Dread Central.com is reporting that Jose Mojica Marins' latest installment in the Coffin Joe trilogy, Embodiment of Evil, has completely destroyed all the other entrants in the Paulina Film Festival in Brazil, where it recently had its premiere. It won a boatload of awards, including Best Picture. Check out the news item here, and be on the lookout for more Coffin Joe news in the coming months!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
There's something about watching a horror film from another culture that can give a viewer a startling and not-altogether-unpleasant sense of disorientation. The differences between one's culture and the one represented on the screen--which has by definition a mythology, cultural signifiers, codes of behavior and established horror tropes completely separate from the viewer's own--can often set the audience's heads spinning and produce odd reactions. The Hopping Vampires of several Asian horror films, for instance, never fail to get a guffaw out of Western audiences, though in their home countries these well-established bogeymen would have moviegoers cowering under the seats. Similarly some of the Japanese demons that to us look more like bumbling cartoon characters than creatures spawned from hell. If you weren't raised on a steady diet of spook tales involving such beasts, you might have a hard time mustering a suitably terrified reaction to their appearance.
All of which goes a little way toward explaining the gleeful and seemingly unhinged bat-shittery of the 1981 Indonesian horror classic Mystics in Bali. Still--I can't help thinking that some of the stuff presented here is Grade-A Wackness WHEREVER you're from.
The movie opens with a credit montage of demons who look like Dr. Teeth on acid. These would totally have tripped my shit out as a kid, I don't mind telling you, and even now I wouldn't want to find one under my bed or ensconced in my armoire. The music during this sequence is also alien and creepy in an "I don't know what's going on here, but I'm sure it's Not Good" kinda way.
Once that's done we leap into the saga of poor little Kathy, a wide-eyed American abroad who has come to Bali to learn about Leyak Black Magic. In hilariously dubbed expository dialog with her native guide and love interest Hendra, Kathy explains that the Balinese Black Magic is the Most Powerful Black Magic in the World, greater and more scary even than the voodoo she learned while she was in Africa and the smattering of Witchcraft she picked up in a coven in England. "Why's a pretty girl like you interested in knowing black magic?" Hendra wants to know, which Kathy answers by saying she's researching for a book on the subject. However, her scenes with the feather-haired and tightly tee-shirted Hendra belie her real motives, which are somewhere between International Tongue-Wrestling Training and a package sex-tourism holiday.
seriously reverbed-out bad trip music, some disorienting camera work, and a romantic picnic in a forest with human skulls littering the ground! Kathy is one freaky chick, and Hendra has found the way to her heart, what with his black magic appointment planning skills and "Property of Notre Dame" form-fitting tees. As their romance blooms, a seductive-looking witchy woman watches jealously from the jungle.
The meeting with the Leyak Master takes us over the border from poorly-dubbed soap opera into full-blown other-dimension weirdness and never looks back. Leyak Masters can change their form at will, Hendra informs us, but can always be recognized by their high-pitched, cackling laughs. Why a sorceress with the ability to choose any form she wants would select the bug-eyed, long-haired, Coffin Joe-nailed monstrosity that shows up for the meeting is anyone's guess, but Hendra knew what he was talking about with that laugh thing--the gleeful, totally insane cackle she unleashes frequently in conversation just goes on and on and on, to the point that I kept expecting to hear the opening notes of "Wipeout" by the Ventures every time she took a breath.
The First Meeting scene is just pure excellence. We get a sudden rainstorm that drenches our two lovers before the Leyak Master appears, we get that famous sampled wolf howl (A sound-effect short-hand for creepiness in any language, apparently. Are there wolves in Indonesia? Maybe coyotes? Irritable opossums?), and more. The Leyak master herself has a voice that can best be described as Yoda meets Terry Gilliam's bridgekeeper from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but with just a soupçon of King Diamond thrown in for flavor. After agreeing to teach Kathy the secrets of Balinese Black Magic, the Leyak Master offers her bear-trap hand to shake on the deal--and then walks off, leaving her disembodied hand in Kathy's! The American drops it, and it crawls off in a scene that really puts the "special" in special effects.
The next night Hendra and Kathy meet the Leyak Master again. This time the witch has chosen to appear as an aswang, a vampire-like creature from Filipino folklore that sucks blood through its long, prehensile tongue. In fact, the tongue is all we get to see, as it snakes out of the bushes to take some diamonds from Kathy's hand, and then to drink from the Coke bottles full of blood that the lovers have brought with them, as previously agreed. (No hints as to where they got it.) "Mmm! Good! Delicious!" the Leyak Master enthuses whilst slurping. "Now I need to take off your skirt!" I know such a statement might seem startling, but Kathy drops trou without batting an eye. I guess when you're in a one-on-one with a ten-foot long warty tongue, it's best to just roll with it.
Of course when the tongue then proceeds to tattoo a black magic spell on your naked thigh, you might start to reconsider the wisdom of the whole book-research enterprise. Back at her bungalow, Kathy invites Hendra to examine the tattoo to see if he can read it, in a scene absolutely FRAUGHT with cultural dissonance. You can tell from Hendra's goofy-ass expression and the Significant Music that what's going on here is MAJOR on the Indonesian eroticism scale, though to Western viewers it looks like he's just been asked whether her butt looks big in her bikini.
The next night Kathy meets the Leyak Master alone for the first time. Her walk through the swamp leads to her nearly falling into a pit full of White Indonesian Swamp Mice and a papier mache skull of questionable crafstmanship. (Why didn't they use the realistic-looking skulls from the picnic scene? Were they rented?) They meet at the Wicker League Basketball Association's practice court, the Leyak Master appearing as a balloon-faced woman using bamboo bird cages as crutches--laughing all the way, of course. After an impromptu interpretive dance lesson, both Kathy and the sorceress TRANSFORM THEMSELVES INTO HOGS in a transformation scene that can only be described as COMPLETELY FUCKING AWESOME. Air bladders, glycerin-goo, bad-trip music and rapid editing--it really must be seen to be believed, and should.
