Friday, November 18, 2016

Bring Out Your Dead!

Recently, I pulled out a couple of DVDs that had been gathering much dust on my shelves. Well, not really gathering dust as I make the occasional excavation run through my DVDs to find titles I know I have on hand, but that I can't seem to find by just general review of the spines.

In any event, I pulled the two movies for two reasons: One, they were originally packaged together in a special deal from Blue Underground, and, two, the films deal with similar issues even though the method of how those issues are presented form completely different end results. The two films are Deathdream (also known as Dead of Night, Night Walk, and The Night Andy Came Home) and Uncle Sam.

Though both are incredibly low budget, both deal with themes of duty, loss, and love or the lack thereof. All very lofty targets for small movies, but how do the films handle their themes, and are they successful?

Deathdream does not beat around the bush with pretension or mystery. You see the major character Andy killed in Vietnam (though it never really states that war by name), so you know that when he shows up the night his folks are informed of his death that he is dead but has been drawn home by the power of his mother's love and prayers. Just because we think we want or need something or someone doesn't mean that our desires are the best for everyone involved, as we see Andy has returned as his mother wished, but that which made Andy ANDY was left on that battlefield thousands of miles away.

Uncle Sam has Sam Harper, a soldier who was MIA in a more recent Gulf War conflict, found dead due to "friendly fire" (meaning he was hit by weapons wielded by his own troops). His body is sent to his loved ones, a wife and a sister as well as a nephew who idolized Sam, back home. We find out that Sam is not the hero his nephew thinks he is. He apparently abused his sister and his wife to the point that both distrust and detest men. Even his closest friend, played by Isaac Hayes, admits that Sam was a person who enjoyed hurting and killing others, and that in no way makes him a hero. But Sam, possibly triggered by a vast number of "un-American" activities involving a Fourth of July celebration, rises from the grave to defend America once again.

Two stories of American dead returning from questionable conflicts. But, oh boy!, do they take different paths!

The script for Deathdream, written by Alan Ormsby and directed by Bob Clark, is a slow build up from the moment Andy returns home. He is different, quieter, and withdrawn. His lack of interest in much of anything begins to claw away at the tightly-drawn smiles of his family. Everyone keeps up a façade that everything is fine and dandy, but it is obvious that Andy is not the same person who left home many months ago to fight overseas. Whether it is intentional or not, it clearly notes the mental trauma of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that has become connected with the Vietnam War, even though they use the fact that Andy is actually dead to convey the disconnected mental status.

We watch as Andy and those around him slowly descend into a pit of confusion, pain, and anger while Andy is rotting away (quite literally) in a half-life that he did not ask for and doesn't know how to escape.

The film is quiet and understated in such a way that the viewer is pulled into the story and is faced with the same questions the family has: What happened to the Andy they knew? How do they handle his changes and get on with what used to be a fairly happy and stable life? Why is this happening? How can they help Andy who now seems almost alien to them?

On the other hand, Uncle Sam trades the slow psychological burn for in-your-face splatstick and unsubtle commentary on patriotism and blind acceptance of "America: Love It or Leave It" jingoism. Of course, the film was directed by William Lustig (director of the supremely unsubtle Maniac) and written by genre veteran Larry Cohen. If you need an introduction to what you are about to get involved, watch Maniac Cop made by the same dynamic duo, and I think you'll understand the territory you are wandering into.

The first quarter of the film seems aimed at putting the viewer on the side of Sam Harper. We first see Sam, or what is left of him, in the wreckage of a helicopter downed by friendly fire. While the commanding officer tells his men that these kind of things happen in combat, Sam uses the last of his strength to shoot both the soldier examining him and the commanding officer and to say, "Don't worry. It's only 'friendly' fire!" As Sam's body is brought home, we are introduced to a weak-willed draft dodger posing as a kindly teacher, a pervert on stilts dressed as Uncle Sam, and some young punks who feel spray painting swastikas and burning American flags are fine ways of working off that teenage energy. Let's not forget the leering military officer assigned to inform Sam's widow that her husband's body has been located and is being returned, or the slimy politician who, in spite of being a known crook, is looking to rack up some votes at the small town's Fourth of July gathering.

When Sam begins picking off these miserable excuses for humans, we can feel a pinch of pride that the American way is being upheld.

Then we start learning the truth. Sam was a cruel and violent person before he ever joined the military. He committed acts upon his sister, starting when she was six, that she has trouble talking about when explaining them to her son, Sam's hero-worshiping nephew. He routinely terrorized and abused his wife. He took delight in hearing stories about war and killing and realized that the military would be his best chance to act on his twisted needs.

Okay, so his motivations aren't as noble as those of Andy in Deathdream.

Larry Cohen is a great writer for exploitation flicks. He manages to work in social and political commentary into a lot of his films like Q, It's Alive, and God Told Me To. Admittedly, he also directed his own screenplays in those instances, but even in Maniac Cop, directed by Uncle Sam's William Lustig, Cohen managed to get a few well-placed digs at social ills. Here, he sets up a number of characters primed for fleshing out to make some biting commentary on patriotism, military swagger, and honoring the country you live in, but his script does little more than give you characters with bull's eyes on their heads for the underplayed death scenes. Instant set up for off-hand kills by Sam.

Compared to Deathdream's slow build up that uses the family dynamic as a way to focus the story, Uncle Sam uses a scatter-shot approach that allows for a more inclusive look at the issues at hand but that same approach also dilutes and undermines the potential power the film could have had. Essentially, Uncle Sam comes across as mostly plot points with little story to give the film an impact of little more than a variation on the slasher genre. That Larry Cohen opted to go that route is such a shame given the split in the country over the Gulf War, similar to that of Vietnam, with one side pro-America with the ideal that we are right in our involvement overseas compared to those who feel the war is designed to protect the status of American petrodollars and bolster corporate bottom lines.

Admittedly, given the vast difference in how the films approach their topics, one could almost assume I am comparing pickles and grapes. Maybe I am, to a certain point. Still, with roughly similar ideas (those killed in the war returning to life in their home country which doesn't know how to process inner conflicts over the wars that caused the death of the soldiers), we could have had two strong films that rose above their horror film labels to be excellent commentaries on how those on the home front deal with the tragedy of war.

Instead, we have one potential classic and one attempt at satire that squanders its power in rapid-fire, mindless kills with minimal consideration towards commentary.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Dreams of Dark Shadows

As a child, I grew up fascinated by the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. It came on in the late afternoon, so I was often able to catch it now and then after school. Nothing could be more perfect than a daily show that featured vampires, werewolves, ghouls, ghosts, and the like for a kid who was obsessed with horror movies and monsters.

King of the Dark Shadows collection of monsters was none other than Barnabas Collins. If his vampire character was on the screen, nothing else mattered. Played with amazing reserve, Barnabas is the most understated, likeable, and down-right scary vampire I had to pleasure to hide behind furniture from. Jonathan Frid played the character of Barnabas for years and became a hero to us Monsterkids who grew up during that time.

Now, I have been aware of today's movie, Seizure, for a few decades because of Jonathan Frid's starring role as its focal character. When I was much younger, I thought, "Why is Barnabas playing someone who isn't Barnabas?" I understood that Frid was just an actor, but he had painted such a bold image for his vampire character that I just could not fathom him playing another role. Seeing pictures from Seizure in my monster magazines just left me confused.

Add to this mix the knowledge that the director of Seizure was Oliver Stone. This fact made little impact on me until I stumbled out of the theater after seeing Platoon and was horrified and stunned by what I had just witnessed. I suddenly (though this was many, many years ago) wanted to watch EVERYTHING Oliver Stone made.

