Saturday, June 4, 2016
Fool's Views (5/1 – 5/31)
May was an interesting month, with the flickers coming in fits and starts, and none of them before the halfway point following my return from Barcelona. (Flying back on Air Canada, we were denied the anticipated glory of in-flight entertainment and had to settle for – sigh – READING. Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, in case anyone was wondering.) The Enlightened Warrior Training Camp experience kept me more-than-occupied while abroad, and once I had returned, there was little time to enjoy the recliner since I had a ton of personal training sessions to make up for having been gone for two glorious weeks in the Spanish countryside.
However, the joy that marked the second annual Turkey Day in May festival out in the Krypt du Kitley delivered the goods (and another seven titles) and the Memorial Day weekend allowed for sufficient chill time to enjoy a few civilian treats as well. (My Jason Bateman festival, by the way, is pretty nigh at its completion. Couple more on the list, but I think I’ve pretty much seen all I need to see for now. That said, it might be time to renew my Robert Aldrich exploration – still quite the unexplored bounty there.)
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Angst (1983) d. Kargl, Gerald (Austria) (2nd viewing)
Amazingly ambitious cinematography (half the time I was legitimately wondering aloud, “How the hell did they do that??”) and a mesmerizing central performance from Erwin Leder elevate this low-budget Austrian serial killer flick well beyond its slasher brethren. Preceding John MacNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer by three years, Kargl’s close-up identification with a recently released psychopath is chilling, especially when his haphazard murder plans do not go smoothly. No teleporting masked madmen – here, things get authentically messy, clumsy, and terrifying. Big time kudos to the supporting cast, whose bodies are flung around mercilessly both before and after their onscreen demises – Kargl’s use of unbroken extended takes insures that no stunt doubles or dummies were used here. First brought to my attention by Rue Morgue’s Best Alternative Horror Films list and released last fall to Blu-ray by Cult Epics, this shamefully overlooked gem will hopefully gain a few more admirers.
Edge of Sanity (1989) d. Kikoine, Gerard (France/UK) (2nd viewing)
The year after the wish-we-could-forget-it misfire of Destroyer, where he half-heartedly assayed the role of an exploitation filmmaker, Anthony Perkins rose up and sank teeth, claws, and every other pointy bit into the dual roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and it’s fair to say this represents some of his most invested screen acting since reprising Norman Bates in 1983’s Psycho II and the following year’s Crimes of Passion for Ken Russell. Along with the artful splatter, Perkins’ full-throttle performance almost elevates the material beyond its cheesy slasher trappings (Jekyll’s unhinged counterpart here is none other than Jack the Ripper), but not quite enough to qualify it as a good film, per se. There are numerous unclothed nubile females, subtle-as-a-sledgehammer religious symbolism, handsome production design, and Glynis Barber is quite fetching as the patient and sympathetic Lady Jekyll, but it never quite congeals as a tonally balanced product, torn between psychological period-piece thriller and sleazy exploitation.
Invaluable (2014) d. Meade, Ryan USA (1st viewing)
The subtitle to this loving tribute to self-made effects wunderkind Tom Sullivan is “The True Story of an Epic Artist,” and while most of the attention is understandably directed towards his contributions to The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, we also get an intimate portrait of the individual behind the zany stop-motion and boffo latex explosions. Director Meade makes a concerted effort to round up the ED creative team, with appearances from cast members Ellen Sandweiss, Theresa Tilly, Hal Delrich, and Bruce Campbell, as well as fake shemps Ted Raimi and Scott Spiegel, sound man Josh Becker, cinematographer Tim Philo, effects man Bart Pierce, and Sullivan’s mom. (Sam Raimi and producer Rob Tapert are conspicuously absent, but they do show up in archival interview footage.) Ample attention is given to Sullivan’s personal life, including the tragic loss of his estranged wife in a boating accident and his own struggles following a debilitating car crash. (Sullivan openly gives credit to Cinema Wasteland head honcho Ken Kish for being a key element in his recovery, after the convention creator invited him to be the event’s first ever celebrity guest.) If there is a complaint, it’s that Meade too often recycles the same interview footage, such that we’re hearing the same quotes two and three times, losing their impact. But like the film that made Sullivan a small-time icon, there’s no denying the pure heart beneath the rough edges.
