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Friday, September 17, 2021

Invasion

Invasion
1965
Alan Bridges

Invasion takes its time to get going, but slowly the pieces fall into place. An unknown object lands on Earth and a strange figure stumbles out of the woods only to be struck by a drunk couple driving home from a party. They reluctantly take him to a hospital where he is unresponsive. Two other figures in similar clothing approach the hospital as a forcefield envelopes the building. Both parties claim that the other is a criminal, but who is telling the truth?

In comparison to the number of science-fiction films that came out of the United States in the 1950s-1960s, there were few that came out of the U.K. They are so few that it is relatively easy to keep track of them, so it was a delight to encounter one that fell through the cracks. Invasion follows along with the main body of British SF from this period in that it is more concerned with ideas rather than action. This is partially due to budget restrictions, but it is an element that reoccurs so often it seems to just be a part of the British approach to the medium.

Sobriety test - IN SPACE!

Invasion was written by Robert Holmes, who penned several episodes of Doctor Who, and this film could have been turned into a Doctor Who script with only some minor changes. Much like early Doctor Who, the story is told largely though dialog and contains very little in the way of action. The pacing is slow even at 82 minutes, but it carefully metes out the complications to keep the drama escalating. There is even a nice moral grayness to the conflict as the aliens don’t really seem to care who they kill as long as they achieve their goals, this goes for prisoner and jailers alike. What is less defensible is casting the aliens with Asian actors so as to make them appear exotic. To make things worse one of the nurses is also Asian which allows one of the aliens to take her place and none of the white cast can tell the difference. Although probably an accurate recreation of what might have happened in 1965, it has not aged well and mars an otherwise mild film.

"We removed your appendix. All six of them."

Visually there isn’t much to note. The few special effects shots are serviceable and don’t get in the way of the believability of the narrative. The copy I saw was sourced from a video tape and the image was dull and washed-out. There are several parts of the film where dialogue sounds like it was added later and it is very difficult to understand some of it. These are minor issues that shouldn't impact your overall viewing experience.

If you’re already a fan of British SF from this period and especially a Doctor Who completist, Invasion is an interesting if lackluster film. If you are looking to approach this subgenre, I wouldn’t start here, take a look at the Quatermass films for something that is similar but much more inviting in terms of production and pacing. 


Friday, September 10, 2021

Satanic Summertime Blues


It’s a notable sign of the times when watching a summer filled with satanic cults, possessions and even the arch fiend himself feels like a fun vacation compared to the world outside. I’m not religious in the slightest, so I can only imagine that someone more devout would take things away from these films that I don't. In the end though a horror film is about the violation of autonomy, and satanic movies are no different. Each and everyone one of these films is about the intrusion of an inherently transgressive force, in this case, they are dressed up in the costuming of Christianity. For most of these films, the religious nature of its antagonist is really just set dressing, Satan and western religion are an easy shorthand for good and evil that most people in the audience will be familiar with. What is particular to many of these films is was how they are centered on the loss of self. The horror of these films tended to be very personal in the nature, I assumed we would be hitting some apocalyptic stories but in most of them the stakes are surprisingly low, a family, some random kid, or a village were threatened, but rarely the whole world. Maybe that’s why they seemed almost cozy in the light of an ongoing global pandemic.

Best Film: The Black Cat

Worst Film: Satan’s Cheerleaders

Weirdest Film: Night Vision

Biggest Surprise: Beyond the Door


Satanic Summer

976-Evil (1988)

Beyond the Door (1975)

The Black Cat (1934)

Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

Fear No Evil (1981)

Legacy of Satan (1974)

Night Vision (1987)

Race with the Devil (1975)

Satanic Attraction (1989)

Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977)

Satan’s Storybook (1989)

The Whip Against Satan (1979)



Friday, September 3, 2021

Beyond the Door

Beyond the Door (Chi sei?)
1975
Franco Micalizzi

In the wake of The Exorcist (1973), there was a flood of possession movies. None of them were going to be able to match the precision of that film but what they could do was go push the transgressive content. Many of these films opted for an adult central character so that they could go further with the sex, others upped the supernatural content to include more demonic events, more gore, and more colorful vomit. Probably the greatest of these cash-ins is Beyond the Door. Its ethos is to be The Exorcist but even more so (to the point where they were successfully sued by Warner Bros).

