Friday, September 30, 2016

103. Don't Open Till Christmas and 104. Treasure of Tayopa

Jump to Treasure of Tayopa (1974)

103. Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
Director: Edmund Purdom
Writers: Alan Birkinshaw (additional scenes), Derek Ford
From: Drive-In

A serial killer stalks the streets of London in the run-up to Christmas murdering people dressed as Santa.

A man in a Santa suit is making out with his girlfriend in the back of a car when they're both murdered. Later, at a party, a man dressed as Santa gets a spear thrown through him. This happens in front the Santa's daughter Kate and her boyfriend Cliff. Inspector Harris and Detective Powell of Scotland Yard are put in charge of the case, one they have to solve quickly since, as a newspaper headline notes, there's only “three killing days till Christmas.” Enjoy that because that's the end of this movie's wit.

Cliff is strangely glib about Kate having watched her father get murdered and keeps trying to get her to go outside, loosen up, just relax. “Why you so uptight? I mean, you just witnessed a brutal murder last night, and it was your dad. I don't want to be crass, but you can't mourn forever.”

He meets up with a photographer friend and the couple go to the photographer's studio to find him taking pictures of a model doing light bondage. Cliff tries to talk Kate into joining in, and she leaves in a huff because what the hell, man? Seriously! The funeral hasn't even been arranged! Cliff sticks around, makes out with the model while she's dressed as Santa, and the killer shows up. Cliff bolts (our hero) and the killer threatens the model, but doesn't kill her after she shows him her tits. Cliff, having been at the scene of two encounters, is now the primary suspect, but is also not part of the movie from this point on.

Meanwhile, Giles, a man claiming to be a reporter, is contacting Detective Powell to imply that Harris is the real killer. Powell keeps giving him the brush-off, but becomes increasingly suspicious of Giles himself and has him followed.

A Santa gets killed in a peepshow booth and the girl who was working there is taken in for questioning. She didn't see the killer's face, so can't identify him. Rather than accept the police escort home, she goes back to work and is immediately kidnapped by the killer.

Just geniuses throughout this picture. Pure geniuses.

Kate starts investigating Harris and finds out he visits a mental institution every week. When she meets with Harris for dinner (because two (?) days after your father's murder it's normal to accept a date from the chief inspector), he tells her it was to visit his brother who was committed as a child. Kate goes home and finds Giles in her apartment where he admits to being both the killer and Harris' brother, and the reason he's been killing is he wanted to give his brother “a real case to work on.” Powell calls Kate, but Giles kills her as she answers. Powell hears her death and rushes to the apartment where he chases Giles into a junkyard. Giles is cornered, but somehow manages to electrocute Powell anyway.

Giles returns to his lair where Sherry, the peepshow girl, is tied up. He unties her because she promises not to try to escape, and tells her she's going to suffer for all the evil that infuses Christmas. She runs, manages to shove him over a stairwell, but when she investigates the body, he suddenly wakes up and kills her.

Flashback to Giles as a child seeing his dad dressed as Santa cheating on his mother. His mother walks in, the couple fights, and Santa-dad shoves her, knocking her down a stairwell and killing her. Which means he wasn't killing just to play Moriarty to Harris' Holmes, but actually did have something against Santas. Or maybe not. It's impossible to care.

Cut to Harris' apartment on Christmas. Harris has been fired from the department and is opening a gift that was sent to him at the beginning of the murders. It's a music box with a note indicating it's from his brother which, of course, explodes, killing him. The End.

The movie makes no sense. They say it's going to take three days, but what follows takes far more than three days, although it's impossible to tell what the timeline of this movie is. None of the characters even matter because it's not their story. The movie is just a series of people dressed as Santa getting murdered in various ways—the most notable one having his face pressed down over an open flame after singing “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire.” Of course the forced irony of him dying then is entertaining, but he just bursts into flames. It's hilarious.

The rest of the movie, though, not so much. It's not even clear who the main character is supposed to be. In one version of this movie, it would be Cliff trying to clear his name, save his girlfriend, and redeem himself in her eyes. In another, it'd be Inspector Harris using whatever tools he has at hand to get to the bottom of what's really happening. It's neither of these things, though. It's just some anonymous figure murdering random people in Santa suits. That's not a plot. The strange thing, for me, is that I've written so much about this. The movie sounds like it's full of plot and incident, but it's not at all. The movie itself is only 86 minutes, and it drags because none of it matters.

