Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Succubus (Necronomicon - Geträumte Sünden; Jesús Franco, 1968)

Lorna Green (Janine Reynaud, costar of Franco's Two Undercover Angels) is the star of  an S&M-themed nightclub act. Her boss Bill (Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman’s Jack Taylor) is also her lover. Through the machinations of a mystery man (Michel Lemoine, Reynaud's husband at the time), Lorna, who has amnesia, begins experiencing dreams involving her killing people that come true. The first of her victims is Admiral Kapp (Franco regular Howard Vernon, or "Varnon" as the credits spell his name), who she stabs through the eye with a knitting needle.

I'm back! After three months of inactivity, something finally spurred me to revive this blog. I was doing a Google search for Andy Milligan's film Blood, and I was delighted to discover my review of same was the seventh result on the first page. Reasoning that would cause people looking for info about the film to check my review out, and from there perhaps my other critiques, I decided it was high time to get back to work.

This is the second Jess Franco movie I've reviewed here, the first being The Blood of Fu Manchu, but overall it's the seventeenth I've seen. Jess' work is a very mixed bag, but when he's good, he's really good. This film is really good Jess Franco. All his trademarks are here: nightclub scenes, zoom lens, and the awful Dr. Orloff himself, Howard Vernon. Of course, there's also some bare flesh on display, particularly from Reynaud, although Roger Ebert inexplicably called ugly in his review of Umberto Lenzi's Orgasmo according to Wikipedia. The film has a strong supernatural flavor, with Lemoine's character strongly implied to be the Devil himself.

The provenance of the film's original German title is somewhat curious. Franco claimed he came up with it when he saw a book entitled Necronomicon in writer Pier A. Caminnecci's home. Since the Necronomicon was originally the name of a cursed tome in H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, one wonders what Necronomicon this could be. The forgery by "Simon" would not be released until 1977, with George Hay's version following a year later. Methinks Jess might've been pulling our leg.

This has to be one of Franco's more surreal films. Among other weirdness, we see an LSD party held by a psychiatrist, played by Cave of the Living Dead's Adrian Hoven which boasts a little person butler who, along with the other guests, imitates a dog and then tries to gang-bang Lorna as Hoven (who was also a producer) reads from a book. Admiral Kapp, who is served by two men clad in bow ties, collars, and nothing else, plays a meandering game of word association ("Candy?" "Sperms.") with Lorna before she stabs him in the eye. Lorna has a collection of mannequins in historical gowns who seem to come to life when she kills a blonde post-coitus. It's appropriate that both Godard and Buñuel are name-dropped, two filmmakers who were no stranger to putting the bizarre on film.

Those two worthies are not the only pop culture references in the film. Camus' The Plague, Kafka's The Castle, Madame Butterfly, Doctor Zhivago, the Rolling Stones, Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, and others are mentioned. Such nods can be insufferable under the wrong hands, but they fit the tone of Franco's film rather well.

Succubus is without a doubt one of Franco's most unique films, and has already become one of my favorites of the many I've seen, which are nonetheless not even a tenth of his massive output. This is more The Awful Dr. Orloff than Female Vampire, a director who was capable of great highs and great lows showing what he could accomplish when he tried hard enough. Shudder subscribers can check it out there. Essential viewing for Francophiles!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (Nora-neko rokku: Onna banchô; Yasuhara Hasebe, 1970)

Biker chick Ako (Japanese-Korean pop star Akiko Wada) gets involved in a fight between a teenage girl gang led by Mei (Lady Snowblood's Meiko Kaji) and the debs of the male Seiyu Gang. Ako is welcomed by Mei's gang as one of their own. Mei's boyfriend, Michio Yagami (The Streetfighter's Last Revenge's Kôji Wada, no relation to Akiko) seeks to join the Seiyus, to Mei's chagrin. To earn membership, the Seiyus order Michio to persuade his friend Kelly Fujiyama (Ken Sanders), a half-Japanese, half-black boxer, to take a dive. Kelly also has feelings for Mei. Kelly reluctantly agrees to throwing the fight, but after taking a beating from his opponent, he marshals his abilities and wins. The infuriated Seiyus, led by Hanada (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla's Gorô Mutsumi) and his shades-sporting lieutenant Katsuya (In the Realm of the Senses' Tatsuya Fuji) try to kill Michio for not making good on his promise, but Ako convinces her new friends to come to his rescue. Mei's gang and Michio find themselves fugitives from the Seiyu Gang.

I love Japanese cinema of the '60s and '70s. From Yakuza to samurai to martial arts to kaiju to pinku-eiga, I love pretty much every genre they delved into in that era. I've wanted to see the Stray Cat Rock series for years, and luckily for me, Amazon Prime has all five films. I really dug the first one (aka Alleycat Rock: Female Boss, Female Juvenile Delinquent Leader: Stray Cat Rock, and Stray Cat Rock: Woman Boss), and am very much looking forward to watching the others. The series ran from 1970-1971. Yasuharu Hasebe directed the first, third, and fourth films. The second and fifth were directed by Toshiya Fujita, who directed star Meiko Kaji's most famous film, Lady Snowblood, based on Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura's manga.

Interestingly, Kaji stars in all five Stray Cat Rock films, but plays a different character in each one. There's no overt shared continuity between any of the films, as far as I know. Meiko is one of the most divine goddesses of my Japanese cinema pantheon, but the film's sole flaw is that she takes a backseat to Akiko Wada. To be fair, Wada is a talented actress, and a talented singer judging by her musical numbers in the film, and Ako is a memorable character. It's just a little disappointing that Kaji isn't more take charge as Mei, given her portrayal of such powerful and deadly women as Lady Snowblood and Sasori from the Female Convict Scorpion series. Wada also appeared in the next film, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo, but only had one song. According to Hasebe in an interview in Chris D.'s absolutely awesome book Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film, the series was originally supposed to be a vehicle for Akiko, but the studio, Nikkatsu, became more concerned with grooming the next generation of star, Kaji took over as the series' headliner, and Wadi didn't return for the last three films. The underutilization of Kaji is the one imperfection in this otherwise impeccable film.

Unsurprisingly, Hasebe doesn't shy from depicting brutality, such as when Katsuya's girlfriend uses a blowtorch on a captive member of Mei's gang. The presence of the obviously biracial Ken Sanders adds an interesting touch to the film, though his heritage is never brought up. The third film, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, which as I said before was also directed by Hasebe, apparently does explicitly touch on the subject of mixed-race Japanese, so I'm curious to see that one. There are some groovy scenes in a nightclub featuring bands performing in both English and Japanese. I hope the rest of the series lives up to the high bar this one sets!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Ape Man (William Beaudine, 1943)

Agatha Brewster (Minerva Urecal) comes to America to find her brother James (Bela Lugosi), a scientist who has disappeared. James' colleague Dr. George Randall (Henry Hall) takes her to his mansion, where she learns that his experiments have transformed him into a half-man, half-ape. Investigating Dr. Brewster's disappearance are reporters Jeff Carter (Freaks' Wallace Ford) and Billie Mason (Adventures of Captain Marvel's Louise Currie). James' condition can be staved off with injections of spinal fluid, but this would require killing the donors, and Randall is understandably reluctant to do so. Therefore, James and his savage lab gorilla take matters into their own appendages...

The Ape Man is the third film I've seen directed by William Beaudine and starring Bela Lugosi, the other two being the fairly decent Voodoo Man and the execrable Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, which I covered here a while back. Thankfully, our current subject is more akin to the former than the latter in terms of watchability. The absence of Sammy Petrillo helps considerably in that regard. Besides Bela, Louise Currie and Henry Hall were also in Voodoo Man. Both films also have surprisingly meta endings, in The Ape Man's case involving a oddball character who turns up at the most opportune times throughout the film, and whose identity is only revealed in the last scene. Bela as usual puts 110% into his performance. His ape makeup is cool, and way more convincing than the gorilla suit Emil Van Horn has to wear. Dr. Brewster's sister Agatha is supposedly a ghost-hunter, a la William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki, but other than a scene where Agatha attempts to convince Jeff and Billie the ooking they've heard coming from the mansion came from a spirit called "the Galloping Ghost," this never becomes relevant to the plot. Too bad, because an ape man and ghosts in the same movie would've been awesome, in my movie. Jeff is pretty much a sexist ass to Billie throughout, even though they're on friendly terms, stating in the aforementioned last scene he should take her over his knee for going off on her own to find Brewster. Then again, his character of Phroso in Freaks was kind of a jerk with a heart of gold, so there's precedent for such a character in his resume. Henry Hall is better here than he was in Voodoo Man, where he was saddled with lines like "Gosh all fish hooks!" and "What I'm really interested in is young girls," which taken out of context sounds really troublesome. Bela fans should definitely give this one a look-see.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Anatomy of a Psycho ("Brooke L. Peters" [Boris Petroff], 1961)

Chet Marko (Darrell Howe) visits his brother Duke on Death Row. On his way home, Chet is accosted by three hooligans, who slash his face with a broken beer bottle, leaving a scar. Returning home, Chet gets into an argument with his sister Pat (The Tingler's Pamela Lincoln), insisting Duke is innocent of murder. Meanwhile, we learn that the father of Chet's friend Mickey (Ronnie Burns, George Burns and Gracie Allen's adopted son) was the witness who identified Duke to the police. After Duke's execution, Chet and his friends don masks and give the D.A.'s son a beating as revenge. From there, Chet's violent behavior only escalates, while policeman Lt. Mac (Michael Granger) seeks to bring him to justice.

