Thursday, December 23, 2010
The Pink Angels is, I suspect, a "comedy" about a biker gang made up of six gay men, and that's the punchline right there- they're a bunch of "bananas" who look like bikers! Wh-wh-what?! And they cross-dress!! They're heading down the California coast to a cotillion ball and the locals will never know what hit them when they realize that these bikers are actually... gay bikers!! YOWZA!
The movie sort of ambles through one contrived set up to another with the punchline nearly always being that, get this! They're gay bikers! Most of the actors play mildly embarassing swishy, fey "homo" types; but the film is also really on the side of the gay bikers, who are contrasted with the square "establishment" types, and the portrayals are much more lighthearted than meanspirited. One of the gags here is that the military/square/cops hate long-haired hippie "queers"- but, in this case, they really are gay! So, given that the target audience for the film was stoned teenagers at the drive-in, it's possible that maybe some of them became more tolerant of homosexual cross-dressers after watching the film.
Of course, the problem with this type of late 60s/early 70s movie is that it looks like it was shot by people who were stoned too- there is a lot of bombastic folk-rock about America and its social ills and scenes that go nowhere, and an orgy scene in which the cameraman nearly sticks the lens up some actor's noses, and a really stereotypical military type who appears periodically, and lots of scenes that play too long and slow- so very characteristic of the era.
And then there's an ending that is suddenly very serious and tragic- in the last two minutes of the film! The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movies reviewer admits that he had no idea how to handle it, and I'm sort of in the same boat. Is it supposed to be funny or freak us the fuck out? Unlike Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movies, I'm going to reveal the ending, so you know if you want to watch the movie, after the trailer, (SPOILER ALERT)
Spoiler: The bikers all get lynched and murdered. The end.
It seriously comes out of nowhere, especially given the lighthearted tone of the entire rest of the movie, and reminds me a lot of "Avere Ventanni" an Italian sex romp about two girls having wacky misadventures, until they're raped and murdered in the last five minutes. That one, in fact, struck me as social reactionary bullshit- we can show all the female nudity and sex that you came to see so long as the girls get punished in the end for their behavior.
In this movie? I don't know. I think The Pink Angels is actually pretty subversive because it asks its early 70s audience to relate to heroes who are openly gay and then mourn their deaths. There's a closing montage that reminds us of their adventures and, I actually might dare to say, that we're forced to question all the fun we've had snickering at the "faggots" throughout the film, since this was what got them murdered. I prefer this interpretation to thinking the movie is showing the characters "getting what's coming to them" for their transgressions.
At least, I hope I'm right.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Okay, now: "what are the Italian cannibal films?" you ask. They're a subgenre of Italian horror movies in which clueless westerners travel into the Amazon jungle and eventually get eaten by cannibals for their transgressions. I suspect they started making these movies in response to the cannibalism scenes in earlier zombie films. "You know who else eats people? Cannibals!" The best of them is probably Cannibal Holocaust, which really isn't that good. I'm not sure the worst. Maybe we'll plow through those later- this is the last of the (official) Laura Gemser Emanuelle films to plow through. So let's get to it.
My favorite part of this movie is the title card: "This is a true story as reported by Jennifer O'Sullivan". I'm guessing this is actually a crapola story as reported by Liar O'Bullshitter.
The story begins with Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) doing an undercover investigation of a New York City mental institution when, suddenly, a patient attacks and bites a chunk out of a nurse's breast in the 'Farnacy' (The sign was clearly made by the Italian crew). The staff ties up the patient and have no luck getting her to talk. Thinking quickly though Emanuelle tries masturbating the girl, but has no luck.
Cut to her editor's office, where Emanuelle explains the girl's malicious tit-munching by telling us that the nurse "was well-known for her homosexual inclination. She's the one who started abusing the poor girl"- a bit judgmental considering Emanuelle has just fingered "the poor girl". Anyway, turns out the tit-biter has a tattoo on her linked to an Amazon tribe that was thought to be extinct. How did she get into a NYC loony-bin? No idea.
But, this allows Emanulle to meet up with an anthropologist played by Gemser's husband and frequent co-star Gabrielle Tinti. He shows her some 8mm films of African cannibals killing and eating people and then they have sex because of course they do. Afterwards, she informs him that "I'm a free woman and I behave as such".
Besides, she's got another lover, Peter, who she then has a surprisingly hot sex scene with alongside the Hudson River. This is followed by an equally good sex scene with the anthropologist, which has an unforgettably schmaltzy love song with lyrics like, "my arms feel so tired when I make love to you" and "I am so happy... like a clown". Indeed.
Emanuelle, the professor and a team of researchers heads into the Amazon jungle to solve this whole cannibal mystery. They bring along some associates, including a nun and teenage girl, who live outside the jungle and are up for more sexy hijinx (no, not the nun). For instance, Emanuelle frolics with a nude Monica Zanchi in the water near a waterfall while a monkey smokes cigarettes in the foreground. (Writing a sentence like that reminds me why I watch these movies) The group soon runs into a hunter, played by Donald O'Brien (Dr. Buther M.D. himself) and his wife Maggie, played by Susan Scott, (who's in a few other Emanuelle movies). The hunter is really searching for a wrecked plane full of diamonds, while his wife is searching for dudes to fuck her on the side; she's a lot luckier.
The hunter tells them that the priest who they were going to visit in the jungle has been killed, along with his nuns, which doesn't really seem to bother anyone terribly. After about an hour of sex and chatter, the cannibals finally show up and start picking off characters. The nun gets eaten. The gore effects are fairly realistic here, but scenes of cannibalism tend to suffer from the fact that the dinner is already dead, so there's no tension. Anyway, the hunter and his wife find the plane and the diamonds and find they still love each other, but she gets snatched by the cannibals and his plan to save her fails spectacularly.
Finally, Emanuelle saves the teenage girl with a brilliant plan that involves being naked in the water and being naked on land. She, the girl, and Tinti survive to tell the tale. Even though Emanuelle has enough material for a great article, she finds herself strangely moved by watching her friends massacred in front of her.
