Sunday, November 21, 2010

They Came From Beyond Space 1967 **

Dir: Freddie Francis Stars: Robert Hutton, Jennifer Jayne, Michael Gough

I hate to say it but this is a case where the poster is better than the movie (I plan to discuss how movies compare to their posters when I get around to reviewing Terrornauts). But the movie is okay, as long as you think of it more as an extended English episode of Outer Limits than an actual feature.

Plot has hero Hutton not being affected by alien mind control because he has a steel plate in his head, which leaves him to investigate a phenomenon attacking his scientific colleagues including the woman he loves, portrayed by the very pouty-lipped Jennifer Jayne.

The scenes where mind control takes over are fun, because suddenly there is an explosion of groovy, jazzy music. As Hutton investigates he finds a secure compound the mind-controlled are working at with all sorts of suspicious whatnot taking place. When he starts getting too close to the secret, he gets zapped by some alien type zappers, which apparently cause him to pass out and wake up to see this:

This of course only makes him want to investigate further, leading him into the compound where he uncovers what appear to be frozen bodies. He basically kidnaps his girlfriend, still possessed as she is by aliens, only he has now figured out how to get the bad presence out, and that the way to keep it out is by having people wear pots on their head.

This all leads to a pretty interesting ending, as he stows away on a craft being sent nightly to the moon from the compound, where he discovers the secret of the aliens, as revealed by the Nimoy-esque Michael Gough, who would later play Alfred for four Batman films.

This is the kind of movie that is sort of problematic from the perspective of a b-movie fan. It's actually almost compelling enough to be a real film, and shows some film making skill; but at the same time, the type of thrills one hopes for from a crazy low-grade picture are only there sporadically and in small doses. So it's neither one or the other. But like I said, it would be decent if condensed down to an episode of a sci-fi anthology show. This film doesn't give you a wild ride, it is more something to be hypnotized by on a Sunday afternoon when bombed out on cold remedies and afterwards wonder what the heck it was you just watched. At least enjoy the wallpaper and curtains.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Black Fist 1975 or 1976 **

Director: Timothy Galfas, Richard Kaye

Star: Richard Lawson, Dabney Coleman, Philip Michael Thomas

Indeed, this movie does feature the work of Philip Michael Thomas, who plays a junkie from the ghetto, probably giving him the background needed for when he was later on Miami Vice and had to seem like he was familiar with the drug underworld. You can also look for PMT as a gang member in The Dark, the 1979 movie about an alien monster that shoots a death ray out of its forehead, and which also features the acting talents of Casey Kasem.

Black Fist tells a story similar to many of its genre. A young black man from the mean streets seeks to become somebody, through somewhat shady means if necessary, and in this case his ticket there is in the illegal fighting game. He demonstrates he is good with his fists fighting a large bald man who will recall to the viewer Pat Roach's hulking German in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

All seems to be going along swimmingly, then along comes a cop played by Dabney Coleman, still years away from his lecherous turn in 9 to 5. He of course demands a piece of the action to keep the heat off, and utters the immortal line, "Some of us never pay the piper because some of us are the piper."

So as one might expect, the odds pile up so high there is eventually pressure on our hero to throw a fight which he will not do, leading to all sorts of nastiness, and then him going on a revenge trip. The part where he deals with Coleman's character is a frosty treat. It all comes to a finish with an ambiguous, psychout head-trip final shot.

Movies like this can be a lot of fun and this one is no exception with all the jive talk, terrific funk soundtrack and disco dancing. Also like many of its type, it balances out being visibly low budget, with some scenes that feel very natural, as during one fight in a public washroom, a man wanders into the altercation and become a part of it in a way that almost looks like it just happened during filming.

While these films can seem exploitative, I do think they did a lot for the acceptance and the growing influence of black culture into white parts of North America. One can imagine that suburban kids would see these in drive-ins, and be introduced to a world that would seem a bit fascinating and strange, a tad alluring. At the same time, what the heroes were going through, while being particular to their situation, would also have a universal quality and be fairly identifiable for anyone who feels desperately trapped in their life.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Blood Harvest aka Nightmare 1987 **