The movie, in and of itself, isn't particularly fun, but works all right if you don't pay attention to it. I screened this as part of a Winter Solstice party a couple years back, and it works okay in that context: no one's really paying attention and can pop in and out of the movie when a hilarious death is occurring. For those who are curious, the party was a sundown-to-sunup movie marathon with Gremlins, Black Christmas, Christmas Evil, Don't Open Till Xmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, and, planned, but not watched, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. There's no shortage of great winter/Christmas/Solstice-themed horror movies and you can leave a comment with your recommendations. I may do it again this year using exclusively Krampus-themed flicks. I don't think I'll ever return to this movie, though.

104. Treasure of Tayopa (1974)
Director: Bob Cawley
Writers: Robert Mason, Philip Michel
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A group of treasure hunters are trekking through the Mexican wasteland in search of Tayopa, an abandoned mission. They’re followed by a stranger intent on ending their journey and threatened by divisions within their group.

The movie opens with footage of an actual cockfight and can there be any more succinct review of a movie than, “You literally watch something die”? From the cockfight, we launch into a voice-over telling us the “Legend of Tayopa,” only it doesn’t relate the legend or tell us anything about Tayopa. Coincidentally, I’m in the midst of grading student papers, so the failure of creators to tell us what they’re trying to tell us is the leitmotif of my day.

The narrator appears on-screen, listed in the credits as “Host,” because he's not actually part of this movie, and finally tells us that Tayopa was a 16th century Spanish mission in Mexico. The missionaries forced the local natives to mine for gold until the natives rose up and killed them. Since then, the exact location of the mission and its treasure has remained a secret.

Thus Kathryn Delgadillo, the last descendant of someone associated with Tayopa, bearing her family’s undefined curse from that place and knowing its secret location. She’s narrating the movie now and has important information relating to Tayopa or the curse or herself, but it’s lost in a bad edit so that we can return to the real star of this movie: the music.

So little happens on-screen until the second half, and that may be generous. The structure of the film is narration—musical montage—narration—musical montage—dialogue—musical montage. This was less a movie than a music video collection for generic lite FM desert ballads.

In the movie itself, Kathryn's team of treasure hunters has the stoic and experienced Tom as leader, quiet and affable Felipe as translator, and sociopath man named Sally to work the metal detector. Three guesses as to who’s going to make trouble. Early in their journey, they encounter a stranger who seems to only speak Spanish. Felipe gets directions from him to the mountains, but the stranger, who speaks English, overhears them mention Tayopa and follows them from a distance. Later, his band of thieves harasses the group, but ultimately leaves them alone.

Sally can’t leave it be, though, and takes Felipe back with him to kill the band because they jostled his horse. Yeah. Forget, "scuffed my Adidas," this is "bumped my horse" (although that does sound like a euphemism that would be worth fighting over). Before Sally carries out his plan, we get to see the band discussing killing the treasure hunters and kidnapping Kathryn to rape cause every character on every side in this movie is charming. The stranger tells them to wait and goes off to monitor the hunters while Sally and Felipe arrive and murder everyone. The stranger returns to find Sally’s hat at the scene and so dedicates himself to seeing them all dead.

The stranger steals all their horses, the group treks across the scrub on foot, Felipe starts narrating because apparently this is Abraxas and everyone deserves equal time on the mic, and they find water. Everyone goes swimming, Sally tries to assault Kathryn, but Tom stops him and threatens to shoot him if it happens again.

They finally arrive at Tayopa, but can’t find the treasure. Sally eventually finds the mine, assaults Kathryn, then kills Tom and Felipe. Kathryn, presumed dead, follows Sally back to the mine and brains him with a rock. Then she stumbles away looking for help. She kills and eats a snake, which I don’t think was a prop, is visited by a monk that gives her water, but it’s not clear if he’s a hallucination or not. Then the narrator reappears to say the treasure is still out there.