Of all the Gemser Emanuelle films, this is the one most seen by horror movie fans. It's also one of the worst because it makes very little sense and the blend of hot sex and revolting gore doesn't work well at all. The sex is actually hotter than in most of the other Emanuelle films and the gore is pretty convincing; but the film has to really shift gears to get from the sex to the violence. D'Amato's direction is pretty lousy here anyway, but the real problem is that, again, he's unable to stick to making one movie and goes off in all sorts of bad directions. But, at least, nobody gets raped this time.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Maybe I should characterize the scenarios with some sort of charting system. Story 1- Location: Nairobi. Sex: 1. Emanuelle's friend Susan and her mechanic, Susan and Emanuelle, Male/Female (2), and the two women and a man. I think that covers it. I'd only note that Emanuelle's stewardess friend in Nairobi is played by the lovely Ely Galleani, who played the newly-liberated American tourist in Emanuelle in Bangkok, and is here playing basically a character from Black Emanuelle. Ah, recycling.
There's more recycling when Emanuelle returns to New York to meet with her editor- some scenes are taken right from Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (more about that mess later) and redubbed with new dialogue! You can see how they were able to crank out so many of these movies at once. You can also tell that D'Amato was running out of ideas at this point.
Anyway, the main storyline has Emanuelle investigating a white slavery ring in which girls are auctioned off for sex; she goes undercover as a slave, even though this isn't "white slavery" since Gemser was Indonesian and, as we all know, this makes her "black" to the Italians. She ends up in a sort of brothel- also stolen from Emanuelle in America- same sets and scenes in fact, but more entertaining because some of the girls are 70s butch lesbians and the madam's assistant is a transvestite who Emanuelle has sex with. In general, there is also a lot more softcore sex in this one and no scene with anyone jerking off a horse. I think any movie is good if there's no scene of horse-wanking.
Also the tone is sillier this time. This is largely unintentional I suspect. We're meant to be shocked when one of the girls, Midget, is killed off-screen, although everyone wandering around asking, "Where did Midget go?" gets a bit silly. Also, Emanuelle wanders around the house taking secret pictures of everyone having sex, and you have to wonder at some point in this series if she really is an investigative photojournalist or just a pervert.
Finally, Emanuelle decides to leave before she loses her life, enlisting the help of the transvestite Stephen, who fights a gang of thugs in a bowling alley to help her escape. It doesn't work, but hey, really, a transvestite fighting a bunch of dudes in a bowling alley is why you watch grindhouse films in the first place.Sadly, D'Amato just can't leave out the mandatory rape scene; after their long fight, the group of thugs gang-rapes Emanuelle- this is the one sexual violence scene he stuck in here. Then the thugs drug Emanuelle, tie her up, and arrange for her to be lobotomized by their personal doctor. Is all hope lost?
Of course not- the resident nurse is a lesbian (an occupational hazard of being a nurse in these movies) and thus just has to untie Emanuelle in order to have sex with her. Foiled again! Our heroine escapes and hitches a ride aboard a fishing boat to Los Angeles, giving her a chance to have sex with a bunch of fishermen and the film a chance to include another plot twist that makes absolutely no sense.
Part of the appeal of D'Amato, in fact, is that a lot of what happens in his movies makes no friggin' sense. Actually, that's probably true of grindhouse movies in general. There's also a lot of sex, of course, which helps. Where he falters is when the 'outrageous' and 'shocking' content he includes is usually just misogynist. Really, none of the Emanuelle films needs to have a rape scene, and it's hard not to think that they're included so frequently as a sort of defensive position to reassure the members of the audience who're uncomfortable with a sexually-liberated woman. But, here's the thing- the rest of the movie is pretty silly and harmless, and Laura Gemser is beautiful, so we overlook all that.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
This time, as the film begins, Emanuelle (Gemser) is having casual sex with a moving guy in his truck. She's in San Franciso, where she stays long enough to meet a UN diplomat (Ivan Rassimov) and state her philosophy of life and sex: "I'm free. Men and women are equal. It's society that obligates us to be different." So far, so good.
Then it's off to India, where Emanuelle meets a tantric guru who teaches westerners how to have karmic sex and take their money. He's played by George Eastman in lots of makeup and the punchline is that Emanuelle fucks him and thinks he's mediocre in bed. This story is entertaining and the camera work is surprisingly good- stop watching the movie at this point because the rest is terrible.
In the second story, Emanuelle heads to Rome to investigate a sex slavery ring and the focus shifts to violence against women. Yes- in a sex romp. Do you know what's not sexy at all? Watching a man with a hideously burned face anally rape a sex slave. So Joe includes that. This story is quickly resolved- the girls call the cops and share a laugh together about being raped. Then the Rome story ends with Emanuelle introducing a young man to sex while spying on his stepmother and her maid, which is a nice scene, although it doesn't really clean the palate of that anal rape scene.
Emanuelle has a comrade in arms (Karin Schubert) in her crusade- the film was also titled, "Emanuelle Versus Violence Against Women"- and it might sound like feminist subversion. It isn't. Joe D'Amato is titilating the audience with multiple scenes of rape and degradation for its own sake, while ruining the light tone of the series. This film really appeals to those misogynists who were offended by the character's independence in the rest of the series and wanted to see her "get what was coming to her". It's no surprise that another alternate title was "The Degradation of Emanuelle".
Okay, now it's off to Hong Kong to further investigate/be victimized by sex slavers, and we have a scene in which a snake is inserted in a woman's vagina while another is raped by a dog. Jesus friggin' Christ! None of this makes sense in the context of a sex romp! But, they call the cops and laugh about it all, so no harm done.
Then, it's off to Tehran, for more of this bullshit about investigating a sex slavery ring that serves shieks and diplomats. The Emir, however, is nice enough that Emanuelle can convince him of the exploitation involved in his harem and they call the cops and laugh about it all so no harm done. Also, Schubert and Gemser have sex with each other and the Emir in order to keep down high oil prices!
