One of the great things about being the Vicar--apart from the standing invitation to the Duke's bacchanalian soirées and the opportunities to hobnob with other religious and secular heads of state--is that it gives one the chance to explore the type of cinema that never even appears on the radar of most of the movie-going populace. Superhuman Brazilian Undertakers, Rapey Space-Worms, Bus Rides to Olympus, Incontinent Cannibal Farmboys--once you hang out the "Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies Wanted" shingle, there's really no telling what's going to fall into your lap.
But sometimes what lands with a plop on the ecclesiastical robes is something else again, a work of art unfairly consigned to the Phantom Zone of cinematic history through no fault of its own, and ripe for rediscovery by both cineastes and fans of the Filmic Insane. Such a case is Viy (aka Spirit of Evil), a Russian horror flick from 1967 that combines striking, fairy-tale visuals with scenes of true cinematic weirdness to achieve a similar level of cultural high art occupied by Masaki Kobayashi's Criterion-approved Kwaidan. Based on a short story by literary giant Nikolai Gogol (purportedly the same that provided the source material for Bava's justly-revered Black Sunday), Viy takes a page from Russian folklore and transmutes it into an arresting, effective visual experience.
Part of the film's obscure status might well be explained by, of all things, in the multi-lingual YOU-NO-COPY-ME warning screen at the beginning of the DVD. Not only did the text warn sternly against making off-site backups of the flick for...ahem...archival security purposes, but also added the stipulation that "This DVD is NOT for sale or rent in ANY of the former territories of the USSR!" Now I'm not a copyright lawyer, but I admit I was thinking, "Wait a minute, can they DO that?" As a child of the Cold War era, the proscription made me look over my shoulder, wondering if perhaps the KGB were still around and monitoring my viewing habits, looking for dirty capitalistic weaknesses.
Struggling to remember all the Commie-fighting skills I learned from Patrick Swayze and Red Dawn, I pissed in my radiator and pressed bravely forward. U-S-A! U-S-A!
short-robing one another and forcing a goat to read from the Bible--in hopes of saving its soul, no doubt. A severe-looking priest with a disapproving neck-beard admonishes the would-be men of God not to get into too much mischief during the break between semesters, since during the last break "some demons in the form of seminarians" had got into all sorts of trouble with wench-grabbing and cattle-stealing, bringing shame on the monastery. Like they do.
While he speaks, a few of the more saucy monklings milk the goat and roll their eyes Bill Murrayvich-style. (In fact, at this point I was thinking we were setting up for Animal House: Kiev Monastic Version, a nonexistent movie I desperately want to see.) Duly chastised, the seminarians studiously depart for Summer Break--and immediately run wild, groping wenches and filching live geese from the surrounding village on their way out of town! I've got the potatoes and the 12-pound honker! Let's PARTAY!
Khoma Brut, a mustachioed hunk with a mischievous gleam in his eye and a fondness for loud obnoxious jokes--again, Bill Murray in the inevitable American remake. As night falls the friends realize they're hopelessly lost--luckily they happen upon a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, tenanted by a gnarled-fingered, beak-nosed, hunchbacked crone who looks like Baba Yaga's uglier sister. The could-not-possibly-NOT-be-a-witch agrees to take the students in for the night, but stipulates that one of them must sleep inside her hut, one in a closet, and Khoma in the barn with the sheep. Tired and not nearly as suspicious as they should be, the boys agree and bed down for the night.
If this sounds like the set-up to a cautionary folktale, it's not for nothing. Later that night Khoma awakens to find the old crone leering over him, a strange twinkle in her eyes. Thinking she means to seduce him, he turns to run--only to find the old woman standing there behind him! Stunned by the old lady's quickness and agility, Khoma stands still as the old woman climbs him like a Chekovian cherry tree and straddles his shoulders! Now under her power, the hapless seminarian is whipped and ridden like a stallion by the cackling, quick-footed witch.
"otherworldly" sequences, Khoma gallops over an increasingly dream-like terrain, his feet barely touching the ground while the earth spins crazily below him (this effect, accomplished by a flying harness and a circular, rotating set, is very strange and visually arresting). Remembering his training at last, Khoma starts reciting prayers that eventually return him to terra firma, where he gives the old woman a VICIOUS WITCHSLAP and beats her senseless with a nearby log. Once unconscious, the crone suddenly transforms into a beautiful young girl, her peasant's rags replaced by sumptuous aristocratic garments. Not terribly interested in solving THAT little mystery, Khoma hot-foots it back to the monastery.
He's not there long before the Rector ("Rector? I nearly KILLED her!") calls him in to inform him that the daughter of a nearby landowner was savagely beaten last night, and on her deathbed has requested Khoma by name to read prayers for her. He tries to refuse, but bribes of butter, flour, and vodka from the girl's dad ensure that the Rector will deny his request for recusal. A crowd of burly Kossacks take possession of the young man and load him in a wagon for the long trip out to the farm.
BTW, these Kossacks RULE. Big curled moustaches, hairy cylindrical hats, flushed wrinkled faces and jocular small talk that always seems to be barely covering a sincere threat of physical violence--they're like the Hell's Angels of medieval Russia, only awesomer than that. Luckily the good-natured Khoma is able to endear himself to his crusty Comrades by getting incredibly drunk with them at their overnight stop and entertaining them with his preaching and staggering about. (In another weird but well-done scene, Khoma sees three giant copies of one of the Kossacks emerge from three separate rooms--a simple matte effect, but in the context of his drunkenness, it works.)
a huge herons' nest in which three birds sit motionless in silhouette, cementing the importance of the mystical number 3 to the story--a common motif in world folklore.) We get some awesome character work from the actor playing the deceased girl's father, grief-stricken and shattered by her death but still every inch the commanding military man. None too pleased with the drunken seminarian but respecting his daughter's last wishes, he orders the swaying Khoma to pray over her body for the next three nights, as is the custom.
After lunch and some more vodka it's time for the funeral, where of course Khoma discovers the daughter is the same girl he blugeoned to death earlier on. At the funeral service Khoma overhears some villagers gossiping about the girl's supposed pact with the devil, and how one of their number told of being ridden like a horse by her one night, exactly like Khoma's experience.