Dir: Bill Rebane
Stars: Cari Salochek aka Itonia Salcheck, Dean West, Tiny Tim

There is some b-genius at work here in casting Tiny Tim as an unnerving clown character. For a grainy, synth-accompanied, straight-to-video slasher movie, this is really several cuts above of what one might expect. A young girl named Jill returns home from college to visit her parents only to find that she is a pariah in the town and her parents are missing. Creepy events start taking place as a boy she used to know tries to rekindle a romance with her. Tiny Tim is the brother of this boy, and keeps showing up uninvited around her house and generally freaking her out. People close to her begin to go missing, which means it's time for the beauteous Salocheck to take some showers and parade around the house in her underwear. Strangely, after all that, in the climactic chase scene, as the killer is revealed, she is dressed modestly in jeans and a bulky sweatshirt. It is to the credit of Cari Salocheck, this her only film credit, that she still looks sexy, perhaps even more so, and it's a nice switch from the usual. I've previously discussed my aversion to blatant nudity in lurid films, but in 80's straight-to-vid slashers it's pretty unavoidable and it would almost seem jarring if there was none at all. Although Tiny Tim's off-kilter (if he was ever on-kilter) performance - which makes great use of his trademark combination of weirdness and vulnerability - is deservedly played up in distribution material, with a gratifying payoff, Cari deserves a lot of credit for just looking great and her performance is quite creditable.

This is not usually my taste in movies, in fact early on I thought I might not get too far, but it ended up pulling me in. There is some well-done gore, although the grainy picture probably helps cover flaws, not that I don't enjoy flaws when I see them. For sheer enthusiasm of film-making there is something quite likable about the film.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ghost in the Invisible Bikini 1966 ***

Dir: Don Weis

Stars: Tommy Kirk, Aron Kincaid, Boris Karloff, Nancy Sinatra, Harvey Lembeck, Monstro the Gorilla

This is not the most obscure of films, but in terms of what it provides for bizarre enjoyment, it's tops. This is considered one of the AIP "beach" films, but it's missing several ingredients - there's no Frankie, no Annette, and no beach. But it compensates, does it ever, with Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, and a haunted house, just for starters. Not an awful lot of movies have scenes of biker gangs, go-go bikini dancing, ghosts, gorillas, dungeons and wax statues, but this one does, and more.

The main plot involves Karloff as elderly Hiram Stokely discovering he is dead and that he has to do a good deed or he goes to the bad place. So he oversees a weekend get together of relatives to make sure the inheritance goes to the right place. One thing leads to another and soon groups of teens are doing the monkey and every other current dance out by the swimming pool, to the swinging sounds of Nancy Sinatra and the Bobby Fuller Four. The song performed there, "Geronimo", is probably the best song in the picture, per se, but a couple of the other songs are well worth it due simply to their strange incongruity. For instance, at one point baddie Basil's daughter, the shapely Sinestra, is supposed to use her feminine wiles to fool heir Kincaid into drinking some poison. Only trouble is, gee whiz, Sin loses her glasses and ends up singing her song to a suit of armour, shimmying nicely all the while.

A circus caravan with a gorilla shows up, and then Eric Von Zipper and his bikers as well, and soon all sorts of hallway hijinks are taking place in the mansion as secret passageways are uncovered. Everyone winds up in the secret dungeon where, after some Perils of Pauline action with a mill saw - in which a young heiress is nearly cut off from the will, as it were - all is well and the youngsters start a kah-razy dance party in the dungeon. Oh, yeah, and all the while the former Mrs. Stokely, who died many years ago, is appearing as a ghost in an invisible bikini.

This is no masterwork of acting, and there are practically no close-ups, except on Boris, with many extended stationary longshots. But the flick is definitely groovy fun.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bloody Pit of Horror aka Il Boia Scarlatto 1965 ***1/2

Dir: Massimo Pupillo aka Max Hunter Stars: Mickey Hargitay, Walter Brandt, Louise Barrett, various henchmen in striped shirts

I believe this Italian-made film is a cult classic that is gathering steam, as every few years I google it for one reason or another and the number of hits has increased exponentially. It is simultaneously highly campy and rather brilliant, and features a plot structure that would be often repeated in later years, in a general sense, as a group of travelers has to stop at a creepy-looking domicile which at first seems benevolent until they are picked off one by one. In this film, each murder is uniquely creative, and they are exacted by Hungarian muscleman Mickey Hargitay. Hargitay, as many will know, was the husband of Jayne Mansfield and would later be portrayed, in a made for TV movie, by Arnold, with Loni Anderson as Jayne. Their marriage produced the lovely Mariska Hargitay, a bit of a horror veteran herself, having appeared in the first Ghoulies, and now appearing in Law & Order: SVU.

