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High Velocity (1976)
8/10
Gazzara's Killing Of A Filipino Rookie
7 February 2011
Taut, unexpectedly gripping mid-shelf thriller stars Ben Gazzara as Baumgartner, ex-Ranger Captain from the Vietnam War and now semi-retired crop duster in an unnamed, corruption-riddled military junta. He's trying to eke out his own little patch of paradise but the powers-that-be won't let him, as he's blackmailed by corporate snake Alejandro Martel (Alejandro Rey) into rescuing his company's repellent American CEO Anderson (Keenan Wynn) from a guerrilla stronghold in rebel-held territory. Killing's a business for Baumgartner and he's reluctantly back on the payroll, as his ex-Nam buddy, the equally jaded African-American Woody, and they both don the camouflage warpaint and head up the river -literally and figuratively - with a small arsenal of crossbows and explosives. Unfortunately for Anderson his head's full of corporate secrets, and Martel instructs Baumgartner to leave Anderson for dead rather than bring problems back home for him and his mistress, Anderson's listless wife Marie (Britt Ekland).

I call High Velocity "mid-shelf" as it appears to exist somewhere between an A and a B feature, with Gazzara (in Cassavette's Killing Of A Chinese Bookie the same year) giving his role class and grit in equal measures, and with the usually dependable Ekland, here little more than window dressing, providing the glamor. Eddie Romero's long-time collaborator Mike Parsons – as actor, co-producer and screenwriter throughout the Sixties – adds local flavor to director Remi Kramer's script, lending the film an authenticity: the cockfight, the drunken machismo, the omnipresent military (this WAS filmed during Martial Law, remember), and the requisite titty bar loaded on stage and off with doomed white expatriate faces. The character names are Filipino, the unsubtitled dialog's Tagalog, and-the-army versus rebels backdrop (for the so-called "Gang of 45", read the Philippines' communist NPA) is all too familiar to a Filipino audience.

It's an interesting smart-pulp improvement on the familiar "mercenaries rescue kidnapped Westerner from enemy territory" scenario, and not just because of Gazzara's gnarled, laconic delivery, and enjoyable dynamic and snappy banter between him and the as-gnarled Woody. For starters, our sympathies certainly don't lie with the Ugly American Anderson, played as a barking brutarian, vainglorious and vein-popping popinjay by an over-the-top Wynn, nor with his multi-national corporation, whose conspicuous extravagances are proudly on display. The opening polo match, from which Anderson is snatched, hammers the point home to perfection: polo-playing royalty inside their palatial walls, watched by their resentful, threadbare subjects through the gate's cell-like bars.

So do we cheer for the left-wing guerrillas led by Commander Habagat (Joonee Gamboa), themselves white-anted by corruption and desire for power, and all too eager to commit the ghastliest of deeds so long as they're sanctified by the noblest of motives? Or does High Velocity labor under the right-wing libertarian notion that the individual, and not the power structures that hold his true spirit in chains, can triumph? Certainly Baumgartner is only too happy to blast apart the rebels' huts to save his and his wife's skins, and doing the corporation's dirty work in the process; in High Velocity's unmarked hellhole, life is cheap, if not instantly disposable, and is ultimately measured by how strongly one feels the survival urge. Subsequently, there are no cheats nor sappy clichéd resolutions as the film hurtles towards its sour conclusion. Grim, satisfying stuff.
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Masquerade (1967)
8/10
DLZ's "Ten Little Indians"
6 February 2011
One of my favorite Bollywood films from the Sixties is the 1965 murder mystery Gumnaam, a rip-roaring plundering of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians bathed in saturated Mario Bava-esque lighting and featuring a butler with a Hitler mustache (the late, great comedian Mehmood) and a musical number every twenty minutes. It's not the first time Dame Agatha's plot has been adapted by enterprising producers inside and out of the English-speaking film world, as it's a hoary, occasionally effective device - a group of strangers with hidden pasts are brought together in an isolated environment, and are killed off one by one until the killer is ultimately revealed – which demands limitations budget, cast and locations, often requiring little more than a single studio set. For a competent filmmaker, a considerable amount of tension and any number of unexpected narrative twists can be wrung from meager resources.

Such a filmmaker is former cause celebre Danny L. Zialcita, a writer-director whose career trajectory bears more than a passing resemblance to the revered Celso Ad. Castillo. Both graduated in the public's mind at some point in the Seventies from gifted, gimmicky populists to genuine auteurs. Like Celso Ad. Castillo, he started in the pulps, directing spy thrillers and lurid bomba dramas; his 1965 debut, a Bond riff titled Lady Killer, kick-started a whole series by Zialcita which propelled Romano Castellvi to stardom, and he also helmed two popular spy films with Bernard Bonnin as secret agent Hammerhead. And like Celso, his films from the Seventies and Eighties were more of a Happening, in the Sixties' sense of the word, than just a premiere. Celso's peak has long passed, and it's no doubt due in part to his relentless self-promotion that long-unseen films like Nympha (1971) are recalled with such clarity. Not so Zialcita, who only recently emerged after years of self-imposed exile (due, word on the street tells us, to a decades-long drug problem), and whose name continues to slip under the radar of many cineastes.

Masquerade, a 1967 mystery "inspired" by Ten Little Indians, is an odd duck, appearing at a time in Pinoy cinema during an avalanche of spy films, westerns, war films, karate actioners, Hollywood parodies, musical comedies and both teen and mature weepy dramas. Zialcita hides here behind his eponymous "DLZ", as does the producer "BZ" (a rich relative, perhaps?), and rounds up an impressive cast of top-shelf Pinoy names and character actors to play eight strangers tempted to a masquerade on secluded Diablo Island by an unseen benefactor known only as Mr X, and his enigmatic American proxy Mr Dreyfus (Jack Davis), a strange bird complete with brolly and bowler hat. Hammerhead's Bonnin plays dashing celebrity and man-of-few-words Philip Monteverde; glamor comes in the comely shapes of Marlene Dauden as the manipulative Vera, and a lovely, if somewhat bedraggled, Liberty Ilagan as booze-hound Emily. Veterans Vic Salayan, Alfonso Carvajal, Martin Marfil and Vic Andaya help round out the list of suspects which include a judge, a General, a nightclub singer, a doctor and industrialist playboy. None of them suspect a connection between each other; they are more interested in Mr Dreyfus' offers of money, women and sport (and for more than one character, the three are inseparable).

As the ferry leaves the island and the eight guests are trapped in a sprawling mansion along with Dreyfus and two bemused servants, they all find themselves unwilling participants in, as one puts it, "a Masquerade…of DEATH!" One suffocates in a glass-topped coffin and another lands a cleaver in the face, while their hidden host plays upon each of their insecurities, suspicions and paranoia. No-one has been judged innocent, it appears, and their killer has stacked eleven funereal wreaths in the basement and published their death notices in the previous week's newspaper. Eventually the characters are whittled down to just two, and still there's no sign of an easy resolution. "Who could it be?" demands the narrator, as a ragged yet effective recap of the film's murders swings the footage into negative stock. "You have been given ample time. Now be prepared for a SHOCK!" Zialcita attended a 2010 screening of the film's only surviving print from its distributor, JE Films' Joseph Estrada, and during a Q&A session trashed his efforts as "short of rubbish". I can understand why – I'm sure he prefers the post-bomba films he's more famous for, in which he had found a far less forced voice, and a maturity in theme, form and technique. On the evolutionary scale of a filmmaker, Masquerade is the showy, self-conscious attempt by a young auteur-in-waiting at breaking out of the restrictions of local story-telling and attempting a more sophisticated, deliberately European-influenced or Welles-ian work. A telling sign is that almost half of the dialog is spoken in English (delivered at a leaden pace for those less familiar with the language), which immediately sets the film apart from its Tagalog contemporaries. It's also in the noir-ish lighting from below casting shadows on ceilings, in the deliberate framing, and perspective tricks. The film is certainly impressive for a young director working within such a rigid star system, audience expectations and formulaic genre, but Zialcita's stylistic ploys are often forced and aggressive, and cry out for attention. It's far from "rubbish", however, and Mr Zialcita is either being unnecessarily humble or self-critical to the point of self-immolation. Masquerade is not great and, despite the nods to Welles, can in no way be considered his Citizen Kane. Instead it's "clever" (and I mean that with no disrespect), zippy and intriguing, and crammed with shadows of films to come.
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6/10
Ratty Pinoy vampire cheese
28 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
As with much of the Philippines' pre-Eighties cinema, very few vampire films from the Sixties have survived. Thankfully there are two bona fide masterpieces of Pinoy horror directed by Gerry de Leon, The Blood Drinkers and Curse Of The Vampires. Both were constructed from the ground up as export-friendly titles, filmed in Technicolor and dubbed into English using the actors' own voices. And then there's Dugo Ng Vampire, a product of a stagnating studio system, and it shows; Vera Perez Pictures was an offshoot of Sampaguita Films which until the early Sixties was part of the Big Three's monopoly over Filipino cinema, along with LVN Pictures and Premiere Productions. Dugo… is a prime example of the local industry's glaring limitations: patchy live sound, an unwieldy regulation 110-minute running time, a masala of melodrama and comedy based on a pre-branded komik series, and a dreadful transfer from a scratched, rat-assed black and white 35mm print. That the film still exists, however, is a miracle in itself; the fact it's a decent populist Pinoy horror from the Sixties is, for the most part, pure cream.

