With the possible exception of those who were directly employed by the company, no one was more saddened than the Duke and I when Deimos DVD went belly-up. In the company's short but vibrant history, Deimos released several gorgeously-presented, extras-laden sets focusing on 70s Spanish exploitation, which of course heavily featured the works of the patron saint of Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies, Paul Naschy. We had hopes that the Mighty Mighty Molina's vast reserves of unreleased cinematic awesome would eventually see the light of day under the company's loving care. Alas, it was not to be--and though the DVDs they did produce still stand as the definitive digital versions of the films, the Duke and Vicar despaired of anyone else ever taking up the mantle and bringing more Paul to the general public.
So you can imagine my delight when I went to the Vicarage's post-box earlier this week and found there Troma Team's recent release of The Hanging Woman (aka La Orgia de los Muertos), a Naschy-starring obscurity of just the sort I'd despaired of ever seeing released again. And when I put the DVD in the Vicar-ious player to check out the presentation and found a frankly stunning array of well-produced extras (all the more shocking given the DVD's budget-conscious price tag), my delight turned instantly into near-orgasmic glee.
Yes, I'm pleased to report that Troma Team has done more than right by this entertaining Naschy romp, and for fans of the Spanish Master of Horror, this has to be in contention for the DVD release of the year. And even if you're not (yet) a Naschy fan, the disc is more than worth the ten bucks it'll cost to immerse yourself in sweet Euroshock goodness.
you can read that scintillating piece of cinematic criticism by clicking here), but here's the low-down: Paul plays a necrophiliac gravedigger named Igor (of course), wrongly accused of a series of mysterious murders in the rural village where he lives and works. Outsider Serge Chekov (Stan Cooper) arrives and quickly becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the local aristocracy--intrigues that include Black Magic, Mad Science, and swingin' psychadelic sex. Throw in a zombie-horde ending (headed by Zombie Paul!) and you've got a recipe for a good time.
The image quality here is not as pristine as those on the Deimos discs, which is probably due to both the state of the original prints and the budget price tag. Don't get me wrong, it looks fine--a definite improvement over the VHS version I originally reviewed--but it's not going to knock you out with its clarity and colors. Certain scenes have very prominent specks and scratches, while others range from decent to pretty darn good. It's presented in full-frame, though certain scenes in the extras show a larger aspect ratio--however, those shots are of markedly lower quality than the feature print. Given the state of much obscure grindhouse-era filmstock, it's not an exaggeration to say this is likely as good as the film has ever looked on home video.
a wonderful 15-minute interview with the man himself, obviously recorded recently, in which he discusses the movie, his contributions to the development of the character of Igor, his acting vs. directing philosophy, and the unifying themes in his career. It's fascinating stuff, and Naschy's joy and enthusiasm for the genre shines through at every turn. A great, informative interview, and worth the $10 alone.
Also included is a 10-minute featurette entitled "Naschy 101," written and presented by Shane M. Dallman. This short was produced specifically for the Troma Team release, and offers a concise, fact-filled overview of Naschy's career and influence. Dallman's delivery is rather stiff and wonkish, and those who are already fanatics will already know most of the info presented, but it's definitely a must-watch for the Naschy neophyte.
There's a 20-minute interview with director José Luis Merino, who also recorded a feature-length commentary. Merino is a hoot to listen to, very energetic and enthusiastic despite his advanced years. His borderline crotchety reflections on the economics of movie-making in 70s Spain is as funny as it is informative, and his tendency to step on the mediator's questions during the commentary reflects his cinematic passion. He also has some things to say about necrophilia, nudity, and the difference between horror films and porn that are worth checking out.
As if that weren't enough, also included on the disc is a bonus feature film, Sweet Sound of Death, which I'd never heard of but looks interesting enough to perhaps merit its own review further down the road. Finally, there's a short interview (produced by Ultra Violent Magazine and magGot films) with actor/director Ben Tatar, who directed the English dubbing of hundreds of European exploitation films in the 70s, including The Hanging Woman, Sweet Sound of Death, and Horror Rises from the Tomb. I was expecting this to be a boring feature, but Tatar is unexpectedly fascinating: he's been fired by Jackie Gleason, was friends with Gene Kelly, and had an at least professional (and possibly more--Tatar is rather coy on the point) relationship with Ava Gardner. His reminiscences and anecdotes are well worth the 12 minutes it takes to watch the interview.*
*Strangely, on my copy of the DVD, the Tatar interview plays twice consecutively--whether this is a DVD glitch or something to do with the Vicar's antiquated DVD player, I'm not sure.
All in all, this is a fantastic release from Troma Team, and with the astonishingly low sticker price, there's no reason every horror/exploitation fan in the U.S. shouldn't rush out and pick up a copy right now. (In fact, buy two and give one to a friend. They'll thank you, believe me.) And here's hoping that Troma Team will pick up where Deimos left off and start plucking more Naschy treasures from obscurity to give them their proper respect. I know I'll be watching!
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
If there's one tragic flaw in the standard Mad Scientist make-up that is sure to cause him trouble down the line--I mean apart from the whole "Meddling in Things Man was Not Meant to Know" deal--it's the unfortunate tendency to always deliver more than the job requires. It wasn't enough for Victor Frankenstein to prove he could keep a heart beating indefinitely or demonstrate brainwave activity in a cerebrum that'd been dead only hours before--no, he had to slap that heart and brain in a nine-foot-tall behemoth, yank the starter and let that sucker go. Similarly, Henry Jekyll could not be satisfied with showing the separation of positive and negative impulses via lab rats or guinea pigs in controlled experimental conditions; he had to tie one off, slap up a vein and go for broke. Time and time again, this over-achieving streak has hastened the ruin of many a man of SCIENCE.
