funny, I guess. But it's nowhere near as funny as the conclusion; an unintentionally hilarious finale where Terry turns into a monster himself and fights demons in some parallel universe. The score from George Blondheim is one of the redeeming factors here. With Pamela Segall, Simon Reynolds, James Villamaire, Neil Munro and James Kidnie.

1/2

After Midnight (1989)

Directed by:
Jim Wheat
Ken Wheat

This three-story horror anthology is reasonably well made, pretty entertaining and has a decent cast, even though the framing device used to tie the tales together is rather weak. Story one is about a couple (Marc McClure and Nadine Van Der Velde) whose car breaks down by a rumored haunted house, where they reluctantly decide to spend the night. The surprise twist ending of this segment is pretty good. The second story concerns four white bread suburban teen girls getting lost in a bad part of town, where they accidentally run over a psychotic bum and are then pursued by his killer dogs. Judie Aronson (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER) is one of the stars and I liked seeing Tracy Wells (the annoying daughter from the 80's TV series Mr. Belvedere) getting chewed up. Part 3 (which is the best segment) is about a late-night female telephone operator (Marg Helgenberger, before she started getting a little freaky with the botox) being stalked by a mad fan. This segment is clichéd, but it's pretty suspenseful, well acted and well done for what it is. All of the stories are tied together by a confusing framing segment set on a college campus where a strange professor (Ramy Zada, from TWO EVIL EYES) and his students tell some of the "scariest stories" they know. It's pretty pointless and dumb, but at least features some fx surprises, including a walking skeleton and a good decapitation effect. Jillian McWhirter plays a psychic student, Pamela Segall plays her friend, and in smaller roles are Alan Rosenberg, Kerry Remsen, Richard Gabai and Patricia Tallman.

Sibling directors Jim and Ken Wheat (who share the same exact credits) are best known for writing screenplays for THE SILENT SCREAM (1980), ELM STREET 4 (1988), THE FLY II (1989) are other 80s/90s horror flicks. They also co-directed the 1983 thriller LIES and helped to create the sci-fi hit PITCH BLACK (2000), and its 2004 sequel THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK.

★★

Last Man on Earth, The (1963)

...aka: Naked Terror
...aka: Night Creatures, The
...aka: Night People
...aka: Ultimo uomo della terra, L'
...aka: Wind of Death

Directed by:
Sidney Salkow

Based on the excellent novel "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson (who also co-scripted using the alias "Logan Swanson"), this is an innovative and interesting, yet highly flawed, post-apocalyptic tale that would obviously go on to influence just about every end of the world zombie epic produced after. In fact, you can see Romero's entire 'Dead Trilogy' distinctly echoed within the first 20 minutes alone; an opening collage of a vacant city capped off with a "The End is Near" sign in front of a church (one of the first scenes in DAY OF THE DEAD featured a collage of an vacant city capped off with the newspaper headline "The Dead Walk"), one of the last surviving humans doing some shopping in an abandoned grocery store (DAWN OF THE DEAD) and even the undead congregating outside the home of a boarded-up home trying to bust their way inside (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD). Vincent Price (taking a break from Corman's Poe series) stars as the title character, scientist Robert Morgan. Living alone in a quiet home in a quiet daytime world where he appears the be the last surviving human on the planet, Morgan spends his nights drinking and reflecting on the wife and daughter he lost some time ago and spends his days in preparation. There seems to be a million things to do with someone who should have plenty of free time on their hands. He has to have gasoline to run the generator. You see, light is very important in the new world. He has to clean up corpses littering the streets and dispose of them in a huge fire pit to keep germs and disease levels down. He has to go to the store for supplies; especially important seems to be fresh garlic to hang over the doorway. Mirrors to reflect light are also crucial. Lots of mirrors. And what's a man in a post-apocalyptic world without freshly sharpened stakes?

While Morgan may be the last human on the planet, he's not actually alone. A horde of undead vampire- zombies who only come out at night looking for fresh blood are also around. Morgan tries his best to keep the population down by going out in the daytime to stake the ones he can find, but it seems a never ending task. Long flashbacks show how the disease rapidly spread in the first place, with Morgan rushing to find a cure and being opposed by his colleague Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), who will later become the main ghoul knocking at Robert's door taunting "Morgan... come out. Come out!" Also in the flashbacks we see Morgan watch his little girl fall ill and die, and then his wife (Emma Danieli) suffering a similar fate, only to return from the dead as one of them. Another woman (Franca Bettoia) eventually shows up with knowledge of a temporary cure for the epidemic. And the echoes of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD continue (a grim TV broadcast, using a radio to try to find other living humans, an armed posse eventually showing up for a grim finale...)

