Thursday, October 31, 2019


It's Halloween! We made it, and for the millions or one of you who've been following this strange double feature nightly Prime journey, or even just picking and choosing and chuckling, now we've come to the end. All that's left are the dregs! Feel free to scroll back and marvel at all the free time I must have on my hands. Hey, if October is your favorite month you know the reason why. 

(1974) Dir. O.G. Assonitis; R. Barrett
*/*** / Amazon Image - C-

Even the best-laid fans of the crappiest 70s Italian horror knock-offs tend to be dismissive of this obvious Exorcist's Baby cash-in, but maybe that's why it occupies a soft, rotting spot in my warped floorboard heart for it. Probably, it's because as a kid I was traumatized by the TV spots. All it showed was a dark room, a curtain and an opening door with a light behind it... nothing else, just the drifting curtain. Man it was spooky. What, the ad goaded us to ask, lurked BEYOND...  THE ... DoOR.

Being just seven years-old, I was pretty sure I didn't want to know. But now, I'm not afraid!

Terrible it is--rushed by the horns of its pants through production and into theaters the same year (1974) as The Exorcist--imitating the green slime vomit, the levitation, the 180 degree head turn as if checking off a charades checklist--Beyond the Door made itself a tidy fortune. Made by Italians but filmed in San Francisco, the dubbing of some of the actors is strictly the 'phoned in' (maybe literally) variety, but--as so often redeems such lazy looping--the score is sublime. Conjured in great swirling arm waves by Franco Micalizzi (his ninth film in 1974 alone!), Beyond's score has the finesse of a shaking junkie running through an unstaffed, unlocked pharmacy. There' soul singers, death rattles, billowing noises, quiet storm flutes, groovy bass and Satanic sighs, it's all here--even a killer theme song--"Bargain with the Devil"--by the wondrous Warren Wilson. We even see Micalizzi's (?) sesh musicians laying it all down in the studio during the opening credits. Robert (Gabriele Lavia, the boozy, gay friend of David Hemmings in Deep Red) is producing. We know he's got cred because of his specific instruction to the musicians ("do it better!") Outside the studio, the San Francisco backdrop is as vivid and strange as only an Italian tourist can film it. We see Robert walking through the Tenderloin while being serenaded by a gang of steel drummers. We see the mysterious agent of Satan, Robert's wife's ex-husband Dimitri (Richard Johnson) reflected in the glass windows of famous edifices. Wait, what?

Yes, this is a movie where we hear the devil talk. Robert has been rescued from a fatal accident by Satan under the condition he orchestrates the birth of his child, now living in the womb of his ex-wife, who once joined him in an ancient cult practices. Hmmm. Robert has to get in there, in the apartment of Robert and his wife Jessica (Juliet Mills) as only he can deliver this very special baby. Meanwhile the two normal kids grow progressively terrified of their devil-possessed mother. Wouldn't you if you went to see her in the middle of the night after being scared by a noise, and she woke and turned around like this?

The husband Robert, meanwhile, is no help. Dimitri decides to shadow him through endless walks around SF, which Robert likes to make (as well as long pointless B-roll drives). Dimitri should stop wasting time doing the stalking, but hey, how does one tell one's ex-cult member's new husband she has the devil's baby inside her, and that he needs to help deliver it? Even after the green vomit, psychokinesis, and levitation starts in earnest, it's a big ask. Robert's doctor friend warns him not to accept Dimitri's help but can offer absolutely no solutions or alternatives in the bargain. The couple's other two kids, meanwhile, are regularly left alone with their demon mom since dad is too busy wandering the B-roll scenery looking stricken and indecisive to be much of a parent. The children barricade themselves in their room as best they can while mom floats around trashing everything. "Please don't leave us alone with mommy again," becomes a chilling, flatly intoned request to daddy. But daddy still has lots of B-roll streets left to muse through, and that comes first. When it comes right down to it, if there is any devil more terrifying than an evil parent, it might be the other parent's neglect.

Alas, thanks to inept editing (?), scenes that might have been really scary are cut away from too quickly. In one of the scariest moments, the children screams and panic one night after their room is smashed by poltergeists; they come tentatively to mom's bed for solace after she just gives them a 360-head spin and super creepy smile. But we don't even get the kids' reaction! Right after the smile is a smash cut to a long pointless scene of Robert's headlights driving through town. When he finally gets home, everything is normal again. Even with all the creepy doll close-ups, a lot of it doesn't make sense. Like if Carpenter's original Halloween cut away from the climactic upstairs hallway moment when Michael sits back up after being stabbed, to the sheriff and Loomis driving around, and then when we next check back in, Michael's already left, and the kids are back to watching TV.

BUT- that's part of what makes the best Italian exploitation so wondrous. Reaction shots, linear logic, easy resolutions, clarifying establishing shots, all must die. We don't really know where we stand in a film like Beyond the Door, and that can be terrifying in a backhand kind of way, and amusing at the same time. Sure, Beyond the Door is a blatant Exorcist rip-off full of more Francisco scenery than Vertigo, but it moves fast, keeps you off-center, and has a finger on a pulse deeper than most Americans can find even with a finger deep in their own wrist. 

Best of all, it's full of great anti-Christian beats, such as the elevated position from which Jessica finally gives birth, her Satanic voice commanding Dimitri reach up into her vagina and pull the baby down and out (below). 

Whip it frenziedly to froth and you have a very strange piece of junk, worth a visit when your standards have dropped well past the red line. Maybe it helps to have been a kid in the 70s. Our dread was off and running and what nameless evil was in that room. Devil movies were everywhere, every commercial break was packed with the occult. 

It was followed by several name-only sequels, including Mario Bava's last film/son Lamberto's first, Shock! Also on Prime and recommended. Then, in 1989 Assonitis, gave us the very strange and recommended Amok Train, which was then billed as Beyond the Door 3.  