Savage Weekend (1979) d. Paulsen, David USA (2nd viewing)
Though it now shows up on numerous “public domain” collections, I first heard about this twisted little shocker about a group of vacationing urbanites being systematically dismembered via Jim Harper’s indispensable slasher guidebook Legacy of Blood. Despite a none-too-shabby body count and abundant nudity, what stuck in my brain (nay, scarred it) was the scene where a handlebar-mustachioed David Gale (Dr. Hill from Re-Animator) performs a none-too-subtle cow-milking demonstration for frustrated housewife Marilyn Hamlin. As I later commented to Rue Morgue scribe John Bowen, “That movie could make you give up dairy.” After Mr. Bowen – in his inimitably hilarious fashion – showcased the flick in a recent issue, I decided to give it another whirl and was pleasantly surprised at how uniquely strange yet peculiarly watchable Paulsen’s feature is. We’ve got gay males who know how to kick ass, casual hook-ups galore, creative kills, and a nasty fishhook-up sequence that will leave you wincing. Other than Gale, another familiar face that pops up is William Sanderson (Fight for Your Life, TV’s Newhart) as a simpleton handyman/handy red herring with a penchant for power tools. Worth your time.
DOUBLE SCOOP OF MIRAGLIA-FLAVORED GIALLO
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972) d. Miraglia, Emilio (Italy) (1st viewing)
Zippy little Italian thriller centering around a family curse where every hundred years, two sisters are born and the dark-haired one is driven to murder her fair-haired sibling. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Well, as fate and director/co-writer Miraglia would have it, right on cue, right after their father dies, the Wildenbruck family are beset by a spate of murders, all of which seem to point to the “lady in red” who looks surprisingly like Eveline… despite the fact that our brunette lass recently died following a squabble with her blonde fashion photographer sis Kitty (Barbara Bouchet). The elder sister Franziska (Marina Malfatti) tries to reassure Kitty, but the bodies start piling up, each time dispatched by a scarlet-cloaked dagger-wielding murderer. (There’s also a particularly memorable sequence where a victim is done in by having his coat trapped in a car door and dragged alongside.) Adding to the babe factor are Sybil Danning as a gold-digging model and Pia Giancaro as Kitty’s sympathetic co-worker. Lots of twists and turns, and in classic giallo style, the grand reveal is liable to inspire a chorus of “Wait… what?” rather than any “Aha, I knew it” moments.
Arrow video has given this lesser-seen offering a stellar high-def presentation, with supplements galore, featuring a new interview with Danning, Nightmare U.S.A.’s Stephen Thrower offers his estimable two shillings worth, while Kim Newman and Alan Jones share audio commentary duties, and they are fun. Held over from the No Shame DVD release are interviews with production/costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi, and stars Marino Mase and Bouchet.
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) d. Miraglia, Emilio (Italy) (2nd viewing)
Grieving the loss of his beloved wife, Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) engages in sadistic role play with various night club dancers and prostitutes (including lovely Erika Blanc) on a regular basis, with lashings of flesh and lashings of flesh. On the advice of his doctor (Kill Baby Kill’s Giacomo Rossi Stuart), he impulsively marries the lovely Gladys (Marina Malfatti), much to the seeming consternation of his former bride’s spirit. Murders abound. The opening half hour is quite enjoyable, thanks to the sleazy scenes in Alan’s homemade torture chamber and rambunctious exotic dance sequences, before settling into more familiar “ghostly appearances making people craaaaaaaaazy” terrain. But hang in there for a wingding of a denouement, with poisonings, stabbings, and a pool of sulfuric acid coming atcha fast and furious!
