THRILLER  


A...FOR ASSASSIN (1966) - Let's travel back to 1966, when the giallo genre was just in its infancy. This "reading of the will" murder mystery contains all of the giallo ingredients: an unknown killer, a large mysterious house, plenty of red herrings and a twisty plot. Yet this film is more like Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians"than a full blown giallo flick, even though it is based on a novel by Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote the screenplays to some of the best giallo films, including THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS (1971), DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972) and, my favorite, TORSO (1973). This film is interesting for that fact alone and also because it contains a cast of actors who would soon become very familiar with the giallo genre, appearing in some of the best of them (at least in my opinion).
     The film begins with Angela (Mary Arden: BLOOD AND BLACK LACE - 1964) finding the dead body of her uncle, rich industrialist John Prescott, in his study, his throat cut with a large knife that has a crude letter "A" carved into the handle. At the reading of his will, we meet the long list of suspects. They are: Angela, who is the daughter of John's brother Paul; Julian Prescott (Charlie Charun) John's retarded son, The "last of the Prescotts", who is always laughing while whittling away at a piece of wood; Martha Prescott (Giovanna Galletti; THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A - 1973), John's sister, who looked after John "like a wife" and took care of Julian; George Prescott (Ivano Staccioli as "John Heston"; THE DEVIL WITH SEVEN FACES - 1971), John's nephew, and his cheating wife, Adriana (Aïché Nana); Giacomo (Sergio Ciani as "Alan Steel"; HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN - 1964), John's "trusted" secretary; and Armando (Ivano Davoli; SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS - 1972), a "distant relative". Also at the reading of the will (but not mentioned in it) are police Inspector Matt (Gilberto Mazzi as "Gilbert Mash"); police Sgt. Robson (Roland Redman); John's maid, Mary (Giovanna Lenzi as "Barbara Penn"; CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT - 1972); and Peter (Franco Pesce as "Frank Fisher"; PARANOIA - 1969), the gardener. Everyone thinks that they alone will inherit John's fortune, but there's a potential roadblock: The will is a voice recording by John, who stipulates that only three people (each getting an equal share) will inherit his fortune and they all must work together to decide which three get it. If more than three people arrive at executor (and notary) Jackson's (Aldo Rendine; STREET PEOPLE - 1976) office at the appointed time, no one will inherit anything. Oh, and one more thing: Everyone must live together in his mansion (the same place he was murdered) for one month, after which time the three people will go to Jackson's office (In his voice recording, John manages to put everyone down in a backhanded way, proving that he was a bastard when he was alive.).
     Inspector Matt wants Jackson to make a copy of the voice recording for his office, because he rightfully believes that this situation will lead to nothing but trouble (He and Sgt. Robson were at the reading of the will believing that one of his relatives murdered John, but they all hated his guts). Almost immediately, the relatives begin turning on each other, Angela revealing to everyone that Adrianna was once a stripper and Julian laughing and repeating what everyone just said. We also find out from Martha that John was "ashamed" of Julian because he is retarded. Later on, the Inspector makes an appearance at the mansion and not-so-subtly accuses accuses one of them of cutting John's throat, also mentioning that the bladed weapon that killed John has not been found (That can't be good!). The relatives, one by one, tell the Inspector that they couldn't have possibly killed John, each one of them explaining their alibi, in detail, at the time of John's murder, but which one is lying? It's hard to tell, each one of them looking guilty as hell (Hey, I'm a poet!).
     Armando, who is in love with Angela, finds the murder weapon and Angela tells him that Julian probably stole it from the body of John (he's always stealing things), but Julian's too much of an "idiot" to have killed anyone. Armando wants to leave the mansion with Angela because he doesn't care about the money, but Angela says no, dollar signs in her eyes. One-by-one, the relatives sneak off to talk to the Inspector, trying to break the other's alibis. George says that Giacomo was lying about his alibi, since he went to get Adriana a glass of water and saw Giacomo leaving John's study. The Inspector then tells George that Adriana must be lying about her alibi, since he wasn't with her like she said when John was murdered. George, who is now angry, tells the Inspector he hated John, because he would call him to the mansion at all hours of the night and day, so he could have an affair with Adriana. We then discover that Adriana is having an affair with...Giacomo and both of them are planting evidence to make it look like George is the killer. The more we find out about the Prescott family, the more we want to see them suffer.  Even John is (and was) a scumbag of the first degree for, even in death, he is able to coax the worst from his relatives and trusted employees.
     That's what makes this obscure black & white film so fun. Not one person here, not even Julian or the Inspector, is a likable character. Not only do members of the family wish each other dead, we do, too. We discover that George and Giacomo are actually working together to kill Adriana,  so that the money-hungry bitch doesn't get the chance to sleep with another relative and make them agree to split the fortune with her. When Adriana is in bed making love to Giacomo, George enters the bedroom and shoots her in the back, emptying every bullet into her.  George and Giacomo put her body in the trunk of a car and George drives off to dispose of her body, but he is killed when somebody forces his car off the road, the car going over a cliff and exploding. I'll give you one guess who's responsible (and it's not who you think).
     Director Angelo Dorigo, who uses the pseudonym "Ray Morrison" (THE KILLER WITHOUT A FACE - 1968), keeps things moving at a brisk pace and the screenplay, by Roberto Natale (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR - 1965; WATCH ME WHEN I KILL - 1977) & Sergio Bazzini (CONVOY BUDDIES - 1975), contains so many double and triple-crosses, your head will be spinning, but everything is nicely (if not ironically) resolved in the twisty finale. Since this is a 1966 production, there is no nudity or graphic violence, but this film doesn't need either. It's the story that matters here and I'm happy to say it doesn't disappoint. It is well acted, superbly photographed (by Aldo Tonti; THE VALACHI PAPERS - 1972) and the music score (by Aldo Piga; THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA - 1960) is appropriately creepy. The film looks and feels like a modern-day Gothic horror flick, thanks to the huge mansion, shadows around every corner and the haunting, thick atmosphere. This tidy little film (it runs only 76 minutes) is must viewing for both giallo fans or people looking for something obscure. It was never available theatrically, on VHS or on disc in the United States. Hell, it's not even available English-dubbed. If you want to see this for free, you'll have to be an Amazon Prime member, as they show a nice anamorphic widescreen streaming version with English subtitles. Just another reason why I am glad to be a Prime member. Not Rated. Who's the killer? It's ... (maximum review length exceeded).

ACT OF REVENGE (1989) - WARNING: Do not go on IMDb to read the credits before reading this review, as it will spoil the film's surprise reveal! (I wish someone would have told me that!) Gabriele Steli (Dario Casalini; THE SECT - 1991) is dying in a hospital. He tells Annabella Allori (Margie Newton; THE LAST HUNTER - 1980) that he has a "treasure" for her. "Look for a casket and inside there's a viper. And it's a long one and black. And it has a tongue that reaches the depths of Hell. I have hidden it so that no one will find it. It's hidden behind the books. But be careful cause this viper is poisonous and it's going to kill all the other...vipers." These are the last words spoken by Gabriele, as he dies in his hospital bed. But what do these words mean? Is it a real viper or a metaphor describing something far more deadly?
     Dr. Carlo Martora (Helmut Berger; THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY - 1970) comes into the room to inform Annabella that nothing could be done for Gabriele because he was a habitual drug addict since he was a young boy and this overdose was his last one. We also discover that Gabriele has no family (as least as Dr. Martora knows) and that Annabella was his closest friend. She must now arrange Gabriele's funeral and take care of his legal matters (Annabella is a lawyer), which includes taking care of his personal belongings. She tells Dr. Martora (Who tells her to call him Carlo, so that's what I'll do in this review) that she has defended many drug addicts, but I doubt she has gone through or experienced what is about to transpire. We then discover that Gabriele was convicted of robbery, but due to his condition he was put under house arrest and when his condition worsened, he was confined to a hospital bed. Carlo tells Annabella that he knew Gabriele's mother and she died at the "lowest point of her life." Carlo also tells her that this is a small town and everyone knows everyone else's business. Annabella tells Carlo that she is thinking about moving herself and her practice to this small and he tells her if she needs any help "adjusting to small town life", to give him a call and then walks out of the bar they are having a drink in.
     Annabella purchases a fully furnished apartment in this small town that belonged to a recently deceased "eccentric", according to the real estate agent. Only the eccentric the agent was talking about was Gabriele. Yes, this was his apartment and the first thing Annabella does when she is alone is to search behind the books, just as Gabriele told her, only she finds nothing. It seems Annabella has a secret of her own and since she just moved to this small town, the question becomes: Will anyone discover what her secret is? Annabella remembers Gabriele's final words and notices a painting containing books hanging on a wall. There's a secret compartment behind the painting and in it is a round tin containing a bunch of audio cassettes, one of them marked "For Annabella." She plays the cassette and Gabriele speaks in riddles, saying, "Mother liked Wagner, but her favorite was Puccini. One day, a man gave her a recording of 'La Boheme'. He was a nice cordial man and it was obvious she liked him a lot. She immediately played the record and began listening to it, like she was in a trance. Suddenly, she raised her eyes. The man had arrived. She seemed happy. That picture filled me with joy. His name was Luce Palmisani. They started seeing each other on a regular basis. He was always bringing her discs." Are these the ramblings of a drug-addled mind or was Gabriele trying to tell Annabella something important? (Annabella will continue playing portions of the tape during the film and flashbacks will show us the meaning of Gabriele's words.)
     Annabella gets a phone call from Carlo and she wants to know how he knew she was there. "Everybody knows. They're all talking about your arrival" says Carlo. He invites her to come over to his house for a party tonight to meet his many friends and residents who can't wait to meet her. She declines his offer, but Carlo tells her this get-together is in her honor and she can't decline his offer, so she agrees to go to his home at 9:00PM. Once at the party, Carlo introduces Annabella to Mayor Vito Palmisani (Mattia Sbragia; DIAL: HELP - 1988) and his wife, Rosa (Annamaria Clementi; EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS - 1977). The Mayor makes it clear that there are no secrets in his town, one of the "disadvantages of small town life." When Carlo gets Annabella alone, he wants to know why she picked that apartment to live in, because he could have found her a place to live that was much better and cheaper. It is obvious that the entire town wants to know all the dirt on Annabella, but like I said before, she has a secret that will blow the roof off of small town living.
     The town's Police Commissioner, Marco Marsili (Carlo Mucari; BLACK ANGEL - 1989), has been receiving a lot of anonymous letters written by the same person (the handwriting looks familiar). One of the letters accuses the Mayor and his wife of accepting kickbacks for the concessions of a building license, so Marco wakes up the Mayor and has him come to the office to read the letter. He denies the accusation and orders Marco to find the person who wrote the letter (The Mayor looks guilty as hell). The writer says that a future letter will have proof of the kickback, which makes the Mayor even angrier (and guiltier looking). So how does all this relate to Annabella?
     The Mayor goes to Annabella for legal help in this matter, but what he gets instead is Annabella stripping naked and making sweet love to him! (As Annabella is making love to him, she has an image of a scorpion come to her mind every so often, telling us that her sting is deadly). After the lovemaking is over, Annabella agrees to represent him and the Mayor opens up to her about the kickback. Annabella offers a solution to the problem, which the Mayor reluctantly accepts. It then becomes obvious that Annabella's mission is to destroy the reputations and lives of the important people in this small town, using the law and her body to get justice, but justice for what? You will understand once you discover her secret and if you have no plans on seeing this film, go on IMDb and discover it for yourself, as I am not going to reveal it in this review. All I will say is to is re-read Gabriele's final words closely, because they are a thinly-veiled allegory for the brutal truth, as people in town, important people in high standing, begin to commit "suicide" or dying "natural" deaths, beginning with the Mayor and his wife. You may think you know who is responsible, but I am here to tell you that you are wrong.
     This is a pretty involving mystery that is somewhat of a giallo film, but missing the black-gloved killer, the POV shots and other things we associate with a giallo flick. What it does have is plenty of nudity, not only by the gorgeous Margie Newton, but also by other females in this small town, including the Mayor's wife. Director/screenwriter Nini Grassia (who directed/wrote over 32 other films, none I ever heard of before, as they are mostly sex comedies or romantic dramas) treats small town living as an Italian version of TWIN PEAKS, as all of the people who live in this town are not who they seem to be. They may know your business, but they are dangerous, too. No one is to be trusted and Annabella knows it, as she seduces both men and women alike (she has a hot lesbian scene with one of the town's "righteous" female citizens), using them before they use her. This film is also populated by a cast of Italian genre pros, including Helmut Berger (THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY - 1971), who has an extended naked lovemaking scene with star Margie Newton*, still looking in good shape for a man of 45 years, Gabriel Tinti (THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW - 1974) as the town Pharmacist and Roberto Ceccacci (HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN - 1964) as "Count Alvise Leonardi", the town's most important and despicable man, as you will learn in flashbacks. Everyone has his or her moment in this film and no one is wasted. I have been watching a lot of late-'80s Italian genre films lately (THE SPIDER LABYRINTH - 1988; MASSACRE - 1989 and THE MURDER SECRET - 1989), just to mention a few) and have come to the conclusion that they are not as bad as I originally thought they were. Sure, there are some stinkers out there, but not this film, especially when we see Annabella performing oral sex on the elderly Count Leonardi for the sole reason of giving him a fatal heart attack (and she succeeds)! Sleazy? Oh, my, yes! But bad? Not by a long shot. This is a fun film with a corkscrew mystery and good acting, so jump on board, the party is rockin'!
     Shot as LA PURITANA ("The Puritan") and also known as SCORPION'S KISS, this film never had a theatrical or home video release in any format in the United States, yet it is available on DVD-R from many gray market sellers. I saw a nice uncut, fullscreen print on YouTube in its original Italian with English subtitles. A nice little discovery for those days when you can't make up your mind what to watch. Also starring Cinzia Scalzi (FATAL FRAMES - 1996) and Francesca Guidato. Not Rated. While there is not much violence or blood, it goes beyond what we consider R-Rated material, based solely on nudity and depictions of sex. The prudish need not apply. *NOTE: Margie Newton definitely had a boob job after appearing in HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) and THE FINAL EXECUTIONER (1983). She gave up acting in the early-'90s to spend time with her newborn daughter and currently spends her time as a artist, as she is an in-demand painter in Italy. She still gets fan letters from all over the world, which she is happy to reply to. She has nothing but pleasant memories of acting in low-budget genre films. She almost became a major Hollywood star after starring in Claude Chabrol's QUIET DAYS IN CLICHY (1990) with Andrew McCarthy, but it didn't quite work out for her. Still, she has no regrets and speaks highly of everyone she has worked with. A true class act.

AMUCK (1971) - Greta Franklin (the beautiful Barbara Bouchet) arrives at the remote island estate (it's only accessible by boat) of best-selling mystery novelist Richard Stuart (Farley Granger) to work as his secretary. Richard's previous secretary, Sally (Patrizia Viotti), has mysteriously disappeared and we soon find out that Greta and Sally were best friends. Greta has taken the position as Richard's new secretary to investigate her friend's disappearance thanks, in part, to a mysteriously-worded letter that Sally sent her a few days before she vanished. Greta may soon regret her decision, as she is spied on by hulking retarded fisherman Rocco (Petar Martinovitch), who is described as having "the body of a giant and the brain of a child". Greta is drugged one night and has a steamy, slow-motion lesbian encounter with Richard's lonely wife, Elena (Rosalba Neri), who says to Greta, "I so desperately need a friend!" Greta wakes up one night and finds Richard and Elenora throwing a sex party. Elenora convinces Greta to join in the party (after again drugging her drink) and Elenora shows a porn film that's a take-off of Little Red Riding Hood, where Greta recognizes one of the stars of the film as none other than Sally (Greta, who is confused about Elenora, asks Richard about his wife and he replies, "That lady's a mystery I'd rather not solve."). The next day, Richard pitches a story idea to Greta that sounds too much like her undercover mission to be a coincidence. Greta begins snooping around the mansion and finds some of Sally's personal items half burned-up in the basement furnace. This triggers a flashback that shows Greta and Sally weren't just friends, they were also lovers. After almost getting caught by the Stuart's sinister butler (Umberto Raho) in the basement, Greta gets locked-in, but she manages to escape though a locked grate. The broken grate is noticed by Richard and soon Greta is held prisoner at the estate, the phone lines dead and the boat missing from the dock. Greta then listens to a tape that Richard dictated to her that suspiciously sounds like an admission to killing Sally, although Richard dictates it like it's a new story idea. Is Richard actually responsible for Sally's death or is someone setting him up? If that is the case, what is to become of Greta? You'll have to watch the film to find out.  This early 70's Italian mystery (I don't want to call it a giallo, since it doesn't follow standard giallo conventions, such as an unseen gloved killer and brutal murders every few minutes, something this film lacks), directed/scripted by Silvio Amadio (THE MINOTAUR - 1960; SMILE BEFORE DEATH - 1972), is pretty slow going for most of it's running time, but that's not a bad thing in this film's case. Since we are never sure a crime has been committed, we, along with Greta, are forced to pick up clues along the way. That makes paying attention mighty important for the viewer and it's not until we get two-thirds through the film, when Greta goes duck hunting with Richard, Elenora and Sandro (Dino Mele), that we know that something really is amiss. I don't want to spoil it for first-time viewers other than to say it involves an inoperable shotgun and a tense dip in a pit of quicksand. Farley Granger (THE SLASHER - 1972; THE PROWLER - 1981) is fine as the writer who may or may not be playing a game of cat-and-mouse with Greta, but the film definately belongs to the two female leads, Barbara Bouchet (CRY OF A PROSTITUTE - 1974) and Rosalba Neri (GIRL IN ROOM 2A - 1973). Not only do they get to act here (the sight of both women with shotguns in their hands excited me somehow), but they both strip naked on several occasions, so what's not to like? While there's not much in the blood and violence departments (besides the on-screen filleting of a live eel), the plentiful nudity and the unwinding mystery are sure to keep your eyes and brain occupied. Give it a try. Also starring Nino Segurini as the police inspector. A Eurovista Digital Entertainment DVD Release. The legality of this fullscreen DVD is questionable, as it is full of emulsion scratches, print damage, the final reel has a horizontal line running through it (making me believe this was taken from a VHS master) and is missing most of the opening credits. The DVD also contains short videotaped interviews with both Bouchet and Neri (who describes Farley Granger as "professional but distant"), conducted in 2002. They both look surprisingly bonable. Also known as MANIAC MANSION and HOT BED OF SEX (!) Not Rated, although this print does have an MPAA R-Rating classification tacked-on after the film ends. Also available on a widescreen Double Feature DVD, with SUPER STOOGES VS. THE WONDER WOMEN (1974), from Code Red.

ANGRY JOE BASS (1976) - Indian fisherman Joe Bass (Henry Bal) makes life difficult for crooked banker George Hanson (Mike Miller), who is foreclosing the loans on all the local fishermen and illegally buying their boats in hopes of taking advantage of new DNR regulations, in this regional Minnesota-lensed riff on BILLY JACK (1971). The whole film is told in flashback, as Hanson's daughter, Karen (Molly Mershon), is in the hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown after her father has been murdered. She tells the story of how it happened (but can't remember how it ended), which makes up the bulk of the film. Karen meets Joe at a boat auction and strikes up a friendship and, later, a love affair with Joe, which severely pisses off her father ("I told you to stay away from that Indian!"). Karen tries her damnedest to have her father and Joe get along, but it falls on deaf ears from both sides (Her mother says to her, "What man would want you when that Indian is done with you?"). Joe goes through a series of bloody beatings and arrests by the crooked sheriff (who does whatever Mr. Hanson orders him to do), but Karen always stays by Joe's side, which just makes her daddy madder. When a bunch of Hanson's goons shoot up Joe's house and injure his father, he says enough's enough. Joe goes after the men who shot up his house and the men end up seriously hurt (one of the guys accidentally cuts off his own leg with a chainsaw!). Under Mr. Hanson's orders, the sheriff sets out to kill Joe. The sheriff sets up a chain of events where he kills two birds with one stone, since he found out his wife is being unfaithful. Both Mr. Hanson and the sheriff's wife end up shot dead in separate incidents as Karen's doctors try to figure out exactly what happened. Karen's flashbacks eventually reveal what actually transpired. Sorry to say that Karen ends up being the total loser here, as her memory reveals that Joe is innocent, but he does not survive to bask in the glory. Joe should have learned not to fuck with the police.  This little-seen revenge flick suffers from one real drawback: Henry Bal, who plays Joe Bass, is so fucking ugly (he has a face only a disfigured bulldog could love) and stiff as an actor, it's really hard to root for him. His rants against the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) is never fully explained (the DNR regulates hunting and fishing to manage the state's natural resources), which also hurts the film for people who have no idea what the DNR is (my wife thought is stood for "Do Not Resusitate"!). The flashback scenario is very fragmented and disconcerting. Just when the film gets interesting (Joe's house being shot up), the films stops dead in it's tracks, switches gears and then tells the story of Sheriff Bill Hemmings (Rudy Hornish), whose wife is having an affair with George Hanson, and how Joe caught him trying to rape a young girl in the woods. The latter half of the film plays like a low-rent version of RASHOMON (1951), as two doctors try to figure out just how Mr. Hanson and the sheriff's wife died. The truth lies in a neon-colored recurring nightmare that Karen is having since the murders. The answer is not that surprising. The action and fighting scenes are awkwardly-staged and the whole film looks like it was edited with a butterkinfe. There is some blood and gore on view, but it, too, is badly filmed and much too quick. Add to that a cheesy theme song titled "The Ballad Of Joe Bass " and what you get is BILLY JACK without the resonance. One-time director/producer/co-scripter Thomas G. Reeves should have also learned that Billy Jack survived in the end. Well, at least we never got an ANGRIER JOE BASS. This had potential, but it was bungled in the execution. On-screen title: JOE BASS (I guess he didn't get angry until much later on). Also starring Lois Aurino, Elaine Kussack, James Dimitri and Derek Parsons. A Paragon Video Productions Home Video Release. Not Rated.

THE APARTMENT ON THE 13TH FLOOR (1972) - I originally saw this film theatrically in the mid-'70s under the title THE CANNIBAL MAN (Released by Hallmark Releasing, the same company that unleashed THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT [1972] and DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT [1973] to unsuspecting audiences using their famous tag line "It's Only A Movie...Only A Movie..." Hallmark, which was not afraid to rename their films to get audiences to double or triple-dip, also released this film under the review title.). This was advertised as a horror film, which it definitely isn't. Rather, it is a psychological thriller about class struggle during Spain's Franco regime (1939 - 1975). My teenage brain could not comprehend or forgive such a terrible case of false advertising, but my adult and, much more mature, brain (I know what you're thinking. Fuck off!) decided to give this film a second chance. And I'm glad I did.
     The film concerns the trials and trevails of poor "nobody" Marcos (Vicente Parra), who works at the town's slaughterhouse (Be warned: They show steer being killed, which will put you off Big Macs for good!). The slaughterhouse is the only game in town and Marcos learns from the slaughterhouse owner that his new boss will be a machine (He gives Marcos a long, delirious speech where the word "synchronicity" is repeated several times.). Marcos can do nothing but accept his new position since there are no other jobs to be found. Marcos lives in a hovel of a shack, where well-to-do neighbor Nestor (Eusebio Poncela) spies on him with binoculars from his 13th floor apartment in a new luxurious highrise building just across the tracks from Marcos' flat. (We first see Nestor spying on Marcos through a roof window of his flat, where Marcos is masturbating while looking at magazine photos of scantily-clad women he has taped to his wall).
     Marcos and girlfriend Paula (Emma Cohen; NIGHT OF THE WALKING DEAD - 1975) decide to have a romantic night on the town. They hail a taxi and begin making out in the back seat. The disgusted cab driver pulls over and tells them to get out (he doesn't want his taxi to smell like sex!) and when Marcos refuses to pay him, he gets out of the car and knees Marcos in the balls. Paula jumps on the cab driver's back and when it looks like he is about to punch her lights out, Marcos smashes him in the head with a rock and they both flee the scene. The next day, Marcos learns that he killed the cab driver and Paula wants him to go to the police to explain what happened. Marcos refuses, telling Paula that the police won't believe a poor "nobody like him ("The police will listen to the rich only!"). After a night of making love, Paula tells him that she is going to the police because her conscience bothers her, so Marcos has no other choice (at least in his mind) but to kill her (He strangles her with his bare hands while giving her a long, passionate kiss). There's no turning back now.
     Marcos' roommate (and older brother) Steve (Charly Bravo; MONSTER DOG - 1985) comes home a day early and Marcos shows him Paula's dead body (Steve amazingly says, "Marriage would have been a better idea!"). Steve insists that Marcos goes to the police (uh oh!), so he splits Steve's skull open with a wrench (One of many tools of the trade that Marcos has hanging on a wall next to his bedroom. Tools that will become handy as the film progresses.). He puts the body body on a bed in Steve's bedroom.
     Steve's fiancee Carmen (Lola Herrera; a famous Spanish TV star) arrives at Marcos' shack and refuses to leave until she speaks to Steve. Carmen sneaks into Steve's bedroom (after Marcos warns her not to go in there) and sees Steve's corpse. Marcos catches her and she is on a receiving end of a knife to the neck (we watch as Marcos slices her throat). He puts her bloody body on the bed with Steve (Marcos spends some time posing their bodies until he is satisfied!). The bodies are beginning to pile up.
     Nestor pays Marcos a late night visit and insists they go for a walk. Nestor drops some clues that he is watching him, but it is obvious that Nestor is gay and wants Marcos as a boyfriend. They stop at an outdoor cafe for a drink when the police pull up and asks them to show their identification cards. Marcos show them his but Nestor didn't bring his with him. He is almost arrested until the cafe owner tells the police that he lives in the expensive new highrise apartment complex. In this town, money talks, so the police give Nestor a gentle reminder that he should carry identification on him at all times.
     Carmen's father, Senor Don Ambrosio (Fernando Sanchez Polak; VENGEANCE OF THE MUMMY - 1975) is the next person to pay Marcos a visit. He insists on coming inside, finds Carmen's purse (Very sloppy, Marcos!) and breaks down Steve's bedroom door. He finds Carmen's bloody body and, in the film's most notorious moment, Marcos plants a meat cleaver into his face. Marcos now has a serious problem: His shack is beginning to stink of death, thanks to the decomposing bodies (Wild dogs are scratching at his front door!). He goes to a local drug store and buys ten bottles of mens cologne, which he sprays all over his home, but it is not doing the trick. Marcos gets the bright idea of bringing body parts to work. His new "boss", a machine that takes scraps of unused beef and grinds it into chuck, which is used for pet food and meat in poor neighborhoods, turns out to be an answer to Marcos' problem. Unfortunately, he can only bring small amounts of body parts with him (which he keeps in a duffel bag) without bringing suspicion on him (He almost gets caught when some neighborhood thugs play a game of "keepaway" with the duffel bag).
     Meanwhile, Nestor keeps on showing up at the most inopportune times in Marcos' life. Is Nestor gay and hitting on Marcos or does he know the truth (or both?)? Rosa (Vicky Lagos), a waitress at a local bar/restaurant called Bar Rosa, pays Marcos a visit ("What smells in here?"). She has the hots for Marcos and they have sex on the couch. She insists on cleaning up the bedroom to get rid of the smell (so they can have sex on a bed), but she grows suspicious of Marcos the more he refuses to let her go in there (Marcos is not a good housekeeper, as he leaves his bloody murder tools lying around the shack.). Marcos notices her suspicions and kills her by repeatedly smashing her head against the wall.
     Marcos also now has another very serious problem: People and animals are beginning to get severely ill after consuming the tainted meat that came out of his "boss". Will he be able to solve this problem and get away with multiple murders? The answer comes when Nestor invites him to come to his expensive apartment. Nestor confesses that he knows everything about the murders and shows Marcos how easy it was to spy on him. Nestor really doesn't care because all he wants to do is become Marcos' lover. Marcos breaks a glass and holds a shard of glass to Nestor's neck, but he can't bring himself to kill him. Instead, he leaves the apartment and calls the police, confessing to all the murders. The film ends with Marcos waiting for the police to arrive, as the camera pans across what is rich and what is poor: the stark contrast of the glorious apartment building with Marcos' ramshackle shack, which are only a couple of hundred yards apart.
     This is basically a week in the life of a poor man, where an accidental murder spirals out of control, based solely on his opinions on what constitutes being poor and being rich. Each chapter of his life in this Spanish thriller is broken down to days of the week (shown in Spanish without subtitles). Director Eloy de la Iglesia, who also gave us the entertaining A CLOCKWORK ORANGE-like thriller MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (1972; made right after this film), does not sensationalize the murders, rather showing them matter-of-factly, as if Marcos has no other choice given his status in this caste society. The screenplay, by de la Iglesia and Antonio Fos (THE VAMPIRES NIGHT ORGY - 1972). with an assist from exploitation pioneer Dick Randall (PIECES - 1982; using the pseudonym "Robert Oliver") for the dialogue in the U.S. theatrical version, is a story about the "haves" and "have-nots", where living in an apartment is a status symbol and living in a shack is akin to being a criminal. There is no overt cannibalism in this film, which is what disappointed me as a teenager when I saw it in a theater. Well, no intentional cannibalism, just a glossed-over moment of a sick dog who ate the meat and a scene where Marcos pukes when he realizes he ate some of that meat at Bar Rosa. There is some bloody violence, but the camera doesn't linger on it. Still, this is an effective film which could have only been made during Spain's Franco regime (Much like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS [1956] was an indictment of the Joseph McCarthy anti-Communist movement).
     I don't believe this film was released on VHS in the U.S. in the 1980s. The first VHS seems to be the widescreen version that Anchor Bay Entertainment released in 2000, which was also released on DVD at the same time. Blue Underground released it later on DVD (all as CANNIBAL MAN). The Blu-Ray, from Code Red, is light on extras (just some Code Red trailers), but this is the full, unedited version that was not shown theatrically or on DVD (both cut out the gay subtext). It runs 107 minutes long and the print bears the original Spanish title (LA SEMANA DEL ASENINO; "The Week Of The Killer"). Some parts are in Spanish with English subtitles, including a scene where a slaughterhouse worker explains to Marcos how his mother died and the unbelievable speech the slaughterhouse owner gives to Marcos. It also restores the gay subtext. The print looks amazingly crisp and clear (you can count the drops of sweat on Marcos' forehead), better than it has ever looked before. If you are the adventurous type, I would recommend you search this Blu-Ray out. Raúl Artigot, the director of the Spanish chiller THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN (1971), was the cinematographer on this film. The camerawork here is just as important as the characters. Also starring Ismael Merlo, Rafael Hernandez, Jose Franco, Valentin Tornos and Goyo Lebrero as the Taxi Driver. Not Rated.

THE ART OF DYING (1991) - Uncommonly good detective thriller with horror overtones from the production team of Joseph Merhi and Richard Pepin, the proprietors of usually less-than-stellar action dramas such as EPITAPH - 1986; L.A. CRACKDOWN - 1987; FRESH KILL - 1987; and DEATH BY DIALOGUE - 1988; (although they have been getting better as they progress). An overstressed cop (Wings Hauser, who also directed) is on the trail of a demented gay filmmaker (Gary Werntz), who is copying scenes of violence from famous films for insertion in his ultimate snuff film, titled appropriately THE ART OF DYING. He fails to tell one actor, who is doing a re-enactment of the Russian roulette scene in THE DEER HUNTER (1978), that the gun he is pointing at his head is not filled with blanks. Two more actors are cut to pieces for real during a re-enactment of the chainsaw scene from DePalma's SCARFACE (1983). An actress is stabbed repeatedly with a real knife in a scene stolen from PSYCHO (1960). Meanwhile, Hauser has personal and professional problems that would put a normal person in a loony bin. He tosses an irate housewife out of a third story window for stabbing his female partner. His only lead to the psycho filmmaker, a gay pimp (a terrific performance by Mitch Lara), is struck and killed by a car during a footchase. Hauser's superiors suspend him from the force for using excessive violence one too many times. In retaliation for killing the pimp (his lover), Wertz kidnaps Hauser's mysterious and sexy girlfriend (Kathleen Kinmont) and plans on using her for the climax of his film: a fiery re-enactment of the conclusion of the 1948 historical epic JOAN OF ARC (break out the marshmallows!). This film has many good things going for it: Snappy dialog, great action scenes, over the top acting (including Michael J. Pollard as a non-action cop), bloody effects, nice sex scenes, unusual editing (especially during the PSYCHO shower scene) and capable direction. Hauser squeezes the most out of a low budget and made an exciting thriller that is sure to please his fans. It's about time Hauser, who previously directed two other films, COLDFIRE and LIVING TO DIE (both 1990), got the chance to go behind the cameras after starring in numerous psychodramas throughout the years. Gaping plot holes aside, THE ART OF DYING should satisfy even the most jaded thriller fans. A PM Home Video VHS Release. Also available on budget VHS (recorded in the inferior EP Mode) from MNTEX Entertainment. Unrated.

