Monday, August 31, 2009

Sensuela (1973): or, Nice Girls Finnish Last


It's easy, especially for cineastes of the Duke's and my broad-ranging interests and experiences, to fall into the trap of thinking that one may just have seen it all, at least in the realms of the cinematic MAD. New atrocities are just riffs on old ones; new shocking plots are simply those of antiquity dusted off and given shinier packaging. The things that bring us delight, though still pleasant, lose the power to surprise. We become comfortable, but jaded; content, even, but nonetheless mourning for the days when the far distance was yet shrouded in darkness and mist, when monsters still lurked at the edges of maps. When there were still new joys to unearth, new countries yet to discover.

But oh my parishioners and subjects, let us never forget: ours is a wide, weird, and wonderfully MAD world.

Shot in 1968 but not released until 1973, Teuvo Tulio's Sensuela is quite possibly the first sexploitation movie ever to come out of Finland. Totally giving the lie to the Western (or at least Vicar-ious) view of the Finns as staid, neutral, and perhaps slightly boring folk of the Scandinavian lands, Sensuela takes the hoary old "innocent country girl corrupted by big-city living" plot and makes it something completely different, something that even thirty years on feels entirely new. Sure, you'll see things you recognize from other flicks, but slightly skewed--you'll detect influences and parallels, but just a little off--and you'll see something I can almost guarantee you've never seen in any other film ever. Interested yet?

"I am so TOTALLY in the cockpit."

In the wilds of Lapland, near the end of World War II, Nazi bomber pilot Hans Müller (Mauritz Åkerman) finds himself having engine trouble. The budget-challenged nature of the entire proposition is apparent from frame one, as we see Hans belted in to a cockpit that will immediately remind any Mad Movie Watcher of the podium-and-shower-cutrains set-up from Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. As his cartoon-dot-on-the-filmstock plane belches, farts, and backfires for what seems like a good five minutes, heading ever-so-slowly toward a majestic snow-covered mountain, Hans draws the attention of the native people below, about whom there is MUCH to be said.

Via some Marlon Perkins-esque narration over a combo of nature stock-footage and stuff that had to be shot for the flick itself, we get a Mutual of Omaha-worthy primer on the culture of the Laplanders, or Sami People*, the indigenous people of northern Europe who at least in part pursue a nomadic cultural lifestyle, living in tents and following the massive herds of reindeer that provide them with all their food, shelter, and tool-making needs. A bit like the Buffalo-herding native peoples of North America, but with a much colder climate and much more colorful clothing.

Sure, she looks fast, but she's been going in circles for hours.

*Though they're used throughout the movie, apparently the terms "Laplander" and "Lapp" in reference to the Sami People are now considered derogatory. So watch yourselves next time you're trying to score among the reindeer herds.

Our main focus among these colorfully-clad Natives of the North is lovely young Laila Walk (Marianne Mardi), daughter of tribal chief and Genghis Khan-lookalike Aslak Walk (Ossi Elstelä) and the fastest damn reindeer-sled racer north of Helsinki. As luck would have it, the dark and "sensual" Laila is out for a spin when Hans's aircraft sputters overhead, and witnesses its horrifying (read: hilarious), leisurely-paced crash into the background mountain. Luckily Hans has ejected prior to impact, but hasn't reckoned on the airspeed velocity of an unanchored German--the cold North Wind fills his parachute upon landing, dragging him across the ice like Indiana Jones! Luckily Laila harnessed Comet instead of Dancer earlier that morning, and she races to the rescue in a nail-biting chase, with both Hans and Laila obviously pulled by (largely) off-camera trucks. Excitement!

Back in the unrealistically spacious blue-died tent of Laila and her father, Hans and we learn more about the Laplanders' way of life, which includes kindness to strangers regardless of their political affiliations or stances on cultural/religious genocide. (This code further extends to not giving them up to the Finnish Ski Police when asked). Pleased that his hosts are unconcerned with the whole "Final Solution" part of his job description, Hans soon finds himself developing tender feelings for the Hottest Lapp in the Land. He also glosses over Aslak's rather unsavory method of castrating the reindeer bucks, a traditional activity at which the old man is tops in the league. I won't spoil the particulars of this method for the uninitiated, but suffice to say IT WILL BE IMPORTANT.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

After the war Hans, somehow avoiding the Nuremberg Tribunal, goes back to his civilian occupation as a freelance photographer, an assignment that a few years later finds him covering some traditional Lapland reindeer races--and I bet you can just guess who's the odds-on favorite at the match. Remembering their "in-tents" romantic attachment, Laila agrees to run away with Hans to the big city of Helsinki, much to her father's sour-mouthed disapproval. Once there, Hans turns his out-of-wedlock lover into a high class fashion model, peeling away her innocence with every layer of clothing (and in Lapland, they wear LOTS of layers) as the shutter clicks and clicks away...

The movie has had its slow spots up to now--the nature documentary portions can drag for non- National Geographic subscribers, but it's punctuated by bursts of such out(lap)landish MADNESS that you just have to keep watching. The Ed Wood vibe continues and grows stronger, with the cheap interior sets, the clumsily matched stock footage, and two of the most HILARIOUS usages of taxidermied animals it has ever been my pleasure to witness. Add the taboo-breaking fur-covered sex scene and Laila's strange, genuinely innocent-seeming sensuality, and it's more than worth hanging out through the slow parts for.

