Friday, November 25, 2016

121. Battle Beyond the Sun and 122. Jive Turkey

Jump to Jive Turkey (1974)

121. Battle Beyond the Sun aka The Sky Calls (1959)
Directors: Mikhail Karzhukov, Aleksandr Kozyr, and Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: Mikhail Karzhukov, Evgeniy Pomeshchikov, and Aleksey Sazonov
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
Watch: archive.org

After the Great Atomic War, the two major world powers are racing to be the first ones to land on Mars. Their missions, though, encounter unexpected problems.

We should probably start by noting this was originally a Russian film with both the expected Soviets vs. Americans angle and a legitimately hard sci-fi aspect. Roger Corman bought the rights to the American version and handed it over to Francis Ford Coppola to make it more America-friendly. This meant 1: removing the politics and 2: adding space monsters. The end result, unsurprisingly, is a bit of a mish-mash.

The opening is narration so long that it continues over the first actual scene of the movie. The narrator is blathering on about the space program while we see footage of models of space vessel prototypes. Then the movie starts with characters talking about something, but we never hear it because the narrator isn’t done yet. I was hoping the majority of the film would be narrated a la The Creeping Terror, but no luck. We do get the backstory, though, of the Great Atomic War that wiped all the nations out. Now it’s the villainous Northern Hemisphere vs. the curiously pale Southern Hemisphere in the far off future year of 1997.

The South’s secret Mars mission is docked on the space station when they get a distress call from a Northern ship requesting permission to land and make repairs. They accept their Northern neighbors as guests, but the North figures out what the South’s mission is and leaves early hoping to beat the South to Mars, despite receiving direct orders not to.

Their ship fails en route and starts drifting into the sun and the Southern ship picks up the North’s distress signal. The South save the Northern crew, but use up all their fuel doing so. They land on an asteroid and try to send a message back to the base.

The base sends a fuel rocket that crashes before it can reach them and then another, this time with a pilot. He lands on the asteroid and, while looking for the stranded crew, sees two alien monsters fighting—the element Coppola added. According to Wikipedia, “Coppola's idea was that one monster would look like a penis and the other a vagina.” I’d include a screenshot, but they all came out too dark. However, it’s clearly visible when watching the movie and, if you were told beforehand, as you have been now, you can see it. The more I learn about Coppola, the more I keep saying, “and he made The Godfather” with curious incredulity.

Whatever. Astronaut dies but signals the crew as he does, and they all return home to a hero’s welcome even though they didn’t complete their mission. The narrator returns to say it’s bravery like theirs that will end up moving science forward and yadda yadda yadda. END.

Truth be told, this movie wiped me out several times. I kept falling asleep, rewinding, and falling back asleep. It’s kind of fun in its translation errors—the villains don’t work as villains unless you think of them as the conniving enemies and the heroes as the noble us, “enemies” and “us” being, as always, relative terms, and even then that just ups the camp factor.

The original Russian version, according to Wikipedia, was in fact a long dream sequence and so faced its own narrative problems. The biggest issue is that it’s still a little too close to pure sci-fi: rather than a character or plot being central to the story, the “What if” question is central, here being “How could a mission to Mars go wrong?” Interesting enough, but nothing here carries dramatic weight so the movie just putters along for most of its running time.

There is fun to be had: it’s easily mockable and I’d love to see someone do an entirely new dub in the style of Dr. Chuck Tingle. The movie’s in the public domain and I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy to archive.org here. That’s probably the best way to think of it—not so much as a piece of entertainment, but as raw material for other projects.


122. Jive Turkey aka Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes(1974)
Director: Bill Brame
Writers: Fredricka DeCosta from a story by Howard Ransom and Elizabeth Ransom
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

In 1956, Pasha, head of the numbers racket in his African-American neighborhood, is facing pressure from the Italian mob to hand over control of his empire. He’s been told a hit’s been placed on him and that he has a traitor in his organization. Pasha needs to shore up his power before it’s too late.

An unintentional Turkey Day reference to celebrate Thanksgiving. The movie follows crime boss Pasha over the course of several days as he runs his empire. You’d think there’d be some dramatic tension or a looming threat, but there really isn’t despite movie’s nods to some.

We open with Pasha meeting mafia crime boss Tony. The two grew up together and entered their respective fields at the same time. The mafia handles drugs, Pasha handles the numbers game, and each stays out of the other’s racket. Only the drug profits are drying up and the mob wants a cut of Pasha’s numbers game. Pasha refuses, but is told by Tony, because they go back so far, that someone’s put a hit on Pasha and there’s a traitor in his organization.

