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 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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For more of the same, make sure to check out the following Ormond classics...
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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.
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SBIG

Bride's Initiation, The (1972)

...aka: Dracula and the Dirty Old Witch

Directed by:
Duncan Stewart


THE BRIDE'S INITIATION was a 67-minute porno that mixed X-rated sex (though apparently not very much, according to iafd), some light S&M and brain-dead vampire humor. Thankfully for those of us not really wanting to slog through an entire early 70s adult feature (I personally have no problem with doing so if it's something like THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES or THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, but let's face it - those are atypically good for the genre), Something Weird offers the film in a condensed form as an extra on their DRACULA THE DIRTY OLD MAN / GUESS WHAT HAPPENED TO COUNT DRACULA? DVD. The SW version (under the new title DRACULA AND THE DIRTY OLD WITCH), runs just 22-minutes (which is about all I could personally stand) and has all the hardcore sex removed. What remains is unsexy, unfunny and basically boring, but hey, I'm just thankful I got to save 40+ minutes viewing this - so kudos to SW for helping me out there.
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Count Dracula (Marc Brock) wakes up nude in his coffin - except for his cape, plastic fangs and one of the worst undead make-up jobs ever seen - and goes to tend to a cheap S&M dungeon set consisting of black walls, a yellow mattress in the middle of the floor and three nude women chained to the wall. A cackling, facially-scarred witch complete with a long, warty nose makes some special "brew" from human, uh, juices, for the vampire to drink. His pock-marked chauffeur named James ("Jack O'Brien"/Jack Birch) helps kidnap a newlywed couple (the woman is raped and the guy is castrated off-screen), as well as a maid and a police detective. Dracula eventually falls in love with a buck-toothed blonde named Miss Richman (Carol Connors), who he thinks can end his eternal suffering. He gives her a magical ring that he uses to hypnotize her and lure her to his lair, and the witch eventually spikes his special potion, which causes the vampire to change his sexual preference. The end.
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Most of the cast returned in the adult feature COUSIN BETTY, which was filmed back-to-back with this one. The SW DVD also contains a condensed, non-explicit cut of the John Holmes vehicle SEX AND THE SINGLE VAMPIRE (1970).
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Have a Nice Weekend (1975)

Directed by:
Michael Walters

I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that your son has returned safely from Vietnam. The bad news? He's psycho and wants to kill everyone! Young Chris Gilbert was an army lieutenant who's been released from active duty, suffers from 'Nam flashbacks (shown via still photos), burns his fatigues as soon as he arrives at the airport and gets in touch with each of his well-to-do family members and tells everyone he wants to get together for a reunion. Instead of meeting at home, he decides to arrange for everyone to meet at the family's island summer home, which can only be accessed by boat. The patriarch of the clan, wealthy NYC businessman Paul (Michael B. Miller), is a perfectionist who may have pushed his kids a little too hard to be successful when they were younger and likes to lovingly stroke kitchen utensils and reflect about his favorite childhood knife, the "buck." Mom Laura (Nikki Counselman) seems to have little on her mind other than the arrangement of her rose bushes. And daughter Muffy (Patricia Joyce) is just your standard teen college student who has the hots for Frank (Arthur Roberts), an older part time pee wee football coach who also works part time as a gardener on the island. They, along with Muffy's snobby college friend Ellen Sherman (Colette Bablon) and a bickering couple; Joan (Valerie Shepherd) and Donald (Peter Dompe) Kraft, who also live on the island, are then picked off one by one. Well, at least a couple of them are... After Frank is slashed to death with a kitchen knife, Chris starts hilariously barking out military orders to everyone and forces them all to split up and comb the island for signs of the killer.
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But then... (red herring alert! red herring alert!) the rug's pulled out from under us as someone sneaks up behind poor troubled Chris and whacks him over the head a few times with a hoe. So Chris isn't actually the killer. You know, cause he's dead. And now we go into a ridiculous series of mini-flashbacks trying to establish the remaining characters as possible suspects. Dad has a thing for sharp knives and was seeing a shrink at one point. Mom was having a secret affair with the gardener. The daughter viciously clawed her friend's face when she found out she went on a date with a guy she liked. The neighbor lady is a gossipy flirt whose actions make her hubby insanely jealous. And the roommate's brother apparently was a nutjob himself, so maybe nuttiness runs in their family. Then there's always the possibility that it's just an anonymous psycho who has crashed their party. Oh brother.
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On the plus side, the cinematography isn't bad. It's set in the Fall, with autumnal colors on the trees and nice soft-focus shots of wind blowing the leaves and of the lake. On the down side is, well, basically everything else! The classical music score loop will grate on your last nerve. The cast ranges from average to awful, but it's hard to blame anyone for giving a bad performance since the film has some of the worst-written and most awkward-sounding dialogue you'll ever hear. Nothing even remotely scary happens, there's zero suspense, no cheap thrills and the murder scenes themselves are extremely weak and badly edited. For what is essentially a "proto slasher" flick, all of those elements being poorly pulled off render the film virtually pointless. There is also a silly "epilogue" with a doctor explaining the killer's motive to one of the survivors that was obviously just tacked-on just to push the run-time up to measly 75 minutes.
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The VHS release was from All-American Video, and since it wasn't that well-distributed in the first place, the film has sunk into a much-deserved obscurity over the years. Slasher fans are the only ones I could see actively seeking out this title, and I can almost guarantee, even by their low standards, that the majority will be disappointed by what they see here. The version I saw had no end credits.
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