Friday, November 03, 2017

220. City Ninja

220. City Ninja aka Tou qing ke (1985)
Directors: Yeong-cheol Choi and Chun Bang Yang
Writer: Chun Bang Yang
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

Various gangs manipulate two fighters into hunting down a necklace that had been lost decades before.

Welcome to the first entry of Ninjavember! It’s all-ninja, all month long, except when it’s not. Which means it’s like every other month and every other promise you’ve ever given or received. That’s right, this is yet another opportunity to reflect on how you’ve failed not only yourself, but so many others. What are the holidays for if not that?

That and trash films! With that in mind, here’s the odd duck City Ninja!

We start in 1940 Hong Kong. Some white guy is being harried by ninjas who do the full Godfrey Ho teleporting in and out of shots. Enjoy it while you can because the ninjas don’t return for a while and they don’t teleport anymore. He holds his own well enough, but still enlists the help of a passerby. White guy gives passerby a necklace that he says he’ll come back for. Then passerby has to fight off the ninjas until they, apparently, decide to leave.

Cut to 45 years later and general cinematic confusion. I don’t think the movie accidentally has two directors, I think this was two related but independent productions that got stitched together. The movie does have two distinct story lines that only come together at the end, and, no, it’s not like Magnolia. To simplify things, I’m going to talk about one story then the other.

In Hong Kong, Rocky has just won the boxing championship and has dreams of opening his own gym. His boss is the son of the passerby that was given the necklace 45 years before. Turns out the necklace has a special code on it that corresponds to a Swiss bank account and the Italian mafia want it back. Only the boss doesn’t have it. The necklace was stolen by Korean gangsters years before. The mob is putting pressure on him to get it back.

Meanwhile, Rocky is having an affair with the boss’ mistress. The boss starts putting pressure on Rocky to go to Korea to find Jimmy and get the necklace back, but Rocky isn’t willing to kill anyone. The boss’ mistress ends up pregnant with Rocky’s kid and he decided to take his fiancée (oh yeah, he’s got his own main girl) and leave town. The mistress confronts him, pulls a gun, and in the struggle she gets shot and killed. The boss’ thugs witness it and promise to make the problem go away if Rocky goes to Korea. He has no choice but to leave and find the other movie.

In which Jimmy is an up-and-coming fighter with dreams of opening his own gym. Seeing parallels? He gets recruited to do a job stealing a necklace, and then his recruiter/mentor gets killed. Jimmy takes the job and retrieves the necklace as revenge, but then refuses to hand it over. He falls in love with the mob boss’ girl and offers the necklace in exchange for enough money for the two of them to leave together. The boss refuses and sends wave after wave of goons to get their asses handed to them by Jimmy.

Rocky arrives in Korea, meets Jimmy, and offers him 1/10 of the price Jimmy’s asking for. Jimmy turns him down and leaves.

Eventually an assistant to the mob boss who we haven’t seen before enlists the help of a group of ninjas (finally!) and they kidnap Jimmy’s girlfriend. Jimmy defeats all of them, but not before yet another group arrives and kidnaps the girl from the kidnappers. That group then murders the mob boss. Turns out they’re working for Rocky who tells Jimmy the girl will be waiting in a warehouse, bring the necklace.

Big climatic battle, but not between Jimmy and Rocky. Jimmy finds the girl and is eventually defeated. It’s not clear if she’s dead or if he’s killed at the end, but they’re out of the movie and Rocky’s goons get the necklace. He calls his boss to read off the numbers. The boss relates the info to the mafia and then is killed by his own assistant who’d been scheming behind his back the whole time. Rocky returns to Hong Kong where he’s arrested at the airport for the murder of his boss and mistress. THE END.

The movie takes a bit of a grim turn at the end and I won’t say it wasn’t unexpected. I was wondering who we were supposed to be rooting for as we approached that point. Jimmy’s pretty clearly coded as the scrappy, rebellious hero—maybe a little crooked, but ultimately only screwing over the overt villains—but it’s hard to see Rocky as the junior mob boss that he’s forced to become at the end. Yes, he’s cheating on his girl, but apart from that he refuses to get involved in anything criminal and specifically refuses to kill. It’s only when he’s forced to at the end that he agrees to do the boss’ work for him.

