Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Satan's Sadists (Al Adamson, 1969)

At a diner in the California desert, owner Lew (Half Past Midnight's Kent Taylor), waitress Tracy (Jacqulin Cole, credited as "Jackie Taylor"), ex-military policeman in Vietnam Johnny Martin (The Black Klansman's Gary Kent), and cop Charlie Baldwin (Gremlins' Scott Brady) and his wife Nora (Evelyn Frank) are taken hostage by the Satans, a group of degenerate bikers consisting of psycho leader Anchor (Twin Peaks' Russ Tamblyn), his lovesick old lady Gina (Regina Carrol, wife of director Al Adamson), mohawked half-Native American Firewater (Nightmare in Wax's John "Bud" Cardos), hearing aid-using LSD enthusiast Acid (screenwriter Greydon Clark, future director of such cult classics as Black Shampoo and Angels' Brigade, both featuring Jacqulin Cole herself, who had by that time become Mrs. Clark), eyepatched Willie (Deadwood '76's Robert Dix), and the not-as-distinctive Muscle (Bigfoot's William Bonner) and Romeo (Bobby Clark, who may or may not be related to Greydon, and oddly is credited on IMDB for his stuntwork in the film but not his acting).

Satan's Sadists is the third film I've seen by exploitation legend Al Adamson, and without a doubt the best of three, far outstripping The Dynamite Brothers, which is still a better blaxploitation-martial arts hybrid than The Tattoo Connection, and Dracula vs. Frankenstein, featuring J. Carroll Naish, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Angelo Rossitto at an all-time career low. As crazy biker movies go, it's not on the level of Russ Meyer's Motor Psycho, and in terms of flicks about loonies menacing diner patrons, it's probably not up to Ray Dennis Steckler's The Thrill Killers, but it's still damn entertaining. The Satans are drinking, drugging, raping, killing machines. Russ Tamblyn in particular is his usual delightful self, portraying Anchor as a giggling maniac who has absolutely no value for human life. John "Bud" Cardos delivers a fine performance as the only member of the Satans who has any compunctions about Anchor's ruthlessness. Regina Carrol, billed as "The Freak-Out Girl," does a sexy dance over jukebox music, and puts up with some pretty horrendous abuse from Tamblyn, which finally drives her over the edge... Gary Kent makes for a pretty bland hero, but it is cool seeing him use his 'Nam experience in fighting the Satans. Jacqulin Cole is a real looker and a pretty decent actress - it's easy to tell what Greydon saw in her. The film, ironically, was shot at the Spahn Ranch, where another mentally ill gang sadly would soon help end the Love Generation. Greydon's script has some memorable lines, such as Johnny saying "If you're a person, you're somebody?" or Romeo remarking about Nora, "She's sure got nice boobs!" Keep in mind, the person saying this is not 10 years old. There're some cool death scenes, including the first known toilet drowning in a film (interesting to see where that got started!), and psychedelic songs written by Harley Hatcher and performed by the Nightriders. Satan's Sadists is a groovy gas that all exploitation cinema fans must see! If you have a Fandor account, you can check it out there, but if you're still undecided, dig the trailer!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Zombie (Zombi 2; Lucio Fulci, 1979)