Once the solemnities are done, everything is moved on over to the chapel, where much of the rest of the movie will take place. The chapel set itself bears special mention here, as it's a beautifully creepy, dilapidated wooden church with cobwebs, medieval paintings of dour, menacing saints, and a stained glass window I'm going to call "Gothic" even though I'm not sure such is the correct term for Russian religious art. As Khoma enters for his first night of prayers, three black cats race past the coffin, a very bad sign. The creepiness continues as Khoma tries to light up some of the candles around the chapel, only to have them blown out by a wind outta nowhere--another simple but jarring effect, thanks to the effectively creepy atmosphere.
Once he starts reading the prayers things REALLY start to happen, as the corpse starts weeping blood! The quick-thinking seminarian, now in full folkloric trickster/hero mode, draws a circle of protection around his podium and continues reading the holy words while the undead witch rises and circles him, growling, the camera and set rotating once again for a weird, otherworldly effect. Finally the cock crows in the farmyard and the corpse returns to its coffin. Triumphant for now, Khoma staggers out of the church and collapses into the arms of his Kossack posse.
drinking MORE vodka with his Kossack friends and dancing his cares away most frenetically. (Seriously, to judge by this movie, the entire nation of Russia must have only two states of physical health: totally drunk, or horrendously hung-over. There is no third alternative.) When Khoma enters the chapel for his second night of prayers, pigeons fly over the coffin instead of cats (one even flies out of the pages of the Bible Khoma opens on the podium). He staggers to his spot and redraws his protective circle, which was apparently rubbed out by the daytime cleaning crew. Thus prepared, Khoma begins reciting his prayers.
It doesn't take long for things to get even CRAZIER than the night before, as right on cue the witch sits up in her coffin and then levitates the pine box and begins flying around the room! More rotating camera work disorients both Khoma and the viewer, as the cackling witch stands up in the spinning coffin and does everything she can to throw Khoma off his game, including breathing a mist into his face that turns his hair white! Gripping the podium for support, Khoma completes his prayers, the cock crows again, and the witch returns to her designated bier.
"beer"? None for me, I'll have the VODKA! Khoma hits the bottle again, HARD, his carnal and holy sides warring after his second ordeal. Deciding he's had enough, Khoma explains to the girl's father that "She's been bewitched by Satan!" which is SO not what the old man wants to hear. The old man threatens Khoma with a thousand lashes if he refuses to complete his task, delivering a great Quinn-esque speech about what a good lashing can do to a body. In desperation Khoma tries to run away, but another rotating set deposits him right back at the farm, where his not-as-friendly-now Kossack buddies pick him up and carry him back to the chapel for his final night.
It's this last night that really pushes Viy into Mad Mad Mad Mad Movie territory, as the witch pulls out all the stops and hits Khoma with everything she's got. In a scene that recalls everything from Haxan to German Silent Expressionist Horrors to Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête, we get winged demons crab-walking through the stained glass window, giant clawed hands emerging from the floor and walls, a hydra constructed of horse skulls and spines, marionette skeletons, a demon cat puppet, and and even OMG ZOMBIE MIDGETS! The camera spins around Khoma on his island of sanity, showing him surrounded by everything Evil and Insane--it's actually a very creepy and disquieting scene, totally nightmarish and effective. Finally the witch shouts dramatically, "I SUMMON VIY!" And it's time for our titular titan to make his appearance.
What is Viy, you might ask? I've still got the same question--in walks a bulky, golem-like giant with stubby arms and eyelids that droop to the middle of its pinched face. The way the other creatures make room for the stomping beast tells us this guy is the Big Gun, and it's hard not to be nervous for our drunken friend. Viy commands the demons to "Raise my eyelids!" so he can cast his killing gaze on Khoma. The seminarian screams in horror and falls out of his circle, and the demons and other creatures of hell fall on him in a heap just as the cock crows for the third and final time.
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
Then again, maybe it is--I don't claim full authority, and just cuz I haven't heard of it before now doesn't mean beans. (Karswell of the excellent The Horrors of It All knew about it, obviously, which is how it ended up at the vicarage in the first place. Thanks, Daddy K!) And it's available for purchase along with a lot of other Cold-War era cinema over at www.ruscico.com, for those who are interested and don't live in the Ukraine or Kazakhstan or something. As for me, like Lee Greenwood, "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I can see Viy!"
3 Thumbs. Check it out, all ye lovers of weird world cinema. Good night, and God bless.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
A couple of sermons back I spent a little time considering the relative opportunities for batshittery in the genres of horror and sci-fi. If you'll recall, I came down rather decisively on the side of science fiction as the genre with the least imaginative restraint and thus the greatest potential for true cinematic madness. While horror will always be where my heart is, in the face of the overwhelming data presented by the esteemed Dr. Hasselhoff and others in Starcrash, I must admit to the sci-fi genre's superiority in at least that one respect.
Of course creative people are always drawn toward the medium in which they can express themselves most freely, and thus once the freedom offered by the science fiction of the 70s became clear--from gravity, from Earth, from the need for basic storytelling logic--it might have been predicted that the vacuum of space would suck a few intrepid horror filmmakers through the hull of their genre and out into the horrible, terrifying void. The resulting hybrid beasts exhibit at their best the most satisfying traits of both their parents--think Alien and The Thing, or else think mmmmmovie favorite Inseminoid. At worst, they can spiral into gibbering madness and ineptitude. Like the Darwinian Milkshake Sweepstakes inherent in any cross-breeding attempt, it's a crapshoot.
Luckily 1981's hard-to-find sci-fi/horror mash-up Galaxy of Terror comes up sevens rather than snake-eyes. Packed from one end to the other with sci-fi action, goopy practical FX, and even some poorly developed fantasy mythology thrown in for no extra charge, Galaxy of Terror takes a bite out of each of its parent genres and spits up something truly delectable.
are being shot out of a laser cannon! (I never get tired of that shit.) A veritable galaxy of past and future stars twinkle merrily before our eyes, including Erin "Joanie" Moran, Ray "The Devil" Walston, Robert "Fucking" Englund, Sid "Fucking" Haig, and future David Duchovny flesh-peddler Zalman King! And produced by the ubiquitous Roger Corman! When a movie's credits list fewer people who are NOT b-movie royalty than those who ARE, you can't help but salivate at the prospect.
