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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

13 Great Films for Week X of a Pandemic (on Prime)


There's a pandemic going on outside and a bad year for spring pollen makes us indoor kids all sneezy and paranoid, thus robbing us of the schadenfreude we'd normally feel at being told we must stay inside in front of the TV all day. But that doesn't mean we don't make excellent guides through the jungle of weird and justly forgotten films from the 60s-80s with which Prime is overrun. So forget about too "on the nose" downers like Outbreak and Coughs on a Plane -and forget about ROTM Prime film recommendations on RT, and the like. Instead, let me hack you a path through 13 wildly post-whatever films, starting from the first failure of CDC style checkpoints in Cassandra Crossing (1978) onwards to Italian cannibal zombies all the way back around to the past-post-apocalyptic Rats: Night of Terror--not to mention all the groovy psychedelic stops along the way, for this carefully programmed series of 13 films dares examine the drastic things humanity is simply too 'human' to do to save itself, until it's too late. And what happens after that.


So, if you can still drink, open up another packet of powdered whiskey and sneak some peeks through the dirty thumb-print looking glass end of reality!

1. THE CASSANDRA CROSSING
(1976) Dir. George P. Cosmatos
**1/2 / Amazon Image - A-

The dad of the director of Beyond the Black Rainbow and Mandy is clearly highly qualified to tell a tale of what happens when a plague-contaminated terrorist winds up hiding on a speeding international incident of a train, requiring colonel Burt Lancaster to make some tough decisions, like having the military in hazmat gear welding bars over all the train doors and windows so no one can escape, then rerouting it onto a disused line so it can crash into a ravine (thus saving the world and the secret germ warfare program). Ingrid Thulin is the voice of compassion and reason butting his head, maybe she can fly in a cure! Passengers include Martin Sheen and Ava Gardner as an odd pair of con artists; OJ Simpson and Richard Harris try diplomacy and then machine guns to get the hell off; Lionel Stander is a conductor! Lee Strasberg is a stereotypical old European Jew for whom all the brutal revocation of civil liberty is just a little too familiar. Alida Vialli, Lou Costell, Sophia Lauren, John Phillip Law, and Ann Turkel all run around in the background, hoping to help or hinder one side or the other. In other words it's pure 70s cinema: a bloated cast of international stars on a runaway moving vehicle and one of those unresolvable "many must die so more can live" kind of tough choices that let us sympathize with both the military and the innocents battling against their sudden loss of human rights.

2. THE CRAZIES
(1973) Dir. George Romero
*** 1/2/ Amazon Image - A

This early-70s horror film of George Romero's offers a clear indicator why it's so important to let people shelter in their homes rather than herd them into high school gymnasiums at gunpoint in the dead of night. The drastically under-equipped Major Ryder and the cool whiskey flask-packed Colonel Peckham (Lloyd Hollar) figure the best way to contain an outbreak of 'Trixie' --an experimental depopulating agent designed to infiltrate the enemy's water supply like a fatal dose of really bad acid--is to round everyone in the affected sleepy PA town at 2 AM with no explanation of why  ("We've been promised bullhorns and loudspeakers," notes Ryder, blithely. "No telling when they're going to arrive!"). But Ryder and Peckham have a problem: this is rural PA in the early 70s, full of bitter and and armed Vietnam vets (ala them Deer Hunter) in no mood to let the military start pushing them around again ("the Army's nobody's friend, man," a vet cautions a father who wants to give himself up. "We know. We've been in it".) An infectious military drums spurs on the very well-edited scenes of Ryder's outfit trying to set up a field office in the local doctor's cramped offices. We sympathize for everyone involved. Peckham, where's that flask!?

It's long been one ugly looking film but recently The Crazies has gotten a loving restoration; Prime's print glows with warm colors; you can tell right off as now the blue eyes of a blonde girl seem otherworldly and rampant fire burns bright orange and the naked skin of nurse Lane Carroll is a heavenly in its rosiness. Romero edits in the same multiple camera semi-documentary style that made Dawn of the Dead still the best zombie movie of all time.

As with our own Corona, this virus travels faster than the ability of the governmental operatives to contain it ("If Trixie jumps perimeter, it could could travel across the entire continent!" notes the guy who orders a nuke-loaded B29 into the air.) When instructed to send in one of the scientists who worked on the virus, they grab the great Richard "Dummies! Dummies!" France (Romero's equivalent to Cronenberg's Joe Silver):"Jesus Christ this is so RANDOM!" he shouts as he's thrown onto a plane with no chance to collect any useful material. In his peevish portly way he's utterly masterful, and centers the film with that great deep booming voice.

Lastly, you have to love any film as clued in the magic of the morning hours: it's a film that starts at one in the morning and sees the sun come up on a whole new world about halfway through the film. It's not unlike the morning after one of those old SU block parties in the late 80s, with zonked still-tripping kids and bikers still awake, staggering around the town, feeling they and the world are so altered by chemical craziness that nothing will ever be the same again. If you were there, you know what I mean. And there's the ever-surprising and deliriously 70s babysitter alluring Lynn Lowry as a sheltered young hippie-ish girl who winds up losing her virginity to her father during one of the more disturbing sequences. Don't let it throw you. She doesn't. Before the rebel vet hero can find her she's outside running around with the sheep.

