Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kaibyô noroi numa (1967)

...aka: Bakeneko: A Vengeful Spirit
...aka: Cursed Pond, The
...aka: Ghost Cat of Cursed Pond, The

Directed by:
Yoshihiro Ishikawa

In 1615, treasonous vassal Naoshige Nabeshima overthrows Lord Ryuzoji Takafusa’s castle. The old lord is buried alive and his wife, when forced with the prospect of marrying the traitor, choses to drown herself and her pet cat Tama in a nearby swamp instead, effectively cursing the area. Naoshige, now in complete control of the village, turns out to be a merciless, power-mad ruler (“The law doesn’t apply to me!”) who orders anyone who usurps his authority in any way immediately killed. While watching a fireworks display, Naoshige spots beautiful young Yujiki and demands she become one of his wives and move into the castle to “serve” him. The problem is that Yujiki, the daughter of high-ranking Mataemon, is in love with and engaged to marry treasurer’s son Jonosuke Yuki. Irregardless, disobeying the new lord is punishable by death. The young lovers find themselves unable to comply and plot to flee the village together, but an eavesdropper overhears their plans and both are killed in the swamp. Tama, now a ghost cat, licks blood from Yujiki’s body and a curse immediately sets into motion.

Lady Hyuga, one of Naoshige’s many wives, is immediately possessed and causes the deaths of many of those living inside the castle. She’s sometimes seen wearing wild makeup and crazy hair, sometimes has hairy, clawed hands and, in one memorable scene, feasts upon dismembered hands in a graveyard! After eliminating a good number of people, Hyuga takes the appearance of Yujiki, pays one last visit to her mother and then disappears. Some time later, corrupt counselor Shuzen Kuroiwa decides to let the lord have his unwilling younger sister Yuri and history begins repeating itself. Yuri chosing to commit suicide instead of becoming the lord’s slave, becomes possessed and then enacts the second part of the revenge, which includes making the four-year-old heir deathly ill and driving Naoshige insane.

Despite overly familiar story elements (the ghost cat, the cursed swamp, etc.), this is extremely well done. The acting and art direction are both good, it’s atmospheric and it’s very stylishly photographed in black-and-white. It’s also surprisingly bloody and violent. There are graphic decapitations (and in one great bit a vision of a dozen or so decapitated living heads), arms chopped off, faces slashed open, impalements, rotting corpses and much more. Some directorial choices are pretty clever, such as overlapping the possessed eyes of the humans with the cats. There’s also a striking montage of an insane Naoshige going on a rampage, part of which is reflected in the cat’s eye.
The cast includes Kotaro Satomi, Ryohei Uchida, Kyoko Mikage, Yuriko Mishima and Bunta Sugawara. The director also made THE GHOST CAT OF OTAMA POND (1960) and co-wrote the Nobuo Nakagawa films MANSION OF THE GHOST CAT (1958) and THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA (1959).


Heavy Metal Massacre (1989)

Directed by:
David DeFalco

One of the funniest North American horror subgenres of the ‘80s is certainly the heavy metal horror flick. Like any other trend, these things – with their ear-splitting hair metal soundtracks and big-haired, leather-and-spandex-clad, hideously made-up actors - were completely out of date just a few years after they were made, but now stand as hilarious testaments to extreme 80s tackiness. Things were kick started in the early 1980s with several releases hoping to cash in. Some of the earliest releases were HARD ROCK ZOMBIES (which was filmed in 1983 but not released until 1985), MONSTER DOG (1984; starring Alice Cooper) and ROCKTOBER BLOOD (1984), but it wouldn't be until 1986’s TRICK OR TREAT (featuring cameos from Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osborne) became a big video hit that these things started coming out in droves. Others in this subcategory include ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE (1987), SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK (1987), BLACK ROSES (1988), DEAD GIRLS (1989), HARD ROCK NIGHTMARE (1989) and SHOCK ’EM DEAD (1990). There are probably some others I'm forgetting, but this may actually be the rarest (and cheapest) of them all.