Finally, it's off to New York City where- I'm not making this up- a large group of powerful American Senators and their wives force Miss Ohio to pay off a gambling debt by dancing naked for homeless men who then shock everyone by raping and beating her. So, the girls call the cops- but not before Emanuelle is forced to blow a dirty bum at gunpoint. But all's well that ends well. (Except for Miss Ohio who is left near death). The movie ends with Emanuelle sailing off on a yacht with Rassimov.
Yeesh! The Emanuelle series always had this weird blend of 70s liberated working woman feminism and sex romp hijynx. They're all kind of loopy. But D'Amato's misogynist degradation of women and graphic violence in this one are so completely at odds with the character and the series that you wonder if he really wanted to get even with the fans or just women in general.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
This time, Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) is in Bangkok, arriving by boat with her Italian archaeologist lover Roberto. He wants her to settle down, but she has to be free. You know the drill. She's here to photograph the royal family, but still has time to fool around with a massage girl, the prince and maybe a bellhop- it's unclear. Then, Roberto and Emmanuelle meet up with some square American tourists who represent bourgeois Babbit norms, which she soon liberates them from. In a nutty development, the two couples go see a Bangkok stripper squirt golf balls out of her pussy and are inspired to smoke pot with the prince and massage girl and have group sex. Emanuelle ends up screwing the American and Italian men and retires for nude massage with the Prince. So far, the tone has been dreamy and pleasant and erotic, and little has happened plot-wise. The running time is half over.
Director Joe D'Amato has a taste for shock value that is jarring. A scene with a mongoose killing a snake on film, and one in which Emanuelle gets gang raped by some hippie dudes, but enjoys herself and wins their respect, are pretty offensive, and the rape scene also makes absolutely zero sense- who are these dudes? No clue, but they tell her she's in danger in Bangkok because someone believes she's out to sabotage the royal family, so she leaves. Only D'Amato could deliver a plot point in the sickest way imaginable.
Emanuelle next heads to Casablanca where Roberto is on a dig with his new fiance Janet. Along the way, she hooks up with the American wife, who is now sexually liberated and on her way to Katmandu without her husband. Emanuelle teaches her more about sexual freedom by screwing her on the plane. Then, in Casablanca, she meets Roberto's jealous fiancee and liberates her by taking her to have sex with a group of Arabs, so they split up too. While in Casablanca, she beds at the American consul's home, where his insecure teenage daughter Debbie soon takes to Emanuelle and learns to love herself from her new friend, who delivers the inspiring message, "It's time for you to learn to be a lot more self-confident. You have to believe in whatever it is you're doing." They also fool around in the bathtub.Emanuelle becomes a mentor to Debbie, telling her that "I learned a long time ago to protect my freedom, to make my own decisions, and live my life the way I want to live it." Debbie watches Emanuelle and Roberto have sex, so he loses his temper and storms out, leaving Emanuelle and Debbie to finally have sex. Complications arise in the last fifteen minutes of the movie- our heroine starts falling in love with the young girl. Luckily, Emanuelle gets assigned to a shoot in Paris about ten minutes later and the two women part with a loving gaze into each other's eyes. Roll credits!
So, to sum up, there's almost no real plot, many of the events make no sense, and the overall theme blends a lot of sex and nudity with a message of personal freedom and self-esteem. Par for the course then.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
So, Black Emanuelle: the first Italian Emmanuelle knock-off. Laura Gemser, who appeared in a bit part in the second official film in the French Emmanuelle series, here plays Emanuelle with one m, a globetrotting, sexually-liberated journalist in the 70s. A few things about this: 1. She's actually listed as Emanuelle and not Laura Gemser in the credits, "Emanuelle in 'Black Emanuelle', which amused me, 2. Laura Gemser is actually Indonesian, which I guess seemed black to the Italians, 3. She's often called 'the black Emanuelle' in these movies, which I guess is a bit like Blackula, but not black. Much of the movie stresses her feelings about being black, which I think is supposed to say, "Hey, we're not ripping off the French Emmanuelle here- she was white! Totally different movie!" (We should make a new blaxploitation film. Maybe "Clash of the Black Titans".)
Anyway, the begins with Emanuelle on a plane. Alex Cox has called planes the train-entering-a-tunnel of the Emmanuelle movies. The French Emmanuelle was screwed on a plane in the first film in a scene that is referenced constantly. Here, the black Indonesian Emanuelle sees a couple fooling around on her plane to Nairobi while a 70s soft rock song plays on the soundtrack. She's a photographer coming to Africa for her magazine: this is the plot of all the Italian films. You can pretty much see the whole Laura Gemser series as one really long movie about a photojournalist traveling the world and fucking a lot of people.
In Nairobi, she meets up with Ann, an English journalist, and Gianni, her Italian husband, and rooms with them. The first night, they introduce Emanuelle to the European expat community at a party in which everyone screws around with partners other than their spouse and jumps into the pool. The next day, they stop by the gas station Ann can screw her mechanic, go out dancing in the evening, and Emanuelle screws around with the Italian husband. Gianni and Emanuelle eventually have sex. Later, Emanuelle goes on a safari with the wife and has sex with her. Then she fantasizes about having sex with a tribal chief. Oh, you get the idea. Bored yet?
The Emanuelle movies are basically travelogues with sex. The problem is a travelogue can get boring fairly quickly, and so can a sex film- both of these are activities that are more fun to do than watch in a movie. After a while, the movies are a bit like watching someone's slides from their vacation while they tell you, "We had sex here.... she blew me in this hotel..." They lag mostly in the long spaces with no dramatic tension, which is hard to establish when your main character has no sexual inhibitions to overcome. Emanuelle never really changes- she just wants to have sex. It's hard to blame her, but it's also hard to be enganged in the storyline because you can imagine fairly easily how the story will turn out: the beautiful horny woman with no sexual inhibitions will probably get laid.
