Saturday, September 16, 2017

207. Top Line

207. Top Line aka Alien Terminator (1988)
Director: Nello Rossati
Writers: Roberto Gianviti and Nello Rossati
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
An alcoholic writer discovered a crashed UFO, but as he tries to make the information public, he uncovers a massive conspiracy involving every level of all governments and maybe even aliens themselves.
Author Ted Angelo is on a bender in Colombia when he learns his ex-wife and boss has cut off his expense account. She gives him enough money to fly back to his homeland of Italy, but he cashes in the ticket to do more drinking.

He visits his maid’s boyfriend to examine some Spanish artifacts the boyfriend claims to have salvaged from the ocean and take pictures of them back to his historian friend.

Sorry, what? The first point doesn’t lead to the second point? That’s not a mistake on my part, that’s how this movie is structured. This is, honestly, “Wait, what?” the Movie. It’s not even that the movie moves from action sequence to action sequence, it moves from conclusion of a scene to conclusion of a scene. No establishing shots, no exposition, no set-up of who anyone is or what’s going on. You only get the, “and that’s why it’s important!” moments, but you never know who’s talking about what or why.

So. Ted takes the pictures and a journal to his friend who says it’s a major discovery so Ted puts out feelers for buyers. The friend suggests a liaison who does purchasing for a former Nazi. Then the friend turns up dead. So Ted visits the Nazi instead.

Yeah. Everyone’s really chill about working with a literally-ran-the-camps Nazi. It’s kind of like CPAC that way.

Nazi tells Ted the stuff is fake and then sends people to try to kill him. Ted escapes them, and the Nazi, and manages to kill the Nazi by burying him under salt. Ted returns to the boyfriend and demands to know where the stuff actually came from. They go into the mountains where they find a boat somehow within the mountain itself. Then Ted realizes they’re actually in a spaceship.

He calls a TV producer in the states, tells them to send a crew, but the crew turn out to be assassins that Ted, basically, accidentally kills. He and his dead friend’s assistant go on the run, consider telling the Russians, but Ted sees a Russian on TV that he’d previously seen visiting the Nazi. That’s when he realizes all the governments are involved and potentially colluding with the aliens themselves.

Ted gets in touch with his ex-wife who arranges a boat to smuggle him out, but as he and assistant are waiting to catch it, the titular Alien Terminator arrives and chases them onto a farm. Luckily the Terminator is wearing red so they get a bull to kill it. That night, they find the boat with Ted’s ex-wife, and discover that another Terminator is piloting it. Ted kills it, learns his ex-wife is an alien, and the assistant kills her.

Epilogue: Ted and the assistant are living with an isolated aboriginal tribe. The assistant is very pregnant and Ted is typing away at a typewriter, preparing to unleash the truth about the aliens running our world. THE END.

This movie is weird, yo. It’s not as hilariously bad as Alien Species, which is a shame, because it’s just about as disjointed. Alien Species was a mockbuster, a direct-to-video movie made to trick people into thinking it’s a big-budget effort currently in theaters. In Alien Species’ case, the movie was Independence Day, I think, but the inexplicably-titled Top Line is something a little different.

This is an Italian rip-off of something big. The poster makes it look like they wanted people to think this was an Indiana Jones-esque adventure (and it trods some of the same ground that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would many years later), but it was also called Alien Terminator, so it’s trying to cash in on the Schwarzenegger film. The random cyborg at the end certainly speaks to that.

The randomness of the movie is part of its appeal—how much crazy crap from other movies can you cram in here? It’s just that it’s so disjointed and rarely hits the potential peaks of real absurdity. The sequence with the terminator at the end is hilarious because it becomes, for this film, a big action spectacle, and that’s mostly him just walking through crowded spaces. Nothing else quite rises to that, not even Ted running across a field of cacti while being chased, slowly, by the Nazi in a car. I spent the movie constantly going, “What?” but not in a shocked and delighted way, moreso like a dog being shown a card trick.

This movie was confusing when it should have been absurd, and that’s a disappointment. I’m not saying it’s not watchable—it moved well enough—but it’s probably best enjoyed with some light riffing. It doesn’t even rise to the level of offering much ironic entertainment.

