Friday, May 06, 2016

061. Eyes Behind the Stars and 062. Blood of Dracula's Castle

Jump to Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)

061. Eyes Behind the Stars aka Occhi dalle stelle (1978)
Writer & Director: Mario Gariazzo
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

An investigation into the disappearance of a photographer and his girlfriend uncovers a conspiracy suppressing the reality of alien abductions. Now the reporter must decide whether or not to pursue the investigation, possibly at the cost of his life.

A photographer and his girlfriend are doing a photo shoot in the woods when they notice their watches and radios suddenly stop working and they feel like someone's watching them. The photographer returns to the site after developing the film and seeing people in the pictures who weren't there originally. At the site, he's abducted by aliens in a sequence that's actually interesting.

His girlfriend contacts a reporter who starts investigating and finding himself stymied by the police, even though the police chief is his friend. The model gives the reporter some of the negatives and then is abducted herself.

And then it gets very talky and boring pushing an agenda about this being “the truth!”

The reporter visits a UFOlogist who tells him about all the ways “the truth” has been covered up, particularly by a group within the government called “the Silencers” who are basically the Men in Black. They track the reporter, encourage him to drop the case, and finally rough him up a bit to make him hand over the negatives he has. They argue that they're keeping the reality of aliens a secret because they have no way of defending against the aliens and if the truth got out, there'd be a global panic.

Here's the thing: they're right. In fact, when they bring the reporter back to his home, the aliens have already been there and ransacked it looking for the negatives. When the Silencers beat the actual negatives out of him, the aliens immediately swoop in and steal the evidence. The Silencers aren't the villains—access to this information makes you a target of the aliens. The Silencers protect people from becoming targets of the aliens.

The movie doesn't see it that way, though, and the reporter persists in his quest for “the truth!” He initially thinks the UFOlogist he's been working with has betrayed him and is about to punch the man when the UFOlogist suggests it might be the reporter's secretary. When they visit her, the reporter doesn't hesitate at all and just starts smacking the crap out of her. She denies it, just as the UFOlogist did, but then a wire recorder she'd had hidden goes off and she's revealed.

The reporter and UFOlogist learn that the model has been returned by the aliens, but is catatonic, so they kidnap her from the hospital she's at and take her to another institution where a psychic—yup, cause that's real, too—can read her mind and reveal what's actually going on. Unfortunately, the aliens take over the psychic's mind and kill the model. The reporter, psychic, and UFOlogist walk toward the woods next to the hospital where the reporter shoots into the trees. The Silencers arrive and machine-gun the reporter and UFOlogist (cause how many more people are these two going to get killed?) and then they and the psychic watch the UFO fly away.

An odd little flick that's desperate to lay claim to more truth than is maybe justified. The opening credits list the writer/director as Roy Garrett, “Member of the National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena (N.I.C.A.P.) and Field Investigator of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (A.P.R.O.) of the United States of America.” How can you doubt the authority of Roy Garrett?

Well, it doesn't help that Roy Garrett doesn't exist. This is actually made by Mario Gariazzo, the director of The Eerie Midnight Horror Show, another film that included a title card insisting that it's “based on actual events.” This one instead claims that all quotes “are factual.”

It's a silly piece that mostly bores when it's British dubbing isn't unintentionally hilarious (they pronounce UFOs as “You-Foes”). A big problem with it is that it's not a movie about aliens and conspiracies and secrets but rather a polemic about “what they're not telling you!” A mission movie is far less interesting than a movie about someone on a mission, but this doesn't have to be entertaining because it's TRUE!

And maybe I have less patience for this because of the public resurgence of flat-Earthers, gravity Truthers, and, as always, climate change deniers. Just before watching the movie, I had a conversation with my dad about one of his co-workers saying temperature doesn't exist.

Temperature—a shared standard for measuring physical reality—doesn't exist. And don't get him started on inches. His wife's already had that discussion.

