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, June 25, 2012

Cerebro del mal (1958)

... aka: Brain of Evil
... aka: Evil Brain, The
... aka: Santo contra cerebro del mal
... aka: Santo vs. the Evil Brain

Directed by:
Joselito Rodríguez

In 1958, several years before he became a matinee idol in Mexico, silver-masked wrestler Santo appeared in two low-budget crime adventures that were filmed in Havana, Cuba immediately before Fidel Castro seized power there. I'm not sure these things played anywhere outside of their home country immediately after they were made, but they weren't screened in Mexico until some time in the early 60s after Santo became a box office draw with several subsequent hit films. As demand for Santo increased both of these earlier films were dusted off and reissued with brand new titles. This one, originally called "Cerebro Del Mal" (or "Brain of Evil"), was reissued as "Santo contra cerebro del mal" ("Santo vs. the Evil Brain"). The other, "Hombres Infernales" ("Infernal Men") became "Santo contra hombres infernales" ("Santo vs. Infernal Men"). Though later promoted as the star, Santo actually wasn't the star of either one of these. I'm sure his fans may have found it odd to see the courageous hero sitting off in the background much of the time looking dazed and having to play second fiddle to a mad doctor (who just shoos him away at one point) character and others. Rumor has it that Santo was initially reluctant to even do movies, but was talked into doing them by this film's director and co-star, fellow grappler Fernando Osés. And the rest is history.





After a car chase, three thugs armed with their own unique weapon (switchblade, brass knuckles and a chain) corner crime fighter Santo (playing El Enmascarado, or "The Masked One") in an alleyway. A badly-choreographed fight ensues, ending with our masked hero getting choked out. He's put in the back of a car and driven out to the country, where Frankenstein-like Dr. Campos (Joaquín Cordero) injects him with a mind-control serum and places him under some kind of radiation lamp thingy which kick starts the formula. Now under the control of the bad guys, El Santo becomes a handy ally in committing various crimes, especially considering he's trusted by all the city folk. Er, at least he WAS trusted by all of the city folk until word gets around that he's been running with this new crowd. A few of the thugs and The Masked One beat up two guys and then kidnap a famous scientist, who gets the same mind-control treatment. Seeing how their little technique is working out so well, they next do a bank president and have him clean out the bank's safe and bring them the loot.





Dr. Campos, who has been living a double life of kind professor by day and mad scientist and master criminal by night, has the hots for a woman named Elisa (Norma Suárez), who is inconveniently dating his friend Gerardo (Alberto Inzúa). Guess how Campos plans to win her love? You got it, by mind control. He has his thugs beat up Gerardo and then kidnap Elisa and even goes so far as to accompany Gerardo to the police station to report the crime to cover his ass. Meanwhile, El Incognito (Osés), a second masked man in an outfit similar to Santo's except it's all black, is also lurking around and has used a radiation meter to locate Campos' lab. While Dr. Campos is off at the Casino de Capri watching a nightclub dance act, Incognito sneaks in through the skylight, steals some papers and tries to mix up an antidote to the mind-control serum. Santo sneaks in for a little wrestling action until Incognito breaks a bottle over his head. He then injects his wrestling buddy with the antidote. Back to his normal self, Santo can now secretly spy on the crime ring from the inside.





There's a police chase, an attempted poisoning, tons of shots of cars driving around, lots of newspaper headlines, a bunch of guys sitting around playing cards for what feels like an eternity and a few more poorly-done fight scenes. It was nice to finally pop my Santo cherry, but if I were a female I might be pissed off that I shaved my legs for this. It's a very bland, dull and completely unoriginal serial-like film that probably seemed poorly dated even in the early 60s and didn't exactly get this viewer very excited about the prospect of watching the rest of the Santo titles. It's not even good for camp value; just boring and predictable. Hopefully it's all up from here. As an aside, there's some very familiar-souding music here that I'm pretty sure was used in several of Ed Wood's 1950s productions.





Executive producer, co-writer and co-director Enrique Zambrano gave himself a third-billed heroic role here as Lt. Zambrano. It was never released to American theaters and the only release in the U.S. was on VHS through Something Weird (who only offered a Spanish language version with no subs). However, a fan-subbed version however is floating around the net if you're interested.