I've watched my share of "teenagers gone bad" films, and Anatomy of a Psycho is a contender for one of the best I've seen. It's a suspenseful, taut piece of cinema, and Darrell Howe turns in a performance that is frankly brilliant in in its intensity. Of Chet's buddies, General Hospital's Frank Killmond as the sycophantic Bobbie is a particular standout. Ronnie Burns is also quite good, flexing serious dramatic muscles to contrast with the comedic work his mom and dad were so famous for. Michael Granger makes a likable and dedicated cop. When he shows up at Chet's shack home without a warrant, he admits that he is breaking the law, and says that when a cop does that, people should worry. He's clearly saying that in a way that makes it clear he thinks cops should obey the laws they enforce. In the days when police brutality makes a movement like Black Lives Matter necessary, this made me warm to the character, although it is kind of goofy that when he first shows up at the shack he's jokingly wearing one of Chet and his pals' masks from when they roughed up the D.A.'s kid. Isn't that evidence?

Russian Boris Petroff's direction is able, and the solid script was written by Jane Mann of The Unearthly fame and Don Devlin, father of writer-producer Dean Devlin. Don also has a memorable role in the film as Chet's ex-Marine buddy Moe, who suffers a terrible betrayal at his friend's hand. Some of the music was recycled from Plan 9 from Outer Space, but while I deny to my dying breath that Ed Wood's most famous film is the worst ever made, Anatomy of a Psycho is a much stronger film overall. It deserves to be much better known than it currently is, but hopefully a recent showing on TCM will bring it a new following.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Invasion of the Animal People (Virgil W. Vogel, 1959)

Diane Wilson (The Flesh Eaters' Barbara Wilson) is awoken by a piercing noise that causes her to run out into the street, where she is picked up by the police. Her doctor is unable to determine the cause of her seizure, but ultimately pronounces her in sound health. There is some speculation that Diane's attack is related to a UFO sighting that occurred at the same time. Later, Diane goes to Sweden for a skiing vacation. She receives a letter from her uncle Frederick (The Slime People's Robert Burton), an archaeologist, who she is planning to visit. Meanwhile, a spaceship crashes in Lappland, causing an avalanche. Believing the ship to be a giant meteor, Col. Robert Bottiger (Bengt Blomgren) asks Frederick and Dr. Erik Engström (Sten Gester) to investigate. Meeting Diane, Erik is immediately smitten, though Diane plays hard-to-get. Receiving a report of mutilated reindeer in Lappland, the scientists go to look into it, and find the footprints of a creature that they deduce must have been 20 feet tall.

Invasion of the Animal People has an interesting history. It was originally a Swedish film called Rymdinvasion i Lappland, directed by American filmmaker Virgil W. Vogel, best known for The Mole People. When it was released in the States in 1962, distributor Jerry Warren trimmed it to 55 minutes, also adding ponderous narration by John Carradine (who worked with Warren on his own films The Incredible Petrified World and Frankenstein Island) and a new opening scene with Diane's seizure. This wouldn't be the last time Vogel and Warren would be associated - footage of the Mole People was integrated into Warren's The Wild World of Batwoman, one of the contenders for the worst movie I have ever seen. Invasion of the Animal People isn't that bad, but it's not remarkably good either. Despite the title, there's only one animal person. The furry suit (not that kind of furry suit, ya pervs) does look reasonably cool, and the monster has tusks and padded feet. Diane Wilson isn't exactly a strong female character, spending a lot of her screen time after the monster shows up screaming and hobbled by a wrenched knee. At one point, she expresses a desire to go with Uncle Frederick and Erik to investigate the meteor, but Erik tells her, "You just stay here and look pretty!" How she resisted the urge to kick him in the balls, I'll never know. The aliens look kind of like the Coneheads cosplaying as Brain Guy from MST3K. Disappointingly, we never find out just why they came to Earth. A singer performs a song called "The Land of the Midnight Sun" in Swedish, with Erik translating for Diane. Invasion of the Animal People is better than 95% of the films Jerry Warren's name is attached to, but anyone expecting a classic of the genre will likely be disappointed.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Women's Camp 119 (KZ9 - Lager di sterminio; Bruno Mattei, 1977)

A group of female prisoners from Ravensbruck concentration camp, described as "lesbians, communists, [and] pig whores" are transferred to Rosenhausen experimental camp, run by Obersturmbannführer Franz Wieker (Have a Good Funeral, My Friend...Sartana Will Pay's Ivano Staccioli). Helping Wieker are the sadistic Oberleutnant Otto Ohlendorff (Gabriele Carrara), lesbian Chief Kapo Marta (Ria De Simone), gibbering lunatic rapist Kurt (Giovanni Attanasio), and Dr. David Meisel (Nello Riviè). Wieker assigns prisoner Dr. Maria Black (Cannibal Ferox's Lorraine De Selle) to help Meisel, while Marta develops a fixation on another inmate, Cristina (Nightmare City's Sonia Viviani). As things go from bad to worse, Meisel, Maria, and Cristina begin planning 

Bruno Mattei has sometimes been described as "the Ed Wood of Italy." He was frequently partnered with Claudio Fragasso, the man who directed Troll 2, one of the most infamous bad movies since Plan 9 from Outer Space. Personally, I quite like Ed Wood. Having seen this and one other Mattei film, Violence in a Women's Prison, I have to say I like his work as well. I'm a comparative novice when it comes to Nazisploitation films - I've seen the legendary Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, of course - and even moreso when it comes to the Italian examples of the genre. I will be seeking out more, though. Salon Kitty, SS Experiment Camp, Nazi Love Camp 27, and Mattei's own SS Girls are all on my to-watch list. Now, for the record, I am most emphatically not a Nazi sympathizer. I'm of Jewish descent on my father's side, so unsurprisingly I hate the fuckers. But I am also an exploitation cinema aficionado, so I want to have a well-rounded education in many of the most prominent genres. Nazisploitation happens to be one of them.

This is a sleazy film. Make no mistake about that. There are lots of naked women being abused, whether they're whipped, or forced to have sex with frozen pilots to thaw them with their body heats, or having their heads dipped in water, or getting raped by crazy Kurt. Wieker kills prisoners by removing their uteri and transferring them into infertile women in order to propagate the Master Race. The sole male inmates, both homosexuals, are forced to have sex with women, and understandably are somewhat resistant. Mattei's take on the Nazis and their experiment is brutal, though I can't vouch for its historical veracity or lack thereof, and while it never reaches the excesses of Pasolini's Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Women's Camp 119 is pretty graphic. Most of the performances are good, with two being notable standouts. Nello Riviè is excellent as Meisel, the Jewish doctor who despises the horrors he's forced to perpetrate at Rosenhausen. Gabriele Carrara hams it up big time as the laughing, oft-shouting Ohlendorff. According to IMDB, he only did two other films, the aforementioned SS Girls and a "mockmumentary" on bizarre sex practices called Mutant Sexual Behavior. His acting is truly in a class of its own, and makes me wish he had been more prolific. The ever-dependable Alessandro Alessandroni's music is superb.

The ending is pretty depressing, even if good ultimately does triumph over evil. Just before our final scene, we're given text about what Wieker was up to after the camp was put out of operation. Two things about this amused me. First of all, the text lingers on the screen well past the point when most people would have finished reading it. Second, it begins with the words, "Tree months later." Whoopsie! Between this and Violence in a Women's Prison, I can tell Bruno Mattei was a sick puppy, and I am more than interested in further viewing his work. I have several films bookmarked on Amazon Prime, including Women's Prison Massacre, which like Violence is part of the Black Emanuelle series starring Laura Gemser. Hope they're just as off-the-wall entertaining!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Hot Potato (Oscar Williams, 1976)

Carter Rangoon (Sam Hiona) kidnaps June Dunbar (The Big Doll House's Judith Brown), a senator's daughter, to force the U.S. to provide aid to the Asian country of Chang Lan. The U.S. government recruits black agent Jones (Jim Kelly) and mercenary Johnny Chicago (Raw Force's Geoffrey Binney) to lead the rescue mission. Arriving in Chang Lan, they meet their police liaison, Det. Sgt. Pam Varaje (Women of the Prehistoric Planet's Irene Tsu), and recruit Leonardo Pizzarelli, aka the White Rhino, (Mean Streets' George Memmoli), a hefty Texan of Italian descent. Storming Rangoon's lair with elephants, they seemingly rescue June. However, she has actually been replaced with a lookalike, Leslie (also played by Judith Brown).

