Sunday, April 12, 2015

Play Dead (1983) [filmed in 1981]

... aka: Breed
... aka: Killer Dog
... aka: Satan's Dog

Directed by:
Peter Wittman

The sudden killer-dogs-in-movies craze of the late 70s and early 80s can be directly traced back to the big hit The Omen (1976), which prominently featured a vicious Rottweiler as one of Damien's hell-sent protectors and also had a scene where numerous dogs attack Gregory Peck and David Warner in a cemetery. Surprisingly, the portrayal of dogs as evil minions of Satan in that film led to a huge spike in Rottweiler breeding / sales, which no doubt led to animal shelters later being flooded with the breed. (A similar thing happened in 1996 upon the release of Disney's 101 Dalmatians when Dalmatian sales went through the roof, people realized they were more temperamental, unpredictable and snippy / child unfriendly than the cutesy portrayal in the movie and then got rid of them). Following Donner's hit, there was the obligatory cycle of films centered around blood-thirsty mutts. The long list includes the awful Dogs (1976 aka Slaughter), The Pack (1977 aka The Long Dark Night), the TV movie Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978), ZOLTAN... HOUND OF DRACULA (1978 aka Dracula's Dog), Dogs of Hell (1982 aka Rottweiler), Mongrel (1982), White Dog (1982), Cujo (1983) and Monster Dog (1984). That is by no means a complete list and it doesn't even include films with isolated dog attack scenes such as DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Suspiria (1977), THE BEYOND (1981) and numerous others. While Play Dead isn't one of the best examples of its type (admittedly not a very solid subgenre to begin with), it's also far from the worst.

Hester Ramsey (Yvonne De Carlo) is a wealthy, vengeful, extremely bitter and crazy old broad who can't quite get over being jilted by her lover years earlier. You see, she was madly in love with a guy named Sam, who ended up leaving her and marrying her sister Clarice instead. That union produced a couple of kids and poor Hester was never able to move on from that heartbreak, get married or have a family of her own. After Sam's death, she really goes off the deep end and decides to get revenge on both her sister and her now-grown niece Audrey (Stephanie Dunnam) and nephew Stephen (David Ellzey). To accomplish her goal, she learns all about black magic and uses it and a pentagram charm to control a trained Rottweiler named Greta that she imported in from Europe. She gives the dog to Audrey as a fake peace offering and then people start dying.

Veteran actress De Carlo (a major 1940s/50s sex symbol who later became well-known as TV's "Lily Munster") looks quite good considering she was nearly 60 years old when this was filmed and is clearly the best thing about the low-budget production. Her character here is essentially a hate-filled bitch and she plays the part to the hilt. She also has hilarious scenes talking to her dog ("We understand the POWER!") and reciting Satanic gibberish like "dominay tenebranum maysaycory" while sacrificing animals, cutting her hand and bleeding into a  bowl and casting spells. During one scene, she leans over her widowed sister's corpse at her funeral and dryly says, "Well... at least they're together NOW" within earshot of all the mourners. This was actually De Carlo's second film in the evil doggie category as she'd already played a Satanist who controls dogs in the intentionally goofy drive-in film SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS (1977).

The rest of this film's primary entertainment value comes from the well-trained dog, who is amusing to watch opening doors, turning on light switches and, yes, even killing people. She leaps out the backseat of a car, startles someone and causes them to step out into the street and get run over, strangles someone with her leash against a tree, electrocutes another victim by dropping a curling iron into a bathtub and does a few ordinary chew-ups. But her coolest kill by far is when she pours lye into someone's Alka Seltzer. There are also several odd scenes where Greta stands around and watches the Audrey's character's body double shower and have sex with her boyfriend (David Cullinane)! There are no less than three women credited as body doubles, though I'm not quite sure how that worked out.

There's not too much else to say about this one. The boom mic is visible during at least two scenes and a good deal of time is wasted following an elderly detective (Glen Kezer) and his younger partner (Ron Jackson) as they investigate matters. Though these scenes provide a few chuckles, they really don't have much bearing on the central plot. It was filmed in 1981 but wouldn't receive a video release in the U.S. until 1986. The 1983 release date usually given is supposedly the year it was released on video in the UK. This is now easy to find on DVD from Troma, who've released it on a three movie set that also includes Mommy's Epitaph (1987) and DEATH BY DIALOGUE (1988).

Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro (1968)

... aka: Body Snatcher from Hell
... aka: Body Snatchers from Hell
... aka: Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell
... aka: Goke: The Bodysnatcher from Hell
... aka: Goke the Vampire
... aka: Goke - Vampir aus dem Weltall (Goke - Vampire from Outer Space)
... aka: Vampire Gokemidoro

Directed by:
Hajime Satô

An airplane heading for Osaka runs into major trouble. For starters, a bomb threat was anonymously called in and the bomber may be on board with an explosive, which forces the pilot to change course and start heading back to where they initially took off from. Second, among the dozens of passengers is a well-armed assassin who's recently killed a British Ambassador and has intentions of hijacking the flight. Third, the skies themselves are an odd blood red color as something strange and abnormal is happening to the atmosphere, causing birds to go crazy and crash into the windows. Fourth, there have been recent sightings of UFOs all over Japan and the airplane gets to meet the unidentified luminous object head on as it passes overhead, immediately fries all of their electronic equipment and controls and forces them to crash land on an unknown island. And finally, once the plane itself is on the ground, the ten survivors of the crash discover the worst actual threat they'll be facing is one another. Why can't we all just get along?

The closest thing we have to heroes in this film are co-pilot Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida) and stewardess Kazumi Asakura (Tomomi Satô); a pair of normal, working-class citizens and also the only level-headed people in the group. Nearly every other character is either insane, violent, corrupt or filled with blinding self-importance, and it's all done with purposeful intent. Aside from the unstable bomber/terrorist and the sociopath hijacker, two men corrupted by our violent society, there's greedy weapons manufacturer Mr. Tokayasu (Nobuo Kaneko), who has no issue pimping out his wife Noriko (Yûko Kusunoki) if the money is right, Dr. Momotake (Kazuo Katô), a psychiatrist not above staging fake drama just so he can examine how others react, Mrs. Neal (Kathy Horan), an American war widow consumed with her husband's death serving in Vietnam. and Professor Saga (Masaya Takahashi), who's a specialist in "space biology" yet is ultimately of little use because some things just cannot be explained. Most telling of all is sleazebag politician Gôzô Mano (Eizô Kitamura), who views humanism as a weakness and proves numerous times throughout that he could care less about the well-being of his fellow man.

One of the above ends up running out of the wreckage and encountering a glowing, humming alien spacecraft, which has some hypnotic pull that lures him inside. Upon entry, the victim encounters a silver slime-like substance, their face cracks open right down the middle, the glob oozes inside their head and possesses them. From then on out, the host body literally feeds off the other survivors vampire-style, going right for the jugular and sucking out every drop of blood in their body. The culprit turns out to be a race of aliens called Gokemidoro from a planet far away who've been studying the Earth for quite some time prior to invasion and have come to conclusion the universe would be better off if we were all exterminated. Judging by the behavior of most of the characters - which serve as a microcosm of life on planet Earth - they may be right!

In many ways Goke is your standard 60s Japanese sci-fi flick. There are numerous corny moments, the dialogue is often extremely heavy-handed, the characterizations are broad, some of the acting is laughably overwrought and it begins to sag and become repetitive in the middle after an excellent opening sequence. However, the rampant cynicism about the human race that courses through the entire film and the palpable feel of uneasiness over the instability of its era make this slightly more interesting than others of this type. It's an extremely bleak glimpse at life during an unstable time, with asides to the then-current war in Vietnam, as well as mention of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, assassinations, terrorism and political and financial corruption. This is definitely not an uplifting movie nor is it a brainless one, though it perhaps could have benefited from a slightly more subtle and less preachy touch. The director (who passed away in 1995) was a big fan of Mario Bava and you can tell in regards to his attention to visual detail and usage of color.

Here in America, Pacemaker Pictures first released this on the drive-in circuit in 1977, where it was paired up with the sleazy Italian workhorse BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965). If you're going to watch it these days, I wouldn't bother with any release aside from the one currently being distributed by Criterion, who present a fantastic print with very vibrant colors and in its original language. They've also released it as part of a 4 movie set ("Eclipse Series 37") that also includes the Shôchiku Eiga releases The X from Outer Space (1967), The Living Skeleton (1968) and Genocide (1968, which was originally released in the U.S. as War of the Insects).

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