Thursday, October 28, 2010
Come, join me once again as we walk down Mario Bava Lane. Notice the neatly manicured lawns starting to give way to rusted-fence-lined blackened earth. There, on our right, is the Johnson place, they with their two kids, fancy cars, and popular gatherings. Oh how I hate them! On our left is Old Man Shriveledsack, walking out to get his morning paper. Yes, we see you, no, we won’t wave in return, you scrawny git. Further down the lane we travel, red eyes from unnameable creatures watch us from shadowy thickets. Your hand grasps my arm more tightly. Do not fear! These are pathways I’ve traveled oft of late, and I will see you through it.
We arrive at a mansion seemingly carved of a single stone from the face of a granite mountain. Blackened and twisted, with no line a straight edge, the edifice reeks of madness and despair. Dare we enter? Not without checking the mailbox first! It seems Mr. Bava is a front-runner to win the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes, and has also received a coupon for a free large coffee at Denny’s, the lucky sod! The front door creaks open of its own accord.
Let’s see what’s inside, shall we?
HERCULES! That’s right folks, the son of Zeus himself, oiled up by the gods, ready for action! Some might be surprised that the mad genius that is Mario Bava (along with co-director Franco Prosperi) would turn an eye towards Greek/Roman mythology, but indeed he has! In fact, Hercules in the Haunted World marks Bava’s entry into the world of color filmaking. Bava always paints a beautiful picture with his lens, and this movie is no different. Not only do we get to see fantastic landscapes and frightening widescreen vistas, but we also get Bava’s keen eye for showing well-oiled pectorals.
|'Oh Theseus, is that a dagger digging into my hip or are you just glad to see me?"|
Hercules, played magnificently by Reg Park, is returning to his homeland of Ecalia along with his best (and in no way gay) friend Theseus (George Ardisson). Having been out adventuring for many years, Hercules is longing to finally settle down with his honey Deianira (Leonora Ruffo) and perhaps live a simpler life. He’s having trouble getting back, however, because Theseus feels it’s his duty to sex-up any wanton maiden he happens across. It’s during one of these romps that our movie opens, with Theseus making out with a saucy farm woman beside a stream. Hercules is cajoling him to hurry things up when suddenly bandits attack!
|"Yes, Hercules, your strength is very impressive. Now please untie the boulders from your wang."|
Hercules finally makes it back home, only to discover that the king has died, leaving his daughter (and Hercules’ love) Deianira the heir to the throne. Lico isn’t much for the line of succession and wants to rule things himself, so he has a curse placed on poor Deianira, one which renders her nearly catatonic and only able to speak in spaced-out sentences. Seriously, it’s like she did 10 hits of LSD followed by some Jello shots.
|"Herc, could you please do your butt-clenching exercises somewhere else? Marna there is overcome."|
Hercules knows nothing of Lico’s designs and takes his word that something has befallen Deianira that must be cured. Offering to help, Lico sends Hercules to the Oracle for advice. The Oracle tells Hercules that only Pluto’s Stone, hidden deep within the foul confines of the underworld, can save Deinaira. Not only that, but that the only way Hercules can brave the underworld at all is if he first possesses the fabled Golden Apple.
|Hercules likes to give his friends the gift of Surprise Buttsex.|
|"For the last fucking time, I'm not Kevin Nealon!"|
Meanwhile, Procustes shows up to kill both Theseus and Telemachus. I have to admit, the costume department did right when it came to making a stone monster suit to represent Procustes. About the only thing wrong with the suit is that it doesn’t allow for any movement other than a slow waddle. Theseus hits it with his sword, which shatters (but later in the movie is mysteriously whole again, hah!). Hercules arrives just in the nick of time, and picks up the seemingly helpless Procustes and tosses him straight through a rock wall, which has the lucky benefit of opening a pathway to the underworld. Score!