The value of the MacGuffin was always in question as well. Jimmy has it, but doesn’t know what it’s worth, and it’s not clear that the two Korean gangs fighting over possession of it know why it’s worth having either. I’m still not clear that it does carry the secret code for a Swiss bank account. Maybe that makes it the uber-MacGuffin, so inscrutable in its overt purpose that it can only serve as a narrative device.

This is close to peak exploitation as well. While it doesn’t get gory, it does have a lot, and I mean a lot, of gratuitous nudity. Women rubbing themselves in showers… and that’s it. That’s the entirety of the scene. Rocky and the mistress have an extended sex scene where they have sex on every piece of gym equipment available, which was at least inventive as far as gratuitous content goes. Then that’s followed almost immediately by an extended sex scene between Jimmy and his girlfriend.

Much of the movie is laughable. There is no attempt to get the dubbing to line up with what people’s mouths are doing and the constant cutting back and forth between Hong Kong and Korea only serve to destroy any sense of continuity or coherence.

That said, the fight scenes in Korea are really good. They’re inventive, visually interesting, and sometimes downright funny. There’s one sequence where Jimmy fights some goons with his girlfriend—not alongside, but literally using her to attack and defeat the goons.

The movie would have been much stronger had it just been Jimmy’s story and we didn’t keep cutting back to Hong Kong. However, it was fun enough. A couple places online list this as being public domain and I didn’t see any copyright information on my print. The problem with a lot of these martial arts movies is that the copyright status is unclear, primarily due to GATT. Since my copy doesn’t have a copyright logo, I’m operating under the assumption that it is PD and so have uploaded it to archive.org here. I’d recommend it. When it’s silly, it’s silly in the right way, and when the action kicks off, it’s fun to watch. Check it out with some friends and have a good time.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

219. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

219. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave aka La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba (1971)
Director: Emilio Miraglia
Writers: Massimo Felisatti, Fabio Pittorru, and Emilio Miraglia
From: Pure Terror

A man haunted by visions of his dead wife invites women who look like her up to his castle to murder them.

Another movie that lost the thread of what it’s about between the beginning and end. We open with Lord Alan Cunningham trying to escape a sanitarium. He’s running across the grounds hallucinating the guards chasing him, and is ultimately caught. Then we cut to Alan driving a prostitute to his castle in the countryside. He stops the car to switch out the license plates because he was using fake ones when he picked her up.

At the castle, he takes her into the dungeon where he starts whipping her. She tells him people know who he is and that’s when he reveals that he used fake plates so that he wouldn’t be found. Then he has a vision of his dead wife Evelyn sleeping with another man, and he stabs the woman he’s with to death.

Okay, this will be a serial killer movie and he’s the bad guy. Got it. He pays off a witness who turns out to be Evelyn’ brother and then has a brief meeting with his psychologist who warns him about having further episodes. So the impression I got was that he’s killed before and people are covering it up.

Things proceed. Alan is obsessed with redheads because Evelyn was one so his cousin sets him up with a stripper in London. Basically a repeat of the first woman ensues except afterwards, when Alan comes to and is removing evidence, he finds the woman’s lighter. He throws it out only to find it again. What could its reappearance mean? Don’t ask that question because it’s not going to matter for another 45 minutes!

Alan meets a third woman, Gladys, who he immediately marries. They move into the castle and she starts investigating the strange events happening around Evelyn—she seems to be haunting the place. There’s also the looming threat of Alan murdering her the way he’s murdered other women.

Gladys investigates and learns that Alan became delusional and started to believe Evelyn was cheating on him. He was pursuing a divorce, but she was trying to keep the marriage together so went through with a dangerous pregnancy. She died as a result. So Alan’s delusions literally led to Evelyn’s death.

