In any of its multifarious guises, Fame is a fickle thing. Who knows what agency picks certain individuals out for stardom and fortune, and consigns others to the shadows of pop cultural history? Is it merely a confluence of random circumstances that determines who will be forgotten and who will be burned indelibly onto the consciousness of an entire generation? Is it just a question of having a good vs. a crap agent?
Readers of the blog already know the abiding affection I have for Barbara Crampton, star of Mad Movie Masterpieces like From Beyond and Chopping Mall, but you don't have to be a subscriber to know why pretty much every movie geek growing up in the 80s knows her name: the famous "head" scene from Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator. (If by some confluence of randomness you DON'T know these scene, go find it. I'll wait.) Ms. Crampton is a wonderful actress and deserves her status as b-movie royalty, but even she would have to admit to that brave* piece of work's prominence in her fortunes.
*Movie critic jargon alert: when an actress's performance is described as "brave," the reviewer always means "completely and shamelessly fucking nude."
I was thinking about Barbara (more than usual) as I recently rewatched an obscure and strange little horror flick from 1990, Carlton J. Albright's one-of-a-kind circus/psycho-killer flick Luther the Geek. The reason? A less outre but no-less-memorably brave performance on the part of sweet-faced bombshell Stacy Haiduk. If the film were better known, if the stars had aligned, I posit that Ms. Haiduk would be a b-movie screen queen of gloriously Cramptonesque proportions.
As for the movie itself, I'd be willing to wager that most of my readers have not seen a psycho-killer movie quite like it. While it doesn't go quite as far into poultry-related madness as the previously reviewed Turkeytaur epic Blood Freak, it does boast a tuly out-there premise and a strangely unsettling performance by Edward Terry as the titular circus performer gone bad. For fans of the type of movies we celebrate on this blog, it definitely delivers.
The opening credits roll over some nicely painted early 20th-century sideshow banners as an Unsolved Mysteries-style voice over educates us on the history of "the geek." For the uninitiated, the term's original meaning had nothing to do with Star Wars-related OCD and computer tech savvy. In circus parlance, a geek was usually a vagrant so down on his luck and hopelessly addicted to the booze that he would do literally anything for a swallow of cheap whiskey. In this case, the prize of amber forgetfulness involved biting the heads off live chickens and snakes for the entertainment of Depression-era crowds. Kind of like Rotten.com or the Stile Project for the pre-Internet set.
In a flashback to rural America circa 1938, we see a young Luther (played by the director's son William Albright, credited as Carlton Williams) falling in with a torch-bearing mob who have gathered to watch a geek perform in an old barn. Pushed aside by the drunken crowd, young Luther knocks his front teeth out on a wagon wheel while the Old Geek plies his trade. We next see an adult Luther (Terry) fashioning a set of sharp, stainless steel dentures to replace them. There's your origin, kids. Let's get it on!
Next we find ourselves at a parole board meeting of the local insane asylum, where Luther has been institutionalized for 20 years after a double neck-ripping homicide that we don't get to see. A bleeding-heart liberal female board member campaigns for Luther's release, claiming "his institutional adjustment has been remarkable! He's a model prisoner!" Crotchety old Matlock-type Mr. Walsh (Gil Rogers in an entertainingly profane bit part) argues just as vociferously for the Geek's continued imprisonment, but to no avail. Luther is set free, having paid his societal debt.
I don't know what kind of Rorshach tests they're running at this place, but clearly they need to rethink their methodology. Within hours of his release the mute and clearly still-disturbed psycho wanders into a grocery store and starts eating raw eggs right there on aisle 3! Thrown out of the store, he sits down on a bench next to a Laugh-In era Ruth Buzzy impersonator, offering her a stolen egg in friendship. When the butterfingered old lady drops the fragile package, Luther responds by slapping in his metal teeth (which the asylum didn't confiscate, for some reason) and tearing her throat out in broad daylight! Disappearing in the confusion following the murder, Luther climbs into the back seat of a land yacht driven by widowed MILF Hilary (Joan Roth) and lays low as she makes the long drive back to her home in the boonies, which just happens to be a working chicken farm. What are the chances?
Albright generates some nice tension here, having Luther slip out of the car while Hilary carries the groceries inside. As she puzzles over the open car door, Luther catches a chicken in the barn and does what geeks do, in an over-the-top gory head-biting scene that I wager is much bloodier than an *actual* chicken-chomping would be. The suspense is resolved soon enough, though: as Hilary stands in her open doorway looking out at the barn where all the clucking commotion is coming from, Luther emerges, runs across the front yard, and bursts into the house! It's a strangely unsettling scene, creepy in a way I can't quite articulate, but it just works. Kudos to Albright's direction there.
Once inside the house, Luther wrestles a Granny Clampit-style shotgun out of Hilary's hands and seems to have her at his mercy. It's here that the nuances of Terry's performance really start to show up--he cocks his head at a strange angle, puffs out his chest, and begins softly clucking to himself under his breath like a chicken! The scene would be laughable, except that he's also holding the shotgun on the terrified woman, slowly running the long barrel up her inner thigh in a very disquieting way. Even more disturbing--Luther pulls the trigger, only to hear a mercifully empty click! Hilary's alive, but the Geek's insidious intent is another chilling moment.
Unable to shoot her in the mommy-bits, Luther instead kicks Hilary in the face (very brutally) and drags her upstairs to tie her face down to a bed for who knows what clucked-up purpose. Before he can get his pecker out, though (I know, these are the yolks, folks), help arrives in the form of Hilary's huge-breasted Daughter Ex Machina, Beth (Haiduk, in only her second film role) and her motorcyclist boyfriend Rob (Thomas Mills). Home from college for the first time in months and obviously unaware of her mom's predicament, Beth invites Rob inside for a little horseplay while they wait for the family reunion. Of course this involves Rob spraying Beth with whipped cream across her bare midriff, which prompts the girl to giggle, "Great, now I have to go take a SHOWER!" Yes you do, my dear. Yes you do.
