Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Night God Screamed (1971): or, The Wrath of the AY-TONER

With a title like that, it surprised me that I had never even heard of Lee Madden's 1971 killer-hippie movie The Night God Screamed before stumbling across its poster over at the excellent site Moon in the Gutter (overseen by noted horror blogger Jeremy Richey, along with many other exemplary blogs). Of course it shouldn't come as *that* much of a surprise--if my treasure-hunting forays into the lower depths of cinema have taught me anything (and I'm not saying they have) it's that no matter how many hours you spend in front of the TV, scouring the internets, or dumpster-diving behind out-of-business Mom & Pop video stores, there's always going to be *something* flying under your radar. Therefore, when you discover one of these hitherto-unheard-of items, well, you just have to learn to take advantage.

Which is why upon finding the flick's ad materials at Jeremy's post here, I immediately sent out my scouts in search of this potentially delicious booty. Of course the Vicar's scouts are the BEST scouts, so soon I was cupping said booty in my greedy, grabby hands, thoughtfully caressing its curvature and wondering what delights might be in store for me once I spread its warm casing and probed and prodded for its tasty, forbidden secrets.

Man, I love movies.

We open with a very ominous figure walking slowly through some very shadowy woods. He is wearing a monk's robe, the hood of which completely hides his features, and bearing a cruciform staff like a crusader or plague-crier. Watching his deliberate progress, our time frame could be anywhere from the 1500s to the present day to the far future. Luckily Madden gives us another clue, as the figure finds his way to a watering hole absolutely infested with free-love hippies!

What a long, strange dip it's been

It doesn't take long to establish that these are hippies of the Manson-esque cult variety, as their leader Billy Joe Harlan (an excellently wacked-out Michael Sugich) baptises a few of his flowery children before laying down his unique form of the Gospel. Gesturing to his followers, he cries out in a loud voice, saying: "They was all just a bunch of sinners, Lord, fighting and bothering each other...but I saved them, Lord! I showed them that using dope was the way to turn on to You!" Gimme that old time religion! And always pass the Eucharist to the left.

Far from being a harmless eccentric preacher-man, however, Billy Joe quickly puts the "freak" in "Jesus Freak" by encouraging the prosecution of pigs, squares, and anyone else not with it enough to see the light: "We got trouble! The Heat won't leave us alone! They want to bust us for being hooked on You! Them pigs is watching us, Lord...they don't dig our kinda thing!" The answer? Pray for plans to off the phony preachers, stop the pigs, and bring the new gospel to the youth of today. Inspiring, no?

Having learned a thing or two from Jesus's lackadaisical attitude toward betrayers in His flock, Billy Joe next singles out a hippie chick who has refused baptism, and calls down the hooded figure to take care of her. This Warrior of God is known only as The Atoner (or as Billy always pronounces it, "AY-TONER"), and his method of bringing strays back to the flock involves baptising them till their hearts are filled with the holy spirit and their lungs with a couple gallons of water. The rest of the flock looks on impassively as the girl gives up the ghost, or maybe they're just really, really stoned.

Next we cut to a gritty urban scene, where middle-aged do-gooder Fanny Pierce (former Hollywood starlet Jeanne Crain) is bringing groceries back to the mission where her preacher husband Willis (Alex Nicol) feeds the hungry. When a drunken bum steals the food from her right outside the door of the soup kitchen, Fanny begins having a crisis of faith in her husband's calling--particularly when the preacher expresses more concern in the loss of foodstuffs than in his wife's post-robbery safety. Willis has big ideas about building a church "in a nicer area," one that would bring in more money in offerings, showing himself the kind of profit-oriented preacher Billy Joe had been railing against. Fanny replies archly, "God isn't going to make our house payment!"

In an effort to fund his mission and get a leg up on starting the new church, Willis spends a good chunk of the couple's savings on a gigantic wooden cross, which he plans to erect outside the revival hall he's rented in a more affluent suburb for a one-night only performance. As they haul the cross cross-country, the marital tension gets even thicker, with Fanny bemoaning her 25 years of sacrifice for nothing and Willis doing his best to convince her that big cross is their meal ticket. When they stop at a filling station where it just so happens Billy Joe and a biker henchman are also filling up, the stage is set for confrontation and tragedy.

"Don't mind me...just checking the fit."

While the biker boy makes lazy sexual innuendo with the shocked churchwoman, Billy Joe asks lots of pointed questions about Willis' cross and his plans for revival. The exchange between the two self-styled evangelists is fraught with dramatic irony, as the preacher happily admits his fund-raising motivations for the soup kitchen, which we know is just the sort of thing to get Billy Joe in a smiting frame of mind. Sure enough, once the Pierces are on the road again, Billy Joe calls his apostle aside and gives the word: "We're going to a revival meeting tonight...we're going on a crusade! Just you, and me, and Izzy...and the AY-TONER."

Sure enough, after a sermon with all the passion of a college history lecture that brings in much less money than they had hoped for, Fanny goes outside with Willis' assistant, leaving him alone in the revival hall. The hippies move in for the attack in a shadowy and fairly effective suspenseful scene, wherein Billy Joe pronounces a sentence of death on the "false prophet," and the other hippies hold Willis down while the AY-TONER crucifies him on his own cross! Drawn back inside by her husband's screams, Fanny can only cower in the shadows as the hippies torture and murder her husband, his cries of "Fanny, help me! For God's sake, hellllp meee!" going forever unanswered.

The feet of Justice move swiftly in the early 70s, as we now jump cut to a courtroom scene in which Billy Joe and his accomplices--minus the still-at-large AY-TONER--are on trial for the murder of Willis Pierce. Judge Coogan (Stewart Bradley) is too busy to learn his lines, reading them instead from a prominent sheet of "evidence" on the bench in front of him, but he's not too busy to quickly pronounce a death sentence on the would-be messiah. This gives Sugich a chance for one more excellent crazy outburst--"You son of a bitch! You DUMB son of a bitch! YOU'RE MAKING ME A MARTYR! AHAHAHAHAHA!"--while the unindicted cult members surround Fanny and promise revenge for their leader's death. Fanny, obviously wracked with guilt for her failure to help her hubby, wanders off in a daze.

"I'd like to cross-examine, your honor."

Lucky for Fanny, the Judge is in need of a housekeeper to keep his two sons and two daughters (all teenagers, it seems) in line, and the next thing you know she's working as a kind of PTSD-afflicted Alice to the Coogans' Brady Bunch. When the Judge and the wife decide to head off for a dirty weekend at some swinger's camp or other, he offers Fanny half a c-note if she'll spend the weekend at the Coogan residence babysitting. Fanny is still afflicted by reverbed-out voice-overs of her husband's dying cries, though, and doesn't want to have to worry about kids being out all night and not coming home. The horny judge fixes this, however, by grounding his kids for the weekend so they can stay right under Fanny's watchful gaze--which of course makes her very popular with her young charges.

