Saturday, February 29, 2020

Garden of the Dead (1972)

... aka: Le jardin des morts (The Garden of the Dead)
... aka: Tomb of the Undead

Directed by:
John Hayes

I am endlessly fascinated by the handful of zombie movies that were made between Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). While Night established the general template for most of the later zombies films, Dawn would further solidify them as the slow, shambling, one-track-minded flesh-eaters-back-from-the-dead that most viewers now think of when they think of zombies. In that decade-long post-Night but pre-Dawn time period, directors perhaps didn't feel as constrained to present their living dead in quite the same way and, as a result, some of the most interesting and unusual zombie films were made during this time. I'm not saying this is one of the better examples per se, but it doesn't stick to the Romero style of zombies either. There are only a handful of them featured here, but they talk, plot out their revenge, laugh, run, jump, get high (!!) and use weapons to kill instead of eating their victims.

Camp Hoover, a rather shoddy-looking prison camp where chain gang members are forced to work making and barreling up formaldehyde (?!), is on the verge of shutting down, at which time the prisoners will be relocated elsewhere and the entire staff will be reassigned to new prisons. However, inmates Coler (Eric Stern), Braddock (Virgil Frye), Donovan (Phil Hoover) and Nolan (Carmen Filpi) have no intentions of doing any of that. When they aren't getting high by huffing toxic formaldehyde vapors, they've plotting their escape and working on digging an escape tunnel, which will put them close to the camp's loading depot. There, they plan to steal a flatbed truck and then be on their way. But there are a few obstacles to get out of the way first...

Prisoner Paul Johnson (Marland Proctor) is friends with guard McGee (Lee Frost), who sometimes lets him have a minute or two of cuddle time with his frustrated wife, Carol (Susan Charney), who's been holding down the fort all on her own working as a diner waitress while waiting for his release. Since McGee will be patrolling the planned escape path, the ruthless Braddock decides to stab Paul just in case he were to tip off his buddy. They then kill Officer McGee and steal his shotgun. While fleeing the camp, Nolan falls and the gun goes off; which alerts the guards and staff. During a chase, the escapees wreck their truck in a foggy cemetery (not a garden!), spilling barrels of formaldehyde all over the ground in the process, and are gunned down. The cliché asshole warden (Philip Kenneally) decides the dead men don't deserve the dignity of a proper burial and instructs his guards to put all of the bodies in a shallow, unmarked grave. As for Mitchell (Tony Vorno) and the five other prisoners who knew about the escape but didn't squeal, their punishment involves being handcuffed in the yard, where they'll stand for three days without food or water.

While a couple of prisoners are working on burying the bodies, the dead inmates return to life, kill the guard, kill the gravediggers, raid a truck for gardening tools (rakes, pickaxes, shovels) and announce, "We will destroy the living!" Their first stop is the farm of an elderly couple who are letting Carol, who's just come back to check on her injured husband, stay in their RV. The ghouls kill the couple and then chase Carol back to the prison camp. They rip out of the electricity, disable to vehicles and kill whoever they can get their hands on. They're also still addicted to formaldehyde but, instead of inhaling the fumes,they  start drinking it and rubbing it all over their bodies! Gunshots sometimes kill them but not always. The most effective way to put them out of commission is to expose them to light. That right there effectively put an end to a potential Romero-style franchise that could have included Gar-Dawn of the Dead.

I never thought I'd see a movie where drug-addled rotting zombies run around with axes slaughtering people that could keep it all within the confines of a PG rating, but that's exactly what we have here. So just how did they do it? Easy. There's no profanity, no sex, no real gore and just a tiny bit of blood. Joe Blasco, who'd soon work on David Cronenberg's early films and the bad taste classic ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1975), did the make-up fx. While his zombie designs are passable, they usually look better from a distance than they do close up. Garden was filmed in just 10 days, doesn't even run an hour and, while it's not exactly good, it's adequately entertaining if you have 59 minutes to spare. It's also worthwhile as a footnote in the evolution of the zombie subgenre for fans.

The cast includes a lot of familiar faces from trashy 70s flicks, including Duncan "McCloud" / McLeod (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) as the prison doctor, John Dennis (Mama's Dirty Girls) as the main guard, John Dullaghan (who started out doing hardcore porn, like SEX AND THE SINGLE VAMPIRE starring John Holmes) as a police sergeant and Jerome Guardino (Octaman) as another prisoner.

Usually the support feature for the same director's superior GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE (1972) when this played theatrically, there have been many home video releases for this one since then. It was distributed on VHS by both Silvermine Video (under the title Tomb of the Undead, which was also the UK theatrical release title) and Premiere Entertainment. That was followed by DVD releases from Troma, who released it at both a standalone and as part of their "Troma Triple B-Header" series, which also included Buttcrack (1998) and Unspeakable (2000), and Retromedia, who also released a standalone and then paired it up with Shriek of the Mutilated (1974) as part of their "Shock-A-Thon" double feature line.

Lang nu bai mo (1982)

... aka: 狼女白魔
... aka: Long neui baak mo
... aka: White Demon Wolf Girl
... aka: Wolf Devil Woman
... aka: Wolfen Devil
... aka: Wolfen Ninja
... aka: Wolfen Queen

Directed by:
Chang Ling (Pearl Chang)

At some kind of Satanic ceremony complete with men in rubber monster masks, a guy gets carried into a room on a crucifix and is turned into a bloody mess when the leader (decked out in a gold lamé skull-and-crossbones KKK hood and a Freddy-like claw glove!) stabs a voodoo doll and then dips it in a bubbling cauldron. Witnessing the act in horror, a young couple with an infant flee into the snow. They're hunted down by some red ninjas and, feeling trapped, decide they'd rather commit suicide than go back. As for their child, they're just going to leave that in the hands of the Gods. After stabbing each other, they head butt the side of a mountain and cause an avalanche (!!) Afterward, when the bad guys are searching for the bodies, a pack of "wolves" (played by a non-threatening assortment of German Shepherds) arrive just in the nick of time to chase them off. While the other wolves devour parts of the parents, the legendary White Wolf digs the baby girl out from under the snow and takes it back to its amazing ice cave. Now part of the pack, the White Wolf becomes her protector. It saves her when she falls down a mountain, brings her food and medicinal leaves when she's hurt and does other such things until she's reached full adulthood. Adult Wolf Devil Woman (Pearl Chang) now spends her days frolicking in the snow and hunting dressed in animal rags and with a ridiculous stuffed wolf atop her head!

