Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lady Frankenstein (1971): or, She Only Wants You For Your Body

After watching Lady Frankenstein (aka La Fagila di Frankenstein) on my Mill Creek 50 Chilling Classics set, I just had one burning question: why?


Of course I'd heard of the movie before, but with a name like Lady Frankenstein, I'd expected something silly and worthless a la Frankenstein's Daughter Meets Jesse James--and the poster art, featuring an evening gown-clad big-boobed blonde among laboratory equipment, didn't help matters much. But behind the boobs of that blonde was in fact a FANTASTIC Frankenstein movie with great production values, real Hammer-esque atmosphere, an engaging story carried by charismatic actors, and a script with a perverse streak a freakin' MILE WIDE.


An aged Joseph Cotten plays Baron Frankenstein, who after 20 years is on the cusp of realizing his dream of reanimating dead flesh. He and his elderly assistant Charles spend the first few minutes of the film paying slimy, disreputable graverobbing types to collect the raw materials for their final push toward immortality. While Paul Muller as Charles does a great job as the loyal henchman and voice of reason, it has to be said that the much esteemed Cotten is pretty terrible as the mad doctor. At first I wondered if Cotten was interpreting the doctor's character as an alcoholic; later it became clear to this viewer that Cotten was, in all probability, ACTUALLY DRUNK during most of his scenes. Still, the period sets are very well done, the lab looks great, and the build-up to the creation scene is economical, fast-moving, and very well done.

"Yech. I've gotta find a new place to hide my gin."

On the eve of the Baron's triumph over death, however, his daughter Tania shows up for an ill-timed visit. Tania Frankenstein is played by Rosabela Neri, known to her American fans and credited here as Sara Bey, and she is SMOKIN' HAWT. Far from being just a pretty face, however, Neri is immediately believable as the intelligent, driven daughter of a man of science, a sexy apple that has not fallen far from the mad scientist tree. She's just completed her anachronistic training to become a surgeon, and has returned home hoping to help her dear old dad in whatever blasphemous experiments he might happen to be engaged in this week. The tipsy Cotten refuses her help, however, and forbids her entry to the lab until his results are ready for peer-review and publication.

Charles is quite a bit happier to see Tania, though, as the dirty old man has apparently had a thing for her ever since she was a wee bairn and he a middle-aged lab tech. (Eew.) Of course now that she's grown up into a ridiculously sexy mad scientesse...well, let's just say the lab isn't the only place where dead flesh is being resurrected. (Eew x 2.)

Meanwhile, Lynch the graverobber is being hounded by Captain Harris, played with hardboiled enthusiasm by Mickey Hargitay. It seems some of the bodies Lynch delivered to Castle Frankenstein might have been a bit fresher than was strictly legal, and Harris wants him to swing for it. Though the muscle-bound Hargitay is perhaps best known as "Mr. Jayne Mansfield," here he's very impressive as the tenacious, no-nonsense police inspector on Lynch's trail. And Lynch--played by the hilariously yet appropriately named Herbert Fux--is just the apotheosis of the slimy, too-clever-by-half lower-class degenerate, street smart and cracking wise, confident he can stay one step ahead of any flatfoot from the constabulary. The scenes between Hargitay and Fux are so great, you can almost forget there's a monster mash a brewin'.

"What the fuck do you mean, 'Is there a
mirror in her pocket?' "

But brewin' it is, and when a sudden storm blows up, Baron Von Bottlesucker is ready to call down the thunder and bring his creation to life. When the creature's brain is damaged during the last-minute transplant (brains has got to be fresh), Charles sensibly wants to call the whole thing off, but naturally the Baron is having none of that nonsense. He presses forward, with predictably disastrous results.

A few words about the creature here. Though the set designs, costumes, and makeup to this point in the movie have been nothing short of top-notch, the monster is one of the dumbest-looking in the entire subgenre, and that includes the 7-ft Chuckie doll in Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound. This creature has a head like a Metaluna Mu-Tant, an orange shirt, and the ugliest pair of form-fitting vertically-striped pants I've ever seen on an animated conglomeration of dead body parts. He's ugly, too--but only because during the reanimation a stray spark catches his face ON FIRE. Though I wasn't a fan of the creature design, I had to appreciate the creative effort to explain the creature's disfigurement. So that allays some of the silliness. But not much.

Monster goofiness aside, the creation sequence is one of the better ones I've seen in a Frankenstein movie, very exciting and well-realized, second perhaps only to the wonderful stuff in the old Universal flicks. Sensing how silly he looks in those pants, the newborn monster wastes no time going on an kill-crazy rampage, starting with the man that dressed him, Baron Frankenstein himself. The creature crushes him like a wine grape--probably releasing twice as much alcohol in the process--and then heads out to the countryside to find some villagers to dismember.