Black Emanuelle tries to create dramatic tension and, indeed, it picks up a bit after Emanuelle begins her affairs with the husband and wife- she's falling in love with him, but he's a bit of a player and rebukes her as a tramp, so she screws another man to make him jealous as well as his ex-lover Gloria for the hell of it. (At this point, there is a scene with some servants screwing that is stolen directly from the French Emmanuelle- I'm ashamed to know that.) But what will she do? Commit herself to Gianni and stay in Nairobi? Leave him and remain free? Probably you can guess.
Clearly, however, Emanuelle doesn't just want sex without emotion. In fact, she tells the Italian stallion her thoughts on love, "Emanuelle doesn't need drugs to be sacrificed to love. Love isn't just an explosion of the senses. Emotion counts too." So true. Rufus agrees, but he needs drugs to finish this movie.
The whole gang goes on another safari and there's a sex scene with Emanuelle and Gianni by a waterfall- also swiped from the French movie. But Emanuelle needs to be free and she takes off, only to be gangbanged by a cricket team on a train, in an uncomfortable scene that reportedly made Gemser uncomfortable as well. What exactly is this scene trying to say anyway? The dialogue suggests that she's sexually insatiable and cannot be with just one man when there are cricket teams available, which is certainly legitimate. But then why is she asleep for most of the gangbang?
Meanwhile, Gianni has run off to find Emanuelle, ending his marriage. She turns him down in a dramatic speech delivered directly to the camera like a scene from Annie Hall: "Something always happens. Believe me... It wouldn't work... Love is not enough Gionni. Maybe it's my work, my appearance, my skin. Or maybe it's just fate. But I must be free... That's what it's like to be a woman. Or, at least, a woman like me."
Okay, I know I sound crazy here, but this is what I find totally fascinating about these movies. The series is obsessed with female sexual freedom. I mean, sure, they're stupid sexploitation movies, and definitely they can fit in a lot more sex if she's not in a monogamous relationship; but how many sex films today have anything to do with a woman's right to find sexual happiness however she chooses? Actually, how many films today are about that?
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Emanuelle in America is one of the most popular of the American knock-offs and one of the best films director Joe D'Amato ever made; this, however, is setting the bar pretty close to the floor. Here, Emanuelle (Gemser) is a photographer in New York in the 70s, which we can tell by the Marlborro Man billboards and the great leisure suit she wears, both of which had become historical artifacts by 1982. She's actually a photojournalist in most of these movies. Emanuelle photographs naked women and lives with a pop artist and is generally a sexually-liberated women- sexual liberation also being an artifact of the 70s. The music is somewhere in the space rock-glam-disco continuum, so the soundtrack is pretty awesome.
In general, I do find something appealing about the attitude these movies have about sex- that it's a fun, zesty enterprise, and not very serious or a means of control over another person. I like that Emanuelle does what she wants and the stories never really condemn her for her freedom. Note that her boyfriend never questions her love for him, in spite of the fact that she sleeps with everyone. Compare this to any recent skin flicks and the female degradation they all seem to feature, and then tell me that social mores are improving! However, it's seldom totally clearcut female empowerment in this series- they always seem to include one rape or degradation scene in the Emanuelle film as a sort of nod towards the patriarchy. But, and this is a big but- Emanuelle always pulls through and overcomes the misogynists. Here, her escape seems a bit callous and blithe and, frankly, I think they should have left out the "snuff movie" subplot altogether, since it makes no sense. But, we'll get to that in a second. Another general point- a lot of what happens in Emanuelle movies makes no sense- they're pretty loopy.
The film is episodic. In the first story, a psycho kidnaps Emanuelle at gunpoint and tells her he's going to kill her for moral reasons, since she photographs naked women. They park and she blows him, which changes his attitude about sex entirely. Next, for 'research', Emanuelle infiltrates a mafiosi's harem in which each girl was born under a different astrological sign. She gets the dirt on him and takes part in an underwater nude girl lesbo session scored to space rock- I'm fairly certain this was the scene filmed expressly for the stoned people in the audience. While in the harem, she has sex with a few men and a woman. Also, in order to fulfill the requirement that every Emanuelle film has to have one scene that makes you somwhat uncomfortable, in this one a girl jerks off a horse named Pedro. This scene made the film somewhat notorious. No word as to how horses felt about the scene.
Moving right along, Emanuelle goes to Venice and visits a Duke and Dutchess, helping their marriage with a threesome. She thanks them pointedly for showing her that she doesn't want to be married, which is pretty bitchy of her and surprisingly judgmental considering that they really seem to love each other, and she has lots of casual sex with everyone she meets. What a snob. Anyway, after she insults them, the couple takes Emanuelle to an aristocratic orgy and she takes pictures for "research" and screws some guy. At this point, I was wondering why the film wasn't called Emanuelle in America and Italy.
Returning home, Emanuelle visits a cathouse for women, also for "research". It's very lucky for Emanuelle that the magazine pays her to do investigative research that involves getting laid a lot. She's caught spying in the female brothel but escapes by a clever stratigem involving lesbian sex. Whew!
The story gets more serious as Emanuelle investigates a snuff film that is being swapped by the rich and powerful. The snuff scenes are of interest to horror/exploitation fans because they're startlingly horrifying and realistic for a sex romp. The investigation brings her to Washington DC, where she meets a Senator from the establishment, man, who wants another war to set the younger generation right and then tries to pork her, shows her another snuff film, gives her LSD, and takes her to see the Central American right-wing rebel snuff film makers. At this point, the film seems like it will turn into a serious crusade against a powerful conspiracy story.
However, her editor buckles under pressure from the man not to publish the story and Emanuelle quits in anger, which inexplicably makes her feel like "the happiest girl in the world", a pretty unique response for someone who just recently witnessed war atrocities and has now given up completely on exposing American involvement in those crimes, or saving their victims, or getting any sort of justice. Basically, she sells out completely. So Emanuelle is now the happiest accomplice to war crimes in the world- in celebration, she goes to an African tribal village with her boyfriend, who sells her to the chief and there's a wedding celebration.
