Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kiss of the Tarantula (1976)

Basically Willard with spiders, Kiss of the Tarantula features a female social misfit with pet tarantulas that do her evil bidding. I'm struggling to think of anything else it features. Mostly that's it: there's a shy loner with pet spiders that kill people. This could not have been riveting stuff in the drive-ins of 1976.

Spider-bitch is played by Suzanna Ling, who really should have made other movies because she was lovely and actually does a fine job in a role that asked for very little. The movie starts with creepy 70s shot-on-film scenes of a little girl wandering around in the woods and playing with spiders. Her name is Susan and her father is a mortician. Unfortunately, her mother is sick of spiders, sick of the morgue, and sick of her husband, which she announces angrily about five minutes in. She's also screwing Susan's cop Uncle and planning to kill off her husband. Little Susan overhears this and sics a tarantula on Mom, which kills her, although it seems to be via heart attack, which I suppose is intended to explain why nobody finds a spider bite on her. You can't actually die from a tarantula bite, although we know from The Beyond that they can eat your face, so that can do it. Here, everyone seems to die from heart attacks. Also, nobody ever seems to just swat the spiders that are crawling on them and making them have heart attacks.

Anyway, a few years pass and young Susan is a blossoming young woman who still likes spiders and is pretty hot, which makes it a bit odd that the local boys all pick on her. She does live in a mortuary and like spiders, but really! Her cop Uncle wants to bone her though, since he's lonely following the death of his brother's wife, but Susan's not having it.

Luckily, one Halloween night, a young boy gets up the courage to call Susan and ask her on a date. Naturally, Susan thinks her blossoming young vagina is going to experience the pleasures of a good pounding. Instead, some idiot dudes show up hoping to steal some coffins from her dad and bully her and, in the process, they kill one of her pet tarantulas and then chicken out and run away. Apparently, young men in the 70s had no game whatsoever- again, Suzanna Ling is a very hot chick and you stomp on her pet spider instead of trying to make time with her? Way to go, Horshack

Anyway, Susan follows two of the idiots to the drive-in where they're making out with some non-spider-owning girls in their car and she does what creepy girls with tarantulas do best in these movies: letting loose spiders to do her evil bidding. This seemingly takes forever, since spiders aren't great at hitting their marks, and finally the horny teens realize they're covered with tarantulas and freak out and die and shit. Their deaths are very tragic, painful and time-consuming.

After that, she has to kill anyone who figures out her secret, keep her spiders alive, and not get porked by her uncle. A few people die in some very painful ways, including a young girl who gets strangled in a scene that reminds me once again that a 70s PG rating was a lot different from a pussy 2010s PG. That's pretty much the movie. Susan doesn't exactly have a character arc and she even seems to forget about the spiders towards the end. It's all pretty tame stuff and probably could have played as a TV movie-of-the-week. Pretty dull.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Beast Within (1982)

I saw The Beast Within when it first came out on video and I was but a horror-loving pre-adolescent whose parents paid no attention to what he was renting. All I remembered from it years later were some gory images, a particularly silly storyline (I could even pick up on that at age nine), and a transformation scene towards the climax that ODs on bladder effects. So, when I saw the VHS tape at Shock Stock, I had to pick it up. The verdict? It's a better-made film than I remembered and actually gorier, but it's still really silly.

Young Michael (played with conviction by Paul Clemens) is a medical anomaly. His metabolic system is in hyperdrive and he's lying in the hospital dying. His loving parents (played by Ronnie Cox and Bibi Besch) suspect that this has something to do with the hulking mutant that raped Mom after their car broke down on their wedding night, putting the beast within her, so to speak, and creating Michael. Hoping to help the boy, they return to the shit-hole Southern town where all of this took place and start asking questions that, of course, strike the town elders (who are seemingly all played by Sam Peckinpah regulars) as nosy. Meanwhile, Michael gets up and goes on the lam. Apparently, he's okay, except for his dreams about an old abandoned farmhouse with something locked in the basement and his need to kill people in gory ways. Puberty's a bitch.