(1974) Dir. José Ramón Larraz
*** / Amazon Image - A

As with Larraz's other British filmed work, Symptoms (starring that alien-eyed elf being, Angela Pleasance) the two things going on here are 1: Gorgeous cinematography capturing a magnificently fecund English countryside, and 2: Lesbianism as the ultimate swinger waterloo. Here we have Anulka Dziubinska and Marianne Morris as a pair of lovers who--just like so many innocent sapphic pairs before and after them--are massacred in bed by some unseen misogynist and then proceed to wage a blood-drinking nightly vampire massacre on swingers ala 1968's Kuroneko. A run-down English castle estate (with one or two vary cozy firelit rooms and a magnificent wine cellar) provides a nice squat in which to bring back louche male swingers for a rollicking good three or foursome. In the morning, if the men are still alive, they're more than usually 'drained.'  In fact, they can barely find their way back to their cars. If they're bad at directions, they won't even find it, and will be trapped on the grounds when the sun falls yet again. If they're really crazy, they won't want to leave even knowing the riskks. This being England the men are all the kid of leisure suit and side-burned pale, bloated types who seem horribly drained and hungover even before their night at the castle begins. One such blighter (Murray Brown) is determined to get to the bottom of it all, as is the nosy girlfriend Harriet (Rose Faulkner) of traveling artist John (Brian Deacon); the couple have been caravanning around the countryside to take in the foliage. She can't let go of her curiosity about the two mysterious women, glimpsed briefly hitchhiking as they drove past, or the man who came running past their caravan in the dead of night, yelling for help, but wasn't there once she woke John to do something about it. Dam, Harriet, John says, let it go! But she won't, and that will mean... 

It all sounds a tad sordid and it's at least nudity and blood-drenched and has some pretty richly erotic moments, especially from the interesting team of Dziubinska, the quieter, blood-drunk blonde, and Morris, the more verbose and ferocious of the pair. If Harriet thinks she's in their league, she needs to think twice. But hey, it's Larraz country, where women always get the last stab, and the fall has never looked more autumnal, making it the ideal Halloween late night treat after the kids have trundled off to their stomach-ache induced nightmares. (Recommended also Daughters of Darkness).

BONUS Third Feature: 

(1985) Dir. Ken Russell
*** / Amazon Image - A

Though it's cheap and cheeky (Ken Russell on a bunbury after completing the exhausting Crimes of Passion), laden with endless puns and campy jokes and constant symbolic references, Lair of the White Worm is still a grand lark, laden with drolleries and--in its way--maybe his most consistent and cohesively satisfying film. The small cast is sublime: Amanda Donohoe is the ageless evil druid priestess of the serpent cult, never camping or vamping but nailing, in every possible permutation that verb can be permuted, the most intoxicating upper crust broad since Stanwyck as The Lady Eve. Her snake goddess is what Auntie Mame always aspired to be but could never shake her ostentatious American petit-bourgeois baggahge. She can go from sneering at the appalling smells of her latest worm food boy scout, to championing Dionin with her champagne flute and cigarette holders raised in stiff salute, to merely remarking "oh damn," when interrupted by her neighbor at the door bell, inquiring as to her safety. The good guys are Peter Capaldi as a summering archeologist who unearths a dragon skull (the German word for dragon being wurm) near some old Roman ruins in the front yard of a local country inn, and Hugh Grant, in his film debut, is great as the local lord-inherit who inherits too the burden of slaying the giant white worm. 

The two local blonde sisters at the inn (Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis) are fetching, smart, and crafty and we get a real sense of what it's like to party with them (Oxenberg and Grant don't even drive up to the inn until well after dawn but they don't act all Yank-style obnoxious about it); the quarter's soujurns to the surreal hill slope cave (in search of clues to the sisters' missing--and presumed digested--parents) have a you-are-there vividness (we can practically smell the welcome thermos of hot coffee), and it's clear the actors and crew are all really up in this eerie mountain sloping cavern [Thor's Cave, in ducky old Staffordshire!] to get these amazing shots. Even the obligatory Russell-ian psychedelic-obscenity-religious allegory hallucination has a disturbing coherence and potency that makes it one of his most successful ("she had a bad trip" -- notes Grant, after one of the sisters accidentally touches some of hallucinatory snake venom and sees a white snake attacking Jesus on the cross while Roman soldiers rape and murder nuns). Hell yeah its more succinctly psychedelic than anything in Altered States.

In other words, it's a great film to drink to or come down from a bad mushroom experience. No one ever says no to a drink anywhere in the film and Hugh Grant goes to sleep with two bottles of Bolinger chilling at his bedside. What a way to mix a late night snack with breakfast! Between this and his Chopin opposite Judy Davis in Impromptu, Grant was catapulting himself into the A-list and winning over even jaundiced straight male hearts like mine. There's also the hottest/weirdest older woman-on-paralyzed younger boy seduction in film since Creedence Leonore Gielgud's corn cob visitation in Troll 2. And best of all --no priests. So forgive the occasional overflow of cheekiness--such as the absurd fangs and charmed-snake wiggle dancing of Paul Brooke and the relentlessly on-the-nose 'white snake' imagery and you may be charmed, yourself. Cheers!

For more Ken Russell weirdness on Prime: check out the start of this series, GOTHIC. How fitting this is where it ends since he made that film right after this one (time does not exist!) Alpha and omega, Ken! Even my daughter --even that-- for you.

Creature Double Feature Night 10 (Halloween!): TROLL 2, TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN (+ THE EVIL)

Surprise! It's a soggy, spring-like Halloween today, and thus the conclusion, Night 10, of our grand Creature Double Feature Marathon. It's too yucky to go out, so sit down and gorge yourself on green popcorn as we revisit that gem of 80s badness TROLL 2, and a droll Canadian sci-fi pastiche made by an auteur whose films are like if Guy Maddin met Larry Blamire and Astron-6 at a party and gave them all Xanax. Fun for the whole family, if they're mutants. 

 Prime's countless dumpster fires never extinguish!