At this point, I started thinking that maybe the younger generation really does need to be sent to war.
Admittedly, calling a slasher movie "generic" is like pointing out that there are a lot of horses in a western- the slash'n'hack genre is well known for its interchangeable plots and storylines. At one point in the slasher movie documentary Going to Pieces, a slasher producer talks about watching Halloween with a stop watch in order to know exactly where to place the shocks in his own film! Scream, of course, commented openly on the formula, and post-Scream slashers tend to subvert it in fairly trivial ways- Fritt Vilt has the virginal girl die first instead of surviving. But the genre has yet to attempt the sort of post-modern deconstructions that the western, superhero, and noir genres have pulled off.
So, this one is about a group of young people on vacation in the wilderness, like every slasher flick; but this is Norway, so they're snowboarding and they all have names like Jorg and Blorgen. There are some romantic subplots- these movies were always a bit like teen soap operas that end in bloodshed- and an accident and they wind up stranded in an abandoned ski lodge. Something mysterious happened there in the 70s, although if you try, you can guess it- and now there's a killer on the loose, picking them off Blorgen by Jorgen.
Fritt Vilt is certainly well-made, and the murders and mood are very effective. You can see why Norweigan teens ate it up- there have already been two sequels released there, while it's only recently arrived in North America on DVD- but it's not like Cold Prey takes the slasher genre anywhere new... well, aside from Norway.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Sella Turcica is the most recent offering from Toetag Films, an outfit that made their name on the August Underground series, a trilogy of fake snuff videos with highly realistic special effects. The series was one of those ideas that someone simply had to try sometime- a Tom Savini f/x student tricking the audience into thinking they were seeing real murders on film. But it's questionable that anyone needed to repeat the gag three times and, aside from the gore, the production values were really sub-par. You might not turn the videos off in horror, but it's hard not to fast-forward them in boredom.
So it's somewhat amazing how much their skills have improved. For one thing, the acting is better here than before. The star here is Camille Keaton, who is beloved among genre fans for the rape-and-revenge "classic" I Spit on Your Grave, in which she was raped and got revenge (Personally, I think the movie is trash). She's actually one of the weakest actors here though, with the strongest being the lead, played by Damien A. Maruscak, who is creepy but sympathetic throughout- until he's suddenly not sympathetic at all. In general, Sella Turcica has decent acting, moderately well written, believable and has a lot of that thing that most modern horror films lack: namely, atmosphere. There's a palpable sense of dread throughout the film as you wait to see how things are going to explode. And, when they do explode- only in the last fifteen minutes or so- things get very bad and the effects are simply mindblowing.
I do have some big complaints however. The first is that I wish they'd acknowledged Deathdream, a Canadian film from 1974 about Andy, a Vietnam vet who returns home after a series of mysterious incidents, but there's something wrong with him- he looks sickly and prefers to stay alone in his room, and his demeanour suggests that his condition is far worse than he's letting on. It explodes into violence. You get the idea. Updating Deathdream for the current war is a great idea, but why not acknowledge it? Secondly, the film is 100 minutes and they probably could have removed about ten minutes of Brad in his room with black junk oozing from his orifices and tightened the pace a bit in the process. The film is uncomfortable to watch and, sometimes, that's because of the sense of dread, but often it's because it's fucking boring.
Nevertheless, I see much improvement here and, in general, it's good to see a studio aiming at creating tough, ugly, unsettling horror movies. I just wish their plotting and editting was up to the level of their superb effects.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Machete, played by Danny Trejo, is a Mexican federale who gets double-crossed in the film's opening by a prostitute that he's trying to save from a drug kingpin Torrez, played by Steven Seagal. The opening is entirely over the top: Machete decapitates several bad guys in order to save the girl, who is nude and calls in Seagal with a cell phone she had hidden in her pussy. Yep, it's that kind of movie! Seagal decapitates Machete's wife and burns the place, leaving him for dead.
But he's not dead. Instead, he arrives in Texas, an illegal alien looking for work. The rest of the film addresses the illegal immigration debate and all sides involved, from corrupt politicians to redneck vigilantes to Mexican drug cartels- all of them want to kill Machete and are, in turn, killed by Machete. Some have found the political subtext jarring, but trust me, there were plenty of political grindhouse flicks. The problem is that Robert Rodriguez generally makes stupid movies, and God bless him. His movies are entertaining, but they're also usually really dopey, and here his politics never get more complex than lines like, "We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us!" Come again?
Rodriguez thinks he's making a movie about the immigrant proletariat rising up against capitalist oppression, but look, he just lacks the sort of class analysis that could make that idea work. Instead, the message goes nowhere and we're left trying to keep all of the characters straight. A second problem is there are way too many characters. The seeming message of the film is: "There are tons of corrupt people who need to be cut down for exploiting illegal aliens. Now, check out these naked girls!" It makes your head spin. I'm fine with the level of political subtext here, but wish Rodriguez actually had a coherent message. Or a coherent style for that matter- is this thing supposed to play as a parody or a rip-roaring action flick? Should we take any of it seriously?
Maybe not. Taken as a lark, it's much easier to enjoy the multiple explosions, random nudity, disembowelments, decapitations, gunfights, slutty nurses, and gore. And, the overall tone is so campy and exaggerated that I could see this being a fun movie to watch over beers with friends. The last half-hour, in which the illegal day laborers rise up in lowrider chariots to do battle with the Minutemen, is especially entertaining. Don't get me wrong- this is a fun movie. Just don't think too hard about it.
Monday, October 25, 2010
One can forgive Jack Hill for following these conventions in The Big Bird Cage; after all, he basically invented the genre the year before with The Big Dollhouse- this is the sequel. That was the most successful independent movie ever made at that point, so imitators followed quickly. A rather brilliant idea on Hill’s part was to play up the outrageous aspects of the newly-born genre in the sequel and fail to take any of its conventions seriously. In a lot of ways, this is the more entertaining film
Hill also had a great cast. Exploitation flick royalty Sid Haig and Pam Grier play Django and Blossom, left-wing revolutionaries of the sort that are hardly found in movies after the 70s. Haig and Grier play the characters to the hilt: he as a layabout who’d rather drink wine than start a revolution and she as a fiery ass-kicker who just wants to shoot her machine gun. The plot involves the two trying to jumpstart a revolution in a women’s prison in the Philippines. Their fellow revolutionaries need women after all.
