Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year in Review: 2016

Misery Mill Year in Review: 2016

This has been such a garbage year. I know everyone’s saying that to the point that it’s tired, and I’m not talking about the election or all the celebrity deaths, although the former was miserable and ran far too long whatever your politics and the latter just seemed unrelenting. This was a bad year for me, even despite things that went well and me being in a better spot, emotionally and financially, than I was at the start.

For me, the year started with me surrendering my dog to the animal shelter after five years because she had separation anxiety that only grew consistently worse. She was adopted within the week by a family in the suburbs, which is what she needs—space and people—and I’m a lot happier and healthier without the stress of worrying about if I can safely leave my apartment without the dog destroying it in my absence or, worse, hurting herself, but I loved my dog and her absence is still palpable 11 months later.

And that’s been the leitmotif of the year: all the good things stained such that it’s impossible to ignore them and all the bad things overshadowing any possible silver lining. Everything bad this year has laid the foundation for the good to come, but I can’t help think that could have been laid just as well without the misery.

There has been, though, misery I’ve delighted in, and that’s here in the Misery Mill. I know that's a forced segue, but if you ignore it we can all be done with this garbage year that much faster. Before I get into the past year’s rundown, I will note one change starting next week. Instead of posting a double-feature every Friday, I’ll post one review on Friday and one on Saturday. It is a cheap plot to double my site traffic. In truth it’s to make the posts more readable since I do tend to ramble on. It'll also make it easier to find and link to specific movies. Think of them as the Friday Feature and Saturday Matinée. I hope you enjoy them and continue checking out the posts over the next year.

So far I've watched 133 of the 400 movies, but, because some of the movies are on multiple sets, I've actually knocked 172 movies off the list (because my list includes the movies from the Sci-Fi and Horror packs that I watched before, the number is actually 272 out of 501). This year featured more campy delight than I’d thought. I kept thinking this would be an unrelenting slog, but I was surprised by the silliness of movies like Hunk and The Firing Line; I was able to watch Abraxas, one of my favorite bad movies, again; and I was able to post up several themed sets including the Black Cobra Trilogy, the Starman Tetralogy, and, just yesterday, the Ninja Death Trilogy. Plus I was able to do both an Election night double-feature and a solstice double-feature. I don’t think I’ll have the chance to do those again because I don’t think there are other series like that left in these collections. I was happy to finally see some Paul Naschy films and to really enjoy some old black & white flicks as well. I could complain—this is the year where I learned about the misery of Marimark—but why dwell on them at this point. I said when I started this project that it would take me until August 2019. Right now, considering what’s still to watch, the final date will be March 15, 2019. It’s nice to think I’ve knocked 6 months off my self-imposed sentence.

Fun movies of note from this year:
Abraxas My go-to recommendation for a good bad movie.
The Alien Factor
Attack From Outer Space

Bad Taste
Beast From Haunted Cave
Black Cobra 3

The Cold
The Creeper

Death Machines
The Devil's Hand
Disappearance of Flight 412

The Firing Line

Green Eyes I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

Hands of a Stranger
Hunk Campy Satan for days, please.

I Bury the Living
I Eat Your Skin
I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now
Invaders From Space

Mistress of Atlantis This struck me as an actually good forgotten film.

Night Fright
Ninja Death

Prime Evil

R.O.T.O.R.

Spare Parts

Here, as of 31 December, 2016, are the movies currently available through the Internet Archive. Links lead to the Misery Mill posts which have links to streaming copies:
Anatomy of a Psycho
Atomic Rulers of the World

The Bat
Battle Beyond the Sun
Beast From Haunted Cave
The Big Fight
Black Cobra
The Bloody Brood
Blood Mania

Carnival of Crime
Counterblast
Curse of Bigfoot

The Day the Sky Exploded
Death Machines
Death Rage
Deep Red
The Demon
The Devil’s Hand
The Disappearance of Flight 412
Don't Look in the Basement
The Driller Killer

End of the World
Evil Brain From Outer Space

The Giant of Metropolis
Grave of the Vampire
Green Eyes
Guru, the Mad Monk

Hands of a Stranger
Horror Express

I Bury the Living
I Eat Your Skin
The Image of Bruce Lee
Invaders From Space

Keep My Grave Open

The Legend of Bigfoot

Mesa of Lost Women
The Mistress of Atlantis
Monstroid

Night Fright
Ninja Death

Prisoners of the Lost Universe

Shaolin Temple
Shock
Silent Night, Bloody Night
Snowbeast

The Werewolf of Washington

Friday, December 30, 2016

131-3. Ninja Death I, II, & III

It's time for the end-of-the-year donation requests, so here's mine for the Internet Archive.

