Monday, June 20, 2011

Alraune (1952)

... aka: Alraune - naispaholainen
... aka: Mandragore
... aka: Mandrake
... aka: Unnatural
... aka: Unnatural ... The Fruit of Evil
... aka: Vengeance

Directed by:
Arthur Maria Rabenalt

Hanns Heinz Ewers' 1911 novel Alraune was the basis for this interesting, tragic drama, which incorporates new ideas not found in the novel as well as touches of horror and science fiction. The same novel had already been the basis for four other film versions. In 1918, it was filmed twice; once in Hungary (that version is missing) and then again (by Eugen Illés) in Germany. In 1928, Henrik Galeen made a third silent version, this time starring Brigitte Helm (of METROPOLIS fame) and released some places under the title UNHOLY LOVE. In 1930, a fourth version - this time with sound and aka THE DAUGHTER OF EVIL - was also filmed in Germany. It again starred Helm, but was directed by Richard Oswald. Though the storyline would go on to influence many later films, this 1952 adaptation is the last semi-faithful version of the tale. It featued several well-known European stars, had two original songs (sung by the leading lady) and is a fairly lavish production, though the English-dubbed DVD version I saw was in very poor shape.

The opening scroll informs us that "Since ancient times, the legend of the alraune, or mandrake root, has held a mystical fascination for mankind. The root, which flourishes under the gallows of a hanged man, is believed to endow its master with the power of producing good or evil... to enable him to possess the powers of the gods. UNNATURAL is the story of one man's attempt to control destinies with the powers of the alraune root." They left out the part saying the root was fertilized with the semen or blood of the dead men and that witch's supposedly used the root for sexual purposes and to impregnate themselves with unfeeling, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED-style children, but hey, I wasn't really expecting the gory details from something made in the early '50s.

The film opens with a young man - Frank Braun ("Carlheinz Boehm" aka Karlheinz Böhm of PEEPING TOM fame) - heading out to visit his wealthy uncle. He's there to borrow tuition money for medical school, but when he arrives he briefly spots a young woman on the balcony. Since his uncle is away, the butler won't allow Frank to enter, but he's strangely, instantly smitten by the mysterious beauty. Meanwhile, we find the uncle, Professor Jacob ten Brinker (Erich von Stroheim), has taken a trip to a convent / boarding school. There he discovers his daughter Alraune (Hildegarde "Neff" / Knef) has run away. A nun tells him she was placed in a "cell" for causing unrest, excitement and disturbing behavior from other students, as well as hiding "obscene" literature under her mattress. The professor heads home and discovers Alraune is there waiting on him. Then Frank shows up looking for answers. If Alraune is really his uncle's daughter - and his cousin - how come he's never seen or heard about her until now?

Regardless of the awkward situation (and an incorrect assumption Alraune might be his uncle's much younger mistress), Frank ends up quickly falling for her. When the two make plans to run off to Paris together, the professor has a sit down with his nephew to explain the awful truth. Alraune is the bi-product of artificial insemination. He took the sperm of a double-murderer and implanted it into a prostitute and - wholla! - Alraune was born. Why? Because, as the professor puts it "Good people are so uninteresting." He also seems to believe in heredity of evil; that his daughter has received the worst qualities of both of her parents and she has no conscience, no ability to emphathize. In essence, he believes she has no soul. Also taking into consideration he's also been warned by family friend Princess Wolkonski (Trude Hesterberg) to steer clear of Alraune, it's enough to scare Frank off. He takes off for Paris by himself and ignores Alraune's letters.

While he's away, Alraune is pursued by nearly every man she comes into contact with, including Frank's two best friends - painter Ralph (Rolf Henniger) and handsome count Gerald (Harry Meyen). She also strikes the fancy of her father's friend and confidant, Dr. Mohn (Harry Halm). The Professor hires a governess, tutor and all-around mother figure (played by Denise Vernac) to live in the home with them and provide some guidance, but it's for naught. Intelligent, manipulative and clever, Alraune ends up, whether intentionally or inadvertently, causing a wave of depression, death or destruction.

With help from a bewitched Dr. Mohn, she sets up the governess as a thief and gets her fired. When he starts being a little too nosy for his own good, handyman Mathieu (Hans Cossy) dies when his carriage crashes. Olga (Julia Koschka) - who is set to possibly marry Frank when he finishes his studies - unsuccessfully tries to poison herself. Alraune also manages to turn friends Ralph and Gerald against one another, leading to one commiting suicide and the other dying of pneumonia because he went outside on a freezing night to talk to Alraune. By the time Frank returns, everything is in dissarray, and possibly because of Alraune... but he still loves her.

Though not for all tastes and somewhat artless compared to several of the earlier versions, the actors are all solid and well cast and I found the storyline intriguing and thought-provoking enough to keep me interested. Does Alraune possess powers that somehow enable her to subconsciously cause death? Are all the freak accidents and misfortunes sheer coincidence, or is it because Alraune was raised in a sterile environment without love and affection? Is she really emotionless... or just plain evil? The film - regardless of the conclusion you draw from it - doesn't exactly explain away some of the supernatural events that occur, and settles for a simple nature vs. nurture stance at the end.


