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Friday, January 12, 2018

Pulsebeat


Pulsebeat
1985
Maurice Tobias

Roger’s Gym is small work-out den that is failing thanks to the underhanded interference of the larger Rejuvenarium. While Roger (Daniel Greene) struggles to keep his business afloat, he also strikes up a romance with a new instructor, Annie (Lee Taylor-Allan). Finally, Roger and Annie see a way to save their business by rebranding as Pulsebeat and winning the local Aerobics competition creatively titled ‘Aerobithon.’

The aerobicsploitation microgenre seems like an inescapable result of the 1980s. It is filled with neon, synthesizer music, and sweaty heaving bodies. We live in an era that really fetishizes the 1980s and overstates how prevalent those elements were, but movies cashing in on the aerobics fad often come near to realizing the pastiche.  While Killer Workout (1987), Hell Spa (1992) and Death Spa (1989) throw horror into the mix, Pulsebeat is more of a straight-forward sports film with some light romantic subplots. Well, one of these subplots is much more stalkery and gross than the other but that’s the 1980s for you.

"You got a chest hair right there, pal!"
At its heart, Pulsebeat is about an underdog sports team (or in this case aerobics gym) facing off against a much larger, wealthier, and better-equipped team (or in this case a resort spa). It also contains the usual clinched platitudes about believing in yourself and pushing past your limits, just in this case instead of baseball or karate it's about guy pedaling on an exercise bike to an excited crowd.

Daniel Greene, the star of one of my favorite movies, Hands of Steel (1986) stars as Roger. He’s given a bit more depth than I expected out a film like this, he has his aspirations, his love interest, and even a role model in the form of a former body-builder turned sword-and-sandal movie star. Greene isn’t going to wow anyone with his performance but he shows that’s got more in him than just his grim-faced outing as Paco Queruak.

Far creepier is Alvin (Bob Small) an accountant who becomes a fitness buff. He takes a fancy to a woman at Roger's Gym (Alicia Moro), hears a rumor that she is a prostitute and decides to stalk her. It all results in a meet-cute and romance, but it feels gross and weird despite the movie’s insistence that it is all mildly funny.

It's as exciting as it looks.
The real stars of the movie are the numerous workout scenes set to rocking synth tunes that often skirt close to being recognizable hits but swerve away just in time to avoid paying royalties. I’ve never been to an aerobics class, but the ones on display in movies seem more like highly choreographed dance numbers that everyone picks up immediately. Pulsebeat is no exception. There are also plenty of sweaty bodies grinding and writhing across the screen. For all its shortcomings, Pulsebeat is an equal opportunity voyeur when it comes to lingering on male and female bodies.

Pulsebeat is a serviceable enough film designed to exploit a popular fad of the time. It’s never quite funny or sleazy enough to really be notable, but keeps up the pace and delivers some sweaty entertainment.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Night Caller from Outer Space



Night Caller from Outer Space (aka The Night Caller aka Blood Beast from Outer Space)
1965
John Gilling

Three scientists observe an object falling from space. They track it down, expecting a giant meteorite, but instead only find a small white sphere. Soon after they bring it back for study, the sphere and something much larger than was contained within disappear. Women begin vanishing in London after setting up an interview from a number listed in the newspaper. Could these two things be related? Of course, they are, I just want to know how an alien figured out how to place a want ad in the local paper.

This in no way seems suspicious.
Night Caller from Outer Space falls back on the well-worn trope of aliens showing up on Earth to steal human women. It is a plot device the lends itself to various levels of sleaze, but this film handles it about as tastefully as possible. There is still an adult element at play, especially in a scene set in a pornographic bookshop that not only has plenty of nudies on the well, but also a proprietor who is coded as homosexual, a daring element for an SF film in 1965. The fact that the alien menace is eventually presented as more sympathetic than any of its unwitting victims is strange but not unexpected in light of the underlying misogyny of the premise.

The film is a low budget affair but makes the best of its limited resources by keeping the alien contained in the shadows save for a single clawed hand. It instead concentrates on the human side of the events, as scientists attempt to unravel just what is happening and how it is achieved. Night Caller from Outer Space even manages to create an interesting SF conceit with a sort of dimensional relay from the aliens’ home base. Still, it feels like a race of beings capable of such a feat would come up with a better plan to regrow their population.

The black and white photography helps considerably with setting a moody tone and overcoming some of the visual shortfalls of a low budget production. There are some excellent scenes set in the shadowy streets of London, and the alien invader’s office feels spacious and antiseptic in such a way to create the feeling that something is off-kilter. Those hoping for a big reveal of the true face of the alien are in for a disappointment, but if you are a fan of films from this era, you should know not to rely on the special effects.

