Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Atomic Brain (Monstrosity; Joseph Mascelli and Jack Pollexfen, 1963)

Dr. Otto Frank (Killers from Space's Frank Gerstle) is a scientist working on brain transplantation using atomic fission, testing his process on corpses, although all that results are mindless zombies. He steals a woman's body from the local cemetery with the aid of Hans, a dog's brain in the body of a car crash victim. Dr. Frank's elderly employer, Hetty March (Night Tide's Marjorie Eaton), "one of the richest women in the world, wants him to use this process to put her brain into the body of a beautiful young woman, and therefore advertises for a foreign domestic. Three women are accepted: Viennese Nina Rhodes (Mr. Sardonicus' Judy Peters), buxom Englishwoman Beatrice "Bea" Mullins (A Bucket of Blood's Judy Bamber), and demure, somewhat plain Mexican Anita Gonzales (Gentlemen Prefers Blondes' Lisa Lang). Mrs. March's aging gigolo Victor (Frank Fowler) picks them up at the airport. Dr. Frank examines each woman for physical imperfections. Mrs. March declares Anita, who has a prominent birthmark on her back, "hideous" and "useless." Nina, finding Mrs. March and her house understandably creepy, attempts to give notice, but the old woman dismisses her desire. Soon after, Anita hears a knock on the door of her room, and screams upon opening it. Nina and Bea attempt to escape the house, but to no avail, while Anita gets a new brain of her own.

Most people who know me well are aware that Mystery Science Theater 3000 is one of my all-time favorite shows. A lot of film buffs hate the show, but I'm not one of them. That said, I will admit that not every movie they riffed is completely terrible. My unironic love for Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik knows no bounds, and I find a lot to enjoy in some of the Roger Corman films they did, to name two prominent examples. Therefore, if I review a movie on here that the Best Brains crew gave the razz, I promise to give it a fair shake. Bava or Corman this isn't, though, sadly. It was filmed in ten days, and it shows. For one thing, the science is dodgy even by early '60s horror film standards. How exactly does one use atomic fission and a cyclotron to switch brains? We never see Dr. Frank performing surgery, so perhaps he's actually switching minds somehow...except we see him holding Mrs. March's brain at one point! Also, how does having a dog's brain in a human's body give the resulting individual a beetle brow and fangs? Early in the film, the actor playing Hans seems to be wearing a furry mask in a few shots, rather than the makeup he wears throughout most of the film. The soundtrack seems oddly whimsical and light-hearted during some of the scenes that are supposed to be dramatic. The accents of the three "foreign" domestics are all over the place: Peters doesn't even bother; Lang recites her lines flatly with the occasional bit of Spanish, and answers a knock on the door with "Quien es? Who ees eet?"; and Bamber sports one of the most pitiful attempts at a British accent I have ever heard in any film. Seriously, she makes Keira Knightley's Russian accent in A Dangerous Method seem subtle by comparison. She also chews the scenery big time in the scene where she realizes something horrible has happened to her. Gerstle is definitely the best actor in the whole film, and has a great monologue about how he has been ostracized for his work, while Dr. Alexis Carrel, the real-life transplant pioneer, received a Nobel Prize. I choose to believe, and may make it official in a short story or novel someday, that Dr. Otto Frank, the mad scientist who revives corpses and was scorned by his peers, shortened his last name because of the stigma attached to the name Frankenstein and many of his relatives. It's hard not to read a lesbian subtext into the way Marjorie Eaton paws at and ogles her potential new bodies, especially Bamber. Frank Fowler's Victor delivers the charming line, "She doesn't have a brain. There might be advantages!" The voiceover narration by co-screenwriter Dean Dillman, Jr.'s better-known brother Bradford is even worse, containing such lines as "Making love to an 80-year-old woman in the body of a 20-year-old girl is insanity!", "She was quite harmless, and at times even amusing", and "So nicely rounded in places men like." Keep in mind two of the other screenwriters, Sue Russell and Vy Dwiggins, were women themselves. This is also the second movie in a row I've covered that lists an animal in the closing credits, in this case Xerxes(!!!) the Cat. Those expecting more than cheese will be disappointed, and I wouldn't blame any feminists for hating it, but it's prime riffing material, even if you're just playing MST3K: The Home Version.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Blood Shack ("Wolfgang Schmidt" [Ray Dennis Steckler], 1971)

A young woman named Connie is planning to spend a night in an old house, to see if the legends of a  being called "the Chooper" who kills those who enter it is true. When her husband Charlie and a friend of theirs chicken out, she decides to go it alone, despite the vehement protests of foreman Daniel. Sure enough, Connie falls victim to the Chooper. Daniel disposes of the body and steals Connie's money. Soon after, Carol Brown (Carolyn Brandt, then Mrs. Steckler) arrives at the house. Her uncle, Mr. Craig, owned the land on which the house sits. He has been dead for a year, and Carol is unwilling to sell the land, although Tim Foster (Ron Haydock) is insistent on buying it. The land originally belonged to the Fosters, but Tim's great-grandfather lost it in a poker game, and challenged Carol's great-grandfather to a duel, one he lost. Carol befriends her neighbor's young daughters, Margie and Barbra Potts (Steckler and Brandt's daughters Linda and Laura), taking them to the rodeo. When Charlie comes to the house looking for his absent wife, he falls victim to the Chooper as well. Tim's obsession with possessing the land finally brings matters to a head.

If I used a phrase to describe Ray Dennis Steckler, that phrase would be "trash cinema auteur." He clearly had art house aspirations and a reach that did not always exceed his means. His The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!, besides possessing the greatest film title of all time, is a bizarre and grimy film that nevertheless has impressive cinematography and some real drama. The Thrill Killers is a surprisingly gripping story of diner patrons falling victim to escaped mental patients. It also boasts a cameo by Arch Hall, Sr. of Eegah! fame playing himself. Rat Pfink a Boo Boo is probably my favorite of Steckler's films that I've seen, combining superhero parody and rock 'n' roll to often hilarious effect. Blood Shack is definitely prime Steckler. The oddly-named Chooper only kills three people in the course of the film, but the scenes are memorable when they do happen. Ol' Choop is never really explained, and the ending leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the murders we've seen. Carolyn Brandt, as she was in The Incredibly Strange Creatures and Rat Pfink, is a charming and talented star. Carolyn also provides echoey narration, filling us in on many details of the story. Rat Pfink himself, Ron Haydock, plays Tim with a certain amount of intensity. Jason Wayne as Daniel is kind of a shit, given the way he covers up the Chooper's killings and takes his victims' money. It doesn't help that throughout the film he is either shirtless or wears a shirt that's a size too small for him, exposing his midriff. The younger Stecklers aren't great, but frankly I've seen lots of child actors worse at their craft. The girls' pet pony Peanuts is listed in the credits, but sadly their cute puppy is not. There's also a cool rockabilly song playing over the closing credits about the Chooper. Ray Dennis was a director with real potential that was not always realized, and this film shows how cool he could be.

