Thursday, August 25, 2011

Host, The (1960)

Directed by:
Jack Hill

Made while director Jack Hill was still a student, this black-and-white short (which runs about half an hour) is rumored to have been the inspiration behind the third act of APOCALYPSE NOW (Francis Ford Coppola was one of Hill's classmates at UCLA). It also marks the film debut of actor Sid Haig, who'd be a popular exploitation film supporting player throughout the 60s and 70s before gaining a new generation of fans in the 2000s thanks primarily to his frequent casting in Rob Zombie movies (his "Captain Spaulding" from HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS is probably one of the more popular genre characters of the new millennium). Hill and Haig made a grand total of eight films together (most of which were produced by Roger Corman), including the wonderfully demented, blackly comic SPIDER BABY (1964), the frequently messy, very interesting and sometimes even brilliant vampire tale BLOOD BATH aka TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE (1966), the classic 'blaxploitation' Pam Grier vehicles COFFY (1973) and FOXY BROWN (1974) and several women-in-prison films that helped laid down the foundation for dozens of future chicks-in-chains releases.

Haig plays an unnamed fugitive from a Mexican prison who's riding around somewhere in the desert when he comes across an old, large, crumbling house. He goes in looking for water and ends up meeting a beautiful, bizarre-acting Indian woman (Sharon Bercutt) as well as a crazed Spaniard (Joseph Hanwright). The Spaniard immediately tries to shoot him, but he jumps for cover. The Indian woman follows him inside, mutters something about how her people are afraid to come out because of the man and how they believe he's preventing rain and thus keeping their corn crop from growing. She also encourages him to kill the guy. After being shot at a few more times, Haig obliges by poking out the Spaniard's eyeball with a tree branch and then bludgeoning him to death. That evening, the Indian woman's tribe (all wearing hoods) emerge from the shadows to dismember the corpse with machetes. Haig begins to think he's struck it rich when he discovers gold and jewels there the following day, but then realizes the Indians may have other ideas in mind.

Aside from the curio value of seeing Hill and Haig get their start, this certainly isn't anything to write home about. It's a typical student film done within the limitations of a student film budget and might remind one of a lesser Twilight Zone episode. The photography is OK and there are a few nice images (particularly at the very beginning), but the storyline is muddled and confusing, the acting is amateurish and the score is a bit overbearing. Hill also edited it. The assistant director was Egyptian-born Farouk Agrama, who'd go on to make several horror features himself (under the name Frank Agrama), such as QUEEN KONG (1976) and DAWN OF THE MUMMY (1981).

The film has been restored and can be found as an extra on the SWITCHBLADE SISTERS DVD (released by Rolling Thunder Pictures in 2000).


Vahset kasirgasi (1985)

... aka: Brutal Storm

Directed by:
Kadir Akgün

In Turkey during the 70s and 80s, their crazy ass film industry cranked out dozens of cheapies which directly copied films from other countries. And by directly, I mean often line-for-line and scene-for-scene. In essence, these films were actually remakes. Apparently, it was assumed that these films would never, ever leave the country (and apparently the original versions would never enter!) so they had no fear of being sued for copyright infringement or plagiarism. Copies of these inferior clones eventually started to leak out; some were actually released to VHS in countries such as Greece and Germany, then they began showing up as black market tapes and then bootleg DVDs in the U.S. and now some have popped up on the internet. Some were copies of hit blockbusters, such as The Exorcist (or as they called it, SEYTAN), Jaws, Young Frankenstein, E.T., Star Wars and Rambo, but some of their choices for films to remake were downright bizarre. I've already seen and reviewed THIRSTY FOR LOVE, SEX AND MURDER (1972), which was a carbon copy of the not-especially-well known Italian giallo THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1971). And now I've seen Brutal Storm, which copycats the barely-known Spanish chiller IT HAPPENED AT NIGHTMARE INN (1973), of all things.

Nightmare Inn (which is actually a pretty good film) starred Aurora Bautista and Esperanza Roy as, respectively, sanctimonious, bitter, hypocritical and controlling Marta and the weak and passive Veronica; a pair of murderous, middle-aged, ultra-religious sisters who own and operate an inn located in a popular tourist area and butcher women they view as being of loose moral character. This film features sanctimonious, bitter, hypocritical and controlling Naide (Nur Incegül) and weak and passive Cahide (Leyla Akin), who (surprise) own and operate an inn located in a popular tourist area and (even more surprisingly) butcher women they view as being of loose moral character. But hey, according to the opening narration; There are only two kinds of people in this world; the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous. The sisters are first scene hacking up a side of beef with cleavers while bitching about the "naked tourists invading our town" and how they'll all burn in hell. One of their female boarders, Hale, is caught sunbathing topless on the roof. During a scuffle, Naide screams "You sinful bitch!" and pushes her down the stairs, where she's impaled on a bronze statue. Instead of going to the police, the ladies decide to hack up the corpse and throw the pieces into an oven.

Nightmare Inn also featured blonde British actress Judy Geeson as Laura; a woman who shows up at the inn looking for answers when her sister disappears. This one features a blonde girl named Nalan, who shows up there looking for answers after her friend goes missing. Nalan is told that her friend has already checked out but is skeptical of that, rents a room and starts snooping around. Another free-spirited, obnoxious (and loud) girl named Dilek gets under the sisters' skin by constantly laughing, being drunk, making fake lesbian advances at Naide, running around in her bikini and dancing for men on the beach. Naide stabs her to death. Songül (Songül Gündüz), a single woman with an infant daughter, comes along next and Naide doesn't seem to appreciate the fact that the baby may have been born out of wedlock. Eventually realizing that three unexplained disappears probably means that something is seriously wrong, Nalan (who'd already been kicked out for asking too many questions) decides to check back in with her male friend Kaya (posing as her fiancée) to investigate some more.