In between getting painful headaches that cause him to kill and having these nightmares, Michael falls in love with a young girl named Amanda (Katherine Moffat) whose papa is an almost-comically goony redneck (John Dennis Johnston) and naturally wants to shotgun him. The parents, meanwhile, are discovering that this has something to do with this guy Billy Connors who raped the wife (and then died?) and the murders are connected because all of the people getting killed are from the same family. Also, Michael is apparently haunted by the cicadas whose life-cycle involves laying dormant for seventeen years and then shedding their skins. Like the dead rapist, Michael has a kinship with insects...

See what I mean? It's hard to discuss this plot without it getting silly. Because the big reveal is that Michael is sure as hell going to shed his skin and turn into a rubber monster, just like a cicada. We'll get to that in a second, but please see if this plot makes sense: Billy Connors was fucking some redneck's wife, so the redneck shot he,r and chained Billy up in the basement, starved him, and then fed loverboy her corpse. This, naturally, turned Billy into some sort of beast-man and he broke out, raping Besch and impregnating her. Her offspring, Michael, now, has the desire to kill off the members of the family that chained up Billy. So far, so good. Now, as he reaches seventeen, he's going to turn into a rubber monster and go on a rampage because his dead raping father loved cicadas- and that's where it gets silly.

The transformation scene, incidentally, is the highlight of the film with Tom Burman inflating Clemens's head like a rubber balloon. It's pretty cool 80s latex effects that will make you exclaim "fuck CGI!" if you're anything like me. It does require the suspension of belief that everyone basically stands around and watches this happen for an eternity without popping the kid's head with a pin. But, compared to accepting that the offspring of a rape turns into a cicada-monster, that's not much of a stretch!
In all fairness to the filmmakers, their film apparently got edited to hell by Universal and the original cut probably made more sense. The direction is pretty good and reminiscent of those old horror films where they tried to put you on edge through long, quiet scenes of people walking around dark buildings alone.
But, still, a movie in which the killer kid felt a kinship with cicadas would make sense and have a certain poetic logic to it- having him turn into a rubber cicada-monster via inflate-o-head? It's really hard not to find that a little silly.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ruby (1977)

Piper Laurie hams it up as a southern belle haunted by her dead boyfriend in Ruby, a southern-fried possession flick that's more entertaining than it has any right to be. It also has a lot less possession than you'd guess from the ad campaign, which features 70s actress Janit Baldwin making some really creepy expressions, but happily it has plenty of other weird shit.

In the 1930s, gun moll Ruby Claire's lover Nicky was gunned down by her gangster boyfriend and the Dade County Gang down in the bayou in a neat opening scene that reminded me vaguely of Creepshow. As he sinks beneath the swamp, Nicky vows revenge and, simultaneously, Ruby goes into labor with his brat. Now, Nicky never knew that Ruby didn't set him up, which is an important plot point because he haunts her, but she sort of deserves it anyway.

Why? Well, she pretty much put the Dade County Gang to work in her drive-in movie theater where she's living in the 50s. She's living in decadent Southern Gothic luxury with her old man, the gang, and her mute daughter (played by Baldwin) and is played by Laurie as a sort of Southern Norma Desmond. We learn at some point that Ruby was once a movie actress and nightclub singer, but has since gone to seed. Unfortunately, not enough is made of this- it would have been cool to see more flashbacks to her old moll days or a drunken rant about the new drive-in movies. The 50 foot woman stayed big; it was the pictures that got small!

Anyway, the movie is basically a ghost story for the first two thirds. The mobsters all work at the drive-in and get killed off in creative ways by an invisible assailant. A highlight is the goon who gets shoved in the guts of a coke machine, which then delivers a cup of blood. In the third act, the film switches to a possession story with Baldwin acting a bit like Linda Blair and a bit like the horny dead mobster who wants to get back together with Ruby and, meanwhile, hoodlums keep dying and Laurie wanders around the drive-in lot drunk at night.

