Monday, July 23, 2012

Night Shadow (1989)

... aka: Lycanthrope
... aka: Night Drop

Directed by:
Randolph Cohlan

Alexandra Jung (Brenda Vance) is quickly moving up in the world. She's about to start a regular anchorwoman position on the KLOF evening news in Los Angeles as well as her own syndicated radio program. Scared of the commitment of signing a three-year contract and how fast things are moving for her, Alex decides to take a break and spend a much-needed week of rest and relaxation in her small hometown of Danford. On her way there, she decides to pass on pulling over to help a dirty, bearded, shaggy-haired guy (Rick Scott) with an intense stare standing by a broken down car. Good thing, because he has a trunk full of bloody body parts and, when an old farmer finally does pick him up, he puts the guy's head through a window. Alex meets up with her motorcycle-riding kid brother Tai ("Dane Chan" / Stuart Quan) at a diner to catch up and again spots the mysterious man sitting there staring at her. Making eye-contact with him is oddly entrancing, but he disappears as soon as a few cops pop in. One of those cops, Sheriff Adam Newquist (Tom Boylan), was Alex's boyfriend before she headed off to the big city. He tells her things have been pretty uneventful since she's been gone. That's clearly all about to change.

The Sheriff and his deputy Earl (Mike Hamilton) get a call that a dismembered body has just been found in a dumpster. And the next day, part of two bodies are found in the trunk of that abandoned car. Frances (Jeannette Lewis), the county coroner, tells the authorities that all three victims show signs of having been killed by some kind of animal. Meanwhile, Alex goes to visit her godmother Alta (Alta LaFlame) and brother at the hotel they run; also where she's staying while she's in town. She gets a call the next day from her boss, who wants her to cover the story of the murders while she's in town. Some vacation she's getting: Everyone's getting killed, mutilated and cannibalized and she still has to work. Bummer. So Alex goes to a press conference, starts accompanying Adam around as he investigates, learns from the coroner that all of the victims have bite marks resembling those from a large dog or wolf and then finds out what all we viewers have known since the beginning: The strange dude is a werewolf.

Numerous examples of moronic character behavior are seen throughout. Alex passed by both the killer and the victim on her way into town around the time of the murder, but never says anything about it to the cops. She also doesn't say anything about seeing this drifter popping up everywhere and staring at her like he wants to eat her alive. Then again, there's the possibility that the killer has some strange power of her (which is hinted at but very poorly developed), so I'll let that one slide. More annoyingly, the werewolf man (who doesn't utter a single word) is somehow able to stay in a room at the hotel without being noticed by anyone. And most annoyingly of all, Tai goes into the killer's room - which nobody is supposed to even be staying in - to do electrical work and sees a diary complete with werewolf pictures inside. He later sneaks in there with a few of his prankster friends. They discover decomposing body parts in his dresser (which they attribute to "rotting meat"), plus blood in the sink. None of them go to the cops despite the fact everyone in town knows there's a maniac on the loose. It isn't until the friend who stole the diary is killed that Tai finally decides to say something.

The film doesn't really stick by the usual werewolf mythology (there's no transformation by full moon and no silver bullets) but it also doesn't add anything new or interesting to the formula. It poorly attempts to link up the leading lady to the wolfman, who apparently wants her to become his bride or some such nonsense. None of that is sufficiently expanded upon to come off as any more than an afterthought. We don't get to see the fully-transformed werewolf until the very end. Even though I've seen worse designs, it's definitely not worth waiting for and only looks decent in dim lighting. Some air bladder effects were used for a brief (and incomplete) transformation scene. Aside from a victim getting impaled with a steel pipe and a nightmare sequence of someone chewing on a maggot-covered hand, most of the violence is off-screen and there's very little bloodshed.

