Friday, September 30, 2011

Brotherhood of Satan, The (1970)

... aka: Come in Children

Directed by:
Bernard McEveety

I was expecting another mediocre 70s Satanism movie (thanks to the middling reviews this often receives) and instead got a invigorating, thoroughly entertaining, visually beautiful and sometimes even surreal take on the subgenre that's full of small and unexpected surprises. While it may crib ideas from such varied sources as VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) and ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), this manages to differentiate itself - in both story and presenation - and finds its own unique tone in the process. It's also expertly paced, has some very interesting art direction and vivid lighting and boasts a smart, nicely-layered script that immediately starts building intrigue through ambiguity before revealing too much of the actual plot. Things begin with a perplexing sequence of a toy tank, followed by a real tank rolling over a car and crushing an entire family. Well, aside from a little boy, who miraculously manages to walk away from the wreckage completely unscathed to join some other blank-faced children.

Vacationing engineer Ben (Charles Bateman), a widower from California, along with his young daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) and girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) are driving through the desert when they pick up strange static over the radio. They stumble upon the crushed car and the bloody remains of the people inside, and then drive off for help. Upon arriving in the small town called Hillsboro, the family encounters an uncooperative cop who doesn't seem the least bit interested in the accident and are immediately chased away by a mob of armed, crazed townspeople. They get in the car, take off and end up swerving and crashing to avoid hitting a little girl who seems to materialize out of thin air in the middle of the road. Now they have no choice but to head back to Hillsboro to find a mechanic. Before they do, we bear witness to a strange scene of a possessed doll using supernatural powers to kill a couple. Afterward, the couple's children wander off the join the same children who appeared at the accident site.

Ben, Nicky and K.T. finally end up getting some information about the strange events that have been unfolding in Hillsboro. Prior to their arrival, twenty-six people had been slaughtered in just 72 hours, and nearly every child between the ages of 6 and 9 have disappeared. Even stranger, some kind of malevolent supernatural force has kept anyone from entering or leaving the town for three whole days. Well, with the sole exception of Ben and company. As we later learn, there's a shortage of little girls of the appropriate age in the area... and eventually K.T. is among the missing children. Ben and Nicky set out to discover just what in the hell (pun intended) is going on. They're joined by the genial town physician Doc Duncan (Strother Martin), the frustrated Sheriff Pete (L.Q. Jones) and his deputy Tobey (Alvy Moore), as well as a priest (Charles Knox Robinson), who is doubted by everyone at the beginning and then ends up going a little crazy after witnessing a decapitation. I'm not going to reveal much more about the plot aside from mentioning it involves soul transference and a "circle of thirteen" devil cult.

If this had been made in any country other than the United States, it would be praised for its highly stylized and colorful lighting and amazing art direction. In fact, I strongly suspected that Dario Argento saw this movie before he made his critically-acclaimed SUSPIRIA (1977). The two not only share basic plot similarities but also feature a surprisingly similar color pallette and very abstract production design. Brotherhood also boasts one of the strangest children's parties I've seen (complete with a hooded Satanist delivering some black-and-red cake), plus has a long, artsy and truly bizarre nightmare sequence and other memorable moments. The ending is also unexpected and excellent.

It was produced by co-stars Jones and Moore. The DVD (a handsome print) is available through Columbia TriStar.


Curtains (1982)

Directed by:
"Jonathan Styker" (Richard Ciupka)

Here's yet another Canadian entry in the early 80s slasher cycle. It's from the same producer of PROM NIGHT (1980) and is less famous than most others in its subgenre, such as TERROR TRAIN (1979) or MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981). The production history was a troubled one. Curtains actually began filming in 1980, but production was shut down for upwards of a year. One of the main roles was recast, there were numerous re-shoots and the completed film (which certainly shows all the tell-tale signs of its checkered past) wasn't even released in 1983. The reviews were dismal, the producer claims to have filmed at least half of the movie sans credit and the director opted to have his name removed from the credits (and replaced by the name of the film's fictitious director character 'Jonathan Stryker'). Everything opens somewhat promisingly. Famous actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) is set to star as a madwoman in a thriller called Audra. Director and frequent collaborator Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) brings her into an insane asylum, where she promptly attacks him with a knife, is restrained and put in a straight jacket by the hospital staff. Turns out that Samantha and Jonathan has just faked everything so she can be locked away and 'research' her upcoming role. However, Jonathan decides to just leave Samantha in the nuthouse and cast someone else as Audra.

