Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! (1972): or Hell is Other People. And Werewolves.

In the 3+ years since starting this blog, The Duke and I have discovered many Mad Movie Makers whose enthusiasm for their genres is a constant inspiration to us. These are directors and writers whose films betray an irrepressible, infectious joy for the process, no matter how limited the budget or poorly executed the ideas. Of course our patron saint Paul Naschy is the archetypal example, his love of monsters and excitement at being able to realize his dreams on screen bleeding into every frame. Mad Genius Jess Franco is another whose enthusiasm cannot be questioned, and even the Brazilian Demon Lord Jose Mojica Marins's nightmare visions are often tinged with a mischievous sense of humor and twisted joy that we find extremely affecting. The list goes on, from filmmakers with dozens of directorial credits to one-off dream-makers who made their shot at Mad Movie immortality count.

And then there's Andy Milligan. Just as compulsively devoted to making movies, just as inspired by tales of monsters and mayhem, just as determined to overcome shortcomings of money or talent as any of the above-mentioned luminaries, Milligan's oeuvre is something else entirely. For Naschy and Franco and others, nearly every film, no matter how "bad," seems a genuine expression of a deep kind of love. For Milligan, every movie seems a scream of pain and rage, an open, suppurating psychological wound. With the Joymongers above, you want to sit down and talk movies with them over a glass of fine port. With Milligan, you just want him to get help. NOW.

Perhaps Milligan's most eye-catchingly titled film, The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! (1972) is no exception. Though lighter on the papier mache gore effects and overt sadism of Guru the Mad Monk (1970) or the monster-on-monster action of Blood (1974)--reviewed here and here on MMMMMovies respectively--TRaC!TWaH! is still packed to the gills with all the venom and hysterical hate of both those movies, and then some. Is that a recommendation? Maybe.

It's Hobo-Stomping Day!
We start things off with a bang: after a few establishing shots of a nicely gothic-looking mansion, Milligan sweeps his camera dizzyingly over a formal garden that at first seems to be ON FIRE, until you realize it's just an overactive fog machine hidden behind one of the hedges. We discover two young toughs roughing up a grunting, shrieking tatterdemalion, raining blows over his head and shoulders that he's powerless to stop. As one of the ruffians holds the hapless hobo down, the other pours lamp-oil on his back and sets him ablaze! At this point the residents of the mansion pour out to the victim's rescue, and his attackers scatter as the heroes put out the flames.

Turns out the victim is Malcolm Mooney (Berwick Kaler), the mentally handicapped youngest son of the aristocratic Mooney clan. His rescuers are brother Mortimer (Noel Collins), eldest sister Phoebe (Joan Ogden), and youngest sister Monica (Blood's Hope Stansbury).Far from being concerned about their brother's burns, however, the Mooney siblings immediately start hurling hateful recriminations at each other for having let Malcolm get out of his cell. Monica even spanks her wounded brother as Mortimer hauls him inside, which doesn't seem very sisterly to me.

"I'll show you all! I WILL win the World Bitch Championships this year!"

It doesn't take long for the audience to realize that the Mooneys are as dysfunctional as grass is green. When Phoebe wonders aloud why Monica hates Malcolm so much, Mortimer spits back, "Monica hates everything and everybody! She's just ONE BIG HATE." When Phoebe tattles to bedridden Pa Mooney (Douglas Phair) about her sister's behavior, she gets another dose of venom. "I'm tired of Monica getting blamed for everything. She's my baby, and she'll always be my baby! If you don't like it, then GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!" Pa has a frail ticker, though, and drops into a seizure, whereupon Phoebe injects him with something--a fresh supply of bile is my guess--to keep him going a few more days.

To his credit (?), Milligan packs an awful lot of familial dysfunction into the first five minutes of his flick. All the characters seem absolutely frantic to get out as much hatred and venom as humanly possible in the limited amount of time they're allowed. It's like an episode of the Jerry Springer show that plays 24/7 in the Mooney household. Sartre famously said, "Hell is Other People," and I have to believe that Milligan agrees 100%--though he might add "--and yourself" to that formulation.

The Disembodied Head of the Amazing Madame Mombo is overcome with passion at the sight of  Manly Mortimer's nipples.

Things don't get any better when youngest daughter Diana (Jackie Skarvellis) comes home,  having been away in Scotland at medical school for the past four years. With her she brings hapless new hubby Gerald (Ian Innes), who can have no earthly idea what he's let himself in for in marrying a Mooney. Pa is dead-set against the marriage, hinting cryptically that they "can't take the chance" until he finishes his "experiments"--experiments Diana was educated in order to assist him with. Monica makes it her business to let her new brother-in-law know the score right away, however. "Hello, I'm Monica, the middle sister. The BITCH! The one they always talk about behind her back!" Well, it's not bragging if it's true. Gerald's first dinner with the family further establishes the unwise nature of his choice of bride, as it ends in fisticuffs and Monica shouting, "You go to HELL! ALL OF YOU!" No surprise that Gerald wants to get (the fuck) out of there after one night, and this before he learns the Mooney's real dark secret.

So the way it shakes out is this: the Mooney's are a family of werewolves, which might be a spoiler if it wasn't, you know, in the TITLE of the movie. Their affliction is passed on through the blood, which is why Pa doesn't want any of the kids to marry. Malcolm is the most bestial of the clan--for reasons that become off-puttingly clear later--and Diana is the most nearly normal, since her mother, Pa's second wife, was "untainted" by the curse. However, the second Mrs. Mooney was mysteriously poisoned shortly after Diana's birth, a fact that concerns Pa less than you would think.

"Mousey, this is going to hurt me more than it does you...haha, just kidding. This is gonna SUCK for you."

Milligan gets quite a bit of mileage out of questions of familial taint (ooer). Diana explains Malcolm's malady with a shrug: "The genes get mixed up at conception and he never developed into a normal baby!" As it happens Gerald also has a strange family history--his father was executed for raping a six-year-old girl, and Gerald himself was raised by nuns who habitually stripped him naked and whipped him in front of all the other orphans. Though Milligan's ADD-directorial style never allows this to gel into a really cohesive subtext, the pervasiveness of the characters' scarred pasts and their effects on the present are definitely an interesting aspect to the story.

