Saturday, August 18, 2018

Horror On A Porn Budget

Sometimes miracles really do happen. I have proof. “Deranged” is a little movie made in in 1987. It was directed by Chuck Vincent. The cast and crew were primarily from the porn industry. The film was shot on a single set. (I’d bet good money that the same set was probably used in at least one other film, and it was probably a porno.) The budget pretty much had to be as low if not lower than a fast porn flick. You can see camera shadows and boom mics and the unfinished edge of the upper part of the set.

With all of these problems, you’d expect the worst. I mean, Chuck Vincent (I’ll explain later for those who don’t know the name.), for the love of peanut butter!!

Sure, you get a cheap-looking film, but there is so much going on in this film that, even if you don’t ultimately like it, at least one scene or element of the film should connect with you in some way. It might be the acting or interesting use of the single set. You might be impressed with the blocking of the scenes. Possibly you could be fascinated by the shifting realities of the plot.

Confused? Well, I won’t make promises, but let’s see what we can sort out when it comes to “Deranged”.

Joyce is a pregnant woman whose husband Frank is leaving for a month abroad on business. Before the movie is five minutes in, we know that Joyce has a history of mental illness, that Frank is a bit of an ass, and that Frank and Mary Ann, Joyce’s half-sister, may be having an affair.

Joyce is hesitant to have lunch with her mother and Mary Ann once Frank has left, so it is obvious that she isn’t thrilled with her family. Ultimately, to avoid any conflict, Joyce submits to lunch. Lunch was really just a pretense to throw a baby shower for the first-time mother. After she opens a baby blanket given as a gift, Joyce starts slipping into her own little world, seeing and hearing people who aren’t there. The rest of the people are too caught up in their own business to notice.

Joyce is dropped at her and Frank’s apartment by Mary Ann. Once inside the apartment, Joyce is attacked by a man in a ski mask. He beats her and stomps on her swollen belly. In spite of the pain and fear, she manages to grab a pair of scissors and kills the man before suffering a miscarriage due to the beating.

At this point, all logic steps out for a long walk on a short pier. Joyce’s savagely untethered mind floats from paranoid fantasies to flashbacks of her childhood to interactions with people both real and imagined. These fragments of Joyce’s shattered mind allow the audience to slowly piece together what caused Joyce’s original breakdown as well as her unstable marriage and contempt for both her mother and her half-sister. You may find yourself sympathetic to the main character one moment and wondering how much of her “remembered” trauma might have completely different explanations in the next. She is the model of an unreliable witness, and, during this movie, you are trapped in her head.

Let’s talk Chuck Vincent for a few minutes. The bulk of his output as a film director tended to be porn or material that wanted to be porn but was crafted for drive-in theaters. A lot of his films are poorly structured wrecks. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find some of his film entertaining; just don’t pop in a movie of his with the expectation of watching a master craftsman. Ain’t happening. You will often find yourself swinging from tedium to giggling at the ineptitude in his movies.

What you don’t expect from Chuck Vincent is a fairly mature handling of some pretty uncomfortable issues. Oh, I don’t think he deserves a lifetime achievement award just for this film. I do find it notable that he curbed his occasional urge to be sleazy to give this film a bit more gravitas.

Also worth noting is the blocking done in this movie. Blocking is establishing where actors need to be in a given scene and how they move within that scene so that the camera can focus as needed. This film, in using a single set, has to orchestrate moving actors into and out of the shots so that Joyce’s mental breakdown can be properly populated with her constantly shifting memories. If nothing else, herding groups of actors through the set without chaos should impress even the most casual film fan.

The biggest take away with “Deranged” is the lead actress, Veronica Hart (listed as Jane Hamilton in the credits). She was a major fixture in the porn industry and also managed to end up in a large number of Chuck Vincent films. After hearing she is a porn actress, you might be prone to discount her acting ability. You couldn’t make a bigger mistake. She is on camera for nearly every second of this film. A good number of scenes are actually done with cuts, so she is called upon to change location, clothes, period in her character’s life, and mental states all within a single, non-stop scene. She nails it. You believe it when she reverts back to childhood before turning into sexy wife of a tennis pro and then cowering in fear as her past returns to haunt her again and again. Ms. Hart makes Joyce a believable and sympathetic lead, even when she ends up doing things you can’t condone.
Not really a horror movie as much as it is a simulation of a complete mental breakdown. Definitely worth watching just to see something a little different from people who normally don’t attempt something on the level of “Repulsion” of which “Deranged” is a fairly close copy.

