Saturday, June 27, 2015

Crime of Crimes (1989)

... aka: Crimen de crimenes
... aka: Corredores de drogas (Drug Runners)
... aka: Death Clinic
... aka: Todes Ambulanz (Death Ambulance)

Directed by:
Alfredo Zacarías

The Mexican writer / director of Capulina vs. the Mummies (1973), The Bees (1978) and Demonoid: Messenger of Death (1981) teams up with “presenter” and uncredited executive producer David Carradine (whose career was really on the skids by this point) to make this low-budget cautionary tale about “A parent's worst nightmare!” What could possibly go wrong there? As it turns out, plenty! Thankfully, the things that go terribly wrong go wrong in ways that are strange, hilarious and always entertaining. Before I start this review, I'd like to point out there is absolutely nothing at all funny about the exploitation / abuse of young children. It's a serious issue and no one right in the head would make light of something like that. However, that doesn't mean a well-meaning movie about the subject that fails horribly at conveying its message cannot be funny. Pretty much any subject matter can end up being amusing when it's completely mishandled, even if the subject matter itself is far from it. I'm sure everyone involved with this one thought they were making an important, timely, thought-provoking movie. Unfortunately, it just didn't turn out that way. If “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” then Crime of Crimes is a certifiable highway to hell... Bad movie hell!

As Crimes begins, upwards of forty underage girls have all mysteriously vanished in the East Los Angeles area. Depressingly, our children's lives have been put in the hands of a couple or moronic, swaggering detectives; Jeff Young (Jeff Weston) and Mike Silva (“introducing” Miguel Ángel Rodríguez), who are so bad at their jobs they drag people into the station without a stitch of evidence, arrest innocent people and hassle law-abiding citizens while all kinds of horrible things are happening right under their noses. Even their boss, Captain Frank McEntire (Carradine), hopelessly sighs “You two morons are their only hope” before shooing them out of his office.

Meanwhile, nice guy Pablo Mendoza (Richard Yñiguez), his very pregnant wife Lisa (Susan Saldivar) and their young daughter Angela (Maggie Ochoa) arrive in town from Tucson, Arizona in their moving van. Pablo, who was previously struggling to get by washing cars, has moved his family there in the hopes of giving them a better life working for a well-known car mechanic. Upon arrival in L.A., they're given a warm welcome by a racist, slovenly gas station attendant (Bruce Kimball) who refuses to let their little girl use the bathroom, prompting Pablo to scream “Up yours, porky!” before beating him up and then flinging the contents of his daughter's potty chair right in the guy's face (!) Pablo then settles his family into a small apartment behind where he works. His boss, Tom Hernandez aka “Mr. Wonder Tools,” is played by Kent Osborne, who'd previously appeared in a handful of Al Adamson movies.

Despite already being convicted of six counts of child molestation, Karl Johnson (Aldo Ray) is free and out on the streets lurking around schools, parks and playgrounds looking for victims. He tempts little girls into the ice cream truck he operates (“How would you like to ride in the ice cream truck?”) but what he does with them once he abducts them isn't what you may think. Karl actually works for a clinic that specializes in removing vital organs from kidnapped children that are then sold to the highest bidder on the black market. The fully-staffed clinic is run out of the mansion home of a sneering, millionaire piece of Euro-trash named Caesar Canaletti (Bill Countryman), whose chief surgeon, Dr. Hoffman (Jimmy Williams), is a jittery, heroin-addicted junkie they're blackmailing into working for them. The clinic also has many other doctors and nurses plus an army of thugs who have no issue doing Caesar's bidding, whether that be shooting uncooperative staff members in the back or taking the remains of dead children up to the Hollywood hills to bury in shallow graves.

Because Pablo has brief, harmless encounters with several of the little girls who eventually turn up missing and his fingerprints are lifted off a pair of shoes belonging to one of them, he becomes suspect numero uno. However, none of that changes the fact that dozens of girls had disappeared long before he even arrived in the area! Regardless, the cops handcuff him, punch him in the gut and then drag him to the station, where Carradine encourages his men to “come down hard on him” to coerce a confession. Pablo is promptly thrown into prison and manhandled. While he's behind bars, his wife passes out in a park, is taken to a hospital and delivers a baby, while little Angela finds herself in the clutches of Karl, who knocks her out, gags her, ties her up and puts her inside a large cardboard Luvs Diapers box (!) for easy transport to the clinic. After some negotiations, a woman there pays 50,000 dollars for her heart. One may next expect to see a father enacting his revenge and rescuing his little girl, but that's not what happens at all. He simply goes home and is forgotten until the very last scene!