While giving Fanny a lift to his pad, the Judge tut-tuts her worries about the two hippies on motorcycles who seem to be following them, and then goes on to instill some social relevance in the pic. "Those kids, like the ones who murdered your husband...they come from broken homes...poor education...they're just dropouts! Not like *my* kids!" If your ironic foreshadowing meter isn't going off by this point, it's probably time to have it serviced.

Once at Chez Coogan it becomes clear not everythign is rosy between the judge and his kids. Nancy and Sherry are upset about missing a hot date and a play rehearsal respectively due to Fanny's overprotectiveness, but it's eldest son Peter (co-scripter and curly-headed punk Dan Spelling) who is most upset, as he's missing out on an important tennis tournament. He lashes out at his dad, is unforgivably nasty to Fanny, and generally does a great job of making himself intolerable to the audience in under 2 minutes of screen time. So nice job there.

Peter learned the hard way that for Mrs. Pierce, there was but one penalty for sassy-mouth: squozen balls.

As you probably expected, the rest of the movie involves a seige of the Connor residence by outside forces, presumably the group of vengeful hippies and the never-seen but glimpsed every-now-and-then robed figure of the AY-TONER. It starts with heavy-breathing phone calls and threats, then escalates to phone-line cutting and door rattling, all while the kids are getting more and more snotty and Fanny is freaking further (the fuck) out. Snotty Pete takes command when Fanny's shock gets the best of her, sending younger brother Jimmy (Gary Morgan, future busy stuntman and the only halfway tolerable Coogan kid) out on a fatal escape attempt and not seeming too surprised or broken up when he doesn't make it. Things progress about the way you'd expect, with a somewhat facile twist you'll probably see coming nearly AYTONED for by a similarly unsurprising but still nicely-done coda.

On the film's plus side, Madden does a good job with the pacing, pulling you right along and never letting things get too boring. This is especially impressive during the seige section of the film, since the director sets himself the challenge of building tension from the victims' pov without ever showing the attackers themselves. He accomplishes some of this with sound (the ominous phone calls and Fanny's "voices"), some with light (the hippies hit the breaker box) and occasionally even with a creative tracking shot or two. It's not just the god-damnedest direction I've ever seen in my life, but considering the low-budget constraints, it's not the worst either.

The acting is all over the board, with Sugich as Billy Joe Jesus on the top of the scale and the younger Coogan kids at the bottom. In fact, Sugich is such an arresting presence as the maniacal cult leader that once he's safely on death row, the wind really goes out of the movie's sails and never fully recovers. That said, Spelling makes a good villain substitute with his counterpoint of snotty entitlement and unfeeling selfishness. I wish I had more good things to say about Jeanne Crain, but she's really merely competent here, and everyone else does worse.

"I'll open that hippie like a god-damn letter."

On the negative side, the twist is fairly telegraphed, though whether that bothers you or not depends on your ability to enjoy something that doesn't necessarily surprise you--a good ability to cultivate, imo. Also, for a movie about killer hippies the body count is appallingly low, there's surprisingly little gore and even less fact, there's no nudity to speak of, and only the crucifixion scene really carries any wallop. And while Spelling might be a fine villain, he obviously doesn't have much of an ear for dialog, judging from the script.

That said, The Night God Screamed is an entertaining if undistinguished entry in the hippiesploitation subgenre, and you could find a much worse way to spend an hour and a half. It's worth at least a soft 2 Thumbs rating, especially if you're a killer-hippie completist or a fan of Charles Manson impersonators. I'm certainly not sorry to have watched it, and while that's not a glowing recommendation, it's the best you're going to get today. ;)

"Say, Ze...are you SURE you never had a son?"


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Mummy's Revenge (1973): or, Never Slip a Mummy the Tongue

It's no secret that Karl Freund's 1932 Universal Monsters classic The Mummy shares a LOT with Tod Browning's triumph of the previous year, Dracula. Boris Karloff's Imhotep/Ardath Bay and Bela Lugosi's vampire count are both creatures of ancient evil who find themselves in modern London, chasing down their reincarnated loves while dealing with the inconvenient intelligence of Edward Van Sloan and the pretty-boy uselessness of David Manners. Except for the opening tomb-crawl and the lack of a bug-eating servant, Imhotep really has more in common with Dracula than with any of the foot-dragging brutes in Universal's string of quality-dwindling sequels.

No stranger to repurposing monster lore to fit his unique cinematic vision, Paul Naschy took a similar tack when scripting his sole excursion into the land of the pharoahs, 1973's The Mummy's Revenge (La Venganza de la Momia), paying attention to his character's Egypt-specific lore while also infusing him with the characteristics of other cinematic monsters. And since the well-established Naschy Monster Mantra is always "MORE IS MORE IS MORE," he didn't stop with Dracula--he used elements of no less than five classic monsters together with one of his own most celebrated characters to create a Fusion Mummy that is pretty much unlike any other.

Shortness of breath was the Ceremonial Corset's main drawback.

We open in the court of Amenhotep (you see what he did there?), a brutal despot from a forgotten dynasty. From a portentious voice-over we learn that the Pharoah (Naschy, of course) and his wicked consort Amara (Rina Ottolina) rule over Egypt with extreme cruelty: "Amenhotep murdered beautiful young women, satiating his shameful, repugnant appetites!" Like you do. Of course we get to see a few of these unfortunate nubiles strung up in chains (CHAINS!) in the Pharoah's court and sacrificed in various ways. Later we learn that far from being the jaded entertainments of an all-powerful emperor, the sacrifices have a far more sinister purpose:
"Amenhotep, monstrous pharoah of Egypt, wrought the most horrendous tragedies on its people, making an alliance with the forty-two evil spirits of the unknown...Employing them for his own despicable crimes, drinking the blood of virgins and eating the flesh of his fellow man at diabolical banquets, he honored these same renegade spirits..."
If all that blood-drinking and flesh-eating sounds familiar, it should...but we'll get to that in a minute. For now the important thing is that the High Priest of Amen-Ra (who looks disturbingly like a slightly made-up Sir Ben Kingsley), spurred to action by the King's atrocities and the people's suffering, has Armana stabbed and slips Amenhotep a paralyzing poison before cursing him to the anceint Egyptian's worst fear: denied entrance to the world of the dead, Amenhotep is doomed to eternal life in his earthly form. Unbowed, the paralyzed king swears his descendants will carry out his will and bring him back for his revenge. Not exactly cursed from the pyre, but the same principle, obviously.

"I'll give you 15 for the grapefruits. How much for the dildo?"

Time passes. Eventually the tomb is discovered by a team of American archaeologists financed by the British Museum of Natural History, Stock Footage Wing, including repeat Naschy collaborators Jack Taylor (Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man) and María Silva (Curse of the Devil). Wearing enough eye-liner to make Ozzy Osbourne blink twice, Taylor quickly transports the golden Paulcophagus and accompanying hieroglyphic scroll back to London for further study. At a dinner party hosted by wheelchair-bound Dr. Landsbury and his young daughter Elena (Ottolina again--you see where this is going), Taylor spills the beans on their important find while Egyptian professor Assad Bay (Naschy again) listens with keen interest.