If you have a Fandor account, check it out. You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Son of Godzilla (Kaijûtô no kessen: Gojira no musuko; Jun Fukuda, 1967)

On a tropical island, a group of scientists led by Doctor Kusumi are working on a device that will control the weather and make some of the Earth's more barren areas habitable. A determined reporter, Goro Maki, comes to the island in search of a story, and Kusumi reluctantly allows him to stay in return for Goro cooking and cleaning for the men. A mysterious signal causes the test of a radioactive balloon to fail, the radiation released resulting in giant mantises called "Kamacuras," which dig up an egg that they break open. The egg, as it turns out, contains a baby Godzilla, whose telepathic cries caused the signal that wrecked the balloon. Soon, Godzilla himself comes to the island seeking his offspring.

Son of Godzilla, introducing the title character, later dubbed Minya, is regarded by some as a shark-jumping moment for the franchise, representing the absolute nadir of the series, especially in comparison to the 1954 original, a surprisingly deep film in contrast to some of the ones that followed, which got increasingly more outlandish. However, this is an unfair assessment. Yes, it's more kiddie-oriented than the original, but it's still entertaining. Minya is much less annoying than Godzooky from the American animated Godzilla series of a few years later, and it's hard not to feel bad for the little guy who puts up with a lot of abuse from the Kamacuras, and even to a lesser extent from his own father, who tries to teach him his ways with some tough love. Godzilla's design is altered beginning with this film to make him less scary-looking, but frankly I think he still looks pretty damn cool. The special effects are awesome, with not only adult and baby Godzillas and the Kamacuras, but also a giant spider called Kumonga. The human characters are generally pretty well-developed, including Goro the reporter and his love interest Seiko, who grew up on the island after the death of her parents. It may not be the best the series has to offer, but it's pretty darn entertaining.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Blood Thirst (Newt Arnold, 1965)

The body of Maria Cortez, a dancer at Mr. Calderon's Barrio nightclub in Manila, is found hanging upside down from a tree, her forearms slashed and her blood drained. Inspector Miguel Ramos, believing the murder to be a sex crime, asks his friend Adam Rourke (no relation), who literally wrote the book on the subject of sex murders, to come to the Philippines to crack the case. Adam's wisecracking manner does not ingratiate him to Sylvia, Ramos' British adopted sister. There are rumors of the murder being occult in nature, though Adam is skeptical. Visiting the Barrio to find information, Adam sees sexy belly dancer Serena do her act, then tries to speak to Calderon, who rebuffs him until Serena convinces him otherwise. Soon after, an assassin tries to kill Adam with a machete while he sleeps, but the writer tricks him with Harvey, a mannequin he keeps in his suitcase.

I talked briefly about Filipino exploitation cinema in my review of For Y'ur Height Only, so I won't recap here. This particular entry, directed by Newt Arnold, who was an assistant director on such diverse films as In the Heat of the Night, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, was released in the Philippines in 1965, but for unclear reasons not brought over to the U.S. until 1971. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it's not very graphic, considering the title. Most of the killings happen offscreen, and there are lots of scenes in between of people talking, though thankfully it picks up toward the end. Vic Diaz, who was as much of a standby in Filipino trash flix as Fernando Sancho was in Spaghetti Westerns, turns in his usual solid work. Adam Rourke is played by Robert Winston, whom MSTies such as myself will know as Lt. Lyons in the Air Force "epic" The Starfighters, a movie which prompted Mike Nelson to declare, "I really think there's more nothing in this movie than any movie we've seen!" Those who've watched the episode would be hard-pressed to disagree with that statement. Adam's wisecracks are more obnoxious than funny, and frankly he's kind of a douche. Sylvia starts the movie hating him (and who can blame her, really?) but winds up falling for him. I always love a little weirdness in my exploitation fare, so Harvey the decoy mannequin was welcome, as is Herrera, a one-legged officer undercover as a beggar, who carries an artificial leg in a bundle. The movie isn't really scary, but it is somewhat moody. Our monstrous killer, unfortunately, looks like his head was made of chewed gum. The ending leaves a lot of unanswered questions. The killings are part of a ritual that is Aztec or Inca in nature, but it's never stated which. I get the sense Arnold thought, "Well, it's the occult, so we don't need to explain things that clearly." Still, I had fun, and I imagine watching it with a few friends would be even more entertaining.

Starting now, I'm gonna share links to where you can view some of these movies on (LEGAL) streaming services. This little beauty can be found on Amazon Prime.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill (Kommissar X - Jagd auf Unbekannt; "Frank Kramer" [Gianfranco Parolini], 1966)

Suave, charming private eye Jo Louis Walker (Django Against Sartana's Tony Kendall) and Police Captain Tom Rowland (The Mutations' Brad Harris) battle Oberon (Nikola Popovic), a high-tech-wielding arms dealer who is killing off his former partners and has a plan involving uranium and gold.

This film was the first in a series based on "Bert F. Island's" (Paul Alfred Mueller) Kommissar X novel series, of which there were 620(!) books, though Jo Walker is never called by his nom de guerre in the dubbed print I watch. The film is a German-Italian-Yugoslavian co-production, and was directed by Gianfranco Parolini under his frequent pseudonym of "Frank Kramer." You may recognize Parolini's name as the director of the three Spaghetti Westerns featuring the character Sabata, as well as If You Meet Sartana, Pray for your Death, the debut of another iconic gunslinger. Parolini brings the same flamboyancy and flair for spectacle to this film as he does to his Westerns. Kendall is a handsome and likable leading man who the ladies can't get enough of. According to his theme song, "I love you, Jo Walker, just as all the women love you," and indeed, they certainly seem to. The film has more than its share of lovely ladies, including Oberon's purple-wigged henchgirl Joan (The Castle of Fu Manchu's Maria Perschy) and admiral's daughter Pamela Hudson (Day of Anger's Christa Linder), not to mention Oberon's army of robotlike minions clad in black and sporting blonde bouffants. Brawny Brad Harris provides admirable support as Captain Rowland, though he seems to be considerably more competent than the officers under him, who twice fall for Jo's ruses. Serbian Nikola Popovic is entertaining as the awesomely-named Oberon, even though his scheme is clearly influenced by Goldfinger. Those who've seen the Sabata films will not be surprised that Parolini has lots of cool gadgets in the film. Jo has a transmitter hidden in a ring that allegedly was his mother's, as well as a radar detector screen in his car, while Oberon's gear includes a tape player that can be turned into a gun and a groovy island headquarters, complete with henchmen wearing radiation suits that look like someone dipped the A.I.M. agents' uniforms in bleach. I got a real kick out of this film, and will be searching for the rest of the series.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hell Up in Harlem (Larry Cohen, 1973)

This film recaps the end of its predecessor, Black Caesar, with Harlem gangster Tommy Gibbs (blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson) being betrayed by his ex-wife Helen Bradley (Black Belt Jones' Gloria Hendry) to the corrupt district attorney, DiAngelo (The Doctors' Gerald Gordon), who has him shot. After a high speed chase to evade more of DiAngelo's men, Tommy retrieves ledgers he has compiled on corrupt cops and calls his estranged father, Thomas Gibbs Sr. (Super Fly's Julius W. Harris) to help him. The elder Gibbs and some of Tommy's men take him to the hospital, where they take the staff and patients hostage, having a doctor extract the bullet from Tommy's chest and arranging with DiAngelo for safe passage out. As he recovers, Tommy makes his father his partner in the "business," to the chagrin of his ambitious underling Zach (Cannibal Holocaust's Tony King). Seeking revenge for his shooting, Tommy has Helen's children from a previous marriage taken from her to raise as his own, and goes after his rivals with a vengeance, finally getting DiAngelo to drop all charges against him. He also reconnects with Reverend Rufus (Dolemite's D'Urville Martin), a former pimp in his employ who is now leading a crusade against his criminal activities, and becomes attracted to his disciple Sister Jennifer (The Color Purple's Margaret Avery). Three years later, Tommy's operation is thriving, he is engaged to Jennifer, and he is very close to Helen's son Jason. Unfortunately, Zach strangles Helen, who has been reduced to prostitution. DiAngelo, working with Zach to take over Tommy's territory convinces Tommy his father killed her, driving a rift between Gibbs Sr. and Jr., who moves to California with his family, leaving his father in charge of operations. While Gibbs Sr. ("Big Poppa") takes to being a mob boss with gusto, he finds himself in a confrontation with DiAngelo and Zach that leads to Tommy seeking vengeance.

