Saturday, July 14, 2018

293. The Virgin Queen of St. Francis High

293. The Virgin Queen of St. Francis High (1987)
Director: Francesco Lucente
Writer: Francesco Lucente
From: Cult Cinema

Mike makes a $2000 bet that he can get Diane, the most famed virgin at his school to go to a private bungalow with him.

I always appreciate it when a movie describes itself better than I ever could: “My best friend’s being charmed by a slimy idiot and there’s nothing I can do to stop her.” THE END

While I have an affection for movies featuring “teens” with receding hairlines, this one really got on my nerves. First, the positive: I finished folding my laundry while the movie was playing.

The negative: this movie.

Set-up: high-schooler Diane isn’t allowed to date because her mother had a messy divorce from her father. Whether Diane’s mom got pregnant in high school or if she just doesn’t trust men anymore isn’t clear and this reason for Diane not dating is dropped later in the movie when it’s revealed that she’s already betrothed, though they don’t say that, to someone she met five years prior. So, sixth-grade-ish?

Randy is a douchebag who resents Diane’s well-advertised virginity (look, we can spend the entire day parsing the what-the-fuckery of that sentence or just agree that no part of it makes sense, just like Randy’s Australian accent. Yeah. That’s not explained either). He bets Mike, our hero, unfortunately, $2000 that Mike can’t take Diane to the Paradise Bungalows, the go-to hook-up vacation spot for teens (?), by the end of the summer.

I say Randy bets Mike. It’s really Mike who initiates the whole thing. Our hero.

So Mike tries various ham-fisted ways of getting Diane to go out with him, except he’s charmless and creepy. It’s Diane’s friend Judy who has the line I quoted at the top and she pretty much nails it. Mike whines his way into getting Diane to agree to go with him and, after a bear tries to break into their cabin, they kiss. We’re way into the movie, by the way. I just skipped a bunch of it.

On the drive home, Mike learns that Diane would never forgive someone for spreading rumors about her and ruining her reputation. Unfortunately, Judy has found out about the bet. When Mike drops Diane off, Judy tells her, and everyone leaves: Judy and Diane to get away from Mike, Mike and his friend to settle the bet with Randy.

Diane’s mad, but she likes Mike and wants to find a way to forgive him or get out in front of the rumor. Neither happens, but so what. She and Judy drive off to the meet-up point as well. There, Mike tells Randy it didn’t happen and that he lost the bet. Randy doesn’t care because he’s invested in spreading the rumor anyway. Mike makes a new bet: they play chicken and if Mike wins, Randy and his friends keep their mouths shut. Diane and Judy show up at this point, they play chicken, and Mike wins. Everyone congratulates him, Diane kisses him, and Randy gives his word. Mike and Diane go to her house to meet her mom. THE END

This is a rip-off of Better Off Dead..., a small success two years before this came out. That movie had absurd humor, odd dream sequences, and an early performance by John Cusack being charming. This movie has tired slapstick that never lands, dream sequences that even characters within the dream sequence call “dumb,” and a charmless performance by a lead who’s constantly mumbling, lying, and whining. Even beyond the performance, the character sucks. We like Diane as a character, but Mike is forever reminding us that he’s a piece of shit.

The movie just isn’t fun. Instead, it’s ninety minutes of cringe, just constant cringe. It’s limp, lifeless, and every shot looks like a reenactment from America’s Most Wanted. While there’s no nudity or sexual assault, it’s still kind of gross. I’m going to shock you and say that it’s not a recommend.

Friday, July 13, 2018

292. The Devil With Seven Faces

292. The Devil With Seven Faces aka Il diavolo a sette facce (1971)
Director: Osvaldo Civirani
Writers: Tito Carpi and Osvaldo Civirani
From: Drive-In

A woman is mistaken for her twin sister by gangsters trying to recover a stolen diamond.

Julie Harrison, after a party, is stalked by someone who takes pictures of her face. The next day, she visits the lawyer she met that night, Dave Barton, who’s being visited by his friend Tony. After leaving the office, Julie is assaulted on the sidewalk only to be saved by Tony and Dave. She starts a relationship with Tony while Dave starts pursuing an independent investigation into her.

What we learn is that Julie has a twin sister, Mary, who was married to a gangster. She was involved in a diamond heist and ripped her husband off. Now she’s calling Julie, trying to line up safe passage while sundry criminal forces mistake Julie for Mary.