As noted in my review of The Tattoo Connection, Hot Potato is the sequel to Black Belt Jones that the former film is sometimes touted as, but isn't. The end credits say that the film is "Based on the character created by Alex Rose and Fred Weintraub," both of whom wrote the story for Jones, confirming it's meant to be the same character, though IMDB doesn't list Hot Potato as a sequel to Jones on either films' Connections pages. The fact that Jones has the same name, is played by the same actor, and has a similar personality to Black Belt Jones cements it. Unfortunately, Hot Potato is not nearly as good a film as Black Belt Jones. While the earlier film had some great humor, with the best example being Gloria Hendry's handling of dirty dishes, Hot Potato's comedy is much more forced and slapstick, complete with cartoon music and sound effects. The opening credits are shown over a General being called by Senator Dunbar (whom we can barely hear) about his daughter's kidnapping. The General promises to send Jones, then hangs up and says, "Where the hell's Chang Lan?" Oh shit, my sides! The White Rhino spends a lot of his screen time making bad quips and goofing around with toy police cars.

At times, the Rhino and Johnny seem to have a relationship similar to Monk and Ham from the Doc Savage novels I love so much, though not nearly as entertaining or coherent. ("I ought to blow you up like a ship!" "You know what your trouble is? You don't respect Smokey the Bear!") Johnny himself is given a small bit of pathos when we learn his wife and daughter were killed five years ago in an explosion meant for him, but this is never touched on again, and later he goes through the seven stages of grief faster then I've ever seen anyone. Irene Tsu is decent as the policewoman who winds up falling for Jones (and vice versa), but isn't given much to work with. Jim Kelly himself is cool as ever, and he choreographed his own fight scenes, so his are the most convincing in the film. Carter Rangoon, despite his awesome name, is not a very memorable villain despite his tiger trap, and his right-hand man Krugman  (Hardy Stockmann) even less so. Sadly, this is very much a film for blaxploitation and martial arts completists only.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Test Tube Babies (W. Merle Connell, 1948)

Junior architect George Bennett (William Thomason) and his wife Cathy (Dorothy Duke) have been married for a year, and spend much of their free time with their friends at wild parties and baby showers. George becomes jealous after his Lothario lawyer friend Frank Grover (John Michael) escorts Cathy home. Frank plants a passionate kiss on Cathy, but she turns him down flat. After a party at their house that gets out of control, George and Cathy decide that having a baby would help their failing relationship. Wondering why they haven't conceived in the past year, they go to a gynecologist, Dr. Wright (Glen or Glenda's Timothy Farrell), seeking answers. Wright offers them both heartbreaking news and a scientific solution.

This film was made only 64 years after artificial insemination was first attempted. Of course, in vitro fertilization is just as much a well-known fact of life now as surrogacy. The concept, however, is not brought up until about 15 minutes are left in the film. Before that, we see George and Cathy dealing with their irresponsible, sex-crazed friends and talking about starting a family. The film was probably intended as exploitation, as shown by the poster above, but it's not very provocative. The raunchiest scene we get is the party at the Bennetts' house where a stripper and a male partygoer do a striptease for the audience, after which the stripper gets into a catfight with a colleague also in attendance. There is implied female upper body nudity during Cathy's gynecological exam, but we never get a good look at her breasts. This film was produced by George Weiss, who also financed Glen or Glenda, but it never shatters as many taboos or reaches the levels of weirdness of that underappreciated, forward-thinking, and deeply personal Ed Wood classic.

The acting is, with very few exceptions, pretty wooden. William Thomason and Dorothy Duke deliver their lines flatly, without much genuine emotion. Timothy Farrell, who played a doctor in Glen or Glenda, is his usual stiff self as Dr. Wright. Interestingly, Farrell apparently played the same character in another 1948 film by W. Merle Connell, Hometown Girl. This wasn't Farrell's only recurring role: he also played oily gangster Umberto Scalli in not only Connell's The Devil's Sleep, but also Racket Girls and Dance Hall Racket, the latter of which was written by and starred Lenny Bruce! Those who have seen Racket Girls will recognize some of the music in Test Tube Babies. By the way, Dr. Wright is not only a smoker, but actually asks George to go buy him some cigarettes during the delivery of Cathy's baby. Overall, this was a disappointment for Yrs. Truly, who was hoping for something a bit more over the top, or that at least spent a little more time on the titular subject. Those wishing to judge for themselves, however, can check it out on Amazon Prime.

The Demons of Ludlow (Bill Rebane, 1983)

Ludlow, an unincorporated New England town with a population of 47, is celebrating its bicentennial. Mayor Sam Donaldson (no relation, played by C. Dave Davis) unveils a piano, a behest from the deceased Ephraim Ludlow III, the great-grandson of the town's founder. When the piano is first played, a young couple are killed by a demon. Intrepid reporter Debra Hall (Stephanie Cushna), who was born in Ludlow but whose parents left the town when she was nine, tells her photographer Winifred (James R. Robinson) she has discovered the piano was in Ludlow once before, and soon after the church burned down. Donaldson tells the Reverend Chris (Paul von Hausen) not to bring up what happened before, and tells him several people are leaving town. It is revealed the town is cursed, and every time the piano is played, someone dies in a horrific manner.

The Demons of Ludlow is the third Bill Rebane film I've seen, but the first I've seen without the expert riffing of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew. Monster A Go-Go, finished by none other than Herschell Gordon Lewis after Wisconsonites Rebane ran out of money for filming, was declared by the Best Brains to be officially the worst movie they ever riffed, and if it isn't it's certainly up there (or down there), and sports one of the most infuriating non-endings in film history. The Giant Spider Invasion is a little better, but not by much, with some of the most unappealing cheeseheads ever caught on film and truly abysmal jokes by Alan Hale, Jr., the very first line out of whose mouth is, "Hi, little buddy!" Perhaps I'm grading on a curve, but The Demons of Ludlow is without a doubt the best of the three Rebane flix I have viewed to date. It has some genuinely creepy moments, and some decent acting, with Paul von Hausen as the Reverend being a particular standout. There's a disturbing scene where the mentally ill Emily (Patricia J. Statz), who talks to her dolls (including Smurfette!) as if they were alive, comes across a group of 18th century aristocrats who are having a frenzied feast. The aristos attack and kill her, ripping her top off in the process.

As with The Giant Spider Invasion, this film is something of a family affair, with Rebane's wife Barbara acting as executive producer and first assistant director. Alan Rebane (whose relationship to Bill I'm unsure of) serves as second assistant director and gaffer. Amazingly, Cheri Caffaro, the star of the Ginger series of softcore private eye films, was associate producer! She also apparently filled the same duties two years earlier on Rebane's film Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake. Those who only know Rebane from MST3K would do well to check this film out, as it shows that ol' Bill (who once ran for governor of Wisconsin, incidentally) had genuine potential as a filmmaker.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Blood (Andy Milligan, 1973)

Dr. Lawrence Orlofski (Allan Berendt) and his wife Regina (Hope Stansbury), fresh from Budapest, move into a house in 19th century America along with their servants - legless Orlando (Prizzi's Honor's Michael Fischetti), addled Carlotta (Pichulina Hempi), and Carrie (Patti Gaul), who is beginning to experience leg problems similar to those that afflicted Orlando before he lost his own. Regina needs blood to survive, so Lawrence and the servants give her injections of extract from blood-drinking plants they grow. Regina believes her husband and Carrie are having an affair, though Carrie is actually in love with Orlando. Meanwhile, Lawrence discovers his late father's lawyer Carl Root (John Wallowitch) is swindling him out of his inheritance, and tries to get what's rightfully his with the help of Root's pretty secretary Prudence Towers (Pamela Adams), with whom he forms a strong attraction. As it turns out, Lawrence and Regina both have dark secrets, and infamous fathers...

Blood is the fourth Andy Milligan film I've watched, and the second I've reviewed here, and in many ways it's typical Milligan, which is all for the better as far as I'm concerned. Andy's penchant for melodrama is on full display here, with many of the actors chewing the scenery and reading truly overwrought lines. When Lawrence and Regina are in bed, Regina goes from telling her husband she loves him to saying just the opposite when he refuses to make love to her. When she tells him to go to Hell, he replies, "We're already there!" The blood-eating plants are an odd touch, and it's never explained exactly why just injecting the blood itself into Regina's veins wouldn't do the job as well. Carlotta's brother Johnny (David Bevans, whose character is miscredited as "Jimmy") has a very anachronistic haircut. Milligan's house on northern Staten Island, used as the Orlofski house, is too nice to be truly eerie. Eve Crosby turns in a memorable performance as Petra, a strange-looking, thick-accented gypsy woman with a connection to Lawrence's father. John Wallowitch sports bluish hair, probably as the result of a bad dye job. Milligan's affinity for classic literature and film is shown by the revelations about the identities of the Orlofskis' respective fathers, although considering Lawrence's father originally appeared in a film made in 1941 and set in the present day, one has to wonder how he can be dead a few years after 1875. Even so, this is Milligan at his finest, and well worth your time.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Neutron the Atomic Superman vs. the Death Robots (Los autómatas de la muerte; Federico Curiel 1962) and Love After Death (Glauco Del Mar, 1968)

Now that I'm set up with my new apartment and the internet, I am proud to present Diary of a Madman's very first double feature review! ("Science fiction, double feature..." to quote the immortal Richard O'Brien in one of my all-time favorite films, the ultimate midnight movie). Both films were made in Spanish-speaking countries in the 1960s, and both are in black and white, but there the similarity ends.

