Friday, September 6, 2013

Greta - Haus ohne Männer (1977)

... aka: Greta, la donna bestia
... aka: Greta, the Mad Butcher
... aka: Greta, the Sadist
... aka: Greta, the Torturer
... aka: Ilsa: Absolute Power
... aka: Ilsa: Ultimate Perversion
... aka: Wanda the Wicked Warden

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

Dyanne Thorne is back as a sadistic, domineering bitch who gets her jollies torturing naked young women in this sleazy Swiss / West German cash-in on Thorne's highly successful Ilsa series. Despite Thorne's character being named Greta in this one, the film was released in the U.S. as Ilsa, the Wicked Warden for obvious reasons, but elsewhere as Wanda, the Wicked Warden for reasons that aren't quite so obvious. After several minutes of gratuitous full frontal female nudity in a groupie shower scene as well as Thorne showing off her spectacular figure in a bubble bath, Rosa Phillips (Esther Studer) manages to escape into the jungle. A few guys armed with rifles head out after her. Rosa slits one's throat before being shot in the back. She manages to hide out in a cave until the coast in clear and then hobbles along to the doorstep of Dr. Milton Arcos (Franco) and passes out. He brings her inside, where she deliriously pleads for "No more shock treatment!" Greta and her guards soon show up to take the girl back to where she escaped from and claim she dies two weeks later, supposedly of a rare blood disease.

Greta runs the Los Palomas Clinic, which was "established for treating sexual deviations in women; harmless abnormalities such as nymphomania, lesbianism, prostitution..." The institute is highly secretive and is run exactly like a maximum security prison.... only worse! No visitors are allowed inside, no patients are allowed outside and the entire staff seems to be in on making the patients' lives as miserable as possible. Dr. Arcos holds a press conference questioning the clinic and asking for an investigation into their practices, but all the red tape is holding things up. Abbie (Tania Busselier), Rosa's vengeful sister, doesn't have the patience to wait and gets Dr. Arcos to write up a false diagnosis to have her committed to Los Palomas (under the name "Abolina Garcia"). Her first day there, she's stripped by a pair of butch guards, who make fun of her small breasts and "pubic nest" being infested with crabs and then spray her face, crotch and ass with a fire hose. She's then given a short button-up, but no panties, and is taken to the dorms.

The clinic forbids the use of real names and if you slip they brand the number on your "ta-tas" lest you forget. Abbie is called "Number 41" and then goes to meet the other patients. One girl won't stop singing, another cries constantly and "Number 14" (Peggy Markoff) has anger issues, furiously knits and claims to have been a man at one point in her life. The queen bee of the dorms is the tough dyke Juana (Lina Romay), who bullies all of the other women and has her way with whoever she wants. But while Juana may be at the top of the pecking order among the patients, she's still at the whim of Greta, who forces her to give her massages and then uses her as a human pincushion. Still, Juana gets special privileges for the arrangement, like cigarettes and none of the harsher tortures. After getting into a cat fight with Juana for refusing to wash her "cholo" in shower, Abbie is taken to Greta, who immediately shoots acid into her vagina with a syringe, gives her shock treatment and then chains her up in solitary confinement.

The plot ultimately seems to be trying to make some kind of political statement (some of the prisoners kept in solitary in the basement are revolutionaries; a terrorist is assassinated and check the graffiti on the bathroom walls) but it's so scattershot and unfocused no one's really going to care, least of all the target audience for something like this. To up the sleaze quotient, naked ladies in the basement are whipped and administered electric shocks to the nipples, Romay's character makes a woman lick her "culo" (ass) right after she gets off the toilet and Greta occasionally likes to bring in depraved male sex offenders to rape some of the women. Her assistant, Dr. Rego (Eric Falk), tapes these sessions and then sells them to a collector, who's wanting more and more extreme stuff and offers to pay top dollar for a snuff film. The dialogue is often hilariously crude and raunchy ("Piss off you blonde bitch and you can take your brother, jack him off and shove him up your stinking ass!") and this is much more entertaining than the director's other 'captive women' efforts.

Franco's WOMEN WITHOUT INNOCENCE (1977), filmed the same year for the same producer and featuring many of the same actresses, had an identical setting (a nuthouse full of sexually confused women) and recycled many of the scenes and characters from this one.

There's an interesting commentary track on the Anchor Bay DVD with Thorne and husband Howard Mauer, who plays a small role as an officer. Both have (mostly) nice things to say about the director but she states she had a no frontal nudity clause in her contract but Franco snuck and filmed some with her anyway and that he pretty much just made all of this up as they went along. Apparently, this was also pitched to its star as a true story about real-life snuff filmmakers working out of a psychiatric clinic (which ended up being just a tiny subplot in the finished product) and that she had to change her hair color to red so people wouldn't assume that she was playing Ilsa again (though that ended up happening anyway thanks to several later title changes).