Presumably due to his bestial retardation, Malcolm is locked in a cell-cum-chicken-coop, surrounded by nervous birds that are occasionally thrown across the frame by off-camera crewmen. To control his other children's monthly episodes, Pa sedates them and himself on nights of the full moon, though this doesn't stop the kids from congregating in the courtyard and tearing more chickens apart to sate their unnatural bloodlust. This is actually a rather eerie scene, perhaps because it's the first time in the movie the family gets together without screaming invectives at one another, instead silently cooperating on their little blood ritual. The fact that "voice" of the doomed chicken in its death throes is clearly done by a human impresario--perhaps Milligan himself?--is both hilarious and strangely disquieting.

Pumpkin Orange Gown + Tan-in-a-Can == FABULOUS!
I mentioned that Milligan seems to have a certain attention-deficient quality as a director, and this carries through into the script, which he also wrote. The movie is peppered with odd, seemingly non sequitur episodes, such as Monica's repeated torturing of mice and other small animals (apparently done for real, sadly). Later she goes into town to buy more "pets" from a disfigured, Orc-like shopkeeper, who sells her a bunch of vicious rats that he's raised on human flesh! (This was a bad idea for many reasons, not least because, as he tells his customer, one night as he was passed out drunk the rats escaped their cage and ate HIS ENTIRE ARM and half his face before he awoke!) These are the rats of the title, one assumes, and I was thinking they'd be important later...but strangely, after one of them bites her Monica returns them to the shop, and upon failing to get her money back sics the man-eating rats on the shopkeeper, who sets himself and the shop on fire in his panic. And that's pretty much the end of the rat episode.

We get more of Monica's psychopathy later, when an urchin friend of hers (who appears out of NOWHERE) tries to blackmail her with knowledge of the Mooney curse, and ends up getting hacked to death in a gazebo. This is the only real gore scene of the flick (minus the mouse execution), with Monica cleaving mannequin-hands off stuffed sleeves while Milligan indulges his patented "swirling camera" chaos technique. Not as juicy as the scenes in Guru the Mad Monk, but at least it's something.

Handy Chopper

After Gerald accidentally touches his mom's silver cross to Monica's back (after she leaps out of his armoire brandishing a knife!), the resultant puff of smoke and screaming exit clues him in to what's really afoot. Pa Mooney tells him the whole story, though strangely his "experiments" seem to have nothing to do with fixing the whole werewolf thing, but rather with prolonging human life towards immortality. (?) Fed up with her sibling's hysteria, Diana has the cross melted down into bullets and buys a gun for them (in another strange extended scene with a lonely silversmith, played by Andy Milligan himself in a fright wig and Fuller Brush-moustache), and gets ready for the Big Climactic Showdown.

Things have been dragging a little in the latter half of the movie, but the final confrontation with the Mooneys brings it back around, as each family member seems compelled to confess some past sin before wolfing out and attacking. (Spoiler: Phoebe's has something to do with the death of Diana's mom and the reason for Malcolm's condition.) Milligan's swirling camera is in full effect again, and it's hard to see whether the werewolf makeup is any good, but I'm guessing not. With her family exterminated, Diana has one more surprise in store for Gerald, who must end up thinking those days being whipped naked by sadistic nuns look pretty good in retrospect.

Blink and you'll miss him

I mention Milligan in the same breath as people like Naschy and Marins and Franco, but let's be clear about one thing--as a filmmaker, Andy hasn't a smidgen of the talent of any of those guys. His movies are bad--badly written, badly edited (Andy did the splicing himself as well, with the same ADD quality as his writing and directing), badly photographed, and mostly badly acted. (I would single out Hope Stansbury's performance as a rare exception--her bitchy psychopathic portrayal of Monica is a bright spot here, and I always enjoyed watching her spew venom at her hapless costars.) So with all these caveats, why does Andy Milligan fascinate me so?

Maybe it's because his films feel like expressions of a diseased mind, cries from a wounded, desperate soul. Not for help, perhaps--in Milligan's movies human beings seem genuinely beyond all help--but for expression, to be heard over the howling din of the madding crowd. Milligan seemed to have an OCD for filmmaking--he made over 25 movies, all of them on shoestring or nonexistent budgets, and most of which he wrote, edited, photograped, and even made the costumes for (he was an accomplished gown-maker) himself! In the realm of Mad Movie directors, Milligan is far from the most accomplished, but he definitely makes a run for the top spot of MOST MAD.

The Duke dictates his autobiography to a nude dwarf amanuensis with a 12-inch schwanschtucker.

Not many casual viewers are going to like The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! If you're looking for a werewolf extravaganza, this isn't it--there's really only one scene of werewolf action, and that comes eighty minutes into this 90-minute flick. Lycanthrope fans might find something interesting in the idea of the werewolf family's interaction, and how they're cursed not only by their werwolfism, but by their dependence on one another--but it's a bit of a stretch.

Still, I found this movie fascinating--maybe in the way highway accidents and public arguments between enraged relatives are fascinating. Somehow all that bile and venom and hate got under my skin and made it hard for me to look away. And I think there's something to be said for a movie that can get to you like that, however badly made it is on a technical level. So would I recommend TRaC!TWaH! to the unintiated? Probably not. But rating it on my own reaction, I'm giving it 2 thumbs. If you're looking for something different and possibly unique, give Milligan's movies a shot. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Andy Hates Us All

Nota Bene: Whether you're a Milligan movie fan or not, I can HIGHLY recommend Jimmy McDonough's excellent biography of the man, The Ghastly One: the Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan. A fascinating portrait of an extremely damaged man, with lots of great stories about the movies and the people behind them, not to mention Andy's connection to Warhol, Cafe Cino and the beginnings of Off-Broadway theater. Even if you never plan to see an Andy Milligan film, it's a GREAT read.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

DVD Reviews: HEAVY MENTAL (2009) and DEAD EYES OPEN (2008)

It's a maxim that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that old saw is true, then the two recent indie film releases from Troma Team DVD, the low-brow gross-out horror-comedy Heavy Mental (2009, written and directed by Mike C. Hartman) and the more serious zombie apocalypse flick Dead Eyes Open (2008, written and directed by Ralf Mollenhoff) should be very flattering indeed to their respective inspirators. As imitations go, both are pretty spot-on, at times almost to the point of slavishness.

Hartman's flick, for instance, seems to want nothing more than to be a full-fledged Lloyd Kaufman-style boobs, blood, and boogers flick. Specifically, it wants to be The Toxic Avenger. In Heavy Mental, aspiring young metal guitarist Ace Spade (Josh Hooper) receives a guitar once owned by his heavy metal idol and convicted murderer Eddie Lee Stryker (Hartman) as a birthday present from his two gay dads. At band practice Ace discovers that the guitar gives him superhuman shredding ability, making his band a shoe-in to win the upcoming Detroit Battle of the Bands competition. When local crimelord and heavy metal hater Mrs. Delicious (Brenna Roth) decides to blow up the nightclub where the competition is taking place, thus putting an end to Metal in Detroit in one swell foop, Ace is possessed by the spirit of Eddie Stryker and transformed into a hulking, musclebound, skull-faced Monster of Metal to put a stop to her unrighteous schemes.

