Monday, June 30, 2008

Guru, the Mad Monk (1970): or, Sunday School's for Suckers


It's a MAD MAD Mad Mad Movie Week--Day Two, Review #98

At the Lost Souls Church of Mortavia, times is hard. Mother Church has apparently forgotten her little outpost on the seldom-visited island, leaving head clergyman Guru to scrounge for cash however he can in order to keep fighting the good fight and doing the Lord's work. He is able to bring in a little extra money by using the church dungeons to imprison ne'er-do-wells and degenerates shipped over from the mainland, and gets a bonus for attending to the well-being of their souls whilst also personally attending to their corporeal punishments. But those candles ain't cheap, nor is the upkeep of Guru's mistress/amateur apothecary Olga (who has Special Dietary Needs). With his adopted one-eyed hunchback ward Igor in tow, Guru must find a new way to make ends meet.

Luckily inspiration strikes when the lovely young Nadja is dragged kicking and screaming into the dungeon by two black-hooded executioners who seem to moonlight as Mortavia's beat-walking police force. Accused of murdering her newborn child and trying to dispose of the body, she is sentenced to die at Guru's hands. As Fate would have it, Nadja's old lover Carl has taken a day job as jailer in the church dungeon. Nadja professes her innocence, claiming to have been kidnapped by a gypsy king and forced to bear his child, only to escape just before her water broke. The baby was stillborn, she says, and she was just trying to give the tyke a decent burial when she was apprehended. Though an ordinary person might well invite Nadja to "pull the other, the one with bells on," Carl trusts her implicitly and rushes off to talk to Guru about her plight.

Guru listens to Carl's pleas pleasantly, but informs him that the girl has been condemned by the church and cannot be saved. Therefore he should just trust in God. When Carl opines "I can't believe there is a God, when things like this occur!" he is repaid for his blasphemy by a vicious pope-slap! Still, Guru concocts a possible escape--he'll get Olga to mix up the old Capulet Headache Home Remedy that will cause Nadja to appear dead so that Carl may resuscitate her at his leisure. The price? Carl must agree to transport the bodies of executed criminals to the university in a town many leagues distant in order to sell them to medical students and fill the church's coffers with gold! The Cash-for-Corpses scheme doesn't sit too well with Carl, but seeing little choice, he agrees.

Carl becomes Jesus's bitch.

But Olga has a price of her own before she'll part with the powder. Dressed in resplendent 70s thrift-store fabric and a truly ostentatious headdress, the conniving chemist makes Carl promise to leave the bodies of executed criminals lying on the chopping block for half an hour before packing them up for delivery, so that she can extract their blood for some "experiments" she's conducting. Stuck again, Carl acquiesces, proving the truth of the old maxim "Once you say yes to springing your gypsy-befouled baby-killing girlfriend from prison, you can't very well say no to anything else."

Next we get to see the holy money machine in action, as Guru blesses and then executes a procession of the condemned from the church's dungeon. A "peeper" has his eyes put out, a thief has her hands hacked off, and of course Nadja is set up to be terminally truncated for the grand finale. But true to his word Guru slips her the potion in the last rites wine, and she collapses before the axe can fall. Guru and Carl tote Nadja away, while Olga crawls toward the blood-soaked butcher block on all fours, snarling! You know, for SCIENCE.

Carl is of course delighted to have Nadja free and clear, but unfortunately he hasn't figured on Guru's duplicity. Dropping all pretense of compassion and kindness, the old monk lords his power over the lad like a spider taunting a fly who has fallen into his web. "I preach one thing and continue believing another!" Guru declares evilly, and drives Carl away on his body-shopping errand. Meanwhile Nadja must stay in the bell tower for leverage, where she is taken care of by the child-simple hunchback Igor.

"But Olga, I'm not sure I can fill that whole thing in one go!"

At this point Guru goes completely off the rails. In a powerhouse scene that would not be equaled until Willem Defoe recreated it in Spider-Man, Neil Flanagan as Guru argues with himself in a full-length mirror, alternating between the kind man of God and the evil, self-serving sadist with dizzying speed. While Guru murders a few vagrants freelance when they come to the church seeking help (including one near-orgasmic stabbing of a sailor--ooer), Nadja befriends Igor and gains the deformed lad's affection. And if that weren't enough, a buxom babe comes into the sanctuary only to be hypnotized and drained by Olga, who reveals herself as "The Soul of Darkness"--a vampire queen! Whoa, Nelly!

It all comes to a head when Mother Church alerts Guru to her intention to replace him with a new, less-maniacal monk. Guru overreacts to the news just a tiny bit, slaughtering the two mainland clergymen before dumping Olga and proposing to run off with Nadja, who has made his little bishop genuflect IYKWIMAITYD. We get a revealed severed head, an appallingly unconvincing self-stab, and poor Igor nailed to a door like the 95 theses before a henchman rebellion brings an end to the whole sad, sordid tale.

This is my second trip into the wild world of eccentric lunatic filmmaker Andy Milligan, and it certainly hasn't dampened the flames of my interest. Shot four years before Blood and purportedly the only Milligan feature done in 35mm rather than 16 or less with blow-ups, it certainly LOOKS a lot better than both that feature and The Ghastly Ones--which is perhaps the definition of damning with faint praise, but still.

Mom told you so.

The acting again is fairly good if graded on a curve against what one typically sees in productions of this sort. Neil Flanagan as Guru is the best of the mediocre lot, which is good since the success of the flick rests on his shoulders. He plays the smarmy conniving holy man with convincing evil glee, and his one-man duel against his mirror image is actually very well acted. Jack Spencer as Igor contributes a technically dubious but at times strangely affecting performance, particularly in his manic, lovelorn exchanges with Nadja. Judith Israel as Nadja does all right, while Jacqueline Webb stinks up the joint as Olga and Paul Lieber as Carl invests every line with an "aw shucks" naivety, his soothing quiet voice appealing though unsuited to the role. (Lieber apparently went on to have a very busy career in television acting--his imdb credits continue to the present day, a rarity for a Milligan cast member.) Julia Willis makes an impression as Christine, largely on the strength of her pretty face (and prodigious boobages). The direction recalls a stagy 1940s melodrama, and overall the acting standard is on par with an upper-end high school play--which again in this instance is actually rather a compliment.

Speaking of direction, Andy Milligan displays a remarkable (for him) feeling of control over the production here, which in Milligan's case is perhaps not altogether a good thing. While it's easier to follow and less headache-inducing, it also lacks some of the manic, wild energy that Blood displayed, the feeling that the whole thing was a damaged helicopter spinning madly out of control until the inevitable crash. That said, the hate is still in evidence, if somewhat subdued, particularly in late exchanges between Guru and the Bishop who's come to relieve him of his post. The makeup and effects are very low-rent but more fun because of it--severed hands a la mannequin, pierced eyes made of marshmallows, and silly-putty hunchback disfigurements just being a few examples.

He's got the whole world on his head.

So in the end, Guru is both better and worse than the other Milligan films I've seen, but nonetheless interesting. Like Blood, this one clocks in at less than 1 hour, so the time-investment isn't daunting; even if you don't like it, you've only missed one episode of Law and Order: Super Rapist Destroying Division, so no harm, no foul. 2 thumbs for this little slice of Milligan madness.


