It's been said again and again that sometimes a person has to kiss a lot of frogs before stumbling upon that one little unpromising amphibian that is in fact an exchanted prince, waiting only for the unconditional love of the appropriate princess to break the spell and discover his true, glorious, sexy nature. It's a cliche because it's true--in movies and in life generally, sometimes untold treasure can lie hidden behind a slimy, warty exterior. However, focusing on the flash of fairy magic and the happy ever after tends to discount the hard fact that most of the time all one is left with is a squirming, indifferent frog and a less-than-appetizing aftertaste.
I really wanted to like Asylum of Satan. The pieces all seemed to be there--directed by Kentucy-based indie filmmaker William B. Girdler, the man behind the now-legendary Native American Neck-Fetus flick The Manitou as well as the MMMMMovies approved Cannibal/Slasher Three on a Meathook, Asylum of Satan boasts atrocious 70s fashion choices, low-rent spookhouse dream sequences, a Curse of the Demon-inspired devil, and the advisory involvement of the honest-to-Lucifer Church of Satan in its climactic Black Mass sequence. Add over-earnest high-school level acting, some of the more hilarious kill scenes I've seen in a while, and a typical stellar DVD treatment by Something Weird Video, and it should be 100% trash-movie WIN, right?
Somehow, though, Asylum of Satan doesn't quite get there. I guess another cliché also applies here: they can't all be gems.
The story here is quickly told: beautiful young concert pianist Lucina Martin (70s soap-opera star Carla Borelli) wakes up to find herself a prisoner at the Pleasant Hill Asylum, under the care of the enigmatic Dr. Spectre (Charles Kissinger). Unable to determine why she's there and furthermore unable to escape, Lucina is subjected to intrusive examinations and uncomfortable massage therapy while also suffering surreal waking nightmares in which the asylum is an uninhabited, cobweb-strewn wreck and strange creatures stalk and attack her from the shadows.
Meanwhile, Lucina's fiancé Chris Duncan (the kind of amazing Nick Jolley--more on him later) is desperate to track down his missing girlfriend, which he does by questioning her family doctor and then getting surly with the local police force. He finally follows her trail to Pleasant Hill, where it doesn't take him long to figure out something evil is afoot. He can't imagine quite HOW evil, though, as the fact is Lucina has been kidnapped by a Satanic cult who plan to sacrifice her in a ritual designed to bring His Infernal Majesty to earth and bestow limitless power on the not-so-good Doctor! Can Chris save her in time? Is there in fact anything to save her FROM? And what's the deal with Martine, the Frau Blücher-esque nurse who is also a painfully obvious tranny? Time will tell!
I'm not a negative person by nature, though, so let's focus on some of the goodies to be gleaned that ARE there.
First of all, there's some fun to be had with the acting. Despite or perhaps because of her extensive TV acting resume (which includes such notable entries as Ironside, One Day at a Time, Days of Our Lives, Quincy M. E. and Scarecrow and Mrs. King), Carla Borelli's performance as Lucinda smacks of nothing so much as your high school's homecoming queen emoting her heart out in the Senior class's production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Her lines are delivered with diaphragm-projected precision, whether she's pleading to be let out of her room or agreeing to brush her hair for dinner. And every facial expression she pulls seems to have been executed in expectation of an episode-ending freeze-frame. It's not good, but it *is* periodically entertaining.
An altogether better performance is turned in by Charles Kissinger, who also did some dramatic heavy lifting as Paw in Girdler's superior Three on a Meathook. Hampered by one of the worst spirit-gum goatees it has ever been my pleasure to witness (on the DVD commentary Girdler biographer Patty Breen calls it a "Muppet-fur beard"), Kissinger nonetheless imparts Dr. Spectre with a quiet melodramatic menace--and by the time he gets to chew a little scenery in the Black Mass finale, you're ready to believe he's in league with Old Scratch.
Another Girdler Players alumnus turning in a memorable performance is Sherry Steiner as "Blind Girl." Though her role here is not nearly as meaty and awesome as when she played Sherri The World's Most Understanding Barmaid in Three on a Meathook, Steiner brings the same dental-hygienist enunciation to her role as Dr. Spectre's visually impaired patient, and the level to which she commits to her perpetual thousand-yard stare can only be admired by thespians and fans alike. Her death scene here--left alone in a swimming pool and engulfed by a crowd of venomous aquatic snakes!--is also a highlight.
But for sheer entertainment value, the star of the show is definitely Nick Jolley as Lucina's finace Chris. From the moment he appears on an unseen people-mover at the airport, everything about him screams class: the page-boy bob, the gorgeous 70s porn-stache, the Danzig-level muttonchops, the striped polyester tie and frankly astounding plaid jacket. You'd think that no performance could live up to such an appearance, but you'd be wrong--Jolley plays Chris as a hot-headed, short-fused, quick-cursing man's man, just as likely to insult the cop he's begging for help as to punch out a caretaker at the drop of a smoldering Winchester cigarillo. And in his flashback love-scenes with Lucina, you just can't take your eyes off him...as desperate as you might be to do so.
Girdler the director gives us a few neat shots in between static mid-rangers and long talks in two-camera coverage. The silent, hooded inmates of the asylum are actually weird enough to be slightly unsettling, particularly in an early scene where Lucina spies a circle of them outside on the lawn. (A later dinner scene where each hooded patient sits motionless in front of a place bearing exactly one hardboiled egg also has a pleasant touch of the surreal.) And even when the low-budget seams are showing, Girdler often manages to pull something entertaining out of it--as in the aforementioned rubber snake death, a fire-extinguisher-fogged spookhouse segment in which The Cripple is attacked by insect-shaped fishing lures, and a totally nonsensical scene in which a gruesomely decaying monster attacks our heroine and then disappears.
