If any of the literally DOZENS of people who come to this site over the course of the week happen to find themselves in Salt Lake City, Utah this weekend for the Horror Writers' Association World Horror Convention 2008, be sure and come to the vendor's room and seek out the City Slab Magazine table for your chance to meet the Vicar of VHS live and in person! (Photo ops available by appointment.) You'll also get a chance to check out the latest issue of City Slab, which is fantastic and awesome and totally worth a few bucks.
I'll be back next week to post at least three new reviews on a theme near and dear to everyone's heart, but in the meantime enjoy the Duke's ripping yarns and catch up your archive reading. And don't forget to check out some of the fantastic sites in our "links" section to the right. You owe it to yourself.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
If any of the literally DOZENS of people who come to this site over the course of the week happen to find themselves in Salt Lake City, Utah this weekend for the Horror Writers' Association World Horror Convention 2008, be sure and come to the vendor's room and seek out the City Slab Magazine table for your chance to meet the Vicar of VHS live and in person! (Photo ops available by appointment.) You'll also get a chance to check out the latest issue of City Slab, which is fantastic and awesome and totally worth a few bucks.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I was as giddy as a schoolgirl last night, flitting about in the upper reaches of my west tower. I had donned my best robes, which are constructed of cloth woven from the strands of hair plucked from mummies who were interred before the birth of Christ and adorned with rubies which were excavated from a live volcano in the deepest recesses of the Diamantina Trench, each one requiring the lives of over 100 slaves in order to bring it to the surface. I was in high spirits this night, for a wedding had taken place in the nearby village, and as Lord, I was entitled to my divine right of Prima Nocta.
However, little did I know that my plans were about to change. Before the dainty virgin morsel could arrive, a new, even more exciting treasure was bestowed upon me. I was standing in front of my large mirror, brushing my hair with a comb made entirely of petrified Tyrannosaurus bone, when suddenly every candle in the room dimmed, and a deep rumbling began shaking the room. I simply froze in place, waiting on what was coming. A giant, cold pressure descended on the room. I sagged forward, unable to raise my head but a bare inch off my chest. The walls of the room began to buckle and crack from the strain. Suddenly, a sound like someone tearing sheet-iron rippled through the air behind me. I looked into the mirror and saw a rip in the air, 3 meters tall and 1 meter wide.
Through the tear stepped a grotesque horror. It had too many limbs and too many eyes, and a gaping mouth that nearly split its head in twain. Steel teeth, each the breadth of a man’s hand, filled its gaping maw. I slowly turned to face this demon, which was clutching something wrapped in stained burlap in one of its taloned hands. It began to speak, its voice sounding like a snake slithering through dry leaves. It is best not to repeat all of its instructions to me, but what I can reveal is that it was a messenger from the Vicar, who had sent me a most precious gift. I accepted the wrapped parcel from its clutches, my eyes beholding the wonder within as I unwrapped it. I scarcely noticed when the demon grabbed one of my prostrated servant girls and left through the rip, her screams cut short moments before the rift closed. Within the parcel, I found:
Alucarda. Ahh, nuns. You love ‘em, I love ‘em, and most assuredly Satan himself loves ‘em. Our story is filled with them, both the nude version and the flaming version. Alucarda, the titular character of this epic film, is born among some evil ruins, for a reason we can only guess at. Soon after her birth, she is taken from her mother, who then dies (we assume) screaming as demononic sounds emanate from the ruins around her. We skip ahead in time to a convent and the arrival of a young girl by the name of Justine. It seems this particular convent serves as a haven for wayward young ladies who either have no parents or have some form of malady.
Justine is shown to her room, and quickly we are introduced to a grown-up Alucarda, who is a bit off her rocker. Despite Alucarda’s odd behavior, she and Justine become quick friends, frolicking in the forest and laughing like a couple of little whores. Straying too far into the forest, they chance upon the creepiest gypsy that I’ve seen since the 2007 Creepiest Gypsy In The World contest that I attended in Romania last year. He resembles a coked-up Art Garfunkel and appears to be wearing a skinned sheep for a coat.
The gypsy entices Alucarda and Justine to follow him back to his encampment, where we meet his wife, who resembles Navy-battleship-era Cher, and the requisite dwarf, who we are never properly introduced to, and who appears to only serve as menial labor, which as we all know is befitting of a dwarf. The gypsy hawks his wares to the girls, who aren’t very interested until he pulls out a dagger, which Alucarda takes a shine to. Appearing to be offended by something, Alucarda runs off, with Justine in tow. Running away, they end up back at the very same ruins we saw at the opening of the film: Alucarda’s birthplace!
Alucarda confesses her undying love for Justine, and reveals that she’s stolen the dagger from the gypsy, and begs Justine to make a blood pact with her, something that Justine just can’t stomach. Much to Alucarda’s angst, they return to the church, which I must say that I’m very impressed with. I have no idea where this movie was filmed, but this church was obviously not a set. One whole wall in the pulpit area was covered with depictions of crucified people. I am in awe, and wish to someday visit this place.
Anyhoo, Alucarda is pissed, and begins to curse Christ and invoke Satan! Justine, not sure what to do, just stands there looking horrified. Suddenly, the room goes dark and gypsy man appears! Alucarda and Justine are suddenly stripped naked, much to my delight, and a ritual takes place, wherein the gypsy cuts them each on the right breast and touches some blood from the cut to the other girl’s lips. Alucarda does the most amazing naked back-bend while chanting about Satan; one simply has to see this to experience the full effect. Alucarda and Justine begin to make out and while a storm whips up outside, which quickly turns to a rain of blood! Raining blood, from a lacerated sky no doubt.
Fueled by Satan, Alucarda and Justine both take place in a giantific gypsy orgy the likes of which I haven’t seen since the Vicar’s birthday last year. Penises and untamed gypsy bush abound, and what must be the high priest of the gypsies shows up wearing the most awesome goat mask/helmet to ever grace the silver screen. By this point I was dizzy with the awesome, but this movie wasn’t done, oh no! We cut back to the church, where we now see Alucarda and Justine in Sunday school. Suddenly, they stand up and begin to confess their love for all things Satan, which throws the nuns into a tizzy.