Friday, September 15, 2017

206. Sisters of Death

206. Sisters of Death (1976)
Director: Joe Mazzuca
Writers: Peter Arnold and Elwyn Richards from a story by Elwyn Richards
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org, Rifftrax, Bunny Galore’s Movie Nightmares
Seven years after a hazing ritual results in a girl’s death, her sorority sisters are invited to a reunion at an isolated getaway. Only the consequences from that night are still being felt, and someone’s out for revenge.
Two girls are going through the final stage of their initiation into a sorority: having a gun pointed at their head and the trigger pulled. Fun. The bullets are supposed to be duds, but the second girl is shot and killed. Credits run over freeze frames of all the girls screaming.

Seven years later, Judy, a rich model, opens the newspaper to see a rumor-mongering story about her and the Governor’s son. She goes through her mail and finds an invitation for “The Sisters” to gather for a reunion and $500. She calls Sylvia, one of the Sisters, and accuses her of setting up the reunion. Sylvia says she thought Judy did it because she was the only one with the funds to engineer it. In the scene, we see Sylvia accepting money from an anonymous man after having had sex with him.

And we get similar sort-of-backstory introductions to the other three Sisters—one’s hitchhiking, one’s doing a Krishna/escape to nature thing, and one looks and acts like Gidget. None of them are really characters, just presences in the movie. Regardless, all five show up at the rendezvous point and are met by two creepy/suave 70’s types who say they’ll drive the Sisters to their final destination—over an hour away! Somehow this doesn't set off alarm bells.

They all arrive at a mansion in the middle of the desert surrounded by an electric fence. The Sisters initially see a setup for a reunion and the guys sneak in after hearing the party. The fence closes locking them all in and their host emerges—Edmond Clybourn, the father of the girl that died. He’s learned that his daughter’s death was engineered by one of the Sisters and he intends for the truth to come out the next day.

Everyone splits into groups trying to find a way to escape, focusing on cutting the power to the fence. Of course, someone ends up alone, gets killed, and that’s generally the model for the rest of the movie. Someone’s strangled, someone gets stabbed with scissors, someone’s bitten by a rattlesnake, someone’s chased into the electric fence by a dog, and

SPOILERS UNTIL THE END

we get to the final showdown with Clybourn, Judy, Sylvia, and one of the drivers.

Sylvia put together the reunion with Clybourn because she was the one that pulled the trigger. That moment ruined her life and now she’s a sex worker and alcoholic. She blames Judy, the one who engineered the sister’s death out of jealousy, for ruining her life. Clybourn says he was never going to kill any of them, but that Judy outed herself by murdering all her sisters. Now he’s going to kill her by using a Gatling gun loaded with a mix of real and dummy bullets because that echoes the hazing ritual.

The driver, who’d just been knocked out, wakes up, attacks Clybourn, and frees Judy. Sylvia gets shot in the back by Clybourn and, as Judy and the driver are running across the grounds, Judy manages to shoot Clybourn, causing him to fall to his death. The driver throws a makeshift bomb at the gate, clearing their path, and, as they reach the car, Judy shoots him so there will be no witnesses to the events.

THE END

I’d watched this the last time I tried to make my way through all these box sets, and I remembered the movie half-fondly. Instead of rewatching that version, I hopped onto OSI 74 to watch Bunny Galore’s Movie Nightmares version which, I’m sorry to say, was a little disappointing. Galore doesn’t do much with the movie in her host segments, only offering one brief “so far in our film” and two sketches. Most of the host segments are just her standing on a basement stair saying, “You’re watching Sisters of Death on Movie Nightmares.” I wanted more.

It didn’t help that the movie itself was pretty underwhelming the second time through. The extended introduction of each character on their way to the rendezvous is just padding. Judy and Sylvia’s introductions work because they’re supposed to be the main characters and they’re done well. Their phone call serves the dual purpose of providing exposition and establishing the characters’ situation and relationship. I’d have liked to see more of that throughout the movie--characters talking about who and where they are now and what that night meant to them--instead of the focus on these two dipshit drivers who suddenly become the protagonists. We know they’re good guys because one tells the other, “You’re a good guy,” apropos of nothing.