From the promise that this movie was filmed in "Psychovision" we know we are in for a good B-time. After a triumphantly cardboard opening in which we are told about the execution of the original Crimson Executioner, for abhorrent and sadistic crimes, the narrative shifts to modern times (aka the sixties) as a group of sexy models with big hair have been brought to an obscure castle, which they and their male companions have just happened upon while looking for unique places to shoot photos. At first the castle seems deserted, but they soon are waylaid by grim guards wearing striped shirts, the henchman of Hargitay's eccentric recluse. After some stirring melodrama the models and photogs are reluctantly given permission to spend the night at the castle with the promise that they don't go to the dungeon to shoot their photos. Naturally all and sundry make a beeline to the dungeon, since rules are made to be broken. What they haven't anticipated is that their host feels the same way about people, as he is beginning to identify more and more with the sadistic Crimson Executioner who was executed in this very castle.

Hargitay dons a Crimson Executioner outfit and begins to caper about, criticizing mankind for its "lechery" and "sordidness" and its constant attempts to corrupt his perfect body. We've all felt the same way at one time or another, but while most settle for ranting to strangers on the bus, Crim takes it all a little too far as he begins to pick off the guests in unique and sadistic ways, finally getting them all chained up in the dungeon and really having some fun, especially with the scantily clad female models. All for the sake of punishing them for their lack of moral purity, of course.

At least since the time of Vico, the Italians have been ahead of the curve on Western Civilization's descent into depravity and barbarism. This movie is a nice tribute to all the forces of the eventual decline, and has a lot of fun with it. As Super Nintendo Chalmers once said, it's one hell of a toboggan ride. The film itself is ahead of the curve for a lot of seventies stuff like Scooby-Doo, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and various stories in Warren comic magazines. Also noteworthy is the score, which has some great eerie music with Star Trek-style soaring vocals.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Return of the Swamp Thing 1989 ***

Dir: Jim Wynorski
Stars: Louis Jourdan, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Dick Durock

I can remember as a youngster videotaping this from late night cable and watching it over and over again, not exactly knowing what it was I was looking at. I was young and naive enough to think that, extracting the more fantastical elements, perhaps somewhere in the world people actually behaved like the people in the movie. Watching it again now, I realize what a good time the performers were having and how seriously it wasn't being taken. This a well-balanced monster comedy with many riotous elements such as bantering backwoods scumbags and porn-loving kids. At the same time, the filmmakers wisely never let the creature himself lose his dignity. There are some very capable moments of light horror film making, as an establishing shot of rained out trailer park that reminded me of an old EC Comics horror cover, appropriately enough, for surely Swamp Thing's comic book ancestors lurked in the pages of those classic Gaines stories.

This continues from the more grainy theatrical original that starred Adrienne Barbeau, but this one takes the mickey out of the concept while paying tribute to old fifties monster films like The Fly, as we are escorted early on through a mad scientist lab full of nicely made-up mutant freaks. Jourdan plays a slightly lascivious but nevertheless likable villain in Arcane, showing only a slight flagging in his enthusiasm for the part from the original film. There is even a great scene where he is shown, Captain Nemo-like, maniacally playing organ. The gorgeous Sarah Douglas plays her part as his assistant with great panache, and all his underlings are worth watching. Dick Durock as the creature, despite working in a deliberate farce - though with a more elaborate make-up job than the first time - creates a monster hero that is genuinely sympathetic and noble, inviting comparisons to the Toxic Avenger and Lou Ferrigno's Hulk.

But the film belongs to Heather Locklear. Her presence drives the plot, and she has many good lines - "I just love it when guys peel out!" As perhaps the most prominent in a generation of smart blondes, she makes it work as well as it does. It's a hilarious romp with genuine heart, and the entertainment never lets up.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Slaughter Hotel aka Asylum Erotica aka The Coldblooded Beast 1971 **1/2

Dir: Fernando di Leo
Stars: Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Rosalba Neri

For some reason, though I'm delicate about any nudity in films before 1968 or thereabouts, it's kind of mandatory in Eurohorror of the seventies, and kind of adds to the ambience if the proceedings don't get completely pornographic. Though some make the case for European porn and cinema having almost blended into one art form along about the mid-seventies, I prefer to keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool in the metaphoric McDLT of sleazy movie watching, but that's just me.

