Wednesday, August 29, 2012

¿Quién puede matar a un niño? (1976)

... aka: Death Is Child's Play
... aka: Hex Massacre, The
... aka: Island of Death
... aka: Island of the Damned
... aka: Killer's Playground, The
... aka: Trapped
... aka: Who Can Kill a Child?
... aka: Would You Kill a Child?

Directed by:
Narciso Ibáñez Serrador

A nearly ten-minute-long opening credits sequence takes a disturbing and grim look at war. We see footage taken during World War II, the Indio-Pakistani War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Biafra War in Nigeria. The number of casualties in each instance is shown for us; both the total number of deaths directly caused by the war and the number of victims that were children. In each instance, children comprise at least 50 percent of the total victims, sometimes as high as 75 percent. Needless to say, war is strictly an adult venture. Children do not start wars, nor do they ask for it or want it, yet they are perhaps the most vulnerable of all to war and its after-effects. A few thousand children may have survived being singled out for medical experiments in Auschwitz, for instance, but many more died after the war from things like acute anemia and tuberculosis. Children are more susceptible and vulnerable to the fallout from war as well; the famine, the spreading of disease, the lack of money and resources to medically care for the injured or sick... Hard-to-shake images of children suffering, starving, injured, missing limbs, burned by napalm, dying, or dead and covered in flies or being bulldozed into an open grave splash across the screen during this documentary intro accompanied by the haunting sound of children singing and humming. With this, Who Can Kill a Child? establishes its case for children having a grudge against us adults.

In the small Spanish village of Benavis, a female corpse - the victim of multiple stabbings - washes up on a crowded beach one fine sunny day. Soon after, a couple of British tourists - biologist Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant photographer wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) arrive there on vacation. Some kind of street festival is taking place but they aren't really there for that. They find a room, find a place to rent a boat and plan on heading out to the secluded Island of Almanzora - a place Tom had visited twelve years earlier - the following day. Since it's a four hour boat ride and a sparsely populated place of just a few hundred, very few tourists actually venture out there any more. The tide however does manage to carry lots of debris over from there... like a second corpse later that day. Tom and Evelyn go to see a fireworks show and discuss Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA. After learning it features a character who kills his own children so they won't suffer from the mistakes he's made, the wife labels the director "A fascist just like Mussolini."

The following day, Tom and Evelyn get on their boat and head out. Upon arrival, they encounter a few children hanging out by the pier. One little boy fishing refuses to let Tom see what he's using for bait. They venture inland and discover that a cafe, a bar, a store, a church and seemingly all of the homes are completely uninhabited. Aside from the few children they've already seen and a few others who pop from time to time. The kids usually refuse to talk to them and often just run away whenever they spot them. The only real interaction they have with the children is when a little girl wants to feel Evelyn's pregnant belly and listen to the baby's heartbeat. Afterward she does what most of the other kids do, laughs and then takes off. The couple stop by a boarding house and also find no one running the place. And then they see an old man getting beat to death with his cane by a little girl. Tom takes the body to a barn and then sees the children stringing it up, taking a long stick with a scythe fastened to the end and playing a bloody game of piñata.

One adult survivor who witnessed his wife getting murdered is eventually found hiding out in an attic and recounts what had happened there. Just two nights before Tom and Evelyn arrived, all of the island's children had woken up at the same exact time, began entering houses and slaughtering all of the adults one by one; laughing all the while and treating the whole thing like one big party. The man is eventually killed himself and so is a female Dutch tourist (some little boys then strip off her clothes in a church). There's no phone going out to the mainland anywhere on the island and every time Tom and Evelyn attempt to go to the pier to get a boat, an army of children line the streets. Tom and Evelyn manage to get to a jeep and head over to the other side of the island looking for help, but they're soon swarmed by the killer kids. Will the couple have to resort to violence against the children in order to save their own asses?

No fantasy-based explanation is given as to why all of the kids on the island have turned into killers. There is no toxic chemical spill, aliens have not taken over their bodies and they're not possessed by evil spirits. They've simply woken up one day with the desire to eliminate all adults and that's that. The intro and several other moments give us a hint as to why: They've basically grown tired of being abused, killed and mistreated by adults. Perhaps the children are evolving instinctually to what's gone on in the past and are sick of always being victims. The film works quite well metaphorically on those terms alone. It's well-made, fairly well-acted, nicely photographed (primarily in broad daylight), offers up numerous surprises and, despite a runtime of nearly 2 hours, manages to maintain interest throughout.

Released theatrically in the U.S. under no less than three different titles; simultaneously as Island of the Damned and Trapped by American International Pictures and later re-issued The Hex Massacre, this went into hibernation for a number of years (there was no legitimate American VHS release [at least to my knowledge] for a very long time). The film's reputation as a neglected mini-classic picked up some steam upon the 2007 release of the Dark Sky DVD, which includes a couple of documentary featurettes; one an interview with the director (who also adapted Juan José Plans' novel "El juego de los niños" / "The Children's Game") and another with cinematographer José Luis Alcaine (who'd later become the trusted cinematographer of Pedro Almodovar).


