THRILLER PART 2
AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (1981) - I've always considered this film a sleazier low-budget Canadian version of director/writer Paul Schrader's HARDCORE (1979) and once you watch it, I think you will see the similarities, too. Just like Schrader's film, this one is about a man completely out of his element, who makes some surprising choices along the way in search of someone he loves. The film opens with stripper/hooker Isabelle (Alexandra Paul; SPECTRE - 1996) in a cheap motel room, naked in bed and smoking a joint. She is talking to a man in the bathroom (we never see his face or hear his voice), who is washing his hands and putting on a pair of surgical latex gloves. Isabelle is apologizing about some videotapes being made and swears she didn't know anything about it. The man comes out of the bathroom dressed in nothing but a towel, mounts Isabelle and then graphically slits her throat with a straight-razor. We are then introduced to Isabelle's brother Eric (Lawrence S. Day), a Classically-trained pianist and best-selling recording artist (he has the gold records hanging on his walls to prove it!), as he knocks on Isabelle's apartment door (he hasn't talked to Isabelle in quite a while, but she sent him a letter saying that she was in big trouble and needs his help), but gets no answer. Her cross-dressing across-the-hall neighbor Dolly (Larry Aubrey; THE VINDICATOR - 1986) informs Eric that Isabelle is a stripper that uses the name "Tanya" ("They always change their names when they do it.") and that he hasn't seen her in a couple of days. This leads Eric on an odyssey of the seedier side of life, where the streets are full of strip clubs, porno stores, porno theaters and prostitutes. He is truly a stranger in a strange land. When Isabelle, a.k.a. "Tanya", doesn't show up for her normal stripping gig, club manager Wally (Peter Lavender) asks the off-duty Tina (Lenore Zann; HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME - 1980) to fill in for her (Wally says about "Tanya": "Shit, she's probably so spaced out on 'ludes, she can't dial a phone!"). Tina agrees because Tanya is a friend and doesn't want her to be fired, so she goes on stage (she wears a Devil costume and dances provocatively with a pitchfork), much to the dismay of her boyfriend Mark (Page Fletcher; HUMONGOUS - 1981), who would rather Tina come home with him. Eric confronts his estranged father, Hamilton Blake (Tom Harvey), the owner of the huge corporation Blake Industries (who are holding some kind of telethon called "UNI Saves" in the very near future), with the note Isabelle sent him and asks for help in finding her, but Hamilton says it was her and Eric's choice to leave the family and he wants nothing more to do with her. When Eric leaves, Hamilton pulls a photo of Isabelle out of his desk and fondles it, so we know there is more to the story. Eric starts interviewing "Tanya's" friends: strippers Louise (Lora Staley; THIEF - 1981) and Andrea (Claudia Udy; NIGHTFORCE - 1986), but comes away with little information. He then goes to the police, where he talks to Sgt. Skylar (Michael Ironside; SCANNERS - 1980; here billed as "Mike Ironside"), who tells Eric that he doesn't have much faith in what strippers say, but he will look into it. Meanwhile, the faceless killer murders Andrea by slitting her wrists and drowning her in the bathtub, making it look like a suicide. As the killer is exiting the building, he bumps into the cross-dressing Dolly and he gets a good look at the killer's face. Louise doesn't believe that Andrea committed suicide and Eric asks her for help at Andrea's funeral. At first she turns him down ("You're asking me for help at a funeral?!?"), but when the killer tries to murder her and fails, she forms an uneasy alliance with Eric to discover the truth. Hamilton's right-hand man, Tony Shaw (Neil Dainard), asks Eric to play the piano at his father's telethon, but Eric tells Tony to tell his father to go to hell (clue alert!). Eric thinks he can trace Isabelle/Tanya's whereabouts by finding out what telephone calls she received from her answering service (the same service Louise uses). Eric and Louise get a list of numbers after bribing the lady at the answering service and notice there were several calls made by someone known as "The Fixer" at a cheap hotel. Dolly decides he is better off leaving town for good, but he chooses too late, as the killer grabs him in an alley and stabs him in the heart. Eric and Louise are nearly mugged, until Eric intervenes and turns the table on the mugger (I guess playing the piano gives you strong hands!). After Louise witnesses Eric saving her life, they become lovers and have sex at Eric's palatial apartment. While Louise is sleeping, Eric sneaks out and heads to the cheap hotel and strong-arms the hotel manager (Paul Bradley). The manager tells him that The Fixer videotapes all the girls having sex with their tricks, but only The Fixer has the videotapes and he has no idea where he is. Eric and Louise look through the slimier streets of town (where we see a theater marquee advertising the porn film THE SECOND COMING OF EVA - 1974) looking for The Fixer (this is after Louise goes through an embarrassing "audition" for a role in the UNI Saves telethon, but she has a callback) and when Louise goes home because she is tired, Eric finds The Fixer (Mike Copeman) in a porno theater and uses The Fixer's own gun to force him to tell Eric where the videotapes are (at a bus station locker). While Mark is being sweated by Sgt. Skylar as the possible killer, the real one shows up after hours at the strip club and slices Tina's throat with a knife. When Eric watches the videotapes, he sees a familiar face on one of the tapes and it ain't his sister's (well, half of it is)! It's Hamilton fucking his own daughter and when Eric confronts him with the evidence (Hamilton says he been screwing his own daughter since their mother died!) and says he is going to turn it over to the Press and the police, Hamilton commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. As you can guess by now, Hamilton is not the killer; it was Tony (Eric also discovers it is him when he finds Dolly's body and he is holding a key piece of evidence in his dead, clenched hand), who was trying to keep his boss squeaky clean by burying the evidence and the people involved. Eric must race to the UNI Saves auditions, where Louise is "rehearsing" for Tony. Can Eric save Louise in time before Tony takes her life? This is a cheap, tawdry look at a slice of life that most of us never see and, therefore, is must viewing for people interested in the subject matter. It is full of tits and ass (but no bush) and has enough bloody violence to satisfy early-80's gorehounds, too. Director Don McBrearty is better known for directing episodes of Canadian TV series and TV movies (such as THE HAUNTING OF LISA - 1996), which he is still doing at the time this review was written. Screenwriter John Sheppard (BULLIES - 1986; Dolph Lundgren's DETENTION - 2003) definitely got the impetus for this film from Schrader's movie, except it is much more down and dirty than the George C. Scott-starrer. I actually prefer AMERICAN NIGHTMARE over Schrader's film because it is able to go places and show things not acceptable in a big-budget film. Producer Ray Sager got his start as an actor in a few films by goremaster H.G. Lewis (eventually appearing in the title role in Lewis' WIZARD OF GORE - 1970), before becoming a respected Producer of Canadian genre films, including all three sequels to PROM NIGHT (1980), as well as many Canadian TV movies and television series up to this day. This film was his first as a Producer. One of the Executive Producers was Paul Lynch, who also has a healthy career as a director, making the aforementioned PROM NIGHT, HUMONGOUS and BULLIES, as well as one of my favorite 90's action films NO CONTEST (1994). He is still very active today, especially on Canadian TV. Both Michael Ironside (who is given very little to do here) and Lenore Zann would appear together in the horror film VISITING HOURS, made the same year as this film. Lead actor Lawrence S. Day (who is not bad here) did one more film in 1992 before retiring from acting. Keep your eyes peeled for a juggling stripper and a poster for SCORCHY (1976) in one scene. Originally released on fullscreen VHS by Media Home Entertainment that was much too dark, with a budget VHS from Interglobal Home Video to follow (which was even worse to watch). Be aware that the DVD offered by Scorpion Releasing is also a fullscreen print and was taken from a less-than-pristine negative. There is a disclaimer before the film starts that says this was the only element of the film that could be found and is not up to Scorpion's usually great quality, but it is still better than the VHS print because you can see what is going on in some of the darker scenes. It is full of grain, dirt and emulsion scratches, but I think it adds just the right amount of ambiance to the film's subject matter. Also starring Bunty Webb, Nancy Oliver, Martin Doyle and Don MacQuarrie as the mugger. A Scorpion Releasing DVD Release. Rated R.
AMERICAN TERROR (2012) -
You would think that a film that begins with a quote by Charles
Manson would be complete trash, but this film turns into a socially
relevant tale of bullying and school shootings. First off, here's the
"Look down at me and you see a fool -
Look up at me and you see a god -
Look straight at me and you see...yourself."
We then see high school punker Josh (Graham Emmons) get out of bed at 6:56 AM and then look at himself in the cracked bathroom mirror (a not so subtle way of saying this boy has some problems; we also hear his thoughts telling him to stay in bed and not go to school). He then has some breakfast while his mother and father totally ignore him and gets picked up by friends (and fellow punkers) Ray (Joseph Abplanalp, in a terrific performance) and Sammy (Taylor Hulett) in Roy's van and head off to another day of school punishment. Brandon (Nathan Green) and his usual bunch of superior-thinking jocks make comments like "Cheerleader pussy rocks" and Brandon's cheerleader girlfriend Tasha (Louise MacDonald) hears him and remarks that he will be lucky if he gets any. Brandon and the jocks do their daily bullying routine of the three punkers, telling them they need Brandon's permission to cross the football field and Brandon hauls off and punches and spits on Ray for talking back to him. We then see the three punkers in a basement watching a revenge movie on TV that night and when they get out of school the next day, someone has spray-painted "FAGS" across the passenger side of Ray's van. The cheerleaders laugh hysterically and take pictures of the van with their camera phones. The punkers are tired of being bullied because they dress and act differently from everyone else (this goes on daily in reality in almost every school in America), so Ray blurts out "We need guns!" (He wants to pull off a Columbine on the jocks and cheerleaders). The best they can do is come up with a 50 year-old handgun from Sammy's stepfather, but Ray sees a redneck (an unrecognizable Brian Thompson [COBRA - 1986; NIGHTWISH - 1988]) hauling a refrigerator away from Tasha's house (she needed to get rid of it and offered it free on an internet site saying "first come, first served") and makes Josh write down the company's phone number down. Ray says to the other two that the best place to get guns is from a redneck, so they do a reverse phone search of the number and find that the redneck's location (the end credits list Thompson's character name as "The Junker", but I'll stick with "redneck" since that is what the punkers call him) is 40 miles away from Denver (this film was lensed in Denver, Colorado). Ray and Josh plan to drive the 40 miles to the redneck's junkyard, while Sammy goes to the hardware store to get the components he needs to make pipe bombs. Ray tells Sammy if they don't return on time, he is to go through with the act of revenge, but make sure it is during Homecoming Night, when the jocks and their cheerleader girlfriends will be there. Ray and Josh drive to the junkyard, where Josh makes a phone call to the redneck saying there are some antiques that need to picked up immediately in Denver (Josh give him Brandon's address!). The wait for the redneck to leave in his truck and the two punkers break into the redneck's trailer, but find no guns. They do find a secret passageway in the trailer that leads to a huge underground bunker and they will need to use it when the redneck makes an unexpected return. They see that the bunker is full of automatic weapons and they suddenly hear loud gunshots, thinking that the redneck is shooting at them, so they run further down the bunker until they find what looks to be some type of torture room. They still hear the gunshots, so they hide in the room. The sounds they hear are not shots at all, but the sound of the redneck tipping the refrigerator ass-over-tea kettle until he gets it to the torture room. When he opens the refrigerator, Ray and Josh see that Tasha is inside, still alive but has duct tape over her mouth (it really does have many uses in films!) and is tied-up. The redneck puts Tasha in a special torture chair, but Ray talks Josh out of saving her, because she was going to be one of the targets on Homecoming Night anyway. The redneck hears Ray talking and grabs him (he doesn't see Josh), while Josh hides for his life.
HOMECOMING DAY 11:27 AM: The redneck has Tasha and Ray prisoner. The redneck straps some strange gear on his body (including a mask with a huge beak on it, not unlike the one Nivek Ogre wore in SCREAM PARK - 2012) and begins to videotape what is about to happen. The redneck pulls off Ray's eyebrows with a pair of pliers (ouch!) while Ray prattles on about how they could work together to kill their enemies. The redneck has heard enough and puts a bullet in Ray's head, killing him, and then leaves the room. Tasha is still alive and Josh tries to save her. The first thing he does is pull the duct tape off her mouth and she screams (the stupid bitch), so Josh puts the duct tape back over her mouth. The redneck returns to the room carrying the corpse of another woman and he screws the corpse on top of a table while watching Woody Woodpecker cartoons (which could explain the mask). The redneck then falls asleep and Josh frees Tasha (who seems to be drugged) and they try to escape the underground bunker, while a groggy Tasha hampers their speed and keeps passing out.
HOMECOMING DAY 3:42 PM: We watch Sammy making some pipe bombs, totally unaware of what has happened to Roy or what Josh is going through. The redneck wakes up and notices that Tasha is missing, so he grabs his pistol and goes looking for her. Josh and Tasha are still in the bunker thanks to Tasha's drugged-out state, but the more they get through the many corridors, the more dead bodies they find, which means that the redneck has been doing this for a very long time. The redneck soon finds the pair and chokes Josh unconscious, while Tasha grabs the redneck's pistol from its holster, but she misses the redneck with her first shot and drops the gun (We could blame the drugs for making her miss, but she was no more than three feet away from him, so even a blind man could have hit him. And she drops the gun because it makes a big bang, proving that it takes a special breed of idiot to become a cheerleader). The redneck knocks her out with one punch. When Josh wakes up, he is tied-up and in an empty hot tub with the redneck. The redneck (who is smarter than you think) has created a machine that will slowly burn Josh's body away as acid fills the tub and he whispers into Josh's ear (the first time we really get a good look at Thompson's face) that he knows what Josh was going to do that night (thanks to Ray telling him), but it looks like he is not going to be there. The redneck flips the switch that turns on the acid machine and Josh can see the acid traveling down some clear tubes. Tasha suddenly appears and hits the redneck over the head several times with a sledgehammer and tries to free Josh, but she's too stupid to figure it out in time and just pumps bullets into the hot tub, so the acid flows out. The redneck wakes up with what is probably Excedrin Headache #1, but Josh and Tasha have booby-trapped the room and the redneck trips it, causing a big metal gate to come flying at the redneck, hitting him hard. Josh and Tasha make it outside by crawling through a window in the trailer, but the redneck grabs Tasha's leg and Josh chains his arm to a pole. Josh and Tasha use a bulldozer to drop a bunch of junked cars on the trailer, killing the redneck. Suddenly, Josh says, "Fuck, it's not over!"
HOMECOMING NIGHT 7:15 PM: Josh has to stop Sammy from going through with the massacre, but he doesn't have the keys to the car, so he has to go down to the bunker and get the keys out of Ray's pants pocket (he also leaves a sign in the torture room as a tribute to his two friends). He gets the keys and he and Tasha race back to Denver, but it is 40 miles away and time is coming close to the massacre. Sammy walks into a convenience store, where he asks the nerdy teen behind the counter why he is not at the Homecoming Dance. The teen says "Are you kidding me? Just look at me!" and Sammy shakes his hand (It's a telling moment.). While Sammy is walking down the road, he gets hassled by a cop, who wants to know where he is going ("The Homecoming Dance.") and why he is dressed that way ("This is the way I always dress."), but the officer makes his life a living hell, just like the jocks, so he blows up the police car and the officer with a pipe bomb. Josh makes it to the high school just in time and tries to talk Sammy out of the massacre, but then suddenly Josh is woken up by his alarm clock at 6:56 AM, goes to the bathroom and looks at his reflection in the cracked mirror and has breakfast while his parents ignore him. Is Josh caught in a time loop? Turns out that Josh actually talked Sammy out of the massacre and he has become the hero of the school. Donald and the rest of the jocks still treat him like shit, but Josh has a new outlook on life and puts Brandon in his place, something he has never experienced before. Tasha (who is now Josh's girlfriend) yells to Brandon: "Cheerleader pussy...it does rock!" and kisses Josh. Make sure you stay through the end credits, because the final stinger is very important (I'm not going to spoil it for you, except to say that the redneck is not alive), as the title of the film changes to AN AMERICAN TERROR 2.
What looks like a film that is going to turn into a tale of violent revenge and retribution (Something we have seen much too often in our schools the past few years, turning our educational system into a virtual prison with "zero tolerance", such as a fourth grader who drew a gun in art class and was suspended from school. For drawing a gun!!!! Another younger kid took a two week rip for making his thumb and forefinger in the shape of a gun!!!!! That is not "zero tolerance", that is adult ignorance.) actually turns into a parable about redemption and forgiveness. Everyone, including Josh, can change the future (and sometimes become a hero in the process), but you have to apply yourself and sometimes turn the other cheek. Director/screenwriter/editor/sound designer Haylar Garcia (this was his first feature-length fictional film), was actually an acclaimed musician/songwriter/music producer before he decided to go into filmmaking (I must confess that some of the thrash metal songs playing during some scenes were a distraction to me, but I get the feeling that Garcia was actually speaking to teenagers with this film and not old fogies like myself) and I sincerely hope he sticks with filmmaking, because he actually pulls great performances out of the young cast (This is the first feature film for the actors who play Josh, Ray and Sammy) and holds you in suspense in some scenes. This film is basically serious stuff (but a hand gesture Thompson's character makes sure gave me a good laugh) and teaches both young and old what effect bullying has on people (I know some people who still have emotional scars from being bullied in school and that was over 40 years ago. These are emotional wounds that are hard to heal.) This film may not be for all tastes because, at times, it can be a little "torture porny", but people looking for some social significance to go along with the thriller elements should appreciate this film. It may have cliched portrayals of cheerleaders (Tasha does some really stupid things in this film, but not all cheerleaders are as ditsy as her), but Tasha has one of the best final comeback lines I have heard in quite a while. An enjoyable low-budget film that is as inventive as it is relevant. Besides, any film that makes Charles Manson look like an ass is OK in my book. We are all individuals. We just have to remember that. Also starring James Miller, Michael Haskins, T. Alex Demos, Jennifer Wilde, Kathryn Gould and Troy Alan. An Uncork'd Entertainment DVD Release. It is actually a DVD-R, since Amazon (the exclusive distributor of disc) only produces them MOD (made on demand). It is available on many streaming services, though. Not Rated.
BAD ASS (2011) - I love Danny Trejo. Love him. And while this film may be considered a geriatric version of DEATH WISH (1974, Charles Bronson even gets a shout-out in this film), there is so much more going on here than vigilante justice. Trejo has what is probably the biggest role of his career (even bigger than his role in MACHETE - 2010, as he appears in nearly every scene) as Frank Vega, an elderly gent who is about to become a YouTube sensation. Frank has had a hard life. After meeting his true love as a teenager, he enlists in the military and fought in the Vietnam War for seven years, the last year as a POW. He is shot in the leg while escaping the POW camp and is honorably discharged by the military, returning home to his true love (who promised to wait for him), only to find her married with two kids. He applies to the police department to become a cop, but is turned down due to his war injury. For the rest of his life, he has supported himself (and his elderly mother) by selling hotdogs from a cart, until one of those "boutique" food truck takes up residence across the street from him, stealing most of his customers. While taking the bus on the way home, two punks hop on board and start harassing the passengers, so Frank takes care of business and knocks the two punks out. People on-board the bus take footage of Frank's fighting on their camera phones on and post it on YouTube (called "YouSee" here, probably because YouTube wouldn't give them permission to use their name), making Frank an instant Internet sensation, who everyone dubs "Bad Ass". Frank is lacking knowledge in the technical department, as he doesn't even own a cell phone or a computer and wouldn't know how to use either even if he did have them. When Frank's elderly mother dies, she leaves her house to Frank, so he invites best friend Klondike (Harrison Page; LIONHEART - 1990), who saved his life during the war, to come live with him. While they are getting drunk at the house, Klondike throws Frank an envelope and tells him it contains a USB drive (Frank has no idea what that is), explaining that if anything happens to him, he should turn it over to someone he trusts. When Klondike leaves the house to pick up a pack of Camels, he is shot dead by two guys looking for the USB drive. They work for Panther (Charles S. Dutton; MIMIC - 1997), a man who is in cahoots with the town's corrupt Mayor Williams (Ron Perlman; TV's SONS OF ANARCHY) to buy up property in the area and regentrify it illegally. When Frank is notified of Klondike's death, he goes to the police precinct to see what progress they are making. After being assured everything is being done and then watching the detectives playing a game of foam basketball in the precinct's break room, Frank decides to take the law into his own hands. He becomes friends with foul-mouthed kid Martin (John Duffy), who lives next door with his physically abused mother Amber (Joyful Drake), who gets beat-up by her boyfriend nearly every night. When Frank steps in and stops one of those beatings, it becomes apparent that Frank and Amber will become much more than friends (even though he is old enough to be her father, but Trejo pulls it off magnificently). Martin shows Frank how to use the USB drive that Klondike gave him and discovers Panther and the Mayor's plan for their neighborhood. Frank gives the USB drive to the only cop he trusts, Patrol Officer Malark (Patrick Fabian), who Frank has gone on many "ride-alongs" with and have built-up a friendship and then he begins to hunt down the people who killed his friend, starting with the two people who actually killed Klondike. He follows one of the goon's girlfriend to her home (he is caught trying to break in by her diminutive neighbor, played by SEINFELD's Danny Woodburn, but he gives him a pass because he recognizes Frank as "Bad Ass"!) and finds the guy who actually pulled the trigger, killing Klondike. Frank sticks the goon's left hand into the garbage disposal until he gives up the location of Panther (As he is walking out of the house, he says to the goon, "I hope you're a righty!", one of the film's many little jokes that make this film a joy to watch). Trouble is, Panther is waiting for him at the warehouse and some more goons knock Frank out. When Frank wakes up, he is connected to an electrical torture device (shades of LETHAL WEAPON - 1987) and is shocked to give up the location of the USB drive, Panther not knowing that Frank was tortured the same way during his time as a POW and was never broken. Frank breaks free and blows up the warehouse, which leads to Panther and Frank stealing busses (Well, Panther really only steals a bus, as Frank is happily offered another bus because the driver recognizes him as "Bad Ass"!). A bus chase ensues (the only disappointing part of the film, because it is obvious that this footage was cribbed from the Schwarzenegger film RED HEAT - 1988 and digitally altered to substitute Los Angeles for Chicago), both of them crashing the busses. Panther heads to Frank's home to kill Amber, but Franks stops him in the nick of time, beating the crap out of Panther. The next day the Mayor is arrested, thanks to Officer Malark turning over the USB drive to the right people, everyone else is brought to justice and Frank becomes an honorary police officer. Not just a revenge film, but also an essay on how we are so dependent on "instant access" in the Internet Age, this thriller/action/comedy, directed and written by Craig Moss (BREAKING WIND - 2012, also featuring Trejo), depends on the charisma of Danny Trejo and I'm glad to report, he pulls it off with the aplomb that he was never offered before. This may be the best role of his career, as it does show what a full range Trejo is capable of. He can be tough, tender, funny and romantic, sometimes all in the same scene. As of this review, director Moss has finished a sequel, BAD ASS 2: BAD ASSES, which pairs Trejo with Danny Glover and will be released sometime in 2014 and BAD ASS 3 (also with Glover) to be released sometime in 2015. It's great to see Trejo get such big roles and recognition he so richly deserves so late in his acting career, as he has been appearing in bit roles and secondary characters in nearly 250 films since 1985. Between this series and MACHETE KILLS (2013), it is my hope that Danny Trejo stay on top for years to come (It's hard to believe that Trejo will be 70 years-young in 2014!). Also starring Richard Riehle (HATCHET - 2007) as a priest, Duane Whitaker (TRAILER PARK OF TERROR - 2008) as a pawn shop owner, Norma Michaels (THE ZODIAC KILLER - 1971) as an elderly woman (she has one of the film's funniest lines when Frank saves her from a drive-by shooting) and a cameo by Craig Sheffer (NIGHTBREED - 1990) as a lawyer. A Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD Release. Rated R.
BARRACUDA (THE LUCIFER PROJECT) (1977) - Here's a regional (Florida-lensed) conspiracy thriller that tried to pull the wool over audiences' eyes by making them think they were going to see a JAWS (1975)-inspired tale about killer barracudas, thanks to a misleading ad campaign. It didn't work. A chemical plant in the small coastal town of Palm Cove is dumping some unknown substance into the ocean via an underground runoff valve. Environmental professor Mike Canfield (Wayne Crawford; SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS - 1971) tries to find proof of the illegal dumping, only to be arrested by the town's friendly sheriff, Ben Williams (William Kerwin; BLOOD FEAST - 1963), on orders from the chemical plant's megalomaniac owner Papa Jack (Bert Freed). Mike becomes friendly with the sheriff's daughter, Eliza (Roberta Leighton), and together they begin to uncover a deadly secret conspiracy that may reach to top members of our nation's government. When swimmers and scuba divers end up missing or dead (one girl and her dog discover a human head on the beach), thanks to attacks by bloodthirsty barracudas, and thousands of half-eaten fish are discovered washed ashore, Papa Jack tries to cover it up with the help of some shady looking characters wearing dark suits and sunglasses, but things take a turn for the worse when the townspeople begin to get sick and act out violently, like they have lost control of their emotions (something that was covered more thoroughly in the similarly-themed film IMPULSE ). As more people end up dead at the beach, Mike is now getting help from the Sheriff when the water samples Mike collected turn out to have an unknown trace element that seems to change the behavior of anyone or anything that ingests it (and it is in the town's water supply). Mike takes his findings to seemingly kindly local doctor Elliot Snow (Jason Evers; THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE - 1962), who has been treating far more sick patients than normal, only to discover that Dr. Snow may just be the driving force behind all this secrecy. Mike, Eliza and the Sheriff try to get outside help, but the subversive powers-that-be do a pretty good job of covering it up, killing Mike and the Sheriff in a typical nihilistic ending that the 70's so loved to give audiences. This slow-moving thriller, directed by Harry Kerwin, who co-wrote and produced with star Wayne Crawford (Crawford is also credited with directing the underwater scenes), really doesn't have much to recommend and seems to suffer from severe edits to achieve a PG rating. As usual, Crawford sleepwalks throughout the entire film and looks bored (or stoned) whenever he is on-screen. Both Harry Kerwin, brother William (who also acted using the name "Thomas Wood") and Crawford (who occasionally acted using the name "Scott Lawrence") have worked together several times before, most notably in Harry's two underrated films, GOD'S BLOODY ACRE (1975) and TOMCATS (1976), which makes BARRACUDA a bitter disappointment in comparison. The violence here, unlike the previous two films, is sparse and uninspired (the barracuda attacks consists of someone shaking the camera while fake blood is released into the water, followed by close-ups of obviously fake barracuda's open mouths) and notable edits (even the music soundtrack jumps, which seems to indicate that the films PG rating was decided after post-production) robs the viewers of any carnage. The 70's turned out a lot of "They Are Us" conspiracy thrillers thanks to Watergate and it's aftermath, but BARRACUDA is one of the weakest of the lot. One funny scene shows Mike turning down a roll in the hay with Eliza because he doesn't want to disrespect her father by screwing her in his house. Now I've heard everything! Harry Kerwin puts in a cameo as an assassin who guns-down three people in a local newspaper office when they get too close to the truth. Also starring Cliff Emmich, Scott Avery, Bob J. Shields and Bobbie-Ellyne Kosstrin. Originally released on VHS by VidAmerica Inc. and available on DVD from Dark Sky Films as part of a double feature with ISLAND FURY (1983/89). Rated PG.
BECAUSE OF THE CATS (1973) - Compelling thriller about a gang of well-dressed young men who rob and rape wealthy people and the police inspector who is determined to catch them. When the film opens, we watch as the six youths break into the home of a wealthy couple and gang-rape the woman while forcing the husband to watch. As the wife tells her story to Amsterdam Police Inspector van der Valk (Bryan Marshall; THE PUNISHER - 1989), she remembers something unusual that one of the masked youths said when he refused to take part in her rape: "The cats won't like it." The Inspector, who believes the youths are well-bred and perform the robberies and rapes strictly for kicks (they especially seem to find joy in destroying property more than stealing it), begins his unorthodox investigation, first sleeping with an expensive call girl named Feodora (Alexandra Stewart) to get clues as to who these spoiled youths may be. It turns out that the Inspector's suspicions were correct. Each one of these youths comes from a well-to-do family and they have bonded together, calling themselves "The Ravens". The only problem the Inspector has is getting proof, since he runs into brick walls when trying to get anyone to spill the beans, since the kids' influential families can ruin them for life. The newest recruit to The Ravens, Kees van Sonneveld (Nicholas Hoye), may be the one person that breaks under the Inspector's questioning, but first the Inspector must navigate the unfamiliar world of society's rich, where the parents of the youths are just as corrupt (if not more so) as their children. The parents put pressure on the Inspector's superiors to get him to back off, but he keeps chugging ahead trying to find out the meaning of "The cats won't like it." The rest of The Ravens mistakenly believe that Kees has spilled his guts to the Inspector, so they try to kill him by running his scooter off the road, but he manages to escape. When Kees is eventually found dead on the beach dressed in scuba gear, the Inspector knows The Ravens are responsible, but will have a hard time proving it, so he begins his own intimidation campaign against them. Eric (Anthony Allen), the leader of The Ravens, begins an intimidation campaign of his own, threatening Feodora for talking to (and sleeping with) the Inspector. She finds her pet cats graphically slaughtered in her apartment, a warning to keep her mouth shut or she will be next. The truth is eventually exposed and the Inspector arrests The Ravens for murder, but he also discovers just who the "Cats" are (I won't spoil it for you) and that The Ravens weren't acting on their own. They also have a Manson-like leader who was guiding their every move. Can the Inspector find enough evidence to bring this monster down? This slow, methodical thriller, directed and produced by Fons Rademakers (whose 1986 film, THE ASSAULT, won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1987), begins with a graphically unpleasant and hard-to-watch gang rape (which is edited out of some prints) and then proceeds to give the viewers clues as to why these spoiled, privileged brats do what they do. The screenplay, by Hugo Claus (based on a novel by Nicolas Freeling), is not only an indictment against the wealthy and the influence they hold over the common people, it's also an indictment against parental neglect. Some parents, like Kees' father, are never around (he's not even available to the police when his son is found dead), some are protective only because they don't want their family name sullied and some just don't give a shit. While the violence (besides the rape) is fairly restrained (the shots of Feodora's slaughtered cats is the bloodiest this film gets), the nudity, including both full-frontal male and female, is graphic and borders on pornography in some scenes (It was originally Rated X when submitted to the MPAA and had to be shorn of some footage to receive an R-rating). The final thirty minutes, where The Ravens' Svengali-like leader is exposed and we witness a flashback involving Kees' murder, an orgy and a ritualistic cat sacrifice, is about as sexually graphic as a film can get without being covered in a plain brown wrapper. While some of the ideals and morality (not to mention the fashions) may seem dated today, BECAUSE OF THE CATS is still an entertaining mix of heady themes that makes for a satisfying thriller. The mod, brassy score, by Ruud Bos, is also a highlight. Also starring Edward Judd, Sebastian Graham Jones, Derek Hart, Christopher Blake, Delia Lindsay, Roger Hammond, George Baker and Sylvia Kristel, who plays an important role in the film's conclusion, besides being completely nude for the majority of her screen time. Originally available on VHS from Prism Entertainment in the compromised R-rated edit. The version I viewed was an uncut, widescreen version that I downloaded from a torrent site. Not Rated.
BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971) - You gotta love a film that opens with a nude Barbara Bouchet getting a full body massage from a blind man (and getting aroused by it!). Bouchet portrays Maria Zani, who we next see getting slapped around by her husband, Paolo (Silvano Tranquili), after he receives nude photographs of her with another man. After accusing her of being a nymphomaniac and telling her he is being blackmailed, he demands to know the man's name, but she refuses to tell him. We then see some unknown person, wearing a trench coat, a big floppy hat and flesh-colored latex gloves, preparing a long needle, then creeping into Maria's house and inserting it into the back of her neck, paralyzing her. As she lays motionless on her bed, she can only watch (she can't even scream) as the killer slowly stabs her in the stomach and moves the blade upwards, killing her. Police Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini) interviews Paolo and finds out he and Maria were separated for three months. Tellini also finds a torn half of the blackmail photo, showing only a nude Maria and the mystery gentleman's hands, but Tellini finds a smudge in the upper right hand of the photo, which turns out to be a clue. Paolo has the other half of the photo and hires a private investigator to find out the man's name and where he lives. The killer then murders another female victim, using the same method that was used on Maria: A paralyzing needle to the neck followed by a knife to the stomach. Tellini can find no connection between the latest victim (a cocaine trafficker) and Maria. Paolo is considered the main suspect, but after professing his innocence to Tellini, he goes on the lam and swears to find the real killer. Tellini breaks one case (cocaine being transported in containers of tarantulas!), but it brings him no closer to unmasking the killer (he does learn about the symbiotic relationship between tarantulas and wasps, though, which he will learn later is also an important clue). Paolo, with the help of the private investigator, finds his wife's lover in the photo, but a series of mishaps results in Paolo falling off the roof of a highrise building and dying, while the lover is run over by the killer (who's driving a red sportscar) as Tellini is chasing him. Tellini discovers that all the killings may be tied to a blackmail ring, but the killer keeps knocking-off any potential witnesses. When the killer tries to take Tellini's life (with a runaway pipe truck), Tellini must find a way to stop the killer before it becomes even more personal. This early 70's Itallian/French giallo, directed by Paolo Cavara (MONDO CANE - 1962; DEAF SMITH & JOHNNY EARS - 1972) is a pretty tight little murder mystery that contains all the giallo staples: A mysterious gloved killer, some brutal murders, plenty of red herrings and lots of nudity. Scripter Lucile Laks also puts us deep into Inspector Tellini's personal life, introducing us to his flaky wife, Anna (Stefania Sandrelli), who, at one point, sells all the furniture in their apartment, leaving them only with a bed (!), but it proves to be an integral part of the film. When Tellini discovers homemade movies the dead blackmailer had in his apartment, the whole detective squad watch them and discover footage of Tellini making love to his wife, which results in laughter from the squad and embarassment and anger from Tellini. Throughout the film, Tellini tells his wife that he's going to quit the force because he fells that he's not "up to it", but time and time again he proves to us that he is probably the smartest man in the department. The murders, while not particularly gory, are still brutal in their execution; the beautiful Barbara Bouchet's (CRY OF A PROSTITUTE - 1974) being the most memorable. This would make the perfect companion piece with HANNIBAL (2001), if only to imagine star Giancarlo Giannini playing an older version of his Tellini character in that film (Their characters are strikingly similar in both films, right down to having wives needing money and wanting to leave the police force). BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA was released theatrically in the U.S. by MGM in a severely-edited 89 minute version as part of a double feature with WEEKEND MURDERS (1970). For a lot of American audiences, this was their first taste of giallo. Not a bad way to be introduced to the genre, if you ask me. As with a lot of giallo films, the opening scenes are an important clue to the killer's identity. Also, the use of primary colors play a role in telling the story. Here, red is the dominate color. Try to spot how many scenes director Cavara uses red in the background or on objects and clothing. Ennio Morricone once again provides an evocative and powerful music score to compliment the murder and action set-pieces. A young Barbara Bach (THE HUMANOID - 1979; THE UNSEEN - 1981) appears briefly as Jenny, who does a striptease and then ends up with a needle in her neck. Even though Claudine Auger (BAY OF BLOOD - 1971) is given second billing, she's on-screen for less than five minutes. Also starring Rossella Falk, Giancarlo Prete and Ezio Marano. Blue Underground offers the fully-uncut 98 minute version in a nice, but not perfect, widescreen print on DVD. Not Rated.
BLADE (1972) - For the first time on U.S. home video, thanks to DVD label Code Red, we are now able to see this TV staple in its unedited glory (well, maybe glory is going too far). The version shown on TV and VHS for all those years was heavily edited, removing all instances of violence and nudity and new footage was shot in 1979 (including the opening, in which we can plainly see a theater marquee advertising the film APOCALYPSE NOW) to pad out the film to 79 minutes so it could be shown in a 90-minute time slot. This is the full 90-minute theatrical version (lensed in New York City) and even though it was directed by Ernest Pintoff (DEATH OF A HOOKER - 1971; JAGUAR LIVES - 1979) and co-written by Pintoff and Jeff Lieberman (the director of such cult films as SQUIRM - 1976, JUST BEFORE DAWN - 1980 and SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER - 2004), the film itself is a mixed bag. The movie opens with well-dressed woman-hating psycho Frederic Peterson (Jon Cypher; THE FOOD OF THE GODS - 1976) watching white girl Melinda (Jeanne Lange) making out with black man Henry (Ted Lange; THE LOVE BOAT - 1977-1987) in his car. When Henry leaves, Frederic follows Melinda into her apartment complex, where he brutally kills her using karate moves and slamming her head over-and-over on a stair bannister. High-price call girl Karen (Raina Barrett; STIGMA - 1972) descends the stairs after her weekly meeting in the penthouse with her wealthy john and spots Frederic in the complex entrance (but she doesn't see the murder), even offering to make a date with him in the future (Frederic follows her home to find out where she lives). It turns out that Melinda was the daughter of crooked Congressman Powers (William Prince; THE GAUNTLET - 1977), who is now running for President on an anti-drug and anti-pornography platform (The speech he gives about the Middle Class is as relevant today as it was back then). When it is discovered that Melinda was a drug addict and Henry was not only her boyfriend, but also her supplier, Powers' spin doctor, Steiner (Keene Curtis; a popular TV series guest star, probably best known for his recurring role as millionaire "John Allen Hill" on CHEERS from 1990 to 1993), calls up Police Chief Rearson (John Schuck; who would soon become Rock Hudson's sidekick on TV's MCMILLAN AND WIFE [1971-1977] and previously appeared as suicidal Captain "Painless" Waldowski in the movie M*A*S*H - 1970) and tells him to keep the drug aspect of the murder case out of the newspapers. Since Rearson is as crooked as a corkscrew, he agrees, but he has to contend with Lieutenant Tommy Blade (John Marley; THE CAR - 1977), a no-nonsense honest cop (practically the only one in this film) who decides to investigate Melinda's murder his own way after arresting Henry and knowing he is not the killer (Reardon threatens to put in Blade's retirement papers if he doesn't listen to him). Blade is a divorced cop who lives with much younger novelist Maggie (Kathryn Walker) and doesn't see his young son as much as he should (He confiscates a .22 caliber zip gun off his son, which will prove handy later on). Blade gets a call and pays a visit to Black Panther-type leader Chris (an early role for Morgan Freeman), who tells him that he better release Henry, otherwise there will be a black militant uprising. Blade treats everyone the same: He says what he means and doesn't care what the consequences are. When Frederic murders Karen (he gives her a few katate chops and kicks, then strangles her with a telephone cord) so she can't identify him to the police, only Blade notices the similarities between Melinda and Karen's deaths. Another crooked cop, also on Congressman Powers' payroll, steals Karen's red appointment book (which could sink the Congressman's presidential aspirations) and locks it in his car's glove compartment (but he doesn't even bother locking his car doors!). Blade picks the glove compartment lock and steals the appointment book, which is a treasure trove of important information. Meanwhile, female secretary Jill Connors (Karen Machon) knows something is hinky with new hire Frederic Peterson and does some investigation into his background with the help of ex-CIA operative Gail (a cameo by Rue McClanahan) and discovers that Frederic Peterson's name is actually Frederic Powers and he was dishonorably discharged from the Marines during the Korean War for the brutal beating death of a Korean girl. Yes, Frederic is actually Congressman Powers' brother and the Congressman has been covering-up Frederic's murderous ways ever since he was released from a mental institution after the war. Frederic was sent to live with his elderly Aunt Cynthia (Katherine Squire), who makes sure he stays out of trouble (she doesn't do such a good job). When Frederic kills Jill and then Aunt Cynthia (for ratting on him to his brother), he sets up Blade (who quits the police force in disgust) for a final showdown in a wooded park with Maggie as bait, where he beats the snot out of Blade before Blade shoots him dead with the zip gun. A final on-screen scrawl tells us that Congressman Powers won the election by only 1,800 votes and Blade was found not guilty of murdering Frederic (after Reardon and several cops were convicted of corruption), being reinstated to the police force. First of all, the print used by Code Red, although shown in its proper aspect ratio, is a total mess (They did much better with their uncut DVD version of director Bert I. Gordon's THE MAD BOMBER - 1972 [under its alternate title THE POLICE CONNECTION], which was butchered for U.S. TV and VHS). It is full of emulsion scratches and dirt (even a hair or two), is missing some frames (which makes us miss some dialogue here and there) and even shows us the reel change dots in the upper right hand of the screen (Code Red founder Bill Olsen wants us to believe this is a grindhouse experience, as it is apparent that no restoration at all was even applied to the film's less-than-stellar celluloid elements). There's not much action in the film and even less violence, just Frederic kicking the shit out of women and Blade (it is brutal, but not as bloody as it could have been). There is plenty of nudity, though, including Karen's ditzy porn actress roommate, Claudell (Geri Miller), who is topless in all her scenes (Steve Landesberg puts in a comedic appearance as Claudell's porn director). The film looks like it was edited with a trowel, as one scene jumps to the next, many of them without any connective tissue at all (The majority of the film also looks to have been lensed with hand-held cameras). John Marley is good in the role (much of his dialogue seems improvised), but his attire, including wearing a hankerchief around his neck like it was a tie, definitely shows the film's early-70's roots. BLADE doesn't quite deliver as a thriller, action or exploitation film. It feels more like a 70's TV cop movie with added nudity and curse words. It's good as a time capsule (many of the actors here have since passed away), but not much else. Also starring Michael McGuire, Joe Santos (who is wasted in a nothing role as Blade's partner), Peter White and Marshall Efron. Originally available on VHS in the TV edit by Video Gems and then as a budget VHS (recorded in the lousy EP mode) by Star Classics. Code Red has released the theatrical version as part of a double feature DVD, the other film being the Franco Nero-starrer RING OF DEATH (1969). Rated R.
