Wednesday, August 10, 2022

10 Weird/Cool Gems Streaming Free on Tubi (your cinema shelter from the late summer swelter)

Hey, come check out my contributing post for the amazing B&S Movies site: Ten from Tubi Week 12.

I've become a huge fan of Sam Panico and B&S, thanks to his encyclopedic yen for Mexican wrestling and 70s American TV disaster movies, two genres I've been exploring this summer, each a kind of cranial air conditioning, made extra cool by the infectious love apparent in B&S's concise reviews. He writes and posts about 20 new reviews a day! 

And we both love the Tubi. It's so free! And it's got everything from 60s German nudity-and-sex-free sexploitation to 50s Italian sword and sandal epics to 90s shark movies to 30s British comedy-thrillers, and so much in between. Sure, there are commercials--Tubi gotta earn a dollar---but they don't overdo it like regular TV or 'free with commercials' Amazon movies.

And since everything is unedited, the commercials can be hilarious reprieves from the intensity in that accidental surrealist collage kind of way--  like a smash-cut from Leatherface's slamming the metal door to his secret meat locker/kitchen to a sizzling, juicy stake platter now just 10.99 at Applebees. That's kind of a more obvious juxtaposition than most you'll get, but it's still eatin' good in the neighborhood. 

Anyway, you know from a Texas Chainsaw, and maybe even Hills Have Eyes. This list is far weirder but gentler. Less rapey and screamy, more wild and woolly. In a word, cooler.

In addition to the ten here, don't forget to check out the two other top ten Tubi lists I created. Besides the one living at B&S (Ten from Tubi Week 12) there's My TUBI Cue (Deadly Women Edition): 10 Weird Vintage Gems for the High and Inside

That's 30 in all. Title availability not withstanding. In the words of Mantan Moreland, they come and they go... they come and they go.

THE BRIDE
(AKA LAST HOUSE ON MASSACRE STREET
(1973) Dir. Jean-Marie Pélissié

A bit of a slow burner, on minimal sets, including one very strange and cool empty house (I get the impression the story was written around the house, which is all weird angles, twisty stairs, and spatial distortions), this starts with a happily engaged couple. David (Arthur Roberts) and Barbara (Robin Strasser), picnicking on a sprawling lawn, the music so treacly in that super-cliche'd 70s 'slow-mo run through the meadow' kinda way you may be tempted to give up right then, but don't be fooled. Within minutes the red flags start to unfurl: Barbara proudly announces she built the house and intends they shall live therein, and he clearly isn't that thrilled with all her plans, but as an ambitious employee of his fiancee's father (John Beal), he says nothing. A bit of a deranged, spoiled control freak who really wants her wedding to be fairy tale perfect, David meekly goes along with it all. But there's a reason, which Barbara finds out about after walking in on him and his supposed-ex Ellen (Iva Jean Saraceni) having a good luck parting snog a mere half an hour after the ceremony. 

Naturally she lunges at him with a pair of scissors. 

You would think this would go in a lot of directions from there, but it doesn't. Where it goes is off the rails, lunging blindly ahead into some unspecified future where David and Ellen are now living together (We never see what happened at the rest of the wedding or where Barbara ran off to, but we can guess David lived). The couple live in a duplex apartment but David's dreams keep bringing him back at the weird house, and Barbara gets lots of weird phone calls, and wakes up to dead birds on pillows. Barbara's dad doesn't fire scissor attack survivor David--after all he's still his son-in-law and doing great work. We finally learn Barbara has disappeared after fleeing the wedding in a bloody wedding dress and never returned, but dad's not worried--she'll be back... some day real soon. 

It's all pretty scary because we have no idea what's going to happen, and the mounting terror, paranoia and menace is boosted by solid performances that go the extra mile past mere mounting dread into modulated hysteria. Wild emotional swings across the gamut are modulated rather than merely shouted. In the final confrontation, each word of Barbara's dialogue seems to conjure a complete change of reading and expression in Strasser's unhinged glory, working herself up to a frenzy almost equal to Daniel Day Lewis in the big final scene of There Will Be Blood!. It's so crazy I had to rewind several times to savor every glorious psychotic tic. And as the terrorized Helen, Saraceni has a bravura scene to herself when she's terrorized while alone in their kitchen after David has left for work. With just a few upstairs footsteps in what should be an empty house, and a cryptic phone call or two, she's slowly, beat by beat, driven up the diving board and pushed off into the deep end of hysteria, and we feel every slow mounting step/

 But of course the real star is Strasser: willful, spoiled, possibly schizophrenic, but funny, creative, idealistic, naive. Roiling over the top when it's time to really pour it on. Never before has an unarmed, smiling woman in a wedding dress trying to get you into bed seemed so frightening. Watch it and realize the masculine unconscious is an empty crazy house run and designed by a woman (the anima) whom we barely know, but she haunts, and directs the movie that just our dreams. And if we don't respect her while awake, she's apt to deliver nightmares from which we never escape.  

