Thursday, November 3, 2016

Baby Blood (1990)

Written by: Serge Cukier, Alain Robak
Directed by: Alain Robak
Emmanuelle Escourrou as Yanka
Christian Sinniger as Lohman
Gary Oldman as the Creature

In the fall of 2001, I started my higher learning career (get a writing degree, kids, it'll open up a whole new world of writing shit for free on the internet) at Wartburg College. In need of a little extra scratch, I took on a part time job at the local video rental shop, the now defunct Movies America. DVD was still new enough that the store was primarily VHS, and watching a movie online was pretty much out of the question unless you had a spare week or so to kill waiting for it to download.

It was just a shitty little chain store, not a cool mom 'n' pop, but they had a decent selection of horror and exploitation (although in the days of VHS it was almost impossible not to) and overall I had a pretty good time working there. Of course, as I'm sure many of you fellow movie nerds know from experience, the biggest perk of working at a video shop wasn't the paycheck, but the free rentals. Just about every night I'd take something new back to my dorm to check out. Eventually I took to just whipping a bouncy ball down the aisle that had horror down one side and action at the end, ignoring any “special interest” titles that may have gotten knocked down from the opposite side (that term often denotes softcore Skinemax porn in movie shops, but in this case was largely represented by workout videos, which I guess if you're sad and lonely enough could equate to the same thing), and taking whatever fell to the floor.

One night, before the bouncy ball method had been implemented, I took home a movie which I now know was called The Evil Within. It was a weird flick, clearly originally in a foreign language of some flavor, most likely French given the names of cast and crew. It told the story of a girl who worked at a carnival, who got impregnated by some kind of octopus-like creature that made her kill people. And that's about all I remembered of it. I left the video store for a more lucrative record store gig the next year, and never gave it much more thought until years later when I decided I'd like to see it again. By that time I'd joined the Bad Movie Message Board, populated primarily by my friends from B-Fest, so I figured someone there would know it. Snake eyes. Of course, the internet is a great sea of information, but without at least one or two specifics like a title or an actor's name, finding even a movie seemingly unique as this one based solely on a vague description is a fool's errand. You may as well go to the actual sea and cast your line looking for one particular fish without knowing which bait to use. Also, as you might imagine, the Google results for “octopus sex monster horror movie” are both unhelpful and possibly illegal depending on which state you're from.

Fast forward several more years, and talk of a foreign art/horror movie featuring a tentacled sex monster begins to gather momentum. An unreasonably expensive special edition Blu-ray is released, and it begins to get coverage in places like the Projection Booth podcast. Hang on a minute, though. I don't remember Sam Neill being in my mystery flick, and I'd definitely remember that. Also, there's nothing about a circus, and what's all this malarkey about a little kid? Still, this is clearly a real movie, and one that is becoming more and more well known in cult movie circles. Hell, maybe this is what I saw, and I'm just conflating it with something else from the days when I had enough free time to watch at least one movie pretty much every single day. After all, I know I've seen Charles Band's The Alchemist, but I don't remember a goddamn thing about that. Maybe the titular magical metallurgist worked at a sideshow.

It became a one-man mental game of telephone, with the increasingly cloudy memories of this movie echoing around the lower catacombs of my brain, now and again increasing just enough in volume to make me think I should take another poke around, finding even more information about Possession and not a single mention of any other movie even remotely similar. I even sounded the idea off El Santo of 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting a couple of times, figuring that if any of my friends would know what I was talking about, it would be him. Nada. Eventually I legitimately began to think some part of my subconscious, perhaps stirring up the remnants of a long forgotten dream or conversation, had caused me to gaslight myself; perhaps I really had made the whole thing up after all.

Then, just a couple of months ago, I saw one of those clickbait “10 Horror Movies You've Never Seen!” articles on Facebook and the Fickle Finger of Fate went ahead on and clicked. By the boiling bong of Yog-Sothoth, the very first thing I saw was a screen grab I immediately recognized as belonging to the movie that I had, by this point, given up on as a corrupted file and dragged to the trash folder of my mental desktop. Holy shit, it was real! And it was called...Baby Blood? You'd think I'd have remembered a title like that. Probably I would have, except the version I saw was the cut down English version called The Evil Within, which I think I can be forgiven for not remembering, since I can think of at least three other movies with almost identical titles off the top of my head.

