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.