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.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Un gatto nel cervello (1990)

... aka: Cat in the Brain, A
... aka: I volti del terrore
... aka: Nightmare Concert
... aka: Nightmare Concert (A Cat in the Brain)
... aka: Un gatto nel cervello (I volti del terrore)

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

Lucio Fulci is losing his mind. You might even say he feels like a cat is eating his brain. He's being haunted by gory visions conveniently taken from some of the late-80s films he either produced or made himself and they're distracting him from his daily life. When he goes to a restaurant to have a steak, he can't help imagining a maniac eating a piece of human flesh. When a gardener is outside cutting up a tree with a chainsaw, he's thinking of a chainsaw dismemberment and starts hacking up red paint cans with an axe. Wanting help for his troubling thoughts, Lucio goes to see psychiatrist Egon Schwartz (David L. Thompson), who has a hateful wife (Malisa Longo) and a sexy assistant/nurse (Paola Cozzo) who's also an aspiring actress. Dr. Schwartz uses hypnosis to treat the director and immediately afterward, a prostitute is messily hacked up with a switchblade and axe, and another hooker gets her throat slashed. Fulci seems to think his shrink might be the killer. Or is he just imagining it? Or is he actually the killer?

And that's basically all the "plot" you'll get with this one. The general idea of a burnt-out horror director's films coming back to haunt him or causing psychological problems in his "real life" is an intriguing one, but this film offers no actual insight into any of that. All this really amounts to is little more than a barrage of gory clips senselessly edited together. Lucio walks and looks off into the distance. Insert a gore scene. Lucio opens a door. Insert a gore scene. Lucio looks out of a window. Insert in gore scene. Repeated ad nauseum. The overall effect is a little numbing but if you're an indisciminate gore-hound who just wants to see people getting killed in bloody ways, you'll probably like what this has to offer. In other words, as a sampler tape of Fulci gore scenes, it does the trick. But if you're like me and have already seen many of the films this one borrows footage from, you'll likely see this as little more than a silly, money-grubbing venture where slight pretensions aren't nearly enough to justify the making of such a movie. For the record, there are two new gore scenes here. One features a cat puppet pawing around on a brain, and the other features a woman getting her throat slashed with a wire. The rest of the gore scenes are repeats.

About 75 percent of the recycled footage comes from two films. The first is TOUCH OF DEATH (1988), a gory black comedy which was directed by Fulci and stars Brett Halsey as a nonchalant psycho who kills a succession of women in disgusting ways for their money. Included are the chainsaw dismemberment, strangulation, cannibalism, slopping hogs with guts, woman having her head bashed in with a stick, face roasted in an oven and guy getting run over murders from that film. The second film is MASSACRE (1989), a slasher directed by Andrea Bianchi. Both of the featured prostitute murders, the movie set footage, the graveyard footage, the boat house murders and much more have been swapped from that film. The scenes of busty Jessica Moore getting stabbed to death in the shower, a child being decapitated with a chainsaw and woman getting her head cut off by a drawer are from THE MURDER SECRET (1988). The Nazi orgy scene is from Ghosts of Sodom (1988) and actor Robert Egon shows up in new footage to help link that film in with the new one. Annie Belle getting decapitated with a scythe is from Escape from Death (1989). The corpse-on-a-wheelchair and guy-getting-throat-cut-by-wheelchair scenes are from Bloody Psycho (1989). Paul Muller getting killed is from Hansel and Gretel (1989). Of all those films, Fulci only directed two; the rest were either produced or "supervised" by him.

Some have dubbed this the 8 1/2 of gore films, but they're only kidding (at least I hope); this one's only for those looking for over-the-top, senseless gore and T&A. However, the 2-disc Grindhouse release is loaded with so many extras (including several lengthy interviews with the director), it's a must-have for his fans.

★★

Monday, July 20, 2009

La marca del Hombre-lobo (1968)

... aka: Frankenstein's Bloody Terror
... aka: Hell's Creatures
... aka: Mark of the Wolfman, The
... aka: Vampire of Dr. Dracula, The
... aka: Werewolf's Mark, The
... aka: Wolfman of Count Dracula

Directed by:
Enrique López Eguiluz

There are several versions of this one floating around. The version I saw is the English-language release from Independent International (titled Frankenstein's Bloody Terror), which boasts being filmed in "Chill-O-Rama" and has some great opening credits with cartoon drawings of Frankenstein and "Wolfstein," as well as an explanation (bullshit) as to why "Frankenstein" is even used in the misleading title. The names in the credits have also been Anglacized; the director, for instance, is listed as Henry L. Egan. I've seen this version usually listed as running 75-78 minutes. It's supposedly missing around 15 minutes of footage. However, the 2007 Shriek Show DVD release has restored much of the previously missing footage and runs 91-minutes; just two minutes shy of what the complete version (the German release The Vampire of Dr. Dracula) supposedly runs. At a costume party, 18-year-old Janice von Aarenberg ("Diana Zura"/ Dyanik Zurakowska), who's been away at boarding school in Switzerland, meets mysterious stranger Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy, who also scriped under his real name Jacinto Molina). Waldemar has a reputation as being weird and intense, yet is respected by the townspeople, though Janice's father Sigmund (José Nieto) doesn't much like her talking to him. And neither does her handsome potential suitor Rudolph Weissman ("Michael Manza"/ Manuel Manzaneque). While exploring the ruins of an ancient monestary, Waldemar tells Janice and Rudolph about the history of the place. Rumor has it, a werewolf descendant of the Wolfstein family is buried somewhere on the grounds... and someone forgot to put it down with a silver bullet. Uh oh.

Traveling gypsies Janos ("Gilbert Granger" / Gualberto Galbán) and Nascha ("Rosemarie Winters"/ Rosanna Yanni) decide to crash in the Wolfstein castle for the night. They make a fire, find a wine cabinet, get drunk and then decide to explore the family tomb. While raiding the coffins of their valuables, they make the mistake of removing a silver dagger from one of the bodies, effectively bringing the long dead werewolf count to life. He kills them and then escapes into the woods. Soon after, wolf attacks are being reported in the area. A posse of hunters and dogs is organized to take down the beast. Waldemar is bitten when he jumps in to save Rudolph's life, and then goes on to carry the wolf curse himself. The werewolf design is naturally dated and very old-school (the film also employs time-lapse transformation techniques) but, as played by Naschy, it's an interesting athletic creature that pounces on victims and seems to be throwing punches when he claws people. While tortured Waldemar sulks around the Wolfstein Castle feeling hopeless, his new friends Janice (who has fallen in love with him) and Rudolph (who has accepted the fact he's just lost his girl) find help. Or so they think.

Feigning being experts in lycanthropy, Dr. Mikhelov (Julián Ugarte) and his sultry wife Vanessa ("Anita Avery"/ Aurora de Alba) show up to the castle, but have things in mind other than trying to help out. What? I'm not really sure, but they're actually vampires who start feasting on their young hosts. They keep Waldemar chained up the entire time and re-resurrect the Wolfstein werewolf. It's never really explained what the two plan to accomplish. Both Janice and Rudolph's fathers make it to the castle just in time to watch Waldemar break free and take on Wolfstein werewolfo e werewolfo and drive a well-deserve stake into Vanessa's heart. But Dr. Mikhelov has taken his new vampire bride Janice away. And since only a person who loves a werewolf can kill them, Janice is needed to take down Waldemar. But who's going to take down Dr. Mikhelov? Is this starting to get needlessly confusing all of a sudden, or what?

Though the storyline is a mixture of the all-too-familiar and the all-too-confusing, the motives are muddled and the pacing somewhat off, the film is beautifully photographed and very colorful, with vivid Bava-like lighting and good Gothic shooting locations. And it's a good thing it at least has that much going for it because otherwise our very first look at Waldemar Daninsky (a Spanish/ West German co-production) is pretty much a musty, though still mildly watchable, non-event. Regardless, it was an international hit during its day (including playing a popular double here in the U.S. and becoming a "creature features" late night TV staple in the 70s), made Naschy a top Euro horror star and was followed by over a dozen (!) sequels and spin-offs. The cast also includes Spanish horror regulars Ángel Menéndez, Antonio Jiménez Escribano, Beatriz Savón and Antonio Orengo.