The plot is, at first, a pretty standard affair. Dimitri (Richard Johnson) in debt to Satan must ensure that Jessica (Juliet Mills) gives birth to the Antichrist or else he will die and go to hell. Jessica starts to act strangely as it becomes more and more apparent that the unnatural baby in her womb is in fact a demonic force. Also there is something about nose flute and toy car.

Dukes of Hazzard: Requiem

Opening with a florid voiceover from presumably Satan himself, Beyond the Door sets an odd tone right from the start. There is an undeniable thread of weird humor in the film, a little boy is drinking pea soup out a can, a young girl curses like sailor for some reason, there is even a lengthy musical interlude as Robert is surrounded by street performers in a scene that I think is supposed to be unsettling but somehow lands on weirdly joyous.

There are also some effective horror moments, the breathing and roaring walls, Jessica going through some familiar (aka lifted directly from The Exorcist) demonic shenanigans, but it’s pushed to an extreme; buckets of vomit, creepy sexuality, and spooky moans fill the film. Imagine the relatively somber Exorcist but given a comic book makeover. The religious horror is played with zero reverence for religion but 100% reverence for shocking the audience.

"Got anymore of those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pudding pies?"

One of the quirkiest and perhaps greatest elements of Beyond the Door is the soundtrack. A mix of soul-funk and bizarre electronics. Italian films have a history of filling their horror films with funky tunes that most people wouldn’t associate with anything spooky, and somehow it works. Often in film, music informs the viewer how they are supposed to feel. A sad moment will have mournful music, a triumphant one will have an appropriately triumphant tune. Most horror films will have deep bass or atonal strings to indicate that something unsettling is happening. What happens when a film hits you with a funky bassline during the middle of tense scene of unholy evil? The viewer is left uncertain, suddenly you’re not being told how to you are supposed to deal with the scene. I think it works as an antidote to the often-blatant manipulation of traditional music scores.

Beyond the Door is a marvelously strange film that might have begun as a straight-up rip-off of The Exorcist but takes on a life of its own through its sheer strangeness. A wonderful film and highly recommended.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Whip Against Satan


The Whip Against Satan (aka El látigo contra Satanás)
1979
Alfredo B. Crevenna

The Whip (Juan Miranda) is kind of like Zorro if a) Zorro wasn’t charismatic and b) Zorro had a secret identity as a guy who takes advantage of locals by selling them hair tonic and snake oil. Also, by kind of like Zorro, I also mean he dresses exactly like Zorro but instead of a sword he uses and ineffective whip that he is constantly cracking throughout the entire film. The opening montage is at least a solid minute of The Whip (I don’t recall him actually being called that at any point in the movie) stand around at various places and snapping his well, whip. It goes on for so long it becomes ridiculous.

The Whip finds himself in a small town that is beset by someone calling himself Satan who has a gang that is running people off their land. It also has a witch who is in the crosshairs of some local religious zealots who want to hang her. If that wasn’t bad enough there is also an active volcano that shakes the place up once and while. I don’t know why anyone lives there; it seems like a hassle. Who is the mysterious Satan and why is terrorizing this town? 

"Ew... sulfur."

When The Whip Against Satan is working it carries with it a moody aesthetic, from the empty stretches, the dying town, to the red glow of the caves under the volcano there is some delicious gothic place setting happening here. The near constant rumble of the volcano lends itself to a building doom. There are also some great moments of occult ceremony that really push that underlying atmosphere of dread. 

Where The Whip Against Satan falls down is in the action. Which is the problem because there is a lot of action in this movie. Every few minutes Satan’s cronies mix it with the Whip which results in several minutes of the Whip riding around on his horse cracking his whip at people who run away or just fall down. It goes on time after time to the point where I dreaded the next action scene. There is no artistry to the action, the camera sits there while people in rubber masks stumble around a horse. The one moment I enjoyed was the battle in the glowing caves at the finale. It was the same ham-fisted action but at least the background was interesting.

