Saturday, August 27, 2011

Midnight Intruders (1973)

... aka: Wife, The

Directed by:
Gary Graver

Striking metaphors abound in the deeply artistic opening sequence as shots of a couple making love is inter-cut with airplanes rolling down the runway, blasting off into the air and yes, finally landing. Or is that just an easy way to eat up six minutes of screen time in a film that runs just shy of an hour? You be the judge. After the hilariously dubbed-in "ewws!," "ahhs!," "uhhs" and "oh yeahs!" subside, the man heads straight for the bathroom and is shown shutting the door no less than four times. Why? I have no clue, but doing it four times certainly takes a little longer than just doing it just once. We learn that the love birds are actually a married couple; Alan (Alain Mayniel) and Alice (Francoise Darc) Savage, and they're having some problems in their relationship. Alan is about to head out to San Diego on a business trip, and makes sure to chew Alice out on the way to the airport for not pressing his sports jacket. What's a woman to do? Well if you're Alice, you find solace in the arms of one of L.A.'s biggest man-whores (Alexandre Chapuies) while hubby is out making sure the bills get paid.

Upon returning home, Alice phones up lover boy (who happens to be in bed with two other women when she calls), starts talking dirty to him and convinces him to come over. The two have sex in the sauna, then move on to the bed where he rubs lotion on her feet and then simulates sex by sticking his finger in between her greasy toes over and over again (seriously? yuck). The two start going at it again in front of the mirror and then go at it a third time ("Let's do it Roman style!"), little realizing that her husband has finished up his meeting early and will be catching a midnight flight home. While Alice and her lover are having sex for a fourth time in the shower, Alan barges in on them. The two men get into a fight, Alan smashes the gigolo in the head with an ashtray and stuffs the body in the closet. He then comes after Alice and tries to stick her hand down the garbage disposal, so she stabs him to death and sticks his body in another closet. And then something truly amazing happen... the film actually becomes interesting for about fifteen minutes!

A pair of cat burglars, a man (Tom Hart) and a woman with the craziest, biggest hair I've ever seen (Lyllah Torena), break into the home through a sky light on the roof. They steal money, terrorize poor Alice with a gun, stick her arm under scalding hot water and then shoot her up with heroin. These sequences completely stand out from the comparably boring soft porn first forty minutes by employing distorted sounds, strange music and even stranger experimental camera angles to capture a truly demented, nightmarish feel. Some shots are out of focus, the camera bobs back and forth right into characters faces and even tilts backwards 180 degrees at one point. Unfortunately, once the burglars are out of the picture, the film becomes dull and inept once again. Special cautionary note to all you psychos: It's probably not a good idea to speed when you have a dead body in the trunk of your car.

Aside from the burglar sequence, this movie is all about sex. The lead actress (who seems like she's about to burst out laughing during all five of her sex scenes) is fully nude throughout the film and the extremely deep, slowed-down male lover's special sex voice is hysterically funny on lines like "You sure do have a nice ass, baby" and "Hang on lover, you're gonna go for a ride." There are tons of super-tight close-ups of kissing and the dialogue is so porn-level raunchy at some points I'm not going to repeat it here.

Director/writer/d-o-p Graver (who passed away a few years back) had a long, diverse and very interesting career, which involved acting in numerous horror and exploitation films (including several for Al Adamson) and being an extremely prolific cinematographer on various B pictures (such as THE TOOLBOX MURDERS) and even most of Orson Welles' later projects. In addition, he worked steadily as a assistant/second unit director and editor. Under the name "Robert McCallum," Graver also made nearly 100 hardcore porn features, some of which garnered him top adult film awards and are now considered classics. He didn't direct quite as many mainstream films, but did leave us with the terrorized-babysitter chiller TRICK OR TREATS (1982), the slasher-on-a-boat mystery-thriller MOON IN SCORPIO (1986) and the very entertaining Karen Black vehicle EVIL SPIRITS (1990).

I don't recognize any of the cast and the three leads all use (probably fake) French-sounding names, possibly to try to give this some artsy cred. MIDNIGHT INTRUDERS is often listed online as a 1987 film, though that year is simply the year it was issued on VHS (in a very misleading slasher-style box) by the not-very-well-known company Even Steven Productions. The same company released SWINGERS MASSACRE (1975), the porn-star-cast ROBOCOP rip-off DROID (1988) and the shot-on-video horror anthology SATAN'S STORYBOOK (1989), hosted by porn queen Ginger Lynn Allen.