Unearthly, The (1957)

... aka: House of the Monsters
... aka: Night of the Monsters

Directed by:
Boris Petroff

Oft-dissed, this low-budget time-waster (which was later poked fun of on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000), managed to keep me reasonably entertained for 70 minutes. Not that it's particularly good, and it's certainly not original, but it's also not without merit. The acting is uneven, but passable, for the most part, the science is silly, there are a few (unintentionally) hilarious moments, the make-up fx work from Harry Thomas is good and the Island of Dr. Moreau-inspired shock finale is surprisingly potent after a slow build-up. I was also surprised to discover that the works of Ed Wood had actually influenced other films immediately upon their release. How else can you explain the presence of slow-witted behemoth Lobo; who was transplanted here from Wood's semi-famous 1955 mad doctor tale BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955) with same actor (Tor Johnson) playing the part? The poster - complete with a seal promising it was "guaranteed to frighten!" - is pretty amusing, too. Good thing that wasn't a money-back guarantee!

Emotionally troubled Grace Thomas (Allison Hayes) - who has just suffered from a nervous breakdown - checks in at a large, remote clinic run by Dr. Charles Conway (John Carradine). Well actually she's been lured there under false pretenses by her own psychologist, Dr. Wright (Roy Gordon), who apparently doesn't think much of her despite the fact she's very kind and extremely polite. Not to mention a hottie. Dr. Conway doesn't want his "patients" to have any ties to the outside world, so Dr. Wright promises to arrange it to look like Grace has killed herself. In the meantime, she's led to believe that the clinic will cure her of her bouts of fright.

We're also introduced to an array of other characters who populate the clinic. There's Conway's assistant, icy blonde Dr. Sharon Gilchrist (Marilyn Buferd), who's in love with Conway, jealous over the attention he lavishes on the beautiful Grace and serves up midnight snacks of milk and sedatives. Then there's Danny (Arthur Batanides), a loud, obnoxious, chain-smoking neurotic who wants to break someone's neck for serving him cold toast and claims "It's a lousy world!" Natalie (Sally Todd) is a lovestruck, romance novel reading nympho who needs to "co-ordinate" herself. A thief and murderer named Frank Scott (Myron Healey) shows up fresh from a prison escape with an alias ("Mark Houston") and is blackmailed into doing Conway's bidding. And then there's hulking manservant Lobo (Tor J.), who also does the doctor's bidding and is described as "an overgrown moron" who has the "strength of a Hercules and the brain of chicken."

Naturally, Carradine's mad scientist is conducting unethical experiments and all of his patients are guinea pigs unaware of what's in store for them. Dr. Conway is interested is prolonging youth and vigour and feels he can do so by surgically implanting an artificially-developed "17 gland" (?!) and then shooting his test subjects up with a blast of radiation to kick the gland into gear. Unfortunately, his procedure hasn't quite worked out and sometimes the patient ends up a little lobotomized and/or deformed. One of his failed test subjects is a zombie-like man confined to a chair in the cellar with limited, jerky movement. Another female patient ends up getting her face horribly wrinkled. And well, let's just say those aren't the only two glandular experiments that haven't worked out.

Carradine had played this same exact egomaniacal, sociopathic mad doctor role a dozen times before this one and gives a typical John Carradine egomaniacal, sociopathic mad doctor performance here. You could make a drinking game out of the amount of times his character reminds us that he's a brilliant scientist who loves his work, so every other stoic line is something like "I am a scientist, thinking is my business!" or "As a true scientist, nothing is impossible!" or "They've always called the greatest scientists crazy!" During a completely bloodless (!) organ transplant surgery, Carradine dryly barks out orders to his assistant: "scalpel, sponge, sponge, clamp, clamp, clamp, wipe my brow, clamp, sponge, number 23 scalpel, brow, sponge..." as she hurridly tries to keep up with him. The transplant is done in about 90 seconds. Durng another amusing scene, Carradine plays Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' on the organ after dinner to try to cover up any noise being made while a patient upstairs is being drugged and prepped for surgery.

Hayes (immortalized as the title character in ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN) is a fine actress but stuck here playing a sometimes annoyingly naive character ("I'll do as you wish, doctor!"). Still, she commands attention in all of her scenes simply because she's so damn gorgeous to look at and is often clad in form-fitting attire that shows off her statuesque figure. Healey is a little wooden but somewhat likable as the fugitive, Buferd does OK as the loyal but frustrated assistant and both Todd and Batanides try their best to be convincing nuthouse patients, with varying degrees of success. Johnson is very, very funny here, makes hilarious facial expressions throughout and gets such side-splitting lines as "Ohhh... Pretty girl. Ohhh... Prettttty!," "FerdiNAND?" and "Time for go to bed!" So while the film is nothing spectacular, there's some definite redeeming camp value contained within.

Hey, director / producer Boris Petroff liked the end result so much that he decided to remove his name from the credits and replace it with "Brooke L. Peters!" In many ways, this film was a family affair. Petroff's wife Jane Mann wrote the original story and co-scripted, and his daughter Gloria Petroff appears in the pre-credits sequence clawing Lobo's face and screaming. Petroff also made ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO (1961), which was also written by his wife.