More Horror From Florida?

A number of years ago, I used to work for a clipping service. Basically, I scanned newspaper stories for keywords requested by clients. During most of my stay, I read only newspapers from Florida.

Florida scares the hell out of me.

Jeb Bush. Do I need to say anything else? No. Okay, I’m from the Midwest. I’m sure we probably sound weird or boring to folks in Florida, but Florida sounded like a mad house to me. Insane traffic issues (How about a head-on collision between two golf carts full of snow birds?), wonky politics, and freaking gators!!!

Before that job, I’d seen a number of films filmed in Florida, especially films by William Grefe. The world full of the Everglades and various insects and creatures ready to either suck your blood or eat you just never struck me as a grand place to visit. Screw living there. No offense meant to those who love the state.
I have found a reason to be thankful for Florida, and it comes in the form of an obscure regional film made in the early 70s. “My Brother Has Bad Dreams” is a bit of a revelation as I have long heard of the title, but always thought it was just another slasher flick.

So. Very. Wrong.

Karl is a rather peculiar young man. He is obviously in his 20s, yet he acts, and is treated by others, as if he is younger, giving into his sudden emotions without hesitation. Anna, his sister, cares for him and makes sure their home is maintained. They have a rather odd, and creepy, co-dependency that keeps both of them locked into repeating cycles of behavior that seem to be slowly tearing the two of them apart.

See, Karl witnessed their father beat their wheelchair-bound mother to death with the fireplace poker fifteen years earlier. That kind of a thing left a rather sizable psychic scar in Karl’s mind. He has nightmares in which he relives the murder when he isn’t being tormented by personifications of his desires, fears, and even lust, as embodied by his sister.

Anna finds herself losing control of their balanced life when Karl begins using mannequins as replacements for the people missing in his life. As she fears for their future, Karl meets and befriends a Vietnam veteran who is drifting across the United States on his motorcycle. The drifter is drawn into the siblings’ strange life, and his presence sets in motion a horrific series of events resulting in violence and death.

Admittedly, that makes the film sound fairly generic. Yet the quirkiness of the low-budget film keeps drawing you in. Karl’s madness morphs throughout the film, but each step feels organic to the purposely sparse plot. As Karl falls deeper into his delusions, Anna almost seems to condone his behavior by always making sure she never upsets him and allowing his outbursts to go unchallenged. Each scene seems to be tense with the expectation that something is about to happen. When you get an outburst, it eases a bit of that tension, but it immediately begins building again.

The key to the film is the script. It carries the whole film. Writer/director Robert Emery carefully peels away the layers of doubt, fear, and denial in which the siblings have enveloped themselves for years. The strength of the writing helps bridge the occasional off-notes you get from the performances, though they are quite good given few of them had any experience at all. Finding a cheap movie with a solid script is always a delight.

Please keep in mind that this film is all about the slow build up to the demented climax. It isn’t a bloodbath, so don’t expect a gory death every 10 minutes. Be prepared to watch scene after scene of people doing little more than talk. Focus on the siblings’ twisted relationship and Karl’s constant probing of the act of violence that started everything 15 years before. Allow the film to flow around you. When you get to the end of the final credits, you will realize just how much the film has impacted you.

Then again, you might just find it crazy boring because there are no action set pieces, gunfights, or CGI fantasies to feed your culturally-induced ADHD. Still, give it a chance; you may discover your next favorite movie.

Should be called "Boredomhunters"

You know you are in serious trouble when you pop in a movie that you know nothing about, and the first name you see attached to the film is “Jerry Warren”.

