Monday, December 7, 2009

La casa del tempo (1989)

...aka: House of Clocks, The

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

Like several other Fulci films, this opens with a literary quote; this time from 19th Century French playwright and novelist Honoré de Balzac ("The Human Comedy"), as if it's striving for some sort of respectibility. A very wealthy and seemingly normal elderly couple; Victor (Paolo Paolini) and Sara (Bettina Milne) Corsini, live in a gated mansion along with their maid Maria (Carla Cassola), one-eyed hired hand Peter (Al Cliver) and army of Doberman Pinchers they let roam free outside. Victor believes that the dozens of clocks that fill the home are his "children," and he and his wife are up to something strange involving the rotting corpses of his niece and nephew, which are kept in a locked room. After Maria discovers the bodies, Sara jams a spear into her stomach until her guts start pouring out. Meanwhile, three thoroughly obnoxious 20-somethings; Tony (Keith Van Hoven), Diana (Karina Huff) and Paul (Peter Hintz) are driving around smoking weed, arguing and plotting to break into the mansion. First, they stop by a supermarket, where Diana distracts the cashier by letting him sniff her panties while the other two shoplift dinner. For some reason, one of them also decides to lighten the mood by suffocating a cat in a plastic bag. Nice.

The three end up at the mansion, where Diana pretends to be a stranded motorist to coerce the couple to let her in so she can use their phone. It isn't long until her buddies barge in. There's a struggle over a rifle and the elderly couple, as well as Peter, are all killed. The thieves hide the bodies, start looting the place and plot to leave, but can't because the dogs are gathering around outside the door. Now trapped inside the home, the clocks all begin rewinding by themselves, bodies turn up missing and characters who were killed return to life and start attacking. There are three impalements (including one with a steel fence), three shotgun killings (including a stomach blown away), a hand stabbed with a knife, a head bashed off a table, a strangling, chainsaw and axe usage (both strangely off-screen) and zombie hands emerging from the ground. Despite this, the film actually isn't as gory as most of Fulci's other 80s offerings.

It's confusing, the characters are all horrible people you could care less about and nothing really makes a lick of sense, which has prompted some fans to refer to it as "a surreal gem," which is the same thing the same fans said about his sloppy, horror clip recycling hodgepodge NIGHTMARE CONCERT (1990, aka A CAT IN THE BRAIN). Sorry, but I still don't buy it. It's easy to come up with a senseless story and then not have the courage of your convictions by writing everything off at the very end. In this case (feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don't want this thing spoiled) the film settles for a groan-inducing "it was all just a dream" twist as our leading lady wakes up from a horrible nightmare and learns that her friends had the same exact nightmare. Now scared, they decide not to actually break into the house and drive off. That's all capped off with an absurd attempt at irony when the bagged kitty cat comes to life, jumps in the driver's face and causes them to crash and be killed anyway! The "moral" ending is surprisingly similar to the one used by Lamberto Bava for GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE (1987), and I hated the conclusion of that flick, too.

So while I wanted to kill all the characters myself and cringed at the terrible dubbed dialogue and hated the silly "twist" ending cop-out, the movie isn't completely worthless. It has an OK music score, a basic attempt at atmosphere both inside (spinning clocks, light glittering off various things, some coloring...) and outside (fog rolling in...) the mansion, as well as enough red stuff to keep the gorehounds from straying. I'm sure if you love all things Fulci, you'll also love this. Well, if you can look past the very cheap, very soft look of the "telecolor" cinematography.

It was originally made for Italian TV and was part of a four-part series called Le case maledette ("The Doomed Houses"), which also included the Fulci-directed SWEET HOUSE OF HORRORS, as well as the Umberto Lenzi-directed HOUSE OF LOST SOULS and THE HOUSE OF WITCHCRAFT. This one supposedly was too violent for TV, so it briefly played theatrically before heading to video. Though there was no VHS release in America, it got a R1 DVD release via Shriek Show in 2002.