A seemingly empty boat appears in New York City's harbor. A patrol boat comes out to investigate, and one of the patrolmen is killed by a deformed zombie, who is killed in turn by his partner. The boat belongs to the father of Anne Bowles (Anthropophagus' Tisa Farrow, daughter of Maureen O'Sullivan and sister of Mia Farrow), whom the police question about what happened. At the morgue, the dead harbor patrolman begins to awaken. Reporter Peter West (Zombie Holocaust's Ian McCulloch) is told to cover the story by his editor. Sneaking aboard the boat to investigate, Anne runs into Peter, who did the same. After discovering a letter from Anne's father, they manage to escape from the credulous guard watching the boat by pretending they came aboard to have sex. The letter reveals that the elder Bowles was one of the victims of a plague on the Caribbean island of Matool. On the island, Dr. David Menard (Deadlier Than the Male's Richard Johnson), who is treating the zombie plague, argues with his wife (Keoma's Olga Karlatos). A native named Lucas (Ator, the Fighting Eagle's Dakar, born Alejandro Barrera) tells Menard, the other natives believe the zombies are being created by voodoo, but the doctor, a scientist and rationalist, is skeptical. Meanwhile, Mrs. Menard falls victim to the living dead. Arriving in the Caribbean, Peter and Anne hitch a ride to Matool aboard a boat owned by two vacationing fellow Americans, Brian Hull (Al Cliver) and Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay). Susan nearly falls victim to a shark while scubaing, but it instead is killed by an underwater zombie, though not before damaging the boat. Arriving on Matul and calling for help with signal flares, they are greeted by Menard, who reveals Anne's father is dead, having fallen victim to the plague. Like many others, Menard killed him once again by shooting him in the head when he started to revive. Menard asks the visitors to check on his wife. When they arrive, they find zombies in the midst of a hearty meal...

Zombie, or Zombi 2 to use its original title, was ostensibly a sequel to George Romero's masterpiece Dawn of the Dead, which was released in Italy under the title Zombi. However, as is often the case with Italian films marketed as "sequels" to existing films, Italian or American, there is no actual relationship between the two. In Dawn of the Dead, the dead returning to life is never explained. In Zombie, it's heavily implied to be as a result of a voodoo ritual. Indeed, Fulci's zombies are an interesting blend of the flesh-eating contagious variety created by Romero and imitated by countless filmmakers, authors, artists, and television writers, with the more traditional undead of voodoo lore. Even so, Fulci does manage to bring something new to the table. It's hard not to love zombies vs. sharks, and Fulci even throws a few conquistador zombies into the mix. The gore FX and makeup are topnotch, and it's easy to see why this became one of Britain's infamous "video nasties." Olga Karlatos receives a pre-death injury that will likely make viewers wince, while the zombies are even more rotted then Romero's. Karlatos does have a shower scene right before the zombie attack, and Auretta Gay wears an extremely tight thong and no top during her scuba scenes, reflecting the Italians' much-debated blending of sex and violence. Fabio Frizzi's music includes electronica and calypso-style pieces. Of all the Italian zombie films I've seen (and I've seen plenty), this may very well be the best!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Mansion of Madness (Juan López Moctezuma, 1973)

Gaston LeBlanc (10 to Midnight's Arthur Hansel) is a reporter in 19th century France who is writing a story about Dr. Maillard's sanitarium. He has an an in through his friend Julien Couvier (Pickpocket's Martin LaSalle), who is friends with the doctor. Their coach is intercepted by armed guards in period clothing. A female relative of Couvier's accompanying them falls ill, and Couvier asks Gaston to go on alone. Gaston meets Dr. Mallard (frequent Buñuel actor Claudio Brook), who gives his inmates free rein. Maillard introduces Gaston to his lovely daughter, Eugénie (Ellen Sherman, whose few other acting credits include an episode of Three's Company). Soon, Gaston realizes that Maillard is even more mad than his patients, while Couvier, Blanche, and their strongman coach driver are captured by the inmates.

This is only the second film I've seen by Juan López Moctezuma, the first being Alucarda, but based on these two films, he's a horror auteur, no two ways about it. A producer on Fando and Lis and an associate producer on El Topo, his fans include Guillermo del Toro. This tale of the inmates literally taking over the asylum is bizarre and disturbing, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Claudio Brook (who played a dual role in Alucarda as a rationalist doctor and a satyrlike gypsy Satanist) gives an incredible performance, at times urbane and charming and at others bellowing and cackling. Arthur Hansel convincingly portrays Gaston's horror at what is going on inside the asylum. Moctezuma fills the film with grotesques, such as the aptly-named Mr. Chicken, a dungeon inmate named Dante who hangs from chains in a pose evoking the Crucifixion and quotes his namesake, and a "priest" in red robes and a horned hood, who work on machines whose stated purposes make no sense whatsoever. Claudio even uses the famous quote associated with Aleister Crowley (but originally written by Rabelais), "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Martin LaSalle provides some amusing comic relief. Ellen Sherman does a bizarre dance routine and monologue (supposedly Javanese in origin). There are interesting camera angles, echoing voices, and a Peckinpahesque shooting. I loved this film, and I will now make a point of reading its inspiration, Edgar Allan Poe's "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether." So head on over to Amazon Prime (which has it under the alternate title Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon) and check out this sublimely deranged piece of cinema!