It's here that the movie starts to get pervy, and in the most wonderful way possible. Out of nowhere we find ourselves in an idyllic nature scene by a rushing river. Nearby, and buck-naked Eurobabe basks in the sunlight, attended to by a half-naked Euroboy with love on his mind. Alas, we barely have time to exclaim "Whoa! Funbags!" before the Creature rumbles in and tears the loverboy limb from limb. Then the monster picks up the screaming young lass, and in an homage so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes, lumbers over to the water and tosses her in, recreating exactly the "flower boats" scene from the Karloff classic, except with no flowers and a naked Eurobabe instead of a little girl.

Yep, now you know what kind of party this is. Where are the mashed potatoes?

Keep your eye out for this guy.

Meanwhile Charles has told Tania about the disaster in the lab, and shows her the Baron's body, still leaking whiskey all over the laboratory floor. But Tania is not one to sob and faint--her thoughts immediately turn to science, and vengeance! Realizing that the monster will be unstoppable by conventional means, she resolves immediately to create a SECOND monster to hunt down the first--or, in her own words: "Not a monster--an executioner! Our creature will kill my father's murderer!" Tania, I love your can...I mean, your can-do attitude. Let's get it on!

It seems Charles is thinking the same thing I was, because he immediately professes his love for Tania and willingness to help her do anything, as long as she might someday love him back. The movie's pervy streak continues to broaden as we see Tania eyeing the stable-boy Thomas, who is muscular but also completely retarded. Charles plaintively asks the Baroness, "Could you love me?" "Yes," she replies, "if you looked like Thomas!"

The vengeance plan is quickly revised to accomodate the pervy plan as well: Charles agrees to help Tania create a monster using Thomas's body, if she will put Charles's brain in it, thus giving him the raw sex appeal he needs to be her lover. Charles and Tania are quickly married to seal the deal, though the marriage is unconsummated so long as he's a wrinkly old coot.

Meanwhile the monster's rampage continues. What the Creature lacks in sinister looks and fashion sense he more than makes up for in sheer viciousness, as we are treated to several brutal murders which the villagers are powerless to stop, despite some very spirited resistance. Soon Captain Harris is questioning Tania and Charles about their abrupt nuptuals, the Baron's death, and the sudden rash of crushings and pullings apart in the neighboring village, but they play dumb.

What happens next must go down in the annals of Mad Movies as one of the greatest mad scientist body-procurement scenes in cinematic history. Tania uses her feminine whiles to lure the retarded Thomas into her bedroom, where she sheds her gown and corset and makes a man of him. Neri's acting has been great throughout, but here she totally commits to her role by getting completely naked and letting the audience feast its eyes on her heart-breakingly stunning gorgeousness. To be that beautiful AND talented--it hardly seems fair. But at least we get to see her ride the 'tard like a thoroughbred, so that's something.

Risking unemployment to bring this to the world.
It's totally worth it.

Meanwhile, Tania's new husband is watching the whole thing from the closet, getting angrier as the sex gets hotter. Finally he can stand it no more, and creeps out to smother the hapless handicapped helper in mid-coitus. (Minimal damage to the body that way.) Solidifying the film's grasp on the title "PERVIEST FRANKENSTEIN MOVIE EVAR," Thomas expires underneath the Baroness WHILE SHE ACHIEVES ORGASM! Ho-lee shit. I still can't believe they went there, and I've watched that scene at least a dozen times.

After a peak like that it's bound to go downhill, and in short order Charles's brain is in Thomas's bod (and his larynx as well, from the sound of his voice), the torch-bearing mob is finally zeroing in on the Castle, and the first Creature, enraged by sibling rivalry, returns to do battle with his better-looking little brother. The final battle doesn't take too long, as Charles/Thomas triumphs over Egghead McIrate and claims Tania for his prize. Tania, overwhelmed by joy at her success in both mad science and revenge (not to mention way turned-on by her monster-man's manliness) falls into his arms even while the mob sets the castle ablaze, as mobs are wont to do.

Hargitay catches the couple in literal flagrante delicto, and the film reel runs out, apparently, as there is a super-abrupt ending with no credits, in mid-tussle. I can only assume this is a bad cut in the print and the the theatrical version went on at least a few more seconds; however, my limited internet research suggests that this is the way ALL the prints end, so either it was intentional or this is the best surviving print we've got.


Sara Bey achieves the impossible by
getting EVEN HOTTER.