Meanwhile, Django and Blossom’s attempted stick up in a casino has led to trouble for the irascible American sybarite Terry Rich, played up by fashion model Anitra Ford. Having slept with half the government, embarrassing the state, Rich is thrown into prison after the revolutionaries attempt to take her for a hostage. She’s a great character, haughty, superior, and lascivious. In spite of being spoiled and imperious, she soon wins over the fellow prisoners- in a nice campy touch, they take to her after deciding she’s more of a whore than a political prisoner
Other standouts include Candice Roman as the sexually-frustrated Carla, Teda Bracci as the brash Bull Jones, Carol Speed as the ‘ho enthusiast Mickie, and towering fashion model Karen McKevic as the also towering Karen. In a clever touch, meanwhile, the lead guards are flaming gays, which is played for laughs but was supposedly well-received by gays at the time- I suppose because the comedy isn’t particularly mean-spirited. At one point, Haig infiltrates the camp by playing gay in scenes that are really too silly to be offensive. Similarly over the top is a scene in which the head guard Rocco, played by Vic Diaz, is raped by the horny rioting inmates.
And, yes, there is the inevitable riot. One does wonder how hard it would have been for the women to break out much earlier, since the prison cells are made of thatched grass and the prisoners aren’t chained. But, okay, the final conflict is action-packed, although probably too many of the characters get killed off, which adds an unnecessarily somber tone to a fairly silly movie. In general, the ending is a bit of a let-down. Nevertheless, the film moves well, the characters are memorable, and there is a lot of violence and nudity, so it’s easy to see why The Big Bird Cage has become a favorite of exploitation film enthusiasts.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
After you’ve seen a few films in his twisted oeuvre, you start t to notices that Frank Henenotter loves stories about young men trying to do the right thing while struggling with their misshapen monstrous id. In Basket Case, the hero tried to control the murderous impulses of his deformed Siamese twin who he carried around in a basket. In Brain Damage, it was a hallucinogenic-drug injecting parasite that, unfortunately, had to be fed brains to survive. In Bad Biology, he finally puts on screen what he was getting at all this time- a young man struggling to control the urges of his enormous, deformed, heroin-addicted dick. Actually, just typing that line reminds me why I missed Henenlotter’s mad movies!
Luckily, the young man, named Batz and played by Anthony Sneed, is not alone in this world. There’s a young lady out there who is perfect for him- Jennifer as played by Charlee Danielson, a young lady with at least seven clits and a ravenous sex drive that causes her to kill many of her sex partners and give birth to their hideous offspring about an hour later. These two really are the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks of mutant genitals. So, certainly we know they will meet up and have sex together, but watching them get there is the real story, just like in any romantic comedy. It’s not likely, though, that they will ultimately “meet cute”, or do much of anything cutely.
Here’s what I love about Henenlotter- when he and rapper R.A. the Rugged Man decided to create an independent horror film, they took the independent status as a challenge to make the sort of movie that nobody else in their right minds was going to make. A film whose first line is, “I was born with seven clits”, should not follow that up by wimping out, and Bad Biology gleefully shoots its wad way over the line of “appropriate content” into a place in which a run-amok drug addicted penis is having its way with nubile women all over
But it’s competently made and shot in glorious 35 mm, as opposed to that horrid digital video that’s all the rage now; it looks like a friggin movie. Some reviewers have criticized the acting, and not everyone pulls it off, but Danielson does a fine, fearless job as the main character, and it’s not like these lines are easy to deliver. I was annoyed, personally, by some of the cheesy CG, which you might notice I’m sick of; but it’s used sparingly. I do wish the characters had hooked up earlier, although that would have blown the really sick “money shot” earlier and left them nowhere else to go. Finally, I love the fact that this totally offensive movie sneaks in a message about female sexual liberation. And it’s hard not to love a film that, if the director was never birthed, would never exist in any form.
Frank, we missed you!
Thursday, September 30, 2010
You know the Romero formula- unlike the old Voodoo Zombie movies, his ghouls are more like a plague of some sort- a public health crisis. Here, there's an island filled with humans and the hope of security. Alas, humans always fuck it up for themselves in Romero's films. In this case, two warring families with an age-old grudge can't agree on whether to shoot all the living dead in the heads or keep them around and try to live with them. All hell breaks loose in the last reel, as it always does in these movies.
Romero injects social criticism into most of his movies, and in Survival of the Dead, he's depicting the small minds of small towns and their endless grudges. For me, Romero is best when his critiques come in the form of parables- as in Survival of the Dead or his earlier Season of the Witch- than they do when he takes an action story and tries to shoehorn in commentary- as in Diary of the Dead. Because he's working in the parable mode in Survival, he can develop a fully fleshed-out story with compelling characters. Even though his dialogue is still clunky, this movie feels literary, or at least Stephen King level literary.
So there are compelling characters, a darkly funny parable, and plenty of zombies being shot in the head or eating each other. It's nothing great- and not really on the level of Dawn of the Dead- but, seriously, it's enough for me!
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
The Van Nuys Boulevard strip was known for the customized car enthusiasts who would cruise on weekends and this film is a tribute to them in the style of American Graffiti. Actually, very much in the style of American Graffiti; the car-nut character “the Chooch” in this one seems straight out of that film. Then you have the young redheaded boy pining for a cute girl he saw in a dream, who seems like a low-rent Ron Howard (well, other than Clint Howard). Finally, you have Wanda the carhop who is really cute and has casual foodie smosh sex with Bobby when he orders a burger just because she can. I really like her moxie. Bobby quickly loses interest in Wanda in order to compete angrily with Moon, a blonde who maybe he really loves, but can’t get over his competitive streak. Moon is, I think, supposed to be a 70s feminist. Bobby, again, is kind of a douche.