Larry Cohen's Black Caesar is one of my all-time favorite blaxploitation films, and its sequel is just as excellent. Director Larry Cohen's script manages to inject the occasional bit of humor into a fairly heavy plot, like when Tommy has some Mafia guys he's holding hostage served soul food, including pork butts, collard greens, and for dessert, watermelon. There's also the amazing scene where Tommy kills one of DiAngelo's men at the beach by ramming a sharpened umbrella stick through his chest, although considering he was lying on a towel with the Confederate flag on it at the time, it's hard for me to feel bad for the guy. Fred Williamson, as ever, is the definition of cool, and wears some truly stylish outfits. Julius W. Harris does pretty well in that department as well, and his struggle to reconnect with his son is touching in a way, making his final fate all the more tragic. Gloria Hendry's Helen is not the asskicker Sydney in Black Belt Jones was, but she is a well-rounded character, torn between her feelings for Tommy and her disgust with his actions and the way he treats her, even wanting to die. DiAngelo is another of the genre's many slimy racist white politicians (art imitating life?), and Gerald Gordon does a great job conveying what a piece of shit he is. Tony King portrays the power-hungry and arrogant Zach with aplomb. The soundtrack by Edwin Starr of "War" fame for Motown is awesome, in its own way even better than James Brown's work on the first film in my opinion, and that's no small praise. And of course there's also lots of great action scenes and bloodshed, from Tommy's gunshot to his ironic punishment for DiAngelo. A must-view!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Hot Skin, Cold Cash (Barry Mahon, 1965)

Shelly's husband is in prison, and to pay his lawyer Mr. Stone to get him out, she turns to prostitution, sending her son away and spending her nights walking through Times Square looking for clients. After sleeping with Stone, she encounters a variety of Johns, including a young Japanese photographer, a hepcat whose wife wants to have an affair with a woman but gets cold feet because Shelly is being paid to do it rather than actually wanting to, a priest who only wants to talk her out of her life of sin (as he sees it), a virgin who's put up to it by his potential frat brothers, and a guy who wants her to pose as his girlfriend at an orgy.

Barry Mahon is a director of odd dichotomies. Besides sexploitation fare like this, he also did a few kid's movies, including Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, an utterly insane piece of garbage that makes Santa Claus Conquers the Martians look like A Christmas Story. His voodoo flick Blood of the Zombie is also extremely entertaining in an incompetent way. This movie has its share of odd moments, but is way more depressing than either of the two aforementioned Mahon films I've seen, which is saying something. Shelly (played by Victoria Astor, whose only other credit is Mahon's short Naked Moonshine) seems resigned to her fate, and says that men have been trying to get into her pants since she was 14. Despite this, most of her clients (with the exception of Mr. Stone and the virgin) never seem to actually have sex with her, so it's amazing she manages to make any money at all. The black and white film and minimal soundtrack only drive home how cold and harsh Shelly's world is. Despite this, it is still a Barry Mahon film, so there are a few moments that will make you go "What the fuck?" Shelly has a pet parakeet named Orpheus, which I would think was symbolic, but Shelly is trying to save her husband, not vice versa. Or it could be a cinematic in-joke, only I can't see Mahon being a Jean Cocteau fan. There's also Shelly telling the hepcat, "No ticky, no washy" (I wonder how Yoshi the photographer would've reacted to that), which causes him to tap-dance before giving her money. He also offers her a joint, which he refers to as "gin johnson," a term I've never heard, and for which Google doesn't seem to turn up many relevant results. During her conversation with the priest, we hear what sounds like a squeeze toy, but neither character remarks on it. At the orgy, Shelly's client has sex with a French girl (though both keep their undies on, as this movie is short on actual nudity), but the sound of buzzing coming from a closet leads him to discover a girl using a vibrator, who briefly comes out of the closet with another girl (more possible symbolism?). The two sniff the air and then go back in. Most of the actors had little-to-no experience, and it shows. Astor is surprisingly decent, but even better is Allen Joseph as the priest who tries to save her. Joseph had the most extensive career of anyone in the cast, and cult film fans will most likely recognize him as Henry Spencer's girlfriend's dad in Eraserhead. The cinematography by Joseph Mangine (whose other work includes The Naughty Victorians: An Erotic Tale of a Maiden's Revenge and 13 episodes of the Judy Blume adaptation Fudge) captures Times Square back in its grittier, pre-gentrification days, including a theater marquee with a title that, though partially obscured, end in "Pussy." A good movie this isn't, but it is an interesting time capsule for its time and place.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Shock (Schock; Mario Bava, 1977)

Dora Baldini (Daria Nicolodi, best known for her appearances in the films of Dario Argento, which led to an 11-year relationship that resulted in their daughter, actress and filmmaker Asia Argento, who recently has been in the news as one of the women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault), her second husband Bruno (John Steiner, who appeared with Nicolodi in Argento's Tenebre), and her young son Marco (David Colin Jr.) move into the house where Dora used to live with her first husband Carlo, a drug addict who committed suicide and Marco's father. Marco begins acting out, frequently going down into the cobwebbed cellar, tearing up a pair of his mother's underwear, and cutting his stepfather's image out of a picture of Bruno and Dora. To make matters worse, Dora, who was treated by Dr. Aldo Spidini (Man from Deep River's Ivan Rassimov) for a nervous breakdown after Carlo's death, begins noticing strange things happening in the house. Some appear to be hallucinations, while others are harder to write off. Bruno, frequently away from home in his capacity as an airline pilot, is not much help. Finally,  Dora becomes convinced Marco is under the influence of Carlo's spirit.