I know what you're going to ask and, yes, it's about as silly as it sounds, which is why I found it enjoyable. Making matters even more confusing, director Curtis Harrington got fucked on the ending of the film- his was more romantic, which makes sense because it is a movie about a woman who's in love with a ghost, so it makes the most sense for her to kill herself somehow. They replaced this with Piper Laurie getting drowned by a skeleton, which just looks cheesy as hell. Also, there's a whole other version of the flick going around with the TV edit, which had entirely new scenes shot and directed by Stephanie  that reportedly don't make a fuck of a lot of sense. I'd go with the VCI DVD (with commentary but without the later Kiss of the Tarantula double feature) and drink a few beers before watching because it's a loopy hoot.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Abby (1974)

I've said before that it's pretty hard to make an original movie about exorcism since the rite itself isn't going to be changed much, nor is the story arc: someone gets possessed, exorcised, and un-possessed. For this reason, all of them seem like ripoffs of William Friedkin's classic and they pretty much all are ripoffs. So, it's a little surprising that Warner Brothers decided to sue American International over this one, which is basically the Exorcist with a black cast, and not all of the other Exorcist rip-offs. Now, of course, since we've happily given up on the idea of a horror film being original, it would be taken in stride and the Abby "reboot" would be ready by next summer.

The lawsuit was successful, incidentally, and AIP pulled Abby from theaters. It's been hard to find on DVD, but I have my sources. Yes, it's a total rip off of the Exorcist, but an entertaining one with an all-black cast.. Clearly, the idea was to make a blaxploitation Exorcist- AIP even wanted to call it the Blackorcist- but it's better than a blaxploitation Exorcist has any right to be.

The Exorcist begins with a priest unearthing a statue of the Babylonian Pazuzu. Abby begins with a black priest and archaeologist (played by Blackula himself, William Marshall) heading to Nigeria (or a cave proximity) and unearthing a statue of the Nigerian demon Eshu. He's a sex spirit so he blows them all over the cave, so to speak.

Eshu hightails it to Kentucky to possess the priest's daughter-in-law Abby, played by Carol Speed. It would have made more sense to possess the priest, but why question the motives of Eshu. Also, William Marshall being turned into a horn-dog by a sex demon would be less entertaining. Finally, when you think about it, the Exorcist doesn't make a fuck of a lot of sense in this area either- demons are apparently really into American girls!

Abby and her preacher husband are an annoyingly perfect couple and everyone around them comments on how perfect they are. This includes her loving mother who hangs around them and smiles a lot about how wonderful is "the love of a good man." Clearly, the bitch needs to get a life. And then you have her brother who also hangs around talking about how perfect they are. Now, I do appreciate that this is a blacksploitation flick in which the black characters are portrayed as intellectual, morally-upright people, as opposed to the jiving comic relief in so many of these movies; but damn is it hard to relate to people who you basically want to see get possessed from the start!

Thankfully Eshu finally shows up and Abby starts masturbating loudly in the shower. The demon makes Abby behave like a lascivious, bitchy slut, which is perhaps shocking, but for viewers like myself also hilarious. She kicks her husband in the dick when he tries to make the moves on her. She interrupts a couple's Biblical study by tearing open her shirt and yelling, "I'm going to fuck the shit out of him right now!" She throws her wedding ring out the window and goes down to the local bar to fuck every man she meets. In other words, my kind of girl!

None of this is particularly scary, although there are some creepy bits with Eshu's face getting superimposed (just like in the Exorcist) and Speed making some godawful expressions (just like in the Exorcist). The plot basically follows that of the Exorcist, with Marshall exorcising the demon from Abby in the local bar. Interestingly enough, director William Girdler also made the satanic sacrifice movie Asylum of Satan as well as the indescribably weird and goofy Exorcist rip-off The Manitu before dying in a tragic helicopter accident (well, mostly tragic- he did make Grizzly!).

This is the biggest problem with these Exorcist clones: you know how they're going to end. Don't get me wrong- watching Carol Speed get possessed by a sex demon and behave like a horny slut is probably more entertaining than all of the Exorcist. But Friedkin's movie is still one of the best horror flicks of all time. It's like making Black Citizen Kane or Gone with the Black Wind or Wild Blackberries or the Black Godfather- oh, wait a second.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

House of Exorcism (1975)

In some circles it would probably be blasphemous to review this version of the Mario Bava film Lisa and the Devils, which is cut up and reassembled into House of Exorcism, destroying Bava’s original vision in the process. House of Exorcism is definitely one of the weirdest money-driven mutations of a horror film ever to be produced. It’s about 2/3rds Bava’s original move and 1/3rd a whole 'nother plotline that was shot a few years later to capitalize off the Exorcist. In the process, at least twenty minutes was lost from Bava’s film and horror fans feared his original vision was lost forever until a full print finally turned up. That version is far superior to this one, but House of Exorcism is definitely one of the weirdest flicks you’re likely to see.