Meanwhile Hendra is understandably concerned about his Thigh-Revealing Mama, so he goes to talk to his uncle, who Knows About These Things. The uncle gives him some protective chants and a magical dagger ("Take it--it will increase your power!") apparently passed on from Hendra's OTHER uncle, a white magician of great power who is unfortunately out of town for the weekend. The guy playing Hendra's uncle is AWESOME, by the way--he's like the Indonesian Samuel L. Jackson. DON'T. FUCK. WITH UNC.
Kathy's lessons continue, leading to the most famous set piece in the film: the Leyak Master, just swimming in ulterior motives, enslaves Kathy and turns her into a penanggalan--another creature from Indonesian folklore that is just about as crazy as you could hope for. Basically, Kathy's head separates from her body, taking ALL ITS INTERNAL ORGANS WITH IT (you can see trachea, lungs, stomach, heart, intestines...the LOT) and zips through the sky, seeking women who are with child. Because you see, the penanggalan feeds on the unborn, by SUCKING THE FETUS OUT THROUGH THE MOTHER'S VAGINA. Do you get to see this happen? HELL YES you do. Another example of cultural dissonance: naked thighs? Big Deal. Disembodied head with trailing organs on a zip wire vacuuming a fetus out a mom-to-be's fun-chute? Not as much.
There pretty much HAS to be a drop off after THAT shit, although the movie does its best to keep the crazy magic pumping. Kathy rebels against her new master but is powerless to resist hot sweet baby sludge, Hendra and his uncle go all Harker/Van Helsing on their asses, and the hot girl from earlier is revealed to be--I think--one of the Leyak Master's other incarnations. We get another transformation sequence where the sorceresses turn into snakes that's ALMOST as good as the pig change, we get to see Kathy vomit live (white) mice, a battle between talking fireballs, and an absolutely pyrotechnic climactic confrontation between the forces of Good and Evil that leaves one hero dead, introduces a new character out of nowhere, causes several trees to be uprooted, and ends up with a resolution that may have been new in 1922, but seems kind of hokey here.
Mystics in Bali is an experience of which every mad movie fan should avail himself. The peek into Indonesian folklore is instructive and interesting, but it's the wild effects, the freaky music, and the hilarious dubbing/exposition that will warm the cockles of your jaded move-watching hearts. Being an Indonesian joint there's no nudity and (surprisingly) precious little blood, but the mixture of bad matte effects, wild practical effects, and 80s video filters more than make up for the l(ey)ack. You'll laugh, you'll pop your eyes, you'll send your head flying off in search of baby cakes, and you'll laugh some more. 3+ thumbs, not to be missed.
And special thanks to Tenebrous Kate for providing the pixels!
Friday, July 11, 2008
I have a confession to make. Despite my well-documented affinity for Weird Horror Directors from Around the World--Brazilian Badass Jose Mojica Marins, his Spanish Splendiforousness Jacinto "Mighty Mighty" Molina, British Bad Bloke Pete Walker, and Gallic God-man Jean Rollin, to name a few--somehow I have never managed to expose myself to the work of one of the most infamous horror auteurs who made his name in my decade of delight. I speak of course of my man-crush Naschy's much-maligned countryman, Jesus "Jess" Franco.* It's been a glaring hole in my Exploitation Exploration here at MMMMMovies, and one that has caused me more than a few sleepless, shame-filled nights.
But as Nature abhors a vaccuum, and something there is that doesn't love a wall, so too has there never been a hole at the vicarage that has long gone unfilled--and so it was that not many nights ago I set myself about the task of stuffing that hole full of Vicar by exposing myself to one of Franco's best-known efforts, the sapphic sanguinary sex-session from 1971, Vampyros Lesbos.
*In point of fact I have seen Oasis of the Zombies, but did not know at the time that Franco had directed it under a psuedonym. For the purposes of this review, and in a spirit of generosity and refinement of feeling, I'm pleased to pretend that that movie does not exist. And so should you.
If Vampyros Lesbos taught me anything, it's that we here in the good ol' US of A have really got the short end of the stick when it comes to nightclubs. Subscribing to the theory that context is for the weak, Franco throws us right into an underground bunker of grooviness in Istanbul, where enigmatic gorgeousness Soledad Miranda is rolling around onstage in stockings, sheer black silk robe, and little else. Her props are a gothic candelabra, a nude-mannequin woman, and the gigantic mirror from the cover of Black Sabbath's Sabotage. A sitar-heavy musical composition tweedles sensuously in the background while Soledad tweedles in front of the mirror, writhing on the black-painted floor with admirable abandon.
I don't know what kind of acts were signed on a weekly basis at Studio 54 and other landmarks of American Decadence back in the day, but I'd be willing to bet this eats their cake, icing first.
Next we're tossed into a groovy surreal dream sequence, flashing from Linda's hypnotized eyes to scenes from the dance interspersed with scorpions, moths, blood dripping down plate glass windows, and sexy lesbonic embraces between Linda and Soledad. We soon discover that these disconnected images are all part of Linda's recurring dream, one that has been haunting her for weeks. "Sometimes I even have an orgasm," she offers helpfully to her shrink, who diagrams the whole thing using stick figures in his notebook. His diagnosis is the obvious one: sexual frustration with Monkee Boy. His prescription? "Find yourself a lover. A better lover." I wonder if insurance would cover that? Strangely un-cured, Linda runs back to the arms of her Monkee-Love.