"I'm here for the goat yoga."

All of this might sound like I didn’t enjoy The Whip Against Satan, which is far from the case. The film is a thematic and structural cousin to luchador films, and in that respect the low budget, creaky action, but effective gothic atmosphere mix together to make something unique to Mexican films and enjoyable on that level. So, in the end, if you are into pulp Mexican cinema you can find some things to love here. If you are new or curious about this sort of thing, there are much better jumping off points out there.


Friday, August 20, 2021

Legacy of Satan



Legacy of Satan
1974
Gerard Damiano

When Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966, he created a counter-cultural phenomenon. LaVey encouraged humanist values rather than any actual worship of Satan but that didn’t stop the public from assuming that the actual Satan worshiping happened as well. As we spun into the 1970s, a decade known for more hedonistic trends and a rise in interest in the occult, we got a perfect recipe for lush horny horror. Legacy of Satan is great example of this even if it isn’t what I would call a great film.

George (Paul Barry) and Maya (Lisa Christian) are a couple heading for estrangement. One of their friends convinces them to come to a party in a strange mansion which always goes well. This gathering  turns out to be a Satanic cult who have their sights set on Maya whom they begin to work their magic on and draw into their clutches.

"Begin the Satanic VAG STEAMING!"

In theory, Legacy of Satan has got everything you want from a Satanic cult film, there are dark rituals, blood, nudity, chanting, poor unsuspecting dopes on the receiving end of ultimate evil. What we get in actuality is more of a muddled mess that seems to forget what it’s about by the end of the film. As a cohesive story there isn’t much to grasp onto here but as a work of aesthetics it is very effective. 

Legacy of Satan began its life as a sex film and those origins are definitely present. Not because it features a lot of explicit sex (just a lot of the non-explicit kind) but because there isn’t much to film at all. It only runs 69 (nice) minutes, and the plot is minimal to say the least. There are large spaces in the film that probably would have been the various sex scenes. Whatever the reason that Legacy of Satan wasn’t filmed as an adult feature it has a curious effect on the end product. The sparse story creates a strange ethereal atmosphere as events just drift along with seeming little importance and inevitability as the Satanic cult takes this couple apart.

"I am not good at eating pizza."

Far and away the most intriguing thing about Legacy of Satan is its score. The music of Legacy of Satan is a shrieking and rumbling mix of analog synthesizer sounds that sits seemingly at odds with the lush ultra-1970s interiors and costumes. These two elements create a frisson of strangeness that mixes with the dreamy story to enhance the doom laden feeling already present. If there is one element to really enjoy in this barely coherent work, it’s the amazing sounds that come from it.

When you get down it, the story is the least interesting element of the film, but as a tonal piece and neat little snapshot of what was going on in the counter-culture of the 1970s it carries a weird fascination. Worth a watch for all of its dreamy campy strangeness. 


Friday, August 13, 2021

Satan's Cheerleaders


Satan’s Cheerleaders
1977
Greydon Clark

Satanists trick a group of high school cheerleaders into their clutches. They require a virgin to sacrifice to Satan. Unfortunately for them one of these cheerleaders wields supernatural powers of her own. Now she has to keep her teammates alive long enough to escape.

The first twenty minutes of Satan’s Cheerleaders is pretty standard 1970s T&A comedy, there are the cheerleaders in skimpy outfits, the horny jocks, the clueless teacher, and the evil janitor who uses his Satanic powers to spy on the girls in the locker room. We get two interesting turns: Patti (Kerry Sherman) seems to have powers of her own and later the whole team is kidnapped and trucked of to a cult compound. The terrible jokes continue but at least Satan’s Cheerleaders looks like it’s going to be a goofball exploitation comedy with some low stakes for the duration, and it basically is at least until…

"Yoo-hoo, Satan!"