The gorgeousness of Stacy Haiduk here cannot be overstated. A brunette with clean, girl-next-door cute looks over a frankly UHMAZING body, Haiduk plays Beth as giggly, innocent, and altogether endearing. And the shower scene...OMeffingG. I know terms like "the greatest three minutes of 80s/90s-era nudity" get thrown around quite a bit, but this has to be three of the greatest minutes of 80s/90s-era nudity ever filmed. Adding to the sheer aesthetic beautimousness of Haiduk's soap-slick form is her aforementioned joy-bubbling playfulness and her excellent chemistry with co-showerer Mills. This is the scene that should have made Haiduk a scream-queen legend, but alas, for some reason, it was not to be. Much to the infathomable loss of future generations of geeks.
After a tantalizing intimation of ass-play, the lovers relocate to the bedroom for another couple of minutes of sex, which is sadly interrupted by the sound of Luther outside, trying to steal Rob's bike. Foolishly, Rob abandons the bird in the hand for the cock in the bush...or vice versa...and rushes out to confront the thief.
Luther's not much of a cyclist, so he soon wrecks the bike and allows Rob to catch him. Their fight is interrupted by a clueless hunter, who distracts Rob long enough to let Luther cold-cock him with a helmet before ripping the hunter's throat out with his steel teeth. (In a nice grody touch, Luther nonchalantly retrieves his dentures from the bloody mess of the hunter's throat.) Meanwhile back at the house, shell-shocked Beth discovers Hilary tied to the bed and proves useless in untying the knots, leaving our resourceful MILF to free herself and load up the extra shotgun awaiting Luther's return.
The rest of the flick plays out as a nightfall/home seige scenario, with Luther coming back to attack the women and Hilary doing her best to fight him off. Haiduk does some convincing "traumatized kid in shock" acting, and Roth invests her character with gritty, self-sufficient toughness that's quite appealing. There are also some nicely composed night-for-night shots of Luther creeping through the house or doing his chicken dance under the barn's floodlight, which again prove unsettling thanks to Terry's uncanny performance. The surprising and gory exits of the young lovers also packs a punch.
The flick stumbles a little when a local constable shows up (Jerry Clarke, a familiar-looking actor whose filmography rings no bells) and Albright indulges in an over-long stalk sequence with the cop trailing Luther through the darkened chicken house. The film's momentum, which has been totally roller-coaster speed up to now, really flags here, especially since it's clear Clarke is only there to provide Luther with another victim. Things pick up though when Hilary goes out to face Luther herself, leading to a bizarre but strangely fitting final confrontation that had me grinning and shaking my head in glee.
Luther the Geek doesn't spend a lot of time developing characters or establishing motivations, but in this case I think that works in the film's favor. If Albright had tried to make Luther's bizarre chicken-fixated psychosis somehow more realistic, or spent the 20 minutes that would have been necessary trying to explain how the asylum staff could POSSIBLY think this guy was ready to be released into society, he'd have sacrificed the pacing and opened himself to probably deserved ridicule for the outlandish villain he's created. However, by giving us only broad-stroke sketches of the principals and seldom giving the audience time to think too deeply about the weirdness of it all, Albright rather establishes a kind of fairy tale/nightmare/urban (or rural) legend tone that is much more effective. And an incredible amount of credit is due to Edward Terry for his completely committed performance that somehow makes a chicken-clucking killer truly frightening.
This was not a Troma film per se, but Troma did pick up distribution rights for the DVD, and supply the fan with some very valuable extras. Among these are an interview with director Albright wherein he discusses the origin and making of the movie and a short interview with the director's son William that is unexpectedly informative about the film's star Edward Terry, who sadly doesn't appear in the extras (perhaps becasue of death? imdb is unhelpful). The real treasure trove, though, is the pack of deleted scenes with commentary by Albright, which are all fun and interesting--but none moreso than the extra SHOWER SCENE footage, with even more takes and angles of super-cutie Haiduk in all manner of undress, which would be worth the price of the disc alone.
For its one-of-a-kind premise, its mostly effective direction, Terry's performance, Haiduk's shoulda-been horror-star-making scenes, and the extras that keep on giving (IYKWIM), I give Luther the Geek 3 Thumbs Up. Check it out--you won't be disappointed.
Nota Bene: while unhelpful about Edward Terry's life post-Luther, imdb *does* reveal that he was the scriptwriter for another of the Vicar's favorite weird movies, The Children! I had no idea. While The Children is perhaps not quite as successful as Luther the Geek, it does give me a warm feathery feeling to know of the connection. :)
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
Ahh, Troma! Troma movies are like a rancid fart bubble that escapes a hobo’s anus and travels up his ass crack until it bursts at the top, causing instant foulness, but often hilarity. You might be passing by this hobo with your friends, after a night of partying. You are safely outside the blast radius, yet you push your friend past the event horizon and suddenly he’s choking and clawing at his throat. Everyone is having fun, laughing, and he’ll have a story to tell later when his brain repairs the damage, but most of all you were entertained. For Troma movies, that’s what it’s all about: showmanship.
Take for example “The Newlydeads”, an unpolished turd of a movie that nonetheless strikes the perfect balance between camp and just plain shitty. With a high boob-to-death ratio, it titillates as much as it triggers your vomit reflex. Oh, yes, the town fathers might sit in their gilded chairs, stroke their beards, cluck their tongues, and wonder aloud how anyone could derive entertainment from such pap, but I’m here to once again champion a movie that some might find repulsive, but that others, those select few, our faithful readers, who might, just might, find something to enjoy.
The Newlydeads (how can you NOT like that title? It’s perfect!) starts us off with a bang. We see a blonde chick driving a convertible whilst jamming to 70’s tunes on the radio. She arrives at an inn for the night, carrying only one small suitcase, and the hotel owner/manager/sexer takes her up to her room. Right off the bat he’s standing too close to her, but she isn’t repulsed by his pushbroom mustache or oily hair, nay, she’s receptive, and when the maid brings in a complementary bottle of wine and a fruit basket, the blonde asks him to crack open the bottle.
