Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Witchcraft (1988)

...aka: Witch and Warlock

Directed by:
Robert Spera

One of the most baffling of mysteries is how something as bland, derivative and forgettable as Witchcraft managed to spawn not one, not two, not three, but twelve sequels to date, making it one of the most resilient horror film franchises of the past thirty years. And I cannot really answer that question except to say all of these film were cheaply made and adequately filled up space on video store shelves during their heyday. There's clearly less of a demand for these movies nowadays as they've stopped making them. Anat Topol-Barzilai (the daughter of Israeli-born Fiddler on the Roof star Topol) plays Grace, a Polish (?) emigre who thinks she's lucked out snagging filthy rich businessman John Churchill (Gary Sloan). While delivering their first child, Grace has visions of a witch burning. Afterward, her husband takes her and their child William to temporarily stay with his mother Elizabeth (Mary Shelley) in the family mansion.

Almost immediately, Grace begins to suspect something is up. Her nightmares (including one where her mother-in-law eats a dead dog) continue, John no longer gives her the attention (or sex) he once used to, Elizabeth forbids her to going into the attic, a mute butler named Ellsworth (Lee Kissman) lurks around and a priest who was supposed to baptize her baby gets sick and eventually hangs himself. It all has something to do with a witch and a warlock who died three-hundred years earlier, but this movie doesn't even really pretend to mask its origins. Pace for pace this is little more than a retread of ROSEMARY'S BABY, right down to the strange old people congregating in the living room, the backstabbing husband and a trusted elder giving the unsuspecting mother drugged tea. You'll certainly gain more from revisiting Polanski's film than you will by watching this one... even if you've already seen it a dozen times.

Aside from being predictable, mawkish and derivative, the dialogue is hokey, the performances are highly uneven (leaning toward bad), the visual effects are chintzy and the movie fails to build any tension or suspense. On a technical level, it's made with enough basic skill to be watchable if you've got nothing better to do, but it's still just not very good. One of the few bright spots is the supporting performance from Deborah Scott as Grace's kooky best friend Linda, who also incidentally gets the best death scene. Scott is, I believe, married to the director and now uses the professional name Deborah Spera.

The only sequel I'll for sure be covering here is WITCHCRAFT II: THE TEMPTRESS (1989), which follows up on the teenage years of baby William and reuses some footage from this one. The others are Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death (1991), Witchcraft IV: The Virgin Heart (1992), Witchcraft V: Dance with the Devil (1993), Witchcraft 6: The Devil's Mistress (1994), Witchcraft 7: Judgement Hour (1995), Witchcraft 8 Salem's Ghost (1996), Witchcraft IX: Bitter Flesh (1997), Witchcraft X: Mistress of the Craft (1998), Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood (2000), Witchcraft XII: In the Lair of the Serpent (2002) and Witchcraft 13: Blood of the Chosen (2008).


Monday, February 8, 2010

Cannibal Hookers (1987)

...aka: I Will Dance on Your Grave: Cannibal Hookers
...aka: I Will Dance on Your Grave, Volume 3

Directed by:
Donald Farmer

There's always going to be an audience for titles such as these (like me!) but most of the time you end up getting burned, and this is no exception to the rule. After some deranged, bald man eats a human heart, another guy picks up a hooker in a bar. She takes him back to her apartment, removes her top, bites off his finger and then chops him up with an axe. Meanwhile, college girls Hilary (Amy Waddell) and Dee Dee (Annette Munro) decide to avoid "all the social status of being raped by Nazis" by joining Gamma Zeta Beta, "the sleaziest sorority on campus." Stephanie (Sheila Best aka Tara the Southern Belle on G.L.O.W.: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), queen bitch of the sorority house, decides that for initiation Hilary and Dee Dee must dress up like hookers and parade around on Sunset Boulevard until they can find a trick. The two pledges, as well as Hilary's boyfriend Bruce (Tommy Carrano) and his friends Darrell (Donald Trimborn) and Dwight (Matt Borlenghi), end up running across a slew of cannibal hookers who work out of whorehouse instead.