Despite this film's vast influence, it's far from perfect. After a terrific opening twenty minute depiction of life on a ravaged planet, complete with grim, memorable imagery and a poignant and interesting internal monologue delivered by Price, things rapidly go downhill in the middle portion of the film. It become languid in its pacing, uncertain in its tone and gets redundant in its content (the flashbacks actually add very little to the overall film other than padding). The vampire-zombies, as depicted here, aren't terrifying and don't seem to pose much of a threat to the lead character, who frequently just turns his back to them and stands there while they do nothing. I'm not really bothered too much by the bad dubbing on the Italian supporting cast, but some of the dialogue is downright silly. The ending is a little abrupt, also, and when you think about the ultimate actions of another surviving sect of humans, they make very little sense. So even though THE LAST MAN ON EARTH has its place in horror film history, I can only give it a mild recommendation as a lesser precursor to the superior Romero series of films and other zombie/post apocalyptic tales. If you've read Matheson's book, you may be more like me and walk away from this a bit disappointed in the long run. Not a bad film, but not the classic I was hoping for, either. Also with Umberto Raho.

The DVD (which pairs it with PANIC IN YEAR ZERO, another notable 60s post apocalyptic tale) comes with a brief interview with Matheson. He talks about how Hammer Studios were originally supposed to do the movie but ultimately couldn't because of UK censorship laws at the time. He also says he wanted his name off the credits because he was unhappy with the finished product (apparently his script had been rewritten, so he decided to use an alias). His novel would later be filmed two more times with much higher budgets as THE OMEGA MAN (1971; starring Charlton Heston) and then again as I AM LEGEND (2007; starring Will Smith).

★★1/2

Last House on Dead End Street, The (1973)

...aka: At the Hour of Death
...aka: Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, The
...aka: Fun House, The

Directed by:
Roger Michael Watkins

The '70s were an ever-changing decade in American cinema. Given a reprieve from censorship for the first time since the early days when film was still in its infancy and darker avenues weren't being explored (at least graphically), filmmakers were finally able to express themselves how they saw fit without limitations. Some of the most radical, important, shocking and challenging films ever made came from this period of time, and these films spanned all genres. Here's one that's as graphic, gritty and grisly as they came back then; an independently produced horror flick that goes all out to shake up us viewers. It does so through presenting a bunch of repulsive, obnoxious drop-outs doing disgusting things to their victims around run-down buildings and grimy-looking sets. Shaggy-haired degenerate loser Terry Hawkins (played by the director), has just been released from a short spell in prison. Through vague voice-overs we learn that he's pissed off at the world and is looking for a way to vent out his frustrations. We meet some other like-minded people, including an out-of-work cameraman, a bored woman who flees her husband and a few others. Sometimes narration is used to describe who they are and why they chose their eventual path in life. Anyway, about five or six of these punks get together and decide to start making their own movies. Their porn loops are becoming a hard sell so they need to find something else to do... such as making their own snuff flicks. After a trial run strangling a bum, the group lure a movie producer, his wife and a couple of others to their hideout and then proceed to make the ultimate horror movie.

The majority of the "build up" of this movie consists of people complaining, people fighting, people aimlessly hanging around in dimly lit/dirty rooms, people filming, people having sex, black-and-white soft-core sex loops, a woman in blackface being whipped at a party and a trip to a slaughterhouse where a cow's throat is slashed. The feel is extremely nihilistic any way you look at it, but it does succeed in creating its own queasy landscape of depravity. Combine that with the dingy settings, the muddy washed out look of the photography, the jolting soundtrack, the frequent inspired moment in a sea of inept ones, the choppy editing and the loud, leering, unattractive cast and you've got yourself a true grindhouse flick in every sense of the word. The final 25 minutes or so is the "pay off" for gore hounds who like their flicks full of torment, suffering, screaming and sadistic torture. Some good use is made of dark corners, stage lights, echo and high camera angles, and the masks worn by killers as they gleefully murder their captives are pretty creepy looking (one is of a large, white bearded man and the others are those clear masks like the one used by the killer in ALICE, SWEET ALICE). A woman has her throat cut, a guy is slashed to death and another guy is forced to suck on a deer hoof (?) before having his eyeball gouged out. The most graphic murder has a screaming woman, tied down to a table, having her face slashed up with a knife, getting her legs slowly removed with a hack-saw and then having her all her innards yanked out. Hey, I think I just saw this exact same thing in GUINEA PIG: FLOWERS OF FLESH AND BLOOD a few weeks ago! These scenes are all done with the perpetrators spastically bouncing around filming their murders and laughing maniacally. Twenty/thirty odd minutes of that gets a little bit monotonous before all is said and done.