Dugo Ng Vampira's hand-scribed credits flash over an opening that's vintage Universal horror: the town's landed gentleman and unrepentant vampire Angustia has just feasted on a young female victim and is now pursued by an angry mob of torch-carrying villagers. Cornered in the grounds of his villa, Angustia is staked through the heart with a sharpened cross and left to die alone in agony. With the sound of a howling wolf in the distance, he is tended to by his distraught sweetheart, who removes the cross and buries him underneath it. Being mortal, she is also carrying the vampire's children – twins, one good and one inherently evil – and after her mother is thrown down her stairs by an unseen force (linked to the cobra curled around the vampire's grave marker!), she leaves one of the babies, flees the village with the other child, and heads in a trance directly for the sanctuary of Angustia's villa.

A decade passes, and the mother grows suspicious of her remaining child's true nature. She catches the girl Lucinda in a cave talking to a cobra and bat – and the bat, a bizarre sock puppet contraption with wings, is talking back! The girl plumps up quickly into a brazen teenaged hussy (Gina Pareno), unaware of the existence of her twin sister Rosario (also Pareno, without the excessively vampish makeup, puffy hair and go-go boots). Meanwhile the mouldered corpse of their father rises out of the soil, transforms into his suave former self, then disappears in a flapping of bat wings and reappears at the villa along with his last victim, unlocked from her cobra shell. Angustia and his new bride are keen to teach Lucinda the finer points of her vampiric legacy ("We need blood," they hiss, "HUMAN blood…"), and take her for a flying visit around the craggy countryside looking for victims. It's here the film's rudimentary special effects – dissolves, jump cuts, miniatures for the Villa exterior – take a quantum leap: Lucinda complains of being tired, and suddenly the cabal split into two mid-air in typical Manananggal fashion, their fanged top halves continuing to soar while the bodies gently land. A simple optical effect, and positively prehistoric by today's standards, but crudely and eerily effective.

Naturally the plaited, seminary-going Rosario is mistaken for her bloodsucking sister, and her beloved Victor becomes fiercely protective of her; once the angry villagers notice she is not scared of a crucifix but the "other" Rosario is, the hunt is on for a neighborhood vampire. Victor's deceitful, treacherous Lothario brother Rufo arrives from the city and he too has eyes for Rosario; Rufo's plan is to trap her in his house until she falls in love with him, but then the equally duplicitous Lucinda, posing as Rosario, seduces him over to the Other Side. The scenario now brother against brother, mother against child, as both families fight to save what Goodness is left within them.

More pronounced than ever is the presence of Evil – in this instance, vampirism - as a dramatic rip in the fabric of everyday, God-fearing, family-bound normalcy. The film's core rests upon a triumvirate of dualistic relationships, one representing Good, or at the very least temporarily lost and potentially salvageable, and the other Evil: unwed mother and vampire Angustia, daughters Rosaria (Rosary, perhaps?) and Lucinda (Lucifer?) and brothers-at-war Victor and Rufo. The protracted finale sees not only Victor cornered and forced to kill his sibling (in a neat twist, with a conch shell!), but the mother to sacrifice her Bad Seed. In Dugo's intensely moral, necessarily komik page black-and-white universe, Evil is ultimately vanquished and the wayward are brought back to God's bosom, but at a heavy price.

At times you'd be forgiven for thinking Dugo… is a Bollywood remake of a Mexican vampire film: melodramatic, a fusion of Asian and Hispanic family-centricity, tarnished and years-weary, and entertaining in an arched, eccentric way. In its favor it's not nearly as cloying and sentimental as it could be, there are no musical numbers to spoil the atmosphere, and the regulation comic relief from a mugging German Moreno – effeminate leader of a group of tourists stranded overnight at Angustia's villa - is kept to a minimum, as is the teen soap angle (if Vilma Santos or Nora Aunor were the lead, God help us...). OK, so comparisons are mean, and so what if Dugo Ng Vampira is no Curse Of The Vampires? Sometimes it's good to turn a blind eye to the Ugly Duckling's smarter and prettier classmates and welcome them home as a lost child, sorely missed and never to be forgotten.
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7/10
Crazed Surfadelic Pinoy Pulp!
3 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
For connoisseurs of Pinoy parodies, the recent appearance on Filipino VCD of Dolphy's Bond-like action comedy Napoleon Doble And The Sexy Six signals an unearthing of grail-like proportions. I realize it's hard to be entirely objective about comedy, and even more so when you're removed from its host culture by time, language, and the shared experience of growing up in the shadow of Dolphy's shtick. To this pulp-addled brain at least it was worth the wait, but keep in mind I've already devoured over twenty of Dolphy's back catalog and haven't even made a dent. If you're a casual Trash Tourist, a cursory examination of Napoleon Doble...'s discs reveals a film that looks, sounds and feels like Dolphy's James Batman, also from 1966. Actually you're not far from the mark: it's a similarly crazed surfadelic romp through appropriated Sixties pop culture, with wildly tilted camera angles, cartoon goons and go-go girls, and the omniscient Dolphy filling almost every frame – and sometimes twice! During Dolphy's busiest phase, the genre du jour was the James Bond craze. Most Western-influenced film cultures were churning out one gadget-laden spy caper after the other, and the Philippines' copycat industry was more eager than most. Following Goldfinger's worldwide release in 1964, no fewer than twenty Pinoy Bonds appeared within a manic two year cycle. And, as every popular Pinoy genre must have its parodic mirror, so too did the Bond Parodies begin in earnest, most notably from the dual Kings of Comedy: Chiquito as James Bandong or Agent 0-2-10 ("oh-two-ten" is a play on "utoten", the Tagalog word for "farter" for "fart-face"), and Dolphy as Agent 1-2-3 (the name suggests a person's been tricked) or in variations on the "Dolpinger" theme. In Dolphy's filmography from 1965 to 1966, a minimum of fifteen features can lay claim to parodying the spy genre, or at least include elements of the Bond films – and that's a considerable number of Bondian villains with goon armies at their disposal.

Viewed as part of a much larger whole, Napoleon Doble And The Sexy Six makes perfect sense. Dolphy's individual films are elements of a much grander story arc, almost a meta-narrative spread over fifty-plus years, with its main protagonist growing older disgracefully, and his supporting cast and crew entering and leaving at will, more often than not becoming familiar parts of the background scenery. Wives, girlfriends and siblings appear, along with children and eventually grandchildren. Families are at the core of Filipino culture and is reflected in the Dolphy's own film company RVQ Productions: from its inception in 1967 and through its Glory Days into the Eighties, it was a dynastic studio dynamo for the Quizon clan, and Dolphy more than generously shared, and still shares, the limelight. The cherry-picked icons from both foreign and domestic pop culture, the interchangeable plot lines of Western spoofs and goon comedies, domestic barrio soap operas and their ilk, the recycled characters (the droopy-shouldered Ompong, the flamboyant Pacifica Falayfay), the movies, radio shows, stage performances and TV series, are all episodes of a seemingly endless variety show, with Dolphy center stage as its amiable emcee.

Although Dolphy's Napoleon Doble presents himself to the filmic world as an undercover policeman, he's essentially Dolpinger: a government representative of the forces of Good, facing off against a Super Villain with a lair choked to the brim with Bondian gadgets (a pen, for instance, that doubles as a Ray Gun!), not to mention his very own Q on tap. Bond allusions aside, Dolphy takes characteristically low swipes at other Sixties pop icons, not least The Man From U.N.C.L.E. - Napoleon "Solo" being the obvious reference point, plus a sizable portion from U.N.C.L.E. feature The Spy With My Face (1965). Let's not forget the Pink Panther series, notably Ponga's Kato-like Mr Tan, a Chinese caricature saved by Napoleon during the bank robbery, and whose housebound karate fights with Napoleon usually end up trounced by the equally chop-frenzied maid (Aruray).

"Thrifty" is is not a surprising term for a low-budget quickie, and there are constant reminders of the budgetary shortcomings, from the use of limited locations (Elias' mansion, with its now-familiar warren of rooms, balconies and shadow-lined stairwell is put through the ringer, as is his nightclub) to its tin-can sound recording and compact, cut-to-order thrills. As rough as the seams are, however, the film never threatens to tear a hole in its pants' seat; LSJ Productions' camera crew are imaginative with their comic-strip framing and composition, not to mention weirdly effective though glaringly primitive lighting techniques, and Restie Umali's horns-and-bongos jazz score, despite its occasional Bond stings, never becomes glaringly clichéd. Like most populist Pinoy films, Napoleon... trots out its regulation array of marquee-value "Special Guests" like well-rehearsed sideshow exhibits - the big-chinned Babalu (one of Dolphy's regular sidekick in his later films) makes a blink-and-he's-gone cameo as a shirtless waiter, crone-ish Menggay tries out as the Sexy Sixth (and is accused of being less than human!). It's modest yet easy money for an afternoon's work, and all are welcome faces, along with the remainder of Napoleon Doble's cast: Sancho Tessalona, Rodolfo "Boy" Garcia, Prospero Luna, the SOS Daredevils and many others, some of the hardest working actors and stuntmen in show business and equally at home in a Fernando Poe Jr or Dolphy and Chiquito flick.