Plus, once you get through that first 20 to 30 minutes, you're rewarded with THIS:

It's symbolic, of course

Yes, it turns out Hans is a bit of a psychedelic swinger, and host to some of the wildest parties the Finnish capital has ever seen. I mean, just look at that pad. He's got the bold primary colors...the wild flowery draperies...Home Interiors' finest framed art prints over your grandma's easy chair...a lot of hip young Finns going go-go in their underwears...and oh, yes, A FREAKIN' DANCING SKELETON! PAR-TAY! As Nordic blonde beauties shake their unrestrained boobages to the throbbing beat of some sensual tunes, Hans drinks, does drugs, and attracts the eye of many a fine Finnish femme. When he goes into the back room to take advantage of some of the smorgasbord of flesh on offer, his firey tempered native girl decides she doesn't want to share and storms out.

Too ashamed to go back to her father's tribe after living in sin in Hell-Sin-ki, Laila writes to dear old Dad, telling him that she and Hans are planning to be married as soon as they have enough money--that oughta hold the old biter off for a few years, what? Suddenly homeless, Laila takes an apartment with disturbingly scar-breasted roommate Greta (Maria Pertamo), who just so happens to be a high-end independent contractor specializing in the Whorish Arts. Touting the plentiful easy money and no-discernible-downside of this career choice, Greta offers to set Laila up in business with the drunken friend of one her military clients. The prospective employer offers many many markka for Laila's favors, even interrupting his superior officer's tryst with Greta in order to borrow more, but at this point Laila still has her pride and dignity, and turns the fellow down cold.

Instead she takes a job working construction, showing herself as strong as she is beautiful, and on the job meets dreamboat Pekka (Ismo Saario), who knows nothing about her past but loves the way she handles a wheelbarrow. There follows an extended but by no means boring courtship between the two, as they visit a carnival (watch for the bikini-girl dunk tank!), feed seagulls on the beach, take in some suggestive fireworks, and finally get away for a dirty weekend to a (once again improbably spacious) cabin in the woods. Once there they take a sensual and culturally accurate sauna--complete with leafy green flagellation!--before the two do the voodoo that two do so well. Meanwhile poor Aslak, bereft of his only child, sadly plies his reindeer-castrating trade.

Oregano makes him feel manly

Unfortunately for Laila, even in the days before the internet a picture of nekkid boobs was forever, as unbeknownst to her, Hans has sold several of her old shots for a saucy calendar that quickly becomes all the rage in Finland. As if driven by the hand of a malicious fate, when Aslak makes his yearly trek into the nearest village to pick up his mail and non-reindeer-produced supplies (read: vodka), he happens to catch a glimpse of his daughter on the wall of the mom & pop grocery--smiling, arms akimbo, her perky-nippled frontspieces shoved out for all the customers to see. (Note to self: shop rural Finland.) Enraged, the old man decides to make the trip down to Helsinki and ensure Hans makes an honest woman of his girl.

After Aslak nearly beats the location of Hans's apartment out of Greta in an odd, off-putting scene, Laila knows the jig is up, or will be unless she can think up a plan but quick. Desperate, she rushes back to Hans, begging him to help her perpetuate the deception on her father and keep him away from her new love. Being the swinging, cosmopolitan sort, Hans agrees to help stage a mock wedding for Aslak's benefit, inviting all his groovy friends over to get in on the gag--because if one thing is universal, it's the glee city folks take in happily making fools of whatever country bumpkins cross their paths. Unfortunately Pekka hears about the impending nuptials, and not being in on the joke, rushes to the party to put a stop to it.

Compassion is the secret of Greta's success.


What follows is a scene you will have known was coming from near the very beginning, but one I'll wager will have your jaw on the floor nonetheless. (Of particular shock to me was the wedding guests' reluctance to do anything at all to assist their host. I mean sure, the vodka was cheap and the hors d'oeuvres were not the freshest, but STILL...) Unmoved by Laila's tearful confessions, both Pekka and Aslak abandon the girl to her fate, and Hans to the excellent Finnish health care system.

The movie could have ended right there and been one of the most amazing pieces of world cinema I'd ever witnessed, but it goes on for a bit following poor Laila's downward spiral in the wake of these shocking events. Now without pride, dignity, or male support of any kind, Laila takes work where she can find it--and where she finds it is in seedy nightclubs of the Jess Franco variety, where she dances naked on the stage and stands tearfully in front of the crowd while a burly Finn whips her like a lazy reindeer in the harness. When Pekka shows up with his new girlfriend to take in the show, the poor fallen angel's humiliation is complete, and she decides to take Greta up on her offer of sideline employment. It seems suicide is only a hop, skip, and splash away.

Nothing brings in the markkas like a Lapp Dance

But when Greta is suddenly knifed by a dissatisfied customer, Laila is shocked out of her complacency. At just that moment (what are the chances?) she learns that her father has died, leaving the tribe without an elder statesman/Tundral Oyster preparer. Realizing that she should never go looking for happiness any further than her own back yard (and that that bitch Dorothy Gale got off WAY easy), Laila returns to Lapland and her simpler, less whippy way of life.

This movie is so wonderful, so OUT THERE, that I've really had trouble even summarizing it for fear of not doing it justice. Like the best (?) of Ed Wood's work, there's an earnestness and honest enthusiasm that shines through even the most outrageously inept acting, set-ups, and special effects, a joy that is (like Greta's love) infectious. Its bright colors and comic-panel framing seem either an imitation or an echo of Russ Meyer's trademark style, and the aforementioned Jess Franco nightclub scenes and perverse sexuality make for a 3-director trifecta that any Madite should be salivating over. There's plenty of grooviness, loads and loads of nudity, some genuinely hot sex scenes (bonus fact: Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is the "chicka-chicka-waow-waow" music of Finland), interesting cultural facts, and enough MADNESS to stop a herd of uncastrated reindeer in their tracks. It's a movie that must be seen--maybe in order to be believed, but for whatever reason, it MUST BE SEEN.

