BLOOD (1974) - This is one of Andy Milligan's least-seen, but most enjoyable films (it also doesn't hurt that it's a tad under one hour in length). Of course, to enjoy any Andy Milligan flick, you need two things: 1) a tolerance for long-winded dialogue scenes and 2) an understanding of why the homosexual Milligan thought so little of the Catholic Church or its religion (reading Jimmy McDonough's book, "The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld Of Filmmaker Andy Milligan" should also be a prerequisite for anyone interested in Andy's films or simply the life of a tortured soul). To me, at least, there's no doubt that Milligan had talent; for no matter how much he prattled-on about his distaste for religion, he at least transported the viewer to some alternate universe where people spoke the Queen's English even in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Watching a Milligan film is akin to stepping in a time machine (anachronisms be damned!) and being transported to an era that only existed in Milligan's twisted mind. BLOOD opens sometime in the late Nineteenth Century, with Dr. Lawrence Orlofski (Allan Berendt) returning to the United States (Staten Island, NY, to be more precise) with his wife Regina (Hope Stansbury), who suffers from a rare blood disorder where exposure to five minutes of sunlight could burn her alive (We see the effects of the sun on her face in the beginning of the film when Dr. Orlofski and his servants fail to bring Regina into the new house in a timely manner. Maybe they should have waited until nightfall. Just a thought.). Regina must be injected weekly with a serum her husband has created to allow her to live a normal life. Dr. Orlofski believes that their solicitor, Carl Root (John Wallowitch), may be robbing them blind and plans on confronting him about it in the near future because he needs the family fortune to continue his research. Carrie (Patti Gaul), the good doctor's assistant, is in love with Dr. Orlofski and a practicing Catholic, which pisses-off Regina because she has an aversion to Carrie's crucifix. Carrie also has a bad infection in one of her legs and may have to have it amputated if Dr. Orlofski doesn't cure it soon. Speaking of legs, the Orlofski's butler, Orlando (Michael Fischetti), is missing both of his and gets around in a wheeled cart that he pushes around with his hands. The maid, Carlotta (Pichulina Hempi), is a deaf mute who also must take daily injections in her junkie-scarred arm. As you can probably tell, this is one fucked-up household and to add insult to injury, Orlando and Carrie drain a couple of pints of blood from Carlotta nightly (for use in the doctor's serum) and there are a bunch of man-eating plants in the basement (the doctor uses extracts from the plants for the serum) and they are growing hungrier by the minute (one of them tries to bite Orlando's hand off!). When Dr. Orlofski finally visits Carl Root, he discovers that there is not much money left in the family fortune (Carl has been robbing them blind), but there's not much he can do when Carl threatens to expose the doctor's real last name, Talbot (Larry Talbot? Uh, oh!). When Carrie's brother, Tommy (David Bevans) comes for a visit and sees what a sorry state his sister's leg is in (it turns out that Carrie's leg was another victim of those damned basement plants), he threatens to go to the police, but Regina lures him down to the basement, buries a meat cleaver in his head (a Milligan staple) and dissolves his body in a tub of acid (the bottles have "ACID" crudely written on them with magic marker!). Nosy realtor Mr. Markham (Martin Raymart), who is renting the house to Dr. Orlofski, sneaks into the house and when he is caught snooping around, Orlando knocks him out with a shovel and feeds him to the plants, while Regina chops-off the head of a live mouse (there's really no reason for showing it, but Milligan does) and eats it! Dr. Orlofski gains the trust of Carl's secretary, Prudence (Pamela Towers), they fall in love and she agrees to help him recover papers from Carl's office that will return the family fortune. In a not-so-surprising twist, we discover that Larry is a werewolf, Regina is a vampire and their marriage was pre-arranged in the "Old Country" between the Talbot and the Dracula families! The finale finds a fully transformed Larry battling a dimestore-fanged Regina as the house burns around them. In the Epilogue, the house is restored and is then bought by Baron and Mme. Von Frankenstein! My hand to God! The first thing you'll notice about BLOOD is how quickly it moves, which, if you're an Andy Milligan fan like me, is highly unusual. This could be because of the participation of producer Walter Kent (who also has a small role as a man in Carl's office and whose entire movie career seems to be just this film) and not Milligan's usual producers, the legendary William Mishkin (Milligan's BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS - 1970; THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS - 1972; THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! - 1972) and later, his son, Lew Mishkin (CARNAGE - 1983; MONSTROSITY - 1987), who always "tinkered" with Milligan's finished product. There are some noticeable jump edits here, especially during the film's bloodier scenes (and there are a few, including Johnny's murder, the lancing of Carrie's puss-filled leg, Prudence's neck-biting and the mouse head-eating scene), but those were probably done at the behest of distributor Bryanston Films, a Mob-run business who were notorious for cutting films to their bare minimum for playing on the bottom tier of double and triple features (just look what they did to JACK THE RIPPER GOES WEST  and LEGACY OF SATAN  for further proof). The IMDB lists a running time of 74 minutes, a claim I find highly dubious. Still, this is one of Andy Milligan's most accomplished efforts and Milligan fans (you know who you are) should search it out. Also starring Hazel Wolffs, Joe Downing and Eve Crosby as Petra, an old hag who gets her hands cut off (the sight of her obvious mannequin arms during the aftermath is hilarious). I don't believe this ever received a legitimate home video release in the U.S.; the print I viewed was sourced from the British VHS tape from Iver Film Services (which is supposedly a boot). Now available on a double feature Blu-Ray with LEGACY OF SATAN from Code Red (whose Blu-Rays of previous Milligan films are extraordinary), sold exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment who sell it in a 69-minute version. I will report the differences (there's over 10 minutes of footage not seen on home video before!) when I receive it. Rated R.
AND BLACK LACE (1964) -
When people ask me how the giallo genre got started, I usually
mention this film. While not the first giallo movie, it is the one
best remembered, thanks to director/co-screenwriter Mario Bava's (FIVE
DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON - 1970; A
BAY OF BLOOD - 1971; SHOCK
- 1977) use of color, sensuality and brutal violence, which was
copied by the many giallo films that followed it. Mario Bava was an
innovator in many genres and when he passed away (in 1980), it left a
large hole in Italian genre cinema, as no one (with the exception of
Dario Argento) was able to reproduce his way with a camera (Bava was
a cinematographer first and filmed many of the films he directed,
including this one) and creating an atmosphere of dread
thick enough to cut with a knife (pun intended).
The film begins in a very unusual way, by introducing the actors individually, as they pose motionless next to mannequin counterparts (it really is strange and memorable). We then see model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) arrive at the Christian Haute Couture agency in the middle of the night, but she never makes it to the front door, as someone dressed in black (with a large black floppy hat) and a stocking over their head strangles her with their black gloved hands and then drags her away. The owner of the agency, Countess Christina Como (Eva Bartok; THE GAMMA PEOPLE - 1956), tells her partner in the business, Max Marian (a dubbed Cameron Mitchell; Bava's KNIVES OF THE AVENGER - 1966), that this is the third time Isabella is late and if she is ever late again, she is fired. There is a big fashion show tomorrow and the Countess is very nervous, yelling at some models for not properly taking care of the clothes they are going to wear tomorrow. We then learn that the Countess recently lost her husband in an automobile accident and she has not been the same since, but is she ready for what happens next? When the Countess opens a closet door, she discovers Isabella's bloody dead body. The police arrive at the scene and Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner; THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN - 1967) questions everyone at the agency, including the visiting Marquis Richard Morelli (Franco Ressel; EYE IN THE LABYRINTH - 1972), the boyfriend of model Greta (Lea Krugher; ACHTUNG! THE DESERT TIGERS - 1977), but why does dress designer Cesare Lazzarini (Luciano Pigozzi; LIBIDO - 1965; who doesn't use his pseudonym "Alan Collins" here, which is a rarity) snicker when Greta tells the Inspector that Richard is her fiancé? It is obvious that drug use is rampant at the agency, because, earlier in the film, we saw Frank Scalo (Dante Di Paolo; Bava's EVIL EYE - 1963) telling model Peggy (Mary Arden; A...FOR ASSASSIN - 1966; she also wrote this film's adaptation as "Kelly Leon") that Isabella took his "stuff" and he needs some now. We also saw agency employee Marco (Massimo Righi; Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES - 1965) popping some pills after fixing the agency's sign, which slipped off one of its hinges and was swinging in the breeze. The Inspector is sure he has seen the Countess before and she says it was probably at the scene of her husband's fatal accident, just before she walks away, saying she has some important business to take care of. When the Inspector becomes unrelenting in his questions to Isabella's two roommates, Peggy and Nicole (Arianna Gorini), Cesare interrupts, telling the Inspector that he should talk to Isabella's boyfriend, antique dealer Frank Scalo.
The Inspector goes to Frank's antique shop and questions him, but his answers are very elusive (Frank tells him that he doesn't believe in "exclusive" relationships and Isabella was not his girlfriend, just a mere acquaintance), especially when he sees the Inspector holding a small bundle of cocaine. The Inspector asks Frank if he ever saw the cocaine before, telling him a detective found it in Isabella's room. Frank blatantly lies, saying he didn't know Isabella used drugs. It is plain to see that the Inspector knows he is lying, so he leaves, telling a nervous Frank that he will see him later.
At the fashion show at the agency the next day, the Countess can't get any of her models to wear the dress Isabella was supposed to wear, all of them saying that the dress is bad luck, that is until Nicole volunteers to wear it (One of the models says this about Nicole: "She doesn't believe in anything."). We also see Marco sneak off to pop a couple of pills. When Marco sees Nicole in Isabella's dress, he says something is missing, a brooch. The Countess says that the brooch belonged to Isabella, but she kept it at the agency, so everyone begins going through boxes looking for it. Nicole finds it in one of the boxes, along with Isabella's diary and when she announces what she has just found, everyone stops in their tracks, all of them having worried looks on their faces (Luciano Pigozzi really looks like Peter Lorre here, thanks to Bava's use of shadows and primary color lighting, one of his signature trademarks). Nicole begins reading the diary to herself, saying, "This is gold!" and begins reading it out loud, saying, "He is a man that awakens such deep feelings in me that, afterwards, I feel limp, empty...", but before she can read anything else, Cesare rips it out of her hands and Marco says no one should read it, these are Isabella's innermost private thoughts. The Countess agrees and takes the diary out of Cesare's hands, saying it should be handed over to the police. Nicole asks the Countess for the diary, saying she is the one who found it and she will hand it over to the police tomorrow. Nicole places the diary in her purse, sets it on a table and the walks to the runway to display Isabella's dress to an applauding audience. Everyone stares at the purse while Nicole is on the runway, but no one dares to touch it. When Nicole is done, she makes a phone call to Frank, telling him to come to the agency, she found Isabella's diary and he is mentioned in it. What Nicole doesn't know is someone is standing in the shadows listening to her conversation. Frank tells Nicole he will be right over and if she has "some" (drugs), he will feel better, so they can go through the diary tonight before she hands it over to the police tomorrow.
As Nicole is preparing for her next runway walk, Frank phones her to say he is not coming over because he is sick ("I feel like I am suffocating!") and tells her to come to his shop immediately. Nicole tells him she will do her best to get there as soon as possible, but she is not done with the fashion show yet, but she will think of something. Nicole tells Peggy that Frank is sick and she needs to go see him right away, asking for the keys to Peggy's car. Peggy gets the keys out of her purse (pay close attention to the purse) and gives them to Nicole, telling her to be careful of the car's burglar alarm. If it goes off, the button to turn it off is located in the back of the glove compartment (Is this important? Damn right it is!). Nicole drives to Frank's antique shop (she activates the car alarm as she gets out), but when Frank doesn't answer the door, she lets herself in (she has a key to the front door). When Frank doesn't answer her shouts out for him, it's apparent he is not there, but the killer is, turning out the lights and chasing Nicole through the shop (wonderfully done, as Bava once again proves to be a master of gel lighting and shadows), ripping off Nicole's dress (quite risqué for 1964) and killing her by planting a suit of armor's metal claw in her face. The killer escapes in Peggy's car (when the car's alarm goes off, the killer knows where the button is to turn it off) and drives away, unaware that a gas station attendant sees the car speeding away, writing down the car's license plate number.
Peggy gets a ride home and Marco keeps her company until Nicole returns with the car. We then meet Clarissa (Harriette White Medin; THE GHOST - 1963), Isabella, Nicole and Peggy's housekeeper (Bava leads us to believe that she is the killer [she is wearing the same type of clothes as the killer] by filming her from behind as she stokes the fireplace, until Peggy calls out her name and she raises her head). When Clarissa leaves, Marco professes his love to Peggy, but it is easy to see that he is jonesing (maybe he needs a couple of pills?). When he reaches into Peggy's purse for a cigarette, she yells for him to stop. Peggy then gets a phone call from the Inspector, who tells her that her car was found abandoned, asking if it was stolen. Peggy says no, Nicole borrowed it, yet she doesn't tell him that Nicole went to Frank's shop, telling him instead that Nicole went to a sick friend's place to take care of him. Why doesn't she mention Frank's name? I bet you can guess (Remember, Frank doesn't believe in "exclusive" relationships). The Inspector tells Peggy he will be right over, it is best to talk to her in person. Marco excuses himself and leaves, telling Peggy it is best if the police didn't know he was there and Peggy agrees. When Marco leaves, Peggy reaches inside her purse and pulls out Isabella's diary (Remember when I told you to pay attention to Peggy's purse? Well, it's an exact duplicate of Nicole's and Peggy pulled the old switcheroo, giving Nicole her purse). Peggy begins reading the diary and one entry gets her attention: "October 16: I caught Peggy trying to steal $1,000 from my purse. She began to cry and explained how much she needed it. She was pregnant and was not able to face the scandal. I felt sorry and I loaned her the money. It means that tomorrow I will ask him for $2,000." Peggy rips the pages out of the diary, throws them in the fireplace and watches them burn. Then she throws the entire diary into the fire (it's best to get rid of all the evidence, because the ripped out pages would be easily spotted by the police). She stokes the fireplace to make sure the diary is nothing but ash, when her doorbell rings. Thinking it's the Inspector, she opens the door to discover it is the killer. The killer grabs her and instead of talking, writes down "Where is the diary?" on a pad (pay close attention to the pad). Peggy screams out, "I burned it!", so the killer checks the fireplace to see if she is telling the truth. Peggy then reaches for the phone, only for the killer to slap and punch her about the face repeatedly until she is unconscious. Hearing the police sirens approaching, the killer carries Peggy's body out of the house just as the Inspector and his men arrive, wondering why Peggy left the front door wide open.
A short time later, Frank arrives at the Marquis' house, where Richard and Greta are having dinner. Frank tells Richard and Greta that he found Nicole dead in his shop and he wants Richard to supply the police with an alibi for him by telling them that he was with Richard and Greta all day. Frank reminds Richard that he saw him at the agency that day when he showed up to meet Nicole, but she wasn't there (proving that the phone call Nicole received at the fashion show was not Frank at all, but the killer pretending to be him). Richard asks Frank why he didn't call the police when he found Nicole's body and he says Nicole was his girlfriend and the police wouldn't believe he didn't kill her, once again begging Richard and Greta to supply him with an alibi. Frank then says to Richard, "You're just as much to blame as I am!", reminding Richard that he signed an IOU to Isabella for a loan of several thousand dollars, yet he knew he couldn't pay her back because he is flat broke and pretending to be rich, not a penny to his name (Greta asks Richard if it is true and walks away crying). Frank blackmails Richard, saying it is a perfect excuse for killing Isabella, so he better tell the police that he was with him all day, or else he will tell the police about the unpaid loan. Richard can do nothing but agree with Frank's demands, especially when Greta tells Frank that she told Richard about Nicole finding Isabella's diary (Whew!).
We then see Peggy tied-up and blindfolded in some dank basement, where she tells the killer that she burned the diary because it contained some personal information on her that she didn't want made public, but the killer doesn't believe her, slapping her hard on the face several times and then burning her hand on the metal of a red-hot furnace. The killer then finishes her off by pressing her face up against the hot metal furnace. The Inspector arrives at Frank's shop and accuses him of supplying drugs Nicole and the rest of the models. He is also not interested in hearing Frank's (fake) alibi (we then get a close look at Nicole's bloody body as it lies on the floor of Frank's shop).
The Inspector then pulls all the men in to the police station so Clarissa can make an identification. Cesare accuses Marco of being the killer (especially when Clarissa tells the Inspector that he was with Peggy just before she disappeared) and Marco asks for his pills as he collapses to the floor. It turns out he is not a drug addict at all, the pills he was taking are for his epilepsy, so he doesn't have an epileptic fit. The Inspector tells Max and Cesare that any of the men could be the killer, even them, because none of them have alibis that will clear them. The Countess and all her models meet at the agency at 9:00 pm that night. Max then phones the Countess and tells her that all five men, including himself, are being held by the Inspector on suspicion of murder. The models, especially Tao-Li (Claude Dantes; THE HYENA OF LONDON - 1964), believe that one of the men is the killer, so they will all be safe tonight. Wanna bet? Greta wants to sleep at the agency, but the Countess says no, there is another fashion show here tomorrow, so it is best if she goes to her home in the country and that Tao-Li is correct, she will be safe tonight.
When Greta gets to Richard's mansion, she discovers Peggy's dead body in the trunk of her car. Rather than calling the police, she drags Peggy's lifeless body into the mansion, just after getting a hang-up phone call, doing it quietly so the butler doesn't discover her doing it. The killer then appears and smothers Greta with a pillow. Think you know who the killer is? All the clues are in this review if you read between the lines (when an officer gives all the men back their personal belonging after Greta is murdered, it is very obvious who the killer is, but did they have an accomplice?). We know who isn't the killer, but do you have the chops to know who it is? (Here's an important clue, one I shouldn't have to tell you: The killer only murders beautiful women in a way that destroys their beauty, usually doing it to their faces). Nobody here is clean, as they are either blackmailers, drug addicts or just plain despicable, so finding a killer (or killers) amongst them will prove to be difficult, but not impossible. Do you have what it takes?
One look at this film and you will instantly understand why Mario Bava was called a master of his craft. This may seem like rehashed giallo tropes by some people, but they must understand that back in 1964 there was nothing quite like this film, it was totally original in its concept and execution, which is why it was copied and expanded upon in the years to follow, adding full frontal female nudity and quite graphic violence into the mix, but there is no doubt that this film is the granddaddy of all giallo flicks. It supplied the blueprints for giallo films to come (i.e. the killer dressed in black; the killer's POV; plenty of red herrings; etc.). This is the film to thank if you are a fan of giallo films. From the unusual opening, Bava's use of color and shadows, some pretty brutal violence, to the twisty mystery (co-written by Bava and Marcello Fondato [UNCLE WAS A VAMPIRE - 1959]), it is clear why Bava is adored by people who understand what makes films like this so special. There was no one quite like Bava, although many tried, some making a name for themselves (Dario Argento; Sergio Martino) and some failing spectacularly (Riccardo Freda and Ruggero Deodato are good examples, as is Bava's son, Lamberto Bava, who tried to follow in his father's footsteps, but mostly came up snake-eyes). This is the giallo film that every fan should watch, if only to see how the genre got its start, but this is a great film when viewed on its own.
Shot as SEI DONNA PER L'ASSASSINO ("Six Women For The Killer"), this film received a U.S. theatrical release in 1965 from Woolner Brothers Pictures, albeit in edited form (removing scenes of sexuality and violence or shortening them by several frames). This version was released on VHS in 1984 by Media Home Entertainment and it wouldn't be until the year 2000 that the uncut European version would be released in widescreen on VHS and DVD by VCI Home Entertainment, who then released a 2-disc DVD set in 2010, the first disc containing the uncut film and the second disc containing a wide range of extras, including interviews with Cameron Mitchell and Mary Arden, trailers for the film from around the world, a comparison of the American and European versions (showing us the footage that was cut for U.S. consumption) and musical tracks from the film, from composer Carlo Rustichelli (Bava's KILL, BABY...KILL - 1966; and Umberto Lenzi's GANG WAR IN MILAN - 1973). All in all, a nice package. In 2015, Arrow Video released a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of the film with their usual plethora of informative extras. If you are an Amazon Prime member and not interested in the extras, they offer the European version streaming in a very nice anamorphic widescreen print dubbed in English. I gave the streaming version a quick perusal and it looked superb, Bava's use of colors popping off the screen, making it look like it was filmed yesterday. It looked so good, my quick perusal turned into a night of watching the film again (for a third time in a row!). Also featuring Giuliano Raffaelli (THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH - 1964), Goffredo Unger (THE FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE - 1975), Calisto Calisti (FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET - 1971) and Enzo Cerusico (THE DEAD ARE ALIVE - 1972) as the Gas Station Attendant. Not Rated, but this is pretty strong stuff, especially for 1964.
BLOOD RAGE (1983) - Extremely gory Florida-lensed regional horror film. You may have seen this film under its alternate title, NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS (released to theaters and cable TV under this title in 1987), and are saying to yourself, "Hey, Mr. Smarty Pants, this film isn't bloody at all!", but what you watched was a severely edited version of the film. Not only were all the gory murders totally removed and sequences switched around, even the ending was changed to "soften" the film. If you want the entire bloody goods, then your only choice is the BLOOD RAGE version, and it's a keeper. At a drive-in in Jacksonville, Florida (where they are showing THE HOUSE THAT CRIED MURDER [a.k.a. THE BRIDE] - 1973, which turns out to be a sly in-joke, because BLOOD's director, John Grissmer, produced and co-wrote it!) during the Summer of 1974, sex is running rampant (Ted Raimi puts in a cameo as a condom salesman in the drive-in's mens room) and even Maddie (Louise Lasser; SLITHER - 1973), the divorced mother of identical twins Todd and Terry (who are sleeping in the back seat), wants a little lovin' from her new boyfriend. The twin boys wake up and sneak out of the car while Mom is necking and Terry picks up a hatchet, walks a few cars away, whacks a necking guy about the face until it is nothing but a bloody pulp and then gives the hatchet to Todd, wipes the dead guy's blood on his face and screams for Mommy to look what Todd has done. Todd is committed to a mental institution and ten years pass. Todd's psychiatrist, Dr. Berman (Producer Marianne Kanter), informs Maddie that Todd's memory has come back and he remembers Terry committing the murder. Maddie, of course, doesn't believe Todd (Mark Soper; THE UNDERSTUDY: GRAVEYARD SHIFT II - 1988) and continues to treat him like a child, while Terry (Soper again) is seemingly living the normal life of a teenager. While Dr. Berman tries to free Todd from the institution, Maddie announces over dinner that she is marrying her long-time fiancé Brad (Bill Fuller), the manager of the Shadow Woods apartment complex they live in, which upsets Terry, but he hides it with a fake smile. Todd escapes from the institution before Dr. Berman can legally release him and soon the murders begin. Dr. Berman shows up at Shadow Woods with her assistant Jackie (Doug Weisner) and a tranquilizer pistol and begin their search for Todd, while Terry (or is it Todd?) walks into Brad's office and cuts off his hand with a machete. Todd/Terry make Jackie the next victim by running him through with the machete. Dr. Berman is next on the list when she is cut in two at her waist. Wouldn't you know it, Terry's virgin girlfriend, Karen (Julie Gordon; SUPER FUZZ - 1980), decides tonight's the night she wants to pop her cherry, but she asks Todd instead, who is more than happy to oblige, but Karen figures out who he is before he can get in her panties. It all ends in a bloody mess of mistaken identities, as Terry goes about killing everyone in sight (he's a virgin, too, but he only has eyes for Mommy!) and, once again, blaming Todd for it all. Will Mother set everything right? There is not much that is surprising story-wise in BLOOD RAGE, but director John M. Grissmer (SCALPEL - 1976) and screenwriter Bruce Rubin (ZAPPED! - 1982, who takes the pseudonym "Richard Lamden" here) offer so many gory deaths and unusual character traits, it's hard not to get involved in the goings-on. Louise Lasser is her usual nutso neurotic self. When she is not drinking heavily, she can be found sitting on the kitchen floor in front of an open refrigerator, pigging out on whatever is available or vacuuming the house while soused. There's a long sequence where an intoxicated Maddie tries to call Brad (who is already dead) on the phone and she gives the operator a hard time or keeps dialing the wrong number. I'm flummoxed why this sequence is even in the movie at all, when all Maddie has to do is walk a couple of door down to Brad's office, which she ends up doing in the finale. Maybe it was in Ms. Lasser's contract that she needed more screen time and this is what Bruce Rubin came up with. But it's the gore on display that will make you sit up and take notice. The sexually repressed Terry kills without mercy, whether it's decapitating neighbor Julie's (Jayne Bentzen) sugar daddy and hanging his head at her front door; cutting off Brad's hand and positioning his head on the stump; cutting Dr. Berman in two so that she can watch her legs twitching before she dies; slicing-up Gregg (Chad Montgomery) and Andrea (Lisa Randall) while they are making love on the pool's diving board; shoving a barbeque fork into Artie's (James Farrell) neck; Karen discovering Terry stabbing Julia in the chest with a machete, before Karen grabs Julia's baby and makes a mad dash for their lives; Maddie discovering Brad's posed body and then discovering that his head was cleaved in two; and the frantic finale, where Maddie puts an end to the horror at the apartment complex's indoor pool and then commits suicide when she realizes she killed the wrong son! (In the NIGHTMARE version, she doesn't commit suicide). Add copious amounts of nudity and a twisted sense of humor (although Mark Soper is weak as an actor) and most horror fans will probably have a good time with this. Also starring Gerry Lou, Ed French and twins Keith & Ross Hall as young Terry and Todd. The VHS tape from Prism Entertainment is the only uncut version of this film available. All other versions are cut to shreds and unwatchable. UPDATE: Now available in a deluxe 3-disc combo DVD/Blu-Ray pack that contains 3 versions of the film (!) from Arrow Video that includes the gore-filled version. Rated R.
BODY MELT (1993) - I'm a sucker for Australian horror films. They just have that something "extra" that is missing from most American horror films. This one is no different, even though it is basically nothing but a gore comedy with the thinnest of plots. It's a beautiful day in the cul-de-sac of Pebble's Court in the town of Homesville. Everyone is doing their morning thing like jogging, going to work or wise-ass kids telling jokes ("Want to hear a joke?" "Elton John!"). That peacefulness and tranquility will soon be broken and in one of the worst ways possible. You see, Pebble's Court is being used by a pharmaceutical company to test out its newest dietary supplement "Vimuville" and the side effects are killer. A traitorous pharmacy representative drives towards Pebble's Court to tell them what is going on, but by the looks of him, he's not doing very well. Pharmacy executive Shaan (Regina Gaigalas) assures Pebble's Court's doctor, Dr. Carrera (Vincent Gil), who knows all about the trials and is keeping a personal track of Vimuville's progress, that the man will never make it to Pebble's Court and, even if he does, he will be too far gone to say anything. We then see the man stopping at a gas station store and asking the counterman where the detergent is. He then proceeds to drink an entire bottle of dishwashing detergent as his neck begins to split open. He throws the counterman his credit card and drives off, where he is chased by police. The man talks into a mini-recorder, where he says the following things: "Stage 1: Hallucinations Stage 2: Organ Failure Stage 3: Body Melt" before crashing into a van in the cul-de-sac, his body flying through the windshield. We then see tentacles come out of the man's throat wounds and enter his mouth, but they quickly retreat when the police get closer. Detective Sam Phillips (Gerard Kennedy; PANIC STATION - 1982; WOLF CREEK 2 - 2013) and his partner Johnno (Andrew Daddo) are put in charge of the case and Sam finds the mini-recorder and plays it, but doesn't understand what it means...yet (Johnno is mainly around for comedy relief). The two wise-ass kids, Gino (Maurice Annese) and Sal (Nick Polites) ask Sam if it is OK if they leave town to go get laid and Sam says yes, so the stupid pair end up at some strange establishment where everyone looks inbred (and they even have a three-legged dog). Meanwhile, a man from Pebble's Court goes to the airport and keeps on seeing women who aren't really there (Stage 1). He then imagines that one woman in an airport hotel room removes one of his ribs because it will complete her collection of 13 men's ribs (we see her massage his chest and then pull the rib out of his body). Sal gets lucky with one of the inbred daughters (who looks like a man dressed as a woman), only to get a pitchfork impaled into his crotch while they are making love in a chicken coop. Gino tries to get away by stealing the family's truck, but all it does is drive around in circles (!) and he is quickly surrounded and killed by the inbred family. What does this have to do with the rest of the film? Read on. Sam finds the Vimuville bottle in the man's car, so he and Johnno go to the pharmaceutical company, where they get nothing but the company line by Shaan. Sam finds that highly suspicious. As more and more free samples of Vimuville are delivered to everyone in Pebble's Court by mail, things begin to get weirder and weirder. Dr. Carrera begs Shaan to step down the dosages of Vimuville, especially on the pregnant Cheryl Rand (Lisa McCune), but Shaan step-ups the experiment because she has outside investors interested in the supplement. Cheryl lies on a bed and her stomach explodes and tentacles shoot out her stomach and vagina (but no baby) and hit her husband Brian (Brett Climo) in the face (Stage 2). Brian is taken away by the police and charged with Cheryl's murder, but Sam believes there is something fishy going on. The residents of Pebble's court begin experiencing body changes and none of them are good. Thompson Noble (Adrian Wright) begins to shoot so much snot out of his nose, he slips on it and kills himself by hitting his head on the sharp edge of a bathroom counter. His son Brandon (Ben Guerens) is rollerblading on a skateboarding ramp and tries a fancy move, only to fall on his face where all the skin on his face falls off (all we see are teeth without lips). Dr Carrera kills a man with a hypo shot, but not before he rips off the doctor's ear. When Sam and Johnno find the dead man, the ear has grown on the dead man's palm (It gives a whole new meaning to "Talk to the hand!"). An earless Dr. Carrera goes to the inbred establishment, where we find out that the father is actually Dr. Carrera's brother and he use to work in the pharmaceutical company's laboratory and has developed and antidote which he took with him (it still makes absolutely no sense why the entire family is inbred). One muscular guy chokes his girlfriend to death while they are making love as we watch his back split wide open. Another guy's penis explodes and splatters all over a TV screen (We see his erection through his shorts and then the bloody deed). When Thompson Noble's wife Angelica (Jillian Murphy) sees that her husband's body is literally encased in snot, she grabs her daughter Elloise (Amanda Douge) and leaves the house (after witnessing Elloise's boyfriend's head implode inside his body!). They drive to a doctor's office and Angelica's tongue swells to about two feet long and she chokes to death. The doctor says that Pebble's Court was built over a chemical dump over twenty tears ago and that, mixed with Vimuville, have caused all these strange deaths. Dr. Carrera goes to kill Shaan, but finds out she has dissolved into a pile of goo (Stage 3). Sam and Johnno shut down the pharmaceutical company and save the day, but as the final shot shows us, Vimuville is already on grocery store shelves. This Australian gore comedy (which walks the fine line between hard R-Rated and NC-17 territory, including a full view of a dead man's penis on the coroner's table) is the only directorial effort by Philip Brophy, who also wrote and mixed the music, co-wrote the screenplay (with co-producer Rod Bishop), drew all the storyboards and was sound designer. While the film doesn't add up to much in the logic department for its 82-minute running time, it will satisfy those looking for goofy, gory deaths (supplied by Bob McCarron), with no CGI in sight. Just good, old bladder effects, exploding body parts (the pregnancy death is a standout) and lots of dripping goo and tentacles (Which are not explained. Are they a new life form or just a side effect of Vimuville? I also believe some of the deaths were edited to get an R-Rating, especially the pitchfork scene.). Add a good sense of humor, put your brain in neutral and just go for the ride. It is what it is. Nothing more. Nothing less. Also starring Neil Foley, Anthea Davis, Matthew Newton, Lesley Baker, Amy Grove-Rogers and Suzi Doughtery. Originally released on VHS by Prism Entertainment. The DVD offered by Scorpion Releasing is a pristine anamorphic widescreen print that looks great. This is a very colorful film and the colors snap on this print. Rated R (The Prism Entertainment fullscreen VHS gives it an "AO" [Adults Only] Rating, but it contains no extra footage than what is on the DVD).
THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) - "This
is a sacred Pyramid in the dead city of Tikal, 300 miles south of
Mexico City. Here, for thousands of years, the Maya once lived, a
civilized and peaceful people with a deep-rooted knowledge of
mathematics and astronomy. But one day, in the year 607 AD, this
people emigrated en masse towards the distant, wild north, abandoning
the sturdy dwellings, the pyramids and the temples they had built.
None of the Maya came back. The cities remained deserted and the
jungle slowly swallowed the streets and buildings, erasing
every trace of their civilization. The scientific expeditions that
tried to shed light on these events were never able to provide a
satisfactory explanation. Some believe there was an enemy invasion,
but what powers at that time could have defeated the Mayan people?
There are no signs of natural disasters and what catastrophe could
have force a people to build a new kingdom, abandoning the land where
that had always lived? The mystery still remains today and the
nomadic Indians who travel across the region speak of how their
ancestors fled the land to escape the wrath of a terrible goddess, a
So begins a film that scared the crap out of me when I was a child (giving me nightmares for days), watching it on TV's "Chiller Theatre" in the early-to-mid-'60s. I wanted to return to this film for the longest time to see if my memory wasn't playing tricks on me (Childhood memories can be disappointing when unmasked by an adult brain), but this film was harder to find than the truth at a Republican Party convention (No more politics, I promise). Thanks to Arrow Video, who released this film in a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack, giving it the respect it deserves (some may think the behind the scenes stories are be more interesting than the film itself, but there's no denying that this film is important on many levels), I can finally see it the way it was meant to be seen, for the very first time. While this Italy/USA co-production may be considered a knock-off of the original THE BLOB (1958), I would say that this is the better of the two films, even if it lacks that film's color scheme (it's in black & white, but I love black & white films). The cinematography (by Mario Bava, as "John Foam", but more on him later) is second to none and the scares are here in spades. I would go as far as to say that this film was way ahead of its time, as no 1950's horror film has its mood, atmosphere and sense of style. I'm not trying to put this film on a pedestal (even though it deserves to be), I'm just saying that this is one of the few films that didn't disappoint me in the 50+ years since I last saw it. It is actually better than I remembered it.
After a volcano eruption in the lost city of Tikal, expedition member Nieto (Arturo Dominici, as "Arthur Dominick"; CASTLE OF BLOOD - 1964) stumbles back to base camp, a pistol in his hand, and collapses in the tent of Professor John Fielding (John Merivale; CIRCUS OF HORRORS - 1960) and his wife Ellen (Didi Sullivan). It seems Nieto is the only surviving member of an expedition trying to find out what happened to the Mayan people by exploring the rubble of Tikal, but he is unable to tell anyone what happened because he is in a state of shock. When John examines Nieto's pistol, he tells his associate and friend, Max Gunther (Gerard Haeter; SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON - 1966), that it is empty, no bullets in it. Max wonders where the bullets went, since the area Nieto and his group were exploring is completely deserted. When the Professor says they will have to go to the Tikal cave to see what happened to their friend Ulmer (Daniele Pitani), Nieto springs up from his bed and screams, "Ulmer...The Mummy...The Mummy...Caltiki...Caltiki...Caltiki!!!" and then falls back into bed, unconscious. Max says that Caltiki is a Mayan deity, so John, Max, Bob (Daniele Vargas; EYEBALL - 1975) and the rest of the group leave for the Tikal cave, leaving Ellen and Linda (Daniela Rocca; THE GIANT OF MARATHON - 1959) behind to take care of Nieto. Once in the cave, everyone yells out Ulmer's name, but no one answers. They find a new opening inside the cave, which John says must have been caused by the volcanic eruption. They see footprints leading into the opening and, thinking they are Ulmer's, they follow them, but not before taking a Geiger counter with them, just to be on the safe side. Once inside the opening, they discover ancient stone steps, which lead them to an undiscovered temple, where an enormous statue of the goddess Caltiki stands guard. They all think they have made an amazing discovery, but they ain't seen nothing yet. The Geiger counter then begins registering high doses of radioactivity, the needle going to maximum. What could be causing such high radioactivity? John and Max think it is coming from the water, a "sacred lake" next to the temple where priests use to drown their victims they sacrificed to their goddess Caltiki, but it is actually coming from something far more deadly. They find Ulmer's movie camera next to the lake, thinking that Ulmer must have drowned, so they go back to base camp to get their scuba gear so they can explore the bottom of the lake, not seeing Ulmer's desiccated corpse on the other side of the lake as they leave.
Once back at base camp, John and Max discover that Nieto has gotten worse. Bob has developed the film in Ulmer's movie camera, so they all sit down to watch the footage. They watch Nieto and Ulmer entering the area in the cave that they were just in, as Nieto finds an ancient bracelet, holding it up for the camera. Suddenly, the camera starts shaking and a visibly shaken Nieto pulls out his pistol and begins firing, then the footage ends. Ellen wants to go back to Mexico City immediately, fearing for her and everyone's lives, but John says no, they have to go back to the caves to save Ulmer, if he is still alive. John then goes to watch an Indian girl (Gay Pearl) dance in an ancient ritual, while Max tries to comfort Ellen, telling her that John is acting like a fool (Max has the hots for Ellen, but she is not interested).
Back at the sacred lake, Bob puts on a wetsuit and scuba gear, diving to the bottom of the lake, discovering numerous human bones, as well as a wealth of gold and ancient pre-Columbian treasures. When Bob exits the lake, he tells everyone they are rich beyond their wildest dreams. All they have to do is dive to the bottom and collect all the ancient gold and jewels below. John doesn't want Bob to put his life in danger, but he insists, diving to the bottom and collecting as much gold and jewelry as he can fit into a cloth bag. Then something attacks Bob and when John and Max pull him up by the rope attached to his waist, they find that Bob's head is nothing but a skull covered in some gelatinous substance (yet his body is still breathing!). The lake starts bubbling and all their native guides run away in fear, as a massive blob arises from the lake and heads towards John and Max. They run up the ancient stone steps, when Max realizes that they left the bag with the jewels and gold next to the lake. Greed gets hold of Max and he will pay for it, as when he goes to retrieve the bag, the blob encases his right arm, but John cuts off the piece of blob that has Max's arm and they escape, but not before John kills the massive blob by driving a truck full of gasoline drums into the cave, jumping out just before the truck explodes, burning the blob to a crisp, killing it. But, if there is one thing we know about blobs, it is that you must destroy 100% of it, leaving no pieces of it alive and letting it grow exponentially.
John cuts the piece of the blob from Max's arm and puts it in a glass container. John becomes famous in scientific circles, holding conferences all over the world, displaying his new discovery. His piece of the blob is stored at his laboratory in his home, where Ellen and their young daughter live. John tells Ellen that Max is in serious condition (the right side of his body, including his face is eaten away, like he was splashed with acid), John telling her that Max's life depends on him figuring out what makes this new life form tick. If he can figure it out, he may be able to reverse Max's condition (a doctor at the hospital Max is in tells John that Max is beginning to go insane). John gets the idea that radioactivity from the volcanic eruption may have given life to the long-dormant blob, so he contacts Professor Rodriguez (Vittorio Andre; DEATH LAID AN EGG - 1968) and asks if he can use his "Betatron", to bombard the blob with electrons, hoping it will somehow lead to reversing Max's condition (The hows and whys are never explained). John brings a piece of his piece of the blob to Professor Rodriguez's laboratory, where the Professor's nameless assistant (a young Giacomo Rossi Stuart; THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE - 1971) bombards it with electrons. It seemingly works, but there is a more pressing problem. Max has escaped from the hospital, as crazy as they come, killing a nurse during his escape. Now the police are after him, too, using dogs to sniff out his scent (This part of the film mimics THE QUARTERMASS XPERIMENT [a.k.a. THE CREEPING UNKNOWN - 1955] to some extant). I'll give you one guess where Max is heading. That's right, he is heading towards Ellen who, in his twisted, diseased mind, is the only woman he ever loved. John is forced to leave Ellen and his daughter alone when Professor Rodriquez's assistant calls and tells him the blob is alive and growing rapidly. John tells him that he will be right over, but he should set fire to the laboratory and kill the blob. Once John gets to the lab, he finds it completely destroyed by fire and the blob dead. We then discover that an approaching comet in the sky is somehow affecting the blob, as the piece of the blob that John has in his home laboratory is growing rapidly. Somehow, the comet causes Professor Rodriguez to lose control of his car, as he drives off a cliff and it explodes, killing him. Just when Max arrives at John's house, the blob grows to enormous proportions. Max kills Linda (Who loved him!) and takes Ellen prisoner, but before he can rape her, the blob bursts through a wall and engulfs Max, turning him into a skeleton. The blob chases Ellen and her daughter upstairs and starts to slowly destroy the house (The sight of the blob oozing upstairs trying to devour Ellen is very well done). John, who is being held in a room in a Mexico City police station, under arrest for assisting Max's escape (!), escapes and races home, as the police follow him. They will soon forget about John and have to deal with the giant blob that destroys everything in its path. Can John save his wife and daughter and kill the blob? Maybe flamethrowers will work.
First let me get this out of the way: Even though Riccardo Freda (THE GHOST - 1963; THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE - 1971; TRAGIC CEREMONY - 1972; MURDER OBSESSION - 1981), here credited as "Robert Hampton", is listed as the sole director, the fact is that Mario Bava (BLACK SUNDAY - 1960; BLOOD AND BLACK LACE - 1964; PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES - 1965; A BAY OF BLOOD - 1971) actually directed the bulk of the film but, due to contractual obligations, could not be credited as a director (Freda would later claim that he abandoned this film so Bava could show everyone what a good director he was. That is simply untrue, because it doesn't explain how Bava directed parts of Freda's THE DEVIL'S COMMANDMENT - 1957 and still didn't get directorial credit). Since Bava was also the film's cinematographer (as he was on COMMANDMENT), it is wonderfully photographed, full of Bava's patented lush and atmospheric cinematography, especially the cave sequences. Even the way the blob is shot (My friend from across the pond told me that the blob was actually made of tripe, the stomach lining of a cow, which Italians eat for dinner!), using miniature sets and forced perspective, are very well handled (much better than the Steve McQueen-starrer), giving believability to the blob's deadly touch. Especially outstanding are the deaths, which are quite graphic for a late-'50s production, especially Bob's skull-headed body still breathing and Max's death, which are shocking and unforgettable. I still remember those deaths after 50-odd years, when I first saw them on TV. Seeing it now is no different. They are still as disturbing as when I was a child, one of the few films to stand up to my childhood memories of it. So, if you want to see a film that out-blobs THE BLOB, look no further than this gem, a crackling good horror film with much to recommend. Also starring Nerio Bernardi (as "Black Bernard"; PSYCHOUT FOR MURDER - 1969), Rex Wood and the prolific Tom Felleghy (NIGHT OF THE DEVILS - 1972). Not Rated. NOTE: For those who don't care about extras, Amazon Prime offers the film on their streaming site (Free to Prime members) in a nice letterboxed print, in Italian with English subtitles.
THE CHILDREN (1980) - It's hard to make a list of the best low-budget horror film of the early 80's and not have this film appear in the top twenty. It's moody, scary and, above all, shocking in the way it deals with children killing adults and adults killing children. A toxic leak at the Yankee Power Company's nuclear power plant causes a radioactive fog in which a school bus full of children from the town of Ravensback passes through (this film is a.k.a. THE CHILDREN OF RAVENSBACK). Sheriff Billy Hart (Gil Rogers) finds the bus abandoned on the side of a road opposite a graveyard (the motor is still running and all the children's belongings are still on it), with the children and bus driver nowhere to be found. The sheriff stops at the first house on the bus's route to see if student Tommy Button (Nathaniel Albright) has made it home, but Tommy's mother is too zonked out on codeine to notice, so her personal physician (and probable lesbian lover), Dr. Joyce Gould (Michelle LaMothe), helps the sheriff search for Tommy and the other children. Billy has his deputy, Harry Timmons (Tracy Griswold), set up a roadblock to the only entrance in town to stop anyone from leaving and to only let residents enter, since he begins to think this is looking like a mass kidnapping. We know this is not the case when the acerbic Joyce declines a ride of from Billy (her distaste for men is quite evident), discovers the bus driver's dead body in the graveyard (his entire body looks burned to a crisp) and she is hugged by an infected Tommy (you can tell the infected by their black fingernails). Joyce suffers the same fate as the bus driver, as Tommy's radioactive fingers burrow into Joyce's back and she instantly becomes an overcooked steak. Katie, bar the door, because some killer children are about to terrorize Ravensback! The children instinctively head to their homes, but Billy seems to always be one step behind. The only house he comes to before the children attack is the one belonging to the loopy Dee Dee Shore (Rita Montone), who is sunbathing topless by her pool while her muscle-headed boyfriend is pumping iron. Dee Dee seems more excited about the prospect of her daughter being kidnapped than her welfare (Most of the parents depicted here are less than complimentary). Billy picks up John Freemont (Martin Shakar), a parent of one of the missing children, whose car has stalled on the side of the road and agrees to drive him home after thay stop at the Chandler residence, but little Ellen Chandler (Sarah Albright) has already given her mother and father the hug of death. When Billy and John find Dee Dee's daughter, Janet (Julie Carrier), walking down a dark road and discover her killing power (she grabs Billy's hand and gives him a nasty burn), they race to John's house, where his pregnant wife and young son (who was home sick from school) are about to be attacked by their infected daughter, Clara (Jenny Freemont). John and Billy have to make the difficult decision to kill the children by the only means effective: by chopping off their hands! The final coda should not come as a surprise to eagle-eyed viewers who paid close attention when the school bus passed through the radioactive cloud. What can I say? This is one of those horror film that I can watch over and over and never grow tired of. Director/co-producer Max Kalmanowicz (DREAMS COME TRUE - 1984) and screenwriters Carlton J. Albright (a co-producer here and also the director of the underrated LUTHER THE GEEK - 1990) & Edward Terry (the star of LUTHER, who also has a role here as a deputized hick) have fashioned a creepy, atmospheric and scary horror film about what happens when children become killers and how responsible adults (although there are too few in this film, which I believe was intentional) must deal with the situation. The screenplay handles the situation in a frank, straightforward fashion (but not without some intentional humor) as parents are confronted with a truly unique situation. Most of them naturally go for the hug (Who wouldn't when they stick their arms out and say "Mommy!"?), but Billy, John and John's wife, Cathy (Gale Garnett), must make the heartbreaking decision that all the infected children (who have gathered outside of John's house in a sly tribute to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD - 1968) must die and the only way to kill them is to cut off their hands. There is very little here left to the imagination, as the children are shot (but they get right up) and chopped into pieces (where they let out a god-awful growling sound), but that's what makes this film work so well (the special effects are surprisingly well done, especially the radiation burnings). This is a parent's worst nightmare and THE CHILDREN illustrates that nightmare in a way very few horror films can. Harry Manfredini did the evocative music score and if it sounds a little like his score for FRIDAY THE 13TH, it's because he did this film directly after finishing FRIDAY. This would make a perfect double bill with DEVIL TIMES FIVE (1974), another effective killer kids flick. Remade in 2008 as THE CHILDREN, but the plot is distinctly different in tone. Also starring Joy Glaccum, Jeptha Evans, Jessie Abrams, Suzanne Barnes and Shannon Bolin. Originally released on VHS by Vestron Video and then on a truly abysmal DVD from Troma Entertainment. Try to find a boot of the Vestron tape. Rated R.