It's not without its failings--the monster is dumb looking, as I said, and Cotten slurring his way through his lines is frankly embarrassing, especially if you're familiar with the esteemed actor's other work. There's some weird editing with jump-cuts, though how many of these are due to print damage or censors I can't tell (though I can't imagine what they would have censored, considering what they left in). And if you look carefully in an early scene, you can catch a glimpse of a crew member in Tania's mirror! Still, for someone like me, that just adds to the charm.

And the plus column WAY outweighs the negative. I'm an official Rosabela Neri fan club member now--not only is she gorgeous, she's a great actress, pulling off the driven mad scientist role well, and also lending depth with her portrayal as a woman who will use her mind as well as her body to achieve her perverse goals. Hargitay is great, Fux is great, the set designs and costumes are great--hell, even the dubbing isn't all that bad. Plenty of blood, plenty of nekkidity, and loads and loads of fun all add up to my new favorite non-Karloff-starring Frankenstein movie, period.

6 thumbs, and more if you're a perv like me. Get yourself a copy of this, pronto. Thank me later.

PS--as if I needed another reason to praise the 50 Chilling Classics set, I was stunned that somebody working for Mill Creek put this, Devil Times Five, and Funeral Home all on one disc--and ALL THREE have scenes where a mentally challenged character is seduced by a manipulative older woman. A trilogy of 'tard seduction! It had to be intentional on some DVD author's part, and for that, whoever you are, I thank you. I hope Mill Creek gave you a nice fat bonus.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936): or, Meat Your Maker

Well, this year's Halloween bargain DVD hunt was rather disappointing. A couple of years ago the Duke and I found that the Dollar Tree was selling these spectacular double-feature dvds, fifty cents a movie, a series of such variety and scope it was truly astounding. Through them we discovered such bounty as Vengeance of the Zombies, Castle of Blood, How Awful About Alan, and others with equally intriguing titles. We snagged as many as we could, and even though I still haven't watched all of them, they've more than paid for themselves already in the pleasure gleaned.

Last year it was the same series again, nothing we didn't already have, and this year it was worse--four discs of previously released stuff, but with horrible cartoonish cover art replacing the movie posters of the other series. Disappointing.

Luckily, however, I did manage to find one double-feature dvd for the still-modest price of $1.99 at our local Walgreens containing an unknown-to-me feature called Bloodlust (expect a future review) and also a film I'd wanted to see for years but hadn't been able to find--the 1936 British production of Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

I've been a fan of this story ever since the early-to-mid-eighties, when I caught a performance of the Stephen Sondheim musical on our local PBS station one weekend. Though I had some experience with musicals (my older brother's a big fan, and I picked a lot up by osmosis), I had never before seen one that so perfectly blended show tunes and terror. In the fullness of time I acquired a tape and watched the play over and over again, until I could quite literally recite it from opening curtain to final bow.

So when I learned that there had been a horror film made of the story--and during the Golden Age of Classic Horror, my favorite era, no less!--I became very much interested in seeing it. Sadly the film was not a Universal production, nor a Hollywood flick at all, but rather a low-budget British programmer that never showed up on our late-night TV dial. I filed it away in the back cabinet of my brain and went on with my life.

So now I've finally got to see it, and I must say I'm not at all disappointed. A fun, theatrical little flick with some good acting from the leads, some interesting editing, at least one WTF wacky moment, and a long-overdue introduction to the work of Tod Slaughter, an English thespian who apparently made lots of films like these and whose other work I look forward to seeing. But, on with the synopsis.

We open in modern-day London, scene of our interesting frame story. A busy businessman stops in a small barber shop for a shave. The barber--a cadaverous fellow with a cloyingly unguent manner--sets about trying to sell his client all manner of tonsorial accessories, from razor blades to hair tonics to vigor-restoring snake oil. The irritated customer swats away every offer, saying at last, "I expect you'll try to sell me that picture on the wall next!"

"Oh no," the barber says, seriously. "I would never sell that!" It turns out the picture is a drawing of Sweeney Todd from the newspapers in the early 19th Century, and Mr. Todd was the original owner of the shop. This leads the barber to tell the man Todd's story while he shaves him, and takes us into the wayback machine set for Dickensian London...

"Say, want me to show you a
quick way to lose ten ugly pounds?"

Now, in case you don't know, Sweeney Todd is a barber who lives and works somewhere in the vicinity of Fleet Street, London. He's also something of a tinkerer and a thief, not to mention a murderous psychopath. The fortunate man has been able to roll all his predilictions into one pastime--having rigged up a trap door underneath his barber's chair, he's able to drop unsuspecting customers into the basement on their heads, go down and slit their throats, and then steal all their cash.

This of course leaves the problem of what to do with the victims' remains, but the fiendishly clever Todd has this sorted as well. A secret passage through the basement connects with his next door neighbor Mrs. Lovat's shop, which as it happens sells meat pies. Mrs. Lovat is not averse to spiking the pies with shaved human corpses, and what's more, she's in love with Todd. Problem solved!