The drool continues as the requisite Alien-inspired wasteland exterior gives way to a lone spaceman on the interior of the base startled by a jump-synth scare! Cradling a laser rifle--and I mean cradling it, like a baby--he finds himself surrounded by corpses with exposed brains before being attacked by an invisible monstrosity we can just glimpse in the station windows! Soon he's missing the top of his brain-bucket as well, gone before we ever got the chance to know him better.
Next a witchy old-lady voice-over informs us that we're looking at a painting of "CERES--a small world on the fringes of space!" Down on the planet's surface we find the old woman herself--or as she v-o's enthusiastically, "Mitris! the Oracle of the game! Interpreter of the Signs!" Thanks, do you have a business card? The Oracle is engaged in some kind of fantasy board game with The Planet Master, a man-like being with a head composed completely of red cartoony luminescence! Which is a great look for him, it has to be said.
Apparently the Planet Master is some kind of deity who controls just about everything in the society of the movie--his name is even used in the spacemen's oaths, such as "The Master knows what kind of shit was in that grub last night!" or "Master Damn it, my balls are on fire!"* Ceres is his Olympus, and Mitris his Delphic Oracle. Except that unlike Zeus, the PM is very hands-on--so much so that when a Moff Tarkin-type pops up on the view screen to tell him about a distress call coming in from deep space, PM hand-picks a crew of space marines to go out and see what (the fuck) is up.
*not actual quotes, but should have been
Now we pretty much abandon the fantasy trappings and go straight into hard sci-fi--after all, Alien isn't going to rip-off itself, people! In the space of about a minute we're introduced to our crew, comprised of all the stars mentioned above plus two or three extra bits of alien fodder. The captain of the rescue ship is a crusty Ratchitt-esque broad with PTSD thanks to a failed mission she can't stop talking about, and when she's ready to go, she's ready to go! She gives the crew 30 seconds to ready the ship--whose control panels operate ENTIRELY on the "toggle switch" principle, as all ships in the future will--before they jump to hyperspace. She almost blows up the whole ship and everyone on it before they even GET to the Galaxy of Terror. Nice pick, PM, she's a real winner.
Actually the reckless, frenetic pace of the pre-launch preparations is a good indicator of how the movie will go from here on out, as director Brian D. Clark stomps on the gas pedal and doesn't let up for 80 minutes. Once they arrive at the planetary source of the distress call, more dangerous piloting by the Cap'n soon has the ship tumbling through orbit toward almost certain death. The captain is saved from posthumous court-martial by a combination of supernatural intervention and belatedly competent steerage ("Hang onto your shorts!" she shouts into the intercom, "We're gonna DUMP!") and before long the crew sets out to explore the decrepit space station from the credit sequence while the Captain supervises repairs.
We get Cliff's Notes introductions to the various crew members by way of Immediately Explicated Distinguishing Traits. Erin Moran is Alluma, psi-sensitive and "paid to SENSE things." Sid Haig is Quuhod, a silent warrior type with some kickass Krull-like crystal throwing stars. Zalman King is Baelon, second-in-command control freak and sufferer of Roid Rage sans Roids. Robert Englund is Ranger, high-strung engineering officer. Ray Walston is Cook, the ship's cook. Moustachioed hunk Cabren (Edward Laurence Albert) is the Voice of Reason and Studly Man, Erin's love interest. Rounding out the crew are short-lived Commander Ilvar, busty blonde bombshell Damelia (Taaffe O'Connell), and scared-of-everything Private Cos (Ralph Malph-lookalike Jack Blessing). Why? Just cos.
Once inside the space station the intrepid crew starts searching for survivors. Their recovery methods leave a little to be desired, however, as standard protocol upon finding a prone body or having a corpse fall out of an overhead storage hatch is to IMMEDIATELY incinerate it with laser fire! Three piles of ash and surprisingly zero living survivors later, our merry band head back to the ship--all except Cos, who is so terrified by being on an alien planet he stays behind to whimper and hyperventilate. (Seriously, how did this guy make it through basic space marine training?) Left alone by his teammates, Cos is quickly dispatched by a stop-motion brain-eating bug! Which, you know, is probably pretty much what he figured was gonna happen.
Faced with the torn-apart body of one of their own crewmates, the rescue party shows the appropriate remorse, as Cabren opines to Cook, "If it weren't so gruesome, it'd be fascinating!" I want that on my tombstone. Erin apparently sensed a life form around Cos just before he died which vanished as soon as he snuffed it--a fact she doesn't see the need to mention till they're bickering over it in the mess hall. Deciding the only course of action open is to track down the origin of the distress call, they trek happily out again, presumably after giving Cos the Big Barbecue.
INSIDE THE HOUSE! I mean, inside the giant, spooky alien pyramid structure just a few hundred yards from the station. Commander Ilva is overwhelmed by the responsibility of his position, allowing Baelon to take control with his testosterone-fueled barking of commands--which is just as well, as within minutes the good Commander is completely devoured by space leeches! This leads Damelia to utter the not-at-all-foreshadowing line, "Ugh! I HATE worms!" which is pretty much the extent of her character development.
In fact it's a kind of trademark of the film's writers that they only give you any kind of character backstory JUST before it becomes relevant. For instance, upon entering the pyramid, Sid Haig's character uses his crystal stars to prop the massive door open, then is emotionally shattered (HA!) when they break under the pressure. Zalman tries to give him a gun for a weapon, but Sid (who has been MUTE up until this point) spits dramatically, "I LIVE...and DIE...by the CRYSTALS!" So he's like, what, a Quartz Jedi, or something?
a shard flies into his forearm and creeps under the skin toward his shoulder, in a wonderfully cringe-inducing practical effect. Sid uses the other star to slice off his own arm before the shard enters a major artery, only to watch the severed arm come to life and spin the broken crystal into his chest! Hey, he SAID he'd die by the crystals, and he did! Whattaya know?
Damelia returns later--alone, of course--and finds Sid's body already wriggling with maggots. (Lest you've forgotten, Damelia HATES WORMS.) Following protocol she immediately torches the body, but one little maggot gets away...and soon grows to gargantuan size! (The practical effects here are again a highlight--if you watch, you can see the puppeteer's fingers playing the "mandibles" of the worm.) Apparently worms don't feel the same about Damelia as she does about them, though, as this one quickly grabs her, rips off her clothes, and pours hot mucous all over her writhing, naked body! She screams, grunts, and groans under the beast's phallic bulk, and before you can say "OMFG WORM RAPE!" she's nothing but a slime-covered corpse.