CHOPPING MALL (1986) - Jim Wynorski has directed more than 100 films since 1983's THE LOST EMPIRE, sometimes using a myriad of pseudonyms to cover up the fact that he is so prolific. Although Wynorski made his fair share of stinkers (SCREAM QUEEN HOT TUB PARTY - 1991; MUNCHIE - 1992; and a few more), I believe his win column is much larger than his loss column, with films like NOT OF THIS EARTH (1988; and Traci Lords' first straight film), HARD TO DIE (1990); SORCERESS (1994); THE CURSE OF THE KOMODO (2003; some of the best CGI in a low budget horror film) and this film (which is his second), which is my favorite and, among other things, could probably happen today. What was science fiction back in 1986 is science fact today. Plus, it has pretty girls (a Wynorski trait, although as he became bigger in the genre community, so did the women's chests and I also like him because he is so unapologetic about it) and a wicked sense of humor. This is the perfect top half of a double feature (remember them?), where there is nudity, some fantastic gore (one shot in particular still has me stumped how he pulled it off) and a great cast of genre actors in cameo roles. Officially, this is Wynorski's second film and it is still fondly remembered by almost everyone who originally saw it in theaters. The film opens with Dr. Sam Simon (Paul Coufos; FOOD OF THE GODS II - 1989) showing a short film (basically a commercial) to a bunch of mall and store owners for a new kind of protection robot, called the "Protector 101 Series". We watch a burglar (Lenny Juliano) breaking into a jewelty store and then setting electrically stunned by a Protector robot (it's half the size of a human. red in color and looks like a more streamlined R2D2) when he refuses to obey the robot's commands. Dr. Simon assures the audience that the robots are safe, especially Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov (who return as their characters Mr. & Mrs. Bland from EATING RAOUL - 1982), so safe, in fact, that he plans on using three of the robots to patrol the mall they are in for the next few nights (too bad none of the many stores' employees are ever told about it). This just happens when a bunch of teenage employees, from various stores and restaurants, plan to spend the night at the mall after the stores close and party (Drink and have sex, that is). A freak electrical storm hits the mall and does something bad to the robots. It's like they have become self-aware and don't care too much for humans (The original and more fitting title for this film is KILLBOTS, which it was first released theatrically as, but it did bad business because people were expecting some type of robot-like kiddie film that was popular at the time and not a gore film, so uncredited Executive Producer Roger Corman cut over 15 minutes out of the film [it originally ran 95 minites and now runs 77 minutes] and renamed it, where it did much better business. The TV version adds several minutes of outtakes, because the cut footage was gone and could not be found, probably for good [another Corman trait], so the film could fit in a 2 hour timeslot.). After the comical opening credits (Look for Toni Naples [Wynorski's TRANSYLVANIA TWIST - 1989] in a bikini and Rodney Eastman [I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE - 2010] as a shoplifter), we see pizza joint worker Alison Parks (Kelli Maroney; NIGHT OF THE COMET - 1984) being clumsy and dropping dishes, annoying the cook and owner (Mel Welles; the director of LADY FRANKENSTEIN - 1971), who says, "Oh, you a-breaking my heart!" Co-worker Suzi Lynn (Barbara Crampton - RE-ANIMATOR - 1985) sets up Allison on a blind date for the party tonight, which happens to be nerd Ferdy Meisel (Tony O'Dell; EVILS OF THE NIGHT - 1984) who is acting as boss for his father's furniture store and keeps getting taken advantage of by co-workers Mike (John Terlesky; Wynorski's DEATHSTALKER II - 1987, who went on to be a successful TV series director), Suzi's boyfriend, and Greg (Nick Segal; SCHOOL SPIRIT - 1985), who will also be at the party. Also at the party will be husband & wife Rick & Linda (Russell Todd & Karrie Emerson) and Leslie (Suzee Slater; CARTEL - 1990), Mike's girlfriend. Mr. Todd (Arthur Roberts; Wynorski's BIG BAD MAMA II - 1987) catches daughter Leslie and Mike kissing and Leslie tells her father she and Mike are excited to be going over to Suzi's house for her birthday tonight (a total lie). The first casualty of the robots is Technician Marty (Morgan Douglas), who is looking at the centerfold in an issue of Playboy, when a robotic arm comes tearing through the centerfold and crushes his neck. Technician Nessler (Gerrit Graham; TERRORVISION - 1986) is the next victim, as one of the robots shoots and kills him with a miniature grappling hook to the back of his neck in the Control Room. Without any technicians, the robots are able to do as they please throughout the mall. After the mall closes, the party begins and Ferdy is about to meet Alison for the very first time (We can spot a poster for Jack Hill's SORCERESS  in the mirror and if you look hard enough, you can see a poster of Wynorski's first film during the pizza joint shots.). It's love at first sight for Ferdy, but since he's a nerd, he takes things very slow, unlike the rest of the revelers. Everyone but Ferdy and Alison are making out (of course, it's Barbara Crampton to first show us her tits), while our blind dates are watching ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957) on TV (The film was directed by Roger Corman, as a little in-joke since his name is nowhere to be found on Wynorski's film. This film was produced by Roger's wife, Julie Corman.). Ferdy and Alison hit it off and start kissing on a couch in his father's furniture store. Meanwhile, the robots are roaming the hallways of the mall, each one taking a separate floor. The next person to die is janitor Walter Paisley (Character actor supreme Dick Miller, who first used this name in A BUCKET OF BLOOD  and has used it in several films as a joke when he has small roles), as a robot rolls up behind him, tips over Walter's water bucket and electrocutes him with a 50,000 volt taser. The robot says, "Thank you. Have a nice day." and leaves, as Walter's body is burned beyond recognition. Leslie talks Mike into going outside the furniture store to buy her a pack of cigarettes from a machine (She shows him her lovely breasts an an incentive). As he is about to buy the smokes, one of the robots shoots a tranquilizer dart into him before snapping his neck. (When Mike first sees the robot, he says "klaatu barada nikto" from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL  before being murdered.). Leslie, dressed in a blouse and panties, goes looking for Mike and finds him with his throat slit wide open. She runs from the robot (who is hiding in the shadows in an emergency exit cubby hole), while it fires pink laser pulses at her, hitting her once in the shoulder. As everyone watches in the front of the furniture store, the robot blows Leslie's head off in one of the best head explosions ever committed to film (I remember when I had this film on VHS, moving the tape frame-by-frame and still couldn't spot the change from live to dummy head, unlike the easy to spot switch in the head explosion in SCANNERS . I still consider it one of the best head explosions in a film.). When they realize that there are a lot more victims to be had in the furniture store, two robots break through the glass and go after them. The robots destroy the furniture store while firing at the partiers, until the humans find shelter in a metal storage closet. They have no way out until 6:00am, but the girls make it into the air conditioning shafts to try and find a way outside. The robots are smart enough to know what they are trying to do, so they shoot very hot air through the ducts. The guys make it to a sporting goods store, where they pick up shotguns and other supplies to try and defeat the robots. They manage to destroy one robot with a well-placed propane tank and some gunfire. It becomes too hot in the ducts to make it down to the underground parking area, so they go back to help their boyfriends. They grab some gasoline from some gas cans in a store (which you would never find in any store in real life because it is against the law), make some molitov cocktails and go looking for their boyfriends. Seems like the robot that the guys thought they killed isn't so dead. The molitov cocktails have no effect on the robots and one robot burns Suzi to death with her own gasoline. The cast retaliates by dropping one robot several stories from an elevator. The remaining humans decide to go to the third floor to go to the Control Room and shut down the robots, but Greg is thrown down several levels of the mall by a robot and dies. The rest run away from the other two robots and hide behind a metal grate. As one of the robots is using a laser to cut a hole through the metal grate, the remaining four humans must try to find a way to the Control Room, but they need to rest first (not the best time for that). With the hole in the metal grate complete, for some reason, one of the robots goes out of control and kills Rick and Linda before blowing up. Ferdy and Alison decide to split up to look for the Control Room (never a good thing) and Alison blows up the final robot to pieces in a paint store with a flare. Ferdy and Alison live happily ever after. And remember: "Thank you. Have a nice day." I consider this to be one of Jim Wynorski's best films not just because of the many cameos (I'll let you discover some of them yourself, although there is a quick appearance by Angus Scrimm [PHANTASM - 1979; using the name "Lawrence Guy" here]), but because the film doesn't let up from the get-go and the Killbots look really good and functional (they could probably be used on malls today and shoppers wouldn't give them a second look) and gives the film a sense of realism, something, say, THE TERMINATOR (1984), still can't pull off. It's not that I don't love James Cameron's film (actually, I love it), it's just there are robots and then there are ROBOTS. The one in all caps are the kind that we won't see the light of days for years, but the lower case ones are already a reality, vacuuming our floors and keeping an eye on our houses without being told what to do. Robots today still depend on the human element, making them subsceptable to human error (Which is why there is a Control Room in this film), so we still have to be wary and attentive to what we think are robots (I consider computers robots, too, because they are able to do things quicker, faster and do things we are unable to do). Jim Wynorski, who co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Mitchell (who is also Second Unit Director here and wrote the screenplay to Wynorski's AGAINST THE LAW ), throws in a lot of references to other films and it's apparent that this film (also known under the head-scratching title SHOPPING) is a labor of love for him. Filmed for $800,000 at the Beverly Centre Mall in Los Angeles, California at night under stipulation that there would be no film equipment or messes around the mall when it opened at 9:00am. Originally available on VHS from Lightning Video, but since the negative for the film is in legal limbo, Lionsgate Entertainment used the same fullscreen video master as the Lightning tape (even using the Lightning Video logo!) and squeezed it onto one single-sided DVD with three other horror films on the 2-disc HORROR COLLECTION 8 MOVIE PACK (which is a shame because there are a couple of films in their Unrated versions on this collection, such as SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986) and CLASS OF 1999 (1990). Although there are a few compression artifacts (especially on my 60" plasma TV), it is watchable, but it deserves a much better fate than this. Maybe one day those 15 minutes of cut footage will be found and we will get to see the original KILLBOTS version. Stranger things have happened. Also featuring Angela Aames, Will Gill Jr., Robert Greenberg, Maurie Gallagher, Jim Wynorski as the voices of the Killbots and a bunch of cameos I'll let you discover (Make sure you look into the crowd scenes). A Lionsgate Entertainment DVD Release. Now available on Blu-Ray from Lionsgate as part of their expensive line of "Vestron Video Collector's Series", which is stuffed with extras (such as some, but not all, of the missing footage not incorporated into the film) and, more important, is in its original aspect ratio. These Blu-Rays can sell from $27.00 to $30.00 per title. Whether they are worth that much is up to you. Rated R.
CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) - Ever since Christmas Eve in 1947 when Harry (Brandon Maggart) learned from his brother that Santa Claus wasn't real (he peeps from the stairs and watches Mom make out with Santa), he has become obsessed with Christmas and what it represents. It's thirty three years later and nothing has changed. His house is decorated for Christmas, both inside and out, all year long. He sleeps in Santa pyjamas. He spies on the neighborhood children with binoculars to see who is naughty or nice and puts the bad children in a book balled "Bad Boys And Girls". Harry even has a job in a toy factory and has just got a promotion, even if he is not happy with the quality of the toys they manufacture or care for the attitude of his greedy boss Frank (Joe Jamrog). When Harry becomes stressed, he hums Christmas carols to himself and spies on his brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn of THE HAUNTED - 1991). Harry pines for the life of his brother, who has a beautiful wife (Dianne Hull of THE FIFTH FLOOR - 1978) and two kids. Harry knows that he will never have that kind of life because he will be unable to find anyone who will understand his obsession. As Christmastime rapidly approaches, Harry becomes more and more disillusioned with the way people take Christmas for granted. After trying to teach people the true meaning of Christmas and failing miserably, he finally snaps and adds murder to his ever-growing list. The Santa you see standing next to you may not be of sound mind. Also known as TERROR IN TOYLAND and YOU BETTER WATCH OUT, director Lewis Jackson (his only effort) films this more as a psychological tale of a man's descent into madness rather than the horror film the ads make it out to be. Brandon Maggart (who got his start on SESAME STREET, believe it or not!) is wonderful as Harry, as he makes his character sympathetic, even when he is doing creepy things such as superglueing a fake white beard on his face so no one can pull it off (thereby making him the real "Santa Claus") or replacing presents under Christmas trees that he thinks are more appropriate for the bad boys and girls. While we may think that Christmas has become too "commercial", Harry has the balls to do something about it (even if he does get carried away). He has his faults, but his heart is in the right place, as the scene where he delivers a vanload of stolen toys to a children's hospital shows us. When he finally goes on his killing spree, all the right people get what they deserve. He first kills three arrogant men who ridicule him after they come out of church. He stabs one in the eye with a toy soldier and kills the other two with axe-blows to their heads. As with all vigilantes, he goes too far and is chased by an angry mob of parents carrying torches (!) and ends in what has to be one of the most whacked-out finales that you will ever see. But does it really end the way it seems? You will have to use your ears here to really know how it ends. It is memorable. The film also has some humorous moments, such as the police line-up of Santas who are forced to say "Merry Christmas!" in their best jolly voice or the kid who says he wants a lifetime subscription to Penthouse for Christmas. There's precious little violence here, besides what I have already mentioned and the death of Harry's boss by throat-slashing. This film is not about the violence and rightly so. Most reference books rate this film as a bomb which makes me wonder if they have watched this film at all. This is an excellent film that chronicles one man's foray into madness in a world that doesn't deserve a man like him. Then again, maybe I'm just reading too much into it. Either way, I enjoyed it immensely. This film is available in many forms. The one I viewed was on the 10 film DVD compilation titled TALES OF TERROR from BCI Eclipse. It's sourced from a VHS master but it's servicable. There's also a remastered Special Edition DVD from Synapse and a terrible DVD from Troma as well as various VHS incarnations. Pick one, watch it and enjoy. Also starring Mark Margolis, Ray Barry, Sam Gray and Bobby Lesser. Watch for a cameo by a then-unknown Patricia Richardson of TV's HOME IMPROVEMENT (1991 - 1999). Now available in a DVD/Blu-Ray Combo Pack from Vinegar Syndrome. Rated R.
THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1971) - Director Ted V. Mikels is an acquired taste. Some people love his films to death, while others think he's nothing but a talentless hack. I fall somewhere in the middle, but I must confess that I find this film to be one of my guilty pleasures. The story here is rather straightforward and simple: The owners of Lotus Cat Food Company, Mr. Landau (Sanford Mitchell) and Mr. Maltby (J. Byron Foster), manage to stay in business competing with the larger pet food companies by keeping their overhead low. Very low. They do this by substituting their meat by-products ingredients with the flesh of human corpses, which they obtain from grave robber Caleb (Warren Ball) and a couple of workers at a mortuary, who supply them with fresh bodies of the recently interred or bums whose bodies will not be missed. As the demand rises for for their product, Landau and Maltby have a hard time keeping up with the supply, so they begin to rely on murder to keep them stocked with fresh meat. The only problem is, domesticated cats eating Lotus Cat Food begin attacking their owners and some of those owners end up dead, which attracts the attention of Dr. Howard Glass (Sean Kenney) and his nurse/lover Angie Robinson (Monika Kelly), who are performing the autopsies. They begin piecing the pieces of the mystery together and discover all the murderous cats are being fed Lotus brand cat food. They go to the FDA to have the cat food tested and discover what the mystery ingredient really is but, remarkably, the FDA refuses to investigate further without more proof, so Howard and Angie go undercover to get more proof. They are not very good at undercover espionage (they really suck at it) and Landau and Maltby, who see through their ruse immediately, kidnap Angie. Howard must race to rescue Angie from the jaws of the corpse-grinding machine before she is turned into the ingredients for a new batch of pussy chow. Howard is given a helping hand from a mysterious stranger (whom we see stalking Landau and Maltby at various times throughout the film) and they save Angie in the nick of time; both Landau and Maltby end up dead, one of them getting chewed up by their own corpse-grinding contraption. As undoubtedly everyone already knows, this film is mostly famous for it's chintzy corpse-grinding machine, a plywood creation with flashing lights and levers where bodies are fed through one end (all the bodies are still in their underwear!) and come out hamburger meat on the other end. To me, though, that's the least interesting aspect of this film. What I find much more entertaining are the eccentric and downright ugly characters on view here, including beef jerky-chewing grave robber Caleb; his doll-carrying retard wife Cleo (Ann Noble), who treats the doll as if it was a real baby; the mute, one-legged Tessie (Drucilla Hoy), a Lotus Cat Food employee who hobbles around on one crutch while delivering the mail; and Willie (Charles "Foxy" Fox), the rubber-faced, impossibly skinny Lotus janitor who becomes the first live victim of the grinding machine. Director/producer/editor Ted V. Mikels (THE ASTRO ZOMBIES - 1968; BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE DEVILS - 1972; THE DOLL SQUAD - 1973; and many others) uses garish lighting schemes (bathing scenes in red and green gels), quick cutting (I laugh every time he cuts to shots of Caleb's caged geese for no other reason than to hear them squawk) and threadbare sets (the office of Lotus Cat Food is a study in minimalism; just a desk, a couple of chairs and a cheap hand-painted sign that reads: LOTUS CAT FOOD: "For Cats Who Like People"!), which all together make this film seem like it was made on some alternate version of Earth. Some people speak with a thick Cockney accent for no reason at all and the cat attack scenes are hilarious in their ineptitude (As the proud owners of two rescue cats, I can assure you this is not the way cats would attack). While there is no nudity in this film (the women walk or lay around in their bra and panties), this impossibly cheap film does have it's share of gruesome sights (including a graphic cat autopsy and a basement full of body parts) and some intentionally funny scenes (including Cleo feeding her doll soup at the dinner table). This film is also the last credit for Arch Hall Sr. (director of the classic badfilm EEGAH  as well as being a producer/screenwriter of many of his son's, Arch Hall Jr., films, such as THE CHOPPERS  and WILD GUITAR ), who co-wrote the screenplay with Joseph Cranston. To me, THE CORPSE GRINDERS is one of those cheap independent horror films that more than lives up to it's title and reputation. Some people find it deadly slow, but I find it mesmerizing. Mikel made an overlong sequel, THE CORPSE GRINDERS II (2000) and produced THE CORPSE GRINDERS 3 (2012) decades later, but they are crappy SOV shadows of the original. During the early 70's, THE CORPSE GRINDERS played on a popular triple bill with THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS (1966) and THE EMBALMER (1965) with a lurid ad campaign promising "The Final Dimension In Shock!" Also starring Ray Dannis, Vince Barbi, Harry Lovejoy, Earl Burnam, Zena Foster and Curt Matson. Originally released on VHS by World Video Pictures. Alpha Video offers a widescreen print on DVD that also includes the original trailer, a full-length commentary track by Mikels and a short interview with Mikels, all for less than $6.00 (It's a direct port from the more expensive DVD released by Image Entertainment a few years earlier). Most of Mikels' films can be purchased directly from his website: www.tedvmikels.com (no longer in operation). Rated R.
CREEPOZOIDS (1987) - Before we get to the review, a little background about the film and director/co-producer/co-writer David DeCoteau. This was one of the last films to be shown as a double feature in theaters (with SLAVE GIRLS FROM BEYOND INFINITY - 1987) and CREEPOZOIDS was the bottom half of the double bill but, for me, the film should have been at the top half because it still holds a fond place in my heart for showing what one man can do with so little money. Sure, there are indications of an ultra-low-budget (A lab that consists of nothing but a computer and two aquariums filled with colored water; filming in one location; a cast of five people, etc.), but it was just such a crazy-ass film that even Fred Olen Ray directed a remake of the film, called HYBRID, in 1996. And then there's David DeCoteau. He made no secret that he was gay because he made a series of all-male porn (as well as straight porn) films before he got into the genre filmmaking business. He continued to make porn films while directing his first few genre films (his first one was DREAMANIAC in 1986 and this was his second), but his genre career took off like no one had ever seen before (as of 2015, he has directed over 115 genre films (not counting his porn films), and that's not counting the hundreds of other ones he worked on in various other capacities) and during the 80's & 90's, he gave straight people what they wanted: naked female flesh mixed with violence. But as gay rights began to gain steam in this country (and it was about time), David DeCoteau formed his own production company, Rapid Heart Pictures, and began to make homoerotic films of all types for audiences that would appreciate them. They were (and are) never hardcore, but they never shied away from the gay subtext, either. As a straight man, I applaud him for that fact, but he also kept making films for straight audiences, too. A lot of people consider David DeCoteau a hack (don't get me wrong, he has made his share of stinkers; but with that many films under his belt, how could he not?), but we are talking about a man who worked since he was just a young buck with such people as Roger Corman, Charles Band and Fred Olen Ray and whenever I read that he is moderating or doing a running commentary on a film, even if it's a film I don't like, I buy it on DVD or Blu-Ray, because this is a man who knows more about filmmaking than 99.9% of the people in the business and his commentaries are pure gold. I have had the pleasure of communicating with David a few times on Facebook (before I quit using the service; too many trolls) and he has always come across as a pure gentleman and always answered questions like he wasn't talking down to you. A person like that is very rare commodity in the business and he should be celebrated. Which brings us to the film at hand. There is only one thing that really bugged me about this film: Linnea Quigley had no problems doffing her clothes in this film, yet porn star Ashlyn Gere (here using the name "Kim McKamy") never appeared nude. I guess she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress, but this was the wrong vehicle for that. People come to see films like this for the nudity and the violence, so I tip my hat to Linnea Quigley for spending a good amount of her screen time unclothed to make up for McKamy staying clothed (there was one point in the film where I thought McKamy was going to get naked when she turned the shower on, but it was nothing but a cheat). After watching an unnamed scientist (Joi Wilson) getting killed in her bare-bones laboratory set by a tall creature with giant pincers around its mouth, we are informed by on-screen computer terminal-like writing that in 1998, six years after the superpowers have engaged in a devastating nuclear exchange, Earth is now a blackened husk of a planet. Tiny clusters of survivors eke out a miserable existence in the ruins of the city, and bands of military deserters roam the barren wastelands...hiding from mutant nomads and seeking shelter from the deadly acid rain. We then meet five deserters: Bianca (Quigley; SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT - 1984; also an associate producer); Butch (Ken Abraham; BLOODY MOVIE - 1988); Jesse (Michael Aranda; EL CHUPACABRA - 2003), Kate (McKamy; EVIL LAUGH - 1986) and Jake (Richard Hawkins; CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND - 1977), as they are trying to find shelter from a fast approaching acid rain storm. They make it just in time in the building that just happens to hold the lab where we saw the lady scientist killed by the creature, so we know that they are not alone. Since they are military deserters, they still know how to clear a building, so they split up into two groups and search the entire building (some of the rooms just don't look kosher to Bianca), but all they find is a rotting head of the scientist's assistant and nothing else. When Bianca finds a working shower, she is ready to strip and has Butch join her. We see them both completely naked, before and after the shower (something for both the guys and the girls!). Jesse is using the lab's computer to try and learn what they were working on there. Was this a military base or a private enterprise? After trying to break into the computer's files with no success (his access is always denied), he finds the scientist's computer journals, where it says she was purposely cut off from communicating with New L.A. (over 400 miles away) and she is worried that New L.A. is in serious trouble. She mentions some new experimental "stuff" that scares the shit out of her. If this "stuff" is added to food, she has no idea what serious repercussions that it will have to those who eat it. Jesse hears a noise coming from under the desk and discovers a secret passageway, which leads to a room that looks like it is full of giant cocoons. While Jessie is crawling into the lair, the computer screen changes and reads, "Long time no see. No one suspects a thing. Covered my tracks like a pro. The blood was a bitch to clean." Jesse enters the room and sticks his hand in a puddle of blood, before the creature attacks him and we think Jesse is dead. But, when morning comes, Jesse awakens from his bed like he has no memory of what happened the night before. A shirtless Butch sleeps with a topless Bianca when everyone is awakened for breakfast, made by Kate. Jake wants to do a more complete recon of the building to see how long they can stay there (food supplies, water, etc.) when Jesse begins to scream and starts to mutate in front of everyone (the fingers on his hands fuse together) and he spits some black liquid out of his mouth and dies face-down into his breakfast dish. Kate then says she believes that this building is some kind of containment vessel. It was not meant to keep people out, but to keep something in. This building was meant to keep the outside world safe and she believes they are all now infected with a virus where the body produces its own amino acids, which means they will never have to eat food again (Jesse overdosed when he ate breakfast [no one else had the chance to eat yet] and it not only mutated him, it killed him). Jake and Butch go to the lair, while Bianca does some investigating on her own and his nearly killed by the creature. Jake is found unconscious, but when he comes to, he believes the creature doesn't want to kill anyone. It looks like the creature was once human and wants another person to mutate like him so they can start a new intelligent species on Earth. The generator goes out and Butch goes to fix it, but he is attacked by a huge mother of a rat, so Jake pulls it off Butch and kills it with a ray gun. The creature attacks Jake (always, and I mean always, check under your desk) when he tries to send an SOS on the computer. The creature, which not only has pincers on the side of its mouth but extremely huge sharp teeth, attacks Butch, so now both Butch and Jake are out like a light while the creature destroys the computer, knocking out all communication with the outside world. The creature drags Butch away, but what does he really want from them (It seems Kate's reason just doesn't wash)? Another giant rat attacks Bianca (even crawling up the back of her shirt, but Kate pulls it off and gets bitten in the neck. Jake shows up and patches her up. The creature has dragged Butch into its lair, where it sprays black liquid on Butch from its mouth. He mutates in front of everyone's eyes when they hear him scream and then he dies. The creature tries to attack Jake and Bianca, but they get away. Bianca has discovered Kate has transformed into a mutant and she tries to kill Bianca. You don't mess with Bianca unless you want to get the horns and she kills the mutated Kate by dropping a metal shelf on her and stepping on it hard until Kate stops breathing. The creature brings Jake down to its lair and then kills Bianca. Jake runs away and finds a medical kit on a shelf and puts something into a huge hypodermic needle. After the creature nearly kills Jake several times, Jake finally injects it with the hypodermic needle and the creature dies, breaking into pieces. In the part of the film people remember most about this film, one piece of the creature delivers a mutated baby, which tries to kill Jake. Jake thinks he chokes the baby to death with its own umbilical cord but, as the final shot shows us, the baby gets up and the film freezes on its image. As you can imagine, the story makes no sense at all (DeCocteau wrote the screenplay with Burford Hauser; BLOOD NA$TY - 1989), but it is an entertaining 72 minutes that gave audiences what they wanted: blood, boobs and gore. This was one of Charles Band's Empire Films (he was the uncredited Executive Producer) and it was apparent he gave David DeCoteau very little money and told DeCoteau to give him what audiences wanted, story be damned, This film is just weird enough to merit a viewing (I have seen it about 20 times) and since it was one of DeCoteau's first few horror films (porn directors know how to squeeze every penny out of a buck), he gives us much more on screen then some established genre director would. The success of this film (and a few others), would make DeCoteau a house director at Full Moon when Empire Pictures folded, where he would have to take pseudonyms, like "Ellen Cabot" (a credit he used on this film as an Associate Producer), "Richard Chasen", "Julian Breen", "Mary Crawford" , Victoria Sloan" and at least a half-dozen others so people wouldn't think that DeCoteau was directing 80% of Full Moon's features every year or working in so many capacities on a film (He used the pseudonym "David McCabe" when directing all-male and straight porn films and really is a jack-of-all trades when it comes to filmmaking. I doubt there isn't one thing he could do better than most artists). This film packs an awful lot into a small amount of time and makes it one of my guiltiest of pleasures. While David DeCoteau will never win an Academy Award for his body of work, he has given millions of people countless nights of great genre exploitation. David is still working up to this day, so expect to see reviews of his films KNOCK 'EM DEAD and 3 SCREAM QUEENS (both 2014, which I viewed on VOD using my Roku 3 player) on this site very soon. He sure knows how to put great actors in his films. I recently saw his BIGFOOT VS. D.B. COOPER and 90210 SHARK ATTACK (also both 2014, a banner year for him) and laughed my ass off at the absurdity of it all. It was obvious DeCoteau was just having fun at/with the audience's expectations with these films and it worked. I can't think of a nicer guy all this success is happening to. Cinematographer/Second Unit Director/Special Effects Supervisor Thomas Calloway directed the ridiculously bad film HEEBIE JEEBIES (2012). You have to see it to believe it (Or read my review by clicking on the link). Released on VHS by Amazing Factory/Cult Video and even though the Full Moon Grindhouse Collection DVD series always get a bad reputation, besides the DVD being in fullscreen, the picture was sharp and looked great on my Blu-Ray and HD TV system. Only their first ten releases looked like they were taken from video masters. Their newer releases look great, so don't let what other people say dissuade you from purchasing the DVD. I actually paid $4.98 for it on Oldies.Com. That is a bargain at 4 times the price. Full Moon has finally released the film on Blu-Ray in its original aspect ratio with 5.1 audio. That is the disc to get. Rated R.
DEATHDREAM (1972) - This is an absolute must for any horror fan. Director Bob Clark (who also gave us CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS , BLACK CHRISTMAS  and MURDER BY DECREE  before giving up on horror and giving us PORKY'S , PORKY'S II: THE NEXT DAY (1983; He did not direct PORKY'S REVENGE - 1985, the final film in the trilogy), the Christmas perrennial A CHRISTMAS STORY  and the truly abysmal LOOSE CANNONS ), has fashioned what is probably one of the best psychological horror/gore films of the 1970's. When Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is shot and killed in Vietnam, the Brooks family is notified by the Army of his demise. Andy's overly-devoted mother, Christine (Lynn Carlin) refuses to believe her son is dead and wishes for his return home. Her wish comes true as Andy shows up at their door, not quite acting himself. He has in fact turned into an undead zombie that needs the blood of the living to keep him from rotting away. Andy's alcoholic father, Charles (John Marley) knows something is wrong with Andy after he witnesses him killing the family dog in front of a bunch of children (a truly horrifying scene). Andy's sister, Cathy (Anya Ormsby, wife of screenwriter Alan Ormsby) is just glad that he is home, even if Mother always liked him best. Charles brings the family doctor (Henderson Forsythe) to check Andy out, but Andy refuses and later shows up at the good doctor's office and kills him by stabbing him repeatedly with a hypodermic needle, injecting the doctor's blood into his veins to stave off the decomposition of his flesh. Things really get out of hand when Cathy sets up Andy on a double date with his old girlfriend Joanne (Jane Daly) and Cathy's boyfriend Bob (Michael Mazes). They go to a drive-in and Andy kills Joanne and Bob, runs over an innocent bystander and drives home to Mother as he begins to literally fall apart. Charles tries to kill Andy with a pistol, but cannot do it because he's still his son and uses the gun on himself instead, committing suicide. Mom drives Andy to get away with the police in hot pursuit. Andy makes her stop at a cemetery, where earlier he dug a grave and scratched his name on a tombstone with his name, birth date and death date. He literally throws dirt on himself before passing away, his flesh peeling away from his body. There's a lot of subtext in this film concerning the Vietnam war that would be lost on audiences today. That's OK, because the film holds up as a truly frightening horror film with good performances by all, some early gore effects by Tom Savini and the last 20 minutes are the best twenty minutes of any horror film of its' time. The scene where Joanne discovers Andy's forehead beginning to blister open and drip yellow goo while trapped in the back seat of a car at the drive-in is a scene you're likely to never forget and Andy's final decomposition is handled for pure shock value. Many people find the first hour of this film slow going, but I think that director Clark and screenwriter Ormsby build the suspense to the breaking point before all hell breaks loose. Drastically cut when shown on TV in the 70's, you'll be surprised how much you missed when viewing the videotape. This is one of those films known under a myriad of titles, including: THE NIGHT ANDY CAME HOME, DEAD OF NIGHT, THE VETERAN, WHISPERS and its original shooting title, NIGHT WALK. Under any title, DEATHDREAM is a great ride for people who like to be scared. A Gorgon Video/MPI Home Video Release. There are various versions out there from a PG-Rated television cut to the Gorgon Release which seems to be uncut except for a snippet of dialogue by Andy's mother at his gravesite in the finale. This version is Unrated and contains a scene where we see a person run over as well as a scene of a policeman slamming into a telephone pole after falling off a car. It's also available on DVD from Blue Underground. It's hard to believe that director Bob Clark turned out pablum such as BABY GENIUSES (1999) and its sequel BABY GENIUSES 2: SUPERBABIES (2003) before being killed (along with his son) by a drunk driver in 2007 in a head-on car collision. At least he Executive Produced the above-average BLACK CHRISTMAS remake (2006) before he passed away.
DEATHMASTER (1972) - This is one of those films that played incessantly on TV during the 70's and early 80's and then disappeared into obscurity. That is, until now. Retromedia Entertainment now offers a deluxe wide screen edition of this title, the first ever "legal" home video edition available in the United States. Put away your old, dupey copies and watch the film like you have never seen it before. A coffin washes ashore containing the body of Khorda (Robert Quarry), a centuries-old vampire. Khorda's henchman, the mute Barbado (Le Sesne Hilton), brings Khorda to the local hippie commune. Khorda quickly becomes the commune's spiritual leader, spouting philosophical mumbo-jumbo and performing magical acts that put a sense of awe and wonder into the commune's long-haired occupants. Khorda begins putting the bite on the commune's residents, turning them into crazed, bongo-dancing vampires. The disappearances and strange behaviour of some of the commune's population bring out the suspicions of Pico (Bill Ewing), the local Indian hippie who has the moves of Billy Jack. With his girlfriend, Rona (Brenda Dickson), they try to escape the commune, only to be stopped at every turn by Barbado and a growing horde of vampires. After they are captured, Pico refuses Khorda's offer to become a vampire and escapes his shackles in the commune's subterranean basement. He finds Khorda's resting place and accidentally sticks his hand in a bowl of leeches. He disables Barbado by drawing a cross on his face with his leech-drained blood and escapes to town where he seeks the help of Pop (John Fiedler), the local store owner. Pop doesn't believe Pico's story, even when his dog is found dead with two puncture wounds on his neck. Pop becomes hip when the local motorcycle tough is found dead and members of the commune act like zombies in his store. Pico and Pop bring the police to the commune, where Khorda convinces the cops that nothing is wrong. Rona, under Khorda's control, refuses to leave the commune. It's up to Pico and Pop to stop Khorda before the "incubation time" expires and everyone at the commune become full-fledged vampires. Be prepared for a real downbeat ending. Robert Quarry, just off the successes of COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) and THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971), returns for a third helping (he was Associate Producer of this one) as a vampire. He plays Khorda as part Charles Manson, part New-Age healer and part menacing vampire. At the time this was made it was quite fresh, but today the concept seems dated. It's still entertaining and has many fine qualities. This is a pristine print, enhanced for 16x9 viewing, and I doubt you'll ever see such a beautiful copy of such an obscure film in quite a while. The colors pop and I swear you can see the pores on Quarry's face. While not overtly violent, the film picks up during the latter half and has an "oops" staking scene that reminded me of a similar one in BLACULA, filmed the same year. This is perhaps director Ray Danton's finest effort, which included the dreadful CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1973) and the unusual PSYCHIC KILLER (1974). Danton died in 1992. Robert Quarry is still making films today, usually appearing in small roles in movies by Fred Olen Ray (who owns Retromedia Entertainment) such as THE SHOOTER (1997) and FUGITIVE MIND (1999). Some extras on the DVD include: behind-the-scenes photos of the film (a photo with a clapboard shows the film was shot with the title "Guru Vampire"); TV commercials including a Lucky Strike cigarette ad starring Quarry, a Shasta soda commercial starring John Fiedler (the voice of Piglet on all the Winnie the Pooh cartoons) and Frankenstein's monster and TV spots for COUNT YORGA and SUGAR HILL (1974), both featuring Quarry. For any Baby Boomer with fond memories of watching this film late at night on TV during their youth, or for anyone interested in horror and hippies, this DVD of DEATHMASTER is a must for their collection. This is one childhood memory that lived up to my adult expectations. Also starring Betty Anne Rees and William Jordan as the motocycle tough who leaves the commune to get a "steak and beer" dinner only to come back and be scared to death by Khorda! A Retromedia Entertainment DVD Release. Not Rated but the film was rated PG on its' initial release. Note: Robert Quarry died in 2009 of a heart condition. His death barely caused a blip in the newspapers or the Press, which just proves how elitist we are becoming as a society. It makes me sick to my stomach.
RED (1975) - There is no doubt in
my mind that Dario Argento was the master of the giallo film during
the '70s & '80s. This film is considered his crowning achievement
(even though I like TENEBRE
 better) and it is easy to see why. It is a masterwork of
visual delights, mixing some sly comic moments with graphic scenes of
death. It is also one of Argento's better-acted films, helped in part
by David Hemmings (NIGHTMARE
- 1973) and Daria Nicolodi's (SHOCK
- 1977) natural on-screen chemistry. Before I get into the plot of
this film, there are a couple of things you should know. First
off, when Argento directed this film,
there was no such thing as home video, so when the first murder
happens, there is a quick flash of the killer's face, which can
easily be seen when advancing the film frame-by-frame in slow motion
and freezing the frame when advancing the disc in a DVD or Blu-Ray
player. I would advise you don't do this, especially if you have
never seen the film before, because it will destroy the film for you.
Secondly, if you want to see the on-screen chemistry between Hemmings
and Nicolodi, you'll have to watch the complete 126-minute
"Director's Cut" of the film, as the 105-minute English
language cut deletes most of the romantic wordplay and sexual energy
between them (but not the film's gory violence). Even worse is the
100-minute U.S. theatrical R-Rated cut, which not only omits that
chemistry, it also is missing most of the graphic gore and deaths,
something Argento is a master at. The 100-minute version is a
complete joke, so please ignore it, as it is only a shadow of a great
giallo film. With that out of the way, let's get to the film.
The film opens with some creepy children's music playing, as we see and hear a murder take place (in silhouette, as shadows on a wall) in a room of a house (notice the Christmas tree on the right). We hear a scream and a bloody knife falls to the floor and a faceless young child walks up to it (we only see the child's shoes). We are then at a parapsychology conference, where Professor Giordini (Glauco Mauri) and Mr. Bardi (Piero Mazzinghi; APACHE WOMAN - 1976) introduce world-renown psychic medium Helga Ulmann (Macha Meril; NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS - 1974) to their audience of doctors, scientists and naysayers. Helga tells them she can see thoughts the instant they are formed and some thoughts are so strong, "they linger around the room, like cobwebs." She proves it by telling one member of the audience that he is holding keys in his hand and even tells him his name, even though they have never met. Suddenly, Helga picks up some very violent thoughts, telling someone in the audience, "I can feel...death in this room. I feel a presence. A twisted mind, sending thoughts. Perverted, murderous thoughts. Go away! You have killed...and you will kill again. There is a child, singing, in that house. Death...Blood...All blood! I'm scared! I'm scared! We must hide everything, everything in the house back the way it was. No one must know, no one, no one! Forget it, forget it, forget it...forever...forever." We see an audience member's point of view as they get up and leave the auditorium while Helga expresses these violent thoughts she is picking up. When Helga comes to, she tells Professor Giordini that she has to go home and write down what she experienced, telling the Professor that she now knows the name of the monstrous murderer and she will tell him all about it tomorrow morning, not knowing that the murderer is hiding in the auditorium and has heard everything Helga has said (earlier, we see the murderer walking into the auditorium bathroom and putting on a pair of black leather gloves that zip-up in the back). Helen does sense something, but she believes the strong, murderous thoughts are still lingering in the room. That night, Helga is talking on the phone to her agent when she hears the creepy children's music and someone rings her doorbell. She goes to open her door to her lush apartment, but those strange thoughts envelop her and she backs away from the door, only to have the killer kick the door open and attack Helga with a butcher's cleaver (lots of quick flashes of blood and gore). The killer takes Helga's notes and the film cuts to jazz pianist teacher Marcus Daly (David Hemmings; DARK FORCES - 1980) meeting his drunken pianist friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia; BEYOND THE DOOR - 1974) on the street as he is walking home (he lives in the same apartment building as Helga). As they are talking, they hear a woman screaming and a drunk Carlo tells Marcus that someone is probably getting raped, making a joke out of it (like any drunk would, raising his bottle of booze in the air and saying, "Hail to the raped virgin!"). Carlo tells Marcus "As long as I'm drunk, I'm happy as a lark. And I play better, too! The difference between you and me is purely political. You see, we both play good piano, right? (Marco waves his hands back and forth, as if to say, "Not really.") But I'm the proletarian of the keyboard and you're the bourgeois. You play for art and you enjoy it. I play for survival. That's not the same thing." Carlo then leaves to go to his job as a pianist at a blues bar. As Marcus continues walking home, he sees Helga getting her face pushed through one of her windows (an Argento trademark) and then sees someone plant the cleaver in her back. Marcus runs to her apartment, passing a corridor in her apartment full of paintings (DO NOT advance this sequence frame-by-frame if you do not want to know who the killer is!) and finds Helga dead, her neck impaled on shards of glass. Marcus runs to the window and sees someone wearing a long brown leather raincoat hurriedly walking away. When the police arrive, Marcus tells Captain Calcabrini (Eros Pagni) about seeing a person in a brown leather raincoat walking away, yet when he walks past the corridor again, he gets the feeling that something is missing, thinking it is a painting (like in most of Argento's giallo films, memory is key to uncovering the mystery). The Captain tells Marcus that no paintings are missing, but Marcus is sure something is not the same and it will haunt him to the point that he will try to solve this murder on his own. Also at the scene of the crime is feisty newspaper reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi; Argento's OPERA - 1987), who latches on to Marcus as a source for the story and will not let go (almost literally). When Marcus leaves the apartment, he sees Carlo and asks him if he saw someone wearing a brown coat walking away and he tells Marcus, "You know, sometimes what you actually see and what you imagine...get mixed up in your memory like a cocktail...from which you can no longer distinguish one flavor from another. It happens to me all the time." Those words give the usually insecure Marcus the impetus to solve the murder on his own, but he will get help from the inquisitive Gianni, who has the know-how and contacts to get things done quicker than he could on his own. At Helga's Hebrew funeral, Gianna give Marcus the skinny on Professor Giordani, telling him that he's a professor of psychiatry, but he's mad about parapsychology. Giordani and Helga were much more than friends, telling Marcus that Giordani practically kept Helga. She also tells Marcus about Mr. Bardi. He is an expert in paranormal phenomena and is also a clairvoyant.
Marcus is certain that Carlo is not telling him all he knows, so he goes to Carlo's home, only to discover that he lives with his ditzy mother Martha (Clara Calamai), a former actress who has pictures of herself hanging on a wall (Actual photos of actress Calamai in the films she starred in the '30s & '40s). Marcus also discovers that Carlo is gay (Handled in a manner that is deeply touching for a giallo film. In other words, Marcus doesn't treat him like some pervert, but still like a friend), but it doesn't deter him from asking some important questions. While Marcus is working on a new piano composition in his apartment, he starts hearing the children's music and quickly locks the door to his piano room. The killer whispers from behind the locked door, "This time you're safe. I'll kill you anyway, sooner or later." Marcus becomes obsessed with that child's tune and finds a record of it in a music store. He plays it for Professor Giordani and Mr. Bardi and Giordani tells Marcus that the song may very well be the leitmotif of the crimes. "The murderer is a schizophrenic paranoid. Anyone who kills with such frenzy surely does it in a state of temporary madness. In everyday life, this person could appear quite normal. As normal as you or I or anyone else. And when he kills he must recreate these specific conditions, which will trigger the release of all his pent-up madness. Something that recreates the same images that frame a context that provoked trauma in the past" (Remember, Giordani is a psychiatrist). Mr. Bardi interjects and says, "I'd like to add something less scientific to this business about the children's song. If you recall, Helga also mentioned a house, as well as a child singing. I remember having read a little book quite some time ago on folklore. I think the title was 'The Modern Ghost And The Black Legends Of Today'. The author spoke about a haunted house from which neighbors could sometimes hear singing, like that of a child. The conjecture is that an act of bloodshed was once committed in that house." Marcus asks Mr. Bardi if he still has the book and he says no, but if Marcus wants to find it, he should try The Library Of Folklore And Popular Traditions.
Marcus finds the book and the author's name is Amanda Righetti. The book contains a photo of a house and Marcus (who rips the page out of the book while the library's guard is not looking) begins an investigation to locate the house, his first step being contacting Amanda Righetti. Marcus phones Gianna at a coffee bar (a very funny scene) and asks her to find an address for Righetti, telling Gianna that Amanda must know where the house is located. We then see that Amanda Righetti (Giuliana Calandra; CONVOY BUDDIES - 1975) is a collector of myna birds (!) and before she can talk to Marcus, the killer leaves a naked doll hanging by its neck in her home and then kills her by immersing her head in a bathtub full of scalding hot water, but before she dies, she writes something in the steam that has collected on the wall. Marcus then arrives at her house and finds Amanda dead, along with all her myna birds (Remember, these birds can talk!). Marcus leaves the house without telling the police (being the first person at two murder scenes is just too much for the police to overlook), but Professor Giordani offers to go to the house to investigate further, especially when Marcus tells him about Amanda pointing at the wall, as if she was trying to say something. Giordani discovers what Amanda has written by running the hot water taps in the bathroom and steaming up the walls, but before he can tell Marcus what she had written (It reads "It Was...", but we don't see the rest of the message), the killer strikes and bashes Giordani's teeth against the edge of a fireplace mantle and his a desk over and over (much in the way as the hard-to-watch curbside death in AMERICAN HISTORY X - 1998) and then stabbing him through the neck, pinning him to the desk, a pool of blood slowly forming on the floor (This comes after a nerve-wracking scene of a mechanical doll rapidly approaching Giordani through a door in his office. It doesn't make much sense, but there's no denying that it is an effective, scary scene).
Marcus tells Gianna that he is not going to tell anyone (not even her) his next move, asking Gianna how the killer knew he was going to talk to Amanda. Marcus notices some strange foliage in the photo of the house and a florist tells him it's a rare plant only found on the Easter Islands, but one house nearby purchased it years ago. It leads Marcus to "The House Of The Screaming Child". He also notices something else in the photo: A window in the house that is no longer there. Long story short, it leads Marcus to a secret hidden room, containing the desiccated corpse of the murder victim from the beginning of the film. Before Marcus can investigate any further, he is knocked out and when he wakes up, Gianna is beside him and the house is in flames (an obvious model of the house). Marcus still has one final clue. It's a child's drawing depicting a murder that leads him to the archives of a school, where he discovers the child's name who drew it in the mid-1950s. Marcus believes he has the identity of the killer, but he is in for a rude awakening. I'm not about to tell you who the killer is (although they are mentioned in this review), but the way the killer is dispatched will come as quite the gory surprise to those who have only seen the abortive 100-minute edit of this film.
This may be Dario Argento's most visual film of his career, as the camera (cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller; strangely, his only film for Argento; he did the cinematography on Elio Petri's A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY ; Lucio Fulci's A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN ; and Lamberto Bava's BODY PUZZLE ) becomes a character unto itself. It glides over children's toys on a desktop, surprising us by then displaying murder weapons among the toys (including two switchblades with dried blood on the blades). It shows us the miniature tape recorder as it plays the haunting children's tune (music by Giorgio Gaslini and Goblin; BEYOND THE DARKNESS - 1979; this being their first music score for Argento; they would also supply music for his PHENOMENA  and SLEEPLESS ) and it glides across scenes like a low-flying cloud, giving the film a dreamy (or rather, nightmarish) quality lacking from most giallo films. There's no denying that Argento gets what he wants in a scene, because it is easy to see that many of the shots were well thought-out and achieved with plenty of sweat and imagination (especially how the camera glides across Marcus at the end of the film, as he is about to re-enter Helga's apartment). Like I said earlier, the walking mechanical doll may not make a lot of sense, but there's no disputing that it has a visceral energy that slaps the viewer across the face. Rather than making us mad, it actually shocks us. While I prefer the 105-minute cut of the film (maybe it's because it was the only version I saw before the full version was released on DVD & Blu-Ray, but more on that in the next paragraph), the 126-minute version does answer some nagging questions I always had with the film, like how Marcus knew the House With The Screaming Child contained plants indigenous to The Easter Islands (or how he knew about the plants and the house at all) and other reveals, which made no sense in the 105-minute version, but are cleared up in the 126-minute version. If you have never seen this film before, I would advise that you watch the most complete version so you won't have any questions when the film ends. This film also has some sublimely comic scenes, such as Gianni's junker of a car (and how Marcus and Gianna get out of it), what happens when Marcus tells Gianna that women are the "weaker" sex (They get into an arm wrestling contest and Gianna wins...twice!) and the way Martha keeps forgetting that Marcus is a pianist, referring to him over-and-over as an engineer. Those who think that Argento lacks a sense of humor should check this film out. The screenplay, by Argento and Bernardino Zapponi (PLOT OF FEAR - 1976), is full of little humorous asides, especially in the 126-minute version. This version contains a scene in the beginning when Marcus is teaching jazz to some students. He tells them they are playing extremely well, but jazz shouldn't be played "clean", it should be played "trashy", a telling moment about Marcus' frame of mind. The film is also full of nasty, gory violence. One scene I failed to mention is one character getting dragged behind a truck while attached to a chain. As the truck makes a sharp turn, his head smashes against a curb and a car runs over his head, crushing it like a grape. The cleaver attacks are also very gory, as is the killer's demise. Blood flows like a fine bottle of wine, leaving red puddles everywhere (especially in the closing shot). Need I say any more?