After a fairly lengthy series of crosses and double-crosses, it’s revealed that Tony is Mary’s gangster husband. He and the other gang hunting the diamond cross paths, everyone dies, and Julie leaves safely. As she rushes to catch a plane, the police inspector tells his assistant that Julie died two years prior. The “Julie” we’d been watching was Mary and the diamond she’s carrying is a fake—the real one was never stolen. Dave meets her on the plane revealing that he knows the truth as well, minus the fake diamond, and the pair fly off assuming they’ll live off the sale of the diamond that neither knows is fake. THE END.

There’s very little tension in the film considering there’s an armed gang stalking the lead and the police never trust the principle characters. The sense of a closing net is never present. Instead, the film’s about the various figures crossing and double-crossing each other, but you can only recognize that if you know how the movie ends. Otherwise the moves are too subtle. Since the movie doesn’t spend much time on characters openly distrusting each other or escaping ever-closer moments of peril, the majority of the film is spent with them all just hanging out. The movie doesn’t offend in any particular way, but that’s less to do with the content than it is to do with the fact that it doesn’t move at all. While it’s not painfully boring, it’s just not that interesting, so it’s not a recommend.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

291. The Wild Women of Wongo

291. The Wild Women of Wongo (1958)
Director: James L. Wolcott
Writer: Cedric Rutherford
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

A prehistoric island populated only by beautiful women and ugly men is discovered by people from an island with only beautiful men and ugly women.

An opening voice-over by Mother Nature tells us of an experiment she and Father Time performed 10,000 years ago. On the island of Wongo, they placed only beautiful women and ugly men. On the nearby island of Goona, only beautiful men and ugly women. The film that follows tells the story of what happened next.

Well, what happens next is very little. Basically, the women of Wongo see a man from Goona, become infatuated, and, through a variety of coincidences, everyone ends up with their ideal partner at the end—the women of Wongo with the men of Goona and the women of Goona with the men of Wongo. There is the threat of ape-men attacking, but while that’s used as an inciting incident, it’s never followed through to any conclusion. The story is about men and women coming together and, at the end, there’s a mass marriage where each man takes turns winking at the camera, except for the final couple that features the film’s main woman. Instead, she winks at the camera. THE END.

So I watched the version of this featured on Elvira’s Movie Macabre because I’ve seen it before, because it’s not that great, and because I could. I’d watched it just over ten years ago from the Sci-Fi box set and I’ll admit to being a little harsh on it back then. It’s a low-key cheesecake/beefcake picture with nice cinematography. Having watched nearly 300 other movies from these sets, something being fluffy and silly doesn’t offend my sensibilities anymore. Sure, the gender politics are pretty retrograde, but everything’s consensual and everyone involved seems to be having fun. That’s nothing to get angry over. Plus watching the version with Elvira’s interjections helped. The movie’s silly, but her occasional raspberries upped the energy level a lot.

I mention retrograde gender politics, but even that’s less than you’d imagine, especially with this kind of plot. What’s interesting is the movie’s definitions of ugly and attractive. Elvira pops in after the first appearance of a woman with, “Is that one of the pretty women, or the ugly women?” It’s a little mean-spirited, but it’s also a fair question: What are this movie’s standards and how do they reflect the audience’s expectations? Because when the “ugly” men appear, they’re all kind of buff, well-tanned, and, at worst, look like really fit hipsters. In fact, they don’t look dramatically different from the attractive men.

With the women there’s at least a difference between the so-called ugly ones and the women of Wongo, but it almost seems like the only real difference is a variety of body shapes. All the women of Wongo have the same pin-up figures. The women of Goona range from fat to thin, tall to short, and have obligatory make-up to add additional features. When it comes down to it, though, the movie seems to be saying there’s only one standard of beauty and it’s represented by the rigid sameness of the women of Wongo. One of the Goona women is tall and therefore ugly, but, really?

There’s the additional element of the movie suggesting punching your own weight because everyone ends up in love—not just the attractive people. The uglies pair off maybe even faster than the attractive people do and are visibly excited about their partners. So I guess I’m saying don’t let incels see this because it suggests their 80/20 rule is bullshit (if any part of that sentence confuses you, be happy in your ignorance and don’t Google it).