AVENGED (2013) - First a word of warning: Even though this film, and many DTV films, are shown on the defunct TV station CHILLER (and sometimes SyFy), it is the worst way to watch these films because all of the nudity and most of the extreme violence is edited out. Buy or rent the DVD or watch it on VOD streaming, because CHILLER cut nearly nine minutes from this film, literally cutting the film's balls off, making it look like some zombie revenge film. That being said, I generally don't care too much for rape/revenge films (But for some reason, women do. I remember showing the uncut VHS version Mier Zarchi's I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE [1978] on a rainy day down at our our Summer New Jersey Shore house in the mid-90's, expecting the women to be shocked [I was one of the only guys in a house of 8 women. Color me happy! But I was their escorts and designated driver, because there is nothing worse than a woman at a bar at the New Jersey Shore in the Summer. We were all lifelong friends and nothing romantic ever happened. Besides, one of the women is now my ex-wife!]. They were shocked, especially over the two extended rapes [and rightfully so], but they loved the rest of the film. Every time I see them, even up to this day, they ask if I will ever show this film again. Our New Jersey Shore days are long over, but it surprises me that one of the first things they remember and want to relive is that film!). I don't believe forced sex should ever be displayed as entertainment, but this film is more in the vein of the 2010 remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (The over-the-top violence in this version of the film reminded me most of this film), but with a Native American twist and other zombie elements. And it is just different enough for me to recommend it, mainly because it doesn't wallow in the rape like the 1978 & 2010 films (and also the 2013 sequel!). Zoe (Amanda Adrienne, who is absolutely fantastic here) inherits her father's mint 1968 GTO when he passes away. Zoe is a deaf young woman who can talk some English (much in the way Marlee Matlin does) and plans on using the GTO to get out of California and travel to the American Southwest to live with her fiance Dane (Marc Anthony Samuel). Zoe's older sister, Hanna (Sarah J. Stuckey), tries to talk her out of it (I guess the politically correct way is to say "sign" her out of it) by saying the American Southwest is vast and can be dangerous, especially for a young, deaf woman, but Zoe has her mind made up and starts her travels (after taking a selfie of her and her sister with her camera, one of her favorite things to do). Zoe should have listened to her older sister. For the first time in her life, Zoe feels free and drives through national parks and sees other unusual sights, sending texts and photos to Dane, telling him she is on her way. Zoe enters New Mexico (I spent a week there one day) and that's when the trouble starts. She stops to take photos of some very unusual cactus plants and then spots the maggot-ridden corpse of a coyote who was definitely killed by human hands with a shotgun, judging by the way its midsection is exposed. Zoe gets back in her GTO and stops at a dumpy little trailer with a sign that says "Hand Made Native Gifts" (the proprietor will become an important character later in the film, but we only get a fleeting glimpse of him in this sequence). Zoe looks at various home made Indian objects (including a tomahawk) and then continues driving (we don't know whether she has purchased anything). She's texting Dane while driving (Doesn't she watch all those anti-texting TV commercials? I'm sure they are Close Captioned.) and nearly hits a Native American in the middle of the road who is seriously injured with a gaping wound in his stomach. Zoe pulls the GTO to the side of the road to go help him, but then she sees a bunch of rednecks chasing another Native American in their truck and run him over. Zoe tries to get the injured Indian into her car and drive away, but the rednecks, which includes Trey (Rodney Rowland; SOULKEEPER - 2001); West (Tom Ardavany; VELOCITY TRAP - 1998); Creed (John Charles Meyer; THE MILLENNIUM BUG - 2011); Cody (Brionne Davis; REST STOP: DON'T LOOK BACK - 2008), Trey's brother Jed (Ronnie Gene Blevins; THE BLACKOUT - 2014) and Trey's slow (i.e. retarded) brother Skeeter (Kyle Morris; COFFIN BABY - 2013), block her from driving away by putting their truck in front of her GTO. While West stabs the injured Indian over and over with his huge knife in the front seat of the GTO, Zoe tries to run away, only to get shot in the leg by Trey. We then see her tied to a bed with barb wire in the home of Trey's mother (Donell Russell) and she sits outside while the guys take turns raping Zoe, one even making her suck on the barrel of a pistol (It's bad, but not as bad as the films I mentioned above). West says she's a useless deaf mute who is "color blind" (he goes through her purse and finds a photo of her and Dane, who happens to be Black). Speaking about Dane, he becomes increasingly worried when she doesn't show up to their house or send him any more photos or texts on her phone. He looks at the last photo she sent him and in the background there is a sign that reads "Acme, New Mexico", so he calls the police department there and heads out to Acme to see if he can find her. The guys continue raping Zoe (thankfully, most of it offscreen), but it is the brutal Trey who takes particular delight in raping and torturing her, pouring Jack Daniels on her bullet wound. Trey also has a refrigerator full of old Indian skulls and shows them to Zoe, saying some of them date back to his great-great-grandfather, who was a notorious Indian fighter. His whole family has hated Indians since they have lived in this part of the country, which is at least 200 years. He considers them less than human and takes pleasure in hunting them down and killing them. Some of the heads in the refrigerator are kills of his own. West says that Zoe has to be "put down", because if she lives, she will destroy the whole gang and they will be in prison for life. Trey, who is a natural-born gambler, makes a deal with West: They will play one hand of cards and if Trey wins, he gets to keep Zoe as his plaything. If West wins, they will kill her immediately and she will be "an angel who gets her wings". Zoe is having flashbacks of Dane proposing to her to get her mind off the pain of her trying to free her arms from the barb wire (it's a really hard scene to watch, as the barb wire slits open her arms from the elbows-down) and she actually gets her arms free, but it is all for naught, since West has won the hand of cards and stabs her over-and-over with his large knife (which is really nothing but an extension of his penis, since we never see him take part in any of the rapes). West buries Zoe in a shallow grave in the desert, where she is found by Native American tracker Grey Wolf (Joseph Runningfox; RITES OF PASSAGE - 2011), the proprietor of the dumpy trailer selling home made Native American goods that Zoe stopped at earlier in the film, and he brings her dead body back to his home, where he performs an ancient Indian ritual with her body so she can rest in eternal peace. But something goes horribly wrong when the spirit of an ancient Apache warrior enters her body and he tells Grey Wolf that Trey and his friends will "Now walk...in Hell!" before he knocks-out Grey Wolf. Zoe is now alive, but like all living dead, her body begins to rot the longer she walks the Earth. Dane has now made it to Acme and is spending the night in a motel, where we watch him flip channels using the remote for the TV and see snippets of THE TERROR (1963) and THE STREETFIGHTER (1974), among other films and TV shows. The clip of THE TERROR is particularly relevant since it comes at the end of the film, where Jack Nicholson kisses Sandra Knight and she begins to disintegrate in front of his eyes. The possessed Zoe is now able to hear (a telling scene is when a dog barks and she looks its way) and she calls Dane on a payphone one last time to tell him that she loves him (she is not possessed 100% of the time). Dane, in turn, calls the operator to see where the call originated from. Zoe first spots Jed, who happens to be a police officer. She follows him into a bar, where all of the patrons stop what they are doing to look at the deteriorating Zoe, Jed unaware she is behind him. She stabs Jed in the gut with a broken bottle and begins to pull out yards of his intestines while he is still alive. Zoe stops the bartender from shooting her by tossing a chair at him and killing him instead and then shoves a broken pool cue into another guy's eye when he tries to intervene. After pulling out nearly all of Jed's intestines (it's quite graphic), she finishes him off with a broken bottle to his face. Dane gets to the bar an hour late and when he goes to the payphone where Zoe made her call to him, he spots all the rednecks across the street and he asks them if they have seen Zoe (he shows them a photo). Trey's only response is, "Sorry. We don't help niggers." When Dane mentions that she made a call from the phone across the road an hour earlier, they make West take them to her burial site to make sure she is actually dead. Surprisingly, Sheriff Holt (Daniel Knight) is sympathetic to Dane's plight (in other words, he's a decent human being), but he has trouble believing that a mute girl that probably weighs 110 pounds soaking wet could commit all the bloody carnage in the bar. When Grey Wolf gains consciousness, he sees that Zoe is gone (she is hiding in a farmer's barn, where she sees herself in the mirror and what she is becoming) and he goes looking for her to try and remove the Apache warrior possession.  Zoe discovers a room in the barn fill of all type of sharp instruments, including a bow and a good supply of arrows. The rednecks make it to Zoe's grave and find it empty, but West swears she was dead and Creed says a pack of coyotes probably dragged her away since her grave was so shallow. A short time later, Skeeter watches from the truck while Zoe shoots an arrow into Creed's leg and then riddles his body with arrows (including one to the crotch. Ouch!). Before Creed dies he manages to shoot Zoe once in the face (We then watch Zoe take her engagement ring off and all of the skin on the finger comes off with it. Yech!). She knows she doesn't have much time left on this Earth when she pulls the bandages off one of her arms (where she ripped it apart with the barb wire on the bed) and discovers the wound is crawling with maggots (a well done, if hard to watch, scene). Zoe goes back to Grey Wolf's trailer and he tells her if she actually wants revenge she better do it fast (There is a ritual Grey Wolf can perform to put Zoe to rest, but Zoe would rather have the revenge, as would anyone with a sense of justice. Since Zoe doesn't feel pain, why not give the people their just desserts?). Sheriff Holt finds Zoe's engagement ring in the barn and begins to think that Zoe is the killer since the barn stinks of death. Zoe leaves one final message on Dane's bathroom mirror that says "Please forgive me" when the room fills up with steam from the hot water, but before he can run outside and catch up with Zoe, the remainder of the rednecks kidnap Dane (In true THE WARRIORS [1979] fashion, Cody yells out, "Angel, we got your booooy!" over and over, just like the scene with the beer bottles where David Patrick Kelly yells out, "Warriors, come out and plaaay!" in director Walter Hill's classic). Zoe shoots an arrow into Cody's neck ("What is in my neck?") and a still-alive Cody jumps in the front seat of the truck with West and Dane in the bed of the truck. They can't believe they are seeing Zoe in such a decomposed state and still walking, so they drive off, but a quick running Zoe jumps into the bed of the truck and gets into a fight with West and his big knife, but how can you kill something that is already dead (Dane can't see any of this because he is in a sack)? West stabs her over and over with his knife to no effect, until he accidentally injures Dane in the sack with the knife. Zoe has had enough and rams West's head through the back window of the truck. She goes to stab West with his own knife, but a quick-thinking Trey slams on the brakes and Zoe goes flying over the front of the truck (it is well executed). Trey runs her body over with the truck, but when she gets up and screams, she scares the shit out of the rednecks and they drive away, still with Dane as a hostage. We are now in a warehouse, where Dane is tied to a chair and Trey's father (Peter Sherayko) and several survivalists (who have sold some automatic weapons to the rednecks) are waiting for Zoe to arrive. We watch Zoe patch her body up with plenty of duct tape (Is there nothing this product can't do?), while Cody still complains about the arrow in his neck (if they pull it out, he will surely bleed to death. The ancient Apache warrior leaves Zoe's body and gives her an ancient knife, tomahawk and a magical necklace (A mixture of CGI and practical effects and, I have to say, it wasn't half bad). The dastardly Trey tells Dane how they all took turns to rape his fiancee and West then killed her (he still doesn't believe that Zoe is dead). Sheriff Holt talks to Skeeter and he does the right thing and tells the Sheriff the whole sordid story (Skeeter never raped Zoe, but Trey and Jed were still his brothers). Cody is tired of waiting around with an arrow in his neck, so he steals a car and goes to drive to the hospital, but Zoe appears and throws a spear, whose tip is the ancient knife, right into Cody's head and the car goes flying over her body (a great stunt comprised of CGI and real action). Zoe begins to systematically kill the survivalists and rednecks, using her new-found supernatural powers until only West and Trey are left. Zoe throws the tomahawk into West's chest and drags his body away while he is screaming. Trey finds West without a heart (Did he really have one?), as he sees Zoe eating it. Sheriff Holt shows up and Trey shoots him in the neck, but doesn't kill him. Dane finally realized that Zoe is dead because he sees her reflection in a window as she stands behind him. She goes to lovingly touch his shoulder, but leaves instead, walking past the still-alive Sheriff Holt (even in his state, he can't believe what he is seeing). Trey drives to Grey Wolf's trailer and wants to know if there is a way to stop this carnage, but Grey Wolf tells him the curse will only be finished when Trey is dead. Zoe visits Trey's mother and plants the tomahawk in her head. A guilt-ridden Skeeter has already killed himself by slitting his wrists with a box cutter. Zoe shows up at Grey Wolf's trailer and Zoe and Trey get into a chainsaw/tomahawk fight. Zoe cuts off one of Trey's hands and then hits him in the crotch with the tomahawk (Double ouch!!). While he is on his knees, Trey uses his only good hand and runs the chainsaw through Zoe's torso, but it has little effect on Zoe and she cuts Trey's head off with the tomahawk (I wonder if his skull will end up in that refrigerator?). When Dane shows up at Grey Wolf's place, he sees Trey's headless body and Zoes trying to bury herself (just like in the finale of director Bob Clark's DEATHDREAM [1972], which this film shares many of the same qualities, which is not a bad thing at all). Dane lovingly rubs her cheek, pours gasoline on her and, before he lights the match, Zoe signs "I Love You". Dane lights the gasoline and his love burns to death. Remember this: Revenge may be sweet, but it usually comes with a big price.  Originally titled SAVAGED (a much more appropriate title, but in this politically correct-charged country, it would have been boycotted by some Native American organization, the same way they tried [and failed] to get the name of the football team, The Washington Redskins, to change their name, a name they have been using since 1932!. Thankfully, other less politically correct countries use the original title. The United States has to stop being so insulted at the littlest things, turning them into major bullshit, so let's not get into a discussion about "scalping" tickets.), director/screenwriter/cinematographer/editor/sound editor/digital effects technician Michael S. Ojeda (whose only other fictional feature-length film was the well-received revenge drama LANA'S RAIN [2002]; he basically did nothing but TV documentaries, TV re-enactment series and short films between these two films) fills this film with many references to other films (It's a great film just for that fact alone. See how many tributes you can spot in this film.), but it is a great revenge film in it's own right, filled with many memorable sequences, some wonderful dialogue and good acting. The only thing that bothers me is that in films of this type, there always has to be a mentally handicapped person who wants nothing to do with violence but always is forced to get involved, but unlike most other films, that character kills himself here because of the guilt. In the end, he really is the only redneck with a conscience. The violence may seem a little too much from time to time, but when is violence not? Thankfully, Ojeda keeps the rape scenes to a minimum and focuses on the revenge and what it means to know you are dead, still love someone, but know there is only one way out. That's the underlining driving factor behind this film. Love is a powerful thing, but there are also more powerful things out there that trump it, like revenge. And this film dishes it out in spades. Both the physical effects (including Zoe's decomposing body and the arrow stuck in Cody's neck) and most of the digital effects are excellent (even the digital effect of the Apache warrior coming out of Zoe's body is done well) and there's a lot more to recommend here (such as the Sheriff not being one of the "good old boys" and actually taking Dane seriously), so my advice is to buy this one and skip the version shown on CHILLER. That version is just a ghost shell of the full version. My highest recommendation. Made in 2013, but not released on DVD in the U.S. until 2015. Also starring Ed Fletcher, Jason Gurwitz, Dan Kiefer, Bobby Field, Ernie Charles and Rick Mora as the injured Indian Zoe nearly hits with her car. An Uncork'd Entertainment DVD Release. Not Rated.

THE BELKO EXPERIMENT (2017) - As soon as I saw the old Orion Pictures logo show up at the beginning of this effective film, I knew I was in for something special (The revived Orion Logo was first used on the remake/reboot of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN - 2014). Then I saw the BlumHouse Tilt logo and my hopes were dashed a little (Just like all of Jason Blum and BlumHouse's PG-13 Rated supernatural crap). Then I saw that James Gunn (SLITHER - 2006; SUPER - 2010; GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - 2014) Wrote and Produced this (He was also set to direct, but he was going through a nasty divorce at the time, so he handed directorial reigns over to Greg McLean; WOLF CREEK - 2004 and its sequel - 2013; THE DARKNESS - 2016) and my hopes were then raised again. This is a bloody, Hard-R Rated thriller/horror film about how, under the right circumstances, people can devolve rather than evolve and turn into killers of innocent people. In Bogota, Columbia, The Belko Corporation, a non-profit organization with buildings in 40 countries, is supposedly responsible for supplying employees to American countries overseas, which would explain why most of the people in this building speak English and are American (one employee says, "Normal people do not work at Belko."). What is strange is their location; the buliding seems purposely to be someplace out of the way and very modern. Also unusual is that Belko has implanted "tracking chips" in the back of every employees head, saying that is is merely a precaution in case anyone is kidnapped in Colombia, which is a common thing. One day, Belko employee Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.) wonders why every vehicle is being searched by an armed militia as they enter the Belko parking lot. Usually there is just a guard, Evan (James Earl), at the entrance. But this is no regular day at Belko, as when all 80 employees are in the building, all the windows and doors are covered by thick metal sheets, which drop from hidden openings. With no way to leave the building (The thick metal doesn't even get hot when maintenance man Bud [Michael Rooker, a Gunn favorite who has appeared in all of his films and made his bones playing HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER - 1986] uses an acetylene welding torch to try and cut a hole in the metal, with no success), a voice comes over the loud speaker that says the employees must murder any two people in the building in 30 minutes or else four will die (Phase 1). Thinking it is a joke, the employees think that someone must have hacked into the building and made the metal barricades drop, but when two people aren't killed within 30 minutes, the "tracking implants" explode and take out the back of the heads of four employees. These implants weren't for tracking at all, they are small bombs (All done very well and bloody as hell). Mike tries to remove his implant with a boxcutter (very bloody), but the voice comes on and warns Mike to stop or else his implant will be detonated. The employees find hidden tiny cameras and bugs throughout the building and know that everyone's movements are being monitored. The voice comes back on and warns the employees to stop searching and ripping out the cameras or more people will die. Knowing that this is no joke, Belko boss and former Special Ops soldier Barry Morse (an excellent Tony Goldwyn; GHOST - 1990) gets power-hungry and he goes to Evan and demands the keys to the room that holds weapons. Evan says no, so Barry joins forces with employees Wendell Dukes (an equally excellent John C. McGinley; IFC's STAN AGAINST EVIL - 2016-Present), who continuously shows improper sexual advances to Mike's girlfriend and Belko employee Leandra (Adria Arjona) and an extremely nervous Terry (Owain Yeoman; THE MENTALIST - 2008-2015), grab the welding torch and begin cutting into the metal door that holds the weapons. The voice come back on and tells everyone that they must murder 30 people in two hours or else 60 people will die by having the back of their heads blown off (Phase 2). This is when things turn very ugly. Wendell stabs Evan in the stomach with a large knife and kills him, taking the keys after Mike disables the welding torch. Now the deadly trio have guns and Barry orders everyone to go to the lobby. (Maintenance man Bud already has his head bashed in with a hammer by his assistant Lonny (David Dastmalchian) and then he goes after brand new employee Dany (Melonie Diaz), who kicks him away and is impaled in the head by metal nails sticking out of the wall (You can actually see the dent in Bud's head and Rooker's reaction to the deadly blow is priceless). Barry picks out 30 people he is going to kill ("Who in the lobby is over 60?") and has them get on their knees and begins shooting them in the head. He also picks Mike to be murdered because of what he did to the welding torch. Just as Mike is going to be murdered by Barry, Dany goes to the electrical panel and turns off the electricity, turning the lobby into pitch-black darkness. Mike and the rest of the people who were chosen to be killed escape, so Barry, Wendell and Terry begin to kill anyone they see with guns, a meatcleaver and anything else they can get their hand on. In the film's most chilling scene, the voice come back on the loud speaker and tell everyone the two hours are up and that 29 people were killed, so, since they haven't reached the intended goal of 30 murders, a total of 60 people will be killed. Stoner employee Marty (Sean Gunn, the brother of James Gunn), who believes the water has been spiked with drugs (he's paranoid from smoking too much pot). watches the employees hiding under the cafeteria tables have the back of their heads explode (The film's most effective scene). After 60 employees are killed, (Marty digs out the implants on the people Barry murdered and puts them in a linen napkin, which Mike takes), the voice comes back on and says that the person that kills the most people will be spared (Phase 3). Barry has more kills than anyone else and the  16 employees that are left begin to turn feral, even Mike (who was a pacifist throughout this whole experience), who sees his girlfriend Leandra murdered by Barry. Mike kills Barry by bashing his head over and over in with a tape dispenser (earlier, Leandra murders Wendell by hacking his head in with an axe until his face is nothing but a bloody pulp. It is easy to spot that this scene was edited in order to get an R-rating, but if you pause at a certain time, you can see one frame of the resulting carnage to Wendell's head. That'll teach him for his unwanted sexual advances towards her!). Mike ends up the winner by being the last person left alive, so two heavily armed military men take him outside and lead in to a metal shed where "The Voice" (Gregg Henry, another one of Gunn's repertoire actors) tells Mike that this was a social experiment to prove that even the most honest and gentle of people can turn into cold-blooded murderers with the right circumstances put into place. Mike notices a board with all the employees names on it with a switch next to their names. It is the trigger that explodes the implants. Mike lunges at The Voice (his face is burned on one side, but no reason is given why. Could he also have participated in this experiment in the past? In this film, employee Vince [Brent Sexton, a frequent guest star on many TV series. He had a regular role in one season of THE KILLING from 2011 to 2012] makes some molitov cocktails and burns a few people to death during Phase 3.), but the military men pull Mike off of him. Mike asks if The Voice knows what happened to all the implants that Marty dug out of the heads that Barry murdered and The Voice looks surprised. Turns out that Mike placed them on the military men that manhandled him to the shed and when he lunged at The Voice he also put one on his person. He then lunges at the board and flicks every switch except the one with his name on it and kills the military guards and seriously injures The Voice. Mortally wounded, The Voice asks for mercy (but knows he will not get it). Mike finishes him off with a few bullets from an automatic weapon and walks outside. We then see a camera is watching Mike. As the camera pulls back, it shows hundreds of TV monitors watching other people (probably from the other 40 buildings in different countries who are going through the same thing as Mike) and we hear a voice say "Initializing Stage 2". It looks like Mike is in for another bloody adventure. (My guess is that he will be joining the winners from the other 40 buildings and be put through more deadly mental and physical torture.) This film wastes no time getting to the good stuff. We really don't get to know each employee too well, but that is not a problem. We know Wendell is a letch because he is always leering and sending sexual PMs to Leandra's computer, so him being one of the few to be evil from the start comes as no surprise. He enjoys killing people and doesn't try to hide it (at one point in the film , we see him chopping at employees with a meatcleaver). The film is littered with many familiar faces, including Abraham Benrubi as Marty's stoner friend Chet. Many people will recognize him as "Jerry", the person behind the admitting desk of the long-running TV series ER from 1994 to 2009. Like most BlumHouse productions, this was made for about five million dollars and played widely in theaters, but it bombed, making slightly over ten million dollars in the U.S. from March to May of 2017. Even though this has a 2017 copyright, it was actually filmed in 2015 and takes many of its queues from the Japanese film BATTLE ROYALE (2000) and the little-seen OPERATION: ENDGAME (2010), but does it in such a different way, you'll forget the similarities almost immediately. The film is filled with scenes that just bend your mind, such as brand new employee Dany surviving attack after attack. She even manages not to get squashed when she hides on top of an elevator, but her new friend Keith (Josh Brener) isn't so lucky. As Dany is taking the elevator down to the lobby, she is uncerimoniously shot in the head by Barry as soon as ther elevator door opens. It comes so fast, you don't know whether to laugh or cry. One scene I did laugh at, though, was the scene of a dog peeing on the fence that surrounds the Belko building, a perfect metaphor for how the people must feel trapped inside. No one gives a piss about them. The film's 89 minute running time goes by so fast, that you end up wanting more. James Gunn has said he has a good idea where a sequel will go, but since the film bombed (A film has to make triple its budget to be considered successful), I would not look for a sequel any time soon. This is bloody good fun and I highly recommend it. An Orion Pictures DVD and Blu-Ray Release. Rated R.

BLOOD LINK (1983) - Worthwhile thriller (think of it as a horror-themed version of The Corsican Brothers) about a man, Dr. Craig Mannings (the always enjoyable-to-watch Michael Moriarity; REBORN - 1981), who suddenly begins to have visions of a serial killer murdering women. Craig not only sees the murders through the killer's eyes, he also experiences the emotions of the killer, including the euphoria of murder. These visions began when Craig decided to use himself as a guinea pig in an experimental treatment he created, which effectively lets the subject control such things as pain and human emotions. The experiment triggers long-dormant memories about Dr. Manning's childhood, especially concerning his Siamese twin brother Keith. It seems Keith disappeared when an operation was performed to separate them, so Craig decides to find out the truth about his brother. He travels to Cleveland to talk to Keith's foster mother, Mrs. Thomason (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who has gone senile (or crazy) and mistakens Craig for Keith and accuses him of starting a fire that killed her husband when Keith was seventeen years old. Craig becomes convinces that the visions he is having are actually his brother's, so he heads for Hamburg, Germany, based on a visual clue he picked up in one of the visions. Once in Hamburg, the lives of Craig and Keith become fatally intertwined due to bouts of mistaken identity, including over-the-hill boxer Bud Waldo (Cameron Mitchell; RAW FORCE - 1982), who confused Keith with Craig, and police Inspector Hessinger (Reinhold K. Olszewski), who is looking for Keith in connection with a series of murders in the area and mistakens Craig as the culprit. Craig soon becomes convinced that Keith is a sadistic murderer and when Keith discovers Craig is in Hamburg, he kills Bud (It's a really sadistic scene that's bloodless in it's execution, but vicious all the same) in front of his daughter Christine (Sarah Lagenfeld) while pretending to be Craig. Since Bud had a bad ticker, Sarah can't convince the police that he has been murdered, so she tries to get some justice on her own, only with the wrong brother. Craig is able to convince Sarah that she is after the wrong person and when it becomes obvious that Keith can also see through Craig's eyes, it becomes a cat-and-mouse game between brothers, where Keith wants to kill Craig for unresolved childhood issues and Craig only wants to save Keith from himself. When Craig is arrested for the murder of Christine, Craig and his assistant/lover Julie (Penelope Milford) come up with an unusual way to trap the murderous Keith. It almost backfires, but as the finale proves, the bond between brothers, especially Siamese twins, is impossible to kill, even in death. This well-paced thriller, directed by Alberto De Martino (THE TEMPTER - 1974; MIAMI HORROR - 1985; FORMULA FOR A MURDER - 1985) and scripted by Theodore Apstein (a well-respected Broadway and television writer; this is one of his rare forays into film and his last writing credit), is helped immensely by the dual performances of Michael Moriarity. We get the best of both worlds from Moriarity: The restrained turn as loving brother Craig and the full-tilt insanity that is Keith. The scene where Keith puts a beatdown on Bud in order to give him a fatal heart attack is one of the film's highlights, as it displays Moriarity's unique ability to come across as someone truly heartless who is able to kill with a smile on his face. He never breaks his smile as he pummels Bud to death, which makes the entire sequence very hard to watch (it also one of Cameron Mitchell's best performances of his latter career). Another well-done sequence is when Keith drugs and knocks-out Craig after he has just made love to Christine and then jumps in bed with her pretending to be Craig. She discovers a little too late that Keith's separation scar is on the wrong side of his body, as Keith rapes Christine, makes her tell him that he's a better lover than Craig and then sadistically stabs her to death as he ejaculates. Director De Martino offers several nice visual touches, including the use of mirrors or reflections in windows to trigger Craig's visions and some effective POV shots during Keith's murders. There's also a jolting scene in a mortuary during the final five minutes that will send a shiver down your spine. Although the gore is fairly restrained (just a few bloody stabbings), there is plentiful female nudity and a sense of absurd playfulness here, thanks to the acting talents of Moriarity, who manages to convey the duality of good and evil by simply using weird character tics (like twirling his hair with his index finger) to separate the brothers, giving them both distinct personalities and relying on talent rather than makeup. Worth a look. The effective music score is from the always reliable Ennio Morricone, who also adds to the atmosphere with his haunting soundtrack. Also starring Martha Smith, Virginia McKenna and Vonne Sherman. Originally announced as THE LINK. Released on VHS by Embassy Home Entertainment and still awaiting a proper DVD release. Rated R.

THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY (1971) - "The past does not exist, in that it has already gone. The future does not exist either, as it has yet to come. Therefore, only the present exists, but it can be made up of both the past and the future because it is the point where they meet." This bastardized Buddha quote opens a complex and densly structured giallo which is based on a story by Edgar Wallace.
     During a heavy rainstorm, two young children and their mother spot the dead body of Françoise Pigaut (Carole André; THE VIOLENT BREED - 1984) rolling down a hill in a park. She has been savagely stabbed to death and several eyewitnesses see a man in a hat and a tan raincoat running out of the park. Police Inspector Berardi (Silvano Tranquilli; THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS - 1973) is assigned to the case and he finds finds a switchblade (a "butterfly" knife) next to her body and in her pockets are all the bus and subway tickets she used for the past three weeks. Why would she keep those tickets? (Think about it for a moment). During her autopsy, the coroner tells the Inspector that Françoise has five stab wounds on her body, two of them fatal (We see photos of these wounds and it's not pretty). The forensics team tell the inspector that she was not sexually assaulted and that she struggled with the killer, scratching him. All they are sure of is that the killer is Caucasian. The Inspector is sure Françoise knew her killer because "A girl like that doesn't go on a date with a stranger at 6:00 P.M." Based on all this evidence and a female eyewitness, the Inspector arrests Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia; DEATH RAGE - 1976), a famous TV sportscaster. At his trial for first degree murder, the prosecutor (Wolfgang Preiss; THE FIFTH CORD - 1971) puts on a good show, linking all the evidence to Alessandro. The defense attorney, Giulio Cordaro (Günther Stoll; WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? - 1972), puts on an equally good show, giving the jurists an alternate view on the evidence, none of it linking to Alessandro. But when Alessandro's wife, Maria (Evelyn Stewart; THE NIGHT CHILD - 1975), takes the stand, her answers under questioning couldn't make her husband look more guilty if he tried. Maria sat in court every day at her husband's trial, but she wasn't there to support him, but to hear him confess that he was having an affair with Marta Clerici (Lorella De Luca; THREE TOUGH GUYS - 1974), a rich young woman who has disappeared. Since Marta can't be located to take the stand and tell the court that she was with Alessandro at the time of Françoise's killing, the court has no choice but to ignore Alessandro's infidelity alibi. He is convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Soon after Alessandro is put in prison, another killing occurs. A young woman is knifed to death in the same manner as Françoise. The Inspector must figure out who committed that murder so Alessandro can be freed.
     The list of suspects is long. We then find out why Maria really put that performance on in court. She is having an affair with Giulio. Maria has no sympathy for Alessandro and shames their daughter, Sarah (Wendi D'Olive; THE DEAD ARE ALIVE - 1972), telling her she must feel betrayed by a man she trusted all her life. Could it be Giorgio (Helmut Berger; MAD DOG - 1977), a spoiled youg rich man, who is a concert pianist? We saw him at Françoise's crime scene and he looked guilty as hell. Oh, and he's Sarah's boyfriend. He likes his sex rough and has a total disdain for his family, especially his father (Stefano Oppedisano; NIGHT OF THE DEVILS - 1972), who is an expert marksman with his shotgun. Giorgio likes to play his music loud, as if he is trying to silence some demons in his mind. At his birthday, Giorgio's mother (Dana Ghia; SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYES - 1973) tries to get him to move to Paris. What is she worried about? Instead of blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, Giorgio pours a glass of water over them. Hell, nearly everyone in this film could be the killer, even Alessandro himself. Did he pay someone to commit copycat murders once he was put in prison?
     The Inspector (Who is always looking for a perfect cup of coffee, but cannot find it. It's a running joke in this film.) gets a phone call from someone who says he's the killer. He also says that the killings will continue. This forces the Inspector to look at the killings from a different angle. He finds Marta Clerici and Alessandro's case is reopened. She testifies, telling the court that she was making love to Alessandro at the time Françoise was murdered. Her testimony is convincing, but is she telling the truth? Alessandro is freed, which disappoints many people, especially his wife. It seems everyone here has some sort of secret thay are harboring and don't want exposed, even Sarah. The Inspector now believes Alessandro is innocent and when a shop owner tells him that she sold two switchblades (the same knife used in all the killings) to someone on the day of Françoise's murder, he thinks he has his man. That man is Giorgio, who manages to evade capture. But is he the killer? Alessandro gets a phone call that upsets him greatly. Is he being blackmailed?
     If you want to know what happens next, you'll have to watch the film or solve the mystery by the clues I have dropped in your lap. It ends with the murders of two major characters and in a flashback we see that one of them murdered Françoise and the other one continued killing to free Alessandro from prison.
     This is not a conventional giallo film, as director/co-screenwriter Duccio Tessari (DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT - 1970; NO WAY OUT - 1973) frames the majority of the film at Alessandro's murder trial, dropping subtle clues along the way. Unlike most giallo flicks, this one is restrained in the nudity and violence departments, but it doesn't need them because the mystery is intriguing. Co-screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici is an old hand at scripting giallo films, penning the screenplays to DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972), THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) and MURDER-ROCK: DANCING DEATH (1984), all for director Lucio Fulci. Clerici also wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for THE TEMPTER (1974), JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1977) and HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1979), among many others. This is a well-acted film that is just as interested in police procedural (the collecting of evidence is shown in painstaking detail and is as truthful as it gets in 1971) as it is the mystery. The beginning of the film is like CSI, before there really was a CSI. All in all, this is a wonderfully crafted film that grabs you from the first frame and doesn't let go until the final frame.
     This film, shot under the title UNA FARFALLA CON LE ALI INSANGUINATE ("The Butterfly With Bloody Wings"), was never released theatrically or on VHS in the United States. It is available in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Arrow Video or you can stream it for free on Amazon if you are a Prime member (Just one more reason why you should be a Prime member!). This review is based on the streaming version, which is a port of the print Arrow Video used. It is in widescreen and in its original Italian language with English subtitles (films like this really need to be seen in their original language because dubbing wipes away the finer points of the performances). The print is immaculate and the colors "pop". A rare view of how the police worked in the early-'70s. Also starring Gabriella Venditti (NAKED VIOLENCE - 1969), Anna Zinnemann (THE SISTER OF URSULA - 1978), Peter Shepherd (a co-producer of the extremely strange film SONNY BOY - 1989), Francesco D'Adda (MEET HIM AND DIE - 1976) and a cameo by Duccio Tessari as an eyewitness to Françoise's murder. Not Rated.

THE BLOODSTAINED SHADOW (1978) - Someone strangles a young woman, leaving her dead body in a meadow, which overlooks a church on a cliff. But what's that clutched in her hands? Could it be torn pages from a religious text? So begins this standard giallo flick, directed and co-written by Antonio Bido (WATCH ME WHEN I KILL - 1977).
     Stefano D'Archangelo (Lino Capolicchio; THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS - 1976) is traveling from Rome to his hometown, a small island off the coast of Venice that is only reachable by ferry. He hasn't been to his hometown in years, for reasons yet to be made clear. He is going to meet his older brother, Paolo (Craig Hill; ASSIGNMENT TERROR - 1969), who is a priest. Stefano is sharing a train cabin to Venice with Sandra Sellani (Stefania Casini; ANDY WARHOL'S BAD - 1977). a young woman who is also from his hometown, but he has never met her before. When Stefano steps off the ferry, Paolo and Gaspare (Attilio Duse; THE HUMANOID - 1979), the church sacristan (Google it), meet him at the pier. Why does Sandra stare at them so intensely?
     While eating in a restaurant, Stefano tells his brother that he feels "washed out" and that he may need a neurologist. Sefano sees a young man hand an older woman (Alina De Simone; THE CHURCH - 1989), who is eating alone, an envelope full of cash. Stefano asks Paolo who the woman is and he says, "There's something frightening about her." She is a medium who "practices strange rites in her house". Paolo fills his brother in on other people in town who are regular clients of the medium. There's Dr. Aloisi (Sergio Mioni; EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 - 1983), a rich man who practices medicine on the island and in Venice. He is a heavy gambler and has a mistress in Venice. He is also an athiest who "accidentally" killed his wife while cleaning his rifle (sure) but his money bought him out of a trial. Paolo doesn't know Dr. Aloisi is sitting behind him at the restaurant and he lets the priest know he heard everything he said about him before he gets up and leaves the restaurant. Another client of the medium is Mrs. Nardi (Juliette Mayniel; DOG LAY AFTERNOON - 1976), a midwife who has a crazy son she keeps hidden on the island. Oh, and she performs illegal abortions. And, finally, there's Count Pedrazzi (Massimo Serato; WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 7 - 1973), a "despicable" individual who's the last of "a once great noble family." Paolo also says that the Count has no morals and "it might be better if he disappeared off the face of the Earth" (I can now understand why Stefano left the island!). We then witness the medium holding a seance with these three people. Who are they trying to contact? We do know that the medium is tape recording all her sessions. Is she up to no good?
     That night, Paolo is woken from a sound sleep by the screams of the medium, who is being strangled outside his bedroom window. Paolo can't see who is killing her because it is very windy and raining outside. He calls the police and then goes to wake Stefano, but he is not in his bedroom. His bed doesn't look like it has been slept in (I know what you are thinking, but don't rush to judgment. This is a giallo film, after all!). Paolo can't even find Gaspare, but when he opens the front door, both Gaspare and Stefano are standing outside, soaking wet. Paolo tells them about the murder he just witnessed, but when he goes outside to show them where it happened, there is no body. Later that night, someone slips an envelope under Paolo's bedroom door. In the envelope are an old photo, showing a priest, an old woman and a young boy, and a threatening note that reads, "If one speaks of murder, yours will be talked about." Who would threaten the life of a priest? The next morning, the police find the medium's body close to the church and the Police Commissioner (Alfredo Zammi) tells Paolo that the medium's killing mirrors that of the killing of a young girl that happened years earlier on the island (the killing we saw at the start of the film). Her last name was "Andreani" and her father (Luigi Casellato; A BLACK RIBBON FOR DEBORAH - 1974) still lives on the island. When Stefano sees the dead body, he has a flashback where he sees a young boy screaming in a meadow (the boys looks like the one in the photo slid under Paolo's door) and then Stefano has some kind of attack and Paolo has to walk him back to the house. One of his parishioners tells Paolo that the Count molested one of her children and he goes to the Count's mansion and accuses him of pedophilia (Shouldn't it be the other way around?). The Count kicks Paolo out of his mansion, telling him he will never be welcome here, not even "if I'm dead" (A portend of things to come?).
     While Stefano is out for a walk, he runs into Sandra. She tells him she knew the medium  and she believes she blackmailed her clients (We also find out that Stefano is an art professor at a university). They meet Mrs. Nardi on the street, who tells Sandra that she hopes her mother is feeling better. Why does Mr. Andreani, who is also standing on the street, look at them with such hatred in his eyes? Stefano finds another threatening note that reads, "The past and your fate are linked with death." We then discover that the photo was that of a young Stefano with his brother and their deceased mother. Poalo starts going off the hinges, so Paolo tries to calm him down by yelling at him!
     Someone is following Sandra as she is taking the ferry to Venice. Once in Venice, Sandra becomes aware that she is being followed, walking quickly through the narrow streets and alleyways until she makes it to her mother's apartment (but not before she bumps into an accordion player, in one of the film's many jump scares). We then find out it was Stefano following her. He tells Sandra that he was worried she was leaving the island for good. Sandra introduces him to her infirmed mother (Laura Nucci; KILLER NUN - 1979), but not before he becomes extremely interested in a strange painting hanging on a wall. It has the  Devil  about to snatch a young woman and it is familiar to Stefano (pay close attention to the painting's background). Stefano has one of his spells in the mother's apartment, but he refuses to tell Sandra what caused it. Sandra and Stefano soon become lovers, but is it a good idea?
     Mrs. Nardi goes to Dr. Aloisi's office and tells him she is worried anout the police talking to Count Pedrazzi. What is she afraid that the Count will tell them? Someone then kills the Count in his mansion, thrusting an ancient spear into his chest. While Paolo is holding Sunday services, he find the bloody decapitated head of a small animal in an altar vessel, a note under it saying, "Just remember, silence is life." Stefano notices similarities in all the notes, as the letter "T" looks unusual and must have all come from the same typewriter. If he can find the typewriter, he will find the killer. For some reason I still can't understand, Stefano believes it is all connected to the murder of the Andreani girl, so he goes to talk with her father. He tells Stefano if he wants to live in peace on the island, it is better not to know. Not to know what?
     This spiraling giallo makes you ask a lot of questions and the patient viewer will get the answers, no matter how outlandish they are. Not a great giallo flick by any stretch of the imagination, the screenplay, by director Antonio Bido, Marisa Andalò & Domenico Malan (this is Andalò and Malan's only screenplay), paints everyone as a suspect, even the minor characters. That is exactly what is wrong with this film. If anyone can be the killer, who can we root for? The violence and nudity are also far too restrained for the film's good (and Stefania Casini has the breasts of a 10 year-old girl!). The most gruesome murder comes when the killer grabs Sandra's mother out of her wheelchair and places her head into the lit fireplace. Although we really don't see anything graphic (except the back of her head burning), it is still quite effective. The most intense scene is when Dr. Aloisi is pushed into a canal by the killer and the doctor tries to escape by clinging to a rope from a passing boat. The killer than steals a boat and crashes it into the other boat, crushing the doctor to death. This film also relies on that old giallo standby: Only showing the killer's eyes in extreme close-up. Also typical is introducing Mrs. Nardi's crazy son late in the film. It is obvious he is a red herring and serves no other purpose in this film (He has a doll he plays with and his mother enables his behavior). Just who then is the killer? You should know by now that I never give that away, but the clues are in the review and you do not need to know anything more to figure it out (OK, one more clue: The painting is the key to solve the mystery, so pay close attention when it is shown.). The English dubbing is also rank, as what is said rarely synch with the actors' lip movements (even though it is obvious Craig Hill is speaking English and dubbed his own voice!). Fans of giallo films will probably find something here to enjoy, but I found it to be a fairly long 109 minutes. The finale is satisfying, though, in a twisted sort of way.
     This film, shot under the title SOLAMENTE NERO ("Only Blackness"), was never released theatrically or on VHS in the United States. It got an uncut, widescreen release on DVD early in the New Millennium as a stand-alone disc from Anchor Bay Entertainment or as part of their 4-disc, 4 film box set titled THE GIALLO COLLECTION (both long OOP) and later on DVD from Blue Underground, as a stand alone disc or part of the 3-disc MIDNIGHT MOVIES VOLUME 4: TRIPLE FEATURE, this film being the weakest of the lot. No Blu-Ray at the time of this review. Also starring Emilio Delle Piane, Sonia Viviani, Fortunato Arena and Gianfranco Bullo as Mrs. Nardi's crazy son. Look for director Bido in a cameo as a man standing in a cemetery. Not Rated.

