Saturday, December 8, 2012

Deadly Manor (1990)

... aka: Mansion mortal
... aka: Savage Lust

Directed by:
José Ramón Larraz

First released in the U.S. as Savage Lust by A.I.P. (and now on DVD under its original title Deadly Manor), this came very late in the game for the 80s slasher flick craze. Even Jason, Michael and Freddy weren't pullin' 'em in like they used to by 1989, as the disappointing box office results of Friday 8, Halloween 5 and Elm Street 5 can attest. This was also the final genre film for prolific Spanish director Larraz, who made many films in England and Spain in the 70s and then came to America to wither and die dismally with age with three less-than-exceptional direct-to-video efforts. The other two were the dull small town slasher-mystery EDGE OF THE AXE and the confusing ghost tale REST IN PIECES (both 1987). Lust is actually the best of these later films. And by "best" I mean relatively speaking. This isn't great. Many things about it are so painfully stupid you won't believe your eyes or ears, but there's something fun and charming about this simple film that's difficult for me to really put my finger on. Starting out cutting from nude corpses strewn in some bushes along a country road to a close shot of a Bob's Big Boy statue definitely doesn't hurt matters.

Three couples - wisecracking pothead fat guy motorcyclist Peter (Jerry Kernion), his girl Anne (Kathleen Patane), bad boy Tony (Greg Rhodes), his possibly psychic girlfriend Helen (Claudia Franjul) and normal guy Rod (Mark Irish) and his sweet blonde girlfriend Susan (Liz Hitchler) - are driving through the country on their way to some lake for the weekend. They pick up a long-haired hitchhiker named Jack (Clark Tufts) who claims to know the area and offers to show them the way. After having a run-in with a nosy cop (Douglas Gowland) who shows them the penny test, everyone gets tired and decide to go somewhere to rest. Rod pulls off the road, goes deep into the woods and ends up at a large, secluded country home. The place apprears to be abandoned and is strange right off the bat. In the front yard, there's a crashed car set up on an altar. The car's interior has blood stains on the seats and is decorated like a shrine, with pictures of an attractive woman everywhere. As one character aptly puts it, "Major weird!" But certainly not "Major weird!" enough for them to go elsewhere... and just wait till you get a load of the inside of the house!

Helen immediately gets bad vibes, refuses to enter the home and decides to walk back to the highway all by herself. She doesn't make it out of the woods as someone decides to sneak up on her and slash her throat. And herein lies one of the strange charms of this movie. This film refuses to give us an actual protagonist and I had absolutely no clue who from this group was going to survive. Actually, a character one might least expect to make it through at the very beginning is the one who does. That lends a certain unpredictability to the proceedings. After busting down a door, our not-so-bright characters take a gander inside. There, they find 1. pictures of an angry-looking woman adorning nearly every wall. 2. unoccupied coffins in the basement. 3. a closet full of human scalps and body parts pickled in jars 4. a photo album filled with pictures of naked corpses and 5. yesterday's newspaper. And guess what? These boneheads still decide to spend the night! Naturally, they each get what's coming to them as a killer in an expressionless white mask shows up to cut all of their throats.

OK, so much for plot, logic and believable character actions, but I enjoyed this all the same. So how does it overcome its massively clichéd premise to emerge as a watchable time-filler? Simple. There's some amusing dialogue ("Take it easy? Take it easy?! There's a smashed car outside, coffins in the basement, and scalps in the closet, and you're telling me to take it easy? What's next; Uncle Fester on the patio?") and a likable cast of enthusiastic unknowns, some creepy moments and cool little touches strewn throughout, including a surprise about what's tucked away behind a cracked wall in the living room. There's some nudity, one sex scene (which is naturally what the Lust alternate title tries to capitalize on), just enough blood and an adequate wrap-up flashback to explain things. Manor is also one of the dreariest, more atmospheric U.S. slashers of its time, with a decent shooting location, effective art direction inside the home and incredibly dark and gloomy photography. It's dumb, but surprisingly watchable. Repetition in the murders may disappoint those wanting a bigger variety of murder / gore scenes, though.