In short order, both girls are shackled to some wooden supports and an attempt is made by the priest to drive out the demons, so to speak. This is done, naturally, by stabbing the inflicted person with a sharp knife in order to drain out the evil. Unfortunately for Justine, more life than evil is drained out and she expires. Suddenly a doctor shows up, and takes pity on Alucarda, who he takes back to his home to stay with his blind daughter. He accuses the nuns and priest of following old beliefs. Clearly this man does not believe in the power of Satan. Oh, but he will!
The doc heads back to the convent, leaving Alucarda with his daughter. Upon arriving, he finds that not only has Justine risen from the dead, but that she’s also immolated the head nun, who in turn rises from the dead! We are treated to a scene which had my jaw dropped, in which the priest hacks off the Mother Superior’s head with a giant sword, which for some reason takes at least 10 whacks before removal is complete. The old broad was a tough one! However, upon being severed, the head continues to live. The doc starts believing at this point, and realizes that he left the evil Alucarda at home with his daughter.
a coffin filled with blood containing Justine, who brutally attacks a nun before being killed (again). Back to the convent! Alucarda arrives there first, and, brimming with Satanic powers, begins to burn nuns alive with the power of her mind. Flaming nuns run hither and yon, while Alucarda bugs her eyes out and begins tearing down the very building. During the conflagration, the blind girl falls down some stairs, which causes Alucarda to scream for what felt like 15 minutes straight before melting into the floor like the Wicked Witch of the East. We can only assume some normalcy was achieved at the convent afterwards.
Alucarda, to me, marks everything that is essential to the great genre of nunsploitation. It has rampant nudity, vile debasing of religions icons, and occasional bouts of nuns dry humping anything within reach, including each other. Alucarda also goes the extra mile, however, by including a sheep-wearing gypsy man, a nude Cher gypsy, blood raining from the sky, and a church that deserves to become a national monument to awesome.
Alucarda is awarded my highest honor, 3+ Thumbs Up, and is hereby included in the prestigious “Power of Christ” Club:
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
It is I, the Duke, returned from my latest sojourn into the nether regions of the world; those dark, secret places that only men of strong mind and iron resolve may venture into. Not a fortnight ago, my carriage happened to be flying along an empty road in southern Moldova, near the black depths of the Dniester River. We chanced upon a lone inn out in the wilds, a ramshackle place which seemed to befoul the very air around it. Blessed with a keen sense of intuition, I ordered my driver Alan to stop. The inn bore a sign depicting the Pope undergoing the Pear of Anguish, and a name carved in runes underneath, written in the Deeptongue, which I dare not repeat here. Knowing instantly I would be welcome here, I strode through the iron-bounded door.
All talk ceased instantly as I entered, the room so dank I could barely make out the tables near me, saying nothing of the hidden rustlings I heard in the darkened corners. A stooped old woman shuffled forward out of the shadows. Her face streaked with suet, her dress barely rags, she cackled at me and beckoned me forward. Wordlessly I followed, as conversations started picking back up, spoken in hushed tones and in languages that made my mind hurt upon hearing.
The old crone led me to a small, twisting corridor in the back of the inn. Soon I was standing before a coffin, the old woman nowhere to be seen. Knowing I could not back down now, I studied the box before me. Sized only large enough to fit a child, the sarcophagus was carved entirely from jet black basalt, and chisled with runes so that they covered every inch. I did not attempt to decipher them, I merely reached forward and opened it. Contained within, settled among silk cloth the color of dried blood, I found a treasure I thought long lost to humanity:
Flavia the Heretic. Heresy is something all nuns eventually get up to. How can they not, wearing those sexy habits, devoid of any earthly pleasures. Blaspheming and profaning themselves becomes second nature. Flavia the Heretic deals with one such nun. Our story begins with young Flavia sneaking around with her friends to survey a battlefield after the fighting is finished. A dying soldier catches Flavia’s eye and she goes out to meet him. He’s a handsome, dashing man, clearly hungry for love, and a new blood supply.
Suddenly, Flavia’s father pulls up on a horse and sees her and the soldier staring at each other. Apparently this is cause enough to behead the soldier and place his head on a pike, and then send Flavia off to a convent for life. Tough, but fair. We see Flavia arrive, have her hair cut, and her service to Christ is begun. She cannot, however, forget the manly manliness of the fallen soldier, and dreams of him often.
Suddenly, we jump what must be 10 years at least into the future, to see Flavia continuing on with her prayer and general nun-like activities. All does not remain calm, however, as suddenly some cultists show up. They worship a god called Tarantula and their church services appear to consist mainly of ribald chanting coupled with dry humping any object within reach, be it a stone support column or the marble pulpit in a church. Where do I sign up!?
This debauchery causes some of the other nuns to tear their clothes open (including one nun who has nipples you could dial a phone with) and begin joining in with the fun. Not Flavia, oh no! The chaste Flavia watches in horror as even her Mother Superior joins in. News of this reaches the wrong ears and pretty soon the convent is under examination by the Italian Inquisition. No one expects the Italian Inquisition! Their chief weapons are oily hair and Dago mustaches, coupled with a ruthless, fanatical devotion to dripping hot wax onto nude nuns. Again, where do I sign up?!
As the movie goes on, Flavia weathers many different storms. From a new Duke who insists on raping a peasant woman in the middle of a hog pen while the hogs watch in abject horror, to the arrival of Muslim warriors. This, however, isn’t all a bad thing, for Flavia finds a lover! He is the spitting image of her long lost warrior man, and she wastes no time in bedding him. Very quickly she joins his cause, even donning armor herself, to rid the area of filthy heathens.
Along the way we have a most disturbing dream, featuring a naked nun falling out of a hanging animal carcass, the public castration of a horse, and a naked nun crucified on a cross, all of which elevate Flavia into the realm of must watch. In the end, I would have to give Flavia 2 solid thumbs up. The story isn’t that great, since it’s a lost love story and has no place in the realm of nunsploitation, but then again it does serve as a catalyst for some crazy Inquisition escapades and more than one scene of nuns dry humping inanimate objects, so it does have that going for it.
