Saturday, April 29, 2017

167. Horror of the Zombies

167. Horror of the Zombies aka The Ghost Galleon aka The Blind Dead 3 aka El buque maldito (1974)
Director: Amando de Ossorio
Writer: Amando de Ossorio
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A publicity stunt involving models stranded on a boat goes awry when they’re met not by a shipping vessel, but an 18th-Century haunted ship.

We follow The Murder Mansion with another GATT’d Spanish film that ups the ante on that piece by being filled with neither incident nor energy. The story begins with models at a photo shoot. Lillian, the photograph and boss, is confronted by the inappropriately dubbed Noemi about the whereabouts of her roommate and fellow model Kathy.

Turns out Kathy has signed on for a high-concept ad campaign for sports manufacturer Howard Tucker. Kathy and another model have purposefully stranded themselves in the ocean along a major shipping route waiting for a ship to find them. Instead of a commercial vessel, though, they’re struck by a seemingly abandoned ghost ship. Tucker calls the stunt off, but the helicopter he sends out can’t find any trace of the girls. Sergio, Tucker’s assistant, takes Lillian captive to prevent her from sharing the story.

At the ship, Kathy’s partner has climbed aboard and disappeared to the sounds of screams. Kathy’s fallen asleep, though, and doesn’t hear. When she wakes up, she finds the boat’s radio no longer works so she climbs onto the ship where, eventually, zombies rise from coffins in the hold and kill her.

It takes a while for this to happen. So long in fact that I thought the material with Noemi investigating her missing roommate was cut in after the fact to a different movie about a zombie ship. I was wrong, though, because now Tucker, Sergio, Lillian, and Noemi, against her will, travel to the ship along with a scientist who tells them a story about a “ghost galleon” being spotted in that region.

They find the ship, get trapped on board, and Noemi flashes back to times with Kathy where Noemi basically bullied Kathy into becoming a model, sending her down the path that led to this boat. While everyone’s asleep, Noemi searches the ship for Kathy only to find the zombies instead. They slash her throat, drag her down a series of steps, across the floor in the hold, then finally kill her via dismemberment. Seriously, her death takes forever. The majority of it is her just wordlessly howling for help and no one responding. It’s a curious choice for the movie because, if there’s a “good guy,” it’s Noemi. The scientist is sort of neutral, but Noemi is involved because she’s trying to save her friend from the unscrupulous Tucker and Lillian. Then she ends up with the most drawn-out on-screen death. This, by the way, is after Sergio assaults her while she’s being held prisoner.

Did I not mention that? Yeah, you can read that as not happening—the movie cuts away before anything specific can be said to have happened—but you know what’s happening after that cut away.

So the movie’s real boring and then has the sympathetic character die slowly. Whee.

Everyone wakes up and the scientist finds documents on the boat indicating that it’s hauling the cursed corpses of the Knights Templar (was there ever a time when people weren’t obsessed with this Da Vinci Code BS?). The zombies awaken after the group finds a secret room filled with treasure (and a satanic skull with rams horns) which leads to a hilarious shot of Sergio doing a full-on football run through the zombies. The group escapes and the scientist drives the zombies back by performing a minor exorcism, but that only buys them an extra day.

At the last minute, they throw all the coffins into the ocean, the magic surrounding the ship starts to fade, and Lillian, Tucker, and Sergio jump in the ocean to swim to some now visible land. The scientist stays behind because he can’t swim. The trio are using a plank of wood to float and it’s sinking because Sergio is carrying a load of treasure with him. He attacks Tucker rather than give up his treasure so Lillian knocks Sergio out, leaving him to drown. She and Tucker make it to land and pass out on the shore.

On the ship, the satanic skull lights up and the ship catches on fire. The scientist chokes to death from the smoke and the whole thing goes up in flames. Meanwhile, the zombies have risen from their coffins and march onto the shore of the island Lillian and Tucker are on. The pair awakens to find themselves surrounded as the zombies reach forward. The End.

Not nearly so much fun as The Murder Mansion which wasn’t particularly fun to begin with. The movie is clearly built around the idea of “scantily-clad women in peril!” but fails to live up to any part of that promise, be it the “scantily-clad” part or the “peril.” I’d say even the exclamation point is a stretch. This is a film that calls for very sedate punctuation.