Eegah (1962)

... aka: Eegah!
... aka: Eegah: The Name Written in Blood

Directed by:
"Nicholas Merriwether" (Arch Hall Sr.)

Arch Hall Sr. (after a stint as a radio writer and serving in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot) moved on to a career as a Hollywood stuntman and bit player, usually in westerns. In 1961, he wrote and produced the juvie delinquent pic The Choppers (1961) as a vehicle for his pug-faced singer / actor son Arch Hall Jr. The film ended up becoming successful enough to help finance a half dozen other collaborations between them through their Fairway International Pictures company.  Sr. usually produced and wrote these, Jr. starred and contributed music and director / writer James Landis and director / cameraman Ray Dennis Steckler were also added to the group. Eegah (the only FIP release directed by Arch Sr.) went on to become the most famous of all these releases; but not for the reasons the Hall's probably intended. In 1978, it ended up making the cut for Harry Medved's book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way), which started the ball rolling on its reputation as one of the worst films ever made. After being lampooned on a popular episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1993 and being listed as one of the 100 most enjoyably bad movies ever made in Golden Raspberry founder John Wilson's The Golden Razzie Guide, the cult had been secured. It now sits as the #48 on IMDb's Bottom 100 list.

After picking up a "swimming suit" for an upcoming pool party, Roxy Miller (Marilyn Manning) is driving down a lonely stretch of desert road when suddenly a giant caveman (7'2" Richard Kiel) brandishing a club leaps out in front of her car. She's spared being clubbed over the head right then and there when her gas station attendant / musician boyfriend Tom Nelson (Arch Jr.) pulls up behind her and honks the horn. Roxy immediately tells him and anyone else that will listen her story, trying to give it credence by exclaiming, "There were giants, the bible says so!" Despite the fact they don't really believe her, her father Robert (Arch Sr.), a fantasy book writer, and Tom decide to accompany her to the area she spotted the big guy. They find several large footprints, which is enough for Robert to hop in a helicopter and fly out to Shadow Mountain in hopes of taking a photo of it. The following day, Tom and Roxy take out a dune buggy to pick Robert up, but he's nowhere to be found.

Tom and Roxy camp out for that night waiting for her father. When he doesn't return by the following day they go looking for him. Tom leaves Roxy alone in the buggy long enough for the cave dude to abduct her and take her back to his cave home, where he's also keeping her father prisoner. They nickname him Eegah cause he says "Eegah" a lot. Eegah quickly develops the hots for his young captive and proves to be a thoughtful suitor by sniffing her arms, trying to pick lice out of her hair, quenching her thirst with putrid sulfur water and introducing her to his proud parents. OK, they aren't really proud, but they probably would be if they were still alive! Roxy returns the favor by giving him a shave. Pretty soon, Eegah is wanting to get down and dirty with Roxy but Tom shows up just in time to save her from being manhandled by pelting the love-struck prehistoric giant with rocks. Everyone manages to get away, but Eegah decides to make the long trip from the desert into Palm Springs. There, he drinks from a swimming pool, scares a drunk, demonstrates an interesting alternative to using a doorknob, steals a big hunk of meat from a restaurant, accidentally enters the ladies restroom and finally tries to carry Roxy away on his shoulder after crashing a pool party where Arch Jr. and his band are playing. The terrible acting, amazingly awful dialogue and frequent botched attempts at cornball humor, this is likely to tickle just about any bad movie fan's funny bone.

With all these films, Daddy Hall seemed to want to establish Junior (who performs three songs here) as a singer / actor / heartthrob triple threat in the same vein as Elvis Presley. The problem? While Elvis was a pretty lousy actor himself, he was undoubtedly both a very talented musician and an extremely handsome and charismatic man. Archie usually didn't impress with the acting either, but on top of that his music was mediocre and, thanks to a pronounced forehead, sunken in eyes and eyebrows that were arched in the middle, his "look" can best be described as creepy. James Landis seemed to be the only one to realize this when he cast Arch Jr. as a sadistic psycho in THE SADIST (1963), which remains the only good performance ever given by the young actor. In fact, it's an excellent performance. Manning also managed to impress in The Sadist (she played Arch's girlfriend there, too) despite being pretty awful here. Kiel would of course later become famous for playing Jaws in the James Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979), and he actually doesn't embarrass himself here too much all things considered.

Ray Dennis Steckler, whose legendary The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964) was also an FIP release, was the cameraman and also puts in a cameo as a guy getting tossed into a pool by Eegah. Steckler's wife Carolyn Brandt also appears briefly, as does Arch Sr.'s wife Addalyn Pollitt and successful Motown songwriter and producer Deke Richards. Arch Sr. used the alias "Nicholas Merriwether" for directing and producing, and "William Watters" for acting. The budget was just 15,000 dollars and it was very (financially) successful.