Very well, thanks!

Well over the 3 Thumbs roof for this one. If you call yourself a fan of weird and wild world cinema, you owe it to yourself to track this one down. As a last resort, send an emissary to the vicarage with terms. I'm sure we can work something out. ;)

More images from Sensuela (1973):

Harlequin Presents: The Nazi in My Lapp

Beautiful Plumage


"I declare the price of beets OUTRAGEOUS!"


That's some pad.


MORE MADNESS...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crimes of the Black Cat (1972): or. Sure, Blame the Pussy


I love a good giallo title. Even though the definitively Italian stalk-and-slash is not my favorite instantiation of the Horror model (I'm much more a Monsters Amok or Satanic Panic kind of guy), there are still few things in the genre that make me smile like one of the really good, really giallo-y film names. Stuff like Four Flies on Grey Velvet, What Have They Done to Solange?, Strip Nude for Your Killer, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key--irrespective of my feelings about the films, those titles roll off the tongue like short poems, beautiful horror haiku conjuring imagery and mystery like almost nothing else in the genre.

The giallo title can be a double-edged sword, however, when the filmmakers (or more often the American translators/distributors) eschew mysterious imagery and evocative sounds for the all-too-literal. Not only does such a title fall flat, but it runs the risk of becoming a spoiler, robbing the film of some of the suspense and uncertainty that is its stock in trade. Such is sadly the case with Sergio Pastore's 1972 giallo Crimes of the Black Cat*, in which spends about the first forty-five minutes to an hour trying to figure out how these baffling, near-impossible crimes are being perpetrated, how a killer could kill and then disappear from a locked room with the only exits much too small for a human being to use...well, thanks to that title (to say nothing of the spoileriffic poster), the audience already knows. Which is a shame, because it takes a little punch out of what is otherwise a stylishly filmed, interestingly plotted thriller rife with the kind of bright-colored groovy ghoulishness Madites know and love.

*The movie's Italian title, Sette scialli di seta gialla, translates roughly "Seven Yellow Silk Shawls." While still not very good as poetry, at least it keeps the killer under wraps.

Bad Kitty.

We open with some travelogue footage shot on the streets of 1970s Rome, a period and place so groovy I want a Way-back Machine just so I can bask in the awesome for an afternoon. (The uber-groovy music by Manuel De Sica, who 22 years later would score the awesome zombie love story Dellamorte Dellamore [aka Cemetery Man], helps a lot.) Soon our roving camera eye focuses on fashion model Paola Whitney (Isabelle Marchall), a blonde in a fur coat adorned with ACTUAL ANIMAL TAILS. Classee. She seems to be going somewhere, intent on doing something, but what and why we are given no clue.

Cutting from the daylit streets of Rome to a nightclub in the backalleys, we next meet Peter Oliver (Anthony Steffen), an avant-garde pianist and successful film composer by trade, who also happens to be blind as a chronically masturbating bat. Stood up by his date via a Dear Giovanni letter he has to get his manservant Burton to read for him (harshful), Peter drowns his sorrows in scotch and happens to overhear a mysterious conversation from the next booth over, where a strung-out woman is being given nefarious instructions by an unseen (duh) gravel-voiced conspirator. When a hippie chick cranks up the jukebox to go all Goldie Hawn/Laugh-In for a few wonderful minutes, Peter loses the thread and the couple departs.

"She writes, 'I don't think we should see each other anymore (haha).' Man, what a bitch."

Next we are plopped down in the middle of a clothing design firm, where head honchess Françoise (Sylva Koscina) and gorgeous sweatshop seamstress Margot (Shirley Corrigan) are selecting models for an upcoming fashion show. Françoise's philandering toyboy and the firm's half-owner Victor (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is also on hand to lend some feather-haired sleaziness to the proceedings. Preparations grind to a halt when star model Paola finds a wicker basket covered with a yellow silk shawl in her dressing room; donning the shawl (like you do) and opening the basket, the girl screams and drops dead of an apparent heart attack! Rushing to her aid, the other models and designers find the room empty of baskets and killers, the only clue being the silk shawl the girl still has clutched in her cooling dead fist.

Of course everything is connected, as Paola was the main squeeze who gave Blind Pete the old heave-ho in the opening scene. Still seeking closure on their ill-fated relationship, Peter shows up at the murder scene and interrogates Police Inspector Jansen (Renato De Carmine, an intelligent, dumpy bald guy with frankly startling green eyes) about his erstwhile girlfriend's death. Also dissatisfied with the polizzi's "natural causes" theory, Margot joins forces with the sightless Casanova to get to the bottom of Paola's mysterious death.

It just so happens Margot knows a photographer named Harry who Paola was intimate with--much to Peter's chagrin--and they decide to head over to his studio-cum-fuckpad to see what he knows. Alas too late, as after dismissing his nicely topless model and retiring to the darkroom, the shutterbug is visited by a heavy-breathing, black-gloved figure of the sort we just knew was going to show up sooner or later. The photog is slashed but good, and when Peter and Margot arrive they just miss slimy CEO Victor rifling through the dead man's negatives. Is he the killer, or just a rapacious collector of still-lifes-with-boobs? That answer will have to wait, as he escapes undetected but without whatever booty he was searching for. Margot and Peter come in and scope the joint, leading to a nicely filmed "discovery" scene where the blind pianist literally stumbles right into the Harry's body, not realizing it till his sighted companion screams.