Unearthly is an easy title to find. It's been released multiple times to both VHS - by Rhino and WEA Corp.; including a special version available with the MST3K commentary - and on DVD. The Image Entertainment disc includes a very good quality, nice-looking print of the film, but the special features are nearly nonexistent.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dream a Little Evil (1990)

... aka: Dream Evil

Directed by:
Royce Mathew

Knowing the director started out with David DeCoteau (who gets a special thanks here) should give you some kind of indication of what to expect here. Just like most of DeCoteau's films, past and present, it's dumb, the majority of the action takes place in just one house, there are many lame attempts at comedy and more equal opportunity sexualizing (three different girls go topless and there's a good-looking guy who runs around shirtless and in his tighty whities for at least half his scenes) than usual. Eagle-eyed B-movie devotees and those like myself who watch way too many of these may even recognize exteriors of the house as being the same ones used in SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA (1987). Just like Sorority, this found a place on late night TV on the USA Network's Up All Night program in the early 1990s, which is pretty impressive considering it was made for 9 thousand dollars on leftover 16mm film strips. However, unlike Sorority (which was a Charles Band production), this title is much more difficult to find on home video in the U.S. The distributor was Atlas Entertainment Corporation. Remember another of their genre releases; BLOOD SYMBOL? How about INVASION OF THE MINDBENDERS? Can't say that I do either!

....................................Dream a Little Evil. The age old tale of...



...............................And papier-mâché demonoid monsters!

Two brothers whose parents tragically died share an inherited house worth 250,000 dollars. One brother - Mark (Tom Alexander) - is a coke-snorting, obnoxious, sulky man-whore professional college student whose bitchy girlfriend Veronica (Kathy Smith) is always over. The other brother - George (Richard J. Sebastian) - is an inventor who spends most of his time in his room. The brothers don't get along at all since one is loudly trying to have sex in one room while the other is loudly working on his experiments in another... nevermind the fact they live in a huge home and could probably make better arrangements. Hey Mark, how about you set up shop over on the west wing? Annoyed that George's experiments are ruining her sex life, Veronica destorys George's latest invention. Said invention is some ridiculous-looking contraption consisting of a large plastic helmet and wires connected to a silver box with three red knobs. Though it looks like a hunk of junk, the machine can somehow miraculously make things appear out of mid air if you want them bad enough. During one scene, the scientist's best bud Billy (Ducan Rouleau) wishes for an orange and it appears in his hand. He later sneaks over and wishes his fantasy dream girl Angie (Michele Gaudreau) would show up. She does and he gets "the best blow job this side of Nevada." Oh yeah, and Billy accidentally screws up the machine again.

..................................Bitch ate all my corn fakes!

Pissed off that someone has been messing with his machine and assuming it's his brother again, George angrily says "I wish he was dead!" Lyle Waggoner (about as non-threatening a presence as there ever was) suddenly shows up with a red spotlight behind him and announces himself as "Death." That turns out to be just a nightmare... maybe. George starts hearing strange noises (which sound like jungle animals, including lions and elephants!), has a sex dream with a girl who dances topless with a red boa and then Angie (the girl his friend conjured up) appears in his bed. The childish Angie then shows up the next morning to annoy him at the breakfast table by demanding food ("Angie eat!") After eating five bowls of corn flakes, she's still demanding food. She shows up again in his bedroom wearing lingerie and the two have sex, then he takes topless pictures of her ("I'll do anything you want!"). Eventually, Angie transforms into a pale-faced witch with a black wig, facial boils and rotten teeth for a sub EXORCIST foul-mouthed possession scene. She lifts her dress and says "Fuck me! Fuck me! Fuck me!" She also informs Billy and George that "I'm a great ball squeezer!"

..................................Lyle Waggoner as "DEATH!" (by vanilla)

...................................What are you starin' at? I'm eatin' here!

At first, George thinks the house is haunted by the ghost of a woman who was killed in the home years earlier, but then he realizes that since both he and Billy used the machine, it is simply bringing their subconscious thoughts to reality. Since Billy is a huge horror movie fan, a green-faced witch (also played by Gaudreau) pops in and pukes all over Billy's face. A little demon monster also makes an appearance long enough to chew up Veronica's throat. Unfortunately, nearly all of the 'horror' stuff doesn't even happen until the last 15-20 minutes! Until then, the movie is slow, very talky and mostly dull. The acting is pretty bad (though not intolerably so), instead of using smoother editing transitions the filmmakers decide to just cut to another exterior shot of the house (there are probably about 20 of them altogether) and there are some dumb references to everything from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET to GHOSTBUSTERS to STAR TREK. There's also one of those irritating "It was all a dream... Or was it?" style endings. And don't get me started on the awful porn soundtrack. As if it's not bad enough as is, the sound mix is often much louder than the dialogue, making much of it difficult to hear.

................"I give the best blow job this side of Nevada... Or so I've been told!"

.....................................Corn flake witch wretch. Nom nom nom.

