Friday, October 31, 2008

Basement Jack (2008): or, It's the Manager's World, We're All Just Leasing It

If you take a quick look at the handy-dandy labels down the right side of the page, you'll notice that our focus here at Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies trends very strongly toward films of the 1970s. Not for nothing, either--if there's ever been a decade chock-full from one end to the other with bloody, sexy, awesome goodness, that's the one, baby.

But much as I like to sink myself deep into the hot, sticky voluptuousness of a Naschy monster mash or palpate a paean to Satanic Panic from my favorite era, every now and then I do come up for air to see what's up in the World of Horror, Present-Day Version. Most of these explorations lead to a quick deep breath and another dive, leaving only a bubbly turbulence on the surface, but occasionally I see something that catches my attention and gives me hope for the future. And such was exactly the case when I recently got a look at an indie slasher flick with a difference, Michael Shelton's 2008 effort Basement Jack.

Now as far as it goes, Basement Jack does not break much new ground. A young boy abused by his psychotic mother grows up to become a legendary, unstoppable killing machine; a sexy young girl survives one of his rampages and devotes herself to putting an end to his reign of terror before any more innocents suffer under his knife. An inexperienced cop joins forces with the survivor girl against the dictates of his stuffy, by-the-book chief and his deriding coworkers, leading to the expected confrontation with the killer and an ambiguous conclusion that serves as a swinging unlocked door to Sequelville. Eighties' Slasher 101, right?

But remember, I said Basement Jack was a slasher with a difference--and for me it had that little something extra, that distinguishing detail that looms larger and larger upon reflection until at last it grows into a juggernaut of awesome that--for the first time in a long time--has me chomping at the bit for the sequel. That detail is not a what, but a who--and that who is not the Rookie Cop, not the Sexy Survivor Girl, not even the electrified menace of Basement Jack Riley himself.

The detail's name is Nathan Bexton, aka THE MANAGER. Make a note. Jot it down. You're going to want to remember it.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves:

At least one uncredited writer had a hand in Basement Jack's script...

We open with an archetypal Urban Legend set-up (one of my top 5 archtypes): a boy and a girl making out in the back seat of a land yacht up at Inspiration Point or its equivalent. As things get hotter and heavier, the music on the radio is interrupted for a SPECIAL NEWS BULLETIN. A psycho killer is on the loose in the vicinity, a phantom of a man with the unusual MO of hiding in the basements of family homes until his homicidal rage is triggered by a lightning storm, at which point he murders everyone in the house--hence his media-assigned moniker "Basement Jack." Thunder rolls in the background, and the girl's sexy mood dissipates. She insists that her frustrated lover take her home before the storm hits.

By the time they reach the girl's home, the storm is in full force and the power is out. The boy gallantly accompanies his girlfriend inside, where they make the expected gruesome discovery: the whole family--mother, father, younger siblings, the lot--are arrayed around the dinner table, their throats cut, while before them the gutted family dog serves as an attractive centerpiece. A flash of lightning reveals the killer himself in the shadows, a tall thin dude with long dark hair and a dripping machete. Again adhering to the outlines in the back of the 80s Slasher Handbook, the randy boyfriend falls victim to the killer's blade, and after a bit of required tension the girl escapes into the night.

A decade later that girl, Karen Cook (Michele Morrow) is hunting Basement Jack across country, a roadmap in one hand and weather pattern charts in the other. Along the way she meets Officer Chris Watts (young Naschy lookalike Sam Skoryna), a rookie cop in trouble with the department over a recently blown collar. (He forgot to read the suspect his rights--curse you, Miranda protections!) Of course no one but Chris believes that Karen might actually be able to help them capture the previously untrackable killer, and so she is roundly ignored and derided by everyone in the department, except for her beefy first-year admirer. Throughout the rest of the movie, Karen and Chris hunt the killer, their helpful suggestions ignored by the department as Basement Jack cuts a bloody swath through the community every time the lightning flashes, which as you'd imagine is incredibly often this time of year.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful--hate me because I just killed your damn dog.

However, the movie does not seem as concerned with Karen and Chris's back story and burgeoning romance as with Basement Jack himself. Unmasked from the beginning of the movie and wearing no disguise other than shadows, the titular character is also the center of narrative focus. We spend a lot of time exploring Jack's history and motivations in candy-colored 1950s-style flashbacks, all centered around Jack's...shall we say, "problematic" relationship with his mother.

Jack's mom is one of the two real casting coups of the flick, as the producers secured a true horror/exploitation legend (in Vicarious circles, anyway) for the role, the fabulous Lynn Lowry (Romero's The Crazies, Cronenberg's Shivers, and David E. Durton's MMMMMasterpiece I Drink Your Blood). Lowry is absolutely riveting as Jack's unhinged mother, who cradles and sings to a life-sized toddler doll when she's not punishing her disturbingly silent son most harshly for any and every transgression, real or imagined.

And how does she punish him, you might well ask? Why, with mother's little helper: ELECTRICITY! At various points throughout the movie we see her forcing Jack to stick his tongue to a...well, battery of 9-volt batteries duct-taped together (nota bene: do NOT try this at home--18 volts has more of a kick than you might think), strapping him to a chair in a puddle of water and running live lines near his soaking feet, and most memorably chaining him to a metal post outside just as a thunderstorm starts and telling him "God will punish you!" The fact that she follows each of these punishments up with a sing-song refrain, "Mama loves you, with a cuddle and a kiss!" just ratchets up the child-abuse ickiness another few notches.

"Wet the bed NOW, you little shit!"

(Lynn also has her son take the rap for some neighborly dog-murder for which she is responsible, which leads to another disturbing scene in which the young boy is subjected to electroshock therapy--"with a cuddle and a kiss." But my favorite fucked-up Mommy scene is one in which she takes it upon herself to educate Jack in the mysteries of sex--by forcing him to sit by and watch while she blows a dumpy bald guy! I can't decide what's more awesome about this scene: the excellent looks of comical discomfort on Lynn's assistant's face, cutting his eyes down to the bidness and then back to the eerily silent audience of one--or the fact that, for no reason I was able to determine, the dude is dressed only in the lower half of a CHICKEN SUIT!)

(No, wait, I've decided: it's the chicken suit.)

So there you have it--screwed-up childhood, understandable Mommy issues, and a psychological aversion to but physical tolerance for high levels of electricity--not too shabby, as serial killer back stories go. And as Basement Jack does his dirty work, we get buckets of blood, a few decent kills, a smattering of gore scenes (though we also have to suffer through some rather iffy CG stab effects--as even in the best it is), and some fairly well choreographed fight scenes between Jack and Karen. The quirkiness that spawned the chicken suit shows up in a more restrained form later as well, when in one his basement hideouts Jack discovers a SUPER-MACHETE complete with lower-arm support brace and billy-club grip! WHO has that in their basement--I mean, besides AWESOME people?

(During my viewing I noted this weapon snarkily as a "power-up"--so you can imagine my delight when I found that, in the production notes on the Basement Jack website, writer/producer Brian O'Toole admits that Jack's weapon upgrade was inspired by his love of video games. Credit for Intention, and for Going There when just about everyone would have told you not to. That's the way you take something goofy and make it goofy and AWESOME, IMO. And Brian, if you need a quality tester for Basement Jack: The Game, LET ME KNOW.)

Now I said Lynn Lowry was one of two slices of casting brilliance in Basement Jack--and she is just GREAT, make no mistake. But the other one, the one that has me excited for the sequel and in a happy place generally replaying his scant scenes in my mind, is the aforementioned future icon, Nathan Bexton as The Manager.

The most awesome thing in this picture has no blade.

You see, Officer Watts is not exactly rolling in dough, and so he resides in an ancient, run-down apartment building called The Necropolitan. (Currently #1 and #3 on the Vicar's "Names of buildings I want to live/die in" lists, respectively.) Bexton is The Manager of The Necropolitan, and unless my count is off he has a total of four scenes--and I'd be very surprised if those scenes totaled up to more than seven or eight minutes before the cameras, probably somewhat less. Still, I honestly can't remember the last time an actor with so little screentime made such a huge, lasting impression on me, but Bexton DID it.