BODY CHEMISTRY 2: VOICE OF A STRANGER (1991) - This film, along with IN THE HEAT OF PASSION, showed a definite upswing in the overall quality from what we expected from Roger Corman's Concorde Films until the erotic thriller genre died out and they turned back to remaking old horror films. Forget the title. It has nothing to do with the original BODY CHEMISTRY (1990 - which was a rip-off of FATAL ATTRACTION [1987]). What we have here is an engrossing story about an ex-cop (Gregory Harrison) who moves back to his hometown to try and resolve his personal problems. It seems he's into rough sex and is not able to make love without physically hurting his partner. This problem stems from his childhood when his abusive father would brutalize him and sexually abuse his mother. He reunites with his former high school sweetheart (Robin Riker) and when he starts getting thoughts of hurting her, he decides professional help is needed. He calls up a radio psychiatrist (Lisa Pescia), who wants to help him in person. Soon Pescia is sexually abusing Harrison, handcuffing him at inopportune times and generally making his and Riker's (who works at the station as Pescia's engineer) relationship unbearable. The station owner (the late Morton Downey Jr., who is surprisingly good) knows that Pescia has a murderous past and blackmails her into signing a syndication contract. It seems that her new program has significantly raised the station's rating points and he would much rather make money off her than to turn her over to the police. That's all the plot I'm going to give away except to say that the final scene will break your heart. The stars of the film all do an excellent job (Harrison, Gonzo of TV's TRAPPER JOHN M.D. [1979 - 1986], does a nice brooding job in an unusual role), but the real star is director Adam Simon, who also did the wild and weird BRAIN DEAD (1989) and the wacky JURASSIC PARK rip-off CARNOSAUR (both 1993) for Corman. He pulls you into the story and makes you really care about Harrison and Riker. You want their relationship to work out. Simon also fills the screen with unusual situations including an early scene of Russian Roulette played with one bullet and five Chinese cookie fortunes stuffed into the chambers of a gun. Harrison puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. When the gun fails to discharge he pulls the fortune out of the chamber. It reads, "Where there is hope there is life." Good stuff. Director John Landis and Clint Howard (ICE CREAM MAN - 1994) have cameos. Rent this now to see a directorial genius at work. Too bad Mr. Simon is now directing documentaries such as THE TYPEWRITER, THE RIFLE & THE MOVIE CAMERA (1996 - about deranged director Sam Fuller) and THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (2000 - a horror film doc.). An MGM/UA Home Video Release. Rated R. Followed by BODY CHEMISTRY 3: POINT OF SEDUCTION (1994) and BODY CHEMISTRY 4: FULL EXPOSURE (1995), both directed by Jim Wynorski.

B.T.K. (2007) - Another low-budget serial killer flick from director/writer Michael Feifer (THE GRAVEYARD - 2006), this one a mostly fictionalized account about the notorious Dennis Rader (Kane Hodder; HATCHET - 2007), a seemingly normal married man who murdered ten people between 1974 and 1991 in and around Wichita, Kansas and then wrote taunting letters to the police, signing the letters "BTK" (for "Bind Torture Kill"). As the film opens, Rader (who has already been killing for nearly twenty years) is playing bondage games with a prostitute in a hotel room. When the prostitute senses that there is something creepy about Rader, she leaves him tied to a chair and escapes out the bathroom window onto the fire escape, but she drops her wallet as she is running down the stairs. Rader is enraged and vows to kill her and, after he finds her wallet, he can kill her any time he wants (He has a flashback showing him torturing a tied-up woman in the middle of a field, then killing her by stomping on her head and then burying her in a shallow grave). We next see Rader waking up in his bed at home, having breakfast with his wife Susan (Amy London) and two teenage daughters and then heading out to work as Park City's only Compliance Officer (a pseudo-cop who issues tickets for nuisance infractions like blocking the sidewalk and failure to cut the grass), a job he clearly enjoys enforcing (and it affords him to pick future victims). When one woman gives Rader a hard time when he warns her about her dog roaming around freely without a leash, he returns to her home later that night, ties her up, rambles on about having a sexual problem ("I don't get what I need at home. My body produces an abnormal amount of testosterone!"), asphyxiates her with a plastic bag, rapes her (offscreen) and then returns home to have dinner with his family, where we learn that he has just been appointed President of his local church! Rader then continues his murder spree by shooting a man point-blank and strangling his girlfriend (the act of choking her gets him off), kidnapping a teenage girl off the street in broad daylight and then driving a lost little girl home (with the wounded and unconscious teenage girl in the back of his van!), where he berates the young girl's mother for not minding her child (Rader later kills the teenage girl by throwing her in a shallow grave and impaling her in the stomach with a shovel). Rader's home life begins to unravel when wife Susan discovers he lied about chaperoning a Boy Scout weekend (it was actually cancelled two weeks earlier). He's really going to the home of the prostitute who left him tied-up in the hotel room, first shooting her husband in the head, but failing to kill her when he begins hallucinating that he's strangling one of his daughters. This proves to be his undoing, as on his drive home he is stopped by a cop for speeding. He kills the cop by throwing him into the path of an oncoming car and ends up hunted by the police when they inform Rader's family about his crime and discover evidence about him being the BTK Killer in his workshop. Rader is eventually captured and immediately confesses all of his crimes once he realizes the cops have DNA evidence.  As far as serial killer films go, B.T.K. falls somewhere in the middle. Since this is a fictitious account of Dennis Rader's final days as a free man, there's not much historical value here, but Kane Hodder does a pretty credible job portraying a man who clearly has a hatred for women, thanks to a clinging wife who was only able to bear him female offspring, which he then spent their childhood ignoring (it's clear he would have preferred sons). He also clearly enjoys the power that comes with his job as Compliance Officer (yet it's obvious he would much rather be a cop, but he would never pass the psych exam), as he gets sexual pleasure issuing tickets and talking down to the town's women for performing minor infractions, threatening to send their dogs to the pound to be put to sleep or calling Child Services for not watching their children. Director/producer/scripter Michael Feifer, who is also responsible for such recent serial killer flicks as BOSTON STRANGLER: THE UNTOLD STORY (2006),  ED GEIN: THE BUTCHER OF PLAINFIELD (2006; also starring Hodder), CHICAGO MASSACRE: RICHARD SPECK (2007) and BUNDY: A LEGACY OF EVIL (2008), wisely steers away from the police procedural aspects of the story (the police don't appear until the final ten minutes) and concentrates on Rader's movements and murders. Some of the killings are very gory (the shovel impalement; the cop killing; bloody bullet wounds), but the story is more about Rader's sexual deviancy and inability to reach climax unless he has his hands around a woman's throat while she in bondage and unable to fight back. In that respect, B.T.K. achieves it's none-too-lofty goals, but those looking for another HENRY: PORTRAIT IF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) are bound (no pun intended) to be disappointed. Not to be confused with Ulli Lommel's abysmal B.T.K. KILLER (2005) or Stephen T. Kay's THE HUNT FOR THE BTK KILLER (2005). Also starring Cara Sigmund, Caia Coley, Odessa Ray, John Burke, Bob Arnold and Pascale Gigon. A Lionsgate Entertainment DVD Release. Rated R.

CANVAS OF BLOOD (1997) - If you're in the mood for a cast of actors who constantly flub their lines, sex scenes complete with dubbed-in fart noises and anemic action set pieces, then this ultra-low-budget revenge thriller may just be right up your alley. Vietnam veteran and widower Paul Hanover (screenwriter Jack McClernan) is very proud of his daughter Julia (Jennifer Hutt). Not only is she a violin prodigy about to hit the big time, but she is also daddy's little girl. When it is discovered that Julia has a potentially career-ending cyst in one of her hands, both Paul and Julia agree to have it operated on after being guaranteed by surgeon Dr. Miles Houston (producer Michael Mann) that the operation is safe. Unfortunately, Dr. Houston is also a coke-sniffing alcoholic (aren't they all?) and when he performs the "routine procedure" after popping a Valium, he botches the operation and leaves Julia with a non-functioning hand (her dad also has a bum hand thanks to his service in Vietnam), which destroys her violin career. Paul is furious at Dr. Houston, as he and the hospital cover-up the malpractice by claiming that Julia had cancer in her hand, so Paul hires scumbag lawyer Flanders Davenport (Andy Colvin) to sue the surgeon and the hospital. What Paul and Julia don't initially understand is that Davenport is on Dr. Houston's payroll and he purposely loses the non-jury trial so that the judge (who is on Davenport's payroll!) favors Dr. Houston. Julia's life begins to unravel. Her fiancé Tommy (Mark Frear) leaves her for another woman (He callously pulls the engagement ring off Julia's paralyzed hand and tells her that he is giving it to his new girlfriend!) and then murders her dog with poisoned meat. This sends Julia into a near-psychotic coma and Paul is forced to commit her to a psychiatric facility. Paul, who is a college art teacher and amateur painter, discovers the collusion between Dr. Houston, Flanders Davenport and the judge, so he decides that his only means of recourse is deadly revenge (he makes the decision after he pukes-up chunks of god-knows-what while having a Vietnam flashback). He fashions a circular saw-like device that he attaches to his bum hand and goes after Dr. Houston first, cutting off the fingers of the doctor's right hand before performing an autopsy on him while he's still alive. Paul then creates a flame-thrower device for his hand, goes to the judge's house and burns him alive. Paul doesn't even try to get creative with Davenport (Paul doesn't believe he deserves it, but I think the budget ran out of money for another device), opting to blow his brains out with a pistol while waiting for him in the back seat of his car. Paul saves most of his rage for Tommy, as he creates a mechanical hand capable of crushing a cue ball into powder and then uses it on Tommy's balls while he is getting a massage in a whorehouse. The police detective in charge of the case lets Paul go free, as long as Paul and Julia leave town for good. Why does he do this (besides probably watching DEATH WISH [1974] a hundred times)? Let's just say the detective has a wife at home with a bum hand, also caused by the malpractice of Dr. Houston and then taken advantage of by Davenport and the judge. Small world, isn't it?  Impossibly cheap in every department (the sound recording and music soundtrack take top honors for annoyance, followed by the bottom-rung acting abilities of the cast, especially Rishi Bhardwaj as the town's Arabic Chief of Police!), director Joel Denning (who also co-directed SWARM OF THE SNAKEHEAD - 2006) makes a valiant effort in trying to fashion a silk purse from a sow's ear, but comes up empty. The special effects are low-rent (when Paul cuts-off the surgeon's fingers, there's no gushing blood), some scenes seem like they belong in a totally different film (such as when the cop in charge of the investigation questions a Nietche-quoting bum or the strip club finale, which seems to serve no other purpose than to pad out the film's running time) and Jack McClernan as Paul is so dull as the vigilante, I wanted to stick his head in an electric knife sharpener. Toss-in some dizzying handheld camerawork where the film stock changes from scene-to-scene and what you end up with is a weak late-entry into DEATH WISH territory. Filmed in Baltimore, Maryland and "inspired by Robert Rodriguez". Ha! He wishes. Also starring Lance Irwin, Marian Koubek, J. Michael Lawlor, Jamie Bell and Svetlana Milikouris. Available on DVD from Shock-O-Rama Cinema as part of a double feature with the more outrageous regional oddity PSYCHO KICKBOXER (1992/1997). Not Rated.

THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS (1971) - A woman gets on the crowded elevator of her highrise apartment complex and before it reaches the top floor, she is viciously stabbed to death by someone wearing flesh-colored latex gloves and brandishing a scalpel. When the doors open on the top floor, three people discover the body lying in a pool of blood, but one of them, black model Mizar Harrington (Carla Brait), leaves before the police arrives, saying she is late for her job (she wrestles men at a casino for money!). Meanwhile, beautiful model Jennifer Lansbury (Edwige Fenech) is being stalked by Adam (Ben Carra), the leader of a sex cult that Jennifer once belonged to, but has since left (Adam believes her to be his wife, since he conducted a ritual "marriage" to her in the cult). Adam nearly drugs her while she is walking to her car one night (he wants to free her from the temptation of other men), but she manages to get away with a well-placed elbow to his gut. The mysterious gloved killer then murders Mizar in her own apartment, delivering a karate blow to her throat, tying her up and drowning her in the bathtub. Stamp-collecting Police Commissioner Enci (Giampiero Albertini) is assigned to the case and begins questioning suspects, first beginning at the casino where Mizar worked (the Commissioner at first believes the killer could be a disgruntled male customer who lost to her in a wrestling match). Rich advertising executive Andrea Barto (George Hilton), who was going to use Mizar in his latest ad campaign, uses his influence to get Jennifer and her friend, Marilyn (Paola Quattrini), Mizar's apartment to live in. Barto not only wants to use Jennifer in his ad campaign, he also begins a romantic relationship with her. Barto, who gets queasy at the sight of blood (to put it mildly), isn't quite truthful with Jennifer (he tells her that he's never met Mizar or been in the apartment before, which are both lies) and Adam threatens him with a knife as he leaves the apartment complex, telling him to stay away from Jennifer. That night, the killer (who wears a black stocking mask and a large-brimmed hat) comes into Jennifer's bedroom, but her screams scares the killer away. The next morning, Adam shows up at the apartment and rapes Jennifer, telling her, "From the day of our celestial marriage, you belong to me!" Jennifer can't catch a break, because later that night, the killer is waiting for her in her apartment. The killer attacks her, but she breaks free and runs to the apartment next door, occupied by Shiela (Annabella Incontrera) and her elderly violin-playing father (he plays the damn thing all day and night!). When Sheila takes Jennifer back to her own apartment, they find an iris (a flower) covered in blood on the floor and Adam in her bedroom closet, dead with a knife sticking in his stomach. Luckily, Commissioner Enci doesn't believe that Jennifer is the killer. He instead uses her to bait and trap the real killer and tells her not to trust any of her neighbors. But are the neighbors (including a little old woman who loves to read a magazine called "Horror Tales", who has a hideously-burned son she keeps hidden in a secret room behind her closet) the only people Jennifer shouldn't trust? This early 70's giallo, directed by Giuliano Carnimeo (EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 - 1983; THE RAT MAN - 1988), using his frequent pseudonym "Anthony Ascott", contains some good set-pieces (including an eerie sequence set in an auto graveyard at night), frequent nudity and some bloody violence. My favorite scene is when Marilyn is stabbed by the killer on a busy street in the middle of the day and she staggers (unnoticed by all the pedestrians) over to a waiting Barto. When he notices all the blood on her hands, he freaks out and runs away, making him look like the guilty party. As with most giallo films, the list of potential suspects and red herrings are many and this film has some memorable ones, each with their own unique quirks. There's also some humor to be found here, most of it coming from Commissioner Enci's second-in-command, Frankie (Franco Agostini). While staking-out Barto's apartment, he spots Barto and Jennifer making love through his binoculars. He radios the Commissioner and says, "Those two are really going at it! Don't be surprised if instead of a corpse, we have a birth on our hands!" Edwige Fenech (YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM... - 1972) makes a great first impression here, appearing with painted-on clothes (yowza!) during a photo shoot and George Hilton (THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN - 1975) is also good as a man with too many secrets for his own good. As with all good giallo films, the opening minutes hold a clue to unmasking the killer. Required viewing for giallo and mystery films. THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS is also known as EROTIC BLUE and WHAT ARE THOSE STRANGE DROPS OF BLOOD DOING ON JENNIFER'S BODY? (phew!). Also starring Oreste Lionelli, Marie Tedeschi, Carla Mancini, Gianni Pulone and George Rigaud. Originally available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment as part of their four-film GIALLO COLLECTION box set and now available as a stand-alone DVD from Blue Underground. Not Rated.

COMMITTED (1988/1990) - After the suicide of her fiancé Paul (voiced by an uncredited Alex Cord, but never seen), Susan Manning (Jennifer O'Neill; SCANNERS - 1981) takes a job as a nurse at a remote psychiatric hospital called "The Institute", run by the oddball Dr. Quilly (William Windom; CHILDREN OF THE CORN IV: THE GATHERING - 1996). After being informed by the hospital's head of security, Mr. Jones (Richard Alan, who sports a huge facial scar and wears a beaded Native American headband), that there are no patients here, only "guests", Susan is introduced to some of those guests by Dr. Quilly's administrative assistant, the ditzy Miss Donnymead (Lynn White), before she is introduced to Dr. Quilly. After stupidly signing some papers without reading them, Susan finds herself committed to The Institute as a "guest" with no means of escape (the fence surrounding the hospital is electrified, as she will soon find out) or communication with the outside world. Susan tries without success to convince anyone at The Institute that she's not crazy, including Dr. Quilly's seemingly normal second-in-command, Dr. Desmond Moore (Robert Forster; WALKING THE EDGE - 1983). Everyone believes she has committed herself to deal with Paul's suicide and only Dr. Quilly (who uses very unorthodox methods to treat his patients) can release her. After finding all her clothes ripped to shreds (everyone thinks she did it), Susan is forced to wear a nurse's uniform. She meets a patient named David (Greg Latter), who is kept locked in a padded cell. He tells Susan that nurses end up dead at The Institute and then tries to strangle her for not bringing him candy. Another patient named Ronnie (WELCOME BACK KOTTER's [1975 - 1979] Ron Palillo) tells Susan that the previous nurse disappeared and "is never coming back". Another patient, Isandra (Aletta Bezuidenhout), tells Susan that the real Dr. Quilly is dead and that a patient took over his identity. Susan must determine what is fact and what is fiction as she delves deeper into the mystery. When Dr. Moore implies to Susan that she may have murdered Paul (who we find out was her psychiatrist), we, the viewers, must also make a decision: Is Susan sane and about to become The Institute's next dead nurse or is she crazy as a loon and imagining all this? I'll never tell.  This South Africa-lensed thriller, directed by William A. Levey (BLACKENSTEIN - 1972; HELLGATE - 1989, also starring Palillo), contains a better-than-average cast for a film of this type and has a screenplay (by Simon Last and Paul Mason) that keeps you guessing right up to the very end. The lovely Jennifer O'Neill (who has a semi-nude bath scene) is simply wonderful here as a woman who may or may not be one sandwich short of a picnic. As the patients begin dying or disappearing and she can't get anyone to believe her story (she's nearly raped by a patient pretending to be a hospital guard, played with sweaty persistence by Sydney Lassick [SONNY BOY - 1989]), O'Neill manages to keep the viewers' sympathies, whether crazy or not. The violence in this film is rather subdued and bloodless, but the storyline doesn't call for blood or gore. Instead, it relies on mystery and suspense and COMMITTED offers several tense scenes, including David's unexpected visit to Susan's bedroom and Susan's exploration of The Institute's basement, where she makes some eye-opening discoveries. If you like your films more cerebral than the average stalk 'n' slasher, this film should be your cup of tea. The finale contains so many twists, you'll swear it was made at a Bavarian pretzel factory. It's definitely the best film on William A. Levey's resume. Made in 1988, but not released until 1990. Famed late film cutter Fima Novek was called in to rescue the film in post-production when producer Alan Amiel determined the film to be unreleasable in it's original form. Novek not only received the Editor credit, he also received a "Music Adaptor" credit for supplying the music cues in the final edit. Also starring Dennis Smith, Deon Stewardson, Manfred Seipold, Frank Opperman, Shareen Swart and John Maytham. A Media Home Entertainment/CBS Fox Company VHS release. Not available on DVD. Rated R.

CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT (1972) - Blind Peter Oliver (Anthony Steffan of THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE [1971]) is sitting at a bar when he overhears what he thinks is a man and woman planning a murder. Unfortunately, some hippie chick decides to play the jukebox and he doesn't hear the complete conversation. When the music is over, the couple is gone and all we see is a woman in a white hooded robe exiting the bar. We also catch a glimpse of a strange piece of jewelry (the "Eye of Horus") that she wears around her neck. While Peter is at the bar, he receives a letter from his fiancee Paola (Isabelle Marchall). Peter's butler, Burton (Unberto Raho), reads the letter to him, telling Peter that Paola is leaving him (Sending a "Dear John" letter to a blind man. How despicable!). The mysterious woman in white goes to a fashion institute carrying a basket (looking like some sinister Little Red Riding Hood) and enters a room with a big "F" and "3" on the door. We then find out that the institute is owned by Victor Morgan (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart of WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS [1965]), whom the female employees swoon over, but the real businessperson is Francoise Ballais (Sylvia Koscina), who runs the institute's day-to-day operations. Victor and Francoise are also married, but there's trouble in paradise as Francoise thinks that Victor is fooling around with Paola, Peter's ex. Paola, who is a model at the institute, goes into room F3 to change. She finds a yellow shawl with a note attached to it on the table. She reads the note, burns it, puts on the yellow shawl and notices the basket on the floor. She opens the basket, screams and then drops dead, her yellow shawl ripped and scratches on her neck. By the time the police are called in, the basket has disappeared. The police inspector, Jansen (Renato De Carmine), believes Paola was murdered, so institute employee Margot (Shirley Corrigan) brings Inspector Jansen to Peter's house to break the news to him. Peter mentions the Dear John letter to Jansen (but he doesn't ask to see it!), but he is still determined to find out who killed Paola. He, Margot and Burton (who is always listening in the shadows) follow their first clue to Paola's cousin, Harry (Romano Malaspina), a photographer and pornographer. Harry is stabbed in the neck and killed before Peter arrives to question him and, just before Peter and Margo arrive and discover his corpse, we see Victor rummaging through Harry's photographs. Jansen is understandably miffed and warns Peter to back off, but more people will receive yellow shawls as gifts and then drop dead suddenly. Can Peter use his supersensitive hearing and sense of smell to solve these murders? Who is making the woman in white carry out these murders and what are his/her motivations for doing so? I've given you the clues, so now you must solve it.  Judging by the mention of yellow shawls (the film's original title is SETTE SCIALLI DI SETA GIALLA, which translates to "Seven Shawls Of Yellow Silk"), you can probably guess that this is an Italian giallo film (the killer even drives a yellow VW Beetle!), and a good one at that. Director/co-scripter Sergio Pastore builds the mystery slowly, introducing characters as suspects and red herrings while giving us small pieces of Peter's personal life. In the beginning, we hear a waiter call him "Maestro", so we get the sense that he's some kind of musician. It's not until much later in the film that we find out what type of musician he really is: He's a film composer! A blind film composer (think about that for a minute). It's not the first time that a blind man was a central character in a giallo. Karl Malden was a blind man in Dario Argento's CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971) and, just like that film, there's a murder in a subway station and it takes a blind man to see the truth. The killing method is quite unique, as the yellow shawls are coated with the deadly poison curare and a cat pheremone and when a cat is unleashed from the basket, it scratches the person through the shawl, releasing the poison into their system and killing them instantly. There are also other methods of death, including hanging, stabbing, a cat beheaded under the wheels of a subway car and a real nasty slashing in the shower (that comes out of nowhere and is extremely graphic for it's time). There's also nudity (including a lesbian scene), drug use, circus clown flashbacks (fucking scary stuff!) and plenty of wild 70's fashions. CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT is a compelling murder mystery that will have you guessing up to the very end, where the killer takes Peter to a glassworks and leaves him there to fend for himself, broken glass littering the floor and dangerous machinery operating around him. It's a great, suspenseful sequence that's punctuated by a death in a vat of lye and a final murder that's as gory as it is shocking. It's viciousness will leave you slack-jawed. Also starring Jeannette Len, Annabella Incontrera, Liliana Paulo and Lorenzo Piani. A Dagored DVD Release. It's a widescreen print in it's original Italian language with (tiny) English subtitles. Not Rated.

CRY OF A PROSTITUTE (1974) - Wow, what a film! When a father, mother and their son are killed in a nasty automobile accident as they cross the Italian border (the father is decapitated by the blade of a bulldozer), the police discover that the little boy has been dead for at least two days. His small body has been gutted and his internal organs replaced with canisters of heroin! The police are reasonably upset that the body of a young child was being used as a drug mule, but more upset are the Dons of the local Mafia. They hold a meeting to discuss the matter and come to the conclusion that Don Ricuzzo Cantimo (Fausto Tozzi), nicknamed "The Americano" because he was deported from Brooklyn, is to blame for this despicable incident. The Mafia assigns Don Casscemi (Vittorio Sanipoli) to deal with Don Ricuzzo (in other words, dispose of him). After leaving the meeting, Don Casscemi is kidnapped by some of Don Ricuzzo's men, but his captors are surprised and shot dead (with a bullet each between the eyes) by whistling hitman Tony Aniante (Henry Silva), Don Casscemi's number one assassin. Don Casscemi then tells Tony to kill anyone involved with the dead boy incident, including Don Ricuzzo. From the moment Tony arrives in Don Ricuzzo's village, the bloodshed and treachery begins. When he stops a robbery of some of Don Turi's (Mario Landi) heroin, Tony begins to play the two local Dons against each other. He lets them believe that he is working as an enforcer for both of them, but Tony has a deep (and as of yet, unknown) personal vendetta to resolve. Tony doesn't even mind using Don Ricuzzo's American whore wife, Margie (Barbara Bouchet, who Tony first spots bathing with some freshly-squeezed milk) to achieve his goals. As the attacks against the two Dons escalate, including a failed attempt to kidnap Don Turi's retarded grandson Zino (Alfredo Pea), we learn the real reason why Tony is holding such a huge chip on his shoulder. The finale finds Tony being found out (he really is quite the bastard) and, even though he is beaten to a pulp and left for dead, he works out one final deal to kill Don Ricuzzo. Be prepared for a twist at the end. It's a keeper.  This is a terrific example of the Italian crime thriller genre that came into prominence during the 70's and no one was better in them than Henry Silva (ALMOST HUMAN - 1974). With his steely eyes (that could melt glass) and no-nonsense attitude, Silva makes the perfect anti-hero. As the take-no-prisoners Tony, who announces himself to his enemies by whistling a haunting tune just before putting a bullet in the middle of their foreheads, Silva is one mean motherfucker. Not only does he kill two guys with bullets in their brainpans in one sequence that takes place in a quarry, he then runs over their bodies with a steamroller and flattens them like a pancake! The strangest scene (and probably where they came up with the film's misleading title) is where Margie corners Tony in the kitchen late one night and threatens to scream rape unless Tony makes love to her. He calls her a "whore" (she was one in America before Don Ricuzzo married her) and she replies, "Three bucks a pop and two bucks for a handjob...in a car!". What happens next is completely insane. Margie says to Tony, "We're all whores in this world. The only difference is that you don't sell your body. You sell your soul!" She spits on him and Tony then anally rapes her while she screams in pleasure and pain! Later on, he whips her with his belt (even using the buckle at one point!) and rapes her again on some hay in a barn, leaving her a bloody, bruised mess. You gotta love those Italians. There's also an excellent shootout/massacre at Don Turi's villa where people are shotgunned in the head and gut and Don Turi's wife, Santa (Dada Gallotti of GIRL IN ROOM 2A - 1973) cleaves a man's head in two with a bandsaw! As you can tell, this is an extremely violent film that doesn't pull it's punches. Director Andrea Bianchi (STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER - 1975; BURIAL GROUND - 1980; ANGEL OF DEATH - 1987) fills the screen with gruesome sights, from the opening views of the father's decapitation and little boy's autopsy, multiple bloody shootouts, dismemberments, rapes and stabbings. The film is almost Shakespearian in it's tragedy, especially when retarded Zino is handed a gun and told to get revenge since he is the last surviving male member of Don Turi's family. This film is also full of quotable dialogue (none of it unintentionally funny), scripted by Piero Piegnoli. Here's my favorite: Don Ricuzzo: "Do you think there's a God, Tony Aniante?" Tony: "Sometimes."  If you're a fan of 70's Italian crime thrillers, this one should be on your must-see list. The version I viewed was compiled from various sources (in widescreen) by a fan and is much longer than the VHS tape released by Prism Entertainment in the 80's or the recent crappy DVD put out by Televista, which are both fullscreen. Some scenes are in Italian with English subtitles. Also known as THE ONES WHO COUNT and GUNS OF THE BIG SHOTS. Also starring Piero Maria Rossi, Patrizia Gori and Mauro Righi. Released theatrically in the 70's by Joseph Brenner Associates in a heavily-edited R-rated print. This version is Not Rated.

CURSE OF THE ZODIAC (2006) - Director Ulli Lommel gained some notoriety and attention with his first U.S. horror film, THE BOOGEYMAN (1980), and he has been riding on it's coattails for nearly thirty years, churning out a series of mostly forgettable films during the 80's, including the horror film THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR (1983), the surreal musical STRANGERS IN PARADISE (1984) and the anemic actioner OVERKILL (1986). He continued to make a string of mostly mundane and obscure films through the 90's and nearly everyone, including myself, wrote him off as a one-hit-wonder and let him drift into the ether. Then, beginning in 2005, Lionsgate Entertainment began releasing a series of new films on DVD directed/produced/written/edited/photographed by Lommel, for his newly-formed Hollywood House Of Horror production company, all based on the life and crimes of real-life serial killers. Sadly, these films, all shot on digital video, with names like ZODIAC KILLER, B.T.K. KILLER, GREEN RIVER KILLER, KILLER PICKTON (all 2005), DIARY OF A CANNIBAL and BLACK DAHLIA (both 2006), are the dregs of filmmaking, made by a man who must have contempt for his audience, because all these films have a look and feel like they were made in someone's backyard and home over a booze-and-cocaine-fueled weekend. I picked CURSE OF THE ZODIAC to review because it sits in the middle of Lommel's serial killer series (he's still churning them out as of late 2009) and is representative of his entire oeuvre. Shit comes in many shapes and shades of brown, but they all stink nonetheless. CURSE begins with the Zodiac (Jack Quinn; but voiced by Lommel himself using the pseudonym "Rick Van Cleef") taunting a writer (Jon E. Nemitz) over the phone with insults like, "Hey fat fuck, I'm gonna kill a prostitute tonight!" while headache-inducing fast editing and annoying in-camera effects fill the screen (Lommel thinks that all it takes to be a good director is to have a DV camera with lots of buttons on it). The Zodiac kills the prostitute, but Natasha Baines (Cassandra Church, who must have learned how to act from the back of a Cracker Jack box) has some psychic link to him and "sees" all of his murders while they are happening. When she tries to explain her "gift" to her boyfriend (Lee Mercer), he complains that he is running out of wine, tells her to ge see a psychiatrist and then nearly breaks up with her. She goes to the police, who are no help, but she meets the writer and they join forces to try to bring the Zodiac down. When Natasha's boyfriend learns of her new partner in crime-solving, he becomes jealous and then really does break up with her! The rest of the film is nothing but endless monologues by the Zodiac (who likes to repeat the words "fat fuck", "pretty girl", "cock" and "cunt" over and over), while Natasha and the writer try to identify him. I don't know about you, but I'm rooting for the Zodiac!  Quite simply, this film is a painful endurance test for even the most patient viewers, as the film contains non-stop flashy editing guaranteed to give epileptics grand maul seizures, inane dialogue scenes (much of it seems improvised), acting that would be booed offstage at a grade school play, violence that is nothing more than splashing blood and chopped meat on victims and walls, and handheld camera that never stop moving, inducing what amounts to seasickness on dry land. Lommel does try to place the film in the 70's, as the clothing and hairstyles are appropriate, but anachronisms abound, especially cars on the street that are of much more modern vintage. I can't think of one good thing to say about this film and, if there is an afterlife, I hope Ulli Lommel is forced to watch all these films on a never-ending loop while buried up to his lower lip in sewage in the bottom level of Hell. Are you listening, God? It's me, Fred. Also starring Victoria Ullmann, Lyn Beausoleil, Colette Claire, Trevor Parsons, Shaun Adams, Pia Pownall and Nola Roeper (also a co-producer). A Lionsgate Entertainment DVD Release, proving once again that they would release footage of someone's bowel movement as long as it had an ad campaign. Rated R.

DAHMER (2002) - In this uncertain world we live in, filled with school shootings and unnecessary wars. it's sometimes wise to search for answers as to why people enjoy killing other people. Serial killers always facinated me, especially the reasons why they kill. Most of them had abusive parents, were sexually assaulted as children and are very intelligent. And it takes a long time to catch them. In my search for answers, this film, which takes many liberties with Jeffrey Dahmer's story, was not the place to look for them. The film opens with Dahmer (Jeremy Renner of 28 WEEKS LATER [2007]) picking up an Asian boy at a shoe store after buying him an expensive pair of sneakers in return for posing for a couple of Polaroids back at Dahmer's house. Once at the house, Dahmer drugs the kid's drink and, once the kid passes out, takes many photos, kisses the kid and then drills a small hole in his head, giving him a homemade lobotomy. The police show their ignorance when the kid escapes and Dahmer convinces them that the kid is drunk, so the cops escort the kid back to the house (this part is based on fact). Flashbacks reveal that Dahmer's father, Lionel (Bruce Davison), was overbearing and had trust issues with Jeffrey (the scene between the two arguing over a locked box in Jeffrey's closet is a study in tension, as we don't know what's in the box until he opens it [it's a human head!]). In another flashback, we spot Jeffrey going to a gay bar and drugging a series of men's drinks over the course of a few months, having sex with their motionless bodies until one day a bartender catches him spiking a drink and has the bouncers beat him up and throw him out permanently. Back in the present, Dahmer picks up a young black man at a sporting goods store and brings him home. As they are talking about sex with women, it triggers a flashback which shows us why he detests straight sex, which dates back to high school. His first gay experience was when, as a student, he gets a high school wrestler high, brings him back to his parent's house where they get into an impromptu wrestling match and it turns him on. It also turns out to be his first kill. Back in the present, the young black kid, though drugged, manages to escape but returns when he misses the last bus home. This makes him Dahmer's last victim, as it would also be Dahmer's last day of freedom. The film ends as it began: Jeffrey alone and not certain about his future.  For a serial killer flick, DAHMER is almost bloodless and the violence is kept to a minimum. That's not to say it's not an uncomfortable film to watch. The threat of violence is in almost every frame as we begin to realize that Jeffrey may like committing violence, but when the tables are turned on him, he folds like a bad hand of cards. For the most part, the violence is implied, although some scenes, such as when Jeffrey dismembers his first victim on his parents' kitchen floor, are still hard to watch. We know what he's doing (thanks to some eerie sound effects), we just can't see it. On the negative side, let's just say it's not going to change the mind of anyone who thinks that homosexuality is immoral. Director/writer David Jacobson portrays the gay lifestyle rather grittily, subjecting the scenes to red filters as if he was equating gay sex with violence and bloodshed. This is basically the story about Dahmer's last day of freedom, with flashbacks filling in some turning points in his life. The way the story is told, you are never aware or shown any of his other numerous victims and, except for a crawl in the beginning (which says he was convicted of 15 counts of murder), this film takes for granted that you know Dahmer's history. This is the most un-serial killer film about a serial killer that you are likely to see. If you're looking for something along the lines of HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), you will be bitterly disappointed. I liked it, even if it didn't give me the answers I was looking for. Also starring Artel Kayaru, Matt Newton and Dion Basco. A First Look Home Entertainment Release. Rated R.