Much has been made of the movie's last-act Black Mass segment (by people who make much of such things, anyway) because of the involvement of the Church of Satan as "technical consultants." Apparently Michael Aquino of the CoS (now of the schism-formed Temple of Set, for those of you keeping score) even flew out to Kentucky at his own expense, supplied the occultish props used in the final scene, and gave Girdler an actual Satanic ritual to use, making Asylum of Satan's finale one of the few accurate portrayals of an actual CoS ceremony on film.
The Devil does make his appearance, with a face more than a little reminiscent of the fire demon from Jacque Tourneur's Curse (or Night) of the Demon, and according to legend wearing the same hairy green suit used in Roman Polanski's gold-standard Satan flick Rosemary's Baby. But thanks to some of Nick Jolley's hot plaid lovin', Lucina is not quite as fit for sacrifice as Dr. Specter thought, leading to a less-than-ideal ending of the ceremony.
So there are a lot of nice pieces and things that are interesting to think about even if undeveloped (there's a minor Wizard of Oz parallel that is mentioned a couple of times but never seriously, which might have been thought provoking if pursued), but somehow the movie never quite crosses that line that separates the merely inept from the ineptly inspired. Too much talk, too little action, and not enough method to the batshittery to pull it all together.
Breen quotes Girdler as saying "You never see Spielberg's mistakes up on the big screen--me, I was learning as I went along, and all my mistakes went right up there." So taken with that grain of salt, it's interesting to see the development from here to Three on a Meathook--a better (and 50% cheaper) film. And depending on your tolerance for low-budget trash, you might find something more to like than I did--Breen herself is proof of that. But it didn't melt my butter, so I give Asylum of Satan 1.5 thumbs. It won't kill you to watch it, but then niether will Vern Troyer's sex tape.
So I've heard.
For an alarmingly thorough and altogether more charitable appreciation of Asylum of Satan as well as all Girdler's other efforts, click on over to Patty Breen's encyclopedic WilliamGirdler.com.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Another in the Vicar's series of sonnets inspired by Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies. Enjoy!
O Novo Mundo Estranho
His staircase is composed of human beings
crouched on all fours, like dogs at his command;
He stretches out to you a taloned hand,
his bearing and composure like a king's;
All round about his head the colors shift--
the world is suddenly liquid and strange;
his thoughts entire geometries derange
and set all moral sanity adrift;
His cape a devil's wings, his eyebrow creased
with fury, his top hat an altar stone
whereon is sacrificed and stripped to bone
your remnant mind, awakening the beast--
So best sit back and just enjoy the show,
in this strange world of Zé do Caixão.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
A few weeks back I was fortunate enough to get a look at a new slasher flick from Island Gateway Films, the fun, well-made, and still criminally sans-distributor Basement Jack. In my positive review of that movie I mentioned my happy discovery that the flick was the second in a projected trilogy from the production company's Black Gate Entertainment division, all written by Brian O'Toole and centering around various strange happenings at The Necropolitan, a mysterious, ancient hotel-cum-apartment building overseen by the equally mysterious and enigmatic character known only as The Manager (Nathan Bexton). Luckily my prayers to the Movie Gods were answered when not long after posting that review I received a screener of the first installment in the Necropolitan franchise, Chris Conlee's 2008 effort Evilution.
Having seen two of Island Gateway's offerings now, I can without reservation count myself a fan of their horror output. Where Basement Jack took the time-honored slasher formula and added enough odd and exploitastic elements to make it fresh and contemporary, Evilution combines biozombies, mad science, and alien invasion elements to lift itself well out of the 28 Days Later/Dawn of the Dead Remake-rehash rut it could easily have fallen into. Bloody, exciting, and most of all FUN, Evilution is another winner from Black Gate that should leave horror fans with a smile on their faces.
Plus--more Manager. Can you dig it?
We open in a military installation in Iraq, where a top secret biohazardous experiment has already gone disastrously wrong. In the hospital wing we find a white-coated scientist running for his life, the equipment around him toppled and destroyed, the bedsheets and walls bearing ominous sprays of blood. Less than 28 seconds later a group of wild-eyed, bloodstained zombie-types block his exit from the building, giving chase with acrobatic tumbling runs and wire-fu gurney-vaults as the doctor runs for his life. He's not fast enough, though, and is soon overrun by the bloodthirsty horde, which proceeds to tear out his throat, his abdomen, and any other part they can get their hands on, treating us to some nice chunky gore and energetic arterial spray.
Dr. Darren Hall (Eric Peter-Kaiser) at the exit, clued in by his lack of traveling orders and his stammering, shell-shocked manner. When they discover a vial of glowing red liquid clearly marked "BIOHAZARD" in his possession, they're ready to throw him in the stockade--but before they can the zombies burst out of the main building and start performing their horrific floor exercises, tearing the guards to pieces and allowing the Doc to escape. Moments later a passing US bomber drops its payload on the installation, following the ROTLD-1985 Protocol for Undead Infection Containment.
Backstory done, after the opening credits we find ourselves at THE NECROPOLITAN, where the somehow-made-it-out-alive Darren is taking up residence. He is welcomed by your favorite superintendent and mine, The Manager, played with typical weird, endearing priggishness by Nathan Bexton. I made no secret of my Bexton-fandom after my viewing of Basement Jack, and everything I loved about that performance is also in evidence here, with the sole exception of his exciting facial hair. The Manager leads Darren to his basement apartment, all the while dropping tantalizing hints about the building's history. (Manager: "There are some who say this building just appeared here, sometime after World War II." Darren: "You'd think somebody would have to build it!" Manager [with a meaningful smirk]: "You'd think.")