Meanwhile, the mayor is up for reelection and he wants an easy moral target to focus public outrage on to help his campaign. He chooses the numbers game, sets the cops on a mission to take down Pasha, and never comes up in the movie again.

The third plot line comes up when local kid Nathan shows up in Pasha’s office demanding his winnings for hitting the numbers and Pasha starts grooming Nathan to be part of his empire by asking one of his top numbers men, Sweetman, too keep an eye on him.

The movie plays out from there without much action or consequence. There’s a bit of the feel of a picaresque of Pasha checking in with every part of the community and his empire, there’s a sense of him preparing his replacement by having a specific numbers man follow him from place to place, and of course the cat-and-mouse of both the cops and the mob trying to take him out. None of it carries any weight, though.

Pasha has someone on the inside of the police, warning him about upcoming raids so he’s never caught flat-footed, and the mob’s efforts to kill him never feel like they’re a primary concern for any of the characters. Even the presence of the mole doesn’t get much attention until the very end of the film where he's revealed by Pasha having him executed.

The Nathan plotline feels like it’s the one that’s supposed to have some moral resonance—he’s a young man single-handedly raising his younger siblings, promising that he’s going to get them out of the neighborhood. Then he’s killed by the mob. I’d feel worse about his death if the actor weren’t so terrible. All the acting, outside of Pasha and Tony really, is hilariously awful.

Anyway, Nathan’s death enrages Pasha and he has a final one-on-one with Tony. Tony admits that he’s always hated Pasha because he was so "uppity" and "refused to know his place." They play a rigged game of Russian Roulette (Tony has sabotaged the gun so it won’t fire), and then Pasha beats him to death.

The movie ends with Pasha preparing to flee the country, but saying goodbye to friends in one of his nightclubs. He also reveals that he’s known who the mole is the entire time and has him killed. Final shot is Pasha laughing.

So not a lot going on in this movie, or, at least, not a lot that has consequence within the movie itself. I didn’t even mention Serena, the psychopathic hitwoman that works for Pasha and brutally murders his enemies. Secret twist: she’s a transvestite and was a man the whole time. Her final scene is getting a light from a car full of mobsters waiting to kill her, but they don’t recognize her without her make-up.

There are some camp pleasures here. It’s a pretty generic blaxploitation film so you can laugh at the clichés: the man trying to get out of the game, “drugs in the community,” and of course the music whose lyrics I cannot quote here. The acting, as I said, is really bad, such that every dramatic moment becomes a joke. Finally, there are the grim gags that were probably pretty grim even back then, like the black lawyer responding to Pasha’s demands that he get one of Pasha’s men out of prison immediately. “They wouldn’t kill him! This is 1956.” Oof.

Overall, it’s all right--not awful, not great. It made me appreciate Black Dynamite that much more, honestly, which isn’t nothing. I’m not sure about its copyright status. There’s a copyright logo at the end of the film that looks legit, but there’s a Mill Creek Bug throughout, which they only seem to do on PD films. A light Googling will find it for you regardless, so you can decide if it’s to your tastes or not.

Friday, November 18, 2016

119. Eternal Evil and 120. I Bury the Living

Jump to I Bury the Living (1958)

119. Eternal Evil aka The Blue Man (1985)
Director: George Mihalka
Writer: Robert Geoffrion
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

A man experimenting with astral projection starts to fear that he’s murdering people, but there might be something even more sinister at work.

Paul is a commercial director who’s become dissatisfied with his life. His company is running well, but he’s abandoned his dream of being a film director to make commercials he hates. After meeting Janus, he begins to explore astral projection because of the thrill it gives him. He tells his psychologist about it, but the doctor brushes him off. That evening, the doctor sees a ghost and is killed by it.

At home, Paul has a strained relationship with his wife, Jennifer, and is frustrated by his son, Matthew, waking up throughout the night. Matthew keeps seeing a form he calls “the blue man” that’s telling him to do things. The family goes to Jennifer’s father’s house that Paul had previously visited while astral projecting. That time, he was seen by both his father-in-law and the dog and is attacked by the dog on this visit.

Meanwhile (honestly, this whole movie could be summed up with “meanwhile”), the police are investigating the psychologist’s death because, even though he died from a heart attack, it looks like he exploded from the inside—all his organs are shredded and his ribs are all broken facing out.

Stuff happens, Paul talks to Janus about how he’s worried that he can’t control his projections and may be hurting someone, his father-in-law visits to tell Paul about seeing him as a ghost and then the father-in-law is killed, cop starts investigating Paul and gets a lead on Janus as well which leads him to watching Paul’s only film, Wandering Souls.

