Sunday, October 2, 2011

Another Son of Sam (1975)

... aka: Hostages
... aka: Son of Sam

Directed by:
Dave A. Adams

After several minutes worth of pre-credits acknowledgements and then a loooong list of serial killers from Jack the Ripper up to Son of Sam and The Hillside Strangler eating up even more time, we finally cut to a couple in "a small town" in "early summer." They drive around in their boat and water ski, then head out to the Treehouse Lounge night club where some man in a bell bottom leisure suit named Johnny Charro sings the syrupy "I Never Said Goodbye." By this point we're already ten minutes into a 67-minute film and if you're anything like me, you'll be wondering "Uhhh, so where's the psycho?" Our fears are soon vanquished as the film cuts to a mental hospital where Harvey, a nutjob in a straight jacket, has just finished up a shock treatment session. He's given a sedative and has visions of his loving mother (who sexually assaulted him in his youth) rubbing his hair. For some reason the sedative doesn't kick in and Harvey strangles an orderly with a phone cord, impales another with a coat rack and beats up his psychiatrist Dr. Daisy Ellis (Cynthia Stewart) rather badly. The professional diagnosis? Well, apparently she's in a coma "but it's more shock than anything else." Daisy's boyfriend happens to be Police Lt. Claude Setzer (Russ Dubuc), and he's put on the case to help apprehend the psycho.

Harvey goes to a park, kills a couple of policemen and then heads off to State College campus for more of the same. He sneaks into the girl's dorm. It's pretty vacant since most are away on Spring Break (hmm... in "early summer?"). Tina (Pam Mullins) seems to be on edge since she stole five hundred bucks from the administration building, but that will be a moot point after the psycho murders her and stuffs her under her bed. Soon enough, Lt. Setzer, his partner Mike Shuster (Larry Sprinkle), their boss Captain Thompson (Robert McCourt), some other cops and a handful of SWAT team members surround the premises and manage trap the killer inside the dorm. The rest is a game of cat-and-mouse as the police try to locate and snuff out the madman. To further complicate matters, Tina's roommate Heather (Bonnie Schrier), armed with a paddle, and Darlene (Kim Saunders), the girl who snitched Tina out, sneak back into the dorm to try to kill the psycho on their own and are taken hostage.

I seriously doubt you will find a more ineptly staged staged police raid than the one seen in this film. The police chief tells everyone to use the buddy system, but the officers are constantly wandering off by themselves and getting killed, which provides our psycho with a pistol and then a machine gun (!), which he uses to gun down three people standing outside. There are numerous shots with policemen casually pointing loaded guns at themselves or each other. While waiting in hallway, our hero even uses his pistol to scratch his own face! One of the SWAT team members repels off the roof, taps on the window with his foot and then, when some curtains move, a sniper takes a blind shot... shooting one of the girls in the face and killing her! Without any proof that they actually snuffed out the killer, another officer tries to enter the room and is shot dead.

Its laughable depiction of police procedural (... and I seriously doubt this is some kind of sly commentary criticizing the fuzz), isn't the only thing that's utterly inept about this one. Everything else is, too. From the horrid dialogue and awful acting to the negligible contuinity and unnecessary filler to push the run time up to an hour, this thing is just one huge mess. The editing is truly terrrible and there's a car chase at night that's too dark to see, poor use of slow-motion and even worse (over)use of freeze frames at the most unnecessary moments. Oh yeah, and constantly close-up shots of the killer's emotionless eyeballs. Johnny Charo (whose song is heard no less than three different times) sings us out... and hopefully off to a better damn movie.

In addition to directing, writing and producing, Dave Adams also edited, was the stunt coordinator and cast the film. It was filmed in 1975, but not released until two years later (the opening serial killer scroll was obviously added at a later junction). The film was released on VHS by a company called Neon, then was distributed on DVD-R by Something Weird.

