Sunday, February 10, 2013

La muerte del chacal (1984)

... aka: Death of the Jackal, The

Directed by:
Pedro Galindo III

For the 80s slasher fan who thinks they've seen it all, I cannot stress this enough: you haven't. There are a lot more of these things than you and I probably realize. I keep discovering new ones all the time I'd never even heard of before. For every Jason or Freddy flick, every Prom Night or The Burning, there are five more of these things from various places around the globe. Now seeking these titles out does require one's willingness to read subtitles or go without them altogether. If you're one of those people who refuses to do so, I really don't know what to tell you. Sucks to be you and miss out, I guess. For everyone else, take a trip outside the U.S. and you'll find many, many more of these things. Some are as good as the popular, well-known ones, some are bad and the majority are just kind of mediocre. As much as I miss the whole video store experience, being a horror nut in this day and age certainly has its perks. One of the big ones is movie availability. Films that were previously unavailable in certain countries are suddenly just a click away, and fans have even taken it upon themselves to create English subtitles for many of these. La muerte de chacal ("The Death of the Jackal") was high up on my list of films to view because it was made by Mexican director Pedro Galindo III. Galindo had also made the above average late-80s slasher Trampa Infernal (released here as HELL'S TRAP), which I enjoyed, and the fun Vacations of Terror (and its sequel). He has other genre films on his resume, such as 1989's Panico en la montana ("Panic on the Mountain"), which looks like a lot of fun itself. I'm still trying to hunt down some of these.

Jackal begins with a good 10-minute-long pre-credits sequence where four people; two longshoremen and a pair of strippers they've picked up at a bar, decide to go aboard a huge, old abandoned ship to drink beer and fool around. Instead of having a good time, they end up falling prey to a fedora sporting, trench coat wearing psycho (seen in shadow only) with a blade hidden his cane, as well as his vicious pet Doberman Pinschers. Immediately afterward, the killer leaves the ship, heads into town and knifes a blonde prostitute hanging around outside at a hotel. That woman is the third (known) female victim whose body has turned up thus far. Now with a handful of mutilated corpses (each having been stabbed through the throat), as well as even more people reported missing, Sheriff Bob (Mario Almada) quickly tries to get to the bottom of things before the press can cause a panic in the small town. He enlists the aid of his brother Roy (Fernando Almada), a fitness fanatic and boat captain, to help him. Since many of the victims worked as either prostitutes or strippers, Bob must start hanging around some seedy joints. Being the professional law enforcement agent he is, he smokes on a cigar, orders a bourbon and sits down to watch the strip acts while another stripper is being murdered right upstairs. Another man is killed there and thrown through a window right onto the stage, where he collides with one of the dancers.

Following a lead about a man named Jack who uses a cane and lives on a boat, Bob and Roy end up in a high speed boat chase, which ends in Jack getting killed when he crashes the boat and it explodes. To help get some professional advice on serial killers, Bob and his wife Joan (Cristina Molina) host a dinner party and invite Dr. Milan (Ruben Benavides) and his wife Nancy over. There, bachelor Roy meets Joan's attractive single model friend Sally (Olivia Collins). Sally insists on going down to the port, goes aboard the old ship, finds the corpses of the victims killed in the first scene strung up on hooks and ends up becoming the latest victim. In an effort to bait the killer, Bob has one of female deputies, Sergeant Garcia (Lizzeta Romo), dress provocatively and start hanging around the port posing as a hooker. She ends up coming face to face with the psycho, but the cops show up just in time to shoot him and save her. Not killed by the gunshot, the killer is sent to a mental asylum. U.S. authorities want him extradited because of some similar murders he committed in San Diego years earlier, but because of his mental state, that doesn't happen.

Five months pass, and the psycho proves to be more than the hospital staff can handle. He refuses to eat and has to get all of his nourishment intravenously, proves to be incredibly strong and manages to break out of his straight jacket and shackles. He cracks an orderlies neck, kills a guard who's sitting with his back turned away from the prison bars so the killer can just reach through and grab him (and the keys), and escapes. Now he wants revenge against all of those who helped to capture him. First up, is Garcia. He slashes her mother's throat and then stabs her hand before sinking a huge butcher knife into her neck. And then, Roy and Joan become the main targets. He kidnaps Joan and uses her to lure Bob to the old ship for the big finale. Even though I skirted around the issue, the identity of the psycho is revealed midway through the film, and when it is, it's actually somewhat of a surprise, so I won't reveal it here.

This isn't very original and, like most slashers, has some incredibly stupid moments sprinkled throughout. I had a hard time believing a bunch of people could just disappear near the port and no one would even think about looking on the old abandoned ship. Five months after the killer is apprehended, half a dozen bodies (including Sally's) are still there hanging up on hooks looking no worse for wear as when they were first killed. The dogs are still there, as well. I'm not sure who was feeding them all that time the killer was locked up. If you can overlook stuff like that, this is watchable. The acting is OK, there's some gore and nudity and a high body count. Some of the camerawork is good, too, including very fast POV shots of the dogs running up the stairs and around in the hallways. It was filmed in Brownsville, Texas (note the license plates and several visible American flags); the southernmost city in Texas.

