Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review: 2015

Even though this hasn't been running a full year yet, it seems a good idea to give a quick rundown of what's happened so far to set the precedent for the next four years (Jesus, this is my life now).

So far I've watched 24 of the 400 movies, but, because some of the movies are on multiple sets, I've actually knocked 32 movies off the list (because my list includes the movies from the Sci-Fi and Horror packs that I watched before, the number is actually 132 out of 501). Most have been pretty blah with a few being downright horrifying (Cavegirl and Best Friends setting the bar), but there were some good ones there as well. The Creeping Terror has become my new signpost for hallucinogenically dull filmmaking and I have more than a little love for it just for that reason. Day of the Panther was a real unexpected surprise and has landed on my list of go-to bad movie recommendations along with Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe and Miami Connection. I also have to give a nod to The Bat, a nicely done Vincent Price piece that I'd seen before and forgotten. It holds up despite its age and offers both sincere and campy delights. In the same vein, Counterblast was also a surprise for taking narrative turns I'd never seen before. All in all, a good start to the project.

Here, as of 31 December, 2015, are the movies currently available through the Internet Archive. Links lead to the Misery Mill posts which have links to streaming copies:
The Bat
The Big Fight
Carnival of Crime
Counterblast
Deep Red
Don't Look in the Basement
The Driller Killer

Friday, December 25, 2015

023. Blood Mania and 024. The Bloody Brood

Jump to The Bloody Brood (1959)

023. Blood Mania (1970)
Director: Robert Vincent O'Neill
Writers: Tony Crechales and Toby Sacher from a story by Peter Carpenter
From: Cult Cinema

A doctor being blackmailed for $50,000 finds himself drawn ever deeper into a plot involving murder, sex, and betrayal.

Fantastic title sequence for a total misnomer. Blood Mania is neither particularly bloody nor filled with mania. The opening titles, though, feature animated hands clawing “mania” from the word “blood.” This comes in the midst of a woman wearing only the thinnest of nightgowns running in slow-motion through a black void.

I hope you brought your wine because this movie is promising cheese!

Which it delivers, but not in the expected ways. As I said, not particularly bloody or featuring maniacs. No serial killer, no slasher, no real horror at all. Instead it's a blackmail plot that gets complicated by a murder committed in the name of lust which then gets complicated even further.

Dr. Cooper, played by Peter Carpenter who also produced the movie and provided the story (triple threat!), is being blackmailed for $50,000 because he performed illegal abortions to pay for medical school. The blackmailer arranged the abortions and is now holding them over the doctor's head. Meanwhile, the doctor's primary patient is confined to bed due to a heart condition and being cared for by his daughter Victoria, a nymphomaniac infatuated with the doctor and waiting for her father to die.

These elements come together as you'd expect: the doctor sleeps with her and tells her about the blackmail, she kills her father and promises the doctor the money if he keeps sleeping with her.

In the interim, the doctor's girlfriend offers herself to the blackmailer to get him to forgive the debt, but he rapes her and doesn't stop pursuing the money. If my description seems abrupt, it's not me, that's exactly how abrupt it is in the movie. Also, that girlfriend never shows up again and the blackmailer is absent for the rest of the movie except for one scene.

The girlfriend disappearing—and after such a dramatic moment—is kind of the movie in a nutshell. Huge moments are put on screen to shock the audience and then basically waved away for the next plot point. Even the blackmail plot that starts this all off is forgotten once it stops serving as an inciting incident. I mean, the doctor is given two weeks to get the money, a day or two later tells Victoria who then kills her father, and learns from her lawyer, presumably that day but probably the next, that the will won't be read until two weeks from the next day, and then there'll be the issue of actually settling those finances. At best, the doctor is two days late delivering that payment, if he even can because . . .

There's a sister!

If this sounds like a season of a soap opera, I wouldn't say you were wrong.

So Act 1: Doctor Cooper is being blackmailed. Act II: Victoria seduces the doctor and kills her father. Act III: the will is read and everything is left to the other daughter!