2.  DOCTOR OF DOOM
(AKA WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC APE)
(1963) Dir. Rene Cardona, Sr.

If you're a stranger to the lucha libre movie world this a fine place to start. Las 'Luchadoras' are a tag team of statuesque wrestling women played by Mexican fantasy film fixture Lorena Velázquez (Ship of Monsters, Invasion of the Martian Women) and American ex-pat Elizabeth Campbell. They shall fight in the ring. They shall fight in the streets. They shall fight in masked criminal mastermind / mad scientist Dr. Doom's warehouse lair and secret laboratory. And then they shall fight in the ring again. Dr. Doom (no relation to the Fantastic Four version) is a villain straight out of the classic Hollywood serials, replete with half-dozen endlessly re-punchable henchmen and a monster made indestructible, thanks to body armor and a metal mask. To further his experiments (transplanting brains of women with gorillas, the usual), the doctor keeps sending his armored monster and various henchmen out to grab test subject women off the streets, but they keep dying under his knife. He decides he needs 'stronger' women for the operation to work! Like lady wrestlers? He happens to have heard of two of them... 

Amiable, capable, smart and not shy about mopping up the floor with a whole room full of out-of-their-depth (male) abductors, these two Luchadoras don't need rescuing--they even come the rescue of their smitten male  escorts more than once, and--to the film's immense credit--the men are not threatened by it at all. Viva la Mexico! When all else fails, the scientist decides he has to create a super strong female wrestler (named 'Vendetta'!) and sends her into the ring against las Luchadoras. Doom himself shows up in his own badass wrestling mask as her manager. (top

 Even if you don't go in for lucha libre-style wrestling, it's a nice whirlwind of serial-style cliffhanger action, with a real reverence for strong female characters, a reverence lacking in America's film output at the time. (Russ Meyer was still doing nudie cuties in 1963 - Faster Pussycat was still two years away). 

The recent upgrade to HD makes it easy to finally stop wading through the murk of Something Weird's old DVD. And if you're aching for more, Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy is also in remastered HD on Tubi. If you're hooked after Doom and you want a kind of sequel, check out Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy and its sequel Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy. All terrific, mindless comfort food for the soul and coolant for the troubled brow of an aging hipster looking for some background monster action to nod off to at four AM or a rainy Saturday afternoon. 

Special Note: There are other luchador movies on Tubi, including The Panther Women, and a lot of color Santos movies, but they have much newer dubs that don't really work as well, in my opinion. You might be OK with them and can always do as I do--watch them late at night on mute, with subtitles on and the YouTube Spanish version synced up and playing in a different window. Either way, don't let the newer dubs dissuade you from the older dubs,  All of the movies mentioned in the above paragraph were dubbed into English back in the 1960s for K. Gordon Murray by a tight little Florida team who did dozens of them under the direction of Miguel San Fernando. They're not great but at least they are of the time, and include sound effects and music. YouTube is a real treasure trove for the older luchador stuff, especially subtitled Mexican language prints - visit my curated playlist: Mexico de Macabre.)

3. SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALODON 
(R-rated version)
(2002) Dir. David Worth

Speaking of cranky opinions, I never liked the first two Shark Attack movies, and I've always found John Barrowman (Torchwood) egregiously smarmy. These two reasons kept me away from Shark Attack 3 (in which Barrowman stars) for years, despite all the (so-bad-it's) good things I heard about it. But then I learned he was openly gay-married so it was all OK and I immediately cued up  Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. (That's called growth, son---see, old tigers can change their spots). Barrowman plays---you guessed it---a smarmy/cocky chief of security at a Cozumel resort destined to fight a large--presumed extinct--big ass shark after he finds a big ass tooth. His Hooper is a sultry marine paleontologist (Jenny McShane). Will the inevitable sparks fly between this oceanic white prick and this blue-haired blond-eyed hottie? I'll never tell. And how about an 80s-style yuppie CEO whose deepwater trench-adjacent electric cable starts leaking out into surrounding water, thus driving up the prehistoric big game, forced up by the constant static? Yup, the gang's all here, and I'm sure they will all taste delicious. 