Arrow Video’s gorgeous Blu-ray presentation – vanquishing all memories of the cruddy pan-n-scan public domain offerings – is packed with stellar supplements, including an audio commentary by Troy Howarth, a new interview with Blanc and an reflection by genre film authority Stephen Thrower, and archival interviews (from the NoShame DVD release a few years back) with Blanc (who tells variations on some of the same stories and is an absolute hoot with her give-zero-f**ks attitude) and production and costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi.
Both Red Queen and Evelyn are available from Arrow Video in the US via MVD Visual as part of their Killer Dames box set, available HERE:
TURKEY DAY IN MAY 2016:
The Alligator People (1959) d. Del Ruth, Roy USA (2nd viewing)
Beverly Garland, following her memorable turns in Roger Corman’s Not of this Earth and It Conquered the World, rounded out her 1950s sci-fi/horror trifecta as the traumatized wife of armed forces pilot Richard Crane, himself the victim of an experimental surgery with some scaly side effects. Relatively standard drive-in fare, enlivened by a robust, hook-handed supporting performance by Lon Chaney Jr. and the final gator-man transformation (created in part by legend-in-the-making Dick Smith).
Trivia: Director Del Ruth also helmed one of the very first sound horror films, 1928’s The Terror, as well as innumerable big budget musicals like Gold Diggers of Broadway and Broadway Melody of 1936, and Topper Returns.
Bigfoot (1970) d. Slatzer, Robert F. USA (1st viewing)
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this might well have been the first feature film to center around the mythical Sasquatch (at least that’s what my 15-minute internet questing tells me – this is called exhaustive research in the 21st century). That doesn’t mean it’s any good – witness its 2.2 IMDb rating – but it does have a juicy lead performance by genre mainstay John Carradine and features not only Robert Mitchum’s younger brother John as the crusty Carradine’s loyal sidekick, but his son Christopher Mitchum plays the sweetest rough ‘n’ tough biker you ever met, searching desperately for his ‘quatch-napped darling Judy Jordan. Blonde bombshell Joi Lansing plays a downed pilot also nabbed by the hairy beasts, and with a tagline like, “It breeds with anything…” you can only imagine where things are headed. Tedious and filled with ridiculous characters, but enjoyable with a crowd.
Rape (1976) d. Iglesias, Miguel (as M.I. Bonns) (Spain) (1st viewing)
Perhaps the most unfortunately titled selection ever to appear on a Turkey Day roster, this is much more of a “spirit of evil ancestors possessing the living” epic than the non-consensual potboiler one might expect. Mononymic beauty Nadiuska (aka Conan’s mom from Conan the Barbarian) stars as the mysterious Maria, and woe befall anyone who falls in love with her, for doom and painful death await. After one of their friends does and dies, two Frenchmen seek out the fair temptress and her hermit father to learn the truth. A decent enough supernatural thriller from the director of the Paul Naschy epic Night of the Howling Beast aka The Werewolf vs. the Yeti.
The Great Alligator (1979) d. Martino, Sergio (Italy) (2nd viewing)
Entrepreneur Miguel Ferrer whips up a tourist resort getaway in the Amazonian jungle, complete with exhibits like “Crocodile Bridge” and authentic native dances/rituals, and hires photographer Claudio Cassinelli to shoot a bunch of promotional material for it. Unfortunately, as must occur is all Italian Jaws rip-offs, a giant toothy floating rubber log resides just below the surface, hungry for lunch in the form of white and dark meat alike. Wildly entertaining and unintentionally hilarious, due in large part to the shamelessly terrible effects, but also thanks to a third-act native uprising that leaves the majority of the Caucasian cast dismembered and/or skewered and/or gator grub. Former Bond girl and current Beatles bride (yeah, Ringo!) Barbara Bach brings her best assets to play, all big eyes, big boobs, and bouncin’ ‘n’ behavin’ hair, and Demons fans will delight to see their favorite white-suited pimp Bobby Rhodes on hand as the native foreman.