(Nota Bene: this is probably most infamous scene in the movie, and was excised from many of the home video prints. Accept no substitutes!)
OMG NASTY to not quite as bad, as the Captain's PTSD is predictably the end of her (she's incinerated while still living, giving us a nice screaming charred-skull exit), Baelon gets offed by a devil-headed penis monster (not really a penis, but the symbolism is obvious...at least to me), and Erin--who is claustrophobic, as it turns out--gets stuck in a tight squeeze before getting crushed to death by surprisingly non-rapey tentacles. (She doesn't go out like a punk though--she gets the prized EXPLODING HEAD death, and it's a beaut.) Meanwhile Cabren and Ranger have figured out that it's their own fears that are killing them, and that "There's no horror here we don't create ourselves." So wait...Damelia was a worm-rape-o-phobic? It all makes sense now.
The flick wraps up with a return to the fantasy elements of the opening, as Cabren must fight the Planet Master--who sloughs off his Ray Walston disguise for the battle--in order to succeed him. He fights all his zombified crewmates and their killers before offing the Lord of Space and Time and getting a cartoon glow of his own, and all is right with the Galaxy. Or at least this planet. Or, you know, the haunted pyramid. Or something.
Galaxy of Terror holds up surprisingly well. The practical effects are a real treat throughout, particularly the rapey giant worm puppet and Erin's cranial detonation. The set designs rip off Alien shamelessly, just like everyone does, but the organic sets are done even more suggestively here, with our crew and going through veiny shafts and falling into puckered openings right and left, giving you the feeling that they're not in the belly of the beast, but up its asshole. And while the fantasy elements are not fleshed out very well (WTF happened to the Oracle, for instance?) the machine-gun pacing means you never have the chance to get bored between grody demises. And a throwaway bit where Robert Englund catches Ray Walston reading a book (obviously an ancient artifact) and seems terrified of the idea of reading it, means nothing in the grand scheme but still made me smile.
So for the intriguing premise, the refusal to be boring, the opportunity to watch several well-loved stars slumming it up before they made it big (or in Erin Moran's case, after), and most of all the OMG practical effects extravaganza, I give Galaxy of Terror 2.75 thumbs. If you're a fan of 80s horror and Happy Days, I think you'll give it an "Ayyyyyyy!"
PS--I must give a shout-out to the X-Y-Z Cosmonaut over at Cosmobells for providing the pixels here, as Galaxy of Terror is still criminally unavailable on DVD. If you've never jetted over to see the embarrassment of sci-fi, horror, and comic booky riches he's giving away for free over there, do yourself a favor. All it takes is interest and a little patience, which is more than amply rewarded.
Monday, August 18, 2008
The spinning gold coin that the Vicar flipped into the middle of the table landed with a dull thump alongside the pile of other coins and various objects in the middle of the velvet-covered table. This particular coin had the design of a tentacled, multi-mouthed creature etched upon it. I had long since given up wondering where the Vicar procured such currency; I knew only that it wasn’t from somewhere walked by the general populace. This annual tournament which I normally arranged around the Winter Solstice was instead being held a fortnight before mid-summer, a time of hot happenings and sticky fumblings.
Seated around the table, which was a the top of my southern tower, were of course the Vicar, resplendent in his scarlet silk robes, a sash of cream running across his ample torso, a hat woven from blonde gypsy hair and festooned with a dodo feather sat sideways on his bald pate. To his left sat Verneer Suth’amon, a warlock whom I had met during the Rak Campaigns of ’79. He sat, sunk back into his chair, a heavy woolen robe his only couture, his face entirely shrouded in darkness. A glint from his eye, or a flash of his filed teeth, were all that one could glimpse. He radiated power like heat from an oven.
To his left sat our final guest, a little person named Faulk. I had assumed he arrived with the Vicar, but a quick question during a break had dispelled that notion. Not knowing how he had come to be a participant in this game, much less how he had gotten past the gargoyles, I was amused and intrigued enough to let him continue. Besides, he was terrible at cards. With the Vicar’s ante, we resumed play. The warlock folded with a grunt, and play passed to Faulk. He studied his cards for a moment, a slight widening of his eye was all that I needed to know that he had a decent hand, though not a great one. He leaned down and rummaged through the blood-stained burlap bag that sat on the floor beside his chair.
Plucking something from the bag, he tossed it into the middle of the pile. The Vicar’s gasp echoed by own, Vermeer shot forward to the edge of his seat, expressing his first emotion of the night. Here before us was a treasure few thought we would ever witness, much less have it show up in such unceremonious manner. I turned to look at Faulk, raising one eyebrow as I stared. He met my gaze confidently and laid down his cards. The Knight of Shadows rose above The Smith and was juxtaposed with The Virgin. A top hand, one of the best in fact, though I had him beat.
The Vicar barked a laugh and folded his cards before him, signaling the serving wench to bring more wine. Faulk turned to me, triumph already stealing across his pock-marked face. I calmly spread my cards upon the table. The Queen of Dreams above The Standard juxtaposed by Beef Curtain. The highest hand in the game. The color drained from Faulk’s face as I picked up his wager. “Mistress Kate… she’ll have my head if I don’t return to her with that!”, he shrieked, his jaw falling slack as he began to shake. “Well, you should have thought of that before you wagered it, yes?” I said. The object in my hands, one that I finally would be able to see with my own eyes, is of course…
The Girl Slaves of Morgana La Fay. The title alone promises so much, and boy does it deliver! Once again we must all prostrate ourselves before the magnificent awesomeness that is ‘70’s French cinema. They just knew how to get things done, and this film stands as one of their crowning achievements. Our movie opens with a coven of elderly women, all wearing black robes, who have a nubile, naked blonde chick in their clutches. Apparently she has been found naughty in their sight and is being cast out. The leader of the elders is none other than Gurth, a purple-suited, tranny-faced dwarf with a majestic hump on his back and a penchant for running like a deer, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We then cut to two hotties, a brunette named Francoise and a blonde named Anna, who are going on a country drive for some reason. We don’t know, nor do we care, because we just want to see them disrobe and fondle each other, but once again I race ahead, my eagerness to bring you filth knowing no bounds. Soon our girls arrive at an inn, and, parking in the middle of the road, they head in for a drink. The inn is packed full of nefarious looking local dudes, and of course Gurth. Having not seen any women other than their haggard wives, these men give the ladies a good hard stare. Ordering mulled wine and a coffee from the innkeeper (who is dressed to the nines in a black turtleneck and houndstooth jacket), the girls notice that Gurth in particular is giving them the stink-eye.