Things escalate, people related to Evelyn and Alan get murdered, and finally it seems Evelyn has risen from her grave. This leads to Alan having a final breakdown and being committed. The not insubstantial estate is split between Gladys and Alan’s cousin. Get ready for a Shyamalaan twist, though—Gladys and the cousin had been working together the whole time! It was all a plot to drive Alan mad and steal everything he owned. He was the victim. You know, the murderer.

We’re not done, though! Oh no, not with a film like this. Gladys goes to a chalet with the cousin and gets poisoned! The cousin betrays her and has secretly been working with the second woman who hadn’t actually died. Double twist! Before she dies, Gladys manages to stab the woman, leaving the cousin the only one alive. He leaves the chalet.

And runs into Alan! Triple twist! He wasn’t committed at all! His psychologist had cured him and his breakdown was faked to lure the plotters out in the open. Alan and the cousin fight, knocking some chemicals into a swimming pool which the cousin then falls into. The final scene is the cousin being taken away by police screaming about how he’s on fire. THE END

Movies don’t have to depict a moral universe, but they are made by moral actors, which raises the question of what is this movie’s about. What’s the message? We open with Alan as a serial killer protected by his money and position. The close should address that. That doesn’t mean the movie can’t have the ending it has, but it has to address its starting point. Since we’re introduced to Alan as a sadistic murderer and have that vision of him reinforced throughout the movie, that needs to be addressed by the end. Close on him laughing maniacally or a close-up of his face as the psychologist says, “You’re cured,” while the face says he’s anything but. End, essentially, on Alan indicating that the story was about him and his arc.

Instead, we freeze on the cousin screaming, signifying that justice has been done and everything set right in the world. Not only will he face criminal prosecution, but, with his insistence that he’s burning, justice in the afterlife as well. That was never a concern of the film.

The movie’s at its best when it’s focused on Gladys trying to sort out the mystery of Evelyn and how she died. In that portion—and it takes way too long to get to it—you have a movie that’s introducing legitimately creepy elements, a real mystery, and a rising sense of threat from Alan. Remember, we’ve seen him kill before. Now there’s a woman living in the castle trying to find out the fate of wife #1 whose body is no longer in her grave.

Other people get murdered along the way: Evelyn’s brother and Alan’s aunt, who apparently were having a relationship or plotting against Alan in some way. It doesn’t matter because they both die and serves as the weakest red herring.

I think I’m disappointed by this movie, which, surprise, is not a recommend, because of the narrative and moral confusion at its core. Alan’s the threat. He’s the monster. Now, characters plotting against him or his situation being engineered by the other characters is a nice twist, but you can’t throw it in and play him up as some kind of victim. At best you can play it as the inevitable victim had outsmarted the monster and won the day. I’d like that movie and twist. This movie, though, missed the mark. It’s not as grim as a lot of the lesser serial killer features I’ve watched, but ultimately comes out dull. The movie takes too long to bring us Gladys, the real main character, and doesn’t know what story it’s actually telling. So give it a pass and find something a little more entertaining for the Hallo-weekend.

Friday, October 27, 2017

218. Drive In Massacre

218. Drive In Massacre (1976)
Director: Stu Segall
Writers: John F. Goff and George “Buck” Flower from a story by Stu Segall
From: Chilling

A serial killer is murdering couples at a drive-in with a samurai sword. Two detectives have to stop him before this turns into a massacre.

You're not helping.
We open with a title card reading “On August 10th in a California Drive-In it all began...” This movie likes on-screen text. Not only does it have this odd prologue, we later see the police awkwardly holding a newspaper so we can read the headline, and it closes with text as well. Nothing’s added through the text, but if I highlighted only the parts of this movie that made sense, there’d be no post.

So we start with people coming to the drive-in. A couple shows up to celebrate moving into their own place. They decide to fool around, but the guy, possibly sincerely, possibly as a goof, interrupts things to get the movie speaker. He has to reach way out of the car to do and his head is cut off. His partner is then stabbed through the neck. Yeah, it’s kind of awesome. The movie never returns to that peak.