Of course unbeknownst to his colleagues, Bay is a direct descendant of Amenhotep, and with the help of his eeevil and completely SMOKIN' HAWT lady-friend Zenifer (ice-queen extraordinaire Helga Liné) plans to resurrect his forebear in exchange for the limitless power and immortality Amenhotep will doubtless grant him. And how will they accomplish this dastardly feat? By sacrificing seven virgins to the 42 Unknown Evil spirits, mixing their blood with crushed tana leaf tea, and feeding it to the Pharoah's mouldering corpse.

Of course seasoned Jacinto-philes will recall that Paul and Helga had teamed up memorably just a couple of years earlier in the classic Horror Rises from the Tomb as blood-drinking, flesh-eating eeevil aristocrat Alaric de Marngac and his lover Mabille, who likewise needed the blood of seven innocents in order to regain their diabolical powers after centuries of living death. Yes, de Marngac is the Dracula to Naschy's Mummy, right down to Paul's dual role as both the evil ancestor and his modern-day descendant.

Helga: a Perfect 10

Derivative? Maybe, but if you're a fan of the earlier film you won't scoff at the opportunity to see one of the greatest evil couples in cinematic history at it again, and Osiris be praised, Naschy and Liné are more than up to the task. It's not long before the pair have chained and tortured three finishing-school girls to get enough blood to jump-start the mummy. Soon the ceremony is complete (worth the price of admission for Helga's OMG HAWT Egyptian Nymphet garb, complete with headdress, Bo Derek-style braids, and a midriff-baring top displaying her frankly STUNNING navel in all its glory), and the corpse of Amenhotep walks among the living again.

The Pharoah has lost none of his beefiness despite 3000 years in the grave, and Paul wastes no time letting his audience know this is NOT your grandfather's lumbering pile of bandages. Neither slow-moving like Kharis nor shying away from human contact like Karloff's wrinkled spectre, the risen Amenhotep stalks through the museum, crushing a guard's head like a melon before heading out into the London fog to seek a proper body to house the spirit of Amarna--because like Alaric de Marngac, his first order of post-resurrection bidness is to reincarnate his WOMAN.

It's here that Naschy really fires up the stove for some fusion-cookin', as Amenhotep goes on a KILL-CRAZY RAMPAGE throughout London in search of the remaining virgins he needs to solidify his powers and raise Amarna from the dead. First he spies on a honeymooning couple through the window of their cottage, watching the girl undress before eschewing stealth completely to BURST THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR DANINSKY-STYLE, grab the flummoxed groom by the throat, and splatter his brains against the wall with a mighty flex of his dessicated triceps! After delivering this first virgin back to the temple, Amenhotep creeps through the foggy moors of Hyde Park, stalking another victim and again acting like some kind of awesome Werewolf/Mummy hybrid.

That's going to leave la marca.

But that's not all--next we see him walking nonchalantly by the Thames, scaring the bejeezus out of a London streetwalker (Jack the Ripper), leading two Bobbys on a merry chase through the fog-shrouded streets (Mr. Hyde), and descending into the shadowy sewers beneath the city where the feeble police are no match for his cunning and strength (Phantom of the Opera). Later Amenhotep somehow finds his way to some stables where he surprises a young couple in flagrante de hayloft, tantalizing with the possibility of an upper-story Mummy LEAP ATTACK but opting instead for a pitchfork spear to the young lover's gut. Why he kidnaps this obviously un-virginized chick is unclear; obviously this is a mummy who lives by his own rules.

Relations get strained between the Pharoah and his mortal servants. Inspecting the bodies Assad and Zenifer have procured on their own, Amenhotep expresses his displeasure by crushing each corpse's head like a cherry cordial, giving us several shots of pulped heads (complete with jutting teeth and what looks like actual sheep's eyes) that are miles above any of the other gore fx in the flick. When Zenifer starts planting the seeds of doubt about the Pharoah's good intentions toward them, Assad must choose whether to serve his master or stick with his girl.

Naschy's Buffet Du Babes

Of course Jack Taylor and his girlfriend soon get suspicious of Assad Bay, thinking he's faking the mummy attacks in order to revenge the looting of his country's tombs. Their investigation leads them further and further into danger; meanwhile, Amenhotep discovers Amarna's spitting image in young Elena, and so kills her father and one of the old man's servants (with a museum-quality pole-axe!) in order to get her in his rotting clutches. This leads to a scene in which it is strongly implied that Elena, hypnotized in her bedroom by the charismatic corpse, engages in a little between-the-sheets necro-boogie with her past-life love. How often does a movie mummy get laid? About as often as a hunchback, I'd wager.

Kiss of the Mummy

There are a lot of not terribly sensical but nontheless entertaining scenes scattered throughout the last half of the movie, including Elena's guilt over her father's paralysis, a few shifty-eyed corpses, dandyish footman livery, Taylor's investigation interrupted by a tree being struck by lightning, the wimpy archaelogist somehow employing a grappling hook to get himself and his girlfriend into Naschy's abode, Amenhotep shaking off bullets to the chest, arms, and face, and in the most unrealistic scene in the flick, Jack Taylor besting Naschy in a fist-fight. Which took me right out of the movie, I have to say--I can buy all the rest, but that shit would just NOT HAPPEN.

It all leads to a confrontation in the temple during the final ceremony that is typical Naschy excess (read: excellent) complete with a telegraphed face-turn, liberal use of a weaponized hanging kettle (aka HOT SOUP WRECKING BALL!), and the deployment of every mummy's kryptonite--a burning torch--leading to the expected fiery cataclysm.

Amenhotep wonders whether he remembered to put the jackal out before locking up 3000 years ago.

The Mummy's Revenge has only been released once or twice in the US, on videotape, and according to the indespensible Mark of Naschy website, neither version is the true "hard" export version--you can tell there are several places where sex and gore scenes have been cut, and what's left is so suggestive you can't help but wish for that uncut print to turn up. (Don't hold your breath, though--the website further states "This 'hard' version is so elusive and sought-after that even Naschy himself has hunted for it.") As usual director Carlos Aured captures many effective compositions, with the opening Egyptian scenes and the atmospheric shots in the museum being standouts. And Naschy's script--well, MORE IS MORE IS MORE.

As for the acting, Naschy is in top form as usual, both as the modern day schemer Assad Bay and in the Kharis-style zip-up bandage suit as Amenhotep. His take on the Mummy as less a heartbroken romantic who risked his soul and lost it for love, and more a force of sadistic, sexually perverse evil steeped in the powers of the occult, is one I hadn't seen before, and a refreshing change. (However, the Pharoah's English dub voice here--all gruff and cartoon-villany--is unfortunate.) Liné is Naschy's perfect match as usual, cold and calculating, seductive and dangerous, elegant and ruthless. And enough cannot be said about the way she wears that Egyptian outfit. ZIGGITY ZANG. As for the rest, Taylor is wooden and stern as usual, and the remaining cast members perform their roles without distinction.