Because more traditional procedural has failed them, the two dim-witted detectives then decide to go on a vigilante killing spree and hunt down each person they suspect may be involved and force them to either confess all they know or die. They first visit “The Ice Cream Man,” who attempts to burn one of them alive with gasoline and a lighter before he's shot in the head. Next up is the doctor, who ends up committing suicide by leaping out of his second story window onto a car to avoid spilling the beans. After going to a dance club to get info from the doctor's drug dealer, they're finally able to get Caesar's name and the location of the operation. However, Captain McEntire, not knowing that his detectives are behind those deaths, sends his other men out to apprehend them, which leads to a lengthy car chase en route to the clinic where numerous old police cars are destroyed. I don't know about you, but I doubt the errant detectives would be receiving a pat on the back for 1. running around killing suspects behind their superior's back 2. driving recklessly through suburban neighborhoods and putting innocents in jeopardy in the process or 3. putting other officers lives at risk by causing them to wreck their vehicles in a completely unnecessary high-speed pursuit throughout L.A. But guess what? That's exactly what happens!

Nobody out there seems to know about this obscure, barely-released movie... and that's a shame. This is the exact type of stupid, fast-paced, technically inept, 80s direct-to-video trash that fans of terrible movies should seek out immediately. Not only is the entire plot completely moronic, but the film is incredibly poorly-made to boot. The dialogue is laughable and much of the acting is terrible, but where this really shines is in the sound recording department, which is absolutely hilarious! Sometimes they use sound recorded during filming but, at other times, they poorly loop dialogue back in for whatever reason, which sounds as if the actors are suddenly speaking the lines through a tin can. To make matters worse, they also clearly use other voice actors to do the dubbing, so sometimes you'll have the actors speaking in their normal voice and a minute later speaking in someone else's voice. It's bizarre to put it mildly. The sound problems extend right over to the God awful sound effects, including a car chase accompanied by what sounds like someone scratching a record album over and over again and a moment when Aldo Ray barely taps a guy in a stomach and this loud PUNCH sound is added. There are also issues with the photography, continuity, editing and pretty much everything else but, alas, I only have so much time in one day.

In addition to being poorly-made, this also suffers from a cast who doesn't know whether they should play the material earnestly or camp it up, characters who are the lead one minute and then disappear from the rest of the film the next and “heroes” who are every bit as unlikable as the child molester and the black market organ dealers! During one sequence, Pablo and his wife are discussing a little girl who was kidnapped from their neighborhood and how scary it all is... a few seconds after letting their young daughter wander off outside all by herself to check out a fire! The police are also shown in a consistently bad light; lying to parents and even coercing doctors into lying and concealing info from parents about their missing children. A police secretary acts like she's being inconvenienced by having to take reports from crying mothers and concerned citizens about what's going on. Perhaps this originally had intentions to say something about how irresponsible adults and inept authority figures are at fault for children being kidnapped, sexually abused and murdered, but this is all so poorly handled, over-the-top and preposterous it's impossible to take seriously for a minute.

As far as the “names” in the cast are concerned, Ray does what he was hired to do fairly effectively, while Carradine spends most of his time sitting at a desk looking grumpy, disinterested and sometimes mumbling his lines with a cigar dangling from his bottom lip. I'm sure he probably had more pressing things on his mind at the time he made this as he'd just been arrested for drunk driving a second time and (as per the Los Angeles Times) faced a stiff sentence that involved “... three years' summary probation, 48 hours in jail, 100 hours of community service, 30 days' work picking up trash for the California Department of Transportation, attendance at a drunk driving awareness meeting and completion of an alcohol rehabilitation program.” In addition to Ray and Carradine, Musetta Vander (billed as “Mussetta”), who went on to bigger things, has a small, early role as a mother of one of the kidnapped girls. And there's also another unexpected surprise guest...

At the end of the tape distributed by VCI Home Video there's a message from the "Child Protection Program Foundation" and Phil Sheldon, who has his fat ass planted in a chair surrounded by bored-looking kids and warns that “Children are our future and we must protect that future... We must protect it from the horrible things that happen in this film!” Sheldon's tax exempt non-profit organization, which was also known as "Survivors and Victims Empowered" and by other names, later made the coveted list of “America's 50 Worst Charities” and was sued multiple times for misleading donors, including an accusation that less than 1 percent of 4 million dollars they listed as charitable expenses actually went to directly helping children. The organization also pushed for restrictions of sex and violence on TV and raised money via telemarketing, junk mail and even a mail sweepstakes scam. Phil's father is Rev. Louis Sheldon, who founded the ultra-conservative Traditional Values Organization, and is the creator of the "National Task Force to Preserve the Heterosexual Ethic," a regular Fox News contributor and author of the book The Agenda: The Homosexual Plan to Change America. Like his father, Phil is also heavily-involved in right wing politics to this day. I'm not sure if either had anything to do with the actual making of this movie but Phil clearly endorsed it.