There is some unintentional hilarity in the models constantly running around in high heels—Noemi trying to escape her prison while running across the very echoy concrete floor in her heels, people’s heels getting stuck in the ship while trying to escape zombies, twice—but that’s not enough to carry the movie.

Now, I’m not one to say you have to show the monster in the first reel, but you gotta give us something—tone, character, exposition, something. This flick’s got nothing for a good forty minutes if not more. It was a disappointment because I was hoping for a lot more cheese when I heard the dubbing. Noemi’s voice is so miscast, but nothing else here rises to that level of camp.

As I mentioned, this movie is protected under GATT, but it’s not something I’d encourage people to look for anyway.

Friday, April 28, 2017

166. The Murder Mansion

166. The Murder Mansion aka Maniac Mansion aka La mansión de la niebla (1972)
Director: Francisco Lara Polop
Writers: Luis G. de Blain and Antonio Troiso
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

Various travelers get lost and find themselves converging on a house by a cemetery haunted by the ghosts of a witch and her chauffeur.

We open with footage of people driving which is always a sign of high-quality filmmaking. A motorist, Mr. Porter, passes a motorcyclist, Fred. Fred aggressively pursues Porter until Fred finally succeeds in passing the car. Then Fred stops for a hitchhiker, Laura, but she gets into the car instead. Porter gets too handsy, though, so at the next rest stop, Laura leaves to ride with Fred. Porter, despairingly, warns them that “something will happen.” This is the 166th movie I’ve watched from these sets. He’s lying.

Cut to another couple driving, the Tremonts. Mr. Tremont is the lawyer for Elsa who’s divorcing her philandering husband Ernest. Ernest says he can’t make it to their planned destination because of car trouble so Elsa, despite the fog, decides to drive out to pick him up. The Tremonts follow in their car. When Ernest hangs up the phone, though, he’s in the nearby restaurant where Fred and Laura are—he’s lying!

To jump ahead, Mr. Porter and the Tremonts have a head-on collision that take out their cars, Fred and Laura are almost run over by a Rolls Royce driven by a hulking chauffeur, and Elsa’s car breaks down near the cemetery where she’s chased by the hulking chauffeur and an old woman. They all end up at a nearby house owned by Marta, the niece of the former owner, a witch who was suspected of being a vampire when twelve people in the nearby town died one night. The aunt was killed in a car accident along with her chauffeur.

*exhale* Exposition over.

So they’re all stuck in the house for the night. The movie feels a lot like The Devils Nightmare meets Scooby-Doo. Part of this is due to the musical choices of the producers. It sounds like outtakes from the cartoon. That most of the scares involve people taking off masks and hidden passages doesn’t help.

The events of the movie, such as they are, mostly involve jump scares designed to harry or kill the people in the house. We also get flashbacks of Elsa getting mad at her father for hooking up with her college friends (which ultimately leads to him dying of a heart attack while screwing one of them) and Elsa hooking up with her future husband almost in revenge. It’s about the purest form of padding you’ll ever see.

Meanwhile, Fred and Laura go full “Jinkies!” and search the forbidden cellar. They find an empty coffin with the aunt’s name and things gradually escalate with sightings of the ghost chauffeur and the evil aunt. As they’re investigating, a mysterious figure appears and starts wandering through the cellar.

Scooby sense intensifying. Fred figures out the whole thing is a set-up, Laura tries to keep Elsa and Mrs. Tremont safe, the twist that isn’t that surprising is revealed only to be immediately subverted by a second twist! Then Fred and Laura ride off into the sunrise with inappropriately upbeat music considering the mountain of corpses in the house. The End.

This isn’t particularly good. The movie tries to construct its mood through referencing scary things, but never manifesting or even showing them. For instance, the rooms that all the people are staying in are deeply unnerving due to the Boschian paintings on the walls. Only we never see the paintings or shots demonstrating how creepy the rooms are. The characters say it’s creepy, and that’s supposed to be enough.

Compounding that is the plot doesn’t make sense. There’s a bit of a Gaslight/The Screaming Skull thing going on, but gathering all these people at the house, most of them strangers who yet are essential to the plan, depends on a whole lot of coincidence that strains credulity. A vampiric witch rising from the grave to claim more victims seems more plausible.