This movie is really a very recommendable bit of Eurotrash as it swarms in, provides lurid and weird thrills, then doesn't overstay its welcome. It's about a loony bin that seems to exclusively provide for the needs of sexy women, among whom is Margaret Lee coming on to Kinski, whose doctor character doesn't insult our intelligences, or bore us, by rebuffing her too long. Fans of more mainstream cinema will recognize Kinski as the wild-eyed long-haired loudmouth on the train in the Dr. Zhivago, or perhaps as the hunchback hired gun in For a Few Dollars More, but he is actually a very versatile actor who appeared in a wide variety of interesting European movies from the lowest of the low to the artiest of the arty.

Someone starts to knock off the curvy nutjobs in the place after they've done some suitable seductive writhing in surreal dream sequences, and there then follows a hamhanded investigation by police who make sure to chase the killer, once identified, at a slow enough pace so he has time to chop up about five nurses before the thrilling conclusion. One of the most notable scenes is a strange dance of lesbian seduction. The nonstop muzak score is kind of incongruously fun as well.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Devil's Bride aka The Devil Rides Out 1968 ***

Director: Terence Fisher

Stars: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi

Just to get this out of the way first, if you watch the film you will get see the things on the poster, and more. There is a man with a goat head, there is a giant spider, there is an Angel of Death with a skull face - riding a horse with bat wings! And even more creepy stuff. I generally enjoy any film I watch from Hammer Studios but this is one that really delivers. For one thing, as opposed to many films where Christopher Lee appears only a few times and speaks little or not at all, he's in almost every scene of this movie and has many lines that would make effective sound bites in a Rob Zombie song. It is unique in that Lee plays the hero of the film, for once trying to work against Satan, and manages this with conviction. The villain of the piece is portrayed by Charles Gray, whom many will recall as Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever, or as the Criminologist in Rocky Horror Picture Show ("It's just a jump to the left!"). Gray is trying to raise the devil and nearly succeeds except for the interference of that snooping Christopher Lee and his own version of the Scooby-Doo gang.

The movie doesn't just hint at certain dangers, it actually depicts them, which makes for some fun visuals and genuinely scary scenes. Though I often also enjoy a good use of power of suggestion, as say in the original Night of the Living Dead, where half the time we are just shown people arguing in a house, but it's what they are arguing about that creeps us out. And speaking of the original Night of..., tonight is the triumphant return of Elvira's Movie Macabre to local stations in the U.S. and the Romero classic is slated at the inaugural flick. I live in Canada unfortunately, so will have to miss out because none of our U.S. affiliates are carrying it. Well, I'll still be flipping through channels later hoping I missed something in my research.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Brides of Blood 1968 ***

Dir: Gerarde DeLeon & Eddie Romero

Stars: Kent Taylor, John Ashley, Beverly Hills, Eva Darren, Mario Montenegro

Virgin sacrifice, a busty blonde, a monster, island rituals, bloodthirsty mutant trees, and lots of midgets. Combines elements of King Kong, Forbidden Planet, and The Incredible Hulk. A scientist, his young assistant, and his free-livin’ wife arrive at an island in the Philippines to look at effects of atomic tests that took place in the area years earlier. They discover that the islanders have slidden back into primitive ways, and that virgins are regularly sacrificed to a mysterious creature in order to placate it. They meet Esteban, who seems like the only civilized person on the island, and who offers them hospitality. Hills’ sex appeal is slowly uncovered as the film goes on, as opposed to having her in skimpy outfits from the get-go, which is unique. The monster is wonderfully bizarre looking, definitely a throwback to the old fifties creatures. As eerie and evocative as it gets, with a tribal chant repeated throughout to great unnerving effect.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cat-Women of the Moon 1953 ***

