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.