Co-star Alexander was a male model, also appeared in the made-for-TV biopic ROCK HUDSON (1990) and the flop lambada movie THE FORBIDDEN DANCE (also 1990) and sadly passed away in 1992 at the age of just 29. Three of the cast members (lead Sebastian, Waggoner and a little-known actress named Victoria Nesbitt, who's seen topless in a dream sequence) were in the terrible DeCoteau slasher movie MURDER WEAPON (1989), which Mathew served as production manager on. Speaking of Mathew, he's made the news here recently for suing the Walt Disney Company (Michael Eisner et. al); claiming they stole many of his original characters and ideas for the hit film PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. For a more detailed interview with Royce conducted by Brandon Sites of Big Daddy Horror Reviews, click RIGHT HERE.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hitchhiker, Volume 1, The (1986)

Directed by: Mike Hodges Phillip Noyce Mai Zetterling HBO's The Hitchhiker, which featured decent production values, good actors, great theme music and adult content (violence, gore, language and sometimes sex and nudity), never really got the credit it deserved for helping to pave the way for Tales from the Crypt and other R-rated pay cable genre programs. The series began in 1983 as a three episode stint starring Nicholas Campbell as the title character, who introduced horror or suspense themed tales, most of which with a moral message at their center. When the three episodes proved successful the series was picked up, Page Fletcher replaced Campbell as the host and it all managed to last until 1991 (with the USA Network eventually taking over from HBO in 1989). Naturally, all of the episodes are now available on DVD, but back in the age of VHS, four different tapes, each featuring three episodes apiece were released and that's what I'll be covering here. All of the episodes in the videos are from Seasons 2 and 3. The episodes in the very first video are "The Curse," "W.G.O.D." and "Hired Help."

"The Curse" (S3-E9) was directed by Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce (who'd make the very good thriller DEAD CALM a few years later) and is the best of three episodes here. Wealthy, pretentious yuppie Jerry Macklin (Harry Hamlin) has made a fortune with investment property. Sadly, it's in the form of tenement buildings and he hasn't been keeping them up to standard. In one of these slum apartments, a man is seriously injured when he falls over a balcony. Jerry promises elderly voodoo queen Serita (Beah Richards) he'll fix it but backs out since he wants to use the money to build a dream beach house. At a party, Jerry meets the sexy Tania (Deborah Lacey) and after a one-night stand wakes covered in blood and with a snake tattoo that begins on his leg... and slowly begins to work its way up to his neck. This is an interesting voodoo attack on the 80's "Greed is Good" credo, and features some surprising gore at the finale.

In Mike Hodges' "W.G.O.D." (S3-E4), well-do-to-but-troubled radio evangelist Reverend Nolan Powers (Gary Busey) is prepping for a "Weekend Watchdog" news story when things start falling apart. While on the air, he gets a bizarre phone call from someone who tells him "It's cold here!" and calls him a "pious phony." The same caller seems to be terrorizing him away from the station, including making his hands bleed at a "Right to Life" anti-abortion rally. Back at home, Nolan's mother Lynette (Geraldine Page, who'd win the Best Actress Oscar for THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL the following year) spends her days lying in bed with a teddy bear listening to records of Nolan's "perfect" brother. Said brother was a popular child singer who apparently ran away from home and never came back. Though well acted and with a few amusing scenes, this one's predictable. Robert Ito (playing a reporter) and Brioni Farrell co-star.

Mai Zetterling's "Hired Help" (S2-E9), aka Karen Black does a wetback winged demon, wraps things up fairly nicely. Cold, bitchy garment factory owner Kay Mason has been hiring Mexican illegals for her sweat shop operation and treats them horribly, even threatening to fire a guy for accompanying an injured worker to the hospital. Her neglectful husband Herb (Donnelly Rhodes) brushes off her advances, so it's no surprise that while hubby is away she selects hunky Victor (Fernando Allende) to do some yard work. Her maid Maria (Ali Giron) informs her that he has the mark of a demon, but Kay ignores her warnings and goes about seducing the mysterious and quiet hired help. Pretty interesting seeing something from the mid-80s comment on illegal immigration (considering how often it's in the news these days), but Black's overall weirdness is what provides the most entertainment value here. Whether screaming, talking in a baby voice, lying around in lingerie making sexy faces or flailing around in bed drunk spouting lines like "Make yourself comfortable. Like take off all your clothes. It's hot!," this is Black's show all the way.

Overall, the three tales are uneven, but about as good as what you'll find in the majority of other horror anthologies. I'll be reviewing Volumes 2 (featuring Roger Vadim's "Dead Man's Curve," Phillip Noyce's "Nightshift" and Paul Verhoven's "Last Scene"), 3 (featuring Carl Schenkel's "Ghost Writer" and "True Believer" and Mai Zetterling's "And If We Dream") and 4 (featuring Richard Rothstein's "Videodate," David Wickes' "Face to Face," Phillip Noyce's "Man's Best Friend") here in due time. 


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summer of Fear (1978)

... aka: Night Kill
... aka: Stranger in Our House

Directed by:
Wes Craven

At the time, director Wes Craven was best known for the gritty, violent shockers THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977), so this milder made-for-TV effort marked both a change of pace for him as well as a (more-or-less) successful step toward mainstream acceptance. On the other hand, actress Linda Blair (who'd just done the horribly-received EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC) was just ending her reign as teen queen of the controversial tele-movie. Prior to this, she'd played a teenage alcoholic, a kidnapped illiterate teen, a sickly teen awaiting a kidney transplant aboard a doomed aircraft, a institutionalized juvenile delinquent who gets pinned down and raped with a broom handle and other roles that make what goes down in this horror flick look a little tame by comparison. So I'd say this one probably helped Craven's career but really didn't do a whole lot for Blair's. Either way, within the limitations of the TV movie, it's really not a bad little effort.