A rare photo from Skeletor's Glam Metal period.

Monster Ace (Denny Hundiak) becomes a grotesque crimefighter in the Toxic Avenger mold, wielding a guitar instead of a mop to make Detroit safe for metal-loving losers of all stripes. His various encounters with Mrs. Delicous's minions are straight out of the Troma handbook--he rescues the owners of a Daughter-and-Pop Porn Shop from thugs by rippng the miscreants' arms off, decapitating them with his "axe," and exploding their torsos with a blast of a riff-based laserbeam. Other Troma-esque characters show up to get gruesomely murdered: a morbidly obese Hot Dog Eating Competition Champ (in novelty nerd glasses and an ACTUAL propeller beanie, to give you an idea of the humor-sophistication level) strokes his trophy "I'm the Weiner! I'm the Weiner!"; a pair of slutty lesbians rip his guts out and then make out in the blood and half-digested weiners (cartoon squeaky-boob/tongue-flapping sound fx? Of course!), and one of Mrs. Delicous's henchmen is a half-gangster, half-rooster hybrid mutant who communicates in clucks and lays a giant goo-filled egg in fright. And Uncle Lloyd himself cameos as the recording company executive who signs Ace's band in the expectedly upbeat if caro syrup-sticky conclusion.

It has to be said that Heavy Mental hits what it aims for rather well. Plot-wise, effects-wise, lowbrow humor-wise, it's mostly indistinguishable from actual Troma product--maybe a little obviously cheaper and with a smidgen less charisma from the cast. Still, Hartman and his performers' enthusiasm cannot be questioned. But for some reason, the imitation pales for me in comparison to the real thing. Maybe because when Lloyd and Co. do this stuff, it's THEIR stuff--like it or hate it, they're doing what they do and making no apologies. Heavy Mental feels like Hartman copping someone else's schtick--specifically, Mr. Kauffman's. That's a tough row to hoe--after all, by definition NOBODY can be more Lloyd-like than at Lloyd, so you're bound to fall short.

Heart of Rock n' Roll: Still Beatin'

If you're a hardcore Tromite and can't wait for Uncle Lloyd's next feature, Heavy Mental might be a nice snack between meals. Still, personally, if I wanted to watch Toxic Avenger--well, I'd just watch Toxic Avenger. 1.5 thumbs.

The German-language indie zombie flick Dead Eyes Open worked a little better for me. Like Heavy Mental, Ralf Mullenhoff's movie also wears its influences on its sleeve, and features a cameo from the creator of its main inspiration: in this case, universally acknowledged zombie-movie king George A. Romero. Most would say emulating Romero's zombie expertise is a bit loftier a goal than trying to fill Kaufman's effluvia-soaked sandals, but I can't blame Mullenhoff for aiming high--especially when he takes such an above-average shot at it.

Though it has to be said, the movie doesn't start out that promising. A group of six friends decide to take a real wilderness vacation, putting aside cellphones, computers, iPods, and all other modern technological distractions. They even take the extreme (and credulity-sinking) step of having only one of their group know the exact location they'll be camping, and having him drive the others there in a windowless police van, PURPOSEFULLY running out of gas en route. I know they do things diffently on the Continent, but really? Could this EVER be a good plan? It doesn't help that the characters are the defniition of 2-dimensional cardboard movie "types": there's the Drunk Party Guy, the Nerdy Tech Guy who's Lost Without his iPhone, the Sports Fanatic, the Rugged Outdoorsman, the Bitchy Athletic Chick and the Mousy But Resourceful Girlfriend. They all have names, but you'll forgive me if I can't remember them.

Another Pretty Face

Of course the friends have picked the worst possible time for an extended wilderness outing, as without their modern amenities they don't get word that the ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE began while they were stranding themselves in the middle of nowhere. Their camping spot selection is also unfortunate, as it's right next to a rural family graveyard where the dead are starting to rise. Bitchy Athletic Chick is bitten and sickens, leading the stranded young people to seek help at a nearby farmhouse where a creepy old lady is keeping her dead-but-still-kicking husband imprisoned in the garden. All hell predictably breaks loose, and the dwindling group of city-dwellers must fend off not only the living dead, but also a series of psychopathic rural folk who the apocalypse only brings out the worst in.

Once the zombie action starts, the movie actually does pretty well, with several suspenseful set-pieces. Mullenhoff generates some genuine unease in the farmhouse with the crazy shell-shocked hausfrau, who knows Athletic Chick is a biohazardous time-bomb just waiting to explode. The house itself is a great setting, full of shadows and dust-filled rooms containing who knows what unspeakable secrets. Back at the camp, Resourceful Girlfriend and Sports Fanatic are trapped in the van by some of the zombies, and once the male half of the couple meets his gruesome end, the girl must decide whether to stay holed up in the blacked-out van or make a break for it. Once again, the suspense and terror are handled rather well here. And a later set-piece, in which Geeky Guy and Resourceful Girl float downriver on an inflatable raft, under a railway bridge from which a legless zombie is waiting to drop on them, is inventive and exciting.

Frau Pemmican

Eventually this couple of friends make it to a farmhouse where a psychopathic farmer is keeping his dead wife's corpse under wraps, and an invading police force--who actually ARE trying to be helpful--tied up in a pigsty for zombie bait. The farmer, played by Roland Riemer, is a wonderfully creepy character, and like the redneck killers in Night of the Living Dead and the chaos-strewing bikers in Day of the Dead, really more of a monster than the zombies. Speaking of those movies, George A. Romero shows up on TV at the first house as a scientist and "the best known expert" on the zombie apocalypse--a nice touch. He tells the audience in bald terms (and badly dubbed German) what the original Dead trilogy always showed: "People are unable to cooperate. If we worked together, we might have a chance. If and only if. But people won't work together."

