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.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Manitou, The (1978)

... aka: Indian Demon
... aka: Manitou: The Spirit of Evil
... aka: Super Zombie: Die Geburt des Grauens

Directed by:
William Girdler

After completing the 50,000-budgeted ASYLUM OF SATAN (1971) and the likewise very-low-budgeted Ed Gein-inspired THREE ON A MEATHOOK (1972), Kentucky-born director William Girdler's career quickly began to rise. He made the black-cast possession flick ABBY (1974), which garnered a lot of attention and press when Warner Brothers - the makers of THE EXORCIST (1973) - sued for plagiarism. Despite the fact Abby had to be withdrawn from theaters early (the case wouldn't be settled [in Girdler's favor] until years later), it still managed to rake in a staggering 4 million dollars in about a month on just a 200,000 dollar investment. Girdler's next venture, GRIZZLY (1976), did even better by cloning the exact formula (plot, characters, etc.) that had made JAWS (1975) such a massive success. Its follow-up, DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977), also did quite well. Even outside the genre, Girdler struck gold with such films as SHEBA BABY (1975), a popular vehicle for blaxploitation queen Pam Grier. By the time The Manitou was made, Girdler had both the clout and the finances to put together a film with rather slick production values and afford a cast of big name actors like Tony Curtis and Burgess Meredith. The Manitou was also profitable, but Girdler tragically in a helicopter crash while scouting Philippines locations for his next film in January, 1978. It's hard to tell what else he would have come up with had that not happened, but I'm sure his stock as a horror filmmaker would have ended up more pronounced as it is now.







Based on a novel by Graham Masterson, The Manitou tells the highly unusual story of an Indian curse and rebirth. What is so unusual about that, you ask? Well, for starters the Indian decides to be reborn on the back of our heroine's neck! San Francisco Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) shows up at the hospital with a lump on the back of her neck. The growth is increasing at an alarming rate: 7.3 millimeters per hour, and X-rays reveal that the "tumor" resembles a human fetus. Karen reveals that it moves, or shifts, like someone trying to move over or get comfortable in bed. The physicians examining her; Dr. Jack Hughes (Jon Cedar) and Dr. Robert McEvoy (Paul Mantee), are completely perplexed about what this may be. Dr. McEvoy, the hospital administrator wants to keep the whole thing hush-hush, while Dr. Hughes wants to go about it the same way he'd go about treating a cancer patient by operating and removing the tumorous, malignant growth. They go ahead and schedule the operation for the following day.





Meanwhile, Harry Erskine (Curtis), a bogus psychic / tarot card reader with a fake 'stache, just finishes up with an addle-brained old client. After finally getting rid of her, he tries to kick back with a beer and some disco music when the phone rings. It's Karen and she needs someone to talk to. Karen is supposed to be 28 years old and there's no way Curtis is any younger than 50 here, so that's quite the unbelievable match. Maybe even less believable is that Karen would be in the mood for sex with her scam artist ex-boyfriend when she has a giant, moving lump on the back of her neck that's scheduled to be hacked off in a day. Nevertheless, the two spend the night together in which time he decides to read her cards (which spell death each time) and she starts speaking in a strange dialect in her sleep. He drops Karen off at the hospital the next day and the surgery ends up going haywire when Karen awakes from her anesthesia and some strange force makes the doctor cut his own wrist with the scalpel.






Harry isn't really having it any easier. One of his elderly clients shows up for a reading, says the same strange line ("Pana Wichi Salitu") Karen did in her sleep, floats down the hallway and then gets thrown down the stairs to her death. Since Dr. Hughes is still stumped, Harry goes to Amelia Crusoe (Stella Stevens), the psychic who taught him everything he knows. Amelia's now retired from that line of work and settled down, but decides to help, anyway. Karen's aunt, Mrs. Karmann (Ann Sothern), agrees to let Harry bring Amelia over to conduct a séance. That ends up not going too well as a black, oily wooden Indian head pops out of the table, wind blows open the window and a bolt of lightning strikes and blows up the table (?) They get enough information from that to realize that what they're dealing with is the spirit of an ancient and powerful Indian medicine man who wants to be reborn. A trip to archeologist Dr. Ernest Snow (Meredith) reveals that the Indian saying means "My death foretells my return" and that a manitou, or immortal spirit, can be reborn at any time or place in the future or past by impregnating themselves in the body of a human or animal.