Note: the version I got from Netflix included a 12-minute Milligan documentary, which was actually just an interview with a crew member who worked with Andy on his last couple of flicks. The fellow's insights on Milligan, whom he describes as like "a frantic bunny" on the set who didn't trust anyone else to do anything and thus did pretty much everything himself, are fascinating and I wanted to hear more. When asked whether Milligan in fact had any filmmaking talent, he demurs with the line, "The only talent Andy ever really had was the ability to get things done." For some reason, this didn't sound like a bad thing to me--to press forward and chase the dream, even when lacking funds, support, or basic aptitude? What's more of a Glorious Failure than that?

Living La Vida Vicar



MORE MADNESS...

I, Madman (1989): or, She Got the Books That Kill!

It's a MAD Mad Mad Mad Movie Week--Day One, Review #97

Trivia Question: What's more awesome than a rampaging stop-motion Jackal/Human Hybrid monster? Answer after the review.

I had seen I, Madman back in the days of 49¢ VHS rental binges at my local college-town Hastings, and I remembered liking it a great deal. Of course the same could be said of roughly a hundred-million half-forgotten horror flicks I wolfed down those days along with generous helpings of cold pizza and Icehouse beer. Some of those I've revisited and found that drunkenness and the nightmare visions induced by grease-poisoning had more to do with my memories of horror than the flicks themselves. So when I decided to give this one a spin after all these years, I kept my expecations cautiously low.

I needn't have. I, Madman is a fun, frantic, and even frightening slice of 80s goodness, served with just the right sprinking of shredded cheese. Good gore, a wild plot, and a striking visual style all add up to make this a new favorite in the pantheon of glossy fear flicks from that decade of my youth.

We open in a brightly lit hotel with candy-colored decor and an outrageous wrought-iron balustrade atop a spiral staircase. The fashions and set design all point to a 1940s Hollywood setting. A blinking neon light outside throws pulsing red flashes through the window of Dr. Kessler's apartment as he leaves for the night. Kessler (played by Randall William Cook in great Max Schreck-makeup) barely acknowledges the talky bellhop, who then turns to his manager to comment in a stagey voice what a weirdo that Dr. Kessler is! When they get a call from Kessler's neighbor complaining of animal sounds in the doctor's room, the manager himself goes up to investigate.

The manager finds Dr. Kessler's room in disarray--rotting food, strange medical implements, fetuses floating in specimen jars, and even some scat on the floor that could be from a dog... It must be said that the art direction here is top notch, with the weird shapes in shadow and the red neon pulsing every now and then like a heartbeat to reveal just a little bit more. Cool, creepy stuff.

The manager finds a strange steamer trunk peppered with airholes, and hears a tiny high-pitched voice say "Daddy?" "My god--it's a child!" the manager says, and opens the lock on the trunk before rushing to the phone to call the cops. When he turns around the trunk is open and the "child" is gone. There's a very effective build-up of suspense as the manager hears something moving in the room and struggles to see what it is, only to have it finally revealed: AN AMAZING STOP-MOTION JACKAL BEAST! The humanoid dog-man goes all Harryhausen on the manager's ass--for you kids at home, that equals AWESOME--and then...

Much of Madness, More of Sin--The Vicar's Autobiography

Virginia slams the book closed, shocked at what she's just read. Yes, it was all a story...or was it? Virginia (played by the absolutely luscious Jenny Wright of Near Dark and Pink Floyd's The Wall fame) is ROCKIN' the 1940s nightgown and hairstyle--she was born in the wrong era, clearly, because she looks absolutely smashing here--and her appartment also has period accoutrements. She hears animal noises just like those described in the book, and goes to her door to investigate, when...SHOCK! HORROR! ROOOOOWR!

Virginia slams the book closed, shocked at what she's just read. Aha--a DOUBLE frame! You don't see those every day! Oh, wait, yes you do. Anyway, the real Virginia (still Jenny Wright, still gorgeous, though now in 80s owl-glasses and a panties/silk shirt ensemble...zang) is reading an obscure pulp novel by little-known writer Malcolm Brand, a copy of which she came across at the used book store in Hollywood where she works. She's a wannabe actress--aren't they all?--dating a cop (Clayton "Hey, I've seen that guy in something..." Rohner), who does not fully approve of her choice in reading material. He doesn't mind coming over to comfort her when she's spooked, though, especially when it involves some sexay novel-synopsis foreplay followed by hittin' it jackal-style on the sofa! Bookish Jenny's tentative love bites here hint at her secret, wilder nature and propel the Vicar into his happy place, despite the regrettable lack of nekkidity.

The next day Jenny arrives for her shift at the bookstore where she and her sassy coworker Mona (Stephanie Hodge) engage in some funny banter before Ginny goes to unload some books from a recent estate sale. She's looking for Malcolm Brand's second novel, entitled I, Madman. (How very meta.) While searching the dusty, book-filled attic of the store (aside--I LOVE this bookstore--I could wander for hours there if it wasn't merely a Hollywood set...), she finds a steamer trunk from the estate sale...a steamer trunk riddled with holes, strangely like the one in the book... She opens it, but there are only more books inside. But who is that strange fellow she glimpses later in a bookstack mirror, who disappears a moment later?

"Ooooooh--I need a bookish woman!"

After going to her acting workshop in order to introduce us to her killer-fodder friends Collette (Michelle Jordan) and Lenny (Steven Memel), Virginia comes home to find a strange package on her doorstep--which contains an antique copy of I, Madman! Thinking it a gift from Mona, she dives right in.

Now we enter the candy-colored "fiction" world again, all bright primaries and long shadows, where a damaged-eyed maniac with a scarf over his face is stalking fictive Jenny. Professing his love while admitting the fact that his ugliness prevents her from loving him back, he tells her he will make himself a new face...and removes the scarf to reveal a noseless, lipless, earless visage straight out of an EC Comics nightmare! (How he's able to talk so clearly without lips is one of those "don't ask" questions.)

Virginia slams the book closed, shocked at what she's just read. But then she hears something in the apartment--a tea kettle boils on the stove, despite the fact that she already HAS a cup of tea...but the Virginia in the book WAS making tea! Little details start to build as the world of the book impinges slowly but surely on the real world--a not-quite-but-almost threadbare conceit still handled with aplomb here by directer Tabor Tikacs.

(I wonder if Tabor Tikacs would care for some Tic-Tacs? Or maybe Tikacs prefers a pick-axe? Some tie-racks sans sales tax? A wry fax for buy-backs? What would Tabor make a grab for?)

The Black Beret chases down John-Boy Walton in an atmospheric scene.

Unable to put the novel down, Jenny reads another scene in which a flame-haired actress is stalked by the literally-faceless madman, another scene that shows Tikacs can handle the suspense. Quick tight shots, moody lighting, neat camera tricks (including the time-honored "elongating hallway") all add up to a very tense chase. Of course Red can't get away from the Madman, who drugs her and saws her lustrous hair off with a straight-razor, scalp intact! The sound effects as the Madman saws away while gouts of blood cover the girl's pretty face are squidge-ily great too, it must be said.

The next day, while Virginia in Real Life is waiting on the bus, she is accosted by the Madman from the book--only now instead of his hat he has luscious red tresses, the stitch-scars clearly visible on his scalp! Before she can scream the phantom disappears, leading her to question her own sanity. But when she learns later that Collette has been murdered and mutilated, she wonders if there might be more at work here than chemical imbalances...