They decide to continue on after Gurth leaves via the back door. Onward they drive, into the night, where they are quickly lost, seeming to pass the same hedgerow over and over. They spot a nearby barn and decide to take shelter for the night. Lacking nothing else to do, they begin MAKING OUT! Now here’s what we all signed up for, am I right folks? Yes, I am. Anna takes point, her hand running inside Francoise’s shirt, pinching things that need pinching. This smoking hot scene is over before it began, leaving the viewer at full tumescence and with the lingering need to take a cold shower.
Fran awakes the next morning to find Anna missing. A quick search of the grounds reveals Gurth, who poses with such power and presence that one can feel the heat from his loins through the television. He bids Fran to follow him if she wants to see Anna again. With no other course of action, Fran follows Gurth as he leaps and bounds through the woods like a deer descended from heaven. Such grace, such beauty! His leaping and scampering is only out-shown by his magnificent gray-shot locks and his unparalleled make-up skills.
Gurth leads Fran to a boat, which is decorated with animal skins and scented candles. Fran boards it, and it moves of its own accord, taking her to a nearby castle. Waiting for her are the Pastel Sisters, 3 women wearing see-through pastel-colored robes who quickly take her into the castle, despite Fran’s questions as to where Anna is. Soon Fran meets the titular Morgana La Fay, a busty brunette who has the twin habits of wearing low-cut robes and kissing women, two traits that all busty brunettes should have, I’m sure you’ll agree.
We cut to a scene of Gurth, who is apparently employed as the caretaker of Morgana’s slave girls, reclining on an animal-skin rug (they have lots of these in the castle. Seriously, a whole forest worth of animals were felled to give props for this movie), a slave girl running her fingers through his hair as he watches two other girls get busy with each other. Ahh, the life of Gurth! He orders the girl combing his hair to join the other three, an action that elevates the scene 10 fold.
Meanwhile, Fran is going along with things quite well. She throws a question about Anna in a few times but otherwise she allows herself to be disrobed and bathed by the Pastels Sisters, a scene which I will have to recreate next Saturnalia. A sumptuous meal is provided, with wine poured by Gurth. Morgana explains that she is basically a powerful witch who has mastered time, which she demonstrates by turning mid-day into night. She further explains that she holds the key to eternal beauty, and also that she loves pink tacos for an after-dinner snack.
She takes Fran over by a roaring fire, a hookah is brought in, Fran smokes it, Morgana kisses her a bit, and my turgid member knows no rest. We soon get a bit of character development for Gurth, as a scene unfolds in which he is alone in his bedroom, talking to himself in the mirror. We learn that he is in love with Morgana, but that she doesn’t reciprocate, seeing him as something of a footstool. Gurth vows that one day he’ll be master over all, and we don’t doubt his verve. I suspect he’s been taking Ionized Yeast supplements.
Next up, we have Gurth leading the Pastel Sisters and Morgana down into the bowels of the castle for a ritual. He is, however, forbidden to watch. Once again Gurth is snubbed! The ritual in question finally reveals to us what Anna has been about. She’s tied up in the center of a room while the Old Crone Crew watches on. One of the Sisters tells Anna that she must submit to Morgana’s power, and thus receive eternal beauty, or defy her and turn into an old women. Hmm… decisions decisions. Anna chooses eternal beauty, of course, and partakes of the Jesus Juice that is offered to her. Thusly, she joins Morgana’s harem.
Meanwhile, Fran thinks it is high time that she vacated the area, so off she goes, wearing naught but a skimpy nightie and no shoes. However, she doesn’t go far, as the magic boat is gone. Choosing potential death over an eternity of luxury, Fran dives in and swims for it. She reaches the other side and begins running through the forest, only to run right into Morgana, who has a picnic prepared. Fran turns and runs again, only to once again run into another Morgana picnic! Realizing that she can’t escape, Fran gives up. Morgana reveals her true feelings, promising to teach Fran all of her magic, something we quickly find out she has denied the Pastel Sisters.
Unbeknownst to Morgana, the Pastel Sister have been listening in via scrying to all that is going on, in a scene shot to so in such a way that I was instantly reminded of an Abba video. Jealous to the extreme, they begin to plot.
Gurth is enlisted, since he is tired of Morgana’s refusals, and a plan is set in motion. Gurth tells Fran that the three Sisters hold talismans of power, and should she acquire them then she can escape. One is a necklace, which Fran steals, and the other a tunic worn by one of the Sisters, whom Fran seduces and beds in a scene so smoking hot that I had to dunk my hog into a bucket of ice water after viewing. This scene is inter-cut with a collection of lezbonic orgy activities deep in Morgana’s harem that is so epic I thought for a minute that I was back at Vicar’s winter cottage during the fall of ’89 watching “Where The Boys Aren’t 9” whilst getting drunk on oozo.
Fran is successful, but Gurth is found out. He is tied up and left for dead in a tower. Fran goes to him, and in a touching scene the benevolent Gurth gives up his ring, which apparently gives him long life, in order to help Fran escape. Gurth, the sprite-like dwarf of giant stature, dies. Fran, now in control of various castle facilities, makes use of the magic boat and is able to finally pass through the magic forest. She rubs Gurth’s ring on a stump, which summons a mighty steed, which whisks her away.
Upon arriving back in civilization, however, the first thing Fran runs into is an old woman. Seeing the twisted ravages of age on the wizened visage before her, Fran cannot contain her revulsion. Making the decision we all would have made several hours ago, Fran decides to return to the castle to live out eternity with nothing else to do than sip wine and gaze upon free-range teat.
In a scene that defies all logic, Morgana meets Fran at the edge of the forest and escorts her to the inn where Fran and Anna first hooked up. Fran gazes through the window and sees… herself, lying with Anna in the hay! WTF? Is she just remembering that fond time, or are we in some sort of time warp? Perhaps Anna and Fran are still there sleeping on the hay, eternally at rest while their souls reside in Morgana’s castle.
