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Something Weird (1967)
Something for Every HGL Fan
In some ways, this is H.G. Lewis's "Citizen Kane." He let himself truly express himself in this one, unrestrained by conventions of logic or continuity. It actually has more special effects than most of his movies and less of them are gore than in most of the non-adult movies as well. The levitation scene is amazing low budget filmmakers had been levitating people more effectively than that since Melies but then he tops everything with the "blanket attack" sequence. Lewis must have been reading Leary, because he allows that LSD could be used for a peaceful purpose, although of course he also gives us a typical 60s "freakout" on top of it (acid can be used for good, but it has to hurt, I guess). This is a movie for a very special audience, which thankfully has found it.
The Exterminator (1980)
Vigilante Fantasy with Some Ideas
This post-"Death Wish" vigilante fantasy film is also symptomatic of America's identity crisis over Vietnam. Particularly the unedited director's cut makes Vietnam into a central motif the men who were in Nam can trust one another, regardless of which side of the law they work, but cannot ultimately trust anyone else. The former War Protester love interest problematizes this nicely for the cop hero, who must decide whether his loyalty is to her and the law or to the comrade-in-arms who has become a killer of the criminals he is powerless to stop. Something about Ginty as the vigilante does work, he's "nice" enough that at times we identify with him, but also remote and isolated enough that we can believe him as he becomes increasingly violent and sadistic in living out our fantasies of revenge. Nice use of New York locations, especially Central Park, the Battery, and the old Meat-Packing district (back before it was all trendy nightclubs).
Satanis: The Devil's Mass (1970)
No surprises, but good enough
This movie doesn't contain much that's really exciting, much less surprising, about the early Church of Satan, but it does show LaVey and his cronies at a time when he was still optimistic and not cynical about the future of his organization. There are also great shots of the Black House during its heyday (before the "androids" took over) and some interesting footage of Togare the lion. The filmmakers seem to have decided that Satanism wasn't as shocking as they'd hoped, so they went for humor where possible, and that wears thin after a while. The interviews where LaVey speaks for himself are fairly good, but the interviews with other Church members are annoying and at times you can see the embarrassment on Anton's face when someone else speaks nobody in this film, aside from LaVey and his family, went on to become any kind of leader in the tiny marginalized world of the Left Hand Path, and that should tell you something about the quality of membership in SF at the time. I still find it an interesting piece, but I think about 40 minutes could be shaved off without losing anything.
River's Edge (1986)
Thoughtful Effective, and Funny
In many ways, this movie defined what I was not at the time suburban, stoned, a metalhead and it was an opportunity for me to feel moral superiority over "normal" American teenagers. But, I think that I was drawn in on a similar level to the movies I identified with more closely from the punk world ("Repo Man," "Sid & Nancy," "Suburbia"), which were themselves fairly critical adult statements about youthful apathy. This movie offers a kind of uncertain hope in the form of Keanu Reeves' character (and he's never been better), but in the end we begin to wonder if he did the right thing for the right reasons, or sort of blundered into it the way Crispin Glover blunders into a fanatical dedication to being wrong. It does remain thoughtful, if scary, and effective on other levels as well, including humor, oddly enough.
Bob Clark before he was family-friendly
Bob Clark will probably always be remembered for directing and producing "A Christmas Story," (or in some circles for the "Porky's" movies), but for me he is the director of "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things" and the producer of this odd little gem. In spite of the lurid subtitle, there is no on screen depiction of anything like necrophilia, just a very matter-of-fact retelling of the story of Ed Gein, backed by a sparse organ score. There are elements of black humor, as when the ghoul tells the corpse of his mother that he thinks that maybe a woman he recent met "isn't quite all there" because she talks to her dead husband in séances. Mostly though, the very convincing portrayal by Roberts Blossom makes this an effective and interesting movie, better - in my humble opinion - than the better-known "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" which came out the same year and claimed to tell the same story (it didn't).
OK, but hardly solid history
Most of the narrative to this is a simplification of Nicholas Goodricke-Clark's book "The Occult Roots of Nazism." That's probably why it isn't awful - Goodricke-Clark did a good job on fact-checking and avoided conspiracy theory to look at some of the more esoteric origins of National Socialist ideology. The first problem is that there isn't much visual evidence to support this a documentary has little to do except show images from roughly the same era and allow implied connections with the narrative. But, the real problem here is that this documentary in general falls into the category of "Fascinating Fascism," to use Susan Sonntag's term. It is a parade of old propaganda images that attempts to justify its existence by drawing connections between Blavatsky and Crowley and the NSDAP that are tenuous at best. Concepts are undefined (what does it mean that "Rudolf Hess was a convinced mystic" by the time he met Adolf Hitler?). Influences are exaggerated (Goodricke-Clark discusses Guido von List's tiny religion, the film implies that millions of German soldiers in WWI believed it). There are few outright distortions, but this should be seen more as entertainment than as scholarship.