It may be true that I never saw a Naschy film I didn't like, but The Mummy's Revenge really brings the gravy. Fusion-monsters, self-referentiality, implied perversity and periodic flashes of disturbing gore, and a total WTF ending, all tied up with typically Naschyan plot developments and Helga Liné's navel to boot? What's not to like?

As if there were any doubt: 3+ thumbs. You can find this movie at various places on the internet, though sadly not on any official DVD release yet. Sacrifice a few virgins to Amen-Ra and see if we can change that, m'kay?

It's Good to Be the King


Monday, April 20, 2009

Sweet 16 (1983): or, It's My Party and You'll Die If I Want You To

There are a few things to like about Jim Sotos' 1983 pseudo-slasher Sweet 16 (aka Sweet Sixteen), but you kind of have to be looking for them. If you can glean a little joy from the incongruously TV-sitcom style acting, the occasional surprisingly ugly racism from some of the bad guy characters, interesting-to-completely out of nowhere plot twists, and barely capitalized subplot of the perils of burgeoning sexuality, then maybe you won't hate it.

But if you're a jaded horror geek who cut his teeth on 80s slashers many times nastier and more rollicking, the kind of movies that wove cautionary morality tales through scenes of copious nudity and goopy practical gore effects, then Sweet 16 is likely to strike you as more than a little bland, its reticence to GO THERE naive and frankly frustrating.

No points for guessing which side of the fence your ever-lovin' Vicar comes down on.

The movie actually starts out all gangbusters, hitting us right away with a gratuitous shower scene in which our 15-year-old main character Melissa Morgan (Aleisa Shirley, who was doubtless many years older than her character, so relax) stares mysteriously into the middle distance while displaying all her soap-slick nubility for everyone to enjoy. A slow pan across the girl's bedroom reveals the requisite band posters, a crumpled pack of smokes near an overflowing ashtray, an ominously ripped-in-half family photo, and a deck of tarot cards strewn across the floor, which in accordance with the Cinematic Tarot Cameo Act of 1910 of course HAS to have the Death Card prominently displayed. Cliched, sure, but still an okay opening with lots of subtext and possibilities. Not to metnion tits, ass, and bush.

"I hate you, Shower Head."

From there we cut to a rowdy cowboy bar out by the freeway, where gigantic shitkicker Billy Franklin (a gleefully assholic Don Stroud) is hanging out with his younger brother Johnny and some of their redneck compadres, shouting every line at top volume. They must not be far from the reservation, as within moments superannuated Native American Greyfeather (experienced character actor Henry Wilcoxon in his final film role) wanders in to have a beer. Billy immediately starts hassling the old man, casting aspersions upon all native peoples in surprisingly ugly terms. Just when things are about to get physical young Jason Longshadow struts in (could-be period romance novel cover-model Don Shanks, who six years later would take time out from his regular gigs as the Handsome Young Indian to portray Michael Meyers in Halloween 5), pulls a Bowie knife on the rednecks, and after a little Little Big Horn action escorts his old friend out into the parking lot while the rednecks lick their wounds and swear revenge.

As Jason's leaving, young Melissa is just coming in, all tarted up and looking a lot older than her almost 16 years. She makes a move on Jason, but the young warrior is having none of it, advising her to go home before piling the old man in his truck and hitting the road. Young Johnny sees what happens, and after some pick-up banter with more than the required amount of antagonistic ugliness between him and Melissa, convinces her to go for a ride with them, leaving goody-two-shoes Sheriff's son Hank Burke (Steve Antin, of The Goonies!) behind. They go parking (where else) on the Ancient Indian Burial Ground a few miles out of town, but when Melissa gets spooked before coming across, the blue-balled Johnny must drive her home.

"Whattaya mean, you don't know Willie Nelson? You look JUST LIKE HIM!"

At home they meet Melissa's old man, Professor John Morgan, played by a clearly slumming and none-too-happy-about-it Patrick Macnee. After delivering some murderously over-protective dialog meant to single him out as SUSPECT NUMBER ONE, he shoos the young stud away. Johnny runs out of gas (naturally), is stalked by a hand-held camera man, and eventually stabbed to death in a poorly shot but still rather bloody scene. Hey kids, looks like we got ourselves a slasher!

Or maybe not. After that one murder we jump into the family situation of widowed Sheriff Dan Burke (the always-working Bo Hopkins), his amateur sleuth daughter Marci (Dana Kimmell), and Hank, whom we've met. When good-boy Hank tells Dad about the ugliness last night, and then the call comes in that Johnny's body has been discovered, the Dan loads the kids in the car and off they go to the murder scene, where Marci assists in the investigation. I guess when you live in a tax-deprived rural frontier town, you keep the business in the family. However, Marci proves herself not exactly homicide department material when she theorizes that Johnny might have been stabbed to death by a BEAR. Check out a few more Encyclopedia Brown books, Marci, you're almost there.

It's Symbolic, Of Course

The movie really goes off the slasher rails here, turning into a would-be thriller/mystery as the director and script writer establish motives for just about everybody in town, including Professor Morgan's local-girl wife Joanna (Susan Strasberg, utilizing the Native-American folklore horror chops she gained in 1978's The Manitou). Another high schooler who was coming on to Melissa gets stabbed, she and the Burke kids become fast friends after some initial insult-swapping, and it all comes to a head at Melissa's sweet-sixteen party, to which the whole town is invited, just to make sure all the suspects are in the right place.

Like I say, there are a few things you might like about the movie, if you're feeling generous. Stroud is great as the gleefully bastardic Billy, needing only an audacious handlebar moustache to twist in order to reach Snidely Whiplashian status. His standout scene is the town hall meeting the mayor calls after the second murder, in which Stroud shows he could have been an excellent pro wrestling heel, getting on the mic to whip the townsfolk into an Injun-hatin' frenzy. And the lengths to which Sotos goes to get Don Shanks sweaty and shirtless, his long black hair trailing him sensuously in the breeze, are definitely good for a chuckle or two. Add some truly amazing 80s high-school mullets and one hilarious offer of drugs ("I might be able to score some HERB" [hard "h", accompanied by joint-smoking finger motions]), and there might be a smile to be had.

"I'll see you in the cage, Wahoo McDaniel! IN THE CAAAAAAAAGE!"

That said, like a geeky sophomore trying to get the hottest senior cheerleader in the school to make out with him after the prom, Sweet 16 misses far more often than it hits. While there is some interesting "burgeoning sexuality/burgeoning evil" subtext with Melissa's character, it's never really capitalized upon, since it's obvious that she could NOT have been the killer from kill #1. (Though her show-closing skinny-dipping scene with Hank, which is romanticized somewhat on the movie's poster, is not too bad.) And by piling on one red herring after another, Sotos attempts to generate tension but in the end just succeeds in generating apathy.

The acting is pretty bad across the board too. Macnee looks like he'd rather be ANYWHERE else most of the time, and I doubt he hung around for the wrap party once his check cleared. Marci and Hank play the whole thing like they're trying to solve a mystery on an episode of The Facts of Life, which is annoying but perhaps not surprising, since Dana Kimmell had actually guest-starred on FoL a year earlier. Hopkins is too aw-shucks for my taste, though his comic relief with a man-hungry clerk at the crime lab is periodically effective. And the less said about everyone else, the better.

"Please, Sheriff--don't treat me like a stereotype."

Even the revelation that the killer used some ancient Indian artifacts to commit the killings carries little weight, since the body count is pretty low--only two people dead before the big party, not counting Greyfeather, who is a victim of mob panic anyway. All in all, a movie that can't decide what it wants to be and thus ends up not being much of anything. Not enough sex to be sexy, not enough gore to be gory, for a sum total meh. 1.25 thumbs. Watch it if you have to--but why would you have to?

Teens and Drugs: The Ugly Truth


Friday, April 17, 2009

Vicar-ious Verse: The Readiness is All

Well, another rough week for updates--blame it on tax time, insomnia, or the fact I neglected to bring my thumb drive to work today. New reviews are coming, but in the meantime, enjoy this bit of b-movie poetry (B-Sonnet?) by the Vicar!

The Readiness is All

I've filed my toenails down to sharpened points
and practiced crawling up the castle walls;
built up my pecs and stretched out all my joints
so I can crazy-walk down darkened halls.

I've spent hours at the glass perfecting glares
and teasing out the gray hairs in my ears;
and I can creep down cobweb-covered stairs
without breaking one strand--that took me years.

So when those teenagers' car has a flat
and they come to my door to use the phone
(my cell reception's nil--imagine that!),
I'll greet them with a polished, chilling groan,

Listen impassively, invite them in--
and then, whoa Nelly! Let the show begin!

You can read more of the Vicar's horror sonnets


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Night to Dismember (1983): or, Necessity is a Mother

In a comment on my recent review of the much-maligned blaxploitation flick The Guy from Harlem, Samuel Wilson of the always informative and entertaining blog Mondo 70: A Wild World of Cinema offered the following bit of incisive criticism that blew me away with its simple, powerful truth:

Films like this one are folk art (or if you like it more edgy, "outsider art"), like the works of Grandma Moses or Henry Darger. Their failures of perspective, anatomy or narrative logic are excused when they achieve effects that go beyond the conventional.
I'm really glad I had time to digest this nugget of wisdom before my recent viewing of Doris Wishman's 1983 oddity A Night to Dismember, as otherwise I really wouldn't have known what to do with it, other than point and laugh, of course. But with Samuel's words bouncing around my mitre, I was able to experience the film in a completely different way than I would have previously, and as such I'm prepared to pronounce A Night to Dismember not only a culturally important artifact, but a piece of Art with a capital "A."

That you can also point at and laugh.

According to Joseph A. Ziemba of the encyclopedic and endlessly valuable review site Bleeding Skull,Wishman ("the most prolific female exploitation director of all-time"--BSkull) had completed shooting on A Night to Dismember in 1982, hoping to capitalize on the early 80s slasher mania with a gory, sex-laden, documentary-style knock-off. But then "[a] peeved lab worker the bankrupt Movielab destroyed several negatives in a fit of rage", and forty percent of Wishman's completed film was lost forever.

Get Ready...

Rather than throwing her hands up in despair and writing the whole thing off as a loss, however, Wishman rolled up her sleeves and did her best to salvage her movie. She shot new and contextually unrelated footage, spliced and edited filmstock like an epileptic octopus on speed, and added a ponderous, movie-long voice-over track to try and make sense of things for the viewer. (It doesn't.) The result is a glorious failure, an unintentional mind-fuck, a collage piece of "outsider art" that looks nothing like a good movie and yet has its own strange, undeniable power and allure. Or at least it did for me--and it's my site, so nyah.

That voice-over comes to us courtesy Tim O'Malley, a private investigator narrating the events of "Bloody October" in 1986--and yes, that's three years in the future from the date of release. Over lots and lots of stock footage of graveyards, O'Malley informs us that on that bloody night, the families of Phineas and Broderick Kent were all but wiped out in a string of grisly crimes that left only one family member alive.

Next via flashback...or flash-future...or future-back...or SOMETHING--we see Phineas Kent playing solitaire while O'Malley tells us how proud the old man is of his daughters Susan and Bonnie. (We can tell he's the paterfamilias by his powder-gray helmet-wig.) Justifying her father's pride, Bonnie is in the midst of a totally gratuitous bath scene. As appreciative of this as the viewers might be, younger sister Susan is not at all, and expresses her displeasure by hacking Bonnie to death in the bathtub, giving us an awful lot of bathwather gore. Though she's an efficient killer, Susan is also a deadly klutz--turning to flee the scene, she accidentally falls on the axe, killing herself! (I have in my notes at this point "The music here is amazing," but I honestly can't remember it in view of the what follows. Still, I stand by my assessment as the gospel truth.)

Mom told you not to run with sharp things.

Jumping to seemingly a completely different movie, we see Broderick Kent calling Tim O'Malley to report he's found his wife's murdered body. Apparently Lola Kent was taking "her usual afternoon stroll in the garden" (which through flash-wherever we see involves the huge-chested Lola strolling through a sunlit forest with her boobs hanging out) ...and then something else happens and she's dead in a pool of blood. Before you have time to let that percolate, O'Malley reveals that moments/hours/who knows how much later Broderick confessed he hired an ex-con to kill his wife. Unable to stand the guilt, Brod promptly hangs himself in his jail cell, and there's another Kent down.

But wait, there's more! Next we cut to Vicki Kent (70s/80s porn star Samantha Fox), obviously disturbed and hanging out in a graveyard for some reason. When a couple of teen boys chase each other into the boneyard for some gleeful homoerotic wrestling, Vicki pounces and chases them into a subterranean crypt before murdering them both, one with a rather graphic (through FX-challenged) through-the-trachea stab! She's quickly captured by the police and sent to the state mental institution, on account of her being a nutso killer. And so Bloody October comes to a close.


So as you might have gathered from just the last three paragraphs, "disjointed" doesn't even BEGIN to describe this movie's storyline. In fact, I'm pretty sure "storyline" doesn't accurately describe the movie's storyline. "Storysplosion" might be closer to capturing the Jackson Pollack-like snip-drips of plot flung everywhere, hanging together by the thinnest of threads, if at all. As for technical stuff, the cinematography is possibly meant to be documentary style, but just looks gritty and inept, but pleasingly so, like many of the 70s exploitation flicks we all know and love. And I can only assume that the soundtrack was part of the 40% of the movie that got destroyed, as everything is post-dubbed--badly, of course--and occasionally the Foley effects sound like some kids making fart noises in the cafeteria. (Seriously--listen for the sound of tires going through a puddle, and see if you can keep from giggling.)

