Friday, September 25, 2020

Thunder of Gigantic Serpent (1988)


Written by: Godfrey Ho (as Benny Ho) from a treatment developed by George Chu, from a story by AAV Creative Unit

Directed by: Godfrey Ho


Tracy Su Hiu-Lun as Ting Ting

Danny Lee as Dr. Lai

Pierre Kirby as Ted Fast

Edowan Bersmea as Solomon


As far as I can tell, people react in one of two ways when they hear the name Godfrey Ho. The more common reaction is to simply say, “Who?” and then immediately regret their politely feigned interest when every enthusiastic B-movie lover within earshot starts telling them all about guys named Ted with mustaches and feathered hair, wearing headbands that say NINJA on them. The other reaction, reserved for the aforementioned enthusiastic B-movie lovers, is to start giggling like a middle-schooler who just heard the phys-ed teacher say “testicles” for the first time in health class.


Ho got his start at Shaw Brothers Studios working as an assistant director for the legendary Chang Cheh, who made many of that studio’s classic martial arts movies and period dramas like FIVE VENOMS (1978), THE KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1979), and THE WATER MARGIN (1972). You’d think that working with someone who made films of that caliber would teach young Godfrey a thing or two. It would be akin to a young Ed Wood getting to work with someone like John Ford. Fortunately for us, he apparently didn’t learn a goddamn thing. His movies consistently make Wood’s worst offerings look positively competent by comparison, and are therefore consistently far more entertaining.


Partnering with Joseph Lai, who he met while working at Shaw Brothers, the two launched several companies together, including IFD FIlms, which released most of the 115+ movies he cranked out over his career. He also directed a good few pictures for Filmark International, the company run by equally notorious peddler of insane trash cinema Tomas Tang, including one of my all-time favorite batshit crazy movies, ROBOVAMPIRE (1988).


Godfrey Ho’s trademark style was to take footage from existing movies and unfinished projects, shoot new footage with a stable of poofy-haired white guys whose acting range ran from catatonia to hysteria and nothing in between, and stitch it all together with the most sublimely awful dubbing you’ll ever hear.


The main source of protein for tonight’s Frankenmovie comes from a Taiwanese flick called KING OF SNAKE (1984). Unlike most of the movies he got his hands on, KING OF SNAKE’s story seems to have made it through Ho’s cinematic mad science lab more or less intact, with only the addition of Solomon and special forces agent Ted Fast to give the already present mob plot an international flavor (and marketing angle, of course).


We are introduced in quick succession to Solomon, some manner of international criminal who wants to get his hands on a “formuler” (gotta love that Hong Kong dubbing) that will allow him to rule the world by controlling food production; Ting Ting, a precocious little girl who has an extremely intelligent pet snake with the unlikely name of Mozler (it can apparently understand human speech and respond to her by nodding its head); and finally to Dr. Lai (Infra-Man himself, Danny Lee!), inventor of that “formuler” Solomon wants to get his hands on so badly.


Dr. Lai is not a happy dude because he’s just been informed by the military officer overseeing the development of his miracle . . . whatever . . . that they are ready to take things into the animal testing phase. Lai insists the “formuler” was only meant to be used on plants to end world hunger. I guess he’s not a very imaginative guy as brilliant inventors go because I think most people would hear alarm bells if they had a magic growth ray and the army came knocking on their door talking about something called Project: Thunder.


Dr. Lai leaves the project in objection to its military use by his military financiers and the remaining scientists test the device on a frog. Wait a minute, I hear you saying. Didn’t you say they were calling it a “formuler”? Yes, I did, and yes, they were. It turns out not to be some kind of serum but a box with little lights in it. They put the frog in, it gets zapped by some animated blue lightning, and presto! Giant frog. No sooner do the scientists start to celebrate their success than a group of terrorists break into the lab and attempt to steal it for Solomon. One of the lab assistants takes the growth ray machine and high-tails it off the base while the rest stay behind to destroy their notes and make sure Solomon can’t rebuild the thing from blueprints. When it becomes clear the assistant is not going to outrun them in a car chase, she throws the box and herself out of the car and down a steep embankment. It’s a race against time, as both the army and Solomon’s goons try to find the box first.


