Friday, July 3, 2009

Suffer, Little Children (1983)

Directed by:
Alan Briggs

Made by the students in writer/ producer Meg Shanks' Drama School, this no-budget, shot-on-video British production (which claims to be based on a true story!) is so inept that it's taken on new life as a minor camp classic in the UK. It was never released here in the United States (or probably anywhere else outside England for that matter), but thankfully we live in an age where previously impossible-to-find junk is now easy-to-find junk so we can all suffer, suffer, suffer little viewers through amateur home videos such as this! At Sullivans Children's Home, a school/home for orphans, a weird, mute little girl named Elizabeth (Nicola Diana) is left on the doorstep with a note from her mother saying she can no longer care for her. The school administrators; uptight, straight-laced Maurice (Colin Chamberlain) and blonde free spirit Jenny (Ginny Rose) welcome the girl with open arms despite the fact she seems like she'd be better off at a special needs school. Elizabeth turns out to be an evil Satanic moppet with telekinetic abilities who immediately gets to work raising a little hell. She slams a girl into a door, knocks a boy down the stairs, forces a girl to stab herself in the leg, moves furniture, turns two of the girls into her mindless slaves by making them have a nightmare about zombies and causes others to scream, fight, freak out and eventually kill.

Meanwhile, Mick Philips (Jon Hollanz), a pop star who grew up in the orphanage, pays a special visit, plans a charity concert and takes Jenny on a date to a punk club called "Cloud Busters" where a bunch of Boy George look-a-likes dance horribly to reggae music. As their romance blossoms, Elizabeth's army of pre-teen Satanists is growing. She has special ceremonies lit with candles and a strobe light, where her followers pound their fists in the air while screaming "Come, Devil, Come!" and little Liz shrieks in an EXORCIST-like possession voice. If that's not enough, just wait until the big finale where... drum roll, please... Jesus Christ himself (complete with his crown of thorns) makes a special guest appearance to ward off the evil by pointing his almighty finger at them, which results in a cheesy laser beam sound effect and the kids screaming even more than they already have been while apparently having the evil spirits driven from their bodies. Wow.

Watch as every filmmaking sin in the book is committed before your very eyes in a video that makes absolutely no sense, is full of continuity errors, flubbed lines, horrible editing cuts and issues with the lighting, camerawork, sound recording and every other possible technical aspect that goes into making a film. In many of the scenes, it seems like about ten characters are all talking at once, over top one another, and it's impossible to really make out what anyone is saying as a result. In other scenes, the music almost completely drowns out the dialogue, which might actually be a blessing. But on the plus side, they were smart enough to record a "Suffer, Little Children" theme song and it's hilarious! During the end credits, the movie also makes sure to acknowledge all the films (CARRIE, PSYCHO, HALLOWEEN, etc.) it was "inspired" by, as well as thanking the parents of the young actors for allowing their children to embarrass themselves in a cheap horror video.
Apparently it was released on VHS in 1985 by the UK label FGL (Films Galore, Ltd.), though I can find no scans of an actual box anywhere online to prove this.


Superstition (1982)

...aka: House of Mary, The
...aka: Witch, The

Directed by:
James W. Roberson

Another unfortunate entry in the "could have been so much better" sweepstakes. Here we have the ground work for at least a passable haunted house flick. The budget seems to be decent. The cast seems to be decent. There is a high body count and plenty of gory, creative murder sequences. The locations and art direction are good. The director, best known as a cinematographer, has the expected good eye for scene composition and detail. The film itself has three different cinematographers credited, and they do a fine job giving this film a polished and atmospheric look. So what went wrong? For starters, while the director may have a nice visual sense, he has absolutely no idea how to work with actors, and elicits one bad performance after another from dependable actors and actresses who have been brilliant in other's hands. The score is pretty schizophrenic, fluctuating from a re-mixed version of the "Rocky Mountains" tune from THE SHINING (it's pretty much the same but with a few bell chimes added) to some annoying chanting a la THE OMEN and then on to some very light sounding track that would be more at home in some buddy cop movie.