Likewise, Executive Producer Luis San Juan successfully balanced straight action films and "goon" or action parodies over a thirty year career as producer/writer/director – from Dolphy and Chiquito vehicles to Ramon Zamora and Rey Malonzo chop-sockeys. It's this double helix of thrall and gall, the essence of Goon combined with the sheer chutzpah of James Batman and company, that makes Napoleon Doble And The Sexy Six a satisfying Sixties pop cocktail, brimming with pure unadulterated Pinoy Pulp.
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8/10
Dali with go-go girls and gorillas
8 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Ray Dennis Steckler is true original American DIY auteur whose eccentric takes on pulp culture and almost expressionistic editing look and feel like the films of the Kuchar Brothers but sillier and without the self-conscious artiness. Free-form to the point of experimental, his movies Rat Pfink A Boo Boo and The Lemon Grove Kids Meet The Monsters are a triumph of determination and imagination over a complete absence of budget. There's no denying Steckler's charm; you just need a special kind of eyes to appreciate his innate genius.

So to The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies, Steckler's second film after 1962's Wild Guitar for Arch Hall Senior and Junior. It's billed as the world's first Teen Monster Musical, and I'm certainly not going to argue the point. Set in a carnival that by 1963 was already looking like a more seedy version of Nightmare Alley, we meet the boozy Marge Nielsen (Steckler's then-wife and favorite muse Carolyn Brandt), a lush whose endless tangos with the bottle are putting her dancing career on the skids. She crosses palms with Estrella, the carnival's resident fortune teller with an accent that would make Bela Lugosi blanch and with a wart the size of Romania, but the prognosis isn't good.

It's then "teens go wild", in one of the film's many schizophrenic leaps in internal logic. Meet Jerry and his mate, a pair of cheerful would-be delinquents who look suspiciously like Nicolas Cage's old man and Sean Penn Senior, as they pick up Angie, a good girl with a yen for adventures with bad boys. Jerry – played by Steckler as his on-screen alter ego "Cash Flagg", who obviously fancied himself as a receding Jimmy Dean - ditches his girl to watch the bump-and-grind routine of the exotic gypsy dancer Carmelita, who just happens to be the gypsy crone's sister. Between the two and their grotesque chain-smoking henchman (an unspecified rubber-faced stereotype that Goebells would have been proud of), they hypnotize Jerry with a crazy hypno-wheel.

We're never quite sure if Estrella the gypsy hates all men, or just the ones with penises. Whatever the reason, Jerry is now one of her back-room collection of hypnotized "zombies", hideous acid-scarred creatures (and I'm not talking about hippies here): hood up, eyes bulging, and going hammer and tongs at Carolyn Brandt with a knife. Fading in and out of the hypnotic state, he's haunted by visions of a bloodied Carolyn and, in the film's most perfectly realized scene, has an extended hallucination – it's Salvador Dali's dream sequence from Spellbound, but with ballerinas, go-go dancers and gorillas.

Words can't describe the experience of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies, and its twisted variety format crossed with old-fashioned spook show, only with real-life Muppets. At times dreamlike and hyper-real, with stunningly garish color photography by Vilmos Szigmond, the film's weirdness is heightened by a seemingly endless parade of musical numbers, all filmed over one day on the same threadbare set until the dancers were on the point of collapse. The Rockettes they ain't, but the costumes are fantastic. You're left with the impression it's a script-less Bollywood production where most of the meager budget's been spent on papadums and silly putty.

Roll back to 1963 when The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies first opened – during the Freaks-inspired ending, hooded "zombies" would run through the crowd in rubber masks holding rubber knives, and scare the living Bejeebers out of an already-befuddled audience. I wish I could be in your house now, but like Santa Claus, there's a lot of children to visit. So, just imagine I'm coming up behind you as we let loose The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies.
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2/10
B-grade urban actioner with a much inflated price tag
2 November 2007
Los Angeles, 1976. Indie film brat John Carpenter, fresh out of film school and with one film - his class project's no-budget spoof of 2001 called Dark Star - under his belt, finishes a gritty actioner called Assault On Precinct 13. The story of an almost deserted police station under siege by an unseen LA gang, it was a minor hit on the drive-in circuit and garnered small praise from the few critics who cared, but it hardly set the film world on fire, unlike Carpenter's follow-up smash Halloween (1978). On Precinct, Carpenter was still learning how to exploit his almost non-existent budget by using lower-shelf actors, keeping the action to the one hellishly small location, and moving the film along at a tight pace with a combination of editing, intelligent camera work and switched-on genre savvy.

No-one wants or needs to be hungry in Hollywood anymore, particularly if the week's catering bill on the 2005 version of Assault On Precinct 13 is more than the entire cost of the original. It does translate into a certain kind of laziness on a filmmaker's part - you have a stupidly large union crew, a studio and a marketing firm all doing your thinking for you. Which is why twenty years after watching Carpenter's film I can still see every glorious moment, from the small girl gunned down in cold blood while buying an ice cream, to the relentless pounding synth score. A week after Assault 2005, I remember Larry Fishburne's unmoving ping pong ball eyes and little else.

"Forgettable popcorn actioner" fits the top of the poster perfectly. It's New Years Eve at Precinct 13, a station closing down with a skeleton staff to see in its final hours. On call is Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke), an ex-narc now deeply troubled and hopped up on Jack Daniels and Seconol after his partners were iced in the opening scene; Iris (The Sopranos' Drea de Matteo), a nympho with a thing for criminal types, and Jasper (Brian Dennehy), a crusty old timer one scotch away from retirement. As in Carpenter's Assault..., a bus with four heavy-duty criminals is rerouted to the Precinct. All boozy eyes are on gangster kingpin Bishop (Fishburne, still beefed-up from his time in the Matrix) who has narrowly survived an assassination attempt from an undercover cop and plans to blow the lid on the endemic corruption in the organized crime unit led by Marcus Duvall (a tired-looking Gabriel Byrne). Soon the phones are out, the power lines are down, and both crims and police find themselves heavily armed with a serious police arsenal and consumed with paranoia while waging war against a task force of Duvall's corrupt cops sporting white balaclavas, bullet vests, infra-red bazookas and more high-tech gear than the Skywalker Ranch. This, we're expected to believe as the helicopters buzz around the top of the police station shooting rockets into windows, is a clandestine operation to cover Duvall's tracks. He may as well have taken out billboards on Hollywood Boulevard.

As with the recent Seventies genre reworking Dawn Of The Dead, Assault 2005 takes the barest plot essentials of John Carpenter's original and, to quote the Seventies, "does it's own thing, man". The main question is - why bother? John Carpenter's 1976 is a cult favorite among genre buffs, but is hardly branded in the public's collective consciousness. Carpenter himself was busy reworking Howard Hawks' classic western Rio Bravo into a tight, claustrophobic urban thriller for only $20,000. French wunderkind director and rap producer Jean-Francois Richet, a self-professed fan of John Carpenter's work, seems less concerned with making an homage to either Hawks or JC - although the script is peppered with references to cowboys and injuns - and seems intent on squeezing in as much flash and firepower as the multi-million dollar budget can withstand. The result: some tense moments with hand-held POV cameras, an unexpectedly high (and bloody) body count, a few neat plot twists, but essentially a B-grade urban actioner with a much inflated price tag. As for name-checking Carpenter, it's pure conceit on the part of the filmmakers that doesn't pay off.

To Monsieur Richet, I say bon voyage, and I wish you luck on your music career.
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4/10
Life is cheap but ape suits are expensive
2 November 2007
We now go to East Africa, where life is cheap but clearly ape suits are expensive. And by Africa we mean a studio back-lot somewhere in Italy that doubles for the "island" in King Of Kong Island.

I must have denghi fever and it's my insane imaginings that jungle B-films were the property of the 1930s and 40s: what could be described as "Apesploitation", or the "Monkeys Going Bananas" genre. And yet in the 1960s, with Planet Of The Apes one of the most popular films of the year ("You dirty rotten stinking apes!") we have Night Of The Bloody Apes (1968) from Mexico, soon followed by the Italian sexploitation film Queen Kong (1976), and Hong Kong's Goliathon/Mighty Peking Man (1977). It may be man's endless fascination with our lesser-evolved simian twins, or we just can't help but get a cheap laugh out of a guy in a monkey suit.

King Of Kong Island opens with a dastardly scientist Dr Muller using stolen goods to fund his surgical experiments on gorillas. Now, seriously, "gorilla"? Even I own a better monkey suit than this. Cut to a hunting expedition led by Burt (Brad Harris, the American actor who played everyone from Samson to Goliath and Hercules) who is ambushed by not one but TWO "gorillas", complete with surgical scars, who kidnap Diana, the most attractive of the group. Despite his previous mission's complete and abject failure, Burt is charged with bringing Diana back, past miles of stock footage - although to be truthful the producers did find a parrot and a cockatoo and a few pink flamingos for a shirtless Burt, who at times resembles a shaved ape himself, to chase around a studio lagoon.

In an amalgam of every thirty-year old jungle cliché, Burt comes across some spooked natives in awe of the Sacred Monkey God, a helpful chimp and a jungle girl called Eva, who can't utter a word of English but speaks fluent monk-ese, which leads Burt to look her square in the eye and ask, "Are you the Sacred Monkey?" Unbelievable. The hunt ends at Dr Muller's underground dungeon-cum-laboratory in the middle of the jungle where the insane megalomaniac - and the King of the title - has turned the apes into radio-controlled zombies, manipulated by an enormous Electronic Brain.

The film was picked up by American producer Dick Randall, an old-fashioned expert in hullabaloo who was as colorful as the characters in his own Z-grade pickups. Born in the US but based mainly in Rome, Randall was the guy who filmed Jayne Mansfield's grieving family a week after her death and immediately edited the footage into his 1968 mondo film The Wild World Of Jayne Mansfield. He also sold the Filipino midget James Bond spoof For Your Height Only (1981) to the world and turned the two foot nine star Weng Weng into an unlikely international superstar. He could sell a chainsaw massacre to Texas with the 1982 Spanish slasher film Pieces, and could sell a turkey-baster to Foghorn Leghorn in the same breath as he sold this turkey.