Of course, there would be no thunder of serpents gigantic or otherwise if we had heard the last of Ting Ting and Mozler. The little girl finds the box while playing and decides it would make a fine terrarium for her snake. She turns on the lights for him before turning her attention to homework, and is shocked to find just minutes later that her foot-long pet has been replaced by a twenty-foot monster. Quickly accepting the bizarre situation as only children can, she recognizes that Mozler, who already met with disapproval from her parents when he was tiny, can no longer stay in her room. She takes him to the field she plays in where there is a shed that is apparently an abandoned TARDIS because inside it’s a huge warehouse and tells him he’ll have to stay there for the time being.


It doesn’t take Solomon’s men long to figure out where the box went but, when they go to threaten Ting Ting and her family to retrieve it, they are met with resistance in the form of an angry and protective Mozler. Momentarily forgetting they are a terrorist organization possessing enough ordnance to do battle with an actual army, they come up with an unreasonably complicated plan to lure Mozler into some kind of electrified enclosure and fry him.  The dose of high voltage has an unexpected effect on his already unstable molecular structure and causes him to grow (no one actually says anything by way of an explanation for Mozler’s growth spurt but, when you watch this kind of movie, you frequently have to do a lot of the heavy lifting yourself).


Will Ting Ting and her family escape Solomon’s clutches with their lives? Will Mozler find true love? Did the filmmakers include actual footage stolen from MOTHRA (1961) because they thought the last half of the movie was too subtle a ripoff? Are the Sons of Anarchy really in charge of the Republic of China Army? The answers to these questions and many more in the -- uh...sure, I guess we’ll go with thrilling -- conclusion of THUNDER OF GIGANTIC SERPENT!


OK, let’s address that Sons of Anarchy reference first. It almost beggars belief that the cheapest, silliest thing about one of Godfrey Ho’s movie’s wasn’t Godfrey Ho’s doing, but seeing is believing. The uniforms of the Republic of China Army in KING OF SNAKE are represented by generic camouflage fatigues with the wrong pattern on them and red berets not at all like any headgear worn by active duty soldiers that I’ve been able to find. Parade uniform, maybe, but why would they be wearing dress hats with combat uniforms? If any of you out there are military buffs and can tell me different, please do. One of the most fun things about doing this is the learning and the research. Whatever other inaccuracies there may be, however, I feel confident in my assertion that the ROC Army most certainly did not festoon their headgear and clothing with fucking Harley-Davidson patches. They didn’t even bother to color in the logo! I was willing to give them the benefit of doubt, assuming we were all here for the giant snake and not nitpicking a few little patches, but there are scenes in the army HQ with a giant goddamn Harley-Davidson stencil on the wall!


Speaking of the giant snake, how does this flick hold up in the company of its more famous kaiju eiga brethren from farther East? It goes without saying that it’s not punching in remotely the same weight class as even the cheapest of Toho’s offerings but I’d say it’s not too far off from a TAEKOESU YONGARY(1967) aka YONGARY, MONSTER FROM THE DEEP  or a DAIKYOJ┼¬ GAPPA (1967) aka GAPPA, THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER. The snake itself bends and crumples in some unfortunate ways here and there but, overall, the puppet is decent. Where the effects sequences really shine, though, is in the miniature work. The model buildings and most of the vehicles are very well made and detailed, although they have a bizarre tendency to violently explode when Mozler so much as brushes against them.


So, is it worth checking out? I certainly had fun with it, and I watched it solo and sober. I wouldn’t necessarily advise you do the same but, if you want to have a few laughs at an atrocious dub and a supremely silly script, some godawful hammy acting, and a surprisingly unembarrassing monster rampage finale, then grab some friends and some brews and fire up YouTube. If you can read Cyrillic, you can even follow along with the burned-on Russian subtitles and see how far astray the HK dubbing crew went from the actual script (assuming the Russian subtitler gave any more of a shit about it than they did)

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Leash

The biggest drag being a writer is the submission process. Trying to find markets that seem like a good fit for a story, sending them off, waiting weeks or months to hear back from an editor (assuming they ever bother to respond at all). It really kills the creative spirit to see something you put a lot of hard work into languishing on your hard drive. Especially if it's something like this story, which means a lot to me. So, I decided to try an experiment with self-publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing. It's not quite the same rush as seeing your work in print on the physical page, but boy howdy that instant gratification of seeing it available almost immediately is no small thing either.

The first story I ever published was inspired by my paternal grandfather, and I wanted to do something for my maternal grandfather as well. This was inspired by a trick leash he had as part of his magic act when I was little. I think it's one of the better things I've written. If you're so inclined, check it out. I hope you like it too.