There's more including unrequited lesbian love (although “lesbian” can't be said on screen), various sex scenes, and a Wurlitzer score that only heightens the sense that this is just a sequence of porno set-ups with the porn cut out.

And frankly, the whole thing's pretty fun. Certainly not the content I expected from the title, but just as comically bad as I thought it would be. The movie is unrelentingly silly, the Act III sister has full-on Marilyn Quayle hair, and the look on the father's face when he dies had me rolling. The movie's all right and I recommend it for a laugh.

There is no visible copyright notice on my copy and I can't find any record of the movie on copyright.gov, so I've added an MPEG2 copy of the film to archive.org here.

024. The Bloody Brood (1959)
Director: Julian Roffman
Writers: Anne Howard Bailey, Ben Kerner, Elwood Ullman, and Des Hardman
From: Chilling

Two beatniks decide to murder a messenger boy for the thrill of watching someone die. The boy's brother starts exploring the beatniks' world of drugs and crime in search of his brother's killers.

A tightly-made little piece of beatnik exploitation that I wouldn't have minded being a bit longer. This is a nice companion piece to Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood, also from the same year, just for the competing visions of beatniks they present. Corman's offered a bunch of stoned, navel-gazing hipsters too stupid to notice what was in front of them. This presents a group of would-be mafia goons using the thinnest pretense of philosophy to justify their criminal activity.

The plot isn't much to speak of—the movie, at 69 minutes, very literally is little to speak of. Nico and Freddy watch a man die at a bar and decide they want to see it again. A messenger boy happens to show up just at that moment and they feed him a hamburger laced with ground glass. As he's dying, the victim calls his brother while Nico and Freddy watch. The rest of the movie is the brother trying to solve the crime the police can't.

After that the movie follows the standard mystery formula, possibly made more obvious by Nico being played by Peter Falk. Even though he's the villain, all these little Columbo moments pop up when he's trying to sort out who the brother is and why he's trying to talk to him. Falk was good, even back then. He's easily the best actor in the movie so it's fun to watch him ham it up a bit.

Otherwise, the movie's all right. Like I said, I'd have been fine with it being longer, with there being a little more threat facing the brother as he investigates the murder, more of a sense of Nico closing in on him as he closes in on Nico. As it is, a quick, to-the-point, competently made little flick.

This is in the public domain and an MPEG2 version of it can be downloaded from archive.org.

Friday, December 18, 2015

021. Day of the Panther and 022. Don't Look in the Basement

Jump to Don't Look in the Basement (1973)

021. Day of the Panther (1988)
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Writer: Peter West
From: Cult Cinema and Drive-In

Jason Blade, an elite special forces agent trained in a secret form of kung-fu, goes to Perth, Australia to infiltrate the drug syndicate that killed his partner. He has to find enough evidence to lock the boss up for good before the syndicate learns who he really is.

From the start, from the first note of the opening theme, this feels like the most '80's thing from the '80's that ever '80's. After the credits, we cut to two doughy white guys and a gormless woman walking down a hall while the older doughy man narrates. The woman is Linda, the narrator's daughter, and has been training with “a young man called Jason Blade.”

Jason Blade. That is a stupid, stupid name. The kind of name you riff on endlessly, and it serves as a good barometer for the kind of pleasure this movie offers.

Oh, so many pleasures.

The scene passes quickly. Blade and Linda become partners investigating a drug deal in Hong Kong, but their camera with all the evidence gets destroyed. Cut to Perth where Linda has found one of the syndicate's hideouts and tells Blade over the phone that she's going to investigate with or without him.

Of course she goes in alone and has to fight several toughs, but what makes the scene stand out is the entire time she's fighting, the movie keeps cutting back to Blade coming to Perth, literally cutting to his commute. We see him on the plane, disembark, get tailed by some cops, even check in to his hotel. The dichotomy between the fight and his arrival is hilarious. He is, 100%, a lump of hero.