|With this film, Bava transitions from black & white to crimson & blue|
|The Spectacular Stalagmite Sisters lull Hercules to sleepwith their #1 hit, "Fog Machine Boogie in D-flat."|
|"Come on, Herc, hug it out."|
Pluto is pissed at the trespass, and sends a powerful hurricane in an attempt to stop the fleeing thieves. The girl, still nameless, bids Theseus to chunk the Golden Apple overboard in an effort to appease Pluto. Theseus runs topside, grabs the apple before Herc can stop him, and hurls it into the sea. Before Hercules can finish his sentence admonishing Theseus for such a crazy act, the hurricane clears and they are on the shores of Ecalia! It seems this plan worked. Their happiness at arriving home safe is short-lived, however, as they find Ecalia is in near ruins. It seems the wrath of Pluto has shifted to their homeland. Crops are withering, cows are dying, dogs and cats are living together. Just mass hysteria, I’m tellin’ ya!
|"Is that a... Procustes turd?"|
*Not the way the myth really goes, I know. I guess Bava was using a cut-rate translation of Bullfinch's Mythology.
|Hercules decided to give Deianira the Stone of Horniness instead.|
While Hercules is away, Lico jumps into action, killing Deianira’s servant girl and kidnapping Deianira herself, taking her into the catacombs below the castle. At the Oracle, Hercules learns the truth about Persephone and that in order to save Ecalia, he must convince Theseus to give up the underworld poon of which he’s grown fond. Hercules arrives back at the castle and has it out with Theseus, who attempts to fight the demigod, even going so far as to cutting Hercules’ arm with a sword, before finally Persephone interrupts the fight by causing Theseus to fall into a deep slumber. She tells Hercules it isn’t right that so many would suffer because of her love for Theseus. She promises now that Deianira is healed she’ll take the Stone of Kickass back to Hades along with herself to assuage Pluto’s wrath.
|"Praise be to the gods for Rohypnol!"|
He finds himself in a large chamber, where Lico is placing Deianira on an altar to be sacrificed, so that Lico can drink her blood while the moon is just right in order to obtain True Ultimate Power. Hercules runs up the slope to the altar, and begins tossing Lico around like a deranged bear trying to get at a Little Person's sweetbreads. Hercules picks up a nearby stone column and crushes Lico to death with it. At about that time, the zombies free themselves of the garbage compactor trap and begin assaulting the hill in wave after wave of zombie attacks. Hercules fends all of these off, tossing stone pillar after stone pillar at the zombies until they are all dead. Finally, the moon passes out of its critical phase, causing the pretty-much-dead-already Lico to burst into flame!
|Hercules wields Procustes' cock as a weapon, with awesome results.|
Dearest friends, I submit to you that this is the pinnacle of Hercules movies. And I’m not just saying that because it had Bava’s masterful hand at work... ok, well, yes I am saying it for that reason, but it’s not the only one, no! Reg Park makes a fantastic Hercules (he played him in 4 films, including this one). His pecs appear to be sentient, and his beard could easily flay the paint off a battleship. The man is pure testosterone, and he plays Hercules fantastically, with a glint in his eye and a spring to his step. Christopher Lee is fantastic as always as the evil Lico. It’s said that a different actor dubbed Lee’s voice for the movie, which is sad (what, it wasn't sonorous and eeevil enough?), but it doesn’t detract from his brilliant portrayal.
|"God, how I love you, Eddie Rabbit."|
Once again, Bava was on a budget set ludicrously low, but this is how the Master thrives. I’m afraid given too much money Bava would have been not as cavalier about taking chances or setting up shots as he does in most all his films. His use of color and frame are unparalleled, and this movie brings those traits to life perfectly. Sure, the movie isn’t perfect by any stretch, but it’s exciting, good to look at, and even freaky (flying zombies, yeesh!). There are probably hundreds of movies in this genre (“Sword & Sandals” for the peasants, “peplum” for the in-crowd), but to me this one stands out as worth watching over most others.
Two Thumbs Up.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Since Tenney was also the man at the helm for one of the Vicar's personal favorite entries in the mid-90s killer-doll boom--the relatively unknown and underrated 1996 effort Pinocchio's Revenge--I was intrigued to see what the director had been up to lately. And thanks to Breaking Glass Pictures' recent DVD release of Tenney's shot-on-video sci-fi/zombie comedy Brain Dead (2007), now I know.