Here we are in 2016, and I finally got around to watching Stone's first feature film release. I can definitely say that he has GREATLY improved since making Seizure, but the film does merit some consideration. Let's take a look, shall we?

Jonathan Frid plays a writer, Edmund Blackstone, who is working on a children's story that deals with three characters who have been haunting his nightmares for a number of days. He and his wife invite a number of family friends up for a fun weekend to help lift the writer's spirit. However, the three figments of his imagination manifest themselves in our world and proceed to play lethal games with the hosts and their guests. But are the three really creations of the writer's imagination, or are they three dangerous escapees from a mental facility? 

Seizure is a fairly disjointed affair with a lot of focus on characters other than Jonathan Frid's. This wouldn't be a problem if the film didn't seem to attempt to be an exploration of death and how we approach it. Ideally, there would be a more even distribution of focus for each character so they could represent how death is viewed, be it viewed in fear, acceptance, indifference, or lovingly embraced.

Yet we are constantly being pulled back to Frid's character and his weak heart and his on-going nightmares that are all the same; none of which has anything to do with Charlie Hughes and his lust for money, of which we are given at least 2 drawn-out sequences as evidence.

Yet, in spite of the few hiccups the film experiences, the film has a definite dream-like quality with scenes that almost seem to randomly happen but ultimately pull together until the audience has no one and nothing left to contemplate except Edmund, his absolute fear of death, and how far he is willing to go to avoid his fear, no matter who suffers as a result.

I find Seizure to be a stronger film than Stone's next feature, The Hand, but The Hand is far more fun. In Seizure, you see a filmmaker who is attempting to balance the fantastic with common fears of death and strangers. He works at bending the Last House on the Left home invasion concept into something with enough weight and power as to comment on Mankind and Emotions and those other lofty ideals. Oliver Stone succeeds when he isn't distracted by supporting characters who are strong enough to carry their own film.

Now I can pop in The Hand and revel in Michael Caine's gradual, and then sudden, descent into over-acting greatness.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Shit Just Got REAL Up In Here!

Ah, the 70s. How I miss them! 

Beautiful girls in bell-bottom jeans and gauzy tops with no bra underneath. Television trying to tell what it was really like out on the streets, but always caving in to 50s era mentality by the final act. Everyone still freaked out by the political and racial marches and riots of the late 60s. And most everyone turning a blind eye to the deeply wounded, in both body and mind, veterans returning from Vietnam.

Okay, so I only miss the beautiful bra-less hippie chicks. The 70s had a lot of sucky stuff.

With that in mind, let's get to know Blackenstein.  

Lovely Dr. Winifred Walker goes to her former mentor and teacher, Dr. Stein, seeking help. It seems her fiance was wounded in Vietnam. and he no longer has arms or legs. Good ol' Dr. Stein just happens to be the Nobel Prize-winning, leading researcher into limb transplants who works without control or supervision in a basement lab that couldn't legally pass for anything other than an electrical hazard zone.

In next to no time, Eddie Turner, the wounded veteran, has two new arms and legs. Before Eddie can do his first waltz with Winifred, the good doctor's butler mixes up Ed's medication with the intent of getting Eddie out of the way so he can woo Winifred. Throw in an illegitimate child and a natural disaster, and you could have a soap opera.

Eddie changes into a rather comical variation of the Boris Karloff version of the Frankenstein monster with a high forehead and a flat-top afro. Since no one sees the need to lock his cage door (yes, cage door), he wanders off to kill people at random. Given his short and shuffling gait, I can't help but wonder how he can get further than the end of the block before sunrise, yet he always catches up to the perkiest of the mostly female victims. Why slaughter people? Who knows? The movie doesn't really explain much other than one understandable killing of a hospital attendant who insulted Eddie before the limbs had been attached.

Still, it is the 70s, and white people don't take kindly to black monsters killing mostly white people. You can imagine the end of the movie without my spoiling it for you.

Blackenstein is not a good movie. It's cheap looking with sub-par Al Adamson-looking style and a story that moves like a square tire with a vague connection to reality. The dialogue is good for a laugh or two when it doesn't make you consider sticking your hand in the running fan blades of your car's engine. While Ivory Stone and John Hart, who play the two doctors, do a passable job, Joe De Sue plays Eddie as flat as a soda left unsealed for a week.

If you stop and consider the year this film came out, you can make a fairly compelling case for the redemption of Blackenstein. It came out in 1973. America had just come through a series of events that had left the country trying to reclaim the perceived calm of the 50s after the upheavals of the 60s. We had radical political movements, race riots, marches on Washington for civil rights and to protest America's involvement in Vietnam, wounded veterans returning to an indifferent public (at best), feminism (which picked up more strength and speed in the 70s), etc., and we had television there to bring all of this into our homes without warning or even being asked.

I will never accuse the writer of Blackenstein to have purposefully addressed these issues in the film, yet you can see all of it there. Winifred is not only black but a woman, and she has a doctorate (signs of feminism and a shift in race acceptance). 

Her fiance is a Vietnam veteran who returns disabled and is harassed by a Veteran's Administration male nurse who complains about everyone celebrating the return of soldiers from Vietnam. We know that a large number of blacks were drafted and sent to Vietnam, leading some to believe it was intended to reduce black populations. We also know that most Vietnam veterans were not celebrated upon return to the States; a large number were either ignored or treated with contempt based on various political movements and tempers at the time. Also, during that time, the Veteran's Administration was not known for working in a timely fashion to assist these returning veterans.

Once Eddie becomes the killing machine wrought by science, we open more touches of the 60's legacy. White America still feared racial anger and further rioting. Mixed-race relationships were becoming another coal of fear for those who wished to hold the status quo. When Eddie goes on a rampage AND kills mostly whites, especially white women, you can get a sense of serious white insecurity underlying some of the on-screen antics. Ultimately, we have a black character attacked by police dogs who tear the person apart. We have seen numerous images, both photos and film, of black people being literally hounded by police dogs during civil rights marches and during riots.

All of these images were brought into your homes and minds due to television. Even if there was no purposeful intent to address these issues, the images related to these issues build the basis of the film, of what you see. An audience in the 70s were most likely put off by the cheap-looking film, but all the images were ones they had seen unless they had been living under a rock for years.

Take Blackenstein any way you wish: social allegory, crap cinema, or a reasonable cure for insomnia. You really can't go wrong with any approach, but don't expect anything profound. Just don't.   

Monday, January 11, 2016

Please, Someone Close The Damned Gate!!!

Lately, it seems that every movie I've decided to watch, and review, has been a foreign film. Not that I intended to do this. You just get into a groove. Maybe it was a subconscious craving after watching nearly all of the Friday the 13th movies over a couple of weeks. That's enough to put you off American films, trust me.

I dug back in my library of movies to find an American weird flick. Ooh, what's this? Hellgate? A movie from 1989, starring none other than Ron Palillo. Ron Palillo? Yes, RON muthafuckin' PALILLO!! And it's supposed to be a horror movie. Count me in; I want to see Horshack as the hero of a horror movie.

Unfortunately, even though the movie is set in California, it was actually shot in South Africa. Not that I have anything against South African films, but so much for watching an American film. Before you argue that the director and the star are American, I know that. Still, in my book, this is basically another foreign film.

Okay, what the hell? I pop it in. Oh, Mama, what have I stumbled into with this movie?