The movie’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. It’s fine enough to laugh at on a Saturday afternoon, but not of much interest beyond that. I think this had previously been public domain, but has been GATT’d and is no longer free to use.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

165. Memorial Valley Massacre

165. Memorial Valley Massacre (1989)
Director: Robert C. Hughes
Writers: Robert C. Hughes and George Frances Skrow
From: Chilling

A campground opens for its inaugural Memorial Day Weekend, but is beset by problems that aren’t wholly the fault of the boorish customers. A wildman is stalking the campgrounds, seemingly exacting nature’s vengeance on those who’d cross him.

This is trash and I love (very nearly) every minute of it. The movie starts with our lord and savior, Cameron Mitchell checking on the condition of the campgrounds he’s been developing. Turns out there are all sorts of problems running the gamut from a lack of running water to the recent suspicious death of a contractor. He demands the park open anyway just as his naturalist son arrives seeking work. Mitchell gives him a job as assistant to the chief ranger, which the chief ranger doesn’t like at all.

And then it doesn’t matter. The customers who decide to stay are all hilariously, but not quite cartoonishly, awful inverting the slasher movie morality. Even though slasher movies have a set of rules you’re not supposed to break, you’re also supposed to have some sympathy for the victims. Here, you’re rooting for the killer from jump street. The only time I wasn’t on his side was when he killed a dog, but that happens off-screen and the dog is such a bad dog actor that, even though it’s supposed to be threatening the killer, can’t help but be vigorously wagging its tail the whole time. You guys, doggo is so happy to be in this movie! How can you be mad?

The inevitable deadmeats include a klepto fat kid who wanders around playing with a knife, some kids into “speed metal” that sounds like lite rock, a bike gang that’s lost all its members to middle class softness, and a retired general and his wife sitting in an RV. All the deaths are pretty hilarious including a trio of people getting crushed by a rolling truck that could easily stepped away from. There’s also a man on fire.

+2 points for man on fire.

There are clichés: the forest ranger is gruff, but has a sad past he’s trying to cover up, Mitchell’s son is suspected of being in it for the money but is actually hoping to protect the forest, there’s a love interest you couldn’t possibly care about, lather, rinse, repeat. The movie doesn’t really innovate in any way, but the enthusiasm with which it pursues its clichés and cheapness is really endearing.

This comes at the end of 80’s direct-to-video/made-for-TV glory and it’s clear that this was intended for broadcast in the Saturday afternoon slot or on USA Up All Night. The movie is completely TV-safe despite its plot which is the big clue as to what the producers intended, and I love it. I unabashedly love this movie. It’s probably one of my favorite flicks in any of these sets.

This was the fourth or fifth time I’ve watched it and, fourteen minutes in, I started laughing at how bad it is. Still. And this is a movie where the first death doesn’t happen until nearly halfway through. Normally I’d complain about it being a failed slow-burn or not knowing what it was trying to do, or being a crass attempt at being a genre picture—and it is—but it has just the right mix of competence, ineptness, and straight-up weirdness, that it never fails to delight me. Memorial Valley Massacre is pure Bull Dada and it’s what I hope all these movies are.

Friday, April 21, 2017

163. Beyond the Moon and 164. The Gypsy Moon

163. Beyond the Moon (1956)
164. The Gypsy Moon (1954)
Director: Hollingsworth Morse
Writer: Warren Wilson
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

The start of the Rocky Jones saga sees the titular space ranger travel to Ophecius and discover a plot to undermine the United Worlds. Then he discovers two planets traveling through the galaxy together, locked in both orbit and battle putting Rocky and the United Worlds at great risk.

And let us return once more to the endlessly soporific adventures of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. Or not. Want to say not? Well, I already watched them, so, I mean it’d seem a waste not to.

Beyond the Moon and the unfortunately named Gypsy Moon are the first two Rocky Jones adventures comprising the first six episodes of the series and they’re kind of interesting for how they represent two of the goals of children’s media at the time: indoctrination and education, respectively.

Beyond the Moon introduces us to Rocky Jones and the setting of the United Worlds. Professor Newton has seemingly defected to the hostile Ophecius Group, but poly-linguist Vena thinks he’s been taken against his will. Rocky, Winky, and Vena go to Ophecius to find Professor Newton and his nephew Bobby. It turns out they are being held prisoner. Ophecius wants Professor Newton to replicate United Worlds’ technology for their forces. The leader, Cleolanta, hypnotizes Bobby and uses him as a bargaining chip against the Professor. She tries to capture Rocky as well, but the whole group escapes. They learn about a mole operating on the United Worlds and Rocky defeats him.