At the hospital an attempt at laser surgery backfire when the laser goes haywire and starts blowing stuff up in the room. Karen shrieks like a banshee and starts speaking in a husky voice. Since Snow recommended fighting fire with fire, Harry runs off to South Dakota to locate a living medicine man who can possibly defeat the dead one. John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara) fits the bill and decides to help if a 100,000 dollar donation will be made to an Indian charity. When he finds out he's going up against Misquamacus, "the greatest medicine man of all" he has to pull out his whole arsenal of tricks. Immediately before the birth, John encircles the bed with sand which successfully manages to trap the Indian (still in diminutive form and played by a dwarf) inside. However, he is able to use his powers to resurrect the corpse of an orderly he's just skinned alive to come after the others. Why he didn't use his powers to get the corpse to move some of the sand away so he could escape is anybody's guess. And if you were posted on guard in the room with the corpse of one of your coworkers plus this monstrous little creature, could you fall asleep?






Misquamacus resurrects a lizard demon, manages to deep freeze the entire operating room floor, decapitates the night nurse, blows up a typewriter, threatens to collapse the whole hospital and tries to call forth a master demon equivalent to Satan that could cause worldwide devastation.

For the most part, this is a pretty typical post-Exorcist / THE OMEN flick which offers a slight new spin on the formula and has some good make-up fx from Tom Burman and sincere performances from much of the cast, particularly Curtis and Ansara. The ending, however, featuring purple lasers, lightning bolts, fireballs, meteors and giant eyeballs, is a complete laugh riot. Some of the dialogue and situations are also unintentionally hilarious. Gichi Gichi Manitou-Ay. Manitou of the Machines, hear me, hear me!

★★

Slugs, muerte viscosa (1988)

... aka: Mutations
... aka: Slugs
... aka: Slugs: The Movie

Directed by:
Juan Piquer Simón

The director of such notoriously awful flicks as the chainsaw slasher gore-fest PIECES (1982) and the MST3K favorite POD PEOPLE (1983) returns with what - in theory - sounds like another surefire stinker. With a plot-line centering around slightly larger-than-normal killer slugs one cannot get their hopes up too high, right? However, this is a surprisingly enjoyable and fun nature-runs-amuck tale that hits most of the right notes. It sounds like it should be pure schlock, and to an extent it is, but there's a big difference between badly-made, inept schlock and well-made, competent schlock. This, an adaptation of the Shaun Hutson novel, falls into the latter category. Not badly-made at all, this is nicely-photographed, has good special effects, a passable cast, a workable plot and characters and it thankfully takes its premise seriously without making a complete mockery of the proceedings, accidentally or otherwise. Yeah, so the dubbing is sometimes pretty awful (it uses both English and Spanish-speaking actors; dubbing the latter) and some of the dialogue is laughable, but perhaps the single silliest thing about this is that the original Spanish title Slugs: muerte viscosa ("Slugs: Death Slime") was changed in America to Slugs: The Movie: as opposed to Slugs:... the what?







The small town of Ashton is an exciting place; so exciting that one woman refers to it as "the armpit of America." Luckily for her, things are soon about to change. We've already seen a young man fall into a lake and get turned into a pool of bubbling blood by something (*cough* slugs *cough*) in the water, as well as an old drunk getting gobbled up by something (*cough* slugs *cough*) while trying to pass out on his couch, so something is definitely up. To follow-up on eviction proceedings on the latter, the Sheriff and our everyman hero - health inspector Mike Brady (Michael Garfield) - go the home and find the wino's half-eaten, skeletal corpse. It's crawling with wiggly worms and is missing some important things such as the eyeballs, kidneys and liver. Upon further inspection, Mike discovers slime trails leading into the basement. And he's not buying the sheriff's theory that the guy had been killed by "raccoons driven out of the hills by the cold" (!!) Mike, as well as county sanitation supervisor Don Palmer (Philip Machale), are being driven crazy by a sudden influx of complaints about the sewer systems being backed up.