Wandering Souls is a documentary about astral projection where Paul meets a couple who claims to be able to use astral projection as a means of soul transference—as they approach death, they find a new vessel to possess. They work to make that person suicidal and then release the soul and replace it with their own.

So now, more than halfway through the movie, the actual plot emerges. It’s not about Paul, who’s a dick, killing people through astral projection; it’s actually about these “soul vampires” using him while preparing for new bodies.

The soul vampires force Matthew to drink varnish which distracts his mom enough for them to kill her. Paul, now close to despair, figures out that everything has been engineered by Janus, who’s one of the soul vampires, and goes to kill her. The cop figures it out at the same time. They meet, fight briefly, and Paul goes to face Janus alone. She’s about to possess him when the cop walks in. He shoots the other soul vampire and, as Janus is about to attack the cop, Paul shoots her in the head.

Epilogue: a few months later. Paul has sold his company and is getting ready to make movies again and the cop has quit the force and started traveling. Cut to the cop in Japan writing Paul a postcard which he signs Janus. TWIST!

Yeah, it sucks. The movie’s slow, the plot doesn’t make sense, and the main character is a dick. On top of all that, the dramatic moments are scored by what sounds like a choir going, “Weo-weo-weo” as loud as they can. It’s not that it’s a bad idea—a psychological thriller built around astral projection—it’s just that the movie never pulls it off. The fact that it takes more than half the film to introduce the actual threat is a big mistake and it doesn’t help that the cop manages to figure things out because the script needs him to. It’s not even particularly cheesy so there aren’t a lot of riffing opportunities. This is one I’d definitely give a pass.

The movie, however, is in the public domain. Mill Creek smeared their logo feces across my copy, but there's a version available at the Internet Archive.


120. I Bury the Living (1958)
Director: Albert Band
Writer: Louis Garfinkle
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org

A newly appointed cemetery director comes to believe that by switching the pins on a map of graves from "reserved" to "filled" he causes the death of the owner of the plot.

A late black & white era piece that’s pretty competently done. Local department store owner, Robert Kraft, is put in charge of the cemetery. Even though he’s busy with other work, it’s his turn and such jobs are the responsibility of the leading businessmen of the community. When he arrives, Andy, the groundskeeper, gives him the tour, ending with the map of all the plots. Those marked with a white pin are reserved, those with a black pin are filled. Robert then instructs Andy to start looking for a new groundskeeper—Andy’s been working for forty years and the company wants him to retire with a full pension.

It’s a quick set-up leading to the actual plot of the movie: initially, Robert mistakenly reserves a few plots with black pins and, on the respective nights, those people die. While he gets nervous, the people around him insist it’s impossible and force him to swap other pins leading to more deaths. At a final moment of stress, after seven deaths and the police tricking him into swapping the pin of a man currently out of the country, Robert switches the pins he’d initially placed with white ones and, the next morning, finds those graves empty.

He returns to the cemetery office about to kill himself when the phone rings. It’s the wife of the man abroad reading Robert a telegram announcing the man’s death. As he hears it, Andy enters, covered in grave dirt, and says it’s impossible. Andy killed all the people to get revenge against Robert for forcing him to retire—a man without a job isn’t a man at all. Robert starts to convince Andy that it wasn’t Andy’s doing, it was some unexplained power within Robert that actually forced his hand. As Andy starts hearing sounds, he panics and believes that the bodies he’s dug up have actually come back to life and are trying to break into the office. As the police break in, Andy dies of a heart attack. Robert is absolved and reunited with his fiancée.

I watched this movie the last time I tried to work my way through these sets, and I remember it standing out. It’s not lavish or overly-ambitious—indeed, it keeps itself bound to just a few small sets and a very small cast—but the movie doesn’t feel restrained, it feels straightforward. It’s pretty short, 76 minutes, and does feel like it lacks a little bit of incident. The movie limits itself to Robert starting to believe he has these powers and being very disturbed by them, but it doesn’t take it much beyond him or the confines of the cemetery office. That said, I liked its focus and I liked the performances.

This film appears to be in the public domain and I uploaded a copy to archive.org here back in early 2014. I don’t know why, but this feels like a very winter movie, like it’s supposed to be enjoyed on a snowy Sunday afternoon with popcorn and hot chocolate. It’s an all right flick on its own and offers lots of opportunities for riffing as well. I recommend giving it a peek.

Friday, November 11, 2016

117. Shock and 118. The Alien Factor

Jump to The Alien Factor (1978)

117. Shock (1946)
Director: Alfred L. Werker
Writers: Eugene Ling from a story by Albert DeMond, additional dialoge by Martin Berkeley
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
Watch: archive.org

A psychiatrist who’s murdered his wife has the only witness committed to his sanitarium so he can try to convince her she imagined the whole thing.

