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, October 12, 2010

Il nido del ragno (1988)

... aka: Spider Labyrinth, The
... aka: Spider's Nest, The

Directed by:
Gianfranco Giagni

Dallas college professor Alan Whitmore (Roland Wybenga), who specializes in "oriental languages" and has a recurring nightmare about being trapped in a room with a spider as a child, is given an important, top-secret mission by his superiors. He has been overseeing something called "The Intextus Project;" a study of religions across the globe, and now his backers want him to travel to Budapest to check in on Leo Roth, another professor working on the project who has disappeared. Upon arriving in Budapest, Alan meets up with a sexy female contact - Genevieve Weiss (Paola Rinaldi) - who begins showing him around. He locates the missing colleague, who has been feigning mental illness and hands Alan an ancient tablet the second his stern wife Sylvia (Margareta von Krauss) turns her back. Back at his hotel, he's introduced to the proprietess, Mrs. Kuhn (Stéphane Audran), who behaves rather strangely and puts him up in a room conveniently located directly across from where Genevieve lives. And Genevieve likes to stand around topless by an open window a lot.

It isn't long before people start dying, starting with Professor Roth, who's found hanging from a chandelier. When the police investigate, Mrs. Roth is nowhere to be found and Alan is informed that the victim wasn't even married. Maid Maria (Claudia Muzi), who tells Alan he better get out while the getting is good, is next up. There's also a strange, nameless man (played by William Berger) who's lives underneath the city and has been pulling our thick hero aside and telling him he better leave because he might be "sucked into the vortex." Needless to say, Alan doesn't listen, and eventually he discovers that nearly the entire district is involved in a weird religious cult that has something to do with spiders. To be precise, they worship a mutant baby who gives birth to spiders that crawl under the skin on your arm and possess you. Also working for the baby-mutant-messiah-thingy is some kind of hissing witch (also played by von Krauss) who viciously kills whoever theatens to expose the cult.

Clearly, the director has been inspired by the films of Italian horror masters Dario Argento and Mario Bava. It's well-scored, has good cinematography, decent acting (aside from the lead, who's handsome but a bit one-note) and the supernatural scenes are colorful and stylishly done. A scene of a nightgown-clad victim being stalked between sheets blowing in the wind while bold greens and blues flash will remind one instantly of Argento's SUSPIRIA (1977) and INFERNO (1980). A shot directly down a spiral staircase and the fact the witch tosses a small ball into a room before murdering her victims are direct visual nods to Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL! (1966). Hitchcock and Polanski are also liberally sampled in both premise (oblivious man begins to slowly realize that everyone he meets is basically conspiring against him and no one can be trusted) and execution. In fact, the film references so many others that it doesn't really take on an identity of its own until near the end. It does however deserve credit for a truly bizarre finale employing stop motion special effects.


Sadly, THE SPIDER LABYRINTH wasn't very well distributed in the United States and doesn't seem to have much of a following. I'm not aware of any legit U.S. VHS release and for years the best one could hope for was watching a bootleg copy (most of which were derived from the Japanese VHS release). In 2009, the film finally received a DVD release, though I can't vouch for its quality since I saw the video version.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Creature Walks Among Us, The (1956)

Directed by:
John Sherwood

Third and final of Universal's original "Gill-Man" trilogy, following CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955), this was the only one of the three not filmed in 3D. At the end of Revenge, the creature managed to escape captivity at a water park and make his way to the ocean. Now, eyewitness reports are placing him somewhere in the Florida Everglades. Wealthy and brilliant, but possibly insane, surgeon Dr. William Barton (Jeff Morrow) decides to organize an expedition there to locate the creature. Accompanying him on his quest are his beautiful, unhappy, much-younger wife Marcia (Leigh Snowden), nice guy geneticist Dr. Thomas Morgan (Rex Reason), lecherous "beach bum" hired hand Jed Grant (Gregg Palmer) and a few other doctors. Using sonar technology, the group manage to locate the creature, shoot it with a harpoon and then set it on fire. The injured beast is then brought on board ship, where they discover that not only has he lost his outer layer or protective skin (and is thus more vulnerable) but he's dying because of his inability to rely on its lungs alone for breathing. An operation follows to correct this and the creature goes from being a sea beast to a land one. Things come to a head at Morgan's California compound.