For many of you, that name will mean nothing. To fans of MST3K, as well as veterans of bad movies, the name “Jerry Warren” telegraphs that fact that the film you are about to watch will not only suck wind, but will reduce your ability to think in a coherent fashion. Warren was known for writing, producing, and/or directing films that you could easily show your mom and dad but wouldn’t for fear of being told you were wasting not only your time, but everyone else’s time as well. There are people out there who look upon Jerry Warren’s body of work with fondness; there are also people out there who think Hitler was too liberal. I don’t think I want to hang too close to either group.

Just exactly what are you setting yourself up for by watching “Terror of the Bloodhunters”? Unlike most Warren features, this particular movie is pretty damn dull. In fact, the first 55 minutes of this turkey only draws your attention with two scenes of scantily-clad women dancing in some weird death ritual; just ignore the change in film and lighting quality. The rest of the run time centers around the cast, in groups of 2 or three, chatting about philosophy without really discussing it or rambling about their lives, hopes, and dreams. You know it is just filler because Warren doesn’t have a budget to allow for more than talk, plus, to keep the audience semi-conscious, a couple of people will need to die.

After spending half of the movie giving reason after reason why no one can survive in the jungles surrounding the penal colony where our story begins, our “heroes” march steadfastly into the dangerous jungle, and the audience is promptly bored to tears as these folks do little more than walk and talk for 20 minutes or more. When the “bloodhunters” finally show up, our “heroes” hold fake palm fronds in front of themselves in an effort to hide from the over-use of stock footage.

At that point in the film, you have to wonder if they have enough time to do anything. I mean, there are only ten minutes left. In very rapid order, all of the following things happen: One of our trio of good folks gets munched on by a leopard. The two guards hunting down our “heroes” are captured by the “bloodhunters”. The good guy of the film goes to rescue the guards even though they were hunting him. The whole “bloodhunter” village burns to the ground as a diversion. One of the guards is killed by a random arrow. The two remaining guys acknowledge their manliness and decide to live and let live. Cut to the end titles.

Yes, once again, I have ruined the ending for another movie. Let’s be honest; you aren’t gonna sit up late at night (or any other time of the day, for that matter), nibbling on your fingernails wondering how this movie is gonna end. You’ll be praying that the damned thing just ends. Personally, I kept envisioning the characters being hacked to death by the natives any time one of the white folk stepped near the edge of the screen. Sadly, it never happened.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Beware The Black Alley Cats

If you use 70’s sleaze cinema as a barometer of that time, it seems like the 70s were a rather rape-y time. From mainstream films like “Death Wish” to cheesy flicks like Al Adamson’s “Jessi’s Girls”, a viewer was treated to rape as if it was a part of life. Well, sadly, yeah, I guess it is. Still, it just seems like any sort of action movie had a rape scene during those years.
“The Black Alley Cats” (1973) just does away with any real pretense and jumps to the raping in the first scene as our four heroines are chased by 5 scuzzy dudes, pulled into what looks like a storage unit, and each girl is attacked and roughed up. The guys leave as one guy shouts, “You know you girls loved it!” or something to that effect. Classy.
From there, the only logical reaction is to get matching satin jackets, dress up in hose, and lead a war against bad folks. And that is what our plucky characters do. They knock out the guys who raped them and steal all of their clothing. Then you never hear more about them. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.
Oh, but then we find out that one of the girls is hired to babysit for a rich doctor and his trophy wife. You’d think the viewer and the characters would be safe in suburbia. Nope. The couple drugs the girl and they both have their way with her as well as take photos for both their personal collection and for blackmail.
Suddenly, the girl is ashamed to tell the other girls what happened. Really? You were gang raped with these women. You’ve been committing felonies with these same women. Yet, you can’t say, “This honky mutha and his chick drugged me and used me like nobody’s business. Let’s get him!” Nope, so we get another 10 minutes tacked on while the story decides to let the girls go after the rapist doctor, but only does so AFTER he rapes another girl in the group he was supposed to be patching up after she was shot.
Ultimately, the girls dose the couple with their own sex drug, leave stolen jewelry behind, and call the cops so the two are busted.
Yes, I just ruined the end of the film for you. Two reasons why. First, a lot of people consider this to be a lost film unless you find a copy of the rip from a Something Weird VHS screener tape. The fact they made that video indicates there should be an actual copy of the film somewhere, but no one has come forward with it. I mean, Something Weird still has it available as a download. Still, you really have to work at it to find this, unless you search Youtube. Second, this kind of movie isn’t one you watch for the suspenseful story; its softcore nonsense aimed at mostly men with a dose of social justice to justify the obvious misogyny. If you want to see this movie, you know what you want to see, and it ain’t a meaningful tale of female empowerment.
Let’s be honest; the film sucks. Really. Bad acting. Crap lighting. Over-the-top fake sex. Confused story. Characters who do not act like real people. Still, even for being rather distasteful in its subject matter, the film manages to move at a reasonable pace, and, casual raping aside, it is a serviceable exploitation film.
If you are easily triggered, you might want to just avoid this movie.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Would You Be My Mommy?