This first Rocky Jones story is a little dull, but not so bad as the some of the later ones. The big issue is how much it just drips with the 1950’s—casual sexism and Commie paranoia. The United Worlds are a pretty obvious stand in for the US and the Ophecius Group is the Soviets. On top of that, the whole story is built around two ideas: fear of the enemy within and that those who say they support the enemy don’t know their own minds. They may say they support it, may even make coherent arguments, but they either don’t believe or know what they’re saying.

Granted, this tracks with paranoia in general. Look at how quickly political criticism in the US reverts to labels of traitors or that the opposition doesn’t know what they’re actually advocating, regardless of either side’s politics. What its role in Rocky Jones highlights is how the media then was training kids to be ready for these kinds of arguments against the Soviets and Communists whereas today, in our culture of polarization and anti-politics, this rhetoric is directed at our fellow citizens.

In fact, watching all these pieces of Cold War culture, the US’ victim complex, the visceral need we feel to paint ourselves as embattled becomes clearer as does the way that narrative breaks down once you no longer have the ostensibly equal or greater threat to push back against. In Rocky Jones, the United Worlds has the technological edge, but Ophecius has the propaganda/domination edge. Neither side is in a place to pursue military action against the other so it has to be war by other means

In the age of the War Against Terror, we’re repeating those narratives of existential threats and enemies within, of competing world views and ideologies that allow no space for compromise, but there’s no easy symbol for villainy, no primary leader we’re pushing back against. The narrative of fighting terror is of liberating people from the oppressive forces that also co-opt them. Look at the way we talk about Syria—45 bombed an air base because of the suffering of Syrian children, but can’t allow Syrian children into the US because Syrians are the terrorists. Narratively, the very people we’re trying to save are the ones we mark out as the threats. When we think about the fact that this whole enterprise is being run by people who grew up on media like Rocky Jones, pieces of not-quite propaganda that instilled a narrative of a singular, massive force that needs to be pushed back against, is it fair to wonder if part of the global situation is due to the fact that the ruling class doesn’t understand what kind of story they’re in?

Hey, look at all the rabbits at the bottom of this hole!

So, this first one is interesting as a cultural artifact, as an example of kids’ media as moral instruction. The second one, The Gypsy Moon, takes the other route of desperately trying to convince the audience that the show isn’t just a crass attempt to sell Rocky Jones-branded toys to kids but is actually educational. It’s also the one that goes full-bore in giving the kid a role in the story so that kids can see themselves in the picture. Golly gee, what fun! Feed me Liquid Plumber!

Rocky and his crew encounter a strange atmospheric belt following a moon that’s drifting through space. That implies that there’s another moon traveling with it and they’re sharing an atmosphere. Boy, science fiction was fun before they worried about any of that science stuff! They encounter a plane within the belt that tries to attack them, but cannot follow Rocky’s ship into space. In hopes of learning what the moon’s situation is, Rocky and his crew land to try to talk to the inhabitants.

Meanwhile, and serving as the framing device throughout the movie, Bobby is being forced to read The Odyssey. He doesn’t want to because it’s poetry and what’s a Space Ranger need with poetry? Insert didactic defense of reading the classics, followed by overt references to The Odyssey with the story clearly being built around the events of the book.

So Rocky uses his ship as a Trojan Horse to enter the city, they travel to the companion moon where they face a Siren-like threat, and finally return home where Rocky is presumed dead so they disguise themselves to learn what’s really happening in town. All these elements are preceded by Bobby giving a, “Golly, this is just like in The Odyssey” speech laying out the plot points.

Make no mistake, this is peak “the Goddamn kid” material. His role is teeth-grindingly bad making the worst moments of Wesley Crusher shine with subtlety and sartorial brilliance. It’s a product of people who have contempt for or actively hate children writing children and I hope I don’t have to say it’s really awful.

Which is maybe what makes this the most enjoyable of the five (Jesus, five) Rocky Jones movies I’ve watched. I commented on the fourth one, Manhunt in Space here and the third and seventh ones, Menace From Outer Space and Crash of the Moons here. The Gypsy Moon is the only Rocky Jones movie that feels legitimately hilariously bad. Not only was I cracking up the whole way through, there were constant opportunities for really risqué, and I mean downright foul, riffing. Everything sounded like a double entendre and I couldn’t hold back.