Three "young" people, two women and a guy, are in a cabin telling scary stories in front of a fireplace as they wait for the fourth member of the party. Their ages are never mentioned, but it's almost like having George Clooney playing a college freshman who is straight out of high school. I'm thinking 30s at the very least here. And they all seem to talk slightly weird. It wasn't until I found out it was shot in South Africa that I realized these were native actors trying their best to wrap their mouths around American accents. It doesn't quite work, especially when you have an American actor playing the main character.

One of the girls proceeds to tell the "rural" legend about the Hellgate Hitchhiker. Back in the 50's, some motorcycle toughs (dressed more like late 60s Hell's Angels) snatch a not-too-bright girl named Josie, played by the stunningly lovely, though not very good actress, Abigail Wolcott. Rather stupidly, they take her to her hometown of Hellgate, which is also a tourist-trap recreation of an 1800s mining town. There they proceed to terrorize her in full view of her father, who is also the town mayor.

Her father attacks the bikers, killing three of them, but Josie is killed in the collateral damage, and one of the bikers escapes. After that, the father dislikes all strangers in his town. Well, don't we all, but we don't go throwing hatchets at their freaking heads, dude!

Moving along, we follow a old hired hand of the Mayor's as he goes into the mine shaft tour to do some work. He is attacked by the most silly-looking fake bat on a visible wire ever to grace a screen outside of Jerry Warren's movies. He kills it before stumbling upon a glowing blue crystal. While looking at his treasure, the crystal shoots a beam at the bat, which then springs back to life at a twitch of the wire.

Oh, yes. You know exactly where this is going. And it does. Zaps his beloved Josie back to life. But the story goes that she wanders the road to Hellgate and leads people back to the town where the Mayor kills them because they are strangers. Let's not overlook the rather creepy subtext of what seems to be a rather inappropriate relationship Daddy and daughter have, at least from the Father's side.

We jump back to present day where we meet Matt, played by Ron Palillo. He's the hero of the movie. In case we don't get that, we are reminded by his car's vanity plate that reads, "THEHERO". He nearly runs over poor reanimated Josie as he attempts to find the cabin where his friends are waiting. He volunteers to take Josie home. All kinds of heck breaks loose after that as Matt pulls his friends into the mess he stumbled into.

First thing about this movie that should have been a warning sign is the director, William A. Levey. Don't recognize the name? How about a couple of his other movies, like Blackenstein or the tender classic Wham! Bam! Thank You, Mr. Spaceman or even his music-laden epic Skatetown, U.S.A.? Not the best of calling cards when attempting to impress folks with your track record. About the best thing that can be said is Skatetown, U.S.A. was Patrick Swayze's first movie.

Next, the film just cannot decide exactly where it wants to go. While it seems to be fairly tongue-in-cheek, the tone will drift into horror and back, then you get a jarring scene that appears to have been a blooper someone added in. I don't mind a mixture of horror and comedy, but this film kind of slaps you around to no good purpose. Maybe they were trying to be edgy. Beats me.

Hmm, there's an image: someone trying to be edgy during the 80s. As if.

Here's the weird thing: It almost works now and then, so you keep rooting for it, like a squirrel judging whether the limb it's about to jump to will hold it or snap. And there are bits of pieces of the story that could amount to a decent film, if handled correctly. Just a bit frustrating all the way around.

Bottom line is that Hellgate is watchable for a wreck. I mean, where else are you going to see Ron Palillo making out with a total fox in a movie?

Monday, January 04, 2016

Rated G -- for GUTS!!!

I have gone on record as saying there is no required viewing in the world of weird cinema. Some people will tell you there is. I think every fan should follow their own line of strange when it comes to movies of this type. I have also said that there ARE certain names and genres (and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres) that are good to know even if you don't care for their films as this information can help put weird cinema into some form of overall context as well as make references in some film reviews and review collections more understandable.

Today, we are going to talk about Joe D'Amato's Beyond the Darkness (original title Buio Omega). Joe D'Amato, whose real name is Aristide Massaccesi, was an Italian director/writer/producer/cinematographer who is well-known by most fans of weird cinema for his very low-budget and often gruesome horror, giallo, and sexploitation films, though he also made westerns, war stories, and a ton of hardcore sex films. Basically, if he could turn a dime in a genre, he did. Some refer to him as The Evil Ed Wood, though his films are, for the most part, better made than the bulk of Ed Wood's work. Still, if you are looking for masterpieces of fine cinema, look elsewhere.

Finding all of his films without help may cause cranial bleeding because the man used multiple names for his work in cinema. Yes, I am about to lift this list from, and, no, I have no idea what name was used where, although a few were attached to some of his better-known works. His list of alternate credits are: Joe D' Amato | Donna Aubert | Steven Benson | Anna Bergman | John Bird | Enrico Biribicchi | Alexander Boroscky | Alexandre Borsky | Bernard Brel | James Burke | David Carson | Lynn Clark | O.J. Clarke | Oliver J. Clarke | Hugo Clevers | Joe De Mato | Raf De Palma | Michael Di Caprio | Dario Donati | Robert Duke | Oscar Faradine | Romano Gastaldi | John Gelardi | Robert Hall | Richard Haller | David Hills | Igor Horwess | George Hudson | Fred Sloniscko Jr | Kevin Mancuso | A. Massaccesi | Aristice Massaccesi | Aristide Massaccesi | Aristide Massaccessi | Aristede Massacesi | Aristide Massacesi | Aristide Massacessi | Arizona Massachuset | Arizona Massachusset | Andrea Massai | J. Metheus | Peter Newton | Una Pierre | Robert Price-Jones | Zak Roberts | Joan Russel | Joan Russell | Tom Salima | John Shadow | Fred Sloniscko Jr. | Federico Slonisco | Frederick Slonisco | Fédérico Slonisco | Federico Slonisko Jr. | Federiko Slonisko Jr. | Frederico Slonisko Jr. | Dan Slonisko | Federico Slonisko | Federiko Slonisko | Frederico Slonisko | Frederic Slonisko | Frederiko Slonisko | Fred Slonisko | Chana Lee Sun | Chang Lee Sun | Michael Wotruba | Robert Yip | Joe d'Amato | Raf de Palma

Many thanks to all the people who may contributed to that list, and to for having it on their site. Please, oh please, do not sue me!

Now that you know a little more about the director (probably more than you care to know), let's turn to Beyond the Darkness.

Frank Wyler, our main character, is your average, orphaned, rich-from-inheritance kind of guy whose hobby is taxidermy. Since he doesn't seem to have a regular job, he has lots of free time during the film. He would probably like to spend a lot of that time with his girlfriend/fiancee Anna. Unfortunately, his scheming housekeeper Ida has an old lady use a voodoo doll to make poor Anna sick. As soon as we see the final pin go into the doll, the film cuts to Anna in some low-rent version of ICU (Intensive Care Unit, in case you don't watch "Grey's Anatomy") on the verge of death.

After a belated announcement from Ida that there had been a call from the hospital (no mention of what the call was about), Frank rushes to Anna's bedside where he tells her not even death can keep them apart and seals the pact with a kiss during which Anna flatlines. Whoa, talk about a kiss that takes your breath away!

Frank returns home to mope around. In an effort to ease his suffering, Ida allows him to breastfeed. Yes, I said "breastfeed". Don't ask me what brought this on. Actually, don't ask the film either as it never explains their history or individual characters. What you see is what you get with this movie. On second thought, I don't really want to know more about these people. Neither will you by the time the whole thing is over.

Unable to part with Anna, Frank visits her at the funeral home and injects her with a solution he uses prior to prepping subjects for taxidermy (taxiderming? Never mind.). What Frank doesn't notice is the mortician watching him do this.