You see, I'm a sucker for substrate. I get a little frisson of geeky pleasure whenever a throwaway line of dialogue or a strange bit of business in the background makes the suggestion that somewhere, behind or beneath or even above the actions we're watching on screen, there's a whole OTHER movie going on that happens to intersect this one at just this specific moment. It's not done often, but when done right, little things like this add a depth of imagination and fantasy to the proceedings that sets my brain whirring and ups my enjoyment factor by at least a full point.

And that's the pitch that The Manager knocks out of the park. Bexton invests the character with a knowing, sinister, devilish playfulness that's hard to describe objectively. It's in his old-fashioned wardrobe and exciting facial hair; it's in the way he holds his mouth, the twinkle in his eyes, his small gestures and odd inflections of seemingly mundane pleasantries. Everything about Bexton's performance lets you know that behind that door, behind those eyes, something evil and awesome is going on--and if you're anything like me, you're DYING to know what that thing is.

I really don't want to spoil Bexton's performance for anyone, because it's a tour de force that must be seen and appreciated by all. suffice to say no one collects rent like The Manager, and that's not *all* he collects. A late scene in which he answers the door to Basement Jack while chatting to unknown parties on his cell phone is, for my money, an Icon-Builder, and his return for an ending coda had me bouncing in my seat with glee. It was all I could do not to stand and applaud--which, the more I think of it, I *totally* should have. Nathan Bexton earned it.

One crew member dons shades in order to bask in Nathan Bexton's awesomeness, while The Manager's nearness causes another to erupt with explosive backsweat.

Thus fired with my new cinematic man-crush, I rushed to the Internets where even more stores of glee awaited. I learned that Basement Jack is the second installment in a projected trilogy centering around The Necropolitan and the strange events that occur there. The first installment, Evilution, was also completed this year, and like Basement Jack is still seeking distribution. (In that film The Necropolitan is quarantined after a viral outbreak that turns its inhabitants into kill-crazy monsters--and yes, The Manager is there.) Best of the best? The third installment, currently in development by Black Gate Entertainment/Island Gateway Films, is entitled simply The Necropolitan, and looks like it IS that OTHER movie--the story of The Manager, starring Nathan Bexton! You hear that fluttering sound? It's my hummingbird heart.

Getting back to the film at hand, though--Basement Jack is not without its problems. While imposing visually, Jack himself is too one-dimensional to be very interesting as a character, and the fact that we spend so much time lurking with him as he offs one piece of machete fodder after another did result in a bit of drag for me. Sticklers for logic will also note that the machete is a slashing/chopping weapon, ill-suited for stabbing, though Jack habitually runs his victims through before chopping them up (using some of the aforementioned bad CG, in the most egregious cases).

That said, the flashbacks always held my interest, and Director of Photography Mathew Rudenberg provides a plethora of striking, interesting compositions and atmospheric lighting effects throughout--I don't know what the budget was, but I'd be willing to bet Rudenberg made it look a lot more expensive than it was. The leads and supporting characters all give it their all (though I never quite got any chemistry off Morrow and Skornya), and Eric Peter-Kaiser as Jack does a good job kickin' the serial killer Eerie Von-style. Throw in Lynn Lowry's fantastic turn as Mamma Riley, and then sprinkle on the awesomeness of Nathan Bexton as The Manager, and those gripes outlined above fade into the shadows. It's a movie that, the more I think of it in the cold light of day, the better and better I like it. And how many movies can you say THAT about?

"Hey Ma, what's for d--aw, man, AGAIN?"

I've seen many movies with good distribution deals that would not be fit to rinse Basement Jack's jockstrap, and it's a crying shame that the film is not yet out there in front hungry, appreciative fans. It's running the festival circuit, though, and hopefully one day soon a DVD distributor will pull his head out of his ass long enough to see that he should TOTALLY be putting out Basement Jack. Come on guys, get on the horn--you can even have a back-cover blurb from the Vicar, free of charge:

"Basement Jack is an exciting, kick-ass old-school slasher, and Nathan Bexton walks the earth like a freakin' God!"

I will not stop until that man is an Icon. Mark my words.

Started out a 2.75 thumbs, but further reflection on The Manager has pushed it up to the coveted 3 thumb stratosphere. See it if you can, tell all your friends. And tell The Manager that the Vicar sent you.

And to call me.

"And as God is my witness, I will never go dwarfless again!"

(All photos © Island Gateway Films/Black Gate Entertainment. Check out Basement Jack's official site here. Please don't sue me, guys. Tell Nathan I love him.)


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

All the Colors of the Dark (1972): or, Rosemary's Babe

I remember vividly sitting down to watch Lady Frankenstein for the first time, and being completely amazed not only by the fact that no one had ever told me what an awesome, well-made, and gorgeously pervy public-domain flick it was, but also by the inexplicable idea that a creature as gorgeous, talented, and prolific as Rosalba Neri (aka Sarah Bey) had somehow escaped my notice for so long. I mean, she is so TOTALLY Relevant to My Interests, and yet it took a chance encounter with a 50 Chilling Classics disc to bring the two of us together at last. (Yet another reason the 50 Chilling Classics set has been worth its weight in platinum.)

Well, the older I get, the more I learn, and the more I learn the more I realize how little I actually know. The truth of this maxim was brought home to me yet again last week as I watched Sergio Martino's beautiful 1972 psychadelic devil-worshiping freakout All the Colors of the Dark and was introduced--incredibly, unaccountably, inexcusably for the first time--to the cinematic hunk of gorgeousness that is Edwige Fenech.

Seriously, people, you have GOT to clue me in on these things! Throw me a frikkin' bone, here!

In fairness to my readers, though, there's really no reason I should have been so tragically ignorant. After all, Ms. Fenech is hardly an undiscovered flower in the thick-growing jungles of filmdom. From 1967 to 1987 she starred in more than 50 movies, including such you-MUST-have-heard-of-this-one titles as Strip Nude for Your Killer, Five Dolls for an August Moon, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Blade of the Ripper, and the "now on the Vicar's Netflix queue with a BULLET" flick from the same year as Colors, Ubalda, All Naked and Warm. Hell, she even did a cameo in Eli Roth's Hostel Part II, and if memory serves still looked pretty good. So really, I've only myself to blame.

After a very moody credits sequence that MUST have been the inspiration for the famously creepy Tales from the Darkside opening (an idyllic woodland scene in vibrant colors getting progressively darker and more shadowy until reaching absolute blackness for Martino's directing credit), we're thrown right into the brain-busting action with one of the freakier dream sequences I've seen in a while. On a darkened studio set with strange, cut-out furniture and windows, nightmare tableaux are illuminated by garish spotlights: a horrifying old woman in Baby Jane make-up and costume leers nastily at the camera, arms stiff and jerky like a marionette's; a pregnant woman with a huge afro lies naked on a gynecologist's table, the camera zooming in on her tired, angry expression; extreme close-ups of unnaturally blue eyes give way to a naked Eurohottie being stabbed to death, all while a disturbing "La la la la" song plays in the background. It's surreal, disturbing, and absolutely nightmarish stuff, really unsettling the viewer from frame one.

"Have you ANY IDEA what time it is?"

The dream ends with a speedy trip down a highway filmed in negative, with the camera veering off and crashing into a roadside tree--and then Edwige Fenech wakes up, twisted in the sheets and wearing a loose nightie. Still in her nightmare fugue state, Edwige stumbles to the bathroom and gets under the shower, letting the water run over her white nightshirt and thus expose the wonders beneath. Though I was still reeling from the nightmare from which our heroine has just awakened, I couldn't help marveling that the water didn't turn to steam from the hotness. Nightmares, death, and sex, all within the first few minutes. Don't fuck around, Sergio, just GIVE IT TO ME!

Edwige is Jane Harrison, a woman still recovering from the mental shock of a car accident that took the life of her unborn child and was the starting point for the horrifying nightmares that now plague her sleep. She lives with the baby's father, Richard Steele (Eurostud George Hilton) a marketing agent for a pharmaceutical company who poo-poos her desire to see a psychiatrist, insisting instead that she medicate with the samples he brings home from work. Even when their late-night lovemaking is ixnayed by a waking flashback to the stabby dream, Richard lets Jane know in no uncertain terms that he does not support her desire to seek therapy. As if that weren't suspicious enough, Jane catches Richard making eyes at sexy blonde neighbor Mary (Marina Malfatti) as he leaves for work, leaving the viewer to wonder whether there might be more to his anti-psychiatry stance than mere pharmaceutical prejudice...