DARD DIVORCE (2007) - Another one of Olaf Ittenbach's incredibly gory flicks, which, unfortunately, is ruined by awful acting, especially by lead actress Martina Ittenbach (Yes, what you smell is indeed nepotism, as she is Olaf's wife). Martina plays Nathalie Stein, an alcoholic lawyer who is going through a bitter divorce with husband Tim (Barrett Jones). When Tim takes their two children away for the weekend, Nathalie begins to experience a strange set of events, beginning with the disappearance of her dog and a note left on her floor that has one word on it, "Dard", written in blood (She will find out a short time later that "dard" is Persian for "pain"). As she slowly begins getting drunk in her home, Tim stumbles in with his shirt full of blood and dies in front of her, but not before telling her that someone took the children and then making an obtuse reference to her missing dog. Nathalie calls the police, but when they arrive, Tim's body is gone and so is any evidence. The police, noticing that she has been drinking, decide to leave, but the next morning, when neither Tim or the children can be found, Detective Warren (Jaymes Butler) shows up at Nathalie's home, taps her phone and then tells her that Tim was involved in a drug rip-off, where he killed five people and ran off with a million bucks. Nathalie begins to get the impression that Det. Warren is not a cop at all and she is proven correct when he handcuffs her to a chair and begins to slowly torture her, first by repeatedly punching her in the face (really hard to watch) and then cutting off some of her fingers and toes until she tells him where the missing cocaine and money are. When Warren reveals to Nathalie that he has killed her young son Jeremy (flashbacks reveal him slicing Jeremy's head in two with a chainsaw), Nathalie escapes her binds and kills Warren by slicing his neck with a broken bottle. Suddenly, a man named Daniel (Daryl Jackson) appears at Nathalie's door, helps her clean up the mess and tells her a completely different story about Tim's predicament (Flashbacks show innocent bystanders Tim and the children getting caught in the middle of an extremely bloody drug deal gone wrong). Daniel offers Nathalie a deal: Help him find the drugs and cash and he'll give her half the money. Of course, Daniel turns out to be more violent than Warren, as he drugs Nathalie, strips naked and begins dismembering Warren's body in the bathtub, stuffing the body parts into plastic bags. When Nathalie wakes up, she finds herself once again bound to a chair and about to be tortured, only this time her arms and legs have been injected with an anesthetic so she cannot move. She is viciously tortured with a claw hammer before turning the tables on Daniel, but a voice on the phone proves to be one more adversary she'll have to deal with before the night is through. The ridiculous final denouement will either have you throwing a heavy object at the screen or beating yourself about the head for being so stupid for watching this in the first place.  Besides the incredible amount of gore and a surprising amount of male frontal nudity, DARD DIVORCE has very little going in it's favor. Like most of director/producer/screenwriter Olaf Ittenbach's films (which includes THE BURNING MOON - 1992; LEGION OF THE DEAD - 2001; HOUSE OF BLOOD - 2005), the effects are top-notch, as is some of the camerawork, but the acting abilities of the cast leaves way too much to be desired and drags the film down quickly. The music is also mixed way too high, drowning out some important dialogue during the finale. I hate the term "Torture Porn", but it describes this film perfectly, as we watch people getting stabbed in the eyes and crotch; watch as one man is decapitated and torn apart with a shovel; witness Nathalie being beaten around the hands and mouth with a claw hammer (until her lower lip is completely gone and all we see are broken teeth and her lower jaw bone); see a man get his head blown off with a shotgun; and too much other gory mayhem to mention. Hey, if pain and suffering are your thing (it makes HOSTEL [2005] look like a Disney film), then this is the film for you. But if you want other inconsequential things, like a coherent plot (it's like RASHOMON [1951] on psychotic drugs), interesting characters or professional acting, look somewhere else, because you won't find any of that stuff here. Also starring Kamary Phillips (who also sings the tune "Sunshine" during the closing credits), Henora Jackson, Gideon Jackson, Kami Esfahani and Christopher Kriesa. As of this review, it is not available in the U.S., but is available on PAL (Region 2) DVD from German distributor I-ON New Media in a widescreen English-language print. Not Rated.

DARK SUNDAY (1976) - Here's the perfect role for Shelby, North Carolina film tycoon Earl Owensby, the producer/star of such films as CHALLENGE (1973), WOLFMAN (1979) and DOGS OF HELL (1982): He plays a priest who is struck dumb after witnessing his family being brutally murdered and then goes on a bloody revenge spree where he lets his pistols and shotgun do his talking. The film opens with a drunk and blind street preacher (Phil Lanier) walking down an avenue extolling the word of God to anyone within earshot, while a female junkie and her baby sit down in a dank and dirty alley. It's Sunday morning and services have just finished at Pastor James Lowery's First Church and he's thanking all the parishioners for attending as they walk out of church. James is a major proponent in helping teenage junkies and runaways turn their lives around, so when the cops show up a church to inform James that the body of a young female junkie was found dead in an alley (luckily, the baby is OK), he rushes to the alley and identifies the body as Ellie Palmer (Sheree White), one of the runaways he was trying to rehabilitate. A police detective (Charles Honce) doesn't agree with the way James protects the kids from snitching to the cops about where they get their drugs and sarcastically tells Reverend James, "You keep the faith, brother. Meanwhile, I'll keep scraping them off the pavement." That night, James confesses to his wife Rachel (Maggie Lauterer) that maybe the detective is right about the kids and that he wants to find the ones' responsible for the kids OD'ing, saying "I want to find them and crush 'em!" Teacher Rachel then ask ex-teen junkie-turned-student Tim Spencer (Carter Bland) to go to the cops and give them the name of his suppliers (James has no idea Rachel is doing this), but Tim refuses because he is scared shitless. Tim is paid an unannounced visit by his ex-supplier, The Candyman (Chuck Mines), who beats-up Tim and shoots him full of smack, but Tim manages to make it to the hospital and gives the detective (who is never given a proper name) all the information he needs to arrest The Candyman. Instead of slapping the cuffs on The Candyman, the detective decides to keep a close eye on him and try to catch the bigger fish connected to him. That bigger fish is high-level drug supplier Herbert Trexler (Martin Beck) and when corrupt police Lieutenant Untz (Phil Rubenstein) informs Trexler about Tim spilling his guts to the police and Reverend James' role in the situation, Trexler decides to shut them both up permanently. While Reverend Jim is on a fishing trip with his family and Tim, hitman Danny (Ron Lampkin) and an associate show up in a boat and kill Tim, Rachel and one of their two sons, Eric (Todd Reep), by shooting them at close range (it's startling in its brutality). James is shot four times, but survives, and one of the shots destroys his vocal chords, rendering him a mute. His other son, Jody (Todd's real-life brother, Jeff Reep), who was also shot, is in a coma and paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life, if he ever wakes up. After a month recuperating in the hospital, unable to talk to his comatose son and unwilling to cooperate with the police detective, James (who now walks with the aide of a cane) forgoes his "turn the other cheek" philosophy, takes to drinking, becomes an alcoholic and then decides maybe "an eye for an eye" is the way to go when he saves the blind street preacher (remember him?) from two drunks who try to mug him of his booze. When The Candyman walks into the bar he frequents, James follows him to a bus station bathroom, beats the crap out of him and then kills him by drowning him in a toilet. Bar floozie Julie (Monique Proulx) befriends James (she calls him "Soldier") while he turns vigilante, killing all the drug dealers he can get his hands on, first by using a knife taped to his cane and then using more traditional weapons, like pistols and a shotgun. A nervous Lt. Untz and a pissed-off Trexler try to uncover the identity of the mysterious vigilante, while James gets closer to achieving his goal of cleaning-up the streets and also discovering that Jody has now awakened and his condition is not as dire as once believed. Redemption is soon at hand for everyone involved, but will James reconnect with God? The ending may surprise you.  Directed efficiently by Jimmy Huston (SEABO - BUCKSTONE COUNTY PRISON - 1978; FINAL EXAM - 1981; MY BEST FRIEND IS A VAMPIRE - 1988), DARK SUNDAY is unusual mainly for the way it portrays religion. The alcohol/religion relationship is strong here, as James loses his religion and turns to alcohol and the blind man can't preach religion unless he is blind stinking drunk. This is the perfect screen role for Earl Owensby, who has a screen presence (not to mention the hairiest torso of any person since George "The Animal" Steele), but isn't much of an actor, so not being able to talk through most of the film is a definite plus for the viewers. Most of the other acting is strictly second-tier, but it works in the context of this film and the violence, although mainly bloody bullet squibs, is very effective and shocking in some scenes, especially the murder of James' family and James' killing of Danny. Although nothing more than a low-budget rip-off of DEATH WISH (1974) with strong religious subtext, DARK SUNDAY works thanks to some gritty location photography and its strange take on religion (screenplay by Grey Lynellee [Owensby's MANHUNTER; a.k.a. THE BRASS RING - 1974]). Also starring Brownlee Davis and Worth Keeter. Owensby's films at one time could be ordered directly from his web site (but has since beeen closed down), but my copy was sourced from an Australian VHS tape on the Playaround Video label. Also known as SOLDIER'S WRATH. Rated R.

DAUGHTER OF DEATH (1982) - Teenage Julie (Isabelle Mejias) loves her father (Anthony Franciosa). I mean she really loves her father! Julie hates her mother because she wants to send her away to boarding school, which  will mean that Julie will be far away from Dad. Mom also gets rid of Julie's pet snake with the help of the grocery deliveryman (Paul Hubbard), much to Julie's displeasure. Julie hates her mother so much in fact, that while Mom is being raped and killed by the horny deliveryman, she does nothing to stop him even though she is carrying a rifle (Dad taught her to be a crack shot). Now she can have Daddy all to herself. Wrong! Daddy moves his girlfriend (Sybill Danning) and her young son into the house. To say that Julie is displeased is an understatement. She spies on Danning and Daddy making love and imagines herself in Danning's place (a disturbing visual). She tries to kill Danning's son by playing a lethal game of hide and seek (she locks him in an abandoned refrigerator) but is foiled when Danning finds him. Then Daddy drops a bombshell: He tells Julie that he has just married Danning! Julie goes off the deep end and decides her newfound family must depart. She blackmails the deliveryman, telling him if he doesn't kill her stepmom she will go to the police and tell them what she saw. (She says to him, "You can rape her as many times as you want before you kill her.") Will she get away with it? This German production, released to theaters as JULIE DARLING, has very little nudity considering its subject matter. Danning (PANTHER SQUAD [1984], CAT IN THE CAGE [1978]) bares her best assets in only one scene! But there is enough sleaze in the storyline (including a broken bottle to the crotch) to keep your mind from wandering. Mejias (who can also be seen in the abysmal comedy STATE PARK - 1988) plays her role well despite the fact that she is probably a few years older than her screen character. Director Paul Nicholas also made THE NAKED CAGE (1985), a better than average women-in-prison flick. Franciosa also starred in Dario Argento's UNSANE (1982; a.k.a. TENEBRE). DAUGHTER OF DEATH is a minor screen gem. A T-Z Video Release. Also available on DVD from Code Red. Rated R.

THE DEAD ARE ALIVE (1972) - This odd mixture of German krimli and Italian giallo genres keeps your interest even though it gets off to a rather confusing start. This is a murder mystery with supernatural overtones, as alcoholic archaeologist Jason Porter (Alex Cord) is at a dig site and discovers the tomb of an ancient Etruscan demon god. A young couple making out at the ruins are savagely slaughtered by unknown hands using one of Dr. Porter's probes as a weapon. Hot-tempered orchestra conductor Nikos Samarakis (John Marley) tries to disrupt Dr. Porter's life and steal his ex-girlfriend Myra (Samantha Eggar) for reasons not yet known. Police Inspector Giuranna (Enzo Tarascio) is assigned to the murder case and interviews everyone (he thinks a "sex killer" is on the loose). Not only does the Inspector find some of Dr. Porter's Etruscan artwork missing, he also discovers that two pairs of red shoes were taken from the costume department of the opera Nikos is about to conduct. Is there a connection? The answer becomes clear when Dr. Porter discovers the unconscious body of assistant Igor (Carlo De Mejo) and the mutilated corpse of Igor's girlfriend (wearing a pair of the red shoes) in a barn. The Inspector suspects Dr. Porter (he's drunk most of the time), but Igor clears him when he regains consciousness. Dr. Porter gets a phone call from a female warning him to take Myra and leave if he doesn't want to see both of them killed. Dr. Porter is also being blackmailed by a nasty tour guide (we see the guide set fire to a spider and it's web just for the fun of it) who has circumstantial evidence linking him to the murders. His past (as a patient committed to a hospital in New York fifteen years earlier for his alcoholism after he tried to kill Myra) also comes to the forefront, thanks to Mikos. Porter finally gets some evidence on Nikos, thanks to an unlikely source, which brings Myra back into his arms. Porter finds the slaughtered bodies of another couple after he makes an important discovery in the tomb, which leads him to the identity of the real killer. He now has to race against the clock to save Myra from the clutches of the killer.  Directed and co-written by Armando Crispino (AUTOPSY - 1973) and based on a story by Byron Edgar Wallace, THE DEAD ARE ALIVE (also known as THE ETRUSCAN KILLS AGAIN) is a passable murder mystery, but that's about it. The murder scenes aren't very original or filmed in an exciting way, but the Etruscan ruins do add some atmosphere to the proceedings, even if they are not fully utilized. The usually excellent Alex Cord (INN OF THE DAMNED - 1974) looks bored here and John Marley (DEATHDREAM - 1972) screams his lines rather than acting with them. He's pretty aggravating and off-putting throughout most of the film as, what Dr. Porter calls him, "a sadistic pig". The real problem with this film is that there is too much dead air and the killer is easy to spot (at least to me). When watching this, I got the feeling that I was watching second-rate Dario Argento (just before a murder happens, Verdi opera music is heard), minus the fluid camerawork and flashy visuals. By the time we come to the conclusion, where Dr. Porter finally enters the Etruscan tomb and puts the pieces to the murder mystery together, it's literally too late to give a damn. While there is a smattering of nudity (none by Eggar, in case you were wondering) and blood, it could have used more of both. This is nothing extraordinary, but it's an O.K. mystery if your sights aren't set too high. Also starring Nadja Tiller, Horst Frank, Enzo Cerusico and Daniela Surina. Never available on home video in the U.S. (it did play theatrically in 1972 with a totally bogus ad campaign), the print I viewed from Eurovista Digital Entertainment on DVD, was a beat-up widescreen edition with frequent emulsion scratches, missing frames and an annoying hair fluttering on the bottom left of the frame throughout most of the film. Also available on DVD from Code Red, which is long OOP. Rated R.

DEADLY GAME (1991) - Remember when the USA Network would premiere an original movie every week from the late-80's to the mid-90's? This is one of those films and it's surprisingly graphic (it was edited for violence when shown on cable, the edit here being the complete "continental" version). In this umpteenth retelling of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932), a group of diverse people find themselves trapped on an island and someone (maybe a member of their own group) is killing them using various hunting weapons, booby-traps and other gadgets. The film opens with three guys being hunted down by persons unknown who are wearing camouflage. One guy is already dead, lying down in a stream with a crossbow bolt sticking out of his chest. The second guy gets shotgunned to death when one of the killers rises out of the stream Rambo-style and the third guy is shot in the chest with a crossbow and finished off with a high-powered bullet to his eye (right through his sunglasses). We then meet some of the soon-to-be victims, as they board a seaplane, all thinking they are traveling to an island somewhere off the Seattle coast to receive monetary grants from the Osiris Corporation. The list of potential wall trophies includes: dance teacher Lucy (Jenny Seagrave); auto shop school teacher Dallas Peterson (Michael Beck; THE WARRIORS - 1979); Mexican clinic doctor Aaron (Roddy McDowall; THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE - 1973); former all-pro football quarterback Jake Kellogg (Marc Singer; WATCHERS II - 1990) and his mild-mannered assistant Charlie (John Pleshette; EYE OF THE STRANGER - 1993); Yakuza member Mr. Saito (Soon-Teck Oh; MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING - 1985) and his bodyguard Ikiru-Sun (Professor Toru Tanaka; THE EXPERT - 1991); and former military man Admiral Mason (Mitchell Ryan; LETHAL WEAPON - 1987). It's easy to see quite early on that most of these people are harboring secrets of their own, but things take a major turn for the worse when the mysterious Mr. Osiris (Fredric Lehne; OCTOPUS 2: RIVER OF FEAR - 2001) gathers them all together in his stately island manor and tells them (by close circuit TV) that they've been selected to play a game: He and his associates, Mr. Chan (Steven Leigh; RING OF FIRE - 1991), Rashid (Abdul Salaam El Razzac) and Miguel (Ron Duran), will hunt them down like human prey, but there are six red backpacks, each containing one million dollars, scattered throughout the island. Anyone who finds a backpack and makes it to the other end of the island alive will be allowed to leave with the money (Hey, it's still easier than getting a government grant!). There are hidden cameras all over the island to stop the participants from cheating and to show he means business, Mr. Osiris has Mr. Chan shoot and kill Ikiru-Sun in front of everybody. The participants are then told that at one point in their lives, they have crossed paths with Mr. Osiris and have done him wrong (some of them have been downright murderous), so they are given rudimentary weapons (a rope, a machete, a pistol) and a two-hour head start before the hunt is on. As the group tries to figure out how they have pissed-off Mr. Osiris (plentiful flashback sequences are used), clues are left around the island to remind them. They begin to get picked-off one-by-one by the masked Mr. Osiris, his trio of killers and a few Rottweilers, who plays the group against each other. Pretty soon, they begin to mistrust each other more than their attackers. Who will be left alive at the film's end?  As directed by Thomas J. Wright (SNOW KILL - 1990; UNSPEAKABLE - 2002) and written by Wes Claridge (TEKWAR - 1994), DEADLY GAME is a typical made-for-cable TV movie punctuated by some unexpected bits of graphic gore (supplied by the KNB EFX Group), many which were edited out of the USA Network's telecasts. While all the characters are stereotypical clichés (the heartless jock; the gruff, untrustworthy military man; the damsel in distress, etc.), there are a few tense situations and bloody set pieces, including a standoff on a log that spans a river; Jake getting his legs caught in a spiked booby-trap and then being set on fire; a flashback involving Mr. Saito waking up at a table where all his underlings are holding their own severed heads in their hands and, in the present, getting his own head cut-off by a whirring saw blade booby-trap (the film's best effect); Rashid's impalement by one of Peterson's improvised booby-traps; and the surprise revelation in the finale as to why Lucy is on the island. If you're a fan of early-90's cable TV thrillers (and, really, who isn't?), DEADLY GAME delivers on its promise of killing a cast of capable and familiar faces in various deadly ways. Nothing more, nothing less. Originally released on VHS by Paramount Home Video and not available on DVD. Rated R.

DEATH ON THE FOURPOSTER (1964) - Here's an interesting early-'60s black & white Italian/French genre film that mixes giallo elements with traces of supernatural horror. It also deals with sexuality in a frank, yet strange, way.
     A group of young adults are looking for a good time, so friend Richard (Michel Lemoine; SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN - 1974) invites them all to come to his castle for the weekend. After some playful tomfoolery in their cars (A "Chinese fire drill", the front car leading the others in a circle, pulling over to the side of the road and swinging one of the girls back and forth as if they are going to throw her in the ocean, etc.), they arrive at the castle, parking their cars in an enclosed garage (with two large metal doors) that is locked, the key placed on a wall outside the garage (yes, it will be dealt with later!). Once in the castle, they meet Catherine (Luisa Rivelli; LIGHTNING BOLT - 1966), the castle's housekeeper, but she doesn't look happy, giving Richard the evil eye (Richard whispers to Catherine that he "had to" invite them). Catherine shows the girls to the bathroom (it's bigger than my apartment!) so they can freshen up. While in the bathroom, the girls decide on which man they are going to hook up with during the weekend. Lucy-Ann (Vittoria Prada; SWEET ECSTASY - 1962) picks Charlie (Mario Valdemarin; CITY OF THE LAST FEAR - 1975), both Kitty (José Greci; HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS - 1963) and Lulu (Alberto Cevenini; PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES - 1965) pick Paul (Jo Atlanta), Frankie (Gloria Milland) picks Georgie (Massimo Carocci), Nikki (Maria Pia Conte; THE HANGING WOMAN - 1973) picks Richard and Edie (Monique Vita) says she's going to "play the field." The girls don't notice a strange man sneaking into the castle and he is watching them through the bathroom door's keyhole. He hides behind a curtain when the girls exit the bathroom and scares the crap out of Nikki when she sees him hiding, making her scream. Richard tells Nikki not to be frightened, it's only Aldo (Giuseppe Fortis; BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA - 1971), the castle groundskeeper and he wouldn't hurt a fly.
     The castle is then paid a surprise visit by Serena (Antonella Lualdi) and she has brought with her musician boytoy Anthony (John Drew Barrymore; THE TROJAN HORSE - 1961), who plays the 45 rpm single of his latest instrumental hit "Sexy Party". The girls begin dancing in unison (the dancing doesn't match to what is playing on the soundtrack!) while Catherine looks on disapprovingly, telling a gaping Aldo to go away. Serena then wants to play a game called "A Shattering Of Illusions", a Truth Or Dare type of game, where the innermost emotions of some of the players is revealed and it's not pretty, as some of them are hurt or embarassed (or both).  Serena then challenges Paul to a game of dice, knowing that he is a degenerate gambler. The cost is high for Paul, as he keeps losing, accepting Serena's challenge for the next bet: If Paul wins, he gets all his money back. If he loses, Kitty must spend the night with Georgie. Paul loses and Kitty goes off with Georgie, who asks Kitty if she will take off her clothes, Kitty replying that he should take off her clothes! Serena then mentions that Anthony is a psychic magician and that he can tell a person's past by just holding one of their personal possessions. Nikki gives Anthony her compact and he says it once belonged to a person who is dead now and they died a violent death. Nikki says he is right, the compact belonged to her mother and she died in a plane crash two years ago. Serena then says that Anthony can also tell the future and Anthony doesn't want to do it, but the group convinces him to do it. Anthony then holds a seance by candlelight while Charlie records it on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. "The women will change...their appearances. They will go back in time. (long pause) Music, I hear music. It's terrible, help, help!", Anthony says in a trance, as he puts out the candle with the palm of his hand. He then tells everyone to leave the castle, saying they are all in danger if they stay. Everyone thinks it is nothing but a parlor trick, so they stay, even though Anthony leaves the castle. They should have listened to him.
     We then find out why Catherine is in such a bad mood. This was supposed to be her weekend with Richard, as they are lovers. That night, Richard enters her bedroom and apologises, telling Catherine that he will make it up to her next weekend, She accuses him of being romantically involved with Serena, Richard telling her that is not true, proving it by slowly removing her stockings (Hey, this is the early-'60s after all!). He then throws the stackings in Catherine's face (Richard is a real odd duck). Serena leads all the girls up to the attic, where they try on clothes they find in old trunks (This is as close to nudity as the film gets, as we see quick flashes of the girls in their bras and panties). The guys go looking for the girls, Charlie seeing them dressed as 1920's flappers. He says Anthony's predictions are coming true ("The women will change...their appearances. They will go back in time.") and then hears Richard playing the piano ("Music, I hear music."), causing Charlie to get very scared and nervous.  Could Anthony's pedictions be true? Are their lives in danger? Charlie certainly thinks so.
     Suddenly, a scream echoes throughout the castle. It's Frankie and she has found Serena dead in her bed, her dead hand holding Aldo's handkerchief. Aldo is nowhere to be found and since there is no telephone in the castle, Georgie goes to take his car to the nearest police station, but the key to the garage is missing and there is no way they can break through the garage's heavy metal doors. Aldo suddenly appears and the guys restrain him, locking him in one of the rooms. Edie says Aldo couldn't possibly be the killer because when Frankie screamed, Aldo was with her. So who did it? The group come to the conclusion that one of them (including Catherine) is the killer, but what is their motive? It's not long before members of the group begin turning on each other, discovering the secrets that each of them are hiding (Paul has stolen an expensive ring from Serena's dead body to pay his gambling debts; Catherine knows all about the secret passageways in the castle [every castle has them]; Richard once spent some time in an insane asylum, etc.). Aldo uses one of the secret passageways to escape from the room he is locked in, keeping a close eye on everyone else. Richard then discovers Frankie dead in one of the rooms, but he can't get anyone else to believe him, because her body has disappeared. The group then accuse Richard of being the killer, as they split up (never a good thing) to search the castle for Frankie. Richard then sees that Frankie is very much alive when he looks in a mirror, but when he turns around, she is nowhere to be found. Richard believes he is going insane (again), so Catherine tries to comfort him, saying she will always be there by his side, but Richard tells her to leave him alone. Charles and Nikki find one of the secret passageways, but they get separated when the door closes on Nikki. Aldo grabs Nikki, telling her that he will protect her, but Catherine appears and chases him away. What in the world is going on in this castle, besides discovering that no one is who they seem to be? Is Richard full-tilt Bozo? (He tries to commit suicide by slitting his wrists, but Lucy-Ann stops him).  We then discovers that one of the group is, indeed, the killer as they are setting up Richard to take the fall and making it look like he went crazy again. The killer's motive is to make it look like Richard killed Frankie, who is very much alive, Frankie doing something to the killer in the past that they have not forgotten or forgived. When the killer is discovered by the rest of the group, suicide by gunshot to the head is the only way out, the killer's dead body falling into bed with Serena's corpse. Death by fourposter is complete.
     This obscure piece of modern Gothic horror/mystery may not be exceptional, but it is an interesting genre film, mainly for the way it deals with sex and sexuality. While sex is not uttered once in this film, it permeates nearly every frame, as neither the girls or the guys can get their minds off of it (in an early-'60s sort of way, that is). It is obvious that Kitty's tight, form-fitting one-piece pantsuit is meant to tantilize and titillize the guys, as she shakes her ass in it as much as she possibly can. Even though the rest of the girls, excluding Serena, are rather pure and chaste, their real feelings come out when they are all in the bathroom, talking about which guy they are going to be with for the weekend, not knowing that the guys are doing the same thing. When the guys ask Richard what girl he wants to be with, he replies, "It doesn't matter. All women are the same." telling us all we need to know about him.  Director Jean Josipovici (This is his last directorial effort. He directed three obscure films in the '50s and also wrote the screenplay to PASSPORT FOR A CORPSE - 1962), who co-wrote the screenplay with Giorgio Stegani (the director of the poliziotteschi THE LAST DESPERATE HOURS - 1974 and one of the writers of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST - 1980), has fashioned a film that is part murder mystery, part supernatural horror, but it never drags or is boring (at least to me). Ignore the IMDb, as they state that Ambrogio Molteni (screenwriter of THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW - 1974 and VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN'S PRISON - 1982) co-directed this film with Josipovici, but that just isn't true, as the opening credits reveal that he was this film's Assistant Director. I have contacted IMDb to make that change, but I know that it will take more than my sayso to make them change a mistake. The acting is very good here, especially by John Drew Barrymore. Although his role as Anthony is nothing but an extended cameo, he registers here and his seance is appropriately creepy. While not very violent, this film does have a certain visual flair (photography by Raffaele Masciocchi; THE GHOST - 1963), using the castle interiors to good advantage. While not a great film, it is a good one to watch on a dark, rainy night.
     Shot as DELITTO ALLO SPECCHIO ("Mirror Crimes"; it makes sense when you watch the film) and also known as SEXY PARTY (based on the non-sexy song, which sounds like a classical instrumental that the girls line dance to!), this film never recieved a U.S. theatrical or legitimate VHS release release. VCI Home Video released this film on DVD as part of a EURO-TRASH CINEMA TRIPLE FEATURE (OOP, but still available on VCI's website). Grey market sites Sinister Cinema and Rogue Video also offer the film on DVD-R. I saw it for free on YouTube, uploaded by Sinister Cinema's Greg Luce, with a 2009 re-register date on the opening title card. The print is not perfect, but it looked perfectly acceptable on my 60" plasma TV. While not required viewing, this film is still recommended for those interested in seeing how giallo films got their start. Not Rated.

THE DEVIL WITH SEVEN FACES (1971) - Decent giallo with a cast of seasoned pros who have acted in many films in this genre. Also helping it are the unusual Holland locations, which you don't usually see in many films, in this genre or not.
     In London, Julie (Carroll Baker; KNIFE OF ICE - 1972) leaves a party, where she makes an impression on lawyer Dave Barton (Stephen Boyd; MARTA - 1971). As she is walking home, we become aware that someone is following her. As she gets to the front door of her home, she turns around, where a man with a camera shoots seven quick flashes in her face, forcing her to pass out. The next morning, Julie is at work, where she works as a translator, when she gets a phone call from her twin sister Mary (Baker again). Julie tells her that she is too busy to take her call and she should call her at home that night, but Mary tells her it can't wait, telling Julie that she feels her life is being threatened, the phone call going dead as soon as she says that.  Julie goes to Dave's office and tells him about Mary, also telling him that she thinks she is being followed. Dick tells her he will look into both matters and Julie leaves his office. While she is on the street, two thugs try to kidnap her and try to put her in the backseat of their car. Dick and his friend, Tony Shane (George Hilton; THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH - 1971), save her and the thugs take off in their car. Dick and Tony have coffee at Julie's house, where she tells them about her sister, saying she said over the phone, "My husband. My husband." Julie thinks that is weird because she thought Mary and her husband were getting a divorce. She shows them a photo of herself with Mary and asks them to tell her which one is Julie and which one is Mary. The only difference is their hair color (Julie is a blonde, Mary is a brunette), but Julie tells them there is a small difference in their noses and sometimes Mary likes to pretend she is her (information important in this film later on).
     Both Dave and Tony have a romantic interest in Julie, but Tony makes the first move, taking her on a romantic ride on his yacht. Dave goes to Julie's office to ask her out to dinner, but she is not there. Dick asks her secretary, Margaret (Lucretia Love; THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW - 1974), out instead and they have a picnic and make love, where we find out Margaret doesn't have a high opinion about Julie, calling her a "cold fish". After their date, Tony drives Julie to her house, where they are roughed-up by the two thugs, Hank (Ivano Staccioli; DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT - 1972) and James (Daniele Vargas; EYEBALL - 1975), Hank demanding that Julie hand "it" over. Julie has no idea what "it" is, but James realizes that Julie has a twin sister (he sees the photo she showed to Dave and Tony earlier) and they have the wrong girl.  Just as they are going to kill Julie and Tony, they escape, knocking out a policeman who has come to check on a silent alarm that has been triggered in Julie's house. They drive to Dick's office and tell him what has just happened. Dick tells them to talk to the police, but Tony is hesitant, because he knocked out a cop. Julie goes by herself, where she is grilled by Inspector Rinker (Franco Ressel; EYE IN THE LABYRINTH - 1972), who asks her when was the last time she was in the United States. Julie thinks that is a weird question to ask  and wonders why he asked it. The Inspector doesn't answer, but it is obvious he knows more than he is saying.
     Julie borrows a client's apartment to live in until this mess blows over. She's also taking a week-long holiday from work. Julie begins to get a series of phone calls with no one on the other end and it scares her, especially when the lights go out in the apartment complex. Using a cigarette lighter as her only means of light, Julie checks up on her new neighbor, finding her dead in the building's cobweb-filled attic. Julie screams and faints, waking up with Tony by her side. She tells him what she saw in the attic and when Tony goes there to investigate, the body is missing. She then asks Tony why he is here and he tells Julie that he came to pick up his briefcase, which he accidentally left there.  Dick is paid a visit by Steve Hunter (Luciano Pigozzi; SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE - 1973), an insurance investigator who tells him that Mary collected a million dollars on a policy for a stolen priceless diamond, which he believes was stolen by Mary. He wants Dick to talk to Julie to get her sister to turn over the money and the diamond, no questions asked. Dick calls Julie, who tells him that her sister just called her and said that no one is following her at the moment, so she feels much better (making the connection yet?). Dave tells Julie about the money and the diamond, but she already knew about both, telling him that when Mary called, she said she was returning the money and the diamond in the post to the insurance company (the post?!?). And then things start to get very interesting, as greed raises its ugly head.
     Hank and James are keeping a close eye on Julie and they may be working with someone she trusts.  Dave calls Julie and asks if Tony is there. She says no and he tells her to lock all her doors and to let no one in, especially Tony. Before Dave can get there, Julie leaves the apartment, but is caught by Steve, who brings her back to the apartment to wait for Tony (they are working together). Harry & James get into a car chase with Tony (comical in the way the film is sped-up) and when they run him off the road and shoot him dead, they discover it is not Tony at all, but a decoy. Tony arrives at the apartment and slaps the shit out of Julie when he discovers the diamond she has hidden is a glass fake. There are double and triple crosses galore, a few unexpected deaths and a "surprise" reveal (not very surprising at all, given the subject matter) before the matters of the million dollars and the missing diamond are resolved. The finale takes place at a windmill in Holland, as Harry and James kidnap Julie and the man she thought was dead makes an appearance, putting Julie even in more trouble. The moral to the story is this: Don't tilt at windmills.
     The whole subplot about the twins turns out the way you expect it to, but Carroll Baker, who made her fair share of giallo films (THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH - 1968; A QUIET PLACE TO KILL - 1970; THE FOURTH VICTIM - 1971; the previously mentioned KNIFE OF ICE - 1972), has fun with her role(s), keeping your mind off the telegraphed conclusion. Director "Richard Kean" (actually Osvaldo Civirani; LUCRETIA BORGIA - 1968; VOODOO SEXY - 1975) keeps things moving at a quick pace and the screenplay, by Civirani & Tito Carpi (SEVEN MURDERS FOR SCOTLAND YARD - 1971), throws in just enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. While not a great giallo by any stretch of the imagination, it is an entertaining one with some beautiful Holland scenery, a country not properly represented in the many movies that were filmed there.
     Filmed as IL DIAVOLO A SETTE FACCE ("The Seven-Faced Devil"), this got a theatrical release in the U.S. (by International CineFilm Corp.) under the title THE DEVIL HAS 7 FACES. The film then fell into the Public Domain (PD), but I can find no U.S. VHS releases, which is strange, because it turns up on many DVD multi-film compilations. This review is based on one such compilation, Mill Creek Entertainment's DRIVE IN MOVIE CLASSICS 50 MOVIE CLASSIC FEATURES. The print is fullscreen, but looks open matte, so no visual information is lost on the sides, top, or bottom of the screen. The print looks surprisingly sharp, because Mill Creek put only two films on one side of the DVD, not like later, when they squeeze five films on one DVD. The film is very colorful and is a good choice to watch when you can't decide what you want to see. While this film only hads a couple instances of nudity and graphic violence, it's the performances that make it worthwhile. Stephen Boyd (FANTASTIC VOYAGE - 1966), who is so good here, died a very early death of a heart attack at the age of 45 in 1977. I often wonder what type of a career he would have had if he didn't pass away. I believe it would have been a highly successful one. Also starring the prolific Carla Mancini (THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES - 1972; and over 80% of the '70s Italian films I have been reviewing lately), Gianni Pulone (KONG ISLAND - 1968), Roberto Messina (THE COP IN BLUE JEANS - 1976), Fulvio Pellegrino (SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS - 1972) and Maria Ricotti. Rated R.