This hobby has made Todd very wealthy, but he longs to gain entry into society, and to do this is courting aristocrat Stephen Oakley, claiming he wants to be allowed to invest in his shipping business, but actually hoping to get the old man in his debt so he can force him to allow Todd to marry young Joanna Oakley, the aristocrat's daughter. (This is very different from the Sondheim musical and presumably the upcoming Burton/Depp vehicle based on it, since in the play Joanna is Todd's daughter and she is pursued by the lecherous Judge Turpin, whose character here is aptly named 'Judge Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.')

But Joanna has a man, a sailor named Mark, of whom her father disapproves. Mark is about the ship out, hoping to make his fortune and come back for Joanna's hand. But Todd helps the old man out by ratting on Joanna and the sailor and spoiling their farewell at the pier, thus gaining his good graces. Hands are shaken, investments are made, investments are lost, Todd calls in his debts, Oakley offers up his daughter, virgins are menaced, throats are slit, and everything rolls right along.

I must say here that the period setting of Victorian England is done extremely well--the crowded piers, the coal-smokey streets, the urchins and scullery maids, all great. And Todd and the other gentlemen wear some truly amazing top hats--I mean Mad Hatter-type hats, stuff that would make Tom Petty proud. The exaggerated height and width of the chapeaux give the film an almost German expressionist quality, without going too overboard on it.

Mrs. Lovat doesn't like Todd's carrying on with Joanna, and threatens to send him to jail; but of course she's in it as deep as he is, as he reminds her. Here Slaughter really turns up the low simmering menace he's cultivated the whole flick and goes into full-on threatening madman mode, also demonstrating probably the second-best crazy-laugh in cinema history. (Top honor: Dwight Frye as Renfield, natch.) It reminded me of a chain of stores that used to do business in Arkansas and perhaps throughout the South known as "The Mad Butcher"--they had this very Todd-ish looking mascot who closed every commercial with a crazy laugh, brandishing a cleaver. I wonder now if this figure was based on Slaughter in this film. Or if I just dreamed him up. Either way, *shudder*.

Tod Slaughter: the Very Picture
of Trustworthiness

Meanwhile, Mark's ship lands in Africa somewhere to rescue an English shipwreck victim whose fires they saw from sea. This is a wild and wacky scene, as the Robinson Crusoe-esque shipwrecked dude and his heavily-pigmented servant (unnamed, but I call him 'Monday') are beset by a tribe of Jungle warriors intent on stamping out the White Menace. The sailors come ashore and before you can say Zulu there's an all-out race riot afoot! The natives are at a disadvantage without gunpowder and are quickly mowed down, but not before Monday buggers off (Don't you just hate Mondays?) and leaves Crusoe to rush out of the hut to greet his liberators, only to get a chest full of spears in mid-huzzah! That'll teach you to count your chickens.

The captain is a casualty of the fray, so Mark becomes captian and sails back to London, his fortune made thanks to the his bloody promotion. It all goes downhill rather quickly from there, with Lovat finally going sour on Todd, Joanna dressing as a boy to infiltrate Tod's shop (convincing Sweeney utterly--a nice Shakespearean touch there), the whole carnal business getting uncovered, and a final confrontation that leads to the shop going up in flames and Todd presumably dying in the cataclysm. Of course we get a comedic return to the modern-day to see the barber's customer flee the shop once the cadaverous cutter picks up his razor, and thus a legend is born.

"It's the weirdest thing...I swear you look
just like somebody I know! Ah well, never mind.
How much for the wax job again? "

This was a very fun flick, especially for fans of horror films from this period. I've read that if a Victorian melodrama could be brought to the screen, acting styles intact, Slaughter's work wouldn't be far off, and I believe it. Slaughter--called "Europe's Horror Man" in the ads--is a really great villain, his menacing evil nature very authentic and palpable. Though the acting style here is more stage than screen, it still works, especially when Slaughter lets loose with the crazy laugh.

Also, especially early on in the flick there is some interesting editing, as director George King ties together several scenes stream-of-consciousness style, taking the last word from one character as the first word from another on a jump cut to a different set-up. There's some comic relief with one of Mark's shipmates being courted by Joanna's tall, gawky maid, which surprisingly is actually pretty funny. There's no gore, of course, and the cannibalism aspect of the story is very much played down (restricted to implication in one or two scenes with people saying, "Whattaya suppose he did with the bodies?" while of course chewing one of Mrs. Lovat's meat pies), but like I say, if you're a fan of movies of this period, there's very little not to like.