Douchebag Under Glass

The movie has been beautifully shot up to this point, with lots of the long-perspective compositions and bright primary colors that are hallmarks of the genre. The groovy music and fashions add to the fun, and the acting's not too bad either. Steffen is aloof and slightly dickish as the blind guy who sees more than the cops, but his handicap and apparently genuine feeling for the deceased mitigate that a bit. (His warm relationship with manservant/sidekick Burton, played with Alfred-like sophisticated devotion by Umberto Raho, also helps.) Shirley Corrigan is as gorgeous here as she was in Naschy's Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman, and in fact seems to be wearing the same boots--not that I'm complaining. The plot moves along at a good clip, and I was very into it and wondering what would happen next.

As it turns out, the negatives the deceased pic-clicker was developing were shots of Victor and Paola in bed, which Harry and Paola hoped to use to blackmail the married-to-money man-about-town. When the truth comes out and Victor must explain his presence at the scene of the murder (along with his jail record for a fraud conviction), Françoise is as understanding as only a Eurobabe can be. She departs for a show in Hamburg, but promises to stick with Vic through thin and thick.

Groovy.

Meanwhile we meet the mysterious, strung-out caped woman from the bar back in scene 1 or 2, whose name is Susan Leclerc (Giovanna Lenzi). Susan used to work in a circus--no, really--until her husband was EATEN BY A LION, leading her to hit the smack and hit it hard. Now middle-aged and wasted, she runs a pet shop mysteriously named UNDULATER (?) and takes on the odd assassination job for our black-gloved mastermind. If you haven't figured out her weapon of choice before you sat down to watch, maybe you should give up the crosswords and focus on the word jumbles from now on. Having trained her pet cat to attack yellow silk by spraying it with a repellent only cats and blind pianists can smell, Susan dips the kitty's claws in deadly curare poison and puts it in her victims' room along with the target-marking scarf, like a tiny furry deathbomb. But who is paying her, and why?

The next several scenes involve Susan, desperate for a fix, knocking off a couple more models from Françoise's firm, including a stand-out scene in which a lesbian model opens the basket only to have the feline ninja (puppet version) leap out into her face as if shot from a...well, let's just say a "trebuchet." Seriously, if the below were the last thing you saw on earth, I think you'd have to admit you went out in a pretty awesome way:

"RRRROOOWWWRRR!"

Breasts are seen, a couple of other people die, and Margot is stalked by the black-gloved killer as Peter desperately tries to place the odd odors he keeps whiffing at every crime scene. Guilt-stricken and depressed, Susan commits suicide, and the final confrontation at a glass factory is very tense if you overlook Peter's rather incredible willingness to put himself in dangerous situations for no good reason. ("I know I'm blind, but let's climb onto this 45-degree-angle conveyor belt and see where it takes me! The glass furnace? Oh, SHIT!") He makes it out remarkably unscathed, though, and the Inspector shows up to bring the killer to swift bloody justice.

Or does he? Margot takes a post-climax shower (IYKWIM), giving us some nice nudity that may or may not actually be Corrigan--and we end with a bit of shocking violence and WTF motivation to go out on that should keep fans of the giallo and the Grand Guignol happy.

"Dear God, Vicar, THAT'S not the loofah!"

Writer/director Sergio Pastore shows a lot of visual style in this flick, and I was always impressed with the compositions and colors he used, which though typical for this type of movie and this period are nonetheless effective. As I said, the snooty pianist softened by his compassion for his dead lover and the devotion to his butler and best friend Burton is a neat bit of depth for the character, and I could watch Shirley Corrigan and/or her body double take a shower for an hour and not get bored. For lovers of the MAD there's plenty of blood and boobage on display, not to mention the underused DEATH BY CATS device that's always a joy to see. All of which rounds the flick out as a satisfying viewing experience on nearly all levels.

So despite the spoiler title, Crimes of the Black Cat delivers. 2.5 thumbs, and definitely worth your time if you love a little dangerous pussy. And who doesn't, eh?

Quit While You're Ahead

More cool images from Crimes of the Black Cat:

Shirley Corrigan: "OBEY!"

Eye-catching jewelry.

Maybe she's born with it.

In the Red Room, no one can hear David Duchovny wank.

"Really? You thought I'd be impressed with dinner at The Golden Boobs?"

"...and THAT'S a hole in the ground. See the difference?"



MORE MADNESS...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

City of the Living Dead (1980); Or How I Really, Really Want To Acquire A Self-Inflating Sex-Doll (For Research Purposes Only)

Dearest friends, it is once again I, the Duke of DVD, scurrying forth to disrobe the overweight ham-beast of cinema, cutting away the stained undergarments of Oscar-winning films, to finally begin chiseling at the waxen crust caked into the ass-crack of movie horror, revealing the hidden nuggets of awesome that we so crave. This night I bring you the masterpiece of horror known colloquially as Paura Nella Citta dei Morti Viventi, or City of the Living Dead, or perhaps The Gates of Hell if you prefer. The list goes on. No matter what you call it, however, one fact remains: Lucio Fulci knows how to make a zombie movie!