"Flattop Fools Flatfoot Tracy Again!"
Cut to the police station and the awkward paper. We meet our heroes, the two cops. Yes, they have names and one is even the co-writer of the movie, but they’re just the two cops. Who can’t act. Or investigate. Or provide comic relief. Newsflash, this movie kind of sucks.

The cops go to the drive-in to talk to the employees—Johnson, the asshole manager, and Germy, a slow guy that worked as a geek at the carnival. The drive-in, fifteen years prior, had been a carnival, and Johnson and Germy both worked there. When the owner decided to turn it into the drive-in, he kept them on. Germy used to be a sword swallower, which makes him a suspect, but he’s a little too simple to have done anything.

That night, another couple is making out, but there’s a pervert spying on them. They get stabbed, but Germy got the pervert’s license plate number so the cops check him out. They interrogate him for a little bit, but nothing’s revealed. The movie doesn’t know how to pace anything, though. We’re supposed to be suspicious about this guy, creeped out by the porn all over his walls, but the longer the cops question him, the more pathetic and sad he seems, such that we just want the cops to leave him alone. They find a blood-soaked rag in his car and take him in, but it turns out to be dog blood from a dog he’d hit the night before.

So the pervert returns to the drive-in, is spying on a couple where the woman isn’t into it, and the cops are doing their own stake-out. The pervert and woman both get killed despite the cops being right there, and the cops take the staff in for questioning. Johnson gets even angrier, the cops ask him why he didn’t tell them he used to be a knife-thrower, and Johnson fires Germy. Germy wanders around a fair replaying all the cops’ and Johnson’s comments about him in his mind, then goes to the drive-in.

Meanwhile, the cops get a call saying a guy with a machete just killed two people and has a hostage in a warehouse. We cut to this guy promising to kill “little girl” so she won’t be burdened with evil, but she slips away. It’s cat-and-mouse through the warehouse until the cops arrive and kill him. The kid says, “you didn’t have to kill him,” because it was her dad and he’d escaped the mental institution that morning. He’s not their guy.

The cops realize Johnson could be slipping out to kill people between reel changes and rush to the drive-in. Germy is preparing to confront Johnson for having hid all the boss’ swords. The movie at this point really wants you to think Johnson is the killer so that you’re surprised when you see him stabbed to death on the drive-in screen. The cops bust in, assuming Germy did it, only to find him dead as well. We cut to the final title card saying the killings have spread to other theaters and then a fake PA fires up and says there’s a murderer loose in the theater. Do not panic. THE END.
Did you forget to end your film? Try "Title Cards" and hope they can't read!

The movie should be really goofy. This is a silly plot that should be camped right the hell up. Instead, the flick never gains any steam. It just meanders from scene to scene, no real tension or motion ever developed. The movie can’t even decide on its tone—are the cops grizzled vets facing a difficult case, or the bumbling comic relief? On the one hand, they’re aggressive about chasing down leads. On the other, one of them dresses in drag during the stake-out and plays up his role as the wife.

Beyond that, the movie isn’t sure if it wants to be a mystery or a slasher flick. Is this about catching the killer or about waiting for people to get it? The decision’s never made so we get neither clues to find the killer nor a showdown with the killer. The killer’s never revealed at all, and the triple-twist ending doesn’t help. All it does is tell us that the writers and director never decided on who the killer was and thought they’d be clever by never revealing it. Instead, they made a real snoozer.

Which is ultimately the disappointment of this—it’s just boring. We start with a decapitation, which is hilarious, and then there’s another seventy minutes of movie to go. It’s not hilariously bad, but not particularly riffable, and not at all compelling. I’d suggest giving this one a pass. It’s just not enough of anything to be worth your time in any context.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

217. The Amazing Transparent Man

217. The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Writer: Jack Lewis
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

An ex-major breaks a safe-cracker out of jail to use as a guinea pig for an invisibility ray with hopes of eventually building an invisible army. Things go awry though when the safe-cracker develops his own plans.

I wrote about this movie almost ten years ago in the second PD Project post. The movie hasn’t improved with time.