Filmed as PROFONDO ROSSO (a literal translation of the review title), this film was released theatrically in the United States by Howard Mahler Films in 1976 in the crappy R-Rated 100-minute version, which then made its way on VHS in the mid-'80s from HBO Video under the title DEEP RED - HATCHET MURDERS. This 100-minute version found it way to the Public Domain (PD), where it appeared in many DVD compilations, such as Mill Creek Entertainment's CHILLING CLASSICS 50 MOVIE PACK. We would have to wait until 2000 to see the complete 126-minute version, when Anchor Bay Entertainment released it on VHS & DVD. In 2007, Blue Underground released both the 105-minute and 126-minute versions on separate DVDs, with a Blu-Ray containing both versions in 2011. This review is based on the beautiful Blu-Ray released by Arrow Video in 2018, a 4K scan of the 126-minute version that looks ridiculously pristine (it actually runs a little over 127 minutes), like it was shot yesterday. It also contains a bonanza of extras, something that Arrow is known for, including a visit to Argento's Profondo Rosso shop in Rome, our tour guide being Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH - 1978), who is Argento's partner in the store. If you want to see the film the way Argento prefers you view it, this Blu-Ray is the only way to go. Sure, it is a little expensive (most Arrow titles are), but you'll be happy you have it as part of your film library. Also featuring Aldo Bonamano (SMILING MANIACS - 1975), Liana Del Bazo (CROSS CURRENT - 1971), Vittorio Fanfoni (EYEBALL - 1975), Jacopo Mariani (Argento's SUSPIRIA - 1977), cameo king Tom Felleghy (DAMNED IN VENICE - 1978), Fulvio Mingozzi (TRAGIC CEREMONY - 1972) and Nicoletta Elmi (WHO SAW HER DIE? - 1972) as twisted little girl Olga, who likes to stick pins in lizards (It disgusted some viewers and critics, even though Argento has gone on record saying it was a special effect and no lizards were harmed. I seem to remember a close-up of the lizard with a pin in its head, but it is missing from Arrow's Blu-Ray, only showing the twitching lizard in a medium shot.). Not Rated.
DEVIL'S COMMANDMENT (1957) -
I remember this film when it was shown on WPIX TV's (Channel 11)
Chiller Theater constantly through the '60s & early-'70s, then it
just up and disappeared. What I didn't remember was how adult the
story was, but how was a pre-teen suppose to understand that? It also
didn't help that when this black and white Italian Gothic film played
in the United States, both in theaters and TV, much of the adult
content was edited out and newly-shot footage added, yet it still
came in fifteen minutes short of the Italian edit. This modern day
Gothic horror film mixes mad scientists with vampires (well, not
really vampires, but a weird take on living eternally, or longer
living through chemistry), all taking place in a creepy castle with
(what else?) plenty of secret passages. Directed by Riccardo Freda (CALTIKI,
THE IMMORTAL MONSTER - 1959; THE
GHOST - 1963; DOUBLE FACE
- 1969; IGUANA
WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE - 1971; TRAGIC
CEREMONY - 1972; MURDER
OBSESSION - 1981) with an uncredited assist from
cinematographer Mario Bava (BLOOD
AND BLACK LACE - 1964; A
BAY OF BLOOD - 1971; SHOCK
- 1977), this film is an entertaining and atmospheric take on what it
means to live forever, as long as you don't mind killing virginal
young women to keep up appearances. And, oh, did I mention this was
the first Italian horror film of the "Talkies" era? Don't
worry, I will explain everything at the end of the review, but let's
get to the film proper.
The film begins with the body of a young woman being discovered floating in the Seine River on the outskirts of Paris, France. The coroner tells his assistants that her body has been totally drained of blood, yet there are no injuries on her body, just like the three other young women found murdered in Paris in as many weeks. Newspaper reporter Pierre Lantin (Dario Michaelis; THE MAD BUTCHER - 1972) is working on the story and has dubbed the killer "The Vampire", which gets on the nerves of Police Inspector Chantal (Carlo D'Angelo; THE GREAT SILENCE - 1968). Pierre knows that discovering the identity of the killer will be the greatest scoop of his career, so he is not beyond taking some barely legal shortcuts to achieve his goal, which is why the Inspector has such a low opinion of him.
We then see someone wearing black gloves opening a drawer and looking at the file of twenty-year-old Nora Duval. We then see Nora (Ronny Holiday), who is a dancer at a musical theater, telling her three female friends (also dancers) that she can't go out with them tonight; she has to wait at the theater for a phone call from her boyfriend. Nora is a nervous wreck, not helped by reading Pierre's latest newspaper story on the Vampire. The gloved man then enters the theater, walks up the stairs and enters the room Nora is in. He puts a chloroform-soaked rag over her nose and mouth and drags her unconscious body away (We also get a very good look at the man who is doing this in the mirror, the unmistakable visage of actor Paul Muller; LADY FRANKENSTEIN - 1971). When Nora never makes it home, the Inspector is called in and talks to the theater's concierge, who says that he went out for a bite to eat and when he came back to the theater, Nora was no longer there. The Inspector says that maybe Nora went out with her boyfriend, but Pierre shows up and tells the Inspector that Nora did not leave the theater willingly, showing him a copy of his latest newspaper story, whose headline reads, "Vampire Kidnaps Dancer From Theater." The Inspector tells Pierre he is getting ahead of the story, but Pierre says he can prove it, showing him a shoe that the concierge identifies as Nora's (If I were the Inspector, I would have arrested Pierre for tampering with evidence!). Pierre give the Inspector the shoe, telling him he found it in the theater's wings and then leaves, saying he has got other places to snoop around in (Pierre is so callous to the Inspector, no one would blame him for putting a bullet between his eyes!). The forensics doctor (a cameo by Freda) tells the Inspector that he has one good clue: all four victims had the same blood type and they all had traces of needle marks on their bodies with no signs of struggle. Now this is where there is some adult talk (missing from the U.S. version). The doctor tells the Inspector that not only doctors know how to use hypodermic needles, just think how skilled drug addicts and people who need to give themselves an injection every day are (like diabetics).
Pierre is talking to his photographer, Ronald (Angelo Galassi), when he notices some of the photos he took at one of the Vampire's crime scenes contain a man in the background who looks to be purposely hiding his face (we can see it is Nora's abductor). Pierre decides to talk to the latest dead girl's female school friends as they walk out of school, in hopes of coming up with a clue. Lorette (Wandisa Guida; THE SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS - 1982) tells Pierre that a man was following her the day her friend was murdered, describing him as tall and thin and wearing a topcoat. When Pierre shows her the photo Ronald took, Lorette says that is him. Pierre asks Lorette that if she saw him again, could she identify him and she says yes, she'll never forget the "dazed look" on his face. As Pierre is talking to the girls, a jealous Giselle du Grand (Gianna Maria Canale; HERCULES - 1958) pulls up in her car and calls for Pierre, telling him she feels as if he is neglecting her and he half-heartedly apologizes, saying the Vampire murders are keeping him busy (It is apparent by the look on Ronald's face, as he watches by a newspaper stand, that he has more than a passing fancy for Giselle, but she hardly notices him). Giselle accuses Pierre of being more interested in the schoolgirls than her and not-so-politely blackmails him to visit her in her castle tonight, otherwise she will call his boss and demand Pierre do a story on the castle. Pierre agrees to see her tonight because he knows that the du Grand family has a lot of political pull in Paris, but he is not happy about it. Ronald tells Pierre that the most beautiful woman in Paris just made eyes at him and he acts like he doesn't care, but Pierre tells Ronald it is a long story between their families and to leave it at that.
The man that kidnapped Nora is going through withdrawal on a bed, begging an unseen man for a fix, but the unseen man tells him if he wants his fix, he has to kidnap another young girl, showing him a photo of Lorette. He gives him the address where Lorette will be tonight and how to get into the building without being seen, giving him just a small injection of the drug and promising him a full fix when he kidnaps Lorette (This entire sequence is missing from the American edit). Pierre sees the man walking by Lorette's school and follows him to an apartment. He knocks on the door and the man answers, quickly closing the door when Pierre asks if a fictional man is there. Pierre takes a Polaroid of the apartment door, showing the apartment's number and then goes to the Inspector to tell him everything he knows. He brings the Inspector to the apartment building, but when they knock on the apartment door, a one-armed man answers, telling him he has been in this apartment all day and had no visitors. He tells the Inspector that he's a former police officer who lost his arm in the line of duty and has no idea what Pierre is talking about (even the window, which Pierre saw when the jonesing man answered the door, is now all bricked up!). How could all this have been done in a span of twenty minutes? Is Pierre losing his mind? The Inspector sure thinks so, calling Pierre a "meddler" and accusing him of looking for publicity at any cost.
The tall, lanky drug addict then goes to the office of Professor Julien du Grand (Antoine Balpetre; THE HANDS OF ORLAC - 1960), where we discover the addict's name is Joseph Signoret. He tells the Professor and his nameless club-footed assistant (Renato Tontini) that he has to leave town and he wants some money, a lot of money, otherwise he will tell the police everything. The Professor tells Joseph he has no idea what he is talking about, as the assistant sneaks up behind Joseph and strangles him with a piece of rubber hose. The elderly Margherita du Grand then enters the Professor's office and chides him for what has happened, telling him there is only one way he can save face and restore the good name of du Grand. The next day, newspaper headlines read "Professor Julien du Grand Dies Unexpectedly." Everyone important in Paris, except for Giselle, attends the Professor's funeral, held at the Du Grand Castle cemetery family mausoleum. One old man says to another that the Duchess Giselle never attends funerals, she never has. Ronald wonders why the elderly Margherita du Grand always covers her face with a black veil and Pierre tells him that no one has seen her face for a long, long time. Pierre goes on to say that Margherita was once a very beautiful woman who could never adjust to growing old. Margherita was in love with Pierre's father, but he hated her and wanted nothing to do with her. She was a heartless woman who destroyed Pierre's mother's life (It helps explain why Pierre wants nothing to do with Giselle, but if he knew the whole story, no one would blame him if he put a bullet between Giselle's eyes!). Think you know the secret? If you don't want to know, I would advise you skip the next three paragraphs.
Warning: SPOILERS!!! It turns out that the body buried in the Professor's tomb is not the Professor at all, but Joseph. Joseph's corpse is stolen from the tomb and brought to the secret castle laboratory run by a still-alive Professor du Grand, who is working on a way to extend human life eternally. Lorette meets a blind man on the street (who isn't really blind), who asks her to personally deliver a letter for him. When she delivers the letter, she is kidnapped and awakens in a room full of skeletons, apparent victims of the Vampire. Pierre's boss (who doesn't care too much for Pierre) takes him off the Vampire story and re-assigns him to cover a fancy ball at the Castle du Grand. Pierre is livid at Giselle, because he knows it was her that got him re-assigned (just like she promised). Pierre leaves the ball early, telling Ronald that he couldn't possibly love a womanlike Giselle, mainly for what her family did to his. Ronald sees this as his opportunity to profess his love to Giselle and tells Pierre he is staying, not knowing that he is about to discover a secret he will not get the chance to tell anyone else.
Ronald goes back to the ball and gets Giselle alone, where he professes his love for her. Giselle callously turns him down, saying neither she nor her family could possible accept a "commoner" like him into their family and, frankly, she has no interest in him whatsoever. As she is saying this, Ronald sees Giselle turn old before his very eyes, revealing Giselle and Margherita are the same person! She tells Ronald that each young girl that was killed restored her youthful beauty for a short time, but the times are getting shorter and shorter. Then she reaches for a pistol and shoots Ronald, killing him. Giselle then tells the Professor that he better perfect his serum so she can stay eternally young without growing old again. The Professor tells Giselle that the injections are playing havoc with her psyche and he thinks giving her another shot will make her lose her mind totally, but she doesn't care, she can't stand being old. The Professor takes some of Lorette's youthful beauty and injects it into Giselle.
Pierre begins to notice Giselle acting stranger than normal. A chance meeting on the street takes Giselle and Pierre to an antiques store where Pierre notices Giselle signing a check for a painting with the wrong hand (She is right-handed, but signs her name with her left hand). Things turn really bad when a revived Joseph wakes up in the Professor's lab and escapes. Pierre brings Joseph to the police station, where he confesses to kidnapping the young women, but tells the Inspector he didn't kill them, the Professor and his assistant did. Pierre, the Inspector and his men search the castle and find nothing, but as they are about to leave, a totally wigged-out Giselle (who is taunting Pierre and the Inspector for finding nothing) begins to turn old before their very eyes, transforming into Margherita. Not believing his own eyes, the Inspector tells his men to make a more thorough search of the castle, where they find the Professor's hidden laboratory, resulting in a gun battle, where the Professor and his assistant are shot dead. They open the Professor's tomb and find Lorette inside, still alive, and send her home with her father. And what about Giselle? The Inspector tells Pierre a few days later (wrapping-up the film) that he arrested Giselle and put her in a jail cell, where she died of old age a short time later. END OF SPOILERS!!!
If it seems that this film's finale seems rushed, it is because director Riccardo Freda went into one of his patented snits and stormed off set (just like he did on CALTIKI), never to return, with the film only half finished, leaving cinematographer Mario Bava to rewrite the script (screenplay by Freda, Piero Regnoli [director of THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE - 1960; and screenwriter of THE THIRD EYE - 1966 and many more horror film] and Rijk Sijostrom [his only film credit]) and complete the film in two days (this film only had a twelve day shooting schedule). A lot of people credit this film for jump-starting the Italian horror film industry, since Benito Mussolini banned horror films in the '30s & '40s for stupid reasons relating to the beginning of World War II (and being scared to death when watching Karloff's FRANKENSTEIN  in a theater!) and this was the first talking Italian horror film (which is reason enough to give it a place in history), but the fact is this film tanked at the Italian boxoffice and lost money. It wouldn't be until Bava released BLACK SUNDAY in 1960 that Italian horror films caught fire (and rightfully so). That's not to say this film doesn't contain some good stuff, because it does. Bava's black and white cinematography is beyond reproach, evoking an eerie atmospheric vibe in every fog-shrouded location (even though it was set in Paris, the entire film was shot on stages in Rome, Italy). This film was also shot in CinemaScope, a rarity for an Italian genre film and Bava takes full advantage of the extremely wide frame. The film looks rather expensive, even though it was a low-budget affair shot in two weeks. Like I said in the beginning of this review, this film's plot is very adult in terms of drugs and addiction. Turns out it was a little too adult for American audiences because when it was released here in 1963 (under the review title), a full six years after it was made, all scenes depicting drug use and addiction were excised from the film and replaced with newly-shot footage, some of it featuring Al Lewis, "Grandpa" on TV's THE MUNSTERS (1964 - 1966). Most of the original sequences were drastically shortened and it contained a new opening credits sequence, as well as a new five minute sequence of a young woman being killed in a restaurant, yet the original film's 85-minute running time was shortened to 70 minutes. This review is based on the uncut Italian version, which doesn't cater to prudes or those easily offended. Those that are should watch the American edit instead, which, surprisingly, contains new footage that treads closely to female nudity in the opening credits sequence. I guess near-nudity was more acceptable than drug use. This film is actually a modern take on the Elizabeth Bathory legend, which was covered in such films as COUNTESS DRACULA (1971), DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971) and THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE (1972), but instead of bathing in the blood of virgins to keep her youth, she just steals their youth with a simple injection (the film fails to mention if the murdered girls were virgins, but their friends certainly were!). There are a couple of horrifying transformation scenes in this film, done with an eye for shocking the audience and it succeeds. The transformation scenes would still work in films today, because they are that good. This may be the first Italian-made horror film in the Sound Era, but it delivers in spades with shocks and scares.
Shot as and known around the world as I VAMPIRI ("The Vampires") and also known as LUST OF THE VAMPIRE, LADY VAMPIRE and EVIL'S COMMANDMENT, this film was released to U.S. theaters under the review title in 1963 by Releasing Corporation of Independent Producers (RCIP), shorn of over 25 minutes with nearly ten minutes of new footage and a new opening credits sequence added, showing how the first girl found floating in the Seine was murdered. As far as I could tell, this film never had a legitimate VHS release in the United States, although there were many "gray market" VHS releases by outfits such as Something Weird and Sinister Cinema, all the U.S. cut of the film. The uncut Italian version did obtain a DVD release in the United States through Image Entertainment in 2001 (with a 2012 re-release). It contained stills of the American insert footage. There have been no updated discs since then, but if you have an All Region player, Germany offers both versions on DVD. The uncut Italian version was offered streaming on YouTube by user "Horror Realm" in a very nice widescreen print in Italian with English subtitles, but, unfortunately, Horror Realm was sent to "YouTube Jail" for uploading licensed films he had no right to upload and trying to bypass licensing rules by only italicizing the titles. Stupid move. This is one film that is screaming for a Blu-Ray release with all the bells and whistles. Also featuring Charles Fawcett (Freda's THE WITCH'S CURSE - 1962), Miranda Campa (THE FOURTH VICTIM - 1971) and Gisella Mancinotti as one of Lorette's schoolgirl friends. Not Rated.
DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE (1971) -
Crackling good Italy/Belgium horror flick that uses the Seven Deadly
Sins as a means of disposing people (Much in the same way as THE
REDEEMER  and SE7EN
 did. It makes me wonder if they used this film as a blueprint.).
Berlin 1945: Allied Forces begin bombing the European capital of evil, where a woman is just about to give birth, overseen by Nazi Baron Von Rhoneberg (Jean Servais; BLACK JESUS - 1968). As the building begins to crumble around them, the woman (whom we find out is the Baron's wife) gives birth, the Baron asking if it is a boy. The midwife (Frédérique Hender) tells him it's a girl and the Baron looks deeply troubled. He tells everyone to leave the building and go to safety, he will take care of the baby. He christens the baby girl "Camilla Von Rhoneberg" and then kills her with a cerimonial dagger. The credits then appear and we then see the Baron in modern day (at least in 1971), talking to a female psychiatrist (Yvonne Garden), who wants to take photos of the Baron's castle, which he flat-out prohibits her from doing. She goes to the castle anyway, snapping away with her camera. She will suddenly realise that she should have listened to the Baron, as a metal spear comes out of nowhere to puncture one of her car's tires and something chases her into the woods, killing her.
A busload of tourists are traveling down a road when their path is blocked by a roadblock. The bus driver, Max Ducha (Christian Maillet), asks a strange-looking pale man (Daniel Emilfork; THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN - 1995), who is attending to a controlled fire with a pitchfork, how long it will take them to get to their intended destination and he replies that they will have to take a ferry, but it doesn't leave until tomorrow. He tells them to go to the Baron's castle and he'll give them room and board for the night. We then see some people carrying the psychiatrist's dead body into town, where a doctor says she probably died of a heart attack. The doctor says, by the look on her face, she died from fear and his assistant points to a strange wound on her arm. An old woman says, "It's the mark of the Devil!" and then crosses herself.
The tourists arrive at the castle, where Corinne (Ivana Novak; THE BIG BUST-OUT - 1972) is nearly beaned on her head by a piece of a stone gargoyle that falls from the castle. The front door of the castle opens on its own and Regine (Shirley Corrigan; CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT - 1972) is frightened by a frog that crosses her path. The Baron's butler, Hans (Maurice Degroot), welcomes the group and tells them he was expecting them, as a woman called and said they were coming, even telling him their names. Hans shows Father Alvin Sorel (Jacques Monseu), a theology student who is not yet a priest, to his room, telling him to be careful where he places his suitcase, because this room has the mark of the Devil (the same symbol that was on the psychiatrist's arm) on the floor next to the fireplace. Hans gives him a history of his room. The mark dates back to December 8, 1575, the date Erika Von Rhoneberg plunged a knife into a monk's heart, who was performing an exorcism her. Erika then disappeared, leaving this mark of the Devil.
Hans then shows married couple Howard (Lorenzo Terzon; LADY FRANKENSTEIN - 1971) and Nancy Foster (Colette Emmanuelle) to their room and they find an unconscious pigeon on the floor. Hans then tells them the history of their room. In 1436, Prince and Princess Hart had their throats cut when they were sleeping (He sure has a way of making guests feel comfortable!). Hans then shows Max to his room (while stroking the pigeon!) and then shows the elderly Mr. Mason (Lucien Raimbourg) to his room, where he complains that the room is stuffy. Hans says there is nothing he can do about it since the window is sealed shut and then continues to tell him why. The window has been sealed since 1738, when Lily Von Rhoneberg fell to her death from that window. Hans then shows Corinne and Regine to their room (Regine is too scared to sleep alone and I can't blame her, but we find out there is another reason!).
We then see the Baron in a laboratory in the castle basement, where is is performing some unknown (for now) experiment. We then see Max pull sausage and salami from his suitcase (He is always stuffing his face with something), while Corinne and Regine have a lesbian encounter. Nancy accuses Howard of cheating on her, going as far to say that he only married her for her money (Howard makes a half-hearted remark denying it). The Baron introduces himself to the group over dinner, where he gives his guests a history of the Von Rhoneberg family line. "In the 12th century, my ancestor, Sigfried Von Rhoneberg, is said to have signed a pact with the Devil. In exchange for his services, Satan demanded that the eldest daughter of each generation of my family will will be in his service, where she'll become a succubus." Father Alvin explains to everyone what a succubus is: Demons that adopt a feminine appearance in order to seduce man and lead him to perdition. Howard and Mr. Mason don't believe in such things, so Father Alvin asks them if they believe in the Devil. They do not reply. Regine asks the Baron if he has a daughter and all he can do is give her a forlorn look.
The castle housekeeper (who was the midwife in the beginning of the film) recognises Corinne and says to her that she was told never to come to the castle again. Who is she really? The castle is thrown in to a state of turmoil when the phone goes dead and the castle is visited by Lisa Müller (Erika Blanc; A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE - 1973), a sexy young woman in an even sexier outfit who is obviously a succubus. The castle's harmonium begins to play by itself while Father Alvin and Mr. Morris play chess, with Lisa making not-so-subtle advances to the good Father. Howard hits on Corinne and she agrees to meet him behind the stairs at midnight. Nancy, who fancies herself somewhat knowledgable in the art of magic, insist on seeing the Baron's laboratory. We then find out that the Baron is trying to turn lead into gold without the aid of the legendary Philosopher's Stone. Then the shit goes off the rails. Regina screams and everyone runs to her room, where she has a bloody wound on her arm and she doesn't know how it got there. They then hear another scream and run downstairs, finding a dead cat impaled on an ancient torture device. Lisa suddenly appears in Father Alvin's bed, strips naked and tries to temp the not-quite-Father, but he is able to resist her ample charms and she disappears. Father Alvin reads an old book on the Rhoneberg Curse and learns a lot, maybe too much. Since Lisa wasn't successful with Father Alvin, she turns her attention to Max, tempting him with his favorite food and drink. Since Max's sin is GLUTTONY, he eats himself to death, while Lisa smiles and turns a deadly shade of white. Nancy wants Howard to help her look for gold in the Baron's laboratory, but he has other plans, meeting Corinne at the appointed place and time. Nancy's sin is GREED and as she searches for what she thinks is a fortune in gold, Lisa has her drown in a pool of gold dust. Howard and Corinne's sin is LUST and they also meet fitting ends at the hands of Lisa. Can you guess what the other sins that the guests are guilty of (SLOTH, WRATH, ENVY and PRIDE are left)? It's all in this review. Father Alvin makes a deal with the Devil (the strange-looking man he saw carrying the pitchfork by the fire earlier in the film) to get all the guests to return to life, but he will learn that there is no easy deal when it comes to Satan.
I have seen this film at least a dozen times and it never gets old. What is amazing to me is that director Jean Brisme'e (that's the way it is spelled in the opening credits) never made anything else of note before or after this. That's a shame, because he shows a sure hand with the material, especially in the way he depicts the guests' major sins and the way they die because of it. It's the minor details here that makes the film so enjoyable to watch, such as Regine's death by snake (A lesbian killed by a snake? How's that for symbolism?!?). While much of the symbolism in this film will go over many people's heads, those that are attuned to such things will be richly rewarded. The screenplay, by Patrice Rhomm (Director/screenwriter of FRAULEIN DEVIL - 1977, as "Mark Starr") & Pierre-Claude Garnier (Director of TANGO OF PERVERSION - 1974) is that perfect blend of horror and atmosphere which many films try to achieve, but which few films are able to deliver. This is definitely a thinking man's horror film, but casual viewers should enjoy it, too. It works on both fronts.
Filmed as LA PLUS LONGUE NUIT DU DIABLE ("The Longest Night Of The Devil") and also known under a slew of titles, including THE DEVIL WALKS AT MIDNIGHT, CASTLE OF DEATH and SUCCUBUS. This film had a U.S. theatrical release in the early-'70s (from Hemisphere Pictures) as part of a double bill with the British film IN THE DEVILS GARDEN (a.k.a. THE CREEPERS - 1971), which is how I first saw it. Motion Picture Marketing (MPM) the released it to theaters in the early-'80s under the inappropriate title VAMPIRE PLAYGIRLS. It also had many VHS releases, also under many titles, from labels like Saturn Productions, AIR Video, Regal Video, Monterey Home Video and many others. Since this film is in the Public Domain (PD), it has had many fullscreen budget DVD releases, as well as a few widescreen releases, from Image Entertainment and Redemption Films. My review is based on the uncut widescreen print on Mill Creek Entertainment's PURE TERROR 50 FILM CLASSIC FEATURES DVD compilation. It is the uncut English-dubbed Italian print, containing both the baby stabbing and the lesbian encounter, scenes missing from the U.S. theatrical version, all the U.S. VHS versions and most of the budget DVD releases. The print is sharp and blemish-free, something unusual coming from Mill Creek. No Blu-Ray at the time of this review. The theatrical version was Rated R, but this version is Not Rated.
BUTCHER M.D. (MEDICAL DEVIATE)
(1980) - "...and He Makes House Calls!" Retire all your
blurry and dark Paragon
fullscreen VHS tapes of this Americanized version of ZOMBIE
HOLOCAUST (released by Terry Levene's Aquarius
Releasing in 1981) because Severin Films found vault elements of
this much-requested title in New York and released it on a two-disc Blu-Ray
set (with the original Italian film, which was previously released
on DVD by Shriek Show with a reversible cover), loaded with great
extras that brought back long-suppressed memories of my time seeing
films in Times Square. I prefer this version over the original or one
reason: Walter E. Sear's effective electronic music score, which adds
a lot to what is basically a mash-up of Italian cannibal and
zombie genres, making the film move at a much quicker pace (Nico
Fidenco's score in the original adds nothing to the film in my opinion).
The film opens with unrelated footage from an unfinished 7-part 1978 zombie anthology film called TALES THAT WILL TEAR YOUR HEART OUT (There is more footage of this film as an extra on the Blu-Ray, where we also learn Wes Craven was also one of the seven directors). We then watch as some disguised stranger enters the morgue of a teaching hospital in New York City, where he saws off the hand of a male corpse. This hospital has been experiencing a series of missing body parts and organs, so they set up a trap for the thief. We then see the thief cut out the heart of a still-living patient (some trap!) and begins to eat it, but he is caught by Dr. Drydock (Walter Patriarca; CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE - 1980) and it turns out he is an orderly at the hospital named Toran (Turam Quibo; ADIOS SABATA - 1970, using the name "Joseph Persaud"), a native of the Moluccas tribe in the West Indies who pray to Kito, the Cannibal God. Before Dr. Drydock can question him, Toran bolts and jumps through a hospital window, falling to his death (an obvious dummy loses its right arm when it hits the pavement!). Nurse Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli; NEW YORK RIPPER - 1982) notices that Toran has the symbol of Kito tattooed on his chest, a symbol that represents a tribe of cannibals in the Moluccas Islands. Lori knows this because she is an anthropology nut and she has a ceremonial dagger with the symbol of Kito hanging on a wall in her home (it ends up missing).
We then see Lori traveling to the West Indies with Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch; CONTAMINATION - 1980), N.Y. Express reporter Susan Kelly (Sherry Buchanan; EYES BEHIND THE STARS - 1977), whose newspaper is financing this expedition, and jack-of-all-trades George Harper (Peter O'Neal; his only film), Once they arrive on one of the islands, they are greeted by Dr. Obrero (Donald O'Brien; GHOSTHOUSE - 1987) and he assigns Molotto (Dakar; real name: Alejandro Dakar; ATOR, THE FIGHTING EAGLE - 1982) to guide them on their expedition to find the tribe that worship Kito. That night, Lori finds a severed, rotting head (complete with maggots) in her bed, along with the symbol of Kito drawn in blood on the sheet. Dr. Obrero assures Lori that if the natives wanted her dead she would be dead (How comforting!). The next morning they begin their expedition through the jungle (without Dr. Obrero), but it is obvious that Molotto is not leading them to their intended destination.
The party lose some of their native crew to spiked booby-traps and they are eventually taken prisoner by a tribe of cannibals, who devour George alive (they slice open George's stomach and chow down on his intestines; they even poke out his eyes with their fingers and eat them!), but just when it looks like curtains for Peter and Lori (Susan is nowhere to be found), some rotting zombies appear in the jungle and scare the cannibals away. Lori, Peter and Molotto run quickly through the jungle and discover that Dr. Obrero is waiting for them. Just what is he doing in the jungle? Peter grows suspicious of Dr. Obrero and rightfully so. It seems the not-so-good doctor wants them to leave the island as quickly as possible. But just what exactly is he up to? Peter aims to find out and takes Lori with him (they decline Dr. Obrero's offer to have Molotto show them the way). After surviving zombie attacks and other jungle booby-traps (Peter kills one zombie with the spinning blades of an outboard motor to its head), they finally discover what Dr. Obrero is doing. They think they see Susan, but it turns out to be a zombie wearing Susan's scalp! We see Dr. Obrero operating on a still-alive (but hairless and scalpless) Susan (he cuts her vocal cords because her screams annoy him!). Dr. Obrero is actually the Dr. Butcher of the title and he is trying to transplant living brains into dead bodies, thereby being the first person to successfully perform a brain transplant. All his previous tries have been failures (which is why there are zombies everywhere) and he tells Peter that he hopes to expand human life by over a hundred years, but he believes he needs civilized brains for his operation to be successful. He plans on using Peter's brain to reach his goal. Will Dr. Butcher be successful?
Filmed on the same sets as director Lucio Fulci's gut-munching classic ZOMBIE (1979; also starring Ian McCulloch), this film bears striking similarities to that movie. They both contain extreme gore and eating of body parts, the zombie makeups are nearly the same (although both are done by different special effect makeup artists) and contain some amazing nudity from the female cast (Alexandra Delli Colli does a totally nude sequence at the end of the film that will remind fans of cannibal cinema of Ursula Andress' scene in MOUNTAIN [SLAVE] OF THE CANNIBAL GOD - 1978. Alexandra is a beautiful woman and this is why nudity is important in horror films!). This was director Marino Girolami's (VIOLENT ROME - 1975; A SPECIAL COP IN ACTION - 1976; ROME: THE OTHER SIDE OF VIOLENCE - 1976), here using his "Frank Martin" pseudonym, only horror film (he passed away in 1994). He was the father of exploitation vets, director Enzo G. Castellari (THE LAST SHARK - 1981; THE NEW BARBARIANS - 1983; LIGHT BLAST - 1985) and actor Ennio Girolami (THE FEAST OF SATAN - 1971; DAY OF THE COBRA - 1980). The screenplay of DR. BUTCHER was written by Romano Scandariato (EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS [a.k.a. TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM] - 1977) based on a story by Fabrizio De Angelis, director/writer of such films as OPERATION NAM (1989) and KILLER CROCODILE (1989).
But the real treat on this double Blu-Ray set is not the films at all, but the interview with 86 year-old Terry Levene, who regales us with the history of Aquarius Releasing (They distributed some of the goriest Italian films during the '70s, including the unredeemable BURIED ALIVE [a.k.a. BEYOND THE DARKNESS - 1979; just listening to Levene's opinion of this film is worth the price of admission!], MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY [a.k.a. CANNIBAL FEROX - 1981] and 7 DOORS OF DEATH [a.k.a. THE BEYOND - 1981], all heavy moneymakers for Aquarius). Levene looks like a balding and slightly overweight Jewish man who has a fondness for saying "So on and so forth...", yet his knowledge of the films he distributed and the history of "The Deuce" (Times Square) are second to none. I could have watched him talking for over two hours and be satisfied with my purchase (Levene had an office above the Selwyn Theater, located in the heart of The Deuce, where I originally saw this film.), but there are many other extras on the disc, including: a tour of Times Square with Temple Of Schlock's Chris Poggiali and filmmaker Roy Frumkes (STREET TRASH - 1987), who share many stories about their time at the Deuce; an entertaining interview with Gore Gazette's Rick Sullivan, who discusses the William Castle-like promotion he did for this film (The "Butchermobile', a flatbed truck where Psychotronic Video's Michael Weldon played a victim to Gary Hertz's Doctor Butcher, while Sullivan ballyhooed the film over a loud speaker), his encounters with Bill Landis (whom I have nothing but bad memories of, but that's a story for another day) and the U.S. Postal Service raiding his house for selling underage VHS videos of Traci Lords (Sullivan said one Postal Agent told him, "If you used UPS, we wouldn't be here"!); and so much more. This may be my favorite Blu-Ray set of all time (it even comes with a replica barf bag, which was originally handed out to patrons when it played in Aquarius Theaters). Thanks, Severin, for bringing back all those memories I long thought I forgot! Everyone who has ever stepped foot in Times Square should search out this Blu-Ray. It's essential. The film is Unrated. USELESS TRIVIA DEPT: When Rick Sullivan's house was raided, he turned over his film library to my friend Mike Decker, who runs the gray market site Just For The Hell Of It Video (www.j4hi.com). Sullivan disappeared from the horror zine field, but unlike most gray market DVD-R sites, Mike's site is still going strong. He has the best copies of some hard-to-find titles at a reasonable price. I recommend you use him. NOTE: Rick Sullivan passed away in December 2017.
DOCTOR DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS (1973) - "Enter that body! Enter that body! I command you, enter that body!" Once you hear this phrase, be prepared to laugh hysterically. This little gem from the early 70's should fail on every level. It's statically filmed like a 70's TV movie. The acting is so broad that it becomes hard to overlook. And the plot is so absurd that it is laughable. Guess what? I believe that all these points are deliberate and gel together beautifully. Fred Saunders (Barry Coe) loses his beautiful wife Laura (Jo Morrow) in an automobile accident. Before she dies, she promises Fred that she will somehow come back and be with him. He preserves her body and places it in a tomb where he instructs the caretaker, Franz (Jim Boles), to leave it unlocked so he can come back and look at her body. An obsessed Fred tries to find a way to bring his wife back from the dead, visiting a phony medium and a crazy death-worshipping cult, with no success (but much enjoyment for the viewer). He then spots an ad in an alternative newspaper advertising a way to reincarnate souls. He answers the ad and meets Tana (Florence "QUEEN OF BLOOD" Marley), a representative for a doctor that can solve Fred's problem. She takes him to a demonstration given by Doctor Death (John Considine), who has found a way to transfer souls from murdered bodies to corpses! His demo consists of transfering the soul of a horribly-scarred girl (who he saws in half simply for the "theatrics") to the body of a dead beautiful girl. When she rises to life, Fred at first rejects the notion of transferring another soul to his wife's body ("It won't actually be her coming back to life, will it?" he asks the Doctor) but soon relents since he misses her so much. Doctor Death and his facially-scarred mute servant Thor (Leon Askin) then murder Tana in front of Fred, buy throwing a knife into her heart (theatrics again). Fred, who is horrified, wants nothing to do with it but is forced by Doctor Death to go along. When the good doctor tries to transfer Tana's soul into Laura, it is unsuccessful, because Laura's will, even in death, is too strong. Fred sees this as a sign to stop but Doctor Death sees this merely as a challenge and soon (unbeknownst to Fred) begins murdering young girls in various ways, capturing their souls and, time after time, failing miserably in transferring their souls to Laura's body (this is where the phrase at the top of this review comes into play.). Meanwhile, Fred has moved on and begins dating his secretary Sandy (Cheryl Miller). When Fred is delivered a severed head of one of the murdered girls to his office by Doctor Death (who leaves a note telling Fred that he will complete their contract no matter how many girls he has to kill), Fred springs into action and, with his physician friend Greg (Stewart Moss) and a couple of policemen, sets out to stop Doctor Death. Unfortunately, Doctor Death has kidnapped Sandy and is slowly bleeding her to death, in hopes that her soul will be the final one he needs to bring Laura back to life. Will Fred arrive in time and stop Doctor Death? This wonderful little-seen gem delights in so many ways that it should be viewed by all lovers of 70's horror. Surprisingly, it is nudity-free (but full of beautiful women in various state of undress) and the blood doesn't really flow until about the 45 minute mark. When it does come, it is shocking and hysterical at the same time. When Doctor Death is stabbed in the stomach by a young man he has attacked, his blood squirts on the man's face, melting it like acid! There are various other bloody bits that earned it an R-rating when regionally released to theaters in 1973. I'll leave them for you to discover. The real standout here is John Considine (THE THIRSTY DEAD - 1974, and long-time soap opera actor), whose over-the-top portrayal as Doctor Death lifts this film from simple black comedy to the overly surreal. He digs his nails into this role and the viewer is greatly rewarded for the experience. I was laughing constantly at his failed attempts to revive Laura. Director Eddie Saeta, who died in 2005, sadly never directed another theatrical film (he previously directed a couple of series TV episodes) but was a jack-of-all-trades in motion pictures, being producer, assistant director and production manager on many major films right up till his death. As I said earlier, the film has a TV-movie look, but switches to almost dream-like sequences at the most unexpected moments (such as Fred's visit to the death-worshipping cult), throwing the viewer for a loop. Silver-haired Stooge Moe Howard (his last role) makes a cameo as an audience member who assists Doctor Death in confirming that a woman's body is dead (and makes a sexual quip about the experience) as does horror host Larry "Seymour" Vincent, who appears as a killer in a film shown on a victim's television. Add a finale that is creepy (and should have spawned a sequel but, alas, it never happened) and you have a great unsung minor classic that has managed to stay mostly unseen (at least in the New York area) for over 30 years. A Prism Entertainment Home Video VHS Release. Also released on widescreen DVD by Scorpion Releasing, in a stunning high definition master. Rated R.
DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973) - I have always loved this film the many times I have seen it in theaters (under a littany of titles; I consider this film just as important as I DRINK YOUR BLOOD ; LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT ; and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE  as an influential film from my teenage years of going to theaters during the 70's), on VHS and then on Public Domain DVD compilations, so I always hoped that someone, anyone, would release a widescreen version, since all we have gotten over the years were dupey-looking fullscreen versions. Film Chest announced a "Digitally Remastered" DVD version late in 2014, and while it looks better than most versions of the film, it was still the fullscreen version. I've actually had people tell me that it was filmed in fullscreen, but they are full of shit because I have seen this film at least ten times in theaters and it most certainly was in widescreen. I think most companies don't want to release a widescreen version because they think that the fullscreen version has saturated the market and no one will buy it, but just look at Code Red's widescreen version of SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972), which they released in widescreen after nearly every DVD compilation company had their fullscreen version and companies will see that there is success in releasing PD features in their proper aspect ratio, as long as some time is taken to restore the film (like Code Red did). Even though Texan director/producer S.F. Brownrigg only did a handful of films, they were memorable films, not just because they were sleazy (which they certainly were), but because they were also well-acted by a cast faithful to Brownrigg, who would appear in nearly every film he did (and a lot of the actors go back to the 60's Texas exploitation scene, where they were just as committed to Larry Buchannan). This is Brownrigg's first film (shot in 12 days on a budget of $100,000) and it is still my favorite (although his POOR WHITE TRASH PART II  runs a very close second). The film is quite complex in its storyline: The film opens with Nurse Jane (Jessie Lee Fulton) telling the head psychiatrist at Stephens Sanitorium, Dr. Stephens (Michael Harvey), that she can't stay on any longer and she is leaving because she finds his methods of dealing with patients too unsettling. For instance, he has the violent Judge Oliver W. Cameron (Gene Ross, who is simply terrific in the entire film and will send chills down your spine) chopping a log with an axe to release his aggressions, but he sneaks behind Dr. Stephen while he is taking to Nurse Jane and plants the axe in his back, killing him. Dr. Masters (Anne MacAdams) tells everyone to keep Dr. Stephens' death a secret, at least for now. We are introduced to the patients: Harriett (Camilla Carr), a mentally unstable woman who keeps a doll and treats it as her baby. When someone steals the doll and puts it in Nurse Jane's bedroom, Harriett kills her. Sergeant Jaffee (Hugh Feagin), who spends every night looking out his bedroom window with binoculars, trying to spot "Them". Danny (Jessie Kirby), an always-laughing young red-headed adult who gets off on stealing Harriett's doll and playing practical jokes on the rest of the patients and crew. Jennifer (Maryette Warren), a very bashful girl who needs someone to open her up (that person will be arriving shortly). Judge Cameron (who we had the pleasure of meeting in the beginning of the film), who is always passing judgment on the patients and the staff. Allyson (Betty Chandler), who is such a nymphomaniac, if it has two legs, she'll fuck it. And finally, the hulking black man Sam (William Bill McGhee), who loves Dr. Masters just as much as he loves Popsicles and will do pretty much what Dr. Masters says. Even though he's the biggest patient of the bunch, he's just a gentle giant. Arriving at the Stephens Sanitorium is Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik), who Dr. Stephens hired as a nurse before he was murdered. This worries Dr. Masters very much, but when Charlotte mentions that maybe she should go to the local police to report Dr. Stephens missing, Dr. Masters hires her rather reluctantly. It is then that Charlotte meets the final patient in the Sanitorium, the elderly Mrs. Callingham (Rhea MacAdams, who could scare the white off of rice; she was in her upper 80's when she took this role), who warns Charlotte, "Get out! Get out! And never ever come back for any reason!" (It scared the shit even out of me!). Charlotte is introduced to the rest of the patients, who welcome her with open arms, especially Sam and Jennifer (who is rather schizophrenic). Dr. Masters mentions to Charlotte that she will be sleeping on the same floor as the patients, because Dr. Stephens thought both patients and staff should live side-by-side with no locks on the doors (this is unheard of in every sanitorium in the world!). The next morning, Nurse Charlotte checks up on old Mrs. Callingham, only to discover her on the floor, her face all bloody and her tongue missing. Dr. Masters tells Charlotte that Mrs. Callingham was into self-mutilation, but when Charlotte asks where her tongue is, Dr. Masters says she probably ate it! (A conversation I don't remember being in any version I ever saw). The phones haven't been working for several days (I wonder why?) and Dr. Masters says she will take care of it, but when she doesn't and telephone repairman Ray Daniels (Robert Dracup) shows up on his own and asks Dr. Masters why she never reported it (seems like the phone company noticed the outage on their own and decided to check it out), Dr. Masters has no choice but to let him fix the phones, but not before chewing him out for talking to the patients. The phone board is in a closet and nymphomaniac Allyson traps him in there (and makes him promise to marry her) and we have to let our imaginations take over as to what happens. Next, for some unknown reason, Jennifer tries to stab Charlotte with a knife (I told you she was schizophrenic), but Dr. Masters slaps her in the face (very unusual treatment by a doctor to her patient). Dr. Masters then finds a handwritten note in Sergeant Jaffee's room (we are not allowed to read it), so she crumples it up. sets it on fire and makes the Sergeant hold it in his hand untils it burns out completely (Say, what kind of doctor is Doctor Masters? Doctor of Sadism?). Sam wants to tell Charlotte what happened to Dr. Stephens, but he gives her Dr. Stephens' pocket watch and hopes she figures it out on her own. Danny tries to rape Charlotte (so much for not having locks on the doors), but Judge Cameron is her savior and tosses Danny out of her room (He may be a killer, but he does have a conscience). Some drugs end up missing from the Infirmary (located in Dr. Masters' office), so Dr. Masters checks everyone's rooms and finds the drugs in Jennifer's bureau drawer (which would explain her schizophrenia). Jennifer enters Dr. Masters' offices and sees the drugs on her desk, but before she can steal them again, someone shoves her head on one of those pointy note holders, which pierces her eye and goes into her brain, killing her (what kind of Sanitorium has a pointy note holder?). Sam finds phone repairman's Ray Daniel's body in a closet (his throat has been cut) and Allyson freaks out. Allyson tells Charlotte that Dr. Masters is actually a patient pretending to be a doctor and that is why the phones are still not fixed. She will not let anyone enter or leave the asylum alive. It seems that the inmates have been running the asylum for some time now and inmate "Dr. Masters" is the executioner. Judge Cameron tells Charlotte that everyone voted and decided that she would be one of the inmates, which will save her life from being murdered by Dr. Masters. Charlotte naturally becomes concered and first asks Mrs. Callingham if Dr. Masters cut out her tongue. She shakes her head yes. Screwball loony Danny scares the shit out of Charlotte, so she runs upstairs to Allyson's room, where Allyson is making love to Ray Daniels' corpse. Allyson has a bloody face and says to Charlotte, "You shouldn't interrupt us on our wedding night!" Charlotte is naturally repulsed and gets the dry heaves, so she runs downstairs to Dr. Masters' office and sees the body of Jennifer with the pointy note holder still impaled in her eye. A bunch of other stuff happens that leads to Charlotte trying to find Sam in the basement and discovering the rotting body of Dr. Stephens. Dr. Masters then puts Charlotte on a bed and tells Sam to kill her, but Sam likes Charlotte too much and leads her outside to safety. Meanwhile, all the other patients, who are carrying axes and knives, corner Dr. Masters in the bedroom and begin chopping and stabbing away at her while she is lying on the bed (if you look close enough, you can see one of the rubber axe blades fall off the handle!). When Sam returns and sees what they have done to his beloved Dr. Masters, he kills them all, their bodies in different states of bloodiness. Sam goes downstairs to the kitchen, cries and eats a Popsicle, his second favorite thing in the whole world. The film ends with Mrs. Callingham saying directly to the audience, "Get out! And never ever come back!" (Still scary as fuck!). Sure the film is hokey, but it has one of those regional sleaze factors not found in many films. Brownrigg made all his films in Texas using Texas talent and, for the most part, they were damn fine actors. I believe Gene Ross was the most successful of Brownrigg's stock players, as he made both independent productions (THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK - 1972; ENCOUNTER WITH THE UNKNOWN - 1973), Hollywood films (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER - 1984; THE GOONIES - 1985; David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY - 1997) and plenty of TV episodes (including HILL STREET BLUES in 1984 and CAGNEY & LACEY in 1986). You can tell by his role as Judge Cameron in this film that he had real talent. He is a murderer, who we also feel pity for and he is not just a crazy mental patient without a soul. Some of his scenes, especially his discussions with Dr. Masters, are true forms of acting usually not found in films of this type. Gene Ross is still alive today (at least at the time of this review), but he hasn't done anything since 1999. Screenwriter Tim Pope (his only screenplay) went on to be a successful director of music videos, for musicians and bands such as Queen, The Cure, Men Without Hats, The Pretenders, The Bangles, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Ric Okasek and even directed the movie THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS (1996). Originally released as THE FORGOTTEN, the film did less than mediocre business. It was only when Hallmark Releasing (and American International Pictures) got a hold of it and renamed it DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT with their often-used tag line "It's only a movie...It's only a movie..." did the film take off and make bundles of money, none of which Brownrigg ever saw. It was also later released as DEATH WARD NO. 13 and THE SNAKE PIT to get audiences to think they were watching new films. I enjoyed this film no matter what title it was released under. Out of all the U.S. VHS releases this film had, (from VCI Entertainment [who also released a poor DVD] and VidAmerica, Inc), the best looking edition would have to be from Gorgon Entertainment, because the other editions are missing footage (the VidAmerica edition looks to be the TV version, since it is missing over seven minutes of footage). While none of the DVD versions (Including the version in the VAULT OF HORROR 10 MOVIE COMPILATION) look very good, the latest offering from Film Chest does looked cleaned-up somewhat and some of the scenes that were way too dark in other versions are now visible. That's not a ringing endorsement, because it was obviously taken from a beat-up film element, so how much more time would it have taken them to make it widescreen instead of fullscreen? As soon as any company releases a widescreen version, I will be the first on line to buy it, because it is more than obvious that some information is missing from the sides (and it is a very important film from my teenage years). S.F. Brownrigg's (who passed away in 1996) son, Anthony Brownrigg, made a reboot/sequel, DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2 in 2014 (co-starring Camilla Carr, who is portraying a different character than the one who died in the first film). It was a crowd-funded project and from what I hear it is pretty bad. I'll hold my tongue until I actually see it (see my review HERE), but a film made 41 years after the original doesn't offer much hope. You just cannot make cult films. They are created by audiences. A Film Chest DVD Release. Rated R. NOTE: Now available in high definition and in its original OAR from BrinkVision as a double feature Blu-Ray with the limp sequel. UPDATE: Code Red has joined forces with new label Dark Force Entertainment to release a series of Blu-Ray double features. The first double feature Blu-Ray contains the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT clone CHAOS (2003) along with an anamorphic widescreen version of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT!