Janet Stewart checks into a San Francisco hotel to meet her husband, Lt. Stewart, finally returning from the war after two years in a POW camp. She hasn’t had word about him the entire two years and doesn’t even know if he’s injured or not. While waiting for him to arrive, she overhears an argument outside. When she looks, she sees Dr. Cross (Vincent Price) murder his wife. Lt. Stewart arrives the next morning to find her in a state of shock.

The hotel calls in the service of a psychiatrist who happens to be staying there and it’s none other than Dr. Cross! He does a preliminary exam and then, after getting details from the Lt., suspects Janet witnessed the murder. He suggests the Lt. admit her to the sanitarium Dr. Cross runs.

Things inevitably escalate. Cross learns that she did see the murder, he tries to convince her it’s just a delusion, events in the sanitarium convince the other doctors that Cross is right, Janet tries to get out but isn’t believed, and Cross keeps weighing his options while his mistress starts to advocate murder.

Mrs. Cross’ body is found near Cross’ vacation lodge and it’s assumed she fell over a cliff while walking at night. However, the police catch a cat burglar in the area and suspect he may have killed Mrs. Cross. The exhume the body and determine that she was murdered with a candlestick. While they suspect the burglar, Cross decides too much of the truth has come out and decides to kill Janet.

He’s going to put her into a state of shock with shots of adrenaline, and “accidentally” make her overdose on the final one. At the last minute, though, he loses his nerve. His nurse mistress tries to finish the job and Cross murders her instead. It’s at this moment the Lt. and authorities, now suspecting the truth, rush in and find Cross with the nurse’s corpse. Janet and the Lt. are finally reunited and Dr. Cross leaves with the chief detective, presumably to spend the rest of his life in jail.

I mentioned with Green Eyes that I have a real affection for these old black-and-white films, but this one missed the mark a bit for me despite having Vincent Price. The presentation is nice and it feels very film noir, but the movie never commits to one of its two possible storylines.

The set-up’s pretty clear. Either the movie will be about Janet trying to escape an institution where everyone assumes she’s disturbed and she has to endure the doctor’s attacks, or it’s about Dr. Cross getting pulled ever deeper into a situation he never wanted to be a part of. While the movie is primarily the latter—he murders his wife in a moment of pique and has to keep doubling-down on the error—it didn’t feel like it was committing to his moral degradation. Once he hypnotizes Janet, he knows she saw the murder, and has to decide what to do from that point on. His mistress, the nurse, is more overtly evil, occasionally seducing him into deciding to make Janet’s life worse. They start by keeping her sedated, and then he’s hypnotizing her trying to erase the memory, and then straight-up gaslighting her.

That’s all fine, plot-wise, if we’re either watching it from Janet’s point-of-view or seeing Cross wrestle with the decisions to do these things. Since it’s neither, the movie has no clock, no end point it’s being forced to, so there’s rarely any sense of dread. Then it has the blah ending where the good are reunited and the evil punished.

To the good, the movie appears to be in the public domain. There are a few copies already up on archive.org and I’ve added an MPEG2 here. It’s not a terrible movie and it’s put together well enough, it just never grabbed me.


118. The Alien Factor (1978)
Director: Don Dohler
Writer: Don Dohler
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
Watch: YouTube

A spaceship crashes unleashing a trio of horrific monsters upon a small rural town.

From Don Dohler, arguably, the master of low-budget backyard filmmaking, comes a simple flick about monsters killing random people. Dohler’s also known for the very strange, very bad The Galaxy Invader, which I had felt like I’d seen as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it never was one (although Rifftrax did do a version). I saw it 8 years ago when I first started the PD Project and, from my comments there, clearly hated it. While that movie is pretty poorly done, The Alien Factor, Dohler’s first, is pretty good.

We open with a couple making out in a car only to be attacked by a monster. The girl gets away, but the boy is killed. The local doctor and sheriff both think the boy was killed by a wild animal since the girl is in shock and can’t tell them differently. The sheriff tells a trio of men not to go looking for the animal and they, of course. . . actually listen to him.

There’s a real sense of people acting reasonably in this film.

The trio does eventually decide to hunt down the animal and bring their friend Susan, but insist on sticking together just so nothing happens to any one of them. Again, reasonable, except what happens happens to all of them: the first alien monster shows up and kills all three men and Susan runs away screaming.

The next day, an invisible alien approaches a man outside his house and ages him to death. The sheriff and doctor don’t know what to do about any of it and the sheriff wants to call in the State Troopers. The mayor objects to that plan as it would bring too much attention to the situation and torpedo his plan to build an amusement park in the area.

