Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fatal Exposure (1989)

... aka: Mangled Alive

Directed by:
Peter B. Good

Most people who've seen their fair share of shot-on-video, direct-to-video horror cheapies from the 80s probably cringe at the thought of sitting through another. That goes double for anyone who's seen any that were released on the Tapeworm label, whose acquisitions were about as appealing as their company name. The acting in these things is almost always terrible and the writing and direction usually even worse. Couple that with extremely low production values and the sheer technical incompetence generally on display, and it's no wonder only a tiny niche audience who actually find enjoyment in these things exists. So I am pleased to report that Fatal Exposure managed to rise above the extremely low expectations I had initially set for it. Amongst all of the other shot-on-video efforts from this time, this perhaps comes closest to cutting it as an actual movie. It's reasonably well-made, has plenty of gore and nudity, a ridiculous, though very entertaining, storyline, some effective black comedy and lead actors with some charisma and talent. In the slasher subgenre, regardless of budget, this is also an above par offering.

A young couple (including ELVES star Julie Austin) are messing around in a car out in woods when they're attacked by a panty-hose-over-the-face psycho armed with an ice pick. The psycho responsible is Jack T. Rippington (Blake Bahner); the handsome and charming great grandson of infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper. Jack has just recently moved into one of those large old plantation homes in the small town of Prairieville, Alabama. His first visitors are Maggie Hopkins (Renee Cline) and her husband Jeff (Greg Wise), who pop in to welcome the newcomer to worship services at the town's church. Jack is working on a magazine article called "The Art of Death" and his attempts to photograph death scenes using mannequins just aren't working so he decides to draft his new visitors as models. Jeff is placed in a rack and gets his head lopped off, while his wife is tied to a chair and injected with acid. The death pictures end up capturing the realism Jack has been striving for because they are real. He then goes about recruiting other oblivious models to pose for him.

Aside from working on his project and killing various people, Jack is interested in meeting "the perfect woman" who will conceive a child to help carry on the legendary Rippington name. He drinks fresh human blood to stay sexually potent and asks each woman he runs across and is interested in three questions. 1. "Have there been times in your life when you've been obsessed with death and dying?" 2. "What do you think about when you hear the word blood?" and 3. "Have you ever thought about killing someone?" So far, none of the women have answered to his satisfaction. Jack disposes of the bodies in a crypt in an old cemetery where he doesn't think anyone will look and meets Erica (Ena Henderson), a pretty young woman with some edge to her, there. Not only does she have an interest in death and ghosts, but she's also kind of turned on by blood. Ding ding. We have a winner.

Jack begins dating Erica and even has her go into the big city to modeling agencies to help lure professional models back to his home. Of course the naive small town girl has no clue what Jack is up to or what she's doing and doesn't even realize he's already dismembered her suspicious best friend Gretchen (Joy Ovington) with an electric saw. Erica finds out she's pregnant. Jack's elated, but when Erica discovers what he's doing and tries to run off, he chokes her out and locks her up in his basement. He plans on keeping her prisoner there for seven months until she gives birth.

Aside from what's already been mentioned, there's an electrocution, a head blown off with a shotgun, a neck slashing, a stabbing with a shard of glass and other bloody moments. The best bits are a few acid meltdowns, including one where Jack spikes the dumb hick sheriff's (Marc Griggs) drink during a beer chugging competition. Pretty good makeup effects and a generous helping of female nudity helps things along. Bahner gives a competent performance in the lead role and it's no surprise he went on to do other things, though primarily in the direct-to-video arena. His character also narrates and even makes some asides directly to the camera. Lead actress Henderson is adorable and a decent little actress to boot so I'm surprised she only did one other film.

The director's name sounds like a pseudonym but it's not; he was born Peter Benson Good. His other credits include mostly camerwork, including shooting the classic exploitation flick JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (1975) and some of the FACES OF DEATH sequels.


