Monday, September 29, 2008

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1969)

Also known as, Cock Blocked from Beyond the Grave.

Here we have another picture from Mario Bava, the Italian Hitch-schlock. This one will probably help to steer me clear of marriage for at least another few years (or decades). Stephen Forsyth plays a wealthy fashion designer (specializing in wedding gowns), named John Harrington, living in Paris, stuck in a loveless marriage, and harboring a terrible secret buried within his memories. He's also been murdering lovely young ladies on their wedding night with a hatchet. Don't worry, I'm not spoiling a damned thing. We know who the killer is in the very first scene. Unlike most giallos (term that basically describes italian mystery or thriller), the mystery to be solved doesn't involve the killer's identity, but rather his motive.

Harrington narrates the story and, from the beginning, is aware of his own madness. Each time he kills a bride-to-be he learns a little more about his repressed memories (something involving his mother, her lover, him as a boy, etc). Meanwhile, his wife, Mildred (icily played by Lara Betti), informs Harrington that she will never grant him the divorce he so desperately desires. In fact, she will be with him always. To illustrate her cruelty towards him, she tells him she's going to visit her ill sister for a week but, suddenly, returns unannounced after only a single day has elapsed. What if he'd been jerking off? She can't even give him a fucking week for chrissakes. So, anyway, he eventually kills Mildred (while, himself, in a wedding gown and makeup) only to have her ghost return to haunt his every moment. Except with a bit of a twist. He can't see her, but everyone else can. You've got to be kidding, right? This is the ultimate cock-block. Harrington goes to a disco club to pick up a loose girl who takes one look at the apparition of his wife sitting next to him and says "I'm not that kind of girl" (slap!). Now what? How the fuck do you get rid of a ghost? Harrington tries. He burns her body in his incinerator and dumps her ashes in the Siene river. Still, the wife shows up at a fashion show to scare away more potential hook-ups. I don't know, fucking evil variation on the typical haunting scenario. Murderous widowers need to get laid too.

Forsyth is great as the meek, perpetually calm, killer. He never gets rattled. In this way, he reminded me of the Bohm character in Powell's masterpiece, Peeping Tom. Of course, there's an inspector working the case who always seems to show up at the most inopportune times like, for instance, immediately after Harrington offs his bitch wife (sorry, but she was). In the film's tensest moment (and strangely, also the funniest), the inspector barges in certain that he heard a scream. Harrington convinces him it was just the Bava film he was watching on the television (Black Sabbath). Meanwhile, the still dying wife is dripping blood from the second floor onto the carpet below, inches away from the oblivious inspector.

Dagmar Lassander (House by the Cemetary) is the beautiful Helen Wood, a prospective model, potential fling, and a girl who knows a bit more than she initially lets on. God, all the women in this thing (except for the wife) are gorgeous and, this guy, Harrington could have any one of them. Son of a bitch. He's a charming good looking fellow (looks like a young Clint Eastwood). Yet, he still insists on popping into the side room to bone a gowned-up mannequin every now and then. He actually makes love to the thing with soft kisses, lays it gently on the bed, fondling, caressing, etc. No wonder his wife is pissed. She must be the coldest fish in the sea.

Bava pulled out all his usual tricks for this one. His frequent zoom-ins and outs, the great score (with a pretty jarring guitar riff), lots of beautiful women, unparalleled use of shadows and colors (particularly red). His visual tricks still seem new after all these years. The picture is not gory at all, but he sure makes it seem like it is. There are a few plot holes such as the inspector and his constant proximity to Harrington. Actually, it doesn't even seem like he's doing any real detective work. Just waiting to get lucky, I suppose. Sure, Harrington is a designer of wedding gowns and, yes, one of the missing girls did model for him. Also, he has an incinerator in his green house and a rather large smokestack that's constantly in use. Still, barely circumstantial. Look for some real evidence professor like blood in the carpet, hair, fibers, etc. The only real investigating he does is when he calls the television station that aired Black Sabbath and determines that a woman in the movie did not, in fact, scream at the time just before he came barging in. Impressive.

