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
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 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.

Friday, July 21, 2017

190. Hustler Squad

190. Hustler Squad aka The Dirty Half Dozen (1976)
Director: Cesar Gallardo
From: Cult Cinema
A WWII major who plays by his own rules is tasked with assassinating key members of the Japanese military’s leadership while they’re visiting a pleasure island. His plan: train four female assassins to pose as prostitutes and infiltrate the island. Will the women be able to accomplish their mission and escape with their lives?
We open with a Filipino resistance force trying to storm the island, but everyone is killed except Paco, the leader. The US find out about the raid and pair Paco with the major to come up with a plan to infiltrate the island in sixty days when the military elite will be there. They drink, putter, hem and haw, and are about to give up when they get into a bar fight over a woman. That gives them the idea to try to send in assassins posing as prostitutes. Only they don’t have any assassins.

So they’re off to gather the team. The major is assisted by a female lieutenant that he’s constantly sexually harassing flirting with and she takes him to a women’s prison where they meet the first team member: a woman doing life for having murdered her husband. She’s willing to sign on because she’s horny and desperate to fuck.

The second member is a Swedish nurse with a terminal disease. She’s willing to go because it’ll save lives, even though the thought of sex scares her.

The third member is found by Paco. Her family was attacked and killed by the Japanese for sheltering an American soldier and the woman was raped. The movie emphasizes this point with the major referring to her twice within a minute as “a rape victim.” That’s the whole of her identity. Thanks movie. We were having fun up till this point.

The final member is a prostitute who’s on the run for having ripped off some people in the black market. The major has Paco pose as a gunman and convinces her that he can give her shelter and a new life once the mission’s over.

All this, by the way, is being played up as sort of campy fun and, except for the woman who was raped, the movie carries off that tone. It’s knowingly going through the tropes—sexpot, virgin, moll—and seems to be winking at its own use of them. And at this point, the movie still has my endorsement—gathering the team is getting us closer to the plot we were promised.

And then it goes off the rails with an extended training montage with a goofy jazz score underneath it. But there’s no jokes happening during the training and the training doesn’t look like what they’re being asked to do, so the reason for the sequence and the sense that it’s funny isn’t there at all. Then they throw in the twist of a weaselly assistant to the admiral doubting the mission because “women couldn’t possibly take down a group of men” and gets it called off. So the women, with the help of the lieutenant, infiltrate and subdue an entire barracks of men to prove their ability, which gets the mission back on track.

Only the movie’s so far off track at this point, who could care? They all end up at the island and get paired off with their targets—which is what we were promised: women seducing and killing men, sex and violence, A+. Unfortunately, because of all the baggage leading up to this point, there’s not much time for either.

The signal goes out, each of the women—except the Swede—kill their targets, and, one-by-one, each woman, except the Swede get killed. The Swede’s target is an admiral who takes her to his quarters because she’s clearly nervous about being in a brothel and lets her have the bed while he sleeps on the floor. He tells her about his family and how he’s reluctantly involved in the war, I guess so we feel a little bad when he ends up getting killed anyway, which he does.

As for the women, the movie falls into the Old Testament morality that I mentioned with The Sadist: those who have sinned—the murderer and the moll—get killed, as does “the other,” the Filipino rape victim. It’s your choice if the movie thinks she needs to die because she’s no longer a virgin or because she’s not white. I’m not going to lie, I was kind of bummed that any of them died. I wanted a freeze-frame final shot of them all on a beach, jumping in the air and high-fiving as the sun rises.

So the Swede, the virgin who kills no one, escapes with the help of Paco, who’s been falling in love with her. He gives her the charm he’s been wearing that he says has kept him alive during all these raids. He then gets shot and killed. She ends up at the rendezvous point with the major, weeping at being the only survivor and Paco’s death saying he was wrong to give her the charm since she still has a terminal disease. The major says maybe Paco was right about the charm, and they sail off. THE END.