So a real slog of a movie. The big problem is that there’s nothing happening and no real outside threat. Sure, the stranger steals their horses, which puts them in real peril, but never actually rises to the level of the threat posed by Sally. And there’s never any doubt that Sally’s where all the trouble is going to come from. Early on, the treasure hunters make reference to the fact that they can’t be found by Mexican authorities because they’re carrying guns, but that never becomes an issue. Also, the curse is invoked at the beginning, but the details of it are never articulated. Was the whole trip a manifestation of the curse? I don’t know.

Ultimately, there’s no content here, very little movie, just long stretches of bad music with mediocre visuals. If I wanted that, Nickelback has a Vevo, I’m sure. So not a recommend. There’s what appears to be a valid copyright notice at the end, but Mill Creek smooshed their logo on to my copy so it doesn’t matter anyway.

Friday, September 23, 2016

101. Spare Parts and 102. The Island Monster

Jump to The Island Monster (1954)

101. Spare Parts aka Fleisch (1979)
Director: Rainer Erler
Writer: Rainer Erler
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A honeymoon goes terribly awry when the husband is kidnapped by an ambulance and his wife has to enlist the aid of a trucker to find out what's happened.

Monica and Mike are honeymooning in New Mexico when they check into a quaint little hotel. Shortly after they check in, an ambulance arrives and chases them across the desert. Monica escapes, but the drivers hold Mike at gunpoint and inject him with a sedative before putting him in the back.

Monica flags down a passing truck driven by Bill. He doesn't believe her story until the ambulance shows up at a truck stop far outside its region looking for Monica. The two of them decide to return to the hotel in hopes of getting themselves kidnapped to find out what is actually going on.

The ambulance kidnaps them, but truckers up and down New Mexico are tracking it, eventually hijacking the drivers themselves. Bill and Monica find out the ambulance is part of an organ-harvesting ring and the victims are being delivered to a “Dr. Jackson.” Bill and Monica put on the drivers' uniforms and go to the hospital.

While Bill is trying to get information, Dr. Jackson herself finds Monica and gives a general overview of the organ donation process. She then puts Monica and Bill on a plane to New York with several “patients,” including Mike, revealing that she knows who Monica is and gives her an address.

Monica and Bill are drugged on the plane, but Monica manages to wake up as they're landing and escape. That night, she's arrested by the police who aren't inclined to believe her story, but Dr. Jackson has arrived and turned herself in. She and Monica go to the hospital where Bill and Mike have been taken, rescue them, and, at the last minute, Dr. Jackson kills the intern who's been blackmailing her all this time. After she drops off Bill, Mike, and Monica, the evil nurses run her ambulance off a bridge and she dies. The trio are sent back to New Mexico to put their lives back together as best they can.

This is a slow, made-for-TV German film that, while a little too long, does a pretty good job of creating and holding tension. The revelation that Mike has been taken by organ harvesters doesn't come until 50 minutes/an hour into the movie so there's just a mounting tension of Monica having been dropped into an unbelievable situation that slowly becomes more believable for those around her.

The movie also has an interesting transition of control. Initially Monica is a freewheeling newlywed who's then running scared. Bill assumes authority and is largely running the story until Monica meets Dr. Jackson. Then Monica is the sole actor, making decisions and trying to regain control. Finally, Dr. Jackson shows up and takes control as the primary protagonist. That final move is a bit disappointing—it was nice seeing Monica become the central figure and Dr. Jackson's return ended up prolonging the ending—but it works overall. There's also the constant tension of trust: is Bill in on it, is Dr. Jackson helping or not, are the cops in on it? Nothing is certain until the very end.

While the movie could easily lose a half-hour without sacrificing any quality, it's actually pretty good. There's no specific villain so the story plays out as people dropped into a ghoulish, uncaring system that even those at the center of can't fully control or understand. I find that's an interesting moral space to explore and I enjoyed the movie for its Kafka-meets-cheap horror sensibility. There's virtually no violence and zero gore, but was consistently tense nonetheless. Definitely a recommend.

102. The Island Monster aka Il mostro dell'isola(1954)
Director: Roberto Bianchi Montero
Writers: Roberto Bianchi Montero and Alberto Vecchietti from a story by Carlo Lombardo
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A drug syndicate is using a children's hospital as a front to distribute their wares. When a new Lieutenant is put in charge of the case, the syndicate kidnaps his daughter.

