Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception, for your aghast befuddlement

Friday, March 15, 2019

Argh, Matey! THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)


Hey sweetie, let a man 'splain it for you: the 70s were a great time for feminist horror, though the word back then was "women's lib." It was all about being liberated, one way or the other: Sex, pills, books, grass, and the occult were the tools; the movies went one of two ways, either she's crazy or everyone else is evil.  In films like Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971), The Sentinel (1977) and Stepford Wives (1975) it's them. And in post-Repulsion character studies like 1975's Symptoms, she was usually an isolated antisocial mess, living in perverse mortal terror of her own sexuality. But it turns out there's a third way: the woman is crazy and 'liberated' - truly a product of her moment, far outside the reaches of conventional nuclear family values, and the people around her genuinely love her and are, more or less, normal, or at any rate, pleasantly debauched, as in Matt Climber's 1976 near-cult semi-classic, The Witch who Came from the Sea. Judging by how she kills her lovers, it's not hard to guess why this film has never become a big cult classic. But now, on Prime in HD and looking good, albeit slightly faded, there's no reason not to batten down the hatches, zip up to and delve into primal Freudian/Jungian chthonic murk so thick and rich it must be good for you to get this squeamish. Would you die for love?


I'll confess: my squeamishness when it comes to females being sexually abused sometimes gets the better of me and I'll avoid a movie for decades based on the description. I was staving off seeing this for awhile due to dreading scenes of childhood sexual abuse and imagining any retribution being done by a mousy victim rather than an actual human. I've been long drawn to Witch's poster of a defenestrating Kali Venus, rising on the foam of the castrated lovers (symbolized by a severed head - one can't get too graphic on a poster), but the film I imagined based on what I read was a full screen washed-out depressing affair of joyless trauma and misguided vengeance, looking and feeling claustrophobic on a bad video dupe. Well, I finally had the nerve to see Witch who Came From The Sea last weekend after coming home from Gaspar Noe's Climax at the Alamo (for it hath emboldened me with the 'right' mood). Turns out it's way better and more complex than I envisioned. It rules!

Millie Perkins stars as Molly "The Mermaid," a single barmaid at a seaside dive on the beach of Santa Monica, "The Boathouse," owned and operated by the pleasantly grizzled Long John (Lonny Chapman). She's not just great babysitter to her two adoring nephews, beloved of clientele and employees, but she has the ability to 'get' good-looking men as if fishing them out of the television. Aside from headaches as her brain struggles to keep the lid on her buried incest childhood by cloaking it in all sorts of nautical imagery and oceanic sound effects, she's perfect. Maybe she's mad as a hatter, and has a weird thing for good-looking men on TV, as if they can see her from the screen, and are propositioning her. Maybe she keeps talking about her lost-at-sea captain father as some kind of omnipotent hero despite her more grounded sister who assures her kids he was a monster. But she's not 'victim' crazy, not a cringing trauma victim or a twitchy mess. She's crazy in a way that encompass sanity within itself. When a bubbly blonde actress (Roberta Collins) at the bar bemoans not being liberated, which is now a requirement for TV she glances over at Molly in her patchwork denim and declares she could be in commercials: "You look liberated." The older barmaid Doris (Peggy Furey) adds that "Molly is a saint, a goddamned American saint." Later when her nervous welfare-collecting sister Cathy (Vanessa Brown) shows up to try and convince them of the truth, "you think she's just about perfect," she says to Long John. "Yeah," he snaps back, "why not?"

We agree, thanks to Millie Perkins' dynamic, confident portrayal we love her as much as the staff and her nephews do. Anything she does is all right with us. She's a goddamned saint.


That's what makes it so tragic. Molly is a liberated saint, yes, but she has no grasp on reality, and it's not the social world's fault, it's the fault of the family dynamic that would let her vile father rule the roost in such a horrifying way (we never see if she has a mother). It's a mix of latent, incest trauma-induced schizophrenia, wherein she sees people on TV talking to her, and her childhood is--understandably--warped and blurred in a salty sea spray of nautical mythology, punctuated by deeply unsettling visions. She has a habit of being drawn to people on it or connected with television, only to then kill them or is she merely fantasizing. She presumes the latter but lately, who knows. If she hears someone is dead she announces she won't believe "if it's true or not until it's on television." As if TV isn't lying to her constantly, the men on it leering out at her, calling her forward. Her dichotomy seems to be a relaxed ease in the anonymous oceanic of the bar, and the bed of salty pirate Long John, a grizzled old reprobate who accepts Molly as she is, no strings. ("Molly is the captain of her own ship.") The bed seems to be in the bar itself, and as such it becomes a very weird uniquely 70s cool spot, with panelling and aquariums and mermaid and nautical bric-a-brac, including those painted mirrored wall tiles that are often associated with orange shag and faux rock walls.

"Her father was a god; they cut off his balls and threw them into the sea."

The ocean plays a huge part, though the film never gets out on a boat, we see the ocean outside the window, and hear it deep in the sound mix, the town where they live seems largely deserted, so shops like Jack Dracula's tattoo parlor loom with an almost Lemora-style surrealism. The flashbacks are all given a surreal, sometimes darkly comic, patina, with comically distorted or ocean sound effects as if her brain is working overtime to contextualize the most primal and odious of endured horrors in terms of oceanic myth. The sea itself becomes her father, a timeless chthonic wellspring, an ultimate signifier connecting this film to everything from Treasure Island (hence the name Long John) to Moby Dick (the local tattoo artist's long tattooed face evokes Queequeg). The soundtrack is a brilliant melange of background sound (the ocean's waves are never out of earshot) and ironic electronic counterpoint: when the melody of a sea shanty she's half-singing while going in the bathroom, the two football players tied up, is suddenly picked up and finished by the ominous soundtrack as she comes back with a razor, its the kind of darkly comic interjection that would make John Williams probably shit himself with fear ("do you shave with straight razors, or is this all going to be agonizingly slow?"). When Molly learns of Venus, born in the sea, according to one of her pursuing men, ex-movie star Billy Batt (Rick Jason - above) she says with child-like sincerity, "You're lying to me." It's a brilliant line, she could be kidding in a cocktail party way, or it could be an indication her concepts of reality, myth and TV are hopelessly blurred together. And in fact, it's both - this is the age of liberation and free-thinking - where the structure of reality is far looser than it used to be.