It’s a bad movie, not because of any content or politics, but because it never gets around to what it’s actually about. The movie’s about women infiltrating a sex island to assassinate military leaders. If that’s what your movie is about, don’t limit that to fifteen minutes at the end of your movie. Give us fifteen-twenty minutes of setup then get us onto that island where we can have some tension, suspense, and action.

When the assistant got the mission called off I nearly shouted, “What are you doing?” at my screen. “Will they prove that women are as capable in war as men?” is not the question the movie’s posing. It’s all about the action on that island—that’s what the characters are invested in, that’s what the audience has shows up for, and, let’s be fair, it’s what whoever wrote this movie (there’s no credited writer) was writing it for.

The movie’s a disappointment because, until the training montage, it’s kind of cheeky and fun with a dash of violence. If it had kept that up, but kept its eye on the actual plot, it’d be a fun cheesy piece of exploitation. As it is, it’s watchable, but a touch interminable, and I wouldn’t recommend it without some very sarcastic friends.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

189. Malibu Beach

189. Malibu Beach (1978)
Director: Robert J. Rosenthal
Writers: Celia Susan Cotelo and Robert J. Rosenthal
From: Cult Cinema
It’s summer in Malibu and Bobby, Dina, and their friends are having fun on the beach.
Another Marimark Production. Collectively, they’re my most hated movies. Not because they’re so bad, but because there are parts that are actually good. The movies have good production values, competent execution, and sometimes real actors. Yet they’re so lazy, beyond even perfunctory. There is a tired cynicism here that rivals the mockbusters of the Asylum. This one, though, makes me both trepidatious and hopeful.

I should note that this is being written before I’ve watched the movie.

This movie is from the writer/director of Zapped!, a 1982 teen boob comedy starring Scott Baio and Willie Aames. Baio gets exposed to an experimental serum that gives him telekinetic powers. Pranks ensue along the lines of what you’d expect from an R-rated 80’s comedy: skirts being lifted, tops popping off, etc.

That’s not the issue I have with Zapped! What makes me hopeful for Malibu Beach is that Zapped! is actually pretty good on many levels. It has wit, energy, and charming characters, generally. The “generally” is where I get nervous. In the movie, Aames is Baio’s scumbag friend and the one pushing him to lift skirts and whatnot. There’s a scene where Aames hooks up with the snooty hot girl and has rigged a camera to take a picture of them while they’re having sex. If that’s not crossing a big enough line, he passes out copies of the picture at the prom. And he’s not coded as the villain. This is all played up as shrugging, “boys will be boys” fun. And it’s not. It’s a really uncomfortable violation of consent.

More than that, though, is a scene with Baio. The best part of the movie is Baio getting a girlfriend and the two of them relating. There’s a nice montage of them dating and getting snuggly and it has a moment where when they’re laying together, she touches his hand, and says “no.”

The look on his face is 100% “bitch, don’t make me force you.” Then she laughs cause she was just kidding anyway. The trope of “I said ‘no,’ but I was kidding,” isn’t my problem, it’s the clear rape-face on Baio, and it wasn’t just me: I watched this movie with my bad movie group. One of them had grown up watching it and remembered it as being fun, upbeat, and silly. He’s also a guy who complains about “feminists” and “SJW’s.”

He was uncomfortable about that scene and after the movie said he didn’t remember it being so rapey.

So that’s where I stand going into Malibu Beach: it’s from a studio I hate, made by a guy who can make something really entertaining that also crosses serious lines. How will this play out?

Malibu Beach:

A huge heaping helping of fuck this movie.

School’s out for summer and everyone’s headed to Malibu beach. Dina is working as a lifeguard, Dugan is a body-building beach rat, and Bobby and Paul are two scumbag pieces of shit. Also our heroes. How does the movie get this so wrong? Well, in their first scene on the beach, the blond and squinty Bobby and Paul are running along tossing a football back and forth (a la The Room) and end up throwing it in the face of their former teacher because they’re not paying attention. One scene earlier, Rocky and whoeverthefuck, blond and squinty, are throwing a football back and forth and knock someone over by unexpectedly throwing it at them. This latter pair are coded as assholes, but they’re not, in any way, different from Bobby and Paul who are coded as the heroes. In fact, Rocky et al take less shitty action. But that’s our starting point—our heroes are totally different from these assholes even though they’re doing the exact same thing.