Dir: Arthur Hilton

Stars: Marie Windsor, Sonny Tufts, Victor Jory, The Hollywood Cover Girls

Man makes a small step onto the moon for the first time and finds a society of telepathic women living in caves where there remains a breathable atmosphere. The women plan to steal the earthmen’s rocket and use their powers to take over the world, but first they must perform a strange space pilates to wonderful music by Elmer Bernstein that sounds more Biblical epic than space movie, but those are just some of the unconventional elements that makes the film a lot of fun. (Bernstein did the score for Ten Commandments, thus the Biblical epic connection.) We got a revolver brought along on the rocket ship, we got throwing a cigarette onto the bright side of the moon where it explodes into flames. The olden days when space was magic and exotic. There are also giant spiders on quite visible wires, and some space-double entendres: “If you take me on board your rocketship I’ll let you into my cave of gold.” Or something along those lines, I might have bent it a little. There’s even a bit of a love triangle among the astronauts which, given the news of a few years ago, turns out the be the most prescient element. The movie seems very fantastical, but it is taking place in just might be that in 1969, the "future" year when the film takes place Cat-Women were found on the moon, only the government doesn’t want you to know. For all we know, this film may be a documentary presented as fiction to hide the truth in plain sight. Space may be as magical as we always thought, but who’s funneling the info?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kong Island 1968 ** 3/4

Dir: Robert Morris aka Roberto Mauri

Stars: Marc Lawrence, Brad Harris, Esmeralda Barros, Adriana Alban, Ursula Davis

This Italian movie is also known as King of Kong Island, but don't let either title fool you, the apes in this are all regular sized. But gorillas are gorillas, and I'm a sucker for any movie with gorillas, especially if they are portrayed by people in gorilla costumes, and especially if, as in this movie, they are remote controlled by a mad scientist. The Leonard Maltin Movie Guide says this movie is "not even good for laughs". I beg to differ, but that could be because I find amusement in the concept of a mad scientist named Albert plotting to somehow control the world with an army of mind controlled gorillas in Africa. There are, admittedly, a lot of scenes where the film drags, as people walk endlessly through the jungle, but there's a lot to recommend it, as there is a jungle girl, referred to as "The Sacred Monkey", and a kind of fun dancing/club scene, as well as just a bizarre, twisted plot. One highlight includes the gorillas invading a camp and kidnapping the breathtaking Ursula Davis, also seen in Crypt of the Vampire and An Angel for Satan; she's one of my favourite Eurohorror beauties, seeming to always play the "good girl".

The last twenty or so minutes are especially good, as everything comes to a head and there is one fight after another in the lab/cave hideout of Albert; man versus man, woman versus woman, mad scientist versus gorilla. I must also admit I like this movie because it seems like something I may have caught part of on TV when I was a kid and been forever baffled and intrigued. I'm not sure if I really did, but it has that sort of strange evocative feel for me, between the nonstop muzak soundtrack and the blurry, otherworldly visuals. It puts me into a good b-movie trance, what can I say. That's what I look for.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Zodiac Killer 1971 ** ½

Dir: Tom Hanson

Stars: Hal Reed, Bob Jones, Ray Lynch, Tom Pittman

This is a textbook hit-and-miss B. There are some great killings by the killer. He stops to help an old lady whose car has stalled, but then kills her by slamming her head in the hood and jumping up and down on top of it. Also amusing is when he sends a sleeping old man in a rolling chair down an inclined street to his demise. Something that makes the movie especially odd is the very uneven performances…some deliveries are not even at read-through level, seriously. Which is part of the fun of exploiters. The point of the film is that anyone you see could be a killer, and this concept is related by the voiceover of the killer, which is quite well done and creepy. The striking-looking killer is shown going around doing a lot of ordinary things, even being helpful to people, although occasionally people are creeped out by his effusiveness. These scenes tend to pile up to the point of seeming just like filler, but that’s also part of the fun of exploitation movies: randomness and irrelevancy. Another killing scene I enjoyed was of him stabbing a girl in an American flag bikini. Ah, symbolism. Exploitation movies are interesting to me because of how they depict some of the most horrible things that can possibly happen, and the truly dark nature of man…and at the same time, they’re usually so silly. It’s just a very compelling dichotomy I can’t seem to resist, so why try? That extra half star I’m giving because of the creative beginning and end titles.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Monsters Crash the Pajama Party 1965 ***1/2

Dir: David L. Hewitt
Stars: Vic McGee, Peter James Noto, James Reason

Perhaps the greatest half-hour absurdist saga of all time. It's amazing how much insanity is packed into the short running time of this oddity, which was originally presented with live actors participating so it would seem as if things were coming out of the screen at you. When watched as is, this makes it all the more surreal and disjointed. This is available from Something Weird Video, packaged with a bunch of other curiosities, including the Richard Carlson ghost noir, Tormented, of which I was very glad because my own copy of that stopped working half way through. The main feature has just about everything I look for in a b-movie, so much I'm sure I will run out of space for the labels as it only allows 200 characters, so I will have to choose the most prominent aspects.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Weng Weng For Your Height Only 1981 ***