After Anna is planted in the ground, Frank returns that night and digs her up. I always thought most caskets are buried at least 6 feet, but in this graveyard, 6 inches seems to be the proper depth. Italian cemeteries must smell pretty rough in the summer heat if this is factual.

While driving home with his dead girlfriend in the back of his van, he has a flat tire. What purpose does this serve? Why, it gives a hitchhiker time to sneak past him and climb into the passenger seat of his van. Again, don't ask. She's really just there to be killed in a bid to keep the audience awake.

Meanwhile, our crafty mortician is intent on discovering Anna's stolen body for reasons other than seeing justice done. Ida goes from creepy to freaking nuts. Frank keeps meeting women and ends up killing them while spending an uncomfortable amount of time with Anna's stuffed body. Yeah, there are no heroes in this movie, just varying levels of creepy and sick.

Beyond the Darkness has a reputation for being weird and gory. It definitely lives up to that. From Frank and Ida's twisted mother/child/mistress/lover relationship to lots and lots of blood and guts delivered by prepping bodies for stuffing, dumping in acid baths, and roasting in a crematorium (every home should have one), the viewer gets her/his money's worth. For me, the most stomach-turning scene shows Ida shoveling large amounts of some seriously gloppy stew into her mouth as she makes hogs into masters of decorum and etiquette by comparison.

What you don't get is any depth of character. You end up knowing as little about the characters at the end of the film as you did when you took the DVD out of its case. There are events that take place which will leave you scratching your head as to why they are there; the worst case is when Frank picks up a blond lady at a disco (it looks more like a poorly knocked-together shack with colored lights), and after she shows us her body as she bathes in icky green-tinted water, Frank supposedly takes her home when Anna's twin sister shows up at his villa. Maybe they needed more nudity for foreign markets. Maybe someone owed the actress a favor. Maybe she lost a bet. Who knows?

Not much of a movie, but Beyond the Darkness does give you the required gore and naked bodies at a fairly decent pace. While you might be sickened by the film's blood, guts, and fucked-up characters, it shouldn't put you to sleep.

However, if you want to see Joe D'Amato at his ape-shit insane best, you might just skip this movie and grab an uncut copy of Emanuelle in America. If you want tedium AND gore, then grab an uncut version of Anthropophagus. If you want a bit of unintentional giggles with your tedium and gore, watch Absurd.

See? Joe D'Amato has a little something for everyone.

Friday, January 01, 2016

This Is Knife-Fetish Porn, I Guess?

When it comes to movies in general, and especially horror/weird films specifically, I try my hardest to be kind, though I may have issues with certain aspects of a film. I mean, someone took the time to write, film, edit, and release a movie. I haven't done it. And so what if it stinks? As Ferris Bueller once said, "I don't even have a piece of shit; I have to envy yours."

Unfortunately, everyone has a line that sometimes gets crossed. Mine has been crossed by the Matrix movies and pretty much EVERYTHING directed by Zach Snyder (he has replaced Tony Scott as most annoying director in my book). When that line gets crossed by someone you respect, it hurts almost as bad as having a paper cut on your finger while handling salt and lemon juice. It is a sharp, sudden pain that goes down to the bone.

I really like Lamberto Bava as a director. I thought Macabre was a rather fine bit of Southern Gothic horror. I found both of the Demons films to be great fun with some incredible, violent set pieces and a lightly self-mocking sense of humor. Even Delirium struck me as a nicely put together shocker.

Then I watched A Blade in the Dark. If only I could take back ever putting it into my DVD player, I would.

The film starts with a scene that lured me in like a rube to a carny sideshow. Three boys (one of them being Giovanni Frezza, best known for his role of little Bob in Fulci's The House by the Cemetery) sneak into a dark building. The two dark-haired kids taunt Giovanni's character, calling him a "FE-male" when he hesitates to go after a tennis ball one of the kids tossed down some even darker stairs. Keep in mind the original Italian title of the film was La casa con la scala nel buio (House of Dark Stairs). Cute little Bob -- sorry, Giovanni -- makes his way down the stairs and disappears in the darkness. Within seconds, we hear him scream. The two boys at the top of the stairs start to freak out just as the tennis ball, now covered in blood, flies up the stairs and bounces off the walls, leaving bloodstains everywhere it hits.

That is one hell of a beginning. Sadly, it turns out that what we saw was part of a movie being made by a character in the movie we are now suddenly dropped into. The movie we get is about a composer working on the score for the thriller from which the opening scene was taken. We meet our rather small cast of characters a few at a time, and the graphic murders that giallo films are known for begin paring down the female characters.

Up front, I'm going to cut the film some slack simply because the dubbing is awful. We are talking groan inducing stuff here. Whoever wrote the English translation appears to have done so with no concept of human conversation flow and without watching the film at all. Case in point, in one scene, a character is frightened of an ugly-ass spider, but our "hero", Bruno, informs her that it is a cockroach. Maybe he needs glasses, but that was a spider, one fucking ugly spider and probably the most unnerving thing in the film after the opening scene.

Most of the actors seem to be in different movies. Bruno, our main character, is surrounded by murders and confusion yet he acts like he was dosed with Xanax. The soon-to-be victims are perky and cute like they stumbled out of an American teen sex comedy. The groundskeeper of the villa, where 90% of the action takes place, ranges from moody and weird to just a really nice guy, simply because the story needs to create suspects. Bruno's girlfriend changes emotions so fast you'll swear she has multiple-personality disorder. Again, some of this is the fault of dubbing, but I'm looking at the actors and the director for a big chunk of the blame for the physical part of the off-center acting.

The film is needlessly padded, going so far as to include a number of shots of a character's head as he drives. Nowhere else in the film are we treated to these in-the-car shots until the director attempts to up the suspense. It doesn't work. In fact, it is so jarring that it kicked me completely out of what little investment I had in the film. Other instances are endless shots of blades (knives and a box cutter) and what are supposed to be "artistic" and "stylish" camera angles that draw attention to the fact that we are watching a movie.

Here we come to the weird focal point of this film, and that is the shots of blades. Over and over. We got it, Mr. Bava. Phallic symbols. Yes, yes. Oh, and the killer slowly extending the box cutter blade to its fullest just before attacking a woman. Okay! Enough! What? Now you give us a long carving knife held at the angle of a fully erect penis? It penetrates the victims? Jeez, just make a porn flick and get it out of your system!

In case you care to watch the film, I won't give away the ending, but I will say that if Lamberto Bava had made the movie being made within this movie, I would probably be singing praises here.

I know this film has a lot of fans, and if they find joy here, I am happy for them. Truly, I am. For me, it apes so much of Dario Argento's imagery and style that I feel like I'm watching a failed early version of Tenebre instead of a Lamberto Bava film. 

Actually, if I view it as a spoof of classic giallo films, the movie suddenly becomes much more entertaining. Maybe I'll try that if I can bring myself to sit through it again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Evil Has A Rubber Head

Seeing as the last film I reviewed here was a Mexican horror film that had some class, I figured we would venture into the opposite side of things with a different Mexican horror movie that -- well, let's just say class is not one of its virtues, though it does have a certain something. Actually, it has a lot of somethings; none of them are classy.

The Brainiac (original title El baron del terror) is a movie that has been floating around for years thanks to K. Gordon Murray's habit of buying up unusual films (mostly from Mexico, it seems) on the cheap, adding English dubbing, slapping English credits on, and then kicking them out the door to terrorize both television and theaters. Many a childhood, if you are at least over 40 or so, may have been uplifted or scarred by seeing these films at Saturday matinees.