Much of this actually seems like a showcase for budding action star / fight choreographer / stunt man Quan, who passed away in 2006 (at age 43) and also had small roles in some A productions such as BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) and THE SHADOW (1994). His wardrobe consists almost entirely of midriff-baring half shirts, which is funny enough by itself, but some of the scenes designed to show off his martial arts skills come out of nowhere and are pretty hilarious. During one of these, he fights a biker gang who are trashing one of the hotel rooms while stereotyped pan flute Chinese music plays! He also gets to flee the cops (who suspect he's the killer at one point) on his bike and drives around on the sidewalks and even goes over a ramp, then beats up on the asshole sheriff's deputy using his skillz. Annoyingly, the director then robs us seeing what we really want to see: Quan kung fu-ing the damn werewolf. Boo!

As nice as it is seeing two Asian-American actors in lead roles in an 80s American horror film (not a common thing back then), the acting is mostly amateurish. However, there are at least two notable people in the cast. First off is Aldo Ray in a weird and random comedic role as some goofy salesman staying at the hotel who sells aquatic-themed novely gifts. He gets just two brief scenes and it was one of his last film appearances. And then there's a mullet-licious Kato Kaelin playing one of the male star's friends. Kaelin was in a few low-budget movies, but his chief claim to fame was being O.J. Simpson's "house boy" at the time of the Nicole Brown Simpson / Ronald Goldman murders. Despite getting plenty of press and tabloid TV exposure for that (plus millions in a lawsuit against the National Enquirer), his failed acting career never really picked up.

I spent a lot of time browsing through video stores in my youth up and down the East Coast, from Michigan all the way down to Florida, and I don't ever recall seeing a VHS box for this movie during that time, so I doubt it received a very good distribution deal back then. It was filmed as Lycanthrope and, as per the closing credits (see above), the original release title appears to have been Night Drop. The DVD I viewed was released by Platinum Disc. I wouldn't make it a high priority.


Macumba sexual (1983)

... aka: Macumba

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

I tell ya what, the Jess Franco catalogue just never seems to end. I've seen at least thirty of these things by now and still have about 100 left to go. Macumba sexual (sometimes titled simply Macumba) is yet another horror / sex combo from Europe's premiere purveyor of art-sleaze; this time a partial remake of his film VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970). Things open just like many other Franco films open, with a shot of a buck naked Lina Romay writhing in bed moaning. Her character - Alice - has been suffering from a recurring nightmare for quite some time. In it, a tall "dark-skinned woman" named Tara (Ajita Wilson) unleashes two "beasts" (a nude man and a nude woman she walks around on leashes) upon her and then dies. Doesn't really sound so bad to me, but whatever. Alice and her husband Peter ("Robert Foster" / Antonio Mayans) are in the middle of a relaxing beach vacation at the Happy Bay resort when she gets a phone call from her boss urging her to get back to work. She's to go to a nearby island to do some kind of business deal with the obscenely-wealthy Princess Obongo, whose first name happens to be Tara... just like the woman from her nightmare. Tara is planning on purchasing some property in Atlantic City or something, but that's not really important.

Alice goes over to the island by herself and learns from a retarded, voyeuristic reptile stuffer named Meme (played by Franco himself as "Juan G. Cabral") that Tara actually died many years ago. Alice still checks into her room and plans of visiting Obongo's isolated home at the appointed time. While she's lying out on her patio sunning, Tara shows up to play with her breasts and finger fuck her (fo real folks!) in another dream and then she catches Meme spying on her. He tells her "You're simply gorgeous and a slut... like all Western women," then warns her not to go to the Obongo place because she'll lose her "whorish body" and possibly die if she does so. Thinking he's crazy, which he is, Alice decides to ride a camel caravan over. Immediately upon arriving, Tara (who has some strange flashback digging up an ivory dildo idol out of the sand, sucking on it while rolling her eyes back in her head and then going to town with it) and her two "beasts" (named Poppy and Tulip) get to work molesting Alice. Afterward, she finds Tara dead on the beach and flees back to her husband. It isn't long before hubby himself is drawn to Obongo's palace and Alice must head back to plead for his life and find out what the 300-year-old macumba-practicing woman / ghost / succubus / demon 's true intentions are.