Consider the facts: Fulci zombies crush skulls. A lot of skulls. Fulci zombies levitate. They kill with their minds by causing people to literally vomit their guts up. They fucking teleport. Yes, in Lucio Fulci’s twisted world, no one is safe. Blow their heads off, they respond by sending a hurricane of maggots at you. Try to run, they just teleport in right behind you and, with one hand, crush your skull, your brains oozing between their ripe fingers. Part H.P. Lovecraft, part Italian horror, but all Fulci, City of the Living Dead has much to offer even the most jaded Madite (That’s right, you’re all Madites now. See the Vicar for your “I fucked the Vicar and all I got was this t-shirt (and syphilis)” shirts and membership cards.)

Let us explore, shall we?

Our movie opens with a creepy cemetery. The wind howls, dust and leaves billow, and fog drifts around, revealing mold-ridden tombstones. A priest walks among them, looking for something. Turns out it’s for a sturdy tree limb on which to hang himself. We cut to New York City, to a séance being performed by a frizzy-haired medium and a few of her acolytes, one of which is the beautiful Mary Woodhouse, played by the stunning Catriona MacColl. Just as the contact with the spirit world is reaching a crescendo, Mary sees Father Thomas hang himself. This sends her into a frenzy of fear, whereupon she collapses and appears to expire.


A local priest finds out that he wasn't invited to the Duke's latest bacchanal.

The cops show up, which include a smarmy detective who grills the frizzy-haired medium. She informs him that they were employing the use of a 4000 year old book and that this book portends great evil that is to come. A reporter named Peter Bell (played by Christopher George) shows up, trying to get a scoop. Rebuffed by the police, he changes tactics and instead visits the grave site where Mary is being buried. It’s a good thing for Mary that the state of New York apparently doesn’t embalm their dead (who knew?!), because she’s still alive! Hearing her screams, Bell uses a nearby pickaxe to rip open the lid of the coffin, hilariously nearly impaling the screaming Mary in the process. (seriously, this was the only thing he could think of doing? Hah! I chortle)


"I'm trying to swallow it all, Duke, I swear!"

After being rescued, Mary tells the reporter and the medium what she saw. A town named Dunwich (which she gleaned from a tombstone during her vision) is about to become ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. The death of Father Thomas by hanging has sprung open the gates of Hell, and unless they are closed before All Saints Day, the dead shall never rest and instead invade our homes and shopping malls and generally make nuisances of themselves.


Early grave markers don't leave much to the imagination.

We flash back to Dunwich, to the hapless Bob, played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Seems Bob is the local bad boy, hitting on all the young girls of the town and being a punk, basically. Bob is wandering around and happens upon an abandoned home. Going inside to investigate, he finds an inflatable blow-up sex doll, which looks suspiciously like the one hanging from the Vicar’s bell tower. He tosses it into a corner, where it auto-inflates for some reason. Overcome with plastic lust, he oozes up to it and caresses a vinyl breast. Suddenly he sees a rotten baby corpse laying a few feet from him on the floor. Covered with worms and general filth, he’s repulsed enough to not hump the doll and instead flees.


"I'm gonna melt you with friction, baby!"

I’m trying really, really hard to understand the point of this scene but I can’t. Why is he in this house? Why is there a blow-up sex doll here? Why does it auto-inflate? We don’t know. We can only surmise that Fulci was high on ‘shrooms this particular day of shooting and thought that this would work, somehow. I suppose the real purpose is the rotten corpse, which is the first of many strange happenings in Dunwich. We cut to the local bar, where 3 men are discussing the strange happenings of late. Suddenly, the large mirror over the bar cracks and the wall on the other side of the room suddenly cracks as well. Full of fear, the bar patrons flee.

We then cut over to a psychiatrist’s office. Gerry, the good doc, is giving therapy to Sandra, who has brought her cat in with her. They are interrupted when Gerry’s 19 year old girlfriend Emily shows up, looking hotter than the sun. Played by the scrumptious blonde Antonella Interlenghi, she is very much in Duke’s Pantheon of Italian Hotness. Emily announces she’s going to go find Bob, who she has been attempting to help somehow or other. After she leaves, Sandra’s cat goes apeshit, biting Sandra’s hand fairly severely. Yet another strange happening!


"You'll take your medicine and you'll like it!"

It’s night now, and Emily finds Bob in an old garage. Before any “therapy” can take place, unearthly howls fill the night and Bob runs like a little girl, leaving Emily alone. Suddenly, zombie Father Thomas appears, and begins rubbing worms and dirt into Emily’s face, apparently suffocating her. Emily got off easy, as we’ll soon see. We cut to a young teen couple parking in a truck, making out. The boy is rounding second base, heading for 3rd, when the girl pulls up, suddenly frightened. She looks out the window and is transfixed by the ghastly stare of zombie Father Thomas. Suddenly her eyes begin to bleed and, while the boy watches in horror, she begins puking her guts out. All of them. The scene runs for several minutes as the chick vomits more and more bloody guts. Finally, an undead hand reaches in behind the boy and crushes his brains out the back of his skull.


Taco Bell's new special claims another victim...

The next morning, Emily’s body is found and brought to the local morgue. A ragged medical examiner (played by Fulci himself!) examines her and concludes she died of fright. The sheriff and Gerry think that Bob is responsible. Meanwhile, Mary and the Reporter Bell (remember them?) leave New York, heading to Dunwich. In Dunwich, things are going from bad to worse. Bob returns to the abandoned house, presumably in hopes of scoring with the plastic chick, but instead he runs straight into a hanged zombie Father Thomas. Elsewhere, at the morgue, an attendant trying to steal jewelry gets his hand bitten by the cadaver.

