Sunday, March 27, 2022

Escalofrío (1978)

... aka: Chills
... aka: Don't Panic
... aka: Nuit Infernale (Hellish Night)
... aka: Satan's Blood
... aka: Schock

Directed by:
Carlos Puerto
Juan Piquer Simón (prologue)

Have you ever bumped into someone you didn't know who knew you? They may come up to you and say, "Hey Bob!" and you're like "Hey, uh, um..." trying to put a name to the face and conceal your confused, askance facial expression. That actually happened to me several years ago at a gas station when I back in my home town visiting my parents. A guy walked up to me when I was in line and was like "Justin?" and I was like "Yeah" and then he shook my hand. Forcing a smile, I was like "Hey, what's up?" which led to several minutes of me fielding all kinds of questions about what I was doing, where I was living, etc. The best I could do was try to hide the fact I didn't remember this guy and dance around his questions like I was at some job interview. But the thing is, I never let this guy on to the fact I didn't know who he was. I STILL don't know who this guy was. I even ended the conversation never learning his name or where he knew me from. I probably was thinking the man would feel either dejected or insulted if I said "Who are you again?"

That's basically how memories work. You may have made a bigger imprint on someone else's than vice versa due to any number of circumstances, plus some people just have better memories than others. Maybe mine sucks and is just limited to humiliating moments that happened 15 years ago that randomly pop in my head right when I'm trying to go to sleep at night. Like when I was in high school and my English teacher misplaced my paper yet still forced me to get up in front of the class with some notes and "do your best." I then proceeded to give a completely jumbled and incomprehensible red-faced speech as my peers looked on at me like I was insane. And then there was a moment in college when I arrived to class a few minutes late, tripped and fell in front of around 200 people in an otherwise completely silent auditorium. See, while I very vividly remember these things, chances are no one who witnessed them do. At least that's what I like to tell myself.

The opening scenes of this one cleverly play upon all of that. Would you flat out tell someone who claims to know you, and even provides evidence that he does, that you don't recall them, or would you just kind of go along with the story the other person is selling? That's the situation José María Guillén's character Andy finds himself in when he's out on a leisurely weekend drive with his four-months-pregnant wife, Annie (played by Mariana Karr), and their German Shepherd, Blaky. While stopped at a traffic light, a car pulls up next to them and the occupants keep staring. At the next light, the same car pulls up and the same couple stare at them until the guy finally says, "Andy?" They then motion for them to pull over so they can talk.

The mystery man - Bruno (Ángel Aranda) - claims to be a former college classmate. Andy is skeptical, especially when the story the man gives has a few holes in it. For starters, he looks much older. Second, though he knows what college Andy attended and some of the teachers, he claims the school dean was actually their professor. Still, Bruno knows enough about Andy that he's able to persuade him to accompany him and his wife, Mary (Sandra Alberti), back to their home so he can prove he is who he claims to be. Andy reluctantly agrees, something he quickly starts to regret whenever Bruno pulls off the main road and continues to drive through the country for an entire hour! While Andy did have the balls to question Bruno right away (unlike what I did in my situation), I sure as hell wouldn't have followed the guy an hour away to play catch up! The only one who's as apprehensive as they should be about the situation is the dog, who senses the couple is evil and won't stop barking.

Bruno and Mary take them to a gated old mansion that they claim they only use on weekends. There's also a nameless, mute groundskeeper / guard (Luis Barboo) living there who's just as sinister as the couple. The home is filled with ornate antique furniture and other peculiarities, like a skull, books on the occult and Satanism and an old creepy doll. Andy and Annie are given a "special vintage" of wine to drink and Bruno finally produces that school photograph of he and Andy together, but Andy finds that their names and home address are written on the back of it.

Things don't get any less strange from there as Mary coerces the guests ("Do you believe in the existence of situations that can take us beyond our reality?") into a OUIJA session using a glass goblet. The spirit they call forth then proceeds to pick at one of Andy and Annie's relationship scabs: She once had an affair with his brother. It then claims that Annie is still in love with him; something she denies. Though more than ready to leave at this point, a frazzled and intoxicated Annie passes out. That, combined with a thunderstorm and it already being late, means they'll be spending the night.

Before the night is over, their dog is killed, Annie almost gets raped in the kitchen by a vagrant (who is stabbed to death and dismembered soon after) and the young couple are mesmerized and take part in a Satanic orgy complete with fire, smoke, oil rubdowns and sex in different combinations on the floor on top of a black pentagram. (It's very well photographed and lit and quite an erotic scene actually). The following day, things don't improve as the evil couple do everything in their power to prevent Andy and Annie from leaving the home. Just what do they want exactly?