Jane's sister Barbara (Nieves Navarro) has no such prejudice, however, though she does have a strange hate/hate relationship with Richard. (In a later scene, Barbara and Richard argue over Jane's treatment while the naked Barbara gets dressed and Richard watches her in a mirror from another room! Richard says things like "Beauty should be shown--why hide yours under all this clothing?" and "You must be the most unforgiving bitch in the world!" with exactly the same tone--weird.) Going against Signor Steele's wishes, Barbara takes Jane to see Dr. Burton, a psychiatrist with whom she works. In the waiting room Jane sees the blue-eyed murderer from her dream, but makes it to the analyst's couch without other incident.


On the couch more dark secrets emerge--turns out Jane and Barbara's mother was murdered by stabbing, and in fact Mama Harrison is the non-pregnant naked woman in Jane's dream. Jane also reveals that she felt ashamed bearing Richard's child while not being married to him, and thus feels extra guilt about the car crash that tragically relieved her of that shame. Add her fear of losing Richard because of her nightmare-induced frigidity, and Dr. Burton has his work cut out for him.

I really can't go any further in the review without mentioning the absolutely GORGEOUS cinematography throughout. Martino seems to specialize in the striking mise en scene, whether it be in that opening nightmare sequence, a wide-angle shot of Richard comforting Jane in bed, overhead views of the apartment or various low- and wide-angle shots--all just stunning. There's nearly always something interesting to look at on screen, and a viewer with a soft spot for the beautiful visual will not be left wanting.

Also worthy of mention is Edwige Fenech's fantastic portrayal of the vulnerable, frightened, very possibly unhinged Jane. Her wide eyes and gasping breath, her way of opening her thoughts to the camera through expressions and gestures, all come together to give us a character we not only understand, but sympathize with and want to protect. As a result the scenes where the blue-eyed killer from her dreams invades her reality--in particular a chilling sequence on the subway, when the flickering lights in the train car show the icy menace jumping closer and closer with each interval of darkness--pack an extra emotional punch.

"Pardon me if I stare."

Fleeing her blue-eyed stalker, Jane winds up fortuitously in the apartment of Mary, the witchy blonde who was making eyes at Richard earlier. Once they're having tea together they find out they have a lot in common--they're both alone all day, in need of companionship, and without many close friends. They make a date for the following day, when during a gorgeously filmed walk in the park Mary suggests a rather unorthodox form of therapy:

"I also used to have problems, and mine were even more serious than yours. But eventually I managed to free myself from them completely...I had to go to a Sabbat. It's a certain type of black magic ritual. It cured me, and I'm sure it could help you, Jane!"

Well, it IS the 70s, after all, so Jane decides to give it a go--especially once her problems are worsened after an appointment with a mysterious solicitor turns into a Blue-Eyed Stalker Attack! (Some great off-kilter spiral staircase shots in this sequence, with the exclamation point of a dog's skull being rolled down the stairs to her feet, followed by a near-miss hatchet swipe!) Mary drives Jane to a gothic mansion in the middle of nowhere, and everything's set. Let the healing commence!

They head inside to one of the most well-attended Sabbats I've ever seen--dozens of folks in attendance, all waiting to lay some Satanic and, as it turns out, sexual healing on Jane. The Sabbat Master--who by the way has to be one of the most AWESOME Sabbat Masters ever to don a goatee and a set of metal fingertips--sacrifices a puppy to Satan, drinks the blood, and then proceeds to work his horizontal black magic while the rest of the coven paws at and kisses the screaming, struggling Jane. It's another nightmarish, borderline psychedelic scene, with extreme close-ups, maybe a fish-eye lens shot or two, and enough rapey ickiness for two such Sabbats or three-quarters of a mid-week soiree at the Duke's.

"NOW how many fingers do you see?"

We transition rather abruptly back to Jane's bedroom, where she's now making love to Richard instead of Satan's favorite nephew. This time they reach completion with no stabby interruptions. "Darling, no more bad dreams!" Jane declares, post-coitus. "I feel strange...I don't feel real, Richard! I don't feel real!" Taking this as a testament to his manliness, Richard falls asleep, well-chuffed.

The joy doesn't last, though, as Jane's Blue-Eyed Boy shows up at the pub where Jane and Richard have lunch the next day, leading her to flee sans Dick to their apartment. Once there she discovers some books on the occult Richard has been reading, leading her (and us) to wonder if he's going all Gaslight Satan-style on her ass. Her suspicions don't stop her from attending a supplementary Sabbat, however, and once there a few of the mysteries are excitingly revealed.

Turns out Mary wanted to be free of the cult, and the only way to do that was to bring in her own replacement, who in the rite of initiation must stab Mary and thus free her "forever and completely." Drugged, Jane holds the dagger while Mary impales herself on it, thus cementing her ties to the coven. "Now you are one of us, Jane," the Blue-Eyed Man tells her. "It's impossible to renounce us!"

The rest of the movie concerns Jane discovering more and more dark secrets about her family past (Mom was a member of the same cult, and died on the same knife that Jane used to off Mary), all while staying a few tense steps ahead of the leering Blue-Eyed Man, who apparently serves the cult as some kind of enforcer. (His strange eyes and ability to pop up anywhere at any given time had me thinking for a while that he was in fact Satan, though I'm not sure the film's denoument bears this out.)

Just Beautimous

Failing to reach either Richard or Barbara, Jane calls Dr. Burton the headshrinker for help. Tthe old man puts her up in his country house where she'll be "perfectly safe." Of course the Enforcer shows up, murders the caretakers and the doctor (we get a chilling scene of the corpses arrayed at the breakfast table, seemingly alive unti closer investigation reveals their slit throats), and Jane flees back to the city where she must determine if the people who love her are trustworthy, are working for the cult, or whether the whole thing is just a product of her disturbed, extremely active imagination.

In an interview accompanying this feature on the DVD, director Martino admits readily that Rosemary's Baby was a big influence, and the parallels are apparent. Fenech does a fantastic job portraying the frantic, vulnerable, possibly unhinged heroine, and Martino's penchant for deep-focus transitions and off-kilter camera angles keeps the viewer disoriented and never quite sure if what he's seeing is real or a nightmare. The supporting characters are great too, particularly Ivan Rassimov as the quietly terrifying Blue-Eyed Killer, Julián Ugarte as the super-groovy and aloof Sabbat Master, and Malfatti as the witchy neighbor looking for an out. In fact I couldn't point to a weak performance in the lot, which is unusual in films of this vintage, be they never so good. Though there are draggy bits spattered throughout the run-time, for the most part the plot keeps you interested and engaged, and the twisty-turny ending has some surprises that should please most exploitation fans, even if it doesn't tie everything up in a neat little bow.

Like I said earlier, this is just a gorgeous film to look at, and I really wanted to screencap the entire thing--Martino's eye for compositions is pretty much unerring here for me, and I can't wait to take in more of his flicks. Add the amazing SMOKIN' HAWTNESS of Edwige Fenech and you've got a definite winner on your hands. 2.85 thumbs, and you can definitely expect more Edwige Appreciation from me in the future.



Friday, October 17, 2008

Love Me Deadly (1973): or, A Dead Man is Good to Find

As the 1973 weirdie Love Me Deadly opens, we find blonde big-haired hottie Lindsey Finch (Mary Wilcox) sitting in the back row at a funeral home, dressed in mourning and sporting a FABULOUS black hat-and-veil ensemble. The sumptuousness of her attire leads one to believe she might be the widow here, but once the service is over she pointedly refuses to be escorted up to the coffin to pay her last respects. Once the organ music stops and the chapel is empty, however, she makes her deliberate way up to the front and stares lovingly at the bearded corpse in the open casket. A strange fire burns behind her eyes, and in a moment she leans down, lifts her veil, and plants a passionate kiss on the dead guy's lips! Roll credits!