Monday, March 24, 2008
1979's survivalist/psychic psycho/mannequin terror mishmash Tourist Trap may have its faults, but it's safe to say that nonchalant, leisurely pacing is NOT one of them. We're barely out of the whimsically-scored opening credits sequence before we're right in the thick things--a broken down car on a deserted country road, a feathered-haired, bandana-sporting hunk rolling his damaged tire toward an eerily-deserted roadside shop, his scantily-clad girlfriend left back with the car to await some forthcoming friends. Before we can warn our muscled slab o' manflesh not to go exploring under any circumstances, the Nobel Prize-winner has wandered into a back room stuffed with incomplete mannequins and haphazardly stored cutting tools. It's a surprise to him and no one else when the door slams shut behind him. It's almost as if it were a trap.
Once the trap is sprung, though, a lot of things happen at once, all of them batshit insane. A mannequin crashes through the room's one window--from outside--and its head rolls into the room; then the disembodied head opens its mouth like an egg-eating snake and starts howling in a very disturbing manner. Then a closet on the other side of the room opens, and a troll-faced dummy springs out shaking and laughing in the most demonic, maniacal manner you could ask for! As the blond hunk picks up a length of pipe and knocks a hole in the now-hermetically sealed door, the dummies continue their psychological assault, all laughter and screams and funhouse jerky motions. The muscleman reaches through the hole to unlock the door, and something grabs his arm, cementing him in place and forcing him to drop the pipe.
Cabinet doors open and close, cans of paint fly across the room and smash against the walls, and a large knife zings from a toolbench at our hapless hero, missing his face by mere inches. Just when the set-piece has gone on so long you think there's bound to be a "haha, gotcha! It's all a trick!" reveal, the pipe levitates off the floor and impales the blonde himbo where he stands, his life's blood draining through the tube onto the dusty, brightly-lit floor. The cackling troll and howling head fall silent. Clearly, their work here is done.
Meanwhile, back at the broken-down car, the blond buff-boy's girlfriend Eileen (Robin Sherwood) has hooked back up with her friends, among them Sha-Na-Na reject Jerry (Jon Van Ness), micro-shorts and halter-top model Becky (softcore legend and That 70s Show dingbat Tanya Roberts, smoldering here in a straight black wig rather than her customary strawberry blonde 80s curls), and good-girl Molly (Jocelyn Jones), who in her pigtails, white sack dress and wide-brimmed hat looks like nothing so much as a kinder, gentler Nellie Oleson from TV's Little House on the Prairie! Figuring they'll catch up with Woody (their piping-perforated companion) further down the road, they all pile into Jerry's jeep and motor on down the dirtway.
It's not long before they come upon Slausen's Lost Oasis, a roadside attraction from days gone by featuring an amateur wax museum and a crystal clear swimming hole, complete with paradisaical waterfall! Of course it takes little convincing for the three girls to shed their clothes and go for a mid-afternoon dip while Jerry tries to figure out why the jeep's battery died just as they rolled into the Oasis's parking lot (dun-dun-DUNNN!). Unfortunately here the flick loses some of the brownie points it gained with that crazy opening, as none of the skinny-dipping actresses show so much as a fully naked back. I mean, come on! Tanya Roberts got buck nekkid in Beastmaster AND Sheena, and BOTH of those were rated PG! What does it take, guys?
Luckily, things pick up shortly thereafter with the appearance of TV and movie legend Chuck Connors! Now I've always held Connors as one of only two actors of the same period who could go toe-to-toe in a "quietly terrifying twisted tough-guy" contest with the granddaddy of all quiet psychos, Jack Palance (the other? Robert Mitchum. See the original Cape Fear), and here Chuck is in rare form as Mr. Slausen, owner and proprietor of Slausen's Lost Oasis, who has come down to the swimming hole (shotgun in hand!) to ask the trespassing skinny dippers WTF is up.
From here on out it's all Connors's show, as he effortlessly outshines the other purported "actors" in the flick with his natural, menacing professionalism. He's all smiles and good ol' Southern politeness, but in every line and under ever smile is an edge of threatening psychosis you're just aching to watch come cresting to the surface. He graciously invites the stranded motorists back to his gift shop-cum-wax museum, where he shows them effigies of Buffalo Bill, Chief Running Bull, and one special manniquin that's a tribute to his late wife, who expired shortly after the "gub'ment" built the new freeway and robbed them of the tourism on which they made their living. (Chuck's wounded, angry retelling of this history lets you know that he will NEVER be over it.)
When Eileen asks who lives in the huge house behind the museum, Slausen tells her only he and his brother Davey live there--Davey is the wax artist and mechanical genius in the family, and the dummies are all his handiwork. I wonder if we'll get to know Davey better as the story goes on?
While Slausen and Jerry go back to see if they can fix the jeep, Eileen, Becky, and Molly are left to their own devices, and it's not long before firebrand Eileen has ignored Slausen's warnings about coyotes and headed on up to the house to meet Davey. No points for guessing that the house is absolutely packed with mannequins, whose cold dead eyes follow the hapless young woman as she explores. Eileen follows the crazy-sounding voices that may or may not be their friend Woody. Before you can say "Uri Geller!" we learn that not only is Davey a talented sculptor and animatronic engineer, he's also a maniac with TELEKINETIC POWERS that enable him to do just about anything his twisted mind desires! It don't rain but it pours, huh?
Like all good psychic psychos, Davey wears a wickedly disturbing doll-like mask (reminiscent of Leatherface circa TCM: The Next Generation, except, you know, NOT ridiculous), and quickly uses his mental powers to bring all the dummies to life and capture Eileen. He gets Becky too when she follows her foolish friend to the mansion, while good girl Molly waits patiently for Jerry and Mr. Slausen to return.
at ALL, Tourist Trap is tailor-made to creep you the fuck OUT. Not only does the telekinetic Davey use these abominations in humanoid form to torment his prey in an evil cat-and-mouse game, he also goes all Vincent Price on Eileen in the basement, pouring plaster over her face and narrating how it will heat up and peel the flesh from her cheeks, how once her eyes are covered she'll "never see anything again," and finally covering her mouth and nose so that her "heart will explode from FEAR!" All this while Becky and Jerry (long story) watch on helplessly from the sidelines. It's a very disturbing set-piece, and Davey's froggy, deadpan voice certainly doesn't make things any less horrifying.
