Sunday, January 30, 2011

DVD Review: Jess Franco's PAULA-PAULA (2010)

In a brief interview on Intervsion Picture Corp.'s recent release of Jess Franco's 2010 direct-to-DVD effort Paula-Paula, the director opines that this flick is perhaps the "weirdest" movie he has ever made. Anyone familiar with the trash auteur's prodigious output will understand just what a bold statement that is; sadly, after watching the piece, they will also be forced to wonder whether that claim is evidence that Franco has finally lost whatever marbles he still had. Designated by its own credits as "An Audio-Visual Experience by Jess Franco"--rather than, you know, a movie--Paula-Paula is about as weird as your average student film, and about as technically proficient. It's certainly nowhere nearly as strange as Franco's periodically brilliant 70s output, and partakes of little of the visual poetry and narrative oddness of even his most maligned trash quickies. It's perhaps not entirely without interesting aspects, but taken as a whole it's a disappointing effort that even the director's most ardent admirers might have trouble championing.

Claiming to be based on Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, the "experience" centers around beautiful but disturbed Paula (Carmen Montes), committed to a mental institution after murdering--or did she?--her friend/lover, also named Paula (Paula Davis). Things get confusing, though, as it's not entirely clear whether this second Paula actually exists, or is the Hyde-like manifestation of Paula-Prime's id. (Franco's life-partner and muse Lina Romay makes a brief appearance as the head of the institution.) As near as I can figure, most of the movie takes place in the disturbed woman's mind, as she remembers/daydreams making love to Paula-2 at great length, and now and then gyrates nude on an exercise machine.

And that's about it. Really.

Carmen Montes as Paula-Prime

Let's get to the good stuff first--Franco dedicates Paula-Paula to his longtime friend Friederich Gulda. A talented pianist and composer of both classical music and jazz, Gulda provided the score for my favorite Franco flick, the phantasmagorical and fascinating Succubus (1969). When Gulda passed away in 2000, Franco inherited many of his friend's unpublished jazz compositions. It is this music that Jess builds Paula-Paula around, and I have to say, I thought it was pretty great--in fact, I would readily buy a soundtrack recording, and put it on regular background rotation. If you like 60s-style jazz, I wager you'll dig it too. Also, while not a great actress (though to be fair she's not given much to do here), Montes has a beautiful figure reminiscent of the best-remembered 70s Eurotrash screen queens. Davis is a more modern beauty, with tattoos and piercings aplenty, which I guess is supposed to differentiate her from her alter-ego. Still, the women are as easy on the eyes as the music is on the ears.

Tres Veces
Other than that--hoo boy. The movie was clearly filmed in someone's apartment--probably the same one where Jess holds court on the DVD interview segments. Set lights and reflecting screens are clearly visible in frame throughout, and while Jess might argue this is to expose the artificiality of the medium or some such, it comes off as just sloppy. In fact the whole thing--camera angles, sets, blocking--looks shockingly amatuerish; and depressingly so, since we know the man to be capable of much better. Add to that the fact there's almost no narrative--after the brief set-up, it's an hour of slow-motion nudity and boring video effects--and it's even harder than usual to figure out what Jess might have been thinking.

Perhaps Franco calls this an "experience" rather than a movie because he didn't intend to tell a story. Played as a long-form music video coupling Gulda's excellent jazz with Franco's own obsession with the nude female form, maybe it'll work for some viewers. And to be fair, with its fixation on nude, writhing women and cavalier attitude toward plot, I was reminded periodically of Jess's famous 1973 film Female Vampire (aka Erotic Kill), which was less about vampirism than about Lina Romay's crotch. I didn't particularly enjoy that one either, as praised as it often is by others, so maybe some viewers will find things to like here. In any event, I'm pleased to know that, old and decrepit as he is, Jess can still get beautiful young women to disrobe for him and his tireless camera eye. But unfortunately that vicarious pleasure doesn't translate to a compelling audio-visual experience, at least for me.

Lina Romay tries unsuccessfully to obscure a set light.

DVD extras include three short interviews with Franco, and it has to be said, he looks BAD--palsied, chainsmoking as usual, and sometimes lying down on his couch in mid-sentence or else wracked by coughing fits. But he's still fascinating to listen to, particularly when he talks about the current state of the Spanish film industry and his views on the perceived prejudice against young people and especially women who want to make films. His introduction and discussion of Paula-Paula are less interesting, in my opinion, though it is telling that he claims to enjoy this type of movie-making because it "allows me to work quickly." Franco's always had more ideas than time or money to implement them, sometimes famously abandoning movies in mid-production to rush off and film something else, so I can see why the super-speed of video might appeal. And then again, maybe he's rushing to get as many out on film in whatever form as possible before the Reaper comes knocking. I can't fault him for that, but I just wish the result was better.

1.5 Thumbs

Nota bene: the film aside, Intervision put together a great DVD, and has also recently released Franco's 1973 film The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff, which the Duke snatched up for review and which, one hopes, is more representative of the Franco we know and sometimes love. So I'll look forward to hearing what His Prurience has to say about that one!