There's not much in the way of action here. Actually, the creature itself isn't really even really the focal point of the film. The compensation is with a decent and reasonably compelling human interest story (courtesy writers Arthur A. Ross and Harry Essex) involving the loveless marriage between jealous Dr. Barton and his sheltered wife. As far as the monster is concerned, he is not only given a new look here, but he's treated with an adequate amount of sympathy. Performances are decent, as is the underwater photography, and the ending is pretty downbeat. It's much more in the spirit of the original film than the first sequel.

Universal released a nice box set in 2004 that contains all three Creature titles.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Love After Death (1968)

... aka: Unsatisfied Love

Directed by:
Glauco Del Mar

Wealthy Mr. Montel (Guillermo De Córdova) suffers from some kind of cataleptic malady which renders him motionless for long periods of time. His gold-digging wife Sofia (Carmin O'Neal) decides to use his condition against him by arranging to have him buried alive. She enlists the aid of Dr. Anderson (Roberto Maurano), promising him her hand in marriage if he'll forego the autopsy, all the while messing around with the doctor's right hand man Manuel (Ángel Mario Ramírez). Somehow, despite being married to Montel for six months and managing to get two different slobbering guys to do her bidding, Sofia openly boasts about still being a virgin. After successfully pulling off both the funeral and the burial (where we get to hear the prematurely entombed's thoughts about his predicament), Mr. Montel manages to come crawling out of his grave and then hits the streets. However, it will take the entire length of the movie for him to get around to getting revenge on those who've wronged him. He keeps get distracted... by chicks... who behave like brain-dead nymphomaniacs... that enjoy strange men attacking them... and who sometimes aren't even really chicks. Read on.

Montel first encounters a blonde walking down the street. He knocks her out, drags her into an apartment, undresses her and then starts molesting her in full view of the elderly woman who lives there! When the blonde finally wakes up and acts like she's enjoying herself, Montel runs away. Then the "victim" turns to the old lady and asks if she'd like to have sex with her instead! Next up, Montel visits a nightclub and watches a sexy burlesque performer who doesn't quite strip all the way down. Because, as it turns out, she is a he. Montel again runs away in horror. Sneaking into the bedroom of two lesbians who apparently just need a good man (one is played by hardcore porn actress Jennifer Welles) and then into the bedroom of a woman and her hairy beau also bears no fruit. Finally, a gentle mod girl with some amazing eye make-up manages to give our perv-hero the reward he was looking for all along after he helps her carry a couple of boxes into her apartment. With that out of the way, Motel decides to finally kill those responsible for conspiring to kill him for his money.
In most ways, this film is very typical late 60s New York City-shot soft-core porn product. The majority of things one associates with quality filmmaking; pacing, plot, dialogue, sound, editing, etc., are all forsaken for trying to cram in as much nudity as possible. What makes this is a little different is that it's from a Puerto Rican director shooting a mostly Spanish-speaking cast in the United States. The movie was clearly filmed with no audio. All that was horribly dubbed in later and if the dialogue ever happens to match the lips its by sheer coincidence. Sometimes there is narration to try to make sense of it all and sometimes people fire guns or scream and no sound at all is heard at all. The music score is canned. The film's saving grace, aside from the nudity, is the camerawork. Aside from being attractively filmed (in b/w), the director sometimes employs creative camera placement, jittery POV shots and zoom work. Strangley, there are also quite a few close-up shots of facial features and various body parts (including feet walking), which might remind one of the work or Doris Wishman.
Something Weird offers this film on triple-bill DVD, along with THE INCREDIBLE PETRIFIED WORLD (1957) and THE ATOMIC BRAIN (1964).

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