In the end, they’re both recommends in their own way. Beyond the Moon is interesting in how naked the indoctrination is, how clearly it’s trying to prepare kids for a certain kind of thinking, but also how clearly it’s not thinking about that. The movie is this way because that culture was the air they were breathing—these are the kinds of stories you tell. Other stories, other ways of thinking about conflicts and relationships literally didn’t make sense. As for The Gypsy Moon, it’s begging for a savaging. I didn’t even mention that it has both legitimately good set design at different points and downright Dobbsian faces on some of the characters. It’s one to share with your bad movie friends.

Unfortunately, all the Rocky Jones material is under copyright, specifically in these film forms, although I can’t imagine anyone’s making any kind of money off them. Copies aren’t hard to find, though. GFE and all that. This should be the end of Rocky Jones movies for me. I don’t think any of the other movies are in the sets I have, although I do apparently have three of the four films in Alfonso Brescia's sci-fi series so look for a group post about those soon.

Friday, April 14, 2017

162. Manos: The Hands of Fate

162. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
Director: Harold P. Warren
Writer: Harold P. Warren
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (via Netflix), Rifftrax, Rifftrax Live

A family on vacation takes a wrong turn and ends up at the Valley Lodge, a home owned by the mysterious “Master” and seen over by his servant Torgo.

The movie that there’s very little to say about because its reputation exceeds anything that can be said. One of the contenders for worst movie ever made, it entered the public imagination due to being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its fourth season. Since then, it’s become a midnight movie staple and a cult sensation with various theater adaptations being produced.

There’s nothing to be said about the plot because nothing in the movie makes sense. The story of the film is that Warren, an insurance and fertilizer salesman, made the film on a bet, and the result is a train wreck that rivals The Room, Samurai Cop, Birdemic, and the films of Neil Breen for sheer incomprehensibility. I dreaded this movie coming up in the list because I didn’t want to watch it. I ended up going back to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, and that’s really what I want to talk about.

You don’t need me to tell you about the movie because you already know about it. What’s new, though, is the launch of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 11 today on Netflix. I chipped in to the Kickstarter campaign in the winter of 2015 so, as a backer, I got to see a preview of the first episode. So rather than talk about Manos, I’ll briefly mention my thoughts on the reboot and then be on my way.

I have thoughts about the relaunch itself, what they’re aiming to do with the property, and these Kickstarter campaign in general, but that feels like a longer essay about the marketing of nostalgia, returning to the well to try to squeeze out a little more from the fans, and the corrupting effects of branding in general. Though I don’t feel like I’m ready to write that essay yet. It would take some more time than I have right now and my thinking may change as I get to sit down and watch more of the new season.

As for the reboot itself, it’s good, I liked it. The show looks fantastic, I can clearly hear the voice of head writer Elliott Kalen in the riffs (which is to the good since I’m a fan of his sense of humor), and it’s obvious the show is incorporating elements of Cinematic Titanic both in terms of using the entire space of the screen during the riffs and in what’s being done with the films at the end of every episode. That means they’re expanding the idea of what can be done with riffing and learning from how post-MST3k projects engaged with the form. I laughed at a lot of the jokes, thought the cast rose to the occasion, and was really happy with this overall.

There are choices I take issue with. The biggest is that each episode is nearly or exactly 90 minutes long. One of the advantages of being produced for online distribution is you don’t have to edit—the work can be as long as it needs to be. Instead, it’s clear that the movie for the first episode has some significant chunks taken out of it which gives the show the abruptness of MST3k: The Movie. Furthermore, because the episodes are short, the host segments get cut short as well. The first host segment is a rap about monsters which runs as long as it needs to, but every other bit feels really quick and truncated. There is plenty of time for these gags, but the show isn’t using it.

On top of that, there are obvious commercial break moments including show bumpers. Granted, I think the bumpers they have are good and speak to the Saturday morning kid show tradition that MST3k ultimately draws from. Plus, there is the structural challenge of how to move from riffing to a comedy bit without the excuse of a commercial interruption already moving you, visually, into a new format. It’s an interesting stylistic choice that I think works, but only if you’re going to have this on broadcast TV. I think that’s why the bumps are there, so that this season can be sold in syndication if/when Netflix stops carrying it. That seems at once both lazy and greedy, like they’re preparing to be able to sell this in every format they can imagine right now instead of tailoring the show to whatever channel they’re trying to distribute it on.