DUNGEON OF HARROW (1962) - I haven't seen this film in over thirty five years. Oh, it's been available on video for years in various dupey, unwatchable editions. I should know. I own most of them. Why haven't I viewed any of them? Because this film scared the shit out of me when I saw it on TV in the middle 1960's as a pimply-faced kid. It introduced me to the horrors of leprosy, a disease I had never heard of before watching this film. It left an indelible impression on me, an impression that is as fresh today as it was 50 years ago. That is why I won't watch any of the video versions I own. I don't want to destroy my memories of that day with a crappy, third or fourth generation copy. Imagine my surprise of finding this film on DVD while doing one of my weekly trash film runs at the local Best Buy. And it cost only $5.99! Released by company Alpha Video, this DVD contains the best-looking copy that you're likely ever to see of a film of this vintage and pedigree (at the time of this review; things have changed as you can read below). It's far from perfect, as the colors have faded and the whole film has a brownish tint to it, but it is watchable and therefore worth every cent it cost me. So, what's the verdict? I am glad to report that my memories didn't deceive me this time. As an adult, I can see that this is an impossibly cheap film which opens with the lamest shipwreck ever committed to celluloid (later, check out the rubber bat and giant toy spider), contains acting that can politely be called wooden, has bad library music and sets that are made of cardboard. But that just adds to its' overall charm. On the plus side, there's a fair amount of blood for an early '60's effort, some sadistic torture scenes and the last 20 minutes which involve a chained-up aristocrat being seduced by a whacked-out leprosy-ridden Countess in a wedding dress. Want to know more? Spend the six bucks and take this baby home. Directed by late comic book artist Pat Boyette (who also directed the hard-to-find films THE WEIRD ONES and NO MAN'S LAND [both also in 1962]) more in the vein of a filmed theatrical production than an actual movie. The whole film looks and sounds like a stage play with just enough outdoor locations (filmed in San Antonio, Texas) to relieve the claustrophobic interior scenes. Boyette (who also wrote this with Henry Garcia) also gives this film a real downbeat ending, something unheard of in a film of its time. I'm glad I waited all these years. It was euphoric reliving a memory that made such an impact on my youth. Starring Russ Harvey (also the film's producer), Helen Hogan, William McNulty, Michelle Buquor, Maurice Harris and Eunice Grey as the leper Countess. Available from Alpha Video, who have released a slew of public domain horror flicks on DVD including: THE SCREAMING SKULL (1958), NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1958), ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959), BLOODLUST (1959), ATOM AGE VAMPIRE (1960), CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA (1961), ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO (1961), THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961), HANDS OF A STRANGER (1962), THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (1962 - the uncut version), CARNIVAL OF SOULS - 1962, THIS IS NOT A TEST - 1962, THE STRANGLER OF BLACKMOOR CASTLE (1963), THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), SOUND OF HORROR (1964), TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965), MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966), NIGHT FRIGHT (1967), GHOSTS OF HANLEY HOUSE (1968), GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE (1972), THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON (1973), THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW (1974), the complete BLACK COBRA series (1987 - 1990), exclusives like director Mark Redfield's DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE (2002), Philip Cook's DESPISER (2002), exclusive deals with Ted V. Mikels and Sam Sherman, and many more, all in attractive and colorful sleeves and sturdy DVD cases (although some of the prints are in less than stellar shape). DUNGEON OF HARROW is also known as DUNGEON OF HORROR, though in all my years searching for a good version of this film, I have never seen it under that title. Not Rated. NOTE: For an interview with the late Pat Boyette and an overview of his films, check out the Astounding B Monster Web Site by clicking here (you now have to buy their book to read something that was free for years!). UPDATE: Label Vinegar Syndrome put out an excellent widescreen version of the film on a double feature DVD with director Ken Friedman's DEATH BY INVITATION (1971). It's worth picking up. Now if only someone would release Boyette's other two films. Any takers? Vinegar Syndrome has also released a double feature DVD of the extremely rare (and, until now, considered lost) THE SUCKERS (1972), a sexually explicit version of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932), and the lesbian sexploitationer THE LOVE GARDEN (1971). They now release more straight and gay porn than they do genre films, although every once in a while a good one slips through, but I find their business practices somewhat questionable.
EQUINOX (1967/70) - A sense of nostalgia swept over me when I slipped this bootleg video in my VCR. A favorite of mine when I was a young teen (in part, no doubt, to the frequent times it was shown on TV in the early 70's), this precursor to THE EVIL DEAD (1983) holds many surprises when viewed today. When Dave (Edward Connell) is struck by a driverless car and rushed to the hospital, he tells a frightening story to the staff psychiatrist. He and three college friends travel to their professor's cabin in the mountains to assist in a dig. They find the cabin destroyed and discover a cave in which a laughing lunatic resides. He gives them an ancient book filled with Latin writing and symbols. Dave recites a passage which turns out to be the Lord's Prayer in reverse. Dave accidentally kills the professor (who acts like a madman) after he steals the book. Strange and mysterious things begin to happen. The professor's body disappears. A castle appears and disappears on the mountainside. Huge V-shaped footprints are found near the cabin. The park ranger named Mr. Asmodeus (Jack Woods, who also wrote and directed this version) tries to rape one of the girls but is twarted by her crucifix necklace. Our quartet are up to their necks in deep shit as they are chased by a huge ape-like monster, a giant caveman, a flying demon and other supernatural menaces (including a rip in the fabric of time), all trying to get their hands on that ancient book. It was a joy to view this film for the first time in over 15 years. When the TV showings dried up, the only way to see it was on video. The only problem was that it was impossible to find (under this title or as THE BEAST from Wizard Video, it's alternate video title with a shorter running time). Made as a college film in 1967 by effects master Dennis Muren as THE EQUINOX...A JOURNEY OF THE SUPERNATURAL, producer Jack H. Harris picked it up for distribution, had Jack Woods direct some new scenes, recut and reshuffled some scenes and released it to theaters in 1970 with the shortened title EQUINOX. This film is a trivia buff's dream. The excellent stop-motion effects were done by Dennis Muren, David Allen and Jim Danforth (what a team!). Co-star Frank Boers Jr. is actually Frank Bonner, who achieved minor fame as Herb on WKRP IN CINCINNATI (1978 - 1982). The assistant cameraman (on the second version) was Ed Begley Jr., who would later reach stardom on ST. ELSEWHERE (1982 - 1986) and then turn himself into a pain-in-the-ass bike-riding ecologist and conservationist. Noted author Fritz Leiber makes a brief appearance as the nutty professor. Horror's biggest fan, Forrest J. Ackerman, is the voice we hear on the tape. Not bad for a no-budget flick, eh? This film does have many flaws. The characters' clothing changes from scene to scene and the actors visibly grow slightly older as the story progresses. This is due to the fact that it took four years to finish the filming because of the intertwining of the two versions. The beginning of the film is very choppy, either because it was a bad print or because of producer Harris' post-production tampering. That's just nitpicking though. I, for one, just enjoyed the ride. As far as no-budgeters go, EQUINOX shows much imagination and enthusiasm and deserves to be judged by it's merits and not by its' slim budget. Sam Raimi owes a big debt to this film as THE EVIL DEAD "borrows" a few of its' major plot points. Besides, how could I bad-mouth a film which has brought back so many good memories? Not Rated. Note: Turner Movie Classics (TMC) is now showing this film with a TV-PG rating but it is the unedited 1970 second edition in much better shape than the bootlegs. Tape it if you get the chance. Note Part 2 : Now available as a special edition two DVD as part of The Criterion Collection showing both versions of the film. Yours truly supplied some box art for the DVD's supplemental disc.
THE HEADLESS EYES (1971) - Besides having my favorite artwork on any VHS cover of all time (by Wizard Video), this is a short mindfuck of a film that many people put down (and I can see why), but it is still a grimy little horror film about a man obsessed. The fact that it is badly edited, sound recorded and has some of the most overwrought dialogue you will ever hear delivered in a film, only adds to its twisted (you'll hear that word again) charms. This strangely fascinating gore flick has the production values of a porno flick from the time period, which should come as no surprise, since Henri Pachard produced it using his common pseudonym "Ronald Sullivan". Pachard directed over 360 films, 99% of them porno, before he passed away in 2008. It is the first film directed and written by Kent Batemen, whose next film would be the G-Rated THE LAND OF NO RETURN (1978), starring William Shatner and Mel Tormé, but he is better known as the father of actors Jason & Justine Bateman and even worked on some of his kids' TV shows and movies in various capacities. I wish he would have stuck with films like this because, as bad as it is, it still holds up today in sheer weirdness. It's like hallucinating without the use of illegal drugs. The film opens with basically unknown artist Malcolm (Bo Brundin; who had a major role in Jerry Lewis' notoriously unreleased film THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED - 1972) breaking into a woman's apartment to steal her valuables. The woman wakes up and starts screaming, so Malcolm puts his hand over her mouth (while saying he needs $65.00 to pay the rent!). The woman reaches for a teaspoon off her night table and scoops-out Malcolm's left eye (there a bad edit here where Malcolm has his hand over his eye  and then it starts to bleed through his fingers) and he screams "My eye! AIEEE!" while he stumbles out of the apartment building via the fire escape and we see his eye hanging out of its socket (his screams are looped at least a half dozen times). He falls to the New York City sidewalk, where a group of people gather around him to gawk (We see it from his POV as the camera looks up from the pavement and the screen turns red just as Kent Bateman's credits are shown on the screen. None of the other three actors listed are given character names and there are no end credits, so the rest of the cast's fictional and real names are guesses on my part). A couple of years later, the eyepatch-wearing Malcolm runs a small art store and it is obvious that he is quite mad and obsessed with eyes, as the camera pans over one of Malcolm's paintings of an eye, then a set of real eyes encased in lucite and, finally, a shot of Malcolm's hands performing some home surgery on a human eyeball (he even has a mobile hanging from his ceiling made of nothing but human eyeballs!). Malcolm has visions of blood flowing over a human eye, so he goes to his refrigerator, pulls out a container from his freezer and runs hot water over it until we see that there was an eye encased in the ice (perhaps his own?). It's quite apparent that Malcolm is crazy as a loon and has been killing people for their eyes, as he talks to himself (Brundin's Swedish accent only adds to the creepiness). An old drunk couple spot him through his store window that night and make fun of his artwork, so he follows them back to their apartment and bashes them both over the head until they are dead. Malcolm then sits in their rocking chair, as we are treated to another one of his POV shots when we see the camera moving up and down looking at the couple's bloody corpses while Malcolm rocks in the chair. When he exits the apartment building, a hooker notices his bloody hand and takes him back to her apartment to patch it up. Malcolm uses one of her kitchen knives to stab her in the throat and, while she is still alive holding her throat, he puts her in the bathtub and turns on the shower, watching her die as her blood goes down the drain (Hitchcock this ain't!). We then see Malcolm reading a newspaper, where an obviously pasted-on headline reads POLICE BAFFLED. "EYE" KILLER SLAYS 14TH. He is then visited by his longtime ex-lover Anna (Kelley Swartz), who calls him "Mal" and has traveled from some expensive place other than NYC (she is loaded with money) to see how he is doing. It seems the last two years they lived together was a living hell for her and she accuses Mal of still living in a fantasy world. She left NYC after they broke up and now thinks Mal is incurable. Malcolm doesn't disagree and even says this about himself: "Because I am twisted. Because I want to find out something. Because I am sick!" He also tells Anna, "I didn't just lose an eye. Something happened." Anna offers to help Malcolm with the best doctors money can buy, but he goes on a long rant about his past and how he sold his first painting and was able to treat Anna to dinner for the first time with his own money, all the while holding a pair of human eyes encased in lucite. Anna becomes frightened and leaves, while Malcolm stares into the nothingness that his life has become. We then see a TV reporter interviewing people on the street while waiting for Malcolm's 13th victim (who only had one of her eyes removed) to be brought out of a funeral home in a casket and put in a hearse. Malcolm is in the crowd, while the reporter asks the wisecracking detective (Gordon Ramon) in charge of the case if there have been any developments. The detective replies, "Yeah, there have been developments. If you want to call victim #14 a development. There's nothing obvious about this guy. Nothing sticks out (Really?). Let's hope we get him before he makes it #15." When the detective calls the killer a "pervert", Malcolm flashes back to when he killed victim #13 on a building rooftop while she was hanging laundry. He kills her and only gets the chance to remove one of her eyes as he hears footsteps coming up the stairs. He beats a hasty retreat, not forgetting that he didn't have the time to remove her other eye. After listening to the reporter for a short time, Malcolm leaves and walks down the street, where an old woman in a chair (she is quite the sight) looks at him and repeatedly says, "I know who did it!" Malcolm becomes freaked-out and begins running through the streets (giving us a great glimpse of early-70's NYC) until he happens upon a beautiful blonde woman brushing her hair. Malcolm follows her to a modeling agency on the 9th floor of a highrise building, where he cracks open the door and watches her doff her top while showing the agent her photo portfolio (We don't get to see her her topless. As a matter of fact, there is absolutely no nudity in this film. Very weird.). Both Malcolm and the blonde woman wait for the elevator for what seems like an eternity (And Malcolm couldn't make it any more obvious that he is following her since he is standing about ten paces to the side of the elevator door!). Once they get out of the elevator, the blonde woman runs to her boyfriend (pimp?) and she points out Malcolm to him, but they end up just driving away. Malcolm decides to sneak into the modeling agency to get the blonde woman's address, which he does, but he is caught by the receptionist who returns back from lunch (She flips open his eyepatch and Malcolm says, "Pretty, isn't it?"). Malcolm strangles her with her own huge chain necklace (we see her feet off the floor) and gouges out both her eyes with a special spoon he keeps in its own black velvet pouch (!), making her victim #15, while saying, "I'm sorry! You'll never have to worry again!". He brings her eyeballs home and puts them in the container in his freezer. Malcolm really begins to lose it and fantasizes about walking the empty streets of NYC, ending up at the huge locked doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Someone leaves a note under Malcolm's door, it saying that his artwork is unique and hopes that they can meet. It is signed simply "A Friend". Malcolm drives to a graveyard and digs up victim #13 and removes the eye he failed to get when he killed her (Now that's dedication!). The detective is waiting there for him and catches him in the act. All Malcolm can say is, "I'm twisted!" to which the detective replies, "You've twisted me into a big fat promotion!" Somehow (I'm still not sure how he did it) Malcolm manages to get the drop on the detective (who is holding a gun) and beats him to death with his shovel. Malcolm meets the note-writer, who turns out to be a young long black-haired female named Gigi (Mary Jane Early) and she wants Malcolm to teach her his "technique". Malcolm is reluctant until Gigi tells him that she hangs out by a lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge because she doesn't get along with most people. Malcolm agrees to meet her there the next morning and they strike up a friendship because Malcolm finds her eyes "different". He has finally found a like-minded soul and she hands him an invite to an art gallery showing (it's hand-drawn and quite lousy) which he says he will meet her there on Saturday. But first, Malcolm follows the blonde model (who turns out to be a drug mule) and traps her in a freezer at a meat packing plant. He strangles her, removes her eyes and puts them in his pocket, only to discover that the freezer has locked behind him and he is trapped. When the workers open the freezer door the next day, they discover Malcolm frozen stiff (He has also written something on the freezer door in blood which contains his name, but I couldn't quite make the rest of it out, even when going through the scene frame-by-frame on the DVD.), while we hear Malcolm's voice saying over-and-over, "I'm not finished!" THE END. I know I should really despise this film because of the lack of nudity (which is strange since Henri Pachard produced it), the loose ends (What happens to Gigi and what is in that white paper bag she is always carrying?) and all the technical faults, but it is just so damn weird, I just can't help myself in loving it. It is about as sleazy as a film can get (and it did obtain a theatrical release, no matter what the retro Wizard Video "Too Gory For The Silver Screen" promo says, which is included on the DVD and brings back many memories) and Bo Brundin is just as crazy as any actor can get portraying Malcolm. Kent Bateman has gone on record saying that Henri Pachard wanted more blood and gore in the movie and filmed some more bloody footage after the film was finished (the blood flowing over the eyeball looks like one of those inserts) and Bateman didn't know a thing about it until he saw a showing of the film in a theater. Even with the extra footage, the film only runs 78 minutes, so it doesn't overstay its welcome. It is full of gory eyeball removal scenes and they are not professionally done, but somehow they fit in perfectly with the rest of the film. It was originally released on VHS by Wizard Video in that distinctive artwork (Which Charles Band also used in the VHS release of his awful film THE KILLER EYE - 1998) and then released on DVD by Charles Band as part of his "Full Moon's Grindhouse Collection" (I would advise you to watch Band's skippable 10 minute intro before viewing the film because it is damn funny and informative at the same time.). I have read where a lot of people complain that it is the same fullscreen VHS transfer as the one on Wizard Video (which was, and still is, owned by Band), but since I own both of them, I can tell you that the DVD is much clearer and the sound is much better. Hell, it only cost me ten bucks, so I wasn't demanding perfection (and I didn't get it), but the transfer (taken from a 16mm print) suits this grimy film just fine. Maybe someday we will see a clear widescreen transfer of this film on disc (but I wouldn't wait for it), but until then, this DVD will do. A Full Moon Direct DVD Release. Not Rated, but it was Rated R in theaters (probably edited from the original X-Rating it received by the MPAA).
HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969) -
In 19th Century France, eighteen-year-old Teresa (Cristina Galbo; WHAT
HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? - 1972) is brought to a boarding
school for troubled teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 21. This
boarding school is an alternative to juvenile detention, but Teresa
is about to learn that juvenile detention may be preferable, as this
boarding school's principal, Madame Fourneau (Lilli Palmer; WHAT
THE PEEPER SAW - 1972), runs this place worse than any
prison warden, where "insolent" girls are mercilessly
whipped after having their clothes ripped off their
backs, among other atrocities. Also living at the boarding school is
Madame Fourneau's young teenage son, Luis (John Moulder-Brown; VAMPIRE
CIRCUS - 1972), whom she keeps secluded away from the girls,
even though he occasionally escapes to peep on them. Madame Fourneau
doesn't believe these girls are good enough for her son, telling Luis
that the girls came to the school already "marked" and that
one day he will find a girl just like his mother, telling Luis,
"You need a woman like me!" (a creepy incestuous proposition).
It doesn't help that the school also harbors a killer, who murders some of the worst students. Is Madame Fourneau covering up the murders by telling the other students that they ran away from school or is it possible that she doesn't know the truth (their bodies are never found)? Not that there aren't enough red herrings on hand to feed a family of five at dinner. Besides Luis (who we see playing gently with an ant on an open book and then slamming it shut, squishing the ant and showing us his dual personality), there's Brechard (Victor Israel; THE HOUSE OF INSANE WOMEN - 1971), the school's groundskeeper, who likes to stare at the girls through windows. There is also the mysterious Enrique (Clovis Dave), who visits the school every Wednesday to drop off wood for the furnace and to screw one of the lucky girls, who take turns with him every week! There is also Irene (Mary Maude; CRUCIBLE OF TERROR - 1971), who is Madame Fourneau's underling (and student), who is more than happy to do all her nasty, violent punishments (she gets off sexually by whipping the girls, as you will see on her face). The truth is it could be anyone, since most of the students come from troubled, even violent, backgrounds (Teresa's mother, who has never been married, is a dancer at a cabaret, both things, being a single mother and a cabaret dancer, are looked down upon during this time in history).
When Luis' secret girlfriend, student Isabelle (Maribel Martin; THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE - 1972), is viciously stabbed in the greenhouse while arriving for a secret rendezvous with Luis, Madame Fourneau tells the other students that she flew the coop and orders that all the locks on the doors of the school be changed, with only her, Irene and second-in-command, Madame Desprez (Candida Losada; SUPERNATURAL - 1981), to have copies of the keys. We also discover that Madame Fourneau is so sexually oppressed, she will not let the students take showers in the nude, watching them shower in their nightdresses! When one student decides to strip off her clothes and showers in the nude, we can see on Madame Fourneau's face that she is taken aback, but is getting a sexual thrill from it. Luis, who uses the school's heating ducts to spy on the girls, spots Teresa and it is love at first peep and Teresa reciprocates, getting Irene in a ire and threatening to tell Madame Fourneau unless she does her bidding. Teresa is brought to the school's basement, where Irene's secret torture room is located. Irene lets Teresa know that Madame Fourneau lets her read everyone's file and she knows that Teresa's mother is a cabaret dancer ("Only prostitutes work in cabarets. Is your mother a prostitute?") and if she doesn't want all the other students to know the truth, she will sing for her and the two other students in the room, cohorts Ingrid (Maria Gustafsson: THE FOURTH VICTIM - 1971) and Andrea (Teresa Hurtado), who all belittle and degrade her relentlessly until Teresa cries (It is easy to see that Irene really enjoys doing this and tells Teresa they will do it again at the same place and time tomorrow). That night, Teresa sneaks into Luis' room and tells him she is leaving. Luis doesn't want her to leave, but when he realizes she is serious, he breaks open his piggy bank and gives her all the money he has, telling her the only way to escape the school is to climb the iron gate to the entrance of the school because his mother ordered Brechard to cut down all the "creepers" on the stone walls that surround the school so no one could climb them to escape. All this is for naught, for as Teresa tries to escape that night, someone sneaks up behind her and cuts her throat. When Teresa comes up missing the next morning, Madame Fourneau tells everyone that she's another escapee, but Irene says that cannot be, she saw Teresa escape from her bedroom window and she stood guard by the iron gate last night in the pouring rain to make sure she didn't escape. Madame Fourneau tells Irene to shut up, but when Irene threatens to tell people about her cruelty and lawless tactics, Madame Fourneau takes away all of Irene's powers, taking her keys and telling Irene she's just another student now. Irene tries to escape the school in the middle of the night, but she finds all the doors locked and hears Madame Fourneau approaching, so she runs to the attic, where the film concludes, exposing the killer's identity. Expect a truly twisted finale, one you will never see coming, as we learn the real reason why the killer was murdering young girls (the reason is exposed in this review).
I decided to view this film again after learning of the death of director/screenwriter Narciso Ibáñez Serrador on June 07, 2019 at the age of 83 (Serrador is credited as screenwriter on this film as "Luis Verña Peñafiel"). I had forgotten how good this film was, on par with his WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1975). Serrador worked mainly in Spanish television (read my obituary), where he was considered a major influence of many of Spain's future directors. He may have only made two theatrical films), but both of them were very memorable. (His third theatrical film, MASTER OF HORROR , was actually an edited version of episodes of a late-'50s/early-'60s Spanish TV series titled "Obras Maestras Del Terror" ["Masterpieces Of Terror"], which starred Serrador's father, Narciso Ibáñez Menta [NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF - 1980], a famous Spanish actor who was fondly known as Spain's Lon Chaney, due to him changing his appearance in nearly every film he was in, thanks to his trusty makeup kit, which he always had with him). This one is a whipsmart story (pun intended) of sexual oppression/repression and the violence it causes, but I was taken aback by the film's total lack of nudity and graphic violence. There is plenty of female flesh on view, but I doubt anyone would call it nudity in the purest sense. There is also some violence on view, but, just like the nudity, director Serrador makes you believe you saw more than there really was (Tobe Hooper would copy this technique for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE - 1974). This is a masterwork of both style and substance that fans of giallo and Gothic horror are bound to enjoy, where scares lurk in every shadow, people say the most hurtful things (both deliberately and unintentionally) and it is hard to trust anyone. What we have here is a great mystery interspersed among the Gothic horror, with a finale that will knock your socks off. SPOILER ALERT!!! Do not read if you haven't seen the film! The ending of this film was copied nearly verbatim by the Spanish horror film PIECES (1982), only director Juan Piquer Simon throws in a ton of nudity and graphic violence, where nothing is left to the imagination. END OF SPOILER!!!
Shot as LA RESIDENCIA ("The Residence"), this film received a slightly edited theatrical release in the United States by American International Pictures (A.I.P.) in 1971, which was rated GP (the late'60s/early-'70s version of a PG Rating), yet I couldn't find a legitimate VHS release for the film in the States. The first time this film appeared on disc was as a double feature DVD by Shout! Factory's discontinued Elvira's Movie Macabre sub-label, with the film MANEATER OF HYDRA (1966). Both films were fullscreen TV versions and it compromises the atmospheric cinematography by Manuel Berenguer (THE NIGHT OF THE DEVILS - 1972). Truth be told, the first time I saw this film was on TV in the mid-'70s and hardly anything had to be edited out (besides the student showing her naked back in the shower), but it was still in fullscreen. The first time a fully legitimate uncut widescreen print would turn up on disc was in late-2016, when Scream Factory released it on Blu-Ray (Plenty of online gray market sites offered it on DVD-R and some still do). Even though the disc is lacking in extras (just very short interviews with John Moulder-Brown and Mary Maude, as well as a theatrical trailer), it does offer the U.S. theatrical version (running 94 minutes) in high definition (HD), as well as the 104-minute Extended version (in HD with SD inserts), making this Blu-Ray the preferred way of viewing the film. It's also available streaming on YouTube from user "Horror Movie Channel", but it is a very grainy ultra-widescreen print. Also featuring Tomas Blanco (THE FEAST OF SATAN - 1971), Juana Azorin (VIOLENT BLOOD BATH - 1973) and Frank Brana (PIECES - 1982; there's that connection again!). The Blu-Ray is Not Rated, but there's really nothing in the film that crosses into R-Rated territory.
(1980) - Since I have been reviewing basically nothing but
Italian genre films for the past year, I decided it was time to turn
my attention to the master that jump-started the giallo genre in the
early-'70s, namely Dario Argento. Yes, there were many giallo flicks
being made in Italy and abroad before Argento came onto the scene,
but Argento's first two directorial efforts, THE
BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) and THE
CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971), were not just unqualified
successes in Italy, they were extremely popular across the world, so
there were a glut of giallo films being produced after that (the majority
of them reviewed on this site), most of them with a number or a
species of animal or insect in the title, hoping to catch a ride on
Argento's comet-like tail. A lot of excellent giallo films followed,
as well as many below-average or average ones, but they would have
never been made at all without Argento's input in this genre. While
this film isn't a giallo, it is Argento's middle film in his
"Three Mothers" trilogy, starting with SUSPIRIA
(1977; Mater Suspiriorum - "The Mother of Sighs") and
ending with MOTHER OF TEARS
(2007; Mater Lachrymarum). This film pertains to Mater Tenebrarum,
the "Mother of Darkness", and she's the most malevolent
Mother of them all, yet, for some reason, this film doesn't get the
recognition it so richly deserves and it could be because of the
stiff and lackluster performance of the main male actor, Leigh
McCloskey (THE BERMUDA DEPTHS
- 1978), who used his "talents" to become a soap opera star
in the States. But I had no problem overlooking his performance and
just went along for the ride. There is also something else you should
know about the film before watching it. Argento became severely ill
with a bout of hepatitis during filming and was bedridden. According
to various sources, Mario Bava (A
BAY OF BLOOD - 1971), who was the visual effects
creator/second unit director/camera operator on this film, filled in
as director when Argento was too ill to direct and he ended up
directing much of what you see in the film (following Argento's
meticulous notes). Mario Bava passed away a few weeks after this film
premiered theatrically in Italy, so this is Bava's true last film
behind the camera. With all of the trivia out of the way, lets get to
the film itself.
We see Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle; THE NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS - 1974) reading a book about the Three Mothers, while an offscreen narrator reads this chapter: "Each of the Three Mothers live in their own separate dwellings. One in Rome, one in New York and one in Freiberg, Germany. The Three Mothers rule the world, with sorrow, tears and darkness. Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs, and the oldest of the three, lives in Freiburg. Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears and the most beautiful of the sisters, holds rule in Rome. Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, who is the youngest and cruelest of the three, controls New York. Each dwelling contains the repository of all their filthy secrets. Those so-called mothers are actually wicked stepmothers, incapable of creating life. The land on which the three houses have been constructed will eventually become deathly and plague-ridden, so much so that the area around will reek horribly. And that is the first key to the Mothers' secret. Truly, the primary key. The second key to the poisonous secret of the Three Sisters is hidden in the cellar under their houses. There you can find both the picture and the name of the Sister living in that home. This is the location of the second key. The third key can be found under the soles of your shoes. There is the third key." Rose then writes a letter to her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey; CAMERON'S CLOSET - 1987), who is studying music in Rome, but we are not privy as to what is in the letter...yet.
Rose is living in a foreboding building in New York and walks outside to put the letter in a mailbox, She then talks to Mr. Kazanian (Sacha Pitoeff; PATRICK STILL LIVES - 1980), a bookstore owner in the building next door who sold her the book on the Three Mothers. She tells him that there's an awful smell emanating in the area and he tells her to give it time, she will get use to it. He also tells her that the only true mystery is that "our lives are governed by dead people." What could he possibly mean by that? We then discover that Rose is looking for the second key, so she goes down to her building's cellar (after a black cat crosses her path, uh oh!) and amongst the cobwebs she discovers a leaky pipe that must have been leaking for quite some time because the water has carved a path into the concrete floor. She follows the flowing water and comes to a small pool. He necklace falls into the pool and she discovers that the pool is rather deep, so deep that Rose has to swim underwater to search for her heirloom. She sees her necklace at the bottom but has to come up for some air. She then swims to the bottom, picks up her necklace and is assaulted by a rotting corpse. She tries to surface, but can't seem to find the opening. Just when it looks like Rose is about to drown, she finds the opening and runs out of the cellar, not noticing that she has dropped her lighter. We then see a black-gloved hand picking up the lighter and then the ceiling collapses in the cellar.
We then switch to Rome, where Mark is at a class on classical music in a huge auditorium at a university. Mark is reading his sister's letter, which begins with, "My dear brother Mark. As you know, here in New York, I've been living in a rather old building for quite some time..." As Mark is reading the letter, he sees a beautiful young woman holding a white Persian cat talking to him, but no words are coming out of her mouth. Mark puts the letter back in the envelope, not reading the rest, and follows the woman out of the auditorium, forgetting the letter on his desk. Fellow student Sara (Eleonora Giorgi; BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA - 1971) picks up the letter and reads it. It affects her in ways she cannot understand and asks a cab driver to take her to a very old library, which she has never been to before. As soon as she steps out of the taxi, she smells a very strange odor (uh oh!) and goes inside, asking an elderly bookbinder (Luigi Lodoli; RUSH - 1983) where she can find the book on the Three Mothers. Sara finds a diary written in Latin and from that moment on, her life will never be the same, if she has any life left at all. When she tries to leave the library, she gets the feeling she is being followed and gets lost, entering a room that looks like an alchemist's laboratory. A man grabs the diary out of Sara's hands and she runs for her life, taking a taxi home and meeting friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia; Argento's SLEEPLESS - 2001) in the elevator. Sara tells him she's scared and doesn't want to be alone tonight, so Carlo accompanies Sara to her apartment. She then calls Mark and tells him to come over, he has to read his sister's letter immediately. The lights suddenly go out in Sara's apartment and Carlo checks the fusebox. When Carlo re-enters the room, he has a huge knife sticking in his neck, the blade protruding out the other side. The black-gloved killer pulls the knife out of Carlo's neck and stabs Sara in the back, killing her. Mark then arrives at the apartment and discovers Sara's dead body. When the police arrive at the apartment, Mark notices the beautiful catwoman in the back of a taxicab, riding away from the scene of the crime and smiling at Mark. He then phones Rose and she tells him to come to New York immediately, then the phone goes dead.
We then watch as Rose is being stalked by the black-gloved killer. For some reason I don't understand (Maybe to find her lighter?), Rose goes back down to the cellar and notices a broken window that is letting the pouring rain flood the floor. Suddenly, a pair of grizzled, monstrous hands grab Rose's head, putting her head under a sheet of glass (a Argento trademark), slamming the edge of the sheet of glass repeatedly across her throat, nearly decapitating her, her blood spurting on the walls. Mark arrives in New York and goes to Rose's apartment, meeting a nurse (Veronica Lazar: Argento's THE STENDHAL SYNDROME - 1996) and the elderly wheelchair-bound Professor Arnold (Feodor Chaliapin; THE CHURCH - 1989) in the elevator. Rose is nowhere to be found, but Mark finds the word "MATER" carved into the top of her desk. Mark then meets Rose's friend and neighbor, Elise (Daria Nicolodi; Bava's SHOCK - 1977), who shows Mark a small hole in the wall, telling him every apartment has one and they are connected to a series of pipes. The pipe in Rose's wall leads to Elise's apartment and they used it to talk to each other late at night (This is important information, so pay attention!). It seems that Elise is rather wealthy and she has a butler named John (Leopoldo Mastelloni; TO BE TWENTY - 1978) who dotes on her. Elise notices that she has blood on the sole of her foot and could have only come from Rose's apartment. Mark and Elise discover a trail of blood (which neither of them first noticed because the carpet in the apartment is blood red in color) leads to a service entrance, which Elise says is never used. Mark follows the trail of blood alone (Elise is too scared) down a metal spiral staircase and then passes out. Elise finds a bloody handprint hidden in a curtain and runs to go tell Mark, but she sees someone or something dragging Mark's body away. Elise is then attacked by a pack of cats (look closely and you can see the hands of a crew member throwing a cat at her!) and the killer stabs her to death with a knife. We then find out that Mark may have a heart condition and any sudden jolt could render him unconscious or kill him (Mark denies having a heart condition, but is he telling the truth?).
Mark talks to Mr. Kazanian, whom he spots complaining to the building's caretaker, Carol (Alida Valli; KILLER NUN - 1978), about the proliferation of cats in his bookstore, which he blames on her building. Mr. Kazanian tells Mark nothing about his sister, but tells him there will be a rare lunar eclipse tonight. We then see Kazanian killing a cat in his bookstore (brutal) and then stuffing a bunch of cats in a burlap sack, which he drowns in a nearby lake. Unfortunately for the crippled Kazanian, who walks with the aide of crutches, he falls into the lake and is devoured by rats! A butcher hears Kazanian's cries for help and runs to him (watch closely as he walks, or rather runs, on water!), but instead of helping, he cuts off Kazanian's head with a large knife! What in the hell is going on here???
John, who is working in conjunction with Carol and the nurse, who turns out to be Mater Tenebrarum, has his eyes ripped out of their sockets (a great shock cut) by the Mater. Carol then bursts into flames and falls out her apartment window, through a glass ceiling below (Argento has a thing for breaking glass, as it is in most of his films). Mark figures out where the third key is hidden when he looks at a photo of the front of the building and figures out that the decorative ornaments that adorn every floor are actually musical notes, leading him to the location of the third key. Will Mark get to the key in time to stop this madness or is all his effort for naught? C'mon now, you didn't actually think I would tell you, did you?
While this film fails to satisfy the logical mind, there is no denying that it has an atmosphere of dread that just won't quit. I actually like this film much more than SUSPIRIA or MOTHER OF TEARS because of its atmosphere and the well-crafted set-pieces, many of them shocking and unexpected. What Mark finds when locating the third key is so well done and surprising, you'll rewind it several times just to take it all in (and this was done before CGI!). Argento wanted to scrap this shot, but Mario Bava showed him that it could be done realistically and cheaply. There is no doubt in my mind that Argento is a master visual storyteller, because he can make even the most disjointed of stories, such as the one in this film, entertaining and ensuring that you not take your eyes off the screen. I have always said that he gives David Lynch a run for his money, maybe even surpassing him in sheer visual weirdness alone. The only negative point is Leigh McCloskey's unemotional acting. His facial expression never changes, whether terrified or running out of a burning building. He would probably wear the same expression if he were squeezing a hard turd out his asshole, but he really does nothing to hurt this film because it is 90% atmosphere, 10% plot. The music score, by the late Keith Emerson (Lucio Fulci's MURDER-ROCK: DANCING DEATH - 1984) is appropriately haunting and effective. They don't get much better than this, folks.
This film had an uneventful theatrical release in the United States because Twentieth Century-Fox really had no idea on how to promote this film properly, so it came and went fairly fast, even though the film was not edited (a first for an Argento film). It then showed up on fullscreen VHS from Key Video (owned by Twentieth Century-Fox) with an incorrect running time of 84 minutes listed on the sleeve, even though it was the full 106-minute edit. In 2000, Anchor Bay Entertainment (who else?) released an uncut print in its OAR on VHS and DVD. A few years later, Blue Underground (who else?) released it on DVD and Blu-Ray. All the discs have a very interesting interview with Argento and Lamberto Bava, who was this film's first assistant director, working alongside his father. Argento tells us that all the shots of the killer's hands are his (as they are in all of his films) and Bava tells us that this film made him hate cats because he had to wrangle them here and he grew to hate the smell of their fur. He still can't stand them up to this day. Also starring Paolo Paoloni (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST - 1980), Fulvio Mingozzi (EYEBALL - 1975), Rudolfo Lodi (SABATA - 1969) and Ania Pieroni (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY - 1981). Rated R.
KILLING AMERICAN STYLE (1988) - For those of you (like myself) who like their action films that seem to come from some alternate universe, where everyone knows martial arts, the cops are about as helpful as a tick on a deer, guns never seem to run out of bullets and the bad guys somehow multiply out of thin air, then there is no one better at that than director/screenwriter Amir Shervan. He previously gave us the WTF?!? action film HOLLYWOOD COP (1986) and would just a mere year later after this film deliver his cinematic masterpiece called SAMURAI COP. Shervan (who passed away in 2006) was independently wealthy and made films his own way (and it shows), but there seems to be no gray area when it comes to his films. Either you love 'em or hate 'em. Me? I love them with all my heart just because we get to see one man make films his way and not by committee and he had a stable of actors who would follow him to the ends of the Earth. They knew they weren't making anything classic, but since each film took about 30 days to shoot, these people had good-paying jobs with a person who treated them and their ideas like gold. Everyone I have heard speak about Amir Shervan speaks about him as a man who just wanted to make films (at one time, he owned about 70% of all theaters in Iran, before he moved to the U.S.) and was willing to take chances with unknown actors and give well-established actors parts in his films, too. True, the well-established actors were at the low-ebb of their careers, but at least he gave them jobs. And he simply loved the late Robert Z'Dar, who appearred in every film he made (there are still two more Shervan films out there still waiting to be seen: The elusive GYPSY [1991) and YOUNG REBELS , which should be available on DVD a short time after you read this). Yes, I know, Shervan was Iranian, but his heart was pure American cheese, and we should all be happy about that and put our prejudices aside and just go along for the weird trip. The film starts out with scumbag crook Lynch (John Lynch) "interviewing" five young female dancers for one opening he has in his club. The first two fail, but the third one hits his zone (he must be a tit man because she has the biggest ones) and he takes her to a dressing room for her "interview". Head bad guy Tony Stone (the late Robert Z'Dar; it still hurts my heart to say "late") comes walking into Lynch's club and he knocks on the dressing room door, saying, "I have a big job. Zip it up!" Lynch tells his new dancer to "keep it warm" for him (which she does by pinching her nipples!), as Tony, his brother Jessie (G. Alexander Virdon, Virden or Verdan, depending what film he was in), Lynch and Loony (Co-Procucer and Production Designer Jimmy Williams), who is a little slow in his head, rob what looks like a graveyard for old ice cream trucks with the help of a guard working for them on the inside. Turns out today is the day all the employees get paid and Tony and his mob rob the joint of a bagful of money (employees get paid with cash?) after killing three guards and leaving the premises. The head of the business (Will someone please tell me what kind of business it is?) notices that the crooked guard is shooting into the air rather than at Tony and his gang, so Tony and Lynch get pinched by the police thanks to testimony from the guard. We then see them all on a bus being driven to a maximum security prison, when the bus driver notices what is obvious to the viewer to be a staged accident and stops the bus. Loony (dressed as a woman) and Jessie (playing a man pinned under a pickup truck) then begin to kill all the guards and free Tony and Lynch, but Jessie gets shot and seriously hurt in the process. Tony decides that they will use the first house they find as a place to patch-up Jessie and not leave until he is ready to be moved. It is then that the movie turns into a perverse take on THE DESPERATE HOURS (the 1955 Bogey version, since the 1990 Mickey Rourke version wasn't even made yet), but with the usual Shervan twist. Tony just happens to pick the house of musclehead John Morgan (Harold Diamond, who made three films with Shervan), a horse farmer by trade who has a beautiful wife and sister-in-law and a son who just wants to be like his father, so Dad takes him to martial arts school. While Tony and his gang kill horse trainer Jose (Jessus Quebus) and threaten the sunbathing bikini-clad sisters by the pool. John and his son are at martial arts class, where a boy pushes around John's son, but John reminds him of his training. It's when the kid's father starts pushing around John that they take the battle to the ring and John beats the snot out of him. Remember, do what Daddy says, not what he does. John's wife Doris (Veronica Paul) tells John that she is a nurse (what are the chances?) and she will do her best to patch up Jessie as long as they promise to leave as soon as possible. John and his son arrive home to all this mess (John gets a little beat-down from Tony and Lynch). When Doris decides she doesn't have enough training to fix Jessie, she calls Dr. Fuji (regular Shervan player Joselito C Rescobar; also an Executive Producer; he's about as Japanese as I'm Korean!) to have John drive over to pick him up so he can take care of Jessie's wounds and to make sure he doesn't tell anyone where he is heading. Tony then calls his stepmother (Sandy Palms; also Production Manager) to go to a motel to pick up his bag of money (Wait a second, how did it get hidden there? That room must have been rented out plenty of times after Tony was convicted! My head hurts!) Stepmom makes some kind on boneheaded remark that it may not be best to give him all the money at once (Greedy little bitch!). John and Dr. Fuji are chased by the police, but John manages to lose them in a really bad car chase (I would have stopped for a second, explained my situation to the officers and had the cops surround the place, but that's just me.). Meanwhile, Lt. Sunset (a bored-looking Jim Brown, but you could never tell when Brown was bored or excited) starts his own investigation and ends up at a whorehouse that Tony's stepmother worked at, but is told she hasn't been there for days (Lt. Sunset thanks a whore for putting her tongue in his ear before he leaves!). John takes a chance and tries to kill Tony, but Lynch knocks him out and later rapes Doris doggie-style in their own bedroom while she is taking a bath and John is unconscious on the bed (Wait a second. A bedroom with it's own bathtub? Has anyone ever seen that? Anyone have a Tylenol?). John's son manages to steal a gun from a sleeping Loony and he tries to give it to his still groggy father (some hero he is!), so he gives it to his mother, but Tony and the gang get the gun back when they threaten to blow the boy's head off. (Loony goes off on Tony by asking, "Why do you keep calling me Loony? You know my name is Charles!" We then find out that Loony is Tony's Uncle and he nicknamed him "Loony" because he's not all there in the head.). Not trusting his stepmother, Tony sends John to pick up the bag of money at the motel, which Lt. Sunset and his squad already have staked out. They are keeping a close eye on Tony's stepmother when John enters the scene and all the cops become so confused, they make the Three Stooges look like MENSA members. John collects the money (along with a handgun) and, after kicking a couple of cops in the butt, manages to get away. Lt. Sunset (probably named that because that is where his career is headed) and his Keystone Kops look through the area for John, when Lt. Sunset finally hits on a good idea. Find the house closest to the bus disaster. When John gets home, he sees that Jose is dead. John hides the money and throws the gun on the roof. When he gets into the house, he tells Tony and his gang that stepmom fucked them over and took off with all the money. While the gang tries to figure out what to do next, John has his son climb on the roof to get the gun and Lynch calls in for enforcements. His son gives John the gun and Loony is the first to die (Doris now has Loony's shotgun). Lynch is the next to die while he tries to circle around and ambush John, but John is too smart for that and puts a slug in his chest (Doris finishes him off with a shotgun blast to the balls for raping her). Dr. Fuji calls the police (who still couldn't find John's farm!) and gives them all the information, while Tony and Jessie (who is such a bad actor, he makes Tara Reid look like a pro. He has an interview on the DVD, so you can judge for yourself) try to get away. John begins to kill all the backup Lynch called for (usually by gunshot, but there is some bad hand-to-hand combat in there, too, as well as a fire gag). Tony grabs the dead Jose's young son Fernando (Played by Jessus Quebus Jr., the real-life son of the actor who played Jose) and uses him as a hostage. He will give John the kid if he gives him the keys to his car. Before this can happen, the police sirens rapidly get louder and John shoots and kills Jessie. Lt. Sunset finally arrives and Tony uses Fernando as a human shield. For some reason only known to Shervan, Tony throws away his gun and Fernando and decides he would rather go hand-to-hand with John. After a short fight, it ends with John and Lt. Sunset shooting and killing Tony. John gives the bag of money to Jose's widow and kids. Forget murder and rape, money solves everything, especially money that is not yours to give away! Yes, this is as goofy as it sounds, but there is so much more dialogue I haven't written down that will make your head spin. One example is when Tony points a gun at Fuji's head and says, "Apologize to me gook or I'll blow your head off!" or when one of Lt. Sunset's cops takes a look at John and says, "Who's that bear?" While not nearly as bat-shit crazy as Shervan's other two previously released films, it is still a mess of a film that will have you in stitches. Nearly everyone either wears suits or sleeveless shirts and parachute pants, which makes it totally 80's and 100% insane (just take a look at the martial arts fight in the ring). Just enjoy it for what it is. If you can tell me exactly what it is, you are a better person than I am. In any case, I would recommend that you make Amir Shervan's films a permanent part of your film library. Also known as AMERICAN MURDER. Also starring Bret Johnston, Lareine, Buck Striker, Keith Rosary, Don Jean Brown, Terry Amos, Allen Perada, Sam Travino, Raymond Soto and David Kinder. Released on DVD by Cinema Epoch in one of the worst designed DVD covers of 2014 but beggars can't be choosers since this is the first time it has ever been on home video. Not Rated.