Horse-loving teen Rachel Bryant (La Blair) lives happily on her ranch home with her well-to-do stock broker father Tom (Jeremy Slate), photographer mother Leslie (Carol Lawrence) and two brothers, eldest Peter (Jeff East, who also appeared in Craven's follow-up DEADLY BLESSING) and youngest Bobby (James Jarnigan). Things seem to be going well for the teen and her family until her Ozark-bred-and-accented cousin Julie (Lee Bryant) - whose parents died in a mysterious car crash - comes to stay with them. Starting out mannered, shy, genteel and demure, Julie soon reveals herself to be an evil, black magic-practicing witch. She uses her powers to kill off Rachel's beloved horse Sundance, steal away her boyfriend (Jeff McCracken) and puts all the men under her seductive spell, which is basically written off as petty jealousy by most of the people involved. Upon finding signs of witchcraft (a wax horse with her horse's hair, a photo with red dots which she thinks gave her hives, etc.) hidden in their shared room, Rachel begins studying up on witchcraft and seeks help from their neighbor; occult expert Professor Jarvis (Macdonald Carey). Can she win her family - and her life - back before it's too late?

Though it offers up nothing really new and has a fairly low horror quotient (most of which is saved for the finale), the film itself is still pretty entertaining. The performances here are mostly solid. Though Blair has a few irritatingly whiny emotional moments, you still can't help but find yourself cheering her character - who has to find the strength and resiliency to take on a powerful corruptive force who has turned nearly everyone she knows against her - on. Purcell is excellent as the evil cousin, and her catty exchanges with the star are definite highlights. Hell, they're better than the actual horror scenes! There's even some icky sort-of incestuous theming thrown in for good measure. The Nanny fans (who I doubt spend much time perusing the index of The Bloody Pit of Horror) will enjoy seeing Fran Drescher - complete with annoying accent - in an early role as Blair's best friend (who also turns her back on her). Gwil Richards, Patricia Wilson, Billy Beck (who also had a small role in Craven's INVITATION TO HELL), Hills star John Steadman (playing a veterinarian) and Beatrice Manley (from THE BABY) round out the cast.

Originally released to the small screen as STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE, Summer is the extended theatrical cut which was used when the film played theatrically in Europe (the same cut used for the U.S. DVD release).


Dark Power, The (1985)

Directed by:
Phil Smoot

Former 40's western star Lash La Rue (with his trademark bullwhip) headlines this quirky Indian-themed zombie tale shot on the cheap in North Carolina. An elderly Indian medicine man dies and his property - which includes four graves marked with sacred Eagle daggers - goes up on the market. Flirtaceous reporter Mary (Mary Dalton), who's doing a story on the Indian, runs into her college-aged Beth (Anna Lane Tatum) - who has found herself without a place to stay this school year - and uses her connections to allow Beth to rent out the home. Ignorning the land's cursed reputation, Beth decides to move in and convinces her friends Tammie (Cynthia Bailey), Lynn (Cynthia Farbman) and Susan (Suzie Martin) to also move in and share rent. After all, it's a big enough place. And it even has a jacuzzi bath and a pool table! The girls have a few issues getting along (which I'll address here in a minute), but they'll have even bigger problems to deal with when the inhabitants of the graves sitting in their front yard decide to pay them a visit one evening. In other words, it's witch doctor zombies vs. college girls, with each of the Indians getting their own signature murder weapon (tomahawk, bow and arrows, etc.) and Lash playing the heroic sheriff who shows up just in the nick of time to spout such lines as "Feel my whip, you son of a bitch!" The results are upbeat, silly and actually quite fun in a cheap movie way.

What really makes this one stand out from the pack is that it actually tries to comment on racism! The Lynn character is a racist bitch. She irrationally hates Tammie because she's black, demands her housemates kick her out, has no problem throwing out the "n" word, hangs confederate flags around the house and invites her obnoxious brother (Marc Matney) to come live with them in hopes of driving Tammie out. During the night of the Indian attack, the brother even invites his racist friends over to crack jokes at Tammie's expense. The nice part is that even being faced with all this crap, Tammie stands her ground, doesn't budge and manages to keep a positive attitude throughout. Even better, she eventually emerges as this film's true heroine, not only for putting up with a bunch of unbelievable bigots and somehow managing to maintain her dignity in the process, but also for her survivalist instincts and zombie fighting skills. Going into this I certainly wasn't expecting to find one of the most memorable leading ladies in any 80s horror film (which includes all bigger-budgeted mainstream releases), but here she is, anyway! Even more interestingly, the actress playing her ended up becoming a top New York fashion model and can now be seen on to the reality TV series Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Though Tammie pretty much dominates the proceedings, many of the other characters are at least broadly defined and have some personality to them. Top-billed Lash (who appeared in the same director's sci-fi/western ALIEN OUTLAW the same year) also gets some nice moments, particularly at the end. The Indian designs themselves are pretty good and the film has a sense of humor (though I could have done without a few slapstick moments involving the zombies and some dumb flatulance jokes). There's a decapitation, a throat slashing, lots of arrow hits and some other bloody moments, plus one topless scene. The film does start out a little slow, but hang in there, it gets better.