They share a sip from the same glass, and then start to kiss, only the innkeeper makes a shocking discovery! The blonde is really a man in drag! Now, if you are the Vicar this wouldn’t be a problem, but for the innkeeper it is. Ain’t no plan with a man! They begin to fight (unconvincingly, I might add), and fearing that he might catch “the gay”, the innkeeper grabs a nearby ice pick, stabbing the crossdresser in the stomach with it. Not content with this grievous wound, he stabs again, this time ramming the pick through “her” skull. I’m guessing this movie is set in Wyoming.
The scene fades and we jump 15 years into the future. We spend some time here being introduced to various couples, all coming to the inn. It seems the inn is a newlywed destination, known for its free bottle of wine and overall tranny unfriendliness. First off, we have the psychic and her douche of a husband. Seems she gets these “feelings” all the time, and they’re coming true with alarming regularity.
Next up we have a newly married country couple who attempt to speak with Southern accents and end up sounding like toolbags. The chick is a smoking hot blonde with giant funbags, so we’ll forgive them. She wastes no time getting naked when the dude pulls them over for a roadside quickie, unable to contain his need to treat his new wife as a sperm receptacle.
Next we have a nerdy dude and his smoking hot blonde wife. We don’t get much info on them, and it turns out, as we’ll see, none was needed. We then have an old couple, looking to get remarried. I’m not sure why they were included, as they really serve no purpose and their scenes mostly fall flat or add nothing. Finally, we have a punk couple. The dude tries his best to look and act like Sid Vicious channeling Johnny Rotten channeling The Macc Ladds, but instead he comes across as a dillhole. His girlfriend is kinda hot but she doesn’t do anything but smoke weed, so we can forget about her.
All these people show up around the same time, but it’s the psychic we are primarily concerned with. Her hair resembles Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction, but her voice resembles that of a screeching harpy with a sandy vagina. She constantly screeches about how something bad is going to happen, and happen it does. Before she even gets to the inn, she’s yelling at her husband to not take a certain road or there’ll be an accident. Just to show her up, he takes it anyway.
We cut to a wedding. The innkeeper, now 15 years older and just as ugly, has taken a young bride. A small ceremony is taking place for them near the inn. Just before he can say “I do.”, he sees the crossdressor in full drag, only this time it’s his ghost, come to haunt and torment. Her face is like burnt paper caked with cake frosting. She runs off laughing and the innkeeper tries to follow. Meanwhile, the psychic and her husband are driving by at that moment, and the tranny’s ghost runs right out in front of them.
Screeching to a halt, they investigate, only to find no body. The psychic declares that she’s not leaving until they get to the bottom of this, instantly suspecting the innkeeper because of his dago mustache and greasy hair. And now the stage is set. All the couples have arrived, the innkeeper has a new hot wife, and the psychic forgot to use conditioner.
We cut to nightfall, and the innkeeper is supposed to be sexing his new wife but is instead preoccupied by a certain ghost pre-op transsexual. He decides he better get liquored up so he goes to get some wine. The psychic, being the nosey bitch that she is, interrupts him in the kitchen to accuse him of murdering the ghost woman. She then goes on to prophesy that before morning two people will be dead.
The innkeeper couldn’t care less, he has a smoking hot wife to roger, so off he goes. As soon as the sexing begins, however, the ghost tricks him into believing he’s kissing the tranny, not his wife, so he begins to choke him, only it’s not really the tranny, it’s his new wife! Not being into erotic asphyxia, she gets upset and leaves.
Meanwhile, the nerdy guy and his bombshell of a new wife are getting busy in the hot tub of their room. After getting fellated underwater, he suggests they retire to the bedroom, whereupon they are interrupted rather rudely by the ghost tranny. Employing the use of a curtain rod, the ghost rams it through the nerd’s skull, the end coming out his mouth, where he is propped up above his lady. Her screaming is quickly silenced when the ghost magics a knife out of nothing and stabs her repeatedly.
This is quickly discovered the next day, as the psychic wakes the innkeep up early to go check the rooms for murder, and conditioner. Meanwhile, the priest who earlier married the innkeeper is revealed to be a pot smoking drunk. He remarries the old couple, and then proceeds to smoke weed with the punk couple. The innkeeper’s lady ends up returning back to the lodge after picking up a hitchhiker that turned out to be the ghost tranny in disguise. She’s so distraught that she does what anyone would do in that situation: take an unnecessary shower! The innkeeper, having botched his last attempt at fornication, joins his wife. Unfortunately for him, the ghost tranny pulls the same trick!
Unfortunately for his new wife, he falls for it, again! This time, though, the tranny isn’t taking any chances and magics another knife from thin air, which the innkeep grabs and uses it to stab the ghost, only it’s really his wife obviously. Horror stricken, he flees after looking at her breasts one more time. He goes and grabs a 9mm pistol and puts it in his mouth, so distraught with grief he is. Instead, the ghost shows up to taunt him and he empties the whole clip at it, doing nothing of course.
Meanwhile, the psychic’s husband is angry at her for spending so much time looking for dead people, so he takes off to a nearby shopping center and calls the police, letting them know something odd is going on. Ghost tranny has followed him, though, and runs a pair of scissors into his throat. His wife sees that it’s going to happen, and gets the innkeeper to drive her over to stop it, but they are too late.
The psychic and innkeeper formulate a plan. She asks if he has anything personal belonging to the ghost, and he admits he kept her/his suitcase. Having the means to destroy her/him, they set a trap. The innkeeper cuts his palm and bleeds on a picture of the tranny (that came from the suitcase, natch), and then the psychic burns the pic. The ghost shows up instantly and starts choking the psychic, but the innkeep rescues her by cutting the ghost’s arm off. She/he is now corporeal and prone to injury it seems!
What follows this is a series of unlikely events set up in elaborate ways that make little to no sense: In other words, a Troma calvalcade of awesome! The maid, busy delivering wine and fruit to the guests, runs into a cross-cut saw that just happened to be placed at the right height on a tree to decapitate her. The hick shows up with a shotgun, that he got who knows where, and shoots at the ghost, who suddenly can’t be hurt again, and instead shoots one of the cops that showed up to investigate.