Boris Karloff plays a drug lord that runs a isolated hospital for children. He uses his ability to order medicine from overseas to have drugs smuggled to him. The local authorities are aware of the drug trade itself, but connect it to Gloria, a singer at a local bar. While she's part of the scheme, it's Karloff that's running the show.

The police assign Lieutenant Mario Andreani to the head of the group trying to take down the syndicate. He tells his wife and daughter that he's going to be off the radar for a bit while he does undercover work. He's dispatched to try to seduce Gloria to find out what she's up to, but he's already been marked by the syndicate and they want Gloria to seduce him.

This plot doesn't go anywhere because Mario's wife decides to surprise him with a visit while he's leading an undercover operation. She gets jealous of Gloria, abandons their daughter at the hotel, and that leads to the kid being kidnapped.

Then not much else happens. The kid is being ransomed, Mario is back on the mainland because he's been sussed out, and Gloria is trying to get out of the drug game because she's had enough. The Lieutenant's dog somehow figures out that Karloff is the one that's kidnapped the girl, follows him to his hideout by stowing away in the back of a truck and then, somehow, in a small motorboat. The dog is a better cop than any cop in the movie.

Nothing happens for a long time, then the Lieutenant shows up as a representative of the Genoa mafia, or something. The dub was both mumbled and muffled so I could only understand about half of the useless dialogue. He's posing as a representative for the group that's going to make the big drug buy that will let Karloff and his entire band retire. Gloria recognizes him immediately, but doesn't rat him out.

The night of the deal comes, Gloria rescues the kid from the hideout, the cops close in on Karloff, and, as he's fleeing from the cops, he picks up Gloria and the kid. After they pass the drop-off point, Gloria realizes who he is, fights him, and gets shot. Karloff runs off with the girl, the Lieutenant and the dog chase him, and the dog distracts Karloff so Mario can shoot him. Family reunites and the movie ends.

Another big, wet fart of a movie to make me question my poor life choices, this isn't so much about villainous drug lords as the peril of bad parenting. It would have been a nice noir thriller if the mother hadn't taken her kid to vacation in the middle of a drug sting. What person married to a police officer does that? And then she just leaves the toddler alone in a hotel room. Getting kidnapped was probably the best possible outcome: at least the kid has adult supervision that's invested in her safety!

The dog is the only hero in the movie going full double-0-Lassie on the crooks which is as funny as you imagine. When the dog arrives at the island on the boat that it impossibly hid itself on, the dog jumps into the water to swim for shore. Only, the dog doesn't come back up after jumping off the boat. The camera holds on the spot the dog went in, there are a bunch of air bubbles, and then they stop. Cut to Karloff walking onto the shore. There may have been multiple dog actors in this movie.

It's stupid. The whole thing is stupid, and not in a fun way. The dub is terribly done, almost as though the actors are guessing at what they're supposed to be saying as opposed to reading from a translated script. The plot doesn't go anywhere, the characters don't matter, and the key events depend on people being stupid. By all rights, this should be public domain because how could anyone possibly care about it? But it's been GATT'ed so it's back under copyright. Frankly, no big loss.

Friday, September 16, 2016

99. The Demon and 100. The Disappearance of Flight 412

Jump to The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974)

099. The Demon (1981)
Director: Percival Rubens
Writer: Percival Rubens
From: Chilling

A serial killer stalks a young teacher while being hunted by a psychic investigator.

We start with the nameless, faceless killer breaking into a house and kidnapping a young girl. Her mother is left bound with a plastic bag over her head. The killer takes the girl into the woods where she sees something that horrifies her, but we can't see it because the print is too dark. The killer leaves town by strangling a driver and going into the city.

Two months later, our lord and savior, Cameron Mitchell is brought in as a psychic investigator. He gets some images of the killer and where he's living now, but nothing concrete or particularly useful.

I speak only truths.
Meanwhile, Mary, a young teacher, starts having visions of the killer. That night, the killer assaults, I think (murky print), her friend and co-worker after she leaves Boobs Disco, and, yes, seeing that club's sign was the highlight of the film. Two motorcyclists pass by, scaring the killer, who I will, for obvious reasons, refer to as “Brock Turner” for the rest of this post. The friend runs away, never to be seen in the film again.