Her fears are more than confirmed later that night when she stars in an impromptu remake of Hitchcock's Rear Window, watching from her apartment as the Madman stalks and kills a piano-playing security guard at the music store next door. (We've heard the guard play a couple of times up to this point, usually in love scenes, so this use of the motif is nice; the Madman takes his ears, natch.)

Never do shots with this man.

At the police station later, Virginia tells the unbelieving cops the Madman is collecting facial features. "Why would he--why would anyone do such a thing?" they ask. "Because he thinks it will please me," she replies. You mean it doesn't? C'mon, he just wants to look good for you! The cops offer her no protection, though: the Madman meets her in the basement to show her his new ears and tell her, "I'll have your heart...one way or another!" Stakes sufficiently raised, it's time for Jenny to go investigatin'.

She quickly tracks the publisher of the book, a charmingly slimy fly-by-night porn publisher called Sidney Zeit, played with show-stealing verve by character-actor Murray Rubin. (The wonderful pulp-art jackets framed in Zeit's office bear such wish-I-could-read-'em titles as East of Edith and Moby's Dick.) Zeit tells her that Malcolm Brand was a maniac who claimed his characters talked back to him and wouldn't do what he wanted, and who ended his days in an asylum...or did he?

Convinced now that it's flesh-and-blood Brand following her and acting out his own literary scenarios, Virginia tries so save her friend Lenny from the madman's clutches, but fails by a nose. (Ba-dump.) She convinces her spectacularly unsupportive boyfriend to set up a stakeout where she thinks the final killing will be, but faulty literary interpretation proves her downfall and leads to a wild climax in the bookstore that boasts among other things: a corpse-eating kitty, an awesome avalanche of books, and a Deux Ex Libris ending that is just about as perfect as you could wish.

Michael Rooker in an early role.

Tabor Tikacs (which backwards is "Scakit Robat," a Japanese robotic aerial mammal toy that's all the rage overseas) puts a lot of nice touches in this film that make the visuals almost as much fun as the wild plot. The "hyper-reality" of the scenes depicting passages from Brand's books is very striking, everything filmed and colored like one of those awesome pulp book jackets from the 50s. The cinematography is great throughout, and the score is nice too--even if a bit too obviously Elfman-derived. (In fact, I got a strong Darkman vibe from the killer's look and some of the compositions here, together with the whole facelessness thing--sort of "Darkman Gets Darker.")

The gore and makeup are really standout aspects--we get a lot of thick dark blood and some cool sound fx when the Madman is working on his victims, but the nicest touch is the way that Brand's self-stitched skin grafts deteriorate over the course of the movie, making his final appearance more grotesque and gross than any previous. (Obviously he just sewed them in without attaching any blood vessels...ick. Nice attention to detail, Robat.) All in all, a squicky icky effort that exemplifies what we love about 80s horror.

The acting is fairly good too. Cook is really creepy as Brand, and only part of that is the makeup--okay, a big part--but his mannerisms and speech work well with the prosthetics to create the character. A few bit characters do well in small roles (Rubin most memorably), even though love-interest Rohner is fairly bland. But it's Jenny Wright's movie to carry or drop, and she plays vulnerable, shy girl with a wild side very well (though admittedly there WERE a couple of scenes where the glazed look on her face made me wonder whether she might have been "altered" that day). And she's easy to look at, especially in those wonderful 40s gowns. (Ziggity-zang.)

"Put it away, Vicar! I'm frightened!"

A success by any 80s horror fan standard, I, Madman also delivers some meta-metafiction, dark fantasy, and book-nerd in-jokes to keep you turning the pages. It's a story I couldn't put down, and you won't either. 3 thumbs. Do yourself a favor and it out. (<--Library pun! Get it?)


Trivia Answer: Incredibly,
half a rampaging stop-motion Jackal/Human Hybrid monster! Strange but true.


MORE MADNESS...

Friday, June 27, 2008

MMMMOVIES 100-REVIEW COUNTDOWN CONTEST

As we gear up for our Mad Mad Mad Mad Theme week, the Duke and I are pleased to announce this, the first ever MMMMMovies contest! In celebration of our centenary review (slated for Thursday, June 3, culminating 4 consecutive days of reviews), we're offering not one, not two, not five, but THREE possible prizes for our loyal readers. Or, you know, people who just pop by and think it'd be a hoot to enter.

So what are the prizes, you ask? Well, a drum roll please...

The GRAND PRIZE will be the winner's choice between:

  • A NASCHY PACK consisting of the Anchor Bay editions of Curse of the Devil and Werewolf Shadow (aka The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women)! As my parishoners know, WWvVW is one of the Vicar's personal favorite Daninsky flicks, while CotD contains what the Duke has called the SINGLE GREATEST ACROBATIC ACT EVER COMMITTED TO FILM. Not to be missed!
OR:
  • THE MMMMMOVIES HOME GAME! Ever read the Duke and the Vicar's ramblings and think to yourself, "Hell, I could riff better than that"? Well, now's your chance--you could receive the inestimable Mill Creek Gore and More set, a 10-movie smorgasbord containing such MMMMMovies favorites as Scream Bloody Murder, Night Train to Terror, and The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women in a deliciously sub-standard print. Plus such need-to-be-reviewed gems as Driller Killer, Drive-In Massacre, Don't Look in the Basement, and more!
Excited yet? Well hang on, because FIRST LOSER PRIZE will be...
  • Whatever the Grand Prize winner decides is beneath his or her contempt.
NOW HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY? BUT WAIT, THAT'S NOT ALL!

Since we celebrate the sub-par as well as the sublime here in the Vicarage and Duchy, we're offering what no other contest dares to offer--a WORST PLACE PRIZE. The unlucky recipient will receive the scrapings from the bottoms of the Duke's well-traveled boots and a lugey in the sacremental wine from the Vicarage, not to mention the Goregasm dvd (only viewed once!) and another cinematic abortion so terrible I dared not even review it here. Yes, if you're unfortunate enough to be chosen to receive this cinematic excrement, may God have mercy on your soul.

So how do I enter this fantabulous contest, you might ask? Well, it's simple, really. Send your name and mailing address to scott.axeman [at] gmail [dot] com together with your answers to the following questions:
1. What movie should MMMMMovies review that we haven't yet, and, briefly, why?
2. Who would win in a fight between Waldemar Daninsky and Coffin Joe? Substantiate your answer.
3. What would be the perfect MMMMMovies theme song?
Winners will be chosen randomly from among correct answers...and incorrect answers...and everyone else. You don't have to be RIGHT to win, but you DO have to play along. We're only in this for our own amusement, after all. Methodology will be as follows: entrants will be assigned numbers by dart-throw at the naked bum of one of the Duke's servants, and winners will be chosen by a single toss of the appropriately-sided die from the Vicar's antique frosted quartz-crystal set of AD&D dice.

Cuz that's how I roll.

So get enterin'! DEADLINE IS FRIDAY, JULY 4! FREEDOM!

Winners will be announced the following Monday.