The other cop shows up, draws his automatic, shoots three times at the ghost, then throws his gun at her! (wtf?) Meanwhile, the hick chick is impaled on a couple of sharp tree limbs, we don’t see how exactly. Finally, the psychic shouts at the innkeeper,
“There’s something you aren’t telling me!”
Innkeeper: “She’s a man!”
Psychic “Oh, I see. He wants to go to bed with you!”
So, with that stunning dialogue, the psychic kisses the innkeeper (eeewww!) and boom, she’s possessed by the tranny. She’s ready for this, though, and quickly stabs herself in the stomach with a wooden crucifix! The ghost, and the psychic, are dead for good!
The final shot of the movie is of the punk couple, who had absolutely nothing bad happen to them, nay they witnessed nothing untoward.
Punk dude: “It’s so peaceful here, we should come back sometime…”
See, like I said, Troma movies are crap. But, they are my kind of crap. I laughed quite a bit throughout this festival of awful. The acting, the script, the sets, everything was beyond hokey and amateur. However, it works. It works on a lot of levels, and I pity the fool who can’t derive entertainment from such as this. These fine folks gave up one of their weekends to film this movie, and from the looks of it they had a blast. We get lots of 80’s hair styles, lots of naked chicks that are admittedly hawt, and one shrill psychic lady.
I give this movie 1 Thumb Up if you aren’t a Troma fan, and 3 Thumbs Up if you are. Put this one in your movie player of choice, pour yourself a cognac, order one of your servants to massage your inner thigh, and relax back in a overstuffed chair. Until next time, friends, I bid thee happy viewing!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
So yeah, might as well get this tidbit out of the way first: today is the Vicar's Birthday. Whoop-de-freakin'-do. ;)
As it turns out, it's also the first day of my Summer vacation, so for the next 8-10 days I'll be lying on the sand like a beached whale, sipping Pina Coladas and roasting myself to a golden brown while reading up on the theology of the Sect of Betamax or penning my memoirs, Much of Madness, More of Sin while watching the narhwals frolic in the surf. My undisclosed va-cay lo-cay is a secluded Mad Mad Mad Mad Monastery serviced by the Sisters of Kinescope (saucy ones!) and removed from such technological niceties as "internets" and "sanitary wipes." All in all, a good time promised.
Fear not that this means a lack of MADness, however, as my compatriot the Duke of DVD has promised to take up some of the slack with an offering of his own unique wit and wisdom a few days hence. And upon my triumphant return, I reckon to be refreshed and ready to spew forth on more of the Mad Movies that are the reason for my calling. So catch up on the archives, wait for the good word from the Duke, and think of me fondly while I'm gone, as I will you.
In short: later, peeps. ;)
Monday, June 15, 2009
A few days ago I reviewed a killer kids movie that (purposefully) left the origins of the kids' murderous natures unexplained. For some reviewers this was a refreshing lack of spoonfeeding, but for me it neglected an opportunity to give the proceedings added depth and meaning, either literal or metaphorical. It's been said again and again that horror films are perfect vehicles for symbolically addressing deep-rooted cultural fears--about science run amok, the dangers of the unrestrained id, or the terrors of an unchecked Communist menace--and it's not for nothin'. While I'm not necessarily advocating a Diary of the Dead-level Baseball Bat of Significance-style thrashing, I think it *is* nice when a filmmaker at least gives us a hat-tip to something bigger than the monsters-meet-characters-and-turn-them-to-hamburger raison d'etre.
And it doesn't take much. Case in point, today's killer kids movie from 1980, Ed Hunt's Bloody Birthday. Three kids are born in the same town within minutes of one another during a lunar eclipse. As a result of the malefactory alignment of planets at the hour of their birth, they are born without a sense of compassion or conscience. With their tenth birthday drawing near, this birth defect begins to manifest in increasingly bloody ways. A commentary on human nature reflected in the perversion of childish innocence? A warning about the dangers of lax parenting? A testimony to the importance of astrology in our day-to-day lives? The possibilities are unlimitless!
The wild death scenes, copious nekkidity, and summarily MAD plot developments are just icing on a delicious, poisoned cake.
Meadowvale, California, on June 9, 1970. A slumming and somewhat confused-looking José Ferrer arrives for work (he's "The Doctor," as the opening credits have already informed us) to find that not one, not five, but THREE of his patients are getting ready to drop slick, steaming piles of joy in the maternity ward. "Well, you can forget about watching that eclipse!" he tells the nurse on duty, and they duck inside. Luckily *we* don't have to forget about it, as we get to enjoy time-lapse stock footage of the celestial event under a soundtrack of baby-squeals and Ferrer announcing, "It's a boy! It's a girl! It's a boy!" It's actually kind of soothing and disturbing at the same time, like Koyaanisqatsi without all the chanting and garbage.
An onscreen timestamp next informs us we've jumped nearly 10 years into the future to June 1, 1980, still in Meadowvale. A teenaged couple stop in the local graveyard to make out like rabid minx, but after allowing her gentleman caller to get to 3rd base up against a marble cross, the girl suddenly gets shy and wants to find a place out of the open. Erection is the mother of Invention, so the boy quickly finds a suitable make-out spot: a freshly dug open grave! Proving her GGG-ness, the girl happily hops into the corpse-hole and they git awn widdit, injecting the film's first dose of boobulin. When they hear someone moving around six feet up, the boy stands to see what (the fuck) is going on, and quickly catches three shovel-smacks to the face! The spade has barely stopped ringing before the screaming girl finds a garrotte around her neck and is lifted up the earthen walls, giving new meaning to the phrase "sexual hangups." She soon expires, another few shovel blows do for her beau, and the unseen killer(s) start filling the grave with loose dirt. SCENE.