Oy ve. Where shall I even begin describing this exercise in cheap gore, cheap T&A contributed by ladies who certainly look their parts and camcorder production values? Let's just say I had more fun making the screen caps than I did actually watching the movie. So maybe you'll have more fun looking at the screen caps than you will reading my description? Enjoy...

Cannibal Hookers love chewy man fingers and Cherry Kool-Aid.

Do these come in a Size 8?

You've ruined my career, Donald Farmer!!

Lobo esta loco!

The 80s called, they want their hair bac... Ah, nevermind.

Honey, could you take the trash out to the curb?

3, 2, 1, Action! Argh! Cut! Cannibal Hooker #314, could you please stop staring directly at the camera? Ah, fuck it, nevermind... And rolling!

She was Courtney, when Courtney wasn't cool.

You still here, you big masochist, you? Trust me when I say that if the amount of fun were only half as big as the hair, this might actually be worth sitting through. Sadly, it doesn't even have enough cheap oomph to fill up 60 minutes. Actually, they didn't even have enough material to fill up 60 minutes either judging by the fact that an entire scene is actually repeated in its entirety for no reason whatsoever toward the end! Strangely, neither of the two protagonists even make it to the finale (nor is their any resolution to their story) and it's bookmarked with scenes of characters who don't interact with the main cast at any point during the rest of the film (likely because their scenes were tacked on later). Even more strangely, victims of the cannibal hookers return as vampires who attack and infect others. Or were they zombies? Hell if I could tell, but now that I think about it this movie is awfully similar to the terrible 1979 Filipino horror-comedy VAMPIRE HOOKERS (1979).
The opening credits theme song was also used in Farmer's DEMON QUEEN (1986) and footage from THE CURSE OF THE SCREAMING DEAD (1982) can be seen on a TV set. The cast includes Drew Godderis (EVIL SPAWN), Sky Nicholas (FATAL PULSE), Katina Garner (HACK-O'LANTERN; also an associate producer) and Marya Gant (A POLISH VAMPIRE IN BURBANK). One scene was filmed at the Hollywood Book and Poster Company, where owner Eric Caidin makes a brief appearance. And who could forget Gary J. Levinson (another of the producers) in his star making role as the big, bald, bug-eyed, human-heart-eating retard henchman Lobo? "No give? Lobo take!"
First released to unsuspecting video stores by Camp Video, the same folks who gave us the similar but much-better HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1987). It was also later included in a fake four-part video/DVD series (distributed by Tapeworm) entitled I WILL DANCE ON YOUR GRAVE. Others in that "series" include KILLING SPREE (1987), W.A.R.: WOMEN AGAINST RAPE (1987) and SAVAGE VENGEANCE (1989).

Death Warmed Up (1984)

...aka: Death Warmed Over

Directed by:
David Blyth

I have two DVD players; one in my living room and one in my bedroom. The one in my bedroom is one of those temperamental bastards that only plays *certain* DVDs in my collection; namely the immaculate ones fresh out of the package. Anything else with even the faintest scratch or smudge, you might as well forget about. Strangely, that same player has no issue at all playing anything I pull out of any of those 50/ 100/ 70 Gazillion Movie Packs distributed by Mill Creek Entertainment. Even those discs I've forgotten to put back in the envelopes... which somehow end up on the floor... get covered in dust... are scratched up by my cat... and somehow get dotted with dried globs of Mountain Dew. My player just loves those, so that's usually what I pop in to watch right before bed since most do a great job of putting me to sleep. Death Warmed Up (aka Death Warmed Over) - released in their "Nightmare Worlds" set - is an exception to the rule. This movie is a complete and utter mess, but it did manage to keep my attention for 82 minutes. And dammit, I actually could have used some sleep last night!

