Saturday, August 31, 2013

5 tombe per un medium (1965)

... aka: Cemetery of the Living Dead
... aka: Cimetiere pour morts vivants
... aka: Cinque tombe per un medium
... aka: Coffin of Terror
... aka: Five Graves for a Medium
... aka: Tomb of Horror

Directed by:
"Ralph Zucker" (Massimo Pupillo)

A letter arrives at the law office of attorney Joseph Morgan ("Richard Garrett" / Riccardo Garrone) from a Dr. Jeronimus Hauff asking him to come to his secluded villa to oversee his will. Since Mr. Morgan is out of town of business, his colleague Albert Kovac (Walter "Brandt" / Brandi) takes it upon himself to go in his place. Upon arriving, he meets Dr. Hauff's daughter Corinne ("Marilyn Mitchell" / Mirella Maravidi) as well as Hauff's young widow / Corinne's stepmother Cleo (Barbara Steele). Albert soon learns that Dr. Hauff has actually been dead for almost a year and the women only arrived there yesterday because the doctor's body is being moved over to the family chapel on the one year anniversary of his passing. So it couldn't have been him who sent the letter... or could it? After all, the handwriting and the seal (which was actually put into the deceased's coffin) used on the letter match the dead doctor's. Corinne believes it may be a warning or an omen from beyond the grave. Cleo thinks she's just being childish. Either way, most of the local villagers are too scared to come onto the grounds because Dr. Hauff was known to have dabbled in spiritualism and the occult.

The letter and the legacy of Dr. Hauff aren't the only two weird things going on. The house itself was built on top of the ruins of a 15th Century hospital where plague victims were brought to die. Claw marks appear on a statue and the mummified hands of executed men who supposedly spread the pestilence out of sheer malice are even used as morbid decorations. Maid Louise (Tilde Till) refuses to even spend the night there, but gardener / servant Kurt ("Alan Collins" / Luciano Pigozzi) hasn't left the villa since Dr. Hauff passed away, nor has he spoken a single word. Albert finds a phonograph recording left behind by the doctor ("I've summoned them from their graves, and now I am among them"!) and the following day the engine in his car is destroyed by an owl (!) He becomes acquainted with the friendly Dr. Nemek ("Alfred Rice" / Alfredo Rizzo) who briefs him on the local superstitions. The paralytic Oskar Stinnell ("Edward Bell" / Ennio Balbo) warns everyone to leave the villa because "The day of revenge is coming!"

After the village mayor's face is half eaten away by acid, Albert decides to do some research and discovers that the victim - as well as two other men - have recently died under mysterious circumstances. All three men, as well as two others who are still among the living (at least for the time being) signed off on the death certificate because they were all present during Dr. Hauff's supposedly accidental death. Did he fall down the stairs in a drunken stupor like they claim, or was he actually murdered and now wanting revenge against all of those who did him in? And if you've seen a few of these things already, you don't even need me to answer that question.

Set in 1911, this black-and-white period Gothic horror suffers from poor English-language dubbing and translations, plus an overly-familiar plot involving the usual blackmail, betrayal, adultery, murder and revenge from beyond the grave, but it has its moments, too. There are some stylish sequences in here, the music score (including a haunting lullaby about pure water) is pretty good and unlike many others of this type and from this era, numerous scenes are shot outdoors in scenic locations. There are also some surprisingly gruesome moments in here for the time. A man is kicked in the face by a horse until his eyeball falls out, guts are seen after a man impales himself with a sword, faces erupt with bubbling lesions when victims touched by the dead are given an advanced form of the plague and severed hands come to life and start slowly moving their fingers. The well-done make-up effects are credited to "Bud Dexter;" who may actually be future Oscar-winner Carlo Rambaldi. Steele (who is top-billed but not the lead) and Maravidi show about as much skin (bare backs, bare shoulders, legs) as was allowable at the time in a mainstream release. So while not a great film by any means, there's probably just enough here to satisfy fans of this sub-genre.

Filmed as 5 tombe per un medium ("Five Graves for the Medium"), this was given the more lurid-sounding Terror-Creatures moniker for U.S. distribution, along with new fake Anglicized credits (only Steele is properly billed). Four different writers are credited for the screenplay, which is said to have been "based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe." (They're probably referring to "The Masque of the Red Death," which also involved the plague). Director Pupillo was apparently not very happy with the finished product so he allowed co-producer Ralph Zucker to take credit for directing the film. Pupillo also made two other Gothic horrors the same year: the sleazy (by mid-60s) standards The Bloody Pit of Horror (1965), which starred bodybuilder Mickey Hagitay, was also produced by Zucker and again featured Brandi and Rizzo, and the hard-to-find The Vendetta of Lady Morgan (1965), which starred Paul Muller, Erika Blanc and Gordon Mitchell and doesn't appear to have ever been released in America.