L'uomo senza memoria (1974)

... aka: Atormentada (Tormented)
... aka: Dødens puslespil (Death Puzzle)
... aka: Le trancheuse infernale (The Infernal Slicer)
... aka: Man Without a Memory
... aka: Puzzle
... aka: Rompecabeza: Hombre sin memoria (Puzzle: Man Without Memory)

Directed by:
Duccio Tessari

Eight months after having been involved in a car accident and waking up in a clinic, a young Brit (Luc Merenda, last seen in TORSO) still hasn't been able to regain his memory. A passport on his possession claims he's “Peter Smith” but a man named Philip (Manfred Freyberger) shows up at his psychiatrist's office telling him he's a friend and his name is actually “Ted Walden.” After Philip gets Peter / Ted alone, he promptly beats him up, calls him a two-bit con artist, accuses him of faking his amnesia and threatens to kill him but someone from outside the apartment shoots Phillip to death through the window. Before dying, Philip also passes along some other possibly important information, namely that Peter is 30 years old and is married to an American woman currently living in Italy. Immediately after, the doorbell rings and he receives a telegram from his wife Sara (the seriously gorgeous Senta Berger), who claims she can't wait to see him again and leaves a date and location for them to meet. Peter / Ted hides the body in a Murphy bed and then it's off to the airport.

Meanwhile in Portofino, Italy, Sara has moved on with her life best she can and is working as a swim teacher. Luca (Duilio Cruciani), a young boy who lives next door, has a massive crush on her as does an older man, Daniel Reinhart (Umberto Orsini), who works at the same sports center as Sara and seems to secretly hope she remains single for selfish reasons. After someone breaks in, chloroforms her and ransacks her home, Sara receives a telegram from Peter / Ted telling her he's about to join her. The two meet at a train station and have a lot of catching up to do. Peter / Ted doesn't really learn a whole lot from his wife. After all, the two barely even knew each other! They met in New York City, married after a week-long courtship and, soon after, went to London, where she spent most of her time alone in their hotel room while he was off doing something. That something is unknown. Sara recalls he had an interest in antiques but never even told her what line of work he was in. Edward Walden turns out to be his real name... or “Ted” if you're a friend.

According to nearly everyone who used to know Edward (including his wife), he was a “dirty rotten bastard” or a "dirty son of a double crosser" before the amnesia came into play. Now it appears he's going to have to pay for all that when his past comes back to haunt him. One of Edward's former partners-in-crime, violent and perhaps mentally imbalanced thug George (Bruno Corazzari), keeps stalking him and Sara. He was also the one who sent the initial telegraph that lured Edward there and the guy who broke in Sara's home, knocked her out and rummaged through her things. Apparently, he, Edward and Philip all owe someone a million dollars. They'd purchased heroin with the money and now the drugs are missing but the debt remains. Whoever they owe is determined to get the drugs back within a week of Edward's arrival.

After being stalked and terrorized over several days time (including Sara enduring having her dog killed and getting lit matches tossed on her), the couple decide to flee to America, but don't keep their stupid mouths shut about their plans. Not surprisingly, right before they're supposed to leave she becomes incapacitated after being hit by a car and breaking her leg in a staged “accident.” Certain incidents Edward witnesses along the way (like blood and a ceiling fan) trigger flashbacks to his past, which help to slowly reveal what happened before his car crash. Things finally start to liven up a bit at the very end, which features some fist fighting, razor slashing and bloody scenes involving a chainsaw.

This is a presentable and competently-made but nonetheless routine little mystery (or “giallo” if you will) that holds few if any real surprises and owes a huge debt of gratitude to Terence Young's Wait Until Dark (1967) in more ways than one. Considering what this is, when it was made and where it's from, I consider the lack of surprise both a positive and a negative thing; positive because many Italian thrillers from this era seemed so intent on surprise twists they'd venture into the realm of the senseless, idiotic and absurd to provide them and negative because, well, who wants to sit through an average, predictable movie? While the lack of imagination and creativity makes for a forgettable viewing experience overall, it won't exactly kill you to watch this either. Some mildly intriguing flashbacks sequences, OK production values, realistic characters and charismatic actors help put it in about the middle of the pack.

Puzzle was scripted by the extremely prolific Ernesto Gastaldi, who perhaps wrote more of these things than anyone else. Giallo regular Anita Strindberg (Lizard in a Woman's Skin) appears in just two scenes in a minor and forgettable role. Prior to this, the director co-wrote Goliath and the Vampires (1961), Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961) and numerous other peplum and spaghetti westerns; some of which he also directed. His only other genre film as director was the obscure giallo The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971). The DVD release from the Danish company Another World Entertainment comes with both English and Italian audio tracks, but no English subs for the latter.

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