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, November 14, 2008

E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldilà (1981)

...aka: Aldilà, L'
...aka: And You Will Live in Terror
...aka: Beyond, The
...aka: Seven Doors of Death

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

An artist (Antoine Saint-John) is attacked by a mob, who brutally chain whip, crucify and melt away his face with acid, in the monochrome pre-credit period sequence. Many years later, Liza (Catriona MacColl, who also starred in THE GATES OF HELL and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY from the same director) inherits the same cursed Louisiana mansion/hotel and moves in there with renovation crew in tow. A rash of unexplained, supernatural events and mysterious, gory murders soon follow, and anyone who investigates the strange goings-on at the home face an appropriately gruesome demise. The home turns out to be housing one of the seven ancient gateways to hell, which is located somewhere in the flooded basement. A scary-looking ghoul keeps popping up all over the place, a plumber (Giovani De Nava) gets his eyeball squashed out by a zombie and the maid (Veronica Lazar) gets her head impaled on a spike. In a morgue, acid melts away a face and more zombies show up. A man is attacked by tarantulas in a library, who bite at his eyeball, nose and lips in close-up. There's also a mysterious blind-woman ("Sarah Keller"/Cinzia Monreale) with white eyes who keeps showing up warning of doom. Italian horror regular David Warbeck co-stars as a doctor who helps Liza try to figure out what's going on, and Al Cliver has a smaller role as another doctor.

Anyone familiar with the films of Fulci pretty much know what to expect here. There's little plot, a decent amount of atmosphere and grisly gore fx showcased in lengthy, graphic murder set-pieces. The pacing never seems quite right, though, and the film seems to drag in between the outbursts of gore. However, the storyline holds a little interest, the movie is surprisingly surreal at times and the ending is enjoyably ambiguous, so it's easy to see why this is one of the director's most acclaimed works.

Quentin Tarantino is a big fan of the film and, in association with his Rolling Thunder Pictures, prompted a limited theatrical re-release about ten years back, then a video reissue of the uncut version with an additional 10 minutes of (mostly) gore restored came. The cast and crew credits for the original Aquarius video release (as SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH) are mostly incorrect. To be perfectly honest, though, in some ways I prefer the shorted SDOD cut of the film to the longer cut. Sure that version was hacked to death and is missing some of the gore but it also moved along quicker and trimmed out some of the boring talky sequences that are basically redundant and do nothing for the film aside from bringing it to a screeching halt. And for some reason, I much prefer Seven Door's score to the one by Fabio Frizzi that's used in the original version.

★★1/2

Berserk! (1967)

...aka: Circus of Blood
...aka: Circus of Terror

Directed by:
Jim O'Connolly

At the Great Rivers Circus, aerialist Gaspar the Great's high wire act meets with tragedy when his tight rope snaps and somehow manages to wrap around his neck like a noose as he's falling; hanging him. Accident? The authorities seem to think so, but cold-blooded co-owner Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford) doesn't seem to care how he was killed. She doesn't hide the fact she thinks her performers are all expendable. She's all-business, all the time, and seems delighted that the publicity surrounding the death might increase box office sales. Hey, it's been a slow year! And just like in the 1960 gem CIRCUS OF HORRORS, that's just what happens; an occasional freak accident seems to bring the audience in in droves. Monica's frustrated business partner/part time lover Albert Dorando (Michael Gough) agrees that "People have a morbid curiosity about death" but is sick of dealing with Monica and demands she buy him out, forcing Ms. Rivers to use her feminine wiles to convince him to stay on for a bit longer ("I just may let you tuck me in tonight.") For starters, this is Joan Crawford and Michael Gough we're talking about and they're two of the effortlessly campiest people the genre has ever seen. Watching these two interact during the first few scenes is what I like to call camp nirvana. Actually it's almost too camp for this reviewer to handle. Well, almost. In any case, great stuff.

Arriving on the scene soon after the death of Gaspar is handsome, cocky performer Frank (Ty Hardin), who goes by the name "The Magnificent Hawkins." His act involves the dreaded "walk of death" where he walks a tightrope over a bed of razor-sharp bayonets while wearing a hood over his head. Both impressed by his act and by his physique, Monica decides to hire Frank as a replacement. Soon the two become lovers, and Frank starts to get a little greedy. He not only wants a big caravan with his name on it but also split ownership of the circus. Meanwhile, Albert is killed when someone hammers a spike through his head. This brings not only a Scotland Yard detective (played by Robert Hardy) to investigate, but also a cloud of suspicion that hangs over everyone at the circus. Monica and Frank are both chief suspects, but there's also Monica's faithful dwarf assistant Bruno (George Claydon), a strongman, a skeleton man, a bearded lady, a fortune teller and others who may have reason to be committing these murders. It's definitely a bad time for Monica's cherubic teen daughter Angela (Judy Geeson) to get kicked out of private school and return to the circus looking for work. And hard-drinking, tart-tongued tramp Matilda (Diana Dors) doesn't help matters either. She's convinced Monica is the killer and doesn't hesitate to let the world know how she's feeling. Even though she's married to magician Lazlo (Philip Madoc), Matilda tries to seduce Frank with a bottle of cheap booze in his trailer and is later involved in a memorable catfight with Marianne Stone. There's no shortage of suspects, but the eventual resolution is as illogical as it is unintentionally hilarious with the psycho, after finally being discovered, shrieking "Kill! Kill! Kill!" and darting out into the rain where he/she is immediately struck down by lightning!

In addition to the murders (including someone getting split in half with a giant electric saw blade), we get to see several long circus acts that really don't have anything to do with the plot, but do add to the overall atmosphere. Some viewers may find these tedious to sit through, but I liked watching most of them. There's a lion tamers act, a bunch of horses doing laps around the ring act and a knife thrower's act. There's also a great act involving 5-ton "Jody the Wonder Elephant," who walks over six women lying on the ground. My favorite act though is Phyllis Allen and Her Intelligent Poodles; which is basically a bunch of dogs doing a conga line, jumping through hoops, doing flips, jumping rope, dancing and walking the tight rope. It's a lot of fun, and the circus atmosphere itself is colorful and well presented in this film. There's even a musical number where four of the "freaks" do a song-dance called "It Might Be Me" while looking directly at the camera!