DIARY OF THE DEAD (1976) - For the past couple of years, readers of this site have been telling me how I have got to see this film. After reading a synopsis, I have to tell you, I wasn't impressed. But, I finally bought a copy off eBay and, I must say, I'm glad I did. When we first see Stan (Hector Elizondo), he is disposing the body of what we think is his mother-in-law, Maud (Geraldine Fitzgerald), in the middle of the night. The next morning, Stan, his wife Vera (Salome Jens) and intrusive next door neighbor Walter Johnson (Joe Maher) are at a lawyer's office for the reading of Maud's will. We are then whisked back in time, where events that lead up to this are explained. Stan is temporarily unemployed and he and Vera are forced to live with Maud, who shows nothing but disdain for Stan. Not only does she think that Stan isn't good enough for her daughter (she would much rather have Walter for a son-in-law and Walter tries his damnest to make that happen), she belittles him for not being able to give her grandchildren and keeps taunting him about a huge sum of money she has (but no one has ever seen), but he will never get his hands on. Maud purposely barges in on him in the bathroom ("It's my house and I'll do what I want!") and constantly reminds him how he's got nothing and how worthless he is. The problem is, Stan is a decent human being just going through some hard times and doesn't deserve this kind of treatment. When Maud reveals to Vera that she has $86,000 socked away (she shows her the bank book), even Vera is disgusted with her mother because she could have helped make her and Stan's lives a little easier. When Vera tells Stan about the money and how he was right about Maud all along, Stan hatches a plan to get rid of Maud. When an elderly friend of Maud's comes to the house for an extended visit and dies in front of Stan of natural causes, it's the perfect opportunity for him to put his plan into action. Of course, the best laid plans...  Capably directed by TV vet Arvin Brown (THE CLOSER and dozens of other TV series since the early 80's), DIARY OF THE DEAD is a witty and wicked thriller with twists and turns you don't see coming. The always wonderful Hector Elizondo (THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE - 1974; LEVIATHAN - 1989) carries the film as an average Joe who takes advantage of a situation not of his doing, only to have it spiral out of control to the point where it would drive a sane person crazy. The biggest roadblock for Stan's plan's success is pesky neighbor Walter (and his even peskier dog), who hits on Vera, shows up at the most inopportune times and seems to have an agenda of his own. Things go from bad to worse when the body Stan has buried refuses to stay in the ground. The capper is the reading of Maud's will, where it states that the bulk of her estate will be held in trust for Vera's naturally-born children, knowing damn-well that there will be no children as long as Vera is married to Stan. If you think that's the end of the film, think again. The police become involved, Stan is questioned at headquarters and there's on hell of a surprise ending. The script (by J.C. Rapoport and Robert L. Fish) is top-notch and the acting uniformly excellent (you'll want to strangle Geraldine Fitzgerald, she's that mean). I'm surprised more isn't written about this excellent thriller (a lot of reference books get the plot all wrong), which is devoid of graphic gore or violence. It doesn't need it. Just watching one man's descent into a hell he doesn't deserve is reward enough. I'm still trying to figure out why it's called DIARY OF THE DEAD, though. That's a real head-scratcher. This film is full of recognizable character actors, including Austin Pendleton, Richard Venture, James Naughton, George Spalding, Lee Wallace, Joyce Ebert and Kate Wilkinson. A Vista Home Video Release. Not available on DVD. Rated PG.

DOUBLE EXPOSURE (1982) - Director/producer/screenwriter William Byron Hillman returns eight years later with a semi-remake/sequel to his first film, THE PHOTOGRAPHER (1974), once again starring Michael Callan (LEPRECHAUN 3 - 1995) as psycho cameraman Adrian Wilde, who apparently survived the fatal stabbing in the finale of the first film. Adrian is still as unstable as ever, living in a Winnebago and apparently killing prostitutes at night (the latest victim is an undercover cop in drag, who gets an icepick graphically shoved through his neck), while making weekly visits to his psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Curtis (Seymour Cassel; DEATH GAME - 1977), and complaining about the lack of "nice girls" in Los Angeles. When leaving the doctor's office, he meets Mindy Jordache (Joanna Pettet; THE EVIL - 1977) in the elevator and talks her into having dinner with him. Adrian makes a living as an advertising photographer and his latest assignment is taking publicity photos of his brother B.J. (the late James Stacy; PAPER MAN - 1971), a racecar driver who lost an arm and a leg in a racing accident (Stacy lost both appendages in real life in a 1973 motorcycle accident). B.J. is a bitter man whose wife left him after the accident and took the kids with her, leaving him an abusive alcoholic and a misogynist. Adrian and Mindy go on their dinner date and hit it off, agreeing to go on a second date the next night, but a series of events will make that date hard to keep. That night, Adrian has a nightmare where he kills a pretty swimsuit model in a pool, so he make a pact with B.J. to keep him company every night just to make sure the nightmares don't turn into reality. It doesn't work. The next night, another hooker (an early role for Sally Kirkland) has her neck snapped by someone wearing brown leather gloves (the film takes-on a giallo atmosphere in this scene) and when the swimsuit model Adrian dreamed about is actually found dead in the pool, Adrian grows more despondent and ignores phone calls from Mindy. Meanwhile, cops Sgt. Fontain (Pamela Hensley; THE NUDE BOMB - 1980) and Sgt. Buckhold (David Young; MARY. MARY, BLOODY MARY - 1975) catch flak from their police chief (Cleavon Little) for failing to catch the killer. The question soon becomes: Is Adrian the killer or could it be someone else? Could it be B.J., who manages to insult every woman he meets, as well as taunting Adrian's homosexual assistant, Lewis (Don Potter), thanks to his deep-seated hatred for his ex-wife? Or could it be Dr. Curtis, who seems to take a more-than-professional interest in Adrian's nightmares? What about Mindy? We really know nothing about her except that she is a patient of Dr. Curtis. What is she being treated for? Adrian's nightmares increase, including images of Mindy being stabbed in the stomach, himself being blown away by a jealous husband with a shotgun and killing a model by sticking her head in a plastic garbage bag containing a live rattlesnake. When more and more of Adrian's subjects end up murdered in real life and Mindy is stabbed just like in his nightmares, the real killer reveals himself (it's not much of a surprise), only to be stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle by Mindy, who is not quite as dead as in Adrian's dreams.  Though not as frenetic as THE PHOTOGRAPHER, director Hillman (RAGIN' CAJUN - 1991) eschews that film's PG rating and goes for the R-rated goods here, including plentiful female nudity (featuring a rare topless scene by Joanna Pettet) and some gory murders. Unlike THE PHOTOGRAPHER, Michael Callan has only one freak-out scene here, something that made the first film such a hoot to watch. The addition of James Stacy as Callan's brother is a good choice because they closely resemble each other and share the same mannerisms, which gives the film a shot of believability. Hillman also offers us a cast of great character actors, including Seymour Cassel, Cleavon Little and Robert Tessier as Aleck the bartender, but the roles are so underwritten, they are wasted. As it stands, DOUBLE EXPOSURE is a passable way to spend 95 minutes of your life, but it lacks the looniness factor of its predecessor. Sometimes nudity and blood cannot replace the air of insanity, something THE PHOTOGRAPHER had in spades. Also starring Misty Rowe, Frances Bay, Alfred Mazza, Jenna Tomasina and an early bit part by ex-SNL'er Victoria Jackson. This Crown International Pictures Release was originally released on VHS by Vestron Video and is available on widescreen DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment as part of their "After Dark Thrillers 8 Movie Collection" and on special edition DVD from Scorpion Releasing. Rated R.

EDEN LAKE (2008) - Schoolteacher Jenny (Kelly Reilly; the fiesty Mary in SHERLOCK HOLMES - 2009; and its sequel SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS - 2011, who becomes Dr. Watson's wife and proves to be an intellectual equal to Sherlock) and fiancé Steve (Michael Fassbender; PROMETHEUS - 2012; a young "Magneto" in three X-MEN films and nominated for an Academy Award® two times after making this film) travel to out-of-the-way Slapton Quarry to revel in it's beauty one last time before it is flooded and turned into Eden Lake, a gated community for rich snobs (Steve also plans to propose to Jenny on this trip). After ignoring a "Do Not Enter" sign at the beginning of the construction site, Steve drives his Range Rover deep into the woods until the ground growth becomes too thick. They then head out on foot to get a closer look at the beautiful, but soon to be destroyed, landscape, where they sunbathe at the edge of the quarry in their bathing suits. They are not alone, as a bunch of underage thugs (Steve calls them "little hoods") invade the beach, playing their music way too loud and letting their unfriendly dog take a shit right next to Jenny. Steve confronts them, but these kids are spoiled, foul-mouthed brats who ignore Steve's objections and eventually leave after causing more mischief. Steve and Jenny set-up a tent and camp out for the night without any incidents, but the next morning, Steve finds one of the tires slashed on his Range Rover. He changes the tire and heads back to town to have breakfast with Jenny, where they discover the town's adult population is full of unfriendly louts. Looking for some payback, Steve breaks into the house of young gang leader Brett (Jack O'Connell) and nearly gets caught by Brett's drunken letch of a father. Steve and Jenny then stupidly head back to the quarry, only to have Brett and his gang steal their Range Rover. They confront Brett in the middle of the woods, which leads to Steve accidentally killing Brett's dog. The chase is then on, as Steve and Jenny try to escape in the Range Rover, but Steve crashes and is caught by the underage gang, where they bound Steve with barb wire (with the dead dog's choke collar around his neck) and Brett forces members of his gang to slice Steve with knives and box cutters (a hard scene to watch). When Brett spots Jenny and the gang give chase on their BMX bikes, Steve escapes and eventually joins-up with Jenny. Steve is slowly bleeding to death (he finally gives Jenny the engagement ring, as he's been trying to propose to her throughout the film, but shit always happens) and Jenny has to make a hard choice: Leave a critically injured Steve behind and look for help by herself or kill the kids, which goes against everything she believes in. After killing a couple of the kids, Jenny escapes into the town and crashes the Range Rover at a party being thrown by the town's adults, where she will learn the hard way that the apples don't fall far from the tree.  The first thing that really stands out about this film and sets it apart from most other "terror in the woods" films is that the killers are a bunch of heartless kids, which makes their crimes all the more horrifying. What even makes it worse is that the lone female member of the gang, Abi (Tara Ellis), records all her gang's tortures and bloodshed on her camera phone so they all can watch it later on (which mimics a real-life case involving murderous teens in the Ukraine). Director/writer James Watkins (his directorial debut) builds the suspense slowly and drops hints as to why these kids act this way (every other adult in this film besides Steve and Jenny are either child abusers, drunks or flat-out refuse to take responsibility for their children), but he makes no excuses for them. These kids are just bad and do whatever Brett tells them, so when Jenny is pushed to her limits (She's tied to a tree and forced to watch as the kids burn Steve's corpse), she tosses her schoolteacher codes aside and begins killing kids (she stabs one kid in the neck with a shard of glass and runs over Abi with a car). The message Watkins sends to the audience comes through loud and clear, especially during the (not-so-surprising) finale: Children are a product of their environment, both personal and ecological. It makes me wonder how the future snobby residents of the gated community of Eden Lake will get along with their neighbors, but that's another film I hope will be told. The violence here is brutal (even the plentiful overhead shots convey a sense of loneliness and dread), especially since most of it comes by the hands or towards children, but since this was filmed in England, there is nary a gun in sight, which is refreshing (most of the violence is knife or sharp object related), as is the fact that cell phones actually work in these woods (and this is the first time that I can recall that BlueTooth technology is used to track someone). I look forward to James Watkins' next film. He's a talent to watch. Also starring Thomas Turgoose, Finn Atkins, Jumayn Hunter, James Burrows, Thomas Gill, Lorraine Bruce, Shaun Dooley and James Gandhi. A Dimension Extreme Films DVD Release. Unrated.

THE EVICTORS (1979) - Period thriller with supernatural overtones by late director Charles B. Pierce (THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK - 1972; THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN - 1977), supposedly based on true events. It's mid-Summer, 1928, and a sheriff and his deputies are trying to evict the Munroe family from their home for defaulting on their bank loan. This leads to a massive standoff and shootout between the Monroe family and the law, with the outcome not yet revealed. Suddenly we're in Northern Louisiana and it's Autumn, 1942 (the film stock switches from sepia tone to full, vibrant color). Realtor Jake Rudd (Vic Morrow; HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP -1980) is showing a house to newlywed couple Ben (Michael Parks; FRENCH QUARTER UNDERCOVER - 1985) and Ruth Watkins (Jessica Harper; SUSPIRIA - 1977) and, damn, if it isn't the old Monroe farmhouse (Jake makes an off-the-cuff remark that the mineral rights on this land belong to the "previous owners" and are not included in the sale of the house). Ruth falls in love with the house and can't wait to start a family there, so they buy the house, which seems to please Jake way too much (turns out Jake is one of their neighbors). While Ben drives to his new job at a cotton mill, Ruth make the long walk into town to pick up some groceries and notices the townspeople are pretty standoffish towards her (Jake tells her, "They're shy with strangers", but to give it time). When she gets home, Ruth finds a message in her mailbox that says "I want you to move" that looks like it was written by a child on a torn piece of a brown paper bag. She begins locking the front door of the house (which was unheard of back then) and she asks Ben if they can go to church on Sunday. A traveling peddler (Lucius Farris) stops by the house to sell Ruth some wares and tells her the strange history of the house, where many people have died horrible deaths living there since the "Monroe massacre". Flashbacks reveal that a husband and wife living in the house in 1934 suffered terrible fates. A man in a floppy hat killed the wife and husband by bonking them on the head with a horseshoe attached to a stick (to make it look like they were kicked in the head by a mule) and then let the family mule drag their bodies around the property. Before the peddler can tell Ruth any more stories, she and Ben go to church (but not before Ben hires the peddler to chop wood in a couple of days), where they meet their cheerful, wheelchair-bound neighbor Olie Gibson (Sue Ann Langdon; WITHOUT WARNING - 1979), who invites Ruth over for coffee and cake. Ben and Ruth attend a Sunday picnic at Mr. Bruckner's (Jimmy Clem) plantation, where Ruth confronts Jake about her house's history, but all Jake does is make improper advances towards her (All the women at the picnic find excuses not to come to the house when Ruth invites them over). It's not long before Ruth and Ben begin experiencing strange occurrences at the house (like the floppy hat-wearing man looking in their windows in the middle of the night), but when Ben has to leave town on business and Olie tells Ruth about some more murders that happened in the house in 1939 (flashback alert), where a young married couple were killed by a floppy-hatted stranger (the husband was electrocuted and the wife burned alive), Ruth must defend herself against unseen forces, especially when the peddler returns to chop some wood and gets an axe planted in his back for his troubles. When Ruth accidentally shoots and kills Ben when she mistake's him for an intruder, the truth about the house is finally revealed. The moral to the story? Don't trust cheerful old women in wheelchairs, because, really, what do they have to be cheerful about except getting revenge on everyone that lives in a home that was once hers? That's right, Olie is actually a Monroe and she lets her crazy husband Dwayne (Glen Roberts) out of his locked room (with his floppy hat) every time someone new moves into the house. Will Ruth be the next victim? A final sting at the end of the film reveals Ruth's surprising fate, as well as that the house has not given up its killing ways, even five years later.  Say what you want about Charles B. Pierce (who also produced and co-wrote the screenplay with Gary Rusoff and Paul Fisk), but he had a knack for creating period mood and atmosphere, especially the ambiance of living in 1930's & 40's Louisiana by the use of period clothing, music, props, vehicles (Pierce did the same thing for late-40's Texarkana in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN) and subtle hints about our involvement in World War II (Ben works as a foreman for the cheap Mr. Bruckner at one of his cotton mills, where they produce material for soldiers' uniforms). Though made the same year as THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, I found THE EVICTORS to be much more engrossing and rewarding (both are about a cursed house, but for much different reasons), even if the violence is much more restrained. I sincerely believe Pierce was a solid director and hopefully his films will now be rediscovered and re-evaluated since his death in early 2010. It's a shame that a person has to die to have their work appreciated, but, hey, that's life. It's also a shame Jessica Harper retired from acting, because she's a terrific actress and helps lift THE EVICTORS from just being an OK film about living in a cursed house during wartime o being a good film about living in a cursed house during wartime. Look for cameos by Dennis Fimple (CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE - 1976) and Bill Thurman (IT'S ALIVE - 1969). Also starring Harry Thomasson, Twyla Taylor, Mary Branch, John Meyer, John Milam and Roxanne Harter. Originally released on VHS by Vestron Video and available on DVD as part of a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (with a Blu-Ray of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN) from Scream Factory. Rated PG.

THE EYE BEHIND THE WALL (1977) - If you ever had the feeling that you were being watched, this film will make you very nervous. This takes the word "voyeurism" and gives it a whole new meaning. When we first see Arturo (John Phillip Law; BLOOD DELIRIUM - 1988), he is eyeing-up a woman in a short skirt while traveling on a train. It eventually becomes too much for him to take. He then rapes her and chokes her to death with his bare hands. The next time we see Arturo, he is staying in an apartment owned by couple Ivano (Fernando Rey), a paraplegic, and Olga (Olga Bisera). What Arturo doesn't know is that he is being watched, as Ivano and Olga have the apartment wired with cameras and microphones. They find Arturo an "interesting character" and not only watch him for scientific purposes (Ivano is some kind of famous psychologist), but soon find their observations crossing into sexual territory (Ivano, who is incapable of making love to Olga because of his disability, feels her up while she watches Arturo exercising in the nude). Ivano and Olga's butler, Ottavio (Jose Quaglio), is doing some watching of his own, peeping through the keyhole as Olga takes a bath. He also has a secret shrine to her in his closet and sniffs her hair in the bathtub drain when she is done bathing. Olga catches him doing this and slaps Ottavio in the face ("Pig!"), but says nothing about it to Ivano (probably because she loves the attention). As Ivano and Olga  study Arturo deeper, they discover that he keeps to himself and doesn't leave the apartment often, so when Arturo does finally go out one night, Olga follows him under the guise of "scientific study" (That may be partly true, but she's got the hots for him ever since she spotted his frank and beans!). She follows him to a disco, where Arturo watches some muscular black dude strip a white chick while they are dancing to a cheesy disco tune. Surprisingly, Arturo brings the black dude back to the apartment, where they smoke pot and engage in gay sex, all under the watchful eyes of Ivano and Olga. Olga then become visibly upset and storms out of the room, crying and yelling at Ivano that he knew Arturo was gay all along. Ivano convinces her otherwise and they both decide to take the experiment to a new level by introducing Olga into Arturo's life to see if she can get Arturo to fall in love with her. It works all too well and, after a short time, Ivano is watching Olga making love to Arturo. This brings up painful memories to Ivano and, in flashbacks, we learn that he caught his son making love to Olga. As he was driving his son out of town, they got into a bad car accident, which crippled Ivano and killed his son. The finale reveals hidden family secrets and a strangely ironic (though fitting) demise for two of the players.  This strange, strange film, the only directing and scripting credit for Giuliano Petrelli (who was a bit actor in a few Italian films in the 70's, including MANHUNT [1972]), is full of surprising scenes of both male and female nudity, including full-frontal scenes from John Phillip Law. This film equates sex and voyeurism as weapons, both physical and psychological. When Olga catches Ottavio sniffing her drain hair (ugh!), he retaliates by burning the shrine he had of her in a pile of leaves outside and then rapes local village girl Lucille (Monica Zanchi), knowing full well that Olga is watching him through a window (and she acts hurt, like a little schoolgirl). As Ottavio is raping Lucille, he screams at her, "You keep your honor between your legs!", but you really know he meant that remark for Olga. First and foremost, this is a film about damaged people. No one in this film can romotely be considered normal (even Lucille, who becomes Ottavio's girlfriend!), so the problem with this film is deciding which character to align yourself with. As the film progresses and more information is revealed about each character (especially about Olga and her relationship with Ivano), you will find yourself too confused to pick a single character to sympathize with, but that's not a bad thing. In the end, this is a film about confused human beings that don't have the faintest idea on how to act human, thanks to events in their pasts that drained them of their humanity. The more they try to act normal, the worse it becomes for everyone. The ending to this short (75 minute) film is a shocker and shows how finally regaining your sanity and humanity doesn't mean things necessarily turn out for the best. As in real life, the results can be tragic. A perverse, undiscovered little gem. Also known as THE CRYSTAL MAN and EYES BEHIND THE WALL. Also starring Joseph Jenkins and Roberto Posse. Available on VHS and DVD-R from Luminous Film & Video Wurks in a soft-looking widescreen print (with plenty of emulsion damage) in the original Italian language with English subtitles. Not Rated.

EYES OF THE BEHOLDER (1992) - A psychotic artist named Janice (Lenny Von Dohlen) escapes from a mental hospital and terrorizes the occupants of a secluded mountain home owned by the doctor who performed an experimental operation on him. The operation (which was supposed to cure Janice of his homicidal ways) was a failure and has left one of Janice's hands a twisted mass of flesh, sealing his fate as an artist. He plays a cat and mouse game with Dr. Carlyle (Matt McCoy), cutting off any means of access or communication from his home and then systematically makes life hell for the good doctor, his wife (Joanna Pacula) and their two house guests (George Lazenby and Kylie Travis). After a little torture (including some well-placed bullet hits and walking on broken glass) and a lot of philosophizing, Janice falls through an opening on a rotting bridge and gets sucked underwater during a raging thunderstorm. This run-of-the-mill suspenser is enlivened a bit by some inventive photography and quick, jackhammer MTV-style editing. The camera is always moving (giving the film a nervous quality) and the film is full of short shock-cuts which makes the film seem better than it really is. The main problem is the screenplay. Too much talk, not enough action. As a villian, Lenny Von Dohlen (BLIND VISION - 1991) is rather bland, never building up enough fear in the audience to make his character plausible. Joanna Pacula (THE KISS - 1988) and Matt McCoy (DEEP STAR SIX - 1989) are far too removed from everyday life to attract any sympathy from the viewers. I was rather pleased to see George Lazenby's return to the screen (Am I the only one that considers ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE [1969] a shining jewel in the James Bond series?) and he acquits himself rather nicely, pumping some adrenaline into this slow-moving vehicle. B-movie (and former Russ Meyer) staple Charles Napier has a small part here as a cop. Director/screenwriter Lawrence Simeone also made (and co-starred in) the rarely-seen crime thriller COP-OUT (1991). All in all, EYES OF THE BEHOLDER is neither good or bad. It's just common. A Columbia TriStar Home Video Release. Rated R.

FAIR GAME (1988) - Effective little Italian thriller about a vengeful husband who plots the perfect murder of his wife, who left him because of his possessiveness. The husband in question is Gene (Gregg Henry), a rich computer game designer, who drives out to the middle of the desert to buy a deadly black mamba, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, from snake handler Frank (Bill Moseley). Gene has done his homework and knows that the mamba is deadliest during the one month a year when it mates. The mamba must bite continually during this time to release the overabundance of poison it produces when in heat (Frank puts a rabbit in the mamba's cage to show how aggressive the snake is. It's not pretty.). We also learn at this time that Gene is quite the electronics genius, as he rigged his car so that Frank cannot get out so he can test out the snake's effectiveness on humans. Frank is bitten and dies in less than a minute, which pleases Gene. He then goes to the loft of Eva (Trudy Styler), his estranged artist wife, and secretly tags her with mamba hormone and sets the snake loose. He breaks off the key in the only door, cuts off her phone to the outside (only he can call her) and waits outside in his car, where he can track the snake and his wife electronically. Eva is at first unaware that anything is wrong and goes about her business as usual, taking a bath and practicing yoga, while the mamba stalks her (cue distorted snake POV shots). While Eva is making a video diary, the mamba strikes and misses. She doesn't even notice until she plays back the tape and spots the snake. Now aware of the mamba, Eva also realizes that both her door and phone are out of order. Not able to escape, Eva must fight for survival while Gene calls her on the phone every few minutes to see if she's still alive. Eva proves to be quite the fighter, even as Gene cuts the electricity, forcing her to fight in darkness. Eva gets wise to Gene's deadly game and devises a way to get Gene into the loft, where she turns the tables on him and gives him a taste of the mamba's venom.  This tight little thriller, directed and co-scripted by Mario Orfini (JACKPOT - 1992), is basically a two character stage play, as most of the action takes place in Eva's loft or Gene's car. Gene has sixty minutes for the mamba to kill Eva (that how long the hormone is effective) and the rest of the film plays out in real time, making it urgent and suspenseful. Trudy Styler, better known as the activist wife of rocker Sting, walks around most of the time in a tee shirt and panties (there's also brief nudity during the bath scene), until she discovers that the snake is present. Then, she covers-up herself completely from head to toe and builds an impromptu fortress around her to stop the snake. Styler keeps things moving at a brisk pace by talking to herself, working her way out of tough situations by using common sense and keeping a cool head. Gregg Henry (SLITHER - 2006) doesn't have much to do but act slimy (the snake's got nothing on him), look menacing and scowl when things don't go his way, but that's OK because the real suspense here comes with Eva's interaction with the snake and the inventive twist ending. Those looking for blood and gore will be sorely disappointed here, as this film gets it's thrills the old fashioned way: With tense situations and a reliance on mood over violence. Good show. Originally titled MAMBA. Giorgio Moroder wrote the effective music score and was also an Associate Producer. VENOM (1981) is another excellent film dealing with an on-the-loose black mamba. A Vidmark Entertainment Release. Rated R.

FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977) - William Sanderson portrays Jesse Lee Cain, a convict who escapes police custody along with two other felons, a Hispanic and a Chinaman. They steal a car, rob a gas station (repeatedly stabbing the attendant) and head for Canada. En route, they rob a liquor store (shooting the owner) and take a black woman hostage. They make her take them to her home so they can hide out until the heat blows over. The home is occupied by a black deacon and his large family and pretty soon they are all hostages. The extremely prejudiced Cain and his cohorts begin terrorizing the frightened family. First, Cain throws nearly every racial slur at the family, calling them nigger, tarbaby, burrhead, spade, coon, monkey face, Uncle Remus, Aunt Jemima and many others. Then he threatens their lives, pointing his gun at their heads and promising to pull the trigger if they don't do demeaning tasks like licking his boots or dancing a jig. The Chinaman kills a visiting white woman (by throwing her off a cliff after attempting rape) and smashes a visiting small white boy's head in (graphically) with a rock. After an unsuccessful escape attempt, Cain teaches the family a lesson by raping the deacon's daughter and letting his partners have a turn with her. The police surround the house, giving the family a chance to turn the tables on their captors. Instead of turning them over to the police, the deacon and his family chuck their pacifist ways and administer their own brand of justice. Cain and his cohorts get their just desserts, but not before Cain reveals just why he has all that hatred for black people. This film, lensed as FIGHTIN' FAMILY and also known as STAYIN' ALIVE, is so sleazy you'll feel like taking a shower after viewing it. William Sanderson is so believable as the black-hating Cain, portraying his character as a hillbilly with no morals (he keeps his pants up with a piece of rope), that you'll never look at his role of Larry (of Larry, Darryl and Darryl) on NEWHART (1982 - 1990) reruns the same way again. (Come to think of it, there weren't that many black actors on the program. Hmmm...) Producer William Mishkin is better known for his collaborations with the late badfilm director Andy Milligan. Screenwriter Straw Weisman, who also worked frequently with Milligan, directed that weird minor gem about necrophilia, DEAD MATE (1988). FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE is a tense and bloody foray in racial hatred. It is not for all tastes and caters to our baser instincts. If you do decide to rent it, make sure you have plenty of soap and water on hand. You'll need it. Directed by Robert A. Endelson (THE FILTHIEST SHOW IN TOWN - 1975).  A Paragon Home Video and After Hours Entertainment Release. Also available on DVD from Blue Underground. Rated R.

FLESHBURN (1983) - In 1975, Calvin Duggai (Sonny Landham; PREDATOR - 1987) deliberately abandoned five men to die in the desert because of an argument involving tribal rivalry and the powers of Indian witchcraft. Four psychiatrists testified Duggai was not capable of distinguishing right from wrong and recommended he be institutionalized. Well, Calvin (who is haunted by bad 'Nam flashbacks) has had enough of the loony bin and escapes, vowing to get even with the four psychiatrists who put him there. Calvin flags-down a pickup truck driven by Jim Brody (Robert Alan Brown) and when he spots the deer Jim bagged while hunting, he has another 'Nam flashback and kills Jim with his own hunting rifle. Calvin kidnaps the first two psychiatrists, the husband/wife team of Jay (Robert Chimento) and Shirley Pinter (Karen Carlson; BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY - 1977), at gunpoint and then kidnaps retired headshrinker Dr. Sam MacKenzie (Steve Kanaly; HEADHUNTER - 1989), who is living in a secluded cabin in the woods. Calvin finally kidnaps the fourth psychiatrist, the homosexual Earl Dana (Macon McCalman; DEAD & BURIED - 1981), and drives them all to the middle of the desert and leaves them there (but not before taking a "souvenir" from each of them, such as a lock of Sam's hair), telling them, "I've had my Hell. Now you'll have yours." When Shirley asks him what he is going to do, Calvin replies, "Nothing. The desert will do it for me." Calvin breaks Earl's leg before he drives off and so begins the long, torturous journey of the four psychiatrists (and the audience), left barefoot, with no water and very little clothing in what turns out to be one of the worst heat waves in many years. Sam keeps his wits about him, digging a hole to keep cool and setting Earl's broken leg with Shirley's help. He also fashions some tools from spent rifle shells, which allows them to extract water and food from cactus plants. Flashbacks reveal that once Sam and Shirley had an illicit affair, which throws some unneeded tension between Sam and Jay, but Sam's survival techniques keep everyone alive. Calvin goes coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs and starts practicing witchcraft rituals and doesn't like that his four captives are not moving, so he uses the "souvenirs" he took from the group to exact revenge (he feeds a falcon Sam's hair and the bird attacks Sam, inflicting deep cuts on Sam's face and upper torso). Meanwhile, the psychiatrists all have their own flashbacks, revealing vital information about their lives and background (such as Sam's wife committing suicide). While Sam is recuperating from his falcon wounds, Jay sets out on his own to look for help and disappears. Sam eventually finds an injured Jay, but Calvin shoots Jay dead and ties Sam to a boulder. Sam breaks free and decides enough is enough. If he is going to save Shirley and Earl, he is going to have to take-on Calvin mano-a-mano, but when he captures Calvin, he decides not to kill him. He's going to send him back to the asylum, because to Calvin, it's a fate worse than death. Give me a fucking break!  This boring mess of a psychological thriller, directed by George Gage (SKATEBOARD: THE MOVIE - 1977) and co-written by Gage and his producer wife Beth Gage (based on a novel by DEATH WISH author Brian Garfield titled "Fear In A Handful Of Dust"), is nothing more than a slow-moving tale of an obviously crazy Indian who believes he has supernatural powers (Which begs the question: If he indeed has supernatural powers, why did it take him nearly ten years to escape from the mental institution?) and a doctor (Sam) who believes he can defeat him by using common human sense and survival techniques. Not much happens throughout the film's entire running time except endless bickering amomg the psychiatrists on subjects like religion, infidelity and death, combined with shots of Sonny Landham (who got his start appearing in porn films like SLIPPERY WHEN WET - 1976, before moving on to more mainstream roles) dancing around a campfire chanting like a crazy loon or firing his rifle at the group and hitting no one (he's quite the lousy shot!). FLESHBURN has the look and feel of an early-80's TV film, as there is no nudity and very little blood. Only the foul language lets you know that this Tuscon, Arizona-lensed flick, an exercise in tedium, wouldn't play on TV without some beeps. 88 minutes of torture for the viewer. Originally released on VHS by Media Home Entertainment and also available on DVD from Rhino Home Video as part of their HORRIBLE HORRORS COLLECTION VOLUME 1 compilation of eight films from the 70's & 80's. Rated R, but I honestly don't know why.

FRAGMENT OF FEAR (1970) - British thriller from the director of the existential action classic VANISHING POINT (1971) and the not-so-classic actioner (but still one of my 80's faves) EYE OF THE TIGER (1986). Recovering drug addict Tim Brett (David Hemmings; DEEP RED - 1976) is in Italy trying to get his novel published. His sweet old Aunt Lucy (Flora Robson; THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR - 1970) agrees to financially back him in his endeavors, but when she is found brutally murdered in some Pompeii ruins by a British tour group, Tim puts his book on hold and tries to solve her murder. It won't be easy for Tim, because his drug and criminal background (he was no angel during his younger years) also makes him a prime suspect to the Italian police. Once back in Britain, he joins forces with fiancée and soon-to-be-wife Juliet Briston (Gayle Hunnicutt; Hemming's real-life wife at the time, who also starred with him in the excellent thriller NIGHTMARE - 1973) to find out more information on Aunt Lucy's mysterious life. Tim goes to a group retirement home where Aunt Lucy lived and is greeted with senility in the form of Mrs. Gray (Mona Washbourne; WHAT BECAME OF JACK AND JILL? - 1971), who knows who the Rolling Stones are but can't seem to recall what happened yesterday, and derision in the form of Miss Ward-Cadbury (Yootha Joyce), the home's nurse/caretaker. Tim does discover from arthritic resident Mr. Vellacot (Roland Culver) that Aunt Lucy's husband was killed by a burglar and, ever since that day, Lucy went out of her way to help young criminals turn their life around (Mr. Vellacot believes Lucy helped approximately 25 to 30 men walk the straight-and-narrow). On his way back from the retirement home, Tim meets a strange lady on a train (who Tim later describes as "a pathetic old dyke with a face like a bun") and she gives him an envelope (which Tim initially thinks is a religious pamphlet), telling him not to open it until he gets home. It turns out not to be a religious pamphlet at all, but a thinly-veiled threat telling him to stop investigating Lucy's death. Tim begins to doubt his own sanity when his tape-recorded notes contain devious laughter that seems to be in his own voice and he discovers that the threatening note could only have come from his typewriter (it has a distinctively flawed "I" key). Is it possible that Tim is back to abusing drugs or is all this some elaborate setup to blame Tim for Lucy's death? It doesn't take a genius (or does it?) to recognize that Tim is being unfairly accused of a bunch of crimes he didn't commit, including making an indecent proposal to the old dyke on the train (she files a complaint with the police). Police Sgt. Matthews (Derek Newark) believes Tim is madder than a hatter, as Tim complains he is receiving threatening phone calls from a mysterious man ("I am 7, 70, and 700!") telling him to lay-off the investigation and that he is constantly being watched. This all begins to worry Juliet, who also begins to believe that Tim is back on the junk (he begins to sweat profusely and pukes at the most inopportune times), but it turns out someone is actually spiking Tim's milk. Tim is strong-willed, nonetheless, and his investigation will lead him to a retired probation officer named Mr. Copsey (Wilfred Hyde-White; CHAMBER OF HORRORS - 1966) and a mysterious group known as the "Stepping Stones", which turn out to be the people Lucy helped rehabilitate. Can Tim unravel this mystery before the police arrest him or he is committed to a mental institution for seeing things that aren't there (such as Sgt. Matthews, who the police never heard of)? Or will he die before he discovers the truth?  This is an interesting murder mystery with a good performance by David Hemmings as a man who is slowly being persecuted by forces unknown, yet he remains unbowed in his determination to uncover the truth, even if it means losing the trust or alienating those he loves. Director Richard C. Sarafian (whose son, Deran Sarafian, would later directs such genre films as ALIEN PREDATOR [1984] and DEATH WARRANT [1990] before finding a comfortable niche directing episodic American TV such as CSI: and its spin-offs) and screenwriter Paul Dehn (GOLDFINGER - 1964) have created an excellent puzzle piece mystery that will not easily be solved by the viewer. What I liked about FRAGMENT OF FEAR is that it deals with several aspects of life (drug addiction, love, conspiracies, secret societies, etc.) in a frank and honest manner, without a hint of unwelcome humor, which belies its PG (originally GP) rating. I won't give more away except to say that the film manages to be thrilling and frightening without being particularly violent or bloody. This film is character driven and David Hemmings carries the film with his multi-layered performance. The finale may be a little too ambiguous for some people's liking, but it serves this film well. Richard Sarafian's last directorial effort was the disappointing disaster flick SOLAR CRISIS (1990), which Sarafian decided to take an "Alan Smithee" credit, a sure sign that he wasn't happy with the final product. Also starring Adolfo Celi (EYE IN THE LABYRINTH - 1972), Daniel Massey and Arthur Lowe. I don't believe FRAGMENT OF FEAR ever received a U.S. home video release (it did receive a theatrical release). The print I viewed was sourced from a British VHS tape from RCA/Columbia Home Video. Rated PG.

FREEWAY (1996) - The term "graphic" describes every facet of this modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. The violence, language and sex push this way beyond its R rating (did the MPAA actually review this film?), making it a thoroughly remarkable and funny tale of morals in this country. A juvenile delinquent (the wonderful Reese Witherspoon, who went on to become a major star is such films as LEGALLY BLONDE - 2001) takes a trip to her grandmother's house after her prostitute mother and junkie stepfather are busted by the police. Along the way, her car breaks down and she gets a ride from a child psychiatrist (Kiefer Sutherland) who turns out to be a notorious necropheliac serial killer. She manages to break free and shoots him a half dozen times but he clings to life, his face horribly disfigured. She is arrested for attempted murder. Due to her lengthly juvenile record, the police do not believe her story and she is made out to be the monster and he the innocent victim, due in a large part by the efforts of his bitchy wife's (an excellent Brooke Shields) media campaign of half-truths and misinformation. She is tried as an adult and sentenced to life inprisonment. Forced to use violence as a way to survive, she becomes a celebrity in prison and escapes with the help of three female inmates. Meanwhile, the police are getting closer to discovering the real truth. The finale takes place at Grandma's house, where the disfigured serial killer subs for Grandma and lies in waiting for his revenge. Writer/director Matthew Bright offers a sassy script, surreal scenes and off-kilter violence and blends it into a really satisfying brew. Oliver Stone was one of the executive producers. This film was such a hit on home video and cable that director Bright made a sequel FREEWAY 2: CONFESSIONS OF A TRICKBABY (1999). FREEWAY also stars Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Wolfgang Bodison, Bokeem Woodbine, Sydney Lassick and Tara Subkoff (director/producer/screenwriter of # HORROR - 2015) as "Sharon". Made it's premiere on HBO with a video release by Republic Pictures Home Video. Rated R, but deserves an NC-17 although I'm not complaining.