It begins with Baron Vitelius before a religious inquisition facing charges of heresy, necromancy, violating the honor of both married and unmarried women, dogmatism (can we bring this one back to use against annoying hipsters?), and other nasty things that were apparently illegal in Mexico in 1661. Even after a fresh-faced young man attempts to speak in favor of the Baron, Vitelius is sentenced to death by fire. Oh, and the young man is given 200 lashes for his kindness. I wonder what the punishment would be for spitting on the sidewalk.

As the Baron burns (with some cheap forced perspective special effects), he calls out the inquisitors by name and promises to return in 300 years, by way of comet no less, and destroy their ancestors. Yeah, that'll show those guys!

In the year 1961, the Baron makes good on his threat. He returns, but now he is a hideously, or hilariously, ugly creature with sucker pincers for hands and a forked tongue that Gene Simmons would kill for. After sucking out some random guy's brain with that tongue (don't ask, just go with it), we find Vitelius can also morph back into his former human self and magically remove clothes from others. Oh, just think of what Russ Meyer could have done with that premise!

The Baron weasels his way into the upper-crust society to gain the confidence of the descendants of his persecutors. Once in place, he starts killing them, one family at a time. In between, he stops to taste the brains of a few random people just to keep things interesting.

If that description sounds loopy, just watch the movie. You see things that will have your jaw thumping the floor if you aren't curled into a fetal position from laughter. We have the comet/meteor, lowered by visible wires (not visible if you are watching a low-resolution copy), that bounces and threatens to break apart on impact. You'll see entire scenes play out in front of backdrops that appear to be enlarged photos, and, yes, you can see the shadows of the actors on the "objects" supposedly in the distance. You will satisfy your inner foodie as you watch Vitelius eat brains out of a goblet with a very, very long spoon. You can scratch your head in confusion at a police force that issues flamethrowers to inept plainclothes detectives.

Deserving its own bit of recognition is the Brainiac creature. The head looks appropriately ugly, but it seems that was not scary enough. What would be more frightening? Why, having the creature's head inflate and deflate to cover the fact that actor could not manipulate the features, of course! You really have to admire, or pity, the person in the costume. Oh, and let's not forget those weird pincer hands with the suckers of the end of the, umm, fingers. They seem to be fairly useless as far as grabbing victims, so the Baron usually ends up grabbing a person in a bear hug as he adds unlicensed trepanation to his ever-growing list of crimes against man, nature, God, and the poor audience.

Shockingly, I found this piece of insanity on Netflix, and the version they have seems to be taken from the restored and remastered version released by CasaNegra and Panik House Entertainment. On Netflix, they had it in the original language with English subtitles. If you buy the DVD, and why wouldn't you?, you have the option of original language as well as the English dubbed version. Note that scenes originally trimmed from the K. Gordon Murray version have been restored, but they are still in the original language, so don't freak when a scene is suddenly filled with Spanish. Just turn on the English subtitles and leave them on.

If you are looking for a film to introduce someone to the wonderful world of weird cinema, this would be a good selection, especially if paired with some alcohol or the mind-altering substance of your choice, though I wouldn't recommend LSD. Save that stuff for Old Yeller.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

We Will Have Nun Of These Bad Habits, Sister!!

Occasionally, if you are a fan of weird cinema, you stumble across a film that you can never really tell if it is a work of art or maybe just plain batshit insane. Art is great, but insanity certainly has its own appeal, if done right.

Alucarda is one of those movies. I originally saw it a number of years ago on VHS under the title Sisters of Satan, and it struck me as rather tame. In hindsight, I believe that version had been trimmed of some of the more shocking scenes. Maybe I was distracted or disappointed by realizing I had apparently rented a nunsploitation movie; it isn't my favorite genre (half-rung under Nazisploitation on my "don't care for that stuff" ladder).

One thing stuck with me from the film: Tina Romero as Alucarda. I think a small part of me fell instantly in love with her. Hey, I'm a guy, and she is mysterious and beautiful. Get over it. Still, that vague attraction led me to buy the wonderful Mondo Macabro DVD released a few years back. Oh my! The colors! The camerawork and lighting! The eardrum-numbing screaming!

The film begins with a young mother, who has just given birth to Alucarda, giving her still blood-covered child to a strange person with orders to deliver the child to the convent to be raised. No sooner than the door is closed to the chamber in which the mother remains, we hear growling of unseen forces that are approaching the woman. We do not see what happens as the film's opening credits kick in.

15 years later, a young woman named Justine (the beautiful Susana Kamini), whose last parent has just died, is dropped off at the convent/orphanage. She is roommates with Alucarda. Before you can say "invasion of personal space", Alucarda is assuring Justine they will be the best of friends, and we know that things are not going to end well.

After a strange encounter with gypsies, the girls unwittingly unleash the demonic spirits that had been sealed in the casket with Alucarda's mother, and The Devil is ready to play with his two new friends.

Much has been made of the anti-religious tone and imagery of the film, and it is definitely there. Torture of the young women to purge The Devil from them, group flagellation of all the members of the religious order who heard the words of blasphemy from the girls, and hysterical panic spreading through nuns each time someone says "The Devil" are just a few of the jabs taken at the religious here. What most don't say is that, ultimately, the power of faith is the only weapon the nuns and priests have that has any hope of saving them.

Juan Lopez Moctezuma directed this film outside the government-sanctioned film industry in Mexico. Whether that prompted him to include the ample amounts of nudity and blood to make it more marketable in the world market (he also shot it with the cast delivering their lines in English even though most of the dialogue sounds recorded in post-production) is a debatable issue. 

What is not debatable is the incredible job he did in bringing this wild tale of possession, friendship, faith, and horror to life. Odd touches like having the nuns wrapped in white, gauze-like cloth from head to toe, and having that cloth stained with what appears to be menstrual blood (the older the nun, the larger the stain seems to be) raises questions that are never addressed. The convent appears to literally built on the shoulders of who came before as we see what appears to be rotted bodies, often in a crucified pose, encased in the walls. These and other random images build an aura of a horrific fairy tale told by a lunatic.

The film itself moves at an amazingly brisk pace which keeps it from wearing out both the audience and its welcome. You get to see nuns bursting to flames, levitating, and sweating and crying blood. You get to see Tina Romero in her unclothed glory (as well as Susana Kamini). You get to see people burned by holy water, necks ripped out by human teeth, and a Satanic priestess smacked down by, I think, the power of prayer. Did I say that you get to see Tina Romero naked? It is worth mentioning a second time.

Both beautiful, in its own way, and outrageous, Alucarda is film that weird movie fans with very liberal religious attitudes will find worth watching, if not wanting to own for repeat viewing.

All I can say is that The Devil certainly has good taste when it comes to beautiful women.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

This Chase Is a Ruff One!

I promise I will avoid further canine puns after that title. Not because I intend to be kind to those who might read this, but -- well, I'll explain in the review.

Some time ago, I purchased a few collections released by VideoAsia. If you know of the company, then you know why the sets were pretty cheap considering you were getting some fairly obscure titles on DVD. For those of you who haven't heard of VideoAsia, let me clue you in. They release "digitally remastered" films on DVD that originally came from VHS copies. Technically accurate in that they took whatever VHS copy, transferred it to a digital copy (with bad tracking, rolling images, and other glitches the tape had), and used that digital copy as the "master" to create the DVDs.

I am not busting the chops of this company. I'm actually tickled to own some of these very strange and weird movies. Without this company, the subject of today's review would have most likely never crossed my path.