Sadly, in Ernest D. Farino's 1991 cyborg-revenge flick Steel and Lace, Dr. Albert Morton (Bruce Davison) is a modern standard-bearer for this worrisome if storied tradition. When his sister Galetea "Gaily" Morton (Clare Wren) is brutally raped by a gang of ruthless yuppie real-estate moguls (seriously) who cheat justice by corroborating each others' alibis and thus drive the sensitive Claire to suicide, Albert does what any red-blooded, NASA-employed robotics and artificial-intelligence specialist would do: he builds an android version of his sister packed to the teeth with hi-tech weaponry in order to exact his bloody revenge on her attackers. But like his forebears, Albert can't let "good enough" be good enough, which predictably leads to his ultimate downfall.
After a frankly awesome credit sequence in which the title is carved out of steel by a frikkin' LASER BEAM (I'm a sucker fo that kind of shit), we join the rape trial of Danny Emerson (Michael Cerveris) already in progress. We can tell we're in the late 80s/early 90s by the preponderance of moussed hair, mullets, and owl-glasses in the courtroom. One spectator who wears her owl glasses better than most is sketch artist Alison (raging Vicar-crush Stacy Haiduk, she of the legendary Luther the Geek love scene), assigned to make pretty drawings of the heart-wrenching drama for TV news broadcast. The wardrobe and make-up artists do their best to make Haiduk look mousy and ordinary, but one flash of those startling blue eyes and you can see the rampant hawtness underneath.
After the yuppie scum gets off (AGAIN), Gaily and Albert go to the rooftops to escape the press. Gaily--perhaps understandably NOT living up to her name--tells her brother, "There's only one safe place now!" and over the side she goes! The look in Albert's eyes tells you that he's not one to let this stand, so he retires from his NASA gig and heads off to a remote mansion in suburban Los Angeles to work on his fiendish plot for revenge.
Five years later, Alison is an up-and-comer in the Hollywood art scene, and together with her agent Duncan (an excellent and understated Nick Tate) cooks up the idea to take her old courtroom sketches to construct a "then-and-now" book, contrasting modern portraits of the subjects with how they looked back at the most trying times of their lives. For help on this she looks up her old flame Detective Clifford Dunn (David Naughton, still trying to find another American Werewolf-level role...and failing), who just happens to be investigating the mysterious murder of one of the Emerson Realty gang in a seedy hotel. (We've already seen what befell the mulleted miscreant--suffice to say it involved a mirrored ceiling and spinning boob-blades.) Having a strong memory of the Morton Trial, Alison takes an interest in the case.
This worries the LAPD brass, because they're working with an FBI team setting up a sting on Emerson Realty for interstate douchbaggery, and are worried that if Alison spooks them, the surviving villains will all go underground and foul up the case. As a result, the chief assigns Dunn to keep an eye on his ex-girlfriend, which of course involves rekindling those old flames and making sweaty love under a huge comforter. (Sadly, Haiduk is not as "open" and "up-front" in this role as she was in Luther the Geek--all the more reason that DVD is a treasure in any collection.) Unfortunately Dunn's much better at pillow talk than he is at detective work, as Alison and Duncan easily elude him at every turn, tailing the suspects and breaking into their offices in an attempt to figure out why they seem to be getting rather deadish all of a sudden.
Alison thinks the culprit is Danny Emerson himself, and in fact labors under this delusion for most of the movie--but we know of course the real culprit is Albert Morton, who has somehow got hold of millions of dollars's worth of state-of-the-art android-building equipment, installed it in his suburban home, and produced Gailey 2, an extremely versatile killing machine with a seemingly endless array of features. These include extreme facial feature malleability and variable boob inflation (the better to disguise itself and lure yuppie scum to their deaths), the aforementioned boob blades, lasers, flame-throwers, radio-controlled visual recording and digital playback, and madd player piano skillz. And that's just scratching the surface. (Which you're advised not to do--the glowing LED lights and sizzling circuitry just under her skin is a dead giveaway.)
which he somehow recreates and encapsulates in a plastic sphere full of glowing green goo. As a result, the Lady Killbot starts asking questions about the morality of her mission, and whether the real Gaily would have approved. This forces Albert to resort to manual override to force her to kill a couple of her targets, which of course doesn't do much to build cyber-sibling trust. It comes back to haunt him when after his revenge is complete he orders Gaily 2 to kill Alison in order to tie up the loose ends, leading to a simultaneous monster/creator demise that may be predictable but is nonetheless satisfying.
I was very entertained by Steel and Lace, despite its slight plot and appalling lack of Haiduk-centric nekkidity. One technological terror requirement that the flick more than delivers on is the creative and moderately gruesome kill scenes. The opening seduction/boob-blade kill sets the tone, and the subsequent kills never fail to live up. One yuppie is simultaneously strangled and decapitated; another (Henry Winkler lookalike Brian Backer) is lifted into a helicopter's rotor and has his head chopped Dawn of the Dead Zombie-style! But the best kill belongs to ultra-skeezy alcoholic yuppie Oscar (played wonderfully slimy by Paul Lieber, alum of the Andy Milligan opus Guru, the Mad Monk), who is seduced by the chameleon-like killbot and learns in the most horrifying way possible how much sex with a machine can SUCK.
The acting is hit-and-miss, but a few of the principals stand out. Bruce Davison brings a quiet, wounded intensity to his role as the revenge-hungry scientist; one scene where he obsessively watches and rewatches Gaily 2's video of her kills (basically yuppie snuff flicks), with a little bit too much obvious pleasure, establishes his grief-wracked insanity better than even the traditional mad scientist histrionics could have. Lieber makes an impression in his role, as previously noted, and Michael Cerveris is effectively hate-worthy as the two-dimensional dirtbag Emerson. Naughton is kind of a non-entity here--not only is he given remarkably little to do (Haiduk's investigation makes up the bulk of the plot, with Naughton popping up now and then just to remind us he's there), but when he is onscreen he's the same likable but bland hero-type he's always been in his non-AWIL roles. Memorable supporting parts include Nick Tate as the Alfred to Stacy Haiduk's Batman, and David L. "Squiggy" Lander as a forensics agent with a hilarious appreciation for the killer's style. Claire Wren as the Gailys is suitably blank and droid-like, which may or may not be a function of her acting chops.
