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 IMDb.com 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.