The print used on the DVD distributed by Alpha Video Classics (which is what I viewed) is in pretty awful condition; complete with jumps in editing and sound and a very faded picture quality.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Evilspeak (1981)

... aka: Computer Murder
... aka: Evilspeaks

Directed by:
Eric Weston

The Howard brothers were both fairly successful child TV actors of the 1960s; Ronnie on The Andy Griffith Show and Clint on Gentle Ben. As what happens with many other kid stars, their appeal was put into question as they moved into adulthood. Ronnie had luckily managed to snag a starring role on the very popular Happy Days series in 1974, which kept him in the public eye well into the 80s. By the time the show was winding down, Ronnie was nearing 30 years of age and starting to lose his boyish looks (not to mention his hair), so it was time for a change in career. Wisely, he'd already begun Plan B while he was still gainfully employed on Days. He'd made his directorial debut in 1977 with the successful Roger Corman production Grand Theft Auto and from there eventually carved out a reputation as a reliable mainstream director with such hits as Night Shift (1982), Splash (1984), Cocoon (1985) and Willow (1988) to his credit. He'd hit his peak when he won himself an Oscar for his work on A Beautiful Mind (2000). Clint on the other hand just kept acting. While Ronnie had a squeaky clean appeal in his youth; Clint was quite the opposite. Unattractive, short, squatty, flat-faced, whiny-voiced, gap-toothed and eventually balding himself, Clint's on-screen career destiny would be playing geeky schlubs, weirdos, perverts, psychos and borderline retarded backwoods rednecks in low-budget B movies. Evilspeak - an outcast's revenge tale - would be one of his only top-billed starring roles.

If you remember CARRIE (1976), some of the opening scenes here are going to look awfully familiar. Instead of Sissy Spacek being tormented in the locker room by her classmates after fouling up a volleyball game, here we get Clint Howard being tormented in the locker room by his classmates after fouling up a soccer match. Things are set at the West Andover Military Academy, which is full of macho jerks in need of a punching bag and poor Stanley Coopersmith fits the bill perfectly. He's pushed around, nicknamed "Cooperdick" by his peers, branded a "welfare case" by much of the staff and is made fun of for being an orphan. They unplug his clock so he'll be late for class, rub boogers on his books, blame him for things he's innocent of and do other things just to ensure he's going to be in need of disciplinary action by the school's staff. The aptly named Bubba (Don Stark) seems to give him the most grief and has three friends who help him make Stanley's life as unpleasant as possible. Because the academy forces athletics upon the students, the Coach (Claude Earl Jones) makes a little nudging aside to Bubba that if Coopersmith is injured and cannot play then so be it. There are only two people at the school who are somewhat nice to the poor kid; fellow student Kowalski (Haywood Nelson), who frequently defends him, and grizzled cook / janitor Jake (Lenny Montana), who cooks him special meals and gives him a puppy.

The military academy was built upon a cursed plot of land once owned by an order of evil Spanish monks, who had to flee their home country in the sixteenth century for practicing black magic (and holding human sacrifices) and eventually settled in America. All that comes into play once our luckless protagonist is forced to clean out the cellar of an old church for Father Jameson (Joseph Cortese), who's every bit as mean as the guys at school. Put under the not-so-watchful eye of violent drunken military vet bum Sarge (R.G. Armstrong), Coopersmith eventually discovers a hidden room full of books, skulls, weapons, candles and other ancient relics, begins using a computer to translate one book from Latin to English and starts messing around with black magic. He hits a standstill once the spells call for human blood to complete the ritual, but lots of abuse and one dead puppy later, Stanley's ready to finally take the plunge to get his revenge.

A serviceable, entertaining and well-made revenge tale for the most part, Evilspeak is flawed but better than it's reputed to be. There's plenty of blood and gore (enough to land it on the coveted British "video nasties" list), a solid cast, decent special effects and adequate production values. Echoes of the aforementioned Carrie aren't limited to the opening but are apparent throughout. The film spends the majority of its time dealing with the lead's maladjustment before the deserving parties get what's coming to them during the last fifteen or so minutes. Carrie unleashed her telekinetic fury at the prom; trapping everyone inside the gymnasium, setting the place ablaze and using her powers to knock off all those who have wronged her (and a few unlucky bystanders who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time). In this film, Coopersmith traps everyone inside a church, sets the place ablaze and uses his Satanic powers to knock off those who have wronged him (and a few unlucky bystanders). The difference is this one's much bloodier. A heart is ripped out of a chest, a hand is ripped off, a spike from a crucified Jesus flies out of the statue to impale a head and there are no less that four decapitations... and that's not even including a scene where someone's head gets twisted around backwards!