1/2

Bloodbath in Psycho Town (1989)

... aka: Small Towns Are Murder
... aka: Video Demons Do Psychotown

Directed by:
"Allessandro deGaetano" (Alessandro De Gaetano)

Filmed as Small Towns Are Murder, this received a very obscure VHS release under the title Bloodbath in Psycho Town by American Video in the late 80s. That title likely pissed off a lot of people who rented it because this film has next to no blood in it, let alone a bloodbath! Well, unless you think someone getting killed in the bath tub constitutes a blood bath. As it turns out, video renters weren't the only ones to feel burned by this particular production. I noticed on IMDb that a crew member who worked on the special effects (Brett Kolarik) had posted a comment stating he and others got stiffed by writer/ director De Gaetano, who fled town so he wouldn't have to pay everyone. Kolarik refers to deGaetano as "a thieving conceited mean-spirited moron" and adds "He was consistently rude, obnoxious and overbearing..." He also apparently didn't like the lead actress ("The tramp he imported from L.A., by the way, was a complete snob - and I had to put up w/her B.S. for an entire month...") or the male leads ("The two stiffs were boring as hell, and thought they were God's gift..."). Regardless of what went down behind-the-scenes, this incredibly bad low-budgeter *should* have died alongside the video stores that originally stocked it. Unfortunately, Troma later acquired it, gave it a memorable new title (Video Demons Do Psychotown) and then unleashed it upon the unsuspecting masses. Now it can live on to annoy and bore a whole new generation.





We first meet two thoroughly unlikable people that I refuse to call our "heroes" because by the end of this film I hated both of them. College student Eric (Ron Arragon) needs to complete a video project to graduate so he drags along his cute girlfriend Karen (Donna Baltron) to Casa Della to film a documentary. Casa Della, which has a population of just 360 people, is a strange town full of secretive psychics who don't like or trust outsiders. Eric's father is helping to restore an old hotel in the area ("The Packard Place") and that's where Eric and Karen are staying while they're in town. Just a week earlier a man mysteriously died at the hotel after falling off some scaffolding (the chalk outline for his corpse is on the front steps when they arrive!) and Karen gets upset Eric didn't tell her about it before they came. Well, not that upset I guess since she's having sex with him about three minutes later. The two go around town dressed in their matching jean jackets working on the video but have a hard time getting an interview with anyone. Everyone is nasty and uncooperative. And what the hell kind of "video class" is this, anyway? One where the person taking it doesn't even operate the camera? Oh brotha.





Eric visits a psychic's shop. She acts like a complete bitch and says she hopes the hotel burns to the ground. Me too sister, and preferably with every existing copy of Video Demons Do Psychotown inside of it. A visit to another psychic reveals that the townspeople actually object to Karen's presence, not Eric or his father's. See, Karen also has powerful psychic abilities and keeps seeing and hearing things associated with the death of the hotel's former owner; a death the whole town seems to want to cover up. Someone dressed in a raincoat is lurking around the hotel, cuts the power lines and then stabs an electrician to death. A general store owner is next seen polishing a knife by a rack of raincoats. Can you say red herring? Karen decides she wants to leave because the camera equipment keeps shocking her and because "This place reeks of death and negative vibrations!" Since everything they shoot is being ruined by strange interference patterns anyway, Eric finally stops whining about his class and decides they can finally go. But, uh oh, someone has cut up the wires in his truck. Good thing Karen's ex-boyfriend Scott (David Elliott) stops by just in time to... uh... well, basically do nothing. Everyone just stays at the hotel to get attacked by the raincoat killer.





Basically what we have here is an extremely thin storyline being drawn out by any means necessary. The whole "town of psychics" premise proves to be perfunctory, why the entire town would cover up the Packard killing makes absolutely no sense and the idea that Karen's powers somehow put images of the crime on the videos is poorly developed. The film ineptly fumbles around with multiple "suspects" and just like many slasher and giallo films resorts to making the culprit an underdeveloped side character we know (nor care) nothing about. Everyone is constantly bickering and there's probably about twenty minutes worth of footage of people sitting in front of TV sets in the dark rewinding tapes and watching the same footage over and over again. The dialogue and most of the performances are awful. After Scott gets his throat cut and lies bleeding to death, his buddies start screaming at him for not carrying his keys in his pocket and only having half a tank of gas in his car (?!) The lead male might look good (probably the sole reason he was cast), but he's one the worst actors you'll ever see. There's very little blood and even the few sex scenes are botched by bad lighting and the refusal to really show anything.