Voices of Desire (1972)

Directed by:
Chuck Vincent

For many years it was reported that Sandra Cassell (nee Peabody), star of the Wes Craven's notorious, controversial shocker THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), was a "one hit wonder." Ditto for her Last House co-star Lucy Grantham (nee Grunther). As it turns out, both actresses had been involved in the New York area sex film industry prior to the film that would make them famous. In Grantham's case it was appearing anonymously in hardcore porn loops, reportedly to get back at her wealthy parents for something or other. Though Grantham herself hasn't discussed her participation in these films, director Shaun Costello confirmed that she (along with fellow Last House star Fred J. Lincoln) appeared in a hardcore pseudo-documentary he made called Loops, which has disappeared since its brief theatrical run in 1973. Later, an actual porn loop starring Grantham, Harry Reems and another guy surfaced to lend credence to Costello's claims. Cassell, on the other hand, has stated in numerous interviews that Last House was the only film she ever appeared in. She must have forgotten about her starring role in this X rated soft-core flick... and her starring role in Massage Parlor Hookers (1974) ... and her starring role in Teenage Hitch-Hiker (1975) ... Sure, she was always equipped with some other name to hide behind, but that doesn't change the fact that Voices of Desire has been available for mass consumption from Something Weird Video for a number of years and it does indeed star her (using the alias "Liyda Cassell"). Voices was also an early effort for director Chuck Vincent (opting for an alias - "Mark Ubell" - himself), who'd later become a big name in porn films.

In New York City, Detective Holland calls in young, meek Anna Reed (guess who?) to recount her claims that she was involved in a weird sex cult whose members were either murdered or committed suicide. Anna then narrates a series of flashbacks. She goes into a phone booth and hears deep breathing coming out of the phone, then hears voices calling out "Anna!" and "Anna, wait for us!" as she walks down the street. Back at her apartment, more strange things occur. She sees flashes of a woman being strangled, a man hanging himself and people having sex. Doors open, close and lock on their own, the voices continue and Anna seems to become (temporarily) possessed. Next thing she knows, she's stripping off all her clothes and rubbing grapes and apples on her nude body as she writhes around suggestively sucking on a banana. The strange voice lures her outside, down the street and into a building; coaxing her into one of the apartments. She enters a candle lit room where a woman (hardcore actress Marlene Willoughby) and three men (including hardcore actor Roger Caine) offer her wine, which turns out to be drugged. They carry her upstairs, strip her naked and two of the guys begin getting busy with her after one sucks on her toes and another licks her armpits while the woman watches and the third guy ("the director") pretends like he's conducting an orchestra (!) And it's at this moment I think I realize why Cassell / Peabody - who supposedly now works as an acting coach who specializes in teaching children - might not want to acknowledge this film.

Anna awakens lying in bed in a locked room, hears a female voice through the wall, picks the lock on the door and tries to escape but is chased around by a leather-clad Willoughby before the obligatory lesbian scene (which takes place in front of a fireplace where the cult leader plays piano). She's tied up and forced to watch one of the guys have sex with another captive there (played by yet another hardcore actress; Darby Lloyd Rains under the name "Lynn Ann Carver"). There's more sex, more confessions to the police detective and scenes of the cultists chasing Anna around with huge knives before the (poorly telegraphed) twist ending is revealed. There's full nudity from both genders and very little dialogue, the music is classical and dramatic and some of the camerawork is actually quite good and surprisingly elaborate for one of these things. There are lots of tracking shots, frenzied POV shots, shots on rooftops looking down, out of focus and wavering shots and 360 degrees camera spins. Posters for Fritz Lang's M (1931) and Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai (1954) adorn the walls in Anna's apartment; which solidify the arty cred this somewhat interesting though padded and tedious 70-minute sex flick was striving for.

Cassell, whom Last House co-star David Hess described as being a "repressed Protestant" in interviews (riiiiight), doesn't give the impression she is the least bit uncomfortable with the nudity and sex here. In fact, quite the opposite as she performs in her full frontal simulated sex scenes with a smile plastered on her face the entire time. She's either a better actress than usually given credit for or she didn't mind at all doing sex-and-violence films while she was doing them.

"The Director" is played by "Guy Thomas;" who usually used the name "Gus Thomas" appearing in hard porn films such as Bedroom Bedlam (1973) and Deep Throat Part II (1974). Years later it was discovered that "Thomas" was actually Mark Suben, who taught at Syracuse University Law School and eventually became DA of Cortland County in upstate New York. Suben, who'd lied about his past in adult films when it was brought up during campaign time, got in hot water in 2012 when his past was exposed. He finally came clean about it but refused to resign.

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