Macumba is - simply enough - basically just a sex film. It exists entirely in Franco World, a place that isn't quite like the real world you and I are accustomed to. In Franco World all inhabitants have little to nothing on their minds other than sex. If they're not getting it, they're constantly pining for it. Even when they're sleeping they're thinking about it. Sex is so constant on their minds it usually screws everyone up; driving them to madness and murder. People absolutely hate wearing clothing in Franco World and go around most of the day completely naked for no real reason. It's quite impossible to take some of this seriously and it's pretty comic much of the time. Take Romay's character Alice, for instance. She's a real estate agent who has just lined up an uber rich client and will be making a killing in commission if she can just unload a house. How many female real estate agents do you know who - in order to impress a female client; a princess to boot! - would show up at their place wearing a flimsy mesh top and a pair of shorts so short her ass cheeks hang out the back and her pubic hair (!!) hangs out the front?! See what I mean about the Real World vs. Franco World?

As a piece of erotica, this didn't personally float my boat and I imagine it's not going to float many other boats either. The sex is often hilariously frenzied, there's lots of licking and slobbering and often times the action is awkwardly choreographed. The entire film is shot in the brightest light of day and Franco, always with a gynecologist's eye, makes sure to zoom in so close we get to see razor stubble, dry flaky skin and other things I seriously doubt many of us want to see. From a technical standpoint, this has superior and sometimes very imaginative photography for a sex flick, though. The desert / ocean setting is perfect for the story, there are some great locations used and Franco seems to be paying special attention to phallic-shaped buildings. Several isolated setpieces - including one bit with a spinning silver ball and the camera going out of focus a lot - are just out there enough to work and create some hypnotic moments here and there.

The presence of Ajita Wilson manages to make this strange film even stranger. Wilson was a very unlikely 70s / early 80s sex film star and international box office draw who did both hard and soft porn as well as run-of-the-mill exploitation flicks. Perhaps her greatest exposure in America for the longest time was the women-in-prison film Orinoco, Prison of Sex, which was later combined with newly-shot scenes starring Linda Blair and released theatrically as Savage Island. What made her an unlikely star in her field wasn't the fact she was African-American, but because she was born a man... and quite looks it despite some obvious cosmetic surgery and cheek enhancements to try to soften her face. Wilson has soft sex scenes with both men and women here, with some individual shots briefly crossing over into X territory. During one scene her enigmatic character explains "I'm everything that's forbidden... a black woman with an undefined sexuality; shameless and irresistible." Despite having packed on a few pounds since her 70s prime, Romay is still cute enough. Unfortunately she also wears the same God awful mousy dirty blonde bob wig she wore in MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) and many of her other 80s films, which actually makes her look much older than she actually is.

The Severin DVD comes with a 22-minute documentary featurette on the film, which has interviews with Franco and Romay.


Suicide Cult (1975)

... aka: Astrologer, The

Directed by:
James Glickenhaus

In India, dangerous sociopathic cult leader Kajerste (Mark Buntzman, who also produced) is keeping busy performing ritualistic mutilations and "public defloration ceremonies." He's such a bad dude that he's wanted for crimes committed in at least three different countries. Authorities from different parts of the world gather together at a conference to discuss this new threat. The top secret group is called Interzod and one of its highest ranking members is professor and scientist Alexei Abernal (Bob Byrd), who's been blending technological advances with astrology. He informs the panel "We are now able to use computers to accurately determine an individual's zodiacal potential for response to environmental situations and stimuli." Say what? Make sure to keep that phrase on the tip of your tongue, because it will spill from your mouth frequently as you're slogging your way through this highly confusing film. From what I gathered, Alexei's research has determined that one's birthday and thus their astrological sign can determine one's "zodiacal potentional;" whether they are destined to live just a normal life, destined for greatness or destined to commit atrocities. Of course, Kajerste has scored extremely high on the evil scale - he's up there with Hitler - and must be stopped.