GIALLO IN VENICE (1979) - "I explore the nature of man. It hurts, but it frees us from constraints." This is one of the nastiest, most brutal giallo films I have ever seen, on the same level as Lucio Fulci's THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982). While RIPPER was misogynistic and violent, this film is just nasty in every aspect. So nasty, it will take the staunchest of person to really appreciate it. I don't know if I am that person, but I'll seriously try.
     The film opens with Fabio (Gianni Dei; SEX OF THE WITCH - 1973) getting stabbed repeatedly in the crotch and, believe it or not, the film goes much lower than that as it progresses. We then see Police Inspector Angelo De Pol (Jeff Blynn; the Stallone flick CLIFFHANGER - 1993) standing over Fabio's body, on the shore near a Venice canal, his pants open and blood everywhere. Near Fabio's body is his wife, Flavia (Leonora Fani; DOG LAY AFTERNOON - 1976), and she, too, is dead, dressed in a bright yellow sundress, her body and clothes soaking wet. Alberto (Giancarlo Del Duca; CRY OF A PROSTITUTE - 1974), the coroner, is at the crime scene and he tells the Inspector that it looks like Flavia drowned, as there are no traces of violence, only minor scratches on her body. "It's a mystery why the perpetrator pulled her out of the water" says Alberto. He also says that Fabio was stabbed in the crotch with a sharp object, but it doesn't look like it was a knife. He'll know more after he performs the autopsies. One of the detectives finds pills on Fabio's body and Alberto says it looks like LSD and the Inspector says, "Yes, just what I wanted to hear." Does he know something we don't? The Inspector's assistant, Maestrin (Eolo Capritti; THE LONG ARM OF THE GODFATHER - 1972), thinks it's a drug deal gone wrong, but that doesn't explain why Flavia is all wet. Hell, she wasn't even wearing panties (or, as Alberto says, "I guess she wasn't worried about catching a cold!"). The Inspector sees an old man spying on them with binoculars from an apartment complex, so he sends Maestrin to go question him, in case he saw the murders happen. The old man, who has an elderly bedridden sister who can't speak, tells Maestrin he didn't see anything, denies owning binoculars and accuses him of police brutality! The Inspector, who has the disgusting habit of eating hardboiled eggs at the most inopportune times (leaving eggshells where he stands or sits), chalks-up the murders to a bad drug deal, but I think we know by now that it is never that easy.
     One of Venice's most powerful judges phones the Inspector, complaining that the murders are on the front page of all the newspapers. Since it is tourist season, he tells the Inspector to find the killer and make it quick, because his job is on the line (one of the most overused giallo clichés). Alberto then phones the Inspector, telling him that Flavia had sex shortly before she was killed, but he cannot tell if it was consensual or if it was rape.
     The Inspector then questions Flavia's best friend, Marzia (Mariangela Giordano, listed here as "Maria Angela Giordan"; BURIAL GROUND - 1980), who is getting phone calls from a man who calls her "slut" and "whore" (She tells the Inspector that the man is in love with her!). We discover Marzia and Flavia were childhood friends, they even went to university together, but they lost touch and just recently reconnected. Marzia didn't get along with Fabio (who was an architect), but things improved as time moved on. They all became friends and did everything together (I know what you are thinking and you would be right!). She tells the Inspector that Fabio didn't do drugs, but she looks guilty about something, especially when the Inspector asks about Fabio and Flavia's sex life. When he tells her that they found pornographic photos and equipment to make porno films in Fabio & Flavia's home, Marzia begins telling the truth, where she says that Fabio had "unusual requests" during sex. We are then taken back in time (an elongated flashback), where we see who Fabio and Fabio really were, at least according to Marzia.
     We see Fabio and Flavia sitting in a ferry, as a handsome young man watches them kissing and making out. They put on a show for him (Flavia looks unwilling, but Fabio talks her into it) and when the ferry docks, he follows them home. Before they get home, Fabio & Flavia put a pornographic show for him, Fabio pulling down Flavia's panties and fucking her (standing up!) in a boatyard. The man looks on intently, Fabio making eye contact with him, but the man, who then looks disgusted, walks away. Once home, Fabio begins playing with a piece of fruit as if it is a vagina (you have to see it to believe it!), while Flavia complains that she doesn't want to play sex games anymore, as it made her feel "shabby". She runs into the bedroom, strips naked and she and Fabio make love. Like most men, Fabio finishes before Flavia does, gets up and walks out of the bedroom (completely naked), and then begins to read an S&M pornographic comic strip, leaving Flavia to finish the job manually (If you know what I mean. Even if you don't, no need to worry, as the camera shows you in extreme close-up!). Fabio gets so turned-on by the comic strip, he does the same thing (thankfully, not in extreme close-up!). Fabio then walks into the bedroom, sees his wife naked and begins whipping her with a cat o' nine tails! (I can't stop using exclamation points!!!). She begs Fabio to stop, but he just whips her harder, finishing the job by making love to her (and she loves it!). Once again, he finishes before his wife does, only this time he falls asleep in bed  (and all this happens in the first 30 minutes!).
     Back in the present, the Inspector has tapped Marzia's phone, as he doesn't believe her explanation about the man who is calling her. While Marzia is away, Maestrin searches her home, finding, hidden in one of her dresser drawers, a box of 35mm pornographic slides and a note that reads "I won't let you stay with that bunch of perverts. I'd rather kill you!" Of course, the note is unsigned. We then see Marzia meeting a man at an outdoor bistro and he wants to know if she destroyed the slides. She tells him no and he demands that she give them to him. She calls him crazy, not noticing that there is a man wearing mirrored sunglasses watching them (another giallo trope). We then discover that the man Marzia is talking to is named Marco Dezan (an uncredited Maurizio Streccioni; CITY OF THE WALKIND DEAD, a.k.a. NIGHTMARE CITY - 1980) and she tells him she is afraid, as "He's back and he threatened me!" Marco tells her that he's just a student and she shouldn't take him seriously because "He's a loony."  Marzia says, "He's a fanatic. He's capable of anything.", so Marco tells her to get out of Venice and go on a vacation if she is so scared. Is it possible that the man in the mirrored sunglasses is that fanatic? Marzia and Marco also don't notice that a man sitting at a table next to them is a cop and he has heard everything.
     The Inspector and Maestrin look at the slides from Marzia's house and they show Fabio, Flavia and Marzia having a ménage a trois. They also show Marzia & Flavia having lesbian sex, as well as Marzia & Marco enjoying intercourse. The Inspector knows Marco Dezan as a criminal and says, "Sex is always the key!" There is also an unknown woman in the slides, which no one can identify. The Inspector says something smells funny (it could be his hardboiled eggs, which he never stops eating!), as this crime doesn't make sense. Who would want to kill Fabio and Flavia and what possibly could be their motive? If you have paid close attention to this review, you have enough clues to figure it out on your own. Just remember this: The first scene in most giallo films is the most important and it's no different here. Need more info? OK...
     Alberto tells the Inspector that Fabio was stabbed in the crotch with scissors, the kind that tailors use. He jokingly tells the Inspector to arrest all the tailors in town and then he will have the killer. The man in the mirrored sunglasses then pays a prostitute for sex, demanding that they do it outside and standing up (Now where did I hear that before?). As they are doing it, the man pulls out some scissors and stabs her repeatedly in the vagina (nothing is left to the imagination). The Inspector pulls in Marzia and Marco for questioning and they both have alibis on where they were when Fabio, Flavia and the prostitute were killed, as they were with each other, but are they lying? That's all you are going to get from me without giving away the ending. But what do Marco, who is set on fire after being doused with gasoline and Marzia having her right leg cut off with a hacksaw (while she's alive!) have to do with all this? Yes, these are only but two scenes (no details are left out) where the camera lingers on the carnage, where we see Marco's body after he is burned alive (It is pretty disgusting) and a cleaning lady discovers Marzia's corpse in her refrigerator, her severed right leg posed next to her! What does it all mean?
     This film wallows in voyeuristic near-pornographic sex, as well as gratuitous violence (You have to see Marzia getting her leg cut off!), so much so, I felt like taking a cold shower after watching it. While this film has no redeeming social value, it does have a certain something that will not allow you to take your eyes off the screen. I think it's the filmic filth that this film seems just a little too accommodating to show, as in flashback, we see Fabio and Flavia in all sorts of pornographic poses, being it Fabio raping Flavia outside a store teeming with customers or Fabio letting a total stranger feel Flavia up in a dark movie theater. There's nothing Fabio won't do for a sexual thrill (most of it at Flavia's expense) and this film is more than happy to show them to you, some linger longer than you will feel comfortable with, especially in the sad, nihilistic, yet fitting finale, where we discover the real reason Fabio and Flavia were killed. Which is surprising, since director Mario Landi was better known as a director of TV movies and mini-series, his only other theatrical genre film of note being PATRICK STILL LIVES (1980), an in-name only sequel to the 1978 Australian horror film PATRICK. The screenplay, by Aldo Serio (WATCH ME WHEN I KILL - 1977), is basically nothing but a bunch of giallo film clichés, spiced-up with plentiful male and female full-frontal nudity, sex that cross the porn level not so gently and bloody gore. Sometimes that is all I need from a film, but very rarely, which makes this film seem worthwhile to me for reasons I can't put my finger on. Maybe it's because I'm a dirty old bastard, but for whatever reason, I liked this film. I also doubt that it is a coincidence that Maestrin looks and dresses like KOJAK and that many American TV detective clichés are used here, especially Inspector De Pol's fondness for hardboiled eggs, which is probably similar to Kojak's fondness for lollipops (but without the stench or mess). When we discover how Fabio and Flavia ended up dead near the canal, thanks to the old man with the binoculars, who saw everything, it is quite shocking and unexpected, taking the meaning of "voyeurism" to a whole new level, so just go with it, you will probably like this film, even if it is for all the wrong reasons. I won't judge you because I am just as guilty.
     Shot as GIALLO A VENEZIA (a literal translation of the review title) and also known as THRILLING IN VENICE, this film never had a theatrical or VHS release in the United States. Imagine my surprise to discover that Scorpion Releasing has delivered a Blu-Ray of this title and, according to people who have seen it, it looks beautiful. I found out rather late in the game about this disc and by then it was already sold out, as Scorpion was first offering the Blu-Ray to overseas customers, ignoring us here in the States, which really pissed me off, as they only pressed 1000 copies. It has something to do with the licensing deal they struck with the film's owner, who wanted non-U.S. residents to get first dibs on the discs. By the time it was available here, no copies were available. Let's hope they press some more copies because this is one film I want to add to my library, if only to shock people who come over to my apartment to watch films with me. I guarantee they have never seen anything quite like this! Also look for multiple shots of J&B Scotch, Italy's favorite alcoholic beverage. I gave up after about twenty instances of it popping up.  Also starring Vassili Karis (as "Vassili Karamesinis"; BLOODY PSYCHO - 1989), Michele Renzullo, Maria Tedeschi (PLOT OF FEAR - 1976), Claudio Zucchet (YETI: GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY - 1977), Alba Maiolini (THE FLOWER WITH THE DEADLY STING - 1973) and Maria Mancini (SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN - 1974) as the prostitute who gets a pair of scissors shoved up her hoo-haa. Not Rated, but that's not surprising, is it?

HER VENGEANCE (1988) - Five drunk and violent brothers go to the "Casino Lisboa" and interrupt the stage show (a French can-can review) by acting rowdy and beligerent. When the manager of the club, Chieh Ying (Pauline Wong), asks them to calm down, they grope her, forcing Cheih to slap on of the brothers and call Security, who throw them out. The brothers wait for Chieh to get off work, where they grab her, bring her to a cemetery and gang-rape her (one of the brothers burns her with a disposable lighter when she refuses to move while he screws her!). In her shame, Chieh never reports the rape and returns to her regular routine. One day, she has a burning sensation between her legs, so she goes to a doctor, who tells her that she has a serious case of VD (His exact words are: "You must have had filthy sex partners. Your uterus will soon rot, leading to cancer of the uterus!") and she will soon die. What is a poor girl to do? Well, since this is a crazy, out-of-control Hong Kong thriller, she decides to get even with her five rapists before she kicks-off. After telling her blind sister her whole sordid story, Chieh leaves mainland China and heads to Hong Kong in search of Hsiung (Lam Ching-Ying), her wheelchair-bound Uncle, who was also her blind sister's lover (!). Hsiung, who runs a nightclub/whorehouse called the San Francisco Bar, knows a thing or two about vengeance, but he initially refuses to help Chieh in her plot for revenge since he knows the high price that usually has to be paid (for him it was the loss of his legs). He does give her a job as a waitress at his bar, where we watch how Hsiung deals with unruly customers (he uses his wheelchair as a weapon and is quite handy with it!). As luck would have it, the five rapist brothers are in town, so when Chieh spots one of them outside the bar, she tricks him into driving out to the middle of nowhere for a "snack" (i.e. a blowjob). She manages to tie the guy's hands behind his back and then cuts his ear off with a pair of scissors and finishes him offf by strangling him from behind as he kicks-out the car windshield. One down, four to go. Chieh tricks another brother into thinking he's inheriting some insurance money from his dead brother, but she fails to kill him, even after throwing acid in his face and stabbing him in the back. She is successful in her next attempt, impaling another brother in the stomach with a sharpened pipe while he is filming a porno flick. When the remaining three brothers find out Chieh's identity and kill her blind sister, Hsiung has no choice but to join Chieh in her quest for bloody revenge. The finale is a non-stop barrage of death in depravity that will make the most jaded gorehound sit up and take notice.  This sleazy, nasty rape/revenge thriller leaves very little to the imagination, as it is full of nudity, blood and scenes of brutal violence. As directed by Nam Nai Choi (a.k.a. "Simon Nam"), who also gave us THE SEVENTH CURSE (1986) and the ultra-violent and campy RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY (1991), the plot of HER VENGEANCE is your basic "rapist out for revenge" scenario, but the execution is anything but basic. It's absolutely delirious. Not only do we get to see various impalements, stabbings, dismemberments, slashings and head bashings (with exotic pointy fruit!), we are also privvy to the unusual sights of Hsiung bathing his two leg stumps (bot legs are cut-off above the knees) and a finale that is one of the most amazing and demented white-knuckle sequences in recent memory. Without giving too much away, it contains wheelchair-fu, a homemade crossbow and a never-say-die attitude displayed by one of the characters that's remarkable in it's savagery and grace. You'll know what I mean when you see it. If this film does have a fault, it's the subplot about Chieh Ying's friendship and possible romance with young man Hsiao Hao (Kelvin Wong). It's a rather pointless affair, since they will never be able to consummate their relationship (She's riddled with an STD after all!), but he eventually becomes a victim of his desires. While trying to stop Chieh from killing one of her rapists, he pays for it with his life. If you ever wondered what a Hong Kong version of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) would look like, here it is. What an amazing piece of trash cinema. Search it out. Would make a good double feature with Dennis Yu's THE BEASTS (1980). Also starring Wong Ching, Billy Chow, Shing Fu On, Shum Wai and Chan Ging as the rapist brothers and Elaine Kam as Susan, one of Hsiung's bargirls who befriends Chieh and also pays for it with her life. Originally released on VHS and laserdisc by MediaAsia (in Manadrin with burned-in English subtitles) and available on DVD-R from grey market seller Nightcrew Video. Be advised that an alternate version of this film exists on VCD (on the Deltamac label) that edits out nearly all the nudity and violence and replaces them with extended scenes and alternate footage. Not Rated.

HITCHER IN THE DARK (1989) - Slick, but boring, Italian-financed and Florida-lensed psycho thriller. Borrowing cues from THE HITCHER (1986), this film (also known as THE HITCHER 2 in some countries) tells the story of young psychopath Mark (Joe Balogh; MOONSTALKER - 1989; HOLLYWOOD'S NEW BLOOD - 1989), who picks up female hitchhikers in his Winnebago, rapes, kills and photographs their dead bodies with his trusty Polaroid and then drops their bodies in the alligator-infested waters. Mark then sets his sights on pretty Daniela (Josie Bissett) when he spots her in a bar. When Daniela catches her boyfriend Kevin (Jason Saucier; THE CRAWLERS - 1990) kissing another woman and storms out of the bar, Mark see this as his perfect opportunity to get Daniela into the Winnebago for a ride to the bus stop, which she gladly accepts. After a few minutes talking with Mark, Daniela can sense that there's a little something "off" about him, but when she spots Kevin's car skulking behind the Winnebago, she lets her anger and jealousy get the better of her and decides to stay with Mark. Bad move. After drinking a can of drugged Coke, Daniela later wakes up to discover that she is handcuffed and at the mercy of Mark. A bathroom break affords Daniela a chance to escape, but she is captured just after making a phone call to her sister asking for help. Her sister calls Kevin when the police refuse to help and Kevin begins his search to Daniela, picking up a clue from a pothead biker who said he saw Daniela get picked-up by a guy driving a motor home. Kevin begins following every motor home he spots (too bad the pothead wasn't more specific and told him it was a Winnebago), even breaking into one and getting the shit kicked out of him by it's angry black owner. Mark drugs Daniela, cuts and dyes her blonde hair brown to make her look like the photo of a 39 year-old Russian woman called Danyetska that he keeps in his RV, which turns out to be his whore mother. Daniela lets Mark make love to her, but Mark ejaculates prematurely and goes psycho, slapping Daniela around and then keeping her in a drugged stupor, where he takes naked Polaroids of her. When Kevin finally locates Daniela, he, too, becomes a prisoner of Mark (who carves the word "PIG" on Kevin's chest with a switchblade) and must watch as Mark threatens to shove a knife up Daniela's vagina (he doesn't though). It all ends rather badly as Kevin is stabbed to death, Daniela is left for dead (of a drug overdose) in the trunk of a car in an auto junkyard and Mark continues picking-up female hitchhikers, only his latest pick-up is none other than Daniela, who shoots Mark several times as a final "fuck you". Don't you just love tender love stories?  Although there is some stylish photography on view, the static direction by Umberto Lenzi (using his frequent "Humphrey Humbert" pseudonym), who gave us other genre films such as SPASMO (1974); ALMOST HUMAN (1974); EYEBALL (1975); GHOSTHOUSE (1987) and WELCOME TO SPRING BREAK (1988); the unbelievable screenplay by Olga Pehar (Lenzi's HUNT FOR THE GOLDEN SCORPION - 1991), which is full of convenient coincidences (such as Daniela trying to get away in the stolen Winnebago, only to get it stuck in the mud); and the questionable acting talents of the three main actors (You thought Jason Saucier was bad in THE CRAWLERS? Wait until you see him here!); all join together to make a film that is not only as slow as a snail with hemorrhoids, it also stinks of desperation and flop sweat. Not one person in this film acts or reacts like a real human being (especially Josie Bissett's character, who accepts her punching bag and rape status a little too easily), so Lenzi tries to divert us by throwing-in sleazy scenes of nudity (including a wet tee-shirt contest) and some quick glimpses of gore. The sad fact is that HITCHER IN THE DARK is a very minor Italian genre effort that is not worth your time, no matter how bored you are. Watching this will only increase your boredom. Available from Shriek Show either as a stand-alone DVD or as part of their triple feature HIGH SCHOOL HORRORS DVD box set, with HELL HIGH (1986) and THE MAJORETTES (1986) as the co-features. Rated R.

HITCH-HIKE (1978) - I decided to revisit this Italian thriller after listening to David Hess on the extra on the Code Red's Blu-Ray of HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1979), where he says his character in this film is not similar to his role of "Krug Stillo" in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972). I hate to argue with a dead man (Hess passed away in 2011), but I think he was wrong. I would go as far as to say that Hess wouldn't even have been considered for this role if the makers didn't want a "Krug-like" character.
     The film opens up with alcoholic reporter Walter Mancini (Franco Nero; THE VISITOR - 1978) on a hunting trip in Mexico with his wife Eve (Corinne Clery; THE HUMANOID - 1979). Their marriage is on the rocks as we watch Walter putting Eve in the scope of his rifle before he pulls the trigger and kills a stag. Walter is so soused that, at their campsite, where they meet Harry Stetson (Robert Sommer) and his wife Lucy (Ann Ferguson), he can't even remember his last name! (One camp-goer remarks "I've never met an Italian yet that can hold his booze!"). The sad fact is that Walter can't even touch his beautiful wife unless he is blind stinking drunk and when he does, it is just a short leap to rape. So much so, that when Eve and Walter see two young campers making-out in the woods, Eve says, "They're making love. We just screw!". Walter and Eve's lives are about to change dramatically.
     While they are driving home to Los Angeles (towing their camper trailer), they hear on the radio that the police are looking for three deadly bank robbers who stole $2 million in cash, leaving a wake of death in their path. Just as soon as they hear the radio broadcast, Eve almost hits a bunch of boulders in the middle of the road (Walter is too drunk to drive), forcing her to pull over to the side of the road. They spot a man getting out of a disabled car and it is Adam Konitz (David Hess). He asks the couple for a ride, but Walter doesn't want to give him one. Eve, on the other hand, welcomes another person in the car, if only not to hear her husband's incessant drunken ramblings. We all know that Adam is one of the bank robbers (we see a dead man inside the disabled car, a bullet wound in his head) and, very soon, Walter and Eve will know it, too. They introduce themselves to each other (Adam makes an "Adam & Eve" remark as a sexual overture) and Adam proceeds to play head games with the couple, much of it sexual, as he begins to touch Eve in ways that Walter never dreamed of. The problem is, this couple have already been playing head games with each other, so Adam will have to work very hard to get the couple to fear for their lives, especially when he shows them a suitcase containing the $2 million in cash. We must figure out: Who is playing who?
     Driving down the road, they have a close encounter with two motorcycle cops who set up a roadblock looking for the robbers. With Adam in the back seat holding a gun on the couple, Walter talks to one of the policemen, flashing the inside of a matchbook where he has written "SOS". Adam knows something is wrong by the looks on the officer's face, so he shoots the two officers dead (The second officer is shot through his motorcycle helmet, as we watch his brains explode out of the back of his helmet). Instead of Adam being mad, he admires Walter's moxey. Their next stop is a gas station, where Adam stuffs a fifty dollar bill into Eve's cleavage ("I wish I was that fifty!" says Adam) and tells her to buy two cartons of Camel cigarettes (everyone here smokes like a chimney) and two bottles of scotch. While Eve is trying to tell the Mexican clerk (Ignazio Spalla; ADIOS SABATA - 1970; billed here as "Pedro Sanchez") that she and her husband are being held prisoner, Adam makes a deal with Walter to write a book about his life (Walter has a reel-to-reel tape recorder in the car, which Adam talks into.). Eve can't get the clerk to understand her (He doesn't understand or speak English!) and Adam knew that because he has been to this gas station many time before. That night, while pulled over to someplace secluded, Adam ties-up Walter and makes him watch Eve being sexually assaulted (and she likes it). Then two shots ring out and Adam falls into a lake. He was shot by his two partners-in-crime, Hawk (Carlo Puri) and Oaks ("John Loffredo"; real name: Joshua Sinclair; THE LAST SHARK - 1981), who take Walter and Eve hostage and make them drive to Mexico while they hide out in the trailer with the money.
     They are then run off the road by a red tow truck, which then blocks the road. It's no surprise that Adam is behind the wheel, as he shoots Hawk in the chest and wings Oaks in the arm. Adam deceives his two partners and Walter by saying that he is driving his two friends to a doctor and letting Walter and Eve go free, but when he gets Hawk and Oaks in the tow truck, he drives the truck over an embankment, jumping out just before the truck bursts into flames and explodes as it barrels down a mountainside (It's quite a sight and Adam says to his partners, "Bye, faggots!"). Adam continues on his trip with the captive couple, but just who is playing who?
     Filled with eye-opening full-frontal nudity by Corrine Clery (who says in an extra on the disc that it was her favorite role of her career), such as the scene of Adam running his hands up and down Eve's naked body as she lies next to a campfire, while a tied-up Walter is forced to watch her reach a climax, something Walter was never able to let her achieve. As I said in the beginning of this review, David Hess basically reprises his Krug role in LHOTL, demeaning Eve sexually (but the more he does, the more she likes it!) and laughing maniacally like some out-of-control mental patient, which we then discover (with a conversation with Walter as he tells his life story) that is really what he is. When he was younger, he escaped from a mental institution. But the biggest surprise this film offers is the unexpected finale, where a totally naked Eve kills Adam with the same hunting rifle Walter pointed at her on the hunting trip. She ends up saving Walter's life because Adam was about to kill him. Walter begins to look at Eve differently, the way she always hoped he would, but the temptation of $2 million in cash just becomes too tempting, bringing this film to a totally unexpected, nihilistic ending (which I won't spoil for you here).
     Directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile (who was nominated for an Academy Award® in 1964 for co-writing the screenplay of THE FOUR DAYS OF NAPLES - 1962), who usually made Italian sex comedies with fantasy elements like WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS (1970) and THE SEX MACHINE (1975), which makes this film all the more shocking. While it does have plenty of nudity, the violence (which is sparse) comes quickly, without warning and is bloody. Screenwriters Campanile, Aldo Crudo (SUPER STOOGES VS. THE WONDER WOMEN - 1974) & Ottavio Jemma (who did an uncredited rewrite of Lucio Fulci's A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN - 1971) fill this film with insults and put-downs, as Adam demeans the couple, just as much verbally as he does physically. Franco Nero is very good in his role (he said he had a "blast" making this film); his icy blue eyes do just as much talking as his voice and, for once, he is not dubbed by someone else (his voice is just as distinctive as his eyes). Also above average is Ennio Morricone's effective score, which consists of a plucking banjo, acoustic guitar and other spare instruments, evocative of the beautiful Mexican scenery. But oh!, that ending. It must have had the same visceral gut-punch as DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY (1974) did back in the day.
     Barely released theatrically in the United States (as THE NAKED PREY, distributed by Hallmark Releasing), this film was shot under the title AUTOSTOP ROSSO SANGUE ("Blood Red Hitchhiking") and, as far as I can discern, this never had a legitimate VHS release in the States (The first time I viewed this film was via a copy of a Greek VHS tape that I bought at a table of a Chiller convention back in the mid-90s). This film is available on Blu-Ray from Raro Video and on DVD from Blue Underground, both uncut and in widescreen. This review is based on the DVD (released in 2010), which is basically a port of the older Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD which was released in 2002. Both contain the same spare extras, which are a theatrical trailer and a 17-minute documentary titled "The Devil Thumbs A Ride", where Franco Nero, Corrine Clery and David Hess reminisce about making this film. All in all, HITCH-HIKE is a tense thriller that could have only could have originated from the minds of those demented Italians. Also starring Leonardo Scavino, Monica Zanchi, Luigi Birri and Benito Pacifico & Angelo Ragusa as the Motorcycle Cops. Not Rated.

HOUSE OF TERROR (1972) - When an elderly couple is savagely knifed to death by some unknown person in the titular house, nurse Jennifer Andrews (Jennifer Bishop; BIGFOOT - 1970; MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH - 1976) arrives by bus several years later to take care of the suicidal Marsha (Jacquelyn Hyde; THE DARK - 1979; SUPERSTITION - 1982), wife of rich Emmett Kramer (Mitchell Gregg), in the very same house. Emmett is the son of the elderly couple that was murdered years earlier and ever since that fateful day, Marsha has gone off the deep end, trying to kill herself several times and the creepy housekeeper, Norma (Irenee Byatt), was struck dumb by the sight of the carnage and hasn't spoken a word ever since. Jennifer has some problems of her own, as her ex-con boyfriend, Mark (Arell Blanton), who was just released from prison after serving a three-year stretch for armed robbery and is the father of Jennifer's young son (who is staying with her mother while Jennifer does her nursing gig), follows her from San Francisco in hopes of rekindling their relationship. When Mark discovers that Jennifer is working for Emmett, one of the richest people in town, you can practically see dollar signs floating above his head in a circle. Jennifer is not treated very nicely in the Kramer household, as Marsha calls her a tramp and accuses her of having an affair with her husband; Norma gives her the cold shoulder; someone leaves a teddy bear with a knife in it's stomach on her bed; someone is spying on her in her bedroom through a peephole behind a painting; and Emmett slowly begins putting the moves on her. One stormy night, while Norma is masturbating in bed while holding a photo of Emmett, Jennifer wakes up when bloody water seeps from her bedroom ceiling and she discovers that Marsha has committed suicide by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. Mark comes up with a plan to make a lot of money off the suicide by proposing marriage to Jennifer, but first he must talk her into seducing and marrying Emmett (not a hard to do since Emmett has been madly in love with her since the fist day they met). Mark moves into the house and pretends to be Jennifer's brother and he now wants Jennifer to kill Emmett instead of divorcing him (He says, "Why have half when you can have it all!"). Mark also picks this time to tell Jennifer that he killed Marsha and made it look like a suicide, so in for a penny, in for a pound. Jennifer and Mark wait two years before the time is right to kill Emmett, but a monkey wrench gets thrown into their plan by the sudden appearance of Marsha's twin sister Dolores (Hyde again), a snarky actress who knows that Mark and Jennifer are up to no good (and has her own romantic eye on Emmett). Dolores tries to drive Jennifer crazy by restaging Marsha's "suicide", while Mark cuts the brake line on Emmett's car, hoping he'll die in a car accident (he doesn't, but he comes close). Mark then joins forces with Dolores and they throw both Emmett and Jennifer overboard in the middle of the ocean. Dolores inherits all of Emmett's money, but the finale finds Dolores trapped in a hot (and getting hotter) sauna with the corpse of Mark (who was stabbed in the neck with a steak knife), compliments of housekeeper Norma, who has regained her power of speech and is now laughing like an insane loon. Don't you just love happy endings?  This murder mystery/crime thriller, directed/produced by Sergei Goncharoff (his only directorial effort, although he has produced other films, such as the Robert Forster-starrer WALKING THE EDGE [1983]) and written by Tony Crechales (IMPULSE - 1974; THE GREAT SKYCOPTER RESCUE - 1980) and E.A. Charles, has a few effective scenes, but is mostly a boring talkfest. The acting is second-rate and stagey and the violence is limited to a couple of bloody stabbings and Emmett's wild ride in his brakeless car (this was rated PG when released to theaters, although the violence looks to be trimmed slightly in the stabbing scenes). There's plenty of colorful 70's fashions, hairstyles and music to keep your eyes and ears occupied (not to mention the ridiculous makeup applied to both Marsha and Norma, which makes them look more like zombies than human beings), but the story is an all-too-common tale of double and triple crosses, where no one is whom they seem to be, with a creepy (though not unexpected) final denouement. This is nothing but a typical 70's MFTV crime thriller with a little extra blood, some mild cursing and a brief bit of nudity thrown in for good measure. HOUSE OF TERROR is not terrible, just common. John "Bud" Cardos, the director of KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977), THE DAY TIME ENDED (1979) and MUTANT (1984), was Second Unit Director here. Also known as HOUSE OF BLOOD, SCREAM BLOODY MURDER and FIVE AT THE FUNERAL. Originally released on VHS by Trans World Entertainment. Not available on DVD. Rated PG.

IN THE HEAT OF PASSION (1991) - Sexy and effective thriller with many comic moments. Auto mechanic Charley Bronson (!) (Nick Corri of THE LAWLESS LAND - 1988) lands a job on one of those "reality" crime shows portraying a serial rapist loose in the area. He nearly gets killed in real life while hanging out at a local Spanish bar when the patrons mistakenly identify him as the real rapist. While working at the garage he meets the beautiful, married middle-aged Sally Kirkland (who looks great here) whose car breaks down. Charley becomes smitten with her and soon he is donning various disguises so they can engage in acts of lovemaking behind her rich husband's back. He portrays a cable installer so he can screw her in her bedroom while her husband is downstairs. Sally gives him a blowjob in the ladies room of a chic restaurant while her husband is entertaining clients outside. He watches her masturbate while impersonating a busboy at one of her husband's parties. To fulfill one of Sally's fantasies, he dresses as a rapist and attacks her in her bedroom. In the middle of the game, her husband walks in on them and a struggle ensues. Charley accidentally shoots the husband and kills him. He comes up with a plan to blame the crime on the real serial rapist. Things begin to go wrong as Charley begins to realize that there's more to Sally than meets the eye. He begins to check up one her and does not like what he finds. He has another problem: The real rapist is also after him! The biggest irony of all is that he is asked by the host of the crime show (Jack Carter) to return and portray the real serial rapist to re-enact the crime he actually committed! The film has a satisfying conclusion which will shock and surprise. Director Rodman Flender (THE UNBORN - 1991; IDLE HANDS - 1999), who also wrote and produced, turns in a winner here. He has a keen eye for details and fills the screen with eccentric characters and a good dose of humor. This is no comedy though, as the ending will tell. Sally Kirkland (PARANOIA - 1998) turns in an excellent performance and look great in and out of clothes (although some scenes may use a body double). Hot, erotic and entertaining. Available in R and Unrated versions. Go for the unrated. A Concorde Home Video Release.

ISLAND OF BLOOD (1982) - A truly terrible murder mystery where the viewer must guess the identity of the unseen killer. It was originally titled WHODUNIT? and unless you have no more than a kindergarten education, it will not take you long to unmask the psycho. The storyline revolves around a group of aspiring actors sent to the remote Creep Island to make a film. Before long they are being slaughtered in various ways, with the murderer leaving a rock music cassette playing at the murder site. The lyrics to the song match the killing method, as when one of the actors is pushed into a pool filled with boiling water, the lyrics go, "Boil me, boil me, boil me, face to face." With no way to get off the island (their boat has blown up) and no telephone, the motley group of would be actors try unsuccessfully to stay alive. One is impaled on a spear ("Spear me, spear me..."), the producer is blown up ("Burn me, burn me..."), another is killed with a nail gun ("Nail me, nail me..."), still another takes a battery acid shower ("Burn me, burn me..."), the director, Mr. Flem (!), is run through wth a machete ("Stab me, stab me...") and one actor is cut to pieces with a chainsaw ("Saw me, saw me..."). The two remaining cast members think the other is responsible and try their damnest to avoid each other before the real culprit shows his face. (Hint: "Burn me..." is the only lyric played twice.) The supposedly surprise ending isn't much of a surprise (it has to do with making snuff films). Highly derivative of Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS, the only point of seeing this film is some decent makeup effects. The acid shower and chainsaw attack are particularly meaty, but the acting and hackneyed screenplay as well as some extremely choppy editing are way below par. The only recognizable actor in this mess is Rick Dean (credited as "Dean Richards" in some of the advertising materials), who later became a contract player for Roger Corman's Concorde Films, appearing in HEROES STAND ALONE (1989), BLOODFIST 3: FORCED TO FIGHT (1991), Cirio Santiago's RAIDERS OF THE SUN (1991), CARNOSAUR 3 (1996) and, in his best role of his much too short life, as a mysterious bum in Dan Golden's underrated erotic thriller NAKED OBSESSION (1990). Director Bill Naud, who started out directing cheap 60's fare such as THUNDER IN DIXIE (1964), also made the black actioner BLACK JACK (1972) and the boxing comedy RICKY 1 (1988), an asinine ripoff of the Sylvester Stallone ROCKY series. ISLAND OF BLOOD can be summed up with the following lyrics: "Spare me, spare me...". Also starring Marie Alise, Rod Gardner, Terry Goodman, Richard Helm and Jeanine Marie. An Applause Prods. Inc. Home Video Release. Rated R.