Shot-with-a-camcorder around Providence, Rhode Island, HMM doesn’t seem to have made it to many video stores across the nation during its day and was likely self-distributed locally. The label listed on the video box is “Valiant Video,” a company who don’t seem to have released any other film. It was the first taste anyone ever got of David De Falco, who produced and did set design under his real name but wrote, directed and starred under the alias “Bobbi Young.” He is probably also a member of The Electric After Burner Band, who contributed some of the God awful metal songs to the soundtrack. The whole thing is little more than an embarrassing vanity production. De Falco would become a bit more famous later on in his career by becoming a muscle-bound, shameless self-promoter who behaved like a basket case (claiming he was a demon and the master of violence) while promoting his “torture porn” CHAOS (2005). Judging by the evidence here, the guy’s more recent behavior is nothing new. He’s always been completely full of himself. HMM is full of still photos and loving close-ups of Mr. De Falco trying to look cool with his leather outfits, huge teased blonde hair, mascara and pink lipstick. And naturally every big haired chick in this film seems to want his scrawny little bod.

De Falco – sorry, “Bobbi Young” – plays a coke-snorting psycho (billed only as “The Killer”) who lures young women and hookers who hang out at “The Dungeon” club back to his warehouse-sized apartment and murders them. Detective Reece (Nick Hasomeris) and his partner Bruno (John Thayer) investigate, and a girl named Shauna (Michele De Santis), her drug-addicted roommate Lisa (Sami Plotkin) and a very strange-looking drug dealer named Ace (“Pre-Teen” Steve Murphy) all become involved. The first victim is tied to a flat and hit in the stomach and over the head with a rubber sledge hammer. Next, a girl is drugged, tied up and has something that looks like a hair pulled out of her mouth with some pliers. A bully dressed as a greaser gets chainsawed and some other girl gets covered with a sheet and hammered over the head. The end. Most of the murders are done in fake slow-motion to try to cover up the fact the victims are likely just getting tapped with whatever rubber weapon “Bobbi” is heaving at them.

What could have been hilarious, is instead cheap, slow, dragged-out and boring. The opening credits themselves last over five minutes, with the camera slowwwwly panning around a room, going out of focus and doing a cheap strobe effect. The movie is filled with repeat shots, slow-motion shots, the same shots shown over again with cheap video fx (like different colors, rippling and blood dripping) and unbroken shots that last for minutes at a time and never seem to end. They didn’t even have enough material here for a 20-minute short, let alone an 84-minute film. The cast is boring, the music is shitty (even by the low standards of the time) and there’s not even any decent gore.


Alias John Preston (1955)

Directed by:
David MacDonald

Nothing surprising ever seems to happen in the sleepy little town of Deanbridge. Dick Sanford (John Longden) is the successful local banker whose pretty daughter Sally (Betta St. John) is reluctantly dating well-intentioned but immature and goofy amateur gold champ Bob Newton (Peter Grant), who works at the bank for Dick and is the son of bored newspaper editor Joe (Bill Fraser). Everything’s pretty ho-hum until one day wealthy, shrewd and mysterious businessman and entrepreneur John Preston (Christopher Lee) shows up in town. Within just a few months, Preston seems to be purchasing up major real estate in the area, plans to reinvigorate the town’s dying synthetics industry and becomes a trusted member of the community and member of the city counsel. Sally also seems drawn to the mature, ambitious, cultured new man in town, It isn’t long before the two of them become engaged, much to the dismay of Bob, who’s been in love with Sally ever since they were children. But things take a bizarre turn upon the arrival of psychoanalyst Dr. Peter Walton (Alexander Knox).

Preston, who initially voted against hiring Dr. Walton, quickly becomes a regular patient of his; complaining of horrible nightmares that are keeping him from sleeping. In them, Preston has a completely different identity - David Garrity - and has recently murdered his blackmailing mistress Sylvia (Sandra Dorne), whom he buried in a shallow grave in his back yard with help from his dead lover’s husband (Patrick Holt). Are these simply bad dreams with something prophetic to say or is he actually a dangerous schizophrenic murderer whose personality split to cope with a troubled past?