Jennifer Delora, who plays Amanda - subject of the photographs and owner of the home, along with her creepy, facially scarred husband Alfred (William Russell) - was a regular presence in horror films shot in and around New York (this one was shot Upstate). She also acted for Tim Kincaid, Chuck Vincent and Frank Henenlotter.


Corpse Eaters (1974)

Directed by:
Donald R. Passmore
Klaus Vetter

Lawrence Zazelenchuk, owner of the long defunct "69 Drive-In" outside of Ontario, Canada, decided he wanted to get into the movie business and have an original feature film to show at his establishment. He sunk his life savings (36,000 dollars) into producing this inept low-budget zombie flick (which he also wrote) and then hired Donald R. Passmore to direct. Four days into shooting, Passmore was replaced by cinematographer Klaus Vetter and the rest is history... in more ways that one. While the film played regularly at Zazelenchuk's drive-in for quite some time, it never seemed to book many (if any) showings elsewhere and was never officially released to either tape or DVD during the 80s or 90s. Eventually it was purchased by someone in the states who reportedly used it as a tax ride-off and then probably stuck it in a box. For years, zombie completists have wondered if this would ever make it off the shelf and onto a home viewing format. The answer is... sort of. A little company called Encore Home Video offers it for 20 bucks and claim "Our tape has been transferred from the only known surviving print." They have also stamped their company name on the entire film.

The narrated intro tells us that the theater owner has a "moral obligation" to warn us about the "stomach-upsetting scenes" we are about to see. We're also informed that a gimmick has been inserted - a warning bell and flashes of an old man acting like he's about to heave - that is to proceed any possibly nauseating moment. We're then off to Happy Halo Funeral Home, where the deranged Dr. Zaroff tells a costumer that "business is never good enough." A corpse mutilated by a bear is on its way there but that's OK because mortician Bill "kind of likes those hardcore cases." While he's working on that, Zaroff drives around the cemetery in a hearst and we get to hear his inner thoughts, which are basically equating his clients with "dead pieces of meat" and thinking about how stupid and naive the families of the dead are. Nice guy.

Meanwhile, two fun-loving couples; Allen and Lisa and Richie and Julie, ride around on a boat. They dock, get out, lay down a blanket and then two of them start fucking right in front of the others, which is especially uncomfortable when we realize that the guy doing the fucking is the brother of the other woman. After swimming, everyone tries to decide where to go from there. Since it's Friday the 13th, one guy comes up with the idea to spend the night in a graveyard. Once there, rain drives them into an open vault and then Richie remembers a Satanic incantation his uncle taught him. Might as well try it out, right? What's the worst that can happen? He draws a circle on one of the coffins, turns a crucifix upside down and does his chant ("Lucifer! Lucifer! Barabas! Barabas! Satanas! Satanas!") A few zombies pop out of their graves outside, bite Richie and then kill Julie and eat her guts. One cuts off her hand with a shovel and eats that instead. The other three get to the car and take off.

Arriving at a hospital, Richie is immediately taken into surgery but dies. The doctors can't understand why, but his body has rejected blood transfusions and everything else they tried to save him. Lisa passes out from shock and has a nightmare that her brother rises from the grave and gets blood all over her mouth kissing her. She then imagines herself becoming a zombie, biting a chunk out of Allen's neck and then stabbing her nurse to death with scissors and eating her. The latter is shot in shadow and clearly influenced by the cellar / spade death in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (which was still popular in drive-ins when this was made). Richie's body is finally hauled off to Happy Halo where a drunken Dr. Zaroff eventually stumbles in on Richie and some other corpses eating the face off a body before he gets his own eyesball ripped out. Then there's a surprise ending.

An ugly, poorly lit, cheap looking and technically inept film, this has bad acting, Halloween kit makeups (which are also by Zazelenchuk) and a dull storyline culled from the aforementioned Night and CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972). This is only really worth seeking out for curio value and for zombie movie completists. Supposedly it was the "first gore film" produced in Canada, so I guess that's something. The runtime is only 57 minutes.