It's hard to think of an Italian filmmaker who made a wider range of great films than Mario Bava. From gialli (Blood and Black Lace) to Gothic horror (Black Sunday) to anthologies (Black Sabbath, from which the iconic metal band took its name) to crime thrillers (Rabid Dogs) to comic book adaptations (Danger: Diabolik, which this Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan considers the best movie they ever riffed, and therefore a poor choice for the otherwise-entertaining last episode of the show's original run). Shock was Bava's last film, three years before his death, and he was reportedly not happy with it. It probably didn't help that the American distributors changed the title to Beyond the Door II, despite being unrelated to Ovidio G. Assonitis' and Robert Barrett's 1974 tale of demonic possession apart from David Colin Jr.'s presence in both films. Such a practice was not uncommon in overseas releases of Italian cinema, as shown by the number of Spaghetti Westerns that were retitled and marketed as Django or Sartana or Trinity pictures in order to cash in on the prestige of the more successful examples of the genre. While it is true that this film is not up to the level of the ones listed above, it's still quite enjoyable. Nicolodi turns in a typically excellent performance, chewing the scenery with aplomb in the latter half of the film as she begins to unravel. Steiner plays the concerned but skeptical husband well. Colin may, like many child actors in horror films (see Bob in Lucio Fulci's The House by the Cemetery, which like this film was co-written by Dardano Sacchetti) be the victim of bad dubbing. The cinematography by Alberto Spagnoli and an uncredited Bava is very effective, managing to somehow make a Slinky going down a flight of stairs genuinely creepy. Walter Rizzati's score includes playful childlike tunes and piano and electronic bits. The cellar contains a secret that was likely inspired by Poe's "The Black Cat." Bava had no reason to be ashamed of this more than respectable capper to a brilliant career.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Cave of the Living Dead (Der Fluch der grünen Augen; Akos von Ratony, 1964)

Inspector Frank Dorin (Fassbinder regular Adrian Hoven) is sent by boat(!) to a small village to investigate the mysterious deaths of six young women, all of which happened near a grotto and were accompanied by brief blackouts. Although the manager of the inn where Dorin is staying insists that a vampire is responsible, the Inspector is understandably skeptical, even after the hotel's maid soon becomes the seventh victim, and has two puncture marks on her neck. Even the shifty local doctor (Rififi's Carl Möhner) attributes the deaths to heart failure, although the scraggly-haired, black-toothed witch Nanny insists that the undead are indeed responsible. Dorin is invited by blood specialist Professor von Adelsberg (Wolfgang Preiss, Rudolf Klein-Rogge's successor as Dr. Mabuse) to stay at his castle, which is also inhabited by his beautiful secretary Karin Schumann (Karin Fields from Jess Franco's The Demons) and his black manservant John (John Kitzmiller, Quarrel in Dr. No). Eventually, Dorin is forced to accept the existence of the supernatural and end the vampire's threat once and for all.

This West German/Yugoslavian co-production (also known as Night of the Vampires and The Curse of the Green Eyes) is worth a look, though hardly a masterpiece. Director Ákos Ráthonyi (credited as Akos von Ratony) makes the film genuinely atmospheric and creepy, helped greatly by Hrvoje Saric's cinematography. Hoven is surprisingly laid-back for a Police Inspector, while Preiss is every bit as sinister as he was as Mabuse (even if the film gives away his secret before it needs to). Fields isn't given a lot to work with, although she does provide some welcome sex appeal, at one point changing (shot from behind and with her panties still on) into a more revealing nightgown than one would expect for the era. Kitzmiller is referred to as "colored" twice, and a "Negro" once, but given the aforementioned time period I suppose I should cut the film a little slack. Herbert Jarczyk's music is excellent, with jazzy themes at the beginning and end but eerier material in between. This will never make anyone's top 10 vampire movie list, but I dug it.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Jade Mask (Phil Rosen, 1945)

Charlie Chan (the mostly-Scottish Sidney Toler), working for the Secret Service in Washington, is staying at a hotel in another town with his bookworm Number Four Son Eddie (Edwin Luke, brother of Keye "Number One Son" Luke) and easily frightened chauffeur Birmingham Brown (Spider Baby's Mantan Moreland) when he's called to investigate the murder of Harper (Frank Reicher, Captain Englehorn in King Kong and Son of Kong), a scientist working on a gas that can make wood as hard and durable as metal, which the government feels will be very useful in the current war. Everyone in Harper's house hated him, from the butler to his assistant to his own sister and niece, so everyone is a suspect. It's up to Charlie to solve the case and find the formula, despite Eddie and Birmingham's bumbling and more bodies turning up.

Charlie Chan is often regarded as a racial stereotype, and considering that he's usually played by a white man speaking broken English, it's not hard to see why. However, in this film he's shown in a pretty respectful manner despite the verbal mannerisms and yellowface. I will say Toler is slightly more convincing as an Asian than Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto or Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong, but only slightly. Unfortunately, white actors being cast as Asians is a problem that has still yet to go away entirely, as shown by the recent Ghost in the Shell controversy. Eddie's a comic relief character, but there's no racial connotation to his buffoonery. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Mantan Moreland as Birmingham, who is a one-note character, and that note is "scared." His performance is a lot more wince-inducing than either Toler's or Luke's. The ending in particular is pretty undignified where he's concerned. Other than that, the film is a decent enough mystery, with Charlie working for the U.S. government during World War II, taking time away from his usual police work. There are some interesting elements to the plot, such as the life masks Harper has hung about his mansion of the people living in it in case he ever needs to identify them to the police. Also, a female helper of Harper's is a former strongwoman who helps him in experiments involving ventriloquist dummies that somehow will lead to the creation of a new kind of toy robot for children! These bits add a nice touch of oddity to what's otherwise a fairly standard whodunnit.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Yankee (Tinto Brass, 1966)

A bounty hunter identified only as "Yankee" (Philippe Leroy from Jean-Luc Godard's A Married Woman) rides into a New Mexico town ruled by a bandit called Grand Cougar (Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man's Adolfo Celi, sporting dyed black hair and a mustache, as well as a whip). He decides to collect the bounties for the Cougar's gang, which has members with names like Gold Teeth, Tattoo, Painter (who wears a paint-stained smock), Philosopher, and Portuguese. Yankee kidnaps the Cougar's fortune-telling girlfriend Rosita (Mirella Martin in her only film role) in order to lure him into a trap.

Holy shit, has it really taken me this long to review a Spaghetti Western here? You can probably tell I'm a fan from the fact that I've seen a whopping 129 of them, counting this one. That's more than double the amount of American ones I've seen. The Spaghettis have a unique style all their own that make them entertaining to me. This one is not great, but very interesting for a number of reasons. It was directed by Tinto Brass, who later directed a number of erotic films, including the prostitution-in-Nazi Germany tale Salon Kitty and the Penthouse-produced Caligula (before he got fired). Not a director I would've thought of doing a Western, and perhaps as a result of being out of his element there are several peculiar elements of the movie. It begins with an outlaw, who we later learn is a member of Grand Cougar's gang, riding into a saloon on his horse to rob it, where our hero, who is getting a shave right there, shoots him and collects his stolen gold. Yankee is the only Spaghetti Western hero I've ever seen clad in pinstripes. The town's barber is also its undertaker, and he has a coffin in the barbershop. For no apparent reason, Grand Cougar's lair has a rooster in it. During a scene where Yankee is being held prisoner by Cougar and his men, the film is tinted red in a couple different frames. Tattoo, who has a face drawn on his stomach, puts a cigarette in his navel, and smoke comes out of his mouth. It's not as weird as Giulio Questi's Django, Kill...If You Live, Shoot! or Cesare Canevari's Matalo!, but definitely one of the odder films I've seen in the genre. Leroy isn't particularly intense, nor does he look the part, but nevertheless he does well with the material. He did go on to do two more Spaghettis, Panhandle 38 (which I have not seen) and A Man Called Blade (which I have). Celi clearly had fun with the role, chewing lots of scenery. It's also interesting to note that two scenes in this film may have influenced later, superior westerns. Grand Cougar's men burning a scorpion in a ring of fire anticipates Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. Another scene where the bad guys try to obtain Yankee's whereabouts from one of the townsfolk, who has his wife standing on his shoulders with a noose around her neck, calls to mind Once Upon a Time in the West, in this reviewer's opinion Leone's finest hour. This will never be one of my favorites of the genre, but it has a lot of noteworthy elements that make it well worth your time. The music by Nino Rossi is nicely understated, including a cool whistling theme that Leroy himself takes up at a few points. So do what I did and head to Amazon Prime (they have a ton of great movies for Streaming, including tons of Spaghettis) and check it out.

Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film (Calum Waddell, 2015)

An in-depth documentary on the Italian cannibal films of the '70s and '80s, covering such films as The Man from Deep River, Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Apocalypse, Cannibal Ferox, Mountain of the Cannibal God, and Eaten Alive, with input from several directors (Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man's Ruggero Deodato), stars (Me Me Lai, Robert Kerman, Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and film scholars (including Kim Newman, who incidentally is also one of my favorite fiction authors).

As stated in my review of Live Like a Cop..., I love Italian cinema. Next to Spaghetti Westerns (one of which will be the subject of my next review), I love their horror films most. From the Gothic supernatural tales like Mario Bava's Black Sunday to gialli such as Dario Argento's Deep Red, no country does horror like Italy. Some of their films have brutality and gore that put American films of the same era to shame. This is especially true of the cannibal films, most though not all of which featured white Americans and/or Europeans traveling to a foreign country (South American locales, the Philippines, etc.) for reasons of their own, and falling prey to savage cannibal tribes. Often, the "civilized" whites were shown to be just as sadistic and bloodthirsty, if not moreso, then the "savages" they encountered. This is especially true of Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust, one of the first "found footage" movies (the documentary mentions its influence on later films of that type, such as The Blair Witch Project and REC). Thus, there was a little more, in terms of social commentary, to some of these films besides blood, guts, and nudity. Of course, that was always the main focus. This documentary thoroughly covers the history of these films, and does it with stupendous passion. Director Calum Waddell (who also co-wrote and -produced the equally excellent documentary American Grindhouse) brings together many of the subgenre's leading filmmakers and actors to talk about their experiences. From Lenzi and Deodato each claiming to have invented Italian cannibal cinema, to the Jewish Kerman's having to find a solution when the script for Cannibal Holocaust had him eating a pig's liver, to Radice's not-always-positive feelings about Cannibal Apocalypse and Cannibal Ferox, there is a lot of fascinating material here. And of course, there is discussion of the music, as well as the (usually non-simulated) animal slaughter seen in many of the films. As previously stated, the influence of the films on latter-day cinema is covered, also including Eli Roth's own cannibal film, The Green Inferno, which he dedicated to Deodato. If I feel anything should've been mentioned that wasn't, it would be two things: 1) Mountain of the Cannibal God has a scene with a native doing something rather nasty to a pig, which thankfully was simulated, in this case. 2) The name of Radice's character in Cannibal Apocalypse? Charlie Bukowski!!! Other than these two minor omissions, this is another of many great exploitation cinema documentaries seen in recent years, and absolutely a must-see for fans.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)

Police and reporters gather at a Sunset Boulevard mansion, where a dead man is floating in a pool. The deceased Joe Gillis (The Wild Bunch's William Holden) narrates the story of the circumstances leading up to his death. Gillis, a struggling screenwriter, has to trick the creditors who seek to repossess his car by parking it in a lot behind a shoeshine stand. Going to Paramount Pictures, he tries to pitch a script to a producer, but he is unwilling to take it, and reader Betty Schaefer (The Absent-Minded Professor's Nancy Olson) criticizes it. Seeing the repo men are watching him, Joe drives into the garage of a mansion he thinks is deserted. A mature woman calls out to him, asking him to come in. The taciturn butler, Max (Erich von Stroheim), lets him in, saying something about a coffin. Joe discovers the woman thinks he is there to perform the burial for her dead chimpanzee, and recognizes her as silent film actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), whose career ended with the advent of sound in cinema. Finding that Joe is actually a writer, she asks him to take a look at her script for Salome, her comeback picture, though she detests that term. Although the script is horrible, Joe merely tells her it needs a little work. Norma hires him to help her punch it up, and convinces him to stay the night in. Waking up the following morning, Joe is furious to discover Max has moved all his things from his apartment to the mansion. Although Norma says she still gets fan letters constantly, Joe discovers Max himself is writing them to comfort her, and that Norma has suffered from depression and attempted suicide in the past. Norma is besotted with Joe, and buys him the finest things money can buy. At a New Year's Eve Party for just the two of them, Norma reveals her feelings to Joe, but he rejects her and leaves, heading for a party held by his friend assistant director Artie Green (Dragnet's Jack Webb), where he runs into Betty Schaefer, who turns out to be Artie's new girlfriend. Betty has read another of Joe's scripts, and thinks one scene in particular has potential. The two seem to become strongly attracted to one another, but Joe receives a call from Max, informing him that Norma has attempted to slit her own wrists, and feels he has no choice but to return.

It's hard for me to say anything about Sunset Boulevard that hasn't been said a million times before. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, and won for three: Screenplay, Art Direction, and Music, though amazingly Swanson lost Best Actress to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, which also featured Holden. Swanson's performance, though, is incredible, both pathetic and not a little horrifying at the same time. Many of her mannerisms scream "silent film character," and the famous ending and the immortal last line show perfectly how reality and film blur for Norma Desmond. Holden as screenwriter-turned-gigolo Joe Gillis is superb, and he exudes the same cynical air he would bring to later films such as Network. von Stroheim, who directed Swanson in Queen Kelly (a clip from which is shown as one of Norma's old films), is perfect as Max von Mayerling, Norma's enabling butler who turns out to have had a much closer connection to her once upon a time. Nancy Olson's chemistry with Holden is excellent, and one can't help but feel for her when she finds out the truth about Joe's relationship with Norma. It's also amusing to see dead-serious Joe Friday Jack Webb playing a wisecracker for a change. The film also features a number of Hollywood icons of yesteryear playing themselves, such as Cecil B. DeMille and Buster Keaton. I also have to note that Bert Moorhouse's character, Gordon Cole, was the namesake of David Lynch's character on Twin Peaks. I've heard vague rumors one of those Wold Newton guys proposed Moorhouse's Gordon Cole was the father of Lynch's, but I can't verify that. The script by director Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett (who also co-wrote The Lost Weekend) is as great a piece of film noir as Wilder's Double Indemnity, while also showing the darker side of stardom. Not every movie considered a classic is one I would consider as such myself, but this most definitely is one I would.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Nosferatu the Vampyre (Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht; Werner Herzog, 1979)

Jonathan Harker (Wings of Desire's Bruno Ganz) is a real estate agent sent by his giggling, unstable boss Mr. Renfield (Roland Topor, who created the "Panic Movement" along with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fernando Arrabal) to Transylvania to sell a piece of real estate to Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski, who played Renfield himself in Jesús Franco's Count Dracula). After meeting native Transylvanians and Romani ("gypsies") who seem fearful of the Count, Harker finds himself at Dracula's castle, where he soon realizes the bizarre-looking and even stranger-behaving count is a vampire. Eventually escaping, he makes his way back to Wismar (where Renfield, who babbles about the coming of "the Master," is now locked up in an asylum), soon followed by a boat arriving, with the dead captain lashed to the wheel and the rest of the crew missing, carrying the Count and rats who spread the Black Death. Realizing what has happened, Harker's wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani, who was in Roman Polanski's film adaptation of Topor's novel The Tenant) seeks to destroy the Count and save her husband, despite the disbelief of Dr. Van Helsing (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser's Walter Ladengast).