Ever have one of those nights where you binge on movies, but you are just grabbing titles at random from sources online or off your streaming device of choice. You see a title that grabs you, and you figure, "What the hell?"

But the evening turns weird when every title turns out to be stories about psycho-sexual lunatics who suffer from every fetish and/or perversion prone to make you feel that washing with pure lye and water will never get you clean enough. How the hell can you keep picking these things at random? Is The Universe attempting to tell you something, or is God trolling you for shits and giggles? And even though you are watching the films alone, you find yourself sinking lower and lower in your seat and you glance at the windows to make sure no one can see what you are watching.

One of those films happened to be "Sweet Kill", aka "The Arousers", from 1972. Apparently "Sweet Kill" was the original title, but the film did not do well, so, as the rumor goes, Roger Corman, who was an uncredited producer of the film, requested sexy additional footage be shot, and the film was released under the title "The Arousers". "Sweet Kill" is actually a touch misleading. "The Arousers" would only work ironically and/or as a rather cruel joke given the subject matter. Actually, now that I think of it, I don't think the titles had much impact on the popularity of this film. Most folks aren't keen on watching a perv freak out and kill a bunch of people. Well, not back in the early 70s, at least.

We have former 50/60’s heartthrob Tab Hunter playing Eddie Collins, a guy who, as a child, used to hide in the closet (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and watch his mother undress and sleep mostly naked on her bed. Apparently this kink of his makes him afraid of the up-close intimacy of women. Bad timing as the Seventies was a time for women to take charge of their sexuality. Women weren’t all retiring wallflowers waiting for a man to shower them with attention; some wanted sex and/or a relationship and were not afraid to demand such things.

Eddie does not like pushy dames, so when one rips his pants open, he punts her into a shelf where a whack to the back of her head snuffs out her life. Does he freak out? Not really. As if it is almost a daily occurrence, he wraps her up in a sheet, ties it off, and dumps it into a pigeon loft on the top of his apartment building. You almost get the feeling our main character has done similar things in the past.

This guy makes me ill. If I had a quarter of the women that comes on to him just in the movie, I’d have more women than I’d know what to do with. Eddie? He just kills them if his verbal abuse doesn’t drive them away (and it usually doesn’t). But even feeling a sense of revulsion at the sexually aggressive women doesn't seem to be a clear indication that Eddie needs mental help; in fact, he even actively starts conversations with women when he knows full well that he’s most likely gonna be either pissing them off when he acts like a fussy gay man or sliding a knife into their torso at the drop of a hat.

A little research seems to indicate that the original script as written by director Curtis Hanson had a female character behind the murders. And that still kind of fits as Eddie’s obsession with killing the women for sexual gratification just doesn’t seem to fit the character’s profile. Yet one female character, Barbara (played with skill by Nadyne Turney), seems closer to Eddie than the other women, and she reveals a rather traumatic event from her youth that leads you to think she would probably kill the women throwing themselves at Eddie. Would have been a better film and it doesn’t leave you disgusted with the main character.

A good bit of acting by Tab Hunter does not hide the rather ugly film that Roger Corman pushed Curtis Hanson to make in place of a more psychological thriller the director intended. Worth watching, but try to avoid watching 3 sexual killer flicks back to back.