In the end, the movie is harmless fluff that, with the right mindset can even seem kind of sweet. It’s real dull, though. Even though it’s only 72 minutes, it still manages to drag. However, it’s pretty silly so it’s one of those qualified beer-and-pretzel recommendations. Don’t watch it alone and make sure you can goof on it.

Like I said above, I watched this more than ten years ago. The flick’s in the public domain so I uploaded a copy to the Internet Archive here. Since then, it’s been downloaded almost 29,000 times. I feel a little proud of that, like it’s evidence that people are using these movies I’ve been sharing.

Friday, July 06, 2018

290. The Babysitter

290. The Babysitter (1969)
Director: Don Henderson
Writers: James E. McLarty from a story by George E. Carey and Don Henderson
From: Cult Cinema

An assistant district attorney has an affair with a babysitter and is then blackmailed by a motorcycle gang facing murder charges.

How am I getting all these movies in a bunch? First The Teacher, then My Tutor, and now this. Adults having affairs with minors or people coded as being dramatically young. Leaving aside the fact that there are at least three movies like this in these sets (I’m sure there have been more that I’m forgetting), they all come up within two months of each other. Mathematically, how does that happen?

To be fair, the titular babysitter does seem to be an adult—she’s not coded as a child, but still lands in the college-age category—so the movie doesn’t have the pedophilic edge that My Tutor and especially The Teacher had. Thin defense, I know.

Anyway, the movie is about George, an assistant to the DA who’s potentially preparing to run for the position himself. He and his wife go out for a political dinner and hire a babysitter from a service—Candy. That night, George drives Candy home and there’s some flirtation.

Meanwhile, a motorcycle gang learns that George has been assigned as prosecutor to a murder case involving one of their members. The member’s girlfriend, Julie, decides to ingratiate herself into George’s house and get evidence of his daughter being a lesbian to use as blackmail. The plan works, only the daughter is hooking up with her girlfriend behind frosted glass. However, at the very same time, Candy comes over and hooks up with George. Julie gets pictures of that and their continuing relationship over the next two weeks.

Finally Julie calls, gives George the blackmail threat: get her boyfriend off or she sends the pictures to his wife and boss. She tells him the whole story of how the gang murdered the woman. They wanted revenge on her for killing one of their members in a car accident. The boyfriend “just wanted to hurt her,” but she died anyway.

George tells Candy about the blackmail threat and Candy brushes it off. He learns that she knows about Julie dealing drugs, but refuses to give him details that he could use to have her arrested because that “wouldn’t be fun.” In the end, George gets the conviction, using part of Julie’s description of events to sway the jury, and Candy gathers some friends to torture Julie into handing over the negatives. Candy and her friends plant weed at Julie’s place and leave her tied up for the cops. Meanwhile, George has written his letter of resignation, but his boss refuses it. He already has the pictures and thinks it’s funny. George rushes home to find his wife has copies as well, but she immediately forgives him. The final shot is Candy dancing with a new man at a dance club. THE END.

How is this cheap 50s b&w exploitation film coming out in 1969? There’s a sense of it trying to impose a moral lesson, but the outrage seems to be at the idea of George having to face consequences for his actions. He starts the affair with Candy the day after meeting her. Then the shock moment at the end when Candy refuses to help him because she doesn’t want to rat out her friends’ weed source. The implication is that she’s doing something wrong, not that George is looking for a way to use his power to escape responsibility for what he’s done.

Don’t worry, though, the movie is very clear that his power gets him out of facing consequences. When he talks to his boss about the pictures, the boss treats it like a joke. He even tells George that Julie told him the whole story and that he’s going to leave her locked up so no one else hears it.

I don’t know—powerful men abusing their power to facilitate their sexual impropriety? Just isn’t sitting well when I’m in PA and the clerical sexual abuse files are being released. Or when people who got toppled by #MeToo are getting paid gigs playing themselves up as victims.

You don’t need politics of the moment to be turned off by this movie. It’s cheap softcore porn masquerading as a real movie. If you want a modern comparison, think Neil Breen: George, the main character of this movie, is also the writer and producer. So he wrote a porno and cast himself in it as the guy who gets laid.

Apparently he liked the experience so much that he made a not-quite-sequel the next year with the same babysitter plot and tagline: “She came to sit with baby...And went away with daddy!” That movie, Weekend With the Babysitter is also in this set! There’s yet another one of these that I’ll have to watch!

