Friday, March 6, 2015

Stridulum (1979)

... aka: Die Außerirdischen (The Aliens)
... aka: El visitante del más allá (Visitor from Beyond)
... aka: Herdeiros da Morte (Death Heirs)
... aka: Piken fra mørket (The Girl from the Darkness)
... aka: Satans lilla flicka (Satan's Little Girl)
... aka: Visitor, The
... aka: Visitors, The

Directed by:
"Michael J. Paradise" (Giulio Paradisi)

A cloaked figure walks across a sand dune against a bright orange sun and a blue and pink sky as clouds of dust begin to fill the screen and birds fly out. Things then cut to a storyteller clad in a beige robe in a white room telling a story to a bunch of bald children. For a second I thought this was at the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, but nope this is heaven (or a cosmic equivalent) and the man setting up our tale is none other than Jesus Christ (or a cosmic equivalent) himself, who's played by Franco Nero with a brown beard and a long-haired bleach blonde wig (!) He tells us of an evil alien criminal named Sateen, who managed to escape captivity and head to Earth, where he mutated and developed psychic powers, which he then used to cause destruction and death. The alien commander in charge of apprehending him then sent an army of birds to kill him, which they eventually did, but not before Sateen was able to spread his seed to numerous Earth women who went on to bear evil little children. Oh yes, and he also transformed into an eagle at some point but that doesn't have much to do with anything. The following paragraph is just some of the gonzo nonsense the director and writers decided to fill our heads with during the opening seven minutes. We've still got an hour and a half left to go, so brace yourselves.

Down on Earth, we meet filthy rich Raymond Armstead (a young Lance Henriksen), who owns the "Atlanta Rebels" basketball team. Raymond is dating and planning on marrying divorcée Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail) but there's one little thorn in her side: her horrible 8-year-old daughter Katie (Paige Conner). Katie is such an evil, foul-mouthed, creepy and obnoxious child that mom never wants to bear another for fear it'll turn out just like her! Barbara's intuition turns out to be correct as she's carrying the genes of Sateen and any child she has will also be cursed with supernatural abilities. Meanwhile, a secret society led by Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer) want to make sure she has a son by any means necessary since she's the last descendant of Sateen. In order to hurry along the process, the bad guys sneak a gun into Katie's birthday party so she'll "accidentally" shoot mum in the back; paralyzing her from the waist down. But even that doesn't spark her desire to wed and pop out another kid, so the society must then take drastic measures.

The "visitor" of the title is Jerzy Colsowicz (John Huston), an elderly emissary sent from the heavens to put a stop to the Sateen bloodline. Somehow that involves congregating on a rooftop with a bunch of bald men carrying boxes, watching specks of light in the sky and getting hired on as a babysitter so he can play a game of Pong (!) with little Katie. Glenn Ford shows up long enough to get his eyes pecked out and then blown up in a car after the demon-alien-girl accuses him of being a child molester and tells him to go fuck himself. Shelley Winters plays a housekeeper / amateur astrologist who carries around an "artificial birdhouse" (don't ask) and, in a hilarious scene, loses her cool and starts vigorously shaking and slapping around the little brat. Director Sam Peckinpah rounds out the surprisingly interesting cast in a useless bit as Barbara's ex-husband, an abortion doctor she goes to out of desperation after being kidnapped by men in Hazmat suits who artificially inseminate her against her will.

While this goes many unusual and often unintentionally hilarious places (the ice rink scene and the scene where Katie makes a basketball hoop explode on Kareem Abdul Jabbar must be seen to be believed), at the end of the day it's just another tale of good vs. evil snatching ideas from numerous other, much better horror and sci-fi flicks (most obviously The Omen and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), mixing them up in a blender and saying "Hey, look at us, we're being original!" Though there are some interesting ideas in the screenplay, the dialogue is hilariously awful and I felt a little guilty watching the talented cast spouting their cringe-worthy, insipid lines and going through scenes that make absolutely zero sense. By the end, Henriksen looks so checked out he doesn't even register a facial expression other than bored after getting stabbed in the throat. Some of the others (particularly the ladies) have been coached to overact wildly and the least said about little Conner's performance the better. Cute accent, though.

I won't sit here and pretend like this is a good film because it's not. However, it is entertaining if you get a kick out of overblown, ineptly-directed train wrecks with major star power and I don't regret watching it. Some of the visuals (particularly at the beginning) are quite arresting, but when everything else going on is so poorly done and laughable, a few striking images here and there are hardly enough to compensate. And for the record, I watched the uncut 108 minute version and not the heavily cut 90 minute print and this thing is still a huge mess even with the restored footage. I had no clue what this film's original title Stridulum referred to either, but apparently it means "whizzing or hissing" in Latin. How that relates to the movie itself is another head-scratcher unless it's referring to the sound of birds flying. "Stridulum" certainly sounds cooler than "Flapping," eh?