The story here is nothing particularly new: while fishing with his drinking buddies in a remote cabin, an unlucky sportsman is nailed in the noggin with a falling asteroid. Unfortunately for the human race generally and this fisherman in particular, the space rock is carrying a worm-like, half-liquid parasite that quickly takes control of his gray matter and sends him on a murderous brain-eating rampage.
In a nearby rural town, vehicular scofflaw Clarence Singer (Joshua Benton) is chained Defiant Ones-style to captured murderer Bob Jules (David Crane), to be transported to the Big House in a bigger county. At the same time, standard-issue hypocritial minister Reverend Farnsworth (Parks and Recreations' Andy Forrest) is travelling through town with buxom secretary Amy Smoots (Cristina Tiberia), looking for a good spot to expiate his impure thoughts about the girl. Meanwhile, city girl Sherry Morgan (Sarah Grant Brendecke) and her closeted lesbian sorority sister Claudia Bush (Michelle Tomlinson) are hiking through the wilderness, lost thanks to Claudia's less-than-stellar map-reading skills. (Guess she earned her merit badges in other areas, IYKWIMAITYD.) Finally, Park Ranger Shelly (a very Darryl Hanna-esque Tess McVicker) answers a call from the fisherman's worried wife and heads out to the cabin to check on him for her.
Of course through a series of misadventures and coincidental cataclysms all of the above characters soon find themselves holed up in the fishing cabin where the monster has made its nest, forced to deal with both the extraterrestrial terror outside and the increasingly unhinged killer Bob. Friendships are forged, romances bloom, and comeuppances are received as the film rushes--or rather saunters--to its expectedly gory conclusion.
|"You know, this has got me thinkin'..."|
But then there's the cheese--and for connoisseurs of the stuff, it's of a fairly high grade. While the meteor attack scenes boast some truly horrible CG that looks like it was done by a 12 year old on his MacBook, the makeup and gore effects are all practical, and pretty satisfying. The mutated zombie/parasite hosts are nicely done, each with his own particular look and personality. And when the space zombies attack, Tenney doesn't hold back: eyes are gouged out, holes are punched through faces, and craniums are split like walnut shells to get at the spongy pink brains within--which always come out in one piece, handy for snacking! The episodes of carnage are too few in my opinion--we could have lost several scenes of unfunny dialogue and replaced them with monster grue and everyone would have been a lot happier--but the ones we get have a gloriously gory 80s sensibility that many mad movie fans will be cheering.
|The 2010 "Three Stooges" Reboot|
So you've got beasts and blood, but what about boobs? Tenney doesn't skimp on that staple either: the flesh on display is plentiful and varied, as none of the actresses are shy about shedding their summer dress in the name of Art. It's all modelling stuff with no sex scenes--sorry, pervs--but there is one startling effect wherein a bit of the alien goo finds a way into the cabin using the old Trojan Horse technique...though it ain't no horse, if you get my drift. (The graphic close-up here is prosthetic--I hope--but nonetheless effective for it.)
The acting is mostly bad, as I said: Sarah Grant-Brendecke has a certain charisma over and above her curvy pin-up gorgeousness, and comes off the best of the lot; no one else really distinguishes him or herself. Directorially Tenney lets the pacing drag quite a bit, but the monster and gore scenes have an undeniable energy, and die-hard 80s horror fiends should be able to spot a few homages to flicks of the era. (I counted at least three Evil Dead nods, for instance.) And I'd be remiss not to mention that legendary schlock director Jim Wynorski has a cameo as Sheriff Bodine, so watch for that.
DVD extras will include commentary by Tenney and the cast, a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes and bloopers, and trailers, but were not available on the review copy I received.
Brain Dead isn't going to change anyone's life, and probably won't better anyone's opinion of Tenney--but it shouldn't harm his reputation either. If you're looking for something to pass the time--something with lots of gore and nudity that doesn't ask too much of your higher thinking functions--then this one fits the bill. 2 thumbs.
|I can get behind it.|
Breaking Glass Pictures provided a copy of this movie to MMMMMovies for review purposes.