To reveal anything more would be cheating, but suffice to say Davey isn't the only maniac in the family, and it's an absolute joy to watch Chuck Connors just get more and more unhinged as the flick goes on, indulging his fascination with Molly (who reminds him of his wife, naturally) to an unwholesome and genuinely disturbing degree. By the time the not-very surprising twists are revealed and the final showdown between Molly and maniac rolls around, you'll be shocked, creeped out, and more than a little entertained--that is, if you're anything at all like me.
There are things about Tourist Trap that I can point to as almost weaknesses, though in the final analysis I'm not sure that they're not strengths. For instance, the aforementioned whimsical score continues throughout the movie, a music box/carnivalesque motif that seems always on the verge of going right off into cartoony camp, but somehow never quite gets there. Similarly Davey's changing masks, his over-the-top narrative quips (including one borderline hilarious exchange about the quality of the crackers he and Chuck are having with their soup), and his bombastic telekinetic outbursts almost push the proceedings into comedy, but again seem to stop just short. It's too disturbing to be funny, but just funny enough not to be too disturbing. It's strange, and I'm not sure I've ever seen another movie walk that line with similar...well, the only word I can encompass it with is "grace."
"friends." Though looking back there was surprisingly little blood, there was the torturous face-plastering scene, a couple of hair-raising nightmarish mannequin attack sequences, at least one surprising protagonist demise, and a last shot with final girl Molly driving away to freedom that will either make you chuckle or raise the hairs on your neck, and possibly both.
Of course the non-nude skinny-dipping scene hurts it. That shit is just NOT DONE.
Still, it's a wild, wacky late-70s horror ride that I was glad I took, and you should take too. 2.5 thumbs, and a wonderful acting debut for Shailar Coby as Davey. Whatever happened to that guy, anyway? :)
Friday, March 21, 2008
I know it (probably) didn't happen like this, but I like to imagine that after his enjoyable but incredibly misleadingly-titled 1971 thriller Die Screaming, Marianne, director Pete Walker got a lot of complaints. I picture pile upon pile of postcards and letters flooding his office a la the courtroom scene in Miracle on 34th Street, with irate moviegoers threatening boycott if Walker did not, in his next film, deliver everything that the title promised in spades.
Duly chastised, Walker started work on the next script sitting on his desk. That script (in my imaginary scene) was a variation on the old Phantom of the Opera story, with a group of groovy, attractive young actors rehearsing a play that could be their big break, all the while stalked by a faceless, murderous shadow. The title, printed in block capitals across a coffee-stained title page, was THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW.
In my mind, Pete Walker smiles. This, he thinks, I can deliver.
The movie opens on a foggy oceanscape, while a bit of pre-credits text informs us that, at a certain "easily recognisable" section near the climax of the movie to follow, we should all don our manager-provided 3-D glasses so that we can "experience the pleasures of three dimensions!" As a dvd viewer of the 21st century, I was already a bit disheartened. Where were MY glasses? How would I experience these promised pleasures? If only I could magically whisk myself back to the early 70s in London, I could don those papery glasses and ogle the miniskirted birds and their go-go boots to my heart's content. Ah well, many of us are born well past the era we were made for...
Shaking off my disappointment, I tried my best to throw myself into the images on screen, which wasn't hard as Walker immediately gives us a scream and some blood! The red stuff flows into the tide under a boardwalk/pier theatre, eerily reminiscent of the salt lake pleasure palace of Carnival of Souls. Before we can get too creeped out, however, Walker sets to work fulfilling the other half of the requirements, as a pair of sleeping Anglohotties are awakened in the middle of the night by a pounding at their door. One of them, bodacious blonde Carol (Luan Peters), rushes to answer the call--completely in the buff! The delights continue when she opens the door--NUDE--to find gangly colleague John (David Howey) clutching a bloody knife embedded in his abdomen! He stumbles in and expires, only to leap up a moment later revealing it was all a gag--but not before Walker gives us more than an eye-full of Luan's wonderfully jiggling talents.
Flesh--check. Blood--check. Now we can get on with the show!
As it turns out, joker John and eventually-clothed Carol are both actors, recently cast in a theatrical production called (wait for it!) The Flesh and Blood Show, along with Carol's roommate Jane. (Meta-fiction, anyone? Ooh, I'll have some, thanks!) Before you can say 'ow's yer father? the three are on their way to the seaside resort from the opening credits.
Once there they check out the theatre, which has been abandoned since a mysterious incident during the war (cue ominous music). There they find their director Mike and a few of the other cast members--one of them a buxom Eurobabe asleep in the auditorium, inexplicably topless! There's also another "fake death" thrown in just for laffs, making the audience start to wonder if they can ever trust what the director is showing them.
The production is to be a cutting-edge theatrical experience with no set script, entirely improvised by the actors. This means pretty much anything goes when the actors are "performing," and in the first improvisational scene we find them screeching and dancing around the stage in caveman outfits, with plenty of cleavage and wigging out. The impoverished actors decide to bed down in the theatre itself to save money during rehearsals, and Carol immediately drags Aussie castmate Tony into one of the old dressing rooms for a bit of slap and tickle, while the topless sleeper Angela puts lesbonic moves on Jane, with John watching frustrated from the sidelines. 20 mins in, and the flesh requirement for this and three more flicks like it is more than satisfied!
a giant evil jester's head, creepy realistic mannequins, and a working guillotine! Working too well, as it turns out, when Mike discovers Angela's head sitting on a shelf in the basement! Not wanting to panic his actors, Mike goes for the police himself and returns to find the head is missing and John is back and accounted for. Is this another one of the gruesome practical jokes we've come to expect? Is John the sinister shadow? Is something more dastardly going on here?
Next the final member of the cast shows up, up-and-coming movie star Julia Dawson (Jenny Hanley). She bunks down with Carol and Tony, and the Aussie's roving eyes while Julia strips down in the dressing room get his blonde bunkmate's Irish up. (I have to note that Hanley makes use of a glaringly obvious body-double here, whose breasts are easily two cup sizes larger than the actress's--not that I'm complaining.) Mike finds a note from Angela saying she's quitting the play, and while the cast goes out for breakfast (and putting each other through even MORE practical jokes, such as the time-honored severed-hand sandwich), we are treated to some hair-raising crazy-laughter from the Phantom under the sage, very reminiscent of similar noises from the unknown maniac in Bob Clark's Black Christmas. And that's a very, very good thing.