The Leash

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

I Still Function

Megatron's immortal words from quite possibly the greatest animated film of all time. It's been over half a year since I updated here. Good grief. For anyone wondering (or even still checking in every so often), I'm not done. Far from it. In fact, the reason for the long stretch of quiet is that I've been concentrating on a new gig as a contributor to no less a publication than the mighty Scream Magazine! Needless to say I've spent a good deal more time and effort making sure the pieces are exhaustively researched and edited to a much higher standard than the drunken buffoonery that so often drips from these pages, and so I haven't created any new Cinemasochist Apocalypse content in quite some time. One day things will settle down and I'll return with new material. In the mean time, I'll post links for my Scream articles as they become available.
Thanks for sticking around, boils and ghouls. 20 years of doing this and it never gets old.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Delirio caldo/Delirium (1972)

Written by: Renato Polselli
Directed by: Renato Polselli (as Ralph Brown)
Mickey Hargitay as Dr. Herbert Lyutak
Rita Calderoni as Marzia Lyutak
Raul Loveccio as Inspector Edwards
Christa Barrymore as Joaquine

In a small rural pub, a woman bearing more than a passing resemblance to Brooklyn 99 star Chelsea Peretti selects a song on a jukebox, then makes a phone call to a friend claiming to be at a night club. Why she feels the need to trick her friends into thinking she's already at the club she will shortly be trying to find her way to, I have no idea. The conversation is overheard by a creepy leering fellow (Mickey Hargitay, who at this point in his life is looking less like an oiled-up Adonis and more like what would happen if Howard Vernon was exposed to a dose of gamma radiation), who happily offers the girl a ride to the club. Oblivious to the flashing neon signs screaming that this is a bad idea, she hops in his car and only begins to realize her mistake when they head out of town in the wrong direction, with Sleazy McRapewhistle ogling her legs the whole time. When she panics and asks to be let out, he concedes, then chases her to a nearby river. The river proves to be too shallow to successfully drown her, so he beats her to death with a rock.

When the body is found the next day, the police call in their trusted forensic specialist, Dr. Herbert Lyutak, who should have plenty of insight into the case since he's the one who did the murdering! Of course, the cops have no idea, but his wife Marzia certainly does. Finding the bloodied clothes of your husband's victims hidden around the house will rouse one's suspicions. She is less upset about it than you'd expect, which is to say it seems to turn her on.

Herbert, you see, is impotent. He kills pretty young women out of frustration that he cannot please his gorgeous but virginal wife. He attempts to convince her they should divorce because of his inadequacies, to which she responds by – and I don't really know how better to explain it – playing a game of violent psychosexual chicken. I mean, what would you call knowingly seducing a guy who is literally driven to murder because he's incapable of having sex? He nearly chokes her to death before he manages to control himself, but what about next time?

To Herbert's surprise, there really does appear to be a second killer at work in the area, targeting similar victims but with a different MO. Twice now, he's given the police a time and location he predicts another killing will take place, and on both occasions he got the first two factors right (of course he did, he was the one planning the murders), but another victim was killed in the area just before he struck. He's as stumped as the police about that, but is smart enough not to lick a gift horse in the mouth. Lyutak uses his position with the police to continue his murder spree, now with the added bonus of pinning the crimes on John Lacey, the parking lot attendant of the bar where he picked up the girl at the beginning, and who also had the bad luck to be taking a shit in the bushes at the park where the second murder occurred at the time of the crime. It's an easy sell, as he's an abrasive jerk and possibly the sweatiest, guiltiest looking man in all of Italy.

Sweaty he may be, but guilty he is not, and John is none too happy to have a bunch of murders suddenly dropped on his doorstep just because he has overactive sebaceous glands and a less than sunny disposition. Since the police refuse to listen to a word he says, John decides to take matters into his own hands and break into the Lyutak mansion to look for some evidence he can use to exonerate himself. He finds more than he bargained for when he discovers a masked and gloved assailant in the process of asphyxiating Lolel, the Lyutaks' housekeeper, with poison gas in the basement torture dungeon (what, you don't have one of those?) and almost succumbs to the fumes himself. He manages to get out alive and call the police, who trace the call and are stunned to discover he's been telling the truth all along. They rush to the Lyutak residence to discover a bloodbath of love, jealousy, and betrayal.