Contrary to popular belief, not all remakes are garbage. This view is mainly the result of the glut of crappy ones in recent years, but there are lots of exceptions. I would argue that Brian De Palma's Scarface is superior to Howard Hawks' original, although the original has more than its share of strengths. On the other hand, I will never understand how people can prefer Frank Oz's putrid version of Little Shop of Horrors to Roger Corman's edgy original, which had the balls to have Seymour actually kill the people he fed to Audrey Jr. himself, as well as being free of the eye-rolling musical numbers and bullshit test audience-inspired happy ending. There are also instances of remakes of great movies that are excellent in their own right: Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (itself based on Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest), comes to mind. Nosferatu the Vampyre is another great example, coming close to (but not equaling or exceeding) the brilliance of F. W. Murnau's original silent film from 1922, adapted from Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Herzog and Kinski collaborated on many films, and brought out the best in each other creatively, despite their oft-tempestuous professional relationship. Herzog's script largely adapts the original film faithfully, but has a unique eerie style all its own, while also restoring the names of the characters in Stoker's novel, rather than the original names Murnau gave them, although even then there is an exception in that Lucy is the name of Jonathan's wife, and Mina her best friend's, rather than the opposite. Kinski's performance and makeup masterfully evoke Max Schreck's performance in the original while making Count Dracula (Graf Orlok in Murnau's film) somewhat more sympathetic, though thankfully with none of the glamorization of vampires found in the execrable Twilight Saga. The man is, and will always be, one of my favorite actors, especially for his performances in not only Herzog's films, but many of his appearances in Spaghetti Westerns, particularly Sergio Corbucci's brilliant and bleak The Great Silence. Ganz portrays the traumatized Harker with his usual skill, and the ever-beautiful Adjani manages to evoke silent film-style acting in her speaking role. Topor, who Herzog cast after seeing him interviewed on French TV and being impressed with the laugh with which he followed every question answered, portrays Renfield's mental breakdown very convincingly. Popol Vuh, who provided music for several of Herzog's other films, does wonderfully atmospheric work, and Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein's cinematography and Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus' editing are award-worthy. A noteworthy scene not in the original film, which I nevertheless loved, is Lucy coming across a group of people in fancy dress, dying from the plague, gathered for one final banquet and dance. The altered ending is very interesting as well, being even more downbeat than the bittersweet conclusion of Murnau's take. If you loved the original Nosferatu, then this is a must-view.

For Y'ur Height Only (Eddie Nicart, 1981)

When the mysterious Mr. Giant's men kidnap the scientist Dr. von Kohler in order to hold the world hostage with his N-Bomb, it's up to the diminutive Weng, aka Agent 00 of "the Secret Agency," (Weng Weng), to save the day, armed with gadgets such as a ring that changes colors when it detects poison, an Oddjob-style razor-brimmed hat, and x-ray specs (which our pervy little hero uses initially on his boss' secretaries, though they're seated behind concealing desks). Helping him along the way is Irma, a fellow agent undercover as a gang moll.

The Philippines were no stranger to exploitation cinema, as those who have seen the documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed know. From Pam Grier's women-in-prison flix to the Blood Island series, the Filipinos produced a lot of great trash cinema. For Y'ur Height Only (and yes, that is an apostrophe in place of the "o" in "Your") is no exception; it knows it's ridiculous, and revels in it. The 2'9" Weng Weng (born Ernesto de la Cruz), listed in the Guinness World Records as the shortest adult actor in a leading role, is impossible to take seriously as an action hero, and yet 00 kills dozens of bad guys, has a swordfight, and sweeps every woman he meets off their feet. At one point, he uses a woman's umbrella to leap out the top floor of a skyscraper. My umbrellas get turned inside-out by a particularly strong wind, but Weng lands without any damage to his brolly. Unsurprisingly, the voices of many of the dubbed characters are ridiculous, including a Filipino gold broker with a posh British accent. Earth, Wind, & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland" is played in a disco, and I'm sure the filmmakers did not even bother asking for permission to use it. This is an utterly mind-boggling piece of cinema, and now I must see the sequel, The Impossible Kid!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fox Style (Clyde Houston, 1973)

Black Arthur J. "A. J." Fox (Black Gunn's Chuck Daniel) and his white partner and childhood friend Pat Wolf (Newell Alexander in his screen debut, before going on to work predominantly in TV guest spots) are running a struggling oil company that finally strikes crude. Years later, A. J. and Pat's company has expanded greatly, and A. J. also runs both a successful nightclub and a magazine. When A. J. chases coke dealer Snuffy (Across 110th Street's Arnold Williams) out of the club, he tries unsuccessfully to set the place on fire. Soon after, A. J. receives a phone call from his mother Hattie (The Mack's Juanita Moore). Hattie wants A. J. to come back to his hometown of Seminole City, Florida to prevent the town's overalls factory, the inhabitants' only source of income, from being bought and torn down by banker T. H. Neely (The Giant Gila Monster's Howard P. Ware). At his Mama's home, A. J. meets his family members, college graduate Cindy McDougal (Lady Sings the Blues' Denise Denise), and freeloading preacher Reverend Rambo (Hank Rolike, Apollo Creed's cornerman in the first two Rockys). Asked by A. J. why she dislikes Pat, who she raised after his birth mother's death, Hattie says he taught her real son to drink and whore and be "more white." Touring the factory, which to put it mildly has seen better days, A. J. concludes Neely wants it for the adjacent swamp. Hattie accuses A. J. of not thinking of the people who will lose their jobs if the factory gets shut down. Although the townsfolk led by A. J.'s Uncle Henry (Theodore Mitchell), have gathered together money in an attempt to win the auction for the land, A. J. realizes they don't have enough, and puts up his own money, winning the auction. Exploring the swamp, A. J. and Cindy discover what appears to be natural gas, but Pat reveals it is merely worthless swamp gas. A. J. sells the land back to Neely without telling him about the gas' true nature. Soon after, he returns to New York, where club employee Pickett (stuntman Rich Washington) is murdered by Snuffy, whom A. J. helps bring to justice. Afterwards, A. J. frequently calls home to help with the factory's first ladies' fashion show, to the chagrin of his girlfriend Bonnie Blair (Jovita Bush, who also played a character named Bonnie in the same year's The Cheerleaders). Later, A. J. returns to Seminole City for the factory's ladies' fashion show, with Cindy, Bonnie, and a hostess from the club as models. The money-seeking Reverend Rambo conspires with a jealous Cindy to attempt to ruin the factory.

