Monday, April 7, 2014

Bloody Video Horror That Made Me Puke on My Aunt Gertrude, The (1989)

Directed by:
Zachary Winston Snygg

Hassan, who's played by some white guy (probably the director) wearing sunglasses, a black toboggan and a fake beard and doing a terrible Middle Eastern accent, makes snuff films and pitches them to his South American clients on the phone as being "...kind of like Faces of Death without no clothes." He shoots an ugly, fat, naked skank that looks like a rough trade meth dyke five times while Kool-Aid is flung on the walls and some other guy with his face covered films it. Meanwhile, at the Video Magic video store, slacker Ramon Rafelson is pissing off his whiny manager Joe by refusing to do his job. Ramon's mom owns the shop, so he figures it's OK sitting in the back reading detective magazines all day while ignoring the customers. Joe is deeply in debt to the mob so a loan shark named William swings by threatening to kill him if he doesn't return the 100,000 dollars he owes later that same day. Hassan pops in next to drop off his rented camera equipment and VCR, forgetting that he's left the snuff tape inside the tape deck. Oops. Numerous murders follow and a pair of moronic detectives show up to investigate matters. You may as well just ignore all that because the movie pretty much does too and just goes wherever it wants to fill up 75 minutes.

Shot with a camcorder, this useless amateur home movie somehow managed to get a minor VHS release through Video Outlaw, a bottom-of-the-barrel company best known for distributing Todd Sheets films. The main characters are all played by the same three "actors" donning cheap disguises, who basically just sit around or wander the streets poorly ad-libbing their dialogue in extremely tedious, overlong scenes. These scenes go on and on, lines are flubbed, people talk over one another and even screw up character names ("Can I speak to Jim... Joe rather?") Despite the title, there's next to no blood or gore and what is shown in really amateurish and pathetic. One guy is dismembered with an electric saw (that isn't even plugged in), though we never get to really see anything. There's also no "Aunt Gertrude," let alone someone puking on her. Closest this comes to that is a drunk bum saying "I saw a body, uh, a d-dead dead body with blood and... and.. and... the... ey-ey-eyes were... were bloody... and blood... blood... ev-ever, uhhhh..." and then puking all over a clown's shoes.

The fake opening titles (with a cast including "The Duke" and "Abad Kaleel" and the executive producer being "Steven Spieldberg") are typed out on a piece of plain white paper. The "video store" consists of posters for Mannequin and La Bamba on the wall, but strangely no video cassettes are anywhere to be seen. The director attempts to ape The Evil Dead's camerawork throughout, with numerous tracking shots chasing behind people or zooming up and down the streets as people are coming or going. It's safe to say with the rental store setting and snuff film idea that the makers saw VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987), which looks like an Oscar contender by comparison, and said to themselves "Hey, I can do that, too!" Yes, they did do it, too. They even got their video out to some stores. What they did not do was craft an entertaining movie. The picture quality and audio recording are the worst and this isn't even really all that funny; it's just boring, irritating and an complete waste of time. The real appeal of movies like this one rest primarily in their rarity, especially for collectors of obscure videos. They like to have these kind of titles adorning their shelves simply to say they have them, and some will pay big money for them... probably a lot more than this cost to actually make.

Director Snygg is listed as "John Bacchus" on IMDb but uses the Snygg name here and on his Kickstarter and LinkedIn profiles, so I assume that's his real name. He went on to become one of the founders of E.I. Independent / Seduction Cinema, a company who churned out dozens of soft porn films for the home video market starting with the release of The Vampire's Seduction in 1998. That was followed by such titles as The Erotic Witch Project (2000), Play-Mate of the Apes (2002), Who Wants to Be an Erotic Billionaire? (2002), King Kong (2005), The Insatiable IronBabe (2008) and Batbabe: The Dark Nightie (2009). Most of these featured the same actresses over and over again (including Misty Mundae; their most popular star) doing simulated lesbian scenes. If these films accomplished anything aside from being disposable wank material, it was steering the soft porn market away from "erotic thriller" toward "comedy spoof;" a format directors like Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski would later jump on in their domination of the late night cable market through the 2000s.


Black Snake (1973)

... aka: Black Snake: The Whip
... aka: Carne cruda (Raw Meat)
... aka: Devil's Mistress, The
... aka: Dutchess of Doom!, The
... aka: Serpent Noir
... aka: Slaves
... aka: Sweet Suzy

Directed by:
Russ Meyer

Russ Meyer is one exploitation director whose work I'm not that well-acquainted with. Sure, I put in the usual Cult Film 101 viewings of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and Beyond of the Valley of Dolls (1970), both of which I liked, but that's been it thus far. So it was about time I checked out another from this guy and what better film than his only genre effort? Black Snake is atypical of the director's usual product. For starters, it's a costume / period-set film with horror and blaxploitation elements. Second, it was filmed on location in Barbados and was, in fact, the very first film entirely shot on that island nation. Third, the cast was comprised primarily of local talent and actors imported in from the UK. And finally, the film deemphasizes the director's usual rampant sex and nudity (which had always ensured his films were slapped with X-ratings) in favor of violence (this one is rated R). In fact, Meyer was actually attempting to make a message movie with this one, believe it or not, whilst simultaneously delivering the usual drive-in good. The message? Well, you know, the usual racism-and-slavery-are-bad kinda things.