And as in any ocean, there are storms: when all other boundaries fail her, her oceanic visions become terrifying pictures of being tied to the mast of a free-floating raft, surrounded by dismembered male bodies, as if remembering some primal prehistoric siren past (only without a hypnotist Chester Morris pulling the strings). The split between her castrating angel of death, turned on by sadism and dismemberment, both as projection revenge against her father and tricks maybe taught by him (we never really know - or hear his voice), and her sweet aunt / fun carefree cool barmaid type is as vivid as the difference between TV and reality. "Let's get lost at sea, Molly m'lass" is what we learn her father used to say, "and we got lost at sea so many... many times." The ocean surge mirroring the rise and fall of the bedsprings - its base horror itself part Greek myth (Elektra) and part Sumerian or druid sacrificial cult, the young boy castrated and his loins thrown into the sea to ensure a good harvest of fish (or wheat if on the fields).

Long John seems somehow to be spared, to share a bed. Maybe due to his easygoing attitude, age, that he's not on TV, and his ability to be contextualized into her nautical miasma (he's a "pirate"). He certainly never reigns in her sexual adventurousness or belittles or infantilizes her. He says he's too old and experienced to get jealous, he says, and we believe him. But you know he loves her, and is willing to take her at face value, as much as he can. He's no fool though, and when he asks her when she lost her virginity and she can't remember that far back, starts stalling and getting a headache he realizes immediately and to some horror the truth; the script and film don't need to underline the moment. He gets it, and his whole demeanor changes, and so we get it too, without ever needing it heard aloud. It's a brilliantly modulated bit of acting by them both. These are smart, interesting people, with unique bonds.



THE MYSTIC ORACLE:

One thing that most horror movies, or any movies, lack is the presence of TVs. They're hard to film due to streaking, so often they're just left off, but it really spells the difference between a believable reality and this kind of utopia where people just sit around in empty kitchens waiting for their cue. Here, though we can clearly see the TV image is superimposed to avoid telltale streaking, that actually works to give the images an extra eerie frisson.  TV is a constant extrasensory, imposed presence: in her childhood memories a very creepy black-and-white clown makes all sorts of weird swimming gestures towards her, beckoning to her/us in a way that's genuinely unsettling. Watching, I had the distinct feeling some terrifying being from my own childhood dreams had found me and was beckoning me from across time and media. Other genius moments tap into LSD experiences (every hippy's schizophrenic sampler), as figures talking to the camera on TV seem to be addressing us/Molly directly. No sooner has she seduced Alexander McPeak (Stafford Morgan) after seeing him in a shaving commercial ("Don't bruise the lady,") she's receiving bizarre directives directly from his TV commercials, telling her where and how to take that razor across his jugular vein.
"he's stark naked, everywhere, looking at me."
It's a weird trick to pull off - Molly is a tragic figure who we don't have to 'protect' or 'fix'.  There's no evil or malice in anything she does. ("Does it help that I didn't hate any of them?" she eventually says, "except that first little bastard," whose mother sang on television... And he sang with her!"). And that's why for me, the film really takes off, with a script that looks at the whole mythopoetic pie, from the raw ingredients to the final delicious slice, ocean-to-table, as it were, from ocean depths to the facile screen of the omnipotent television with its Apollonian figures ever in need of gelding by a dark agent of the chthonic. It's a perfect role for the right actress, and Millie Perkins is just that actress. Maybe she had a hand in creating it (she was married to Thom at the time and played the senator's daughter in his AIP hit Wild in the Streets). Fans will remember her Anne Frank (in 1959's Diary of Ann Frank) and her enigmatic resilience as the 'woman' in Monte Hellman's The Shooting (1966), so we know she's very comfortable playing strong women despite her petite size. Her Molly the Mermaid is not a wuss, or one of those rote timid types that become punching bags for every bully and sadist in a 20 mile radius before finally getting down to revenging. She behaves in a way that is indicative of the kind of loose free vibe of the decade the film is from. Though she's clearly "a mess," she's falling apart from a place of strength so beyond most modern female characters that even a mess she's more together than they are.

Trying to find out how this amazing film could be made, could emerge so fully formed from the frothy foam of independent horror cinema, we need to look at the credits, for both Thom and director Climber have unique outlooks on feminine strength indicated by their other films. Thom's body of work shows a latent queer eye for strong young beautiful men, and his films often feature a strong, domineering mother figure (as in his scripts for New World: Bloody Mama and Wild in the StreetsAngel Angel Down We Go) He's the exploitation market's Tennessee Williams, tapping into the same vein of Apollonian beauty reaching like Icarus, for the sun, swallowed up by the maternal chthonic of the devouring mother. In fact, Witch's conspicuous absence of a mother figure (I can't remember if one is even mentioned), aside from the sea makes the Venus myth have extra resonance. The devouring mother is the sea itself, its tide like a thousand beaks and claws. Witch who Came from the Sea would make a great mythopoetic subtextual gender/death-swapped  double bill with Suddenly Last Summer, with Molly's sister as the Mercedes McCambridge (there's even a bit of the same speaking pattern), Molly's dead father as the Kate Hepburn matriarch, and Molly herself as the dead Sebastian. Promise me you'll think about it?



Director Matt Climber is the other major force, on his best behavior here and his love of strong female characters very much in evidence. Basically the real-life inspiration for Marc Maron's character in GLOW (on Netflix) and the original TV show's founding director (there's even a passing resemblance between GLOW star Alison Brie and Perkins). Between that and his 1983 Conan-ish film Hundra, it's clear he's got a unique appreciation for very strong, assertive, capable women. It's clear Climber loves Molly as much as Thom, Perkins making the film, and the nephews and Long John in the film, do.  I love her too, and I love this film and love the way Molly and Long John seem to sleep in the bar, that it converts to a bedroom downstairs, one with a cigarette machine by the stairs. I love the way all the scenes have that strange 70s mirror tiling and gorgeous deep wood decor. It's the best film since Antonioni's Red Desert (1964) to make these lines between commercial and private space so blurred. And if you've a soft spot for seaside drama and 70s decor, this is a film to cherish even as it gets you mighty mighty squeamish. I've already visited its shores three times since March began! Aye, don't be scared. it may not put you in that tropical island mood but it will give you that old-time religion. Older than Aphrodite, older than Innana, Ishtar, Asherah and Astarte! Old enough to sail the sea without a rudder, safe--at last-- in your mother's foamy talons.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The Broken Mirror Dagger in the High of The Beholder: CLIMAX