The version I saw was called Vengeance; while on the DVD cover, the title is listed as A Dog Called... Vengeance. (It can be found on the Tales Of Voodoo, Vol. 5, DVD, in case you are wondering.) You might even run across the title The Dog, which is a more direct translation of the original title El perro. I like the original title as it makes it sound foreign and kinda mysterious.

The film begins with a tracker with a dog wandering through reeds and water. They are searching for a couple of escaped prisoners who are sniffed out by the dog. When one attempts to make a run for it, the dog deftly pursues and kills the prisoner. The other decides it is smarter to sit still.

We find out that the survivor is known as The Professor. He is taken back to a hellhole of a prison where he is interrogated for hours as an entire building full of other prisoners watch and wait to see what happens. The tension is broken as The Professor leaps to his death from the interrogation room window.

One of the prisoners is Aristides Ungria, played by Jason Miller (better remembered for his role of Father Karras in the original The Exorcist). Ungria is a mathematician who we see writing a complex equation on a chalkboard as he asks for updates about the interrogation. Later, as the prisoners pause while doing hard labor to watch the guards unceremoniously dump The Professor's body in the water near their work site. As other prisoners say prayers, we hear Ungria repeating the math equation with the same solemn tone.

When an accident takes place while transporting the prisoners back to the prison, Ungria has a chance to escape, and he does. The same tracker and dog from the beginning find Ungria, who manages to injure the dog, kill the tracker, and slip away once more. 

Unfortunately, the tracker lives long enough to give his faithful canine one last command: "Kill him." With that, the chase is on.

What could have just been a very long film of a man being chased by the titular animal becomes something bigger. Through a series of flashbacks, we find out that The Professor gave Ungria a list of people of supreme importance for rebels fighting against the country's despotic government. As this information could not be written down, Ungria memorized the information in the form of a complicated mathematical equation, the very same one we saw him writing and repeating to himself earlier. He has to deliver this list to the rebel leaders if there is any hope for the country.

Ungria receives help from various sources as he attempts to reach his goal, but the dog becomes a constant shadow and threat, often catching up to our hero just when he thinks he is safe.

This may sound odd, but as the film peeled back more and more layers of the story, I couldn't help but be reminded of Clint Eastwood's Firefox. Firefox told the story of an American pilot, haunted by memories of years spent in a Vietcong prison, who is brought out of retirement to sneak into Cold War Russia to steal an experimental jet that could turn the Soviets into an imminent threat to the USA. A lot of people did not care for the movie because you don't get to the fancy jet until the last 20 minutes or so. What amazed me as I watched Firefox was the dedication of all the people who risked their lives and families lives (and sometimes lost their lives) just to help Clint's character achieve his mission.

The Dog relates a similar story as we see common folk risk, and sometimes lose, everything as they aid Ungria in his journey. Jason Miller makes his character believable as he reacts in shock and bewilderment of all the destruction that takes place around him. All the while, he is haunted by his past in form of the dog who refuses to give up on its master's last command.

I won't give away the ending, but trust me when I say that the tension is maintained until the very end of the film. The movie is not a masterpiece, but it carries its story and characters through several changes and twists while never insulting the intelligence of the audience. In this age of mindless explosions and glorified car chases, it is always refreshing to see a movie that doesn't rely on cheap gimmicks to keep your interest. Out of respect for this unexpected gem, I choose to forgo the dog jokes.

It may be too much to ask, but I hope someone finds a good copy of the original film elements, and we get a decent release of this title. Actually, since Hollywood is all about remakes these days, maybe a screenwriter and/or director can keep the intelligence and tension while making this story accessible to modern viewers. I have more hope for a crisp re-release of the original on DVD and Blu-Ray.

One last thing: If you do find this film, watch for the reference to Jason Miller's role as Father Karras. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but it made this film fan smile when it happened.

Hey, I made it through without cheap puns, doggone it! 

Oops. Dammit! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Strike TWO! Hey, Where Are You Going?

Never been a fan of baseball (or any sports except old-school roller derby, if I'm being honest), but I do like the concept of the "three strikes and yer out" when applied to life. Of course, it does not apply to every single situation. Some screw ups are so massive that it only takes one, while other boo-boos are small enough to overlook more than 3 times.

Does this mean we are talking about a sports-focused film today? Am I going to relate my sports history as a way to explain the meaning behind the subject of this review? Why can't I just get on with the damn review and drop this stalling?*

*Answers: No. No. I think I may have a mental condition that prevents me from doing so.

With that being said, let's move on to our film, Nomad Riders.

We see three rough looking guys on various types of motorcycles riding towards the camera. Cool. Given the title, we expect a biker film. Maybe these guys are coming back to the rest of the pack where the biker action will begin.

Cut to: Some guy in a glider being pulled into the air as his wife and daughter are left behind to clean up the campsite, which is about two feet from the runway. Once Daddy is airborne, the three bikers ride up to the campsite and begin taunting the woman and child. The eagle-eyed father sees this from his lofty position and evidences zero emotional reaction.

Our scuzzy bikers rough up the woman and throw her into the tent. Almost as an afterthought, they toss the little girl inside as well. Oh, and a hand grenade is generously given as a tent-warming gift as the bikers ride off while the dad casually lands the glider. Before the man can get out and reach the tent, the grenade explodes. Cue the man's only attempt at an emotional response for the rest of the film as he watches his supposed loved ones die.

Next the bikers blow up a portable toilet with some random land surveyor inside. Please note that this scene has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Nothing. Maybe they had some leftover explosives and wanted to get rid of them. Beats me.

We then find out that bikers were hired to threaten the family to keep the super-stoic dad, who is a cop, from digging into the mob who are involved in a lot of very, very bad things. Since the man's family was killed, the mob boss and his underlings panic because they know Stoic Cop will not give up until he has his revenge, inside or outside the law. Get this -- the cop's name is Steve Thrust. Yeah. Steve THRUST!!!

Cue standard and, in this case, dull revenge movie that makes a couple of minor attempts at expanding the story with under-developed characters in both the mob and the police force as well as including the most passionless love/sex scene I can recall witnessing. Did I mention the cop's name is Steve THRUST?!?!

I will say that the movie did not put me to sleep, mainly because every other line is SHOUTED by our vengence-seeking man of no facial expression. I also had fun watching the boom mic come close to bonking a few actors on the noggin.

Given my comments, it may surprise you that I actually wanted to see this movie, and have been wanting to see for a few years now. Two reasons that amount to almost the same thing: Frozen Scream and Frank Roach. What? Who?

Frozen Scream is a jaw-droppingly weird and inept hot mess of a movie that will probably become an indelible stain (and strain) on your brain once you see it. Lunatics, cult murders, syringes in the eye, very 70s-looking guys in hoods, and a narrator who is almost as confused as the viewer are some of the highlights of this film, which is a personal favorite of mine.

Frank Roach directed both Frozen Scream and Nomad Riders. For the second film, our subject today, he also wrote the movie AND stars as the head of the mob who piss off the wrong cop. Oddly enough, he seems to be only person with any acting ability, so maybe he picked the wrong side of the camera for his profession.

There is a nine-year gap between the two films. Not sure why. There has been nothing since Nomad Riders if is accurate.

Now we come to the baseball connection. The guy makes two movies. Sure, they aren't high quality, but you can see a definite improvement after nine years. I don't mean that as an insult, either. Two strikes, and the guy walks away. 