Next we're introduced to fresh-faced high school senior Joyce Russel (Lori Lethin), who writes the astrology column for the local weekly and serves as a teacher's aide at the elementary school in her spare time. With a boyfriend away at college and a suave married editor who seems to have more than her deadlines on his mind, Joyce is obviously our Jamie Lee stand-in here. An early scene with her strolling through the streets of a suspiciously Haddonfield-like Meadowvale removes all doubt. She does know how to rock the man-shirt and bolo-tie, though, so bonus points there.
She arrives late to the elementary, where police chief James Brody (Bert Kramer) is questioning the kids about the recent graveyard murder. It seems a broken jump-rope was found at the scene, but none of the kids cops to having lost one. Joyce gets a little suspicious of her brother Timmy (K.C. Martel), who came home late the night of the murder, but it doesn't take long before knowing glances from soon-to-be 10-year-olds Debbie Brody (Elizabeth Hoy), Curtis Taylor (Billy Jacoby), and Steven Seton (Andy Freeman) clue us in to the real culprits. Stern-to-a-fault schoolmarm Miss Davis (Susan Strasberg, on her way down the career slope that would lead in a couple of years to her turn in Sweet 16) takes a few minutes to scold the kids pointlessly and shame Joyce for being late.
After class the Eclipse Kids come up to ask whether homework can be suspended on Monday, as that's the day of their joint birthday party to which the whole town is invited. Miss Davis quickly puts the ixnay on that noise. "Homework is more important than a party! And just because you all have the same b-day doesn't mean that you're special!" Angel-faced Debbie gives her sweetest smile and nod, but it's clear from her significant looks to her two male enforcers and some overbearing ominous TV music from composer Arlon Ober that Ms. Tingle is going on The List. If I were a betting man, I wouldn't lay odds on Strasberg making it to the end credits.
When Bev goes out with Joyce to discuss the ins and outs of her relationship with her editor ("You've got a mind like an X-rated soap opera!" Joyce laughs), the kids decide there's no reason to wait for their birthday to get bloody. Setting up a skateboard on the back steps, Debbie calls her father Sheriff Brody out of the house, hoping to take him out Tom-and-Jerry style. When he steps around the skateboard it appears he's dodged a bullet; unforunately he doesn't dodge Steven's home-run swing, as the boy steps out from behind a bush and cracks him on the skull with a Louisville Slugger! He's OUTTA here! The children then arrange the Sheriff's body so that it looks like an accident, but are surprised by Timmy walking by. Though he doesn't tumble to what they're doing, little Debbie's narrowed eyes let us know The List just got one name longer.
The next day The Unholy Three lure Timmy into a game of hide-and-seek at the local junkyard, and Curtis scares the rest of the players off with a realistic revolver ("It's a replica!" he foreshadows) before tricking Timmy into hiding in a freezer and then locking him in to suffocate. There are some very effectively tense scenes of the young boy, buried alive, banging on the doors from inside and slowly getting shorter and shorter of breath as his air runs out. Luckily he carries a pen light and a Swiss Army Knife with him, however, and is able to unscrew the door hasp and escape in a nick of time. Joyce doesn't believe his accounting of events, however, not even when he confesses he'd spent the evening of the previous murder feeding Debbie quarter after quarter for a look at Bev's bodacious ta-tas. Joyce finds this invasion of privacy and burgeoning voyeurism incredibly funny, and when she tells Bev later, her friend also laughs it off and doesn't even bother to cover the peephole--a move chock full of sisterly awesomeness but unfortunately one she'll come to regret.
The rest of the movie follows our trio of terror as they take out a few more locals, baffling the remaining police despite Joyce and Timmy's growing suspicions. A couple of standout scenes include the birthday party, where Hunt generates a lot of suspense over a possibly-poisoned birthday cake, and a junkyard chase scene where an eerily masked Steven nearly runs Joyce down among the wreckage. More nekkidity is provided by a van-rockin' couple making an ill-fated stop in front of the Russel residence, and the blood flows freely from Curtis's gunplay, Debbie giving her sister an arrow to the eye, and a tense babysitting assignment gone awry to tie everything up.
The script is pretty tight and moves along at a good speed, and though the TV-music score occasionally seems overly dramatic, there are a few good passages with creepy music-box like music that set the tone well. Hunt does a good job ratcheting up the tension, and though some would fault him for not going all Class of 1984 with the final confrontation, the flick does provide an interesting and believable coda with Debbie's twice-bereaved and obviously shell-shocked mother holding on to her one remaining child despite her rather hard-to-reconcile behavioral idiosyncrasies. The post-climax stinger is one that sent me out smiling and seemed earned.
In short, I found Bloody Birthday an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half, and one of the better killer kids movies it's been my pleasure to watch. It keeps the kids in focus without skimping on exploitation staples like nudity and death, and it's to be applauded for that. Never boring and occasionally genuinely suspenseful, Bloody Birthday earns its 2.5 thumb assessment. If you're in the mood for a trip to a more innocent, bloodier time, give this one a spin.
Bloody Bonus! More images from Bloody Birthday:
Friday, June 12, 2009
As those of you following the Twitter of VHS already know, tonight your ever-lovin' Vicar is taking a trip 20 years back in time, and this time it's not in the form of a candy-colored goretastic mad movie from the 80s. No, what I have on tap tonight is even more terrifying, even more horrible, than anything Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon ever concocted:
The Vicar's 20-Year High School Reunion.
To be fair, my high school years were not all that bad--discounting 10th grade, which was abominable. But like everyone I've got my horror stories from that formative time, from fashion faux pas to stupid things said in class to all the girls who rejected my clumsy teen-aged advances (many of whom will be in attendance tonight). Good times?
Anyway, in order to steel myself for tonight's festivities, I'm drawing strength from my memories of a few classic high school horrors, thoughts of which will hopefully provide the inner fortitude I need to make it through. Well, them and the cash bar. Bear in mind this is not a "Top 5," but merely a handful of flicks that occur to me as I get ready to revisit this glorious and painful time of my life.
You want to help a Vicar out? In the comments, please share your favorite high school horrors! And should you feel the urge to confess some of the terrifying tribulations *you* endured during your high school years, that's encouraged too. The worse you had it, the better I'll feel.