The Internet Archive has had a profound impact on me in countless ways over the past decade--from offering free and legal content that I've enjoyed to providing hosting space for Rustbelt Radio to being the home for my horror host show when (and if) I ever get it off the ground--and continues to offer up new and rewarding treasures. My dad uses it for old-time radio, my students use if for their textbooks, and it's where I'm posting all the public domain films I find while doing the Misery Mill.

If you've been enjoying the movies I've been posting with my blog or have used the Internet Archive for anything, I encourage you to support them now. This is an amazing resource that embodies the promise of what the net could be and is something that deserves your support.

Please Donate Here.

131-3. Ninja Death I, II, & III (1987)
Director: Joseph Kuo
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

The story of Tiger, a brothel owner who’s the target of a ninja clan.

Happy New Year everyone. As a last-minute gift, here’s a triple-feature for you to enjoy over the holiday weekend that I can’t properly describe.

I really can’t and you can Google the movie for the technical reasons why. You can also just click on the title above which will take you to the IMDB page for the first part of the trilogy. I say “first part” because parts 2 & 3 don’t have pages. Other essays about this series wonder if it’s actually one movie, three movies, or something that was never finished or intended for distribution. Just to be clear about how much this trilogy makes me wonder if it’s an actual film, there are no credits—opening or closing—on any of these, each movie ends at a relatively random point, and the dubbing changes from American to British English 2/3rds of the way through the first movie only to switch back at the start of the second. I don’t know what this is as an industrial product.

All of that’s before we even get to the film (trilogy, movies?) itself which is completely bonkers. In the first five minutes, three men are protecting a woman with a baby from a horde of ninjas. The ninja master shows up, plucks out the eyes of one man, kicks another across the field, and the third runs away with the child only after the mother stabs herself in the stomach. Then we cut to a red background where various martial artists are demonstrating their styles and facing off against each other. I think this is supposed to be the opening credit sequence since the martial artists are the main characters and the sequence plays at the start of each of the three parts, but there are no credits. There’s never an official title card. Thereis never even any text on screen.

Cut to, as we come to learn, 18 years later. Tiger is the owner of a brothel trying to convince people to come in. This, naturally, allows for easy gratuitous nudity that is curiously limited to only this first portion of the movie. The second and third parts, while having sex scenes, avoid these kinds of full-frontal displays. A competing brothel, offering the “Japanese style,” opens nearby, but it’s actually run by Sakura and Fujiko, sister and brother who are ninja servants of the Grandmaster trying to get Tiger’s clothes off to see if his chest has a plum blossom tattoo marking him as the baby from the beginning.

Just typing that is making me go, “What is this movie?”

Tiger’s master (just called “Master”) is the head of the beggars and, once he learns about the new brothel, starts Tiger on an aggressive training regimen. The training montage is the strangest thing I think I’ve seen in these kung-fu movies: Tiger is suspended by ropes, forced to drink vinegar, and then poked all over his body by Master. Tiger then breaks his bonds, basically hulks out, and the beggars beat him with sticks. Later, Master spits snake blood on Tiger’s bruises and then hits them again with a stick. All of that’s just for starters.

The villain of the film is the ninja Grandmaster who controls a masked fighter, Devil Mask, by playing a flute which drives Devil Mask into a murderous rage. That’s really all you need to know about that.

None of this makes a lick of sense. There’s an extended flashback where Master is explaining ninjas to Tiger (don’t you remember when you had the ninja talk with your folks?) that has an extended sex scene in the middle of it. There’s even a homophobic running gag where Fujiko keeps trying to get Tiger’s shirt off to check for the tattoo leading Tiger to insist “no backdoor!”