Whatever the case, it isn’t important, because this movie is rife with dwarves and lesbian activities and so I salute it. The sheer amount of unaltered breast in this movie, coupled with Olympic-level muff diving and see-through gowns, give The Girl Slaves of Morgana La Fay 3 solid thumbs up from yours truly. This film is a gem that all of my readers should own. We must salute Gurth, played by the great Alfred Baillou, who sadly passed away in 1982 at the ripe old age of 67.
Keep reaching for that rainbow, you dashing hunchback!
Friday, August 15, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
By now I could probably just provide you with a list of "Daninsky Components" present in any of Paul Naschy's werewolf movies and you could come up with a pretty good approximation of the plot. Motif-wise, there's almost nothing here that we haven't seen before: Witch's Curse, Vampire Women, Resurrected Daninsky, Graverobbers, Highwaymen, Countryside Rampage, the Loved One who Must Kill the Werewolf, and of course that famous silver crucifix/dagger. With the exception of a few "everything and the kitchen sink too!" efforts (Fury of the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Bloody Terror), Jacinto doesn't really seem that interested in re-inventing the wheel every time he takes up his favorite character's continuing, incongruent adventures. He's got all the pieces he needs--no need to go out and buy or create a new set. Just use the Legos you've got.
But that's the thing about a good set of Legos: put them together right, and you can make almost ANYTHING. And like that Mad Lego Brickmaster, Molina proves again and again that he can take those pre-defined, pre-fabricated building blocks he's created in previous chapters of the Waldemar Daninsky saga and put them together in an infinite variety of exciting, surprising, crowd-pleasing ways. And 1980's Night of the Werewolf (aka El Retorno del Hombre Lobo), the first Daninsky movie that Jacinto directed in addition to scripting, is certainly no exception to that golden rule.
The film begins (no surprise here) with a 1400s version of Waldemar Daninsky in chains, crucified before a panel of religious judges. But Daninsky is not the main attraction here--no, the star of medieval Court TV is Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess, infamous for her reputed pact with the Devil and her factual murder of many peasant virgins to bathe in their blood and remain forever young. Here she is depicted as both a witch and an arrogant aristocrat, as she curses her executioners from her place on the stand--like you do. Even when her faithful, musclebound, bald-headed manservant is beheaded, she shows not an inkling of remorse or fear.
Waldemar is condemned to death for his curse of lycanthropy, because during the full moon the Blood Countess has been using her witchy powers to control him and thus augment tenfold the terror that a werewolf would ordinarily wreak on a community. The bearded, saintly Daninsky accepts his punishment with a humble prayer, hoping that perhaps now, at last, his soul may rest in peace. But even as they rivet the Mask of Dishonor on his face (an obvious and awesome nod to Bava's Black Sunday) and drive a familiar silver cross/dagger into his heart, we know that his prayer will not be granted.
From there we jump to--where else?--a Euro-pool party, circa 1980! Yes, the kids are really swingin' poolside, as a trio of bikini-clad babes discuss their upcoming "research" trip with some 80s-style hunks. After the conversation with the boys takes a startlingly abrupt turn toward the ugly (the "c" bomb is deployed with extreme prejudice), we find the more witchy-looking of the girls in a gothic manor house conversing with what can only be described as the Spanish love-child of Mark Twain and Colonel Sanders. Pay attention, this is important.
The Twain of Spain possesses an amulet purported to have "black magic" powers, and the girl wants to borrow it for her research trip, on which she hopes to discover the grave of Elizabeth Bathory. When Colonel Angus refuses his extra-crispy assistance, she admits that she's not just a student, she's also a servant of the Devil! She's quite prepared to pry the amulet from the Colonel's cold dead lap, and in fact does so after a vicious chain strangulation! Did somebody say road trip?
Meanwhile, a couple of the slimier graverobbers it's ever been my pleasure to see are treading steadfastly toward the very tomb our Satanic hottie is hoping to discover. One is skinny with a speech impediment, the other fat and generating enough body oils to lubricate the NY Times' entire battery of printing presses. The oily one is very dapper, with an ornate cane (silver topped!) and cape. They quickly uncover the corpse of Waldemar, and like so many thieves before them, simply cannot resist the shiny pretty dagger sticking out of his chest! Quicker than you can say "Oof my larynx!" the graverobbers lie dead in the very grave they tried to rob, the crypt now tragically empty...
Cut to--where else?--a Bavarian inn! Where apparently fashion stopped around the same time they made that famous purity law, as everyone is dressed in period costumes except our trio of beloved Belial-Lovin' babes. Some highwaymen are making carouse at the same bar, and overhear the girls' plans to head to "the castle." Of course the villains follow to pillage and rape, not necessarily in that order. But in the midst of their attack they are thwarted by a few well-placed crossbow bolts from the weapon of a mysterious stranger! Before the girls can thank their deliverer he disappears, never having shown his face.
Their suspense doesn't last long, though, as in the ruins of the castle they find the bodies of the graverobbers and are greeted by a disfigured wench (?) who frightens one of the girls into the waiting arms of crossbow-totin' Paul. (Paul's first appearance here, framed in the window of the ruined castle, wearing a medieval hunting outfit and holding his crossbow at the ready, is truly an image for the ages.) Gentlemanly to a fault, Paul quickly invites the girls back to the manor house for dinner and a warm bed, and the disfigured servant girl's history is explained (Paul saved her from burning at the stake, somehow--the chronology here is murky).
a gratuitous all-girl basin-washing scene (sponge baths for everyone!) and then in another part of the village we meet a co-ed coterie of black-market cigarette smugglers in the form of a dirty, thieving gypsy and his woman. Because gypsies is always horny, the two snuff their black-market butts in order to GET IT ON--but unfortunately their coitus is interruptussed by the transformed and totally pissed off Daninsky!
Their shotgun--it does nothing! After taking a point-blank blast to the chest and shrugging it off like a luxurious silken bathrobe, the werewolf takes the gun away and shows his disdain for conventional weaponry by BREAKING IT IN HALF! I don't care how tough a gypsy you are, that's gotta be a pants-filling development. A moment later Daninsky proves that cigarettes kill--or if they don't, lycanthropes are fully able to take up the slack.
raise the Blood Countess from the dead with a gore-soaked and very arousing ritual. Soon they both become Bathory's vampire brides, and the bald-beheaded servant is likewise resurrected--recapitated but still decomposed--setting the stage for the final showdown between the vampire women, their zombie henchman, and the werewolf. Am I the only one turned on by this? I think not.