The VHS release was from Magnum and it's also on DVD from VCI Home Video.


Garfield's Halloween Adventure (1985)

... aka: Garfield in Disguise

Directed by:
Phil Roman

Review coming soon.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dead of Night (1977)

Directed by:
Dan Curtis

Just like TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) a year earlier, this made-for-TV anthology features three tales; two of which are only fair and the last good enough to make the rest of it worth sitting through. Both films were from the team of director / producer Dan Curtis and writer Richard Matheson, who also collaborated on the excellent Kolchak films THE NIGHT STALKER (1971) and THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1972), as well as one of several 70s versions of DRACULA (1974), the werewolf tale SCREAM OF THE WOLF (1974) and others. Things begin with 'A Second Chance,' based on a short story by Jack (The Body Snatchers) Finney. Frank (Ed Begley Jr.) thinks he's lucked out purchasing an antique Jordan car for just 100 bucks. He restores it, takes it out on a drive and finds himself transported back to the year 1926, where preventing an accidental death may alter his modern day life. Despite being completely out of place in this particular anthology, this mild, sub- Twilight Zone supernatural tale (also featuring Christina Hart, Ann Doran and E.J. André) is maudlin and ponderous. If I wanted icky sentimentality, I'd rent something by Spielberg, not something called Dead of Night with a demon face on the cover. Moving on...

Next up we have the period-set vampire story 'No Such Thing As a Vampire' which as the title alludes might not even really involve vampires. Fragile Alexis (Anjanette Comer) is being driven to the brink by what she assumes are nightly vampire attacks. Well, she's been waking up with two puncture wounds on her neck and a little less blood than usual, at least. Her husband, Prof. Gheria (Patrick Macnee) is skeptical about the existence of vampires, so he invites over a friend named Michael (Horst Buchholz) to help watch over his wife, leading to one major (though not actually too surprising) twist. This one's certainly nothing to write home about, but the actors are fine and it's mildly entertaining. Familiar charactor actor Elisha Cook Jr. has a small (though semi-important) role as the superstitious butler.

Our fears of sitting through yet another underwhelming and utterly forgettable anthology are vanquished with the arrival of our final story 'Bobby." Obviously inspired by W.W. Jacobs' classic story 'The Monkey's Paw" (which has been filmed numerous times as early as 1915) this stars Joan Hackett as a grieving mother who uses black magic to bring her 'dead' son Bobby (Lee Montgomery) - who presumedly drowned but whose body was never found - back to life. Bobby shows up cold, wet and confused on her doorstep. She invites him in, gets him dried off, offers him something to eat... and then suddenly finds herself being terrorized by her once-docile and obedient little boy. This segment (fondly remembered by many who saw it on TV as kids) is suspenseful, has several genuinely creepy scenes and an effective, startling climax. Curtis and Matheson would even recycle the story for TRILOGY OF TERROR II (1996); which also marked the final time the two men would work together.

Originally released on VHS by ThrillerVideo (which included Elvira commentary), then reissued on video by Paramount. In 2009, Dark Sky Films finally released a nice-looking print to DVD. Extras on that include the unaired 1969 proposed pilot (A DARKNESS AT BLAISEDON) for a series also to be titled Dead of Night (another Curtis project!), as well as deleted scenes from the 'No Such Thing As a Vampire' segment, unused intro footage and voiceovers and some score highlight from composer Bob Cobert (who scored the majority of Curtis' stuff).


Monday, June 6, 2011

Gorgon Video Magazine: Volume 2 (1989)

... aka: Stuart S. Shapiro's Gorgon Video Magazine: Volume 2

Directed by:
Paul Bacca
Adam Cohen
Joe Horne
Todd Edan Miller
Evan Pendell
Rob Polich
Alexander Poppas
Charles Schneider
Stuart S. Shapiro
Garth Van Spruiell
Patricia Wadsley

Both this and the original GORGON VIDEO MAGAZINE provide a great look at what was going on in late 80s horror. I learned a lot of things I didn't know from watching both. Unfortunately, this second and final video magazine (a special Halloween edition again hosted by Michael Berryman and running 90 minutes) was never officially released to video stores. A series of screener copies however were sent out to a few places, which is how I was able to obtain a copy (which had "Screening Copy" on the bottom the entire time).

.....................................Starring your host... Michael Berryman!

Director Stuart Gordon says he wants to make movies that "amaze, astound and make you lose your cookies." He discusses the fall of Empire Pictures ("I felt lost..."), his background in live theater and with the successful Organic Theater Company, problems with the rating's board and how horror films help one deal with their own mortality. We get to see clips from RE-ANIMATOR (1985), DOLLS (1986), FROM BEYOND (1986) and ROBOT JOX (1989); the latter being the highest budgeted Empire Picture at 7 million dollars. We also get some rare 8mm film clips from Gordon's early b/w short Mental Illness for Fun + Profit. At the end of the interview, Gordon says that he's getting ready to shoot THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM and the slated stars are Peter O'Toole, Billy Dee Williams and Sherilyn Fenn (none of whom were actually in the cast once it was made).

.................................Director / writer / cookie loser Stuart Gordon.