Wicker Man 2000
Night Caller from Outer Space is an evenly paced, unassuming SF film. It is fairly reserved in the face of such a lurid premise, which might make it dull for some, but there is some subtle treasure to be found here. I can’t imagine this being at the top of anyone’s list of SF films from the 1960s, but it is entertaining and even mildly surprising at times.  Give it a ring.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Terror from the Year 5000


Terror from the Year 5000
1958
Robert J. Gurney Jr.

Dr. Earling (Frederic Downs) and Victor (John Stratton) have developed a machine for retrieving objects from the future. They send a small statue to college, Dr. Robert Hedges (Ward Costello) for radiocarbon dating. The statue dates to the year 5200 AD. Incredulous, Dr. Hedges travels to Earling’s private island to find out more. There he falls in love with  Claire Earling (Joyce Holden), Dr. Earling’s daughter and Victor’s intended wife. To make matters even more awkward someone or something is communicating from the future and things there do not look pleasant at all.

Terror from the Year 5000 should get more credit than it deserves simply for deviating from the formula of other invasion films from the 1950s. The external threat doesn’t come from space, isn’t a metaphor for communism or some other non-American threat, and has noble aims if not necessarily noble methods. Instead of our heroes being plucky teens or square-jawed scientists, we’re given flawed people who are invested in a case of unrequited love almost as much as they are in solving the mystery at hand.

So, that's where the Eraserhead baby went.

For as short as this film is, it keeps its main threat hidden away until the final fifteen minutes, instead offering viewers a tantalizing mystery filled with weird objects from the future and messages of dread. Salome Jens' first appearances as The Future Woman are effective, a shadowy figure in a glittering outfit, she screeches and seems to kill indiscriminately.  Her device for stealing faces is strange and unnerving in just the right way. What doesn’t work, is her mutated face make-up. I get the impression that the creators were trying to make something more realistic, but the big warty nose and misshaped teeth make her look more like a witch who escaped from a local community haunted house.

As the world of 5200 AD becomes more clear, it is obvious it is not a good place. Terror from Year 5000 never comes out and directly says that nuclear war is the cause of the irritated genetic mess of the far future, but it is heavily implied. Our Future Woman simply wants to bring back some pre-nuclear disaster DNA to help cure the rash of mutated people bring born, but our brave heroes decide to simply gun her down in the process and offer a speech on doing better with our present. I can appreciate the sentiment in a way, but it certainly feels like everyone could have gone about the whole scenario in a much better fashion.

Someone has been dressing themselves!
Terror from the Year 5000 has a poor reputation, it’s never had a decent home video release, Mystery Science Theater 3000 savaged it (and perhaps rightly so), but I think underneath all its flaws there are some very interesting quirks and ideas that separate it from the slew of other late 50s b-movies. It is a weird little mutant that was snuffed out before it could become something bigger and better, but it is still worth checking out.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Santo vs. Los Lobas



Santo vs. Las Lobas (aka Santo vs. The She-Wolves)
1976
Rubén Galindo, Jaime Jiménez Pons

Santo is back and this time he’s been asked to help out with a werewolf problem.  Cesar Harker (Rodolfo de Anda), a wealthy magnate in a small village has come to see Santo in hopes of solving an increasingly dire werewolf problem. Luba, the queen of the werewolves is plotting to take over the world with some help from Transylvania. Cesar has read that only a silver symbol can put a stop to all this werewolf business and what better symbol than the silver mask of Santo himself!

Santo movies, for all their variety of foes and settings, often have pretty much the same plot. There’s a problem, Santo gets notified, Santo shows up and wrestles the problem into submission. Santo vs. Las Lobas follows this formula to a tee but makes the journey a lot more interesting along the way.  For starters, the normally implacable Santo shows fear when confronted with the unknown. He also manages to get bitten and has only a few days to kill Luba before he joins her ranks. These events make Santo vulnerable and give the movie some much need urgency.

"Doc, I got an owie..."
Urgency is needed because the plot starts out strong and then begins to meander all over the place with randomly appearing sidekicks, needless moments like characters dying only to be replaced with other identical characters, and the introduction of a second male villain (mainly because watching Santo suplex a woman for five minutes in the finale would probably not have gone over well with audiences at the time.) Werewolf moves often become mysteries as the characters hunt for who the werewolf might be during the day, Santo vs. Las Lobas indulges in this as well. It’s yet another time filler, but at least it’s unusual to see villagers react badly to Santo and try and kill him.