A BLADE IN THE DARK (1983) - The career of director Lamberto Bava is a very erratic one. It seems for evey good film we got (MACABRE a.k.a. FROZEN TERROR - 1980), we also got a terrible one (DEVIL FISH - 1984). He gave us the superbly twisted DEMONS (1985) and the fair-to-middling DEMONS 2 (1986), but then also gave us the supremely bad DEMONS III: THE OGRE (1988; but, to be fair, that was an Italian TV movie). In other words, Bava's output was a little schizophrenic, but there was always one thing you could count on in both his bad and good films: you would get plenty of gory violence. Personally, I think he has more hits than misses, but some of his films defy description, such as DELIRIUM: PHOTO OF GIOIA (1987), and even his minor films, such as BLASTFIGHTER (1984) and BODY PUZZLE (1992), gave us the over-the-top violence we craved in the 80's & early-90's (He would usually use the pseudonym "John Old Jr." on his minor or bad films as a tribute to his father, genre maestro Mario Bava, who used the pseudonym "John Old" on some of his older films, before he became an established name of quality entertainment). Which brings us to A BLADE IN THE DARK, which was a late entry in the giallo genre with a little of Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) and Brian De Palma's BLOW OUT (1981) mixed in for good measure. It's not the greatest mystery thriller, but it is an entertaining one that gives us more than enough nudity and violence to make up for some huge holes in Dardano Sacchetti (THE PSYCHIC - 1977; THE BEYOND - 1981) and Elisa Briganti's (MANHATTAN BABY - 1982; HANDS OF STEEL - 1986) screenplay. The film opens up with two young boys pressuring another young boy to enter the basement of what is probably a haunted house. They tease him by repeating. "You're a female! You're a female!..." and throw a tennis ball down the stairs, telling him if he doesn't want to be called a female, he will go down the stairs and get the ball. The young boy slowly walks down the stairs, while we hear the sound of a heartbeat on the soundtrack. When the boy disappears in the shadows and then screams, the heartbeats stop and someone (or something) throws the tennis ball up the stairs, it hitting a wall and leaving a round bloodstain where it impacts. The two young boys flee as if their lives depended on it (and probably crapping their pants in the process). We are then introduced to film composer Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti; Lucio Fulci's THE NEW YORK RIPPER - 1982, which he acted in using the pseudonym "Andrew Painter"), who is about to compose music for his first horror film. His agent, Tony Rendina (future director Michele Soavi; STAGE FRIGHT - 1987; THE CHURCH - 1989; he's an Assistant Director on this film and is badly dubbed), has rented Bruno a secluded villa where he can concentrate on creating music without distractions, but as we will soon find out, that is not going to happen. The director of the horror film, Sandra (Anny Papa; THE GREAT ALLIGATOR - 1979), will not give Bruno the final reel of the film, rather letting Bruno's seclusion and imagination take over in composing the soundtrack. She believes her horror film needs a music soundtrack from a composer that has never done a horror film before (Actually, the music we hear Bruno composing comes from the outstanding de Angelis brothers, Guido and Maurizio, who have done the soundtracks to such genre films as THE MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD ; ALIEN 2: ON EARTH  and many others, sometimes using the name "Oliver Onions") The only other person around, who lives in a guest house next to the villa, is caretaker Giovanni (Stanko Molnar; Bava's MACABRE - 1980), who basically keeps to himself, even though he looks sinister. When Bruno goes to sit at his piano and record his first session to the soundtrack, he notices that a nude photo of one of the women in his girly magazines has been sliced-up (We earlier see an unknown person with one of those retractable X-Acto knives [the kind that "clicks" when you move the blade up or down], slicing up that picture while Bruno is not present), but Bruno thinks it was Giovanni and one of his quirks and continues composing. Bruno think that Giovanni is the only other person around. That is, until he finds Katia (Valeria Cavalli; MOTHER OF TEARS - 2007) hiding in one of his closets (She is a neighbor from down the road and wanted to meet her new neighbor). Before they can talk, Tony calls on the phone and Katia goes to use the bathroom, but when Bruno is done talking to Tony, Katia has disappeared. He discovers Katia's diary in the closet and begins reading it, where she says that she is about to reveal a big secret to someone very soon. Bruno continues to record the soundtrack, while a killer with the same X-Acto knife attacks Katia outside, slicing her face and her hand, but she gets away, only to get caught behind some chicken wire fencing where the killer graphically cuts Katia's stomach and slices her throat through the openings in the chicken wire. Bruno can't hear her screams because he is playing the piano and recording it. He plays back his recording while the killer is dragging the dead corpse of Katia away, where he hears a strange abnormality on the tape. It sounds like a woman's voice, but he can only make out "Secret...yes, Linda...no one must know" and writes it down on a piece of paper (It seems to be almost the same thing Katia wrote in her diary). Bruno steps outside to smoke a cigarette and nearly catches the killer dragging Katia's body away, but when he steps back inside to find droplets of blood on his pants, he goes outside again to discover even more blood, but no body. He once again returns to the inside of the villa, only to find his recording destroyed and pages from Katia's diary burning in the fireplace. Someone is trying to cover up their tracks. Bruno's actress girlfriend, Julia (Lara Naszinski; Lucio Fulci's AENIGMA - 1987), pays him a surprise visit, and when he mentions that Katia payed him a visit and he thinks she now may be dead, she acts like a jealous bitch and leaves (not even caring that Katia, whom she thinks Bruno believes is more beautiful than her, may have been murdered). Bruno does some research and discovers that a woman named Linda rented the villa before him and Tony tells him that he put some of her stuff in a locked room in the cellar. Tony tells him to forget about the room and finish his music soundtrack when Bruno asks for the key. Katia's friend Angela (Fabiola Toledo; Bava's DEMONS - 1985) stops at the villa to talk to Bruno and ask if she can use the pool. Bruno has no objections and we then see the killer watching Angela strip naked in the pool-house to get into her bathing suit. While Angela is swimming in the pool, she discovers the X-Acto knife at the bottom and places it at the edge of the pool. Bruno has made a trip to the film studio, where both we and Bruno discover that the scene we saw at the beginning of the film with the three boys is actually part of the final reel of Sandra's horror film, while Bruno plays the scene in forward and reverse to get a sense on how to score it (What the two mean boys call the other boy turns out to be a major clue as to who the killer is). The killer, who we now discover has hands with red nail polish and wears a nice pair of black pumps, plunges a knife into Angela's hand while she is washing her hair in a sink, pinning her hand to the counter. The killer murders Angela by putting a clear plastic bag over her head and banging her cranium over and over on the porcelain sink until the plastic bag fills with her blood (there's a particularly nasty scene of the knife that is pinning Angela's hand slicing it until her hand is free). The killer pulls the knife out of the counter and cuts Angela's throat for good measure. Eerily, the killer seems to be disturbed by all the blood that is scattered throught the bathroom (and it is a lot!) and takes the time to clean it up before leaving. Now is the time I ask readers a few questions, because I never give away the ending of a giallo film in my reviews. Here are the questions: Is the mysterious Linda involved because she is hiding something (or someone) in that locked room in the basement? Is Julia so jealous that she will kill any woman who gets close to her boyfriend (she shows up during the final third of the film holding a big knife)? Is Sandra using Bruno as a pawn to come up with a good final act to her film? Could Bruno actually be the killer since we never see him and the killer in the same shot (not even when he discovers the blood on his pants)? What about Giovanni, as we never see him leave the property or even have a girlfriend? And what does a cedar chest full of tennis balls have to do with it all? I've given you more than enough clues. Now you need to figure it out. Actually, the killer's identity is rather easy to figure out since there are precious too few red herrings. I'm not going to tell you who it is, but it all makes sense in the end. Lamberto Bava borrows many themes from other giallo and slasher films, but he gives us some wince-inducing moments here, especially Angela's pinned hand slowly being sliced open between her fingers as the killer is bashing her head in, putting pressure on her hand to move backwards, as the camera lovingly stays on the hand as it is being sliced open. As a giallo film, this is just average and full of holes (The villa that Bruno is living in is supposed to be secluded, but he sure gets a lot of visitors and it seems to be a short car ride to the film studio), but it is still entertaining nonetheless. The trick here is that every person in the film holds some type of bladed weapon at one time or another in the film, so any of them could be the killer but, as the film progresses and the small cast begins getting killed, it is obvious at the halfway point that only one person could be the killer. There's a quite surprising death in the finale, but I will not spoil it for you, other than to say I thought that person would survive. The film made its premiere in edited form on VHS from Lightning Video and then was released supposedly uncut on VHS and DVD early in the New Millennium by Anchor Bay Entertainment in a 104-minute version. Blue Underground then gained home video rights and delivered a beautiful fully uncut 109-minute version in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) from original vault materials. If you are a giallo completist (and what genre fan isn't?), then A BLADE IN THE DARK should be part of your library. Also featuring Giovanni Frezza and Marco Vivio. A Blue Underground DVD Release. Not Rated.
BLOOD AND LACE (1970) - This is probably the sleaziest and bloodiest film to ever receive a PG (or GP) rating. As I was watching it, all I could do is think about how the MPAA must have been napping when this film was submitted for a rating. The film open with an unseen killer murdering a women sleeping in bed with the claw end of a hammer (the imaginative POV shots are taken from the perspective of the hand holding the hammer) and then setting fire to the room. Ellie (Melody Patterson), the dead woman's wise-ass daughter, looks to find out who killed her mother, even though she knows her mother was the town slut. Since Ellie is underage, she gets put in the orphanage run by Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame; THE NESTING - 1980), who receives a $150 a month stipend for every orphan she houses. That's all fine and dandy, until we find out that Mrs. Deere likes to spend the money on herself and leaves the orphans hungry most of the time and is not above killing those who try to run away. She simply puts their bodies in the basement freezer and puts them in the infirmary when the clueless Dr. Mullins (Milton Selzer) comes to visit to take his monthly head count. When Ellie arrives there, she almost immediately knows something wrong is going on (it doesn't help that she finds one poor girl chained up in the attic, dying of thirst). Ellie strikes up a friendship with fellow orphan Walter (Ronald Taft) and makes an enemy in female orphan Bunch (Terri Messina), who has a crush on Walter. Meanwhile, Tom (Len Lesser), the orphanage handyman, has just chopped-off the hand of a runaway orphan with a meat cleaver, which upsets Mrs. Deere. Not because he chopped-off the hand, but because the orphan got away! Mrs. Deere will do anything to keep collecting $150 per orphan. It doesn't matter if they are dead or alive, but she must have a body. As Ellie investigates further, she becomes aware of Mrs. Deere's evil doings and finds out that when the orphan supply becomes low, parents turn up dead in town. Is it possible that Mrs. Deere is responsible for Ellie's mother's death? If you think you have it figured out, think again. The subject matter of this film is so slimy, you'll need to towel-off after watching it. Every adult in this film, including the film's part-time detective Calvin (Vic Tayback), who considers Ellie "good breeding stock", are portrayed as sleazy, conniving individuals who only care about their own satisfactions. When the killings begin, it plays like a mystery film with enough blood and guts to keep you asking yourself, "Is this really rated PG or did someone fuck-up royally?" There's hammer and cleaver violence, attempted rape, catfighting teens in their underwear, partial teen nudity, kids being tortured, implied incest, shots of open wounds bleeding and other politically incorrect doings going on. By the time the killer is unmasked (literally) in the film's finale, you'll be shaking your head in disbelief at some of the things you'll see and hear. This is the closest thing to PG-rated porn that you will ever see. In other words, if you haven't seen this, you should as soon as possible. Be on the lookout for a very young Dennis Christopher (FADE TO BLACK - 1980) as Pete, one of the unlucky orphans. Directed by one-hit wonder Philip S. Gilbert, who disappeared after making this. Maybe the orphans got him. Scripter Gil Lasky also wrote the screenplays for THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED (1971), THE MANHANDLERS (1973) and MAMA'S DIRTY GIRLS (1974) and produced them all with then-partner Ed Carlin. Also starring Peter Armstrong and Maggie Corey. Future PSYCHO FROM TEXAS director Jim Feazell was an electrician on this. I got this off eBay on a DVD-R which was copied from and English language, Dutch-subtitled VHS tape. Rated PG. UPDATE: This film was finally released on home video for the first time in the United States by Scream Factory in a beautiful DVD/Blu-Ray Combo Pack. One caveat: Scream Factory slapped their own R-Rating on the packaging (there is no MPAA logo to be found anywhere), taking away one of the film's biggest pieces of notoriety. Since there is no extra footage (the film is in anamorphic widescreen), just commentary from film historian Richard Harland Smith, an alternate opening title card and a theatrical trailer, Scream Factory blew the chance of advertising this film as the bloodiest PG-Rated film ever made. Whomever decided to make this blunder should be fired immediately or face the person holding the bloody hammer.
BLOODRAGE (1979) - This film, also known as NEVER PICK UP A STRANGER, oozes the atmosphere of the sleazy 70's and is bound to upset even the steadiest of stomachs, not because it is overly bloody (it's not) but because of the matter-of-fact way that director Joseph Bigwood (actually Joseph Zito using a pseudonym) treats the material and characters. While the storyline is of the basic "serial killer murders prostitutes" formula, the acting and situations seem so natural and unhampered by not having a big budget (this is an extremely low budget effort) that it makes the killings all the more horrendous. A young peeping tom named Richard (Ian Scott) graduates from watching prostitutes doing their business to killing them. After his first kill (he finds it enjoyable) he moves to a room in the seedy Times Square area to be closer to his prey. As his killing spree continues, he becomes facinated with a prostitute (Judith-Marie Bergan) who lives across the alley. He watches her undress through the window and we hear his innermost thoughts via voice-over monologues. This proves to be his undoing. He is dogged by a vigilante cop (James Johnston) who would like to see him pay for the death of his hooker girlfriend. When Richard finally makes contact with the prostitute across the alley, she rebuffs his advances and he tries to kill her. She proves to be quite a fighter though and attacks Richard with a razor while two pimps (one being B-movie staple Irwin Keyes) hold him. The cop comes in the nick of time to save Richard. Without saying a word, the cop grabs hold of Richard and throws him out the window, sending him to his death. End of film. BLOODRAGE, the precursor to HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) contains the same gut-grabbing intensity as John McNaughton's classic and should be on everyone's list as a must-see. I doubt that you'll find a more disturbing foray into the mind of a mass murderer. Also starring Lawrence Tierney (RESERVOIR DOGS - 1992). Joseph Zito also directed Judith-Marie Bergan in ABDUCTION (1975), as well as making THE PROWLER (1981), INVASION U.S.A. (1985) and many others. A Marquis Video Corp. Release. Originally released on VHS by Best Film & Video. Unrated for pure sleaziness.
THE BOSTON STRANGLER: THE UNTOLD STORY (2006) - It's time once again for another one of director/producer/screenwriter Michael Feifer's wildly inaccurate accounts of a well-known serial killer. This time it is Albert De Salvo, a.k.a. "The Boston Strangler", and like most of Feifer's serial killer flicks (see my review of B.T.K. - 2007), this one is more about stunt casting rather than actual facts (although there are a few truths in this film here and there). David Faustino ("Bud Bundy" on TV's MARRIED WITH CHILDREN [1987 - 1997]) plays the vertically-challenged Albert (with a piss-poor Boston accent) who, during the 1960's, supposedly strangled and raped thirteen women, sending Boston into a serial killer panic. The film opens in 1973, with an already incarcerated Albert agreeing to tell his life story to a psychiatrist. We then flashback to the early 60's, during the middle of the Boston Strangler panic, as we witness the Strangler killing Jennifer Mitchum (Jen Nikolaisen) in her home. Police detective John Marsden (Andrew Divoff; THE RAGE - 2007) is assigned to the Strangler case, but he is handcuffed by a police captain (Timothy Oman), who keeps supplying the newspapers with vital information that should be kept secret. Marsden believes that there are two stranglers at work here (he's right), but Mayor Arthur Winfield (Joe Torry, in a wince-inducing performance) doesn't want to hear it and threatens Marsden's job if he makes that fact public (Marsden dreams of a future when forensic evidence, like DNA, will help nab killers, but the police chief shakes his head and says, "Not in my lifetime."). Albert fools one young woman into believing he works for a modeling agency and talks her into going back to her place so he can take her "measurements". As soon as he tries to guess her breast cup size (by putting his hands on her tits!), the young woman realizes he is a fake, so Albert rapes and strangles her with a stocking tied in a bow, based on evidence he read in the newspapers. This film purports that the real Boston Strangler was an unknown criminal and that Albert De Salvo was merely a copycat killer, raping and killing because his mail-order Russian bride, Claudia (Tara Shayne), won't have sex with him. In 1964, Mayor Winfield creates a "Strangler Squad" and appoints a clueless paper-pusher to head it, insulting Marsden even more because he has to report to him, which turns his job into nothing but an unfunny and political joke. Albert is arrested and put in a cell with violent criminal Frank Asarian (Kostas Sommer; Feifer's DRIFTER: HENRY LEE LUCAS - 2009) and, before long, Frank has scammed Albert into confessing that he's the Boston Strangler to shyster lawyer Stuart Whitmore (Corin Nemec; Feifer's CHICAGO MASSACRE: RICHARD SPECK - 2007), who agrees to take the case for a third of the reward money. Marsden doesn't believe it for a second, but the case is a political hot potato and the rest, as they say, is history (at least revisionist history). Triple-threat Michael Feifer, who is also responsible for the serial killer films ED GEIN: THE BUTCHER OF PLAINFIELD (2007) and BUNDY: A LEGACY OF EVIL (2008), manages to coax pretty good performances out of David Faustino (phony accent not withstanding) and Andrew Divoff (who doesn't even attempt an accent), but the film is so flat and uninvolving, it's hard to get worked-up over the proceedings. The violence level in this film is bloodless, since most of the killings are stranglings and the instant comraderie between Albert and Frank when they meet in their cell seems forced and unreal. The film's implication that Frank may have been the real Boston Strangler may be this film's biggest conceit has to offer (not to mention the HUGE coincidence that Albert is thrown into the same cell with him!), not to mention that the flick also suggests that Albert was killed in prison in 1973 because he was about to expose Frank as the real Strangler. It's not only a jump in logic, it's a giant leap of faith. The film ends with a disclaimer that in 2001, the Strangler's last victim was exhumed for DNA evidence under her fingernails and undergarments (You mean to tell me she was buried in the same panties she was raped in?) and the evidence came up with two different individuals. Neither of those individuals was Albert De Salvo. Read into that what you want, but as far as movies go, rent or buy the DVD of the 1968 film, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, with Tony Curtis as Albert. The facts may also be extremely fudged in that film, but it is much more entertaining than this version. Also starring Johnny Liska, Caia Coley, Sonia Curtis, Jack Stehlin, Jay Pickett and Sal Catalano. A Weinstein Company Home Entertainment/Genius Products LLC DVD Release. Rated R.
BUNDY: A LEGACY OF EVIL (2008) - Another "true-life" serial killer flick from director/producer/screenwriter Michael Feifer, who also gave us other serial killer films such as THE BOSTON STRANGLER: THE UNTOLD STORY (2006), ED GEIN: THE BUTCHER OF PLAINFIELD (2007) and B.T.K. (2007). In this film, which mixes some facts with mostly fiction, Ted Bundy (Corin Nemec; MANSQUITO - 2005) is first seen drunk around a campfire, pulling a tied-up girl out of his Volkswagen Beetle (the real Bundy did drive a Beetle) and telling her in no uncertain terms that she is about to die ("After I kill you, I'm going to burn you. I'm going to burn your head in the fucking fire and I'm gonna watch your pretty face melt and your eyeballs fall out of your fucking head! Look at the sky. I want you to see the stars while you die!"). He then kills the poor girl by pummelling her with a shovel and then challenges God to strike him dead. The next time we see Bundy, he's in a prison cell awaiting execution. The Warden (Kane Hodder; who played both Ed Gein and the B.T.K. killer in Feifer's other films) informs Bundy that his latest appeal has failed and his "luck" has run out. Bundy would rather think of it as "fate", since he has found religion in prison (don't they all?) and the Warden hands him a tape recorder so he can record all his sins before he does the dead man walking routine. The film then flashes back to when Bundy was a young boy, reading violent comic books (yeah, they turns us all into killers!), while the adults in his life argue about telling Teddy "the truth" (his sister is actually his mother; a true fact). We then switch to the University of Washington in 1966, where handsome student Bundy woos pretty co-ed Stephanie (Jen Nikolaisen, a regular player in Feifer's films) by quoting Shakespeare and eventually moving in with her (It's really the only stable relationship he's had with anyone in his entire life before it all turns to shit). Bundy has a problem with premature ejaculation when he tries to make love to Stephanie, which causes all kinds of problems in their personal life (She callously says to him: "I can have better sex with a damn retard!" Yee-ouch!). Stephanie breaks-off the relationship and Bundy begins his killing spree, leaving school and traveling to Burlington, Vermont, where he was born (another true fact). He goes to the county hall of records, where he finally learns the truth about his sister/mother and the next time we see him, he has just raped an unfortunate hitch-hiker (no premature ejaculation here), tied her up like a dog and then kills her in the basement of a burned-out home in the middle of the desert. Now it's 1971 and Bundy is working at a suicide hotline in Seattle, Washington, where he proves to be a natural (many sociopaths are good at adapting to their surroundings, especially when they can relate to the subject). At the same time, he is luring a series of girls into his red Beetle and then raping and killing them (at one point, we watch as he throws the severed head of one of his victims into a fireplace and he gets-off watching it burn!). It's now 1973 and Bundy is working on Washington State's gubernatorial election. Bundy reconnects with Stephanie while on a trip to San Francisco. He proposes marriage to her in a crowded restaurant and she accepts, but when he goes to the mens room, he doesn't return, leaving Stephanie to look like a fool (Maybe she should go fuck a damn retard!). Meanwhile, Bundy continues his cross-country killing spree (we will never know the exact number of his victims), until he is captured by a cop while sleeping in his car. Bundy escapes from a Colorado jail (his first of two jail breaks) and continues his killing spree until he is eventually caught again and sentenced to the electric chair, which we see carried out. As with most of Michael Feifer's serial killer films, there are germs of truth to Bundy's life story, but there is more "artistic license" than fact. Corin Nemec (who also had a role on Feifer's Boston Strangler film and also portrayed Richard Speck in Feifer's CHICAGO MASSACRE: RICHARD SPECK - 2007) is quite good as Ted Bundy, who is appropriately charming when he needs to be and then creepy as hell the next moment. While there are a couple of gory killings, most of Bundy's murders are kept off-screen, as director/writer Feifer seems more interested in Bundy's internal demons (he keeps flashing back to when Bundy was a little boy in a cowboy hat). Don't get me wrong, there are some graphic scenes of violence on display, especially during the final third (including Bundy killing two sleeping co-eds with a baseball bat and then breaking into another girl's apartment, where he brutally beats her with his fists and a telephone), but this film is more of a psychological piece, showing how Bundy used his good looks and high intelligence to nearly get away with all his killings, but like all narcissists, his own inflated ego gets the best of him (especially when he acts as his own defense attorney in his trial for killing the two sleeping co-eds). As far as Feifer's serial killer films go, this one rates better than most, so if you are hesitant about which one of Feifer's serial killer films to start out with, try BUNDY: A LEGACY OF EVIL first. Also starring David DeLuise, Shannon Pierce Wilkins, Kristen Clement, Molly Fix, Alyson Hope, Rachael Kollman, Tim Oman (another Feifer regular player), Jay Pickett and Angela Padilla. A Lionsgate Entertainment DVD Release. Rated R.
CAT IN THE CAGE (1978) - Unbelievably bad thriller that involves a man (Behrouz Wossoughi, the only dubbed voice in the entire cast) returning home after a short stay in a mental institution. His father (Frank De Kova, Chief Wild Eagle on TV's F TROOP) has married his dead wife's nurse (Sybil Danning [PANTHER SQUAD - 1984], spelled "Cybil" in the credits). Together with the chauffeur (Mel Novak), she plans to bump off De Kova, and inherit his vast fortune and estate. She runs into problems with Behrouz (he can't stand her) and his cat, Samson, who attacks her at every available moment. The first problem with this film is the cat. Samson is as about as vicious as a toothless frog (having two cats myself, I know what I'm talking about). The film's idea of showing his viciousness is by dangling a piece of string in front of him and photographing him swatting at it. In one flub, the cat is shown rubbing against Danning, showing her affection. Another detraction is the presence of Wossoughi (who is given an English name "Tony Bova" in the end credits), a Pakistani (?) actor (?) who looks out of place among the other players. He looks as much like De Kova's son as Eddie Murphy would look like David Duke's. It looks like someone owed somebody a big favor. Even though Colleen Camp (DEATH GAME - 1977; DEADLY GAMES - 1980) is top-billed, she has very little to do except to play Wossoughi's girlfriend (she's a great actress) and sing the title song. Technical gaffes, flubbed lines and some of the worst canned music to bleed my ears in quite a while flesh out the film. Speaking of flesh, Danning exposes a lot of it here (the only saving grace). Recommended for Danning completists only. Genesis Home Video offers this tape for $9.99 and can be found at finer (?) video stores and retail outlets. Director Tony Zarin Dast (a.k.a. Zarindast) went on to make the action thriller HARDCASE AND FIST (1989) and the ungodly howler WEREWOLF (1995). Unrated.
THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974) - Psychopath Andrew Prine disposes of various naked centerfold girls with his trusty straight razor because he thinks the girls are corrupting the minds of the people who view their photos. That's basically the whole story except for the way it is told. This film is in three parts, each part focusing on a particular centerfold girl that Prine stalks. The first part is about a nurse who travels to a camp to apply for a job. Her home is invaded by hippies, who force her to drink alcohol and nearly rape her. She escapes and runs to the camp where owner Aldo Ray saves her. Ray then attempts to rape her, but gives up, saying she's not worth the trouble. Prine, who has been tracking her, enters the house and slits her throat. The second part concerns a model who travels to a secluded island with an entourage for a photo shoot. Prine follows the model onto the island and kills everyone one by one. The third part is about a stewardess (Tiffany Bolling; KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS - 1977) who realizes that Prine is after her after finding her look-alike friend dead in her apartment. She moves out and tries to hide, but Prine finds her. She escapes in her car, has a flat and gets picked-up by a couple of Marines who drug and rape her in a motel room. Prine finds her, they struggle and she stabs him repeatedly with a hunting knife. As he lies dying, Prine moans, "All I wanted to do was help you!" The End. If you like nudity (who doesn't?), you won't be disappointed with this film. Most of the actresses are naked the majority of the time. There's not much else to recommend here. The acting is sub-standard, the editing is terrible and the blood quotient is rather low. Andrew Prine (GRIZZLY - 1976) walks around in a daze, wearing black pants that are way too short with saddle shoes (quite a fashion statement!). Director John Peyser also made FOUR RODE OUT and KASHMIRI RUN (both 1969). The executive producer was Arthur Marks, who directed BONNIE'S KIDS (1972) and others. For nudity fans only. THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS also stars Ray Danton (who directed the American inserts for the abysmal CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD - 1973; and also directed the much better DEATHMASTER - 1972 and the strangely satisfying PSYCHIC KILLER - 1974), Francine York, Jeremy Slate and Mike Mazurki. A Media Home Entertainment Video Release. Also available on DVD from Dark Sky Films. Rated R.
CHOSEN SURVIVORS (1974) - A group of diverse people are drugged and helicoptered to a top secret underground government base, where a female government official with the name of Mary Louise Borden (Kelly Lange) pops-up on a giant computer screen to inform them that a global nuclear war has broken out and they were picked to "continue the human race". Ms. Borden also informs them that there are twelve other installations just like theirs scattered throughout the United States and that they have enough food and provisions to live underground for the next five years. Ms. Borden also tells them that when radiation levels on the surface reach the point that allows human life again, the elevator doors will open and let them return above ground. Major Gordon Ellis (Richard Jaeckel) then appears in person and shows them satellite footage of a nuclear-ravaged Earth. We are then introduced to all the characters and their idiosyncracies: Ray Couzins (Jackie Cooper), a corporation genius who doesn't buy into the nuclear war scenario and is looking for a way out; Peter Macomber (Bradford Dillman), a psychologist who studies the group and makes observations into a tape recorder; Kristen Lerner (Christina Moreno), a nutritionist who doesn't want to live; Alana Fitzgerald (Diana Muldaur), a Congresswoman; Woody Russo (Lincoln Kilpatrick), an Olympic gold medal winner; Steven Mayes (Alex Cord), a novelist; Luis Cabral (Pedro Armendariz Jr.), an oceanographer; Carrie Draper (Gwenn Mitchell), an ecology expert; Dr. Lenore Chrisman (Barbara Babcock), a Nobel Prize-winning medical researcher; and Claire Farraday (Nancy Rodman), a biologist. Before this group has a chance to worry about the predicament that they are in, they are attacked by a hungry swarm of rabid vampire bats. That's right, vampire bats. The bats have disrupted the lighting system (they only attack in the dark), so Major Ellis sets up an alarm system to warn them when the lights go out (the first attack happens when everyone is sleeping). Ray starts getting drunk and begins telling everyone how he feels (He tells Woody, "You're nothing but a goddamn stud!"), thinks this is all a conspiracy (he just may be right) and tries to rape Dr. Chrisman (turns out she likes it!). When Luis is killed by the bats, one of the members reveals that this was all an experiment (not much of a surprise), but when he tries to contact his superiors, he finds the bats have destroyed the rescue signal. He also makes it known that the government planned to kill them once the experiment was over. They have five more days of avoiding the bats (there's a failsafe involved) before troops come down to the base. Will anyone make it out alive? This study in paranoia and isolation went virtually unseen after it's 1974 theatrical release (It did play on Canada's Scream channel, but how many people actually have that channel?) until it was released on DVD in 2007 as part of 20th Century Fox's Midnight Movies series. This is a rare bad guy role for Jackie Cooper and he's pretty good here, boozing it up and spouting vitriolic dialogue. He goes around pitting people against each other, bribing some with money and blackmailing others and does it with glee, making his character just as dangerous (if not moreso) as the bats. Even though he's the bad guy, it's his actions which gets everyone saved (even if they were strictly self-serving). The rest of the cast are pretty dreary (to be fair, their roles are underwritten) and take backstage to the bat attacks, which are filmed with a blue filter, probably to hide the more bloody attacks (since this is rated PG). The novel approach with how the group handle the bats (everyone gives a pint of blood, which they smear on a homemade electrified fence) is very well done, even if it doesn't work. I also liked how the daily pre-programmed videotaped announcements by Ms. Borden still played every morning, even after the ruse was exposed. Ms. Borden would tell them in different ways every day how important they were and how they should get on with repopulating humanity, making everything after the expose quite sarcastic. The film reminded me of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971), with it's themes of isolation and both contain outside forces beyond their control (deadly germs vs. deadly bats) and a long, dangerous climb up a shaft to safety. CHOSEN SURVIVORS does contain some bloody scenes that belie it's PG rating (Kristin & Woody's deaths), but this was the 70's after all. Directed by Sutton Roley, who mainly directed episodic TV (he died in 2007), but he did direct one other theatrical film, THE LONERS (1972), as well as the MFTV films SWEET, SWEET RACHEL (1971) and SATAN'S TRIANGLE (1975). Filmed in Mexico City's Churubusco Studios. A 20th Century Fox DVD release as part of a double bill with THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1964). Rated PG. Other 70's films concerning bats include THE BAT PEOPLE (1974) and NIGHTWING (1979).
THE COMEBACK (1977) - Director Pete Walker makes a bloody good thriller here as retired pop singer Nick Cooper (Jack Jones) decides to come out of retirement after divoricing his wife (Holly Palance) of six years. In the beginning we witness the bloody slaughter of his wife with a sickle (her hand is chopped off and face and body brutally slashed) by someone wearing a rubber witch mask. Nick's manager Webster Jones (David Doyle) sets him up in an old mansion in England to settle down and write and record some new songs. Pretty soon he begins hearing the cries and screams of a woman at night and views a rotting body in a wheelchair and then the maggot-filled head of his ex-wife (who he doesn't know is dead) in a hatbox in the basement. He cracks up and is committed to an institution as no one else, including housekeeper Mrs. B (Sheila Keith) can see or hear the body and noises. He is then set free and sets out to solve the mystery of who is trying to drive him mad. Could it be his manager? His new girlfriend (Pamela Stephenson)? Mrs. and Mr. B (Bill Owen)? Or is he just mad, like everyone thinks? Needless to say, the denouement is outrageous (you would never guess why in a million years) and the outcome bloody and inconclusive (as the final freeze-frame accentuates). Real-life singer Jones makes a better singer than actor, but he begins to get into a groove here that makes the proceedings seem more realistic than if a professional actor were to have taken the role. There are exactly three murders here and they are bloody and shocking (especially Holly Palance's). The blood is extremely red and flows freely. Sheila Keith is no stranger to Pete Walker films, appearing in his HOUSE OF WHIPCORD and FRIGHTMARE (a.k.a. FRIGHTMARE II - both 1974), THE CONFESSIONAL (1975) and HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983). Her looks could melt cement and her acting ability always induced goosebumps. This is one old lady you would not want to have as a babysitter! THE COMEBACK, also known as THE DAY THE SCREAMING STOPPED, HALLUCINATIONS and ENCORE, is one of Pete Walker's best films and I, for one, wish he would get back in the directorial chair and make the kind of films that made England famous in the 70's: namely, blood-soaked psycho-thrillers that keep you guessing and make you jump. A Karl Lorimar Video VHS Release. Also available on DVD & Blu-Ray from Redemption Films/Kino Lorber. Not Rated.
CROSS CURRENT (1971) - This giallo film opens with some unknown person reading a letter, crumpling it up, grabbing a gun out of a desk drawer and then kicking a door in, the gun ready to fire. The film then switches to a cigarette boat race on the ocean. Someone has tampered with the pin of the steering column of a boat piloted by Marco Breda (Philippe Leroy; MILANO CALIBRO 9 - 1972), causing the boat to crash while traveling at a high rate of speed and putting Marco in the hospital with serious head trauma. The doctor explains to Marco's wife, Monica (Elga Andersen) and his brother, Burt (Ivan Rassimov; SPASMO - 1974), that the only way to save Marco's life is with a risky brain operation. Monica tells the doctor to perform the operation and Marco survives, only he has lost his memory. Marco returns home (he insists that he drives home, even though he has a chauffeur, something he never did pre-memory loss) and is surrounded by people that are his friends, although he doesn't remember any of them (he does have quick flashes of the boating "accident"). At a dinner party at his home, Marco receives a phonecall by someone claiming to be Sante, Marco's former gardener. He tells Marco that he "must remember" and to meet him at the cemetery alone at midnight, which seems to visibly upset both Monica and Burt. That night, while Marco waits at the cemetery, someone wearing black gloves strangles Sante and then runs over him with a car. Police Inspector Baldini (Julio Pena), who is already investigating Marco's boating mishap (he hints that he thinks it was sabotage), arrives at the villa to inform everyone that Sante is dead and he believes the last phonecall made to him came from a phone booth located just outside the villa gates. Both Monica and friend (and fellow boat pilot) Tommy Brown (Franco Ressel; EYE IN THE LABRYINTH - 1972) let Marco believe that they saw him sneak out of the villa the night before, but Marco denies it. That night, someone stabs Tommy at the boatyard, killing him. As the plot becomes much too complicated to describe here, Marco begins to get his memory back little pieces at a time. As he tries to fit the puzzle pieces of his life back together, a few questions rise to the forefront: Why won't Monica make love to Marco? Just what was Terry's (Rosanna Yanni; HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE - 1973) relationship with Marco before his accident? Is it possible that Marco is actually the killer or is someone setting him up? When Marco seemingly kills himself trying to get away from the police in a car chase, the antagonists turn on and then kill each other until only one is left. If you haven't already guessed, there's a surprise ending that explains everything. This fairly standard giallo film, directed by Tonino Ricci (PANIC - 1976; RAIDERS OF THE MAGIC IVORY - 1988), is pretty rough going for seasoned giallo fans, but casual viewers will probably be more entertained. The fact that it took five people (including Ricci) to write this film's screenplay, a routine "lets frame the brother/husband for murder since our attempt on his life failed and another attempt to murder him would throw up too many red flags", makes the viewer wish there were more meat to the plot. Setting the film in the realm of cigarette boat culture (where the speedboats spend more time in the air than the water as they zip across the surface of the ocean) is a unique idea, but it's unfortunately underused. Toss in a severe lack of nudity (only one scene) and bloody violence and all the viewer has to occupy their time is the mystery itself and it's not a hard mystery to solve. The use of amnesia as a major plot element is nothing new, especially in mystery films, and it's woefully mishandled here. As with most 70's giallo films, there's a scene at a disco (miniskirt alert), POV shots by the killer (always wearing black gloves, of course) and a short car chase. I really can't recommend this film (just because it's rare doesn't mean it's good) unless you're a gialli completist or newbie. The only true highlight is Giorgio Gaslini's infectious music score, including the unusual opening tune, which has a hook that will take days to leave your head. Future director Flavio Mogherini (THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE - 1977) was the Art Director here. Also starring Franco Fantasia, Rina Franchetti, Giorgio Cerioni, Liana Del Balzo, Carla Mancini, Franco Balducci and a cameo from Italian speedboat champion Vincenzo Balestrieri. Never legally available on U.S. home video, the print I viewed was taken from an English-dubbed, Greek-subtitled VHS tape. Not Rated.
DARK FORCES (1980) - When magician/clown Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell) cures terminally ill child Alex Rast (Mark Spain) at his birthday party, it brings him to the attention of Alex's father, Nick Rast (David Hemmings), a prominent politician who is the unknowing puppet of spinmaster Doc Wheelan (Broderick Crawford). Wolfe also brings out the interest in Alex's mother, Sandra (Carmen Duncan), who begins to fall in love with him. The whole premise of this film is if Wolfe is the real deal; a healer who can perform miracles or a con man with ulterior motives. No one is able to dig up any information on his past, so Doc Wheelan fabricates some incriminating information on Wolfe to turn Nick and Sandra against him. Wolfe performs some feats of magic at a dinner party (including cutting a dove in half with a flying cymbal and moving an absess from the mouth of a wealthy dowager down to her fingertip). Is Wolfe real or a fake? Is he just a hypnotist and magician or something beyond the natural? You'll have to watch the film to get the answers because to say any more would be revealing too much. Director Simon Wincer, who made such films as THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN (a.k.a. NIGHT AFTER HALLOWEEN, a.k.a. SNAPSHOT, a.k.a. ONE MORE MINUTE - 1979), HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991) and TV's miniseries LONESOME DOVE (1989) and other TV Westerns as of late, has crafted a sly political thriller with supernatural overtones. Robert Powell (THE ASPHYX - 1973) is simply astounding as Wolfe (as in sheep's clothing), keeping the viewer off-balance as to who, or what, he really is. This film, also known as HARLEQUIN (due to the costume Powell wears at the film's conclusion) throws the viewer subtle clues to Wolfe's real identity, but you'll probably have to watch it several times to get it all (HINT: Video cameras don't lie.). This is an excellent way to spend 96 minutes, especially if you don't mind using your brain instead of witnessing mindless violence. A Media Home Entertainment VHS Release. Also available on a beautiful widescreen Blu-Ray from Scorpion Entertainment. Rated PG due to the dove incident and several gunshot wounds. This is for fans of cerebral thrillers and should not be missed!
DARK SANITY (1978) - Technically inept but strangely intriguing psychological thriller. Ex-alcoholic wife and workaholic husband move into a house where a brutal murder occurred a year before. A woman was chopped to pieces with an axe and her head was never found. As soon as the wife steps through the door she begins to have visions of the murder much to the disapproval of her husband. She had a nervous breakdown due to alcoholism years before and her husband does not want it to happen again. This self-serving bastard cares more about making a good impression with his boss than with the welfare of his wife.She meets some strange people in her neighborhood: Her next door neighbor, a woman with a cheating husband, introduces herself with some sexually frank talk. Her gardener, a balding weirdo, loves to get media attention.. An ex-cop (Aldo Ray) has the same visions she does. He believes the wrong man was convicted of the murder and the killer is still at large. He was right. It turns out that their visions are not of the past murder but of a future murder. Choppy editing, canned music, vaseline lenses, flubbed lines and bad acting actually add to the ambience of this rarely seen film. This one was made during the nadir of' the late Aldo Ray's career and he lends an air of professionalism to an otherwise amateur affair. While most of you will probably think I'm nuts for recommending this one, it did keep my attention. That's more than I can say about most of' the films I watch. Although this film is Unrated it would probably get a PG-13 today, as there is no nudity, only mild swearing and shots of a decapitated head and hand. It is still facinating to watch if you are in the right frame of mind. Also starring Kory Clark and Charles Jamison. Directed by Martin Green (FOOTSTEPS IN THE SNOW - 1966). DARK SANITY is also known as STRAIGHT JACKET. A Prism Entertainment Home Video Release.
DEADLY GAMES (1980) - Rule Number One when making a thriller: Have an ending that doesn't make you scream, "What the FUCK!!!.". Someone dressed all in black (including ski mask) is killing the loose women of a small town. Keegan Lawrence (Jo Ann Harris of RAPE SQUAD, a.k.a. ACT OF VENGEANCE - 1974), the sister of one of the dead women, comes back to the town looking for answers. What she finds is a town of offbeat women and even stranger men. She strikes up a relationship with police detective Roger Lane (Sam Groom of DEADLY EYES - 1982), who has a sickly and scarred friend named Billy Owens (Steve Railsback of ED GEIN - 2000) that Roger saved during the Vietnam War. Billy runs the local movie theater where it seems only old films are shown. More women are killed and Keegan starts falling for Roger (who has a hidden mean streak). Since there aren't that many red herrings in this film to fill a can of sardines, it's easy to spot who the killer is. It's just that the ending is shot haphazardly and stops on a freeze frame that makes no sense. I wanted to reach through the TV and grab director/writer Scott Mansfield, shake him violently and let him feel how all the viewers of his film must have felt after watching 85 minutes of his film without getting a payoff. The action is bloodless, the suspense lacking and the nudity is non-existant except for the first five minutes. Not much of a thriller if you ask me unless you like endless talking and inane dialogue. Is it too much to ask for my 85 minutes back? Also starring Coleen Camp, Dick Butkus, Denise Galik, Robin Hoff and a blink-and-you'll-miss cameo by June Lockhart. Shown on TV under the title THE ELIMINATOR. A Monterey Home Video Release. If you want a real laugh, read the first paragraph on the back of the video box. It's a real hoot. Rated R.
DEADLY HARVEST (1977) - In the year 1979, the United States suffers it's second straight year of drought and lack of crops, forcing the government to impose martial law and curfews, closing up all the borders and stopping all long distance phone calls (One government official suggests that euthanasia should be lawful and that all the elderly and prisoners should be killed!). It's not long before everyone becomes hungry and people begin breaking the law to get their hands on anything edible. Midwest farmer Grant Franklin (Clint Walker) and his family must protect themselves and their small food reserves from raiders. Things go bad when their last cow is shot and stolen by the evil Mort Logan (Nehemiah Persoff) and his sons (they sing "Old MacDonald Had A Farm" as they drive away with the cow's carcass). Grant's hothead son Michael (Geraint Wyn Davies, billed here as "Gary Davies") joins forces with corrupt town sheriff Frank Wilcox (Dwayne McLean) to patrol all the farms for interlopers and becomes directly involved in giving an old man (Tim Whelan) a heart attack, killing him. The old man's son, Charles Ennis (David Brown) vows revenge. Ennis goes to black marketeer Mort Logan and makes a deal with him. Ennis knows that Grant's daughter Susan (a young Kim Cattrell) is getting married tomorrow (where all the neighbors plan to show up with gifts of food) and he will give Logan all the details for a percentage of the food. Logan and his goons invade the wedding, steal the food and kill Grant's wife Leah (Dawn Greenhalgh) and Susan's new husband John (Jim Henshaw), when Wilcox and Michael get into a shootout with them. The normally peaceable Grant shifts into revenge mode and heads to the big city to get some justice. Grant first stops at Ennis' house, where he learns of Michael's involvement in the death of Ennis' father and that Logan is on his way back to Grant's farm for some payback (A guilt-ridden Ennis poisons his family's last meal, killing them all [off screen]). Grant races back to his farm, where Michael is holding off Logan's men with a rifle. Grant arrives and has a final showdown with Logan, crushing him in his car with a bulldozer. I just love a happy ending. This minor Canadian-made thriller is too preachy for it's own good. While director Timothy Bond (THE SHADOW MEN - 1997, and too many Canadian TV series to mention) does a good job portraying a society that would do nearly anything to get their hands on their next meal, he pulls back when it comes to showing the violence. The bleak Canadian landscapes (substituting for the Midwest U.S.) greatly enhance the proceedings (global warming has made it snow in August), but the total lack of action, even during the wedding raid and the final assault on Grant's farm (which consists of a couple of bullet hits and a lame-ass car chase) makes it a long, boring ride for most viewers. Clint Walker (KILLDOZER - 1974), who normally makes for a stiff hero, is positively wooden here and is not given very much to do but act as the voice of reason. Even when he gets his revenge on Logan in the finale, he still does it with a stiff upper lip. The Al Gore documentary on global warming, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006), had more action than this did. DEADLY HARVEST is deadly dull. While I applaud its ideas, the execution is lacking. This film is boring with a capital B. Scripter Martin Lager, also wrote some episodes for the boring TV Series THE STARLOST (1973-74) and the screenplay to the snoozefest called THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (1979), which helps explain why this film moves slower than molasses in winter. Also starring Tami Tucker, John Stoneham, Cec Linder, Jan Rubes and Peter Jobin. A New World Video VHS Release. Also available on a budget DVD from Westlake Entertainment and about a dozen other budget DVD companies. Not Rated, but no stronger than a PG.
DEADLY MEMORIES (2002) - More of director Donald Farmer's no-budget madness, a revenge thriller in need of a better editor (at 106 minutes, it's at least 30 minutes too long). Auto body shop owner Art Gary (producer & co-scripter Phillip Newman) is driving his wife and young daughter Sally to church one lazy Sunday morning when they are run off the road by some punk and his two never-do-well female companions, who have just robbed a convenience store and also beat the crap out of the store's clerk (played by Robert Z'Dar; EVIL ALTAR - 1988). Art's car explodes (in one of the worst staged car wrecks in recent memory), killing his wife, putting Sally in a coma and giving Art a permanent limp (Art nearly dies, but his wife comes to him as an angel and convinces him to return to life for the sake of their daughter!). Two years pass and Art still runs his auto body business and the still-comatose Sally lives with him at their house next to the business, yet there is something drastically different about Art. He's still a religious man, but there is vengeance in his heart, which may be why he is now having severe heart problems that can only be controlled by medication. A surprise visit by the robbed convenience store clerk (who now sports a large facial scar from the attack two years earlier) gives Art the chance to get revenge on Hailey (Tina Krause), one of the female teens involved in the fatal crash. Her car is disabled on the side of the road, so Art tows it and offers Hailey a warm bed to sleep in until her car part arrives the next morning. That night, Hailey is stripped naked, bound and gagged, brought to the car painting shed in Art's garage and spray painted a nice shade of blue by someone wearing a welder's mask. The question soon becomes: Is Art the murderer or is it someone else? Could it be the convenience store clerk? How about Billy Ray (L.P. Brown III), an old friend of Art who has just returned to town after a mysterious two-year absence? Could it be Sheriff Taggart (William Smith; MERCHANT OF EVIL - 1991), who has a lot of respect for Art? Or is it someone else? When a snooty female representative from the Department of Human Services threatens to take Sally away from Art and put her in a state-run hospital unless she sees progress in her condition within thirty days, Art goes to a bar with Billy Ray to blow off some steam. In the bar is the punk who ran him off the road and Art nearly chokes him to death on a pool table, but Billy Ray intervenes. Later that day, someone blows up the punk and his girlfriend in their car with a rocket launcher, the same rocket launcher that Art keeps in his home (What the hell would a church-fearing man be doing with a rocket launcher? Oh, never mind!). After an obnoxious customer and the female DHS representative are brutally murdered, the identity of the killer is revealed. The finale is a mish-mash of useless sentimentality (Sally wakes up from her coma at the same moment the killer is dispatched) and "What The Fuck?!?" moments (How does someone survive a point-blank shotgun blast to the chest?). Though not as gory as most of his other films, director/co-scripter Donald Farmer (VAMPIRE COP - 1990; CHAINSAW CHEERLEADERS - 2008) keeps many of his other trademarks in abundant supply: Questionable acting (Big Bill Smith and Robert Z'Dar excepted); painfully long takes that tax the viewer's patience; cut-rate special effects (done here by Brett Piper, director of such films as PSYCLOPS  and BACTERIUM , who is also this film's cinematographer); and, of course, copious amounts of female nudity (At one point in the film, a topless female is seen jumping up and down on a trampoline in the middle of a rock quarry. What the hell is a trampoline doing in the middle of a rock quarry?). Phillip Newman, who looks like Conway Twitty's brother (the soundtrack is also full of third-rate Country music tunes), does a halfway decent job in his role as Art, but the character is woefully underwritten, making Art a hard person to root for even though it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out he's not the killer. And therein lies this film's major problem: While the film is dialogue-heavy, most of it is useless to the audience, as it does nothing to advance the plot. Besides a bloody drillbit-through-the-forehead gag and lots of nudity, DEADLY MEMORIES (originally shot under the title BODY SHOP) is a deadly long and boring revenge thriller. Filmed in Tennessee, where, apparently, acting is cheap. Also starring Rachael Robbins, Colby Newman, Sabrina Newman Stidham (I smell nepotism!), Shelly Holmes, Linda Kelly and Tracey Wofford. Available on DVD from Pendulum Pictures as part of their CATACOMB OF CREEPSHOWS 50-Movie compilation. Also available on stand-alone DVD from Midnight Releasing. Not Rated.