I almost called the show the “product” there, which is another issue.

Kinga Forrester, the new Mad, is bringing the show back to license and market it in as many ways and on as may platforms as possible. I like that as an idea: we move from the trope of mad scientists doing experiments for nebulous purposes to a megalomaniac intent on revenge and world domination to a marketing person mad with power. The problem with that concept, though, is that’s exactly what Joel is doing. The whole Kickstarter campaign was about bringing MST3k back so they could keep making and selling new episodes. A lot of the messages he sent during production detailed how they were working on the branding angle and asking backers what kind of MST3k-related products we’d like to buy. Would you like a Crow plushie? What about an SOL-based video game? During the post-preview Q&A, he mentioned a comic book coming out from Dark Horse comics.

I don’t get the sense from the show that it has an ironic perspective that it’s making fun of the very thing that it is, that there’s a knowing wink to the fans that part of loving a show is loving the brand and picking up tons of ancillary products. Instead, it feels like it’s all in earnest, that all the effort is about getting as much money as possible from every angle possible. I don’t object to people getting paid, but when is it enough and how much is this show that’s been profoundly influential for me diminished by this effort?

Gee, I wonder what the “long” essay would have looked like.

Bottom line, the show’s good, I’m glad it’s back, and I’m enjoying what I’m seeing on screen. I just wonder why it came back and what they intend to do with it now that it’s here.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

161. Superchick

161. Superchick (1973)
Director: Ed Forsyth
Writers: Gary Crutcher from a story by John H. Burrows
From: Cult Cinema

Flight attendant and karate master Tara B. True has a man in every city, but when some thugs threaten one of her lovers if she doesn’t help them in a heist on one of her flights, it’s questionable whether she’ll come out on top this time.

This is a Marimark production. I didn’t know it was a Marimark production until the very end. I initially thought it was going to be one, but somehow convinced myself it wasn’t, and then it was. Ironically, I had planned on watching this for April Fools’ Day assuming then that it was a Marimark production, thus the joke being on me. I fucking hate Marimark.

This is the company that produced The Beach Girls, Coach, and Galaxina, some of my most hated movies so far (and, to be fair, Hunk, one of the ones I enjoyed). Superchick is the earliest Marimark film I have and clearly set the standard for all the others that followed.

That standard is the same one The Asylum of Sharknado fame uses for their films: take an idea that’s successful, make a cover that looks close enough to that idea, and make people pay up front. The idea Superchick is selling is The Stewardesses meets cheap karate film.

The plot: Tara is an uber-sexy flight attendant. She’s so sexy that she has to disguise herself as a dowdy prude while on the job because, when she didn’t, as she says, “even the automatic pilot made a pass at me.” Her route takes her to New York, Miami, and Los Angeles and she has a lover in each city. In New York, it’s brain surgeon Ernest who shares a sophisticated, high-class life with her, but never touches her due to his germaphobia. In Miami, it’s gigolo Johnny who helps her indulge in fun, sun, and lots of sexy times. Finally, in LA, it’s rock star Davy who sends her to all the hippest underground parties in town.

You’d think the story would be that the three men would find out about each other and conflict would ensue, but you’d be wrong. Instead, Johnny has a gambling debt and the crooks he’s in the hole to want him to convince Tara to smuggle guns onto a flight so they can use them to rob a mobster transporting money from mafia casinos. This plot doesn’t matter, though, because it’s delivered in drips and drabs, isn’t fully articulated until about an hour into the movie, and is resolved in under 5 minutes.

So we don’t have jealous lovers, we don’t have her facing off against a criminal enterprise, surely the only thing left for the movie to focus on is the sex comedy aspect—a series of bawdy set-pieces that may not age well, but are there for easy nudity and burlesque-style puns. If you’re thinking that, you have forgotten that this is a Marimark production. The rest of the film is padded out with footage of driving, parking, and indulging in various touristy activities.

The reason I harp on it being a Marimark production and the reason I’m kind of harsh on their films in general is because there are legitimate moments of wit, cleverness, and invention. Their movies always look good so they have people who know how to do the basic work. On top of that, they get relatively competent actors. For instance, this movie has John Carradine in a goofy cameo and he camps it right up to the skies. Finally, some of the jokes land. I laughed out loud several times, halfway due to shock at a joke being legitimately funny. All these things point to the kind of movie it could have been while simultaneously reminding you of exactly the movie that it is.