We open on some men in darkest Africa, wrestling some snarling creature into a cage. We don't know what it is, because we're seeing the scene through its eyes, but eventually the beast is locked in and carted away to France. As the delivery vehicle nears the end of its journey, the animals at Lohman's Circus all become extremely agitated, pacing around their cages and sending up a racket of displeased sounds. The captured animal is finally revealed to be a new leopard for the big cat trainer to play with. The weaselly animal broker goes poking around for the boss and instead catches an eyeful of his voluptuous girlfriend Yanka getting out of the shower. Lohman catches the peeper in the act, but seems to place as much blame for the incident on Yanka as on the other man. You see, Lohman is an abusive shitbird, so when some tentacled thing tears its way out of the leopard, slithers up Yanka's vagina, and takes up residence in her womb, it doesn't have to work too hard to convince her to run away from the circus and make for the big city.

Lohman, to his credit, does show some genuine concern and compassion when his efforts to find Yanka lead him to a ruined apartment building so squalid that the opening of a crack den next door would actually improve the property value. We never get to find out if his concern for her was going to be enough for him to mend his ways, though, because her reaction to his pleas for her to return to the circus with him is to murder the bejeezus out of him and drink from his spurting arteries in a nearly orgasmic rush of pleasure. I know that pregnant women are supposed to get some weird cravings sometimes, but damn! Most of them are perfectly happy with a little Ben and Jerry's!

Once she's had a taste of blood and realizes how good it makes her and her passenger feel, it's off to the races, and by races I mean killing spree. She begins to develop an odd relationship with the creature inside her, sometimes maternal, sometimes a little bit like lovers, sometimes just friends shooting the shit. Things all seem to be going so well until her “pregnancy” has progressed to the point where the creature is ready to come out and return to its natural habitat of the sea, which requires Yanka to find transportation to the beach. This proves rather difficult considering she can't stop killing and eating everyone she meets. Finally, in desperation, she hitches a ride on a bus full of horny football players (that's soccer to you, uncouth American pigdog), which turns out to be a really bad idea.

It's not often that the weak point of a monster movie is the monster, and in this case I'm not talking about the creature effects. You only see the little squidbilly for about ten seconds at the very end, and while not exactly the most mobile and well-constructed of creatures, the design is fine and it does what it needs to do. Bela Lugosi could have made fine work of wrestling with it in a pond.

You see, the first few minutes of the movie are the creature explaining to us, over stock footage of volcanic eruptions, that at the dawn of time, single celled organisms begat sea creatures which begat land-dwelling creatures and the whole world was an explosion of life evolving, except for one thing; our thing. It simply sat in the water and waited until the time was right for it to find a womb to grow in. Which is fucking ridiculous, because it implies that this creature, unlike all other life on earth, popped into existence as a fully formed one-of-a-kind squid fetus with no way to propagate its species, went dormant for eons until life evolved to the point of actually having wombs, then spent the next several hundred million years crawling from one animal's womb to the next hoping this time it would be the right one. Of course, a human womb proved to be just the ticket because I'm sure Cukier and Robak thought that meant something French and artsy, except THIS FUCKING THING HAS CLEARLY HAD ALL KINDS OF CONTACT WITH HUMANS ALREADY AND HAD ROUGHLY 100,000 YEARS IN THE CRADLE OF HUMANITY ITSELF TO PICK ONE!

Then, to make matters even dumber, it explains to Yanka at the end that now it's finally had its nine months of gestation in her womb after roughly 3.8 billion years of waiting for just the right one, it needs to return to the sea so that it can evolve into its final form and prepare for conquest of the human race...IN FOUR OR FIVE MILLION MORE YEARS AFTER IT'S FIGURED OUT HOW TO GROW FUCKING LEGS! Once again, this creature has existed for almost four billion goddamn years without growing or changing so much as a single cell, and for some inexplicable reason it required gestating in the womb of another life form the existence of which it couldn't possibly have predicted, before spending another several million years willing itself to evolve into yet another form capable of taking over the planet. Uff da.

Now, you might assume on the basis of the last two paragraphs that I don't like this movie very much. I can understand how you'd get that impression, because the exposition we get about the monster is incredibly fucking stupid. However, the dialog which causes the problem can't take up more than two minutes of screen time, which makes it mercifully easy to ignore while you're enjoying the rest of the movie, and it is on the whole a highly enjoyable movie.