At Sandra’s house, a corpse appears in her kitchen. Distraught, she calls Gerry over, who tries to explain away the happenings but isn’t very convincing, to himself or Sandra. At Emily’s house, her zombified self visits her younger brother John-John. At Sandra’s house, as she’s getting consoled by her psychiatrist, the walls begin to bleed, so her and Doc Gerry flee. Meanwhile, Bob seeks refuge in a townsperson’s garage. Lucky for him, the teenage daughter of the house comes to console him. Unlucky for him, her dad discovers them. Thinking Bob is trying to have a go, he grabs him and fucking impales his head on a drill press! Seriously, that’s a bit extreme isn’t it? Well, not in Fulci’s world I suppose. The effects work here is masterful, even if the scene serves little purpose and has no zombies.


This is not a drill.

The next day, Bell and Mary arrive at Dunwich finally. They immediately head to the graveyard, and meet Gerry and Sandra, who also are trying to get to the bottom of things. The two couples talk about their collective issues, with Mary revealing that the Gates of Hell have been opened. Gerry agrees that this explains much. They head back to Gerry’s office to get further acquainted when suddenly a storm whips up outside, blowing the window open. Only, this isn’t a normal storm! It’s a Fulci-esque storm, which blows maggots instead of rain in through the open window. After nearly 5 minutes of maggots flying in, the floor, the people, everything is covered in a snowy white, writhing mass.


Oderus Urungus delivers a facial.

After the storm is over, the John-John calls, informing Gerry that zombie Emily showed up and killed their parents. Sandra heads over to collect him while the others hunt for the sheriff. As Sandra and John-John are leaving, zombie Emily teleports in and skull-crushes Sandra’s brains all over the stoop! The boy runs for his life, through a gauntlet of zombies, until he’s rescued by Gerry and ultimately given over to the cops for protection. Meanwhile, back the local bar, the patrons we met earlier finally get their due as several zombies shamble in and massacre them.

Mary, Reporter Bell, and Gerry finally arrive at the graveyard for the final confrontation. It seems that Father Thomas had been interred in his family crypt. They lift off the lid, revealing a subterranean chamber. Featuring masses of cobwebs, not to mention a pantaloons-filling amount of dead bodies, the crypt is of the type that only the bravest of adventurers would enter. Knowing they have no other choice, for All Saint’s Day is upon them, the 3 descend into the darkness.


Sandra watches while Peter tries to pass a peach seed.

Zombie Sandra suddenly pops up. The three recoil, when suddenly she teleports in behind Bell and crushes his skull! So much for getting that Pulitzer! Before she can teleport away, Gerry sticks her to the wall of the crypt using a handy pitchfork. He and Mary journey onward, finally entering a chamber of sorts. Zombie Father Thomas confronts them in all his undead glory. He begins death-staring Mary, whose eyes begin to bleed. Other corpses come to unlife around them, shambling about, covered with cobwebs and filth. Before Mary can begin vomiting her guts out, Gerry grabs a nearby wooden cross (which has a pointy end, handily enough), and impales zombie Father Thomas with it, tearing a hole through his torso!


A new, Christ-approved way to clear lower bowel impactions.

Suddenly, zombie Father Thomas, and all of the other undead, burst into flame, burning up fairly quickly and dissolving into nothing. The Gates of Hell have been closed, we think! Mary and Gerry emerge from the catacombs. They climb from the tomb as two cops show up, John-John in tow. The couple beam smiles as an excited John-John scampers across the graveyard towards them. Suddenly, their smiles turn to ash as they recoil in horror. Mary screams bloody murder as we freeze-frame on John-John’s smiling face.

Ok… what the fuck, Fulci? I guess we’re to surmise that John-John is now invested with zombie-leanings? He doesn’t look undead. The cops he’s with don’t look like their moldering. One thing is for sure, Mary and Gerry both are horrified. Perhaps they hate children. After all, they do make outrageous demands like “I’m hungry!” and they also say silly things like “I don’t want to play ‘Let’s take a ride on Uncle Vicar’s lapbone’ again!” Yes, that’s it, they hate children and suddenly they realize that John-John’s entire family has been wiped out, and that they are the only reasonable guardians for him in a town filled with sex-doll fuckers and inbred skull-crushing zombie hicks.


Lookout, It's coming right for us!

No matter how confusing the ending is, City of the Living Dead is a great movie. It moves at a brisk pace for the most part and features some truly scary zombies. For wicked kills, Fulci excels. Vomiting one’s own guts out, skull crushing, worm smothering, even a drill through the head. It’s all here, folks. I also really liked Fulci’s use of sound. Sure, it might sound like a Fulci recorded a bunch of cats being stuffed into a sack and then tossed around, but it works when a zombie makes that sound. The music by Fabio Frizzi is also spectacular and moody.

I could only fault this movie for not having any woman get naked except for one made of vinyl. However, for some reason, I didn’t miss it much. This could have been because I was in a naked serving girl sandwich during the entire length of my viewing, or it could have been because I was transfixed by teleporting, skull-grabbing zombies. Either way, I was strangely satisified. City of the Living Dead is a movie all of our readers should immediately rush out and get. Trust me, you’ll love it just as much as a self-inflating sex doll.

2.5 Thumbs Up

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Up! (1976): or, No Pixar Movie, This!

Let me ask you a question: are you a fan of Russ Meyer, but with certain reservations? Specifically, did you like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but thought the ending would have benefited from being just a little more over the top? Did you think Vixen! might have been improved had the characters been just a little less likable? Do you think Mondo Topless would have been better with a little more story and a LOT more sex?