I guess one could single this thing out as an early example of the unpleasant/dull "torture" type flicks that seem to be popular these days (such as HOSTEL, CAPTIVITY, SAW, etc.). This one's a bit more interesting and effective than any of those, though. Filmed as THE CUCKOO CLOCKS FROM HELL in 1973, this film laid unreleased until 1977 when it was released with the new title and ad art to bring to mind Wes Craven's infamous shocker THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972). The director was a guy by the name of Roger Michael Watkins, who ended up working steadily in adult films in the 80s and passed away just last year. He didn't take credit for this film until 2000. In fact, Watkins used what may be a record number of aliases for just one film - "Steven Morrison" for the lead role, "Victor Janos" to direct, "Norman F. Kaiser" to produce, "Brian Laurence" for his script, "Brian Newett" for editing, "Bernie Travis" for post-production supervision and "Claude Armand" for stock music editor/re-mixer! Actually, almost every person involved on this used a fake name. The cut version is missing two minutes of footage.

★★

La figlia di Frankenstein (1971)

...aka: Daughter of Frankenstein
...aka: Lady Frankenstein
...aka: Madame Frankenstein

Directed by:
Mel Welles

The Frankenstein saga gets an Italian sleaze upgrade in this fun and highly amusing sleaze epic that’s nowhere near as bad as it’s reputed to be. Top-billed Joseph Cotten doesn't have a whole lot of screen time (only about twenty minutes or so) as weary Baron Frankenstein, but that's OK, his beautiful daughter Tania (“Sara Bay”/Rosalba Neri) has just returned from med school eager to contribute to her father’s experiments. After his first lightning-born creation (played by Paul Whiteman) backfires in a big way - killing him and then escaping the castle to kill some grave-robbers and a few random naked women - Tania decides to redeem the family name (and make sure she is kept sexually satisfied at the same time!) by transferring the brain of her obedient, older doctor lover (Paul Muller) into the virile body of a hulking half-wit. Sure, it's low-aiming exploitation for the most part, but it’s still genuinely fun, the production values are not too bad (there are decent sets, locales and costumes, plus a very good dramatic music score) and Neri is great; an engaging, vicious, demanding, sexy femme fatale who is sick of everyone treating her like a little girl, gleefully attends a public hanging and uses both her brain and her body to manipulate everyone around her to get what she wants. Just as good in a more low-key kind of way is Muller, who manages to be sympathetic amid all the sleaze and puts his heart into a role that really deserves much less.

Former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay seems lost as a police captain and Herbert Fux has a good supporting role as a sleazy grave robber. With Renata Kasché, Lorenzo Terzon (The Devil's Nightmare) as Hargitay's assistant, Ada Pometti, Andrea Aureli (The Other Hell), Joshua Sinclair, Herb Andress as a hunchback and Marino Masé. It's also noteworthy as a precursor to Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, mixing the gore, camp sensibilities and sex two years earlier.

★★1/2

Un delitto poco comune (1988)

... aka: Off Balance
... aka: Phantom of Death
... aka: Squilibrio
... aka: Uncommon Crime, An

Directed by:
Ruggero Deodato

Thirty-five year old concert pianist Robert Dominici (Michael York) is stricken with "progeria," a rare genetic disorder which rapidly ages him. His hair falls out, his teeth rot, he coughs up blood and starts suffering from uncontrollable "behavioral problems;" psychotic, murderous episodes. This spells a violent end for the ladies (past and present) in his life and even more unfortunate for his French fashion designer girlfriend (played by well-preserved veteran Euro horror/sex star Edwige Fenech) that she becomes pregnant with the child he doesn't want to be born. Donald Pleasence (who was probably sick to death with the typecasting by this point) is the police inspector on the case and Mapi Galan is simply stunning as an early victim. Deodato is clearly trying to copycat the style of horror thrillers made popular by the likes of Argento and Bava in the 60s and 70s here, with flashy sets, costumes and backdrops, misty photography and some pretty gory murders, but his direction and the screenplay are unable to build much suspense, the editing is choppy and the dubbing of many of the supporting players is poor. The score (by Pino Donaggio) and make-up are good, though, and the lead performances are solid. Also in the cast are Carola Stagnaro as a doctor, Giovanni Lombardo Radice / John Morghen as a priest and Marino Masé as an aging expert. Deodato can also be spotted riding a moped.