Monday, October 25, 2010
In Victorian-era England, Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) is a real Renaissance man. Born to a life of wealth and privilege, he has been free to follow his talents and interests wherever they lead , and as a result has created some truly remarkable inventions: among them, his own photographic system, a rudimentary motion picture camera, and a powerful high-beam spotlight that runs on the focused interaction of phosphorus crystals and water. Moreover, Sir Hugo is a champion of humanitarian causes, including the abolition of the death penalty in England. As he tells his adopted son Giles (Robert Powell), "Privelige means power, and we must never abuse that power! We're in the midst of great social change, and we must ensure that change is for the best!"
However, like many dabblers of years gone by, Sir Hugo is also interested in proving scientifically what most believe the sole province of the Almighty. Since the death of his wife, he has been an active member in the Psychical Research Society, and with his still camera has captured some startling images of dying TB patients--dark shadows on the print, blurred but definitively present, showing what he believes is "the soul departing the body at the moment of death!" However, when his movie camera captures a tragic punting accident that claims the lives of his son Clive and fiancee Anna, the film shows the shadow moving TOWARD the doomed subjects rather than away. With Giles assisting him, Sir Hugo begins seeking an explanation for whatever (the fuck) he's caught in his remarkably hi-def glass-plate prints.
"And that, gentlemen, is how we know the human soul to be banana-shaped."
Brainstorming in the lab, Sir Hugo posits that the image he's captured must be an Asphyx--an evil spirit from Greek myth that "manifests itself only in times of danger, having existed in eternal agony. It seeks out the dying, or the damned, for only by possessing those about to die is it at last released from unspeakable torment!" Of course he's 100% KEE-RECT, and his quest to discover, capture, and tame this supernatural creature make up the plot of Peter Newbrook's 1973 film The Asphyx (aka The Horror of Death).
The preceding paragraphs describe roughly the first third of the movie, which from a filmmaking perspective has its highs and lows. I was impressed by the sumptuous period sets and costuming, and by the mostly upper-level acting from the British cast. Robert Stephens was a respected Shakespearean actor considered by some the next Laurence Olivier, and his Sir Hugo would be at home in any top-drawer Charles Dickens adaptation. His sons and daughter Christina (the sort of Steele-ish Jane Lapotaire) are engaging and likable. In the negative column is some extremely incongruous, treacly score work by Bill McGuffie, whom Newbrook allows to lay sweeping soap-opera ad-bumper music over what are meant to be chilling dramatic scenes. That said, Sir Hugo's old-school scientific apparatuses are well realized, even if the amazing zoom/close-up function on his movie camera prototype is never fully explained.
Hugh Jackman celebrates his 3rd consecutive Shite Eating Championship
Sir Hugo is distracted from his increasingly macabre experiments--one of which involves exhuming his son's two-week-dead corpse in a failed attempt to photograph the apparition again--by a summons from his civic-minded friends, who want him to record a public execution in order to show the British people the barbarity carried out in their names. When the hangman pulls the lever and the trap door drops, Sir Hugo turns on his phosphorescent spotlight and rolls the camera--only to discover the condemned man's Asphyx caught like a bunny in the headlights! As long as the screeching creature is held by the beam, the criminal dances at the end of his rope, unable to die; but when the last water droplet sizzles on the crystals and dissipates, the lights go out and so does the candle flame of the hanged man's life.
Of course to Sir Hugo this is a pseudo-science bonanza. Not only does it prove the Asphyx exists, it further shows that his phosphorus light can capture and bind the creature as long as the water holds out! What are the chances? Back in the lab, he and Giles rig up an Asphyx Trap and test it by poisoning a Guinea pig. It works like a charm, resulting in proof of their theories as well as one immortal rodent. Later that night Christina inadvertently lets the test subject escape, but no one's too worried. After all, what harm can an undying Guinea pig do? A second experiment with a moribund TB patient nearly works, until the subject, trapped in his death agony, throws acid at Hugo to make it stop. Scarred like a low-rent Phantom of the Opera, Hugo presses on.
"Fantastic! Now, switch to Reverse Cowgirl!"
