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Friday, December 7, 2018

It's Alive!




It’s Alive!
1969
Larry Buchanan

Larry Buchanan was given a tiny amount of money to crank out a batch of TV movies that mostly drew from the American International Pictures (AIP) library as sources for the remakes. This series includes such luminaries as the remake of Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) titled, The Eye Creatures (1965), and a redo of It Conquered the World (1956), which was called Zontar, The Thing from Venus (1966).  Not all of these films were remakes though, It’s Alive* is an original story albeit from a script that was kicked around AIP and never actually made into a film. After watching It’s Alive, some might suggest it still hasn’t been.

Norman (Corveth Ouserhouse) and Leela (Shirley Bonne) are newlyweds driving across the country when they manage to run out of gas and attract the attention of Wayne (Tommy Kirk), a paleontologist. They all decide to wander over to a nearby farm looking for gas. The farm is owned by a guy named Greely (Bill Thurman) and not only does he not have gas but he manages to lock everyone in the caves by his house. In the cave is Greely’s favorite pet, a giant dinosaur-man.

"Alright folks, let's get to Kirk..."
Out of all Buchanan’s TV movie output, It’s Alive is probably the best one. It has a compelling set-up and a decent proto Texas Chain-Saw Massacre (1974) vibe with unsuspecting travelers wandering into the backwoods den of a madman. The overgrown swaps and caves contribute to the oppressive atmosphere. Things keep up a steady pace until a lengthy flashback drags everything to a complete stop. The movie struggles to get back up to speed with a big finale, and it’s a credit to the script that it almost succeeds.

I tend to give older films some leeway when it comes to special effects, especially something as impoverished as this production, but the dinosaur-man that Greely is keeping captive is especially embarrassing.  Not only is it reused from an earlier Buchanan film, Creature of Destruction (1967), it is a decidedly non-scary ping pong balled eyed goof. It looks nothing like a dinosaur, and it’s never in the same frame as any of the actors. It is a complete failure… or perhaps an absurd success depending on the reason you are watching.

Are you scared yet?
If for some reason you find yourself on the wrong end of a bet or perhaps a gun and you are forced to select a Larry Buchanan movie to watch, you could do a lot worse than It’s Alive. You’re probably still going to have a bad time, but there is some modicum of entertainment to find here and depending on your love for terrible rubber-suited monsters you might even grow to like it a little. Just prepare for a momentum-killing and nearly silent flashback to ruin your fun before getting back to the monster action.

*This is the first film to be called It’s Alive directed by a guy named Larry. Larry Cohen would later make a completely different film about mutant babies. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Twisted Pair


Twisted Pair
2018
Neil Breen

Something happened in the early 2000s that gave us Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003), James Nguyen of Birdemic (2010) fame’s first film, Julie and Jack (2003), and Neil Breen’s first film, Double Down (2005). All three directors financed and produced vanity projects that transcend their small origins to become something akin to outsider art, they are films that are laughed at, but underneath it all have an unmistakable earnestness. While Wiseau and Nguyen have largely decided to bank on their cult status, Breen still seems intent on demonstrating his need to save the world from some imagined technological nightmare to come.

In Twisted Pair, Neil Breen plays both Cade and Cale Altair, twins given superpowers by a mysterious force to battle terror and injustice. Cale falters for some unexplained reason and is stripped of his abilities. Both of them still attempt to fulfill their destiny. Cade is an invulnerable super-agent busting up a ring of techno-terrorists, while Cale is reduced to kidnapping and torturing ‘corporate businessmen’ for days on end.

Neil Breen's Myst
Breen’s wandering virtually nonsensical plot feels like a slightly more polished version of something Carl J. Sukenik (Alien Beasts (1991)) might toss out. Like all good art, Twisted Pair allows the viewer a glimpse artist. Cade is a typical Breen character, invulnerable, highly skilled, smarter and more enlightened than anyone around him. He is the sole person in the world who can save it. Cale is a dark reflection of this, drug-addicted, violent and cruel. Both men know their place in the world but lament the burden of being so righteous. In another common Breen element, women in their lives betray both men. The majority of the movie consists of Breen wandering around a small college by himself or interacting with stock footage against a green screen. There is something profoundly lonely about his isolated existence but at the same time it is all so absurd.