Numerous and horrific, indeed, are the woes that can result when one is dosed with way too much LSD without knowing it, in the wrong company, at the wrong time, and to the wrong music. This is the takeaway moral of Gaspar Noé's latest masterpiece, CLIMAX (2019), the story of a dance troupe undone by an unknown dissident's spiking their post-rehearsal sangria with a massive amount of liquid acid. And what a rehearsal it is! Noé' shows he knows how to film dance properly (as opposed to the hyper-cutting of Guadagino's Suspiria [1]) and it's a great start. This mix of French and English-speaking dancers are staggeringly talented, and hot. And hey, by the time the shit kicks in they're already on their third or so glass, their laughter and conversations getting progressively more deranged until it's far too late to even stop drinking. The best they can do is try and hide the choreographer's young kid, locking him in storage so no one can accidentally rip him apart or put him in the oven thinking he's a turkey (his screams to be let out joining the general cacophony underneath the endless propulsive beat). There's not even time to hide the sharp objects! And then, as the misery grows, a kind of lynch mob mass hysteria takes over. Those who haven't drunk anything are suspect and persecuted, sometimes horrifically. Old grievances flare up, and forbidden taboos--incest, etc.--are no longer able to stay submerged. This is the nightmare of anyone who's ever done way too much acid and tried to find their coat and their friends at a crowded party, forced to listen to Dave Matthews and Jamiroquai while you try to find your coat, shoes, friends, drink, a space to stand and get your head together, and been unable to so much as dispel a single invisible cop or paisley air-pattern. Or worse, the party is at your house; your own room is overrun with strangers, stepping all over your shit and rummaging through your stuff like it's a yard sale. You try to order them to leave but all that comes out of your mouth is gobbledigook. They laugh, then ask you where's the drugs, Erich! They want some, but you're like no way man, you're not ready. Your widening pupils should be enough to send them running. But they just get creepier, pleading, needier... their skin like the thinnest of bags holding gallons of racing red blood.

Sound terrifying? Don't worry, you've got me as your guide this time. And I'm better than Bruce Dern ever was in Roger Corman's 1967 opus, The Trip. Hell, this whole blog is designed as a kind of guide, waiting for just this moment!  Play the mix below and never hear surf music again (-Jimi Hendrix). When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro (- Hunter S. Thompson). So get yourself 'experienced' and follow me... follow me down (- Jim Morrison).


Sofia Boutella (center above), the lush sinuous Algerian dancer/actress (she was the latest incarnation of The Mummy and a cute alien in Star Trek: Beyond, etc.) stars, or is the most recognizable and sympathetic of the gathered dancers, though we only follow her about 1/3 or so of the time as we regularly check in on the various fates of various poor damned souls. I'm not even sure what happens to her character, Selva, by the end, but she is certainly lovely and can certainly dance. She's the coolest, along with some willowy brunette I swooned for (top, middle) and when they dance together we're pretty into it. So is this horny, pawing sexually ravenous bisexual white guy David (Romain Guillermic), who winds up badly beaten up by the brother of a girl he likes, etc. Other noticeable memorable characters include 'Daddy' (Kiddy Smile), the DJ responsible for keeping the beat so relentless and propulsive, driving these characters ever onward like he's a reincarnation of the evil shoemaker played by Robert Helpmann in The Red Shoes except he's the one totally sweet character in the film, and he never loses his giddy glow. I wanted to list some of the atrocities that result, but one is better off not knowing beforehand, nor the actor's amount of neurochemical 'preparation' for their roles. Their ferocity is so convincing and the flow from organized normalcy to insane madness so organic that--being dancers all--even in their wracked state their bodies never cease moving and twisting to the throbbing incessant music, blurring the lines between this as an 'acid test' tragedy horror film and a kind of extended 90 minute dance performance. Even so, with  those lines so blurred it seems impossible this isn't cinema verité from some weird circle of Hell, capturing a very real experience with some magic invisible camera, the floating soul eye from Noé's 2009 masterpiece, Enter the Void meets an impromptu Panic Theater happening down at Aronofsky's Chilean basement, or something. Since we barely see anything of the outdoors, or any 'sane' perspective after a certain period in the film, we lose contact with the real world as much as the actors, leaving us lost in the same weird cabin fever collective break.

As for hallucinations, we don't see trails or distorted imagery but the sound mixing takes us there. When I saw it at the Alamo, I could feel the drugs kicking in just through the way the sound subtly changed from the usual mix to a kind of woozy 4-dimensional binaural sound sphere, voices seeming to slowly flow from the front of the room to the back, to deepen and widen. As the screams and madness increase the incessant throbbing beat seems to incorporate them and in the sound mix you can hear every detail, all growing louder and quieter as the camera follows Boutella or some other dilated-eyed peace-seeker to the next room, or down the hall, looking for some kind of oasis from the needy gathering, the music and screaming fading or building according to proximity, but also whooshing in the mix as if our inner ASMR headspace is constantly readjusting itself as blood flows through the inner ear. When the music shorts out the effect is like being suddenly thrown out of bed onto a busy winter street, a feeling of sudden nakedness and vulnerability that has them scrambling for a battery operated boombox, to keep the beat alive --at the very least, it structures, and leavens out, their never-ceasing flow of unbearable existential nowness.

With LSD's appearance in recent festival favorites like Mandy, Good Time(subtextually at least) Mother- and Rick and Morty,-, our current 'cool' media landscape is connecting to older LSD-era films like 1969's The Big CubeThe Trip, and other films reviewed on this site in the "Great Acid Cinema" series (see the Lysergic Canon collection in the sidebar to the right, bro). In other words, what I was hoping for when I started this site back in 2003, out in the desert like Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West, has come to pass. So this site is finally au currant, but be careful what you wish for with such a dangerous substance. The overall mission of this blog has always been to help situate these experiences, however surreal and nightmarish, in a less-demonized or ridiculed context, academically, to incorporate the expanded consciousness of the psychedelic experience into mainstream academic parlance. Too often these experiences have been depicted in fashions either condemning and prudish (Go Ask Alice), too literal (the transformation into an actual ape in Altered States), self-important (Fear and Loathing..) or naive (Revolution). Trying to chronicle the psychedelic experience, filmmakers have the knee-jerk habit of running back from the lip of the void like nervous seagulls in the surf. Few filmmakers outside Europe are able to include a validation of the genuine mystical experience offered by the psychedelic solution, and to do so without getting naive and Aquarian, self-important. overly academic, or any other easy way out. These filmmakers choose the right exit, to claw through their fleshy disguises and emerge as glistening butterflies from out their ravaged pupae! There's no guide to stand in for reality (ala Charles Haid in Altered States, or Willem Dafoe in Antichrist) But in film, dude, not in the real. Thinking about it is doing it is enough; only a fool has to follow the voice over the edge. The rest of us can feel the splat of the concrete without ever even opening the window.