Yes, Lindsey is the walking definition of "special needs." In addition to her uncontrollable attraction to room-temperature hunks of man-flesh, she's also got some rather serious Daddy issues, as illustrated wonderfully by the sepia-toned credit-sequence flashbacks showing an innocent young Lindsey playing with her rugged father, riding in the car, going fishing, and rolling in the grass (but in a loving and not-at-all creepy way). Clear out the dresser drawers, this girl has a lot of baggage to unpack.

(That credit sequence, by the way, rolls out under an AMAZING title song a la Goldfinger and other James Bond spy ballads. Check out some of these lyrics:

"Love me deadly...kiss me deadly
This very special love can never be...
Touch me deadly...hold me deadly...
Look in my eyes and tell me what you see..."

They just don't write 'em like that anymore, folks. Also, because the font color used in the credits is yellow and presumably wouldn't show up well against the sepia-tones of the father-daughter flashback, every time text is on the screen the memory scene goes TECHNICOLOR, totally jarring you out of the "innocent nostalgia" vibe it's meant to foster. But I digress.)

Love Me Dead

Once director Jacques LaCerte's credit fades away, we're suddenly at a groovy cocktail party where pastel blue-gowned Lindsey is playing quarters with the guests. (The height of her hair here is directly proportional to the depth of her plunging neckline.) She trades some flirtation with buff feather-haired muscle-boy Wade (Christopher Stone) before going upstairs to toss back some uppers with bourbon.

Wade follows, and before you know it the two are rasslin' on the bed; but when Lindsey tries to call it off in mid-dry hump, things get a little rapey and she ends up having to claw his face like a cat to get Wade to take no for an answer. Afterward she childishly cradles a teddy bear, which we see via helpful sepia flashback was a gift from her father in one of those idyllic montages. Oh, if only she could find a man like Dad!

Or a dead one. Either's good.

On the other, seedier side of town, mortician Fred (Timothy Scott, sporting a completely convincing Peter Tork hairdo) is trolling for some action. He passes up a flamingly gay man-ho for a more butch, angry looking hustler, and quickly begins drilling him...for information ! The ingenue admits he doesn't live around there and has no family--not the best move in his line of work, it seems to me. Fred suggests they drive to "his office" to do the deed, for which the hustler demands the princely sum of $25. He drives a HARD BARGAIN, IYKWIM...

Love is Blind, and so is Lust, Apparently

Meanwhile Lindsey's also trolling for action, reading the obituaries and circling likely prospects. Soon she's back at the chapel, where she strides up to the corpse and starts warming him with her love...when suddenly his false nose wrinkles under her caresses, because it's built entirely of mortician's wax! Her mojo gone, she flees the chapel only to run into the waiting arms of Lyle Waggoner! As the corpse's brother, Lyle is only too keen to talk about the bang-up job the morticians did considering how bad the car crash was, but Lindsey is still freaking and runs off into the night.

Back at Fred's office, things take a turn for the even more icky, as he convinces the hustler to lie naked on the table (he tells the young guy it's a vet's office) and soon has the hapless man-whore strapped down, naked and totally vulnerable. It a disturbing and frankly hard-to-watch scene, Fred meticulously starts pumping embalming fluid into the struggling, screaming young man's arm, then opens up his neck to stick in the exit needle! Most of this is done from a mid-range shot showing the hustler side-on while Fred works around him, highlighting Fred's detachment as well as his victim's helplessness. (There are a few splattery close-ups as Fred cuts into the boy's neck, though, which should make you wince.) It's a chilling, unflinching scene, and Fred's emotionless non-reactions to the hustler's suffering left me feeling a bit sullied, I don't mind telling you.

The next day Lindsey follows Lyle the the funeral, and later back to the art gallery he owns. As she looks at him longingly, his image is superimposed on sepia shots of her father, letting us know exactly where she's at in her attraction to this living, breathing bohunkus. LaCerte never leaves you wondering about HER latent psychology, that's for sure--it's all RIGHT THERE.

He's NOT making coffee...

Later she heads to yet another funeral, hoping to blow off some steam with a little post-mortem makeout. Unfortunately Fred's there too, and blows her cover--he recognizes her from a previous funeral, and forcing his way into her car lays a surprising proposition on her:

"The word is NECROPHILIA. We're quite normal people, just with different passions. You're not alone. In our group we have several members who participate...I can notify you if you care to join us."

After another scene with Fred finding a female hooker to embalm (a scene that I think intentionally parallels Lindsey's search for thrills in a much darker way), Lindsey makes one more attempt at a normal sex life with Wade, only to fail tragically at the goodnight kiss. Weighed down by her desires, she sends him away and heads out to the nightly meeting of the Dead Joy Fuck Club.

Lindsey creeps into the seemingly abandoned mortuary, and we get some rather nice creepy hand-held shots as she tip-toes through the shadows, discovers an empty coffin in the chapel (much to her disappointment), and walks slowly through the display room where more empty caskets yawn at her like sleepy Gabbon Vipers. As she gets closer to Fred's "workroom" she hears groans and screams emanating from behind the locked metal door, but not to be dissuaded she presses on through--to discover a very cult-like tableau of naked necrophiliac swingers standing around a partially dissected corpse! Chalk another one up for Jacques LaCerte on the "disturbing image" tally.

"Sorry, Freshman Comp is three doors down to the left."

Lindsey freaks and runs out, but bare-chested Fred runs after her to calm her down. "What did you expect?" he asks, but then sees a solution. "A novice can't be expected to appreciate total involvment...Perhaps I can arrange a more private time in the future." Warning her to keep their secret or else, Fred lets the orgy-shocked Lindsey go back home.

Resolving once again to put her corpse-loving ways behind her, Lindsey cons Wade into taking her to Lyle's art gallery so that she can get a load of his Father-Figure Fitness. In a pretty amazing sequence that plays out entirely in dumb show under a jaunty, comical score, Lyle mimes interest in Lindsey, Wade tries to keep himself between them, but eventually gets shoved out and moves on to more receptive chicks. Before you know it they're double-dating at a Japanese steakhouse! Then the jaunty music gives way to a more plaintive, romantic tune, and we get (still in dumb show) a falling in-love montage! Lyle and Lindsey run through the rain, play in a stream, walk through the park, obviously now the happy couple--and not a single line of dialogue has been exchanged!

It's a strange narrative choice, as if LaCerte wanted to get through this crap as quickly as possible in order to get to the next bout of deceased-molestation, and with Waggoner's presence it can't help but remind our more worldly-wise (i.e. old) viewers of some of the actor's comedy routines from his years on the Carol Burnett Show. However, the scene's jarring incongruity made it more than a little charming to me--it's a scene from a different, nicer, goofier movie, thrown in at no extra charge.

Next thing you know Lindsey and Lyle are engaged to be married, but her longing gaze after a hearse that passes them at a streetside cafe lets you know she's not yet over her necro-leaning feelings. This is driven home further when, after more montagery and an AMAZING K-TEL FIRESIDE LOVEMAKING ATTEMPT that ends in EPIC FAIL, Lyle intones in exasperation, "What the hell do you want me to do, Lindsey?" I'm thinking the answer is "Drop dead," Lyle!

"Waiter! Another button for my shirt, please!"

At this low point in her relationship Fred calls again to tell her he's got a blind (and deaf, and dumb, and motionless) date for her at the mortuary. She immediately heads down to the chapel, but as CURSED FATE would have it, Wade sees her go by on the street and follows her. You just know THAT'S not going to end well.

Fred is true to his word, delivering Lindsey to a private room where her slightly dumpy but irresistably DEAD lover awaits. She strips off and starts going at it, a look of joy on her face we haven't seen before, unless you count the innocent joy of the little girl in sepia tone playing with her daddy. Eeew.