Some time later Linda is sent on a special job by her firm to assist a Countess Carody with some legal work. The Countess lives on an island some distance from Linda's home, and the girl arrives at the seaside too late to catch the ferry over. Forced to spend the night in a hotel near the harbor, Linda does some more erotic dreaming and midnight wandering in skimpy nightgowns to build the tension. A Creepy Hotel Clerk warns her not to go to the Countess's abode, since "Insanity and Death rule that island!" Of course his credibility is damaged somewhat when Linda creeps down to the basement at midnight to find the clerk molesting a bloodied and bound woman's corpse! I think I'll take my chances on I&D Island, thanks!
It should come as little surprise by this point to learn that not only is Countess Nadine Karody the same sexy Soledad from the nightclub, but also that the island is EXACTLY the location of Linda's erotic dreams, right down to the waterlogged scorpion near the swimming pool! What are the chances? Linda finds the Countess lounging by the pool in some AMAZINGLY GROOVY sunglasses (and not much else--zang) and the two quickly strike up a friendship, despite Linda's dream-connection creepy-feelings. Behind an ill-concealing fisherman's net, the mute henchman Morpho watches through his own funkeriffic purple sunglasses. If this movie doesn't give you lens-envy, get the funk out.
Linda agrees to join Nadine in an afternoon skinnydip! I guess lawyer/client ethics are more lax in Turkey. Next to Naked Linda on the beach, Naked Nadine sighs, "It's nice to lie in the sun naked...especially when you're not alone." The customer is always right!
Back at the castle and back in their clothes, Linda sips wine while explaining that Nadine's benefactor--a mysterious Mister DRACULA--has left the countess all his riches in his will. Before she can do a double take and say "Waitaminnit...THAT Dracula?" Linda has succumbed to the red wine's druggy goodness and fallen flat on the table. Later she wakes up (or does she?) on a gigantic ottoman/bed-cushion to find Nadine standing over her, resplendent in yellow silk, with a smear of blood on her upper lip. That's a real turn-on for her, apparently, and the movie finally sets about living up to its name.
A little word about Franco's direction here. If you're not ready for deliberate delivery of mundane-but-possibly-proufound dialog and long, slow takes of beautiful women giving Significant Looks of practiced expressionlessness, you should probably stay away. Though for me Franco's compositions lack the stunning artistic eye of, say, Jean Rollin's, he nonetheless establishes a sort of slow hypnotic rhythm of both sight and sound that is mostly fascinating, and at times surprisingly effective. And while no one here acts the way you would expect real people to act in any universe, there is a sort of (dare I say it?) dreamlike quality to the proceedings that works. Not the most action-packed picture, but still, it kept me interested.
After the long slow trip to Lesbos mentioned above, Linda wakes alone and comes downstairs looking for her new girlfriend. After passing under what is quite possibly THE SISTINE CHAPEL OF RED-TASSEL CEILING HANGINGS, she wanders out to the swimming pool to find Nadine floating nude in the swimming pool, a long red scarf trailing out in the water behind her--a wonderful visual. Linda, assuming Nadine is dead, freaks out and flees.
Meanwhile, at the Asylum for the Slapped and Insane, Dr. Seward is checking in on Agra, who is basically Renfield but hotter and more naked. Agra is prone to writhing around on the floor screaming things like "My friend is the Queen of the Night!" while playing with her little clown, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I--oh, wait, she actually has a little clown to play with. I'm going to go ahead and peg it at seven on the disturbing scale, just for its suggestively peaked cap. SAY NO MOOAH.
already knows--the story of how, hundred of years ago, she was rescued by Dracula from a group of soldiers otherwise engaged in raping her, and afterward became his LOVAH and heir. She now hates all men--because of their rapeyness--and is in love with Linda. A concise origin story--I give it a six.
Back at the apartment Linda's trying out a return to heterosexual love, while the jealous Countess watches from across the street. We get more Gazing Expressionlessly Into the Camera, and apparently dissatisfied with Omar's performance, Linda is soon scampering back to Carody Castle and the Big Comfy Ottoman. "From now on, the Queen of the Night will take you on her black wings!" Nadine says, the two fall into one another's arms for another, much HOTTER scene of sapphic love, including a rather surprising NIPPLE ATTACK from the otherwise passive Linda. I think this is supposed to symbolize her complete surrender to the sexay power of Countess Nadine, but really, who cares? It's HAWT. Back at the Asylum, Agra is getting agra-vated in a sexy way, thus serving as stand-in for the audience.
It's not far to the end credits from here, and along the way we get a FULL-LENGTH reprise of the nightclub scene from the beginning, a showdown between Seward and Nadine at the asylum wherein the old man's hopes of becoming immortal are rudely quashed by a kill-crazy Morpho, Linda is captured by the hotel clerk and tied up in the cellar for the most disturbing scene in the film ("You are beautiful when you're afraid..but just how beautiful will you be when you die?"), and a somewhat anticlimactic but strangely effective ending confrontation between Nadine and Linda, with some trippy camera work and a shockingly gory exclamation point to the whole bloody mess. 'Sploited enough for ya?
Vampyros Lesbos does not reach the dizzying heights of Rollin's marble monuments to the same subject matter, but it's still none too shabby. It's got enough strangeness and surrealism to please a Rollin fan such as I'm, and some genuinely twisted moments interspersed with long, thoughtful pauses in the action, all backed by a sitar-heavy score--always a plus. And Soledad Miranda is mesmerizing, it has to be said. Plus, that night club scene, twice! It's hard to dislike a movie that gives you all that. And I don't. 2.75 thumbs for Vampyros Lesbos, and Jess, welcome to the Vicarage. I hope I'll be seeing more of you in the future.