KEMPER: THE CO-ED KILLER (2008) - Totally fictitious account of serial killer Edmund Kemper who, in the early 70's, killed a series of female student hitchhikers, then had sex with their bodies before dissecting them. (First the true part: When he was a teenager in 1964, Kemper shot and killed his grandmother because he "just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma" and then killed his grandfather because he knew Grandpa would be angry with him for what he had done. He spent the rest of the 60's in a psychiatric hospital, where it was discovered he had an IQ of 136. He was paroled in 1971 into his mother's care, against the wishes of many doctors at the hospital. Now for the false portion: This film picks-up after these events. W-a-a-a-a-y after these events. Somehow, Kemper has miraculously transported himself to 2008 and is beginning his female student killing spree...) The film begins with Detective Tom Harris (Christopher Stapleton) checking out Kemper's latest murder scene: The home of a young co-ed Kemper has killed at the kitchen table, cut off her head and placed it in the oven. Detective Harris then receives a call on his cell phone and heads to another crime scene, where someone has chopped-up a young soccer mom with an axe and left her dead body on the side of a road. Detective Harris believes there are two killers on the loose, so he shows the crime scene photos to good friend Ed Kemper (Robert Sisko), not aware that Ed is one of the killers (Ed previously helped Harris on another case that proved beneficial). Ed has a sickly, domineering mother who verbally abuses him nightly, so while he helps Harris with the soccer mom case, he makes Harris' life difficult by picking up female hitchhikers and dumping their raped, slaughtered bodies for Harris to find. When Ed finally bashes his mother's head in with a hammer and kills her, Ed finally fesses-up to Harris (by cell phone, of course) that he is a serial killer and from then on, the cat-and-mouse game is on (Harris finds Ed's mother's decapitated head in the Kemper kitchen, hanging with the pots and pans). Ed constantly taunts Harris over the phone, eventually shooting Harris' partner, Detective Ross (Sean Thomas), in the arm and getting Harris pulled from the case. Ed does something drastic to get Harris put back on the case, which leads to a final showdown between Ed and Harris in an abandoned hospital; the hospital Ed was born in. The same hospital he may die in. You know, the circle of life and all that shit.  I could almost forgive that the story was moved nearly forty years into the future, but it becomes too easy to see why director Rick Bitzelberger and screenwriter Jack Perez (writer and director of MONSTER ISLAND - 2004) did so: It not only saves on the expense of outfitting the actors in 70's period fashions, automobiles and set direction, it also affords that most of the screen time is spent with the actors talking on cell phones. If I had to hazard a guess, I would estimate that 70% of screen time revolves around Ed and Harris talking to each other on their cell phones. The other 30% is either Harris talking on the phone to other people or him at various Kemper crime scenes looking at his handiwork. There is some blood and gore on view here (slit throats and decapitated heads are the specialties), but most of it is after the deed has been done. The acting never rises above the level of a bad TV movie, the worst being Christopher Stapleton as Detective Harris, who sounds like he's channeling his inner Clint Eastwood (all he does is talk in a low, whispering monotone). As far as serial killer films go, KEMPER: THE CO-ED KILLER is minor league stuff. It's not as bad as the recent Ulli Lommel serial killer crap, but not as professional-looking as the recent Michael Feifer stuff. As a straight-ahead thriller, it is just simply awful and contains some of the worst police procedurals I've ever seen in a movie. Any episode of CSI (take your choice of Las Vegas, Miami or New York) contains more depth, gore and excitement. Stay away from this one. Also starring Robin DeMarco, Kate Danson, Ken Weiss, Patricia Place, Samantha Colburn, Andy E. Horne, Stephanie Skewers, Zoe Canner and Nancy Harding. A Lightning Entertainment DVD Release. Rated R.

THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (1973) - Giorgio Mainardi (George Hilton) and his rich bitch wife, Norma (Teresa Velasquez), are having marriage problems. Norma has cut his bank account off, so Giorgio storms out of the house. He stops at a phone booth to call his mistress when he spots a killer (the skull-faced Michel Antoine) disposing a dead female body in a river (we earlier see the killer load the dead woman's body into a VW Beetle and he cops a feel after positioning her in the passenger seat!). Giorgio blackmails the killer into murdering his wife and making it look like a kidnapping (he takes the killer's monogrammed lighter and will only give it back to him once the deed is done) and Giorgio plans on getting a big ransom payday from Norma's wealthy father. Being a psychopath, the killer (we never learn his name, but his lighter has the initials "D.A." on it, certainly a tip-of-the-hat to giallo master Dario Argento) strangles Norma and puts her corpse in the trunk of his car, while Giorgio is at a party building an alibi. Complications ensue when a young couple, Luca (Alessio Orano) and Laura (Cristina Galbo), steal the killer's car and take it for a joyride, unaware that there's a dead body in the trunk. The killer steals one of Norma's neighbor's cars and goes hunting for the couple and his car. Meanwhile, when Giorgio gets home, he finds the police waiting for him. The police inspector (Eduardo Fajardo) is suspicious of the whole crime, which makes Giorgio nervous. The biggest question is why the kidnapper would steal a neighbor's car when neighbors saw the kidnapper's car parked in front of Giorgio's house (It's also a question that Giorgio can't answer since he's unaware of the complications the killer is going through). Luca and Laura have a few close calls (including being stopped by a cop who comes very close to looking in the trunk) while the killer stays one step behind them cleaning up their messes (He pays off a gas station attendant when the couple skips out on paying for a fill-up). Giorgio sweats it out back at his house, while the police inspector begins piecing the puzzle together. When Luca and Laura spend a night at a deserted seaside villa, Luca takes the car to get some food and the killer enters the villa and rapes Laura. When Luca returns (with a new female friend), Laura breaks free and stabs the killer to death. After the police inspector questions Luca and Laura, he lays a trap which he hopes will bring Giorgio's true colors to the forefront. Giorgio falls for it and ends up being charged with much more than his role in his wife's murder. He should have gotten rid of that damned lighter.  This Italian/French co-production, directed and co-scripted by Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH - 1979; CONTAMINATION - 1980; THE BLACK CAT - 1989) and produced by Umberto Lenzi (ALMOST HUMAN - 1974), is a decent thriller, even though there isn't anyone here who can remotely be considered likable. We all know from the beginning that Giorgio and the killer are bad men, but Luca and Laura fail to build much sympathy, especially when we find out that Luca stole the car just to get into Laura's pants and that Laura (who may be a virgin) uses that knowledge to cocktease Luca into doing her bidding. Toss in robbing a gas station attendant and Luca hitting on a blonde (Femi Benussi) he picks up on the side of the road when he's running an errand for the blueball-inducing Laura, and these two kids look no better than Giorgio or the killer. When the killer rapes Laura, it's intercut with scenes of Luca screwing the blonde in the back seat of the killer's car. It's a powerful and ironic scene, but it would have been much more powerful if the kids were at least likable. As it stands, THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN is a sleazy, but not very bloody or violent thriller (there's only one very bloody murder and a face slashing that happens near the end of the film) that holds your attention thanks to some tense situations. Although categorized as a giallo by many reviewers, this film doesn't contain the elements usually found in most giallo films (i.e. mysterious gloved killer; POV shots; lots of bloody killings), though director Cozzi bathes a lot of scenes in yellow. Try to count how many yellow objects you observe in this to see what I mean. If it were a drinking game, everyone would be drunk after the first twenty minutes. The skeletal Michel Antoine makes an imposing, scary killer, but I just wish there were some people here we could actually care about. Filmed as IL RAGNO ("The Spider) and also known as THE DARK IS DEATH'S FRIEND and THE KILLER MUST STRIKE AGAIN. Made in 1973, but not released until 1975. Also starring Dario Griachi, Luigi Antonio Guerra and Carla Mancini. Available on DVD from Mondo Macabro. Not Rated.

THE KILLER RESERVED NINE SEATS (1974) - Ten people arrive at a deserted theater, owned by Patrick Davenant's (Chris Avram; A BAY OF BLOOD - 1971) family, for Patrick's birthday party and someone is knocking them off one-by-one. All the people gathered here have secrets they would kill to keep. Kim (Janet Agren), who is married to rich businessman Russell (Howard Ross), is having an affair with playboy Duncan Foster (Gaetano Russo). Duncan, in turn, is dating Patrick's sister, Lynn (Paola Senatore). Patrick's wife, Rebecca (Eva Czemerys), is having a lesbian affair with Doris (Lucretia Love; THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW - 1974). Vivian (Rosanna Schiaffino) is having an affair with Russell. Albert (Andrea Scotti) owes Patrick a huge sum of money which he has no intentions of paying back. And a mystery man in a nehru jacket (Eduardo Filipone) shows up at various times to talk in riddles. Someone tries to drop a heavy wooden beam on Patrick, but misses, which causes a lot of finger-pointing amongst the partygoers. Things turn worse when Kim is stabbed in the back and killed while performing Shakespeare on stage. The group decide to call the police and then leave, but find the phone line dead and all the doors and windows locked, with no avenue of escape. After pointing fingers at each other once again, the group then realizes that no one there knows who the mystery man is, so they all search for him. Patrick relates a story to Vivian about how a similar incident happened at this theater 100 years earlier (to the day) and everyone inside was murdered. Is it possible that his family is cursed? Doris is the next one killed when the masked killer crushes her sternum with a heavy sliding wooden door. The killer next tries to dispose of Vivian (with a cigarette to her face), but Russell intervenes and they later find him hanging from a rope by his neck. Patrick finds an old family parchment and the drawings on it seem to fortell the order and modes of the deaths. Rebecca is next to die when the killer strips her naked, stabs her repeatedly in the vagina with a switchblade and hammers spikes into her hands, crucifying her. As more people end up dead, we discover who the killer(s) really is (are), but a surprise finale shows the killer(s) may indeed have a family curse of their head(s), and that curse takes an incestuous turn in the crypt in the canvernous dungeon of the theater.  Strikingly similar in tone to Peter Walker's THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW (1972) and Michele Soavi's STAGE FRIGHT (1986), this Italian giallo, directed and co-scripted by Giuseppe Bennati, is less bloody than either of those films, but packed with nudity, infidelity (it's hard to keep up with who's screwing who) and a pretty decent mystery. Although some of the dialogue is risable (One of the guests says, "It looks like Dracula's summer home!" when they first step into the theater), the plot is actually very well done and involving. Although talky at times, this film depends on those talky sections to supply the viewer with clues, so listen carefully. While most of the murders are bloodless, there are scenes that are hard to watch, mainly for what's implied rather than what is shown. Rebecca's vaginal penetration by switchblade is never shown, but the killer is shown stripping Rebecca and cutting off her panties with the knife just before he does the deed, leaving little doubt about what he's doing, as we watch him thrust the knife and the camera pans to Rebecca's anguished, pain-filled face. It's the film's standout sequence. Director Bennati (this was his last film; he passed away in 2006) gives us all the giallo staples: A masked and gloved killer, plenty of deaths, an inescapable location and a slowly-unravelling mystery, all served up in a highly-watchable package. Also starring Antonio Guerra. THE KILLER RESERVED NINE SEATS was never legally available in the U.S. on home video. The print I viewed came from a Greek-subtitled VHS tape. Not Rated.

KRUEL (2014) - Clown horror movies are all the rage, but this one tries to be different because the clown angle is but a small part of the whole story and it's not really a horror film. Different doesn't always translate as being good, though. Ben Hood (Dakota Morrissiey) and Jo O'Hare (Kierney Nelson) are kissing in a car when Jo notices something is wrong with Ben. Ben fesses-up and tells Jo that he cheated on her when she was in college, so Jo breaks up immediately with him and won't answer his many phone calls or answer his text messages. Jo's mother Jill (Elizabeth Brewster) and father Dan (Adam Vernier) are more upset with her for coming home at 3:00AM then having her heart broken, but Daddy is a tad more understanding. Jo has been having a really hard time in her life lately: She blew out a knee and lost her track scholarship to college and has to pay to go back on her own (if she wants to go back). Now Mom has forbade her from leaving the house (A grown woman grounded to the house? Hey, Mom: Fuck you! I'm an adult.); she is only allowed to leave when she babysits for young boys Brandon (Cooper Henderson) and Elliott Walters (Matthew Weidle) to make enough money to (maybe) go back to college. While she is babysitting (apparently they like to be called "nannies" now) and on the phone talking to a girlfriend, the ice cream truck comes up the street and she gives the kids money to go get their favorite ice cream. Elliott comes running back all ashen-faced with the money still in his hand, but he refuses to talk about what happened. Matthew has no idea, so Jo goes outside to talk to the ice cream man. She is in for quite the surprise when she sees Willie (J.T. Chinn) is a freakish-looking clown (he has ice cream cones painted over his eye areas). He also won't talk about what happened, but instead puts on a puppet show (!) saying how cute Jo is, which freaks her out. The following day, Ben shows up in the Walters' front yard while Jo is playing with the kids and apologizes once again for cheating on her. This is his only way to talk to her since she won't talk to him on the phone or answer his text messages (Kids today and their text messaging!). While they are arguing, Elliott ends up missing, which results in a massive police search complete with helicopters. When the police come up empty-handed, detectives interrogate Jo and infer that she may be involved in the kidnapping. Yes, Jo is having a very bad time in her life right now (To add insult to injury, Elliott's mother [Colleen Yorke] slaps her in the face). Ben feels partly responsible because he was keeping Jo too busy to keep proper eyes on the children (he is). When Ben tells Jo about a crazy man he saw fishing without a worm or even a hook, she thinks back to Elliott and the thing that happened between him and Willie and becomes convinced that the clown pervert is responsible. Ben calls Jo and says he found the ice cream man, so she jumps into Ben's Jeep and they follow him, but Ben is a prick and drives right next to the ice cream truck (even though Jo begs him not to) and Willie sticks his tongue out at them. Jo tells her story to the police, but they believe Elliott is dead from drowning in an unfortunate accident (a pile of the clothes he was wearing were next to the local lake) and discard Jo's accusations. Ben has discovered where Willie lives and plans on breaking into his house that night (Willie is a security guard at night) to find evidence that Willie is a pedophile. Ben and Jo go inside his house (his front door isn't even locked, which threw up a red flag to me) and find walls full of freaky photos (believe me, they are weird!) and lots of toys from the 1940's & 1950's sitting on shelves. They start turning on by themselves (like some burglar alarm, but much creepier), forcing Ben and Jo to leave the house. As they are leaving, a figure approaches Ben's car and breaks his driver side window. The next morning, Jo goes jogging (What happened to Mom grounding her?) and Willie unsuccessfully tries to kill her with a knife. Jo goes to the police, who say that Willie has disappeared and Ben is now packing heat. Jo and Ben are now a couple again and Willie breaks into her house, but it all turns out to be a nightmare by Jo (the image of Jo and Willie on opposite sides of a door in the ad materials is taken from that nightmare sequence). Jo takes a shower (she has nice perky breasts; wait I can do a puppet show explaining it!) and then cries about how her life turned out, but Daddy makes her feel better about herself. She jumps into Ben's distinctive yellow Jeep to find him dead and Willie appears behind her and chloroforms her until she in knocked-out. She wakes up and finds herself tied to some bathroom in a seasonal motel in the woods (and this is out-of-season). A still-alive Elliott is there, too, in another room. They are in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp (filmed in Jacksonville & Orlando, Florida). Jo breaks free and hides in the swamp (She text messages Daddy, but the cell phone goes dead), but a bullhorn-talking, ATV-riding Willie makes her give herself up when he says he will kill Elliott. He shoots Jo with a tranquilizer dart and when she wakes up, Jo is tied to the floor where many lit candles surround her and has had most of her body painted. Willie wants him, Jo and Elliott to be a family. Dad has the Sheriff (Tom Riska) call the telephone company and triangulate the last message Jo sent to him before her phone died (She only has one of those phones that sends text messages, but doesn't make phone calls and Dad was about to give her a real cell phone today [Never heard of such a thing. How can it be a phone and not make phone calls?]). Dad gets the information and drives out to the area, where he knocks on Willie's door and he answers (no one knows what Willie looks like without his clown makeup). Willie tells Dad that he hasn't seen his daughter, even though she is behind the door with a knife to her throat. When Dad notices Ben's yellow Jeep behind the motel, he calls the Sheriff and breaks down the front door of Willie's room with an axe, but Willie makes him drop it when he has a butcher knife to Jo's throat. He slices Jo's throat anyway (Clowns are funny that way) and we see Dad and Willie fight as shadows on the wall (the only real creativity in the film), so we are not sure who has won the fight. Turns out that Dad was the winner and he tries to stem the bleeding from Jo's throat. Jo wakes up in the hospital and can't talk, so she writes down how her father and Elliott are. Her mother says they are fine. Jo then writes, "Willie?" and Mom tells her not to worry about it. His body was never found, so Jo and her family move to a different State. Jo then does a final voice-over as a dedication to the dead Ben, which would give diabetes to a thin man who has eaten properly all his life.  This is the freshman effort by director/screenwriter/co-producer Robert Henderson (it seems a lot of Henderson family members worked both in front and behind the cameras) and this film's really major distraction is the simply awful acting ability of Dakota Morrissiey as Ben. He shows about as much emotion as a rock (I think quartz has him beat) and talks in annoying monotone, even when he is in danger. The film suffers greatly every time he is on screen, so it was actually a relief when Jo found him dead. Too bad it comes during the film's final 20 minutes. Most of the other actors are below average, but when compared to Morrissiey's acting, they all look like Laurence Olivier. Since this is a psychological thriller and not a horror film, there's not much blood until the final third and Kierney Nelson has a nice rack, but her nude scene is much too quick. The only real plus in this film is J.T. Chinn as Willie Kool (yes, that is the last name they gave him according to the final credits). He brings the right amount of menace and creepiness to his role, although the clown angle takes up precious little time. If all the actors were this good, I would recommend this film, but this is a really long 104 minutes due to the bad and over-acting. This film tries to show us what it takes to be a family, warts and all but, unfortunately, the cast of unknown actors are not up to the task and makes Jo's family unit seem shrill and unrealistic (What mother grounds her college daughter?). Since this is Robert Henderson's first film, I'm willing to cut him some slack (all the technical aspects are fine) and if he had a cast of talented character actors, the film would have been much, much better. I'll give Henderson a pass this time, but his second film better wow me. Also starring Ansley Gordon, Keegan Henderson, Ericka Winterrowd, Nicholas Williamson, Matthew Weidle, Tom Siedle and Rita Manyette. A Midnight Releasing DVD Release. Not Rated, but there's nothing here that goes beyond an R-Rating. NOTE: Believe it or not, I was channel surfing when I saw this movie was being shown on the Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) under the title CRUEL!

LIES (1983) - In this twisty thriller, it's hard to keep up with who's telling the truth and who is a big fat liar. The film opens with Stuart Russell (Bruce Davison; WILLARD - 1971) coming home one night, only to discover that two robbers are invading his family's gated mansion. After grabbing a shotgun, Stuart runs upstairs to discover that his mother and father are already dead and the robbers are about to rape and kill his sister Elizabeth (Julie Philips). Stuart blasts the two robbers with the shotgun and saves Elizabeth, but she ends up a babbling basket case who is committed to an asylum. Four years pass and we are introduced to struggling actress Robyn Wallace (Ann Dusenberry; CUTTER AND BONE - 1981). She has just walked off the set of a low-budget zombie film after the director tries to trick her into doing a nude scene, which is against her principles (The film's producer, Harry [genre vet Dick Miller], tells her, "Tits sell tickets!" to which Robyn replies, "Not these tits!"). Broke and unable to pay her rent, not to mention being fired from her agent Murray (Bert Remsen; EYE OF THE TIGER - 1986) and getting blacklisted from films thanks to her "no nudity" policy, Robyn answers a newspaper casting call looking for a "blonde femme" and is instantly hired by casting agent Jessica Brenner (Gail Strickland) to star as Elizabeth in a film version of the Russell Family tragedy. After telling Robyn that Elizabeth committed suicide a year earlier by slitting her throat with scissors and asking Robyn a few suspicious questions, like "How's your relationship with your family?" (it's not good), Jessica tells Robyn that the rehearsals are going to be unusual (that's an understatement) and that she must sequester herself away from all outside contact to get "inside" Elizabeth's head. What follows next is a plot that contains so many twists and turns, you will need a scorecard to keep track. After meeting Elizabeth's psychiatrist, Dr. Bartlett (Clu Gulager; RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD - 1985), and doing some filmed rehearsals in character as Elizabeth in the asylum, Robyn is told by Jessica that financing for the film has fallen through and the movie will not be made. Robyn then meets Stuart, who tells her that Elizabeth is still alive and that Jessica is not a casting agent at all, but actually a psychiatrist at Elizabeth's mental hospital! Jessica is working in concert with Stuart's evil Uncle Charles (Stacy Keach Sr.) and they plan on using Robyn's rehearsal footage to convince lawyers that Elizabeth is not sane enough to claim her inheritance. Stuart convinces Robyn to impersonate Elizabeth in real life to get even with his Uncle Charles, but it turns out that Stuart and Jessica are actually working in tandem, as the real Elizabeth is then murdered and it is made to look like suicide. Robyn is then committed to the same asylum where Elizabeth has spent the last four years and is constantly kept in a doped-up state to stop her from revealing what actually happened. That's just the beginning, though, as this film displays so much pretzel logic, Hitchcock and Argento would be proud (Hint: Elizabeth was Stuart's wife, not his sister).  As directed/produced/scripted by brothers Ken & Jim Wheat (who directed/scripted the TV movie EWOKS: THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR [1985] and the horror anthology AFTER MIDNIGHT [1989], as well as writing the screenplays for such diverse films as THE RETURN [1980], THE FLY II [1989] and PITCH BLACK [2000]), LIES is an excellent thriller that keeps you guessing right up to the final shot. The subplot involving Robyn's on-again, off-again scriptwriter boyfriend Eric's (Terrence Knox; CHILDREN OF THE CORN II: THE FINAL SACRIFICE - 1993) search for her when she ends up missing doesn't come across as forced or phony, but as something that could actually play out in real life. There are so many double and triple-crosses (and beyond) that the viewer really has to pay attention to keep up. Bert Remsen, as Harry, delivers the best line in the film. After he and Eric visit Robyn in the mental hospital, where Jessica shows them Robyn's rehearsal footage and expects them to believe it is real, Harry later confesses to Eric that he knew Robyn was only acting, but amusingly tells Eric, "Any actress that can deliver a performance like we saw on that videotape can make her agent a bundle!" Great stuff. While it's apparent that the Wheats were working with a small budget, everyone turns in terrific performances, especially Dusenberry (who has a topless shower scene, proving she's nothing like the character she's portraying) and there's a surprisingly suspenseful elevator sequence that rivals any giallo film you may have seen. I really don't know why this film isn't more popular, because it's one of the best American thrillers of the early 80's. See it if you ever get the chance to get your hands on a copy. Also starring Douglas Leonard, Patience Cleveland and Ann Gibbs. Released on VHS by Key Video. This screams out for a DVD release! Rated R.

LITTLE LAURA & BIG JOHN (1972) - Regional (filmed in Florida) low-budget reality-based crime thriller based of the exploits of the John Ashley Gang (no, not the late actor/producer!), who robbed banks and murdered innocent people in 1920's Florida during Prohibition. The movie is told through the eyes of Laura's (Karen Black; THE PYX - 1973) mother (Ivy Thayer, who speaks directly to the camera), as she recounts the trials and tribulations her daughter went through being the partner and lover of John Ashley (singer/actor Fabian Forte; REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIE - 1981). We know, from the opening offscreen narration and stock footage of 20's & 30's gangster films, that John Ashley died at the age of 32, but what became of Laura? Her mother tells her daughter's story, beginning with Laura's childhood, when little Laura (Evie Karafotias) and best friend little John Ashley (Cliff Frates) use to pretend to be king and queen to try and forget their dirt-poor upbringing in the swamps of Florida. As a matter of fact, they made a game out of everything, right up till the end. When John is sought by the police for the murder of a Seminole Indian (it was actually an accident), he and Laura hide out in a tent in the Everglades, helped by John's brother, Bob (Jerry Albert). John eventually turns himself in to Sheriff Bob Baker (the late Paul Gleason: HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE - 1980) at Bob's urging, thinking that the case will be thrown out of court for lack of evidence (the Indian's body was mostly devoured by alligators), but when it looks like things aren't going John's way and he might be spending a lot of time in jail before a trial even starts, John breaks out of jail with Bob's help and a $100 reward is posted for his capture. John forms a gang with Laura, Bob, Ray (Ben Rossi) and Clarence (Lee Warren) and they rob a bank in the town of Stuart, netting themselves $5,000, but during the getaway Ray accidentally shoots John in the right eye. John is recaptured and put back in jail (He now sports a black eyepatch, which magically switches from his right eye to his left eye and back again in one scene!). Bob once again tries to break John out of jail, but fails and Bob dies in a hail of bullets (and killing a couple of deputies in the process). John is convicted of bank robbery and is sentenced to eighteen years hard labor at the notorious Raiford State Penitentiary, but he easily escapes (It's hilarious how easy it was!) and there is now a $500 reward for his capture. John and Laura hide out in New York City and begin to get homesick, so they begin robbing barber shops, bars and diners from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. to finance their trip back to Florida. John gets his old gang back together, with the new addition of Hanford (Kenny Miller: BLOOD STALKERS - 1975) and try their hands at rum running using a boat along the Florida coastline. That doesn't work out too well for them (they are the most inept crooks I have ever seen), so they decide to rob banks again, this time the Bank of Pompano. When John's Pa (Phil Philbin) is killed by the law for protecting his son, John and his gang step-up their robbing spree and John now has a $1,000 reward for his capture, dead or alive. John and his gang are gunned-down in an ambush set up by Sheriff Baker, leaving Laura without a man for the first time in her life, turning her into a hopeless alcoholic. Let that be a lesson to you kids!  This is a ridiculously disjointed and badly edited crime film, co-directed and co written by Luke Moberly and Bob Woodburn who, thankfully, separately or collectively, never made another film. LITTLE LAURA & BIG JOHN just seems to meander along at a much too leisurely pace, with some of the worst-staged action sequences and headache-inducing, ear-bleeding original songs I have ever had the displeasure to see and hear (Wait until you hear the song about Raiford Prison. I felt like shooting myself in the eye before realizing that I was born with only one good eye!). Both Fabian Forte and Karen Black are terrible here, even if they really don't have much to do. For an R-Rated crime thriller, there's very little bloody violence and precious little nudity, except for a nude girl on the beach named Jacksonville (Terri Juston), who also gets her own embarassing song and is chased around by Kenny Miller (who looks like he would be more comfortable in the arms of a naked John). This is simply a horrible low-budget period film without much to recommend except that it is based on reality. Released theatrically by Crown International Pictures and originally available on VHS by VCI Home Video and then on many budget VHS labels. The defunct BCI Eclipse released this film as part of a double feature on DVD with VAN NUYS BLVD. (1979) as part of their "Starlight Drive-In Theater" line, which is long OOP. Rhino Home Video also released the film on DVD, as did Mill Creek, as part of their SAVAGE CINEMA 12-MOVIE COLLECTION. They are all fullscreen presentations. Rated R.

LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (1971) - Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan; LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH - 1978) has a recurring nightmare that begins with her running down the aisle of a passenger train trying to open the compartments, but being ignored by the people inside, like she is invisible. The aisle then transforms into the corridor of an apartment complex, full of naked writhing bodies that Carol must run through. At the end of the corridor is a big red bed, and waiting on that bed is a naked Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg; WHO SAW HER DIE? - 1972), a neighbor of Carol's. The nightmare finishes with Julia and Carol engaging in some lesbian sex (Hey, are we sure this is a nightmare? More like a wet dream if you ask me!). Carol's psychiatrist, Dr. Kerr (George Rigaud), tells Carol that what she is dreaming is probably her innermost desires manifesting themselves. Carol is an uptight, "proper" woman, whose dry, boring dinner parties are ruined by Julia's loud, music- filled sex parties in her apartment next door, but we get the feeling that Carol would much rather be over at Julia's place than having a stuffy dinner with her lawyer husband, Frank (Jean Sorel; MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD - 1973), and father, Edmond (Leo Genn). Carol's dreams get more bizarre and violent (such as being chased by a giant swan, watching a woman bleed to death while holding her exposed innards and seeing Julia slashed to death in her bed), so when Julia is actually discovered murdered in her bed, Carol begins to question her sanity. Police Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker; INNOCENT BYSTANDERS - 1972) and Sgt. Brandon (Alberto De Mendoza; HUMAN COBRAS - 1971) are brought in to investigate Julia's death and they eventually question Carol (who believes she killed Julia with her one-of-a-kind letter opener). Frank (who is having an affair with a yet-unknown woman) becomes worried that someone is trying to set-up Carol by using her dreams as a blueprint for murder, so he goes to Edmond (who owns the high-priced law firm that Frank works for) to gain access to Inspector Corvin's files, especially when he notices Carol's fur coat and letter opener at the crime scene. As we will soon find out, the symbolisms and people in Carol's dreams will be key in unlocking the murder mystery. The audio tapes of her sessions with Dr. Kerr hold the clues to the murders. As more people within Carol's circle end up dead and Carol herself is viciously stabbed by a red-headed man, Inspector Corvin will get involved in a blackmail plot, a hunchback and various other undesirables before unmasking the real killer, who may or may not be suffering from a case of schizophrenia.  This excellent giallo, the first one to be directed and scripted by genre master Lucio Fulci (DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING - 1972; ZOMBIE - 1979; MURDER ROCK-DANCING DEATH - 1984; A CAT IN THE BRAIN - 1990), contains many striking and unsettling scenes, as well as some very unusual characters. The strangest character of all is Stanley Baker's Inspector Corvin, who has a bad habit of whistling at the most inopportune times, like when questioning suspects or standing over the bodies of murder victims. It's quite disorienting for the audience. Above all, this is a film about secrets. It seems everyone here is harboring at least one (Frank and his mistress; Carol's past; Edmond's suspicions about Frank; etc.), that it's quite possible that anyone here could be the killer. There are also some truly disturbing images on view, including the shocking view of three live dogs splayed open in a lab, their beating hearts exposed while they wimper in pain. It not only takes the viewer by surprise, it also leaves a lasting impression in your mind that won't likely leave for quite some time. While bloody and violent in spots, LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (what a great title!) is also one of Lucio Fulci's most cerebral films and will take a lot of fans of his later gore films by surprise. This is a lyrical, haunting film (scored by Ennio Morricone) that offers a lot of brain, as well as eye, candy. Some of the images and camera set-ups are so beautifully done (especially the large shadow of the swan chasing Carol), that they could be paintings and the plot moves at a brisk pace without seeming far-fetched. This is one of the best early 70's giallo films (released theatrically in the U.S. by American International Pictures in edited form inder the title SCHIZOID, which gives away the entire final act!) that is must-viewing for fans of the genre. Also starring Edy Gall, Sylvia Monti, Penny Brown, Mike Kennedy and Ezio Marano. Available on DVD in a beautiful uncut widescreen print from Media Blasters/Shriek Show. Not Rated.

MACABRE (1980) - This first official directorial film by Lamberto Bava is a strangely fascinating and perverse look at obsessive love that is almost ruined by an unbelievable last shot, which immediately takes you out of the film, but since it is the last shot, you can forget about it and enjoy what came before it. Maybe enjoy is not the right word, but there's no denying that it is perverse.
     Refined New Orleans belle Jane Baker (Bernice Stegers; XTRO - 1982) is cheating on her husband Leslie (Fernando Pannullo) with handsome gentleman Fred Kellerman (Roberto Posse; THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR - 1975). June cheats so much that she and Fred have rented an apartment in a creepy mansion-turned-boardinghouse, run by the blind Robert Duval (Stanko Molnar; Bava's A BLADE IN THE DARK - 1983), who spends his free time repairing woodwind instruments and is secretly in love with Jane. He can hear her moaning when she makes love to Fred (Fact: Blind people have exceptional hearing), wishing it were he instead of Fred.
     Jane's young daughter Lucy (Veronica Zinny) is sick and tired of her mother leaving her alone to baby-sit for her younger brother every time Mom's away screwing her boyfriend (Dad's always away on business). One day, when Lucy calls her mother at the apartment to come home and spend time with her children and she doesn't answer (Mom wants nothing to interfere with her time with Fred, as waiting for him is just as important to her as screwing him!), she decides to teach Mom a deadly lesson for being away so often. She drowns her brother in the bathtub (!) and then phones her, saying her son has been in a bad accident. Jane leaves the mansion a nervous wreck, so Fred insists on driving her home in her car. Jane is such a wreck that Fred can't keep his eyes on the road, resulting in a deadly car accident, where the car hits a guardrail and it takes Fred's head clean off his shoulders!
     A year passes and Jane is released from the psychiatric hospital she was committed to, put there due to the grief she suffered from losing her son and Fred (but mainly Fred). Leslie divorced Jane during her time in the hospital and received custody of daughter Lucy, but Jane isn't too worried about that. Why? Well, the first thing Jane does when she gets out of the hospital is to go to the mansion and rent the same room she shared with Fred. Robert is still there and he is happy to accommodate Jane, following her previous written instructions to make the apartment look exactly like it was before the car accident, but with one caveat. She asked that a padlock be put on the freezer in the refrigerator and she is to have the only key. Robert was more than happy to oblige, only thinking this will be the time when he can have Jane to himself, but he is in for a rude awakening. When Jane first enters the apartment, a rush of nostalgia rushes over her. She puts a homemade shrine she has created for Fred (with locks of his hair, a champagne cork, his Visa card and even used cigarette butts!) on a dresser facing the bed (so she can look at it when she lays down) and when she sees that her robe falls down by itself off a hook, she thinks Robert is in the room and starts calling out his name. Robert hears Jane moaning and thinks (like we do) that she is masturbating, but as we will discover later in the film, it is something much more disgusting and perverted (it is also strange that Jane doesn't have one photo of her dead son in the entire apartment).
     Robert realizes that he needs a shave, shower and a change of clothes, so he cleans himself up, puts on his best suit and cooks dinner (It's not easy for a blind man to do these things, as we see during a brief montage sequence). He then makes the trek upstairs, knocks on Jane's door and invites her to have dinner with him (she answers the door with her nightgown open, exposing her breasts, but she still covers up, knowing full well that Robert is blind), but she says she can't come because she has a previous appointment and asks for a rain check, yet Robert notices that she doesn't leave her apartment the entire night. What is going on?
     The next day, Leslie comes to the mansion so that Jane can see Lucy, but when she hugs Mom and won't let go, we can see a look of panic and disgust on Jane's face. It is also obvious that Lucy is a very sick and twisted little girl who has plans for Mom. Long story short, things come to a head (so to speak) when Robert picks the padlock on the freezer and feels something in there that he thought he would never touch. (If anyone has ever rented or purchased Vestron Video's slightly edited version of this film on VHS, titled FROZEN TERROR, they will know what that object is, as the box art gives the surprise away!). For those of you that don't know what it is or have lived in a cave for all your lives and want to be surprised: Warning: MAJOR SPOILER!!! The object in the freezer is Fred's decapitated head, which Jane pulls out every so often to make sweet love to! END OF SPOILER!!!
     Robert is so upset on what he has discovered that he slips a note to Lucy to give to her father, telling him to call Robert immediately. Leslie calls Robert and he tells him what he found, only Leslie doesn't want to hear it, telling Robert he erased Jane from his life since the day he discovered her cheating on him, which he thinks is the cause of his son's death. As a matter of fact, if it weren't for the court appointed visits she has with Lucy, he would rather not see her at all ("As far as I'm concerned, she's dead!"). Leslie ends the phone call by telling Robert to get his head examined because his love for Jane is fucking with his mind. What Leslie and Robert don't realize is that Lucy overheard the entire conversation and it gives her an idea on how to get the ultimate revenge on her mother.
     Lucy sneaks into Jane's apartment (after accusing Robert of being in love with her mother and stealing her away from her own daughter), finds the key to the padlock, unlocks the freezer door and sees the object for herself. Later on that day, Lucy tells Robert and Jane that she wants to cook dinner for them, which she does. The first course is vegetable stew, only Robert won't eat it because it smells funny (Fact: Blind people have a keener sense of smell than most seeing people). Jane is happy to dig in, though, but when she takes the first spoonful and puts it in her mouth, she immediately tastes something strange. It's Fred's earring, still attached to his earlobe! Jane gets ill and runs to the bathroom, Lucy following close behind. Lucy tells her mother that she killed her brother ("You don't know how hard it was for me to hold him underwater, with all that kicking!"). Jane goes psycho and kills Lucy by strangling her with her bare hands and then putting her body in the bathtub, which she fills up with water, holding her body underwater until it can't float. Robert goes upstairs to find out what is happening, only to have Jane push him down a flight of stairs, knocking him out. Jane then locks all the doors in the mansion so no one can leave or get in. Jane then pulls the object out of the freezer, puts it on a pillow on her bed and begins to French kiss it! (Raising the hairs on the backs of the necks of everyone watching it) while moaning loudly. Robert wakes up and Jane grabs a knife and tries to kill him, only to have Robert kill her by shoving her face in a working portable electric oven, burning her face beyond recognition. Robert then hears something coming from Jane's bedroom and goes to investigate, climbing on Jane's bed. Suddenly, the object comes flying through the air, biting him on the neck! The nonsense end scrawl says that doctors couldn't find a reason for Robert's death and it remains a mystery up to this day.
     Besides the ridiculous ending (which Lamberto Bava says was tacked-on without his permission), this is a fairly engrossing psychological thriller with precious little blood or gore (we don't even see Fred lose his head, just a bloody guardrail on top of the steering wheel). But this film doesn't need it, as the psychological mystery elements sustain the film until the insulting "surprise" finale. The English dubbers also had a field day with their over-exaggerated Southern accents, but Veronica Zinny is absolutely creepy as the evil Lucy, even with her accent. So creepy and evil, you'll want to kill her yourselves, especially when she explains to Jane how she killed her brother. I consider this Lamberto Bava's most polished and professional film. Even though it's his first film as a credited director, I find most of his later films, such as DEVIL FISH (1984), YOU'LL DIE AT MIDNIGHT (1986), DELIRIUM: PHOTO OF GIOIA (1987), BODY PUZZLE (1992) and, yes, even DEMONS (1985) and its sequel (1986), to be lesser films than this, not because they were gorier, but because the stories seemed incomplete, a case of flash and style over content. As I have stated in several of my other Lamberto Bava reviews, I believe he regressed as a director as his career progressed, for one simple reason, the stories never delivered, in both content and characters. The screenplay for this film, written by Bava, Pupi Avati (director/writer of BALSAMUS: MAN OF SATAN - 1970 and ZEDER: REVENGE OF THE DEAD - 1983), his brother Antonio Avati (a co-writer/producer of many of his brother's films) and Roberto Gandus (NO WAY OUT - 1973; MADHOUSE - 1981), doesn't have that problem, as the main characters are well-written and we get involved in them, except for that insane, unbelievable ending.  I know others are going to disagree with me, but I think this is Lamberto Bava's best film, just like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) was Tobe Hooper's best film. Sometimes the first film in a director's career turns out to be their best.
     Shot as MACABRO (a literal translation of the review title), this film received a limited theatrical release in the United States courtesy of Edward L. Montoro's Film Ventures International and, as I have mentioned previously, received an edited fullscreen VHS release from Vestron Video under the title FROZEN TERROR.  This was released on VHS & DVD, unedited and in its OAR, early in the New Millennium, by Anchor Bay Entertainment, who also released it as part of a double feature DVD, with Bava's A BLADE IN THE DARK (1983). Blue Underground then released it on DVD & Blu-Ray and also released it as part of a triple feature DVD, with BLADE and father Mario Bava's SHOCK (1977), so this film is not very hard to find if you wish to view it. Also starring Ferdinando Orlandi (Pupi Avati's THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS - 1976) and Elisa Kadigia Bove. Not Rated, but nothing to lose your head over (sorry!).