I’d go through the plot, but there’s no plot. No goals, no struggles, no thwarted desires. No structure, no callbacks, no throughline. There’s just stuff that keeps happening without any weight or consequence.

The only thing you could call a throughline is Dugan bullying Bobby and Paul. He’s the muscle-headed beach jock and, narratively, in the beach movie format, is supposed to be picking on people so his eventual embarrassment at the end of the movie are his just desserts. Only the conflict between him and the boys starts when he’s successfully flirting with one of their teachers and the boys throw a football at them. He basically tells them to fuck off, and that’s supposed to make him the dick when they’re no different from the annoying kid who pops up immediately after, stomping on sand castles and kicking sand on sunbathing strangers.

Immediately, your coded bully is getting in the characters’ faces because the characters are fucking with people. You’ve marked him out as the good guy.

And this continues. That night, Dina and her friend are driving around, meet Bobby and Paul, and Bobby starts hooking up with the friend. Dina’s not interested in Paul, though, but he keeps trying to kiss her and feel her up. Dugan sees this and intervenes, and Bobby runs up to threaten him and protect Paul. But she’d said “no,” a lot, and Paul still wasn’t stopping. Dugan isn’t the bad guy here, but the movie acts like he is because, what, he’s cockblocking Paul?

Later, Dina and her friend find the women’s room is too gross to use so check the men’s room. Paul and Bobby are just walking out, but Paul tells Bobby to hide inside. Paul tells the girls that it’s empty and safe to go in, and Bobby jumps out to surprise them (and thank God that’s the only place that scene went). Dugan catches them coming out, gets in Bobby’s face again, and the two decide to drag race through the parking lot. Bobby steals a cop car for the race.

Bobby steals a cop car. To drag race someone. And flips the cop car by crashing through a brick wall, barely managing to crawl out of the wreckage.

Nothing comes of this: no consequences, no repercussions, it’s not even mentioned again in the movie. Jesus, you could call this White Privilege: The Motion Picture, but I’m sure that’ll be a biopic of 45.

In the end, Bobby and Dugan face off in a swimming competition. Dugan is winning, but Paul puts on a shark fin and swims nearby, scaring Dugan… making him swim faster and beat Bobby by even more. Bobby knows it’s Paul so is just mugging in the water when a real shark shows up and… doesn’t bite him or result in any consequences at all. Dugan walks away dejected, ruminating in voice-over how he won the race but still didn’t get the girl. Then the teacher, who he’d ultimately struck out with earlier, pulls up and invites him back to her place. He gets in the car with a look that says this may not be a win for him. Bobby and his shitty friends skip off to terrorize more people another day a la Devil Times Five. THE END.

The perfunctoriness of other Marimark productions were at least punctuated by occasional moments of joy, wit, or invention. This doesn’t even have those. Instead, it has a dog that runs along the beach stealing bikini tops off girls so you have lots of easy nudity—four topless scenes in the first ten minutes of the movie.

It’s not just that nothing happens in the movie or that there’s no plot—you can get away with that, especially in movies about a summer. It’s that I fucking hate these people. They’re not nice, they’re not fun, and they’re not clever. They bully people, assault women, and throw tantrums whenever someone calls them out. These people are the bad guys of your beach movie, but Rosenthal has made them his heroes.