Nor is it any worse. The movie itself is just under an hour so it doesn’t get too bogged down with anything—it doesn’t have time to. The basic story is bank robbing safe-cracker extraordinaire Joey Faust is busted out of prison by Major Krenner. Krenner has kidnapped a German scientist, Dr. Ulof, to develop an invisibility ray. Faust will be the titular transparent man dispatched to steal nuclear materials from a nearby government base. After some post-invisibility violent negotiations, Faust agrees to do the job for an exorbitant amount of money.

Krenner’s particularly villainous. He was an Army spy during WWII which is how he found Dr. Ulof. He manages to smuggle Ulof out of Germany, but kidnaps the doctor’s daughter and holds the two of them captive to make Ulof develop the invisibility ray. Krenner’s ultimate plan is to create an army of invisible men and sell the technology to the highest military bidder.

Faust is a bank robber, though, and sees the opportunities invisibility affords him in that field. After doing the first job stealing nuclear material, Faust convinces Krenner’s accomplice to take him to a bank instead of the military base. However, the invisibility starts wearing off during the robbery and Faust is identified.

Krenner hears about the robbery on the radio and realizes he’s been betrayed. Faust arrives in time to knock him out and asks Ulof why the invisibility wore off. Ulof tells him there’s something wrong with the ray and that Faust is going to die. He can either run and live a brief time or sacrifice himself to thwart Krenner’s plans. Faust agrees to stay and Dr. Ulof and his daughter escape. While Faust fights Krenner, the nuclear material stolen earlier explodes and wipes out, we’re told in the epilogue, most of the county. Faust is dead, but so are Krenner’s evil plans. THE END.

The movie’s pretty stripped-down and low budget, but that may be to its credit. The idea at the core of the plot is sound and it ticks every box that you expect from a story like this without any extra baggage. Sure, that does mean certain emotional moments move too quickly, for example, Krenner’s henchman who’s been loyal because he thinks Krenner has info about his daughter breaks down and switches sides when Krenner’s accomplice tells him Krenner’s been lying and the girl is dead. The emotional beats are all the right ones, but they arrive exactly as quickly as I relayed them in that sentence. The henchman’s reason for his loyalty, how he’s been fooled, and him being turned all happens within a minute.

That said, there’s no filler here. Every moment is essential to the plot, defines the characters and their situation, and moves things forward. In other words, it’s competently made, it’s just not remarkably made. When I watched it before, I said it’d be nice to see this redone as a student film because it’s right within the possibilities of what a student film could do. I stand by that assessment.

The movie’s in the public domain and I uploaded it to archive.org here just over a decade ago (how long have I been at this?). The movie’s not a recommend, but I’m not going to warn anyone away from it either. It’s fine for a lazy Saturday afternoon or if you want some easy riffing material. This was featured as episode 623 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and is available on the forthcoming Vol. XXXIX if you want to see someone else’s take on it.

Friday, October 20, 2017

216. Slashed Dreams

216. Slashed Dreams (1975)
Director: James Polakof
Writers: James Keach, James Polakof, and David Pritchard
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org

Two friends go hiking to find their friend’s cabin and explore their feelings for each other. Then one is assaulted by backwoods yahoos.

Ready for a fun one folks? Then skip this movie cause it blows. I’m starting here so you can save yourself some time, maybe check out a different flick from the archives. I mean, this is my 216th review. You have options.

Okay.

Slashed Dreams opens with Jenny reading a letter from her friend Michael. He dropped out of college a few years earlier and went into the mountains to find himself. Surprisingly, it worked, and he’s very happy in a cabin he’s built. Jenny’s friend Robert creeps on her without saying a word and then her boyfriend Marshal, who’s a dick, takes her away. Excited about the emotional possibilities this opening scene is laying out? I know I am.

They go to class where the instructor is using Age of Aquarius language to float really conservative, “our unmoored, amoral culture” ideas. Jenny and Marshall arrive late, Robert is somehow already there, and we hear his voice.

1000% smackable smug prick.

Jenny talks about Michael finding peace in nature, Marshall poo-poos the idea, and rejects all the hippie-dippy stuff about leaving to find yourself. He says the real excitement is happening on campus with all the people planning their lives. It’s a good point. Unfortunately, he’s a complete cock when he’s making it, belittling Jenny the whole time.