DEAR DEAD DELILAH (1972) - Gothic thriller directed and written by novelist John Farris (his only directorial effort, although he did write the screenplay to Brian DePalma's THE FURY , based on his novel of the same name), produced by musician Jack Clement (known for his collaborations with Johnny Cash) and starring a cast of veteran genre actors, many who are no longer with us. DEAR DEAD DELILAH opens in Nashville, Tennessee in 1943, where a young Luddy Dublin makes a living drawing portraits in chalk for $1.50 each. It's apparent from the opening moments that Luddy has a screw loose, as she primps in front of a mirror, complains about the heat, talks to her mother (who never answers back) and pines for her lover Don (his photo is in a frame with cracked glass), who she says she is going to marry once he comes home from the war. When we finally get a good look at Luddy's face, it's easy to see that she has taken a beating, as she is sporting a fat lip and a black eye and the front of her slip (exposing a pregnant belly!) is covered in blood. And her Mother? Well, she is dead and leaning up against the kitchen stove and her hacked-off (with an axe) right arm is lying on the floor in the hallway! The next time we see Luddy (Patricia Carmichael), it's almost thirty years later and she's being discharged from the mental institution she has just spent nearly three decades of her life in. The overweight and white-haired Luddy hops on a bus (where, in the time she has spent "recuperating", the fare has gone up from a dime to a quarter!) and later on she gets off to draw some guys playing football. When Richard (Robert Gentry) accidentally knocks the wind out of Luddy when trying to catch an errant pass, he and wife Ellen (Elizabeth Eis) invite Luddy to stay with them at the palatial estate lorded over by Ellen's invalid Aunt Delilah Charles (Agnes Moorehead; FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY - 1973). The crusty old Delilah is one tough broad (yet, she still talks to her dead father for advice) and, together with family lawyer Roy Jurroe (Will Geer; THE MAFU CAGE - 1978), is about to drop a bombshell announcement that is sure to displease her brothers, Morgan (Michael Ansara; THE MANITOU - 1977) and Alonzo (Dennis Patrick; HEATED VENGEANCE - 1984), and sister, Grace (Anne Meacham; SEIZURE - 1974). Luddy, who is prone to blackouts (especially whenever she sees an axe), finds an ally in Alonzo, who is a doctor with a bad drug habit (besides Alonzo being a junkie, they do have a lot in common, like their love of children) and they become fast friends. Ellen, who is Delilah's nurse, knows all about Luddy's history and hires her to be a housekeeper anyway (Ellen tells Luddy that she'll keep Luddy's murderous history a secret. Now why would she do that?). Richard is having an affair with Grace and they are plotting to murder Delilah. Luddy and Delilah also become fast friends and she tells Luddy that as long as she is here, she's part of the family (While Delilah is saying this, Luddy is getting mighty queasy watching two men chop wood with axes). When Morgan arrives on the estate with his ditsy girlfriend Buffy (Ruth Baker), Delilah announces over dinner that she has sixty days to live and she has willed the estate to the State of Tennessee. She leaves her brothers and sister the paltry sum of $5,000 each, but tells them that somewhere on the estate, their dead Papa has hidden $600,000 and whoever finds it can keep it. Let the killings begin! As a tale of gothic revenge, DEAR DEAD DELILAH works in the same vein as WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE (1962) and HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964; also featuring Moorehead), as director/screenwriter John Farris places the majority of the action on a Southern plantation with plenty of unlikable characters. It's obvious someone is setting up Luddy to take the fall for all the murders, but which family member is it? As the film progresses and more members end up dead (Roy has his hand chopped-off and dies in front of Luddy and Alonzo while grasping his severed hand in his other hand; Morgan and Buffy meet the sharp end of an axe when they are digging for the treasure at night; Delilah is "killed" [offscreen] by someone pretending to be Papa; a drunk Grace is beheaded by someone on horseback while she is taking a ride in Delilah's wheelchair [the film's standout gore scene]; Alonzo is given an overdose of his drug of choice and is left to die), it is obvious who the killers are, but they didn't count on Luddy being the sanest member of this whole crazy clan, as Richard gets a face-full of buckshot from a not-quite-dead-yet Delilah (a very gory scene) and Luddy saves Alonzo and then turns the plantation into an orphanage (or at least I think they do, although the ending can also be read as two extremely fractured people living in a world of their own delusion). The acting is excellent across the board (Agnes Moorehead is both cantankerous and sympathetic, a rare trait that most young actresses today could take lessons from) and the gore is sparse, but effective. This story about a group of privileged people (who argue whether martinis should have olives in them or not!) getting their comeuppance should appeal to those that appreciate a good, old-fashioned gothic tale with some gore trimmings. Also starring John Marriott as Marshall the butler. Originally released on VHS by Embassy Home Entertainment and not available on DVD. Rated R.
DEATH VALLEY (1981) - Uneven mixture of family drama and slasher genres. A young boy named Billy (Peter Billingsley; A CHRISTMAS STORY - 1983) is separated from his father Paul (Edward Herrmann; THE LOST BOYS - 1987) when divorced mom, Sally (Catherine Hicks; CHILD'S PLAY - 1988), decides to take an extended vacation and uproots Billy from his New Jersey home and heads to Death Valley, Arizona, where Sally reconnects with high school boyfriend Mike (Paul Le Mat; GRAVE SECRETS - 1989). Young Billy, who is a stickler for details, takes an instant dislike to Mike and proves to be a handful, as the trio head off on a road trip through the desert, their destination being a Wild West show at a popular ghost town tourist attraction. On their way, they pull over to stretch their legs and Billy wanders off, ending up in a parked RV where an unseen serial killer has just murdered a young couple. Billy notices a frog-shaped necklace on the RV's floor and pockets it, but before he can discover the dead bodies, Mike enters and they leave. The killer, who drives a late-50's gold-colored Chevrolet (the type with a bullet-shaped front bumper), thinks Billy knows something and begins following the trio. When they stop at a diner for a bite to eat, Billy notices that one of the workers, Hal (Stephen McHattie; THE DARK - 1993), is wearing the identical frog necklace that he stole from the RV. At the scene of an accident (it's actually the RV that the killer dumped over an abutment), a guilt-ridden Billy turns the necklace over to the Sheriff (Wilford Brimley; AMERICAN JUSTICE - 1985), who immediately recognizes it. It seems a series of similar murders have been plaguing the area for years and the Sheriff now has a clue as to who the killer is. When the Sheriff goes to Hal's home and confronts him with the evidence, Hal tells him that it must be his brother Stu's necklace, but when the Sheriff leaves the house, someone plants a pickaxe in his chest. At the Wild West show, the killer disguises himself as one of the stuntmen and tries to kill Billy with real bullets, but fails. Oblivious to what is happening to them, Billy, Sally and Mike continue on with their vacation and Billy begins to warm to Mike. Mom and Mike leave Billy with a babysitter while they have a night on the town and the killer strikes, slitting the babysitter's throat. Hal makes an unannounced visit to Billy's motel room, but Billy manages to escape. The film concludes with Mike killing Hal and the real killer finally revealing himself. If I have to tell you who it is, it's time for you to get a brainscan, because you may have a tumor blocking your basic reasoning skills (And, no, it's not Billy's father!). This is an unfortunately easy-to-solve whodunit which is marred by way too much family drama and too many convenient coincidences (especially the conversation Mike overhears in a bar that lets him know that Billy is in real peril). Director Dick Richards (FAREWELL MY LOVELY - 1975; HEAT - 1986), working with a screenplay by Richard Rothstein (HUMAN EXPERIMENTS - 1980; UNIVERSAL SOLDIER - 1992), offers too many obvious misdirections, as it should be clear to even the most brain-damaged individuals that when Hal mentions his brother Stu, it has to be a twin brother. That can be forgiven if all the personal issues between Billy and Mike weren't so pat and unrealistic. While I have no problem with Billy disliking possible new stepfather Mike, I do have a problem with Mike telling outright lies to Billy about the history of the Wild West, especially since Billy is so well versed on the subject. Wouldn't Sally have informed Mike about what a smart little pecker Billy really is? This film is so full of questionable situations like that and they all go unanswered. The violence is also fairly mild for a slasher flick, just a couple of sliced throats, the pickaxe murder and a shooting. There's one brief shot of nudity early in the film and then it's boob-free (unless you count some of the characters' motivations). Peter Billingsley, in his feature film debut, gets to fire a real gun in the finale, which is the film's most disturbing scene. An unsuccessful mixture of KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979) meets FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). The desert location photography is the film's best asset, but not enough to save it. Also starring Mary Steelsmith and Jack O'Leary. Released on VHS by MCA Home Video in the early-80's and not yet available on DVD. Rated R.
A DEMON IN MY VIEW (1991) - The late Anthony Perkins, in one of his last performances, stars in this German psychodrama set in London. He plays his patented PSYCHO (1960)-type role: an anal retentive, woman-hating strangler who can only get his jollies by making love to a mannequin he keeps locked up in the basement of the apartment complex he lives in. We can trace his problems back to his childhood (shown in flashbacks). When his mother died, he was forced to live with his aunt who treated him like a girl. One flashback shows Perkin's aunt making him babysit a infant girl while she goes out. He sticks the baby continuously with a safety pin and washes out the bloody diaper to hide what he has done. This leads to a series of unsolved strangulations of women which has lasted well over twenty years. When a man (Uwe Bohn), who has the same last name as Perkins' character, moves into his apartment building, complications arise. This young man is carrying on a long distance love affair with a married woman (Sophie Ward) and when he burns Perkins' mannequin in effigy on Guy Faulks Day, Perkins goes madder than usual and decides to get even. In between strangulations he intercepts his neighbor's mail (remember, they both have the same last name) and writes to the married woman, saying that the affair is over. The plan backfires though, as the woman leaves her husband and comes to London to find out what went wrong. In an ironic finale, Perkins is shot dead by her jealous husband, who mistakenly thinks he is her lover. Perkins made one more film (TV's IN THE DEEP WOODS) before succumbing to AIDS in 1992. I'm still reeling from the loss. Unfortunately, A DEMON IN MY VIEW is not a fitting tribute to the grand master of psychotic roles. Not that this is a bad film. As a matter of fact, Perkins is able to display more emotion with a simple facial expression than most actors would be able to do with twenty pages of dialogue. It's just that this film is slow and uninvolving and lacks the gore and nudity one expects from this type of film. Directed and written by Petra Haffter (CRASH KIDS - 1996). A Vidmark Entertainment Release. Rated R.
NO NOT DISTURB (2008/2013) - Any regular reader of this site knows that I am madly in love with Tiffany Shepis (THE FRANKENSTEIN SYNDROME - 2010; THE VIOLENT KIND - 2010). She is such a great actress (and easy on the eyes, too) that she elevates any film she appears in, even if it is just a cameo role. One of the biggest mysteries in life is why she hasn't become a major star in A-List Hollywood films. Besides being a great actress, she has no problem shedding her clothes if the role demands it (even showing the full monty in several films), but she won't play the usual Hollywood "casting couch" game, so this is probably why she hasn't been offered roles in major films. I just thank my lucky stars that she does a whole lot of genre films, because I love to look at her and watch her act her brains out (and she has scruples, which more actors could use). I know I'm not the only one to feel that way, but she has held a special place in my heart ever since I saw her in that silver jumpsuit in THE HAZING (2004) and then went out of my way to try and find every movie she appeared in. Thankfully, she has a major role in this film, although it is nothing like the DVD sleeve describes. First, a little background on this film: This film was shot and finished in 2008 (Shepis was engaged to the late Corey Haim at the time and she brought him along on the shoot in Pennsylvania. Haim asked if the script had a role for him, but there wasn't, so the director/screenwriter wrote a role specifically for him.) and released in 2010 under the title NEW TERMINAL HOTEL, which ran 99 minutes. The film was then pulled and cut of 11 minutes to tighten the pace and released in 2013 under the current title (the end credits gives it a 2013 copyright, even though Corey Haim tragically passed away of pneumonia in 2010). The film begins with screenwriter Don Malek (Stephen Geoffreys; FRIGHT NIGHT - 1985; MR. HUSH - 2011), who has been in a career slump for the past two years due to the tragic murder of the love of his life, Katherin (Laura Leigh), and hasn't written a single word since it has happened. Don finally gets his chance for retribution when Stan Glissberg (Anthony Colliano), the person responsible for Katherin's death, agrees to meet Don at his room the Terminal Hotel (a skid row type of joint where you can just smell the piss in the hallways). Stan arrives and Don lays out a couple of lines of cocaine for him and when Stan snorts them, he becomes paralyzed, because Don laced the cocaine with a paralytic agent. He puts Stan in the bathtub and removes his appendix while he is alive and puts the organ in his freezer wrapped in tin foil (Don wears a mask of a human face and a blonde wig when he commits acts of violence), stitching up the incision when he is done. Don's agent, Ava Collins (Shepis), who still has faith in Don, even though he hasn't written anything in two years, makes an unexpected appearance at Don's door and wants to know why he is living in a fleabag hotel. All Don can say is, "I'm tired", which infuriates Ava because she knows what potential he has. She tries to get his blood boiling by saying "There are a line of good writers waiting to fill your shoes.", but Don retorts, "Are they any good?" Ava comes back by saying that she could throw a stone and find a great writer, but Don says, "What about a Killer? Could you find a great killer?" Things take a sharp turn when Don Tells Ava to go look in the bathroom (Don: "It's my greatest work." Ava: "Do you want me to flush it for you?"). Ava sees Stan in the bathtub filled with ice, still alive, but unable to speak, and she thinks Don and Stan are collaborating on a script when Don shows her the appendix in his freezer. She wants to see Don and Stan in her office tomorrow morning to sign an exclusive contract, but Don says that she has to come back to the hotel tomorrow night instead. Ava leaves and Don goes back to the bathroom, where he removes one of Stan's kidneys and stitches up the incision. Don plans on keeping Stan alive as long as possible, feeling the pain that his love once felt. Ava arrives the next night expecting to be handed a script, but Stan comes stumbling out of the bathroom and Ava maces Don in his eyes because she is scared for her life. Don assures Ava that he means her no harm (He tells Ava that he is doing to Stan what Stan has done to him: Tearing him down piece-by-piece for the past two years). When Ava leaves, saying she expects a screenplay about his ordeal, Don takes Stan back to the bathroom and hits him over his head several times until he is still alive, but basically brain dead. He asks his neighbor Spitz (Ezra Buzzington) for a major favor: He wants to borrow his wheelchair (he is legless from the war), where he wheels the braindead Stan to the hospital and drops him off, returning the wheelchair to Spitz, where Stan is barely alive and put in Intensive Care. Ava visits Don (he makes her take her shirt off to make sure she is not wired, the closest we get to see Shepis nude in this film), where she is worried that once Stan becomes conscious, he will implicate Don, but Don tells her not to worry; he will never be able to say anything. Ava thinks this screenplay will be a huge moneymaker for her when Don writes the screenplay, but Don tells her he hasn't written a word yet, it is still all in his head. Later that night, Spitz wheels himself into Don's apartment with a huge open gash on his chest and says he is calling in the favor. He wants Don to kill the prostitute he was with because she is the one who cut him badly. Spitz wants Don to take her behind the hotel and bash her brains in with a brick. Don checks out Spitz's room and the naked prostitute is still there and tells Don that Spitz is a degenerate. Don pays her the $100 she is owed and tells her to leave, while Don checks out Spitz's apartment and discovers that he is actually a degenerate. He finds boxes of mutilated Barbie dolls and videotapes of Spitz abusing the prostitutes he hires, including the last one he just let leave (Don is appalled at what he sees on-screen). Don goes back to his apartment and begins to stitch-up Spitz's gaping chest wound, while listening to Spitz complain about his time in the military and what happened to him ("All I can do now is eat pussy. And I have to pay for it!"). Don mentions the torture tapes he found in Spitz's apartment, where Spitz says he actually is fond of them and watches them all the time. Don then gives Spitz a shot that he says is a pain killer, but after Don gives it to him, he tells Spitz that it is actually a paralyzing agent. Spitz will be unable to move but will be able to see and feel everything. Spitz begins to wheel himself out of Don's apartment, but only makes it halfway down the hall before the drug takes effect. Don brings him to his bathroom, puts on his face mask and blonde wig, throws Spitz into the bathtub and cuts him into pieces while he is alive (The film's biggest flaw is that we don't actually see any of the murders; they are only implied. Only once in a while do we see the aftermath, like when Don removed Stan's kidney). When another agent named Carter Ball (James Grabowski) wants to steal Don away from Ava (We also learn that Stan died in the hospital), Ana sets it up so Carter visits Don, expecting Don to kill him. Another one of Don's neighbors, Jasper (Haim, doing the lamest British accent I have heard in a while), mentions that he saw Don wearing his mask and wig when he was wheeling Stan down the hallway, so Don has no other choice but to beat his brains in with a rock when they leave a bar. Don returns to his apartment, only to discover that the police have taped-up his floor as a crime scene, thanks to the police finding Spitz's body. Detective Turkovich (Robert Di Donato) questions Don because Spitz's body was found in pieces by a garbageman and the stitches on Spitz's chest are exactly the same as the ones that were found in Stan's body in the hospital. Don says he knows nothing about it and the detective leaves. Carter pays Don a visit thanks to a collaboration between Ava and Carter's prostitute girlfriend Rebecca (Tara Sukustis). Don wants to buy his contract and Don tells him to come back tomorrow (uh-oh!). Don makes love to the prostitute that Spitz abused, when he is visited by Ava. The prostitute leaves and Ana demands a script, but Don tells her it is still all in his head. Don wants Ava to just forget about him, but Ava has a way of speaking to Don to make him stay in the game. Don says that she has to come to his apartment tomorrow when Carter arrives (He says to Ava, "I'll spin the web, but you're the black widow!"). When Ava leaves, Don is once again visited by Detective Turkovich, telling Don that there is video footage of Don and Stan entering the motel, but no footage of either one of them leaving. Don kills the detective in the bathroom with a claw hammer, scrubs the bathroom clean, fills a bunch of hypodermic needles with all types of deadly drugs, puts a gun under his chin and pulls the trigger, committing suicide (He leave a note saying he is sorry and wishes Ava luck). Ava kills Carter after seeing Don's body and reading the note. She stabs Carter with the hypodermic needles Don left on the bathroom sink until Carter's chest looks like a pin cushion. She laughs like a mad woman and then the film ends with her screaming over Don's death (which she was mostly responsible for and she realizes that there is no way she can get out of this). More of a character study than a horror film or thriller, this movie makes Don a decent guy who is deeply depressed and he was just looking for revenge for his girlfriend's death and then other people (especially Ava) get involved and it spirals out of control. Don never wanted to be a mass murderer, but forces beyond his control made him one. The fact that Don pays Spitz's prostitute her $100 fee and then she joins him in bed a few days later proves that he is a decent guy at heart. But revenge only leads to more and more violence and Don learns it the hard way, but he gets his revenge by blowing his brains out, since his "screenplay" was all in his head. His suicide is a complete surprise to the viewer because it is shown so matter-of-factly, but when you think about it long after the film is over, you realize that it was the only choice that made sense. The acting is effectively sleazy across the board (Stephen Geoffreys pulls-back his normal over-acting here [unlike MR. HUSH] and comes off like a depressed man who is just trying to cope as things get worse and worse), but Corey Haim comes off the worst because of his ridiculous British accent (which he said was a tribute to Jason Statham!). While the blood and gore is kept to a minimum (I can't really speak if there is more gore in the original version, but it doesn't look like there was, since most of the carnage takes place in Don's bathroom), there is plenty of topless nudity (but none by Shepis, dammit!). The whole atmosphere of the film feels dirty and grimy (like a fleabag hotel should), which I think director/producer/writer BC Furtney (WEREWOLF RISING - 2014) was aiming for. Still, for a film of this type, a little more blood and guts wouldn't have hurt but, like I said in the beginning of this review, I'll watch anything with Tiffany Shepis in it and she shines here as an agent without a soul. Executive Producer Jesse Baget directed the horror film WRESTLEMANIAC (2006); was one of the directors on the anthology film ZOMBIEWORLD (2014); and wrote the story to MISCHIEF NIGHT (2013). Also starring Danielle Fortwangler, Sam Nicotero, Wayne Kryka, Brain Derby, Danny Cooper and a quick cameo from director BC Furtney as a bartender. An RLJ Entertainment DVD Release. Not Rated.
DOPPELGANGER (1992) - Slow and uninvolving murder mystery somewhat redeemed by an unexpected slimy and splattery finale (supplied by the KNB effects wizards). Drew Barrymore portrays a confused girl who believes she has a doppelganger, an evil ghostly twin who murders people for the sheer delight of it. After her mother is murdered in New York (the police believe Drew did it but don't have enough evidence to hold her), Drew heads to L.A. to escape her dilemma. She shares an apartment with aspiring writer George Newbern (ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING - 1987), who begins to notice that Drew is a little peculiar. After talking to Drew's psychiatrist (Dennis Christopher), he learns that Drew's father repeatedly raped her as a child. Drew's brother caught him in the act and threw his father out the window, killing Dad and putting poor brother in a permanent coma. Basically, Dennis explains to George, Drew is an emotionally fucked-up wreck and her doppelganger theory is her way to escape reality. Murders begin to happen that are tied directly to Drew (including a knife attack on her comatose brother) and George has a run-in with an FBI agent (who doesn't really exist) and is chased down an alley by Drew's supposedly dead father. Together with his writing partner (a star turn by Leslie Hope), George slowly uncovers the mystery. When Drew is abducted by her double, George steps in to save the day, unmasking the killer as none other than headshrinker Dennis. Besides being a damned good make-up artist, it seems that Dennis is madly in love with Drew. Enough, in fact, to try and get her committed so he can have her all to himself. Everything up to this point is standard slasher material. If you have managed to stay awake this long, make sure your eyes are open for the final ten minutes. It crosses over into surreal territory and is a real surprise. Competently acted by the cast, this film could have used a shot of adrenalin in its first 90 minutes. Drew does manage to appear nude once (in a blood shower sequence, a common occurence in horror films). Director Avi Nesher also made the comical fantasy SHE (1983) and the excellent actioners TIMEBOMB (1991) and MERCENARY (1996). If DOPPELGANGER had managed to maintain the kinetic energy of its final ten minutes throughout the entire film, it would have been a classic. A Fox Video Release. Rated R.
A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE (1973) - A junkie buys some smack off the street and drives home, unaware that an unknown black-gloved, hooded killer is following him. As the junkie is shooting-up in his home, the killer pulls out a sword hidden in his/her overcoat and hacks the junkie to death. Inspector Paolo Scaporella (Paul Naschy) is assigned to the case because, just like another murder he is investigating, the killer has left a dragonfly on the dead body. What could this possibly mean? The killer strikes again, this time stabbing a prostitute to death as she walks on the sidewalk. The dragonfly murders are a make-it-or-break-it case for Paolo, as his superiors view him as a hot-headed violent cop (when we first see him, he's about to strike an elderly flasher), who's career could be over if he doesn't solve this string of murders. The hooded killer than chops-up three naked, drugged-out people in an apartment with a hatchet and then destroys their stash of pot and pills. He also leaves a dragonfly on each victim. Paolo sees a pattern emerging (can you?) and finds an important clue: One of the latest murdered victims is clutching a button that was ripped-off the killer's overcoat. Paolo's wife, Silvana (Erika Blanc), who works for one of the country's top fashion designers, is able to discern that the button has come from a woman's coat, and an expensive one at that. Paolo goes to a party thrown by Silvana's boss and a Professor (Eduardo Calvo) there gives Paolo an historical (and valuable) lesson in dragonflies and their signifigance in the murders. It becomes apparent to the viewer that one of the guests at this party is the killer, but which one is it? The Professor is into kinky, necrophelia-like sex (where prostitutes lay in a coffin motionless), but the stripper he is about to do it with is hacked apart by the killer with a hatchet as she lays waiting in a casket (We see the killer chop-off her hand). Paolo's investigation leads him to a high-class pimp named Muhammed, who has secret dealings with Ingrid (Maria Kosti), a member of the party that Paolo and Silvana attended, but Paolo is beaten-up by a gang of Nazi paraphenalia-wearing goons before he can question him. On Paolo's birthday the next day, a giftwrapped package arrives at his home, containing the head of Muhammed and a note from "The Dragonfly" telling Paolo that he/she is going to clean up this "corrupt city" and that he/she plans on murdering all those responsible "one-by-one until the city is clean". When Paolo's stoolie ends up dead (with a dragonfly stuffed in his mouth) after phoning him saying he has important information, Paolo figures out that the killer is someone he knows. Silvana's boss also supplies an important clue about the origin of the button: A Hitler-worshipping designer who committed suicide a week earlier. Can Paolo solve this mystery before more people end up dead? Like all good mysteries, the denouement is a killer. This Spanish/Italian giallo, written by Paul Naschy (using his real name, Jacinto Molina) and directed skillfully by frequent Naschy collaborator Leon Klimovsky (WEREWOLF SHADOW - 1971; DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN - 1972; THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK - 1975), is one of the best European murder mysteries of the early 70's. This contains all the giallo staples: A gloved, masked killer; plenty of gory murders; nudity; and slowly unravelling clues. This mystery is very involving and some of the murders are quite good, especially the stripper in the coffin. As with most giallo films, there is no shortage of red herrings, but A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE contains people who are necrophiliacs, transvestites, obviously gay (Silvana's boss), Nazi bikers and gangsters. Also, as with a lot of giallo films, a photo (and a drawing) holds an important clue in solving the mystery. When Silvana thinks she's figured it out, a stubborn Paolo says to her, "Conclusions! Intuitions! What I need are realities!" as he storms out the door. This sets up the film's excellent conclusion, which I will leave for you to discover. This is a rare example of Naschy portraying a good, if flawed, regular joe rather than a werewolf, hunchback or bloodthirsty criminal. The rest of the cast, staffed by Spaniards, except for the lovely Italian Erika Blanc (THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE - 1971; MARK OF THE DEVIL PART II - 1973), perform admirably, although the reveal of the killer at the end could have used a little more punch. Also starring Susana Mayo, Angel Aranda, Ricardo Merino and Ramon Centenero. Never legally available on home video in the U.S., the print I viewed was ripped from a British VHS tape from Video Unlimited. Not Rated.
EBOLA SYNDROME (1996) - When Kai (Anthony Wong) is caught screwing his boss' wife, he is forced to kill his boss, cut out the wife's tongue and castrate a co-worker. He is about to kill the boss' young daughter when he is interrupted. He flees to Johannesburg, South Africa and takes a job as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant. Ten years pass and guess who visits the restaurant? Why, it's none other than the dead boss' daughter, all grown up. She recognizes him and gets physically ill, not knowing what she is going to do about the situation. Kai has a severe sexual problem: He likes to rape women and will do anything to get a piece. We witness Kai offering white women in bars money for sex only to be rebuffed and thrown out. We also see Kai jerking off into a piece of pork while listening to his boss have sex with his wife. He then serves that piece of pork to a complaining customer! Things get considerably worse when Kai and his boss visit an African village looking for some cheap pigs to buy. Some of the villagers are dying of some unknown disease but that doesn't stop them from buying the pigs. On their way back the truck breaks down and Kai sees a Zulu woman passed out in the grass. Not one to pass up an easy lay, he rapes her only to have her die and spew fluid all over his face. He is now a carrier of the Ebola virus and he will cause many people to die before this film finally ends. This vile, nasty film is so unpleasant to watch that I nearly turned it off. Nearly. Anthony Wong (HARD BOILED - 1993; DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE - 1999; TIME AND TIDE - 2000) plays Kai as a man with absolutely no redeeming qualities. He takes advantage of every opportunity and doesn't hesitate to rape and kill anyone he takes a dislike to. When he finds out that he is carrying the Ebola virus, he runs around spitting on people! This is strong stuff, folks, so be prepared for scenes of rape, castration, beheadings, dismemberments, autopsies, dead children and the effects of the Ebola virus. The camera shies away from nothing here. The difference between this film and THE STORY OF RICKY (1991) is that RICKY's violence is so over-the-top that it's funny. There's nothing funny about the violence in EBOLA SYNDROME. Director Herman Yau (THE UNTOLD STORY - 1992; COP IMAGE - 1994; ADVENTUROUS TREASURE ISLAND - 1996) has made a film so relentlessly bleak that I cannot recommend it to anyone except those with an ironclad stomach and a will to match. The English subtitles are good for a laugh, though. When a character says "Fuck!" the English subtitles translate it to say "Gee fuck!" This could only happen in Hong Kong. Also starring Law Mon and Chan Mui Ying. A Mo Asia DVD Release. Not Rated.
ED GEIN: THE BUTCHER OF PLAINFIELD (2006) - Another serial killer film from writer/director Michael Feifer (B.T.K. - 2007) that plays fast and loose with the facts, stretching the credibility of it's "Based On A True Story" disclaimer. The first fact you will have to erase from your mind (if you are familiar with the Ed Gein story) is that hulking actor/stuntman Kane Hodder (HATCHET - 2006) is portraying Wisconsin killer Ed Gein. It is well known that the real-life Gein was a somewhat scrawny man (Steve Railsback, who portrayed Gein in ED GEIN , was much closer in body build and stature), so this was a serious mistake on Feifer's part (nothing against Hodder here) if he wants us to take the story seriously. Another distraction is the many anachronisms on view (Calling 911 in 1957? I don't think so!), which also hurts the film. The film opens with one of Gein's female victims waking up, only to realize she is in Ed's barn, hanging by two hooks, which have pierced the flesh of her shoulders. She wriggles free (the flesh on her shoulders rips open, releasing her from the hooks) and tries to escape, but Gein is waiting for her. The credits then roll, showing a mixture of real newspaper and crime scene photos (even showing a photo of the real Ed Gein!) with obviously fake ones (including staged b&w gore photos of Ed's victims). The story then shifts focus between Gein and way-too-earnest Deputy Bobby Mason (Shawn Hoffman; Feifer's A DEAD CALLING - 2006), who discovers the blood-stained car of Gein's latest female victim and vows to solve the crime. Bobby (who is based on real-life Deputy Frank Worden) has a lot going on in his life, as he lives with his sickly religious mother, Vera (Priscilla Barnes; TRAILER PARK OF TERROR - 2008), wants to marry his virginal girlfriend Erica (Adrienne Frantz) and is investigating a series of grave robberies in the local cemetery. Those grave robberies, of course, are being committed by Gein, with an assist by friend Jack (Michael Berryman; THE HILLS HAVE EYES - 1977; DEADLY BLESSING - 1981), but when Jack refuses to help Gein anymore, Gein kills him with a shovel and drags his body behind his pickup truck, right pass a necking Bobby and Erica! When Gein strangles local barmaid Sue (Caia Coley) and disposes of her body, by crucifying and then cutting her into pieces with a hacksaw (Gein has severe mother issues, as he sees his abusive dead mother's face nearly every time he talks to a woman), her husband files a missing persons report and Bobby is put in charge of finding her. Bobby makes a connection between the grave robberies and the missing women when he finds a key piece of evidence, but when his mother Vera ends up missing from her job in the General Store, Bobby gets into a bad car accident when he races back to Plainfield and Erica is badly injured when she is thrown from the car. In one of the biggest plot contrivances in film history, Bobby leaves Erica by the side of the road while he sets out on foot to find help, only to have Gein show up and kidnap her. When Bobby returns with help, Erica is gone (she is now in Gein's barn having her broken leg set) and Bobby calls the police station (He dials 911 on a rotary pay phone!), but nobody answers! Can Bobby and the police department save Erica before she becomes his next victim? While this pretends to be a serious look at the life of an infamous serial killer (including numerous references to God and religion, which is a cop-out in my opinion), director/writer Michael Feifer (THE GRAVEYARD - 2006), who lately seems to be carving (pardon the pun) a career out of making "true life" serial killer flicks (for more titles, see my review of B.T.K., also starring Hodder), piles-on inaccuracy after inaccuracy until this film is nothing but a joke. When the Sheriff (Tim Oman) says, "We want Plainfield to return to being...plain" to a bunch of reporters outside the police station, I let out an audible groan. When Bobby discovers his mother's butchered body in Gein's barn and delivers a long speech to her corpse about telling his Daddy in the afterlife that he will not give up until Gein is captured, I laughed out loud. I hardly doubt that was Feifer's intentions. This is also one of those films that is purposely drained of color, giving the film a predominantly reddish brown tinge. I guess it's supposed to give the film a 50's documentary feel, but it looks to me that it was also done to soften some of the gruesome makeup effects, such as when Gein wears the skins of his victims; his setting of Erica's broken leg (the film's toughest scene to watch); and the cops' grisly discoveries in Gein's house. One unintentionally funny death finds Gein pinning a cemetery security guard's head between the fork of a tree and then smashing his head in with a tree branch. I hardly think that the life of a serial killer has to be embellished with non-existent characters, half-truths and deaths that never happened, but, apparently, that's exactly what Feifer thinks is needed to sell DVDs. Also starring John Burke, Stan Bly and Matteo Indelicato. A Lionsgate Entertainment DVD Release. Rated R.
THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT (1987) - I don't believe that director Paul Leder received the proper attention he so richly deserved (he passed away in 1996). Most genre fans recognize his name as director of the cleverly titled I DISMEMBER MAMA (1972), but very few people seem to realize that Leder was directing, producing and writing (and sometimes even acting in) competently made exploitation films since the late 50's. My favorite Leder film would have to be MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING (1976), an uncompromising and extremely downbeat look into the mind of an emotionally damaged Vietnam veteran (Do not watch this film if you are in a good mood, because it will destroy it for days after), but he continued to churn out watchable thrillers and crime dramas up until his death, including this one, which was retitled to the generic BODY COUNT for its VHS release (the copy I viewed was taken from a 1989 showing on HBO under its original title). This is basically a reworking of I DISMEMBER MAMA with a few minor plot changes (Leder based his screenplay on William W. Norton's MAMA script, which was originally known as POOR ALBERT & LITTLE ANNIE). The film opens with a female mental patient in a red gown playing the violin on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital, while a doctor inside tries to convince delusional patient Robert Knight (Bernie White; QUARANTINE - 2008), who is dressed as a priest, that his uncle Charles Knight (Dick Sargent; THE CLONUS HORROR - 1979) is a good man. Robert, who has been committed to the hospital since he was a young boy, totally disagrees about his uncle; he is convinced that he saw Uncle Charles kill his father and rape his mother and had him institutionalized to cover it up. The years he has spent at the mental hospital have not been good for Robert's psyche, because he is now convinced that he is an instrument of God who must save his nine year-old cousin Deborah (Lauren Woodland; the ALIEN NATION TV series; 1989-1990; THE DOORWAY - 2000) before Uncle Charles and Aunt Joanne (Marilyn Hassett; MASSIVE RETALIATION - 1984) ruin her. Robert says this about Deborah to his doctor: "She is beautiful and innocent. She is not yet infected with their sin." He also says this about Joanne and Charles: "She and that vile man are the foxes. They're the little foxes that spoil the vines." Charles and Joanne have been trying to get Robert declared legally insane (they stand to inherit the family fortune if he is) through their lawyer, Ralph Duris (Grag Mullavey; who has appeared in many Leder films), but Robert's doctor and orderly friend (James Avery; NIGHTFLYERS - 1987) think Robert can be fixed and released back into society. Charles has a nurse at the hospital on his payroll (she does arm curls at her desk with white dumbbells!) and she does everything in her power to drive Robert over the edge so she can perform electroshock treatments on him at higher-than-recommended levels. Robert finally has had enough. He steals the keys from a sleeping Larry, retrieves his Bible (with a white cover) and is forced to kill the bitch nurse when she tries to stop him from leaving (he stabs her in the stomach with scissors). He steals the nurse's car and escapes from the hospital; turning his attention towards his fucked-up family. Joanne, who is a former Las Vegas "chorus" girl (*cough*hooker*cough*), is having affairs with both Ralph and Tom Leary (Steven Ford), Charles' personal assistant, and ignores young daughter Deborah. The cop assigned to finding Robert, Lt. Louis Chernoff (Thomas Ryan), is addicted to booze and Percodan and Charles uses that knowledge to get Lt. Chernoff to kill Robert once he finds him. Robert kills the family chauffeur (he stabs him in the stomach with a switchblade and throws him in the trunk of the limousine) and kidnaps Deborah, but Charles and Joanne don't seem concerned at all (they are a couple of real scumbags). Will Robert be able to "save" Deborah from the family of n'er-do-wells or will he be killed before he completes his "mission"? Director/producer/screenwriter Paul Leder (A*P*E - 1976; MURDER BY NUMBERS - 1990; THE BABY DOLL MURDERS - 1993) takes the MAMA premise (I like to think of this film as POOR ROBERT & LITTLE DEBORAH) and adds a few new twists, including his reliance on the color white (see how many objects you can spot using that color) to portray purity and the way it can be debased. Bernie White is rather bland as Robert, but it is that blandness, whether it is quoting verses from the Bible in his monotone voice or turning down sex from an middle-aged motel clerk (who then threatens to turn him into the police for diddling his nine year-old cousin), that makes his killing spree so shocking. Sure, most of these people deserve their fates (not too sure about the chauffeur, though), but he thinks of himself as a man of the cloth and he takes his "orders" from God, so he's not murdering these people, he is "saving" them (just like all devoutly religious nutbags throughout history). While not very bloody (just a couple of stabbings and bloody bullet squibs), THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT (that Commandment probably being, "Thou shalt not be a soulless douchebag.") is an engaging way to watch bad people get their comeuppance (the only good people in this film are Deborah and maid Kim [Haunani Minn], who truly loves Deborah and is more of a mother than Joanne could ever hope to be) and to watch religion take it on the chin. Also starring Julia Campbell, Jennifer Rhodes, Dean Dittman and Oceana Marr. Available on VHS from Forum Home Video (under the BODY COUNT title) and not available on DVD. Rated R.
EYE IN THE LABYRINTH (1972) - Julie (Rosemary Dexter) has a nightmare where her boyfriend Lucas (Horst Frank) is viciously stabbed to death by some black glove-wearing assailant. When she wakes up, she finds out that Lucas is missing and hasn't shown up at the psychiatric hospital, where he worked as a doctor. After leaving the hospital and going back home, Julie finds a mysterious sunglass-wearing stranger waiting for her. He slaps her around while asking her where Lucas is and when she answers that she doesn't know, he leaves but warns her to keep her mouth shut. Of course, curiosity gets the best of Julie and one word, "Maracudi", seems to be the link to Lucas' disappearance. The investigation leads Julie to the small strange town of Maracudi, where someone tries to kill her (by dropping a ceiling on her in an abandoned building) when she mentions Lucas' name. She meets an all-too-friendly elderly gentleman named Frank (Adolfo Celi) in town and he puts her up in a boardinghouse run by a weird spinster and a peeping tom artist named Saro (Benjamin Lev). The boardinghouse walls are full of paintings done by local artists and one of them will lead Julie to the truth about Lucas' disappearance. Frank sends Julie to a villa owned by Gerda (Alida Valli) that's a commune full of oddball artists and actors, in her search for Lucas. Julie spends the night (her clothes are stolen when she goes skinnydipping in the ocean), plays Scrabble with the residents (she spells "assassino", which visibly upsets some players) and notices a book in Gerda's library which looks exactly like a book she gave Lucas, but Gerda denies it (Later on, Julie sneaks down to the library for a peek at the book and it is, indeed, the same book she gave Lucas). Frank (who we find out is an American gangster living in exile) takes an unhealthy interest in Julie, checking-up on her constantly (even phoning her and hanging up) and he eventually tries to kiss her, but she rebuffs him. In Julia's continuing investigation, she discovers that Frank and Gerda were once lovers and business partners (their business being of the illegal variety), Lucas raped one of Gerda's residents, photographer Toni (Sybil Danning, here billed as "Sybill Dunning") and that Saro may have painted Lucas' murder. This all leads to another attempt on Julie's life, where she is locked in a garage with a running car. Frank saves her, but it becomes clear that everyone in this town (including Julia) is harboring one secret or another. Will Julie be able to uncover the truth about Lucas' disappearance before it's too late? This Italian/German co-production, directed by Mario Caiano (NIGHTMARE CASTLE - 1965; THE MANIAC RESPONSIBLE - 1975; NAZI LOVE CAMP 27 - 1977) is an interesting giallo film, full of weird angles and camera flourishes. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent to the viewer (and eventually Julie) that Lucas is/was a real son-of-a-bitch. As we learn in flashbacks from the people in town who have had contact with Lucas, he was a rapist, blackmailer (a surprising scene where one of the major characters turns out to be a transgender), drug dealer and much worse. We just have to figure out who hated him the most (The answer is not that surprising, as the clues are there if you look for them). While not particularly bloody (save for the opening nightmare sequence, which looks to have been influenced by German impressionist films of the 20's), the film is still an enjoyable murder mystery, where the actresses get naked as much as possible and Julie is constantly put in a lot of danger (the brake line in her car is cut; someone shoots a speargun bolt at her; etc.), but she somehow survives it all. The weird jazz soundtrack also enhances the film, adding a spark of atmosphere to the chase and death scenes. Adolfo Celi (MANHUNT - 1972; LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN - 1976) manages to steal every scene he is in. He's able to invoke sympathy and menace, sometimes in the same scene. Director Caiano bathes the film in yellows (a giallo staple) and blues, lighting scenes in neon colors and outfitting people in bright primary colors (at one point, Julie drives her yellow Fiat into a BP gas station and all we see is yellow!). Colors also play an important part in solving the mystery, so pay attention from the very beginning. EYE IN THE LABYRINTH is an excellent giallo and, like all good giallo films, contains a wicked sting at the end. Also starring Michael Mayen, Franco Ressel, Gigi Rizzi, Peter Kranz, Gaetano Donati and Elisa Mainardi. Never legally available on home video in the U.S., the version I viewed was ripped from a widescreen Dutch-subtitled VHS tape on the Film Lab label. Not Rated. UPDATE: Amazingly, this was released on an uncut anamorphic widescreen Blu-Ray by Code Red (Available only through Screen Archives Entertainment) for the very first time in the United States. And it looks magnificent!
FATAL PULSE (1988) - Lower-tier slasher film nonsense with a slight giallo vibe. When college boy Jeff (Ken Roberts) refuses the sexual advances of the nearly naked Stephanie (the single-monikered Kitty) and leaves her sorority house, she is visited a few moments later by an unknown black-gloved killer, who chases Stephanie to her bedroom and strangles her with one of her silk stockings. It seems Jeff is still in love with ex-girlfriend Lisa (Michelle McCormick; SWEET JUSTICE - 1992) and, after talking to Professor Caldwell (Alex Courtney; PROGRAMMED TO KILL - 1987) about losing his one true love years ago (all this is happening while they are playing a game of chess, which Jeff loses), Jeff decides to confront Lisa and win her back. It won't be easy, though, because Jeff's ex-best friend Brad (Steven Henry) is also romantically interested in Lisa and when Stephanie's body is found by the police (one of the detectives is portrayed by porn star Herschell Savage, here using the name "Harvey Cowen"), Brad implicates Jeff of the murder in front of Lisa (Brad saw Jeff leaving Stephanie's sorority house just before she was murdered). Jeff and Lisa rush over to the sorority house just in time to see the body carted away and when the detective asks Jeff his name, he runs away (Don't make yourself look too guilty, Jeff!). The list of suspects in Stephanie's murder doesn't just include Jeff. There's sorority house owner Ernie (Joe Estevez; LOCKDOWN - 1989; here using the pseudonym "Joe Phelan"), who suffers from frequent Nam flashbacks; Professor Caldwell, whose discussion with Jeff about lost loves makes him appear to be a misogynist; Brad, who may be killing girls to make Jeff look guilty; Jeff's pot smoking pal Mark (Blair Karsch), who may be hiding a deadly secret; or any one of the sorority girls themselves, including Lisa. The next victim of the black-gloved killer is music student Carol (Sky Nicholas), who has her throat slit open with a record album (the film's most unusual kill). Jeff tries to talk Lisa into moving in with him after Carol's death and they get it on, which doesn't please Brad at all. Jeff and Mark go to Carol's murder site to look for clues (because the police, you know, don't know how to look for them), but they find nothing except a chalk outline of Carol's body and a big bloodstain where her neck was. Sheila (Maureen O'Hanlon) is the next to die, drowned in her tub by the killer. Cassie (Cindra Hodgdon) is the next to bite it; she's kidnapped while jogging and then electrocuted by the killer with some strange get-up in the shower. Ann (Roxanne Kernohan) is tossed out of the top floor window of the sorority house and Karen (Christie Mucciante) is smothered in plaster of paris, as Brad and the police chase Jeff throughout the college. When Jeff accidentally knocks-out Brad, he makes a discovery that will clear his name and point the police to the right person. Will Jeff save Lisa in time before the killer makes her the final victim? The first thing you'll notice about FATAL PULSE, directed/produced by Anthony J. Christopher (THE PLATINUM TRIANGLE - 1989; DAY OF REDEMPTION - 2004) and written by James Hundhausen, is how unlikely a heterosexual romantic lead Ken Roberts is as Jeff. It's quite obvious by his speech patterns and mannerisms that Roberts is a homosexual (if he's not, then I'm sincerely sorry, but I think the only way you can accept him as straight is if you delude yourself into believing that Kiki Dee actually broke Elton John's heart), so casting him as the romantic lead is a huge misstep. His, and nearly everyone else's, stabs at acting are of a sub-soap opera level. As a matter of fact, the entire film has an 80's porn feel to it, from the over-cranked synth score, barebones sets, substandard acting and flat photography. At least director Christopher had the good sense to have most of the female cast get naked, but the majority of the time, their nakedness comes at the points of their demises (the killer has a nasty habit of ripping off their tops before doing them in), so the nudity is not erotic or titillating. Most of the killings are bloodless (besides the record album throat slitting), as the killer likes to use his hands more than any foreign objects. The killer's identity is way too easy to guess, since it's obvious that all the other suspects are blatant red herring material. The explanation for the killer's motive comes straight out of Stevenson's "The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde" and is as ridiculous as it gets. Good for an unintentional laugh or two, but not much else. Originally released on VHS by Celebrity Home Entertainment and not available on DVD. Not Rated.