Zapped!, it turned out, set my expectations too high. This is a boring movie where you have to watch shitty people trying to get their dick wet—but without any of the cleverness or invention of, say, American Pie. Or any of its sequels. While it’s not quite as enraging or aggressively awful as Cavegirl or Going Steady, it’s filled out the trifecta and is, hands down, the worst Marimark movie I’ve seen yet. Skip it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

188. Radio Ranch

188. Radio Ranch aka Men With Steel Faces(1940)
Directors: Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason
Writers: Hy Freedman, Gerald Geraghty, Wallace MacDonald, John Rathmell, and Armand Schaefer
From: Cult Cinema
Singing cowboy Gene Autry has to protect Radio Ranch from the machinations of evil claim jumpers as well as the Thunder Riders from the underground city of Mu.
Gene Autry stretching his acting talents to the very limit as Gene Autry, is the singing host of the daily Radio Ranch show which is largely a platform for his band and him to perform songs while the Baxter siblings pop in to tell stories of the Thunder Riders, their group of junior adventurekateers. They’re encouraging people to come to the ranch to join their group as a summer camp of some kind.

The show has become popular and is attracting people, including a scientist and his financiers. They believe the ranch is sitting on top of a huge deposit of radium and the lost city of Mu. They conspire to kill Autry in the mountains near the ranch because if he misses the daily 2:00 broadcast he’ll lose his contract and the ranch. This is the constant threat—will Autry make it to air on time? It’s really not big enough to hang an entire movie on.

To complicate matters, narratively, the ranch is situated over the lost city of Mu which doesn’t want any surface dwellers to know of their existence. So they start doing raids to try to kill or capture Autry and. . . make him miss his daily broadcast.

On top of that, there’s a rebellion developing within Mu that is looking to capture Autry to dissect him and figure out how to help the Murians breathe on the surface.

This is the re-edited feature version of The Phantom Empire serial and it fares a little better than some of these serial-to-movie adaptations. The Rocky Jones movies take, I think, the laziest tactic and just cut them episode to episode which makes for crushingly dull film. This manages to really condense the story. Unfortunately, the story’s a bit too busy for the 70 minute runtime.

As with all serial-based-films, it’s a relentless repetition of cliffhanger/salvation. Gene gets saved by the kids, their dad gets shot and killed during a broadcast and Gene is accused of the murder (and the kids are curiously comfortable with their dad’s death). The Murians capture Gene, attempt to execute him, he escapes. The financiers kidnap Gene while the Murians kidnap the kids, but Gene escapes and gets back into Mu. He reveals the plot to the Murian queen, the rebel faction gets locked in a room which pretty much foils their plan, but they set off their superweapon anyway which kills them and melts the entire city. Gene, the kids, and his crew (plus all the horses) escape at the last minute. Most of the villainous financiers are killed, but Gene catches one, gets him to confess to the murder, which is recorded by the boy’s new TV technology because, oh yeah, the boy is a scientific genius as well. All good people saved, all villains dead, Gene sings us into the credits. THE END.

I was joking to my friend just last night that there were a variety of movies in these sets, not just horror, and that I was expecting a sci-fi musical at any moment. This is a sci-fi musical. Kind of. It’s a musical in the sense of our modern musicals where it’s set in a place where people are singing, not that the songs communicate something special about the characters or move things forward. All the songs are just Gene Autry singing for the radio show and have nothing to do with Mu or cowboys or anything.

Overall, it’s okay. The first half has more energy than the second. They really whip through the plot points and you get to see the admittedly good horse-riding stunts and the nice matte work and visuals. The second half, though, gets bogged down in all the plot that was getting thrown into this thing—the financiers disappear for a good forty minutes after their initial attempt on Autry’s life, the Murians’ raids to the surface to try to capture Autry get real repetitive, and everything’s condensed so much that the rebellion plot never makes sense.

Still, it manages some interesting moments and has nice visuals throughout. It’s fine to watch as a curiosity, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a movie. I would recommend it if you’re looking for raw material to cut into other video projects. The Murian stuff has a great aesthetic that should be popping up in all sorts of public access/Bulldada video art pieces. Luckily the film is in the public domain. There’s an MPEG-2 copy on here that you can use however you’d like.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

187. Click: The Calendar Girl Killer

187. Click: The Calendar Girl Killer (1990)
Directors: Ross Hagen and John Stewart
Writers: David Reskin, Ross Hagen, David Chute, and Hoke Howell from a story by Carol Lynn and John Stewart
From: Cult Cinema
A calendar photographer who mixes extreme violence into his shoots gathers a group of models at his compound for work. However, someone’s been killing models and it seems they’re coming to the compound.
Remember how I said Devil Times Five took too long to get around to what it’s actually about? The same happens here. The story’s about a centerfold photographer and someone killing the models. So the point of the movie, as a product, is bikini babes getting cut up. Which, fine, whatever. And the movie promises to be pure Martin Skinemax fare from the opening titles which are just a series of bikini models on a cheap set posing with various weapons.