Some nice set pieces follow--Paul and Karen gettin' it awn, showing off Paul's famous pentagonal scar on those Olympian pecs; Bathory getting a blood shower courtesy a peasant wench (zang); two robbers picking the wrong house to try their "Ooh, I'm a priest!" scam and getting drained for their trouble; and in my favorite scene in the movie, Paul and the Twain-killing devil-vamp going head to head in a seduction showdown, which ends with them making out on a silk-draped bed, with a full length mirror opposite showing that the ass Paul is grabbing is not really there! It's so goddamn beautiful, words fail me.
lets Paul play Waldemar in tournament mode, as he mows down the zombie servant, vamp-bride #1, and even has to take out his disfigured servant girl who Bathory has turned to the side of eeevil. (Karen bloodily dispatches vamp-bride #2 in an earlier confrontation using that famous dagger/cross.)
But Bathory didn't get to be a famously eeevil bitch of Satan for nothing, and before Paul can get to her, the Blood Countess shocks him by turning Karen into a vampire! His one hope for release now tragically gone over to the other team (ooer), Paul stands all alone against the ever-growing army of the hawt undead!
The final battle between Bathory and Daninsky more than lives up to the hype, as the Blood Countess proves she's no slouch in a real slobberknocker! Paul smashes flying coffins and executes a textbook LEAP ATTACK to bring her reign of terror to an drooly, chewy end.
Freed from the curse of the vampire, Karen still has a rampaging, slightly randy werewolf to deal with, as the blood-frenzied Daninsky turns on her with tragic results. Unfortunately--or perhaps blessedly--Karen had been clutching the Silver Cross for protection and slides it between Paul's ribs in their last embrace, putting a tragic and AWESOME end to their star-crossed love story. Killed by and killing the woman he loved, Paul finds depiliated peace.
WWvVW, Night of the Werewolf stands out as one of the best-executed, seriously produced entries in the Daninsky Canon. The production values are extremely high, the direction by Molina shows inventiveness (q.v. the mirror scene, the blood shower) and his usual irrepressible enthusiasm for the material. Although there are the par-for-the-course logical flubs you just have to grin at (why are the townspeople not surprised Paul suddenly shows up and retakes the manor house? Those aristocrats pop up all the time, I guess...also, when could he have POSSIBLY saved the girl from a burning? He JUST WOKE UP AFTER CENTURIES OF SLEEP!), the story is brisk, engaging, and easy to get behind.
As for the Man himself, Paul has really never looked better. ROCKIN' the rugged manly beard and the black silk shirt open to the navel, Paul sends out such waves of man-musk, even over the years and through your DVD player, that mere mortals are powerless to resist. The werewolf makeup is refined to a terrific iconic perfection, and a lengthy transformation scene in which Naschy pretty much wrecks the whole castle in his throes of agony--well, you just have to stand up and cheer! And Naschy-as-director proves that his vision is no less powerful than his pheromones--he uses the absolutely wonderful gothic sets to stage some truly striking compositions, and the imagery in this film is some of the most beautiful I've seen outside of Curse of the Devil, even surpassing that mmmmmasterpiece in some ways. Just gorgeous.
And while Patty Shepard as Countess Wandessa in WWvVW is still a sentimental favorite, it has to be said that Julia Saly has it going ON as Elizabeth Bathory, with amazing diaphanous black gowns, a never-to-be-equaled headdress, and perpetually bloodshot eyes that are more than a little unsettling, not to mention HAWT. She's one eeeevil lady, yo, and a more than worthy adversary to the Mighty Mighty Molina.
Night of the Werewolf is a fantastic Naschy flick, using all the great components from the mythology in inventive ways, and utilizing the bigger budget to the fullest. The only thing missing, sadly, was the werewolf jerky, though we do get more than a quota of drool. 3+ thumbs easily, and a must-see for any Jacintophile.
Monday, August 11, 2008
You know, the more I watch these wonderful old movies that are our bread and butter here at the Vicarage, the more I realize that the old stories really are the best. Since the days of Homer and Ovid, the tales that have resonated most have been those in which man is pitted against not just mythological beasts, but against the faults and weaknesses of his own better nature--the dark red spots of sin that besmirch his eternal soul. Who was Oedipus's most fearsome adversary--the Sphinx, or the cruel destiny of incest and patricide that was written in the fabric of his being before he was even born? Bellerophon fell not to the Chimera, but to the pride that led him to spur Pegasus up to the very acme of Olympus, tempting Zeus's thunderbolts in his blasphemous quest for godhood. Yes, storytellers throughout the ages have understood that for every hero--indeed, in every human being--the greatest enemy is not without, but within.
And perhaps this is why 1972's Blood Freak affects your ever-lovin' Vicar so: because while it's not a perfect movie--not even close--in many important ways, it presents an almost Hellenic legend, that of a muscular, larger-than-life hero locked in mortal combat with his own peculiarly human weaknesses. In this case these foibles take the form of a susceptibility to beautiful women, an insatiable hunger for weed, and an unfortunate taste for tainted, experimental turkey meat. Who's to say that, were he alive in the 70s, Sophocles would not have tackled the same story?
If you had any doubts that writer, co-director, and muscle-bound man-beast Steve Hawkes had Sophocles in mind when he first penned Blood Freak, the opening of the picture should put those doubts to rest. After some nice blood-dripping credits we are introduced to our Greek Chorus in the form of the film's Totally Awesome Narrator. His shirt open to mid-sternum, his wavy gray-and-black hair slicked back to greasy perfection, the dark wood panelling behind him reflecting but dully the stage lights that bring an oily sheen of sweat to his low-rent Vincent Price features, the Narrator chain-smokes while demolishing the fourth wall with his ominous lines (all read from a stack of 3x5 script cards held--usually--just out of camera view). After some stirring observations about the nature of reality and other Weighty Matters, our Narrator poses the central question of the film: "A pretty girl with a problem--who could resist? Certainly not...HERSCHELL!"
Herschell (Steve Hawkes), a mountain of a man with Steve Reeves' muscles and Johnny Cash's haircut, riding a chopper so badass that the jittery truck-mounted dolly shot can scarcely track him. As more credits roll so does Herschell, through a toll booth, around the cars of squares, and all alone on the road, striking a riderly pose of such square-jawed beauty it almost brings a tear to the eye.