Did I say "turkey"? I meant "gorilla", and as honorary Great White Hunters we should approach this film with the right spirit, whose concepts are as absurd as the very idea of white colonialism itself.
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The Grudge (2004)
1/10
Let this curse die right here
2 November 2007
Ten minutes into The Grudge I started to think about another recent movie, which is always cause for alarm bells. Though hardly a memorable movie, The Butterfly Effect ends with Ashton Kutcher beaming himself into his mother's womb and strangling himself with his umbilical cord, in the belief he should never have existed. Oh boy. There's a p*ss-easy metaphor for this pointless remake that should never have seen the light of day.

Sitting in the cinema on my left is The Grudge's target audience: the Wide-Eyed Western Pig. A slack-jawed foot soldier for Hollywood's war of cultural imperialism, he trades the art-house for the megaplex as he prefers their fake butter flavor on his popcorn, views "Blockbuster" as a seal of quality, and wants a cute, familiar, WHITE face to focus on. Elsewhere the Horror Fetishist, a sad Pavlovian creature conditioned to lick its own d*ck whenever the name "Sam Raimi" appears on screen, is busy doing a lap of honor during the opening credits. These people have money. These people vote. These bottom-feeders are the mindless consumers the Dream Factory keeps chained to cigarette machines and Gold Lotto slips. Buds: this Grudge is for YOU.

The original Ju-on: The Grudge, the story of a self-perpetuating curse centering on a family's tragic murder-suicide, was an effective if empty and ultimately silly variant on the seemingly endless Ring cycle and was itself spawned from two TV movies. At this point producer Sam Raimi, no virgin to the concept of franchise, waved a huge sack o'cash under director Takashi Shimizu's inscrutable gaze, not for him to reinterpret the movie, but to do a carbon copy of it. In Japan, with a Japanese crew. Virtually scene for scene, and in some cases shot for shot, on an almost-identical set, but with wide-eyed western stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Bill Pullman. The message here? Money will make it better. Dance, monkey. Do a jig to the tune of two thousand megaplex cash registers all chiming at once. Jump through the hoops just a little faster, 'cos Buffy wants a new series.

If the original Grudge had anything unique, it was its innate "Japanese-ness". Not so here. There's no sense of mounting horror in Shimizu's tired retread which gives the game away in the first 10 minutes, leaving its shocks all the more absurd. To add insult, its episodic structure has been tampered with by a Hollywood scriptwriter who explains away the inexplicable. Surely producer Raimi, while counting down the paychecks till Evil Dead 4, must have realized the Japanese horror film is like a bonsai tree, in its own culture a thing of symmetry, beauty and perfection. Stick it in a tiled pot in the Mall outside Hoyts Regent and it becomes a stupid looking tree.

This isn't just a case of a remake, an updating or yet another pointless sequel. This is unmitigated arrogance - Hollywood saying "do it OUR way, and we can all make a chunk of change". Shimizu should have learned the lessons of history. The original directors of two effective European chillers The Vanishing and Nightwatch were both sent packing to the States to "Americanize" their movies. Does anyone remember George Sluizer or Ole Bornedal? Did anyone give a rat's *ss about the remakes? It's even more proof the Dream Factory has gone bankrupt for ideas, and Scrooge McDuck is at the helm, throwing cloth bags with dollar signs on them even further afield.

This is a war, make no mistake, and for the moment the Wide-Eyed Western Pig is winning. What next? Ang Lee's remake of Crouching Tiger... with Casper Van Dien? Have mercy, and let this curse die right here.
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Alfie (2004)
1/10
Not worthy to fill Sir Michael's Italian loafers
2 November 2007
If Western culture is a serpent eating its own tail, it follows that it will eventually choke on its own feces.

Put simply: the original version of Alfie was a Snake Feast. The watery, transparent 2004 Alfie, another redundant remake from the Selected Works of Sir Michael Bleedin' Caine, is Snake Sh*t.

One of the British box office hits of 1965, Alfie is a snapshot from a moment in history, a perfectly framed view of the Sexual Revolution from a working class perspective. It was both a highbrow sex farce and a populist kitchen sink drama with some wry observations about social class and convention thrown in, all held together by the magnetic presence of its star on the rise. Alfie's like a timeless character from Thackary who spends more than half his screen time justifying his appallingly rakish behavior to the audience; a vain, cocky yet insecure and neurotic Lothario attempting to escape responsibility and pain through a series of doomed sexual misadventures. He emerges at the end of the film unrepentant and only a little wiser, turning to the camera with the immortal tag-line "Wossit all abaht?" It's that timelessness the makers of Alfie '04 attempt to capitalize on in their grotesque carbon copy, updating its East End setting to lower Manhattan but with the female archetypes - or "birds" - left intact. There's the doormat girlfriend, the frustrated wife, and Susan Sarandon updates Shelly Winters' loud, vulgar 50-something man-eater as a slightly more classy 2004 model. A pointed comment on the eternal sexual condition? More like an industry that's fat, indolent, and believes the general public have a long-term memory no longer than six months. One can only imagine its audience are cocktail-guzzling Manhattan matrons with a yen for all things British, like Bridget Jones or Sarah Ferguson, and Jude Law's posterior. True, there are more shots of Law as Alfie "on the job" as it were, but those are mighty big shoes he's walking in. Jude Law comes across affable and worldly and tosses in the odd Caine-ism, but on final judgment is a pale streak of snake sh*t not worthy to fill Sir Michael's Italian loafers.

Maybe that's the problem. Caine's Alfie is cold, calculating, and at times utterly repellent. One dubious conquest he refers to as "it" is set to work as his personal slave, and then cast off for showing too much affection. Alfie '04 attempts to sanitize him, sand off some of the uncomfortable un-PC angles. Alfie 65's moment of truth arrives when the dumpy middle-aged wife of his hospital chum asks Alfie for a backyard abortion (Alfie only slept with her, mind you, to help his lunch go down). As he stares down at his miniature reflection, Caine's face is a contorted mask of pure sorrow. Law's moment of truth in Alfie '04 - no plot spoilers here - is so wide of the mark it's an insult. Strip the character of his tics and grimaces and cutesy cockney patter, and ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Invisible Man.

Even more offensive is the use of 60s pop art icons to evoke the original's aura of cool. A Chet Baker poster, Alfie's scooter - in fact the entire coke-smeared, boots and fur coated, Nico-meets-Julie Christie coquetry of the Nikki character, played by Sienna Miller. The Clash once sang "No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977" and the same can be said about Alfie. That Golden Age of popular cinema in the Sixties could actually be about experimenting with style and breaking cultural taboos; not so in 2005, where surface passes for style, smarminess is a stand-in for genuine wit, where sh*t is champagne and sacred ground is something for film industry Burkes and Hares to plunder at will.
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8/10
A dangerous and electric eroticism
2 November 2007
The provocative cover image of a blood-spattered Beatrice Dalle only hints at the ferocity within Claire (Chocolat, Beau Travail) Denis' sad, haunting study of sex and cannibalism that caused record walkouts and faintings at its Cannes screening.

The voracious, predatory Core (Betty Blue's Dalle) is boarded up in a secluded Paris house by her husband, the errant scientist Leo (Alex Descas). She periodically escapes, seduces passing motorists and in sickening detail, methodically consumes her prey. Her fate is connected to a visiting American doctor Shane Brown (a seedy, unshaven, troubled-looking Vincent Gallo) on his honeymoon in Paris, apparently a test subject for Leo's experiments in unleashing the libido, and who is already having violent masturbatory fantasies of his gorgeous new bride (Tricia Vessey) covered in blood. "I will never hurt you," he whispers to his concerned wife, already showing a tell-tale bite mark on her shoulder.

Trouble Every Day is simply and beautifully shot, and while not as blatantly pornographic as Romance or Anatomy Of Hell, it has a dangerous and electric eroticism that's hard to shake. Wide-eyed Dalle says little yet conveys an air of both tragedy and primal appetite and doesn't overplay her animalism, while Gallo (Buffalo 66) is at his greasy, neurotic best. Its slow pace and spare action deliberately unfold the story in a distinctly European fashion; at the one hour mark the film switches from carnal to charnal, spiraling toward a grotesque and shattering crescendo worthy of the great excesses of the 70s art film. Stunning.
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The Ring Two (2005)
3/10
"I see dead fishes!"
2 November 2007
It's impossible these days to talk about horror films without mentioning other horror films, particularly the recent rash of the obnoxiously-labeled "J-horror" films. Remake fever and sequelitis have condemned beautifully-crafted Japanese films The Grudge, the original Ring and the upcoming Dark Water, all of which have a serious pedigree that go back several decades, to the dreaded Hollywood revamp. Fifty years of films like masterpieces like Onibaba and Kwaidan - it's not something you can tart up with a fresh coat of paint and the actors from Scooby-Doo.

Then again, even Japanese horror has its stinkers. Ring 2 (Japanese version), the second and weakest of a three-film franchise, was like a Nightmare On Elm St sequel - silly, noisy and ultimately pointless. Hollywood Ring screenwriter Ehren Kruger thankfully jettisoned Ringu 2's rehash and mishmash and came up with some original ideas for the follow-up. Well, original for Hollywood. Hopefully attempts to turn The Ring's ghost-child Samara into a Freddy Krueger for the SMS Generation will fall flat, and Tinseltown can move on from its J-centric obsession.