One thing that softened my opinion toward the movie was its attempts at a unique style. Portions of the film are shot in distressed, faded filmstock-style, an obvious digital effect but still enough to make the movie visually interesting. Though some viewers may have the opposite reaction and be annoyed by it, I appreciated this attempt to make the movie something besides the cookie-cutter shot-on-video glossiness. The zombie effects are low-budget but practical, and hearken back to Romero's first two zombie epics in a way that many fans of those films will appreciate. And the filmmakers don't skimp on the goopy stuff--there's plenty of raw meat (chicken) gnoshing, skin pulled away in the teeth, streaming blood and exposed bones to satisfy the gorehounds out there. There's even a ribcage/pig-guts effect that's used twice (perhaps ill-advisedly--the obvious use of the same apparatus for two different characters pulls one out a bit), another possible homage to King George. The keyboard score is also pretty good, minus a badly out-of-place rockabilly song in the opening credits.

Also in the film's favor: Everything is Scarier in German. This is a known fact.

German Hospitality

Dead Eyes Open doesn't break any new ground, but it pays respect to its influences without being a direct copy, and managed to hold my interest throughout. It hits all its marks but doesn't seem slavishly devoted to aping its predessors, which works to its credit in my opinion. Not a game-changer, but still a pretty enjoyable indie zombie flick, and George knows we need more of those. 2 thumbs.

Both DVDs are available from Troma Team releasing, and were provided to Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies by the company for review purposes.



Monday, September 20, 2010

Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985): or, Night of the Oompa Loompa Fetish Dolls

All right, folks, I admit to not having what you would call an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, and I'm quite willing to listen to contrary opinions and be proved wrong. But still, I'm going to go ahead, climb out on that proverbial limb, and make my underinformed but still strongly-held judgment:

Attack of the Beast Creatures is THE BEST independent monster movie EVER to come out of the state of Connecticut.

Granted, that's rated on the famous Vicar-ious sliding scale: the movie has problems, including but not limited to an extremely constrictive budget, amateur acting, deadpan unnatural dialog, and a marked lack of explanation for the various goings-on. But along with all that, it's got the endearing earnestness and unquenchable-if-misguided ambition that are the hallmarks of a glorious failure and a Mad Movie classic. And most importantly: always entertaining and never, but NEVER boring. In short: a winner.

More of a wedge, actually
In May of 1920, the ocean liner S.S. Obelisk meets an unspecified tragedy in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, leading all hands and passengers to abandon ship. Captain John Trieste (Robert Nolfi) and First Mate Case Quinn (Robert Lengyel) find themselves on a lifeboat along with several paying customers who are freaking (the fuck) out about the whole thing. They get caught in a strange rogue current (or do they? Dun-dun-DUN...) which speeds them away from the other lifeboats and finally dumps them on the cold pebble beach of an uncharted island. When asked where they are, a crew member shrugs, "Your guess is as good as mine. Greenland, maybe?"

Saddled with a badly injured shipmate, the Cap'n and Quinn quickly organize the other survivors in hopes of finding enough food and water to sustain them until help arrives. Crusty old rich dude and Hall of Fame Cinematic Asshole Mr. Morgan (John Vichiola) wastes no time informing everyone that a) the injured dude is done for, so they should conserve their energy and just leave him to die, and b) they're highly unlikely to get off the island alive anyway, for which Cap'n John deserves all their unending scorn and hatred. Despite their fellow passenger's stinkin' thinkin', however, the rest of the survivors decide to pitch in and do what they can to contribute to the whole "not dying" project.

Reason behind the nautical saying: "Never wear yer white pants when the seas be rough. (Arrrgh.)"

At this point the characters all wander into the Deciduous Forest of Backstory Exposition. Munching berries like a bunch of brown bears dangerously behind on their pre-hibernation fattening-up, the characters take a few minutes to quiz each other on who they are and why they're there. Turns out Morgan was taking his wife on a sea cruise for her health; whether the wife is on one of the other lifeboats or drowned is unclear. Middle-aged socialite Mrs. Gordon (Kay Bailey) was to meet her husband at the Obelisk's destination, and she is befriended by chubby veterinarian and possible hag-seeking-fag Philip (Frank Murgalo), the most  food-focused member of the group. Flapper chick Cathy (Julia Rust) is the designated "in-shock screamer" of the flick, and tougher-minded flapper Diane (Lisa Pak) makes it her duty to keep the girl together.

There's another crew member, Pat (Frans Kal), but don't worry too much about his backstory--a few minutes into the forest he finds a sparkling pool of what looks like delicious, life-giving water, and crouches down to get himself a face-full of savory wetness. It quickly becomes clear that we're not in Greenland anymore*, however, when the limpid pool turns out to be filled instead with fast-acting, face-eating acid!

Human Alka-Seltzer
*At least, I don't think Greenland is dotted with naturally occurring pools of sulfuric acid. Then again, you could forgive them if they decided to leave that out of the travel brochures.

The crew and survivors hold up admirably under the strain of this shocking (and surprisingly gory) turn of events, as Cap'n John shrugs it off with the pronouncement, "Well, we've gotta be a lot more careful of what we eat and drink now!" No point crying over liquefied friend-face, one assumes. Though to their credit, the crewmen do give the high-school biology class skeleton of their fallen comrade an IMMEDIATE Christian burial, which as we know is exactly what all the survival handbooks and B-movie guides insist upon in such circumstances.

After a LOT more berry picking and some ominous rustling in assorted ferns, Quinn gets thoughtful and opines, "I dunno, there's something about this place...something weird!" Something BESIDES the face-eating acid pools, you mean? Cap'n John and Quinn go back to the shore to check on their injured friend, whom they left unattended and bleeding on the beach (like you do). They find his body completely stripped to the bone (Biology Class Skeleton appearance #2) by some unseen scavengers.Also in keeping with the B-Movie Rulebook, Cap'n John swears Quinn to secrecy on the subject. "Whatever it was, we've GOT to keep it to ourselves! The others have enough to worry about!" Yeah, we definitely don't want to tell them they have to watch out for some man-eating monsters that might be stalking us! That would just make them antsy!

"Whoa! I don't remember eating THAT!"

The secret doesn't stay secret very long, however. That night around the campfire--which the Cap'n allows to be set up right out in the open, natch--the inhabitants of the island make their presence known in the film's one genuinely almost-creepy scene. After the Cap'n puts the moves on Diane with some smooth, worldly-wise dialog (Diane: "I guess you've been lots of places!" Cap'n John [deadpan]: "I've been lots of places."), his Lady Love takes a turn on watch. While she stares out into the darkness, she notices two small glowing eyes staring back. She strains to see them better, and notices three sets of eyes. A moment later, half a dozen--and after another cut, even more! The slow buildup of unknown monsters, with only the ambient light of the campfire (shades of Dogme 95?) is effectively done, imo. And then--finally!--THE BEAST CREATURES ATTACK!