Passing through her part of the forest are Rudolph Li (Feng Shih) and his "funny" bumbling assistant Rudy Wan (Ko Pa), who have been on a two-month-long search for the fabled "Great White Ginseng Root," which is powerful enough to put a stop to Blue Devil (who's also referred to as "Red Devil" approximately one time) and his cult of followers. When Wolf Devil Woman and the White Wolf show up, she's accidentally shot with an arrow and the wolf is killed. The men follow a trail of blood back to the ice cave where they find the injured girl and help nurse her back to health. Master Li even helps readjust her spine while she returns the favor by chomping down on his hand and drinking his blood twice. I'll spare you any bad puns about it being love at first bite but you get where this is going... Or do you?

The men teach Wolf Devil Woman language and how to read and write, help bring out her tender side and give her the new name "Snow Hibiscus" (?!) They also learn that Wolf Devil Woman, uh, I mean Snow Hibiscus, uh, I mean "Snow Flower" (which they suddenly start calling her for most of the rest of the film), uh, I mean "White Wolf Girl" (which they then randomly start calling her) ate the ginseng root years earlier when she was younger. Seeing how it only grows once every thousand years that causes quite the problem. Once they reveal to her that her wolf mother is dead, her hair suddenly turns white, her eyes glow and then she refuses to accompany the men back to civilization.

Li and Rudy return home, where Li's father Master Yu (Hsieh Wang) decides that they'll just go ahead and try to stop the Blue Devil Cult themselves without the flower. That works out about as well as you'd expect when they get ambushed in a graveyard by fireballs and the ninjas. Li is abducted and dragged back to the evil demon's lair where he becomes a possessed follower after breathing in some smoke. Blue Devil has a collection of corpses he's turned into zombies with a "golden needle" that he wants to use in his quest for world domination. Or, as he puts it, "Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! They're all part of my great plan! Ha ha! I want to rule the world... forever! All living things shall bow down to me! I shall be the king of the world! Ha ha ha! No one shall stand against me! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

Wolf Hibiscus Woman Snow Devil Flower or whatever they're now calling her finally gets over her wolf mother's death and makes her way to the village. She first goes to a restaurant where she washes down five chickens and five fish with five jugs of wine and then has a major freak-out where she starts ripping out her hair and pukes all over the floor. Villagers beat her with sticks and try to drown her in a well but she's saved by white-haired good wizard Master Chu (Ying Chih). Then she and Rudy (with eventual assist from Li, who was merely faking being possessed!) set off on a quest to stop Blue Devil. On their way, they make pit stops in various places (graveyard, desert) to fight Blue Devil's henchmen, who get hung, decapitated, dismembered, disemboweled and even snapped in half. That all leads to a bonkers finale featuring zombies, hopping vampires, lasers, rubber spiders, poison gas, multi-colored lights and smoke, cartoon fire, tons of wire work of people flying, flipping, spinning and getting knocked around and all kinds of other cheap fx stuff.

Weird? Check. Childish? Check. Ridiculous? Always. Boring. NEVER! I loved the hell out of every minute of this nonsense except for the parts where rabbits are actually shot with arrows and ripped in half. This is busy plot wise, fast-paced, gory and filled with brainless action, blood sprays, monsters and wonky wire work. Our heroine has a hilarious fur lasso weapon that doubles as a whip and she uses to swing through the trees a la Tarzan. She even decapitates two men with it after dragging them down the beach with a horse! As an added bonus, the horrendous English dubbing sends this even further over the edge into SBIG territory. The English version comes courtesy of Joseph Lai's IFD Films and Arts, which credits "martial arts direction" to "Charles Chan" on the poster and "Benny Ho" (Godfrey Ho) as the writer. While Wolfen Queen is the title used on the (fantastic!) poster, this was first released on home video in the U.S. under the title Wolfen Ninja by TransWorld Entertainment in 1986. It was also released on VCD by Ocean Shores.

And can take a second to give it up for Pearl Chang? What other woman from the early 80s was directing, writing, producing and starring in their own action vehicles made for their own production company? Sadly, this is her only horror effort and, even more unfortunately, the two "sequels" were re-titled for international release and have nothing at all to do with this one aside from Chang's involvement. Both were, in fact, made before this "original." Wolf Devil Woman 2 is actually Matching Escort and was also issued under the titles Fury of the Silver Fox and Venus the Ninja. Wolf Devil Woman 3 is Miraculous Flower aka Phoenix the Ninja.

This is (loosely) based on author Yusheng Liang's 1957 novel Baifa Monü Zhuan, which was later and much more famously brought to the screen by Ronny Yu as The Bride with White Hair (1993), starring Brigitte Lin. However, while Bride was a critically-acclaimed hit, this one's straight-up schlock. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing! For the record, there were many other adaptations of this same book, including Story of the White-Haired Demon Girl (1958), White Hair Devil Lady (1980) and others, plus TV versions in 1978, 1986, 1995, 1999 and 2012.

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