I don’t know why I’m telling you all this stuff about the prologue—this is all prologue!—it’s just that this is when the movie still feels like it has promise.

They’re all at a frat party that night, Jenny and Robert are dancing and floating the idea of going to visit Michael. Marshall tells one of Jenny’s friends that he’s in love with Jenny and doesn’t trust Robert. The friend says they’ve been best friends since they were kids. Then Marshall is emotionally abusive some more and tells everyone to go to the mountains to see Michael. On the way, he throws a can of beer across Robert’s windshield and then almost has a head-on collision with him and Jenny. Jenny dumps him there and that’s the end of Marshall’s presence in the movie. Wave goodbye everyone, he was the only source of interesting drama in this picture.

The rest, or until the 2/3rds mark, is Robert and Jenny hiking through the woods, hanging out in an empty cabin, and skinny dipping, all to the sounds of the worst kind of treacly 70’s folk-pop. The music always gets it wrong, making the whole movie seem like a laid-back exploration of this couple’s budding relationship. Only there doesn’t seem to be any will they/won’t they/could you care tension. They’re in couple mode the moment Marshall disappears.

So they’re just in the woods with no sense of threat or tension when two backwoods types living in the mountain appear. They spy on the couple skinny dipping and then make some uncomfortable comments. They leave and the couple, deciding everything’s okay for no explicable reason, go back to the cabin. That night, the yokels break in and rape Jenny. After they leave, Robert tries to comfort her and then goes outside to stand watch. The treacly music starts up again implying that the drama here is whether their relationship will be able to endure this.



I have to mention it because it’s so perfect. The Shockmarathons podcast did an episode on this movie and one of their hosts said Slashed Dreams, “at this moment, becomes one of the most unwatchable movies ever.” You are correct, sir.

The next morning, Michael, Robert Englund himself, finally shows up, and goes in to talk to Jenny. He’s just beavering away until he finally mentions the rape—the rape that just happened hours before in the very place they’re talking—and tells her she needs to get it out of her mind, sort of like the poison oak he has on his legs. The more he thinks about it, the more it itches.

Fuck you, movie.

Outside, Robert, the real victim in all this, hears a noise and goes to find the yokels arguing with each other. One wants to go back and murder the couple, the other wants to go back and finish raping her. One cuts the other and then Robert rushes out to attack uninjured one with a hatchet, poorly. They wrestle around a bit, Robert shoves they guy’s face in the mud, and the yokels run away as Jenny and Michael run up. The trio all laugh because “those two won’t be back any time soon.”

Cut to all three of them skinny dipping. Jenny gets out, goes into the cabin, and reads a poem about pain. Then she and Robert traipse off into the sunset. THE END.

What

the Actual

FUCK?!

This is a dull, empty movie where nothing happens for forty minutes that then drops in rape and tries to make it meaningful by having the victim read a poem about the liberating nature of pain. No catharsis, no justice, no closure on her assailants, just they run off into the woods because they’re afraid of the smug fuck that can’t fight. This movie is insufferable when it’s not interminable, and that doesn’t even include the Rudy Vallee cameo where he tries to sell them licorice.

While this is not as bad as Cave Girl or Going Steady, movies that titter at and revel in their rapey elements, it’s relentlessly twee without anything cute and imagines itself charming when every element is utterly charmless. I mean, the emotional arc of the movie, if there is one, is focused on Robert: he finally gets the girl he’s been Nice Guy™-ing for over a decade only to see her get raped, which really cramps his style, man, but he makes it okay by wrestling one of the attackers a bit, kind of.

Just wretched. Instead of watching this movie, I’d recommend The Shockmarathons podcast. They have a deeply informed perspective on the movies they cover and, unique among the bad movie podcasts I listen to, are actively building upon their discussions episode-by-episode. In other words, rather than have occasional running gags or throwbacks, each movie’s discussed within the context of what they’ve talked about before. It makes the cultural context of each movie clearer.