The respectable filmmaking chops continue here, as the initial attack is all chaos and shadows and firelight. The creatures are clearly small in stature and very numerous, and we get only split-second glimpses of their faces as the screaming and thrashing reaches a crescendo. Granted, what we *do* see is rather guffaw inducing, but it's so ACTION PACKED that it's easy to forgive. Beast Creatures jump onto shoulders, swing in on vines, and scurry off into the darkness, shrieking like newborn Alien Chestbursters! One even gets thrown into the flames, leading to a combustible marionette sequence that is as exciting as it is entertaining.

Like everyone, he just wants a Pearl Necklace™

After the shipwreck victims fight off this first wave, they stop to do a damage report. Old man Morgan is the worst injured, as he now has a gaping wound on his leg. The rest of the group gets off with minor scratches and cuts. Cathy goes into shock, because that's her job, but everyone else seems pretty okay with the whole "being on an acid pool-riddled island that's also overrun with little orange land piranhas" thing. The Cap'n calmly decides they need to get to higher ground, as that way the Beast Creatures will be easier to fight off. So the next day, the group sets off on a cross-country trek to the island's lone peak.

Having showed somewhat remarkable restraint so far with his Beast Creature effects, director Michael Stanley decides it's time to give the people what they came for: the rest of the movie takes place in full daylight, and his diminutive stars take center stage, conducting guerrilla-style attacks on the humans as they walk slowly across the island. Beast Creatures pop up out of holes to gnaw on ankles, drop out of trees into the ladies' hair, and generally make serrated-tooth nuisances of themselves again and again. And once you get a good look at them, you'll be so glad for the Death of Restraint!


I mean, just LOOK at that beautiful little bastard! The comparisons to the Zuni Fetish Doll in Trilogy of Terror are apt, as would be a call to that movie's copyright lawyers--the Oompa Loompa Orange paint job and lack of pupils are really the only distinguishing marks. I tell you, parishioners, you don't know true Mad Movie Joy until you watch one of these little guys swinging from a vine into the camera lens, or better yet doing a bouncing, arm-pumping run across the screen accompanied by some of the best "pitter-patter of little feet" Foley effects this side of The Muppet Show. The rest of the movie is one attack and/or crazy character action after another, and I don't mind telling you I was grinning like Karen Black in freeze-frame the whole time.

Time for a Mad Movie Bullet List? I think so!

  • Despite all the strange happenings and dangers, the women of the group still giggle like they're on a Girl Scout outing between attacks, bonding over dress repair and laughing with orgasmic glee when they find a non-acidic pool of water to bathe in.
  • After a few of the aforementioned hit-and-run attacks, the Beast Creatures regroup for another all-out assault, leading to some of the greatest land-piranha attack footage ever committed to film. Obser-uv:

"We know you have granola bars! GIVE THEM TO US!"

  • Despite their ferocity and numbers, the Beast Creatures seem incapable of inflicting any real damage--despite being COVERED with the things, everyone comes away with only a few superficial scratches. Except for poor Mrs. Gordon, who perishes in the swimming hole, likely having drowned after gulping water thanks to the Beast Creature's relentless tickling.
  • Morgan goes insane from the stress, foaming at the mouth and dashing off into the woods. Despite his bum leg he easily outpaces both Quinn and Cap'n John, and finally takes a header into one of those pesky acid pools. (Biology Class Skeleton appearance #3)
  • More great dialog abounds. Cathy: "Do you think we'll make it?" Cap'n John (deadpan): "We'll make it."

Death from Above!

  • Quinn mentions the island "feels like the tropics," despite being in the North Atlantic. The Beast Creatures play jungle drums to unnerve the humans, and are later seen gathered motionless around a Tiki idol on top of Beast Creature Peak. Nothing else is ever made of this connection.
  • Both Quinn and Philip fall prey to some primitive traps set by the Beast Creatures--a trip-wire/impaling spike snare, and a shallow eating pit--both set right out in the open, not camouflaged, and easily avoidable.
  • Though it took them a day and a half to reach the peak, the whole group makes it back to the beach in 10 minutes at a brisk jog. They also cross a non-acidic river on the way, which apparently they didn't notice on their initial water search.

The Vicar, mid-viewing
  • In the FINAL WAVE attack, the creatures somehow manage to take a main character down, the one unexpected death of the movie.
  • Final line, from some flabbergasted rescuing sailors-cum-audience stand-ins: "What were THOSE things?"

A lot of people are going to hate Attack of the Beast Creatures, and I'm not going to claim it's perfect, by any means. But your reaction to the obvious flaws is going to determine how you feel about the movie as a whole. Are you going to harp on the fact that the 1920s setting is completely arbitrary and serves no narrative purpose, as there are no period settings or use of timely events, even in dialog? Are you going to rag on the totally period-inappropriate synth score, which sounds less like 20s jazz than some kid in his bedroom aping NPR's "Hearts of Space" on his Moog? Are you going to NOT be filled with joy by the fact that the opening titles go on for over 6 minutes in between action scenes, and include a credit for "Hairstyles by D J's Hair-Inn"? Well then, this movie is not for you.

You can tell I had a blast with Attack of the Beast Creatures. It's silly, it's badly made, and its creatures are laughable, but it is never boring and is full of the kind of enthusiasm and low-budget ambition that seem to be in such short supply these days. The Beast Creatures themselves--their origin and provenance, their connection to a Tiki culture thousands of nautical miles away, the idiosyncrasies of their inhospitable home island--are never explained, perhaps because like all Nature's greatest creations they are at root inexplicable. But they made me smile, laugh, and cheer, and for that I can only offer them my affection.

2.75 thumbs for this pinnacle of Connecticutensian filmmaking. Where's our DVD, Nutmeggers?


More images from Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985):

Flapper As Fuck

We Have You Surrounded

"Anybody seen Kyle?"

Forest of Doom

"We paid for it, we're gonna USE it!"

Quinn learns the hard way why you never accept a BJ from a Beast Creature



Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rabid Dogs (1974): Neck Stabbings, 12" Penises, and Bava Worship

Salutations, friends! Once again, the Duke of DVD returns to shine a light into the dingy room that is your collective lives. I see you there, huddled like a forsaken mass in the corner of your kitchen, the light reflecting off the Twinkie wrappers you clutch to your lumpy chest as if they were so many Krugerrans. I take a step into the room, my velvet slipper pushing aside the abused carcass of an opossum. You jerk as I gently pat you on the arm, pushing yourself further into the corner with your near-useless legs. Fear not! I whisper quietly into your ear, which is more scar tissue than useful appendage, calming your racing, massive heart. Soon you are blubbering, grateful for the blessings I bring you.