The evil Dr. Caronte is supposedly dead after his battle with the masked crimefighter Neutron, but in reality nothing could be farther from the truth. Caronte is alive and well, and is using the brains of three scientists whose bodies he stole from the grave, an army of hideous blood-drinking robots, and his little person henchman Nick in order to acquire the formula for a neutron bomb. Neutron must save the day once more. But who is Neutron? Three friends are potential candidates, all of whom are in a love triangle with lovely nightclub chanteuse Nora, the daughter of Professor Walker (The Mansion of Madness' Claudio Brook).

I love luchadore films. El Santo, Blue Demon, and their ilk push my buttons in the best ways. I don't care for American wrestling, but I dig the hell out of their Mexican counterparts. Neutron isn't a luchadore in the sense that he's a professional fighter, but with his black full-face mask with three lightning bolts on it, muscular physique, shirtlessness, fighting ability, and refusal to take off his mask, he fulfills every other aspect one associates with them. (However, he does not wear the cape seen on the film's poster). This was the second in a series of five Neutron films, with 1960's Neutron, the Man in the Black Mask representing the first battle between Neutron and Dr. Caronte. I've not seen the other films in the series, but this one was a lot of fun. The death robots are basically zombies, albeit blood-drinking rather than the flesh-eating type later created by George Romero and much imitated subsequently. There's an interesting scene where one of the robots literally loses his head. Both Neutron and the bandage-masked Dr. Caronte look cool, and Nick is a memorable character whose disability isn't exploited overmuch, even if the dwarf henchman is a genre standby. Claudio Brook is excellent as always,

The fact that Neutron's identity is never revealed (IMDB doesn't even list who plays him, or Dr. Caronte) is heavily played up, and the film never actually resolves which of Nora's three suitors is the masked man. Nora delivers a couple songs in Spanish, as do a male trio. The dubbing is pretty good for a Mexican film from the '60s, and there are some good lines, even if a policeman saying one of the robots "Looks like my mother-in-law!" made me roll my eyes. Neutron also appears to have pioneered the art of disappearing when the police aren't looking later pioneered by Batman. I cannot wait to see more of Neutron's adventures. Those of you with Amazon Prime memberships, give this film a look.

Mr. Montel (Guillermo de Cordóva) is prone to cataleptic fits, and during one of those episodes his beautiful blonde wife Sofia (Carmin O'Neal) and his friend Dr. Anderson (Roberto Maurano) claim he's dead and have him buried. Clawing his way out of the grave, Montel, who according to Sofia was impotent before, becomes a sex-crazed maniac, pursuing every woman he can find, sometimes with their consent, sometimes not. Meanwhile, Sofia and Dr. Anderson are having an affair, though the doc doesn't know Sofia is also screwing his crony Arturo (Angel Mario Ramirez). Discovering the plot that resulted in his burial, Montel vows revenge on his wife and the doctor.

Love After Death (or Unsatisfied Love as the print on my Something Weird Triple Feature DVD, which also includes The Atomic Brain and The Incredible Petrified World, is titled) is the second Argentinean sexploitation/horror hybrid I've seen, the first being another Something Weird release, The Curious Dr. Humpp. Neither are particularly good films, but of the two, this is probably the better. There's not much of a plot, and not a lot of dialogue either, with all of Montel's lines being delivered in voiceover as his inner monologue; it seems that he was unable to speak once he got out of his cataleptic state. What the film does have is its share of beautiful unclad women. While there's no male full frontal nudity, and the film never goes straight hardcore, we do come close to seeing genitalia at times. The film also touches on non-heteronormative sexual relations. An old woman who witnesses one of Montel's rapes says of his blonde victim, "If I was only ten years younger." Montel pursues a dancer he finds in a tryst with a woman, with said dancer turning out to be a male transvestite. There's also a lesbian couple. It's not a particularly progressive film in its sexual attitudes, but still worthy of note.

The horror elements are not very prominent, although there are some decent bloody FX when Montel gets his revenge. There's a surprise ending that, while I get what they were going for, still seems a bit bizarre. Montel's "castle" is clearly nothing of the sort. The best part is the opening where Montel is horrified that he can't tell his mourners he's not dead, followed by him busting out of his grave. It's too bad the rest of the movie couldn't be quite that strong.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (George Barry, 1977)

An Artist (played by Dave Marsh, voiced by Patrick Spence-Thomas, and based on his artwork, meant to be Aubrey Beardsley), is trapped behind his own painting in a cellar where also dwells a bed in which a couple have sex. The bed actually eats them, along with their meal of a bucket of chicken, two apples, and a bottle of wine. Later, Diane (Demene Hall), her friend Sharon (Rosa Luxemburg), and her coworker Suzan (Julie Ritter) come to stay for a while. The bed eats Suzan, stripping her to the bone, as well as two gangsters using the house as a hideout. The Artist reveals that the house has been eating people for decades, as well as its origins: a demon fell in love with a mortal woman, and assumed mortal form. To seduce his object of desire he created the bed, but she died during their lovemaking, and her bloody tears cursed the bed, making it alive and ever hungry. Will Diane and Sharon be the bed's next meals before Sharon's brother (Rusty Russ), looking for his wayward sister, can find them?

Without a doubt, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is the best movie you will ever see about a man-eating bed. I'm only half-joking, as I found this film delightfully bizarre. Director George Barry reportedly based it on a dream he once had, which explains the rather surreal tone of the film. It's a damn shame he never made another film, because this is a masterpiece of the oddball. Filming at the Gar Wood Mansion on Keel Wood in Detroit began in 1972, and the answer print was struck in 1977, but the film was not released except in bootlegs until Barry learned of the film's cult following via the Internet and gave it an official DVD release in 2003. Comedian Patton Oswalt incorporated a bit about the film into his stand-up film Werewolves and Lollipops. The bed's bubbling innards are shown many times, and it bleeds whenever Sharon is nearby. The inclusion of Aubrey Beardsley of all people only adds to the surrealism.

The history of the bed is pretty hilarious, with a Reverend who seems more confused then horrified about the bed eating him (and who can blame him, really?) and an old woman reading a porno mag whose cover promises "ORAL LESBIANS!!!" There's some female nudity, but none of it is erotically-filmed, particularly as two of the three women who get nekkid also get eaten. The acting, music, and gore fx are adequate (Rusty Russ has a surprisingly calm reaction to having his hands stripped to the bone), but it's the tone of this film and its nonsensical script that make it so much fun to watch. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is a trash-film lover's delight, and I will certainly watch it again one of these days! For those of you with an Amazon account who want to see it for the first time, just click this here link.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Frankenstein (J. Searle Dawley, 1910)

Victor Frankenstein (Augustus Phillips) leaves his fiancee Elizabeth (Mary Fuller, star of the first film serial, What Happened to Mary) to attend college, where he experiments in bringing the dead back to life. Unfortunately, the product of his research proves to be a gruesome monster (Charles Ogle), who he rejects. On Victor and Elizabeth's wedding night, the monster makes his untimely return, seeking revenge...

This will probably be the shortest review I've done to date, partly because it's the first that's of a short film. Produced by Edison Studios, this was the first of hundreds of adaptations of Mary Shelley's iconic novel, but it's not a very faithful adaptation. Victor creates his monster through what looks like alchemy rather than true science, and flesh seems to just appear on the skeleton of the soon-to-be monster (who doesn't look nearly as cool as the image above seems to imply). Whereas the Monster of Shelley's novel murders everybody Victor loves (his younger brother, his father, and his best friend), culminating with the death of Elizabeth on their wedding night, and Victor then pursues his creation around the globe, dying the process, here Frankenstein chases the monster away before he can kill Elizabeth. The Monster then just...looks into a mirror and disappears, though his reflection lingers a bit longer, and Victor and Elizabeth get to live happily ever after. Considering how the book makes such a point of Victor being the true monster for rejecting his creation and denying it any kind of compassion whatsoever, this will probably piss off fans of the original tale. It did me. The Monster itself has none of the pathos of Shelley's (or rather Victor's creation), so amazingly captured by Rory Kinnear in the late lamented television series Penny Dreadful.

This film was considered lost for several decades, but a fan bought a copy in the '70s, and released it on DVD in the early 2000s. A restored version came out in 2010. I don't know if the restored version is the one I watched on Amazon Prime, but if so, holy shit they didn't do a very good job. Having seen the restored Metropolis on the big screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center, which added to my existing love for that film a thousandfold, the picture quality on this print is just pitiful. I've seen plenty of Frankenstein movies. I love James Whale's, of course, even though it's even less faithful to the novel than this is. Young Frankenstein is without a doubt Mel Brooks' masterpiece. And I've also seen a lot of trashy or weird takes on the legend, such as William A. Levey's Blackenstein, Paul Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein, Dick Randall's Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, and Jerry Warren's Frankenstein Island. This film is nowhere near the excellency of the former two films, nor the curiosity value of the latter four. It just kinda is, and I wanted more from the first film version of one of the most adapted books of all time. On the other hand, at least Edison didn't rip off Nikola Tesla or electrocute an elephant in the course of making it, so credit where it's due.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Immoral Mr. Teas (Russ Meyer, 1959)

A few "typical" days in the life of Willie Teas, a dental appliance salesman who finds himself constantly coming in contact with beautiful well-endowed women, about whom he often fantasizes.