A henpecked old man gets a slug in his gardening glove and can't get it off so he chops off his own hand with a hatchet before blowing he and his wife up after accidentally knocking over some chemicals. At another home, Maureen (Alicia Moro), a housewife with a drinking problem, ends up accidentally serving her husband David (Emilio Linder) a slug salad. He has stomach cramps that evening and notes "The salad did taste a little salty" before heading off to bed. We'll get back to him later. Mike and his schoolteacher wife Kim (Kim Terry), who is nicknamed "The Wicked Bitch" by her classmates for being too strict, find some slightly enlarged slugs in their garden. After one actually bites his finger, they take a few to the school so scientist Dr. John Foley (Santiago Álvarez) can take a look at them and explain to us all thing slug. Did you know that because of its thick slime trail, a slug can slide across the edge of a razor blade without ever even touching the razor? Well now you do! After the scientist witnesses one of the slugs attacking a hamster, he starts to believe something is seriously wrong with Ashton's slug population. Don the sanitation man discovers that much of the town as built upon a (uh oh!) toxic waste dump and that construction of a new shopping center is responsible for stirring up the problem.





In between eating rats, chickens, puppies and kitties, the slugs sneak into a home and have a midnight snack consisting of two nekkid teenagers. They also eat a lettuce farmer and make his stomach explode and attack a guy on the toilet. And as far as David, the man who ate the salty salad the night before, is concerned. Well, he goes to a business dinner, blood starts pouring out of his nose and then his eyeball explodes in a bloody mass of worms. The slugs not only are equipped with venom that has paralytic abilities and can also infect people with a parasitic worm that quickly multiplies in the body. And since slugs are hermaphroditic, they can fertilize their own eggs. For the big fiery finale, the scientist concocts a batch of lithium, which combusts when it hits moisture. Mike and Don hit to the sewers to try to find the slug's breeding ground... and end up blowing up half the town in the process!







If you don't take this nonsense too seriously, it's pretty fun stuff. 1960s/70s Euro-horror regulars Concha Cuetos (Don's wife), Manuel de Blas (crooked mayor more interested in the upcoming shopping center than his citizens), Frank Braña (jerky water company worker), Lucía Prado (greenhouse victim) and Patty Shepard (wealthy investor) were all brought on board to play small roles. It was filmed in Lyons, New York and Madrid, Spain and released theatrically by New World Pictures. Anchor Bay handled DVD duties.

★★1/2

Matango (1963)

... aka: Attack of the Mushroom People
... aka: Curse of the Mushroom People
... aka: Fungus of Terror
... aka: Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People
... aka: Matango: Fungus of Terror
... aka: Matango, the Monster

Directed by:
Ishirô Honda

Varied group of seven people; level-headed professor of psychology Kenji Murai (Akira Kubo), rich company president Masafumi Kasai (Yoshio Tsuchiya), opportunistic radio and television actress Mami Sekiguchi (Kumi Mizuno), famous mystery novelist Etsurô Yoshida (Hiroshi Tachikawa), skipper Naoyuki Sakuta (Hiroshi Koizumi), naive female college student Akiko Sôma (Miki Yashiro) and sailor Senzô Koyama (Kenji Sahara), hit the high seas on a sailboat for what they assume will be a pleasurable trip to Europe. Their wish for that promptly ends when rough seas break off the mast, shred the sail and threaten to sink the boat. The next day the heavily damaged boat is lost in the thick fog and drifting somewhere south. There's no way to call in for help because the CB radio shorted out the night before. They have enough battery power in a portable radio however to hear part of a news broadcast that lets them know the authorities are aware they're still out at sea. Days pass, food and water runs out, tensions start rising and some are even borderline delusional (one guy even sees a ghost ship), but the aimless drifting at sea is about to come to an end. An unpopulated, uncharted, tropical island comes into view.