Monday, July 7, 2008
I know I said I would announce the winners this weekend, and in point of fact I did--if you haven't heard from me, YOU LOSE. But to satisfy your blasphemous curiosity, here are the MMMMMovies 100th Review Contest winners!
Grand Prize: Aunt John of Kindertrauma! Not only talented and funny, but a lucky SOB as well! Give it up! Aunt John chose the MMMMMovies Home Game as his prize.
First Loser Prize: Adam Vanderyacht of the great state of California! He'll be receiving the Naschy Pack of Curse of the Devil and Werewolf Shadow in the OOP Anchor Bay editions. Please forgive the stains on the DVD covers, Adam. I...I really don't know how that happened.
WORST PLACE PRIZE: Perhaps the most hotly contested reward, this one goes to poor, unfortunate Absinthe of Gloomy Sunday! If you haven't checked out her excellent blog yet, do so before she gets an eyeful of her prize and is no longer in a state to communicate with intelligent people! Her "rewards" are the all-time low-score record holder Goregasm, along with an even worse movie whose name will be spoken only once on this blog, and only right now: Live Freaky, Die Freaky! Don't seek out more info on it...just let it die. Freakily.
Thanks to everyone who entered, and for all the entertaining answers provided to my completely irrelevant questions. I shouldn't be surprised if some of your suggested movies find their way onto this page in the coming months--in fact, I promise they will. And because I LIVE TO SHARE, here are some of the favorite answers to the other two questions:
Who would win in a fight between Waldemar Daninsky and Coffin Joe?
The split was almost even on this one, with Ze do Caixao edging out Waldemar by one vote among all entrants.
- Karswell of The Horrors of It All! thought Waldemar would win "on sheer brute strength and facial intensity alone, plus Coffin Joe might break a nail... the second that happened it'd all be over." Tenebrous Kate also thought Waldemar would triumph, pointing out that no one could beat a "taller, beefier Glenn Danzig."
- Adam Vanderyacht disagreed, opining "Coffin Joe would so totally win that fight... Dude keeps an entire Strange World under his top hat, and parties with the Laugh In sock-it-to-me girls!"
- And Absinthe and Aunt John were apparently copying off one another on this quiz. Aunt John gave Coffin Joe the edge because Mom always said "Don't fuck with dudes in jaunty hats," while Absinthe wrote "I'm going for Coffin Joe because there are lots of top hats and I like top hats. Why don't more people wear top hats?"
(Yes, the Duke and I have given this a great deal of thought. It's IMPORTANT.)
Finally, the votes for MMMMMovies theme song are in, and there are some doozies--everything from the obvious ("The Monster Mash"? Come on, were you even TRYING? ) to the deliciously bizarre ("Gimme a Break" by Nell Carter! The French have a word for it...SASSY!) Other suggestions included an altered version of the "Mad Monster Party" theme, The Cramps' "Beautiful Gardens," Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing" and The Smiths' "Vicar in a Tutu" (NICE). I even composed and recorded my own entry (download it now! I'm an internet sensation!). But I think the most appropriate theme song has to be the one suggested coincidentally by the Grand Prize Winner, the wonderful single from the Liquid Sky soundtrack that so encapsulates what we're all about here. Enjoy:
ME AND MY RHYTHM BOX! Paula E. Sheppard, you RAWK!
So that's it! I hope everyone got his or her keys back, and you're ready for another hundred doses of MMMMMadness!
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Not many movies move the Vicar of VHS to break into song, but our centenary fear flick Madman has. Click on the link below to download and revel in the Vicar of VHS's extended version of "The Ballad of Madman Marz"!
The Ballad of Madman Marz - Extended Version [via Rapidshare]
ROCK ON, CHICAGO!
Thursday, July 3, 2008
It's a MAD MAD MAD MAD Movie Week--Day Four, Review #100!
Ah, Madman. Will we ever see your like again?
I can think of a lot of movie-opening set-pieces that get my blood pumping, but for some reason the "scary story 'round the campfire" opening is a sentimental favorite. In director Joe Giannone's 1982 slasher opus Madman, we get just that, and so much more. After an excellent set of opening titles (designed by actor and artist Paul Ehlers, the Madman himself!) over a dated-yet-timeless creepy electronic score ("Electronic music by Stephen HORELICK."--Movie, I love you already!), we're right in the middle of a deep-woods campfire spook-session, and I couldn't be happier.
Actor Tony Fish IS camp counselor, leader, and unconventionally handsome Lothario T.P.--yes, that's right: T.-to-the-fucking-P. Why T.P., you may well ask? Why not something less embarrassing, like "B.J." or "E.D." or even "D.P."? Well, I'll tell you: IT DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER, THAT'S WHY. He's T.P. He has ALWAYS been T.P., he CONTINUES to be T.P., and there WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER T.P. The sooner you wrap your head around it and get that shit laid out straight the better all around.
(I know I'm getting awfully passionate about this right up front, but suffice to say there are reasons.
a 2-minute long a capello rendition of the Ballad of Madman Marz, a justly revered folk classic that has been covered by everyone from Peter, Paul and Mary to Grandpa Jones to P. Diddy. Fish totally OWNS it here, stalking around menacing the campers and other counselors with his minor-key retelling of madness and murder from days gone by. According to the commentary fish had one night to learn the lyrics and did the scene in a single take, a feat which would be graven in the annals of motion picture history were there in fact any justice in the world. As T.P. croons to each conveniently segregated group of campers, we get ghostly flash-forwards to scenes of each character in mortal terror, taken from later in the film. It's the first of several interesting storytelling choices Giannone makes, and while its first-time efficacy can be debated, I must say I love it more and more every time I watch it.