It quickly becomes apparent that the laughs are on the cast though, as after Angela's SMOKIN' HAWT replacement Sarah shows up (Oh Candace Glendenning, oh won't you be mine?) the Phantom kicks it into high gear and starts offing actors left and right. Julia and Mike practice amateur psychology and professional hanky-panky, Carol is attacked by an extremely creepy Innsmouth-esque hobo, John disappears, the management behind the play proves suspiciously elusive, and a pair of dessicated corpses under the stage point toward a terrifying secret long buried that their play has brought bubbling to the surface.
3-D sepia-toned flashback that goes on for ten minutes and as far as I could tell only twice makes use of the 3-D effects (unless perhaps the full-frontal nudity in this section--both male and female--made use of it...I couldn't tell)--but it all leads up to a fairly well-telegraphed reveal and a satisfying, scenery chewing crazy speech of the kind I love so much. And if that weren't enough, we get an extra five minutes of the surviving cast members sitting around on stage explaining what just happened and why, though it's not at all clear how they arrived at their intricate knowledge of events that occurred well before their own births. After laying out the audacious explanation, one of the actors exclaims, "It could almost make a movie script!" Oh, Pete, you sly devil. Say no more.
For me, this movie is one big hunk of steaming joy. Copious, absolutely gratuitous nudity? A slavering maniac? Meta posturing? Crazy 70s muttonchops? Sex, sex, and more sex? Occasional perversity and bloodletting? Intermittent effective creepiness? Shakespeare? SIGN ME UP.
Though in the final analysis it's a little bit light on the "blood," the "flesh" side of the equation delivers more than you could possibly hope for. The women are gob-smackingly gorgeous (particularly Ms. Glendenning, who gets a very memorable exit), the acting's enthusiastic and compelling, the set and Phantom are suitably creepy, and it's just batshit insane enough to keep you smiling even through the somewhat slow-moving flashback sequence.
3+ thumbs for this exploitative almost-meta proto-slasher boob-fest. See it soon.
And Pete--I'll never doubt your word again. :)
Thanks once more to Karswell for providing the pixels. You rock!
Thursday, March 20, 2008
A wild little Italian chiller from the early 60s directed by Mario Bava, The Whip and the Body has ghosts, insanity, aristocratic incest, and the wonderful color and style that's always a trademark of the maestro's horror works.
The frenetic plotline maps out like this: a young Christopher Lee is dashingly handsome as the black sheep of a decaying aristocratic family who reappears at just the wrong time for everyone involved. His younger brother is married to their cousin (who is also Chris’s former lover!), but is also having an affair with a young housemaid, whose mother despises Chris for having driven her eldest daughter (the housemaid’s sister) to suicide!
Their father, the Count, is an invalid who has disowned Chris, but Chris has vowed to challenge the old man's will and is sure he will win as the firstborn (and thus entitled) son of the count.
After a day or two of whipping his old lover into a frenzy (both figuratively and literally) and irritating his brother and father to no end, Chris is unexpectedly found dead--murdered!--with the very knife the housemaid’s daughter used to kill herself! Problem solved, right?
WRONG! Soon the increasingly unhinged former lover is seeing Chris’s corpse stalking the castle in the moonlight, and is even subjected to the sado-masochistic whipping of her life and his undeath, which is apparently something they were both into. Is Chris back from the dead, or is something else going on here?
It all leads up to a pretty effective ending, as I recall, but I admit to being hammered when the end credits rolled. :) This is a lesser-known Bava film that shows all his trademark atmospheric use of color and strange plots. The seaside castle setting is used wonderfully, and there is some great 60s Italian eye candy here, though I can’t help thinking it would have blown the top off the awesome-meter if Barbara Steele had played Chris’s lover instead of the lovely but less mesmerizing Daliah Lavi. Still, there’s plenty of creepiness with Chris’s corpse on walkabout, and the whipping scene is quite arousing if you’re into that--and who isn’t, eh? Nice little perverse Italian period chiller. 2.5 thumbs.
Bonus: Chris often cites this as one of his favorite of his many screen roles.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
After immersing myself for so long in the wonderful 70s witchcraft films of Europe such as Crypt of Horror, Horror Hotel, and the great witchy elements of Mmmmmovie icon Paul Naschy's films (Curse of the Devil, Horror Rises from the Tomb, etc.), it's refreshing to have a chance to look at an American take on the subject from roughly the same period. Enter the 1969, Louisiana-filmed rarity, The Witchmaker (aka The Legend of Witch Hollow). While perhaps not equalling its European kinsmen in the realms of cinematography, gore, and nekkid witch-flesh, this entertaining little slice of history still manages to give the Old World witch story a fascinating New World spin.
The Witchmaker differentiates itself right off the bat, eschewing the traditional period setting and time-honored "witch gets burned at the stake and curses her Inquisitors' ancestors" set-up for a modern-day cult killing in the thick of the Louisiana swamp. As we open we spy on a young woman (Susan Bernard of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) going for a skinny dip--well, a bra-and-panties dip...this IS an American flick after all!--in the swamp, apparently all by herself. (Always a good idea.) Before you can cluck your tongue at the hedonistic ways of those long-haired American kids, she's attacked by a maniac in the bushes, strung up by her ankles, and bled like a Louisiana hog into a waiting receptacle! Her murderer uses her blood to paint a strange hex symbol on her exposed midriff (an ankh, also called the Ansate Cross), which itself becomes the "t" in the title card for a nice segue into the opening credits. As a fan of cult movies and a long-time navel fetishist, I was riveted.
Next we meet a crew of Yankees being ferried to a cabin in the midst of the swamp by Mr. Leblanc, comic-relief rube and exposition-delivery device. We learn that there have been 8 ritual murders in the town in the last 2 years (I like those odds!), and that many of the townsfolk are saying there might be "a witch in the swamp again!" Pressed for details by the condescending Northerners, Leblanc explains, "Some towns is famous for their rhubarb; we was famous for our witches." You don't have to have seen The Blair Witch Project to know that this is probably not something the Chamber of Commerce is seeking to capitalize on.