Oh, 1990, how could anyone miss you?

We cut from those titles to a crying child on a cheap set being yelled at by a fat nurse. That then cuts to a man applying lipstick in a mirror, dressing himself as the nurse, and then stabbing the mirror. This is trash, pure trash, and you know how I feel about trash.

Anyway, this is the story of “Jackhammering” Jack, an “edgy” photographer who incorporates violence into his fashion spreads. It’s the kind of stuff a teenager equates with being mature because it’s superficially shocking. The movie is playing it up as a sign of genius on Jack’s part. He goes around town handing out his card to people trying to recruit them to be models and meets a woman who’s willing to take him up on the offer. Her boyfriend, though, thinks the idea is super creepy and that she shouldn’t do it. Unfortunately, the boyfriend is an abusive, controlling creeper himself so it’s hard to read his warnings as sincere.

No, really, the boyfriend’s a creep. He’s stalking her throughout the movie, ends up at the compound with her where he tries to hook up with the other models, and constantly tears her down. Also, he’s our hero. Fabulous.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though, because nothing happens for the majority of the movie. The first kill doesn’t pop up until 50 minutes in and by that point it’s clear that there are only five characters worth noting: Jack, his assistant, the girl, her boyfriend, and a man creeping around the edges. One of these people is the killer!

So Jack has a special compound where he does big projects because he has space to set up all kinds of scenes. He invites the girl out there, but says no boyfriends. The boyfriend follows them anyway and confronts them on his shitty dirt bike while they’re driving. He’s having an argument with them while neither vehicle is slowing down when he hits a car and goes over a cliff, but doesn’t die. Imagine my disappointment.

Jack starts doing the shoots at the compound, is rude to his assistant, and keeps tearing up the pictures he’s taken because they’re not realistic enough. He photographs a caveman rape scene, a wedding in front of an exploding van, a war scene of people shooting live rounds at each other, but the energy’s never there. Meanwhile, creeper infiltrates the compound and finds Jack’s office where Jack has collaged pictures of historical violence with images of his models. No one’s dead yet and it feels like the movie is trying to spoon-feed you red herrings to convince you that Jack is the killer. My bet, at this point, was it was the assistant because he’d only been in two scenes and the logic of trash like this is the killer is the person you forgot was in the movie.

50 minutes in, the person dressed as the nurse reappears and kills a model. Then it’s on. A vanload of effects crew drive into the woods and explode, people starts noticing their fellow models are missing and end up getting killed themselves, and the girl and her boyfriend are in the woods making up and missing all of it. They finally meet the creeper who reveals he’s a PI investigating Jack because previous models of his have gone missing or turned up dead, and then Jack pops up in the nurse’s uniform and attacks.

Run run run, PI killed, boyfriend knocked out, girl tied to a cross on top of a giant bale of hay. She’s going to be burned alive a la Joan of Arc while Jack takes pictures. His reasons are jealousy/sexual repression/bad nurse yada yada, doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. It’s trash. Fill in your preferred clichéd reason, it’ll make as much sense. Boyfriend shows up, is pretty useless, but does ultimately knock Jack onto the hay, set it on fire, and save the girl. Jack burns to death and we cut to the opening credit sequence, this time with the closing credits. THE END.