I'm glad I got to see ST:TDBoFS, and that it wasn't a crushing disappointment like another long-sought-after movie I finally got to see as an adult. I give it a solid 2 thumbs. Fans of Lugosi, Karloff, and the Universal Horrors, get to know Tod Slaughter. He'll fit right into your pantheon.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Rojo Sangre (2004): or, There are No Small Roles, Only Large Knives

An aging actor, past his prime and forgotten by the public who once adored him, ridiculed and humiliated by the agents and directors who once clamored for his attention, finally snaps and plans his revenge on the shallow denizens of the entertainment world, taking back in blood what they have taken from him in spirit. This type of film has something of a tradition--not quite a subgenre, but close--especially among horror icons of the past. Vincent Price's Theatre of Blood is probably the best-known. Boris Karloff mines similar territory in Peter Bogdonavich's excellent debut Targets, though lacking the strong revenge element. It works best when the actor in the lead role IS in fact a former icon, and the audience is aware of his past glories.

Which is why Rojo Sangre, starring that elder statesman of Spanish Kickassery Paul Naschy, works so well. A septuagenarian when the movie was filmed, Naschy did not write script it (the writer was director Christian Molina, no relation to Jacinto), one gets the feeling he might as well have--the subject matter is palpably near to Naschy's heart, and the anger, pain, and malevolent glee he brings to his role here can't be all due to the aging icon's formidable acting chops. No, Paul was feelin' it here, and it shows, oh yes it does.

In Rojo Sangre, Naschy plays Pablo Thevenet, a veteran actor who's fallen on hard times. In the past he had it all--he played Shakespeare, was acclaimed in all the papers, and yes, made several gruesome horror flicks in the 70s. The opening credits are presented as director's notes at the bottom of stills from films starring "Thevenet"--actually, of course, they're shots from the Naschy monster extravaganzas we've all come to know and love. This device makes the character/actor connection explicit--Thevenet IS Naschy, and vice versa. There can be no confusion.

Next we see Pablo sitting in a waiting room, getting ready to audition for a bit part. Striking up a conversation with his colleague sitting next to him, Pablo wastes no time spitting some venom in the direction of the big movie types who have forgotten him, and bemoaning the fate of the old actor, who once he has given his all is cast aside like a dirty taco wrapper. He also details quite off-handedly the perverse joys of sticking a hamster up one's arse! Whether he's joking or not we don't know, but we get a picture of a man who's seen and done it all, and who is p1ssed off at a business that's passed him by.

"Me, starring in The Dick Cheney Story? No fucking way.
I don't need the money that bad."

The first few scenes establish Pablo's character further and the desperate situation he's in. Humiliated at the audition (in a particularly good bit, Pablo brags to a beautiful blonde about his resume and former fame; the lovely lass shrugs and tells him "I'm sorry, but when you were starring in flims, I wasn't even born!" Paul's deflation at this comment speaks volumes), Paul is reduced to watching celebrity gossip programs on TV all day, disgusted by the young stars' antics and the adoration heaped upon them (which he sees as his due), and waiting for a callback that won't come.

His agent can't find work for him, and is disinclined to try, encouraging Pablo to give it up. Almost as an afterthought, the agent gives Paul a card for a nightclub that just opened, The Pandora, that needs an actor to entertain people at the door by impersonating killers from the past. It's beneath Pablo's dignity, but he needs the money, and it sounds like easy work--so, swallowing his pride, hating himself and his agent for it, he goes to audition.

The Pandora is a KICK-ASS club--all decorated in red satin and candlelight. While wealthy patrons sip expensive whiskey and smoke Cubans, a troupe of nude performers onstage enact tableaux of the Seven Deadly Sins. Paul's audition is on Lust Night, lucky for him (and us!). To his surprise the management knows him and treats him very respectfully, just the way a man of his talent should be treated. A dog-faced, tranny-looking woman named Dora takes him back to see the young, handsome, slightly manic-looking owner of the club, the cleverly-named Mr. Reficul. They hire Pablo at an exorbitant fee, 10,000 euros for one night a week, and offer to pay for all his costumes and accoutrements, including knives. After the extensive, multi-language contract is signed, Reficul makes Pablo a gift of a sword-cane with a wolf's head handle--an obvious nod to Paul's real-life cinematic inspiration and history.

It's not long before Paul is conducting a one-man war on the Entertainment Establishment. With the aid of a capable, exotic-looking personal assistant named Tick-Tock (assigned by Mr. Reficul--her backstory posits her as a former Parisian whore who timed her tricks with a stopwatch), he outfits himself as Jack the Ripper, Gilles de Rais, and Ivan the Terrible, using his personas to extact bloody revenge on those who have wronged him--his agent, former collaborators, and current young stars who sully his profession and don't give him the respect he deserves. (In the best set-piece, Pablo uses a Marillo--the Spanish Oscar--to bludgeon a producer in flagrante delicto, afterwards going all Jack-the-Ripper on his screaming bedmate!) A subplot where Pablo directs a snuff film for one of Reficul’s other clients seems a bit out of place, but does showcase some very disturbing stuff and is perhaps a statement on where the art of cinema is going, from Pablo’s pov.