Not only does the movie have gross morals, it’s dull. It takes, literally, 55 minutes of this 75 minute movie for George to get the phone call from the blackmailer. Everything up to then is just George moping, sex scenes, and a general skeeviness. The movie doesn’t even seem to worry about him getting caught since he doesn’t put much effort into hiding the affair (considering the end, I can see why).

It just sucks on every level and I’m not happy that I have to watch this deflated potato take another run at it in another movie—one that’s apparently 15 minutes longer and doesn’t include the blackmail plot. Great. So it takes longer for less to happen. I cannot wait for this all to end.

Skip the movie. Burn any copies you find.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

289. Pink Angels

289. Pink Angels (1972)
Director: Larry G. Brown
Writer: Margaret McPherson
From: Cult Cinema

A gang of gay bikers is headed down the coast to a drag ball in LA while a demented militia leader is planning a siege on the US.

The titular “Pink Angels” are a 6-man motorcycle gang who are all gay. THE END

I’m not exaggerating as much as you think I am. That one sentence is both a summation of the plot of the film and the entirety of the gag. “Hell’s Angels, but gay.” You’d think you’d have to do more than just that to get funding let along a cast and crew, but apparently not in 1972.

Oh, don’t forget the racist gags.

The weird militia plot only pops up every twenty minutes or so with the leader doing some skit. There’s no real connection until the very end of the movie when a biker gang that the Pink Angels pranked earlier pick up the Angels, failing to recognize them because they’re in drag, and take them to the party that turns out to be at the militia man’s house.

Each scene lasts forever and, like many of these movies, if a song comes on in the background, the scene goes until each and every note has been played (if you’ve paid for the song, might as well use the whole thing). The whole thing is interminable and I just wanted it to end. And then the final shot is all the Angels lynched! Fuck this movie.

Friday, June 29, 2018

288. Single Room Furnished

288. Single Room Furnished (1966)
Director: Matt Climber
Writers: Matt Climber and Michael Musto from the play by Gerald Sanford
From: Cult Cinema

The story of a woman’s life told through three instances of love and heartbreak.

Single Room Furnished is the last movie Jayne Mansfield filmed before her death and that detail adds the exploitation element. Whereas the other movies in these sets are obviously exploitation—slasher, blaxploitation, sex comedies—this is exploiting her death. It even opens with an introduction by Walter Winchell eulogizing Mansfield. He’s supposed to add a gravitas, an importance to the film that the film itself doesn’t have. And the sincerity he brings to the eulogy feels like its own genre of exploitation.

The movie itself is pretty disappointing, both as Mansfield’s final performance and as a film itself. Much like the last movie I watched, Night Train to Terror, this is essentially an anthology film, only instead of horror, it’s a drama from three points in this woman’s life. The frame narrative is Pop, the super in an apartment building, telling Maria stories about Mansfield’s life for… reasons? The movie wants to be a morality tale of Maria learning a lesson from Mansfield’s life, but Mansfield doesn’t make any rash decisions. She’s unlucky in love and suffers for it.

The first story is about Frankie and Johnnie. Mansfield, in this story, is Johnnie (short for Johanna). The pair are married and talking on the fire escape outside their apartment. They reminisce about how they met and Frankie talks about wanting to get out of New York and see the world. The next morning, Frankie’s gone and, as Pop tells us in voice over, Johnnie loses the baby.

Oh yeah, Johnnie was pregnant. They didn’t mention that in the scene either.

The second story is about Flo and Charlie, another couple that lives in the building. Flo is trying to get Charlie to ask her out despite him being a “confirmed bachelor.” Finally she asks him out, but he’s “too bashful” to pick her up.

*cough* “Confirmed bachelor” is a euphemism for “gay.”

A few days later, Flo finds Charlie in a bar and he tells her (story within a story) about Mae (Mansfield) visiting and telling him she’s pregnant. He ends up asking Mae to marry him, changes his mind after talking to Flo. Proposes to Flo.

Flo comes down to the super’s apartment, sends the super to deal with Charlie, and tells Maria the rest of the story: She and Charlie offered to adopt the baby, but Mae gave it away to some other couple. After that, Mae started going by “Eileen.”

Eileen’s story is she’s a sex worker and comes home to find Billy in her apartment. He’s one of her customers that’s become obsessed. He says he loves her and proposes marriage, but he’s not listening to her say no. Finally he threatens her with a gun, but leaves and shoots himself instead.

Maria makes up with her mom and one of Eileen’s customers from the bar comes looking for Eileen. THE END

So Maria, who was fighting with her mother at the beginning for cramping her style has made up with her, but there’s no lesson to take from Mansfield’s story except maybe enjoy your innocence while it lasts. She doesn’t make any poor choices. In fact, she seems to deal with people honestly and gets poorly used because of it.

The movie itself was adapted from a stageplay and it has that look. Just lots of people talking to each other without moving and constantly relating information in monologue. The whole thing’s just inert. Mansfield is fine, but the roles that she’s given and lines she has to say in this movie are so overwrought. At times it feels like the writer or director was aiming for a Blanche DuBois from Streetcar and missed by miles.

I’d say this flick is only for Mansfield completists, but they would have already seen it. So skip it. The whole thing is kind of embarrassingly boring and the eulogy at the top makes watching it feel not quite ghoulish, but certainly unseemly.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

287. Night Train to Terror

287. Night Train to Terror (1985)
Directors: John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, and Gregg G. Tallas
Writer: Phillip Yordan
From: Drive-In

A horror anthology where God and Satan haggle over the souls whose various stories make up the anthology.

Anthology films are generally hard to do because you’re trying to grab the audience’s attention, hold it, and bring a narrative to a satisfying conclusion. Then you have to do that at least twice more. However, horror kind of lends itself to the anthology format. I think I’ve said it elsewhere on the blog, but horror is much more about tone than character or plot. With a short piece, you can excel at relating a tone and idea and then getting out before anyone starts to ask questions.

None of which applies to this movie which is just silly when it’s not boring.

Night Train to Terror is an anthology, but it’s not comprised of shorts. Instead, it’s comprised of edited and shortened versions of three other films. Rather than have a short film that has its own beginning, middle, and end, you get three summaries of films, often with extended voice-overs to explain what’s going on.

The frame narrative is God and Satan riding a train and examining cases of individual souls. The “cases” are the three movies that make up this movie. Meanwhile, the train is going to crash at dawn, killing the rock band performing in the next car. They just sing one song, over and over, and, by the end, you’re begging for that crash.

The first story is about a guy who’s kidnapped by evil scientists. They inject him with some mind-control drug and send him out to roofie and kidnap women. This is not only to give the movie lots of context-free nudity, it’s also so the scientists can torture, murder, and then sell the women’s bodies to medical schools. One doctor turns on the other, the guy slips from their control, and all the bad guys get killed. There’s no sense of character or even any sense of what’s going on, so the whole sequence is pretty dull.

The second story is about a man who falls in love with a porno actress. He hunts her down, they get together, but her boss doesn’t want to give her up. So he invites them into the “Death Club” where members subject themselves to Rube Goldberg-ian forms of Russian Roulette: releasing a lethal bug to sting someone in the room, strapping themselves into electric chairs while a computer decides which one get the shock, and laying in sleeping bags under a swinging wrecking ball whose cord is being cut.

This story has more voice-over than the other two because so much of the original movie is glossed. The man bows out of the club after the insect incident, but the boss has him kidnapped at gun point twice to endure the other two. Which don’t kill the guy. Or the boss. So what was the point?

The final story is a movie I already reviewed on the Misery Mill, The Nightmare Never Ends. While this condensed version adds stop-motion monsters that are not in the original, it strips what little sense there was from the original. You still have this demon/Satan surrogate living his immortal life on Earth. A Holocaust survivor tries to kill him and dies instead. This leads Detective Cameron Mitchell (may his name be praised) to investigate and figure out who the demon is. Meanwhile Richard Moll has written a book arguing that God is Dead and his wife is told she must do the work of ridding the world of Satan. Everyone dies except the wife who tries to kill the demon, but butchers someone else instead.

I said at the end of that review that, “With the right perspective and group of friends, this could all be entertainingly bad,” and I’d double-down on that for this movie. The whole approach and sense of gravitas throughout is pretty silly and the stop-motion monsters look deliciously bad. This version, altogether, is much funnier than The Nightmare Never Ends, although it’s still a bad movie. With some chips and beer, though, it’d be great for some Halloween fun.