I've always loved Russ Meyer's films, but even I admit some are simply better than others. Lorna didn't do much for me. The Immoral Mr. Teas is an example of what are known as "nudie cutie" films, and is therefore heavy on female skin (though never viewed fully frontal, even when the women are completely nude), but virtually free of plot. As a result, I couldn't warm to it the way I do Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! or my personal favorite, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Mr. Teas, played by Bill Teas (who served as a combat photographer in the Pacific during WWII, where he served in the same unit as Russ, becoming good friends in the process), sees a lot more boobs in the course of his day-to-day life then you would think a seller of truly scary-looking dental equipment who looks kinda like Paul Bartel with more hair and Carl Kolchak's hat would see. The straw hat isn't his only questionable fashion choice: his work outfit consists of a pink jumpsuit, and his beachwear is trunks with a drawstring and two back pockets(?). I'm tempted to say Teas is a nudie cutie take on Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot, but I haven't seen any of Tati's Hulot films, so my gut instinct may very well be wrong.

Of course, Russ doesn't skip on the pulchritudinous pneumatic females. One dentist's nurse shows considerably more decolletage than most women I've seen in non-sexploitation movies and TV made in 1959, while also going braless. Interestingly, though Teas peeps at and fantasizes about many of the women he meets, none of those dreams involve him actually, y'know, having sex with them. This may explain why he is seen crossing "Cantlay Street" more than once during the course of the film. Also, his jumpsuit is blue rather than pink in said fantasies. Maybe he feels self-conscious about wearing a color perceived by many as effeminate? Russ himself makes a cameo as an audience member at a burlesque show. Famous British sex symbol June Wilkinson's bare breasts can be seen through a window. The film has no dialogue whatsoever, but plenty of "funny" narration written by Edward J. Lakso (who, in addition to also providing the film's music., wrote for a lot of well-known TV series in the '60s and '80s) and spoken by G. Ferrus. Perhaps the most inexplicable line is the claim, made while Teas fantasizes about three of the ladies he's met frolicking nude as he watches from a distance, that rubber was invented in 1873. Rubber is found in nature, and according to Wikipedia Charles Goodyear patented vulcanized rubber in 1844, so not sure what the hell Mr. Ferrus is talking about there.

If you enjoy beautiful women showing what their mama gave them, this film delivers. But if you're looking for Russ at the top of his game, this is probably not the way to go.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Tomb of Torture (Metempsyco; "Anthony Kristye" [Antonio Boccaci], 1963)

Two young women (one of whom is played by Emy Eco, Umberto's sister) visit a seemingly abandoned castle, where they see the portrait of the beautiful Countess Irene, who mysterious vanished on the eve of her wedding night twenty years ago. The Countess Elizabeth (Django's Flora Carosello, billed here as Elizabeth Queen) demands that they leave, but they find all the doors locked. The girls fall victim to a gruesomely deformed man, who kills one and prepares to torture the other. Soon after, Dr. Darnell (Trinity is STILL My Name!'s Adriano Micantoni, aka "Thony Maky") arrives via coach at the castle, where the girls' bodies are being examined by a police constable. Said policeman believes they died of exposure, but the turbaned Raman (director Antonio Boccaci, aka "William Gray") thinks otherwise. Dr. Darnell, who is moving into the castle, has a daughter named Anna (Annie Alberti, aka Annie Albert) who is a dead ringer for the long lost Countess Irene.

Anna has a nightmare where she encounters several bizarre figures, including an individual clad in knight's armor who shoots a crossbow through her chest, after which she turns into Irene. Later, she meets reporter George Dickson while skinny dipping, and the two quickly become an item. The questions that must be answered are: is Anna indeed the reincarnation of Countess Irene, and if so, exactly how did the Countess die?

Tomb of Torture, originally known as Metempsyco, is an enjoyable enough piece of Gothic horror all'Italiana, but nowhere near the level of Mario Bava at the top of his game. Director Antonio Boccaci turned out a number of lurid and violent paperback novels prior to this film, so it's disappointing he didn't really go far enough here. Picked up for distribution in the United States by Richard Gordon, the dubbed version saddled many of the actors with questionable pseudonyms, with poor Adriano Micantoni in particular burdened with the unfortunate moniker Thony Maky, as stated above. The film was shown on a double bill with previous Diary of a Madman subject matter Cave of the Living Dead, which sadly is a better film in almost every way. While the Gothic tropes are all there - a decaying castle, a horrible secret, a lovely and innocent damsel in distress, etc. - it never quite gels into a solid film, and many things are left unanswered. Who is the monstrous torturer? What exactly were the Countess Elizabeth, Raman, and Dr. Darnell's connections to Countess Irene?

George and Anna have what seems like the quickest romantic connection in the history of Italian horror cinema. When they first meet, Anna thinks George is an annoying peeping tom, but soon comes to like him a bit. In the very next scene of them together, they're talking about leaving the castle and getting married. Keep in mind, there were no scenes in between developing their relationship, so I guess in the universe of this movie love at first sight is indeed a very real thing. Flora Carosello (or rather, the actress dubbing her voice) wildly overacts in the film's climax. It is interesting that the movie presents a character of Eastern ancestry whose ethnicity never really factors into the plot, though I've gotta deduct points for the fact he's played by the director in brownface. The most WTF line in the movie is when Dr. Darrell, flippantly dismissing the concerns of Constable Dobson, suggests he get himself an enema! Armando Sciascia's (The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein) atmosepheric music is without a doubt the best part of the movie. But if you want to judge for yourself, check it out on Fandor, assuming you have an account with them. And if you're still not sold, here's the trailer.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Arrest Bulldog Drummond (James P. Hogan, 1938)

Richard Gannett, the self-styled "Earl of Destiny" (The Mummy's Leonard Mudie) sends a letter to Colonel Nielsen of Scotland Yard (H. B. Warner, Mr. Gower in It's a Wonderful Life) saying with his invention he will bring peace to the world, whether they want it or not. Meanwhile, Captain Hugh C. "Bulldog" Drummond (The Invisible Woman's John Howard) is preparing for his forthcoming nuptials to Phyllis Clavering (Alice in Wonderland's Heather Angel) when his chum Algy Longworth (Rebecca's Reginald Denny, no relation to the truck driver who was a victim in the L.A. riots) shows up, having also received a letter from Gannett about his invention. They go to Gannett's flat in Birnam Wood Road to investigate. Gannett is showing his machine, an explosive ray, to Rolf Alferson (the ever-dependable George Zucco). Gannett wants to offer his device to the governments of the world, beginning with his own country's, but Alferson murders him with something called "the Stinger."

Arriving at Birnam Wood Road, Drummond and Algy discover the lights in the building have been flickering every night. Breaking into Gannett's place, they find his body, and are promptly arrested by the police. The autopsy confirms their innocence, and reveals he was murdered by a stingray. Drummond and Algy become resolved to look into the matter further, aided by Drummond's butler Tenny (Bride of Frankenstein's E. E. Clive), even though it may jeopardize Drummond's wedding plans.

Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond was the two-fisted hero of a series of novels by H. C. McNeile, who wrote under the pen name "Sapper." Drummond was a Great War veteran who found peacetime utterly monotonous, and being an adrenaline junkie, soon found himself getting mixed up in thwarting evildoers, notably the master of disguise Carl Peterson, who appeared in several of the books alongside his equally sinister mistress Irma. Arrest Bulldog Drummond was the fourth film Paramount Studios made with John Howard as Drummond; he was neither the first nor the last to play the character, the latter being Richard Johnson in Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and Some Girls Do (1969).

The reason the character has not been seen on film since is probably due to some unfortunate content in the novels. Their depiction of non-WASPs is not always very enlightened. I hesitate to call them "a product of their times," since that implies everyone in the past was a bigot, but of the two Drummond novels by McNeile I've read, The Return of Bulldog Drummond has Drummond using the expression "n***** in the woodpile" in the very first chapter, while one of the criminal conspirators in Bulldog Drummond at Bay is a wealthy anti-Semitic stereotype. I understand, however, from people who've read more of the series than I have, that McNeile dialed back the xenophobia in the later books, and Gerard Fairlie, who continued the series after his death, even called out some of Hugh's earlier methods of crimefighting as fascist in the text of the books themselves. Apart from the cringeworthy bits, I found the ones I read enjoyable if not particularly deep adventure stories.

Arrest Bulldog Drummond is based on McNeile's The Final Count, but makes several changes, including replacing Carl Peterson with the somewhat less distinctive Rolf Alferson. Carrying over from the previous films, Hugh's significant other, the lovely Phyllis Benton, has her surname changed to the more unwieldy Clavering, while Drummond's butler Denny's name is changed to Tenny, presumably to avoid confusion with actor Reginald Denny playing a different role. The script was written by Stuart Palmer, better known for his series of novels about spinster sleuth Hildegarde Withers. Howard pulls off the literary Drummond's wisecracking swagger reasonably well, though he's a little too good-looking compared to McNeile's Bulldog's "pleasantly ugly" features. The aforementioned Reginald Denny and E. E. Clive provide some adequate comic relief, with one notable example being Tenny lighting a candle in a warehouse that turns out to be storing fireworks, with predictable results. George Zucco is as sinister as ever, and deserves more screen time than he actually gets.