Mary is concerned about her cousin (?) Jo dating a rich boy because she doesn't know how he made all his money. The next half-hour/forty-five minutes is them courting.

Slenderman got swole.
Back with the grieving parents, Mitchell provides sketches of his psychic visions: two pictures of Brock Turner without a face and a detailed drawing of his apartment building. The father is obsessed with vengeance, tracks down the building in the city, and gets killed by Brock Turner. The mother blames Mitchell for everything that's happened and shoots him in the face, ending that plotline entirely.

Jo and her boyfriend have a night at the house alone, Brock Turner kills the guy, then Jo, then Mary comes home. Turner chases her throughout the house with Mary ending up in the kitchen several times, but never grabbing a knife. She finally constructs some Home Alone-esque trap in the bathroom, and stabs Brock Turner in the neck. Then she runs screaming from the house as the credits roll.

I joked with a friend, and maybe before in an earlier review, that the Chilling set is so named because “Boring” wouldn't sell. This is a slow, dull, serial killer pic that clearly had some editing done after John Carpenter's Halloween. Brock Turner wears a generic white mask and most of the movie you don't see his face at all. There are occasional shots that echo Michael Myers' stalking Jamie Lee Curtis and it really feels like the mask shots were added after the fact, especially since he doesn't seem to be wearing it when he's killed, but is when there's a cut-away to his body.

A dull, dull movie. I was constantly asking, “What even is this?” and there's no revelation about who the killer is, why he's killing people, or why he's focused on these two women. The only reason the movie's called The Demon is that Mitchell refers to the killer, enigmatically, as “the Demon” just before he's shot. This isn't depressing or grim like a lot of these cinematic failures are, it's just dull. There's a lot of gratuitous nudity that makes it clear how the producers were hoping to sell the film. This is in the public domain so I've uploaded a copy to the Internet Archive here, but I can't recommend it in any way.

100. The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974)
Director: Jud Taylor
Writers: George Simpson and Neal R. Burger
From: Cult Cinema

After spotting three UFOs on radar, the crew of Flight 412 are diverted to an undisclosed location and interrogated about their experience.

Flight 412 is engaged in standard exercises when a radar unit on the ground detects three unidentified objects in their vicinity. Two Marine jets are scrambled, but vanish once they reach the clouds, the unidentified objects vanishing with them. NORAD takes over the situation and redirects Flight 412 to Digger Base where the four members of the crew are isolated and questioned repeatedly about the events.

Meanwhile Colonel Pete Moore tries to find out where his crew has gone and what happened to them in the sky. He keeps getting stymied by military officials and double-dealing. Eventually he finds where his crew was taken, confronts the security personnel, and, the next morning, gets his crew back.

Outraged at the situation, Col. Moore takes his crew to the General to tell him what really happened. The General reveals that the military has a policy of keeping UFO sightings under wraps. The Colonel promises his crew that, eventually, things will change and they'll be able to tell the truth. A voice-over notes that four months later, a similar event happened with many witnesses, but the silence endured.

A simple mid-70's made-for-TV movie that works pretty well until just about the end. It opens with a bit of faux-documentary material about UFO sightings and expresses the tautology that if even one of the claims is real, then UFOs are real, or, as I have it in my notes, “If any reports are true. . . Aleeums!” Then it cuts to the actual movie that has far too much narration by a bargain-basement Rod Serling telling us things we can clearly see.

What we see, though, is kept nicely contained. The crew boards, flies, and encounters the phenomenon on radar, not in person. So while there's a nice chunk of stock footage of military planes through the first act, the movie quickly gets to its actual story: the experience of these Air Force members being involved in a UFO sighting. They have to endure low-level brainwashing about what they saw. Meanwhile, Col. Moore is trying to figure out what happened to his people, completely ignoring the alien element.

The movie's at its best when it's about the Colonel trying to find his men. The crew don't have much personality or character—they never have time to differentiate themselves—so the Colonel is the only one making choices. The conclusion that involves him indignantly demanding the General release the truth about aliens makes for a weak ending, though. It's clearly the moment when the movie goes from being a nice, compact story to being a polemic about UFOs.