(1990) Dir. Claudio Fragasso
*/**** / Amazon Image - A+

I've only seen this cult-deserving gem three or four times, and though I love it more each time, it's not as addictive to me personally as Plan NineMesa of Lost Women or Cat Women of the Moon. There's too many oily teens and families in it for my personal adoration, but as bad movies go, the sort with not a single 'normal' moment, it's a gem to be treasured. Written by the (Italian) director Claude Fragasso's wife as a satire on American vegetarianism (!) we're left to wonder to what extent she's really mocking us. How can a script have so very little to do with the way real life works? And how did we get so blessed to have Troll 2 ever just a click away in beautiful richly-colored HD? 

We must have ate something wonderful... and it's starting to kick in.

The story has a four-person family (please don't make me tell you their names) deciding to swap houses with a group of perfect strangers for a summer vacation, they head out to unplug and get some real country living. What they don't know is that the town they'll be staying in, Nilbog, is "Goblin spelled backwards!" The ghost of grandpa reaches out to the boy through his mirror, telling him not to go. But who listens to a boy who listens to a ghost? Soon they're awash in green food, weird locals, and gnarly little goblins (not trolls). On moving into the new house, the fam finds tons of food laid out--real "country hospitality"-- but it's all green from food coloring and the ghost of the young Joshua's grandpa tells him he has to stop the rest of his family from eating any of it or a fate worse than death awaits. 

It's a key make or break moment: Instead of knocking all the dishes onto the floor, like any normal person would do --our cherubic boy stands on the table and pees over everything! We don't see the pee but we cut to him being led off to his bedroom to watch his father menacingly un-notch his belt.... then tighten it at the last second to show hunger. At that point you're either in or out, FOR KEEPS.

For those of us left in, oh so many highlights it's hard to pick even a few, but most of my favorites center around the lovely Creedence (Deborah Reed). The witchy den mother to the trolls, Melora lives in a comfortable looking refurbished church, where she turns visiting humans into trees, which she then grows in little pots, to harvest as food for her little goblin charges. Such a complicated process! Her eyes bugged, lips curled back in an obscene smile, Reed milks every line, every syllable, soaring over-the-top with Margaret Hamilton-on-acid style menace. Like her troll children, she can change form instantly, going from a hot babe with a corn cob in her garter to a librarian with bad teeth and Anne Bancroft shades to a wild-haired witch with even worse teeth, and all the time with that one-in-a-million 'from-the-diaphragm' acting approach even Toshiro Mifune might find excessive. She seems to have a preference tend to planting virile young teenage boys, a gaggle of whom have followed them to the country in their closeted Winnebago. Nothing gay about them sleeping together with their shirts off in that cramped trailer bed. The sister's boyfriend, a true wiener in every way, has promised his buds loads of single country girls to choose from if they follow them out to the country, surprise - "There's no coffee here in Nilbog," exclaims the Sam Fuller-esque general store proprietor. "It's the devil's drink!!"

 Actually, the boyfriend's inability to let go of his boys club coterie proves one of the more interesting arcs of the film. It's an important step for a lot of teenage boys as they move from hanging out with the boys to being dutifully being dragged to John Hughes movies by their high school girlfriends. (The plethora of fertile teens also lets Creedence have a fine garden this year). 

My favorite sequence is when Creedence appears as a seductress (with great teeth) in the movie the last living boy in the camper is watching as he sulks, alone, parked way out in the middle of nowhere for no clear reason, presuming his buddies are all out getting laid by country girls. Then, he recognizes the seductress is coming right towards his camper! It's like any lonesome teenager's fantasy has come true: babes are meta-literally coming right out of the TV screen to 'do it' with him. Now all he has to do, he thinks, is stand there an keep perfectly still, terrified, motionless, and no doubt aroused, trying not to make eye contact while Creedence musses his hair, runs her fingers down his chest... and...the cob commences popping... and popping. After so much over-the-top hamming and ugly teeth-flashing, this sudden effortless switch to four-alarm babe makes me wish she came back in a sequel: Troll 3: Creedence does Manhattan, or something like that. 

See, these goblins, or trolls, can't eat raw human flesh unless the humans first eating a special green food colored substance that will turn their bodies into vegetable matter. We see this illustrated when a victim dissolves into a pool of green slime which the throng then devour, rather clumsily considering how all of it is still left on the floor. 

As Joshua, the boy with the grandpa in the mirror, Michael Paul Stephenson, though who though not a good actor, certainly performs with a stalwart earnestness, especially during the foggy alternate reality Stonehenge climax. The secret weapon turns out to be a rather campy self-aware bit of comedy, almost undoing the great deadpan WTF vibe of the preceding hour. But it gets a pass since at one point Grandpa helps Joshua set a preacher on fire on the front porch. As Val Garland would say, Ding-dong, darling! Ding-dong!

(1999) Dir. John Paisz
*** / Amazon Image - A

You might have never heard of this odd but endearingly Canadian sci-fi/horror comedy --I sure didn't. Still not sure how it found me: the Prime thumbnail is just a black box with the words, making it seem like some dreary 30 minute documentary on factory farming. Instead it's an affectionate homage to the sci-fi of the 50s (ala It Came From Outer Space), replete with a patriarchally smug pipe smoking atomic scientist hero, and the hot-to-trot single belle of the small town he finds himself in, a suspicious sheriff who'd rather moon over his lack of luck with said belle and snipe at his new rival (for the belle goes for all that science malarkey), than deal with the problem of an alien presence with possibly sinister motives who's turned a small town into its own nefarious lab, and is.... eating the locals.