But the heavy lifting is all done by Stacy Haiduk, and she does an excellent job. Despite having completely the wrong idea about the killer's identity nearly throughout, her obsession and go-getter spirit is affecting, and I was genuinely interested not only in what she was doing, but why she was doing it. Of course I'm also desperately in love with Ms. Haiduk, so my opinion may be biased. (Fully 40 percent of my viewing notes are variations of the phrases "Gosh, she's lovely," and "OMG HAWT!") And though I prefer her dark-haired, pale-skinned look in Luther the Geek--not least for the amount of said skin on display--she really does wear the red hair color well, it has to be said.
In the final analysis, even though there was nothing particularly innovative or surprising about Steel and Lace, for me it hit all the right notes and delivered an entertaining hour and a half. Fair acting, good kills, murderous robots and Mad SCIENCE to boot--what's not to like? 2.25 thumbs. Give it a shot, and remember: always work within the scope of your tech specs. Anything extra is just asking for trouble.
A few more images from Steel and Lace (1991):
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Dearest friends, it has been far too long since I last regaled you with my hedonistic exploits, so I feel I must share one. It is a tale of woe, temptation, and mutual masturbation. A fortnight hence, I found myself on the wind-scoured cliffs just outside a small hamlet north of Rutland. The name of the town is unknown to me, for the sign leading into town bore deep claw marks, so much that the name was obscured.
I had arrived here via motor-coach in order to procure some art of a, um, certain sort. I was to meet a man bearing a striking resemblance to a badger. I soon found him, sitting on a stump outside a dilapidated cottage. He appeared to be trying to help another man (who stood close by) bathe a snake, but it turned out to be something else entirely. I won't go into detail here, for fear some of you might have weak stomachs, or are prone to be driven mad easily.
Attempting not to retch, I quickly conducted my business and left. Where this man gained control of such precious artwork is beyond my capacity to comprehend. However, it is his loss, despite my laying out a sum to him that would remove the debt of most nations.
And now, friends, let us peruse this art, so that we may bask in its glory:
Here we have "Woman on Bench, Hungry" painted by Glasco Verdshnozz in 1729 whilst stoned on lead-based paint fumes. Notice the healthy gunt leaking out from beneath the tent-like covering the ham-beast affects. Special attention should also be given to the quality of iron used in the 18th century, which apparently supported the weight of this butter troll long enough for the painting to be finished.
Ahh yes, one of my personal favorites. "Invading to Dine" by Herschal Koff, an oil painting from 1802, based on an older woodcut rendered in 862 a.d. The attention to detail here is mind-numbing. Notice in particular the flanged mace being wielded expertly by this marauder, how the artist captured not only the wooded haft but also the unbridled hunger in the chap's eyes. Exquisite.
Masterpiece. That is all that you can say to describe this stone rubbing from a chiseled slab, carved by Blankenship Sexington in 1957. Robots were huge during that moment in time, and Sexington's genius hands were sufficient to capture the excitement surrounding the advances in science of the day. Forward thinking was the name of the game during the '50s. People posited all manner of thing, from flying cars to automatic butt-plugs. I remain hopeful that one day, Mr. Sexington's dream robot will come to fruition, when science catches up with alchemy.
Finally, we have the pièce de résistance of my new collection. "He Died For Our Sins!" by Herman Herman in 1323. Herman Herman is most famous for his use of real blood, usually drawn from unsuspecting assistants, mixed in with his pigments. Herman painted totally nude and inside a pentacle made of salt and gypsy hair, and he managed to turn out 9 canvases before his beheading in 1325. It is my life's mission to attain them all, especially "Happy Birthday Satan!" painted just days before his execution.
I hope you have enjoyed this look into the MAD art around us. Until next time, I bid thee adieu.
Monday, September 21, 2009
(Note: NOT the original poster art. ;) If anybody can find a poster, please let me know.)
A few months back when there was a lot of internet buzz about Severin DVD's release of the Danish dwarfsploitation classic The Sinful Dwarf, I read a couple of reviews than intimated Olaf, the titular morally-challenged Little Person of that flick, might not in fact be the most sinful dwarf in cinema. This seemed inconceivable to me. Olaf had easily dove to deeper depths than the gracefully leaping Gurth of Girl Slaves of Morgana La Fay; he'd even out-depraved the seemingly un-out-depravable Ralphus of Bloodsucking Freaks fame. Who could possibly have a shot at wresting the title from his surprisingly strong little hands, when those two giants of eeevil dwarfdom had failed?
The answer, these reviewers suggested, could lie in a little-seen Italian obscurity directed by Alberto Cavallone in 1982. The title: Being Captured (aka Il Nano Erotico, aka Baby Sitter). The challenger: Willy.
It took a lot of digging, more than one session of bestial necromancy, and the full resources of the Duke's shadow-army of seekers after artifacts of the blasphemous arts, but I've finally clapped eyes on little Willy in all his formidable wickedness. But has he displaced Olaf at the pinnacle of midget malevolence? Abandon hope and read on!
We open with Sabrina (Sabrina Mastrolorenzi) meeting her lawyer sister-in-law at the airport in Rome, where she has a two- or three-hour layover. Sabrina has some legal questions of a very personal nature to discuss with her brother's wife, to do with a horrifying temp-job she took about five months previous. Getting down to business, the lawyer dons some GIANT FUCKING SUNGLASSES and gets out her notepad...
Suddenly we're whisked back in time to the middle of a field nearly half-a-year earlier, where Sabrina and boyfriend Johnny (Serwan A. Hoshvar) are rutting like amorous swine in the dirt. When Sabrina draws up short because she has an appointment to keep, Johnny gets petulant and upset--however, he does give her a ride into Rome on his bitchin' bike, and on the way Sabrina gives him a 55-mph reach-around that softens his attitude, if nothing else.
Sabrina arrives at the designated street corner and is picked up by a mysterious blonde woman who has engaged her babysitting services for the evening. Claiming "directions are too confusing," the woman invites Sabrina into her car and has her greasy chauffeur drive them out to her palatial estate in the country, which she admits is quite isolated, miles away from the nearest neighbor. The girl suspects nothing, but Johnny is not so trusting--he gets on his bad motor scooter and follows at a not-at-all-subtle distance.
his bike sputters and stalls, allowing the greasy chauffeur to slip his grasp. Inside the car the blonde woman talks faster and faster, learning the babysitter has told no one where she's going and has no family in Rome, assuring Sabrina she can use the phone as much as she wants, that the child will probably sleep all night, it'll be an easy way to make multi lira. Despite the chauffeur's meaningful snickers and knowing glances, Sabrina is still blissfully unsuspicious.