Friday, January 26, 2018

David Lynch: The Art Life (Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergard-Holm, 2016)

A documentary covering the early years of David Lynch, from his childhood to the making of Eraserhead, as well as his artwork, past and present.

My cinematic holy trinity consists of Luis Buñuel, David Lynch, and Akira Kurosawa, in that order. Besides his amazing films, Lynch is also the co-creator of Twin Peaks, in this reviewer's opinion the greatest television series of all time, in either incarnation. Lynch's films are bizarre and show the dark underbelly of everyday life. Having seen much of it in this film, I can testify that so is his artwork. The man is a true Artist, no matter what his medium, and learning more about his life and his craft was a valuable experience for me. There are plenty of interesting factoids - did you know Lynch was once the roommate of future J. Geils Band lead vocalist Peter Wolf? Lynch himself narrates, both onscreen and in voiceover, in that distinctive voice we fans know so well. Clips are shown from his (awesome) early short films, such as The Grandmother and The Alphabet. Lynch is shown in the present day at work on his art, sometimes with the help of his toddler daughter Lula. Having seen this following Twin Peaks: The Return (which I adored, haters be damned), some of Lynch's drawings from his own life have been revealed to me. His mentor in art, Bushnell Keeler, is surely the source of Dougie Jones' boss Bushnell Mullins' first name. A drawing by Lynch of a man with black smoke where his head must be clearly presages the portrayal of Tulpas in The Return. Lynch's childhood as described by himself was much like his films: mundane suburbia with something darker and more surreal under the surface. Judging by the pictures we see, the elder Lynch was a dead ringer for the adult David, albeit with somewhat less unique a hairstyle. If I have one complaint about this film, it's that I would've been interested in hearing some of the folks Lynch knew in those early days' take on them and the auteur himself. However, as a fan, I nevertheless learned a lot about one of my creative heroes and his non-film work, and fans of the arts in general and Lynch in particular should check it out. Besides being available for Streaming on Amazon Prime, it's also for sale from the fine folks at the Criterion Collection. So quit worryin' and start scurryin' (to quote Shelly Johnson) to check it out!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Spasmo (Umberto Lenzi, 1974)

Christian Bauman (Nights and Loves of Don Juan's Robert Hoffmann), the brother of industrialist Fritz (Shock's Ivan Rassimov), and his ladyfriend Xenia (The Arena's Maria Pia Conte) find a seemingly dead woman lying on the beach. The woman, Barbara (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage's Suzy Kendall), turns out to be very much alive, but soon flees, leaving behind a thermos with the word "Tucania" on it. Christian tracks Barbara to the Tucania, a docked boat owned by Alex (Three Tough Guys' Mario Erpichini), a wealthy man who is madly in love with her. Christian and Barbara drive to a motel to have sex, but Barbara asks Christian to shave off his beard first. While Christian is in the bathroom, a gun-wielding man named Tatum (Shaft in Africa's Adolfo Lastretti) comes in through the window. A struggle ensues, and Christian shoots Tatum. Barbara takes Christian back to Alex, who offers him passage to safety in Monte Carlo, but Christian realizes he left his gold chain back at the motel, and goes back to get it. When he arrives, Tatum is gone, meaning he either survived or an accomplice removed his corpse. Christian and Barbara hide out at the home of a friend of the latter's who collects birds of prey, both living and dead and stuffed and mounted. Someone cuts the power. The couple meet Malcolm (8 1/2's Guido Alberti) and his daughter Clorinda (Shoot First, Die Later's Monica Monet), who claim to be renting the house from Barbara's friend. Christian recognizes Clorinda from some past incident. Why does Christian find himself in this situation, and what is the significance of the scantily-clad female mannequins that keep appearing hanging from trees?

