Friday, November 03, 2017

220. City Ninja

220. City Ninja aka Tou qing ke (1985)
Directors: Yeong-cheol Choi and Chun Bang Yang
Writer: Chun Bang Yang
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

Various gangs manipulate two fighters into hunting down a necklace that had been lost decades before.

Welcome to the first entry of Ninjavember! It’s all-ninja, all month long, except when it’s not. Which means it’s like every other month and every other promise you’ve ever given or received. That’s right, this is yet another opportunity to reflect on how you’ve failed not only yourself, but so many others. What are the holidays for if not that?

That and trash films! With that in mind, here’s the odd duck City Ninja!

We start in 1940 Hong Kong. Some white guy is being harried by ninjas who do the full Godfrey Ho teleporting in and out of shots. Enjoy it while you can because the ninjas don’t return for a while and they don’t teleport anymore. He holds his own well enough, but still enlists the help of a passerby. White guy gives passerby a necklace that he says he’ll come back for. Then passerby has to fight off the ninjas until they, apparently, decide to leave.

Cut to 45 years later and general cinematic confusion. I don’t think the movie accidentally has two directors, I think this was two related but independent productions that got stitched together. The movie does have two distinct story lines that only come together at the end, and, no, it’s not like Magnolia. To simplify things, I’m going to talk about one story then the other.

In Hong Kong, Rocky has just won the boxing championship and has dreams of opening his own gym. His boss is the son of the passerby that was given the necklace 45 years before. Turns out the necklace has a special code on it that corresponds to a Swiss bank account and the Italian mafia want it back. Only the boss doesn’t have it. The necklace was stolen by Korean gangsters years before. The mob is putting pressure on him to get it back.

Meanwhile, Rocky is having an affair with the boss’ mistress. The boss starts putting pressure on Rocky to go to Korea to find Jimmy and get the necklace back, but Rocky isn’t willing to kill anyone. The boss’ mistress ends up pregnant with Rocky’s kid and he decided to take his fiancée (oh yeah, he’s got his own main girl) and leave town. The mistress confronts him, pulls a gun, and in the struggle she gets shot and killed. The boss’ thugs witness it and promise to make the problem go away if Rocky goes to Korea. He has no choice but to leave and find the other movie.

In which Jimmy is an up-and-coming fighter with dreams of opening his own gym. Seeing parallels? He gets recruited to do a job stealing a necklace, and then his recruiter/mentor gets killed. Jimmy takes the job and retrieves the necklace as revenge, but then refuses to hand it over. He falls in love with the mob boss’ girl and offers the necklace in exchange for enough money for the two of them to leave together. The boss refuses and sends wave after wave of goons to get their asses handed to them by Jimmy.

Rocky arrives in Korea, meets Jimmy, and offers him 1/10 of the price Jimmy’s asking for. Jimmy turns him down and leaves.

Eventually an assistant to the mob boss who we haven’t seen before enlists the help of a group of ninjas (finally!) and they kidnap Jimmy’s girlfriend. Jimmy defeats all of them, but not before yet another group arrives and kidnaps the girl from the kidnappers. That group then murders the mob boss. Turns out they’re working for Rocky who tells Jimmy the girl will be waiting in a warehouse, bring the necklace.

Big climatic battle, but not between Jimmy and Rocky. Jimmy finds the girl and is eventually defeated. It’s not clear if she’s dead or if he’s killed at the end, but they’re out of the movie and Rocky’s goons get the necklace. He calls his boss to read off the numbers. The boss relates the info to the mafia and then is killed by his own assistant who’d been scheming behind his back the whole time. Rocky returns to Hong Kong where he’s arrested at the airport for the murder of his boss and mistress. THE END.

The movie takes a bit of a grim turn at the end and I won’t say it wasn’t unexpected. I was wondering who we were supposed to be rooting for as we approached that point. Jimmy’s pretty clearly coded as the scrappy, rebellious hero—maybe a little crooked, but ultimately only screwing over the overt villains—but it’s hard to see Rocky as the junior mob boss that he’s forced to become at the end. Yes, he’s cheating on his girl, but apart from that he refuses to get involved in anything criminal and specifically refuses to kill. It’s only when he’s forced to at the end that he agrees to do the boss’ work for him.

The value of the MacGuffin was always in question as well. Jimmy has it, but doesn’t know what it’s worth, and it’s not clear that the two Korean gangs fighting over possession of it know why it’s worth having either. I’m still not clear that it does carry the secret code for a Swiss bank account. Maybe that makes it the uber-MacGuffin, so inscrutable in its overt purpose that it can only serve as a narrative device.

This is close to peak exploitation as well. While it doesn’t get gory, it does have a lot, and I mean a lot, of gratuitous nudity. Women rubbing themselves in showers… and that’s it. That’s the entirety of the scene. Rocky and the mistress have an extended sex scene where they have sex on every piece of gym equipment available, which was at least inventive as far as gratuitous content goes. Then that’s followed almost immediately by an extended sex scene between Jimmy and his girlfriend.

Much of the movie is laughable. There is no attempt to get the dubbing to line up with what people’s mouths are doing and the constant cutting back and forth between Hong Kong and Korea only serve to destroy any sense of continuity or coherence.

That said, the fight scenes in Korea are really good. They’re inventive, visually interesting, and sometimes downright funny. There’s one sequence where Jimmy fights some goons with his girlfriend—not alongside, but literally using her to attack and defeat the goons.

The movie would have been much stronger had it just been Jimmy’s story and we didn’t keep cutting back to Hong Kong. However, it was fun enough. A couple places online list this as being public domain and I didn’t see any copyright information on my print. The problem with a lot of these martial arts movies is that the copyright status is unclear, primarily due to GATT. Since my copy doesn’t have a copyright logo, I’m operating under the assumption that it is PD and so have uploaded it to archive.org here. I’d recommend it. When it’s silly, it’s silly in the right way, and when the action kicks off, it’s fun to watch. Check it out with some friends and have a good time.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

219. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

219. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave aka La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba (1971)
Director: Emilio Miraglia
Writers: Massimo Felisatti, Fabio Pittorru, and Emilio Miraglia
From: Pure Terror

A man haunted by visions of his dead wife invites women who look like her up to his castle to murder them.

Another movie that lost the thread of what it’s about between the beginning and end. We open with Lord Alan Cunningham trying to escape a sanitarium. He’s running across the grounds hallucinating the guards chasing him, and is ultimately caught. Then we cut to Alan driving a prostitute to his castle in the countryside. He stops the car to switch out the license plates because he was using fake ones when he picked her up.

At the castle, he takes her into the dungeon where he starts whipping her. She tells him people know who he is and that’s when he reveals that he used fake plates so that he wouldn’t be found. Then he has a vision of his dead wife Evelyn sleeping with another man, and he stabs the woman he’s with to death.

Okay, this will be a serial killer movie and he’s the bad guy. Got it. He pays off a witness who turns out to be Evelyn’ brother and then has a brief meeting with his psychologist who warns him about having further episodes. So the impression I got was that he’s killed before and people are covering it up.

Things proceed. Alan is obsessed with redheads because Evelyn was one so his cousin sets him up with a stripper in London. Basically a repeat of the first woman ensues except afterwards, when Alan comes to and is removing evidence, he finds the woman’s lighter. He throws it out only to find it again. What could its reappearance mean? Don’t ask that question because it’s not going to matter for another 45 minutes!

Alan meets a third woman, Gladys, who he immediately marries. They move into the castle and she starts investigating the strange events happening around Evelyn—she seems to be haunting the place. There’s also the looming threat of Alan murdering her the way he’s murdered other women.

Gladys investigates and learns that Alan became delusional and started to believe Evelyn was cheating on him. He was pursuing a divorce, but she was trying to keep the marriage together so went through with a dangerous pregnancy. She died as a result. So Alan’s delusions literally led to Evelyn’s death.

Things escalate, people related to Evelyn and Alan get murdered, and finally it seems Evelyn has risen from her grave. This leads to Alan having a final breakdown and being committed. The not insubstantial estate is split between Gladys and Alan’s cousin. Get ready for a Shyamalaan twist, though—Gladys and the cousin had been working together the whole time! It was all a plot to drive Alan mad and steal everything he owned. He was the victim. You know, the murderer.

We’re not done, though! Oh no, not with a film like this. Gladys goes to a chalet with the cousin and gets poisoned! The cousin betrays her and has secretly been working with the second woman who hadn’t actually died. Double twist! Before she dies, Gladys manages to stab the woman, leaving the cousin the only one alive. He leaves the chalet.

And runs into Alan! Triple twist! He wasn’t committed at all! His psychologist had cured him and his breakdown was faked to lure the plotters out in the open. Alan and the cousin fight, knocking some chemicals into a swimming pool which the cousin then falls into. The final scene is the cousin being taken away by police screaming about how he’s on fire. THE END

Movies don’t have to depict a moral universe, but they are made by moral actors, which raises the question of what is this movie’s about. What’s the message? We open with Alan as a serial killer protected by his money and position. The close should address that. That doesn’t mean the movie can’t have the ending it has, but it has to address its starting point. Since we’re introduced to Alan as a sadistic murderer and have that vision of him reinforced throughout the movie, that needs to be addressed by the end. Close on him laughing maniacally or a close-up of his face as the psychologist says, “You’re cured,” while the face says he’s anything but. End, essentially, on Alan indicating that the story was about him and his arc.

Instead, we freeze on the cousin screaming, signifying that justice has been done and everything set right in the world. Not only will he face criminal prosecution, but, with his insistence that he’s burning, justice in the afterlife as well. That was never a concern of the film.

The movie’s at its best when it’s focused on Gladys trying to sort out the mystery of Evelyn and how she died. In that portion—and it takes way too long to get to it—you have a movie that’s introducing legitimately creepy elements, a real mystery, and a rising sense of threat from Alan. Remember, we’ve seen him kill before. Now there’s a woman living in the castle trying to find out the fate of wife #1 whose body is no longer in her grave.

Other people get murdered along the way: Evelyn’s brother and Alan’s aunt, who apparently were having a relationship or plotting against Alan in some way. It doesn’t matter because they both die and serves as the weakest red herring.

I think I’m disappointed by this movie, which, surprise, is not a recommend, because of the narrative and moral confusion at its core. Alan’s the threat. He’s the monster. Now, characters plotting against him or his situation being engineered by the other characters is a nice twist, but you can’t throw it in and play him up as some kind of victim. At best you can play it as the inevitable victim had outsmarted the monster and won the day. I’d like that movie and twist. This movie, though, missed the mark. It’s not as grim as a lot of the lesser serial killer features I’ve watched, but ultimately comes out dull. The movie takes too long to bring us Gladys, the real main character, and doesn’t know what story it’s actually telling. So give it a pass and find something a little more entertaining for the Hallo-weekend.

Friday, October 27, 2017

218. Drive In Massacre

218. Drive In Massacre (1976)
Director: Stu Segall
Writers: John F. Goff and George “Buck” Flower from a story by Stu Segall
From: Chilling

A serial killer is murdering couples at a drive-in with a samurai sword. Two detectives have to stop him before this turns into a massacre.

You're not helping.
We open with a title card reading “On August 10th in a California Drive-In it all began...” This movie likes on-screen text. Not only does it have this odd prologue, we later see the police awkwardly holding a newspaper so we can read the headline, and it closes with text as well. Nothing’s added through the text, but if I highlighted only the parts of this movie that made sense, there’d be no post.

So we start with people coming to the drive-in. A couple shows up to celebrate moving into their own place. They decide to fool around, but the guy, possibly sincerely, possibly as a goof, interrupts things to get the movie speaker. He has to reach way out of the car to do and his head is cut off. His partner is then stabbed through the neck. Yeah, it’s kind of awesome. The movie never returns to that peak.

"Flattop Fools Flatfoot Tracy Again!"
Cut to the police station and the awkward paper. We meet our heroes, the two cops. Yes, they have names and one is even the co-writer of the movie, but they’re just the two cops. Who can’t act. Or investigate. Or provide comic relief. Newsflash, this movie kind of sucks.

The cops go to the drive-in to talk to the employees—Johnson, the asshole manager, and Germy, a slow guy that worked as a geek at the carnival. The drive-in, fifteen years prior, had been a carnival, and Johnson and Germy both worked there. When the owner decided to turn it into the drive-in, he kept them on. Germy used to be a sword swallower, which makes him a suspect, but he’s a little too simple to have done anything.

That night, another couple is making out, but there’s a pervert spying on them. They get stabbed, but Germy got the pervert’s license plate number so the cops check him out. They interrogate him for a little bit, but nothing’s revealed. The movie doesn’t know how to pace anything, though. We’re supposed to be suspicious about this guy, creeped out by the porn all over his walls, but the longer the cops question him, the more pathetic and sad he seems, such that we just want the cops to leave him alone. They find a blood-soaked rag in his car and take him in, but it turns out to be dog blood from a dog he’d hit the night before.

So the pervert returns to the drive-in, is spying on a couple where the woman isn’t into it, and the cops are doing their own stake-out. The pervert and woman both get killed despite the cops being right there, and the cops take the staff in for questioning. Johnson gets even angrier, the cops ask him why he didn’t tell them he used to be a knife-thrower, and Johnson fires Germy. Germy wanders around a fair replaying all the cops’ and Johnson’s comments about him in his mind, then goes to the drive-in.

Meanwhile, the cops get a call saying a guy with a machete just killed two people and has a hostage in a warehouse. We cut to this guy promising to kill “little girl” so she won’t be burdened with evil, but she slips away. It’s cat-and-mouse through the warehouse until the cops arrive and kill him. The kid says, “you didn’t have to kill him,” because it was her dad and he’d escaped the mental institution that morning. He’s not their guy.

The cops realize Johnson could be slipping out to kill people between reel changes and rush to the drive-in. Germy is preparing to confront Johnson for having hid all the boss’ swords. The movie at this point really wants you to think Johnson is the killer so that you’re surprised when you see him stabbed to death on the drive-in screen. The cops bust in, assuming Germy did it, only to find him dead as well. We cut to the final title card saying the killings have spread to other theaters and then a fake PA fires up and says there’s a murderer loose in the theater. Do not panic. THE END.
Did you forget to end your film? Try "Title Cards" and hope they can't read!

The movie should be really goofy. This is a silly plot that should be camped right the hell up. Instead, the flick never gains any steam. It just meanders from scene to scene, no real tension or motion ever developed. The movie can’t even decide on its tone—are the cops grizzled vets facing a difficult case, or the bumbling comic relief? On the one hand, they’re aggressive about chasing down leads. On the other, one of them dresses in drag during the stake-out and plays up his role as the wife.

Beyond that, the movie isn’t sure if it wants to be a mystery or a slasher flick. Is this about catching the killer or about waiting for people to get it? The decision’s never made so we get neither clues to find the killer nor a showdown with the killer. The killer’s never revealed at all, and the triple-twist ending doesn’t help. All it does is tell us that the writers and director never decided on who the killer was and thought they’d be clever by never revealing it. Instead, they made a real snoozer.

Which is ultimately the disappointment of this—it’s just boring. We start with a decapitation, which is hilarious, and then there’s another seventy minutes of movie to go. It’s not hilariously bad, but not particularly riffable, and not at all compelling. I’d suggest giving this one a pass. It’s just not enough of anything to be worth your time in any context.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

217. The Amazing Transparent Man

217. The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Writer: Jack Lewis
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

An ex-major breaks a safe-cracker out of jail to use as a guinea pig for an invisibility ray with hopes of eventually building an invisible army. Things go awry though when the safe-cracker develops his own plans.

I wrote about this movie almost ten years ago in the second PD Project post. The movie hasn’t improved with time.

Nor is it any worse. The movie itself is just under an hour so it doesn’t get too bogged down with anything—it doesn’t have time to. The basic story is bank robbing safe-cracker extraordinaire Joey Faust is busted out of prison by Major Krenner. Krenner has kidnapped a German scientist, Dr. Ulof, to develop an invisibility ray. Faust will be the titular transparent man dispatched to steal nuclear materials from a nearby government base. After some post-invisibility violent negotiations, Faust agrees to do the job for an exorbitant amount of money.

Krenner’s particularly villainous. He was an Army spy during WWII which is how he found Dr. Ulof. He manages to smuggle Ulof out of Germany, but kidnaps the doctor’s daughter and holds the two of them captive to make Ulof develop the invisibility ray. Krenner’s ultimate plan is to create an army of invisible men and sell the technology to the highest military bidder.

Faust is a bank robber, though, and sees the opportunities invisibility affords him in that field. After doing the first job stealing nuclear material, Faust convinces Krenner’s accomplice to take him to a bank instead of the military base. However, the invisibility starts wearing off during the robbery and Faust is identified.