Bava’s original film was a dreamy, atmospheric gothic horror flick about a young student, played by Elke Sommer, on a class trip who sees the devil painted on a fresco and then runs into his double in an Italian workshop- played by Telly Savalas, naturally- before getting a lift that takes her to an old mansion with a screwed up rich family- Mom is blind, the Son (who strongly resembles Al Pacino in Scarface) keeps his dead wife in his bead, Telly Savalas is the butler, Italian exploitation stalwart Gabriele Tinti is the chauffeur, and everyone seems nuts. Meanwhile, the couple she hitched a ride from are bitter and the wife is screwing around, which isn’t terribly surprising since wives in Italian exploitation films are always screwing around. Before long, of course, people start turning up dead. In one particularly morbid touch, a dead body is too tall to fit in his coffin, so his ankles are broken. For some reason, Mr. Savalas makes dummies of people in the house, which explains what he was doing in the carpenter’s shop earlier in the film.

However, Bava’s film didn’t do very well in Italy and nobody wanted to pick it up in the states. So, the producer added a long subplot in which Sommers’s character is possessed by the Devil and has to undergo an exorcism in the hospital. This is all used as a framing device: she gets possessed while on the class trip, taken to the hospital, and for no clear reason, relates the story of the mansion to the priest who is exorcising her. The possession here is actually more entertaining than the Exorcist: Lisa does acrobatics, delivers lines like “I am the asshole of the world!” (to which someone in the theatre yelled out “That’s Brampton!”) and turns into a hot nude woman (the priest’s dead wife or something) to tempt the exorcist. All of this is a straight up rip off of the Friedkin movie and only gets away with it by also being straight up batshit. Bava, nevertheless, objected to much of this material and walked off the movie, trying to convince Sommers to come with him!

Even more confusing, the mansion story seems to be set in a much earlier decade, giving the impression that Lisa was reincarnated. Really, it makes no sense that she went through that whole ordeal and then went on a class field trip where she was possessed. And who the hell is Telly Savalas playing in this movie: the Devil, a doll maker, a butler, Kojak, or what? Even worse, the revamped version cuts entire sequences out and shuffles others around weirdly. As one moviegoer in the Vagrancy screening put it, when the film returns to the streets of Rome towards the end, “What?! This makes even less sense now!”

It’s all ridiculously confusing and never really makes complete sense- sort of the David Lynch version of the Exorcist. If you go in with no idea that the film is actually a Frankenstein’s monster version of an earlier movie and an entirely different flick, you’ll feel like you’ve been taking drugs when you see it. But, that’s not exactly a bad thing.

Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger (2011)

Does the world need another send up of slasher movies, given that so many slasher films post-Scream already have their tongues in their cheeks? Actually, do we need another one after the 1982 send up Student Bodies? Probably not, but it sure helps that this one is fairly amusing and has a good eye for the details of those eighties stalk-and-slash epics that made so many of them so cheesy in the first place. The filmmakers do a good job of picking out bits of dialogue that we’ve heard a million times without notice and giving them a humorous spin. They're also good with little background gags.

The psychotic forest ranger in question is played by Aaron Corbett as one of those guys who takes his job way too seriously. In credits footage, it’s explained that he was studying for the seminary and decided to do God’s work as a forest ranger instead and went missing after a horrible fire. In keeping with the slash film tradition, the back story doesn’t make much sense, but it’s a good character and the filmmakers are already trying to rally support for more psychotic forest ranger films, which one supposes hearkens back to the slasher film convention of franchising the shit out of characters. That got old pretty quickly as I recall.

The nice thing about this flick is that it doesn't hammer you over the head with the jokes; it's a lot more wry than the Not Another ____ Movie school of "Hey! Here's the joke! Look here!" parodies. There were three gags that I liked quite a bit. The first has to do with the characters- the film is about a group of friends heading into the woods to celebrate graduating from high school. We have a jock, his prankster buddy, an uptight and paranoid brunette, and her vain and shallow friend, which is basically the group of friends in all these movies. About halfway through, they run into another group of friends: a jock, his prankster buddy, an uptight girl, and her vain, shallow friend. In the second gag, as their friends go missing, the group comes up with increasingly implausible explanations for what's going on, one of which has to be dramatized because it's so convoluted. Finally, there's a nice running joke in which characters turn off the radio bored right when the newscaster is announcing really pertinent information.