However, the film's real unraveling happens in the screenplay department. The derivative storyline basically tries to mix the first two AMITYVILLE films (troubled family moves into a new haunted house) with the aforementioned OMEN (gory supernatural death scenes), but that's not the real problem here. What is the real problem is that a good deal of the dialogue is moronic and, even worse, the character actions are so consistently idiotic, pathetic and unrealistic you'll find yourself wondering how this project even managed to leave the script stage when three or four more rewrites were obviously needed. I can usually forgive one or two lapses in logic, but when a film is completely cluttered with such obvious stupidity, it's just plain lazy writing. So while some competent folks worked on this film, their efforts sadlly were in collective vain thanks to piss poor writing. All you end up watching is 90 minutes of stupid people doing stupid things. Well, 90 minutes of stupid people doing stupid things that looks more professional than it deserves to.

After a promising opening double-murder sequence of pranksters getting killed (one is decapitated and has his head blown to bits in a microwave and the other gets split in half by a window), very friendly clergyman David (James Houghton, giving a sincere and likable performance, considering) and reverend Henry (Stacy Keach, Sr.) start making preparations to move a reverend and his family into the cursed lakeside home. Yep, despite the fact many have died in this place and the murders have gone completely unsolved, they're not quite ready to bring in the bulldozers. Not yet. About ten more people need to needlessly die first, including a couple of children. And I didn't even mention creepy old caretaker Elvira (Jacquelyn Hyde), her hulking retarded/mute son (who cops seem to want to blame for the killings) or the lil girl ghosty dressed in white who pops up out of nowhere from time to time. Red flags! Red flags!

Early on, someone states: "What about the violent history this place is supposed to have had?" Wait a minute... "supposed to have had?" Before the new family even enters through the front doors, David and the reverend are sitting in an office discussing dismembered teen corpses found in the house with a detective (Albert Salmi). And then a cop mysteriously drowns in the lake. And then the reverend himself is killed during renovations when a circular blade comes off the saw, miraculously flies across a room, hits him in the chest and then continues to saw away until it goes through his body. This being a blade that's not even attached to the saw anymore. Even stranger is that this obviously supernatural event is in full view of David and about a half dozen construction workers, who do nothing except gasp in horror. Oh well, I guess things will suddenly just change once the family gets here!
So recovering alcoholic dad (Larry Pennell), mom (Lynn Carlin, who was excellent in DEATHDREAM but seems completely lost here) and their three kids (teen daughters Heidi Bohay and Maylo McCaslin and young son Bobby Jacoby) lay the welcome matt and then it's time for more of the same. While they're still unpacking, a repairman is hung by cables in what appears to be an elevator shaft (?!) inside the home. No one even seems to notice and no one ever shows up looking for the poor feller. Both the son and the youngest of the daughters, as well as David, come into contact with the girl ghost, but no one really makes a big deal about it. I guess if you're moving into a haunted house where people are getting brutally killed right and left, it's best not to question the presence of spirit kids that may have something to do with it. Even so, when one of the daughters emerges from the lake with a severed hand clamped to her ankle, you'd figure it would be a good time to find another place to live. Nope, not yet. First wait first until your little son disappears... and then mom starts getting tossed around in the kitchen by some hooded figure with demon claws... and someone's hammering a stake into your bitchy daughter's forehead. That's the best time to try to leave. You know, when everyone's already dead or in the process of being killed. That's the best time. "Shut your BITCHY mouth!"

"Gee, what a stink!" / "That's rotting flesh!"
"Your decisions are so right. Your will is soooo strong."

Toward the end, there's a lengthy flashback to a late 17th Century witch drowning, which uses a hilarious deep possession voice-over for the sorceress as she vows to get her revenge. "You and all your generations will damn your birth! Anyone who ventures near this plaaaaaaaaace!" Yep, that's what she says. I rewound it five times to make sure I was hearing it correctly. So the drowning happened in the lake... by the house... that the family has moved into. So that's why it's cursed. Obtaining this particular knowledge is enough for David to finally realize the family needs to get out of the house (corpses piling up obviously wasn't a good enough indicator) and he decides to stop being such a passive nimrod and heads there carrying a couple of cans of gasoline. Sadly, the film doesn't even give us an adequate fiery finale, and finally just gets pulled into the lake... kicking and screaming all the way to the bottom.


La fille de Dracula (1972)

... aka: Daughter of Dracula
... aka: Dracula's Daughter
... aka: Eine Jungfrau in den Krallen von Vampiren
... aka: Filha de Dracula, A

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

A narrator tells us about how Castle Karlstein is rumored to have been the former home of Count Dracula. Then a woman takes off her top, walks around sipping wine and gets into a bath, where a female vampire attacks her. Afterward, Luisa (Britt Nichols) shows up just in time to have one last conversation with her elderly mother before she passes away. The dying woman tells her daughter that’s she the last descendant of the Karlstein family, then gives her a key to a tower in the family castle, tells her to prepare to see horrible things and then lets her know some of her descendants were vampires. Luisa goes to the tower and finds two coffins inside. The lid blows off one of them and a still-living Count Dracula (Howard Vernon) is inside, shows his fangs and puts the bite to his distant relative. Next thing Luisa knows, she’s attacking strippers and seducing her lonely cousin Karine (Anne Libert) after they reminisce about gouging out a bird’s eye with a needle (!) as children. The ladies go at it during a long lesbian scene while Karine’s father Count Max Karlstein (Daniel White, who also helped compose the score) tickles the ivories and the camera zooms in on parts of the piano, thighs, hands and *a-hem* other parts of the ladies.

Inspector Ptuschko (Alberto Dalbés) shows up to investigate the rising body count of naked women in the area. The Karlstein family secretary, Cyril Jefferson (played by the director) uses silly phrases like “blood-drinking, darkness-despising birds” and is an expert on things of the supernatural, but nobody believes him when he tells them what's going on. Ana Kramer (Yelena Samarina), who runs the local bar and pay-by-the-hour hotel, is married but secretly having an affair with Max. Charlie (Fernando Bilbao), a nosy reporter, is snooping around and doing his own private investigating. Sorry if you’re wanting more vampire action because the film spends more time with the above people than it does with the vampires.

As the vampire count, Vernon unfortunately doesn't get to do anything interesting. Hell, he doesn't even get to leave his coffin since he gets special deliveries made to his tomb from Luisa, who drops a topless barmaid into his coffin for him to feast on. The ending features a stake driven through a forehead instead of a heart. Said ending is also a pathetic, suspense-free non-event (kind of like the rest of this film) where characters just casually stroll into the tomb and kill them and that’s it. I couldn't even see one of Franco’s most staunch supporters defending this dull trash, but I’m sure some of them do. You’d be hard pressed to find a less interesting vampire movie out there. Neither the story line nor the characters generate any interest whatsoever, and the scant horror scenes fail to deliver in atmosphere, chills or bloody good fun. Though it’s fairly well-photographed and utilizes a few nice locations (especially the excellent castle setting, with a long garden full of statues and Autumnal colors leading up to it), there’s not much actual visual style present, unless you count zooming in to crotches or random shots of a beach as being high style.

By conventional standards, the nudity quotient is high, with two fairly long lesbian scenes and two nude victims. However, by Franco early 70s standards it’s actually quite low. I just watched Franco’s THE DEMONS right before this one and, while it’s also not very good, it at least offered loads of nudity, some blood and attempted a period setting and story line. If you absolutely have to watch one of these, chose that one instead. Nichols, who has a very contemporary, almost "supermodel" look about her, is very nice to look at, but it's a shame she happened to stumble upon Franco during this stage of his career.

The title screen on the version I watched (from Bertucci Film Entertainment) was Eine Jungfrau in den Krallen von Vampiren ("A Virgin in the Claws of Vampires"). It has some of the worst English subtitles I’ve seen, which are small, flat and extremely difficult to read. Lina Romay makes her first appearance of many in a Franco film. She’s in the second scene for about 15 seconds and has no dialogue.

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