Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

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 but became waterlogged waits for us in the depths of this Mexican-Italian co-production from the hack supreme, Rene Cardona. Made at the height of the craze for all things Bermuda Triangle (the 70s had a lot of crazes), 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. Dubbed with a terribly flat brazen hollow amateurish boom, the ever-bearded Hugo Stiglitz is the humorless captain. Claudine Thunderball Auger is the bitter wife of drunken doctor (Carlos East) who murdered a child in the operating room and has been a bad drunk ever since. Huston's older daughter (Gloria Guidais) is the four-alarm blonde babe whose gorgeous legs wind up crushed underneath an Atlantean pillar. A bonnet-wearing 18th-century doll-- scooped out of the ocean and passed undried to Huston's daughter--eviscerates 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. 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. The captain yells at the engine room guy when he blames it on the doll. But later confesses "I don't know, Alan... I don't know." Twice!

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 memorably spooky-- albeit familiar--Stevio Cipriani synth score, this Triangle is a never dull uniquely-70s mix of spooky folklore, terribly flat dubbing (Huston lends his own voice though), bitchy histrionics, a few terribly gloomy self-defeating drunken rambles, a former Bond girl hiding in a terrible orange and tie-dyed caftan (was she pregnant?), creative boat-related deaths, 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 sheer abundance of ocean riches: hurricanes, fog, mysterious crashing of Atlantis (which destroys Gloria Guidais' gorgeous legs, 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. What else do you need? The doll's close-ups are occasionally those of a Linda Blair-alike stand-in (Nailea Norvind) just to sweep the category. If not for the shark killing and a moment of alcohol abuse (when Auger throws away a half-full drink), and the flat, terrible dialogue and acting, I'd watch it every day. When dubbing is this bad it becomes a kind of high art and Cipriano's mismatch hack-o-matic score is its own sort of boomy sublime. 

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)
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More Recommendations and Review of Available-on-Prime Hidden Gems:

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

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