LASERBLAST (1978) - An early film from producer Charles Band (MANSION OF THE DOOMED - 1976; CRASH! - 1976; TOURIST TRAP - 1978) that mixes teen angst with alien gadgetry. The film opens with an alien (portrayed by makeup effects artist Steve Neil), armed with a laser weapon that fits over the hand and forearm, trying to escape from a dinosaur-like alien duo (stop-motion effects by Dave Allen), who are chasing him through the Arizona desert. The laser-carrying alien is killed, but before the dino-aliens can collect the laser weapon and the crystal medallion that operates it, a plane flies overhead and the two aliens beat a hasty retreat back to their spaceship before they are spotted. We then switch over to teen Billy Duncan (Kim Milford; CORVETTE SUMMER - 1978; who was well into his late-twenties when he essayed this role), a lonely guy who lives with his absentee divorced mother, who is once again leaving him alone to go on another "business trip" to Acapulco (in other words, Mom's a slut). Billy drives his yellow and white van to girlfriend Kathy's (Cheryl Smith; CAGED HEAT - 1974) house to commiserate, but he is blocked by her senile grandfather, Colonel Farley (Keenan Wynn; PIRANHA - 1977), who babbles-on about "Operation Sandust" and people not being who they say they are. Billy finally gives up, gets in his van and leaves. To make his day even worse, Billy is pulled over by pot-smoking cops Deputy Pete Unger (Dennis Burkley; NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON - 1973) and Deputy Jesse Jeep (Barry Cutler), who ticket him once again for speeding (Unger also makes an uncalled-for remark about Billy's mom). To add insult to injury, Billy is challenged to a race by town bullies Chuck (Mike Bobenko) and Froggy (Eddie Deezen, in his film debut and the only time I can remember him ever portraying a bully!), but his van won't start. When he finally does get it started, Billy takes a drive out to the desert, where he finds the laser weapon and the crystal medallion (he's a smart lad and quickly learns how to use the weapon, blowing up cacti and tree stumps). From this moment on, Billy's life will never be the same and neither wll those who pick on him. There's one deadly caveat in using the weapon, though: Every time Billy wears the crystal medallion and fires the weapon, he slowly begins to transform into an alien creature and starts to lose his compassion and humanity. To make matters worse, government agent Tony Craig (Gianni Russo; LEPKE - 1975) and the two dino-aliens are looking to gain possession of the weapon. When Chuck and Froggy try to rape Kathy at a pool party, Billy dons the medallion and uses the weapon to blow-up Chuck's car, nearly killing Chuck and Froggy. Billy begins growing a metallic lump on his chest and, as it gets bigger and bigger, a worried Kathy makes him go see Dr. Mellon (Roddy McDowall; THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE - 1973) for a check-up. Dr. Mellon removes the metallic fragment from Billy's chest and plans on driving it to a lab out of town later that night to have it analyzed, but the alien Billy uses the weapon to blow up Dr. Mellon in his car as he is driving down the highway. Billy then uses the weapon to kill Deputy Ungar (he blows him up in a gas station outhouse!) and Deputy Jeep (incinerated point-blank) and then turns his attention towards Chuck and Froggy (after blowing a government search plane out of the sky); killing them by blowing them up in Chuck's new muscle car. The alien Billy then kills a stoner and steals his van (blowing up a STAR WARS billboard along the way, in a humorous bit), driving it to town and using the weapon to lay waste to everything he can find, including cars, telephone booths, a couple of newspaper stands and the town's sheriff (Ron Masak). The dino-aliens put an end to the madness by killing Billy with a death ray and take the weapon and the medallion with them as they streak off in their spaceship. This is a fun, if disjointed, little horror film, directed by Michael Rae (his only directorial effort, although he was a Producer and Second Unit Director on SINNER'S BLOOD - 1970) and written by Franne Schacht (who appears as the sheriff's secretary) and Frank Ray Perilli (ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA - 1978), that contains a little bit of everything, including action, aliens, explosions, stunts, minor gore and even a small bit of topless nudity, all wrapped-up in a tight little PG-rated package. Kim Milford, who tragically died in 1988 of complication of heart surgery at the age of 37, is quite good as Billy and his transformation into a soulless alien creature is quite effective, but the film basically falls apart during the second half, as it seems some scenes were never filmed (or were filmed and didn't work) and the final twenty minutes are a disjointed, confusing mess where the alien Billy just goes bonkers for no rhyme or reason. Still, LASERBLAST contains enough weirdness (Dennis Burkley and Barry Cutler are the unlikeliest cop duo in screen history, smoking dope, eating each other's food and ogling women with wild abandon) and inventiveness (the stop-motion aliens and the weapon itself) to be recommended viewing. Also starring Rick Walters, Simmy Bow, Joanna Lipari, Wendy Wernli and Janet Dey. Producer Charles Band and director David DeCoteau (using the pseudonym "Julian Breen") remade the film as ALIEN ARSENAL in 1999, turning it into a typical watered-down "nerds vs. bullies" high school action comedy. Originally available on VHS by Media Home Entertainment and later released on DVD by Cult Video/Koch Vision. Rated PG.
(1965) - Surprisingly adult Italian giallo film from the
mid-'60s, co-directed by Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote some of the best
giallo films, including A...FOR
ASSASSIN (1966), THE
SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH (1968), THE
STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1971), DEATH
WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972) and my favorite giallo of all time, TORSO
(1973). While basically a four-character play, this film will have
you hooked from the very first frame to the very last image.
As a young boy, Christian saw his father kill a young woman in a bedroom whose walls are mirrors. Now an adult, Christian (an impossibly young Giancarlo Giannini, here billed as "John Charlie Johns"; THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA - 1971) is going to live in a creepy house he inherited from his father, who died twenty years earlier, the same house where he saw his father kill the woman. Joining Christian on this trip are his fiancee Eileen (Dominique Boschero; IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE - 1971), Paul (Luciano Pigozzi, using his pseudonym "Alan Collins"; THE DEVIL WITH SEVEN FACES - 1971), Christian's ad-hoc guardian since his father's death, and Paul's young wife Brigitte (Gastaldi's wife Maraa Chianetta, using the name "Mara Maryl"; she was one of the writers of THE GREAT ALLIGATOR - 1979). Christian is to inherit the house and his father's vast fortune in three months, when he turns 25, but until then, Paul, who is executor of his father's estate, is in charge, of the house and the fortune. Christian and Paul have a volatile relationship, as we discover early in the film (Paul likes to remind Christian that he is in charge until he turns 25 and Christian has anger issues). Christian tells Eileen that he doesn't feel right about coming to the house (He hasn't been here for over two decades, ever since his father murdered the woman), but her presence makes him feel better. Paul and Brigitte take the mirrored room as their bedroom and, that night, Christian watches Brigitte dance the can-can and then do a striptease in the mirrored room, stopping to make love to Paul. While watching the show (Brigitte may very well know he is watching), Christian gets an eerie feeling and runs away, saying, "Not like my father! God, I'm not like my father!" Also that night, Eileen notices someone jiggling the door knob to her bedroom, but then it stops. Could it have been Christian? (Since this is the '60s and they are not married, Christian and Eileen have separate bedrooms.)
The next morning, everyone is outside enjoying the sunny weather. as we discover that the house is located next to a cliff that overlooks the ocean. Brigitte, who is wearing a skimpy bikini (With smiling cats imprinted on it. I'm sure Freud would have a lot to say about it!), asks Paul about Christian, Paul telling her that when Christian was a boy, he had a nervous breakdown, Paul finding him passed-out outside the mirrored bedroom. As a boy and a teenager, Christian spent time in a mental institution, but he told no one what happened on that fateful day. Brigitte asks Paul if Christian is dangerous and Paul replies, "I hope not." Later in the day, Christian hears music coming from his favorite childhood toy, a Jiminy Cricket wind-up spinning ceramic figurine, and he goes to investigate. When he opens the door, he discovers his father's rocking chair seemingly rocking on its own and on a table next to it is his father's favorite pipe, still smoking, as if someone was using it. We then discover that Brigitte is a cocktease, coming on to Christian, but when he asks her why she married such an "old fogey", she gets defensive and walks away in a huff. During a thunderstorm that night, Christian sees someone dressed as his father when he looks out a window. He grabs Eileen, telling her what he saw, so they both go outside, but find nothing. Christian wonders if Paul is trying to drive him mad, but Eileen tells him to stop being ridiculous, Paul has been a "father" to him ever since his real father passed away. We then discover that something is going on between Paul and Eileen, Paul telling her that they must "act quickly". Just what is going on?
The next morning, Paul and Eileen go to town together in Paul's car. Something Brigitte mentions to Christian in passing, makes him jump in his car and try to follow them. He finds Paul's car parked next to a hotel, waiting for hours in his car (a taking a pistol out of his glove box) until Paul and Eileen exit the hotel. When hee sees Eileen putting her arms around Paul and kissing him, Christian drives home and begins to choke Brigitte with his bare hands as she lays on a bed in the mirrored room. Paul enters and a fight ensues, Christian pulling the pistol on him. He accuses Paul of trying to drive him crazy so he will inherit his father's fortune. He even accuses Paul of marrying Brigitte because she looks just like the woman his father murdered. He then calls Eileen a "whore", telling her that he saw her and Paul exiting the hotel. Eileen can't take it any more and tells Christian that she and Paul went to the hotel to talk to his psychiatrist, Dr. Berge. When Christian asks Eileen why they had to talk to his doctor, she removes a scarf from her head revealing a couple of deep gashes on her face, telling Christian that he did that to her last night. Christian lowers the gun, telling Eileen that he has no memory of doing it. She tells him that ever since he came to this house, he would enter her bedroom at night with a wild look on his face and he behaved "horribly", but he would have no memory of it the next morning. She told Paul what was happening and they thought it was best not to say anything until they talked to his doctor, who is coming to the house tomorrow. Christian tries to shoot himself in the head, but Paul grabs the gun in the nick of time, Christian collapsing and passing out from exhaustion. The next morning, Paul drives to the hotel to pick up Dr. Berge, but he's not there. When Paul calls the doctor's office, he discovers something that will change the course of everyone's lives. Think you know what it is?
When Christian wakes up, he discovers Eileen's semi-nude body lying on the floor, bloody and dead. Did he have one of his episodes and kill Eileen? Or is there another explanation? Since this is a four-character play and one of them is dead, you may think you know the answer, but you'd be wrong! When Brigitte discovers what Christian has done, she locks him in his bedroom, while Paul races back to the house. Paul then discovers why the rocking chair seemingly moves by itself (it's quite ingenious) and he starts putting the pieces together. But will he survive the day? What are the killer's motivations? Let me just say that nothing is as it seems (it surprised me and I am not easily surprised) and money is a deadly motivation. Oh, and the sins of the father can be repeated by the son, but for different reasons (The ending it totally apt, in a twisted sort of way).
You would think that a film with only four characters would have some boring stretches, but you would be wrong. It is surprisingly adult in its approach, something unusual for a film made in this time period, especially a genre film. This is also Ernesto Gastaldi's first film as a director, co-directing and co-writing it with Vittorio Salerno (NO, THE CASE IS HAPPILY RESOLVED - 1973), both taking the singular directorial pseudonym "Julian Berry Storf" (Gastaldi using "Julian Berry" and Salerno using "Victor Storff" as screenwriters, based on a story from Gastaldi's wife Mara). This is a quick moving film with excellent performances all around (Much later, Giannini would spill his guts [literally!] to Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lechter in HANNIBAL - 2001) and a conclusion you will never see coming. It surprises me that Gastaldi (who is still alive at the time of this review and has been married to Mara since 1960) only directed five films during his career, as he works wonders here with what has to be a very low budget. Supposedly made in 18 days on a bet, it doesn't look it, as the sequences shot in the house, especially in the mirrored room, are shot with a visual flair not usually seen in low budget genre films. The lush black and white photography, by Romolo Garroni (listed in the credits as "Romy Garron"), also belies the low budget. While there is no nudity or extreme violence here, some scenes are daring for its time, especially Eileen's death and the nihilistic, unexpected ending (once you see it, you'll know what I mean). Recommended to me by a friend across the pond (Thanks, Steven!), I enjoyed this slice of supreme retribution and if you're a fan of obscure giallo flicks, you are certain to enjoy this one, which is as rare as they come. Never available theatrically or on home video in any format in the United States, the only way to see it is on YouTube (Search "Libido1965"), who offer a serviceable widescreen print in its original Italian with non-removable English subtitles. Ever since I installed YouTube on my Roku 3, the site has been getting quite a workout from me, because it is the only way to see these obscure films. Believe me when I say that you can find nearly anything there (Except for my Holy Grail, VOODOO HEARTBEAT - 1972!). While I know that black and white films are not in "fashion" (One of my friends refuses to watch black and white film because, and I quote, "Real life is not in black and white!". I really need to get better friends!), I wish some daring company would license these rarely-seen films so those of us who appreciate them can see them remastered. I can dream, can't I? Gastaldi and Salerno would later join forces and co-direct the rarely-seen SCREAMS IN THE NIGHT (a.k.a. SOULS: THE FORCE OF EVIL - 1981), which can also be found on YouTube (look for a review soon). Sergio Martino, director of TORSO (1973), MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978) and SCREAMERS (1980), was this film's Production Manager. He and Gastaldo would go on to have a fruitful relationship in filmmaking, Gastaldi writing or co-writing the majority of Martino's films. This film is Not Rated.
LOVE ME DEADLY (1972) - Lurid and surprisingly well-made film about a subject (considered taboo at the time) that contains some excellent editorial touches and acting. The film opens with a montage of a young Lindsay Finch and her father having fun in a whole bunch of places, until one day, while her Daddy is pushing her on a swing, she falls off and breaks her arm. She still loves her Daddy, especially when he gives her a teddy bear as a present. We then switch to the present, where a full grown Lindsay (Mary Wilcox; BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT - 1970; BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY - 1977) is attending the funeral of a man she doesn't even know. When all the people have paid their respects to the body of the man in an open casket and have left, Lindsay walks up to the casket, is aroused sexually (you can see it in her face, especially her eyes) and gives the bearded corpse (played by the film's director, but more on him later) a lingering kiss on the lips that doesn't go unnoticed by funeral director Fred McSweeney (Timothy Scott; THE FARMER - 1977). We next see Fred picking up street hustler Billy-Jo (I. William Quinn), paying him twenty-five dollars for sex and then telling him that he is married and will have to do the deed where he works (He tells Billy-Jo that he is a veterinarian!). Billy-Jo strips naked (surprisingly full frontal naked shots) and lays on a metal table, where he complains that it is cold. Before he can do anything, Fred straps Billy-Jo to the table, sticks a huge needle in his arm to drain him of his blood, cuts his neck with a scalpel and embalms him alive (This scene is very effective, as Billy-Jo pleads for his life over-and-over as he slowly dies.). Fred belongs to a necrophilia cult and plans to use Billy-Jo's embalmed body for their naked sex-with-the-dead ritual. Fred also wants Lindsay to join in with them, but that will have to wait a while. Lindsay throws a party at her house, where we meet Wade Farrow (the late Christopher Stone; THE HOWLING - 1981), a swinging guy (and Lindsay's long-time friend) who would like nothing more than to make Lindsay his next conquest. He traps Lindsay in her bedroom (where he finds her hugging that teddy bear) and tries to make love to her, but she is so turned-off by the thought of making love to a man with a pulse that she scratches his face. He leaves and she goes back to the party. The next time we see Lindsay, she looking at the funeral notices in the local newspaper and finds a new corpse for her to visit. She waits for everyone to leave and then tries to kiss the corpse, only to discover that his nose has been reconstructed with putty, which makes her scream and run away, directly into the arms of the deceased's brother, art gallery owner Alex Martin (Lyle Waggoner, a Carol Burnett Show regular and also co-star of TV's WONDER WOMAN [1975-1979], who gives a surprisingly strong performance here). Alex looks strikingly like Lindsay's dead father, which stirs something inside her, enough for her to check him out with binoculars at his brother's burial and peeping at him through his art gallery front window before running away when he notices her. When Lindsay goes to her next funeral, she is approached by Fred, who tells her that he knows what she likes (He says, "It's called necrophilia!") and he will be contacting her by letter when his cult has their next ritual. Lindsay forgives Wade for his attempted rape and asks him to accompany her to an opening at Alex's art gallery. Before you know it, Lindsay ends up with Alex and Wade hooks up with a female patron at the gallery and all four of them have dinner together at a restaurant (this whole sequence is done without dialogue, just a love ballad titled "You're Something Special", sung by Kit Fuller [who also sings the title tune], playing on the soundtrack). Alex discovers early on that Lindsay doesn't like to be touched sexually, but he proposes marriage, thinking she will change her mind once they are wed. She accepts and they get married, but Alex soon finds out that she still can't stand to be touched and ends up sleeping in a separate bedroom until she changes her mind. Lindsay gets her first letter from Fred and decides to go to the funeral home at midnight, but her car is seen by Wade, who is on a pay phone trying to make a late night visit to another girl (yet he still has feelings for Lindsay), and he follows her to the funeral home. Fred sees that Lindsay is not ready for a communal necroplilia session, so he offers her some one-on-one time with a dead body. Wade enters the funeral home and begins searching for Lindsay, only to run into one of Fred's fellow ritual colleagues (Louis Joeffred), who stabs Wade through the stomach with a huge embalming needle, killing him. Lindsay screams, but Fred and his ritual cult use Wade's strung-up body for one of their naked necrophilia parties (this entire sequence is so well done, it's nightmareish). Meanwhile, Alex becomes more and more concerned by Lindsay's lack of sexual feelings for him and when he intercepts one of Fred's registered letters to Lindsay, he decides to act on it and discover the truth. He gives Lindsay the letter (he never opens it) and waits outside in his car to see what she is up to. He follows her to the funeral home and discovers her making love to a naked corpse. He is repulsed, but before he can do anything, Fred stabs him to death and embalms him. He transports Alex's embalmed corpse to Lindsay's house and puts him in her bed. Now she can make love to Alex all she wants, as we learn the truth on how Lindsay's father actually died. While the subject matter may seem tasteless to most people, first and only time director/writer Jacques LaCerte (from 1977 through 1981, he was a Drama and English instructor at Inglewood High School in Inglewood, CA. and passed away at age 60 in 1988) manages to make the film a lot more classier than most films that would later deal with the subject of necrophilia, especially director Jorg Buttgereit's highly over-rated NEKROMANTIK (1987). There is a sheen of professionalism on display here, something highly unusual for a film from a first-time director. The editing (by Leo Shreve; QUEEN OF BLOOD - 1966) of some of the scenes is extremely effective, especially the intercutting of a young Lindsay with her father and a grown Lindsay with Alex. The entire sequence of Wade's death and the cult's use of his naked body is also one of the film's editorial highlights (You'll know what I mean once you see it with your own eyes). While there is some gore and blood (the bright red kind used in most of the early-70's horror films), the film doesn't revel in it and it doesn't need to because of the subject matter. Mary Wilcox is absolutely convincing here, especially the way her face looks when she sees a dead body. The real surprise is Lyle Waggoner, who is as good as he would ever get. One wonders if Carol Burnett ever saw this film or even knows about it (If she did at the time, would he even be one of her sidekicks of her highly popular TV series?). All-in-all, LOVE ME DEADLY is one of my favorite films to deal with necrophilia. Director Alfred Sole's X-rated porn comedy DEEP SLEEP, made the same year as this (it's very hard to find in its complete version today), and Straw Weisman's DEADMATE (1988) are two other good films that deal with the same subject matter. H.B. Halicki, the late director and star of such action films as GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974), THE JUNKMAN (1982) and DEADLINE AUTO THEFT (1983), was an Associate Producer and appears as a race car driver. Also starring Dassa Cates, Terri Anne Duvalis (as the young Lindsay), Bruce Adams, Barbara Fisher and Michael Pardue as Lindsay's father. Originally released on VHS by Video Gems in one of those big boxes (this version was slightly cut of male nudity) and then released uncut on DVD by Shriek Show. It was then released as a double feature DVD by Code Red with the PG-rated college hazing drama THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CAMPUS CORPSE (1977). The widescreen print on both DVDs is so sharp and detailed, you can actually see a cameraman in the back seat of Lindsay's car in one scene and in the rearview mirror of Alex's car in another, something I did not notice on the fullscreen VHS. Rated R.
OF THE DEVIL (1970) - I'm
going to travel back to my teen years, when this film left a lasting
impression on my young brain. Between NIGHT
OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and LAST
HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), this is the film that gave me
nightmares at night. Not because of the extreme violence, but because
of the way it portrayed people in power, who accused people of doing
things they couldn't have possibly done and how the public
unquestionably accepted the accusations, mainly due to mass hysteria.
It was the first time I actually understood the repercussions of
being falsly accused and the circumstances of the people doing the
accusing, all for political or personal
gain. It was the time of Watergate, when President Nixon became
power-hungry and used the FBI and the IRS as political weapons,
destroying many innocent people's lives. My young mind could not
understand what all the fuss was about (it was on the news every
night and I could not understand why), but this film opened my eyes
and mind of what it meant being the target of a power-mad official. I
doubt that was this film's intentions, but it did make me feel this
way. OK, enough about my pre-teen trauma. Let's get to the film.
15th Century Europe: We watch as Albino (Reggie Nalder; DRACULA'S DOG - 1977; DRACULA SUCKS - 1978) tells a group of village mercenaries that he will pay them handsomely if they raid a caravan of nuns, telling them to bring back the monk and a few nuns to him alive. They attack the caravan, killing and raping nuns and doing what Albino asked of them. We then see the monk and three nuns in the village square, being accused of witchcraft and of consorting with the Devil (One villager yells to the monk, "You don't look horny now!"). The monk has his hand chopped off, stripped naked and then tar-and-feathered, while a crowd of villagers laugh and applaud. He is forced to run through the village while people chase him (and eventually kill him). The nuns are burned alive at the stake, with one burning nun cursing the village and everyone in it to a fate worse than death. The villagers don't realize that they are already living that life, as anyone can point at them and call them a witch and, just like the nuns, be killed without even a fair trial. They are living in a time of mass hysteria, where death is preferrable to the treatment they will receive. An on-screen scrawl and narrator announces: "This motion picture shows three cases taken from authentic documents from the time when witch-hunting had reached its peak and can only give a slight idea of the cruelties of one of the blackest pages in the history of Man."
Barmaid Vanessa Benedikt (Olivera Vuco; ANN AND EVE - 1970) was in the crowd and what she saw affected her. Back at the bar, Vanessa catches the eye of Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier; FALL DOWN DEAD - 2007), who is sitting with Chief Executioner Jeff Wilkens (Herbert Fux; LADY FRANKENSTEIN - 1971).Christian tells Albine that Lord Cumberland will be arriving in town soon and it is his job to rid this village of all witches. Albino complains, saying he is this village's Witchfinder General, but Christian has a document proving otherwise (but Albino can't read!). Before he leaves the bar, Albino makes a lewd remark about Vanessa (He saw her and Christian making eye contact). Later on, Albino comes back to the bar and puts the moves on Vanessa. The following conversation takes place: Vanessa: "I don't sleep with pigs!" Albino: "I could denounce you as a witch!" Vanessa: "It's the only way you can get women!" Albino then forces himself on Vanessa, but she runs out to the bar and screams that Albino is trying to rape her. Albino appears and accuses Vanessa of being a witch, pulling out his "witch detector" (A sharp needle with a handle, resembling an icepick) and sticks it into a mole on her face and then her back, saying Vanessa must be a witch because she doesn't scream, but Vanessa is simply a strong woman. Christian accuses Albino of lying and proves that Albino's advocate (Johannes Buzalski) made up the charges on Albino's orders. he has Jeff whip Albino in the bar for all to see. Big mistake. Christian and Vanessa soon become lovers, but their happiness will be short-lived.
Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom; THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY - 1970; THE SECT - 1991) arrives and we learn that Christian studied under him for three years. Albino has his advocate write-up charges on Vanessa for being a witch. Lord Cumberland holds court and it looks like he is a reasonable man, as he releases one innocent woman on charges of being a witch, but that changes rather quickly. He sentences the next woman, Deidre von Bergenstein (Gaby Fuchs; WEREWOLF SHADOW - 1970), to be stretched on the rack until she admits that her baby is the Devil's (She was actually raped by a Bishop). Then Vanessa is brought before Cumberland. Albino's advocate reads a list of made-up charges against her and Cumberland sentences her to prison, where she is to be tortured until she confesses. Christian tells Lord Cumberland that she is innocent, but he replies, "She's beautiful, I'll give you that, but she's a witch!" Walter, a nobleman (Adrian Hoven; the director of CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH  and THE LONG SWIFT SWORD OF SIEGFRIED ), is accused of being a sorcerer and Cumberland tells him that if he turns his fortunes and the deeds to his lands over to the Church, he will find him not guilty. Walter's answer is spitting in Cumberland's face. We then see Walter's wife (Ingeborg Schöner) being tortured, first with thumbscrews and then on the rack, where she is stretched and has the bottom of her feet branded with an iron poker. She will suffer much more before she dies, as will her husband, who is slowly being tortured with drops of water hitting his forehead (drip...drip...drip...), slowly driving him mad (The film breaks every so often to show how the water torture affects Walter. It's not pretty.). Diedre says to Cumberland, "I have nothing to confess. I thank you for your mercy. May God have mercy on your soul.", but Cumberland does not want to put her to death yet because, "I want confessions, not corpses!" The poor woman is then put through the worse torture of them all. She has her tongue ripped out (A scene that had many audience members leaving the theater I was at [The Colonial Theater in Pompton Lakes, NJ, where I saw many horror films during my childhood]). When Albino is walking down the street, he sees a nude woman in her bedroom window. He then breaks into her house and rapes her. It's the only way this ugly man can have a woman. It's either be raped by him or be accused of being a witch.
Lord Cumberland relieves Albino of his duties and we he protests, calling Cumberland "impotent", Cumberland strangles him with his bare hands (A very effective scene, for what happens in the background, as a brass plate rattles against the ground like a hubcap and stops rattling when Albino dies.). Christian sees his teacher kill Albino and is taken aback, finally realizing that all this witch stuff is just a power play. How can a so-called religious man so callously kill a man? Lord Cumberland steps up the violence, killing Diedre by burning her alive (it's hard to scream when you have no tongue). he also makes Walter sit on a chair of nails while a fire burns beneath him. Things get really out of hand, especially when a puppeteer is accused of consorting with the Devil by Albino's advocate (You really have to hear his accusations towards the puppets!). The puppeteer's wife stabs the advocate in the eye with Albino's witch detector. Will this madness never end? Will Christian and Vanessa live happily ever after? We have yet to see the "Spanish Boot" (Google it) or other painful torture devices being used, as well as a very nihilistic ending, where no one lives happily ever after.
This was strong stuff back in the day and, quite frankly, it is still strong today. Not for the violence and torture but, rather, for how innocent people fall under the spell of absolute power over life and death. This was also my first taste of Udo Kier, who is horribly dubbed here, but I didn't know how Kier spoke until I saw him in ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN & DRACULA (both 1973). At least Herbert Lom dubbed his own voice, because in 1971 (when I saw this film) I already knew what he sounded like. He is quite good here as a basically honest man who allows himself to cross over to the dark side, where being devoutly religious meant being a murderer. But the film clearly belongs to Reggie Nalder. I, and countless others, wanted to know as much as possible about him (his face was like a skull covered in tight, burned skin) but, since this was before the internet, we had to make do with his other performances, especially the TV films THE DEAD DON'T DIE (1974) and SALEM'S LOT (1979), where he excelled at being evil. This film is quite relevant today, where one man's lies and deceitfulness are accepted by the masses, no questions asked. But just like most disappointed masses, they strike at even the innocent when the quilty ones can't be touched, just like in this film where the villagers kill Christian when Lord Cumberland realizes that the villagers want blood and he successfully escapes. They string up Christian by his hands and put a nutcraker-like device around his waist, sending metal spikes into his body. the sad music, by Michael Holm (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN - 2011), enhances the film's desperate tone, as director/co-screenwriter Michael Armstrong (HORROR HOUSE - 1969; SCREAMTIME - 1983, using the pseudonym "Al Beresford"), with an uncredited assist from producer/co-screenwriter/actor Adrian Hoven (who directed the unrelated sequel, MARK OF THE DEVIL PART II , featuring many of the same actors here, but in different roles), fills the film with ungodly torture, both physical and mental (I am a firm believer that mental torture is so much worse than physical torture. Physical pain goes away. Mental torture is hard to get rid of.). Armstrong wanted to end the film with a supernatural finale, where the dead rise from their graves and surround Christian, but Hoven, who took over directing the film, filmed the ending we have all seen, which I think works far better (Supernatural themes have no place in this movie). Armstrong actually filmed his ending, which Hoven reportedly burned. All that exists of Armstrong's footage are photographs, some of which are shown in the German lobbycards for the film.
This West Germany production, filmed as HEXEN BIS AUFS BLUT GEQUALT ("Witches Tortured To Death"), was released theatrically in the United States by Hallmark Releasing, who also released DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973) and DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW (1974) on unsuspecting audiences. It was a qualified hit, thanks to it being "The First Film To Be Rated 'V' For Violence" (A made-up rating, but try telling that to a kid!) and handing out "stomach distress bags" to theater audience members (I still have mine!). I couldn't get into the theater on opening day, as the line to get in stretched clear around the block, something quite unusual for a movie theater in such a small town. This also had many VHS releases, the first one by Vestron Video and then followed by some unauthorized ones, all in incomplete form. The DVD, from Blue Underground, is not perfect (The opening minutes are speckled with dirt, but it soon clears), but it is better than all the VHS releases, as it is uncut and in its proper OAR. It is also chock-full of extras, including interviews with Udo Kier, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, & Ingeborg Schöner, a feature length commentary by Michael Armstrong, theatrical trailer, radio spots, and a poster & stills gallery. A very nice package. Also available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video. Also starring Günter Clemens, Doris von Danwitz, Dorothea Carrera, Marlies Petersen and Percy Hoven. Not Rated, but if it were to be submitted to the MPAA today, it would probably get an R-Rating.
MONSTER MAN (2003) - Who says they don't make good horror movies anymore? This horror/comedy movie is an excellent example of how to make a good film on a low budget. It's so good, it should have gotten a theatrical release. Two friends, the virginal Adam (Eric Jungmann) and loudmouthed Harley (Justin Urich), are on a road trip in Adam's Chevy Vista Cruiser so he can tell Betty Ann, his one true love, how he really feels about her before she gets married to another man. Along the way they are shadowed by a black hearse, get a flat, run out of gas (and steal gas from a parked camper with a headless corpse in it, but not before Harley accidently sucks out liquid from the camper's septic tank), pick up (or get picked up by) a hitchhiker called Sarah (the beautiful Aimee Brooks), have drinks in a bar where everyone but them is missing an appendage and are attacked by the title creature (Michael Bailey Smith) who drives a huge monster truck. This film is not only extremely funny (including a STAR WARS sex scene and a piece of black humor involving a corpse in Adam's back seat) but also very bloody, as in the opening scene we witness a man having his head squeezed in a vice until it explodes, later on we see another man's legs and head run over by the monster truck and a final 20 minutes that has to be seen to be believed (which includes a major plot twist). Director/writer Michael Davis, who usually makes romantic comedies, is to be commended for making a film with characters we care about. Adam may be anal retentive (and a Velcro fanatic) and Harley may come off as a jerk some of the time, but we feel their comraderie and friendship become stronger as the film progresses. Also starring Joe Goodrich as Brother Fred (believe me when I say you won't soon forget him) and a cameo appearance by Bobby Ray Shafer (PSYCHO COP - 1989) as a cop with a thing for comparing Adam and Harley's asses to tires. This is one bloody good show (effects by Todd Masters) with excellent Dolby 5.1 sound (listen to the "I'm gonna get you" scene in the motel) that should be seen by all those interested in this web site. A Lions Gate Home Entertainment Release. Rated R, but believe me when I tell you this is hard R territory.
MY NAME IS BRUCE (2006) - Bruce Campbell, who also directed, has fun lampooning his image in this amiable horror comedy. The small mining town of Gold Lick (whose population is either 333 or 339, depending on what sign you read) is besieged by a Chinese demon called Guan-Di (James J. Peck), when Bruce Campbell-loving teen Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) wakes it up from a long-dormant sleep after removing a protective medallion from the entrance of an old mining shaft where the demon was being held captive. Jeff manages to escape, but his three teen friends don't fare too well, as Guan-Di dismembers and beheads them with his trusty staff sword. We are then introduced to Bruce Campbell the (fictitious) actor, who is in the middle of starring in CAVE ALIENS 2 and is considered an insufferable wanker by cast and crew alike (So much so, that when he orders crewmember Tiny [Adam Boyd] to fetch him a lemon water, he grabs an empty bottle out of the garbage, pisses in it, hands it to Bruce, only to have Bruce complain that it's too warm, but he drinks it anyway!). Bruce's boorish behavior knows no bounds, whether it's handing one of his rabid fans a stick of deodorant ("Here, you know how to use this?"), pushing a paraplegic's wheelchair away with his foot or demanding free a free lap dance in a strip club (he is flatly refused). Bruce's personal and professional lives are a complete mess. He's recently divorced from wife Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss; Campbell's co-star in THE EVIL DEAD - 1983), is an alcoholic (he drinks so much, even his dog is a drunk!), drives a junker car and lives in a dilapidated trailer (Things are so bad, he drinks the alcohol in his dog's dish when he discovers that there is no booze left in the trailer. It's a laugh-out-loud scene.). When Jeff shows up at his trailer door at 4:30 in the morning and begs him to come to Gold Lick to help the citizens fight Guan-Di (who we find out is the Chinese patron saint of bean curd!), Bruce thinks Jeff is pitching an idea for a new film and slams the door in Jeff's face. Jeff ends up knocking-out Bruce with a baseball bat, throwing him in the trunk of his car and driving him to Gold Lick, where Bruce is welcomed as a hero by the Mayor (Ben McCain, who along with brother Butch McCain [as "The McCain Brothers"], interrupt the film a few times to play guitar and sing the song "The Legend Of Guan-Di", whose lyrics keep the audience up-to-date with the proceedings) and the entire Gold Lick population, who are dwindling in number and losing their heads to Guan-Di's sword. Bruce thinks the whole situation is a low-budget film shoot; a birthday present set-up by his agent Mills (Ted Raimi; SKINNER - 1993), so he plays along, thinking everything that is happening is nothing but an elaborate joke to bolster his fragile ego (Little does he know that Mills is fucking his ex-wife!). Bruce begins falling for local girl Kelly Graham (Grace Thorsen), Jeff's divorced mother, still not realizing that his life is actually in mortal danger. As the film progresses, Bruce begins to actually do some good (after a particularly cowardly start) and slowly gains back his humility and humanity. Only Kelly seems to realize that Bruce is not taking the situation as seriously as he should, but she play along for the good of the town and finds herself falling for Bruce's charms. The finale finds Bruce, Kelly and Jeff facing Guan-Di alone, armed only with bean curd, some Campbell movie memorabilia and a few sticks of dynamite. This reverential comedy has some laugh-out-loud moments and some spot-on dialogue (When the entire town interrupts his first kiss with Kelly, Campbell screams out, "For the love of God, I can smell her Chapstick!"), but a lot of it will go over the heads of those who never heard or are not fans of Campbell. It also makes some poignant statements about the state of celebrity and fandom in the world today, but not at the expense of either the celebrities or the fans. Bruce Campbell has a field day parodying his image and Mark Verheiden's screenplay spares no Campbell film from some very sharp barbs (When Campbell carjacks an old lady's car while retreating Gold Lick in a cowardly moment, the old lady screams at him, "You were the worst thing about MOONTRAP!"). There are some laugh-till-you-cry moments on view here, such as the miniature angel and devil on Campbell's shoulders debating him returning to Gold Lick (both angel and devil portrayed by Campbell in the appropriate costumes) or the director of CAVE ALIENS 2 replacing an absent Campbell with a stunt dummy and no one notices! Campbell does a grand job as actor and director (much better than he did with THE MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN - 2005), making MY NAME IS BRUCE a rare treat: A horror comedy that actually delivers the goods. It's funny, gory and moves at a brisk clip. Ted Raimi plays three roles here: Mills the agent; Ted the sign painter (who keeps changing the population number on Gold Lick's welcome sign as Guan-Di dispatches the townspeople); and Wing, a Chinaman who warns the town of their impending doom. Two of them have their heads cut off. Be sure to stick around during the closing credits to see The McCain Brothers get their long overdue comeuppance. Also starring Tim Quill, Dan Hicks, Logan Martin, Ali Akay, Ariel Badenhop and Jennifer Brown. An Image Entertainment DVD Release. Rated R.
NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1979) - You know you're in for something very special when, right in the beginning, we see a bigfoot rip off a camper's arm and his stump bleeds into a bigfoot's footprint. Yes folks, this is the only bigfoot gore film to see if your taste is for bloody, atrociuosly-acted and badly-plotted flicks about a sasquatch with a grudge. After discovering a newly discovered reel of film which purportedly shows a bigfoot, Professor Nugent (Michael J. Cutt) and five of his students go on a field trip to the area where the film was found (the photographer was never found), in hopes of finding proof that bigfoot does exist. They begin by asking the townspeople for some info and learn about Crazy Wanda (Melanie Graham), a woman who lives deep in the woods and may have some kind of connection to the bigfoot. After learning some background info about Crazy Wanda and a sect of inbred religious fanatics who live in the forest, our stupid group of need-to-know-it-alls decide to trek through the woods and look for them. Meanwhile, bigfoot is going on a tear, savagely butchering a naked couple screwing in a van, killing a camper in a sleeping bag by swinging him wildly overhead and impaling him on a tree branch and, in the film's highlight, yanking the penis off a biker when he stops to take a leak. Our thirsty for knowledge sextet break up a ritual being performed by the fanatics and have their boat stolen, which is their only way to return to civilization. Instead of being worried like normal people would, they decide to stick with their plan and try to locate Crazy Wanda. Professor Nugent's wife, Susan (Lynn Eastman), is having terrible nightmares back home, where she dreams of her husband having his throat torn out by the bigfoot (this does not lead anywhere later on in the film). After one of the student is mauled on the back by the bigfoot (he survives), they find Crazy Wanda's house and notice that all her windows have bars on them. Wanda lets them in (after the Professor gives her a cinnamon stick), but all she does is sit in her rocking chair and stare at a locked room. The Professor then tells his students a couple more horror stories about the bigfoot: He kills a guy chopping wood with his own axe by planting it in his shoulder and he kills two knife-wielding Girl Scouts (!) by grabbing their arms and making them stab each other. Why the Professor decides to tell his students such horrific stories at this point only the screenwriter (Mike Williams) can say. It is finally that time in the movie for our six heroes to face the bigfoot and it turns out that it may not be a bigfoot after all (OK, it's half-bigfoot), just Crazy Wanda's son who was born malformed years earlier after she was raped by a real bigfoot and her preacher father made her drink poison to try to abort the baby. It didn't work and, boy, is he one pissed-off individual. In a finale that can best be described as surreal, bigfoot traps and kills all the students in Wanda's house, each proceeding kill getting gorier and gorier (it's also hilarious, as each student just stands there waiting for their turn to be slaughtered) until only the Professor is left (barely alive). Did I forget to mention that this entire sequence is shot in super slo-mo? I just love NIGHT OF THE DEMON, even though everything in it is just plain wrong and politically incorrect, not to mention piss-poor technically in every department. This film wallows in the gore and director James C. Wasson (who, regrettably, never made anything else) linger on the red stuff lovingly, some would say a little too long for comfort. The crank-yanking scene and the finale are particularly juicy as a man is beaten to death with his own intestines and the Professor has his face forced down on a hot stove until his flesh stretches like string cheese when pulled away. These aren't top-of-the-line special effects, but they are rather unnerving. It's also filled with a lot of "What The Fuck!?!?" moments, like the rocking chair cam, the student who takes photos while he is being attacked and Girl Scouts carrying big-ass knives (I'm sure the GS didn't OK this). The acting is generally poor but, surprisingly, hardly hurts this film at all, as you will probably sitting there slack-jawed at the frequent bloody visuals on view (and I'm not exagerrating, this is one bloody film). The only piece of "acting" that was noticable was when one of the female students, seeing that their boat is missing, says, "Oh my God, my God! What are we going to do?" like she was reading it off of cue cards for the first time. This is one of those films where everything should fail but, somehow, it all gels together for a wildly outrageous experience which words (such as these) cannot begin to describe. This gets my highest recommendation. Also starring Joy Allen, Bob Collins, Jodi Lazarus, Richard Fields, Michael Lang and stuntman Shane Dixon as the Bigfoot. NIGHT OF THE DEMON was a very early VHS release from VCII and later was available on tape in a terrible EP-mode recording from Gemstone Entertainment. The version I viewed was on DVD from a pirate outfit called Miracle Pictures. The print was in pretty good shape and is only marred by some static sound for a couple of seconds throughout the film. Also available on legitimate DVD from Code Red, but the presentation is lacking and looks no better than the pirate DVD. Not Rated.
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972) - Let me preface this review by stating the following: This has to be the silliest horror film ever financed by a major studio (MGM). Anyone who thinks giant bunny rabbits are scary should have their heads examined. That said, this film is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, for all the wrong reasons, of course. When Rancher Cole (Rory Calhoune) loses his best horse when it breaks it's leg in a rabbit hole, that is the last straw, as the overabundance of wild rabbits have destroyed most of Cole's grazing land for his cattle. Fed up, Cole goes to the university to look up old friend Professor Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley) for some help in getting rid of the rabbits. Elgin recommends Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh), two ecologists who have solved similar problems with wolves. The Bennetts take back a dozen rabbits to their lab and treat half of them with an experimental hormone, hoping to disrupt the rabbits' reproductive cycle. The treated rabbits were never supposed to be released back to the wild (the hormone is still untested), but that's just what happens when the Bennett's young daughter Amanda (Melanie Fullerton) switches an untreated rabbit with a treated one and accidentally sets it free to join the other wild rabbits. Pretty soon after, giant rabbits ("The size of wolves!") are killing the populace, leaving mangled bodies in their wake. Roy, Gerry, Elgin and Cole find the giant bunnies' hiding spot (in an abandoned mine) and blow it up with dynamite. But, since rabbits are burrowing animals, they escape, so our group has to come up with another way to destroy them. Maybe electricity will work? Ah, good old electricity. A giant monster's worst enemy. This film works best as an unintentional comedy. The sight of normal size adorable bunnies running around in slow motion on miniature sets should bring a smile to everyone's lips. But the truly laugh-out-loud moments come from the attack scenes, as hordes of confused rabbits run around with fake blood smeared on their furry faces, the camera closing in on their buck-toothed mouths while grunts and growls of what sound like dobermans wail on the soundtrack. Let's not forget the awful full-size rabbit suits worn by some hapless extras that are on view whenever a human is attacked. Surprisingly, director William F. Claxton (who was mainly a director of episodic TV until his death in 1996) plays everything super seriously and it is very bloody for a PG rated film. There's bloody shots of mutilated kids, adults and rabbits (who are mercilessly hit with red paintballs whenever cast members fire rifles, shotguns or machineguns at them) and the attacks on humans are especially bloody. It's that bright red blood that was used in a lot of early 70's horror films. It's not the least bit believable, but it sure does look good on screen. I was surprised that the cast of pros were able to keep a straight face throughout this entire ridiculous film, but they do. Personally, I would have fired my agent, but appearing in this didn't seem to do too much damage to their careers. Besides, I wouldn't trade the sight of giant bunnies running down a highway and jumping over the camera in slow-motion for anything in the world. Am I glad this film was made? Hell, yes! Long sought after by collectors and traded for years on the grey market in terrible third generation dupes (usually with Dutch subtitles), Warner Video finally relented in 2005 and released a beautiful widescreen print of NIGHT OF THE LEPUS on DVD. You can now throw away all your lousy dupes and see this insane film as it was meant to be seen. Just a word of warning: If you have stitches, be prepared to bust a few. Originally released to theaters on a double bill with William Grefe's STANLEY (1972). A Warner Video Release. Rated PG. Do yourself a favor and watch the overwrought trailer on the DVD after the film is over for one last laugh.