This movie made me laugh more than most comedies. It is demonstrably awful and not nearly as fun as the deliciously-bad The Patriot, but there’s something delightful about how aspirationally trashy it is. This wants to be an edgy film—the photographer mixing sex and violence, a cross-dressing killer, a compound full of models getting into sexy situations, I just imagine a be-headgeared teenager thrusting this VHS at his friends and lisping, “Guys, here’s something that’s really hardcore!” And, on that level, I kind of recommend it.

Like I said, it’s not The Patriot, but I think it’d pair pretty nicely with Memorial Valley Massacre as a shitty slasher double-feature. They’re both genre cash-ins, but don’t feel quite as cynical or half-assed as anything from the Asylum. There is a touch of competence and investment which makes the viewing more palatable, but both films are gloriously, brutally stupid. It’s worth pulling up if you have the time and some friends to laugh along with.

Friday, July 07, 2017

186. Devil Times Five

186. Devil Times Five aka Peopletoys (1974)
Directors: Sean MacGregor and David Sheldon
Writers: Sandra Lee Blowitz and John Durren from a story by Dylan Jones
From: Chilling
Five children escape from a mental hospital and start killing people in an isolated ski cabin.
This is one of those movies that forgets to do the work of getting around to what it’s actually about. The movie’s about killer kids. What do we get for the first thirty minutes? Kids walking through the snow while the various people in the house bicker with each other. Let’s get to it faster than the movie does, then, shall we?

During the ten-minute opening credit sequence, the van transporting the children crashes and they’re seemingly the only survivors. They start walking through the snow. Meanwhile, the main couple is heading to the lodge where the woman’s father, Papa Doc is waiting with his latest wife, Lovely, his assistant, Harvey, and Harvey’s wife, an alcoholic. Upon arrival, Papa Doc promises a big hospital job to his future son-in-law, a job that had been promised to Harvey, and chastises the son-in-law-to-be for not having a proper work ethic.

They all go to the house, pointless drama ensues with Lovely trying to seduce the mentally-impaired maintenance man, Ralph (who directly invokes Of Mice and Men by petting her hair, saying it’s soft like a rabbit, and then going to tend to his rabbits. Eye-rolling cultural references are my job movie, not yours). They’re interrupted by the daughter who then gets into a fight with Lovely when Lovely says she slept with the daughter’s boyfriend.

Further personal drama that doesn’t matter but allows nudity continues because, ultimately, this is an exploitation film that’s only promising two things: killer kids and tits. Since it only has those two things to offer, it drags out their appearances as long as possible.

The kids spot the house, but realize they’re being followed by someone from the van so set up an ambush for him. They beat him to death in an extended slow-motion scene where each frame of the film is visible for an extended period. They didn’t shoot it in slow-mo, they just slowed the film down. It doesn’t make the scene more shocking or brutal, it just makes it all last longer.

They go into the house, adults meet them and start to recognize their quirks. The five kids are, basically, the pyro, the baby, the soldier, the nun, and David played by Leif Garrett. David is the genius/transvestite because I guess the movie wanted both but couldn’t figure out how to make it work. The kids rig a trap on the diesel generator that hangs Ralph (forty-five minutes into the movie) and then proceed to start killing everyone else. It takes forever and they resort to slow-mo periodically to frustrate the audience even more.

I'd rather be watching Red Dwarf
The deaths aren’t really impressive or memorable so I won’t go through them except to mention the final one—everyone’s been killed by the kids except the son-in-law-to-be. While the kids are making a snowman out of Papa Doc’s body, the guy tries to sneak out the back door only to step in a hidden bear trap. He then falls into two more. Then the kids come over and beat him to death. The film wraps up with all the bodies being used like dolls in the attic of the building and the kids deciding they need to leave “to find new toys.” Closing title card comes up reading, “THE BEGINNING.”

Bite me movie. It’s boring which is sort of worse than any other sin a movie can commit. It’s formulaic in a dull way and none of the character—killers or victims—stand out. Plus it takes too long to get to the subject of the movie: a group of people trying to survive the attention of murderous children. I could talk about the politics of it a little bit, about the vilification of children to then permit harsher controls being inflicted upon them in schools and by police, which does come up in the culture. Whenever you see mention of “Super Predators,” that’s what’s ultimately being argued for. They’re trying to convince you to be afraid of your own kids so that you’ll allow more draconian state control over them. But that’s a deep rabbit hole that this movie doesn’t warrant. It’s just boring.

However, it is free. The movie is public domain and while my copy has a Mill Creek logo smeared across it preventing further re-use, a remastered and properly cropped version is available on here. Obviously I’m not recommending it, but it’s there if you’re curious or want to use it in some way.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

185. The Vampires' Night Orgy

185. The Vampires’ Night Orgy aka La orgía nocturna de los vampiros (1973)
Director: León Klimovsky
Writers: Gabriel Moreno Burgos and Antonio Fos
From: Pure Terror
A busload of workers on the way to their new jobs get diverted into a seemingly deserted town. The next morning, the townspeople show up, but strange things are afoot.
An unintentional vampire double feature. When this title came across my itinerary, I joked with my friends that I’d be surprised if the movie actually featured a night scene. There’s a tendency with these movies where the more salacious the title, the less interesting the film. This does at least have vampires and nights, but I’d say “orgy” is pushing it a bit. Also calling this “a film.” Or expecting any display of interest during the film.

Very little of consequence happens here. A bus of people who have all been hired on as servants at one castle are on their way there when the driver has a heart attack and dies. Frankly, I kind of want to see a modern group of people suddenly working in a gothic castle, wondering why they were all hired at the same time, but, hey, that’d make for an interesting movie so what do I know. They take a detour into a nearby town to sleep and see what they can do about the body. Curiously, the town isn’t listed on their map.


Wait, no, I meant “hackneyed.”

The town is abandoned when they arrive but the inn has a fire in the fireplace and all the rooms are made up. A tourist who’s already been there for an hour says he’s walked around but couldn’t find anyone. There isn’t even a church.

S P O O—actually, I like that as a set-up to a horror RPG session. That’s a nice seed, isn’t it? Characters arrive in a town that’s completely empty, but everything’s prepared for visitors. So many ways you could take that story. One you’d never choose is the one this movie does.

Anyway, everybody goes to sleep, the tourist finds a peephole in his room and peeps on his neighbor (our hero), and one of the group members investigates a sound at midnight and is attacked by a mob of vampires. The next morning, the townspeople are there serving the group, but there’s no meat. So the leader of the town sends a man with an ax, under orders from “the Countess,” to cut off the leg of one of the villagers which is then served to the group.

There are no consequences for the group eating human/vampire flesh, by the way. It’s just part of the movie.

One by one, the members of the group are killed by the vampires including a little girl who follows the man with the ax and sees him cut off someone’s arm. She’s not particularly impacted by it, though. Nothing in this movie is particularly impactful, even within the movie itself. The tourist figures out something is up, fixes his car, and helps the woman he’s been peeping on escape. They have some difficulty getting out of the town, but manage it only to have the Countess pop up in the back seat and attack them. She gets staked and immediately rots and decays once they hit sunlight.

They reach the next town, but the police don’t believe their story saying there’s no such town. They all drive out to the location and nothing’s there except the rusted remains of the bus that was driving the workers there originally. THE END.

It’s stupid. Skip it.

I want to say more, but nothing here matters. The people are tricked into being cannibals which comes to nothing. The little girl sees a grizzly attack which comes to nothing. She’s playing with a little ghost boy who tries to protect her from the vampires, but ends up smothering her instead, and even that comes to nothing. The movie’s only 80 minutes long but drags because none of the characters stand out—they have no desires and no one’s curious about anything. No one’s even trying to figure out what’s happening. Even the townspeople, where there’s some variety with the man the ax, the town’s leader, and the Countess, offer no story or mystery of their own.

It just feels like at every level of production and even every level of the story, everyone involved went, “Yeah, whatever.” That’s even the dominant emotion of the characters. Hell, if you’re not going to get excited about your own movie, I’m certainly not going to put the effort in.