★★

Cat and the Canary, The (1977)

Directed by:
Radley Metzger

Not bad old-fashioned comic chiller set at Glencliffe Manor on a dark and stormy night where potential heirs to a fortune gather for the reading of a will (which has been filmed, giving Wilfred Hyde-White a delightful cameo... "Good evening, leeches!"). Annabelle (Carol Lynley) ends up inheriting everything, but as one greedy character puts it, "Where there's a will there's a way." Meanwhile, "The Cat," a deformed killer in a slouched black hat and trench coat has just escaped from an asylum and is lurking the grounds, using secret passageways to stalk characters in the mansion. Surprisingly restrained for director Metzger, a top "adults only" director who later switched to porn (as "Harry Paris"). It’s so tame that when a guy is shot three times there's no blood, but the excellent cast (Michael Callan, Honor Blackman, Daniel Massey, Olivia Hussey, Peter McEnery, Wendy Hiller, Edward Fox...) are more than worth their weight in grue if you ask me. The same story (based on a John Hillard novel) was told in a classic 1927 silent version and again in 1939 (with Bob Hope). This version is inferior to both of those (and wasn't released until 1979) but it's still pretty entertaining.

★★1/2

Curse II: The Bite (1989)

...aka: Bite, The

Directed by:
Frederico Prosperi

Curse II: The Bite (originally called simply The Bite) has absolutely nothing to do with the original THE CURSE (1987), a gory adaptation of Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space." It also has no connection to the other two films released later as part of this series, which has been known to annoy many people. In the case of this one, if you're willing to put the annoying marketing out of your mind and take it at face value, it isn't too bad. If you're scared of snakes, it effectively plays that fear to the hilt... and then some! Attractive young couple Lisa (Jill Schoelen) and Clark (J. Eddie Peck) are traveling through New Mexico when some decidedly strange things begin to happen. For starters, snakes seem to be are all over the place, including the road they're driving on in a memorable opening sequence. One manages to get into their jeep, he's bit on the hand and we eventually find out that the snakes have been exposed to radioactive materials. This, mixed with some anti venom injection given to him by Jamie Farr (not a qualified doctor), combine for horrific results when Clark's hand slowly turns into an uncontrollable killer snake with a mind of its own. It reaches down a cop's throat and pulls his heart out of his mouth, blinds a woman (Savina Gersak) by spitting venom in her eyes and rips a female doctor's jaw completely off during several of the more potent gore / murder scenes. However, the best fx (from the reliable Screaming Mad George) are saved for the big finale as Clark begins to go through a major transformation. His tongue and eyeballs fall out, he starts vomiting up snakes and eventually falls apart to reveal a huge snake monster.

Ridiculous as this all may sound, the premise in unusual enough to maintain interest throughout, the make-up effects are inventive and there's a nice Southern road movie feel with scenes taking place along windswept interstate highways along the desert, in country bars and in the house of some backwoods religious folks. Performances are mostly good, with the two leads doing fairly well, as well as Farr. Smaller roles are played by veteran character actors Bo Svenson (as a blowhard Sheriff), Marianne Muellerleile (Farr's female truck driver girlfriend), Sydney Lassick (a guy at the hotel) and Al Fann (a gas station attendant whose dog has been also been effected by the snakes), plus there's an early performance from Shiri Appleby (TV's "Roswell") as a nosy little girl. There were American, Italian (Ovidio G. Assonitis was one of the executive producers) and Japanese backers on this project.