100 TEARS (2007) - You know that old Gary Lewis & The Playboys song "Everybody Loves A Clown"? Well, that's total bullshit. Take a clown out of his element, be it a circus or a birthday party, and you have one of the scariest motherfuckers in the world. How would you like to run into a clown in a dark alley? Me? I would stain my shorts. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy was a birthday party clown and "serial killer groupies" (those sick bastards) treasure his paintings of clowns more than a fine art connoisseur would treasure a Van Gogh or Monet. And another thing: I believe actor/director Bobcat Goldthwait's surrealist comedy SHAKES THE CLOWN (1991) is closer to the truth of lives of clowns than most people believe (I'm mostly kidding...mostly). Clowns have been portrayed as villains since films began, but they didn't really come into prominence until the Chiodo Brothers horror comedy KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988) and Tim Curry's goosebump-inducing portrayal of Pennywise The Clown on the TV mini-series STEPHEN KING'S IT (1990), After that, clown killers were the protagonists in a lot of horror films (even up to this day, especially with Rob Zombie's 31 - 2015), but none are more terrifying than the one in the film I am about to review. This clown will blow your mind (literally) with his non-stop slaughtering and doing it without uttering a single word, so there are no wisecracks like in other killer clown movies. Even though this ultra-low-budget horror film was once harder to find than a funny bit in a Carrot Top comedy routine, it is now available in an "Extended Director's Cut", which adds a lot more gore and a little more exposition to give the characters some extra backbone in the extra 7 minutes. The film begins in a bleak-looking room, where Gurdy The Clown (Jack Amos) is applying his makeup while the camera pans around his room, showing us all types of creepy clown paraphenalia and then a bloodied girl tied-up on a mattress on the floor. Instead of Gurdy killing the girl, a shot rings out, blood splatters on the camera lens and it looks like Gurdy committed suicide (This scene is pivital to the entire film, which made me even enjoy the film more after it was over). We then switch to a week earlier, where tabloid reporters Jennifer Stevenson (Georgia Chris) and Mark Webb (screenwriter & producer Joe Davison) decide to change from exploitative fictional stories to something real and focus on a serial killer case where the killer is known as "The Teardrop Killer" and try to do research on what makes a serial killer tick. Meanwhile, at a halfway house where Gurdy the Clown is a resident, he suddenly turns extremely violent, as he slices up a black resident's face over-and-over with a big-ass meat cleaver (his weapon of choice) and then cleaves another resident's head in two while he is watching TV (both deaths are gory beyond belief and are more realistic than the deaths shown in big-budget films). Gurdy then gets into a fight with the halfway house's cook (the blooper reel on the DVD shows that the meat cleaver is not a prop, as it puts a huge hole into a steel pot!) and, after a short fight, he cuts off the cook's head with the cleaver (another extremely effective gory death). When an intern hears the commotion, Gurdy slices open his back with the cleaver, spurting blood all over a wall. Another intern runs for her life, only for Gurdy to stomp her head to a bloody pulp and then he turns his attention to a wheelchair-bound resident, who can't escape because there are a large set of stairs blocking her way. Gurdy decapitates her and then pushes her wheelchair and headless body down the flight of stairs (Man, this is a great way to start a horror film!). Jennifer does some research on the internet on the Teardrop Killer and discovers that at every murder site there were traces of greasepaint. Gurdy continues his killing spree at the halfway house, trapping a woman in the bathroom and disemboweling her, her intestines falling to the floor (his cleaver has many uses), slicing another male resident by nearly cutting him in half from the crotch-up (Ouch!) and then snapping the janitor's neck before escaping the halfway house. Jennifer's FBI sister (who we never see), sends her a text message on her phone telling her about the brutal slayings at the halfway house, so she and Mark go there to see if they can get inside (The New Mexico license plate on Mark's car reads "ROUTE66"). Lucky for them that Detective Duncan (Rod Grant; and yes his name is a reference to Dunkin Donuts) is at the murder scene, as he has a crush on Jennifer and lets them inside to videotape what is left of the carnage (the coroner has already taken the bodies away but, according to Det. Duncan, two people are still missing and unaccounted for), but Mark finds the cook's head in the oven and as our investigating team are taking a tour of the halfway house, they find a living little girl. They bring her outside to a surprised Det. Duncan, where the little girl cries, "He was killing everyone!" We then see that Gurdy has tied a young woman to a wooden table, both of her legs missing below the knees (her character's name is identified as "Legs McPhinney", played by Alanna Baker), screaming to her boyfriend Jeff (actor unknown, but his hands are tied behind his back and there's a noose around his neck) that "my legs are cold!". Gurdy tortures Jeff for a little while and then makes him watch as he suffocates his girlfriend and then kills Jeff with the cleaver. Young woman Christine (Raine Brown) is headed out for a night on the town with her girlfriends (Her mother tells her she is "dressed like a clown" [Clue alert!]) while Gurdy kills a mechanic with his own portable circular saw, cutting open his stomach and playing with his intestines, which he pulls out slowly and puts in a bucket. For good measure, he cuts off the mechanic's head with the cleaver. Christine is actually alone in a dive bar, then gets oral sex from some male patron in the alley (she also like to cut herself with a straight-razor) and generally acts like a degenerate. Jennifer and Mark deduce by the pattern of the killings throughout the years that the Teardrop Killer, could be a carny or possibly a clown in a traveling circus, but is the Teardrop Killer actually Gurdy or someone else? All of what I described has happened in the first 30 minutes of the film, so there is so much more bloodshed ond plot developments on view for the next 67 minutes (such as the guy who was performing cunnilingus on Christine is found sliced to death in the alley), that this review could go on forever describing every kill and the fine points on what makes Gurdy tick. Besides the very realistic gore effects (done by the director and his crew), you will see such sights as Jennifer and Mark getting into a footchase with a midget named Drago (Norberto Santiago), who knows more than he is willing to say, learn much more about the mysterious Christine and even why Gurdy spares Drago's life. You will also see a man get his feet chopped off, another man gets his arms chopped off and still another man being cut in half, his innards spilling onto the sidewalk, as Jennifer and Mark get closer and closer to the truth that it becomes fatal to one of them. We also learn from Drago that Gurdy's real name is "Luther Edward Baxter" (Why do most serial killers have three names, even the real-life ones?) and he once worked at the same circus Drago did. There are actually two serial killers on the loose, but are they connected in any way? I won't tell, but I have given you enough clues to draw your own conclusions. For such a low-budget film, it is chock-full of wall-to-wall unrated gore, a really decent plot (where the "suicide" at the beginning is explained in a very satisfying way) and not the normal bad acting you usually see in films with budgets like this. Director Marcus Koch (ROT - 1999; FELL - 2010; HI-8 - 2013), who usually supplies gore effects for other people's films, such as GHOST LAKE (2004); CLOSET SPACE (2008); SWEATSHOP (2010); SINNERS AND SAINTS (2010); as well as many others, makes this film a virtual thrill ride from beginning to end, with nary a dull moment in between. Producer/Star Joe Davison (who directed and wrote the films EXPERIMENT 7  and FROST BITE ) turns in a really good script full of funny one-liners (most of which he reserves for his character), but don't mistaken this film for a comedy in any way. Most of the funny stuff are throw-away lines of dialogue which you have to pay attention to appreciate and there is an actual story here between the frequent gore scenes (This film has a prediliction for showing human intestines as, besides the kills I have already described, there is another guy who gets impaled with the curved end of a crowbar, his intestines being pulled out and then being strangled with them! There are so many intestines on display, a sausage factory would be jealous.). You will also see nearly every human appendage being chopped off, watch as a human eyeball is bitten out of the head of a living victim and watch in amazement as a living human body is reduced to a pile of bloody mush as it is repeatedly hit with the cleaver and a sledgehammer. Nearly every way you can see a person killed (even with a gun, because one does come into play in an important scene) is shown on-screen without hiding anything, which will have gorehounds squealing with delight. I have seen my fair share of gory films, but I have not seen a film start with so much gore and keep it coming throughout 97 minutes than I have with this film. What's also even more amazing is this is a gore film with characters you actually care about, very rare for a film of this type. Sometimes the film's low-budget roots show, such as in some scenes where fake grain was added in-camera to give it a more "grindhouse" look, but you won't mind because of all the amazing kills on view and how the film wraps itself up nicely at the end. There is some clunky, inappropriate music in some scenes, but don't let that deter you from one of the bloodiest experiences you are bound to have in a long, long time. I can't recommend this film enough and the ending will bring a big, sadistic smile to your face. Make sure you stay through the end credits (the last few lines are a howl!), for a final stinger. Originally released on a limited edition DVD in 2008, which sold out quickly and was next to impossible to find anywhere, but the fine folks at Unearthed Films and MVD Visual released a longer Director's Cut on DVD in 2014 (with a reversable cover), which contains the same extras as on the original DVD. along with new ones. I especially liked the funny outtake reel (I'm a sucker for those!), where things go wrong and people act like idiots (There's one outtake where Mark is pelted by debris as he is on his back and suddenly a big round aluminum vent falls on him, something that wasn't planned. Thankfully, he wasn't hurt and laughed about it.). Ted Geoghegan, who was screenwriter on such gore films as BARRICADE (2006) and DON'T WAKE THE DEAD (2008), was an Associate Producer here. Filmed in Tampa, Florida. Also starring Kibwe Dorsey, Jerry Allen, Jeff Dylan Graham, Krystal Badia, Clayton Smith, Jeremy King, Chris Antilian, Christopher Jacobsen and Jori Davison. An Unearthed Films/MVD Visual DVD Release. Not Rated, and for good reason.
PEACEMAKER (1990) - This is not the 1997 George Clooney-Nicole Kidman starrer of the same name, but director Kevin S. Tenney's excellent action/sci-fi story concerning two aliens, one good, Townshend (Lance Edwards), and one a serial killer, Yates (the always excellent Robert Forster), battling it out on Earth. With the help of coroner Dr. Dori Caisson (Hilary Shepard, who sees about 20 bullet wounds disappear on Townshend after a fight with the police), the good alien (who is a cop on his home planet) try to track down and kill the bad alien and also retrieve the black keycard to his spaceship, which he lost during the scuffle with the police. His ship is in the ocean and he needs to get into it before the tide washes it out the sea. The only problem is, is that the Yates is tracking him, along with a detective (Robert Davi) who thinks that Dori is being held captive. The aliens can take as many hits to the body as possible and survive. It just takes some time to regenerate (as when Yates rips his hand off to escape a pair of handcuffs). The only way to kill them is to put a bullet in their brainpan, whereby they disintegrate within 20 seconds. Filmed on a low budget, this is still good old-fashioned nail-biting stuff as director Tenney films the frequent chase and fight scenes with verve and a sense of urgency. The film also has a good sense of humor as when Townshend learns English overnight by watching TV and Dori's interrogation by the detectives when she tries to explain that both men they saw were aliens. (She also says to one of the detectives: "The only difference between a brown-noser and a shithead is depth perception.") When Yates kidnaps Dori to trap and kill Townshend, the story takes a shocking turn. In a surprise twist, none of the aliens turn out who you think they are as Yates tells Dori that he is a Peacemaker, the real good guy and he has been on Earth for 20 years, sent to this planet as a intergalatic relocation program. He tells Dori that there are hundreds like him on Earth and that Townshend was sent here to kill one of the relocators. As a matter of fact, the rest of the film is full of twists and turns and action-packed. Nobody turns out to be who they say they are. Director Kevin S. Tenney has never done better. He has made some pretty good films (WITCHBOARD - 1986; NIGHT OF THE DEMONS - 1988), some decent ones (WITCHTRAP - 1989; WITCHBOARD 2: THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY - 1993; THE ARRIVAL II - 1998) and some terrible ones (THE CELLAR - 1990; PINOCCHIO'S REVENGE - 1996), but none as good as this one. It deserves to be a cult hit or at least a sleeper. Watch this and enjoy the wild ride. Also starring the always reliable Bert Remsen (CURFEW - 1989, he died in 1999), John Denos and Wally Taylor. A Fries Home Video Release. Rated R. A special shout-out to William Wilson for getting me to view this film again. I'd forgotten how good it was.
(1984) - I remember going to see this film in a theater under the
knowing full well that it was a hacked-up version of director Dario
Argento's original version (Much in the same way Argento's previous
film, TENEBRE ,
was severely edited and shown theatrically as UNSANE)
and coming away totally disappointed, thinking Argento lost his
mojo. I didn't think much of the film, even after seeing the full
version some sixteen years later, when
Anchor Bay Entertainment released it "uncut" (it wasn't)
and in widescreen on VHS and DVD in 1999, still thinking that Argento
lost his patented "touch", beginning with this film and
continuing with all the other films he directed in the '80s &
'90s. He still had flashes of brilliance, but I found his later films
bitterly disappointing, like he was trying way too hard to impress
audiences and failing miserably. I purposely put Argento's films on
moratorium after watching this film again back in the beginning of
the New Millennium and held off reviewing any of his films on this
site, with the exception of MOTHER
OF TEARS (2007) and [TERROR
AT THE] OPERA (1987), both of which I found exceptional.
Since I have been doing nothing but reviewing Italian and European
genre films for the past year, I decided to re-watch some Argento
films for the first time in over two decades, beginning with this
film, but I don't know if my brain has changed or my criteria on what
makes a good film has differed, because I was somewhat impressed with
this film, only with some minor caveats. For one thing, Argento's
choice of music (by Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Andi Sex Gang and Franky
Goes To Hollywood) is off-putting and seems to go against the grain
of what he was trying to convey (contrasting Simon Boswell &
Goblin's eerie, evocative score). It's like Argento was playing to
the stoner teen crowd in order to put asses in the seats, but when I
went to see this film on opening day, the theater was nearly empty
and there was nary a stoned teen to be seen. Another caveat is that
people in the film do the most stupid things possible at the worst
possible times, merely to advance the plot. If you can put up with
loud head-banging music and stupid people, you should have a good
time with this film. After this long-winded introduction, let's get
to the film itself.
A Danish schoolgirl (Fausta Avelli; RINGS OF FEAR - 1978) misses her tour bus after it stops for a bathroom break and it leaves without her, leaving her stranded somewhere in the outskirts of Switzerland. She walks for miles and finds a seemingly abandoned house, only it isn't because someone or something is chained to a wall and we see it break free. After having her hand pinned to a wall with scissors, the Dutch girl screams and runs away into a tunnel system near a steep waterfall (perfect for one of Argento's patented "one take, no edits" Steadicam sequences), where the killer stabs the girl in the stomach with the scissors and pushes her head through a plate of glass (in super slow-motion, an Argento trademark) and she falls to her death down the waterfall.
Eight months pass and we see Police Inspector Rudolf Geiger (Patrick Bauchau; THE RAPTURE - 1991) and his assistant Kurt (future director Michele Soavi; THE CHURCH - 1989) interviewing entomologist Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasence; WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD - 1983), whose young assistant, Greta, was murdered by a serial killer who has claimed many young female victims in the past eight months and some of their bodies, including Greta's, have not yet been found. The Professor was recently in a serious automobile accident, confining him to a life in a wheelchair. He has a really intelligent female chimpanzee named Inga, who acts like his service dog, getting him anything he needs, even pushing his wheelchair. It is obvious that Inga loves him and he feels the same way about her (this is important, folks!).
Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly; DARK CITY - 1998), the daughter of a world famous movie actor, arrives in Switzerland to attend the Richard Wagner School For Girls, an exclusive academy for the daughters of the elite. Jennifer is different from all the other girls, as we see in her first scene, where she is in a chauffeur-driven limousine with Frau Bruckner (Daria Nicolodi; Argento's INFERNO - 1980), who is her escort and chaperone. While on her way to the school for the first day, a bee flies into the limo and Frau Bruckner and the chauffeur go to kill it, but Jennifer stops them, the bee flying into her open hand. Jennifer tells them the bee will not sting her and it doesn't, as we see Jennifer stroking the bee with one of her fingers, telling Frau Bruckner that she loves insects and they love her back. Once at the school, Jennifer meets her new roommate Sophie (Federica Mastroianni) and the very strict nameless headmistress (Dalila Di Lazzaro; FRANKENSTEIN '80 - 1972) takes away Jennifer's poster of her father, saying such things aren't allowed in school, not even in her dorm room. That night, Jennifer has a nightmare and sleepwalks out of her dorm room and walks aimlessly outside, going in no particular direction. She is then picked up by two German students, who try to rape her in their car, but she manages to jump out of the moving car and rolls down an embankment into the forest.
Jennifer then wakes up, but she has no idea where she is. Inga then appears, takes Jennifer's hand and leads her to the Professor's house. The Professor notices that Jennifer has a strange effect on insects (all of his insects, which he keeps in glass cages, begin to buzz and make other noises very loudly), especially when a "spitting beetle" begins secreting a sweet smelling liquid when Jennifer holds it, meaning that it wants to mate with her. Since it is nowhere near the beetle's mating season, the Professor knows that Jennifer is an exceptional girl and she confesses that she has always been able to summon insects and they always come to her rescue when she is in trouble. The Professor tells Jennifer that many species of insects are able to use telepathy to communicate with other insects vast distances away and Jennifer is special because she also has that power. He asks her why she is out so late, but Jennifer tells him she can't remember much because she was sleepwalking and all she can recall is that two boys tried to sexually assault her, but she couldn't wake herself up. The Professor tells her she is always welcome to come to his house and gives her Greta's jacket to keep her warm, telling her that the next time she sleepwalks, she must say to herself, "I am sleepwalking. I must wake up." She then leaves his home and walks back to the school, where the headmistress is pissed, telling Jennifer that no one leaves her school at night and makes her get an EEG of her brainwaves, calling her an epileptic (!) and if she doesn't suffer from epilepsy, she must be crazy! Jennifer has had enough of the headmistress' bullshit and rips the electrodes off her head and storms out of the room, making Sophie promise to watch her at night so she doesn't sleepwalk.
That night, instead of watching Jennifer, Sophie meets her boyfriend on the school grounds. When her boyfriend leaves, Sophie is attacked and murdered by the serial killer, who uses a long metal pole with a sharp blade on one end to impale Sophie in the back of her skull, the blade exiting out of her mouth. Jennifer hears Sophie's screams and goes outside, where a single firefly leads her to a woolen glove hanging from a tree branch. Jennifer then goes back to her room and screams, waking up the rest of the school. The schoolgirls are relentless in their mocking of Jennifer, especially when one girl steals a letter Jennifer wrote to her father, explaining her power over insects, which she reads to the headmistress (she calls Jennifer "crazy" and a Devil worshipper, saying the name "Beelzebub" is Latin for "Lord of the Flies", referring to Jennifer as "Lady of the Flies"! This headmistress is a piece of work.). The students taunt Jennifer relentlessly, saying over and over, "Call to your insects! We worship you!" Suddenly, all the windows in the school are coated with winged insects, so thick that it turns the inside of the school pitch black, scaring both students and teachers alike. Then they just as suddenly disappear in a large swarm that blocks the sun in the sky. Jennifer then gives the woolen glove to the Professor, the only person she now trusts. The inside of the glove contains maggots and larvae of the "Master Sarcophagous Fly", an insect that only appears on dead flesh. Now fully understanding Jennifer's power with insects, the Professor comes up with the idea of pairing Jennifer with a Sarcophagous fly, the fly leading her to the location where the serial killer lives, the Professor believing that the killer keeps the rotting corpses of the victims close by (so he can "play" with them), hence the appearance of the larvae inside the glove. The Professor also believes that the killer lives within a fifty-two kilometer area, since the first victim (the Danish student) and every one after that were on the same route as the tour bus.
That night, while Inga is outside taking her nightly stroll, the door to the Professor's house slams shut and locks, leaving Inga outside with no way to get in. Knowing that the Professor's life is in danger, Inga starts screaming and begins tearing away the wooden slats covering one of the windows. The Professor hears the commotion and, thinking that Inga has locked herself out, he puts himself and his wheelchair on the electric stair climber and heads downstairs, only when he gets to the bottom, the killer stabs him in the stomach with the spear-like metal pole, killing him. Inga witnesses the whole thing and lets out a heart-breaking yelp (For those that don't believe man evolved from the apes, I suggest that you watch this scene. It will change your mind.). Inga then aimlessly walks through the forest and hunger forces her to forage through garbage cans, where she finds a straight razor...
Jennifer, who has left the school for good, vowing to never go back, hops on the tour bus with a single Sarcophagous fly in a glass cage and watches it closely as the bus travels its 52 kilometer route. The fly starts buzzing loudly at one location and she makes the driver stop the bus so she can get off, not noticing that the bus was being followed by a car as soon as Jennifer stepped on the bus and became a passenger. Jennifer lets the fly out of the cage and follows it, the car silently following Jennifer. The fly leads Jennifer to the house the Dutch girl found in the beginning of the film. Jennifer find the room where the killer was chained-up, but before she can discover anything else, a real estate broker comes into the house and wants to know why she is there because no one has live in the house for eight months. Jennifer leaves the house and we then discover that the car following her was being driven by Police Inspector Geiger, who questions the broker, wanting to know who lived in the house previously (information the audience is not privy to). Jennifer, who has no money and no place to stay, phones her father's agent, Morris Shapiro (Mario Donatone; THE CROSS OF SEVEN JEWELS - 1987), and begs him to wire her some money. He tells her what bank to go to to pick up the money and she goes there, the bank teller saying that no transfer in her name has arrived yet. Jennifer waits for hours for the money to arrive, only to have Frau Bruckner show up, saying that Morris Shapiro phoned her saying that there's a plane ticket for Jennifer that will take her back to the United States, but it doesn't leave until tomorrow morning. Until then she should stay with Frau Bruckner at her house.
Jennifer agrees and Frau Bruckner drives Jennifer to her home, which surprises Jennifer because her house is so huge. She asks Frau Bruckner how long she has lived in the house and she replies eight months (uh, oh!). Once in the house, Jennifer notices that all of the mirrors are covered with sheets, Frau Bruckner telling her that her nameless son suffers from Patau Syndrome (a real malady that causes severe deformation of the face) and he can't stand looking at himself. Jennifer uses the bathroom to wash up and discovers that the soap and towels are covered in Sarcophagous fly larvae and quickly puts two and two together. She tries to phone the police, but Frau Bruckner hits Jennifer on the back of her head with a blunt object, rips the phone cord out of the wall and places the phone in the next room. When Frau Bruckner sees the Inspector's car pull into the driveway, she knocks out Jennifer to stop her from yelling for help, flicks a switch on the wall which drops heavy sheets of metal on all the windows, making the room inescapable and locks the door behind her. Jennifer wakes up when she hears an ear-piercing scream and tries to escape the room, but fails. Knowing that the phone is in an adjoining room, Jennifer crawls through a window above the door, plugs the phone in and makes a call to the police, but another scream causes her to drop the phone, which falls through a hole in the floor (that is covered in Sarcophagous fly larvae). Rather than pulling the phone up by the cord, Jennifer crawls into the hole (I told you that people do stupid things in this film, didn't I?) to retrieve the phone, but she ends up falling into a pit filled with the remains of decaying bodies, which can best be described as a pool of putrefied flesh stew (which will give your gag reflex a good workout!). Next to the pit is Inspector Geiger, who is chained to a wall. As Jennifer escapes the pit of rotting body parts, Frau Bruckner appears and tries to kill her, but Inspector Geiger (who we saw break his thumb to escape his shackles) grabs Frau Bruckner. Jennifer escapes and runs into a room where a young boy is sitting in a corner, telling Jennifer to go away, as she doesn't belong here. Jennifer tries to comfort the boy (once again doing something very stupid), but when he turns around, she discovers he has the face of a monster. Yes, it is Frau Bruckner's son and he tries to kill Jennifer, but she escapes into a tunnel that leads outside to a dock by a lake. Jennifer quickly hops in a motorboat, but she is not quick enough, because the monstrous boy jumps into the boat with his spear-like weapon and tries to kill Jennifer with it but misses, piercing a plastic container of gasoline. Suddenly, a swarm of insects cover the boy, eating away the flesh on his grotesque face and he falls into the lake (Don't fuck with a girl who can summon insects!). Jennifer starts the boat's motor, only for it to ignite the gasoline, turning the boat and the water around it into a fiery inferno. Jennifer jumps into the lake and holds her breath, swimming away from the gasoline-soaked water, only the boy is not quite dead yet. He grabs Jennifer and a struggle ensues, where the boy surfaces and burns to death. Jennifer swims to shore and believes her ordeal is over. Morris Shapiro appears, telling Jennifer that he flew to Switzerland to personally accompany her home, but he doesn't get the chance. A piece of sheet metal, swung by Frau Bruckner, decapitates Morris (Quite shocking, one of the best jump scares I have ever seen on film). Frau Bruckner then holds the piece of sheet metal to Jennifer's throat, telling her that she killed Sophie and the Professor to "protect" her son, also telling Jennifer that she is about to die, so she should call her insect friends one last time, only they will not be able to protect her, they will see her die. Inga then appears, slashing Frau Bruckner about her face and throat with the straight razor, killing her in retribution for murdering her beloved Professor. The nightmare is finally over.
If you can look past people doing the most insane things at the most inopportune times (such as Jennifer crawling into a maggot-infested hole to retrieve the phone, when all she had to do is pull the phone up by the cord) and the headache-inducing heavy metal music playing during scenes that run contrary to the music being played (Hey, I have nothing against heavy metal, but it is only in this film to attract a certain audience, not to advance the plot or set a mood, you may find yourself enjoying this film. Be aware that the 82-minute version, titled CREEPERS (released by New Line Cinema to theaters and on VHS from Media Home Entertainment), is an abomination, missing over 30 minutes of footage, and excises some important exposition that is needed to make sense of the story. It also edits some of the more graphic violence so we don't see the "money shot" on any of the murders. Even the Anchor Bay DVD, which runs 110 minutes, is missing a few key scenes, including the Danish girl being impaled in the hand with scissors, Sophie being stabbed in the back of her head with the blade exiting out of her mouth and Inspector Geiger breaking his thumb to escape his handcuffs. Thankfully, the Synapse Films Blu-Ray and the streaming version on Amazon Prime (free to Prime members) offer the full 116-minute version, which is the way this film should be viewed (Arrow Films also issued a four-disc "Limited Edition" Blu-Ray of this title, but it is way too expensive for the likes of me.). This is purportedly Dario Argento's favorite film of his oeuvre, since it contains many aspects from his own personal history, especially the story Jennifer tells Sophie about her mother (missing from most prints), which actually happened to Argento. This film also contains many of Argento's patented flourishes, including the aforementioned single-take Steadicam tracking footage, death by glass and other strange sights, done with a sense of imagination and professionalism as only Argento can deliver. I am really glad I decided to revisit this film, because it gave me the impetus to explore Argento's other films, from the beginning of his directorial career (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE - 1970), right up to his most recent film, DRACULA 3D (2012; at the time of this review). I will sporadically be posting reviews of most of his films, as I am finding myself discovering something new every time I re-watch them. Argento is one of the few directors from the Golden Age of Italian genre Cinema still working today. There's a reason for that, as even his most recent films, while not masterpieces, show a certain brilliance missing from most films today. Luigi Cozzi (director of THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN - 1975; STARCRASH - 1978; and the gory CONTAMINATION - 1980) handled the insect swarming visual effects and Michele Soavi was First Assistant Director. Also featuring Fulvio Mingozzi (Argento's DEEP RED - 1975), Fiorenza Tessari, Fiore Argento (Argento's THE CARD PLAYER - 2004), Alberto Cracco and David Marotta (DEMONS 2 - 1986) as Frau Bruckner's deformed son. The edited theatrical cut was Rated R, while the uncut version is Not Rated.
SAMURAI COP (1989/1991) - Oh...my...God! If you thought Iranian director/scripter Amir Shervan's HOLLYWOOD COP (1986) and KILLING AMERICAN STYLE (1988, but not released until 2014!) were brain-damaged entertainment, wait until you get a gander at this, an even more mentally-challenged actioner that contains plentiful nudity, violence, gore and, most of all, some of the most anemically-staged action sequences ever committed to celluloid. Toss in one of the most unbelievable, pretty-boy leading men in film history and what you have is a total package of ineptitude. Matt Hannon (real name: Mathew Karedas) stars as Detective Joe Marshall, a cop in L.A. (on loan from San Diego) who speaks fluent Japanese (although we never hear him speak a single word of it) and was somehow trained in the way of the Samurai (as a matter of fact, "Samurai" is his nickname). Joe (who has hair down to his shoulders, is irresistible to most women and has the emotional range of a cucumber, like some mutant Fabio) teams up with L.A. detective Frank (Mark Frazer) to bring down Japanese drug kingpin Fujiyama (Joselito Rescober; and, yes, you read that correctly, a Spanish actor playing a Japanese!). After catching one of Fujiyama's men after a memorable car chase (where Joe repeatedly says to Frank, "Shoot! Shoot him!") and putting him in the hospital with burns over 90% of his body (his van simply taps the side of a hill and explodes!), Joe and Frank hope to get him to talk (!), but Fujiyama sends his #1 muscle, Yamashita (Robert Z'Dar; yeah, you read that correctly, too!) to cut the burned guy's head off so he can "place it on his piano". Yamashita does just that, sneaking into the hospital room while hiding in a garbage can and cutting the guy's head off with a Katana while he lies in bed, all bloodied and bandaged. When Police Captain Roma (Jimmy Williams) finds out, he nearly bursts a blood vessel (He says, "I feel like somebody stuck a big club up my ass...and it hurts! I've gotta figure out a way to get it outta there!"), but he gives Joe and Frank one more chance to bring Fujiyama down. That "one more chance" includes numerous fights, by sword (where one guy gets his arm sliced off), gun and fist; a hilarious encounter with a gay Costa Rican waiter; an invasion on henchman's Okamura's (Gerald Okamura) house, where Joe and Okamura have one of the most badly choreographed martial arts fights in memory (not to mention the constantly changing location photography); and a visit from some New York hitmen. After various attempts on Joe and Frank's lives, they kill Fujiyama, Joe and Yamashita have a sword and fist duel (where Yamashita commits hari-kari for losing face) and Joe falls in love with Fujiyama's new girlfriend, Jenny (Janis Farley). Is that a tear in your eye? Here, let me get you a tissue. I can't begin to explain how bad this gem truly is. I don't think there's a second in this film where one thing goes right, whether it the acting, editing, music, action sequences or some of the poorest post-sync dubbing and sound effects this side of a Doris Wishman film. Matt Hannon (who was once a bodyguard for Sylvester Stallone) is so stiff and wooden as the long-haired American Samurai, I was waiting for my TV set to start spitting out splinters. Mark Frazer, as his black partner Frank, must have studied acting from the Steppin Fetchit school of emoting, as all he does is stare bug-eyed into the camera in a series of reaction shots or talk about his "black ass" or how big his dick is. He sets back the cause of African American acting (not to mention Civil Rights) by at least fifty years. Robert Z'Dar (MANIAC COP - 1988; EVIL ALTAR - 1989) covers-up his extraordinary big chin with a beard and proves how mean he is by pouring a frying pan-full of bacon grease onto the legs of nymphomaniac cop Peggy (Melissa Moore of VAMPIRE COP ) to get her to talk. Otherwise, his expression never changes throughout the entire film. Director Shervan (who, at one time, owned the majority of movie theaters in Iran) manages to throw in as much nudity as possible (always a good thing), but the entire film looks like it was shot and edited by someone with a severe case of ADD, as it jumps from one scene to the next with no establishing shots or connecting structure and contains gunfights where it's plain to see that the weapons are nothing more than cap pistols (in some scenes, you can actually hear the clicks of the pistols where they forgot to overdub the sounds of actual gunfire) and some of the most unbelievable dialogue I have ever heard. The Police Captain gets the best lines, including where he incredulously tells Joe and Frank to "kill everyone" and "make sure it's a bloodbath" in the film's finale or the scene where he tells Fujiyama's lawyer (who simply says to him, "I'll see you in court!"), "You motherfucker! I'll see you in Hell! Leave me alone! Get a job!" Wow. Who knew being a lawyer wasn't a job? There's also a surreal scene between Joe and a hospital nurse that must be heard and seen to be believed. I can't recommend this film highly enough for all badfilm lovers. It's the best anti-action action film you will ever see. Filmed in Los Angeles in 1989, but not released until 1991. Joe Bob Briggs does his usual hilarious, biting commentary on this film's DVD release from Media Blasters. The DVD also contains a funny interview with co-star Robert Z'Dar (If his jaw gets any bigger, it will have it's own gravitational orbit!), who reminisces about this film, his life and his real-life romance with co-star Krista Lane (here billed simply as "Cameron"), who he swears ignorance to her porn star credits at the time, even though his first filmed scene with her was a nude lovemaking bit in a bed (which had to be reshot, after a bottle of wine, because she was too "stiff"!). Great stuff. Unbelievably, followed by a sequel in 2015, SAMURAI COP 2: DEADLY VEANGENCE, starring Mathew Kareda, Mark Frazer and Melissa Moore in their original roles. Amir Shervan passed away in 2006, so it was directed by Gregory Hatanaka. A Media Blasters/Guilty Pleasures Release. Now available separately on DVD & Blu-Ray from Cinema Epoch. Not Rated.
SATAN'S SLAVE (1976) - For years, this Crown International film has been floating around on stand-alone VHS & DVD compilations in a cut 86-minute R-Rated version, even in U.S. theaters. I was never keen on the film because it seemed like something was missing and I never really could pinpoint one character in the film (turns out it was two characters; I'll explain in the review) and why he did the things he did. Now, thanks to Walter Olsen and Scorpion Releasing, we have a completely uncut version of the film on widescreen anamorphic DVD with three minutes of excised footage restored and it makes it seem like a different film. A better film. Not only does the three minutes restore some nasty bits, full-frontal female nudity (and lots of it!) and extend the gore briefly shown shown in the R-Rated version and give us a previously unseen death of a character, almost from the beginning it shows some exposition about the character I was talking about. It gives us the motivations of a sociopath. And since Norman J. Warren was the director and David McGillivray the screenwriter (they worked together again on the so-so TERROR - 1978), you know the film will be interesting in this incarnation (McGillvray is better known for writing the screenplays to the films of director Pete Walker, such as FRIGHTMARE - 1974; HOUSE OF WHIPCORD - 1974; THE CONFESSIONAL - 1975; and SCHIZO - 1976, which were nearly all nasty indictments of the Catholic Church or the British penal system disguised as horror films). The film begins with a robed and goat mask-wearing Alexander Yorke (the unmistakenable voice of Michael Gough; HORROR HOSPITAL - 1973) and his group of hooded followers performing a Satanic mass, where Alexander leads a young woman (which we later find out was his wife) on to an altar and strips her naked (full-frontal nudity within the first three minutes; whats not to love?). He calls her a "vessel of reversal", as the naked woman writhes in pleasure and pain, with Alexander hoping some female spirit named Camilla will enter his body because she was once a powerful witch. He hopes this female sacrifice will be enough to entice her to enter his body, so he will have all her powers, including immortality. The woman sits up and screams and we are suddenly at a dinner with Stephen Yorke (Martin Potter; GOODBYE GEMINI - 1970) and some unnamed young woman (played by Paula Patterson). The young lady gets sleepy (Could Stephen have drugged the wine?) and uses Stephen's bed to lay down, only to find Stephen standing over her and putting a pillow over her face, knocking her out. He then gags her, ties her hands behind her back and begins to rape her, when he notices scissors on the night table. He picks them up, cuts off her clothes and runs the scissors over her completely naked body (there is a long scene of female pubic hair in this scene), stopping the scissors at certain parts of her body (Will her cut off one of her nipples? Will he shove the scissors up her vagina?), before she breaks loose, running out of the room and calling Stephen an "animal". Stephen just lays on the bed and laughs. The young woman tries to find a way to leave the mansion, but Stephen slams a door against her head a few times, forcing blood to come out of her ears and mouth. He finishes her off by stabbing her repeatedly in the torso with a large knife and begins dragging her body away on a rug, when a woman comes through the front door and sees what he is doing (Only a fragment of this sequence exists on the R-Rated version, the scissors sequence is completely missing and it gives us a much better psychological profile of Stephen in the uncut version.). We then switch to Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning; TOWER OF EVIL [a.k.a. HORROR ON SNAPE ISLAND; BEYOND THE FOG - 1972]) and her boyfriend John (Michael Craze; MADHOUSE - 1974) in bed. Catherine is rapidly approaching her 20th birthday and she is going to spend it with her parents at her Uncle Alexander's mansion for a week. She is also prone to premonitions and feels that she needs to do this for some reason she cannot explain. Before she leaves, John gives her an expensive silver bracelet that once belonged to his mother as an early birthday present, since he was not invited to go on the journey with her (it's family only). Catherine and her parents make the 60-mile trip to Alexander's mansion out somewhere in a secluded part of the country. As Catherine's father is driving down the long driveway that leads to Alexander's mansion, he hears a god-awful noise which makes him slam the car against a tree. Catherine's mother is knocked unconscious, so her father says he will stay with her while Catherine runs to the mansion to call for an ambulance. Suddenly, for seemingly no reason, the car bursts into flames and explodes, killing Catherine's parents. As you can guess, Catherine is an emotional mess, but we know that Uncle Alexander and Stephen have her just where they want her. Alexander's secretary, Frances (Barbara Kellerman; THE MONSTER CLUB - 1980), who loves Stephen even though she knows he is a sociopath (she was the woman that walked through the door when Stephen was moving his first victim away), puts Catherine to bed (after Alexander gives her some "sleeping pills") and takes care of her needs. She wakes up the next morning and Stephen takes her on the tour of the grounds and Catherine learns that Stephen lost his mother when she was just 29 years-old. She also notices that her parents' car is missing ("The police took it." is Stephen's reply). Stephen says that he and his father talked a lot about Catherine when they lived in Africa (if Africa has any meaning in this film, it is lost on me). Catherine has a premonition (it's actually a premonition flashback and flashforward) where three Puritans tie a totally naked Camilla Yorke to a tree, brand her a couple of times with a cross, whip her back until it is bloody and raw and then Catherine sees herself being burned alive like a witch (much of this scene is missing from the R-Rated cut). When she comes out of her state, Stephen is nowhere to be found. Catherine gets back to the mansion and sees Stephen reading on a couch. When she asks him where he went, all he tells her are lies. Catherine tells Uncle Alexander that she doesn't trust Stephen at all and Alexander says Catherine is a wise young woman. He has been cleaning Stephen's messes up since he was a child. Alexander insists that Catherine's parents be buried at a small gathering at the family cemetery on the mansion's grounds (In an ironic in-joke, David McGillivray cameos as a priest). When everyone leaves, Catherine is drawn to a headstone buried in the thicket with the name "Camilla Yorke" chiseled on it. While Catherine is asleep that night, someone dressed in black, including black gloves, sneaks into her bedroom (giving this sequence a giallo feel) and steals the silver bracelet that John gave her as an early 20th birthday present. Frances can't stand that Stephen has pushed her aside for Catherine, so she sneaks into Alexander's study and unlocks a drawer to his desk, stealing some important papers which we don't know what they contain. Yet. John has not heard from Catherine in a few days and her birthday is tomorrow, so he leaves his apartment and gets into the elevator (probably to drive to Alexander's mansion), when he hears that god-awful noise that Catherine's father heard before he crashed the car (We can hear the name "Asmodeus" mentioned among the noise. Asmodeus is constantly associated as being the Devil, but it is actually one of the Seven Princes of Hell. He is the Prince of Lust.). John non-chalantly takes the elevator to the roof of the building and walks off it, the results being John's body torn to a bloody pulp when he hits the pavement (This is the second character I was talking about. In the R-Rated cut, we see John in the beginning and then he just disappears. His death is certainly a gory shocker in the Uncut version and is the first time in the U.S. that we see him die.). Alexander keeps on giving Catherine "sleeping pills" and this time she has a dream of laying on an altar completely naked, while another woman draws a pentagram on her chest using a dagger and human blood. Stephen kisses her naked body, she has blood and snakes thrown on her body (Miss Clendenning insisted on a body double with the snake scene, but the rest of the sequence is all her) while a group of hooded Satanists watch the action. She awakens from the nightmare (or was it a premonition?) before she can be killed on the altar. But what could all of this mean? I believe I have given you all the clues you need to figure it out (there's also a betrayal by someone very close to Catherine). Why are there no police questioning Catherine? What are in the papers that Frances took and what happens to her when Stephen finds out? Does Catherine escape or is she sacrificed since it is her 20th birthday today? Since this comes from the 70's, it could go either way. The extra three minutes add greatly to the enjoyment of the film. I never liked the R-Rated version, but this Unrated version gives us characterization, gore (some of it really nasty, especially Stephen's extended eye-gouging demise and John's death) and plenty of full-frontal nudity (I haven't seen so much bush except in a porn film, some of it shot in extreme close-up, especially in Stephen's scissor scene) not only makes the film highly watchable, but is also integral in enjoying the film as pure horror with plenty of surprises. The film now seems whole, rather than leaving you asking questions where you get no answers. Speaking of the scissors scene in the beginning of the film: It finally shows us what type of psychopath Stephen really is, rather than just implying it throughout the rest of the film in the R-Rated cut. We also find out what happens to John, which was also a nagging question. The amount of female nudity in this cut is staggering and no body part is missing by the camera's lens. Director Norman J. Warren could run hot (ALIEN PREY - 1978; HORROR PLANET [a.k.a. INSEMINOID - 1980]; BLOODY NEW YEAR - 1986) and cold (SPACED OUT - 1979) and this film use to be in my cold pile, but in this new Uncut version, it will definitely get repeat viewings from me. It's amazing what a little restored footage can do to vastly improve a film. Let me just say that I now consider this one of Norman J. Warren's best films. It was available on VHS in it's R-Rated edition by various bootleg companies (I can't find one legitimate VHS release in the United States), but there are many DVD incarnations, including a double feature DVD (with the previously mentioned TERROR) by the defunct Deimos Entertainment (the line was taken over by Code Red before CR went out on their own) and DVD compilations such as Rhino Video's HORRIBLE HORRORS COLLECTION VOLUME 1 and the GOREHOUSE GREATS 12 movie compilation from Mill Creek Entertainment, both of which were all films released by Crown International Pictures to movie theaters. If you want to see the Uncut version, though, you can only see it on this DVD, which comes with a plethora of extras, including deleted scenes, old and new featurettes and FRAGMENTS (1965), the first short film directed by Warren. Also known as EVIL HERITAGE (the name of the shooting script), but changed to the more exploitative title. Apparently, it was released somewhere under the shooting title, but I'll be damned if I could find any material backing it up. Also starring James Bree, Gloria Walker, Celia Hewitt, Moira Young as Alexander's wife (also an Associate Producer), Monika Ringwald as Camilla Yorke, and Robert Conway, Nick Maley & Richard Crafter (one of this film's Producers) as the three Puritans. A Scorpion Releasing DVD Release. Not Rated.
A SAVAGE HUNGER (1984) - An (offscreen) plane crash leaves a diverse group of people stranded in the desert. They are your typical cast of stereotypes: Young, naive Matt (Chris Makepeace; MEATBALLS - 1979), who has just lost his father in the crash; spoiled rich bitch Jennifer (Suzanne Snyder; RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II - 1987), who is not used to doing anything on her own; fitness and health food fanatics Anna (Anne Lockhart; TROLL - 1986) and Alex (Rick Podell; WORLD GONE WILD - 1988), who won't even eat caviar found in the wreck because it contains "fish byproducts"; photographer Paul (Richard Cox; ZOMBIE HIGH - 1987), whose camera is an extension of his arm; co-pilot Eric (Mark Metcalf; ANIMAL HOUSE - 1978), who has suffered brain injuries; regular joe Louis (Ben Slack; SOCIETY - 1989), a nice guy in an awful situation; brave middle-aged New Yorker Jill (Dori Brenner; ALTERED STATES - 1980); and physician Jake (Scott Hylands; DEATH HUNT - 1981), who becomes the unofficial leader of the group. After realizing that no one in the outside world knows where they are and with food and water getting scarce, Jake, Alex, Matt, Paul and Jill leave the rest of the group back at the wreckage and head-off in search of civilization and rescue, not aware that the directions given them by Eric are completely wrong. When Anna discovers that Eric is a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, she and the remainder of the group head out to catch up with Jake and his gang and put them in the right direction. They do catch up, but a lack of water puts them all in a weakened state. Louis is the first to fall victim. Too weak to walk, the group are forced to leave him behind as they move forward (Paul takes one last picture of him, but a disgusted Jill breaks his camera). Eric takes his life the next day by swallowing a handful of sand, imagining it to be water. The remaining seven survivors trek on through the blazing sun and hot sand, all of them moments away from dying of dehydration and heat stroke (Alex gets so thirsty, he drinks his own urine). Anna and Alex steal the last bit of water and break-off from the rest of the group, selfishly heading out on their own. Too bad for them, because the rest of the group find a man-made mini oasis, complete with a well full of water. They have two major problems, though. The first one is that though they have plenty of water, they have nothing to carry it in, forcing them to stay at the oasis and hoping someone finds them. The second problem is food. Besides a couple of lizards, there is no nourishment to be had. They are in quite the conundrum, which is further complicated by a wound on Jill's foot that is turning gangreinous and Jake going looney from hunger. He wants to kill Jill and cannibalize her body, but Paul protects her until she dies and he then buries her in a secret location. Jake goes quite mad and murders Paul while Matt and Jennifer (who are now lovers) watch and do nothing. Jakes slices-up Paul's body (it's a pretty graphic scene) and cooks his flesh over an open fire. Matt refuses to eat it, but Jennifer gobbles it down and becomes Jake's bitch. Will Matt finally cave-in and eat human flesh or will he fight the craving and realize that when the Paul buffet runs dry, he will be next on the menu? Man, I get the feeling that things are going to get hot at the oasis. I remember watching this film (also known as THE OASIS) on the CBS Late Movie in the mid-80's, but finally seeing it on home video is like watching a whole different film, since the sanitized TV edit deleted all the nudity, violence and the entire cannibal subplot! Director Sparky Greene (sadly, this is his only feature film credit) holds off on most of the graphic violence and nudity until the final third of the film, so when it does come, it's shocking and totally unexpected. The scene where Jake cuts into a dead Paul's arm with a jagged piece of metal is about as graphic as a film can get. Until then, Greene was more interested in showing us the plight of the survivors as they traverse the barren desert (filmed in Death Valley, California) in search of food and shelter. Watching their suffering is an emotional ordeal and I dare you not to reach for something to drink while viewing this. The script (by Tom Klassen) has minimal dialogue, but the words are chosen carefully and some lines resonate, thanks to a cast of veteran actors. Just listen to what Louis asks of the group before they walk off, leaving him in the hot sun to die: "Every once in a while, just think of me, okay?" You can actually see the pain and anguish on the other people's faces when he gasps that out. Not a typical line of dialogue for a film like this. I especially liked the downbeat ending, where Jennifer knocks-out Jake when he is choking Matt. When Matt and Jennifer leave the oasis with a full jug of water (Matt finds the jug next to the corpses of Anna and Alex, who have been picked-clean by vultures), Matt asks Jennifer why she picked him over Jake. When she answers, "There was more of him!", it leaves little doubt what is in the backpack Matt is carrying. They then spot a road and think they are saved, throwing the water and backpack to the ground and running towards the road, but as the camera pans overhead, it reveals that nothing but miles of barren, empty terrain lies ahead of them. That's just mean but, boy, does it ever pack a punch. If you can find the VHS tape of this film from Vestron Video, grab it, because it's not yet available on DVD and it's worth your time. It would make a good companion piece with Rene Cardona's SURVIVE! (1976), which was remade as the less-exploitative ALIVE (1993). Not Rated.
SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS (1982) -
Many think this is a minor film from director Sergio Martino (THE
STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH - 1971; ALL
THE COLORS OF THE DARK - 1972; TORSO
- 1973), who takes the moniker "Christian Plummer" here,
but I have to disagree. It's weird, I'll give it that, but this film
is important for several reasons, the main one being that this is his
last giallo/horror film of his illustrious career (at the time of
this review, as he is still involved in Italian genre cinema). After
this film, Martino mainly focused on action films, including the
sci-fi tinged HANDS
OF STEEL (1986),
UPPERCUT MAN (1988), CASABLANCA
EXPRESS (1989), AMERICAN
TIGER (1989) and CODE CONDOR
(1990). This film has a lot to recommend, including a large cast of
actors well versed in Italian genre cinema, some great location work
and a plot that could be politely called "out there." So
why is this film largely ignored in the United States? That's simple.
Besides one VHS release by a short-lived company and a DVD release by
a company of questionable repute, that's all we got in the States and
both of those releases are long OOP. Thanks to YouTube, I was able to
watch this film streaming on my Roku and write this review, so let's
get to it.
We watch an ancient Etruscan mass human sacrifice in a large grotto containing a deep pit that is spewing out unknown fumes. We watch young couples walking into the pit as priest talks Etruscan and someone grabs their heads and turns them 180° (ouch!). It turns out this is part of a nightmare Joan Barnard (Elvire Audray; VAMPIRE IN VENICE - 1988) is having in her apartment in New York City. But is it a nightmare or a vision? The next morning, she tells scientist co-worker Mike Grant (Paolo Malco; THE NEW YORK RIPPER - 1982) that she had another dream where someone spoke Etruscan to her and Mike jokingly says he could think of better things to do with her at night. Joan reminds him that she is married to archaeologist Arthur Barnard (John Saxon; TENEBRE - 1982) and Mike replies that she hasn't seen him in months and every time she talks to him on the phone they get into an argument. Mike continues to say that when Etruscan women had disagreements with their spouses, they would get revenge by jumping in bed with the first man they see. We then find out that Arthur has been away from home for ten months researching Etruscan ruins in Italy, financed by Joan's rich father, Mulligan (Van Johnson; KILLER CROCODILE - 1989), and his foundation. Joan tells Mike that she has been having these nightmares for quite some time and she believes they will end when Arthur comes home. Joan then notices some photos of ruins on Mike's desk and he tells her Arthur sent them for him to analyze. When Joan picks up one of the photos, she sees maggots crawling on it (thousands on 'em!). She starts screaming, calling out Arthur's name, but when Mike touches her, the maggots disappear. What is going on here?
We then see Arthur by a river somewhere in Italy. He sees an old man playing a flute (Luigi Rossi), making a deadly snake retreat from Arthur's feet. Arthur thanks the old man and discovers he is well versed in Etruscan lore. The old man tells Arthur he has something to show him and they walk away. At the same time, Joan is taking an afternoon nap and has another nightmare, only this time she sees an Etruscan woman (who could be Joan's double [as a matter of fact, Elvire Audray portrays her]) twist Arthur's head the way no head should ever be twisted. The phone then rings and it's Arthur, who tells Joan he won't be home any time soon because he has made an important discovery. He tells Joan that he is shipping some crates back to the foundation and to tell her father that before the crates can be shipped, he needs to send a telex (an 80's version of a fax or email). Joan is pissed, telling Arthur she isn't doing anything until he tells her why he isn't coming home. Arthur tells her he found an ancient Etruscan tomb hidden in a cave in an enormous grotto and this may be the greatest discovery in archaeological history. It's the richest Etruscan tomb ever discovered. Joan tells Arthur that there's a pit in the grotto that is spewing out noxious fumes and Arthur is stunned, asking her how she knew that. "I dreamt it" says Joan, describing the location in more detail. While she is talking on the phone, someone sneaks up behind Arthur, grabs his head and twists it 180°, killing him (Hey, better he's dead, because re-learning how to take a piss will be messy!). As Joan screams out Arthur's name, she hears someone speaking Etruscan on the other end of the phone and then passes out. We then see Arthur dead on the floor. If he could lift his head, he would see his ass!