The performances are all pretty solid. Even the voice actors on the English dub. Especially Yanka and the creature, despite some of the idiotic shit it's given to say. In fact, I'd actually recommend watching the dub over the subtitled French version, since the Anchor Bay DVD replaces all the excised footage. In that, the voice of the creature is provided by the director (under the delightful pseudonym Roger Placenta), with some annoying digital effects added to make sure you know it's a monster talking. In the dub the voice is provided, effects-free, by none other than a pre-stardom Gary Oldman!

That excised footage I mentioned? I think a good deal of it was gore footage, because of all the things that stuck with me all those years, gore wasn't one of them. Having seen the uncut version now, I have to say this is one incredibly gory movie, and I've seen some stuff! We're talking Evil Dead levels of blood spray, easily. That's a doubly apt comparison here too, since a lot of the gore is used less to shock than to enhance the movie's pitch-black sense of humor. My favorite example is when Yanka hijacks a taxi cab, runs down a jogger with it, beats him to death with the car's onboard jack, winds up like she's aiming to kick the game-winning field goal, and punts his head clean off his shoulders, all while the cabbie is having a fit of the screaming ooperzootics in the back seat.

In short, give Baby Blood a look. If I can let the stupid monster back story go, then probably so can you, and what you'll find between those unfortunate couple of bookending minutes is a darkly funny, gore-soaked romp headed up by a sexy chick who spends a fair portion of the movie nekkid, and the rest of it chatting with Gary Oldman pretending to be a tentacled monster from the dawn of time.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things (1971)

Written by: Thomas Casey
Directed by: Thomas Casey
Abe Zwick as Paul
Wayne Crawford as Stanley
Don Craig as Hubert
Robin Hughes as Vicki

We open on the least convincing man-dressed-as-a-woman I have ever seen returning home from a shopping trip and getting bothered by his nosy neighbor Mrs. Adams (played by the unbelievably named Yanka Mann) for Aunt Martha and her nephew to have dinner with her and her daughter. Saved by the bell, “Martha” runs in to answer the telephone and discover that it's her “nephew,” Stanley, who is out with a girl, much to his phony aunt's disapproval. Aunt Martha, you see, is actually a dude named Paul. He and Stanley are criminals on the lam, hiding out in a quaint little Floridian suburb posing as nephew and aunt.

Paul relieves some of his frustration with Stanley by throwing a dart at a poster on the wall of the kitchen. This poster is maybe the oddest non sequiter in the flick. It features a naked woman wearing a cowboy hat, facing away from the camera, with lines on her body marking out different cuts of meat like one of those pictures of a cow or pig you'd see in a butcher shop, and bearing the slogan, “Break the Dull Steak Habit,” but with no indication of what the hell product or idea the image is actually trying to sell.

Out back of the house is a shed where Paul has stashed some of their stolen loot in a jewelery chest identical to one my mom has, which was a jarring thing to see in a movie like this. Paul runs out to the shed to check on their stash, and brings the jewelery box into the house so he can keep a closer eye on it. Not a bad idea, considering that the succession of girls and fellow hippies Stanley hangs out with tend to use that shed as a little pot-smoking hideaway.

One night Stanley brings a homeless junkie named Hubert home from the local diner where he and his friends hang out. He took sympathy on the old man's sob story, which will eventually be his and Paul's undoing. Hubert may be hooked on dope, but he certainly isn't one. He twigs to what's going on in the house pretty quickly and blackmails the two hoodlums for a place to sleep and three squares a day. Not a totally unreasonable request, at the end of the day.

Things start to get out of control when Stanley brings home the daughter of the diner owner and two other friends to get high and make out in the shed. It's all going very well until she tries to get in his pants. We already know from a previous romantic interlude gone tits-up in entirely the wrong way how this is going to turn out. You see, Paul and Stanley's relationship is even weirder than it looks at first. Not only are they wanted criminals posing as aunt and nephew, not only is one of them a dreadfully unconvincing cross-dresser; they're also a closeted, self-loathing, emotionally abusive May/September gay couple who may or may not actually be physical lovers. Stanley certainly likes being around women, and has no problem smooching on them some, but when things start to go south he loses his shit, as if spiders suddenly started crawling all over his dick.