THE FIRST POWER (1990) - I knew when I went to go see this film on opening day at a theater and there were only about 15 other people in the seats, that this film was going to bomb big at the boxoffice (It eventually made a little over twice its $10 million budget, but when you factor in advertising and print costs, it probably ended up losing plenty of money). Filmed under the much better title TRANSIT (you'll get the inference if you see the film), the film was changed to THE FIRST POWER a couple of months before release to play up the supernatural angle (that, too, also makes some sense if you can make it through 3/4 of this film). To make matters worse, I remember going to see the Denzel Washington film FALLEN in 1998 and a severe case of deja vu came rushing over me. It was nothing but a bastardization of this film, but done much better (There's no one humming "Time is on my side, yes it is." in the first film), but since this 1990 film was directed and written by Robert Resnikoff, whose only other claim to fame was co-writing the screenplay to the awful Jay Leno/Pat Morita action comedy COLLISION COURSE (made in 1986, but dumped directly to home video in the U.S. in 1989), this film offers very little to the supernatural action film genre lover except for a larger-than-usual role for character actor supreme Jeff Kober (AUTOMATIC - 1994) and trying to spot some genre actors in small, nothing roles (like Bill Moseley as a bartender). Besides a couple of good stunts (you will know them when you see them), the film mostly comes up snake eyes because the plot is very underdeveloped and once this film was finished, Robert Resnikoff was never seen or heard from in the filmmaking business again. That right there should tell you something. Since MGM released a perfectly good anamorphic widescreen release of this film on DVD in the early 2000's, it surprises me that Kino Lorber/Scorpion Releasing would give this film the DVD and Blu-Ray treatment (probably using the same print master as the MGM DVD) when there are so many more MGM titles screaming to be released on disc for the very first time. Maybe it was a contractual thing, but it was a poor choice to release it as a stand-alone feature. This at least belongs on a double feature Blu-Ray with some other film so you can get more bang for your buck. This is just a minor potboiler with lofty aspirations that it fails to achieve. The film opens with Sister Marguerite (Elizabeth Arlen; LUCKY STIFF - 1988; also with Jeff Kober) pleading with the Cardinal (Philip Abbott; HANGAR 18 - 1980), the Monsignor (David Gale; RE-ANIMATOR - 1985) and Father Brian (Hansford Rowe) that something must be done about Satan and his minions. She tells them that Satan's powers are growing and that there have been 15 women murdered this year alone in this town with an inverted pentagram carved in their stomachs. As is normal with religion, the males belittle the woman (The Monsignor makes a joke about ending up on "Geraldo") and tell her to go back to her convent and keep her mouth shut. Detective Russ Logan (Lou Diamond Phillips; ROUTE 666 - 2001) is after a murderer called the "Pentagram Killer" (the same person Sister Marguerite was talking about) and has hit a dead end until he gets a phone call from Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith; SKEETER - 1993), telling him that the Pentagram Killer will strike again tonight on Sunset Boulevard (when Logan marks the location on the murder map, it forms a perfect pentagram, a trope used in many other horror films), but she has one strange request: If Logan catches him, he cannot let the killer die on Death Row and she makes Logan promise. Logan makes the promise, but he has no intention of keeping it. That rainy night, a stakeout crew is sent out to the location (including Brian Libby, who played a serial killer in the underrated Chuck Norris film SILENT RAGE , who pretends to be a bum lying on the ground covered in newspaper and he says, "Only a psycho fucking killer is smart enough to stay out of the rain."). Logan is cruising the area with his partner Detective Oliver Franklin (Mykel T. Williamson [a.k.a. Mykelti Williamson]; SPECIES II - 1997) when they get word that Officer Carmen (Sue Giosa), who was the bait, is missing. They both race to an abandoned concrete structure to save her, where we see her tied to the ground with the Pentagram Killer (Jeff Kober) waving a knife around and wearing an ugly old man mask. He is very polite in the way he tells Carmen the way he is going to kill her and puts the mask over her face. Before he can do anything to her, Logan and Franklin intervene. Franklin gets knocked out, but Logan chases and catches him, even after being seriously stabbed in the stomach by the killer (Logan is a highly decorated officer who caught three serial killers in his short career). We find out that the Pentagram killer is really Patrick Channing, a mild mannered worker for the Public Water Department and no one can understand how he could do such horrible things. He is convicted in a court of law for 15 murders and sentenced to die in the gas chamber in San Quentin Prison. Logan once agan gets a call from Tess, who says he must keep his promise, but he and Franklin watch a smiling Channing die in the gas chamber. Logan sees Channing's hand move after he is dead and then he breaks his straps, shatters the chamber's glass window and heads towards Logan with a knife in his hand while Logan empties his gun into him. with no effect. That last part is a recurring nightmare Logan has had since he witnessed Channing die and he starts having more vivid halucinations, like one of the rooms in his apartment covered in blood and then it disappears when two cops come knocking on his door. The two cops actually arrive at his door to tell him that Carmen has been murdered and it is in the same place he and Franklin saved her months before. Carmen's throat has been cut and an inverted pentagram carved into her stomach. Tess arrives at the police station and will only talk to Logan. She tells him that she is a professional psychic who has helped many police departments find missing children, but a disbelieving Logan tells her that this has nothing to do with missing children and blows her off. Tess tries to tell Logan that Channing is back and his evil soul is on the loose thanks to Satan. He can jump from body to body (the weaker the person's will, the easier it is for Channing to take over the body), but he can disguise his appearance to look like himself. She tells Logan that Channing is not just after him, he is after her, too. They find the person that killed Carmen and it is a skinny drunk drug abuser, the perfect kind of person for Channing to take over. When Logan decides that this guy is too out of it to kill anybody, he walks away, but he hears the guy say "See you later, buddy boy!" in Channing's voice. No one else in the room heard it. Logan and Franklin illegally break into Tess' lavish home (Franklin says, "Psychics must get paid well.", when he sees the indoor pool) and Logan listens to the messages on her answering machine. The third message is from Channing and he says that he will be seeing them all soon. Tess catches them in her house and when Logan goes to play the third message, there are only two on the answering machine. Logan then accuses Tess of belonging to the same occult cult as Channing, while Tess takes one look at Franklin and tells him he is in mortal danger. The third message on the answering machine told Logan where the next murder will be, so all three of them head there, where Franklin is trampled to death by a horse his dying words to Logan are, "I saw him Russ. It was him!" Logan and Tess chase the horse-drawn carriage and Logan watches in amazement as Channing jumps off a ten story building and run away (One of the film's highlights, even though you can see the rope harness). Logan's boss, Commander Perkins (Dennis Lipscomb; RETRIBUTION - 1987) finds Logan's story hard to swallow while hard-drinking Lt. Grimes (Carmen Argenziano; HELLRAISER: INFERNO - 2000) makes fun of Logan's story and lets Tess go home. When Mazza (Clayton Landey), another cop at Carmen's original scene, is found murdered and hung like Jesus on the cross on the underside of a high expansion bridge (One cop says, "How'd they get him up there?"), Commander Perkins takes Logan off the case and puts Lt. Grimes in charge. Logan goes to a church confessional to ask about possession, only to discover that the priest he was talking to was Channing in the other confessional room. Tess has a vision of Logan in danger (he's supposed to get an axe in the head by Channing) and she saves his life, but Channing chases them through the hallways of a cheap motel with the spinning blades of a ceiling fan before Channing jumps on the hood of a car that Logan and Tess have commandeered and Logan must destroy the car to get Channing off it (As a joke, Logan tells the car's owner to contact Lt. Grimes directly for reimbursement). Logan now believes Tess, even if they don't see eye-to-eye on all the details. That will change soon. They go to talk to Sister Marguerite at the convent, but she refuses to talk to them. They then go to Channing's grandmother (Julianna McCarthy), where they inadvertantly learn that Channing was a product of incest, his mother having sex and getting pregnant by his grandfather (Satan must love incest!). Logan and Tess find Channing's "special place" since he was a child: an abandoned and unsafe section of the underground water system where a reservoir worker (Grand L. Bush) tells them that the water will still flood the tunnel if you spin the handle. Tess suddenly gets two bloody pentagrams on her palms. Channing chases Logan and Tess to a highrise construction site, where Tess knocks Channing off the building and he is impaled on a metal pole below. When they get to the bottom, they discover that the body is actually Lt. Grimes' (he was a hard drinker, therefore easy to possess). Commander Perkins is slightly more than agitated, but he gives Logan one more chance to solve the murders (Really? You would let a prime suspect take over the case? Are we sure this is the United States?). Sister Marguerite suddenly gets a conscience and leaves the convent to help Tess and Logan (If you haven't guessed by now, they have also become lovers.). Logan and Tess are attacked once again by Channing, who this time takes over a bag lady's body. It leads to Logan flipping his car on the highway (Clearly, the film's best scene), with both Tess and Channing disappearing from the wrecked car. A bloody Logan meets Sister Marguerite, who gives Logan the only tool that can defeat Channing and his body-hopping abilities: An ancient crucifix with a hidden blade. She also explains the three evil powers that Channing possesses: 3) The ability to take over other people's bodies (well, duh!). 2) The gift of knowing the future and 1) Resurrection and immortality (The First Power). The ancient bladed crucifix should be able to stop all three. Logan and Sister Marguerite go to Channing's "special place" in the water tunnels where Logan knows Channing is with Tess, but after killing the bag lady and saving Tess' life, Channing jumps into Sister Marguerite's body (I wonder what her weakness was? Not listening to men?). The ridiculous ending finds Tess turning the wheel and flooding the tunnels as all three of them go on their own private amusement park water flume ride, where they all end up on a metal grate with a pool of acid below (Say what now?). Tess manages to toss Channing into the acid, but she learns that it takes more than acid to kill him. Logan finds the ancient crucifix knife (After that long water ride, it ends up right next to him! What are the chances of that actually happening?) and goes to stab Channing in the heart with it, but he is shot twice by two officers at the scene. Logan still manages to plunge the ancient dagger into Channing, ending the evil satanic menace and we see Tess sitting by Logan's hospital bed as he recovers from his wounds. But was he weak enough to have Channing's evil soul travel into his body when he killed Channing (remember, he was already shot and weak when he stabbed Channing)? The film ends and I got into my car wondering what in the hell I just watched. I still was wondering that after watching the Blu-Ray. The film is weak except for a few good stunt sequences and the story is cookie-cutter stuff. There's nothing here that screams, "Look at me! I'm special!" Everyone walks through their roles, especially Lou Diamond Phillips, who doesn't go out of his way to act any way special except for the basic stuff. He comes off as flat and disinterested in the story, just like the audiences must have felt when the theaters took their hard-earned money to watch this film. I'm not saying that it is awful, because it isn't. It's just one of those films that could have worked better as a DTV VHS during the time period, than as a theatrical film. Some of the decisions made by the characters will make you shake your head until you get whiplash, but it was the only way to advance the plot. That is a sign of sloppy screenwriting and Robert Resnikoff takes full blame for this since the story was solely his baby (It could also be the reason he left filmmaking). It should be noted that Stewart Copeland, the drummer for The Police, composed the film's musical score and Ed French did the very few special makeup effects, which are really the only positive things throughout the film. This is the kind of film that when you see a person standing in front of an empty window, you just know someone is going to come crashing through it. I'm a big fan of Jeff Kober and even though this is one of his biggest roles, he has done much better in shorter ones. If you don't have the original MGM DVD (which is really all you need for this film), you can always purchase this film on DVD & Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber/Scorpion Releasing if you want two new extras: New interviews with Lou Diamond Phillips and Jeff Kober. It seems they couldn't locate Robert Resnikoff to do a running commentary for this film (or he flat-out refused to). I can't say I blame him. David Gale, who has one scene in this film, died the following year of cancer. He managed to star in SYNGENOR (1990) and THE GUYVER (1991) after this before passing away. Melanie Shatner (UNKNOWN ORIGIN - 1995), the daughter of William Shatner, has a very small role as a shopgirl. Also starring Nada Despotovich, J. Patrick McNamara, Lisa Spect, Mark Bringelson, William Fair and Scott Lawrence. A Kino Lorber/Scorpion Releasing Blu-Ray & DVD Release Rated R.
555 (1988) - While I generally frown upon shot-on-video movies, I decided to rent this one after reading so many scathing reviews of it just to see if it was as really bad as they said. It isnt. As a matter of fact, it is probably better than 90% of the shot-on-video shit that lines the video stores shelves. Still, were talking video here, so dont go in expecting much. A serial killer is cutting up young lovemaking couples in Chicago. Two distraught cops try to search for clues to the killers identity while trying to avoid a nosey female reporter who is not fond of the police. The cops are able to trace the killers tracks back 20 years. It seems that every five years he kills five couples in five days (hence the title) and then disappears. Since four couples have been killed this time, time is running out. The cops unmask the killer after the reporter supplies them with some vital information on someone she used to date. This is by no means a good film, but it does have some positive points. It is decently acted, something you usually dont find in a film of this type. The effects arent halfway bad either. Theres a decapitation, a throat slashing, a knife shoved clear through a neck and various sharp blade mayhem. Just remember that were talking about a home movie budget here, so dont expect anything on par with shot-on-film movies. Director Wally Koz tries really hard to get the most out of his meager budget and he generally succeeds. It may have helped that the entire Koz family worked both behind and in front of the camera. With more money and a 16mm camera, he may be able to make something that I could praise. Until then, hell just get a nice try. 555 stars Greg Kerouac, Mara-Lynn Bastian, Charles Fuller, B.K. Smith and Bob Grabill as The Killer (which is a cheat). A Slaughterhouse Entertainment Home Video Release (which, for some ungodly reason, commands big bucks on the collectors market; one copy selling for over $760!). Boutique label Massacre Video has purchased the rights for this film and plans on releasing a limited edition 50-copy VHS big box ($30.00), as well as a special edition DVD ($65.00!), a DVD Hardbox ($50.00) and standard DVD ($20.00) release slated for October 2011. (All are in very limited supply and sold out by the time you read this, making me believe it is an eBay scam to charge ridiculous prices for the product made. If people were willing to spend over $700 for an old copy, what would they be willing to pay for a "remastered" edition? I've seen them on eBay and they have been going for over $200.00 a piece just for the VHS alone! Mission accomplished!). Not Rated.
FORCED ENTRY (1975) - Nasty and unpleasant R-rated remake of the 1972 X-rated rape porn flick of the same name (this was made in 1975, but not released until 1981). The plot is nearly identical, although I believe that this remake is more misogynistic in tone than the original, even if there are no hardcore porn scenes on view (although there is still much nudity, but none of it is the least bit titillating unless you are a sick, sadistic bastard). Woman-hating garage mechanic Carl (Ron Max; HEATED VENGEANCE - 1984) tinkers with the cars of young women who stop at the gas station he works at and he then follows them until their cars break down. He then rapes and kills them, as the viewers listen to his innermost thoughts, which are basically incomprehensible rants against women. When young wife and mother Nancy Ulman (Tanya Roberts; SHEENA - 1984) stops by the gas station to drop off her car for repairs, owner Charlie (Billy Longo) has Carl dive Nancy home. Serious mistake. Carl becomes infatuated and obsessed with Nancy and once he discovers that Nancy's husband will be away for the weekend on a business trip, he plans for a long weekend of rape and degradation, all at Nancy's expense. But first, Carl gets beaten to a pulp by a pimp who discovers him peeping on his hooker girlfriend in the Ladies Room at the gas station. Carl works out his frustrations by raping and killing a young woman who stops at the station to put some air in her bicycle tire (Vaginal rape by beer bottle is explicitly implied, followed by shots of a bloody wrench swinging up and down). Carl then picks up a hitchhiker (a cameo by Nancy Allen; DRESSED TO KILL - 1980), ties her up, rapes her and then drops her lifeless body in a field. He then goes to Nancy's house, where he breaks in, ties Nancy up and slowly begins to systematically rape and torture her. After slapping her around and forcing her to sleep with him in the same bed she shares with her husband, Nancy tries to escape while Carl is sleeping, but he recaptures her and then murders a nosy delivery boy. Carl (who wears a "Camp Weedawong" tee shirt during this sequence) is eventually killed by Nancy, who grabs a butcher knife and repeatedly stabs him to death, just as her kids are walking through the front door. Relentlessly repellant and hard to watch, one begins to wonder why director Jim Sotos (SWEET SIXTEEN - 1982; HOT MOVES - 1985) chose to remake an equally repellant porno film (the first film directed by Shaun Costello, using the pseudonym "Helmuth Richler") as his first directorial effort. There's not much point to this film except to show one man's total hatred and disregard for the female of the species. Screenwriter Henry Scarpelli (who co-produced this with Sotos) seems to imply that impotence leads to murder, as Carl can't seem to close the deal (if you know what I mean) with his rape victims, so he gets off degrading his victims, usually by tying their hands behind their backs, screaming out obscenities and penetrating their bodies with foreign objects before killing them, all of which Sotos is glad to show us, usually in super slow-motion. Carl also stutters when faced with talking to women under normal circumstances and only loses the stutter when he has complete control of his victims' lives. Since we are never given any clear information on Carl's background (until the obviously tacked-on ending), most of Carl's actions ring hollow and unnecessary, especially all the hate-filled diatribes that we hear as Carl's thoughts. There's nothing remotely enjoyable about this film because it serves no other purpose than to show a sick man's hatred for women. It doesn't have the same significance of other films like BLOODRAGE: NEVER PICK UP A STRANGER (1980) or HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), even though it shares their low-budget griminess, because the subject that is the focus here is too one-dimensional. FORCED ENTRY wallows in rape and torture imagery for the sake of rape and torture and no other reason. Skip it for all the right reasons. Also known as THE LAST VICTIM. Also starring Vasco Valladeres, Robin Leslie, Michael Tucci, Beth Carlton, Frank Verroca, Michele Miles, Glenn Scarpelli and Amy Levitan. Originally released on VHS by Harmony Vision. Code Red had announced a DVD release in 2008, but as of this writing it has failed to materialize. Rated R.
THE FRENCH SEX MURDERS (1972) - This mystery thriller, narrated by French Police Inspector Pontaine (Humphrey Bogart lookalike Robert Sacchi). opens with the Inspector and his men chasing an unknown figure up the Eiffel Tower. When the figure falls off the top of the tower, the Inspector flashes-back to how it all began. Thief Antoine Gottvalles (Peter Martell) is in love with prostitute Francine (Barbara Bouchet) and will do anything to be with her, including robbing mansions of expensive jewelry to finance his visits to see her at the high-class brothel run by Madame Coletta (Anita Ekberg). When Francine is brutally murdered at the brothel, the Inspector thinks Antoine is the guilty party because he was Fancine's last customer before she died (We see Antoine slap her around and call her a "whore" when she goes to meet her next customer, but we don't see him kill her). The Inspector catches Antoine rather easily, he is brought to trial, found guilty and sentenced to death by guillotine. Antoine swears his innocence and curses all those in attendance at his trial, including the judge, Madame Colette, ex-wife Marianne (Rosalba Neri), forensics expert Professor Waldemar (Howard Vernon), writer Randall (Renato Romano) and other prostitutes that testified against him. Antoine escapes from custody when being transferred to prison and steals a motorcycle, but he is beheaded in a freak accident while evading the police. Why then are the people he lashed-out against in court being murdered? Inspector Pontaine now believes that Antoine was set-up and intends to find out who did it. The Professor pulls some strings and obtains Antoine's severed head and orders his assistant, Roget (William Alexander), who is having a secret affair with the Professor's mysterious daughter Elenora (Evelyn Kraft of THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN - 1977), to remove the right eye from Antoine's head. As Roget is doing so, he swears that he saw the pupil of the eye contract, which is a medical impossibility. Madame Colette is brutally murdered with a lamp by an unknown gloved assailant. The next to die is the judge. His throat is cut while his cheating wife is screwing her lover in the next room. When some of the prostitutes and Marianne are murdered next, the Inspector finds a clue in Randall's writings that proves that one of the women still alive use to be a prostitute in Madame Colette's brothel. As the Inspector and his men race to warn Randall that he may be next, they are too late (they find Marianne beheaded and another girl with her eyes cut out). Randall has been run-through with a sword, but he has scrawled an "M" on the floor in his own blood. After a short investigation, the Inspector realizes that Randall actually wrote a "W" on the floor, which leads to the real killer and the chase to the top of the Eiffel Tower in the beginning of the film. This early 70's French/Itallian giallo, directed by Ferdinando Merrighi (who was also First Assistant Director on CRY OF A PROSTITUTE - 1974), using the pseudonym "F.L. Morris", contains enough red herrings to satisfy the appetite of an overweight seal. While it's quite obvious who the killer is (at least to me), the film has enough eye-popping nudity and gross-out moments, including an uncomfortable dissection on what looks to be a real eye (hopefully, it's a cow's or some other animal's eye and not an actual human eyeball), to keep the viewer entertained. The casting of Bogart doppelganger Robert Sacchi (THE MAN WITH BOGART'S FACE - 1980) as the police inspector also holds some novelty value (this was also released under the title THE BOGEYMAN AND THE FRENCH MURDERS to cash-in on Sacchi's uncanny likeness). The character name of the sleazy writer Randall was a little in-joke in reference to the late Dick Randall (PIECES - 1982), who was one of the producers (with Marius Mattei) here. As with a lot of European genre films of the 70's, incest plays a key role in the plot. This is an enjoyable and violent (including two beheadings) murder mystery that should satisfy fans of giallo as well as fans of nudity. Barbara Bouchet (MILANO CALIBRO 9 - 1972), Rosalba Neri (THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A - 1973) and Evelyn Kraft (THE DEADLY ANGELS - 1977) all doff their clothing and give us an eyefull. Edited by future Italian exploitation master Bruno Mattei (CAGED WOMEN - 1982; CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST: THE BEGINNING - 2003), who sadly passed away in 2007. Carlo Rambaldi (credited here as "Carlo Ranaldi") handled the bloody special effects and Gordon Mitchell (SFX RETALIATOR - 1987) puts in an uncredited appearance as a drunk who gets beaten to a pulp in a nightclub. Also known as THE PARIS SEX MURDERS and MURDER IN PARIS. Also starring Rolf Eden, Eva Astor, Piera Viotta and Alessandro Perrella. A Mondo Macabro DVD Release, which restores some footage not found in English language prints (this footage is shown in the original Italian with English subtitles). Not Rated.
GENTLE SAVAGE (1973) - With the success of BILLY JACK (1971), low-budget filmmakers started using loner Native American Indians as anti-heroes in their exploitation films. Titles like JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (1975), ANGRY JOE BASS (1976) and this one (also known as CAMPER JOHN) were foisted onto a willing audience to show that the White Man's treatment of Indians hasn't changed much since the days of Plymouth Rock and, if we wait long enough, we will see the Indian exact his special brand of revenge. Camper John Allen (William Smith; INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS - 1973) is an Indian who works part time cleaning auto parts at a garage and toilets at the local bar for white bosses who won't even smile at him, but he has a loving young son named Danny and a beautiful squaw girlfriend named Gayle (Barbara Luna; THE CONCRETE JUNGLE - 1982) that he comes home to every night ("Home" is a series of ramshackle shacks that he shares with other members of his tribe on the outskirts of town). Since Camper John is a redskin, he likes to hoist a few at Beeker's Bar, run by the crusty Rupert Beeker (R.G. Armstrong; RACE WITH THE DEVIL - 1975), but John is usually short on cash, so he steals a beer from white girl Betty Schaeffer (C.J. Hincks), telling her, "Women don't drink when buck have thirst!" A drunk Betty offers Camper John $4.00 ("A day's pay.") for a lift home on the back of his motorcycle. He stupidly agrees, rides her home and, once they get there, Camper John asks, "Where's my money?", but Betty offers her body instead and begins to strip. Before anything can happen, Betty's father, Ken (Kevin Hagen), catches them together, swears he's gonna kill Camper John and beats the crap out of Betty. The next morning, Sheriff McVaney (Gene Evans; JACK THE RIPPER GOES WEST - 1974) and Deputy Moody (Joe Flynn; MCHALE'S NAVY [1962-1966]) show up at Camper John's home to arrest him, but John leads them on a chase with his motorcycle before he is caught and brought to the police station, where Ken and a battered Betty accuse him of rape. The town's entire white population wants to hang Camper John, with Ken egging them on and they nearly kill John's deaf brother Richard (Ned Romero) at Beeker's Bar (They step on his head and grind his face on some broken glass). The townspeople also beat-up a few teenage Indians just for walking on their streets. While Camper John is being escorted to county jail, some Indian friends, including Gayle, rescue him, drive to the desert and let Sheriff McVaney and Deputy Moody go free, only they are handcuffed to each other (in a very unusual manner) and stripped to their underwear. Things really get bad when the easily-manipulated townspeople destroy the Indian village (they drive their pickup trucks through all the shacks) and Ken kills Richard by shotgunning him in the back and then hanging him. Now it's Camper John's turn to get revenge, but at what cost? As directed and co-written by Sean MacGregor (NIGHTMARE COUNTY - 1971; DEVIL TIMES FIVE - 1974), GENTLE SAVAGE is much too slowly paced to register with exploitation fans. The film has a hard time deciding whether it is going to be a revenge thriller, a comedy (you're guaranteed a comical moment whenever Joe Flynn, who died a year later, is on-screen) or some Indian mysticism bullshit (the screenplay was co-written by someone named "Jaguar Long Dancer". Yeah, and my Indian name is "Running With Shingles"!), The violence is rather tame considering the subject matter and includes a few gunshots, explosions and vehicle destruction. For all the talk of rape, there is not one instance of female nudity, although it is implied that Ken has sexually assaulted Betty in the past (it is not until late in the film that we discover Betty is actually Ken's stepdaughter, so it tempers the incest angle somewhat). The entire film lacks the proper edge that makes a movie a good revenge thriller. All the characters are thinly-drawn (William Smith's Camper John has no backstory at all) and the actions scenes are rather anemic. There's not much here to recommend except a cast of seasoned character actors given very little to do. That's the shame of GENTLE SAVAGE. He's way too gentile (oy, vey!) for the film's own good. Produced by Peter Brown, who co-starred with William Smith in PIRANHA PIRANHA a year earlier. Also starring Gayle Hemingway, Arch Johnson, Henry Brandon, Darlene Conley, Owen Orr, Robert Tessier (STARCRASH - 1978), Cody Bearpaw (PISTOL-PACKIN' LEROY - 1974) and Betty Ann Carr, who sings the film's theme song, "Once Upon A Tribe". Originally released on VHS by U.S.A. Home Video and not available on DVD. Not Rated.
GIRL IN ROOM 2A (1973) - This film opens with a girl named Edie being kidnapped, injected with drugs and waking up tied-up and naked in a room while a long spike (coming out of a hole in the wall) punctures her chest and stomach several times. Then someone wearing red gloves cuts her loose, impales her through the back with a blade (until the blade protrudes between her breasts) and throws her body over a cliff to make it look like a suicide (It's all very fragmented and looks to be heavily edited). We are then introduced to Margaret (Daniela Giordano). She has just been released from a women's prison and rents a room (#2A) in a nearby boardinghouse run by Mrs. Grant (Giovanna Galetti). As soon as she settles in her room, she notices a huge bloodstain on the floor that she can't seem to wash away. That night she has a dream that someone dressed in a red stocking mask, cape and gloves (the same person who killed Edie) invades her room and looms over her bed. Was it a dream? Could it have something to do with Mr. Dreese (Raf Vallone), the leader of some strange cult who resorts to murder to keep his secret? Margaret strikes up a friendship with Mrs. Grant's son, Frank (Angelo Infanti), but things sour quickly when Frank doesn't believe her when she says that she was unjustly sent to prison. Margaret wants to move out of the boardinghouse (that damn bloodstain keeps reappearing every time she scrubs it away), but her lack of a job and her parole officer (Rosalba Neri) make it impossible for her to do so. Margaret meets Edie's brother, Jack (John Scanlon), who doesn't believe his sister committed suicide. Jack talks to Edie's former boyfriend Charlie (Brad Harris) and learns that Edie also spent a short time in the same prison as Margaret did. What is the connection between the prison, Mrs. Grant's boardinghouse and the mysterious Mr. Dreese? And who is the mysterious masked killer in red we see killing people with a cane equipped with a spring-loaded blade? As both Margaret and Jack get closer to the truth, we also learn that the death of Frank's father years earlier plays into this mystery. A trip to an insane asylum, where one of the previous female tenants of Room 2A was committed, gives Margaret and Jack further evidence of the dastardly goings-on at the boardinghouse, but before they can do anything about it, Margaret is drugged and kidnapped from Room 2A that night. Is she to suffer the same fate as Edie or can Jack save her in time? This early 70's gaillo, directed/produced/scripted by William L. Rose (who also scripted FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS - 1973) is not much of a mystery (maybe I've just seen too many of these films), but it does have it's share of tense moments and bloody set-pieces (although it looks like some of the more violent and sexual bits were trimmed to achieve an R-rating). You'll witness naked women being whipped, a woman getting decapitated (mostly off-screen, but we do get to see the bloody head), a man being forced to put his hand on a red-hot fireplace grate and various stabbings. The final twenty minutes, where the mystery is revealed and how the bloodstain on the floor of Room 2A keeps reappearing (it's the film's most ingenious moment) is kind of a letdown. The cult turns out to be nothing but a bunch of crazy fanatics (including Mrs. Grant, who is getting retribution for her husband's hit-and-run death years earlier) who get off on punishing naughty girls released from prison and they use someone dressed like the Crimson Executioner from THE BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965) to carry out the deeds. You'll groan when you discover who's really behind the mask. Raf Vallone (SUMMERTIME KILLER - 1972; THE "HUMAN" FACTOR - 1975) is wasted in a do-nothing role, as are Brad Harris (THE MAD BUTCHER - 1972; THE FREAKMAKER - 1973) and European genre actresses Karin Shubert (a brief topless scene) and Rosalba Neri (sadly, her clothes stay on). Theatrical distribution was handled by Joseph Brenner Associates, who gave North America it's fair share of European genre product, including MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972), CRY OF A PROSTITUTE (1974), ALMOST HUMAN (1974), EYEBALL (1975), AUTOPSY (1975) and many others, usually with lurid and deceptive ad campaigns. Also starring Frank Latimore, Nuccia Cardinale, Salvatore Billa, Dada Gallotti and Marian Fulop. A Prism Entertainment Home Video Release. Rated R.
HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN (1973) - Penniless drifter Gilles (Paul Naschy), who has nightmares about strangling a woman, is picked up hitch-hiking by Claude (Diana Lorys), a woman with a hideously burned arm and a prosthetic hand. She hires him to be the handyman at the house she shares with her two sisters. Arriving at the house, Gilles meets the other two sisters: The sexy Nicole (Eva Leon) and the wheelchair-bound Ivette (Maria Perschy). Nicole begins hitting on Gilles immediately, feeling his muscles while chopping wood shirtless and later coming to his bedroom to make love. Claude spies on them doing the nasty, becomes jealous and voices her displeasure to Gilles the next morning (while cutting a chicken with a cleaver). A new nurse, Michelle (Ines Morales), arrives at the house to take care of Ivette (we do not know why she is in the wheelchair, only that the doctor thinks it's psychosomatic), but she may be there for more nefarious reasons. Gilles is attacked outside by the former handyman Jean and a knife fight ensues. Gilles gets slashed on the side (Jean is stabbed in the stomach, but runs away) and the police are called, where we learn that Ivette's old nurse was found strangled on the side of the road. While Gilles is recuperating in bed, Claude visits and they make love. Another woman in town is found stabbed to death with her eyes missing. The police suspect Gilles (he is the only new person in town and he is having those nightmares), but it is apparent after a while that he is just but one of a town full of red herrings, as more women turn up brutally murdered with their eyes removed. How does this all tie in with Claude's prothetic hand and Ivette in the wheelchair? Why are only blond women with blue eyes being murdered? You'll just have to see for yourself. Originally titled BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (which really gives away too much of the film's punch line), Sam Sherman's Independent International Pictures picked this up for distribution in 1975, edited some of the murders and nudity so it could obtain an R rating and retitled it with this more exploitative title. Director Carlos Aured (who also made HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB  with Naschy) co-wrote this with Naschy (who uses his real name, Jacinto Molina, for screenwriting credit) and gives HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN a nice giallo feel. The unseen killer (the hands are all that's seen) begins murdering the female cast with various weapons, using meat cleavers, knives, a garden claw and other utensils and then removing their eyes and carrying them carefully in black-gloved hands before depositing them in glass jars. Barrel-chested Paul Naschy dies a particularly nasty death in this one as his foot is caught in a bear trap while police (who mistakenly think he is the killer) pump a dozen bullets and shotgun shells into him in slow motion. The mystery element in this is quite good (although the killer is obvious, or is it?) and the music soundtrack, which switches from breezy jazz to a sinister version of "Frere Jacque", keeps the film suspenseful without being pretentious. The revelation in the final minute is really a gruesome sight. Worthwhile viewing for fans of Spanish horror. Also starring Eduardo Calvo, Antonio Pica and Luis Ciges (WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? - 1975). Originally released on VHS by Super Video who then licensed it to VidAmerica for their "World's Worst Video" line (they were wrong putting this film into that category). Rated R.
THE "HUMAN" FACTOR (1975) - Barrel-chested George Kennedy (JUST BEFORE DAWN - 1980; DEMONWARP - 1989) gets a rare leading role in this British revenge thriller with an international cast. Kennedy portrays John Kinsdale, a computer scientist and "electronics wiz" who works at a well-guarded military base in Naples, Italy. On his way home to celebrate his son's birthday, he discovers ambulances and police cars surrounding his house and shockingly finds out that his wife and three children have been viciously murdered. After contemplating suicide (it doesn't last long) and being questioned by police forensics expert Dr. Enrico Lupo (Raf Vallone; THE SUMMERTIME KILLER - 1972), John sets out on his own to get justice. He enlists the help of work partner (and fellow scientist) Mike McAllister (John Mills; DR. STRANGE - 1978) in creating a computer program to help him discover the identities of those involved in his family's murders, while trying to avoid the probing eyes of his boss, General Fuller (Arthur Franz; THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE - 1959). Working with nothing but a single strand of red hair found at the crime scene, John and Mike are able to determine that the killer spends most of their time in New York, so John taps into the airlines' computer databases looking for the names of any red-haired person who has recently arrived in Naples from New York. When another American family is found slaughtered in the same manner as John's family, John discovers from drunken American Embassy official George Edmunds (Barry Sullivan; EARTHQUAKE - 1974, also starring Kennedy) that a terrorist group containing members Alexander Taylor (co-scripter Tom Hunter) and Paul Kamal (producer Frank Avianca) sent a letter to the President of the United States threatening to kill one American family in the Mediterranean area every three days unless their demands for the release of certain political prisoners and payment of ten million dollars are met. As you can imagine, this information upsets John, as the U.S. Government seems to be covering-up this tidbit of information, so John uses his extensive computer knowledge to tap into top-secret government databases to pull-up information on Taylor and Kamal. John plots his revenge while trying to avoid Dr. Lupo and some CIA agents out to stop him. After saving another American family from a terrorist attack, John must then, in the film's bloody finale, free a bunch of American shoppers being held hostage at a NATO supermarket by the same people responsible for killing his family. This rather dry thriller, directed by Edward Dmytryk (BLUEBEARD - 1972) and written by Hunter and Peter Powell, spends way too much time on the procedural aspects (it's like a 70's version of CSI, only with rotary phone modems and dot matrix printers) and not enough on the actual revenge. While there are some eerie parallels to what we are going through in the New Millennium (Terrorists targeting Americans; the computer program John and Mike are working on in the military base is goose-bumpingly called the "9-11 Project"), the film fails to generate much suspense thanks to the snail-like pacing and the awkward performance by George Kennedy. Hey, I'm a huge fan of Mr. Kennedy, but he's miscast in this vehicle and it's plain to see that he's out of his comfort zone because some of his line readings are dreadful. It's also hard to accept him as a computer expert of any kind, nevermind a leading expert in his field. By the time Kennedy gets to do an action scene (which is somewhere past the one hour mark), most viewers will have fallen asleep or turned it off. Those with more patience will finally see Mr. Kennedy get into a gunfight; run over a terrorist with a Volkswagen Beetle; get smacked with a shovel and then kill the same terrorist with a chain neck tourniquet; and then finally facing-down the killers of his family in the fairly bloody supermarket finale. In the end, THE "HUMAN" FACTOR (the quotation marks are part of the on-screen title) hardly seems worth all the trouble, but the music score, by Italian maestro Ennio Morricone (SPASMO - 1974), is one of the film's saving graces (along with some good location photography). Also starring Rita Tushingham, Shane Rimmer, Haydee Politoff and Fiamma Verges. Released theatrically by Bryanston Films (a known Mob-owned business) and released originally on VHS by U.S.A. Home Video as part of their "Sybil Danning's Adventure Video" line of action and adventure films. Available on widescreen DVD from Dark Sky Films, the preferable way to watch this. Rated R.
HUNTING HUMANS (2002) - Absorbing low-budget film about how a serial killer operates. Aric Blue (Rick Ganz, who looks like a thicker and more muscular Brad Pitt) is a Nietzche-spouting serial killer that picks his victims at random so he doesn't have a pattern for the police to pick up on. He picks his victims because they do have patterns, which make it easier for him to kill. He has murdered over 100 people without getting caught. He begins to stalk a theater projectionist to find out his patterns. When he goes to kill him, Aric find his dead body with a note attached that says, "I know your pattern". Arik is now being stalked by another serial killer. Not knowing who this person is (his phone calls only identify him as "Dark"), Aric hires a private detective to keep an eye on his house. The private detective tells Aric that another private detective was hired to follow him, thereby giving Dark information on his moves. Aric goes to Dark's hired private detective's house and steals information off his computer. This information leads Aric to the identity of Dark and the cat-and-mouse game is on. After double and triple crosses, we finally find out who the better serial killer is. This taut thriller is told strictly from Aric's point of view. We hear his innermost thoughts (through voiceover narration) and his true disdain for the human race. You would think that it would be hard to root for Aric and what he was going through since he such a cold-hearted murderer. The surprise is that it's not, thanks to director Kevin Kangas' literate screenplay which doesn't insult the viewer with pat explanations on why a serial killer kills. The finale is definitely a doozy with many twists. Ganz (who also produced) is excellent, even if the other actors come up short. If you like straightforward thrillers that don't go for the cheap scare, I'm sure that this film will make you happy. Kangis and Ganz would later go on to make the horror film FEAR OF CLOWNS (2004). Also starring Bubby Lewis, Lisa Michele, Trent, Jeff Kipers and Joe Ripple (who directed the abysmal HARVESTERS in 2001) as a cop who Aric dislikes. He dislikes him so much that he puts a dead body in his trunk! Filmed in 1999. An MTI Video/Redrum Release. Rated R.
INN OF THE DAMNED (1974) - Unusual thriller, set in 1896 Australia, that combines western and slice and dice themes. A crazy old German innkeeper (Dame Judith Anderson) and her husband murder people who stay at their place in various ways because their children were savagely butchered by an escaped loonie years before. An American lawman (Alex Cord) shoots a prostitute murderer he has been tracking in self defense, but the Australian authorities don't believe him. The trooper that witnessed the shooting went to the inn to follow up on a missing persons report and has not returned. The American lawman decides to investigate his disappearance to clear his name. Overlong (nearly 2 hours) and slowly paced it could be trimmed by 30 minutes and be a more interesting film. As it stands this is a good film to look at (the scenery is magnificent.) but dreadfully boring in spots. Spurts of nudity and violence (including a killer canopy bed ala 13 GHOSTS - 1960) do not justify the long running time. Nice try but no cigar. Directed and written by Terry Bourke (LADY STAY DEAD - 1981). A Paragon Video Release (which lists the wrong running time as 92 minutes). Released on Australian DVD by Umbrella Entertainment with Bourke's nearly dialogue-free NIGHT OF FEAR (1972) Rated R.
INSANITY (1973) - Loner Mark (Christopher Augustine) walks into a café and hits on a hippy chick sitting by herself. Quicker than you can say, "Oops, my panties fell off!", she takes Mark home, where they light some candles, smoke a joint and she strips completely naked. Oddly, though, Mark doesn't remove a stitch of his clothing (Maybe the Janis Joplin poster on her wall stopped him from getting an erection? Man, she was ugly!) and we soon find out why: He strangles her with one hand, sobs a little and then has flashbacks to his childhood (shown as a series of still photographs during the opening credits), which shows Mark as one of two male members of a large family of females (in nearly all the flashback photos, young Mark is shown separated from the rest of the family, depicting alienation and loneliness) and he may be responsible for the death his younger brother by pushing his stroller in front of an oncoming car. Mark now works as a cinematographer, shooting porn loops for sleazy overweight producer/director Jobal (Dick Glass), who barks out orders to Mark and the female performers while he sits on his perch overlooking the porn action. While shooting an S&M loop (involving a guy in a black hood whipping two girls in bondage), Mark meets new performer Michele (Jeanette Dilger) and gives her a ride home. They seemingly hit it off, talking about their hopes and dreams, but Mark becomes intrigued with Michele when she refuses to go any further than a kiss (He says, "You're different and you're worth it."), even when he finds out that she's a kept woman. Mark works out his sexual frustrations by going to a peep show located in the back of an adult bookstore (that blares religious programming on a radio!), only to discover it's one of his own loops. Mark wants to become a legitimate cameraman, but he's stuck in a catch-22 situation because potential employers want to see examples of his previous work, something he is too embarrassed to do. Mark picks up a young female hitchhiker and they rent a boat and take a cruise out on the ocean, where he strangles her and tosses her overboard after she begins talking about her brother. When Mark receives a "Dear John" audiotape from Michele, he rushes over to her house and they make passionate love. Mark wakes up the next morning to discover that he has strangled Michele, so he decides to end it all by filming his own suicide at the Hollywood Sign. Too bad he can't show that footage to potential new employers! This relic from the early 70's, which was shot as HOLLYWOOD 90028 and was then retitled THE HOLLYWOOD HILLSIDE STRANGLER (it played as part of a double bill under this title with the 1971 horror flick THE TOUCH OF SATAN under the title NIGHT OF THE DEMON, leading many people to mistakenly believe that it was the infamous 1979 Bigfoot gore film of the same name), barely qualifies as a horror film. It's actually a talky psychodrama (with a pro-feminist slant) about a man who wants to make a better life for himself, but occurrences from his past keep dredging themselves up whenever he starts getting tingly in his pants or anyone mentions they have a brother. Director/producer Christine Hornisher and screenwriter Craig Hansen (the only feature film credit for both) have created a film that really has nothing much to say (If this film has anything to say, it's this: It's probably best not to work in porn if you have severe emotional issues, but I really doubt we needed a film to tell us that, right? Right?). Mark is portrayed as a sympathetic character, but it's hard to muster sympathy for someone who strangles innocent women just because they want to have sex or love their family, two things that Mark clearly can't do without someone suffering dire consequences. It also doesn't help that Mark's motivations are exposed during the opening credits, which ruins any chance for the viewer of uncovering for themselves as the film progresses. While there is plenty of nudity, the violence level is nearly non-existent (only two on-screen stranglings) and those looking for blood and gore will be severely disappointed. The film's most effective scene is the final shot, where Mark hangs himself on the "Y" on the world-famous Hollywood Sign and the camera pulls back in a single take until the sign is nothing but a small speck on the screen. Too bad you have to suffer through 74 monotonous, talky, arty minutes to get there. Also known as TWISTED THROATS. Also starring Gayle Davis, Ralph Campbell, Kia Cameron and Dianna Huntress. I don't believe this got a legitimate U.S. home video release under any title. The version I viewed was sourced from the British VHS tape on the Go Video label. Rated R.