Bride of the Gorilla (1951)
Great Cast Saves Simple Movie
To my mind, this is a really great cast: Lon Chaney, Jr., Raymond Burr, Tom Conway, and a young Woody Strode. In spite of the poverty-row level of production and a flawed script, these guys give it their best and deliver. The female lead, Barbara Peyton, isn't functioning on the same level, nor is her rival, Carol Varga, but Gisela Werbisek as an ancient witch-woman gives us at least one great female performance. This is not, by the way, the same as the Ed Wood-scripted "Bride and the Beast," about a woman who lusts after a gorilla. No, this woman betrays her husband for a man who is "little more than a beast" and then watches as her new lover transforms, little by little, into an ape. Or maybe not. It all may be (seems to be?) in his head, a guilt-complex over committing murder, and all that 50s psycho-babble. It's fun, but not really a proper monster movie. Know that going in and you may enjoy.
The Amazing Transplant (1970)
Odd Reflection on Sex from another Age
This is a movie about a man's penis, however that penis is never shown (what would Lacan say?). It falls into the category of "roughie," which is to say that the plot makes it sound nastier than what we actually see on the screen. Essentially, Arthur, a young virginal man who envies his friend's sexual prowess arranges to have the friend's penis transplanted to his own body when the friend conveniently dies of a rare virus. Having heard that his friend was really into women with gold earrings, Arthur finds that he can no longer control himself when any woman wears gold earrings, and he assaults them, rapes them, and sometimes kills them (it's not clear why he kills some and not others, except that some of them have to survive to tell the tale or the plot doesn't work). Of course, this being a smut film, all the women Arthur encounters wearing gold earrings are of course young and pretty. The rapes are also fairly tame, even by roughie standards, which I tend to attribute to the director, Doris Wishman (an actual woman as opposed to the many pseudonymous women in the business at the time). She also uses the movie as a means of exploring the many ways women respond to rape some of them blame themselves, some of them are angry at the world, some of them decide they actually liked it after the fact, etc. She also touches on some interesting questions of the then-illegal status of abortion, as the doctor who performs this mad operation is an illegal abortion-doctor. Of course, Doris was no feminist, and this film is today mostly a goofy example of smut from a pre-penetration era, but there isn't another like it, even in the oeuvre of Edward D Wood.
Killers from Space (1954)
Worth Some Consideration
This is directed by W. Lee Wilder, the less famous brother of Billy, and co-written by their other brother Myles. W. Lee Wilder has a small oeuvre of off-beat, very-low-budget films, most of which seem to reflect his status as an immigrant to the "land of opportunity" and his lower status therein. In this case, the terror of American McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia is palpable, even the soundtrack seems to enforce a sense of depression and disillusionment. The wonderful old film zine "Delirious" had a special feature on W. Lee's work back in the 90s, and observed the use of the "eyes" motif in this film from the Bug Eyed Spacemen of the title, to the doctor's eye-reflector, to the extreme closeup on the gas station attendant's eyes to the "unsleeping eye of radar" mentioned in the opening narration. Life for a European immigrant in 1950s America may have seemed to be filled with eyes, with watching and snooping. When the FBI man interrogates the protagonist's wife, he quotes more or less from J. Edgar Hoover's text _Masters of Deceit_, a handbook for nosy suburbanites to snitch on their suspicious neighbors.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Lon Chaney is the Man to Watch
Having read the original book (in translation, admittedly), I feel safe in saying that it is not great literature. But, as has happened many times, a mediocre piece of literature has allowed artists to tap into a kind of archetype and rise above the material to create something more. This version probably sticks closer to the source material than any other, although my personal favorite scene is derived from Edgar Allen Poe's "Masque of the Red Death." The creeping through the catacombs, the various torture and strangulation devices, the love scene atop the Paris Opera House, all of these I recall from the book (the book is mostly action, since it has so little else to offer). And of course, the chandelier crashing into the audience, which no version has dared to skip. But, what really brought in the audiences was Lon Chaney, Sr.'s exquisitely horrible makeup, and it is this, along with his tortured performance, that make it really worthwhile today. If you have any ability to watch silent films whatsoever, this is the one to see.