After that show-stopping, movie-stealing two minutes' work by the esteemed Mr. Fish, the camp's elder administrator Max steps up to the plate for the non-musical portion of Expository Campfire Theater. He re-tells the story of Madman Marz, substituting flashbacks for harmonies. "He was an EVIL man--ugly and mean!" Max tells us, and goes on to detail the day Marz went on a kill-crazy rampage and murdered his entire family! (We get some very effective flashback shots of Marz's boots stomping on the wood floor, echoing ominously, before some very gory axe-murders, including a little girl getting her head split like a melon!) Max is no T.P., but still--strong stuff.
Once the townspeople learn what Marz has done, they form a posse and string him up from the nearest hanging tree, with one of the enraged community members going so far as to cut Marz's face with the axe as he's hauled kicking into the air. Satisfied that justice has been done, the mob disperses. But when they come back the next morning, they find the noose broken and Marz's body gone...
And there you have the basis of one of the most Kickass Movie Legends it's been my pleasure to witness. Max tells the campers that if you call Madman Marz's name above a whisper, he'll hear you and come out to take his revenge. Like Bloody Mary or the Candyman--simple, classic, beautiful.
Of course like werewolf-heart-enveloped silver bullets are to surgeons, so is a death-stakes prohibition on name-calling to snotty-nosed punk-kid campers. Before you can say "Quiet, you fool!" an annoying little runt of a kid named Richie starts shouting "Hey Madman Marz! Come and get us! Madman MAAA-ARZ!" It's such a jaw-dropping act of hubris, you almost can't wait for Richie to get his. When we're treated to a few shots of a dilapidated, abandoned house deep in the woods, hear a low synth rumble on the soundtrack, and watch as Richie sees a huge, silent shadow moving through the trees--leading the young kid to separate himself from the group and go off wandering in the woods alone (ALWAYS a sound plan), we are assured it won't be long.
Meanwhile T.P. is displaying his natural leadership abilities by marching the rest of the boys double-time back to the lodge, but not before making a hot date for later with fellow counsellor Betsy (Dawn of the Dead's Gaylen Ross, cryptically credited here as "Alexis Dubin"). Despite T.P.'s irresistible manliness, Betsy reacts badly to his forceful approach. Other-fellow-counsellor and somewhat Zen presence Stacy (the improbably-named Harriet Bass--Bass? Fish?--sporting constantly half-lidded eyes and a Welcome Back Kotter perm) tells the frustrated buck, "If you really love her, the biggest test is lettin' go, not holdin' on." Let go? Come on now--this is T.P. we're talkin about here. Get for real.
Meanwhile Richie Dumbfuck (looking for all the world like a less sexy Greg Brady) has stumbled upon the Majestic Marz Estate. Since no one answers the door, he decides to go inside and make himself at home! After all, there's probably a wide range of seating and bedding choices in there, not to mention hot porridge! Never say Richie never paid attention during story time! Of course, when we see a clawed hand extinguish a candle in the bone-strewn basement, we start to think maybe Richie should have listened to different stories...
Meanwhile, back at the lodge, wonderful scenes are brewing. Having imparted her Buddhist wisdom to T.P. without success, Stacy goes to talk to the similarly steamed Betsy, leading to a "female bonding" scene that seems just a little...bit...off. After expressing her distaste for men who want to tell her what to do or how to act, Stacy (heavy on the physical contact and Meaningful Smiles) sighs, "You know, Betsy--I don't have many women friends...and I think you're one of them!" Are you making a pass at Gaylen, Epstein? She does wear a sensible plaid shirt...
Outside T.P. is taking out his frustrations King Arthur-style: there's an old stump near the woodpile in which an ancient axe is buried so deep and tight that no one has ever been able to remove it. In fact, old Max offers $100 to the man who can remove the axe from the stump; whether he will also then become King of All Rural New York is not addressed. T.P. tries his damnedest, but to no avail; even with Max's help he's unable to budge the handle an inch. When Max sees how upset T.P. is, he tries out some Stacy-style Zen: "Play too hard to win," he warns, "and you might not like what you become!" T.P. scoffs at such silliness: "You become a WINNER. THAT'S what you become." Stick to frightening punk kids, Max, T.P. is out of your league.
Of course Madman Marz has been summoned from whatever corner of the netherworld he inhabits when there aren't punk kids to slaughter, and he makes his presence felt at the lodge when a diminutive drunk cook named Dippy opens the freezer and retrieves a neckfull of cleaver! This scene and the bone-strewn basement of the Marz abode are both rather clear homages to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Marz's distorted, animalistic grunts and huge stature also recall Leatherface. But you know what they say--if you're gonna homage, homage from the best!
As Marz scarpers back into the woods--he's light on his feet for a big guy--inside Betsy throws a wet blanket on things by pooh-poohing Max's penchant for wringing urine from the campers with his Madman Marz story. After Max leaves in a good-natured huff--presumably to get loaded at his weekly poker game--T.P. shows what a true man he is by apologizing in front of all the other employees for his asshattery toward Betsy earlier at the campfire. He closes his speech with an eloquent toast: "To friends and friendship, to loves and lovers--may you always have more than you need!" Aw, that's swee--waitaminnit, what?