Linda, by the way, is kicking all kinds of ass. Her fight scene against a trio of thugs wearing odd Halloween masks—a pig, a skull, and an old man—is probably the most impressive in the movie. She manages to defeat all three of them (with a bonus “Fresh!” death at 19:20) only to be killed at the last minute by the big boss' #1 henchman which is really disappointing. I wanted to see more of her in the movie, not just watch her become an additional piece of motivation for hero lump.

To the movie's credit, she does die off-screen and is never portrayed as weak. There's no exploitation of her suffering and she's never a damsel in distress. Even when she dies she resigns herself to the fact that she's lost—she doesn't beg or bargain, just closes her eyes before the villain throws the knife. The same is true of the other female character, the old man's niece who becomes hero lump's new love interest. As soon as she showed up, I expected her to be kidnapped and turned into a damsel in distress. While she does get threatened and captured, she handles her own escape and lays out the thug menacing her, all without any martial arts.

The women provide the peak moments in the film. In between Linda's death and the climactic final battle, hero lump is smug and boring while trying to infiltrate the syndicate with a stupid plan that somehow works. He has several fight scenes that aren't bad, but not nearly as good as the big one with Linda.

This is an Australian film shot on the cheap and, oddly enough, the director took to IMDB's message boards to defend these movies—yes, “movies” plural because this one ends with a last-minute narrated cliffhanger and the credit tag that “JASON BLADE will return in STRIKE OF THE PANTHER”. The comments are worth checking out because they not only pull back the curtain a little on the business of film, but they also make the movie seem that much more impressive.

Unfortunately, I do not have Strike of the Panther (I would watch that so fast). This movie is pure bad movie fun. It's eminently riffable and just a pleasure to behold. It's from 1988 so no chance that it's public domain, but it looks to be in several places online—both legal and not-so-legal—and I highly recommend watching it. It's a tight 83 minutes, shot pretty well on really cheap sets, and absolutely delightful. It's the kind of thing that makes you happy to watch movies.

022. Don't Look in the Basement AKA The Forgotten (1973)
Director: S. F. Brownrigg
Writer: Tim Pope
From: Cult Cinema and Drive-In

Stephens Sanitarium operates under the radical concept of letting its patients indulge their obsessions instead of trying to cure those obsessions. Unfortunately, this leads to a patient putting an ax into Dr. Stephens' back while another patient murders the nurse. Charlotte Beale, a new nurse, arrives that night largely unaware of what has happened. She tries to do her job despite increasingly dire signs that things are not all right.

A light twist on “the lunatics have taken over the asylum.” Rather than have the patients swapping roles with the doctors and horror ensues, this offers a space where the patients are already given free reign leading to unsurprising results. Frankly, I like that as a pitch more than I like its execution. Were it a space where various sociopaths were interacting, their conditions and issues coming into conflict, that could produce some real tension and drama (see any Batman story about Arkham Asylum). This movie, though, portrays all the patients essentially as developmentally disabled. They're all overgrown children throwing murderous tantrums which isn't compelling entertainment. I mean, if you're going to put us in the crazy house, give us interesting crazies.

This is obviously a low-budget film—minimal set decoration, sound is a little muddy, everything is shot with one spotlight—but they handle it well. The movie doesn't have any frills or flare, but it doesn't have any obvious incompetence either. The acting, then, has to carry the weight of the film, and, as I mentioned earlier, the characters themselves are just children. This isn't an issue of good vs. bad acting, it's that there are no real roles to work with. All the patients are shouty, stabby, and giggly in various ratios which just leaves us with Nurse Beale who's supposed to serve as our window into this world and the person we hope escapes.

But there's nothing there.

Even when things jumped off, I wasn't worried about whether she'd make it, I was disappointed that there wasn't more of a slow-burn up to then. Ti West's House of the Devil does an amazing job of that—nothing happens the entire movie and it's non-stop tension. Things happen in Don't Look in the Basement, but there's rarely, if any, tension. It just limps along to it's unnecessary and obvious twist.

The movie does have two unintentionally funny moments. The first is a telephone repairman visits the sanitarium and says, “How come you people didn't call, I mean about the telephone? It can't be working.” Because the phone's not working.