A lot of the movie is people sitting around not understanding what’s going on and then getting killed when off-screen. The movie’s interesting in that it’s a precursor to the slasher flick, and it’s not terribly put together, but it does provoke a lot of eye-rolling and clock-glances on its way to the end. It’s not bad, but not great either, and maybe that makes it easily riffable. Also, it does have some good shots so there’s plenty that could be used in editing projects if you’re so inclined.

There is a Rifftrax version of this and the movie itself is in the public domain. I’ve uploaded an MPEG-2 copy to archive.org here so you can make your own fun, whatever form that takes.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

205. The House That Screamed

205. The House That Screamed aka La residencia (1970)
Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Writers: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador from a story by Juan Tébar
From: Pure Terror
A girl is sent to a strict boarding school where she has to survive the perverted inclinations of the headmistress and desires of the head girl. However, there may be a more dire threat wandering the halls.
A curious film in that there’s very little that happens, but manages to be compelling nonetheless. We start with Sra. Fourneau leading a class on dictation when one of the girls refuses to do her work. Fourneau sends her to solitary confinement and then meets with the guardian of Teresa, a new student at the school. As Fourneau gives them a tour of the grounds, Teresa thinks she sees someone or something following them. She’s admitted to the school and, that night, a trio of girls join Fourneau in punishing the student who was acting up earlier in the day. The head girl takes particular delight in whipping her. Once everyone’s gone to bed, Fourneau confronts her son Luis who was the one peeping on Teresa during the tour. She tells him none of the girls here are good enough for him because they’ve all been “marked” in some way, and that once he gets older he’ll find a proper girl just like his mother.

And that’s it for the setup. Luis is a peeping Tom who meets with a specific girl regularly. She finds a note signed by him with keys to help her escape. When she uses them, someone grabs her in the greenhouse and stabs her to death. It’s forty minutes before this death happens, by the way. No one knows that she’s dead, though. They all assume she escaped, so there’s no panic developing within the school, just a general loathing of Fourneau and fear of the head girl’s wrath.

I’m going to leave it there. The movie has a staggeringly low body count, but maintains a really nice tone throughout. It’s focused on a sordid place and location, but the movie itself doesn’t become sordid. There are overtones of lesbianism, incest, sadism, but they’re always done with the lightest touch. The element is suggested, and then stepped away from. It's just enough for you to get the sense of how it's effecting the characters.

If anything, this feels like a less lurid and dreamlike Suspiria, trading those elements for more of a Gothic foreboding. There’s always the question of what exactly is happening at this school and who’s responsible for it.

The movie takes a curious turn at the end by switching the primary POV character and has a conclusion that’s shocking, but I'm not sure is earned. It’s certainly a horrific ending and clever, but it feels almost unrelated to the content of the film. You could stick it at the end of nearly any film and it’s feel just as coherent.

That said, I really liked this one. It was weird, creepy, and doesn’t get super exploitative or perverse. There is a shower scene, but everyone is showering in their shift which just seems to defeat the purpose of both a shower and a shower scene. How can you take a shower with your clothes on? And isn’t a shower scene supposed to be about casual nudity? The scene itself has a purpose, but I was legitimately confused by the clothes.

This is a strong recommend, though. I’ve avoided saying too much about the content because while there isn’t a whole lot, I liked the tension developed by not knowing what was happening. As autumn is approaching, this is something to enjoy with popcorn and cider.

Friday, September 08, 2017

204. Throw Out the Anchor!

204. Throw Out the Anchor! (1974)
Director: John Hugh
Writer: John Hugh
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
A man travels to Florida with his children to rent a boat for two months, but learns that the only boat available is a rotting tub. He, along with the ragtag group that lives in the surrounding swamp, makes the boat seaworthy and joins the group in an effort to save their homes from developers.
Johnathon visits a marina asking if it’s Cuppler’s Corner and is turned away. The man running the marina calls our eventual kind-of villain on a nearby boat to alert him to Johnathon’s question. That night, Johnathon arrives at Cuppler’s Corner where he meets Cap, a drunk that took the deposit for a boat via mail. Johnathon has traveled all the way from New York with his two children to rent the boat for two months. Unfortunately, Cap has drunk away the deposit and there are no boats available. All the boats are homes for the people living in the swamp—the black priest who’s initially shirtless, the maybe Indian foreign exchange student, and Cap’s housedress-and-curler-wearing wife that’s always berating him over his drinking. Johnathon threatens legal action, but Cap responds, “I got just one thing to say: I got a Jewish lawyer.”

Head::desk.

Before anyone calls on Mr. Katz the lawyer, Stevie, Johnathon’s daughter (and initiator of every dues ex machina), finds him and tells him their sob story. She says, basically, that her dad is always screwing up, but this time it’s not his fault. The lawyer tells her a story about how he got screwed over as a kid, but someone stood up for him. He then engineers a plan to get the family a boat and keep them from suing.

I want to linger on this moment because it’s pretty odd. Mr. Katz’s story is kind of affecting and undercuts any sense of this being a comedy. Instead, it makes it feel like a bit of a Hallmark movie-style feelgood family film. It draws attention to his late wife and his feelings about the area and lays out his moral compass in that he sees the opportunity to do right by someone as an obligation to do so. At the same time, it establishes Johnathon as a bumbler and screw-up which nothing else in the movie speaks to. He comes off as an angry, entitled white guy—the sheriff yelling at the hotel clerk in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He’s not the goofball Stevie’s plea implies that he is. At this point in the film, he reads as the villain, the guy the ragtag group has to convince not to seize their homes to turn into a parking lot.

They find him a boat, but it needs extensive repairs. In the course of repairing it, the ragtag group wins him over and he starts to fall in love with Lindy, a woman who won’t discuss her life outside of the swamp. As this is happening, the deputy sheriff keeps trying to serve Cap with papers and Cap keeps dodging him. The boat is finally finished and Johnathon strikes out to show his family all the beautiful nature, only there’s too much pollution and everything’s dead.

Yeah. Suddenly it’s an environmental film. The guy from the beginning pops back up here because he’s trying to get a highway built through the Corner and the county commissioner is running a scheme to buy up the land surrounding the forthcoming highway so his buddies can build condos. We find this out because Lindy is married to the head schemer.

Cap gets served, everyone has 30 days to clear out, and Johnathon comes back ready to fight. There’s a dredge sitting in the swamp so they come up with a plan to seize it. They take the dredge hostage, the Lt. Gov. comes down to talk with them, and there’s a bunch of attention on the situation because Stevie wrote a letter to the editor about how sad her daddy was that he couldn’t show her the nature. All the shady deals get revealed, the planned road is canceled saving everyone’s homes, and the dredge is accidentally blown up. Lindy goes home to divorce her husband and everyone has a happy ending. THE END.

I think I can sum up how misjudged this movie is with one phrase: unnecessary blackface. Blackface is, outside of stories about blackface, always unnecessary, but some movies that use it at least provide a narrative reason for it to happen. Here, in the (limp, unimpressive, unaffecting) climax, the son has his face blacked so that he “can act as the scout,” and then doesn’t scout anything. And doesn’t wash the makeup off for the rest of the movie. So, yeah.

Oh, oh no. Did you think you were funny?
That sums up the entire thing—it’s a comedy that’s wholly unaware of what it’s about or what’s funny. I wasn’t initially, and still am not 100%, convinced that it was even supposed to be a comedy despite the parody of the MGM logo at the start.

The movie never settles down into one plot. I mean, it takes twenty minutes for Johnathan to see the boat for the first time. Everything is a lead-up to him starting to work on the boat and getting to know everyone. And, really, that should be the plot. It should be this calm, Mary Poppins-esque story about a job-obsessed guy trying to hold his family together learning that a simpler life in the bayou is what they need. Instead it tries to be an environmental drama, a screwball comedy, and a “kids saving the rec center” plot, each in turn. And none of them are done well. The movie has the feel of Gilligan’s Island with an exploitation movie look, and that should be more fun than it is.

