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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Desnuda inquietud (1976)

...aka: Rape

Directed by:
Miguel Iglesias

Misleadingly packaged and re-titled for the Mogul video release here in America, this slow, atrociously-dubbed Spanish supernatural tale is a bad combination of dull and muddled. In Paris, an otherwise wealthy man named Jean Dupre passes away under mysterious circumstances. No one, not even a doctor, can figure out why he died, but ghostly shadows showing up in some photographs prompt a couple of his friends to do their own investigating. Roger ("Rick Joss"/ Ramiro Oliveros), a psychiatrist, and Frank (Gil Vidal), a reporter and photographer, decide to head to the same Spanish village Jean visited right before he passed away. There, they encounter superstitious townspeople who don't seem to want to discuss their friend. They also learn that Jean had been running around with a beautiful young woman named Maria (Nadiuska) who was rumored to be a witch who casts an "evil eye" over men. Maria and her father Gabriel (Luis Induni) were driven out of town.

Through hints given to them by bartender Marcelino (Alfred Lucchetti) and Dr. Morin, the men are finally able to locate Maria and Gabriel living high up in the mountains in a cabin. From there on a strange and very confused tale of possession unfolds. Maria's subconscious seems to strike out at any man who gets sexually aggressive with her, leading to madness and death. Maria also has telekinetic abilities and is able to heal the sick with just a touch. When a photo is taken of her former home, ancient Aztec symbols that aren't really there show up on the walls. When a second photo is taken of a nude Maria bathing in a stream, they come back distorted.

Thankfully, Roger knows all about paranormal phenomenon and hypnosis so he's able to put the pouty beauty under and reveal that in a past life she was actually "The Princess of Moctezuma." We even get some incredibly clumsy and unconvincing Aztec flashbacks where the Princess' village is attacked, she's captured by the enemy and ends up falling in love with a white soldier. Strangely, none of that sheds light on what's going on in the present day. I wasn't sure if Maria was possessed, reincarnated, cursed or just able to act out on her subconscious because of her Aztec blood line, though no information is given about Aztec customs or rites to help us get a handle on it. For some reason Maria has an irrational fear of fire, yet the flashbacks don't give any reason for it. I also didn't really understand why a nice Princess would want to kill horny, pushy guys, but whatever. The mumbo jumbo is layed on way too thick and heavy here.

The original Spanish title translates to something like "Naked Concern," but here in the states they just lay it all out there and call it RAPE. Can't say that I blame them. If they couldn't play up on the one stray tasteless moment in the film (where Gabriel tries to molest his supposed "daughter") this would have otherwise been a hard sell. Nadiuska (a German-born model and actress very popular in Europe at the time) provides some T&A, but based on some screen caps I've seen from the uncut version, the full frontals have all been removed. Violence? What violence?! Not that I necessarily need every film to be a bloodbath, but it certainly would have helped perk this murky bore up a little bit.

Gaspar 'Indio' Gonzales and Fernando Ulloa both have small roles here. Director Iglesias (who used the name "M.I. Bonns" here) had previously made the werewolf vs. yeti Paul Naschy vehicle NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST (1975).

★1/2

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rimba Panas (1988)

...aka: Jungle Heat

Directed by:
Ratno Timoer

Not to be confused with at least three other films with the same name from the 80s; the 1983 one involving a tribe of reptile-men and originally filmed as DANCE OF THE DWARFS, the 1985 Hong Kong production about POW prison camp atrocities or the barely-seen 1988 Cynthia Rothrock vehicle. This one's a Filipino/Indonesian co-production that falls into both the cannibal-shocker horror and lighter jungle adventure subgenres. As of this writing, it's not listed on IMDb and has never been released in America, though an English-dubbed copy surfaced on video in Greece which seems to be the source print for the bootlegs out there for sale. Despite being sourced from VHS, the print quality isn't too bad and the film (regardless of some horrendous and highly annoying dubbed dialogue) is fairly well made, kind of fun and surprisingly gory at times.

A couple of guys in the jungle fight over some precious stones and end up shooting and killing each other. Back at their base camp, a native tribe attacks and kill everyone there with spears and arrows and take a baby girl named Jessica back to their village. Many years later, a tough cookie named Lola (Alba Fuad) gets her hands on a diary and map detailing where a valuable treasure is hidden. While she gets together a team of people for a jungle expedition to be headed by Peter (Peter O'Brian) and his buddy John (Johan Saimima), some thugs overhear her talking about it, kidnap her and take her deep into the jungle. Once there, Lola manages to escape, while a cannibal tribe get their hands on her abductors. One guy is cut up and fed to a tiger. Another is decapitated and eaten raw. The ringleader - Nick (Didier Hamel) - manages to save himself by demonstrating a gun to them.

Meanwhile, Lola lucks out that Peter and John have both come to the area looking for her. The two men locate her and they resume their treasure hunting as planned, but wreck their canoe over some rapids and end up in the hands of a tribe. Lucky for them they don't end up with the cannibal tribe, but instead with a mostly peaceful tribe that includes a now-grown, blonde and statuesque Jessica (Debbie Young), who spends much of her time running through misty fields in a thong and taking slow-motion swims while pan flute music plays. Peter takes an instant liking to Jessica (now named "Mazizi"), but a tribal warrior (who already has four other wives) also wants her, so the guys must fight mano y mano for the honor of the jungle babe. Eventually, a bunch of jewels are located in a cave and brutish Nick shows up with the rival cannibal tribe to fight for them.

Similar in some ways to Jess Franco's dreadful WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN (1980), but a bit more fun and enjoyable than that one. (How could it not be?) The presentation of the natives and their village are more convincing (no pudgy caucasians in sight!), the locations are better and there's bloody, brainless action going on much of the time to distract you from how stupid the whole thing is. I knew nothing about New Zealand-born lead actor O'Brian going into this one but apparently he has a small cult following for playing "Rambu" in the 1986 Indonesian action flick THE INTRUDER. The man playing Albert (Jessica's father) in the opening sequence is none other than Charles Kaufman, the brother of Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman and director of the semi-famous bad taste shocker MOTHER'S DAY (1980). He was over in Indonesia making JAKARTA (1988) when he took this small supporting role. Advent Bangun (a star of THE DEVIL'S SWORD, from the same director) and Piet Burnama (JUNGLE VIRGIN FORCE) co-star. PETA warning: Some real animals (namely boars) are actually killed in the film.
★★

Caligola: La storia mai raccontata (1981)

...aka: Caligula: The Untold Story
...aka: Caligula II
...aka: Caligula 2: The Untold Story
...aka: Emperor Caligula
...aka: Emperor Caligula: The Untold Story
...aka: Garden of Taboo, The

Directed by:
Joe D'Amato

The violent, sexually graphic and big budgeted historical epic CALIGULA (which was produced by Bob Guccione of Penthouse Magazine fame) was neither a critical success nor a box office hit upon release, but it made so many international headlines throughout production that the low-budget, mostly European copies began right away. Many of these actually managed to beat their controversial cousin (which began filming in 1976, but didn't get released until three years later) to theater screens. This one, from well-known Italian sleaze director D'Amato (using the alias "David Hills" here) isn't one of the earlier ones but is likely the closest actual copy out there. Like the Guccione film, it's tasteless, overlong, gory, loaded with sex (some soft, some hard) and sexual perversity and was released in many altered versions for different international markets, including an R-rated cut missing over 20 minutes that was first unleashed to video here in America. Unlike the Guccione film, it's low-budget; completely lacking the grandiose sets, elaborate costumes and a "respectable" star-studded cast, yet it still manages that cheaply efficient shock the director is best known for.