The film leaves off with an open ending but according to IMDb there was a sequel (which was filmed as La muerte del chacal 2 but released as Carceria de un criminal) shot the same year, which also featured the Almada Brothers and Molina reprising the same roles. Neither of these were released in America. The one I viewed was a Mexican VHS release on the Condor label.


I Bury the Living (1958)

... aka: Killer on the Wall

Directed by:
Albert Band

Science has learned that man possesses powers which go beyond the boundaries of the natural. This is the story of one confronted by such strange forces within himself. Department store president Robert Kraft (Richard Boone) has just been appointed chairman of the Immortal Hill Cemetery committee. He's not too happy about it either as he's already swamped running his own store, but it's his turn and a matter of keeping a good standing in their community, which is, of course, always good for business. As part of the responsibility, he has to spend an entire year managing and overseeing the cemetery. His uncle George (Howard Smith) assures him it'll be just a few hours a week per month of his time. No big deal. Robert reluctantly agrees to do it. He meets up with friendly, reclusive old Andrew McKee (Theodore Bikel), who's been the cemetery caretaker for the past 40 years, to show him the ropes. In the cemetery's main office, Robert is shown a large, intricate map of the grounds, which has each separate plot laid out and its own coding system using pins. A black pin stuck in a box indicate that the person is dead and already buried there and a white pin in a box indicates that the plot has been purchased for future use by someone still living. 

As a stipulation of a will, young Stu Drexel (Glen Vernon) shows up there to purchase plots for both himself and his new wife Beth (Lynette Bernay), that will unlock a huge trust fund for the newlyweds. Not quite used to the mapping system yet, Robert sticks a couple of pins into their plots and goes about his day. Stu and his bride die in a tragic car accident soon after. When Robert checks their plots, he realizes he'd stuck the wrong colored pins (black) into them. In other words, he'd marked them dead... and they ended up dead. A strange coincidence? Distracted by both the deaths and by his fiancée Ann Craig (Peggy Maurer), who swings by for a visit, Robert again pokes a black pin into a random plot on the map. Later that same day, the plot's elderly owner (Cyril Delevanti) keels over from a sudden and unexpected cerebral hemorrhage. Now suspecting there's something supernatural - or downright evil - about that map, Robert demands to quit his position. George thinks he's overreacting about a few unfortunate coincidences and wants to prove Robert wrong, joking "I've been trying to find out a way to wipe out our competition for years!" He drags Robert to the cemetery, they poke a black pin into rival committee member Henry Trowbridge's (Russ Bender) plot, and he too ends up dying of a heart attack.

Now completely convinced of the map's powers, Robert wonders if it's actually the map that's responsible or it has something to do with him? Does he have powers he was unaware of? Being in the cemetery gives him a strange feeling of deja vu, as do the familiar sounds of Andrew chiseling names into new tombstones. Either way, Robert is bullied by the three remaining members of his committee, Bill (Ken Drake), Charlie (Matt Moore) and his Uncle George, to go out to the cemetery and swap pins for each of them. He follows their orders, sits back and waits for the inevitable. One by one, each man dies under mysterious circumstances. It's all enough to drive Robert to the brink of madness. Desperate to reverse things, he comes up with a plan. Since he has the power of death, why not the power of life? Robert pulls out all of the black pins for everyone he feels responsible for killing and replaces them with white pins to see what happens...

I Bury the Living actually works quite well for the most part. Thanks to solid direction, well-written dialogue and an intriguing and original Twilight Zone-esque central plot concept from writer Louis Garfinkle, the film is able to overcome its low-budget, talky, set bound limitations. The cast is pretty good as well. Boone does a fine job anchoring the entire film and Bikel has a scene-stealing supporting role as the singing Scottish groundskeeper. Herbert Anderson, as a reporter, and Robert Osterloh, as a police detective, are also in the cast. The only thing I wasn't quite sold on was the explanation behind the deaths and the map, which is an extremely hard swallow.

This was an early effort for Alfredo Antonini, who was born in Paris, educated in the United States and eventually changed his name to Albert Band. He directed over a dozen films, but perhaps his greatest legacy was helping to start Empire Pictures with his son, Charles. Empire was responsible for many releases throughout the 70 and 80s, with even more films released during the VHS heyday under their Wizard Video label. Once Empire and Wizard went under, Charles began Full Moon Pictures; a profitable company that continues on to the day. Albert would produce and direct many films for the company until his death in 2002. Between both father and son, the Band's had their hands in literally hundreds of films, making them the second most prolific genre producers, just under Roger Corman.

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