Maddie, played by the SMOKIN' HAWT Sandra Ramírez. Commenting on the strong smell of ammonia and chlorine, Darren learns that there used to be a swimming pool in the basement, and some of the chemicals were sealed in the walls when it was filled in. ("You'll get used to it," the Manager assures him. "Most of them did--do.") Darren moves in and quickly runs afoul of some Latino gangbangers headed by Random (Noel G), who don't appreciate his having taken residence in their former party pad. These thugs also take a strong interest when they see Darren accept delivery of a mysterious package, which the audience learns contains his military uniform, his service revolver, and a vial of the glowing red liquid the military hoped had been destroyed.
Conlee does a good job early on establishing the tone of the movie, walking a line between the horrific imagery of the biozombie attach and the off-kilter comedy of Darren's moving-in experiences. Though some of the comedy is perhaps a bit too broad--Darren gets locked out of his apartment and spends a good deal of time outside, in his underwear, for instance--other bits, such as Maddie's dressing-down of the poseur gangstas and the Manager's helpful note to Darren (which he discovers taped to his chest on waking after his first night) work a little better.
Romance blooms between Darren and Maddie, as one would expect. Despite being RIDICULOUSLY HAWT, Maddie apparently has trouble getting dates, and wastes no time throwing herself at her shy, reserved housemate. In an improbably heavy first-date conversation we learn that Darren is emotionally scarred by his mother's suicide and was inspired at an early age to become a scientist after witnessing a lightning strike destroying a massive tree in the middle of a field. (A nice allusion to Frankenstein, the novel, by O'Toole, there.) Even though Maddie is obviously willing to let him practice his filthy creation on her, IYKWIM, Darren begs off to go downstairs and finish setting up his apartment. Because he doesn't want to seem easy, I guess.
Victor Frankenstein and Herbert West before him, he hopes to harness this blasphemous power to conquer death, in this case in memory of his beloved mother who as a child he could not save. As mad scientist origins go it works for me--and since any glowing vial containing the secret of life is sure to call up associations with Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator, it's good to know that the filmmakers realize this and embrace it. (Some of Peter-Kaiser's mannerisms and actions, particularly when injecting a rat with a sample of his formula, definitely recall Jeffrey Combs's iconic performance.)
It's not long before the gang breaks in and steals Darren's stuff, leading to a mis-identification of the biohazard as primo drugs and the offer to become the Doc's distributors. That doesn't pan out, but the Doc does gain points with the group for patching Random up after a gangland shooting. But when a follow-up shooting leaves the gangsta beyond repair, Darren just can't help giving that good ol' life-juice a try...
Evilution is fast-paced, engaging, and never boring, vacillating between scenes of Darren pursuing his obsession, romantic misunderstandings with Maddie, and the gang trio's comedy-tinged conversations. There's also a parallel plot with the military trying to track Hall down, sending an army assassin after him to tie up that last loose end. Through some footage the army brass watches from the apocalypse at the original installation we also learn that the compound utilized in the Army of the Dead project was of extraterrestrial origin...always a good idea to shoot that into human subjects! We also get a nice mad scientist rant from the head of the Army project, who theorizes that this will be "The next step in the evolution of man!" As you would, naturally--I mean, that kinda goes without saying, doesn't it? Pity that the next step in evolution is so blasted vulnerable to chlorine and ammonia...
more good gore, chlorine-filled condom-bombs, and a rooftop final confrontation that is not terribly surprising but that I still found satisfying. Add a couple of Manager segments and a coda in his own personal Mütter Museum and I finished up the proceedings with a well-entertained smile on my face.
One thing that leapt out at me differentiating Evilution from Basement Jack was the superiority of the FX here. Apart from the "death from above" conclusion of the opening segment, I didn't notice any CG effects in the flick. Everything else seemed to be done with practical effects, and most of them--with the infected tearing chunks out of their victims' throats, ripping at abdomens, etc.--were very chunky and convincing. The pacing is better too, as the story moves along at a very brisk clip throughout to the frenetic us-against-them conclusion.
The acting has its ups and downs. Eric Peter-Kaiser is a little bland as the boyish, shy mad scientist, reacting to most developments with the same blank expression; this worked when he played Basement Jack Riley, but here not as much. However, I was quite engaged by Sandra Ramírez's take on Maddie---Ramírez gives the character a wounded depth behind her goofy, defensive humor and shows she's much more than a pretty face and well-filled tank top--though SWEET JESUS GOD she's certainly THAT as well. Noel G was also in Basement Jack as one of the denigrating detectives, but in the role of Random he gets to flex his muscles more and flesh out a potentially two-dimensional character with flashes of vicious ambition. (His speech about the Meaning of Life, for instance, is delivered with conviction born of hard experience.) His sidekicks James Duval and Guillermo Díaz provide some comic relief that occasionally works, but other times can be grating--your mileage will vary depending on your tolerance for juvenile humor. (FWIW, the Vicar's tolerance for such is very, very high.)
THE BEXX--Nathan Bexton as The Manager, who continues to climb the Vicar's list of favorite horror movie icons with his quirky, hilarious, subtext-rich portrayal. Again making the most of minimal screentime, Bexton OWNS every scene he's in, particularly when he suffers another annoying interruption in the film's third act while the zombies are overrunning The Necropolitan. His frustrated babysitter brush-off of the tenants who come banging on his door has me even more excited about the prospect of the third and final Necropolitan movie, in which we're promised we'll finally learn the history of the Man, the Myth, the Manager. Awesome.
It's not all wine and roses--there's a bit of silliness with a tattooed junkie played by Billy Morrison, one of those guys who will apparently shoot up ANYTHING, mainlining the Glowing Red Stuff because "if it laid [Random] low, it *has* to be good stuff!" A little bit weak, especially when it would have been just as easy to have him infected in the more traditional, tooth-centric way. And while I see where the military subplot was necessary and it did have some great moments (watch for a random act of violence against a bonsai tree!), the character of the assassin sent to take care of Darren never really clicked for me, and I never really felt our hero was in much danger from that avenue.
