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 cabin fever isolation? Talking only by phone, Zoom, 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 that was once cool about the 70s but became waterlogged by overkill waits for us in the depths of this Mexican-Italian co-production from hack supremo Rene Cardona. 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), we get a recreation (via stock footage) of the infamous case of five vanished torpedo bombers on a training flight out of Fort Lauderdale, counterbalanced by a litany of 70s-style terrors aboard a medium-sized vintage yacht out in.... the Triangle! Atlantis-seeking great white hunter John Huston and his extended family are aboard on a five-week cruise... to terror! With the ever-bearded Hugo Stiglitz as the humorless captain, Claudine Thunderball Auger as the bitter wife of a dickish drunken doctor (Carlos East), and sexy Gloria Guidais as Huston's older daughter (her gorgeous legs wind up crushed underneath an Atlantean pillar). The problems begin when a bonnet-wearing 18th-century doll-- scooped out of the ocean and passed undried and unexamined (!) to Huston's daughter--eviscerates a swarm of attack parrots with her teeth. Weird radio signals ('borrowed' from Forbidden Planet), mysterious accidents, ghost ships, and sea monster... etchings... floating face down in the waves... are some of the horrors headed their way. 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 refuses to believe it's the doll's fault, but then confesses "I don't know, Alan... I don't know." Twice!

Don't get too attached to those perfect legs

With a memorably spooky-- albeit eerily familiar--Stevio Cipriani synth score, this Triangle is a never- dull (or very good) mix of: spooky 70s folklore; terribly flat dubbing (Huston lends his own voice though no one else seems to); bitchy histrionics (including indulgently gloomy drunken rambling); a former Bond girl hiding in a terrible orange and tie-dyed caftan (was she pregnant?); creative boat-related deaths (so the kids would have something to describe to each other next day at school); and strange-but-true events (there really was a Black Whale III that disappeared in the Triangle!) Cue the theremin and howling ocean winds. 

A big perk is that this clearly was filmed on 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, trapped in a wall-less prison space unease. 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, 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 (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

Julie (Rosemary Dexter), the devoted secretary of a missing scoundrel Luca (the silver-eyed krimi star Horst Frank) has a weird dream in which she's being chased through a white labyrinth. She's now convinced she has to track down her boss! So she drives 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, tanning, quipping, and eyeing jealously or hungrily each other's swim-suited forms by day, lunging at each other's throats and/or zippers at night, and/or dying by morning. Alida Vialli's terrifying/sexy-gruff Teutonic rasp of a voice is in full flower as the villa's owner, and her Satanic eyes are alight with rage when her handsome younger lover (Gigi Rizzi) starts taking Julie for long boat rides. One languid afternoon someone fires a harpoon at them - but from where? And 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). By day, Sybl Danning, young and almost unrecognizable, sunbathes. Throughout, Roberto Nicolosi's trumpet-driven "Silent Way"-style languid jazz score gives it all a kind of broadside post-noir ennui which doesn't help the mood at all - did he think it was all a sultry beachside romance instead of a soft giallo? When the suspense ratchet into gear, the music just sort of cascades over its the side in drizzles of cymbals and glistening harp swirls. No help at all, but pretty enough. As for the suspense, you'll either pick up on the killer's identity right away or never guess, but don't worry, it's all very pretty and Vialli has a great time sinking her big German teeth into the role of the vicious older queen bee. 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, but it won't kill one off either.  

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) making it seem like rehash Freddy Kruger. Turns out there's a lot more going on in H-to-H than burnt cops, like a never lovelier Kristy Swanson as the heroine / damsel in distress, dragged across the dimensional border into Hell for being an eligible virgin past the due date, leaving her dopey naif fiancee Chad Lowe behind in our mortal world, holding the bouquet, so to speak. Richard Farnsworth plays mournful gas station owner at the edge of 'Perdition,' who lays out what the hapless dopey-eyed Orphee-ope-day 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 across the veil 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 medium-budgeted cult-designated pics (ala Buckaroo Banzai), 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. The golden era of 80s cult films, man! Know what I'm talking about? Course you do. You wouldn't, by any chance, be hiding one of your buddies in the trunk to save a ticket price, would you? 

It wouldn't be much of a faux-Aussie road chase odyssey--borrowing from Road Warrior, 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, the surreal Hellraiser 2-style confines of the foreboding Hell City. There's even a scene where zombie bodies are ground up to make asphalt for highway reconstruction! Carousing evil figures from history are played by dimly familiar faces: Jerry Stiller is a cop forever unable to get a refill, his son Derek Z. is Attila the Hun, daughter Amy is Cleopatra; Gilbert Gottfried is Hitler! Rock star Lita Ford is a sexy hitchhiker! 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. Poor slack-jawed towheaded Chad, all scuffed up in his strappy white T-shirt like some safety first clod: we start out hating him for obviously getting lucky way outside his bumpkin league but eventually come to respect his can-do gumption. On the other hand, we'd crawl across cut glass to be with her, too. So what's the rumpus? 


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 post-end title "where are they now" crawl seems tacked on by producers after some test screening audience cards asked too many questions so feel free to ignore it. 

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) They're good too, and so few have heard of them. Respect! Respect them NOW!
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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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