Demented Death Farm Massacre... The Movie (1986)

...aka: Death Farm
...aka: Hillbilly Hooker
...aka: Honey Britches
...aka: Honey Pie
...aka: Little Whorehouse on the Prairie
...aka: Shantytown Honeymoon

Directed by:
Donn Davison
Fred Olen Ray

Fred Olen Ray purchased the rights to a low-budget 1971 hicksploitation flick originally released as SHANTYTOWN HONEYMOON (aka HONEY BRITCHES and several other titles), added a few minutes of new footage featuring John Carradine as "The Judge of Hell," changed part of the music score and then sold it to Troma, who did their usual re-packaging/re-title job to give it some camp appeal. Back in the 70s, the film was re-released numerous times under a variety of different titles, including HILLBILLY HOOKER and LITTLE WHOREHOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. The director of the original film was Kentucky-born Donn Davison (aka Phil Chandler), who had worked as a spook show magician, managed the Dragon Art Theater adult cinema in California, did voice over work and trailer narration, served some time behind bars for obscenity charges back in the mid-70s and was apparently a national yo-yo champion and spokesperson for Duncan Yo-Yo's!

In addition to this film, Davison (who passed away in 1999) had also directed a 1968 redneck drama titled MOONSHINER'S WOMAN (often mistaken for another alternate title for this when it's an entirely different film) and added his own footage to several other features, including THE LEGEND OF BLOOD MOUNTAIN (which was filmed in 1965 and re-released with Davison's newly-added footage as BLOOD BEAST OF MONSTER MOUNTAIN in the mid-70s) and SHE-FREAK (filmed in 1967 and re-released with new scenes as ASYLUM OF THE INSANE). Though it probably sounds like this will be a complete mess, surprisingly enough it isn't in that bad of shape. The footage with a depressingly frail and sometimes incoherent Carradine only amounts to a couple of minutes and has him (in the best later-day Lugosi tradition) babbling a bunch of nonsense that has nothing to do with the movie. It's badly spliced in and utterly pointless, but the original feature, while dumb as can be, is pretty fun at times.

A couple of thieves rob a jewelry store, make off with over a million dollars in rare jewels, steal a helicopter, crash it and then steal a jeep. This being a super low-budget regional film, none of that is actually visualized for us. It's simply described during a car radio broadcast (voiced by Davison himself) right before the bluegrass staple "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms" comes on. The two thieves; British-accented Philip Courtley (Jim Peck) and his younger accomplice Kirk Taylor (Mike Coolik), along with their girlfriends; Amazonian, big-breasted, chain-smoking bitch Suzanne (Trudy Moore) and meek, abused Karen (Valerie Lipsey), run out of gas while heading down to Florida to sell the stolen diamonds. Stuck in the backwoods of North Carolina, the quartet push their jeep off to the side of the road and then head into the woods looking for some place to hide out until they can get some gas.

After walking through the woods for what seems like an eternity, the quartet run into young and naive country bumpkin Reba Sue (Ashley Moore), whose father "sold" her to an old, bearded, pudgy moonshiner named Harlan Cravens (George Ellis) to clear up a 200 dollar debt. Harlan is a not only a loud slob, but he's also a paranoid, woman-hating religious nut who thinks every woman is a whore and won't consumate his relationship with his shapely new wife. No problem, Kirk's game. After the two of them get it on, Karen and Reba Sue get into a catfight that ends in death as one of the ladies gets her head bashed in with a moonshine jug. From here on out it's a free for all with characters chasing each other around the house and through the woods trying to kill one another. There's a pitchfork-through-the-neck and someone gets mowed over by a pick-up truck.

While this doesn't quite cut it as a horror film (despite the "spooky" new footage/ music and a couple of gory moments) and doesn't quite cut it as sexploitation (there's just one sex scene with only partial nudity), it does work OK as a redneck movie. The accents are hilarious and the characters; especially Harlan and Suzanne, are entertaining enough to keep you watching. The cast also includes Pepper Thurston as a black whorehouse madam named Jessie-Belle (uh, get it?) and R. Kenneth Wade as Harlan's semi-retarded hired hand Tobey.

If you're interested in seeing the original film minus the Ray-shot scenes, Something Weird offers it on VHS and DVD-R.