IT HAPPENED AT NIGHTMARE INN (1973) - First a word of warning: If you want to see this film in any type of comprehensible form, do not watch the version in any of Brentwood Communications' DVD movie compilations, such as their 10 movie comp. titled CURSE OF THE DEAD. It's only 69 minutes long (don't be fooled by the 102-minute label on the comp's packaging, because it's a lie) and looks to be a TV edit to fit in a 90 minute slot. It's an abortion. That said, let's get on to the movie. Laura (Judy Geeson) flies to Spain to spend some quality time with her sister but, when she arrives at the hotel run by sisters Marta and Veronica, she is told that her sister has left and won't be coming back. It's apparent that one, or maybe both, of the sisters is a cold-blooded killer and Laura's sister is long dead. Marta (Aurora Bautista), the dominant sister, is sexually repressed and her sexual frustrations (which includes spying on young boys bathing nude in a nearby lake) forces her to murder all the young women (and some men) who stay at the hotel and "flaunt" their sexuality. Veronica (Esperanza Roy), the timid sister, goes along with whatever Marta does because, frankly, she's one scary bitch. Laura (who is not a loose woman, so she's fairly safe here, at least for a while) becomes more and more suspicious as the young ladies who check in begin disappearing in the middle of the night, the sisters telling her that they have checked out. Since there isn't much of a police force in town, Laura brings her concerns to the mayor, who tells her that Marta once had a lover who disappeared after he dumped her and took up with a younger, more "modern" woman. When Norma (Blanca Estrada), an unwed mother (or so we're told), checks into the hotel, Laura begins to look after her, fearing for her and the baby's life. Marta and Veronica plot to kill Norma and raise the baby as their own. Norma catches on, but it's too late. Marta plants a cleaver in her back and puts her in a barrel of wine in the cellar, where she put all the previous victims. As more young tourists arrive at the hotel, Laura must find a way to stop the sisters and save the baby. Director Eugenio Martin (HORROR EXPRESS - 1972), who also co-wrote the script with Antonio Fos, gives us a thinly-disguised parable about politics in Spain. The young tourists represent the post-Franco regime, when everything loosened-up and much more sexual freedom and openess was permitted. The two sisters represent the strict Franco rule, where freedoms of all kinds were repressed and outlawed. Refusing to change with the times, the sisters are forced to kill anyone that doesn't adhere to their strict Catholic upbringing. Things begin to get messy when the sisters serve tainted wine (spoiled by the rotting bodies stuffed in the barrels) with dinner, some of the guests become sick and one guest finds a women's eye in his glass, which he turns over to the local authorities. This leads to a final showdown in which the townpeople storm the hotel and save Laura in the nick of time from the clutches of the sisters. Insert your own political allegory here. Director Martin has the camera linger lovingly on close-ups of raw meat, knives, cleavers and other kitchen utensils that will eventually be used as weapons. There's also copious nudity from the young cast, but you'll see none of the blood or skin in the 69 minute version. You will need to find copies of this film titled A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL or NIGHTMARE HOTEL to see all the carnage and nudity. Depending on your tolerance for politics draped as horror, you'll either like it or be bored to death. Also starring Victor Alcazar (a.k.a. "Vic Winner"), Carlos Pineiro and Loretta Tovar. Originally available on DVD-R from Midnight Video and Luminous Video. Available as A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL from Scorpion Releasing in its most complete version on DVD & Blu-Ray. Not Rated.
JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (1975) - Another low-budget revenge thriller brought on by the success of BILLY JACK (1971 - see reviews of GENTLE SAVAGE  and ANGRY JOE BASS  for more "injun done wrong" goodness), but this one actually has a message buried within its' revenge motifs. Johnny Firecloud (Victor Mohica; THE GHOST DANCE - 1980) has recently returned home after serving a stint in the Army and he is constantly hassled by the town's sheriff, Jesse (David Canary; THE DAIN CURSE - 1978), and his deputy, J.B. (Jason Ledger; BLOODY FRIDAY - 1973), who both are following orders from Colby (Ralph Meeker; MY BOYS ARE GOOD BOYS - 1977), the town's iron-fisted patriarch who can't stand Indians. It seems the entire white population in town aren't too fond of redskins, as we watch rednecks Wade (Casting Director George "Buck" Flower; LADY COCOA - 1975) and Newt (John Goff; PISTOL-PACKIN' LEROY - 1973) force a drunk Chief White Eagle (Frank DeKova; CAT IN THE CAGE - 1978) to do a war dance for a beer mug full of J&B whiskey. When Ned (Richard Kennedy; FANGS - 1974) asks Colby if White Eagle ia a good dancer, Colby retorts, "He's an Indian, ain't he?" ("Yes, sir.") "He's alive, ain't he?" ("Yes, sir.") "Then he's no good!" When Wade applies "war paint" on White Eagle with a tube of red lipstick, Johnny (who is White Eagle's grandson) intervenes and a bar fight breaks out, with Jesse saving Johnny's life when Ned tries to stab him with a broken bottle (Ned to Jesse: "One of these days, you and me is goin' to tangle assholes!"), You can plainly see that Jesse is tired of being under Colby's thumb, but there's not much he can do about it (more on that later) and Johnny isn't making his life any easier (Jesse half-heartedly says to J.B., "One of these days I'm going to kill that Indian."). Johnny is a man without a home, because he refuses to live on the reservation (He can't understand why college educated Nenya [Sacheen Littlefeather; THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK - 1974] would return to the reservation as a teacher) and he's not welcome in town, so he spends most of his free time walking in the desert. We learn why Colby hates Indians so much: Johnny was dating his daughter, June (Christina Hart; WOMEN AND BLOODY TERROR - 1969) before he joined the Army and between now and then she became a hopeless alcoholic. When June tempts Johnny an offer for a job at her Daddy's ranch (How stupid can you be?) and then gets caught by Colby, Wade and Newt making love to her in a barn (Really, how stupid can you be?), they string Johnny up and whip him to an inch of his life before Jesse intervenes once again and saves his life. Johnny is thrown in jail, where Jesse tells him that June was pregnant with Johnny's child when he joined the Army (Johnny didn't know, because Colby intercepted all incoming and outgoing mail), but the baby was "born dead", which is why June now drinks like a fish (Johnny: "Colby is not God!" Jesse: "Around here he is!" Johnny: "You have the balls of a mouse!"). Colby brings Johnny up on rape charges, but when a drunk White Eagle dresses in full Chief regalia (complete with feathered headdress), asks Colby "Chief-to-Chief" for Johnny's release (Colby: "That's mighty white of you!") and gets hung for his trouble (A concerned J.B. tries to break it up, but he actually makes it worse), Johnny breaks out of jail and goes on a bloody revenge spree. God help the rednecks that gets in Johnny's way. Helped tremendously by a cast of seasoned pros, some tight direction by William Allen Castleman (BUMMER! - 1973) and a literate screenplay by Wilton Denmark (CAIN'S CUTTHROATS - 1971), JOHNNY FIRECLOUD is crowd-pleasing entertainment for fans of revenge thrillers. All the ingredients are here: Degradation (Nenya's gang-rape and death at the hands of Ned, Wade, Newt and other rednecks is graphic and disturbing); Humiliation (White Eagle's war dance in the bar); Nudity (both Christina Hart and Sacheen Littlefeather go topless and beyond); and bloody revenge (makeup effects by Joe Blasco; ILSA SHE WOLF OF THE SS - 1975). Ned is scalped; Wade is tied to a fence post and has a sack put over his head with a live rattlesnake inside; a redneck gets a tomahawk thrown into his forehead; another redneck is blown-up with dynamite (attached to his belt) inside a motor home; Newt has his eyes plucked-out and is buried up to his neck in the desert for the vultures to pick at; and Colby is hung by his neck, whipped with a rope and punched in the balls, before one of his ranch hands saves him (Surprisingly, he doesn't die in this film). Although this is basically a tale about an Indian's revenge against the White Man who did him and his tribe wrong, it is actually David Canary who gets most of the audience's sympathy. He's basically between a rock and a hard place. When he tells Johnny that he was drummed out of the Army for being a homosexual and Colby is holding that bit of information over his head, you actually feel for him (In one part of the film, Jesse tells Colby that he understands how Jane feels and Colby callously retorts, "Women understand each other, huh? They relate, huh?"). Jesse always tries to do the right thing in a wrong situation, but neither side, Colby or Johnny, seem to appreciate it (Well, Johnny finally does sees his pain in the finale and gets Jesse to do the right thing). Jesse is the lynchpin of the film. Without him, the film wouldn't work nearly as well as it does. It's just too bad for us that David Canary didn't appear in more films, as he has spent the majority of his career acting on TV soap operas. In short, you can do a lot worse than JOHNNY FIRECLOUD. It is bloody, nasty and entertaining as hell. There's also a human element missing in most films of this type (Chief White Eagle refusing to bow to the White Man, even with a rope around his neck, is one of the film's most affecting scenes). The legendary David F. Friedman (SHE FREAK - 1967) was one of the Producers. Also starring Wayne Storm and Elliott Lindsey. Originally available on VHS by Prism Entertainment sub-label A.N.E. Home Video and released on DVD as part of a double feature (with Castleman's BUMMER!) by Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment. Rated R.
KIDNAP SYNDICATE (1975) - A brazen kidnapping in front of a schoolyard nets the kidnappers the son of crooked rich bigshot Mr. Filippini (James Mason) and the son of regular joe motorcycle mechanic Mario Colella (Luc Merenda), a widower with very little money. A visibly annoyed Commissioner Magrini (Vittorio Caprioli), who was just about to take a holiday on the Riviera, is assigned to the case and interviews the two fathers together. Mr. Filippini assures Mario that since their sons are best friends, he will do everything in his power to make sure that they are released together. That couldn't be further from the truth. At a press conference the next day, Mr. Filippini tells the reporters that he is penniless, but he is secretly working with the kidnappers to get the money to release his son only. Mario is left hanging in the wind, waiting for Mr. Filippini to pay a ransom that will never be paid and listening to Commissioner Magrini tell him that kidnapping in Italy is a "profitable business". Meanwhile, Mario's son, Fabrizio (Marco Leofredi), proves to be a cunning kidnapping victim. He manages to avoid the drugged food that the kidnappers feed him and Mr. Filippini's son, Antonio (Francesco Impeciati), and is a thorn in the side to the kidnappers, even telling his father to "waste them" in a tape recorded message sent with the ransom demand. Twelve days pass and Mario has had enough. He is tired of Mr. Filippini's deceitful lies and double-dealings. The kidnappers are apparently tired of it, too. After having enough of Mr. Filippini's delaying tactics, we see one of the kidnappers shoot and kill one of the sons (we don't see who it is since they are wrapped in a blanket). Commissioner Magrini calls both fathers to the morgue to identify the body. When the corpse turns out to be Fabrizio, Mario blames Filippini for stalling and vows revenge against him and the kidnappers. Mario stakes out Filippini's house and follows the ransom money, uncovering treachery and danger along the way. When one of the kidnappers tries to run him over, Mario uses his motorcycle skills to give chase, which leads him to the location where his son was being held. After killing two of the kidnappers, Mario gets his hands on the ransom money and uses it to exact revenge on those who ordered the murder of his son. It takes him to surprising destinations and concludes with a machinegun slaughter in a corporate boardroom and then Mario shooting the triggerman responsible for killing his son. As Mario shoots him in the kneecaps and elbows, the triggerman screams out for a quicker death. Will Mario give it to him? This intense Italian thriller takes a while to get cooking, but once it does, it's a white-knuckle ride. Director Fernando Di Leo is an old hand at making these violent thrillers, having previously directing the excellent MANHUNT (1972), MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972) and scripting Ruggero Deodato's LIVE LIKE A COP DIE LIKE A MAN in 1976. Di Leo lets you get to know the characters (he co-wrote the script with Ernesto Gastaldi and Cesare Manzani), from James Mason's (MANDINGO - 1975; SALEM'S LOT - 1979) Mr. Filippini, who cares more about making deals and money than his own child's life, to Luc Merenda's (VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS - 1973; TORSO - 1973) Mario, a low-income everyman who, at first, just wants his son back but, later, just wants revenge. There's a telling scene at the press conference, when one of the reporters questions Mario's parenting skills when Mario mentions that the only worker he has on his payroll is his twelve year-old son. When the reporter sarcastically reminds him that Fabrizio is too young to be working, Mario replies, "I'm teaching him a trade so he doesn't grow up to be a reporter." That's my favorite line in the film because it's as relevant today as it was back then. Kidnapping in Italy was reaching epidemic proportions when this film was lensed. Di Leo was pretty much on the mark describing the kidnappers' motivations. This was nothing personal, just a way for some scumbags and business types to make a hefty payday. The Italian criminal system finally instituted a law that blocked the bank accounts of targeted families, which prevented them from paying. Kidnappings dropped drastically after that. Those expecting an action-packed Italian crime film here will be disappointed, but those that like well-plotted thrillers will find much to enjoy. The characters are spot-on and you actually care what happens to these people. The only way to truly appreciate the performances are in the original Italian language, as the English-dubbed track is horrible. Fortunately, Raro Video offers a beautiful widescreen Italian language print (with English subtitles) on DVD, so you can throw away all those terrible English-dubbed fullscreen VHS tapes. Also starring Irina Maleeva, Marino Mase, Daniele Dublino, Valentina Cortese and Salvatore Billa. A Raro Video Release. Not Rated.
KILLER'S DELIGHT (1977) - Someone in a yellow Ford van is picking up female hitchhikers, raping them, breaking their arms and legs (until the bones protrude out of the skin) and dumping their nude corpses in and around San Francisco in this loose (very loose) adaptation of the Ted Bundy story. Police detective Vince De Carlo (James Luisi; LETHAL WOMAN - 1988) and partner Mike (Martin Speer) are assigned to the case and, as the naked bodies begin to pile-up, Vince's life begins to fall apart. Vince is married with a beautiful teenage daughter, but he also has a mistress on the side, college professor Carol (Susan Sullivan). It becomes apparent that the killer, Danny (John Karlen; HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS ; TV's CAGNEY & LACEY [1982 - 1988]), is toying with Vince, first by killing Annie (Hilarie Thompson), a young woman Vince had just questioned, and dumping her body for Vince to easily find. Vince nearly captures Danny at the community swimming pool where Annie worked, but Danny escapes by nearly running Vince over with his van. Danny is also a master of disguise, sometimes pretending to be a long-haired hippy in a floppy hat and other times sporting an afro and fake moustache, which makes discovering Danny's true identity very hard for Vince. Danny then kidnaps, rapes and kills two young girls (he graphically snaps one of the girl's finger and arm, which gives him a sexual thrill) and dumps their clothes, along with a cryptic note, on Vince's front lawn, which his daughter finds. The cat-and-mouse game then begins, as Vince goes to a hypnotist to remember the license plate number of Danny's van. With that knowledge, Vince discovers where Danny lives and illegally breaks into his home to rummage around for evidence. He finds a garage door opener, but finds that strange because Danny doesn't have a garage at his home (he does have a padlocked shed, though). Vince drives down every street in San Francisco clicking the door opener until he finds the garage it belongs to (He's the luckiest SOB in the entire world!). Inside the garage, Vince discovers Danny's van (which has recently been painted green), along with a box containing his disguises and some pictures of his mother. Since Vince discovered all this evidence without a warrant, his boss gives him one week to build a case that will stick in a court of law. Unbelievably, Vince easily talks mistress Carol into helping him capture Danny in the act by pretending to be a lounge singer (!) in Danny's favorite bar, letting him pick her up. Danny is smarter than he looks and quickly sees through the charade almost immediately, which leads to a downbeat ending where both Mike and Carol end up dead by Danny's hands and Vince ends up taking the law into his own hands. So much for a fair trial! This relatively obscure thriller, also known as THE DARK RIDE and THE SPORT KILLER (I'm still trying to figure that title out, since the closest thing to a sport here are people swimming in a pool), plays and looks just like a 70's TV movie, except with some bursts of graphic violence and nudity. The flat photography (except for a well-done aerial shot of the camera following Danny's van as it crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in the beginning of the film), acting and especially the music scream out 70's Movie Of The Week. Director Jeremy Hoenack (This is his only directorial effort, but he is a well-respected Sound Editor with over 240 films to his credit) really doesn't offer much to the audience, as Marilyn Thoma's screenplay is a bland concoction of serial killer clichés (A serial killer with mother issues? Who would of thunk it?), half-baked police procedurals (yet it takes a hypnotist to break the case wide open) and unresolved family drama. The characters are so broadly written, it's hard to give a damn what happens to them and the closing on-screen scrawl is so maddening and unnecessary (I won't give it away here), that you'll want to slap your DVD player in disgust. This is a very minor serial killer flick, so proceed at your own risk. The late George "Buck" Flower turns up in a cameo in the beginning of the film as a toothless witness named Luke (The end credits mistakenly list his name as "Pete"). Also starring Al Dunlap, Sharon DuBord, Carol Bilger, Eddie Benton and Sandy Serrano. Originally released on VHS by Media Home Entertainment (as THE DARK RIDE) and available on DVD (as KILLER'S DELIGHT, but the title on the actual print is THE SPORT KILLER) from Code Red/Shriek Show. Rated R.
LABORATORY OF THE DEVIL (1992) - This gory and repugnant sequel to the infamous MEN BEHIND THE SUN is now available uncut and letterboxed on legitimate video. Thats the good news. The bad news is that all this film contains is scene after scene of extreme, brutal torture with barely a smidgen of plot. During the waning days of World War II, the Japanese run an experimental camp called Unit 731, where they use captured Chinese, Korean and Mongolian prisoners of war for sadistic experiments to further the cause of Japanese supremecy. Prisoners are hacked-up, injected with deadly viruses, operated on while still alive and subjected to every perversity imaginable. One female prisoner has her hands frozen with liquid nitrogen and has the skin stripped away exposing the skeleton (a very well-done, if repellent, effect). Thats just the tip of the iceberg (excuse the pun) as much worse is on display here. It all plays like an ILSA film without the pubic hair and with much better effects. If watching people getting their bodies tortured and maimed is your cup of tea (I know youre out there, you sick sons of bitches), youll probably squeal with glee at this one. It just turned my stomach. Starring Wang Gang (snicker), Zhu Decheng, Andrew Yu and Hsu Gou. Directed by Godfrey Ho (this is a huge departure from all his cut-and-paste ninja films of the 80's, such as NINJA TERMINATOR - 1986). Also known as MEN BEHIND THE SUN 2 and followed by MEN BEHIND THE SUN 3 (1994), also directed by Ho. From Dead Alive Home Video. Dubbed into English and Not Rated for obvious reasons.
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH (1978) - This Italian LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) clone heaps on the sleaze, but offers very little else. Three bank robbers, Aldo (Ray Lovelock), Walter (Flavio Andreini) and Nino (Stefano Cedrati), look for a place to hide out when their car conks out after pulling their latest job. They come upon the secluded titled house and burst in, taking Sister Cristina (Florinda Bolkan) and her five young female charges prisoner (As the trio break through the door and make their entrance, Sister Cristina says, "What is this?" To which Nino replies, "This is a gun and it shoots bullets."). Walter kills the maid with a steam iron for no reason (he's a sadist) and Nino gets stabbed in the leg with a comb when he tries to rape one of the girls in the bathroom. Walter makes all the girls put on their bathing suits and they go to the beach. When one of the girls tries to flag down a passing boat, Walter threatens to push another girl's face into a board full of protruding nails. A short time later, Walter rips off all of Sister Cristina's clothes and makes her do a reverse striptease, forcing her to put on her nun's clothing while dancing to music. Walter and Aldo then rape her in the kitchen. After forcing the girls to watch some strange porno film on TV (a naked white chick dancing around a fully dressed black man), Walter (who, for some reason, is wearing women's makeup on his face) and Nino rape a girl in the living room while Aldo makes Sister Cristina watch (He says to her, "Listen, she's better off losing her cherry than being a dead virgin."). When a mailman delivers a telegram to Sister Cristina, she slips him a "Help Us" note in his tip. Sister Cristina agrees to tend to Nino's infected leg after Aldo agrees to keep his friends off the girls (a promise he doesn't intend to keep). Aldo tells one of the girls that he is not violent and was only the getaway driver, but a flashback proves the opposite. When one of the girls escapes to get help (and discovers the mailman's dead body, his throat cut from ear-to-ear), Aldo gives chase and catches her at the beach trying to swim away. Aldo brings her back to the house and Nino does something undescribable, killing her. Sister Cristina sees her bloody body and says enough's enough. It's "an eye for an eye" time. She gives Nino a hot shot, pumps three bullets into Walter's head (with Nino's gun) and plays a short game of cat-and-mouse with Aldo. He tries to sweet-talk his way out, but the girls gang-up on him, beating him to death with garden tools (after he takes a shotgun blast to the gut), while Sister Cristina watches in horror. Which just proves: Turning the other cheek will just get you raped and beaten. The only true redemption is to act just as bad as your aggressors. Similar in tone to NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS (1974) and THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1979), BEACH, directed by Franco Prosperi (RIPPED OFF - 1972; WILD BEASTS - 1984), is nothing but a series of physical and mental debasements committed against the women until a breaking point is reached and revenge is taken. I don't know about you, but a little rape goes a long way and this film just seems to wallow in it. There's plenty of nudity present, but none of it is the least bit titillating, because most of the time one type of violence or another is being performed against the women when they are naked. This ultra-misongynistic film has the three men continuously threatening women with guns, punching and kicking them, ripping off their clothes and forcing sex upon them. The nadir comes when Walter rips-off one girl's panties, shoves his fingers between her legs and then declares that she is a virgin. Nino then takes his homemade cane (it's nothing but a big tree branch) and thrusts it up her vagina. This is not entertainment to me, it's filmed torture. It makes no difference if the men get their comeuppance in the end, it's still 85 minutes of female depravity followed by a few final minutes of the men getting what they deserve. I've never been a fan of films of this type (Im not crazy about LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), either). I derive no pleasure in watching women repeatedly being abused, no matter what the outcome is. Much like what's happening on-screen, this film was sheer torture for me to sit through. Fans of the Rape/Revenge genre will probably disagree. Ray Lovelock (who sings in this) has appeared in much better films, including ALMOST HUMAN and LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (both 1974). Florinda Bolkan was, of course, FLAVIA THE HERETIC (1974). Also starring Sherry Buchanan, Laura Tanziani, Karine Verlier, Annalisa Pesce and Laura Trotter (CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD - 1980). Also known as TERROR. Released on Japanese DVD by Media Suits. Also available on a deluxe two disc edition by Sazuma Productions (Region 2 PAL, there is a hidden English language track that can only be accessed by the Audio button on your DVD player's remote control). The second disc is a soundtrack CD that conains Lovelock's song ("Place For The Landing"). Not Rated.
THE LOVE THRILL MURDERS (1971) - Troy Donahue (in a role he would rather forget) portrays Moon, the leader of a religious sect who preacher a steady diet of sex and drugs, in this very loose adaptation of the Manson massacre. After endless scenes of doing drugs, wild orgies and warped interpretations of the Bible, Moon and his followers graduate to the big time. They score some guns and knives and go on a murder spree (triggered by Moon's nightmares of being abused as a child by his father), killing a group of people having a (what else?) drug and sex party. They stab a starlet after Moon makes her suck on the barrel of a revolver. A lesbian is stuck in the stomach with a meat fork. A flaming homosexual is carved up with a dagger. A movie director has his throat cut. Finally, a pregnant actress is stabbed repeatedly in a swimming pool. Unlike Manson and his followers, Moon and his disciples get away with their crimes. In true antiestablishment fashion, Moon gives the middle finger to the American flag to close the show. Originally titled SWEET SAVIOUR, this film is so saturated in drug use I was getting high off the fumes. Most of the actors (excluding Donahue) are nude through the majority of the film, having pretty graphic simulated sex for a film made in the early 70's. There's also some 70's fashion and dialog to keep you amused up until the gory (but phony looking) finale. Director Bob Roberts (PATTY - 1975) must have had a good time making this film. With all the drug use permeating this film, he probably doesn't remember making it today. If viewed as a counterculture artifact, this film will keep you amused. If you view this film in hope of finding some social redeeming value, you'll be disappointed. Also starring Francine Middleton, Matt Greene, Talie Cochrane and Lee Terri. A Troma Team Video Release, originally released on VHS by Vestron Video. Rated R.
THE MANIAC RESPONSIBLE (1975) - Underage schoolgirl Fiorella Ricardi (Adrianna Falco) has secret plans one night, so she has one of her female friends cover for her while she does whatever she does, but when she doesn't return home, her over-protective father, Professor Ricardi (Gabriele Frezetti), uses his considerable influence to get the police immediately involved in looking for her. Police detective Fernando Soni (Antonio Sabato) and his female partner, Giovanna Nunzianti (Luciana Paluzzi), are assigned to the case and after interviewing the Professor and his wife, Emila (Bedy Moratti), and searching Fiorella's bedroom, they are certain of two things: 1) The Professor has plenty of "dirty money" he is hiding from his wife. 2) Fiorella is hiding a lot of her activities from her parents. Since Fiorella left that night on her motor scooter and scooters need gas, Detective Soni has his men check all the gas stations. They find out that Fiorella stopped at a couple of stations and was making a long trip out of town. But where would a sixteen year-old girl be going with no money and a bathing suit (two clues that Detective Nunzianti discovered when searching Fiorella's bedroom)? Detective Soni has a severe distrust for people like the Professor, who is a surgeon (Soni hates doctors ever since he and his wife were in a bad automobile accident and had to wait four hours for a doctor, which resulted in his wife's death), but he still starts an earnest search for Fiorella, using police dogs at a lake near the route that Fiorella was traveling on her scooter. The dogs find evidence that Fiorella was there, including blood, hashish and tire tracks from a car. When they drag the lake, they find Fiorella's body tied to the motor scooter, a bullet in the back of her neck. An autopsy reveals that she was three months pregnant and Detective Soni immediately becomes suspicious of the Professor's clinic, which seems to dole out substandard care while the Professor and his partners get rich off the profits. Detective Soni is hampered in his investigation by a political system that would rather see this case swept under the rug, but Soni continues on his quest to find the truth. It will lead him to opposition at every clue he finds (even from his own Chief, who is being pressured to whitewash the case). He discovers an underage prostitution/blackmail ring, a bunch of unsavory characters and corruption that leads up to the top rung of the Italian political ladder. When Soni gets too close to discovering the truth of Fiorella's murder, someone begins murdering all those that could help him solve the case. That doesn't stop him, though, as Soni catches the murderer. The reason why he he killed Fiorella? Simple. In the murderer's own words: "It was her fault. She was a slut!" This murder mystery/police procedural, directed by Mario Caiano (EYE IN THE LABRYNTH - 1972; NAZI LOVE CAMP 27 - 1977), paints a dim view of the Italian political system, doctors and health care. What's most interesting about this film is that for all the pressure put on detectives Sona and Nunziante to fail in their investigation, they both soldier-on in their quest to find out the truth, thanks to Soni's severe disgust of doctors (he views this case as a way to avenge his wife's death) and Nunziante's unwavering devotion to her partner. Antonio Sabato (BURNING CITY - 1973; WAR OF THE ROBOTS - 1978) is terrific as Detective Soni, who seethes every time he has to deal with the privileged in society, knowing that their money and influence can buy them the kind of justice and attention that his wife was denied. His intensity and fury shines bright in every scene he's in, even in this dupey, third-generation copy that I viewed. While the violence is minimal, there are shocking scenes of full frontal nudity, especially Fiorella's body laying naked on a morgue slab, an illegal abortion being performed in the Professor's clinic and the murder of an underage prostitute while she is taking a bath. Since this film was made before the advent of DNA testing, the police procedural portions use blood evidence and spended bullets to crack the case. It may seem dated, but that's how it was done back then. The final third of the film turns into a mini-giallo, as some unknown killer (POV shots) begins dispatching people (scapel to the throat, strangulations, etc.) to stop them from talking to Soni. It's a strange hybrid of a film, but the performance of Antonio Sabato elevates this from the unusual to the must-see. Politics, prostitution and murder were never more entertaining. Also starring Marino Mase, Enrico Maria Salerno, Elio Zamuto, Ettore Manni and Ilona Staller. Never legally available on home video in the U.S., the version I viewed came from a blurry widescreen VHS tape in Italian with English subtitles from Video Search of Miami. Not Rated.
THE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW (2014) - First of all, I am appalled about how many torrent sites have this movie to download for free (it is only available on streaming services and not available on U.S. DVD yet and is available on British DVD under the title THEATRE OF FEAR). I got to see it streaming for free because I am a member of Amazon Prime, but all the free downloads by these underhanded, sleazy torrent sites guarantee it will not be available on U.S. DVD. And there's the shame. There's an underground sensation in South Wales called The Midnight Horror Show that precious few people get invited to (and there's a reason for that). It's like a circus with a little something evil added. It is run and performed by the Moreau family. The Master of Ceremonies is Dr. Deimos Moreau (Jared Morgan) and his son Janus (Lee Bane) is a ventriloquist, son Apollo (Sam Harding) is a magician, son Trinculo (Nathan Head) is a creepy clown and daughter Venus (Shireen Ashton) is a stripper. They put performances on in little out-of-the-way theaters and the show is killer. Literally. Apollo picks audience member Angela (Sarah Louise Madison) to be part of a magic trick where she is locked in a box and he thrusts several bladed weapons through it. The audience gasps, but when Apollo opens the box, Angela is not there. She is actually backstage tied to a table next to a variety of sharp medical instruments. Deimos is running a scalpel over her body, asking her, "Do you believe in God?" Angela replies, "No!" and Deimos says a bunch of biblical things, ending with "Vengeance is mine!", picks up a bone saw and we hear Angela scream. Angela's boyfriend Kevin (Scott Suter) searches the theater's backstage when she doesn't answer her cellphone and he discovers Angela all cut to pieces and screams. The Moreau family is already gone, taking their trailer caravan on the road and finding a place to park for the night. Deimos is arguing with his son Apollo for saying the word "fuck". Deimos is very religious and won't accept bad language or blasphemy from anyone living in his caravan. Janus is quite mad and imagines that his dummy talks back to him, so he locks the dummy in a trunk every night. Trinculo is covered in burns from head to toe when he was in a bar, someone hit him over the head with a full bottle of whiskey and someone else lit a match. He uses the clown makeup to cover his scars. Venus is obviously Deimos' favorite sibling, as he tries to educate her how long it takes a body to start to decompose (4 to 6 days, if you are interested). Deimos loves to pick on Apollo because he seems to be the most independent member of the group. Deimos has Apollo and Venus carry plastic bags of Angela's body parts (they seem to be cannibals) to the local river and throw them in, but when Apollo throws a briefcase in the river, Deimos makes him jump in and get it because their mother gave it to him (Both Deimos and Venus laugh as Apollo is in the water). Yes, the Moreau family is extremely screwed-up. An entertainment agent called Milton Katzenberg (Victor Ptak) taps Janus on the shoulder and tells him he saw him at the last show (at midnight, naturally) and thinks he has enough talent to make it big, but he's going to have to leave his family. He gives Janus his business card and tells him to call soon; the offer has an expiration date. At breakfast, Deimos tells his family how Hitler loved to go to the circus and would always send flowers to the women backstage. Janus' dummy tells him how his entire family is dragging him down and it is time to cut the cord, so he calls Mr. Katzenberg and signs a contract behind his family's back. Trinculo is walking in a park (in white makeup) when he sees a couple arguing and watches in horror as the man Vincent (Kristen Richards) hits the woman Jenny (Tiffany Ceri). He walks up to Vincent and knocks his lights out when he makes a balloon animal joke. Jenny leaves with Trinculo and he tells her that she's too good for him. Trinculo and Jenny make a coffee date for the next day. Katzenberg gets Janus an audition with talent scouts faster than he thought he could and the dummy purposely sabotages the audition by making pedophilia jokes and other things that shouldn't be said out loud, so Katzenberg drops him as a client. The next day at the coffee shop, Jenny asks Trinculo how he got his burns and he tells her the whole sordid story. Jenny doesn't seem to mind the way he looks, which is probably the first time since the "accident" that a woman has pays any attention to him. After the audition, the dummy wants Janus to kill Katzenberg and make it bloody. If he doesn't do it, the dummy swears he will. Janus locks the dummy in his box. A man named Mr. Goldberg (Nigel Streeter) hires hitman Duke (Kevin Horsham) and tells him how his daughter ended up missing after attending one of The Midnight Horror Shows. He not only wants Duke to find out who is responsible, he wants them dead. We then see Janus kill Katzenberg with a rope around his neck and gets to kill his wife (Linda Bailey), too, when she comes to investigate the noise. Duke gets the goods on the Moreau family (they all have police records) and finds the location of the next show. Trinculo goes to Jenny's apartment to ask her out on a date, but she sees him kiss Vincent at the door, so he follows Vincent back to his apartment and kills him. Janus is cutting up the Katzenbergs in the bathtub with a saw (The dummy sings, "Janus, Janus. He loves to take it up the anus!"). Janus then goes home and now has the voice of the dummy permanently. Trinculo waits in Jenny's apartment and when he turns the lights on, he is wearing the skinned face of Vincent. Jenny goes to call the police, but Trinculo knocks it out of her hands. He hands her a knife and tells her to kill him; that everyone has a murderer deep inside them, but Jenny refuses and Trinculo kills her. Janus shows his father his true colors and he likes it. Duke hires Gunner (Kenton Hall) and The Reaper (Gypsy Lee Pistolero) to help him kill the Moreaus. Duke will take care of Deimos and Venus, while they can have the other three to do with as they please, as long as they end up dead. Duke now has Venus tied up in the trunk of his car and hammers nails into Diemos' hands into a wooden chair. One of two of Duke's associates has some fun with Janus and Trinculo with some good old-fashioned whipping as they are tied to their stomachs on tables. The other associate has Apollo padlocked to a table and begins drowning him in a Tupperware bowl full of water, but pulls his head up before he passes out. The two associates go outside for a smoke break. Big mistake. When they come back, Apollo has picked the padlock (he is a magician, after all) and kills Duke's associate. Apollo then stabs to death Duke's other associate and saves his brothers. Apollo cuts Venus free and they go to save their father. Duke has a gun to Deimos's head, but I guess he forgot that Venus was an expert knife thrower. She throws a knife and hits Duke in the upper chest. The kids remove the nails from their father's hands, but Duke isn't quite dead yet and shoots Deimos in the back, killing him. Apollo viciously stabs Duke over and over with the knife. On Deimos' dying breath, he says there is nothing more important than family. We are then at The Midnight Horror Show and new Master of Ceremonies Apollo introduces the show to the small audience. The show must go on! The first thing you will notice after watching this movie is that director/producer/screenwriter Andrew Jones (THE AMITYVILLE ASYLUM - 2013; THE LAST HOUSE ON CEMETERY LANE - 2015; ROBERT [THE DOLL] - 2015) shows precious little of the actual Midnight Horror Show, just part of Apollo's magic act. Those expecting a gore-a-thon are bound to be disappointed (although there are scenes that go way past what we consider good taste). Jones is more interested in showing the Moreaus as a family unit, even though they are all murderers. Even murderers have families and some of them act better than normal families (if you ignore the murders, that is). Everyone wants to be accepted and we actually feel sorry for Trinculo when we see Jenny kiss Vincent or when the dummy makes fun of Janus (although it is funny sometimes). Apollo seems to be the most picked-on by his family, but it is him who comes through in the end. Why? Because they are family. We are also shown that some "normal" people can act worse than the murderers, such as Duke and his two associates, who seem to get off on inflicting pain and are monsters of their own choosing. Go into this film with an open mind (it's more a psychological thriller than a horror film) and this may hit your sweet spot. A lot of good DTV films are coming from across the pond because they think differently (we also think somewhat the same, but would never consider making a film like this without there being a ton of gore and less family values). I recommend this film whole-heartedly because this is not your typical genre film. It actually has something to say. The creepy opening and closing song was sung by Bobby Cole (who composes most of the music for Andrew Jones' films). I'm going to watch Jones' other films to see if they are as good as this one. Also starring Ritchie Bessart, Shane Price, Kevin Foster and Robert Graham. No U.S. DVD or Blu-Ray distributor at the time of this review. Not Rated.
MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972) - This violent Italian crime thriller opens with sadistic criminal Rocco Musco (Mario Adorf) blowing up three people he thinks were involved in a theft of $300,000 belonging to mob kingpin "The Mikado" (Lionel Stander). Rocco, after beating them up (one is a woman and another guy has his face cut-up with a razor), ties the trio together, puts sticks of dynamite between their bodies, lights the fuse and blows their bodies to bits in a ravine located somewhere in the mountains. Four years pass and Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) is released from prison. Ugo, who is a small-time crook, is picked-up by Rocco and worked over pretty good by Rocco's goons. Rocco believes Ugo is involved in the $300,000 theft and had himself intentionally thrown in prison on a trumped-up charge to hide out until the heat died down. The only problem is, the Mikado never forgets and he has Rocco repeatedly harass and abuse Ugo, even though he denies having anything to do with the theft. Complicating matters for Ugo are the Police Commissioner (Frank Wolff) and his right-hand man Fonzino (Luigi Pistilli), who want Ugo to help them put the Mikado in prison. Ugo is a man of honor and refuses to help them, even though Rocco makes his life miserable on a daily basis. Ugo goes to Kino (Philippe Leroy), his old partner in crime, to help him get the Mikado off his back and Kino tells him to go see the Mikado in person and try to work things out (During Ugo's meeting with Kino, Rocco breaks into the apartment and Kino and Ugo beat the crap out of Rocco, shaming him in front of his men). Ugo goes to talk to the Mikado and, even though doesn't believe Ugo wasn't involved in the theft of his money, he gives him a job as one of Rocco's muscle (He tells Ugo that Rocco can decide at any time whether he lives or dies). Ugo visits old girlfriend Nellie (Barbara Bouchet) and they pick up where they left off before he was sent to prison (She still believes he stole the Mikado's money). When the Mikado and Rocco try to blow-up Ugo in a phony package pick-up (the package is a bomb), Ugo gets wise and joins forces with Kino when the Mikado has their blind friend, Don Vincenzo (Ivo Garrani), killed. Ugo plays the Mikado against Rocco when he gets the Mikado to believe a story that Rocco may have stolen the $300,000 himself. As tensions between the Mikado and Rocco develop, Kino does a one-man raid on the Mikado's compound, which results in the death of the Mikado and many of his men, but Kino loses his life in the process. The finale is a tense, well-structured face-off between Ugo and Rocco at a police station as we find out who actually stole the $300,000, but the final shots (at Nellie's place) reveal a whole other unexpected side of several characters, leading to death and a surprising bit of final dialogue. Director Fernando Di Leo (SLAUGHTER HOTEL - 1971; KIDNAP SYNDICATE - 1975) keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats, thanks to frequent nudity, bloody violence and because we really want to find out who actually stole the $300,000. Everyone in this film believes Ugo is responsible and the viewer doesn't know what to believe since we have no prior background on Ugo, so we really have no idea what type of man he really is and have to rely on tidbits of information that the script (also by Di Leo) gives us as the film progresses. While Gastone Moschin (MAGNUM COP - 1977) is pretty one-note and expressionless as Ugo (he spends most of the film brooding and chain-smoking cigarettes), Mario Adorf is the stand-out here as the sadistic Rocco. Doing a complete reversal of his role as the good-hearted pimp Luca Canali in Di Leo's MANHUNT (made the same year as this), Adorf is simply wonderful as a man without a conscience, equally happy slapping women around as he is killing everyone he perceives as his enemies. His actions at the end of the film, including a particular line of dialogue, will surprise even the staunchest crime thriller fan. There is actually an honor to his code of conduct. There's some funny dubbing (although Lionel Stander dubs his own voice) and the goofiest bit of dialogue comes when Fonzino yells at Ugo for taking up with Nellie again. He says, "Playing gigilo to a belly dancer! Go on and get the hell out of here and go play with her dangling dingleberries!" Priceless. The beautiful Barbara Bouchet (CRY OF A PROSTITUTE - 1974) is wasted here in a small role, although her character plays an important part in the finale. Speaking of the finale, it is one of the most fatalistic in recent memory, but it seems to fit like a hand in a glove. This is not a typical Italian crime thriller. There are no good guys or bad guys. Just people doing what they think is right or what they are told to do. Also known as CALIBER 9. Also starring Mario Novelli, Giuseppe Castellano and Salvatore Arico. A Raro Video DVD Release. Not Rated.
MURDERLUST (1986) - Steve Belmont (Eli Rich) is a soft spoken sunday school teacher who likes to pick up prostitutes. Steve is also a serial killer who strangles his pick-ups and buries them in a mass grave in the desert. The press label him the "Mojave Murderer" after nine bodies are found by police in the desert. Steve is unjustly accused of fondling a girl in his class. The girl dislikes Steve immensely and tries to get him dismissed. No one at the church believes the charges because he is such a "sensitive and caring" person. The girl's father apologizes to Steve. He gets fired from his weekday job as a gate security guard for assaulting a female employee. He picks up a schoolgirl and kills her while she gives him a handjob (perhaps in retribution for the trumped-up charge at church). He is appointed head of the Adolescent Crisis Center by his church. As you can see, Steve has a severe case of Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. By day he is a mild mannered, smooth-talking, church going man who helps kids and by night he is a pathological, quick-thinking psycho killer who strangles women and then pisses on their shared grave. His inadequacies as a man (he's impotent) compel him to commit his acts and also gives him trouble in consummating a love affair with his high school secret admirer (Rochelle Taylor). While not as intense as HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), it is similar in many ways. It is decently acted and has a cheesy, low-rent look which actually adds to the realism. While it is relatively bloodless, some of the action and situations are goosebump inducing. Unlike HENRY, Steve meets a fitting demise. The tech and acting credits consist of unknowns but do a fine job of acquitting themselves in this minor gem. Recommended for those who like psychological horror. Directed competently by Donald M. Jones (DEADLY SUNDAY - 1982; PROJECT NIGHTMARE - 1985; HOUSEWIFE FROM HELL - 1993). A Prism Entertainment Release. Unrated.