Unfortunately Lyle has made his way into the Sanctum Moritorium, and stops in the embalming room to ask the sullen worker from the movie's opening if he's seen Lindsey go by. Irritated at being bothered while he's aspirating a corpse, the sullen dude yanks out the 2-foot-long embalming needle and STABS WADE IN THE GUT WITH IT, spilling intestines on the floor and interrupting Lindsey once again in flagrante de muerto. She rushes out, sees Wade dead in a pool of his own digestive system, and screams. Then, in a weird, borderline surreal transition, Wade's arms begin to move, coming together to cross at the wrists, which then fades to a shot of him being hoisted into a vertical position while the naked, now clearly coven-like group of necro-orgiasts dance around him, stripping his clothes off in slow-motion and double-exposure. It's very creepy and strange, and then...Lindsey wakes up! Wait, WHAT?

Before we can figure out whether the whole thing was a nightmare or just the part after Wade's sticking, Lyle's back and proposing to Lindsey, and in the VERY NEXT EDIT (almost a jump-cut, really), she's in a bride's gown and saying "I do!" LaCerte CLEARLY has no patience for the romantic part of the story--he's got deader fish to fry. More emotive music and then the honeymoon, where Lindsey's frigidity puts the ixnay on the onsummation-cay. "You KNEW I had difficulties!" she sobs, to which Lyle replies, "But Lindsey...WE. ARE. MARRIED!" Flustered, Lyle goes to sleep on the couch and presumably masturbate like a wild monkey, leaving Lindsey alone and dreaming of Dad.

My Death with the Thrill Kill Cult

The last third of the movie resolves into a melodramatic soap-opera of Lindsey struggling to keep Lyle from finding out her terrible secret, while simultaneously fighting against her own dark desires and her increasingly unstable mental state. We get more emotive music, another Benny Hill-style dumb show at the gallery, and terribly sappy overacting from both Lyle and Lindsey. When the previously unseen housekeeper (with one of the top 5 WORST Irish accents ever committed to film) tells Lyle that Lindsey spends an unusual amount of time at her father's grave, the worried husband goes to investigate--and finds his wife, her hair in pigtails, singing childish nursery rhymes while dancing around the tombstone, promising to be a "good girl"! Which I'm sure is NOT sexy, even for someone as deprived as Lyle.

Then, when Lindsey begs off a trip to Lyle's mother's, but seems strangely insistent that HE go, he decides to double back and trail her, which of course leads him right to the mortuary and the dark dealings going on within.

After losing some steam and hilarity in the soap opera segment, Love Me Deadly finishes strong with another cult meeting in the embalming room, Lindsey now a fully participating member, mounting a corpse while her fellow necros stand around chanting and holding candles. Lyle busts in on the scene, bellows in disbelief (his best bit of acting in the whole flick) and is stabbed to death by Fred as Lindsey watches from her post-mortem perch.


Back at her own house Fred informs her, "I've brought Alex home...he's across the hall in his room. And I've prepared him for you...he'll be yours now, for always, and forever." Ick.

But LaCerte isnt' done yet, as a drugged-up Lindsey starts having more disturbing flashbacks about her father's death, leading to an almost nonsensical but still strangely effective finale that left me feeling more than a little squicked out. (Suffice to say it turns out Lindsey has her reasons for being so screwed up.) The final image, with cherub-faced Lindsey snuggling up happily under the covers with the corpse of her husband, FINALLY able to consummate the marriage--well, it's got some power, I have to admit.

Love Me Deadly is not particularly well-made, as far as it goes--the cinematography is pedestrian, the acting sub-daytime TV levels even for the 70s, and the sometimes hilariously cheesy score is so overbearing that it often does more of the dramatic heavy lifting than the actors. And there are plot holes a-plenty. The necro cult is never fully explored as more than a tossed-off plot device, although the rituals do account for many of the movie's genuine chills. Not one police officer EVER shows his face, despite multiple murders, corpse desecrations, and the disappearance of well-known and popular characters who would definitely be missed. (Wade is presented as quite the ladies' man and party animal, but once he's gone no one ever mentions him again--especially strange since he was one of the main characters in the first 2/3rds of the flick.)

Still, the movie managed to shock me with that hard-to-watch initial torture/murder scene in the mortuary, and Lindsey's whole psychology, from the sexual dysfunction to necrophiliac desires to her inability to let go of her daddy's memory infuses the whole thing with an odd sense of wrongness and discomfort, which makes the frankly badly-edited ending sequence (even the soundtracks between cuts don't line up) still able to pack an emotional punch. At the end of the movie I was cringing more than I was laughing, which in this case is definitely a complement.

So while I can't fully recommend Love Me Deadly as a lost masterpiece, I still think it's worth seeing. The cheesiness and strange comedic sequences are entertaining in their own right, and if you find necrophilia and Daddy worship the slightest bit creepy, then chances are it'll get under your skin more than a little. So 2 thumbs for this surprisingly sick little flick from the 70s. Watch it with someone you love--who's dead.

Note: I watched an antique format-sourced version of the flick, and a new uncut DVD has just been released which chances are has even more necro-ickiness and nudity. So if that's the kind of thing you're into, you're in luck!



Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Beast in Space (1980): or, Just Horsin' Around

Tell me if this has ever happened to you: you're sitting around watching TV, checking out a classic episode of Star Trek: the Original Series, and you think to yourself, "You know, this is pretty great--the overacting, the manufactured drama, the papier-mâché sets and rubber-headed monsters, all 100% class. But it would be so much better if they just threw in a couple of scenes of LENGTHY, EXPLICIT PORN."

I know, we've all been there. And we're not alone--Italian sci-fi impresario Alfonso Brescia (aka Al Bradley), the creative force behind such classics as War of the Planets, War of the Robots, and War in Space, is there too; and unlike us, instead of just sitting there pining for Uhuru and stroking his Roddenberry, he decided to DO something about it. The result: his 1980 space opera mash-up, The Beast in Space (aka La Bestia Nello Spazio).

Now let's get this out of the way right up front: Alfonso Brescia is not a good filmmaker. He's rather bad. Terrible, in fact. His main talent seems to have been an aptitude for coming up with sci-fi plots that could utilize costumes, sets, and footage he'd already shot for a previous film, thus saving multo lire. (For instance, if you look up the plot summaries for the "War" trilogy mentioned above, you'll notice that they all take place in an underground alien society where an evil robot or alien controls gold android soldiers in page-boy hairdos to keep the human population under control. All of them share more than one reel of footage.) He's kind of the Ed Wood of Italian sci-fi, minus the angora sweaters and the crazy passion for filmmaking.

With The Beast in Space, Brescia manages to recycle that same old plot, this time mashing it up inexplicably with Walerian Borowczyk's controversial 1975 art-flick La Bête, which memorably joined the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast with hardcore pornography, courtesy Finnish actress Sirpa Lane and a bear-suit equipped with a giant dildo. I can only guess Brescia caught a screening of Borowczyk's film and thought to himself, "This is great, but it would be even better...IN SPACE!" And here we see the slapdash, sometimes hilarious result.

"Are you kidding? I can't see anything in here!"

We open with a few scenes of futuristic jump-suited types walking around a huge supercomputer with the name "WIZ" emblazoned on its chassis, which figures in to nothing but the opening and closing credits. After that we find ourselves in a space pub (you can tell by the disco lights and the hanging strips of cloudy plastic), where Space Captain Larry Madison (Bresci regular Vassilli Karis) is working the shiny tunic and tiny moustache while making eyes at intergalactic beauty Sondra Richardson (Sirpa Lane, whose availability for this flick may have played into Bresci's decision to remake Borowczyk's flick).

After bellying up to order a big glass of Uranus Milk (SERIOUSLY--it's the most popular drink at the bar, and apparently quite strong. Call me a prude, but I'm not sure I'd be lining up for a glass of milk from Uranus...), Captain Larry turns around to find tradesman Juan Cardosa (Venantino Venantini, looking like an aging Han Solo in a poofy shirt) has moved in on his girl, trying out what have to be some of the lamest pick-up lines in the galaxy: "At the trade association, we are experts in judging women!...You are about to discover new heavens!" Not about to let a stinking tradesman keep him from Finnish-ing up, Larry initiates a barroom brawl to cement his alpha-male status. Larry's fighting style, which I have christened "FLAILING-ARM FU," proves too much for the lower-class Lothario, and the next thing you know he's making time with Sondra while Juan licks his wounds.