This picture is often creepy, sometimes funny, a little dated i guess, and never boring. There's a scene where his wife finally appears to her husband as a ghost that sent some chills down my spine. It's certainly not on par with Bava's better pictures. I wonder what this guy could have done with some of Hitchcock's budgets because there is an undeniable mastery evidenced in the majority of his work. The version I saw was dubbed into english which is all too common for Italian films from this era. Didn't bother me in the least but, I suppose, there are those that will be put off by it. This picture also comes with a moral: I guess don't marry a vindictive cold-fish bitch when there are beautiful models willing to ride on your train or take it in the caboose or whatever.*

*also, don't murder virginal sluts on their wedding night.

Is this what I'm passing off as a review these days? Sorry folks, I promise to do better next time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Relic (1997)

I'm sure there's a pretty good monster movie in here somewhere. Unfortunately, I had trouble seeing any of it. Peter Hyam's has made a career out of putting solid b-movie fare on the big screen (2010, Capricorn One, Outland, Timecop, End of Days) while mixing in an occasional complete piece of shit here and there (Sound of Thunder). With this one, I think he wore too many hats (director and cinematographer). Apparently, he's not the best multi-tasker in the business. For several scenes, he forgot to take the lens cap off.

It's a shame because what I heard sounded like a lot of fun. Based on the novel of the same name by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, this is the story of an anthropologist who, while studying a tribe in South America, comes into contact with some bad leaves. "Do not ingest!" the sign said, but since it was covered in mud he didn't notice. The researcher's crates are sent back to Chicago via a large ship that was found derelict in the middle of Lake Michigan with a dead crew on board. One of the crates is empty (hmmm, come to think of it, we might be heading for a Dracula rip off). Well, except for those damned leaves. A little later, a security guard is murdered at the Museum of Natural History (in similar fashion to the crew on the boat) while smoking a joint in the mens room. I think D.A.R.E. maybe helped to finance this picture.

The murder is bad news for the museum since a large gala is scheduled to take place the next night with the mayor and several wealthy benefactors in attendence. Of course, the mayor insists the party must go on, to the chagrin of Detective Vincent "don't call me D'Agostino" D'Agosta (Tom Sizemore). Fortunately, a couple of keystone cops find and shoot a homeless guy in one of the museum's several unlit sub-basements. Clearly, he's the murderer. Case closed. That still doesn't explain how or why he sucked out the hypothalamus from his victim's skulls. Oh well. Anything to get a few hundred rich people trapped in a museum, that goes into lock-down mode the instant something breaks, with a very large beastie that harbors an insatiable appetite.

This picture has most of the elements that should lead to success. A cute, fiery evolutionary biologist, Margo Green, played by Penelope Ann Miller (Where has she been lately? Guess she got old.). There's the grizzled police officer, going through a messy divorce, with the funny lines (Sizemore) who upon finding the dead security guard says "pot's a misdemeanor. Decaptitation seems a bit severe" and also "how the fuck does somebody get custody of a dog?" There's a fantastic setting, the museum, that's second only to space, or perhaps, an underwater lab. Also, there's a pretty cool monster in the rare instance that we actually get to see it. That's the problem with this thing. Every scene is washed in darkness. Even the moments that take place in a lit room are somehow immersed in shadow. The museum has sub-basement upon sub-basement, all pitch black of course, that lead to a tunnel that leads to, coincidentally, the harbor where the derelict ship was towed in to. I mean, this isn't something like Blair Witch or Cloverfield where it's acceptable to drop the camera and treat the audience to a few minutes of ground scenery while the action happens out of view. This is a professional movie for chrissakes. We want to see things like faces, monsters, boobs, etc. Hell, the scene where Penelope takes off her top is so poorly lit that I began to think the whole thing was some sort of joke and I wasn't in on it.

The nature of the creature, and we do learn everything, is completely ridiculous, but that's ok. As long as there are some tense moments accompanied by some bloody kills. One scene, in the sub-basement, completely apes Alien, as a K-9 officer goes off by himself in search of his dog (remember the scene with Harry Dean Stanton going off alone after Ripley's cat?). Unfortunately, I couldn't tell what the fuck was happening so I just flashed back to Alien and imagined it went down the same way. Alien may have been bathed in darkness too, but they used things like emergency lights, beacons, etc to convey the action to the audience. Sure, we didn't see everything. We saw enough. Aliens went infra-red at times to deal with this problem. Not fucking Hyams. I can only think he's a pretty piss poor DP which is why he didn't want us to see what he was shooting.