The movie also hits every sci-fi/monster movie cliché, and I kind of love it for that.

At this point, the movie pauses to take a breath, watch a local band play “Theme from Filler,” and then another deadmeat gets et.

An astronomer from a nearby observatory, Mr. Zachary, visits the mayor and says he saw a meteor land in the area a few nights before and asks for permission to go looking for it. The mayor joins him on the search leading them to the crashed spaceship and the funniest line in the movie: “Looks like my meteor is a spaceship of some kind.” Everything about it—its cadence, delivery, tone—all of it had me laughing harder than I have in a while.

Zachary finds a dying alien at the crash site who psychically relates the rest of the plot to him before the ship blows up. Zachary goes back to the sheriff, reveals there are three aliens, but that he has secret technology that can kill them. He feels more and more like a Poochie as the movie progresses, killing each alien when no one else can and then being told how awesome he is for doing so. Peak Poochieness comes at the end when it’s revealed that he himself is an alien who has come to save the Earth from the monsters, but now must return to his home planet. Only he gets gut-shot by the sheriff and dies. So I guess he’s 100% Poochie.

The movie has flaws, but it’s fun both in spite of and because of those flaws. The acting’s generally flat, but Zachary is pompous and hilariously bad. Since everyone else is right in the middle, his Shatner-lite antics really stand out. And while, as I noted, it slows down a bit in the middle, it picks back up after that scene. The movie manages an even enough pace throughout and even the technical aspects like sound and camerawork are competent: they’re never so good that they stand out, but never so bad that they’re distracting. In fact, there are several shots that demonstrate Dohler knew how to frame a shot and get the most out of the available light.

And the monster costumes are awesome. Yes, they’re guys in goofy suits, but they’re awesome suits. The final monster is superimposed on the film, a stop-motion creature, I think, whose movements they manage to match to the actor pretty well. The monsters legitimately impressed me.

The seams show, yes, but I found that made the movie more impressive. This was a demonstration of what a bit of passion, skill, and a whole lot of sincere effort can do. The frustration of so many of the other movies I’ve been watching is they had budgets, teams, and talent, but couldn’t give a single damn about making a movie. It’s clear Dohler liked making movies and this one came out nicely.

While this movie is not PD, the owners have made it available to watch freely on YouTube, so please don’t repost or reshare without their permission. Normally I gripe about films not being public domain, but these guys have been working to keep the movie available and to protect their copyright. The actual frustration I have is that Cinematic Titanic did an episode of this, but when I went to link to it, I found that CT had pulled all of their content. I suspect this might be related to the upcoming reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but whether it is or not, I’m always frustrated when access to content is revoked. At least the unriffed version of The Alien Factor is available, and it is so, so riffable. Very fun bad movie that’s not even that bad.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

115. The Werewolf of Washington and 116. They Saved Hitler's Brain

Jump to They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968)

115. The Werewolf of Washington (1973)
Director: Milton Moses Ginsberg
Writer: Milton Moses Ginsberg
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

Jack, newly appointed as the President’s Assistant Press Secretary, is bitten by a werewolf while leaving Budapest. Once he arrives in Washington, he begins transforming into a werewolf and attacking critics of the administration.

Happy Election Day everyone! If you haven’t yet, get out and vote. I’ve largely avoided making political comments here and on my Facebook page, and I think I’ll keep that up. My obvious SJW-tendencies in these reviews probably express my stance enough anyway.

That said, I am like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for this to end. Very soon, we’ll be about to think about anything else. Can you imagine? So, to help you through this final moment and maybe even provide background material while you’re waiting for the election returns to come in, here’s a special Election Day Misery Mill featuring two kinda, sorta, political-ish films. Neither is overtly political. Both are, frankly, a little dull in their own way, but become just spectacularly silly by the end, and maybe that’s what we need right now.

So, The Werewolf of Washington opens with a voice-over from Jack (Dean Stockwell), where we’re told that he had been the youngest member of the Washington Press Corps and a rising star. However, he was also having an affair with the President’s daughter. To avoid complications, he asked to be transferred to Budapest, but the President was told Jack was transferred for being too pro-administration. So the President appointed Jack as Assistant Press Secretary necessitating Jack’s return to Washington.

From this, we cut to the movie where Jack is examining a walking stick with a silver handle shaped like a wolf. It’s a gift from his Hungarian translator/girlfriend (?) Giselle. It doesn’t really matter since, shortly, she’ll no longer be in the film. They’re driving to the airport when Jack sees a man blocking the road with a motorcycle. Jack swerves, hits a tree, and the car is wrecked. He goes looking for help because his plane leaves shortly, but is attacked by a wolf. He beats it to death with the cane, but it turns out to be the man blocking the road. The authorities insist there was no body and that Jack leave the country. The mother of the man gives Jack a charmed necklace to wear to prevent the curse from spreading. Once Jack gets home, he flushes it down the toilet (shown in a toilet-POV shot).