MORE MADNESS...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

School of the Holy Beast (1974): or, Naughty Nuns Need Love Too

Short of opening a store called “Much Ado About Naschy”, my one dream in life is to partake in every blasphemous film that the nunsploitation genre has to offer. I’ve been privy to the delicious delights of Images in a Convent, I’ve had the flesh flayed from my very bones by the unholy Italian cooter-fest that is Malabimba, The Malicious Whore, but I must say, dearest friends, that nothing prepared me for the latest treasure to grace the royal dvd player…

First, however, I must recount how I happened upon this particularly tasty morsel. The Vicar’s latest trip to Scandinavia had been particularly fruitful, he having returned with not one, not two, but three caged werewolves, a sack of leper ears, a petrified wood claymore that takes three men to even move, and a stone bell that upon ringing produced the exact pitch required to shatter bone. Any of these would have made a king beggar his kingdom to acquire, but what I was most interested in were the map fragments he had found stuffed up a tree in the Sund region.

The Vicar tossed the fragments my way as he began very loudly making a list of the Christians who were to be the first to fight the werewolves in his amphitheatre. I say “very loudly” because the slave pits were near to the garden we sat in, so no doubt he meant to be overheard, for I could hear wails and moans drifting up through the rain grates. Letting the Vicar prattle on, I quickly assembled the fragments into a serviceable map and could see that it pointed to a place inside of Kastelholm Castle. A wave of my hand later and my servants were off, preparations were made, and two days afterwards I strode in that very place.

The resident priest, a particularly obese fellow who affected a high-pitched twitter whenever the word “nun” was mentioned, waddled around showing me the grounds. A direct descendant to the deposed King Eric XIV, Father Randier resembled his ancestor, both in girth and in lasciviousness. Quickly discerning why I had ventured to his remote abbey, the Father took me back into the less traveled environs of the chapel. Dust covered every surface, mice scratched within the walls, and bats flitted about overhead. Deeper we delved, down stone stairways worn smooth by centuries of pilgrims. Water ran down the walls, cutting crevices in the granite.

Soon we leveled out into a gigantic chamber, obviously far older than the church above it. The floor was a mosaic that depicted, among other, far worse, things, giant unnamable beasts emerging from rips in the sky, fire raining down upon the villages beneath; women and men alike either cowering in fear or being ripped asunder by the monstrosities. Wishing I had time to do a charcoal rubbing for the Vicar, I followed the priest onward.

The ceiling was lost in shadow, so I was unable to guess at the size of the room we were in. I began to realize, as we were nearing a gigantic altar, that all was dead quiet here. No mice, no bats, no water dripping. I did notice that there were numerous tiny hoof prints in the dust under our feet, but no other signs of passage were visible. The altar before us loomed up out of the dark. The marble and granite edifice was an abomination unto everything good and holy. To try and put into words what the “artist” had wrought would only result in confusion and finally madness, so I will refrain. Know this: I shall not return to this place, even under penalty of death. When the end times begin, this will be their catalyst.

The Father reached up and grabbed something off the lowest part of the altar, and turned quickly, offering it out to me. Madness gleamed in his eyes and a single tear of blood welled up and fell down his cheek, his mocking laugh as he handed me this possession haunts me to this day, and now I see what he was about, for I have witnessed the unholy fusion of lust and awesome that is:

School of the Holy Beast! The title says it all, but reveals so little. Once again, the Japanese put the sword our Western conceptions of depravity and ‘sploitation. Spawned in 1974, SotHB represents the pinnacle of nunsploitation movies, in my humble opinion. We have nuns, we have nuns making out, we have nuns being whipped with rose bushes, we have super awesome bearded priests who like to fornicate with nuns, we have nuns getting kicked out of windows, and we have nun masturbation. What more could one ask for?!

Our movie opens with Maya, a pretty girl who, for at the time unknown reasons, wants to join the local abbey. During the opening credits we are treated to a montage of her enjoying her last day as a free woman, which includes hanging out with her boyfriend at an amusement park, playing games and such. Oh, and FUCKING! I guess she figures, “Hey, I’m gonna be a nun tomorrow, so I better get sexed while I can!”. One moment she’s naked in bed, the next she’s at the abbey.


"Nookie today, nun tomorrow!"

The Abbess, a cranky older nun who takes no shit, gives her the ground rules, which basically consist of having no lewd thoughts, which would be all well and good if only this abbey wasn’t filled to the brim with horny nuns! Maya is required to kneel, stark naked, before an overly large crucifix while committing herself as a bride of Christ, and poof, she’s a nun.

Life at the abbey is hard. The sisters work sun up to sun down, toiling in the wheat fields or cleaning up the place. They also take time out to strip to the waist and self-flagellate themselves with a whip. Unfortunately for them (and us), they sleep in full habits, but when bath time rolls around things get interesting! Wearing super thin cotton robes, the nuns pour endless pitchers of water over themselves, revealing their nunly splendor very quickly. I kept hoping for someone to drop their soap, but alas it was not to be.

"Tied to the whippin' post... Tied to the whipping post!"

The nuns also attend classes, where they are instructed in the art of avoiding adultery, which basically amounts to even thinking of adultery. Maya and another trouble maker are singled out after they question the validity of the virgin birth. The trouble doesn’t stop there when the trouble maker offers Maya some whiskey that she smuggled in. Another nun rats them out and they are forced to stand topless, facing each other, under the watchful eye of the Abbess, whereupon they whip each other with bullwhips. Needless to say this scene gave rise very quickly to the Duke’s Duke.


"Oh yes he did, and he wants you to use them as well!"

The following scene nearly caused my death as the blood left my brain, and traveled with much speed to my nethers. Two nuns, lying in the abbey greenhouse, furiously getting’ busy with each other. Much kissing and teat sucking ensues, and there’s even some business going on downtown as well, which was apparently taboo to show at the time. I was greatly amused at its replacement, however. During this scene, footage of a woman holding her fingers up to her mouth in a V shape and flicking her tongue up and down was show, simulating cunnilingus obviously. I laughed uproariously at this! I’m glad they felt the need to beat us over the head with what was going on. Yes! These nuns are doing this to each other! They really are. For true!


At this point, The Duke enters the event horizon, the point of no return...

Unfortunately, this is the last of the really good scenes between two nuns, but that doesn’t mean the movie goes downhill, oh no! Far from it! First we have some dirty pictures that are discovered inside a school book during a surprise inspection of the nun’s quarters. The Abbess confiscates these, only to use them later to perform naughty, self-manipulative deeds on herself.

Maya really hates the Abbess, and wants to give her a taste of her own medicine. Sneaking out of the abbey, Maya meets up with her boyfriend, whom she recruits along with his ugly friend, to head back to the abbey with her, both of them dressed as nuns. Telling them that there’s a particularly sex-starved nun that wants their services, she sneaks them into the Abbess’s room. Wasting no time, her boyfriend gives the Abbess the ride of her life, which she protests against for all of 2 minutes before succumbing to the devil’s delights. The boyfriend’s goofy sidekick gets 10 seconds worth of sloppy seconds before Maya forces them to leave for fear of detection.


"Hey, I called dibs!"

Unfortunately, despite getting the boys out of the abbey successfully, Maya is found out. For punishment, she is wrapped in rose bushes while naked and whipped with more thorn bushes! These nuns don’t mess around with their punishments! It is around this time in the picture that we find out about Maya’s origins. Seems a former resident nun is actually her mother, she having apparently hung herself shortly after giving birth to Maya. Maya’s need to return to the abbey is left in the dark, for now.