They finally arrive at the woman's country estate, which is a spacious, ornately furnished, and disturbingly empty house. She shows Sabrina the child's room, where sure enough little Willy is sleeping, face down, covers pulled up to his nape. Telling Sabrina she'll be out all night and will return early the next morning, she bids her child-care specialist adieu and heads out, locking the front door behind her...from the outside! The woman then climbs in the front seat of the car and shares a horrifying tongue-kiss with the skeezy chauffeur. Inside, Sabrina discovers that the phone is dead (naturally) and that her one avenue of egress is not functional. WTF's going on around here, anyway?
If you guessed that Little Willy is not exactly the sleep-addled innocent the blonde would have us believe, give yourself a tiny gold star. Yes, despite his short bed and Little Lord Fauntleroy clothes, Willy is not a child, but a dwarf of the most sinful sort. Hopping out of bed and donning his old-fashioned hat, he saunters through the empty corridors, twirling a blowgun ominously, stalking his now helpless prey. Still hammering in vain at the front door, Sabrina turns just in time to realize her predicament before Willy puts a dart in her butt and puff-puff, out go the lights.
While the audience watches in confusion and more than a little disbelief, the dwarf rolls Sabrina onto a rug and drags her through the house to his study, where he strips the unconscious girl naked and then dresses her in a beaded g-string more to his liking. The camera follows every step of the procedure, and while the style can't be called verite, it does have a grimy, un-schooled quality that strangely adds to the creepiness--as if this were not film taken with cinematic release in mind, but shot by an amateur, perhaps for "personal use." The dissonant, distorted guitar soundtrack also adds to the disturbance.
Meanwhile, the chauffeur and the blonde--who we soon find out is Willy's wife--have sweaty Italian sex in the servants quarters for an extended scene that also has that amateur fuck-flick sleaziness. We get a few shots of Johnny driving aimlessly down the highway in search of the cold trail. Then we flash-forward again to the Sabrina talking with her sister-in-law, who is remarkably unsupportive: "A lady, married to a midget, is having an affair with a chauffeur. It's unusual, but not what you wanted to tell me about. Didn't you check her references?" Yeah, hindsight's twenty-twenty through those Giant Fucking Sunglasses, isn't it, babe? Well, hold on to your frames, because Sabrina has more to tell...
In flashback again, Sabrina awakens to find herself in bondage in the Midget's Throne Room, tied upright and spread-eagled in lingerie that isn't hers. Willy comes up and lets her know the score, showing her his blowgun (not IYKWIM...just yet...) and the ammo that comes with it. "This dart is for sleeping...and this one is for KILLING." Capice, baby?
With Sabrina now a captive audience, Willy puts his darts away and asks the obvious question: "Do you like striptease?" Without waiting for an answer, he proceeds to do a mini-Chippendales routine for her, giving us lots of g-string shots and moving his muscled torso to the music. Eventually he sidles up to Sabrina and begins pawing her most lasciviously to the beat. The dance goes on for what felt like several minutes, far past the point of discomfort. Meanwhile, the chauffeur and Willy's wife are watching the show on closed-circuit TV, and the blonde admits she can only get really excited by watching her husband at work. The chauffeur is a bit put off by this--hasn't she seen his thick carpet of chest/belly hair? Hasn't she ridden his pornstache to ecstasy? But such is the tangled web of love. The heart wants what it wants, and sometimes it wants disco midgets molesting screaming babysitters, apparently.
Meanwhile, Willy and Sabrina have reached an agreement. Sabrina promises she'll do ANYTHING if he'll let her go, and the Dwarf Lord decides to test that resolve. This leads to extended softcore midget-sex, featuring gratuitous dwarf-butt, full-frontal Willy, and an o-face shot that must be an homage to Heddy Lamar's infamous Ekstase scene. But there's still one thing none of the other girls would do that Willy wants, and if Sabrina is willing, she might just make it out alive.
Willy wants erotic enemas, though whether giving or receiving is unclear. When he admits he plans to kill Sabrina like all the others ("I won't make you suffer!" he promises, as if to sweeten the deal), she freaks and busts Willy in the balls, leading him to prematurely squeeze the bulb in a very suggestive scene. Sabrina takes off with Willy in hot pursuit, toting his blowgun loaded with killing darts (there's probably a pygmy joke in there somewhere, but I couldn't find it) and treating us to much more g-string dwarfage and midget wrestling.
Seeing that things have gone south, the blonde makes the chauffeur rush to help their meal ticket, but too late, as Sabrina surprises Willy with a fireplace poker to the spine, killing him. The chauffeur makes to throttle Sabrina, but just then Johnny--who's been doing some intercut detective work throughout the flick--finally stumbles upon the scene and puts the greasy Italian down.
After this there's an odd 10-minute coda where Johnny and Sabrina have sex (in the midget's house?) and we flash forward to Rome again, with Sabrina trying to find a way to tell the cops about what happened without going to jail for murder. I kept expecting the big "DUN-DUN-DUN!" shock reveal, maybe of the blonde, who got away scot-free, following Sabrina for revenge, but it just doesn't happen. Sabrina resolves to go the to police, Sis promises to help, and that's the end.
There are brave performances, and then there are BRAVE performances, and in his only film role, Petit Loup as Willy (yes, his stage name translates as "Little Wolf") is nothing if not brave. Wearing only a g-string or less for most of the film's 66-minute run-time, he's certainly comfortable in his own skin. The same could be said of all the actresses in the flick, in fact--Sabrina is nude or topless for more than half of the movie, and Willy's wife is similarly clothing-impaired. (And if you are a member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee, there's lots...or, little, I guess...to like here.)