A casting call is placed in Variety and Jonathan narrows down the possible leads to six actresses, who are summoned to a remote, snowbound mansion for an extended period of time to try out for the role. Amongst the candidates for the high-profile gig are wisecracking, pot-smoking stand-up comedienne Patti O'Connor (Lynne Griffin, from the superior Canadian slasher BLACK CHRISTMAS), fragile dancer Laurian Summers (Anne Ditchburn) and naive champion figure skater Christie Burns (Lesleh Donaldson, from FUNERAL HOME). There's also miserable, desperate veteran actress Brooke Parsons (Linda Thorson, who was best known for replacing Diana Rigg on the last few seasons of The Avengers), who's been hitting the bottle a little too hard recently and claims she "would kill for the part," and magazine centerfold Tara DeMillo ("Sandra Warren" aka Sandee Currie, from the aforementioned Terror Train), who's not above using her feminine wiles to secure the role. The sixth actress, Amanda (Deborah Burgess), is getting bored of acting out rape and pizza delivery boy fantasies with her boyfriend. Good thing for her some psycho sneaks into her apartment and stabs her to death before she even has a chance to make it to Stryker's audition. Meanwhile, Samantha has managed to escape from the mental institution with help from her friend.

Stryker (who seems most interested in bedding the hopefuls than actually casting the movie), an already-cast lead actor (Michael Wincott), the five remaining actresses and Samantha (who shows up presumably to either fight for the role of Audra - after all she was the one who purchased the rights to it - or get revenge on Stryker) end up stranded at the mansion after a bad snow storm. A killer decked out in a wrinkly old lady mask and stringy wig begins bumping them off one by one. Naturally, there are no shortage of suspects, as basically everyone has a possible reason to either trim the competition or ruin the production before it can actually begin.

Most of the actors are talented, the killer's mask is pretty creepy-looking and there are a handful of effective scenes; including the asylum scenes with Eggar (aside from several visible boom mic shots) and a great sequence on an ice rink where the killer skates toward one of his/her victims brandishing a scythe. There's also a chase scene inside a room full of movie props which lasts a whopping twelve minutes if you're into that kind of thing. Otherwise, this is a tame, middling, dreary film with mediocre writing and pacing issues. Very slow-moving for the duration of its runtime, this starts getting a bit chaotic toward the end. In recent years, many slasher fans have elevated this to classic status (possibly because of its obscurity for several decades and belated release to DVD), but I can't say that I personally agree. It's watchable, with some good moments sprinkled throughout, but ultimately nothing special. I'd still like to see a better quality version and will reevaluate it if I do. Maury Chaykin and Kate Lynch (the stars of DEF-CON 4) have small roles.

Trivia Note: Future Playboy Playmate of the Year, late night cable soft-core queen and Mrs. Gene Simmons, Shannon Tweed, provided some brief topless body doubling.

The DVD I watched (which was a poor, dark transfer from a VHS source) was released by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment. It's contained on their release "The Midnight Horror Collection: Bloody Slashers" and is paired on one disc with HOBOKEN HOLLOW (2005), SECRETS OF THE CLOWN (2007) and ROOM 33 (2009).


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sweet Movie (1974)

Directed by:
Dusan Makavejev

Only in the 1970s would something as outrageous, bizarre, challenging and shocking as this surreal sociopolitical satire (influenced by the theories of Austrian-American psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich) fly in the mainstream. This movie (which debuted at Cannes to much controversy and usually scathing reviews) is perplexing, surprising, subversive and wildly fluctuates between being very sharp and funny to being very base, crude and revolting. So I'll just lay it all out there right here at the beginning; much of this film went right over my head. I picked up on some of the jabs taken at the media's obsession with sex, the hopelessness of just about every political movement (Communism and capitalism are both targets) and how - regardless of what life may throw at you and whatever shit (pardon the foreshadowing) you have to deal with - life still has its sweet moments, after all. This is just one of those movies you watch, have your own theories about while you're watching it and then immediately hop online to read what everyone else has made of it. The DVD from The Criterion Collection thankfully comes with an interview with the director where he clears some of this up for us.