El hombre y el monstruo (1959)

... aka: Man and the Monster, The
... aka: Prezzo del demonio, Il

Directed by:
Rafael Baledón

Ricardo Souto (Abel Salazar) gets more than he bargained for upon arriving in the small village of San José to interview world famous pianist Samuel Magno (Enrique Rambal). Samuel was at the height of his career, and dubbed one of the world's greatest musicians, when he curiously decided to retire from the business altogether and retreat to the small community to live a hermit-like existence. He now lives in a country home with his domineering mother Cornelia (Ofelia Guilmáin) and his talented female protégé Laura (Martha Roth), who plans on carrying on where Samuel left off and will be making her big concert debut very soon. Ricardo's first night in town, he stumbles upon a dying woman who was involved in a minor car accident right outside the Magno home. When he goes to ask for help, Cornelia refuses and closes the door in his face. The police write the whole thing off as an unfortunate accident. Ricardo learns that Cornelia is rumored to be a witch and all of the townsfolk refuse to enter their home for obvious reasons.

The next day, Ricardo attempts to get some information about Laura's upcoming concert and is met with open hostility by Cornelia, who isn't actually a witch, just overly protective and apprehensive others are going to discover a dark secret her son is hiding. Samuel acts like he's a nervous wreck and tells Ricardo he can no longer play. Laura later refutes those claims by saying her mentor only plays late at night. In fact, any time Samuel plays he has to lock himself inside his room and throw the keys outside. And that's because he's sold his soul to become "the greatest artist in the world." Several years earlier, Samuel had been in the shadows to a virtuoso named Alejandra (also played by Roth) and, jealous of her success, plead with whoever out there was listening; offering up his soul to become the best pianist in his world. Someone takes him up on that offer, but things don't work out as planned. Samuel murdered Alejandra with a pair of scissors and has kept her body hidden away in a room ever since.

Now Samuel is both blessed and cursed. He's blessed because, with Alejandra out of the way, he has indeed become the most gifted pianist in the world. He's cursed because he cannot play the piano without turning into a werewolf-like beast in the process, which almost renders his talents meaningless since he cannot share them with the world. And that's where Laura comes in. Samuel hopes to live vicariously through her, though things don't go quite as planned.

This entertaining, well-made film - one of the best South-of-the-border genre offerings from its decade, no doubt - mixes up elements from sources such as Faust, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Beauty and the BeastThe Phantom of the Opera and The Wolf Man to very good effect. The normal Samuel is meek, gentle, kind and passive, while the monstrous Samuel is a laughing, sneering, jealous and arrogant creature. The dueling personas, with the normal Samuel not able to remember a thing he's done as the monstrous Samuel, follow your standard Jekyll / Hyde format, yet this really has something to say about the dangers of ego, pride and taking shortcuts to fulfill your dreams. The addition of the character of Samuel's mother, who is able to keep her son in check regardless of what form he's in (even the monster cowers at her mere touch), gives this an interesting Freudian touch.

Reasonably well-shot in black-and-white and utilizing expressionistic, shadowy lighting, this is adequately atmospheric in the same Gothic vein of the tales its takes its inspiration from. The monster makeups are really pretty great for their time. The beast has untamed hair, thick black eyebrows, a flat nose with large nostrils and crooked teeth, though Rambal's exaggerated, intense eyes under all that makeup is what really brings the creature to life and makes it menacing. I'm not familiar at all with the lead actor, but he gives a performance here that is very much in league with what classic horror stars like Chaney and Karloff were capable of doing; playing both a gentle character and a dangerous monster with equal pathos. The rest of the cast - particularly Guilmáin - is also very good.

Director Baledón also made SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS (1957), THE HELL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1960), the well-regarded THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1961), GHOST JESTERS (1965), THE SHE-WOLF (1965) and others. His young daughter, Ana Laura Baledón, plays the little girl who gets a fatal Tchaikovsky lesson at the hotel.

The DVD is from CasaNegra Entertainment, an unfortunately short-lived company who specialized in restoring and releasing Mexican genre films.

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