A pre-Peter Jackson New Zealand gore film that doesn't make a lick o' sense, DWU uses an old school mad doctor scenario to center its bizarre and nonsensical events around. The film starts with some promise. Professor Tucker (David Weatherley) and the thoroughly insane Dr. Archer Howell (Gary Day) are trying to concoct a formula to reverse the aging process. Howell gets greedy and, during an amusingly homoerotic sequence, sneaks up behind Tucker's son Michael (Michael Hurst) while he's taking a shower and injects the serum into his ass with a huge syringe. Michael goes nuts, surprises his parents in bed with a shotgun and then spends seven years in a nuthouse before being released. Now wanting revenge, a white-haired Michael, along with his girlfriend Sandy (Margaret Umbers) and another couple; Lucas (William Upjohn) and Jeannie (Norelle Scott), take a boat to a secluded island where Dr. Howell now runs a psychiatric hospital.

Once on the island, things take a turn into the truly senseless as Michael and company encounter a bunch of spastic mutant nutcases; Dr. Howell's failed experiments. In several scenes obviously inspired by Mad Max, the gang is chased and almost run off a road by some mutants while speeding down a dirt road and then encounter them again in underground catacombs where they chase them around on their motorcycles. There's plenty of blood, violence and gore to go around (including skull drilling and an exploding head), a pinch of sex, some decent camerawork (again, obviously Mad Max-inspired) and dark, foggy, futuristic set design inside of the clinic. The production values aren't bad and it's somewhat stylish, but there's way too much going on here. It's unfocused overkill that grows tiresome well before the end.

The cast also includes David Letch (who appeared - along with Umbers - in the underrated haunted car film MR. WRONG aka DARK OF THE NIGHT), Bruno Lawrence (THE QUIET EARTH) and Ian Watkin (the obnoxious uncle in Jackson's DEAD ALIVE). Vestron Video handled the original U.S. video release.

Friday, February 5, 2010

El techo de cristal (1971)

...aka: Glass Ceiling, The

Directed by:
Eloy de la Iglesia

As it turns out, Roman Polanski isn't the only person with an apartment trilogy. Combine THE GLASS CEILING with CANNIBAL MAN (1972; originally and more aptly titled WEEK OF THE KILLER) and NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM (1973) - all of which prominently feature apartment house backdrops - and overlooked Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia has one as well. Though his films are quieter and less showy than Polanski's horror masterpieces, all three films in de la Iglesia's series are certainly strong enough to merit another look. Specifically I should say they're strong enough to merit a look since not many people outside of Spain have been able to actually see these movies. Two of the three have never been released on video or DVD here in the U.S. and, to further complicate matters, the one that actually has been released is the recipient of a very misleading English-language title that has resulted in some backlash. You know, people who were expecting gore and cannibalism running around claiming it's "boring" and feeling cheated by the title. In reality, none of these movies were made to cater to the exploitation/gore crowd regardless of how they're packaged. Instead, they'll appeal more to viewers who like slow-building suspense and a more psychological horror grounded in reality.
Ceiling is set in a small, rural apartment house and details the deceptively normal everyday activities of around a half dozen characters. Because her husband Charles (Fernando Cebrián) is always out of town on business, housewife Martha (Carmen Sevilla) spends most of her time alone with only her pet cat to keep her company. Already prone to fantacizing away her boredom and lonliness, Martha begins to suspect that her upstairs neighbor Julie (Patty Shepard) - who she's caught telling several lies - may have murdered her husband. Their landlord Richard (Dean Selmier), a sculptor and artist, has picqued the interest of farmer's daughter Rosa (Emma Cohen), who delivers milk there every morning, but finds himself being drawn to Martha instead. Pete (Javier De Campos), a grocery delivery man, also seems to have a thing for Martha and may be having an affair with Julie. Meanwhile, someone's spying on and taking provocative pictures of all three of the women. Sounds pretty simple, and in a way it is, but the good stuff comes in the details.