Van Nuys Blvd is a teenage farce that suffers from not being particularly funny. It features two interesting characters- Wanda and the Chooch- and four less-interesting ones doing fun teenager activities, like go-karts, rollercoasters, discos, drag racing, table hockey and fucking. It is not a good film, per se, but it does serve to remind old timers like myself that things like hamburgers, California beaches, hot rods, dancing and sexually liberated women are unquestionably good things. So, for that, let’s be thankful.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Movies like this one easily get labeled “male sexual fantasies”, and it’s not as if that’s an unfair assessment- after all, this is the story of a hot young girl who screws the middle aged father of the family for whom she’s a babysitter, who in reality she’d likely have no interest in, and he’d likely have prostate problems anyway; and the old fart screwing the hot young girl wrote and produced the film. Okay, actually, it’s exactly like a male sexual fantasy! On the other hand, how about those romantic comedies in which a neurotic, asexual, irritating twit finds a hunk who willingly sacrifices any hope of future happiness to, instead, spend the rest of his life putting up with the sort of behavior that white, wealthy westerners call “quirky” and the rest of the world calls “entitled”? You see anyone calling Julie & Julia a “female sexual fantasy”?
The Babysitter was put out by Crown International, who specialized in drive in exploitation fare. Luckily for them, a story about a turned-on, groovy, love generation, far out, way out, hip etc etc slut having sex with an older dude was not exactly anathema to the drive in crowd. An obvious influence here was Lolita and what really saves The Babysitter is that Patricia Wymer in the title role really is very fuckworthy: likeable, cute, and endearing as she delivers ridiculous dialogue like “If you want me, then take me.” The old fart, played by George E. Carey, is a district attorney in a chilly marriage with a lesbian daughter and a baby girl who everyone forgets about after the first scene. A subplot involves a drugged out biker chick trying to blackmail him in order to get her beau out of jail, which gives the director (Tom Laughlin! That’s right- Billy Jack himself) a chance to film the lesbo daughter screwing her hot friend in the family steam room. Yes, the family has a steam room.
Meanwhile, the groovy slut has proven herself to be not such a great babysitter by inviting over an acid rock band- The Food (really, that's their name. The name of their side project band is The Beverages)- to play in the basement while her cute friends dance around naked, instead of actually watching the baby. Dad decides he's okay with that and she, in turn, decides to teach the dad about the turned-on, way out love generation by screwing him. They have a love affair and after that ends, the babysitter beats up Dad's blackmailer with some friends. Meanwhile, his boss and wife find out about the affair with the babysitter and both decide that they're okay with it. A man's got to do what a man's got to do. And besides, his wife needs to be nicer to him.
So, like I said, a bit of a male fantasy, but plenty of entertainment value (i.e. nudity).
Monday, August 23, 2010
The tag line for this movie should be the Pieces classic: “It’s exactly what you think it is.” The scenario is dumb beyond belief- Mesozoic era piranha that survived under the earth in a subterranean lake surviving through cannibalism- yes- for millions of years. How did they manage that? I have no idea? Why do various characters in the movie disappear for no apparent reason? No idea there either. How do our heroes get dragged underwater through rocky shoals via powerboat without dying slightly? No clue.
But you go to see these films for gore and nudity, and the film delivers a ton of both. The third-act massacre is one of the bloodiest things I’ve seen outside of war films. The director has compared it to Girls Gone Wild meets Saving Private Ryan, and that’s about accurate. Dozens of idiotic partying half-naked teenagers go from drunken to eaten in about twenty minutes. Eli Roth shows up and plays a douchebag- really most of the kids in these movies are like the “bad guy” in wrestling- they show up, annoy the shit out of the audience, and get triumphantly massacred. It’s a formula that works.
And, goodness, do they get massacred! The levels of nudity and gore in the film make me wonder if the MPAA was given blow before rating it. I can’t tell you if it’s better in 3-D. I hate 3-D and saw it in 2-D because this was the format playing at our drive-in. This is the sort of movie you should see at a drive-in.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
The A storyline is more like a soap opera and weirder/sleazier than the psycho kids story. You have Papa Doc, the rich family patriarch who's basically a dick, his hot young slut wife Lovely who tries to seduce the mentally retarded servant Ralph right before getting into a great roll-on-the-carpet cat fight with Papa Doc's daughter Julie, whose husband Rick she's previously fucked. Then there's Ruth, a drunk, and her husband Harvey, who's played by the fellow who was Boss Hogg.
Soon the kids show up and beat a guy to death with hammers in a demented slow-motion sepia toned scene for about five minutes. Apparently, Leif Garret was made for more than dancing! Then they head to the family home and ingratiate themselves with all the screwed-up characters we've already met. It's sort of like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-meets- The Little Rascals- meets escaped mental patients. Mayhem ensues.
Mayhem extends to the plot, which unravels into a number of unfulfilled storylines. The bickering adults are less fun to watch than the crazy kids. The movie's a bit of a mess and apparently so was the production. But the acting's decent, and there's plenty of 70s funk music and a bit of bloodshed and nudity. So it's worth the weirdness.
Monday, February 15, 2010
A sort of backhanded compliment has to be paid here too because Slime City Massacre is a considerable improvement over Slime City, the 1988 film for which this serves as a sequel. Greg Lamberson’s shoestring latex f/x epic supplied enough slime and guts to please genre fans, but was pretty easily identified as a first attempt. This one is much more polished.
Nevertheless, Slime City has found a certain following, allowing Lamberson to shoot a sequel two decades later. He seems to have made up for lost time here, packing in more characters, scenes, subplots, and ideas than most genre films feature in ten minutes, and broadening the original story greatly.