There is a lot to unpack with this movie. Right from the start it handily shrugs off the simple label of giallo, because we know who the killer is inside of five minutes. Not long after that, the classic faceless black-gloved murderer does make an appearance, with the added twist that the killer whose identity is already known now has to solve an additional murder mystery! Like most movies of this ilk, it takes a good long while to get where it's going, but when the pieces finally start coming together, it makes even the more sexually deviant examples of the genre like Lizard In A Woman's Skin or Deep Red look tame by comparison.

The Italian title of the movie is Delirio caldo, which translates as Hot Delirium. That explains a few things. Peppered throughout the movie are BDSM dream sequences involving Herbert, Marzia, Lolel, and – here's where it gets weird – Herbert's niece Joaquine. The first such scene involves all three women writhing on the ground while Herbert looms over them, leering and accosting them with whips and chains. The second, and I believe most important (although it took two viewings of the movie to make it click for me), sees Marzia and Herbert manacled to opposite walls while Lolel and Joaquine have sex in the middle of the room. Eventually Marzia manages to break free of her chains and join them, while Herbert looks on in anger and frustration. The meaning becomes clear once we find out those extra murders were the work of Marzia.

Even by the standards of Italian horror flicks, her and Herbert's relationship is appallingly unhealthy, but she really does love him and does everything she can think of to keep him out of prison. Still, a woman has needs, not all of which can be satisfied by love alone. To satiate the carnal side of things, Marzia has found solace with her niece, and that chain-breaking sex scene represents her shrugging off the limitations of monogamy with someone who shoots pool with a rope while still keeping it in the family. These things are not known for their happy endings though, are they? Despite Joaquine's declarations of love for her and warnings that Herbert is an opportunistic shitbird who will happily sell her out to the police in exchange for his own freedom, Marzia outs herself to Herbert and begs him for a new start. It's not long before everyone is swinging flails and battle axes at each other (Mickey Hargitay says Christa Barrymore got a little carried away and clocked him in the face with the flail for real and you can definitely see it make contact with his head during the scene) and it all ends in tears and blood.

It's a damn shame Rita Calderoni didn't have a more successful film career. Born in 1951 in a Genoan municipality called Rossiglione, she grew up wanting to be a dancer and studied the art for five years in Genoa until her family moved to Udine. If Italy is shaped like a leg in a boot, they moved from the hip to the crotch, geographically speaking. Not comparing Udine to an actual crotch. It might be very nice there. I digress. Anyway, by the time of the move, it was apparent she was going to be well above average height for a dancer and so she turned her physical prowess toward semi-professional basketball! After being discovered by director Sergio Pastore in 1967, she had a film career which packed over 30 movies into just 16 years, at least four or five of which were working with Renato Polselli. For whatever reason, she never got much mainstream traction, and despite being every bit as stunning as more well-known cult and genre film actresses like Edwige Fenech or Soledad Miranda, appeared in too few genre movies to be as well-remembered (although she was in the unforgettably titled Nude For Satan, and that should count for something, dammit!).

Not only did she have the looks, she was also a fine actress. Sure Marzia murdered the shit out of several innocent people, but Calderoni manages to make her a character of great sympathy in spite of that. A grown woman with a grown woman's needs, married too early and frozen in the chaste flush of adolescent infatuation with a man who not only is unable to satisfy her as an adult, but is fearsomely dangerous besides. Torn between the desire to hang on to the fading memory of giddy youthful love and the need to shake off the horror her life has become and find happiness, she makes the wrong choices at every opportunity until the avalanche has built up so much momentum nothing in the world could keep her from being buried and taking everyone else with her.

When the movie was picked up for distribution in the states by Cinamerica International, the producers decided it needed some more action to make it attractive to American audiences. Bookend scenes which also appear in snippets of flashback were concocted by Polselli and Hargitay making Herbert a Viet Nam veteran wounded in battle, with Rita Calderoni and Raul Loveccio as medevac chopper officers. Instead of the baroquely tragic original conclusion, these extra sequences end things with the thrice-damned “it was all a dream” device. The English language cut also trims up the run time while adding a new character named Bonita, and here's where it gets interesting.

