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Mediocre Euro-trash fare
NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, THE (1971) *½ Antonio De Teffé (as `Anthony Steffen'), Marina Malfatti, Erika Blanc, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Roberto Maldera. More giallo than horror movie, Evelyn is the story of a wealthy, slightly insane London playboy who is haunted by images of dead wife. Seeking to inherit the family fortune, his conniving cousin -- teamed with a pair of London strippers -- plots to drive him over the edge for good. If you can suffer through the often tedious first hour and a half, the outrageous ending is good for a laugh or two, but otherwise there's little to recommend here.
One and a half stars out of five.
Fight for Your Life (1977)
Great entertainment, but certainly won't appeal to everyone
FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977) **** William Sanderson, Robert Judd, Dan Faraldo, Peter Yoshida. If there was ever a movie that could push the audience's buttons, it was Fight for Your Life. During its limited theatrical run, it reportedly caused near riots in theaters wherever it was shown. It's easy to see why. The movie follows three escaped convicts, led by racist hillbilly psychopath Jesse Cain (William Sanderson), who take an African-American family hostage in their home and torture them. Cain spews vicious racial epithets almost constantly as he and his cohorts (who, ironically enough, are Latino and Asian) subject the family to a host of racial and sexual humiliations. Though it's easy to dismiss as mere exploitation, Fight for Your Life speaks volumes about what America had on its collective mind in the late 1970's, reflecting anxieties about the effects of drugs, violent crime and volatile race relations on the country. Of course, it's also great entertainment. Thanks to a strong script from Straw Weisman and Robert Endelson's smart direction, there's never a dull moment in this film, though it certainly isn't for all viewers.
Great gore effects, but otherwise unremarkable zombie fare
DEMONS (1985) **½ Urbarno Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento. Produced by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava, this hyper-gory Italian film is about a group of people who are all given free tickets to a horror movie. Soon after it begins, the unsuspecting moviegoers, like the characters in the film, start turning into flesh-hungry zombies. It all sounds promising enough, but that's where the originality ends. The audience inexplicably finds itself trapped inside the theater and the rest of the movie is pure formula: a group of anonymous, one-dimensional characters is picked off one by one by the zombies, only to become zombies themselves, who (you guessed it) pick off the remaining anonymous, one-dimensional characters. Of course, Bava knows that it's all about the gore and, on that score at least, Demons really delivers. There's enough gut munching, eye gouging and scalp tearing to satisfy even the most hardened gorehound, and the special effects (courtesy of Argento regular Sergio Stivaletti) are about as good as they come. Thirty-something types will also appreciate the early 80s heavy-metal soundtrack, which features Mötley Crüe (`Save Our Souls') and Accept (`Fast as a Shark'), among others.
Howard Vernon strikes again!
ORLOFF AND THE INVISIBLE MAN (1971) *** Howard Vernon, Brigitte Carva, Fernando Sancho, Paco Valladares, Isabel del Río, Evane Hanska. In this 1971 French-Spanish co-production, the irrepressible Howard Vernon returns for his second turn as Dr. Orloff. This time, he's created an invisible man who feeds on human blood. It's fairly typical Eurosleaze fare: there's the usual muddled plot, cheap special effects (wait until you see the invisible `man'!) and a fair amount of gratuitous nudity (the rape of the servant girl by the invisible man, with shots of Vernon leering through the whole thing, is especially tasteless). But a good score, nice atmosphere and fairly brisk direction by Pierre Chevalier manage to keep things interesting.
Hell Night (1981)
Linda Blair saves this otherwise nondescript horror flick
HELL NIGHT (1981) **½ Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton, Kevin Brophy, Suki Goodwin. Linda Blair stars as a sorority pledge who, along with three others (Van Patten, Barton and Goodwin) must spend the night in Garth Manor, an old abandoned house, as a part of her initiation. According to legend, the house's former owner killed his wife and three children there years before, though one of the children (who was said to be horribly deformed) is rumored to have survived and may still be lurking in the labyrinth of tunnels below the house. After Blair and the others start finding the mutilated bodies of their classmates on the grounds of Garth Manor, they begin to wonder if the legend is true. Blair turns in a surprisingly effective performance as a teenager from a working-class background who feels a little out of place among her well-heeled counterparts. She manages to make her character seem almost three-dimensional, which is rare indeed for a slasher flick. It's just a shame she didn't get more screen time. The film has some pacing problems: after a great setup in the first 15 minutes, the film really lags, making the middle third tough going at times. But the intense final minutes of the film feature some terrific scares, and are definitely worth waiting for.