So five years after Bloody October, Vicki Kent is released from the sanitarium, much against the wishes of her brother Billy and sister Mary. (Remember when O'Malley said all the Kents but one were killed? Well, Wishman didn't either.) Billy thinks Vicki is still dangerous and might kill again; Mary just doesn't like the attention her porn-star sister draws away from Mary's rockin' blonde femullet. Therefore Billy decides they should go all Gaslight on big sis and try to scare her so badly she has to go back to the asylum. You know, for the good of the community. I guess.

Mary: Beautiful Plumage

Meanwhile Vicki hooks up with her old boyfriend Franky (who looks like one of The Wiggles and whose character is played by at least two different actors, I think). Franky's girlfriend complains, and someone kills her...Mary starts imagining ghosts in her house, but for what real purpose I can't quite figure...Franky and Vicki make out by the lake only to be attacked by a SWAMP MONSTER (who turns out to be Billy in disguise, trying to drive Vicki *back* to crazy)...there are a few killings, some more nudity, and less coherence than you'd find in the glossolalia of a schizophrenic ventriloquist whose dummy just became a Pentecostal.

And bear in mind, this is ALL being told through a Robert Stack-esque voice over, from a PI who may or may not survive the movie--I really don't know.

You really CANNOT approach A Night to Dismember narratively--it just doesn't work. It repels any attempt. I can see someone just turning it off in disgust after two minutes...but as for me, I let it wash over my brain and eventually started to feel like I must be hallucinating this movie. Seriously, check out some actual excerpts from my viewing notes:

  • Vicky hears ghostly voices, sees flashing lights
  • This is making me feel like I'm high.
  • holy crap double decap
  • "Only a jealous lover or a crazed, betrayed wife or husband could have perpetrated such a horrendous act!"
Art Class
  • Total beatbox foley
  • Vicky plays leg guitar while PI watches through window
  • Psychadelic sex scene...totally lost now
  • OMG spirograph trip-out
I Know the Feeling

If you can make any sense out of that, you're doing better than I did. And I actually *watched* the movie.

Summing up my reaction to A Night to Dismember, I find myself kind of at a loss. It's bad, but a badness born of necessity and desperation, which is something I can't really hold against it. It's incoherent and inept, but in such a way that, albeit unintentionally, it approaches DADA surrealism. I've seen a lot of bad movies--I mean, a LOT--and yet few have affected me in the way this one did.

To say it's not for everyone would be the understatement of the century--in fact, were I to watch it again under different circumstances, even I might have an entirely different reaction. But if you're fascinated by the trashy and the weird, I'd be willing to bet it doesn't get much trashier or weirder. Restraining my admittedly subjective glee, I'd say it's worth seeing once, even if only as a curiosity. Therefore, I'm giving A Night to Dismember a solid 2 thumb rating--check it out, and then email me and tell me what I saw.

Thanks, Mr. Wilson!


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Les Demons (1972), Or The Inquisition Gets All The Chicks

The moon hung low in the sky like a leper’s testicle: bloated and swollen, with a hint of green. Steel clouds occasionally obscured its pockmarked surface, casting shadows across the cobbles before me. I had arrived in Cairo the previous morning, choosing to spend my first 36 hours in the company of a cadre of acrobatic dwarfs, visiting the city as part of a world tour or some such. Their skills on the trapeze are only eclipsed by their skills in the bedroom, I assure you.

My slippered feet whisked me forward. A near invisible circle of Sudanese assassins shadowed me, allowing me to walk without fear from the cut-purses and murderers that the Khan el-Khalili is so famous for. I had come to this world famous market in search of a rare treasure that had so far eluded my grasp. Dark whispers in the deepest corners of the world had lead me in this direction, but it wasn’t until a recent scrying ceremony, performed by a Důr shaman using elk bones thrust into an earthen berm and then heated to bursting, that I knew exactly where I would find the object I had coveted for so long.

Using a wooden fetish provided by the shaman, I made my way through the twists and turns of the bazaar. A strangled cry from the darkened aisle to my right informed me that one of my guards had happened upon a road agent. As per my instructions, his heart and liver would be removed and incinerated in a glass brazier fueled by plump Sago worms, thus ensuring that the would-be murderer’s entire lineage will die in horrible pain and agony.

As the fetish in my hand grew colder and colder, I knew I was at last arriving at my destination. A final turn, and I knew I was there indeed. Before me stood a wooden stall, lashed together using camel sinew and intestines. It looked as if it would collapse at any moment. A bewildering sign reading “Worm Rape” in hieroglyphs hung out front. The proprietor stood huddled in the shadows, wearing filthy rags. He reeked of dung smoke and as he bobbed his head and smiled, I could smell his breath from 10 paces. The smell was a combination of curry and another smell that made me think that this man had not too recently been making out with a hobo’s ass.

His collection of wares was meager, I paid them no mind. He immediately sensed my reason for being there, as he turned and brought up a brass box from behind his counter. The box, fashioned in the Dolei tribesman way, was entirely covered in hammered brass which was then punctured with an awl in a deliberate fashion. The wrong person opening this box would very quickly find themselves without hands and tongue. He opened the box and offered its contents to me. I dropped a bag of gold coins on the counter and snatched up the object, moments before the entire structure collapsed onto the screaming merchant due to the weight of the gold. In my shaking hands I finally beheld…

Jess Franco’s Les Demons, made in 1972, gives us an epic tale of masturbatory nuns and the randy Inquisition. If you aren’t completely engorged within the first 15 minutes, have your pulse checked. Our movie opens with the Inquisition performing their godly duties, namely the exposing of a witch. And expose they do! Breasts are quickly bared as boiling water is poured on the old witch being put to the question. The water doesn’t evaporate, and she looks haggard enough, and possibly has a wart somewhere on her body, so a witch she is!

The first place to look for witch-like markings is on the breasts, naturally.

In short order, a pyre is erected and the witch is burned alive. Stupidly they don’t shove a rag into her mouth, and she uses what little time she has before going to meet her master to curse everyone present. She claims her daughters will avenge her, by opening their thighs no doubt, which Franco wastes no time in getting to. The noble Lady DeWinter is in attendance, along with the head Inquisitor Jeffries and his brother-in-arms Renfield; all fall under the curse. Lady DeWinter, fearing reprisal from said daughters, talks Jeffries into scouring the countryside for these saucy wenches.