To the film's credit, it's short, it's entertaining most of the time, and moves pretty well. It's public domain and there are a couple copies on the Internet Archive already. I've added an MPEG version here so it's there for people to do whatever they like. Definitely riffable, but also not a terrible watch on its own. Just turn it off once they leave the interrogation. That's where the movie should have ended.

Friday, September 09, 2016

097. Hands of Steel and 098. Chain Gang Women

Jump to Chain Gang Women (1971)

097. Hands of Steel aka Atomic Cyborg aka Vendetta dal futuro(1986)
Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Sergio Martino, Elisa Briganti, John Crowther, Ernesto Gastaldi, Dardano Sacchetti, and Saul Sasha with additional dialogue by Lewis E. Ciannelli, from a story by Sergio Martino
From:Sci-Fi Invasion; Pure Terror

A cyborg dispatched to assassinate an ecologist defies his orders and ends up hiding out in an Arizona arm-wrestling bar.

We open with a montage of urban landscapes collapsing under the weight of industrialization, the homeless bent under the weight of their lives. Billboards and posters featuring the messianic environmentalist Rev. Mosley are everywhere with his hopeful rallying cry, “You have no future.” I'm sorry, but isn't the despotic, dystopian message supposed to be put forth by the villain? This is the first sign that the movie, if it's going to have a message, is going to muddle it completely.

Mosley is supposed to give a speech that night at a rally, but Paco Queruak (who not only looks nothing like a Paco, looks like he's never met anyone named Paco) breaks into Mosley's hotel room and punches the blind, wheelchair-bound leader in the stomach so hard that Mosley's spleen ruptures.

Paco escapes, driving through acid rain that literally eats through his car. He trades it in at a junkyard for one that gets him into Arizona before breaking down. Rather than abandon the car, Paco shoves it over a cliff where it flips countless times and then, of course, explodes. He walks to a bar he sees in the distance where he meets Linda, the owner. She tells him arm wrestling is popular in this area and sets him to work chopping wood out back.

Meanwhile, Turner (Jon Saxon! Hooray!), the villainous owner of a company that was often targeted for criticism by Mosley, has dispatched people to capture and kill Paco. Turner funded Paco's creation and so Paco's trainer finds the doctor that made Paco a cyborg and kills him. Then Turner's agent kills Paco's trainer and hooks up with a hitman to track Paco down.

At the bar, Paco gets into an altercation with Raul, a generic asshole, and beats him at arm wrestling. Raul then tries to fight Paco and Paco defeats everyone in the bar. The next day, Raul returns with the tri-state champion to challenge Paco to an arm-wrestling match, Indian style: the loser's hand is pressed into a box containing a rattlesnake. Paco agrees, but Raul sets him up to get beaten and stranded in the desert. Paco makes it to the match anyway, defeats the champ, and kills the rattler just before it's about to bite the guy.

The FBI figure out the assassin must have been a cyborg and start catching up to Paco, the hitmen find out exactly where he is, and Paco tells Linda that he was sent to kill Mosley but found the will not to. All the forces collide with Turner sending a female cyborg to kill Paco, Raul betrays Paco once more and gets killed, and Paco eventually kills all of Turner's men as well as Turner himself. As he emerges from the final battle, the FBI descends asking him to surrender and Linda tries to convince him he won't be harmed. He reveals a head wound to her that only shows circuitry and suggests that Paco never existed, that he's been a robot all along. The film ends with a title card saying this is the start of “the era of the cyborg.”

Does this help? This doesn't help.
I'd like to say this is a solid slice of 80's Italian cheese with Jon Saxon adding a side of ham, mostly because I think that phrase is clever. The movie never quite gets crazy enough, though. Raul's death, for instance, should be over-the-top and laughably bad. Instead, Paco squeezes Raul's head. No bulging eyes, no blood, no pop, just “squeeze. . . dead.” Likewise, Paco kills Turner by literally tearing his heart out, but we never see the heart or the hole. Commit to your silliness movie!