At the televised Miss World 1984 contest, elderly Martha Applenow (Jane Mallett), chairwoman of the Chastity Belt Foundation, tells women how to control their vaginal muscles during "these sick times." The contest is looking for the purest, most desirable, prominent and well-preserved virgin in the world and the winner will be awarded a hand in marriage to Martha's multi-billionaire milk magnate son (played by John Vernon). Since Miss Canada's (Carole Laure) vagina is so squeaky clean it actually glows (and she's been "certified pure" by the in-house gynecologist), she takes home the crown. Miss Canada is then whisked away to a mansion, where on her wedding night, she freaks out after seeing her new husband's gold penis (and he pisses all over her with it). Demanding a divorce, Martha and her male companion (Robin Gammell) attempt to drown her, then instruct their muscular black servant Jeremiah (Roy Callender) to get rid of her. He manages to get a manual assist from the virgin before he karate chops her, sticks her in a suitcase and ships her off to Europe.

Meanwhile, communist female boat captain Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal) is cruising around in a boat with an amazing giant head of Karl Marx on the front. A young sailor named Potemkin (Pierre Clementi) keeps following her on land and finally comes on board, pronouncing "I am your new lover!" The two get busy on deck in front of howling crowds on shore. The sailor proclaims that "The world is full of corpses" and then the film cuts to some disturbing black-and-white footage from the 1940s Katyn Forest Death Camp where soldiers exhume a mass grave containing the bodies of four-thousand Polish prisoners who were murdered and buried there. Later, Anna murders her lover in a vat or sugar and then invites a group of young boys on board, tempting them with an endless supply of candy, and performs a striptease for them (before killing them).

Upon arrival overseas, Miss Canada ends up meeting a Mexican film star (Sami Frey) in Paris, has sex with him in front of the Eiffel Tower and the two end up getting stuck together after being frightened by some nuns. They're taken to a restaurant and eventually separated. Then (in a near-catatonic state) she's carted off in a wheelbarrow full of lettuce to Otto Mühl's Friedrichshof artist's commune. There, a woman immediately breastfeeds her. At dinner, the commune members behave like pigs, throw food at each other, spit food in each other's faces (and into their mouths), puke and eat raw meat and a cow tongue. One guy fake castrates himself. Another guy drinks urine right from the tap. And it gets worse from there, during some regressive scatalogical therapy sequence. And here's a good time to redirect you to my reviews of MANOPSYCHOTISCHES BALLET (1970) and OH, SENSIBILITY (1970) if you'd like to learn more about Mühl and the Vienna Actionists movement.

Lead actress Laure (who'd go on to become a popular singer in Canada) quit the film before completion after being subjected to the commune's antics (plus having to suck on a breast and rub a flaccid penis on her face). Still, I have to say she was pretty courageous to hang in there for as long as she did and I seriously doubt any mainstream actresses of today would go as far as she does here. After Laure bailed, the subplot with Prucnal (also giving a daring performance) was added. Because of her participation in this movie, Prucnal was had her Visa revoked and was exiled from her home country Poland for seven years!

The film ends in an interesting erotic sequence mixing sex, death and food, as a nude Lauren sensually writhes around in a pool of melted chocolate.

Part of the true appeal of this film to a contemporary audience is knowing that a movie like this will never be made again; at least not at this scope and with these kind of production values. I certainly can't recommend it to everyone out there; especially those who like a cohesive narrative and/or have a weak stomach, but it's well-made, thought provoking, often very funny and filled with eye-popping images that you know you won't soon be forgetting once you've seen them.