Bonita is Joaquine's sister, and in this version is the one who first figures out what's going on and is killed by Herbert, inciting Joaquine's wrath and prompting her to attack Herbert with a flail, leading into the climactic three-way bloodbath. They then re-dubbed much of the dialogue during the final confrontation to remove any mention of the relationship between Joaquine and Marzia and replace it with Joaquine screaming, “You killed my sister!” over and over. By the time Delirium came out, exploitation and horror films were already taking a slow turn toward the mean and salacious, but it would still be a few years before movies like Last House on the Left really cranked the wheel and jackknifed the morality of genre entertainment off a cliff and censors threw up their hands in disgust and went home for a couple decades. There was plenty of nudity and violence in the movie that remained intact, but it would seem that in 1972 we weren't quite ready for an incestuous semi-lesbian serial-killing love triangle that ended with all three participants beating each other to death with medieval weapons in a sex dungeon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980)

Written by: Joe D'Amato
Directed by: Joe D'Amato

George Eastman as Larry
Laura Gemser as Luna
Mark Shannon as John Wilson
Dirce Funari as Fiona

Genital warts were first described in medical writings dating all the way back to ancient Greece, although it wasn't until 1907 that it became clear to the world of medical science that they were caused by some form of virus, and not until the mid-1980s that a German virologist by the name of Harold zur Hausen linked several strains of the human papillomavirus to increased risk of cervical cancer. There are over 170 known strains in the papillomavirus family, roughly 40 of which can be transmitted through sexual contact.

In the late 70s, researchers in Rome working with a particularly aggressive strain accidentally exposed a specimen to what should have been a lethally high dose of ionizing radiation. Amazingly, the specimen seemed to thrive. Keeping the mutant strain of HPV under close observation, the researchers were shocked when, in the space of a few months, the specimen had attained first sentience, then sapience. Despite the research team's best efforts to keep their folly under wraps, it sprouted an enormous mustache and broke free of the lab after a terrible struggle that left two of the scientists and one security guard in a state of permanent sexual arousal and, unfortunately, gibbering insanity. Attempting to fit into society, avoid its captors, and propagate itself the best way it knew how, the specimen joined the Italian pornographic film industry under the assumed name of Mark Shannon.

John Wilson is a rich, womanizing real estate developer who has just purchased a piece of tropical paradise called Cat Island, which he plans to bulldoze into the ground, pave the whole thing, and turn it into a tacky luxury hotel. He's having the devil's own time trying to get someone to take him out to the island to survey his new fiefdom, however. Even the whores he is definitely not paying enough to play with his horrible, festering balls won't stick around when he tells them what he's up to. In fact, they flee his suite at the mere mention of Cat Island without bothering to collect their pay.

Fortunately for him and his awful swamp sack, there's one woman in the building willing to put up with a little superstition and a lot of penicillin in order to land herself what every girl dreams about; a hunky dude with a bottomless wallet and a batch that looks like an old potato was dipped in Drakkar Noir and rolled in a pile of Rice Crispies. Fiona picks up right where the two hookers left off, and the next morning she and John head off to find the one boat captain brave enough to take them to Cat Island. You see, the locals call it that because they believe the island is overrun with a horde of zombies, who are led by an adorable little black kitty because...I dunno. Because Italy.

The couple find Larry polishing his poop deck and John offers him a pile of money to make the trip solo, since his deck hands won't have anything to do with the island. Larry agrees, and the following day the trio hoist the mainsail on the Sloop John HPV and head off for adventure. It's a little unclear as to what John plans to accomplish on the island by himself. There isn't a lot to see other than sand and trees, he has no surveying equipment, and he's not exactly prepared to break ground on the new resort. He basically spends his time wandering around the forest while Fiona hits on Larry, until a spooky chick named Luna and her weird uncle with a giant cyst on his forehead show up and warn them that if they don't leave the island immediately, they will face unspeakable horror and death. John has too much money sunk into the island to give it up, a few ambulatory corpses hold no terror for Fiona because she's already had John's pustulent package all up in her business, and if need be Larry could punch the antlers off a moose, so they'll be staying the night, thank you very much.

Sure enough, before long the wrathful cat has the zombies up and shambling because as all evil development moguls must learn, sooner or later, the pussy grabs back. Luna has taken a liking to Larry during the numerous late night sexcapades that have filled most of the run time, and gives him a talisman that will keep the zombies from killing him. It performs its function well enough, but seeing a bunch of carnivorous cadavers chewing on his chums has done a number on Larry's lobes (of the brainular variety, that is). When the rescue team finally arrives, they have no choice but to cart the poor bugger off to the asylum, where he spends the rest of his days banging nurses and chewing on orderlies.