The look of Santo vs. Las Lobas is on par with most of Santo’s inexpensive productions, but like many Santo films the deep shadows and run down empty locations give the whole production a haunted desolate feeling. Combine this with the wandering plot and the whole film attains a strange nightmare quality that is more than the sum of its parts. The finale caps this off with an extended fight sequence underneath a red moon that covers the night with a murky blood-colored light.  The silent finale with Santo staring at the rising sun while the camera dives behind some shrubs to watch him is one of the oddest closing moments in a very odd series of films.
She goes though conditioner like you wouldn't believe.
Santo vs. Las Lobas is cheap, badly plotted and too long, but it is filled with little surprises and touches that come together to make an effectively eerie little action film.  A vulnerable Santo, some heavy atmosphere, and a dreamlike quality elevate this above a lot of luchador cinema into something truly strange. Santo vs. Las Lobas is a welcome surprise and I would recommend it to both the uninitiated and fans of luchador movies as a demonstration of makes them compelling.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Wolfen Ninja


Wolfen Ninja
1982
Pearl Chang

Wolfen Ninja also is known as Wolf Devil Woman or Wolfen Queen or Lang nu bai mo, but once notorious hack Joseph Lai got ahold of it, recut it and slapped a bunch of fake names on it, this particular version became Wolfen Ninja. To Lai’s credit, there are actually some ninjas in this movie, which is not always the case in his edited monstrosities. Lai tampers with Wolfen Ninja less than other films he's mauled, but that is because Pearl Chang had constructed a strong and enjoyably silly action movie that stands on its own.  Lai’s ham-handed editing and extremely questionable dubbing just add another layer of oddness to the proceedings.

"Rut-roh..."
A young couple with a baby attempt to escape a warlord called Red Devil by passing through some snowy mountains. Some other guy (a lieutenant of Red Devil?) in a dime store Halloween mask intercepts them. He and his ninja squad kill the couple, but not before they repeatedly smash their faces into a mountain and cause an avalanche. Their baby survives thanks to some friendly wolves. Years later a man named Li and his sidekick are looking for the fabled white ginseng root, which is the only thing that can defeat Red Devil. On that same mountain, they encounter an odd young woman wearing furs (or more accurately a plush dog on her head) who does not speak but does bite… a lot. They name her Snowflower (Pearl Chang).


Wolfen Ninja gleefully slips from zany to hyper-violent and back again. One moment we are watching Snowflower comically attempt to catch rabbits, and the next she is tearing the heads off of ninjas. There some My Fair Lady comedy with her trying to fit into the civilized world, and then we turn around and have wizards shooting lasers while Kung-Fu zombies fight our heroes. I get the feeling Pearl Chang’s original was already packed with stuff happening, but then to have Joseph Lai come along and hack the whole thing down to 90 minutes renders it almost incomprehensible. The last third of the movie is just action scenes sewn together with very little hope of a narrative.

"Drink me in if you dare, but I am clearly marked poison."
I would remiss if I did not mention the bizarre English dubbing. I am sure Joseph Lai didn’t pay top dollar for voice actors, but he somehow found a doozy in the person voicing the film’s villain, Red Devil. As far as supervillain wizards go, Red Devil sounds like he really enjoys his job. He laughs almost nonstop through the entire film, and I can’t really blame him, he looks like he’s having a blast.
Pearl Chung’s performance is outstanding, as Snowflower she is by turns comedic, vulnerable, and threatening. By the time she is storming Red Devil’s fortress you absolutely buy her as a formidable fighter. It’s really entertaining to watch her square off against a mob of bad guys and leave them torn to pieces.

Wolfen Ninja is extremely fun, and you will find the time the flying by, possibly due to a seizure induced by the editing.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Dr. Who and the Daleks


Dr. Who and the Daleks
1965
Gordon Flemying

Doctor Who, the television show, is a global icon that finds its popularity ebbing and flowing over the decades, but in the mid-1960s, its most popular villains, the Daleks, nearly eclipsed the show itself. Dalekmania ran wild in the streets (of Great Britain anyway) and kids were more than happy to pretend that they were murderous mutants rolling around in private tanks. Then again, who wouldn’t? The creators of Dr. Who and the Daleks elected to remake the television program’s initial encounter with the Daleks as a standalone film. It is difficult to separate Dr. Who and the Daleks from its source material, but I will try to review it as its own entity rather than as a footnote in a massive global property.

