Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Corruption (1968)

... aka: Carnage
... aka: Laser Killer

Directed by:
Robert Hartford-Davis

Wealthy, esteemed surgeon Sir John Rowan (Peter Cushing) can't resist his beautiful model girlfriend Lynn Nolan (Sue Lloyd). Despite the fact he's about thirty years her senior and the two appear to have almost nothing common, they plan on soon being married. After a long, exhausting day of work, John is talked into attending a wild party being hosted by Lynn's obnoxious photographer Mike Orme (Anthony Booth). When Mike attempts to get Lynn to pose nude for an impromptu photo session in front of all the guests, he and John get into a fistfight, a large flood lamp is accidentally knocked over, hits Lynn directly in the head and ends up burning and disfiguring half of her face. She's taken to a hospital, where John's colleague, Dr. Steve Harris (Noel Trevarthen), does what he can, but extensive and painful plastic surgery will be needed to restore Lynn to her former glory... and even then she won't quite be the same. Lynn's sister Val (Kate O'Mara) flies in to help out after John takes his depressed, suicidal fiancée back home. What's a brilliant surgeon to do? If you've seen EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960), THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF (1962) or any number of other films dealing with this exact same subject matter, you'll have no problem figuring it all out.

John hits the books, starts experimenting with guinea pigs and finally hatches a new plan to restore Lynn's good looks. The only problem is he'll need some raw materials to work with. Thankfully he's able to get those by raiding the morgue where he works. John creates a formula using human pituitary glands which, when used in conjunction with a high-powered laser, manipulate the endocrine system and promote new tissue growth. Val assists him in the trial operation, which turns out to be a success. Lynn's face looks better than ever. She and John go on a celebratory cruise, which is called off early when the operation backfires. It turns out, the effects are only short-term. Now back at square one, John then decides he needs fresher material. Since both he and Lynn are starting to go a little mad, they resort to murder to get them. John starts off by killing an airhead hooker (Jan Waters) in her flat. Even with a fresher pituitary gland, the effects also don't last for very long. Lynn and the increasingly paranoid John eventually retreat to his seaside summer cottage for more of the same.

Corruption basically transplants star Cushing's patented mad doctor character to hedonistic late 60s swingin' London. Though utterly ridiculous, this does stand out among Cushing's other films from the same time in that it's much trashier, goofier and more mean-spirited. The period films he was doing for Hammer, severed limbs, "full-blooded color" and all, were restrained and downright classy compared to this one. Cushing decapitates a woman (Valerie Van Ost) aboard a train and puts her head in the freezer and things get really hysterical toward the end during a speeded-up chase around some rock cliffs on the beach and when teenage runway Terry (Wendy Varnals) ends up staying in the home, which eventually leads to a home invasion by the group of unbelievable beatnik burglars (played by David Lodge, Phillip Manikum, Billy Murray and Alexandra Dane) she usually runs around with. The (hilarious) finale features nearly the entire principle cast being wiped out when Dr. Rowan's laser suddenly goes berserk and starts zapping everyone dead.

Cushing gives his usual solid performance in a more-manic-than-usual role and is frequently seen drenched in sweat with messed hair and bugged out eyes, looking like utter hell via fish eyed camera shots. Lloyd is quite good in her role also. It's also interesting in that - unlike other films of this type - the tortured, disfigured female lead isn't the least bit sympathetic. In fact, she's extremely narcissistic (her idea of a gift is buying her man photography equipment so he can take photos of her), manipulative and heartless; demanding her reluctant future-husband go out and kill simply so she can maintain her good looks. The critical response at the time was mostly negative, but initial distributor Columbia did whip up a memorably amusing ad campaign ("Corruption is not a woman's picture! Therefore: No woman will be admitted alone to see this super-shock film!!") It's been unavailable on home video here; never garnering a DVD or VHS release in America, though it does sometimes pop up on Turner Classic Movies.

Vanessa Howard, who'd later give a memorable performance in GIRLY (1970), has a small role here as a bimbo model. Director Hartford-Davis also made The Black Torment (1964), Incense for the Damned (1970) and The Fiend (1972). Producer / cinematographer Peter Newbrook went on to make the very good The Asphyx (1973), and sibling writers Derek and Donald Ford had their hands on a number of genre films over the years; particularly the latter.