Can't argue there


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977), Or How To Get Fux'ed By Satan

My dearest of friends, please, draw nearer. No, nearer still--yes, that’s it, close enough that you can hear my faint whisper, for I have a word whose mere utterance can shake the very foundations of our ignorant society: nunsploitation. That’s right, dearest readers, once again the Duke of DVD returns from up on the mount to bring you what you need! The honeyed drippings I bring you now aren’t silly rules etched upon stone tablets by a faceless and impotent god, heavens no! They are instead of a movie that may well be the paragon of a genre we hold most dear, a shining beacon which causes us to lift our palsied hands and turn our faces towards its radiant beauty, tears streaming down our faces as heretical bliss takes over.

Friends, when auteur and nunsploitational genius Jess Franco's Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun dropped through my mail slot with a resounding thud, I snatched it up with much alacrity and sprinted to the Ducal theater, clutching it to my chest possessively, like a man who had just bought the severed penis of a mass murderer from a rather unscrupulous coroner in order to dip said penis into a river upstream from his hated neighbor’s lands, thus letting the evil drift down to murder all of his enemy’s cattle, children, and crops. One does not let such a prize out of one's sight, and I didn’t intend to with the DVD copy of this movie, I assure you! I settled down in my chair to bask in the glory, but little did I know how depraved a movie I had in store.

Let us explore, shall we?

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun starts off with young Maria (Susan Hemingway), a 15-year-old tart who lives alone with her mother and who likes to run around the woods with her boyfriend, laughing and flirting like a whore. She’s doing just that when her boyfriend manages to steal a kiss before they are surprised by the outrageously evil priest Father Vicente (William Berger). He chastises the youths for their wicked ways. Maria asks what she’s done wrong, and Father Vicente replies, “You didn’t offend me, child, but what about God?” What about God, indeed, sir! He drags young Maria back to her mother’s house and fills both of them full of such lies that Maria’s mother gives her up to a convent--one that Father Vicente just happens to hang out in. Not only does he hoodwink Maria’s mother into letting her go, but he also takes all of their savings, claiming it as a “dowry” to the convent. Mama mia!

"Yes, yes child...that's how you churn the Lord's Butter!"

Father Vicente whisks Maria away to the Serra D’Aires convent, a very castle-like edifice out in the country. Very quickly, she is interviewed by the Abbess (Ana Zanatti), who insists on everyone referring to her as “Most Eminent Priestess,” a moniker that should raise a few eyebrows. In full view of the priest, the head nun insists on doing the ol’ tried and true Virgin Finger Test™, by making Maria hike up her skirts so that the Abbess can ram a cold, twisted finger into the virginal honeypot Maria carries around with her. (Nota bene: besides being an entry requirement to most of the Vicar’s social gatherings, the Virgin Finger Test™ can also be fun at Bat Mitzvahs, retirement parties, office gatherings, and presidential inaugurations. Ask for it by name!) The Priestess notes the absence of under-garments, a state Maria says is because of how poor she and her mother are. The Priestess replies “Were you tempted because you weren’t wearing proper under linens?” Now how many times have I heard that?!

"Bish, pleez. Commando is how I roll."

Satisfied that Maria is indeed still bearing an intact hymen--or was, anyway--the Abbess sends her off to her new room, whereupon two nuns immediately enter and recruit Maria into a devotional kissing game. Heyo! What a convent! Maria is then made to go to the confessional, which amounts to a curtained-off corner of the main church. While all of the other nuns sit in their seats, Maria recounts her sins to Father Vicente. He very quickly steers her to the lewd, and she finally admits to having a dream in which she performed fellatio upon a boy. Father V loves this form of shrift, needless to say, and begins playing tug of war with cyclops right there in the booth! His fevered moans get louder and louder as Maria talks more and more about playing the skin-flute. The rest of the nuns titter with laughter as Father Vicente finally achieves sexual release inside his confessional--something the Vicar does daily, I might add.

"Just as I thought, my dear--you're a half-quart low."

Maria is informed that over the next three days she can’t wear any clothing, and instead must be wrapped with thorny vines, in order to pay some sort of penance for her sins. Some nuns strip her and help wrap thorn-bush limbs around her supple breasts and hips. During this time we are also informed that a nearby castle is inhabited by the Grand Inquisitor, who no doubt employs a ruthlessly fanatical devotion to the Pope, and whose arrival I  was totally unprepared for. Later that night, we learn just what kind of party they're throwing at this convent: we see the Priestess praying to Satan, and we also get an extended lesbian scene that would raise the Devil’s own putrid cock like a daisy after a big rain.

"No, Father, I've never been in a confessional with a Hole of Glory. How does it work?"

Maria’s boyfriend shows up, hoping to entice her home. I thought we’d get some scene in which he’s found out by Father Vicente and made to stroke it over a fire or something, but nah, Maria vows to stay and drive the wickedness from her soul, and the poor boy leaves empty-handed and full-bollocked. Around this time we get a positively evil scene in which the Priestess gets mostly naked and engages in a Satan-summoning ritual, which involves placing a bowl full of baby’s blood (we’re told) directly under her hoo-hoo, and she writhes in ecstasy while two nuns pinch her nipples and otherwise rub up and down her body. The spell works, for we get a tiny glimpse of one of Satan’s hands, which look just like a normal hand, except it’s covered with so much curly thick hair that perhaps Franco intended for Satan to be a Wookie.

The latest Parish fashions.