You'd be hard pressed to even consider this a genre film until around the final half-hour, but the fact the director doesn't play by the rules is part of the beauty of his work. By the time the terror finally does hit, you feel interested in and invested enough in all of the principal characters he's created that the horror content has that much more of an impact. de la Iglesia also does an excellent job slowly ratcheting up the suspense here. Once you've settled into the film's quiet pacing and the seemingly innocuous everyday events of the characters (though we're still kept a bit uneasy throughout by the women constantly being photographed) that's when he decides to knock you out of your comfort zone. The apartment setting, where one is generally surrounded by people they sort-of know but not that well, is naturally an ideal location when you're dealing with themes of voyeurism and paranoia. It's exploited here the same effective way Polanski exploited it in his apartment-set films.

All of the performances are very good. Sevilla (also the lead in NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM) is outstanding playing a woman who's either very clever and observant or one who's becoming increasingly unhinged. She won a major award in her home country (the Cinema Writers Circle Award) for this performance. Shepard, who's probably best known for appearing alongside Paul Naschy in several films (including THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN), is also effective as the mysterious upstairs neighbor.

The version I saw (a British VHS release on the EKO Video Films label) was English-dubbed. A restored, subtitled release would certainly be welcome, but I don't expect one anytime soon.


Bijo no harawata (1986)

...aka: Entrails of a Beautiful Woman
...aka: Entrails of a Beauty
...aka: Guts of a Beauty
...aka: Guts of a Virgin 2

Directed by:
Kazuo 'Gaira' Komizu

A sadistic, impotent crime lord, his sick-o girlfriend and a handful of brutal yakuza thugs keep busy peddling their highly-addictive street drug/ aphrodisiac, "Angel Rain." Young Yoshimi tries to infiltrate their group to find out what happened to her sister (who was sold into slavery) and ends up getting gang raped and shot up with the drug. She later commits suicide by leaping off the roof of a building. A female psychiatrist who was the last person to see Yoshimi alive decides to try to find out what happened and is herself kidnapped, gang raped and injected. She ends up overdosing and her body, as well as the body of a yakuza traitor they've recently hacked to pieces, are disposed of in an open grave. Somehow the two bodies end up melding together to form a big, red, slimy hermaphroditic monster equipped with a killer tool. And by killer tool I mean a killer penis. And not just a killer penis, but a killer penis that can fold inside to reveal a killer vagina. Now there's some sleaze movie ingenuity for you. The monster then goes around killing all the bad folks in sexualized ways best not spoiled by me.

It's an immediate, unrelated follow-up to the same director's ENTRAILS OF A VIRGIN (1986) and some minor improvements have been made here. Unlike the first, there's something of a plot. It's not much, but it's enough to center all the sex-and-violence action around while not getting in the way of the sex-and-violence. And believe me, this film exists solely to showcase sex and violence, particularly the former (a third of its 68 minute run time is set aside just for rape scenes). Another improvement is that the women being sexually assaulted actually act like it's more than just a mild inconvenience for them. Add a motive for the killings and characters who could be seen as protagonists (two other things the first movie lacks) and you have a film that's slightly better thought out than its predecesor.

Still, I wouldn't call this a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. It's cheap, poorly made and, if you're not a fan of prolonged rape scenes, pretty tedious. Not only that, but it probably seemed way more outrageous and shocking back in 1986 than it does now. Since then, we've had all manner of killer vagina/penis movies to sink out teeth into, so there's little - if any - novelty shock value left remaining here. If you want to see an intriguing body horror film there's always early Cronenberg and if you want something a little seedier dealing with the effects of drugs and featuring a phallic parasitic monster, I'd recommend Frank Henenlotter's BRAIN DAMAGE (1987) any day of the week over this one. Hell, even Henelotter's highly uneven recent release BAD BIOLOGY (2007), which also features killer genitalia, is far better than anything you'll see in this one.