★★1/2

Mil gritos tiene la noche (1982)

...aka: Chainsaw Devil
...aka: Chainsaw Killer, The
...aka: Pieces

Directed by:
Juan Piquer Simón

If you're a fan of complete and utter trash with no redeeming social or artistic value, then here's your movie! In Boston in 1942 (where touch-tone phones must have been invented) a little creep is chastised by his mother (May Heatherly) when she catches him putting together a nude jigsaw puzzle. He gets revenge by taking a couple whacks at her head with an axe and dismembering her body with a hacksaw; playing the traumatized little kid act to get away with his crime. Around forty years later, the now-grown kid (who has not only managed to suppress his psychotic urges for the better part of his life but also somehow managed to keep his mom's dress and shoes safely tucked away in a box after all these years still perfectly spattered with bright red blood!) runs around the local college campus chewing up coeds with a chainsaw. One body part from each victim is found missing at the crime scene because the killer is creating his own life-sized human puzzle out of the spare parts. There's a dump truck full of gore as a girl lounging on campus green is decapitated, a topless skinny-dipper is netted in for the kill, a woman on a waterbed is stabbed in the back of head through her mouth and a girl has both of her arms sawed off after boogying down to the electro-synthesizer disco beat in her aerobics class. There's also a charming sequence where a topless girl is sawed in half in a public bathroom stall.

Adding to the fun, we also get an all-star line-up of international suspects... Jack Taylor is a stuffy homosexual anatomy professor who has to teach a bimbo where her pectoral muscles are... but is he the one cutting them off? Paul L. Smith is a hulking groundskeeper who is always seen carrying around something sharp and pointy, and trims the bushes... with a chainsaw. How about ever-present college dean Edmund Purdom or police head-shrinker Gérard Tichy, who shows up to get a psychological profile on some of the suspects. Speaking of suspects, we also have obnoxious, self-proclaimed "campus stud" Kendall James (Ian Sera), who is presented as being a suspect even though he's about 30 years too young to be the killer kid from the opening sequence. However, he had "sexual relations" with more than one of the victims and is currently trying to get into the pants of Mary Riggs (Lynda Day George, credited as "Linda Day"), a tennis champ cum detective who goes undercover on campus in an effort to catch the killer. There's also a snoopy Boston Globe reporter (Isabel Luque) and a "kung fu professor" (?!?) who attacks Mary in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. Christopher George and Frank Braña are just two of the coppers on the case.

Pieces has the worst dialogue ever (the script is credited to producer Dick Randall and "John Shadow"/Joe D'Amato), is full of continuity errors and is too dark, idiotic and senseless, but it's also unintentionally hilarious and entertaining in the sleaziest, trashiest way imaginable. The surprise shock ending is unbelievably stupid and seems inspired by the similar ludicrous ending of Bava Jr.'s 1980 film Macabro / Frozen Terror. It was filmed in Boston and Madrid, Spain and was originally slapped with an X rating (which was converted over to an R a few years later).

SBIG

Rawhead Rex (1986)

Directed by:
George Pavlou

Routinely directed, often unintentionally hilarious monster movie has decent pedigree from the very start, being a Clive Barker adaptation and all (he also scripted from his story in "Books of Blood"), but the end result is middling thanks to a silly monster costume. In Ireland, a man digging around a large stone accidentally awakens an evil presence, lightning strikes and a hulking, 9-foot tall, cannibalistic Pagan creature with red glowing eyes (played by big guy Heinrich von Schellendorf) is unleashed. Victims are clawed, eaten, decapitated and dismembered, or as one local puts it in his thick Irish accent, "Jesus Christ! It's a bloody massacre!" There's also American historian Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes), his wife Elaine (Kelly Piper, the nurse in MANIAC) and their two small children, who arrive just in time to get in the middle of things. The best character though is Declan O'Brien (Ronan Wilmot, wonderfully overacting) a psychotic clergyman who screams "Get upstairs fuck face!" to a reverend and lets the ghoul piss on him in a graveyard! Although Barker disowned this film, its fun-filled nonsense that moves at such a fast pace you have little time to realize just how stupid it all is. There's plenty of gore, the acting is decent and it's all well photographed and scenic. And unlike the 1985 Barker adaptation TRANSMUTATIONS (aka UNDERWORLD), at least it's not boring.

★★

Curse, The (1987)

...aka: Farm, The

Directed by:
David Keith

H.P. Lovecraft's great story "The Colour Out of Space" had already been filmed in 1965 as DIE, MONSTER, DIE!, but here it is again. The story is set on a failing family farm threatened with bank foreclosure in the small town of Tellico Plains, Tennessee. Wil Wheaton (the year after the big hit Stand by Me) stars as Zachary, living on the farm with his mother (Kathleen Jordan Gregory), real-life sister (Amy Wheaton), abusive religious fanatic stepfather (Claude Akins), a handyman (Steve Carlisle) and a fat, obnoxious slob older stepbrother (Malcolm Danare) whose hairy ass we see in an unflattering close-up. One night a big glowing meteor falls and lands in their backyard and secretes a black, oily substance into the ground, polluting their water supply. Madness and / or grotesque mutations show up in vegetables, livestock, dogs, horses, chickens and, or course, humans. Hampered by bad photography, a pointless subplot with John ("The Dukes of Hazard") Schenider as a Tennessee Valley Authority surveyor and an uneven script, but more often than not it's pretty entertaining. There are some pretty good, gross shocks (mostly involving maggots) and most of the performances are fine.