Today’s blessing comes in the form of a generous dollop of candied Bava. That’s right! The Duke has the Bava Goods™, that crystal spike of MAD wonder, injected straight into your disfigured arm like a silver lance of Happy. Release yourself to the MADness once again, and lie in sublime repose upon the cushioned lounge that is Mario Bava and his genius. As you should all know by now, the Duke and Vicar both worship all that is Bava, and we would be remiss if we didn’t include in our pantheon of MAD films Bava’s lost masterpiece: Rabid Dogs, a film that languished in a filthy lawyer’s desk drawer for decades before finally seeing the light of day.

What treasures could it hold? Just how Rabid are these Dogs? How many sweaty, horny Italian males can be crammed into 96 minutes of film?

Let’s find out, shall we?

Our film opens with a group of four sleazy gentlemen pulling off a heist, which quickly escalates into violence, as a few of the men are quick to murder at the slightest provocation. It seems the group of thieves found out when payroll arrival day was at a local business, and set up a quick heist to relieve the business of its funds. Grabbing the suitcase full of cash, one of the thieves stabs the case-carrier in the stomach. Before they can escape, the police show up and start shooting. As the thieves are driving away, a crack shot on the police squad shoots one of the robbers in the back of the head through the rear window of the car, and another cop shoots a hole in the gas tank.

"Of all the times to take a nap!"

The pursuit is on! The thieves quickly realize that their gas is running out, so they drive into a multi-storied parking garage. The police are in hot pursuit, however, and quickly catch up to the punks. The crooks, now cornered, grab the nearest hostages they can: two women, who are enjoying their day out shopping. A standoff quickly ensues, but ends just as quickly when one of the robbers murders one of the women by stabbing her in the neck! The cops, fearing the other woman will be murdered, finally back off, giving enough time and room for the thieves to make their escape.

They quickly realize that the car they are in is known by the cops, so as soon as they can they find another. This one just happens to be driven by the next person they see at a stop light. Jumping into his car, waving their guns, they force the woman hostage in with them. The man is Riccardo (played fantastically by Riccardo Cucciolla), who plays it cool because he has to: it seems the backseat contains his sick son, who appears to be around the age of 10 (we only ever see his face, as he’s wrapped in blankets the entire film). Riccardo explains he was on the way to the hospital.

Sorry dude, just because you stole some money doesn't make you any less gay.

It’s time we meet our criminals! First up, is the cool-as-ice Doc (Maurice Poli). He’s as smooth as he is tan, and hardly ever breaks a sweat (figuratively, for he, along with everyone else, sweats like a very sweaty thing throughout the entire film). He’s the obvious brains of the unit, and pretty much divides his time between coming up with what to do next and keeping the other two miscreants under control. This brings us to Blade (Don Backy), a bushy-topped, impulsive, twitchy man who gets high on the criminal life. He is, however, a controlled tornado next to the brash 32, who puts the “rabid” in “Rabid Dogs.” That’s right folks, his nickname is 32, as in centimeters, as in he’s hung like a mule (which thankfully Bava keeps off-camera; I don’t need the Vicar weeping openly in front of me again). 32 is much the focus of Rabid Dogs, and for good reason. Played by George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiori, aka Gabriele Duma), this guy deserves all the praise he can be given and then some.

Very quickly, Riccardo explains to these men that he’s trying to take his sick son to the hospital, and that he wants no part with what’s going on. Doc explains he has no options, and that Riccardo, the boy, and the woman will all be free to go once the men make good their escape from the cops. This proves to be a shallow promise, however, as Doc never exactly explains how long he thinks this will take (note: they’ve already successfully ditched the police). So, with orders to drive on back-country roads in order to avoid attention, Riccardo takes off, the woman Maria (Lea Lander) in between him and Doc, and with Blades and 32 in the backseat, the young boy wrapped in a blanket between them. Got that? Don't make me break out the whiteboard.

Emergency tracheotomy, Italian-style
To say that Blade and 32 are amoral would be an understatement. They are barely restrained Mad-men, sweating and laughing uncontrollably. Bava’s camera confines us to the car for almost the entire film, creating a claustrophobic environment where we’re a silent passenger. We see the characters sweltering in the hot summer sun, almost always in EXTREME CLOSE-UP. Blade and 32 behave like caged animals in heat next to the cool calm of Doc and Riccardo and the wide-eyed panic of Maria. Very quickly, Maria becomes the focus of 32, an Italian poon-hound if there ever was one. His huge frame, barely fitting into the side of the backseat he occupies, is in constant motion, fidgeting and jerking, at times reaching over the seat to try and fondle Maria, at others pulling his pants down for no reason other than to terrify with his massive appendage. We’re all along for the ride, and what a ride it is!

As Bava has pointed out before in his films, greed gets you no where. We soon learn, via the probing questions of Riccardo, that the men didn’t steal that much money; certainly not enough to warrant the multiple murders that resulted. Not only that, but the money is slowly but surely used up on the get-away journey. First Riccardo (either accidentally or on purpose, we aren’t sure) rear-ends another driver in front of him during a traffic bottleneck caused by road construction. Doc, knowing they can’t very well kill everyone around them, instead pays the motorist off, using some of the money. In another scene, a farmer extorts money out of them due to some damaged grapes. In yet another, they have to pay exorbitant fees to get gas into their car’s tank. Coupled with this is the constant headache of keeping to back roads and dealing with Maria, who is always either pleading to be let free or trying to escape.

"And then, you must give us all a good spanking!"

One escape attempt leads to a foul scene at an empty farmhouse. Maria asks to be let out in order to use the restroom, and bolts as soon as she can, running to a nearby farm. Blade and 32 chase after her. I was assuming a rape scene was incoming here, but instead we get something that, while not as contemptible, is still pretty heinous: Blade and 32 force Maria to urinate on herself while standing, as they watch and laugh. (The mighty Bava influenced by upstart Wes Craven's Last House on the Left (1972)? Apparently so!) Degraded, Maria can do nothing but slump listlessly as the two men force her back to the car, this time putting her in the backseat.

This proves unhealthy for 32, whose lust overwhelms any need to remain inconspicuous while on the lam. He begins to try and rape Maria, in flagrante de Pinto. Doc tries to calm him down and gets choked by 32 for the effort, though he's released before suffering any real damage. The Doc pacified, 32 continues the rape attempt, causing passing motorists to yell and shake their fists. The car enters a tunnel, and Doc seizes the moment and shoots 32 in the neck! However, 32 is so big and crazed, this doesn’t kill him, it merely paralyzes him. Blade doesn’t like this, but realizes it needed to be done.