Gaspar Noé's film is, however, is a movie, so people can follow that voice over the edge all they want. That's what movies are for, to go the deep and genuinely disturbing places (4) on our behalf. Picking up where Aronofsky's Mother! left off,  bringing it all back home to Zulawski, Von Trier, and Bunuel,  capture, in a vivid gut-punch sense, the quickness with which sanity can be shed like a loose garment. That thousands of years of socialization can be stripped away with a few eyedropper-loads slipped into a punch bowl hints that the natural state of man may well be a kind of group madness, a collective insanity, where uninhibited carnality and sudden, brutal violence, incest, auto-abortive violence and self-immolation all occur naturally in a desperate bid to escape the terrifying totality of the unpartitioned self. As in very few films made outside France (naturalmente), we're exploring a very hard to find area of the psychedelic experience, the second and third stages of Stanislav Grof's Prenatal Birth Model, the feeling being trapped in the canal, the sadomasochistic horror of raw experience. The falling from blissful amniotic union with the mother to the trauma, kicking and screaming, of raw unencumbered consciousness, where pain and pleasure are intertwined in the yawning chasm of unfiltered, unpartitioned 'experience' of pre-egoic consciousness.

Why only in France? Directors like American Abel Ferrara, the Polish Zulawski, Spanish Bunuel, and the Argentine Noé often wind up there, maybe because that's where they're 'understood'? As one of the dancers says before the shit goes down, (I paraphrase) only in Paris (and maybe Belgium) do they respect the true artist. And baby, the only one able to accurately hurl a mirrored dagger into the illusion-loving eye of today's world is the artist so batshit crazy they're all but booted out of their native lands, spiritually-speaking. America, simply, has no thousands of years of socialization to shed, so when we strip off our socialized paradigm, all that remains is a frozen-stiff Nicholson.


I can't spoil the coherent acoustic mood of Climax, the organic flow from dance to total madness, the sudden eruption of "is he for serious" intertitles, but I can try to tell you about the feeling of tripping harder than you could have prepared for, totally not being in the right mindset, having it done without your knowledge, and being totally unable to react, to tell how much is what and how, and how you'll ever come down, so that--when you're that fucked up--even getting a coat to get outside into the snowy evening seems all but impossible. (5)  When you're that far out, there's suddenly no frame of reference to the past: all links between signifiers and direct experience are removed. Everything is so strange that cutting your own arm or stabbing yourself is no more difficult than putting on your shoes. Indeed, it seems perhaps the only way out. At least if you lose enough blood maybe you can just go to sleep and escape the overbearing 'nowness.' For most of us, we only think that - only become aware for example (this was my thing when having a bad trip) that there was so much blood all around me inside human bodies, separated from the air by only a flimsy human skin. I could see it rushing behind the epidermises of my friends, myself, the whole world a sea of endlessly pulsing blood. How could hearts and lungs keep beating and breathing so relentlessly, year after year?

CLIMAX has been called part of the noveau-giallo, post-giallo or what I called darionioni nouveau only it wouldn't quite fit that as it lacks the Antonioni component, there's no metatextual collapse of signifier aspect to the film itself and its signifier chains (as there is in Berberian Sound StudioAmer or Magic Magic, it just duplicates the gut punch sensation of when those signifier chains collapse; in that sense it relies more on gut punch extremism, a kind of intensity as its own reward aspect. There's people who don't like this movie, but I'd say the are either scared, "inexperienced," or seeing it in the wrong situation, on the wrong drugs, at the wrong time of day or not on on the big screen with a big intoxicating surround sound and thudding bass. Noé's detractors will accuse him of being shocking just for press, but really -when hasn't this been true of any artist? Yet there are those who are merely shocking for shock's sake but not actually transgressive at all (I'm looking at you, Eli Roth) and there are those who can be transgressive without resorting to shocks (Antonioni, Godard), but meanwhile, anyone with any sense recognizes the value of capturing this kind of insanity, that it can be a tool for breaking the conventional imaginary/symbolic signifier boundary and approaching the unendurable real. This is what the shocks should deliver! One can't feel without nerve! Sensation to most people reaches its zenith with the orgasm, or the roller coaster, but that kind of 'thrill' is just a glimpse, the difference between the way the ladies ride and the cowboys ride in that old bouncy knee thing. It's so transgressive a lot of people can't handle it.

If you're reading this, though, I bet you can. So get thee to the theater, get thee unto the druggist, get thee to the church, and exult in the arrival of pure madness onto the screen. There may never be a better time than right now to see the fate awaiting us all if we don't get right with God. I'm not saying guzzling half a bottle of tasty DXM-rich Robotussin DM beforehand to cure a bad sniffle won't give the whole film, enjoyed best on a big loud screen like my birthday viewing at Alamo this past Saturday, a certain extra energetic unctuousness. I'm just saying get thee to the theater, and unto the druggist, and exult in the arrival of pure madness onto the screen that is CLIMAX. The chance to experience it with a kicking surround sound system and a screen big enough to create the feeling the dance space is literally right in front of you, the actors your same size, that you could crawl into its red and blue light-tinged darkness, is a chance to experience full on madness, the full totality of the yawning I AM, and then walk away without even needing a sleeping pill to come down.

THE DEVIL IN THE DROPPER

As tests in the day proved, the difference between Jesus, a tripper and a schizophrenic is that, usually, the tripper is in that state intentionally, to seek wisdom, and they know, eventually, even if time has ceased to function, they will be 'down' hopefully none the worse for wear. Jesus need not come down for the burden of the ego, the need for the split of the great I AM into duality and judgmental divisions, space, time, etc. has been sacrificed, along with all possessions, attachments, concerns. The schizophrenic must rely on drugs not to be in this state. For the schizophrenic, the ride never ends, there is only the salve of temporary deliverance.  ("The mystic swims where the schizophrenic drowns").

PS - In case madness or a Climax situation happens with you, play the Spotify list below. The JC intro stuff may be skipped if it's too late to understand English. The rest will lift, the rest will anchor. Play it in order, for analog flow like an old school Erich mix. Don't worry. Salvation shall lift thee when thou art lost, God as the current construct of you understands God shall find thee when thou art low. The bottom is the only place to 'touch off' from. What did God make Hell for in the first place? It is the heat that lets you rise like heavenly smoke. So switch up!