Actually the "Witch of the Swamp" legend is a fairly common one in Southern United States folklore, and Leblanc goes on to lay out The Rules of the Movie, explaining that a real witch--male or female, it doesn't matter--can actually survive for hundreds of years as long as he can get blood for his evil rituals. He then drops the group off at a pier, promising to return in a week. When the old man offers to come by sooner than that to make sure the city slickers are doing all right, he is rebuffed with extreme condescension and departs. This is the kind of urban hubris that you just know is going to come back to bite in a reel or two.
a squad of psychic researchers who've come to the swamp to investigate the possible supernatural aspects of the murders. (They didn't tell the boatman for fear of publicity; presumably they didn't inform the local authorities, either.) There are six people at the cabin altogether, three men and three women. The leader, Dr. Hayes (Alvy Moore of TV's Green Acres!) is an expert on witchcraft and psychic phenomena. He's brought his star pupil, Tasha (the lovely Thordis Brandt) is a "sensitive" who has witches in her family line. Also along for the ride are story-seeking journalist Victor Gordon (Anthony Eisley) and the Doctor's secretary Maggie (Shelby Grant), with young stud Owen and engenue Sharon filling the "expendable extras" slots.
I really liked the set-up here, which struck me as The Haunting meets The Evil Dead (researchers in the supernatural in creepy cabin setting). As the crew gets settled in we see they're being watched from the bushes by the as-yet-unnamed maniac from the credits.
So what's the most logical thing to do when you're getting ready to summon the evils of the swamp for scientific purposes? Why, go sunbathing of course! Tasha and Sharon lay out in the swamp while the men get everything ready inside, giving us as much flesh as the censors would allow with some nicely placed shrubbery completing the tease. Sharon leaves Tasha alone, and the blonde's witchy blood attracts our bush-inhabiting maniac, LUTHER THE BERSERK. Yes, Luther is the Sabbat Master of a coven of witches, and makes his home in the very swamp the researchers are searching. He puts a spell on her ('cause she's his!), which makes the topless Tasha flee in terror back to the cabin, in slow motion, her hands cupped over her bountiful breasts! This flick may not have the free-flowing nekkidity of an Italian witch-flick of the same vintage, but they make do with what they got, and it's pretty nice.
Helene Winston) to inform her of his plan to make Tasha the 13th member of their coven. Jessie agrees to help, but for a price. "There are some rituals," she leers, suggestively touching Luther's hand, "best performed by two!" They divvy up the projected profits--Luther will get Tasha's body, Jessie will get youth, and Satan will get some souls. It's win-win-win.
Back at the cabin, Dr. Hayes is getting ready to get the research started, and here we get one of the interesting and endearing things about the flick as the doctor explains that electricity and radio waves can interfere with the ability of a "sensitive" to sense supernatural stuff, necessitating the remote location and lack of electric lighting. It's a small thing, but the effort to explain why they have to shut all the lights off was appreciated, and something far too few movies go the extra mile for. (Later, the need to bury some bodies is also explained with a short but convincing line of dialog--a nice touch that made me wonder why other movies don't do it.) Of course Luther's machinations blow things up real good, and pretty soon the somewhat-reduced group figures out they're in real trouble in the swamp, leading to the expected showdown between good and evil.
The final confrontation is well-done too, as Luther summons his coven for an impromptu orgy and the increasingly evil-influenced Tasha is brought in for initiation in a pretty intense ritual, complete with the application of the Mark of the Devil, some invocations of Satan which must have been fairly shocking for the time, and some nice belly-dancing from one of the witches. (Apparently many of the coven were Playboy playmates, which is also nice.) Dr. Hayes uses his knowledge of arcane lore to good effect, giving Victor a wreath of garlic that makes him invisible to witches and allowing him to cold-cock Luther and replace the coven's expected vat of human blood with that of a pig.
As you can probably tell, I was very entertained by The Witchmaker, a movie I feel is ripe for rediscovery (bootlegs are available and it shows up on cable and satellite every now and then, but as far as I know there's yet to be an official, extras-laden release). The witchcraft lore presented here is intriguing even if not entirely accurate (I admit to my ignorance there), and it adheres to the first commandment of Mad Movies by never being boring. And though William O. Brown's direction is fairly static for the most part, there are some nice images--the strung-up victims, the midriff-ankh, and some pyrotechnic witch-power displays among them (not to mention that slow-mo running scene...I think a young Hasselhoff must have been watching!)--and the coven orgy and wild finish are well-staged.
The acting is pretty good too. Alvy Brown acquits himself well as the stodgy but knowledgable scientist, and the juxtaposition of his 50s newsreel announcer voice with the strange arcane lore he spits is particularly entertaining. Thordis Brandt is captivating as the psychic whose fate hangs in the balance, and is pretty easy to look at. But it's John Lodge as Luther the Berserk who really owns the movie--his measured, evil performance makes you buy him as the all-powerful Sabbat Master, a role he eats up in every frame. (Note--though some web sources claim Lodge later went on to become governor of Connecticut, a little time-line verification shows this to be impossible...would that it were not!) And the bit players, from Jessie of Coventry to Leblanc the boatman, all add spice to the already tasty souffle.
The Witchmaker 2.25 thumbs, leaning toward more. While not exactly audacious, it's very entertaining, and worth a look for students of the cinematic unusual. In short, if you get a chance to check this one out, take it.
And thanks to Karswell of The Horrors of It All! for loaning me a copy of this flick!
Monday, March 17, 2008
...who are planning to run out and see Diary of the Dead when it opens in your town, a word of advice:
It's bad. Amazingly bad. Shockingly bad. Worse than you could possibly imagine. So bad, that if I hadn't wanted it to be good, it would have been absolutely hilarious.
The acting is terrible. The direction is seriously flawed. The script is, without exaggeration, the worst example of writing I have ever experienced in a movie theater or at home.
Take a look around the site a minute and let that sink in.
Ordinarily I would encourage folks to see it themselves and form their own opinions, but believe me, in this case I'm saving you unnecessary pain. Watch Night, Dawn, or Day instead. In fact, watch My Boyfriend's Back. It's a better zombie movie, and scarier. Seriously.
If you think I'm overstating, just plop down your money and go see it.
But seriously, don't. Just don't.