One aspect that provides additional interest (and some genuine amusement) is the inclusion of rabid, flesh-eating hogs (!), which seem to be connected to the book Coopersmith is translating. The book is stolen from him by the colonel's hot-bodied secretary Miss Friedemyer (Lynn Hancock), who attempts to remove a silver pentagram from the front cover. This riles up the pigs, who eventually show up at her apartment, attack her in the shower and rip her guts out in a very gory shot that was removed from many prints of the film. The piggies also show up again at the finale and help to dispatch the bad guys. The Satanic forces manifesting themselves through computer technology was perhaps a novel idea back in 1981, though these elements (and the accompanying computer graphics) have dated it somewhat.

Though he's sometimes annoying in these things, I quite liked Howard in this particular role. He gives an earnest performance and is able to make his character somewhat sympathetic. Everyone else is fine in their respective roles. Hamilton Camp plays a sniveling teacher who ends up impaled on a chandelier, Charles Tyner is the asshole head colonel and Katherine Kelly Lang (1985's Night Stalker) plays the winner of a Miss Heavy Artillery (!) beauty pageant. Future Night Court TV star Richard Moll is also here to spit in a priest's face and then decapitate a topless peasant girl with a sword in the opening scene (set in Spain in the mid sixteenth century).


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pembalasan ratu pantai selatan (1989)

... aka: Lady Terminator
... aka: Nasty Hunter
... aka: Revenge of the South Seas Queen, The
... aka: Shooting Star
... aka: Snake Terminator
... aka: Terminator Woman

Directed by:
"Jalil Jackson" (H. Tjut Djalil)

Sometimes I regret having a ratings system on this blog because movies like Lady Terminator, and the strange enjoyment they provide, really transcend all that. On one hand, this whole thing is completely laughable. The acting is mostly terrible, the dialogue is terrible, the dubbing makes both even more terrible and the whole thing is a blatant rip-off of the previous year's big hit The Terminator (1984). On the other hand, it's so over-the-top, so sleazy, so loaded down with sex and violence and so utterly ridiculous that you can't help but be thoroughly entertained. The fact the filmmakers went into this with serious intentions makes it all the more enjoyable. During the pre-credits sequence we're shown what the legendary South Sea Queen was up to 100 years ago, i.e. fucking a man to death, having her handmaidens drag away the body and then sighing "Is there any man who can satisfy me?" A man named Elias shows up to her castle home and seems to be doing a pretty good job at it until he steals an eel that comes out of her vagina (!) The eel then turns into a sword, lightning strikes and the Queen tells the guy that in a century she'll be back to get her revenge on his great granddaughter. She then vanishes and walks out into the sea.

A century later, American anthropology student Tania Wilson (Barbara Anne Constable) shows up in Indonesia working on her thesis. The subject? The South Sea Queen, of course! She goes to get a book and is warned by the librarian not to mess with this stuff. She then charters a boat and is warned by the captain not to mess with this stuff. And then she messes with this stuff, goes snorkeling by the the now-underwater castle the queen used to live in and ends up tied to a bed where a poorly animated eel enters her between the legs. Now possessed by the evil queen, Tanya emerges from the ocean buck naked and encounters two drunk punks on the beach; both of whom she proceeds to fuck to death. She goes to a hotel, destroys the room with lightning bolts that shoot out of her eyes and then kills a security guard by, you guessed it, fucking him to death. When castrated bodies start filling up the morgue ("I've heard of the ultimate blow job but this is too much!"), widowed detective Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart) and a few of his officer buddies are on the case.

Erika (Claudia Angelique Rademaker) is a fast-rising pop star who also happens to be the descendant the Queen wants to snuff out. The possessed Tanya (now dressed in leather pants, boots, studded jacket and a spandex sports bra) starts following Erika around everywhere armed with a machine gun. She shoots up a mall, shoots up a nightclub and shoots up a police station in bloody, action-packed scenes. Erika's white-haired great uncle Masabu (played by the director) shows up long enough to give her a special dagger; the only thing that can stop the Queen, before taking a round of ammo directly to the crotch. There are two car chases, lots of car crashes and explosions and plenty of blood-letting; including an eyeball getting pulled out and at least a hundred people getting gunned down. A few of Max's gung-ho American army buddies fly in for the big finale, which is set at an airport and features a helicopter firing missiles at Tanya's car and her getting blown up with a rocket launcher, only to emerge as a burned-up zombie shooting pink lasers out of her eyes. Amazing stuff!

Despite being surrounded by awful actors, Constable is actually pretty memorable in the central role and has the emotionless evil scowl down pat. She's also super sexy and looks great naked, so that doesn't hurt matters either. Born in London, prior to making this film she was a model and dancer who'd also appeared as a featured 'Pet' in Australian Penthouse. Here, she impressively does most of her own difficult-looking stunts and she even suffered several injuries during the 3-month shoot. This was sadly her only major role and she also gets a credit for doing the make-up. Oh, and I'd be amiss if I didn't even mention Max's pal Snake (Adam Stardust); a mullet-sporting, pot-smoking dude who speaks in a hilarious surfer dude accent.

The DVD is from Mondo Macabro, who also released the director's flying witch head oddity MYSTICS IN BALI (1981). Don't miss it.

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