Betsy doesn't stop to think about the implied polygamy in T.P.'s sentiments, as in the very next scene she is letting the laundry drop and climbing into the hot tub with your hero and mine. I know the words "Greatest Hot Tub Scene in the History of Cinema" get tossed around a lot in situations like this, but I'm here to tell you: this is the GREATEST HOT TUB SCENE IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA. In an olympic-size jacuzzi that must have taken up the entirety of the sound stage on which it was built, Betsy leads T.P. in an aquatic Dance of Love that's half bird-of-paradise mating ritual and half a re-enactment of being flushed down the toilet. There's something for the ladies as well as the men here--in addition to a quick flash of Gaylen's nipples, we also get to see T.P.'s hindquarters in all their Bronxian glory! It just makes you want to give a rousing Bronx cheer! The schmaltzy easy-listening love theme that plays over it--which we get to hear in its ENTIRETY, thank God!--is just the perfect complement.
playing a lonely flute in her dinghy IYKWIMAITYD, after which she is nearly nabbed by the uncharacteristically slow-grabbing Madman. (Stacy's sex-sounds and o-face while she's climbing a slippery ridge only add to her strange, slightly disturbing sexiness.) At the top of the hill she turns around and gives Mother Nature a full-on raspberry, her own version of the barbaric yawp. It's a weird scene, and typical of the movies smooth, successful blend of suspense and cheese. I wanna dip my...chips in it!
More weird happenings and strange but somehow effective directorial flourishes occur. In the lodge the group of secondary counsellors--including Stacy, gaunt tall guy David, mulleted and pencil-stached loverboy Bill and his semi-retarded booty-call Ellie discuss heavy subjects by the fire. Giannone gives us an out-of-nowhere crazy speech, a Monkees-style overhead shot, a People's Court synth sting, and more near-glimpses of the Madman in the periphery before moving on--a strange but satisfying interlude.
only to find himself on the wrong end of a hangin' rope. It's a stunning exit, and one that still gives me a jolt every time I see it. In fact, I have to pause, shed a tear, and recite the poem that the Duke of DVD himself composed in memory of one of the screen's great near-heroes:
Ode to the Beltbuckle*sniff* Unmoored from our foundations, cut loose from the godlike being we'd hoped would see us safely through the darkness and back into the light, we're woefully unprepared for the brutal onslaught Marz unleashes next. The Madman traipses remorselessly back to the lodge, and with barley a grunt frees Axcalibur from its stump! Hail to the King, baby! We also get some suggestive shots here of a rotting wound on Marz's hand, and some glimpses of his cadaverous, nose-less visage, suggesting that Marz is not merely a madman loose in the woods, but a living dead revenant bent on supernatural revenge. Which is AWESOME, I don't care where you're from.
T.P., shining knight, god
To those mortals below,
Shall you grace us again
With that buckle? Hot
Tub King, we bask in your
Divine glory. T.P.
T.P. T.P! May heaven
Send you once more,
Bill goes to look for yadda-yadda-yadda, and is killed (BACKBREAKERRRRRR!!!) protecting Ellie from Madman's wrath. Then we get ANOTHER great, suspenseful chase scene in which the scrappy mentally challenged slut-puppy barely outruns Marz yet has enough wherewithal to empty a fridge and climb in to hide (he'll never notice the ice cream and eggs all over the floor!) before catching an axe to the chest and then getting her face mistakenly blown off by shotgun-packing Betsy! Elsewhere Richie wanders around more, still lost, still unbelievably alive.
The other counsellors gone, it's a showdown between Heavens-to-Betsy and the unstoppable Madman, and the final battle is so great in my opinion I'm just going to stop there and hope you'll discover it for yourself. Suffice to say we get ANOTHER TCM "homage" (just as awesome as the previous ones), a surprise cameo by a character's cheekbone, and a fiery cataclysm of the kind we just don't see enough of these days. Someone you think would survive does not, someone who you think wouldn't survive does, and over the credits we get THE BALLAD OF MADMAN MARZ in all its glory, second only perhaps to the Ballad of the Film in My Bloody Valentine for sheer folksy awesomeness.
I LOVE THIS MOVIE.
As an 80s slasher goes, this is just about everything you want. Though it rips off TCM and Friday the 13th pretty shamelessly (and maybe even Halloween as well--Marz is kind of a "Shape" for much of the film) it has its own certain style and strangeness that set it apart from the run-of-the-mill imitators. The rural setting is used well, and none of the actors are pretty enough to be unbelieveable--again, perhaps, like TCM. Only with a Shelley Duval lookalike in the Marilyn Burns slot.
Something should be said about the acting here, to which the Duke and I have given a great deal of thought. It would be easy to dismiss the acting in Madman as stilted, amateurish, or even bad--and the way T.P., Stacy, and Max intone their lines does seem over-earnest and trying-too-hard to the untrained ear. However, upon repeat viewings you might discover a strange sort of rhythm developing in the way the actors speak, the way they interact with each other. It's not realistic, but almost hyper-real--almost like the dialog of a Grimm's Fairy Tale brought up to the present day and slapped with Noo Yawk accents. Maybe my love for the other stuff in this film is clouding my vision, but I think there's really something not-quite-usual going on here, and I'm glad to have witnessed it.
There's also a bit of mystery involved. In the commentary the mighty Tony Fish claims he and "Alexis Dubin" were an item during the shoot, and that not all of the hot tub scene was "acting" IYKWHMAITYD. Yet neither he nor the director nor the producer ever refer to her by her more famous stage name, Gaylen Ross. And it's CLEARLY her--of that there can be no doubt. Also, Ross is apparently reluctant to talk about Madman, and doesn't put it on her resume. Actually, if internet reports are to be believed, she won't even sign DVDs or memoribilia at conventions related to the movie. Why? What happened? Did Fish break her heart? Did something behind the scenes scar her forever? Was she working for non-union wages while holding a SAG card? The world may never know...unless someone can get her dancing in a hot tub and convince her to spill the beans.
Finally, Marz himself is just such a great character. Brutal, swift, silent, always seen in the periphery but seldom close-up, he's an enigma in a beard, a riddle with an axe. He's a legend come to life--he even has his own song. While there were no Madman sequels, there totally could have been, as the lads over at Kindertrauma proved conclusively.