It could have gone south a dozen different ways of bad (sometimes bad on purpose can just be boring and indulgent) and parts of it do drag a bit in the beginning (as in a too-long dinner scene early on) but it succeeds largely because of its very dry but consistent Canadian wit (fans of Guy Maddin will be much pleased), Bill Wong's dusky pulp magazine cover cinematography, and because of the two leads. Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger) is super on-the-nose deadpan as the atomic physicist Dr. Carl Lamont and the deeply attractive, sensually hungry performance by Fiona Loewi as Sandy, the motel owner love interest. Since she swoons for the newly arrived Dr. Lamont, the whole smitten town resents him, even Guy (Tom Everett Scott) her dimwitted, semi-incestuous brother. It's all very matter of fact, with no judgment of each other's kinky proclivities, this being Canada; and coolest of all, there's Jesus, waving on a cross, once TV is restored. Gory, erotic, ridiculous, with very little CGI (or none?) and a great monster (at the very end), it's made with a lot of loving care by Paisz and worth a look for anyone who's ever spent lonely teenage summers watching their tapes of 50s Jack Arnold sci-fi movies over and over, dreaming of their own Julie Addams or Barbara Rush... or Mara Corday, for that matter. I do believe Loewi outdoes them all. 

Third Option: 

(1978) Dir. Gus Trikonis
*/***1/2 - Amazon Image - B

A group of drug counsellors and college teachers arrive to start cleaning and sprucing up a big empty building to make it a school for problem kids or something, the kind where you didn't seem to need any special qualifications to organize a boarding school summer clinic other than jeans, cowboy boots and a hypocritical contempt for conventional religious dogma. That refusal to believe will cost a lot of lives in my recent new favorite discovery, THE EVIL, an indie (New World-distributed) bad movie gem from 1978, The Evil is clearly meant to draft behind the late-70s momentum of Jay Anson's 1977 runaway bestseller The Amityville Horror. Richard Crenna is the guy in the jeans and boot who refuses to believe in the supernatural as the cause of all these weird accidents. And there are a lot: the boiler incinerates the drunk caretaker (Ed Bakey); the house quakes (shaking the camera as the actors list to and from on the stairs); freak electrical shocks (pin scratches on the celluloid) zap at any time; ghosts try their hand at sexual assaults (the Corman thumprint), and --once the hatch on the basement floor is opened--wind rushes up, the Satanic laughter echoes, all the doors and windows lock shut. Not even thrown chairs will break the windows. Crenna has to think fast to explain it all aways as wind gusts and imagination. 

Fan favorite Andrew Prine--that quintessentially 70s laid-back lanky hipster (Grizzly)--is one of the more pro-active counsellors who tries to facilitate an escape over the side of the third floor balcony once it's clear Crenna has led them all into a locked box of doom and the best he can do for leadership is to belittle the ideas of his more spiritually-open girlfriend (Joanna Petit).

As with Troll 2 and Top of the Food Chain it's not a good film but it doesn't try to just be 'good' -it tries to be entertaining, in a way people at a noisy drive-in can still follow. It shoots way higher than just a few bumps in the night and maybe flies on the window. It goes for broke like that crazy one-footed kid who tries to run to third on a lucky grounder. It take a few beats too long to get started (old Bakely seems to wander around that old building, taking a gallon of slugs from his half-pint hip flask, all through lengthy opening credits) but-- once that basement trapdoor opens-- the action just keeps getting faster, wilder and weirder until you're shrieking with agog delight (I refuse to give away the totally out-there ending, so you'll just have to trust me). In other words, it's the best kind of bad there is. 

The Amazon print is fine, if a little faded but hey, aren't we all? (If you want to find more of the 'possessed mansion killing guests one-by-one' movies that were all the rage in 1978, might I be so bold as to recommend The Legacy)?

-- I guess that's it for now! Happy Halloween and I hope you've enjoyed this 30 films on Prime review (via the last 10 posts). Scroll back for the others, and also check out these past lists on Prime. Prime! Prime! Prime! It's like having a Kim's Video store right in your pocket.

Prime Creature Double/Triple Feature Callbacks:

Night 6: 7 DEATHS IN A CAT'S EYE, THE GHOUL (1933) + THE RAVEN (1963)

PAST LISTS (some of these may be no longer avail on Prime, but most are on Tubi or YouTube if not- tread carelessly!):

3 Neo-Jungian Fairie Wave
3 Off the Road
7 Ennio Morricone-scored Giallos (1970-75)
6 Badass Post-ROAD WARRIOR Gang Violence Trips (1982-85)
4 Post-CONAN Barbarian Sagas
6 Dope Analog Sci-fi Nugs (1978-87)
6 Post-JAWS New World Horrors (1978-80)
7 Badass New World Rebel Girl Uprisings (1971-79)
13 for Halloween, Lost Causes and Autumnal Catalepsies
10 Swingin' Monsters of the 70s
15 Cool/Weird Horror/Sci-fi Films
12 Weird/Cool Italian Films
10 Fairly Bad Sci-Fi Gems
13 Best or Weirdest Occult/Witch movies
12 Nifty Vampire Films

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Tonight - Two teenager-centric but effects-driven gems of the realm... okay maybe cracked plastic tiaras and cheap wax exhibits instead of actual gems, but don't turn your back on them - though they may be cheap, they aren't wax... for long. And when the tiara represents ascendence to prom queen, don't f--ck with Mary Lou! And when it comes to virginal crushes don't turn your back on the Marquis de Sade. Severin! Your servant comes in bells / please don't forsake him!

(1987) Dir Bruce Pittman
**1/2 / Amazon Image - C+

The first Prom Night was a flatly-shot Halloween-wannabe Canadian melange of red herrings (a suspicious janitor? Take off, eh?!), glass windows, stoners, dated police methods, one of the most sparsely attended proms ever, dimly unfinished plywood sets and Jamie Lee Curtis. This name-only sequel has the incomparable Lisa Schrage as a vicious 50s high school diva killed by fellow senior Michael ("Revok! Darryl Revok!") Ironside via a stink bomb prank gone awry that burns her alive during her big onstage Carrie prom queen of 1957 moment. Flash ahead thirty years: now Ironside's the principal and the school's gearing up for a special vintage-style prom. An unassuming but cute blonde senior named Vicki (Wendy Lyon), looking for a prom decoration ideas, finds an old trunk in the attic that happens to contain Mary Lou's crown. Whooosh! The spirit of Mary-Lou is released into the oxygen-rich late-80s and Vicki starts having crazy dreams while John Zaza's knowingly eerie music gooses things into weird termite corners. Eventually Vicki finds herself sucked into the blackboard wherein she drowns into the swirling ink and chalk like Cocteau-style. At home, Vicki has a poster of Picasso's Guernica on her bedroom wall and a big hobby horse that starts to turn demonic, leering at her with its big phallic tongue and staring through red eyes. Everyone name-checks the Exorcist and "Linda Blairsville" when Vicki starts wearing bobby socks and "talking like she's in an Elvis Presley movie." "Give her a break, guys, says her Hopper-browed boyfriend, "she's just trying to be an individual."