Their search brings them to a convent, where we find the Mother Superior at odds with her feelings. Seems she happened upon the flaming hot Sister Kathleen, who was engaged in naked rubbing with herself, which caused the normally unflappable Mother Superior to immediately soak 3 sets of habits. Not only this, but Kathleen also has trouble paying attention during Bible class. Her penchant for self exploration coupled with her day dreaming surely means, yep, you guessed it... she’s a witch!

Mother Superior soaks another habit.

Kathleen and her chaste Sister Margaret are brought before Lady DeWinter, who performs the tried and true test of whether a nun is a bride of Christ or a bride of Satan: The Broken Hymen Exam. The Lady performs it herself, and a couple of finger jabs later we have our witch! Kathleen is whisked away by the Inquisitor Renfield, who is in service to Lady DeWinter in more ways than one.

The tried and true Witch Detection Vag-Finger Test.

Kathleen is tied to an x-shaped wooden flogging apparatus and is being flogged by various Inquisition members, who obviously have nothing against women. Renfield watches, growing more and more horny by the second. Lady DeWinter comes down to spy on the proceedings, wearing a zang-worthy see-through nightgown. Renfield runs into her as he’s leaving, and they both decide to work off the built-up randy-ness by playing a little game of “I’m A Saucy Witch, Please Rodger Me Mr. Inquisition Guy”.

In a surprisingly gentle turn for an Inquisitor, Renfield falls in love with Kathleen (helped in no small way both by Kathleen’s free-range bush and her seemingly endless ability to take whip lashes). He orders two of the guards to set her free.

Meanwhile, it seems that their mother’s curse covers more than just Kathleen, for that very night as Margaret is making ready for evening prayers, Satan Himself pops into the room, dressed as an British fop, as is his wont. He drills Margaret all night long, breaking her over like a shotgun and riding bareback. Filled with lust, and Satan’s Own Seed™, Margaret now knows the joys of being penetrated by a god and isn’t going to settle for less in the future.

"Prepare to be teabagged by His Infernal Majesty."

Upon finding Kathleen missing, the Lady DeWinter has both guards killed. (They fall silently to their deaths, revealing nothing of Renfield’s instructions. Where does one buy awesome help like this, someone tell me please?!) The Lady is pissed, ordering an immediate search for Kathleen. We flash back to Margaret at the convent. She tells the Mother Superior “I enjoy fondling my body!” and we nod in encouragement. She undresses an awe-struck Mother Superior and begins sexing her up. Allowing it to go on way longer than she should, Mother Superior jumps up and flees, running out onto a balcony, whereupon she throws herself over the side, committing suicide because of her lesbonic tendencies. For shame!

Meanwhile, Lady DeWinter learns of Renfield’s treason, and gives him one last chance: find Kathleen. Indeed he does, but instead of returning Kathleen to the Lady and Jeffries’ clutches, he professes his love and asks Kathleen to run away to Holland with him. Before any of that can happen, however, they are both captured. Finally, Lord Inquisitor Jeffries' true depravity is revealed when he makes a deal with Kathleen: become his sex slave and he’ll go easy on Renfield.

"No one expects.... me."

Margaret somehow infiltrates the DeWinter household, posing as a well-to-do princesses. The Lady DeWinter finally gives in to her lesbian feelings, and reveals that she’s been training hard by showing us some Olympic-level muff diving. As everyone knows, vaginas are like fingerprints, and very quickly the Lady realizes Margaret’s true identity. Alas, it is too late, for the curse takes effect and the beautiful Lady DeWinter is reduced to a mere skeleton, albeit one with blond hair.

"Tastes like chicken, with a hint of nun."

Margaret frees Renfield and Kathleen, and they flee. They aren’t gone long before Margaret kisses Renfield, killing him! Kathleen realizes that Margaret really is a witch, and has her arrested. Margaret is burned at the stake, but asks Lord Jeffries for one final wish: a kiss from his Lordship. Jeffries can’t resist anything with breasts (including fellow Inquisitors at the annual bacchanal), so he grants it. One kiss later and Jeffries is a skeleton. The curse is complete!

"Icky, get this thing off me!

I must say, I absolutely loved this gem of a movie. It had everything. Satan sexing a nun doggy-style, naked nuns being put to the question, lesbian Mother Superiors who can’t control their urges, and copious shots of French bush. Speaking of things French, the extended print I have of this movie isn’t completely dubbed, which made for some amusing scenes. Most of the time the voiceover work was fine, but every once in a while, particularly when someone in the film was angry, the dubbing would disappear and the movie would lapse back into its native French. I realize it was due to this being the uncut version, but it made for some hilarity throughout.

It cannot be overstated how fantastic the sets were in this film, either. French castle architecture was in full effect, with grand vistas around every corner, long stairways, curved arches, and just an overall sense of oppulance. The cinematography was spot on, and I often felt that scenes were framed perfectly, and/or decorated with a critical eye. The music, however, was often out of place I felt. Not that the music was bad, necessarily, but it just often didn’t fit the mood. A long, slow funeral dirge would have been more appropriate, perhaps coupled with carnival music for the sex scenes.

In the end, this movie passes all the requirements for a good nunsploitation movie. There’s plenty of ‘sploitin’ and lots of Inquisition, which I totally didn’t expect. Jess Franco knows his audience, that’s for sure, and Les Demons proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. If I could fault it for anything, I would have to say more sex scenes would have been welcome. In fact, a hour long shot of the two sister nuns masturbating, following by a hour long three-way with Lady DeWinter, and we’d have had ourselves an epic movie. As it stands, I give Les Demons 2.5 Thumbs Up.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Mandinga (1976): or, Help Me Rhonda

I don't know if it's an official Natural Law or not, but fellow aficionados of the weirder side of trash cinema know it to be true: Anything That CAN Be 'Sploited, HAS Been 'Sploited--Probably in the 70s, and most likely by Italians. These wildly disturbed and mercenary filmmakers really left no stone unturned, no taboo unsexified. The laundry list of dirty sheets includes such topics as Nuns, Nazis, Black Culture, Bikers, just goes on and on.

Thanks to the controversial 1975 drama Mandingo in which James Mason and Susan George took on the atrocity of American Slavery in the insightful manner only a couple of Brits possibly could, the Italian Exploitation machine smelled a new historical period ripe for sexing up and cashing in on. One year later, they had their result: Mario Pinzauti's 1976 Slaverysploitation effort, Mandinga.

A Whip in the Hand, The World By the Tail

We open in slavery-era Louisiana, where widowed plantation owner Richard Hunter (Serafino Profumo) is overseeing the harvest of his cotton crop. With the help of a sadistic foreman (Cesare Di Vito), Mr. Hunter keeps his human cattle in line with liberal use of the whip and occasional out-and-out murder. Also, being a lonely man since his sainted wife Elizabeth passed, Hunter takes out his sexual frustration on the prettiest and spunkiest of his female slaves.