Even with as little time as I took describing the plot, I feel I may have oversold how much story this movie actually has. It is first and foremost a sex film, which aside from the bare minimum of containing sex, it completely fails at being. Despite containing a number of attractive women, this movie is about as arousing as watching a bowl of cereal slowly get soggy and puffy from absorbing all the milk. It is a horror film second, and only marginally more successful at this than an average episode of the Wiggles. There is a little bit of gore, and simply by dint of being Italian and filmed in the late 70s it captures a little of that inimitable atmosphere that made all such movies a genre unto themselves. At the end of the day, I can sit through anything from that period and find something to enjoy.

What I can't enjoy is the fact that this movie is TWO FUCKING HOURS LONG! With enough action and story to fill out twenty minutes if we're being generous, it is inexcusable that Joe D'Amato took only marginally less time to tell it than goddamn Infinity War. I consider myself a fan of D'Amato's work (it's Cinemasochist Apocalypse after all), but even I found this a hard pill to swallow. Of course, I'll be swallowing a lot of pills in the future, having spent as much time as I just did in the company of Mark Shannon's purulent pubic pendants.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Amazon Hot Box (2018)

Written by: James Bickert and Brian K. Williams
Directed by: James Bickert

Ellie Church as Inga Von Krupp
Tristan Risk as Val
Jett Bryant as himself
Kelsey Carlisle as Penny

Would you believe the first women in prison movie was nominated for no fewer than three Academy Awards? The first movie set almost entirely in a women's prison, anyway. By the time Caged was released in 1950, movies with incarcerated females as at least a major plot point had been hitting screens for almost 20 years. Funny that the genre's first step towards the bottomless chasm of sleaze it would leap eagerly into feet first in the 1970s also garnered it mainstream critical praise for the first time.

Men's magazines, not subject to the same strict regulations as the film industry, were already delving into full-on exploitation territory with women in prison stories around the same time. Incarcerated women enduring human rights violations for the entertainment of the masses can be traced at least as far back as the 18th century, with Denis Diderot's novel La Religieuse (The Nun for you non-French speakers) in 1796, but if you want to get persnickety about it (and I like being persnickety), that's the beginning of the nunsploitation subgenre and only a close relation of the standard women in prison flick, which tend to have little or no religious imagery or themes.

As the 60's rolled along and censorship restrictions began to roll back, filmmakers started to get a little more adventurous with the possibilities of the format. Then in 1969, Jess Franco (because of course it was Jess Franco) and Harry Alan Towers released 99 Women to considerable financial success and the floodgates opened. Still fairly tame by the standards of what would be released less than a decade later, 99 Women featured at least embryonic versions of what are now recognizable as most of the major tropes of the genre.

Once exploitationeers caught wind of the money to be made, it was off to the races. Anyone who could get their hands on a camera, a gross building in a jungle, and a handful of women willing to bare it all for gold and glory was turning out their own women in prison flick. Incidentally, did you know that Roger Corman can smell a single penny on the ground from up to three miles away? Scientific fact. The genre in its purest form had quite a long run in its original heyday, finally fizzling out in the early 90s, although its influence can still be seen today in the popularity of things like Orange is the New Black. Like any deliciously icky exploitation subgenre, it still has its devoted group of degenerate fans, and of course that's why we're here today.

Penny is a student activist, and she isn't having a very good day. We meet her chained to two other women, all three of them being hauled off to jail on trumped up drug charges in the totally not made up South American nation of Rattica. Judging from the other two women's reactions to the situation, this isn't their first ride in the clown car of banana republic justice. Once the women have been issued their regulation coffee cup, cockroach, and I-can-see-your-labia short prison dresses, Penny discovers that the surly and unpleasant guards are going to be far from her biggest problem. The jail is all but run by badass inmate Val, with Tristan Risk doing her best wild-eyed sneering Lina Romay impression (her introductory scene is even a direct reference to Romay's role in Greta the Mad Butcher, and of course that's far from the last reference to WIP movies that this genre love letter will serve up).

Elsewhere in the prison, the adorably befuddled Jett Bryant is trying to figure out just how his last drug smuggling run went so massively pear-shaped that he wound up as Rattica's latest puppet president, held under guard by the most laid-back military dictator in history (imagine Fidel Castro as played by Tommy Chong on sleeping pills and you'll be getting close to the mark). And because it is a direct violation of international law to make a women in prison movie and not have the prison doctor be a sadistic mad scientist, Inga von Krupp is hosting her old mentor Dr. Greeley (Paul McComiskey from Dear God No!) to compare notes and see whose method of torture is the most effective. A fourth subplot involving an American covert ops organization called KS-13 trying to assassinate Jett Bryant to destabilize the Rattican government before it can completely recover from the last coup sort of ambles alongside everything else without accomplishing much until it's time for everything to come to an explosive head after 80-or-so minutes of torture and nekkid catfights and the antics of what is possibly the most lovable duo in exploitation film history.