A PSA from the Vicar of VHS
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
1972's Black Mama, White Mama is like three movies in one, a mixture of three genres. The first third of the flick is a good n' sleazy women-in-prison exploitationer. The second, a low-budget remake of The Defiant Ones with Pam Grier in the Sidney Poitier role and Tony Curtis replaced by leggy blonde Margaret Markov--a definite improvement, you'll agree. And the final act is a rip-roaring gangsters-vs.-revolutionaries action flick with bloody gun battles and machismo aplenty.
So really, no matter what you're in the mood for, chances are good that Black Mama, White Mama will satisfy. It's like a great big dish of neopolitan ice cream--drizzled all over with sweet, hot chocolate, of course.
We open on a heavily-armored bus that's taking a load of female prisoners to the WOMEN'S REHABILITATION CENTER, prison farm in the middle of a jungle in the Phillipines. The camera focuses our attention particularly on sassy sister Lee Daniels (Grier) and the silent, runway model-esque revolutionary leader, Karen Brent (Markov). A sadistic guard who looks a lot like Hot Lips Hoolihan imposes her authority on the two uncooperative women, and then it's time to process the new prisoners. Wasting no time, the Warden barks, "Okay, strip 'em and get 'em wet!" leading to the requisite communal shower scene.
The girls don't seem to grasp the gravity of their situation, romping and giggling in the shower like they're at camp or something, only soapy and naked. Guard Hot Lips watches from an enclosed peeping booth and pleasures herself while the girls have their fun. (It should be noted that this goes on FOREVER...not that I'm complaining.) When the Warden finds her and warns her off such activities with a big, passionate kiss, we know what kind of party it is. Ten minutes in, and we're already well on our way to surpassing the recommended daily sleaze requirement!
a catfight in the mess hall, after which the jealous Warden sentences them both to bake in The Oven for a day. This is a sheet-metal locker in the middle of a sunbaked field, in which the girls are shackled back to back, nude, with only each other for support against the searing steel walls. The sweat and hate run free in the box, and by the time they're released, you're convinced there's no way they can ever be friends.
Then act two kicks in, as Pam and Brent are chained to one another for transport ot a maximum security prison, where the Minister wants to interrogate Pam for info on a gang lord/smuggling chief she used to work for, and Brent for details about the Revolution's next move. They never make it to the new prison, however, as Brent's guerilla friends ambush the prison transport and give the girls the opportunity to strangle Hot Lips with their chain and escape in the ensuing fracas. The police reinforcements arrive and the guerrillas must flee before Brent can meet up with them, so the fugitive women head into the jungle, alone but for each other.
But of course the girls can't agree which route to freedom they should take--Brent needs to be on one side of the island to meet a shipment of guns in two days, or their cause is lost; Pam needs to be on the other side of the island a day earlier to pick up some loot she stole from the gang lord and make her escape via boat. The debate quickly devolves into fisticuffs, as we get another, longer cat-fight between the two tigresses that goes on almost as long as the shower scene did.
Exhausted and still stuck together, the women work out a plan whereby they'll head to Pam's rendezvous since it's closer, then they'll break the chains and Brent can get a car to drive to her meeting a few hours away. Thus resolved, they quickly jack some nuns and steal their habits, then are picked up by a drunken good Samaritan whom they also beat senseless and steal his truck. Everything's comin' up Mamas--it's almost too easy!
Meanwhile, rotund gang lord Vic Cheng is getting a pedicure from a couple of nude women while his men torture a prostitute with a battery and jumper cables, trying to get out of her information about Pam's plans. Vic Diaz as Cheng is really a frightening villain, lying shirtless like Buddha the Hutt and imparting all his lines with a calm, eeeevil assurance that's much more disturbing than a maniacal screech could ever be. This lets us know the girls are in real trouble, and the nudity and torture here pushes the sleaze-meter finally into the red.
Captain Cruz (Eddie Garcia) enlists the help of part-time cowboy/full-time pimp Ruben (a wonderfully flamboyant Sid Haig) to track down the girls before the guerillas do. The guerillas are also on the trail, stealing Ruben's dogs to track their leader across country.
The girls run on and on, being rousted from a bus by police (no idea what happened to their truck) and stealing food from a rural homestead while the owners have noisy sex inside. ("I sure hope he can hold it!" Pam giggles as they clean out the cabinets.) We get more topless women servicing the grotesquely inert Vic Cheng, an attempted rape by a mechanic who almost gets the girls free of their chains, and some absolutely movie-stealing character work by Sid Haig, who is just so wonderfully sleazy and funny every time he's on screen you can't help cheering for him, even though he's a despicable dirt bag. (Examples: in one scene--for no reason--he has Captain Cruz and Cruz's superior compare pecker sizes at gunpoint, with hilarious commentary; in another, he romps raucously with a henchmen's two young daughters while the mortified father listens from outside the door.)
Brent puts her panties around the neck of a small dog and sends it running in the opposite direction to mislead the bloodhounds on their trail!) and bond over their hardships, learning to work together and eventually becoming friends. Unfortunately all parties are converging on the port where Pam hopes to make her getaway, leading to not one but two bloody, really exciting gunfights and a tragic ending that I admit I didn't see coming, but was satisfied by nonetheless.
The thing that surprised me about Black Mama, White Mama was that, despite its sharply disjointed triptich of styles, each individual part works really, really well. Pam Grier is great as the same character she always plays, the tough-n'-sassy sister who takes no crap. Markov is not as good, but is gorgeous enough that it doesn't matter, especially since she can just play straight woman to Pam's buoyant, crowd-pleasing schtick. Sid Haig totally owns every scene he's in, but even his bloody exit doesn't deflate the film's momentum, since the action scenes are so well staged and suspenseful. And Vic Diaz is one of the great villains of all time here, giving a truly scary and intriguing characterization. (Henchman: "You should have killed that guy when you had the chance." Vic (calmly): "It's not too late.") The exploitation and sleaze, the blood and action, all first rate for this type of movie. Kudos there.
Jonathan Demme. (Seriously!) Maybe director and Filipino film legend Eddie Romero had something to do with it. Or maybe it was just a perfect storm. Whatever the reasons, the end result is a delicious sweet treat for lovers of action and exploitation. 2.5 thumbs. Can you dig it?