The other was the closing credits which has a shot of each character and the name of the actor. Simple enough, however, the shot of every character who died is their corpse so it just becomes this comically grisly cast list.

It's not a good movie, but it's not so-bad-it's-good either. It feels like everyone involved was competent but also showed up just to cash a check. If you do riffing with friends, it'll serve you well enough. Otherwise, it's pretty meh.

Odd bit of trivia: the director's son, in 2015, wrote and directed a sequel, Don't Look in the Basement 2. The trailer made me laugh out loud several times.

This movie is in the public domain and available on the Internet Archive here in MPEG2 format.

Friday, December 11, 2015

019. Cavegirl and 020. The Driller Killer

Jump to The Driller Killer (1979)

019. Cavegirl (1985)
Director: David Oliver
Writers: David Oliver, Phil Groves
From: Cult Cinema

Rex, the school nerd, gets separated from his class on a field trip to area caverns. While there, a crystal sends him back to Neanderthal times where he finds and falls for the beautiful Eba. He initially thinks he's studying the Neanderthals, but learns that he'll have to discover his own hidden depths if he's going to save the day.

This movie almost derailed the entire project, it was so uncomfortably bad. I'm used to watching inept movies and boring movies but rarely do I encounter something that makes my skin crawl. This not only made my skin crawl, it made my friend Faradaye Rage and me uncomfortable to the point where we were both shouting at the screen.

The movie starts with Rex, a “high school” student played by a 22-year-old. He's the typical 80's nerd—incompetently dressed, overly clumsy, and completely invisible to women. Of course, also the target of the school's bullies. Several obviously telegraphed pratfalls, all poorly done, establish this set-up before everyone goes trucking off to explore some local caves. The bullies steal Rex's backpack while he's using the bathroom which leads to him getting separated from the group.

Meanwhile, the military is doing missile testing nearby. Which, by the way, is fantastic. If you're going to be a screwy, absurdist comedy, go all out. My beef with the few comedies I've seen for this (and I'm sure with the ones to come) is that they don't have the courage to embrace their concept. There will be one or two good jokes, but overall the movie will feel perfunctory and dull, maybe even going so far as to feel self-congratulatory about how “edgy” it is (see Deathrow Gameshow. Of course, none of the comedy is edgy.

This, though, promises a bit of that manic absurdity. It's called Cavegirl after all. If this had been a mid-80's gender-swapped version of Encino Man, I'd be down for that.

So Rex is in the cave, finds a giant crystal that starts glowing, the signal the crystal sends out causes the missile the military fired to go off course and detonate near the cave. When Rex wakes up, he's in the distant past, a nerd in the Land of the Lost. He quickly meets Eba, the titular Cavegirl, and her tribe. The tribe doesn't like him, but she does, and he spends the rest of the movie alternately trying to teach her his modern ways and trying to document how the tribe lives.

Where the movie falls apart is just how rapey it is from the word go. As soon as Rex meets Eba, he starts trying teach her English, primarily the phrase, “I want to sit on your face.” When not trying to get her into a place where he can claim, “she asked for it,” he's actively trying to force/trick her into sex by taking her to a secluded bed he's rigged up, grabbing her knees, and spreading her legs.

And all this is funny because, well, you know how guys are, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The movie wants Rex to be the nice guy you're pulling for, but he's the “nice guy,” the guy who thinks he's entitled to sex because he wants it and it's your fault if you're not interested in screwing him. And this, by the way, is the rest of the movie. Sure, there are elements of him trying to be the observing scientist and a climax involving a tribe of cannibals, but it's almost all him trying to trick her into screwing him—not trying to form a relationship, not trying to fall in love, trying to fuck someone he assumes doesn't know what's really going on which is why he's after her. By the way, that line's important to draw because there's another cavegirl who's totally into him, but we all know it's not worth it if it's with some fat slut who wants to, amiright? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I literally can't write about this without getting angry and just going into a long, long rant. There isn't even that much content in the movie. What content there is is Rex the rapist and the humor is supposed to lie in the slapsticky pratfalls that keep thwarting his efforts.