Speaking as a 30-year-old middle class white boy, I love the blaxploitation genre. The action, the fashions, the music; it all has tremendous appeal for me. And I've seen many different examples of the genre, from the great (Super Fly, Coffy) to the good (I don't think Shaft is quite as strong as its reputation would suggest) to the downright garbage (Blackenstein, The Guy from Harlem). Fox Style (later reissued under the misleading title Fox Style Killer) is firmly in the second category. Clyde Houston does surprisingly well with his one and only directorial and co-screenwriting effort, though he was also an assistant director and production manager on what some have called the first blaxploitation film, Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, as well as a production assistant on The Delinquents star Tom Laughlin's most famous film, Billy Jack. That being said, the film is more of a drama than many of the more dynamic films of the genre, although A. J. tracking down Snuffy is a noteworthy exception. However, it does that drama very well, showing how in his success A. J. has lost touch with his roots and his racial identity. It's disappointing this was Daniel's only turn as a leading man, because he does well with the role. Moore is excellent, playing a disappointed mother as she did in The Mack. Rolike plays the role of a seedy preacher with fitting bombast. Alexander is good but underused as Pat, while Denise serves well as the scorned love interest. The only truly weak actor in the bunch is Bush, whose emotive ability is virtually nil, perhaps explaining why she only appeared in a total of four films. I have to mention, because it's kind of hilarious, the fact that cinematographer William Roper's only other credit is doing lighting for Benji!  The music by Don Zimmers is quite good and very much of the genre, and of course there's a title theme, sung by the original Hairspray's Barbara Lynn Ozen. Ironically, the film begins with a country song played nearly in its entirety on a car radio, a far cry from the funkier music that follows. Those expecting cinema a la Fred Williamson or Pam Grier's genre entries may be disappointed, but those like myself who believe a movie's story is just as important as all the visuals will find a lot to like.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mondo Topless (Russ Meyer, 1966)

A bombastic and alliteration-loving narrator (All the President's Men's John Furlong) describes San Francisco, "the birthplace of the topless dance," before introducing us to a number of busty dancers with unclothed upper torsos, including "bouncy" Babette Bardot (allegedly half-French and half-Swedish), "buxotic" Darlene Grey, "rambunctious" Pat Barringer, "yummy" Diane Young, "luscious" Sin Lenee, "delicious" Darla Paris, and "exciting" Donna 'X', who shake their money-makers while listening to transistor radios and talk about themselves and their occupation in voiceover. Padding out the film is stock footage from Meyer's 1963 film Europe in the Raw, featuring the stage shows of Belgium's Veronique Gabriel, Berlin's Abundavita (wearing a mask with two feathers sticking up from either side, while Berlin is described as half under "cruel" Communist control); France's Denice Duval (who does a "muff dance" that apparently involves two kinds of muffs, though the more salacious one is not shown), Gigi La Touche ("the girl with the throbbing guitar," though she's clearly not actually playing her sparkled instrument at a few points), and Yvette Le Grand (who has a cowgirl outfit and uses a hobby horse and a tripod-mounted ball in her act); and Denmark's Greta Thorwald (alarmingly described as a "blonde Aryan beauty") as well as an appearance by Lorna Maitland, the star of Meyer's film Lorna, in this reviewer's opinion not one of his strongest films.

Most of Russ Meyer's films, from the immortal Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! to the Roger Ebert-scripted Beyond the Valley of the Dolls bear two things in common: gorgeous and sex-crazed women with spectacular breasts, and sex-starved and not overly bright men. Well, there's not much in the way of male presence in this movie, but plenty of pneumatic topless women for those who can't  get enough of same. It's almost enough to make up for the fact that the ladies' description of their life and career isn't particularly deep, although some of it is interesting, including one describing how she was rejected as a Playboy playmate because her breasts were deemed too large, another saying that drunken (male?) customers sometimes start undressing and dancing themselves, and still another saying she's got three kids!!! Bardot (who claimed to be distantly related to Brigitte and to have once modeled for Picasso!) gets most of the screen time, despite having a very tenuous grasp of the English language. Although, even the girls who speak it fluently don't deliver their own lines very convincingly. Meyer is quoted in Jimmy McDonough's superb biography Big Bosoms and Square Jaws as once saying, "A good actress! I'd rather have a big-chested stiff who can barely pronouncer her own name." That said, I'm sure the guys (and maybe even a few gals) who saw this film in the '60s weren't really concerned about that, and it more than accomplishes what it set out to do.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Delinquents (Robert Altman, 1957)

Scotty White (future Billy Jack Tom Laughlin), a good-natured 18-year-old soon headed to college , is distraught after his 16-year-old girlfriend Janice Wilson's (Rosemary Howard) parents forbid him to see her, saying they're too young to go steady. Heading to the drive-in, he sulks in his car while Bill Cholly (Forbidden Planet's Peter Miller) and his gang of hoodlums let the air out of one of the tires of another gang that recently crossed them. The rival gang falsely assumes Scotty is responsible and accosts him, but Cholly and his buddies come to his rescue, and they drive off together. When Scotty tells his new friends about what happened with Janice, Cholly suggests a plan where he makes Janice's parents think she's going on a date with him (wearing a suit and lying about having a nice job in order to make him look palatable to the Wilsons), and then brings her to Scotty. The young couple join the gang at a party at an old abandoned house, where Cholly's right-hand-goon Eddy (Dick Bakalyan, who played a number of JDs early in his career, and later did pictures such as Von Ryan's Express and Chinatown) gets Scotty to drink some gin and gets more than a little untoward while dancing with Janice, causing them to leave. When the cops show up soon afterward to take everyone into custody, Cholly and Eddy become convinced Scotty tipped them off.

Besides an early turn by Laughlin, this film is also notable as the first feature-length film written, directed, and produced by Robert Altman, who would go on to such immortal films as Nashville (by the way, in my personal Wold Newton Universe, Karen Black's singer Connie White is Scotty White's first cousin) and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Prior to this, Altman had mostly done short documentaries, and while it doesn't quite have the tone of his more famous work (e.g., naturalistic dialogue and characters talking over each other), his talent is still quite evident. Laughlin is surprisingly convincing, considering he's playing a character eight years younger than he himself was at the time, and Miller and especially Bakalyan are great at playing slimy punks, though the rest of the gang aren't nearly as memorable. Howard is passable but hardly a standout in her one and only acting gig, though she did some modeling in the '60s and '70s. Altman's script thankfully doesn't do much proselytizing, although United Artists tacked on some narration at the beginning and end blaming the negligence of society in general and parents in particular for the rise of juvenile delinquency, and suggesting the church and youth groups among others as alternatives. Altman was not pleased about that, understandably. It's also interesting to note that Altman's daughter Christine plays Scotty's little sister Sissy, her only film work apart from Ron Mann's documentary Altman. The Delinquents is well worth watching to see a future auteur's beginnings.

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (Ruggero Deodato, 1976)

Dark-haired Alfredo (Don't Torture a Duckling's Marc Porel) and blond Antonio (Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot!'s Ray Lovelock, who sadly passed away on Friday) are mellow Special Force cops who manage to get results despite their incredibly reckless methods of bringing down crooks, to the chagrin of their captain (Danger: Diabolik's Adolfo Celi). Besides muggers and hostage takers, they attempt to bring down ruthless gambling club owner Roberto "Bibi" Pasquini (Rocco and His Brothers' Renato Salvatori), who has the Superintendent of police in his pocket.