For Further Reading (relevelalant)


NOTES:
1. By which I mean, as in the terrible CHICAGO, SUSPIRIA succumbs to the irresistible urge to constantly crosscut to parallel actions, viewers, close-ups, varying angles, etc. so that it's impossible to enjoy dance in its ideal form, the type for example Gene Kelly, Stanley Donnen, Berkely, Powell, Fosse and Vincent Minnelli. In other words, for dance you hang back and let the dancers do the work in a medium shot, so the whole body, head to toe, is visible in extended single takes. You don't constantly crosscut to parallel actions, the eyes of those watching, close-ups, dutch angles, different camera placements, etc. That smacks of covering up due to either filmmaker flop sweat or lackluster choreography.
4. As opposed to faux-disturbing, i.e. Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Michael Hanecke, where the urge to shock comes with no genuine soul or originality, any true crazy behind it. There's no love, no genuine vision, that the shocks serve. It's all just to provoke a feeling of shock, to take us back to the first time we saw R-rated movies as a kid, before we were insufferably jaded. 
5. It's happened to me, a few times, mainly via some joints going around in a circle via some dirtbag who then when it's finished, announces it was laced with PCP. Burn! Now just try to drive home in time for dinner with the folks!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Post-Futuristic Gang Violence on Prime, Italian-style: 5 Badass Trips from the early 80s


Sergio Martino's 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK--filmed in 1983, a post-nuclear Manhattan serves as ground zero for a stealthy battle between mutants, ape men acrobats, robots, and a Catholic-style death cult presided over by a whip-snapping hottie all in leather (Anna Kanakis). The 2019 RENT broadcast on FOX, meanwhile, shows NYC in the early-90s as a fantasia of his squalor, where everyone knows your name and the landlord actually apologizes for trying to get you to pay rent... ever. Each stars a hunky smoldering-eyed boy in black for whom self-deprecation is anathema. But that's just the tip!

top to bottom: 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK; RENT  (on Fox, 2019)

Which is the bigger fantasy depends on perspective.

At the time 2019 was made, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) was a big influence on Italian sci-fi. It itself was influenced by  THE WARRIORS (1978). We kids rented them and imagined NYC must be one dangerous place to be.  Then came CONAN, THE ROAD WARRIOR, helping us learn to drive, and hear da lamentations of der women. We could rent all four them all in one night, swirl them together with all the care of an LSD-soaked spider. If we were 13-15 year-olds, we could make super-8mm versions (ours had titles like SIMBA, SLAYER; ATOMIC NINJA and JOE NIGHTMARE DESCENDS.) If we were Italian filmmakers, we could make films with key words like "Warriors" and "Escape" and "New York" (or its boroughs) sewn into their titles.

Taken chronologically, deep in hindsight, you can feel how their influences were once influenced themselves: THE WARRIORS came out of a late-70s yen for 'Brooklyn street gang movies' which were ignited by the Fonze, and Travolta's Vinnie Barbarino/Saturday Night Fever/Grease hat trick, merged with the waning late 60s biker gang subgenre (via THE WILD ANGELS) and the urban revenge film of the early 70s, (via DEATH WISH, TAXI DRIVER). The street gang archetype became more and more became a fantasy about the cesspool that was 70s NYC--so crime-ridden and filthy they just put a wall around it and make the city itself the prison--on the other. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE WARRIORS swirled together in our collective mind, and films with the key words "warriors," "escape" and "New York" (or its boroughs) came rushing across the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, in the Australian Outback, on the open road, biker gangs still roamed on wheels; now the apocalypse had come and the cops were gone, as were gas stations. SEARCHERS-style space western elements circled back, like that crafty Comanche buck Scar after leading the men off on a posse.

Actually 'the apocalypse' hadn't come in the Escape/Warriors movies, it was just that law and order had eroded to the point it barely functioned. MAD MAX came out, but in America we couldn't tell, having never seen the Outback and so not realizing this already was a real place, a vast interior where the nearest cop might well be an hour away, and no cell phone to reach him. Turn off the pumps and the cop paychecks and the roving gangs simply took over. After THE ROAD WARRIOR, you didn't even need show a mushroom cloud in the prologue. Just show us dirt-covered vehicles manned by dudes in crazy punk rock eyeliner--the same wacky new wave punk monsters from the Escape/Warriors movies, and we knew the score. Maybe you will too. At any rate, you won't doze.



PS (3/1/19)- For Some reason, these first two seem to be no longer available on Prime! Either I jinxed it, or else the license ran out March 1st. Bummer, bro. Of course things have a habit on Prime of winking in and out of availability. But hey, either way, I'd recommend the Blue Underground Post-Apocalyptic Collection, which has the top three on this list, and is packed with extras and their usual high quality, from which the Prime streams were likely sourced. 
1. 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS
(1982) Dir. Enzo G. Castellari
*** / Amazon Image - A

The Bronx in 1990 is, as envisioned by an Italian in 1982, a war zone. As the haves hustle around like normal in Manhattan, the have-nots either drink and stagger in the rubble or rumble in gangs over their little piece of ground, their "turf." All is in a kind of uneasy balance between Bronx turfs, no-man's lands, and the cops monitoring the outskirts; but then Ann (Stefania Girolami), a rich heiress (to the "Manhattan Corporation") escapes her bodyguards to find out what life is like outside of 24/7 micro-managing. Now the Corps. sends troops and cops, armed with flame throwers, come in to find her. She's soon shacked up with the Che-esque pretty boy gang leader named Trash (Mark Gregory). If you've seen JC's 1995's Escape From LA, it's more or less the same plot, with the sympathies reversed! (The Plissken is played by Vic Morrow here - and named Hammer! while Fred Williamson is the Ogre, Trash's opposite number in the farther uptown gang. Hammer tries to trick Trash and the Ogre into fighting by killing their members and leaving gang signs on the bodies, but they're both too sly to fall for that! Alas, there's a traitor in Trash's midst determined to fan the flames...

 (miss you, Joe Walsh)
If you lived in Manhattan in that era, you know, in real life, there were parts--dwindling like Savannah watering holes in summer--that were still like this.  Turn the wrong corner downtown and you could wind up in a pimp-and-crack-whore war zone. Then you'd go to find it again to show your friends, and it would be gone. Suddenly, circa 1991-92, you'd start to see people being forced to pour out their beers at every corner.  The strip around the West Village where tricked-out cars would slowly drive, showing off and scoping drugs and booty, was closed to all traffic. It was all over. If we'd have seen 1990: The Bronx Warriors maybe we'd have known to fight back. The mix of The Warriors / Escape from NY iconography and anti-corporate nihilism seems to smell Giuliani in the breeze like some cheap knock-off cologne.



One of the leading lights of the neighborhood (with a great walk, like a Harryhausen cyclops), Trash is really a memorable character: tall and muscular but lithe with a great walk, like a Harryhausen cyclops (I imagine horrified spit takes from Miss J. at a ANTM catwalk tutorial.) No doubt cast for a passing resemblance to both Warriors' Michael Beck and Kotter's Vinnie Barbarino, and maybe the wandering wolf-boy from the 1977-78 TV series Lucan., his lithe youthful beauty contrasts with growly Bronx-accented voice he's been dubbed in (Italian film fans will recognize the dubbing guy right off - he does all the 'gruff' Bud Spencer parts). It's a great combination, this deep manly voice and this pretty face, because it's not an unrealistic pairing at all. Go to Coney Island over summer and you'll know what I mean: you see some ethereal young girl wafting down the beach in her red bathing suit and flowing black hair, flawless skin and youthful innocence, and she suddenly turn and yells up the beach to her "ma" so loud and abrasive with such a thick middle age booming accent, it chills you with sociological frisson.