Devil Within Her, The (1975)

...aka: Baby, The
...aka: Evil Baby
...aka: I Don't Want to Be Born!
...aka: It Lives Within Her
...aka: It's Growing Inside Her
...aka: Monster, The
...aka: Sharon's Baby

Directed by:
Peter Sasdy

Former stripper Lucy Carlesi (Joan Collins) has just given birth to a 12-pound baby boy... who scratches her face and licks her blood just minutes after it exits the womb! Dr. Finch (Donald Pleasence) recommends she not breast feed because what just occured is clearly a sign of post partum depression. Lucy, her bland Italian husband Gino (Ralph Bates) and infant Nicholas all return home and things quickly go from bad to worse. Lucy relates a howlingly funny flashback to her former glory days as an exotic dancer to her completely useless best friend Mandy (Caroline Munro). You see, a year or so earlier, right after performing her patented Hunchback of Notre Dame-inspired strip act (!!) Lucy's dwarf co-star Hercules (George Claydon), Quasimodo to her Esmeralda, decided to try for some backstage action. After a failed attempt to grab her breast, Lucy shrieks, her sleazy boss Tommy (John Steiner) barges in and kicks the dwarf out so he can have sex with her instead. As Lucy is exiting the building later that night, the spurned dwarf emerges from behind the stage to curse her and tell her she's going to have a possessed baby.

So what does having a possessed infant entail? Well, it's messy. The baby manages to completely destroy its room and all its toys in a matter of seconds. It's super-strong. The baby easily draws blood by clawing and smacking people around. It hates crosses and has a fit during an attempted baptism. And it's deadly. The baby pushes its sitter (Janet Key) into a pond, where she hits her head on a rock and drowns. It also manages to tie a noose, climb into a tree, lower it around someone's neck and then lift them off the ground until they're dead. And it's even got enough oomph to pick up a shovel and swing it with enough force to decapitate someone during the film's only gory moment. Thankfully, Gino's full time nun / part time animal pathologist (!?) sister Albana (Eileen Atkins), who shows her affection for her brother by rubbing noses with him (!?) has flown in from Italy for a visit. After nearly everyone is already dead, Albana finally gets around to performing an exorcism on the baby during an exciting climax where the crib shakes, the baby rolls over onto its stomach twice and the dwarf keels over dead in the middle of a showgirl act. The end.

Sound like one of the most ridiculous and ill-conceived films ever created? Yep, it pretty much is. Obviously the filmmakers were wanting to cash in on both the big early 70s devil craze created by ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973) while also tapping IT'S ALIVE (1974), the surprise 'killer baby' hit made the previous year. Needless to say, they fail hard on both counts. The baby itself is never actually shown really doing anything. The film simply has one of the actors lean over the crib and suddenly jerk back, exclaiming "It bit me!" or "It hit me!" or "It spat on me!" followed by a shot of the baby lying in its crib wondering what the hell that big contraption is pointed in its face. I'll admit that I did laugh quite a few times watching this movie, but it also grows tiresome after awhile and has so many incredibly dull stretches that I'm not going to give it a "SBIG" rating.

There are many familiar faces in the cast... and most of them are terrible! While Collins does put some effort into her role, the woman just isn't a very sympathetic presence and her near-constant hysterics get highly irritating after awhile. And it pains me to say this, but Pleaseance and Bates (two actors I usually enjoy) are even worse. Pleasence is so subdued he might as well not even be there, while Bates' Italian accent is one of the worst ever commited to film. Atkins is also asked to do an Italian accent and while hers is pretty bad too (some of the unintented comic high points are her constant exclamations of "Day-Veeeel!") she's at least not utterly boring to watch like her male co-stars. Munro is around simply to look good but her character, who's screwing the same scrawny sleazebag who used to run around with her supposed best friend and may actually be the real father of the killer baby, has nothing to do and is distasteful. The most solid performance in the film is contributed by Hilary Mason (from DON'T LOOK NOW) as an elderly housekeeper who loathes the baby.

Even though I haven't seen everything from the usually-competent Sasdy, I can assume this is the low-point of his career. It's well-distributed in the UK and other countries, but there's no R1 release of this one.

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