After that, the movie becomes ham-fisted routine. Jack is introduced to an administration critic, he sees a pentagram appear on their hand, and he kills them when he turns into a werewolf that night. First it’s the wife of a man the President wants to appoint to the Supreme Court, but she’s a political liability because she’s too brazen about the administration’s far-right politics. Next, it’s the publisher of a newspaper that was always critical of the President. Then he attacks a couple that saw him murder the newspaper woman—he’s aiming for the girl but kills the guy instead. The fourth night (how many nights do full moons last?), he’s loose in a federal building and kills a guard (he also meets a little person who’s a mad scientist keeping someone in a cage and apparently building a Frankenstein’s monster. They don’t factor into the movie, they’re just there).

The fifth night, he convinces a psychologist and the Press Secretary to chain him up so he doesn’t get loose. The President’s daughter comes by, though, agrees not to untie him, but the President orders Jack to come to the White House for a speech with the Chinese Prime Minister. Jack transforms on the helicopter ride over, attacks the President as it lands in front of a group of journalists, and then runs off to attack the President’s daughter. When he arrives, she kills him with a silver bullet. The President gives a speech over the closing credits that concludes with him turning into a werewolf.

This is supposed to be a horror/comedy or some sort of satire, and if we were closer to the Nixon administration, the targets of the comedy might be clearer. As it stands now, it’s just a laughably bad movie. I couldn’t stop laughing as I watched this. You can get some clues that this is supposed to be the Nixon administration—they’re at war with the media, trying to figure out an exit from Vietnam, and the President is concerned about his China policy—but the movie’s stance is never actually clear. Its politics are at once ham-fisted and very vague. I mean, how are we supposed to read lines like this one from Jack: “I think your father’s a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ.”

This whole enterprise feels cheap—cheap sets, cheap sound, cheap script. The comedy rarely hits because the pacing is so deliberate and there’s a real sense of earnestness here. Even though there are parts that are clearly supposed to be comic or absurd, you can feel the director behind the camera going, “We’re showing those bastards, goddammit!” This is one of those rare comedies that misses the mark so much that it becomes funny in a wholly unintentional way.

The movie’s been in the public domain from the start and you can find a copy on archive.org here. Elvria featured this on her show Elvira’s Movie Macabre, both the original and the 2010 reboot. The latter episode had been on Hulu, but seems to have been pulled since it’s now available for purchase from Elvira’s Apple app.

Anyway, this is a fun, stupid movie. Nice to have on in the background while other things are going on or when people are actively looking to riff something. It would also serve as a nice counterpoint to election coverage as you watch the results come in.



116. They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968)
Director: David Bradley
Writers: Steve Bennett, Peter Miles
From: Pure Terror

A pair of Americans are kidnapped and taken to the South American country of Mandoras where they find a Nazi plot to return the severed head of Adolf Hitler to power.

Who's been shaving Hitler's face?
I will admit to having very little to say about this movie. I watched it with my bad movie group, the Space Dukes, and there wasn’t enough going on to really keep our attention. There were, though, hilarious shots of Hitler’s head in a jar.

This is your standard 60’s B-flick: sci-fi premise exercised on a minimal budget in a pretty slap-dash way. Why is this one American couple so important? I cannot tell you, especially since the Americans don’t actually save the day. Instead, it’s local townspeople, objecting to the presence of the Nazis in their town, who actually take out the Furher. Considering this has a white hero who isn’t particularly heroic or useful, I have to wonder why it never got riffed by MST3k. It’s right up their street.

I can't offer a clever caption
What’s more interesting than the movie itself is the production story. Originally, this was the feature Madmen of Mandoras, which is a better title if you want the Hitlerhead to be a surprise. That movie was made in 1963, about 60 minutes long, and not impressive (although there’s a copy of it on Cult Cinema so I’ll be watching it eventually). In 1968, the producers decided to market it as a TV movie and hired some students at UCLA to film material to pad it out to 90 minutes. Thus this version with the more lurid, but spoiler-tastic, title. Most of the first half-hour is clearly from a different film that occasionally is intercut with the original movie. The new material focuses on two agents investigating the assassination of a government scientist who was developing “G-Gas.” They’re both dead by the 30 minute mark and we’re off to the races with Bland McSlabface and his wife, Mrs. Wife.