A special word about Fred Williamson as the Ogre: doing his own dubbing and dazzling us with wild smiles and raw flashy charisma, he seems to be savoring his own sexiness as much as we are. The man moves and acts like a king. Sometimes his easy going attitude suggests he thinks a little too good for the film he's in, but he makes that work by being larger than life - he proves he's too good for it, proves it to himself. He stops worrying about trying to prove it to us through some burlesque of manliness, and then a marvelous thing happens, he relaxes and becomes delightful, like a black Cary Grant. He also has a cool right hand woman, the Witch (Betty Dessy), who rocks Krueger/Wolverine claws and snaps a whip. Together with Trash and Ann, they bop their way through the sewers to round up the gangs and fight the man, leading to tons of wild stunts of people on fire, people falling from holes in second story windows or down into sewers. The flame throwers explode real good and Castellari's camera frolics in the ruins with lots of great comic book panel-style compositions, strikingly posed shots and swooping crane movements going up and down between exposed floors from the outside of a blasted out building. You can tell he's having a good time, the crane shots duck and swoop without ever losing focus on the action, it's all way better than one would think it needs to be, at times it's almost Hawksian.



Castellari used a lot of real bikers (supposedly Hell's Angels) as extras, giving the shots of Trash and Ann zipping around in front of a vast parade of bikers under an overpass extra oomph (top). As a kind of catch-all indication of the crazy colorful-dressed gangs. Of the scattered gangs, the best is a bunch of Bob Fosse style fey dancers in steel bowler hats and metal rod canes. Their leader (Carla Brait, below) let's Trash pass because she's kind of turned on by his tight jeans. And I'm a fan of the gruff bond that forms between Trash and the Ogre. When it couldn't get any better? The Ogre and his mob throw Ann a birthday party with a big NYC skyline cake!


Walter Rizzati's score is a bunch rockin' synths, drums and a thudding electric bass, with appropriate moody washes. Man what a crime that those kind of old school electric bass lines are so gone from movies. Give me a badass electric bass over an orchestra anyday. Morricone whipped together his first truly great score with just whistling, an electric guitar, a clanging on a horseshoe and people chant-whispering "we can fight! As cool as Clint may be, if Leone had money for a typical orchestral score, it would just be another western. Think about it, and the next time your sad-eyed oboe player hits you up for a part in your score, say "sorry dude, it's all bass, drums, and electric guitars going TWANNGGGG!

Trash and the Ogre team up to fight Vic Morrow!
Mark Gregory as Trash - center - walking to the left, straight as a streetpole
----------
2. ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX
(1983) Dir. Enzo G. Castellari
*** / Amazon Image - A

Mark Gregory returns as the stiff-postured Swann/Vinnie-esque gang leader Trash, in this napalm-drenched sequel. Picking up where 1990: The Bronx Warriors left off (see them on a lazy Saturday double feature for maximum yield), the 'Manhattan Corporation' now has the green light to raze the Bronx and evict its denizens. Cops in flame-thrower gear slowly 'cleanse' the area, burning out the resistance. Trash ain't leaving and he ain't hiding of course, and whe the cop incinerate his parents as reprisal, you better believe he's going to get even. While his long black hair still flutters as a banner of freedom, most everyone from the last film are dead. The remaining gang members who survived last film's massacre are now hiding out underground under the rule of earring-wearing relatively-easygoing Diablone (Antonio Sabato), who's cool and fun but no Fred Williamson. Luckily, scene-stealing Carla Brait, the Iron Man leader from the previous film, is still standing as refreshingly coy as ever.


Meanwhile, an  intrepid journalist named Moon Grey (Valeria D'abici) gets ejected from Manhattan Corp. conferences about the 'new' Bronx. She sneaks up there and tells Trash that if he wants to really get anyone to listen to the truth and save the current Bronx in its ruined form, he'll need to kidnap the president of Manhattan Corp and force the world to listen (ain't that typical). Enter master thief Strike (Giancarlo Prete) and his young son Alessandro, whose innocent glee planting the demolition charges evokes Brigitte Bardot in Viva Maria (1965). As they work their kidnapping plan, a ruthless efficiency expert (Henry Silva) is sent in to kill Trash. Like Morrow in the lasst film, Silva achieves that rare balance between menace and fun, giving the sense that--as in the previous film--hunter and prey don't mind changing roles as long as they get to kill each other.

Whatever one thinks of Italian trash cinema, there's no denying Castellari gets interesting performances from his actors. I haven't read any interviews about what it was like on set, but the vibe on the screen is wryly jacked-up without ever tumbling into camp. The dubbing is flawless, the vibe of the music is propulsive. The climax is an all-out bloodbath of massive explosions (Strike shotguns escaping cars and they just instantly burst into fireballs) and lots of guys in hazmat suits with flamethrowers die in cool falls and crashes through windows. Probably the same five (masked) stuntmen dying over and over but so what? Great stuff! There's also exploding hostages, lots of other explosions, and bang bang! Shit getting blown up.

Still, after the first 100 people die, it gets almost monotonous (I said almost.)

3. WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND
(aka 'The New Barbarians')
(1983 Dir. Enzo G. Castellari
*** / Amazon Image - B+

The Old Testament gets rewritten in high Road Warrior style: Helping the straggling religious pilgrims travel the wasteland are Nadir (Fred Williamson-- wearing outrageous black leather and gold trim armor) as the biblical wanderer type, and 'Scorpion' (Giancarlo Prete, below left) i.e. Strike from Escape from the Bronx ) as the Max Max type, with a ridiculous green dome for a roof to his car. They roam around trying to mind their own business but this world must be awfully small as they keep crossing paths and bailing each other out of jams. If you've seen a lot of Italian westerns you know these kind of strange male friendships occur frequently, perhaps because of Clint and Lee in A Few Dollars More. Or maybe it's just a thing Italian guys do for/to each other...