Still, the movie has it's moments. The creature sounds like it's constantly sucking on an inhaler so I loved the moment when Penelope hides from the sound in the bathroom only to realize it's just the asthmatic cleaning woman. The mass panic that happens at the gala as hundreds of rich bastards flee for the closing doors is a classic bit. Not even sure why they were really running. They didn't even see the monster, just a body. The mayor was portrayed as your classic windbag, when he wasn't bragging about his wife's cleavage. He gives a funny speech where he talks about taking fragile footsteps towards the 21st century or something. One guy in the audience wonders if he's speaking english. I think he just needs a better speechwriter.

I guess Hyams did a great job at concealing what must have been some pretty piss-poor CGI. There are a few ways to hide some bad effects work. One is to shoot in darkness (check!). Another effective method is to add some rain (double check!). As soon as some museum glass breaks, the fire doors come crashing down followed by the sprinklers. Kudos Mr. Hyams. There are a couple nice effects, however. One involves the creature, completely engulfed in flames, chasing after Penelope Ann Miller. The film's top moment comes when a SWAT team drops through the roof one by one and are consumed one by one. The creature itself (created by Stan Winston!) resembles a giant cat crossed with a lizard and has the mouth of a predator. I don't know, I still enjoyed it. Maybe I just had the tint turned way down (or is it up) on my TV. Someday, I'll watch again and try adjusting it. It's strange, but the only thing I'll probably remember about this picture a year from now is the alert setting on Miller's computer (for when a download or analysis is completed). It's the sound of screeching tires, then shattering glass. It was jarring every time I heard it. It goes off at least three times. What the fuck was that about?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Unseen (1981)

I wish I had been able to skip over the cast introduction to this one. One guy, I think he played the american footballer trying to hold onto his fame and glory despite a debilitating knee injury, simply said "I hope you enjoy it". Fine, it's pointless, but I appreciate the enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the next cast member was Flounder from Animal House. Aka, Stephen Furst. Aka, Chuck Norris' bumbling overweight sidekick from Silent Rage. He says something along the lines of "at the very least, you guys get to see me running around in a diaper." Fuck, where's the god damned spoiler alert you fuckers? Before the opening credits, we know he's the fucking "unseen" (until of course the last 30 minutes when he's anything but "the unseen"). So, I spent the first hour plus of this thing anticipating the laughter that would accompany such a "revelation" only when the moment came, all I could intially feel was pity, sadness, disgust. Then laughter.

Former Bond girl Barbara Bach (Great Alligator River) stars as emmy winning reporter Jennifer Fast who travels with her sister (Karen Lamm) and a fellow reporter (Lois Young) to a small bum-fuck town in California to cover a small bum-fuck festival. They botched the hotel reservation and, in desperation, are put up with a jovial little fat guy, played by Sydney Lassick (Alligator and a shit load of other films....don't worry, you'll recognize him. This guys a character) who harbors more than a few skeletons in his closet (er...basement); Literally and figuratively of course. He drives them to his house, even farther out of bum-fuck than bum-fuck, and introduces them to his "wife" (Leilani Goldoni), who is perpetually frightened. Something clearly is not right, but the girls are just happy to have a place to stay. What possible reason would they have to fear this jovial little fat man and his meek wife? Why does the camera immediately pan to the grates on the floor? Hmmm, why haven't we seen Flounder running around in his diapers yet?

This picture's a little too schizophrenic for its own good. Directed by the guy who made one of the absolute worst Friday's (13th part V) and co-written by the guy that co-wrote one of the greatest horror pictures of all time(Texas Chainsaw Massacre), this thing moves too frequently from slasher to psychological drama, to comedy, and back and forth. Everything that happens is telegraphed a mile away, not a damned thing left to the imagination. There's a scene where Lassick (fat guy remember) seems to be having a conversation with his father (revealing his entire fucking history) and then, of course, the camera cuts to his long deceased father sitting across from him with a knife still sticking out of long decayed throat. So, here's the Psycho element I guess. Since the DVD intro felt the need to spoil the thing for me, I guess I'll follow suit. Lassick has always been a bit of a nut. Apparently, he raped his sister (Goldoni) and she had his kid ("the unseen"). The father found out and was about to castrate his boy when a struggle ensued and the knife ended up lodged in his throat. There, dear old dad's remained. Propped up in a chair, rapidly decaying for the last twenty years or so. Meanwhile, Lassick's beaten his sister into submission to the point where it's a wonder she hasn't taken her own life. What does she have to live for? I guess their 20 year old freakazoid living in the basement is what.