Apparently it's very sexy in space, because in three verbal exchanges Larry and Sondra move from innuendo to out-uendo to blatant propositioning. Seven-and-a-half minutes in we've got our first extended love scene--close-ups of grasping hands give way to writhing bums and bush shots, with a couple of jarring pick-ups showing nipple tweakage on what is obviously a different woman (skin tone, nipple size, and hairy pits are just a few of the red flags). As Sirpa has no compunction about getting her kit off for art, I really don't know why Bresci felt compelled to throw those in--but I guess if you've got footage of an olive-skinned torso getting her saucer-like nipples squeezed, you pretty much have to use it when you can.

You're doin' it wrong.

After their more than two-minutes of love Larry just wants to go to sleep, but Sondra just *has* to tell him (and us) all about the recurring dream she's been having. In it she's running through a forest in ragged clothes, finds an abandoned castle, attends a banquet with a swarthy embroidered-robe wearing nobleman, by whom she is later raped. She turns to find Larry has nodded off in the middle of this story, which pretty much closes the door on their romance.

Back in Command Central, Captain Larry is informed by his superiors that the tradesman he fought at the bar has apparently smuggled in some Antalium, the most valuable and rare metal in the universe, needed by the military to make neutron bombs. He's told to find out where Juan got it so they can raid this new source of destructive power. Back to the bar he goes, this time in a fantastic black silk and red sash ensemble, and after some liquid courage in the form of more Uranus Milk has another flailing-arm fracas with Cordosa. After lots of banter the tradesman is laid low again, and another space-slut offers her services to the irresistibly milk-drunk Captain Larry.

Turns out the Antalium came from the distant planet Lorigon, a place no space soldier has ever set foot. Captain Larry is introduced to his hastily assembled crew, which includes as navigator the now much less slutty looking Sondra. The two make up and then we get the requisite phallic rocket lift-off (complete with sparkler engines!) and hey-o! We're going boldly where no Italian has ever gone before!

The Italian Space Fleet: This Is How We Roll

The set and costume design throughout the movie is pretty hilarious, but never more so than in this sequence, with Larry and his crew in red felt skullcaps adorned with silver-circle ear protectors and the casters on the battle station/office chairs on the bridge CLEARLY visible. Sondra takes a nap after liftoff and we get to see her dream again, this time with more detail (i.e., more bush) and views of other members of the crew rolling around in the grass with each other, naked. Fantasy, or premonition? Hmmm...

They're almost to Lorigon when the ship is waylaid by Juan Cardosa, who taunts Larry over the intercom before sending them hurtling toward the planet's surface. After some nice in-chair "terror" acting on the crew's part as the camera swirls around them, they finally restabilize and head off to the planet's surface to find the valuable metal before Juan does.

The atmosphere on Lorigon is breathable by humans (what are the chances?) and so they quickly send out the landing party. But no sooner has the crew (now in Devo-worthy vinyl jumpsuits) left the landing pod than they're attacked by a truck-faced robot! They scamper back in, regroup pointlessly, and exit again, this time without incident. Soon they're trekking through an alien forest, the Antalium-detector leading them through a cave to an underground cavern where shadowy figures trail them but nothing much else happens.

"Are We Not Men?"

Exiting the cave on the other side, the crew now wanders through another forest--this one EXACTLY like the one from Sondra's dream!--and notice that the planet is strangely affecting their moods: the men suddenly get furious, the woman shivery in a not-unpleasant way. They decide to turn back, but before they can, they happen upon TWO HORSES FUCKING OUT OF NOWHERE!

Apparently this is an "homage" to Borowczyk's film, which opens with a similar scene of equine copulation. (For all I know, it could BE Borowczyk's film--the footage here is CLEARLY from another source.) The crew is not at all surprised to find two earth animals making wild whoopee on Lorigon; quite the contrary, it turns them on! One of the female crew members starts feeling herself up through the vinyl, squeezing her breasts and brazenly fingering her crotch. (There's no "squeeek squeek squeeek" foley on the soundtrack here, but by God there SHOULD be.) The horse porn goes on for quite a while as the crew stands by hyp-mo-tized, but once the whinnying ceases, off they go as if nothing had happened.

All she needs is a little husbandry.

The movie REALLY loses steam around this point, as the crew wanders around in fog and talks about how weird they feel for what seems like forever. Finally they find an abandoned castle ("It's happening just like in the dream!" Sondra says, to which Larry replies, "Yes, except that the sky is not red and the trees have no tentacles." WHAT? Stop talking out of Uranus, Lare!) They go inside, wander around the studio set for a while, and FINALLY end up in the banquet hall where Juan and Ophan, ruler of Lorigon, are waiting.

The longer it goes on the less important plot summary becomes, so to sum up: Ophan is the ruler, owner, and sole occupant of Lorigon, caretaker of the planet-controlling computer Zocor, which has gone crazy but in a good way, transforming Lorigon into a sensual paradise. Zocor provides food, sumptuous clothing, and sexy thoughts to everyone in range, which leads all of the crew except Sondra to engage in a pillow-and-silk orgy while Ophan makes advances toward Sondra, who is not unreceptive.

Soon they're all out in the woods where the astute viewer will recognize the flash-forwards from earlier taking place in the present. Sondra (in her dream gown) succumbs to Ophan's advances, allowing the swarthy aristocrat to tongue-kiss her and suck on her boobs. Elsewhere, the second-in-command shocks us by TOSSING HIS CREWMATE'S SALAD in the first of the movie's really explicit hardcore scenes.

"You're surprised, aren't you?"

This goes on a bit, until finally Ophan stands over Sondra, sheds his robe, and reveals himself to be A GOAT-FOOTED SATYR WITH A HUGE PRONG! Bresci is obviously EXTREMELY proud of the effects work on this prosthesis, as we get multiple closeups of the rubber phallus and balls from several angles. Sondra screams and bolts, naturally, and Ophan takes up the pursuit, his rigid member bobbing all the way as if leading a sing-a-long.

When he catches Sondra we get graphic shots of the phallus teasing and violating some female genitalia--obviously a stunt snatch, as the olive skin is back and the pubic hair is much bushier and darker than what we've seen several times on Sondra. The graphic shallow penetration goes on for a while, Sondra's dubbed screams getting less and less horrified over time.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the rest of the crew is having much pleasanter sex. The salad tosser gets blown very graphically and there's more penetration (again, obviously the stunt couple coupling). Larry rolls around with the girl who was so turned on by the horses, and basically we're treated (?) to a 15 minute orgy of the actors doing softcore with the stunt couple providing hardcore cutaways. Meanwhile Juan Cordosa watches knowingly from a distance.

"Turn around, Every now and then I get a little bit restless and I dream of something wild..."

Once the fucking stops, Juan gives Larry a pill that breaks Zocor's hold on his libido, and they formulate a plan to destroy the computer and escape. (Ophan, it turns out, is the physical manifestation of Zocor, who must be one horny PC, yo.) Leaving Sondra to distract the beast with more huge dildo humping, they free the other crew members and off they go into the cave where the computer waits.

At this point we get an extended battle scene between the crew and some of Zocor's androids, a scene I liked almost as much when it was the climax of War of the Robots, one of the worst movies on my otherwise excellent 50 Chilling Classics set. There's almost no tension here (not even in the cheesy light saber duel), and eventually they blow up the machine, steal the Antalium that was powering it, and blast off just as a papier-mâché volcano erupts and the whole planet explodes. Juan gets the money, Larry gets the glory, and Sondra gets zapped back to the ship by a grateful, sated computer just before it all goes boom. The end.

Okay, so this is a very, very bad movie. The rip-off of Borowczyk's movie is shoe-horned in with the utmost clumsiness, and while a few of the sex scenes approach sexiness, none really cross that line, staying rather on the "OMG how can this be so boring" side. While the costumes and situations can be fun (particularly the Beast's--sorry, Ophan's prodigious member), for the most part it's just bad sci-fi meets bad hairy porn, with no real payoff unless that's the sort of thing you're into. The acting is as bad as you'd expect, and Sirpa Lane, who we assume is the whole reason for this cinematic mess, looks bored throughout--though that might just be the Finn in her (IYKWIM).

"I don't suppose either of you have a pint of milk to spare, huh?"