Drunk with power and rationalizing that the longer he lives, the more good he can do for mankind, Sir Hugo enlists Giles' aid in helping him immortalize himself by capturing his own Asphyx. Of course to do this Sir Hugo must put himself in mortal danger, and this is where the film's secondary theme comes front and center: the barbarity of capital punishment. For his immortalization, Sir Hugo devises an electric chair that will put the volts to him slowly, so that when he's on the very point of death Giles can fire up the phosphorus beam and catch the Asphyx. It works, of course, and the two men imprison Hugo's Asphyx in an underground crypt where water will drip on the containment crystals forever. They further safeguard Hugo's immortality by permanently sealing the crypt with a lock that only Giles knows the combination to.Because hey, what could possibly go wrong?
Not wanting to live forever and watch his loved ones die of old age, Hugo insists that Christina and Giles (who are engaged to be married--since Giles is adopted this is okay, I guess) become immortal with him. Carrying on the capital punishment theme, Sir Hugo straps Christina into a WORKING GUILLOTINE, hoping to catch her Asphyx just as the blade falls. Why he didn't use the electric chair again, or, you know, ANY FUCKING THING ELSE BESIDES A GODDAMN DECAPITATION MACHINE, is a question that will be forever unanswered. As might have been foreseen, the plan goes horribly awry, thanks to a bug in the system--or more appropriately, an immortal guinea pig. Ah, Hubris!
Nota bene: NEVER a good idea
Not spending too much time reflecting on why he EVER thought the guillotine was a good idea, Hugo wants to end his crushing guilt by releasing his Asphyx and dying. But Giles has a different idea--arguing they can only overcome the guilt they feel for Christina's death with time and good deeds, he persuades Hugo to go ahead and make him immortal...this time using a jury-rigged GAS CHAMBER. Hugo learns too late that it's revenge and not immortality that's motivated his adopted son's scheme, as a self-sparked explosion destroys their equipment, the lab, and the secret of the immortality chamber's combination all at a go.
The Asphyx takes its share of missteps over its running time. There are several extremely talky and static sections that had me checking my watch, wondering when something was going to happen again. Also, the capital punishment theme, while potentially interesting, falters quite a bit in execution (ba-dump). The methods for luring the Asphyx out are so needlessly elaborate and uncontrolled--I mean come on, a GUILLOTINE?--that it's clear the writer and director just put them in there to make a point. Which would be well and good, except that whatever point they hoped to make is either lost or forgotten in the mad science ravings and action-packed finale. I kept expecting a payoff--either a reversal of attitude or else something bringing Hugo's philanthropic ideals back into play--but instead the script falls lazily back on the old Tithonus trope, i.e. "living forever ain't all it's cracked up to be."
BOOM goes the dynamite!
the Asphyx itself, as realized by effects maestro Ted Samuels . Accomplished through simple puppetry and double-exposure camera tricks, the Asphyx is a Muppet gone MAD: a gauzy, caterwauling gargoyle coated in layers of shroud-like blubber. The scenes in which Giles and Hugo trap an Asphyx in their magic beam--and give them credit, these guys NEVER MISS--resemble nothing so much as a similar set-piece with Slimer in 1984's Ghostbusters! In fact, I would not be at all surprised if Reitman and his FX crew were big fans of this film.
Caught on tape: the elusive Squealing Worm
The Asphyx has been hard to find since the VHS edition went out of print some years back, and has had limited DVD release (legitimately, at any rate). However, if you're a fan of Victorian-era mad science (or steampunk ghostbusting), it might be worth your time to seek this one out. 2.25 thumbs.