For the downsides, well, I would have enjoyed it if they'd featured some of the rampant and irrelevant-to-the-plot nudity of those slasher flicks; I' m guessing it's harder to get your friends naked on screen in the era of internet screen captures. Also, the gore could have been a bit more plentiful or even semi-realistic without hurting the proceedings. Finally, we all know how I feel about digital video, although of course a film with this low a budget isn't going to have access to film.

As you can imagine, alcohol serves as fuel for these proceedings- the amount of booze you consume beforehand will determine how long you find this funny. I was about half-lit during the Shock Stock screening, so I was laughing almost through the second act and it picked back up in the third. It’s definitely a very amusing homage to slasher flicks and I’m pretty sure fans of the genre will get a kick out of it. I also suspect it will reward repeated viewings.

But, if we’ve learned anything from the Scary Movie series, it’s that you can only return to the well so many times with this stuff. The filmmakers have shown a sure hand with their material on this one and it would be great to see what else they can do. Unfortunately, while the filmmakers have said you can head to their Facebook page (of course) to show support for more psychotic forest ranger films, they haven’t one for, “It was funny once, but now try something different.”

Deathsport (1978)

Yet another in the million or so films from schlockmeister Roger Corman, Deathsport features David Carradine in a loincloth; it actually features other things as well, but mainly you’ll remember David Carradine in a loincloth and bikes blowing up frequently. It’s the future after the apocalypse and the world looks like the deserts outside of California thanks to a nuclear war and the fact that it was cheaper to shoot in the deserts outside of California. The nuclear war and the collapse of all civilization has led to people reverting to the norms of pre-medieval barbarian tribes, which it tends to in these movies, although you’d really think people would try to recreate their own lost society, as opposed to pretending they’re at the Renaissance Faire. Anyway, David Carradine plays Kaz Oshay, son of famed warrior Oshay, and wears a loincloth, which again is a critical point.

Carradine is out romping about in the California deserts when he gets captured by some dudes in white suits on hopped-up dirtbikes. The guys also capture Claudia Jennings, who plays Deneer, member of a nomadic tribe. In the process they also capture the rest of the tribe, but a brat along with them gets captured by some desert mutants, so that’s a subplot as well, although a very small subplot because Allan Arkush probably didn't want to deal with the difficulties of directing a kid.

Claudia Jennings
Anyway, Deenan, Kaz and his loincloth are taken to a walled city, which is ruled over by a dude who’s losing his marbles from radiation poisoning and his goon Ankar Moore, played by Richard Lynch, who is afflicted by the same laryngitis he has in every movie. Realizing that Kaz and Deenan are great warriors, the authorities torture them, using super high-tech devices that mainly involve flashing lights and strings of beads hanging from the ceiling and offer a handy excuse to show Claudia Jennings naked, not that I’m complaining.

When our heroes try to escape, they’re forced to fight in the “Deathsport”, a sort of gladiatorial joust on the “death bikes”, which are those retrofitted dirt bikes- retrofitted for death! Note: There will be no death refunds for anyone arriving after the designated starting death-time. Anyway, they defeat a bunch of death-guys on death-bikes and Lynch sets off the landmines that cause a whole bunch of shit to explode in fireballs, including a number of death-bikes. Corman likes blowing shit up in his movies and, as noted in the documentary Corman's World, he likes using a motorcycle until its trashed and then blowing it up- hard logic to argue with. Unfortunately, you're not gonna get a death refund that way.

Jennings kills the king during her naked torture using only her powers of nudity and Carradine escapes during the Deathsport and they both go on the lam. Lynch probably could take power now and forget about the two of them, but he’s a bit bonkers too and, besides, the movie would be pretty short otherwise.