Linnea Quigley demonstrates her scream and introduces our next segment on Penn and Teller. Naturally, Penn Gillette does all the talking... about how he and Teller were bored with modern magic ("it sucked!") and wanted to do something bold and different. We get to see clips from their starring vehicle PENN AND TELLER GET KILLED, as well as the secrets behind their Rat Cage trick. Penn cites Romero's zombie trilogy as the three most important horror/gore movies, calls When Harry Met Sally "a piece of absolute shit" and says of the MPAA that "They're trying to give more power to the half-assed gore movies - the Jason and the Michael Myers and the guys who have the studios behind them."

............................Shock magicians and Romero fanboys, Penn and Teller.

Next up with a scene from HALLOWEEN (1978) and director Dominique Othenin-Girard talks about the upcoming HALLOWEEN 5, which is ironic since several people in this documentary actually knock the series, as well as the Friday the 13th and Elm Street franchises. A segment on talented special effects artist Screaming Mad George (who took his name from Screaming Jay Hawkins) is up next. We get to see some of his work for POLTERGEIST II (1986), CURSE II: THE BITE (1989), SOCIETY (1989) and others, as well as his paintings, animation sequences he designed and some footage of one of his three (!) bands performing. He says his inspiration was looking at art books in 8th grade, particularly the work of Salvador Dali. Rob Bottin and Dick Smith, and their work on ALTERED STATES (1980) and THE THING (1982), got him interested in special effects.

..................The Screaming Mad George-designed snake-puker from Curse II: The Bite.

"The Galloping Gore-Met" (Charles Schneider) teaches us how to make karo syrup fake blood in the next segment. He'll show up another time at a later junction to show us how to make more realistic blood with chocolate syrup, food coloring, karo and water. A segment on Paragon Arts International follows and features interviews with co-founder Walter Josten, producers Joe Augustyn and Jeff Geoffray, director/writer Kevin S. Tenney and director Dominique Othenin-Girard again, plus clips from WITCHBOARD (1986), NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) and their upcoming release NIGHT ANGEL (1989). They also announce they'll be making WITCHBOARD 2 soon (which they did in 1992). Next up is a segment on sex-and-violence-filled underground Zap Comix, featuring interviews with Robert Crumb (subject of the award-winning 1994 documentary CRUMB), Victor Moscoso and S. Clay Wilson. Wilson claims the 80s are "more repressive" than the 60s and 70s, and says he doesn't think there are that many good films but says he likes THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), THE TENANT (1976) and ERASERHEAD (1977).

............................Comic book pioneer Robert Crumb ("Fritz the Cat," etc.)

....................................Some things are just too weird to pass up.

.........................Introducing Charles Schneider, er, The Galloping Gore-Met.

Alex Winter shows up to plug IMPACT VIDEO MAGAZINE and then we get to see some more adult-oriented trading cards on the market such as "Freakards," "Dinosaurs Attack!" and even "Death Cult: Jonestown Massacre Memorial Cards" (!!) Wes Craven pops up briefly to move us along to the next segment.

Gore Gazette's Rick Sullivan reviews the rare stalk-and-slash flick DEADLY OBSESSION (1989), giving in 3 skulls, shows Linnea's dance sequence from THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), giving the film four skulls, and likewise gives SUSPIRIA (1977) four skulls. I completely disagree with his 1 skull bashing of Chuck Vincent's (IMO) underrated psychological horror film (1987), though.

.......................Bride of Re-Animator director / producer / writer Brian Yuzna.

...........................Bride of Re-Animator's Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs).

...............................Bride of Re-Animator's Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale).

Next we get to go on the set of BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR (1989). Director Brian Yuzna, special effects artist Tom Rainone, actors Jeffrey Combs and David Gale (who passed away in 1991) and others are interviewed. Some weird performance art piece (featuring some kind of wailing monster with a blood spurting eyeball) titled "Fashion Show" follows. A plug for Sinister cinema releases set at a drive-in is up next and we get scenes from HORROR HOTEL (1960) and THE DEVIL'S PARTNER (1961). Finally, "Home Horrors from Hell" features a scene from something called Splatter Girls, a "cannibal musical" shot with a camcorder.


Gorgon Video Magazine (1989)

... aka: Gorgon Video Magazine: Volume 1
... aka: Stuart S. Shapiro's Gorgon Video Magazine

Directed by:
John O. Francis Jr.
Joe Horne
Charles Schneider
Stuart S. Shapiro
Tom Stern
Patricia Wadsley
Alex Winter

Remember Gorgon Video? During the VHS era of the 80s and early 90s, they were primarily known as the studio who released the notorious FACE OF DEATH series to home video. But that's not all they did. They also released other genre films from around the world (including such titles as BAY OF BLOOD and SLAUGHTER HOTEL) and even made this home video magazine featuring what was hot back in 1989. Michael Berryman (dressed in his HILLS HAVE EYES garb) makes a bunch of hilariously bizarre facial expressions as our very enthusiastic, expressive host and introduces each segment in front of movie clips. We also get occasional animated segments from John O. Francis Jr. and Joe Horne thrown in. The first segment is about "the crown prince of horror" Wes Craven. The interview is conducted around the set of SHOCKER (1989). Craven talks about creative freedom, what's great about working on horror films, dealing with censorship and what turned this former "church-goer" and "working class kid from Cleveland, Ohio" into a horror filmmaker. Clips from 90-thousand-budgeted hit LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977), which apparently failed theatrically because many theaters refused to show it, are shown. Craven also states that his TV movie debut CHILLER (1985) failed when it was knocked down to a 11 pm time slot because of a championship basketball game and says that the only film that he submitted to the MPA that was passed uncut was THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988).