PS -There are numerous uploads of this film on Prime, so if the image isn't sublime and HD, try another link.
PPS - The remake is also on Prime, and pretty good but now that it's been restored to glowy perfection, the original is the way to go

3. RABID
(1977) Dir. David Cronenberg
***1/2 / Amazon Image - A

Cronenberg's second film (after the similar Shivers which you should also see if available) mixes all his pet ingredients: a wintry experimental clinic in the Montreal wilderness, accurate medical jargon, motorcycles, a keen appreciation for the uneasy relationship between the body, viruses, and the mind; and deeply disturbing gore. The latter includes a scene were Dr. Keloid uses what looks like an electric cheese sliver to peel off the upper epidermis of heavenly Marilyn Chambers' legs for an experimental graft. Luckily it grows back and she gets a chance to really show her stuff when she wakes up from her post-crash coma in the early hours of the night and commences to slinking around the cozy clinic in search of surprised patients and staff to drink from through a retractable penis-esqe proboscis on the inside of her elbow. You heard me!

Soon she's back in Montreal and watching her saunter down the street in the neon lights of the city in her fur coat, flashing a hint of a smile as he walks past a poster for Carrie at a downtown theater, makes the film worth watching all by itself, especially in glorious restored HD which captures the mix of warm inviting colors of interiors and flesh tones contrasting with the endless white grey of the outdoors. Ultimately, as in most Cronenberg films, Rabid is about the way sexual addiction and drug addiction are the same blood chemical trip and Chambers is the poster child for both (and can really bring a kind of sneaking sexual invite into a line like "I've been lying in bed so long; I ache all over" without being gauche or overly obvious about it). As with his other 70s films, Cronenberg proves himself a master at believable medical dialogue: when Chambers closes in on a nurse alone in the dead of night hot tub, she says "I better get out soon - I'm getting all wrinkly." And there's a great details like when a rabid lunatic is shot on the hood of Joe Silver's car and the men in hazmat suit spray sterilizing agents on the windshield where the blood and saliva landed before waving him on (and he just turns on the wipers as he drives away) Those kind of details are why Cronenberg rules. He doesn't forget a thing when it comes to the horror of human biology and the way what's monstrous and horrible can become routine almost instantly.


The film doesn't quite gel together as well as Shivers- which kept itself safe inside a singles-friendly high rise, or The Crazies, which kept itself to a small PA town; but Rabid is the shit as a film about Canada's vastness, where empty white expanses are criss-crossed by lonesome highways, and high-end socialized medicine and the niceness of neighbors gives new viruses all sorts of edges, and how a warm Yankee kitten like Chambers can drive a city to its knees with just six deadly embraces. And who doesn't love gravel voiced Joe Silver as the doctor with the new baby on his lap watching TV in the middle of the night? ("Look," he tells the kid, "Mr. Potato Man.") Luckily, we never get to what happens to the kid, if you know what I mean. As in all Cronenberg, we cherish the good times, as the bad loom as inescapably as a Canadian winter.


 12. NIGHTMARE AT NOON
(1987) Dir. Nico Mastarakis
* / Amazon Image - A

If you need a shitty-ass late-80s Cannon-esque version of The Crazies as bad as I do, then check out this typically dumb Nico Mastarikis movie. Wings Hauser and Bo Hopkins drift separately into a small midwestern town (George Kennedy is the sheriff; his deputy is his cute single daughter) and find themselves swept up in green blood and madness. It's pretty laughable, especially Kennedy just stands there with his gun pointed at a lunatic local whose shooting everyone in sight, but won't fire on him, instead keeps moving around behind cars even though he has a perfectly clear shot. The highlight is when "Sharon" (Wings' wife) goes nuts in the police station and starts growling and waving her claws like Divine at the end of Multiple Maniacs. "I got a wife in there who's acting nuts!" Wings yells, singlehandedly trying to ratchet up the nonexistent tension. Outside, as the town falls to shit (the best it can when the budget affords almost no extras), a shades-wearing bunch of goons in black vans watch through high-tech binoculars from yonder cliffs. Brion "Wake up! Time to Die" James is their leader- he never speaks, is an albino, and dresses like the Lone Ranger (with wraparound shades instead of a mask). When he runs out of targets in town, Brion shoots his own men!

If it all seems too bad to endure, stick around until Sharon goes nuts, that's when you'll be hooked, even after the good guys lure Brion and his flunky-fillled black vans over to the desered town drive-in (where showing High Noon. Oy vey!)

So yeah, a lot of Wings-on-van violence follows. Lots of shooting at inanimate objects. Heavy fireballs and for some reason Bo Hopkins turns out to be the real star; a drifter with military ops connections, he can't just shoot a shotgun like an ordinary person; he has to run and jump and fire from the hip--aiming, apparently, at the drive-in screen rather than the bad guys in the parking lot, as her runs around on snack bar roof. Later, keeping up the heavy-handed classic western pastiche, Bo, Wings, and the cute girl deputy (Kimberly Ross), ride from one stunning Utah Red Rocks vista to another, chasing our albino ranger. Seriously, how do some of them rocks stay way up there? At least the henchman bad guys seem like they've shot guns before the making of this film. Since they never speak or take off their shades, we gather they're all stuntmen. We don't get a lot of that from our heroic threesome. They all but close their eyes and hold their breath when shooting. Luckily there are plenty of bullets to go around.

Turns out, Bo really is a hell of a guy. When it's all over, he even kisses the deputy--young enough to be his daughter by a half mile--and I mean with tongue. Ew. Gotta love the 80s. Even so, it's pretty gross, and I say that as an old reprobate with the morals of a gangster. And what about those poor horses? I always feel bad for the horses left stranded in the desert with no idea where the water is or if anyone will ever come along and take the bit out of their mouths. By the end, you'd think the film had totally slipped its moorings and become some tedious TV western movie for the Hallmark Channel. But then Bo and James square off across the rocks, each having a helicopter flying stationary behind them, real helicopters, flying crazy and chasing each other around. Gotta love that. Bo's is bigger, with rocket launchers! Get 'im, Bo!



4. CLIMAX
Dir Gaspar Noe
**** / Amazon Image - A

Sofia Boutella (center above), the lush sinuous Algerian dancer/actress (she was the latest incarnation of The Mummy and a cute alien in Star Trek: Beyond, etc.) stars, or is the most recognizable and sympathetic of the gathered dancers in this ultimate in bad trip dance movies from France. We only follow her about 1/3 or so of the time as the prowling camera weaves in and out of various conversations and dancing characters with the restless rhythm of a jonesing coke fiend roaming a crowded party looking for the slightest telltale sniffle, disguising his mounting sense of metallic panic and pungent sexual desire by constant movement to the throbbing music. I wanted to list some of the atrocities that result when they're all dosed against their knowledge by LSD (in the sangria), but one is better off not knowing beforehand, just expecting a kind of R-rated dance movie and winding up with a kind of dance floor version of Shivers. Just know the dancer/actors's ferocity is so convincing and the flow from organized normalcy to total insanity seems seamless. Their wild-but-controlled arcane dancing style--a mix of modern and urban street, filmed in long medium takes (the Suspiria remake could take a lesson) - gradually succumbs to insane madness so organic that--being dancers all--even in their wracked frothing state their bodies never cease moving and twisting to the throbbing incessant music, blurring the lines between this as an 'acid test' tragedy horror film and a kind of extended 90 minute dance performance. It seems almost impossible this isn't cinema verité from some weird circle of Hell, with Noe capturing a very real experience (anyone who's had a bad trip will relate) with some magic invisible camera. Imagine if the floating soul eye from Noé's 2009 masterpiece, Enter the Void, found an impromptu Panic Theater happening down at Aronofsky's Chilean basement, and tried to get incarnated by following the sexual heat trails. Since we barely see anything of the outdoors, or any 'sane' perspective after a certain period in the film, we lose contact with the real world as much as the actors, leaving us lost in the same weird cabin fever collective break which we all, trapped in our hovels, can relate to by now. It's the best. See it the same night as Shivers for a great double feature!

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5. HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (aka VIRUS)
(1980) Dir. Bruno Mattei
*** / Amazon Image - A-

Directed by the sturdy and reliable Italian talent Bruno Mattei, boosted by a deliriously frantic Goblin synth score (some of which is recycled from past zombie outbreaks), Virus welds elements of the Mondo Cannibal genre (thanks to its New Guinea setting and rather revolting stock scenes of tribal post-mortem rituals) and Romero's Dawn of the Dead (as in a combination of a male and female journalist + male members of a SWAT team banding together in a zombie nightmare), with a screenplay co-written by Claude Troll 2 Fragasso (and Mattei). Margie Newton is the journalist who winds up accidentally embedded with the boys on a secret mission (they're all familiar faces to zombie fans, with familiar dubbed voices). A highlight is when she casually strips down and paints herself crazy colors before leading the group into a nearby village, there to bear witness to grotesque and disturbing mondo stock footage. ("Why should nature suddenly start breaking its own laws?"). Great moments: when one of the commandos kisses a native during the drunken revelry as a zombie  takes a bit out of her shoulder, all very casual 1-2-3, the way the zombies seem at first indistinguishable from the painted revelers all drunkenly grinding and chattering. Stock shots of vast bands of natives all covered head-to-toe in red mud (to keep the flies off?) running en masse toward some unknown destination are deftly mixed with shots of zombie attacks and a chaotic meeting of UN reps in ever-dwindling numbers (above) to create a disturbingly foreboding 'found' overpopulation meaning (we get the idea everyone in Africa and all its surrounding islands are just running away from the zombies, forever running, in swarm strength, to nowhere, as they can't escape themselves once themselves are dead) And there's a stinger of a grisly ending. It could happen!

6. RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS
(Aka Atlantis Interceptors)
(1983) Dir. Ruggero Deodato
***1/2 (Amazon Image - B-)

Right up there with Nightmare City and Contamination as far as recently-discovered Italian psychotronica I can return to again and again when the never-ending Italian horror film marathon of my life runs low, I've already seen Raiders at least four times since discovering it for an older Prime marathon list back in 2017. Christopher Connelly and Tony King are a pair of mercs who own a boat together and demonstrate Hawksian cool via cigarettes, alcohol, and manly camaraderie; Ivan Rassimov plays their helicopter pilot buddy; Giola Scol is an archaeologist flown from her Machu Picchu to a remote oil derrick translate an ancient plaque found down on the ocean floor. Then... shortly after the sunken Russian sub is raised by George Hilton... Atlantis, covered in a big protective dome, rises! This triggers a massive tidal wave and an outbreak of marauding savagery in a certain percentage of the nearby population. They instantly begin driving around in their pimped-out bikes,  slaughtering everyone who's not infected with their strange madness. The leader calls his gang 'The Interceptors' and announces that all others "but one" must die. Time to get the molotov cocktails lined up, and--luckily--find a warehouse full of guns and ammo.

Naturally we wonder if John Carpenter ever saw this movie as it bears striking resemblance to his last great film: 2001's Ghosts of Mars. In both films the ghosts of a violent, ancient genocidal race are accidentally awakened from their timeless sleep, possessing normal humans to dress up like metal mutants, wiping out all non-infected human life in preparation for the long dead original inhabitant's return.

Naturally with the word Raiders in the title, and it being the early-80s, one expects a certain amount of ancient booby-trapped tomb robbing but that's only towards the end, and is replete with lasers and a hilarious giant fan. Mostly there's a lot of molotov cocktails being thrown and stunt men dying in explosions and good guys jumping out of helicopters onto speeding busses, or vice versa). The whole thing leaps around giddily from one scrape to the next as if there are "reels missing" like in Planet Terror but we can always figure out what's going on and never what's going to happen next, and what better combination is there in early-80s Italian psychotronica? It's not on DVD so Prime is the only place to see it. Be smart and grab the next showing.

 7. SHE
(1984) Dir. Avi Nescher
***1/2 / Amazon Image - A

Sandahl Bergman is the goddess of her little slice of the post-'cancellation' wasteland but decides to wander to the north with a handsome idiot (since it's pre-ordained by her oracle) and in the process runs into scrapes with everyone from New Yoahk-accented mutants to crazed warriors in a post-war ruined city and even acolytes of a 'one god' mutant boy who can control matter with his green flashing eyes. There's also a powdered-wig naturalist and his tutu-wearing henchman; and decadent werewolf aesthetes listening to a gramophone (led by David Brandon at the peak of his gorgeousness!). Sandahl and her right hand woman must endure the rack, flogging, the old trash compacting wall cliffhanger, and other travails, and always display a lot of cool feminist force. Israeli auteur Ari Nesher wanted to make sure women weren't objectified, but man do we become thankfully acquainted with Bergman's incredibly lithe dancer legs. They are symbols of great strength as well as dancer grace and beguilement. And she did her own stunts and fights.

Bits like Sandahl's being startled into sword out readiness after stepping on a stray rubber duck by the werewolf elite's swimming pool all come tumbling and it's very well paced, relentlessly entertaining and packed with rock anthems galore. The Prime print is great clearly taken from the latest must-have Blu-ray edition. (full review)

8. DEATHSPORT
(1978) Dir. Allan Arkush
** / Amazon Image - B-

"Remember your code," Richard Lynch tells 'guide' David Carradine in a great low whisper threat monologues: "every tear of patience builds the value." A film for the dirt bike-riding 16 year-old arsonist in all of us, Deathsport was meant to be a Death Race 2000 sequel but instead gives us moody crypto-poetry, blazing fireballs, matte paintings of futuristic dystopian cities, and that old LA desert scrub being ground underfoot by tricked-out dirt bikes. With no sense of humor about its own absurdity, the mix of Arkush-shot action and Niciphor shot pretentious dialogue wizzes along with lots of crazy lasers shot out of Pringles cans and swords made of colored plastic are held vertically as much as possible since they must weigh a ton. Claudia Jennings is a female ranger guide  (as in the best Corman stealth-feminism, she's as tough and wise and as combat-proficient as any of the men - and prettier too)


Still, it's Richard Lynch, as the bad guy / master henchman, who steals the show. He gets all the best lines, purred in a mellow emotionless forceful calm: "You call me animal, after all I tried to do to make you feel at peace?" Whatever his fall from grace, he's openly admirable towards the memory of Carradine's warrior mother (whom he killed in battle), giving him the ultimate warrior greeting: "Salute your mother for me." Andrew Stein's synthesizer score provides a great minimalist mess of wind sounds, zaps, and sustained notes somewhere between the Bebe's Forbidden Planet and faux John Carpenter. His attempts at actual melody are terrible, but then---who should appear?-- Jerry Garcia noodles his Gibson forth, in and around in the mix, coming and going at the darndest times. And, as anyone who ever sat through a Dead show can tell you, if you depend on Jerry to lead you out of the caves of aimless noodling, well, you're going to be in there a long while. Best take another hit and meet him halfway.

9. RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR
(1984) Dir. Bruno Mattei
**/ Amazon Image - B+

This is not the usual rat movie, so don't be fooled! It's a post-apocalyptic gang war style cousin to the Warriors of the Wasteland, and Escape from the Bronx, etc. all made in Italy in the wake of the creative and box office success of Escape from New York, The Warriors, The Road Warrior, and Conan the Barbarian. All four elements were swirled together in the Italian trash auteur tradition --it makes a meaty stew, from which swarms of rats may nosh. SNAP.

I still would have run the other way seeing this on some 80s pan-and-scan cable channel, but El Rey and HD have brought new life to it: the restored deep blacks and deep rich grime shades help us get over the general displeasure seeing masses of rats congregated in a room with no clear motive or cheese incentive. In fact these poor rats all seem rather bewildered, tired, underpaid. Luckily director Bruno Mattei made sure no rats were harmed during filming. Oh wait, this is Italy, so yeah they probably were. But in a hellscape like this, the dead are the lucky ones. And at least we don't see them look all betrayed and startled as they're shot with a Bert I. Gordon pink pellet paint gun in slow motion like we do in Food of the Gods. We see one running on fire, but in general they're mere extras; we don't see them much (when they crawl out of mouths or stomachs they're often puppets) but hey, they and the editor try hard to seem like a James Herbert-ish swarm and I suppose it might if you were half asleep in a dark drive-in.

So these Bronx "Rifts" pull into a deserted (bombed out in WW2 and never restored?) Italian (?) villa and soon are besieged by molti ratti --never funnier than when being pulled en masse via an 'unseen' carpet underneath their feet, towards our "terrified" antiheroes and their molls on the other end of the dusty, empty room (they're supposed to be moving on their own, but don't seem too keen on hitting their cues). Keeping up the sci-fi end, there's a secret chamber with futuristic radio equipment and an opening scrawl that delivers a whole series of post-apocalyptic upsets. You know: evolution amok, up and under. None of it matters or makes sense except as setup for a Big Twist. Until then, laugh at the terrible dubbing and game if amateur acting, and the ridiculous rat effects, and the dubious wisdom of gang leader Kurt. He must have got the job for being best looking since he spoils his credibility when he says lame shit like: "open up in the name of humanity!!" after his rival for power locks him out of the room with the debs. This gang has trouble just walking down a small flight of basement steps (there's lots of walking in place and reacting to rats that were presumably going to be overlaid in a process shot) but the print on Prime is sublime, so whaddaya gonna do? (Whatever it is, do it fast: it's coming down off Prime at the end of the April.)

10. CONTAMINATION 
(1980) Dir. Luigi Cozzi
*** / Amazon Image - A 

Note: there are many different uploads on Prime for this film, so make sure to see the one in HD and the correct anamorphic ratios - the one I like has a kind of 80s comic book illustration cover of a big brain with eyes.

Luigi Cozzi's Alien-inspired sci-fi adventure gets a bad rap in some circles. Cozzi fans like me adore it. Rather than just have some amok alien stalking a space ship crew like every other imitation, the "Italian Ed Wood" keeps the action mostly terrestrial and focuses on the pod / stomach-bursting stage. Shipments of watermelon-sized slime pod eggs explode and cause all those in the vicinity to suddenly have their stomachs padded with what looks like phone books during slow motion rubber bladder explosions. These 'stomach bursts' get kind of monotonous but I love the Freudian-cave-on-Mars flashbacks, the unearthly humming whale-ish noise the pods make when they're fixing to blow, and the 'gentleman's agreement' synergy between the NYC cop (Marino Mase), sexy-but-commanding female colonel of the Army's special disease control unit (Louise Marleau), and the traumatized astronaut (Ian McCulloch) she initially helped get kicked off the space program after his fellow Martian astronaut [Siegried Rauch] wouldn't back up his space egg story. Just as Cozzi's Starcrash turned out to be more like Flash Gordon and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad than Star Wars, so Contamination turns out to be more like Corman's It Conquered the World than Alien. Cozzi also delivers one of his great signature motifs, a sexy female associate (Gisela Hahn) for the evil mastermind. And I love the alien itself, especially that bicycle reflector eye, big slobbery hoover mouth, and glistening artichoke coloring.

Lastly, what really earns my goofball admiration is the kickin' Goblin soundtrack. That late-70s-80s European prog rock style has aged very well. I don't know what else you need to make you love this dumbass film the way that I do. Whatever's missing, you don't need it.


11. NEW ROSE HOTEL 
(1998) Dir. Abel Ferrara
**1/2 / Amazon Image - A
William Gibson's camera phone future was here awhile ago; Ferrara's 1998 adaptation doesn't even seem like science fiction anymore. It's got some problems as a film, too: one has to get used to its haphazard sense of economy (the whole last part replays key scenes from the first, as high end corporate saboteur Willem DeFoe hides out in a storage unit, reviewing where his scheme went wrong. But before then, it's a pretty sexy, strange ride, with Christopher Walken at his glib fancy pants best, a very druggy and erotic Asia Argento singing Cat Power at a druggy and erotic cabaret, and a mise-en-scene that seldom leaves a high-end hotel room, from which a high-level headhunt steal--using Argento in a honey trap to lure a big-time Japanese chemist across corporate lines--is conducted almost totally via camera phones and laptops. As with Gibson's other work, it's scary how ahead of the curve it is in predicting a 'work from home' future, where early FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Zoom have becomes the preferred means of business communication, how one might become impossibly rich and then poor again without ever getting to spend or see so much as a sou. It fits that the movie falls apart so dramatically in the back end, looping back on itself in a zonked quest to unravel meaning from itself; and--finding none (and probably running out of money before he can finish the shooting script thanks to producers shadier than the ones in the film) Ferrara just focuses in on how damned hot that Asia looks in a red bathing suit, slinking around the hotel indoor pool like she owns the continent. If I was Defoe, that's what I'd be kicking myself over too. Money comes and goes, but Asia is one in a trillion.

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OK - the next two films are worse, but they are amazing; so bear with me, if you dare,


7. ROBOT MONSTER
(1953) Dir. Phil Tucker
* / Image - B

Though the post-apocalyptic fantasia Robot Monster is not as wondrous as Al Zimbalist's other 1953 production, Cat Women of the Moon, (also on Prime) it's like the yang to its yin. The two films are opposites on every front: Robot Monster is shot entirely outdoors; Cat entirely on sets; Robot during one eternal sunny afternoon; Cat during eternal night. The women of the moon are seductive, powerful and strong-willed. From there the plot gets very similar. The cat women want to invade and take over the Earth, but one 'good' cat woman, who--like some badly written Eastern European defector-- longs for a nice boy to buy her "what you call.. a Coke" topples the attempt. Ro-Man (the infamous gorilla with a diving helmet) in this film is the vanguard of a bunch of all-powerful invaders whose plan falls apart because he hesitates destroying the last woman on earth, Al-lice (Claudia Barrett), who has a great habit of sticking her chest out, chin up and assuming a sublimely haughty, challenging "I am not afraid" look. Robot Monster has too much maudlin praying and sentimental pleas for mercy from John Mylong as Alice's German father, but on other hand, Ro-Man strangles a five year-old girl, and then lustily (as far as lust can be conveyed through a gorilla suit and diving helmet) rips Alice's dress. Bam! Elmer's church chimes come blaring down like someone shot a hole through Goldsmith's OMEN theme. "The great one himself sends the cosmic blast!"

It's so good you can see it again mere minutes after its over, especially if you stop watching after the melange of One Million Years BC outtakes, thus giving you the impression that--fed up by Ro-Man's stalling on killing Alice--the 'Great One' decides to destroy the entire planet, which is a bit like intentionally totaling your new car just because you found a dead wasp in the glove compartment.

A must for bad film completists, it unveils new marvels with every viewing: Al-lice being tied up in shoelaces to stop her from going on a date with Ro-Man; the bewildered uncertainty in Ro-Man's deep echo-drenched voice when he first sees her through the viewing screen; sexist lines like "you're either too smart to be so beautiful or too beautiful to be so smart";  the still visible white-napkin-covered hand holding the sparkler-besieged model rocket as it flies against a cloudy wall. 

Quit watching before the kid wakes up and finds out is was a dream. As you can tell from looking outside on the deserted streets... it was no dream.

Bonus Round: 

PLANET OF THE SHARKS
(2016) Starring Lindsay Sullivan
*** / Amazon Image - A

This South African-shot Asylum joint imagines a post-waterworld globally-warmed future where the humanity has dwindled down to an advanced functioning matriarchy full of lady doctors and saltwater-damaged blonde hair and sun-blackened tribal markings all living on a network of rafts and boats, but they're still trying to launch a rocket into space with enough Co2 scrubbers to refreeze the caps. And they're using HARP to trigger an ocean earthquake in order to fuck up the ampullae of a massive flock of giant intelligent sharks, since these sharks have no problem jumping up onto networks of rafts and boats to snap up human morsels.

Lindsay Sullivan plays the no-nonsense leader, Dr. Roy Shaw; Christa Vissar is Dr. Caroline Munroe (!) who coordinates the various operations from her boat's CB radio. There's lots of white knuckle suspense too as her colleague Dr. Shayne Nichols (Stephanie Baran) parasails a few leagues ahead of the badass alpha sharks to move a target dingy for the HARP. It's a very well done action sequence, with her riding along on the wind, surfing and flying, leaping up off the surface of the waves, as sharks jump up at her. Another great tense sequence: when the boat sails right into an oncoming HARP-triggered tidal wave, hoping to roll over it before it reaches megalithic heights.)

And if that wasn't enough Bechdel brilliance, consider Angie Teodoro Dick as the wild neopagan shamaness with the spear (above), leader of the rogue New Orleans voodoo style outpost, who deals with the advancing shark issue by a kind of savage Stomp performance on the floating docks, drawing the sharks in so she and her warriors can stab them with old school whaling harpoons. Their growling and chanting and thumping goes on about three minutes too long, but the initial bad vibe created by their eventual senseless shark slaughter is interesting in context, as is the dimly lesbian look Teodoro shares with the incredulous Dr. Shaw. It's the perfect way to end this series, imagining a future that's both better and worse than we've come to dread or dream of.

And Brandon Auret's in it!

See also on Prime and Recommended:
THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)
THE TRIP (1967)
RIOT ON THE SUNSET STRIP (1967)
WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND (1983)
THE UNDEAD /VOODOO WOMAN (1957)
DARKTOWN STRUTTERS (1975)
SHARKTOPUS VS. WHALEWOLF (2015)


and of course these (note: not all the titles listed may still be avail):
3 Neo-Jungian Fairie Wave
3 Off the Road Vehicles
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
6 Surreal Wuxia Wonders
5 Awesomely Psychotronic Films to Prepare you for the New Trumpmerica


Saturday, April 04, 2020

Through the Barriers: HIGHWAY TO HELL, BERMUDA TRIANGLE, and EYE IN THE LABYRINTH (on Prime)


Hey, bud... sheltering in place? Living in the isolation, talking only by phones and Google Hangouts. But mostly.... mostly... watching movies online? Got Amazon Prime? Why not g'head and dig these three gonzo drive-in greats, from Mexico, Italy, and godforsaken Utah. 

THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE
"El Triangulo Diaboloico de las Bermudas"
(1978) Dir. Rene Cardona
*** / Amazon Image - B+

Everything cool about the 70s waits for us in the depths of this Mexican-Italian co-production from the semi-great Rene Cardona. Made at the height of the craze for all things Bermuda Triangle, we get a recreation (via stock footage) of the infamous five vanished torpedo bombers out of Fort Lauderdale, counterbalanced by a litany of 70s-style terrors aboard a medium-sized vintage yacht, carrying deep Atlantis-seeker John Huston, and his extended family along for a five week cruise. There's a killer vintage doll eviscerating a swarm of attack parrots with her teeth, weird radio signals (lifted from Forbidden Planet), mysterious accidents, ghost ships, and lots of old sea monster... etchings... floating face down in the waves. Ever-bearded Hugo Stiglitz is the captain. Claudine Thunderball Auger, is the bitter wife of drunken doctor (Carlos East) who murdered a child on the operating room. Huston's older daughter (Gloria Guidais) is a four-alarm babe. The doll tells the kid the order in which everyone on the boat will die, and drinks the blood of the ship's cook, whose jagged death is blamed on falling ketchup bottles. Meta shit like that and the sea monster etchings leave us much to ponder! The captain yells at the engine room guy when he blames it on the doll. The captain's answer to every question about what's going on is "I don't know, Alan... I don't know."

Don't get too attached to those perfect legs

Part of a cornucopia of late-70s films--including recently-reviewed and loved by this site, Bermuda Depths (also 1978), triggered by the immensely popular Leonard Nimoy-hosted TV show In Search Of...,(which covered the Triangle a year prior), and with a memorable albeit familiar Stevio Cipriani mishmash synth score, this Triangle is a never dull uniquely-70s mix of spooky folklore, bitchy histrionics, a few terribly gloomy self-defeating drunken rambles, a former Bond girl hiding in a terrible orange and tie-dyed caftan and dour expression, creative boat-related deaths, a young spooky blonde girl with eerie premonitions, her ghostly devil vampire doll, a parrot attack, and strange-but-true events (there really was a Black Whale III that disappeared in the Triangle! Cue the theremin and howling ocean winds). 

The film is clearly shot aboard an actual boat (we never see a speck of land (aside from the Fort Lauderdale air traffic control flashback), which adds to the film's eerie unease) and there are some nice underwater sequences amidst the tumbling Atlantean ruins (though could have done without all the harpooning of sharks and their actual dying close-ups). The whole thing never quite gels but--in a way that's not dissimilar to other 70s catch-all horror affairs, like The Visitor-- it triumphs in the end through giving us a vivid sense of who and where and why aboard the Black Whale III, and in sheer abundance of weird happenings: hurricanes, fog, mysterious crashing of Atlantis (which destroys Gloria Guidais' gorgeous legs, prompting the cowardly alcoholic doctor into a professional crisis), the cook is locked in a freezer by the young daughter (and later killed by her vampiric devil doll),  and the hottie eldest daughter; the sea changing colors, Mr. Marvin falling overboard; and a mysterious magnetic force that almost capsizes the boat while they try to answer the SOS from a ship lost at sea for over a decade (a lengthy nighttime sequence full of odd boat tilting and magnetic disturbance). What else do you need? The doll's close-ups are occasionally those of a Linda Blair-alike stand-in (Nailea Norvind). If not for the shark killing I'd watch it every day. There's even a point when the Captain says "I don't know, Alan," without repeating "I don't know" after a pregnant pause. But then he does say "I don't... know" again and all is right with the world. 
----

EYE IN THE LABYRINTH
"L'occhio nel labirinto"
(1972) Dir. Mario Caiano 
*** / Amazon Image - B

Rosemary Dexter is Julie the devoted secretary of a missing scoundrel Luca (the silver-eyed krimi star Horst Frank); a weird dream in which she's being chased through a white labyrinth convinces her to leave the office and drive out to the coastal town druggie artist colony where he was last spotted. Soon she's set and setting with the resident bunch of languid hedonists. They spend the day sunning themselves and their nights lunging at each other's throats and/or zippers (ala that old Michael Musto saying about Fire Island etiquette: "fork on the right, spoon in the nose, knife in the back"). Alida Vialli is her usual astringent self as the villa's owner; her terrifying/sexy-gruff Teutonic rasp of a voice is in full flower and her Satanic eyes are alight with rage when her handsome younger lover (Gigi Rizzi) starts taking Julie for long boat rides and strolls along the rocky coast. One languid afternoon someone fires a harpoon at them - but from where? Clearly someone is actively trying to kill her and in the process people turn up dead wherever she goes. Why is Thunderball villain Adolfo Celli always around to rescue her, aside from his obvious sexual interest? 