Master instructs Tiger to find a blind fortuneteller, which Tiger puts no effort into, but stumbles across anyway when he gets into a fight with Fujiko on the street. The blind fortuneteller tells Tiger he’ll be protected by the plum blossom.

That night, Sakura breaks into Tiger’s room and sees the plum blossom tattoo on his chest. Normally it’s hidden, by which I mean “normally it isn’t there and inexplicably is right now and only right now,” so Sakura has sex with him since she’s pledged to be the servant of the plum blossom (?). Afterwards, he flees the room and goes in search of Master.

Meanwhile, the ninja attack the homeless encampment and the brothel, killing everyone except Master and Tiger. Master, it turns out, is a ninja himself and is trying to infiltrate someplace, but faces off against Devil Mask. Master tears Devil Mask’s sleeve revealing a plum blossom tattoo which makes Master realize he’s Devil Mask’s brother. The grandmaster uses his flute to force Devil Mask to attack Master and Master flees. Fujiko finds him, reveals that he actually works for Tiger’s mother, the princess, who hadn’t actually died, and that he’s seeking Tiger out because he’s an heir to the Japanese throne and instrumental to the princess taking revenge upon the grandmaster.

You get all that? Don’t worry. If you missed it, they’ll repeat it again at the beginning of parts 2 and 3, but using different language what actually implies other interpretations.

This is basically where part one ends. Tiger gets the backstory from Master about what led to the opening scene: Master is the man who fled with the child, the child was Tiger, Tiger’s father is Devil Mask, and the man who had his eyes plucked out is the blind fortuneteller. The Grandmaster is the man who, for inexplicable reasons, raised the three of them after massacring their town. Part two starts with exactly that scene again, Master tells Tiger not to fight Devil Mask, and then hits himself in the head to commit suicide to prevent Tiger and Fujiko from wasting time and energy helping him.

Then nothing of consequence happens for the rest of the trilogy. That seems glib, but all the craziness is in part one. Parts two and three focus on Tiger needing to train to face off against the grandmaster and nothing happens before the final battle. The one event that would be significant in any other movie happens in part two. Tiger is ambushed by ninja, jumps over a waterfall, and is helped by a young woman and her grandfather. Tiger’s feverish and delusional from ninja poison and, in his delirium, mistakes the young woman for Sakura and rapes her. Grandfather accepts Tiger’s explanation that he didn’t know what he was doing, but will only give him the antidote if he promises to marry the woman. Tiger agrees, but leaves immediately thereafter, promising in a note that he’ll return if he doesn’t die, but then ninja show up at the house and kill the grandfather and the young woman anyway.

Tiger never even mentions them again!

This isn’t a trilogy, this is one maybe three-hour movie that’s been cut into three parts. I just don’t know what the intended distribution platform was, though. Each part is 83/84 minutes which suggests they were intended for television broadcast, but there’s so much nudity and profanity in the first part that I can’t imagine they were hoping to have this on TV. But if it was intended for the home video market, you’d cut it into two maybe 100 minute parts and release them that way. Where did this thing come from?

Hopefully it’s obvious that this is garbage, but it’s fun garbage. The first part has so much absurd content and has the dubbing switch on top of that (which leads to my favorite delivery of the word “motherfucker” ever) that you can’t help by laugh. It’s an absurd delight. Parts two and three, while less energetic, are still filled with campy terribleness. Part two features Devil Mask tearing someone’s head off with his bare hands and then pulling someone else’s heart out and part three features a monologue by Tiger that has all the drama, pathos, and virtuosity of Dramabug.

Seeing as there’s no copyright information whatsoever, I’m guessing this is public domain and have uploaded all three parts to archive.org. You can enjoy it for yourself, but make sure you’re not alone. My goodness, it’s hilarious and absurd, but mind-melting if you’re trying to manage it solo.

Friday, December 23, 2016

129. Silent Night, Bloody Night and 130. Snowbeast

Once again, I can't get the essays up in time, but here are the films: a special solstice/holiday PD double-feature. Happy solstice to all of you as well as a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanzaa, and happy holidays in general. This is the season of long, dark nights and it can be easy to accept the lie that you are alone. You are not alone and I hope you're doing well at this time of year.