I think we all know the answer to that question.

The car finally runs low on gas, forcing the crew to stop at a station. After badgering the attendant, who is on break, to fill the tank up, they are just about to leave when a woman happens by. It seems her car has broken down and she needs a ride to a mechanic. She basically forces her way into the car, chatting non-stop. At first she attempts to open 32’s door, who is slumped against it with a towel over his head. She assumes he’s sleeping and instead sits up front with Maria and Riccardo, the Doc moving to the rear seat. The woman will not stop talking and singing along with the radio, which ultimately proves her undoing when Blade rams his switchblade into her throat. (Hey, the dude just likes stabbing throats, ok?).

Noticing a theme with ol' 32 here?

Realizing now that they have two dead or dying bodies in the car, the crew pulls over near a ravine. Blade and Doc unceremoniously fling the hitchhiking lady’s body over the side, and then haul 32’s hulking frame down a path before finally placing him near the crumpled body of the lady. Blade ends 32’s suffering with a bullet to the brain, and also relieves him of his watch. After some more driving, the Doc, Maria, Riccardo, Blade, and the boy finally arrive at the destination that Doc has been leading them to, albeit in a very convoluted fashion: a stashed car! Seems the Doc was smart enough to stash a car miles away from anywhere in an abandoned barn, just in case. Smart dude, that Doc.

"Pop Rocks and Coke... how could I have been so stupid?!"

Blade grabs Maria and starts dragging her over to the new car, as Doc holds a gun on Riccardo, ordering him to take the boy over. As Riccardo is leaning in to pick up the blanket-wrapped boy, we see Doc's not the only one who can plan ahead--Riccardo has somehow managed to secret away a small caliber pistol by hiding it in the boy’s blanket! Riccardo stands up and fires directly into Doc’s chest, who slumps immediately to the ground. Blade doesn’t move fast enough with the sub-machine-gun he’s wielding and gets shot by Riccardo, who then notices Doc trying to rise and plugs him again, mercilessly. As Blade lies on the ground, one hand holding his machine-gun, the other holding the money bag, Maria runs across from the new car to the old one, her hopeful face beaming at Riccardo.

Riccardo had to be very careful: he knew that a mere glimpse at George Eastman's exposed chest hair was enough to shatter the heterosexuality of even the sweatiest Italian stud.

The hope, it fades, with a quickness! Blade uses his last once of life-force to machine-gun Maria in the back, and she crumples dead instantly at a shocked Riccardo’s feet. Bava gives us a wide, spectacular view of the carnage as Riccardo stands alone, triumphant, pistol still at the ready as he cradles the young boy. Riccardo scurries over and puts his young ward in the new getaway car. He pauses to think a minute, and heads back to Doc’s corpse, bends down, and rips the wallet from Doc’s back pocket. Riccardo then walks over to Blade and jerks the money bag free of his clutches. Riccardo’s the man! He drives away, free and clear.

*** Friends, Bava has one more twist in store for us. If you’ve made it this far, and are thinking to yourself, furrowing your brow in a vain attempt to form a coherent thought, that perhaps you would like to watch this movie for yourself, then I encourage you to avoid the next paragraph. You have been warned, spoilers ahoy! ***

We see Riccardo pull up at a gas station, and head to a nearby phone booth. He drops a coin in, and connects to a frantic lady, who, as it turns out, is the young, quilt-wrapped boy’s mother! It seems Riccardo, instead of on his way to a hospital with his sick son, is a kidnapper himself!! The kidnapper has been kidnapped, or rather he was. Ooohh, the delicious irony! Bava, you are the king, sir! My turgid member salutes you! Riccardo tells the mother he wants 2 million lira or some such, which is roughly enough to buy a moldy sandwich nowadays. He hangs up, walks back to the car, and opens the trunk, revealing the sickened boy. Fin.

Quilt, tablecloth, drapery, or lady's dress: YOU make the call!
Friends, I am impressed by this movie. Blown away, even. It plays just like a modern thriller, and would have been eons ahead of its time, had it been released when it was originally made. However, thereby hangs a tale: the original producer of Rabid Dogs, Roberto Loyola, was killed during the production of the film, and the Italian court seized his entire estate, including the only print of the movie. It stayed this way for 23 fucking years until finally being released by the courts. Bava had long since gone to his infernal reward, so he never got to see one of his greatest masterpieces released.

Bava’s son, Lamberto, decided to rework the film along with producer Alfredo Leone. They shot a new ending, reworked some key scenes, and released the movie as Kidnapped. Spoiler: it pretty much sucks. I have no idea what they were thinking! The original is far superior, and certainly more visceral and tight. One other interesting bit of trivia: the budget for Rabid Dogs was so tight, Bava had to fire cinematographer Emilio Varriano and take over that role himself, just to have enough money to finish the film.

Every Vicar-thrown croquet party always ends the same.

I really wish Bava had lived long enough to see his original masterwork released. I honestly believe it would have been a success. In the end, we should all be glad that the original print still exists at all. It is a brutal, unforgiving film that features Bava’s trademark eye for quality and ability to get amazingly MAD performances out of his actors. Needless to say, this one gets a stellar 3+ Thumps Up from yours truly. I encourage everyone to track down a copy and give it a go. You shall not be disappointed!

And whoever frees the switchblade from this hooker's throat, will henceforth be King of All Italy!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

House of the Living Dead (1973): or, Revenge of the Ghost Pony

I have to hand it to director Ray Austin and writers John Brason and Marc Marais: they do pack their 1973 mad science/voodoo-ish flick House of the Living Dead (aka Curse of the Dead, availabe on the Mill Creek Nightmare Worlds 50-movie set) with some interesting Mad Movie ideas. Soul transference, animal ghosts, evil twins and voodoo, not to mention a bit of Oedipal family ickiness and some of the better CrazyFace Acting I've seen in a while--seems like a winner from the get-go, right?

Unfortunately, despite this smorgasbord of madness spread before them, the filmmakers apparently just don't know what to do with it all. Misplaced narrative emphasis, momentum-draining red herrings, and an almost pervasive lack of energy hamstring the proceedings badly, and the movie's few strengths are just not strong enough to pull it out of the hole it digs for itself. I can applaud the filmmakers' ambitions, and credit them for a certain amount of vision, but sadly it just doesn't add up to an entirely enjoyable movie.

That's not to say there aren't some good things about it, however--as you know, the Duke and I pride ourselves on finding the tiniest scraps of treasure in even the most foul-smelling cinematic dung heaps, and House of the Living Dead does have a bit of the glittery stuff in it. You just have to be judicious in your use of the fast-forward button to find it. Or else just read what follows.

Quality CrazyFace
Our tale is set sometime in the Victorian era, in the wilds of British colonial Africa, where the aristocratic Bratley clan is keeping its deep, dark secrets. Lord Michael Bratley is the man of the house, a well-loved plantation owner on good terms with both his native field workers and his Anglo and Australian foremen. His brother Breckinridge ("Breck" to his friends, of which he has none) is a former medical doctor ostracized for his wild ideas about the nature of the soul and also for his shameful physical disfigurement. (He's got a club foot. The horror!) Mother Bratley is a sour old dowager who can't stop harping about the Bratley's genetic predispostion to Murderous Insanity--that is, when she's not coddling Breck to a rather disconcerting degree.

Things get iffy when Michael announces his impending marriage to Mary Ann, a girl he met in England during his education. She's traveling to Africa to become his wife, a fact Momma is none too happy about. "You, Breck, and I are the last of the Bratleys," she fumes. "We should be sure there are no more!" Noble thoughts, or Freudian jealousy over loosing the reigns to a younger, prettier woman? Since Mom is a grade-A bitch from scene one, you'd be forgiven for questioning her philanthropic motives here.

Sam Raimi called--he decided to go with someone younger.

To cut the long story short, Breck has been conducting experiments on capturing the souls of living beings, which he reckons to be organic, physical things rather than intangible spiritual vapors. This makes the natives restless, including the creepy old voodoo priestess Aya Kutt (I'm just guessing at the spelling here), who says Breck is "marked by the devil." When people as well as animals start winding up dead, it's not long before a torch-bearing mob descends on the manor house demanding answers. Intrigue, a police investigation, mysterious goings on and a final shock reveal all happen in roughly that order, leading us to our expected Mad Science Monologue and the accompanying climactic lab destruction/comeuppance.

Despite having so much to choose from here, the movie still somehow manages to be deadly dull throughout most of its 90-minute runtime. Part of this is the strange decision by the writers and director to keep Breck in the shadows for much of the film, his experiments spoken of, but almost never shown. This leads to a de-emphasis of the mad science plot and leaves the movie floundering for focus. In its place we get a completely unbuyable romance between Mary Ann and a local doctor set up as the hero, and a lot of rigmarole about an escaped stallion named Saracen who is being blamed for the brutal killings.

"I just can't go on, Johnson! My nipples are far too chafed!"
Actually, the "murder pony" subplot is one of the more interesting facets of the film, taken on its own. We see Breck setting Saracen free to frame the horse for the first murder, which works surprisingly well--when a body with a crushed skull is found, one of the field hands nods sagely, "Musta been Saracen. Horses DO turn killer, sir!" However, the killings continue after the horse is found dead, a ghostly whinny accompanying them. Horse of the Baskervilles? Color me intrigued!

Unfortunately, that's all just a side-plot, and never developed as strongly as it should be. There's lots of boringness that's meant to generate suspense, but doesn't, and even the wicked-looking voodoo lady is given short shrift. In fact, apart from the tangential interest generated by the Killer Stallion idea, there are really only two reasons to watch this movie.

Okay, four reasons then.

The fact is, bookending all that boring pointlessness are a grab-you-by-the-throat opening and a slam-bang finish that give us a tantalizing glimpse of what House of the Living Dead COULD have been. As the movie opens we see a cloaked figure we'll later identify as the Mad Doc capturing a baboon in the vineyard, courtesy some nasty steel traps. He cradles the primate in his cloak and limps on back to the lab, which is a nicely appointed Victorian Mad Scientist laboratory by any standard: all the beakers, copper coils, and mysteriously glowing jugs you could wish for. Once there the dog sedates the baboon and proceeds to engage in MMMMONKEY TORTURE--which I think (hope?) is not of the "actual" variety seen in many other films of the era. He does something to the beast's head--we later learn he's EXTRACTING HIS MONKEY SOUL to be stored in one of those glowing jugs--and hey presto, opening titles! It's a pretty great opening actually--it gets the viewer asking questions, wondering what's up, leaning forward to see what happens next, just as a good opening should.

"Do you expect me to talk?"
"Why NO, Mr. Boon! I expect you to DIE!"

Unfortunately, it takes the movie another solid HOUR to get back to that lab, totally squandering the interest it gained with that excellent start. Breck's ideas about the soul are mentioned only in passing once, and the idea isn't revisited until it becomes necessary for the final confrontation, which (taken on its own) is a doozy. Having extracted his brother's soul offscreen, Breck has Mary Ann strapped to a table and is ready to get his soul-extraction on, with the idea of "marrying" her to his brother by storing their souls in the same jar! "Think of it! A SPIRITUAL marriage!" he raves, and I have to admit, it's one hell of a plan. The actor also manages some truly top-drawer CrazyFace Acting of the kind we love so much here at the Vicarage, which made me wish again the mad science plot had been central throughout.

Best of all is when the default hero busts in to save Mary Ann, and in the ensuing struggle Breck breaks a few of his soul jars, containing the spirits of the aforementioned baboon, a couple of dogs, and Saracen the Murder Pony! As disco lights blaze around the convulsing doctor, reverbed-out animal sounds let us know he's being attacked by the spirits of the animals he killed, until eventually the lab is destroyed and the mad doc has taken a dive off the balcony--actually a BACK SOMERSAULT, which is pretty good for a gimp! As the survivors look out across the field the next day, they see and hear the ghost of Saracen heading to his great reward...which makes this one of the only horror movies I've seen where the hero actually ends up being a horse, so kudos for that bit of originality.

Even the Russian judge scores it a 10.

Nota bene: director Austin went on to direct 3 episodes of the TV series "The Adventures of Black Beauty" in 1974--I'm wondering if this flick was part of his tryout reel?

In fact, with some judicious editing you could really put together a 30-45 minute short film version that would totally rock--that opening, a couple of short dialogue scenes introducing Mary Ann and the hero doc, and then that ending. It would rule! Sadly, though, there's a lot of other crap here that does nothing but subtract from the bottom line total.

I'm not sorry I watched House of the Living Dead--I liked the opening and ending, and the murder pony idea was a new one on me. (Plus, let's be frank--I got nothin' better to do.) I'm just frustrated because I see where it could have been so much better. Still, 1.5 thumbs is about right for my enjoyment level.

Of course, of course


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