It's hard to judge the direction of the flick, since the only print I could find looked like it'd been copied to video and then buried under a landfill for 25 years, which may well be the case. There are a couple of odd flourishes, such as a sudden "Half-Time" placard that pops up thirty minutes into the movie, red with yellow-stencilled letters--but apart from that it looks pretty static and amateurish. The only other flick on Cavallone's filmography I'd heard of was The Iron Master, a sword-and-sorcery effort I remember seeing on the rental racks, but never watched.
But to the larger question of whether Loup's Willy is greater than Torben's Olaf, I'd have to say the Danes still own the top spot. Though Willy is certainly more sexually active than Olaf--and his bondage, striptease, and enema kinks are pretty disturbing in their own right--he just doesn't exude the kind of unreasoning eeevil that pours off Olaf in waves. Strangely, perhaps it's the deviant sexual motivation for his capers that humanizes Willy in a way--though you don't share it, hopefully, at least you can understand it in a weird way--whereas Olaf is sadistic, misanthropic, and gleefully eeevil because that's just how he is. And the damage Olaf does is much more apparent as well--while Willy claims to have kidnapped and killed many girls before Sabrina, we never actually see it, and certainly get nothing like the bleakness of Olaf's attic dungeon or hard-to-take Cane Scene. Willy is sleazy and sinful, there's no doubt about that--but he ain't no Olaf.
Still, Being Captured does give you a few things that Sinful Dwarf doesn't--i.e., explicit midget sex, an odd homage to Tod Browning's Freaks (in a flashback to Willy and his wife in the early days of their romance, which ends with him eating chocolates off her nipples), erotic dancing, and that whole enema thing. So if you're a fan of Evil Dwarf movies, it pretty much must be seen. Everyone else should stay far away, though.
As for me, you know what I like--2 thumbs, worth one viewing at least. But be warned--some things you can't un-see.
Friday, September 18, 2009
I'm sure it's happened to all of us before--looking for a movie to rent or buy, a couple of hours blessed escape from the otherwise joyless and soul-crushing experience our lives have become, we find ourselves dazzled by marketing hyperbole and taken in by false comparisons. A movie that critics and ad-men proclaim to be "A demonic holocaust in the tradition of Clive Barker's Hellraiser!" turns out to be a weekend video project about a guy wearing a dollar-store pair of devil horns. A flick that advertises itself as "More chilling than Halloween! More shocking than Last House on the Left!" reveals itself to be another glossy, soulless studio effort about pretty vapid teenagers getting bloodlessly killed by a thoroughly boring killer. A movie claiming to have "More bite than JAWS!" turns out to be the entirety of SyFy's Shark Week output. We find ourselves wiser, and sadder, and poorer by $20.
Sometimes the movie isn't really all that bad, but is ill-served by comparisons to which it can't hope to live up. Or worse, comparisons that are so far off base as to be nonsense. You know I love Naschy, but when the VHS of The Hanging Woman (due out on DVD soon from Troma! For like $10! Buy it!) touted it as "in the tradition of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre"--well, it was clear that something was amiss. Who writes this stuff?
So today I turn it over to you, parishioners: what are some examples from your experience of misleading, nonsensical, or plainly libelous comparisons DVD and video companies have used to (successfully) sell you on their product? What are some of the best movies you've found that the ad-men totally misread? The Duke and I want to know. (Best answer gets a free ride on the Duke's Lap Luge!)
Posted by The Vicar of VHS at 10:35 AM
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Belgian director Christophe Lamot's 2008 documentary-style film Silence, ça tue! (aka Silence, We Are Shooting!: A Feature by Ljo Menzow) is the sort of movie that would probably have moved me more were I a struggling Belgian independent filmmaker frustrated with the difficulties of navigating the Belgian movie-making/arts funding system. Since I sadly don't fall into that rather narrow demographic, I couldn't help feeling I wasn't Lamot's target audience.
Lamot plays Chris, a film student who can't secure funding for any of his projects due to the aforementioned Belgian bureaucracy. Tired of sitting idly by while the well-known, bankable, and to his mind much less deserving darlings of Belgian moviemaking (a dozen of whom I'm sure you can name off the top of your head) suck up all the resources and shooting licenses, Chris recruits a group of friends to shoot a "live movie" that will put him on the map with its innovation and edginess, showing those snobs in the Ministry of Culture what they're missing out on by strangling new talent with their petty quality control rules.
having a film crew follow him around at all times while he goes to parties, confronts uncaring producers, and creates unrehearsed dramatic situations in an effort to expose the movie industry's hypocrisy--hardly seems all that innovative in 2008, but you'd never know it listening to the young director's hyperbole. His crew of techs and principals aren't quite as enthusiastic, but seem to be used to their friend's delusions of grandeur and come along indulgently for the ride and the liters of alcohol that always seem to be on hand.
Things get a little too real, though, when Chris takes his crew to a replica gun shop and somehow walks away with an actual working piece. (One can assume gun sales in Belgium are as tightly regulated as the filmmaking industry, and one can't just walk into a Wal-Mart and come out with a can of Pringles, an air filter, and a Glock.) Thinking as so many have before that a gat in the hand means the world by the tail, Chris takes his friends to see a movie producer who rejected one of his scripts, with predictably tragic results.
The accidental death of the producer opens a floodgate of violent tendencies among Chris's friends, particularly Nico (Nicolas Anseroul), the longsuffering chubby friend who is often the butt of everyone's jokes. Figuring as long as they're stuck with one body to get rid of (going to the police is out of the question, clearly), they might as well go for broke, Nico borrows Chris's gun and revisits an acquaintance who made a fool of him at a party the crew attended the night before, proving yet again it's always the quiet ones you have to look out for. Nico also shows that he's given this whole revenge/murder thing a lot of prior thought, as he quickly takes everyone to a hardware store with a shopping list of caustic chemicals they'll need to get rid of the mounting pile of bodies.