The immediate follow-up was the French effort Nights of the Wolf Man (1968), which is missing; it was either never completed or never even filmed. Naschy himself is actually the only person to vouch for its existence. Others in the Naschy/Waldemar werewolf series that actually are available include ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1970), THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1971), Fury of the Wolfman (1971), Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf (1972), CURSE OF THE DEVIL (1973), NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST (1975), THE CRAVING (1981), The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983), HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1987), Lycanthropus: The Moonlight Murders (1996) and TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF (2004).

The Shriek Show DVD (which is the first official home format release of the film here in the States) is a must for Naschy fans and includes the documentary short "Interview with a Werewolf" (a 28-minute interview with the actor), a commentary track from Sam Sherman (where he explains the origins of the U.S. title and goes into great detail about failed plans for a 3D release), rare trailers, radio spots and deleted scenes. As is actually the case with many of these films, the supplements are more interesting than the actual film.

★★

Dværgen (1973)

...aka: Sinful Dwarf, The
...aka: Teenage Bride

Directed by:
Vidal Raski

His leering, penetrative, beady little eyes... His infectuous cackle... His mischievous grin... His lovable shaggy hair... His ingenuous use of a cane... It could only be The Sinister Dwarf! After flopping in Europe (it was banned in Sweden and failed to do much business in Denmark), this extremely sleazy little exploitation gem was picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Harry Novak's Box Office International. It was blasted by critics, slapped with a (pretty well-deserved) X rating and failed to do much business here either, or in Canada for that matter (where it was released as TEENAGE BRIDE), and quickly sank into obscurity. But there's a happy ending to the tale of our perverted mini cult hero and his whacked-out mama, as several recent DVD releases (including a restored 2009 issue from Severin) have remedied the obscurity bit and the film has gone on to a decent cult following. Does it deserve one? Sure. It's depraved, ugly, tastless and scuzzy, it's full of sick humor and absolutely loaded with gratuitous full nudity. True grindhouse cinema.

A creepy, voyeuristic dwarf named Olaf (Torben Bille) uses one of those battery-operated toy puppies to lure a pigtailed girl into an old building and then clubs her over the head with his cane. What's to become of the poor lass? You'll just have to wait and find out! First, we get some great opening credits featuring various animated toys and puppets (penguin, giraffe, cymbal-playing monkey, etc.) dancing to tinny-sounding music. And then a young, financially-strapped couple; struggling, unemployed writer Peter Davis (Tony Eades) and his blonde, unemployed wife Mary (Anne Sparrow), are forced to take residence in a seedy old apartment house run by Lila Lash (Clara Keller), an abusive, alcoholic, facially-scarred lesbian ex-nightclub performer. Lila's son? Olaf, of course! The duo supplement their income by kidnapping teenage girls, keeping them prisoner in the attic, turning them into heroine junkies and then pimping them out to a steady stream of customers who don't ask too many questions. Well actually, they don't ask any questions. Lila likes to subject her prisoners, as well as her booze-swilling lady friend Winnie (Gerda Madsen), to various campy musical numbers with a Bette Davis circa Baby Jane flair. She even whips the naked upstairs captives while she sings. Olaf watches the new tenants have sex through peepholes and a toy company called "Santa's Workshop" is run by a guy named Santa Claus (Werner Hedman) and supplies Lila with all the drugs she needs to keep her girls in check.

After Peter lands a job as a salesman (at "Santa's Workshop") and has to be out of town for 3 or 4 days, Mary decides to check out the mysterious and off-limits attic. That's when Lila decides this would be the perfect opportunity to draft Mrs. Snoopy Pants into the family trade to replace one of her other girls, all of whom are either hopelessly strung out or insane. When Peter returns, he finds a typed Dear John note from his wife; little realizing she's already locked away in the attic getting ready to take a heroine shot to the ass so she can entertain clientel. Will he be able to put two and two together before it's too late?

It all looks extremely cheap (which actually just enhances the experience), was filmed in London with Danish and American backers and has a British and Danish cast all speaking English. The director is a man by the name of Vidal Raski, who has no other credits to his name. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Raski was actually co-star Hedman, a Danish porno director. Many of the same actors here (including Torben) had worked on his other adult features throughout the 70s, so it's definitely a possibility this film is another of his and he doesn't want to take credit for it. The amount of on-screen sex and nudity is very high. There are four lengthy sex scenes and they're all about as graphic as soft-core gets. Some sources claim that Torben was a children's show host before he took the role in this film, though I can find no real proof of that claim and it may have just been a publicity rumor. Either way, he gives a memorable performance here, as does Keller as his mother. The acting as a whole isn't nearly as bad as one might expect. The older actress who plays the mom's friend had also appeared in the silent horror classic HAXAN way back in 1921!

★★1/2

Brides of Blood (1968)

...aka: Brides of Blood Island
...aka: Brides of Death
...aka: Brides of the Beast
...aka: Danger on Tiki Island
...aka: Island of the Living Horror
...aka: Terror on Blood Island

Directed by:
Gerardo de Leon
Eddie Romero

BRIDES OF BLOOD was the first of three sex 'n' violence shockers (aptly referred to as the "Blood Island" trilogy) that were shot on location in the Philippines and distributed by low-grade specialists Hemisphere Pictures. Stuffy scientist Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor) is headed toward Blood Island to do some research on the effects Atomic bomb blasts in the vicinity have had on local vegetation, wildlife and humans. Accompanying him are his neglected and slutty (to put it mildly) platinum blonde wife Carla (Beverly Hills) and Jim Farrell (John Ashley), a good-natured, baby-faced Peace Corps officer who wants to help the island dwellers improve their village. "Maybe I can help keep them happy?" ponders Carla about her purpose aboard the ship, before she sneaks off to have a close encounter with one of the crewman. The ship's captain (Oscar Keesee) tries to warn them not to get involved, but they shrug off his warning, get dropped off and are immediately treated to the sight of natives disposing of dismembered body parts.

A man named Arcadio (Antonio Centenera) also informs them they never should have came and warns them that he and his fellow villagers have regressed to their primitive ways. Arcadio's English-speaking granddaughter Alla (Eva Darren) seems a little bit down in the dumps - possibly because she's been promised up as a virgin sacrifice to something or other. We'll get to that here in a little bit. Not yet discouraged by ample warnings they should high tail it out of there, our trio will go on to encounter radiation-colored sunsets, living-killing mutant banana plants (!), mutant butterfly (!) attacks, cult rituals where the natives go "la la, la la la la" over and over again and other island horrors. Up the ways from the village lives Esteban Powers (Mario Montenegro), a wealthy playboy who has a mansion, an army of dwarf servants and a whip-wielding henchman named Goro (Bruno Punzalan). Esteban (who suffers from nightly migrains) lets Dr. Henderson and company stay at his secure home, which proves to be anything but secure once Esteban's true colors are revelead. Yep, he's a charismatic charmer during the day, but by night he transforms into a grotesque, lusty, radioactive mutant (referred to as "the evil one" by the villagers) that likes to "satisfy himself" by ravaging uncredited naked young Filipino beauties at night.

There's terribly stiff acting from at least two of the three leads (with a weird post-dub sound to the dialogue recordings), plus awful dialogue, a plotline jam packed with assorted nonsense and some bewilderingly cheesy effects. Just wait until you get a look at "the evil one!" The whole film is very colorfully shot, with lots of bold lighting choices, such as blue and pink smoke for the sacrifice scenes. It also features some very good sets and props, as well as more gore and nudity than most horrors of its day. In short; it's an awful movie that looks pretty good and thanks to the busy plot, exploitation elements and overall air of silliness, I can almost guarantee schlock fans are gonna enjoy this one.