Jump to Snowbeast (1975)

129. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
Director: Theodore Gershuny
Writers: Theodore Gershuny, Jeffrey Konvitz and Ira Teller from a story by Jeffrey Konvitz and Ira Teller
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org, Widescreen, Uncut



130. Snowbeast (1977)
Director: Herb Wallerstein
Writer: Joseph Stefano
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
Watch: archive.org

Friday, December 16, 2016

127. The Giant of Metropolis and 128. The Legend of Bigfoot

Jump to The Legend of Bigfoot (1975)

127. The Giant of Metropolis (1961)
Director: Umberto Scarpelli
Writers: Sabatino Ciuffini, Ambrogio Molteni, Oreste Palella, Emimmo Salvi, and Gino Stafford. Additional dialogue by Umberto Scarpelli
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
Watch: archive.org

Obro travels to the scientifically advanced, but overly-proud capital of Atlantis carrying warnings of ill omens, but the leader Yoh-tar rebukes him and continues his project to overcome death.

A sword & sandal movie meets Star Trek and thus an odd duck. Strongman Obro is on a quest to Atlantis’ ultra-advanced capital, Metropolis, to deliver a prophecy of doom if the leader Yoh-tar doesn’t abandon his prideful pursuit of science over faith. Obro is immediately captured and pretty much becomes incidental to the film.

This isn’t uncommon to sword & sandal movies. In fact, one of the better qualities of these movies is the mixture of plots: the hero’s on a quest, the sidekick has their own adventure, and the villain gets plenty of screentime to explore their own tale. This, though, focuses almost entirely on Yoh-tar and his machinations. Obro is sidelined right at the start and is referred to more than he’s actually present. It’s sort of like a Hercules movie without Hercules.

But the homo-eroticism of sword & sandal movies is in full effect, as well! Yoh-tar is obsessed with Obro because Obro survived the death tornadoes Yoh-tar sent to kill the messengers. That means Obro’s body is of unique quality and Yoh-tar wants to test it to see if it’ll be a fitting vessel for the brains of his father and son.

Oh yeah. Part of Yoh-tar’s evil plan is to make his son live forever. More on that later.

So Obro faces various tests: he has a sweaty grappling contest with a large hairy man, has to fight a gang of five small men who attack him by covering him in hickeys, and finally is tortured by Yoh-tar by having to flex in a spotlight. You don’t have to dig for subtext here.

Meanwhile, Yoh-tar’s scientists—the people who’s information and genius have made Atlantis the sci-fi anomaly that it is—are telling Yoh-tar that there are strange cosmic events occurring as well as unusual activities at the Earth’s core that are threatening the city. Yoh-tar ignores them and tells them to keep working on the project to make his son immortal.

That’s Yoh-tar’s big plan: make his son live forever. The whole thing would work better as a plot point if Yoh-tar were either a bit more evil—he’s experimenting on his son to perfect the process for himself—or more devoted—he’s willing to sacrifice his city for love of his son. The movie doesn’t commit to either side, though, instead favoring the weaker trope of being blinded from faith by science.

I'm not projecting, that’s actually a line from the movie: “He’s not evil, he’s only blinded by science.” I’m always confused by plots that insist that empiricists are blind to what the world actually is. They’re empiricists—they base their decisions upon what’s observable. Consistently in these stories, and this movie’s no exception, their downfall comes because they, for sake of the plot, abandon their empiricism and then are destroyed by the results. Yoh-tar, who puts all his faith in science and the information it produces, is told by his scientists that disaster is coming and they need to evacuate. Instead of paying attention to their findings—the thing that’s made him an affront to God and thus needing to be taken down a peg—he ignores them and claims their doubts are all the fault of Obro’s “terrorism.”

Jesus, this is a vision of Trump’s America. The climax actually features a mob shouting “down with science.”

As you’d expect from the genre, the movie ends with the disaster destroying the city, but Obro, his love interest, and Yoh-tar’s son escape to form a new family. It’s not a terrible picture and it’s certainly interesting to see Flash Gordon-style sci-fi mixed with a Hercules-style sword & sandal flick, but the logic of the piece is pretty hard to pin down. That may be unsurprising considering it has six screenwriters—there isn’t a central logic to be pinned down. The movie is enjoyable in its silliness, though, and immediately open to camp pleasures. As a bonus, it’s in the public domain and I’ve added an MPEG2 to archive.org. It’s a middling recommend for a Saturday afternoon or beer & pretzel evening of riffing. Not very compelling beyond that.