MAD DOG (1977) - This is a pretty poor example of "poliziotteschi" or what we call the Italian Police Thriller. It starts out well enough, but too many coincidences and gaping plot holes do this film in, even though it has a great cast of pros. Nanni Vitali (Helmut Berger; DORIAN GRAY - 1970) and three inmates pull off a daring daylight prison escape with a getaway driver pulling up to take them away. Just at the same time, Detective Inspector Giulio Santini (Richard Harrison; FIREBACK - 1983) is pulling up to the prison and gives chase. He manages to shoot the getaway driver in the head, but Vitali shoots Santini's car and he jumps out just before it explodes. Vitali has escaped to get even with all the people responsible for putting him behind bars. His first target is a male stool pigeon who gave information to the cops and his girlfiend Giuliana Caroli (Marisa Mell; VIOLENT BLOOD BATH - 1973). Vitali makes the stool pigeon watch as he rapes Giuliana and the proceeds to beat the stoolie until he is a bloody mess and dead. They dig a grave and cover his body in lime. Vitali not only decides to keep Giuliana as a hostage, but also as a sexual plaything. Inspector Santini follows the clues and leads him to Giuliana's apartment. She answers the door, but answers his questions nervous enough to make him more than suspicious, so he assigns a cop, Pappalardo (Gigi Bonos; FRANKENSTEIN '80 - 1973) keep an eye out on her apartment. Vitali was hiding in her apartment and wants her to reconnect with her estranged father, who she hasn't spoken to in over a year. No, he doesn't like family reunions; it's part of a plan to steal millions of dollars at the security firm daddy works at (they hold the pay for several companies) and then leave the country millionaires. He then again rapes Giuliana. After 3 days, Vitali allows Giuliana leave the apartment to go see her father, but she goes sees Inspector Santini instead and spills the beans. Santini tells her to act like everything is normal. The police will be waiting at the security firm when Vitali and his men arrive and they will use counterfeit money, to boot. Vitali and his three escaped inmates go to the security firm, but something goes wrong and Santini takes all the women workers (including Giuliana) hostage and they take off in a van. They run into a police blockade a few miles away, but Vitali uses a car he has stored in the area (as a getaway car) and crashes through the police barrier, getting away. Santini at least now has the three escaped convicts and makes them dig up the stoolie's corpse. Santini also knows Vitali well enough to know he will go after Giuliana, which he tries to do with a high-powered rifle across the street, but all he does is shoot Giuliana in the leg (not seriously) while she is on the phone with Santini. Vitali gets away and Santini makes Giuliana stay at her father's house and they reconnect as a family again (Awwwww). Vitali hits his sister Rosa (Maria Pascucci) up for some money since the robbery money was counterfeit and he then kidnaps a Judge (Claudio Gora; ESCAPE FROM DEATH ROW - 1973), who sent him to prison, and his daughter Carla (Marina Giordana), who happens to be the father and sister of Santini (How's that for a coincidence, especially since Santini talked to his father on the phone earlier and there was no mention he was a judge? We thought he was a retired policeman.). Vitali calls up Santini and asks for an enormous amount of money for ransom and gives him three days to collect it. Vitale has another buddy just out of prison help him and he shoots and seriously injures the judge. Vitali strips Carla topless and begins cutting her with a strait-razor. Santini shows up and shoots and kills the other man and then begins to beat the snot out of Vitali, saying he's not going to kill him, but make him spend the rest of his useless life in prison. After Santini gives Vitali an appropriate beatdown (complete with slow-motion 2x4 breaking), the police take the bloodied Vitali away and it turns out the Judge will live. A happy ending for all!  This was the last directorial and screenplay assignment by Sergio Grieco, who passed away in 1982. It was time for him to give up because besides the nunsploitation film THE SINFUL NUNS OF SAINT VALENTINE (1974), the 70's were pretty much a bust for him. He is better known for directing peplum films in the early-to-mid-60's and then spy films (especially the Agent 077 series) during the rest of the 60's, mixed with some forgettable Spaghetti Westerns. This is a pretty boring example of an Italian Police Thriller where most logic is thrown out the window (How many times can Vitali get away? How did Santini find out so quickly where his father and sister were?) and besides the rapes of Giuliana, the bloody beatdowns of the stoolie and Vitali and the razor cutting of Carla, most bad taste is kept to a minimum (Bear in mind that this is a genre known for its bad taste. See Umberto Lenzi's ALMOST HUMAN [1974] for proof.). Although it looks like most of the actors here were speaking English, they were very badly dubbed (by Nick Alexander and Ted Rusoff, no less!) and the dialogue contains such cringe-worthy lines as, "So have a drink twat!" and "One move and I'll cut off her tit!". This lower-tier thriller (and keep in mind that I love Richard Harrison, so it pains me to give this film a negative review) is also known as THE MAD DOG KILLER and BEAST WITH A GUN, as well as a half-dozen other titles since it fell into the Public Domain. Originally released on VHS by Genesis Home Video and then widescreen versions on DVD, first by Anchor Bay Entertainment and then by Blue Underground (each using a different title). It is also available fullscreen on various DVD compilations, such as the 50-Film DRIVE IN MOVIE CLASSICS by Mill Creek Entertainment. I hate to say this, but don't waste your time unless you are a Richard Harrison completist. Watch RICCO THE MEAN MACHINE (1973) instead. Also starring Vittorio Duse, Ezio Marano, Alberto Squillante, Giovanni Pazzafini, Sergio Smacchi and Antonio Basile. A Blue Underground DVD Release. Not Rated.

MADHOUSE (1981) - Italian made slasher film lensed in Savannah, Georgia which shares many of the same plot elements as HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (made a year earlier). Unfortunately it's deadly dull, the boredom broken up by infrequent bits of gore. Julia (Trish Everly) is rapidly approaching her 25th birthday. Her grotesquely deformed twin sister Mary, riddled with a debilitating disease and mentally unstable, escapes from the hospital and starts killing Julia's friends and neighbors with the help of her equally deranged Uncle James (Dennis Robertson) and her pet rotweiller. Mary hates Julia because, since they were both born on the same day, she had to share her presents and the cake with her. Mary, along with Uncle James (who's a priest!), gather all their victims together and give Julia a birthday party she will not soon forget. Though bloody in spots, the film is edited to receive an R rating as is evidenced by the electric drill sequence and the finale (which involves a hatchet). It moves at a snail's pace, taking forever to get going. Dennis Robertson gives a hammy performance as Uncle James, spouting Mother Goose while slashing the cast. Director Ovidio G. Assonitis also made the terrible TENTACLES (1977) and the good EXORCIST (1973) rip-off BEYOND THE DOOR (1974), both using the name "Oliver Hellman". Here he uses his real name. He must be proud of this one. I was just bored. Also starring Michael Macrae and Morgan Hart. A Virgin Vision VHS Release. Also available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video. Rated R.

MADONNA (1990) - No, this isn't a film about the Material Girl, rather, this is an interesting cheapo thriller, co-written by Ed Kelleher, who also co-wrote the abysmal VOODOO DOLLS the same year and co-wrote the cult films INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS in 1972 and SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED in 1974. It opens when a son shoots and kills his father in a diner (after arguing about the son's mistress) and the cook kills the son with a shotgun. The wife of the son pays a private dick to get all the info he can on the woman, but that turns out easier said than done because the P.I. can't find any information on her as she doesn't seem to exist. That woman, who now uses the name Laura (Deborah Mansey), has her sights now set on married ad executive Richard Bloch (Eric Kramer), for reasons that, for now, are still unclear. He at first rebuffs Laura's feminine wiles, but a man can only stand so much. He finally succumbs at a party and the affair is on. Meanwhile, Richard's wife Annie (Pascale Devigne) becomes suspicious of Richard's staying out late with lame excuses (and, somehow, is connected to the father/son murder in the beginning) and the P.I. begins to patch together Laura's past and it's not pretty (DO NOT read the back of the video box if you want to stay surprised as it gives away the film's punchline). Since I'm not about to give away Laura's secret, I'll just say it's not Richard that Laura is after and this is all an intricate plot that is all related to Laura's past and the father/son murder in the beginning of the film. And, yes, the word "Madonna" does play an important part in the plot. Director Alain Zaloum (SUSPICIOUS MINDS - 1997) purposely builds the film slowly. Besides the first murders in the beginning, no blood is spilled until very nearly the end and when it happens, it hits hard because we have begun to care about the characters. For a change, people in this film actually act like real people, as we see Richard turn from loving family man to cold hearted bastard, thanks to Laura's influence. Don't get me wrong. This film is no great shakes, but it is a pleasant diversion from most of the "erotic thrillers" of this time period and the unusual twist to the basic cheating husband syndrome makes this more engrossing than most. This Canadian-made thriller is good for at least one viewing, but is harder than hell to find. If you get a chance to pick this up, do so. Also starring James Horan, Gordon Day and Ray Roth. Also known as MADONNA: A CASE OF BLOOD AMBITION to try to lure idiots to rent it thinking that it had something to do with Madonna's Blonde Ambition Tour. An Atlas Entertainment Corporation VHS Release. Also available on DVD from Code Red as part of a double feature with VOODOO DOLLS. Self-Imposed R Rating.

THE MAJORETTES (1986) - This film has a hard time making up its' mind what direction it wants to take. The first two-thirds concerns itself with a slasher dressed in camouflage who is murdering the high school majorettes "ONE BY ONE" (the film's alternate title). This portion has enough red herrings to feed a large Vietnamese family: There's the retarded janitor who likes to take pictures of the girls in the locker room from his closet peephole; the sadistic nurse who is taking care of the stroke-ridden grandmother of one of the majorettes. She is also the janitor's mother; the crazy drug dealer who got one of the murdered majorettes pregnant; the town priest who babtizes his disciples in a lake (the victims are stabbed then placed in water); and the sheriff (don't read the rest if you want to see the film!). When the retarded janitor accidently photographs the sheriff butchering a majorette in the locker room, this film veers off into many tangents. The nurse, armed with the incriminating photos, blackmails the sheriff to do her bidding. She wants him to kill the majorette related to the grandmother in her care after she turns 18 (two weeks away), so grandma will inherit her $500,000.00. She then plans on giving grandma a lethal injection of insulin so she will inherit it (it's in the will). Things go awry when the majorette in question and a boyfriend are kidnapped by the drug dealer and his gang because the boyfriend ratted to the cops about an arguement the dealer had with the dead pregnant majorette. Are you with me so far? The retarded janitor sees the kidnapping taking place and follows them to an abandoned warehouse. He walks in on the attempted  rape of the majorette and a struggle ensues. The janitor and the majorette are shot dead. The drug dealing gang flee leaving the boyfriend to vow revenge. He grabs an automatic rifle, goes to the gang's hideout and systematically slaughters them. But, you may ask, "What about the sheriff?" He goes to see the nurse, hangs her, leaves his camouflage clothing in her son's darkroom so it will look like he was the killer, takes the incriminating photos and is last seen watching a group of pre-teen majorettes performing their routines. THE END. The premise may sound interesting but it is hampered by a couple of factors. First, the acting is poor, too substandard to carry off the complex storyline. The second factor is the overall cheesiness of the production. This is a barebones production which never rises above a Grade Z level, with its' static camerawork, poor sound quality and lackluster direction. One expects more from screenwriter/producer John Russo and director Bill Hinzman since they were both involved in some capacity with the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Russ Streiner, also from NOTLD, puts in an appearance here as the water-happy priest. Hinzman later directed REVENGE OF THE LIVING ZOMBIES (a.k.a. FLESH EATER - 1988), another poor, low-tech film. THE MAJORETTES (based on the novel of the same name by Russo) is a valiant try, but misses its mark by a New York mile. Russo's MIDNIGHT (1980) was much more entertaining than this. Starring: Kevin Kindlin, Terrie Godfrey, Mark V. Jevicky & Sueanne Seamens/  Dir: Bill Hinzman/  Prod & Sc: John Russo/  A Ross & Hinzman Production/  A Vestron Video Release/A Tempe Video Release/ Also available from Shriek Show as a stand-alone DVD or as part of their HIGH SCHOOL HORRORS TRIPLE FEATURE DVD compilation. Rated R.

MASSIVE RETALIATION (1984) - When news of an impending nuclear war is about to break out between the United States and Russia, three survivalist families head to their well-protected computerized ranch in the middle of nowhere with the intentions of surviving a nuclear explosion with their families intact. When the van with their children, driven by teenager Eric Briscoe (Jason Gedrick), doesn't show up at the ranch at the pre-arranged time (the van's water pump breaks), the families get worried and start arguing amongst themselves. Eric finds an auto parts store, but the owner refuses to take his credit card ("What good is credit if there's going to be a war going on?"), so Eric tries stealing the water pump. The owner pulls a shotgun and Eric gets arrested. The sheriff takes pity on Eric and sets him free, so Eric pays him back by stealing the water pump out of the sheriff's van! Eric hightails it out of town on his bike and makes it back to the kids (who are making fun of one little girl wetting herself). He installs the water pump and heads off to the ranch. Meanwhile, the families continue the in-fighting and Dr. Lee Briscoe (Peter Donat, who portrayed David Duchovny's father, William Mulder, on THE X-FILES [1993 - 2002]) begins wearing Army fatigues and starts barking orders to everyone else. Some townspeople, including rednecks Virgil (Johnny Weissmuller Jr.) and Ernie (Bob Goldthwait), try to steal gas from the ranch (gas stations start charging $20 a gallon, which is not unthinkable in today's economy and may become true earlier than you may think), but are chased off by Lee's gunfire. When Kirk Fredericks (Tom Bower, a terrific character actor [you may know him better as the gas station attendant in the 2006 THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake] who looks to be slumming here) shoots family friend Suzie Barker (Mimi Farina) by mistake, Lee refuses to help her ("If I help her, more will come!"), but Kirk's wife Lois (Marilyn Hassett) is a nurse and removes the bullet. Virgil and Ernie return in a cropdusting plane and taint the ranch's water reservoir with poison. Virgil and Ernie then intercept Eric's van and take the kids hostage. Lee loses what little mind he has left (he punches son Eric in the face for getting caught!) and starts talking about "acceptable losses" among the children during a planned rescue attempt. When Harry (Michael Pritchard) hears on the radio that the U.S. and Russia have agreed to a cease fire, he goes to tell everyone at the hostage standoff, but is shot by Virgil. To make a long story short, Lee goes crazy, shoots Kirk in the leg and the children get in between their parents and the hostage takers and join hands. Leave it to the children to be the voice of reason. Clean-up on aisle six! I just threw up!  The main problem with this boring thriller is the families are so unlikable (including the kids), you'll be wishing for their demise to be long and painful. Their constant bickering and back-stabbing is so annoying, you'll wonder how the hell they became friends in the first place. Not much happens during the entire film, as one-time director/producer Thomas A. Cohen has no idea how to end a scene. Many of them just fade to black and the next scene begins, which screams of inexperience or downright laziness. The action scenes are equally horrendous and badly staged. There's a terrible car chase through a minefield where, when the mine explode, they look about as dangerous as a toothless dog. The cheap dimestore moralizing is laughable and the breaking point comes in the unrealistic plan the families come up with to rescue their children. The whole film stinks of Christian religious philosophies, from the opening and closing gospel tune, making the medical doctor the bad guy (better to leave your fate to God, than in the hands of man) and the "A child shall lead them" corny finale. I've seen better morals in fortune cookies. The violence is non-existant (just a couple of bullet wounds) and the acting is way below par (Try not to laugh as comedian Bob(cat) Goldthwait, in his first acting role, says after being shot, "Virgil, I'm bleeding pretty badly!"). The soap opera dialogue (by scripters Larry Wittnebert and Richard Beban) and bleak outlook of the human condition (it basically says that everyone is better off dead should the bombs be dropped) could only appeal to religious zealots and those without a clue. If you don't fall into those two categories, just stay away and save yourself an agonizing 90 minutes. Should have been titled MASSIVE BOWEL MOVEMENT. The same story was told much better in Ray Milland's PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962) and THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode titled "The Shelter". Also starring Karlene Crockett, Susan O'Connell, Christopher Burton and Molly Cohen. A Vestron Video Release. Not Rated, but no stronger than a PG.

MIKEY (1991) - We first spot nine year old Mikey (Brian Bonsall) disposing of his adoptive family. He drowns his adoptive little sister, throws a plugged-in hair dryer into Mom's bath water and slugs Dad across the head repeatedly with an aluminum bat. When the police arrive, Mikey blames the deaths on a burglar. He is put up for adoption again and finds a new Daddy and Mommy to live with, the Trentons (John Diehl and Mimi Craven). Everything goes smoothly until Mikey meets (and instantly falls in love with) his next door neighbor's teenage daughter (Josie Bissett). When Mikey finds out she has a boyfriend, he tries to break them up, even going as far as killing her cat and blaming it on the boyfriend. When that doesn't work, he electrocutes the boyfriend in a jacuzzi. Meanwhile, Mikey's schoolteacher (the lovely Ashley Lawrence of HELLRAISER 1 & 2.) grows suspicious of him. She finds out that Mikey's real family was abusive and every foster family he has had since has turned up dead. She goes to warn the Trentons and finds Mikey a formidable opponent. This kid is smart. In the finale, Mikey disposes of his new family and anyone else who gets in his way. His weapons of choice are: bow and arrow, slingshot, claw hammer and molitov cocktail. He gets away with his crimes as we next spot Mikey (now called Josh) meeting his new adoptive parents. While basically a junior version of THE STEPFATHER (1987), this film works because of Brian Bonsall's chilling portrayal of Mikey. He acts like a normal kid when it suits him, but don't get him pissed off. He will not only kill you, he will also videotape your death. One of his favorite pasttimes is watching "Mikey's Funniest Home Killings", a compilation video of his murders! Bonsall also knows how to deliver his lines with goosebump-inducing effect. My favorite line is one he delivers to Lawrence on their final confrontation. He says to her, "Can you teach me one more thing? Teach me how to DIE!" before slingshotting a marble between her eyes. Bonsall, who was already an accomplished actor at this young age, once played the youngest Keaton on TV's FAMILY TIES (1982 - 1989) and was also seen essaying the role of Worf's son on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1987 - 1994). He has since quit acting to concentrate on forming a punk rock band and getting into legal trouble. That's a shame, because this kid had talent. Director Dennis Dimster-Dank, who does a good job of maintaining suspense, was once an actor, starring with Katherine Hepburn in OLLY OLLY OXEN FREE (1978). He also co-wrote the screenplay for CYBORG COP III (a.k.a. TERMINAL IMPACT - 1995). Everyone involved with MIKEY has a right to be proud. This is good solid entertainment. Recommended. An Imperial Entertainment Release. Rated R.

THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE (1985) - "A man - a unique case in the history of criminology - whose madness has generated sixteen incomprehensible and atrocious murders. A homicidal maniac, who is still at large, who was described by that press as... The Monster of Florence" So begins this unusual true crime film, which is part giallo, part detective drama (with a writer instead of a police officer doing the detecting) and totally chilling, because it actually happened. But first a little background.
     Florence was in the grip of a serial killer from August 21, 1968 to September 8, 1985, where the "Monster of Venice" killed sixteen people in a series of brutal double murders, gunning lovebirds down (usually in their cars) and doing the unthinkable to his women victims. He held the province of Florence, Italy in a state of panic and fear for nearly 17 years and was never caught (much like our "Zodiac Killer"). There have been many theories on who the Monster of Florence (also referred to as "The Surgeon of Death") really was, but it was never proven to a definitive degree.  Some people believe he was arrested for another crime and was in jail, some believe he died (There was a lot of talk that a man named Mario Nancini, who died in 1986, was the killer, but it was never proven to be true, even though a lot of Italy law enforcement officials, up to this day, believe it to be true) and some believe that he just stopped killing (highly unlikely), but no matter the reason, he had an adverse effect on Florence's residents and those that lived there during his reign of terror will never forget him. This film is based on the best selling book "Il Mostro De Firenze", written by former District Attorney Alberto Bevilacque and crime reporter Mario Spezi (Bevilacque refused to allow his name to be used on this film, so only Spezi is given a story credit). So is this film any good? Read on to discover my answer.
     September 8, 1985: A young couple are making love in a tent in the woods when a man in black boots walks up to the tens, cuts a hole in it with a large knife and empties his pistol (a .22 caliber Beretta, his weapon of choice) into the young couple's naked bodies. The naked man, who was hit five times, manages to run out of the tent, but the killer catches him, stabbing him with his large knife. The killer then drags his body back to the tent, where he does something to the female's body (read on), washes his bloody hands in a nearby creek and then leaves. The next morning, the police and a large group of press are at the crime scene. This is a crime scene both the police and the press have been at more times then they care to remember and tempers flare when the police catch some photographers taking photos of the victims' mutilated bodies. What none of them know is that this will be the Monster of Florence's last victims and the police are no closer now in figuring out who the killer is than when he first struck in 1968. Newspaper reporter Giulia (Bettina Giovanni; VOICES FROM BEYOND - 1991), who has been reporting on this case for the past four years, is working with veteran reporter Enrico (Gabriele Tinti; THE MURDER SECRET - 1989), is letting the killings affect her emotionally, something a reporter should never let happen. What is particularly disturbing is what the serial killer is doing to his female victims: He cuts out their vaginas and removes one of their breasts. The Police Commissioner (Gianfranco Baroni) wants to know why, but only the killer can answer that question. He also wants to know why the killer only kills one couple every couple of years, during the summer and only on a moonless night (all real facts of the case). Giulia's fiancé, Andreas Ackerman (Leonard Mann; CUT AND RUN - 1985) is a novelist who has been working on a book about the killings for several years and Giulia has noticed that what he has already written is eerily coming true. She has also noticed that Andreas has been acting strange lately, distant and non-verbal and he disappears for days. I know what you are thinking, but Andreas tells Giulia that he is beginning to doubt that anyone would be interested in his book and he is thinking about a career change. Is he telling the truth?
     Andreas visits the recent crime scene, where he meets the mother (Anna Orso; EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 - 1983) of a previous Monster of Florence victim, telling him about her daughter, what she was wearing and how she was about to marry to young man that was murdered beside her. The mother tells Andreas that she thinks that the killer will never be caught and the only emotion she has left is hate. This is how Andreas is able to get facts for his book, by talking to family members of past victims. They tell him much more than they would tell the police. Andreas goes home and begins banging away at his typewriter, while thinking about the information he got about the first murders on August 21, 1968, where the Monster of Florence walked up to a car where a young couple were making love, emptying his Beretta into their bodies (It looks strangely identical to the "Son of Sam" murders that gripped New York City in the summers of 1976 & 1977). Andreas believes the answer to the question of why the serial killer kills can be found in the first murders (and he is probably correct, because a killer's motive can usually be found in his first killing). We discover that the woman killed in the car back in 1968 was cheating on her husband. In fact she had many lovers. But how will this lead Andreas to the killer's identity?
     We then travel back to Florence in 1968 (The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia [a.k.a. "Operation Danube"] is playing on the TV), where we see the nameless woman days before her murder (none of the victims are given proper names, to protect the filmmakers from lawsuits). She is a prostitute, who supports her deadbeat husband and young son by doing the horizontal tango with "clients" out of her own home, with her husband in the next room (he even interrupt his wife and lover to give them coffee!). The next morning, an unknown man (we only see from his POV) confront the woman outside her home, telling her he needs to see her. She tells him to make an appointment like everyone else and drives off with a client in his car (the same client and car the woman was killed in). Andreas comes to the conclusion that the killer is a spurned lover or suitor, but is he right? Back in 1968, the killer phones the woman's husband, telling him that he slipped a note under his front door. The husband read the note and burns it, as we will never know what was written in it. Is this all in Andreas' mind or does he know more than he is telling? You will be asking yourself those questions several times in this film, but you may not like the answer, because they are nothing but conjecture, because the killer was never caught, but don't let that detract you from this film, because it is quite good.
     Directed and co-written by Cesare Ferrario, who didn't make anything of note that would tickle the fancy of a genre film lover, yet this movie is a suspenseful foray into the mind of a serial killer. I like to consider this film as Italy's equivalent to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) or even HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), but without the graphic gore. Leonard Mann is simply wonderful as Andreas and we are with him as he tries to solve the killings based solely on the evidence he collected from the victims' families and his sharp, deductive mind. Soon, Andreas is obsessed and possessed by this case, as everything he sees reminds him of the murders (even when he and Giulia go to the opera) and in one instance in the film, he accidentally meets the serial killer, but he doesn't know it. Yes, this is a fictional account of a real-life serial killer, but there is a lot of truth to it, making this film a good bet for giallo and thriller fans alike. It's not exploitative (there is nudity and blood, however), even if it does play fast and loose with some of the facts (which is why none of the victims are given proper names), but that does not mean you will not find much to like here. The film works due to Leonard Mann, who as writer Andreas has an "Aha!" moment and runs with it, ignoring everything around him, even Giulia. While the murders aren't particularly bloody (except for the opening double killing), just knowing what the Monster of Florence does to his female victims adds an extra layer of nastiness to the killings, which are shown matter-of-factly, making them hard to watch. Since we know how the film ends, it doesn't negate the fact that this is a good film, full of great performances and shot almost documentary style. The film is shown in chapters, the first chapter dealing with the victims' point of view and the second chapter illustrating the killer's side, yet still breaking the film down year-by-year according to the killer's murders. It is an interesting premise, showing us both sides of the killings, giving the murders some added emotional power. The killings are filmed with two cameras (one for the victims' view and the other the killer's), giving us different angles of the same killings, yet they seem very different (And they are. There is a big difference being the killer and being his victim). So sit down, try to relax (it won't be easy) and watch a film that deserves to be more popular than it is.
     Shot as IL MOSTRO DI FIRENZE (a literal translation of the review title) and also known as NIGHT RIPPER, this film never obtained a theatrical or home video release in any format in the United States. I saw a very nice anamorphic print on YouTube, which is in Italian with English subtitles, the way it should be seen. Also starring Francesca Muzio, Lydia Mancinelli, Federico Pacifici (THE OMEN - 2006), Antonio Ballerio and Alberto Di Stasio as the Monster of Florence. Not Rated.

MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (1972) - If this futuristic Spanish thriller reminds you a little of Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971), it's purely intentional (this film is also known as CLOCKWORK TERROR). As humanity enters the 21st Century, the teenage and young adult population are growing agressive and scientists can't understand why. A quartet of leather-wearing, whip-wielding hooligans, who ride around in a dune buggy while sporting red motorcycle helmets, roam the countryside breaking into houses, raping the occupants (both male and female!) and terrorizing the populace. Gang member David (Chris Mitchum) becomes tired of the lifestyle and wants to leave, but gang leader Mick (Antonio del Real) beats him to a pulp before he lets him depart. As he is recovering from his wounds, David spots Ana (Sue Lyons; END OF THE WORLD - 1977), an award-winning health caregiver (in other words, a nurse), disposing of the body of her latest victim (a man in a leg brace that she picked up at an auction of Flash Gordon comic panels!). Yes, Ana is a serial killer and her boyfriend, Victor (Jean Sorel; SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS - 1971), who has no idea of Ana's murderous behavior, is running secret experiments in a government laboratory where he tries to excise criminal and violent behavior from the human brain using a complex method of hypnosis and electroshock therapy. The police ask Victor to look into a string of violent murders of young men, stabbed in the heart with a scalpel, since they believe the killer is a homosexual psychopath with medical experience. Victor begins his investigation, not aware that the killer is actually Ana, who likes to listen to her victims' heartbeats (by putting her ear to their bare chests) before plunging in the scalpel. We watch Ana take on various disguises (old woman, maid, rich heiress) as she picks out her victims (she even dresses as a man and picks up a young guy at a gay bar!), bringing them back to her home for the kill, but this time she's unaware that David is hiding in her house, watching her latest kill. David eventually lets Ana know his intentions, blackmailing her for huge sums of money to keep him quiet, but David doesn't realize that he's being followed by Mick and the gang. They beat the shit out of David and he is brought to, you guessed it, the hospital that Ana works at. She begins to worry when Victor informs her that David is to be moved to Victor's lab for "rehabilitation" once his wounds are healed. This is not going to turn out well. Not well at all. This strange, off-the-wall thriller, from director Eloy de la Iglesia (CANNIBAL MAN - 1972), is at first hard to categorize because the first half hour is all over the map, introducing the characters, a rape sequence lifted directly from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (the film is also name-checked, just before the rape happens and all that's missing is Malcolm McDowall singing Gene Kelly's "Singing In The Rain") and the future's unhealthy habit of watching too much TV. The TV sections are a precursor to the scenes we would later see in ROBOCOP (1987), as we watch TV commercials for products like Blue Drink ("for a blue world") and Panther Underwear. Once we realize just exactly what Ana is (I had a good laugh when one of her victims was the actor who was selling Panther Underwear on TV), the film settles in and becomes more of a standard futuristic thriller, but with some strange quirks, visuals and music choices that make it stand out from the pack. The future depicted here can best be described as round and lacking sharp corners. Everything is circular in shape (the furniture, objects d'art and even the giant TV screens) with nothing remotely pointy in sight (besides medical instruments) and the main form of entertainment for future society seems to be TV. Lots and lots of TV. The screenplay, by de la Iglesia and four other scripters, implies that violence is needed if society is to survive. When Victor shows Ana three of his "successes" (victims of his experimental procedure), she is shocked, because all she sees are three soulless beings sitting around a dinner table, prattling on about nothing while acting like proper uppercrust members of society. Her "rescue" of David from his hospital bed, where she tells him, "They'll kill you with life. False life!" before killing him with a scalpel to the heart is a revealing moment, especially with the ironic and disturbing final shots that proceed it (I won't spoil it for you). This is an unusual, little-seen gem just waiting to be rediscovered. A young Chris Mitchum (who is poorly dubbed here) would go on to appear in the excellent THE MEAN MACHINE (1973) and FINAL SCORE (1986), probably the best Indonesian action film ever made. Also starring Ramon Pons, Alfredo Alba, David Carpenter, Eduardo Calvo and Charly Bravo as the unfortunate Panther Underwear actor. Available on DVD in a widescreen print from British label Pagan Films Ltd.. Never available legitimately on home video in the United States. Not Rated.

MURDER-ROCK: DANCING DEATH (1984) - Someone is killing the dancers at the Arts For Living Center in New York City. The first one killed is Susan (Angela Lemerman). She is chloroformed while taking a shower and then has a huge hatpin shoved through her left breast, puncturing her heart. Since Susan was a member of a group of dancers being auditioned for three available openings in a big musical show and she was considered "one of the best", police Lieutenant Borges (Cosimo Cinieri) believes the murderer may be one of the dancers trying to thin out the list of prospective candidates for the openings. Tough-as-nails choreographer Candace Norman (Olga Karlatos of CYCLONE - 1978), who keeps working her dancers to the breaking point as the bodies begin piling up, begins receiving threatening phone calls from some unknown person and she has nightmares about the mysterious George Webb (Ray Lovelock of LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH [1978] and LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN [1976]) attacking her with a giant hatpin, even though she has never met him and doesn't know his name. She begins an investigation of her own when she spots George's face on a billboard. Why does someone she has never met keep haunting her dreams? The next to die is Janice (Carla Buzzanca), who finds her pet canary impaled on a hatpin before the killer does the same to her. Lieutenant Borges has a large pool of suspects to choose from: Dick Gibson (Claudio Cassinelli), the Center's administrator, who has had an affair with both Susan and Janice; Willy Stark (Cristian Borromeo), Susan's lover and dance partner; Marge (Geretta Marie Fields), Candace's assistant choreographer who thinks Candace is working her dancers too hard; not to mention all the female dancers, who stand to gain a lucrative new job as the other dancers die. Candace makes contact with George Webb, who turns out to be an ex-model who is now an alcoholic. Candace cleans him up and they become lovers, but it's apparent that George is not telling her all about his past. When dancer Jill (Maria Vittoria Tolazzi) becomes the latest victim of the hatpin killer, Lieutenant Borges catches a break when Jill's wheelchair-bound sister takes a photo of the killing-in-process (It turns out to be a faceless photo of the killer in an Armani jacket holding the hatpin, but it does hold an important clue). The finale finds that Candace and George did meet once before (but only for a split second), which has permanently scarred her fragile psyche. His billboard photo triggered her thirst for revenge. Will she get away with it?  A lot of people tend to pass this film off as one of director Lucio Fulci's minor 80's films, but I disagree. I find this to be one of his most enjoyable, if far-fetched, 80's films, even though it's severely lacking in the gore department. Those looking for blood-and-guts in the same vein as his ZOMBIE (1979), GATES OF HELL (a.k.a. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD - 1980), THE BEYOND (1981) or NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) will be greatly disappointed, because this is more like a 70's giallo film. There's some blood, but the story (script by Fulci, Vincenzo Mannino, Gianfranco Clerici and Roberto Gianviti) is more interested in the mystery elements and this film has more red herrings than a fish market. Fulci manages to actually pull off a fair amount of suspense and atmosphere (Candace's nightmare being a standout). He also puts in his trademark "What The Fuck?" sequences, including a scene where Lieutenant Borges slaps the shit out of a false confessor when he calls the dead Janice  (who was Puerto Rican) a "spic". Apparently, the Lieutenant doesn't like racist remarks! Fulci also fills the film with plenty of nudity and lots of crotch and ass shots of the females dancing in their leotards to music supplied by Keith Emerson (who also scored NIGHTHAWKS - 1981). Most of the music is electronic New Wave or Hip-Hop (some of the dancers are seen break dancing and there's also a little nod to FLASHDANCE, which was made a year earlier), but there's an infectious tune ("Are The Streets To Blame", sung by Doreen Charter) that's repeated several times that will take days to leave your head (The lyrics go, "Paranoia's comin' your way...."). The film ends with a quote from John Huston from his film THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950). While not in the same league as the prime 70's giallos made by Dario Argento (DEEP RED - 1976) or even by Fulci himself (LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN - 1971; DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING - 1972), MURDER ROCK is still an entertaining little mystery with much to recommend. Also starring Giuseppe Mannajuolo, Berna Maria do Carmo, Belinda Busato, Carlo Caldera and Robert Gligorov.  A Shriek Show DVD Release. It's a deluxe two DVD edition with too many extras to list here. If you're a Lucio Fulci fan, this is a must. Not Rated.

MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING (1976) - Army veteran and former P.O.W. