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.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

201. Women of Devil's Island

Image from IMDB
201. Women of Devil’s Island aka Le prigioniere dell’isola del diavolo (1962)
Director: Domenico Paolella
Writer: Domenico Paolella
From: Drive-In
Women exiled to a French prison island and forced to mine for gold try to both survive and escape their venal captors. Salvation seems to come with the arrival of a compassionate captain, but his motives are unsure.
This movie’s curious just on a physical level, before we even get to any of the content of the movie. The version I have is from American International Pictures’ television distributors so this is the TV cut. That’s fine, but this not only clearly a bad VHS rip—tracking errors are still present—it’s taken from an original print so old and worn that all the color has been leeched away. This movie isn’t in black and white, it’s all in sun-bleached sepia tones, which was not the intention. On top of all that, there isn’t even a title card. There’s never a moment on my copy where the actual title of the movie appears. I have other movies from these sets where that happens, but I’ve never had the distributor’s logo pop up and then cut directly to the movie. The opening credits were actively removed at some point which is just strange.

We open with a group of women being taken to the titular Devi’s Island to serve out prison sentences for various crimes—thievery, sex work, etc. Among them is Martine Foucher who’s been sentenced to live on the island, seemingly for political reasons. Her father was a bureaucrat who fell out of favor, he sister was previously exiled to this island, and now it’s her turn.

They arrive and are introduced to the evil Lt. Lefèvre who’s intent on working them to death. Martine finds her sister posing as Jeanette, a woman sentenced for sex work but who died on the way over. Jeanette is working on a plan to escape with several other women and brings Martine in. However, they don’t invite another prisoner to join them and she rats them out. All the escapees are captured and Jeanette is shot in the back.

The “Old Testament logic” I’ve mentioned before on this blog is kind of in play here. Jeanette sleeps with Lefèvre to facilitate the escape and get access to the island’s gold. Despite being one of the good guys, in terms of movies as moral spaces, she dies for having sinned. Likewise, at the end of the movie, the rat dies as well. It’s a noble death, but she’s sinned so the movie has to punish her.

Anyway, a French ship arrives early and Captain Vallière arrives, taking control of operations from Lefèvre. The captain’s first orders are that the escapees be released from torture and that the women not be abused or sexually assaulted by the guards. He starts falling in love with Martine, but it turns out he’s a pirate posing as a French officer and steals all the gold.

He’s not a bad pirate, though. He’s stealing to fund the revolution and so goes back to the island to save Martine and one of his comrades that got left behind. His boat crashes on the island, he’s found by the rat who protects his secret, and Martine accidentally leads the guards to his hiding space. As he’s about to be hung, the rat grabs a torch, admits to what she’s done, and sets fire to several barrels of gunpowder.

The captain arms the women, they start fighting the French guards, and the pirates arrive on the shore. Martine kills Lefèvre, the guards are all killed by the women and pirates, and the survivors all leave on the ship to join the revolution. THE END.

The movie’s a little odd structurally. The plot of a woman being exiled to a prison island, finding her sister there, and then participating in an escape plan should be enough to carry a movie on its own, but that’s just the first thirty minutes here. The sister’s dead a little under halfway through (the TV cut is very short, by the way. IMDB says this is 86 minutes long. My copy was 73) and then Martine kind of becomes a supporting character. The movie becomes the captain’s story, and even that runs through several iterations before the movie ends.

In the end, the whole thing’s just kind of weird. I don’t know what they were aiming for story-wise, the print is really messed up, and it’s never really that interesting. It’s not bad, but that means it’s not funny-bad either. As a whole, it’s pretty mediocre and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Friday, August 25, 2017

200. Horrors of Spider Island

200. Horrors of Spider Island aka Body in the Web aka Ein Toter hing im Netz (1960)
Director: Fritz Böttger
Writers: Fritz Böttger, Eldon Howard, and Albert G. Miller
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org
A group of dancers flying to Singapore crashes in the ocean and washes up on a deserted island. Their boss gets bitten by a giant spider and transforms into a murderous monster. Will they survive long enough to escape the island?
The 200th movie! Due to repeats on these sets, this is movie 251/400 which means I have only 149 movies left to go—74 and 1/2 more weeks of this. I’ll be doing this until January 26, 2019. Jesus, how is this my life? However, while it was random chance that Horrors of Spider Island came up as the 200th film, it’s kind of appropriate. I watched this more than nine years ago during the first iteration of the PD project, uploaded it then, and there’s an MST3k version of it. The whole purpose of getting these Mill Creek sets and watching all the movies in them was to find public domain films that I could add to the Internet Archive so they could be used—by me or others—in an MST3k-style midnight movie show. By sheer luck, this movie brings all those elements together in one package.

Naturally, it sucks. I mean, c’mon, irony rules o’er all and Murphy’s Law always applies. Despite this movie’s short runtime (just under 75 minutes) very little happens and there’s a lot of padding. We start with the would-be dancers sitting outside the promoter’s office waiting for a chance to audition. He arrives, they each take turns performing, and he accepts or rejects them according to some standard. The purpose of the scene is just for him to ogle the women and to give the audience the chance to do the same.

They fly to Singapore, but the plane crashes in a hilarious bit of stock footage intercut with screams. The survivors (it’s never clear how many, if any, of the women died) eventually find an island with a cabin containing the body of a scientist in a giant web. The promoter cleans the cabin out and they all settle in.

“Settling in,” by the way, means starting to snipe at each other and competing to attempt to seduce the promoter. He’s the only man on the island so what else are you going to do?

Not much, apparently because, on the first (second?) night, he takes a walk and gets bitten by a giant spider that’s been mutated by the uranium on the island. He turns into a weird-looking monster and runs away for the majority of the rest of the film.

The women strike languorous poses, argue with each other, and cavort in various swimming holes for a month before a ship arrives with two men. They find the girls, one falls in love with one immediately while the other keeps shifting his attention from girl to girl. The monster shows back up, kills some of the girls, the womanizing guy, and then the survivors drive him into quicksand where he drowns. Then they all get on the boat and leave. THE END.

It’s empty, silly, and dull, but at least it’s in the public domain. I think it’s telling that Mystery Science Theater 3000, which had its share of boring flicks, left this one alone until the tenth and (then) final season. The movie’s in the public domain so they could have used it at any time. That they waited so long to do it and that ShoutFactory, who’s currently distributing all the DVDs of the show, waited until seemingly the penultimate set of episodes to release it speaks to how empty the film is. I mean, there are a few hilariously bad shots early on, but that’s about it. You basically have an hour of nothing going on.

As I mentioned above, I uploaded a copy here years ago and you can read some reviews there. The one-star ones are usually the funniest. I don’t particularly recommend it outside of editing projects. You get some nice monster shots which could be fun for a video or a background mix for Halloween, but that’s about all.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

199. Panic

199. Panic (1982)
Director: Tonino Ricci
Writers: Victor Andrés Catena and Jaime Comas Gil
From: Chilling
A bioweapon infects a scientist in a small British town, turning him into a monster and leaving the city in quarantine. As the residents start to panic, they find themselves harried both by the monster and their own fears.
We open with lab rats attacking each other. Men in biohazard suits rush in, but one gets a facefull of some sort of chemical leaving smoking green lesions. The lab’s lead assistant is then talking to the head of the company about the importance of keeping it all a secret. Meanwhile, something stalks a couple making out in the backseat of a car and kills them both.

Captain Kirk (no, really, that’s the character’s name), is tasked by an intelligence agency to investigate the chemical spill and the seeming disappearance of the lead scientist. The chemical company, it turns out, only makes light pharmaceuticals like aspirin and whatnot as a cover for their multi-million dollar chemical weapons projects. Captain Kirk is paired with a local cop who’s leading the investigation into the murder.

More deaths happen and the cops notice that there’s no blood left behind. The higher-ups are getting nervous and so enact “Plan Q” where the entire town will be liquidated to prevent both the disease as well as information about it from getting out. The town is put under quarantine and has all telephone and broadcast capabilities cut off. Kirk now has a deadline to find either the doctor or a cure before everyone gets killed.

People in the town start getting antsy. They’re seeing people die, soldiers are surrounding the town, and no one is telling them anything. A long line of cars tries to challenge one of the blockades, but the soldiers shoot the lead car and scare everyone away.

Eventually Kirk and the cop figure out the doctor is traveling from point to point through the sewers and the assistant, being an idiot, keeps refusing to cooperate with Kirk, insisting that they don’t know the doctor is actually the monster or that he’s even infected. She eventually develops a cure for the disease, but it’ll take several hours to take effect and the plane carrying the bomb is already less than an hour away.

They find the doctor in the sewer, the assistant figures out where he’ll pop up and meets him there with the cure. Kirk shows up, though, and starts hosing the doctor down with a different chemical weapon that finally kills him. Just before time runs out, Kirk gets a message to London and the plane turns back. THE END.

The movie never decides what it wants to be. You have a monster movie with the doctor as some zombie vampire CHUD wandering the sewers, but he’s barely in the movie and only attacks about four people. There’s Kirk’s investigation which is played up as a mystery, initially, but is always kind of obvious. You have the townspeople gradually becoming aware of what’s happening and responding to the quarantine, but that’s only for one scene even though the movie’s called Panic. And on top of all of that, there’s the story of these high-level bureaucrats making the decision to murder an entire town of people rather than let the disease escape. There’s just too much going on.

That said, the movie still manages to be boring. You have all this plot, all this incident, but never any tension. Even though the final scene of the plane approaching the town with the bomb has a timer running in the corner, there’s no sense of impending disaster. It’s counting down from two minutes. You’d think that timer would continue to run as we see Kirk and the assistant trying to get the message to London, the higher-ups in London trying to get the message to the plane, all of it as the timer gets closer and closer to zero. Instead, the timer’s running, we see the pilots, and one gets a message calling the thing off with about a minute to spare. The movie never has a moment’s tension and so isn’t a recommend. The monster make-up, in the very end, is pretty good, but not enough to tip the scales to encourage anyone to see this.

Friday, August 18, 2017

198. Alien Species

198. Alien Species (1996)
Director: Peter Maris
Writer: Nancy Newbauer
From: Cult Cinema
In the environmentally-devastated post-apocalyptic Earth of 1999, a new group of aliens arrives with plans to colonize the planet.
Arriving at your local Blockbuster the same year as Independence Day comes the mockbuster Alien Species. At least, I think it’s trying to rip off Independence Day. Species itself was 1995 and this doesn’t seem to be aping that movie much. All this, though, is a delaying tactic to spare me from having to discuss this cat turd in a candy wrapper generously called “a film.”

We open with an extended sequence of cheap 90’s CGI which, granted, made me nostalgic for the truly “bless their heart” worthy moments among backyard filmmakers. “Cut a movie on your PC and score it with SoundBlaster16!” This, though, isn’t the work of people eagerly angling to make a film by any means necessary. This is much worse.

Over the CGI we get the story of the Earth as it is now: In the far-off future of 1999 (three years after this movie was released), a “mighty armada will dominate the Earth” leading to massive environmental devastation. Don’t expect to see any of that or any lingering effects of the armada, by the way. That’s just backstory. To nothing.

In a basement laboratory that turns out to not be in a basement, two scientists are tracking a bootlegged signal from NASA satellites. Their boss, the professor, is off on vacation and so unreachable when they realize they’re seeing evidence of UFOs approaching Earth. When they calculate the rate of speed and the broadcast delay, they realize the aliens are arriving RIGHT NOW! But without the energy implied by all caps or an exclamation point.

Several abduction sequences of no consequence later, we cut to a small town Sheriff's office where the biggest name in the movie, Charles Napier, is making everyone wonder why Bruce Campbell isn’t playing his role. He’s the Sheriff who’s idiot brother-in-law is tasked with transporting two prisoners to county. The prisoners and the two cops escorting them get in the “police van” (bread delivery truck) and leave. Charles Napier stays in town, starts seeing evidence of the invasion, shouts at the media, and gently vanishes from the film to cash his paycheck.

Thus we arrive at the central story: the police truck gets waved down by a trio that have had an accident—the professor, his granddaughter, and his assistant. The professor is injured and the cops, after pointing their guns at trio, take them into the police van. Aliens blow them off the road and the entire group runs to take shelter in nearby caves.

The caves, of course, turn out to be an underground base for the aliens. They’ve been here for a while, but the government didn’t listen to the professor and his warnings. Inevitably, everyone dies except the assistant, the granddaughter, and one of the prisoners who wasn’t actually bad. The trio set off an explosion at the heart of the base, escape with a bit of alien tech, and that should be the end of the movie.

But it’s not. The nerd from the basement in the first sequence, somehow, comes across them in his car and starts explaining about the invasion. They realize the aliens are following them because of the tech they stole and, somehow, realize it’s the secret to disabling the ships’ shields. The criminal pulls a bazooka (?!) from the car, the nerd uses the alien tech to hack into the ship’s systems, and the criminal shoots it with the bazooka. The invading force flees, but the criminal says they’ll be back with bigger weapons since they now know we can fight back. DUN DUN! THE END!

God, this is remarkably stupid. I mean, everything I watch from these sets is bad, but this is Best of the Worst, maybe even Wheel of the Worst fodder. Everything looks like outtakes from a SegaCD game. I, in a very real way, don’t know how to talk about it.

Everything is terrible. The acting is bad, the story makes no sense, the effects are garbage, and it’s dull. It’s thoroughly dull throughout. The movie made me want to learn how to make gifs because even the level of greenscreen using during the driving sequences rivals Toonces, the Driving Cat, but I don’t know that a gif could communicate it. Just the unending cascades of awfulness in this film.

I mean, to focus on just one element, it has that intro talking about the invading armada, but everything happens in the world as we know it without any reaction as though aliens have already invaded. Except, in the end, the characters make reference to the previous invasion of the armada. And then there’s a bazooka? I just… My brain hurts thinking about this.

I don’t want to recommend it, but I almost feel like I have to. It’s such a garbage fire that it really is a “seeing is believing” moment. I mean, it feels like a porno with all the sex scenes cut out, but with worse acting. This may be the first movie I’ve watched in this project that has legitimately left me agog. The Patriot is a colossal mess, but at least it’s ridiculous. This… I’m still left asking myself, “Did I really just watch that?”

Saturday, August 12, 2017

197. Blue Money

197. Blue Money (1972)
Director: Alain Patrick
Writers: Nick Boretz from a story by Alain Patrick
From: Cult Cinema
Jim is an underground porno producer/director trying to make enough money to pay off his boat so he and his family can leave the industry. However challenges from crooked distributors to police busts keep pushing him deeper.
How does Wikipedia describe this movie? “Blue Money is a 1972 American soft core porn film written and directed by Alain Patrick as Alain-Patrick Chappuis and based upon a story by Nick Boretz.” Hoo boy. And let’s note that Patrick is also the star of the movie. So it’s a porno written, directed, and starring one guy. I’m sure it’s going to be a measured character study.

Oh wait, no, this is going to be on The Room spectrum. My patience for this flick is right near zero from jump street. First thing I notice, Patrick’s delivery is just a step above Tommy Wiseau’s. This bites.

The story, in brief. Jim is a porno director/producer. The cops are monitoring him because they’re trying to bust all the distributors and producers. Distributors are screwing Jim and his partner over, always shorting them by exactly $1,000, and Jim is starting to face marital problems from the stress of his job. He loves his wife and kid and is constantly working on finishing the houseboat they’ve been building so they can get away from it all, but, as his wife notes, he’s become more distant and depressed the longer he’s been working in the industry.

Jim becomes infatuated with a new actress which makes him resistant to casting her, but she begs and he relents. Then he has an affair with her. Which doesn’t come to much until the very end when his wife sees the two of them together, ironically right after he’s told the mistress he’s not going to cheat on his wife anymore, which leads to a big fight.

At the same time as the fight, the cops are cracking down on every level of the industry and Jim’s partner bails because he’s obtained funding for an independent film. Jim, desperate to make one last movie and finally pay off the boat, shoots in his own house (after his wife has left him, temporarily). The cops raid the house, arrest everyone, which leads to a discussion between Jim and the cop about how the courts will let him off because of free speech, but they arrested him just to inconvenience him and cost him money. The cop specifically says it’s to bring Jim down to everyone else’s level. Jim responds that all the “normal” people the cop wants him to be like are the ones buying the films and it’s not up to the cop how he lives.

The movie closes with Jim and his family relaxing on their boat.

God, this sucked. It’s slow, joyless, and self-important. It’s a nudie flick with a message. What that message is, though, I couldn’t tell you because it doesn’t seem to be particularly on the pornographer’s side. So how are we supposed to read his argument against the cop at the end? Is he right to be pushing back against this authoritarianism or is he just offering shallow self-justification? On the other hand, can you honestly draw an anti-porn message from a softcore porn flick?

One big thing holding the movie back is just how joyless it is. This is a porno film that’s slow, dim, and miserable. No one’s having any fun—are you turned on yet? You could tell an interesting story about porn as a business, how it’s work, and, in being work, how it can be dehumanizing, and that movie is Boogie Nights. This movie’s trying to have its cake and eat it too—being a softcore porno, existing exclusively to showcase female nudity and simulated sex acts, but offering up criticisms of pornography. It’s a movie that’s trying to sneer at the very thing it is.

So a big ol’ skip recommended here. It’s a nudie flick without any fun that thinks it’s being bold. Let it sit in the corner smelling its own farts while you do something more fun with your time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

196. Savage Journey

196. Savage Journey (1983)
Director: Tom McGowan
Writer: Philip Yordan
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
The story of the rise of the Mormon church and it’s eventual settlement in Utah.
We open with a scene of Joseph Smith being kidnapped from his home. He’s about to be lynched when a local preacher stops the mob, noting there are too many of them present to get away with it. So they tar and feather him instead, leaving him tied up. The preacher’s wife shows up and cuts him loose because what’s been done to him is wrong, and the movie is off and running!

Or generally limping along.

I’m not going to go through the plot of this movie because there isn’t one. It’s about Joseph Smith meeting Brigham Young and how the latter ends up developing the church into what it is today. Only it doesn’t communicate that story. There’s no sense of drama, tension, or focus. Rather than focus on a particularly dramatic moment in the development of the Mormon church, it tends to gloss the entire history, never focusing much on any one thing.

If there’s a narrative throughline, it’s the story of Samuel. Brigham Young, during his first mission trip, encounters Samuel and his wife Claire. They’ve immigrated from Europe and Samuel has become an atheist or at least an agnostic due to his rejection of aristocratic corruption. His position is, “How can God be good when He allows such suffering?” Basically it’s the question of theodicy which has never been satisfactorily answered. Claire, though, becomes a member of the church and the couple follow Smith and Young across the country as the church is routinely driven from their homes.

Samuel, narratively, is supposed to be the point-of-view character, the outsider who’s eventually won over to the faith thereby communicating the righteousness of Mormonism. The movie doesn’t spend enough time with him to do that, though, only checking in with him in each town for him to say, “I ain’t a Mormon yet,” and, “What? We’re moving again? Oh, c’mon!” At the end, of course, he converts. If that’s the story you want to tell, fine, even my unbelieving heart likes stories of faith journeys, but actually tell it.

Instead, we generally follow Young (Smith is killed by a mob halfway through) and there’s no real character there. He’s deeply dedicated to the faith and that’s about it. Various things happen, but I’m not Mormon so their importance or significance don’t register, and the movie is counting on you having that context. This isn’t a dramatization of the early Mormon church, it’s an illustration. You have to plug in the details yourself. “Oh, this is that moment. So that’s what it looked like. Oh, the Governor is lying to Smith right now! This is tense.” You have to come with that knowledge. The movie doesn’t give you any of these cues itself.

Initially, I thought this was going to be propaganda or a proselytizing work, but it doesn’t even reach those levels. It’s very much addressing an audience with a shared context and not making a great effort to talk to anyone else. There are nods to outsiders—the church’s stance on race (officially anti-slavery, but fails to mention their belief that non-white people are marked as cursed by God) and polygamy—but they feel incidental, like literal asterisks. Regarding polygamy, Young finds out about Smith’s declaration of it, tells his wife he’s not interested in having a second wife, then she picks a young widow for him to marry. The way it’s played up is, instead of having a harem, it fills Young’s house with a gaggle of gossiping women. Later, when representatives from the government ask Young about the church’s stance on polygamy, he plays it up as a mercy, as widows and spinsters being taken in and given a home—it’s not some creepy sex thing, it’s like an animal shelter, for women!

The movie’s kind of just nothing. If it focused in more on a specific moment, it’d be more interesting, but that’s not its goal. This is a movie for Mormons, part of that genre of Christian media whose primary purpose is to fill time to prevent secular media from having a space. It’s not being held to the standard of being good, it’s being held to the standard of being ideologically correct. As long as it reinforces the central message of “keep thinking about the church,” it passes. Unsurprisingly, the pair behind this movie did another one just called Brigham. I imagine it’s a very similar script.

McGowan and Yordan themselves are an interesting pair, though. Yordan wrote the script for the hallucinogenically bad Cry Wilderness, episode 2 of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return and the two of them did Night Train to Terror (forthcoming on this blog) and Cataclysm aka The Nightmare Never Ends. In other words, they’re exploitation hacks. Here they’re just exploiting an audience that’s willing to be pandered to. It’s neither offensive nor dramatic and just kind of meanders along. I don’t particularly recommend it, but it’s not hard to find if you’re curious.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

195. Primal Impulse

195. Primal Impulse aka Le Orme (1975)
Directors: Luigi Bazzoni and Mario Fanelli
Writers: Luigi Bazzoni and Mario Fanelli from a novel by Mario Fanelli
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
A woman awakens to discover she’s lost three days. She starts to follow little clues scattered through her life that lead her to a small seaside town. Only, once she arrives, the mystery deepens.
We open with a man being stranded on the moon as part of an experiment. Who he is, why he’s being left behind, and what the experiment is aren’t revealed. It turns out this is all a recurring dream of Alice, an international translator.

And while that would normally be a red flag in a movie—opening with a dream sequence—it kind of works here. There is an overriding dream-logic to this movie. Grindhouse Review describes it as “Lynchian,” which is apt, and I think there are tonal elements that hearken back to Argento. There are layers of reality and performance at work here. Alice’s dream, for instance, is of a movie she saw as a child called Footsteps On the Moon (an alternative title for this movie) that terrified her so much that she never saw the end of it.

Alice is awoken from the dream by a friend asking to be picked up from the airport, but Alice had forgotten she was coming to town. She sits down to finish up transcribing and translating a tape and then goes to work. It’s Monday. Before she leaves the house, she finds a postcard for the Hotel Garma torn into four pieces laying on her floor.

When she gets to work, though, she learns that it’s actually Thursday and another person had been brought in to do her job. She tries to figure out what happened over the course of those missing days and eventually goes to Garma since she has some vague memories of the place.

Once she arrives, she meets a child who recognizes her as “Nicole” and says she’d been there the previous week. She starts to find more clues that fill in the gap of her lost days, but also starts to wonder if there isn’t something else afoot.

An interesting little flick that’s diminished by a cheap translation. There are long periods without background music and, what music there is, tends to be one piano cue over and over. However, the central story, that central mystery, really carries the piece. A detail here, a detail there, all start pointing to something. Unfortunately, the mystery is more interesting than the revelation. That may well be a challenge of having a good mystery, though. Few things could satisfactorily answer the questions of Alice’s situation, but, even keeping that in mind, the end still felt like a bit of a cop-out. Because I did find the mystery so compelling, though, I haven’t revealed the end here and won’t. Also, Rotten Tomatoes notes that there are various versions of this movie so a different cut may have a better ending. The description they have there doesn’t follow the order of events on my copy and they offer run times ranging from 88 to 110 minutes (my copy is 92 minutes).

I’d call this a light recommend. Because of the flat colors and so-so ending, it’s not as good as it could be. However, it’s not bad and manages to be naturally compelling. I was constantly asking, “What’s going on?” but not in the way I do with most of these movies. Every new detail, every revelation just drew me deeper into the story, and that’s an accomplishment. However, it might be worth hunting down the original Italian version and watching that.

Friday, August 04, 2017

194. Rattlers

194. Rattlers (1976)
Director: John McCauley
Writers: Jerry Golding, John McCauley
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
Watch: archive.org
A herpetologist investigating unusual rattlesnake attacks starts to uncover a military conspiracy.
We open with two shitty kids going to play in a canyon. They fall into a snake pit, get all kinds of bit, and die. Frankly, great start, really great start. Until the credits are done, I’m convinced this movie has its heart in the right place.

Then we get to the main character, Tom. His names important because it’s what distinguishes him from Dick and Harry, you know, the trio of uninteresting, indistinguishable men. Tom is a herpetologist and a college professor—think Indiana Jones, but without the charisma, charm, or excitement. He’s asked by the local sheriff to come down and inspect the bodies in case there’s anything unusual. He looks, says, “Them’s snakebites,” and collects his check.

Only more people start dying from snake attacks. A kid is attacked in a barn and his mom is overwhelmed by snakes in her house. A plumber gets bit and the snakes attack the woman in the house by crawling through the pipes. I think there are others, but I can’t remember or care. The deaths aren’t given any weight whatsoever in the movie so each scene of a new character just becomes a dull countdown to their inevitable death by snake.

Tom returns at the sheriff’s request and is paired with a photographer, Ann. Tom is very upset that Ann’s a woman since there’s no way she can handle the work ahead—some light hiking and overnight camping. She’s just back from two years in the Vietnam press pool, by the way, but, yeah, sure, this will be too much for her delicate feminine sensibilities.

This isn’t me being PC, the movie makes a special point, several times, to complain about “women’s lib” and Ann not being willing to know her place. All this despite her being more than capable of doing the work. And the movie actively takes a stand against her. She calls Tom out for there not being enough women in various fields and says he has the power to change that. He brushes her off, but this is literally right after he’s fought with the sheriff over having her assigned as his partner—he’s actively preventing a woman from doing work she’s capable of, but she’s the crazy one.

Anyway, they eventually realize there’s a military base nearby all the attacks and go there. They learn from doctor in the lab who specializes in biological materials that a soldier died from particularly aggressive snakebites a few months prior. Then a helicopter pilot tells Tom about depositing a container of something in an abandoned mine.

Tom and Ann investigate the mine, find a massive nest of snakes, and go have a romantic weekend in Vegas. No, that’s literally how the story progresses. They’re looking for the source of all these snake attacks, find it, then bounce to Vegas without telling anyone about the nest.

They return to their tent where they’re attacked by snakes but saved at the last minute by the military. Two soldiers have been killed by snakebite and the doctor isn’t willing to keep quiet anymore. Twist! They were working on chemical weapons at the base and disposed of a leaking canister of something that makes animals hyper-violent. The base Colonel was the mastermind, kills the doctor, and runs to the abandoned mine for one last standoff for reasons. The whys of any of this will constantly elude you. He shoots at some cops, cops shoot back, he trips while holding a grenade and falls into a snake pit where he blows up, sealing the mine once again. Tom and Ann drive off together to settle back down near the college. THE END.

The movie is just so much nothing. No tension, no mystery, no humor. It’s just stagnant from the word “go.” Even the riffing from the Cinematic Titanic version I watched couldn’t energize this sodden lump. The movie has plenty to make fun of and vast stretches of silence, but it seemed like even the riffers were drawn into the fetid languor of the whole thing and half-dozed through their jokes. And I say this as a fan of Cinematic Titanic. I was lucky enough to see them riff a total of six movies live. Rattlers sapped any energy they had.

So, obviously I’m not recommending it. The movie is, at least, in the public domain so you can find a copy at archive.org. I can’t add a new copy because Mill Creek wiped themselves on both copies I have. Not a great loss, though. Like I said, there’s not much here to watch.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

193. Hyper Sapien: People From Another Star

193. Hyper Sapien: People From Another Star (1986)
Director: Peter R. Hunt
Writers: Christopher Adcock, Christopher Blue, and Marnie Page from a story by Christopher Blue
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
Two aliens stow away on a ship bound for Earth to prove their species can live in peace with humans. They meet a teenaged Wyoming farmhand and start to discover the deeper meaning of humanity.
If you follow my Instagram/Twitter at all, you know I’ve spent the previous evening watching candles melt which has been an absolute delight. This may be evidence that I’ve been watching too many of these movies. Regardless, I’m looking to rush through this post so I can get back to melting wax.

The first thing to note about this movie is that it’s not supposed to be a crappy bargain-basement movie. It’s executive produced by Talia Shire—Adrian from Rocky—and directed by Peter Hunt who previously directed On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That’s right, the sixth Bond film. So this isn’t made by amateurs or hacks. These are people trying to make a serious film.

Obviously it’s a trainwreck of the first order.

We start with people entering and exiting a spaceship when Robyn and Tavy sneak out to stay on Earth. A spinny orange blur follows them. Oh no! Could a monster be following them?

No, because the movie doesn’t feature any kind of conflict like that. To crib a line from We Hate Movies, this is made for stupid babies.

This still has its own hole in the ozone layer
The first thing to note is Robyn and Tavy’s terrible wigs. Their hair is so feathered it looks like they just pulled their heads out of a cotton candy machine. They look like they’ve just stepped out of a wind tunnel. It’s so big and so bad and it never really gets under control throughout the movie.

Cut to our Earthling hero, Dirt. Yes, his name is “Dirt.”

Come on, movie. This is just. . . You don’t need to make it this easy.

He sleeps in a hammock with a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and dog tags. When he wakes up, he doesn’t get out of the hammock onto the floor, he crawls from rope to rope hanging from his ceiling. His walls are covered with clocks telling the times in other time zones and he carries a pocket tape recorder where he dictates a fictionalized, grandiose version of his own life.

Oh Christ almighty.

So he rides off on his dirt bike (hence the name “Dirt”), finds the pair, and starts crushing on Robyn. The monster shows up, only it’s not a monster, it’s a three-legged Muppet abortion that’s going to be the source of so! much! fun! throughout the movie!

You thinking "space vagina?" Are you now?
To speed things up, Robyn is psychic, Dirt takes them all to his grandpa who doesn’t react to them being aliens at all, and Dirt goes back home. His family is preparing a barbecue for their Senator friend as part of her re-election campaign and the police are worried about a potential assassination attempt. No, seriously, the movie goes down this path. Cops see some of the aliens, who are just Markie Post-looking blonds without facial expressions, looking for Robyn and Tavy and get suspicious. The aliens find Robyn at the BBQ, a cop shoots one, and now Robyn and Dirt have to rescue him from the hospital and get their Muppet back to space because he’s growing up and his telekinetic powers are going haywire.

Alien gets busted out of hospital, Dirt leads cops on a high-speed chase, and the aliens beam him and their own onto their ship. They send him home and then Robyn beams down to join him on Earth as well. THE END.

While I was literally giddy over the terribleness at the start of the movie, it just gets so boring. Everyone wants to be around Robyn cause she’s so magically special. Even the senator asks her what young women are thinking about this days, and Robyn gives the hippy-dippy, “We all need to love one another cause we’re all neighbors on this planet” answer that’s secretly somehow the message of the movie. The senator offers her a job in her administration.

Plus you have the annoying kid. Tavy is a kid to Robyn and Dirt’s “teenagers” (they’re not quite drawing a pension, but I’d say it’s been a decade since either saw their teens), and is obsessed with TV. Cause they grew up on a secret base on the dark side of the moon and they get all the channels. It’s all so precious and just awful.

The alien looks okay as far as complicated puppets go, but it’s also a source for eye-rolling slapstick. It gets a taste for gasoline and, oops, ends up at the BBQ siphoning off everyone’s gas tank. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Nothing has any consequence or purpose here. There’s no villain, no threat, and no real goals on the part of the characters. Dirt wants to protect Robyn and Tavy from discovery, but Robyn starts bristling at his protectiveness the next day. It’s not clear what she’d rather be doing, what he’s keeping her from. So the drama of the movie is supposed to be around them having basically a lovers’ spat, but they don’t know each other for any of it to matter at all.

In short, it’s not a recommend. If you find it, revel in the very 80’s first half-hour, then fast-forward to all the parts with the furry fidget spinner. Those are the ones that the movie’s actually invested in and are thus halfway enjoyable. Outside of that, I’d stay away. Unless you really need to see that final title card dedicating the movie to “the young in spirit.”

This is why I want to die

Friday, July 28, 2017

192. Track of the Moon Beast

192. Track of the Moon Beast (1976)
Director: Richard Ashe
Writers: Bill Finger and Charles Sinclair
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org
In a twist on the werewolf legend, an archaeologist is struck by a meteorite which causes him to turn into a reptilian monster when the moon rises.
I’m going to keep it short because this one sucks (and the ones coming up aren’t much better). Paul is an archaeologist who starts flirting with a photographer. While they’re on a walk, an asteroid hits the moon causing a meteor shower of moon rocks. One hits Paul, embedding part of itself in his body. This causes him to start having reactions to the moon and moon-based material.

No, seriously. He visits a museum and a laser fires from a moon rock at his head.

After a night or two, he starts turning into a David Icke reptoid and killing people when the moon rises. So he’s a werewolf, but a lizard—a lizardwolf. That joke is not as dumb as this movie.

Paul’s feeling sick from the moon rock embedded in his head and goes to the doctor. They do x-rays, see the fragment, but tell him he’ll be able to live a normal live. Meanwhile, his friend, a native American called “Chief” because this is 1976, goes to the sheriff with “ancient tribal drawings” that look like they were previously hanging on the refrigerator to reward the clever four-year-old who drew them. The pictures depict someone touching something from the sky, turning into a lizardwolf, and then blowing up apropos of nothing. That’s not my interpretation, the movie has “Chief” say no one knows why he blew up.

The photographer has a picture of Paul that she shows to “Chief” that depicts something very strange. So strange that “Chief” goes to the developer to get it checked out, but is told that it’s part of the negative, that it’s really what happened. We don’t ever see the picture so I can’t say what was so odd.

That’s right, the movie—a film, part of a visual medium—builds a plot point around a picture—an image featured in a visual medium—and doesn’t show it to us.

Scientists come to examine Paul and find that the moon rock has dissolved and spread throughout his system. They witness him change and come to the conclusion that the process with advance until he blows up. He overhears this, decides he wants to die looking like a man, and runs away. He’s looking to commit suicide but the manhunt for him keeps getting in the way (*whomp whomp*). The photographer figures out where he’s going, runs after him, and gets stuck which allows her to witness his change.

He doesn’t attack her, but, even after seeing him turn into a monster, she keeps refusing to accept that he’s the monster and keeps getting in the cops’ way. Finally, “Chief” shows up with an arrowhead fashioned from the moon rock, shoot Paul thereby accelerating the process, and Paul blows up. THE END.

This was so stupid. I mean, it was just unrelentingly bad and boring. The acting is terrible, none of the characters’ choices make sense, and the movie is constantly making poor decisions. The picture is just one example. Twenty minutes in to a less than eighty minute movie, the movie pauses for a musical break. Paul, “Chief,” and the photographer are in the audience and Paul starts to feel sick. They take Paul home, prep him for bed, and have a few scenes of dialogue with him, none of which we hear because the movie won’t cut away from the band playing. How did you come to that decision?

On top of this, the monster costume sucks. It’s just a mask. He’s not a guy in makeup and it’s not particularly creative. He kind of looks like the Gorn from Star Trek, but not as good. On top of that, they have a transformation scene where they fade between the various states of transformation. Only, he’s not wearing makeup. In a werewolf movie, they’d fade between the various layers of makeup that were being applied. Here, they’re fading to a guy in a mask so they fade between some makeup stages and then several variations of the mask. It all looks like garbage.

Maybe unsurprisingly, this was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 as episode 1007. At the moment, there’s no official free streaming source for the movie, but it’s available in Volume XXXVIII. The movie’s also in the public domain so I’ve added an MPEG version to archive.org here.

I’m not going to recommend the movie, though. The MST3k version might be solid (I haven’t watched my copy yet), but on its own the movie’s slow, dull, and pretty uninspired. There aren’t even that many monster attacks so it lacks tension even by its own standards. Although it is short, it felt like it ran a long time for me so I’d recommend giving it a pass.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

191. Terror Creatures From the Grave

191. Terror Creatures From the Grave (1965)
Director: Massimo Pupillo
Writers: Romano Migliorini and Roberto Natale, adapted by Ruth Carter and Cesare Mancini, based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe
From: Pure Terror
A lawyer arrives at a villa with a letter requesting that he update the owner’s will. Only the owner has been dead nearly a year and, as the lawyer investigates further, was involved in occult activities that maybe haven’t ended.
A Barbara Steele movie! Barbara Steele is 110% goth and has amazing presence. She’s great as a femme fatale, a witch, a vampire, anything. She was a real-life Morticia Addams and your movie could be about puppies and clowns, but you drop Barbara Steele in, it’s immediately a goth classic that you misremember as having Vincent Price in it as well.

This, unfortunately, doesn’t use her to her full potential and, to give you a preview of the movie’s quality, the director had his name removed from it and replaced with the producer’s. However, the movie is not as terrible as that would suggest, either, it just isn’t all that it could be.

We open with a man nervously drinking in a closed bar. Someone slaps their hand against the window and he runs to get his horse. Only the horse gets spooked as he’s untying it and knocks him down, trampling him to death.

With the tone established and the body count already running, we go to the villa where the lawyer arrives. He has a note from the villa’s owner requesting the attorney Morgan come out to update the will. Morgan is traveling, so his colleague has arrived instead. He’s met by the daughter of the man and her step-mother and is told the man has been dead nearly a year. The only reason they’re at the villa is that his will stipulated that he be exhumed a year after his death.

The lawyer stays the night, but finds that he can’t leave the next morning because an owl got into the engine of his car. I’m sure that’s a thing, but it still seemed hilarious. He meets the town doctor and, with the daughter, goes into town. In the interim we learn that the man had been doing occult research and was convinced he could speak to the dead that haunted the villa. It had been the place of trial and punishment for the “plague spreaders,” people who were infected with the plague and deliberately took it to other locations. Their hands were cut off and are on display in the villa and their bodies are buried there in unconsecrated ground.

Your typical gothic horror moments arise: a townsperson tells them to leave as “the night of revenge” is approaching, the daughter starts seeing her dead father, and the town’s pharmacist/mayor is found dead. The doctor’s assistant had the paperwork written up before the death because he’d heard “the corpse collectors” in the night and knew it would be the mayor. The mayor had been one of five people present at the death of the occultist. Two are still alive: the man who warned them to leave and an indecipherable name.

That night, the man who warned them, who uses a wheelchair, secures a sword in his dresser and impales himself upon it. Something comes into the house and, with a putrescence-covered hand pulls the chair back, drawing the sword from the body. The sword is covered with the material which is also seeping from the man’s wound.

The grave is opened the next day and, surprise, there’s no body. The lawyer figures out the last name must be Morgan who happens to be showing up at the villa. Morgan sees the occultist, but the body is gone before anyone gets back. Turns out Morgan and Barbara Steele had been having an affair and they know what really happened to the occultist. It turns out he’d set up his revenge before his death with the help of the gardener.

The hour of the occultist’s murder hits and a mirror reveals the moment of his death where the five plus Barbara Steele tell him to leave town. His meddling with the undead is bothering everyone, but he has the dirt on each person in the room, so they kill him. The plague spreaders rise from their graves, but you never see them, and kill everyone except the lawyer and the daughter who escape when it starts raining because, as a nursery rhyme the occultist taught his daughter, the cure is “pure water.” The two leave to live happily ever after. THE END.

The movie just misses its mark on a lot of levels. It has some nice sets, a good enough tone, but it never executes with the precision you’d want. I started by excitedly noting that Barbara Steele is in the movie, but she’s not in it a lot. She’s sidelined most of the time and really only has one solid scene where she tells her step-daughter that she didn’t love the girls’ father. He’d basically tricked her into quitting her acting career to join him. Since that element was there, I was kind of disappointed that they wrote her as having an affair with Morgan. The occultist becomes just that much more monstrous if he’s coming back for revenge and to exercise control over this woman he deceived.

It’s telling that I don’t give character names for anyone. It’s because I don’t know them, and I just watched this and took notes. I refer to the occultist as “the man” because even IMDB doesn’t list his name and I don’t know if it was Hieronimusch, Geronimusch, or if those are even close. The characters don’t stand out so neither do their actions.

One element of the movie I did like was watching the lawyer play recordings of the man’s notes. You hear his voice talking about his research and experiments and, as he’s talking, it seems to cause the ghosts in the house to manifest. It’s very Evil Dead and that’s always a plus in my book.

There are nice ideas here, but in the end the whole thing’s kind of boring and gets wrapped up too coincidentally. I mean, rain will save the day? Good thing it’s always cloudy in movies like this then. So it’s not a recommend, but I don’t discourage anyone from watching it either. It’s merely okay. I’ve seen some websites claiming this is in the public domain, but it appears to have a valid copyright notice on it. If I hear otherwise, I’ll upload it to the Internet Archive because this is 100% midnight movie fare and would be great on a public access show or being riffed. At the moment, it looks like it’s not.