Directed by: Eddie Nicart
Stars: Weng Weng, Max Alvareado, Mike Cohen

Never mind what the poster says, in the version I watched this diminutive superspy is usually called Agent Double O. He's irresistible to the ladies and he uses his small size to his advantage in hand to hand combat, swinging on a rifle that a thug's holding in order to kick that same thug in the face, for instance. I quote from some of the notes by Ian Jane on the Filipino phenom, contained in the "Appreciation" section of the DVD:
"A role model to all of us, his adventures prove that the human spirit can overcome any obstacle that gets in your way, and if you can't, a swift punch to the balls goes a long way..."

Even without its unusual hero and unique fight scenes, this would be a fairly surreal foreign action film. The overdubbing is a lot of fun as those responsible have the bad guys speaking in bad Bogie impressions and like forties gangsters, saying things like "poimanently". Lots of flamboyant late seventies attire is another highlight, worn while dancing to a bogus ripoff of "Boogie Wonderland".

Monday, August 2, 2010

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster 1965 ***1/2

Director: Robert Gaffney
Stars: Marilyn Hanold, James Karan, Lou Cutell, Nancy Marshall

Lest there be any confusion, the stars system on this blog is out of four, and is rated not on how fine a movie is but on how much I enjoyed it for it's off-kilter thrills and weirdness, though of course that's what makes a fine B. The title of this one tells us the plot, except it's really not Dr. Frankenstein's monster per se but an android built for space travel who crashes in his ship, onto earth, appears to be fine, but runs amok after being zapped by the ray gun of a spaceman henchman of Nadir and Princess Marcuzan. These aliens have landed their flying saucer - made of some kind of metal polygonal structure with a tin skirt attached - in order to kidnap bikini girls for their breeding program. For some reason they have a space monster in a cage on their ship, but who really needs a reason? Lots to recommend this film, almost without a dull moment. Something that stands out about it is the use of stock footage for the earth craft getting ready to take off, because of the use of the song, "That's the Way It's Got To Be" by garage band The Poets, which makes the scene quite striking. Bruce Glover, father of Crispin, plays one of the pointy-eared, baldheaded aliens, as well as the actual monster.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Manos: The Hands of Fate 1966 **1/2

Dir: Harold P. Warren
Stars: Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Harold P. Warren, Diane Mahree

One of the most polarizing films in b-dom, some b-aficionados consider it too genuinely bad to be a b-classic, others regard it very highly, including one Quentin Tarantino who according to IMDB actually owns an original print of it. It's almost a dead cert that it influenced David Lynch in some way with its long shots, surreal qualities and creepy characters. My own feeling is that it is a b-classic but that unlike say Plan 9, Spider-baby, or Faster Pussycat, is not one that can be watched over and over, at least within a short span. Partly this is due to what makes it so distinct, the very loooong slowly paced scenes, which are kind of mesmerizing in their bizarreness, and may be some unintentional realism you don't see in most movies, in the sense that life often happens at a slow pace. I seem to remember that Hitchcock once said something about how melodrama is life with the boring parts taken which definition Manos may not be melodrama, but it is a distinct work, and how many things can you say that about?

Some performances deserve credit. Tom Neyman plays the "Master", and is quite genuinely intimidating with his glaring eyes and his scowl. He is a cult leader who has a whole bevy of wives who go into some kind of trance or standing coma during the day time. One of the things that is most made fun of in the film is how strange the speech of the wives is, as when one is discussing the fate of some intruders into their secret hideaway and first wants to spare the woman, then in the next sentence declares that they all must die. But I rather think that, while it may be due more to ineptness than design in the writing, it actually reflects the off-kilter mental state of thralls of a cult, so is actually more convincing than if everything they said was consistent.