If so, I think I just might have the movie for you.

Russ Meyer's Up! (1976), like many of his movies, presents a cartoon world peopled by characters with the depth and sophistication of figures in a fairy tale or morality play. Except Meyer puts these characters in a world where higher aspirations and nobility--the stock in trade of the fairy tale--do not exist. In Meyer's world sex and violence are the only currencies, and each is freely interchangeable with the other. Mankind's basest, most degrading desires are always right there on the surface and turned up to eleven. What you see is what you get, and you get a LOT of it.

"Howdy, folks! Welcome to Our Show!"

The movie opens with exotic Meyer phenom Kitten Natividad frolicking around in nature scenes, dressed in a pair of knee-high leather boots at the most. All joyous, unrestrained sexuality, Natividad announces her role with the line, "Buenas Dias! I'm your Greek Chorus!" and promises us a tale to titillate and inform if we'll just follow along with her. Displaying the trademark Meyer-ian subtlety, she invites the viewer to "sheathe your sword to its hilt!" Just like that, away we go!

The first scene really sets the tone for the whole movie, as we open with a scrawny old man with a Hitler moustache dressed in fur chaps, being whipped by a pilgrim while he buries his face in the prodigious bosom of a girl who's tied to a post and wearing a leather bondage zipper-mask. In the background, a naked black woman stirs a kettle. The man's not actually meant to be Hitler--he's Adolph Schwartz, played with goofy relish by Edward Schaaf, but the difference is negligible. In between lashes, speaking in boob-muffled German, the Hilter stand-in demands ever greater degradation. Happy to oblige, the pilgrim brings in a buxotic Oriental woman who ties the old man down and queens him, giving us some graphic lower-body nudity that is rather atypical of Meyer. We also get glimpses of the pilgrim boy's gigantic (and obviously prosthetic) peen when Grandpa Hitler wants him to "earn a bonus." It's like the old man's in training to represent Germany in the Special Needs Olympics!

Perhaps in alternate-history slashfic a BDSM-fixated Feurher working through his issues via multi-partner dungeon scenes and Pilgrim-applied sodomy would have saved millions of lives, but in Meyer's continuum, it's trouble. Retiring to his groovy fuckpad for a bubble bath to rinse off all the man-stank, Hitler doesn't hear the door open nor see a mysterious black-clad figure with giallo-gloves sneaking in, toting a rather large bucket. Before he can say "Was ist das?" der Feurher finds himself swimming with the fishes--these of the piranhal variety! With dozens of cosplayers and sex workers suddenly unemployed, the local economy takes a dive.

"Hotsy-totsy, I'm a Nazi!"

In between these scenes, Meyer has been juxtaposing Hitler's exploits and demise with an idyllic scene showing two energetic lesbians going at it in the forest, first taking oral pleasure in the fork of a majestic oak (Symbolism! Eat that, Fellini!), and later reclining on a large rock, one of them wearing a strap-on so massive it requires a shoulder harness. Since it has little to do with the narrative of the flick, I'm going to go ahead and call it a tonal piece.

Did I say "narrative"? Why yes, there is one, as a matter of fact! Kitten Natividad returns to shake her groove thangs and deliver a borderline Shakespearean prologue in which she recaps everything that's happened so far, complete with flashbacks (in case your short term memory has been ruined by too much straight gin), and then setting up the whodunnit by giving a shorthand run-through the suspects, only a few of whom we've already met. It's not particularly informative or entertaining, and contrary to everything Meyer has historically stood for, feels like padding.*

*ba-dump.

Next we're introduced to Margo Winchester (debuting future porn-queen Raven De La Croix), jogging down a mountain road in the middle of nowhere. Clad in a silky white jumpsuit and in DESPERATE need of a sports bra, Margo seems to have leapt out of the forest with no history, fully formed, like Athena from the skull of Zeus. Her goddess-like proportions quickly attract the attention of a passing motorist, who skids his pickup truck to a halt and offers her a ride. After some Mae West-accented banter in which Margo casts aspersions on her driver's manhood, the lust-crazed hippie drives to a secluded romantic spot where he immediately attempts romantic rape. Margo fights fiercely, fleeing to a nearby river where she somehow loses her top (I'm guessing the shear was just too much for the fabric), and does some Varla-esque kung fu (while wet and topless, mind you) before the hippie lands a sucker punch and knocks her cold--which just goes to show, she ain't no Varla. But then, who is?

"If you've got gas and grass, I'm retiring."

I haven't seen all of Russ Meyer's output--yet--but I'd be willing to bet this movie ranks near the top when it comes to sheer mean-spiritedness and out-and-out grossness. As an example, once Margo is down and helpless (after a fairly brutal beating by the hippie), her attacker proceeds to carry out his rape--accompanied by jaunty band music and cartoon sound effects! It could be said it takes a lot of gall to play a rape scene for laffs, and Meyer really uncorks his bile duct here. Whether the director honestly intended the scene to be funny or was trying to shock the viewer out of complacency is not at all clear, but if you're not uncomfortable by the time the rapist whips it out with a "SPROOIIINNNG!!!" sound effect, please move at least two rows down from me. Thanks.