Being based on a book of the mostly male-oriented "clubland heroes" genre, it's no surprise that the women come off pretty undeveloped here. Heather Angel as Phyllis is a pretty bland love interest, and her Aunt Meg (Werewolf of London's Zeffie Tilbury) doesn't do much more than provide moral support for her niece in her nuptial travails, while Jean Fenwick doesn't do much as Alferson's female accomplice, presumably taking Irma's place.

As with other movies from the '30s I've seen there's surprisingly little music in the film - only a bit at the beginning and the end. One thing that I find astounding is that when Drummond is rehearsing his speech at his bachelor party, he addresses his "fellow members of the Drones Club." For the uninitiated, this is the name of the London gentleman's club (not in the ecdysiastal sense) many of P. G. Wodehouse's upper class twit protagonists, including the immortal Bertie Wooster, belonged to. I love crossovers myself - in fact, I've written two massive books on the subject, and if you haven't bought them yet, click this link RIGHT NOW, so finding a shout-out to Wodehouse in an unexpected place tickled me to no end. This is a fun film, the second with Howard in the role I've seen, and you can bet I'll check out the others.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Pace That Kills (Wm. A. O'Connor, 1935)

Nick (Noel Madison) and his cohort are making a cocaine delivery for their boss when they find themselves pursued by the cops. Nick goes to a diner, where he meets waitress Jane Bradford (Lois January), who he convinces that the men following him are hijackers. Afterwards, he tries to convince her to go to the city with him. He offers her some coke, which he calls "headache powder." They marry and move to the big city. Jane, now called Lil, learns that the "headache powder" is actually dope. Now hooked, she is forced by Nick to get a job at the Dead Rat Cafe. Meanwhile, Jane's younger brother Eddie (Dean Benton) comes to the city to look for her, getting a job as a carhop at a drive-in restaurant, where he works alongside waitress Fanny (Sheila Bromley), a customer of Nick's. Lil recognizes Eddie at the restaurant, and is careful not to be seen by him. Later, at the Dead Rat, Eddie does see Lil, who pretends she doesn't know him. They also encounter Dan (Charles Delaney) and his "questing" girlfriend Dorothy Farley (Lois Lindsay), who were also at the restaurant. Fanny introduces Eddie to cocaine, and soon they're both fired, and living as addicts in a cheap apartment.

Anti-drug films of the '30s are often good for a few easy laughs, such as the infamous Reefer Madness, but The Pace That Kills (aka The Cocaine Fiends, a remake of the 1928 silent film of the same name, with which it shares Wm. A. O'Connor as director), while not exactly the searing indictment its opening text makes it out to be, is less histrionic and more depressing than Dwain Esper's cult classic. Although the film never shows the characters actually taking cocaine, the effects of the drug on addicts are shown in a fairly realistic manner. All the drug users have tragic fates, with the possible exception of Eddie, and he will have to deal with heartbreaking loss even if he kicks the habit. Jane, meanwhile thinks she has no hope of ever going straight, telling her brother "girls can't come back," an obvious bullshit sexist premise. In addition to the sexism, there's also a racist song in pidgin English sung by a guy at the Dead Rat (and who wouldn't want to frequent an establishment with that name?) called "Towsee Mongalay." As a (hopefully) enlightened Millennial, this song made me cringe.

The performances are mostly understated, with Lois January as the initially naive Jane/Lil being a standout. Amazingly, four years later, she would appear in The Wizard of Oz as Dorothy's manicurist in the Emerald City! Charles Delaney's last film role was in The Beatniks, notable for characters who resembled beatniks in no way, shape, or form, not to mention a wildly overacting Peter Breck, who gives the shrillest delivery of the line "I KILLED THAT FAT BARKEEP!!!" imaginable. In a golden example of how financial times march on, Eddie and Fanny's bill of $9.79 at the Dead Rat is portrayed as exorbitant spending. Fanny also points out an actress to Eddie, who is played by stock footage from the original The Pace That Kills of the actress who played Fanny in that film! This never becomes important to the plot, so I assume it was added for padding. The happy ending for Dan and Dorothy doesn't ring true, particularly as we find Dan has been lying to her the whole film. This is a pretty unspectacular anti-dope film for the era, certainly never reaching the heights of Dave O'Brien imploring Lillian Miles to "Play faster!" on the piano while they both furiously puff on joints, but it's worth a view for those who want to see how America's attitude towards drugs has evolved over time.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Count Dracula's Great Love (El gran amor del conde Drácula; Javier Aguirre, 1973)

Imre Polvi (Victor Barrera, billed as "Vic Winner"), his lover Marlene (Ingrid Garbo, no relation to Greta), and her friends Senta (Two Undercover Angels' Rosanna Yanni), Karen (Haydée Politoff), and Elke (Cria Cuervos' Mirta Miller) are traveling through the Borgo Pass when their coach loses a wheel and the driver is killed by one of his own horses. They seek help at the mansion of Dr. Wendell Marlow (Paul Naschy, born Jacinto Molina Alvarez, who played werewolf Waldemar Daninsky in a long-running series of Spanish horror films), which was formerly a sanatorium run by Dr. Kargos, who was hanged for draining his patients' blood. The girls, checking out the library, discover a book written by Dr. Von (sic) Helsing that says Dracula returned after he and Jonathan Harker killed him, and he needs the blood of a virgin to bring his daughter Rodna back to life. Meanwhile, Marlene falls victim to a vampire, and bites Imre in turn. Karen forms an emotional connection with Dr. Marlow, who is hiding a bloody secret...

Count Dracula's Great Love is a pretty mediocre film, but in a "so bad it's good" way. While the women are all gorgeous and many of them bare all, the plot is pretty thin. Drac apparently can't keep his servants in line, as many of them rebel and force him to kill them. Senta's description of Naschy (who like Lon Chaney in the arguably-misnamed Son of Dracula, transitions from playing a werewolf in a series of films to a standalone turn as the Lord of the Vampires) as "handsome" is being generous, and even Karen doesn't get the appeal at first. Of course, there's lots of fake redder-than-red blood. The dubbing is hilarious. Dialogue and lip movements are not synced at all, many of the Transylvanian peasants have Southern accents, and there are memorable lines like, "You'd sleep with a broom if it wore pants!" Curiously, Imre says Count Dracula is the descendant of the historical Prince, whereas Stoker makes it pretty clear they're the same person. There are some cool visual effects, such as a dream sequence of Dracula biting a female victim shot in photo-negative. Of course, the film wouldn't be complete without Dracula having sex while we see a mirror with the reflection showing only his inamorata. The Daninsky films are more fun, but this is a enjoyable way to pass an hour and twenty-two minutes.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Colt in the Hand of the Devil (Una colt in mano al diavolo; "Frank G. Carrol" [Rafael Baldanello], 1973)

At a prison rock quarry, Roy Koster (Seven Guns for the MacGregors' Robert Woods) gets into an altercation with a guard. Fellow inmate "Sulky" Jeremiah Scott (stage-turned-screen actor Attilio Dottesio) kills the guard with a pickax, and tells Roy he wants him to repay the debt when he gets out of jail. Jeremiah is brutally flogged for the killing, but before dying he says the word "Silvertown" to Roy, and gives him his cufflink. After his sentence ends, Roy rides into Silvertown, a town in Texas. At the saloon owned by Dennis McCorney (spaghetti western icon William Berger, sporting long hair and a mustache), Roy plays cards with three men, who seem alarmed when he produces the cufflink. Roy gives the alcoholic Thomas $10 in exchange for the location of Jeremiah's ranch. Thomas tells Roy the town is under the control of a gang led by a man named Warner, of which Roy's fellow card-players were members. Soon after, Thomas is found hanged with two $5 bills clenched between his teeth. Roy gives the undertaker money for his funeral, then goes out to the ranch, where he meets Jeremiah's grieving widow Martha (Giovanna Mainardi) and her children Grace (Fiorella Mannoia) and Phil (Ursus' Nino Fuscagni), who hold their late father in contempt. Phil is a member of Warner's gang. Warner's henchmen attempt to prevent Thomas' funeral from taking place, saying that he committed suicide and they are "good Christians," but Roy knows it was murder and guns them down. Martha reveals to Roy that Jeremiah was accused of robbery and murder after telling Warner (George Wang) and McCorney about his need for money. The duo, along with McCorney's dishwasher Sam Dayton (W Django!'s Mario Dardanelli) did not corroborate Jeremiah's story, and he was sentenced to ten years in prison. Convinced the man who saved his life was framed, Roy seeks to bring Warner to justice, in his own way...