Student Bodies (1981)
Though I was still 8 years away from graduation when this movie hit theaters, I remember watching it again and again on cable and VHS back in the day. An Airplane!-influenced spoof of the slasher genre when the tropes themselves were still in their infancy, this never failed to make the Young Vicar and his seminary mates giggle with glee. The Breather may not have had the marketable costume of the Ghostface Killer, but he was a hell of a lot funnier. Death by horsehead bookends, a fly being added to the ongoing, on-screen body count, and the mysteriously hilarious entity known only as The Stick playing Malvert the Mentally Challenged Janitor, all combine to make this a movie I need to revisit.
The Redeemer, aka Class Reunion Massacre (1971)
I found this one at a used VHS store a couple years back, and was surprised by how out-there it was. A group of students making preparations for their 10-year class reunion run afoul of an evil spirit that haunts the hallowed halls of their institution of learning, with borderline surreal and over-the-border MAD results. A full-sized football player mannequin, a doomsaying preacher bent on purifying the graduates of sin via extreme bloodletting, and a strange 3-fingered child rising from a nearby pond are only scratching the surface.
Slaughter High (1986)
A group of the popular kids who maimed a nerdly classmate find their bad deeds coming home to roost when a killer starts offing them at their reunion. Any similarity between this plot and actual events, past or present or future, is purely coincidental.
Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986)
One of Troma's earliest and still best efforts--if such a tag can be applied to Troma's gleefully and unapologetically tasteless output--this one is like Class of 1984 with all the seriousness excised, the dystopian elements played for laughs, and radioactive mutants added for spice. Goopy dayglo FX and people trying way too hard to offend you (and succeeding) make this the most realistic portrayal of the American 80s high school experience ever filmed.
This movie is required by statute to be at the top of every high-school horrors list, but there's probably a reason for that. From a novel by Stephen King before he stopped editing himself, the story is tight and effective, and really captures the vulnerability and pain of a high school misfit repeatedly getting punished for her attempts to fit in. Sissy Spacek completely owns the title role, making her the prototype of pubescent psychokinetic sexually-repressed weirdos for decades to come. And if you never wanted to see a school dance go up in flames, your high school experience must have been happier than most. The director's not bad either.
Okay kids, your turn! CONFESS!
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sometimes, as immersed as I get in the wild and wonderful worlds of 70s sexayness and 80s excess, I almost forget that new horror movies are coming out. Oh, I see posters and commercials now and then, and I might even catch a few minutes of one on TV while I'm feverishly searching for the DVD remote to fire up my latest Paul Naschy or Coffin Joe acquisition, but on a conscious level, they barely register. And that's a failing of mine, one I should work to address. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
I was shaken out of my complacence recently when I received a screener of Dark Sky Films' latest DVD offering, David Gregory's 2008 effort Plague Town. Knowing next to nothing about the movie before popping it in my player, I'd like to think I came in fresh, without preconceptions or prejudices. So what's the verdict?
The set-up is a tried and true one, full of Mad Movie promise. A dysfunctional American family consisting of father Jerry Monohan (David Lombard), daughters Jessica and Molly (Erica Rhodes and Josslyn DeCrosta), and the girls' stepmother Annete (Lindsay Goranson), are on a vacation to Ireland to dig up Dad's roots. A couple of wrong turns and a missed bus, and they end up in the titular town where Bad Things Happen After Sunset and Not All of Them Will Make It Out Alive.
Pretty standard, but like I say, it has its possibilities. The selling point here is laid out in the prologue, set "14 Years Ago," in which a crusty Catholic priest oversees a very reluctant young mother as she gives birth, hoping that "this will be the one" to break some curse--or PLAGUE, if you will--the rural village has suffered under for who knows how long. We don't get to see the infant, but obviously the priest doesn't think she's the one after all, and pulls out a revolver to perform a Church-approved post-natal abortion. The young husband rebels against the Ecclesiastical father figure, however, to the tune of a fireplace-poker skull impalement and a hatchet head-split! There's lots of good goopy gore here, done with practical effects, which gave me hope.
Half out of rebellion and half out of boredom, Jessica has picked up British bloke Robin (James Warke) at a pub the day before they head out to the country, and he's tagged along with Dad's permission. When he and Jess sneak off to make out, thus making the family late back to the bus stop and forcing them to seek shelter at a nearby village (dun dun DUN!), that's when the horror begins.
Up to this point the movie has a number of good things going for it. While the broad-brush character development seems facile, it serves its purpose and lets you know the types you're dealing with here. Some would call this lazy, but I found it easy to settle into, like a comfortable chair. And the movie looks awfully good--it was shot on film, and cinematographer Brian Hubbard gets some nice ominous shots of the fog-shrouded countryside. The group's early encounters with the requisite Odd-Acting Townspeople are handled well too, particularly with Robin being force to "translate" their Irish brogue to American English and back--a fun touch. Also, obvious protagonist Molly has a nice Addams Family-era Christina Ricci thing going on, which is always approved.
Crowds of deformed, plague-riddled children descend on our hapless Americans, forcing them to split up. In a particularly tense scene, stepmom Annette is slowly beaten to death by a hubcap-wielding kid, and Lindsay Goranson does some great, intense acting here, making your feel every blow. Molly is captured and taken back to town by her new playmates. Meanwhile, Robin is shot by a creepy local, but revives later (magically?) and is also taken back to town. Dad fares much worse, finding a pair of creepily masked girls in an abandoned house and meeting an inventive and gory if not exactly buyable fate.
Since this is a movie that just came out as opposed to being 30 or 40 years old, I won't spoil the ins and outs of the ending. Suffice to say the outsiders are menaced by the insiders, the antogonistic sisters must band together to fight the weird foes, all leading to disturbing imagery and a kind-of downer non-ending of the sort some people will really dig.