MURDER OBSESSION (1981) - This was the last directorial effort by Riccardo Freda (who sometimes used the pseudonym "Robert Hampton"), who had many of his horror films shown on TV in the 70's, including CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959), THE WITCH'S CURSE (1962) and THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK (1962) and also made such sexual horror films like TRAGIC CEREMONY (1973), which could never be shown on TV, not even today, without extensive cuts. The same could be said about this Italian/French co-production, which is a sexy mix of horror and giallo genres. If all the nudity and gory violence were to be edited from this film so it could be shown on non-pay cable stations, it would only be 30 minutes long. And a word of warning: Since this is the complete Italian version of the film (all the U.S. VHS releases were severely edited, but more on that later), the portions of the film that never made it into the English-dubbed versions of this film are shown in Italian with English subtitles. If you believe that "Books are for readin' and films are for watchin'" (and you probably poop in your Depends because you are too lazy to get off the couch to go to the bathroom), you may want to skip this rather involving and suspenseful film. The film opens with a quote from Hieronimus A. Steinback: "For centuries philosophers and poets have searched the universe for evidence of the existence of the Devil. However, it would have sufficed to look for it at the bottom of their souls." (Truer words have never been spoken, especially for this film.). We then see a woman being stripped topless in her apartment by an intruder dressed in black leather. He then throws her down on her bed, strips her naked and begins raping her, while choking her with his hands. It is then revealed that this was all a scene for a film that is being made, and the actor playing the intruder, Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi; ROME: ARMED TO THE TEETH - 1976), was getting a little too involved in his role and has to be pulled off actress Beryl (Laura Gemser; BLACK COBRA - 1976; and too many EMMANUELLE films to mention) by the film crew. Michael takes a big swig of J&B Scotch (a staple in Italian films) while the film's director, Hans Schwartz (Henri Garcin; SOMEONE BEHIND THE DOOR - 1971), congratulates him on a "very effective scene" and goes on to say "It looked like you really wanted to murder her!" (anything for a shot!). While at his home, Michael relaxes by playing guitar and singing a sappy love song (that doesn't match his lip movements), when a gust of wind blows open a window. This somehow give him the idea of looking at some old childhood photos, which triggers a flashback where a young Michael runs into his loving mother's arms in a beautiful backyard. For some reason, Michael hasn't talked to his mother in over 15 years, so he calls her and says that he and his girlfriend Deborah Jordan (Silvia Dionisio; TERROR EXPRESS - 1979) are coming to spend a few days with her at her country estate and he has invited three more friends to join them later. Michael has always had frequent flashbacks about him and his mother Glenda (Anita Strindberg; WHO SAW HER DIE? - 1972) and how, as a young boy, he stabbed his father (a famous orchestra conductor) to death when he saw him beating up his mother (he was found holding the bloody knife). Michael was committed to an institution as a child and has partial amnesia about the event, only remembering bits and pieces about it. When Michael and Deborah arrive at his mother's country estate, Glenda's longtime personal assistant (i.e. butler) Oliver (John Richardson; EYEBALL - 1975) stares at Michael and says his resemblance to the "Maestro" is uncanny. Michael swears he heard some music coming from the house when he pulled up, but Oliver says that no music has played in that house since the Maestro died. Oliver also tells Michael that his mother is very sick and not to tell her he told him (one of the first things Michael does when he meets his her!) and that the electricity is out because the wiring in the house is old and even a gust of wind knocks it out. Oliver gives Michael his father's old bedroom to sleep in, while he escorts Deborah to her bedroom, which is clear across the huge mansion. Deborah is pissed-off at Michael for introducing her to his mother as his secretary (there's a good reason for that) and it is apparent as soon as his mother locks eyes on Michael after such a long period of time, that she has incestual feelings for him (It could be because he looks like his father or his mother is just into incest). It could also be that Michael feels the same (It would be one reason whey he introduced Deborah as his secretary). Glenda also shows Michael a portrait of her father and how much he looks like him (In his head, Michael hears his father say, "Michael, why did you do this to me?"). Is it no wonder Michael hasn't visited his mother for so many years? To prove his non-incestual masculinity, a totally nude Michael and Deborah make love on the couch. The next day, Michael's three other friends show up at the house: Director and avid photographer Hans (When Hans tries to take a photo of Oliver, he shields his face with his arms); Actress Beryl (who has still remained friends with Michael even after almost killing her on the movie set); and Assistant Director Shirley (Martine Brochard; THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS - 1973), who has brought her tiny pet dog with her. When Hans asks Oliver why he didn't want his picture taken, Beryl interjects and says, "They say when you photograph someone, you take away a small part of his soul. It can make him very ill...or even kill him." Beryl says her birthplace on the Island of Martinique believes in such customs (Which begs the question: Why did Beryl become a film actress?). A short time later, they all get into a discussion about the occult, where Glenda says that even if it is not real, if you believe in it strong enough, it can still kill you (This is one of the many scenes that is not in the English language version, yet it really is important to the story). When everyone goes to sleep Glenda and Hans have a private conversation on how Michael was sent to a mental institution after he killed his father and was surprised how such a "gentle soul" could commit such a heinous crime (Hans' mind goes back to when Michael was choking Beryl on the movie set just a few days ago). She begs Hans not to tell Michael what she just told him and he agrees (Believe me, all this long-windedness really is an important part of the plot). They also talk about reincarnation, which reveals a lot about Glenda and Hans' personalities. In a strange scene, we see and invisible person leaving wet footprints on the ground as it walks into Shirley's bedroom and she screams. Beryl sees a shadow holding a crossbow and Shirley denies to Beryl that she ever screamed. Beryl decides to take a bath and then the lights go out, someone wearing black gloves trying to drown her in the tub. Shirley's dog saves the day, barking at the intruder and chasing him away, saving Beryl from a certain death. Michael begins acting like his father and when Deborah notices a strange ritualistic icon in a painting, she has a strange dream (?) where a zombie-faced monk makes her go to the basement of the mansion (her breasts are always popping-out of her nightgown), but she finds a door that leads to outside which she thinks will be safe, but she runs directly into a giant spider web, complete with a big-assed black spider hanging from the web. She escapes, only to find herself attacked by bats in a windy tunnel. Next, she finds herself in the thick brush of the woods, where she loses the top half of her nightgown and scratches her upper torso and breasts while a bunch of human skulls above her bleed from their mouths and eyes sockets all over her. Finally, she is tied to the wall of the basement while a giant crucifix on the wall opposite her is burning. Classical music plays (Franz Liszt's "From the Cradle to the Grave") and a nun rips off all of Deborah's clothes, while snakes slither at her feet and a deformed nun makes her drink the blood of a chicken she just decapitated. Then the large spider approaches her and grabs her legs, only to discover that the huge spider has black hands for legs. And you thought Michael was having problems? (Be aware that most of this sequence also doesn't appear in the English language version of the film, but, it too, plays an important part of the plot). Michael take all his friends to his childhood "private kingdom": a beautiful river with a really nice waterfall, where everyone discuss with each other all the strange things they dreamed or happened the night before. It's not long before most of these people will never make it out of the estate alive. Michael tells everyone he was in a trance last night, something his overpriced psychiatrist calls "disassociation" and "psychosomatic". Hans mentions he saw Oliver walking around in a trance last night and Michael says that ever since he was a child, he saw Oliver sleepwalking all the time, and admits to everyone that he did kill his father for beating up his mother. Michael cheats on Deborah and makes love to Beryl on the banks of the river, but when he wakes up, he discovers Beryl dead, her torso cut from her breasts down to her vagina and Michael is holding the bloody knife (just like when he killed his father). Hans, who we learn saw the whole thing happen, writes a note saying that he is going to the police, but as he is walking through his bedroom door, someone splits his skull in two with an axe and splatters his brains all over the place. The bloody black-gloved killer then destroys the note and drives Hans' car off to make it look as if Hans is leaving by himself. As Shirley sees Hans' car drive away, she notices that he has left his precious camera behind, something that Hans would never do if he were leaving. She begins to develop the negatives and notices something interesting on one of them, but before she can tell anyone, she has her head nearly cut off with a chainsaw (the same chainsaw we saw Oliver using to make logs for the fireplace), while Deborah notices black leather gloves in Glenda's bedroom. When Oliver serves dinner, only Glenda and Deborah attend and Deborah notices that Glenda is wearing the same ritualistic icon around her neck that triggered her nightmare earlier. Or was it a nightmare at all? I'll never tell. I'll leave it up to you to discover who the killer is (the clues are in this review and, no. it's not Shirley's dog!). Like most giallo films, nearly everyone is hiding a secret from their past that they are trying to keep hidden. I will tell you this because you probably already guessed it: Michael did not kill his father. He was an easy patsy to blame since he was so young. It looks like years of psychotherapy have done him more harm than good. A tape recording left behind explains it all, but there's an unexpected supernatural angle at the finale tied to Deborah's dreams which make the killings all the more sinister. That's all I'll say, except if you are expecting a happy ending, you will be bitterly disappointed. Director Riccardo Freda (who passed away in 1999 at the age of 90) keeps you guessing from beginning to end. When you think you have it all figured out, the screenplay, by Freda, Antonio Cesare Corti (CITY OF THE WAKLING DEAD - 1980) and Fabio Piccione (QUEEN KONG - 1976), gives you another piece of information which tosses your ideas into the garbage. While there are extreme bits of gore (some of the effects are done by Italian effects master Sergio Stivaletti, this being his first film), the film doesn't dwell on them. It's basically hit and run, which is best displayed in Hans' death by axe, It's just a quick hit, some brain matter flying in the air and on to the next scene. If it plays for more than two seconds, you are lucky. Too bad we can't say the same thing about the giant spider. It is shown way too long and looks as realistic as a Sharknado. The film (made under the title FOLLIA OMICIDA) was originally released on VHS in the U.S. by Wizard Video under the title FEAR, missing over ten minutes of footage. The British VHS tapes, released under the titles THE WAILING and SATAN'S ALTAR, are missing nearly twenty minutes of footage. Thankfully, Raro Video has released the fully uncut 95 minute version on DVD, so you won't be left scratching your heads wondering what the hell is going on in the abridged versions. The pristine widescreen DVD also contains some cut scenes and an interview with Sergio Stivaletti. If you want to watch this film the way it was originally meant to be seen, go for the DVD. Also starring Fabrizio Moroni. A Raro Video DVD Release. Not Rated.
NAKED VENGEANCE (1985) - Now don't get me wrong here: I find most of director Cirio H. Santiago's films to be average (and slightly above-average) at best, but he must have been taking halucinogens here because he has turned out a perfectly crazy rip-off of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), maybe even outdoing it in sheer sleaze factor alone. Carla, a commercial actress (Deborah Tranelli of DALLAS [1978 - 1991] fame), watches as her husband is gunned down by a creep he tried to stop from raping a girl. She leaves New York City for her home town in the country and is savagely raped by five townies in her parents house. When her parents come home and see what is happening to their daughter, they are shotgunned by the gang and then kill the local retard, making it look like the retard did the killings. Thinking that Carla is dead, they leave the house and go to a bar and get drunk. Of course Carla is not dead, just in a catatonic state and she is brought to the hospital. The local sheriff (Bill McLaughlin, who walks around with an expression on his face like he was sucking on a lemon all day), doesn't quite believe the story and wants to question Carla on what really happened. Her doctor refuses as Carla fakes amnesia while picking off her attackers one-by-one. She lops off the dick one one of them with a knife and, just to make sure he suffers more, attaches a grappling hook to his chest an has his boat drag him out to the middle of the lake to bleed to death. Another one has a car dropped on his body as she steps on the gas and has the tire rim cut off his legs. The leader of the raping pack, Fletch (Kaz Garaz, who played a sheriff in the 1996 remake of HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP), who is the town's butcher, knows who is doing the killings and decides to form a posse (the whole town seems to be full of torch-weilding hicks) and trap Carla in a house and burn it down. Thinking Carla died in the fire (she didn't), Fletch goes about his business in his butcher shop only to be surprised by Carla, who cuts off his fingers with a meat slicer, plants a meat cleaver in his back and then blows his head off with a shotgun. The sheriff declares that Carla is dead and the killings are over. The next time we see Carla is back in New York City, getting even with the punk who killed her husband. This is grand sleaze which never slacks off its premise, which is highly unusual for a Cirio H. Santiago film (FUTURE HUNTERS  anyone?). The film moves at a brisk pace and is never boring. It was released in both R-rated and Unrated editions, the Unrated edition showing more of the gang rape and lingers more on the bloody violence. Guess which version you should track down? (NOTE: It seems that 35mm elements of the Unrated Version seem to be lost since the only place on the entire planet where the Unrated Version was available was the United States. Every other country got the R-Rated version on VHS.). Mr. Santiago has directed over 100 features (many for Roger Corman) and is highly-regarded in his homeland of the Philippines. I consider NAKED VENGEANCE to be his crowning achievement. A Lightning Video Release which has been long OOP. This is another film crying out for a DVD release (If Unrated elements are ever found). Also starring Ed Crick, Nick Nicholson, Terrence O'Hara, Henry Strzalkowski, Joseph Zucchero, Don Gordon Bell and a cameo appeareance by Carmen Argenziano (HELLRAISER: INFERNO - 2000 and TV's STARGATE SG1 [1997 - 2007]). Also known as SATIN VENGEANCE, but I've never seen it released under this title. Unrated.
THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED (1971) - A Manson-like cult of hippie religious fanatics, led by Billy Joe (Who says to God: "I made them see that using dope was a way to turn-on to you!"), kill an "unbeliever" by having "The Atoner" (a faceless figure in a monk's robe who uses a giant crucifix as a cane) drown her in the middle of a pond, where Billy Joe is performing baptisms. A disillusioned Fanny Pierce (Jeanne Crain), the wife of a preacher (Alex Nicol), helps her husband run his "evangelizing" business, but can't help thinking to herself that "everything is ugly...and old!" While driving in their pickup to the next town for their revival meeting, Fanny and her husband have a run-in with Billy Joe and one of his disciples (Billy Joe lies down on the huge wooden cross the reverend has in the back of his truck, imitating Christ, while his disciple makes lewd sexual remarks to Fanny). Billy Joe turns up in the audience at the revival meeting and, later that night, Billy Joe and some of his disciples (including The Atoner) steal all the money from the night's take and crucify the reverend on the wooden cross, killing him. Fanny witnesses the atrocity and Billy Joe is arrested, brought to trial, found guilty of murder and sentenced to death (Billy Joe yells to the judge, "You dumb son of a bitch, you're making me a martyr!"). Billy Joe looks at Fanny as he is led away and says, "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord!" and members of his flock surround her outside the courthouse, where Fanny hears them say, "Die! Die! Die!", but their lips don't move. It's not long thereafter that Fanny starts being terrorized by thugs on motorcycles, she starts hearing voices and almost loses her life on several occasions (or does she?). Fanny agrees to babysit Judge Coogan's (Stewart Bradley) four overage (and unhappy to to have a babysitter) kids for a weekend for $50 (She says, "That's a lot of money!"). When she arrives at the house, she begins to get a series of phone calls from a heavy breather who says, "Vengeance is mine!" The phone line eventually goes dead and the kids spot a strange figure in the backyard, so Fanny goes outside to chase him away, only to discover a dummy with a note attached to it that says simply, "Vengeance". Fanny has the kids lock all the windows and doors and turns on all the lights. One of the kids, Peter (Daniel Spelling), blames the intruders on Fanny and the trial and wants her to leave before they all get killed. Peter sends brother Jimmy (Gary Morgan) outside to get help, but Fanny watches him get stabbed to death by The Atoner. The Atoner breaks into the house and the kids disappear one-by-one (only bloodstains are left) until Fanny is left alone to defend herself from the hooded knife-weilding intruders. When Fanny fights one of the intruders with a butcher knife, she falls down the stairs and dies and the real intruders are revealed. Little do they know that they have intruders of their own to deal with. This tight little thriller is rather bloodless, but is suspenseful and tension-filled. It's apparent that Fanny has some personal issues (we are given clues throughout the film), but the full extent of her problems are not revealed until the film's surprising double-whammy conclusion. Director Lee Madden (THE MANHANDLERS - 1973; NIGHT CREATURE - 1978; GHOST FEVER - 1986), working with a script by co-producer Gil Lasky (producer and scripter of 1970's BLOOD AND LACE, one of the bloodiest PG-rated films ever made), has fashioned a psychological picture puzzle where the viewer must decide what is real and what is fantasy and you'll be surprised just how many times you'll be wrong. Those looking for blood and gore will be disappointed (there's very little of either) but, if you like your films in the vein of LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (made the same year), you'll probably dig this "is she or isn't she" flick. Jeanne Crain (HOT RODS TO HELL - 1966) is quite good as Fanny and co-star Alex Nicol directed the sleazy thriller POINT OF TERROR the same year (as well as the 1958 horror film THE SCREAMING SKULL). THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED was one of those films I saw in nearly every video store I frequented in the 80's but never rented, probably because of it's PG rating and the fact that my tastes back then tended to lean toward blood-soaked gorefests. Now that I'm older and wiser (shut up!) and my horizons have been broadened, I can appreciate these little thriller films that could have only been made during the 70's. Also starring James B. Sikking, Barbara Hancock, Dawn Cleary, Miller Petitt, Jack Donner and Michael Sugich as "Billy Joe". A Trans World Entertainment Home Video Release. Rated PG.
NOON SUNDAY (1971) - Special Agent Jason Cootes (Mark Lenard) is sent to the small Asian island of Kapalu to destroy the future site of a missile base, that will be used by the power-mad junta to threaten the freedom of the world. Colonel Oong (Keye Luke), on oders from his superiors, begins killing and torturing all those he thinks are against the new military rule, including a Catholic priest and three Caucasian freedom fighters (one who recently lost his leg in battle), who are forced to dig their own graves before being murdered by firing squad. Unbeknownst to Cootes, the government has also sent aging spy Darmody (John Russell) to the island to carry out a separate mission: Destroy the island's electrical power plant. Both men must avoid Colonel Oong's soldiers (they are both quite bad at it) while they try to achieve their goals, which has to happen exactly at Noon this Sunday (no explanation is ever given why it has to happen at that exact moment). That's basically the whole film, folks, except it takes an excruciatingly-long 94 minutes for the film to finally end (not 104 minutes as it's erroneously reported on the back of the VHS box, thank God!). Needless to say, a busted eardrum is less painful than sitting through this entire film, because you'll need to pierce your eyelids with toothpicks to stay awake. After a promising start (including watching a guy being riddled with machinegun fire and the firing squad scene), this thriller, filmed on the American island of Guam, quickly degenerates into a series of "hide and seek" sequences where Mark Lenard (better known for portraying Mr. Spock's father, Sarek, on STAR TREK) and John Russell (BLOOD LEGACY - 1971) must stay out of reach of Keye Luke (a terrific character actor [TV's KUNG FU; "Mr. Wing" in the two GREMLINS films; and Charlie Chan's "Number One Son" in the series of 1930's films] who is wasted here) and his men, while they try to reach their objectives. This looks and plays like an extended episode of TV's MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, with scenes of bloody violence and some nudity added. Most of the time it's just talk, talk, talk, as we listen to the villagers complain about Oong's treatment of their people, everyone says the words "saboteur" and "sabotage" a lot and, for some reason, the Catholic Church takes a verbal and physical beating. There's not much to recommend here, as there are long stretches where nothing at all happens, followed by short bursts of violence. The only scene that registers any pulse was when village girl Kalin (Linda Avery) shows her tits to Cootes and they make love. During the middle of the nookie session, Kalin pulls out a big-ass knife and stabs Cootes in the back. He reciprocates by strangling her with his bare hands. When Cootes tells Kalin's brother, Kon (Bobby Canavarro), what he has done, Kon shoves his sister's corpse into a barrell and no one talks of it again. There's also a scene of a little girl being shot and killed by Darmody (she was asking for it, standing in the way between Darmody and the island's new General), but it's filmed in such a lackadaisical manner, it fails to register. If there's anyone to blame for this boring mess of a film, it has to lay squarely on the shoulders of Terry Bourke (NIGHT OF FEAR - 1972; INN OF THE DAMNED - 1974; LADY STAY DEAD - 1981), since he not only directed, he also produced and wrote the script. Don't waste your time. Besides a few bloody moments, NOON SUNDAY is a total washout. It should have been called 4:30AM TUESDAY because, after watching this, that's exactly what time you'll think it is (if you're still awake). Joseph Zucchero, a prolific Filipino actor, producer and writer (especially working in tandem with director Cirio H. Santiago), was Production Manager on this film. Ken Metcalfe, an American actor/writer who worked extensively in the Philippines, was this film's Sound Recordist. Also starring Kim Ramos, Gigo Tevzadze and Stacy Harris. This actually got a theatrical release courtesy of Crown International Pictures and was released on VHS in the mid-80's by Academy Home Entertainment. Not available on DVD. Rated R.
OPEN SEASON (1974) - Here's another rarely-seen thriller whose politics and storyline could have only come from the sleazy 70's. Three seemingly normal family men, Ken (Peter Fonda), Greg (John Phillip Law) and Art (Richard Lynch), divorce themselves from their families for one week a year and take a vacation together, where they lead a life of complete debauchery. They hunt, screw, kidnap, rape and kill (not necessarily in that order), all without any human conscience. For that one week, they live like laws don't exist for them and anything (and I mean anything) goes. This year, their hunting trip will end differently than their previous ones. After taking turns screwing a waitress in a hotel room, the trio kidnap unfaithful married bank manager Martin (Alberto de Mendoza) and his girlfriend Nancy (Cornelia Sharpe) by pulling their car over and pretending to be State Troopers. They bring the duo to the woods, but Martin breaks loose and tries to flee in a canoe. He is recaptured (Art shoots the canoe full of holes) and the trio bring him and Nancy to a secluded cabin (which they built themselves) on an island only accessible by boat. Nancy is chained to the cabin, where she is forced to cook and clean and, later, do much worse while Martin is forced to watch (and later participate) in the trio's week-long game of defeating of the wills. There's one problem in all this mess: Nancy begins to enjoy all the attention (or is it just survival instinct?), while Martin has to watch helplessly from the sidelines as he then becomes cook and maid to the foursome. As the week comes to a close, the trio send Nancy and Martin packing, although it's plain to see that it's about to become a human hunt, ala THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. Given a 30 minute head start ("Run, rabbit, run!"), Martin and Nancy split up and the hunt is on. Unfortunately, things don't end up too well for them, even though a mystery shooter is in the woods. Director Peter Collinson (FRIGHT - 1971; INNOCENT BYSTANDERS - 1972) paints the three protagonists as souless animals who find pleasure in other people's misery. It's quite apparent that the trio have been getting away with this type of degradation since they were in college, as the film opens with a mother and her raped daughter sitting down in a district attorney's office wanting to press charges against the young trio, only to be told by the D.A. that no one would believe three boys of such high standing would be capable of doing such a thing. To show just how devoid of humanity they really are, they make Nancy watch as they shoot every small animal in sight in what turns into an orgy of quick-cutting scenes of rabbits, hawks, ducks and geese being blown away by rifle, shotgun and pistol. Truly disturbing. Sad to say that the film falls apart during the final 30 minutes, where it turns into your standard "hunters vs. prey vs. hunter" scenario and all logic is thrown out the window. Up until then, it's pretty good as Fonda, Law and Lynch chew up the scenery as men with no moral compass and a friendship, though demented, that is solid and unflappable. Only during the 70's would a friendship like this be viewed as entertainment, especially the nihilistic ending where a mystery shooter (William Holden in an extended cameo) shows up, not to save Martin and Nancy (he couldn't give a shit about them), but to get revenge on the trio for one of their past aggressions. Our politically correct culture today would not allow an ending like this to occur. And that's our loss. Also starring Helga Line, William Layton, Bianca Estrada and Didi Sherman. Simon Andreu is also listed in the credits as "Barman", but I'll be damned if I could spot him. OPEN SEASON is only available in the U.S. on VHS in a truly wretched print by DuraVision (as RECON GAME) and is also known as THE KILLING, the print I viewed on DVD-R comes from a soft, but watchable, dub from an unknown source. It also doesn't have the scene at the end that shows Holden's character giving himself up to the police after talking to his dead daughter's son (who was a result of the trio's rape a few years earlier). Originally released to theaters in the U.S. by Columbia Pictures. Rated R.
PIGGY (2012) - Here's a film that tells the regular viewing public what law enforcement knew all along: Vigilantes are not born, they are created. This film may take the transformation of a "nobody" into a "person who kills people who need killing" a little too far, but there have been worse cases on real dockets in the court system. Joe (Martin Compston) narrates the opening of the film about how his friend "Piggy" (Paul Anderson), whom we first see stomping a man in the face, became Joe's savior. Joe says that "Piggy was an avenger", but in order to get to know him, we first have to get to know Joe. Joe is your typical English bloke that no one would take a second look at. He gets a job in the mail room of a big business, where he is constantly teased and verbally assaulted by his mailroom co-workers. Every day of his miserable life, it was "Go to work. Get numb (smoke pot). Go to sleep.". And then Joe's brother John (Neill Maskell) becomes involved in Joe's life and everything turns around for him. He is actually having fun in his life with John, playing video games, going to bars, meeting women and generally enjoying himself. An innocuous fight between John and another bloke in a bar at first seems like nothing, but then Joe's life takes a 180° turn, as he is robbed by a man with a knife (this is London, so guns are mostly out of the equation) and John is beaten up by the guy and his friends at the bar so badly while he is walking home, that Joe watches him die in the hospital. Everything good about Joe's life was taken away from him in one night. And then one night Piggy comes into Joe's life. He tells Joe that he was John's friend years ago (even having a photo to prove it and Joe says that he has faint memories of him). I know what you are thinking: Piggy is an imaginary person made up on Joe's mind like in FIGHT CLUB (1999), but you would be wrong. Piggy tells Joe that something should be done about John's death and they become close (You have to pay close attention to their relationship to get some important clues). Piggy becomes Joe's proxy vigilante, killing all those involved in John's death one-by-one, but before he kills them, he gets the name of the next victim. Piggy says he loved John and would kill for him (which he has proved), but is Joe's love for John just as strong? Piggy beats the crap out of one guy, but Joe runs away when Piggy grinds the guy's hand into the pavement with his foot. Piggy catches up with Joe and tells him what "acceptable injury" is and only the truly guilty should die. They come up with a plan to kidnap one of John's killers and wear pig noses as disguises, so they can get the full list of names of the killers. The film makes Piggy seem like an extension of Joe's psyche, especially when John's fiancee Claire (Louise Dylan) comes to Joe's apartment and Piggy hides from her in another room, but it has nothing to do with Joe's psyche. It has more to do with Piggy keeping his identity a secret. It's also apparent that Claire is starting to have romantic feelings for Joe, but it is too soon...for now. Joe and Piggy put their kidnap plan into effect (complete with pig noses, which will not elicit laughter in you, believe me), kidnap one of the men and bring him to a filthy mens room. Piggy tortures the guy and gets five names from him. Did Piggy just beat the crap out of this guy (like he told Joe) or kill him, as Joe is waiting outside because he's still is not ready to see such ultra-violence? Joe likes hanging out with Claire, but while they are walking down the street one night, Joe discovers the leader of John's killers, Anthony (John Herdman), walking with his girlfriend (Kate Korbel). Piggy and Joe kidnap Anthony that night, put a white hood over his head and Piggy draws a smiley face on it before he beats Anthony's head in until there is no white to be seen on the hood. Anthony screams out that Jamie (Ed Skrein) is actually the killer, but Piggy stomps on his head with his foot until he is dead. This time Joe stays and watches the whole bloody ordeal, but still ends up vomiting at the end. Joe is now a different person, who doesn't take any more shit from his fellow mailroom workers (they actually end up being scared of him). Joe and Piggy once again put their fake noses on and Joe watches as Piggy slits the throat of another bar member. Joe moves Claire into a new flat, while he and Piggy kidnap Jamie (who ends up shitting himself), who now says Danny (Tommy McDonnell) is the brains behind John's death. They hold him captive in the same dirty bathroom, when a drunk friend of Claire's walks into the bathroom and knocks Joe on his ass. It's clear by now that Claire wants a romantic relationship with Joe, but it's hard being the boyfriend of someone whose brother's killers he is disposing of. Piggy frantically tells Joe that their latest escapade has been caught on cameras, so they will have to kill Danny tonight or it will never happen. They end up killing Danny and then go quiet for a while. Joe is afraid that every knock on the door or phone call will be from the police and then Piggy shows up and says they can help other people ("We aren't done yet! We aren't fucking done yet!"). Joe screams out "I don't even fucking know who you are!" Turns out that Joe is correct, because when he checks out Piggy's flat when he is not there, he discovers that the photo he showed of him and John was a mock-up and the drawers are full of newspaper articles on vigilante killings dating back a couple of decades. Piggy shows up and calls Joe a "self-made victim" (which he is) who needed a push in the right direction to balance out the world. It seems like Piggy has been doing this kind of thing for 20 years: Picking people he sees who have suffered an unjust tragedy in their lives and the bad guys end up getting away with it. Piggy turns them into vigilantes because the law is useless in cases like that. Is Piggy really a bad person? I guess it all depends on whether you think guilty people that get away with it need killing, but the justice system gets in the way, causing a need for them to get justice they deserve. Claire kisses Joe, but he tells her. "Please don't get involved with me." He tells Claire he is leaving for good, visits John's grave and becomes the next "avenger to the innocent". Yes, vigilantes are not born. They are created. Director/screenwriter Kieron Hawkes (his first feature film) makes no apologies for the extreme violence on view because all violence is extreme. This really can't be classified as a thriller or a horror film, because it could actually be viewed as a documentary of how a mild-mannered picked-on person says enough is enough and, with some major help, turns his life around. I'm not saying I agree with the tactics shown in this film, but I have seen too many people plead their cases down to probation or get off on technicalities without regard for their victims or their family and loved ones. This is a film that shows one way it could be achieved, but to me, murder is still murder, even if the guy being killed is a murderer. It's a slippery slope and vigilantes are as old as people have been on this Earth, but it hardly makes a dent in crime statistics. Judges are usually very hard on vigilantes because they do the job judges wish they could do, but are hamstrung by the law, so they make the vigilantes the bad guys and give them stiff sentences. Real life doesn't end like DEATH WISH (1974). Still, this film is pretty good and you'll need a strong stomach for some of the violent scenes, but what is truly scary is that there may be vigilantes out there teaching other people how to be vigilantes. I believe that is what Kieron Hawkes was trying to convey here. A mousy little man could become a cold-blooded killer with just a little prying. That should scare everybody. Also starring Roland Manookian, Jumayne Hunter, Ryan Winsley, Sonny Muslim and Colin Burt Vidler. An Inception Media Group DVD Release. Not Rated.
PREY OF THE CHAMELEON (1991) - The idea of a film dealing with a female serial killer really intrigued me because of the rarity of its subject matter. Besides, I had been seeing the trailer for this film on nearly every Prism cassette I had rented for the past year and it looked interesting. The anticipation outweighed the end result as, unfortunately, this is a fairly routine suspenser with very little to recommend in its' favor besides the acting talents of the cast. J.D. (James Wilder) returns to his hometown after a four year absence to reconcile with the girl (Alexandra Paul) he left standing at the altar. She is now the town's deputy sheriff and even though she still harbors deep feelings for J.D., she has a problem with his leaving town again to take a job with an oil company. While driving to his job, J.D. picks up a girl (Daphne Zuniga) whose car has broken down and soon they are doing the hot and sweaty in a motel room. Little does J.D. know that she is an escaped mental patient who kills people and takes over their identity, burying her victims in the clothing of her previous identity. Soon she is mimicking the movements and dress style of J.D., even dying her hair to match his color. She knocks him out (she doesn't kill him because he is "different from everybody else") and locks him in the trunk of a car. She robs a bank in the guise of J.D. and kills the guard. The deputy sheriff teams up with an FBI agent (Don Harvey), who is in charge of capturing the serial killer, when she learns of J.D.'s involvment in the case. J.D. escapes from the trunk and returns to his hometown to explain his innocence to his jilted lawperson. He is followed by the psychotic killer (donning the disguise of the victim she pulled over to facilitate her bank robbery escape) and she targets the deputy sheriff as her next conquest. Beside the fleeting shots of nudity this more or less has the look of a TV movie. The subject matter should have been dealt with more graphically instead of the rather bloodless affair offered here. Stick with HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) or SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1992) until a decent female serial killer film comes around. Directed and written by Fleming B. Fuller. A Prism Entertainment Release. Rated R.
THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE (1977) - When the body of a young woman is found on the beach, shot in the throat, her face burned to a crisp and dressed in yellow pyjamas, elderly Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland, in a winning role) steps out of retirement to investigate the murder (the first time we see Thompson, he, too, is dressed in pyjamas as he is tending to his orchids). Good thing, too, because the young inspector, Morris (Rod Mullinar), handling the case doesn't know his asshole from his elbow. We are then introduced to Professor Henry Douglas (Mel Ferrer) and Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro), who discuss a missing friend named Evelyn (Vanessa Vitale). After noticing that Professor Douglas keeps a pistol in the glovebox of his car, Glenda relates a story to the Professor about the last time she saw Evelyn (it involves yellow pyjamas and a lesbian encounter). Is it possible that the murdered girl on the beach is Evelyn? Not so fast. As Inspector Morris brings in all the perverts in the area for questioning, Inspector Thompson uses his years of experience and follows the clues, including identifying the bullet used in the murder (it came from an American military-issued weapon) and grains of rice found on the dead girl's body. Inspector Morris still believes that the dead young woman was murdered by sexual predators, since the autopsy shows she was raped by multiple persons before she was killed, but he begins to notice that Thompson's methods are getting results. Meanwhile, Glenda is falling in love with Italian waiter Antonio (Michele Placido). The only problem is, she forgot to tell her current boyfriend, Roy (Howard Ross). The police have preserved the dead girl in a glass enclosure and are displaying her body for the public to view (it's quite a sight), in hopes someone can identify her. Thompson gets closer to making her identification on his own, following clues to a Chinese restaurant and a laundry on the docks. Glenda marries Antonio, but still has sex with Roy on the side. Antonio grows suspicious and Professor Douglas says nasty things to Glenda. How are Glenda's story and Inspector Thompson's investigation tied together? You'll have to watch the film for yourself. Needless to say, it's surprising and unforgettable. Based on a true story, a notorious 1934 murder in Australia that took police ten years to solve (or was it?), this mystery film (it's not a giallo as many people trumpet it, even though the victim was dressed in yellow) is a fantastic piece of storytelling and must have been considered daring for it's time. Not to give the surprise ending away, I will say this: It's apparent that the creators of the TV series LOST (2004 - 2010) owe a debt of gratitude to this film, as their story structures are very similar. Director/scripter Flavio Mogherini (who normally directed Italian comedies like LUNATICS AND LOVERS ) has fashioned a film that seems to be telling two unrelated stories, but it all comes together in a satisfying brew of sex, infidelity and murder. This is one of Ray Milland's (THE THING WITH TWO HEADS - 1972; SURVIVAL RUN - 1978) best roles in the latter part of his career. Not only is he believable in his role as a retired police inspector who hates retirement, he throws himself into the character, coming across as both gruff and gentle and upstaging everyone else who happens to be in the frame with him. He runs-up against quite a few memorable characters, too, including a dwarf dry cleaner, a bearded hippie who like to masturbate, a disabled laundry worker with a busted steampipe and an elderly gay gentleman who bathes in front of him. What's even more shocking is that he's killed two-thirds of the way through the film by the killer. He knows when he goes out that fateful night that he may not come back alive, as he leaves a tape recorded message and various clues throughout his apartment for Inspector Morris to find. He's more than happy tp go out that way because all Thompson wanted was one last case to work on before he dies and Milland is wonderful here displaying those emotions. The rest of THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE is equally enjoyable (and sometimes maddening in it's obliqueness), as Morgherini gives the film a colorful gloss (lots of gel lighting) and slowly unravels the mystery with some genuine surprises along the way. While light in the violence department (although there are some grisly sights on view), there is plenty of nudity and a satisfaction that you are watching something truly unusual. Once you hear the theme song, "Your Yellow Pyjama", sung by Amanda Lear (who sounds like Edith Piaf), you will never forget it. The music score by Riz Otorlini, which consists of harmonica, electronic and orchestral cues, also enhances the proceedings. The droning synthesizers add an air of urgency to some of the scenes, especially the finale, where Glenda does something unthinkable (but well within her character) to get the money she so desperately needs. The use of harmonica and "wah-wah" guitar in the closing scene, combined with an unusual visual palette (a massive seaside graveyard and a bus full of female majorettes in costume), hits all the right emotional notes for the viewer. It's an excellent mix of sight and sound. Also known as THE CASE OF THE GIRL IN THE YELLOW PYJAMAS. Filmed in New South Wales, Australia. Also starring Ramiro Oliveros, Giacomo Assandri, Eugene Walter, Monica Rey and Antonio Ferrandiz. Available on DVD in a very nice-looking widescreen print from Blue Underground. Not Rated.
REAPER (1998) - Best-selling author Luke Sinclair (Chris Sarandon), whose novels deal with serial killers and graphic depictions of violence and sex, is going through a severe case of writer's block (he hasn't written a sentence in over eighteen months), so he decides to get away from it all and drives to the small Maine coastal town of Keeler's Point to clear his head and get away from the religious fanatics who protest his books and spray him with red paint. Luke, who is a recovering alcoholic and is supposed to be taking anti-depression meds (but isn't), takes a room in Keeler's Point's only motel and begins hitting the bottle for inspiration, only he begins to have visions of electroshock treatments and some mysterious person chasing a woman in the woods. When two hunters find the raped and murdered nude body of a young woman in the woods, Sheriff Norris (Vlasta Vrana; SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER - 1990) is forced to call in the State Police to investigate, since the small town never had a murder before. The State Police sends Detective Sonya Lehrman (Catherine Mary Stewart; NIGHTFLYERS - 1987) to investigate and Sheriff Norris is not happy at all, since he's already convinced that Luke is the murderer. It seems the killing is an exact re-enactment of one of the murders in Luke's most recent novel, titled "Reaper", and a page from the book describing the murder is found next to the body. Sonya is not too sure about Luke's guilt and, since she is staying in the same motel he is, she can keep close tabs on him. As more murders and bodies begin piling up, all of them taken directly from Luke's novel, Luke's visions begin getting more bizarre and he begins babbling about doppelgangers to Sonya, which makes him look all the more guilty in the Sheriff's eyes. Sonya, on the other hand, thinks "it's all to simple" and believes there is another explanation. Sonya's investigation dredges up some interesting bits of information, such as Luke's stay in a mental institution seven years earlier due to "alcohol abuse" and that the Sheriff was once a vice cop in Chicago who was forced to resign for planting evidence. So who is the killer? Sonya better figure it out soon before she becomes a victim herself. The sudden appearance of the TV news and Luke's mistrusting wife, Melanie (Gillian Ferrabee), who thinks he is having an affair with Sonya (he's not), only complicates matters. Sonya is forced to shoot a suspect (she's never killed anyone before), which drives her into the arms of an understanding Luke. It's not the best professional move, as you will find out in the film's conclusion, where the killer is unmasked and motives are revealed. This Canadian-made thriller, directed by John Bradshaw (SPECIMEN - 1996; LETHAL TENDER - 1997) and written by Vincent Monton and Matt Dorff, is a decent whodunit with equal measures of police procedural and mystery elements that, unfortunately, collapses about sixty minutes in. At first, Chris Sarandon (THE SENTINEL - 1977; CHILD'S PLAY - 1988) comes across as a little too aloof and self-centered, but as the film progresses, it becomes obvious that his character is highly flawed, as more information is revealed about his background. The citizens of Keeler's Point don't come across as the nicest people in the world, either, especially Wilma (Joanna Noyes), the motel proprietor who keeps her ear to the wall and reports all of Luke's goings-on to the Sheriff. It's really disappointing when the film falls apart two-thirds of the way through, with the appearance of a previously unseen red herring made to look like the killer, but it's obvious to those even with only a third grade education that he's not. What happens after that throws the balance of the film way off track, ruining the logic of what came before it. The violence and nudity are fairly restrained for an R-rated production; just a couple of quick shots of nude bodies with objects in frame hiding the naughty bits and hardly any blood at all (just a couple of bloody bullet squibs). The only reason I can explain the R-rating is the foul language. Take away the swearing and this film could play on TV uncut. That's the film's biggest flaw, because it could have used an injection of full-fledged nudity and a bit of the ultra-violence to make it stand out from basic cable TV dreck. There are the makings of a good film here, but REAPER fails to succeed due to a lack of exploitable elements fans of this genre demand. Oh, and a lazy final third. Also starring Rob Pinnock, James Bradford, Isabelle Cyr, Doug Sutherland, John Moore and Stephen Morgan. Available on budget DVD from Platinum Disc Corporation. Rated R.
RED (2008) - Film is a very subjective medium and can affect people in totally different ways. RED will either hit you like a painful punch to the gut or leave you bewildered, as we follow Avery Ludlow (the excellent Brian Cox; TRICK 'R TREAT - 2007) on his odyssey of retribution. Is he a madman or would you do the same thing? Either answer is acceptable, yet if you are a true animal lover (as I am; animals are capable of unconditional love, something which most humans are incapable of understanding); the type of person who puts the same importance on their pets as they put on any family member, then this film will resonate and play with your emotions. Even though this film had a troubled production history (Director Lucky McKee [MAY - 2002; co-director of ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE - 2013] was mysteriously fired after a few weeks of shooting and was replaced by producer Trygve Allister Diesen), it does not distract that this is a beautifully acted and highly emotional piece of cinema. Avery Ludlow and his 14 year-old dog Red do everything together. One day, while fishing in the creek, Avery and Red are confronted by three teens; the cruel Danny (Noel Fisher; FINAL DESTINATION 2 - 2003), Danny's yes-man Pete (Shiloh Fernandez; DEAD GIRL - 2008) and the not-really bad Harold (Kyle Gallner; JENNIFER'S BODY - 2009), who happens to be Danny's brother. Danny, who is carrying a shotgun, robs Avery and when he discovers that Avery has only twenty dollars on his possession, shoots Red point-blank, killing him (Danny callously says to Avery, "He's red now!"). Harold can't believe what Danny has done, but Avery is in such a state of shock, he doesn't even turn around to look at the teens' faces, so he can't identify them. Instead, Avery puts Red's corpse into his pickup truck and drives home, burying Red in the backyard. Avery sets out to find where the teens live, so he goes to the local gun store (he can identify the shotgun), to find out Danny's address. The sympathetic gun store owner, also a dog owner, gives Avery Danny's address, so Avery travels to Danny's house and confronts Danny and Harold's extremely rich father, Mr. McCormack (Tom Sizemore; BOTTOM FEEDER - 2006), where Danny and a nervous Harold flatly deny having anything to do with Red's death. Sensing that he is not going to get any cooperation from Mr. McCormack, Avery goes to lawyer friend Sam (Richard Riehle; HATCHET - 2007), who tells him that all that can be done legally to the teen amounts to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, since Red was just an animal. Avery, who is a widower and got Red as a present from his dead wife for his 50th birthday, tries everything within his power legally to get satisfaction, even talking to Pete's white trash parents (played by Robert Englund [HEARTSTOPPER - 2006] and Amanda Plummer [SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER - 2004]) and appealing to their common sense of decency (with no luck). Sam puts Avery in touch with local TV reporter Carrie (Kim Dickens; HBO's DEADWOOD and TREME), who does a story on Red's death and Avery's life, which touches Avery deeply when he watches it on TV, but someone throws a rock through Avery's window with a threatening note attached while he and Carrie are watching the report. Avery and Carrie become good (non-romantic) friends, but Carrie is pulled-off the story by her editor. Avery (who is a Vietnam War hero and has a mentally unstable son in prison who killed Avery's wife and younger son by burning them to death with kerosene) finally has had enough of trying to get satisfaction legally and begins following the teens around, learning their habits and making their lives miserable (Danny becomes so agitated, he comes at Avery with a baseball bat, but gets it turned on him instead). When Avery's general store burns down, he finally loses control and turns Mr. McCormack's control over the town to his advantage. When all is said and done, everyone suffers devastating losses, but it is Avery who finds true redemption, not with violence (although there is some), but with an act of kindness by Carrie. Masterfully acted by Brian Cox (the scene where he describes to Kim Dickens what his psychotic son did to his family is Oscar-worthy stuff, that is if the Academy Awards cared about films like this), with a good dialogue-heavy screenplay by Stephen Susco (THE GRUDGE - 2004) that is based on a novel by Jack Ketchum (who appears here as a bartender using the pseudonym "Dallas Mayr"), RED is a slow-burn of a tale that will either make you praise Avery's level-headedness throughout most of the film or make you angry that he didn't lose control earlier, while non-animal lovers will wonder what all the fuss is about (and, unfortunately, I know a few people who fit that description). When Avery exhumes Red's corpse, brings it to the McCormack residence and lays it on their front doorstep, it sets off a sequence of events which will soon not be forgotten, where a man's love for his dog proves to be greater than a father's love for his sons. To say any more would destroy first-time viewers' enjoyment, if "enjoyment" is the right word. While this film doesn't intentionally tug at the heartstrings the same way MARLEY AND ME (2008; and worth viewing) does, RED perfectly portrays the emotional devastation some people feel when they lose a beloved pet (it's just as gut-wrenching as losing a family member). Also starring Ashley Laurence (HELLRAISER - 1987) as Tom Sizemore's abused wife and Marcia Barnett (Lucky McKee's THE WOODS - 2006) as Emma, the proprietor of Avery's general store. Not to be confused with the 2010 Bruce Willis actioner with the same name. A Magnolia Home Entertainment DVD Release. Rated R.
RESURRECTION (1999) - Due to the success of David Fincher's SE7EN (1995), a spate of imitations followed. This is one of the best, thanks to moody photography, a tight script and some really gory set-pieces. Transplanted New Orleans police detective John Prudhomme (Christopher Lambert), who is battling personal demons, is assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a Chicago man whose right arm was removed at the shoulder while he was still alive. When Prudhomme and his new partner, the bad joke-telling Detective Andrew Hollinsworth (the always enjoyable Leland Orser [THE BONE COLLECTOR - 1999], who also had a small role in SE7EN), investigate the scene, they find "He's Coming" written in lamb's blood on the window of the victim's house. The killer has also carved Roman numerals on the victim's back and leaves a clue that leads Prudhomme and Hollinsworth to another victim, also missing an arm (the left one this time), who also has a different set of Roman numerals carved in his back. This leads to a domino effect, as the killer leaves another clue, which leads the detectives to another victim (missing his head), more Roman numerals, another clue and so on. Prudhomme determines that the killer is rebuilding the body of Christ, as the Roman numerals correspond to chapter and verses in the Bible dealing with the Apostles. All the victims were 33 years-old (the same age as Christ when he died) and Prudhomme theorizes that the killer is using the missing body parts to build a body of Christ in preparation for the Resurrection. Prudhomme himself is going through a personal crisis of faith because, six months earlier, he witnessed his young son getting run-over and killed by a car we he darted out onto the street while on his bike. Normally a very devout man, Prudhomme gave up on religion and hasn't been to church since his son's death. Prudhomme and Hollinsworth get some needed help when an FBI profiler named Agent Wingate (Robert Joy) appears on the scene and offers his expertise. The Press have dubbed the serial killer the "Numbers Killer" and pressure is put on Prudhomme and his partner to solve the case, so they accept his help. Prudhomme also gets help from his old parish priest, Father Rousell (genre director and part-time actor David Cronenberg), whom he hasn't seen or talked to since his son's death. Prudhomme and Hollinsworth just miss catching the killer murdering his latest victim (by removing his left leg, a scene which will leave some viewers gagging). Since the killer is pissed-off for nearly getting caught, he disables Hollinsworth with a stun gun, dresses him in the killer's clothes, tapes a gun to his hand, tapes-up his mouth and sends him out directly into the path of waiting police, who shoot Hollinsworth in the leg with a shotgun blast. Hollinsworth's left leg is amputated at the hospital, which is then promptly stolen by the killer! Prudhomme vows revenge and soon finds out that not everyone is who they say they are. He also makes a shocking discovery at the killer's home, a sight so ghastly that not everyone who views it will keep their lunch down. Prudhomme realizes that the killer's last victim will be a pregnant woman named Mary, who is about to give birth to a son (it's all in the Bible, folks!), so Prudhomme has all the hospitals staked-out until the right woman is found. The finale finds Prudhomme facing-off with the killer on the hospital's roof, a baby boy's life hanging in the balance. Will the memory of his son's death get in the way of Prudhomme stopping this maniac once and for all? This is probably director Russell Mulcahy's (RAZORBACK - 1984; RICOCHET - 1991; THE SHADOW - 1994; RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION - 2007) best film since HIGHLANDER (1986), which, oddly enough, also starred Christopher Lambert. Mulcahy utilizes every camera trick in the book to tell the story, using weird camera angles, distorted lenses and sped-up and slowed-down camera cranking, most of it to good effect, although some sequences would have been better served with a more straight-forward approach. Mulcahy also desaturates most of the colors here, giving the film a gritty, nearly black and white nourish feel. In nearly every scene, the background is so smoky or dusty, you feel as if you would choke to death if you took a deep breath. Another common theme in Mulcahy's films is the use of water and, in this film, it's raining in nearly every scene. The script, by Brad Mirman (who also receives story credit along with star Lambert), does drag in spots (the film is a little long at 108 minutes), but it generally manages to shock the viewer on several occasions, such as the scene when Prudhomme believes the killer has murdered his wife Sara (Barbara Tyson), only to discover a short time later that the body is that of his wife's visiting sister. There are numerous gory set pieces, many more than usual in films of this type. Most of it deals with corpses missing body parts, but there are also some gushing blood scenes, especially the one where Prudhomme unsuccessfully tries to stem the flow of blood from the poor sap's missing leg wound. RESURRECTION is a good thriller that will have you engrossed from beginning to the unforgettable end, where we view the serial killer's rancid creation. It's hard to believe that this film was released directly to HBO and bypassed a theatrical release. It's one of Christopher Lambert's best performances of his career and a big improvement over most DTV crap. Paul Pompain, the star and producer of 1974's STREET GIRLS, was one of the Executive Producers and was also Second Unit Director of the Chicago-lensed sequences. Useless piece of trivia: Russell Mulcahy directed the music video for The Buggles' song "Video Killed The Radio Star", the first music video shown on MTV. Also starring Rick Fox, Jonathan Potts, Peter MacNeill and Philip Williams. Released on VHS and DVD by Columbia Tristar Home Video. Rated R.