Still, there's a fun to be had here if you go along for the ride, and like Basement Jack, Evilution is a better-made, more entertaining horror flick than many I've seen with nation-wide distribution. 2.5 thumbs, and here's hoping someday soon a distributor will wise up and start putting these flicks in front of the wider viewing public. If you get a chance to catch either on the festival circuit, do yourself a favor. And tell 'em the Vicar sent you.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
It's been a while since I sang the praises of Mill Creek's 50 Chilling Classics set, but the time has come to do so once more. I've said it before and I'll say it again--the best $20 I've ever spent for which I got a receipt.
Of course whenever you're buying your movies in bulk you're going to end up with a high crap-to-gold ratio, but the 50CC set keeps that ratio admirably close to the 1:1 mark. Not only that, but the goldiness of the gold is so much greater than the crappiness of the crap, it ends up as much more than a net win--it's a treasure.
Really, I'm not kidding. Go buy one now.
But even if the ratio were more like 5:1 on the crap side, the set would have still been worth double the price for introducing me to this wonderfully creepy and astonishingly overlooked fright flick from 1973, Willard Huyck's Messiah of Evil (aka Dead People). A movie that for my money does almost everything right, Messiah of Evil combines slow-build suspense, Lovecraftian story elements, and go-for-the-throat set pieces to deliver a tale that always leaves the Vicar smiling, satisfied, and more than a little creeped-out.
I'll be the first to admit the movie stumbles coming out of the gates: a blandly handsome young man runs down a shadowy street, from who or what we can't see. As he stops to catch his breath, a young girl beckons to him from a hidden courtyard. He goes in and drinks from a fountain before collapsing on the ground. The girl kneels over him, offers her hand to kiss--and then pulls out a straight razor and slits his throat!
Which by itself is not a bad scene...except that it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the movie it introduces. Neither character is spoken of again, the girl's method of killing is unlike that of the film's baddies--hell, even the location looks completely unlike anything else in the film. It really serves no purpose except to open with a shock, which it gains by sacrificing storytelling integrity.
(Still, the wonderfully overblown theme song that plays over the scene almost redeems it: "I gave my message to the wind,/ I told my story to the sea--/ NObody else...is listening...to meeee..../ HOLD OOOOOOON TO LOOOOOOOOVE!")
we stand at the end of a long corridor, the far end of which is lost in the glare of harsh sunlight. Slowly a shadowy figure emerges from the gleam, a woman weaving erratically as she draws ever nearer. In voice-over she tells us the basics of her situation, her voice starting in a whisper and building at last to a mad wail:
"They say that nightmares are dreams perverted. I told them here it wasn't a nightmare--but they don't believe me. They nod, and make little notes in my file...But there's so little time left! You've GOT to listen!See? A woman everyone thinks is crazy, who's gone through some horrific experience, and the fate of the world depends on her convincing the viewer to believe her incredible tale? THAT'S the way you should have opened the movie! (Though admittedly, following that awesome speech with "HOOOLD OOOON TO LOOOOVE!" might have undercut the effect.)
"Not far from here there's a small town on the coast--they used to call it New Bethlehem, but they changed the name to Point Dune, after the moon turned blood red...Point Dune doesn't look any different than a thousand other neon-stucco towns--but what they did to me...what they're doing now...
They're coming here...they're waiting to pierce the city. They're peering around buildings at night, and they're waiting...They're waiting for you. And they'll take you...one by one, and no one will hear you scream! NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU SCREAM!"
"Arletty" (Marianna Hill), traveling to Point Dune in search of her father. Pops is a moderately famous artist who moved to Point Dune to paint; he often wrote Arletty letters, and over time the missives got more and more bizarre and finally stopped altogether. In his last letter, Dad told her not to come looking for him, lest his terrible fate ensnare her too--so naturally, off she goes!
Huyck wastes no time piling on the creepiness, even before Arletty gets into Point Dune proper. She stops at a gas station on the outskirts of town and finds the attendant emptying his revolver into the dark field behind the garage. He explains that he's shooting at stray dogs, a claim immediately undercut by unidentifiable but still scary animal noises echoing through the darkness. "Doesn't sound like dogs," Arletty observes. "HAS to be," the attendant replies. "Has to be dogs! I've hunted out in them woods--nothing but rabbits and quail. Rabbits don't make that sound!" When their transaction is interrupted by the appearance of the SCARIEST ALBINO EVAR in a pickup truck with a strange cargo, the attendant advises her to leave, even without paying. "Just GET OUT!" he whispers...and soon enough, we find out why.
The sound of wind and waves drowns out all else as she explores the deserted studio, which is decorated with unsettling paintings of pale men and women on every wall, a taxidermied dog frozen in mid-snarl, and an awesome bed suspended on chains from the ceiling! (I'm TOTALLY getting one of these when I remodel the Vicarage.) In short order she finds her father's sketchbooks and diaries, and we get to hear the old man (also in voice-over) telling about his strange experiences in Point Dune:
"The visions are coming from areas of my mind that I don't understand...these grotesque images keep crowding in on me...At night I find myself wandering through the town...catching glimpses of horrid animals I know can't be real...Women with pale faces and shadowy figures, staring out at the black water..."
Students of literature will immediately recognize this as a classic Lovecraftian story set-up, in more the "uncanny happenings and unimaginable creatures revealing unendurable truths" way than the "OMG AN OCTOPUS-FACED MONSTER" way. It's very well done, and the writing for the old man and Arletty's speeches will give you the campfire-story chills if you're not made of stone.
The next day Arletty goes to an art gallery in Point Dune, run by an art dealer who just happens to be blind! Through her smarmy/creepy interpreter-son, the old woman does her best to make Arletty unwelcome, denigrating her father's work and advising her to leave town. But when the son lets slip that some other strangers had come in that morning asking about her dad, Arletty heads to the Seven Seas Hotel to follow up her only lead.