So, we've established that the movie isn't scary. Why should you bother watching it then? It's intermittently funny I guess. Reason enough for you? Aside from the absurd performance by Lassick, and later Furst, there are some great scenes involving our three unlucky gals. One, a bit under the weather, decides to take a bath which allows Lassick to look through a magic keyhole. She undressess in front of a mirror and he sees it clear as day (thankfully, so do we). She goes to the tub and, suddenly, the keyhole changes perspective (bush alert people). It's a truly magical moment. The kills, while weak as hell, are fucking ridiculous. Girl falls asleep, grate slowly opens, something "unseen" drags struggling girl through the grate, she fights and fights, grate slams down and breaks her neck (this becomes even more laughable when another girl stands over her deceased friends head without noticing). Another girl grabs some fruit from the bowl on the kitchen table, knocks it over, and gets on all fours (over a grate) to pick up the pieces. Her scarf gets slowly pulled into the grate, again by something "unseen" and her face gets repeatedly mashed into the grate. Beautiful women dying is rarely this funny.

Which brings us to Furst. Now that Bach's friends are dead, Lassick decides they have to cover everything up (his first sane decision of the picture). Bach returns from some emmy winning reporting (and an attempt at a reconciliation with her "abusive" boyfriend) only to be locked in the basement (at about the 1:10 mark). Shock, baby Furst isn't the villain of this thing at all. It's his incestuous, raping father. Oh sure, rape baby killed the two women but those deaths were an accident (grate falling on head, woman's face not small enough to fit through cracks in grate). He just wanted to play! Any good lawyer could get him off on an involuntary manslaughter charge. These scenes between Bach and Furst in the basement are funny, uncomfortable, sad and, dare I say, poignant? Nope, not going there. Furst looks a bit like Jason Voorhees, only if Voorhees wore diapers, was beyond pudgy, and repeatedly hit himself in the head with a teddy bear. Still, Bach would rather be left alone by the overgrown brat. The bitch did lie about getting an abortion to her boyfriend after all. In fact, I think she lied about him beating on women, but I digress. The guy may be a failure, but at least he'll show up to save the day, right? Um, yeah, unfortunately, he's got that bum knee which provides the comedic gem of the picture.

It's hard not to recommend this one despite everything that's wrong with it. It's a failure in every respect. The characters are all poorly developed. Bach, the heroine, comes across as a complete bitch whom the audience would love to see meet a grisly end(not the poor girl that actually showed her bush!) Also, how the fuck are we supposed to suspend disbelief for even a second and believe that the guy that played Flounder could make his way around the house via ventilation shafts? Im-fucking-possible. I call bullshit. Then again, in a house that features a magic keyhole, maybe, just maybe, anything is possible.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

C.H.U.D. (1984)

Anyway you cut it, the homeless always manage to get a raw deal. First of all, the vast majority of them are already insane. There's this one guy who wanders around downtown Boston, never seeming to settle on one particular spot for his panhandling, asking every single passerby in a scratchily menacing voice "do you have any spare change?" The guy doesn't even carry a fucking cup. Most people, upon seeing him, cross the street or run the other way seriously believing their life to be in danger. During the five years or so that I've seen this guy, I've never seen anyone hand him a dime. I feel sorry for him (not sorry enough to empty out my pockets of course). Walk through the Boston Common at any point during the day and you're bound to hear this one lady sitting on a bench screaming at no one in particular to "get the fuck away from me you cocksucker!" I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the guy that rides his bike throughout the city blaring his impromptu "siren" to terrify tourists and locals alike. These are all harmless people, I'm sure. Harmless and loopy. Can they function in everyday society? Not at all. Yet here they are, living on the street because of massive budget cuts during the 1980s. Is the homeless problem ever mentioned in political debate? Not that I can recall. Politicians are pretty much like me (and the vast majority of you all) in this regard. Cross the street and look the other way I guess.

New York City took care of this problem a couple decades ago by dumping hazardous waste in the underground as part of the C.H.U.D. (Contamination Hazardous Urban Disposal) program. Not only could they discreetly dispose of radioactive materials, but they could also kill a bunch of homeless in the process. Two birds with a single stone. What they didn't count on (and because these high ranking beaurocrats are not the types to watch movies) was the homelss mutating into Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (coincidentally, also C.H.U.D.). Nah, I'm just kidding. This is also a movie. Didn't really happen. Not sure what happened to all the homeless in New York. I think they probably just moved to Jersey and purchased homes or something.

This is one of the better horror pictures of the 80s that features several elements that don't even seem like horror. First of all, the characters are all great. John Heard (the father from Home Alone) is memorable as George Cooper, a freelance photographer who has recently been documenting the homeless. He's a simple guy who just wants to take some photos and snuggle up to his pregnant girlfriend, Kim Greist (Brazil). Heard is sort of the anti-leading man. He's a charismatic guy with some solid looks, but a pudgy body. Not exactly an action hero. He's an everyman with a sense of humor. Daniel Stern (also, Home Alone) shows up as the paranoid hippy that runs the soup kitchen. He's the guy that first notices the dwindling number of homeless and, of course, assumes it must be some kind of government conspiracy. He's pretty much right as these kind of nuts tend to be in pictures like this. Christopher Curry (the "hey, looks like rain" guy from Starship Troopers) plays the cop with the great name, Captain Bosch. For once, we have a good cop who can sniff the corruption a mile away. It also helps that his wife was taken by one of those C.H.U.D.s while walking their dog. He's got some scores to settle.

This picture just feels authentic. The performances are all natural, the sets aren't sets at all; subways, sewers, streets, apartments (all real). It's also scathing in its portrayal of the government's treatment of the homeless. It's too bad that some of the most daring pictures from the Reagan era came from a genre that nobody in power would ever watch (if they did, they'd probably be too dense to understand the connection anyway). George Martin plays Wilson, a government offical (or "Government garbage man" as Bosch so aptly labels him) hellbent on preserving his secrets. His problems continually escalate throughout the picture. This is the kind of asshole that would be ok with news of mutated monsters running around being leaked to the press. However, if the true definition of C.H.U.D. was leaked, heads would roll. After a C.H.U.D. is discovered, he brushes it off as a freak accident. Kill the C.H.U.D., autopsy the body, case closed. After a SWAT team is slaughtered attempting to capture a C.H.U.D. in the underground (on camera) he blames Bosch for the failure and then decides to divert gas into the city's sewers to finish off the job. The mayor isn't too thrilled and says so, "are you crazy? You'll blow up the whole city!" Wilson's matter-of-fact response: "Only part of it."

The C.H.U.D. effects are great even if they do have a couple of glowsticks for eyes. If you've seen Conan fight the wizard behind the mirrors than you've pretty much seen a C.H.U.D. (except these guys have glowing eyes and the ability to elongate their necks). I take exception to Wikipedia's characterizing the effects in this thing as "kitsch". Fuck them (or the guy with no life that posted the description). The last half of the picture involves Heard and Stern running around the sewers trying to get out before the C.H.U.D.s get them (or Wilson and his cronies manage to blow them all to hell). This is one of those pictures that I can't find fault with. It's got gore, scares, social satire, great performances, a couple of boobs, and an early appearence by John Goodman. He may only be in the picture for a minute, but it's clear he's going to become something big. The camera loves him, he's funny, and when the C.H.U.D. is through with him there's nothing left but some blood and maybe a bit of the hamburger he was waffling down.

Feel free to skip C.H.U.D. II: Bud The Chud. I tried watching that thing free on demand a few months back. Not one single C.H.U.D. in the whole god damned picture. Also, it takes place in a small town without a single homeless person. A simple fucking attempt to cash in on a name. I want my time back.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shock Waves (1977)

I stopped taking notes while watching movies a long time ago. I found it hard to immerse myself in the picture while jotting down everything I thought to be funny or important. I guess the trade off is that my "reviews" have become a little less detailed, which I don't think is an entirely bad thing. Brevity has its merits. Of course, since I've stopped taking notes it seems like my rate of posting has gone down. I think I'm just an incredibly lazy human being. Here's the thing, I probably watch between four and five pictures that would qualify for a review per week. Since I'm writing, at best, one review per week it would seem that you guys are losing out on my thoughts/rantings/etc for 75-80% of the pictures I view. Yep, that's true. It's also possible (read, likely) that since I'm writing most of these reviews at least a week or so after watching the movie you're not really getting a fair assesment of whichever picture I watch. Well, I look at it this way I guess. If I'm still thinking about a crappy film a week or so after watching it then it must be worth writing about. Right? Ah, fuck it....I'm lazy. October is just around the corner and I hope to, at least, duplicate my efforts from last year (when I posted an astonishing 12 reviews!!). Oh, and if you guys have a movie (preferably horror) you'd like me to write about next month, let me know.