David Brandon (as "David Cain") has the title role, as the insane, sadistic and sanctimonious Roman emperor who spends his time cooking up ways to humiliate and mutilate innocent people. After foiling would-be assassin Domitius (Michele Soavi), having him crippled and his tongue cut out, he and his lover Messala ("Oliver Finch"/ Luciano Bartoli) rape and kill virginal Livia (Fabiola Toledo). Though they blame the murder on others, Livia's confidant Miriam (Laura Gemser) knows what really happened and vows revenge. She has her opportunity when Caligula puts together a brothel full of beautiful women (mostly religious women dragged in against their will) to service wealthy senators he wants to help finance a pet project. Miriam, no stranger to sapphic love but still technically a virgin, deflowers herself with a dildo before God to prepare herself for the things she'll have to do in order to get closer to the emperor. But right as she's in a good position to strike out, she ends up falling for him.

What you'll see here, technically speaking, is generally unimpressive. The director also shot the film; opting for darkly lit interiors and soft-focus exteriors. Carlo Maria Cordio does provide an eerie score and there are appropriate costumes, but ancient Rome isn't meticulously brought to life via architecture and art direction. In fact, much of the action is filmed outdoors (in the woods, a beach, a cave...) to deliberately avoid all that. Though there's plenty of full nudity and soft-core sex, the hardcore is relegated to just two scenes; where the ladies have to practice their craft on a Greek soldier and during the brothel scene that follows, all of which use extras (likely Euro porn stars). Said brothel scene goes one step further than CALIGULA ever did, though, by having a graphic scene featuring a lady and a horse. We also get Caligula killing a newborn infant by flinging it against a wall and a memorably disgusting bit where men are killed by having metal poles shoved up their asses.

The cast includes Charles Borromel (MONSTER HUNTER), Gabriele Tinti (Gemser's husband) and Mark Shannon (EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD). The director, who also co-scripted with "Larry Franks" (George Eastman), was a big presence in 70s and 80s Euro exploitation world until he switched his attention to hardcore in the 90s. In that arena, he revisited the Roman themes again with CALIGULA: THE DEVIANT EMPEROR (1997) and other titles. The full uncut version of the film runs 125 minutes, though the UK release is just 86 and the R-rated U.S. version is 92.

★★

Night Screams (1987)

Directed by:
Allen Plone

A late offering in the first American slasher cycle, this production from Wichita, Kansas is extremely dumb but decently-shot, packed with tacky 80s entertainment value and has that low-budget regional charm I just so happen to love (see OFFERINGS for more of the same). A pair of sadistic criminals kill two cops, shoot up a diner, escape into the woods and end up finding a large country home to hide out in. Meanwhile, musclebound football hero David (Joe Manno) has just won another game for his team and received word that he's snagged a full-paid college scholarship. The bad part is that it's a free ride to a college he doesn't want to attend and his wealthy parents just don't understand. The good news - well, good if you like chubby, shallow chicks with butch perms - is that all the popular cheerleaders now want in his pants. David already has a girlfriend, though; quiet redhead Joni (Megan Wyss), who's new to town and doesn't fit in with the popular people. David decides to throw a party anyway since his parents will be gone for the weekend. His folks remind him to take his medication before they leave because if he doesn't have it he'll become "violent." Perhaps he should just lay off the steroids instead?
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So David, Joni, David's best pal D.B. (Ron Thomas), his girl Lisa (Janette Allyson Caldwell), three other couples and comic relief fat guy Russell (Randy Lundsford) - who doesn't have a girlfriend cause, you know, he's fat - all congregate at David's home to party the night away. It's naturally the same home where the escaped cons from the opening sequence ended up. As they hide out in the wine cellar, the teens branch off to do their thing. Their "thing" usually involves two of them wandering off somewhere to have sex (bedroom, hot tub, sauna), one of them leaving to do something really quickly, their significant other getting killed while they're gone and then them returning to get killed themselves. The chief suspects are obviously the murderous criminals in the basement, but then again, we have David acting a little odd because he didn't get his prescription filled and Joni acting a little odd when someone cracks a shock therapy joke, so you never know.
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At the very least, the filmmakers attempt to make each murder scene a little different, so this has variety going for it. We get a face burned on an indoor grill, an axe to the head, poison gas let loose in a sauna, an electrocution in the hot tub, a strangling, shootings, a fire poker impalement and more. The film also delivers on the nudity, though it does so in the cheapest, strangest way possible. Apparently none of the ladies on hand wanted to do it, so they just swapped it all from other films and show it playing on TV sets throughout the film. The first source is from the 1981 slasher GRADUATION DAY, where we get to see a girl-changing-clothes and fencing-sword-through-the-throat murder, as well as Linnea Quigley running around topless and getting killed. The second source is from some porno film starring Seka, John Holmes and Honey Wilder, which one of the characters is watching. Both sources are sometime full screen and cut into the movie at odd times. Horror vet Herbert L. Strock (I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, THE CRAWLING HAND) was the editor!
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My absolute favorite part is a lengthy sequence featuring "the nationally-famous" Sweetheart Dancers; a bunch of frizzy haired chicks in sequin tops who do a horrible choreographed dance while some hair band plays in the background. Yes, I live for such crap.

★★

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lumaban ka, Satanas (1983)

...aka: Furia de satan, Le
...aka: Killing of Satan, The

Directed by:
Efren C. Piñon

Orlando San Miguel (Ramon Revilla), or just Lando to his homies, is your average mustachioed, middle-aged ex-con whose associations with the criminal underworld are about to bite him in the ass. A few armed thugs show up at his doorstep and during a gunfight, both Lando and his young son are shot dead. Strangely, Lando's bullet wound heals itself and he's resurrected without a stratch. It has something to do with his Uncle Miguel, a powerful, God-fearing sorcerer who lives on an island far, far away and sacrificed himself so that Lando can redeem himself. Lando, along with his wife Laura (Elizabeth Oropesa) and teen daughter Betty are taking a boat ride when a force draws them directly to the island. Once they arrive, they learn there's a struggle between the good, peaceful villagers and a rival island of cave-dwelling bad guys led by the red-caped "Prince of Magic." Lando's dormant telepathic powers are awaken during a watery encounter with his Uncle's corpse and he must now use them when his niece Luisa (Cecille Castillo) and his daughter are kidnapped.
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Along with a cousin named Ben, Lando travels to the evil island for a series of weird adventures that involve everything from jumping cobras to evil dwarves to seductive female shapeshifters who can transform into various animals to and other strange otherworldly creatures. Sometimes telepathy is employed in the fights (employing cheap-looking sonar fx) and sometimes it's just your standard hand-to-hand combat. The whole thing follows a simplistic good vs. evil/God vs. Satan template. Yes, all of the baddies are all in cohorts with Satan, but now that Lando is on the right path he discovers that God on his side. In fact, he literally does have God on his side and gets to consult with him before taking on the Prince of the Darkness himself! Satan (Charlie Davao) first appears as a red-painted guy in a red spandex outfit with a mustache, a trident and forked tail before changing into a horned guy in a black suit. And for some reason he wants Lando's whiny daughter to be his bride.
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This simple-headed morality fable might have been a decent little juvenile adventure for kids if not for some nudity (Lando's daughter is thrown into an electric cage full of nude women), some gore (including a guy getting a huge chunk torn out of his face and another smashed with a boulder) and some animal cruelty (real snakes are smashed, burned and thrown around). As for most adults, well you just need to be that special kind of viewer who likes to sit back and laugh at cut-rate production values, awful dialogue, lame special effects and bad acting. If that's what you like, you'll probably love what this one delivers.
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There were many horror films being produced in the Philippines during the 60s, 70s and 80s, but almost none of them (aside from the ones that were financed by other countries and filmed there specifically because it's cheap) received a release outside of Asia. This is one of the few that was. An English-dubbed version was released through Paragon Video Productions.

★★

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blood (1974)

Directed by:
Andy Milligan

"A traditional Gothic Horror makes this film unsuitable for children and some scenes may be disturbing to some members of the public." Whaa? Oh it's you again Iver Film Services, the same people who called the Indian "Laughing Cow" on the back of your Shriek of the Mutilated VHS box. I should have known. In 1872, scientist Dr. Lawrence Orlofsky (Allan Berendt) returns to America from an extended stay in Budapest and fronts three months rent on a new home before telling the landlord to bugger off and leave him alone. His bitchy, pampered, vain wife Regina (Hope Stansbury) has an issue with her skin pigment and must be kept out of the sun at all costs. Maid Carrie (Patricia Gaul), who is loyal to the husband but hated by the wife (and vice versa), has a withered leg and hobbles up and down the staircase in a huge Victoria gown. Carrie's husband Orlando (Michael Fischetti) actually has no legs. And having it even worse than everyone else is Carlotta (Pichulina Hampi), an orphan the family adopted as a child who's now an anemic, jittery, clumsy and retarded old hag because she has spent her entire life as a blood pump. Lawrence conducts experiments on fast-growing, man-eating killer plants in his basement lab. After finding out he's been swindled by local banker Carl Root (John Wallowitch), he plots revenge and then begins an affair with Root's lovely young secretary Prudence Towers (Pamela Adams).

Regina is upset that hubby doesn't want to make love to her anymore and starts killing people with a meat cleaver and drinking their blood because she's actually (gasp!) a vampire. One of her first victims is Carrie's sailor brother Johnny (David Bevans), who stops by long enough to reveal an incestuous secret and get a meat cleaver stuck in his head. Regina also kills an old woman by chopping off her hand, goes after Prudence when she learns of the affair and (when she gets really desperate) chops a real mouse in half and eats it head! Meanwhile, Lawrence is revealed to be (gasp!) a werewolf. His transformations during the full moon can be halted with an injection of a special serum he has created. His wife also needs weekly injections of a formula or else she'll die. No wonder the two of them don't get along!

With its deranged plot, bizarre characters, non-stop overwrought dramatics and technical ineptitude on display in nearly every single out-of-focus shot, this is bargain cinema at its most entertaining and endearing. Truly terrible in nearly every way, from the woefully unconvincing period detail, costumes (designed by the director) and sets to the awful editing and sound-recordings to the cheap grease paint fright makeups and mannequin gore fx. The actors - unpolished as some may be - are actually better than usual, but how budget restraints force them to speed-read through their long, bitter dialogue passages is hysterically funny. Milligan fans are going to love every minute of this. His recurring obsessions; warped, dysfunctional families, some kind of money or inheritance issue, European monsters, etc., are all on full display here,

It runs just 60 minutes and, at just 20,000 dollars, is Milligan's highest-budgeted feature! Some reference books list the film as being made in 1971, but I'm not so sure about that.

SBIG

La venganza del sexo (1969)

... aka: Curious Case of Dr. Humpp, The
... aka: Curious Dr. Humpp, The
... aka: Vengeance of Sex, The

Directed by:
Emilio Vieyra

A teenage couple, four hippies, a drunk, a stripper, a housewife and a pair of lesbians are knocked out with ether and kidnapped by a disfigured, clawed fiend. The abductor takes the victims back to a secluded mansion / laboratory/ clinic where they're subjected to crazed Dr. Humpp's sex experiments. Power-mad Dr. Humpp (Aldo Barbero) seems obsessed with making all men more virile and all women nymphos, thinking this ability will help him control the world ("Sex dominates the world... and now I dominate sex!). He tries to accomplish all this with a special serum derived from an "aphrodisiac compound." Other than his monster servant, he's helped along by his dedicated nurse (Susana Beltran), a small army of automaton robot men and a living, talking, pulsating disembodied brain that orders the doctor around and is kept in a glass vat with wires running into it! Police Inspector Benedict (Hector Biuchet) and newspaper reporter George Foran (Ricardo Bauleo) are on the case. George manages to also get kidnapped and finds himself caught between his affections for the nurse and a stripper named Rachel (Gloria Prat). To make matters even wackier, the nurse also has the hots for Humpp (who could care less) and the scarred monster falls in love with Rachel, bringing her flowers and romantically strumming his guitar (?) for her.

I have no clue how the original Argentinian version plays out dialogue-wise, but the English-language dub is comedy gold, and this is the exact type of horror-sex hybrid I can personally stand behind and recommend to fans. No one expects these things to be anything more than sleazy, brainless entertainment, and that's precisely what this delivers. There's loads of soft sex and frontal nudity (which admittedly makes it drag at times), but there's also a nutty, entertaining and often hysterically funny sci-fi/horror story in here, too. And that's more than I can say for today's erotica, whether it be hard or soft. What other sex flick gives you robots, melancholy mutants, talking brains, hilarious dialogue and a completely over-the-top psycho doc? Not many I can think of. The acting is pretty much terrible and the whole thing is just plain silly, but it's wonderfully shot in black-and-white and surprisingly well-made in comparison to others of its type.

Filmed in 1967 but not released until two years later. Many of the sex scenes (nearly 20 minutes worth) were added later by the American distributor and were filmed by Jerald Intrator (who also added new footage to NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES for its U.S. release). Director Vieyra also made Stay Tuned for Terror (1965), Blood of the Virgins (1967), Feast of Flesh (1967; aka The Deadly Organ), The Naked Beast (1971) and others.

The DVD is from Something Weird.

★★1/2

Camping del terrore (1986)

...aka: Body Count
...aka: Bodycount
...aka: Camping della morte
...aka: Camping Ground

Directed by:
Ruggero Deodato

Italian-made imitation of FRIDAY THE 13TH et al has a few familiar faces in the cast and an excellent shooting location but is too predictable (and poorly made) to be of much interest to anyone other than very forgiving slasher enthusiasts. A little boy named Ben witnesses a young couple getting killed by an Indian shaman. Fifteen years later, a bunch of young folks arrive at the same location (rumored to have been built upon an Indian burial ground) to camp, fish, ride motorcycles, hike and generally goof off. They're greeted with hostility by camp owner Robert Ritchie (David Hess, star of the director's HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK), whose wife Julia (Mimsy Farmer) is having an affair with the local fuzz, Sheriff Charlie Barnes (Charles Napier). A now grown Ben (Nicola Farron), the son of Robert and Julia, also comes back for a visit. As expected, the Indian killer - who is either a human in disguise or a supernatural entity - begins killing everyone off one by one.

One could easily pick at the recycled premise, terrible dialogue or bad acting, but all that is pretty much expected of an 80s slasher flick. This one still fails because the usual irritations are coupled with unimaginative and weak murders, horrendous editing and bad lighting. What the hell is the point of one of these things if you can't even make the kills out clearly? Futhermore, what's the point of one of these things when you actually can see the kills and all you get is yet another dull knife stabbing? It's not scary, suspenseful or tense. It's not gory. And it's not even unintentionally funny. Just really bland. I also would have appreciated being able to tell what happened when our hero (Bruce Penhall) and heroine (Luisa Maneri) faced off against the killer toward the end but alas it was so damn dark and badly edited I couldn't tell what the hell was going on.

All of the problems are a true shame too, because this has the foundation of a decent enough film, starting with Claudio Simonetti's very 80s (and very great!) theme music over the opening credits. The outdoor setting itself (in Abruzzo, Italy), with its nice fall colors and mountainous backdrops, is an excellent location for one of these things. There are some horror vets in the cast, too. Aside from those mentioned, John Steiner (as a doctor) and Ivan Rassimov (as a deputy) show up in small roles, and 'B' fans may even recognize some of the lesser-knowns, such as Nancy Brilli (DEMONS 2), Cynthia Thompson (CAVEGIRL) and Valentina Forte (CUT AND RUN). Unfortunately, the pluses aren't nearly enough to overcome the negligent direction and ineptitude constantly on display here. Every single FRIDAY THE 13TH film released during the 1980s is better than this.

