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.

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.
.
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
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