Meanwhile, Maria finally wises up to the fact that Satan appears to have cloven-hoof-hold in this particular convent. She writes her mother a desperate letter, asking to be rescued from the rampant lesbianism and overt, unapproved fuckery going on. Unfortunately, the High Priestess intercepts her letter, and reads it aloud to the lecherous Father Vicente. As punishment, Maria is stripped to her smallclothes and made to stand in a small wooden cell. Before you can say “Hello, Vicar!”, Father V saunters in and forces Maria to reenact her dream--on his cock! Now how is she supposed to say her Hail Marys around a mouthful of uncut heretic man-meat? HOW, I ask you?!

"The power of CO--uh, Christ... compels you."

Finally, the promised event is nigh! The night that Maria loses her virginity to His Infernal Majesty. The mood is set: blacked out room save for a few sputtering candles, a dozen scantily-clad nuns moaning and rubbing themselves, and above it all the High Priestess holding court. Bizarrely, the High Priestess situates herself on the central altar and positions soon-to-be-not-so-chaste Maria directly behind her, so that Maria is leaning on the High Priestess’ back. Soon, the Devil Himself shows up, played insanely well by the hilariously-yet-appropriately-named Herbert Fux. In Franco’s world, Satan is the quintessential ladies' man, clad in a red silk body-suit and sporting cape and hairy hands--only he also has a giant dong coming out of the center of his forehead! In fairness, one assumes this was supposed to be a horn, but to me it looked like a rubber phallus attached to Satan’s face, which only added to the awesome. Maybe Satan needs two dicks, as there's so much 'sploiting to be done! Indeed, when he starts rogering Maria, the High Priestess also seems to be really enjoying things. At any rate, the vile yet somehow sexy deflowering is complete.

"You're staring at my forehead junk, aren't you?"

The next day, Maria is in tizzy. Her queries about the previous night’s activities get laughed away, with the Priestess claiming Maria has dreamed it all. Did she? Who cares! Maria flees the convent, heading into the nearby town, where she finally talks to someone ostensibly in power: the Mayor, a corpulent hog of a man. Offering to help her, he takes her off in a wagon, and Maria promptly falls asleep, confident that her fat savior will take her home. Instead, he hauls her back to the convent, into the waiting grasp of Father Vicente, who assures the mayor he did the right thing.

Where canned tomatoes come from.

The Priest and Priestess waste no time in punishing Maria. They drag her to the Inquisitor (which caught me completely by surprise!) and he sets about stripping her naked and tying her to the rack. Lots of torture ensues, and I was really wondering as to why they were all going through this farce until I realized that the Inquisitor suspects nothing ill about the Priest and Priestess, and isn’t himself in on all the Satan-lovin’ that’s going on at the convent. He’s simply doing his job and wringing a confession out of a naked, nubile young teen, a hallmark of the Inquisition for decades.

"Before we begin, could you please sign this insurance waiver?"

Soon, Maria signs a confession, admitting she made the whole shitstorm up and indeed loves Satan and all his many wizards with every inch of her blackened heart. Satisfied, the Inquisitor decrees that she’s die by fire the following day. Maria is left alone to think on her ruined life, and for some reason is also left a pencil and plenty of paper. She writes a last-ditch letter, detailing all that she’s been through, and then tosses the letter out a window, hoping some errant wind will carry her missive to someone who gives a flying fuck. As luck would have it, a foppishly dressed dandy is just at that moment riding by on his palfrey! He reads the letter, and gets as stern a look on that his lead-powdered face will allow.

"Dear sir or madam, you might be the next winner of The Inquisitor's Clearing House Sweepstakes! WTF?"

The next day, Maria is hauled out before man and God to answer for her supposed crimes. Inquisition guards stand ready as Father Vicente, the High Priestess, and the Inquisitor look on. Maria is tied to a stake and the fire is lit under her, but what’s this?! A giant gay riding a horse arrives with a few men of his own, demanding that Maria be set free. As it turns out, he’s the crowned Prince of Portugal! What fucking luck Maria has! (Well, except for being buggered by the Devil...) Of course, the Inquisitor immediately believes the Prince, and orders Maria cut down and the Priest and Priestess arrested! They in turn flee, running through the castle only to finally be cornered by Inquisition troops inside the church’s inner sanctum. Free-frame, the end.

Friends, the title of this movie conjures all sorts of images. “What Love Letters?!” you bleat, “I was hoping for some sexy letters detailing the cunnilingus rituals of the notoriously horny nuns of Portugal!” And you would be right to be vexed so, as I too was expecting something similiar. Instead, the love letters in question appear only to be missives to Maria’s mother asking for help, which of course never got mailed, let alone delivered, and the other being a letter tossed out a window only to become the genesis for a Deus Ex Fancypants.

In my aristocratic opinion, any normal nobleman would have read such a letter and immediately handed it to the Inquisitor as further proof that Maria fornicated with Satan. Oh sure, the rest of the convent needs be put to the stake as well, I mean, they were in on it, and the High Priestess regularly has sexual congress with the Devil too, so of course they all have to go.Then again, perhaps I can see the Prince’s end of things. Maria was forced, was she not? Despite having her cooch pumped full of midnight black semen, perhaps she does deserve leniency. The altruistic Prince was simply doing the chivalrous thing. Of course, he can never, ever, dip his wick into Maria’s befouled nethers--one thing you do NOT want is Satan's Sloppy Seconds--but I’m sure she’d make a fine dishwasher in the royal kitchens.