Once the co-directors' credit is out of the way, Herschell spies the damsel in distress so portentiously alluded to by our nicotine-stained Narrator: her name is Angel, and she's got car trouble. Being the chivalrous type Herschell invites her to straddle his hog and hold on tight, and soon enough they're arriving at the house Angel shares with her younger sister, Anne. Unfortunately, Angel informs us, Anne has fallen in with a bad crowd and has turned their home into a den of druggy iniquity. In fact, there's a party going on when they arrive, with "Pot! And WORSE than pot!" being passed around willy-nilly. Angel--who it turns out has found Jesus (He was right behind the couch the whole time!)--is angered and ashamed, but world-wise Herschell betrays no surprise.
The party pit itself is everything you'd want a Shanghai opium den to be, updated to 1970s Middle America: orange shag carpet, dark-painted panelling bearing both a velvet painting of a tiger AND a print of a Rembrandt self-portrait, and the requisite mish-mash of Goodwill furniture and beanbag chairs for the druggies to recline upon. The partygoers themselves seem to range from Motörhead cover-band members to go-go girls to a particularly raucous table full of middle-aged folks who look like they got lost on their way to the bowling alley. But despite the plethora of drugs being bandied about, Herschell is uninterested. When a skanky blonde partygoer dances by and tries to turn him on to the happening, he rebuffs her most harshly, leading the scorned woman to spit, "You're nothing but a dumb bastard who doesn't know where it's at, anyway!" Even for a muscleman, that's gotta hurt.
Meanwhile in another corner of the room Angel and a few of her friends are having an impromptu Bible study. (According to Internet sources--THE BEST SOURCES--at least part of the money for the flick was put up by a religious group, in a wonderful parallel to Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space; though here the shoe-horning of the religious message into an otherwise exploitastic horror flick is even more egregious). Nubile raven-haired beauty Anne--the dark Yin to Angel's bland churchy Yang--mocks them as they attempt to witness to Herschell, belittling Angel's preacher. "He says we commit adultery with sticks and stones!" she giggles--hey, what kind of party IS this? Attracted by Herschell's brute manliness, she hatches a plan with the requisite slimy drug-dealer guy--named, appropriately, Guy--to get Herschell hooked on the drugs before he finds God. It's like a live-action Chick Tract, but groovier.
After another interlude with The Smoking Man, we see Angel taking Herschell to see one of her church brethren about a job. The deacon owns a poultry ranch, as it turns out, and is more than willing to give a strong, silent, muscular straight-arrow a gig in the experimental turkey development lab they run on the premises. Alas, in the few days between his interview and start date, Herschell finds himself lounging by the pool with Anne, who turns her eeeevil seductress skills up to eleven and offers him weed with a special if-you-act-now bonus, IYKWIMAITYD. Disgusted, Herschell asks, "How is it possible that a girl like you, so young and beautiful, can be so far out?" Anne retorts archly, "How can such a big hunk of a man [like you] be such a damn COWARD?" THAT DOES IT! His manhood impugned, Herschell takes a manly puff of the Maui Wowee, egged on admirably by Anne. Before you can say REEFER MADNESS!, he's hooked! Oh, wicked weed!
Of course then it's a short trip from poolside to fuckpad, with the totally baked muscleman asking weakly why Anne can't be more like her sister. "By the time I get through with you," she replies, "you're NEVER gonna wish I was like my sister!" Game, set, and match to Anne! As the Narrator returns to tell us--"A man who could refuse such temptation, from such a girl as this--he would have to be MUCH LESS a man than Herschell!" The Love Theme for Guitar that follows, along with gratuitous druggie-babe butt shot, put an exclamation point on that unassailable argument. The H-man's no pussy, yo!
Once Herschell samples the forbidden meat, however, thinks go from bad to OMFG WTF in record time. The bodybuilder goes into some wonderfully choreographed convulsions and, thought dead by his co-workers, has his body dumped somewhere no one will ever find him...which is apparently in the big open field behind the ranch! When the moon comes up he rises again, horribly altered! The director builds the suspense as we get glimpses of the monstrosity Herschell has become, and several nameless extras scream in horror at his disfigurement. It's not until he returns to Anne's pad that we are hit over the head with the wages of sin--like the blasphemous offspring of Pasiphaë and the Cretan bull, Herschel has become half-man, half-beast! But this time it's no bull--he's a full-fledged TURKEYTAUR!
From here, unfortunately, things start to drag a bit, as we get a subplot with Guy the Dealer trading Anne to his supplier for another crate of weed, an unpleasant little tangent that is only slightly redeemed by its denouement of WHITE HOT TURKEY VENGEANCE! We get some hilarious stoner extras hunting down the turkey man, the Narrator narrating over a cut scene for which the filmmakers obviously lost the dialog track, a gratuitous eye-poke, a glaring example of panty-discontinuity, and the classic line from Guy, "Herschel? I saw him with a CHICK last night!" But as good as all that sounds, it does get a little tedious.
The climax, though, in which Herschell imagines himself beheaded by the stoners (warning PETA folks--ACTUAL turkey assassination on film!) and segues into a nightmare sequence with his turkey head on a platter while grasping hands pull apart a roasted turkey beside him, is worth seeing. Still, the "it was all a bad trip" ending leans heavy on the Power of Prayer, which was probably necessary to finance the thing but is still very dissatisfying. And a tacked-on anti-drug message from our narrator ends with a coughing fit that supposed to be a clever anti-smoking message--I guess--but it just doesn't work for me.
the MIND-NUMBING SCREAM TRACK that plays on repeat during every turkey attack. Maybe it's just not all that good. It has its good moments--more than a few--but somehow it all fails to come together into one glorious casserole of HORROR.
So in the end, Blood Freak is high on concept but falters a bit as it enters the home stretch. Still, that concept is hard to resist, and anything with a line in the Netflix synopsis that reads, "However, the turkey-headed bodybuilder still craves weed!" pretty much HAS to be seen at least once. A shining example of "What in the hell were they THINKING?" filmmaking, I give Blood Freak 2 thumbs, one for the Turkeytaur and one for the Smoking Man. Give it a shot, and when it comes to Frankenturkey Butterballs, JUST SAY NO!