People familiar with Borowczyk's movie who are curious about this "sequel" might find more enjoyment than others, and those with a soft spot for space opera cheese will enjoy the first half a lot. Still, I can't give it more than 1.25 thumbs as a curiosity only. Keep one hand on the fast-forward button and the other on the hand sanitizer. You're going to need both.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dr. Jekyll vs. the Werewolf (1972): or, You Can't Run, But You Can Hyde

Oh, Paul Naschy--have I told you lately that I love you?

That fateful day a couple of years ago, when I went down to my local dollar store and discovered the untold riches of Vengeance of the Zombies and Paul Naschy, is now justly famous in MMMMMovies lore. There's a reason that film was the first praised and enshrined on this site--for without it, this outpost of the Vicarage and the Duchy would almost certainly not exist.

What's lesser known is that in that same batch of movies was a werewolf double-feature bearing a copy of the 1972 Paul Naschy monster-mash Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man, directed by Paul's frequent collaborator, the recently lauded León Klimovsky. The sixth movie in Naschy's famous Waldemar Daninsky Werewolf Saga, DJvWM is sandwiched between the wild and woolly craziness of Fury of the Wolfman and the elegant artistic excellence of Curse of the Devil--and though it shares more in tone and content with the former than the latter, it's still got the childlike enthusiasm, go-for-broke kitchen-sink attitude, and flashes of almost-brilliance that make even a lesser Naschy flick an uncontrollable joy-storm--at least for someone like me.

We open in an opulent mansion somewhere in London, where late-middle-aged businessman Imre Kosta (José Marco) is hosting a dinner party and waxing nostalgic about his home town back in Transylvania. Having recently wedded trophy wife Justine--the ridiculously hot Shirley Corrigan, who would later appear in the more-than-decent Devil's Nightmare--he's decided to take her back to the old village on their honeymoon. Though his guests scoff at the idea and make fun of the old legends of vampires and werewolves, a blast of wind flings open a window and knocks over the bust of a satyr, obviously expressing supernatural disapproval at Imre's guests' lack of manners.

Next thing you know Imre and Justine are cruising the sheep-runs of outer Transylvania in their Rolls Royce, which you just know is going to draw the wrong kind of attention. It's the dead of winter, and once the snow starts dropping, the Rolls starts stopping. While Imre fiddles with the engine, Justine (working the pink-top/black-skirt ensemble under an AMAZING fur-edged coat) goes off to explore a nearby hovel, wherein she is horrified by the sudden appearance of a disfigured hobo! She flees back into Imre's arms, and soon they're off again, the hobo waving them a fond farewell.

What's pink, black, and awesome?

Soon they've arrived at the village of Baliavasta, Imre's home town where, as always, time apparently came to a stop around 1490. They get lodgings at the only Inn in town, run by Crazy Ralph-prototype Gyogyo (whose real name, Bernabe Barta Barri, is almost as fun to say). The innkeeper tells them the story of the hobo, who was apparently a wealthy pillar of the community until somehow popular opinion turned ("They even set his dogs against him!" goes Gyogyo) and the villagers burned down his house for some reason, rendering him a scarred homeless feeb "who wanders around the area like a living dead man!" When Gyogyo learns of Imre's plan to visit the old cemetery to pay his respects to his ancestors, he warns the businessman against it, and further tells him not even to THINK about visiting "The Black Castle" nearby. At a neighboring table, a group of unsavory looking villagers eyes the rich man hungrily, and we all know where this is headed.

At the cemetery Imre finds the family crypt (marked FEDALMATUNK, for some reason--maybe they sold ad space). The old cemetery is AWESOME, btw, with decrepit tombstones, wiry scrub growing on the graves, and skulls absolutely LITTERING the ground near the cemetery wall! Fire your caretakers, guys! I have to stop here and say that Justine arrives wearing another amazing outfit*, super-short skirt and over-the-knee high-heeled boots striking just the right somber note. (I can just imagine the conversation in their inn suite: "Yes, this is what I'm wearing. I want to pay my respects in the SEXIEST WAY POSSIBLE." God, I love Europe.)

*In point of fact, Justine's outfits are great throughout--Costuminatrix, you need to see this one! ;)

Yes, as any Naschyphile could have predicted, the ruffians from the inn have followed the honeymooners out to the cemetery and proceed to loot the Rolls. Imre runs to protect his property, ignoring Justine's frantic but eminently reasonable advice NOT to, and gets stuck like a pig for his trouble, expiring as his wife screams. The robbers close in around Justine with more than money on their mind, and it seems like she's doomed to a fate of death by sheepherder rape when--look, out on the plain! Is it a wolf? Is it an ox? NO, IT'S NASCHY TO THE RESCUE!

"Get ready for The Hurting, boys."

Say what you will about his plots, but my man Jacinto KNOWS how to make an entrance. He shows up out of freakin' NOWHERE, dressed in tight black pants and a tighter black turleneck. Like a superhero he leaps in to rescue the damsel in distress--but his rescue quickly devolves into a KILL-CRAZY RAMPAGE! He picks up one of the highwaymen and literally squeezes him to death, blood flowing from the man's mouth as Paul crushes him with his love. He then knocks another criminal to the ground, picks up a large jagged rock and drops it on the hapless robber's face! SPLAT! And he's not even a freaking werewolf at this point!

Having seen quite enough, the remaining highwayman, Otvos, turns around and hightails it back to Baliavasta, counting himself lucky that his internal organs are still internal. His work done, Naschy picks up the long-since-fainted Justine and totes her back to The Black Castle, which is of course Chez Daninsky.

Sometime later Justine awakens in a sumptuous bedroom, a candelabra flickering on the bedside table, just begging to be taken wandering through the darkened house. Wander she does, dressed now in a flowing black nightie that one can only assume Paul picked out and dressed her in. Seeing Imre's body laid out on the table in the dining hall and Paul pacing around it, Justine freaks and runs. Paul chases her into the crypt, where Justine is startled by her old friend the disfigured hobo, who I just knew was going to pop up again. Somehow they get Justine back to her room (a kindly old woman--Uswika Bathory, no relation--is there for the assist), and Paul and the hobo bury Imre in his native soil.

Meanwhile, back at the inn, Otvos is mustering a new gang in hopes of getting revenge on Paul for having killed his brother and for making him ruin a brand new set of underclothes. Gyogyo offers more helpful history, claiming that the witch Uswika "breastfed the monster who lives in the castle!" meaning Paul. They plan their vengeance, not being nearly as worried as they should that the night appointed for their attack just happens to be the first night of the full moon--a lack of foresight they'll soon come to regret.

After a dose of that famous sampled wolf howl and an extreme close-up of a stuffed owl outta nowhere, we join the highwaymen in the cemetery. Soon they're also joined by a slavering werewolf with huge pectoral muscles! Wouldn't you just know it? The shotguns, they do NOTHING, and the wolf man quickly makes mincemeat out of the gang, even stopping long enough to pull a strip of human jerky from one of their necks. Otvo is the sole survivor/escapee again, and as he leaves Paul breaks his shotgun in HALF and throws it down to show his contempt for conventional weaponry. Awesome.


Back in the castle, Justine wakes up and is greeted by Uswika, who doesn't seem all that bad for a member of the Devil's La Leche League. She eventually tells Justine about the Daninsky family history, hinting that "Waldemar is...very ill." Just how ill becomes apparent when Justine witnesses his transformation from her balcony window, all done typically with shadows and convulsions--not too hi-tech, but it gets the job done.

Now that we've got THAT out of the way, Otvos is still thirsting for revenge, this time escalating hostilities by assembling a full-on torch-bearing mob to go after the werewolf. He whets the crowd's appetite for bloodlust by amazingly pulling Uswika's disembodied head out of a sack! ("I surprised her on the way over here!" he explains--I'll just bet!) Silver bullets are made and the villagers attack, though luckily for Waldemar they can't hit the broad side of a massive pec. Paul finally throttles Otvos--again in human form, he needs no claws to take out this garbage--pushes the murdered body of the disfigured hobo out of the front seat of the Rolls, and he and Justine take off into the distance, the mob satisfied just to let them leave.