Krenner hears about the robbery on the radio and realizes he’s been betrayed. Faust arrives in time to knock him out and asks Ulof why the invisibility wore off. Ulof tells him there’s something wrong with the ray and that Faust is going to die. He can either run and live a brief time or sacrifice himself to thwart Krenner’s plans. Faust agrees to stay and Dr. Ulof and his daughter escape. While Faust fights Krenner, the nuclear material stolen earlier explodes and wipes out, we’re told in the epilogue, most of the county. Faust is dead, but so are Krenner’s evil plans. THE END.

The movie’s pretty stripped-down and low budget, but that may be to its credit. The idea at the core of the plot is sound and it ticks every box that you expect from a story like this without any extra baggage. Sure, that does mean certain emotional moments move too quickly, for example, Krenner’s henchman who’s been loyal because he thinks Krenner has info about his daughter breaks down and switches sides when Krenner’s accomplice tells him Krenner’s been lying and the girl is dead. The emotional beats are all the right ones, but they arrive exactly as quickly as I relayed them in that sentence. The henchman’s reason for his loyalty, how he’s been fooled, and him being turned all happens within a minute.

That said, there’s no filler here. Every moment is essential to the plot, defines the characters and their situation, and moves things forward. In other words, it’s competently made, it’s just not remarkably made. When I watched it before, I said it’d be nice to see this redone as a student film because it’s right within the possibilities of what a student film could do. I stand by that assessment.

The movie’s in the public domain and I uploaded it to archive.org here just over a decade ago (how long have I been at this?). The movie’s not a recommend, but I’m not going to warn anyone away from it either. It’s fine for a lazy Saturday afternoon or if you want some easy riffing material. This was featured as episode 623 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and is available on the forthcoming Vol. XXXIX if you want to see someone else’s take on it.

Friday, October 20, 2017

216. Slashed Dreams

216. Slashed Dreams (1975)
Director: James Polakof
Writers: James Keach, James Polakof, and David Pritchard
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org

Two friends go hiking to find their friend’s cabin and explore their feelings for each other. Then one is assaulted by backwoods yahoos.

Ready for a fun one folks? Then skip this movie cause it blows. I’m starting here so you can save yourself some time, maybe check out a different flick from the archives. I mean, this is my 216th review. You have options.

Okay.

Slashed Dreams opens with Jenny reading a letter from her friend Michael. He dropped out of college a few years earlier and went into the mountains to find himself. Surprisingly, it worked, and he’s very happy in a cabin he’s built. Jenny’s friend Robert creeps on her without saying a word and then her boyfriend Marshal, who’s a dick, takes her away. Excited about the emotional possibilities this opening scene is laying out? I know I am.

They go to class where the instructor is using Age of Aquarius language to float really conservative, “our unmoored, amoral culture” ideas. Jenny and Marshall arrive late, Robert is somehow already there, and we hear his voice.

1000% smackable smug prick.

Jenny talks about Michael finding peace in nature, Marshall poo-poos the idea, and rejects all the hippie-dippy stuff about leaving to find yourself. He says the real excitement is happening on campus with all the people planning their lives. It’s a good point. Unfortunately, he’s a complete cock when he’s making it, belittling Jenny the whole time.

I don’t know why I’m telling you all this stuff about the prologue—this is all prologue!—it’s just that this is when the movie still feels like it has promise.

They’re all at a frat party that night, Jenny and Robert are dancing and floating the idea of going to visit Michael. Marshall tells one of Jenny’s friends that he’s in love with Jenny and doesn’t trust Robert. The friend says they’ve been best friends since they were kids. Then Marshall is emotionally abusive some more and tells everyone to go to the mountains to see Michael. On the way, he throws a can of beer across Robert’s windshield and then almost has a head-on collision with him and Jenny. Jenny dumps him there and that’s the end of Marshall’s presence in the movie. Wave goodbye everyone, he was the only source of interesting drama in this picture.

The rest, or until the 2/3rds mark, is Robert and Jenny hiking through the woods, hanging out in an empty cabin, and skinny dipping, all to the sounds of the worst kind of treacly 70’s folk-pop. The music always gets it wrong, making the whole movie seem like a laid-back exploration of this couple’s budding relationship. Only there doesn’t seem to be any will they/won’t they/could you care tension. They’re in couple mode the moment Marshall disappears.

So they’re just in the woods with no sense of threat or tension when two backwoods types living in the mountain appear. They spy on the couple skinny dipping and then make some uncomfortable comments. They leave and the couple, deciding everything’s okay for no explicable reason, go back to the cabin. That night, the yokels break in and rape Jenny. After they leave, Robert tries to comfort her and then goes outside to stand watch. The treacly music starts up again implying that the drama here is whether their relationship will be able to endure this.



I have to mention it because it’s so perfect. The Shockmarathons podcast did an episode on this movie and one of their hosts said Slashed Dreams, “at this moment, becomes one of the most unwatchable movies ever.” You are correct, sir.

The next morning, Michael, Robert Englund himself, finally shows up, and goes in to talk to Jenny. He’s just beavering away until he finally mentions the rape—the rape that just happened hours before in the very place they’re talking—and tells her she needs to get it out of her mind, sort of like the poison oak he has on his legs. The more he thinks about it, the more it itches.

Fuck you, movie.

Outside, Robert, the real victim in all this, hears a noise and goes to find the yokels arguing with each other. One wants to go back and murder the couple, the other wants to go back and finish raping her. One cuts the other and then Robert rushes out to attack uninjured one with a hatchet, poorly. They wrestle around a bit, Robert shoves they guy’s face in the mud, and the yokels run away as Jenny and Michael run up. The trio all laugh because “those two won’t be back any time soon.”

Cut to all three of them skinny dipping. Jenny gets out, goes into the cabin, and reads a poem about pain. Then she and Robert traipse off into the sunset. THE END.

What

the Actual

FUCK?!

This is a dull, empty movie where nothing happens for forty minutes that then drops in rape and tries to make it meaningful by having the victim read a poem about the liberating nature of pain. No catharsis, no justice, no closure on her assailants, just they run off into the woods because they’re afraid of the smug fuck that can’t fight. This movie is insufferable when it’s not interminable, and that doesn’t even include the Rudy Vallee cameo where he tries to sell them licorice.

While this is not as bad as Cave Girl or Going Steady, movies that titter at and revel in their rapey elements, it’s relentlessly twee without anything cute and imagines itself charming when every element is utterly charmless. I mean, the emotional arc of the movie, if there is one, is focused on Robert: he finally gets the girl he’s been Nice Guy™-ing for over a decade only to see her get raped, which really cramps his style, man, but he makes it okay by wrestling one of the attackers a bit, kind of.

Just wretched. Instead of watching this movie, I’d recommend The Shockmarathons podcast. They have a deeply informed perspective on the movies they cover and, unique among the bad movie podcasts I listen to, are actively building upon their discussions episode-by-episode. In other words, rather than have occasional running gags or throwbacks, each movie’s discussed within the context of what they’ve talked about before. It makes the cultural context of each movie clearer.

This movie, though, sucks on toast. Avoid it if you can. That said, it is in the public domain so I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy to archive.org here. Cut it up to use the nature shots for something better, or pull the music to design your own endurance test. Just stop at about the 40-minute mark. That’s when it goes from dull to “Why?!”

Saturday, October 14, 2017

215. Scared to Death

215. Scared to Death (1947)
Director: Christy Cabanne
Writer: Walter Abbott
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

A woman arrives at the morgue and narrates, for the audience, the story of how she was murdered.

A brief studio cheapie that’s most notable for being the only color film to star Bela Lugosi. While it’s better than a lot of the Ed Wood movies he did later, it’s still pretty disappointing. There’s a real sense that the movie was banking on his reputation as being a horror icon to do the work of selling the movie.

The film is set up as a giant flashback. Laura, our narrator, has been murdered, but they don’t know precisely how. Then her voice arrives on the soundtrack telling us her story. Only Laura’s voice-over never adds anything to the movie, never provides any foreshadowing, never even gives us a sense of her character by having her describe things that are happening in the flashback. In fact, Laura’s not in the movie much at all. We see more of her lying dead as the movie fades back to her than we do in the movie itself.

Anyway, we cut from her on the table to her being examined by her father-in-law, Dr. Van Ee. He’s trying to put a blindfold on her, but she panics and tells him to stop. She accuses him of conspiring with her husband to force her into a divorce. They’d be happy if she left, but take forever to explain why. She leaves as another patient arrives—a woman seemingly trying to blackmail the doctor with knowledge that only a person he presumed dead would have. The doc kicks her out and then Lugosi, the doctor’s cousin, arrives. They used to run a racket together as touring illusionists and Lugosi is the person presumed dead. He’s not there for blackmail, though, just to rest for the night.

So much for that mystery.

Really Lugsoi’s there to play up the red herring of the doctor being in some way villainous or to be his own red herring. Meanwhile, Laura is in her room and gets sent a mask in the mail that makes her scream. Through details we learn from other characters, we can put together that Laura used to be part of a double-act at The Green Room. Lugosi remembers her and says, to no one, “The Green Man may get you yet.” Things escalate in the house with more people arriving, the maid being hypnotized to feign death, and then everyone goes into the parlor to find Laura hypnotized to perform her act from before.

During the war, Laura betrayed her partner—her then husband—to the Nazis and sent him a green blindfold for his execution. She wanted him to know she’d betrayed him. She did it, not for the money, but to be free of him and his control over her despite him being “good.” The movie’s really invested in you not being that bothered by her murder. She takes off the blindfold, sees a mask coming at her from the window, and dies of a heart attack. The husband is caught in the yard disguised as the woman who came to see the doctor earlier and we fade back to the coroner’s office where he says she was “scared to death.” THE END

It’s pretty stupid. Normally I’d find something like this charming, but it’s just throwing everything into a pot and making nothing from it. The doctor’s past and all his strange behavior, including lying about being attacked, comes to nothing. The house is full of secret passages for no reason. Lugosi has a deaf-mute little person working as his assistant because...creepy? Plus there’s a bumbling private security officer in love with the maid and a reporter who shows up for no reason with his ditzy assistant. Even the son, the man who wants a divorce, vanishes from the movie for the majority. The reason he wants the divorce, by the way, is that he married Laura the night he met her on a drunken bet.

The worst thing the movie does is make the killer someone you couldn’t possibly know. The woman who seemed to be blackmailing the doctor at the beginning was actually a character never named or described until the final scene, in disguise (so you wouldn’t know the person you didn’t know).

This is not as bad as some of the other flicks I’ve watched, it’s certainly not offensive, but it’s strangely bad. Like the decision to cut back to Laura in the morgue all the time. The cuts dissolve to her lying still and then immediately dissolve back to the movie, sometimes the same scene. Plus they’re almost never scenes that she’s in. She’s telling a story of all the things she didn’t witness.

The movie is almost, but not quite, compellingly bad, and I recommend it on those terms. It’s not fun on its own and I wouldn’t recommend it to watch ironically, but if you have friends and want to laugh at something, this movie is so consistently wrong-footed that you’d have a good time. It’s in the public domain and there are several copies available on archive.org. I’ve linked to the MPEG-2 version, because that’s what I do.

Friday, October 13, 2017

214. Oasis of the Zombies

214. Oasis of the Zombies aka La tumba de los muertos vivientes(1982)
Director: Jesús Franco
Writers: Jesús Franco from a story by Ramón Llidó
From: Chilling
Treasure hunters in search of Nazi gold instead suffer the depredations of the zombies haunting the site.
A pair of women in hot pants take a break from driving through the desert to wander through an oasis with the camera cutting to fullframe shots of their butts while they’re walking. This is proto-Michael Bay. Anyway, they find abandoned Nazi gear, then get killed by zombies, and we cut to titles. You know it’s going to be a good one already.

The real start of the movie is a man in a mustache telling another man in a mustache that he knows the location of lost Nazi gold and produces a map. Mustache 2 kills him and leaves to find the treasure. Cut to mustache’s son getting a letter notifying him of his father’s death as well as a letter telling the story of how mustache found the gold.

Flashback to mustache as a British Captain fighting the Nazis in Africa. He sets up an ambush near an oasis, kills all the Nazis, but the entirety of his side is killed as well. A Sheik finds Capt. Mustache and the Sheik’s daughter nurses him back to health. They fall in love and hook up when mustache leaves to return to the war. Two years later, he returns to the Sheik to learn that the woman died giving birth to his son. He goes home only to learn that the Nazis he ambushed were transporting smuggled gold. In the present day, the son decides to go find the gold and his friends come along.

Meanwhile, murderous mustache has arrived at the oasis with his team. His assistants plot against him, but then the zombies kill them. Murderous mustache is attacked, but manages to escape, stumbling and raving about “the living dead.”

Kids arrive, meet murderous mustache just as he dies, and get told vague legends about the oasis and zombies. They meet the Sheik who tells the kid that the Sheik’s daughter was his mother and advises him against going to the oasis. He and his friends go anyway. When they get there, they find another group of treasure hunters they’d met in town dead, except a young woman. She survived the zombie attack, tells them to leave, because zombies, but they decide to stay. And she sticks around.

Despite the zom… but she knows… why would you not just… I mean, she has her own car and…

They start digging for gold, zombies attack that night, and everyone but the main kid and his girlfriend die. Weirdly, they try to fight off the zombies by making a ring of fire around their camp with gasoline... that they take from their Jeep... instead of getting into their Jeep and driving away.

I am shocked by this terrible line.
The couple is found lying in the desert by the Sheik who asks his grandson,
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
“I mainly found myself.”
Then they get into the Jeep and drive back to town. THE END

I mean, you know it’s going to be stupid from the start, but, with the initial promise of zombies, Nazis, or even zombie Nazis, you’re hoping for a different kind of stupid, a more delicious exploration of the ridiculous. Instead, there are very few zombies, almost no Nazis (although all the Nazis get killed, which is a plus), and just a rambling group of nobodies going into the desert. We know from the start that the oasis is full of zombies, so it just becomes waiting for the characters to fall into the trap.

Nothing in this movie has consequence. Murderous mustache kills mustache leading the kid to search for the lost gold. However, there’s no meeting between the two where they know the situation, no character moment of them reacting to each other. Everything’s just about getting people to that oasis and filling almost 90 minutes of screen time.

This movie should be in the public domain, but has been GATT’d so it’s not. It is pretty easy to find if you’re so inclined, though. It’s silly enough to be riffable, but maybe too empty and boring even for that. The most laugh-out-loud moments are some of the make-up on the zombies and that final exchange between the Sheik and the kid. It’s 100% unearned and unjustified. “I mainly found myself.” What? How? When was that even part of what this was about? The movie doesn’t really crescendo into absurdity—the final zombie attack is pretty shabby and ignorable—so much as drop a dollop of “What?” on this bland desert dessert. You can safely skip it.

Friday, September 29, 2017

210. Infernal Street

210. Infernal Street aka Qi sha jie (1973)
Director: Chiang Shen
Writer: Chiang Shen
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

A doctor’s assistant takes on the drug lords running the town.

Our hero is the assistant/adopted son of the town’s doctor who specializes in treating heroin addicts. The number of local addicts has skyrocketed since the Japanese arrived and opened a casino. The hero suspects the Japanese are peddling the heroin, but the doctor tells him not to start fights. Were he to do that, though, there’d be no movie.

In response to all the addicts, the doctor posts ads all over town promising to treat people for free to help them break the habit. This offends the Japanese because they’re selling drugs to the community. They see this as a threat to their business so they start hassling the doctor which leads to the expected results.

What’s interesting about the plot is how convoluted it becomes to push an anti-drug message, which it then basically drops. The hero’s father died of withdrawal and, upon being told of the death, his mother died too. The doctor was there and so adopted the hero and raised him as his own. Only the doctor has his own past with drugs. He used to run his own martial arts school, but had a strict anti-drug policy. A rival school that advocated how fantastic drugs are challenged him, defeated him, and permanently injured his back.

I was rolling on the floor during that flashback sequence, by the way. It’s so random.

The hero faces off against the drug lords several times, wins the fight only to have the drug lords put more pressure on the doctor. The doctor, a classical liberal, prefers order over justice and caves every time.

Finally, the hero is caught in a setup and accused of sleeping with a man’s wife and then killing her. He’s taken by the cops to the drug lord, tied up, and attacked by goons which, admittedly, is one of the more inventive fight scenes. His arms are tied above him but he still manages to fight off all comers using just his legs. The cropping for TV, though, really undermines the visuals.

The drug lords also kidnap the doctor and his daughter, take them to the club where the doctor finds out the chairman that’s been running everything is the man who defeated him all those years back. The doctor and chairman face off, the hero escapes and joins the fight, and, after a few unnecessary twists, the chairman is finally defeated. THE END

Upon reflection, there’s a lot about this movie that’s pretty clever. What seem like random quirky elements sprinkled through the movie for filler actually all come together at the end. Only they feel like filler during the viewing. I’ll admit that I’m writing this up almost two full months after watching so I can’t remember how much I enjoyed it or not. My notes say the dubbing is hilariously bad, which is always a plus, and some of the fight scenes reached levels of extreme WTFery including ears getting cut off, but I also remember that I had to watch it over several nights because I kept falling asleep.

This isn’t a movie that offends the sensibilities, but it does feel like it drags its feet a bit and becomes pretty episodic. However, it appears to be in the public domain so I’ve added a copy to archive.org here. You can see for yourself how much it appeals or not.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

209. Silver Needle in the Sky

209. Silver Needle in the Sky (1954)
Director: Hollingsworth Morse
Writer: Fritz Blocki
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger blah blah blah blah. His crew yadda yadda yadda until phhhbt phhhbt, phhhbt-phhhbt-phhhbt. Cleolanta dispatches argle bargle poot poot poot, but they don’t realize Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Zzzzzzzzzzzzz ZZZZZZZzzzzzzz and thus the day is saved.

I can’t pretend to care about Rocky Jones movies anymore, and I was barely pretending to care the last time I wrote about them. This is the sixth Rocky Jones movie I’ve watched, and the fifth in the series, not that watching them out of order makes any difference. The production order, by the way, is Beyond the Moon, Gypsy Moon, Menace From Outer Space, Manhunt in Space, Silver Needle in the Sky, and Crash of the Moons. I hope there aren’t any more in these sets because I honestly don’t know if I can take another one.

The plot is pretty meaningless: the United Worlds sets up a conference of scientists, Cleolanta’s planet isn’t invited and she takes it as an insult so she sends her loyal servant to kidnap the head scientist. He does and manages to capture Rocky Jones as well, but one of Cleolanta’s other flunkies screws things up by trying to double-cross Cleolanta’s second and make him look bad.

Rocky and the scientists are trapped in a conference room with a timed lock so they’ll escape in three hours. The flunky, though, turns off the air supply so they’ll all suffocate. “Fortunately,” Bobby, the junior adventurekateer who’s always traveling with Rocky, is able to fit through the air vent, knock the grate in the control room free with his head (yeah, a major plot point involves a child banging his own head against a wall), and save the day. Cleolanta locks both her servant and the flunky up together for a few months so they can fight it out. THE END.

The more I watch these movies, the less there is to see. This one dragged even though I was literally watching it on fast-forward. I set VLC to play it back at the fastest speed where I could still understand the dialogue, and, even then, scenes dragged with nothing going on. My criticisms, by the way, aren’t an issue of elements not aging well or the movie being made in a different culture, the producers themselves didn’t try.

The movie opens, not with the movie’s title card, but the serial’s title card including the “Chapter 1” subtitle. At the end, the announcer, who was presumably present in every TV broadcast but hasn’t been present in any of these movie edits, pops in to encourage kids to tune in again next week. They didn’t even bother to sort that out.

Obviously, this isn’t a recommend. I’m trying to figure out if it’s the worst Rocky Jones movie I’ve seen so far. It has its fair share of “the goddamn kid,” but I’m not sure it’s as annoying as The Gypsy Moon which is framed around Bobby not wanting to read and then seeing parallels to The Odyssey in everything. As slow as this movie is, that one grinds to a halt over and over again to let Bobby monologue about The Odyssey and how it compares to their own adventure. As with all the others, this is under copyright protecting us all from accidentally coming across it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

208. The Impossible Kid

208. The Impossible Kid aka The Impossible Kid of Kung Fu(1982)
Director: Eddie Nicart
Writers: Greg Macabenta from a story by Cora Caballes
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org, Cinema Insomnia
Interpol Agent 00, aka Weng Weng, is assigned to hunt down a group of terrorists kidnapping and killing Manila industrialists. Will Weng Weng stop these terrorists before they achieve their extortionist goals or will he fall victim to their diabolical plans?
The only thing of note about this movie is it stars Ernesto de la Cruz, aka Weng Weng, a 2’ 9” Filipino martial arts actor. He was born with primordial dwarfism and currently holds the world’s record for shortest person to have a starring role in a movie. This is a sequel to For Y’ur Height Only, Weng’s first appearance as Agent 00 (and maybe a second movie called Agent 00, though I can’t confirm that it exists).

The series spoofs/rip-offs of James Bond films and I have to include that slash because, frankly, I’m not sure which the movie is doing. Were these cheap Filipino James Bond rip-offs that they decided to cast Weng Weng in or did they intend these as Weng Weng vehicles and decide it’d be hilarious if he were a less-than-a-meter-tall James Bond? It’s hard to say because it’s certainly ripping off spy movies left and right, but it doesn’t seem to play up Weng Weng’s size as a joke. There are scenes where characters react, but it’s never a big reaction. Instead it’s, “Who’s this little person? Oh, you’re the guy from INTERPOL. Okay.” Everything’s played completely straight which makes all of it that much more absurd. So, kudos I guess.

What do I say about this movie? I fell asleep while watching it, but I’d eaten the better part of a pizza so there were extenuating circumstances. Also, I watched the Cinema Insomnia version because I bought a Roku specifically for the precursor to OSI 74 and I’m a Patron of the channel through Patreon. However, I almost never watch it (or anything that’s not a Misery Mill movie), so I decided to scroll through the shows and movies they had on offer and find something from the Misery Mill list. That led me to the Movie Nightmares’ version of Sisters of Death and this movie getting the Insomniac treatment. So while I’m ostensibly supposed to be talking about the movie, I’m more interested in talking about Cinema Insomnia and horror host shows in general, but that’s a much longer post than I intend right now.

The movie in brief: Weng Weng foils a kidnapping of a prominent Filipino businessman and afterward gets the details that it’s part of a series of kidnappings and ransoms. One man was murdered, another released after he paid the 2 million Pesos. Weng is sent to the Philippine Consul of Industrialists (PCI) who have just received a video from the kidnappers. A man in a white hood claiming his group are nationalists, not terrorists, *ahem*, says he wants 1 billion Pesos total from the members of the PCI in one week or he’ll start killing them one by one. Then the tape explodes.

Weng Weng works the case, gets targeted by the gang running the operation, and eventually starts to suspect that Manolo, the head of the PCI, is actually organizing the whole scheme. Nothing really leads to this conclusion, or to anything else in the movie to be honest, but he’s right. Manolo uses his influence to try to get Weng pulled from the case, and does, but that makes no material difference. Weng gets captured by the gang, is nearly killed, but is saved at the last minute by a random woman that’s fallen in love with him. He hides on the gang’s boat, grabs the money when it’s handed off, and fights his way to freedom, revealing Manolo’s role in it all. THE END.

This is one of those films that just sort of washes over you. It’s just action set piece after action set piece strung together with terribly dubbed dialogue. So there’s certainly a camp pleasure in just how bad it is as well as an exploitation pleasure in seeing this little person involved in these big fight sequences. As I said before, it’s all played pretty straight, but it’s hard not to see something absurd in a car chase that involves a man riding a pocket bike that looks, on him, like a full-sized motorcycle. It’s clunky, but knowingly silly, which tends to point up the silliness of the source material itself. The problem, in other words, isn’t taking Weng Weng seriously, it’s taking James Bond seriously.

As I said, I watched the Cinema Insomnia version of this, which I kind of enjoyed. The movie was uncut so, with host segments and ads, it was 2-and-a-half hours long. In other words, the movie exhausted me, the show didn’t. As Jonathan Ian Mathers of Neurotically Yours said of Cinema Insomnia itself, the joy of horror host shows is less the movies than the hosts themselves, and he’s right, especially when it comes to z-grade public domain flicks like The Impossible Kid. Mr. Lobo, the host, does a good job and the host segments are compelling, maybe moreso than the movie. In this episode, Mr. Lobo is forced by one of his sponsors to host this film along with their client, rockstar Slob Zombie. Apparently it’s one of Slob’s favorite films. Only the movie, literally, stinks and Slob is nowhere to be found. As the show goes on, Lobo starts to receive ransom videos from a terrorist aping the terrorist from the movie, who says he’s holding Slob hostage. The gags go from willfully goofy (“Slob Zombie”) to warped gags representing a deep knowledge of b-movies, and I dug them.

What I enjoyed most, though, was that there were actual gags and a personality. There was a sensibility that informed what was happening. The show includes vintage ads as well as OSI 74 ads and actual sponsors, and I don’t begrudge any of that. Vintage ads just aren’t my aesthetic even though these were chosen because they related to the content of the movie. So, again, there’s clearly a sensibility and aesthetic underlying all the decisions. How well it works for you comes down to a matter of taste, but this worked for me and if I can swap out a Cinema Insomnia version for one of the straight versions of a Misery Mill pic in the future, I definitely will.

Also, as I alluded to above, the movie seems to be public domain. I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy from my dvd to archive.org here. As I said, the movie’s fine. Maybe set it up as a double feature with some other cheapo Filipino films like Black Cobra 2 or 3. Definitely riffable and pleasantly absurd on its own.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

207. Top Line

207. Top Line aka Alien Terminator (1988)
Director: Nello Rossati
Writers: Roberto Gianviti and Nello Rossati
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
An alcoholic writer discovered a crashed UFO, but as he tries to make the information public, he uncovers a massive conspiracy involving every level of all governments and maybe even aliens themselves.
Author Ted Angelo is on a bender in Colombia when he learns his ex-wife and boss has cut off his expense account. She gives him enough money to fly back to his homeland of Italy, but he cashes in the ticket to do more drinking.

He visits his maid’s boyfriend to examine some Spanish artifacts the boyfriend claims to have salvaged from the ocean and take pictures of them back to his historian friend.

Sorry, what? The first point doesn’t lead to the second point? That’s not a mistake on my part, that’s how this movie is structured. This is, honestly, “Wait, what?” the Movie. It’s not even that the movie moves from action sequence to action sequence, it moves from conclusion of a scene to conclusion of a scene. No establishing shots, no exposition, no set-up of who anyone is or what’s going on. You only get the, “and that’s why it’s important!” moments, but you never know who’s talking about what or why.

So. Ted takes the pictures and a journal to his friend who says it’s a major discovery so Ted puts out feelers for buyers. The friend suggests a liaison who does purchasing for a former Nazi. Then the friend turns up dead. So Ted visits the Nazi instead.

Yeah. Everyone’s really chill about working with a literally-ran-the-camps Nazi. It’s kind of like CPAC that way.

Nazi tells Ted the stuff is fake and then sends people to try to kill him. Ted escapes them, and the Nazi, and manages to kill the Nazi by burying him under salt. Ted returns to the boyfriend and demands to know where the stuff actually came from. They go into the mountains where they find a boat somehow within the mountain itself. Then Ted realizes they’re actually in a spaceship.

He calls a TV producer in the states, tells them to send a crew, but the crew turn out to be assassins that Ted, basically, accidentally kills. He and his dead friend’s assistant go on the run, consider telling the Russians, but Ted sees a Russian on TV that he’d previously seen visiting the Nazi. That’s when he realizes all the governments are involved and potentially colluding with the aliens themselves.

Ted gets in touch with his ex-wife who arranges a boat to smuggle him out, but as he and assistant are waiting to catch it, the titular Alien Terminator arrives and chases them onto a farm. Luckily the Terminator is wearing red so they get a bull to kill it. That night, they find the boat with Ted’s ex-wife, and discover that another Terminator is piloting it. Ted kills it, learns his ex-wife is an alien, and the assistant kills her.

Epilogue: Ted and the assistant are living with an isolated aboriginal tribe. The assistant is very pregnant and Ted is typing away at a typewriter, preparing to unleash the truth about the aliens running our world. THE END.

This movie is weird, yo. It’s not as hilariously bad as Alien Species, which is a shame, because it’s just about as disjointed. Alien Species was a mockbuster, a direct-to-video movie made to trick people into thinking it’s a big-budget effort currently in theaters. In Alien Species’ case, the movie was Independence Day, I think, but the inexplicably-titled Top Line is something a little different.

This is an Italian rip-off of something big. The poster makes it look like they wanted people to think this was an Indiana Jones-esque adventure (and it trods some of the same ground that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would many years later), but it was also called Alien Terminator, so it’s trying to cash in on the Schwarzenegger film. The random cyborg at the end certainly speaks to that.

The randomness of the movie is part of its appeal—how much crazy crap from other movies can you cram in here? It’s just that it’s so disjointed and rarely hits the potential peaks of real absurdity. The sequence with the terminator at the end is hilarious because it becomes, for this film, a big action spectacle, and that’s mostly him just walking through crowded spaces. Nothing else quite rises to that, not even Ted running across a field of cacti while being chased, slowly, by the Nazi in a car. I spent the movie constantly going, “What?” but not in a shocked and delighted way, moreso like a dog being shown a card trick.

This movie was confusing when it should have been absurd, and that’s a disappointment. I’m not saying it’s not watchable—it moved well enough—but it’s probably best enjoyed with some light riffing. It doesn’t even rise to the level of offering much ironic entertainment.

Friday, September 15, 2017

206. Sisters of Death

206. Sisters of Death (1976)
Director: Joe Mazzuca
Writers: Peter Arnold and Elwyn Richards from a story by Elwyn Richards
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org, Rifftrax, Bunny Galore’s Movie Nightmares
Seven years after a hazing ritual results in a girl’s death, her sorority sisters are invited to a reunion at an isolated getaway. Only the consequences from that night are still being felt, and someone’s out for revenge.
Two girls are going through the final stage of their initiation into a sorority: having a gun pointed at their head and the trigger pulled. Fun. The bullets are supposed to be duds, but the second girl is shot and killed. Credits run over freeze frames of all the girls screaming.

Seven years later, Judy, a rich model, opens the newspaper to see a rumor-mongering story about her and the Governor’s son. She goes through her mail and finds an invitation for “The Sisters” to gather for a reunion and $500. She calls Sylvia, one of the Sisters, and accuses her of setting up the reunion. Sylvia says she thought Judy did it because she was the only one with the funds to engineer it. In the scene, we see Sylvia accepting money from an anonymous man after having had sex with him.

And we get similar sort-of-backstory introductions to the other three Sisters—one’s hitchhiking, one’s doing a Krishna/escape to nature thing, and one looks and acts like Gidget. None of them are really characters, just presences in the movie. Regardless, all five show up at the rendezvous point and are met by two creepy/suave 70’s types who say they’ll drive the Sisters to their final destination—over an hour away! Somehow this doesn't set off alarm bells.

They all arrive at a mansion in the middle of the desert surrounded by an electric fence. The Sisters initially see a setup for a reunion and the guys sneak in after hearing the party. The fence closes locking them all in and their host emerges—Edmond Clybourn, the father of the girl that died. He’s learned that his daughter’s death was engineered by one of the Sisters and he intends for the truth to come out the next day.

Everyone splits into groups trying to find a way to escape, focusing on cutting the power to the fence. Of course, someone ends up alone, gets killed, and that’s generally the model for the rest of the movie. Someone’s strangled, someone gets stabbed with scissors, someone’s bitten by a rattlesnake, someone’s chased into the electric fence by a dog, and

SPOILERS UNTIL THE END

we get to the final showdown with Clybourn, Judy, Sylvia, and one of the drivers.

Sylvia put together the reunion with Clybourn because she was the one that pulled the trigger. That moment ruined her life and now she’s a sex worker and alcoholic. She blames Judy, the one who engineered the sister’s death out of jealousy, for ruining her life. Clybourn says he was never going to kill any of them, but that Judy outed herself by murdering all her sisters. Now he’s going to kill her by using a Gatling gun loaded with a mix of real and dummy bullets because that echoes the hazing ritual.

The driver, who’d just been knocked out, wakes up, attacks Clybourn, and frees Judy. Sylvia gets shot in the back by Clybourn and, as Judy and the driver are running across the grounds, Judy manages to shoot Clybourn, causing him to fall to his death. The driver throws a makeshift bomb at the gate, clearing their path, and, as they reach the car, Judy shoots him so there will be no witnesses to the events.

THE END

I’d watched this the last time I tried to make my way through all these box sets, and I remembered the movie half-fondly. Instead of rewatching that version, I hopped onto OSI 74 to watch Bunny Galore’s Movie Nightmares version which, I’m sorry to say, was a little disappointing. Galore doesn’t do much with the movie in her host segments, only offering one brief “so far in our film” and two sketches. Most of the host segments are just her standing on a basement stair saying, “You’re watching Sisters of Death on Movie Nightmares.” I wanted more.

It didn’t help that the movie itself was pretty underwhelming the second time through. The extended introduction of each character on their way to the rendezvous is just padding. Judy and Sylvia’s introductions work because they’re supposed to be the main characters and they’re done well. Their phone call serves the dual purpose of providing exposition and establishing the characters’ situation and relationship. I’d have liked to see more of that throughout the movie--characters talking about who and where they are now and what that night meant to them--instead of the focus on these two dipshit drivers who suddenly become the protagonists. We know they’re good guys because one tells the other, “You’re a good guy,” apropos of nothing.

A lot of the movie is people sitting around not understanding what’s going on and then getting killed when off-screen. The movie’s interesting in that it’s a precursor to the slasher flick, and it’s not terribly put together, but it does provoke a lot of eye-rolling and clock-glances on its way to the end. It’s not bad, but not great either, and maybe that makes it easily riffable. Also, it does have some good shots so there’s plenty that could be used in editing projects if you’re so inclined.

There is a Rifftrax version of this and the movie itself is in the public domain. I’ve uploaded an MPEG-2 copy to archive.org here so you can make your own fun, whatever form that takes.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

205. The House That Screamed

205. The House That Screamed aka La residencia (1970)
Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Writers: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador from a story by Juan Tébar
From: Pure Terror
A girl is sent to a strict boarding school where she has to survive the perverted inclinations of the headmistress and desires of the head girl. However, there may be a more dire threat wandering the halls.
A curious film in that there’s very little that happens, but manages to be compelling nonetheless. We start with Sra. Fourneau leading a class on dictation when one of the girls refuses to do her work. Fourneau sends her to solitary confinement and then meets with the guardian of Teresa, a new student at the school. As Fourneau gives them a tour of the grounds, Teresa thinks she sees someone or something following them. She’s admitted to the school and, that night, a trio of girls join Fourneau in punishing the student who was acting up earlier in the day. The head girl takes particular delight in whipping her. Once everyone’s gone to bed, Fourneau confronts her son Luis who was the one peeping on Teresa during the tour. She tells him none of the girls here are good enough for him because they’ve all been “marked” in some way, and that once he gets older he’ll find a proper girl just like his mother.

And that’s it for the setup. Luis is a peeping Tom who meets with a specific girl regularly. She finds a note signed by him with keys to help her escape. When she uses them, someone grabs her in the greenhouse and stabs her to death. It’s forty minutes before this death happens, by the way. No one knows that she’s dead, though. They all assume she escaped, so there’s no panic developing within the school, just a general loathing of Fourneau and fear of the head girl’s wrath.

I’m going to leave it there. The movie has a staggeringly low body count, but maintains a really nice tone throughout. It’s focused on a sordid place and location, but the movie itself doesn’t become sordid. There are overtones of lesbianism, incest, sadism, but they’re always done with the lightest touch. The element is suggested, and then stepped away from. It's just enough for you to get the sense of how it's effecting the characters.

If anything, this feels like a less lurid and dreamlike Suspiria, trading those elements for more of a Gothic foreboding. There’s always the question of what exactly is happening at this school and who’s responsible for it.

The movie takes a curious turn at the end by switching the primary POV character and has a conclusion that’s shocking, but I'm not sure is earned. It’s certainly a horrific ending and clever, but it feels almost unrelated to the content of the film. You could stick it at the end of nearly any film and it’s feel just as coherent.

That said, I really liked this one. It was weird, creepy, and doesn’t get super exploitative or perverse. There is a shower scene, but everyone is showering in their shift which just seems to defeat the purpose of both a shower and a shower scene. How can you take a shower with your clothes on? And isn’t a shower scene supposed to be about casual nudity? The scene itself has a purpose, but I was legitimately confused by the clothes.

This is a strong recommend, though. I’ve avoided saying too much about the content because while there isn’t a whole lot, I liked the tension developed by not knowing what was happening. As autumn is approaching, this is something to enjoy with popcorn and cider.

Friday, September 08, 2017

204. Throw Out the Anchor!

204. Throw Out the Anchor! (1974)
Director: John Hugh
Writer: John Hugh
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
A man travels to Florida with his children to rent a boat for two months, but learns that the only boat available is a rotting tub. He, along with the ragtag group that lives in the surrounding swamp, makes the boat seaworthy and joins the group in an effort to save their homes from developers.
Johnathon visits a marina asking if it’s Cuppler’s Corner and is turned away. The man running the marina calls our eventual kind-of villain on a nearby boat to alert him to Johnathon’s question. That night, Johnathon arrives at Cuppler’s Corner where he meets Cap, a drunk that took the deposit for a boat via mail. Johnathon has traveled all the way from New York with his two children to rent the boat for two months. Unfortunately, Cap has drunk away the deposit and there are no boats available. All the boats are homes for the people living in the swamp—the black priest who’s initially shirtless, the maybe Indian foreign exchange student, and Cap’s housedress-and-curler-wearing wife that’s always berating him over his drinking. Johnathon threatens legal action, but Cap responds, “I got just one thing to say: I got a Jewish lawyer.”

Head::desk.

Before anyone calls on Mr. Katz the lawyer, Stevie, Johnathon’s daughter (and initiator of every dues ex machina), finds him and tells him their sob story. She says, basically, that her dad is always screwing up, but this time it’s not his fault. The lawyer tells her a story about how he got screwed over as a kid, but someone stood up for him. He then engineers a plan to get the family a boat and keep them from suing.

I want to linger on this moment because it’s pretty odd. Mr. Katz’s story is kind of affecting and undercuts any sense of this being a comedy. Instead, it makes it feel like a bit of a Hallmark movie-style feelgood family film. It draws attention to his late wife and his feelings about the area and lays out his moral compass in that he sees the opportunity to do right by someone as an obligation to do so. At the same time, it establishes Johnathon as a bumbler and screw-up which nothing else in the movie speaks to. He comes off as an angry, entitled white guy—the sheriff yelling at the hotel clerk in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He’s not the goofball Stevie’s plea implies that he is. At this point in the film, he reads as the villain, the guy the ragtag group has to convince not to seize their homes to turn into a parking lot.

They find him a boat, but it needs extensive repairs. In the course of repairing it, the ragtag group wins him over and he starts to fall in love with Lindy, a woman who won’t discuss her life outside of the swamp. As this is happening, the deputy sheriff keeps trying to serve Cap with papers and Cap keeps dodging him. The boat is finally finished and Johnathon strikes out to show his family all the beautiful nature, only there’s too much pollution and everything’s dead.

Yeah. Suddenly it’s an environmental film. The guy from the beginning pops back up here because he’s trying to get a highway built through the Corner and the county commissioner is running a scheme to buy up the land surrounding the forthcoming highway so his buddies can build condos. We find this out because Lindy is married to the head schemer.

Cap gets served, everyone has 30 days to clear out, and Johnathon comes back ready to fight. There’s a dredge sitting in the swamp so they come up with a plan to seize it. They take the dredge hostage, the Lt. Gov. comes down to talk with them, and there’s a bunch of attention on the situation because Stevie wrote a letter to the editor about how sad her daddy was that he couldn’t show her the nature. All the shady deals get revealed, the planned road is canceled saving everyone’s homes, and the dredge is accidentally blown up. Lindy goes home to divorce her husband and everyone has a happy ending. THE END.

I think I can sum up how misjudged this movie is with one phrase: unnecessary blackface. Blackface is, outside of stories about blackface, always unnecessary, but some movies that use it at least provide a narrative reason for it to happen. Here, in the (limp, unimpressive, unaffecting) climax, the son has his face blacked so that he “can act as the scout,” and then doesn’t scout anything. And doesn’t wash the makeup off for the rest of the movie. So, yeah.

Oh, oh no. Did you think you were funny?
That sums up the entire thing—it’s a comedy that’s wholly unaware of what it’s about or what’s funny. I wasn’t initially, and still am not 100%, convinced that it was even supposed to be a comedy despite the parody of the MGM logo at the start.

The movie never settles down into one plot. I mean, it takes twenty minutes for Johnathan to see the boat for the first time. Everything is a lead-up to him starting to work on the boat and getting to know everyone. And, really, that should be the plot. It should be this calm, Mary Poppins-esque story about a job-obsessed guy trying to hold his family together learning that a simpler life in the bayou is what they need. Instead it tries to be an environmental drama, a screwball comedy, and a “kids saving the rec center” plot, each in turn. And none of them are done well. The movie has the feel of Gilligan’s Island with an exploitation movie look, and that should be more fun than it is.

In the end, it’s just a bad movie—not funny-bad or good-bad, but just a boring, uninspired lump. The one thing to say in its favor is that it’s in the public domain, but there’s no real point in hunting it down—it’s not entertaining, it doesn’t invite much riffing, and doesn’t have good enough visuals to use in other projects. On top of that, both my copies have Mill Creek bugs on them so I can’t upload them to the Internet Archive. No big loss.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

203. Bloody Pit of Horror

203. Bloody Pit of Horror aka Il boia scarlatto (1965)
Director: Massimo Pupillo
Writers: Romano Migliorini and Roberto Natale
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org; Rifftrax
A group of models looking to shoot book covers goes into a castle that used to be the home of the torturous Crimson Executioner. It’s current resident starts killing them through various medieval means.
Another movie that I watched several times before in the pre-PD Project days. My copy came from The Dead Walk 10-Movie Pack. I already uploaded to the Internet Archive nearly eleven years ago. It’s a silly little piece of Italian not-quite sleaze, and I opted to watch the Rifftrax version this time around. During the opening credits featuring a car driving along a road for minutes on end, one of the riffs is, “Kind of a Manos goes to Europe feel about this.” They’re not wrong.