Margo awakens just as the assault reaches its conclusion, and justifiably angry, stands up to resume fighting, this time getting the better of her spent opponent and snapping his spine for him! As luck would have it the mouthbreathing redneck Sheriff Homer Johnson (played a little *too* believably by Monty Bane), on his way to investigate Adolph Schwartz's murder, picks just that time to show up. Homer admits the guy probably had it coming, but he's still going to have to take Margo in on a murder charge. However, corrupt as people generally are in Russ Meyer's universe, Homer is willing to get her off, if she'll consent to do the same for him. Tit for tat, so to speak. Margo is more than willing to jump at that particular plea bargain, and we get lots of scenes of the two of them energetically closing the deal in Homer's cabin--more queening, more band music, more silly sound effects. It's a motif.

After another Greek Chorus recap, we meet part-time Pilgrim Paul (Robert McLane) working his day job at a greasy spoon owned by his bi-curious wife Sweet Lil' Alice (Janet "You Bet She" Wood), the bottom from the symbolist woodlands scene earlier. While Homer gets a Looney Tunes-style blowjob from an African-American traffic violater (watch for the old "pops the soles off his shoes" gag), Paul and Alice put up a help-wanted sign and Margo quickly answers, much to the delight of the cafe's lumberjack clientele. Giant Neanderthal log chopper Rafe (Bob Schott) takes a particular shine to the new girl.

Tasty.

From here on out the whodunnit takes a back seat as the flick devolves into one frenetic, cartoonish sex scene after another--Paul and Alice, Homer and Margo, Paul and Margo, Homer and a Native American princess (in a bit of typically klassee humor, Margo later observes, "Why's your dick so red? It looks like you've been fuckin' an Indian!"), Margo and Alice...it's pretty much a Garanimals set of sex. All of Meyer's sex scenes are overblown and almost violent--exaggerated hip movements, excessive bouncing, shouting, and cursing--the participants could just as easily be fighting to the death as making love, and you begin to wonder if in the director's mind, the two activities might be pretty much the same thing.

Despite some gorgeous girls and very cool scenery in the well-filmed outdoors shots, Up! has been a surprisingly ugly movie, full of hateful people with only fighting and fucking on their minds, usually at the same time. There's no joy-of-the-antihero as in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, nor joy-in-excess as in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls--in fact, there's really no joy at all, except perhaps in the impish smile of giggly Greek Chorus Natividad, who pops up every now and then to show off her amazing body with a jiggly dance and a recap of events--which despite the repetitive flashbacks becomes kind of a welcome break.

Then something magical happens: Kitten Natividad goes off on what feels like a 5-minute stream of consciousness monologue that draws in Shakespeare, juvenile dirty jokes, sex puns and the by-now-standard cartoon sound effects that becomes a joyous jazz-like riff on everything dirty and sexy, as though her id had been transmuted to sheet music and blown through Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet. As the puns pile up and the allusions fly with startling and sometimes hilarious inventiveness, it really almost approaches high art--and is the signal for Meyer to finally give in and let the movie go COMPLETELY INSANE.

It's all Greek to me.

Driven mad with lust by Margo's restaurant-opening dance number (not to mention the half-case of beers he downs in about 10 seconds), Rafe the Lumberjack goes all King Kong on their asses in a serious way, destroying furniture and pulling Margo off the stage with his big, meaty paws. (The gigantic prosthetic penis makes another appearance.) Egged on by the rest of the bar patrons--the most energetic of whom turns out to be Meyer himself in a not-quite-Hitchcockian cameo--Rafe gets down to a brutal, cartoonish rape. Paul attempts to step in and gets tossed aside like a rag doll for his troubles, and when Alice also attempts an intervention, she gets thrown down on top of Margo for a double-decker sexual assault. Homer shows up and the crowd disperses, but Rafe will not be distracted--at least not until Homer grabs one of the axes hanging on the walls for decoration (ALWAYS a good idea) and buries it in the behemoth's back! Finally taken off-task, Rafe stands, removes the bloody axe from his own wound, and strikes down the heroic Homer before taking the girls and running out through the cafe wall, Looney Tunes-style again, into the forested night.

Continuing with the cartoon vibe of the proceedings, Homer is not killed by the almost-certainly mortal blow, but gets up, removes a gassed-up chainsaw from the wall (Be Prepared!), and gives chase. When he catches the beastly woodchopper he uses the chainsaw to subdue him, and they both roll down a ravine presumably to their deaths.

Left alone and out of danger, of course Alice IMMEDIATELY tries to seduce Margo, leading to a double-naked chase through the river and some of the most batshit dialog it's ever been my pleasure to witness, even in a Meyer joint. The mystery is cleared up, but in such a completely manic way your jaw will be on the floor. It's really an amazing ending that takes an already wild-and-wooly flick and puts it on steroids. Must be seen to be believed, and perhaps not even then.

Margo impresses the crowd with her recitation of the Pythagorean Theorem.

As I say, this is probably the ugliest, most mean-spirited movie I've seen in Meyer's filmography, even taking into account the in-your-face racism of Vixen! The juxtaposition of cartoon sensibilities and sexual violence is definitely still shocking, even in our jaded age. Of the acting little can be said, since the characters are all caricatures of people who likely only existed in the director's feverish, already-getting-unhinged brain. It's a rollercoaster ride of sex and violence and probably clinical insanity, and I really don't think I've seen anything else like it.

Of course in the pantheon of Mad Movies, such a summation earns you a 3+ Thumbs rating. Full of wild developments, buxotic babes, and psychological disturbances of the highest order, Up! is not the movie to start with for Meyer newbies, but is definitely one you need to see if you call yourself a fan of his work.

More images from Russ Meyer's Up!








Take a bow, Russ.


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