After Stanley flips out on her, she starts to suspect there's more going on around the house than meets the eye and starts snooping. Hubert discovers her first an warns her that she's putting herself in danger. Sure enough, Paul overhears the conversation and follows her out to the shed where he kills her with a shovel.

Hubert doesn't know exactly what happened to the girl, but he's starting to get the idea the longer he sticks around these to wackos the more danger he'll be in himself, so he decides one day while the boys are out of the house to grab that mysterious chest Paul looks after so carefully and get the hell out of there. Paul and Stanley arrive just in time to see Hubert trying to escape with their loot and catch him as he's halfway out the door, which unfortunately coincides with Mrs. Adams bringing Stanley a birthday cake as repayment for the kindness and friendship he'd been showing her daughter of late. Things escalate quickly to include murder, suicide, and a misguided amateur C-section. I'll leave it at that and let you see for yourself, and you really, really should. Where else are you going to see one of the world's first gay relationship dramas dressed up as a crime thriller masquerading as a psychotronic grindhouse horror movie?

When you've seen enough of them, you can start to tell Florida exploitation movies apart from the rest of them. Maybe it's the humidity or something else in the air down there causing a chemical reaction with the film unique to the area, but the look of the film and the weird tint to all the colors look different from movies coming out of any other region at the time. The original print of Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things is missing and presumed lost to the ages, so the Vinegar Syndrome DVD is cleaned up from a print, but it still looks astonishingly good for a movie of this type and vintage. The only problem with that is the exhibitor who had the print to begin with seems to have gotten squeamish and cut some stuff out. There's a really awkward edit during the C-section scene that suggests it almost certainly went all the way with the gore effect, and I have a feeling it would have been incredibly disturbing. Maybe some day the negative or a more complete print will turn up and we can see this one in all its icky glory.

The performances are solid all around, especially the two leads. This is the only screen credit for Abe Zwick, which is almost certainly a pseudonym, and that is a damn shame because he's great and could have been a huge exploitation star. He displays a perfectly controlled scenery-chewing lunacy that at first looks like he's completely out of control, but the more you watch it, there are moments of restraint that make it obvious he knows exactly what he's doing at all times and it's a level of talent that's always a pleasant surprise to see in a movie like this. He could have been the Jeffrey Combs of Floridian 70's sleaze. Don Craig as Hubert actually could have used a little less restraint. He's supposed to be a junkie whose habit is so bad it cost him his job, his home, his family, and yet he delivers his lines like he's used to doing Shakespeare in the park.

The flick also features Brad Grinter of Blood Freak fame and William Kerwin of a whole bunch of H.G. Lewis movies fame, in small roles. The Florida movie scene was similar to the Norwegian black metal scene, always swapping members from existing bands to create new ones. Someone may direct one movie, then go be a grip on another movie being made by a friend, and then they both go and do lighting work for another guy. William Grefe and just about everybody else from the Florida exploitation market also did second unit work on the James Bond movie Thunderball!

This type of movie definitely isn't for everyone, but if you're reading this page already, it probably is for you. If you like to dig around at the bottom of the cinematic barrel and see what slimy surprises you can find, give Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things a look. It stands out from the Florida drive-in pack through the quality of its performances, and is such a strange melange of themes and moods and set pieces and weirdo characters, it's one you really need to experience for yourself because there's nothing else quite like it.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Transformations (1988)

Written by: Mitch Brian
Directed by: Jay Kamen
Lisa Langlois as Miranda
Rex Smith as Wolf Shadduck
Patrick Macnee as Father Cristopher
Christopher Neame as Calihan

On June 5, 1981, the CDC published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing several cases of a rare lung infection called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in otherwise healthy young gay men. The men also had other uncommon infections as well. The evidence led officials to believe something had caused the men's immune systems to shut down. It wasn't until September of 1982 that the disease, until then referred to as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, became known as AIDS. By December of that year, an infant was found to have contracted the disease through a blood transfusion and it became clear that the problem was not isolated in the gay community.

By 1988, the global battle against this nightmare disease was in full swing. U.S. Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop launched the first coordinated HIV/AIDS education campaign by mailing more than a hundred million copies of a booklet called Understanding Aids to American households, while the FDA announced that it would allow the importation of small amounts of some unapproved drugs for people with HIV/AIDS. World AIDS Day was designated by the World Health Organization and supported by the UN.