"I don't know why they call this a Hitachi Magic Wand,
it operates on solid scientific principals."
Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) is an absent-minded inventor who has created a vehicle called a T.A.R.D.I.S. This device can travel in time as well as in space and is bizarrely housed inside of police box that is larger inside than it is outside. Dr. Who along with his granddaughters Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Barbara, and Barbara’s bumbling boyfriend, Ian (Roy Castle) find themselves launched into a far-flung radioactive world called Skaro, where two groups of mutants are struggling for survival. One group are the beautiful Thals, the other are meaning machine beings known as The Daleks.

It is without a doubt that Dr. Who and Daleks is aimed primarily at young children eager to see their favorite monsters make the leap to the full-color big screen. On that level it succeeds, nearly every scene is awash in lurid psychedelic color. The Daleks themselves are big, bright and shiny. They feature prominently and often lend themselves to some great screen composition by using their rigid shapes and fluid movements against the strange backdrop of their futuristic city. That said, they are a little too much of a good thing. Lengthy scenes of the Daleks taking in their monotonous electronic voices ruin much of their menace and their sinister method of execution is apparently a fire extinguisher.

"WOULD-YOU-LIKE-TO-HAVE-THIS-DANCE?
The other inhabitants of Skaro, the Thals, are much less impressive, looking more like humans with shiny blonde wigs and a serious eyeshadow addiction.  Nobody is watching this movie for the Thals, but they shouldn’t feel like an afterthought. You could lift them out of this story entirely and it wouldn’t change much of the story at all.

Peter Cushing turns in a whimsical performance as Dr. Who. It is obvious he is taking delight in doing something more light-hearted in the face of his usual grim work in horror films. Jennie Linden and Roberta Tovey are fine as Barbara and Susan, albeit saddled with uninteresting roles. Roy Caste’s Ian is nominally the comic relief, but his mugging and pratfalls irritate rather amuse. I wouldn’t have been upset to see the Daleks give him a couple blasts from their fire extinguishers guns.

Dr. Who and the Daleks is a big colorful spectacle. There are some genuinely fun and beautiful looking moments, but it can’t overcome a listless plot and several redundant and annoying characters. Still, if you are looking for some featherweight adventure is not a bad way to travel through time.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie



Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
(aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue aka Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti)
1974
Jorge Grau

Enda (Cristina Galbó), while on the way to see her troubled sister, manages to damage the motorcycle of a man named George (Ray Lovelock). George demands a ride home in her car. Eventually, the two end up at Edna’s sister’s house, but not before they see a group of men operating some strange machinery in a field, and Edna is attacked by a dirty figure who vanishes soon afterward. Before long, the dead are stumbling about, and the police are blaming George for the number of eviscerated corpses that are showing up around town.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie sports some unusual zombies.  The film proposes a scientific reason for the dead to rise, but then turns around and gives them some seemingly supernatural powers. Sure, they shamble around and moan, they are also immensely strong, use tools, and don’t show up in photographs. They can even transfer unlife to other corpses via blood. Night of the Living Dead (1968)  gave cinema a set of zombie rules that would later be cemented in popular culture by Dawn of the Dead (1978). So, with this film falling in between those two, its zombie rules have a little more wiggle room, and its monsters are more unpredictable and strange. Throw in a (living) homicidal baby and you got yourself a pretty weird zombie movie.

You are the most irritating leather daddy I have ever met.
These eerie creatures are matched only by the misty dourness of their setting. Most of the film is set at damp hilly locations in the throes of fall. Places feel isolated to the point of being haunted. The film’s steady yet never hurried pace combines with these settings to create an atmosphere that feels almost gothic yet still modern (well, modern for 1974). The attention paid to the mood of the film does a lot of the work to elevate from being just another walking corpse movie.

The two leads are atypical as well. George is a whirlwind of machismo and pushiness that must have passed for charming several decades ago, but now just feels needlessly aggressive.  Edna is more or less a passive character through much of the film, but she is at least given some direction by having to deal with her drug-addled sister, Katie (Jeannine Mestre). Once the zombies start attacking more often, our leads have very little time to do anything but run, try, and piece together what is happening.

These hips are going to go right to my hips.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie draws heavily from Night of the Living Dead for its opening and closing moments, but it retains an identity all its own. The score is a mix of very traditional sounding spooky organ music while occasionally segueing into something funkier. The score never matches the excesses of the film, but it does manage to tie everything together well enough.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is an extremely effective and enjoyable zombie movie that manages to munch guts in a style all its own. This is one well worth digging up.