Sunday, January 27, 2013

Out of the Dark (1988)

Directed by:
Michael Schroeder

Early on in his career, multi-talented Paul Bartel had a string of successes. His wonderfully bizarre low-budgeter PRIVATE PARTS (1972) became a midnight movie favorite that quickly paved the way for a stint working with legendary producer Roger Corman. That union resulted in the Bartel-directed DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), a big money-maker for Corman's company, as well as acting gigs in other successful films like HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976) and PIRANHA (1978). Bartel moved into the 80s promisingly enough with the independently-produced black comedy EATING RAOUL (1982), which garnered the attention of both critics and audiences alike. And then came some missteps, starting with the lambasted western comedy flop LUST IN THE DUST (1985). Despite actually being a fine film, Bartel's comedy / drama follow-up SCENES FROM THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN BEVERLY HILLS (1989) also performed poorly at the box office and with critics. In between Lust and Scenes, Bartel sunk a huge chunk of change into Out of the Dark; a psycho-sexual thriller, hoping its blend of steaminess and slashings would find an audience. Sadly, it didn't. The film also under-performed; reportedly recouping only 1/4th of its budget. Because of these bad breaks, Bartel was mostly relegated to playing small character parts in film and TV through the 90s until his death.

I must start off this review by saying; Holy cow, what a cast! This movie has a dream 'B' movie ensemble if there ever was one. Around to play colorful supporting roles are Karen Black, Bud Cort and Tracey Walter; the latter in a much bigger role than he usually gets. Bartel himself shows up for a bit as the bewigged owner of a sleazy hotel, and he's brought much of his Lust in the Dust cast (Divine [out of drag], Lainie Kazan, Tab Hunter, Geoffrey Lewis...) along with him to play small roles. If that's not enough, dedicated 80s genre fans should also recognize many of the beautiful actresses showcased in this film. There's Starr Andreeff (from the underrated Corman-produced vampire drama DANCE OF THE DAMNED), Karen Mayo-Chandler (from the hilarious exploitation / horror spoof HARD TO DIE) and Playboy Playmate Karen Witter (who had the lead role in the lousy Poe adaptation BURIED ALIVE). The real stars of this one - well, if we're figuring screen time - are Cameron Dye and Lynn Danielson, who are adequate in their roles but hard to pay a whole lot of attention to whenever much of the rest of the cast are doing their thing.

Oh yeah, there's something of a plot in here, too. A sadistic serial killer who dresses up as a clown and calls himself Bobo is after the sexy babes working for Ruth's (Black) phone fantasy 900 business "Suite Nothings." Bobo has been calling the girls up for quite some time and his deep, threatening voice and sudden outbursts creep a few of the employees (who all seem to be aspiring actresses slumming until they get their big break) out, but they view him as basically being harmless. That is until he proves the "clown after midnight" adage right by surprising one of the ladies in a park late at night with a baseball bat. Not content with just that, he shows an even sicker side by mutilating the corpse and cutting her nipples off. Once a second girl is strangled with a water hose, Ruth and her girls realize the psycho is specifically targeting their establishment. A pair of detectives (Walter, Silvana Gallardo) are brought in to investigate. They set up a sting operation to catch the killer, but it backfires and another girl ends up dead.

So who is doing the killings? Amongst the suspects are Kevin Silvers (Dye), a photographer the girls go to for headshots who's also in charge of doing a magazine layout featuring them. His girlfriend Kristi (Danielson), who also works for "Suite Nothings," is oblivious to the fact the man she loves has a long criminal record that includes assault on an underage former girlfriend. Dennis (Lewis), Ruth's ex-husband, is an alcoholic photographer who's insanely jealous that Kevin, his former protégé, has gone on to bigger and better things after leaving him. And then there's Dave Stringer (Cort), a geeky, awkward accountant who has the hots for Barbara (Mayo-Chandler) and is renting an office on the same floor as the phone sex company.

There are a handful of nude scenes thrown in here, but the director and the writers don't rely on the actresses charms alone to keep this entertaining. There's a good sense of humor, 80s music-video-esque visual style, some suspense, a few memorably sick moments (including a nasty surprise hidden inside a filing cabinet) and multiple suspects played by an array of fine character actors to keep you on your toes. There's not much in the way of blood and gore and the ending is a little weak, but otherwise this is a fun, slickly-made little thriller that really should have done better than it did.

Pay attention for an amusing extended plug for the tasteless comedy MORTUARY ACADEMY (1988), which was also directed by Schroeder, written by Zane W. Levitt and featured Bartel, Walter, Danielson and Witter.


Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro (1975)

... aka: Devil's Eye, The
... aka: Eye, The
... aka: Eyeball
... aka: Secret Killer, The
... aka: Ojo en la enscuridad, El
... aka: Wide-Eyed in the Dark

Directed by:
Umberto Lenzi

I've not had the best luck with Lenzi-directed giallo thus far. The Edgar Wallace adaptation SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS (1972) was the textbook definition of ordinary and KNIFE OF ICE (1972) was pretty much one big snooze-fest. Because of the latter, I've even put my stockpile of Carroll Baker movies on the back burner for the time being. So can Eyeball redeem Mr. Lenzi's giallo work in my eyes? Short answer: No. If anything, this is even worse than the other two. Thankfully (?), the English-language dubbing is so painfully awful and the plotline is so painfully stupid that there are laughs aplenty. That alone makes this more entertaining than the two other aforementioned giallo I watched, but good this is not. How it has managed to even muster up its 5.9 rating on IMDb is a mystery much more intriguing than this film itself.

The set-up here is a very Ten Little Indians-esque one, but instead of a group of people isolated somewhere being knocked off one-by-one, we have a dozen or so tourists visiting sun-soaked Barcelona, Spain being knocked off one-by-one. All of that begs the question: If a killer was targeting your tour group, wouldn't you take the next flight the hell out of there? The writers (Lenzi and Felix Tusell) have solved that issue by having the police detain everyone because they're all suspects in the killings. The same writers have failed to give any of the characters a brain by constantly having them wander off by themselves, take midnight strolls and do other boneheaded things just to ensure they'll be alone and get killed. The tourists just merrily continue on with their sight-seeing and trips to a local discotheque regardless of how many other people drop dead around them.

So without any further ado, let's meet our group. We have lesbian fashion photographer Lisa Sanders (Mirta Miller) and her model / lover Naiba Campbell (Ines Pellegrini), unhappily married couple Robby (Daniele Vargas) and Gail (Silvia Solar) Alvarado, clergyman Reverend Bronson (George Rigaud), Mr. Hamilton (John Bartha) and his teenage granddaughter Jenny (Verónica Miriel) and Mr. and Mrs. Randall and their teenage daughter Peggy. Also along for the trip is secretary Paulette Stone (Martine Brochard), who's flying solo because she's actually fleeing from her married boss, whom she's been having an affair with. The boss - Mark Burton (John Richardson) - ends up following her there anyway and she promptly informs him "I refuse to be a plaything!" The entire group is being chaperoned by Martinez (Raf Baldassarre), a loud, obnoxious and ridiculous weirdo who likes to scare everyone with a toy spider and laughs maniacally while doing so.

After a local girl is stabbed repeatedly and has her eyeball gouged out with a razor-sharp dagger and the same fate befalls Peggy on a spook show ride, Inspector Tudela (Andres Mejuto), who's about a week away from retiring, is handed the case. He and his young assistant Inspector Lara (José Maria Blanco) get to work weeding through the suspect roster, but neither takes into consideration Mark's wife Alma (Marta May), who may have secretly flown to Spain instead of back to the U.S. just to check in on what her hubby and his secretary are up to. Alma has recently had a "general nervous collapse," but is she the one running around plucking out peepers?

The characters in this one are all pretty unsavory. The lez photographer doesn't want the fact a mad killer is running amuck to stop her from getting some ("Sure what's occurred is horrible, but what's it got to do with us?") Gail is a bitch who likes to belittle her husband, his war wounds and his impotency. And her hubby isn't any better. He's busted trying to molest a peasant girl right before she's killed and thrown into a pig pen. Mr. Hamilton seems to have incestuous designs on his granddaughter and likes to hover over his bed while she sleeps holding a straight razor. Pretty much everyone acts uncommonly weird and this goes to the most absurd lengths imaginable to cast a shadow of doubt over its many characters.

I'm not sure how this plays out in its original language, but the dialogue and English dubbing are both beyond awful. My favorite idiotic exchange happens between the detectives, who are discussing if one of the women could be the killer because a corpse was found in a mud pit and she was later seen washing her shoes. One of the inspectors says "We could check them, uh, scientifically. There could easily be traces of mud on them." The other replies "Simple walking can get a pair of shoes quite dirty. You take those shoes and bathe them in water and no doubt mud is going to form on them." And just wait until the big shocker of an ending. I won't give away the identity of the killer, but I will say that he or she has been popping out eyeballs right and left to put into their own empty socket and no one has noticed the difference!