128. The Legend of Bigfoot (1975)
Director: Harry Winer
Writers: Harry Winer and Paula Labrot
From: Drive-In; Chilling
Watch: archive.org

Documentary/pseudo-documentary by Ivan Marx about his years hunting for evidence of Bigfoot--including footage of the creature itself.

There’s little I can saw about the movie beyond the quick blurb. It’s mostly nature footage, and not bad nature footage, shot during the 1950’s and 60’s by hunter/tracker Ivan Marx. When it’s focused on his time as a tracker and naturalist making a life for himself in the national parks, it’s pretty interesting. I won’t say I was above chuckling when he said he’d built a home for himself called “Bear Ranch” (I’m sure there’s a leather bar in Montana with the same name), but it was neat seeing his wife taking care of the animals who lived on the ranch with them and how they lived in general. Likewise, Marx talking about the job that initially got him interested in Bigfoot is more compelling than the cryptozoology rabbithole he ends up going down.

Marx is sent to Kodiak, AK to hunt down a bear that local farmers say has been killing their cattle. When he arrives, the farmers tell him it’s not a bear, but Bigfoot. Marx figures out that the cows have actually been eating waterlogged grass that’s causing them to die. The rational explanation is the more interesting and, frankly, surprising one. Had the movie followed that path of noting stories people were telling about Bigfoot and then presenting the reality, I’d have been more involved, but that wouldn’t have sold nearly as well.

So Marx starts noting all the times he hears about Bigfoot and then he sees the creature himself and even gets footage of it! It’s hilariously bad footage of someone in a full-body fursuit, but, sure, it’s Bigfoot. Marx notes that his footage was stolen by scientists who then profited from it by touring it around the country and making fun of him. I’d suggest hints of ICP and “scientists are liars,” but it’s something I’ve seen every time I look into the cryptozoological/paranormal/conspiracy community: people who've spent years studying the subject being discusses and then fail to be convinced by bad evidence are the truly ignorant.

Anyway, Marx continues to search for Bigfoot, following every lead he can until he manages to get footage of a Bigfoot family. It’s whatever. The movie’s done well-enough as a collection of nature footage including a dramatic scene of squirrels reacting to one of their own getting stunned by a car, but its argument isn’t compelling unless you already believe. There’s fun to be had, though. It’s riffable, yes, but probably more useful as raw material to be cut together in some other project. The film’s in the public domain and I’ve added an MPEG2 to archive.org. There’s also an extended special edition here with ten additional minutes.

If you’re into cryptids, this is a seminal doc. If you want some nice nature footage to cut into something else, this is a pretty good resource. Apart from that, it’s a touch dull.

Friday, December 09, 2016

125. Crypt of the Living Dead and 126. 984: Prisoner of the Future

Jump to 984: Prisoner of the Future (1982)

125. Crypt of the Living Dead aka Hannah, Queen of the Vampires aka La tumba de la isla maldita (1973)
Directors: Julio Salvador, Ray Danton
Writers: Julio Salvador from a story by Ricardo Ferrer. US version: Lou Shaw from a story by Lois Gibson
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org

A man traveling to a remote island town to bury his father is tricked into unsealing the tomb of a vampire.

Open on a mad monk giving a soliloquy to, what we learn, is the vampire that’ll start massacring the town later, and a constipated-looking Brit walking through an abandoned church at night with his gun drawn. Why he has a gun or what he fears, I could not tell you, but he’s quickly spooked by a hermit, falls through a hole into a crypt, and is killed by the monk. The monk and hermit then position the body under the sarcophagus in the tomb and knock the legs out so it crushes the man.

The man’s son, Chris, comes to the island to bury his father and is picked up by Peter, the very man who murdered his father. Turns out Chris’ father was an archeologist investigating old cults on the island and Peter was helping him by making connections with the superstitious townspeople. When Peter shows Chris the tomb and the body, Chris decides to have the sarcophagus opened to see what his dad was looking for.

Yada yada, Chris meets Peter’s sister, Mary, who’s the town’s English teacher and they fall in love because it’s 1973 and you have to work nudity in somehow. They open the sarcophagus, Hannah, the vampire queen (not to be confused with Marceline) is revealed, and each night wanders the village killing people. Chris is initially skeptical, but, for some reason changes his mind and seeks to reseal the crypt. Peter has beaten him to it, though, by sabotaging the equipment and preventing Hannah from getting locked in again.

The inevitable showdown arrives: Peter ties Mary up in the crypt as a sacrifice to Hannah promising that they’ll both live forever as Hannah’s servants. Chris arrives, they fight, Peter gets stabbed in the leg and while Chris and Mary are escaping, Hannah eats Chris and then he’s staked by the townspeople. Hannah and Chris end up fighting on a clifftop where she gets set on fire, falls over the cliff, and, still not dead, gets staked. This part was legitimately funny.

In the end, Chris buries his father, leaves the island with Mary, and two little kids, seen earlier in the film being told not to play in the graveyard, go off to a corner to be creepy and it’s implied that Hannah lives on in the little girl.

This is a Spanish/American co-production and when you have two directors and four writers working on two different versions of a film, you’re guaranteed a bit of a mish-mash. This is a film that really wants to be gothic and serious, but comes off as a low-grade Paul Naschy wannabe. It’s just so slow. Peter being a betrayer setting up the whole thing is an interesting element—I won’t say “twist” because the movie doesn’t try to keep it a secret—but it’s never used to much effect. He never seems to be scheming and, when he’s dressed in his robes as a servant of Hannah, he seems like a different character. I wondered if I was confusing two similar-looking characters. That may be a translation issue. Maybe in the Spanish version he’s explicitly possessed and so is actually two personalities.

On top of that, Hannah’s not a villain. She’s the big bad, but gets no lines, has no real presence, and doesn’t come across as the threat. It’s like the movie forgot to have a bad guy—Peter’s too small and achieves his goals to early. Releasing Hannah should be a big third act moment, but it happens relatively early so Hannah has to be the threat. Only she doesn’t talk or engage with anyone. So what’s the point?

Clearly, I was disappointed. Ultimately, nothing about the movie grabbed me even though there are opportunities for riffing. I’m not sure if it’s PD. It looks like it has a valid copyright notice, but may not have been renewed or I may be misreading it. Because I can’t say, I’m not adding an MPEG to archive.org. There are, though, three versions there at present if you want to see it. I’ve linked to the “uncut color” version. Mine, and the other two, are black and white, although they appear to be three minutes longer than the “uncut” version. Mysteries abound, just not in this film.



126. 984: Prisoner of the Future aka The Tomorrow Man(1982)
Director: Tibor Takács
Writers: Peter Chapman and Stephen Zoller
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

In a dystopian future, a former corporate leader is subjected to psychological torture to force him to admit to crimes against the state.

We open with Tom Weston (not Winston), the titular Prisoner 984 (not 1984), being browbeaten in voiceover and told to confess to his criminal affiliations. Then his robot guards throw him into his cell where he pulls out the secret journal he’s been keeping just outside the view of the guards and

19-984, but not 1984, nope, new thing.
It’s 1984. I mean, they don’t want you to think this is 1984 cause that’d be cheap, awful, and hacky, but it’s 1984. Certainly they’re trying to invoke visions of the dystopian classic by naming the prisoner Weston (not Winston) and “984,” but in their defense, the movie was initially titled The Tomorrow Man. In fact, that’s how it’s listed in the end credits.

And the movie never rises above its heavily-cribbed-from source material. Rather than any broader view of the dystopian society that 1984 offered, this is exclusively Room 101 and the tortures and manipulations that went on there. So 984 is tortured—physically and psychologically—and then taken to speak to the Warden who wants him to confess to some unspecified crime.

We do get occasional flashbacks to the run-up to 984’s confinement and they’re pretty hilarious. At its core, this is a weird little piece of 80’s yuppie propaganda that presents the horrible threat of a liberal being elected and making corporations pay their fair share of taxes.

Yes, this is Wal-Mart’s nightmare vision of a Sanders’ presidency.

The flashbacks reveal Weston’s life before the election: he does vague business on a computer which makes him lots of money, he has an affair with a random woman that climbs into his car, he sneers at the ignorance of the “blue” shirts that support the liberal candidate, and he stays silent as his friend invites him into a conspiracy of other business owners who have obtained suitcase nukes to use in terrorist attacks to disrupt the president.

Remember, the liberals are the Nazi villains here, not the smug businessmen plotting nuclear terrorist attacks if they have to pay taxes.

That’s our hero: a co-conspirator in a nuclear attack on his own country. Suffice it say he doesn’t come across as sympathetic by the end as the producers intend.

So he resists the will of the Warden because Weston is a strong businessman right out of an Ayn Rand novel and can’t be broken by weak liberalism. This goes on for a decade. The one surviving guard finally lets Weston go, but Weston finds he can’t escape the facility. Instead he learns the entire place was built for him and houses a massive computer system that both monitors everything he does and created the voices of the other prisoners he was talking to. It’s like a reverse Truman Show. He returns to his cell, manages to climb to the one window, and finally sees the outside world:

A lifeless post-nuclear landscape created by his friends’ plot. The good guys, remember. The good guys nuked the world the avoid EPA regulations.

He dies while looking out the window at the world he made, laughing in madness and despair. Our hero.

This one is real stupid, and a little fun for that very fact. The conservatism of the film is pretty clear and you can feel that sense of indoctrination at work. The producers really wanted to vilify those who opposed the Reagan/Thatcher regimes and those regimes attendant authoritarianism. Typical politics—accuse your opponent of exactly what you do. While it’s a little dry in terms of content, it’s not completely unwatchable. The director also did The Gate, which I haven’t seen, but have heard good things (RedLetterMedia’s Re:View), so there is some competence at work. And the movie’s so campy, so riffable, because it’s so serious. The liberal gets elected and there’s an immediate fascist crackdown on yuppies which forces them to all become nuclear terrorists. That’s Reefer Madness-level stupid.

The movie’s not PD, but it’s not hard to find either. I can’t give it a full recommend, but there are ways to enjoy it. So get some friends and some beers and see what Paul Ryan’s nightmares look like.

Friday, December 02, 2016

123. Hands of a Stranger and 124. House of the Living Dead

Jump to House of the Living Dead (1974)

123. Hands of a Stranger (1962)
Director: Newt Arnold
Writer: Newt Arnold
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org

A concert pianist loses his hands in a car accident, but has new hands transplanted from an unknown man. As he tries to heal, he finds himself slowly heading down the path of madness.

This is one of the early movies to explore the tropes of the “bad body,” most ably parodied in The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror IX” segment, “Hell Toupée.” There, Homer gets a scalp transplant from Snake and ends up being possessed. Here, that threat is raised, but doesn’t quite manifest.

We open with a man getting gunned down in the street. Who he is or why he’s targeted is never made clear, but his hands won’t quit. Even after getting shot, they climb up the lamppost and won’t let go. All the surgeons trying to save his life and even the cop assigned to the case note how strong his hands are. Despite their best efforts, though, he dies.

Meanwhile, across town, piano virtuoso Vernon Paris is finishing his most important concert to date. He takes a cab to the afterparty, but there’s an accident while the driver is trying to show Vernon a picture of his kid. Vernon ends up at the same hospital as the first victim, but his hands are completely destroyed. The head surgeon, Dr. Gil, decides to attempt a radical hand transplant.

The surgery’s a success, they wait a long time before telling Vernon what happened, and he’s outraged once he learns the truth. His hands work as well as can be expected, but he’s no longer the brilliant pianist he once was (almost as though he hasn’t moved his hands for 8 weeks and still needs to undergo physical therapy. Oh wait, that’s literally his situation).

Things proceed. The doctor and Vernon’s sister start falling in love, Vernon visits people he knew before the accident and people he blames for the accident, accidentally killing people both times. The doctor and sister try to convince him to accept his situation—namely that he’s healing and will be able to play again if he’s patient—and he instead accepts a sociopathic desire to kill. He takes out the two doctors who assisted Dr. Gil and then tries to kill Gil at the concert hall where he played his final show. As he’s choking the doctor, the cop who’s been checking in with Gil throughout the movie pops up out of nowhere and shoots Vernon in the back.