In short, I can think of no better way to close out this Mad Mad Mad Mad movie week than with Madman, which receives the coveted 3+ thumb, MUST SEE rating. A spectacular lesser-known slasher from the golden age of the genre, and one that more people should pick up and appreciate. Gaylen included.
And if you ever see that belt buckle on eBay...call me. IMMEDIATELY. I have my reasons.
BONUS MEDIA! SEE and HEAR Max relate the Legend of Madman Marz!
LISTEN to the movie-closing Ballad of Madman Marz! (Inexplicably set to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. WTF, Internet?)
REVEL in the Electronic Opening theme, T.P.'s Astounding a capello campire creepout, and the end credit song...again!
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
It's a MAD MAD MAD Mad Movie Week--Day Three, Review #99
It's easy to watch something like the classic 1935 chiller Mad Love (aka The Hands of Orlac) and bust out the old cliché, "Boy, they sure don't make them like they used to!" And you'd be right, of course. The 30s and 40s were the golden age of gothic horror, and though acting techniques have become more naturalistic and set design more realistic, though plots have become more horrifying and monster make-up more technically brilliant, still, there's something about these old school horror tales that will always chill and delight the receptive viewer. It's like reading Stephen King, then going back and reading Poe. Both have their strengths, but Poe just has that old school something that King's just not old enough to have acquired yet.
Nope, they sure don't make them like they used to.
However, to give credit where it's due--in point of fact I don't think they EVER made them like Mad Love.
There's so much wonderful stuff in this movie it seems almost a shame to talk about it, for fear that someone who hasn't watched it will be robbed of a thrilling, wonderful discovery. On the other hand, I don't think knowing ahead of time could make it any less wonderful than it is. Mad Love doesn't depend on shocking you for its effect, and doesn't require your ignorance for its majesty. Still, if you want to come in fresh (only like 70 years AFTER the fact...), go watch now. I'll be here when you get back.
After an opening credit sequence that is awesomer than many full-length movies, we open on a hanged corpse swinging in the breeze! Hey, we've only got 68 minutes, folks, we've got to hit the ground running! As it turns out the corpse is NOT real--it is in fact a wax figure hanging outside the Theatre du Horreurs, a thinly-disguised Grand Guignol stand-in that's all the rage in the Montmartre.
Yvonne Orlac is receiving buckets of flowers from a mysterious fan. Reading the ornately lettered and high-sentiment card, Yvonne smiles to her lady in waiting. "A gentleman of the old school, Marie." The elder lady sniffs. "Old or new, they all try the same things." It's quickly revealed that Yvonne's admirer is Dr. Gogol, a brilliant surgeon famous for fixing up wounded soldiers returned from WWI. He's occupied the same box every night since opening, and these are not the first flowers Yvonne has received from him, making it a bit of a good-natured scandal backstage.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gogol himself--the intense, inimitable, shaven-headed Peter Lorre--is arriving for the Theatre du Horreurs' final performance of the season. We get some great dissolves and cool looks at the theatre employees in spooky uniforms (including a Devil Ticketseller and a Headless Hat-Check Girl) before Gogol stops to stand before a wax figure representing "Yvonne Torturée." After getting angry with a drunk who speaks disrespectfully to the dummy, Gogol takes possession of his box and the show is ready to start.
Hearing the curtain call, Yvonne delays while waiting for her husband's radio program to start--hubby Steven Orlac (Colin "It's alive! ALIVE!" Clive) is a concert pianist getting ready to play in a distant town, sending messages to his wife via wireless through coded coughs. Once out on stage, Yvonne gives the crowd what they want--which is apparently Yvonne strapped to a wheel of anguish and branded with hot irons! Of course the gore is implied here (the Grand Guignol was famously goopy with its fx), but shots of the leering, beast-like faces of the audience and Gogol's intense, creeperiffic stare are more than a little unsettling, even now.
The last performance is a smashing success, and we learn that Yvonne is retiring from the stage to be a full-time housewife to Steven. When Marie asks whether she will miss the crowds, Yvonne replies, "Steven will be my audience!" What, you mean for the torture act? Oooer, missus! Then again, those stuffy English types are notorious for their under-surface boiling perversions...
Gogol comes backstage to thank Yvonne for all the "pleasure" she's given him getting stretched and branded every night. It must be said that in a lifetime of super-fucking-creepy roles, Lorre has never been creepier than he is right here. His huge eyes, bald pate, and the constant low-angle/eccentrically lit shots of him make for some wonderfully eerie portraiture, and Lorre's facial expressions and quiet, accented voice take him from zero to Disturbing in 0.5 seconds--a new record!
Making his move on the flattered but visibly weirded-out actress, Gogol is crushed to discover she will not be returning for the next season. "But I must see you again...I MUST!" Gogol insists, driving Yvonne even further away. He doesn't help his case when, after wrangling an invite to the cast wrap-party, he grabs her and ill-advisedly tries to plant a slobbery kiss right on her lips! Heartbroken at his rejection, Gogol stops on his way out long enough to purchase Yvonne's wax image from the tradesmen ordered to melt it down, ordering it delivered to his house the next day. SAY NO MOOAH.
Rollo aboard. Rollo is a circus knife thrower who killed his father over a woman and has a date with Lady Guillotine as a result. An American newspaper reporter has been assigned to cover the case. Both Rollo and the reporter are used for comic relief, but the actors portraying them are wonderfully brash and entertaining, particularly Rollo himself, who nonchalantly shrugs off his death sentence with the quip, "Well, we all get it in the neck eventually!" That's the American spirit!
While Yvonne and Marie wait at the station in Paris, tragedy strikes offscreen as the train jumps its track, leading to much loss of life. Again, though we don't get to see the wreck itself (nothing like the Great Model Train Crash of '33 a la The Invisible Man), what we see of its aftermath is even more chilling--the undersides of upended train cars, bodies strewn around the tracks, officials searching desperately for survivors. A desperate Yvonne discovers Steven in one of the cars, alive but horribly maimed--his hands are crushed, and must be amputated to save his life. His career is over!