Probably by now the films most famous element is the unforgettable character Torgo, portrayed by John Reynolds in a reported drug induced stupor. His uneven way of phrasing such lines as "The master would not approve" have become iconic. Reynolds sadly died shortly after the shoot, so it is nice he has achieved some immortality as a subject of - if I can juxtapose these words - fond derision.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians 1964 ***

Dir: Nicholas Webster
Stars: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Pia Zadora

This much maligned holiday flick has some pretty solid assets. One is the catchy opening song. Another is some drama between the spacemen characters that you don't normally see in space invader type movies. In contravention of space invader tradition, the invaders are not all in unison as to their purpose. They have distinct personalities, fairly unique in sci fi flicks. The aliens in the Aliens franchise, for instance, all seem pretty much to be on the same page. Eat humans, impregnate John Hurt, chase Sigourney Weaver, pop out eggs.

A group of green skinned Mars-boys heads to earth in order to kidnap Santa Claus so that they can bring joy to their children.

Vincent Beck, as the most malevolent of the martians, Voldar, accomplishes a pretty menacing performance. He has a particular point of view, which is that Mars used to be a planet of warriors, and he feels they are becoming soft. He can be identified by his mustache.

Pia Zadora plays one of the Martian little girls.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dracula: A.D. 1972 ***

Dir: Alan Gibson
Hammer Studios, 1972
Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame

Probably unintentionally, but who is to say, this film seems to symbolize the death of "swinging London" and has a lot of fun doing it. Part of the fun is Peter Cushing as a very visceral version of two different Van Helsings. Stephanie Beacham is his lovely and groovy granddaughter, one of a group of young mods who get their kicks from disrupting snooty parties. When that proves not enough, their de facto leader Johnny Alucard, who at once channels Alex of Clockwork Orange and prophesies Sting and Billy Corgan, and who presumably has some charismatic appeal to his mates, decides the next step is Satanic rituals. In Hammer films, Dracula and Satan are inextricably linked, even interchangeable.

They raise Drac from the dead. Drac decides to get revenge on his archenemy Van Helsing's progeny, "kneel before Zod" style, by having Van H.'s youngest descendent Jessica dress in a revealing white dress and lie on an altar, but not before first practicing on her lovely friend portrayed by Caroline Munro. This flick is fun and action packed, with much groovy scenery and costumes. Another trademark "less is more" performance by Lee and his booming voice. Only disappointment for me is the gorgeous Caroline Munro being disposed of pretty quickly and not become a seductive vamp girl as I'd hoped. As in The Spy Who Loved Me, she seems to meet her fate too soon.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Curious Dr. Humpp aka La Venganza Del Sexo 1967 ***

Dir: Emilio Vieyra
Stars: Gloria Prat, Richard Bauleo, Aldo Barbero, Hippies, Lesbians
A line from this movie, “Use my body to keep you alive,” prefaces the Rob Zombie song “Never Gonna Stop Me.” Print watched was the later, Americanized version where more overt sexual scenes were spliced in. Plot involves a grim-faced scientist kidnapping randy young people to copulate, which somehow provides him with a serum to keep him young forever. A talking brain in a jar is in league with him (reminiscent of Krang and Shredder on TMNT, retroactively), and his beautiful assistant pines for him. He tells her that her body is his to use as he pleases. Contains some genuinely weird scenes and moody, dark cinematrography. The charmingly unaffected Gloria Prat is the focus of desire for Humpp’s strange creature-ally. Action moves very quickly, as in the first few minutes we see the creature and Humpp’s automaton slaves, who actually look a great deal like the aliens in Killers from Space. Has almost everything you look for in a great B: a mad scientist, a monster, a beautiful girl (well several actually), a talking brain, drug use and murder. The elements gel almost perfectly, and only the overt sexuality becomes a bit of a drawback, as some of the naked scenes, likely not in the original cut, get too long and tedious. For my money the gorgeous and exotic Prat, fully clothed, or at most in a semi sheer nightgown, is much hotter than any nudity. Suggestion is the power of a good B. Or to put it another way, if an exploitation schlock movie is presented as legitimate but has a sexual subtext, that’s more interesting and enticing, and a more telling analog to daily life, than if it’s just a porno with a concept. Also, it’s more fun, and more funny. Otherwise, though - totally a classic. Soundtrack is beautiful, a lot of moody flute helps maintain the nighttime eeriness of many of the shots. Most of Vieyra’s technique is to film outside in the middle of the night with a floodlight, but it works very well for him.

Here's a trailer for a Vieyra movie that I like even better for no sensible reason, called alternately Feast of Flesh. Gloria Prat also appears in this underappreciated classic of eeriness and overdub.