This marks the directorial debut of actor Keith, who does a decent job capitalizing on the remote rural settings. Two of the producers were Italian filmmakers Ovidio G. Assonitis and Lucio (billed as "Louis") Fulci. It was followed by three unrelated direct-to-video sequels; CURSE II: THE BITE (1989; an even-stranger toxic snake movie originally called The Bite), Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1990; which involves voodoo curses and was originally titled Panga) and Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice (1988; which involves demonic possession, was filmed before parts 2 and 3 and was originally called Catacombs). This one was filmed as The Farm. Confusing, eh?

★★

I criminali della galassia (1966)

...aka: Criminals of the Galaxy
...aka: Galaxy Criminals, The
...aka: Gamma I Quadrilogy Vol. 1
...aka: Wild Wild Planet

Directed by:
Antonio Margheriti

In 2015, scientists aboard a spaceship, headed by Dr. Nurmi, the “best chemist in the world,” are experimenting with body parts, tissue grafts and organ transplants. Nurmi (Massimo Serato) is actually trying to create an immortal race of perfect, body- beautiful people. Some of his subjects, mainly attractive females in mini-skirts and piled-up hair, come to Earth, shrink humans to doll-size, store the bodies in their purses and keep a little black book of who they are supposed to kidnap. One strangles a little girl to death and some others dressed in nighties use kung fu. They are aided by big, bald, emotionless, four-armed henchman in sunglasses and black cloaks. They are said to also have cat eyes, which we never get to see. Commander Mike Halsted (middle-aged, gray-haired American actor Tony Russell) and others (including a young Franco Nero) are investigating “thousands” of disappearances and use guns that shoot fire to battle the bad guys. Mike’s girl Connie (Lisa Gastoni), a karate instructor in leotards who gets drunk, runs her mouth a little too much and comes off as a completely unappealing bitch throughout, is tricked into going on a dream holiday to a distant planet by Nurmi. He actually has other plans in store for her; namely combining her body with his to make the ultimate ‘perfect specimen.’ (Hmm, last time I checked, this was called a transsexual).

Mike calls someone a “helium head” and when he sees one of the bald monsters he describes it as “A freak! A sickening freak!” There’s also guys swimming through space in rocket packs, a dance party on a spaceship, a chamber full of hideous mutants (botched experiments), some funny three-wheeled pod cars and some laughable futuristic performance art where people in butterfly costumes do some silly dance. It’s not as good as it sounds. Because the sets on Earth, the spaceship and another planet all look about the same, and people hop around from place to place quite frequently, it’s tough to keep track of where exactly the action is taking place. Not that the plot (devised by Ivan Reiner, also the associate producer) is otherwise coherent. It’s cheap, childish and the miniature sets, spaceships, helicopters and cars look like they came straight out of kid’s toy box. Margheriti did a much better job on his Gothic films than this silly sci-fi outing.

1/2

Zero in and Scream (1970)

...aka: Sex Power

Directed by:
Lee Frost

Lots of exploitation movies feature sex watched through peepholes and binoculars, but this one features the sex viewed through a rifle scope cardboard cutout instead. That's about it for originality. Released on a 'sharpshooter' triple-bill by Something Weird, along with THE SEX KILLER (1967) and THE ZODIAC KILLER (1970), this attempts to terrify and titillate, not doing too well at either task. Don't get me wrong, this movie has a TON of full frontal nudity (female and male), a fairly attractive cast (and least body-wise), many sex scenes, outdoor sex romps, pool sex romps, two lesbian scenes, strippers and an orgy, but the drawn-out, 10-minute-long scenes are incredibly monotonous and will just make you want to fast-forward to the next sniping. The director (Lee Frost, using the alias "Les Emerson") tries to be artistic during the numerous underwater scenes, changing film stocks and such, but naked people flailing around in the water for an eternity isn't much fun to watch for an hour. So if you go into this one expecting action, blood, a plot or horror content, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Reclusive voyeuristic weirdo Mike (Michael Stearns), who likes his women to be "pure," shoots a love-making couple in the Hollywood Hills, goes back to his apparently one-room residence and listens to a radio broadcast about his crime. He then goes to a club with a marquee reading "Direct From Denmark - Love Dance Erotica." Inside are a bunch of distinctly American "bottomless," rhythm deficient strippers who dance to boring instrumental jazz. We see a brunette, a blonde and a crazy redhead go through their (long) routines. Another ten minutes in the can. The blonde stripper (Linda, played by Dawna Rae) invites Mike to a pool party at her pal Susan's (Cathy Horton) place, which turns into an orgy and lots of underwater shots of naked bodies going to and fro. Mike just stands around watching. Another ten/fifteen minutes in the can. By the way, there is almost no dialogue during this time.

