Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Night to Dismember, A (1983)

... aka: Doris Wishman's A Night to Dismember

Directed by:
Doris Wishman

Question her talent. Question her sanity. Say whatever you want about the late Doris Wishman. Like it or not, this eccentric old lady was a true trailblazer. A pioneering force in exploitation cinema, Wishman was one of the only women making nudie films in the 1960s, one of the only women making hardcore porn features in the 1970s and even became one of the first women (at nearly 70 years of age!) to make a post-HALLOWEEN slasher flick. Shot in 1979, A Night to Dismember - made in response to Carpenter's successful trend-setter according to the director herself - had a very troubled production history. In fact, never before has a troubled production history been so evident in the finished product! Thoroughly inept from start to finish, yet in such a bizarre and fascinating way, this one's so uniquely awful that it has managed to earn itself a cult following over the years. Lots of stories have circulated around about what exactly happened here. For years, sources claimed that most of the footage was destroyed in a lab fire and Wishman pieced together what was left. However, as revealed in a later Wishman interview, that wasn't quite the case. 

According to Wikipedia, "The film was nearly finished and being processed when the processing lab declared bankruptcy. A disgruntled employee destroyed footage from several films, including more than half the footage from A Night to Dismember." So why didn't she just count her losses? Wiki continues, "Wishman had pre-sold the film to distributors and was therefore forced to finish the movie. She re-wrote and even re-shot parts of the film with new actors. In 1983, the film was finally released." Not only did poor Doris have to re-shoot some of this, but she was also reduced to using outtakes and scrapped footage originally rejected from her first cut, couldn't get back the original actors so she had to hire new ones to play the same roles and had to further pad things out with footage from completely unrelated films she'd made!

The resulting mess is a delirious, jaw-dropping collection of gory murder set pieces set mostly to grocery store music and edited in a dizzying quick-cut fashion that renders nearly every single scrap of salvaged footage senseless and incomprehensible. Either this was filmed without sound or the sound was destroyed at the processing lab too, so on occasion voices were poorly dubbed in to provide bits of dialogue here and there or screaming. The majority of the story, however, is told via voice over from an off-screen narrator, who tries to rush through his lines to sync up with the fragmented scenes. "I'm Tim O'Malley. I'm a detective. The story I am going to tell you happened in October 1986 in Woodmire Lake; a small town in the Midwest." What follows is a series of bloody murders used to illustrate the madness that seems to run in the Kent family. 

Susan Kent chops up her sister Bonnie in the bathtub then falls on the axe and kills herself. Broderick Kent hires a convict to kill his wife Lola (also in the bathtub) for the insurance money, then hangs himself later in prison.  The next flashback reveals that Vicki Kent (porno actress Samantha Fox) butchered two neighborhood boys in a graveyard. Despite the severity of the crime, Vicki is released from the Brandt Hospital for the Criminally Insane after serving just five years. She goes to live with her father Adam (Saul Meth, from Wishman's Chesty Morgan double feature Deadly Weapons and Double Agent 73), mother Blanche (Miriam Meth), sister Mary (Diane Cummins) and brother Billy (William Szarka). Needless to say, things don't go so smoothly.

Billy doesn't want Vicki around because he's afraid she's going to kill again. Mary doesn't want her around either because while she was away the parents doted on her and she was able to steal Vicki's former boyfriend Frankie (Frankie Sabat) away. Both siblings take it upon themselves to drive her crazy so she'll be taken back to the nuthouse. Vicki gets bad headaches, sees flashing lights, hears voices calling her name, refuses to use silverware at dinner (and eats like an obnoxious pig), threatens to stab her dad with a fork then cackles, imagines (or does she?) bloody hands are groping her and shows other signs of slipping. Soon, someone goes around butchering everyone in sight, starting with Frankie and another of his girlfriends; who are both decapitated while having sex. After speaking ill of their family, Uncle Sebastian ("Norman Main" / Larry Hunter) and his wife Ann (Mary Lomay) are next to go. The killer hides in the backseat of their car, axes Sebastian in the face then thrusts his/her hand through the seat into his chest to rip out his heart. The psycho then runs over Ann's head with the car and chops off her fingers with an axe. For an encore, Bea Smith (Rita Rogers), an aunt in for a visit, gets her head lopped off.

While taking a peaceful walk, Vicki is attacked by a mud-covered man who rises out of the lake and chases her around. She later sees her brother washing mud off his face and discussing going to a costume shop with Mary. Speaking of Mary, the killer seems to be wearing the same clothes she wears... except it's mentioned that Vicki often wears her clothes. Not too horribly bothered by any of this, Vicki decides to treat the detective / narrator who shows up asking questions to a strip show, which is followed by a sex fantasy sequence of blurry bodies rolling around while the screen is tinted purple, blue and orange. Mary has her own orgiastic nightmare, where Billy and her parents stab her repeatedly and chop her with an axe while she moans in pleasure. Finally, the psycho decides to make his / her identity known to the rest of the family... by slaughtering them, of course. An ice pick is shoved all the way through a throat, a head is smashed in with a rock, someone is chopped up with an axe (after falling to the ground and covering their body up with a sheet for no real reason!) and another is buried alive. The final twenty minutes of people walking around in a barely lit house and in the woods getting bumped off seems to last about three hours. The detective finally informs us, "If you were wondering how I came upon all these intimate details, the Kent family had one thing in common: they all kept diaries."