Bakterion (1982)

... aka: Panic
... aka: Pánico
... aka: Panik
... aka: Zombi 4

Directed by:
"Anthony Richmond" (Tonino Ricci)

Something goes wrong at the Chemi-Cal Corporation, which infects rats (turning them violent) as well as an accidental human guinea pig for a new vaccine, who turns green, starts smoking and begins the slow process of mutating into a lumpy-faced radioactive monster. The man manages to escape the building but Chemi-Cal president Mr. Milton (Franco Ressel) doesn't want anyone to say anything about this to the citizens of the small town of Newton, England. He claims to be afraid of a citywide panic if journalists get word out about what's going on, but he's mostly concerned about his highly-profitable business. Scientists Jane Blake (Janet Agren) and Dr. Vince (Miguel Herrera) claim to know nothing about the new vaccine that started the problem. It was in fact the brainchild of Professor Adams (Roberto Ricci), who's unfortunately on vacation trout fishing as all this goes down. Well, supposedly. Since Chemi-Cal is known primarily for making just aspirin and antibiotics, suspicions fall quickly fall upon Adams, who may have been experimenting with things he shouldn't have been.

The mutant man soon gets to work killing people. He surprises a young couple having sex in a car and slaughters both. Upon finding the bodies, Sergeant O'Brien (José Lifante) is called in to investigate the crime. Newton being a small town and all, he only has two men under him, so government agent Captain Kirk (David Warbeck) is brought in to do a parallel investigation on Chemi-Cal. Kirk soon draws the correct conclusion that there's a connection between the murders, the accident in the laboratory and the disappearance of the the professor. He decides to enlist Jane's aid in hunting down Adams. They go to his vacation cottage and find no sign of him. They do however find his "bodyguard" dead, bloody and strung up over the fireplace. An autopsy on the body uncovers something strange about his cellular structure. The mutant then sneaks into a home and kills a woman in the shower, leaving behind some "green stuff" at the crime scene. Each of the victims have the same traits: they look like they've been chewed up by some kind of animal, most of their blood has been drained from their body and they have strange sores that are the result of contact with a radioactive substance.

The monster - which has been hanging around in an underground sewer system and hates bright light and loud noises - goes to a movie theatre and busts through the screen mid-movie causing a mild pAnIcO. Its gravitation toward naked or half-naked or just-got-naked big-breasted women continues as it zeros in on a half-dressed trollop who'd just promised her date she'd put out if he went and got her an ice cream cone! Excuse me for a second while I go stock my freezer with drumsticks. After he strangles her, throws her over his shoulder and takes her backstage for a midday snack he decides for a change of scenery and goes to a church to impale a priest. As it turns out, Professor Adams was actually working on a virus to use in germ warfare and managed to infect himself in the process. The government decides to send in the military in to quarantine the entire town. A roadblock with armed guards is put in place and the phones, TVs and any contact with the outside world for the citizens of Newton are all cut off. Because no one is giving them any information, some of the citizens decide to do a little revolting but they're no match for the military.

Word gets out that the government has also decided to enact "Plan Q," which means the entire town is going to get blown off the map unless either Adams is proven to be non-contagious and is killed or if Jane and Vince are able to come up with an antidote. Adams manages to find his way to Mr. Milton's home and kills him in front of his children. Kirk heads on over to the crime scene and decides to follow the green slime / blood trail into the sewers. 

Sgt. O'Brien:
What are you doing?

I want to follow it.

Sgt. O'Brien:
I forbid you to. It's crazy. You don't know how to kill him, anyway!

I know I don't, but I have no choice!

Uh huh. So down he goes. A close call or two later, Jane finishes the antidote and volunteers to give it to Adams, but everyone else just wants to blast him to pieces. With time ticking away and just an hour or so remaining until the military bombs the hell out of the town, can our heroes track the killer down in time?

Despite being murky, dreary, predictable and completely unoriginal (much of this seems inspired by George Romero's THE CRAZIES), this has many other problems. If there was a toxic, radioactive, possibly contagious monster running amuck, would you casually run your fingers through blood or touch the victims? Eventually it's established that the virus the mutant is carrying is not actually contagious, yet no one decides to inform the government of this so they can cancel "Plan Q?" Speaking of the government, how come none of the military men are ever out looking for Adams and the locals have to do all the work? The soundtrack seems to hint toward wanting us to feel sympathy for the monster, but since Adams was never established as an actual character, that simply ain't gonna happen. And so on and so on. The monsters effects from Rino Carboni are pretty mediocre though I've seen worse.

The DVD I viewed was from Mill Creek Entertainment and it's pretty much an embarrassment sourced from a censored VHS tape. There are picture rolls (with "stereo" actually popping up on the screen during one of them!), profanity is bleeped out and all of the nudity has been removed. Since several of the attacks are on nude women, this means that some of the blood / gore is also missing. Then again, when one spends peanuts on a multi-movie packs they can't expect too much.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Impulse (1974)

... aka: I Love to Kill
... aka: Want a Ride, Little Girl?