Not one to shirk his duty as an advocate for major world issues and humanitarian crises (he was, after all, the leading [and only] activist brave enough to tackle the issue of people's toys coming to life and killing their owners), Charles Band joined the fight by commissioning a script for a cheap, shitty space AIDS movie to be shot in Italy for what would barely be enough money to buy a decent house in many parts of the country.

Wolf Shadduck is a space trucker, flying a hold full of cargo from Dafuqknows to Nunnayobiznis when...something happens. It's a little hard to figure out on first watch, because the movie was re-edited and completed by a third party releasing company many years after shooting had wrapped when the IRS seized Empire Pictures' assets for back taxes owed and the company went bankrupt. The company spliced in some space ship footage borrowed from Roger Corman, and extended many of the scenes to pad the movie out to 84 minutes. We see what appears to be another ship approaching, and then a shot inside the ship of a slime-covered creature in a tattered uniform walking somewhere with great purpose, implying that the second ship is heading for Wolf's ship, piloted by a monster, with the intention of boarding him. It then appears to him as a very 80's looking woman, who proceeds to boink him silly, turning briefly back into a monster while riding him but his eyes are closed so he doesn't notice.

What actually happened is that the company who finished the movie cared even less about it than the Empire Pictures producers did, and couldn't be bothered to make sure the spaceship footage matched. There is only ever one ship, and the shots of the stalking slime-glopola monster is duplicated from a scene at the end of the movie just so the audience gets a monster right off the bat, because otherwise there's no monster until the last five minutes. We will find out later that things are, in fact, a whole lot sillier than we previously suspected.

Wolf's autopilot brings him down on a prison planet where the prisoners serve their time working a colossal strip-mining operation, overseen by a minimal staff backed up by a force of genetically engineered synthetic soldiers who serve as guards. A large staff isn't required because the massive equipment used to essentially peel an entire planet like an onion gives off such an intense electromagnetic field that any ship entering the atmosphere while it's operating will short out and crash. Supply ships are scheduled to arrive during maintenance shutdowns so they can make planetfall safely. Notice I said his ship brought him down, not landed him gently.

The crash has left Wolf with some fairly serious injuries. He regains consciousness in the infirmary under the care of Miranda, the sole medical professional on the entire planet (and really, she's not even a professional – she was born to one of the prisoners despite them all being sterilized, so the colony's real doctor took her in and raised her and taught her all he knew before dying). Before long, he's wandering around outside the infirmary against strict orders and hate-fucking prostitutes to death at the behest of the space AIDS lurking inside his festering space scrotum, at the same time that a supply ship has entered orbit for a scheduled shutdown and a small band of prisoners are planning to escape by stealing Wolf's ship.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Father Christopher, the prison chaplain, has seen something like this spreading sickness before. He encountered it on a space station he worked on decades ago, and it nearly cost him his life and his faith. You see, Wolf wasn't infected by a creature boarding his ship, as the confusingly edited opening scenes suggest. It was no space creature at all. It was, in fact, a literal demon from literal hell; a succubus intent on destroying the souls of everyone on the planet by spreading its perversity and covering everyone in pus. Kidnapping Wolf and stranding yourself in space with him is starting to look like sort of a poor decision now, huh, wannabe escapees?

According to director Jay Kamen, who seems to consider the production of this movie the worst experience of his entire life, the version of the movie available on video today bears almost no resemblance to his final cut of the movie, which was presumably destroyed when the Charles Band's Empire ended as most empires do; with the tax collectors knocking on the door. Clocking in at an already lean 84 minutes, it's a good ten minutes longer than his version (which also included a fucking musical number!) because they extended the end of almost every scene by a few seconds just to pad the movie out further. It's something that I didn't really notice until the second watch with his amusingly bewildered commentary track, but once you know what to look for it's obvious where the sloppy edits were made. Despite the fact that neither Kamen or his moderator like horror or science fiction movies or know anything about them, that commentary is worth listening to for all the gems he has to tell about the production, like how Band somehow finagled to rent Dino de Laurentiis's studio for the shoot at such a low price that Dino became enraged at how little money he was getting and completely gutted the heating and air conditioning systems before turning the building over to Band.