Do you want quirks in your weird outsider vanity film? Twisted Pair is filled with them. Cade leads some stock footage of soldiers to safety while the same two kinds of digitally added explosions occur again and again. Cale sports a stunningly fake beard that is only upstaged by another actor sporting an incredibly fake mustache for two separate characters. You will witness the slowest quick draw in cinema history. You will meet a transient feeding rubber rats who is later stabbed and doesn’t seem to mind all that much. Just when Twisted Pair seems to fall into a lull, something happens to confuse and delight the viewer.

Neil Breen's Beastmaster 4
Viewing Twisted Pair is a bizarre experience, every choice made is eccentric, and every performance is stilted and hampered by terrible dialog. Underneath it all, Breen has a message he is very passionate about, but what exactly that message is supposed to be is clouded by his messiah complex.  You will never witness anything like Twisted Pair and I can’t decide if that is a good thing or not.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Bloodlust!


Bloodlust!
1961
Ralph Brooke

Johnny (Robert Reed), Betty (June Kenney), Jeanne (Joan Lora), and Pete (Eugene Persson) are teens out on a boat trip who decide to visit a nearby jungle island while their ship captain is passed out drunk. What they find is a hunter by the name of Dr. Balleau (Wilton Graff) and his cadre of sailors/thugs. After dinner, Balleau reveals his plan: hunting the intruders with a crossbow before putting them on display in his trophy room.

Bloodlust! is the story, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, but in this case, geared towards the teenage drive-in market of the late 1950s. Every character is a very basic sketch of a human, we have the hunky All-American male, the nerd with glasses, the tomboy, and the random 50s girl who isn’t much good at anything. None of the adults can be trusted, when the grown-ups aren’t actively trying to kill someone they are lying and cheating to get their way. Toss is some unusually explicit gore and a running time of barely over an hour to fit nicely on a double bill and you have a guaranteed money maker.

"Mr. Lion and I both know you are sucking in that gut big-time, Mike Brady."
It is pretty easy to dismiss Bloodlust! outright for its paper-thin characterizations, alternating overacted and wooden performances, and simple plot (MST3K’s savage attack on it, didn’t do its reputations any favors either). Indeed, it is a cheap mess of a film, but it posses some quirks and details that make it more interesting than you would expect.

The gore on display is notable for the period when the movie was filmed (1959 but not released until 1961). Bloodlust! shows off gruesome corpses, crossbow bolt wounds, severed body parts, impalement, and acid dissolved faces with an abandonment that lifts it out of the predictable thriller that it is. Not only is it delightfully lurid but it gives a palpable sense of danger to the proceedings... that movie sadly neglects to capitalize on.

It also interesting to see a genre film from this period send off two women on their own and not reduce them to victims. Betty is established as a judo expert early on, something that pays off in perhaps the most satisfying scene in the film. Both Betty and Jeanne end up being resourceful and possess agency throughout the story.

"Oh, this acid bath is really clearing up my pores...and everything else."
If Bloodlust! has a single fatal flaw, it is in the character of Balleau. Wilton Graff gives him a certain cold charm, but he is saddled with some truly terrible dialogue that is supposed to demonstrate his murderous intelligence but instead makes him sound like a stupid person trying to sound smart.

“It amuses me now that I found it distasteful at first. And as time went by I adjusted my new activity. For what had been an unpleasant duty became a pleasure then it developed into a passion and then into a lust. A lust for blood!”

Bloodlust! has a lot of problems, but it also has a few surprises to offer that make it a short and interesting journey into a low budget hybrid of thriller and horror. At sixty-eight minutes long and in the public domain it isn’t a difficult film to hunt for and you might just like what you find.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Batwoman


The Batwoman (aka La Mujer Murcielago)
1968
René Cardona

Professional wrestlers are going missing and then washing up on shore quite dead. A medical exam shows that they all have tiny puncture wounds where their spinal fluid has been extracted. Lady luchador and part-time superhero, Batwoman (Mauri Monti) is called in to solve the case. Meanwhile, the villainous Dr. Williams (Roberto Cañedo) is the one behind the deaths, all in
the hope of making a killer fish-human hybrid he names Pieces. Will Batwoman solve the mystery or is she next in line to be transformed?

From a surface look, this film is obviously looking to cash-in on the popularity of Adan West’s Batman series from the same era. Batwoman is a wealthy socialite, who fights crime, is highly skilled, and has a few gadgets. She's also a luchador. Her mask and wrestling suit are well within copyright violation territory. Unlike Batman (I assume), she dons a skimpy bikini and cape ensemble when she is out fighting bad guys. The plot  makes even less sense than your average 1960s Batman TV episode but it is the kind of thing that is right at home in a luchador movie.

Batwoman reviews her last date.
What The Batwoman doesn’t have is the camp energy of the 1960s Batman. It plays out with a pretty straightforward narrative that barely shows a hint of humor or self-awareness. Many times Santo and other luchador movies are saved by the fact that their outlandish narratives are delivered with a straight face, but in trying to emulate material that is decidedly not serious it feels like a detriment in this case. Mauri Monti is beautiful but she doesn’t have the on-screen charisma that makes a character like The Batwoman engaging to watch.


The Batwoman isn’t a complete failure, there are some fun moments to seek out. Batwoman acts in a very non-Batman fashion when she wields a gun or throws acid in the face of the evil Dr. Williams. Pieces, the killer fishman, is a nice bit of costuming that functions as a wet-suit from some underwater action, and also looks just fine lurching round on land. He looks kind of like an aquatic Sleestak. I love how Dr. Williams makes a tiny Pieces that he places into the ocean to make it grow to human-sized, like those grow toys you leave in a dish of water overnight. The film could have used more fun details like these. Because this is nominally a luchador movie, there is a little bit of wrestling, but thankfully it is kept to a minimum so as not to destroy what little momentum the story can summon.

The safeword is Igor.
The Batwoman had potential but it never really manages to generate much in the way of excitement and laughs (intentional or otherwise). I would say if you are hardcore luchador fan or interested in Mexican genre cinema, it might be worth checking out once, but for everyone else there are much better (or delightfully worse) examples out there.

Sidenote: It is still a million times more watchable that Jerry Warren’s Wild Wild World of Batwoman (1966)

Friday, November 9, 2018

True Game of Death


True Game of Death
Steven Harries, Chen Tien-Tai
1979

Ah, Bruceploitation, it battles Naziploitation for being the lowest rung of exploitation sub-genres. Made entirely to capitalize on the untimely death of Bruce Lee, and the public’s undiscerning hunger for kung-fu in the 1970s, these films would cast someone given a similar stage name (Bruce Li, Dragon Lee, etc.) and have them actually playing Bruce Lee (or the nearest equivalent). The films would often directly involve Bruce Lee’s actual death in the plot. Tasteless to say the least, but there are still some boundaries to cross here and True Game of Death happily does it.

Opening with scenes from Bruce Lee’s real funeral, True Game of Death announces its intentions  as a crass cash-in on a real-life tragedy. A mysterious narrator informs us that there is a “New actor who looks quite like him.” This fellow is Hsao Lung (Lung Tien Hsiang) and he doesn’t just look like Bruce Lee (actually he doesn’t look like Bruce at all), he acts like him and dresses like him. Lung is also prone to having dreams about Bruce Lee which look mysteriously like long clips from Bruce Lee films edited in to fill up some time.


"Hsao Lung here for Action Slacks™."
True Game of Death wanders around from fight to fight as a gang tries to coerce Lung to be in their movie, they even force his girlfriend, Alice (Alice Meyer) to poison him, which results in a scene of him writhing around and dying in a grotesque parody of Bruce Lee’s actual death. This is the low point for True Game of Death, but it is also its most memorable scene. Shortly after this, the not quite as dead as we thought, Lung is back in action and fighting to rescue his girlfriend in set-piece after set-piece, the last one cloning the level by level battle of Game of Death, but for much cheaper of course.

True Game of Death is cheap looking and feels like it was edited with a brick. The dubbing is so terrible it almost becomes an art form, my favorite being a gang member who inexplicably speaks like Dean Martin. The fight choreography is often passable, but, I’ve never understood why Brucesploitation films never cast anyone who actually uses Jeet Kune Do, Lee’s actual style. If I had to pick a favorite element of True Game of Death, it is the infectiously funky bass riff that plays through the entire film.

"This is not the true game of death that I signed up for..."
True Game of Death is the bottom of the Bruceploitation pit, so it might be worth watching just for that fact. If you are planning on watching it for any other reason, I can’t in good conscience recommend it, there are far better kung-fu films, and there are (help me) much better Brucesploitation features out there. True Game of Death exists purely for atrocity tourism, but in an age of film when CGI versions of deceased actors are being resurrected for appearances in multi-million dollar franchises, it might be in good company.

Friday, November 2, 2018

31 Nightmares!

For the month of October 2018, I wrote a mini-essay on Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare of Elm Street phenomenon. Here are all 31 in one place for you the enjoy for the first time or for the reoccurring nightmare you just can't shake.

31 Nightmares

  1. Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!
  2. Bastard Son of a 100 Maniacs
  3. This is God
  4. I'm into Survival
  5. What Kind of [CENSORED] Runs Around in a Christmas Sweater?
  6. We Have Special Work to Do Here, You and Me.
  7. Help Yourself, Fucker!
  8. No Screaming While the Bus is in Motion!
  9. I'm Going to Take Him Away from You...
  10. It was Just Something that the Kids Say to Keep the Boogeyman Away.
  11. In my Dreams, I am the Wizard Master.
  12. We Make House Calls.
  13. I'm Standing in the Night Alone, Forever Together
  14. You Are All My Children Now.
  15. We Saw Elm Street and Man it was Def
  16. In Dreams... I Am Forever!
  17. Welcome to Wonderland...Alice
  18. Faster than a Bastard Maniac! More Powerful than a Loco-Madman!
  19. You Can Check In but You Can't Check Out
  20. Kids... Always a Disappointment
  21. Oh, Right. You're Gonna Be a TV Star.
  22. I'll Get You, My Pretty! And Your Little Soul, Too!
  23. Every Kid Knows Who Freddy is. He's like Santa Claus... or King Kong or...
  24. All Day Long I've Been Seeing that Guy's Weird Face...
  25. All Day Long I've Been Seeing that Guy's Weird Face...(Part 2)
  26. I Think the Only Way to Stop Him is to Make Another Movie.
  27. No. It isn't You. He's Scarier. He's...
  28. He May Get the Blood, but I'll Get the Glory...
  29. You Smell Different.
  30. Now I'm Playing with Power!
  31. Every Town has an Elm Street!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Every Town has an Elm Street!


Freddy Krueger was and is still my favorite horror character. He can be frightening, repulsive, amusing, or even embarrassingly silly. Beyond that, he occupies a whole mental playground for the viewer. What is my dreamscape like? If I had dream powers, what would they be? The whole Nightmare on Elm Street franchise straddles typical pop cultural consumerism and the deeper personal element of what lurks in our own nightmares. It’s a tribute to the longevity of the character that even 34 years later, a small cameo on a sitcom generates interests and sparks talk another film.

Even doing a short essay every day there is still more plenty to talk about:  Movies influenced by A Nightmare on Elm Street,  his modern video game appearances, the joy of dressing up like Freddy on Halloween.  Freddy left an indelible mark on pop culture.

Thank you, Robert Englund and Wes Craven for getting it all started. Thank you fans for helping to keep Freddy alive. Thank you, Freddy Krueger, for not murdering in my sleep….yet.