There are hints at the beginning that this will be some ham-fisted, post-apocalyptic message movie about the environment—you have a messianic environmentalist as the assassination target and then Paco drives through an area of acid rain that literally has a sign posted for it! All that disappears once we get to the bar and the movie becomes truckers arm wrestling. Finally we close with an extended action sequence that has some ambition—the female cyborg echoes Evil Dead nicely—but not much.

The movie's just relentlessly okay. It's never overtly bad or especially boring, but it never rises to the point of doing anything interesting either. This was featured on Best of the Worst #28, and they drill down to the best parts pretty nicely.

098. Chain Gang Women (1971)
Director: Lee Frost
Writers: Lee Frost and Wes Bishop
From: Cult Cinema

Billy Harris is assigned to the chain gang with just six months left on his sentence. When his fellow inmate decides to escape, Billy is, literally, dragged along, and has to manage the moods of the increasingly-dangerous Weed.

Billy Harris only has six months left on his marijuana charge but, due to bad luck, is taken off his job in the prison library and sent to the chain gang at the hard labor camp. He's chained to Mike Weed, a man doing life for having murdered a girl. When the other prisoners revolt, Weed forces Harris to escape with him since neither can go alone.

Harris' girlfriend lives in the nearby town so the pair meet up with her. Their first day there, Weed sends Harris to buy clothes and then rapes his girlfriend. She tries to help them escape into Atlanta, but they're turned back by a roadblock. Weed hunts down a ranch for them to lay low at and Harris sends his girlfriend away.

The ranch is owned by an old man and his child bride. They tie up the old man and Weed rapes the girl in front of him. The girl begs Harris to take her with them when they leave because she's essentially a prisoner of the old man.

The trio try to take back roads but run into another roadblock. They return to the ranch only to find that the old man has escaped. He sneaks up on Weed, chokes him to death, and then shoots Harris. The final scene is him telling his wife to go to bed and that, “Everything's going to be just like it always was.”

A title that promises disappointment and yet still manages to surprise with its lows. The movie starts out all right with Billy being put upon, but takes a hard turn at the first rape. PS. I just had to use the phrase “first rape” when discussing a movie. That could be the whole review.

The expectation from that starting point is that Billy is going to get away or, at least, that the story will be about him trying and failing to get away. He ends up taking a backseat, though, to Mike Raperson and his wacky misadventures. If that weren't enough, we then get the child bride situation that's literally set up with Weed and Harris looking at the old man through a window, describing the girl as his daughter, and then watching them have sex. It's revealed later that she's only 17. So, yeah, add a sprinkling of that to your movie.

The movie loses its way when it decides it wants to be edgy. Until then it's a slow, but alright escape flick. Twice, during the chase scenes, the screen splits into four parts that are sometimes showing different images, sometimes four copies of the same one. It's a nice, simple effect and I wish the rest of the movie had lived up to that one bit of cleverness. Definitely not a recommend.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Story Slam: DIY

A new Story Slam piece just over 4 months later! I really want to get back on that wagon. This is me talking about Dungeons & Dragons as entrancement, escape, and an alternative to small-town life. Also the KKK. An alternative to the KKK. But that's a really small part of the story.

Friday, September 02, 2016

095. Indian Paint and 096. The Cold

Jump to The Cold (1984)

095. Indian Paint (1965)
Director: Norman Foster
Writer: Norman Foster from the novel by Glenn Balach
From: Cult Cinema

A tale of a young boy and his horse. Yeah, that's it.

Nishko is eagerly awaiting the birth of his horse, a painted colt that he's seen in his dreams. Shortly after the horse's birth, though, the nearby Snake tribe raids his village, steals all the horses, and kidnaps three women. The most important thing to this 12-year-old, obviously, is his horse, not the fate of the tribe or of his kin.

And that's the movie in a nutshell. There isn't much plot. Everything is just a variation on him wanting his horse, losing his horse, getting the horse back again. Even the prospect of sacrificing the horse to save his mother's life comes up, but she recovers just as he's about to cut the horse's throat. While that sounds dramatic, it carries no weight—nothing carries weight. Events happen, the scene ends, and none of it ever matters again.

Since there's no evolution of scenes, there's no evolution of characters or their relationships. Nishko never grows beyond being a whiny kid stamping his feet and wanting his horse. It's telling that the first major plot point is his village being raided. He protects his mother, saves the sacred object (which is just called “the sacred object”), and then goes after the raiders to save his horse—not the women they kidnapped.