But when all is said and done, this entire film is pretty much dominated by that blistering force of nature known as Joan Crawford. As if being cast in a role obviously meant for someone in their mid to late 30s wasn't amusing enough, the 62-year-old gets to run around for much of the time in tights, panties and a ringmaster's coat (an outfit she admittedly still looks pretty good in). Flatteringly lit at all times (notice the shadows around her neck), with her trademark dark penciled-in eyebrows and her hair pulled back very tightly (is this what they did before face-lifts?) and complemented by some weird orange bun hair piece, she carries on entertainingly throughout. Much of her lines are either dripping with sexual innuendo as if written for a desirable young sexpot to recite or are extremely bitchy ("Look. Don't waste my time with these broken down has-beens. Some of them are as old as my elephants and twice as wrinkled!"). While you might squirm a little watching her awkward romantic scenes with her hunky male co-star (who was half her age when filming), it's still a blast to watch and is quintessential Joan in her twilight years the way we horror fans know her and love her.

Score: 6.5 out of 10

Buried Alive (1988)

...aka: Edgar Allan Poe's Buried Alive

Directed by:
Gérard Kikoïne

A former insane asylum called The Ravenscroft Institute has been transformed into a school for trashy-looking, overaged, troubled "teen" girls. Very pretty blonde science teacher Janet Pendleton (former Playboy Playmate Karen Witter) joins the Ravenscroft staff and immediately begins to have nightmarish visions while a mystery killer prowls around the school killing people. Robert Vaughn is top-billed as Dr. Gary Julian, who runs the institute, and the always welcome Donald Pleasence, as a goofy German doctor in a bad wig, may be behind all of it. Former porn queen Ginger Lynn Allen (playing a trouble-making bitch who ends getting her mouth stuffed with wet concrete) and Nia Long are the two tough main students. John Carradine, just as Naish and Karloff before him, was so ill he had to act in a wheelchair, but shows up in a minute-long cameo. He died later the same year in Milan, and this was his last film (and is also dedicated to him). Arnold Vosloo (years before THE MUMMY) plays a cop and William Butler plays Allen's boyfriend. There's also an ant-infestation, a black cat, a groupie shower scene and a scalping via electric mixer (!) to attempt to hold your interest, but this just simply isn't very good. The director made the much more interesting EDGE OF SANITY (1989), starring Tony Perkins in a Jekyll & Hyde type role, next.

Score: 2.5 out of 10

Brides of Dracula, The (1960)

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

Hammer's second vampire film (out of many) reunited director Fisher, writer Jimmy Sangster and star Peter Cushing after their success in the hit HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). At the time, Christopher Lee refused to do the part and would not don the cape and fangs again until 1966's DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Instead of the dark, silent count, here we get blonde, charismatic and youthful-looking Baron Meinster (David Peel), a bloodsucker kept in check by his overbearing, haughty ma (Martita Hunt), who keeps him imprisoned with silver chains at her chateau, but still makes sure her son is well fed, if you catch my drift. The vampire is accidentally released by a beautiful French teacher (Yvonne Monlaur), who incidentally is just starting her position as a teacher at a nearby learning institution for girls... the perfect place for the Baron to find some naive young victims. Cushing expertly essays the role as vampire expert Van Helsing and Freda Jackson has a scene-stealing role as a fanatical housekeeper.

Fisher's solid direction, Malcolm Williamson's eerie score, rich color photography by Jack Asher, exquisite period/Gothic art direction from Bernard Robinson, a strong (and very interesting) undercurrent of sexual eccentricity that runs through the entire film and excellent performances make this an underrated effort from Hammer; my second favorite of all their vampire films (that I've so far, still have a few to go!). The cast includes Miles Malleson as a doctor, Henry Oscar, Mona Washbourne, Victor Brooks, Michael Ripper as a coachman and Vera Cook.

★★★

Landru (1962)

...aka: Bluebeard

Directed by:
Claude Chabrol

Less exploitative and more accurate than other versions of the same tale, this is the true story of French madman Henri-Desiré Landru (played here by Charles Denner), who seduced and murdered 11 women in France for their money, leading to his capture and beheading. Released theatrically in the U.S. as BLUEBEARD, it's a difficult movie to find these days on home video, even though a subtitled and dubbed VHS were released. Michèle Morgan, Danielle Darrieux, Hildegard Knef, Henri Attal, Juliette Mayniel (EYES WITHOUT A FACE), Stéphane Audran and Catherine Rouvel co-star. Originally titled LANDRU.

Score: Haven't seen it.

Blaue Hand, Die (1967)

...aka: Bloody Dead, The
...aka: Creature with the Blue Hand

Directed by:
Alfred Vohrer

One of the only German krimni features released to American theaters (under the title CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND and recut/badly dubbed for a 1971 double billing with BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT), this Edgar Wallace adaptation involves a cloaked lunatic with a spiked glove doing his thing around a castle and an insane asylum. One man is wrongly blamed for the killings and must prove his innocence. Klaus Kinski (in his 15th appearance in a film based on Wallace!) gets to play good and bad twins here. Harald Leipnitz stars as Inspector Craig, along with Carl Lange (THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM) as a doctor, Albert Bessler, Ilse Pagé and Siegfried Schürenberg. In 1987, director Samuel M. Sherman, along with special effects maestro Ed French, added new scenes and gory insert shots to spice up the film. Strangely, that cut of the film wasn't even released until 1999 as a part of the "Very Strange Video" collection. The Image DVD release contains both the original cut and the newer version, as well as a commentary track from Sherman.

Score: Haven't seen it.

Beauty and the Beast (1962)

Directed by:
Edward L. Cahn

Nearly forgotten version of the tale, with Mark Damon (HOUSE OF USHER) as a cursed duke who turns into a werewolf-like monster at nightfall. Only the love of a beautiful young woman (Joyce Taylor, remembered for her role in TWICE-TOLD TALES) can free him. This was the last film for director Edward L. Cahn (who died the following year) and also the final make-up effects job for legendary Universal makeup man Jack Pierce (who passed away in 1968). With Michael Pate and Merry Anders.