A few days later, Joan is sitting in her father's office, Mulligan telling her that either a lunatic or a burglar murdered Arthur, even the Italian police believe that. Joan wants to go to Italy to investigate Arthur's death herself, but her father starts bad-mouthing Arthur, telling Joan the only reason Arthur married her was for his foundation and money. He seems more interested in the crates than Arthur's murder, telling Joan that he put Heather Hull (Wandisa Guida; LIGHTNING BOLT - 1966) in charge of the operation and she will makes sure the crates are shipped to him. The biggest questions becomes this: Why is Mulligan so interested in the crates and what's in them? Joan reminds her father about the telex and he blows it off, telling his daughter that Arthur demanded $100,000 for some tomb he found (He says this about Arthur: "You can be a great archaeologist and still be a fink."). He tells Joan that Heather will be back at the end of the week and she will tell her anything she wants to know, but until then she should go to the ranch and relax. Joan says she will do just that...when she gets back from Italy. She's sure Heather's "field report" will tell her nothing.
Joan flies to Italy with Mike, who insists on going with her. She then talks to the Police Commissioner (Gianfranco Barra; Martino's THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR - 1975), who takes Joan and Mike to the home of Contessa Maria Volumna (Marilu Tolo; CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN - 1971), who says Arthur was a guest in her home. It's obvious that she is lying to Joan, telling her that Arthur stayed with her for a week, he wanted to look at her library of old and ancient books for some research. Heather then arrives and Joan asks her for the location of the Etruscan tomb Arthur found, but Heather says she doesn't know what Joan is talking about. When Joan goes through Arthur's personal belongings, she finds a slip of paper and written on it is, "There is twelve!!" (Apparently, Arthur failed English sentence structure in school!) There is also a receipt from a local jeweler and when she goes to the shop, the jeweler shows her an ancient gold amulet in the shape of a scorpion with two tails, telling her that Arthur brought it in to his shop to turn it into a necklace (A scorpion with two tails is a symbol of divinity in ancient Etruscan culture). The jeweler gives Joan the necklace, telling her that Arthur said he was giving it to "someone special" and believes it was for her. Is she the special one?
Heather takes Joan and Mike, along with bodyguard Nick Forte (Jacques Stany; FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET - 1971), to the ruins Arthur was supposedly examining and a stone statue of an old man playing the flute gets Joan's undivided attention. It's obvious that these ruins are nothing but a tourist trap, but Joan walks off on her own, as if she were in a trance, interrupting a photographer, Gianni Andrucci (Franco Garofalo; THE POSSESSOR - 1975), who is taking photos of two models in swimsuits. Joan starts seeing people from her nightmares and millions of maggots flow out of the eyes of one ancient stone statue until Mike, once again, snaps her out of it. Nick Forte is then found dead, his neck snapped and his head twisted 180°. Joan tells Mike that she saw Nick die and she is sure her "visions" are prophecies of things to come. That night, Joan walks among the ruins by herself and meets the old man with the flute. She asks him if he knows who killed Arthur and he replies, "It is not easy to understand the designs of the gods. Tomorrow you will see the light." Why does everyone have to talk in riddles in films like this? Why don't they just come out and tell it like it is? (That's a rhetorical question and I already know the answer!)
Eleven crates arrive at the foundation and Mulligan is excited to open one particular crate, which is marked. A couple of goons (obviously bad men because they wear sunglasses at night!) open the crate and it is full of cheap vases, not what Mulligan was expecting. Thinking that he opened the wrong crate, Mulligan orders the goons to open all the crates, but mob boss Masaccio (Maurizio Mattioli; A SPECIAL COP IN ACTION - 1976) tells the goons to stop, they were hoodwinked, giving Mulligan two weeks to make good, otherwise he's a dead man. Since the mob is involved, it's not difficult to figure out what was supposed to be in that crate: drugs, heroin to be precise. Three hundred pounds of it, with a street value of seven million dollars. When Masaccio and the goons leave, Mulligan opens all the crates by himself, finding nothing but cheap vases with the image of a man playing the flute on them in all the crates. How's that for irony?
The next day, the old man takes Joan to the cave with the enormous grotto. Joan recognizes it from her nightmares and knows where she has to go without being told (The old man hands her an oil lamp and says, "The light is yours!"). She finds the crate full of heroin and figures out what "There is twelve!!" means (there were eleven crates shipped to the foundation and this was the twelfth one). Joan is then kidnapped by the two goons and thrown into the back of their car. Mulligan arrives in Italy looking for the missing crate and when Heather and Mike tell him that Joan is missing, he doesn't seem worried and he drives to the Contessa's house. She lies to Mulligan, telling him she was lucky to find Joan walking alone on a dark street and hands her over to her father. Joan calls her father a drug dealer and he doesn't deny it, telling her sure, he has drugs shipped to his foundation in New York City, but he's just a "link in a chain", saying if she doesn't want to see him dead, she will show him where the twelfth crate is. Joan, Mulligan, the Contessa and her driver go to the cave, but when they get out of the car, someone takes a shot at them, forcing them to get in the car and drive away. They go back to the cave at night, where they find both Heather and the old man dead, their necks snapped the same way as everyone else. While the pit is spewing toxic fumes, Joan goes into one of her trances and she, her father, the Contessa and the driver are shot by Masaccio's goons, Joan being the only survivor. She is operated on in a hospital, where a surgeon removes a bullet from her heart, telling Mike it is a miracle she survived. Joan's recovery is quick and she tells the Police Commissioner that she is not leaving Italy until she discovers the truth of what happened to her husband and father. Another archaeologist, Paolo Domelli (Claudio Cassinelli; Martino's SCREAMERS - 1980) appears and tells Joan she bears a striking resemblance to a painting in an Etruscan tomb he has discovered. When Joan goes to the tomb and sees the painting, she knows that she is the reincarnation of a female Etruscan goddess, who was said to be immortal. Together with Paolo and photographer Gianni, who may have taken a photo of the killer during his shoot at the tourist trap, Joan begins to unravel the mystery to solve who killed her husband and everyone else. When Mike is found dead in the twelfth crate, his head given the old 180 and the drugs missing, Joan begins to lose control, as if someone is taking over her body and soul. What happens next is pure WTF?!? cinema, best seen than explained, but I will tell you this: One of the murder victims is not dead at all and another person close to Joan is the killer. Will Joan begin to walk and see what's behind her at the same time or will she survive this Etruscan nightmare? And just who is snapping all of these necks and why?
If this film seems highly fragmented and lacking any bloody graphic violence or female nudity (although a French lobbycard shows there was some nudity in this film), it was because this was originally filmed as a three hour TV miniseries titled IL MISTERIO DEGLI ETRUSCHI ("The Mystery Of The Etruscans"), but it was scrapped and never aired. It was edited down to 97 minutes, which explains some of the jumps in narrative logic (such as Joan's extremely quick recovery in the hospital) and why John Saxon is in it for no longer than five minutes (his role was much larger in the TV version). That's not to say that this version is a waste of time, because it's not. Sergio Martino's long-time cinematographer, Giancarlo Ferrando (Martino's YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY - 1972 and THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS - 1973), does a great job giving the grotto and pit a sense of dread and the many neck snappings are still hard to watch, even though they are bloodless (although, I must say, one such victim of a neck snapping walking on both feet during the finale of the film did bring a smile to my face). Since Martino is the director, you know you can count on him delivering a film full of atmospheric sequences, especially Joan's nightmares, which are brimming with otherworldly charm and multiple neck snappings. Van Johnson, a great actor from the "Hollywood System" of the '40s & '50s, adds a touch of class in his role as a rich drug-running father, making me understand why he was used numerous times in Italian genre films from the '60s to the '90s (THE PRICE OF POWER - 1969; THE EYE OF THE SPIDER - 1971; FROM CORLEONE TO BROOKLYN - 1978; CONCORDE AFFAIR '79 - 1979; FLIGHT FROM PARADISE - 1990; DELTA FORCE COMMANDO 2 - 1990) until his death in 2008. It helps offset Elvire Audray's role as Joan, who is simply terrible here, appearing like she is reading her lines off cue cards or looking like a deer in the headlights when she is supposed to be frightened or displaying any emotion. She does bring the film down a peg or two. If parts of Fabio Frizzi's music score sounds familiar, it's because some of it was "borrowed" from his scores to Lucio Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) and THE BEYOND (1981). The screenplay, written by longtime Martino stalwart Ernesto Gastaldi (Martino's GAMBLING CITY - 1975; THE GREAT ALLIGATOR - 1979; and AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK - 1983), with an assist from French producer Jacques Leitienne (RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR - 1983) and Gastaldi's wife, Mara Maryl (LIBIDO - 1965), with a story by Gastaldi and Dardano Sacchetti (THE CAT O' NINE TAILS - 1970; THE PSYCHIC - 1977), helps explain all the giallo elements in this film, even though it plays like a horror film. While this isn't prime Martino, it is still and enjoyable and offbeat way to spend 97 minutes of your time. The final 30 minutes are especially memorable. It's like living in a waking fever dream, where up is down, black is white and God is the Devil. Maybe its nightmarish feel is because of the condensed narrative, but whatever it is, it works. The film ends with a skyline view of New York City, where the Twin Towers are framed in the center, a reminder that they are no longer there and that this was a simpler time in our history.
Also known as ASSASSINIO AL CIMITERO ETRUSCO ("Murder In An Etruscan Cemetery"), this film got a limited VHS release in the United States in 1988 by short-lived company Palisades Entertainment, followed by a widescreen DVD in 2009 by Mya Communications, a company of questionable reputation (both are long OOP and command big bucks in collectors circles). The DVD also contains about twenty minutes of scenes from the TV version as an extra, which helps expand on some of the film's head-scratching scenes, fleshing out John Saxon's character and expanding on Heather Hull's, explaining why she went into the cave in motorcycle gear and called out Masaccio's name before she had her neck snapped. There have been no upgrades to the DVD in the U.S. since then, but I caught it streaming on YouTube from user "Dannyaines", who offers a nice looking anamorphic widescreen print dubbed in English (Van Johnson, Marilu Tolo and Claudio Cassinelli dub their own voices on the English track. The rest are dubbed by legends such as Nick Alexander, Carolyn DeFonesca and others). I hope Arrow Video or some other enterprising company decides to release the complete miniseries on Blu-Ray, if it is even exists. I would gladly buy it in a second. Also featuring Nazzareno Cardinali (MIAMI HORROR - 1985), Antonio Maimone (TERROR EXPRESS - 1979), Fulvio Mingozzi (INFERNO - 1980), Mario Novelli (SYNDICATE SADISTS - 1975), Mario Cecchi (PHENOMENAL AND THE TREASURE OF TUTANKAMEN - 1968) and Angela Doria (ESCAPE FROM WOMEN'S PRISON - 1978). NOTE: Giovanni Lombardo Radice (a.k.a. "John Morghen"; HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK - 1979; CANNIBAL FERROX - 1981) had a rather large role in the scrapped TV version, but doesn't appear in this version, even though the Italian "fotobustas" (colorful rectangular posters that show photos from the film) proudly display his image. Not Rated. I do have one question: Why does Gianni Andrucci have a Confederate flag in his home? Is it a status symbol or does it have some other meaning? I only ask because I have seen the flag in quite a few Italian genre films.
SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY (1970) -
This was the first R-Rated film I saw in a theater as a pre-teen,
thanks to the Colonial Theater in Pompton Lakes, NJ. It was walking
distance from my house and I saw every film they showed during the
late-'60s - early-'70s because I became good friends with the
manager. No matter the rating (I saw the X-Rated versions of ANDY
WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN & DRACULA
[both 1973] there), he would let me in. It was great being able to
walk to a movie
theater, pay fifty cents to get in and see all kinds of movies, not
just horror. Wiping all nostalgia aside and not realizing at such a
young age that I was watching a heavily edited version of the film (a
common practice by American International Pictures [A.I.P.], who
distributed this film in the United States), let's get on with the
review of the uncensored version.
Based on Oscar Wilde's novel "The Picture Of Dorian Gray", the film opens with Dorian Gray (Helmut Berger; THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY - 1971) complaining to some unseen elderly man that the "portrait" is the cause of all his troubles. We then see him washing blood off his hands and then covering up a painting in his attic (in an effective unedited sequence where he walks through his home). Dorian is a troubled young man who stares into his fireplace while stroking his black cat. We then travel back in time to discover why he is so troubled. It starts in 1920s London, where Dorian is the audience of a nightclub with friends Basil (Richard Todd; ASYLUM - 1972) and Alan (Renato Romano; FRANKENSTEIN '80 - 1972), watching a transvestite dance on stage. Dorian is looking for an act to perform at his rich Aunt's newly renovated retirement home. He and his friends agree that this isn't the act and leave. They part ways after leaving the nightclub and Dorian drives home worrying about finding an act worthy enough to please his Aunt. He sees a theater where "Romeo And Juliet" is being rehearsed and stops the car, goes inside and watches Sybil Vane (Marie Liljedahl; ANN AND EVE - 1970) rehearsing the role of Juliet. When their eyes meet, it's love at first sight (for the both of them). They have a wonderful and loving relationship. While making love, Dorian is surprised to discover that Sybil is a virgin and he is happy that she gave up her virginity to him.
Dorian tells Basil about Sybil and he tells Dorian that she must be someone special, as he paints Dorian's portrait. Basil's paintings are admired by the wealthy Henry Wotton (Herbert Lom; THE SECT - 1991) and his sister Gwendolyn (Margaret Lee; SLAUGHTER HOTEL - 1971), especially Dorian's portrait. While Gwendolyn lustfully watches Dorian taking a shower outside, Basil tells Henry that Dorian's portrait is not for sale as it is not yet finished. Basil introduces them to Dorian and mentions that he is about to get married (Henry says, "What is vice anyway? Simply pleasure without shame."). This doesn't phase Gwendolyn, who we can see has the hots for Dorian. Sybil lives with her brother James (Stewart Black) and their mother and James doesn't have a high opinion of Dorian, who picks her up and drives her to his parents dilapidated country cottage. He shows her the bed and Sybil accuses him of bringing other girls to the cottage and runs away. Dorian denies it and runs after her and they then make love under a beautiful tree.
Dorian is than at his rich Aunt's retirement home with friend Alan, when Henry shows up and quizzes him about Sybil and then says one day he will be old and wrinkled, beautiful no more (Henry says, "Beauty lasts a very, very short time."). Basil finishes Dorian's portrait, where Dorian asks, "Why should I get old, while this stays young? Why can't it be the other way around?" Henry hears Dorian say he would give up his soul to make that happen and buys the portrait as a present for Dorian. From that point on, Dorian is a different person and it is not for the better. A man with no soul can never be a real man.
Dorian becomes obsessed with his portrait and Sybil becomes jealous, asking Dorian if he would leave her when she becomes old. The old Dorian would have said no, by the soulless Dorian, who is obsessed with youth, has a totally different answer. Dorian cheats on Sybil with Gwendolyn at a party the very next day. He then goes to the theater with rich (and horny) old lady Mrs. Ruxton (Isa Miranda; A BAY OF BLOOD - 1971) to watch Sybil in the play, only to discover she is a lousy actress, seemingly blowing her lines on purpose as a way to make Dorian mad. Sybil then commits suicide after losing Dorian and it doesn't bother him one bit. As the years pass away, Dorian remains young while his portrait bears the wrinkles of time, getting uglier as the passage of time progresses. Dorian begins to live the life of a rich, spoiled playboy, who uses sex as a way to climb the ladder of success. But at what price? We are also let in on who Dorian was talking to in the beginning of the film and why he had to wash blood off his hands. The film ends with a final quotation from Oscar Wilde's novel, telling us that immortality is not as great as you hope it will be.
Filmed many times, including a silent version made in 1910 and the best known one in 1945 (as THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, starring Hurd Hatfield as Dorian), it is this version that is the most faithful to Oscar Wilde's (who was openly gay) novel. It is also the most sexually charged version, which leaves little to the imagination. Director/co-screenwriter Massimo Dallamano (WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? - 1972; THE NIGHT CHILD - 1975) has crafted an exquisite portrait (pardon the pun) of a man obsessed with age and how he uses his never-ending youth and beauty to his advantage until it consumes him. While his friends and family grow old and die around him (Dorian even resorts to murder), Dorian is determined to understand how to live without a soul. When Sybil commits suicide, Dorian becomes angry rather than feeling remorse and he finally accepts living without a soul, but it's harder than you may think. But how long can a person live before becoming disillusioned with life (or as Dorian says, "Even youth becomes boring")? Dallamano and Helmut Berger (who is excellent) show us down to the tiniest detail what it is like to live a soulless life. An elongated life full of sex (including homosexuality) and debauchery takes its toll on Dorian as the decades pass until there is only one thing left to do and that is accept death. Only he and Henry don't age, which brings up the question: Is Henry the Devil or is he a Devil's disciple? He very well may be one of those, as he haunts Dorian through the decades, making him do things that he really doesn't want to do. But how do you cheat the Devil? This is a wonderfully mounted film, as the screenplay by Dallamano, Marcello Coscia (YETI: GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY - 1977) & Günter Ebert (SADOMANIA - 1981) shows us how the sexual mores have changed over the decades, leading us into the mod, anything goes contemporary London of the late-'60s. We watch an aging Alan, who is newly married, having sex with a black model named Adrienne (Beryl Cunningham; WEEKEND MURDERS - 1970), while Dorian seduces Alan's new wife Alice (Maria Rohm; NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER - 1970), appearing nude in her bathroom doorway and then screwing her. There is no boundary Dorian won't cross. The music, by Peppino De Luca (THE MAN WITH ICY EYES - 1971), changes through the decades and adds to the film's effectiveness. This is a great discovery for me as, I have previously mentioned, this was my first R-Rated film, but this film goes beyond an R Rating and crosses over the line, not in violence, mind you, but in depictions of sex.
This Italian/West German/United Kingdom co-production was released theatrically in the U.S. by A.I.P., with the same edited version showing up on VHS from NTA Home Entertainment. The widescreen, uncut DVD from Raro Video (my review is based on this DVD) is an absolute revelation, as the print is flawless, looking like it was shot yesterday. The extras on the disc are sparse, just a filmography of Massimo Dallamano and an interview with assistant director Maurizio Tanfani, who has lots of great stories to tell (Franco Nero was considered for the role of Dorian; Dallamano got turned on by the sex scenes!; Herbert Lom's nose was so crooked, they had to use putty on it every day to straighten it out), not all about this film (he had a great career and worked with some of the genre greats). A nice presentation at a fairly cheap price. No Blu-Ray at the time of this review, but I believe that will be rectified soon. Also starring Eleonora Rossi Drago (IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH - 1970), Renzo Marignano (SEVEN MURDERS FOR SCOTLAND YARD - 1971) and Francesco Tensi (UNCLE WAS A VAMPIRE - 1959). Harry Alan Towers (who was producer here) also produced PACT WITH THE DEVIL (2002) a better-than-average take on the Dorian Gray story. Not Rated.
SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974) - This classic low-budget gem finally is available on DVD. For the uninitiated, the story goes as follows: Dr. Ernst Prell (Alan Brock) brings four of his students to the private Boot Island to search for a Yeti. Seven years earlier, the good doctor also brought four students to the island in search of the same Yeti with disasterous results. Three of the students didn't come back alive, their bodies mutilated. On the island, the four students meet Ernst's associate, Dr. Karl Werner (Tawm Ellis), and his mute Indian servant, Laughing Crow (Ivan Agar), who serves them some unknown meat which they all dislike except Keith Henshaw (Michael Harris), Ernst's favorite student. Tom (Jack Neubeck) is the first student to be attacked and killed by the Yeti (all that's left of him is a severed leg). Lynn (Darcy Brown, who is a dead-ringer for Velma in the SCOOBY-DOO cartoons) is the next student to be offed by the white-haired demon. Ernst uses Tom's severed leg as bait and is attacked by the Yeti but survives. Karen (Jennifer Stock), another student, finds the rest of Tom's body hidden in a greenhouse but can't get Keith or Ernst to believe her. Ernst and Keith use Lynn's body to snare the Yeti in an elaborate trap. The Yeti gets away and Keith follows it, only to discover that this whole trip was just a ruse. They have been set up by Ernst and Karl, as their bodies are to be served for breakfast for Ernst's cannabalistic associates, who are staying in a motel a few miles away. It seems the best-tasting human meat is that of someone who is frightened to death (or as they say, "Untouched by the blade."), which they do to Karen using the Yeti (actually Karl in a costume). Keith is given a choice: Join the cult or end up as Karen (this is after they all attack Keith with forks!). The film ends with Keith drooling over the body of Karen as Laughing Crow, electric knife in hand, asks, "Mr. Henshaw... white meat or dark?" For long a favorite of mine, SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED is presented on DVD in a tattered, hacked-up print that, though better looking than any VHS version available, seems to be missing pieces of gore that appear in the cassette versions. The biggest omission here is the song "Popcorn" by the group Hot Butter during the party scene at the beginning of the film. It has been replaced by some public domain music track and it sticks out like a sore thumb since it's the only true stereo dub track in the entire film! The song's omission really doesn't hurt the film, though (although it would have been nice if Retromedia Entertainment owner Fred Olen Ray would have opened his creaking wallet and paid the music licensing fees, instead of blaming "audio imperfections" on the original negative, which is absolutely ridiculous and easily fixed.). Directed by the late Michael (listed here as "Mike") Findlay and photographed by wife Roberta Findlay, both responsible for many classic exploitation films of the 60's & 70's, including TAKE ME NAKED (1966), THE TOUCH OF HER FLESH (1967), THE KISS OF HER FLESH (1968) and the infamous SNUFF (1976). The wickedly clever screenplay is by Ed Adlum (co-written with Ed Kelleher of VOODOO DOLLS - 1990 and MADONNA: A CASE OF BLOOD AMBITION - 1990 infamy), who also wrote and directed another minor gem, INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS (1972; also co-written with Kelleher). SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED is not overly bloody, but the subject matter and the distasteful final denouement make it seem sleazier than it actually is. The scene early on of a wife getting even with her crazy husband with the help of a plugged-in toaster in a bathtub is a classic of trash cinema. The cast of non-professional actors acquit themselves rather nicely and on the whole deliver a sense of realism to their roles which also helps the film leap ever-so-gently over the edge. You could do a whole lot worse than purchasing this DVD since it will probably be the only chance to view it in this format in the near future (according to Fred Olen Ray, who has been known, how should I say?, for stretching the truth). I just wish it was in better shape and more complete. This is the best fake Yeti film that you are ever going to see. A Retromedia Entertainment DVD Release. Also available on Public Domain DVD from Alpha Video, which is also missing the Hot Butter tune. Rated R.
SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972) - After watching this film dozens of times (starting out with the Paragon Video VHS and then many stand-alone and compilation DVDs (including one from the now-defunct Diamond Entertainment, the VAULT OF HORROR 10 MOVIES compilation and the CHILLING CLASSICS 50 MOVIE PACK), all in the fullscreen format (the usual way films that have fallen into the Public Domain are shown), imagine my surprise when I discovered that Code Red had released the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen format (on a double feature DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen version of INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS - 1972). Film Chest released their own widescreen version of this film and I can't say anything about it because I haven't seen it, but I did see their "Digitally Remastered" version of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973) and it left a lot to be desired. Besides some bad emulsion scratches in the beginning two minutes (which seems to be the standard for films of this vintage) and some emulsion scratches at reel changes, the film looks really good and if you liked it before in its fullscreen version, you're going to love the widescreen version. For reasons that escape me, I never saw this film theatrically, not even under its alternate title DEATHOUSE, (it was filmed under the title THE NIGHT OF THE DARK FULL MOON) so seeing it in widescreen on a 60" plasma TV screen was really an eye-opener. And a word of warning: This is a film that demands 100% of your attention, so if you are thinking of putting this film on while you do chores or work on your computer, pick another film. This is a literal film where you have to actually use your brain to figure things out, because not everything is spelled out in black and white. There are some surprising scenes of brutal violence that hold much more of an impact if you watch the film with all your attention and the extended flashback tinted goldenrod (or a color close to it) during the finale of the film is full of familiar faces if you were ever into any of Andy Warhol's "Factory" work. Quite frankly, if you don't give this film your full attention, you have no right to watch it. The film is narrated by Diane Adams (genre vet Mary Woronov, who was married to this film's director from 1970 to 1973). She talks about the history of the Butler House, and it's a pretty sad story. On Christmas Eve, 1950, Wilfred Butler comes running out of his house totally on fire and dies in the snow of his burns. Wilfred Butler was a stranger to his hometown due to something that happened in the house 15 years earlier and he hardly ever lived in that house since then, which was why his death at the house was a surprise to the residents. The town coroner officially announces that Wilfred's death was an accident (actor Philip Bruns; RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II  plays Wilfred in all the photos, but we never meet him in person), but Mary was one of the only one to think the opposite (she just has a feeling) and while Wilfred is being buried (NO ONE showed up for his funeral; his headstone reads: "Who Bears The Cross Shall Wear The Crown") and we see a strange person playing the organ at the Butler House the same time Wilfred is being buried and he is very interested in the Butler family photos that fill the house (Stay with me, this will all make sense). Diane grew up in this town (as a matter of fact, her father is the Mayor) and she hears that Jeffrey Butler (James Patterson; who died of cancer shortly after this film was finished [it was filmed between 1970 to 1972] and his voice had to be looped by someone else) is selling the beautiful house for $50,000 and she wants to take one more look at it before the town buys it and tears it down. You see, back in 1950, Wilfred Butler left the house and everything else he owned to his only living relative, Jeffrey, with just one codicil in the will: Jeffrey has to leave the house as Wilfred left it "to remind the world of its inhumanity and cruelty" (Believe me, all these obtuse clues really do lead somewhere). News of the sale of the house reaches across State lines and one crazy inmate (whom we cannot see) escapes using a pipe wrench as a weapon and stealing a car, heading for the Butler House. The lawyer that Jeffrey hired to sell the house, the married John Carter (Patrick O'Neal; CHAMBER OF HORRORS - 1966), brings along is mistress "secretary" Ingrid (Astrid Hereen; THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR - 1968) for a little nookie action between business. John goes to talk to the Mayor (Walter Abel), Mary's father, about selling the house, but he is ambushed by the Sheriff (Walter Klavun), "Communications Director" Tess (Fran Stevens), who is nothing but the switchboard operator, and the hard of hearing and talking head of the local newspaper, Charlie (John Carradine), who rings a bell (the kind you find at the desk of a motel) everytime he disagrees with something, who are also in the room. John offers the house for $50,000, but the Mayor says he will have to travel to the next town tomorrow to take out a loan at the bank, so John and Ingrid decide to stay in the Butler House, even though everyone else warns him against it. He should have listened to them. Ingrid gets a phone call from Tess, just to make sure the phone is working. While they are in bed (after eating a meal, which they bought at a local deli!), the killer brutally slaughters John and Ingrid with an axe (it's really bloody) and the killer reads a passage from the Bible and leaves a crucifix in John's bloody hand. The Sheriff then gets a phone call from the killer and thinks it is Jeffrey Butler. The killer tells him he is sick and needs the Sheriff to come ro the Butler House immediately, which he does. Busy-body Tess overhears the conversation and the killer knows she is listening-in, so he tells her he knows what happeded to Wilfred Butler's 15 year-old daughter Marianne (Donelda Dunne) and all those responsible, including Tess, will pay with their lives. (The fact that most of the people in this town are old should start to be setting off alarms with some better film detectives). Tess becomes unhinged, because no matter who she calls, no one answers. Jeffrey Butler steals John's car (he wouldn't answer the door, so why not take his car on a cold night?) and drives to Diane's house, where Diane holds a gun on him until she finds out who he is. It seems Jeffrey gave his only key to the house to John and since he is not answering the locked door, he wonders if Diane knows of anyone else who would have a key. She tells him the Sheriff's Deputy probably has a key and Jeffrey departs on good terms with Diane. Meanwhile, the Sheriff notices an old oil lamp lit up on Wilfred Butler's grave and discovers Wilfred's diary on the ground. Before he can read it, the killer murders him with a shovel (he was burying John and Ingrid). Jeffrey returns to Diane's house because he couldn't locate the Sheriff's Deputy. When Diane mentions that she keeps on getting phone calls from a woman looking for her father, saying she is staying at the Butler House in the Reception Room, both Jeffrey and Diane head to the Butler House in John's stolen car (They have a funny back and forth about the stolen car earlier before she mentioned the woman). They find the Sheriff's car (with the lights flashing) at the gravesight of Jeffrey's grandfather, so they think with both the lawyer and Shefiff missing, it may not be a good idea to go to the Butler House (It's refreshing to see two people act level-headed). They head to town to try and find some help, but when they cannot find the Deputy, they head to Charlie's newspaper office, who writes down that Tess went to the Butler House. While Diane stays behind to do some research, Jeffrey and Charlie head to Tess' house to see if they can stop her before she leaves, but they are too late (the house is full of chirping birds, which is a sly clue to the whole story). The killer drives the Sheriff's car to the Butler House and leaves the flashing lights on. Diane gets another call from "Marianne", who tells her to mention Christmas Eve, 1935 to her father. Tess arrives at the Butler House and the killer tells her to take his hand, except he takes hers by chopping it off. Diane digs through Charlie's newspaper archives and comes up with some disturbing facts, which even affects her. In 1930, Wilfred's beloved wife died of tuberculosis. A short time later, his daughter Marianne was raped (possibly by Wilfred himself) and she had a baby, which turned out to be Jeffrey. Even more disturning is that Wlfred Butler allowed his house to be used as a mental institution, but the doctors and psychiatrists were more interested in living the good life than curing their patients. Wilfred made a big mistake a couple of years earlier by having Marianne committed to the asylum (Jeffrey has always believed his mother died at childbirth. He didn't even know his mother was Marianne.). The rest of the story is purposely missing from Charlie's archives and we soon find out why. Diane and Jeffrey find Charlie's car burning and his dead body nearby (his hands were cut off). Diane blames all the deaths of Jeffrey (Wouldn't you?), but the truth finally comes out thanks to the long flashback sequence at the end if the film. It seens on Christmas Eve, 1935, all the doctors were getting drunk at the big hall table in the Butler House. Wilfred thinks this is the perfect time to save his daughter and release all the other patients, who have been mistreated by their doctors (see if you can count the many Andy Warhol Factory stars playing inmates and doctors. There is Candy Darling, Ondine, Tally Brown, Lewis Love, Jack Smith and Susan Rothenberg. Hell, even Mary Woronov got her start appearing in Warhol's Factory films). Unfortunately, the inmates not only kill their doctors, they mistake Marianne for one of the staff and kill her, too. Wilfred is only able to escape with Jeffrey. Yes, you guessed it, since 1935, the entire town has been occupied by crazy people, who have procreated and filled the town with their equally crazy offspring (Diane included). The inmates have taken over the town. But over time, they have begun to live normal lives and assimilate themselves into society. So just who exactly is the killer? When Mayor Adams enters the Butler House, he and Jeffrey shoot each other at the same time, both ending up dead. But neither of them are the killers. The killer is none other than an 80 year-old Wilfred Brown, who has been hiding himself in loony bins until the day his house would be destroyed. He wanted the house to remain standing forever to remind everyone from town exactly what they had done. He faked his death in 1950 to see if Jeffrey was a man of his word, and for 20 years he was, but he nows needs money and decided to sell the house at a really reduced price (it is actually worth five times more). It's too late for him. Since Jeffrey and everyone else involved in Marianne's murder is dead, he goes after Diane, but she kills him by shooting him with a revolver belonging to Jeffrey. A year passes and we watch as bulldozers approach to destroy the Butler House, but nothing will destroy Diane's memories. This is the first time that I remember an octogenarian serial killer (even the institution he lived in didn't know his name but, in the film's biggest mistake, they could have mentioned his age) and director/co-screenwriter Theodore Gershuny (SUGAR COOKIES - 1973) keeps you guessing even though he gives you little clues to keep your investigation alive (he passed away in 2007 after writing and directing episodes of TV series, like MONSTERS [1988 - 1990]). Co-Screenwriter (and Co-Producer) Jeffrey Konvitz went on to write the novel and Produce the eerie horror film THE SENTINEL (1977; which used real freaks in the freaky conclusion) and Executive Produced CYBORG 2: GLASS SHADOW (1993; an early film for Angelina Jolie). Co-Screenwriter Ira Teller did absolutely nothing else in the filmmaking business besides conduct the final interview with Brandon Lee, on the set of THE CROW (1994). I would consider that a curse rather than an achievement. Producer Ami Artzi was very involved in Cannon Films Productions (this movie was an early Cannon Film), even Executive Producing director Menahem Golan's HIT THE DUTCHMAN (1992). One of the Associate Producers on this film was Lloyd Kaufman, who formed Troma Films in 1974 with co-founder Michael Herz (I have met them both and they are really nice guys. On the other hand, I wouldn't offer them a chance to distribute my first film, because you'll never see a penny in profit. They call it "creative bookkeeping".). All in all, if you want to see SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT done right, you can do no better than the Code Red DVD. There were two sequels made, in 2013 & 2015, but I won't even mention their titles because they are skidmarks on the underwear of life. Rated R.
SQUIRM (1976) - I remember when I originally viewed this film in a theater in 1976 that people walked out during the attack scenes because it just freaked them out. There were a lot of "Ews!" and "Yucks" being gasped in the audience and rightfully so. This was a really effective little "nature gone amuck" horror film about the unlikeliest of killers: Earthworms, or rather, bloodworms, a breed of worm that can actually bite with pincers attached to their mouths. That it was based on an actual incident (but with a lot of liberties taken), just makes it all the more effective. The opening on-screen crawl explains it all: "Late in the evening of September 29, 1975, a sudden electrical storm struck around a rural sea coast area of Georgia. Power lines, felled by high winds, sent hundreds of thousands of volts surging into the muddy ground, cutting off all electricity to the small, secluded town of Fly Creek. During the period that followed the storm, the citizens of Fly Creek experienced what scientists believe to be one of the most bizarre freaks of nature ever recorded. This is the story...." We then view the opening credits, where a young girl on the soundtrack sings an eerie song with lyrics such as "I can hear the dark coming up the stairs" as we watch the storm knock down an electrical tower, sending a live electrical wire to touch the over-soaked ground with over 300,000 volts of electricity (we will see that live wire several times in the film), turning normal, everyday bloodworms into murderous little killers We hear the worms scream (actually electronically altered sounds of pigs squealing in a slaughterhouse) and see them in extreme close-up thanks to excellent macrophotography (which is very creepy and effective). The day after the storm, we watch Geri Sanders (Patricia Pearcy; THE HOUSE WHERE DEATH LIVES - 1981) taking a shower, while worm farm co-owner Roger (R.A. Dow; a stage actor, this being his only film) cleans up debris on the front lawn of the Sanders' farmhouse (reportedly in real life to be the most haunted house in Georgia!) and gets an eyefull of Geri after she steps out of the shower (he has an extreme crush on her). Geri's mother, Naomi (Jean Sullivan, in her final film), who just lost her husband (and Geri's father) a few months ago, is not too pleased that Northerner Mick (Don Scardino; HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE - 1980) is coming to visit Geri for five days. Geri asks Roger if she can borrow his truck (which is full of 100,000 earthworms in the back) so she can pick up Mick, because the family station wagon was not built to travel the rough back roads. He reluctantly allows her, but Mick's bus is unable to get past a downed tree five miles from Fly Creek, so the wise-assed bus driver tells Mick to take a shortcut through the woods if he wants to get to Fly Creek quicker. After nearly having a large tree branch fall on him while taking a pee in the woods and falling into a water-filled hole, he meets Geri on the road and they drive to town, where she has to pick up a block of ice for home because the electricity is out. While Geri is getting the ice, Mick stops in to get an eggcream from the local eating establishment (he has to explain to the girl behind the counter how to make it), only to discover one of the killer worms in his drink. The counter girl blames Mick for playing a unfunny practical joke (because he is a Northerner) and the Sheriff (Peter MacLean; FORCE: FIVE - 1981) tells Mick to get out of the diner and wants to know what business he has in town. Mick replies, "No business, just pleasure." and walks out. When Geri returns the truck, all of the worms are missing, which pisses-off Roger's father, Willie (Carl Dagenhart), who says, "Cost me over $300, sonny boy!' to Mick, but he blames Roger for the lost worms and chews him out in front of Geri and Mick, which makes Roger hate Mick even more. Geri and Mick take the station wagon to go antique shopping and stop at the home of antique dealer Mr. Beardsley, but all they find is a skeleton in the front yard that looks like it was picked clean. They bring the Sheriff back, only to discover that the skeleton is gone (we find out later Roger stole it and hid it in a shed). The Sheriff is not to pleased with Mick and tells him to get out of town and then chastises Geri and says, "I have no time to book this little city weasel. I have a town to put back together." He then turns to Mick and says, "If I see you one more time, you won't be able to call a city lawyer...because all the phones are dead." Now that we have the setup to the film out of the way, including introducing Geri's younger smart-assed, pot-smoking sister Alma (Fran Higgins, in her only film appearance), who comes on to Mick and relentlessly makes fun of Roger (asking him earlier in the film, "Where did you get that shirt, Roger? Out robbing corpses again?") and their mother Naomi acting a little psychotic over the loss of her husband, we get down to the nitty-gritty: the bloodworm attacks. Mick, Geri & Roger take a boat to go fishing, but one of the worms bites Mick and tries to burrow into his arm, so he goes to shore to treat it, leaving Geri and Roger alone on the boat. Geri accidentally knocks over the box of worms and when Roger tries to sexually attack her, she knocks Roger to the floor of the boat, where the flesh-hungry worms burrow into his face (once you see this scene, you will never forget it). Roger and Geri go overboard, where Roger runs to shore, screaming bloody murder. Mick discovers the missing skeleton in the shed, so he and Alma break into the doctor's office and find x-rays of Mr. Beardsley and discover that the skull is missing the same three teeth as the x-ray. While Mick and Alma are doing this, Geri goes home to take a shower, where worms start to slither out of the showerhead, but they retract when Geri looks up. Geri meets Mick and Alma, where they all share their stories about what just happened, so Geri and Mick go to the worm farm, where Mick discovers the corpse of Willie, his entire torso eaten away and full of hungry worms. They hop in the car and go to see the Sheriff, but interrupt his spaghetti dinner (symbolism alert!) with a floozy date. The Sheriff blows them off because he's more interested in his dinner and scoring with his floozy. While Mick, Geri, Alma and a weirded-out Naomi are eating dinner, a tree crashes through the roof (the tree's roots eaten away by the worms) but, thankfully, no one was injured, but the dining room is destroyed (this all the more realistic because an actual tree was dropped by a crane onto the set with the actors not using stunt people! The fear on their faces is real.). Mick figures out that light is the worms' kryptonite, so he heads out to get some plywood to repair the damage before night falls. As he is returning back to the house, he is attacked and knocked-out by a crazed, worm-riddled Roger, who tells Mick he spoiled everything for him (He yells out, "You gonna be spoiled. You gonna be the wormface!"). Nighttime arrives and the worms attack the Sanders home and the town, first making a meal out of the Sheriff and his floozy as they are making love in a jail cell (!) and then attacking the town's bar, Quigleys, killing all the patrons. Mick wakes up and makes a torch out of his shirt to keep the worms at bay and heads back to save Geri. Mick arrives to discover Naomi's corpse covered in worms and must fight a deranged Roger, who has Geri tied-up in the attic. Mick manages to throw Roger into the sea of worms covering the house's first floor. but Roger's worm-infested body slithers upstairs and nearly kills both Geri and Mick as they climb out a second floor window and hide in a tree. Morning arrives and Geri and Mick are woken up by a power company employee, who tells them the electricity has been restored (therefore ending the murderous worm problem). Alma is also discovered alive, as she was hiding from the worms in the house in a cedar chest. Fall Creek can now go back to normal, minus a Sheriff and a bunch of local drunks. This was the debut feature film by director/writer Jeff Lieberman (BLUE SUNSHINE - 1977; JUST BEFORE DAWN - 1980; REMOTE CONTROL - 1987 and SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER - 2004), who has been woefully underused in his career as a director because most of his films are unusual gems, including this one (Lieberman previously worked as an Associate Producer on WHO KILLED MARY WHATS'ERNAME  and was co-writer of the police thriller BLADE ). This one has many memorable scenes and still is able to creep you out. Making worms scary is not an easy feat, but Lieberman pulls it off in excellent fashion, using the macrophotography of the screaming worms to jolt you and some very good special makeup effects (by Bill Milling and multi-Academy Award®-winner Rick Baker, who, at the time of the writing of this review, officially announced his retirement) to gross you out. The scene of Roger pulling worms out of his face was censored from all TV prints and when theatrical distributor American International cut the film by a minute for a PG-Rated re-release, this scene was also deleted (along with a couple of scenes of female topless nudity). This 92-minute version was offered on VHS first by Vestron Video and then by MGM/UA Home Video, but MGM released the uncut 93-minute version on DVD. The Blu-Ray, released by Shout! Factory tentpole Scream Factory, is also the uncut version and is the preferred way of watching this film. While there are a few speckles of dirt onscreen here and there, the print is a revelation of details you may not have noticed in previous versions. What makes the film even more special is that only a handful of the actors on view were actually actors. Most of them were locals from Port Wentworth, Georgia, where the film was made, and it adds realism to the proceedings. Star Don Scardino would have a healthy career as an actor, but reached far greater success as a TV series director, which he continues to do today (he also directed the theatrical film THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE - 2013). If you want to see a nature gone amuck film done right, you could do a whole lot worse than this film. Also starring William Newman, Barbara Quinn, Angel Sande, Carol Jean Owens and Kim Iocouvozzi. The Blu-Ray also has a wealth of new extras (as well as Lieberman's commentary from the MGM DVD), something that Scream Factory is well-known for, as well as applying little or no DNR to the film prints, so they look like they did in theaters. A Scream Factory Blu-Ray Release. Unrated.
STANLEY (1972) - Remember the good old 70's when horror movies rated PG showed plenty of violence, skin and allowed enough forbidden behavior to please even the most jaded fan? Today, any horror movie rated PG would barely pass muster with kids. That's why you never see any. Even the PG-13 rated ones released today don't hold a candle to the PG ones of the 70's. Which brings us to STANLEY. Originally released on a double-bill (remember them?) with NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972), STANLEY tells the semi-sweet story of recently returned home (to everglades Florida) Vietnam veteran Tim (Chris Robinson, the Director/star of the previously-thought lost horror film THE INTRUDER [1975} which only-known print was found in an abandoned storage facility on the outskirts of the Mohave Desert in 2012 and restored for Blu-Ray in 2017!), a Native American who catches poisonous snakes for their venom, which he sells to local Dr. Everett (played by screenwriter Gary Crutcher) for research. Since Tim never hurts the snakes he catches, he builds up a friendship with them, especially a rattlesnake he calls Stanley. Tim butts heads with local businessman Mr. Thomkins (the sleazy Alex Rocco), who wants Tim to help him trap and kill snakes for their skins. Tim refuses Thomkins' offer, partly because he was responsible for Tim's father's death (he was shotgunned down, mistaken for an alligator!), partly because because Thomkins is a raving racist (he calls Tim a "redstick" ) and mostly because Tim likes snakes better than people. Tim also supplies snakes to exotic dancer Gloria (Marcia Knight), who uses them harmlessly in her act at a club run by her money-grubbing husband Sidney (Rey Baumel). Tim also has to deal with Thomkins' two right-hand men, Crail (singer Steve Alaimo) and Bob (Mark Harris), who travel around the swamps capturing snakes for skins. Tim gets into a fight with Crail and Bob (after catching them with a truckload of snakes) and Bob gets bit in the ass by Stanley. Tim reaches the breaking point after getting hit on all sides with troubles that have to do with his snakes. Thomkins hires a loose cannon called Psycho Simpson (Paul Avery) to help Crail and Bob with their snake hunting. When Crail and Bob get caught in some quicksand and Tim just watches them sink to the bottom, Psycho breaks into Tim's house and kills Stanley's mate Hazel and their three offspring. Psycho threatens Tim with an outboard motor but Stanley bites him on the neck and kills him. Gloria is talked into biting the heads off snakes in her act by her husband in hopes it will increase business for his failing club. It does, but when Tim sees the act in the packed club, he later kills both Gloria and Sid by throwing a bag of snakes in their bed (in slow-motion, an effective scene) while they plead for their lives. Tim then kidnaps Thomkins' daughter Susie (Susan Carroll), who we see earlier is being hit on by her own father with an incestuous leer, after she sees Tim kill her father by filling his swimming pool with snakes. It is at this time the audience is allowed to see that Tim is not the sympathetic hero we thought him to be. He is actually quite psychopathic and the snakes revolt when they see he has no respect for anyone but himself. Director William Grefe is no stranger to horror fans. This lifelong Florida resident also directed STING OF DEATH (1966), DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966), MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH (1976) and the classic William Shatner flick IMPULSE (1974). As a film, STANLEY is not without it's charms. One funny scene shows Tim telling the nightclub stage manager (Butterball Smith) about the death of Hazel and her kids. He thinks Tim is talking about people that he knows and looks very concerned. When he realized that Tim is talking about snakes, his look is absolutely hilarious. There are also copious amounts of carnage, as we see snakes bite people, snakes themselves being killed by shotgun, machete and having their heads bitten off. Add in the incest angle and Tim's character at first portrayed as sympathetic and eventually as psychotic and you get one strange film that would not get a PG rating today, especially the scenes in the finale of Tim killing live snakes by flinging them against the floor and walls (it's clear they're not fakes). Hell, a film like this couldn't get made today! In case you didn't know: I like this film a lot. I never said I had good taste. WARNING: The only uncut version of this film available in the U.S. is the VHS version released by VidAmerica in 1988 (the box art is above). It runs 96 minutes (other sources list a 106 minute version, but that information is false). All other U.S. releases of this title are the edited TV version which runs about 92 minutes and missing most of the violence and the incest scene. This includes the print Rhino released on DVD as part of their HORRIBLE HORRORS COLLECTION VOLUME 2. A VidAmerica VHS Release. Available on uncut widescreen DVD from Code Red. Rated PG.