At the end of the movie, his horse has run off to join a wild herd, he catches it, feels guilty, and sets it free. Then he's knocked off a cliff by a buffalo, which is hilarious. He has a dream of random shots from earlier in the movie, wakes up to find a pack of wolves menacing him, and then the horse rushes in from miles away to save his life.

This is a movie about native Americans set before the arrival of the Europeans, but it doesn't actually do anything with that. Rather than the standard western trope of cowboys versus evil savages, this floats the idea of native Americans. . . versus evil savages. Since that's not about a boy and his horse, though, that plot's dropped. Also, even though it opens with a voice-over about how this is a tale from before the white man came, there's nothing particular about the tribe they depict—no specific identity, traditions, or religious practices. They hunt buffalo. That's it.

There's a touch of camp enjoyment to be found in seeing this as a tribe of John Boehners, but that's, at best, a momentary joy. Several of the roles are played by actual native Americans and First Nations people, but there are enough white people in redface with sweat lines appearing in the makeup to remind you that it's 1965. To focus on the political incorrectness of it, though, is to miss the point that there isn't any movie here to get mad at. This is ninety minutes of nothing and definitely best given a pass.

096. The Cold aka The Game (1984)
Director: Bill Rebane
Writers: William Arthur and Larry Dreyfus
From: Chilling

Nine people compete to be the last one standing in challenge to face ever-greater scares for a $1,000,000 prize.

A rhyming narrator tells us about three bored millionaires who have come up with a new way of amusing themselves. Once a year, they gather several people at their island resort and play a game. The millionaires try to scare the players off the island and the last one remaining gets $1,000,000. This year's contestants include a band with 4 members, Joe—an ex-con and Vietnam vet, Kathy—a law student, Jon—who keeps creeping around the hotel, and two women who are regularly topless or wearing see-through underwear.

People start disappearing relatively quickly, which raises immediate questions about the nature of the game. If the game is to scare people off the island, then they have to be convinced that the threat is real, except they already know it's a game. To address this issue, people start getting captured by the millionaires which then implies that the game is to not let your guard down.

There's not much point going through the details. Eventually we're left with Joe, Kathy, and Jon. Joe is angry because the woman he's started hooking up with, Shelly, has been shot and killed. The millionaires themselves seem surprised by it. They initially broke into Shelly's room, tied her up, and forced her to play Russian Roulette 4 times in a row. It's actually a bit of a mean-spirited scene for this flick. They don't shoot her, but as they're walking down the hall, they hear a gun shot. When they return to their lair and examine the camera feed from the room, they say she looks dead.

Jon reveals that he's a cop on the trail of a mental patient who ended up as a janitor at the resort the year before. He and Joe get into a fight, Joe steals Jon's gun, breaks into the millionaires' lair, and shoots one of them. Jon then chases Joe with a shotgun, they end up fighting by another house on the island, and the mental patient arrives only to reveal that all of it was a ploy and part of the game.

Jon, Joe, and Kathy have everything explained to them by the millionaires who promise each of them $1,000,000. The contestants are driven to a nearby hotel where they're told the rest of the party is waiting, only, when they get there, it's just the first person to disappear. On the island, the millionaires start panicking as they resort starts filling with the chilling mist they'd been using throughout the game. They run through all the movie's sets, run into a sauna, see a demon, and die. We close with the rhyming narrator who opened the film basically saying none of it makes any sense as we watch the frozen millionaires open their eyes and start smiling.

The movie is really stupid. It's an odd mash-up of House on Haunted Hill and The Most Dangerous Game without committing to its ideas the way those movies do. There's gratuitous nudity, bad audio, and sub-porno-level acting. Suffice it to say, I loved it. The whole thing is just kind of goofy and moves at a good enough pace to keep your interest. This is from Bill Rebane who also did The Giant Spider Invasion (which gets name-dropped in this film), probably best remembered for being the source of MST3k's “Packers!” gag. This is an enjoyably bad movie and an interesting little slice of 80's. I don't think it's a forgotten part of the bad movie cannon, but I'd say it's definitely worth a look.