Though she now fits right in with the punk hairspray aesthetic--even if she uses words like "swell,"--the other girls are confused by the new Vicki. Bespectacled old Ironside meanwhile, is trying to keep out of trouble and is in no way eager to accept the prospect of his 30-year's-gone prank victim returning to wreak vengeance (the scene where Mary Lou/Vicki sashays into his office and onto his lap, and he recognizes her is pretty intense). Destroying anyone who so much as looks at her cross-eyed via an arsenal of telekinetic powers that make Carrie White seem anemic, it's only natural she should seduce and destroy Ironside, as well as all her new rivals before she steps to the podium, and her speech shall be truly euthanizing.."Mary Lou Malone...has come back!" Her seemingly limitless abilities include being able to sense when the vote tabulating tech guy changes the count to favor the girl who just went down on him, and kills him by sticking her hand near a phone jack and zapping him through his computer screen (after threatening him in two different fonts). Another girl gets crushed to death inside a locker after rebuffing a lesbian advance. Vicki's mom gets blown throw the screen door for saying shit about her making out with her dad. Thanks to FX-wiz Jim Doyle (Nightmare on Elm Street 4). lasers come out of eyes and during the big climax, Mary Lou's charred corpse shambles forth from Vicki's chest once she's crowned, and in a Carrie-trouncing prom queen moment, she begins to reconstitute herself while the student bodies die from falling neon lightning rods.  It's all pretty fun and imaginative, rich with propulsive underscoring and smartly paced; high school drama cliches are, for the most part, sidestepped. Even the acting is mostly good, especially Wendy Lyon as Vicki, who runs emotional gamuts like a boss. (PS - if you don't have Prime it's regularly on free PlutoTV.)

 I remember it looking better on DVD but the Film Rise print on Prime looks wan and washed out, cropped like a videotape. The nudity is naturalistic (no augments or spray tans) but, as I get older, high school locker room nudity becomes no longer sexy but disturbing. Yet there's empowerment in a naked Vicki/Mary Lou doing the 'menacingly singing while strolling naked towards her prey down the locker aisles' thing. We need more badass female monster icons like her, confident, cool girls who show how sexual come-ons can be terrifying (she makes out with inappropriate abandon, including french kissing her own father). Too bad this film never earned any sequels, probably as it itself is an unrelated name-only sequel to the first Prom Night. But then again, any sequel to a movie with a powerful amoral sexually uninhibited female as the monster is going to get a "no" from wary gynophobic misogynist producers. Drown them in fire, Mary Lou, and ascend to thine podium again!

(1988) Dir. Anthony Hickox
**1/2 / Amazon Image - A

I still have never seen Gremlins all the way through, so strong is my disregard for Zach Galligan, but I have to get past it when it comes to Waxwork because no one in the rest of the cast seems too pleased about him either and he's not in every scene. There's also the amazing Dana Ashbrook (so great as Bobby Briggs in Twin Peaks) turning into a werewolf; Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl), and--as the sexually hungry girl who Galligan seems to think he owns since she slept with him one time,  Michelle Johnson (Blame it on Rio). There's also Patrick MacNee (in a wheelchair) as Galligan's grandfather, and the immovable David Warner (Time After Time) having a high old time as the fey owner of a waxwork museum that suddenly appears in a foreboding corner mansion: each tableaux is so lifelike it's clear it holds a real murderer or monster in suspended animation - and the exhibits suck kids into them as they pass- so the 'innocent' teens suddenly find themselves in period dress and about to be killed by some familiar movie monster in some classic (and very well-done) mise-en-scene. When they die they become part of the exhibits, which include a surprisingly vast array of roman-a-clef versions of famous horror films (Hickox knows his classics enough to mix them up, so The Elephant Man becomes the snake monster in SSssss, and an Alien-style monster winds up in a slasher film, etc. They're cool, these kids and/or they die fast --they smoke cigarettes (indoors!) and dress like pre-Pulp Fiction preppies and have a cool lived-in low-key rapport. Except for Galligan, with his oily black hair and smug expression-- he's the only wrong note. But hey, he suffers a lot and winds up running from zombies in black-and-white ala Romero's 1968 classic. Ashbrook winds up in pastiche of Hammer's Curse of the Werewolf meets Company of Wolves; Johnson finds herself in a very becoming white dress, bare shouldered with strange flower-feather adornments (the costumes are A+) eating raw meet and drinking blood in a sexy and strange Anne Rice-style vampire castle with some eerie sets and Byronic sinister lordly vampires. Virginal Foremen winds up tied to marble columns and lashed by the Marquis de Sade (a hilariously wry J. Kenneth Campbell) while lords and jealous ladies squirm in delight.  For some odd reason I find this scene almost revoltingly hot. Foreman, drenched in sweat, her back streaked with welts, moaning for the Marquis to keep going, even as the dandy prince is urging him to kill her. Whoa- what is this crazy kernel of kink (and the almost-as-strangely hot vampire sequence) doing here? This film is full of tricks and treats.

Then, like the kid your mom makes you bring along, into the whipping scene trundles self-righteous bossy Zach, to rescue Foreman, though she doesn't even want to be rescued. Yeesh what a kinky scene until he crashes it. She leaves with him, but the struggle within Foreman's psyche to let go of this new kind of overwhelming pleasure/pain and return back to the dubious joys of reality becomes one of the more tragic albeit key bits of the film. "you're just mad I gave her her first orgasm." De Sade caustically notes. It's as if the girl cenobite in Hellraiser decided to go home to her drab husband in the suburbs and give up her piercings. And hey, it all ends in a massive brawl with all the monsters, including such rare sights as Dirty Harry shooting the head off a vampire bat, someone shooting the baby from It's Alive, and Foreman tossing David Warner's little person sidekick into the open jaws of Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors. It's pretty sloppy by then--the walls of the sets seem to be falling down around them, but there's too many crazy things, happening to really complain, except... yeah, Galligan. Still, no one else seems to like him either, "kill the wimp" Warner says to De Sade when Zach loses their fair sword fight and then just gives up and waits to die. (Foreman saves him with an axe!)

The Amazon Print catches it all in rich detail.

Third Option:

(1982) Dir Tom McLoughlin
**1/2 / Amazon Image - B-

Meg Tilly broke big with critics and audiences via her role here as a sensitive high school (or college?) kid whose initiation into a pretty lame girl gang involves spending a night alone in a creepy mausoleum. The mean girls mount spooky pranks (never pledge a sorority after you've stolen its leader's boyfriend Steve [David Mason Daniels]) but the corpse of a vengeful Russian psychic rises after they toss a lit roach through the cracked marble of his sepulcher. The way it builds up, Halloween style, from late afternoon in and around school, to after-school plan making, to driving around, to breaking in, from sorority prank scares to the actual genuine scares, is pretty seamless. And there's no sex or idiot snickering from the boys to dumb it down. The bitchy gang leader (Robin Evans) is grating on the nerves (you'd rise from the dead to smite her too) but her long dirty blonde hair looks terrific! Too bad her sycophantic sidekick (Leslie Speights) won't stop chewing on a yellow toothbrush, watching her too long I start to get a phantom gross feeling in my mouth - Demerit!

As the "dark" night plays on (the inside of the mausoleum is way too bright - demerit!), the psychic's estranged daughter, (Melissa Newman) listens to a tape left by a researcher of her late father's telekinetic talents and gets her own 'shining'-style flashes of Meg Tilly in danger from her dead dad's pissy corpse (weed makes him paranoid, I guess). Her husband (Adam West) doesn't do much to help her except snidely dismiss her worries, so she eventually has to go face her evil father's telekinetic (and possibly high) spirit to save the day or die trying.

Prime's print is fairly washed out but it is in HD but it works for the film as the intense white of the mausoleum carries a nice dreamy disconnect. The scares are fun but the real reason to see it is Meg Tilly of course who makes this into her big league calling card. She's so real and vulnerable that we feel instantly invested, anxious over her gullible nature (why submit to the petty whims of the girl whose boyfriend you just stole? Meg, what's wrong with you?) and terrifying predicament. You'll understand why every filmmaker in town who saw this wanted to cast her, leading to significant roles in The Big Chill and Psycho 2 the following year.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Creature Double Feature Night 8: THE BRAIN THAT COULDN'T DIE (1962), SPIDER BABY (1964)

When it comes to trashy black and white films from the 60s, thanks to The Addams Family and The Muensters, as well as Dr. Shock, Ghoulardi and all the other local TV monster movie hosts across the land, America had developed a national obsession with goofy monsters, along with muscle cars, and hey-hey rock-and-roll. Here are two films that dig into that realm with enough intelligence to know they must play things absolutely straight, to dare even to be touching at times. These are dynamite drinking movies that I first fell in love with watching them round the clock back to back on an old VHS 6-hour tape dupe I made, so I can vouch for their sea legs. Thanks to Prime and progress, you won't have to endure the streaks. Today I may need to be sober as far as booze goes, but these two films still make me drunk on delirious horror shivers, with absurdity and genuine tragedy eyeing each other across a wild dance floor. 

(1961) Dir. Joseph Green
***1/2 / Amazon Image - B-

A beloved classic in the disembodied head canon, with the reptilian/handsome intern Herb Evers using his experimental formula for full limb transplants, despite his surgeon father's stodgy resistance. Trouble is, mutations can form, and to prove it, Evers keeps a sentient hulk of living tissue in the closet and--after a car accident--his fiancee's severed head on a tray. Kept alive (and telepathic!) until he can find a "suitable" body (by cruising the neighborhood and local sleazy 'body beautiful' pageants.) Occurring in some strange twilight realm of tawdry nightclubs and louche stares, Brain features two great performances by two ravishing brunettes: Virginia Leith is the severed head, rasping her threats and pleas from inside a TV tray full of circulating blood; Adele Lamont iw an initially wary, ever-so-slightly disfigured model whose body Evers figures would be.... just right. She really wants to be perfect, and declares to Evers, unwisely, "I'll do anything that will help me get rid of this face." (The script hums with these tossed off bits). So while Evers cruises and cajoles, Leith bonds with the thing in the closet, forming the most unique and touching friendship in the low budget monster annals ("I've got to see your hideousness and you've got to see mine!" she rasps.  "I am just a head... and you are whatever you are... but together we're strong!") the closet monster can only bang on the door to express his agreement, but he does so in a way that makes a simple loud bang almost a punk rock clarion call any malformed post-pubescent tween could raise a fist to.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, in an over-exaggerated but dead perfect acting style, Lamont conveys what it must be like to endure endless come-ons by pervy men; it's a moving if bombastic performance in which a probably very real deep disgust that feels very modern vis-a-vis our era's increased sexual harassment awareness. Alas, that's what makes it all the more tragic when she falls for Evers' line about fixing her scarred face, only to wind up roofied after all. She was so smart up to a point that we really feel for her when her vision blurs to blankness after telling him, "I trust you with my life." ("I can't ask for more than that," he says). Man, oh man. It's the creepiest because it's all done in real time, with the drug allowed a realistic time to kick in, all scored to a nice bump-n-grind jazz score calling it all out, slow as you like. As he tells Leith's horrified head, "This kind of thing must be done."

Adele Lamont dares to fall for Herb Evers' bullshit
Unfortunately the HD upgrade print isn't ideal, as someone figured it would be fancier in widescreen so merely lobbed the bottom and top of the frame off (so we don't see the blood in Virginia Leith's tray like we used to on local TV in the 70s.  Still, having this so handy, just a click away at all times, ensures nothing bad can ever happen to you again, provided you don't let smoov dudes leave the note for your roommate so she'll know where to find you if you fail to come home. And with her scratchy sexy voice and limitless desire to crush her ex-fiancee with a little help from her friend, Leith's head makes her the perhaps the most enduring sci/horror female icon since Brigitte in Metropolis. 

(1968 - really 1964) Dir. Jack Hill
**** / Prime Image - C

One of those perennial Halloween gems at the Kuersten house, or anytime really. Jack Hill's scrappy gem it's somewhere between Lolita, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Addams Family and... well, I guess in its way it's a total original yet feels so familiar... It's got Lon Chaney at his best, both macabre and a little sad; his teary little moment with the kids before he gets the idea to bring home some dynamite is justifiably regarded as one of his most moving moments, a capstone sign-off (he died shortly after) akin to Bela's "Home... I have no home" speech in Bride of the Monster. It's got the late, lamented Sid Haig as Ralph, and it's got letter perfect Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn as murderous Lolita-style moppets, one of whom is really into something called "the spider game," which you won't want to play, but kind of do. Think it can't be anymore perfect? Try adding Mantan Moreland as a nervous telegram delivery guy, Carol Ohmart as a scheming relative sensing a fortune buried in a revocable trust somewhere; and even the 'normal' couple are pretty cool, "Are you a horror fan, Ann?" says Uncle Bill with a clear post-tavern buzz on. Dam right she is. (see: A League of Wednesdays)

The Prime print isn't the greatest. If you're a fan, Ann, it's worth getting the Arrow Blu-ray. If like me you loved this film to death even as a crappy dupe, the new version, scored from the negative finally, is like a dream come true. This edition isn't the HD remaster, but is still highly effective.

If you want to go really crazy, chase it with Mesa of Lost Women, and Plan Nine from Outer Space and if you're still awake after that, Cat Women of the Moon. They are all on Prime. If you want to go off Prime, find The Boogieman will Get Youa personal deranged favorite. You don't need any of these other films... but seriously.

Triple Feature Recommendation:
(1953) Dir. Ron Ormond
**** / Amazon Image - C

My favorite bad movie, perhaps surpassing even Plan Nine and Cat Women of the Moon in my undying esteem. It's the tale of a scientist who somehow winds up a basket case after escaping the tarantula arms of Dr. Aranya (Jackie Coogan) and his 'experiments' who live high up on a mesa in New Mexico's Muerto Desert. Aranya's able to accelerate spider DNA to make hot Mexican women and small men (including Angelo Rossittio!) from black widow spiders ("the male of the species," Aranya notes, "is a poor and puny thing." There are also giant spiders, either early drafts or side effects of the process. Coogan is a long way off from Uncle Fester and so thankfully so underplays it, and the result becomes almost surreal. The star of the show of course is Harmond Stevens as Dr. Leland J. Masterson, who Michael Weldon famously describes as doing a weird Elmer Fudd impression. He does so much more, Michael! Watch him when other people are talking at the cantina, the terrifying and hilarious way he holds these frozen super-creepy smiles as he stares but doesn't seem to see anything. Suddenly his 'nurse'  (George "Ro-Man" Barrows)shows up from the local mental hospital and announces he's somehow his patient has acquired a gun along the way so we all better humor him. When he spots one of the spider women he remembers from the mesa, Leland shoots her right in the middle of her "tarantella." Soon he's hijacking the private plane of a rich honeymooning May-December couple, and a bottle of whiskey stashed in the cockpit helps warm the cockles after the plane crashes on Aranya's mesa. Over a long and scary night the survivors are menaced by all giant spiders and shady looking shadows, and well, I can't possibly do it justice. Nor can I even begin to stop praising the shattered flamenco and off-key barroom piano hammering of the repetitive score. You'll either love it or hate it, but if you love it you can't get enough of it. I dig the fact for example that--aside from some daytime desert exterior in the framing device, it's all shot on soundstages, even the crashed plane; there's this great sense of interiority when bad movies shoot outdoor scenes indoors, a neither here/there vibe that, for some of us, is so eerily evocative of delirious dream states we've had and still cherish the memory of, that they become our happy place: the graveyard and pilot's porch in Plan Nine from Outer Space, the cave and temples of Cat Women of the Moon, and The Mesa of Lost Women! 

Prime directive: See the upload with the black "Film Detective" border; the "Wade Williams" cover upload has a slight jump. That said, it's worth getting the actual Wade Williams DVD of Mesa if you're a true blue fan, though the ideal version has yet to be struck. The night scenes are still hard to see once they're away from the fire but it's clearer. Is it too much to ask, Shout Factory or Arrow or even Criterion, to give us a remastered Blu-ray, maybe with some other long-out-of-circulation Ron and Suzy Ormond titles!? Stand back and let me dream on it. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019


It's a rainy drab stuffy Sunday here in Manhattan, but with the comforting chill of night comes the chance to once more delve into Prime's bottomless cesspool. Tonight, a trio of monster classics, each mean and strange. Do you dare tamper in God's domain along with these stalwart scientists? 