Mr. Taylor had been a popular B-level star in the 30s and 40s, who at this stage in his career was having a hard time finding "respectable" work. This would be his only venture into Filipino horror, though afterward he'd earn his Z-movie credentials by appearing in half a dozen Al Adamson films. He retired from acting in the mid 70s and passed away in 1987. Ashley had also been a popular matinee idol type, who'd had some success in America as the star of juvenile delinquent flicks and the Beach Party pictures, before being forced into Z grade pictures. Unlike Taylor, however, he would stick around in the Philippines and star (and sometimes produce) ten additional films; most of which fell into the horror genre. With that behind him, Ashley returned to America and became a modestly successful TV producer (The A-Team series being his best known credit). He passed away in 1997. Leading lady Beverly Hills was a former stripper who had some steady film and TV work throughout the 60s and 70s. She made her debut in an episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller, and also appeared in the underrated George Pal production THE POWER (1968) and the B-classic INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973); using her real name Beverly Powers for the latter. She retired from show biz at the beginning of the 80s, moved to Hawaii and became a minister!
.
The two other "Blood Island" pictures were THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968) and BEAST OF BLOOD (1970). Both starred Ashley.
.
★1/2 SBIG (to an extent)

Night Beast (1982)

...aka: Nightbeast
...aka: Terror from the Unknown

Directed by:
Don Dohler

A spaceship is struck by a meteor and forced to crash land on Earth. Out of the wreckage comes a tall, skinny, fanged, wrinkly, lizard-like alien monster dressed in a silver jumpsuit who immediately uses his laser gun to make three hunters evaporate, rips a father's face off, dissolves his children while they sit in a station wagon, rips a guy's guts out, kills his girlfriend and gets in a shoot out with cops and a bunch of local yokel draftees with shotguns... and all within the first 15 minutes! Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith, sporting curly silver hair and a black mustache), female deputy Lisa Kent (Karin Kardian) and aspiring policeman Jamie Lambert (Jamie Zemarel) survive the attack, but have a hard time convincing local mayor Bert Wicker (Richard Dyzsel) and his large-breasted drunken secretary Mary Jane Carpenter (Eleanor Herman) that they needs to cancel the pool party they're throwing for the governor (Richard Ruxton). Meanwhile, a psycho biker named Drago (Don Leifert) is running around bad mouthing the fuzz and strangles his Asian ex-girlfriend Suzie (Monica Neff) to death because she wants to leave him for Jamie, leading to a horribly-choreographed fist fight that comes out of nowhere.
.
The alien isn't given much of a motive for killing but it's revealed at a later junction that it enjoys eating people, which doesn't really explain why it likes to zap nearly everyone into oblivion that it comes into contact with, though it does eventually settle into more of a traditional carniverous alien rampage by ripping off a black guy's arm, ripping open the secretary's chest and ripping off the mayor's head. When it attacks a clinic run by doctors Ruth Sherman (Anne Frith) and Steven Price (George Stover), the two are able to fight it off using electricity, which comes in handy for the big electric cable finale.
.
Truly awful acting, terrible cinematography and production values and seemingly no sense of contuinity whatsoever helps this fall into the "guilty pleasure" category for fans of bad regional B movies. It's completely straight-faced and lacks any kind of pretense; the film merrily just zips along from one silly scene to the next, with one alien attack scene after another and with as many cheap-but-fun visual (some by Ernest D. Farino) and prosthetic makeup effects as they could probably afford piled on top. The film is also loaded with secondary characters whose relevance to the primary plot is questionable at best. After his first two timid sci-fi/horror features, Don even updates the formula to get it ready for the video age by throwing in a few random T&A scenes, one of which being an incredibly awkward but fitfully amusing coupling between our afro-sporting hero and his tanned-and-bleached sidekick. Yes, it's awful... but it's also awfully entertaining if you like this kind of stuff.
.
Shot on 16mm around Baltimore (where all of the director's films were shot) and with a budget of just 42,000 dollars, this is more-or-less a remake of Dohler's first feature, THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978), with many of the same cast members playing the same roles they did in that film. It has been issued to VHS several times; and there's even a DVD release from Troma containing an intro, outtakes and bloopers, a commentary track from Dohler (who passed away a few years back) and Stover, as well as other fun supplements. The sound effects were by Jeffrey Abrams a.ka. J.J. Abrams, who'd go on to create the TV shows Alias and Lost, produce CLOVERFIELD (2008) and direct the blockbusters MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) and STAR TREK (2009).
.
Others in the Dohler filmography include; FIEND (1980), THE GALAXY INVADER (1985), BLOOD MASSACRE (1988), ALIEN FACTOR 2: ALIEN RAMPAGE (2000) and DEAD HUNT (2007; which he co-directed with Joe Ripple). Dohler also wrote and/or produced several other films.
.
SBIG

Mrs. Amworth (1975)

Directed by:
Alvin Rakoff

One of many failed attempts to launch a television series, this 29-minute British short was to be the first entry in a horror/fantasy series entitled Classics Dark and Deadly. The series never took off and instead this was shown as a TV special (which only aired a single time), was released separately on VHS (in England only) and was then worked into a three-part horror anthology called THREE DANGEROUS LADIES (1977), which also included the shorts MANNIKIN (1975), an independent production about a cursed singer made by Donald W. Thompson and starring Ronee Blakely and Keir Dullea, and THE ISLAND (197?), which was directed by Robert Fuest, stars John Hurt and Charles Gray and whose origins are unknown. Perhaps it was filmed especially to round out the anthology.

Glynis Johns
(whose role in MARY POPPINS is played up big time on the somewhat misleading video box) has the title role. She's just moved to a tiny Wiltshire village populated primarily with older residents and claims to be a descendant from a family that lived there many years ago. Mrs. Amworth's presence, and frequent social gatherings at her mansion, have seemed to bring life to an otherwise boring little town, but she's also hiding a deep dark secret. Shortly after Amworth's arrival, many of the town's citizens have come down with a strange disorder where the hemoglobin seems to be disappearing from their blood. It's blamed on a gnat outbreak (!) but resident cynic Dr. Francis Urcombe (John Phillips) is suspicious of Amworth's frequent midnight strolls and how the plague of illness coincides perfectly with her arrival. Doing some research, he discovers the new lady in town is somehow related the Elizabeth Chaston, a witch who was held responsible when similar things happened three-hundred years earlier. Urcombe tries to convince his friend Benson (Derek Francis) - whose visiting grandson David (Pip Miller) has gotten quite ill - to help him.

There's definitely not much to write home about here. The acting isn't bad, but it's all rather predictable, forgettable and lacking in suspense and chills.

★★

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fear Chamber, The (1968)

...aka: Cámara del terror, La
...aka: Chamber of Fear
...aka: Torture Chamber, The
...aka: Torture Zone

Directed by:
Jack Hill
Juan Ibáñez

Scientists Corinne (Julissa) and Mark (Carlos East) are exploring underneath a volcano with their "detector" when they stumble upon a strange, living rock. Meanwhile, a woman named Luisa strips down to her bra and panties and goes to bed. A dwarf (Santanón) visits her while she sleeps and when she wakes up the next morning, she finds herself in a bizarre, colorfully-lit, cobweb-strewn "fear chamber" full of unusual and creepy stuff. The dwarf is there. And so is some guy wearing white gloves, a white turban and sunglasses who threatens her with a lizard, and a sexy woman in leather who slaps her around. Skeletons, skulls and candles decorate the walls, spiders and snakes are all over the place and a pool of glowing red water has eels in it and some huge tentacle! The girl screams and screams and screams some more; finally making it to a torture room where a robed man (played by Boris Karloff) - demands "Bring on the sinner!" Another female is dragged into the room by hooded henchmen, is tied over a fire pit and then stabbed to death. Next up is Luisa, who's snatched up, brought to the table and passes out... and then thing start getting stranger than they already were.

Karloff's character enters through another door and finds himself in some kind of futuristic, brightly-lit clinic where it's revealed he's not actually a cult member, but a scientist. Dr. Carl Mandel (Boris), his evil, voyeuristic lesbian assistant Helga (Isela Vega), Corinne (his daughter), Mark (her boyfriend), Roland (a lobotomized mental defective with a diamond fetish played by Yerye Beirute) and some others are caring for the rock they'd found earlier, which apparently survives by eating special hormones produced by females when they're frightened! The scientists ponder whether its ethical or not to lure women there under false pretenses (they also run a bogus employment agency!) and then extract their blood while they're passed out, and are also having problems with that turbaned guy, who's been fooling around with the unconscious victims. Dr. Mandel ends up getting electrocuted and the experiments are put on hold, but Roland befriends and bonds with the rock monster and communicates with it telepathically (!), and he and Helga plot to continue on in the experiments against Mandel's wishes. The rock soon becomes powerful enough to take live victims whole, and it turns the sexy young women it gets ahold of (including a stripper) into withered old hags.