Paul rips shit up.

Of course you get no points for guessing who Mr. Reficul really is and what the fine print in Pablo's contract entails, but they're not really trying to hide it, and the real fun is watching Paul Naschy get to enact the revenge fantasies that were doubtless very real to him at the time. His Thevenet is a malevolent character, feeling "more sinned against than sinning," and his descent into darkness rings true thanks to the authentic venom Paul imparts to the role. (You can’t help feeling Thevenet’s tirades against the business come straight from Naschy’s heart.) The epilogue, though predictable, has some great visuals and is a fitting coda to the fun story.

Score for the film: the gore is good, the Faustian plot serviceable, and the acting from other principals, especailly Miguel del Arco as Mr. Reficul, is very strong. There's plenty of blood, loads of sex (the aged Thevenet even hooks up with Tick-Tock, of course), and thematic nastiness to go with the joy of Naschy, so surely it's a must-see for any Jacinto fan.

But even non-Naschyites might enjoy some of the interesting technical work that director Christian Molina brings to the table. Much of the movie was shot on "virtual sets" like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and others, using digital effects to construct a dark, dreamy, slightly unreal world for the film. The transitions between scenes take advantage of this, with some interesting wipes and fades, though after an hour or so these do get more than a little gimmicky. But it does look like a huge-budget flick, which makes it a little strange for a Paul fan--you're not used to seeing him in such lavish, un-grainy surroundings.

"Gettin' old ain't for lightweights, punk."

So I give Rojo Sangre 2.5 thumbs, but 3 if you're a Naschy Fanatic like me. Definitely worth adding to your Netflix queue, if only to hear Paul give instructions on the best way to put a mouse into a condom. Fun AND educational! What more could you want?


Monday, November 5, 2007

Baron Blood (1972):or, Better Not Burn That Parchment, Baby!

On one of my more recent sojourns into the misty regions of the world, I happened upon two rather ominous-looking chests. Each chest was wrought from a hard wood I could not identify and carved with glyphs that any attempt to decipher would cause the reader’s head to be filled with monstrous visions of a world gone mad. Upon examining the latch mechanisms, I knew instantly what would be required to open them: A thin bone carved into the shape of an intricate key and made from the elongated femur of a blind Hesychastic monk, which I had happened to acquire on a previous visit to the region. Using this with a combination of pressure and Kabalistic chants, the locks sprang open, revealing their contents.

I speak, of course, of the twin Mario Bava DVD sets that our benefactors at Anchor Bay have chosen to release upon the world. Bava needs no introduction to my audience. We all know this most salacious of pioneers, his artistry speaking for itself. Spawned in 1972, “Baron Blood” represents Bava at the height of his powers, using the knowledge he’d gleaned over the years to create something designed to frighten as well as entertain.

BB opens with some killer 70’s groove music as we witness that mighty corporation Pan Am whisk our would-be hero Peter to Austria, ostensibly to visit his kin. Deplaning at Flugen Wein airport, we see that his pilot was none other than Capt. Stubbing (or a reasonable facsimile there of). Peter meets his uncle Karl in the terminal, and is carried away into the Austrian countryside. Along the way, his uncle informs him that the family castle is being renovated to become a hotel. Apparently the locals won’t go near it, due in no small part to the name of the castle, that being “Castle of the DEVIL”!, but they figure tourists won’t have these same hang-ups.

Upon swinging by the castle to give Peter a quick look-see, they run into the beautiful Eva, played by the sultry Elke Sommer, and of course Peter is smitten instantly, due no doubt to her insanely short skirt. We are also introduced to Fritz, the bumbling half-wit oaf who loiters around the castle grounds, indulging himself in buffoonery and general hijinks at every given moment. Over supper with Uncle Karl and Eva, Peter learns more of his family’s heritage, including that of the infamous Baron Blooooooooooodddddd, who apparently burned a witch, who in turn cursed him to a never-ending cycle of resurrecting and blood-letting. Intrigued by Eva’s gams, and her possession of a certain parchment containing the very incantation that is supposed to raise the Baron from his slumber, Peter suggests that they go to the castle that very night, and read aloud the incantation in the very room the Baron was burned alive in! Hey, that sounds like a lark!