ROAD GAMES (1981) - A witty and well-made thriller from late director Richard Franklin (he passed away in 2007), who was also responsible for directing such films as PATRICK (1978), PSYCHO II (1983; the best of the sequels, thanks to not taking itself too seriously), LINK (1986), FX2 (1991) and many others and a twisty screenplay by Everett De Roche (who based his script on Alfred Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW - 1954, only he set it in the wide-open rather than in an apartment complex), who did a few movies with Franklin, as well as writing the screenplays to such gems as LONG WEEKEND (1977), DARK FORCES (1983) and RAZORBACK (1984). This film finds truck driver Pat Quid (Stacy Keach; DEATH ROW - 2006) and his pet dingo Boswell (played by Killer) driving down a lonely stretch of Australian Outback highway trying to deliver a truckload of pork to a strike-ridden town, when he picks up a female hitch-hiker (Jamie Lee Curtis; TERROR TRAIN - 1980), who will only give her name as "Hitch" (It's Jamie Lee's tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, not because she's hitch-hiking.). Everyone in this film is playing one type of game or another, some innocent and some deadly, but we eventually find out her name is really "Pamela Rushworth", whose father is not only rich, he is famous and she needs to get away from him. After some clever back-and-forth between Pat and Hitch (one funny scene finds Pat complaining that Boswell never barks and Hitch tells him that Boswell is a dingo, not a dog and dingos don't bark), we find out that a Jack The Ripper-type serial killer, called "Smith or Jones" (who we eventually find out is played by Australian stuntman supreme Grant Page (STUNT ROCK - 1978), who is driving a van, is also traveling this stretch of highway and once he catches sight of Hitch, the game is one. You see, the serial killer likes to cut-up pretty young things and only buries parts of their bodies. What he does with the rest of the pieces is better left for you to find out during the finale. When the serial killer captures Hitch (there's a white-knuckle scene at a bathroom at a rest stop on the highway, occupied by the strangest group of people this side of a David Lynch film), the chase is on as Pat tries to save Hitch, while the police believe Pat is the serial killer. But just who is chasing whom? Tight dialogue (some of it very funny, especially between Pat and Boswell) and some really tense situations distinguish this film from most slasher films of the early 80's. For one, there's very little blood or violence, as director Richard Franklin makes you use your imagination during the kill scenes. And it works. There's also a funny/tense scene where Pat is chasing the killer down the streets of a town and the chase becomes slower and slower as the road becomes narrower, until both vehicles become stuck between two buildings. What happens next answers nearly all the film's unanswered questions, like does Boswell really bark and why does Pat's pork trailer weigh more than it did when he left the depot? Even though this film is Rated PG, it is definitely not for kids, as it is rather adult in nature and there are a lot of double-endentres that will have the kids asking, "Daddy, what does he mean by that?" I love Australian horror and thriller films (maybe it's the deserted locations, wide panoramas where we see nothing ahead except desert and dust and the sense of helplessness that goes along with it) and ROAD GAMES is no different. The Hitchcockian elements in this film must not have been lost on Hollywood executives, who hired Franklin to direct PSYCHO II (it was a good choice). Also starring Marion Edwards, Thaddeus Smith, Stephen Millichamp, Alan Hopgood, John Murphy, Bill Stacey and Robert Thompson. Originally released on VHS by Charter Entertainment and then on widescreen DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment (the only way to watch this film). Rated PG.
ROAD-KILL (1993) - A college-bound student named Josh (Sean Bridgers) hitchhikes cross-country to L.A. and gets picked up by Clint and Marla (Andrew Porter and Deanna Perry), a pair of serial killers on a cross-country killing spree. At first Josh doesn't realize what this psychotic couple is up to (Clint super-glues a motel clerk's mouth and nose shut and watches him suffocate!) and all three become genuine friends. At one point Clint saves Josh from certain doom, when Josh (who doesn't know he is wanted by the law as their accomplice) is snatched by a truck driver who spots his photo in a newspaper. Clint blows the trucker's guts out with a shotgun. Josh begins to suspect something is horribly wrong when he witnesses Clint and Marla murder Stupid the Clown (billed simply as "Himself" in a scene-stealing performance), a foul-mouthed performance artist they pick up on the road. When Josh refuses to participate in the killing, Clint and Marla tie him up and promise him a slow death. Marla dies (her head goes through a window) after unsuccessfully trying to seduce a bound and gagged Josh. When Clint spots Marla's body, he strings Josh up by the neck and shoots him in the knee. Interrupted by an ill-timed police visit, Josh breaks free and slits Clint's throat. The next time we see Josh, he is picking up a female hitchhiker. I guess he really wasn't much different than Clint and Marla after all. This gritty, low-budget drama packs an emotional wallop that will stay with you for quite a while. Well acted by a cast of relative unknowns, the dialogue is delivered in a true-to-life fashion that doesn't seem phony. This is a welcome addition to the recent spate of serial killer movies, including Oliver Stone's over-hyped (but still interesting) NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994) and the mostly crappy DTV films on real-life serial killers that flooded shelves in the 00's (see my review of B.T.K. ). Believe it or not, this is another good film to be released by Action International Home Video (see review of TRAPPED ALIVE). Director Tony Elwood (KILLER - 1989) elicits good performances and, most of all, makes good use of rural backgrounds, turning them into regions where anything and everything could happen. This film should be high on your rental list. Released as ROAD KILL U.S.A. on video. An A.I.P. Home Video Release. Not Rated.
THE SALTON SEA (2002) - I've read a lot of bad press about Val Kilmer: "He's difficult." "I'll never work with him again." "This guy's got an ego the size of Texas." Frankly, I don't give a shit. Watch him in this movie and you'll see one of the best actors of our generation. Even though this film had a limited theatrical release, nobody seemed interested at the time except a few critics, some who saw it for what it really was: A slam-bang thriller with a personal edge so sharp, that the viewer could get cut just for getting caught up in it. Kilmer portrays a man with a mission. At first he's Tom Van Allen, a musician who sees his wife (Chandra West) murdered by a pair of masked gunmen who rip-off a meth-amphetamine lab (run by musician/actor Meat Loaf), that they stop by when they get lost on the road. A single red hair recovered on her body makes Kilmer take on another identity, Danny Parker, a tweaker who hangs out with the dregs of society in hopes of finding the person who put a bullet in his wife's head. He teams up with a pair of corrupt cops (Anthony LaPaglia of WITHOUT A TRACE [2002 - 2009] and Doug Hutchinson of THE X-FILES [1993 - 2002]) and rats out some suppliers to them after they force him to do their bidding or go to jail. Parker wants to set up a big deal with Pooh-Bear (the always interesting Vincent D'Onofrio of LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT [2001 - 2011]), a man who lost his nose from sniffing so much "gak" that he had a plastic nose attached to his face. Parker knows who the killer is and goes about setting up the ultimate trap to get his revenge. It involves a Chinese cowboy (B.D. Wong of OZ [1997 - 2003]), $250,000 dollars in cash and a case of mistaken identity. There are so many double and triple crosses in this film that in the hand of a lesser director, this could be very confusing. Luckily, director D.J. Caruso (BLACK CAT RUN - 1998; he would later graduate to the big time with the films DISTURBIA  and EAGLE EYE , both starring Shia LaBeauf) has a firm grasp on Tony Gayton's screenplay and never loses his grip, turning in one of the best thrillers of 2002. There's some welcome humor also present, including Adam Goldberg's plan of stealing Bob Hope's stool sample (!) and selling it on eBay. It doesn't turn out well (All This happens while an old guy [Tom Fitzpatrick] in a wheelchair sings "Take A Walk On The Wild Side") . It also presents the tweaker's life as one of the ugliest lifestyles, living in dirty flophouses filled with puking dopeheads and people who never stop talking. Other acting honors go out to Peter Sarsgaard as Parker's best "friend" Jimmy the Finn, who still stays his friend even when he finds out who Parker really is. It's a scene that would put a lump in anyone's throat who has a pulse. D'Onofrio is a hoot, one part scary bastard and one part sideshow freak (you'll do a double-take when you see him without his fake nose). He's always interesting to watch, going all the way back to his performance as Private Pyle in FULL METAL JACKET (1987). But the film belongs to Val Kilmer, who imbues his characters with a humanity rarely seen in films of this type. You can see that it's a struggle for him to remember his Tom Van Allen life, as he keeps everything that reminds him of that life neatly packed in a suitcase under his bed, occasionally opening it and putting on his suit and fedora and playing his horn to keep the memory of his dead wife alive. While the ending may seem a little pat (I was kind of glad it turned out the way it did, even if it should have ended differently), you'll be totally engrossed in the characters and what happens to them. I don't say this much, but as soon as the movie ended, I wanted to watch it again (I did!). It was even better the second time. Also starring Luis Guzman, Glenn Plummer, Deborah Kara Unger, Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey and a penis-hungry badger (Don't ask. Just watch the film.) Eriq La Salle (ER [1994 - 2009]) and Frank Darabont (THE GREEN MILE - 1999) are two of the producers. A Warner Home Video DVD Release. Rated R.
SCALPEL (1976) - One of the most overlooked thrillers of the 70's. I remember that when I first got HBO in the late 70's, this was one of the first films that I saw. It left an impression then and still leaves an impression today. When plastic surgeon Robert Lansing is caught killing his daughter's boyfriend by her, she leaves home and never returns. When Lansing's father passes away and leaves Lansing's daughter (Judith Chapman) five million dollars and the estate, Lansing comes up with a plan to take a beaten-to-a-pulp stripper and create her in his daughter's image. He succeeds and teaches her everything there is to know about his daughter and his family in exchange for half of the five million dollars. The only problem is that his real daughter was an accomplished pianist and his fake daughter can't play a lick. This one little tick turns Lansing's life upside down when his real daughter returns and begins her life back at home as if nothing has ever happened. Double and triple-crosses ensue, with a truly satisfying ending that puts all the missing pieces together. I really miss the late Robert Lansing. He always had this cool exterior which covered an even blacker interior. His first starring role was in the interesting horror film 4D MAN in 1959 (re-released as MASTER OF TERROR in 1965) and had a long and varied career in films and TV before succumbing to cancer in 1994. When his real daughter returns home, he looks really pleased even though we know that he has a lot of explaining to do. He answers every one of his daughter's questions with answers that sound so honest that we almost forgive him for everything that he's done. He even sets up killings with such pinache and bravado, that he almost seems non-human. Judith Chapman (DEAD SPACE - 1991) has a field day in her dual role as we never know which one is the more evil of the two. It turns out that they are both equals, both with plans of their own. Throw in some gory plastic surgery footage and enough sleazy action to keep your interest (incest is implied and, in the case of his fake daughter, carried out), toss in some very tricky plotting and what develops is a very satisfying film. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so should you. Also starring Arlen Dean Snyder as money-hungry Uncle Bradley (who only gets ownership the family dog at the reading of his father's will!), David Scarroll and Bruce Atkins. Director/producer/screenwriter John Grissmer directed just one other film, the gory slasher flick BLOOD RAGE (1984 - a.k.a. NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS in a severely edited form). He also produced and co-wrote THE BRIDE (a.k.a. THE HOUSE THAT CRIED MURDER - 1973). Also known as FALSE FACE. A Charter Entertainment Home Video Release. Rated R.
SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS (1973) - Normal-looking Frank (Gary Kent; SATAN'S SADISTS - 1969) and his retarded brother John (John Stoglin) troll the highways in their old Packard looking for young women to kidnap and bring home, where they are locked in the basement and used as sexual playthings under the instructions of their strict mother (who keeps her face hidden under a shawl). Their latest victim is Sue (Merrie Lynn Ross; BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW - 1976), who meets two other girls in the basement: Ginger (Suzanne Lund), who has been held captive for two weeks, and the sickly Stevie (T.R. Blackburn), who has been there for over two months. When Sue tries to escape by tricking simpleton John into playing a game of Hide and Seek, brother Frank kills her with a shotgun blast to her back. After playing a game of "doctor" with Ginger (that turns into a torture session), John brings her to the parlor (wearing a dog collar and a leash) to "play" with Frank, who strips her naked and tries to rape her, but he's sexually incapable of completing the act. Ginger asks, "Did you ever have a girl, Frank?" to which Frank responds, "Once, but Mother didn't approve." This triggers a flashback where Frank introduces his fiancée to his mother (Greta Gayland). Mother instantly disapproves (She fakes heart pains so Frank will massage her breasts) and when Frank is out of earshot, she tells his fiancée that she and Frank engage in incest on a regular basis and the fiancée runs away, never to be seen again. Mother tells Frank that "all women should be in cages" and from that moment on, that is the way Frank treats women. Back to the present, John wants a new girl to play with, so he and Frank kidnap college girl Bonnie (Cheryl Waters; MACON COUNTY LINE - 1974, here using the name "Leah Tate"). She is locked in the basement with Ginger and Stevie (who is now near death), but she holds out hope that her boyfriend, college professor Robert (Stafford Morgan; THE ALPHA INCIDENT - 1978, here using the pseudonym "Robert Matthews", the name of his character in this film) will find her. Robert finds a piece of evidence that will eventually lead him to Frank and John's home, but the question soon becomes: Will he get there in time before Frank and John ruin her as a woman? Bonnie briefly escapes and discovers the decaying corpse of Frank and John's mother in one of the bedrooms. So who is actually disguising themselves as dear, old Mom? When Robert rescues Bonnie, they both discover Frank has hanged himself and John is whimpering "Mama! Mama!" over-and-over beside his swinging corpse. This is not the ending most viewers of this type of entertainment have come to expect. Whether it is good or bad depends on your tolerance level. Me? I liked it. This is the first directorial effort from Don Jones (he also produced and wrote the screenplay), who later gave us such enjoyable genre efforts as THE LOVE BUTCHER (1975), THE FOREST (1981) and MOLLY AND THE GHOST (1991). While SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS is slow-moving and relies a little too much on PSYCHO (1960) for plot devices, it does have an air of sleaziness that permeates every frame, starting with the creepy opening titles, which show a series of bizarre and ugly dolls while an even creepier song, titled "Triangles, Circles and Squares", plays in the background. There's also plenty of nudity (including full frontal by Ms. Lund), but very little blood or gore. It's the sleaze factor that really carries the film, though, and it's enhanced by a rare starring role from genre vet Gary Kent (also the Production Manager here), who recently wrote an autobiography ("Shadows & Light: Journeys With Outlaws in Revolutionary Hollywood" from Dalton Publishing) that should be read by every fan of B films (he's really led an interesting life). The rather abrupt ending is at least different for a film of this type and adds a human element to the two villains. Unusual enough for at least one viewing. Ron Garcia, who directed the exploitation oddities THE TOY BOX (1970) and SWINGERS MASSACRE (1975), was Director of Photography here. Also starring Russell Lane, Ervin Sanders and Herb Goldstein. Originally released on VHS by World Premiere Home Video under the title LET'S PLAY DEAD and available on DVD from Code Red under the title GIRLS IN CHAINS. Retail outlets (like Best Buy) made Code Red remove the word "SCHOOL" from the DVD cover art (the actual print retains the full title) because they considered it too "risqué" to be on their shelves. Once again, political correctness wins out over common sense. Also known as COME PLAY WITH US and ABDUCTED. Available on a double feature DVD from Code Red under its full title with the awful film TERROR CIRCUS (a.k.a. BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD - 1974). Rated R.
SEVEN MURDERS FOR SCOTLAND YARD (1971) - An unseen sexual psychopath walks the streets of modern-day London (where we see movie marquees for X-rated films like WILD WILLING AND SEXY  and ALYSE AND CHLOE ) and picks up a prostitute ("You wanna make it?"). The killer follows her home and then stabs her to death with a knife hidden in a cane. We are then introduced to Pedro (Paul Naschy), an ex-trapeze artist-turned-drunk when he blew out his knee during an act he performed with his wife at a circus. When his cheating wife is the next one killed by the gloved psycho, Pedro is questioned by Scotland Yard Commissioner Campbell (Renzo Marignano). The murdered women have had some vital organs surgically removed, which makes this case similar to the Jack The Ripper murders in the late 1800's. Just like in that unsolved series of murders, the killer begins sending Commissioner Campbell a series of taunting letters. As more women are killed and their organs removed, we are introduced to more characters, one who could be the killer, including Commissioner Campbell's best friend, Winston (Andres Resino), a school teacher, where one of his female students is killed in the school's gymnasium. Commissioner Campbell still believes Pedro is the culprit because his alibis are too good to be true and Pedro also has two years of medical training. The police get a phone call from "Jack The Ripper", who gives them an address to where his latest victim is located. When the police arrive, they find a drunk Pedro in bed with a murdered prostitute, her liver missing. Pedro manages to get away (using his trapeze training), but is shot and injured when he runs away. Commissioner Campbell (who was mysteriously missing during Pedro's near-arrest) professes his love to best friend Winston's wife, Sandy (Orchidea DeSantis), and then receives a package at his office that contains the head of the Ripper's latest victim, her eyes missing. The gloved killer then kidnaps Sandy and Commissioner Campbell questions Winston, who then confronts him about his impotency ("Life has played a dirty trick on you!"). Winston accuses Campbell of having an affair with Sandy, but he denies it. Pedro tries to find out who the real killer is, while various lowlifes try to kill him for a reward (He ends up stabbing a couple of them to death, which doesn't help his case). Campbell receives another body part in the mail and the killer claims that it belongs to Sandy. Is Sandy really dead and who is responsible for all these killings? Eagle-eyed viewers should have this figured out long before the film ends. This Spanish/Italian giallo, directed by Jose Luis Madrid (THE HORRIBLE SEXY VAMPIRE - 1970), here billed as "J.L. Makrik", is a lesser Paul Naschy film when compared to his other body of work at the time (WEREWOLF SHADOW - 1971; HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB - 1973; HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE - 1973). The murders aren't particularly gory (just a couple of close-ups of knife blades penetrating the skin) and the mystery is not very compelling or difficult to figure out. Although Naschy is top-billed, he really doesn't have much to do here besides drink heavily, get into a couple of fights and show off his barrel chest on several occasions. Besides some excellent on-location photography of swinging early-70's London and a few POV shots of the killer stabbing his victims, this film is a rather dry affair that cuts away just before any nudity is shown (which is strange, considering that many of the murders are committed on prostitutes, but this may be the Spanish cut and not the Continental version, which allowed more nudity to be shown). Although not a bad film, it's not as bloody or as sexy as we've come to expect from the films that Paul Naschy was involved in (he wrote the screenplay using his real name, Jacinto Molina, along with Madrid and Tito Carpi). Also known as JACK THE RIPPER OF LONDON and JACK THE MANGLER OF LONDON. Also starring Patricia Loran, Franco Borelli, Teresita Castizio, Carmen Roger, Irene Mir, Victor Vilanova and Maika. The widescreen print I viewed (on DVD from JEF Films, a company of questional repute) was in less than stellar condition, but watchable. Not Rated.
SKINHEADS: THE SECOND COMING OF HATE (1988) - This Greydon Clark-directed exercise in poor taste tells the delightful story of a group of shaven-headen neo-Nazis who wreak a path of destruction and murder while spouting such witticisms as, "Death to all niggers and spics" and "Keep the blood pure!". After robbing a grocery store and beating the Jewish owners (as well as a black child) they hightail it out of town and head to the mountains until the heat dies down. They stop at Barbara Bain's (SPACE: 1999 [1975 - 1977]) country inn and kill everyone except two who escape: A Berkeley college student (Jason "son of Robert" Culp) and a political aide (Elizabeth Sagal of TV's DOUBLE TROUBLE [1984 - 1985]). They are hunted in the woods by the bald bastards until our two heroes come upon a cabin resided in by a crusty old-timer (the late Chuck Connors of TOURIST TRAP - 1979). After Connors is shot down, our heroes decide to fight instead of run away. They take out the gang one by one until only the leader (Brian Brophy) is left. I think that one-man filmmaking threat Greydon Clark intended this to be a straight drama but it plays much better if you view it as a comedy.The group of skinheads play like a latter day version of the Bowery Boys, with their constant infighting and slapping each other around. The stupid one of the group, a hulk of a guy appropriately called Brains (Dennis Ott), takes a shit in the woods and then wipes his ass with poison ivy. He spends the rest of the film scratching his butt. As exploitation films go, this one is pretty dull. It has bad editing, dull acting and dreadful pacing. It also has a bear attack, a rattlesnake bite, a rape, numerous gunshot hits and stabbings, a crucifixion, a man's leg caught in a bear trap and Chuck Connors doing his patented "cocking the rifle twirl" that he used to do so well when he starred in TV's THE RIFLEMAN (1958 - 1963). SKINHEADS is one of those films that is so bad it's good. What else would you expect from the director of SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS (1977) and the film that ended the Lambada craze, THE FORBIDDEN DANCE (1990)? This is exactly what I expected. A New Star Home Video Release. Rated R.
SLAUGHTER HOTEL (1971) - I'm a huge fan of Italian genre films of the 70's & 80's, whether it be horror, giallo, crime, action, fantasy, science fiction and, yes, sex comedies. When they are done right, they can be memorable experiences that transcend normal film watching and even if they are bad, they were still better than their American counterparts. I have always believed those that attack Italian genre films of those two decades as being "rip-offs' or "carbon copies" of American films miss the point. They may have followed the blueprints, but these films always brought something unique to the table that most U.S. films didn't dare to show, whether it be wall-to-wall nudity, simulated sex that almost crossed into X-Rated territory, graphic gore that most American horror films would take nearly a decade to catch up with and leading characters that weren't always likable. That is why when these Italian films made it to U.S. theaters, they were cut to pieces (slaughtered to Hell, if it were), missing good healthy pieces of sex, nudity and gore which made these films special in the first place, just to obtain an R-Rating. SLAUGHTER HOTEL was one of those films. When it found a U.S. theatrical distributor in 1973, it was missing over 5 minutes of footage, and when it was re-released to theaters a few years later, it was missing 10 minutes (some VHS and budget DVD versions using the title ASYLUM EROTICA were the version missing 10 minutes of footage). When SLAUGHTER HOTEL was released to U.S. theaters in 1973, it was advertised as some sort of telling of the then-famous Richard Speck murders of eight innocent nurses, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Which is why it is such a joy to finally see these film in their original, uncut Italian versions, thanks to DVD & Blu-Ray, so we get the full meaning of the films. The film opens with a mysterious figure in black, complete with cape, hood and gloves (a giallo staple), as we watch him break into a castle-like female clinic (actually a mental institution), where he goes into a room full of medieval weapons (don't ask me why a mental institution has a medieval weapons room, but it does!) picks up a hand axe and heads up the velvet-roped stairs. He spies a totally nude Anne (Rosalba Neri; LADY FRANKENSTEIN - 1971) writhing in bed, as the camera lovingly gives us close-ups of Anne's vagina (while the frenetic editing of the killer's POV is shown in every direction possible, to convey his mentally off-balanced nature). Just as he is about to kill Anne, the morning alarm and lights go on, as nurses pushing trays of medication fill the hallways, forcing the unseen killer to retreat. We then witness Ruth (Gioia Desideri), who is unwillingly being driven to the "clinic" by her husband, who tells her that her doctors in Switzerland ordered her to stay a few weeks in this clinic for rest and relaxation because it has a very good recovery rate. Ruth calls it a "loony bin" and grabs the steering wheel, nearly driving her and her husband into oncoming traffic. Her husband gets control of the steering wheel in time and once they make it to the clinic, he angrily dumps her off and drives away, saying "I'll see you next week." When a male orderly tries to take her to her room, Ruth grabs a log and tries to hit him over the head, but this orderly has seen every trick imaginable and pulls the log out of her hand. Yes, Ruth has some major anger issues. As a matter of fact, every woman in this clinic, whether patient or nurse, have issues of their own. Patient Anne is a stark raving nymphomaniac (she has a long freak-out scene in the shower in the beginning of the film which leaves nothing to the imagination). Cheryl (Margaret Lee; DORIAN GRAY - 1970) tried to kill herself and her husband (Piero Nistri) wants her to be released immediately because she has power of attorney of a thriving business (My "fishiness alarm" just went off!). Mara (Jane Garret) has Daddy issues and has spent much of her young life at the clinic because her father travels all over the world. These women, and many more, are under the care of Professor Osterman (John Karlsen; THE CHURCH - 1989) and his assistant, Dr. Francis Clay (a restrained Klaus Kinski; SCHIZOID - 1980). It's also apparent that some of the nurses are lesbians and quite like their jobs, as they touch their female patients' naughty bits while giving them massages (the cameraman must really love his job because he spends an awful lot of time focusing on these naughty parts!). Things begin going into a downward spiral rather quickly when one of the nurses is beheaded by a scythe held by the black-clad killer, while nympho Anne strips naked in the greenhouse to have sex with the gardener (John Ely). He has to slap Anne several times to get her to leave because he doesn't want to lose his job (When the male orderlies find Anne, she tries to force herself on them!). We also find out that the married Cheryl may be having an affair with Dr. Clay. The killer sneaks into Ruth's bedroom, strangles, then stabs her with a medieval dagger, and cuts off her panties. The next to die is Professor Osterman's chauffeur Augusto (Fernando Cerillo; WATCH ME WHEN I KILL - 1977), who is pushed into a spiked iron maiden of Nuremberg in the Medieval Room, as his blood flows and collects at the bottom (don't worry, we'll see his impaled body later in the film). The killer then goes into Cheryl's room to murder her with a sword, but she's not there (she's with Dr. Clay), so he goes to Mara's room, but she is getting it on with dyke Nurse Helen (Monica Striebel) in some naughty bubble bath action. The frustrated killer then goes to Anne's room (where we just witnessed her doing an explicit masturbation scene that would have automatically slapped this film with an X-Rating if left intact), where he chops her graphically with the small hand axe (but not before she tries to hit on him!). After Nurse Helen and Mara dance to music from Mara's African ancestry, they get down to some girl-on-girl action in bed (another really explicit sexual scene which would have slapped the film with an X-Rating). After they are done, Mara looks out her window, only for a crossbow bolt to come flying through the window and impale her in the neck (the bolt protrudes out of the other side). Nurse Helen screams out in terror as Professor Osterman, Dr. Clay, the gardener and the rest of the staff rush to see what is going on. Professor Osterman recognizes the crossbow bolt as coming from the Medieval Room, so he, Dr. Clay and Cheryl head there, where they discover Augusto riddled with holes (including a large one in the back of his head). Osterman also notices blood on some of the other weapons and that one of the swords is missing. So just exactly who is the killer? Is it Professor Osterman? Or Dr. Clay (don't count him out because he disappeared for a short amount of time when he was alone with Cheryl)? The gardener? How about Cheryl? The police arrive and the Inspector (Ettore Geri) wants to use Cheryl as bait for the killer's next strike. Will the killer succeed or fail? What are his motivations? I'm not going to say, but this one is pretty easy to figure out if you read the entire review. Let me just go on to say that the killer briefly escapes police custody, kills two cops and viciously murders eight to nine female patients and nurses with a medieval mace as they are cowering in a room (very brutal and unexpected), before being gunned down with at least twenty shots by the police (shown in slow motion just before the film ends). While not a great giallo film by anyone's standard, it is still a quite weird one. Director/screenwriter Fernando Di Leo (NAKED VIOLENCE - 1969; MANHUNT - 1972; MILANO CALIBRO 9 - 1972; THE BOSS - 1973; SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER - 1974; KIDNAP SYNDICATE - 1975; THE VIOLENT BREED - 1984; KILLER VS. KILLERS - 1985), who passed away in 2003, makes some mighty strange choices in this film, which is why it is so memorable. For one, the nudity and sex goes way beyond what we here in the States would find tolerable in 1973 in a non-porn film and that is why almost all of it is missing in the R-Rated theatrical cut (The VHS, from Gorgon Video, was as close as you would get to seeing more nudity than you did in theaters, but it was still heavily edited), as cinematographer Franco Villa (MALABIMBA: THE MALICIOUS WHORE - 1979) does many close-ups of female masturbation where they actually open up their labias and expose the pink inside. That was a no-no, even in R-Rated films of the 70's. Di Leo also had esoteric choices in music (by Silvano Spadaccino), as part of the film sounds like muzak from an elevator and other times it is a cacophony of percussions and other loud sounds, followed by seconds of extreme silence and then loud sounds again (I first thought that there was something wrong with the pressing of my Blu-Ray, but learned quickly that it was intentional). Editor Amedeo Giomini (CROSS CURRENT - 1971) also spastically cuts the film in weird angles, as each woman seems to be having strange nightmares about things that happened at the clinic. If you pay close enough attention, you will spot the killer way before the police do (Di Leo uses Kinski as a red herring to good effect). If you like your films full of explicit sex, nudity and graphic violence, you can do no better than this film, which bears the original Italian title "La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo" (translated as "The Beast Kills In Cold Blood"). The film is in English, but if you decide to watch it with optional English subtitles, you will notice some of the character's names change in the subtitles than what they actually say on-screen. Also known as COLD BLOODED BEAST. Totally worth buying for your library. Also starring Sandro Rossi, Giulio Baraghini, Lina Franchi and Carla Mancini. Available on uncut Blu-Ray from Raro Video in a beautiful 2.35:1 widescreen print, the only true way to watch it. This version is Not Rated for so many reasons.
SMALL KILL (1991) - Unusual low-budget crime thriller with definite horror overtones. Gary Burghoff (!) discards his Radar OReilly personna from his M*A*S*H (1972 - 1983) days to portray a psychopathic bisexual pedophile named Fleck who kidnaps young children for ransom. He even disguises himself as an old female fortune teller! When five children are found brutally murdered, two New York cops (Fred Carpenter, Donnie Kehr) are assigned to the case and discover that the killings may be tied to a drug case they are also investigating. When another child is kidnapped, one of the cops go undercover as the childs father to deliver the ransom. Things go wrong (the stupid kid tells Fleck that the cop is not his father) and Fleck escapes, killing another cop in the process. Things come to a bloody end as we find out that Fleck is using the ransom money to finance his fledgling drug empire. Fleck disposes of anyone who gets in his way, slashing one of the hero cops and blowing away his drug associates. Fleck meets a fitting end, getting a knife thrown through his neck, pinning him to a wall. Although the acting is uneven, this Long Island-lensed feature has enough bloodshed (make-up effects by Bryant Holt) and tense situations to hold your attention. Heads and hands are blown off in graphic detail, theres a scene where a man has his head crushed under the wheels of a moving vehicle and Burghoffs performance (he directed all his own scenes) is excellent. He is chilling. He is the total antithesis of Radar. The New York Post stated that Burghoffs role makes Hannibal Lecter look like a Boy Scout. Theyre not far off. Jason Miller (THE EXORCIST - 1973), who looks bloated and haggard (like a bum on a two week bender), puts in a cameo appearance as an alcoholic stoolie. Directed and co-written by Robert M. Fresco (EVIL HAS A FACE - 1996). Also starring Rebecca Ferratti. I would give SMALL KILL an excellent rating if it werent for the indifferent acting talents of some of the cast. All-in-all, this is a good way to waste 86 minutes. A VCI Home Video Release. Rated R.
STREETS OF DEATH (1987) - When it came to directing some of the worst films of the 80's, very few people could even come close to the awfulness that was Jeff Hathcock. With films such as VICTIMS! (1985), NIGHT RIPPER (1986) and FERTILIZE THE BLASPHEMING BOMBSHELL (1989) on Mr. Hathcock's resume, it's hard to believe that he could sink to any lower depths. Welcome to STREETS OF DEATH, a film so cheap and lowbrow, Satan himself would feel burned after viewing it. This cruddy SOV effort opens with a van (with only one working headlight) pulling in front of the camera, it's single headlight blinding the viewer for a good sixty seconds before we cut to a shot of a dead girl with her bloody arm dangling out of a trash bin and the title of the movie spelled out in red letters on the inside of the bin. We then watch a hooker getting dressed in sparkly spandex and walking the streets looking for a customer. She finds the unseen killer in the van, who tempts her with lots of money and the next time we see her, the killer is dumping her lifeless bloody body in a dumpster. After getting slapped around by her pimp for not making enough money, another hooker gets picked up by the van killer and her hanged and naked body is discovered by a wino in an abandoned building the next morning. Police Lieutenant Bernie Navarre (Simon DeSoto) and Detective Grant Jordan (Lawrence Scott) have found five bodies in the past three weeks and they are stumped, so when they see someone beating up a hooker on a street corner, they give chase, only to have the shit kicked out of them by the hooker's lesbian girlfriend, who is an expert martial artist (but not the killer). Another hooker exits a car (She says to her john, "It was a pleasure sitting on your face!") and gets picked up by the van killer. Before you know it, she is hog-tied and naked with the killer slowly advancing at her body with an electric drill. By the time Bernie and Grant view her corpse, she has had so many holes drilled in her, there's not an ounce of blood left in her body. Undercover officer Kelly Anderson (Susanne Smith) is assigned to work as a hooker to catch the killer, with Grant as her backup, but, at first, all she is able to attract is a car full of horny Chicanos and a dirty old man (who she picks up in front of a store called House of Bibles!) who is naked under his raincoat. Bernie is forced by the higher-ups to allow two filmmakers, Artie Benson (Larry Thomas, who later gained fame as the "Soup Nazi" on SEINFELD [1990 - 1998]) and Lenny Miller (Guy Ecker), to make a documentary on prostitutes in the city, not knowing that Artie and Lenny are actually the (homosexual) van killers and they now have a license to film their murders. They almost get caught while dumping a body, but Artie and Lenny kill the two eyewitnesses. Kelly and Grant eventually fall in love, but will she live long enough for them to find true love? Ex-cop Frank Phillips (a bloated and top-billed Tommy Kirk), who was kicked-off the force for being drunk when he killed a kid brandishing a toy knife, suddenly enters Bernie's office and begs him to let him work on the hooker murder case as a civilian (What?). Meanwhile, we learn that Artie and Lenny are making snuff films for profit and they need to film more hooker deaths to satisfy the demand for their product. Only Frank seems to know what they are up to, but can he convince his ex-boss before more hookers lose their lives? Does anyone really care? Hey, is that lump on my head a brain tumor? Films (and I use that term loosely) don't come much worse than this; from Tommy Kirk's sweaty, whiney performance (I'd like to say this film killed his gin-soaked career, but he did that long before appearing in this, starring in such Larry Buchanan's turdfests like MARS NEEDS WOMEN  and IT'S ALIVE ) to Jeff Hathcock's turgid video direction and deadly dull screenplay. There's way too much talk and very little bloody action considering the subject matter (the camera always turns away just as things are about to get interesting) and the romance between Kelly and Grant takes up more screen time than it deserves. While there is a little blood and nudity shown, the flat video photography does it no favors (It's muddy as dishwater, like watching a film through a lace doily smeared in Vaseline) and the droning synthesizer score will give you a migraine long before the movie ends. This is the least-seen of Hathcock's 80's flicks, but there's a reason for that. It's about as exciting as watching your Aunt Doris trimming her toenails. Also starring Dave Kalmeyer, Kahlena Marie, Gil Revilla, Lonny Withers, Ray Williams and Amy Lyndon. An Argosy Video International VHS Release. Not available on DVD. Not Rated.
STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975) - Sleazy Italian giallo film that opens with a doctor performing an abortion on a young woman. When she wakes up in the middle of the procedure and dies of a massive coronary, the doctor and assistant Carlo Bianchi (Nino Castelnuovo) take the woman's body to her house, place her in a bathtub full of water and make it look like she drowned in her bathtub of natural causes. The doctor then drives home like nothing wrong has happened, but is attacked and graphically stabbed to death by someone wearing a black leather outfit, complete with motorcycle helmet. The attacker then cuts off the doctor's testicles and leaves them next to his body. The next time we see Carlo, he is taking photos of the beautiful bikini-clad Lucia (Femi Benussi; THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN - 1973) and soon he has talked her into stripping nude in a sauna and they are making love. Carlo brings Lucia back to the modeling agency he works for, where we meet an odd assortment of characters: Magda (Edwige Fenech; YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM - 1972), a fellow photographer and wannabe model who has the hots for Carlo; Gisella Montani (played by the single-monikered Amanda), the iron-fisted owner of the modeling agency; Maurizio (Franco Diogene), Gisella's overweight husband who has a habit of hitting on the models; Patricia (Solvi Stubing), the agency's number one model who is now being hounded bu Maurizio for some time in the sack and doesn't appreciate having Lucia as a new rival; and various other employees. When an obviously gay employee named Mario develops a photo that contains images of everyone in the agency (including the dead abortion girl, who we find out was named Evelyn), the black-clad killer follows him home, stabs him to death and steals the photo, but not before cutting off Mario's gonads and leaving them next to his body (It is also obvious Mario knew the killer, calling his attacker "darling", but since Mario was gay, the killer could be a man or a woman). A police inspector (Lucio Como) interrogates all of the agency's employees and tries to tie-in the doctor's murder with Mario's, since they are so similar. Gisella and Lucia begin a lesbian relationship and Gisella warns Lucia to stay away from Carlo if she knows what's good for her. Lucia is then graphically stabbed to death by the leather-clad killer immediately after Gisella leaves the apartment. An earring found next to Lucia's body offers an important clue to the killer's identity and when Maurizio is the next to suffer the fate of the killer's knife, all clues point to Gisella being the killer. But when Gisella is blackmailed for ten million lire by someone over the phone and Carlo takes photos of the killer murdering Gisella as she is delivering the blackmail money (she is stabbed and has both her ears cut off), it is apparent that Carlos is the blackmailer and the killer is someone close to him. The killer tries to run over Carlos with a car, sending him to the hospital. Magda must find Carlos' undelveloped roll of film to unmask the killer. When Magda is set-up to look like the killer, Carlo must unmask the real killer in the film's bloody climax. If you have been following this review closely, you should be able to figure out who the killer is. This is a nasty, nudity-filled thriller that is sure to raise some eyebrows, due to both male and female full-frontal nudity and the manner of the killings. Director Andrea Bianchi, who also gave us the excellent crime thriller CRY OF A PROSTITUTE (1974), the zombie horror flick BURIAL GROUND (1981) and the slasher film MASSACRE (1989), and screenwriter Massimo Felisatti, give us enough red herrings to keep us guessing (although it is readily apparent that the overweight Maurizio could never fit into the killer's tight leather outfit), but even those not familiar with giallo conventions could unmask the killer more quickly than this film's police inspector. The stabbings are quite nasty (plenty of spurting blood) and the sight of the male victims' removed testicles (yes, you do see them on a couple of occasions!) is quite unnerving. This may not be a top-tier giallo film, but it has enough quirkiness (such as the reveal that Maurizio is a virgin and can only make love to a blow-up doll without prematurely ejaculating!), luscious nudity and graphic violence (including shots of dead male and female bodies with cut-off penises and breasts) to make it a worthwhile addition to any giallo fan's library. Original title: NUDE PER L'ASSASSINO. Also starring Erna Schurer, Gianni Airo, Silvana Depretto, Achille Grioni, Guiseppa Moschella, Filippo La Neve, Claudio Pelligrini, Wainer Verri and Rudolfo Zola. Blue Underground offers an excellent widescreen, English-dubbed DVD of this film and now they offer an even better Blu-Ray. Not Rated.
SURVIVAL RUN (1978) - A group of teens (including Vincent Van Patten, Marianne Sauvage, Cosi Costa, Susan Pratt O'Hanlon, Robbie Weaver and Randi Meryl) become stuck in the Arizona desert after their van breaks down. They run into a gang of narcotic and gun-running thugs, led by Peter Graves (THE CLONUS HORROR - 1979) and Ray Milland (FROGS - 1972), who proceed to rape and kill the teens. The teens fight back and the chase is on. There are motorcycle chases, gunfights, explosions, knifings and other standard "trapped in the desert" goings-on in this run-of-the-mill thriller. Both Graves and Milland look embarassed to be in junk like this, a Mexico/United States co-production directed by Larry Spiegel (EVIL TOWN - 1985). There's not much in the way of gore or nudity, so the question must be asked: "What's the bloody point?" The only plus this film has to offer are the slimy performances of Milland's henchmen, portrayed by Danny Ades and Gonzalo Vega. They ooze sleaze as they dance with the girls and gang rape O'Hanlon (offscreen) after killing her boyfriend. The minuses far outpace the plusses though, so stay away from SURVIVAL RUN unless you have nothing better to do (like trimming your nose hair with a dull pair of hedge clippers). Producer Lance Hool (STEEL DAWN - 1987) puts in an appearance as a narcotics officer early in the film. Also starring Pedro Armendariz Jr. (TREASURE OF THE AMAZON - 1985; ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO - 2003) as the only good guy in Grave's gang. A Media Home Entertainment Release. Rated R.
TED BUNDY (2002) - Everyone knows the story of Ted Bundy. During the '70's he supposedly murdered over one hundred women, making him the worst serial killer in U.S. history and he alone changed the way the FBI would profile future serial killers. In this film, director Matthew Bright (FREEWAY - 1996) portrays Bundy (Michael Reilly Burke - CREATURE - 1998; OCTOPUS 2: RIVER OF FEAR - 2002) as the perennial loser: an illegitimate, shoplifting peeping tom who, even though he has an above-average IQ, has trouble relating to women on a personal level. He has a girlfriend (Boti Ann Bliss) who does anything to please his sexual desires, but he still feels the need to mutilate and sexually assault (including necrophelia) young women to satisfy his homicidal deviant ways. He leaves a trail of bodies from Seattle to Salt Lake City to Colorado Springs and, finally, to Florida. Picked up for questioning in a botched kidnapping in Salt Lake City, Bundy is interrogated by a detective (played by Tom Savini, who also supplies the gruesome special make-up effects) and is subsequently charged in the murder of a woman in Colorado. Bundy escapes from jail, not once, but twice, and hightails it to Florida where he takes a new identity but doesn't change his murderous ways. He kills and mutilates several more women before being caught after killing a 12 year old girl and sentenced to die in the electric chair (which he did in 1989). This is a sensationalistic retelling of Bundy's story; much different than the 1986 TV movie THE DELIBERATE STRANGER, where police procedural played an important role and Mark Harmon played Bundy. Here, the entire story is played through Bundy's eyes, from his first murder to his well-deserved demise. I hate to say it, since I like Matthew Bright's previous directorial efforts, but this is not a very good film. The main distraction is Burke's performance as Bundy. It's way too broad and seems to be played mainly for comical effect. Portraying America's worst sociopath with a wink towards the humorous is just plain wrong. Burke is basically a poodle in bulldog's clothing as we do not feel the gut-punch that we should when watching this character killing innocent women. Stephen Johnson, who co-wrote this film with Bright, did a much better job with the screenplay to ED GEIN (2000) mainly because he had a superior actor in Steve Railsback as Gein. Both films were produced by Tartan Films, who plan to make more films based on the lives of famous serial killers. TED BUNDY also stars Alexa Jago and longtime favorite coot actor Tracey Walter (REPO MAN - 1984) in a small role as a man who rents Bundy a room. If you're looking for blood, gore and nudity, you'll find it here. If you're looking for an intellectual film about what goes on in the mind of a serial killer, watch HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) instead. A First Look Home Entertainment DVD Release, who also released the serial killer film DAHMER (2002), though it wasn't produced by Tartan Films. Other real-life serial killer films followed, including SPECK, NIGHTSTALKER (both 2002) and GACY (2003). Rated R.