Sure it's unoriginal; it's shoddily-constructed; it's weather-beaten at the seams, but that's why it's also perfect for a lazy summer afternoon when it's too hot to move more than ten feet from your air conditioner and you're in the mood to see some giant sharks eating yachts full of environmentally irresponsible capitalists in the beautiful clear blue Cozumel waters. And the effects are a cut above the usual Asylum junk; a very small cut to be sure, but several of the shots of the giant shark rising out of the water to devour whole boats are surprisingly good. I couldn't tell if they were using miniatures, or just really well-done analog overlays. And I like that it doesn't feel the need to overdo the capitalist evil 'keep a lid on it because tourist trade' schtick. This movie knows you can make even the greediest capitalists somewhat sympathetic and we'll still cheer with bloodthirsty joy when they, their wives, the mayor, and everyone on their swanky yacht, and the yacht itself, are devoured in big cathartic gulps. 

Also, it's very important if watching on Tubi that you pick the R-rated version over the PG one; both are available, so double check. Barrowman delivers a great WTF? proposition about 2/3 of the way in that's totally edited in the PG. That they kept it in on the R version is just one of the brave cool choices this movie makes. 

4. DEATH CURSE OF TARTU
(1971) Dir. William Grefe

"This looks like the spot, all right." It looks like a bunch of Everglade nowhere, but OK. If a gun-toting guy in a cowboy hat and flannel shirt wants to get off the boat and sneak into a cardboard cavern-cum-witch doctor's tomb and behold a sarcophagus with a lizard handle, that's his business, and we're happy to tag along from the cool mosquito-less comfort of our couches. As the canned library music soars we watch as he tries, tries, tries to open the lid. He can't. Then it opens without him. The mummy rises --it's a black guy in a fur hat! He kills the intruder and takes the rolled up map the guy brought; it contains the opening credits! The canned suspense music shifts over to some scratchy LP tribal drumming and chanting (maybe lifted from the director's early-60s high-fidelity exotica collection?) The credits are written in blood! 1971 never felt so much like 1965. 

I only discovered Florida regional schlock legend William Grefe's canon recently; I tried years ago but was quickly turned off by the faded color and unrestored cropped images; now the colors glow and everything is ducky thanks to the quality remastering from Arrow who've released an exhausting Grefe boxed set. Hurrah? I still haven't been able to finish any of the others, but I've already seen Tartu three times as it's just perfect for that lazy summer afternoon vibe I crave.  Grefe inexplicably loves the Everglades; somehow he even convinces his young cast to swim therein while on a field trip with their archeology professor; Tartu won't like that. The kids get eaten pretty consistently, not only by gators and snakes but a shark, yet they still dance to their transistor radio's generic rock, make out (lots of boyfriends getting kind of pushy and hormonal). There's some pulling a swamped fan boat through the marshes, and excessive screaming. Add a scene of being trapped in Tartu's spooky cave as his mummified corpse rises up to the sound of the thumping tom-toms. and you have a recipe for 88 minutes of Floria supernatural delight, even if it's all (the tomb scenes aside) shot outside during the day in natural light and unconvincing day-for-night (they carry around lit lanterns and it looks like the camera is wearing sunglasses; that's how we know what time it is).

This being years before Shark Week, Grefe must not have known that bull sharks do hunt in the fresh water of the Everglades as he has the professor even announcessuch a thing's impossibility to his students, pre-empting any imagined audience outrage. In point of fact--as any Shark Week fan can tell you-- bull sharks (the very same stock footage shark shown in the film) can live in fresh water, for days at a time if necessary. And they do swim up the Everglades, where food is more plentiful than the open ocean. And they can, and they have, attacked people in the Everglades! Yet this archeology professor doesn't know that, so concludes the supernatural is the only explanation! It may be the first (and last) time in any movie where a professor comes to believe in the supernatural truth via a misunderstanding of a natural event (rather than the reverse).