Demon Witch Child (aka The Possessed) (1975) d. Ossorio, Amando de (Spain) (1st viewing)
Shameless Spanish spin on The Exorcist, with the spirit of a Satanist hag inhabiting the body of a prepubescent girl and causing her to spout all manner of obscenities while the body count piles up around her. Of course, no one can believe that this sweet-faced girl could be perpetrating the crimes, despite the fact that she’s running around with demonic totems stuffed into her teddy bear and calling every man a “queer” and every woman a “slut.” There’s a strange little subplot with our handsome young tormented priest having left his teen sweetie at the altar after receiving his calling (she, of course, ends up becoming a drug-addicted prostitute, like you do) and a nasty castration sequence towards the finale, but that’s not really a recommendation.
Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor (1993) d. Takakjian, Glenn (USA) (1st viewing)
Giant monster/practical effects fans rejoice!!! This was far and away the most pleasant surprise of the afternoon, since no one (save Kitley) had seen it before and no one could have been expecting the awesomeness that awaited us. Sure, the plot is something we’ve seen a dozen times over, where top-secret scientists are working on top-secret experiments that end in HOLY CHRISTMAS GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT OMIGOD IT’S EATING HIM results, but it’s all carried out with such gusto and good humor that the viewer can’t help but be swept along on a bloody and goopy wave of goodwill. An attractive and mostly unoffensive cast (we all wanted lame-o boyfriend Brian to D-I-E) serve the turn, and the special effects crew led by Vincent Guastini and Dean Mercil slam the dunk. Get this sucker out on shiny silver disc STAT!
Alien 2: On Earth (1980) d. Ippolito, Ciro (as Sam Cromwell) (Italy) (1st viewing)
If you’re going to purport to be a sequel to Ridley Scott’s instant classic, you might attempt to retain any of the plot or stylistic elements of the film you’re supposedly sequelizing. Not so here, as we have a group of thrill-seeking spelunkers running around in subterranean caverns and encountering the occasional slimy menace, one of whom is a NASA expert with a psychic connection to the extraterrestrial menace. Yes, one girl’s face explodes and a guy’s head gets chewed off, and that’s kind of fun. But that’s about it.
Ant-Man (2015) d. Reed, Peyton (USA) (1st viewing)
Yep, it’s another Marvel Studios superhero movie, and it’s just like all the other ones, with plenty of wise-cracking and stunt-casting and blah-blah-blah.
Deadpool (2016) d. Miller, Tim (USA) (1st viewing)
Yep, it’s another Marvel Studios superhero movie, and it’s just like all the other ones, except with more blood, boobs, and dick jokes amidst the wise-cracking and stunt-casting and blah-blah-blah.
Speed (1994) d. Bont, Jan de (USA) (5th viewing)
Over Memorial Day Weekend, I was looking for some mindless summer blockbuster fun and this one jumped straight to mind. Keanu Reeves became a full-fledged action star without uttering a single “whoa” and Sandra Bullock captured the hearts of Hollywood as the girl-next-door trapped on a Los Angeles commuter bus wired to blow if it drops below 50mph. Dennis Hopper is a superlative baddie, unrepentant to the last, the action scenes are superbly staged, and, while Graham Yost’s dialogue is pretty awful, the scenarios are high quality popcorn. Netherlands-born Bont left behind his flourishing career as a go-to DP (having shot everything from Cujo to The Hunt for Red October to Die Hard to Clan of the Cave Bear to Who’s That Girl to Basic Instinct) and knocked it out of the park with his first go in the director’s chair. Sadly, it was all downhill from there, with the so-so Twister and the critical flops of The Haunting remake, the Tomb Raider sequel, and the inevitable Speed 2: Cruise Control grinding his career to a halt.