Here's a shock. I watched a picture about Nazi zombies and it wasn't terrible. Unlike Zombie Lake this one lacked gore, contained no nudity (no volleball team, no bush, etc), and no poorly staged combat scenes. In fact, this thing felt downright PG (I think it was). One would think it impossible for me to like such a thing. What it did have was foreboding atmosphere, solid performances, some creepy zombie effects, and an isolated island setting. Peter Cushing and John Carradine are also a step up from Howard Vernon and Antonio Mayans. Who? Exactly. Zombie Lake sucked.

Brooke Adams (yes, the lovely, luscious Brooke Adams) stars as Rose who, as the picture begins, is found in a little dinghy off the coast of Florida by some fishermen. She's suffering from extreme dehydration and sunburn. The story she recounts is a little hard to believe. She was on a pleasure cruise when her ship was rammed by a ghost ship. Forced to abandon the sinking vessel, Rose and her fellow vacationers (along with the first mate and cook: the captain, John Carradine, has already disappeared after going crazy. His fate remains unknown for about five minutes. Thank god for glass bottom boats) make their way to a tiny tropical island that seems deserted, except for that rundown hotel on the other side which is occupied by SS Commander Peter Cushing (I can't remember his name, not even sure he had one) who escaped to the island during the war. Apparently, he's disavowed Nazi ideologies and wants to help the castaways (after, first playing hard to get). Unfortunately, their boat woke up his slumbering soldiers. Too late.

I can understand why Hitler would want an army of the dead. These guys were specifically engineered to work underwater and pilot U-boats. As actual fighting soldiers they don't seem all that impressive. They're slow and their methods for killing are limited to strangulation and drowning. So, not that good in a firefight. And, unlike most zombies, they apparently don't have a taste for human flesh. There are several eerie scenes of them slowly rising from the water, one by one, with pale, scale-like skin and aryan blond hair, eyes obscured by SS standarad-issue goggles. Rip off the goggles and you kill the zombie. They hate the sun. And, yet, for some reason, they only come out during the day. Whatever.

The movie comes down to a survival of the fittest type scenario with stupid characters going off alone and dying bloodless deaths. At one point, a few characters spend a night in a freezer but didn't count on the white guy with the afro being claustrophobic. I usually only go for horror pictures with lots of gore and, at least a little, nudity. Regardless, this one worked for me. Mainly because I spent most of the 90 minute runtime imagining Brooke Adams naked, but also because there was some decent suspense and some terrific visuals. Sure, I thought it was a bad choice to reveal that Adams survives the story at the beginning. And, since she was alone, I guess that means everyone else must have died. So, um, I guess the suspense was generated from when the characters would die, not if. The characters, with the exception of Adams and her quasi lover/first mate, were all pretty stupid. At least, the cook was a drunk. He was cool I thought, and also the first to die (after the offscreen death of poor John Carradine).

Why is it that all Nazi zombies spend most of their time in the water? That's something I don't really get. At least the underwater shots in this thing looked like they were filmed in an actual ocean and not the pool at the local Y (again, fuck you Zombie Lake). I've got one more Nazi zombie film to watch called Oasis of the Zombies, from my "50 Chilling Movie Pack". If you're lucky, it'll be one of the 20-25% of pictures I write about. I'm not very optimistic. The director of Shock Waves, Ken Wiederhorn, went on to direct Meatballs Part II and Return of the Living Dead part II, before falling into obscurity. It's a shame because this picture showed promise. I can only imagine that he turned to the drink, wandered off by himself, and was forcibly drowned by "Der Toten Korps", zombie warriors of Hitler's SS.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Whip and the Body (1963)

So, I was sitting in the dentists' chair about an hour ago, spitting up blood and bits of shredded gums, when I started thinking about S&M. No, I wasn't getting off on the experience. Sure, the hygienist was attractive, but I'm not really the kind of guy that gets off on pain. No need to worry about getting a sudden arousal on the chair if you know what I mean. Still, some people do get off on this shit. I'm not going to judge them. I think it's great actually. As long as the pain doesn't harm them long term or lead them to being eaten for someone else's pleasure, what's the harm? We, as a society, should embrace this. Yet, we don't really. Hell, if you go into any adult video store (not that I have), you'll notice that the S&M flicks are tucked away in the corner, while the "chicks with dicks" and the "golden shower" collections are displayed in full view. Too freaky even for the freaky. You would think our society would eat this shit up. We love violence in films. We love hardcore sex (even though we're too ashamed to admit it). Perfect fucking fit. Oh well...