Naomi Watts returns as Rachel Keller, as does David Dorfman as her creepy son Aidan. Now in secluded Astoria, Oregon, the curse of the video tape has followed them - in Ring 2's Scream-like opener a teen thrill-seeker is found with the familiar open-jawed look of abject terror. Rachel destroys the tape, but it appears Samara wants Aidan ("I see dead fishes") to be her host, and she's looking for a new Mommy. Aidan's soon freezing to the touch and has hand-shaped bruises on his back; even reindeer hate him. A sanitarium visit to Samara's biological mother Evelyn (a show-stopping performance from Carrie herself, Sissy Spacek, still in her Loretta Lynn fright wig) convinces Rachel that Samara wants back into the dating game, and David is her return ticket.

Even with the original Japanese director Hideo Nakata at the helm - a ploy used by The Grudge with depressingly similar results - these American remakes simply don't work. The Japanese versions are simultaneously silly and creepy; American ones are just plain silly. Japanese films have a tendency to downplay the drama to amplify their shocks, which American productions crudely attempt to ape. American actors thus appear to sleepwalk through their roles. The Grudge's casting trump card was a soporific Sarah Michelle Gellar; in Ring 2 it's The Guardian's heavy-lidded Simon Baker. An interesting casting choice, pitting two former Aussie soap stars against each other; Watts is certainly a long way from Summer Bay. I for one look forward to Harold Bishop's successful relocation to Hollywood.

Ring 2 has an interesting dynamic that Nakata has explored before in his film Dark Water, the child's disconnection from its parent (Aidan calls his mother Rachel, and authorities believe Rachel is beating her child). A much creepier film would have been Naomi Watts trying to destroy her son in order to save him - without the supernatural element. Call me sadistic, but I think it would work. Dark Water also features an orphaned ghost looking for a living mother, and Samara's staccato spider-walk up the well recalls The Grudge (itself an attempt to out-do Ringu, on which Nakata was technical adviser), as well as Linda Blair's restored upside-down stroll in The Exorcist: Director's Cut. All familiar elements which resonate with Nakata's Japanese work, but with less than spectacular results.

The film emerges from its slumber when Nakata goes to work hammer and tongs on two quite preposterous set-pieces. First, an entire herd of CGI reindeer hammer Rachel's car into scrap metal. Its meaning? Reindeer are sacred in Japan, says Nakata. Maybe they don't like working with child actors. Second is a bathtub sequence (the old J-horror standby) where the water forms a vortex around Aidan and floods the ceiling. It's both a triumph for special effects, and a vain attempt to breathe life into a drowned beast.

A final word to the Hollywood producers of the Oldboy remake: Judd Nelson in the title role. Think about it and give me a call.
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Gang Wars (1976)
4/10
"Buddha is dead... and I'm not feeling so hot myself!"
2 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
From a time when every white kid squinted their eyes, made dying cat howls and broke their legs jumping into the garage wall trying to be Bruce Lee comes a Z-grade blaxploitation zombie kung fu masterpiece that tries - oh, how it tries - to cover all bases, but all it really does is redefine the term "black action". Set mainly in a New York subway, it's so black you can hardly see any action. Can you dig it? Warhawk Tanzania plays kung fu master Luke Curtis, known by his pupils as See-Fu. On a meditation retreat to China, his star pupil Rodan (as in the giant Japanese pterodactyl) unwittingly picks up a silver medallion from the tomb of an ancient demon. Being the Seventies, ugly jewelry is considered the height of fashion, and they return to New York. The demon, meanwhile, bursts out of his tomb, jumps on the first ship to Harlem, possesses a brother-man, and wanders comically through the subway with huge white eyes painted onto his lids with liquid paper, looking for souls to feed on. The trail of murders sparks a gang war between local kung-fu-kicking triads the Red Dragons and ghetto gang the Black Spades (I kid you not). When Rodan has his necklace (and his head) torn off, Warhawk finally has a moment of clarity - see, the meditation finally pays off - and he bravely heads into the subway for a brother-to-brother showdown.

Devil's Express was Warhawk's second and final film after Force Four (aka Black Force, 1975). Warhawk spends most of his screen time running down "honkies" and proving he's a Man of the People - saying no to drugs, giving street kids a hi-five, and eating Chinese takeout - with chopsticks - with his wooooman. What he can't do, and it's apparent from the start, is fight for shinola; as a bottom-shelf Jim Kelly, he's all attitude with no acting OR fighting chops to back it up. His punches land six inches from their intended destinations, all with the most inappropriate sound effects. As a distraction to how bad his fighting is, he steps on a Chinese kid's throat and bursts a blood vessel. Dramatic? No. Ludicrous? Of course. And that's the charm of a Warhawk Tanzania film. By the way - ever seen a Chinese kid with an afro? For a no-name cast, there's a surprise sacrilicious street-side ranting by New York eccentric Brother Theodore: "Moses is dead, Mohammed is dead, Buddha is dead... and I'm not feeling so hot myself." Bad acting, ham-fisted fighting and peppered with the most gut-wrenchingly exaggerated jive ("I know where you're coming from, See-Fu. I can DIG it!"), Devil's Express is a film that succeeds in making Huggy Bear look like Humphrey B. Bear. Can YOU dig it?
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4/10
A "howler" in every sense of the word
1 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave is a very misleading title from grindhouse distributor Aquarius, run by the late Australian-born exploitation genius Terry Levene. Aquarius, renowned for their lowest-of-low budget chop sockeys and Sonny Chiba tamperings, later recut scenes from Bruce Lee's films into an entirely fictitious documentary called Fist Of Fear Touch Of Death (1980), and released the Italian zombie/cannibal shocker Zombie Holocaust as Doctor Butcher MD (1980) - along with mock surgery performed on the back of a truck driving through New York City. I don't know about you, but it makes me proud to be an Australian.

Levene's poster for Bruce Lee Fights Back... promises a zombie Bruce in a supernatural slap-down with the Black Angel of Death. The credits even feature someone suspiciously Bruce-like leaping out of a polystyrene tomb - then cuts to a film that has NO Bruce, NO Angel of Death, and is in fact some crummy nameless generic kung fu filler starring someone claiming to be "Bruce K.L. Lea". Ripped off? You may well feel so, but WAIT - it's one of the real howlers of bad kung fu cinema, in EVERY sense of the word.

"Bruce" plays Wong Han, a Korean immigrant in LA visiting his old friend Go Hok Khan who he discovers has committed "suicide" and is now being cremated in the basement. Heartbroken, "Bruce" starts to wander the streets of LA at random, carrying his friend's bones and a glossy 8x10 in a sling around his neck. Through a bizarre chain of coincidences he rescues a girl called Susan from a shirtless rapist who worked for Go Hok Khan, and remembers - with photo clarity, mind you - the five strangers who visited him before his death. A black guy, a cowboy, a Mexican... lady, you're channeling a Village People concert! A p*ss-and-vinegar-filled Bruce decides to slay his way through the list Kill Bill style - and there's a bit of EVERY kung fu film in Kill Bill, isn't there, kids? - but not before visiting a very keen Susan's crashpad. She asks him to stay; a very pale and humorless "Bruce" warns her it would not be proper - but leaves the box of human remains for safekeeping. What a guy.

Bruce Lee Fights Back... is a real schizophrenic mess, filmed in America but dubbed in Hong Kong, with everyone voiced in the same petulant monotone. You can almost feel sorry for the American actors forced to exaggerate every motion, so that picking up the phone becomes a three-act Greek tragedy. The filmmakers break the cardinal kung fu rule by speeding up a fight in a wrecking yard into a Benny Hill chase spectacular, but best of all is the howling, yelping, whimpering and robot noises in EVERY fight scene.

For years, horror fans thought it was a kung fu anti-classic directed by Italian cannibal maestro Umberto Lenzi - purely because Levene switched credits with a Euro cop thriller and was too cheap to change the poster. Well, there's no cannibals, no zombie Bruce Lee, just the sounds of R2D2 having a heart attack in Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave.
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Jail Bait (1954)
5/10
"You know that gun is jail bait!"
1 November 2007
Jail Bait (1954) is Ed's second feature, a brave attempt at creating a straight noir-ish thriller on less than a shoestring budget. What we do get is ludicrous tough guy dialog like "You're a dumb dame!" delivered with deadpan (or is it bedpan?) earnestness.

Dolores Fuller follows up her lead role in Glen Or Glenda as Marilyn, a respectable girl from a respectable family who bails out her delinquent and less-than-respectable brother Don for firearms possession. Don, it seems, is up to his eyeballs in trouble, and is mixed up with tin-pot gangster Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell, also in the Ed-scripted The Violent Years). Marilyn pleads with her brother to give up his life of crime - "You know that gun is jail bait" she says – but to no avail. Brady talks Don into robbing the payroll from a nearby theater, but things go horribly wrong – Don shoots the aging security guard and retired policeman, and unknowingly winds the secretary who later identifies the two as Cop Killers. Don admits to his trusting aging father he's killed a man, and dear old dad reluctantly decides to help him; Vic, meanwhile, blackmails the father, who just happens to be a "world famous plastic surgeon", into grafting him a new face. It all turns out horribly – of course – in an outrageous ending that Ed cribbed from a 30s potboiler, but ultimately makes it all Wood.