A very cheap “quota quickie” style programmer that runs just 66 minutes. I assume this was originally made with the intention of being shown on television; note the frequent fades to black. The acting and character interactions are OK, but the plotline is far too predictable to build much interest and the film takes over 40 minutes to even begin delving into the mystery aspects of the story. From a visual standpoint, it’s an extremely bland and unimaginatively presented film, with neither the director or cinematographer doing much to liven it up. If it’s known for anything today, it’s for containing Lee’s first genre film appearance and as such it barely even qualifies as a horror film. The best performance comes from Longden, who's given horrible billing for a major role. Lee and co-star St. John would also appear together in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958) and the great HORROR HOTEL (1960).


American Scream, The (1988)

Directed by:
Mitchell Linden

You’d be hard pressed to find a horror-comedy that misfires as badly as this one. Goofball dad Ben Benzinger (Pons Maar, who looks and acts a lot like Matt Frewer) and family head up to a rented cabin at a small, wintery town called Wilson Creek. Coming along are his hair-obsessed, airhead wife Barbara (Jennifer Darling), rocker Peeping Tom teenage son Brent (Matt Borlenghi, channeling 21 Jump Street era Johnny Depp), virginal teen daughter Bridgett (Kimberlee Kramer) and two of the kids’ friends; Larry (Kevin Kaye) and Roxanne (Jeanne Sapienza). On the way there the teens spot a killer clown standing on the roadside, then look into a passing car to see a man murdering an infant because he’s jealous his wife is breast-feeding it (!) Meanwhile, the parents sing 100 Bottles of Beer. They all reach their destination (you know, forgetting to inform the authorities or any of that), then head off to town to a diner where the weird townspeople all stare intensely and behave strangely.

At their cabin, Larry sees a priest (Blackie Dammett) trying to murder a young woman. That night when they attend a Polka Dance, Brent is accosted in the bathroom by a pervert who wants to watch him piss and the girls see a man getting decapitated. A country bumpkin with a stuffed pet dog (George “Buck” Flower) relates a flashback to when his children were killed before getting shot in the head. So, it’s time to leave, no? Guess not. They all just stick around and act as if nothing’s happened from one scene to the next. Hell, they even help hide a dead body that someone else kills at one point. Why? I have absolutely no clue. More weird stuff happens (a couple eat a baby, a dead body turns up in the shower, etc.) and it’s eventually revealed that the people in the town hate children and teenagers and, for whatever reason, want to either kill them or force them to grow up so they become part of the town.
I know horror movie teenagers aren’t known for using common sense, but the fact none of the teens ever attempts to leave is extremely irritating throughout. Even when it’s established that they may have been lured there by their own parents to be killed, they don’t leave. Even with frequent access to transportation they just stay there waiting to get killed. Not only are the characters obnoxious, annoying and stupid, but the tone of the entire film is highly inconsistent. Neither the comedy nor the horror works, the scenes transitions are awful and the supernatural aspects to the story are barely even established. T&A is provided by at least four different women, including Edy Williams as a stripper, if that's a plus in your book. Bill Johnson (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2), Linda Honeyman (MEMORIAL VALLEY MASSACRE) and Debra Lamb (EVIL SPIRITS) also have small roles. Don’t bother.

House of the Black Death (1965)

...aka: Blood of the Man Beast
...aka: Blood of the Man Devil
...aka: House of Black Death
...aka: Night of the Beast, The
...aka: Widderburn Terror, The

Directed by:
Harold Daniels
Reginald Le Borg
Jerry Warren (uncredited)

Utterly awful, endlessly talky mess based on Lora Crozetti's novel The Widderburn Horror, consists of footage shot by three different directors at three different times. The bulk of the movie was shot by Harold Daniels (TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE), who receives sole directorial credit here. Reginald Le Borg receives a second unti director credit, most likely for shooting some pick-up footage, and brand new scenes featuring a witch, a warlock and a female cultist sitting around discussing what’s going on were added by Jerry Warren. Apparently Warren was asked to salvage what had already been shot and just did his usual routine of filming people sitting around talking.