I was of two minds when I watched this movie the first time around. Of course I was excited that some of my favorite indie filmmakers were doing a women in prison movie, but I think I was expecting something closer to the 70s filth I'm used to. There is a ton of humor in this movie, and it rather blindsided me. After watching it again with the commentary track on, I realized that was precisely the right choice to make. The world already has one Bare Behind Bars. What it didn't have until now was an Abbott and Costello style routine done by a sleepy South American dictator and Zakk Wylde's cool uncle. Among the goals Bickert stated for making this movie was doing a WIP flick with no rape in it. That is a welcome omission, and between that and the humor, this movie becomes something much more special and interesting and downright fun than it ever could have been as just another dreary parade of atrocities.

Most of the switches in tone are handled with a deftness that appears as simplicity on first viewing, but when you see it a couple of times it becomes apparent just how artfully it's done. Using humor to break up the brutality also helps to highlight just how good Bickert and Williams are at the latter as well. Particularly the fight between Penny and Charli (Alyss Winkler), and the death of Inga von Krupp. Speaking of Inga, this is a great performance from Ellie Church. She's definitely the standout actor in the bunch. Inga is obviously an homage to Ilsa, but there are as many differences as similarities. Inga is scarier and more driven than Ilsa, less a power-mad sex predator than a Cenobite. Her obsession with the effects of pain and pleasure come to a head when she realizes that her time is done, and her final act is to bond with her torture machine. Church sells the hell out of the ecstasy she derives from her demise.

Thinking of demises and handling of tone, if I was expecting a whole movie of 70s film pastiche, the ending makes it very clear they could have delivered exactly that had they chosen to do so. The haunting, melancholic feel of the 70s mini-apocalypse ending (I hesitate to call it a downer, as at least some of the people who deserve to make it out alive do) is reproduced to perfection. I mentioned Ellie Church before, but Tristan Risk makes Va's death scene just as affecting. We got to see a side of Val just minutes before that showed her cruel nature was a survival instinct brought out by prison life, and somewhere in all that tough-as-nails armor there was still a decent person who almost had a chance to see the light again before the bombs started falling. As we see the characters succumbing to their fates, the whole thing is set to an eerie, depressive piece of music not a hundred miles away from Riz Ortolani's Cannibal Holocaust theme.

Of course with a movie made so quickly for so little money, it's not entirely a home run. While our stars all bring their A-game, some of the other performers are awkward and amateurish, and there are some pretty unfortunate digital effects. I could also have done without the zombie subplot, as it doesn't really go anywhere or serve any purpose beyond adding a little extra gore that could easily have been thrown in without the inclusion of the walking dead. I think it would have been more interesting to have Inga experimenting on the former Rattican president while he still had his wits about him and see him cringing and gibbering in a cage robbed of his humanity. It would have made her character that much more menacing.

Minor quibbles, all, and things that simply come with the territory in modern low budget genre movies. There's so much to love here, because the filmmakers clearly love what they're doing. If they chose to skimp on a few effects shots to make sure their cast and crew were well fed and taken care of (which Bickert says on the commentary is exactly what they did), then more power to them. I've never seen a movie I didn't like from this bunch, and it's safe to say I'm a fan for life. Make sure you snag a copy if and when it hits retail, and keep an eye out on social media so you can back their next Kickstarter project and get in on the fun!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Bone Yard (1991)

Written by: James Cummins

Directed by: James Cummins

Ed Nelson as Jersey Callum
Deborah Rose as Alley Oates
Normal Fell as Shepard
Denise Young as Dana
Phyllis Diller as Mrs. Poopinplatz

It's probably just a function of the fact that we live in a golden era of cult movies getting great releases, but it seems like lately every time I hear a movie mentioned on another show or we talk about one on Attack of the Killer Podcast lamenting that it's not out on Blu-ray, within a month Scream Factory or Vinegar Syndrome or someone announces it's on their release schedule. A while back, Matt Weinhold of Monster Party brought this one up, and I had never heard of it but it sounded like something right up my alley. I had planned to look it up on YouTube, but sure enough, just a few days later Code Red announced a disc coming in a few months.