Italy is one of my favorite countries in term of cinema, and they are just as adept at the crime genre as horror and Westerns. This is a film that could only have been made by Ruggero Deodato, the man behind the unbelievably brutal but thought-provoking Cannibal Holocaust. Just as Robert Kerman's character in that film wondered who the real cannibals were, Live Like a Cop... will leave you wondering who the real psycho criminals are. Alfredo and Antonio get into a high-speed bike chase through the streets of Rome (something Deodato did not get a permit for, which was more common than you might think for exploitation films of that era), talk dirty to the Captain's secretary (who reciprocates, calling men "phallocrats"), set a bunch of cars and two tied-up thugs on fire, apparently have sex with their cleaning woman's niece (did I mention they share an apartment?), and torture two of Pasquini's men by giving their genitals a good hard squeeze. Alfredo also shoots one of Pasquini's men in the mouth, and before that he slaps the gangster's sexy sister Lina (Flavia Fabiani), after which he and then Antonio have (consensual) sex with her. I have often thought that television cops get away with shit real cops would be at least suspended for, but our two heroes-by-default take the cake. Luckily, Porel and Lovelock are good enough actors that they manage to make their characters somehow likable despite making Dirty Harry look like Joe Friday. Of course, as with Cannibal Holocaust, Deodato manages to get in a lot of gore. Besides our leads' methods, the chopper-riding muggers' victim gets her head bashed against a lamppost, a blind man's seeing-eye dog gets run over in the subsequent chase (not sure if they really killed the dog, like the genuine animal slaughter in Holocaust), and Pasquini puts out the eye of a gambler who owes him a substantial debt, though surprisingly the latter is not shown in much detail. And of course lots of people get shot. Plus, the ending is literally explosive, if somewhat out of left field. The screenplay by Fernando di Leo (himself an adept writer of Italian crime films) is entertaining, and the music by Ubaldo Continiello (Deodato's Last Cannibal World) is quite competent, even if he's not on the level of the great Riz Ortolani of Cannibal Holocaust fame, and Lovelock himself delivers two cool folk songs. Lovers of trash cinema all'Italiana cannot miss this one!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

International Crime (Charles Lamont, 1938)

Lamont Cranston (the magnificently-named Rod La Rocque) is an amateur criminologist also known as the Shadow who hosts a nightly true crime radio broadcast for the Daily Classic newspaper. Tipped off to a possible crime by his assistant, the somewhat scatterbrained Phoebe Lane (Astrid Allwyn), Cranston rushes to the scene, but it turns out to be a false alarm. However, a very real crime occurs across a town, involving a financier who is killed in the midst of a robbery. The police, in the form of Commissioner Weston, suspect ex-safecracker Honest John of the crime, but Cranston thinks otherwise, and with the help of Phoebe, Moe the cabbie, and Classic reporter Burke, he identifies the true culprits as a pair of European ne'er-do-wells.

As you can probably guess from the synopsis, this film, a sequel to The Shadow Strikes, doesn't have much to do with Walter Gibson's pulp novels. La Rocque's Cranston doesn't have a slouch hat, twin .45, Inverness cloak, girasol ring, or hawklike features, and is a pretty nondescript-looking fellow with a thin mustache. Neither does he possess an eerie laugh or any of the other abilities his prose counterpart possesses. So as a fan of the pulps in general and the Shadow in particular, you can imagine how disappointing to me it is in that regard. I do have to give the movie some small props though, as unlike The Shadow Strikes it does try to adapt some of the familiar characters. Commissioner Weston, Burke, and Moe are all from the pulps, although I don't recall the pulp Moe Shrevnitz ever being described as having a thick Yiddish accent. Phoebe Lane is of course derived from the radio show's Margo Lane, who was not incorporated into the pulps until 1941, a move that proved controversial with readers. Phoebe is not nearly as capable as Margo, and provides much of the film's comic relief, none of which is funny. The message of nearly every line she speaks seems to be "Ha-ha, look at this dizzy dame trying to be a detective!" (Excuse the alliteration.) Needless to say, this is a little unfortunate to modern viewers, as is a scene where Burke gets a shoeshine from an African-American man who behaves somewhat stereotypically, and repeatedly calls Burke "Boss"; Burke, in turn, calls him "Boy," though I'm sure the poor guy is in at least his twenties. In an otherwise good movie, I might have been willing to look past the sexist and racist elements, but here it's just cringeworthy in a film that already is a letdown. If you're a Shadow completist then by all means check this film out on Youtube, but otherwise don't bother.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Four Dimensions of Greta (Pete Walker, 1972)

Wow, has it really been three years since my last post? Anyway, your ole cineaste buddy Sean has decided to revive this blog for the purpose of posting film reviews. Since my tastes run from arthouse cinema to exploitation flix, you should be seeing a wide variety of films covered here. Tonight's film definitely fits into the latter category.

Pete Walker is a director I've heard about for years, but never got around to watching. Most of his output, from the years 1959-1983, consisted of sexploitation and/or horror. You can probably guess from the poster which one this is. Hans Weimer (Australian Tristan Rogers, better known to soap opera fans such as myself for later playing Robert Scorpio on General Hospital, doing a not overly convincing German accent) is a reporter for Der Stein assigned by his boss (and fiancee's father) Herr Schickler to travel to London to do a story about au pairs. Schickler's friends the Grubers ask Hans to also find out about the whereabouts of their daughter Greta (Leena Skoog, who was actually Swedish), a student who went to England to study grass(!!!). Arriving in the U.K., Hans meets Greta's former employer Mrs. Marks, who says she quit after a week. Mrs. Marks tries to hit on him, but he wants none of the "middle-aged English sow." Hans contacts an old girlfriend, Sue, who is now "practically married," (although, as she pointedly tells Hans, "I've never been a very practical person,") to help him. They head to a club where they find Serena and Kirsten, who used to share a flat with Greta, who forced them to give her all their money. When they were attacked by some "sex-crazed hippies" they found Greta in bed with, they threw her out. At Serena's recommendation, Hans goes to a strip club ("They get naked and they move. They don't wear G-strings," hawker Big Danny repeatedly declares outside), where the huge-afroed Cyn (or "the original Cyn," as she calls herself) tells him Greta worked there until a police raid, and that the money man behind the club, gangster Carl Roberts had the hots for her. With the help of Greta's pro footballer boyfriend Roger Maitland (Robin Askwith from the Confessions of a... film series, sporting truly impressive muttonchops), Hans and Sue finally unravel the whole story.

Four Dimensions of Greta was the first British feature film to use 3-D, in the flashbacks filling us in on what Greta's been up to in London. Most of this involves sex or general nudity, although we do see Greta holding a banana up to the camera (nudge nudge wink wink) twice, and Roger brandishing a broken bottle after catching Greta in the act with Roberts. Despite that, the sex scenes aren't all that eye-popping, even though pretty much all the women who doff their knickers are well-endowed, to be sure. The characters are mostly cookie-cutter, and the attempts at humor (such as a slow-motion romantic scene between Hans and Sue that ends in Hans hitting a waiter in the face with a pastry) tend to fall flat. That being said, I always enjoy seeing Swinging London on screen, and I dug the theme song by "Huckleberry Fynn"(!!!) asking if Greta is "angel or devil." There's also a lot of memorable dialogue, much of which is quoted above. In the film's most self-aware moment, Hans declares near the end, "This is starting to become like a bad British sex comedy!" Indeed. But still very much worth a look for fans of the genre.

For those who use Amazon Prime, you can click here to watch it (complete with 3-D, though you'll need to supply your own glasses), but if you're undecided feel free to check out the trailer first. Word of warning though, it is definitely NSFW.