Opening narration informs us about the cursed Desard family of the small village of Widderburn and how each of the four surviving members are condemned to hell regardless of their Earthly intentions. Actually deserving his spot in Hades is evil, cloaked warlock Belial Desard (Lon Chaney, Jr.), a faithful Satanist who was driven out of ancestral home by his terminally ill “black magician” brother Andre (John Carradine), who hordes the family wealth and tries to keep Belial and his hooded cult away from his home (and away from a sacred book of spells). Paul Desard (Tom Drake) has lost the use of his arm thanks to a wolf attack and may change into a werewolf during an upcoming full moon. Valerie Desard (Dolores Faith), born of a witch, wants to live a normal life but can’t because of her cursed heritage. The estate comes equipped with a special room where members of family are placed once the “curse of insanity” kicks in. A pair of doctors, Dr. Eric Campion (Jerome Thor), who’s been in love with Valerie for years, and skeptical psychiatrist Dr. Kate Mallory (Andrea King), show up to try to help the feeble Andre and end up getting in the middle of things.

Aside from lots of incredibly boring sequences where characters sit around on cheap looking sets discussing things, about ten minutes are set aside from five different Satanic dances (three of which are performed by large-breasted blonde Sabrina dressed in a bikini top and loincloth). At least another ten to fifteen minutes are swallowed up by the new Warren footage, which features his then-wife Katherine Victor as a witch named Lila. That footage is little more than dull Satanic chants, more dancing and characters sitting around redundantly recapping what's going on. A dog is killed (offscreen), we get one very brief shot of a werewolf face and there’s finally an attempt at a human sacrifice at the very end. Chaney’s character sports a pair of horns under his hood and supposedly has cloven hooves instead of feet (which we never even get to see).

Not released until the mid-1970s, this was eventually sold to TV where it became a late night cable staple for awhile. It's not on DVD and not really worth the effort to track down (even for die-hard fans of Chaney and Carradine), but Sinister Cinema offers it on video under the title BLOOD OF THE MAN DEVIL if you're a masochist. Brianne Murphy (who’d go on to direct BLOOD SABBATH and become an award-winning cinematographer) was the script girl. The run-time (despite what some sources say) is 74 minutes.

Bad Blood (1989)

...aka: Woman Obsessed, A
...aka: Woman's Obsession, A

Directed by:
Chuck Vincent

With efforts such as In Love (1981) and Roommates (1982), New York City-based filmmaker Chuck Vincent managed to pull off the almost-impossible: garnering mainstream critical respect for adult film work. That was something not at all common, and is actually quite impressive when you take into consideration how X-rated films are usually demonized by both critics and society in general. Though I've personally received some nasty / negative feedback for doing so, I've never shied away from including adult films here at The Bloody Pit of Horror as long as they meet the timeline / content criteria. Some of the X-rated horror titles I've seen from the Golden Age of such films are as good as similar films with an R-rating. On a very rare occasion, they're even better. I'm sure Vincent's acclaimed adult titles are about the same. Sure, they include graphic sex, but the acting and screenplays are also apparently quite good and the films stack up favorably against many R-rated comedies or dramas of their time. I wouldn't know for sure since I've not actually seen any of these, but it seems to be the general consensus based on reviews I've read.

Vincent went a more mainstream route throughout the 1980s with only marginal success. He cranked out a slew of silly sex comedies (which were popular on cable and VHS at the time) and a handful of thrillers. Based on the inventive, bizarre, disturbing, Repulsion-inspired DERANGED (1987), which played out like a good stage play, and this one, I'd say it's a true shame Mr. Vincent (who passed away in 1991; another casualty of the AIDS crisis) didn't concentrate more on darker thrillers because he seemed to have a real knack for psychological horror that didn't quite get perfected during his lifetime. Each of his thrillers are uneven, but possess elements of excellence and showcase much promise.

Bad Blood (which played on TV under that title but was distributed on VHS as A Woman Obsessed) also proves to be a great showcase for the talents of Georgina Spelvin (billed as "Ruth Raymond" here). Spelvin, of course, was one of the top adult stars of the 1970s, beginning with the groundbreaking classic The Devil in Miss Jones in 1973. Already a mature actress in her 40s at the start of her porn career, Spelvin was even more seasoned by the late 80s when Bad Blood was made. In a way, this film is to Spelvin what What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was to Bette Davis, or Strait-Jacket was to Joan Crawford: a platform for an experience actress deemed "past her prime" or "over the hill" to show the world she's still more than a little capable of carrying a film all on her own. The film also marked the "legit" debut for popular porn actor Randy Spears (billed as "Gregory Patrick"), who is adequate - though not exceptional - as the male lead. Linda Blair and Troy Donahue round out the cast and brought along with them the direct-to-video star power to ensure this had a healthy run on cable during its day.

Successful New York City lawyer Ted Barnes (Spears) is out taking a jog when he's pulled into an art gallery by the owner (Frank Stewart), who shows him a portrait of a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to himself. The kicker? The portrait was painted 25 years earlier. Ted and his real estate agent wife Evie (Blair) decide to go to the showing and are introduced to the woman who painted it. She - Arlene Bellings (Spelvin) - tells him the painting is of her late husband. She also informs Ted that he's actually her son. Ted, having no clue he'd even been adopted, confronts Wanda (Carolyn Van Bellinghen), the woman he's believed to be his birth mother all these years. Wanda finally tells him the truth. Unable to conceive, her husband Jack (Donahue) was threatening to leave her, so she arranged to purchase a baby on the black market and try to pass it off as her own. The baby? Ted, of course. Arlene fills in the rest of the blanks on the sad tale. Her former husband Joe had kidnapped infant Ted and tried to blackmail Arlene and her wealthy father. One thing led to another and Arlene's father shot Joe dead before finding out the whereabouts of the baby. Baby Ted was stashed in a hotel and, feeling he'd been abandoned anyway, Wanda took him and passed him off as her own.

Wanting to finally start a relationship, Arlene (who'd inherited a great deal of money from her now-deceased pops), invites Ted and Evie out for the weekend to her sprawling Long Island mansion. She shows her son off at a lavish party and makes sure Evie gets plenty of tasty hors d'vores while there. Ted is clued in that something might not be quite right by a war vet friend of his birth father's and from a chatterbox bimbo maid named Crystal (Christina Veronica). Later that night, Ted catches Arlene wandering around outside. He follows her to the family graveyard, where she goes on a scary tirade by her late father's grave, informing him that "Joe has come back!" Yes, Arlene has a bad habit of calling Ted "Joe." That's because she's so crazy she thinks her newfound son IS her long-dead husband, the only man she ever loved and brought her true happiness. And Arlene will do anything not to let him slip away again.

First up, she needs to get rid of his pesky wife. Arlene's been poisoning everything she's given Evie to eat or drink. She's so nauseated, weakened and cramped up she can barely get out of bed the next day, so Ted has to be Arlene's date to a charity function. When Ted and Evie do finally try to leave, they run over something that turns out to be Crystal's corpse. A sheriff stops by and suggests they stay in the area in case he has any follow-up questions, so back to Arlene's they go. And that's when Arlene decides to really let it all hang out. While Evie is upstairs unknowingly eating more tainted food, Arlene is downstairs decked out in a poofy-shouldered ball gown preparing a candlelight dinner, pouring the champagne and putting on romantic music for her and her son. By this point she doesn't even bother calling Ted by his real name any longer. He's Joe to her and that's that. Evie manages to wander downstairs and when she gets there she finds Arlene laying on top of Ted kissing him. In a highly effective slow-motion sequence that lasts several minutes, Arlene slashes poor Evie up with a knife and then cuts her throat.