Still on the positive tip about the movie, the make-up on the deformed kids is pretty good, particularly for the main girl Rosemary (Kate Aspinwall), a blind sibyl-figure with chalk white skin and a graceful, ghostlike air that was pretty effective. There's also quite a bit of gore, all done with practical effects, that will please some viewers--particularly poor Robin's eventual fate at the hands of his childish tormentors.
Still, the movie didn't really succeed for me, due to an accumulation of relatively small points that built up over time to become significant. Chief among these is the fact that the nature of the plague under which the townspeople and their offspring suffer is never made clear. The prologue priest says something about the Devil, but of course that's the kind of thing you'd expect him to say. It wouldn't have taken much to drum up some ancient curse or Druidic burial ground or something to give a method to the madness, but it's never done. Even in the wackiest of the Italian gorefests of the 70s, at least SOME backstory was posited to explain why the evil was being visited upon them, nonsensical as it often was. The lack of context not only removes any possibility of our protagonists figuring things out and thus formulating a method of escape, it also strangely robs the proceedings of any weight. To quote a much-quoted Homer Simpson line, "It's just a bunch of stuff that happened."
Once that realization hits, the edges really start to fray. How is it this village is populous enough to produce such a large crowd of demon children in a 14-year span (at least partially through kidnapping of tourists and forced breeding), and yet rural enough that nobody notices? Further, how isolated can a village be that has daily bus service within walking distance, access to electricity, and backhoe rental availability? Given these conveniences, how come nobody in town ever thought to take advantage of the National Health System to see what (the fuck) was up with their tainted gene pool?
Josslyn DeCrosta as Molly does a good job as the de facto heroine in the early going, but once the mayhem starts the movie kind of forgets about her and focuses on the murderous set pieces. While these are good as far as they go, again, the lack of context challenges the viewer to care very much. James Warke is good as the hapless victim of the plague kidz, but without having any clue as to why they're doing what they do to him (on the DVD commentary, Gregory says they're just "playing"), it falls flat for me.
Valerie Leon, Lynn Lowry, Jess Franco and Lloyd Kaufman, you'd hope he'd be able to bring some of their rubbed-off pixie dust to bear on his own feature.
However, in the featurette and DVD commentary, Gregory seems strangely oblivious to the history he's spent so much time documenting. For instance, he seems convinced that the "eeevil kids" genre has not been done in recent years, neglecting the MANY recent movies that have used just this trope. (Ils, Wicked Little Things, etc.). He also seems awfully proud of having come up with the "kids just playing in innocent murderous ways" idea, like it's his own creation--I can only presume he hasn't seen Who Could Kill a Child?, Devil Times Five, Children of the Corn, the famous Twilight Zone episode, or any other examples my readers could name off the tops of their heads.
As for features, the DVD includes the aforementioned commentary with Gregory and producer Derek Curl, and a featurette involving those two, the effects and sound guys, and much of the cast. Everyone seems to think they've made the best, scariest, evilest movie ever, which I guess is the kind of enthusiasm you want from your cast and crew, but to me reflects a rather appalling lack of knowledge of the genre. Curl does seem to be rather jovially drunk throughout both features, though, which is kind of entertaining in its own right.
There's also a featurette with composer Mark Raskin about the musical score, which does have some creepy work on it, though I found it at times to be rather overbearing. Raskin doesn't think so, however--he's totally in love with everything he did here, which again is probably the attitude you want. Gregory is rightly proud of an incidental theme contributed by Claudio Gizzi, who composed the score for Andy Warhol's Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein, but less rightly proud of a completely incongruous techno song by Ladytron, one of his favorite bands, that he throws in when Jess and Robin are making out.
Overall I didn't hate Plague Town, but it didn't leave me feeling like I'd just watched the next great killer kids movie of our generation. Mileage will vary depending on your tastes, of course, but I ended up on a 1.5 thumb rating. It's available now from Dark Sky Films and your favorite rental outlets.
Friday, June 5, 2009
It could be argued that Rino Di Silvestro's 1976 offering Werewolf Woman (aka Legend of the Wolf Woman, aka Naked Werewolf Woman) both is and isn't a "real" werewolf movie. Those coming down on the naysaying side would point out that, except for an opening flashback that could be taken as fantasy, star Annik Borel undergoes no full-moon transformations to a fur-covered snarling beast--her "change" is of a psychological nature, triggered by early childhood trauma and susceptibility to suggestion rather than by the bite of some damnable hound of hell. Ergo, not a werewolf.
On the other hand, lycanthropy as a psychological disorder has been known and documented for centuries--human beings who because of illness (rabies, porphyria), madness, or some other trauma turn into bestial, reasonless berserkers, attacking strangers and loved ones and sometimes even engaging in cannibalism. In fact, some folklorists and anthropologists hypothesize that in conditions such as these lie the origins of the werewolf myth. Taken from this angle, Werewolf Woman could be viewed as a more "true" werewolf movie than more folklore-centric examples of the genre such as The Wolf Man, La Marca del Hombre-Lobo, and The Werewolf of Washington.
But whether you consider Werewolf Woman a true werewolf movie or not, you can't deny its basic bone-deep MADness. Like a mash-up of She-Wolf of London and Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45, Werewolf Woman puts the "lunatic" in "lunar cycles," and the "rape" in "rapacious moon-beast." All this and a death-by-junkyard crane too? Sign me up!
I always appreciate it when a filmmaker puts his cards on the table from the very beginning, and whatever his technical shortcomings, Di Silvestro does NOT fuck around. We open with a naked woman (Borel) standing in a circle of fire, doing some kind of wild interpretive dance under the full moon. The credits roll while the woman gyrates most lasciviously and claws at her own bare flesh. The director leaves no part of the sex un-'sploited here; in fact one lucky production member even gets his credit directly under the furry mistletoe, IYKWIM. I'm not sure of all the nuances of every dance move, but the basic concept behind the piece seems to be, "Come down, Lord Satan, and make my entire body as hairy and bushy as THIS!" Being an indulgent sort, Old Scratch complies.