Score: Haven't seen it.

Backwoods (1986)

...aka: Geek

Directed by:
Dean Crow

A young couple (Christina Noonan and Brad Armacost), who pretend to be siblings but aren't (?), go hiking and camping in a secluded Kentucky forest. After Spam humor and a tent sex scene, they end up saving a young girls life. The girl's hillbilly father (Dick Kreusser) invites them back to his house for dinner, so they go and decide to stay a bit and help care for the little girl (Leslie Denise). William (Jack O'Hara), a drooling, toothless, bearded slob is the repulsive, retarded older son. He has a murderous past, kills animals, geeks chickens and watches the woman change clothes several times. Nothing much happens in the entire first hour (it plays more like a drama than a backwoods horror flick), so it's a relief when William finally goes nuts and starts attacking everyone. And it's all because Karen's hair is just like his late mothers (!?) While BACKWOODS isn't really anything special, it's actually pretty entertaining and has its moments. The cast is also pretty enjoyable; O'Hara is creepy enough to elicit chills and Noonan (not a bad actress) is a pretty good heroine who fights back, runs through the forest and sets up booby traps to help defend herself.

Filmed in Indiana as GEEK and very low budget, but worth a look fans of obscure backwoods horror flicks. If you want a somewhat similar and much more outrageous killer geek movie, check out LUTHER THE GEEK (1988).

Score: 4.5 out of 10

April Fool's Day (1986)

Directed by:
Fred Walton

What appears to be your standard 80s slasher movie for the first 80 or so minutes really is just your standard 80s slasher movie for the first 80 or so minutes. Yet this one has a reputation for being "different" and that's because there's a major pull-the-rug-out-from-under-the-audience surprise ending which I won't reveal here just in case you haven't seen it. You'll either like it or you'll hate it. Personally I didn't care much for it and that's because I've seen the same style of ending used countless times already. You know, in flicks like Mark of the Vampire (1935), Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956) and the list goes on. Here it's simply applied to a slasher flick, a subgenre primarily known for body counts and gore. Since the kills are all off-screen (people usually just walk off somewhere and are found dead later) and the horror component is ultimately undermined anyway, some people will find it a nice change of pace while others find it a complete waste of time.

The usually enjoyable Deborah Foreman (from the hit comedy Valley Girl and several additional late 80s horror offerings) stars as Muffy St. Jacques, who invites a group of wealthy future-yuppie collegiate types to her family's secluded island mansion. Once there, someone in the group starts threatening the characters and then starts prowling around, killing them off one by one. There's a decapitated head, an off screen castration, a hanging and a pretty good scene in a well. Since it's April Fool's Day, the cast plays all kinds of practical jokes on each other, so most of the characters think everything is fake until dead bodies start popping up. The people behind it called it a "parody" of FRIDAY THE 13TH (it's by the same producer) and despite having fairly good production values and being generally well made, I found it pretty bland and ordinary for the most part. I also didn't feel like the ending was clever enough to redeem the rest. I like a lot of the actors in this movie (especially Clayton Rohner) but I didn't care for the characters they played here. Talk about obnoxious. The cast includes Jay Baker, Deborah Goodrich, Tom Heaton, Ken Olandt, Griffin O'Neal, Amy Steel (FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 2) and Thomas F. Wilson (from the Back to the Future films). Trapped (1989), a made-for-cable effort involving a businesswoman trapped in a high rise with a killer, was the next horror offering from the director.

Ants (1977) (TV)

...aka: It Happened at Lakewood Manor
...aka: Panic at Lakewood Manor
...aka: Terror at Lakewood



Directed by:
Robert Scheerer

Nature runs amuck flicks were all the rage in the late 70s and we have JAWS (1975) to thank for that. Even though Spielberg's film was hardly the first of its type, it was such a huge hit that it single-handedly prompted hundreds (yes, hundreds) of similar killer animal films within the first five years of its release. By the end of that decade there were movies about killer cockroaches (1975's BUG), dogs (1976's THE PACK, 1977's SLAUGHTER), worms (1976's SQUIRM), bears (1976's GRIZZLY; 1977's CLAWS), spiders (1977's KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS and TARANTULAS: THE DEADLY CARGO), whales (1977's ORCA), piranha (1978's PIRANHA), octopus (1977's TENTACLES), crocs (1979's CROCODILE) and many other animal species. Some didn't even bother using a different animal and just replayed sharks again, such as MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH (1976), SHARK KILL (1976), TINTORERA (1977), BERMUDA: CAVE OF THE SHARK (1978) and - by my count - at least a dozen (!) more. Some went that extra mile by including multiple species of killer animal all in the same film, such as LONG WEEKEND (1976), THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) and THE BEASTS ARE ON THE STREETS (1978). Fitting right in with the killer animal flicks were the killer bug flicks. The ever-popular killer bee prompted numerous films such as 1976's THE SAVAGE BEES and no less that three 1978 releases: the big budget, all-star-cast, critically ridiculed THE SWARM, the Mexican production THE BEES and the made-for-TV movie TERROR OUT OF THE SKY (a sequel [!] to The Savage Bees).




In case you haven't already guessed it, this TV movie involves (drum roll please...) killer ants. A first? Actually, no. Hell, it wasn't even the only killer ant movie of its year. EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, a cheese-fest about giant, super-intelligent ants starring Joan Collins, also debuted in 1977 (though it played in theaters, unlike this one). Ants! doesn't feature giant ants, just normal-sized ones... and yet it can't even claim to be the first to do that either. The vastly superior PHASE IV (1974) featured them as well, only three years earlier. And, of course, the killer ant movie to end all killer ant movies was THEM!, a still highly enjoyable gem from way back in 1954.