This is one of those rare instances where I cannot come up with a single redeeming quality; it's slow and poorly made, exploitation elements are almost nonexistent and it's not even unintentionally funny. If you take a shot of whiskey every time they show a wind chime you might be able to get through it.

Video Violence Part 2 (1988)

... aka: Video Violence Part 2: The Exploitation!

Directed by:
Gary P. Cohen

In the original Video Violence, a couple moved to a small town, opened a video store and discovered - a little too slowly - that nearly everyone in their area was into making their very own snuff "horror" videos. This sequel centers around two of the more prominent killer townspeople from the first movie; mustachioed Howard (Bart Sumner) and the rotund Eli (Uke). The deadly duo now have their own pirated public access TV talk program called "The Howard and Eli Show," where they review and preview amateur snuff videos their faithful viewers send in to them. And naturally, the two can't help but get in on the action themselves cause it's so much gosh darn fun. In the pre-credits sequence, set on a Gothic horror movie set, Eli and crew snuff out a wannabe horror actress. When she refuses to eat a fake human heart, they drive a stake through her chest and rip hers out instead... and all before the rolling cameras. Somehow, the show is able to scramble satellite signals so their program overrides other local TV stations. Though no one knows where the broadcasts are originating from, or if the supposed snuff footage is real or fake (hint: it's real), authorities are trying to locate the studio and people involved. All of the controversy has turned it into a surprise hit with audiences.





At W.G.O.R. studios, the "Gurus of Gore" begin yet another broadcast and have lined up for us tonight many home grown snuff videos as well as a few coming attractions and even a special guest appearances. Howard kicks things off with a monologue of very bad jokes (frog in a blender, anyone?) and then there's a commercial for Wilbur, a flesh-eating pet parents can buy for their kids... if they want them dead. Airhead actress Debbie Landau (Elizabeth Lee Miller), who's been lured there by an ad in the papers looking for a girl to star in a new splatter film, is then brought out and interviewed. The guys look at her resume and headshots, coerce her into stripping down to her panties, then gag her, tie her to a chair and torture her. She has the tendons on her arm cut out with surgical scissors, both of her fingers sliced off and then her eyeball gouged out, among other things. The second skit has William Toddie (the corrupt Sheriff in the first VV) back for a bit to play a retired sheriff who builds a homemade electric chair and wants to try it out on a petty criminal he and his wife (Barbara Brunnquell) have kidnapped. The couple crank up the juice so much his eyeballs pop out and then his head explodes.





The longest skit (which runs over ten minutes) is called "Pizza Boy." In it, three girls in negligees having a slumber party get sick of the violence perpetrated on women on the Howard and Eli Show and set out to show that women are just as bloodthirsty and chauvenistic as men. So how do they accomplish this? By ordering pizzas, and tempting the pizza boy with weed, beer and breast-flashing, before making him strip down to his underwear and then slaughtering him. Next up, is "Deli Dick's Country Kitchen" where Dick (Tom Straffi) and his assistant Otto (Dick Haig) hire a young lady (Carol Maloney) to help them advertise some new kitchen products. They drug the girl's lemonade and then use their "Slice 'N Dicer" to make a finger sandwich and their "Drac-O-Matic Blood Dispenser" to drain out her blood. We then check in on the Video Studio rental shop as a sorority girl tries to rent tapes and ends up getting suffocated with shrink wrap by the owner and customers. There are a couple of other minor bits in here as well, such as a "Best Of" sequence with gag titles, a woman showering and a guy attacking her while dressed as Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers.





VV2 boasts a genuinely clever and fun premise, but sadism played for cheap laughs isn't going to be everyone's idea of fun and the skits themselves are highly uneven. Sometimes they're amusing, sometimes they're not, but they're almost always juvenile and usually downright dumb. Of course, the production values are non-existent and the photography and editing are often awful. There's a good deal of time padding and cheap-looking gore fx, too. However, this slapdash cheapie actually manages to end on a high note with a very funny and clever finale that brings back three of the stars of the first film (Art Neill, Jackie Neill and Lisa Cohen) and wonderfully ties together both of the two movies. VV2 is filled with constant references to the original, so make sure to see it first so you can catch the numerous in-jokes here (some of which are pretty funny). Mrs. Neill sings the end credits theme "The Alligator Blues."





Both Video Violence films were released on the same DVD by Camp Motion Pictures. Each film has an audio commentary track from the director, several of the actors and a few of production people. There's also a seperate interview with the director and trailers for other Camp releases.

★★
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