The 1970s are generally considered a low period for the Spaghetti Western. The genre largely devolved into self-parody, in the wake of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer's Trinity films. Despite this, there were a few last great films of the genre, such as Enzo G. Castellari's Keoma (despite its infamous songs, which I personally find grow on repeated viewings) and Lucio Fulci's underappreciated Four of the Apocalypse. A Colt in the Hand of the Devil isn't on the level of those two films, but it is certainly one of the more watchable '70s SWs. Robert Woods and William Berger were both old hands at the genre at this point, and both turn in good performances, the debonair Berger in particular. (Curiously, although his character is listed on IMDB and the excellent Spaghetti Western Database as Isaac McCorney, he is referred to as "Dennis McCorney" at one point during the trial flashback, and therefore that's the name I'm going with for this review. This is somewhat similar to Berger's character in Lamberto Bava's Devil Fish, whose name initially appears on a sign as Dr. Donald West, but is later called "Walter" by his wife.) Popular singer Fiorella Mannoia as our hero's love interest is attractive and a talented actress. She was also, interestingly, a frequent stand-in for actress Monica Vitti, as well as Candice Bergen in The Hunting Party. There is a scene where Grace is treating Roy with contempt, which causes him to slap her twice, then force a kiss on her, which of course causes her to immediately fall in love with him and return it. Given the current #MeToo movement, this made me cringe a bit. As is often the case in SWs, the law is too incompetent and/or corrupt to stop the gang that runs the town. Thomas provides a few bits of lame drunk comedy relief, but luckily Baldanello has the good sense to kill him off early. One thing I wondered about was the obviously Chinese George Wang playing a bad guy named Warner. Is his character supposed to be completely white, or half-Asian? It seems hard to believe his men would follow him in those times if that were the case, if the likes of the television series Kung Fu and the SW My Name is Shanghai Joe (also featuring Wang in a small role) are any indication. Curiously, there was an earlier SW called Colt in the Hand of the Devil, directed by Sergio Bergonzelli, but apart from having a character with the surname Scott and George Wang being in the cast, Baldanello's film does not appear to be a remake. There are lots of shootings, though not much blood. Piero Piccioni's music is superb. A Colt in the Hand of the Devil may be a fairly standard story lacking in some of the more flamboyant touches SWs were known for, but it's better than the likes of such '70s genre nadirs as God's Gun and Cry Onion any day.

The film can be viewed on Amazon Prime.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Bad Sleep Well (Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru; Akira Kurosawa, 1960)

At the wedding of lame-legged Yoshiko Iwabuchi (Kyôko Kagawa), daughter of the vice-president  (Masayuki Mori) of the Land Development Corporation, Kōichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune), the secretary of President Arimura (Ken Mitsuda), a group of reporters watch as Assistant Chief Wada (Kamatari Fujiwara) is arrested on bribery charges involving likely kickbacks. The reporters note a parallel to an earlier incident involving Iwabuchi, Administrative Officer Moriyama (Takashi Shimura), and Contract Officer Shirai (Kô Nishimura), which was left unsolved after Wada's predecessor Furuya committed suicide by jumping from a 7th-story window. The wedding cake is also in the shape of the building where Furuya killed himself, with a rose sticking from the 7th floor. The police interrogate Wada and Managing Director Miura (Gen Shimizu) about the Corporation bribing government officials. Prompted by a letter he receives, Miura commits suicide by running in front of a truck. Nishi stops Wada when he in turns tries to kill himself by jumping into an active volcano. Allowing the world to believe him dead, Nishi takes Wada to his own funeral, where he plays a tape recording of his bosses plotting his death, persuading him to help him get revenge for past wrongs...

I have a Holy Trinity of Filmmakers: Luis Buñuel, David Lynch, and Akira Kurosawa. The Bad Sleep Well is another masterpiece from a director who made many of them. This film proves, as do the likes of Drunken Angel and Stray Dog, that he was as brilliant at Japanese style-noir as he was at period dramas such as Rashomon and Yojimbo. I love a good revenge flick, and Nishi's attempt to bring down these powerful men, and learning why he's doing it, is fascinating to watch, so that even at 151 minutes the film moves briskly. Mifune once again proves himself one of Japan's best actors, and his fellow Kurosawa regulars Mori and Shimura are excellent as well. Nishi's relationship with Yoshiko, whom he originally marries as a mean to an ends but finds himself genuinely falling in love with, is heartbreaking, and Kyôko Kagawa (also in Ozu's Tokyo Story and Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff, among others) turns in a wonderfully sympathetic performance. Kamatari Fujiwara is also superb as a man willing to help Nishi, but guilt-ridden by his methods. The ending is tragic, and says a lot about how bureaucrats can abuse their power to crush those who stand in their way. Kurosawa is considered a legend for good reason, and this film ranks as one of his very best.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Body Beneath (Andy Milligan, 1970)

A woman in Highgate Cemetery on Hampstead Heath is attacked by three green-skinned women. Soon after, Graham Ford (The Pink Panther's Colin Gordon) is visited by his distant cousin the Rev. Alexander Algernon Ford (Tootsie's Gavin Reed) and his silent wife Alicia (Susan Heard). The two have recently moved to Carfax Abbey near Highgate, and invite Graham and his wife Anna to dinner. The Reverend also tells Graham the Ford family has existed since 98 B.C. Anna (Real Life's Susan Clark), who as it turns out is the woman at the cemetery, comes home. Meanwhile, Susan Ford (Jackie Skarvellis) tells her boyfriend Paul Donati (Richmond Ross) she is pregnant, and the two talk about getting married. Apparently, Susan will also be visiting the Reverend and his wife. Meanwhile (again), Candace Ford (Emma Jones) receives a bouquet of flowers. One of the green-skinned women whispers to her maid. The bouquet has a razor blade in it, on which Candace cuts herself, drawing blood. Susan shows up early at Carfax Abbey, where the Reverend is pleased to learn of her engagement and that Paul is of "strong blood." Susan passes out from drugged sherry, and is later offered food by the hunchbacked servant Spool (Berwick Kaler), whom she tries to convince to help her escape. However, she learns a horrible truth: for centuries, the Fords have been vampires. The family's blood has become diluted in the past hundred years by inbreeding, but Susan's unborn child may be the solution to their problem...

Andy Milligan is a fascinating example of a cult filmmaker. Also a playwright, he did films in both the U.S. and the U.K. Reportedly possessed of a violent temper, Milligan was also openly gay, and died of AIDS in 1990. Of the three films I've seen by Milligan to date, The Body Beneath is by far the most well-made. Milligan's literary inclinations are on full display -- sharp-eared viewers will recognize that Carfax Abbey was Dracula's home in England in Beam Stoker's novel, while the real Highgate Cemetery was the basis for Stoker's fictional Kingstead Cemetery. The performances run the gamut. Gavin Reed is a ham, but not in a bad way. Berwick Kaler makes the viewer feel for what would ordinarily be a stock hunchbacked assistant, sorrowfully recounting how his stepbrother pushed him in front of a moving bus. Shortly before that, we learn he likes pudding, which I'm sure many viewers can identify with. The Fords' vampirism is interesting. The Reverend and Alicia get their blood by transfusion, but the other members of the family seem to go in for the traditional neck-biting. Of course, horror movies about ancient horribly inbred families are nothing new; Jack Hill's Spider Baby is one of the best. The ending is surprisingly arty and well-shot for Milligan, as the Fords, flamboyantly attired, get together for their big conference. The Rev wants to relocate the family to America, home of "pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, degenerates, the scum of the Earth!" Hey, if the shoe fits...

If you have Amazon Prime, you can check out the film there. And if you're still not decided, check out the trailer!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (William Beaudine, 1952)

The natives of Kola-Kola Island, including Chief Rakos and his daughter Nona (Charlita) find crooner Duke Mitchell and his partner comedian Sammy Petrillo (playing themselves), who fell out of a plane they were taking to perform for troops in Guam. Duke and Nona hit it off, while Sammy finds himself having to deal with the unwanted attentions of Nona's heavyset sister Saloma. Nona acts as lab assistant to Dr. Zabor (Bela Lugosi), a scientist engaged in evolutionary experiments. Zabor is himself in love with Nona, and doesn't take kindly to Duke's obvious interest in her. Like Saloma, Zabor's lab chimpanzee Ramona takes a shine to Sammy, and locks him in with her in her cage. Pepe Bordo, the local policeman, offers to use his wireless set to contact one of the other islands and arrange to get Duke and Sammy off the island, but Nona is saddened by the thought of losing Duke. Later, Duke, Sammy, and Zabor attend dinner with Chief Rakos and his daughters. Duke and Nona sneak away to discuss wedding plans, unaware Zabor's manservant Chula is spying on them. Chula reports this to Dr. Zabor, who then uses a serum to turn Ramona into a smaller monkey (not to mention a different kind), and somehow concludes that now he can turn a man into a gorilla. Chula grabs Duke, and brings him to Dr. Zabor, who sure enough turns him into the Brooklyn Gorilla of the title.