Things center around the large Lakewood Manor hotel and a construction site right across the street, where workers are preparing to build another hotel / resort. Two men, one in the process of getting attacked by something(s) tiny and black (wink), are accidentally buried when a bulldozer pushes a mound of dirt on top of them. When discovered, they're rushed off to the hospital, where the doctor informs crew boss Mike Carr (Robert Foxworth - 1979's mutant killer bear film PROPHECY) and his co-worker Vince (Bernie Casey) that both men have high levels of toxins in their systems. One of the men dies. Next up, a little boy digging through a dumpster for bottles to help his divorcee mother, gets coated in ants, panics and jumps in the pool. He manages to survive, but the hotel cook isn't so lucky when ants emerge from the kitchen drain and kill him. Mike puts two and two together and decides to warn the staff what's going on. Everyone thinks his theory about killer ants is ridiculous, Mike gets pissed off and decides to take his frustrations out on the ant mound by destroying the colony with a bulldozer, sending millions of pissed off ants toward the hotel, which "trap" the remaining inhabitants inside. One ant bite is relatively harmless, but dozens of nibbles disorient, paralyze and kill.





There's a Love Boat style cast of familiar faces to ensure this got plenty of TV play back in the day. Lynda Day George has the female lead as Mike's girlfriend Valerie, who helps run the hotel for her elderly, wheelchair-bound mother Ethel (guest star Myrna Loy). Valerie is trying to coerce mom into retiring and selling out to a scumbag developer (Gerald Gordon) so that she and her boyfriend can move to San Francisco together. They, along with a young handyman (Barry Van Dyke) in the midst of a new romance with a runaway (Karen Lamm), become stuck in the hotel and have to head up to the third floor as they await help. A crew of police, firemen (headed by Brian Dennehy) and the Coast Guard show up for one of the most problematic rescue attempts ever organized. They almost drop a panicking girl from a ladder, make a fire ditch surrounding the hotel to keep the ants inside and, in the most hilarious bit, accidentally coat a mob of nosy onlookers with ants while trying to land a helicopter. Casey comes to the rescue by spraying down the screaming, ant-covered crowd with a fire hose! The final scene, with the three remaining people sitting in a room breathing through tubes of rolled-up wallpaper while ants crawl over their bodies is odd to put it mildly.





Hokey as this all is, it does provide a little fun. No concrete explanation is ever given for the attacking buggers, aside from asides from a scientist and bug expert about how we pollute our environment and it shouldn't surprise us that another species use poison against us. The ant swarm is accomplished via lots of close-ups, black specks painted all over the walls and a few poorly dated visual effects.




Publicity for this film usually centered around ants crawling on co-star Suzanne Somers' (playing the developers business partner) bare back and cleavage. If just the thought of Somers getting ambushed by ants while lying in bed basking in post coital glory after giving in the advances of her slimy and much older co-worker makes you chuckle then you're probably the target audience for this one.

It was distributed in America by Live and U.S.A. Home Video on VHS. Fremantle Media handled the DVD release in 2006.

★★

Offerings (1989)

Directed by:
Christopher Reynolds

Pity poor young John Radley and his miserable existence. His abusive, gap-tooth grinding mother ridicules him and gleefully ashes in his scrambled eggs. Dad isn't around and the neighborhood banana bike brigade teases him because he's too shy to talk. What's worse, he becomes disfigured and comatose after being knocked into a well by his prepubescent peers. After spending years in a coma, he awakens, escapes and heads home for revenge, leaving body part "offerings" from his victims to the one girl who was his childhood friend (Loretta Leigh Bowman). Entertainment value is not hard to find in a cheap, stupid regional concoction like this. You'll be amazed by the bizarre accents mixing twang, valley talk and congested stoner slang spoken to monotone perfection by teenage Oklahoma trailer trash! Or laugh at the brain dead cops on the case, who might remind you of Barney Fife on an especially bad day. Or count the endless cliches and head to toe fashion no-nos (including the lovely star tie and stonewashed jean jacket ensemble). Or decide which is more derivative of Halloween - the characters, plot or music. This is one of the most unintentionally uproarious horror film from the 80s. Schlock fans check this out.

★1/2 SBIG

Macabro (1980)

...aka: Frozen Terror
...aka: Macabre

Directed by:
Lamberto Bava

Lamberto Bava, having rather big shoes to fill being the son of first rate director/cinematographer Mario Bava, made his directorial debut here and is successful at building a claustrophobic, tense atmosphere but the screenplay (which he co-wrote with Pupi Avati) doesn't really go anywhere worthwhile and takes its sweet time going there. New Orleans housewife Jane Baker (Bernice Stegers) is not only a bitch, but also a neglectful mother to her two children and is cheating on her hard-working husband (Fernando Pannullo) with another man (Roberto Posse). Her unbalanced, pre-teen daughter (Veronica Zinny) catches mom getting busy with her lover and decides to get back at her by drowning her young brother in the bathtub! While rushing off to the hospital with her injured child, the car crashes, a steal beam flies into the car, and the mother's lover is decapitated. Jane loses her mind, goes to a mental home for a short spell, then is released, only to return to her lover's apartment.
.
Robert (Stanko Molnar), a friendly blind man who lives in the same building, keeps hearing strange noises coming from her room at night. Turns out the head was never found at the accident site, and mom keeps it locked in the freezer to kiss, talk to and have sex with! The acting doesn't really seem too bad (even though the dubbing is terrible) and it's more restrained than you might expect when it comes to on-screen violence and gore (it seems to be trying for a more low-key psychological approach). No, it's not always successful and there is no good payoff at the finale. In fact, the ridiculous surprise twist ending is one of the worst imaginable... Oh boy, is it ever bad. I usually don't do this, but I'm inserting a big ole Spoiler Warning here, so if you don't want to ruin the big twist you may want to stop reading right here...

So anyway... The lover's severed head itself comes to life and chomps a guy's neck. Yep, a film with no hint at the supernatural suddenly wants to have it both ways at the very end. These kind of endings can actually work if done correctly. In this case, it doesn't. I don't know if this was tacked on by the producers because the film is lacking in shock value or if it was intended to not be taken as is, but either way it just doesn't work. And it certainly ruins the claim in the opening credits that it's all "based on a true story." Bava returned a few years later with the giallo A BLADE IN THE DARK (1982) and would become famous amongst gore fans for his first two DEMONS films (1985-86).
.
★★

Emanuelle in America (1977)

... aka: Brutal Nights
... aka: Black Emanuelle in America

Directed by:
Joe D'Amato

NYC-based photo journalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) knows she’s got the workings of a hot story when she travels through the labyrinthine underground sex culture with a secret camera, where one sexuality perversity leads to ten more, each more extreme than the next. Being the insatiable Emanuelle, she can’t help but participate in some of it, as well. D’Amato’s most notorious exploitation effort tries to cater to a variety of fetish, from the most basic to the most exotic. The sex in the Blue Underground uncut version is both soft-core and hardcore (the latter supposedly added by French distributors after the film was completed). The couplings range from the expected pairings (man/woman, woman/woman…) to a cake orgy in Venice, a tropical vacation retreat for sex-starved women and a whore-house complete with a notorious scene of requited female-equine love. It’s reputation as a major cine-shocker for sick movie buffs seems to hang solely on two portions, the first of which is the horse yanker scene (which really isn't even all that bad). The second is some strong and effective snuff film footage at the very end of the picture when Gemser hooks up with a "respectable" U.S. senator (Roger Browne). Shot on grainy film stock and with gore, torture and breast/vaginal mutilation galore, it does rise to the extreme level of repulsiveness sick movie freaks want. Otherwise, this Emanuelle outing is your usually badly dubbed, badly written and badly acted Euro sex flick with many gruelingly boring passages.

Gemser is certainly beautiful to look at, but she seems in a daze throughout most of the film (an exception being a look of mild discomfort while viewing the snuff footage). Italian horror fans should note the appearances of Gabriele Tinti (Mr. Gemser) and Paola Senatore as a rich Italian couple, Lorraine de Selle as a lesbian named Gemini and Salvatore Baccaro (Ook from FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS). Also with adult film actress Marina Hedman. The original U.S. release was basically missing all of the content that makes it worth watching in the first place, so avoid all early video prints and go for the DVD (which also features decent interviews with both D’Amato and Gemser).

★★

Les avaleuses (1973)

... aka: Aroused Passions
... aka: Bare Breasted Countess, The
... aka: Black Countess, The
... aka: Comtesse aux seins nus, La
... aka: Comtesse noire, La
... aka: Erotic Kill
... aka: Erotikill
... aka: Erotikill: Lady Dracula 2
... aka: Insatiable Lust
... aka: Jacula (Yacula)
... aka: Last Thrill, The
... aka: Loves of Irina, The
... aka: Sicarius - the Midnight Party

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

If you're a fan of Spanish actress Lina Romay's nude scenes, are a Jess Franco film completist or just looking for something with a lot of full female nudity, you may want to check this out. Others are warned to steer clear of this virtually plot-less and incredibly slow-going vampire-sex film. The Image DVD I viewed (titled Female Vampire) is just one of many different cuts that have been released. Some versions are reduced in length with added horror scenes (such as the one titled Erotikill, except in Germany where the same title has explicit sex scenes [confusing, ain't it?]), and others emphasize the sex aspect (such as The Loves of Irina, which may be identical to the cut released by Image under the listed title). Several of the alternate titles (Aroused Passions, Insatiable Lust, etc.) have added hardcore scenes of the lady vamp sucking more than just blood. In fact, that's the same premise of the Female Vampire cut (the countess claiming victims by sucking out their life force via oral sex), except we don't actually get to see that done in a graphic fashion. In any case, this one's a very minor and almost amateurish effort for the director, complete with monotonous scenes of people walking around endlessly, horribly written dialogue and voice-over narration, people lounging in bed, people driving around in cars and sex / nude scenes that seem to go on for an eternity. It will certainly try the patience of most viewers, especially those looking for a horror film.

Romay plays the title role; mute, blank-eyed vampire Countess Irina Karlstein, who is the last living member of her family and has just ventured onto the island of Madeira, which I think is off the coast of Portugal. She's first seen wandering around in the woods wearing only a belt and an open cape. The camera pans up and down, the zoom goes in and out, it goes from focus to out-of-focus, and the same irritating "technique" will basically be repeated throughout the entire film. In one close-up shot she even clearly bumps her head into the camera! Irina finds a guy to seduce in broad daylight (guess she's no normal vampire) and gives him a deadly blow job while he leans up against a chain length fence. Then she flaps her cape and is suddenly driving around in a car, complete with a bat hood ornament with flapping wings. Through voice over we get to hear her thoughts as she bitches about how she's miserable and hopes her reign as a vampire will come to an end already. Apparently she's a celebrity too because a bikini-wearing journalist (Anna Watican) wants to interview her for a piece that will appear in all the major news publications in Europe and the United States. She starts her interview by stating "I know that you're a mute but I also know that you can hear very well." This is followed by such probing questions as "Do you feel ill-at-ease being the descendant of a family of vampires?"

Irina claims a second victim; hotel masseur / gigolo Raymond Hardy, then a third (the journalist) and has a long sex scene with each. Her hulking manservant (Luis Barboo) disposes of the bodies for her. She takes another naked stroll through the woods, then goes home and starts humping a bed post and a pillow. She encounters two sadistic lesbians (Alice Arno and Monica Swinn) who like to chain women up to walls and whip them, and becomes romantically involved with a guy (played by Jack Taylor) drawn to the supernatural aura of the island. Cut between these scenes are even more boring ones featuring the director himself as Dr. Roberts. He performs an (off-screen) autopsy on the first victim ("He was bitten in the middle of an orgasm and the vampire sucked his semen and his life away!") and spends most of his time sitting at a desk across from either a police detective or blind, strange phenomena expert Dr. Orloff (Jean-Pierre Bouyxou), who feels up a corpse to try to locate bite marks on her clitoris. Yikes.

Sprinkled throughout are shots of misty forests, the sky, water skiers, birds flying around, a zoom in on water in a swimming pool, etc. There are a few effective artistic touches here and there, but it moves at a snail's pace and becomes so overwhelmingly boring at times you may even start fast-forwarding through all of the sex scenes.

1/2

Fangs (1974)

...aka: Holy Wednesday
...aka: Snakes

Directed by:
Arthur A. Names

Snakey Bender (veteran character actor Les Tremayne; pretty charming in a rare lead role) is a friendly, eccentric, misunderstood psychopath who loses it after several strange characters push him over the edge. He decides to get even using his slithering serpents as instruments for revenge. FANGS refreshingly goes out of its way to be different, especially with an odd assortment of colorful characters. A cheerful, outwardly respectful schoolteacher (Bebe Kelly) livens up her weeks by having sex with a huge blacksnake name Lucifer (it's only shown in shadow). A redneck grocery store clerk (Bruce Kimball) and his butch lesbian sister (Alice Nunn) try to seduce the teacher and kill one of Snakey's beloved pets. Snakey's former best friend (Richard Kennedy), his much younger sexpot wife (Janet Wood, who dances topless), and a corrupt preacher (Marvin Kaplan) are the other victims. He keeps Wood prisoner, ties her to a chair and makes her watch as he kills everyone. A pit full of rattlesnakes, an amusing poisonous snake-in-a-barrel game and the teacher covered with a variety snakes are the best death scenes. The music score is credited to John Phillip Souza! Originally titled SNAKES (an even more forgettable title than FANGS), this is cheap looking and flatly photographed, but entertaining and pretty offbeat.

Score: 6 out of 10

Fair Game (1982)

...aka: Desolation Angels

Directed by:
Christopher Fitchett

I'd heard a few people mention an Australian horror-thriller called FAIR GAME and remember them saying it was pretty good. Little did I know but when I picked up this FAIR GAME I was actually getting the wrong film. Apparently the "good" one is from 1986 and starred John Denver's ex-wife Cassandra Delaney as a wildlife sanctuary worker who is terrorized by three kangaroo hunters. Oops. To make matters even more confusing, there's also an Italian thriller called FAIR GAME, which was also shot in 1986 and starred Sting's wife Trudie Styler as a woman terrorized by a mamba snake inside her home. Of course I didn't know that this FAIR GAME (originally called DESOLATION ANGELS, a much cooler title) wasn't the recommendation until after I finished and came online to look up some information on it. In any case, I approached it with really no expectations and it turned out to be an OK low-budget thriller with some suspense, some action and decent performances all around. I don't regret spending 80-minutes watching it.

Schoolgirl Liz (Marie O'Loughlin) decides she wants to get away from her preoccupied mother for the weekend. She steals one of mom's keys to the secluded family beach house, makes a copy and invites her best friend Joanne (Kerry Mack) to come along. Joanne thinks it would be a good idea to invite new-girl-in-town Jilly (Kim Trengove) along as well. All three girls lie to their parents and then take off toward the beach. Meanwhile, Pamela (Karen West) is pressured into cashing a phony 35,000 check by her criminal boyfriend at the bank. Instead of meeting him at the airport with the briefcase full of money, she takes off. The film then cuts back to the three girls, who are stalked and terrorized on back roads by the occupants of two black station wagons, who follow them around and try to run them off the road. After about ten minutes of close calls, they make it to a police station, report the cars and go to the beach house to start their vacation. Pamela also happens to be hiding out in the same small community and one of the girls befriends her. Those inside the black cars, who turn out to be four sadistic/murderous/rapist thugs, ultimately turn up to terrorize and start murdering the ladies.

Strangely, elements from just about every genre known to man are thrown into the mix. It starts out as coming-of-age teen drama/comedy before turning into a crime flick before turning into a road movie before turning into a DUEL like killer car flick before turning into survival thriller with women fighting back with rifles, broken bottles and even a harpoon. If that isn't enough, it also squeezes in some fairly suspenseful horror stalk-and-slash sequences. It's actually not too bad and I found it pretty entertaining overall. The actors are fairly good, the script is decent and the movie provides a bit of character development to go along with the violence and thrills.

Score: 6 out of 10

Fair Game (1988)

...aka: Mamba

Directed by:
Mario Orfini

Interesting premise; to get revenge on his wife (who's threatening divorce) an wealthy electronics wiz (Gregg Henry) locks her inside her fancy apartment with a deadly black mamba snake and monitors the two through tracking devices and phone calls outside in his car. Unfortunately the direction, scripting and editing are so uneven that this is never as scary, suspenseful or entertaining as it could have been. There isn't a whole lot to watch here… unless you're interested in seeing Trudie ("I'm-married-to-Sting") Styler contorting her body to demonstrate yoga positions, talking to herself, lounging in a bubble bath or running around in her panties screaming. In fact, this often comes off more as a showcase for Styler's fit bod than a horror-thriller. And is that good-lookin' dude in the intro really Chop Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2? Sure is. But don't expect much from Bill Moseley here. Just a brief appearance. The score is from Giorgio Moroder and a soundtrack album was also released.

Not to be confused with no less than two Australian thrillers from the same decade that used the same title (1982's Desolation Angels and 1986's Fair Game). It was originally titled Mamba (a title kept for its European release).

★★

Luchadoras contra el médico asesino, La (1962)

...aka: Doctor of Doom
...aka: Rock 'N' Roll Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Ape
...aka: Sex Monster

Directed by:
René Cardona

Monster ape men, acid-scarred mad doctors and female wrestlers with leotards pulled over their cone bras and granny panties... A recipe for a classic if there ever was one. This color import was the first of the several super-corny "Luchadoras" (Wrestling Women) movies produced in Mexico during the 1960s and distributed in the US by K. Gordon Murray (who reportedly made a bundle off of them). Of the ones I've seen so far (three in total), this is by far the funniest and most entertaining of the bunch and should register high on the must-see list of any self-respecting camp fanatic. After a wrestling match where world champion grappler Gloria Venus (Lorena Velázquez) triumphs, we learn there's a madman busy at work in the city and he's leaving behind an ever increasing number of dead female bodies. Turns out the killer is a mad doctor (whose face is kept covered the majority of the movie to conceal his secret identity) trying to perfect his brain transplant operations, but the women keep dying. Thinking they are failing because the women they're using are unintelligent and have low IQs, the doc sends out his gang of thugs to abduct chemist Alice Fontaine (Sonia Infante) out from under the watchful eye of her superior Dr. Wright (Roberto Cañedo), but her operation also results in death, so he then sets his sights on getting a hold of a woman who is physically strong... just like Gloria and her female wrestler friends! Oh yeah, there's also Gomar (Gerardo Zepeda); a half-man/half-gorilla monster who's kept locked up in the basement, grunts and eats entire racks of meat at one sitting. The doctor can control him telepathically, so he occasionally sends him out on the town with some human henchmen to kidnap women and throw around the cops. The doctor has also created a nice bulletproof sheet metal suit and mask for Gomar to wear that wards off those pesky bullets. A pair of detectives; Mike Henderson (Armando Silvestre) and his short, cowardly partner Tommy (Chucho Salinas; the forced "comic relief" in a film already full of it), are on the case.

Meanwhile, back at the gym, Gloria learns that Alice (her sister) has been killed and swears vengeance. She and the other wrestlers are also introduced to a new wrestler by the name of Golden Rubi (Elizabeth Campbell). Since both Gloria and Rubi are tall, statuesque and attractive, and the rest of the wrestling women look like Danny DeVito in drag, they're paired together for tag team matches against such foes as The Gazelle and (?)Bertha, and become roommates. They also attract the attention of the two detectives, who take them out on dates and give them transmitter watches before being kidnapped by the doctor and put in the "death chamber" (a wall full of giant spikes closing in on them). The girls follow their transmitter signals to the lab, save the guys and kick some ass while dressed in their matching sweater/spandex pants ensembles. Gloria also flings a cup full of acid in the doctor's face before the whole place goes up in flames... And it's not over just yet kids, because the doctor, his main henchman Mao (Jesús Murcielago Velázquez) and Gomar have all escaped and are plotting the ultimate revenge against our heroines. They kidnap burly lady wrestler Mary Carmichael (Chabela Romero), transplant Gomar's brain into her body and then pass her off as a new masked wrestling phenom named Vendetta. Posing as Vendetta's (masked) agent, the doc arranges a high profile fight between Gloria and Vendetta, where he plans to use his hypnotic control to get Vendetta to kill her.

DOCTOR OF DOOM (which is also on tape as ROCK 'N ROLL WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC APE) is an extremely cheap production with generic sets, very flat b&w photography and the expected horrible dubbing, but it's still worth watching for fans of Z cinema. The wrestling footage is actually choreographed pretty well and is no worse than what we see nowadays, though for some reason most of the action is shot outside of the ring.

The sequels (featuring most of the same cast) were: LAS LUCHADORAS CONTRA LA MOMIA (1964; WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY), LAS LOBIAS DEL RING (1965; SHE-WOLVES OF THE RING; a drama that won't be covered on this website) and LAS MUJERES PANTERAS (1967; THE PANTHER WOMEN; with Ariadna Welter replacing Velázquez as Gloria Venus). There may be others.

★★

Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961)

... aka: Dr. Blood's Coffin

Directed by:
Sidney J. Furie

Dr. Peter Blood (Kieron Moore), recently dejected from medical school for performing questionable experiments, shows up in a small Cornish village shortly after the death of his father (Ian Hunter) to carry on with the old man's experiments. Maddened by his ambition and arrogance, Peter paralyzes unwilling victims with curare (African arrow poison) until their still-beating hearts can be removed and transplanted into other bodies. Will his new widowed nurse girlfriend Linda Parker (Hazel Court, as always, a strong female lead) catch on before it's too late? Saddled with a low-budget and a very implausible plot, and pretty minor compared to some concurrent Corman and Hammer films, this still has good performances from the entire cast (also including Kenneth J. Warren as the village police sergeant and Gerald Lawson as a coroner), decent horror atmosphere, competent art direction, some nice location filming (it was made in and around a beautiful coastal village) and a decent surprise ending. It's also bloodier than most other films from this time period. So while not a particularly noteworthy film, it's put together with enough care and thought to be worth watching.

1/2

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

...aka: Fanatic

Directed by:
Silvio Narizzano

A creepy, campy and extremely entertaining good time from Hammer! Scandal queen Tallulah Bankhead rips into the role of Mrs. Trefoile, ultimate mother-in-law from hell! She's a snarling, hypocritical religious fanatic who invites her dead son's ex-girlfriend Patricia (Stefanie Powers) to her secluded country home, then imprisons her in a room with steel bars over the windows. She thinks Patricia is a sinner because she wears red make-up and clothes ("The devil's color!") and decides to "cleanse her soul" through torture with scissors, a gun, broken glass, starvation and, worst of all, droning daily bible sermons. She also has an altar down in the basement where she plots to sacrifice Patricia so her soul will be reunited with her dead sons! A maid (Yootha Joyce) and two handymen (Peter Vaughan and "introducing" Donald Sutherland in an early role as the retarded Joe) assist her. Meanwhile, Patricia's fiancé Alan (Maurice Kaufmann) searches around for her.

Richard Matheson's script (based on Anne Blaisdell's book "Nightmare") keeps things credible, fun and engrossing the entire time. Bankhead, in her final starring role, is pretty horrifying ("Filth! Corrupter!") and the supporting cast (especially Joyce) is excellent, making this one of the best of the Hammer psychological horror films.

★★

Diary of a Madman (1963)

Directed by:
Reginald Le Borg

Based on a Guy de Maupassant story, this one opens with a direct quote from the source, then cuts to a funeral on an obvious set and a will reading for Simon Cordier (Vincent Price), who narrates his own story from his diary. He's a 19th-Century magistrate who becomes possessed by "The Horla" (voiced by Joseph Ruskin), an invisible evil spirit who talks to him, laughs, moves furniture around and compels him to kill. When his eyes glow blue, he's turned into a zombie-like killer who can't remember what he's done the next day. This patently silly Price vehicle has a little too much ranting, raving and extremely corny dialogue, many in the supporting cast are stiff and lifeless, the whole thing is very set bound and stagy and the period detail is minimal and unconvincing. Still, it is somewhat unique among the Price cannon and offers up lots of entertainment for horror fans. Aside from Price's always-fun camp theatrics, the inventive and colorful photography (the print reviewed from Wood Knapp - even in the EP mode VHS version - is in excellent condition) and Nancy Kovack's bright presence in a supporting role as a sexy gold digger are other pluses. Also with Chris Warfield, Elaine Devry, Ian Wolfe, Nelson Olmsted, Harvey Stephens and Don Brodie.

★★

Encadenada, La (1975)

...aka: Diario de una asesina, El
...aka: Diary of a Murderess
...aka: Diary of an Erotic Mistress
...aka: Diary of an Erotic Murderess
...aka: Perversione

Directed by:
Manuel Mur Oti

Wealthy Alexander (Richard Conte) hires new governess Gina (Marisa Mell) to care for his unhinged son Mark (Juan Ribó), who has his own padded cell in the family mansion! Alexander quickly falls in love with the beautiful Gina, little realizing she has some psychological issues of her own. Gina starts an affair with Mark, and gets her hands on Alexander's deceased former wife's diary, which is full of pointers on how to murder and get away with it... Also with Anthony Steffen (real name: Antonio De Teffè) and Lili Muráti.

Score: Haven't seen it.

Dead Space (1991) [filmed in 1990]

Directed by:
Fred Gallo

Terrible, nearly line-for-line / scene-for-scene remake of Forbidden World (1982), itself a pretty garden variety Alien wannabe. Basically a cheap waste of time with lousy performances, painfully bad dialogue and recycled Roger Corman factory space effects we've seen used time and time again (some from 1980's Battle Beyond the Stars). I really can't think of anything nice to say about it so we'll make this one short and sweet. Our gruff renegade hero (Marc Singer) boards a spaceship full of male and female scientists. Naturally, a botched experiment creates a fast-growing, bloodthirsty mutant monster that kills people. A sex dream (with Subspecies star Laura Tate) provides the token topless scene and Singer's stupid wisecracking robot sidekick "Tinpan" and the lame monster creation compete for the most pitiful aspects of this boring mess. It's only 70 minutes long, was written by Catherine Cyran (SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE 3) and co-stars Bryan Cranston (whose presence is perhaps the only reason anyone would want to check this out nowadays) and Judith Chapman (SCALPEL). Corman was the executive producer. By the way, the cool poster I'm using here is from the French VHS release. We got a boring poster and video box here in America.

Dark Shadows (1990)

Directed by:
Dan Curtis

Dan Curtis created the original, videotaped TV horror soap opera Dark Shadows, which was so popular it lasted from 1966 to 1971 and spawned two theatrical releases: HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970; which was a hit) and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971; which was heavily butchered and re-cut before release and was not a hit). I loathe soap operas and will never understand the appeal of that boring, dull, badly-acted and extremely cheap-looking series. Twenty years after that original series faded into oblivion (where it can stay) came a night-time made-for-TV remodeling of the same theme and characters, but with much better acting, photography and writing. It started with an interesting, handsomely-produced pilot episode, but unfortunately, the new and improved Dark Shadows did not catch on at all. I remember when I was a kid I was just starting to get into it before it was suddenly pulled off the air. The excellent regular season cast included a perfectly cast Ben Cross as vampire Barnabas Collins, as well as Barbara Steele (making a rare 90s appearance) as Dr. Julia Hoffman, a doctor trying to find a cure for vampirism, Jean Simmons, Joanna Going, Roy Thinnes, Lysette Anthony, Stefan Gierasch, Julianna McCarthy, Hope North, Ely Pouget and Michael T. Weiss.

Curtis and Steele had a long-running working relationship which previously resulted in the Emmy winning, made-for-TV mini-series THE WINDS OF WAR (1983) and its sequel WAR AND REMEMBRANCE (1988), which were the most expensive TV movies ever made. MPI released every episode of both the original and newer series to home video. Steele also produced the TV presentation DARK SHADOWS: 30TH ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE (1996), which is also on video.

Score: n/a

Shark: Rosso nell'oceano (1984)

... aka: Apocalypse dans l'ocean rouge
... aka: Devil Fish
... aka: Devouring Waves
... aka: Jaws Attack 2
... aka: Monster Shark
... aka: Red Ocean

Directed by:
Lamberto Bava

A "40 foot long" giant mutant squid with five tentacles, razor fangs and the ability to reproduce its own cells terrorizes a small Florida town. Various marine biologists, doctors and cops plot to kill it. Meanwhile, a human monster named Miller (Paul Branco) offs people who discover the "Devilfish" is a man made creation used for the greedy benefit of some evil doctors. Miller attacks a lovely researcher named Florinda (Cinzia de Ponti), strangles her, drowns her in the bathtub, tosses in a hairdryer, then rips the panties off her dead body! Lots of false alarms are set when our heroes Peter (Michael Sopkiw, from MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY), Stella (Valentine Monnier), Janet (Darla N. Wagner) and Bob (Lawrence Morgant) set out on a high tech (by 1984 standards, anyway) "Seaquarium" boat to catch the killer menace, who is frequently seen in close up or hilariously obvious speeded-up film to seem more menacing. And only fire can destroy it, which leads to a flamethrower-armed posse vs. aquatic beast finale.

Pretty bad and also pretty tame (other than a legless corpse and a decapitation) but faintly watchable import benefits from an excellent "Antony Barrymore" (Fabio Frizzi) score and a decent monster. It's currently smack in the middle of the IMDb Bottom 100 list, but really doesn't deserve it and is only there because it was featured on an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 300." Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino wrote the original story. The cast includes Gianni Garko as the sheriff, William Berger as the professor and Dagmar Lassander.

1/2

Drive-In Massacre (1976)

Directed by:
Stu Segall

Review coming soon.

Score: 1.5 out of 10
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