In scenes very reminiscent of the following year's MISERY (only much, much sicker!), Ted awakens tied to a bed in the attic and at the whim of his deranged mama, who is prone to fits of sudden rage. When Ted gets defiant with his captor, he's slapped around, kicked and refused food and water. Arlene punishes him for using foul language and for wetting the bed and, when he tries to get the attention of a cop by making noise, Arlene plays a deranged version of This Little Piggy, breaking all of his toes in the process! She wants her son to have "desire for" her and, during the film's most twisted moment, she barges into his room drunk, strips off his underwear and rapes him while he cries! The ending goes way over-the-top as Arlene invites a bunch of her friends and Ted's adoptive parents over for a wedding ceremony that includes her walking Ted around on a leash, running around with a straight razor trying to slash people up, attempting to drown Wanda in a bathtub, throwing Jack over a banister and getting into a prolonged cat fight with the other mother, capped off with a rip-off of the final moment from Carrie (1976).

It's well-made, extremely twisted, stylishly shot and edited (with good use made of slow-motion and even split screen), entertaining... and really deserves to be released on DVD. Unfortunately, it - along with most of Vincent's other mainstream efforts, including the aforementioned Deranged starring Veronica Hart (who has a small role here as well) - has all but vanished since its initial VHS release. Most of the actors are able to skillfully navigate their way through some very long takes here. Spelvin in particular is great and goes all out in her role, which is played with more than just a hint of scenery-chewing camp. She even gets to destroy an entire room full of furniture with a baseball bat while screaming at the top of her lungs!

The video was distributed by Academy in 1989 (the film carries a 1988 copyright date). King's novel Misery was published in 1987 and perhaps influenced Craig Horrall's screenplay.

La revanche des mortes vivantes (1987)

... aka: Living Dead, The
... aka: Revenge of the Living Dead Girls

Directed by:
Pierre B. Reinhard

A female hitchhiker distracts a truck driver long enough for a biker to slip some kind of toxic orange chemical into the milk supply he’s hauling. Three young women living in the same French town, Catherine, Jocelyn and Florence, end up drinking the milk, immediately drop dead and are entombed. Meanwhile, at O.K.F. Chemical, branch director Jack Alphen is being investigated in both the deaths and other unethical practices and has to attend a conference in Germany to try to smooth things over with his superiors. His evil bitch secretary Bridget hatches a scheme to blackmail the company for three million dollars by taping Alphen with a prostitute and threatening to expose his other criminal activities, which include illegal chemical dumping. Niemann, the dolt hired to dispose of the chemicals, decides to do so at the local cemetery; resurrecting the three poisoned girls as vengeful rotten-faced zombies who go on a murderous rampage. They seem to be targeting people involved with O.K.F., including Alphen, his unfaithful wife Valerie, the truck driver and a chemist named Christian who’s cheating on his pregnant wife with Alphen's wife. Christian becomes infected himself when he accidentally screws (!) one of the Living Dead Girls.

Plenty of factors go into making Living Dead Girls a fine guilty pleasure. It’s a nice-looking film, the soundtrack (including a recurring catchy pop tune) is great, it’s loaded with blood and nudity, the zombie masks are pretty cool and the dialogue is often hilarious. It’s filled with sleazy characters doing sleazy things and the very tasteless gore scenes are perfectly in tune with the other seedy goings on. A woman has her eyeball poked out with a high heeled shoe, a man has his penis bitten off and is disemboweled, a woman is raped with a sword and there’s a messy miscarriage in the shower. The film doesn’t so much as qualify for “SBIG” status because it seems well aware that it’s nothing more than trash. The people who did the English dubbing seem aware of that fact also. The run time is only 74 minutes and the DVD comes with an alternate ending that wasn’t used (when you see it you’ll understand why!).

Director Reinhard (who uses the alias “Peter B. Harsone” here) is better known for his adult film work and most of the ladies seen here also appeared in his other films.

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