★1/2

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Axe (1973)

...aka: Axe Murders, The
...aka: California Axe Massacre
...aka: California Axe Murders
...aka: Lisa, Lisa
...aka: Virgin Slaughter, The

Directed by:
Frederick R. Friedel

Three thugs; sadistic leader Steele (Jack Canon), cigar-chomping and equally violent Lomax (Ray Green) and young, apprehensive Billy (the director), go on a crime/killing spree. First, they put out a lit cigar on a man's face and threatens his lover, who promptly jumps out of a window nine stories up. Then they visit a convenience store, pelt a female clerk with apples, force her to take off her shirt, threaten to shoot an apple off her head and then pour beer on her. Meanwhile, at a secluded farmhouse, young, pretty, virginal Lisa (Leslie Lee) beheads a chicken and patiently takes care of her grandfather (Douglas Powers), a paraletic war vet vegetable and the only other person living in the home. One quiet evening, the three criminals barge in, make themselves at home, threaten the grandfather with a gun to get Lisa to send some cops away and then make her cook them dinner.

But the brutes picked the wrong home to visit and wrong girl to push around as Lisa's not as shy and demure as she appears. She's also not quite right in the head (and suicidal). All it takes is a sexual assault to send her over the edge, leading to a bloody retaliation. There's a razor to the back of the neck, a body dismembered in a bathtub and placed in a trunk, an axing and a sudden household menu change from the usual chicken, raw eggs and dairy products. There's plenty of that scuzzy, amateurish regional flavor some people seem to love, but it's not especially well made, the acting is very unconvincing and the whole thing is more dreary and unpleasant than scary. Cinematographer Austin McKinney does a decent job, though. Some passages of the score are haunting, while others are grating (two different composers are credited, so there ya go).

It was filmed as LISA, LISA in the fall of 1973 on an 11-day schedule. Though often listed as being released in 1977 (which is likely when it was distributed by Harry Novak's Box Office International), it actually played drive-ins as early as 1974. Various distribution titles include CALIFORNIA AXE MASSACRE (nonsense since it was filmed in North Carolina) and THE VIRGIN SLAUGHTER. J.G. Patterson, Jr. (DOCTOR GORE) produced and helped edit the film. The director regretted selling the rights to both AXE and his follow-up, KIDNAPPED COED (1975), so he combined the two films together (which are linked by actor Canon, who plays killers in both) and titled for BLOODY BROTHERS.

★★

Thirsty Dead, The (1974)

...aka: Blood Cult of Shangri-La, The
...aka: Blood Hunt

Directed by:
Terry Becker

Stewardess Laura (Jennifer Billings- ley), go-go dancer Claire (Judith McConnell), Acme computer employee Bonnie (Chiqui da Rosa) and teenage beauty queen Ann (Fredricka Meyers) are abducted from the streets of Manila by what they assume is a white slavery ring. They could only be so lucky! Instead, the ladies are loaded on canoes, taken upstream and then dragged off deep into the jungle to service a hidden society of male and female cave-dwellers. After being locked inside a cell and dressed in skimpy loincloths, our heroines eventually discover that their captives need to drink the blood of women to retain their youth and vigor. Since Laura looks exactly like the blonde goddess high-ranking tribe member Radu (John Considine) saw in a dream and then painted, he and tribal queen Ranu (Tani Guthrie) insist she join them. She refuses and is tossed back in the cell with her friends. The ladies manage to escape with some help and the rest of the film goes from The Flintstones to THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME as the tribe hunts tries to track them down before they reach civilization.

Despite a premise that seems tailor-made to showcase sex and violence, the film is having none of it. There's little gore, zero nudity and it's rated PG! Not that it really detracts from the overall experience. This Filipino-lensed fluff is basically just a bunch of childish nonsense, thought not without its own odd charm. The acting is extremely uneven, but the cast are sincere enough to offset some off line-readings. The caves and jungle locations are decent. And what about those costumes? Hilarious! Why use boring old brown animal hides when you can dress each person in bright green, blue and pink pastels? It also manages to skimp by with just a tiny bit of blood and only one visual effect, a time-lapse rapid-aging. Director Becker is best known as an actor (and for his recurring role on the 60s TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) and prolific Filipino character actor Vic Diaz plays a police lieutenant and was also the production coordinator.

Something Weird handled the DVD release and have teamed it up with the even more bizarre SWAMP OF THE RAVENS (1974). I'm pleased with the purchase.

★★

La maschera del demonio (1989)

... aka: Black Sabbath
... aka: Demons 5
... aka: Demons V: The Devil's Veil
... aka: Mascara del Satano, La
... aka: Mask of Satan
... aka: Masque de Satan, Le

Directed by:
Lamberto Bava

Confused about the "Demons" series of films? Well you ain't the only one. This French / German / Italian / Portuguese / Spanish co-production from the director of Demons (1985), Demons 2 (1986) and The Ogre: Demons 3 (1987) was based on the same Nikolai Gogol story ("Vij") that was the basis for BLACK SUNDAY (1960), a film that's now considered a Gothic horror classic and was made by Lamberto's very talented father, Mario. Both Sunday and Demons 5 share the same original filming title and also have the spiked mask and resurrected witch story aspects in common, but this still isn't really a remake of the earlier film. The sequel title comes from Japan, where it was re-titled to follow Lamberto Bava's first two movies, Demons 3 (better known as The Church) and Demons 4 (better known as either The Sect or The Devil's Daughter). It was never English-dubbed or officially released in America. In fact, the only known version with English subs was released by bootleggers Video Search of Miami, who put out a very dark, very washed-out looking print of the film derived from a broadcast on Spanish TV.

Eight young people; four guys and four girls, manage to all fall into a deep ice cavern while skiing down a mountain. One of the girls - Sabina (Deborah Caprioglio, Klaus Kinski's buxom and much younger ex-wife) - injurs her leg, while another of the guys finds a frozen corpse with a steel mask over the face. A few of the boys decides to chip away at the ice until they can remove the mask. The Earth shakes, a guy is impaled with a giant icicle, Sabina's leg miraculously heals itself and they locate the backside of a church. They go inside, exit out the front door and find themselves in a deserted, snow-covered town populated only by a superstitious albino priest (Stanko Molnar) and his pet wolf. The priest informs them that they made a grave mistake removing the mask because it will awaken evil witch Anibas (Eva Grimaldi), whose fate is shown to us through flashback. Immediately six of the "teens" are possessed, start behaving strangely and attempt to kill Sabina and David (Giovanni Guidelli), apparently the only two virgins in the group. Even stranger, the names of the six possessed - Alexandra (Mary Sellers), Nora (Alessandra Bonarotta), Irma (Laura Devoti), Bebo (Michele Soavi), Andrea (Stefano Molinari) and Sergio (Ron Williams) - spell out "Anibas." There's another clumsy clue mirrored in the witch's name that I probably don't even need to reveal.

The premise itself is great. The discoveries at the beginning of the film with the cavern and that snowy ghost town are fascinating, and the art direction and sets that bring these locations to life is top notch. Unfortunately, once the possession portion sets in after about half an hour, the film becomes bland. Fans of the first Demons films will notice a considerable lack of action and gore. There are no hideous-looking, rotten demon-people running amuck that claw and infect the others. Instead, the possessions happen instantaneously and those possessed are not given any kind of makeup application to make them look intimidating. It seems like they saved up their fx budget for the witch when she finally materializes.

It's also difficult to really get swept up in the atmosphere since the characters are pretty much all obnoxious, annoying and stupid. I don't know about you, but under the circumstances (one girl injured, one guy dead and trapped underground in a freezing-cold ice crevice) I wouldn't be laughing and cracking jokes. A few girls lose their tops and there's a demon sex scene, but that's about it. Simon Boswell provided the disappointing and forgettable score.