Don't get me wrong. Nomad Riders went straight to video because the market had changed since 1975. Independent distributors had vanished as the major studios realized that drive-ins made for good second-run venues to suck more cash out of their no-longer-fresh releases. Then the video tape became the rage, and what few drive-ins that were left bowed to the mall multiplexes and vanished in a puff of suburban expansion.

Or maybe he just found a better paying gig doing something else. What the hell do I know?

Frank Roach, if you should happen to hear about this review or even read it, let me know why you stopped, if you would be kind enough to do so. I really want to know. Also, I'd really, really love to see a sequel to Frozen Scream. Heck, you can work the stoic cop character into it and kill two sequels with one film. Umm, kill? Sorry, but I think you get the idea.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Wow, it's been a while. Lots of cobwebs. And dust. Gotta love the dust. Makes things into an archaeological dig for those who can't really commit to the outdoors.

Moving on? Yes, let's.

Molly and the Ghost. Yup, you heard me. Molly and the Ghost. Sounds like some stupid sit-com from the 60s transported to the 80s for a pastel-toned makeover. Actually, the movie kind of is that. In a weird way. Not sure if it is good or bad weird.

To be honest, it doesn't really matter. I would like to say that it inspired me to do research into the occult. I would be delighted if I could tell you it opened my mind in ways I never knew were possible. I would love to scream that it made my heart dance in child-like joy.

That would be lying. It did none of those things. It DID help me go to sleep on 3 different occasions. I'll mark that as a benefit.

Yeah, I'm just meh with the movie.  

Molly is a pretty, well-to-do lady married to successful but stoic husband. One day, at her parents' request, Molly is suddenly faced with a new house guest,  Susan, her adopted sister. Susan settles right in and begins stealing money and jewelery. If that isn't enough, she then tries to seduce Molly's husband.

I'll give this movie two things: 1. It has two very lovely ladies in the roles of Molly and Susan; and, 2. Ron Moriarty (Molly's husband) is either blind, gay, or the most impressive actor ever as he never, EVER seems to express any attraction to either as he goes through the motions with them. BOTH OF THEM!!!

Maybe someone broke into their classic stash of 'ludes and dosed his ass. Who knows.

Next thing we know, Susan is trying to kill Molly by hiring killers. The first one flops, but, after a totally 80s musical montage of Susan reading every mercenary magazine on the shelf, she finds one that is just the ticket. So, she tears the family photo of Molly and herself in half (that's about as emotionally deep as it gets which is why you don't see this on the Lifetime Channel) and casually sends the wrong half of the photo to the hired killer.

Let's do a quick reality check here. You want to bump off your sister. You have a photo torn in half with one side Molly and one side yourself. You put the WRONG half of the photo in the envelope.

You had one simple task, and you fail. Not a simple internet friendly oopsie in which a skateboarder slams his balls into his throat on a rail. Not a social misstep like posting In A Relationship at the same time your loved one changes his status to Free Agent.

You sent the wrong picture. You deserve whatever happens. Stupidity must die. She does as the assassin steps in and strangles her. Susan is dead.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the film. Not by a long shot.

Susan is offered a full pardon in the afterlife and all the cake and milk she can swallow. Susan offers up a rather blunt "Fuck off!" and opts to haunt the earth just to drive her sister and brother-in-law ape shit. 

Here is one of the sections they could have trimmed down. Susan shows up in mirrors, TV, thin air...everywhere. At least she just makes death threats. Much classier than singing "I'm Henry The VIII, I Am" until you want ice picks in the ears. After enough tomfoolery, Molly and Jeff (her husband) realize the answer to all their troubles has been setting on their TV stand. A VHS copy of Ghostbusters! Pretty much the total highlight of the film, so treasure it. They bring in a local parapsychologist, and the whole thing is a very drawn out set up for a very campy bit of humor.

Can we get ON with the damned movie?!?!

Susan murders the hitman who killed her. Because of her own damned fault she sends her own photo, and since she is dead, the killer, who did what he was asked to do, gets stiffed for $5,000. And she KILLS HIM! Someone is a tad bit of a bitch.

Finally, Susan just flat possesses Molly. Would have been better and easier to have done this at the freaking beginning. Just saying. Okay. Apparently, Molly is forced to wear Susan's ghost while Susan turns Molly into a sexual all-night Stop-N-Go for every guy in view. 

The only way to switch back is to make Susan (in Molly's skin) unconscious. This leads to wild plans on how to knock Susan out. Maybe you could just wait for her to go to sleep, but I'm guessing there isn't much dramatic tension going that route.

Actually, that is the core problem with Molly and the Ghost; no dramatic tension to make you want to stick with it. Don't get me wrong. The film is fairly well put together. Technically, it is sound. It just has no human element. When your story depends on your audience caring about the characters, you live or die by the human element.

I find this odd because the director, Don Jones, has a decent track record. Schoolgirls In Chains is one of his best. That film had a detached quality that seemed to make the "schoolgirls" more pitiful, as if they weren't human. Maybe the detachment is just part of his style. Or maybe he was just slapping Molly and the Ghost together to complete a contract. Of course, there is nearly 20 years between the 2 films, and this movie was made at the end of the 80s.

Nope. Giving it too much slack. 

Molly and the Ghost is watchable but just barely. It's a ghost story with no spirit. Recommended ONLY if you just have to watch every movie directed by Don Jones and/or every movie with the name Molly in it. Sadly, I'm aiming for the former with only a slight interest in the latter.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I Spit On Your Film

I normally am Mr. Let's Have Some Fun With This Movie, recounting some life events and having some giggles at the expense of the movie. Being that person is a part of watching crap movies; if you can't laugh at yourself, you can't really laugh at much else. And I like pointing fun at the goofiness/lameness/weirdness of the movies I watch.

Most people who have been invested in watching crappy and weird and gross movies will ultimately run across movies that are outside their limits of taste. Some people will draw a line with animal death in something like Cannibal Holocaust. Others freak out over concepts as outrageous as The Human Centipede. Certain people hate watching more realistic brutality exhibited in films like Salo or Men Behind The Sun. Then you have the momentary thrill seekers who test their skills against puke-inducing videos like "Two Girls, One Cup."

I've watched all of these, and while I felt a lot of it was unnecessary, nothing freaked me out or grossed me out. I am sure I have explained in the past that, since my formative years of movie watching, I seek a film, or films, that can do one or more of the following things: Be so gross that I vomit, or be so frightening that I wet my pants, or be so offensive that I cannot bring myself to watch any further. To be honest, I've seen movies so stupid and boring that I've done most of these things, but I mark that up to brain damage. Not the same thing.

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a film that sounded like a great chance to push the envelope of one or more of my goals mentioned above. The cover stated that it had been banned for 13 years, and that it had been turned over to New York police as a "snuff" film. There is even a warning that the film is not for the faint of heart or those easily shocked. Comments referenced the fact the film boasted the longest and most brutal rape scene ever committed to film. (Let me make this clear: I'm not a rape film fan. Oddly enough, there are people out there like that, but I'll reference that later in the review.)

They All Must Die! is the title, and based on what the comments and synopsis told me, it sounded like a perfect fit. Some cheap, sleazy bit of trash to kick me in the mental balls and walk away laughing.

Let me get the story out of the way. I do mean STORY as there is no plot that I can piece together.

White woman moves into the Bed-Stuy neighborhood to write about life through the eyes and lives of black working men. As she is moving in, 3 black youths begin verbally attacking her with insults and racial slurs. One guy decides he is going to hit on her and makes his move. He is told by the woman that she isn't interested as she is there to work. His friends rag on him for bombing, and he hints that he is gonna get what he wants.