The prostitute murder was actually filmed twice; a tamer (off-screen) take for the regular version and another, more explicit take (utilizing a different actress in the role) for the "continental version," which was released in France. In the latter, the hooker is topless and Cushing wipes his bloody hands on the woman's bare breasts after killing and decapitating her!


She Beast, The (1966)

... aka: Lago di Satana, Il (The Lake of Satan)
... aka: Revenge of the Blood Beast
... aka: Satan's Sister
... aka: Sister of Satan
... aka: Sorella di Satana, La

Directed by:
Michael Reeves

It is directed by Michael "Witchfinder General" Reeves. It "stars" Barbara "Black Sunday" Steele. It is not to be confused with The She Creature, She Demons, She Devil or She Freak. It is The She Beast. And it is neither great nor terrible. Things begin with a bearded old man returning to his shack home, where he picks up a book penned long ago by his great great grandfather Count Gustav Von Helsing, which tells a familiar tale. In a small Transylvanian village, children have been disappearing. Knowing just who's responsible, a local posse - led by the village priest - hunt down a haggard, monstrous-looking witch named Vardella. They drag her outside her cave dwelling, take her down to the lake, tie her up, drive a long metal rod through her chest and then use some kind of wooden dunking contraption to drown her. Before dying, the witch swears she'll eventually return on the 200 year anniversary of her death to get revenge upon the descendants of her executioners. Oh, so you've already seen this one before? Yeah, me too.

Jumping ahead to modern times, honeymooning British couple Philip (Ian Ogilvy) and Veronica (Steele) get lost while driving around in the Eastern European countryside. Looking for a place to spend the night, they end up at a run-down, flea-bitten hotel in Transylvania being operated by the extremely shady Ladislav Groper (Mel Welles), who serves them a bowl full of garlic cloves along with their tea. Aged, down-on-his-luck Fritz Von Helsing (John Karlsen), last descendant of the famous vampire-hunting family who's recently been evicted from his ancestral castle home, shows up to inform them of the superstitious local customs and about the legend of Vardella, but also adamantly states that "There are no vampires left in Transylvania." Against their better judgment, Philip and Veronica decide to stay... just for the night. As they attempt to break in the honeymoon suite, they catch Groper peaking in their window. Philip gets pissed, runs outside and beats him up. For revenge, Groper decides to screw around with their car.

The following morning, the couple take off, the steering goes out on their car and they're run off the road by a trucker and into a lake... the same lake Vardella was drown in. Only Philip manages to survive the crash. The trucker takes the unconscious Philip and the dead Veronica back to Groper's hotel. When Philip awakens he's startled to find that his wife's body doesn't quite look the same. In  fact, she now looks identical to the lumpy-faced witch who'd died centuries earlier. But hey, at least she's dead! Von Helsing's warning to the skeptical Philip falls on deaf ears and he tries to perform some kind exorcism, but only succeeds in raising Vardella from the dead instead. She knocks him out and then takes off. The witch is sadly not really given much to do. She hacks up Groper with a sickle (and then drops it onto a hammer to form a familiar Communist symbol!) and scares a little boy spying on a cock fight, and that's about it. Our heroes need to somehow capture her and give her a dunk in the cursed lake in order to free Veronica.

This extremely uneven film (partially financed by Reeves himself on an extremely low budget of 15,000 pounds) is a curiosity in that it's an Italian production filmed in Yugoslavia and stars mostly British and American actors, including many Roger Corman veterans. To solidify the Corman connection, Charles B. Griffith was the 2nd Unit Director and appears unbilled as a policeman. There's some odd anti-Communist sentiment sprinkled throughout, the makeup design on the witch (who's played by a man: Joe Riley) is extremely ugly and the film wildly fluctuates from wanting to be taken seriously to making light of the material. Toward the end, there's even a ridiculous Keystone Cops-style, speeded-up car chase scene complete with comic sound effects! This isn't unwatchable, it's just really... strange.

Though top-billed and promoted as the star, Steele is actually only on-screen for about 15 minutes and all of her scenes were filmed in just one (very long) day. She's, of course, good while she's around, but the same can't really be said for some of the other cast members. Ogilvy, a childhood friend of the director's who went on to play lead roles in Reeves' other two genre films: The Sorcerers (1967) starring Boris Karloff and Witchfinder General (1968) starring Vincent Price, is a little one-note and not particularly likable in the lead. Welles is even worse as an extremely obnoxious, annoying, LOUD, disgusting pig. He's also a huge pervert who not only peeps in windows and has nudie photos plastered all over his bedroom, but also attempts to rape his own niece (Lucretia Love) at one point! Thankfully, Karlsen partially makes up for the slackers giving an extremely likable and charming performance in his role.