Jersey Callum is a detective with a problem, and the solution lies in psychic Alley Oates, who has helped the department on several tough cases in the past. Unfortunately, the problem involves yet another batch of murdered children and the solutions Alley has provided in the past left her raddled with so much PTSD that she can't even get out of bed long enough to wash the dishes anymore.

A flareup of psychic activity draws Alley back in for one more case, and she and Callum head off to the local mortuary to examine the bodies of three children said to have been kept locked in a local doctor's cellar and fed on human cadavers before he finally murdered them and turned himself in. The doctor keeps claiming that they weren't children at all, but ancient demons called kyoshi that were bonded to his family centuries ago. Of course, no one believes him and he kills himself rather than face the consequences of his actions. No, not the consequences of murdering three children. The consequences of trying to duck out of his hereditary curse. Those three tiny corpses aren't nearly as dead as everyone thinks, and they certainly aren't human children. They are, however, getting rather peckish...

I've said it before, and this certainly won't be the last time: one of the great joys of being a devotee of weird cinema is discovering movies that can still surprise you. I fully expected this to have been adapted from a 70s or 80s pulp horror novel like the ones featured in Grady Hendrix's indispensable Paperbacks from Hell, and was surprised to discover it was an entirely original project by first-time feature director Cummins. The story of the production is so cut-and-dry, it was almost disappointingly boring. Cummins approached producer Richard Brophy with a script, Brophy liked it, they raised the money and made the movie. The only major setbacks seem to have been not getting Clu Gulager and Alice Cooper as their first choices to play Callum and Shepard respectively.

While it does suffer from some odd pacing at times, there's a lot here to love. One of my favorite touches is Dana, a woman brought into the mortuary as a suicide, who turns out not to have done a very good job at it and wakes up in a very unexpected place amidst the demon-fueled insanity. Most of the performances are solid, with one of the odd low points being Phyllis Diller. By all accounts she had a good time making the movie, but her line delivery is often weird and unnatural, like it was her first time in front of the camera. Part of that could just be the editing, as there are a lot of takes with all of the characters that need a few seconds trimmed off either end.

Let's be honest, though, we don't watch these movies for the stellar performances. The makeup on the three demon children would be shockingly good for a movie ten times more expensive than this. They look more like Aztec mummies than your bog standard zombie, and although the masks are pretty inexpressive, that somehow serves to make them creepier rather than fake-looking. Then there are the other monsters. When injured or destroyed, the demons expel copious amounts of disgusting snot custard which, if it gets in your mouth or eyes or an open wound or whatever, causes normal living creatures to become hulking mutant hell-beasts. Say what you will about the rest of the movie, there's nowhere else you're going to see a bunch of people trapped in a morgue being attacked by a 10-foot tall Phyllis Diller Garbage Pail Kid monster and her mutant zombie were-poodle. In what is hands down my favorite part of the movie, when the latter beast smashes its way through a door to menace our heroes, Dana bursts into laughter for a moment before sobering up and fleeing the danger. She has, after all, had a rather strange evening and it's a wonderfully realistic acknowledgment of the absurdity of their situation without resorting to winking at the camera.

While it's nice to have something different than just another bunch of zombies, it seems that rather than do any research into Japanese folklore, Mr. Cummins just picked the first Japanese word that he liked the sound of and went with that as the name of his monsters. Kyoshi is a real word, but it has sweet fuck all to do with demons. It's a fairly common Japanese name, but it has another meaning in the world of games such as shogi (basically Japanese chess) and go (an immensely complicated chess-like strategy game created over 2,500 years ago, considered one of the four essential arts by Chinese scholars of antiquity and thought to be the oldest board game in existence that is still being played today) as well as cultural activities like flower arranging and tea ceremonies, but most famously, martial arts.

The dan system of ranking was first used at a go school during the Edo period (1603 – 1868, the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate), and was later adopted into kendo and karate, as well as a host of other martial arts all around Asia. It is represented by a series of different colored belts, each symbolizing levels of achievement. Kyoshi, specifically, is quite a high level – a 7th or 8th degree black belt. The “kyo” means “professor” or “philosopher”, so a person of this level is now ready to teach the philosophy of martial arts as well as the physical parts. Callum and Oates could have used a couple of black belts to help them fight whatever the hell those ghouls actually are. I'm sure there is a creature that roughly corresponds to a zombie child that vomits toxic sludge capable of mutating normal humans and animals into giant monsters somewhere in the annals of Japanese demonology, but damned if I have the time to read down that list and find it!