In the end, it’s just a bad movie—not funny-bad or good-bad, but just a boring, uninspired lump. The one thing to say in its favor is that it’s in the public domain, but there’s no real point in hunting it down—it’s not entertaining, it doesn’t invite much riffing, and doesn’t have good enough visuals to use in other projects. On top of that, both my copies have Mill Creek bugs on them so I can’t upload them to the Internet Archive. No big loss.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

203. Bloody Pit of Horror

203. Bloody Pit of Horror aka Il boia scarlatto (1965)
Director: Massimo Pupillo
Writers: Romano Migliorini and Roberto Natale
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org; Rifftrax
A group of models looking to shoot book covers goes into a castle that used to be the home of the torturous Crimson Executioner. It’s current resident starts killing them through various medieval means.
Another movie that I watched several times before in the pre-PD Project days. My copy came from The Dead Walk 10-Movie Pack. I already uploaded to the Internet Archive nearly eleven years ago. It’s a silly little piece of Italian not-quite sleaze, and I opted to watch the Rifftrax version this time around. During the opening credits featuring a car driving along a road for minutes on end, one of the riffs is, “Kind of a Manos goes to Europe feel about this.” They’re not wrong.

A group of cover girls arrives at a castle that their producer hopes to use as a set for book cover photos. Cause that was a thing at a time I guess? I was born in 1980 so my only experience with book cover models was Fabio, and even then, he’d pose for portraits as opposed to photos. But anyway. The castle is locked and no one answers the bell so, naturally, they break in. The owner initially tells them to leave, but relents upon seeing the producer’s female assistant. Then, during the shoots, a male model is impaled by a pendulum device.

The photography sequence reveals both the motive and tone of the movie—scantily-clad women in peril and a Scooby-Doo-ish level of camp.

Gradually every character ends up in a torture device at the whims of the Crimson Executioner, but everything looks terrible and hokey. The end result of every device is to gradually strip the women a little further than they are at the present moment. Imagine lingerie models having their lingerie removed literally thread-by-thread and you’ll have the right idea. There’s never any nudity, but there is the suggestion that with enough time, and if the victim doesn’t die, and the devices aren’t clearly cardboard, there might, eventually, conceivably, be a bit of titty.

I'm the metaphorical budget literalized!
I do have to note that the torture devices are at once hilariously cheap and hilariously convoluted. One women is tied to a spider web with a giant stuffed spider coming ever nearer to eventually prick her with a poisoned needle. No one can save her because the floor is criss-crossed with massive tripwires that will set off arrows embedded in the wall, killing whoever tripped them. Our hero tries to save her by crawling along the floor, which is pretty easy to do (as would be walking around the edge of the room or just stepping in the massive gaps between the tripwires), but gets there just a moment too late.

Huh?
I’m all over the place with this movie because it doesn’t follow any plot, it’s just, “people show up, start dying.” So the Crimson Executioner was a 17th-century madman obsessed with purity who tortured people he regarded as sinning to death. He gets sealed in the hokiest iron maiden I’ve ever seen and dies. The castle’s current owner is an ex body builder, also obsessed with human perfection, who lionizes the Crimson Executioner and starts murdering everyone in the castle. The woman he saw is his ex-fiancée, but when she tells him to stop killing, he rejects love as weak and an imperfection.

Anyway, inevitably the hero gets caught, escapes, the villain thinks he’s dead, but they have one final battle. The villain falls against one of his own traps, gets poisoned, and dies. By this point, everyone except the hero and the fiancée are dead, but it’s cool cause they’re each other’s love interest and they leave. THE END.

The movie’s stupid, but it’s short, clocking in at just under 75 minutes, and it’s just silly. It’s a cheapo exploitation flick, but it doesn’t fall into the trap a lot of those do by being grim or rapey. As I said above, it feels like an adult Scooby-Doo, only the gang is too stupid to figure out what’s really happening.

The movie’s in the public domain and, as mentioned above, I uploaded a copy here almost eleven years ago. The Rifftrax version is a much better print, but the riffing is only generally okay. It’s not bad, but it feels like they hammered on some things a bit and went for the obvious targets. You could do as well with a group of your friends, and I recommend you do. It’s not good enough to watch on its own, but perfect for laughing at with people, even kids in the preteen age group. Your mileage may vary, but it doesn’t get too sexually explicit and, like I said, there’s no nudity, so it may not be the worst movie to use to bring an 11 or 12-year-old into the world of riffing and camp cinema.

Friday, September 01, 2017

202. Slave of the Cannibal God

202. Slave of the Cannibal God aka La montagna del dio cannibale (1978)
Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Cesare Frugoni and Sergio Martino
From: Drive-In
A woman and her brother set out to find her missing explorer husband. It’s believed that he’s set off for the mountain of the cannibal God, but everyone on the trip is harboring secrets.
This one’s pretty grim, though competently produced. I initially expected it to be Cannibal Holocaust meets Heart of Darkness with the group finding the lost explorer leading the tribe as their mad king. I was half right. It’s closer to the film adaptation of Louise Linton’s memoirs, but less tone deaf.

Shut up. Gawd.
Susan (Ursula Andress) flies to New Guinea to meet her brother, Arthur, and go in search of her missing husband, Henry. They recruit Dr. Foster (Stacy Keach), the man who’d been working with Henry, but was kept in the dark about the final journey. Foster suspects Henry went to the mountain on the forbidden island of Roka because it’s the only place that Henry didn’t know by heart and the only destination he’d feel the need to keep a secret.

No one is allowed on the island, but the group sneaks their way on with a small crew that gets picked off one by one by natural and unnatural means—one’s eaten by an alligator, one’s caught in a trap, etc. Arthur’s behavior grows more erratic and a local that’s been by Foster’s side the whole time acts more and more suspiciously. Eventually, the group is attacked by people covered in white make-up wearing masks. The group escapes the masked attackers and ends up at a mission camp on the island.

Foster says the people they saw were "the Pooka," a cannibal tribe that had captured him six years prior. He’d only survived because he was able to cure a sick child and didn’t escape until another tribe attacked the Pooka, seemingly destroying them. After he tells this to Manolo, an explorer they meet at the mission, he and Manolo see a Pooka and Keach delivers the best terrible line of the movie, “That’s right! You don’t forget the taste of human flesh!” Horrible delivery, horrible smash cut after it, horrible music cue—it’s got everything!

So a Pooka attacks the mission the next night, kills a woman that’s hooking up with Arthur, and manages to stab Foster in the leg before Foster shoots and kills him. Turns out the Pooka was the local traveling with Foster and was the kid Foster had saved all those years ago. Because the group has brought this violence to the mission, the priest kicks them out and the quartet—Susan, Arthur, Foster, and, now, Manolo, seduced by Susan—set off to climb the mountain. Foster’s leg is injured and infected, but he wants to see that the tribe is dead. Susan admits she doesn’t believe her husband went to the mountain with any humanitarian purpose, he knew there was something there to make him rich.

On the way, Foster has trouble climbing a waterfall and Arthur lets him fall and die rather than help. Susan and Manolo find a cave with ritualistic markings and fresh corpses, meaning the tribe is still present and active, but when they try to tell Arthur, they find him running into a different cave. He’s found uranium and he and Susan threaten Manolo at gunpoint to help them sell the mineral rights to the “great powers.” Only the Pooka attack at that moment, kill Arthur, and take the other two prisoner.

In the tribe’s home, Susan and Manolo find Henry mummified and venerated as a god because the tribe thinks his Geiger counter is his heart. Since Henry had a picture of Susan with him, they think she’s a god too and ritualistically feed her part of her brother. Eventually, Manolo breaks free, releases Susan, and they, after some struggles, escape the tribe and the mountain. THE END.

This was one of the video nasties in Britain, a selection of movies so brutal and foul that they not only couldn’t be released at all, but led to an intensification of the censorship laws. Other films on the list included, of course, Cannibal Holocaust, The Driller Killer, and Faces of Death. You know, the films all of us of a certain age heard about growing up for featuring "real death." Curiously, the list also included the Clint Howard vehicle Evilspeak, Don’t Look in the Basement, and The Evil Dead.

Scholarship about the moral panic around video nasties is pretty interesting, especially since some of the movies, like The Driller Killer, ended up on the list just for their advertising, not due to any content in the film. Looking back at many of the films on the list, yes, there are disturbing themes (anything cannibal related or set in a Nazi prison camp seemed to automatically make the list, which, fair enough), but most of the movies are simply bad when they’re not just silly. And there are several that, not in spite of, but because of their outré content, do something interesting and are substantial films because of it. Cannibal Holocaust is grim, but it arguably has a moral purpose underlying its story.