When you get to that point, you're not even speaking the same language. So I couldn't help reflecting, while watching the movie, that somehow there's never enough evidence for climate change, but the lack of evidence of aliens or cryptids or ghosts or whatever tonight's AM Coast to AM is about is the absolute proof of its existence. I like ghost stories, I like alien stories, I like conspiracy stories, but don't insist that I have to take these fantasies seriously.

There's no copyright notice on this print, but it's an Italian film so I'm guessing it's covered under GATT. Also, I'm not inclined to break a sweat trying to share this 92 minutes of thumb-twiddling. Just pull up the weakest mytharc episodes of The X-Files on Netflix for the same story but better acting.

062. Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)
Directors: Al Adamson and Jean Hewitt
Writer: Rex Carlton
From: Cult Cinema

Glen and Liz learn that they’ve inherited a castle that’s home to the Count and Countess Townsend. Glen and Liz think asking the Townsends to leave will be easy, but don’t realize that the Townsends are actually Count Dracula and his bride and they have no intention of surrendering the comforts they’ve grown accustomed to.

Another movie featuring abductions and a photographer/model couple. The similarities to Eyes Beyond the Stars ends there, though. The movie opens with a long credit sequence where, in classic b-movie/MST3k fashion, we watch someone drive a car. They just drive and drive while Tom Jones soundalike Gil Bernal performs the entirety of his song “Next Train Out.” While it has nothing to do with vampires, castles, or the movie at all, it’s a peppy enough little tune that suggests the movie’s going to have a nice campy tone.

That tone persists as the car breaks down, the woman driving cheerfully gets out in the middle of nowhere, and starts walking. She sees the Draculas’ handyman Mango—a mix of Igor and Frankenstein’s monster—and faints. Mango takes her back to the castle where she’s chained up in the basement and bled by the butler played by John Carradine. The Draculas sample that night’s serving of blood, note its vigor, and go into the basement to chat with the new prisoner.

It’s all light, goofy, and absurd. It feels like Gilligan could show up at any moment, and I like that. Then the Draculas give Mango one of the prisoners to take into the other room to use at his pleasure.

Could we just not with the rape? That other movie I was just watching, the one with the ardently polite vampires, “Dreadfully sorry old chap, but I have to suck all your blood out. Nothing personal, just a compulsion, my curse, really, sure you understand” is so much more interesting. It’s what Tim Burton aimed for in Dark Shadows and, from what I understand, was managed successfully in What We Do In the Shadows. Why do we leave that movie for sadism?

Here’s my beef with lo-budget films going for "edge": they fail. They always fail. They don’t have the money to go all-out with gore effects unless they commit to them à la Herschel Gordon Lewis, but wit doesn’t cost anything, personality doesn’t cost anything. In fact, it makes people more eager to support your movie. So to get a movie like this that starts out on the right track only to shruggingly shuffle away is really disappointing.

Anyway, while the couple that owns the castle is driving, the Draculas’ friend Johnny (who is foreshadowed to be a werewolf and is mentioned as being a werewolf in some cuts but isn’t a werewolf in my version) is escaping jail to meet up at the castle. While escaping, he drowns a woman he finds sunbathing, shoots a hitchhiker in the face, and shoves a stolen car off a cliff with the owner still inside.

I want my camp back.

The rest of the movie proceeds as you’d expect: couple arrives, Draculas refuse to leave, couple gets stranded at house, finds out secret, overpowers villains, escapes.

One interesting twist is the Draculas are also the high priests of a Satanic cult so the couple is forced to watch the sacrifice of one of the girls. It’s an odd wrinkle in the Dracula story. The Satanic Rites of Dracula invokes that trope a bit, but that’s more Dracula posing as the head of a cult to turn its followers into slaves. Here it just feels like more padding.

This just isn’t fun the way it needs to be. There are hints that it’s going to be silly—the Count and Countess chatting with their food, Johnny having a heartfelt conversation with the guard that’s helping him escape, the couple attempting banter and failing—but that tone is abandoned for a not-even-grim stroll through the perfunctory plot points. If there’s any promise in the film, it lies in cannibalizing the good parts to make the kind of film this should have been.

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