The performances range from perfectly profession and competent in the face of the ridiculous material (Langlois, Macnee), to what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking (mostly the dubbing crew hired to complete the Italian actors' unfinished dialog), and the effects lifted from Corman are nifty. When we finally do get the monster payoff at the end (in one of the most egregious cases of, “That doesn't look like the poster!” in film history), it looks like the FX crew somehow got a mold of the creature mask from Blood Freak and covered it in KY jelly and scraps of lunch meat.

Despite the movie gods doing their very best to smite this flick from the hearts and minds of men, here it is almost thirty years later, looking quite smashing in high definition for all its impoverishments. It's cheap and sleazy and dumb, and there's a lot of fun to be had with it. Oh, and if you were wondering, the cure for being turned into a turkey monster sex demon from outer space is being shot in the face with a flamethrower. And true love. Look, just go watch the movie.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Death Machine (1994)

Written by: Stephen Norrington
Directed by: Stephen Norrington
Brad Dourif as Jack Dante
Ely Pouget as Hayden Cale
John Sharian as Raimi
William Hootkins as Carpenter

Everyone wants to be a director. The actors, the producers, the writers, the grips and gaffers and doughnut runners from craft services; everyone thinks they can make a movie. Special effects artists are no different. Most of the directorial efforts by special effects artists tend to suggest that they're probably very good at designing special effects. Only a small handful of them have turned out to be really great: Pumpkinhead; Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake; To Catch A Yeti. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get my point. It's a short list, and among those honorable few is tonight's movie.

Stephen Norrington worked on the creature effects for quite an astonishing array of great movies, including Aliens, Alien3, Hardware, Young Sherlock Holmes, and one of my personal favorite movies ever, Split Second. After tonight's feature, he went on to direct the first Blade, and, unfortunately, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which seems to have ended his directing career. Which is a damn shame, because he showed a tremendous amount of promise as a filmmaker.

The Chaank Corporation, which specializes in military hardware and defense contracting, has been having difficulties keeping their shareholders happy lately. Stock prices keep dropping, despite the rollout of an exciting new project called Hard Man. Hard Man is one of those super-soldier programs wherein war vets who have sustained catastrophic brain damage have their memories wiped and are placed into powered armor exo-skeletons. The project has, however, gone over about as well as New Coke because the test subjects keep breaking out of the lab, causing enormous amounts of property damage, and killing innocent civilians.

Along with the public outcry over the Hard Man disasters, Chaank has also been experiencing a great deal of tumult within the company. Hard Man has been headed up by Chaank's resident mad scientist, Jack Dante, and every time someone confronts him about the project's failure, they've wound up scattered all over Chaank HQ in little pieces. Rumor has it he's been working on another project deep within the lowest levels of the R&D department, where he also lives in his weird little cyberpunk lair. It's something called a “frontline morale destroyer”, and the top brass have a feeling he's been letting it loose in the building after hours. They've brought in a corporate investigator named Hayden Cale to look into both the Hard Man failures as well as the internal killings. They're all too afraid to address the problem themselves, so they figure someone from the outside might be able to get the job done and save all their skins for them.

Cale calls for full public disclosure and the immediate termination of Dante. She goes about trying to lock him out of all the company's systems at the same time a group of activists break into the building to steal all of Chaank's private files and expose them. The group, led by Sam Raimi (yes, this is one of those movies, but it's at least a little bit clever about it – more on that later), take everyone hostage at first. It's not long before Dante escapes into his lab and sets the Warbeast loose, and their only hope for survival may be the very thing the activists came to put an end to: the malfunctioning Hard Man armor.

As I said before, this is one of those movies where all the characters are named after cult horror icons who influenced or inspired the filmmakers. However, Norrington actually makes clever use of some of his nudge-winkery. There's a scene late in the movie when Raimi fires a missile at the Warbeast, and the camera follows along hot on the projectile's exhaust trail in a shot very reminiscent of the POV shots of the evil in Evil Dead. The script is generally quite clever and blackly funny. There's some solid corporate satire stuff that manages to stand on its own two feet and not just feel like a poor man's Robo-Cop, and in the extended version currently available on YouTube, Cale gets some extra back story that her husband left her because she was giving their baby a bath in the sink and accidentally ground its arm off in the garbage disposal. Horrifying, I know, but it almost feels like it's being played for appalled laughter rather than straight up shock.