At the hotel, Arletty finds the strangers--dapper folklore hobbyist Thom (Michael Greer) and his two traveling companions, exotic dark-haired beauty Laura (Invasion of the Bee Girls' Anitra Ford) and petulant, childlike blonde Toni (played by the all-time "I can't believe you didn't take a stage name" winner, JOY BANG). The groovy trio invite Arletty in to listen to an homeless wino Thom has befriended in order to learn more about the history of the town, Old Charlie--portrayed by the legendary God of Character Actors, Elisha Cook Jr.! He's only in the movie for around five minutes, but Elisha makes all of them count, laying out the terrifying legend of the Blood Moon, a supernatural occurence that had strange, horrifying effects on the populace:
"My daddy called it the Blood Moon...he said that was the night he lost religion. Folks started bleedin', out of control...they found babies, little children eating raw meat! It was like the redder the moon got up there...the more people were bein' jerked toward Hell!"
Thom pays Charlie in booze for his story, and explains to Arletty that they saw her dad's paintings in the gallery that morning--"In fact, it was a portrait of you!"--and asked about him, after which the dealer must have removed them, since Arletty saw no such painting. Unsatisfied, Arletty leaves only to be stopped by Old Charlie in the alley. Elisha Cook Jr. shows why he had nearly 200 films to his credit by the time he checked out, out-crazying even Crazy Ralph with his warning:
"If you love your daddy...you have to kill him! You have to! You...you can't bury him--don't put him in the ground! You've got to burn him! You gotta put fire to his body!"
Later that night Thom and the girls show up at Arletty's dad's pad, having been thrown out by the manager after Old Charlie turned up dead in the alley. Inviting themselves to stay, the oddly-mannered menage a trois moves in, and before long all four of them are suffering the strange effects of the Point Dune air, not to mention the unwelcome attentions of its nocturnal residents...
What I would like to talk about a little are a few of those artful touches that really enhanced my enjoyment of the film, one of them being the use of sound. This was made in the days before surround sound, obviously, but that doesn't stop Huyck from making the most of the aural as well as the visual. The score is minimalist and synth-based, largely eschewing songs and recurrent musical themes for discordant, disconcerting swells and vaguely sci-fi ambient noise that are much more effective than an orchestral score probably could be. More than that, though, the near-constant sound of wind and waves in the background gives the whole film a mournful, lonely sonic backdrop, against which scenes of Arletty wandering through her father's abandoned studio or Thom walking the deserted streets of Point Dune after dark play out with spooky, ghost-town gloom. In the few scenes where the wind-and-wave track ins not present--as in the standout Grocery Store Scene where the hapless Laura is introduced to Point Dune's nocturnal residents--the silence becomes uncanny, with a thematic and emotional weight it would otherwise lack.
The visuals Huyck is able to achieve are often striking as well, despite the sometimes garish lighting and unfortunate beat-up condition of every print I've ever seen of the film. Several times in the film we get long, wide-angle crane shots showing one of our protagonists as a tiny figure in an ominously empty landscape, which emphasizes both the strange emptiness of the town and the character's vulnerability, out in the open with no place to hide. And again, the incessant sound of the wind and waves amplifies this effect by a full factor.
dead bodies, mounted so their eyes are always focused on the center of the room where the living go about their business. As rad as that chain-suspended bed is, I doubt I'd be able to get much sleep on it. And don't even talk to me about settling in for a nice warm bath.
Because much of the film focuses on slow discovery and events unfolding in uncanny relative silence, when that hush is disturbed by scenes of horrifying action, once again it packs an amplified wallop. The exits of Thom's two traveling companions are definitely the standout scenes here, the aforementioned grocery store discovery trumped by Toni's ill-fated visit to the local cinema. It's really an awesomely built-up scene, as the initially empty rows behind Toni slowly fill up with Point Dune's strangely silent residents, turning the tension screws until finally it all breaks loose in a truly frightening way.
The performances here are mostly good--Mariana Hill is effective as Arletty, particularly when the strange effects of the approaching Blood Moon start to show. Michael Greer as Thom is coolly deadpan and weirdly appealing; Anitra Ford adds some nice depth to her sultry, spurned lover character, and Joy Bang as Toni is also good at portraying her character's wild-child naivete. Memorable cameos by Elisha Cook Jr. and his fellow character-actor veteran Royal Dano lend a certain gravitas, and whoever played the Ominous Albino--my friend, welcome to my nightmares. You've earned your place.
CREEPY AS FUCK, Messiah of Evil easily merits the coveted 3+ thumb rating. Find yourself a copy--and stay off the beaches at night. You won't like what you find out there.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Sometimes Mad Movies do more than inspire joy, horror, and reflection--especially for a viewer with the poetic soul of your ever-lovin' Vicar. Sometimes the only way to express the wonder of a particularly meaningful scene is through the medium of poetry. Therefore I present the first in what I hope will be a continuing series of sonnets inspired by the films we celebrate here on Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies. Enjoy.
Le Morte du Whitey
(inspired by Private Parts (1972))
He felt it just before it was too late--
the ozone crackle running up his wrist,
hair rising on his spine--then like a Fate
his tiny rodent brain could not resist
the keys called out to him. Bare copper wire
curled its snake's tongue around the iron ring
and venomed it with lightning, its entire
circumference a trap ready to spring.
And who's to say that something in his head
(approaching Reason) did not see the Grim
Reaper couched there, and knowingly reach up
to take his hand? What future life for him--
the cage of this hotel, Aunt Martha's cup
No matter now.
Poor Whitey's dead.
Read about the film that inspired this poem: Private Parts (1972).
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Greetings dearest friends, it is I, The Duke, having returned from a long trip abroad to bring to you once again the cinematic brilliance found in the nether regions of the world (specifically, the anus, or as some like to call it, Germany). It was bitterly cold as I stepped out of my rented calash, the snow crunching under my leather boots. My first steps into the lower Alemannia region were met with some resistance, as if the snow drifts themselves wished to stop my journey.