Toasty!
Once Hitler’s head gets into the flick, it’s outright laughable, and it’s certainly interesting to see how the film was recut, but it’s such a slog until that last half-hour. The movie’s not PD, although there are plenty of copies on YouTube. I can’t recommend it, but it’s there if you’re curious.

Friday, November 04, 2016

113. Mad Dog and 114. Savage Weekend

Jump to Savage Weekend (1979)

113. Mad Dog aka La Belva Col Mitra (1977)
Director: Sergio Greico
Writer: Sergio Greico
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

The notorious Mad Dog killer escapes from prison and is out for revenge against the people who ratted him out and the judge who put him away.

Oh, this is a grim pairing and right before the election at that.

Mad Dog breaks out of prison with three co-conspirators, taking a guard hostage. Supercop, who has a real name but I don’t care, goes after him with all the gusto of a man picking up his dry-cleaning even though he doesn’t really have to. There’s a shoot-out, supercop somehow shoots the driver in the head, but his own car is shot, goes off the road, and explodes. Supercop, though, had jumped out.

Then we get the backstory: villain bad, hero good. All caught up? Let’s make it personal then. Supercop is the son of the judge that convicted Mad Dog. That’ll matter because Mad Dog wants revenge, but it won’t matter for a good hour because that’s not the plot.

Instead, supercop goes into background as Mad Dog finds the guy who testified against him. The informant and his girlfriend, Giuliana, are taken to the middle of nowhere. Mad Dog rapes Giuliana then beats the informant to death. Then he tells her to keep quiet.

Supercop tracks down Giuliana, but she gives him the brush-off. He leaves suspicious and completely unaware of Mad Dog hiding in the same room dressed as Father Guido Sarducci. Mad Dog rapes her again, since he’s basically keeping her as a sex slave, and tells her the details of the next job they’re pulling—one that she’ll have to be involved in.

Do the rapes make you uncomfortable? Don’t worry, they’re all played out as extended sex scenes, but violent.

Giuliana, despite her fears, goes to the cops anyway and reveals the plan to rob a factory where her estranged father is the head security guard. Supercop tells her he’ll replace all the workers with cops so the whole thing will be a set-up and then sends her back to Mad Dog. The heist goes off, but when the cops show up, Mad Dog takes all the women working the line hostage and stuffs them into a van. Giuliana drives it while Mad Dog gets into a separate getaway vehicle.

Unsurprisingly, Guiliana kills the crook riding with her and saves all the hostages. Mad Dog is stopped at a road block, his cronies get out of the car, and Mad Dog escapes when he realizes Giuliana betrayed him.

The only reason this brutally violent idiot is a threat is because his nemesis, supercop is even dumber.

Supercop expects Mad Dog to try to kill Giuliana, so he puts her under surveillance, but somehow misses the sniper’s nest with easy access to her room. Fortunately, Giuliana notices it just as Mad Dog takes a shot at her and so only takes a bullet in the leg. This is the end of Guliana’s role in the movie. Wave good-bye to the person who was actually heroic.

Now it’s Mad Dog vs. supercop. Mad Dog kidnaps supercop’s dad and sister, supercop figures out where they are by pure luck—no skill or detective work for this man, and pummels Mad Dog until the rest of the police arrive. The End.

This is, I think, the sleaziest movie I’ve watched so far in this project. There’s so much sexualized violence and the movie is delighting in it. The rape scenes are supposed to be enticing. When Mad Dog kidnaps supercop’s sister, he takes her top off and starts cutting her. It’s an excuse to show tits, but has that edge of sadism added to it.

Compare this to something like Driller Killer which also has a lot of violence and a weird sexuality to it. That film, though, seemed to have some thought to it. The violence comes from somewhere and is never framed as entertainment. Likewise, the sex in that movie is highlighting or emphasizing the strangeness of this character and his situation. That’s a film about depravity, this is a film that’s merely aspiring to be called “depraved,” but it’s not even that.

If a student turned in a story like this to one of my classes, I’d roll my eyes and call them “Junior Edgelord Supreme” to myself for the rest of the semester. This is a film that’s eager to shock, to be included amongst the work of the people working in the realm of Grindhouse cinema, but it’s not there. The best of Grindhouse pushed boundaries to tell new stories. This is just delighting in showing people get hurt.

And that’s the key. Supercop’s ostensibly the protagonist, the hero, but the movie wants you to think Mad Dog is super-threatening and cool. And he’s not. He’s just a brutish idiot. He’s not even interesting as a monster.

No surprise, I don’t recommend this. I didn’t bother to check if it was public domain; this was originally an Italian production and many of those got GATT’d. On top of that, there’s a Mill Creek Bug throughout so I couldn’t upload it anyway. No loss.