The movie works as a nice piece of cultural anthropology if you want a sense of where we were 30 years ago. Nothing about this seemed problematic to the people involved when they made it. In fact, they thought this was normal. The producers didn't imagine themselves to be edgy or clever; the movie's knowingly lazy so everything that strikes the wrong chord now was seen as, “whatever, that's just what people expect” when it was made. It says something that this was more morally repellent to me than The Driller Killer, the serial killer movie that sparked the video nasty list in the UK. Just viscerally awful.

020. The Driller Killer (1979)
Director: Abel Ferrara
Writer: Nicholas St. John
From: Chilling

Reno is an artist at the end of his rope. He's behind on rent and his agent won't loan him more money until his masterpiece is done. On top of this, a punk band moves in downstairs and practices day and night at full volume. That's when Reno sees an ad for the Porto-Pak, a battery pack that powers electrical appliances away from home, any appliance, even a power tool.

This is one of the infamous ones, one of the big ones, the film that's credited or charged with starting the Video Nasties movement in Britain. A movie so foul and vile and dangerous that it had to be banned lest it corrupt and destroy a nation's youth. How does it stand up 36 years later?

It's all right. The movie has a big reputation to live up to and it's unlikely any film could. I will say, though, that there's a little more going on here than in a traditional z-grade slasher pic and I know a lot of the other movies on this set don't have nearly the intelligence that this film has. That said, it's still a first feature from a director, shot independently on a low budget, and reflects the limitations of the time. I do, though, love the opening title card insisting "This film should be played loud." I want that as the background on my phone.

To address the big topic first, is it really that “nasty”? No. The idea of the movie is discomfiting—the main character slips into psychotic fugues and murders people with a power drill—but you don't really see the deaths in detail. The filmmakers didn't create dummies or fake heads for the drill to go in so most of the worst moments are kept either off-screen or just out of frame.

And bravo. Suggestion is far more disturbing than seeing; it forces us to fill in the gaps and, as an audience, we can do that far better and in a far more personally distressing way. The one scene that stands out is when he kills a man by drilling into his head. They do show the drill touching his skull, but there isn't any penetration. It's clear that this is fake. Only this is the image that ended up on the VHS cover when the film was released in the UK and that sparked everything else.

The rest of the film has some interesting themes, things left unsaid. It opens with Reno meeting a derelict at a church, seemingly thinking the man is his father. When the derelict tries to grab Reno's hand, Reno panics and flees insisting he doesn't know the man even though he had Reno's name and number on a piece of paper. Later we see scenes of Reno interacting with and drawing the homeless people in New York.

When Reno starts killing, he only attacks the homeless until the very end. Several of the killings happen after we see scenes of the soon-to-be-victims bothering people on the street or relating stories of residents of New York being upset with them. I don't think it's a stretch to read this as purposeful, that the movie is presenting a New York that is crumbing and overrun with homeless, punks, junkies, and homosexuals. While Reno is annoying and abusive, he seems to be surrounded, arguably corrupted, by these other forces: the band downstairs, the two women he's in a relationship with, and his gay agent. Reno himself is a transvestite which is only just made explicit.

I even got the sense that Reno was hooking up with the homeless men—that may be how the initial man got his number. There's also a curious scene before Reno starts killing where he's trying to get something from a man sleeping in a doorway. The lines he uses are almost identical to those said to him later by one of his victims. So was that his pick-up line and is there supposed to be an undercurrent of repressed homosexuality in Reno? The first death with the drill looks a lot like he's humping the victim and drills are pretty phallic.

Ultimately, the movie's okay. Not great, not terrible, a historical and cultural curiosity. It takes a long time for the killing to start and the film only focuses on a few—the head scene and a death where a man is basically crucified. There's some nudity and lesbianism which is a little eye-rolling in its obviousness, in its pandering to a grindhouse crowd, but I think the movie overall is worth a watch. Also, it's in the public domain.

The version I watched is the same as this one on the Archive which conveniently links to two other versions, both widescreen and allegedly uncut.