El asesino no está solo (1975)

... aka: Killer is Not Alone, The
... aka: Murderer is Not Alone, The

Directed by:
Jesús García de Dueñas

A young man picks up a prostitute and cuts her throat with a wire. The killer, dubbed "The Wire Strangler" by the press, is a lonely, shy, timid, well-mannered young man named Julio (David Carpenter), who comes from a well-to-do family, likes frankfurters and rhinocerus' and suffers from some sort of childhood trauma (which we get flashes of throughout the movie) that prevents him from being intimate with women (and leads him to murder those who want to be intimate with him). His parents are, and presumably always have been, too preoccupied with work and travel to pay him much mind and he was often left in the care of others growing up. Julio runs off to Madrid to try to start over again after his latest murder, and goes to stay at a hostel run by Dolores (Lola Flores), a single mother and flamenco dance teacher. The other residents at the hostel are a pretty ecclectic bunch. There's a mystery novel writer, a skirt-chaser who sits around reading girlie magazines at the dinner table and likes to spy on one of the women undressing, an elderly retired doctor, a woman who secretly works as a prostitute and others, and they often sit around discussing the killer and his crimes; hypothesizing about what might be making him kill.

Dolores' gorgeous teenage daughter Mónica (Teresa Rabal), who's getting a bit frustrated by her mother's controlling and sheltering ways plus the fact she has to work long hours to supplement the family income, begins hanging out with Julio on a regular basis. The two share some common interests (she particularly likes the fact he doesn't talk too much) and a romance starts to blossom, which means she's inadventently putting herself in peril. Dolores frowns upon the union, but primarily because she suffers from empty nest syndrome and doesn't want to be left alone. Meanwhile, David's father Enrique (James Philbook) starts to worry about his son and travels to Madrid to try to hunt him down.

Compared to other European serial killer tales from this time, this takes an interesting approach to the material, though it has obviously been heavily influenced by the 1944 classic The Lodger. It's much more interesting seeing an absentee father investigating his own son than some random detectives. He finds out that his son's best friend Ernesto (Antonio Mayans) hadn't actually seen his son for two years, that Julio degraded a girl (María José Cantudo) who liked him and that a woman he entrusted to take care of him while he and his wife were away in Japan all summer may have been the one to traumatize him. There are obtuse flashbacks involving the sound of bells, close-ups of hair and someone kicking over a model train, plus lots of religious imagery (it takes place during some kind of religious ceremony / parade, where people are dragging crosses through the streets and such). There are also some artistic fantasy sequences of Julio in bed with various women (and a mannequin) and an appropriately melancholic score.

All of the actors do a decent job in their respective parts. Co-star Maria Rohm is interestingly cast playing three different characters; the opening murder victim, the prostitute living at the boarding house and Julio's childhood babysitter (and sports a different hair color in each role; red, blonde and mousy brunette, respectively). Rohm was of course best known for her evocative performances in the Jess Franco films VENUS IN FURS (1968) and EUGENIE... THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1969). Though a fine actresss (and a very attractive one), her career only lasted about ten years. In fact, The Killer is Not Alone would end up being her final genre film appearance before she retired. Rohm was married to producer Harry Alan Towers until his death in 2009 and would go on to help produce some of these films herself, including the sleazy Anthony Perkins vehicle Edge of Sanity (1989) and Pact with the Devil (2001) with Malcolm McDowell. Fans of Rohm will certainly want to hunt this title down.

The boyishly handsome Carpenter (born: Domingo Codesido Hernández) also appeared in Eloy de la Iglesias' MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (1973), got to play Tarzan in a 1974 film which also featured Nadiuska and Paul Naschy and retired from film altogether in 1979. He passed away in 2006. Philbrook had starred in Sound of Horror (1966) and this turned out to be his final film. Flores was best known as a dancer and singer. There are many familiar Spanish character actors (José Vivó, Ángel Menéndez, Luis Ciges, etc.) in smaller roles. It was a very atypical film for the director, who mostly made documentaries.

Never released in America; theatrically or on a home viewing format, this solid psycho-drama would make for an interesting and worthy DVD release.

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