Into this White Supremacist Amusement Park comes Rhonda (Paola D'Egidio), sister of the dead Elizabeth--a money-grubbing city-dweller and all around eeevil bint. Her decision to visit her former brother-in-law is not fully explained, but soon it's clear that she was probably kicked out of her East Coast home town for rampant perversity. When she witnesses Richard whipping a muscular new slave into broken submission, the gleam in her eyes and the way she bites her lip leave no doubt as to her favored selection from the Special Needs menu.

But the Italians of the 70s were never big on letting suggestion do when IN YOUR FACE ACTION is a viable alternative, and so later that night Rhonda sneaks into the stables where the buff, handsome slave has been bound to a crossbeam in a borderline Christ-pose. Having this towering, powerful, godlike body completely in her power, Rhonda takes full advantage by doing an extended striptease, bumping and grinding against the helpless, sweating slave, and finally climbing him like a live oak and having her wicked way with him! This scene just goes on and on--I'd be surprised if any footage Pinzauti shot found its way to any editing room floor.


So basically what they've done here is prefigure the "Your Name is Toby" scene the monumental Roots TV mini-series, only played it for BDSM titillation rather than moral outrage. I don't think you have to be a resident of the racism-scarred American South to feel dirty after watching this scene, but I am one, and let me tell you, it helps. Also helpful: the Italo-porn music that plays over the whole thing, naturally.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Hunter takes center stage next, playing out almost the same scene in reverse with a new female slave, "a princess of the Mandingo tribe in Africa" who betrays a little too much royal pride for the Master's tastes. Hunter's sexual joy in beating the proud woman is so apparent, the actual rape is almost an afterthought. Like the previous whip-and-fuck scene, this one goes on much longer than is comfortable, and may occasion the need for a quick shower among the more sensitive and/or perverse in the audience.

It's not long before Rhonda and Mr. Hunter discover just how much they have in common sexually, and Rhonda wastes no time turning this to her advantage. Following Hunter to a secret shack in the woods where he usually brings his slave mistresses, Rhonda grabs Hunter's whip (iykwim) and says, breathlessly, "Who knows how many girls here have trembled and cried...and liked it!" Fewer than you'd think, I'd wager. When Hunter demurs, Rhonda comes on even stronger, baring her breasts and saying, "I want to be your White Slave...something Elizabeth never was! Whip me!" Shower time again? I think so.

"And over *there* is where we can hang the Love Swing!"

So Rhonda becomes Hunter's mistress and has her sights set on inheriting the plantation when the older man checks out, but he refuses to marry her out of respect for his wife's memory. Also messing up Rhonda's plans: the child Hunter has sired on the slave princess. After the Mandinga dies in childbirth and the other slaves spirit the babe away, Hunter shows some uncharacteristic (read: contrived by script necessity) humanity and orders his foreman to find the baby, leading the moustachioed ruffian to murder 2 or 3 more slaves trying to get information. It's all for naught however--the baby is gone, perhaps with the Wind.

So things have been pretty hot and heavy and very very dirty up to this point. The production values have been all bottom drawer, and the dubbing typically awful, particularly the embarassingly sub-Amos n' Andy "Yassa Massah!" dialog from the slaves. That said, the "life on the plantation" scenes aren't bad (leading me to wonder if they were cribbed from another, better movie), and D'Egidio is arrestingly evil and believably perverse in her role, pretty much committed to being as unlikable and strangely sexy as possible. And the costuming isn't bad either.

Things are about to come to a screeching halt, however, as Hunter's England-educated son Clarence (Antonio Gismondo) comes home to help his father run the plantation. About 20 years have passed in the jump-cut between the baby-hunt and Clarence's arrival--our only real clue is the baby powder in Mr. Hunter's mutton chops. Clarence's dubbed voice provides some LOL entertainment, as he sounds like Little Lord Fauntleroy all grown up. Otherwise, though, Gismondo's role could have been played with more depth and profundity by a cardboard cut-out of Lou Costello. Dire.

Gismondo: English As Fuck

Knowing the old man is going to kick the bucket any day now, Rhonda sets about trying to seduce the young heir to the estate, hoping to get her hands on the plantation *that* way. Unfortunately Clarence has fallen in love with pure-as-the-driven-snow Mary (Maria Rosaria Riuzzi), daughter of the village priest, and Rhonda has her work cut out for her trying to lure the stuffy Englishman-cum-Southerner away from his virginal girlfriend.

Lucky for her nuts don't fall far from the tree, and Clarence's nuts are made just as tingly by slave-whipping as his old man's. This leads to a rather amazing scene in which Rhonda orders a male and female slave tied to that tried-and-true crossbeam, and she and Clarence take turns whipping and raping their victims before falling on each other in a filthy frenzy! Far from revelling in this, though, Clarence is disgusted with himself ("I allowed myself to get carried away with your perversions!" If I had a nickel...) and goes back to Mary, to whom he quickly proposes--leading, of course, to a lengthy post-engagement/pre-nuptial shagging of the sort we've come to expect from our filmmakers by now.

But the path of true love never did run smooth in the miscegnation-ophobic South, and after another jump-cut spanning at least nine months Mary gives birth to a black baby boy, setting Clarence into a murderous frenzy egged on by the gleefully bloodthirsty Rhonda. Mary swears her innocence, but is not believed (strangely), and the explanation for the mis-conception is one that I'll leave you to discover for yourself should you be moved to watch this film (it's part of the grab-bag of fun and filth known as The Grindhouse Experience, Vol. 1), as it's one of the few WTF-entertaining things about a dire second half of the movie. Suffice to say it ends with a lot of tragedy and bloodshed and an almost Shakespearean coda from the surviving family members, that would be kinda cool if it weren't so amazingly out-of-nowhere and unearned.

Tied to the Rapin' Post

As far as "make you feel grimy" exploitation flicks go, Mandinga has to be considered a rousing success. However, the movie does drag pretty significantly in the second half, with a lot of Clarence-learning-to-run-the-plantation stuff that stops the movie cold in between outrageousnesses. The cultural disconnect of the Italian take on American Slavery is moderately interesting, but again, the movie's WTF-ery is interspersed with so much boring dramatic stuff as to lose its effect. Not that it isn't a ripe subject for drama--rather that drama is obviously NOT Pinzauti's forte. And the characters are all either so reprehensible (Rhonda, Mr. Hunter, Clarence) or so powerless and naive (Mary, her father the Priest) that it's hard to care about their intrigues for very long--certainly not as long as the director seems to want you to.

If ever there was a "your mileage may vary" movie, this is one. If you came out of Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS with a smile on your face, you might find something to like here. On the other hand, if that's the case, you might also want to stay on the other side of the room from me. :) The wild wrongness of the opening and the BDSM-obsessed evilness of Rhonda gains a little jaw-drop score for the movie, but it commits the unforgivable sin of getting boring as it drags on, and I can't really say I feel better or more educated in history or exploitation movies for having watched. Therefore, I'm staying neutral on this one with a 1.5 Thumb rating.

Rhonda: Dreamin' 'Bout Screamin'


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