So it's 10 minutes into the film and we've already been to five different cities in three different countries. Make that four different countries: We're now off to London, England. Alexei arrives at Heathrow Airport, runs across young Congressman Joe Harwell (Al Narcisse) and decides to give him a lift on his private jet. He asks the Congressman if he wants to join his organization. Meanwhile, Alexei's very naive new wife Kate (Monica Tidwell) goes to New York City to see spiritual advisor Mother Bogarde. Sensing she is possessed by evil and that evil is forcing her to be dishonest, the psychic has her remove her clothes and change into a robe to "strip away your pretenses." When Kate returns home to Maryland, she talks this over with her husband. For some strange reason, Kate doesn't seem to know her own birthday or has changed it because Alexei told her to. He also keeps security close at hand to watch over her, seldom introduces her to his friends and lies to her about what he does for a living. Even stranger, Alexei has never had sex with his wife and they've been married for five months. Kate is frustrated and confused. Alexei takes her to Arlington, Virginia to visit an old archeologist who is trying to use ancient documents to uncover the Virgin Mary's birthdate (?).

Interzod member Ellen (Alison McCarthy) concocts a scheme to sneak into Kajerste's camp and assassinate him. She plans on shooting him with a tranquilizer dart and, while he's out, placing electrodes on him to then sending videotape transmissions using a double to trick him into stabbing himself with a poisoned knife (??) Let's hear it again folks: Say what? Congressman Joe decides to go along with her. When Ellen finally encounters Kajerste, he uses his mesmeric / hypnotic abilities to make her stab herself with the knife, then Joe is killed by the cult. Back in America, Kate returns to the psychic for advise, but a man possessed by Kajerste tries to hunt her down until the psychic stabs him to death. The archeologist finally gets together enough information to come up with the Virgin Mary's birthdate and it turns out Kate has the same exact extremely rare zodiacal configuration as Mary. In fact, as a teen Kate had an immaculate conception of her own and ended up giving her baby over to the Catholic church. Kajerste has a extremely rare zodiacal configuration himself...

Originally (and more accurately) titled The Astrologer, this was a downright painful viewing experience. It's not painful in the usual boring / inept / derivative kind of way though, but painful because we have to sit and watch a potentially fascinating idea being botched right before our very eyes. The film boasts a premise that's completely unique, which is something one doesn't stumble across too often in this genre. The problem is that the whole thing is so talky, needlessly complicated and confusing that it's a true test of endurance to make it all the way to the end. The film begins to tie up some of the loose ends after a certain point but ends abruptly on a very ambiguous note and fails to complete the job. For its obviously very low budget, there's definite ambition here. It's simply not executed all that well. Scene transitions are often done using negative images, we get constant reaffirmation of places, dates and times scrolled out on a computer screen and, though there's little violence and no gore, there are some slideshows featuring actual corpses which are pretty grisly. The actors range from average to awful, but they're hardly the biggest problem here.

It was the directorial debut of James Glickenhaus, who'd go to make the violent exploitation hit THE EXTERMINATOR (1980) and a few other films before becoming a producer. His company Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment would produce such films as MANIAC COP (1987), BASKET CASE 2 and 3 (1990, 91) and many others; primarily in the action and horror genres. The company folded in 1995 and Glickenhaus became a Wall Street trader. Leading lady Tidwell (who provides some nudity) was a 1973 Playboy Playmate and went on to a small role in the vampire comedy NOCTURNA before turning her attentions to Off-Broadway plays. The rest of the cast seem to be complete unknowns in more ways that one. There aren't any familiar faces and the end credits are so small and blurry I couldn't even make out any of the names.

The copyright date appears to be 1977 but, again, I couldn't quite make it out. The film is usually listed in reference books and online as being released in 1975, so I'll stick with that for the time being. It played theatrically under the Astrologer title, then was released in 1986 by Continental Video under the misleading Suicide Cult title (also the title of a 1982 theatrical reissue).

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