This movie hurts. Quite badly, in fact. Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo blatantly lifted their whole act from Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who justifiably sued them. Duke, however, doesn't have a third of Dino's suavity or musical talent (he sounds like he's in physical pain at times during his songs), while Sammy is like an even more annoying version of Jerry Lewis, if such a thing is possible. (I maintain Jerry is at his finest in a rare mostly-serious role as talk show host Jerry Langford in Scorsese's The King of Comedy.) Literally every line out of his mouth is a bad joke, and even worse he laughs at many of them himself, the sign of a true douchebag in my opinion. He also frequently refers to Duke as "Dukie," which is a truly unfortunate homophone. Bela Lugosi is as fun to watch as ever, though it's depressing to think he was at that stage of his career when he was deep in the throes of drug addiction and taking pretty much any role that was offered him. In the only halfway amusing gag in the movie, upon first meeting Duke and Sammy the latter recognizes Zabor as "that guy who go around biting people's necks!" Charlita (born Clara DeFreitas in Lowell, Massachusetts) is a dull love interest, although she does look nice in a sarong. Sammy constantly running away from Saloma and making jokes about her weight (something Nona, her sister, never objects to) is pretty offensive, and that's coming from a large man who nevertheless laughs uproariously at MST3K's savaging of Joe Don Baker. Duke tries to inform Sammy of his transformation via charades(!!!), but is unable to do so until he sings one of his (s)hit songs, "'Deed I Do." Because apparently he can sing but not talk as a gorilla. The ending serves up one of the hoariest "fuck you" cliches in the history of cinema. Director William Beaudine has been nicknamed "One-Shot" because he allegedly seldom retook scenes with flubbed lines or special effects failures. Actually, this is a disproved claim made by Michael Medved, the cinematic and political moron who propagated the laughable idea that Lugosi's friend and collaborator Ed Wood was the worst filmmaker of all time. (Incidentally, Martin Landau watched Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla as research for his Academy Award-winning portrayal of Lugosi in Tim Burton's biopic of Wood. Like me, he considered Bela the film's sole redeeming quality.) Bela appeared in a good few of Beaudine's films, though the only one of their other works together I've seen is Voodoo Man, which isn't a particularly good film but still beats the hell out of this one. Late in his career, Beaudine produced the horror Westerns Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter, which have a certain notoriety all their own. Sammy went on to star in sexploitation icon Doris Wishman's Keyholes Are For Peeping, while Duke directed and starred in Gone with the Pope, where he played an ex-gangster who hatches a plan to kidnap the Pope and demand a dollar apiece in ransom from every Catholic in the world. Full of bad writing and worse comedy and music, this is very much a film for Lugosi completists only.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma; José Mojica Marins, 1964)

After a funeral, the undertaker Zé do Caixão (director José Mojica Marins) returns to his home, where his maid-with-benefits Lenita (Valéria Vasquez) explains she is unable to serve him meat because of a religious holiday. Zé, a devout atheist, flies into a rage, and goes off to get some lamb. Before he goes, he is visited by his friend Antônio de Andrade (Nivaldo Lima) and his fiancée Terezhina de Oliveira (Magda Mei). Lenita is jealous of Zé's attraction to Terezhina. Zé takes Terezhina to meet Antônio later on, but she flees after Zé tries to force himself on her. At a bar, Zé becomes involved in a card game, and slashes another player's hand with a broken bottle when he refuses to pay up. Dr. Rodolfo (producer Ilídio Martins Simões) is called to treat the injured man. Zé makes advances towards a barmaid, but when the girl's uncle objects, a brawl breaks out, and Zé escapes only with Antônio's help. Zé, who wishes Terezhina to father his son in furtherance of what he calls the "continuity of the blood," chloroforms the infertile Lenita, ties her to a bed, tapes her mouth shut, and kills her with a venomous spider, making the bite look like an accident. More than two weeks later, Zé accompanies Antônio and Terezhina to a Romany ("gypsy") fortune teller called the Old Witch (Eucaris Moraes), who foretells that Antônio will die tonight, and must be buried at midnight. During an argument about religion, Zé hits Antônio in the head with a fireplace poker, than strangles him in a bathtub. At his funeral, Terezhina accuses Zé of murdering her fiancé. Visiting the bar once more, Zé buys a bird to give as a gift to Terezhina. When she rejects him once again, he bloodily beats and then rapes her. Terezhina tells Zé she will kill herself, and that at midnight he will, as the title suggests, take his soul.

I have been curious about the Zé do Caixão (or Coffin Joe as he's known in English-speaking countries) films for years, and I am pleased to say the first film in the trilogy exceeded my expectations. José Mojica Marins has crafted a truly memorable character. As Zé, Marins is utterly sinister, with his black top hat, suit, and cloak, beard, and pointy, curly fingernails. One would almost think there was something demonic about him, though the film never says such. His obsession with the "continuity of the blood," his macabre laugh, and his sadistic glee in destroying those who stand in his way make him a villain to be reckoned with. He believes that his lack of faith makes him stronger than the average person. (Speaking as an atheist myself, I'm not sure I'd go that far, but Zé is insane, so take that for what you will.) The film is atmospheric and has great music. Zé addresses the audience in a pre-opening credits scene, and the Old Witch right after the credits. The ending is extremely well staged and genuinely scary. Zé de Caixão became an iconic character in Brazil (indeed, this was the country's first ever horror film), and Marins brought the character back for two more films, This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967) and Embodiment of Evil (2008). I know for damn sure I will be checking those out, particularly as I want to see how Zé could possibly bounce back from the events of this film.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Angel of Vengeance (Ted V. Mikels and Ray Dennis Steckler, 1987)

Despite the pleading of Pierre (Pierre Agostino, credited as "Pierre D'Augustino"), who tells him the Major said to leave the local women alone, Manny Laconi (Macka Foley, who played the gym coach on two episodes of Parker Lewis Can't Lose) propositions newcomer Tina Davenport (Jannina Poynter), who has come to a small mountain town to write a book about her father, a Green Beret who died in Vietnam about 15 years ago. Taking to the rustic life like a fish to water, Tina nevertheless finds herself continually harassed by Manny, who eventually shows up at the cottage, only to be coldcocked and arrested. Major Hargrove (David O'Hara, whose credits include playing a cop in an episode of Santa Barbara and Ed Gein on Criminal Minds), the leader of the survivalist militia group in the mountains Manny and Pierre belong to, shows up to transport Manny back to their compound, Tina having chosen not to press charges. The Major and Manny, who once served six years for sexual assault, get into an altercation with some bikers, who follow them back to the compound. The Major and his merry band kill all of the bikers except for Linda (Linda Eden), whom the Major gives to Manny to do with as he pleases. Going into town to get supplies, Manny and Pierre run into Tina out jogging, and Manny decides to bring her with them. Meanwhile, two rednecks leave a gun store after robbing the place and shooting the owner. Tina gets thrown in the same cell as Linda, who she insists needs a doctor. The Major is not happy with Manny for bringing her to the compound. Tina is tied to a bed, and Manny rapes her (offscreen, thankfully). Meanwhile, the two random killers murder a farm family. Tina accuses the Major of cowardice and requests that his men hunt her, giving her a fair chance. The Major gives her two hours, believing an unarmed woman is easy prey, but he is very wrong...

Fans of cult cinema will appreciate the legendary names behind Angel of Vengeance. Ray Dennis Steckler was initially the director, but was sadly fired after three days by producer Jeffrey C. Hogue and replaced with Ted V. Mikels, the director of such infamous films as The Black Klansman (not to be confused with the upcoming Spike Lee movie of the same name), The Corpse Grinders (in which people being ground into violence-inducing cat food is simulated by placing the actors into cardboard boxes and pushing hamburger out the other end), and The Doll Squad, often cited as the likely inspiration for Charlie's Angels. Mikels lived in a California castle for many years with a bevy of beautiful women, so make of that what you will. Angel of Vengeance marks the sixth film I've seen by Mikels, and the most recent in terms of release date. It's probably the weakest of the six, but I would say it has a certain "guilty pleasure" quality to it if I believed in the idea of guilty pleasures. The plot is standard '80s action movie fare, although some of the performances are amusing. Jannina Poynter is certainly attractive, but not much to write home about as an actress. Her response to finding a dead body seems less to denote anger at the killer as annoyance. It's also hilarious how she comes into town wearing an incredibly demure dress, but once she settles in the cottage she switches to a headband, tank top, and short shorts. Macka Foley plays one of the hammiest psycho rapists ever caught on film. David O'Hara is pretty charismaless and unmemorable for a militia leader. Pierre Agostino is likely a holdover from when Steckler was still directing the film, as he played the title character of RDS' films The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher and Las Vegas Serial Killer. One wonders if the name on the bikers' jackets, "Thrill Killers, Inc.," is a in-joke nod to Steckler's film The Thrill Killers. The random killers, Zach (Jason Holt, who also directed six films, four of which he acted in) and his unnamed partner (Ed Walters) chew the scenery almost as much as Foley, and the ending will likely satisfy viewers who've come to hate these pieces of shit. Some of Tina's killings are memorable, as when she jabs two sharpened sticks through a guy's eyes, or when she catches another one in a snare and blows him up with a grenade, leaving only a leg. There's a mediocre country song over the end credits, "Take Me Home" by T. Craig Keller (also the associate producer), and Tina twice sings Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" (Because her methods are totally ones of which the erstwhile Robert Zimmerman would approve, right?) This isn't anywhere near the level of Mikels' '60s-'70s work, but it's worth at least one watch for completeness' sake.