The woman's landlord is an obsessed fan of her writing and figures that it is the perfect time to win her over. He is so confident that he kicks his wife/girlfriend out of the building so he can devote all of his time to winning over the white writer. Of course, the writer turns him down.

Our 3 youths whip themselves into a frenzy in which they decide that they are going to teach the white woman a lesson. They terrorize her until the landlord leads her away from the youths and attempts to calm her down. When she goes back to her apartment, she finds the youths are waiting for her. She is then abused, doped up, beaten and gang raped for roughly 30 to 40 minutes. After the 3 guys tire of her, she drags herself into the bathtub and attempts to clean herself.

We see her stalk and kill all three of her attackers in a very short series of scenes. Lo and behold, it was all a fantasy as we are brought back to the woman, beaten and bloodied, still in the bathtub. She crawls out and attempts to get to her phone to call for help, but her injuries are such that she collapses.

In comes her landlord. She begs him to call for help. Instead, he takes advantage of her condition and satisfies himself sexually in her mouth. He then ties her up in his apartment while he discourses on how important he will be now that he has a white woman of his own. 

Yeah, that's it. 

For those of you who find the story vile, I suggest you hang around for the rest of the review. For those of you who find the story enticing and a turn on, by all means rush out and buy your own copy and do whatever it is that people who like this stuff do while watching it because I'm sure nothing I am about to say will have any impact.

What little history that can be found on this film does offer some insight into what you see. Apparently the director, Sean Weathers, watched the much-hyped I Spit On Your Grave and figured he could outdo the rape scene in both length and brutality. Congratulations, Mr. Weathers, you certain did that. To make the scene more authentic, he supposedly kept the lead female and the 3 lead males from meeting until shooting the first scene. One guess what that first scene was. Yup, the seemingly never-ending rape scene. I can't imagine what that first day must have been like, but the shock and horror on the woman's face certainly doesn't look faked. I'm impressed she returned for the rest of the scenes. That is, if the stories about the film can be believed.

Now we turn to the film itself. It looks to be shot on shitty video which almost gives it an uncomfortable aura of being shot as it happened. The in-your-face style enhances the feeling being an invisible leering pervert who is following these characters around and getting off on the misery. You are made to feel as if you are as much a participant as the thugs themselves. Unless you have a seriously bent sex drive, you will feel beyond soiled after watching this movie. It has been nearly 2 years since I watched this and I still cannot scrub this stain of a film from my memory. Again, congratulations, Mr. Weathers.

If you look up some reviews of this film, you will find a few that suggest the woman in the movie is arrogant and just as racially insensitive as our trio of abusers. I have no idea what movie they saw, unless there are various versions of this thing. She is firm but polite enough when the one guy hits on her. She is also polite enough when the landlord makes a fool of himself when he reveals his obsession with her. The only transgression she is guilty of comes while she is having a private phone conversation with her mother (which we are aware of only because her landlord has sneaked into her apartment to spy on her). She tells her worried mother that she isn't going to let a few "spooks" keep her from writing her book. Sure, not the nicest thing to say, but it isn't like she's Paula Deen or, maybe, HITLER! And it definitely is not justification for what she has done to her.

What we are left with is a film that goes to extremes to present the black male characters as self-serving brutes who feel entitled to do what they wish to this woman simply because she is white and she has moved into their neighborhood. Honestly, the film provides no other possible motivation. Their "fragile" egos require them to ignore the woman's desire to be left alone to write so they can exercise their manliness. Even the landlord kicks out the only other woman in his life when she attempts to be a voice of rational thought and reason. The men in the film take advantage of this woman in every possible instance and way.

Oh, but she gets her revenge, right? No. As I stated, the revenge sequence only takes place in her mind. To be honest, that part of the film seems to almost be an afterthought, added simply as a nod to I Spit On Your Grave maybe. The film would actually be better served if that segment was left out. It adds nothing. It provides no comfort or closure. It is a pointless distraction, and takes away from the overall sense of intense brutality that the director supposedly wanted to create. Not that I'm supporting this film as art, but it is just a narrative issue.

I could easily just walk away from this movie, as I have presented it so far, and shrug it off as a nasty bit of pointlessness about black men and their obsession with white women. Unfortunately, for me, the director did something else with this film that is the reason it nags and troubles me to this day. 

At various points throughout the film, usually during the violation sequences, you might notice a flash on the screen, almost like a bad edit. I should be so lucky. If you pause the movie and advance frame by frame (most DVD players can do this, so don't think I did some high-end technical work here), you will find that these "flashes" are actually single frame images of lynchings. You heard me correctly. Crystal clear black-and-white images of dead black men, beaten/hanged/burned, surrounded by grinning and laughing whites. Real images from heaven knows when, but brutal and sickening.

What are we to make of this? Is it there to imply that their attacks on this woman are justified? Are these random thoughts "flashing" through her head? Is it meant as some grand political statement? WHAT THE FUCK DOES THIS MEAN? I even sent an email to Mr. Weathers asking him to explain this. I heard nothing. So I'm left with a vile film that now has a subtext that I am unsure what to make of.

Now, if the director was a white guy, I could easily write this whole nightmare off as racist trash. Sean Weathers is African-American, which brings a whole new level of WTF? to this movie. The entire film presents the black men as little more than animals who have no motivation other than to destroy and mark their territory. Weave in the images of lynchings and then I have to wonder what we are to make of it in relationship to the rest of the film.

They All Must Die! is a truly disturbing film on most levels. When I decided to write this review, I told myself that I would watch it again. The thing sat in front of my TV for days. I put it into my player a few times. Honestly, the thought of watching the film again sickened me. I ultimately could not bring myself to do it. I have no desire to ever watch this thing again. Once was enough. I doubt I will ever forget it, though I wish I could. It did not offend me enough that I could not finish it, but it did offend and sicken me enough that I never want to experience it again.

If you chose to watch this movie after reading this review, you are on your own. I hope nothing I wrote here sounded in any way as encouragement.

I understand there are different kicks for different folks. As long as you don't drag me into your playhouse against my will, you can do whatever you want to and with yourself. And I'm not the kind of person to call someone out over opinions that are utterly subjective, because, as my dad used to say, "Opinions are like assholes: Everyone has one, and they usually stink."

However (you knew that was coming), while doing some research on this film, I ran across a review for They All Must Die! by a person identified as Hiccup who writes for Bring Out the GIMP (Girls In Merciless Peril). Apparently a site that is dedicated to films in which woman are imperiled and/or brutalized. That's fine. But towards the end of the review, there was a paragraph that...well, here, let me just quote it for you:

"In summary I'm amazed this movie actually got made when it did. Its definitely the most politically incorrect movie made in the last 20 years which is why there was very little distribution of it. The forced stripping scene and rape were spot on with excellent acting, humiliation and nudity. One thing I didn't like is the director tried to make Wendy appear as a real rape victim with blood, bruises, matted hair and whatnot which made her less attractive to look at."

The bold type is mine, but it is a direct copy and paste, misspellings and all. 

I look at that sentence and cannot wrap my head around the mind that could put something like that together. A victim of a long, savage beating and rape who isn't attractive to look at when it is over? What does this person want, that Wendy should walk away with her hair perfectly teased with full makeup and slut pumps and an ass-hugging tight skirt?

If the writer of this abomination is a guy, I feel shame that I am of the same gender. If it is a woman (and I can't believe that it is), she is not human. I'll admit to be being one seriously twisted mister, but this begs the title "sick fuck". Yeah, yeah, live and let live. Just don't expect me not to find some people to be a bit frightening.