Soon, Father Kakinawa shows up to inspect the place for the Vatican, apparently. Resplendent in his purple and black robes and his god-like long hair and beard, he resembles a sort of Japanese Jesus Christ. He wastes no time, however, in cornering a hapless nun and slipping her a length, for the good of the Lord of course. A wicked, evil-looking Head Nun shows up with the Father. She dresses all in white and is apparently something of a celeb in the nun world. She also apparently loves the Father a little too much.


"The power of Christ comp.... eh, who am I kidding, I just love doing this shit."

Meanwhile, another nun is accused of witchcraft. Not wishing to employ the time-honored tradition of witch detection (which includes the use of ducks, and things that float), the new Head Nun uses the “Pee Pee on Christ” Method.

In this form of witch hunting, the person in question is force-fed a gallon of sea water and then placed on a seat-less chair, with a Christ icon placed on the floor underneath. If the person is righteous, why of course they couldn’t possibly befoul a religious symbol with their foul bladder contents! If they are a witch, however, well then of course they’ll piss all over everything, including the crucifix.

Sadly, this nun was not pure and obviously worshipped Satan, because she can’t hold out too long before emptying her bladder all over Jesus, who died for her sins. Being found naughty in the sight of the Lord, she is about to be taken care of when Maya steps in, smashing all religious iconery in view. This enrages the Abbess, who attempts to toss Maya into a handy vat of acid that the abbey keeps around for just such an occasion. Turning the tide of battle, Maya trips the Abbess into the acid instead, where she slowly sinks out of sight.

This pisses off the Head Nun, so Maya is tied up at the top of the bell tower in the abbey. While the other nuns enjoy Xmas night, the Head Nun climbs up to give Maya some poison, all the while informing her that she’ll be enjoying the company of Father Jap Jesus’s bed that very night.

Unbeknownst to her, however, Maya has slipped her bonds with the help of a handy candle! While getting whipped, Maya swings on the bell rope, kicking the Head Nun out the window! Brilliant! Maya takes the place of the Head Nun in Father Jap Jesus’s bed, whereupon he comes in a sexes her up. Finally getting a good look at her, he demands to know who she is. It is then that Maya drops the big bomb… Which I won't spoil here. Any astute reader or nunsploit fanatic can probably guess, but for those wishing to go into watching this movie with a virgin mind, I shall refrain from spelling it all out.

As a final coup de grace, the Abbess, who we last saw sinking into a pit of acid, comes out of nowhere to stab Father JJ in the back with a particularly sharp crucifix! Whew!

Rarely do we find a movie like School of the Holy Beast, in which we are both titillated and entertained by narrative. In fact, in all my travels I have yet to encounter another nunsploitation movie such as this: one that delivers a coherent and enjoyable plot while at the same time debasing nuns. School of the Holy Beast gets 3 Thumbs Up from me, and I'm also proud to announce that it is the 2008 Crucifix in the Back Award recipient.

MORE MADNESS...

Monday, June 23, 2008

BIG STUFF coming from MMMMMovies!

I know not all of you have been counting, but since the Duke and I first started foisting our cinematic philosophies upon an unsuspecting populace way back in August of ought-seven, we've logged very damn near 100 Reviews. And since the six-finger gene has been largely bred out of the human race resulting in base-10 rather than base-12 counting for most of the planet, that is what qualifies in layman's terms as a VERY BIG F*CKING DEAL.

(Note--we're dedicating review 144 to Anne Boleyn. We'll never forget your dexterity, Nay-Nay.)

We're not quite there yet--but the Duke and I know how to plan a party, so we've already laid in cases and cases of wine, two vats of well-aged Caribbean Rum (whoever finds the first chunk of preserved pirate captain in his glass wins the door prize!), and various casks of the Vicar's home-brewed barleywine in preparation. We're also running a recruiting drive for virgins in the surrounding townships, and although the Duke's last soiree severely depleted their ranks--both male and female--we're optimistic about the turnout. And we'll have cursed artifacts and animatronic dolls to entertain the kiddies, so families are welcome.

But everyone's keys go in the fishbowl. There is no negotiating that point.

So here's what you can look forward to--later this week the Duke returns with another appalling example of his beloved nunsploitation genre (he's got a filthy habit there...), which will bring us up to 96 reviews...

And after that, Red Rover, Bend Over, and let the Vicar take over for a MAD MAD MAD MAD theme week! Four films that test the limits of sanity and send us spiraling deeper into the black abyss of 100 reviews. Plus, the first-ever MMMMMovies Contest! You'll want to check back for details on how to win mmmmmemorabilia and maybe even a mmmmmovie or two from the vault to call your own.

In the mmmmmeantime--catch up your your reading of the archives. Your life may depend upon it.

love and fluffy bunnies,
The Vicar of VHS

MORE MADNESS...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Salon Kitty (1973): Roundtable with Tenebrous Kate and the Vicar

As difficult as it may be for my parishoners to believe, I am not in fact well-versed in EVERY manner of cinematic perversion under the sun. I mean, have you SEEN the 70s? I'm only one man, after all.

Luckily I have a crew that watches my back and keeps me informed. Chief among them is the Duke, of course, but I haven't heard from him since a hastily-scribbled note on the back of a nearly-translucent palimpsest scrap of vellum informed me of his intention to desecrate the Tomb of Malefithorn the God-Killer in hopes of finding a rare print of Jose Mojica Marins' A Quinta Dimensão do Sexo. I have no doubt he will return soon, clutching his ill-gotten booty.

Things are always a bit boring when the Duke is out of town, but luckily a few days ago I received a messenger from the Grand Court of the Tenebrous Empire, requesting my presence for a special screening of one of the Empress's especial favorites, Tinto Brass's 1973 Nazisploitation mind-bender Salon Kitty.. Never one to miss a grand ball, I donned my robes of office and ordered my coachman Gotho to deliver me hence at once. Little did I know the perversities that lay in wait...

Read on, ye strong of heart, for a transcript of Tenebrous Kate and the Vicar discussing Salon Kitty. Parental discretion advised. I'd turn back if I were you...

VV: You know, Empress, of all the various and sundry ‘sploitations, I have to say that Nazisploitation is the one I have the least experience with. In fact, you’re initiating me into the genre with this entry, so please be gentle.

I couldn’t help thinking Brass and Co. might have been playing fast and loose with certain historical facts. For one thing, I’m not sure that the S.S. offered team-sport synchronized sex as part of their basic training.

TK: Also, I understand fencing is usually done with pants.

VV: That’s the tradition. But by the point that they got to the naked-fencing—which was, what, about 3 minutes in?—I was already shopping for a new sleaze-meter, as the one I had was obviously not up to the task.



Sabre, or epee?
TK: Yes, this film has a way of recalibrating one's taste for smut. There’s something about the whole “Nazi brothel and political espionage” thing that sets the mind reeling. I mean, I know it sounds like the set-up for one of the great love stories of our time, but director Tinto Brass makes it so much more. Also, he gives us pantsless Helmut Berger as well as leather-pantsed Helmut Berger. Check and double-check, Mr. Brass. It’s wall-to-wall weird sex with a huge budget and a capable cast—it’s the “Cleopatra” of Nazi exploitation films!