After that, there are a lot of battles in which the dirt bikes blow up really easily. Clearly they're called "death bikes" (or "destructobikes", I forget) because they blow up really easily. One would imagine it was not a masterstroke of intelligence to send out an army in bikes that explode really easily though. There are some cool Raimi-cam shots taken from the front of the bikes and a battle with clear plexiglass swords that look pretty nifty. Actually, a lot of this movie seems to have been devised with the intention of looking super neat-o cool, which is nice if you're either below the age of 11 or really drunk.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Viva la Muerte (1971)

Viva la Muerte doesn’t seem like such a shocking film when you’re watching it, but afterwards, most of the storyline recedes into the distance of your memory and what’s in the foreground is plenty horrific. A surrealist classic about the deep psychological toll of fascism, Viva La Muerte is more horrific than most of the films discussed here because its terrors are internal as well as external- the film shows how fascism controls the body through state violence, while colonizing the mind along with it. There’s nowhere to escape.

Fando (Mahdi Chaouch) is a young boy whose father was arrested for treason during the Spanish Civil War. The film shows his laconic days with his mother, playing around the house, and finally coming upon information that he cannot quite understand: his mother turned in his father as a traitor, resulting in his execution. The family unit ate itself and the rest of the film depicts the boy’s fantasy world in a shocking and surrealistic style.

Made in 1970 by playwright and Jodorowski collaborator Fernando Arrabal, the film was shot in France standing in for Spain. It’s not exactly an overt attack on the fascists, who only make brief cameos riding around in a jeep playing official announcements: The war is over! Traitors will be rounded up and shot. If necessary, we will kill half the country! Viva la muerte! But the critique is deeper because the little boy’s psychological life is hopelessly corrupted, grim and ultraviolent- like fascism itself.

In a sense, Pan’s Labyrinth told a similar story about the fantasy life of children under Spanish fascism, but Guillermo Del Torro’s film is a bit too taken with its fantasy elements. Fando’s dreams are vulgar and horrific: his father is buried up to his neck in the ground and run over by horses, hooded and dragged, whipped, tied up in a cage and shit on by his wife, and shot by her with a cannon, naked children carry a dead body through the streets, the boy’s piss drowns the city, eyes are gouged out and eaten by a laughing general, a priest is fed his severed testicles, a pagan priestess covers the boy with spaghetti, and other horrors take place. Nuria Espert’s performance is unbelievable here- playing a mother wracked by religious and state-enforced guilt in one part of the film and, conversely, Mother Mary, and a lascivious bitch in the other, she flagellates herself, abuses her child, and in the most shocking scene of the film, rolls around in the blood of a cow killed and butchered on film and sews up a priest in its carcass, while passionately kissing him.

Some of the fantasy scenes are shot in a clearly fantastic style- colored lenses, possibly shot on video, and with children’s music playing. The boy’s burgeoning sexuality seems somehow mingled with death, warped by the world around him. The society seems fixated on pain and punishment and there’s a suggestion that there’s a continuum between the old Pagan rituals, their Catholic replacements, and the norms of Fascism. Everyone in the country seems fixated on suffering and vengeance. It is not a pleasant movie- many unpleasant things happen in the film; but filtering it through the eyes of a child serves to soften the shocks a bit and the surrealist atmosphere helps as well. It’s almost pleasant in places, but it’s lingering images and implications are deeply disturbing.

Sisters of Death (1977)

Man, is this movie boring! It’s also fairly stupid, but it’s not as if that’s stopped me before. In this case, though, I was checking the timer every thirty seconds and trying to resist the urge to fast-forward the whole time. Some people just like punishment.

The story begins promisingly enough: the “Sisters”, a sorority presumably, are initiating two girls into their order with a fake game of “Russian roulette” that goes horribly wrong. This is why most sororities stick to making pledges ingest vast quantities of booze and frat brother jizz. Anyway, the bullets are supposed to be blanks, but one’s a live round, the girl gets an untimely aeration, and that’s that.

Jump forward seven years and the sisters have gone about their lives. Judy (played by exploitation stalwart Claudia Jennings) is a model having an affair with a politician’s son. Sylvia (Cheri Howell) is a prostitute, apparently. Penny (Roxanne Albee) is in a hippie religious cult. Diane is a sluttish hippie. Francie (Sherry Alberoni) is a wacky slut. All of them have received invitations to a seven year reunion. None of these back stories will come up again for the most part.

The reunion is certainly mysterious- two hired dudes show up and drive them to a secluded ranch that seems to be deserted. None of them seem terribly concerned about the totally inexplicable situation in which some stranger, who was clearly not in their sorority, invited them to a secluded ranch to throw them a reunion. Also, none of them have that shooting on their minds. Clearly, the filmmakers either thought that young women are really stupid, or just did not think the plot through; probably the latter.