Friday, December 04, 2015

017. The Alpha Incident and 018. Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride

Jump to Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride (1974)

017. The Alpha Incident (1977)
Director: Bill Rebane
Writer: Ingrid Neumayer
From: Cult Cinema and Chilling

Scientists studying a dangerous Martian microbe have a sample transported by train where it infects one of the staff leading to a quarantine.

Much of this movie hinges on our hero being bad at his job. He's supposed to be guarding the sample as it travels by train across the country, but he's going somewhat undercover, posing as a railroad marshal or quality control person (I don't fully remember) and is called out, jovially, by the train's handyman. The guard goes to sleep—far from the sample and without securing his keys—and the handyman, naturally curious, possibly hoping to steal something valuable, investigates the cargo. As he does, one of the vials breaks. He panics, tries to clean it up, and then puts the keys back hoping he won't get in trouble.

What's it say about the place I am in my life that I feel so bad for the guy who sets all the trouble in motion when he says, “I just wanted to have a look”?

They arrive at a junction where the cargo will be switched over to another train. There, the guard finds out something broke, calls his government handlers, and a quarantine is enacted locking in the handyman, the guard, and the three staffers at the station. The staffers chafe at being held there against their will, one tries to run so the guard shoots him, and the guard never tells them the little that he knows throughout the entire situation. He's always just telling them to shut up and follow orders. Were this a hostage situation and he trying to steal the material, the dialogue wouldn't be much different.

Which is one of the big problems of the movie. The guard is supposed to be the hero and the bloviating misogynist that blows up at every new wrinkle is supposed to be the source of all the trouble. Only, nearly every objection he raises is right. Here's a quick writing tip: don't make your jackass the voice of reason. The movie literally has a moment where, after the jackass has been shot by the guard, one of the other characters tells the jackass, “He hasn't done anything to you.”

The movie's not painfully dull, but we spend all our time with people who aren't that interesting worrying that they may be infected. The results of infection are pretty nice—your head swells up and explodes—but otherwise the movie is largely without incident. The audio is worth noting because it gets really bad at points and the two versions I have are different lengths. One is longer by two minutes and has both sides of the guard's first phone call to his superiors. That call is nearly unlistenable, but without it there, the shortened version has a real continuity issue.

At the end of the film, it's not clear if they're ripping off Night of the Living Dead or if they just ran out of ideas. There's debate on archive.org about whether this is public domain but my copies, in very blurry, very hard to make out text, seem to have copyright notices on them.


018. Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride aka The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
Director: Alan Gibson
Writer: Don Houghton
From: Cult Cinema and Drive-In

Scotland Yard infiltrates a Satanic cult that seems to be drawing in the richest and most powerful members of society. What none of them know is that Count Dracula himself is running the cult and manipulating its members to his own purpose.

I was so excited about this movie and it was so dull. A Hammer production starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as Dracula and Van Helsing, respectively, promises so much and this, apparently, is the least, and last, of those pairings. The go-to puns are to refer to this as “anemic” or “bloodless,” but it's very hard not to go there. The movie itself just doesn't have any vim.

For example, the first twenty minutes of the movie include the cult performing one of their rituals and a British Intelligence agent escaping their compound only to be shot at the last minute. He manages to deliver his report to his superiors just before dying. Dramatic enough on its face, but it shouldn't take twenty minutes and the whole situation is dragged out by cutting from the agent's escape and report to the ritual, and I'm not sure some footage from the ritual doesn't get repeated in the agent's report.

The name of the game is padding and the film just drags everything out. Dracula doesn't even show up until maybe the last third of the movie and it's more than a little frustrating that the filmmakers twiddled their thumbs for so long. I mean, the characters bring in Van Helsing, the title of the movie has “Dracula,” why don't we just get to Dracula? Why this long, long delay? And, in the end, Dracula is defeated by a brier patch. You just have to roll your eyes.

I've seen this movie before, which didn't help, possibly several times. Apparently the British version that's titled The Satanic Rites of Dracula was public domain, but was pulled back into copyright by GATT. I may have seen it as part of The It's Alive Show. I know I saw the version from 2010's Elvira's Movie Macabre (available on Hulu here).