★★

Monday, October 19, 2009

Beast of Morocco (1966)

...aka: Hand of Night, The

Directed by:
Frederic Goode

British architect Paul Carver (played by American William Sylvester) is haunted by the passing of his wife and children in a tragic car accident that occured two months earlier. Desperate to escape, he decides to flee to Morocco for an extended stay. On the plane there, he suffers from a strange nightmare/premonition blending the past, present and maybe even the future and meets French archeologist Otto Gunther (Edward Underdown), who's there to explore an old tomb and offers Paul the opportunity to visit the excevation site. Paul decides to drown his sorrows in a bar instead, meeting a strange drifter named Omar (Terence de Marney), who brings him to a lavish palace to watch some belly dancers. There, Paul meets beautiful young Marisa (former Miss Israel Aliza Gur) and the two instantly seem to fall in love. He passes out, awakens to find himself lying in the middle of the desert and discovers the palace he visited the night before is abandoned and in ruins. Visiting the archeological dig, Paul is introduced to Otto's assistant Chantal (Diane Clare), who can relate to the loss of a loved one, also quickly falls for our troubled hero and is concerned about his mental well-being since he's visiting places and seeing people that don't seem to exist.

A British production originally filmed as THE HAND OF NIGHT and released to U.S. theaters and TV under the misleading Beast moniker, this is a very difficult-to-find film that's not on DVD, and may not have even received a VHS release (at least here in the States). As with many other very obscure genre films, I've seen this one receive some wholly-undeserved, mystique-building praise from a couple of fanboys apt to spooge themselves over anything rare simply to make others who can't find it jealous. Sadly, this bland film really isn't worthy of much adoration at all. Though watchable, it's also dull, predictable and stiffly acted by the lead. Obvious parallels keep being drawn between "the light" (aka a healthy relationship with a caring woman), and "the dark" (aka a destructive relationship with a dark, sensual and mysterious woman). The latter happens to be an ancient princess who was buried alive centuries earlier and has returned as a fangless "vampire" (essentially just a spirit).

On the plus side, there are great opening credits featuring a smoking skull and a skeleton hand impaling a bat (which apparently are only used in the American version), nice-looking Moroccon locations, a competent supporting cast (the standouts being Underdown and de Marney) and a cool scene where ghostly henchman Otto withers away to a skeleton in the sun.

★★

Frauen für Zellenblock 9 (1978)

...aka: Cellblock 9
...aka: Flucht von der Todesinsel
...aka: Tropical Inferno
...aka: Women of Cellblock 9

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

After unsuccessfully attempting to sneak across the border in a banana truck, three female freedom fighters suspected of palling around with "terrorists" are captured and brought to a South American prison located deep in the jungle. There, all three ladies - full-bodied prostitute Karine Laverne (Karine Gambier), stong but silent Aida Morgan (Aida Gouveia) and sweet n' innocent Barbara Taylor (Esther Studer) - are stripped nude, chained up by their necks in a cell and are subjected to various sadistic tortures cooked up by deranged scientist Dr. Milton Costa (Howard Vernon) and butch warden Loba (no actress credited), who want the ladies to spill the beans about their associates. These tortures (which seem heavily influenced by the ILSA films) involve sitting spread eagle on razors, having electric jolts sent through the nipples, being violated by a rhinosaurus horn and something involving a large metal tube and a gerbil that requires no further explanation. Wrongfully imprisoned student Maria (Susan Hemingway), Loba's "pet," finds herself thrown in the same cell as the revolutionaries.

The captives manage to entice a guard with a four-girl lesbian sandwich, get him to unlock their chains and escape into the jungle, where they're hunted down Most Dangerous Game-style as they look for an ancient temple to hide out in. The catch? They're all buck naked the entire time! Once the ladies clothes come off around the 10 minute mark, they stay off for the rest of the film. In fact, Hemingway (star of Franco's Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun) never once has clothing on. The warden promises her soliders "...a special fifteen days leave of absence. You also have my permission to rape them first!" if they locate them. The nude jungle adventures involve bullet removal with a couple of twigs and a slow swim through a stock-footage-alligator-infested swamp.

Horribly written (what country is this even supposed to take place in?) and acted trash exists for one reason and one reason only - to showcase nude women. It certainly accomplishes that much, and provides some unintentionally hilarious moments along the way. It was one of fifteen films Franco made for Swiss producer Edwin C. Dietrich in the mid/late 70s.

1/2

Sunday, October 18, 2009

L'anticristo (1974)

... aka: Antichrist, The
... aka: Blasphemy
... aka: Tempter, The

Directed by:
Alberto De Martino

One of at least a dozen devil / demon / evil spirit possession films to emerge immediately after The Exorcist, this one has better production values than most, but that doesn't mean it's actually any better. In fact, it's ineffectual and often being just plain boring. At the tender age of 12, Ippolita was involved in a car crash that killed her mother and left her crippled. Now as an adult, Ippolita (short-haired Carla Gravina) is lonely, bitter and resentful. After all, she's spent a good deal of her life trying and failing to find a cure for whatever psychosomatic maladies are keeping her from walking. She also feels that God has failed to help her and has turned her back on her beliefs. Any ill feelings she felt for her wealthy father Massimo (Mel Ferrer), whose negligence led to the car crash years earlier, have manifested themselves as incestuous desires toward him that grow more intense once daddy's love will have to be split between her and his new girlfriend Gretel (Anita Strindberg). So it's safe to assume that Ippolita's one fucked-up chick. And things are about to get even worse!

A possessed man (Ernesto Colli) kills himself at a sacred site Ippolita and her father visit, resulting in the evil spirit hand picking our heroine as the perfect vessel to inhabit. After all, 400 years earlier she was a witch who was captured and burned at the stake. Symptoms manifest themselves slowly. Actually, too damn slowly. But then, Ippolita finds herself having a bizarre nightmare where her former witchy self had gone through a Satanic initiation involving getting laid out on a table nude and having a guy in a horned mask make her slurp some blood, eat a frog's head and lick a goat's... Well, no need for gory details.

Afterward, Ippolita regains her ability to walk. She uses her newfound freedom to seduce a teenage boy and twist his head around backwards then returns home to act out in all the usual possessed ways. She says lots of vulgar, degrading things, levitates, drools, pukes, makes furniture and paintings move and lights flicker and tries to seduce her own brother, Filippo (Remo Girone). During one scene, she detaches her own hand and uses it to strangle a faith healer (Mario Scaccia) her God-fearin' maid Irene (Alida Valli) brings over. Eventually, and with some help from Ippolita's bishop uncle (Arthur Kennedy), a more qualified fellow (George Coulouris) is dragged in the predictable exorcism climax where Ippy pukes, is doused with holy water and finally gets outside the home and tries to kill herself.

There's an effective score by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, nice exterior location work in Rome, very good interior art direction (including a hallway full of stone busts sticking out of the walls) and sharp and sometimes striking cinematography courtesy of Aristede Massaccesi (better known to us yanks as Joe D'Amato). What really sinks the whole thing is that there's not a single likable character to be found in the entire film. Irregardless of her situation, Ippolita is so miserable, bitchy, spoiled and self-absorbed it's impossible to warm to her. Other characters tend to be uninteresting, generic and/or underwritten. The special effects are a mixed bag too, leaning toward unimpressive, with disappointingly minor possession makeups.

Scenes were trimmed for the original U.S. theatrical release (under the title Blasphemy) as well as the VHS release (as The Tempter). The uncut DVD version was released by Anchor Bay.