Spasmo is the sixth film I've seen by legendary Italian filmmaker Umberto Lenzi, most infamous for Cannibal Ferox. I can say without a doubt this is my favorite Lenzi film so far, and a topnotch giallo. The performances are all excellent, particularly that of the lovely Kendall, whom mainstream audiences will probably know best as Sidney Poitier's fellow teacher and potential love interest in To Sir, with Love. Virtually everyone has a secret they're hiding from everyone else, and the plot, as so often is the case in the genre, is pretty complicated. The zoom shots so beloved in Italian genre cinema are on full display, and there are some cool POV tracking shots. The birds and the mannequins add a touch of eerieness to the film, though I was surprised and a little disappointed there were no "death by bird" scenes. Soundtrack god Ennio Morricone's work is magnificent as always. The ending is nicely creepy, with Rassimov conveying plenty while saying nothing. Lenzi and gialli fans won't want to miss this one!

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Tattoo Connection (E yu tou hei sha xing; Tso Nam Lee, 1978)

Tung Hao (Tan-Liang Tao) brings Fat Dog (Fu Hung Cheng) to their boss, Mr. Lu (Sing Chen). When Fat Dog is unable to produce the money he was supposed to acquire, Lu sentences him to death. Tung Hao, not as malevolent as his employer, instead uses a branding iron to remove Fat Dog's eagle tattoo, the symbol of their gang. Later, Lu's men steal a valuable diamond. The insurance company sends their top investigator, ex-CIA agent Lucas (Jim Kelly) to retrieve it. Meanwhile, Tung Hao's girlfriend Nana (Nami Misaki), who works as a stripper in a club owned by Mr. Lu, tries to convince him to abandon his life of crime.

Martial arts movie aficionados know Jim Kelly for two iconic films directed by Robert Clouse: Enter the Dragon and Black Belt Jones. In fact, in the U.S. and U.K., The Tattoo Connection was marketed as the sequel to Black Belt Jones on VHS and DVD. Needless to say, it's not, and while it's an enjoyable film, it's nowhere near as good as its alleged predecessor. (Incidentally, the film Hot Potato, featuring Kelly as a martial artist who actually is named Jones, is considered by some to be the actual, unofficial sequel to Black Belt Jones). The dubbing is hilarious, with many of the characters sporting British accents. Kelly's Enter the Dragon costar, musclebound perennial heavy Bolo Yeung, is even dubbed with a Cockney accent! Even more egregiously, Jim himself is dubbed by someone else! The word "bastard" is used at least half a dozen times. There's also this phone conversation:

Mr. Lu: I just received the picture you sent me, but what is his name?
Guy on other end: His name is Lucas.
Mr. Lu: Ah, Lucas is his name.

So wait, what's his name again?

Suzi Quattro's "Can the Can" and "48 Catch" are played in the strip club, and dollars to donuts the studio didn't get the rights to use them. Lu bribes Tung Hao's uncle, an elderly diamond cutter, with nubile young things to get him to work his craft on the stolen gem, which he later swallows for no apparent reason. The ending has one of the most blatantly obvious uses of a mannequin to create the illusion of someone falling to their death I've seen in a film. Whatever the film's flaws, Jim Kelly is as cool as ever, Tan-Liang Tao brings some real depth to his role, and the fight scenes are far from bad. Blaxploitation and martial arts fans expecting anything on the level of Kelly's better known work will be let down, but if you set your expectations a smidgen lower this is a pretty fun way to spend an hour and a half.

Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (Jeunes filles impudiques; "Michel Gentil" [Jean Rollin], 1973)

Two young hitchhikers, brunette Monica (Joëlle Coeur) and blonde Jackie (Gilda Arancio, credited as "Gilda Stark") decide to rest at a seemingly deserted villa. The two girls, who are in a lesbian relationship, have sex. As it happens, a petty gangster named Fred (Willy Braque, sporting a scar and a handlebar mustache) is hiding out in another room of the villa. Monica encounters Fred, and they have sex themselves, with Jackie soon joining them. The girls leave the following morning. Fred's accomplice Béatrice (Marie Hélène Règne) arrives, wishing to see the jewels he has stolen, but they find them missing from the safe where Fred stored them. Convinced that Monica and Jackie stole them, the crooks kidnap the couple from their campsite. While Fred and Béatrice torture Jackie, cutting her hair and doing something with a large pair of pliers offscreen, Monica escapes from Béatrice's henchman (François Brincourt), and enlists the aid of a private eye named Harry (Pierre Julien) and his pigtailed secretary (Reine Thirion).

Jean Rollin is without a doubt one of the most famous names in French sex cinema. His works include both softcore and hardcore productions, and many of his films feature female vampires. This film was made under Rollin's frequent nom de plume Michel Gentil (Rollin's full name was Jean Michel Rollin de Gentil). I've only seen one other Rollin film, Requiem for a Vampire, when it was on Netflix Streaming way back when they had a good selection of grindhouse cinema. Based on these two films, Rollin's work is long on sex and short on plot. Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (aka High School Hitch Hikers) is reasonably entertaining, but nothing special, and not particularly titillating. It's definitely softcore - both the female leads get full-frontal, but Fred keeps his pants on during sex scenes. Béatrice is clearly masturbating while watching Monica and Fred in the act through a window, but she's only shown from the waist up. Most of the performances are decent, though none are really exceptional. Pierre Raph's music includes a jazzy trumpet, a whistling tune that sounds more fitting for a Boy Scout jamboree, and some groovy sitar music. I was pretty amused by one pair of scenes: Fred has sex with Harry's secretary, who is naked, but she pistol whips him, although he gets the upper hand. When he brings her down again as a hostage, she's fully clothed! Thoughtful of him to let her get redressed. Also watch out for Rollin's uncredited cameo at the end of the film. Jean may not have been the Godard of sexploitation, but he did at least make his films entertaining, so kudos to him for that.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Shriek of the Mutilated (Michael Findlay, 1974)

Dr. Ernest Prell (Alan Brock) takes his student Keith Henshaw (Michael Harris) to a restaurant, where they are served an exotic dish called gin sung. Prell is organizing a field trip to investigate yeti sightings. Meanwhile, other students of his are throwing a party, which we know is swingin' because there's a popcorn maker. A former student, Spencer Ste. Claire (Tom Graile), drinks heavily and talks about Prell's last yeti-hunting expedition, of which the two were the only survivors. On returning home, Ste. Claire argues with his wife and stabs her with an electric carving knife, then crawls into the bathtub fully clothed with a can of beer. The dying April (Luci Brandt) throws the toaster into the tub, electrocuting her husband. Prell, Keith, Keith's girlfriend Karen Hunter (Bloodsucking Freaks' Jennifer Stock), Tom Nash (Invasion of the Blood Farmers' Jack Neubeck), and Lynn Kelly (Darcy Brown), take a van to Boot Island, where Prell's friend Dr. Karl Werner (Tawm Ellis) lives. Werner recently encountered the yeti. He also has a mute Indian (as in Native American) servant named Laughing Crow (Ivan Agar). Gin sung is served for dinner once again. First Tom, and then Lynn fall victim to the yeti, and ultimately Keith learns the truth about the beast and just what gin sung is...