At night, around the copious cocktails, Julie hears tales of her beloved boss's odious blackmailing, rapey ways--including his outing of the trans Corrine (played by Peter Kranz). A young Sybl Danning sunbathes. The music by Roberto Nicolosi is a kind of trumpet-driven "Silent Way"-style languid jazz, giving it all a kind of broadside post-noir ennui which I am not sure does it any favors. When the suspense ratchet into gear, the music sort of cascades over its the side in drizzles of cymbals and glistening harp swirls. You'll either pick up on it right away or never guess the killer or what's going on, but don't worry, it's all very pretty and Vialli has a great time sinking her big German teeth into the role of a vicious older queen bitch. Dexter and Rizzi are both easy on the eyes and the action is fluid throughout. It may not be the film that kickstarts a giallo marathon at your home DVD / Prime binging, but it won't kill one off either. And if you have Prime, you'll be glad to find it free and looking good (and it's not on Blu-ray or DVD so now or never). 

HIGHWAY TO HELL
(1991) Dir Ate de Jong
***/ Amazon Image - A

One of those films I'm rather amazed I ignored until now, mainly because of the all-too familiar sight of the Satanic burnt policeman (C.J. Graham). But there's a lot more going on on the H-to-H than burnt cops, like a never lovelier Kristy Swanson as the damsel in distress, dragged across the dimensional border into Hell for being an eligible virgin, leaving her dopey naif fiancee Chad Lowe behind in our mortal world. Richard Farnsworth plays mournful gas station owner at the edge of 'Perdition,' who lays out what the hapless dopey-eyed groom must do to get her back (he was in a similar situation night under fifty yars ago), equipping him with a magic shotgun and a car souped enough to make the jump to Hell.

Thanks to a surplus of over-the-top action, towheads driving dusty vehicles, and long straight desert highways, you'd be forgiven for thinking Highway to Hell is Australian. Actually it's one of the last big American designated cult pics, a relic of a time when big studios shared drive-in screens with indie distributors and wildly unhinged 80s drive-in ready gonzo classics actually made money, or lost it, but either way they went for it. The golden era of 80s cult films, man, thanks to Prime their legacy endures (see here for more Prime options). Though it's from 1991, it's sooo 80s, occupying a comfy zone between a bigger budget version of Hell Comes to Frogtown or the 1982 She, both personal favorites.


It wouldn't be much of a faux-Aussie road chase odyssey without a colorfully-attired gibbering biker gang, one of whom wearing a top hat and one carrying a dandy sword, one sucking a wawipop, one with dyed blonde hair and spikes, etc. to menace our dimwit hero. 
Good use is made of the alien-looking deserts of Utah and Arizona, with wild pit stops such as a dead cop-filled diner, a wild strip club gambling den inside a giant Jimmy Hoffa slot machine, and the surreal confines of the foreboding Hell City. Cool matte paintings, grinding car chases, non-CGI crashes, devilish strippers, carousing evil figures from history are played by dimly familiar faces (the whole Stiller family is here for some reason lost to time: Jerry Stiller is a cop forever unable to get a refill; his son Ben Zoolander Stiller is Attila the Hun; daughter Amy is Cleopatra). Look fast for Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler; and rock star Lita Ford is a busty hitchhiker! I probably missed some others underneath the thick make-up of the damned. An array of sometimes-funny bits about hot this or damned that crop up: undead road crews shredding lost souls into body part cement, etc. And not unlike our man Orpheus, Chad Lowe is both helped and hindered on his mystical but very American SW quest. Swanson, never more fetching, has a super foxy scene where she plays a demon in disguise coming onto Chad while wearing a billowing black dress in a sultry 80s style MTV boudoir, licking the blood from his nose. Though we'd crawl across cut glass to be with her, too, we eventually come to like the can-do gumption of this slack-jawed tow-headed Chad Lowe; he goes way beyond that to rescue her, and that's before it gets really weird!


So, if it's not too much trouble: surrender to this loud action-horror-comedy's quirky mix of thrills, insight and dumb sight gags (whizzing by too fast to elicit any groans) and crazy car chase and brawling action and you're bound to wind up exhilarated. The Prime print is A-okay.

The post-end title "where are they now" crawl seems tacked on by producers after some test screening audience cards asked too many questions.

Man, some folks just can't let shit hang.


PS - Turns out HIGHWAY TO HELL isn't available on Prime at the time of this posting. Well, you could check out a few choice recommendations instead, like the 1982 SHE starring Sandahl Bergman! or RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS (1982)
++
More Recommendations and Review of Available-on-Prime Hidden Gems:

12 Weird/Cool Italian Films
and so much more.... somewhere
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