However, if it weren't for that real-life murder, the flick would barely merit an R rating. There's very little gore (a "mannequin feet and hands floating in a bathtub of chemicals" shot is as hard-to-take as it gets), and the killings are mostly gunshots from a distance--we get a couple of okay-looking bulletholes, but also a few "magic squibs" that spray blood all over a white shirt without even putting a hole in the fabric. Of course this is clearly a function of the film's extremely low budget, but if you're expecting the next Calvaire or Sheitan--well, you're in for a disappointment.
The marketing material also doesn't do the flick any favors by touting it as "the modern equivalent of Man Bites Dog." While the similarities are evident--both Belgian movies, both documentary style, both involving a series of murders--the movie inside the case couldn't be further from Man Bites Dog in terms of black comedy, disturbing situations, and basic cinematic skill. Again, viewers hoping for another dose of soul-crushing Eurostyle on the level of Balvaux and Bonzel's rightly revered masterpiece are going to come away feeling cheated.
Much as I admire Lamot's drive to get his movie made in spite of being hamstrung by what he sees as an unfair system, I just really didn't think the movie was that good. The documentary-gone-wrong set-up is a budget-conscious choice, but in the post Blair Witch Project days has become one of the lazier cliches. (In fact, the last shot of the movie pretty shamelessly rips off Blair Witch Project's final scene, to much lesser effect.) The actors seem like nice enough guys, but their characters come off as flat and bland, their motivations never really addressed. Lamot is okay as the driven, increasingly insane artiste, and the crew's smiley, engaging sound man has some truly remarkable beardage going on, but really, that's the best that can be said.
"director" Ljo Menzow--Lamot in Eurotrash sunglasses and a bad wig--a comedic short which is kind of funny and makes me think Lamot might do better at comedy than at gritty realism. I haven't seen the director's debut feature--Vacuum Killer (2006)--but already I'm willing to bet it's better than his sophomore effort. Also included on the DVD is the trailer and a 16-minute behind-the-scenes reel that shows the hard work and good times the crew had while making their movie.
Many reviewers have been impressed with Silence, ça tue!'s "radical" subject matter and "guerilla style" filmmaking, and maybe if I knew more about the Belgian film industry than I do about Belgian beer, I'd be more forgiving of the flick's stylistic failings. As it is, though, Silence, ça tue! really did nothing for me, and seemed long at 66 mins. 1 thumb, I'm afraid. Your mileage, as always, may vary.
Monday, September 14, 2009
It might not seem so, but parody is a genre that is really difficult to do well. It helps to have a genuine affection for the genre or subject you're poking fun at--please to see This is Spinal Tap, Shaun of the Dead, or even Broken Lizard's Club Dread. Even then, it's a balancing act. You can go completely over the top a la Airplane! and rely on sight gags and joke-a-minute pacing to keep the audience happy. Or you can go the wry/dry route, something along the lines of Behind the Mask: the Rise of Leslie Vernon, counting on your audience's knowledge of the genre's tropes to sell your sly manipulation of such for your yucks and chuckles. Either approach takes a deft hand and no small amount of skill--get too silly, and you spiral out of control into stupid pop culture references and fart jokes; get too dry, and it's hard to tell if you're joking.
I say all this because even after watching it, I'm not entirely sure whether Tom DeSimone's 1986 Women-in-Prison flick Reform School Girls is really meant to be a parody or not. They certainly tried to sell it as such back in the day--the trailer (link here, and helpfully embedded at the end of the review) wants you to believe it's the laff riot of the season. But DeSimone has his actors play it almost completely straight, which means either he was going to dry route and overdessicated, or else he was making an homage that the marketing suits didn't know what to do with. Or maybe the WiP genre itself travels so close to self-parody anyway, poking fun at it is a sucker's game.
We open with Jenny (Linda Carol), a fresh-faced beauty from the wrong side of the tracks, waiting in the getaway car while her boyfriend tries to rob a warehouse or something. Things go predictably wrong, as the significant other shoots a security guard and goes down in a hail of bullets , leaving Jenny holding the bag as an accessory to armed robbery and murder. But since she's underage--that's what they tell us, anyway, so we just have to go with it--the judge sentences her to reform school instead of prison, until such time as she's old enough to face the world on her own.
She soon finds herself at Pridemore Juvenile Facilities, in the company of a ragtag group of innocents and ne'er-do-wells of the sort you'll expect if you've ever seen a WiP flick before. Jenny is quickly befriended by tough-talking Bronx chick Nicky (Laurie Schwartz, doing a pretty good impression of Jo from Facts of Life), who has been in before and agrees to show Jenny the ropes. Also along for the ride is timid runaway Lisa (Sherri Stoner) who wound up here after her brother was killed by their foster parents, who were also sexually abusing Lisa. How this translated into a reform school term for the girl I wasn't exactly sure, but the important thing is that they get incarcerated together, and that's exactly what happens.
As I'm sure always happens in a state-run reform school entrusted with the rehabilitation of minors who have strayed off the straight and narrow, the girls are immediately stripped and forced to take a group shower, then told by a sadistic matron, "You're going to be inspected inside and out, so GET IT CLEAN!" After they towel off the girls are sprayed down with DDT--presumably for delousing purposes--and then introduced to Matron Edna, played with over-the-top, predatory-lesbian sadism by Pat Ast. Edna munches chocolates and informs the girls of the favors the can expect if they "play nice," then confiscates Lisa's squeak-toy/rag doll, the only possession of her deceased brother's that she has left. Just so there's no question who the bad guy is here.
Jenny, Lisa, and Nicky are then escorted down to Dorm 14, their new home. You can tell this is the baddest block in the whole damn jail by the blaring rock music and the clouds of cigarette smoke and cheap perfume that greet the girls at the door. They walk in to find the entire population clad in Frederick's of Hollywood lingerie, a sure sign that these are the Bad Bad Girls, the ones who likely rule the school. Baddest of the bad is Charlie Chambliss, played by punk rock legend and Grammy Nominee Wendy O. Williams. Constantly lifting weights and strutting around in her thong bikini, Charlie quickly sets her sights on Jenny and Lisa as perfect additions to her gang of lesbian miscreants. Jenny stands up for her timid friend, however, setting up the expected rivalry between them.