Man, I still don't know why like so much about this movie. All the little things add up: the weird accent of the faux-semi (possibly real?) Native American or maybe Mexican guide (it's how I'd imagine someone with that accent would actually talk, i.e. like he's unconsciously trying to hide it rather than accentuate the accent it the way a lesser actor would); Tartu lounging in his coffin listening to his scratchy old tribal drums LP (can the onscreen characters hear the drums in the distance, or is it supposed to to be the score? never know for sure); the boa constrictor slithering around the skulls and around the campfire coffee pot. Like the film that serpent knows exactly where he wants to go but is in no hurry. It's the kind of film that just goes on its way, beat by beat... then the animal and insect noise stops suddenly and the whole swamp goes silent. The guide points out how the Everglades are normally shrill with insect buzzing, birdcalls, and splashing noises, but there's nary a sound in Tartu's neck of the 'glades. Eerie moments like that abound without the film ever being anything less than sublimely deadpan, gravely absurdist, and pleasantly warped. In gamely failing to bog down in pointless squabbling or sludgy sermons, it's easily best Everglades-shot movie about an amok undead Native American shapeshifter ever made. There's even T&A and rock and roll dancing on the hardwood hammock, if you know what I mean. 

5. HERCULES 
(1958) Dir. Pietro Francisci

This is the inexplicably massive international hit started the peplum craze. Beautifully lit by Mario Bava, well-fleshed out with mighty Steve Reeves as Herc and the lovely Sylvia Koscina as his eventual princess (dig that tunic -above) Iole. Though it bogs itself down in the first 1/3 with lengthy flashbacks of courtly intrigue (we get a dream within a flashback in the very first reel), the antics of a sniveling spoiled prince threatened by Hercules' masculinity, and a paranoid usurper king (Iole's father), it straightens itself out after awhile and provides a good, relaxing time at the movies. Soon the sniveling prince is dead trying to kill a lion with his bare hands and Herc is blamed for showing off. He's bummed to leave Iole but for us it's a welcome escape from the snaky politics and throne-sweat paranoia. A visit to the mystic Sybil ends with a request to Zeus his godly power removed (so he "can fight like other men") and he's almost be killed by a thickly carpeted bull before switching gears and joining Jason (the rightful king) and Ulysses on an a quest to recover the golden fleece. Wait what? Did we change movies? Who cares, the wind fills the sails at last as we run into ape men, sirens, beautiful Amazons, an evil saboteur, and even a rather large if dopey dragon monster whose roar is clearly 'borrowed' from Godzilla. Alas, mere minutes after the beast shaken autumn leaves off its back (it was sleeping), Jason offs it with a single spear throw. Ray Harryhausen it's not but we'll take what we can get.

Throughout, Mario Bava's masterful colored lighting is beautiful--though it's not in HD or remastered anywhere (please Arrow, or Kino, or Cauldron, please!), the Tubi print offers some color boosting, which really comes through in a lyrical sequence where they're seduced by a drugged wine-proffering cult of amazons, and then nearly drawn to the rocks by their siren song after escaping. In short, this film has everything: dialogue rich with gods and destiny fulfillment, adventures, storms, fate, monsters, soothsayers, storms, babes, drugs, wine, bucolic frolics, lions, bulls, discuses, Bava's excellently sexy use of frame and color, and Hercules pulls down an entire temple.

And, by Zeus, is Reeves ever ripped. And oily.

Note: Tubi has the immediate sequel, HERCULES UNCHAINED, which is even better than the first film in a lot of ways (including the dubbing), but the Tubi transfer's image is squished and cropped and a-no good. You can find better versions on Youtube, though it's still from a kind of analog/fuzzy VHS transfer. After you do, petition Kino and/or Arrow or Synapse or even Scorpion to goddamned release a cleaned up re-struck HD double feature of both. For all our sakes, so Bava's colors can shine once more. If you doubt how gorgeous it would look, all you have to do is look at the recent Kino upgrade of Ulysses or take a peep at the next entry on our list of light summer fun:

6. ERIK THE CONQUEROR
(1962) Dir. Mario Bava

Hercules was such a worldwide hit that everyone went sword and sandal crazy. Mario Bava gave us the masterful Hercules in the Haunted World, and then this riff on the subsequently popular Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis 1958 film The Vikings, directed by Richard Fleischer. Like most of Hollywood's output in that time, Vikings is kind of burdened by the historic sweep and leisurely pace demanded by Cinemascope (if you hire thousands of extras you got to display all of them, endlessly, in long shots). Bava's Erik, by contrast, surges with fleet-of-foot color-saturated brilliance, with Bava showing off his ability to create crowds from a handful of extras, naval skirmishes represented by some smoke and a blazing orange backdrop. And now with the new HD remaster upgrade, Erik really comes together gorgeously. Lots of skulls and spiders, blazing fires, strange rites, tortures of the damned, forbidden love, beards, furs, axe throwing, horses, and bro codes. A pair of beautiful twins (Alice and Ellen Kessler) are temple virgins consecrated to Odin from birth, but in love anyway, one with Viking leader Cameron Mitchell, the other with his (unknown to each of them) younger brother, left abandoned after a massacre on British showres, then found and raised by the widowed queen (Francoise Christoph) during a walk on the beach mourning her husband after he's murdered by the evil traitor Sir Rutherford (Andrea Checchi) in the battle. Each brother grows up in a warring kingdom, leading to their inevitable clash, and of course there are recognizable birth marks revealed to each other in mid-skirmish. That's a given. And what a given!


Sure, it's a familiar story, even when it was used in The Vikings. But Bava bathes it all with succulent glowing orange and purples, torchlight, and colored gels making everything alive and alluring. And he's a master storyteller in film, with a gift for tracking shots, framing, pacing, lighting and composition, that elevates even the most familiar or cliche'd of stories to new heights. The HD remastered print on Tubi is so good you'll want to pause every shot and frame it. Study the camera movements the way you would study those of John Ford; examine its beauty, color, and composition from every facet; bask in its pulp brilliance, even if you don't like Mitchell's godawful buzzcut orange hair (what is it with Italians and unconvincingly dyed red [over dark] hair?) and even if you don't like subtitles (It's in Italian, as I don't think it was ever exported here, for some reason). 

7. THE WHITE BUFFALO
(1977) Dir, Jay Lee Thompson

A long unavailable Dino di Laurentiis classic emerges in full HD restored beauty to make Bronson fans' hearts soar like hawk. Reasons, many: Wintry mountain beauty (Colorado standing in for the Black Hills of South Dakota) cools hot summer viewing. The Jaws-y great white buffalo is a very cool giant animatronic monster (rather than a real buffalo painted white). The mighty rumblings of great beast's hooves perfectly echo through John Barry's moody low-end score. 

Charles Bronson is an incognito Wild Bill Hickok in the late 1800s, wearing sunglasses even at twilight, never smiling except twice. Everywhere on his journey north to the Dakota gold rush, old enemies (including Clint Walker!) are eager to kill him and old whores ready to embrace him. Yes, it's one of the elegiac westerns where the aging men who won the west now slink through towns they helped civilize like anti-celebrities, inviting retribution for old killings of various people's friends or parents even if they were no good. Also, he has nightmares of a white buffalo charging him, so he partners up with crusty old buff skinner Jack Warden, and heads to where the "white spike" was last seen. 

Ho! There's some other legendary figure hunting the white buffalo, and it's an incognito Crazy Horse (Will Sampson); he seeks vengeance after it stampedes through his camp and tramples his wife and child and half the tribe. Will Bronson and Crazy Horse bond, despite layers of distrust and Jack Warden's racism? Of course once Warden is out of the way, the last big chunk of the film becomes about their odd blossoming friendship in the white out Black Hill expanses.

The Richard Sale screenplay is full of strange mythopoetic, very writerly, adult dialogue that somehow suffuses the best western literature and may well confuse any idiot manchild audience member. Bronson's Hickock greets crusty old trapper Warden by saying "he's been known to puddle his britches at a Kayoia war whoop." Hickok says no to sex with old prostitute friend (Kim Novak!) because "sometime back, one of your scarlet sisters dosed me proper" (translation: one of her fellow prostitutes gave him syphilis and penicillin and he doesn't want to spread it). It may be a small moment, tossed off by Charlie in that unique under-the-breath way of his, but it's the first time I've ever heard anyone bow out of sex due to an STD in any movie and it's pretty brave of all involved to keep it in. Other weird slang is left to audiences to glean on their own: sex is "riding the high horse," or "flying the eagle,"  It's also the first time I heard the word "comity" used in a sentence. Even if it's a movie about a giant white buffalo on a typically Dino Di Laurentiis-ian post-Jaws-style rampage, 1977 was still a time you could find mature adult-themed action/adventure movies, i.e. aimed at older people- the type who spring for babysitters so they can go out and see movies that didn't talk down to them. It also reminds us Novak's stardom was well-earned, as she pares her performance down to Bronson's limited emotional range to create an actual connection. It seems like these two characters really do know each other from way back when things in the west were wilder, and now both are as exhausted, but still occasionally dangerous, as what remains of the wilderness itself. 