The phrase "so bad, it's good" has been used to describe a lot of movies, and it fits Shriek of the Mutilated to a T. Most of the performances are awful, not surprising since most of the cast had no other credits before or since. Tom Graile and Jennifer Stock in particular overact like mad. The yeti's presence is accompanied by a heartbeat sound effect, which I have to think was a tired cliche even in the '70s. The fashions are hideous, especially Darcy Brown's enormous glasses. Despite a yeti being core to the plot, there's no snow in the film. A flashback to Werner's encounter with the yeti is supposed to take place at night, but is clearly shot in broad daylight. Tom sings a crappy song about the creature. April Ste. Claire manages to electrocute her hubby via an unplugged toaster in the bathtub. Ivan Agar is one of the least convincing white guys playing Native Americans of all time. The jaw-dropping ending reveals that the film is part of a different horror subgenre then we thought it was, and gives us some ethnic stereotyping while we're at it. The last shot and line were probably meant to be creepy, but are more likely to make the viewer laugh his or her ass off. But then, what else can one expect from sleaze legend Michael Findlay, who along with his wife and partner Roberta made Snuff, a film which raised controversy because an actress' actual death was supposedly filmed, even though the scene in question is blatantly fake, with the actress allegedly being disembowled played by a different (and differently dressed!) one then we've seen in the film prior to that point? Connoisseurs of trash cinema, do not miss this film!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Crime of Monsieur Lange (Le Crime du Monsieur Lange; Jean Renoir, 1936)

A man drops a couple off at an inn near the Belgian border. The innkeeper's son recognizes the other man as Amédeé Lange (René Lefèvre), who is wanted for the murder of his former boss, the publisher Batala. Those inside the inn consider alerting the police. The woman, Valentine Cardes (Florelle), confirms Lange's identity, and recounts his story to them. Lange is a clerk for Batala (Jules Berry), who is seeking to launch a crime magazine called Javert (the name of course being an homage to Victor Hugo). Lange, an avid aficionado of the Old West, finds himself doing a pulp magazine for Batala called Arizona Jim, signing a contract without looking it over, and giving his creative rights to the publisher. Batala is a self-styled Lothario, and once had an affair with Valentine, the owner of a laundry service, with whom Lange becomes romantically involved. He also impregnates Estelle (Nadia Sibirskaïa), an employee of Valentine and the sweetheart of Lange's friend Charles (Maurice Baquet). Furthermore, he owes substantial money on a loan to a wealthy man named Meaunier. When Batala seemingly dies in a train crash, Meaunier's son (Henri Guisol), who will someday drive Lange and Valentine to an inn, comes to tell his former employees his father has bought the publishing empire, turning it into a cooperative. Arizona Jim proves to be a spectacular success for Lange. Unfortunately, someone reenters his life who threatens his happiness.

Jean Renoir's two best-known films, The Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game, are considered by many to be among the best movies ever made. I haven't seen either yet, but if they're better than this one, they must be quite excellent indeed. Renoir's film is equal parts political commentary (with something of a socialist bent) and romance, and succeeds spectacularly as both. Lange and Valentine are a very likable couple, and Lefèvre and Florelle have great chemistry together. Jules Berry is superb, imbuing Batala with charm and slime at different times. Although we know how Valentine's story is going to end, Renoir tells it in such a compelling way that the viewer likely won't mind. I also have to give props to the props department (heh), as the covers of the Arizona Jim magazine seen in the film really do resemble the European pulp covers of the '30s I've seen, many of which were indeed of the Western genre, presaging the Spaghetti Westerns so loved by Yr. Humble Critic. I had a great time seeing this film on the big screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and I will definitely seek out Renoir's two most famous works!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Top 10 Films of 2017!

Happy new year! Here are the top 10 best films I reviewed on this blog in 2017 since reviving it in September. Click on the titles to see the reviews. More to come in 2018!

1. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
2. Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film (Calum Waddell, 2015)
3. Hell Up in Harlem (Larry Cohen, 1973)
4. Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog, 1979)
5. Shock (Mario Bava, 1977)
6. Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (Ruggero Deodato, 1976)
7. Fox Style (Clyde Houston, 1973)
8. Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill (Gianfranco Parolini, 1966)
9. Blood Shack (Ray Dennis Steckler, 1971)
10. Yankee (Tinto Brass, 1966)