Gettin' Old Ain't for Pussies, Kid
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I didn't meet any celebrities or get any autographs, through apparently I just missed the chance to bump into Lou Ferrigno at one point, and later may have seen Stan Lee from a distance--or rather, the crowd of comic fan faithful mobbing him like the Pope. But it was a good time, as the evidence will show. Much has been written in the blogosphere already about the festivities, so I think I'll just let the photos tell the rest of the story.
|Let Your Little Lights Shine|
|Squatchsploitation + Breath Play = This|
|The Vicar plans to try out for the Green Hornet DTV sequels.|
|Toys that Will Be Mine|
|Some wonderful Karloff/Chaney Sr. figures by Amok Time|
|Why the Vicar always travels with extra Turtle Wax|
|She-Creature, flanked by Martians. Also by Amok Time.|
|A Na'vi with a lightsaber. It was that kind of party.|
While in New York (or New Jersey, more properly) I was the guest of the inimitable Empress of the Tenebrous Empire, Tenebrous Kate, and her accomodating and amiable consort the Baron XIII. It's not many people would open their castle gates to a drunken clergyman trailing clouds of beer fumes and Naschy Musk™, but the Tenebrous Rulers are not your average comic fans. I also got to meet several other blogo- and twitter-sphere friends for the first time, including the wonderful and engaging Costuminatrix, twitter-pals Joan and Mister Arkham (who have impeccable karaoke song-selecton tastes, let the record show), the delightful and energetically opinionated Emily I. of Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense, and food blogger tofugirl, whose cupcakes are irreproachable and whose blog address I shamefully neglected to obtain! Mea maxima culpa! Someone get me that address! (ETA: You can visit tofugirl's delicious blog at Open Mouth Insert Cookie! Thanks to Tenebrous Kate for the address!)
At any rate, it was an extremely fun and memorable experience, and one I hope to repeat in upcoming years. But now, back to the grindstone! Keep your eyes fixed on the center of your screen for more movie madness to come, and more info on the MMMMMovies Naschy Blogathon, coming your way in November!
Bunnies (and turtles),
Monday, October 4, 2010
Happy October, Parishioners and Subjects! It's shaping up to be a busy month, and I wanted to give you all a brief rundown of the various Vicarage Newsletter items that you might need to know as we press forward into this month of monsters and madness...
- First of all, Code Red DVD is apparently shutting its doors in 2011, an event all lovers of the mad should mourn. They're going out with a bang though, as they've just released the long-promised and salivated-over 30th Anniversary Edition DVD of mine and the Duke's favorite slasher of the 80s, Joe Giannone's 1982 mmmmmasterpiece MADMAN. We love the movie with a burning fiery passion, so much that we made it the subject our our landmark 100th review (which you can read right here). The crown jewel of the disc's presentation is a 92-minute documentary on all things Madman, which I personally can't wait to digest. You can get your DVD on Amazon today, so what are you waiting for?
- BUT WAIT, THAT'S NOT ALL-- In addition to the aforementioned drool-worthy documentary, included on the Madman 30th Anniversary disc is a featurette that...erm...features many notables and unknowns alike performing their own musical renditions of the haunting "Ballad of Madman Marz."Among those featured--The Vicar of VHS himself! Yes, I'm as excited as a Frenchman who just invented self-removing trousers to have made the cut with my fanboy warblings, and doubtless so are you. As if you needed another reason! NOW HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY?
- Any parishioners and other interested parties who will be in the NY area of the United States this weekend should note that they just *might* have the chance to rub shoulders with one-half of the Mad Movie Team, as your ever-lovin' Vicar will be attending the New York Comic Con for the first time. (As a fanboy, not as a panelist...yet.) I'll be hanging with other horror blogging luminaries in the area too famous to name-drop here, and hoping to complete my collection of Coffin Joe Comics at last. So if you're going to be there or somewhere nearby, drop me a line and let me know, either on Facebook or via email at vicarofvhs[at]gmail[dot]com!
- If you didn't read this excellent essay on Carrie and its broader socio-cultural implications by Unkle Lancifer at the always entertaining and humblingly awesome website Kindertrauma, you need to go do that right NOW. Seriously.And tell him the Vicar sent you!
- September 6 was the first post-mortem birthday of this blog's patron saint Paul Naschy, who died in November of 2009 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. October has plenty of stuff going on already, but to mark the great man's passing and the importance of his body of work, the Duke and I are tentatively planning for November our first-ever Paul Naschy Blogathon. If you are a blogger or artist or musician or some other stripe of Naschyfile and would be interested in participating, let me know at the aforementioned contact spots. More details as they become available.