Roy (Edward Frank), apparently the super-stud of the party, has sex with Susan, is mean to Mike, kicks him out, and immediately starts nailing Linda in the pool. Mike sneaks outside to a safe distance away on the hilltop, watches for a bit and then shoots the guy in the face before he can finish, leaving Linda screeching in terror (and sexually unfulfilled, no doubt). Mike goes home, has a long sex fantasy (yes, in a pool and yes, it seems to go on for at least 10 minutes) and snipes two lesbians going at it in the middle of the woods. He then goes to visit Linda and arranges to have a date with her. Linda apparently has a very short memory (or is just incredibly stupid), because the next time you see her she's casually lounging by the same pool where her previous lover was shot dead. Anyway, Mike shows up, starts acting weird and goes into a ridiculous, yet hilarious, speech ("When a man climbs on top of a woman she becomes ugly! He made her ugly. You were ugly! Did he ball you? Answer me! Did HE BALL YOU!?") He then holds her captive at rifle-point, makes her dance, rapes her and leaves, promising to return later to kill her. Next time you see Mike he's lurking around on the hillside again and, you guessed it, Linda's hanging out by the pool again in rifle range... again. Will Mike finally get what he deserves for his perverted ways? Or will Linda finally pay the ultimate price for being such a dumb whore?

Obviously influenced by the Zodiac Killer murders, this one might be worth a look for the nudity, but otherwise it's incredibly boring sexploitation with bottom-of-the-barrel acting, dialogue and production values. The quality of the print isn't the best either, with green vertical lines appearing in most of the frames.

1/2

Creeping Flesh, The (1972)

Directed by:
Freddie Francis

Troubled scientist Dr. Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing) has acquired a scary-looking ancient skeleton that houses what seems to be the essence of pure evil itself. Emmanuel is haunted by memories of his former wife (Jenny Runacre), who went insane, and has taken out his paranoia on his beautiful young daughter Penelope (Lorna Heilbron), who's more or less kept prisoner in their home and is the unwitting guinea pig in her mad father's experiments. Meanwhile, his conniving brother (Christopher Lee), a scientific rival, plots to steal the skeleton, which can generate its flesh with a touch of water. Also figuring into this is an insane asylum (which is run by Lee's character), a bald psycho (Kenneth J. Warren) terrorizing the city, a rowdy local tavern, flashbacks, gothic atmospherics and a slimy regenerated creature! With the killer cast (the four I mentioned above all giving excellent performances), engaging, intelligent and original storyline, good production values/period detail and some surprisingly grisly effects, you'll find yourself highly entertained, and it's beautifully shot and scored as well. One of the best features made by Tigon and on par with most of the best films produced at rival studios Hammer and Amicus. Also in the cast are George Benson, Duncan Lamont as a police inspector, Michael Ripper, Catherine Finn and Marianne Stone.

★★★

Countess Dracula (1971)

Directed by:
Peter Sasdy

Another treatment of the Elisabeth Bathory legend from Hammer studios, based on the novel "The Bloody Countess" by Valentine Penrose, is a pretty decent vehicle for Polish-born beauty Ingrid Pitt, who'd just gotten some attention for playing Carmilla in the hit THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970). The evil, aging Countess Elisabeth Nodosheen arrives in a small village to take command of a castle, where she discovers that she can regain her youth and beauty by bathing in the blood of young women. She has her own daughter Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down, who's young, whiny and a little grating here), then impersonates her and romances soldier Imre Toth (Sandor Elès), while killing busty Euro-babes with help from faithful servants Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) and Julie (Patience Collier). Though it got middling reviews when released, like most other Hammer films it isn't bad at all, especially compared to the crap we're subjected to nowadays. Pitt apparently was dubbed here for some reason (probably because of her thick Polish accent), but she's still responsible for a good deal of this films success because of both her sex appeal and the fact she's a good enough actress to delineate Elizabeth's distressed aged and glowing youthful personas.