Slave of the Cannibal God can’t make the same claim. It’s a cheap, but competent, exploitation flick trying to jump on the cannibal-film bandwagon. It’s ripping off Cannibal Holocaust to the degree that it even features real on-screen deaths of animals, and that’s never acceptable. Apparently the scenes of animal torture and death weren’t in the original movie, but the distributors told the director Martino to put them in. Various sources make reference to a monkey being flung into the mouth of a snake, which I didn’t see in my cut. Mine did contain the eviscerating and skinning of a live lizard, though, so it’s not like this version is more palatable.

And that’s what sinks this movie. It moves okay, it’s competently done on every level, but you gotta watch animals getting tortured and killed. That’s my line, that’s my limit, and it’s not, in any way, a difficult stance to take. You gotta give this one a pass.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

201. Women of Devil's Island

Image from IMDB
201. Women of Devil’s Island aka Le prigioniere dell’isola del diavolo (1962)
Director: Domenico Paolella
Writer: Domenico Paolella
From: Drive-In
Women exiled to a French prison island and forced to mine for gold try to both survive and escape their venal captors. Salvation seems to come with the arrival of a compassionate captain, but his motives are unsure.
This movie’s curious just on a physical level, before we even get to any of the content of the movie. The version I have is from American International Pictures’ television distributors so this is the TV cut. That’s fine, but this not only clearly a bad VHS rip—tracking errors are still present—it’s taken from an original print so old and worn that all the color has been leeched away. This movie isn’t in black and white, it’s all in sun-bleached sepia tones, which was not the intention. On top of all that, there isn’t even a title card. There’s never a moment on my copy where the actual title of the movie appears. I have other movies from these sets where that happens, but I’ve never had the distributor’s logo pop up and then cut directly to the movie. The opening credits were actively removed at some point which is just strange.

We open with a group of women being taken to the titular Devi’s Island to serve out prison sentences for various crimes—thievery, sex work, etc. Among them is Martine Foucher who’s been sentenced to live on the island, seemingly for political reasons. Her father was a bureaucrat who fell out of favor, he sister was previously exiled to this island, and now it’s her turn.

They arrive and are introduced to the evil Lt. Lefèvre who’s intent on working them to death. Martine finds her sister posing as Jeanette, a woman sentenced for sex work but who died on the way over. Jeanette is working on a plan to escape with several other women and brings Martine in. However, they don’t invite another prisoner to join them and she rats them out. All the escapees are captured and Jeanette is shot in the back.

The “Old Testament logic” I’ve mentioned before on this blog is kind of in play here. Jeanette sleeps with Lefèvre to facilitate the escape and get access to the island’s gold. Despite being one of the good guys, in terms of movies as moral spaces, she dies for having sinned. Likewise, at the end of the movie, the rat dies as well. It’s a noble death, but she’s sinned so the movie has to punish her.

Anyway, a French ship arrives early and Captain Vallière arrives, taking control of operations from Lefèvre. The captain’s first orders are that the escapees be released from torture and that the women not be abused or sexually assaulted by the guards. He starts falling in love with Martine, but it turns out he’s a pirate posing as a French officer and steals all the gold.

He’s not a bad pirate, though. He’s stealing to fund the revolution and so goes back to the island to save Martine and one of his comrades that got left behind. His boat crashes on the island, he’s found by the rat who protects his secret, and Martine accidentally leads the guards to his hiding space. As he’s about to be hung, the rat grabs a torch, admits to what she’s done, and sets fire to several barrels of gunpowder.

The captain arms the women, they start fighting the French guards, and the pirates arrive on the shore. Martine kills Lefèvre, the guards are all killed by the women and pirates, and the survivors all leave on the ship to join the revolution. THE END.

The movie’s a little odd structurally. The plot of a woman being exiled to a prison island, finding her sister there, and then participating in an escape plan should be enough to carry a movie on its own, but that’s just the first thirty minutes here. The sister’s dead a little under halfway through (the TV cut is very short, by the way. IMDB says this is 86 minutes long. My copy was 73) and then Martine kind of becomes a supporting character. The movie becomes the captain’s story, and even that runs through several iterations before the movie ends.

In the end, the whole thing’s just kind of weird. I don’t know what they were aiming for story-wise, the print is really messed up, and it’s never really that interesting. It’s not bad, but that means it’s not funny-bad either. As a whole, it’s pretty mediocre and I don’t recommend it to anyone.