Also on hand is requisite bleeding-heart psychologist Dr. Norton (Charlotte McGinnis), who is new to the school and wants to make a difference in all these young ladies' lives. Of course this runs directly counter to the school's mission statement as defined by Warden Sutter (80s softcore legend and sometime sexy werewolf Sybil Danning), who has a predilection for Nazi SS gear and spends her free time reading misogynistic scripture over the loudspeakers by way of bedtime stories for her charges.
It would be easy to point out the ridiculous particulars of the movie's set-up so far, and use them to bolster the argument for parody. The "reform school" is a prison in all but name, complete with armed guards, license-plate manufacture, and plantation-style work details straight out of Cool Hand Luke. Of course none of the girls look anywhere NEAR juvie age, least of all Williams, who could easily pass for a lifer. The lingerie that all the girls wear in their dorms (and Williams wears even while on work detail, which for her involves sunbathing and pouring iced tea for Edna) is definitely NOT prison issue. And Danning's Warden could only be more Nazi-ish if they dressed her in Dyan Thorne's Ilsa outfit, complete with swastikas. So they're obviously taking the mick, right?
Jess Franco WiP opus, 99 Women, you'll see that with the possible exception of calling the place a reform school, none of the elements detailed above are really that far outside the norm. Vicar fantasy girlfriend Rosalba Neri wears her stockings and garter belts throughout her incarceration, even while working outdoors; the warden reads books about the Third Reich and speaks with a clear German accent, despite (or perhaps because of) the setting in Argentina. And I don't think anyone would accuse Franco of not being serious about his women-in-prison flicks.
The plot plays out pretty much by-the-numbers as well. There are catfights, gang rivalries, solitary confinement, a failed escape attempt on Jenny's part (she uses her feminine wiles to seduce the work truck driver into helping her escape, only to be betrayed by him at the gate once he's got what he wanted--typical man, no?), tragic deaths, and a kangaroo committee meeting in which Dr. Norman is made to look a fool for bringing up all her crazy allegations of abuse. And of course there's the climactic uprising in which Jenny leads the prisoners in revolt against their sadistic keepers. WiP 101, with not even standard deviation.
Also arguing against the parody idea is the tone of the piece. Though there are certain borderline-comedic elements (the DDT spray-down, the constant hard rock interludes, Edna's parasol and bikini tea-service in the fields, etc.), there's an overall bleakness to the flick that never really goes away. A large part of this is due to Wendy O. Williams' fierce performance as Charlie Chambliss. Of all the girls in lockdown she's the one actress who seems legitimately dangerous (and was, in fact), and her gruff, no-nonsense line delivery never betrays anything but the utmost seriousness. The scene where she and her gang trap Lisa in the bathroom (taking advantage of Jenny's having been sent to solitary confinement) and brand her with a red-hot coat hanger is damn near chilling in its sadism. Add to that the dark gloominess of the prison itself, the feeling that the bad guys will always win and there's no escape--it has a cumulative downer effect that overcomes any claim to levity.
The final battle between the revolting prisoners and the sadistic staff could also be read either way, but whatever your interpretation it's completely off the rails. Joining forces against an unhinged Matron Edna, Charlie and Jenny lead the girls in an all-out riot. Guards are murdered, girls are shot, and Charlie strips down to her leather warrior woman stage gear, steals a bus, and sends it careening into the guard tower where Edna is picking off prisoners with a rifle. The tower goes up in flames, Edna catches fire and plunges like a comet to her death, and presumably the state finds a more qualified, less Nazi-ish staff to replace them for the happy ending.
If the acting isn't meant to be parody here, it's pretty bad. Apart from the aforementioned strong performance by Williams (who's clearly pretty much playing herself) and Carol as Jenny, the rest of the cast do little to acquit themselves (HA!). Pat Ast chews the scenery a little too much as the sadistic matron, and her "BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" eeevil laugh gets old less than halfway through. Danning, while striking to look at, is simply terrible as an actress, apparently reading her lines off cue cards for many of her scenes. And the rest of the girls give music video-level performances, only without quite so much polish. However, it is worth mentioning that Sherri Stoner, who plays doomed innocent Lisa, later achieved geeky fame as the voice of Slappy Squirrel in TV's Animaniacs. Which is pretty dang cool, imo. ;)
So how to rate? Well, If it's not meant to be a parody, the flick does hit all the requisite plot points and thematic notes of a WiP film from the 70s. However, it does so without the commitment of its forebears--there's little sex (even the shower nudity seems reticent), little torture/whipping (Lisa's branding being the main exception), and a reluctance to "go there" that would not have been present a decade earlier. The climax is a worthy battle, but too little too late, really.
And if it *is* meant to be a parody--it's really just not that funny. Which is a problem, clearly.
Reform School Girls, and Wendy O. Williams is something to see in action, so I can't really hate the flick. But I didn't love it either, and maybe its split personality is why. Anyway, I settle in on an average 1.5 thumbs rating. Worth seeing if you're a Plasmatics fan, or if there's nothing else on and you dig the loud music. Otherwise, I hear The Big Bird Cage is pretty good...
The Trailer for Reform School Girls (1986):
Misrepresentative? You make the call!
Saturday, September 12, 2009
As Paul Naschy Week winds down here at the Vicarage and the Duchy, it's a bit of a sad sight. Crepe paper streamers twist lazily in the breeze, confetti and bones of roasted boar litter the Main Hall, empty wine tuns are rolled down the stairs by Faulk and the Duke's pet gorilla Shnazzerpuss while Italian-American plumbers flee in terror, and of course the serving girls apply salve to their raw areas and pray for the somber stroke of midnight that will signal the end of the celebration.
But before we take the Vicar's cassock down from the Duchy's flagpole (where ALL salute), and bleach the Duchal Pantaloons for the first in a series of ritualistic scrubbings, we thought we'd lift our spirits once again by revisiting some of our favorite Faces of Naschy. Come with us, won't you?
10. Naschy as Mr. Hyde (Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man, 1972)
Vicar of VHS: He wasn't Mr. Hyde for very long in this one, Duke, as the Wolf inside could not be denied...however, you have to admit he makes a dashing Hyde. That cravat is what really sells it for me, even more than the undersized hat.