Eyeball (also released as The Secret Killer and under several other titles) isn't particularly stylish and is actually far less gory than one might expect given the premise. Brochard, Pellegrini (a rare black female lead in one of these things) and Miller all have topless scenes, so I guess that's at least one plus.


Teenage Zombies (1959)

... aka: Teenage Torture

Directed by:
Jerry Warren

"Young pawns thrust into pulsating cages of horror in a sadistic experiment!" If only this were half as exciting. Filmed in 1957 but not released until two years later to capitalize on the "teen" horror craze of the day, this early Jerry Warren effort (comprised entirely of his own footage for a change) is going to be an endurance test for most sober viewers. Four teeny boppers; Reggie (Don Sullivan) and his girl Julie (Mitzie Albertson), and Skip (Paul Pepper) and his girl Pam (Brianne Murphy), decide to head out on their boat for some water skiing and instead end up stumbling upon small, supposedly uninhabited "Mullet Island" (!), which is located about "30 to 40 miles" off shore. They go inland and immediately see a procession of slow-moving men walking down a path. Skip notes, "They look doped... or dead... or something." And he is partially correct. They are indeed drugged, but I'm not so sure about the dead part. The four try to run off but when they get back to their boat, it's gone. The guys separate from the girls and all four eventually find themselves at the island's only residence... and locked inside of a cage.

Reggie wonders "What kind of a creep joint is this?" and his captor; unscrupulous scientist Dr. Myra (Katherine Victor), will explain. She's in the middle of doing a top secret experiment there and, the more extra test subjects she has, the better. Myra is working on behalf of some unnamed foreign country and her chief objective is to come up with a formula that will turn Americans into mindless zombies. Once she's completed her task, her countrymen will either drop the capsules from the sky or sneak it into the water supply, and turn all United States citizens into their slaves. Myra's helper is Ivan (an unbilled Chuck Niles), a mute hunchback who's already been converted with her formula. She also has a gorilla to experiment on, but is ready to complete "Stage 3" by going ahead with her experiments on her new test subjects. A couple of guys from her country show up to make sure things go according to plan and tell Myra that if she doesn't hurry it along they'll be forced to just drop a hydrogen bomb instead. Meanwhile, Morrie (Jay Hawk) and Dottie (Nan Green), friends of the missing kids, start snooping around and go to the cops looking for help. They eventually convince the local sheriff to come along with them to the island, but he turns out to be in cahoots with the bad guys and has been sending them drunks and prisoners all this time for their experiments. Can the kids get the upper hand on those evil foreigners?

To some, Teenage Zombies is a fun and hilariously bad movie. To most, it's absolute torture to sit through. Either way, it's cheap, poorly filmed, endlessly talky, slow-moving, technically inept, bargain basement garbage. The acting and dialogue are both terrible, nearly the entire thing is comprised of medium shots which seem to go on forever and the movie is most certainly not going to deliver what anyone is going to want out of it. The gorilla prominently displayed on the poster is only featured in two brief scenes, is difficult to see and doesn't even really interact with the rest of the cast. And if you're expecting teenage zombies, don't hold your breath. Two of the teen characters are indeed transformed into mindless "zombies," but all they do is stand in place for a few minutes until the antidote is found. Said antidote is pretty much just anonymously plucked off the shelf when the time comes. What luck! The other "zombie" test subjects on the island are only seen in one shot and from afar.

The biggest laughs don't come until the very end during some of the most horribly choreographed and least exciting 'action' scenes you will ever seen. Warren movie regular Victor is especially impressive in her refusal to participate in any of this nonsense and just sits around looking bored and annoyed even when one of the teen tootsies tries to engage in a cat fight with her. The character also dresses rather glamorously (just throwing her lab coat on over her luxurious gowns) for someone living alone on an island working in a lab most of the time.

Warren took credit for producing and directing, but used the alias "Jacques Lecotier" for his screenplay for some strange reason. As if one is worse than another! Lead actor Sullivan went on to appear in THE GIANT GILA MONSTER and THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS, which were both released the same year. The only other notable cast member is Brianne Murphy. Murphy was married to Warren at the time, was also the production coordinator and wardrobe supervisor of Zombies, went on to direct BLOOD SABBATH (1972) and became an Emmy-winning cinematographer. In 1980, she made history by becoming the very first female to shoot a major studio, union picture (FATSO) and was also the first female member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). Several of the other actors later cropped up in Warren's TERROR OF THE BLOODHUNTERS (1962) and FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF (1964).

A public domain title, this is an easy one to find and watch many places online for free if you're interested. Don't be.

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