I had come at the behest of a descendent of the great Bavaria duke Garibald II, a tyrant whose foul deeds were still spoken about in hushed tones before roaring fires in the dead nights of the Bavarian winter. The missive revealed little, only that I should make all haste and tell no one, save my normal cortege of servants, luggage bearers, and Roman bodyguards, their rippling muscles and mute stares more than enough to keep safe my personage.
I was met in short order by a hunched man who refused any questions, simply beckoning for me to follow. The town we were in, if it could be termed that, consisted of a few earthen hovels and one towering keep, its portcullis raised. We walked across the drawbridge, pikes adorned with heads running the length of the approach, their faces obscured by tar, the eyes long since plucked out by the Great Ravens circling overhead.
Once inside, the master of the keep, and sender of the letter, entered the courtyard via a small side door. He was dressed handsomely: a crimson scale tunic, oiled bearskin cloak, and ermine breeches. A helmet constructed of wyvern skull and elk antler adorned his head. A giant of a man, he approached and bent knee, as was my due. I raised an eyebrow at the giant claymore scabbarded on his back, but said nothing. Most don’t enter my presence armed and continue to live, but I chose to ignore the slight. This was his keep, after all.
He began rambling in High Chant, a forgotten language employed by scholars, and one that I was fluent in. I learned that he had commissioned a dig some ways to the south, near the Swiss border. Digging deeper than was advisable given this region’s history, he stumbled upon a cavern containing the corpse of a Deepwurm. The skeleton, long since fossilized, reeked of ancient magic. Where the stomach once was sat a treasure long since thought lost in antiquity.
He continued to babble in his excitement, so I raised a finger, bringing him to instant silence. I motioned for him to bring the treasure forth. He barked a command, which brought a servant forward. He was carrying a blackened ossuary, its sides covered in harshly carved glyphs not wrought by human hands. Trying to hide my excitement, I now realized why I had been asked to come here. This man didn’t know how to open the container and wished to gain favor in my eyes by presenting me with it as a gift, even though he didn’t know what it held.
I knew, however. I also knew how to open it. Spreading my hands over the lid, careful not to touch it, I began reciting an ancient cantrip not uttered by human tongue for over 3 millennia. There issued forth a loud hissing, and the lid popped open with such force that it cleanly severed the head of the servant. I deftly scooped up the contents of the chest before he went crashing to the ground. In my hands I beheld a prize thought lost…
Teenage Catgirls in Heat is one of those movies that you either love or hate, much like every single film ever released by Troma. It is silly, poorly acted, poorly shot, and terribly directed while at the same time utterly hilarious, off-the-charts crazy, and insane. The movie fits perfectly inside our Doctrine, for it is a glorious failure indeed. We have to look no further than the movie’s intro to see this, which features Lloyd Kaufman, Troma’s intrepid president, sharing his thoughts on the movie. Using a ton of cat-related puns, he gets us in the mood, and after he dropped this bombshell, I knew I was in for a treat:
Kaufman: “Notice I’ve made no ‘pussy’ jokes. That’s because, here at Troma, we say ‘cunt’”.
This man is a visionary and a genius. Kaufman for President, 2016.
Our movie opens with a cat, shockingly enough. I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the only awesome camera shot in the film, and it just so happens to be the first one. The sun glares down on what appears to be the Great Pyramids in Egypt, but then the camera pans down, it is revealed we are looking at the trunk of a rusted out car in a junkyard. Very clever, and it got my hopes up, but alas this is the only clever camera use in the whole movie.
Anyhoo, the aforementioned cat takes off through the countryside before finally arriving home, climbing up on the roof. Meanwhile, an old grandmother type heads outside to feed it, eating some of the food herself at the same time. Realizing the cat is on the roof, she heads back in and goes upstairs to the attic. A dusty trunk she has stored up there begins to rattle and, um, purr, which causes her to investigate. Inside the trunk she finds a statue of a cat, which she begins praying to. Further searching the trunk, she finds a dagger, which she uses to off herself by breast stabbing!
Ok, at this point, I’m wondering WTF is going on, but the movie isn’t done yet, no! Apparently the statue (or icon, as it is referred to) is possessed by some Egyptian cat goddess. We aren’t too sure what her goal is, but her first deed upon being freed from the old lady’s trunk is to set off a wave of cat suicide! To say I had tears of laughter streaming down my face at the next few scenes is a gross understatement. We are treated to several scenes of fake cats being tossed off roofs and bridges and being run over by cars. Friends, if I were to ever make a movie, I am going to totally rip this scene off, it was beyond awesome.
Apparently the suicidal cats aren’t totally crazy after all, because once they shed their mortal coil they are reborn, as Teenage Catgirls, IN HEAT! Soon we have 5 or 6 naked catgirls running around, who immediately head for the old lady’s house. Here we are treated to a few nude scenes that were obviously shot to provide nudity to the film, a decision I totally respect.
While nekkid catgirls are running amok through the countryside, we are introduced to our two heroes of the film. One is a hapless backpacker, a hitchhiker who is getting a ride in the back of a pickup from an old couple. After running over a cat, the hitchhiker is thrown from the truck into a ditch while the old folks speed off (note to self: avoid hitchhiking). Our young hero, who looks like a member of Haircut 100, ends up running into our other protagonist, The Cat Catcher.
Apparently this guy is employed to find lost kitties, through the use of high tech equipment resembling something The Ghostbusters would use. This lead me to refer to him as The Cat Buster in my notes, and now in this review. The Cat Buster knows something is up, something cat-related is in the offing and he’s going to get to the bottom of it. Through a series of expository scenes, we learn about Egyptian cat worship and various other plot devices, but the important thing is that he hooks up with the hitchhiker and both of them begin trying to get to the bottom of the new catgirl menace.