Confessions of a Psycho Cat (1968)

... aka: 3 Loves of a Psycho Cat
... aka: Three Loves of a Psycho Cat

Directed by:
"Eve" (Herb Stanley)

At one point, Confessions was just a MOST DANGEROUS GAME-inspired crime-horror-thriller that probably had a completely different title (some claim to have seen it as Three Loves of a Psycho Cat). It either had too short of a running time, or wasn't able to book many theatrical showings as is, so somebody added loads of soft-core sex scenes to the film so it could be marketed as a sex flick. Unlike many other low-budget films from this era, this is one instance where the original footage is not at all improved by the addition of nudity and sex. Quite the opposite actually. Unable to accompany her brother Anderson on an African safari trip ("I'll just have to have nervous breakdowns with better timing!"), jealous, wealthy nutcase Virginia Marcus (Eileen Lord) decides to just have one of her own... in New York City! She invites three men with sordid pasts to her luxurious apartment (an amazing place filled with animal skins, furs and stuffed animals) and offers each the chance at 100,000 dollars. So how do they earn it? Simply by letting Virginia hunt them down and kill them! If they can stay alive in Manhattan for 24 hours, then the money is theirs.

The three men; low-life junkie Buddy, struggling, washed-up theatre actor Charles Freeman and pugnacious professional wrestler Rocco (real-life boxing champ Jake LaMotta; subject of the classic RAGING BULL); all three of whom had killed someone in their past but were acquitted, take one look at the tiny woman and laugh at her proposal. Thinking she'll be no match for them and they'll be able to easily elude her, each agrees to the wager. The rules are then established. Some time over the next month, they'll each receive a certified letter in the mail with a check inside postdated for 100,000 dollars that can be cashed 24 hours after they get it. At that point, the game is on. If they manage to survive, they get to keep the money. Virginia warns them she doesn't intend to lose... and the guys clearly have no clue what kind of nutjob they are dealing with!

Flashbacks reveal what evil deeds the men have done to deserve their fate. Buddy gave a girlfriend an overdose of heroin, Charles slashed his married lover's husband to death with a razor after he walked in on them and Rocco celebrated a win against one of his opponents by stomping his head in. While visiting her shrink Dr. Schramm, who pleads with her to get back on her meds pronto, Virginia has her own traumatic flashback. As a child her brother tossed her puppy off a rooftop, to which Virginia replies "I was glad when it died!" Virginia may be completely crazy, but she's also clever in how she lures her prey and uses the men's egos, desperation, pride and / or addictions against them. For the actor, she sets up a comeback and then shows up backstage afterwards armed with a spear. For the wrestler, she taunts him over the phone until he's willing to show himself for a hilarious bullfighting match (complete with Virginia dressed as a matador!). As for the junkie, she knows his need for a fix will be enough to get him out and about.

Since the junkie frequently visits a swinger's bachelor pad, whoever spiced this thing up decided that was the perfect time to wedge in some gratuitous T&A. The newly-shot scenes go on for too long, detract from the suspense, are often poorly spliced in (especially in a scene with LaMotta on the phone) and have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film. They take down what is otherwise a surprisingly solid little 'B' flick. Still, this has enough going for it to merit wading through all that stuff. The main storyline is entertaining and there's some really superb camerawork here, with especially great use made of wide angle and fish eye lenses. However, the absolute best thing about this (and perhaps why it got a stand alone release from double and triple feature DVD specialists Something Weird) is its leading lady. In her only known film appearance, Eileen Lord (which is quite likely a pseudonym) goes for broke in her portrayal of the unhinged femme fatale; crackling, screaming, crying and finally lapsing into a childhood persona when her brother and doctor discover what naughty things she's done. Her final scene alone, locking in a nuthouse in a straight jacket screaming at the top of her lungs, makes this worth a look.

No cast is credited on the version I watched and the director and producer is listed simply as "Eve." On the original poster, all of the cast names appear to be fake (there's not even any mention of LaMotta), but the director and producer are credited there as Herb Stanley, so that's what I'm going with. Soft-core regular Rita Bennett is in the new footage.

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