The two dudes have hung around, hoping to get laid. The girls initially don’t believe their story about sticking around to protect them, because really what could there be to fear in an abandoned ranch where a mysterious stranger has invited you for a party seven years after the group of you killed a girl?

Long story short: Edward Clyburn (Arthur Franz) the father of the dead girl has invited them to el rancho to get revenge. There’s an electric fence around the ranch, blah blah blah. And he just sort of hangs out for the next half hour, playing a flute. Somehow he keeps hiding from the girls, who start dropping like flies. The hippie cultist gets strangled. One of the slutty ones gets stabbed. This also makes little to no sense because Clybourne is supposed to be trying to suss out the killer and her accomplice from the group, but killing off the girls doesn’t exactly help with that.

The movie has its moments, such as when one of the dudes brilliantly runs into the electric fence. There's also an inadvertently hilarious scene in which two girls argue over one taking a shower. “Francie, I really don’t think you should take a shower!”

“Cleanliness is next to godliness, right? So I figure, if I’m next to Him, Clybourne won’t get next to me!” She gets stabbed with a pair of scissors, thankfully.

One could maybe see where this could be suspenseful, but the direction is lackluster and the script leaves open vast expanses of nothing in particular happening. Also, the girls are so stupid it’s hard to care if they get killed. If you’re wondering (of course you are) there’s no nudity and the gore is minimal and more like ordinary effects than special effects. There was a surprise ending that actually was a surprise, but only because everything that went before was so unsurprising.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Satan's Slave (1976)

A Norman J. Warren movie that is considerably more coherent, if a bit less loopy than Terror, Satan's Slave (a.k.a. "Evil Heritage") tells the mildly horrifying story of an old English estate where there are Satanic shenanigans going on.

We begin with a Satanic ritual going on, complete with a nude girl on an altar, a dude in a goat's head mask, and the promise of reincarnating a dead witch. Then, we're suddenly taken to a country estate, where an American cutie is being wooed by an English-type fellow, who suddenly turns into the Second Earl of Rapesbury and tries to have his way with her before smashing her head in a door. Yipes!

And now we're in a flat with the lovely Catherine (Candace Glendenning) and her boyfriend lying in bed. For the count, we've now seen three nude women in less than ten minutes. Not that I'm counting, of course. But she's cute. And young Catherine is leaving with her mum and dad to go visit her Uncle and cousin who she's never met, right around the same time as her birthday, and she's having weird premonitions about it- none of this should be seen as foreshadowing!

We expect the trip to go poorly and indeed it does as dad gets a sudden pain in the head that causes him to drive the car into a tree. As Catherine runs for help, the car explodes and she basically sees her parents burn to death. The Uncle Alexander (played with real aplomb by Michael Gough, who was Alfred in the Tim Burton Batman films) and her cousin Stephen (Martin Potter), who we've already seen smash the noodle of a bird he was trying to rape, along with Stephen's long-suffering wife (Barbara Kellerman), take Catherine in and try to get her to relax. Of course, seeing your parents burn to death before your eyes can be troubling, but no harm, no foul after all.

Unfortunately, our little drama queen starts having nightmares about naked witches being whipped by priests and naked girls on altars being fucked with crucifixes (okay, sexy nightmares), and starts thinking that all of this might have something to do with the deceased witch Camilla, to whom she is related. Some of this might sound familiar from Vertigo and the Blood Splattered Bride.

At any rate, the plot thickens as Catherine and Stephen, the Lord Douchemere, start doing the old rumpy pumpy and she develops feelings for him. She wants him to leave for London with her, in spite of there being no obvious chemistry between them, or between him and human beings. Also, there's her boyfriend back home, but luckily he's walked off a roof and gone splat unbeknownst to Catherine. Nevertheless, this is all clearly leading to a Satanic ritual climax of some sort, and it's not clear that she will realize this before it's all too late.

Warren does a good job of holding this all together, whilst indulging in his taste for graphic bloodletting and female nudity. It's not a particularly fast-paced movie and the midsection drags considerably, but there are a few creepy scenes and a nice twist ending. Since it's available in a Crown International boxset containing twelve movies for about six dollars, it's well worth picking up.