All in all, the movie’s pretty all right, not great, but not terrible either. It walks that fine line of being appreciable on its own merits and on purely camp grounds. The movie has the elements of a thriller, but is played like a melodrama with every actor giving broad performances and shouting out exclamatory dialogue about! how! they! feel! It’s delicious.

As I said, though, it stands on its own merits as well. The movie is tightly plotted, manages to keep all characters present, and is pretty well-composed. It even invokes the trope of the over-ambitious surgeon pushing the bounds of medical science a la The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, but paints that as a noble pursuit. It also sidestepped the cheap plot of him being possessed by his hands and instead played it as him being a narcissist sliding into depravity. The tipping point happens at a carnival in a sequence that is both unintentionally funny and legitimately well-composed.

So this is a recommend, almost just on the level of being a curiosity. It’s okay as a movie with some obvious artistic touches as well as being a riffable campy delight. What makes it curious is that it manages both at the same time—I was constantly laughing while thinking, Well done.

This movie is in the public domain and I’ve added an MPEG-2 version to archive.org here.



124. House of the Living Dead aka Curse of the Dead (1974)
Director: Ray Austin
Writers: Marc Marais from a story by John Brason
From: Cult Cinema

A young woman travels to her fiancé's plantation in colonial South Africa only to find herself trapped in a Gothic nightmare including a mad scientist hiding in the attic.

The movie starts promisingly enough, for those seeking campy pleasures, with good old-fashioned monkey torture. A man in a black robe, in broad daylight, in the middle of a vineyard, has trapped a monkey and is forcing it into a bag. He ducks behind one of the plants (which doesn’t hide him at all) as someone rides by on a horse. He then runs off with the monkey. Cut to the monkey on a table having experiments done on its brain. I was anticipating the most delicious trash at this point, but the movie’s all downhill from there.

The house is run by the final members of the Brattling family: Michael who runs the plantation, his brother Breck conducting unholy experiments, and their mother who is encouraging Michael to break off his engagement with Mary Anne so that the family line and all its evil can finally die. That, by the way, is an interesting element. Oftentimes these faux-Gothic pieces will have the evil mother disapproving of a match because of greed or some Oedipal element. Here, she says the family is evil and needs to die.

No matter, though, because six weeks later Mary Anne arrives. She learns from a doctor who traveled with her that Breck had a terrible accident with a horse and is now an invalid. Also, that he was exploring a theory that the soul could be isolated from the body and contained. My suspicion at this point: Breck has swapped bodies with Michael.

Anyway, this is thirty minutes into the movie. Up to this point, Michael had been the central character. Now it’s Mary Anne being frightened by seeing Breck prowling the grounds at night even though he’s confined to his room in the attic. There are some pretensions to Gothic tropes—hooded figures walking around, spooky music, rioting townspeople, but nothing that builds to anything or carries any weight.

In the final half-hour, the doctor becomes the main protagonist investigating the goings-on at the house. He realizes that Breck is still alive and rushes back to the house to warn Mary Anne. Mary Anne, though, is already being attacked by Breck. Turns out he and Michael were identical twins and it’s been Breck she’s been talking to the whole time—Michael died in the horse accident six weeks prior. Breck has sucked Michael’s soul into a bottle and is planning to add Mary Anne’s to it. After he’s strapped her to the table, the doctor arrives, Breck tries to attack him, but accidentally breaks the bottles holding souls. The newly-released spirits attack Breck and drive him over a balcony where he dies. The End.

There’s no mystery, tension, or invention to the piece so there’s nothing engaging about it. The big problem is that the story’s about Mary Anne who doesn’t appear until the film’s 1/3 of the way done. So the movie spends thirty minutes setting up its story, and then basically resets to do all that work again. In the end, it’s dull, uninspired, and trying to jump on the “Living Dead” bandwagon because, why not? It’s not like there’s anything else at play in the piece. This appears to have a valid copyright, but it’s not worth hunting down regardless, so no big loss.