On the trail of the cop killers is dependable Ed Wood regular Lyle Talbot (Glen Or Glenda, Plan 9…) as Inspector Johns, and a surprise early appearance by bodybuilder and future Hercules star Steve Reeves as his Lieutenant. To say Steve's performance is wooden is unfair – let's just say he looks like he's carved out of a Dutch Elm. Ed gave Steve a somewhat gratuitous not to mention slightly homo-erotic scene, laboriously putting on a shirt and jacket in front of the Inspector. According to Dolores, it took Steve 27 takes to tie that tie. Steve's choice scene with Dolores is even more painful – their strained on-screen exchange is like watching two pained cows chewing their cud.

Herbert Rawlinson, a veteran star of the silent era, plays the father Dr Gregor. According to Ed, Herbert passed away the morning after his final scene was shot…from lung cancer. Which means, as he's wheezing through Ed's convoluted dialog, we're listening to him literally taking his last breaths. Creepy.

At one point Brady's moll says to Dolores: "Take a look at this place, sweetheart. Does this stuff look cheap to you?" Well, sweetheart, it does. It's a lesser film by Ed, for sure, and the whole production screams "poverty"; for some salacious padding, Ed even spliced in a burlesque sequence from another feature "Yes Sir, Mr Bones" by Z film specialist Ron Ormond (who, by no coincidence, was Bela Lugosi's neighbor). And the muzak! The same "suspenseful" flamenco guitar line! It may drive you to a life of crime, if you're not there already, as we go cruising the streets of 1950s LA looking for Jail Bait.
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6/10
Presenting Spanky the monkey
1 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Just one of a slew of "girl and gorilla" films from the 1950s, The Bride And The Beast is from Ed Wood's script originally called "Queen Of The Gorillas". Bankrolled by Allied Artists and directed by a "professional" Adrian Weiss, it means a much slicker film, with important things like continuity and production values, but there's no mistaking the demented voice of Ed-baby and the weird undertow of aberrant sexuality all the way through the film.

The Bride And The Beast opens with Laura and Dan, just married and already planning a honeymoon safari to Africa. Dan, the quintessential Great White Hunter, has decked out his pad with hundreds of trophies, has a native servant Taro (played by an American actor in black-face) who calls his master "Bawana", and keeps a huge gorilla named "Spanky" (that's actually Ray "Crash" Corrigan under all that fur) in a cage in his basement. Laura, who admits she's had a strange psychic connection with man's hairy cousins her entire life, presses up against Spanky's cage – and the sexual tension is electric! Later on their honeymoon evening while the couple are sleeping in separate beds – and there's a clear signpost – Spanky escapes from his cage, and starts to get overly amorous with Laura. Dan shoots the monkey dead, and they return to their separate beds. Happy Honeymoon.

Laura is clearly shaken by her hairy ordeal, and the family doctor, who just happens to be an expert in hypnotism, is intrigued by her fetish for angoras and dreams in which she's covered in "kitten's fur". Regressing further under hypnosis, she discovers she was a gorilla in a previous life, and re-experiences her death at the hands of native hunters. Here's two of Ed's peccadilloes springing to life from the script's page: his transvestitism, and his keen interest in reincarnation and hypnotism. The doctor's character was directly inspired by his chiropractor Tom Mason, Bela Lugosi's body double in Plan 9, who's credited here as "script consultant".

Things get bogged down when the Great White Hunter takes his bride to Africa. Ah, Africa… stock footage capital of the world! I suspect the two never leave the studio – none of the shots of wild animals match the action, and when driving a truck, they drive past the same clump of trees seven or eight times – in the middle of the savanna! The last half is essentially a lame chase between Bawana and a couple of renegade tigers – that is, until Laura cracks her skull and regresses even further. She's now in "Gorilla country" – hmm, I wonder how things will end? It's Beauty And The Beast if Walt Disney wore fur bikinis, and imagined being fondled by gorillas named Spanky. It's time to unleash the Beast in all of us – happy honeymoon as we marry up The Bride And The Beast.
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7/10
Welcome aboard for a cruise into another dimension… of TERROR!
1 November 2007
The Blind Dead leave the sanctuary of the Templar's crumbling monastery for the third in the series, the floating fright-fest Horror of The Zombies (aka The Ghost Galleon). If there was ever a film that's rooted firmly in the decade from which it sprung, it's this one. Oh, and Saturday Night Fever, but this one's from 1974: pre-disco, and post-taste.

Now, if we've all forgotten just how senselessly ugly Seventies fashions were, the opener will bring it all kicking and screaming back to us. It's at a swim-wear photo shoot, where top model Noemi is looking for her missing girlfriend. She's taken to a secret location by photo-frau Lillian (Maria Perschy) where the great mystery is revealed – her girlfriend Cathy and another model are out in the middle of the ocean as part of an elaborate publicity stunt to promote a weather-controlled boat, cooked up by cocky financier Howard Tucker (Jack Taylor).

Unfortunately for the girls, the fog rolls in (although, being the Seventies, everyone is huffing away on cigarettes and cigars, so how would you notice), and an ancient galleon, seemingly abandoned with rags for sails, floats into view. The girls radio the news of the Ghost Galleon back to base; the resident token egghead Professor Gruber goes a little strange, and despite his rigorous scientific training, suggests the legendary Ghost Galleon is from a another dimension outside of time and space. Clearly a huge fan of Eric von Daniken, Gruber seems to have read one too many supermarket paperbacks on the Bermuda Triangle, but, like I said, it's the Seventies – we ALL read Von Daniken. The girl's are here, he reasons, but they're not, and they won't be coming back. Nothing is real – the ship, the fog, you or I... A philosophical paradox, for sure, but the real mystery is this: how de Ossorio stretches such a flimsy premise to feature length truly defies all scientific explanation.

So of course they all go looking for the Galleon and the missing bikinis, or maybe Howard Tucker wants his speedboat back. Cue more fog, and the resurrected skeletons of the Knights Templar rising from their on-board coffins. We soon discover on a 16th Century boat, there really is nowhere to run. Or, you could swim, but wait for the water-logged ending to drown that theory. "Preposterous" is the key word here – de Ossorio asks a great deal of his viewers to suspend belief when what amounts to little more than chicken bones drags a fully grown woman down a flight of stairs to her complete and utter dismemberment.

Horror Of The Zombies features the two most popular stars in Spanish horror. Austrian-born Maria Perschy, and American expatriate Jack Taylor who starred in a string of no-budget shockers for Jess Franco and decided he couldn't go home ever again. And yet Horror Of The Zombies was the least successful of the Blind Dead quartet. Perhaps the film strayed too far from the formula, although how could you go wrong: girls in bikinis on a boat with zombies? Despite its limited scope, micro-cast and tendency to be stage-bound, it's still an entertaining exercise in tension, atmospheric and illogic, and the empty eye sockets of the Knights Templar are always a welcome sight.

All I can say now is "Welcome aboard" for a cruise into another dimension… of TERROR!… with the 1974 Horror Of The Zombies.
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Blood Thirst (1971)
5/10
Vic Diaz vs the Bubblegum Monster
1 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
From the clothes, hairstyles and black and white film grain it looks like Blood Thirst was filmed in the Philippines by an American production company around the mid Sixties, but wasn't released until 1971 on the bottom of a double bill with British vampire movie Bloodsuckers (1970). Even in 1971 Blood Thirst would have seemed like an anachronistic curio – quaint, and for the most part uneventful, until the ludicrous ending's payoff where we see the film's chewed bubblegum-faced monster. Then, and only then, can I say: baby, all is forgiven.

Chubby Vic Diaz (and let's face it, it's not a Philippines B film without the seedily lovable Vic) plays Inspector Ramos, a Makati policeman on the trail of missing hostesses from the Barrio Club, a downbeat tourist trap run by the suspicious Senor Calderon. When the girls turn up hanging upside down and drained of blood from cuts on their arms, he sends for his old friend from the States, a cop named Adam Rourke who, as a New Yorker, is obviously used to seeing ritual murders. Posing as an "Ugly American" on a writing assignment, he goes undercover at the Barrio Club, asks one too many questions, cracks jokes like a proto-Arnie while shooting a would-be assassin, and turns out to be an ill-tempered ladies man with his eye on every Caucasian-looking woman in Manila. Just like every sleazy Hawaiian shirted white guy on a Philippines hayride.

His eyes settle on both Inspector Ramos' adopted sister Sylvia, who resists Rourke's questionable charms until she can no longer stand it, and on the Barrio Club's featured attraction, the exotic dancer and blond Peruvian bombshell named Serena. It seems her beauty is more than skin-deep: it's vein-deep, and may be the still-beating heart of a blood cult of Mayan or Incan origin – or older, we're never quite sure – in which Golden Goddesses are kept eternally youthful with the blood of club hostesses. The Golden Goddess theory may explain, though not fully, why Serena looks more Swedish than Peruvian, but definitely won't point to where she's stashed her stewardess uniform for Scandinavian Airlines.

And so to the "horror" element: a blood cult, a bubblegum faced monster waving a knife at a young girl strapped to an altar. And…that's pretty much it. It's an odd film reminiscent of an undercooked episode of Hawaii Five-O minus the pineapple, that's more interested in its mystery angle than the gore or supernatural elements. It also feels empty, and not just plot-wise – Blood Thirst is the only film I can recall that makes a city of over 10 million people seem uninhabited. Still, it's an interesting 73 minutes, more for what it is than what it does: a cheapo spook-show which predates the John Ashley/Roger Corman deluge of Philippine horrors by several years. And, to be fair, it's not every day you see a monster clobbered to death by an undercover cripple's fake leg.