Still, though it's refreshing, and it's interesting,  in the directorial hands of Brit J. Lee Thompson, a reliable action man with no ear for poetry, a lot of the time the colloquialisms don't quite connect. To make such faux-antiquated folksy slang sound natural you either have to be from the west (i.e. Slim Pickens, who shows up as a stagecoach driver, for whom slang"Blue whistler -- must a caught her right in the third eye," sounds right natural), or be coached by a director like John Huston, whose Moby Dick adaption, for example, masterfully brings in the poetry and dosed metaphysical anger of Melville's dialogue without ever seeming pretentious, strained, or losing its sense of adventure.

I don't mean that as a dis. The colorful language is part of the reason why I love this damn film, whether or not Thompson has an ear for it. The other reason, the white whale, I mean white 'buff.' It's not a convincing buffalo at any time but I like that. It's just a big angry furry white steam engine; when it charges, it goes galloping forward as if on wheels on a hidden train track, which I am sure it was, its head bopping up and down mechanically, steam billowing from its nose like twin smokestacks, a kind of accidental metaphor for the momentum of the industrial age as just another rampaging force of nature. Thompson wisely adheres to the 'never show the whole monster until the very end' rule of effective horror filmmaking. The climax is filmed on a big dark Val Lewton-esque soundstage, with falling fake snow and swirling mist, out of which the beast comes a-charging. At first just a thunderous roar of hoofs and a blur of kicked up snow far and shaking firs in the distance, getting louder, a bigger-than-life animatronic juggernaut that transcends the boundary between visions, nightmares, and reality. As a kid who loved big haunted house rides and Epcot Center dinosaurs, I'm a sucker for robot behemoths like this, especially when they're well lit and spooky on big, snowy soundstage landscapes. 

And--if you were a kid in the 70s you may remember being excited for Di Laurentiis's 1976 King Kong--it was supposedly to be be a massive life-size giant ape robot. (I remember seeing the poster for it whil taking the escalator down to an early release of Star Wars at some NC theater near my grandma's trailer home in Charlotte as an 11 year-old and being very excited for it). Instead of a giant robot what did we get?  Rick Baker in a monkey suit. Well, Dino makes up for it here. Whether it's chasing Bronson around in the snow while Samson rides it, stabbing furiously into its back and neck like a crazed Native American Ahab; or its shoving its massive head smashing through a giant cave wall to get at them, this White Spike is a cool breath of rocky mountain Moby Dick meets snow Jaws air.

Samson and Bronson bond from 30 yards away by making crazy hand
gestures and shouting across the snowy hilltop

Of course, the harder you try to evoke a classic like Moby Dick, while being a western and evoking Jaws too, the farther you're liable to drift off to abstraction, especially if you mix up the hallucinatory adventure with too much of that 'sins of the past' setting sun, gettin' old, 'got m'hands bloody winning the west by and now I'm not allowed to enter Jericho'-style' dove-stroke revisionism. After we spend so much time rooting for this red man-white man friendship to blossom--with lots of pauses and slow... measured speaking... all half-shouted as they stand very far away, at first---to the point it's almost a total bromance---we're left at the altar of nostril-fuming indifference. It's unsatisfying on that end, but at least we have our memories: the white spike's nostril smokestack charging; Samson's great deep voice, Bronson's disaffected cool and fringe leather jacket; the crazy faux-historic colloquial dialect; John Barry's moodily ominous score (I haven't even talked about that ---it kicks ass); snowy, vivid Black Hills (actually Colorado) scenery in some scenes; lovely stylized wintry night or early dawn/evening sound stages in other scenes; the scene of it charging towards them through the snowy haze, the sun barely lighting the thick white cloud ceiling (wondrously created on the sound stage) to a dark milky gray; a few six-shot shoot-outs; throwing an Irish drunk off a stagecoach for being rude to a prostitute, and even Kim Novak. It's got a lot of great bits. If it ends in a shrug, and a bad vibe, sometimes that's how it was in the 70s western wilderness. It's a nice place to visit, and maybe get your hands bloody confronting the unnameable white beast that dwells in the heart of man, but then that 70s liberal guilt finds you, like a flare up of that scarlet sister's proper dose just when you were fixing to fly the eagle. 