Tropic Thunder (2008) d. Stiller, Ben (USA) (2nd viewing)
Top-billed Stiller co-writes, co-produces and directs this guns a-blazin’ satire on the excesses of Hollywood with mostly favorable results. Whether skewering egomaniacal stars, blustering producers, or prestige biopics, Stiller and Co. take big risks, go for big laughs and blow things up real good. Did Robert Downey, Jr. really deserve an Oscar nod? Maybe not. But it’s a brave, nervy performance in a film filled with them, so I’m okay with letting it slide.
Twilight's Last Gleaming (1979) d. Aldrich, Robert (USA) (1st viewing)
Director Aldrich teams up one last time with frequent star Burt Lancaster for this wannabe inflammatory commentary on political gamesmanship, where a disgraced Air Force General takes over a nuclear missile silo and demands that the President (an overripe Charles Durning) make a public speech revealing the real reasons for the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam. (Shocker: it was all just a show to impress the Russians that we were serious.) There are a few moments of suspense and a predictably downer 70s ending, but it’s also a whoooooole lot of people sitting around sermonizing to one another about the “way things really work in the real world.” Great cast, including Burt Young, Roscoe Lee Browne, Joseph Cotton, William Smith, Paul Winfield, and Melvyn Douglas, but not a great film.
That's Sexploitation! (2013) d. Henenlotter, Frank (USA) (1st viewing)
From Severin Films comes this documentary cavalcade of skin flicks, although most of them could hardly be considered titillating to today’s internet-weary eyes. Old-school 42n d Street veteran Henenlotter joyfully sits down with longtime exploitation exporter David F. Friedman and the two wax nostalgic about the arc of the Hays Code days and how the independents found their way around the finger-wagging by creating first “educational” films showing what happens when young women (and men) let their hormones get the best of them. We also get glimpses into the penny arcade days, followed by the “nudie cuties” and their dark “roughie” cousins. There’s no denying that Henenlotter and Co. cover a lot of ground, but it also becomes quickly apparent that the titles getting the most press are the ones available through Mike Vraney’s (who produced the doc) Something Weird label. After all, when only one Russ Meyer film (The Immoral Mr. Teas) is even mentioned by name, it’s hard not to wonder what else is not being brought to the table. Still, this should be a valuable primer for those interested in the pre-70s big-bang-boob movement, if not the be-all, end-all statement it wants to be.
MORE JASON BATEMAN IS NOT HORRIBLE
Horrible Bosses (2011) d. Gordon, Seth (USA) (1st viewing)
Three working schnooks (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis) plot to kill their tyrannical employers (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell), and while the fact that said plans do not go as planned goes without saying, the manner of the unraveling machinations is happily unpredictable and everyone involved seems to be having the time of their lives. Our three leads banter and badger like old chums, while their nemeses are visibly rolling in sinister bliss; Spacey and Farrell are flawless, especially the latter’s against-type casting with a greasy comb-over and hideous fashion sense, but Aniston steals the show as a man-devouring sexual dynamo with her eye on SUPER SHRILL dental assistant Day. (Seriously, dude, the hysteriscreaming bit gets really old really quickly.)
Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) d. Anders, Sean (USA) (1st viewing)
Not bad for a sequel, but it’s unfortunate bad it had to be one instead of simply teaming our three leads up again for unrelated adventures. Too many unnecessary and unfunny callbacks complicate the plot of Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis co-inventing the “shower buddy,” an automated soap dispenser attached to a showerhead, and then having their idea stolen by tycoon Christoph Waltz and his sponger son Chris Pine, all of which spawns a kidnapping plot that goes awry on many levels. Spacey and Aniston (and “murder consultant” Jamie Foxx) are back from the first film, and while their presence is welcome, it also feels a little obligatory. Director Anders’ filmography is the stuff of formula Hollywood output that makes me cringe, despite the fact that I’ve not actually seen That’s My Boy, Daddy’s Home, or Dumb and Dumber To (which he scripted but did not direct).
2016 Totals to date: 111 films, 83 1st time views, 53 horror, 15 cinema