Adam: There's a killer on the loose… a homicidal maniac with delusions of ancient history. Now, can I use your phone?
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Incubus (1966)
8/10
Lovecraft filmed by Ingmar Bergman?
1 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Incubus is one of those films that seem to have appeared from a parallel universe - a wonderfully atmospheric film (imagine Lovecraft filmed by Ingmar Bergman!) that was completely lost until the mid 90s. A floating allegory set on a mythical island, a pre-Star Trek Shatner stars as Marc, an innocent Christ-like figure tempted by a sister tag-team of succubi out collecting souls for their infernal master. The younger demoness Kia (played by Allyson Ames) falls in love with his purity which has dire consequences for both of them. After Kia runs screaming from a church Marc has blissfully dragged her to, her sister Amael (Eloise Hardt) raises an Incubus from the pit of hell (which, despite being some scaffolding and cheap theatrical lighting tricks, is a sight to warm the cockles of Brueghel's heart).

Esperanto was devised in the late 1800s by Ludovic Zamenhof, an idealistic professor who wanted a universal language to unite humanity. It was quite popular until the Great Wars, which proved once and for all that mankind is destined to remain dumb, angry and divided. Beatnik and would-be mystic director Leslie Stevens obviously shared Zamenhof's idealism, and thus Incubus stands as the language's only feature. It's a bizarre soundtrack to Stevens' visuals - stark black and white photography, beautifully composed, with the robed figures representing a grand battle between good and evil. It's as if Bergman's The Seventh Seal was painstakingly transcribed and translated into pigeon Norwegian.

The results are surreal, to say the least, and the final appearance of the Devil as a bedraggled farmyard goat is too much, even for a low-budget horror film with SERIOUS pretensions. Arty, insane, and with Shatner reportedly spouting the worst accent in the history of Esperanto, we unleash the beast from the pit: the 1965 Incubus.
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4/10
No-budget war epic running on an empty tank
1 November 2007
War film logic dictates that both Americans, Germans and the occupied French will all understand each other while speaking fluent Americanese. With this kind of co-operation, why was there ever a war in the first place? Possibly to inspire no-budget tank operas like Battle Of The Last Panzer. It's the tale of a doomed Panzer squad led by the clearly-insane Lieutenant Hunter (played by Italian actor Stan Cooper, real name Stelvio Rosi). His men know the war is over and are on the brink of mutiny, but Hunter, who spends most of the film with his shirt off and practicing his strange full-facial style of overacting, is determined to see his mission through to the last man standing. They bulldoze their way into a tiny French village and capture the sycophantic mayor and his less-than-impressed wife Jeanette, who despises weakness and sees something sexy in Hunter's bullish macho destructive determination.

Played by German actress Erna Schürer who spent most of the Seventies in more sleazy Italian fare such as Strip Nude For Your Killer and Deported Women of the SS Special Section, Jeanette willingly volunteers to become their tour guide, supposedly to save her husband, but after a while trapped in a tank full of sweating, leering Germans her motives are quite clear, showing off her flesh and playing the affections of one soldier against the other. At one point, Hunter peers up her skirt and says "Pull up into the underbrush and park!" Jawohl, mein herr.

Unlike spaghetti westerns, the Italian war cycle was far shorter, much less prolific, and produced no stand-alone genre classics, least of all this one. But Battle Of The Last Panzer from 1969 has the look and feel and musical score of a spaghetti western from the same era - transpose Confederates versus Yankees on top of the WW2 players, substitute a war wagon for the Panzer tank, and gatlings for submachine guns, and you have a Sergio Leone movie. A rough as guts Leone at a third of the running time, one-fiftieth of the cost and with a script rewritten buy a team of monkeys on typewriters, but a Leone film nonetheless. And with a cool red-tinted spaghetti western style shootout at the end, it's worth sitting through this interesting yet deeply flawed Italian-Spanish poverty-row production. So gather the troops and fire up the Tiger for another excursion into enemy territory courtesy of the losing side: the Italian war epic Battle Of The Last Panzer.
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5/10
Prepare for the imminent destruction of Earth - AGAIN!
1 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
From Daiei Studios, the good folk who unleashed Gamera the Flying Turtle on the world, comes a much earlier tinfoil effort. Warning From Space, released in 1956 to capitalize on the success of Godzilla, has the honor of being the first Japanese space opera film in color. It also features some of the most bizarre out-of-this-world creatures ever witnessed on Schlock Treatment - star creatures from the planet Paira who have giant eyes for belly buttons and look suspiciously like a cross between Tellytubbies and the KKK.

Their spaceship hovers over Tokyo, creating mass hysteria and the usual cries of denial from the stuffed shirts in the government. After frightening a few geishas, the star creatures decide to "transmute" into a more pleasing form to the human eye. And so as to not attract undue attention, the lead alien morphs into the most famous female singer in Japan, appears at a country club doing ten-foot volleys on the tennis court, and walks through walls in front of crowded rooms.

Her message is simple - Earth is on a collision course with the renegade Planet R and, as Planet Paira is dependent on the Earth's gravitational pull, the fate of both planets are at stake. Dr Kamura's plan is to use the earth's stock of H-bombs to blast the planet out of existence, but the rest of the world won't listen, and as Planet R dwarfs the Earth in its shadow, earthquakes and tidal waves split Japan in two. It's a perfect picture postcard of post-war angst: barely 10 years after Hiroshima and the Japanese population are running from air sirens into bomb shelters while their country is flattened by outside forces.

Interestingly, the A-bomb is seen as the potential savior of Japan - or maybe that's something the American dubbing studio lost in the translation. And speaking of the dubbing, why do half of the characters sound American, and the other half are straight out of Monkey Magic? Still, it's an interesting, uniquely Japanese manifestation of Cold War paranoia, with a very cool backdrop of 1950s Tokyo. Remember to keep your eyes on the stars as we prepare for the imminent destruction of the Earth - AGAIN - with the 1956 Warning From Space.
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3/10
Infantile anthropomorphism is our FRIEND!
1 November 2007
We now travel to a parallel universe where the appearance of giant prehistoric monsters flattening cities are part of the daily routine. It's the world of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra Ghidrah and their kind - a strange world, and one made even stranger by the appearance of an unidentified flying turtle called Gamera.

Forever in the shadow of the monolithic Toho Studios, second rung Daiei Studios were more famous for samurai sagas than monster movies. In the mid 60s they decided to join the giant reptile race and designed a rival monster series to Toho's mammothly successful Godzilla. They wisely chose Gamera as their flagship - a giant turtle that shoots flames from between its snaggle-teeth, and spins through the air by shooting flames through its shell's feet-holes (and at one point you almost see the paper mache shell catch fire!).

The first Gamera film "Gamera The Invincible" (as it was sold to the US) is a virtual mirror of the first Godzilla film, only 10 years behind. American fighters chase an unmarked plane over the Arctic to its fiery demise - the nuclear bomb on board ignites and awakens the giant Gamera from its icy slumber. Feeding off atomic energy, it immediately goes on a rampage, and the world wants to destroy Gamera once and for all, but a little Japanese boy named Kenny, who has a psychic connection with the giant turtle and even keeps a miniature version in an aquarium by his bedside, believes Gamera is essentially kind and benevolent. He's like a little Jewish kid with a pinup of Hitler. "Gamera is a GOOD turtle," he pleads, then sulks, and puts on a face like someone's pooped in his coco pops. Miraculously the world's leaders listen to him, and so begins Z-Plan to save the world AND Gamera from complete destruction.

Released in 1965, Gamera was a surprising hit. The annoying infantile anthropomorphism actually worked on kiddie audiences in both Japan and the US, and the sight of Gamera on two feet stomping miniatures of Tokyo and the North Pole is gloriously chintzy. Most surprising of all is the longevity of the series: eight original Gamera films, plus a slew of recent remakes. Not bad for a mutant reptile whose only friend is mewing eight year old milquetoast - and if I hear "Gamera is friends to ALL children" one more time I'M going to crush Tokyo. Which appears to be an easy task in the parallel universe where children are smart and turtles are bigger than a Seiko billboard in the 1965 turtle-fest Gamera.
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Texas, Adios (1966)
Django Goes To Texas
1 November 2007
These days you forget what a name Nero was in the Sixties and Seventies. In 1966, the former army grunt turned physical actor starred in three westerns within six months - Django, Massacre Time and Texas Adios - before heading to Hollywood for a supporting role in Camelot, and then international stardom. It was as Django, however, that turned him into a major star in Europe; Nero as the steel-eyed Angel of Death dragging a coffin behind him personified the fashionable neo-nihilism of the Italian western and made him as iconic as the Kings of the Squint, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.

Texas Adios, released in 1966, was a much more deliberately American western. Franco Nero is a clear-cut moral figure as Burt Sullivan, sheriff in a Texas town who takes his younger womanizing brother Jim across the border to find their father's killer, the mysterious "Delgado". It's Adios Texas and Hola Mexico, but the country they find is more hostile than Burt imagined. It's a lawless landscape where no-one can be trusted, controlled by morally bankrupt power brokers and would-be revolutionaries, and Delgado turns out to be the most powerful land baron in Mexico who likes to play with his captives before executing them. What begins as a simple quest for revenge becomes much more ambiguous as the plot unfolds and family secrets are revealed.

Like all great Italian westerns, Texas Adios is beautifully shot by Enzo Barboni, who as "EB Clutcher" would later create his own sub-genre of Trinity movies with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. And, despite its allusions to the classic models of Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart, it's a spaghetti western at heart, and its heart is cold and cruel. "Are you tired of living (pronounced 'leeeeving')?" asks Delgado's greasy right hand man, and the answer seems to be a resounding yes: sympathetic characters are disposed of with little fanfare, and Nero's idealistic younger brother Jim played by Alberto Dell'Acqua is taught that becoming a man means becoming immune to killing.