The film seldom strays from the original source material. It's also technically inept. I'm not entirely sure (because the quality of the version I saw was in such poor shape), but this appears to have been shot on video. It's full of zoom shots, lingering shots of people at the beach, poor editing cuts, poor lighting, horribly inappropriate music cues and filler scenes that seem to last an eternity. There are several scenes of the characters walking down the street that go on for minutes and another of Naide walking through a field feeling herself up (after watching a couple have sex) that never seems to end. Aside from the husky-voiced Incegül (who also appeared in Bloody Mansion of Death for the same director) as the nastier of the two sisters, the acting is pretty bad. There are two topless scenes (one from the sunbather and another a shower scene) and a couple of bloody moments (including a decapitation).

One of the most memorable aspects of this film is the music score. The movie not only lifts its plot, dialogue and characters from another film, it also steals music from at least a dozen other films! Music from the first three Halloween movies makes up the bulk of it, but you can also hear snippets from other films, such as Deep Red, Cannibal Holocaust, Friday the 13th Part 3 (yes, the opening disco theme lives again!) and others. Nalan even attends a dance party at one point, where they play the Ghostbusters theme song! I didn't recognize all of the music, though. Some of it sounds lifted from an action movie (or movies) and doesn't fit the material at all. The film would get a lower rating if it wasn't all so funny.


El aullido del diablo (1987)

... aka: Howl of the Devil

Directed by:
Paul Naschy

Famous horror actor Peter Kerensky aka Alex Doriani (Señor Naschy) supposedly committed suicide. Not long after, his notoriously unfaithful wife Lorena (Isabel Prinz) died from an overdose of heroine; orphaning their young son Adrian (Naschy's real-life son Sergio Molina, as "Serge Mill"). Adrian is now in the care of Alex's twin brother Hector (also Naschy), an egotistical, abusive, failed actor who's been in and out of mental institutions and is still bitter over the fact he was never able to achieve his brother's success. Hector is also a pervert and sadist who enjoys drugging women and then forcing them to participate in his twisted sex games. The women often walk away rattled but physically unharmed, but are immediately butchered by a gloved killer as soon as they leave his crumbling, remote mansion home. Also sharing space there is Eric (Howard Vernon), a chauffeur and servant who formerly worked for Alex and has now resigned himself to Hector's sick ways (one of his chief responsibilities is running out and fetching prostitutes for his master to play with and then throwing them out of the home). Though he's rumored to be a necrophile and often uses black magic to keep in contact with the spirit of Alex, Eric isn't such a bad guy after all, as he's kind to Adrian and ultimately wants to oversee the downfall of Hector.

Another frequent presence in the home is Carmen (Caroline Munro), an attractive cook and maid. Despite the fact she's disgusted by Hector's constant attempts to proposition her and buy her hand in marriage, Carmen sticks around because she's desperate for money to care for her ailing, elderly parents and has motherly affection toward poor, young Adrian, who is forbidden to go to school, have friends or live an otherwise normal life by his uncle. Instead, Adrian has retreated to a fantasy world with a bunch of make-believe friends... they're all monsters... and they're all played by Naschy! So in addition to getting to play twin brothers (including one who enjoys dressing up as Rasputin, Marquis de Sade and Fu Manchu, and the other who appears as a pale ghost), Naschy also gets to play Mr. Hyde, The Frankenstein Monster, The Phantom of the Opera, Quasimodo, a rotting zombie, Satan and even his most-famous horror character; the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky.

Carmen has made the mistake of having an brief affair with local priest Father Damián (Fernando Hilbeck), and now he continues to lust after her, regardless of the fact she's called the whole thing off. Damián won't take no for an answer, starts researching into the pasts of both the Doriani brothers and Eric and has even paid off drunken bum Zacarías (Cris Huerta) to spy on the Doriani home. During one scene, Carmen has a nightmare referencing both FRIDAY THE 13TH and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, where a masked man threatens to cut off her legs with a chainsaw.

Nearly all of the male characters are big time misogynists with dialogue like "Bitches! You use them and then throw them away!," so they're all suspects when the females start dropping like flies. A woman sitting in a car outside the Doriani home has her neck sawed open. A foul-mouthed prostitute who just indulged Hector's Rasputin fantasy is stabbed while walking home, a pot-smoking female camper has her throat cut while taking a piss, a female thief gets gutted and another woman looking for her missing sister is killed after having her nipple threatened by a poisonous snake. Someone sneaks into the morgue and dismembers one of the bodies with a chainsaw. Brigitte (Roberta Kuhn), a French student and writer actually enjoys being drugged, tied up and threatened with a knife. She shows up a second time only to get impaled while taking a bath. By the way, this has full nudity from four different women and naturally, being the ladies man he is (or at least fancies himself to be!), Mr. Naschy gets love scenes with most of them.

It's an incredibly busy and fast-paced film, and certainly no masterpiece, but it's fun and very entertaining. There are many enjoyable references to Naschy's career and his reputation as a horror star, the acting is pretty good, the story is entertaining, the characters are well-drawn, it delivers when it comes to sex and violence and there's even one of those great 80s synthesizer scores. Well, great, if you enjoy them! It's impossible to really evaluate the production quality since the version I watched looked like a second or third generation dupe recorded off of TV.

Unfortunately, this film was never English-dubbed or even released in America (to theaters or to video)... and for the life of me, I don't understand why. The film not only boasts Naschy (who also co-wrote and co-produced) in more roles than most genre legends play during their entire career, but also internationally-known actors Munro and Vernon, plus it's actually better than many of Naschy's earlier films that have received deluxe DVD treatments here in recent years. Oh well, maybe one day.

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