So off they go, these two crazy kids, and somehow they manage to make it into the bedroom during the night without filling their pantaloons first (a feat I would have serious doubts in completing myself, I do admit!). Read the incantation they do, and no sooner has the last word been spoken when heavy footsteps begin to thump over their heads. The Baron lives! Fortunately, Eva is armed with the anti-summoning spell, and so the Baron is sent back, unseen by our two youngsters. Convincing themselves that it was all in their heads, they resolve the next day to try again.

They return the next night, and summon the Baron again. This time his footsteps echo and he approaches the very door to the room they are in. Blood begins running underneath the door, and they realize they’ve gone too far this time. This night, though, the gods looked upon their folly with disdain, sending a fell wind through the castle that whisks the anti-spell parchment from their table and into a roaring fire!! Luckily for them the Baron makes a hasty exit and they are spared gruesome deaths.

However, Baron Blood roams free! Here we get some good looks at the Baron’s ravaged visage, constantly seeping blood it is. His costume is even more scary, resembling that of a Pilgrim gone horribly wrong. The Baron’s first visit is to a nearby doctor, who, taking the Baron for a victim of an accident, fixes up the Baron’s face before becoming a victim himself. Very quickly the bodies start piling up around the Castle of the Devil, for the Baron likes to decorate his castle walls (and interiors) with bodies. A great anguish is inflicted upon the viewer as the lovable, bumbling Fritz gets thrown into an iron maiden, the results of which show Bava’s command of gore effects.

Without spoiling too much of the ending, I’ll give a quick rundown: Enlisting witch help is never good, Zombie Fritz!!, resurrected Barons are bulletproof, and death by angry zombie mob. I was grinning like a loon the whole length of this movie. Start to finish, it never lets up and gives us great incite into the height of Italian horror. The castle set is put to good use, and the use of lighting is simply awe-inspiring. Everyone does a great job acting, and the original Italian score is to die for.

Any fan of horror should immediately seek out this movie and watch it. Bava is called Il Maestro for a reason, and Baron Blood demonstrates this like no other.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Funeral Home (1980): or, It's Hard to Stay Calm When You Might Get Embalmed

You know that movie Psycho? The one directed by Alfred Hitchcock? It was made sometime in the 60s, I think, and had a guy in it who went on to do crazy roles in a lot of movies…Tony? Anthony! Anthony Perkins, that was it! And Janet Leigh too, looking pretty hot.

Man, that was a good movie!

Apparently, the makers of 1980’s Canadian flick Funeral Home thought so too. So they decided to make their little low-budget “thriller” an homage to Hitchcock’s most famous work.

And by “homage” I mean “totally shameless and uncreative ripoff”!

The movie actually starts out promisingly, with young Heather--played by sort-of Kathy Ireland lookalike Lesleh Donaldson (“Lesleh! LES-LEHHHHHH!”)--arriving in the small town of Northampton. Katheh is there to spend the summer working for her Grandma Chalmers at the “tourist home” she’s opened in what used to be the family business--the town mortuary! When Grandma and her ‘tard farmhand can’t get the ol’ pick-em-up started to meet Heather at the bus stop, the plucky young girl starts walking the long dusty dirt road to Grandma’s house.

(A note about the 'tard--the actor portraying him either has Downs Syndrome, or deserves an award for his incredibly realistic portrayal of it; and on top of that, in all seriousness, he looks a LOT like George W. Bush! And I'm not just saying that to be mean to our president. Or at least, not very much.)

On the way to Grandma's house, Heather sees a black cat about to cross her path and TOTALLY FREAKS OUT. She’s obviously a very superstitious chick, so much so that she jumps without hesitation into the first bitchin’ blue van that drives by, which luckily for her is driven by Rick Yates, local sports star, feathered hair-do model, and all around nice guy. (In a fairly funny bit of costume design, Rick is ALWAYS dressed to match his blue van--I guess so you remember which character he is.) Rick gallantly agrees to take the obviously wigging chick to the old funeral home.

"Make one 'pussy' joke and I'll swallow your SOUL!"

Meanwhile, Rick’s brother Joe, a newly-christened deputy in the Northampton PD, is investigating an abandoned Porsche found by a crusty old farmer who looks and sounds like Mickey Rooney after a three-day bender. The Porsche, hidden in one of Farmer Hardy’s haystacks, belonged to a real estate developer who’d been trying to buy up land in Northampton to the tune of 6000 acres. He’s been missing for some time, and after finding all his papers and luggage in the haybound car, the police chief jumps to the one obvious conclusion: the guy dumped his own car and ran away to start a new life! It’s really amazing how steadfastly both the police and the townspeople refuse even to consider foul play--it’s not even one of the list of possibilities in their minds. Joe, however, isn’t so sure.