So, anyway, I'm sitting in that chair when I also began reflecting on this picture I watched over the weekend. A little, widely unknown, Mario Bava picture called The Whip and the Body. Shit, man, I really dug this one. Here's a picture made in the early 1960s dealing with a taboo subject and set in the 19th century. Yeah, the italians were always a little ahead of the curve. Except for the fascism. I never really approved of that. This is not an easy film to categorize. Part S&M romance, part gothic horror, part psychological shocker. Christopher Lee turns in one of his better performances (that I've seen anyway). I'm stunned that this wasn't included in either one of the Bava box sets I recently purchased. While both volumes include some bonafide classics (Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, Kill Baby Kill, Rabid Dogs, Bay of Blood), they also include some absolute clunkers (Five Dolls For An August Moon anyone?) All the elements that make a great horror picture are present within The Whip and The Body; atmospherics, unique story, fog machine working overtime, Christopher Lee, an astoundingly beautiful lead actress (Daliah Lavi), and Bava's unique use of color.

The story seems simple enough. Lee plays an exiled nobleman banished from his home castle as a result of his sexual deviance (and the possible murder of a young girl). Years later, he returns to an icy reception (his acknowledgement of his families reception is one of the film's funniest moments), but is allowed to stay. It isn't long before he feeds his fetishistic impulses with his younger brother's wife and former lover, Nevenka (Lavi) on the beach (involving a whip and her body). Although resistant at first, it's soon clear that she quite gets off on it and the scene ends with them making love on the beach as a horse looks on in the distance (that particular fetish, i'm sure they saved for the sequel). Shortly thereafter, Lee is murdered (in a strange sequence involving flying drapes and a knife) and his body laid to rest in a crypt by his, not so distraught, family (except for Nevenka). If he was murdered, why does Nevenka see him throughout the castle? Whose tracking mud all over the house? Who the fuck murdered pops? Is Lee still alive? Has he joined the ranks of the undead? Is this a bad Hammer sequel?

This picture oozes gothic atmosphere. There are some chilling moments, all from the perspective of Nevenka. I have trouble classifying this as horror though. Strangely, it's more of a twisted love story than anything else. Nevenka's husband, Christian (the comatose Tony Kendall) isn't really worthy of her love. He's simply boring. I'm sure there sex life involves him just lying on his back half asleep. Later, he probably retires to the study to jerk off to internet porn. There are other characters that factor into the story; a mysterious matriarch, the aforementioned pops, a not-quite-right caretaker. Some scenes even reminded me of Dracula (pick your version), in particular the one where Christian and the caretaker search Lee's crypt to make sure he's in it.

Still, the film belongs to Lavi who just wanted to feel the love of a strip of leather tearing the skin off her back. Why should we begrudge her these pleasures? It's like Linda Lovelace and the clitoris in her throat. We all feel pleasure differently. As I continued to sit in that chair, spitting up pulpy blood for the nineteenth time, I couldn't help but wonder: Why am I so different?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

SS Hell Camp (1977)

Should I really let anyone know that I watched this thing? Famous (infamous?) for being labeled a "video nasty" and subsequently banned in the UK, SS Hell Camp is the touching story of a mongoloid (the picture is racist too!) creature (man with lots of hair glued on) held prisoner by a Nazi she-bitch, fed an overabundance of aphrodisiacs, and forced, against his will mind you, to have sex with lots and lots of virgins. Will the poor brute ever know its freedom? Is there any atrocity those Nazi sons (daughters) of bitches won't commit?

I'm just kidding folks. There's nothing touching about this picture. If you're the kind of person that would "touch" yourself during it, I don't want to hear about it. This one is offensive in every way imaginable. Having no idea what to expect going into this thing, I developed an idea as soon as a Nazi grunt grabbed a crying baby from its screaming mother, flung it into the air, and used it for target practice (nazi skeet shooting). Brilliantly (despicably?), this occurred a mere fifteen minutes into the film. With no taboo off limits, I proceeded to the edge of my seat.