Aside from the silly tubes and futuristic gizoms welded onto the wacky vehicles. the craziest aspect of this crazy film is that the bad guys are a gang of nihilistic zealots called the Templars and dressed in white armor with big shoulder pads that from far off give a subliminal impression of folded angel wings. Multi-colored punk rock mohawks, samurai pony tails, storm trooper armor and other punk touches complete their runway ready look. Their mission with all this killing is to cleanse the planet of all human life (their leader, "One" played by a very hammy and wondrous George Eastman, blames the apocalypse on "books"). There's something to be said for the purity of their mission, even if it is rather nihilistic. (They also seem to be gay, for we're spared the usual sexual assaults.) Apparently Scorpion was a Templar once, and left after winning a duel with "One" and sparing his life, so One needs to be cajoled into going after him to 'reclaim his manhood.' If the guy in the ponytail doing the cajoling seems familiar, he was the president in the previous entry on this list, Escape from The Bronx (Ennio Girolami, i.e. the Italian B-list Burt Lancaster). Small world indeed.


Most Road Warrior knock-offs are shit, but Castellari has no interest in wasting our time with a lot of static talk and/or driving scenes; he just wants to keep the fireballs coming, the heads lobbing, and the screen buzzing with tricked-out futuristic vehicles. In fact all the vehicles here look like normal, dinged-up, dirty 'normal wear and tear' cars with a few (suspiciously clean) sci-fi additions affixed, evoking Death Race 2000 as much as they do The Road Warrior and helping us wonder just how much of this Castellari intended as sociological deadpan satire. Either way, it's awesome.

Highlights include: a (!!) surprise version of the gauntlet people pass through when exiting a gang. It comes as such a blazing shock I can't go into detail, let's just say way the editing and camera and lights and cutting goes all Suspiria nuts right as it's hitting us what's about to happen and well, damn... Castellari you are a dawg! 


And as with Fred's other work for Castellari, he seems to enjoy himself immensely here, especially when he hooks up with a very colorful, beguiling-eyed creature named Vinya (Iris Peynado - above). Fred's eyes light up when he first catches sight of her, and when they begin to hook up, as he realizes he's got green lights as far as the eye can see, his eyes carry such a complicated range of emotions, from caution to tenderness to tough blaxploitation studliness to shyness, back and forth, that he once again transcends his weird dialogue (he seems to have been written as a kind of Muslim warrior/friend in the Parsifal myth). Their scenes together are worth the price of admission by themselves. If you've lived the joy of an out-of-the-blue hookup with a knock-out girl after a forever on the road you'll feel it all come rushing back, even if it's cloaked in enough weird 'code' to fool the kids and make Joe Breen's head explode. The rest of the time we can't tell if Fred's having a blast, just clowning around because he doesn't give a shit, or is just slowly going insane. Either way, we'll take it.


Wait, there's another girl? Two? The Sean Young/Jennifer Beals-esque Anna Kanakis (she'd play the villainess in the same year's 2019: After the Fall of New York) she plays a big-haired lady in red goggles, no pants, and a capable attitude. The blue-eyed towhead kid from Lucio Fulci's House by the Cemetery (Giovanni Frezza, much better dubbing voice this time) is the mechanic who outfits our two apocalyptic heroes in all sorts of explosive ordinance and automobile souping-up, including a big phallic drill bit. He also comes along to the big climactic battle, noting "there's only one thing that matters, winning!" Hot damn! I don't like kids in movies unless they're badasses and I like him so what's that tell you? Here he's clearly modeled on the pyro son in the same year's Escape from the Bronx, both of whom are surely inspired by the Feral Kid in the Road Warrior, who must have given the Italians some ideas as to how wild a child can be. The sight of this kid zipping around hurling bombs with his slingshot during the finale are pretty fortifying to my old childless/ish heart.

4. RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS
(Aka Atlantis Interceptors)
(1983) Dir. Ruggero Deodato
**** (Amazon Image - B-)

I reviewed this in an earlier Prime round-up, but it's become one of my favorite go-tos when afflicted with that Goblin-scored, aurora grotesk-credit-fonted 70s-80s Italian horror/action/sci-fi hybrid itch, which is very specific and very--if you can find the right salve--rewarding. Raiders is one of the best such salves, right up there with Nightmare City and Contamination as far as recently-discovered Italian psychotronica I can return to again and again when the never-ending film marathon of my life runs dry of viable programming options. I've already seen Raiders at least four times since discovering it in 2017. There are so many reasons it rocks: I love that the central relationship is between two men, Italian cinema mainstay Christopher Connelly and Tony King as a pair of mercs who own a boat together and do all sorts of dangerous work outside the jurisdiction of the US military (?) ala The Expendables. They have great banter/rapport and the film is nonstop cool, with Hawksian attention paid to cigarettes and alcohol, and manly camaraderie (they also have a helicopter pilot buddy played by Ivan Rassimov). Giola Scol is a girl whose skill at deciphering ancient text on a plaque found down on the ocean floor by a sunken Russian submarine triggers the rising of a domed Atlantis. Then there's that strange reaction in a certain percentage of the population, turning them all into marauding savages on a nearby island (maybe the world, who knows?) driving around in their pimped out bikes and rides, decked out like a glam Humongous (Bruce Baron) in a translucent skull bubble helmet (above). Calling his gang 'The Interceptors' and announcing the return of Atlanteans and all others "but one" must die. Time to get the molotov cocktails lined up, and--luckily--find a warehouse full of guns and ammo.

Naturally we wonder if John Carpenter ever saw this film as it bears striking resemblance to his last great film 2001's Ghosts of Mars, within which a strange ancient race is accidentally awakened from its timeless sleep, and possessed citizens dress up like metal mutants, determined to wipe out all human life in preparation for the original inhabitant's return (2). Naturally with the word Raiders in the alternate title one expects a certain amount of loot grabbing (a lot of films in the 1982-3 era had to have ancient treasures laying on altars deep within booby-trap filled tombs and pyramids), but that's towards the end, the big climax, so off-the-chain it's barely necessary (and indeed the one problem I have with the film is the ending is a little unresolved). Mostly there's a lot of molotov cocktails being thrown and great real time stunts, like people jumping out of a helicopter onto a speeding bus, or vice versa. The end feels kind of rushed, and in fact the whole thing leaps around giddily from one scrape to the next, but we can always figure out what's going on and never what's going to happen next, making it 90 minutes of action packed awesomeness that, if ever on a nice Blu-ray or HD upgrade, could be the bridge on a person's rack next to Ghost of Mars, The Expendables 2, and Nightmare City, and there's nothing wrong with that, baby. How good is it? It's on Prime, but if it ever became available for purchase, I'd buy it just to make sure it didn't disappear on me (like, say, Cozzi's 1981 Black Cat did). That said, it may help to have low/no expectations going in. I had never even heard of it when I first saw it, just took a chance... If you love Ghosts of Mars and Nightmare City, I recommend you do the same!

5. WHEELS OF FIRE
(1985) Dir Crio Santiago
** / Amazon Image - B

OK, so this one ain't Italian. Fuggedabout it, might as well be - these are all international joints anyway, am I right? Shot in the Philippines for New World/Concorde with a pretty impressive large cast (the Army being between rebellions), and many many vehicles, all of which are so dirt-caked you feel the desert grit under your fingernails and on your tongue while watching (best to stay lubricated).  The Mad Max-a-lot (Gary Watkins) is named Trace, as in 'they traced Mel Gibson's outline' - same leather pants and utility belt dragging him to a cocked hip and a disposition that says "no chicks for me, booze or socializing, just give me the wild open road and the suspension of disbelief that its possible to drive for even half a day in a world with no gas stations.

Crio Santiago directed with an international cast and set in an Outback-style wasteland (really a quarry that's the Filipino equivalent of Bronson Canyon). One should point out there are key differences between Trace and Mad Max. The most obvious is his super cool flamethrower. He has one for his car, too. Lots of guys wind up on fire as a result (3). There are lots of guys on fire, actually, in all the movies on this list. And they did name it Wheels of Fire - well, honey that's truth in advertising. As Cool-Ass Cinema notes "WHEELS are constantly spinning; and rarely does the FIRE diminish."


The other key difference: Trace can't wander as freely as the original Max because he has another thing Max hasn't got, a sexually precocious kid sister, Arlie (Playboy playmate Linda Weismeir, above), who is wild, ill-bred and liable to run off with the first pit fighter who flashes his beady eyes her way. And this area of the wasteland is no place to pull over and have a snog. A band of skuzzy outlaws led by Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana - one of the cast's few native Filipino leads) runs around killing, siphoning, and abducting women for much lurid abuse. Naturally, the sister winds up in their hands and eventually her acting tough, spitting and clawing, only gets her so far. Seeing Arlie spread eagled and topless bouncing around on the dirty hood of Scourge's car, etc, that's not fun, or cool. She just seems uncomfortable and awkward. We admire her resilience and toughness, and that her breasts are natural, but then the nights pass and she's stuck with these monsters, and it gets demoralizing.

Alas, they take her along to their base and Santiago rubs our noses in the whole gang bang / punked-out whore thing, as Arlie is thrown to the crew after Scourge is 'finished with her' and winds up housed in a dirty tent and all the dirty ass dudes take their turns, snickering etc. We're spared the seeing of it (we just hear about it, Santiago wants us to know for sure what's going on) but her continued subjugation sits uneasily over the rest of the film. Though she does get a mildly satisfying revenge, it still leaves a skuzzy residue, like the dirt-caked oil that flecks the tanned skin of the cast.


Meanwhile, Trace runs across a girl road warrior named Stinger (Laura Banks, above), who demonstrates that - 1) the Pat Benatar look must have still been big in 1985 at least in the Philippines and 2) now matter how dire things get, a girl can still find cheap 80s eye shadow. Luckily, the rather weather-beaten Stinger has other assets, like a hawk who acts as her eyes and ears and can signal danger (like when Stinger is abducted by underground mutants in the dead of night). They pick uph other Scourge survivors too: an innocent civilian with psychic powers, Spike (Linda Grovenor) whose make-up is way less oily and garish; and a spunky little person general, and they become like the C3PO and R2D2 of the scrappy bunch.

Many stunts, crashes, explosions, big sets (some old guns placements left behind by the Japanese, maybe?), including a vast underground cave system for mutant burning.... The whole thing becomes a war movie at the end, with the late plot addition of a big outfit of 'good guy' civilization proponents that Trace used to be a member of (now he tells us - where have they been all this time?). There are climactic raids, a group of civilians building a rocket out of sheet metal and gumption, and a final battle with Arlie as a kind of hot mess Gunga Din. Mortars and vast arrays of army men blowing shit up. (1) The final shootouts as all the mean jerks from Scourge's outfit die painful deaths is a-very nice.


Other strong points include Christopher Young's sweeping score, which taps into the Brian May-style pumping Road Warrior original, adding orchestral grandeur like what might happen if the Jaws theme was widened and Wagner climbed down in between the notes like a scuba diver on too many Stuka-tabletten. As with most Santiago films, it may be shitty but it's never dull. And the Amazon Print is farily good, not quite at the level of Warriors of the Wastelend, but probably looking as good as it ever did on the drive-in screen.

Cool-Ass also points out that Wheels was one of the films caught in the tussle when Corman sold New World and the new owners betrayed him by ignoring his drive-in fare in favor of their own dumb bigger release crap. So Santiago's film wound up being one of the first releases of Corman's own new distribution company Concorde instead. Alas, just as he gave up directing when he left AIP to form New World, Corman gave up producing, for the most part, when he left New World to form Concorde. It being the dawn of the drive-in's demise in favor of the endless made-for-VHS sloggery-doggery, sexual imbecility began to reign. Until that is, the arrival of DEATH RACE 2050.

And that's about it for part 4 of Acidemic's Drive-in on Prime series. Next time will be the concluding entry, the post-CONAN sword and sorcery kick of the 1981-88 era.That's not to say this amazing and endless series will stop, because someone has to keep track of the wild, never-ending flow of great shit floating amidst the dross that is Prime. In other words, if I don't write about it, don't watch it. For there is crap galore out there and you must be protected. Now that these films are safely preserved, we must preserve the sanity of their future viewers.

And don't forget these other Drive-in on Prime Roundups:

Drive-in on Prime 3: New World's Rebel Girls (1971-79): THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, COFFY, DARKTOWN STRUTTERS, THE ARENA,  BIG BAD MAMA, TNT JACKSON, THE LADY IN RED,)

Drive-in on Prime 2: Post-JAWS Gems (1978-80): UP FROM THE DEPTHS, PIRANHA, CREEPERS (AKA Island of the Fishmen) THE GREAT ALLIGATOR, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, AVALANCHE 

Drive-in on Prime 1: Post-STAR WARS Nugs (1978-87): STARCRASH, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, SPACEHUNTER, SPACE BALLS, SATURN 3, GALAXY OF TERROR


NOTES:
1. some sharp-eyed fellow critics have pointed out it's war footage borrowed from another Santiago film, Equalizer 3000)
2. Not accusing JC of plagiarism, if anything it would be a homage, as much as it is to Howard Hawks. 
3. Stuntmen must love to fall off ledges while on fire. Think about it: ultimately guys on fire is not the kind of thing anyone cares about, yet time and again they burn and scream and burn, maybe because they know how to do it without getting hurt, so it's like skydiving or crowdsurfing for them. For us, it's like the cole slaw garnish
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