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 idmb.com, 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 imdb.com 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.