Once again, folks, Jesus Franco brings us the good stuff. His use of color, framing, and light are unparalleled in my mind. He just gets things right, all the fucking time. And the sets! I’ve probably said this before, but apparently all of Europe is rife with awesome castles, churches, and convents, just sitting there waiting to be used for movie-making purposes. Or defiled by hot Euro-babe fleshmongers, as the case may be. I loved this movie from start to finish, and firmly enshrine it into the Nunsploitation Hall of Awesome. Stop what you’re doing right now, and go get a copy for yourself. You will not regret it, my dearest friends. When has the Duke ever steered you wrong? (Except for that commercial I shot for Dandy Dan’s Coat-Hanger Home Abortion Kit. I was drunk ok? I lost a bet!)
3+ Thumbs Up

"Yes, I'll help, but I insist on being paid in donuts."

"Wow...I DO have a nice rack!"

Butt on Satan's Claw


Monday, January 17, 2011

XTRO (1983): or, Like Father, Like Son, Like Hell

Some people are just natural-born Givers. If you go to them looking to borrow a cup of sugar, they give you the whole bag. You ask for the repayable loan of an egg, and they respond by handing you a chicken and a year's worth of feed. You send them a thank-you note for their generosity, and they reply with a thank-you for the thank-you together with a year's paid membership in the Scrumptious Chocolates of the Month club. These people give and give and give, often expecting nothing in return but the acceptance of the offered gifts. All they want is the opportunity to be the vehicle on which you ride to the sunny climes of Happiness.

Of course, these people often also have serious psychological issues.

If it were a human being, the British sci-fi WTF-stravaganza Xtro (1982, dir. Harry Bromley Davenport) would be one of these people.

We open at a country cottage not far removed from the bustling heart of London, where nurturing nice-guy dad Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) is playing fetch with his adorable son Tony (Simon Nash) and their even-more adorable border collie Katie. Perhaps hoping to recreate his favorite scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sam hauls back and launches the stick high over the roof of the house. He succeeds better than he could have hoped, as the stick explodes in a shower of sparks and the sky is immediately filled with blinding lights and sci-fi noises of the most sinister variety. As the sky darkens and an unnatural wind sweeps him toward the light, Sam urges his son to run for it, which (being the obedient sort) he does. Long moments later Sam is gone, leaving his son an orphan and his wife Rachel (Bernice Stegers, previously of Lamberto Bava's Macabre [1980]) back on the market.

This dog refused screen credit for this picture.

Three years pass in a jump-cut. Rachel believes Sam's disappearance to be a classic case of Spousal Abandonment, but still has filed neither a missing person's report nor divorce papers. She has not let the sheets of the marriage bed get cold, however, as she now shares her London apartment with her boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin), a successful commercial photographer and former friend of her disappeared hubby. The lovebirds largely leave the care of young Tony to their French au pair Analise (future Bond Girl Maryam d'Abo, in her debut movie role), whose main job qualifications seem to be a terrible accent and her undeniably smokin' hawtness.* For his part, Tony has never accepted that his father just up and run-oft, and constantly looks forward to the day they will be reunited.

*Nota bene: Maryam D'Abo is the cousin once-removed of Olivia D'Abo, who made her debut as the spoiled princess in Conan the Destroyer (1984), and whom I had previously erroneously assumed to be Maryam's twin sister.

Unluckily for everyone involved, the little moppet's wishes are soon to be granted. Back in rural England, a familiar blinding light falls from the sky, depositing a pool of goop in the woods which soon coagulates into one of the freakiest extraterrestrials it's ever been my pleasure to see on the screen. You want a little practical FX post-Giger nightmare fuel? Check out THIS bad boy:

 As you might imagine, that anatomical configuration is not a particularly agile one; as a result, the space beast is quickly smacked by a Citroën doing about thirty-five down the country road. Of course the drivers--one of them sporting one of the most magnificent New-Wave Brit Mullets ever--get out to see what got all up in their grille, with predictably messy results. None the worse for wear, the creature crab-walks to a nearby cottage owned by a thirtysomething spinster. There it gains entry (apparently by teleporting into the kitchen cupboard) and rams its ovipositor in her face before collapsing in a heap of denatured ickiness, which the lady's dog helpfully starts to clean up. (Eww.)

The ickiness is just beginning, however: upon awakening an hour or so later, the woman finds herself the subject of a time-lapse short on the wonders of childbirth, as her belly swells to full 40-week distension in a matter of moments. The strain on her system is too much: she collapses on the floor, dead. Just as well, for this spares her the pain and horror of seeing a full grown man climb out of her vagina, dragging most of her meaty innards with him before gnawing through his umbilical cord with his own teeth! The filmmakers do not skimp on the caro syrup nor the sloppy sound effects, making for a gloriously gross moment of WTF.

Worst party favor ever.