The DVD is from Synapse, who also released the first film. The third (and final?) film in the series is RUSTED BODY: GUTS OF A VIRGIN III (1987).


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shojo no harawata (1986)

...aka: Entrails of a Virgin
...aka: Guts of a Virgin

Directed by:
Kazuo 'Gaira' Komizu

Sex and violence. You like? This one delivers plenty of both, so if that's all you're looking for, you'll get your money's worth here. Personally, I didn't care much for it and that likely has a lot to do with the people involved. The film centers about six characters; three incredibly sleazy guys (porn king, photographer and some other guy) and three incredibly stupid women (model, makeup artist and an aspiring model working as a makeup artist), and every single one of them is someone I'd cross a busy highway to avoid bumping into. Hell, I might even cross a busy highway wearing a blindfold to avoid making contact with any of these scumbags. Disliking all the principals involved is one thing, but being repelled by all of them is another matter entirely. Of the men, two of them are rapists who use their position to bully women into having sex with them. Neither needs to use much - if any - actual force to get who they like into the sack, though. They simply start undressing the girls, ignore their faint and unconvincing "no's," pull them back when they try to crawl away and basically just do what they want with them. The other guy isn't a rapist. He's a wrestler who strips down to his underwear to try out some of his moves on one of the ladies. He ends up putting her in so much pain that she pisses herself before he knocks her out cold by pile driving her head into the floor. I guess this is supposed to be amusing. It's not. It's actually kind of depressing.

The females are all pathetic, mindless and weak. I'm not one to climb on a soapbox and proclaim a film misogynistic, but if any film is actually deserving of the label it's this one. The photographer character has his way with both of his models; each one squirming and squealing through prolonged (and just plain boring) quasi-rape scenes where they're humiliated, photographed and forget to put up any kind of resistence. Instead, they just basically just lie there uncomfortably wiggling, complaining and whining. It's not fun to watch. At all. Other than the two models getting manhandled in every scene, there's also a woman who looks like she's about 25 and is thus treated by the guys like she's all used up. More on her later.

On their way back from a photo shoot, the six run over someone or something. Whatever it was promptly disappears. A thick fog rolls in and they're forced to spend the night in an abandoned house. As two of the guys discuss which two girls they want to screw, the thing they ran over shows up, reveals itself to be some kind of demon or monster (which is nothing more than a guy caked in mud) and does away with the cast. We get an axe to the head, eyeballs popping out, decapitation via neon sign, an impalement and other gore. The 'over-the-hill' woman who got laid out during the wrestling bout awakens sex-mad, makes out with a decapitated head, masturbates with a dismembered arm and then has a sex scene with the "monster," who spooges all over her and, for an encore, rips her intestines out through her vagina. The "monster" also gets to bang another of the ladies and both of the rapees like being raped because their attacker has a big dick. Sigh.

Sex wise, this gets pretty graphic at times, but because of Asian censorship laws that forbid full frontal nudity and pubic hair from being shown, any below-the-waist action has been optically blurred out. Those wanting standard sex scenes where both parties get some enjoyment out of it might as well forget it. And those into rape fantasties aren't going to particularly like this because the women never physically resist the men. They just act uncomfortable and whine throughout their scenes. The dialogue is consistently awful, the effects aren't anything special and there are several attempts to be arty and stylish that are completely laughable. Even clocking in at just 72 minutes and with the tasteless events I've described above, it's surprisingly monotonous and even boring at times.

