Monday, February 9, 2015

La esclava blanca (1985)

... aka: White Jungle Slave
... aka: White Slave, The

Directed by:
"Clifford Brown" (Jesus Franco)

I had to watch this in Spanish (not my first language nor one I'm completely fluent in), but seeing how there's hardly any reviews for this one online and it deserves a little something, I'll try to do the best I can. Things start with young newlyweds Mary (Karin Dior) and Oliver (Diego Porta) arranging an African safari for their honeymoon. Along with a guide ("Michel Ross" / José Miguel García), his heartless and controlling wife (Mabel Escaño), a pathetic junkie helper ("Jose Lamas" / José Llamas) and a few other locals to help carry everything, they loads up their jeeps and head out into the "jungle" where they snap photos of parrots, monkeys, elephants, hippos, zebras, giraffes and tigers (all clearly filmed at some zoo). They then park their jeeps and make a long journey through the woods while spooky music plays; finally setting up camp and then going on another hike. The young couple are unaware of the fact that the entire time they've been trailed by a native girl dressed in animal rags who also sports an afro and pencil-thin drawn-on eyebrows (!) and that they're being set up by their guides.

Oliver is soon shot and killed and Mary flees into the woods but is quickly captured by a bunch of spear-chucking natives and dragged back to the tribe's cave where she has her panties removed, her shirt ripped off and is then tied to a pole and shot up with heroin. Ir's revealed that the guide and his accomplices do this same routine quite often because the native chief gives them diamonds in exchange for young females they can sacrifice to their lizard god. 40 minutes in, the film then drops all the momentum it's built up by moving the "action" to the city and focusing its attentions on Lina Romay (also the assistant director) and two other guys. Lina plays a karate student (!) who sleeps in the nude (does she sleep any other way?) and is seen beating up two guys in one scene and then being beaten up by the same two guys in another scene. They all go to a club to listen to some terrible music and then get information from the junkie / snitch about what's going down in the jungle and go there in hopes of rescuing Mary before it's too late.

Despite being labeled a hack by many, Franco actually had great moments during his career (mostly in the Gothic horror and erotica genres) but one thing he was not was an action director. The guy just doesn't know how to pace these kind of films, nor any clue how to stage fight scenes or generate excitement. He also couldn't make a proper cannibal / native tribe movie if his life depended on it as earlier films like Devil Hunter and White Cannibal Queen can solemnly attest. And so it comes as no surprise that this attempt to combine both is extremely dull, painfully slow and horribly unconvincing on every conceivable level. The native tribe in this one is just like the native tribes in all other Franco movies. There's only one female, they attempt to cover up the fact they're multi-ethnic with face paint and they're all hilariously clad in cheetah-print caveman loin cloths. One has gold chains around his neck and a pirate skull necklace (?!) and another elderly tribe member can put tigers to sleep by screaming and dancing around going "badda boo badda yo yo!"

The only attempt at real action is at the very end when the good guys try to save the captive but even these scenes are so dull and pathetic they don't even deliver unintentional laughs. At least half of the 84-minute run time consists of people walking around in the forest bickering, which is exactly how all of Franco's other similar films play out. And this one doesn't even really have that much nudity, something Franco can usually be relied upon to deliver.

IMDb currently lists just five actors for the film, one of whom - Conchita Montes - is most certainly not in it and is likely being confused with Concha Montes, who'd appeared in a few other Franco films and (I think) is the lady playing a piano during the bar scene. The opening credits list Yvonne Manuel (likely the woman playing the lone female native), Mabel Escano, Michel Ross, Jose Lamas, Karin Dior, Augustin Garci, Diego Porta, James Tall and Lina Romay as the stars. Most of these actors are the same people who starred in Franco's hardcore porn films around this same time. The only official VHS release I'm aware of was on the Icaro Video label out of Spain. Bootleg titles are "The White Slave" and "White Jungle Slave" (the now obsolete Video Search of Miami once carried it on the gray market), though the film was never English dubbed / subbed or legitimately released outside of Spain... and chances are it never will be!

Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1975)

... aka: Croaked: Frog Monster from Hell
... aka: La leyenda del lago de las sombras (The Legend of Shadow Lake)
... aka: Rana
... aka: Rana: The Creature from Shadow Lake

Directed by:
Bill Rebane

Eleven-year-old Kelly Morgan (Brad Ellingson) lives on a desolate and almost completely uninhabited island called Rana with his rancher father John (Alan Ross). The boy finds a strange fossil / bone fragment, sends it off to a local university where it's revealed to be 125 million years old and soon enough the two have a few visitors. Paleontologist Dr. Eleanor "Elli" Hatley (Karen McDiarmind) and her teenage niece Susan (Julie Wheaton) set up camp and start poking around and a trio of men claiming to work for a logging company but are actually treasure hunters who've gotten wind there's a possible goldmine there also show up. None of that sits well with the island's only other full-time inhabitant; an old, territorial, crazed "half Indian" trapper named Charlie (co-writer / producer Jerry Gregoris). The island is situated on the legendary Shadow Lake, which is steeped in Indian legend about curses, monsters and a hidden treasure and has uncommonly warm temperatures year round. The lake also doesn't appear to have any bottom to it... at least not one anyone's been able to reach yet.

Unbeknownst to Dr. Hatley, a colleague of hers has already beaten her there and been killed by an upright-walking lizard creature that lurks in the lake, which will claim many more victims by the time all is said and done. A delirious Charlie screws his head on long enough to explain the legend to everyone. A long, long time ago an Indian tribe who lived there found themselves starving and unable to catch game or fish... that is until a hunter found a "yellow pebble" and tossed it into the lake. Soon after the forests and waters came to life and everyone was eating well. As it turns out, in these parts if you make an offering of gold to the half-man, half-amphibian "frog people" living in the lake, things are fine and dandy. If not, well... You can probably guess the rest. The entire story is told in partially-narrated flashback-form as a now-grown Kelly (Glenn Scherer) and his wife Chris (Doreen Moze) make a return trip to the cursed island for a reason we won't discover until the end.

Rana is your typical ultra-low-budget Rebane offering filmed entirely in his home turf of Wisconsin. Like nearly everything else this guy made, it's extremely cheap-looking, amateurishly acted and written, talky, slow-paced, mild on the exploitation elements (there's hardly even any profanity) and poorly-made right across the board. These movies do benefit a little from their sincerity and regional charm but those aspects are never quite enough to overcome all the other issues at hand, including an insufferable amount of boring filler used to pad out the first hour or so. The only things I really liked about this one was the fact certain characters I didn't expect to die did and the wrap- around does lead somewhere pretty cool. However, just making it that far is a true test of will and most people aren't gonna care by that point.

The creature in this one is an awful-looking Creature from the Black Lagoon-style man-in-a-suit monster (designed by Tom Schwartz) that's not even seen until the very end, and even then it's difficult to really make out. There's not much in the way of violence either. Several people are stabbed with a harpoon arrow, a face is smashed against a tree and the monster gets a few of its fingers chopped off with an axe, but other than that it's pretty dry. I do love the fact Rebane tends to give top- billing to the "actors" inhabiting the monster suits in his films, like the "Rana" here (played by Paul Callaway and Richard Lange) and the "Arak" in his The Capture of Bigfoot (1979). This was also a family production and there's something charming about that, too. His wife, Barbara J. Rebane. was the first assistant director, assistant editor and production manager. Alan Rebane (his brother?) was the second assistant director and gaffer and there are costumes by Jutta Boettcher, who is probably the Jutta Rebane credited in many of these other films. Bill not only directed but also produced, edited and partially shot it (using the alias "Ito" for the latter). The associate producer was actress Cheri Caffaro (then known for the Ginger drive-in films).

After the initial VHS release from Active Home Video, this was acquired by Troma, who did their usual schlock re-title job and started calling it Croaked: Frog Monster from Hell so that people would want to watch it. Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman has called it one of the five worst films Troma has ever distributed. I don't agree. Sure, it's bad alright, but it's not nearly as bad as many other films in the Troma catalogue.

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