Meanwhile, back at catgirl central, all of the felines are dressing up using the old lady’s clothes, which results in them resembling Cyndi Lauper on crank, and watching daytime television, through which they learn rudimentary English in short order. One of the catgirls stands out from the rest in that she doesn’t randomly murder dudes for sex. More on her later. In the meantime, we are treated to a scene of a catgirl running off into the woods, stumbling upon a man sleeping alone in a tent, and then sexing him up before clawing him to death.
The Cat Buster and the hitchhiker find his body, which hilariously has a face frozen in ecstasy. Realizing they are close, they renew their hunt. Eventually the hitchhiker runs into the non-murderous catgirl and of course falls in love. This leads to them making date plans, which leads to a hilarious scene in which the Cat Buster helps the hitchhiker dress for success, which results in him wearing clothes that Carlton from Fresh Prince would be embarrassed to be caught out in.
The day of the date comes, and off they go to have a picnic by a stream. Meanwhile, the Cat Buster breaks into the old lady’s house, suspecting the source of Egyptian cat terror can be found within. Meanwhile, our couple in love come back and begin sexing each other up, which works fine, until the catgirl looses control of herself and starts clawing up the hitchhiker, who panics and runs… straight into the Cat Buster, who has grabbed the cat icon and is trying to escape the wrath of the other catgirls.
What happens next will go down in MMMMovie history as one of the most cringe-worthy and simultaneously awesome scenes ever. The Cat Buster pulls out a banana peel, drops it on the floor, and we watch as the catgirls come running, one by one, through the door only to slip and fall into a heap! At this point, I thought it couldn’t get any better. Oh boy was I wrong! Very quickly, the hitchhiker and the rest of the catgirls are out in the yard, while the Cat Buster is caught up in the mystical Egyptian magic of the cat icon inside the house.
The door opens, and out walks the Cat Buster, who is now apparently the avatar of the cat goddess. Words fail me, so just look at the following screenshot instead:
See! See the awesome! He then goes into explaining that the goddess never meant any harm or some such. At this point I was quite drunk, but basically he does some magic and resurrects every one of the clawed-to-death guys that we’ve seen throughout the movie. Crazy, crazy stuff. He then goes on to say that all the catgirls must return to their previous cat form. This upsets the hitchhiker, who wants to continue to bone his cat girlfriend. The cat goddess solves this problem by giving him the ability to transform into a cat during the nighttime, thus allowing him to continue his cat-fucking fetish.
So, basically, this movie is awful and awesome. I’d give it .5 thumbs up for people who don’t like Troma movies, and 2 solid thumbs up for people who do. It isn’t the best Troma offering, but it is hilarious and entertaining. I was sad to find that the nudity in the film is less than it should be for a film called Teenage Catgirls in Heat, but what’s there is nice I suppose. Glorious failure it is, and I must recommend it to all of my more discriminating readers.
In honor of The Cat Buster and his awesome equipment, I’m awarding Teenage Catgirls in Heat the prestigious (and just now invented) Duke of DVD Award for Busting Excellence:
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Wow, what a day it is for birthdays. Not only is today the anniversary of the birth of such historical notables as King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden, General George s. Patton, and author Kurt Vonnegut, but also that of b-movie favorite Bill Moseley and less-mad movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Calista Flockhart, and Demi Moore (whose boobs, it must be pointed out, are much younger). Further, this date in 1984 saw the release of both A Nightmare on Elm Street and Silent Night, Deadly Night. Truly a red letter day.
And even if not for those reasons, also on this day at some indeterminate distance in the past, the earth saw the unholy spawning of your favorite Nunsploitation-obsessed adventurous aristocrat and mine, his corpulence The Duke of DVD!*
*Strangely, today is also the birthday of an alarming number of adult film stars, including but not limited to Erin Moore, Gwenn, Cage, Olivia Saint, Alexxx Knight, Cassandra Wilde, Tyler Knight, Talon, and Hyapatia Lee. Coincidence? THERE ARE NO COINCIDENCES ON THE INTERNET!
So let's all wish the Duke many happy returns, and hope for many more decades of delight, depravity, and unidentifiable odors. Happy birthday, Duke!
Don't Deliver Us from Evil starts out with a bang. After a moody opening with the camera slowly zooming in on a lone candle in a somber cathedral, we cut to the dorm in a Catholic girls' school, where a young nun checks on the children in her care and then ducks behind a back-lit curtain to get out of the habit, stripping down porn theater-style to a nubile nude silhouette. From one of the beds, dark-haired pupil Anne (Jeanne Goupil) watches, chewing gum most significantly. Already I feel the need for confession.
Anne does too, as once the show's over she hides under the covers to write her wicked thoughts in her journal. However, rather than addressing the entry to "Dear Diary," she dedicates it to Lord Satan! It seems that Anne and her blonde BFF Lore (Catherine Wagener) have decided being good is for the birds, and naughtiness is much more fun. In the confines of the school, the girls avail themselves of such opportunities for evil as reading erotica together under their bedclothes (zang), outraging the priest with made-up sins at confession, putting on lipstick when no one's looking--and, of course, pledging themselves to Satan in their diaries. "We get such pleasure from doing bad," Anne scribbles to Old Scratch, "to sin has become our chief aim." Well, it's important to have goals in life.
This being a modern Catholic Girls' School, the pupils are allowed to go home on the weekend, though they're expected to spend one of their days off attending Mass. Anne and Lore are neighbors in beautiful rural France, where Anne's parents have a large estate, complete with herds of cattle, dirty uneducated farm hands, a house full of servants, and ruined buildings on the grounds for the girls to play in. Alone with her nice but not-very-attentive parents, Anne is obviously bored and pining for time with her evil blonde companion. She spends her time riding her bike, smoking, and kissing herself in her bedroom mirror, practicing wantonness for future use.