Naturally, the part of the film that gets a lot of attention is the infamous Training Sequence, where Berger’s S.S. Officer Wallenberg puts the potential spy-hookers he plans on staffing his brothel with through a series of tests to prove their capacity for kink. They begin with The Most German Sex Ever..."Ladies, you must fuck with TEUTONIC EFFICIENCY."
Floor exercise: 10.

VV: That was hilarious, the way the S.S. all came marching in, naked, single file. I kept thinking about Madeleine Kahn in History of the World. Nobody was smiling, either—just facing a similar line of naked lady Germans across the gymnastic mats.

TK: It was so easy for them to pair up. Put me in that situation and it'd be like a salad bar. One of each pleeeeease.

VV: He did run down the daily specials, as I remember: vaginal, anal, oral, groups...

TK: Although it mainly seemed to be pairs there. * pout *

VV: Well, it was their first day.

TK: Question is--would I take the hott S.S. sex if I knew it would inevitably lead to cripple sex?

VV: It’s a package deal. After the "Triumph of the Will: Hot Cock version" in the gym, they went to the VIP rooms for the real action.

TK: I am still baffled that THE most horrified woman was the one who just had to sit and get eaten out by the cute blonde lesbian. OH NO PLEASE! Don't throw me in the Briar Patch...! She was, indeed, REJECTED. The Tenebrous Empire would have no part of her either.

VV: I knew when the one girl sank cheerfully into a reverse cowgirl on the double-amputee that we were in for something special.

TK: Wallenberg was totally right with that one.

VV: Agreed. And speaking of Helmut, because I know you want to...I had no idea that "S.S." stood for "Sexy Silks."

TK: Oh I KNOW! His outfits were fan-frikkin-tastic throughout. I don't understand what Teresa Ann Savoy's problem was. "OK, so I'm totally irresistible to Helmut Berger, he wants me to partner up with him in a life of pure sexy evil..." Where is the CATCH, woman?

VV: Yeah, her motivation was nebulous.

TK: Her acting was nebulous.

VV: Although in their brief encounters, it seemed that Helmut was a bit quick to turn on the showers IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.

TK: AND I THINK I DO. His leather cleaning bill must've been astronomical. Not that I know anything about this.

VV: Seriously. Break out the "Son of a Gun" spray.
Is it weird that I totally wanted to know more about Helmut's wife?

TK: No, I'm there with you. I got that she was "dutiful and discreet," but I wasn't aware that was a euphemism for "dyke." Maybe in the Third Reich that's how they rolled *shrug*

VV: Now there's a title I'm amazed we haven't seen: DYKE OF THE REICH.

TK: * runs off to Google that shit *
Much like "vampire bulge," initial search results are disappointingly tame.

VV: So as a red-blooded supporter of democracy, I was wondering whether I should be finding all this Aryan efficiency sex hot, or whether I was somehow betraying the Greatest Generation in that.

TK: I have no such troubles with doublethink.

VV: I haven't been that ashamed of an erection since my aunt's funeral.

TK: But the shame made it BETTER, right?

VV: In this case.

TK: You'll get used to it. Just keep ogling, the shame will abate. Or so I hear. I… read that in an article.

VV: I also noticed a recurring motif of disfigurement throughout. Seems like everybody had a birthmark, or cleft palate, or dwarfism, etc.

TK: ...except the hookers.

VV: Yes, German hookers are perfect. Dr. Mengele proved it scientifically.

TK: Hey, if the Nazis can give us the Volkswagen and perfect hookers...

VV: Who could ask for anything more?

TK: I'll take a little Ethnic Cleansing if it means a sweet ride. IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.

VV: AND I THINK I DO.

Loved the informative science as well: "Even this nasty-ass dissected hooker with her spleen hanging out is more perfect than this black dude with a ginormous WANG."

TK: Everything I needed to know about history, I learned from Tinto Brass movies.

Also, the Bread Penis scene...?

VV: Glad you brought it up... * ruffles notes * Let's see, what did I write down here...Ah yes, here we go:

W. T. F.?

TK: But... you'd get some serious street cred for driving a hooker at a Nazi brothel out of her mind. Who knew all it would take was a bread penis?

VV: It's so simple, I'm amazed it hadn't been tried before.

TK: So, when was the last time you drove a hooker mad?

VV: What day is it today?

TK: But... I mean, how did you go about doing it? Because I'm working on my technique.

VV: Sadly, bread penis didn't enter into it.
(IYKWIM)

TK: (AITID)

VV: Basically I bent her over a sawhorse, shackled her wrists to her ankles, and then made her watch THE SINFUL DWARF three times in a row.

TK: You mean--that movie * I * currently have sitting on the Tenebrous Teevee Stand?
I should be worried.

VV: I think you have built up an immunity to such poison. But to the uninitiated, it's no wonder they go cuckoo.

TK: Running screaming into the night, or more like "carted away"?

VV: Well, they can't run, cuz of the shackles.

TK: Ahhh... I'll watch it sans-shackles, then!

VV: Speaking of which, I should go change her water...

TK: You're entirely too kind.

VV: ANYWAY, back to Deustchland Deustchland Uber Anal…I can’t get over the training sequence and subsequent “limits-testing” in the VIP room. Brass must have had a great time coming up with things an S.S. guy would make a woman do to prove her belief in National Socialism. I was impressed that he gave us everything from retarded gypsy to lesbian German to the ever-popular hunchback dwarf.

Excuse me, NAKED hunchback dwarf.
Some things you can't un-see.
TK: Uhmmm... "I would not hit it."

VV: "YOU ARE REJECTED."

TK: Damn damn DAMN!

This is why I need to be Empress. No problem with REJECTION, no dwarf-fucking. I want to run the brothel. It's a better fantasy.

VV: You in the Kitty role works out much better.

TK: Also, I would get to be played by Ingrid Thulin, who is fucking fabulous. I could perform cabaret, smoke expensive cigarettes, wear amazing outfits...
Lois Leine und Super-Nazi
VV: I admit that I kinda wanted to try on some of Helmut's SuperNazi outfits.

TK: I'm saving up to find just the right tailor. Everything can be improved with embellishment and leather. Believe it.

VV: He should totally be the villain in the Captain America movie, fuck the Red Skull.

TK: He could just swan around bitchslapping people and throwing hissy fits. I'd totally watch that movie.

VV: He's awesome at that.

TK: He's the best there is, mein freund.

VV: There were some great minor characters here too we haven't mentioned, too. Like Wallenberg’s assistant, Lieutenant Half-Nose Who Shouts Every Line.
How does he smell?
TK: Oh GOD I love the half-nose guy! Step one would be to tell him to dial it back to, say, six from the ten he was occupying.

VV: I totally believed his character.
You WILL believe a man can shout!
You WILL believe a Nazi in a merry widow!

TK: SEE the majestic parade of penises!

VV: GASP IN ASTONISHMENT at the Cock-Cock Can-Can!

TK: REVEL in pubic hair of every color!

VV: Then of course the “hero-defector” character, the one who wanted to assassinate Hitler. He was the moral center of the work. But dumb. I mean how stupid do you have to be to think that everything you say in a brothel, TO A HOOKER, is going to be sacrosanct and never get out? "They won't tell. It's the hooker code."

For the only heroic character in the piece, dude was startlingly ineffective. All he did was fuck Teresa Ann Savoy a lot and then get hanged.