The She Beast, which played theatrically on a double bill with The Embalmer (1966) in the States, has fallen into the public domain. A lousy, washed out print is used for most of the DVD releases, including the one I viewed from Brentwood. In 2009, the film was rescued by Dark Sky, who remastered the original negative. Their release comes with a commentary track from Steele, Ogilvy and producer Paul Maslansky.


Goremet: Zombie Chef from Hell (1986)

... aka: Gore-met, Zombie Chef from Hell

Directed by:
Don Swan

Blood Feast was the obvious inspiration for this awful, inept Super 8 cannibal gore comedy. In 1386, the evil Goza (Theo Depuay, who also did the makeup) is convicted of treason by "The Holy Order of the Righteous Brotherhood." As punishment, he's given a potion that will decompose his body to the state of the living dead. In order to keep that from happening, he'll be required to consume flesh each and every day for the rest of eternity. 600 years later, Goza is still alive and at it ("I am the curse upon this pitiful, stinking world!") as the owner of Goza's Deli and Beach Club, a restaurant and bar where many people enter and even fewer exit. Goza frequently kills random patrons and then eats them, and he's assisted by his hulking, obedient, blood-drinking head chef Blozor (Michael O'Neill). One would think a guy having to eat human flesh every day would just stock up the freezer with it, but nope. Goza also likes to serve human flesh to his unsuspecting patrons just for kicks. Rumor has it their "slimy slider" is pretty good, but just how's the quality control? Seeing as how the stew is filled with hair and another guy gets a ring in his burger, I'd say nonexistent. A prissy health inspector shows up to close the joint down, only to get silenced by a machete to the mouth. But don't worry, you can get a cold cut sandwich made from his foot.

After Stella (Cindy Castanio) disappears inside, her boyfriend Jerry (Alan Marx) enlists the aid of barfly Tracy (Tina Webster), who works in a meat packing plant and tells every guy who attempts to talk to her "Fuck off, asshole." The two sneak inside the kitchen later that night to investigate, but she's hypnotized and stabs Jerry to death. Goza then sends her out to pick up more meat and she comes back with three hookers who whip off their tops and dance around for about five minutes before getting sliced up with an electric saw. Members of the original Righteous Brotherhood are still around and planning on stopping him, which begs the question: If they don't like what he's doing, why'd they curse him in the first place? And why haven't they done anything about it for six centuries? One of the members, Azog (C.W. Casey), hangs around outside the bar holding a staff with his one free hand (his other was eaten by Goza 600 years ago) trying to warn patrons not to enter the restaurant because it's evil. Another member, Lonezor (assistant director Jeff Baughn), tries to offer Goza a reprieve but ends up getting his heart ripped out instead. Meanwhile, Stella's roommate Missy (Kelley Kunicki) discovers she's actually a "High Priestess" and turns up for the extremely unexciting nail gun / super glue finale.

Oh, how I wanted to enjoy you, Goremet: Zombie Chef from Hell. You're the type of crappy, horribly acted zero budget 80s regional production I usually find pretty amusing. Unfortunately, all of the surefire entertaining elements are executed in such a blasé, self-aware camp fashion that nearly all of the potential fun is stripped away quicker than a deli slicer can cut through a plastic foot. This doesn't take itself too seriously and seems fully aware of how dumb it is, but that still doesn't help matters. The one-liners and gags are lame, there are tons of scenes that seem to go on for an eternity, the continuity is awful and nearly all of the murders take place off-screen. One may also expect some gore based on the title, but aside shots of rubber limbs covered in tomato juice aren't going to be pleasing bloodhounds. Even some "colorful" supporting characters; like a bewigged cop who gets his head punched off, a dwarf short order cook applicant (nyuk, nyuk) and a lifeguard who fronts a jazz band and performs a random musical number ("Down on the Boardwalk"), come off as somewhat flat. Horrible, murky cinematography and lighting don't help matters.

Likely because of its memorable title (and a gory video box from distributor Camp Video), this was one of the more widely-viewed of the homemade horrors of the 1980s made specifically for VHS consumption. It was filmed primarily at Smokey Joe's Cafe in New Hampshire.

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