Immediately upon making it to land, the famished and weakened survivors decide to head inland to see if they can find any kind of nourishment or any kind of help. Fresh water is quickly found and so are a few signs that the island may not actually be deserted. They eventually locate a huge wrecked research ship on the beach, which seems to have been there at least a year. No inhabitants are inside. Upon inspection, they realize that each of the rooms has a strange coating of fungus on it aside from areas containing any kind of chemical subtance. They find a rifle, that could be used to hunt with, and about a week's ration of canned food, which will tide them over until they get rescued. They also find a box labeled "Matango." Inside is a giant mushroom that seems to be native only to this particular island. A captain's log book indicates that men sent out into the jungle to gather edibles never returned and gives the shipwreck survivors ample warning that they better not consume any of the mushrooms that populate the island. Everyone decides to clean up the inside of the ship and stay there until they can either fix up their sailboat to satisfactory condition or they're rescued. If they're rescued.





Strangely, no animals seem to live on the island and, even stranger, birds passing through refuse to land there, so being able to hunt for meat isn't an option. There are a few turtle eggs around and they, along with some seaweed and some edible plant roots, provide a couple of options for food; just not in enough quantity to comfortably feed everyone. The grim situation manages to bring out the worst in most of the characters. Koyama tries to lay claim on the women. Wealthy scumbag Kasai sleeps and eats apart from everyone else, tries to steal and hide what little canned food they do have and doesn't think he has to lift a finger to help with anything. He also waves around his cash and is able to secretly buy extra food off the slimy Koyama. Sakuta ends up running off with all their food and the ship, stranding everyone else there. The arrogant Mami, who's been Kasai's mistress, reveals she was just using him to get to Europe, all the while she's been carrying on a not-so-secret affair with Yoshida. Speaking of Yoshida, he's the first to crack and go against the decision to not eat the mushrooms. He gorges himself on them and slowly starts going crazy, threatening to shoot everyone, until they're forced to lock him in a room.





The mushrooms that are in abundance on the island are a strange vegetation indeed. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes, they possess mind-altering / hallucinogenic properties, they're highly addictive and they're just like potato chips (or if you're like me - Cheez-It's): once you eat one, you just can't stop. A steady diet of the mushroom mutates whoever eats them, both mentally and physically. First, fungus slowly grows on the skin until the eater is transformed into a lumpy-face ghoul before a full-fledged transformation into giant mushroom.

Mushroom People? Sounds rather ridiculous, right? But this one actually works. Far from a piece of Grade Z schlock, it's a good, very atmospheric, serious, fairly compelling horror / survivalist picture about the dark side of human nature and the depths some people will go to save their own ass at the expense of others. The tale is told from a psychiatric hospital where the sole survivor of the ordeal explains what happened to doctors. Shot in Tohoscope, there's a very hazy / foggy sheen that creates a great amount of dreary atmosphere and the makeups and monster designs are effective. Matango was also influential in a rather unexpected way. A sailor, a skipper, a professor, a rich guy and a movie star all shipwrecked on an uncharted island waiting for rescue? Sounds an awful lot like a very popular 1960s TV sitcom to me. In fact, this movie was released the year prior to Gilligan's Island, so it's quite possible this is where the general idea came from.






Originally released in the U.S. under the title Attack of the Mushroom People, which certainly didn't help anyone take it seriously. It was also known as Curse of the Mushroom People and Fungus of Terror. In actuality, the full-grown mushroom monsters aren't even really seen until the very end of the film. The DVD from Tokyo Shock / Media Blasters contains some great extras, including a commentary from star Kubo, an interview with Teruyoshi Nakano, a spoken word segment with production stills, several language options (an English dub or the original Japanese language track with subs) and trailers.

★★★
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