Other aspects of the film, from the photography to the score to the costumes to the set/production design are pretty top notch. And don't be turned off by the PG rating, this features enough blood and nudity for an R. Also in the cast are Maurice Denham as the castle historian Master Fabio, Peter Jeffrey as the chief bailiff, Nike Arrighi and Susan Broderick and Marianne Stone as maids.

★★1/2

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Directed by:
Michael Gornick

The original CREEPSHOW featured five tales of horror using a colorful comic-book style to bring the stories to life. This time it's a trio of terror tales horror trilogy with macabre animated segments linking the three stories together. Instead of EC Comics as a basis, scriptwriter George A. Romero adapted three short stories by Stephen King, with mixed results. In "Old Chief Wood'nhead," a creepy-looking wooden Indian comes to life to avenge the deaths of elderly general store owner George Kennedy and his wife (played by Dorothy Lamour). The punks responsible for the crime (typically loud and insufferably annoying) are killed in gory ways; one is shot to death with arrows, one is killed with a tomahawk and the last gets scalped. The design on the Indian is great, creepy even, but the storyline is trite and predictable. Next comes "The Raft," which is easily the best segment and sticks closely to the King story. Four college students out for an afternoon of swimming (and pot-smoking) become trapped on a grounded raft and are promptly attacking by some kind of strange black creature which resembles a living oil slick. It owes a bit to THE BLOB, but has some suspense and several great death scenes. Finally "The Hitchhiker" has a rich bitch (Lois Chiles, who does what she can) being terrorized by the zombie of a guy (Tom Wright) she ran over in a hit-and-run accident. It's pretty bloody, but this segment grows monotonous and boring well before it's over. The animated segments that bookmark the live action ones feature a young boy getting revenge on some neighborhood bullies using a monster Venus fly trap. Tom Savini (who did the typically high quality gore fx for the film) also appears onscreen in full make-up as "The Creep" at the beginning and end.



Director Gornick had previously photographed DAWN OF THE DEAD and collaborated with Romero on the TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE TV show. He directed some episodes of that series, as well. The direct-to-video CREEPSHOW III (2004) followed and there's a remake of the first film on the horizon.

★★

Candy Snatchers, The (1973)

Directed by:
Guerdon Trueblood

An innocent Catholic schoolgirl named Candy (played by Susan Sennett of BIG BAD MAMA fame), daughter of a jewelry store manager, is kidnapped by a trio of small time criminals who plan on handing her back over to her family in exchange for diamonds from the father's store. In the meantime, poor Candy is tied up, gagged and even buried alive with only a pipe sticking out of the ground for breathing! If the criminals don't get what they want, they claim they'll kill her. Trouble is, Candy's father is actually a stepfather (not to mention an adulterous sociopath!) and he's happy she's been kidnapped because he wants her dead anyway so he can collect a multi-million dollar insurance policy! And that's not even half the story! THE CANDY SNATCHERS is a genuine sleeper that's well worth your time. It has what most other 70s exploitation movies lack; a well-written screenplay full of clever twists and turns. Just when you think you have an idea where the film is going, you're thrown for a loop. Also surprising is the overall quality of the acting. Playing the tough-as-nails female kidnapper, Tiffany Bolling (KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS) is the only one of the main stars I recognize in the cast, and this is easily the best performance I've ever seen from her. The other lead actors (Brad David, Vincent Martorano...) are also very competent. Special mention must go to Ben Piazza as the most remorseless, cold, greedy, evil and completely unsympathetic stepfather imaginable.

There's a lot of brutality, two violent rapes, child abuse, some gore (a shotgun blast to the face, a stabbing, etc.), a little (autistic?) mute boy who knows what's going on but can't communicate it to anyone (and played by the director's son under the name "Christophe") and a brief cameo by James Whitworth (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) getting beat over the head with a board. The ending is absolutely priceless and effectively ties up all the loose ends. The DVD from Subversive Cinema (released in 2005) has loads of goodies, including an entertaining and informative commentary track, trailers and interviews with leading ladies Sennett and Bolling.

Definitely a sleeper. Check it out!

★★★
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