Los pasajeros (1975)

... aka: Passengers, The
... aka: Travelers, The

Directed by:
José Antonio Barrero

One of the harder-to-come-by titles on the Paul Naschy filmography, this was never officially released in America or any other English-speaking country... and it's easy to see why! This is a bizarre, confusing 'art-house' effort of very limited appeal. Thankfully, I was able to at least get a copy complete with fan-made subtitles so I could at least try to play along. The quality of the print was pretty terrible though and appears to have come from a television broadcast. Two young male hitchhikers; the outgoing and free-wheeling Carlos (Rex Martín) and the more sensitive, serious and pensive Luis (Luis Greco), are walking down a stretch of barren country road when they run across a brassy, middle-aged female hitcher named Veronica (Aurora Bautista). After sharing a bottle of booze, all three are picked up by Henry ("Henry Gregor" / Heinrich Starhemberg), a very stern-looking and apparently also very-wealthy man in a silver Rolls Royce. Once night falls, the man offers the three room and board at his home and the three agree to the arrangement. Once there, they discover that Henry is just a chauffeur, butler and servant to Mr. Aquenatos (Naschy); an intelligent, eccentric (to put it mildly!) and quite possibly mad chap who likes to change identities with the same frequency he changes clothes. He's first seen as a King, then as a Nazi, Napoleon, Genghis Khan and other historic figures throughout the film.

All three of Aquenatos' guests decide to stay on for dinner and a movie (with Veronica a bit leery of his attempts to seduce her) and are then asked by their host if they'd like to live there and work on a stage play he's developing. Despite his and the butler's odd behavior, the three agree. The guys are even allowed to have a couple of female friends; Isabel (Loreta Tovar) and Maria (Eva León), over to stay. Aquenatos sets up a stage in the backyard and the gang get to work, but something's not quite right. As it turns out, there's one identity Aquenatos isn't too blatant about and that's his true identity... and he finds no need to look silly running around in a cape, red tights and plastic horns. Or brandishing a pitchfork, for that matter. His motivation is simple. He wants their souls. Henry wants to spill their blood to "remedy that wind of rebellion," but Aquenatos decides that "It'd be better to keep them prisoners of their appetites and desires." Yes, the dialogue is that pretentious and there's tons of it. Unfortunately for the guests, the show doesn't go on for most of them when Henry decides to have it his way and start butchering them.

Naschy has a fun and interesting enough role here, but the film is completely stolen by co-star / producer Starhemberg, his hilariously bizarre (though fitting) facial expressions, his stiff upright shuffling around the estate and his overall demented character. The very tall actor (who passed away in 1997) was an honest-to-goodness real-life prince; whose family fled to Latin America from Austria while WWII was in full effect and the Nazis were invading their country. He ended up appearing in (and sometimes financially backing) over a half-dozen horror films while there, including four for director Leon Klimovsky; THE DRACULA SAGA (1972), DEATH OF A HOODLUM (1975; which also featured Naschy), TRAUMA (1977) and THREE DAYS IN NOVEMBER (1978). Needless to say, it's quite amusing seeing someone of royal lineage running around groping women and watching people have sex, stabbing others to death and doing other vicious and perverted things with his eyes looking like they're about ready to pop out of his head. After he murders one of the ladies, he carries her to the backyard and begins making love to her body while it burns on a pile of leaves and branches. In another crazy scene, a matador (!) breaks down outside the home, asks to come in for water, gets on the stage, strips completely naked and then is chased around the yard by the turned-on butler. That ends up being just be a dream. Or is that a fantasy?

Director Barrero and his crew also don't play by the usual rules in presenting this strange material. The cinematography (by Francisco Sanchez) is interesting right from the opening credits, with several nice shots doing a 360 degree spin. There are lots of close-ups of paintings and eyeballs, and the camera often tilts, turns or spins during the strangest times. There are also several very long shots where the camera is stationary for minutes at a time. During an unbroken take that lasts at least three minutes, we get to see Naschy and Starhemberg gorge themselves on chicken and wine without uttering a word to one another. There's another of these super-long takes when Naschy uses a brush to color his eyebrows and sideburns, try on numerous fake beards and then apply eye-liner.

I'm not really sure what to make of all this (there's even a crudely animated segment of a hunter shooting a rhinoceros at one point!), but it sure was interesting to watch. It's also interesting to theorize what it all means. Or what these people were on when they came up with this. But, as usual, I like to leave that up to you to decide.

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