Or is it? Reminded by Marie of her creepy but devoted admirer's speciality, Yvonne swallows her pride and her gorge and goes begging to Gogol for help. Not wanting to fail her and provoked by a Japanese male nurse who says saving the hands is impossible ("Impossible?" Gogol shouts, a mad gleam in his huge eyes, "Napoleon said that word is not French!"), Gogol manages to get the recently-executed Rollo's body delivered to his lab for an impromptu first-of-its-kind double-hand transplant. Naturally, it works like a dream. Gogol is a genius! (Earlier we saw Gogol witnessing Rollo's execution--once again we see not the blade falling, but Gogol watching it with a look of sick fascination, his eyes cutting down as the guillotine does its work. Again, a chilling bit of visual direction.)
"a long and expensive process," and proceeds to get the Orlacs in his deep, deep debt. (A fantastic montage/dream sequence here puts the figurative point on it superbly.) Drowning in medical bills, Steven decides to go see his cantankerous stepfather to ask for a loan.
Stepdad is a right bastard, however, gloating over Orlac's troubles and taunting him with the long-gone possibility that he could have been a partner in the old man's curio shop. Infuriated by an off-color comment about Yvonne's professional prospects, Stephen grabs a knife from a counter and tosses it at the old man, speeding it expertly through the store window! Amazed and disturbed at his newfound knife-throwing abilities, Stephen flees the store.
Meanwhile, Gogol is having long, intimate conversations with the Yvonne's wax likeness, which he's taken to calling Galatea after the Greek myth. (Since it was 1935, the appellation "Melissa Realdoll" was not yet available.) When Yvonne herself comes to the clinic to plead with Gogol to help Steven more, Gogol's lusts boil over and he advises Yvonne to leave her "broken" husband for him, the world-famous doctor! She refuses, claiming that even if she didn't have Steven, there's something about Gogol that repulses her. Gogol does not handle it well. "I, a poor peasant, have conquered SCIENCE!" he cries. "Why can't I conquer LOVE?" Poor Pete. If only he'd lived in the age of the internet, he doubtless could have found someone to cater to his "special needs."
Lacking both the outlet of cybersex and an anatomically correct wax doll, Gogol decides instead to have his revenge by driving Steven Orlac MAD! Gogol murders Steven's stepdad with a knife, then stages what has to be one of the greatest "drive you mad" scenes this side of Salon Kitty's bread penis. Playing on Steven's "psychotic" idea that his hands possess Rollo's knife-throwing, murderous desires, Gogol dresses in shades, a neck brace, and metal gauntlets to convince Steven that he is Rollo, raised from the dead with his head reattached by Gogol! Since this image is on the cover of many vhs versions of the film and litters the net in tributes to Lorre it's not much of a spoiler to show it, so get a load of THIS nightmare fuel:
It all winds up in a wild finish as Yvonne gets trapped in Gogol's lab, breaks the statue of herself, then has to pose as her own effigy when the deranged Gogol comes back flush with his success. "He thinks he is mad," Lorre intones, gearing up for the Line of His Career: "He does not know...It is I who am MAD!" If you don't get chills listening to that, get off the boat and turn in your horror fan card. You're done here.
When his Galatea comes to life (just like in the myth!) Gogol almost tops that by quoting Vicar-poet fave Robert "Fucking" Browning while he tries to strangle Yvonne with her long hair ("Porphyria's Lover." Go read it, it's excellent.), but is stopped when Orlac uses his newfound knife-throwing skills to bury a blade in Gogol's kidneys from 30 yards!
I dunno about you, but I'm SPENT.
This is what Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies is all about. I mean, let's take a quick tally: we've got mad scientists, creepy wax figures, murderous transplanted body parts, torture as entertainment, train wrecks, guillotine scenes, devil masks and headless hat check girls--and I haven't even mentioned the carnivorous plants in the lab or the drunk housekeeper with the pet cockatoo! Add Romantic poetry and comic relief that's actually funny, and you've got a winner by any standard. All in less than 70 minutes!
Director Karl Freund does an even better job here than he does helming the rightly-legendary 1932 fear flick The Mummy--the low-angle shots and strange lighting, the German expressionist shot compositions and interesting use of shadows as actors in scenes, the montage/nightmares and a neat recurring mirror-motif--all stuff to make an old-school horror geek shriek with joy. Just absolutely flawless stuff.
Acting wise, you can't overstate Peter Lorre's awesomeness here. You know all those super-caricature impressions people do of Lorre? The Tweety-in-Looney-Tunes stuff, the basis of Boo Berry? THIS is the movie they're imitating, but strangely all those caricatures don't detract one iota from the power of Lorre's performance. You WILL believe a man can go mad!
As to the supporting players, nobody does stuffy upper-crust English twat like Colin Clive; his kissing scene with 3-foot splints on both hands must be seen to be believed. Though "Sir" Frances Drake as Yvonne is no great shakes, she DOES have the big doe eyes working for her, and makes a very convincing wax model of herself, it has to be said. Edward Brophy as Rollo and Ted Healy as Reagan the American Reporter do great work as well, and the lines they're given to spout by the army of MGM Writers are genuinely funny and entertaining. Cool cool stuff.
Mad Love--and even one or two before it--but I feel safe in saying it has yet to find its equal. Any fan of Lorre, the old black & white chillers, or cinema in general owes it to himself to seek this one out and bask in the rays of awesome it emanates. The Duke and I plus all our servants give this the Off-the-Thumb-Scale rating. Not to watch and enjoy this one...would be...MAD!!!