LUST, everyone's favorite. While the priest rails against this "most terrible" of sins, the girls imagine him naked and raving, frothing at the mouth and falling over--a rare comedic scene in what is otherwise a deadly serious movie. (Shots of the congregation listening to the sermon, picking their noses, mouths agape, obviously reflect the girls' view of their church-mates as ridiculous.)
Most germane to the plot, when the girls go up for communion at the end of the service, we see them both palm and pocket their Holy wafers. Shortly we learn that Anne and Lore are planning to perform a ceremony at the abandoned chapel on Anne's family's estate, and have collected "almost 100 Hosts" for the purpose. Back at school the following week, they also steal some holy robes, an old chalice, and a few sips of sacramental wine. cue the blasphemous music...
While returning to their bunks, they spy two twittering nuns--"Sister Martha and the novice!"--going into a locked room. Looking through the keyhole Anne sees the women doffing their wimples and exchanging a giddy kiss! Later she rats out the sapphic sisters to her priest, who gets very hot and bothered hearing about it, wanting to know "how it made [Anne] feel." She plays along, imagining the priest undressing and coming toward her...
Joël Séria has done a good job of setting up these two girls as intelligent but immature nymphettes, exploring both their burgeoning sexuality and their personal power with unusual but largely harmless pranks. They may have odd fixations, but they are clearly just kids--children playing at maturity, girls who are basically good but getting a kick out of being bad. However, when the summer vacation rolls round Anne's parents go on a two-month trip through Europe, leaving Anne alone at the estate in the care of the attentive housekeeping staff and Lore's parents, who are their neighbors. Without regular adult supervision or the structure of daily classwork, the pieces are in place for the girls to escalate their behavior, with increasingly dangerous and tragic results.
The first step up occurs when Anne and Lore are out biking and run into one of the cowherds in the process of taking a leak against a fence. After teasing him about that, they join him watching his cows and proceed to tease him in a more general way, Lore stretching out on the grass and flashing her panties while Anne asks suggestive questions like "Have you ever made love to a woman?" Driven to distraction, the farm hand finally makes a grab at Lore, who takes off running across the field laughing in a girlish, innocent way. She stops laughing when he gives chase and catches her, throwing her to the ground and proceeding to get very rapey in an extended, progressively harder-to-watch molestation scene. Finally Lore is able to dislodge him with a well-placed knee to the groin, and while he writhes in pain she and Anne, laughing again, open the gate and let all the cattle out before getting back on their bikes and zooming away.
Having tasted the sweet fruits of harassing the uneducated labor force, Anne and Lore next go to the hovel of Léon, a mentally challenged farmhand whose only companions are his half-dozen caged songbirds. Coldly, methodically, the girls poison the birds--"One at a time...so he'll suffer more." Séria lingers on one unfortunate creature writhing in its death throes (one suspects, despite assurances to the contrary, that animals WERE harmed in the making of this film) and later on the sadistic smiles of the girls as they watch poor Léon discovering his deceased pet. Later that night they go to the rapey cowherd's shack and set it and the surrounding haystacks of FIRE! (Shots of the girls riding their bikes through the fiery cataclysm, laughing all the way, are actually quite chilling.) Yes, things are DEFINITELY getting serious.
Afterward they row out to the middle of a lake with Léon and cast their collected Holy Wafers into the water as a final act of evil effrontery to God. Finally tumbling to what's going on, Léon freaks, at which point the girls push HIM overboard! Things go from slapstick to gradually more serious as the viewer starts to worry for the farmhand's safety--but finally he makes shore along with the girls, at which point they lead him through the woods, once again flashing their legs at him and trying to whip him into a lustful frenzy--it works, and Léon gets rapey too, Lore once again the object of his attentions. This time Anne must rescue her friend by kicking the poor tard in the nose, leaving him bloody and beat as they fly off, their laughter not nearly so pure and innocent now.
There follows a strange interlude where Lore goes away for a few days, once again leaving Anne lonely and bored--trying to amuse herself, she goes to Léon's room again, ripping up his nightclothes and burning holes in his underwear before taking another canary out of its cage and crushing it with her bare hands! Without Lore it's just not fun, though--in fact, perhaps realizing a bit of the enormity of her fall, Anne rushes to the abandoned chapel in tears and falls on her knees at the altar, sobbing--it's a quiet moment that implies Anne's loss of innocence is complete and sadly irreversible.
drinking wine, smoking, and writing their own evil erotica, a Baudelaire-influenced manuscript entitled Pieces Cruelles. One night they happen upon a middle-aged motorist who's out of gas, and bring him back to their pad to tease in their usual way. Predictably he gets all rapey on Lore, leading Anne to club him to death with a log from the fire! Having crossed the final line, they drop the body into the lake and return to school, their consciences and fear of punishment weighing on them heavily. Finally unable to stand it anymore, the girls devise a way out that closes the movie in a beautiful, memorable, and still genuinely shocking way.
This movie was apparently inspired by the same source material as Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, which was also about two young girls whose friendship and fantasies led to murder (though in that case their imagination took the form of a magical fairyland rather than hardcore Satanism). However, while I watched it I was reminded more than once of MMMMMovies favorite Alucarda. The girls' extremely close friendship--bordering on but never quite crossing over into a sexual union--is similar, as are the scenes of the girls pledging themselves to Satan as a rebellion against their restrictive upbringing; though in Don't Deliver Us from Evil, the rebellion seems to spring more out of boredom and parental laxity than strictness. (Also, Alucarda has 100% more goat-headed gypsies, and 300% less rapey Frenchmen.)
The acting is very good throughout, particularly by Goupil, who was an art student Séria recruited because she was NOT a known actress. (She later went on to appear in several more films.) The cinematography is also quite beautiful, and some of the images Séria gives us will really stick in the viewer's mind, particularly the girls reciting Baudelaire in a concluding talent show that really brings down the house.