Meanwhile, back at the, “tourist home,” Heather has reunited with Grandma Chalmers and met the ‘tard, who serves as the worst guest-welcomer in history when a traveling salesman and his “wife” arrive and ask for a room. Heather makes a quick date with Rick, then goes in to show the guests around. Unfortunately the “wife” is QUEEN OF THE HARPIES, and doesn’t mind letting Grandma know how little she thinks of the accommodations. Grandma starts to display some signs of mental illness, talking constantly about her disappeared-and-presumed-deceased husband and how he “wouldn’t like that kind of talk AT ALL.” Bum-bum-BUM!

When it comes out that the Harpy is not in fact the salesman’s wife, but his mistress, Grandma heads downstairs to discuss things in whispery voices with a very frightening-sounding but unseen fellow, hidden in the basement. This is actually a pretty creepy and well-done scene, with some nice camera work as we stroll past dusty coffins and left-over embalming equipment stored below, with scary sounds aplenty. In fact, the camera work is pretty good throughout the flick. At this point I was totally digging the movie and thirsty for more.

"What, me crazy?"

I don’t know what the tourist attractions in and around Northampton are supposed to be, but whatever they are, they’re obviously a BIG FREAKIN’ DRAW, as Grandma’s Tourist Home is constantly filled to capacity. After Grandma tells the salesman and his slutty woman they have to get out and receives a callous rebuff from the city slickers, it’s not long before the two of them are sleepin’ with the fishes at the bottom of the local quarry. This led to a sigh of disappointment from me, as the salesman and his mistress were the most entertaining characters in the movie. (In one particularly memorable scene the bored woman actually makes a game of seducing the 'tard, with hilarious results. This 'retard seduction' theme is surprisingly revisted on two other films in the 50 Chilling Classics set, Devil Times Five and Lady Frankenstein--which not-coincidentally both appear on the same disc as Funeral Home! I guess somebody at Mill Creek has a fetish.)

Unfortunately there’s no one to step in and take up the slack, and the rest of the movie goes downhill in a hurry. We get a long and boring recount of Joe’s investigation, where he still can’t manage to get his superiors to consider that the six (SIX!) missing persons reports they’ve had in this small town/tourist hotbed in the last year are anything other than folks disappearing themselves to start new lives. (“You know how man people go missing in the United States every day?” the gruff police chief asks. “Thousands!” Really? Thousands? Every day?)

When Heather innocently questions Grandma about where the salesman and harpy went, Grandma shows why she never plays poker, totally freaking out and warning Heather and her “young man” never to go down to the cellar. (They’d been nosing around, but Grandma’s warning is very pointed.) Meanwhile a guest at the house reveals himself to be the husband of the woman ol' Grandpa supposedly ran away with years before, leading to more psycho-wigging from Grandma.

Any tension the movie might have laid claim to is completely and utterly destroyed by the time the old man gets bludgeoned to death, and when the inquisitive ‘tard follows the black cat to the basement (the cat has been a recurring motif in the movie, though no more is done with Heather’s paralyzing superstitiousness) and gets himself punctured with embalming needles, the last possible red herring is gone. From there it’s a long, slow, DULL slog to the final confrontation, and even the climax of the film gets boring after a few minutes creeping around in the basement. Speaking in Grandpa’s voice, Grandma jumps out, makes short work of Rick (she totally kicks his ass! How embarrassing!) and stalks Heather for another five minutes, doing her best “Oooh! Lookitme! I’m KEEE-RAZY!” bit. Somewhere, a black cat yawns and licks itself.

It’s not over yet, though, as Heather crawls into the infamous closed-off room with an oddly familiar hanging light shade to make the Psycho ripoff TOTAL. Yes, it’s Grandpa’s desiccated corpse, EXACTLY like Mrs. Bates but without the wig, and when Grandma arrives on the scene she even hits the hanging light to make it swing EXACTLY like in the climax of Hitchcock’s movie. The cops come in, the rescue is made, the cat stares, and the credits roll. Over the credits we get a long scene of Joe talking to a reporter, detailing the intricacies of the not-at-all-intricate plot and what happened after, while holding--you guessed it--the cat. The end.

Ma Bates, meet Master Bates.

Like I said, the movie started out with promise, but the dullness, the tedium, the total lack of tension or suspense and the shameless ripoff of a much better movie just killed it. It’s worth watching up until the salesman gets it, and for any scene in which the ‘tard appears, but other than that, you’d be better off just rewatching Psycho. Also, the movie is inexplicably rated R, even though there’s minimal blood, no nekkidity, and if I remember correctly no swearing either. Therefore I give this one my 1 thumb, “Poor” rating—a few good things, but overwhelmed by the bad.


Related Posts with Thumbnails