This movie, though, sucks on toast. Avoid it if you can. That said, it is in the public domain so I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy to archive.org here. Cut it up to use the nature shots for something better, or pull the music to design your own endurance test. Just stop at about the 40-minute mark. That’s when it goes from dull to “Why?!”

Saturday, October 14, 2017

215. Scared to Death

215. Scared to Death (1947)
Director: Christy Cabanne
Writer: Walter Abbott
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

A woman arrives at the morgue and narrates, for the audience, the story of how she was murdered.

A brief studio cheapie that’s most notable for being the only color film to star Bela Lugosi. While it’s better than a lot of the Ed Wood movies he did later, it’s still pretty disappointing. There’s a real sense that the movie was banking on his reputation as being a horror icon to do the work of selling the movie.

The film is set up as a giant flashback. Laura, our narrator, has been murdered, but they don’t know precisely how. Then her voice arrives on the soundtrack telling us her story. Only Laura’s voice-over never adds anything to the movie, never provides any foreshadowing, never even gives us a sense of her character by having her describe things that are happening in the flashback. In fact, Laura’s not in the movie much at all. We see more of her lying dead as the movie fades back to her than we do in the movie itself.

Anyway, we cut from her on the table to her being examined by her father-in-law, Dr. Van Ee. He’s trying to put a blindfold on her, but she panics and tells him to stop. She accuses him of conspiring with her husband to force her into a divorce. They’d be happy if she left, but take forever to explain why. She leaves as another patient arrives—a woman seemingly trying to blackmail the doctor with knowledge that only a person he presumed dead would have. The doc kicks her out and then Lugosi, the doctor’s cousin, arrives. They used to run a racket together as touring illusionists and Lugosi is the person presumed dead. He’s not there for blackmail, though, just to rest for the night.

So much for that mystery.

Really Lugsoi’s there to play up the red herring of the doctor being in some way villainous or to be his own red herring. Meanwhile, Laura is in her room and gets sent a mask in the mail that makes her scream. Through details we learn from other characters, we can put together that Laura used to be part of a double-act at The Green Room. Lugosi remembers her and says, to no one, “The Green Man may get you yet.” Things escalate in the house with more people arriving, the maid being hypnotized to feign death, and then everyone goes into the parlor to find Laura hypnotized to perform her act from before.

During the war, Laura betrayed her partner—her then husband—to the Nazis and sent him a green blindfold for his execution. She wanted him to know she’d betrayed him. She did it, not for the money, but to be free of him and his control over her despite him being “good.” The movie’s really invested in you not being that bothered by her murder. She takes off the blindfold, sees a mask coming at her from the window, and dies of a heart attack. The husband is caught in the yard disguised as the woman who came to see the doctor earlier and we fade back to the coroner’s office where he says she was “scared to death.” THE END

It’s pretty stupid. Normally I’d find something like this charming, but it’s just throwing everything into a pot and making nothing from it. The doctor’s past and all his strange behavior, including lying about being attacked, comes to nothing. The house is full of secret passages for no reason. Lugosi has a deaf-mute little person working as his assistant because...creepy? Plus there’s a bumbling private security officer in love with the maid and a reporter who shows up for no reason with his ditzy assistant. Even the son, the man who wants a divorce, vanishes from the movie for the majority. The reason he wants the divorce, by the way, is that he married Laura the night he met her on a drunken bet.

The worst thing the movie does is make the killer someone you couldn’t possibly know. The woman who seemed to be blackmailing the doctor at the beginning was actually a character never named or described until the final scene, in disguise (so you wouldn’t know the person you didn’t know).

This is not as bad as some of the other flicks I’ve watched, it’s certainly not offensive, but it’s strangely bad. Like the decision to cut back to Laura in the morgue all the time. The cuts dissolve to her lying still and then immediately dissolve back to the movie, sometimes the same scene. Plus they’re almost never scenes that she’s in. She’s telling a story of all the things she didn’t witness.