(1957) Dir. Roger Corman
*** 1/2 / Amazon Image - A

Roger was at the top of his pre-60s/Poe phase game for this fast, cheap and fun whizzbang sci-fi / horror film. It's already come, wowed the world, and gone while other, similar science fiction films are just warming up. So there's group of scientists investigating the effects of nuclear fall-out on local marine life at a super remote atoll (ala Bikini) at the height of the Cold War atomic bomb test one-upsmanship days. The scientists include many of the cast members from THE UNDEAD: Mel Welles, Pamela Duncan, and Richard Garland. Beach Dickerson is a Marine, left on the beach with a buddy and a case of dynamite and grenades. What would a bunch of scientists want with this stuff? Beach wonders. Fat lot of good it does against crabs made of anti-matter who absorb the intelligences and voices of the scientists they eat (and then call to the survivors to meet them in the underwater caves, their voices drenched in heavy reverb). Sure the film gets laughs because the crabs are kind of ridiculous but I'll take a giant life size parade float puppet thing where you can see the shade sash string for lowering its eye lid and shoes underneath the abdomen, over just some rear screen projection of blown-up actual crabs, i.e. like Bert I. Gordon would do. Corman gets that we don't want cheap fixes; his crabs make only a feint towards crabbiness, but they have wild big eyes and booming voices and massive claws- and they rock.

I turn to this film again and again late at night when I need to forget the last film I just watched or allay whatever woes or anxiety the day has accrued. Its Charles B. Griffith script crackles with fast-paced brightness and speed. No sooner have they rolled onto the island than a Marine gets his head chopped off while looking underwater to see what's holding back their raft. I still remember the dirty kick I got from that as a kid (this was on TV a lot) as such sights were rare due to squeaky censors. Speaking of TV, future Professor (sans Marianne) on Gilligan's Island, Russell Johnson is Hank, the radio operator. He strikes 'sparks' with Duncan, though she's betrothed to Garland for some unforeseen reason (is it the hairpiece?). Not that there's any time for such tomfoolery --the crabs are using their atomic powers to slowly destroy the island, whittling the sides of rock to fall into the sea, ensuring the humans run out of places to hide. It's an interesting idea in itself, along with a few dozen others, and then BAM - it's all over. Now you're back on the Prime menu, left to figure it out for yourself. But come back anytime.

(1959) Dir. Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda
*** - Amazon Image - A+

If you don't already have this on Arrow Blu-ray, you're probably not a Mario Bava fan. What's wrong with you? See his Black Sunday, Black Sabbath and Kill, Baby, Kill! and understand why we even love this early, fitfully entertaining mix of Gothic and sci-fi elements (a kind of Quatermass Catholica). Imagine if The Blob had an Attack of the Mayan Mummy backstory. Imagine no more. It's here. A chunk of giant pulsing, wet slimy muslin and jelly blob wakes from its sleepy tomb deep in a Mayan cave (in Italy and Spain they go to Central America for their mummies) after being stirred to life by treasure-grabbing archaeologists. A naive patriarchal scientist (John Merivale) figures a tiny sample of the thing can't hurt to bring home and study. Naturally, a lightning storm and/or cosmic rays from a passing meteor stimulate its growth and soon its devouring his house while his terrified wife tries to get out through the upstairs window. to get it all swelled up again. He's speeding home evan as the Italian army blasts the villa to ruin via flame-thrower-mounted tanks in a fiery climax.

All the while, a racist German archaeologist (Gérard Herter) who touched the thing back in the tombs and lost his hand from its unstoppably corrosive surface, is now insane and will stop at nothing to ravish the scientist's pretty wife (Didi Sullivan), all while his own long-time abused Native Mexican-blooded mistress (Daniele Rocca) fumes from the shadows. As he chases the blonde wife all around the mansion, the blob gets bigger and bigger in the other room, breaking all sorts of glass, slithering around the halls and through the doors and foyers, all of it brilliantly lit by Bava's startling black-and-white cinematography, deftly preserved for the immaculate HD prime stream. Caltiki itself looks divine, deep black but with Bava's brilliant lighting capturing the glint of light off the slimy weird fabric/scales/ooze as it splits into smaller versions all growing ever larger as they devour flesh and trees alike during the climactic dark night.

The first 1/4 is the best, with the expedition to the rainforest rendered brilliantly via Bava's masterful use of mattes, mirrors, and miniatures, replete with time out for a sexy native dance as bongos play, men leer and the women scowl. If parts get too soapy or too dry in spots, blame that on Freda who turned the reigns fully over to Bava halfway through, allowing him to get his director's card at last. He fills Caltiki with his beautiful camera movements, mattes (the Mayan ruin exteriors are depicted using nothing but a photo and some smoke but you'd never know it) and lighting schemes. It might be uneven and at times irritating (the husband is really a pill) but it's atmospheric, beautiful, and bizarre. In other words, just fine for the Halloween festival curation purposes of this,  our accursed Kuersten Prime-a-thon (in Italian with optional English subtitles).

(1957) Dir. Ray Kellogg
** 1/2 / Amazon Image - A-

Casual monster fans may wonder, but for those of us of a certain age, the SHREWS was one of the better afternoon creature feature offerings on local TV. We weren't particularly convinced by the monsters - easy enough to tell they were shaggy dogs with wigs and false teeth -- but wild dogs can be terrifying, ask anyone who was ever chased by one. And as kids we could really freak ourselves out imagining how their digestive juices are so corrosive that even a tiny prick from their fangs is fatal. Now, as adults who've watched TV all our lives, it's fun to see Ken Curtis as a drunken douchebag pining for blonde research assistant Ingrid Goude and trying to off his chief rival, the laconic charter captain (James Best). We'd grow up to see Curtis tangle with many John Ford characters in similar circumstances (i.e. the rival groom in The Searchers) and we know Best as sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane in Dukes of Hazzard. Yee-hah! And the big climactic use of overturned oil drums lashed together and used as protection for the survivors' escape to the coast was something no kid who saw it in the 70s ever forgot. It was the kind of thing we could vividly imagine ourselves doing, and it wasn't until Tremors-- with its savvy incorporation of the 'carpet is lava' furniture-hopping game--that  we'd see our exact type of imaginative made-up playground games so succinctly expressed.. Even today there's something unsettling about these monsters, chewing through walls with their venomous corrosive saliva, and Curtis just waiting for a chance to get you in a room with one so he can lock your escape route and thus once more have no competition for sultry Goulde. 

And there are cocktails. Lots of cocktails. 

Prime has a color version but their black-and-white version is the best (the one with the shrew tail wrapping itself around a woman's shoe).
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