TERROR EXPRESS (1979) - Tell me if you have heard this one before: A trio of sadistic brutes board a train and brutalize the passengers; torturing them psychologically, physically and sexually. No, this isn't THE NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS (1974), but it does bear striking similarities in that they are both Italian productions, contain story elements lifted from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and revel in sexual degradation. The story is very simple: We are introduced to a variety of very unlikable characters as they board a train in Rome bound for Germany, while three gentlemen with no morals whatsoever, led by David (Werner Pochath; COP GAME - 1988; here billed as "Paul Werner"), begin to terrorize them, using the victims' fears and deep-rooted secrets to their advantage. David and his two friends, Elio (Carlo De Mejo; CONTAMINATION - 1980) and Nico (Giancarlo Maestri), start their mischief in the train's dining car, being loud and obnoxious, playing their portable radio too loud and being asked to turn it down by a rich, elderly businessman and his assistant (who we see buying his boss a stack of porno magazines before they board the train). The only member in the dining car who seems to like them is rebellious teenager Elena (Fiammetta Flamini), who is one the train with her strict, but abhorrent, parents. When Italian cop Mike (Venantino Venantini) brings his handcuffed prisoner, Pierre (Gianluigi Chirizzi; BURIAL GROUND - 1981), to the dining car for something to eat (He's escorting Pierre to Germany to stand trial for some, as yet, unknown crime), it causes more of a moral stink with the passengers than David and his friends do (They have already humiliated the busboy), so Mike and Pierre are forced to go back to their compartment and eat dinner alone. Also on the train is high-priced callgirl Julia (Silvia Dionisio; ANDY WARHOL'S DRACULA - 1973), who has a session with the elderly rich businessman in her compartment, but there are quite a few other men on the train that would like to spend some time with her, including Elena's father, who wants Julia to wear Elena's nightgown while he makes love to her (it's a sick, pseudo-incestual sequence). The married, but unhappy, Anna (Zora Kerova; CANNIBAL FEROX - 1980) willingly has sex with Elio in one of the train's bathrooms, but soon Nico enters the bathroom to make Anna the meat in their rape sandwich. Before long, David knocks out Mike, steals his gun and he and his two friends take over the train car. Elio frees Pierre from his handcuffs, while David locks both exit doors to the railway car and disables the handbrake so they can torture and torment the passengers at their whim. David wants Julia to give up her goodies to him willingly, but she refuses, so he threatens to rape Elena instead. Elena's mother pleads with Julia to fuck David and his friends, so she relents and screws David and Elio. Elio also makes love to a willing Elena (another sexually graphic scene), Pierre and Julia form a friendship and everyone else bickers amongst themselves while the train approaches its first stop. David and his pals lock all the passengers in one compartment as the train makes its first regularly scheduled stop, but Pierre escapes out a window. Will he escape or will he return to save Julia and the other passengers before David and his friends go full-tilt Bozo? A lot of review sites give TERROR EXPRESS high marks, but, to me, it's nothing but a film about a group of very unlikable people (I'm not just talking about David and his two pals, but also about nearly all of the passengers) being asinine pricks and getting the punishment they deserve. It's no coincidence that director Ferdinando Baldi (COMIN' AT YA! - 1981; WAR BUS - 1985; JUST A DAMNED SOLDIER - 1988) and screenwriter Gastone Carsetti (based on a story by Luigi Montefiori, better known on these shores as "George Eastman" of THE GRIM REAPER  fame) make prostitute Julia and prisoner Pierre the most sympathetic characters in the film, because all the other "normal" people (including the train's conductor [played by Gino Milli], who is nothing but a pimp in a uniform) are some of the most useless trash this side of a John Waters film (except for elderly couple Mary [who is dying] and husband Isaac, who never leave their compartment). Baldi wallows in the sleazier aspects of the film, including plenty of nudity, sex (especially an over-reliance on oral sex), rape and humiliation, which I guess is enough for some people, but not me. Werner Pochath is no David Hess and his antics as the leader of the trio (I guess naming him "David" was some sort of homage) pales in comparison to LAST HOUSE's Krug and company. The actual physical violence is rather restrained and bloodless (there are plenty of sexual assaults, though) until the finale, but by that time I had lost all interest. Not worth your time unless you like watching deserving people being degraded. Also starring Fausto Lombardi, Roberto Caporali and Antonino Maimone. Although there is no legitimate U.S. release of this film, German company Camera Obscura offers a nice widescreen print (under the title LA RAGAZZA DEL VAGONE LETTO/HORROR-SEX IM NACHTEXPRESS) in Italian or German languages with optional English subtitles. Not Rated.
TERROR FROM UNDER THE HOUSE (1971) - I have fond memories of watching this film on TV (under the title INN OF THE FRIGHTENED PEOPLE) during the 70's with my late mother. It was a favorite of hers, thanks to the psychological, rather than physical, violence as well the surprise ending and would soon become a favorite of mine, too (for the same reasons). The TV showings dried-up during the mid-80's and, besides a short-lived AIR Video VHS release (using the title BEHIND THE CELLAR DOOR), it disappeared from view. Imagine my surprise finding this tight little thriller on DVD. The story is simple: Jim and Carol Radford (James Booth, Joan Collins) lose one of their daughters (it's actually Carol's step-daughter) when she is raped and killed by a pedophile when leaving school. The police arrest a suspect named Seely (Kenneth Griffith), but have to release him when all the evidence in the case against him turns out to be circumstantial. A distraught Jim enlists the help of his teenage son Lee (Tom Marshall) and family friend Harry (Ray Barrett) to kidnap Seely and bring him to the Radford's cellar, which sits below a crowded pub that the Radford's own and run. After slugging Seely a few times (even Carol gets in a few licks), they tie him up and must decide what to do with him. As they try to keep their prisoner a secret from their other daughter Jill (Zuleika Robson), Lee's fiancee Rose (Sinead Cusack), who works as a waitress at the pub, and the pub's patrons, the Radfords and Harry begin fighting among each other (especially about who is actually going to kill him) and have many close calls with their new prisoner, including a couple of nosy beer deliverymen and an escape by Seely. When information comes to light that Seely may actually be innocent, it puts the Radfords into an even deeper quandary: Should they let him go and hope for the best or should they kill him to cover up their mistake? After all, haven't they all suffered enough? When Seely returns to the Radford's home on his own after the escape, that seems to resolve their problem, but the surprise ending (which I won't reveal here) is a doozy and fits in perfectly with the rest of this tension-filled film. It's a shocker. This is an excellent little British thriller (originally filmed under the simple descriptive title REVENGE) that should be seen by those that like their films suspenseful and well-plotted. Unrelenting in tone, this film ponders the age-old questions: How far would you be willing to go to achieve justice, when all legal avenues have failed you? How far do you have to cross that invisible line in the sand before it's too late to turn back? Could you murder someone to satisfy that sense of justice? This film will make anyone think twice about committing vigilante justice, especially when they witness how it tears at the fabric of a tight-knit family. The acting here is top-notch, especially by both James Booth (AVENGING FORCE - 1986) and Joan Collins (those who know Collins only by her DYNASTY role, 80's TV movies and soap opera appearances are in for a surprise). They play decent, upstanding citizens who let their grief of losing their daughter get the best of them and their actions and guilt over what they do next will, unfortunately, do more damage to their lives and the lives of their remaining family members than the rape and murder of their daughter ever will. The look on Carol's face as she listens through the wall as her stepson Lee and Rose fight (Lee is unable to sexually perform due to his guilt of kidnapping Seely) says a lot, but when Lee rips off Carol's blouse and rapes her in front of Seely (after she tries to console him over what she has just heard), you know things are going to go downhill very quickly. Director Sidney Hayers, who also gave us the rape-themed IN THE DEVIL'S GARDEN (1971; a.k.a. ASSAULT and THE CREEPERS) and the underrated thriller DEADLY STRANGERS (1974), keeps things moving briskly and the script (by John Kruse) is expertly paced and not condescending. There is a smattering of blood, but the film is not about violence, it's about the breakdown of a family due to violence. Carol's rape is only seen through Seely's shattered eyeglasses, wonderfully projecting the disintegration of the Radford family. Required viewing for thriller fans. Also known as AFTER JENNY DIED. Also starring Donald Morley, Barry Andrews, Artro Morris and Patrick McAlinney. A JEF Films DVD Release, which utilizes a fullscreen print that's full of emulsion scratches and blemishes. Also available on DVD in its original OAR from Scorpion Releasing under the title REVENGE! It's the only way to watch the film. Rated PG.
TWISTED NERVE (1968) - Fantastic British psychological thriller about personality disorders and chromosomal damage. The first time we meet Martin Durnley (Hywel Bennett; PERCY - 1971), he's visiting his dying brother Peter at a hospital, where the attending physician tells Martin that his brother is deteriorating fast (What he is dying of is not made clear, but attentive viewers should be able to pick up a couple of clues). The next time we see Martin, he is shoplifting a toy duck from a store. He gets caught by the store's security guards, who mistakenly think he is working in concert with innocent librarian Susan Harper (Haley Mills; ENDLESS NIGHT - 1972; also with Bennett) and they are both brought to the manager's office. Martin pretends to be a retarded boy named "Georgie" and the manager decides to let them both go out of pity. Martin takes an instant shine to Susan and keeps up the Georgie personality when in her presence. We then learn that Martin comes from a well-to-do, but highly disfunctional family. His mother (Phyllis Calvert) is quite overbearing (but, as we find out later, she has good reason for being so watchful of Martin) and his stepfather (Frank Finlay; THE CREEPERS - 1971) wants Martin out of the house for good. Martin begins an incredible ruse where he becomes Georgie full-time and insinuates himself into Susan's life. He takes a room in Susan's mother, Joan's (Billie Whitelaw; THE OMEN - 1976), boarding house and manipulates everyone there into thinking that he is "special". His obsession with Susan grows greater as the days wear on (He intentionally calls Joan "Mummy" to keep her off-balance), but slowly, his alter ego's identity begins to crack and expose itself. One night, Martin returns to his real home and kills his stepfather with a pair of scissors, which makes the police highly suspicious of Martin. Martin also manages to get rid of everyone else that gets in his way of obsessing of Susan, usually by non-violent ways. He chases away Joan's lover Jerry (Barry Foster; Hitchcock's FRENZY - 1972) and Phillip (Christian Roberts: THE MIND OF MR. SOAMES - 1970), a would-be boyfriend of Susan's. Susan finally catches on to Martin's act when he tries to kiss her (and this is not the kiss of a retarded child). She begins unraveling his ruse after finding evidence in his room of his true identity. This leads to a finale where we discover Martin's true defect (chromosome damage) and how Georgie eventually becomes the permanent dominant personality. This is a crackling good thriller, directed and co-written by British veteran Roy Boulting (UNDERCOVERS HERO - 1974; THE LAST WORD - 1980). that rewards the patient viewer (not that there are too many of them left in this world of instant gratification). The deliberate pacing may seem slow to modern-day audiences, but there's hardly a wasted moment, as we watch the clearly mentally-damaged, but very intelligent, Martin create a new identity and how he works out everything down to the smallest detail, fooling his parents into thinking he is vacationing in Paris when, in reality, he's only a few miles away in a boarding house pretending to be a child trapped in an adult's body. The script, by Boulting and Leo Marks, offers the viewers many insights into Martin's psychological make-up and is full of symbolic images that gives us a peek into his mind. My two favorite scenes are deft visuals that show us how Martin feels about himself and Susan. The first is when Martin is in his bedroom at his parents' house and he strips naked after looking at some male bodybuilding magazines. We hear a crash and the camera pans to Martin looking at himself in a full-length mirror. The mirror is smashed at a section where it obliterates the view of his genital area. It's a telling scene in so many ways. The second scene is much more simple, but no less telling. Martin spies on Susan in the boarding house with a hole he has drilled in the wall. The hole is in the shape of a heart. What do you suppose that represents? Hywel Bennett is absolutely chilling as Martin/George. The whole film hinges on whether he can pull-off the complex dual identities and make them believable and I'm glad to report that he does so magnificently. Former Disney star Haley Mills is also terrific, as is Billie Whitelaw as her sexually-active mother. The whole premise of mongolism and chromosomal damage (as a matter of fact, the word "mogolism" is considered offensive in today's society. The politically correct term is "Down Syndrome") may seem dated today, but back when this film was made (way before DNA testing and shows like CSI: were even a glimmer in anyone's eyes), this was a daring subject. So daring, in fact, that the producers were forced to tack on a prologue after the film was finished stating that there was no connection between mongolism and psychopathic behavior. There's a lot in TWISTED NERVE to recommend, so if you can find a copy (it had a quick VHS release on the Thorn EMI label on VHS on U.S. home video, but those with multi-region DVD players may be able to find the British DVD like I did), grab it and never let it go. Though not bloody or sexually explicit, this is a mature film and the haunting tune that Martin whistles on several occasions (music by Hitchcock regular Bernard Herrmann) may seem familiar to true cinema lover's ears, because you can hear Daryl Hannah whistling it in KILL BILL: VOL. 1 (2003) and as a ringtone in DEATH PROOF (2007), both films directed by Quentin Tarantino (Obviously a fan of this film). Also starring Salmaan Peer, Thorley Walters (THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF - 1970) and Gretchen Franklin. Originally Rated M when released to U.S. theaters in the late 60's (the equivalent of an R Rating today).
UNDERGROUND TERROR (1988) - Strange New York City-lensed low-budget thriller about a cop, Detective John Willis (Doc Dougherty), who just lost his partner in a drug bust gone wrong, trying to stop a recently released mental patient named Boris Pinscher (Lennie Loftin; FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER - 2000), who is committing a series of brutal murders in the city's vast series of underground tunnels of the subway system. Boris declares that the underground is "My World" and gathers up a gang of society's rejects as his followers, who obey his every command (including cutting off the ears of the victims, which Boris fashions into a necklace). Detective Willis has attitude problems of his own, as early in the film we watch him take the law into his own hands, killing two drug pushers in the same building his partner was murdered in (not to mention that he has been involved in eight shootings in the past 21 months). The short-fused Willis is also being dogged by female newspaper reporter Kim Knowles (B.J. Geordan), who seems to take pleasure in chronicling Willis' unlawful efforts for her paper. Willis and Kim form an uneasy alliance when she writes a story on a gang of killers in the subway system that she bought from bum Pops (Herb Farnham) for $20 and Willis notices that the story bears striking similarities to the case he is working on (Boris gets his revenge on Pops by tying him to the rails and letting a subway car run over him). Willis is suspended from the force when he kills a member of Boris' gang (who was mugging a young woman on a deserted subway platform he was staking out) and can't convince his boss that there's an organized gang of psychos killing people underground. Kim goes underground to retrieve her camera (which she stupidly left in Boris' killing room on a previous expedition with Willis) and is captured by Boris. Willis grabs a shotgun and heads below ground, but he seems more interested in blowing everyone away than saving Kim. A wounded Boris picks death over being sent back to the loony bin, so he grabs hold of the third rail, electrocuting himself. Willis callously turns to Kim and says, "There's your story" as he walks away without her. This is a dank, dingy little slice of sleaze that benefits greatly by being filmed in the most dirty, colorless locations New York City has to offer (although all the subway sequences seem to be filmed on sets). Believe me when I say that the NYC Tourism Board will never endorse UNDERGROUND TERROR. Director James McCalmont (co-director of ESCAPE FROM SAFEHAVEN  and cinematographer of genre films like THE REJUVENATOR ), working with a screenplay by Brian O'Hara and Robert Zimmerman, fills the screen with very unlikable people; even Willis and Kim are hard to root for, because they both have their own agendas for solving these crimes. Willis is just a nasty, shoot-first kind of guy (he does go to church to confess his sins after killing the two drug dealers, but changes his mind in mid-confession, as if to say "This is too much fucking trouble!") who sees solving these crimes only as a way of being reinstated to the force and Kim just sees a story that will put her on the front page of her newspaper. Neither one of them gives a shit about the victims. Boris is just a complete psycho (He doesn't have much of a back-story, although it's apparent he's familiar with the underground and probably lived there before he was committed to the mental hospital, but it is never revealed why he was committed. His predilection for human ears is the closest we get to a reason.), who views the underground as his own personal kingdom and kills anyone (including members of his own gang) that he perceives to be an enemy. There's one scene where Boris bludgeons a woman over the head with a table leg after he has just raped her, rather than share her with one of his underlings. This scene shows his total disregard for human life and lack of respect for his fellow gang members. He acts as if the world revolves around him. While the violence in the film is somewhat gory (stabbings, shootings, ears and fingers being sliced off), it's the film's hopeless tone, which is greatly enhanced by the minimalist electronic score (by TAJ), which makes this a worthwhile viewing experience. If I had to compare this to any other film, it would be Joseph Zito's BLOODRAGE: NEVER PICK UP A STRANGER (1980), because the gritty, realistic characters and low-budget ambience (which is a character unto itself) propels this thriller into a netherworld most films never let you see. Definitely not a feel-good film (if you suffer from depression, believe me, this film is not for you), but a very interesting one. Also starring James Davies, Charles J. Roby, Ric Slater, Joe Bachana, Allen Lewis Rickman and Christopher Koron. Available on VHS from SVS, Inc. and also on DVD from budget label Simitar, but it is long OOP. It's actually easier to purchase the VHS tape and is probably the preferable purchase, since Simitar was known for crappy DVD transfers. Rated R.
VENGEANCE (1976) - Here's another reason why I hate those thieving bastards at Ventura/VideoAsia: They have taken a pretty good (and rarely-seen) Spanish thriller and stuck it on a double-sided DVD (with SCORPION THUNDERBOLT ) as part of their TALES OF VOODOO series (Volume 5). The transfer is so piss-poor (a VHS port with rollouts, static and poor sound), that I wanted to travel to Videoasia's office and kick whoever was in charge square in the nuts. I still do. Here's the story: At a political prison in Spain, the warden and his guards routinely kill the prisoners when they don't give up information on the Resistance Forces. Prisoner Aristides Ungria (THE EXORCIST's  Jason Miller) watches helplessly as his mentor is thrown out a window and killed. Shortly thereafter, he has the opportunity to escape when the prisoner's arm he is chained to gets caught under the wheel of a truck and a guard chops the prisoner's hand off with a machete. Aristides escapes and makes a run for it, but is later caught by a sadistic guard and his even more sadistic guard dog, King. When a helicopter overhead distracts the guard for a moment, Aristides grabs his rifle and kills him, but before he dies the guard tells King to hunt down and kill Aristides. The rest of the film is a series of cat-and-mouse (or dog-and-man) chases, as the relentless King pursues Aristides, who is a mathematician that has a formulation in his head that translates into a list of names of undercover government sympathizers that he must deliver to the Resistance Movement. Aristides meets many people on his travels, including some vagabonds, a lonely married woman and others, but time and time again the dog shows up to put the hurt on Aristides, but on several occasions Aristides gives as good as he gets (even one time biting the dog on it's neck!). Aristides finally makes contact with the Resistance, but when he witnesses some of their brutal tactics, he begins to wonder which side is worse. When he finds out that his lover, Muriel (Lea Massari), is a government informant, things begin to unravel for Aristides. After he makes love to Muriel, the dog smells Aristides' scent on her and follows her to Aristides' hideout. The finale finds Aristides fighting for his life from both ends of the political coin and a waiting plane is his only means of permanent escape. As he runs for the plane with the dog just a few short steps behind him, a sniper looks through his scope at both Aristides and the dog. Who is he going to shoot? This political allegory disguised as a thriller is very minimal in it's approach, but effective. Director/co-scripter Antonio Isasi (THE SUMMERTIME KILLER - 1972) portrays the dog as the Franco regime, endlessly hounding Aristides, who represents the common citizen looking for a better, less oppressive, life. Jason Miller doesn't have much dialogue and I believe that was done purposely. It makes the scenes between him and the dog all the more visceral and animalistic. The attack scenes are realistic as Aristides must use anything handy to fight off the beast, who attacks at the most inopportune times (he at one point attacks Aristides while he is taking a bath, naked in a river, proving that the dog picks his battles well). Aristides hits the dog with the butt of a rifle, an oar, his fists and even with a shotgun blast, but the dog always resurfaces to make his life difficult. As the film progresses, Aristides' life keeps falling deeper into a pit of despair, his ideals becoming corrupted after finding out that his long-time lover is an informant and has become the mistress of a high-ranking government official and the realization that the revolution he is fighting for may be more corrupt than the government itself. He becomes so paranoid that he shoots a little girl's dog on a city street when he mistakenly thinks it's King. Those expecting a horror film (as it is advertised on VideoAsia's DVD sleeve) are going to be bitterly disappointed. VENGEANCE (also known as THE DOG) contains a few bloody scenes (the hand removal; a gun battle on a ferry), but this is more of a political thriller with heavy symbolism, in the same vein as Narciso Ibanez Serrador's WHO CAN KILL A CHILD, made a year earlier. Too bad the DVD presentation here is as poor as they come. Also starring Aldo Sambrell, Juan Antonio Bardem (the uncle of Javier Bardem, Academy Award-winning star of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN ), Yolanda Farr, Eduardo Calvo, Manuel De Blas, Antonio Gamero, Jose Vivo and Marisa Paredes. A Ventura/Videoasia Release but, please, don't buy this DVD and support this band of pirates. Originally available on VHS in the U.S. from Trans World Entertainment, Inc. in a much cleaner (and more complete) print. Try tracking that one down instead. Not Rated.
VENOM (1981) - Snakes always make good villians. Their alien appearance and slithery movements make these serpentine creatures ideal as formidable oppenents. Before the Sci-Fi Network started churning out all those giant snake films like PYTHON (2000), THE SNAKE KING (2005) and countless others, audiences were content with normal size snakes as villians. Films like STANLEY (1972), SSSSSSS (1973), RATTLERS (1975), SPASMS (1982) and FAIR GAME (1988) all had snakes as the primary nemesis. VENOM, on the other hand, has something more on it's mind. Some snakes in this are of the human variety. Asthmatic 10 year-old rich kid Phillip (Lance Holcomb) loves his pets. His bedroom is full of cages and aquariums of every type of small animal. When his overprotective mother, Ruth (Cornelia Sharp), has to leave on a week-long business trip, she leaves Phillip in the care of the maid (Susan George) and Phillip's grandfather (Sterling Hayden, in his last film), a big game hunter who is recuperating from a stomach operation. With his grandfather's help, Phillip takes a taxi to the pet store to pick up his newest acquisition: A harmless garden snake. As luck would have it, there was a mix-up in the shipment and Phillip is actually bringing home a Black Mamba, the deadliest snake in the world. To make matters worse, today is the day that the maid, the chauffeur Dave (Oliver Reed) and international terrorist Jacmel (Klaus Kinski) plan on kidnapping Phillip and ransom him for ten million dollars. When Phillip returns from the pet store, the trio grab him at home and accidentally release the Black Mamba. It bites the maid and she dies a horrible death a couple of minutes later. A series of events occur where Dave shoots and kills a cop, leading the police to surround the house. From here on, it's a hostage crisis with a twist, as Dave, Jacmel, Phillip and his grandfather are trapped in the house, with the police (headed by Nicol Williamson) on the outside and the Black Mamba slithering around inside. It's a tense standoff with a few surprising twists. Let me make this clear: This is not a horror film. Sure, it's got horrific moments (the snake attacks), but this is mainly a thriller with crime elements first and foremost. Piers Haggard (BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW - 1971), who replaced Tobe Hooper (he was fired ten days into shooting), builds the suspense slowly until it comes to a boiling point. The fact that three of the most difficult (some would say crazy) actors in the business, Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed and Sterling Hayden (sadly, all are dead now), not only star in this, they play most of their scenes together, making this facinating viewing for everyone. Some may find this a little slow moving, but stick with it as you will be rewarded later on. The use of real Black Mambas in the film greatly enhances the tension and terror. Rumor has it that some of the cast members were actually bitten and had to be given the antidote. The scene where the Mamba slowly crawls up Oliver Reed's pantleg and bites him on the crotch is truly painful to watch. If you like suspenseful tales, you can do a whole lot worse than VENOM. Hell, the cast alone should suck you in and once you're there, the story will take you the rest of the way. Also starring Michael Gough (playing real-life snake expert David Ball) and Sarah Miles. Recommended. Not to be confused with the 2005 Louisiana-set film titled VENOM, which also contained snakes, but is basically a stalk-'n'-slash tale. A Blue Underground Release. Rated R.
VICTIMS (1977/1982) - I've been dying to get my hands on a copy of this film since reading about it a couple of years ago in author Stephen Thrower's excellent (and quite heavy) tome, NIGHTMARE USA. I finally downloaded a copy off a popular torrent site (I know, I know. So sue me!) and I'm glad to report that it is as good as Thrower makes it out to be. This is a deeply disturbing look into the mind of rapist and strangler Paul Johnson (Tony Vorno - HELP WANTED: FEMALE - 1968; GARDEN OF THE DEAD - 1972; JAILBAIT BABYSITTER - 1978), who relates his life's story to psychiatrist Dr. J.A. Russo (Jerome Guardino), with the help of hypnosis therapy. When Paul is not harassing an adult bookstore owner ("Why do you sell such filth?") or porno theater patrons (Paul tells one patron that cigarette companies put salt peter in their smokes when he lights up in the theater), he drives around in his red Ford Mustang looking for women to strangle and rape. The film is nothing but a series of frequent fractured flashbacks (taken from Paul's equally fragmented mind while under hypnosis) that shows the audience why he does the dastardly deeds. When he was a child, his mother, Paula (Lois Adams), was a high-priced hooker (who is apparently dying of tuberculosis since she coughs a lot) who let her pimp, Charlie (Bud Greene), physically and emotionally abuse Paul while she would get dressed to meet her johns. Mom also steadfastly forbade Paul to answer the phone (she didn't want her johns to know she had a kid), so Paul would have to listen to the phone ring and ring for hours on end. A ringing telephone becomes Paul's deadly trigger; every time he hears one ring, he has to talk to himself to stop from "freaking out", only he is not successful all of the time. Paul also has never known the love of a "normal" woman (further flashbacks reveal that he was sexually abused as a child by elderly hooker Sheila [Brandy Carson], who would baby-sit Paul when Mom was away on "business"); the only sex he has had are with a series of prostitutes who still manage to abuse Paul financially because he likes rough sex. Every time Paul tries to talk to a normal woman, it either ends in disaster (he tries to pick-up one woman at a bus stop, but she pulls out a rape whistle and threatens to blow it if Paul gets on the bus) or murder (he rapes and kills a suburban housewife who has a room for rent). As Dr. Russo uses hypnotism on Paul to delve deeper into his cracked psyche, we discover even more reasons why Paul does the nasty things he does. These questions remains: Will Dr. Russo's secretary, Marian (Lenore Stevens), survive Paul's advances when Dr. Russo is out of the office? Will Dr. Russo use hypnotism to get the ultimate revenge on Paul? Directed/produced/written by star Tony Vorno using his real name, "Daniel Di Somma", VICTIMS is an unapologetic look into the mind of a serial killer and the series of events during his childhood that made him that way. Filmed in 1977, but not officially released until 1982 (you can tell by the suits Vorno wears and the clothing on the females that it was filmed in the 70's), VICTIMS had an extremely limited theatrical release but no home video release in the U.S., but did have limited VHS releases in various countries around the world. This film is a low-budget, but very effective psychological thriller that is not nearly as violent as William Lustig's MANIAC (1980) or John McNaughton's HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), but excels in tone and atmosphere just as well, if not better, than those two films. Tony Vorno (who is hairy as an ape with his shirt off) is excellent as Paul and the rest of the relatively unknown cast manage to hold their own as they are being battered, raped and strangled by Vorno. While there is very little on-screen blood and violence, there is frequent nudity (of the topless kind only) and women being beaten and thrown around like dolls. Listen closely and you will hear the unmistakable voice of Michael Pataki (GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE - 1972; ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA - 1978) as a talk show host that Paul listens to on the radio (Vorno would work as a Boom Operator on director Pataki's MANSION OF THE DOOMED - 1976). Vorno also had a lifelong friendship with genre veteran John Hayes (DREAM NO EVIL - 1971; MAMA'S DIRTY GIRLS - 1974; END OF THE WORLD - 1977), who was the Sound Recordist on this film. Also starring Sandy Champion, Ray Powers and Janet Dey. Also known as PAULIE (the shooting title); DAY OF THE RAPIST; SURFSIDE STRANGLER; PORTRAIT OF A STRANGLER and THE STRANGLER. While I'm not the biggest advocate of downloading torrents off the Internet, I'll make an exception this time because it is the only way (as of this writing) to view this remarkable little-seen gem. Vorno/Di Somma directed just one other film; the softcore sex flick COME ONE, COME ALL (1970; a.k.a. 6 ANGELS FOR SATAN), using the pseudonym "Sebastian Gregory". It's apparently just as hard to get a hold of as VICTIMS. Well, it looks like I have more digging to do! Rated R.
VIDEO MURDERS (1987) - Why make a movie about a serial killer if you're not going to show the killer's wake of carnage or at least a little blood and nudity? Good question. I don't know what was going through the filmmakers' minds, but I do know that this is one of the worst films to grace my eyes in quite a while (and that's saying a lot!). A traveling psycho named David Shepard (Eric Brown) is killing prostitutes from town to town by bringing then to his hotel room and strangling them in front of his video camera. A determined detective named Delvecchio (John Fertitta) is always one step behind David. Then, one day, David makes the mistake of picking up a rich girl (Virginia Loridans) and bringing her to his hotel room. He botches his attempt of strangling her and she escapes, only having enough time to call Delvecchio and give her location before David recaptures her. The police set up road blocks, forcing David and the girl to hide out in an abandoned house. Delvecchio closes in and David flees the house (leaving the girl unharmed). He steals a car and leads the entire police force on a high-speed (and comically speeded-up) chase. David is cornered on a bridge and blows his brains out (not seen), while a TV reporter videotapes the event from a helicopter. It's hard to find something good to say about this film. It's poorly acted, highly disjointed, badly filmed and about as much fun to watch as seeing your grandmother do a striptease. Only one of David's strangulations is shown (it's bloodless), the rest have taken place before the film started. Star Eric Brown can also be seen in the sex dramas PRIVATE LESSONS (1981) and its' semi-sequel THEY'RE PLAYING WITH FIRE (1984). The father and son directing team of Jim McCullough Jr. & Sr. are also responsible for such atrocities as THE CHARGE OF THE MODEL T'S (1976), MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE (1983) and THE AURORA ENCOUNTER (1985). If you have seen any of these films, you know what to expect here: Nothing worthwhile. Wait a minute! I finally found something good to say about VIDEO MURDERS: I was glad this Louisiana-lensed fiasco finally ended. A TWE Home Video Release. Rated R.
WEEKEND MURDERS (1970) - American audiences first saw this film when MGM/UA released it theatrically on a memorable double bill with the giallo film BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971) back in the early 70's. Those expecting another giallo film are going to be in for a shock, because WEEKEND MURDERS is actually a sly comedy about a rich and affluent family in the Tory British town of Somerleyton and how they react to a disastrous family situation. When a corpse is found buried in one of the sandtraps of the town's members-only golf course (this makes a total of three murders in this small town in a short period of time), local police sergeant Aloisius Thorpe (Gastone Mochin; MILANO CALIBRO 9 - 1972) suggests to Scotland Yard Inspector Grey (Lance Percival) that they should reconstruct the whole thing from the beginning, in chronological order, beginning with "the day before the reading of the will". We are then transported to that day, when Aunt Gladys Kemple (Marissa Fabbri) and her snotty son Georgie (Chris Chittell) arrive at her recently deceased brother's mansion for the reading of his will. Also at the mansion are the dead brother's niece, Barbara Worth (opera star Anna Moffo); the dead brother's daughter, Isabelle (Evelyn Stewart; THE PSYCHIC - 1977), who recently has a miscarriage, which forced her to miss her father's funeral; Isabelle's new husband, Anthony (Peter Baldwin); Ted Collins (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart; CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT - 1972), Isabelle's brother; Ted's wife, Pauline (Beryl Cunningham; EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 - 1983), who is black and shocks the uppercrust family to its core; Gladys' brother, Lawrence (Quinto Parmeggiani); maid Evelyn (Orchidea de Santis); valet Arthur (Claudio Undari); and butler Peter (Ballard Berkeley). Barbara informs Gladys that in the days before her brother's death, he locked himself in the mansion's observatory and wrote a new will while he was in there. While everyone wonders what is in the new will, Gladys tells Georgie to take a bath (When he says he would rather take a shower, Gladys responds, "Only animals and Americans wash while standing up, but a gentleman takes a bath!"), so Georgie decides to teach her a lesson by faking his suicide in the bathtub, complete with fake blood, an appliance on his neck that looks like he slit his own throat and a strait razor on the bathroom floor. Gladys is so embarrassed by the spectacle (especially since everyone else saw it), she nearly drowns Georgie in the bathtub (Georgie also affixes a fake knife to a napping Lawrence's chest to make it look like he was murdered!). At the reading of the will, the family lawyer informs everyone that the entire fortune will go to niece Barbara and everyone else gets nothing (Sgt. Thorpe does get 200 pots of Azaleas because he helped the deceased man garden every Saturday afternoon). As you can probably guess, the family goes ballistic and things turn nasty and deadly very quickly. The first to die is Peter (Lawrence says, "At least, for once, nobody will say the butler did it!"), who is found with a knife in his back while sprawled out in Sgt. Thorpe's potted Azalea plants. Scotland Yard is called in and Inspector Grey arrives on the scene, just in time to witness someone with a silencer take a shot at Barbara and miss. Ted is next to be found dead, an apparent suicide with a gunshot to his head. It will take Sgt. Thorpe, of all people, to solve the crimes, but there are so many red herrings and whose body is buried in the sandtrap? You'll have to watch the film to find out, but before the film is over, there will be three more murders. This comedic murder mystery, directed by Michele Lupo (ESCAPE FROM DEATH ROW - 1973; THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID - 1979), takes a little while to get moving, but once it does, it is an enjoyably goofy take on a rich family's fall from grace and how they resort to murder, lying and cheating to try and restore the family's honor. The screenplay, by Fabio Pittorru, Massimo Felisatti and Sergio Donati, is full of quotable lines (Donati is credited with writing the dialogue) and making the buck-toothed Sgt. Thorpe the butt of everyone's jokes when, in fact, his looks belie the fact that he's the most observant and astute person in the entire group. Time and time again he makes Inspector Grey look like a buffoon, but he does it in such a way that Grey never notices it and he even goes as far as to let the Inspector take credit for finding the solutions to the various crimes. In fact, Sgt. Thorne views the murders through a CSI investigator's eyes, long before there was a CSI. The violence is rather subdued, but the story touches on such usually forbidden subjects as incest and rape and still somehow makes them seem amusing. This film may not be to everyone's tastes (diehard giallo fans will particularly dislike it), but I found it to be funny, as well as an engrossing murder mystery. Originally released on VHS by MGM/UA Home Video and released on DVD from Code Red, which is now out of print. Rated R.
WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS (1972) - Four friends just out of the Army take their ill-gotten wad of cash and weapons arsenal and head for California. After beating a used car salesman (Beach Dickerson) at his own game, they take their newly-purchased Cadillac and hit the road. They pick up a woman (Jennifer Billingsley) whose car has broken down at the side of the road and take turns having sex with her in the back seat (she's a willing participant). When they cross the state line and head towards Oklahoma City, they offer her $100 for a bus ticket. She demands $500 or she'll tell the cops she was kidnapped. A struggle ensues and she falls out of the speeding car. They stop and look at her lifeless body lying at the side of the road and Danny (Joe Don Baker) says, "What do you think?" Shooter (Paul Koslo) replies without missing a beat, "I think she should have taken the hundred." So begins this little-seen road film, which doesn't portray these four veterans in the best light. The first stop on their trip is Danny's hometown, a small midwestern farming town called Foley. As soon as he steps into town, Danny disappoints his father (Lonny Chapman) by telling him that he is part owner of some farmland in California, owned by third man Kid (Alan Vint) and, along with Kid, Shooter and Fatback (Elliott Street), plan on making their lives there as farmers. After leaving Foley, they drive a while and go to a motel, screw some hookers and tell them their dreams. Danny's hooker (Francine York) says to him, "What have you done? You become what you've done." Danny looks at her and sadly says, "Kill." They travel some more and their car breaks down in some podunk town, where the sheriff (Billy Green Bush) lets them sleep in his jail while their car is being repaired by a shifty mechanic. The mechanic rips them off and the sheriff turns nasty and makes them pay. Kid loses their money stash (the sheriff may have taken it and they can't go back without being arrested), so they must rough it for the next 1800 miles. Things turn to shit in a town (ironically) called Hope, when they get caught stealing gasoline.The owner of the station fires his shotgun at them, so they use the arsenal of weapons in the trunk and destroy the town like it was a 'Nam village, killing over 80 people. They make their final stand in Hope and end up fighting the same Army they were discharged from. The dream is over. This slice-of-life drama, directed by Richard Compton (MANIAC! - 1977) and written by Guerdon Trueblood (THE CANDY SNATCHERS - 1973), is an interesting character study of four guys who did their time for Uncle Sam and just want a piece of the American Dream. The closer they get to that dream, the more they become disillusioned, resulting in them reverting back to their soldier personnaes and destroying Hope (both the town and their reason for living) in a shocking and surprisingly quick collage of explosions, gunshots and death. The film builds slowly to this carnage, but the threat of violence permeates every frame. Joe Don Baker's Danny is definitely the alpha male of the group and the other three follow his every move, even though Danny has a hair-trigger personality that results in all of them losing their lives. Compton's next film, MACON COUNTY LINE (1974), follows the same story elements as this (and contains some of the same actors), being a character study followed by sudden, shocking violence in the finale. SOLDIER BOYS has never been released on video in the U.S. (Twentieth Century Fox owns the rights). The print I viewed was ripped from a Japanese VHS, which fogs some brief female backside nudity during the motel scenes. The air of hopelessness during the Vietnam War, both at home and abroad, makes this the type of film that could have only come from the nihilistic 70's. Also starring Geoffrey Lewis (as a more than accomodating motel clerk) and Timothy Scott. Rated R.
WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1975) - "The world has gone insane and those who suffer the most are always the children." Those words are the basis for this unnerving film and, once you view it, I doubt you will ever look at children the same way again. Husband Tom (Lewis Fiander) and pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) take a vacation in Spain and plan on spending a couple of weeks on the secluded island of Almanzora, a place Tom visited twelve years earlier. After a short hectic stay on the mainland (where Evelyn complains that it's too crowded and, unknownst to them, two slashed adult bodies have washed ashore), they rent a boat and make the four hour trip to Almanzora. When they arrive on the island, they are greeted by children but, strangely, no adults are present. As they walk through the town, the lack of any adults becomes extremely obvious, especially when they visit a bar, grocery store and, finally, the hotel and nothing but children are around. When they finally do see an old man, they are shocked to see a young girl beating him with his cane. Tom intervenes, but it is too late, the old man is dead. Hoping to shield his wife from the carnage, he carries the old man away. On his way back to his wife, Tom hears children laughing and spies on them using an adult corpse as a human pinata, a small girl striking at the body with a sickle while blindfolded. Disgusted by what he sees, Tom decides not to tell his wife what he saw, hoping to protect her pregnancy. A series of eerie phone calls, where the woman on the other end begs for help, immediately causes Tom to search the town more thoroughly. He finds the hideously mutilated bodies of some of the town's adults (and also views a bunch of boys stripping a female corpse) and locates a man who was hiding from the kids. The man tells Tom that all the children on the island woke up at the same time one recent morning, formed groups and then went house-to-house, killing every adult they found. When Tom asks him why no one fought back, the man simply replies, "Who can kill a child?" Tom and Evelyn (who also have two other children back home) will have to soon answer that question for themselves, as the children target them next. Will they be able to kill children, even though Evelyn has one growing in her belly? Just as in real life, nothing turns out the way we hope it will. This is not an easy film to watch. The subject matter of this extremely well-made film is a difficult subject to tackle and director Narciso Ibanez Serrador (THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED - 1969) handles it in a way that's terrifying without being exploitative. The film opens with newsreel footage of how children have suffered at the hands of adults and their follies, from the Nazi concentration camps of WWII Germany to most of the major disastrous events up till 1975. It's never really conclusively explained why the children are suddenly killing adults, but after viewing the opening documentary footage, no conclusive explanation is needed. It does seem, though, that the condition is spread through touch, as is implied by something that happens to Evelyn towards the finale. When the first child is killed, it's still a shock, even though you know it has to happen. Since this isn't a horror film in the truest sense, the childrens' deaths pack more of a gut-punch than real horror films like THE CHILDREN (1980) and BEWARE: CHILDREN AT PLAY (1989). The final ten minutes will leave a lasting impression and the ending will send chills down your spine. It reminded me of the first time I saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), as the impact is nearly the same (it also throws in a little CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS  at the finale). This is a one-of-a-kind film that should be on everyone's must-see list. The English-language versions, under the titles ISLAND OF THE DAMNED and TRAPPED, were severely edited. Also starring Antonio Tranzo, Marisa Porcel, Abigail Narros, Luis Ciges and Antonio Canal. Available on DVD from Alfa Digital (now out of print) and Dark Sky Films. Not Rated.
YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972) - In this loose adaption of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat", abusive husband Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) shames his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) at a party at their mansion (he mixes all the guests' drinks into a bowl and then makes her drink it) and then feels-up the black maid Brenda (while announcing to everyone, "Who knows if a night with a Negress isn't everyone's secret dream?"). Oliviero has deep-seated mother issues (his dead mother is an infamous Countess who went mad) as well as being a ladies man and best-selling author who's going through a major case of writer's block. When Oliviero's mistress (and former student) Fausto (Daniella Giordano) is brutally murdered when a gloved killer slits her throat with a curved knife, the police inspector (Franco Nebbia) questions Oliviero, but Irina gives him an alibi even though she knows he wasn't home at the time of the murder. Brenda is the killer's next victim (she has her stomach slit open with the curved knife) whlie Oliviero's black cat, Satan, watches. When Irina and Oliviero discover Brenda's body, they decide to hide it in a basement wall behind some casks of wine (shades of another Poe story) because Oliviero is afraid the police will blame him. The sudden appearance of Oliviero's sexy niece, Floriana (Edwige Fenech), throws a monkey wrench into their tranquil and murder-filled lives. When someone sends them the dress Brenda was murdered in (it's actually Oliviero's mother's dress), it throws Irina and Oliviero into a further panic. The sexually liberated Floriana asks Oliviero if it was true he slept with his mother, so he calls her a whore. When Oliviero locks Irina in a closet, Floriana frees her and Irina tells Floriana everything that is going on (They then have a hot lesbian encounter). As Floriana and Irina plot against Oliviero, a local hooker is visciously slaughtered by a man using the same curved knife as the previous murders, but the bordello madame kills him. The police are satisfied that they've got their killer, but it's plain to see that Floriana is playing Irina against Oliviero and vice-versa. Irina stabs Oliviero in the neck with a pair of scissors and hides his body next to Brenda's in the basement wall. Problem is, she accidentally seals Satan up with the bodies and all her careful planning is undone by Satan's meowing when the police pay a visit to the mansion. Irina's hatred of the cat proves to be her downfall. This is an excellent example of the early 70's Italian giallo genre. Besides Dario Argento, no one other than Sergio Martino (who directed this) was more prolific in this genre. With films like THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1971; a.k.a. BLADE OF THE RIPPER), THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL (1971), DAY OF THE MANIAC (1972; a.k.a. THEY'RE COMING TO GET YOU), TORSO (1973) and SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS (1982) under his belt, Martino is an old hand at churning out these bloody murder mysteries. VICE is probably one of his best, as it has a fairly involved script (by Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzini and Sauro Scavolini), brutal murders, great nudity (and sex scenes) and some wonderfully bizarre sights (including a plateful of eyeballs). Both Anita Strindberg (WHO SAW HER DIE? - 1972; THE TEMPTER - 1974) and Edwige Fenech (5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON - 1970; THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS - 1971) look great in and out of their clothes and Luigi Pistilli (A BAY OF BLOOD - 1971; THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW - 1974) does a good turn as a novelist who is holding a family secret as well as suffering from a three year bout of writer's block. Satan, the aptly-named black cat, play an important role in setting the mood. His echoing meows foretell every murder, even after Irina stabs one of his eyes out with some pruning shears. Riccardo Salvino also stars as milkman/motorcycle racer Dario, a love interest for Floriana, who gets the funniest bit of dialogue when he crashes his motorcycle during a race. He gets up, looks at his damaged motorcycle and screams, "Stupid bitch of a rotten mother of a lousy no-good psycho!" It's not only funny, but prophetic of the revelation of one of the character's background during the finale. Co-star Ivan Rassimov's (THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER - 1972) role is kept as a surprise until the finale (I won't spoil it for you here) and his screen time can't be more than three minute total. VICE also contains some great camerawork, a wicked sense of decadence and a beautiful music score. Noshame Films has released a great-looking widescreen DVD with your choice of watching it in it's original Italian language (with optional English subtitles) or the dubbed English soundtrack. It also contains recent interviews with Martino, co-scripter Gastaldi and Fenech, who still looks beautiful. Also starring Nerina Montagnani, Angela La Vorgna, Ermelinda De Felice and Enrica Bonaccorti. A Noshame Films Release. Not Rated.