So, you want to know how Spanish filmmakers celebrated their newfound, post-Franco cinematic freedom? Look no further! This one (given the Spanish 'S' for sex rating upon release) has loads of full frontal male and female nudity, sex, group sex, rape, lesbianism, lesbian rape nightmares, implied homosexuality, cannibalism, dog eating, suicide, blood, gore, a couple of zombies, loads of Satanic iconography, a painting of Jesus going up in flames and more. And it's all good, unclean fun most of the time. Not that this is perfect. After setting up a decent premise and maintaining our intrigue for a good hour plus, the director ends with a hectic barrage of various nonsense that reveals some vague conspiracy then circles us back to the beginning. It will probably leave you scratching your head. Still, this is entertaining, well-made and more skillfully shot, scored and directed than the vast majority of other Satanic sex films from this time.

Puerto only directed one other genre film: the extremely difficult to find La capilla ardiente (1981, "The Burning Chapel"), which was never released in America. The big name attached to this one is Juan Piquer Simón (of POD PEOPLE, Pieces and SLUGS infamy), who was the executive producer, art director and later added two new prologues to the film, including an intro by "Professor Vasallo" (played by Fernando Jiménez del Oso, a real-life parapsychologist, TV host and author) informing us that Satanism is very much real and vouching for the authenticity of the film we're about to watch, and a brief scene where a young woman is placed on a sacrificial altar and is stripped naked, fondled and then stabbed by an old priest (Manuel Pereiro).

Though best known now as Satan's Blood, this was first given a U.S. VHS release from All American Video under the new title Don't Panic. In the UK, the release of Don't Panic from Colourbox re-used the same poster art as the U.S. release but was actually the 1987 Mexican supernatural slasher film of the same name. To make matters even more confusing, Mogul (parent company of All American, I believe) released a 1984 U.S. slasher film called Satan's Blade (1984) reusing the same exact box art they used for Satan's Blood!

There have been a number of restored DVD releases in recent years, from Mondo Macabro, Scorpion Releasing, Redemption Films (out of the UK) and Media Target Distribution (out of Germany). In 2020, Vinegar Syndrome released a 4K restored Blu-ray, which comes with a 45-minute making of doc called Satan's Blood: Recuerdos de Escalofrío featuring interviews with the director, editor Pedro del Rey and actress Alberti, the only one of the four stars still living.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Sorority House Massacre II (1990)

... aka: Night Frenzy
... aka: Nightie Nightmare
... aka: Nighty Nightmare
... aka: Nocny koszmar
... aka: Sorority House Massacre 2: Nighty Nightmare

Directed by:
Jim Wynorski

Few films have had a more irritating reception than this one! It seems like most viewers fall into one of three camps: Those who think this is flat out terrible, those who find this hilarious in a SBIG kind of way and those who view this as a wholly-self-aware, intentionally witty and surprisingly clever slasher-exploitation flick. A reasonable case could probably be made by those who think this is bad because, well, that's in the personal taste / humor is subjective / "Hey, that's just like your opinion, man!" realm. An even better case could be made for the third group because they actually get it. However, saying this is unintentionally funny is complete bs. This is so obviously poking fun at itself the entire time that it absolutely floors me that anyone could find the humor accidental!

I also disagree with many of the other criticisms this title frequently gets, starting with claims that the cast is bad. While the performances are variable, they are mostly no worse than what you'd find in other 80s / 90s slasher flicks, even the ones Hollywood was cranking out around the same time. I'd even go one step further and say these actors are far more enjoyable! Even the lesser talents are more personable and charming than the assembly line fodder you usually get. If you're anything like me you'd much rather tolerate the occasional awkward line reading than suffer bland indifference from a cast and crew who obviously don't really care, especially if that means everyone is trying their best, enthusiastic about what they're doing and appear to be having a great time. You get that in abundance here.

Other frequent complaints are also mostly bunk; usually centering around the large amount of nudity in the film. To that I say, yeah. So what? Is that a crime? What exactly are you expecting from something called Sorority House Massacre II? Why would you even view a film with scantily-clad girls plastered all over the poster and the tagline "cleavage vs. cleavers" and then bitch about the nudity? There's an even more curious subset of slasher fans who take offense that this isn't anything like the original SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE, nor is it really a legitimate sequel to that film. To that I say: Good! The original was a straightforward, humorless rip-off of HALLOWEEN and was muddled, dreary and pretty damn boring. So why not just pour on the sleaze and humor?

Five college girls - Linda ("Robyn Harris" aka Gail Harris), Jessica (Melissa Moore), Janey (Dana Bentley), Kimberly (Stacia Zhivago) and Suzanne (Michelle Verran) - move into their newly-purchased sorority house a day early with hopes of meeting up with the movers and phone / utilities people the following morning. However, they were apparently able to get their water turned on early, which, as we'll soon see, comes in handy in several later scenes. Unbeknownst to all of the girls but one, they've just moved into a former mass murder site called the Old Hockstatter Place. Five years earlier, a psycho named Clive Hockstatter murdered his entire family there before being put down by the neighbors. The house has remained vacant ever since.