★★

Vec vidjeno (1987)

...aka: Deja vu
...aka: Reflections

Directed by:
Goran Markovic

Along with ANGST (1983) and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), this is one of the 80's most effective attempts at looking at a psychopathic killer through more insightful eyes. You won't find loads of on-screen gore here, nor will you find reactionary scares or visual shocks in the expected slasher-killer frequency. This is a deliberately-paced portrait of a deranged mind that builds slowly as a character-driven drama before suddenly erupting into violence when it nears its disturbing conclusion. Another point of interest, aside from revelatory performances from several actors I'd never even heard of before, is a plot that manages to give viewers glimpses inside the political and social climate of Belgrade in both the pre and post WWII-era and the impoverished, though more liberated, early '70s era. The period-set scenes are then effectively sandwiched between a relevant and eerie revenge-themed story that returns us to contemporary times.
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In the opening sequence, a man watches as an elderly pianist gets ready to take the stage. The film then jumps to 1971 at a performing arts college, which includes courses on everything from martial arts to Esperanto. Awkward, repressed, middle-aged piano teacher Mihailo (Mustafa Nadarevic) is just one of many men enamored by attractive, outgoing, flirtaceous modeling teacher Olgica (Anica Dobra). To Mihailo's surprise, the sexy young woman aggressively starts a sexual relationship with him with absolutely no provocation. Unfortunately, Mihailo soon learns that there's little attractive about Olgica beyond the surface. She's cold, cruel, materialistic and seems to use whatever man comes her way that can be easily manipulated. Also embittered by the fact she has to share living space with an alcoholic father and a brother with an eye condition no one can afford to have treated, Olgica seems to view men as disposable tools used to improve upon her own life. But she's chosen the wrong guy to mess with this time.
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Aside from being in a thoroughly unhealthy relationship, Mihailo's slipping sanity isn't helped any by dire living conditions (he shares a filthy and cluttered home with a family headed over by a taunting jerk, played by Petar Bozovic) and frequent recollections from the past that seem to directly parallel what's currently going on in his life; the Deja vu the alternate title alludes to. Flashbacks reveal a very traumatic childhood at the hands of a pushy, abusive father who attempted to force his young son to become a piano prodigy. After an affair, his parents split up and both die soon after; the father executed as a communist and the miserable mother from tuberculosis, leaving behind a rather confused teenager who gave up on the piano aspirations for life as an instructor. Things come to a head when the school Mihailo and Olgica both work for is offered the opportunity to put on a televised talent show. When Mihailo finds himself unable to perform, he's casually cast aside by his new girlfriend and then erupts into violence.
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Thematically, the traumatized-child-turns-psycho plotting certainly isn't anything new or novel, but the film itself seems fresh thanks to the specific social climate (how many Serbian horror flicks can you think of?), outstanding acting (particularly the two leads), the attention paid to character and a story framework smoothly covering a 60 year time span. Production values are also very good, with spot-on period detail and costumes to reflect the changing times, an eerily moving classical score, smotheringly oppressive art direction and some arresting cinematography (there are several unbroken POV tracking shots that fans of elaborate camerawork will certainly enjoy). The violence quotient is pretty low overall, but the film does get graphically violent toward the end.
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The film won five major awards in its home country, but never even made a ripple here in the States. There's no video or DVD for this one folks, though an English-fansubbed copy is floating out there in cyberland if you know where to look.

★★★

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Revenge (1971) (TV)

...aka: There Once Was a Woman
...aka: Vendetta, The

Directed by:
Jud Taylor

At an airport, a mysterious woman swaps computer programmer Frank Klaner’s (Bradford Dillman) briefcase, which is full of important, confidential files. When he returns home that evening to his wife Dianne (Carol Eve Rossen) and young son, Frank receives a phone call from a woman claiming to have it. He hurries off to meet her without telling his wife where he’s going and soon enough finds himself in a MISERY-like situation (only this was made about 20 years earlier). The woman – Amanda Hilton (Shelley Winters, in her first TV movie) – konks Frank out with several blows to the head with a fire poker, drags him downstairs and places him in a specially-made cell with iron bars. An old-fashioned type of nutcase, Amanda seems to hate “immoral” people and profanity, but has no problem serving her captive drugged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and plotting to kill and dismember him with an axe. Why? Well it has something to do with her dead daughter, who met a man at a conference in Atlantic City, got knocked up and then killed herself after getting the brush off. The man responsible may or may not actually be Frank.

All of the Winters/Dillman scenes are good, but unfortunately the film spends just as much time detailing the wife’s dull search for her missing spouse. Things look more promising when a friend of Dianne’s suggest she go to a demonstration on extra-sensory abilities led by renowned psychic Mark Hembric (Stuart Whitman). Mark seems to know all about Dianne and her situation, but is exposed as being a phony with no actual powers. But that’s OK. In an absurd turn of events, Dianne learns that she actually does have ESP and uses her abilities to find Amanda’s home.

Winters (pretty much going the “Baby Jane” route here) basically plays her role as a jittery, nervous wreck and does unhinged well enough. Scenes where she has to scream, act authorative or raise her voice border on camp. Dillman and everyone else also does fine with what they’re given, too. However, thanks to the psychic storyline and a short run time of just 71 minutes, there aren’t enough scenes between captor and captive to build up a whole lot of suspense and the Amanda character isn’t fleshed out enough to make her all that interesting.

It was based on a novel by Elizabeth Davis. Roger Perry (COUNT YORGA) has small role. Not on DVD, but a video was released through Worldvision.

★★

Kaidan Bancho sara yashiki (1957)

...aka: Ghost in the Well
...aka: Ghost of the Well
...aka: Ghost Story of Broken Dishes at Bancho Mansion

Directed by:
Juichi Kono

How infatuation with social status spoils love and relationships, a very familiar Japanese theme, serves as the basis for this 45-minute romantic ghost tale from Toei. Hatamoto lord Aoyama Harima (Azuma Chiyonosuke) has been running around with a bad crowd. After a fight with some rivals in the prohibited red light district, leader Lord Mizuno is forced to commit hara-kiri. Harima on the other hand is placed on house arrest but has a chance to redeem himself by marrying a wealthy magistrate’s daughter. The problem is that Harima is already in love with servant girl and “commoner” Kiku (Misora Hibari), whom he’s promised to marry. When faced with the alternative and the complete loss of his status, Harima choses the arranged marriage instead of Kiku. As an exchange for the marriage, Harima offers up his collection of “Korai-yaki;” valuable family plates, to his future father-in-law. While preparing the plates, Kiku accidentally breaks one of them, an offense punishable by death. While arguing with Harima, she breaks another. He kills her and her body falls into a well in the courtyard.

Because of the damaged heirlooms, Harima’s arranged marriage never happens and he’s lost his position and stature in the community. All he’s left with is his love for the dead Kiku, who does at least return to him as a ghost. But it’s not as your typical vengeance-seeking ghost, but one who still loves him and wants to be reunited in the afterlife. She may get her wish when Harima decides to take on about twenty guys from a rival gang all by himself.

Very mild stuff here, though it’s well acted and produced. Aside from a couple of well-choreographed sword fighting scenes and one spooky shot of Kiku rising from her watery grave (plus a couple of other ghost effects); this is strictly melodrama. Dated melodrama, at that. In fact, the mere concept of a subservient ghost girl carrying a torch for the man who slashed her to death over a fucking plate won’t be winning over any feminists. Especially ones who can’t put movies in context to when they were made.

★★

Forever Evil (1987)

...aka: Nemesis
...aka: Nightcrawler

Directed by:
Roger Evans

Marc Denning (Red Mitchell) is planning on selling a barely-used vacation home that he shares with his brother Jay (Jeffrey Lane) so they’ll have enough money to patent their grappling invention. Both men, along with their girlfriends and another couple, decide to throw one last weekend bash at the house, which will include drinking, poker, sensitive lakeside chats and a revelation that Marc’s girlfriend Holly (Diane Johnson) is knocked up. Well... at least for a short while as she’s soon found dead in the shower minus the fetus, which has been messily cut out. Before long, another of the girls is found hanging upside down in the living room with her throat cut. A red-eyed, off-screen demon attacks, people get yanked outside by possessed tree limbs and a rubbery zombie finally shows up to get its eyeballs poked out. Only Marc survives the night of horror, only to wander into the road and get struck down by a car. And no, the above synopsis gives nothing away. That’s just the first 20 minutes!