The performances are excellent across the board. Hammy where appropriate, but in a controlled and intentional way that adds to the humor. When Raimi gets strapped into the Hard Man unit and it takes control of his brain, he begins screaming all of his dialog at the top of his lungs and it's an amusing touch that they took what should be the big badass hero of the movie and made him an over-the-top shouty doofus instead. It's not surprising, considering this flick has quite the roster of character actors. Raimi is played by John Sharian, who had small parts in lots of big movies like Fifth Element and Saving Private Ryan, but he's most recognizable to us Smeg Heads as alternate Lister in the Red Dwarf episode “Back to Reality.” John Carpenter is played by the delightfully named William Hootkins, who also appeared in lots of big movies like Batman and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It also features Richard Brake, who played the ambulance driver who says, “Fuck” about five hundred times before dying in Rob Zombie's Halloween 2, and is currently the Night King on Game of Thrones, as well as being the first feature film appearance of Rachel Weisz.

Of course, the real star of the show is Brad Dourif, who is in full-on cranked-up-to-11 crazy mode here and absolutely owns every frame he appears in. I'd rather meet him in a dark alley as Charles Lee Ray than Jack Dante, honestly. Dude is bonkers.

Death Machine was a UK/Japanese co-production, and even though the only connection seems to be monetary and there's nary a Japanese name in the crew, the miniature effects shots and indeed the whole aesthetic of the movie is a lot like a Japanese sci-fi movie from the late 80's/early 90's like Gunhed or Zeiram. The Warbeast itself is awesome. It's sort of a giant metal dinosaur with Cuisinarts for hands and a three-foot hydraulic powered bear trap for a head.

This one is definitely worth your time to check out. It's a great action/horror/sci-fi genre blender and comes highly recommended by yours gruesomely. Sadly it hasn't gotten the Blu ray special edition treatment yet (and I'll damn well be the first in the checkout line when it does), but the extended cut on YouTube isn't bad as VHS rips go and hey, it won't cost you anything.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Emanuelle In Bangkok (1976)

Written by: Ottavio Alessi, Maria Pia Fusco, and Piero Vivarelli
Directed by: Joe D'Amato
Laura Gemser as Emanuelle
Gabriel Tinti as Robert
Ely Galliani as Frances
Ivan Rassimov as Prince Sanit

I've discussed in previous reviews my idea that the Emanuelle series bears a number of similarities to James Bond. I've also mentioned before that I wound up watching these things all out of order and that doing so is really not advised because these movies, to my utter shock, actually follow a logical and well-written story arc. This is the first in the series of gloriously sleazy Emanuelle movies that Laura Gemser and Joe D'Amato made together, although it's the second time that Gemser played the character more or less as we see her here.

While watching the Cannon Films documentary on Netflix recently, I had my computer in my lap with another Netflix window open adding everything they mentioned that I hadn't already seen. One of the movies that wound up on my watch list was Bolero, and there are sections of this movie that seem to have informed the latter Bo Derek vehicle, but I'll get to that later.

Investigative photojournalist Emanuelle (played once again by the ever-lovely Laura Gemser) has been sent to Madeupistan to do a story on Prince Sanit. On her journey through Madeupistan, she meets Robert (played by Gemser's real-life husband Gabriel Tinti), and his wife Frances. She also lives with a young woman in the desert for a while, which is the part that reminded me of Bolero. She gives the young woman her sexual awakening, and they ride off into the dunes with a sheik and his entourage to belly dance and puff on hookahs and have wild, off-camera group sex.

Unfortunately, also much like Bolero, this movie is pretty innocent and goofy since we're seeing Emanuelle before any of her experiences from the later movies have turned her into the jaded badass we came (huh huh huh) to know and love. With the exception of one sleazy scene where a group of Prince Sanit's men corner her in an old building and gang rape her to scare her away since their secretive boss doesn't want a photo essay of his sexual hijinks published, the movie is too unfocused and light and fluffy to hold the attention of a viewer who's expecting more than a romp.