8. SCHLOCK
(1973) Dir. John Landis
***

The opening blurb --an ad for the film you are about to see-- declares Schlock! the greatest film since 2001; do we dare doubt it? John Landis, that grinning bearded director of Animal House and American Werewolf in London, has become an American institution, and make-up legend Rick Baker has been with him every step of the way, but they both had to start somewhere--and it's here: a smart and refreshingly deadpan 'spoof' of every movie e'er made up to that point that e'er had an ape in it (and even some that don't). With a great termite attention to the momentum akin to Italian movies like those two-fisted Terence Stamp-Bud Spencer comedies of the same era, Schlock keeps itself in the groovy moment with a plot that makes reverent use of the entirety of classic creature features without ever mugging or clowning or showing disdain for its audience or inspirations. In the words of Chico Marx, that's what you call a finesse. 

Landis himself (in an early Rick Baker-designed gorilla suit) plays the mighty 'Shlockthropus,' thawed out of his frozen tomb ala Trog or Return of the Ape Man. Naturally irritated and confused, he goes on a spree of random killing and grappling with the strange new world of 70s small town cultur. The aftermath of a triple-digit massacre of everyone at the 'Canyon Valley Metaphysical Bowling Society's Annual Picnic' kicks things off. Scenes like his bonding with a girl throwing bread to the ducks trade on our familiarity with the 1931 Frankenstein's "flower toss" scene, for just one example of the films referenced.

Despite the staggering toll in life, limb, and property wrought by the Schlockthropus--trash bags full of limbs, broken store windows--Landis' deadpan black humor never wavers into callousness, instead approaching the carnage with the same dead-eyed square jawed scientific self-seriousness we see in countless 50s monster movies. No one plays it anything but straight and deadpan, that's why it works. The TV announcer on the scene of Schlock's opening massacre may initiate a contest to guess the total limb count, but he doesn't go 'whoa! whoa!' and surf on a banana peel like he would in an AIP beach movie. A blind girl in a wheelchair may force Schlock to keep retrieving a thrown stick, and maybe he can't figure out how to use a soda machine, but damnit, Schlock keeps his dignity. Under Landis' watch, even familiar 70s prank call classics, like interrupting a hard-working scientist to ask about Prince Albert in a Can, are made funny again by being delivered so mercilessly straight-faced. David Gibson's music score, too, could have easily gone the dopey silent film comedy route (Boing!) we'd expect from someone like Les Baxter, but instead sits the inning out or plays the deadpan suspense card, treating it all as tragic, menacing, and serious as Trog. Maybe even Trog-er.

A time capsule of old chestnuts roll measuredly on: one character even says "I feel a lot more like I do now than I did when I got here," which was my 102 year-old granny's frequent one martini-in catchphrase!; a wealth of deep cut in-jokes for Landis' fellow classic monster lovers (Forrest Ackerman cameo!); an extended uber-meta theater scene wherein Schlock sees a movie called  Dinosaurus vs. the Blob which provides a smorgasbord of epiphany via clips from both (a sneaky way distributors used to make fan edit/fake movies to lure people into midnight shows). There's a touching moment when Schlock grasps the implications when he hears people talking about the doomed readjustment attempts of the thawed cave man in Dinosaurus. And there's a moment of post-meta sublimity as the theater audience watches The Blob's scene wherein the theater audience are watching Daughter of Horror. The onscreen audience runs out of the theater chased by the blob around the same time the audience watching them run starts screaming and running out of the theater chased by Schlock --double meta double feature termite in-joke heaven! Sublime moments like that let you know Landis is out to make himself, Baker and smart monster kids laugh rather than pander to some baseline slapstick appeal.

See it alone or with anyone who remembers creature double features on local TV, and cry... cry for the ape person old enough to remember that simpler time. Maybe we're all apes only pretending to have a stake in the modern world, doomed to the awareness we haves to die one day, sooner than later maybe even...Until then... BOING! 