Fans of strange and desperate filmmaking are likely going to get something enjoyable out of this train wreck. Some may even go so far as to spin it to be some surreal, accidental accomplishment. Others beware. There are frequent jumps in the picture and on the soundtrack. The generic, light stock music is incidentally inserted in regardless of the tone of the scene. Lips frequently move and nothing comes out. The narrator is constantly pointing out the most mundane of things, like that characters are reading newspapers and walking to the park even though we can see this with our own eyes. Several different actors play the exact same part (particularly noticeable with the brother and sister characters). Seemingly random shots of things that have nothing to do with that particular scene are inserted throughout. Parts are put in negative, shots are repeated, shots are put in slow motion and Wishman inserted footage from several of her other films to pad it out further (the full run time is just 69 minutes). There are psychedelic swirls and frequent shots of lightning, tombstones, blank walls and feet walking around. Wishman even makes time to plug one of her own films; a poster for The Immoral Three (1977) can be spotted in the basement.

Even this film's credits are completely fucked up. Listed in the cast are Chris Smith playing Sam Kent and Dee Cummins playing Vicki Todd, though neither of those characters are actually in this film. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that both of them filled in for the characters of Billy and Mary during the re-shoot. "Norman Main" (Larry Hunter) is listed as playing Larry Todd, though he actually plays Sebastian Kent and Alexandria Cass (who - like Fox - is a hardcore porn actress) is listed as playing Nancy when she played Bonnie Kent. Other actors are credited for playing characters named Nina, Timmy, Marty, and John, though none of them are actually anywhere to be seen in this movie.

Gorgon issued a VHS in the late 80s and in 2001 a DVD release came from Elite Entertainment, which contains a commentary track from the director (who is a total kook!) and cameraman C. Davis Smith that's well worth listening to.


Devil's Hand, The (1961)

... aka: Devil's Doll
... aka: Live to Love
... aka: Naked Goddess, The
... aka: Witchcraft

Directed by:
William J. Hole Jr.

Rick Turner (Robert Alda) is having a hard time sleeping. Night after night he keeps having dreams of a beautiful woman he's never seen nor met before. An unknown force guides his steps to a shop owned an operated by Francis Lamont (Neil Hamilton), who custom makes dolls. Inside, Rick discovers two dolls that catch his eye; one identical to the mysterious dream woman who turns out to be a real woman named; Bianca Milan (Linda Christian) and another of his own girlfriend, Donna Trent (Ariadna Welter). Strangely, the shop owner tells him that he had the doll of Bianca custom made per Rick's orders (which he doesn't remember doing), but Donna's doll was ordered by someone else. Immediately after they leave, Francis heads downstairs to an altar with the doll - as we soon find out, a voodoo doll - with the likeness of Donna and stabs it with a pin. This puts her in the hospital, where she's diagnosed with a heart spasm and learns she'll have to be under observation for some time.

Rick's next dream features Bianca informing him that if he wants to find out just what's going on to come find her. Rick shows up at Bianca's apartment and realizes the bosomy, heavy-breathing blonde was already expecting him. She informs him that she was able to come to his dreams through "thought transference;" projecting her desires into a doll in his likeness. Bianca's been worshiping "Gamba, the Great Devil God of Evil" and wants Rick to do the same. She confesses to belonging to a cult of worshipers who congregate at a shrine beneath the doll shop. Taken by the bewitching Bianca, Rick attends a ceremony there with his new "sponsor." There, a man plays bongo drums, a woman dances and Francis the "high executioner" offers up a human sacrifice. To test loyalty, a follower is placed under a wheel full of blades, the wheel is spun and then lowered onto the person. If the blade hits and bends then the person is worthy of being a follower. If the blade falls and pierces the heart, they are not. Rick swears allegiance to Gamba and promises to abide by all of the rules; only half-heartedly believing any of this.

Bianca takes him back to her home and promptly informs him "You'll never escape me, darling!" And he is quite fine with that... at least at first. He's also quite fine with the fact that he starts reaping the rewards of being a follower of Gamba; making tons of money at the race track and even more on the stock market. Still, a call of conscience comes to him in regards to Donna; who's still in the hospital suffering since her voodoo doll is still pierced back at the shop. To relieve her pain, he sneaks back into the shop late at night, removes the pin and positions it to look like it's still pierced. Growing jealous and insecure, Bianca has cultist Mary (Gere Craft), a nurse, hired at the hospital to spy on Donna and make sure she and Rick aren't rekindling things. Rick makes one too many trips to the hospital for Bianca's liking, so she decides to concoct a plan that will both test Rick's loyalty and end his relationship with Donna permanently.

A very low-budget offering, filmed in 1959 but not released until 1961 (IMDb says 1962 but they're wrong), The Devil's Hand is talky and has extremely cheap-looking sets but the cast is pretty good (particularly Hamilton and the luscious Christian) and the plot is well-paced and engaging enough to maintain interest. It's not surprising that screenwriter Jo Heims went on to a successful writing career, later penning scripts for Dirty Harry (1971), Play Misty for Me (1971), You'll Like My Mother (1972) and other films. Roy Wright (who was also in the same director's Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow [filmed the same year]) has one brief scene as a doctor and Jeanne Carmen (from The Monster of Piedras Blancas [1959]), Corman movie regular Bruno Ve Sota and Hollywood veteran Gertrude Astor play just a few of the cult members.

The surprise cast member here though for me was Mexican actress Welter in an extremely rare (her only?) American film appearance. The daughter of a wealthy Shell Oil executive born in Mexico City, Ariadna traveled the globe during her youth and became fluent in six different language (her English in this one is just fine). In Mexico, she also appeared in The Vampire (1957), The Vampire's Coffin (1957), The Brainiac (1961), 100 Cries of Terror (1965), The Panther Women (1967) and other horror and fantasy films. I wondered how she ended up in this very cheap independent American production, but a little research revealed that she's the sister of this film's star, Linda Christian; who was born under the name Blanca Rosa Welter and was married to actor and heartthrob Tyrone Power.

A public domain title, this has been spoofed on Rifftrax and you can view it online f.o.c. The print isn't the best quality but it's watchable.

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