114. Savage Weekend (1979)
Directors: David Paulsen, John Mason Kirby
Writer: David Paulsen
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A stock broker brings his friends to his house in the country for a weekend getaway, but there’s an extra member of the party looking to kill.

Another late-70’s writer/director effort with no likable characters and really weird sexual politics. Is 2016 over yet? Can I do something else?

We open at the end of the movie with Marie running through the forest while a banjo song plays on loop. She runs into Otis, a dazed man holding a chainsaw, and is terrified.

Flashback for the rest of the goddamn movie. Marie is getting ready to her boyfriend Robert’s country house with her sister Shirley, Robert’s friend Jay, and their gay friend Nicky. I’m not speculating, they’re pretty open about it, and about as weird about it as you’d imagine from 1979. They’re just waiting for Marie’s ex-husband Greg to come by and pick up the kid. He’s not happy about what’s going on, but they don’t care because, while he used to have political power through his job, now he’s unemployed and a joke.

On the way to the country house, they stop for gas and Nicky goes into a nearby bar. The customers are vaguely homophobic, but Nicky actually picks a fight and basically wrecks the place. Our heroes?

We arrive at the house and Jay is creeping on Shirley, but he was also invited to hook up with her. Nicky stalks them and watches them screw from a distance. Meanwhile, Robert and Marie are on a boat with local handyman Mac who tells them about Otis—a local Robert has hired to help him build a giant boat. Turns out Otis took a fancy to a young girl that was visiting a few years back, but got mad when he saw her with her boyfriend so Otis killed him and branded the woman with an “H” on her chest for “whore.” Otis ain’t too good at spelling.

So, I get it, the movie’s setting up Otis as the killer or just a general threat. But then Mac sets Robert up to step on a fishing hook and then starts creeping on Marie. So maybe there’s a city-folk vs. country-folk dynamic being set up. But that doesn’t work because we don’t like any of these people.

Jay, turns out, is a scumbag cheating on his wife, Nicky is a jerk who’s only character trait is he’s gay, Robert is a rich POS who just buys his way into everything, and Marie, our main character, is seemingly using all the men around her for sex, or to sexually humiliate them, or something. Sex in this movie is way strange. Whenever Marie and Robert have a sex scene, she’s imagining he’s someone else or imagining her ex-husband watching so that he’s getting cuckolded. She tries to seduce Mac a bit, but then loses her nerve, but it still results in a weird scene where she’s erotically milking a cow and then he makes her drink the milk.

No, if you’re confused, I described it right. The movie is way weird.

Anyway, everyone’s awful, someone grabs a Halloween mask and starts killing the jerks in the house. Jay is the first to go, then Nicky. Shirley is tied to a table saw, but the power doesn’t work so she’s just left there. Robert gets killed and then the killer unmasks himself and it’s Greg, the ex-husband, who felt emasculated by losing his job and no longer being powerful enough to prevent people from laughing at him. He takes Marie out into the woods for a murder-suicide, but she starts to run.

Meanwhile, Mac comes to the house, wanders around, maybe kills Shirley by turning on the power (there’s no sound effect to indicate that), and then hears Marie in the woods. He finds them both, fights Greg, and then Otis shows up and kills Greg with the chainsaw. We freeze on Otis’ smiling face then cut to him visiting the graveyard. The End.

It’s always satisfying when a movie sums itself up in one line of dialogue. Shirley gets mad at Jay for reasons that aren’t explained and don’t happen on-screen, and tells him, “I thought you had imagination, but turns out you get all your ideas from girlie magazines.” There’s the movie for you.

Whereas Mad Dog feels sleazy, this feels like it desperately wants to be sleazy. Jay first hooks up with Shirley when he sees her sunbathing naked in a field and just strips down and walks up to her. Nicky watches from a distance closing his fist around barbed wire. Mac and Marie have the weird not-quite-sex-scene with the cow’s milk that’s just whatever, and the story of Otis attacking the couple is shown in flashback including Otis stripping the woman and locking her between the posts that hold the cows. I’m sure this is someone’s fetish, but it’s not mine.

And really, that’s the feel of the entire movie, like someone’s winking at you going, “Eh? Pretty intense, huh?” when it’s not. Ever. While it wasn’t obvious that Greg was the killer, it should have been because this is exactly the kind of film that thinks, “The character you haven’t seen who isn’t part of this movie is actually the killer!” qualifies as a twist. See also, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning.

So it’s not a recommend: the characters suck, the story doesn’t matter, and there’s a smugness to its pretensions of transgression that get old within the first 15 minutes. I think it’s PD, but, again, Mill Creek Bug all over it, but I don’t care.