The movie is almost, but not quite, compellingly bad, and I recommend it on those terms. It’s not fun on its own and I wouldn’t recommend it to watch ironically, but if you have friends and want to laugh at something, this movie is so consistently wrong-footed that you’d have a good time. It’s in the public domain and there are several copies available on archive.org. I’ve linked to the MPEG-2 version, because that’s what I do.

Friday, October 13, 2017

214. Oasis of the Zombies

214. Oasis of the Zombies aka La tumba de los muertos vivientes(1982)
Director: Jesús Franco
Writers: Jesús Franco from a story by Ramón Llidó
From: Chilling
Treasure hunters in search of Nazi gold instead suffer the depredations of the zombies haunting the site.
A pair of women in hot pants take a break from driving through the desert to wander through an oasis with the camera cutting to fullframe shots of their butts while they’re walking. This is proto-Michael Bay. Anyway, they find abandoned Nazi gear, then get killed by zombies, and we cut to titles. You know it’s going to be a good one already.

The real start of the movie is a man in a mustache telling another man in a mustache that he knows the location of lost Nazi gold and produces a map. Mustache 2 kills him and leaves to find the treasure. Cut to mustache’s son getting a letter notifying him of his father’s death as well as a letter telling the story of how mustache found the gold.

Flashback to mustache as a British Captain fighting the Nazis in Africa. He sets up an ambush near an oasis, kills all the Nazis, but the entirety of his side is killed as well. A Sheik finds Capt. Mustache and the Sheik’s daughter nurses him back to health. They fall in love and hook up when mustache leaves to return to the war. Two years later, he returns to the Sheik to learn that the woman died giving birth to his son. He goes home only to learn that the Nazis he ambushed were transporting smuggled gold. In the present day, the son decides to go find the gold and his friends come along.

Meanwhile, murderous mustache has arrived at the oasis with his team. His assistants plot against him, but then the zombies kill them. Murderous mustache is attacked, but manages to escape, stumbling and raving about “the living dead.”

Kids arrive, meet murderous mustache just as he dies, and get told vague legends about the oasis and zombies. They meet the Sheik who tells the kid that the Sheik’s daughter was his mother and advises him against going to the oasis. He and his friends go anyway. When they get there, they find another group of treasure hunters they’d met in town dead, except a young woman. She survived the zombie attack, tells them to leave, because zombies, but they decide to stay. And she sticks around.

Despite the zom… but she knows… why would you not just… I mean, she has her own car and…

They start digging for gold, zombies attack that night, and everyone but the main kid and his girlfriend die. Weirdly, they try to fight off the zombies by making a ring of fire around their camp with gasoline... that they take from their Jeep... instead of getting into their Jeep and driving away.

I am shocked by this terrible line.
The couple is found lying in the desert by the Sheik who asks his grandson,
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
“I mainly found myself.”
Then they get into the Jeep and drive back to town. THE END

I mean, you know it’s going to be stupid from the start, but, with the initial promise of zombies, Nazis, or even zombie Nazis, you’re hoping for a different kind of stupid, a more delicious exploration of the ridiculous. Instead, there are very few zombies, almost no Nazis (although all the Nazis get killed, which is a plus), and just a rambling group of nobodies going into the desert. We know from the start that the oasis is full of zombies, so it just becomes waiting for the characters to fall into the trap.

Nothing in this movie has consequence. Murderous mustache kills mustache leading the kid to search for the lost gold. However, there’s no meeting between the two where they know the situation, no character moment of them reacting to each other. Everything’s just about getting people to that oasis and filling almost 90 minutes of screen time.

This movie should be in the public domain, but has been GATT’d so it’s not. It is pretty easy to find if you’re so inclined, though. It’s silly enough to be riffable, but maybe too empty and boring even for that. The most laugh-out-loud moments are some of the make-up on the zombies and that final exchange between the Sheik and the kid. It’s 100% unearned and unjustified. “I mainly found myself.” What? How? When was that even part of what this was about? The movie doesn’t really crescendo into absurdity—the final zombie attack is pretty shabby and ignorable—so much as drop a dollop of “What?” on this bland desert dessert. You can safely skip it.