Of course the newborn manchild is Sam, who has been a resident alien on the alien planet since his abduction. ("I had to I could live there!" he later explains.) Now back in roughly human form, he quickly finds his way back to London and insinuates himself into his estranged family's life, claiming no memory of the intervening three years. Tony is the only one happy to see him. Rachel is understandably torn, and Joe struts around taunting his rival with public displays of affection toward his wife, like an alpha dog marking out territory. Still, Rachel thinks, no sense involving medical professionals (or the POLICE) in all this; instead, she invites Sam to stay at the apartment with them until they can sort things out.

This gives Sam the opportunity to start working on his real objective: apparently he's more than happy being a Double-Jointed Killbeast from Planet Yog, but can't go another space year without his dearly beloved son at his side. Left alone with the boy, Sam gives Tony a love bite on the neck--a visual that would be icky even if it weren't for the body-horror effects--which imparts to the boy some of Dad's alien abilities. What kind of abilities, you may well ask? Well, how about the ability, through simple concentration, to make anything he can imagine become real?** Talk about your fringe benefits!

Submitted without comment.

**This explains, one assumes, how Sam was able to teleport into his doomed baby-momma's house earlier--though it sheds no light on why, this being the case, Sam didn't just concentrate on coming to Earth already in human form, or better yet simply imagine Tony on the alien ship with him and have done with it.

The Xtro train has never had a firm grip on the narrative rails since the stick exploded in scene one, but here it really jumps them for good--or rather, points the engine upward and rockets straight into the outer BatShittosphere. Little Tony quickly crosses over into "It's a Good Life" territory, bringing his toy soldier to life to wreak vengeance on a meddlesome neighbor, materializing a live panther in his room, and animating a wooden clown to be his accomplice in evil! (The "real" clown is played by Peter Mandell, a Little Person in exactly the type of role Peter Dinklage hilariously vented on in Tom DeCillo's Living in Oblivion [1995].)

Even though this is far afield from the story's beginnings in Alien Abduction territory, it actually fits in to film better than you'd think. The whole movie has had an odd, otherworldly quality. Scenes shift from day to night and back with abandon. Night scenes are lit brightly from impossible sources. Chunks of context are missing or never existed. Murders happen, and no one seems to notice or care, much less phone the police. Characters speak their lines in a somnolent daze, and motivation is the merest afterthought, when it's thought of at all. In a way, the entire movie has played like an extended dream sequence--like Twilight Zone without restraint, or Tim Burton without horizontal stripes.

"If only Olaf could see me now!"
Tired of her waffling, Joe moves out in a huff, leaving Sam and Rachel to salvage their interspecies marriage. Those two head out to the cottage where it all began, leaving Tony with Analise. Using his alien mind powers and dwarf-clown henchman, Tony kills his keeper's boyfriend and knocks the French girl unconscious before infecting her with his alien cooties in another uncomfortably sexual, age-inappropriate scene. Becoming more and more alien, Tony cocoons Analise up in the bathroom and makes her a Cronenbergian egg-laying machine, then tricks Joe into taking him to the cottage.

Meanwhile (and with absolutely no buildup other than a jump-cut), Sam and Rachel are rekindling their physical relationship (like rabid minx). Unfortunately Sam's alien physiology  causes him to have an allergic reaction to Rachel's sex stank, the symptoms of which include ruptured back lesions and acute horrifying ugliness. Joe shows up and is dealt with via sonic scream, and the reunited father and son walk into the woods, sloughing skin as they go, to be taken back into the mother ship. Either in shock or not too bothered (it's hard to tell), Rachel goes back to the London apartment, where a dwarf, a live panther and one last icky surprise await her. And Fin.

"You've got to be fuckin' kidding me."

Parishioners, Xtro is a movie that delivers the goods, and throws in a bunch of extra snack crackers you didn't even know you  were hungry for. The effects are all practical and wonderfully disgusting, and the creature design is pretty great too. The acting is nothing to write home about, though the actors themselves are probably less to blame than the writer and director on that count. Still, even though the script is all over the place, there's just so much happening at all times it's hard to get too upset about. All the actors seem admirably committed, though, with special props to Maryam D'Abo, who provides some high-quality nekkidity more than once. The sythesizer score (also by director Davenport) made me want to puncture my own eardrums with Q-Tips, but given the unrelenting weirdness of the piece, I wondered if perhaps this was by design.

In closing, if you can just shut off your logic centers and let the MADness wash over you, you'll have a great time with this one. Gory, crazy, entertaining and never dull, Xtro deserves a place at the table with 80s scifi insanities like Inseminoid and Galaxy of Terror. 3 Thumbs. Seek it out, and let Xtro make you happy. That's all it wants!

More photos from XTRO (1982):

Xtro Alpo

Didn't figure on this much action


"You know the rules, Sam. You lost at Connect Four. Get suckin'!"

"What the fuck am I doing here?"

"Mommy! Give us a kiss!"

Indecent Xposure


Thursday, January 13, 2011

DVD Review: THE TAINT (2010)

My dearest friends! Fret not, the Duke of DVD is back, once more following close behind the pox-ridden arse that is the slow, plodding, diseased horse of MAD cinema, holding a burlap sack in which to catch any cinematic nuggets of offal that might fall. I save only the choicest lumps for you, my dearest readers! Your letters, emails, and runed scrawlings etched upon stretched cat stomach have not gone unread. “When is the Duke coming back to further educate us upon the innermost workings of the sewers of cinema?” you asked. “What is this new crop of downy hair I appear to be growing upon mine nethers?!” you entreated. Well, here I am, to bring you the good word and deliver what you most want: truly MAD movies.