TK: And waste champagne by upending a bottle over his head. I would have hung him for that. There is no wasting of champagne in the Tenebrous Empire.

VV: Agreed. If you're going to pour it on someone, pour it on the Emotionless Whore of the Third Reich. See if you can get her to change her expression.

TK: Yes, she was a little monotone.

VV: A little? She was like a sexier Robbie the Robot. "Danger Will Robinson! My tits are out!"

I have a “Lost in Space” fetish. So sue.

TK: "Lost in Space" fetish--they would've accommodated that at Salon Kitty. That was in the training room they DIDN'T show.

"She vill not fuck zee robot--REJECTED."

VV: BZZZZZZZAT!

TK: Moving on…in addition to its mélange of cripple-fucking and ass shots, this movie was an ode to the garter belt, was it not?

VV: I am a big fan of the garter belt. Therefore this movie's constant bombardment of garters and stockings made view Fascism just a leetle more kindly.

TK: It's tricky that way, right? It's like, on one hand--Nazis. On the other hand--GREAT hooker makeovers.

VV: It's a side of history you don't often get to see.

TK: I'm planning on keeping the hooker makeovers and ditching the genocide in the Tenebrous Empire.

VV: No one credits the Nazis for their fabulous dance numbers.

TK: Also—the garter belts *stay*.

VV: Agreed. And a bread-cock in every pot!

TK: I'm... dubious about the bread-cock, though as my Grand Vizier, you do have something of a say in this matter.

VV: "As God is my witness, I will never not have a phallus-shaped loaf of bread again!"

TK: You just want a new way to drive hookers MAD.

VV: You'd have preferred a vagina-pita?

TK: Isn't there something more sinister and fabulous we could come up with? Meh--who am I kidding. I just want to REJECT people while staffing the Love Train.
REJECTED

VV:So, what leads to immediate REJECTION in the Tenebrous training rooms, one wonders?

TK: Insufficiently fabulous panties--REJECTED
Unpainted toenails--REJECTED
Bad shoes—REJECTED

VV: You are indeed a harsh mistress.

TK: I think the refusal of lesbianism is really the only thing I can take directly from the movie that would be of great import to the Empire, in terms of REJECTION. I would just make them fuck cripples for LOLs.

"Naaaah, you were totally hired anyway--I just wanted to see if you’d do that."

Kitty's Biggest Fan
VV: I think I told you earlier that I loved Kitty's last gown there--the one with the insane fan sleeve.

I was thinking, "Why would you wear something like that?" And then the window blew open and she was completely safe from flying glass. Form + Function = Fabulousness.

TK: It's really a very sound concept indeed. That, I respect. Besides, she was totally dragtastic. I’d love to see this movie re-made with an all-drag cast.

VV: So would the guys be played by women?

TK: YES! Precisely.

VV: Where are you going to find a hunchbacked female dwarf at this hour?

TK: Ohhhh... you raise a valid point. They're just not producing hunchback dwarves at the rate they used to.

VV: * would hit that *

TK: I'll send you one as a bachelor party gift upon the eve of our evil nuptials.

VV: APPROVED.

TK: What does the Vicar REJECT?

VV: Let's see...
Birthmark in the shape of Pennsylvania---REJECTED.
Tattoo of Willie Nelson – REJECTED.
Circus-style Lady Beard--TAKEN UNDER ADVISEMENT.
Lemmy-style warts -- LEAVE YOUR NUMBER AND WE'LL LET YOU KNOW.

TK: Maybe I should lead this part of the enterprise? You clearly can't be trusted with this.

VV: You’re much better at it than I am, I admit. You must be REJECTING, like, twenty people EVERY SINGLE DAY.

TK: Just while riding the subway in the morning.

So... maybe you can be in charge of interior design of the evil brothel? You seem to be really good at evil interior design.

VV: Well, you know, I do what I can. A few chains here, a couple of torches there. I find a Wheel of Anguish can really tie a room together.

TK: You also have a keen appreciation for cabaret acts.

VV: It's true. I appreciate showmanship.

TK: And boobs.

VV: Well, the boobs go without saying, now, don't they?

TK: See, that's the kind of insight I'm talking about. You're a natural.

VV: I do think that I saw more penises in this movie than I've seen in one place my entire life.

TK: I definitely saw more penises than I have ever seen in the sum total of my entire life. I felt so virginal.

VV: *raises eyebrows*

TK: Quiet, you.

So, thanks...I think...to Tenebrous Kate for her exposure. For setting its goal and achieving it beyond any reasonable or tasteful expectation, and for battering the viewer with strangeness and perversity rarely if ever surpassed in a big-screen musical, I rate Salon Kitty 3+ thumbs.
And may the Lord have mercy on all of us...

Bask in the 'sploitationey glow of the "Salon Kitty" film still and costume design gallery on Tenebrous Kate's Flickr account, IF YOU DARE.

MORE MADNESS...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vicar Pitches a YURT

From the UK Daily Mail:

Vicar Causes Outrage by Pitching Yurt in Graveyard

I really feel for my brother of the cloth. I mean, if I had a nickel for every time I've pitched a YURT in a graveyard, I wouldn't need change for the slot machines, I can tell you.

Just the tip.

Actual reviews coming soon...stay tuned!

MORE MADNESS...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Rough Beasts...

...slouching toward Bethlehem to be born?

Born this day in 1927, Godfather of Gore Lucio Fulci.

Fulci, watching a mother scorpion eat her young.


C'mon folks, Lucio Fulci! Give it up!

Also, born this day in 1971, The Vicar.

Happy Birthday(s)!

MORE MADNESS...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dead Men Walk (1943): or, Beside Myself with Satan


The 1943 occult/oddity Dead Men Walk opens with someone disgustedly tossing a book about vampire lore into a fireplace. By the end of the movie, he's going to wish he had that one back.

After the literary conflagration we cut to the sparsely-attended funeral of Dr. Elwyn Clayton. The chief mourner is Elwyn's twin brother, Dr. Lloyd Clayton (b-movie almost-legend George Zucco), who has dragged his pretty young niece Gayle and her nice-but-bland boyfriend David along for the festivities. While the living Dr. Clayton sadly views his brother's corpse, a woman disrupts the funeral by claiming that the corpse's presence desecrates the holiness of the funeral chapel, since Elwyn was an evil man in league with the Devil. She's quickly ushered out, and the local sheriff explains the old woman hasn't been the same "since the mysterious murder of her little granddaughter." The kindly Lloyd forgives her, and not long afterwards admits that his brother was indeed a student of sorcery, and that Lloyd himself had been forced to kill his brother in self-defense in an exciting scene that took place before we bought our tickets. Death, sorcery, book burnings and child murder--only a few minutes in and already the flick is hitting on some pretty heavy horror cylinders! And it doesn't let up from there.

Dr. Lloyd goes to his brother's house after the funeral to put some of Elwyn's papers in order--and by "put them in order" I mean "toss them into the fireplace." Gathering armloads of Elwyn's blasphemous books, pernicious papers and maleficent memos, Lloyd is well on his way to a rip-roaring Southern Baptist barbecue when he's interrupted by Elwyn's devoted manservant Zolarr (Universal horror GOD-man Dwight Frye, in usual hunchbacked-assistant mode!) There's some great dialog here as Zolarr frets, "Master searched the world to find those books!" and Lloyd retorts, "The world will be a cleaner place without them." Zolarr promises that Lloyd will live to regret his censorship drive, delivering the awesome creep-away line, "You will pray for death LONG before you die!" as only the unparalleled Mr. Frye can.

*smmmmoooooooch!*

Dwight also knows his job like no one else, and soon has liberated Elwyn's coffin from the Clayton family crypt, relocating it to an abandoned cemetery further out in the woods. In a wonderful scene Zolarr opens Elwyn's coffin, whispers "Massster!" in his best Renfield voice, and watches as Evil Elwyn rises Nosferatu-like from the casket! Elwyn (also George Zucco, naturally) has sold his soul to the Devil in order to gain immortality as a vampire! He quickly grabs a midnight snack and divulges to Zolarr his plan to make his goody-two-shoes brother suffer for killing him, by taking away all he loves before finally ending his life. Sounds like a plan to me!

Meanwhile, David has proposed to Gayle, and Uncle Lloyd is tickled pink. It's never clear whose daughter Gayle is, though we can assume a dear-departed Clayton sibling; Lloyd is her guardian in any event, and loves her like a...daughter? His penchant for kissing her frequently on the lips and her mooning, worshipful looks at her uncle are probably meant to be innocent, but in the context of all the other themes here, one can't help but wonder.

Later Gayle and David are out in the garden making with the goo-goo eyes when the undead Elwyn appears to his brother to let him know the torments he has in store. Logical Lloyd thinks he must be going crazy, but takes out a gun and shoots the apparition just to be safe, with predictably ineffective results. Elwyn promises to kill Gayle slowly to increase Lloyd's suffering before making her his vampire bride. Then he disappears with an evil laugh as David and Gayle rush in from the garden to see what all the shooting's about. Gayle is amazingly easily reassured by Lloyd's claim that he thought he saw a burglar ("But it was just...a Shadow," he intones ominously), and skips off to bed after another Lloydian lip-lock. David, however, is starting to eye the doc suspiciously.

*mmmmmmwah!*

Right on schedule Gayle starts to develop anemia, and Lloyd tells David he fears his brother has come back from the dead for awful vengeance. David doesn't buy it, but agrees to go check out the family crypt to ease the disturbed old man's mind. When they find the crypt empty, Lloyd is convinced. David, not so much.

After a transfusion rejuvenates Gayle but the next morning finds her weak and anemic as ever, David goes to the sheriff with his suspicions: since vampires don't exist, the only explanation is that Lloyd has gone crazy and is killing his own niece through some nefarious surgical means! The sheriff scoffs at the idea, and says David will have to bring him proof if he wants him to act. David replies archly, "When [Gayle is] dead, you can charge him with murder. That will be a great comfort to me."

Later David confronts the good doctor with his suspicions, threatening to take Gayle away. When the understanding Lloyd invites David to stay and watch over Gayle in her room, the young buck's suspicions are allayed, and when he awakes to find Zolarr in the bedroom attempting to remove a protective crucifix from Gayle's neck, he realizes he was mistaken about the good doctor. Shortly thereafter Elwyn appears to taunt them both, putting away the last of David's doubts. Together they start searching for Elwyn's secret tomb, hoping to burn his body to ashes and thus rid the world of his evil.

(This actually struck me as a very intriguing plot development that I'd not seen before--the "hero" character suspecting the Van Helsing character of being the culprit instead of the vampire! And now that I think of it, it makes total sense. After all, someone running around in a garlic necklace blathering about walking corpses...wouldn't you think he might be a homicidal maniac?)

*labllabllablwahwhalbalab!*

However, the townspeople who overheard David's conversation with the sheriff were not witness to Elwyn's boasts, and soon a mob has formed calling for Lloyd's blood. (Elwyn uses this most diabolically, murdering another villager in plain sight of witnesses, knowing his resemblance to his brother and his own deceased status will put Lloyd in the noose. Clever!) Meanwhile the old biddy from the funeral has been doing some searching of her own, and spying Zolarr on a trail in the forest in broad daylight, traces his steps back to the abandoned cemetery and Elwyn's hidey-hole.

Standing over the helpless vampire asleep in his coffin, the old lady monologues about how he will soon be burned, once she tells Dr. Lloyd about this--which of course gives Zolarr time to come back from his piss-break and snap the old woman's neck! Rattled by the security breach, Zolarr moves the corpse to a safer location--Elwyn's mansion.

(Watching the old lady speechify made me reflect on how awesome it would have been had she simply pulled out a book of matches and ENDED it right there! FWOOF! Dwight could come back and find himself unemployed--"fired," if you will--and the young lovers and good uncle breathe a sigh of relief. Didn't happen, though.)

Something draws Lloyd back to the Elwyn Estate, and while David fends off the posse with some fisticuffs and trickery Lloyd finally discovers his brother's (currently empty) coffin. He is jumped by Zolarr and they have a pretty good battle that ends with the room ablaze and Dwight crushed under a pedestal while Elwyn and Lloyd duke it out for good and all! (Standing majestically amid the flames, Elwyn taunts, "You do not wait for Death...you come to meet it!" RAWK.) The now David-led mob witnesses the brothers tussling in the midst of the fiery cataclysm just before the roof collapses and the Claytons make ashes of themselves.

"Dude--she's our niece! Cool it, already!"

Dead Men Walk is a neat little vampire flick, especially given the year it was made. The writing is very cool with some great eeevil one-liners from Elwyn and Zolarr--at one point the Evil Clayton even makes an out-and-out prayer to Satan to bless their evil schemes! (Though he does say "Sheitan," I'm doubting there was any confusion.) Wild stuff for 1943! The weird plot developments, from the evil brother frame-up to the hero's suspicion of the good doctor--are also entertaining and fairly unique in my experience. And at 64 mins, it never gets boring.

I was only familiar with George Zucco through his roles in a couple of the Universal Mummy sequels, but here he does a great job in a dual role as the Battlin' Clayton Brothers. His Elwyn exudes pure menace and evil, and his Lloyd is exactly the flipside--all kindness, understanding, and nobility. (That is, if we forgive his seething lust for his niece...which, given Mary Carlisle's cuteness, I think we can.) The split-screen effects and use of doubles when the brothers are facing one another is very well-done here too, in a way today we would call seamless.

And of course any picture with Dwight Frye getting all up in your grille with the crazy face is worth the price of admission. He's playing the role he ALWAYS got to play here, but there's a reason he was the go-to evil henchman--because he's AWESOME at it. Nedrick Young as David and Carlilse as Gayle both do well too, and Young particularly deserves notice for not being the bland innefectual hero-by-default we often see in films of this vintage (David Manners, I'm lookin' at YOU!). And b-western veteran Hal Price does a good job as the sheriff too. A fine cast all around.

Simply the Best.

(Actually, I suspect most of the townspeople were actors usually cast in the poverty-row westerns by small studios like Producer's Releasing Corporation here...one particular fellow who discovers the crazy biddy's corpse looks right off the streets of Gunsmoke.)

Though it's a bit stagy and creaky at times, I found myself quite enjoying Dead Men Walk for the good performances, the wild plot, and the quick pace. I've read some commenters say they were bored by this, which I can't understand. I guess I have a high tolerance for black & white Universal-ly goodness. Anyway, an easy 2 thumbs, and a good way to spend a slow afternoon.


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