A powerful thriller
VENOM (1982) ***½ Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed, Nicol Williamson, Sarah Miles, Susan George. Even though this film is called "Venom" and features a snake, this is no "creature feature." Two English domestics (Reed and George), along with an international criminal (Kinski), conspire to kidnap their wealthy employers' ten-year-old son. The plan goes awry after the boy mistakenly receives a highly aggressive, super-poisonous black mamba (originally intended for a research facility), which kills one of the conspirators and transforms the attempted kidnapping into a tense armed standoff. A box-office flop in its day, American audiences were probably turned off by the film's stodgy English production values and thanks to a misleading advertising campaign probably felt duped once they realized it wasn't a killer snake movie. Still, a strong script and Kinski and Reed's explosive performances make this a powerful thriller. Highly recommended.
The Concorde... Airport '79 (1979)
Far better than the critics would have you believe!
CONCORDE: AIRPORT '79, THE (1979) **½ Alain Delon, Susan Blakely, Robert Wagner, Sylvia Kristel, George Kennedy. This fourth and final entry in the Airport series is arguably the weakest of the bunch, but it doesn't deserve the critical thrashing it's received over the years. True, the script is rife with hokey, often saccharine dialog (in one nauseating scene, a television reporter (John Davidson) and his Russian gymnast girlfriend recite wedding vows to each other when they think the plane is going down), and leaves far too many unresolved subplots (thanks mostly to the use of a huge ensemble cast of Hollywood has-beens, a series trademark). But Airport fans won't care, because the action is what matters and on that score, at least, The Concorde delivers. Even with its dated special effects, the movie still packs a wallop, delivering plenty of nail-biting suspense and a spectacular ending. Worth seeing.
A shocking but moving film experience
MAÎTRESSE (1973) **** Gérard Depardieu, Bulle Ogier, André Rouyer, Nathalie Keryan. In this Barbet Schroeder film, Olivier (Depardieu) burglarizes the apartment of a dominatrix named Ariane (Ogier). After Ariane catches him in the act, the two fall in love and Olivier struggles to accept his girlfriend's bizarre profession. In the uncut version, some of the torture scenes (which were purportedly filmed using real-life "slaves" of a real-life dominatrix) are truly painful to watch, and are undoubtedly some of the most shocking ever to appear in a non-pornographic movie. Which leads one to ask: Is Maîtresse an artsy exploitation flick disguised as a love story, or simply a love story that makes legitimate use of graphic (and violent) sexual imagery? Either way, the film is moving, provocative and impossible to forget. Highly recommended.
Chi l'ha vista morire? (1972)
A formulaic but engaging murder mystery
WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972) *** George Lazenby, Anita Strindberg, Peter Chatel, Adolfo Celi. In this engaging giallo directed by Aldo Lado, George Lazenby plays Franco Serpieri, a well-known Venetian sculptor. After Serpieri's young daughter is murdered, he grows impatient with the efforts of the police and tries to find the killer himself, with some help from his estranged wife (Strindberg). The film sticks to a familiar formula: the likely suspects are killed off one by one, and the last man (or woman) standing is revealed as the murderer. But the process feels clumsier than it ought to here, and since the killer turns out to be one of the film's least developed characters, the ending is less than satisfying. Fortunately, though, painterly cinematography and an intriguing score by the brilliant Ennio Morricone help compensate for the weaknesses of the script. Recommended.
Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
Classic '70s sci-fi trash
KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977) **½ William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode, Lieux Dressler. In yet another one of those don't-mess-with-Mother-Nature science-fiction flicks, William Shatner plays a small-town veterinarian who, along with a university researcher (Bolling), tries to figure out why thousands of tarantulas have suddenly descended upon Verde Valley, Arizona. Shatner gives a surprisingly restrained and effective performance, which makes you wonder what he could have done if he hadn't wasted most of his career making all those Star Trek movies. The apocalyptic, supposed-to-blow-your-mind ending is utterly preposterous, but that's part of what makes this film such a priceless piece of '70s drive-in trash.