Today I bring you a movie so flamingly foul that even I could barely stomach it. “Does that mean it’s a bad movie, unworthy of my precious time?” you honk, Krispy Kreme flakes shedding from your blue-red lips like so many snowflakes. Heavens no, sir or madam! This movie is supremely entertaining, and though it may be filled to the brim with more cock-shots than the Vicar’s first movie (brazenly titled The Vicar Reveals His Cock During Mass), it is still a modern MAD movie masterpiece.

Let us begin, shall we?

THE TAINT, referring to a spreading disease rather than the place between your foul pucker and your shriveled genitals, opens with a black and white shot of a woman’s breasts, which cuts to an interior shot of what I'm assuming is supposed to be a vagina. We peer outwards as the lips part. Then we see a man wearing red long-johns running through the woods with a scythe. A youth with yellow hair wakes up next to a girl. He had been dreaming the images we saw--all except for the man in the red long-johns, who appears near where the boy and girl sit (somewhere out in the woods it seems). The scythe-wielder chases the boy off whilst farting and shitting through his brown-stained long-john's back-flap. The boy trips, and falls next to a severed head. He gets up and runs from the man, and starts lighting a cigarette as he runs.

"Note to self:  Avoid Old Man Miller's farm... and daughter."

This, friends, is the opening of THE TAINT, and it only gets more and more weird as time goes on. The dude with the David Bowie hair, named Phil O’Ginny (played brilliantly by movie co-creator Drew Bolduc ), wanders the woods until he meets up with a shotgun-wielding chick named Misandra (Colleen Walsh), who explains to him, via flashback with her former husband, what’s going on. Apparently, some toxin is making male humans go crazy, turning them into sperm-squirting, rapey, skull-crushing zombie lunatics! Or else your typical junior high school football players--something like that. The point is, nearly every zombie (I’m using this term loosely, folks) in the movie has his cock hanging out of his pants. A prosthetic cock to be sure, but still hilarious. These dicks shoot gallons of sperm at the drop of a hat, all the while the person in question is murdering a helpless female.

James Hetfield prepares for the latest Metallica tour.

Phil, who incidentally has two pairs of giant sunglasses that he changes depending on how he’s feeling at the time, walks around with the shotgun chick, occasionally killing a crazed rapey dude, until they finally run into a group of non-crazy rapey dudes. Their leader, a former coach at Phil’s school, is shown in a lengthy flashback to be ragingly gay, only he denies it, to himself and others. I had a good lengthy chuckle out of his character; the guy who plays him does so really well. But back to the dick waving. It seems a group of scientists has developed a self-described “penis enhancer”. We get a lot of hilarious scenes with the scientists, and we’re shown their television commercial, which is a black and white riff on old Nazi war propaganda. Brilliant stuff!

"Welcome to Le Spa du Vicar! Here's your free facial!"

It seems the penis enhancer is the cause of this rapey-zombie outbreak. It was far too potent and turned men into rampaging zombies with unrelenting erections. Really. That's it.

Folks, there’s little to no point in discussing the “plot” here, because there really isn’t one, other than jizz-squirting psychopaths rampaging across the country while Phil changes sunglasses. Throw in a coat-hanger abortion, a dude tearing his own dick off, someone ripping the guts out of another person while they still live, a lengthy workout video done by the gay school athletic coach, and more exploding cocks than you can comprehend, and you have THE TAINT. The movie ends with Phil, draped in an American flag, walking blood-covered down a city street filled with men whipping women or assaulting them bodily, all  while giant penii droop from their open pants. A nightmare, or a land of dreams (if you are the Vicar, that is).

I've really nothing to add.

I absolutely salute the men and women who made this movie! A low budget labor of love, lust, and the lowest of the lowbrow, it offends everyone equally. I was shocked, surprised, and absolutely moist with entertainment. We need more movies like THE TAINT in the world, says I.

2.5 Enthusiastic Thumbs Up!

"You sure got a purty mouth."

How Beef Jerky is made.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Exterminator (1980): or, The Punishment Dude

A couple of years ago on this very site, I reviewed a movie from 1984 called The Executioner, Part II, a highly entertaining Rambo/Punisher mash-up whose enthusiasm and energy cannot be denied, even in the face of suspect acting and slapdash production values. I mentioned then that despite its title, that flick was not in fact a sequel to anything; The Executioner, Part I, sadly, does not exist. Rather, the savvy producers and advertising staff hoped to piggyback on the presumed popularity of another, unrelated film: the 1980 vigilante thriller The Exterminator. Well, it's taken me a couple of trips around the sun to get there, but I've finally managed to lay eyes on James Glickenhaus's First Blood wannabe, and can now make an educated comparison between it and its lower-rent, higher batshit-quotient companion piece.

Good news, parishioners: The Exterminator stacks up pretty well. Better made and higher-budgeted than its non-sequel, the elder cinematographic statesflick not only gives us a look at the foundations upon which were built the wild and weird antics of James Bryan's later effort, but also contains enough of its own gleeful griminess and bizarre set-pieces to keep fans of 80s action grinning almost throughout.