The aforementioned scene does, however, contain the seed (huh huh huh) that will allow Emanuelle's character arc to grow through the rest of the series. It is revealed that she has something of a sexual superpower, in that with a bit of concentration she can turn any sexual encounter into a source of pleasure for her. By the time the first of the men (and D'Amato must have gone to some lengths to find the six or seven ugliest men in all of Western Europe, because these dudes are not pleasant to behold) gets on top of her, she's having a grand old time, and (once again, off camera, and praise Cthulhu for that because ten minutes of these doughy, pasty CHUDs grunting and sweating is not something I wanted to see) manages to fuck the entire group of them into submission! By the time it's all over, their leader is happy to give her all the information she wants to know about finding Sanit.

Even going in with the knowledge that this flick is not fighting in the same smut class as its successors doesn't help much to prepare you for just how dull the movie is. There are relatively un-sleazy Eurosmut movies that are still very enjoyable to watch, like Laure for example. This one is just a snooze. Unless you're a Laura Gemser completist, or just really, really desperate for some boobs (psst, you're reading this on the internet...there are places you can go for that which don't require you wade through 80 minutes of uninteresting plot), you can safely give this one a pass and start with the next entry in the series. You won't really be missing anything, and you'll have a much better time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Attack of the Killer Podcast

It is a great pleasure and an honor to announce that I have been invited to join the crew of Attack of the Killer Podcast as a full-time crew member! That doesn't mean I'm abandoning Cinemasochist Apocalypse. I'll still be keeping my erratic and lazy posting non-schedule here. Just wanted to share the good news!

I'm still plugging away at Emanuelle in Bangkok, but in the meantime, enjoy our new episode on horror documentaries!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Hellstrom Chronicle (1971)

Written by: David Seltzer
Directed by: Walon Green and Ed Spiegel
Lawrence Pressman as Dr. Hellstrom
A bunch of bugs as themselves

Tonight on June Bugs, we take a look at a movie I've been wanting to see since I found out that micro-cinematographer who shot the insect footage was Ken Middleham, who was also behind the brilliant ant scenes in Phase IV, one of my favorite science fiction movies. This flick is a bit of an odd duck. In a seeming feat of precognition, it anticipates the glut of paranormal and cryptozoological documentaries of the next decade by parodying them before they ever had a chance to make their mark on the collective pop culture psyche. Even the greatest of these, Legend of Boggy Creek, came a year after tonight's movie.

Hellstrom Chronicle purports to be a document by one Nils Hellstrom, an entomologist with some apocalyptic theories regarding man's dominance on Earth. Consisting primarily of spectacular footage of various insect species in action, it is interspersed with segments of Dr. Hellstrom living up to his infernal-sounding name by raining down verbal hellfire and brimstone about how man's time on Earth is short if he continues to destroy it. Insects, being infinitely more adaptable and having a nearly incalculable population advantage, are simply waiting in the wings to take over as the dominant life form once the folly of humankind has reduced everything else to a radioactive, glow-in-the-dark slag heap.

Both the dialog and performance during the Hellstrom segments are almost ludicrously florid and delivered with all the urgency of an alcoholic street preacher wearing a THE END IS NIGH sandwich board. Pressman overacts the hell out of his role, and looks like he might pop an aneurysm at any moment. Seltzer has said in interviews that this was intentional, that, “every third line we were elbowing the audience in the ribs.” I almost wish that wasn't the case, because I kind of like the idea of a totally earnest group of super Left-wing filmmakers trying to push their environmental message through to the bull-headed macho redneck Right by challenging their manhood. “Come on, you bunch of sissies, you don't want to lose dominance of your planet to a bunch of bugs do you? You pussy bitches better find some alternative fuels and disarm your nuclear arsenals or you're going to have to hand the reigns over to ants!”

The real reason to watch this movie is the bugs, of course. If any of you are fans of nature documentaries (and if you're not, what the hell is wrong with you?), there's a lot to love here. Particular highlights include the segment featuring carnivorous insect-eating plants, and giant Japanese hornets attacking a bee hive. The bees eventually win the day, but with massive casualties, and those hornets are fucking terrifying. Also of special interest is the segment on termite colonies; specifically the bit about how they will wall their queens up for safety when a colony is under attack, like an insect version of Poe's “Cask of Amontillado.”

That's really all I've got to say about that. It's an interesting time capsule of a movie with an intentionally goofy message, but full of spectacular photography that more than makes up for any weaknesses on the part of the narrative.