You may have noticed that's an awful lot of plot without a single mention of the esteemed Dr. J, and it's not for nothing--at this point we're more than 35 minutes in to a 76 minute movie (my version is sadly cut) and so far it's been all werewolf, no scientist. But that's about to change as the newly widowed Justine takes the newly orphaned and homeless Waldemar back to London and gets proactive about his whole "lunar-triggered murderous man-beast" problem by calling in a solid from one of her friends.

Otvos gives the best head in the Carpathians

Turns out Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jack Taylor, veteran of Jess Franco joints Succubus, Jess Franco's Dracula, and Female Vampire, not to mention many other memorable 70s horrors including Satan's Sadists and the unforgettable Pieces) was one of the guests at the opening dinner party, a fact we had no way of knowing until we see him again behind an office door with a placard reading, helpfully, "Dr. Jekyll." Sporting another fabulous outfit, this time with an amazing 70s hat, Justine is obviously not going to take no for an answer. Dr. Jekyll agrees to help Waldemar and quickly develops a fool-proof plan. He will inject Daninsky with some of his grandfather's good/evil separator-elixir on the night of the next full moon; if Hyde is stronger than the werewolf, then Daninsky will transform into Hyde, and a shot of the antidote will wipe out both the lycanthropy and the Hyde-osity in one swell foop! There's a reason this guy graduated at the top of his class, you'll agree. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

(After Justine leaves, Mirta Miller as Dr. J's sexy assistant Sandra makes her appearance, and we learn that while she's in love with the good doctor, Doc is carrying a torch for Justine--the fact that she's moved from his friend Imre to this muscle-bound lycanthrope without making a stop at Jekyllville seems not to sit well...)

Brimming with Sexy

After a brief and obviously cut scene of Naschy and Justine making out (I can only assume it went further than that, as Naschy would never let it stop at just a kiss), we go with Waldemar as he travels to Dr. Jekyll's clinic on the big night. He boards a closet-sized elevator with a sexy, sexy nurse and starts up to the top floor lab, when--oh, cursed Fate!--the elevator gets stuck between floors, trapping him there on the WORST NIGHT POSSIBLE! What are the chances? Two hours of nerve-jangling suspense later they're still stuck--how they've spent the intervening time is left up to imagination--and the bad moon rises, Waldemar changes, and the nurse meets her undeserved fate. Mere moments afterward the technicians fix the elevator and the werewolf bursts into the lobby, terrifying the waiting room before dashing out into the foggy London night. A passing go-go-girl also falls to the swipe of the werewolf's claw, and a young Warren Zevon watches from his window and gets a great idea for a new tune.

Back at Imre's mansion--Justine's pad, now--Dr. Jekyll, Justine, and Waldemar go over the plan again. This scene is notable for showing one of the hazards of living in an unrenovated castle in winter, as during the conversation each actor's breath is CLEARLY visible. Brrrr! Having moved their operations to the spacious attic in Justine's house (really, this thing is so huge as to be almost German-Expressionistic), they strap Waldemar to a table, watch him change into the werewolf, and draw some blood while he rages against the leather straps. (Why he can't break them as easily as the tons of chains he's busted in his time I don't know; maybe Dr. J sedated him pre-wolf-out.)

Armed with a vial of all-powerful Daninsky Juice, Dr. J starts to get the kind of ideas one naturally gets when immersed in mad science and Naschy-musk. Somehow deducing that Daninsky holds "The key to control of the mind!" he plans to make Waldemar his guinea pig, and thus somehow gain Justine's love too. When Nurse Sandra comes on strong Dr. J gives her a backhand, which is SUCH the wrong thing to do. "Remember, Henry," she spits, glaring at him in a frighteningly evil and arousing way, "The very deepest love is easily changed into the very deepest HATE!" Too true, baby. Too true.

After Justine inflames Sandra's jealousy more by giving Henry a peck on the cheek amongst the bubbling beakers, the time finally comes to give Naschy the juice. A few patented convulsions and hey presto! Naschy notches another Classic Monster portrayal by becoming Mr. Hyde!

"Don't run. Don't even fucking try."

I'll just go ahead and state the obvious here: Naschy as Hyde == AWESOME. The bob haircut, the pale green skin, the glittering eyes, the eeeevil expression--Jacinto has thrown himself into this role with the same verve and joy he always brings to the table, and it's a joy to behold. Unfortunately and awesomely, before the experiment is complete Sandra pops up outta nowhere to BURY A DAGGER IN DR. JEKYLL'S BACK, proving that hell hath no fury of the wolfman. Hyde takes the opportunity to escape the lab and goes on a kill-crazy rampage of his own, shoving random strangers to their deaths in the Thames and later pushing Sandra onto a conveniently placed set of spikes, ending her wicked ways for good and all.

With that done, where does a vicious embodiment of the Id go? To a swingin' go-go club, of course! We get some great dancing in short short skirts and shiny shiny boots, and Hyde (in full anachronistic cape-and-cane regalia) charms a go-go girl back to his table for drinks. Before he can seal the deal, though, Hyde is affected adversely by the club's strobe-light and changes back to Waldemar! (That Jekyll formula is some strong stuff, apparently, as not only does Hyde change, but his wardrobe changes as well!) His lady companion barely has time to say, "Hey, wtf?" before the full moon changes Waldy into the werewolf! Clearing the joint with his growly awesomeness (and once again having changed shirts), the wolf man prowls back to the attic lab, his curse forcing him to hunt down the one woman he loves.

Back in the expressionistic attic (which has bales of HAY in it, for some reason--did Imre live in a barn?), Justine takes a gun loaded with silver that Dr. J had put aside "just in case," and the werewolf creeps toward her under the rafters. She tries to shoot, but with a swipe of his mighty paw Waldemar severs her jugular and sends her sprawling to the hay. Still, with her last bit of strength she gets off another shot, fatally wounding the werewolf, who falls beside her and changes back to her true love's form. They die holding hands, and the circle of tragic love is complete.

Classic Monsters, Classic Shot

Astute readers will quickly realize that DJvWM was made around the same time as VotZ, and shares some of the same personnel; in addition to Naschy and Klimovsky, Mirta Miller, who appeared as Krishna's associate priestess and gold-skinned idol in VotZ, is on hand again in the hot assistant role. In his excellent autobiography Memoirs of a Wolf Man, Naschy admits that while writing the script for VotZ, he "must have been on some controlled substance" (paraphrase). I'm not sure which came first, but I'm betting that the same substances were in effect when he wrote the screenplay for Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf. The story structure is loose to say the least, moving on from one development to the next with the speed and agility of a werewolf leaping from crypt to crypt in a graveyard. As a result things can seem a little out of control, but you never have a chance to get bored and the enthusiasm of all involved can leave you a little breathless, but happy.

Naschy is great as always, particularly as the evil Hyde, where he really lets his joy shine through. (The werewolf makeup here is not up to the usual standard, it has to be said, though a few shots in the transformation scenes where Naschy has obviously let his beard grow out for effect is the kind of low-tech ingenuity I fucking LOVE.) Mirta Miller is wonderful as the evil sexy Sandra, and Jack Taylor makes a passable Dr. Jekyll. Shirley Corrigan as Justine is SMOKIN' HAWT, and I hope that in the uncut version of this we get to see more of her talents.

Direction-wise, Klimovsky doesn't indulge in the flashes of visual brilliance I'm used to from him--no slo-mo, few really vibrant scenes (the attic set of the finale is the big standout), and again, the pan-and-scan, cut-up version of the film I watched doubtless obscured or obliterated some of his compositions and more than one story point. (In one scene, Justine shows up with unexplained scratches all over her face and chest--I'm DYING to know!) Suffice to say I'd be very interested to see a restored, uncut version. Are you listening, dvd companies? GET ON IT!

This is one of those Naschy movies that a non-Naschyphile will likely dismiss as incoherent, sloppy, and an out-and-out mess, but for me it was still a hell of a lot of fun, and the only Daninsky flick I've seen where he gets to be TWO monsters instead of one. If you liked Fury of the Wolfman (and I did, a lot), Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man almost matches it for sheer craziness and fun. 2.5 thumbs--give it a shot.

And never turn your back on a Spanish nurse. Just not a good idea.



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