We open on a craggy, moonlit peak that needs only a little snow and a corona of stars to perfectly emulate the Paramount Studios logo. But before we can fully appreciate the tranquility and natural beauty of this shot, Glickenhaus lets slip the Dogs of War, treating us to a gigantic fireball that rockets a hapless US serviceman at least thirty feet above the summit! Which can only mean one of two things: either part of the Vietnam war was waged atop active volcanoes, or else the US Army was testing a top secret human cannonball program that didn't quite work out, for reasons that were perhaps in retrospect quite foreseeable.

Early trials of the C4 Plumber's Helper™ were not a complete success.

Luckily the earth surrounding the crag is soft with jungly moisture and the blood of innocents, so our flying grunt, John Eastland (Robert Ginty) is only stunned and slightly singed by his surprise solo flight. Unluckily, the jungle is also lousy with Viet Cong, which leads to the quick capture of John, his unit-mate and best friend Michael Jefferson (Steve "Don't Call Me Meshach" James), and at least one expendable extra.

At the POW camp, the VC string John and the extra up between bamboo stakes and start grilling them for information. When John doesn't cooperate, the head baddy demonstrates the power of his Vorpal Machete of Partial Beheading (+3, THAC0 -2) on his ill-fated and unnamed cohort. However, in all the excitement the camp guards somehow neglected to ensure that Michael was similarly secured, keeping him tied only with rough twine around his wrists and trusting he won't garrote the living fuck out of his watcher at the first opportunity--a tactical error, as it turns out. Quickly securing an AK-47, Jefferson lays waste to the enemy and frees his partner, then sends up a flare for a well-timed helicopter rescue.


Next we get a credit sequence filled with beautifully shot aerial views of New York City, together with a plaintive, pop-country soldiering song that couldn't contrast more with the steamy, fiery carnage of the opening scene. (Which was, it has to be said, extremely fiery. I shouldn't be surprised if the pyro alone cost more than the entire production budget of Executioner Part II.) Back in the USA, John and Michael are working in the loading docks at White Fairy Inc., a refrigerated shipping firm that moves everything from beer to slabs of meat. Mike is adjusting well to civilian life, making a favorable impression on his bosses and getting the raise needed to support his beautiful wife and two precociously adorable kids. Meanwhile, John is sullen but high-functioning, clinging to his friendship with Michael, the man to whom he owes his life. So guess what happens next?

If you guessed "gang-related tragedy for the family man," give yourself a hug.

Working in the back loading bays, John happens to notice a group of young thugs helping themselves to cases of unguarded beer. These aren't just any thugs, though--they're members of "The Ghetto Ghouls," the most fearsome street gang this side of the Jets and Sharks. Sporting bandannas, spiked armbands and matching denim vests, these guys are clearly not to be trifled with--least of all their leader, who augments his badassery with a pencil-line goatee and a jaunty French beret: the face of Crime!
But trifle with them John does, leading to an all-out brawl amongst the adult beverages in which Michael once again has to pull his comrade out of the fire. Once the avalanche of aluminum has ceased (with no spillage at all--I guess the cases and cases of beer cans were all yet-to-be-filled?), Mike and John toss the bums out and decide to meet after work for a cold one. But the Ghetto Ghouls hold grudges longer than the Viet Cong, apparently, and are also better organized. On his way to the bar, Mike is ambushed and viciously beaten by the Ghouls, who finally leave him a bloody clawed mess, paralyzed from the neck down.

As might be expected, this is just the sort of thing to send Johnny spiraling out of control. He breaks out his army gear and captures one of the Ghouls, threatening him with a blowtorch in order to learn the location of GGHQ. (Note: this is the genesis of the awesome but unrepresentative poster and VHS art; though John does immolate more than one victim, he doesn't use the flamethrower again, nor don the black motorcycle helmet pictured, except when, you know, actually riding a motorcycle.) He invades the Ghouls' graffiti and Che Guevara Poster-strewn base, kicks out the GG's topless girlfriends, and after a brief battle leaves the worst offenders tied in the basement for the rats to feed on. Nasty, but effective.

"I'm gonna tell you the Good News about Jesus Christ, and you're gonna LISTEN, GODDAMMIT!"

Having tasted the sweet nectar of vengeance mixed with shot of heady vigilante JUSTICE, John decides to take his battle against scumballs and scofflaws to the next level, in a way antiheroes like The Punisher would emulate throughout the coming decades in comics and film. He next sets his sights on local "meat mobster" Gino Pontovini (Dick Boccelli, in the role he was born to play), who has been extorting White Fairy Refrigeration for protection payments since the beginning of the flick. Showing his madd ninja skillz by infiltrating a restaurant bathroom and hiding in the trash receptacle, John outsmarts Gino's bodyguard and kidnaps the mobster, spiriting him away to a handy warehouse and hanging him above an industrial strength meat grinder! After getting Gino's house key and safe combination, John heads to the mobster's mansion, where he's surprised by the vicious doberman guard dog--but luckily a battery-operated electric knife has been left handy on the kitchen counter, leading to some impromptu canine carving. Upset at Gino's having left this crucial info out, John returns and wordlessly drops the meaty malcontent into the hopper! The screams and close-up shot of the resulting ground round exiting the grinder are actually rather gross and chilling--a well-done scene.