I guess there's this whole genre out there called "rape". You may be familiar with it. I'm not gonna lie here, but I've seen a few in my day. Still, I refuse to give rape it's own label as I'm not really fond of the particular genre. Perhaps you've seen a little film called I Spit On Your Grave, perhaps not. That features a gang rape by some New England yokels. The film itself is terrible, but I begrudgingly acknowledge that the rape scene (all 20+ minutes of it!) was extremely effective (i.e. repulsive). For the majority of the film, the actors were awful, simultaneously hammy and stilted. Somehow, they turned it on for the rape though. I'm not sure if they should be commended for it. Of course, typical of most rape films, this one ends in some sweet revenge as the victim uses her sexuality as a weapon (remember the bathtub castration?). I've also seen Irreversible which has the distinction of being the only Monica Belluci film that managed to repulse me despite her being nude. Since the events are told in reverse, with one of the most brutally realistic revenge scenes ever filmed happening in the first five minutes, the rape scene is all the more difficult to handle (and like the scene in I Spit...this one seemingly has no end). It's a brilliant film, yet one I will never sit through again. I guess the toughest scene to sit through was in the 1984 classic Revenge of the Nerds when Louis posed as Stan and raped Betty in the Carnival Fun House. Fucking nerds.

See, not really a fan of rape. There's a huge difference between the films I just referred to and SS Hell Camp, however. Hell Camp presents some of the most unrealistic non-consenting sex scenes I've ever seen (clearly no coitus). It's hard to take seriously even though the content is so disturbing. Really though, rape is not cool whether realistically portrayed or not, especially when it's sole purpase is to titillate the viewer (I fear that was the filmmakers intent). Rape is not cool kids and I almost think it's an act even lower than baby killing. Unfortunately, the premise of this picture kind of involves the subject so let the slogging begin. Hitler condoned it, embraced it, Loved it and look how he turned out. It's late in the year of 1943 and Hitler is getting nervous. His troops are encountering extreme resistance. The allies are advancing, spies are everywhere. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Hitler recruits his leading scientist, Dr. Ellen Kratsch, to run experiments on a mongoloid prisoner, taken from a mongoloid ghetto, probably somewhere in or around Mongolia. Basically, Hitler wants the guy to be really horny so he can rape as many virgins as possible. That'll show those fucking allies! Yeah, that's the plot. Are you still here?

Look, it's not all rape. There's also some good old fashioned torture. One guy gets his balls cut off (off screen). There's a torture device involving a bucket, rats, and fire that seems pretty unpleasant. Water torture, etc. A subplot involves some resistance fighters plotting the rescue of their women (virgins) before the monogloid (referred to in the credits as "the beast") rapes them to death. They get captured (offscreen) and tortured in some pretty horrific ways, but not nearly as horrific as what some of the women get. Yeah, this picture might be a misogynistic one. Sorry ladies. That's just the way the Nazis were. This picture is a truth vehicle, telling it like it was and soon may be again if we don't learn us some lessons. This Nazi scientist (she's hot and evil) was the biggest chauvinist of them all. When she wasn't berating a soldier for getting aroused while viewing a rape ("a soldier's supposed to be stoic!"), she was fondling the breasts of a virgin prisoner. If you can't guess what happens to this nazi she-devil in the end, you shouldn't be anywhere near a "video nasty". You're too innocent.

I'm barely touching on the disturbing elements here. So, let's just play a simple word association game and learn something. "Pubes". Did you say "good eats"? Let's try again. "Dildo". Did you say "Walter P-38"? One more time. "Jumper Cables". Fuck, you guessed "genital torture" didn't you? Damn, you're fucking great at this game. I'm guessing you've seen the picture.

There's a lengthy battle at the end that's about 1 part actual footage shot for this movie and 99 parts stock footage. The differences in film are jarring. For some absurd reason, they decided to shoot the aerial scenes of a bomber themselves, and used a model airplane attached to string (slow it down and see for yourself). The best part of the picture was the panning shot of a Nazi vehicle entering base as a swastika statue looms in the foreground. What's that shadow, clear as day, on the swastika? Oh, it's just the camera crew. Pause it and you can make them out perfectly. Brilliant moment. Check out the Hitler stache on the director.

Lots of bush, lots of boobs, hell, lots of dick even. Not one titillating moment though. Several boring scenes that almost had me begging for the obscene stuff, then I sobered up. Stupid Nazis. Now, they're ruining my skin flicks.