.......................................Why can't this guy host The Oscars?

.....................Undoubtedly horror's most mild-mannered director - Wes Craven.

The talented guys from KNB (Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger) are next. They discuss getting their starts in special effects, what's appealing about horror and how most of their fx work was cut from the R-rated version of INTRUDER (1988). We also get a look behind-the-scenes at KNB Fx Facility and see some of the effects they designed for such films as CREEPSHOW 2 (1987) and THE HORROR SHOW (1989).

.............Linnea Quigley took her parents to the premiere of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.

"Queen of the B's" Linnea Quigley is up next to talk about her career (and what her parents think of her career). Here we get some nice clips from HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1987), SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA (1987), NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) and LINNEA QUIGLEY'S HORROR WORKOUT (1989). Following her is a segment on Troma's Lloyd Kaufman. He discusses the start of the studio (their first release was SUGAR COOKIES) and problems with censorship (a recurring theme here). According to him, horror filmmakers are unfairly singled out by the rating's board and Troma is treated worse than most studios. We also get clips from Troma releases THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984), THE TOXIC AVENGER, PART II (1988) and EVIL CLUTCH (1988).

....................The MPAA's favorite whipping boy, Lloyd Kaufman, in the early days.

Gore Gazette's Rick Sullivan then gets his own review segment. The verdict? BAD TASTE (1987), VICIOUS (1988) and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) all get 4 skulls on the "gore barometer" and poor CAMERON'S CLOSET (1987) gets... just 1. Getting burnt out on all the clips yet? Well they even throw in a weird/bloody performance art segment featuring a female singer (Lia Niskanen) performing a song in French ("Sans Amour") and then ripping her head open.

Clips from A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) and ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959) are shown during a dedication to drive-in movies, which turns out to basically be a plug for the Sinister Cinema catalogue. In a segment co-directed by Alex Winter (of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure fame), shock rockers GWAR ("They make Alice Cooper look like Sesame Street!") are profiled. We also meet an embarrassing group of "GWAR Slaves;" a bunch of drugged out weirdos who do things like get dismembered and puke on stage and use irritating phrases like "gigantic genitaliatica" and "necrophlic butt sex." Next up are previews for DEATH SPA (1987), GIRLFRIEND FROM HELL (1989) and JUDGEMENT DAY (1989). Finally we get a flurry of VHS covers of the movies we've just seen, along with their distributors.

....................................Wonder how this would look on a resume?

Unlike some other documentaries and video mags from back in the day, this is informative, well made, entertaining, very much still worth watching and a nice trip down memory lane to a much simpler time with a much smaller community of actors, directors, producers, writers and fx guys slogging away in an oft-maligned subgenre. It's also nice to note that Berryman, Craven, Kaufman, Quigley and KNB all still enjoy success in the genre over 20 years after this was made.

GORGON VIDEO MAGAZINE: VOLUME 2 was also made the same year and was never officially released to video stores, though a few screener copies were released. Gorgon also made IMPACT VIDEO MAGAZINE (1989), which covered art, music, news and political satire and was hosted by Winter. Included there were music acts Public Enemy, Jane's Addiction and Butthole Surfers, more animation from Joe Horne, underground painter and co-founder of Zap Comix Robert Williams, comedian Bill Hicks, Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, some performance art (including a recycling of the "Sans Amour" act seen here) and the short BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA. It was hosted by Alex Winter.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stranger Left No Card, The (1952)

Directed by:
Wendy Toye

Alan Badel
(who narrates) stars as a peculiar, bearded, presumably mute man with bushy eyebrows and baggy patchwork clothes who shows up one sunny day in a small town. Merrily twirling his umbrella as he prances through the streets wowing the children with showers of confetti and magic tricks, the man manages to turn the heads of everyone he encounters and charms all of the townspeople in just a week's time. But the strange, unknown vagrant (who is jokingly referred to as Napoleon after signing Napoleon Bonaparte on a hotel register) is actually up to something much more sinister, which involves a wealthy and corrupt banker named Mr. Lathan (Cameron Hall).

A very well-done b/w short written by Sidney Carroll; this manages to alternate between amusing and eerie and packs more mystery and intrigue into its 23-minute run-time than most feature length films. It's nicely photographed, has a deceptively whimsical music score from Muir Mathieson, is a great showcase for silken-voiced British stage actor Badel (who claimed to do films only when he needed money) and concludes with a clever open ending. Director Toye and Badel would re-team for the even-better short 'In the Picture' (contained in the 1955 anthology THREE CASES OF MURDER) a few years later. Toye would also remake The Stranger for the TV series Tales of the Unexpected. That version starred Derek Jacobi and was also the debut of a very young Jennifer Connelly. Stranger won the Best Fictional Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival and played several times on 50's TV on the program Omnibus.

Never officially available on either VHS or DVD, this film is available for view on YouTube (see below) and is highly recommended.

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