A Gristled Criminal

Actually, up to this point the whole movie has been very well done--Glickenhaus and/or his DP Robert M. Baldwin give us some great composition and lighting, particularly in the Vietnam battle scenes, with red and blue gels and the orange light of the HUGE ASPLOSIONS giving the whole thing a stylish, nightmare quality. Glickenhaus also has a knack for building suspense--the scene where John tortures the Ghetto Ghoul is constructed expertly, as is a later scene with John methodically drilling hollow points (in LIVE bullets--which I can't help thinking is a bit unsafe) and filling them with lethal mercury! (Then soldering the tops closed over the payload with an acetylene torch--again, not OSHA approved.) The only weak point technically is the editing, which jumps rather schizophrenically from scene to scene in the early going, threatening the attentive viewer with cognitive whiplash.

John uses the money stolen from the mob to make sure Michael's wife and kids are taken care of, then continues his one-man war on crime. He sends letters to the local news declaring his intent, signing himself "The Exterminator." It's at this point the NYPD get involved, especially after getting pressure from shadowy CIA Agent Shaw (a very Jonathan Frid-like Patrick Farrelly, who would feature the following year in the haunted whorehouse flick The Nesting). Shaw notes that the Exterminator must be stopped, since it's an election year, and the Powers That Be can't have a loose cannon going around doing a better job fighting crime than the police. (Even though to this point John has stopped exactly two sets of evildoers.) The crooked commish responds by putting his best detective on the case--Detective James Dalton, played by trash movie royalty Christopher George.

"Hello, Ladies."

Here the movie loses its thread a little, as we get lots of scenes with Dalton pursuing cold leads on the Exterminator's identity, which have nothing like the momentum of John's vengeance-fueled rampage. Still, George is fantastic in the role, bleeding confidence and charisma as he interrogates strung-out hookers, improvises dangerous hot dog cooking techniques, and romances sexy Eurodoctor Megan Stewart (mutant baby nommer Samantha Eggar). His exchanges with Agent Shaw are particularly fun, including following gem: (Shaw) "What do you think, detective?" (Dalton) "I think you gotta take a shit, and it's comin' out your mouth instead of your ass!"

Interspersed with this are a few more of John's Random Acts of Kindness (and Violence). He persecutes a few more Ghetto Ghouls via deadly car chase (after failing to stop them mugging an old lady), and, in the ickiest subplot, infiltrates a "chicken farm" where young boys are forced into sex slavery. (He finds out about this when he picks up a hooker who was badly disfigured by "a state senator from New Jersey" after she refused to participate by making him the meat in a strap-on and strapping-young-lad sandwich.) John shoots the Honorable Gentleman from New Jersey dead in the crotch with mercury and lead, then ties down the establishment's owner and douses him with gasoline before setting the whole place on fire.

A moment later, Tony shame-facedly put the dildo away. He hadn't realized Black Jesus was watching.

Eventually Dalton discovers the Exterminator's identity through some sterling detective work and a chance encounter at the hospital. (John is visiting Michael, Dalton is banging Dr. Megan in an empty hospital room.) This leads to a final confrontation in a construction yard, with a Shady Government Doublecross and a downbeat ending, the particulars of which I found satisfying and a little surprising.

As I've said, The Exterminator is mostly a very well-made film. Haphazard editing aside, individual scenes are put together extremely well, and for the most part it looks fantastic. It's also mostly well-acted. I mentioned Christopher George's charisma and machismo, which he lays on so thick you could spackle your walls with it. Robert Ginty is perhaps not the "rugged, virile, hard-looking action star" his imdb mini-bio would have us believe--I thought he looked a bit more like the hero from Grease 2, personally--but he does have a quiet, "beware the wrath of the patient man" intensity that is effective here, and would inspire the Frank Castles of the entertainment world for years to come. Other standouts include David Lipman as the "would be comical if not so damn creepy" Perverted Senator, and Tom Everett as a hotel clerk with a catchphrase I just can't get out of my head, even two days later. Eggar is fine in her role, but as that role has exactly nothing to do with the rest of the movie, it's clear she's only there for set dressing and to reflect some of George's smolder.

He looks at me, and I fall to Pieces.

In the final analysis, I think The Exterminator is an excellent 80s action flick, with just the right mixture of meat and cheese. There are some holes in the story, of course--the jump from "avenging my friend" to "protector of the downtrodden" happens off screen, and is never really explained, plus John's methods seem pretty haphazard, despite his corkboard full of downer headlines in his apartment--but those looking for airtight logic are perhaps kneecapped from the beginning. I'd have to say I slightly prefer The Executioner Part II to its inspiration--it's easily five times zanier, and boasts the unforgettable Coke-Angel Kitty to boot--but The Exterminator is good too, and thus earns an only slightly lower 2.45 thumbs score. Check it out--there's punishment due. :)

 A few more images from The Exterminator (1980):

"Could we interest youse in some time-savin' gadgets for ya lovely home, heah?"

The Exterminator prepares to bum-rush da show.

Sign o' the Times

Visual Irony

He's a Cool Rider

"Ya want da SHEEEEETZ?"

Wednesday Night at the Duke's Place: Always the Same

"Just as I suspected: Meatloaf is Evil."


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