Through the 80s and into the early 90s, it was amongst the most popular Asian booleg titles here in America, along with the GUINEA PIG series. Since that era, it's seen several VHS releases and in 2004 saw its first official DVD release here in the States via Synapse, who included it as part of their "Asian Cult Cinema Collection." At least two sequels; ENTRAILS OF A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN (1986) and RUSTED BODY: GUTS OF A VIRGIN III (1987), followed.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chosen Survivors (1974)

...aka: Sobrevivientes escogidos, Los

Directed by:
Sutton Roley

I was genuinely excited about seeing this one based solely on the plot overview: A handful of post nuke survivors hole up in some futuristic bunker a thousand+ feet beneath the Earth's surface and must face off against blood-hungry vampire bats! What's not to love there? Unfortunately, this film never realizes its full potential. So what went wrong? Primarily the screenplay. The dialogue and character arcs/interactions are not only hokey in the extreme, but predictable. The whole thing has a "TV Movie of the Week" feel to it. Even worse, it instantly brings to mind one of those cornball Irwin Allen flicks from the era. You know, the ones where a star-studded cast runs around trying to avoid getting killed by towering infernos, flood waters, killer bees, sinking ships and the like. They're usually referred to as disaster movies, which not only refers to the plot but also the execution. This one is really no different. There's a sci-fi/horror bent, but it's still business as usual. Only the cast isn't quite up to par.

Things begin when ten drugged people; several scientists, a female politician, a jerk corporate fat cat, a famous athlete, etc., are escorted out of a helicopter by some soldiers somewhere in the desert and thrown into an elevator. The elevator goes deep underground, opens its doors and then promptly disables itself. The ten trapped people wander out to find themselves in a futuristic military bunker fully equipped to sustain their number for upwards of five years. Television sets play a pre-recorded message from a female spokesperson, who informs them that nuclear war has broken out on the surface and they are amongst the chosen few selected by the U.S. government to help carry on the human species. So far, so intriguing. I actually really liked the movie up until this point. Unfortunately, as the chosen survivors start settling in and tensions start bubbling to the surface as a swarm of bloodsucking bats somehow find their way into the installation, the movie really seems to lose its way.

As some have done, I could say this movie has an identity crisis, but that's not the problem here. The problem is poorly-written dialogue, bad continuity and thinly-drawn, cliched, unlikable and uninteresting characters. Just a few days in the bunker, people are already starting to pair off. Unfortunately, we don't get to see them in any romantic scenario beforehand. The film just raggedly cuts to two people lying in bed together and we the viewers are kind of like "Huh?" None of the characters - as written or performed - invokes much interest. There's really no solid protagonist here and no central focal point. There are also no real ideas present nor are there any kind of insights into human nature during times of stress. Naturally, the movie pulls a twist out of its bag near the end, but it's poorly telegraphed in advance.

Despite my negative comments, the movie is still mildly watchable if you're not expecting much. There's a certain low-budget efficiency to both the sets and lighting design that gives off the appropriate futuristic vibe. The idea of using TV monitors to track progess on the surface is a good one and the general premise is just intriguing enough to keep one wondering how things are going to pan out. Some of the visual effects have dated badly, but scenes utilizing real bats are fairly effective. There are also some familiar faces in the cast, though none of them are given a chance to make an impression here... at least not a good one. Former child star Jackie Cooper has the thankless role of an obnoxious financial big wig who can't handle the stress and at one point attempts to rape one of the females (Barbara Babcock). Richard Jaeckel (GRIZZLY) is an army electronics expert whose face turns lobster red any time he's forced to emote, Lincoln Kilpatrick is a washed-up athelete who eventually puts his skills to use climbing up the elevator shaft, Alex Cord is - uh - I can't even remember and Diana Muldaur (THE OTHER) is her usual sullen self as a congresswoman. Pedro Armendariz Jr. (who was a star in Mexico, where this was filmed) is also on board and has nothing to do but die and personal favorite Bradford Dillman plays a geeky scientist and gets some practice in the killer animal subgenre. He'd go on to face killer cockroaches from hell in BUG (1975), killer bees in THE SWARM (1978) and killer piranha in (you guessed it!) PIRANHA (1978).

Long out of circulation, this was finally revived by 20th Century Fox, who paired it with THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1964) for the 2007 DVD release. It's part of their "Midnite Movies" line. Nice looking print, at least.

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