It's not long before a torch-bearing mob in period costumes are descending on the scene, establishing that we're in an era in which hypertrichosis is treated by direct application of flame. The wolflady scurries into the forest, where her shaggy coat gives her excellent camouflage. Soon Hartley, a lonely hunter, wanders by (note to prospective werewolf posse members: ALWAYS use the buddy system!) , and the beast attacks! She rips his throat out with her teeth, and then for good measure picks up the axe he dropped and cleaves his skull in twain! Which seems like overkill to me, but what do I know? I'm no werewolf woman.
Drawn by the hunter's girlish screams of terror, the mob soon captures the snarling beastette, binds her to a stake, and burns her alive--which I believe marks the first time I've seen a werewolf dispatched in this way. I did find the idea of the werewolf's curse being sought out actively through witchcraft and devil worship an interesting one, as it's in keeping with a lot of the older lycanthropic folklore. (An example of one such story can be read here.) Unfortunately that's about as far as they take the idea in this flick, since once the flames start singing the womanwolf's chest hair Daniella Neseri (Borel again) wakes up screaming from her horrible nightmare!
When Daniella's worldly sister Elena (the passably hawt Dagmar Lassander) returns for a visit with her handsome fiance, Daniella is both attracted and repulsed by her sister's sexual freedom. This ambivalence manifests itself in Daniella having visions of gore covered ghosts and nightmares of sharing her bed with a monitor lizard that crawls up her legs to come to rest on her crotch! What do you say about that, Dr. Freud?
Later that night Daniella spies on the happy couple making love, which makes her horny and confused. She flees into the woods outside the manor; hearing the noise of her departure, the fiance follows to see what (the fuck) is up with his future sister-in-law.
Out in the forest, under a full moon, alone with a handsome slab of Eurohunk, Daniella is overcome by strange desires. She throws herself at him, and being a healthy Italian male who just left one Eurobabe in bed, the fiance responds by making out with his betrothed's sister. Like you do. It's a fatal mistake in more ways than one, as in the throes of passion Daniella makes her dreams come true by ripping out his jugular with her teeth and tossing his body down a ravine! Back in her room, the new trauma puts her into a catalyptic state, which prompts her father to have her institutionalized at last.
The police puzzle over the fiance's body (looks like it was attacked by an animal!), Elena vents her venomous grief on her sister, the Count grows increasingly frail, and Daniella stays mostly comatose in her new environs. But when a nymphomaniac inmate, recently rebuffed by her handsome doctor, decides to molest Daniella instead (!), she too gets murdered for her sexual trouble. Shocked out of her coma, Daniella escapes the institution and takes it on the lam, killing a female doctor in her car and later another hapless woman whom she happens to see fucking her boyfriend in a barn. It's a killing spree!
Still rather slow to put two and two together, the police call in the big guns, namely Inspector Modica (Frederick Stafford, who looks like a poor man's Christopher George). As the Inspector grills Count Neseri and questions whether animals really did do for the fiance, Daniella hitches a ride from an aged Lothario who offers her a place to stay in exchange for certain services, iykwim. When Daniella defaults on her end of the deal, the misogynistic old man (who drops the cunt, whore, and bitch bombs with alarming regularity in his pillow talk) figures she must be one of those crazy chicks who likes to be taken by force. "You'd like me to rape you, eh? All right, I'll play that game--I like it, it'll be more exciting for us!" What a charmer. Of course in this movie an old perv and his trachea are soon parted, and Daniella's on the road again.
Things start to look up for our werelady when she stumbles into an abandoned village where a hunky and sensitive stunt man is staying to practice jumping through windows and off buildings in his down time. The exact opposite of her previous suitor, this guy treats her with respect, keeps his hands to himself, and happily sleeps on the sofa to let her rest in the master bedroom behind locked doors. In a couple of weeks love blooms between the two (including a great falling-in-love montage where the stunt man falls off towers only to spring up and make out with her, or crashes through glass directly into her arms), and Daniella can finally give herself to a man without thereafter bathing in his hot arterial spray. Ain't love grand?
she's followed home by some leather-clad biker types who break into the house and rape her, undoing all the good the falling-in-love montage just did. It's actually a pretty vicious scene that goes on a lot longer than necessary, adding another layer of dirt to what's already been a fairly sleazy exercise. The stunt man returns home, attempts a gallant rescue in a long and similarly brutal fist fight, only to be stabbed to death by one of the rapists. The one good man in her life destroyed by a ravenous pack of despoilers, Daniella goes round the bend for good.
The last part of the movie concerns Daniella getting her revenge on the rapists Ms. 45-style, only instead of dressing up as a nun and blasting away with a heater she uses a wrench, an auto-crane, and fire. Shortly thereafter she's captured by the police in a reprise of the opening dance, and a voice-over informs us she died in an institution years later, this is a true story, names have been changed, etc. etc. The end.
The movie has a lot of action in it, and when it's hitting on all cylinders it keeps you interested and moving along. There are a few too many scenes with Inspector Modica hashing out his theories about what's happening (tiresome, since we've already seen it happen and he's always 100% correct), but Daniella's murders, redemption, and second fall are handled fairly well. The love-nest sequence when she's happy with the stunt man is cheesy in what I found to be an endearing way, and the total gear-change of her modus operandi at the end was odd but not boring.
She's also naked about as often as she's clothed, with a decent body and a frequently displayed Eurobush. Dagmar Lassander is good as Elena, and her antagonistic relationship with her sister and her bitchy accusations after her fiance's death are highlights. The rest of the cast is pretty much standard 70s Italian cheapie level, but no one stood out as unusually bad. There's more flesh than Borel's on display, of course, and most of it is pretty attractive. So there's that.
As a werewolf movie, Werewolf Woman may fail for some viewers, but I found it an intriguing twist on the folklore and was entertained by it. It had enough cheesiness and sleaziness to keep a Eurotrash afficianado satisfied too, even if de Silvestro's direction was nothing spectacular. Therefore, I give Werewolf Woman a 2.25 thumb rating. It's available on the Mill Creek Nightmare Worlds 50-movie set and elsewhere. Give it a spin.