The ladies are promptly visited by the portly, creepy, crater-faced, monotone, unflappable next door neighbor Orville Ketchum (Peter Spellos), who tells them all about the home's sordid history. (Clips from THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE are used for the flashbacks, which has confused a lot of people over the years. For the record, this was not conceived as a sequel to either the original SHM or SPM and was simply re-titled to give it a better chance on the cable / video market.) After the murders, Orville was paid by the cops to straighten up the place (i.e. clean up the blood) and has been a caretaker of sorts there ever since. He gives the girls a key to the basement (which he pulls out from the front of his pants!) and leaves, but will be keeping a watchful eye over the place when he isn't watching clips of Hollywood Boulevard on TV, peeping in windows and scarfing down bowls of cubed raw meat! Instead of being a cheap throwaway side role, Ketchum is instead used to satirize the obvious red herring character always found in these kind of films and is amusingly played by Spellos.

After some dinner, some beer, some showering (understand why the water was turned on early now?) and some changing into skimpy thong undies and teddies, the ladies venture into the basement where ole Clive kept all of his murder weapons. There, they find a blood-spattered doll and a OUIJA board. Since there's nothing else to do, they light up the fireplace and contact a spirit guide with the board, asking him to talk to Hockstatter. Instead, the "diviner" shoots into the fireplace and it erupts in flames. Only slightly spooked by that strange occurrence, the girls decide to call it a night. A mysterious prowler armed with a hook then kills them off one-by-one. The occasional scream coming from the home has already been reported to the police, but Lt. Mike Block (Jürgen Baum) and Sgt. Phyllis Shawlee ("Karen Chorak" / Toni Naples) can't make it to the home right away due to a thunderstorm and some flooding. Instead, they make a b-line to the nearest strip club to interview a survivor of the previous massacre, Candy (Bridget Carney), who's kind enough to first treat us to a long strip routine.

When he's at his best, Wynorski has this amazing ability to wallow around in the seedier side of the genre while not making viewers feel like they need to take a shower afterward thanks to his ample use of self-aware humor, pleasant actors and lighter, sillier moments. In this one he throws the blood around pretty liberally and his camera lingers on naked or half-naked women the entire time but just the gratuitousness of it all makes it amusing to watch. Wynorski has also seldom been given credit for being able to slap together a competent film (back when films were actually SHOT on film) is such a small window of time. This one was made in just a week, but it's well-lit and photographed, even managing to capture a good old dark house atmosphere in the process. He's helped immensely in the mood department by a great score from the always-reliable Chuck Cirino.

I liked all five of the main girls well enough. We have 6-foot-tall blonde Moore, who had prior genre experience in (even lower-budgeted) Donald Farmer films, and Bentley (who had been in Fred Olen Ray's Bad Girls From Mars), both acquitting themselves fairly well. Verran is probably the weakest of the five, but considering all she'd done before this was porn (using the name Barbii), she's not too bad. The real wild card is Zhivago, who doesn't appear to have done anything else before OR after this. No one seems to know what happened to her, or why she vanished into thin air right after this, or even what her real name is. It's not too uncommon for an aspiring actress to do one film like this, decide it's not for them and just brush it all behind them and move on with their life, but I'd still love to know what she thinks about the film, especially since she's one of the better actors. So, where'd you go "Stacia Zhivago"? Come say hello!

However, my absolute favorite is the Brit-born fireball Harris, who is basically in the same category as Moore as a former model turned second string Scream Queen who never quite reached the level of success as top dogs like Linnea Quigley and Brinke Stevens. Regardless, she's very cute, spunky and funny and just throws everything she's got into the proceedings, right down to getting drenched in blood, screaming her head off and doing all of her own stunt work. This film wouldn't be nearly as successful without her in the lead role. Also putting in a brief appearance as a stripper is Shannon Wilsey, who purchased some larger breasts soon after this and became adult film superstar Savannah. This is one of just four non-porn films she appeared in (every role except for The Invisible Maniac was a nude bit part) before taking her own life in 1994.

The budget was 150,000 dollars and this utilizes leftover sets from other Concorde / New Horizons productions like SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III. Julie Corman produced under the name "Shelly Stoker" and it was supposedly filmed behind husband Roger's back when he was out of the country. When Roger finally did view the finished product, he was impressed enough to give Wynorski the green light to make another similar film, which was first called Tower of Terror before being re-titled HARD TO DIE (1990). A fourth film was also made by Wynorski and produced by Corman called Sorority House Massacre III: The Final Exam. Despite being completed in 2002, the film has yet to be released.

A few "mistakes" like visible boom mic shadows, visible panties during showers and (most amusingly) a bottle seen squirting blood during a murder scene would likely be corrected if this was ever given a widescreen release in the proper aspect ratio. The only DVD releases thus far (part of New Horizon's "Massacre Collection" line) have been full screen and none have been properly remastered, though I quite like the sometimes-grainy look of the full screen presentation.

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