Vagabundo en la lluvia (1968)

... aka: Drifter in the Rain
... aka: Vagabond in the Rain
... aka: Wanderer in the Rain

Directed by:
Carlos Enrique Taboada

Although not well-known here in America, director Carlos Enrique Taboada (who passed away in 1997) was fairly well-regarded in his home country. His reputation there as a horror master seemed to lie primarily on his two best-known works; 1968's HASTA EL VIENTO TIENE MIEDO ("Even the Wind is Afraid") and 1969's EL LIBRO DE PIEDA ("The Book of Stone"), though he'd also make BLACKER THAN THE NIGHT (1975), POISON FOR THE FAIRIES (1984) and other genre films. While both Hasta and Libro dealt with ghosts / the supernatural and were popular enough to eventually prompt remakes (in 2007 and 2009, respectively), Vagabundo ("Drifter in the Rain" or "Wanderer in the Rain") is a low-key psycho-drama / thriller that may be the least-watched of all the director's genre films. It's a small-scale effort centering around just a few principal characters and set primarily in just one location; very much like something that has been adapted from the stage to the screen. The good news is that the film does a reasonable job fleshing out its characters and, while not really overtly horrifying, contains several effectively creepy moments and some suspense. The bad news is that it's not particularly original and it's difficult to find.

Things begin on an amusing note as we see two Nazi's step out of their car and demand to enter a home only to realize the men are just dressed up for a wild costume party. Angela Ayala (Christa Linder) has to cut the festivities short because she's expecting to meet her husband, who's away on business in New York, at their secondary lakeside home (located several miles from the nearest residence) the following day and claims she needs to straighten the place up. Upon arriving, Angela puts on a record, lights the fire, makes herself a drink and then calls up her husband to check in. Something's clearly bothering her and things are only going to get worse after she starts noticing signs that someone has been in her house; food's been eaten, there's a lit cigarette on the floor, a door lock is busted...) She grabs a rifle, heads down into the basement and discovers a bearded vagrant (Rodolfo de Anda) hiding out. Though he claims he just broke in for some food and seems harmless enough, she forces him leave, despite a raging thunderstorm going on outside.

Upon retrieving her luggage out of her car, Angela discovers that a drunken woman named Monica (Ana Luisa Peluffo) had climbed into her car and passed out in the backseat before she'd left the party. The vagrant pops by long enough to help carry her inside. Angela gives him a little money and asks that he be on his way. When Monica awakens, the two women start to get to know each other. Monica is an older, embittered, hard-drinker trapped in a loveless marriage to a wealthy man; possibly the type of woman Angela may become one day if she doesn't watch it. Monica senses that Angela is uneasy because she's having an affair and is awaiting her lover, and she's only partially right. Angela is indeed having an affair, but she's actually awaiting Raquel (Norma Lazareno). Raquel eventually shows up with incriminating photos of Angela's affair demanding money. Meanwhile, the vagrant snaps, kills a cat, trashes the boat house in a rage, flattens Angela's tires, starts lurking around the home, peeks in windows and such.

Despite having some competent moments of terror and suspense, the film is really at its best during character-driven scenes between Angela and Monica, where we get a cautionary 'don't become like me' moral delivered to the younger, more idealistic Angela by the older, experienced and more cynical Monica. The difference between the two women is one of years. Having her marriage threatened by both her own actions and by Raquel only strengthens Angela's feelings of love for her spouse, while in Monica's case (Raquel had already tried to blackmail her for her own affair) it was basically too late.

Star Linder (a real knockout that I'm surprised isn't more famous than she actually is) was born in Germany and went on to represent Austria in the Miss Universe pageant (which she almost won) before embarking on her acting career. She appeared in a couple of American films and TV shows, but worked primarily in Europe and Mexico on such films as the German krimni STRANGLER OF THE TOWER (1963), the sleazy Mexican film NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS (1972) and the horror-western HOT SNAKE (1976). She also appeared alongside Boris Karloff in his final films; THE SINISTER INVASION (1968), and was in the Italian vampire sex comedy YOUNG DRACULA (1975) for director Lucio Fulci. The other actors; Peluffo (THE LIVING HEAD), Lazareno (NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES) and de Anda (FURIOUS ENCOUNTER) were all veterans of the Mexican film industry with a good number of genre films to their credit.

Like most of Taboada's other films, this was never released in America. It's on DVD, though (Spanish-language only) on the Cinema Inc. label.


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