Duke of DVD: Yes, verily, he looks to be about to call for a horse and carriage, to whisk him away into the London fog, perhaps to a small pub I once visited called "The Strangled Goose", where he might sit at a scarred, wooden table and sip a glass of port. I appreciate not just the cream cravat, which is brilliant, but also his fully buttoned coat.
9. Naschy as Amenhotep (The Mummy's Revenge, 1973)
V: Any role that allows Naschy to rock the Egyptian headdress and bicep bracers while also going shirtless is okay in my book. Though they must have had a crew of shaving technicians on staff at all times, I'd wager.
D: No doubt about that, I suspect they had to shave his chest between each take, sometimes forcing a cut during dialogue to try in vain to tame his thick nest of tangled hair. Of special note here are the golden necklaces, which no doubt absorbed so much Naschy Musk(tm) during filming that they had to be smelted and formed into bullets to be used to assassinate only the most powerful of demon lords.
8. Naschy as The Devil (Vengeance of the Zombies, 1973)
V: What can you say about this one? From the movie that started us down this road all those years ago, this is an image that never fails to put a quiver in my ribcage.
D: The crazed expression is what gets my blood pumping. No one sells "intense crazy" like Paul.
V: He's just perfect here--the horns, the most goatish goatee you could imagine, the crazy eyes and skull/black drop backdrop. Which incidentally they reused in The Devil's Possessed.
D: I have that same backdrop hanging behind my evening reading chair. Notice Paul's ruby red lips, as if he's already been feeding upon a virginal youth. Exquisite!
7. Naschy as Irenius Daninsky (The Beast and the Magic Sword, 1983)
V: This still more than any other makes me wish Naschy had made a true sword & sorcery flick. Can you imagine him in the Conan role? You don't have to imagine it: here he is. And he looks AWESOME.
D: He wears manliness like a cloak. Speaking of cloaks, he appears to be physically wearing the tanned hide of a yeti. He resembles a Viking god, and if I were sitting in a tiny seaside village and saw a longboat arrive with him at the helm, I'd open my wrists and toss myself down the nearest well.
6. Naschy as Dracula (Count Dracula's Great Love, 1974)
V: Naschy wasn't afraid to stretch, and playing the King of the Undead was admittedly a bit of a stretch for him. I love the movie of course, but like his idol Lon Chaney Jr., I think it's clear he was more comfortable playing the werewolf than the suave sophisticated vampire.
D: I concur, but I applaud his noble effort. Naschy looks young here, fresh-faced, with just a hint of stubble. I would imagine they overran their shooting schedule due to him bedding all of the female cast repeatedly. Just look at him! How could anyone resist?
V: He does look great here, with the pale skin, lowered brows, rockin' sideburns--kinda like Glenn Danzig, but taller and more awesome.
D: It might seem hard to be more awesome than Glenn Danzig, but Paul achieves it with little effort.
5. Naschy as Father Adrian Dunning (Exorcismo, 1975)
V: Much like Irineus up there makes me wish for a Naschy Conan, this one makes me thirst for a Naschy Nunsploitation.
D: The world is not ready for that, dearest Vicar. Oh no! I love Naschy's horrified look here, and that sacramental drape doesn't look like standard Vatican issue. It's just how Naschy rolls.
V: Indeed, the orange velvet with apparent paisley pattern may not be what the Pope had in mind, but only because he didn't think any priest could pull it off. Naschy is the exception that proves the rule.
4. Naschy as Alaric de Marnac (Horror Rises from the Tomb, 1972)
V: The arrogance. The Evil. The supreme self-confidence, even in the face of Death. Naschy fucking OWNS this scene.
D: He does indeed! Look at the wild, wavy mane of hair, and the bushy beard that says "Hey, look at me, I'm Grizzly 'Fucking' Adams." That headsman behind him looks positively terrified.
V: As well he should be! Alaric really is the opposite of his Waldemar Daninsky character, and you can tell Naschy has a great time being the all-out evil villain. Plus he gets to look at Helga Line's boobs. LEGEND.
D: While the Waldemar character will always hold a special place in my heart, his Alaric truly is a special accomplishment. Plus the Euro-boob.
3. Naschy as Waldemar Daninsky (Curse of the Devil, 1973)
V: This one's all yours, Duke.
D: Oh dear. Where to begin? I would beggar my kingdom to own that chain tunic he is wearing, or to drink wine from that studded skullcap. Naschy is fully composed of win and awesome here, and his raw talent is in full effect. Bow before him, mortals! HE'LL SEE YOU BITCHES IN CHAINS!
2. Naschy as the Werewolf (Night of the Werewolf, 1981)
V: Of course we could have picked any number of werewolf shots from the Daninsky saga, as the make-up changed (sometimes drastically) from flick to flick, but I believe this is my favorite example of the werewolf look on Naschy. A little bit Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf, but still all Jacinto. The fiery cataclysm behind him helps.
D: Some really great makeup effects here. I love the teeth, too. I'm guessing at least 50% of that hair is actually Naschy's.
V: His virility is such, he can just tense up and "take a beard." Too bad they didn't do a time-lapse "Naschy grows his own make-up" shot in any of the flicks! Staying absolutely still for the 2 hours it would have taken him to grow a full beard would have been difficult, but Naschy is nothing if not dedicated.
D: Be still, my leaping codpiece!
1. Naschy as Waldemar Daninsky (Night of the Werewolf, 1981)
V: I hesitated to have the top two from the same movie, but really, Duke, we had no choice.
D: No choice had we, I agree. I am simply agog.
V: I just really can't speak in the presence of this photo. I'm awash in a sea of awesome.
D: The piercing gaze. The long, untamed hair. The weighty heft of the weapon of war he's wielding. There's just so much to love.
V: I think I need a Moment.
D: Yes, I'll be right back... Readers, talk amongst yourselves. Here, I'll give you a topic: The Holy Roman Empire was neither "Holy" nor "Roman". Discuss.
Well, that about wraps up Naschy Week 2009. Hope you all enjoyed it, and keep coming back for more Madness!