Directed by:
William Grefe

I was so excited when I learned this was coming out on DVD (from Tango Entertainment) that I blind bought it. I should have done my research because unbeknownst to me I was getting the edited-for-TV version. I think it says something that even in its cut form that this film still retains most of its camp charm and entertainment value. And I think it says even more about how idiotic U.S. censorship is and always has been that the version passed as OK to air on TV bleeps out mild profanity like the word "bitch" yet has no issue leaving in a scene where a man tries to force a little boy to watch as he rapes his mother! That's actually the very first thing we see here. It's shot in black-and-white and features none other than William Kerwin (aka "Thomas Wood" or "Thomas Sweetwood"), who'd previously starred in Herschell Gordon Lewis' drive-in gore classics BLOOD FEAST (1963) and TWO-THOUSAND MANIACS! (1964) as the drunken soldier who ends up getting impaled with a samurai sword by a young boy only wanting to protect his mama. As we soon see, that little boy has grown up to be quite the sick-o himself.

Leisure-suit-clad con artist, gigolo and psycho Matt Stone (William Shatner) is first seen in the presence of an statuesque exotic dancer. But his current, rich, older lover Helen (Marcie Knight) knows the score: "Nobody's just friends with a belly dancer!" She's fed up with his lying, his fooling around and her having to support to his ungrateful ass, so she decides to call things off. Matt has other ideas. During a fight, he strangles her to death, sinks her car in the river and then starts chewing on his pinky finger; a nervous reaction to stress that he's had since childhood. (Hilarious!) Matt promptly checks out of his hotel and plans to move on to a new town and greener pastures. Meanwhile in suburbia, young and attractive widow Ann Moy (Jennifer Ashley) is trying to get her disobedient, bratty little girl Tina (Kim Nicholas) off to school. After snatching more money than she asked for out of mom's purse, Tina decides to ditch school to go to a graveyard where her much-missed father is buried. She even hitches a ride to get there.... from Matt Stone.

Because Ann's been single and "hiding" for far too long after the death of her husband, her best friend, wealthy fellow widow Julia Marstow (Ruth Roman), decides to play match maker and set her up with an eligible bachelor she's just met. His name is, you guessed it, Matt Stone. Matt puts on the charm and concocts a whole new bullshit story about his life, childhood and job, claiming he's a successful land developer and Wall Street investor. He and Ann hit it off at Julia's dinner party and next thing you know they're on their first date at the zoo. With Ann out of earshot, Matt calls a woman who accidentally bumps into him a "Fat bitch" and then informs her that "People like you oughta be ground up and made into dog food." Little Tina isn't taking too kindly to her mother being gone so often now and being romanced by a new guy. She purposely destroys some antique china and then starts to spy on her mom and Matt. When Julia stops by and asks where her mom might be, Tina scowls "Why don't you check the motels!" (lol) and knocks over a tray of glasses.

Karate Pete (Harold "Odd Job" Sakata), Matt's former partner-in-crime, shows up in town fresh from prison and looking to collect on an old debt. Matt tries to hang him, kicks him, chases him through a car wash, runs him over several times with his car and then dumps the body. Tina was hiding out in his back seat the entire time and Matt happens to see her running off. Tina tries to confide in both her mom and Julia, but because of her history of lying and doing extremely bratty things, no one believes her until it's too late. Matt's able to bilk 10 thousand dollars off of Ann for an "investment" and makes a go for Julia, too, but when she says she'll have her lawyer look into Matt and his business dealings beforehand, Matt decides to break into her home, stab her and raid her safe. He's in for a rude awakening though as Julia keeps no cash or real valuables in there. Again, Tina witnesses the crime. Matt chases her through a graveyard into a funeral home until she falls down a flight of stairs, then crashes a viewing and starts pushing the grieving people around! There's an attempted fish tank drowning and a history-repeats-itself style ending.

This may be trash. It may even be - in some eyes - a career low point of both Shatner and Roman (nah!) but it's just too damn entertaining to pass up if you enjoy lower-budgeted, regionally-produced 70s thrillers. Most of the cast does well, with special mention going out to young newcomer Nicholas, who's positively perfect as the precocious little brat who gets more than she bargained for trying to put a damper on mom's love life. Of course most are probably going to tune in for Shatner and his fans shouldn't be let down by his high camp role. He gets to scream, cry, freak out, give belly dancers lascivious looks, nervously bounce up and down, berate chubby woman and go on several crazy rants. Marcy Lafferty, Shatner's real-life wife (at the time) has a small role as a hotel desk clerk Matt bangs on the side. The two would also appear together in the great KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977). James Dobson also has a couple of scenes as Julia's friend.

Director Grefe also made STING OF DEATH (1965), DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966), STANLEY (1972), WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) and MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH (1978). Most of those were filmed in his home state of Florida and did well at drive-ins during their day. I'm not quite sure how to rate this one. It's pretty funny much of the time (which is hardly intended), and yet it's reasonably well made on a tight budget, fun and entertaining.

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