SUPER SOUL BROTHER (1978) - I really feel sorry for people who didn't live through the 70's. It was a decade when CB radios pre-dated cell phones, going to a disco in your best polyester suit while cranked on coke or high on pot pre-dated going to a rave with a bottle of water while sweating-off the effects of X, and you were able to go to a movie theater and watch a film with the word "nigger" in the title without Tyler Perry or Al Sharpton putting a posse together and boycotting your ass. Only in the 70's, people, only in the 70's. SUPER SOUL BROTHER was originally released to theaters as THE SIX THOUSAND DOLLAR NIGGER (and THE SIX THOUSAND DOLLAR SUPER-BROTHER in less "urban" areas) and is an ultra-low-budget blaxploitation take-off of TV's THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (1974 - 1978), directed and co-written by the man responsible for THE GUY FROM HARLEM (1976), so you know you're in for some brain damaged fun. Party comic and Rudy Ray Moore buddy Wildman Steve (real name: Steve Gallon; PETEY WHEATSTRAW - 1977) stars as Steve, a "nigger off the streets" who is kidnapped by crooks Bob (Benny Latimore) and Jim (Lee Cross) and brought to the laboratory of dwarf mad scientist Dr. Dippy (Peter Conrad, who can't speak a single line without tripping over his tongue), who injects Steve with a new serum that gives him supernormal powers, but unless he gets a neutralizer shot within one week's time, he will die, There's one caveat: The neutralizer shot has not been invented yet, but that means very little to Bob and Jim, who want to use the superhuman Steve to pull-off a multi-million dollar diamond heist and then let him die (this way, they don't have to pay him his "cut"). Before any of that happens, we are subjected to some of the most cheaply filmed dialogue and exposition scenes that take up nearly three-quarters of the film's running time. Steve is nothing but a wino (the first time we meet him, he's getting the shit kicked out of him by three homeless guys for stealing a newspaper!), but Dr. Dippy's beautiful black assistant, Peggy (Joycelyn Norris), who is (naturally) a virgin, falls in love with him and he deflowers her in a swanky apartment (I'm being kind here) loaned to him by Jim (Peggy: "Steve, don't hurt me with that ring on your finger!" Steve: "Peggy, that's no ring. It's the watch on my wrist!"). After getting a shot of the serum, Bob and Jim convince Steve to pull a "practical joke" on their friend, which turns out stealing a (Styrofoam) safe from a jewelry store while Dr. Dippy and his girlfriend, the big-breasted Monica (the obviously pseudonymous "Wild Savage"), keep the saleswomen occupied by arguing over the price of a diamond engagement ring (I never laughed so hard in my life!). When Bob tries to kill Steve by shooting him in the face and the bullets just bounce-off ("Goddamn, this nigger is bulletproof!"), Steve knocks-out Bob, hides the diamonds under a huge (Styrofoam) boulder and heads to Peggy's house, where he himself creates the neutralizer by putting the ingredients in a flower vase and drinking it! Bob, Jim and Dr. Dippy force Peggy and Steve at gunpoint to retrieve the diamonds, but the trio end up shot dead ($100 to the first person who can tell me who shot Dr. Dippy!) and Steve and Peggy live happily ever after with an on-screen scrawl that promises "This Nigger Is Coming Back" (he didn't). It's hard to describe how utterly cheap and ridiculous this film really is. Director Rene Martinez (who also gave us ROAD OF DEATH , as well as the aforementioned THE GUY FROM HARLEM) makes any Rudy Ray Moore film look polished and professional in comparison. The acting is worse than amateurish (especially Wildman Steve [who passed away in 2004] and Peter Conrad, who smokes a cigar that is almost bigger than he is!) and the sets, sound recording, editing, music and camerawork are all sub-level 70's porn quality. What makes this film so watchable are the quotable pieces of crazy (and racist) dialogue and silly sight gags (screenplay written by Martinez and Laura S. Diaz). Wildman Steve mainly does his dirty nightclub comedy act ("A white woman once offered me fifty dollars to 'knock her out'. I fucked her three times and then hit her over the head with a brick!"), but he says some other crazy things like telling Jim's maid (Addie Williams), "Wash my butt, not my back!" and "Come in this water and let's have a fuck!" when he is taking a shower. My favorite line is when he describes why marijuana is illegal, but homosexuality is not, by saying, "If you get caught with a joint in your mouth, it better be connected to two balls!" The fact that it takes nearly two-thirds of the film's running time for Steve to do anything slightly superhuman shows the cheapness of the production, but when he proves his super-strength by bending an iron bar, lifting and obvious Styrofoam safe (which supposedly weighs 2000 pounds!), beating up (and killing) two of the three bums who picked on him when he lived on the streets (in some of the worst fight choreography I've ever seen) and then stealing the safe (it's the same safe that was in Dr. Dippy's lab!) from the jewelry store (When he puts the safe in the trunk of Bob's Cadillac, the shocks don't even move! Now that's one well-built car!), you'll either laugh yourself silly or turn the damn film off. There is no middle ground with this film. Either you'll love it for its awful cheapness or you'll hate it for its awful cheapness. Also starring John A. Jacobs, Larry Hannah, Eric Gregory Gallon and Herbert Murray. A Xenon Home Video VHS Release. Available on DVD from Vinegar Syndrome. Rated R.
(1977) - This is the first film in director Dario Argento's
"Three Mothers" trilogy and probably the most-watched of
the three, which continued with INFERNO
(1980) and ended with MOTHER
OF TEARS (2007), Since this film was recently remade
(it is actually very good!) and showing in theaters (at the time of
this review), I thought it was about time to give the original a
Susy Bannion (Jessica Harper; THE EVICTORS - 1979) arrives from New York to attend a prestigious dance academy in Freiberg, Germany. She gets a taste of what the locals think of foreigners as soon as she steps out of the airport in the pouring rain, as no taxi will stop to pick her up until she steps in front of one (the taxi driver, played by Argento regular Fulvio Mingozzi [TENEBRE - 1982], refuses to get out of the cab to help her with her bags). Once in the taxi, Suzy give the driver the address where she needs to go and he takes her to the dance academy, an imposing old red building (red is the primary color of this film) with a huge front double door. As Suzy walks towards the door, student Pat Hingle (Eva Axen) comes out of the door muttering something, but all Suzy can hear are the words "secrets" and "irises". Suzy rings the doorbell and a female voice on the intercom tells her to go away, even when Suzy gives her name, so she has no other choice but to get back in the taxi and go to a hotel (the front door is locked). We then follow Pat as she is running nervously in the rain, always looking behind her. She arrives at friend Caroline's (Renata Zamengo; THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK - 1974) apartment building and Caroline tells her she is welcome to stay as long as she wants, as long as she doesn't mind sleeping on the couch. All Pat will tell her is that she was kicked out of school, not telling her why, but it is obvious she is frightened of something or someone. When Pat uses the bathroom, a gust of wind blows the window open, scaring the crap out of Pat, but Caroline closes the window and tells her to relax. When Caroline leaves the bathroom, the door slams shut and locks. Pat is grabbed by an arm that bursts through the window, as Caroline tries to get in, hearing Pat's screams fade, seemingly moving to the roof of the apartment building, which leads Caroline to the lobby. Suddenly, Pat's bloody body comes crashing through the lobby's stained glass ceiling (an Argento trademark) and an electrical cord wraps around her neck, hanging her, as she swings back and forth. We then see Caroline lying dead on the lobby floor, her body impaled by the falling stained glass.
The next morning, Suzy returns to the dance academy, where she meets headmistress Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett; HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS - 1970; in her final big screen appearance), who introduces her to Miss Tanner (Alida Valli; KILLER NUN - 1978), the strict woman who controls the classes and the day-to-day activities. The police are also there investigating Pat's death, so Suzy interjects, telling the police what she saw last night. Madame Blanc tells Suzy that her room is not ready, so she is having her stay with one of the students in town. Miss Tanner takes Suzy to the locker room and introduces her to the other students. The only two students of importance are Olga (Barbara Magnolfi; THE SISTER OF URSULA - 1978), a snotty girl whom Suzy is about to share an apartment with and Sara (Stefania Casini; ANDY WARHOL'S BAD - 1977), another American student who is going to be Suzy's best friend. Also at the academy are male student Mark (popular Spanish singer Miguel Bose; STAR KNIGHT - 1986), who takes an instant shine to Suzy; and the blind Daniel (Flavio Bucci; TEX AND THE LORD OF THE DEEP - 1985), who walks around with the aide of a guide dog and plays piano during dance classes. Oh, and there's also someone else: a hulking silent servant named Pavlo (Giuseppe Transocchi; BLACK JESUS - 1968), whom Miss Tanner tells Suzy had all his teeth pulled out so he could be fitted with false teeth, which is why he smiles so much (his dentist must have been a quack because his dentures are ill-fitting!).
This is when the strange shit begins to happen. As Suzy walks out of the recital room, she sees an ugly maid polishing silverware and one item lights up and engulfs Suzy. The next day, Suzy goes to her first dance class and passes out, waking up in a bed and being attended to by Professor Verdegast (Renato Scarpa (DON'T LOOK NOW - 1973), who puts Suzy on a restricted diet and tells her to drink a glass of wine when she first gets up and when she retires for the night. Madame Blanc tells Suzy not to worry, her room is now ready and Pavlo will make sure she eats right and have her wine ready for her. Suzy never wanted to live in a dorm room, but it is quite clear that she is being influenced by some unknown force and that everything that happens to her happens for a reason.
One night, while Suzy is brushing her hair, she finds maggots on her brush, looks up and notices that a mass of maggots are falling from the ceiling. As a matter of fact, all the female students come screaming out of their dorm rooms, as maggots are falling on them, too. Miss Tanner and Mark go to the attic and find a wooden crate crawling with thousands of maggots. Miss Tanner tells the students that the maggots came from a crate of food they ordered from a new vendor, but no one bothers to ask why a crate of food is being stored in the attic (That would be my first question!). Madame Blanc tells them that everyone will be sleeping together on cots in the recital hall, even the teachers, until an exterminator comes tomorrow to get rid of the maggots. What happens next is pure WTF?!? cinema of the bizarre.
In the recital hall, the students are sleeping on one side of the room while the teachers sleep on the other side, sheets hanging on ropes separating them, Sara is awoken by a strange snoring noise and Suzy says it is probably Madame Blanc, but Sara says it couldn't be, all the teachers in the school live in town; they leave the school precisely when dinner is over. So who's snoring on the other side of the sheet? A couple of days later, Sara discovers that none of the teachers live in town, so they must be staying somewhere in the school, but where? Sara aims to find out, so when night comes and everyone is asleep, she searches the school, only the school apparently doesn't like it, leading Sara to a room full of razor wire, which she becomes trapped in. The more she struggles, the more painful it becomes for her (and the viewer), leading to her death. The next morning, Miss Tanner tells Suzy that Sara suddenly left the school earlier in the morning, but Suzy doesn't believe her because Sara would have least have said goodbye to her. Suzy calls Sara's guardian, Dr. Frank Mandel (a dubbed Udo Kier; MARK OF THE DEVIL - 1970), who tells Suzy that Sara said nothing to him about leaving school and he thinks Suzy should know the history of the school she is attending.
In 1895, a witch by the name of Helena Markos moved into the building before it became a dance academy. She wrote several books on witchcraft under the name "The Black Queen", but she was constantly persecuted by people in town. In 1905, Helena burned to death when the building mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground. It was rebuilt and turned into a dance academy, but it was plagued with unexplainable deaths and other supernatural occurrences, some people believing that Helena never died in the fire and she is now looking for a successor, which she has not found...yet. After hearing that story and finding it hard to swallow, Suzy decides to search the school herself, but she is not going to like what she finds. Is history about to repeat itself?
While the film doesn't make much sense (screenplay by Argento and Daria Nicolodi, who has a quick cameo as a woman at the airport), there's no denying that it has a style unlike any film that came before or after it. Many films tried to copy it, but failed and there can only be one reason why. Only Dario Argento can deliver an Argento film. The first thing you'll notice is Argento's use of primary colors, which permeate this film. There's a reason why red is the primary color most used and I don't think I have to explain why (Only Mario Bava, who directed such films as BLACK SABBATH , BLOOD AND BLACK LACE  and KILL, BABY...KILL  could trump Argento when it came to the use of color). The killings are also shocking, including Daniel getting his throat ripped out by his guide dog, Pat and Caroline's deaths and especially Sara's death by razor wire, all of them painful to watch. What more can I say about this film that hasn't been said before? This film forever changed the way we look at supernatural horror films and its influence is felt, even today. This was also the first film that the "Goblins" scored musically and it is really intense and effective at eliciting an atmosphere of terror and dread (Argento played the score during filming to get the proper responses from his actors, as the film was lensed MOS [without sound] and would be dubbed later in post-production). Be aware that though this film is about "Mater Suspiriorum" (The "Mother of Sighs"), her name is never uttered here and is first mentioned at the beginning of INFERNO (1980). Here she is only mentioned by her earthly name, Helena Markos. The actress portraying Helena, Lela Svasta, was, according to Jessica Harper, a 90-year old ex-prostitute that Argento found on the street. Now I don't know if that is true, but there's no denying that her visage packs a visceral punch.
Originally released theatrically in the United States by International Classics, Inc. (a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox) and then released on VHS by Magnum Entertainment, who offered it "uncut" (it wasn't really, as many scenes are missing frames and bits of dialogue) and in widescreen before widescreen was something we knew we wanted and needed. In 2001, Anchor Bay Entertainment released a truly uncut print on DVD (as a stand-alone disc or as a 2-disc "Collector's Edition"), which Blue Underground eventually released on DVD. Then Synapse Films gained the rights and released it on DVD and Blu-Ray with a ton of extras. This is the Blu-Ray you want, that is if you can find it (it went OOP fairly quickly). Also starring Susanna Javiocoli (BODY PUZZLE - 1992), Rudolf Schundler (THE EXORCIST - 1973), Jacopo Mariani (Argento's DEEP RED - 1975), Franca Scagnetti (THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR - 1975) and Margherita Horowitz (Argento's THE CAT O' NINE TAILS - 1971). The theatrical version is Rated R, while all the disc versions are Not Rated.
TERROR FIRMER (1999) - Director/star Lloyd Kaufman proves once again that sometimes having a "kitchen sink" mentality can really work in your favor. Before Kaufman's POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (2006) came along, this was Troma Films' premiere horror comedy, edging out Kaufman's THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984) and TROMA'S WAR (1988) for sheer idiotic brilliance and wall-to-wall gore. This film is quite complex in its simplicity: Blind director Larry Benjamin (Kaufman) is trying to make his gore masterpiece, but a female serial killer begins murdering cast and crew members in increasingly bloodier and gorier ways (The film opens with her tearing-off a chauvinistic guy's leg and beating him to death with it and then ripping a sunbathing pregnant woman's baby out of her womb and running away with it!). Larry not only has to deal with the rash of killings, but also the difficult cast and crew of the film, including diva star Christine (Debbie Rochon; CHAINSAW CHEERLEADERS - 2008); her white trash boyfriend D.J. (Mario Diaz); extremely strong boom mike handler Casey (Will Keenan); special effects technician Jerry (Trent Haaga; THE GHOULS - 2003); shy gofer Jennifer (Alyce LaTourelle) and other assorted nitwits, halfwits and twits who make creating a movie look like a fraternity toga party gone out of control (and, yes, there's a toga party in this film!). When soundman The Toddster (Gary Hrbeck) walks off the film, he is later murdered by the mysterious female killer when she stabs him repeatedly about his head and chest with a broken bong (this is after she shoves a funnel up his ass and gives him a bong water and cocaine enema!) and then ripping out his brains with her bare hands (and doing a "This is your brain on drugs" PSA parody). Larry also has a young daughter named Audrey (Lloyd's real-life daughter Charlotte Kaufman) who was struck dumb when she witnessed her mother being killed during a stampede at a taping of The Jerry Springer Show (her mother's head is trampled over and over until it is just bloody mush). While Larry is trying to finish the film, whose script gets changed daily, he's also trying to teach Audrey how to speak again. There's also a competition between Casey and Jerry for Jennifer's affection, which Casey wins due to his unusual strength (he keeps beating-up and humiliating Jerry) and his unusual love of pickles. As the murders continue, including the killing of the film's financial backer, Jacob Gelman (portly Troma regular Joel Fleishaker), who is graphically torn apart by an escalator (!), it becomes clear that Jennifer has a deadly sexual secret she is hiding from the crew (her sex scene with Jerry is one for the books). But is she the killer or could it be another crewmember that has a much more serious problem? Maybe the jar of pickled red herring is a clue? The entire crew bands together to defeat the killer in the film's blood-soaked (and painful) finale, which ends with an impassioned speech about independent filmmaking that is both inspiring and hilarious. In TERROR FIRMER, there is no joke so juvenile or sight gag so low that Lloyd Kaufman won't use it on screen. You want people shitting their pants in graphic detail? It's in the movie. You want to see a guy throwing up and then immediately kissing his girlfriend? It's here. How about jokes about A.I.D.S., shameless self-promotion of other Troma films, a cameo by Lemmy of Motorhead (C'mon, Lemmy, a doctor could probably remove that fucking mole! But then he wouldn't really be Lemmy, would he?), fart, pissing, puking and shitting sight gags, ventriloquist dummy crucifixion, penis stretching, references to SEINFELD, JAWS and too many other TV shows and blockbuster films to take-in in one viewing? All here. The funny thing is, a lot of this stuff is actually funny and sometimes side-splittingly so. There is also plenty of full-frontal nudity on view, both male and female (and transgendered) and some of it approaches porn level, but it is done so over-the-top, you can't possibly be offended by it. Yet for all of TERROR FIRMER's excesses (and there are plenty), Patrick Cassidy, Douglas Buck and Kaufman's screenplay (inspired by Kaufman and James Gunn's book, "All I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger") is still a biting satire on ultra-low-budget independent filmmaking, including the camaraderie, in-fighting and unexpected setbacks, and it still finds time to have a cohesive murder mystery plot. And, surprise, it's not really that easy to solve; and the rest of the story is linear and resolves most of the major plot points (including Audrey's speech problem). If it's a tad overlong at two hours (slightly over two hours if you play the film with all the excised bits, a special DVD feature), there is so much going on both in the forefront and the background, time will fly right by. The gore is plentiful (and very well done), the women are beautiful and the jokes non-stop. What more could you ask for? Also starring Yaniv Sharon, Sheri Wenden, Mo Fischer, Lyle Derek, Roy David, Brigida Costa, and funny cameos by Ron Jeremy, Joe Franklin, Eli Roth, Tiffany Shepis, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. A Troma Entertainment DVD Release. Unrated.
TERRORVISION (1986) - Cult horror comedy from Executive Producer Charles Band and his late, lamented Empire Pictures production outfit (Band would form Full Moon Pictures after Empire went belly-up). When the planet Pluton's Creature Disposal Unit accidentally beams an alien criminal off the planet, the transmission is picked-up by a newly installed satellite TV dish ("The Do It Yourself 100") belonging to the wacky Putterman family, which included dad Stanley (Gerrit Graham; PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE - 1974); mom Raquel (Mary Woronov; EATING RAOUL - 1982); punk rock groupie daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin; AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION - 1982); young son Sherman (Chad Allen; DO YOU WANNA KNOW A SECRET? - 2001); and crazy Grampa (Bert Remsen; LIES - 1983). When everyone else is out of the house (Mom and Dad are at a swinger's party and Suzy is on a date with her punker boyfriend), Grampa and Sherman watch an all-night monster movie marathon hosted by Medusa (Jennifer Richards, who wears a wig made of plastic snakes), only to have a real monster come out of the TV and kill Grampa (by liquefying him) in front of Sherman's eyes. Sherman calls the police, but they think it's a crank call and when his parents come home with another swinging couple (played by Alejandro Ray and Randi Brooks), Mom locks Sherman in Grampa's fallout shelter to shut him up (Terrific parenting, Mom!). It's not long before the monster makes quick meals out of Mom and Dad and the other swinging couple (Rey's character turns out to be bisexual, but leaning more to gay!), so Sherman makes another call to the cops and one to Medusa and when they both blow him off, he blows the door on the fallout shelter using Grampa's WWII explosives, just as Suzy returns home with her punk rocker boyfriend O.D. (Jonathan Gries; FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 - 1988). The monster attacks, but stops in it's tracks when it sees O.D.'s studded armband (a flashback shows that it reminds the monster of it's kind owner back on the planet Pluton), so Sherman and Suzy don studded armbands, too, and attempt to domesticate the monster. The trio plan on making a million bucks off the monster, so Sherman calls Medusa again and Suzy talks her into coming to the Putterman home to look at the monster. Things go horribly wrong when Officer Nutky (Ian Patrick Williams) shows up to arrest Sherman for making crank calls and the monster eats both O.D. and Nutky. Pluthar (William Paulson), a friendly alien from the planet Pluthon, beams through the TV screen to save Sherman and Suzy, but Medusa sees him as competition and kills him, which leads to the film's bitterly funny conclusion. Let's just say that when Medusa hosts her next horror marathon, the monsters in the films she will be showing will pale in comparison to the hostess. This is one of the better horror comedies to come out of the mid-80's, thanks to director Ted Nicolaou's (SUBSPECIES - 1991; BAD CHANNELS - 1992; VAMPIRE JOURNALS - 1997) funny screenplay, which mocks everything from BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (1969; a funny scene involving the kids finding the talking severed heads of their parents and the swinging couple in the bedroom) to E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982; What do you feed a starving monster? Everything!) and our never ending obsession with TV. John Carl Buechler's life-size creature is a ridiculous concoction of sharp teeth, big eyes, a huge crab claw and plenty of latex and slime, but it totally works in the framework of this wacky universe. Besides a quick shot of the planet Pluton in the beginning of the film (look closely and you'll see the wrecked remains of STAR TREK's USS Enterprise in a junkyard), the entire film is set within the confines of the colorful Putterman home, which includes one of the biggest indoor hot tubs I have ever seen (It plays an important part in the death of Alejandro Ray and Randi Brooks). The sets are a masterwork of primary colors (filmed on stages in Rome, Italy) and offer every excess the coke-fueled 80's had to offer. While some of the effects are disgusting, you will notice the total lack of blood here. When people are killed, they simply dissolve into a puddle of ooze. Sure, some of the humor seems forced and dated, but everyone plays it so broadly, it's hard not to fall for it's many charms (Grampa, who sells lizard tails on the sidewalk, expounds the eating of the tails by saying, "You cut it off, eat it and it grows back. And you can eat that one, too!" He may have something there.). This actually got a theatrical release through Band's Empire Pictures distribution arm and shortly thereafter obtained a VHS release from Lightning Video. (Remember when Band was capable of making entertaining films and not shit like THE GINGERDEAD MAN ?). Although TERRORVISION has yet to receive a DVD release, a nice widescreen print has been shown on pay cable stations Showtime and Turner Classic Movies bearing the MGM logo (the print I viewed), so a DVD release in the near future is not out of the question. Finally available on a beautiful double-feature Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack (with the extremely weird THE VIDEO DEAD - 1987) from Scream Factory. Rated R.
TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM
(1967) - This German film quickly became one of my favorite
gothic horror films when I first saw it on TV in the early-'70s.
Thanks to an online friend, I now have ther opportunity to watch it
uncut and in widescreen. I like it more now than I did back then.
This is one of the most atmospheric Eurohorror films ever made in the
'60s and, once you see it, you will notice the influence this film
had on MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)
in terms of torture, death and, yes, sadism.
Count Frederic Regula (Christopher Lee; HORROR CASTLE - 1963) is drawn and quartered for sacrificing twelve young female virgins (He is fitted with a spiked mask [the spikes are on the inside!] so he suffers before he dies), but before he loses all four of his limbs, he curses Roger von Marienberg (Lex Barker; THE INVISIBLE DR. MABUSE - 1962) and all his descendants for sentencing him to such a gruesome death.
Thirty-five years pass and stranger Roger Mont Elise (Barker again) arrives in a village and gets the attention of a one-legged man, who was at Count Regula's drawn-and-quartering and is giving the villagers a history of Count Regula (he performs in a traveling show). He delivers a personal written invitation to Robert from "Graf von Andomai", to meet him at his castle on Friday. The message also goes on to state that von Andomai will tell him about his family line. Roger is intrigued because, even though he is rich, he doesn't have an idea who he is, as he never met his mother or father and knows nothing about his family line. Robert tells his coachman (Dieter Eppler) to head to the castle. They arrive in the village square where Count Regula was killed, but they are lost. Robert asks several villagers for directions to the castle and all of them turn away scared, not saying a word. Roger then meets priest Father Fabian (Vladimir Medar; CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH - 1968), who offers Robert directions if he can come along for the ride, because he has a baptism to perform on a young boy along the way. Robert agrees and they go on their way, but not before they witness a strange ritual to ward off evil, where an old man walks through the village dragging a huge wooden crucifix (much in the same way Christ did before he was crucified). While making the long trip, Roger and Father Fabian meet Baroness Lilian von Brabant (Karin Dor; ASSIGNMENT TERROR - 1969) and her charge Babette (Christiane Rücker). Lillian (who likes to be called Lily, so I will, too) has also received a written invitation to the castle from the one-legged man, only her message states that Graf von Andomai will tell her about the inheritance she is about to recieve, since her parents recently passed away under mysterious circumstances. What happens next cements this film as one of the most atmospheric horror flicks of all time. As night approaches, the Coachman sees the strangest forest in film history. Every tree has human body parts protruding from it, as if the trees swallowed people whole, growing around them (Once seen, never forgotten).
The Coachman tells Roger that he wants to turn around, but he orders him to proceed forward. The Coachman then has a heart attack and dies, falling off the carriage, frightened to death from what he has just seen. Lily and Babette are then kidnapped by the castle's butler Anatol (Carl Lange; CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND - 1967) and when Robert and Father Fabian get to the castle, they find Lily in a trance and Babette hanging over a pit, where the bottom is full of spikes. Father Fabian frees Babette and Anatol tells Robert that he saved the women from highway robbers (not even trying to explain Babette's predicament!). Anatol tells Robert that Count Regula will see him tonight (Robert: "The Count has been dead for thirty-five years!" Anatol: "He will rise from the dead to talk to you!"). We then find out that Father Fabian is not a priest at all, he is a thief that was looking to rob the castle, but he will have to put that on hold for the moment, since everyone's lives are in deadly danger. Anatol, who proves to Father Fabian that he is one of the living dead (Father Fabian puts a bullet in his chest and we see the bullet hole heal by itself, thanks to some nifty stop-motion animation), shows everyone the drawn and quartered corpse of Count Regula in a glass coffin, telling them that the Count will rise from the dead on Good Friday, which is today. The Count then rises from the dead and everyone watches his dismembered limbs reattach themselves to his body (more stop-motion animation). Count Regula tells Lily and Roger that he needed the blood of thirteen virgins to become immortal, but he was killed before he could kill his thirteenth virgin. Since he drank the blood of the twelve virgins he killed before he was drawn and quartered, he only needs one more and that person is...Lily. The Count tells Lily that she is related to Roger and at midnight he will drink her blood. Roger tries to intervene, but he is gassed, waking up tied to the floor while the sharp blade of a huge pendulum inches closer to his torso on every swing (the opening credits say the film is based on Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Pit And The Pendulum", but only this sequence bears any similarity). Will Roger escape this deadly trap and save Lily, who is trying to save him, but is caught in another trap, where the floor is disappearing under her, a pit of snakes beneath her? Will Count Regula get his vengeance on Roger and Lily's family and become immortal?
What shocks me the most in watching this film for the first time in widescreen is how much visual information was lost on the fullscreen versions, especially the memorable trip through the haunted forest. Director Harald Reinl (he was married to Karin Dor when this film was made), who is best known for the series of German Edgar Wallace films he directed during the early-to-mid-'60s (THE CARPET OF HORROR - 1962; THE STRANGLER OF BLACKMOOR CASTLE - 1963, just to name a couple), many of them featuring Karin Dor and/or Lex Barker, before hitting paydirt in the U.S. with the pseudo-documentary CHARIOTS OF THE GODS (1970), hits this film out of the park, hardly ever delivering a false note. While not particularly bloody (pay attention to how Reinl handles the Count being drawn and quartered), this film still has many grotesque sights, including the trek through the forest and Robert discovering the one-legged man's dead body in the castle's barn. There's also no nudity (this was 1967, after all), but it comes damn close, showing the naked, dead bodies of the twelve virgins, all their breasts (and other private parts) hidden by objects or by the way their bodies are posed (I froze the DVD on this scene to see if Reinl tried to sneak in some nudity but, no, all of their naked bodies were placed in strategic positions. It must have taken a lot of planning to film this sequence, because the camera is always moving.). It's the little things like this, that most people wouldn't notice, that makes this film so special to me (and makes people believe they saw more than there really was to see!). Lex Barker (who passed away in 1973) is his normal stiff self, but he makes a serviceable action hero (he once played Tarzan in a series of films during the late-'40s & early-'50s). One thing about this film did bother me, though: If Lily is related to Roger, why does he give her a long passionate kiss in the finale? It's definitely not a kiss an uncle would give his niece! I guess that is a subject for another film (such as BYLETH: THE DEMON OF INCEST - 1972).
Originally shot as DIE SCHLANGENGRUBE UND DAS PENDEL ("The Snakepit And The Pendulum"), this received a U.S. theatrical release (from Hemisphere Pictures) under the name BLOOD DEMON, as part of a double feature with the Filipino horror film THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968). It had many VHS releases (by labels such as Regal Video, Magnum Entertainment, Sun Video and Interglobal Home Video) under a variety of titles, including the review title, BLOOD OF THE VIRGINS and CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD, most of them being the edited TV cut (But I swear, the first time I saw it on WOR-TV's [Channel 9 in N.Y.C.] "Fright Night", it was unedited, but further showings were hacked to pieces, missing much of the forest scene, stripping the film of what it is famous for). This film has yet to get a legal disc release in the States, which surprises me, because it is bound to be a best seller (are you listening Code Red?). Johnny Legend once tried to release a widescreeen version on DVD, but he quickly had to pull it for legal reasons (even though it was in widescreen, it was the edited version). Until that day comes, I wish to thank my friend (You know who you are. The only reason I am not naming you is because I don't want you getting emails asking for a copy!) for sending me the German DVD (from label e-m-s), which is available English dubbed (but not English subtitled). Not Rated.
WINTERBEAST (1986) - Here it is, folks: the badfilm to end all badfilms! It's got incoherent editing, terrible sound, grade school stop-motion effects, a grating music score that gets under your skin like a staph infection, amateur makeup and gore effects, a cast that couldn't act their way out of a paper bag (including a lead actor whose moustache changes from scene-to-scene) and, above all, a storyline that could confuse a Mensa member, yet the film is such a train wreck, you would have to be dead not to enjoy it (I can't speak for the dead, though. Maybe they'd like it, too!). The film opens with Sergeant Bill Whitman (Tim R. Morgan, the man of many moustaches) having a very violent nightmare and then being called into a Ranger's station to interview Ranger Sally Bradford (Lissa Breer), who was rescued in the woods by a weird character named Dick Sargent (Bill McLeod, who looks nothing like the late BEWITCHED star). While Ranger Stillman (Mike Magri) and Dick trade homosexual barbs, Bill questions Sally about the disappearance of Ranger Tello (David Mica) at an abandoned hunting lodge deep in the woods. Sally doesn't have much to say except, "I don't like that place. It's so quiet, it's...so dead!", so Bill asks Dick to take Stillman to the abandoned lodge the following morning to look for clues into Tello's disappearance. Before that happens (this is where the disjointed editing comes into play), Bill and Stillman (who is obsessed with nudie magazines and drinking beer) take a trip to the Wild Goose Lodge, the area's only operational tourist lodge, to talk to owner Dave Sheldon (a lisping Bob Harlow) to see if he knows anything about Tello's whereabouts. Meanwhile, a wooden Indian totem comes to (stop-motion) life and pulls a topless female extra through the window of her home, tossing her (obvious rag doll) body against the outside of the house, killing her (If you aren't laughing out loud at this sequence, you have no sense of humor!). After Bill questions Dave and comes up with nothing (somebody should have questioned Bill about the wild fluctuation of the bushiness of his moustache in this sequence) and Stillman manages to win the lodge's toaster raffle (it's a fucking used toaster, for Christ's sake!), Dick finally takes Stillman up the mountain to where he found Sally (and to confuse the viewer even more, Bill and Sally suddenly appear on the mountain with a fellow named Charlie Perkins [Charles Majka] and Dick is nowhere to be seen!). They all spot a gruesome sight where human skeletons are posed with Indian totems just like in Bill's nightmares. Bill wants to shut down the Wild Goose Lodge until all the murders and rumors of Indian legends are laid to rest, but Dave refuses since this is prime tourist season. Or does he have a more sinister reason? As more creatures begin killing hikers (and Sally), Bill and Charlie (who is an expert on Indian legends) uncover the truth and destroy the source of the Indian curse, or so they think. In the finale, Stillman has his head bitten off by a dinosaur-like creature, Charlie is chased though town by a giant chicken creature (complete with loud cackling sounds!) and Bill must face the Winterbeast (Chris Lenge), an ancient Indian creature who likes to strip humans of their flesh. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried! Not since EQUINOX (1967/1970) have I been so enthralled by what is basically a film made with no money and pure imagination. Like EQUINOX, this film is filled with stop-motion creatures but, unlike EQUINOX, the creatures here elicit laughter rather than awe (not necessarily a bad thing). I'm sure that's not what one-and-only-time director/screenwriter Christopher Thies and producer/editor Mark Frizzell were aiming for, but, by golly, this is one of the funniest, most incoherent films I have witnessed in quite some time. WINTERBEAST is entertaining as hell and the humor, whether intentional or not (for an example of the former, pay close attention as Charlie stands next to a statue of a cigar store Indian), drives the film to delirious heights that you will not see anywhere else. Just as it takes special talent to make a classic film, it also take that same kind of talent (only on another plane of existence) to make a film like this, where all of it's deficiencies add-up to pure entertainment. I guarantee you will never see stop-motion creatures as unusual and cheap as you'll see here, whether it's living totem poles, a furry creature that bursts out of the ground and drags away two female hikers or (my favorite) a four-armed drooling creature that attacks a guy rappelling down a cliff and rips off his head. The only non-stop-motion creature is the Winterbeast itself and it's a rather creative and effective full-body make-up job. But, by far, my favorite creature is Bob Harlow as the dastardly Dave Sheldon, whose lisp makes him seem gayer than Paul Lynde going as Rock Hudson's date to a Liberace concert. When he dons a 20's-style harlequin mask, lip-synchs to some old tune on a 78 rpm record and begins fondling human corpses he keeps in a secret room at his lodge, it's the film's creepiest moment and worth the price of admission alone. So what are you waiting for? This film can be purchased on DVD for a mere $7.99 directly from the filmmakers at www.winterbeast.com. It's full of special features, including deleted scenes and outtakes and is worth every penny. I can't recommend this enough. Also starring Dori May Kelly as Barbara, Charlie's girlfriend/assistant. Originally filmed in 1986, but not released on home video until 1992 (via VHS from Tempe Video). Support the filmmakers and buy the DVD. Not Rated.
THE WITCHMAKER (1969) - This is one of those fever dream films that has haunted me as a teenager in the 70's due to its' many showings on TV (albeit in edited form). The great news here is that Code Red has released an uncut 2.35:1 widescreen print that lets you view the film as it was actually seen in the theatres in the late 60's. The plot is rather simple: A group of parapsychologists, led by Dr. Hayes (Alvy Moore, also the Associate Producer and better known as the crazy "Hank Kimball" on the GREEN ACRES TV show [1965 - 1971]) go to the Louisiana swamps to investigate a series of murders of women who were strung up upside down from trees with their throats slit and all the blood drained from their bodies. One of the group, Tasha (Thordis Brandt), is a "sensitive" whose grandmother was a witch and quickly catches the eye of Luther the Berserk (John Lodge, who left acting shortly after this film to become Governor of Connecticut!), a Warlock who has been committing the murders to keep his love Jessie (Warrene Ott), a witch, young forever. Luther wants to bring Tasha in as the 13th member of his coven and begins knocking off the rest of Dr. Hayes' team sometimes using Tasha as his instrument of death. A lone reporter on the trip, Vic (the prolific Anthony Eisley of THE MIGHTY GORGA - 1969; THE TORMENTERS - 1971 and many other genre films) begins to unravel the mystery with Dr. Hayes as they begin to find the members of their party hanging upside down drained of all their blood. Dr. Hayes puts Tasha under hypnosis and finds out the truth: Tasha will take part in a Blood Sabbath tomorrow and become the 13th member of Luther's coven. Luther attacks the cabin and uses the body of one of the dead researchers, Owen (Tony Benson), to attack the group. Vic and Dr. Hayes decide to find Luther and Jessie and shoot them both in the head. They come up with a plan to defeat the coven (which includes becoming invisible wearing a necklace of wild garlic!), using the remaining female researcher (Robyn Millan) as bait. They manage to subdue Luther and tie him up as Vic (who is wearing the garlic neclace) invades the coven and replaces the human blood for the sacrifice with pig's blood. Luther breaks free of his bonds and knocks out Dr. Hayes and the girl and tries to race back to the coven to stop them from drinking the pig's blood. Alas, Luther is too late and his entire coven is killed. Tasha becomes herself again and Luther chases her and Vic through the swamps, where Vic puts the garlic necklace on Luther and pushes him into quicksand. Vic meets the same fate as Tasha knocks him into the quicksand. I guess she didn't become herself again after all. Director William O. Brown (whose only other known film is ONE WAY WAHINI , also starring Eisley) has crafted an atmospheric chiller with good visuals (filmed in Marksville, Louisiana), especially the shot of Brandt running through the woods in slow motion holding her bare breasts in her hands. Rumors abound that this film was shot with much nudity, but that's simply not true. Even though this film was rated "M" when originally released, THE WITCHMAKER is practical when showing nudity, using branches and other objects to cover breasts and showing nudity from the back instead of the front. Actor L.Q. Jones (ROUTE 666 - 2001) was Executive Producer of this and next went on to Produce THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1970) and then Direct/Produce/Write A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975). He and Alvy Moore had earlier worked as Director/Associate Producer respectively on THE DEVIL'S BEDROOM (1964). Most of the people appearing in this film have, sorry to say, passed away. Anthony Eisley passed away in January 2003. Alvy Moore croaked in May of 1997. John Lodge took a dirt nap in October 1985. Warrene Ott hit the concrete condo in January 1995. This is a good witchcraft film which should be viewed by everyone interested in horror films. Also known as THE LEGEND OF WITCH HOLLOW and was re-released in 1975 under the title THE NAKED WITCH containing footage not in the original film and Rated R. Many people remember the Interglobal Video version of this film that was released in the 80's. It's the TV version missing some of the more erotic footage and blood. My suggestion: Buy the Code Red DVD version and watch the film the way it's supposed to be seen. Rated M (a late-60's version of an R-rating). It was also available on a somewhat scratchy widescreen print by the now-defunct gray market label Midnight Video. Isn't it amazing that all the films we remember seeing time after time on TV in the late 60's and early 70's are now considered rare and sometimes downright impossible to find? It boggles the mind.
(1983) - Slow-moving, but never boring, supernatural tale that
asks this important question: What if death was never an option? A
question like that has far-reaching implications and this film tries
to answer it for you.
The film opens in Chartres, France in 1956. We see Dr. Meyer (Cesare Barbetti; ZORRO, RIDER OF VENGEANCE - 1971) and Police Inspector Bouffet (Andrea Montuschi; THE MERCILESS MAN - 1976) arrive at a children's camp, excited about what is about to happen. They go to the room of young Gabriella (Veronica Moriconi) and watch as the floor begins to buckle, as if someone or something wants to get to her. Dr. Meyer grabs Gabriella and says, "It's time, Gabriella. C'mon sweetheart, it's all up to us now!" and begins running down to the basement, Gabriella in his arms kicking and screaming. Inspector Bouffant says. "If you think it's wise, we could hold off on this thing!", trying to hand Dr. Meyer a pistol, but Meyer refuses, telling him a flashlight would be more handy. As he carries a screaming Gabrielle down to the basement, we see the stairs shake and rattle, while we hear very heavy breathing on the soundtrack. "Show me where your hiding place is", says Dr. Meyer to the young girl, "Where are you? You're in here, aren't you?" Gabriella falls to the dirt floor, digging with her bare hands and Dr. Meyer becomes excited, asking, "Is this where you are? Is this where you are hiding?", Gabriella shaking her head yes. "We found him! C'mon down here!" screams Dr. Meyer, running upstairs and leaving Gabriella alone in the basement, only she is not alone at all, as we hear her let out an ear-piercing scream. We then see an ambulance taking Gabrielle to a hospital, her right leg horribly mangled. The Inspector's men begin digging at the spot Gabriella pointed out and they find a wooden crate containing a skeleton. They are able to identify the skeleton as that of Paolo Zeder, thanks to a wallet found in the crate. Dr. Meyer yells out, "We found Paolo Zeder! He stumbled across a K Zone!" What is very unusual is that as soon as Dr. Meyer opens the sealed crate, he finds a slipper belonging to Gabriella inside, the slipper to her mangled right foot. How could it be in there when they just dug it up? That question, and many others, will be answered in this extremely atmospheric and frightening tale about immortality and the consequences that go along with it.
We are then in Bologna, Italy in 1983. Budding author Stefano (Gabriele Lavia; INFERNO - 1980) and his wife Alessandra (Anne Canovas) are celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary. Stefano bought his wife a nice bracelet and she purchased a used electric typewriter for him at a pawnshop. He is so delighted with the gift, that after making love to his wife, he runs out of the bedroom to try it out (Alessandra tells him that the only thing wrong with the typewriter is that it was missing the electric cord, so she had an electrician make a new one). While Stefano is trying out his new toy, the used ribbon comes loose and he becomes extremely interested in what the previous owner wrote, staying up all night transcribing it. What he discovers will haunt him for the rest of his life, if he has that long to live, that is. He goes to his university teacher, Professor Chesi (John Stacy; YETI, GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY - 1977), to try and make sense of it, but by the look on the Professor's face, it's obvious he thinks no good will come from it. He reads from the paper Stefano hands him: "The barriers of death shall at last be destroyed thanks to our work and my return to life will signal the return of all. The place I have discovered is the place the hierophant (i.e. any interpreter of sacred mysteries or esoteric principles) was looking for." The Professor wants to know where he discovered his, because only a scholar, an expert on religious history, can explain what it means. He wants to know from whom precisely he got this from. Stefano shows him the ribbon from the typewriter and the Professor tells him to look on the ribbon for any mention of "K Zones". Stefano unspools the ribbon and finds this: "Found a K Zone completely free and above suspicion. Ideal place...", but before Stefano can finish, the Professor says an old colleague of his, Dr. Meyer, wrote a thesis on K Zones, so he pulls out some binders and looks for the thesis, but it is missing. He tells Stefano that the idea of K Zones came from a man named Paolo Zeder, who one day just up and disappeared. "He sustained that all the places of antiquity where contact was made with the beyond, places like Delphi, Epheris and Dordunne all contained common properties, which he called alchemical, but what we call geological similarities. Now these sites, which he called K Zones, were supposed to be different, that is they defied all natural laws and they existed in a state of suspension, on time, on season, on growth and on death. Idealistically zero time and it will allow a return from the dead and beyond." (In layman's terms, K Zones are pet semataries).
Stefano begins his search for the name of the man who previously owned the typewriter, asking his policeman friend, Guido (Alessandro Partextano; SWORD OF THE BARBARIANS - 1982), if he could get the owner's name from the pawnshop, which he does. The name of the man is a priest, Don Luigi Costa, so he goes to his church to question him. Don Luigi (Ferdinando Orlandi; MACABRE - 1980) chews out Stefano, telling him he never owned a typewriter (even though there's an empty typewriter stand in his office) and to never come back to this church again, so Stefano leaves. After taking a swim at a health spa with Guido, Stefano notices that the typewriter ribbon and the letters he created from them are missing from his locker, so he goes back to the church, thinking that he left them there. He discovers from another priest that Don Luigi hasn't been a member of this church for years. The man who told Stefano he was Don Luigi was a fake, an imposter. Priest Don Mario (Aldo Sassi) tells Stefano Don Luigi's sordid history. He was a wonderful priest who took children to camp every summer, but then he started losing his faith in God and deserted the church. He tells Stefano that Don Luigi has a sister, Anna, in Remini, so Stefano and Alessandra drive there. While Alessandra suns herself on the beach (she has no interest in her husband's quest for the truth), Stefano goes to Anna's (Maria Teresa Tofano; THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE - 1971) address and discovers she is blind as a bat and renting a room in the house, so Stefano makes up a lie and tells Anna that he was good friends with Don Luigi and she lets him see the room, which was Don Luigi's. In the room, Stefano discovers a badge that his wife gave to Guido, so he calls his friend, only to discover that he has been transferred. Both Stefano and Alessandra find that strange, since Guido never told them that he was being transferred (And how did the badge get in the room?).
As Stefano and Alessandra are about to leave Remini, Stefano sees the fake Don Luigi putting Anna in a car, so they follow it, ending up in a cemetery, where the fake priest takes Anna every week to pay respect to her brother's grave, only she doesn't know it isn't her brother's grave at all, but some stranger's grave! Stefano learns that the real Don Luigi died in a Remini hospital and talks to Dr. Melis (Marcello Tusco; DJANGO SHOOTS FIRST - 1966), an old family friend of Alessandra. He tells them that when Don Luigi died, he didn't want to be buried in Remini and gives them the address of the crypt where he was laid to rest. Stefano discovers that Don Luigi's crypt is empty. We then discover that Dr. Melis is working for Mr. Big (Bob Tonelli; BALSALMUS, MAN OF SATAN - 1970), a rich businessman who is financing experiments pertaining to K Zones, where an elderly Dr. Meyer and an adult Gabrielle (Paula Tanziani) are performing experiments on Don Luigi's dead body to see if he comes back to life. They have buried Don Luigi in a K Zone, the same location where Gabriella nearly lost her leg as a child (she now walks with a limp), a "holiday summer camp" for children, which has been long deserted. Stefano makes his way to that location, too, and what he discovers may end up costing him and his wife their lives.
Make no mistake, this film is a slow burn supernatural tale that requires patience from the viewer, but like a fine aged wine, the patience pays off, transporting the viewer into territory that is downright frightening and nightmare inducing. Director/co-screenwriter Pupi Avati (THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS - 1976) is considered an Italian national treasure and is still making films up to this day. He takes his time showing us how K Zones work, but once he does, showing us a toothless Don Luigi rising from the dead and slowly chasing Stefano while laughing creepily, it's an image you will not soon forget. I've been reading reviews of this film where people accuse Stephen King of ripping off this film for his book PET SEMATARY (made into a film in 1989), but that is just being ignorant, as the plot of this film is hardly original, but Avati does put a nice atmospheric spin on it to get your mind off the fact that the story has its roots in ancient folklore, yet he makes it seem totally original. While lacking any nudity and very little blood or graphic violence, this film doesn't need it, because it is not that kind of film. When the violence does come, it is totally shocking and surprising (especially a close-up of young Gabriella's mangled leg). I wish someone would have told me this when I first went to a movie theater to see this film in 1984. Motion Picture Marketing (MPM) released this film to theaters under the title REVENGE OF THE DEAD (they also released it under the review title), using a phony advertising campaign that made you believe you were going to see a film in the vein of Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE (1979), even releasing it Unrated, bypassing the MPAA! When I was watching it onscreen, many people walked out of the theater disgusted, feeling deceived and rightfully so, thinking they were going to see a gore film and getting something completely different. Even though I was angry for being fooled, the film won me over. I have seen the film many times since then and it keeps getting better on each viewing, as I pick up things that I didn't notice before. This is a film that demands 100% of your time when watching it, as it is cerebral as well as entertaining. If you can't give this film your full attention, I recommend you not watch it until you can. I love films that play with your perceptions of love and death and this film fits the bill nicely. I'm going to review some of Pupi Avati's films in the near future, but most of them are harder to find than tits on a rock, although I did find a couple of them (Thanks, Rogue Video!).
Shot as ZEDER, this film had a U.S. theatrical release by the aforementioned Motion Picture Marketing in 1984, with a fullscreen VHS release by Lightning Video a few months later. An uncut, widescreen DVD from Image Entertainment arrived in 1999, with a Blu-Ray from Code Red following in 2018. If you want to save money, YouTube offers a nice anamorphic widescreen print dubbed in English (Although it is obvious nearly everyone is speaking English). Also featuring Enea Ferrario (Avati's HOUSE OF PLEASURE FOR WOMEN - 1976), Adolfo Belletti (THE HEROIN BUSTERS - 1977) and Pina Borione as Helena, the first victim of Zeder. Not Rated, but there is nothing in the film that goes beyond an R-Rating, just some honest-to-goodness scares and chills.