There are numerous notable releases for this one. Long after a cut 1982 VHS release from Samuel Goldwyn Home Entertainment and a cut 1989 reissue through United American Video, Code Red got the ball rolling on a DVD release that finally came out in 2010 and was the first time the film was seen uncut here in America. Code Red's package comes with interviews with Nail, Conner, U.S. production manager Stratton Leopold and Italian producer Ovidio G. Assonitis (who also wrote the story), two commentary tracks (one with Nail and the other with Conner, plus moderators Scott Spiegel and Jeff Burr), trailers and so forth. In late 2013, the film received a limited - make that, very limited - theatrical reissue through Drafthouse Films, who have since pushed really hard to try to turn this into some kind of cult film. Apparently it's worked on some genre critics going by a sudden burst of glowing reviews that have emerged since then. All of that was basically orchestrated to move a 2014 Blu ray release from (surprise!) Drafthouse Films, that includes brief interviews with Henriksen, cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri and co-writer Luciano Comici. The interviews themselves shine a spotlight directly on why this turned out to be such a mess.

The score from Franco Micalizzi (available on an RCA soundtrack album) fluctuates from hideously inappropriate TV crime show-style theme music to quite otherworldly and beautiful sci-fi synthesizer beats and is just as schizophrenic and uneven as the rest of the movie. How it's applied to the film itself, however, is mostly a debit. Overuse of thundering and overbearing cues to amateurishly signal whenever something's supposed to be odd or scary becomes almost comical after awhile. Budgeted at around 800,000 dollars (money was chipped in from Samuel Z. Arkoff, Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and others), the majority of shooting took place in Atlanta, Georgia with some interiors done in Italy.


Mummy Raider (2002)

... aka: Erotic Raider
... aka: Misty Mundae: Erotic Raider
... aka: Misty Mundae: Mummy Raider

Directed by:
Brian Paulin

"Vat?! You've never been kissed by a Nazi bevore?!"

Somewhere in Berlin, evil German Dr. Humboldt ("Esmeralda DeLarocca" / Ruby Larocca in a bad blonde wig) is intent on reviving "The Fourth Reich" so she has a mummy stolen from Egypt and famous archaeologist Professor Cleve (Bruce G. Hallenbeck) as well as his daughter Kristen (Darian Caine) kidnapped and brought to her headquarters. Supposedly Kristen knows all of the secrets of life and death and is in possession of a special bracelet that can bring the dead back to life. Dr. Humboldt threatens to rape her with a billy club until she agrees to revive the mummy using her power. However, Kristen's lover Misty (Misty Mundae) aka "the Mummy Raider" is one step ahead of everyone, breaks into the villain's lair clad in a skimpy black leather ensemble, strips off her top and gets to work blasting all the bad guys. After her work is done, she sends the professor on his way so she can spend some girl time with Kristen. When they're finished, they decide to cure the Nazi doctor and "bring her back from the dark side" with some more lesbian sex.

This is pretty pathetic even by Seduction Cinema's low standards. Though ultimately made for the same purpose, I've always felt there should be a certain divide between soft and hard core porn in terms of the acting, story, production values, etc. That divide has all but vanished since the home video market dried up years ago, but that's another discussion for another day. What we basically have here is a softie with the budget and quality of a homemade shot-on-video hardcore flick. The story is bare bones and stupid, it was shot with a camcorder and the evil doctor's headquarters are clearly just someone's garage. The amount of effort put into trying to make this a good or entertaining film is evident when you notice they didn't even bother trying to remove ladders and tools hanging up on the walls or even cover the garage door! The mummy is covered with ripped up burlap sacks and toilet paper and its sarcophagus is a wooden box with "Egypt" stenciled on the side with a door lying on top for the lid complete with clear shots of where the hinges were removed. You either care about making a good movie or you don't, regardless of genre, and it couldn't be more clear what category the people who made this fall into.

Of course one could forgive the nonexistent production values and pretty much everything else (to an extent) had this at least delivered on the sex but - surprise! - it even fails at that. One prolonged sex scene and three different girls in a cheap home movie running 40 minutes (much of which is comprised of credits and repeated footage) doesn't really cut it when you can watch movies of this same type that are shot on film, made with some basic skill and feature double or triple the amount of babes showing some skin.

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