What starts as a subpar rehash of THE EVIL DEAD soon turns into something more OMEN-like, ambitious and apocalyptic. Not that they’re able to successfully pull it all off or anything... After police investigate the crime scene (“This would make Manson puke!”), Marc recovers at the hospital. When he’s finally released, he starts trying to find out what happened at the cabin, with some help from Detective Leo (Charles Trotter), Dr. Lisa (Marcy Bannor) and Reggie Osborne (Tracey Huffman), a young woman who survived an earlier forest massacre at the hands of a similar evil being. Through some books obtained from a murdered psychic, the tale of an astral demon named Yog Kothag unfolds and the crew must stop an upcoming apocalypse being shephered in by an evil, immortal real estate agent named Parker Nash (Howard Jacobsen), a black ghost dog and his zombie henchman (Kent Johnson).

The very low-budget film from the Houston, Texas area has some fun moments and good ideas if you can overlook some flagrantly bad acting. cheesy visual effects and a whopping 2 hour run time, at least a fourth of which could have ended up on the cutting room floor without anything really being lost. The opening credits (traveling through a animated maze that looks like it was shaded with crayons) are great and some of the makeup – especially the skeleton zombie and a nightmare sequence where Marc's former girlfriend rips out a mutant baby – are decent. I also liked the synth score.
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Lead actor Mitchell also appeared in the killer djinn film THE OUTING (1987) and some non-genre films (including Oliver Stone's JFK) before getting killed in a car/train collision in 1994.

★★

Fatal Images (1989)

Directed by:
Dennis Devine

Kurt Cosgrave (David Williams), a bearded, deep-voiced psycho photographer, kills an undercover policewoman before pointing the camera in his direction and taking a picture. When the police bust in they find Cosgrave dead, but without any explanation as to how he died. Ten years later, professional photographer Amy Stewart (Lane Coyle) goes into a thrift shop looking for props and lets the owner talk her into purchasing a rare camera… the same one previously used (and built) by the psycho from the opening sequence. Amy and her reporter roommate Jennifer (Kay Schaber) both work for a newspaper, but Amy’s a bit annoyed that she’s always getting assignments shooting bitchy swimsuit models and vapid high school cheerleaders and Prom Queens. She decides to whip out her new camera to use during some of her assignments and when the film is later developed, the pictures predict the fates of those photographed, who are stalked and killed off by the dead Cosgrave; a Satanist who managed to transfer his soul into the camera before dying. Cosgrave also plans to possess Amy in an effort to return to the living.

An interesting premise, which seems influenced by both THE OMEN (pictures predicting fates) and WITCHBOARD (a bearded Satanist using an inanimate object to possess a victim and lash out at her friends), but this ultra-cheap shot-on-video effort lacks the energy and talent necessary to make it all work. There’s a surprisingly good performance from lead Coyle, a nice supporting one from Angela Eads as a female police officer and a couple of others who don’t do much damage, but for the most part the actors fail to convince. The writing’s highly uneven, there are consistent continuity problems and the ending is very weak. Even such surefire hilarious moments as a terrible hair band called “Teaser” performing at a saloon don’t seem to help alleviate the boredom much!

Despite the VHS cover, there’s zero nudity and just a pinch of gore. The latter is from Gabriel Bartalos, who’s done some great fx work in the past, but obviously had no budget to work with. As a result he delivers some pretty ho-hum stuff here, including a slashed throat and an arm being ripped off. Bartalos also picked up a credit for 2nd Unit Director. Many of the actors, including Schaber, Eads, Brian Burr Chin (playing a strange guy who knows all about Cosgrave and hassles our heroine about buying the camera) and Jeff Herbick (as a detective personally involved in the case since his girlfriend was a victim) all turned up in Devine’s much-better DEAD GIRLS the following year.

I wouldn’t expect this to be getting a deluxe DVD treatment anytime soon. The VHS is from Active Home Video.

1/2

Hunter's Blood (1986)

Directed by:
Robert C. Hughes

Medical student David (the late Sam Bottoms) and his tough father Mason (Clu Gulager), along with Mason’s wealthy friend Al (Ken Swofford), Al’s lawyer brother Ralph (Mayf Nutter) and Ralph’s wimpy lawyer friend Marty (Joey Travolta) all decide to get together for an outdoors hunting adventure deep in the Arkansas forest on a patch of land Al has recently purchased. Before you can say “Squeal Piggy,” the guys find themselves having various run-ins with stereotyped rednecks; first some bullies in a bar (which has a sign posted out front that reads “No Colords”) and secondly some violent, inbred poachers who have been slaughtering all the deer in the area and selling them to a local processing plant called Razorback Meat Company.

After setting up camp, some park rangers stop by to warn the guys to leave since many a hunter has disappeared there in the past. They don’t and after a booze-soaked, weed-smoking night of partying, the guys wake up to four laughing hilljacks spitting and pissing on them. The guys manage to get the upper hand and chase the hicks off before they can rob them. The next day there’s a second run-in and things start getting violent. David’s girlfriend Melanie (Kim Delaney) also stops by to join in on the action. Gory highlights include a face blown off with a shotgun, a would-be rapist impaled with deer antlers and a hick getting shot off a moving train.

Nothing too surprising happens in this routine backwoods survivalist flick, which was obviously influenced, right down to the male rape paranoia, by DELIVERANCE. It takes about an hour before any bloodshed occurs, the film seriously lacks tension, the male bonding scenes are hokey, the performances are uneven and the “good guys” aren’t really all that likable. In fact, they’re basically arrogant and snide yuppie types that are impossible to get 100 percent behind. Some action and gore (most during the last half hour) keep it watchable, as do a well-selected gallery of colorful character actors cast as the rednecks. Included are Lee de Broux, Bruce Glover (who’s hilarious in his over-the-top role, weirdly shouting lines like “We gonna get ya!”), Billy Drago and Charles Cyphers (best known as the sheriff from HALLOWEEN). There’s even an early appearance from Billy Bob Thornton (making his screen debut), who can be seen being thrown from the back of a pick-up truck.

★★

Beast in the Cellar, The (1970)

...aka: Are You Dying, Young Man?
...aka: Killer, The

Directed by:
James Kelley

Spinster sisters Ellie (Beryl Reid) and Joyce (Flora Robson) Ballantyne live a quiet life in a large country home miles away from town. Neither has been married or had children, and while flighty, optimistic, lonely Ellie is prone to escaping into the past and reminiscing about the good old days, domineering and controlling older sister Joyce is always there to bring her right back down to reality. The two spend their days sipping tea, tending to their garden and, in Ellie’s case, looking forward to visits from handsome young soldier Alan Marlow (John Hamill), who stops in on occasion to bring the ladies a gift and check in on them. Ellie and Joyce seem to depend on one another in equal measure to get by but there’s a deep dark secret they’ve managed to keep hidden in the cellar of their home for over thirty years… and it’s just managed to escape! Over at an army training camp near the home, soldiers are being brutally murdered by someone or something; their bodies so savagely shredded that investigators (led by T.P. McKenna) initatially refuse to believe that a person did it.

What starts out as a well-played, very low key character study of isolation, damaging family secrets and repression, with a nice rural setting, unfortunately runs out of ideas after the first half. The whole thing becomes increasingly more predictable as the layers of ambiguity are stripped away, finally reaching a suspense-free, anti-climactic conclusion that’s anything but satisfying. The revelation of the “beast” isn’t anything new either, as people have been shoving demented, disfigured and otherwise dangerous (or embarrassing) family members into secret rooms, attics and cellars since the 1930s. The fact that the “beast” didn’t start out as one and his condition has been caused by the actions of the sisters (one well-meaning, but painfully naïve and weak) is just a slight deviation from the norm. Thankfully, veteran actresses Reid and Robson are on hand and both deliver performances strong enough to make this at least semi-watchable.

Tessa Wyatt co-stars (and has almost nothing to do) as a nurse who stops in to care for Joyce from time to time after she’s injured. Vernon Dobtcheff, Christopher Chittell and Peter Craze co-star. Also known as ARE YOU DYING, YOUNG MAN?

★★

Sex Psycho (1970)

...aka: Demon in Miss Jones, The
...aka: Widow Blue

Directed by:
Walt Davis

Nick (Alex Elliot) is always berating his wife Elise’s cooking (she can’t even make toast without burning it), looks (she wears thick glasses and a curly wig with her real hair sticking out from all over) and bedside manner (she can’t seem to put down detective magazines). She’s fed up with his insults and the fact he seems completely disinterested in having sex, leading her to an affair with another man (Rick Cassidy) who sneaks over while her husband’s at work. Not to be left out, Nick also has his own mistress, married Eva Blue (Susan Wescott), who lives right down the street and sits around all day smoking weed and watching TV. Eva, Nick and Eva’s brother Marshall (Charles Lish) all plot to kill Eva’s husband Jerry (played by the director) for his money. This involves the brother seducing Jerry and then Nick popping out when they’re through “balling” to sink a meat cleaver into the husband’s throat. While Marshall goes to fetch a coffin, Eva and Nick have sex right then and there… with the bloody corpse in bed right next to them! When they’re finished, Marshall returns with the coffin, they put the body inside and Nick then forces the siblings to have sex right on top of the coffin!

One of the dead husband’s co-workers, Ron (John Holmes), shows up with his girlfriend Lisa (Andy Bellamy). They want to “get it on” so everyone strips and does it in the living room. After the other couple and Marshall leave, Elise (Sandy Dempsey) comes over for an arranged dinner date with the Blue’s. Eva claims she’s going to the store, then Nick seduces his wife into bed. Before Elise and Nick can finish, Eva pops out brandishing a meat cleaver, causing Elise to bite off Nick’s dick and then choke to death on it!

This twisted mix of unappealing hardcore porn and H.G. Lewis- style gore scenes sounds pretty demented, but actually watching it is a whole different story. The acting is terrible, lines are flubbed, people laugh when they’re not supposed to and obviously no one is taking this thing seriously. In fact, there’s enough wink-wink nudge-nudge going around to indicate that the “actors” are just goofing off and having some fun. That in and of itself makes this easier to take than it otherwise would have been. Or maybe I’m just completely desensitized to sick trash like this by now.

Most of the performers – even by 70s standards - aren’t particularly attractive, rendering the sex scenes pretty useless, though the inclusion of a gay sex scene will surprise some people. The print quality (distributed by Something Weird) is awful. I can’t tell if they were actually going for blue, green and red tinted scenes, if it’s actually a heavily-damaged print or if the film was just ineptly shot. Probably a mixture of the three actually. Director Davis also made the very entertaining EVIL COME EVIL GO (1972).

SBIG

Obsessed (1976)

...aka: Anna Obsessed

Directed by:
Martin & Martin

Businessman David Carson (John Leslie) is having a hard time pleasuring his wife Anna (Constance Money), who’s getting fed up with his inability to satisfy her and threatening to have an affair. Meanwhile, the “Long Island Rape Killer” has already attacked, sexually mutilated and killed four suburban women and a child over a two month period of time. Neglected Anna starts receiving strange dead air phone calls and is raped by an unseen assailiant, which leads her into the arms of mysterious but understanding and compassionate photographer Maggie Ronson (Annette Haven), who she just recently met at a train station and herself has frequent nightmares of a nude woman walking upstairs. David also begins an affair of his own with his new secretary (Suzanne McBaine), who takes breaks during her work day to pleasure herself right at her desk. Enter Jamie Gillis for a cameo. The unhappy married couple eventually decide to try to get their relationship back on track with help from Maggie, foreshadowed with a feast of meatballs and breadsticks dipped in cheese fondue on the carpet. Meanwhile, the panty-sniffing, newspaper-clippng weirdo is sneaking around the neighborhood peeking in windows and seems to be targeting Anna as the next target.

As far as hardcore goes, not too bad. There’s a good plot/sex ratio, a stylish (though ubrupt) finale and above average (for porn) acting from Leslie and Haven. Money, on the other hand, isn't much of an actress even by porn standards and seems highly sedated throughout. Most of grisly stuff occurs offscreen, though there’s a little violence at the very end.

★★1/2

Monday, October 12, 2009

Black Sleep, The (1956)

...aka: Dr. Cadman's Secret

Directed by:
Reginald Le Borg

Usually the recipient of very negative reviews (nonsense!), this is great fun for classic horror fans and nowhere as bad as its reputed to be. Wrongly convicted of the murder of a money lender, Dr. Gordon Ramsay (Herbert Rudley) awaits his death on the gallows. The day before his execution is to take place, aristocratic scientist Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone) offers Ramsay a second chance at life under a new identity via "the black death;" a dark powder from the West Indies that will cause just a temporary demise as long as an antidote is administered within twelve hours. With nothing to lose, Ramsay signs over burial arrangements to Cadman, agrees to assist him in his experiments upon his revival and takes the drug. After dying and being brought back, Ramsay accompanies Cadman to his secluded castle home and the two begin their brain experiments on cadavers. Helping the men are a pair of surgical nurses; older, dedicated Daphne (Phyllis Stanley) and younger Laurie (Patricia Blair), who always seems to be on edge. And it's no wonder she's a bit jumpy... Every time she's left alone, a grunting, limping mental defective named Mungo (Lon Chaney, Jr.), who Cadman allows to freely wander around, tries to strangle her!

Ramsay discovers that Cadman isn't actually using cadavers in the experiments, but living humans, who have been drugged, kidnapped and dropped off by gypsy tattooist Professor Odo (Akim Tamiroff, providing much welcome comic relief). He also discovers that Cadman's chief objective with his experiments is to gain knowledge that will help him revive his wife Angelina (Louanna Gardner), who's been in a coma for eight months. A secret panel hidden behind the fireplace holds another secret. Behind it is a long staircase. Up leads to the surgical room, but down leads to a torture chamber full of disfigured, deranged cast offs from Cadman's previous experiments.

Aside from Rathbone and Chaney, the film completes its awesome all-star cast with supporting roles for Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson and John Carradine. Lugosi (looking pretty feeble in his last role) plays mute butler Casimir, who has absolutely nothing to do other than stand in the background and open and close doors as people come and go. A blank-eyed Johnson has a small part as a basement dweller and, just like Lugosi and Chaney, is given no dialogue. Carradine fairs best in a brief, but hysterically funny role as Bohemund, a deranged profit. Looking like he just walked off the set of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS in a long wig, long beard and robe, the actor spends his screen time ranting, raving and beating people over the head with his walking stick!

Rathbone and Tamiroff both give great performances, but the real surprise here is Hudley, who receives sixth billing to all the genre greats, yet easily manages to hold his own with a natural and appealing performance. It's too bad the actor would never appear in another genre film. The film is set in 1872, though the production isn't elaborate enough to ever stray from the cheap looking sets. The brain surgery sequence is very well done, though, and surprisingly grisly for the time, with Rathbone poking and prodding inside a victim's head. Cerebral fluid even gushes out at one point! The make-up designs on the basement mutants are minor but passable. The ending is hectic, rushed and sometimes unintentionally funny, but one thing it's not is boring.
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All things considered, I can say with some certainty that most horror buffs will get a kick out of what they see here... granted they can find a copy. As of this writing, the film has never been released on video or DVD. Your best bet is checking the program guide for Turner Classic Movies, who air it every once in awhile.

★★1/2
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