Me, I'm already numb to the wholesale slaughter, and you will be too, as we ride the blood-soaked plains in Texas Adios.
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8/10
Vila la 1968 Revolution!
1 November 2007
Imagine an Italian western inspired by Marx - not Groucho, but KARL. Springing from the loins of the European mini-revolutions of 1968 comes a western with a conscience, courtesy of spaghetti socialist Sergio Sollima, who recycles his most memorable character from the 1967 The Big Gundown and builds an entire film around him.

Cuban-born Tomas Milian returns as Cuchillio, a wily yet endearingly naive opportunist who's quick with a knife but not so quick on the uptake. A quick spell in a border prison sees him share a cell with a seditious poet named Rodriguez, whose dying breath reveals the last resting place of a $3 million cache of revolution-bound gold. And so begins Cuchillio's journey, spreading his proto-revolutionary seed across the Texas border whilst pursued by a sleazy assortment of cutthroats and would-be revolutionaries, spaghetti western regular Donal O'Brien playing a sheriff with a conscience, two French secret agents, his jealous fiancé Dolores (played by the fiery Chelo Alonso), and a blond sergeant in the Salvation Army, a woman who sticks out of her unlikely surroundings like a turd tambourine. Cuchillio himself spends most of his screen time bound, gagged with dynamite, spreadeagled in some godforsaken location, or in one stunning sequence, strapped to the blade of a windmill. And STILL He doesn't lose his sense of humor.

Like The Good The Bad And The Ugly it's a deliberately open-ended epic quest for hidden treasure, but without Leone's grandiose scale and pretentious camera histrionics. It's more like The Wizard of Oz wrapped in a burrito, and peppered with the most random of supporting characters. The usual grimness of these spaghetti westerns is contrasted with Tomas Milian's comic timing, a rousing score by an uncredited Ennio Morricone, and a surprising cameo from veteran American actor John Ireland as a crusty, battle-scarred soldier of the class struggle.

Socialist westerns don't usually come this entertaining - come to think of it, socialists are rarely funny at all! So enjoy the picaresque, picturesque and thankfully undogmatic 1968 Run Man Run.
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Eegah (1962)
5/10
Clunky, awkward, off-kilter, compulsive!
1 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
First film for Fairway was The Choppers, a tale of car-jacking juvenile delinquents made in 1959 when Arch Jr was just sixteen but not released until 1961. At a final cost of $150,000 it proved so unprofitable, even for the second feature in a drive-in double bill, that Arch Sr cut the budgets of his next five movies to around $30,000. That's an almost unheard-of figure for a film company wanting a decent release, but the Halls carried on undeterred, and Arch Sr decided to trim the fat even further on his second picture.

The result was Eegah!, Hall's only time as director, a modern-day caveman rock musical romance listed as one of the Fifty Worst Movies of All Time – and not without reason. It's the most clunky, awkward, unprofessional and off-kilter of Fairway's six pictures. Needless to say, it's also compulsive viewing. Arch is Tom, a poor gas station jerk with a tsunami-style greaser cut and a thing for rich girl Roxy Miller, played by Marilyn Manning. On her way to Daddy's house, a seven foot caveman suddenly appears in her headlights like a startled giant rabbit. Essayed by gentle giant Richard Kiel, who would later find fame as the metal-mouthed Jaws in two James Bond pictures, he cuts a striking image – beatnik hair, Rasputin beard, wrapped in a fur beach towel and wielding a paper mache club – and naturally Roxy faints dead away. Before Eegah (as they later dub him) can beat her car to death with his club, Arch-Baby just happens to show up and scares him off.

Together they recount the tale to Roxy's father Mr Miller, played by Arch's old man under his usual screen screen name "William Watters". As producer, writer AND director, he's managed to cast himself in the plum role as an author of real-life adventure books, and the story of a seven foot Cro-Magnon man intrigues him. Before you can say "pre-hysterical" he's in the first helicopter that comes to hand and heads off to Shadow Mountain near Deep Canyon in search of Eegah. To pass the time, Roxy takes a dip in the pool and doggy paddles in front of Tom as he does what his father believed he was born to do – entertaining a crowd of kids by crooning a song called "Vicky", and thus proving he's as good a singer as he is an actor.

Come late afternoon and with no sign of Daddy-O, Tom and Roxy head to Deep Canyon in Tom's dune buggy. Out in the desert you'd think the two teens would go hog wild, but Tom and Roxy are more into pouting and being petulant, and don't really seem to dig each other. When it gets dark and clearly sex is the last thing on both their minds, Tom whips out his guitar and rips out a rendition of "Valerie", complete with full orchestra, to the mounting annoyance of Roxy who's finally realized not only has he never written a song called "Roxy", but he's as good a lip-syncher as he is a singer.

The sound of his overdubbed singing attracts the attentions of the lumbering Eegah, who later throws her over his shoulder (she's developed an unfortunate habit of fainting dead away) and hikes over the mountain to his cave, where her prostrate father's been spending some quality bonding moments with her new suitor. Looking around his humble dwelling, you realize the "plaster idols" from the opening credits are actually Eegah's long-dead relatives, and that he's the last caveman of his tribe, kept alive in the Californian hills by the foaming sulphur spring in his cave. When you do the math, you realize hasn't seen a woman in several thousand years, and his dating skills are,, shall we say, rudimentary. He comes back to the cave a courtin' with a hand full of posies; she responds by giving him a shave, while he tries to communicates his growing affection for Roxy with a complicated series of grunts and burps – all dubbed much later over Kiel's unmoving mouth. And when "words" are not enough, he simply tries to pull her top off. At this point a pouty Tom turns up and the family flee in Tom's dune buggy, leaving Roxy's would-be rapist silhouetted against the craggy skyline.

Heartbroken, the overly amorous giant follows Roxy into suburbia, and somewhat miraculously to a pool party where Roxy is strutting her stuff like a drunken débutante and Tom's combo The Archers just happens to be playing. Will she choose a caveman over a shaved ape in a two dollar suit? It's the classic Beauty and the Beast scenario, and when you see Eegah's only competition in action, you can understand the attraction.

Being a Fairway International picture, Eegah redefines the term "quasi-professional" over and over again. Marilyn Manning was the secretary in the office next to Fairway International; her short-lived screen career saw her pair off once again with Arch-Baby playing his mute thrill killer moll in the much superior The Sadist. Briefly seen at the pool party is husband and wife tag team Carolyn Brandt and Ray Dennis Steckler, the body and the brains behind such classic Z films as Rat Pfink A Boo Boo and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies, who were slated to direct and star in Arch's next film Wild Guitar. Eegah's director Arch Sr still manages to get the final word before he hands over the reins, and has the temerity to quote the Bible: "There were giants in those days", he solemnly intones.

Eegah is a giant all right – a huge shuffling Woolly Mammoth that crushes most "bad" movies under its hairy feet. Arch-Baby, you never disappoint: he's the Harem Keeper of the "Huh?", the Genie of the Filmic Weenie, and this may be his most staggering achievement, making a seven foot caveman look like an intellectual giant.
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7/10
Pock-marked Lee in a Teutonic potboiler
1 November 2007
A strange West German reworking of the classic Edgar Allan Poe tale The Pit And The Pendulum. Already filmed by Roger Corman in 1961 with Vincent Price in the lead role, the Germans - with their infinitely subtle touch - throw almost every possible horror cliché into the mix. The result is a virtual smörgåsbord of unearthly delights, presided over by veteran horror actor Christopher Lee who, by playing the bloodless Count, seems to be having a leisurely walk through the Black Forest, having spent almost as much of the Sixties in Continental potboilers as he did in their British counterparts.

Looking even more pale and cadaverous than his Dracula appearances, Lee plays Count Regula, a creature of pure evil sentenced to be drawn and quartered whilst wearing a spiked mask (trust Teutonic sadism to add a generous amount of Bava's Black Sunday). Before he expires, he curses the Judge (American B-actor Lex Barker) and his entire Von Marienberg family; thirty five years later his estranged son Roger (also played by) is summoned to Regula's now ruined castle, along with Lillian, the daughter of the woman who framed him (striking German actress Karin Dor, also a Bond villainess in You Only Live Twice the same year).

Their carriage passes through some genuine old German towns (complete with authentically craggy townsfolk) and into a hostile and increasingly surreal landscape - bodies hang from trees with severed arms for branches - towards a castle crawling with vultures and every other possible harbinger of doom, not to mention a resurrected Regula and the bodies of the twelve bodies of the virgins he sacrificed to perfect the elixir of eternal life. Lillian, it seems, is the thirteenth and final virgin (..?), while Roger is destined to be the end of the family line, strapped under a ghastly pendulum in a torture chamber covered in what looks a Brughel mural of A Clockwork Orange.

Lee is superb as always, even sleepwalking through these zombie Count roles, and the art direction in the cobweb-covered catacombs brings a dry tickle to the throat. It's not classic Poe by any stretch, but then every Corman adaptation with Vincent Price had the unmistakable aroma of ham, and the Germans really know what to do with their pork products. So.let's go down the basement to see what the Swinging Sixties has to offer - possibly a bloody big pendulum blade, that is, swinging on the end of a chain. Sweet dreams sinners,as we enter The Torture Chamber Of Dr Sadism.

Roger: So these are the 12 murdered girls? Servant: Yes. But that's no reason why you shouldn't make yourselves at home.
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