I could go into the gender politics of these films, but there’s no point. They don’t even rise to the level of being political because they’re so boring. Marimark, the company that never fails to disappoint, sinks to the task again. Clearly, this isn’t a recommend and it’s not worth looking for even to make fun of. It’s putatively a comedy—how do you make fun of a comedy?

While I have a little under 200 more movies to go through before this project is done, I’m more disheartened by the thought that I have 8 more Marimark productions ahead of me. Save me Bob.

Friday, April 07, 2017

160. Bell From Hell

160. Bell From Hell aka La campana del infierno (1973)
Directors: Claudio Guerín and Juan Antonio Bardem
Writer: Santiago Moncada
From: Chilling

A young man’s aunt is scheming to have him declared insane so she can claim his inheritance, but he has plans of his own.

I hope you have a good supply of “WTF movie?” cause this is going to use up a lot of it.

The plot is pretty straight-forward. John is being released from the sanatorium that his aunt had him committed to five years before. She did it to prevent him from squandering the money he inherited after his mother’s death. He’s only released on probation, though, and is facing being committed for life if his aunt and her daughters claim that he’s insane. He’s not interested in proving his sanity—he wants to take revenge upon them all.

The revenge involved inviting them all to the old family house where he leaves the aunt to be stung to death by bees and then ties up and potentially rapes each of his cousins. I say “potentially,” because I’m not sure if material was cut from my version. We only see him assault the third sister, but it feels like the movie’s implying that this is what’s going on.

By the way, get a fistful of WTFs ready, cause this is when you need it: rape and incest are topics of lighthearted discussion throughout this movie. The grounds for John’s initial institutionalization was his eldest cousin’s claim, which the movie never makes clear if it’s true, that he raped her. His youngest cousin jokes with him about it, suggesting he rape the middle sister before she gets married and asks when it’ll be her turn. By the way, this isn’t her being sadistic, this is her flirting with him. When he starts enacting his revenge, there’s a level of consent from the sisters themselves. Eww.

On top of this, earlier in the film, John pulls a prank on his neighbor where he makes her think he’s plucked out his eyes. She faints, he carries her into her house, and then musses up her hair, takes off her panties, and leaves a note implying that he raped her even though he didn’t, cause, LOL. On his way home from there, he encounters her husband leading a group of hunters who have stranded a young girl in the middle of a lake. They attempt to gang rape her, but John shows up and chases them all off with his motorcycle.

Yeah, a whole lot of, “what are you doing, movie? What are you even doing?”

He takes the sisters into a secret basement that he’s fashioned into a slaughterhouse, hangs them naked from meat hooks, and prepares to butcher them but loses his nerve at the last minute. He’s distracted by the neighbor coming to ask him if he’d actually done anything to her and he says no, promising to explain everything to her husband the next night.

After she leaves, he goes to check on his aunt’s body, but it’s not there. She springs forth, swollen and disfigured by the bees, and John runs off only to get caught by the husband/rapist. The aunt and the rapist have John tied to the bell the local church has just installed where he’ll serve as a counterweight and seal him up in the wall. The next morning, the bell is rung for the first time and John is presumably killed. The family returns to the house, but the youngest sister refuses to join them because of what they’ve done and her sympathy/affection (?) for John. That night, the rapist sees lights in the house, goes to investigate, and gets killed in John’s final trap. THE END

A truly revolting film. The central concept, John trying to get revenge for being institutionalized/aunt and daughters trying to steal his inheritance, is a solid one. There’s real potential for a nice cat-and-mouse game, points of one-upmanship, and plots and counterplots, but that doesn’t happen. It takes about forty minutes for the aunt and daughters to get to the house and then all the drama and revenge take place in the next fifteen/twenty minutes. John’s plan fails and he’s getting strung up when there’s still twenty minutes left in the movie. So the majority of the movie doesn’t have any plot happening at all.

Then add all the rape and incest elements. Rather than try to make the audience uncomfortable with tension or misdirection or the moral ambiguity of both sides being kind of evil, it aims to discomfit via taboo. And like a cut-rate comic sneering, “does it offend you, does it offend you?” it only leaves you wondering why they’re so invested in it. It’s not offensive, it’s weird and it feels like these elements are only in the movie because the producers couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Which sums up the movie, nothing thinking of what to do. There are some artful/pretentious touches, but they don’t come to anything, and seeds that are planted—like opening with John making a cast of his own face—have not even a perfunctory payoff. Obviously, it’s not a recommend. Take your pick as to why. I wouldn’t even suggest this for riffing because the content goes so far off the rails. This may have been public domain at one point, but is currently protected under GATT. Except for some admittedly artful shots, nothing’s been lost.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Story Slam: I Dare You

After seven months, I finally return to the Story Slam stage with a variation on a story I told nearly five years ago. Since my 20 year high school reunion is next year, it only seems fitting to return to the capstone story of my high school experience and talk about being the lookout as my friend hung a banner off the school roof.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

159. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter

159. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)
Director: William Beaudine
Writer: Carl K. Hittleman
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org

Outlaw Jesse James, while seeking out a doctor to remove a bullet from his friend, winds up at the castle of Dr. Maria Frankenstein who is obsessed with continuing her grandfather’s work.

I was going to write this up highlighting how it was being posted on April Fools’ Day, but that the joke was on me since watching movies like this was my life. Then I couldn’t even find the time to write this up because I was too busy grading student papers—the thing that actually is my life. So I put a placeholder post here naming and linking to the movie in case any of you visit regularly looking for these things, and it got more hits than my fully-composed posts.

Y’all… I mean… C’mon… Am I watching films like Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter for nothing? Well, in literal terms, yes because there are no ads associated with this and it’s completely divorced from my paying work, but… Look, this is a passive-aggressive way to pressure you into sharing these posts with your friends, alright?

Not that “nothing” isn’t an appropriate summary of the film.

In brief, Dr. Maria Frankenstein, granddaughter of the famed Frankenstein, has fled to Mexico with her brother Rudolph to continue their grandfather’s experiments. Meanwhile, Jesse James gets caught in a frame-up with his partner Hank, leaving Hank shot. Jaunita, a woman from the village the Frankensteins have been doing their experiments in, agrees to lead Jesse and Hank to the Doctors for help. Maria decides to use Hank as her final test subject, succeeds, but at the last minute, of course, Hank turns on his creator and then is killed by Juanita. Jesse leaves with the Marshal that’s been hunting him, presumably to hang for his crimes. THE END

Now, I said, “in brief,” but that’s a lie because that implies I left things out of that description. There is nothing else to tell except a love triangle subplot between Juanita, Jesse, and Maria. There’s nothing here, not even padding. I mean, I’d previously described Hell on Wheels as “Padding: The Motion Picture,” so it’d be a fitting double-feature with this, Exposition: The Motion Picture.

We open on Juanita and her family discussing leaving the town now that all the children have died due to plague. Then we cut to the Frankensteins having a failed experiment and explaining how they’ve killed every child in the village and blamed it on a plague. Then we meet Jesse James and Hank, establishing their partnership and what’s happened to the rest of the James gang. From there, we meet another gang that’s called Jesse and Hank in for help and hear the story of the James gang again. And on and on and on. You could cut this into a tight, entertaining 30-minute piece a la Sandra Bernhard’s Reel Wild Cinema, but this is verges on 90.

This could be an entertaining short film, by the way. It’s competently filmed and acted, the set design is nice if a little cheap, and it hits the beats that it needs to hit. The only thing is, it only hits those beats and it never follows through on giving you want you want from something like this: either the monster rampaging through a space or a mob of villagers swarming forth to take their revenge.

It’s hard to even get behind a hero in this movie since the primary characters are Jesse James and Maria Frankenstein. One’s a murderous outlaw, the other is actively trying to take over the world. Hank and Juanita are the sympathetic characters, but the former gets gutted and the latter is relegated to being in love with and the love object of the two main male characters.

At heart, though, the movie’s boring. It’s so boring! Nothing happens, repeatedly. So it’s not a recommend, maybe not even as something to riff. The film is so empty that it’s difficult to find anything to make fun of. I watched the version from Elvira’s Movie Macabre, and, while she was able to insert the occasional good gag, I still had to play the movie three times to see all the parts I’d slept through.

On the upside, the movie is in the public domain and I’ve added an MPEG-2 version to archive.org. Maybe it could serve as raw material for an interesting editing project. I’d advise against actually trying to watch it for entertainment, though. If you already did because all I’d posted previously was the link to the video, April Fools.