A group of cover girls arrives at a castle that their producer hopes to use as a set for book cover photos. Cause that was a thing at a time I guess? I was born in 1980 so my only experience with book cover models was Fabio, and even then, he’d pose for portraits as opposed to photos. But anyway. The castle is locked and no one answers the bell so, naturally, they break in. The owner initially tells them to leave, but relents upon seeing the producer’s female assistant. Then, during the shoots, a male model is impaled by a pendulum device.

The photography sequence reveals both the motive and tone of the movie—scantily-clad women in peril and a Scooby-Doo-ish level of camp.

Gradually every character ends up in a torture device at the whims of the Crimson Executioner, but everything looks terrible and hokey. The end result of every device is to gradually strip the women a little further than they are at the present moment. Imagine lingerie models having their lingerie removed literally thread-by-thread and you’ll have the right idea. There’s never any nudity, but there is the suggestion that with enough time, and if the victim doesn’t die, and the devices aren’t clearly cardboard, there might, eventually, conceivably, be a bit of titty.

I'm the metaphorical budget literalized!
I do have to note that the torture devices are at once hilariously cheap and hilariously convoluted. One women is tied to a spider web with a giant stuffed spider coming ever nearer to eventually prick her with a poisoned needle. No one can save her because the floor is criss-crossed with massive tripwires that will set off arrows embedded in the wall, killing whoever tripped them. Our hero tries to save her by crawling along the floor, which is pretty easy to do (as would be walking around the edge of the room or just stepping in the massive gaps between the tripwires), but gets there just a moment too late.

Huh?
I’m all over the place with this movie because it doesn’t follow any plot, it’s just, “people show up, start dying.” So the Crimson Executioner was a 17th-century madman obsessed with purity who tortured people he regarded as sinning to death. He gets sealed in the hokiest iron maiden I’ve ever seen and dies. The castle’s current owner is an ex body builder, also obsessed with human perfection, who lionizes the Crimson Executioner and starts murdering everyone in the castle. The woman he saw is his ex-fiancée, but when she tells him to stop killing, he rejects love as weak and an imperfection.

Anyway, inevitably the hero gets caught, escapes, the villain thinks he’s dead, but they have one final battle. The villain falls against one of his own traps, gets poisoned, and dies. By this point, everyone except the hero and the fiancée are dead, but it’s cool cause they’re each other’s love interest and they leave. THE END.

The movie’s stupid, but it’s short, clocking in at just under 75 minutes, and it’s just silly. It’s a cheapo exploitation flick, but it doesn’t fall into the trap a lot of those do by being grim or rapey. As I said above, it feels like an adult Scooby-Doo, only the gang is too stupid to figure out what’s really happening.

The movie’s in the public domain and, as mentioned above, I uploaded a copy here almost eleven years ago. The Rifftrax version is a much better print, but the riffing is only generally okay. It’s not bad, but it feels like they hammered on some things a bit and went for the obvious targets. You could do as well with a group of your friends, and I recommend you do. It’s not good enough to watch on its own, but perfect for laughing at with people, even kids in the preteen age group. Your mileage may vary, but it doesn’t get too sexually explicit and, like I said, there’s no nudity, so it may not be the worst movie to use to bring an 11 or 12-year-old into the world of riffing and camp cinema.

Friday, September 01, 2017

202. Slave of the Cannibal God

202. Slave of the Cannibal God aka La montagna del dio cannibale (1978)
Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Cesare Frugoni and Sergio Martino
From: Drive-In
A woman and her brother set out to find her missing explorer husband. It’s believed that he’s set off for the mountain of the cannibal God, but everyone on the trip is harboring secrets.
This one’s pretty grim, though competently produced. I initially expected it to be Cannibal Holocaust meets Heart of Darkness with the group finding the lost explorer leading the tribe as their mad king. I was half right. It’s closer to the film adaptation of Louise Linton’s memoirs, but less tone deaf.

Shut up. Gawd.
Susan (Ursula Andress) flies to New Guinea to meet her brother, Arthur, and go in search of her missing husband, Henry. They recruit Dr. Foster (Stacy Keach), the man who’d been working with Henry, but was kept in the dark about the final journey. Foster suspects Henry went to the mountain on the forbidden island of Roka because it’s the only place that Henry didn’t know by heart and the only destination he’d feel the need to keep a secret.

No one is allowed on the island, but the group sneaks their way on with a small crew that gets picked off one by one by natural and unnatural means—one’s eaten by an alligator, one’s caught in a trap, etc. Arthur’s behavior grows more erratic and a local that’s been by Foster’s side the whole time acts more and more suspiciously. Eventually, the group is attacked by people covered in white make-up wearing masks. The group escapes the masked attackers and ends up at a mission camp on the island.

Foster says the people they saw were "the Pooka," a cannibal tribe that had captured him six years prior. He’d only survived because he was able to cure a sick child and didn’t escape until another tribe attacked the Pooka, seemingly destroying them. After he tells this to Manolo, an explorer they meet at the mission, he and Manolo see a Pooka and Keach delivers the best terrible line of the movie, “That’s right! You don’t forget the taste of human flesh!” Horrible delivery, horrible smash cut after it, horrible music cue—it’s got everything!

So a Pooka attacks the mission the next night, kills a woman that’s hooking up with Arthur, and manages to stab Foster in the leg before Foster shoots and kills him. Turns out the Pooka was the local traveling with Foster and was the kid Foster had saved all those years ago. Because the group has brought this violence to the mission, the priest kicks them out and the quartet—Susan, Arthur, Foster, and, now, Manolo, seduced by Susan—set off to climb the mountain. Foster’s leg is injured and infected, but he wants to see that the tribe is dead. Susan admits she doesn’t believe her husband went to the mountain with any humanitarian purpose, he knew there was something there to make him rich.

On the way, Foster has trouble climbing a waterfall and Arthur lets him fall and die rather than help. Susan and Manolo find a cave with ritualistic markings and fresh corpses, meaning the tribe is still present and active, but when they try to tell Arthur, they find him running into a different cave. He’s found uranium and he and Susan threaten Manolo at gunpoint to help them sell the mineral rights to the “great powers.” Only the Pooka attack at that moment, kill Arthur, and take the other two prisoner.

In the tribe’s home, Susan and Manolo find Henry mummified and venerated as a god because the tribe thinks his Geiger counter is his heart. Since Henry had a picture of Susan with him, they think she’s a god too and ritualistically feed her part of her brother. Eventually, Manolo breaks free, releases Susan, and they, after some struggles, escape the tribe and the mountain. THE END.

This was one of the video nasties in Britain, a selection of movies so brutal and foul that they not only couldn’t be released at all, but led to an intensification of the censorship laws. Other films on the list included, of course, Cannibal Holocaust, The Driller Killer, and Faces of Death. You know, the films all of us of a certain age heard about growing up for featuring "real death." Curiously, the list also included the Clint Howard vehicle Evilspeak, Don’t Look in the Basement, and The Evil Dead.

Scholarship about the moral panic around video nasties is pretty interesting, especially since some of the movies, like The Driller Killer, ended up on the list just for their advertising, not due to any content in the film. Looking back at many of the films on the list, yes, there are disturbing themes (anything cannibal related or set in a Nazi prison camp seemed to automatically make the list, which, fair enough), but most of the movies are simply bad when they’re not just silly. And there are several that, not in spite of, but because of their outré content, do something interesting and are substantial films because of it. Cannibal Holocaust is grim, but it arguably has a moral purpose underlying its story.

Slave of the Cannibal God can’t make the same claim. It’s a cheap, but competent, exploitation flick trying to jump on the cannibal-film bandwagon. It’s ripping off Cannibal Holocaust to the degree that it even features real on-screen deaths of animals, and that’s never acceptable. Apparently the scenes of animal torture and death weren’t in the original movie, but the distributors told the director Martino to put them in. Various sources make reference to a monkey being flung into the mouth of a snake, which I didn’t see in my cut. Mine did contain the eviscerating and skinning of a live lizard, though, so it’s not like this version is more palatable.

And that’s what sinks this movie. It moves okay, it’s competently done on every level, but you gotta watch animals getting tortured and killed. That’s my line, that’s my limit, and it’s not, in any way, a difficult stance to take. You gotta give this one a pass.