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Ventriloquist dummies are creepy. This is an established fact. Starting with Michael Redgrave in 1945's excellent anthology flick Dead of Night and perhaps reaching its apex with Anthony Hopkins in 1978's Magic, the "possibly bonkers ventrilquist tormented by his possibly-possessed dummy" trope has always been good for setting up the night sweats. The idea of the inanimate becoming animate, of a soulless block of wood taking on evil sentience, a child's doll suddenly turning its head and winking at you--it's uncanny, wrong, and really the stuff of nightmares.
I mean, Pinocchio becoming a real live boy is a nice idea for cartoons, but just imagine a wood puppet dancing across the floor toward you in a darkened room, singing in its high-pitched, childish voice...would you join in the dance, or grab the nearest hatchet and turn him into kindling?
And don't even get me started on talking crickets.
Anyway, 1991's Canadian psychological thriller Pin (aka Pin...a Plastic Nightmare) belongs squarely in the "evil dummy" genre, and although it does get points for a few interesting changes to the formula (the size and purpose of the dummy here, for instance, is unique as far as I know), it's still pretty much the tried and true "dude goes crazy and thinks his dummy is real, or maybe it really is" story, with a dysfunctional family dynamic layered on to give things a half-measure of Norman-Batesy goodness. Sound good? Well, it is and it isn't. Read on...
We open with the time-honored frame of three punk kids daring each other to go into the one creepy old house in their otherwise idyllic neighborhood. In this case the house has a mannequin of some sort visible in the attic window, apparently looking out on the yard. The bravest of the kids accepts the dare to go up and touch it--but when he does, the thing seems to blink. The kid dutifully retreats, leaving the viewer behind in a small puddle of his urine.
Now we flash back to the salad days of the old house, ten or fifteen years ago, when the place was inhabited by one of those families so completely dysfunctional that you hope they only exist in movies, though you realize they probably don't. Mom is the neat freak to end all neat freaks--she places squeaky plastic covers over all the furniture, mops and dusts obsessively, forces the kids (older brother Leon and baby sister Ursula) to eat standing at the table on little stools and vacuums under the spot they were standing as soon as they finish. The kids accept all this in silence, like good little whipped puppies, and very soon we discover why.
toss with Pin...again."
But perhaps most strangely, Doctor Dad is also an amateur ventriloquist, using as his dummy a life-size “teaching model" in his office--think of one of those Transparent Man kits from science class, only full size and very creepy. They call the dummy Pin--short for Pinnochio, natch--and the doctor uses his voice-throwing skills to convince his browbeaten children that Pin is alive and available to answer medical questions. These scenes are pretty well done, with the dummy's dead face and O'Quinn's eerily calm voice adding up to nightmare fuel for us all.
The kids are predictably completely screwed up by their upbringing, clinging to one another for support and sanity in the face of their completely batshit parents. When the kids start to get a little Blue Lagoony in their isolation, Dad has the anatomically correct Pin deliver the old birds and bees lecture, which as you can imagine is extremely helpful and not at all scarring.
almost all of which go terribly wrong. For instance, long after Ursula has figured out that Pin is just a dummy, Leon still considers him a friend he can talk to when his parents just don't understand. Sneaking into the office to talk to Pin one day, the 9-year-old Leon has to hide when the doctor's assistant comes in to clean the office--and here we learn that Pin is not only anatomically correct but also anatomically erect, as the lonely lady proceeds to get bizzay with the plastic gigolo! Of course thanks to this experience, Leon is traumatized into virtual asexuality.
Young daughter Ursula starts rebelling against her parent's oppressive control, the way repressed teenagers often rebel--by becoming a slut. Leon finds her in the middle of getting pregnant and goes ballistic, dragging her from the backseat of a muscle car, punching her fuckbuddy in the face, and making her promise she will "NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!" It should be noted that while there are slight hints of incestuous desires in Leon--especially later in some disturbing poetry an older Leon writes--mostly he just seems repulsed by sex and wants her to remain pure.
Too late though--she's knocked up at age 15, with only Leon to turn to. Upon discovering her PG rating, Leon insists that they go to Pin for advice, since even at 17 he still believes Pin is alive. When the dummy won't talk to them, Leon snaps and subcosnciously throws his own voice--hello, Master Bates! Pin counsels them to go to Dad with the news, and the disappointed O'Quinn--creepier here perhaps than any other time in the film, performs his own daughter's abortion. Say it with me: eeeeeeewww.
When the parents die in a car accident (caused by Pin, strangely enough, in a scene reminiscent of the terrifying coach ride in the Boris Karloff/Robert Wise/Val Lewton masterpiece The Body Snatcher), Leon becomes the man of the house and moves Pin into the guest bedroom, dressing him and even getting him a rubber mask and some gloves for “skin.” As a minor Ursula is dependent on her brother, whose increasing dependence on Pin makes her more than a little uneasy. Things go from dysfunctional to dangerous with Ursula starts dating a handsome jock she meets at the library, and no points for guessing how it all ends.
Parents), and Pin himself is creepy, combining the fear of mannequins, ventriloquist dummies ,and living dolls into one life-size package. O’Quinn is fantastic as the father, Cyndy Preston is great and likable as Ursula (though you must actually launch your disbelief into orbit to buy her as 15 years old—or even 19), and the way horror is generated mostly from watching kids being progressively fucked up by their parents is an interesting and effective tack.
But once the parents are gone, things kind of fall into a well-worn rut. Pin gets angrier as Leon gets crazier, and his desire to keep Ursula with him and not let her grow up lead to dire consequences for everyone. There are no surprises here, no “whoa” moments (for a textbook “whoa” moment of the type I’m talking about, see the last shot of Lucky McKee's May--WHOA), though the frame-story wrap-up tries to get there. Still, if you’ve seen a few horror movies, from about the 1-hour mark to the 100th minute conclusion, you could probably write the script yourself and get pretty close to what happens, which translates to viewer boredom. And lead actor David Hewlett, who must carry the movie as Leon, is regrettably pretty bad and not at all up to the task. And there’s not even any nekkidity or gore to spice things up in that boring last act.
So in the end I can only give this 1.5 thumbs--some good ideas, but sunk at the end. Some will love it, some will not, but it left me in between. If you have a fear of oppressive parents or of mannequins, you might get more mileage out of it than I did; but there are certainly better, more horrifying dummy movies out there.