So, we are bopping along in this very light and very silly T&A comedy that seems to be balancing things just fine when we get a gross tonal shift featuring a sexual assault. As far as these things go, it thankfully happens off screen, but it is such an ugly moment in something so weightless. It’s dropped note that a film like this isn’t really equipped to deal with. That fact that it comes into play at the film’s climax is just insult to injury and it throws off the rest of the film. There’s a maddening lightness to all the events of this film after this point. There are no real consequences for anyone. The whole thing goes out with a coda featuring the football being helped towards victory with Satanic powers, and if the whole film hadn’t just hinged on an off-screen rape, I might have even found that a charming way end things. 

These Ring remakes are getting weirder and weirder.

We get a few famous faces in the film, Yvonne De Carlo is Emmy, one of the cult heads and there is a cameo by John Carradine. Neither is enough to elevate the film above mediocre but it’s always nice to see a familiar actor. Kerry Sherman never brings any real gravitas or other worldliness to her witch character and the fact things hinge upon her actions doesn’t help. Jacqulin Cole is Ms. Johnson, the head of the cheerleader team. She’s fun, but gets the absolutely worst lines in the film and is on the receiving end of the most egregious transgressions in the whole story. 

Satan’s Cheerleaders is a mess, it doesn’t really work as exploitation, horror, or comedy as it can never commit to any of them well enough to make things work. It is a shame too because this is a perfect recipe for something memorable. Well, it is memorable, but probably not for the reasons it should be. There are much better titty comedies out there, that are much better Satanic cult horror films out there. I’d search those out rather than spend any more time with Satan’s Cheerleaders.


Friday, August 6, 2021

976-Evil

976-Evil
1988
Robert Englund

The late 80s was the height of 900 numbers. For those who weren’t around at the time, in pre-internet days, you would see ads on late night television offering spooky thrills and sexy times at the push of a few phone buttons and a few dollars a minute. Much like b-movies, the real thrill was often in the advertisement rather than the content. Even Freddy Krueger had his own 900 number which leads us too…

This is Robert Englund’s directorial debut, and he’s obviously been taking notes while working on the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The look of 967-Evil definitely takes inspiration from the later films in the NoES franchise but with the neon cranked up significantly. There are some ambitious sequences that the movie doesn’t quite have the budget to pull off, but they get an A for effort. This film almost functions like a remake of Nightmare on Elm St. Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge gay subtext and all.

Meanwhile at my apartment.

The plot is a very by the numbers affair at its core. We have a poor nerdy loser who goes by the name of Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) and his much more successful cousin, Spike (Patrick O’Bryan). Both of them live with Hoax’s mom, Lucy (Sandy Dennis), a religious fanatic and incredibly abusive force in their lives. Hoax gets hooked on calling 976-EVIL, a phone line which initially seems to only be giving out fortunes in a spooky voice, but soon it influences him to do evil acts and reward him demonic power. If you are familiar just about any demonic influence movie (Evilspeak (1981)) for an example, you know where this is all going.

Stephen Geoffreys is playing a riff on his famous Fright Night (1985) character, Evil Ed. Hoax is oppressed from all sides and underneath his meek demeanor lurks white hot rage. Geoffreys is a great character actor who should have been destined for greater things. I found him very entertaining throughout the movie. Patrick O’Bryan is less interesting as Spike but that is to be expected, he’s not the one turning into a clawed revenge demon with dorky sunglasses. Special mention goes to Robert Picardo as Mark Dark, the purveyor of the actual 976-Evil phone number.

"Ugh, CornNut breath."

It’s hard to escape the Nightmare on Elm St. parallels here. We’ve got a wisecracking monster with a clawed hand seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. We also get some significant Nightmare on Elm St. 2 elements with an oppressed main character who is subtextually given some sexuality issues through his interaction with the men and women in his life.

Is 976-Evil worth viewing? It never breaks new ground, but for a debut film, it holds together well. It is also interesting seeing Robert Englund employ many of the visual and narrative tricks of the film series that made him a household name. Heck it even garnered a direct-to-video sequel which is rarely talked about. 976-Evil is for the 1980s completist and trash enthusiast, anyone else might want to stick to watching Freddy movies.