The first film featured a mysterious wine and yogurt combination that made a young man ooze slime and decompose unless he killed someone. Now, the “elixir” is explained to be ectoplasm containing the spirits of dead cult members from the 1950s whose religion is based on “conquering the flesh”. Okay, that’s not exactly a clarification, and to enjoy the movie, you sort of have to accept that the elixir makes the characters melt if they don’t kill, but also gives them stomach-vaginas and makes them impervious to bullets, and allows their brains to leave their heads and eat people. Actually, having a high tolerance for sci-fi mumbo-jumbo helps greatly.
What’s interesting is that the sci-fi elixir is a subplot for a larger and more moving story about love and addiction; and this is set within an even larger story about the survivors of a “dirty bomb” blast in downtown Manhattan who have eked out a post-apocalyptic existence for themselves, and the real estate developer who wants to clear out the scum from this valuable property. Here Lamberson draws from the dystopic tradition to satirize the present moment and many of the barbs are quite good; one nice unnerving touch is the refugee fleeing Homeland Security after having an illegal abortion. There are also references to a war in Canada and a mock Blackwater Security outfit being hired to hunt the homeless. A final reveal about the dirty bomb is a bit much, but the dark cynicism of the script goes well with the grit and grime, as well as the slime.
The film also does a good job of evoking low-budget exploitation grime. Shot on location in the rust belt of
Overall, the dystopia theme works well as a balance to the dark humor and over-the-top gore. I also liked that Lamberson has hired a good editor; the first
Monday, January 25, 2010
A fairly typical kung-fu film in which the local weasely little shit returns to his Chinese village bringing with him a band of Japanese ne’er-do-wells who hope to seize the village’s cherished supply of ‘Dragon Herb’ which apparently heals everything. A whole lot of chop-socky action ensues, some of which is ridiculously violent: at one point, our hero punches into a villain’s chest, killing him! The hero is a fugitive criminal who has to overcome his fear of being caught for the good of the village.
The main bad guy is very bad, and actually sort of hot: all Japanese guys should have long hair it seems. The weasel character is the most entertaining in the film; his best line comes when he barges in on a hoodlum violating an unconscious village girl: “So sorry! I didn’t know it was my sister! Enjoy yourself!” Another weird bonus: the English music includes most of the theme from the soap opera One Life to Live! In general, The Bloody Fists is a very typical kung-fu movie; if you've seen one of these films, well, here's another! You'd have to be smoking Dragon Herb to think this is high drama, but the fights are well choreographed (thanks to Yuen Woo Ping). The lessons of the film shouldn’t be entirely surprising to fans of Hong Kong Kung fu films: 1. Villages have to come together to defend themselves, 2. The Japanese are evil.
If the storyline seems pretty thin, that’s really the problem with Fair Game. You have a half-hour story stretched to an hour and a half. At some point, you just want the woman to shoot the poachers, especially after she steals their guns! Instead, she has to overcome her pacifism for an hour. And, if you’ve seen the Ozsploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood, you’ve already seen the two best stunt set pieces in the film: one in which she is tied half-naked to the front of a speeding monster truck and another in which the truck is driven through her house! Otherwise, it’s about an hour and twenty minutes of a woman being harassed (not raped, thankfully), and about ten minutes of her killing her harassers. Skip it, mate.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Haig steals the movie as an arrogant, obsessed racer trying to hang onto his prime job racing for promoter Grant Willard (played by Brian Donlevy). The "hero" is Rick Bowman (played by Dick Davalos), a street-racer who gets drafted into figure-8 racing and competes with Hawk and everyone else. Donlevy looks sort of like a femme hoodlum, in the style of Elvis or a regular at a lesbian bar. He's corrupted by his competitive instinct and Willard's scummy machinations. The great thing about the movie is that he's pretty corrupt from the beginning and just gets worse.
Other highlights include the figure 8 races that all turn into demolition derbies, an early performance by Ellen Burstyn (credited here as Ellen McRae), and near-constant acid rock by The Daily Flash. Like all of Hill's movies, it's a blast. Fans of car racing, acid rock, Sid Haig, or Elvis-lookalike lesbians shouldn't miss it!
Thursday, January 7, 2010
He Knows You're Alone is the story of a young girl who is about to get married to a guy who's probably wrong for her and a serial killer who murders brides before their wedding day. Of course, they're made for each other, but for some reason that's never explained every time you think the bride killer is going to kill the bride, he decides instead to follow one of her friends and kill them instead. Oh, well; always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
There are some good setups here and a few scenarios that pay off. I really like that they tried to be scary, instead of going for laffs. I think the big problem with the movie is slack editing. It's a basic movie trick that if you edit the shots so that the cuts gets faster and faster, it builds tension. Here, instead, they hold every shot for about half a minute or more, which kills all tension. I remember at one point yelling, "Okay! I see that the damn record is turning on the turntable! Duly fucking noted!" Another funny thing though is that there's often dialogue dubbed in when characters are clearly not talking, which at one point I thought was supposed to be scary- holy shit! That guy's possessed! But, no... And the plot is a bit stupid, but that's not usually a problem with these movies. One good thing- the acting is a lot better than usual. Sadly, though, I think Turner and Hooch is still Tom Hank's scariest movie.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The Children is pretty damned effective, even if you’ve seen a dozen of these movies or don’t much like children. A recent British film, it works because it keeps the action centralized around a country estate and makes the children victims of an unknown virus that seems to be both hurting them and turning them into mean little buggers. Admittedly, the “mystery virus” is getting to be a bit like what “nuclear waste” once was in movies: a handy device to turn characters into monsters without much explanation. Here, as elsewhere, it borders on the zombie film pretty closely.
It’s effective because the idea of a close family member who is both very ill and very dangerous makes for fine melodrama and horror is very close to melodrama. The heroes have to fight off their sick children, and of course, they don’t do a good job at it. The film begins somewhat tense and slowly tightens the noose around them until everything is fucked. My only complaint would be that some of the kills are a bit silly; but, how do you have little kids killing adults without it being silly? Otherwise, The Children maintains a good level of unease throughout and features some vicious violence. What else do you want from a horror movie?