9. NUMBER 17
(1932) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Long in the public domain but never before available in a nice, non-blurry print, Tubi has the recent Kino upgrade and it's the answer to the long unanswered prayers of all this shamefully under-celebrated little film's fans such as myself. It's early sound Hitchcock, very British, very Hitchcock in that deliciously sinister Lady Vanishes-style mystery/suspense/comedy vein.  The sole lighting in this old abandoned very dark house comes through candles and flashlights, creating eerie expressionist shadows which give every frame a magical pulp magazine crispness that's super delicious for fans of old dark house mysteries (especially now in crisp HD). And--my favorite type of narrative setting/time frame--it occurs over a single night, mostly in a single old dark house (and then a speeding train), in almost real time. Detective (John Stuart) is the first to break into this very weird old empty house, followed by a weird looking scalawag (Lister M. Lion) who was coming down through the skylight; there's a body lying on the floor; an intrepid young girl (Ann Grey) looking for her father or something; a gathering mass of shady types all convening in this shadowy hallways with number tickets; creaking floors; strange numerical codes; sinister shadows looming down the steps; rickety railings people are tied to giving way; no one knowing who's really who; train vs. city bus races; a stolen piece of priceless jewelry McGuffin; stylized fistfights; sneaking around atop and along freight train cars; bops on the head; gun owner reversals, and lots of sinister action: prepare to be delighted. Fun while never descending to slapstick or broad mugging (though Lion comes close few times), and with enough chills to keep things lively and suspenseful throughout. it is everything we love about Hitchcock and all in an hour runtime.  So turn that AC up and prepare for some endearingly unconvincing miniatures as events culminate in a big runaway train headed straight into the Channel. Blimey! 

(If you want to keep the British 30s suspense-comedy vibe going after this, consider Bulldog Jack, also on Tubi)

10. HORROR OF SPIDER ISLAND 
(1960) Dir. Fritz Böttger

If there ever was a genuinely 'adult' version of this film it's likely been lost, but that's OK, no one comes to this movie for nudity; they come because, like me, they love spiders and women. When you mix them together, viola! The middle child between Mesa of Lost Women and Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! Like the former, survivor mentality abounds as spiders lurk in the shadows; like the latter, the soundtrack of raunchy saxophone-led cop show garage jazz underwrites a mix of great dialogue, cat fights, girl gang solidarity, and man-crushing. 

So after a weird opening bit where Alex (the gigolo music teacher in The Awful Truth) D'Arcy crossing and uncrossing his legs while he auditions dancers for a troupe he'll be bringing to a gig in the Philippines is finally over, BOOM! their plane crashes and they wind up on a remote island inhabited only by a shifty-eyed monster spider, and a dead scientist. These mostly-blonde women---a flush Germanic sex appeal--are all strong characters and though D'Arcy takes his shirt off a lot (it's hot in paradise--the alternate title)--he isn't pervy with the girls. That is, until he's bit by the giant spider and turns into some kind of monster crashing around the island, with bestial acts on his mind as the girls now look after themselves, which they do with ease, after a few catfights irons out the hierarchy and food rationing. Mostly it's about trying to stay cool by sleeping on the veranda, swimming in the lagoon, taking off most their clothes because of the heat, and generally creating a nice easy kind of tranquil paradise in the mind of any heat-wracked male viewer.

Sometimes a film is the perfect choice not because of what it has but what it doesn't. Spider Island is never very suspenseful but who needs that? And when two dudes finally show up on a raft to deliver the dead professor some crates of whiskey on a routine check-up, they're not sleazy or square, or cocky like they'd be in an American equivalent. They're laid back and OK. In one fine scene during their big drunken party they even fight over a girl's honor, and then--after trashing the cabin-- stop and look at each other and start laughing. That's the movie in a nutshell. People fight, people make up, and the final chase of the monster by torchlight is a great little climax. And for an 'adults only' feature, Horror of Spider Island keeps itself fit for the whole family (at least in a 70s TV movie sense of the phrase). A male fantasy reverie it may be, but one that's never sleazy, winky, campy, corny or shitty. And most importantly, it's relaxing without being boring. Who, when it's 90 degrees out, who would want anything more.. or less?


NOTES
2. PS - I recognize some of the Jungian archetypal stuff may be outdated in our LGBTQ+ era, but it's still a good analytical tool). 

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