It's pretty awful, confusing, weird and horribly dubbed, but somewhat entertaining in a slapdash Z movie kind of way... at least for awhile. My interest level seemed to drop off about 30 minutes in once the bizarro plot was fully established and the film then really had nowhere else to go, though there's still the occasional laugh (especially Roland's "I'm gonna be da kang of dee world!" rants at the end). The torture chamber sets are actually pretty cool, though!
.
Notable mainly for containing Karloff's last actual screen appearance. The actor spends most of his time in the first half sitting at a desk, and most of his time in the second half lying in a bed. His footage was shot in Santa Monica by director Hill in May of 1968 (the film itself wasn't released until 1972), which was then combined with what Ibáñez shot in Mexico. The same exact technique was used for three other last minute Karloff features (all of which are varying degrees of bad); the haunted house movie DANCE OF DEATH (also with Julissa), the voodoo movie SNAKE PEOPLE (with Julissa, East and Santanón) and the alien movie THE SINISTER INVASION (with Beirute).

★1/2

Yabu no naka no kuroneko (1968)

...aka: Black Cat, The
...aka: Black Cat from the Grove
...aka: Kuroneko

Directed by:
Kaneto Shindô

Shindô's terrific companion piece to his highly-regarded ONIBABA (1964) is nearly as good. A group of samurai casually invade a farm house where two women live. They steal their food and water, gang rape them, murder them and then burn down their home. The victims - elder Yone (the excellent Nobuko Otowa, returning from ONIBABA) and her daughter-in-law Shige (Kiwako Taichi) - have made a pact with an evil God; they can return to human form in exchange for killing and drinking the blood of every samurai they happen to come across. Late at night, at Rajomon Gate - their village's city square - Shige waits patiently for any chivalrous samurai passing through the area and then asks if they'll accompany her home. The men are then led down a long, dark path, invited inside, given enough sake to get them drunk, are tempted with sex and then have their throats chewed out by the stealthy, cat-like seductresses. Meanwhile, Gintoki (Kichiemon Nakamura), Yone's son and Shige's husband, who was drafted to go to war three years earlier, has returned home only to find the charred remnants of his former home and is family missing. Now a war hero and high ranking samurai himself after slaying a powerful barbarian, Gintoki is hired by the village's prejudicial police chief Raiko (Kei Sato, also from ONIBABA) to kill the "monster" responsible for the recent series of samurai slayings.

While patrolling Rajomon Gate one evening, Gintoki comes across a veiled Shige, who lures him back to her home. Though Shige and Yone try to hide their identities at first (a pact they made with the evil God states they cannot reveal who they are or why they are killing samurai or else face spending eternity in hell), it's all too obvious to Gintoki that's he finally located his missing family. Shige risks all by starting a passionate affair with her former husband instead of killing him, while Gintoki is given an ultimatum from Raiko to either kill the women or be killed himself.

A lot of the themes (revenge, ghosts, the black cat, loyalty to family, class status...) contained here were very common themes in Japanese cinema during this time. How the film deconstructs the myth of the samurai; stripping down a profession once blindly regarded as strictly "noble" and "respectable" and turning into something more shaded, was also something common. Just like those in any high-ranking position, power is abused and many samurai used their status as an excuse to terrorize and commit crimes against those their arrogance led them to believe were lesser or expendable (namely farmers, peasants and women). In regard to these themes the film is somewhat familiar, but this is so well-made it doesn't really matter. It's very well acted by all four of the principals and superbly photographed in b/w by Kiyomi Kuromi (who won a major Japanese film award for his work here; as did Otowa). The lighting is highly stylized (sometimes images are even spot-lit to stand out) and Takashi Marumo's art direction is also exceptional (and clever), particularly inside the ladies' new home, which is done with a symmetrical/vertical theme that nearly blends the interiors with the thick bamboo fields located right outside. The characters are given enough conflicts of conscience to keep the emotional content compelling, and the horror/supernatural elements are eerie; sometimes jarring even.
.
So if you haven't seen this or ONIBABA, plan a double-feature as soon as you can to check out two of the decade's very best films. Amazingly, the director is still busy writing and directing to this very day... at the age of 97!
.
★★★1/2

Stripped to Kill (1987)

Directed by:
Katt Shea

What happens when you hire a competent female writer/director to make a low-budget T&A horror-thriller with a strip club setting? You get compromise, and a kind of tug-of-war effect between exploitation and realism. While this one has a more-than-generous amount of T&A and violence, it should also be given credit for delivering a gritty, credible and often unflattering look inside a strip club and the women who populate it. The dancing is explored for all its worth and from all possible angles; exploitation, entertainment, eroticism, even as art. Some of the dancers view their occupation as being a way to express themselves through dance while others think of it as just a paycheck for another night's work. A few are lesbians, some have drug problems, most have criminal records and a few even seem like reasonably well-adjusted women who just happen to find stripping unpredictable and exciting. The club itself is so atmospherically represented that you can almost smell the cigarette smoke in the hallways. The door of the girl's dressing room, the congregation place where the girls change into their costumes, bitch about customers, reflect on their lives and pasts, etc., has "Women" scratched out and "Sluts" amusingly spray-painted over it. Much of the dialogue between them is laced with cynicism, no doubt based on a life's worth of problems, failures and disappointments. All of the girls are given just enough personality to be likable and what seems seedy at first eventually turns into a somewhat accommodating place for outcasts of all types once the heroine of this film gains employment as one of the dancers.
.
The heroine is question is a reserved tomboy policewoman played by Kay Lenz, who goes undercover at the club when a serial killer begins targeting the strippers. Sure, we've seen this exact same plot many times before (at least I have), but this movie takes it a step further. Not only is Lenz trying to crack the case but her character is learning and opening up in the process. This assignment allows her an outlet from the male dominated police force and the opportunity to explore her femininity and sexuality. She also discovers an odd kinship and inner working between the women and gets a little too involved on a personal level. It's an interesting role and Lenz (a sorely overlooked actress over the years) is great in it. And yeah, she does several nude scenes and looks great doing so, but it's a thoughtful, very good performance that doesn't rely on her nude scenes to be memorable. Norman Fell also has a great supporting role as the no-nonsense club owner, who's every bit as dry, cynical and world-weary as his girls.
.
The biggest gripe I see about this film is that there are too many dance scenes and they're too long. This is no doubt just filling executive producer Roger Corman's quotient of T&A for direct-to-video profit. Well fine, we get the naked girls and get the stripping. Plenty of each. What I don't see usually pointed out is that the dance scenes themselves are entertaining. They usually incorporate some interesting props (motorcycles, fire, a giant spider web...) or have a specific theme and with the lighting mixed in, it does come off as performance art at times. In addition, you can tell the women hired in these roles are actually either professionally trained dancers or actual strippers (or ex-strippers) because their stage performances incorporate flips, splits and a flexibility that requires dance training. The soundtrack is full of dated 80s-style rock, usually with a female vocalist, but it's tolerable. The biggest problem I had with the film is that the slasher movie plot seems almost an unnecessary afterthought. I was far more interested in the everything else that was going on that I almost lost complete interest in who was actually killing the strippers.
.
Without question, Katt Shea is one of the most talented writer-directors Corman employed in the 80s and 90s. She was one of the few with the ability to transcend the formulaic material and anemic budgets to create films that are distinctive, thoughtful, personal and interesting. And like many other notable cult/underground directors, she has never, and may never, receive much recognition or attention, and that's a true shame. I especially recommend her films DANCE OF THE DAMNED (1988; an intriguing and original vampire film which has sadly slipped into obscurity over the years) and STREETS (1990; a grim drama/thriller starring Christina Applegate as a teenage prostitute hunted by a serial killer). While STRIPPED TO KILL might not be as impressive as the aforementioned films, and a bit more weighted down and padded out, it's still a bright starting point for the director and well worth checking out.
.
Also with Greg Evigan as Lenz's chauvenist partner/love interest, Diana Bellamy and Debra Lamb (who also appeared in the 1989 sequel - STRIPPED TO KILL II: LIVE GIRLS).

★★★

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Imps* (2009) [filmed in 1983]

Directed by:
Scott Mansfield

This comedy that went unreleased for over 20-25 years... Now see why! The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) is a good example of a collection of comedy skits done right. IMPS* (which stands for The Immoral Minority Picture Show) on the other hand is an example of just how grueling this format can be when everything goes horribly wrong! Even Saturday Night Live on its worst day is funnier than this. I'm not really sure when IMPS* was actually filmed (checking the end credits says the DVD issue year of 2008), but it was obviously some time in the early/mid 1980s since several of the actors here were dead by the middle part of the decade. So is it a bad sign that it took about 25 years to actually release this? Absolutely! You will find yourself groaning and rolling your eyes about twenty times more than you'll snicker at this childish, horribly unfunny collection of skits that poke fun at various movies, TV shows, sporting events, news programs and commercials, as well as Nazis, gays, blacks, "Pollocks," Mexicans, Jews, "orientals" and other groups. I personally don't mind off color or offensive humor at all, but this movie doesn't go far enough to be over-the-top and outrageous, nor does it cleverly play up on stereotypes or anything of the sort. Though I can't recommend that anyone watch this, it's now of some interest as a curio piece because of the ensemble cast. Here we have a very interesting mix of up-and-coming young film and TV stars, washed-up former stars in their twilight years, magazine centerfolds, porn stars, cult/horror staples and even a Harlem Globetrotter!
.
One of the highlights is an ever-so-mildly amusing horror spoof "Don't Scream on My Face" (did Edgar Wright see this?) starring Linda Blair as "The Don't Girl," the dumbest horror movie heroine in history who does the expected stupid things (going into the house alone, the basement alone, the woods alone, etc.) Jason Voorhees even makes a cameo appearance in this one... using a walker! A young Jennifer Tilly goes to an auction to purchase a well-established bachelor in the next bit. "The 3 Mile Island People" is a sitcom spoof about a literal nuclear family (with Fred Willard as the dad). Marilyn Chambers shows up wearing see-through lingerie in a credit card commercial. Colleen Camp humiliates some poor guy at a bar for no real reason (was this even supposed to be funny?). John Carradine hosts "Great Moments" in Polish history (where an off-screen narrator reminds him there are no great moments in Polish history... har har). Wendie Jo Sperber is the Marquessa De Sade in a music video spoof about S&M and spousal abuse. Julia Duffy narrates a trashy soap opera sketch from a bed on a theater stage. Rich Hall tries to sell us an album from some Don Ho clone. Busty former Playboy model Lynda Wiesmeier plays sex queen Bambi Juliette in what is probably the most amusing segment - "Teenage French Stewardess Nurse Babysitter," though even that just rips off the much funnier "Catholic High School Girls in Trouble" sketch from the aforementioned Kentucky Fried Movie.

Jimmie Walker plays "the first black in space" in another segment that also features Keenan Wynn (who passed away in 1986). James B. Sikking gets to play a weight conscious Count Dracula in a stupid "Lite Blood" commercial. The two longest segments; one about a Nazi interrogation (with David Lander and Michael McKean) and the other a slasher/ detective movie spoof called "The Hanukah Horror," yield no laughs at all. There are also commercials spoofing everything from Calvin Klein jeans (featuring a young Erika Eleniak imitating Brooke Shields) to flavorless diet soda (with P.J. Soles) to dandruff shampoo (with Peter Scolari and Audrey Landers) to telephone companies (with Sybil Danning). Other commercial spoof involve super glue, aspirin, deodorant, Shake N' Bake, beer and "quaaludes for kids.

While some of this may sound amusing and many of the themes seem ripe for parody, this "comedy" is so horribly written and has such lame and obvious jokes that the laughs just aren't there. Like ever! I've seldom seen a film like this fail so badly. It's just plain painful to watch. Most of the segments last about a minute, though a few are longer are manage to wear out their welcome pretty quickly. The only thing the film really provides an abundance of is bare breasts, but you could always spare yourself the headache and just watch a porno instead.

The cast also includes Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. (The Return of the Living Dead), Karen Mayo-Chandler (Hard to Die), Diana Muldaur (The Other), Ed Marinaro, William Sanderson, Karen Witter, Meadowlark Lemon, porno actors Paul Thomas and Lori Wagner and many others. The 1983 year of production is just an estimate on my part based on the cast and some of the things spoofed (it couldn't have been shot any later than 1985). Either way, it didn't see the light of day until 2009!

p.s. I'm only including this here because of the horror spoof content.

Jekyll & Hyde... Together Again (1982)

Directed by:
Jerry Belson

Several dozen parodies emerged in the early 80s hoping the combination of sight gags, silly, irreverent dialogue and physical humor would appeal to the same audience who'd flocked to see Airplane! back in 1980. This one's a parody of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (that took four people to write), was badly received by critics during its day and didn't make much of a dent at the box office. Dr. Daniel Jekyll (comedian Mark Blankfield), resident surgeon at "Our Lady of Pain and Suffering" Hospital wants to retire so he can experiment with drugs (huh?) but first, dying gazillionaire Hubert Howes (Peter Brocco), who's as old as Moses, wants Jekyll to perform the world's first full body transplant on him. Even though Dr. Jekyll's dead-set on retiring, pushy hospital administrator Dr. Carew (Michael McGuire) threatens not to let his high-maintenance daughter Mary (Bess Armstrong), who Jekyll's engaged to, marry him. After snorting some special cocaine, Jekyll becomes an aggressive swinger who grows an afro, chest hair, bushy eyebrows, a mustache, a tighter ass and a long pinky nail (!?) He also gets gold jewely, a silver tooth and a constant erection that won't go away.

It's your typical assortment of noisy, pea-brained gags; some of which are genuinely funny, while others are embarrassingly awful. Blankfield's lifeless performance as Jekyll is about adequately balanced by his grotesque over-the-top mugging in the wildman Hyde persona. Not that he's really a pleasure to watch either way... When Jekyll's told a woman has a "foreign object" stuck in her vagina, he enters the room to find a sexy woman and Japanese man latched together. Said woman is Ivy (Krista Errickson), who sings "Light Up My Body" at Madame Woo Woo's punk club with her band "The Shitty Rainbows." Blankfield (who would also appear in the horror parodies Frankenstein General Hospital in 1988 and Dracula: Dead and Loving It in 1995) also gets to sing "Hyde's Got Nothing to Hide" at the end during a mock Pulitzer Prize ceremony where Oscar-winner George Chakiris accepts the award on his behalf! Best that can really be said about this one is that are are worse examples of this kind of thing out. Then again, there's also better.

The supporting cast boasts some familiar faces. Tim Thomerson is a bewigged plastic surgeon who gets a little carried away performing a boob job. Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira) plays a "busty nurse" whose scrubs are specially designed to show off ample cleavage. George Wendt ("Cheers") has a brief scene as a patient with a severed hand. Lin Shaye, Art LaFleur and others have small roles.

★★

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

...aka: Fantastic Puppet People, The
...aka: I Was a Teenage Doll
...aka: Six Inches Tall

Directed by:
Bert I. Gordon

Jovial puppeteer/scientist Mr. Franz (John Hoyt) runs "Dolls Incorporated," a company well-known for their beautifully crafted dolls. Secretary Sally Reynolds (June Kenney), just hired on to replace a woman named Janet who'd mysteriously disappeared, is a little wigged out by her new bosses behavior. After all, he talks to the dolls and treats some of them as if they're actual people. He also has a special selection of more lifelike dolls that are off-limits, and kept in a specially-locked cabinet and he never wants to be disturbed when he's working in the back room. Sally does get somewhat used to Mr. Franz over time and even begins dating salesman Bob Westley (John Agar), who asks for her hand in marriage after taking her on a drive-in date to see The Amazing Colossal Man (also from Mr. Gordon). The two plan on running off and getting hitched, but before they can, Bob disappears. Sally becomes suspicious when a lifelike Bob doll shows up in Franz's shop and goes to the cops with her theories that the dollmaker is actually somehow turning people into dolls. Naturally, Sgt. Paterson (Jack Kosslyn) thinks she's nuts and that Bob just ran off on her. Sally threatens to quit, but Mr. Franz (who's very lonely and hates when people leave him) straps her to a table and shrinks her using some ray gun emitting high frequency sonic vibrations.

As Sally awakens, she's introduced to the others who have also been shrunk down to one-sixth their original size. Aside from Bob, there's the saucy Georgia (Laurie Mitchell), who seems resigned to her fate as a little person, militaryman Mac (Scott Peters) and teenagers Laurie (Marlene Willis) and Stan (Kenny Miller). Each of the puppet people are kept in little compression tubes that render them immobile, but Franz lets them out every once in awhile to have parties, drink champagne, eat cake and dance to records. He shrinks a cat to keep them company and the younger girl even gets to sing a song called "You're My Living Doll!" Sally and Bob convince the others that this is no way to live and, when Franz threatens to kill them all because the police are breathing down his neck, the "puppet people" try to organize an escape attempt.

Despite having a reputation for being a dud, I actually found much to enjoy here. Sure, it's silly as hell and sure it was obviously made on the cheap to cash in on the success of the previous year's The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), and lacks that film's depth, but I found it entertaining and enjoyably undemanding. There's a great performance from John Hoyt, sporting some Eastern European accent, in the lead role, and both the actor and the screenplay ensure he's not an evil, one-note villain, but more a man driven to do bad by his own insecurities and lonliness. The rest of the cast is certainly sufficient and the special effects (which were also done by the director), though highly uneven, still boast some genuine imagination. It's amusing just watching characters trying to use a giant telephone, using thread to lasso a doorknob and climbing up and down table legs, and there are enough clever touches (the miniature cat climbing out of a matchbox, the leads sneaking into a package to avoid a dog, the leading lady put on a little stage with a Dr. Jekyll puppet, etc.) to merit giving this a look.

On the down side, the film is saddled with one of the worst and most anti-climactic endings you'll ever see and much time is wasted on Emil (Michael Mark; Dr. Zinthrop from Corman's The Wasp Woman), a friend of Franz's from his homeland (Russia?) who doesn't adequately figure into the plot at all and is used as nothing more than a plot device to distract Franz so the puppet people can try to escape. The director's little daughter Susan Gordon (who'd appear in a larger and better role in TORMENTED two years later) shows up briefly as a spoiled little girl. It was an AIP production (exec. produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson) and was scripted by George Worthing Yates (who also wrote IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and other 50s sci-fi/horror favorites, including others for the same director).

★★1/2

Terror in the Haunted House (1958)

...aka: My World Dies Screaming

Directed by:
Harold Daniels

Sheila (Cathy O'Donnell) is haunted by a recurring nightmare about a sinister house ("Death in its most hideous form waits for me at the top of the stairs!") Her psychiatrist Dr. Forel (Barry Bernard) thinks its her subconscious acting out a repressed past trauma, but she's not too convinced of that. Newly married to Philip Justin (Gerald Mohr) after a "whirlwind romance," Sheila's about to travel from Switzerland (where she's lived since a child) to America to start her new life. Once they arrive in Florida, Sheila instantly recognizes their rented vacation home... it's the same one she's been dreaming about! When they try to leave, they discover someone's ripped all of the wires out of their car. Their chief suspect in doing it is elderly caretaker Jonah (John Qualen), who tries to scare Sheila away telling her about the axe-murder-laden history of the home and how its former occupants were referred to as "The Mad Tierney's." So Sheila spots a "hideous, inhuman face" outside her window. And Sheila is chased up the stairs by a mean dog. And Sheila starts suspecting everyone around her (including her new hubby) of foul play. Sheila pouts. Sheila screams. Sheila cries. Sheila faints. Sheila scream some more.

Eventually showing up at the home to shed some light on things is its owner, Mark Snell (William Ching), who helps Sheila fill in the blanks by informing her that her husband is actually the last of the Tierney's and she somehow was connected to the family in her youth. Well, before she went bonkers at the age of seven and was shipped off to Europe. After setting up the premise during the first half and sloppily unveiling the few twists to the storyline before it should, the film really has nowhere else to go and plods along toward a predictable and exposition-heavy conclusion. O'Donnell (fondly remembered by film buffs for her performances in The Best Years of Our Lives and They Live by Night a decade earlier) actually tries to give a performance, but she's stuck playing one of those irritating 50s females who ultimately has little to do other than act on the verge of hysteria throughout and whimper in the corner. The male actors (particularly the lead) are all pretty bad, and the supernatural/haunted house clutch is nothing more than a hoax.

The one and only thing that makes this worth watching is the fact it was shot in "Psycho-Rama;" a "subliminal communication" process which is nothing more than brief flashes of cartoon-like drawning; of a devil sticking his tongue out, a man in glasses with a rat in his mouth, a skull and a cobra (the latter colored red), and message cards (reading... "Get Ready to Scream!," "Prepare to Die!," "Scream Bloody Murder!," etc.), edited into the film in one-frame incriments. So if you plan on watching this make sure you keep your trigger finger on the pause/ foward advance button for maximum enjoyment. Well, it might be your only chance to get any kind of enjoyment out of this one. On some prints, Rhino Video (one of the major distributors of this title) had some fun by "subliminally" sneaking an advertisement in during the last ten minutes! Since use of subliminals was illegal until 1961, the print shown on TV had these inserts removed. The following year director Daniels made Date with Death (1959), which also made use of the same technique.

★1/2

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Colegio de la muerte, El (1975)

...aka: School of Death

Directed by:
Pedro Luis Ramírez

Spanish production, set in turn-of-the-century 1899 London, is fairly well-made, but too tame, slow-going and bland to hold much interest. At the Saint Elizabeth Refuge, a home for orphaned teenage girls, the young ladies are being whipped into shape by ruthless directress Miss Wilkins (Norma Kastel) and her yardstick/lash-wielding assistant Miss Colton, who want to prepare the girls for employ as loyal servants to wealthy local families. School president Mr. Granfield (Tito García) demands "silence, discipline and obedience," but they're been having trouble with a few of their more independent-minded students - Leonor Johnson (Sandra Mozarowsky) and her best friend Sylvia Smith (Victoria Vera). For talking back, Leonor gets lashed and has to spend some alone time in a sound-proof room, while Sylvia is shipped off to a home to begin work as a maid. Her first night there, Sylvia is accosted in her bedroom by a mysterious, facially-disfigured doctor, who promptly takes her downstairs, ties her to a table and jabs a scalpel into her temple. Local Dr. Edward Brown (dull Dean Selmier), who also does routine examinations at the Saint Elizabeth's, chalks the death up to heart paralysis during a brief and not-too-thorough autopsy and Sylvia is quickly buried.

Later, Leonor spots a still-living but seemingly entraced Sylvia being shipped off somewhere in a carriage. When she lets the authorities - led by Inspector Michael Coleman (Ángel Menéndez) - know, they exhume the coffin and find a very dead Sylvia still inside. So what's going on? Well, it has something to do with using brain surgery to lobotomize schoolgirls into a cataleptic states and then selling them off as high-priced hookers! Other than the evil doctor and his accomplice Miss Chambers (Elisenda Ribas), Miss Wilkins and an unseen master criminal named Bob Wilcox are all involved in the scheme. Other characters thrown into the mix include George Allen (Carlos Mendy), a reporter, Lord Ferguson ("Chris Huertas"/Cris Huerta), a wealthy, rotund "client" who ends up getting stabbed to death and Inspector Collins (Estanis González), Coleman's assistant. Not everyone is who they claim to be.

Despite the lurid premise, the film itself is very tame. There's very little blood and no nudity. I'd almost refer to it as being old-fashioned. There's some visual style present. Outdoor scenes, whether taking place in the day or night, are all shot through with large amounts of fog. The night scenes are also colorfully lit and the cinematography in general is very good. Most of the performances are decent enough, and the dubbing isn't too bad either. Unfortunately, after a good opening 20 minutes or so, the rest of the film drags and it doesn't really pick up again until the last 10 minutes or so. It's then the film offers a few twists; one of which totally caught me off guard, so I'll give it props for at least offering one surprise. Also interesting is the mad doctor character, whose face apparently was disfigured in a fire. His name? Dr. Krueger!

Sadly, pretty leading lady Mozarowsky (who also appeared in DEVIL'S POSSESSED, NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS and a few other Euro-horrors) committed suicide two years after this was made. She was only 18 years old. The cast also includes Ana Farra (from LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE, THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN and others). The original American VHS release came in 1984 through All-American/Mogul Video. Sinister Cinema also offers a decent print on either VHS or DVD-R. As far as run-times go, the version I saw certainly seems complete and runs 90 minutes, though I've seen this listed elsewhere as running 110 minutes.

★★

Fright Show (1985)

...aka: Cinemagic

Directed by:
Jeffrey Baker
Frank Kerr
Jonathan Mostow
Damon Santostefano
Richard Taylor

In an attempt to cash in on the 80s/90s video boom era, several genre magazines branched out to give us horror releases on their very own video labels. Of course, there's Fangoria Films, who'd produce three rather unsuccessful original films themselves in the early 90s, starting with the vampire movie CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT (1991), before deciding they'd be better off just releasing other people's movies. Before them, the sci-fi rag Starlog tried their hand with this release and the documentary FANGORIA'S WEEKEND OF HORRORS (1986). Judging by the fact those were their only two releases, I'd say their video distribution division didn't fair too well. FRIGHT SHOW (aka CINEMAGIC) is comprised of four independent short subjects; three of which were done by people who surprisingly went on to have pretty successful careers. The combined run time of the four shorts falls well short of an hour, so unfortunately Starlog decided to pad this tape out with worthless "comic" linking segments directed by Damon Santostefano and hosted by a pair of unfunny dimwits, played by Chris Phillips and stand-up comdian Eddie Brill, who basically sit around making lame jokes, making shadow puppets on the walls and eating stale popcorn. Santostefano would go on to work for Fangoria himself, making two SCREAM GREAT documentaries and one of their ill-fated original productions (1992's SEVERED TIES), before switching to more wholesome stuff like the TV series The Adventures of Pete & Peter, and such teen-oriented drivel as BRING IT ON AGAIN (2004) and ANOTHER CINDERELLA STORY (2008).

The first story "Dr. Dobermind," is about a young girl who meets deranged, gap-toothed taxidermist Dr. Dobermind while on a school tour of a natural history museum. She's then haunted by visions of Dobermind, who squashes her ice cream cone at Häagen-Dazs and materializes in ghoulish ways in her home later that night. Directed by Jonathan Mostow, who'd go on to make the very good thriller BREAKDOWN (1997), U-571 (2000) and the upcoming Bruce Willis film DUPLICATES (2009). The cinematographer was Peter Rader, who'd go on to direct GRANDMA'S HOUSE (1989) and the 1995 made-for-TV remake of RETURN TO WITCH MOUNTAIN. Next up is Jeffrey Baker's "Illegal Alien," which is easily the best segment. It's a surprisingly successful parody of ALIEN, which squeezes in a high number of amusing and knowing gags in a short time before ending rather abruptly. The third tale is "Night Fright," a kind-of-cute short about a horror movie loving little kid who discovers there's a literal monster in his closet. Directed by Frank Kerr, who has made several low-budget films over the years, included the recent horror effort JACK IN THE BOX (2008). Finally, the comic "Thing In the Basement" involves a bald-domed alien with laser beam eyes that crash landing near the home of three poker-playing yahoos. The make-up is by John Carl Buechler, who also appears in this segment.

Overall, there ain't much to really get excited about here. Four homemade shorts; one of which is pretty good and the other three just so-so; with awful linking segments you'll probably just want to fast-forward through.

★★

Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, The (1955)

Directed by:
Dan Milner

Lots of monster movies understandably used their creature sfx as "money shots" for later in the film. They'll get either a "Hey, that's kinda cool..." or a "I waited around just to see that?!" type of response, but at least the anticipation of seeing what the monster actually looks like builds up some intrigue over the course of the film and helps viewers make it through the obligatory talky passages, which are usually centered around scientific discussions that are - more often than not - basically just jibbberish. Here, the filmmakers make the major mistake of unleashing their awkward-looking man-in-a-suit papier-mâché sea menace in the opening scene as it kills a fisherman after tipping over his rowboat. And after you see it doing its thing at such an early stage in the film, and see what a silly-looking beast it is, you might not even bother sitting through the rest of the film. And I can't say I'd blame anyone for wanting to bail out early. Or never taking the plunge at all. This one's pretty dull overall. It's woodenly-acted, slow-moving and nothing surprising or interesting ever happens. It's also a little longer than usual for a 50s B sci-fi/horror flick, clocking in at around 80 minutes.

Dead bodies charred with radiation burns are being found lying around the beach at Baker's Cove, California. Our government sends out two operatives; oceanographer Dr. Ted Stevens (Kent Taylor) and federal agent William S. Grant (Rodney Bell) to investigate. Meanwhile, Prof. King (Michael Whalen), who teaches at "The Pacific College of Oceanography," has discovered a giant, glowing uranium deposit/rock underwater and decides to see what kind of effect it may have on ocean life, which results in... Well, we already know since we saw "it" in the opening sequence. Cathy Downs co-stars as the professor's daughter Lois, who's basically around to show some 50s-style skin in a bathing suit and silhouette shower scene, plus take part in a dull, cliche romance with Ted. Other characters include George Thomas (Phillip Pine), the professor's murderous and treasonous assistant, who's in cohorts with a sexy blonde foreign spy named Wanda (Helene Stanton), and Ethel Hall (Vivi Janiss), the professor's secretary, who ends up getting shot in the back with a spear gun for being too nosy.
.
The fact the monster is usually spotted clear as day from various rowboats and is always seen bobbing around in shallow water near the shore (the same location of the atomic rock), the title makes absolutely no sense. Apparently 1 league is equal to 3 miles, which would imply that the creature comes from 30,000 miles (!) under the surface! Maybe they should have called it The Phantom from 100 Inches instead. The title actually was most likely an attempt to cash in on Disney's bit hit 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, released the previous year.
.
The Russian-born director (who is best known as an editor) also made FROM HELL IT CAME (1957). Screenwriter Lou Rusoff would go on to write films for Roger Corman, including DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1955) and IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956), and composer Ronald Stein would also go on to work for Corman. It was "presented by" Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson.

★1/2

Dead Ringer (1963)

...aka: Dead Image
...aka: Who Is Buried in My Grave?

Directed by:
Paul Henreid

In my estimation, this isn't really a horror film (it's more of a suspenseful drama), but since it's a title included in several of my horror reference books, I'm including it here. It's also often listed as an entry in that subgenre of terror films spurned by the success of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962); which cast "over the hill" or "washed up" former female film stars in lead roles as killers of varying degrees of psychosis. I've seen this cycle of films referred to under many titles, including "Gothic moderne," "Hag Horror" or "Grand-Dame Guignol." Whatever the name, the common link are the female leads, each of whom enjoyed a career revival of sorts through these films. The subgenre as a whole is an extremely enjoyable one primarily because of these veteran actresses, who brought a stamp of professionalism, class and often overwrought, but always sincere, campy humor to some otherwise seedy films, as well as those intangibles that only come from experience. In DEAD RINGER, we get a double dose of Bette Davis, playing identical twin sisters... neither of whom is really all that right in the head.

Edith (Davis) was in love with a successful and very wealthy businessman, who ended up leaving her after succumbing to the charms of her identical twin sister Margaret (Davis again), who he'd apparently knocked up after an affair and thus felt obligated to marry. That was eighteen years earlier, but Edith has never forgiven her sister for it. In fact, she hasn't even seen or spoken to her since the incident. The man both women fought over has recently died of a heart attack and the sisters are reunited at the funeral. Margaret invites Edith back to her sprawling mansion home, bad memories come to the surface and Edith leaves enraged. After finding out through Margaret's chauffeur Henry (Cyril Delevanti) that her sister really never was pregnant and then learning she's about to lose her nightclub to a debt, Edith decides to get revenge. She lures Margaret to her home, shoots her in the head and then tries to take on her sister's appearance and demeanor and swap places with her. Margaret is now Edith - who'd just committed suicide, while Edith gets to walk in Margaret's shoes and live a lavish and worry-free lifestyle with plenty of money at her disposal. At first, things seem to be working without a hitch, but one man in each ladies life - Edith's dedicated detective boyfriend Jim Hobbson (Karl Malden) and Margaret's sleazy, materialistic playboy lover Tony Collins (Peter Lawford) - threaten to uncover what's really going on.

Based on the story "Dead Pigeon" by Rian James, the script for this one (written by Albert Beich and Oscar Millard) was actually penned way back in 1944 and had been sitting around collecting dust at Warner Brothers for around 20 years before finally being filmed. And it's definitely a good thing they finally did produce this one because it's a worthy suspense-drama with excellent acting, nicely-drawn characters and several last reel twists that really throw you for a loop. The score (by André Previn) and b/w cinematography (by Ernest Haller) are both excellent, and the mansion interiors were filmed at the amazingly ornate Greystone Park & Mansion in Beverly Hills. Davis (who also got to play twin sisters in 1946's A STOLEN LIFE) is great, as usual, and the supporting performances are all fine, with Malden and Delevanti adding especially nice touches to the film via their supporting roles. The cast also includes Philip Carey as a police sergeant, Jean Hagen (in her final role) as one of Margaret's uppity friends, George Macready, Estelle Winwood, Bert Remsen as a bartender and Monika Henreid (the director's daughter) as a maid.
.
I'd like to dedicate this review to Mr. Malden, who'd just passed away a few weeks ago after a long and distinguished career. An Emmy and Oscar-winning actor best known for his performances in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1952) and ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), as well as his role as Detective Mike Stone on TV's The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977), Malden also lent his talents to the genre films PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE (1954) and CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971).
.
★★★

Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954)

...aka: It Stalked the Ocean Floor
...aka: Monster Maker

Directed by:
Wyott Ordung

A light, talky, mildly enjoyable 66-minute-long sea monster quickie that's most notable for being the very first film produced by Roger Corman, aka my hero. Filmed in California on a paltry 12,000 budget, it would become the modest hit that helped to launch the career of one of the - if not the - most important people working in the horror genre during the next fifty years. Unlike most other monster movies from this decade, the film is also notable for centering its action around a female protagonist and, as played by Anne Kimbell, she's the kind of brave, likable and assertive heroine that major studio productions seemed to frown upon using at the time and were usually relegated to independent films (note Corman's novel use of Beverly Garland in several sci-fi/ horror productions just a few years after this one). Though there are some romantic elements thrown in (including a silly beach serenade), Kimbell's character - Julie Blair; a "merchandise illustrator" vacationing in Mexico - is more interested in investigating claims of a legendary "devil" rumored to have red, glowing eyes (or is that, eye) that lurks beneath the waters and strikes fear in the hearts of the natives. Instead of letting herself get swept off her feet by the the obligatory handsome young scientist stationed nearby; Stanford marine biologist Steve Dunning (Stuart Wade), or simply tagging along with Steve and his superior Dr. Baldwin (Dick Pinner) on their boat, Julie is too busy charting her own adventure and taking solo diving expeditions to search for the creature. At one point she even courageously battles a shark with a pocket knife!

Other than Kimbell's character and performance, there's not much else to recommend here aside from some fun use of a pedal-powered mini-submarine, decent underwater photography (by Floyd Crosby) and nice Channel Islands/Catalina shooting locations. The male performances are uniformly wooden, there's next to no action and those expecting more monster or horror-oriented scenes are going to be sorely disappointed when they discover the one-eyed, tentacled monster doesn't even make an appearance until the final minutes of the picture. On the plus side, the monster design by Bob Baker really isn't too bad for its day and the creature at least gets a good death scene!

Director Ordung (who plays a supporting role here as well) had previously earned his Z-movie stripes by scripting the notoriously awful ROBOT MONSTER and would go on to write TARGET EARTH (1954) and FIRST MAN INTO SPACE (1959). Future LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS star Jonathan Haze (billed as "Jack Hayes") makes his film debut in a minor role, and Corman also has a brief cameo as Baldwin's "one man crew."

★★

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Burning Hell, The (1974)

Directed by:
Ron Ormond

Throughout the 40s and 50s, director Ron Ormond (born Vittorio Di Naro) was your typical low-rent director of dubious talent who wrote, produced and/or directed dozens of forgettable low-budget B westerns starring the likes of whip-wielder Lash La Rue and James Ellison and Russell Hayden (of Hopalong Cassidy fame) for his company Western Adventures Productions. He also had worked as a stage magician, wrote books on new age medicine and psychic surgery, produced a roller derby TV show and would eventually branch out and make his very first exploitation movie, the much-hated MESA OF LOST WOMEN, in 1952, before caving in to the sex-and-violence drive-in demands of the 60s with such efforts as PLEASE DON'T TOUCH ME! (1963), WHITE LIGHTNIN' ROAD (1967) and THE MONSTER AND THE STRIPPER (1968). Afterward, Ormond survived a plane crash, became "born again," opened his own church and started churning out cheap, technically inept and borderline offensive "Christ-sploitation" efforts such as this one, which mixed preaching and trite moralizing with violence and gore. Compromise! Many of his films, whether in the name of the almighty God or the almighty dollar, were so badly made and horribly acted they've gone on to enjoy a healthy cult following.
.
THE BURNING HELL, the second in the Ormond Jesus series, was also the second collaboration between Ron and a Southern Baptist minister by the name of Estus W. Pirkle, who had himself written several books. And it's basically one long, boring, monotonous sermon with Pirkle preaching about how going to hell sucks ("Hell IS real and hot and terrible!") to his blank-eyed, nodding flock intercut with hilariously awful biblical reenactments with rednecks running around in the desert with sheets draped over their heads and scenes taking place in both heaven (ahhh!) and hell (argh!!!!). To drive home the point, a couple of young men - Tim (the director's son - Tim Ormond) and Ken (Chuck Howard) - who go to one of those "lenient" churches that doesn't try to scare their congregations meet Estus and shrugs off his warnings. They feel that just believing in Jesus will win them heaven's key. Wrong! Ken is decapitated in a motorcycle crash and ends up going to hell, while Tim eventually sees the light after attending Estus' church.
.
When this was released, areas in the Southern USA were apparently plastered with threatening fliers ("20,000 degrees Fahrenheit and not a drop of water!"), the film was actually dubbed into both Spanish and Portuguese for distribution in South America (!) and it was frequently booked for screenings in churches to horrify children into obedience. I've read many comments from people who claim the film did indeed scare them silly when they were young and left a lasting impression. And it's not hard to imagine why. Other than the sight of a bloody motorcycle crash, an impalement and other bloody sights, we get frequent visions of hell where facially-disfigured victims dressed in rags scream, cry and wail in eternal torment while engulfed in flames and weirdly painted-up demons laugh with sadistic glee. If that's not bad enough, you're not only on fire, but your body also becomes infested with worms and maggots that slowly eat away at your flesh! Heaven's more like a big country club where you get to stroll around by a lake in immaculate white robes and fraternize with friends and family. According to this film, you also get to have cookouts with your family and even get to watch your favorite television shows! Also according to this film, three-thousand people go to hell every single hour. I guess that's referring to all of us who aren't Southern Baptist.
.
Every once in awhile we get a much-needed break from Estus' neverending sermon to hear some insight from a few guys we should really take seriously because they're referred to as "doctors." See kids, organized religion's not just for uneducated hillbillies anymore! And the biblical reenactments themselves (combined with the amusingly transparent scare tactics) are great compensation for having to sit through the rest of this. Thanks to the terrible acting, the twangy Southern accents and the weird dubbing, they're absolute laugh riots. The voice given to cotton-swab-bearded Abraham alone makes this well worth sitting through.
.
For more of the same, make sure to check out the following Ormond classics...
.
IF FOOTMEN TIRE YOU, WHAT WILL HORSES DO? (1971); a hysterical Christian 'red scare' epic about what might happen if we Americans don't stop our sinning ways and turn to God... Communists will take over our fine country! It's based on "the teachings" of Pirkle. THE GRIM REAPER (1976) involves a God-fearin' Southern lass who tries to save the souls of her hard-drinkin' husband and race car drivin' son before their souls are sent to hell for all eternity. It was produced by the National Organization of Baptist Churches in Nashville, Tennessee, was again shown regularly in Southern churches (poor kids!) and was billed “a hell fire and damnation film!” THE BELIEVER'S HEAVEN (1977) is a companion piece to THE BURNING HELL and is an account of what heaven is like according to the bible (and Pirkle). And finally, 39 STRIPES (1979) was a bio of Ed Martin, a former chain gang convict turned Christian who created the HopeAglow Ministries.
.
SBIG
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...