The action is set in 1835 on San Cristobal Island in the British West Indies, where a section of the populace has been enslaved by the Blackmoor Plantation and forced to work cutting sugar cane... or else. In charge of the operation is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, black-clad, whip-wielding Lady Susan Walker (Anouska Hempel), who rides around on a horse barking out orders and is a black widow type who's left behind a string of dead husbands. Susan's latest hubby is Jonathan Walker and he himself has also recently and rather mysteriously disappeared. Since Lady Susan prefers living the life of leisure (i.e. horse riding on the beach and getting her ass massaged by her female servant), she delegates most of the actual slave-running chores to the sadistic Joxer Tierney (Percy Herbert), who's impotent and always pissed off, constantly screams racial slurs at the top of his lungs and uses any excuse in the book to start laying into the slaves with his "black snake" (whip). He's quite the prick. Young, impassioned slave Joshua (Milton McCollin) want to lead a revolt, but his bible-quoting pacifist father Isaiah (Thomas Baptiste) tries to discourage it for fear of even worse repercussions.

Meanwhile, in England, Sir Charles Walker (David Warbeck) is wondering about the disappearance of his brother and gets the blessing of solicitor Lord Clive (Anthony Sharp) to travel to San Cristobal to investigate matters. Posing as "Ronald Sopwith;" Charles goes to the plantation to work as a bookkeeper, is set up in a shack and given a slave girl named Cleone (Vikki Richards) to attend to his every whim. The insatiable Lady soon attempts to seduce the new arrival, Charles' brother (David Prowse) turns up as a maddened mute after having his tongue cut out and balls removed by Susan's flamboyant gay assistant (the memorable Bernard Boston) and the slaves eventually get their bloody revenge on their captors as well as all of the Uncle Tom's who's been aiding them. There's a crucifixion, a burning at the stake, a corpse getting whipped, mass hangings, people chopped and impaled with machetes... and a million and one shots of waves crashing on the beach and sugar cane plants blowing in the wind.

Meyer was extremely dissatisfied with his own creation. In an interview with Ed Lowry and Louis Black, he admitted the film "...had a lot of things wrong with it," wrote it off as "a weak Mandingo" and noted it was equally disliked by both black and white audiences of the day. The vast majority of critics hated it and even Barbados' Minister of Tourism couldn't appreciate it on travelogue value alone and called it "nauseating." I can see everyone's point. The editing cuts are often jagged, the dialogue is terrible, there's not much in the way of plot and the entire cast seems completely lost, with some taking the proceedings completely serious and others wildly overacting and turning their characters into massively irritating one-dimensional buffoons in the process. The film never seems to find the right tone. It's too ridiculous to be taken seriously and takes itself too seriously to work as camp. Still, I didn't find it to be a complete waste of time, though. The scenery is utilized well throughout, there are a couple of genuine laughs (the best the slave master can come up with while pleading for his life in front of an angry mob of slaves is "Some of my best friends are niggers!") and the blood-thirsty revenge portion during the final 20 minutes is fairly potent.

Another major issue Meyer had with his movie is that he didn't like his female lead, who'd been brought on board at the last minute to replace another actress who overdosed just three days before filming was to begin. The pouty-lipped Hempel was born in New Zealand under the name Anne Geissler and eventually moved to the UK to began her acting and modeling career. After playing a brief role as "The Australian Girl" in the Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), a sultry vamp in Hammer's SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) and a few minor TV roles, she landed rare leads in this film and the sleazy sex comedy Tiffany Jones (1973). Her third and final top-billed role was in William Webb's extremely difficult-to-find Double Exposure (1977), which is listed as horror on some sites but as a "standard crime-thriller" in the book "The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film." In 1980, Hempel became socialite Lady Weinberg (or "Lady Nou Nou" to friends) after marrying filthy-rich London businessman, insurance tycoon and hotelier Sir Mark Weinberg (her third husband). Now known for her refined taste and hobnobbing with A-List British royalty and celebs, Hempel actually attempted to buy up all the rights to both Snake and Tiffany at one point in order to keep them from ever being sold or publicly shown again. It doesn't appear she succeeded - at least with this particular film - considering it received a UK DVD release (from Arrow) in 2005.

This extremely hard-to-find VHS (released on the Astral Video label out of Canada)
featuring Hempel in a rare starring role recently sold for 250 bucks (!!) on eBay.

The director never met an enormous rack he didn't want to photograph so needless to say he wasn't all that impressed with Hempel's sleek physique, telling the press she had "Tiny tits and a big mouth." In fact, while he had no issue filming her ass, he didn't use her topless shots at all and later spliced in close-ups of a larger-breasted body double. The casting of Hempel also caused issues on the home front for the director. Apparently, then-wife Edy Williams (whom he'd met on the set of Dolls and also cast in The Seven Minutes [1971]) became angered when she was not given the lead role. In order to appease her, Meyer promised her the title role in an upcoming project called Viva Foxy! Roger Ebert penned a script for the film, Meyer photographed Williams for a special 1973 Playboy spread to promote it and he even shot a teaser trailer (one of the first of its kind) that was inserted after the end credits of Snake to get the ball rolling. For some reason, the film was never actually made and Meyer and Williams divorced in 1975.

Black Snake (filmed in Panavision in the spring of 1972 for about 300,000 dollars) premiered on the same day in both Little Rock, Arkansas and Bridgetown, Barbados. It was later reissued numerous times theatrically under new titles like Sweet Suzy and (in the UK) Russ Meyer's Slaves. For a short while it was even promoted (with inappropriate artwork featuring a skull-faced woman with large breasts) under the new titles The Devil's Mistress and The Dutchess of Doom! In America, it was distributed (on both video and DVD) by RM Films.

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