Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception until the screen is infinite... or larger

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Creature Double Feature Bonus!: BEYOND THE DOOR, VAMPYRES (+LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM!)


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. Here's a list of ten super trashy films, some old gems and newly discovered monstrosities amidst Prime's countless dumpster fires. Once the mayhem is done and the buzz is laid down, come here.... come... here.

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

Even a lot of fans of crappy Italian horror are dismissive of this obvious Exorcist's Baby cash-in, but maybe that's why I have a spot in my heart for it. I'll grant you: it is terrible--rushed by the horns of its pants through production and into theaters the same year (1974) as The Exorcist, imitating all its talked-about moments (the green slime vomit, the levitation, the 180 degree head turn,,,) and making a bad precedent-setting mess of a fortune in the process. I'll grant you too that the Prime print is only so-so--kind of murky albeit still very (or barely) watchable SD. And I'll grant you too that the dubbing of some of the actors is strictly the 'phoned in, maybe literally' variety... BUT Franco Micalizz's score (his ninth in 1974 alone!) has lots of soul singing, death rattles, billowing noises, quiet storm flutes, groovy bass and Satanic sighs, and there's a killer theme song--"Bargain with the Devil"--is by the great Warren Wilson. We see the musicians laying it all down in the studio during the opening credits, lorded over by the soon-to-be-pregnant-and-possessed woman's anemic music producer husband Robert (Gabriele Lavia, the boozy, gay friend of David Hemmings in Deep Red).  You know he's a great music producer from the he keeps yelling at everyone to "do it better" but with no specifics beyond that. AND the San Francisco backdrop is as vivid and strange as only a European director can make it (there's even a scene where the hero is walking through the Tenderloin and being semi-exorcised, shunned and serenaded by a gang of steel drummers!). Add all the B-roll travelogue of driving through SF, and seeing strange people reflected in glass windows, and you have a very strange piece of junk worth a visit when your standards have dropped well past the red line.


British Italian film expat Richard The Haunting Johnson co-stars as Dimitri, an enigmatic Satan-worshipping aesthete, saved in a freeze frame by the devil after his car plunges off scenic Highway 101 (we know it's the devil by his eeeevil laugh!) and given a second chance if he will facilitate the birth of the devil's most unholy firstborn child---currently gestating in the womb of his ex-wife Jessica (Juliet Mills, looking a lot like Kirsten Dunst). Currently she's married to Robert, but they do go way back, and frankly, Dimitri is way cooler. Still, his approach to Robert is to just shadow him through endless walks around SF, until Robert notices and is weirded out. How does one tell one's ex-wife's new husband she has the devil's baby inside her and offer to help deliver it from goodness? Even after the green vomit, psychokinesis, and levitation starts in earnest, Robert's doctor friend warns him not to accept Dimitri's offer, even while offering absolutely no solutions or alternatives! The couple's other two kids, meanwhile, are regularly left alone with their demon mom since dad is too busy wandering the San Francisco streets 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. Any kid could relate to that horror, that sense of neglect and inescapable horror. But daddy still has lots of B-roll streets left to muse through, and that comes first.

Thanks to inept editing (censor-demanded cuts?), scenes that might have been really scary are then just cut away from halfway through, so instead of the children's screams and panic after they come tentatively to mom's bed for solace after their room is smashed by poltergeists, and mom just gives them a 360-head spin and super creepy smile (very terrifying to any child), we cut a long pointless scene of Robert's headlights driving through town. When he finally gets home, everything is normal again. We get we're supposed to be worried and a bit angry and Robert's shitty sense of priorities, but then... is that really why we never cut back to that chilling moment? Even with all the creepy doll close-ups, a lot of it doesn't make sense. 

BUT- that's part of what makes Italian exploitation so indelible. 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. It's a blatant Exorcist rip-off, 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 the wrist. 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); and it was released widely on big screens here in the US, with a marketing campaign burned into my young child brain.

Maybe the reason I'm partial to all this is that I remember being freaked out by the TV commercial, which was on regularly, for quite a few weeks, as a kid. I remembered there was a door cracked open, billowing curtains, whooshing winds, and the implication that something evil was waiting.... beyond the door. 


That's all we kids needed back then. A door half-opened, surrounded by inky darkness...So Lewtonian, that less-is-more shadowiness. They knew what they were doing... I still shudder when I see the posters. As for you, proceed at your own risk and throw expectation to the breeze. Followed by several name-only sequels, including Mario Bava's last film/son Lamberto's first, Shock! Also on Prime and recommended, maybe even worse/better than this!! 

2. VAMPYRES
(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: 

3. LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM 
(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 10 Day Marathon is best spent couch-ways. Feel free to scroll back and marvel, and maybe gape, at the other nights in previous day's posts (and watch it all on good old Prime). And for now, here's a gem of badness worth always revisiting especially on Prime's A+ HD remastered print. All that green food coloring has never been more appetizing. There's also a second dish on these mankind servings, a droll Canadian sci-fi pastiche made by a zonkers auteur whose films are like if Guy Maddin met Larry Blamire and trounced him pertly on the sconce. What a find! Prime's countless dumpster fires never extinguish!

And since it's a special night, some backing items for the no family. 

TROLL 2
(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 as Plan NineMesa of Lost Women or Cat Women of the Moon. But as bad movies go, the sort with not a single 'normal' moment, it's a gem to be treasured, and it's never looked better. Written by the (Italian) director's wife as a satire on (American-style) vegetarianism (!) we're left to wonder, does she think so little of us, or is she a witch, or a genius? How can a script have so very little to do with the way real life works, in America or anywhere? And how did we get so blessed to have Troll 2 in our lives, and now--for the Prime scenesters, ever just a click away in beautiful richly-colored HD? We must have ate something wonderful...

The story has four person family (please don't make me tell you their names), deciding to swap houses for a summer vacation with a family way out in the country, 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 locals are real hospitable and crazy about green food coloring and at the drop of a hat turn into gnarly little goblins (or trolls). On moving into the new house, the fam finds tons of food laid out--real country hospitality-- but it's all green-tinted and the ghost of the young Joshua's grandpa tells him he has to stop everyone from eating any of it! It's dangerous! Freezing time for 30 seconds so he can think of a plan! He doesn't just grab it all and throw it on the floor like a normal person, he stands on the table to pee on it. 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. Yes, it's that kind of a movie. At that point you're either in for life, or hitting stop like its a red-headed stepchild.

For those of us left, oh so many highlights it's hard to pick even a few, but most of my favorites center around Creedence (Deborah Reed), a kind of witchy mother to the trolls, who 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. As if a graduate of the Fuad Ramses school of acting, Reed milks every line, every syllable, as much as possible - eyes bugged, lips curled back in an obscene smile. Her victims tend to be virile young boys, a gaggle of whom have followed the girlfriend (Joshua's older sister) of one of them to the country in their Winnebago. Nothing gay about them sleeping together with their shirts off. They're there to meet girls! The dim boyfriend promised them. But they're camped in a true nightmare of a town --they don't even have coffee at the general store, "There's no coffee here in Nilbog. It's the devil's drink!!"

 Actually, the boyfriend's inability to let go of his boys club and be a normal person is one of the more interesting in a legitimate way elements of the film. It also lets Creedence have a fine garden this year. Like her trolls she can change looks on a dime--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 a from-the-diaphragm acting approach even Toshiro Mifune might find excessive.

My favorite of her many disguises is when she shows up as a girl in the music video watched by the last uneaten dork in the camper.  ; and the hot-to-trot TV movie seductress (with great teeth, all the better to castrate you with, my dear) who appears on the last living lunkhead's mobile camper TV screen as he sulks alone, parked way out in the middle of nowhere for no clear reason. It's like any lonesome teenager's fantasy has come true: babes are literally coming right out of the TV screen to 'do it' with him in his trailer. Now all he has to do, he thinks, is keep perfectly still... It's like getting a tattoo or getting a deer to come closer... He just stands there, terrified, and no doubt aroused, trying not to make eye contact while Creedence musses his hair and...

See, these goblins, or trolls, can't eat human flesh, to digest it they first have to "soak it in vinegar all night!" So they have to trick humans into eating a special green food coloring substance that will turn them into vegetable matter, illustrated when a victim dissolved into a pool of green slime which the throng then devour. Can they be stopped?  Michael Paul Stephenson is Joshua, who though not a good actor, certainly  performs with a stalwart earnestness, especially during the foggy alternate reality Stonehenge climax (where the secret weapon turns out to be a balogna sandwich, all but undoing the relatively deadpan mood); Grandpa helps Joshua set a preacher on fire, and--eventually--the accumulated weirdness convinces the rest of the family it's time to get the hell out of Nilbog. Too bad... But there's always our next film....

TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN
(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) and because of a  pinpoint accurate turn by Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger) as the atomic physicist Dr. Carl Lamont and the deeply attractive sacral chakra-blazing erotically awake and sensually hungry performance by Fiona Loewi as Sandy, the motel owner who has a very special kind of 'ahem' bond with her dimwitted brother Guy (Tom Everett Scott). It's all very matter of fact, with no judgment of each other's kinky proclivities; 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 It Came From Outer Space over and over (if you dig it, go onto tackle Paisz' previous labor of love, Crime Wave, which is even stranger). 

Third Option: 

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

An undersung New World bad movie gem from 1978, The Evil is clearly meant to ride the late-70s obsession with Jay Anson's 1977 runaway bestseller The Amityville Horror if the house was bigger and was being renovated by a group of drug counsellors as a home/school/runaway shelter --that kind of groovy half-way house teenager runaway shelter sort of vibe so very late-70s. Richard Crenna is the director, and as things go wrong around him he refuses to believe in the supernatural as a factor. The boiler incinerates the drunk caretaker (Ed Bakey), there are malevolent house quakes, freak electrical shocks (pin scratches on the celluloid), attempted ghost assaults, and --once the hatch on the basement floor is opened, wind rushes up, the Satanic laughter echoes, all the doors and windows lock shut, and Crenna has to think fast to explain it all aways as wind gusts. 

Fan favorite Andrew Pine--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. 

As with Troll 2 and Top of the Food Chain it's not a good film but it doesn't try to just be 'okay' -it shoots way higher than just a few bumps in the night and maybe flies on the window. It goes for broke, like the crazy kid who tries to run to third on a base hit. It take a few beats too long to get started (old Bakey seems to wander around that old building, taking a gallon of slugs from his half-pint hip flask, through lengthy opening credits) but-- once that 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 9: PROM NIGHT 2: HELLO MARY LOU; WAXWORK (+ ONE DARK NIGHT)
Night 8: SPIDER BABY, BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (+ MESA OF LOST WOMAN)
Night 7: ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS; CALTIKI - THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (+ THE KILLER SHREWS)
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-- 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

Creature Double Feature Night 9: PROM NIGHT 2: HELLO MARY LOU, WAXWORK


Tonight - Two teenager-centric but effects-driven gems of the realm... okay maybe cracked plastic tiaras and cheap wax exhibits, but don't turn your back on them - because those aren't wax, baby. 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!

 PROM NIGHT 2: HELLO, MARY LOU
(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 Ironside (Starship Troopers!) via a stink bomb prank gone awry that burns her alive during her big onstage Carrie prom queen of 1957 moment. Flash ahead to 1987, when an old drama club trunk that happens to contain Mary Lou's crown amongst other things, is opened by an unassuming but cute blonde named Vicki (Wendy Lyon) looking for a prom ideas in the school storage attic. 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 she's sucked into the blackboard during detention and drowns into the swirling ink and chalk like Cocteau-style. Also, her rocking horse (she's got Picasso's Guernica on the 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."

Fitting right in with the punk hairspray aesthetic, but drawing eyebrows when she uses words like "swell," the girls are confused by the new Vicki. Bespectacled old Ironside (Scanners!) is now the principal, keeping out of trouble, with a son who happens to be dating Vicki. Ironside's principal is in no way eager to accept the prospect of his 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). Meanwhile, Mary Lou destroys anyone who so much as looks at her cross-eyed via an arsenal of telekinetic powers that make Carrie White seem like a faker (she even brings her red-eyed hobby horse to life and caresses its big phallic tongue). Naturally Mary Lou-cum-Wendy shall seduce and destroy Ironside (Free Willy!), as well as all the rivals, before she steps to the podium, and her speech shall be truly euthanizing.."Mary Lou Malone...has come back." The reverend knows from confession Ironside is guilty -

 I remember it looking better but the Film Rise print looks wan and washed out, though the nudity is naturalistic (no augments or spray tans) as I get older, high school locker room nudity becomes no longer sexy but disturbing. Yet there's empowerment in a naked Vicki/Marylou doing the menacing singing while strolling naked towards her prey. We need more badass female monster icons, hot girls who show how sexual come-ons can be terrifying (she makes out with inappropriate abandoned, including french kissing her father). Too bad this film never earned sequels. Isn't it funny how that happens when a cool movie has the girl as the powerful amoral sexually uninhibited female as the monster instead of the victim? Mary Lou's 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. 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 begins to reconstitute herself back into her former hot self while the student bodies die from falling neon lightning rods.  Ironside stalks the halls with a gun to kill her yet again but ends up hanging from the rafters while his son lurches after him. 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 very deftly. Too bad the Prime version is a full screen video dupe, though maybe that's how it was shot. Is that the best available version? I have DVD of it somewhere, but Prime is so much easier... (PS - if you don't have Prime it's regularly on free PlutoTV.)
--
13. WAXWORKS
(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 this uber-dope flick because no one in the rest of the cast seems too pleased about him either and he's not in every scene, and the cast also includes my boy 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 waxworks 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:

ONE DARK NIGHT 
(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. 

THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE
(1961) Dir. Joseph Green
***1/2 / Amazon Image - B-

A beloved classic in the disembodied head canon, this has Herb Evers as a furrowed doctor with a yen for wild experimentalism. He has a new formula that overrides the bodily resistance to foreign invaders, the very thing that makes limb and organ transplants so iffy a prospect. With his new mix, you can just stick anything on anywhere and it will work. There's just one issue and that is in the past his experiments have not gone well. There's a thing he made out of parts locked in the lab closet, banging on the door when its food bowl is late. His assistant, with a mangled arm, waits for his chance to finally be two-fisted. Virginia Leith is Evers' sultry fiancee, whose conservative doctor father is Evers' mentor. He gives Evers shit about using his drug to save the lives of patients even after dad's already pronounced them dead. Dad wants to test it on hundreds of lab animals first - hinting at the incalculable cruelty of the scientific mode of inquiry. (May they all be smote come the The Day of the Animals!) Anyway, Evers and Leith are headed up to the country for the weekend - car wreck - fiancee's head goes flying. He scoops it up in a coat and races home to get to work. Down in his basement there's also the sad result of his past failed experiment: a hideous mostly unseen mutant locked unseen in a closet. His assistant waits to be next for a transplant (he has a withered useless arm and hopes for a fresh one) and has a habit of teasing Leith's head, accusing her of being a freak!

Occuring in some strange twilight realm of tawdry nightclubs and louche stares, Brain features two great performances -- notably Virginia Leith as the severed head of the evil doctor's fiancee, rasping her threats and pleas from inside a TV tray full of blood; and Adele Lamont as an initially wary streetwise photography model (back when guys would pay money to take their own snapshots, a kind of DIY smut meets amateur photography class - a practice that seems largely to have deservedly disappeared) whose body Evers figures would be.... just right... for his beloved fiancee.  Meanwhile, Leith bonds with the thing in the closet, forming a unique friendship in the monster annals ("I've got to see your hideousness and you've got to see mine!" and "I am just a head... and you are whatever you are... but together we're strong!") A whole other avenue of tragedy opens up when he finds a girl (Adele Lamont, in the other great performance) with a scar on her face who considers herself marred, though it's barely noticeable and she has a slammin' body which she uses to pose for dirty old men shutterbugs. Her disgust with men ("I don't date men") is palpable and deserved; she really conveys what it must be like to endure endless come-ons and harassment as a young hot single broad with a slammin' body. That's what makes it all the more tragic when she falls for Evers line about fixing her face (she remembers him from an earlier visit to the hospital after the initial tragedy). She trusts him and winds up roofied back at his house. She was so smart up to a point, not to trust any man, that we really feel for her as the POV camera shows Evers walking expressionlessly towards her as her vision blurs to blankness. Knowing now about Cosby et al, it's horrifying to think how often this same blurred vision and feeling of mounting helplessness and fear goes on and on in real life.

Adele Lamont dares to fall for Herb Evers' bullshit
Unfortunately the Prime 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 Virginia Leith's head tray half the time; the image is cut off at her chin. I can't remember if that's how it normally is). Still, having this so handy, just a click away at all times, ensures nothing bad can ever happen to you again. That is, provided you don't let smoov dudes leave your note for your roommate so she'll know where to find (such a no-no!), or to let him mix drinks out of sight from you, or bring you to strange houses in the middle of the night after just meeting you. And if you wind up a head without a body, see if there's any other monsters nearby! the previous victims of madmen are your allies, no matter their hideousness or yours! Just like a certain #-movement -- I am only a string of words and you are whatever you are, but together you're strong!

SPIDER BABY
(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 Dr. Aranya's lab high up on a mesa in New Mexico's Muerto Desert. Jackie Coogan is Dr. Aranya, and he's found a way to accelerate spider DNA to make hot Mexican women and small men from black widow spiders. There are also giant spiders amidst the horrors. Coogan is a long way from Uncle Fester and thankfully so underplays it 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. That's just the half of it. Watch him when other people are talking -- he holds these frozen super-creepy smiles that are worth three stars all by themselves. He escapes (offscreen) his 'nurse' at a local mental hospital and somehow acquires a gun along the way . When he spots one of the spider women he remembers from the mesa, he shoots her right in the middle of her "tarantella" while drinking at the local cantina. Soon he's hijacking the private plane of a rich honeymooning May-December couple, along with his concerned nurse (George Robert Monster Barrows). For those of us who drink, there's a real kinship and emphasis on how a bottle of whiskey stashed in the cockpit helps warm the cockles after the plane crashlands on the 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. See it again and see if it doesn't get better in its worseness.


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 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.




Sunday, October 27, 2019

Creature Triple Feature Night 7: ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS; CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER; THE KILLER SHREWS


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? 

ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS
(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 by the time other science fiction films are just starting to get their heads out of their asses. So we've got a 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 (and there was only one at a time) but I'll take a giant life size parade float puppet thing where you can see the shade sash for its eye lids over just some rear screen projection of crab stock footage or something. Corman gets that. 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. 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.

21. CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER
(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 you'll understand. You'll even understand why we love this early--comparatively minor--work, his debut as director, co-working with old mentor Freda. It's an odd but entertaining enough mix of Gothic and sci-fi elements (a kind of Quatermass Catholica), imagining The Blob if coupled to The Mummy, with a giant pulsing amoeba monster with a great weird look of some kind of black wet slimy muslin and jelly blob pulsing its way around, rising 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 curious macho archaeologists. It must have been what drove away and/or ate the Mayans! A naive patriarchal scientist (John Merivale) figures a tiny sample of the thing can't hurt to bring home and study, but it only takes a little lightning storm or cosmic rays from a passing meteor or something to get it all swelled up again.  While he's off dealing with the big one at the lab, his take-home sample of the Caltiki engorges as well. Soon it's devouring his entire house; he Italian army blasts the villa to run via flame-thrower-mounted tanks in a fiery climax.

Meanwhile a racist German archaeologist (Gérard Herter) who touched the thing back in the tombs and lost his hand from its poisonous weird rabies/gangrene combination, is now insane and will stop at nothing to ravish the scientist's pretty wife (Didi Sullivan), all while his own darker-skinned woman (Daniele Rocca) fumes from the shadows. As he chases the blonde wife all around the mansion (brilliantly under-lit by Bava to emphasize his impure intent), the blob gets bigger and bigger, breaking all sorts of glass, slithering around the halls and through the doors and foyers of the lower level of the house most enjoyably while Didi and her child cower on the ledge above, all brilliantly lit by Bava's startling black-and-white cinematography, deftly preserved for the immaculate HD prime stream. In the sparkling restoration 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 all rendered brilliantly via Bava's masterful use of mattes, mirrors, and miniatures, replete with time out for a sexy native dance set to bongos while the men leer and the women scowl. Parts get too soapy or too dry in spots but blame that on Freda if we must. Bava fills Caltiki with his beautiful camera movements, mattes (the Mayan ruin exteriors are depicted using nothing but a photo and some smoke) and lighting schemes so--if nothing else--it's damned atmospheric, beautiful, and bizarre. In other words, just fine for the Halloween festival curation purposes of this, an accursed Kuersten Prime-a-thon (in Italian with optional English subtitles).

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

Casual 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 they're terrifying because--as the doctor explained--their digestive juices are so corrosive that even a tiny prick from their fangs is fatal. We kids could dig that. As adults, it's fun to see Gunsmoke regular Ken Curtis as a drunken owl-hoot 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 so many John Ford characters in similar circumstances (i.e. The Searchers) and Best chasing the Duke boys around the backroads of Hazzard county, and we'd think 'I know those two dudes from somewhere'. 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 invention so succinctly expressed. Catching it on early morning TV as a kid, it was like our last nightmare of the night was still playing. 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 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).


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...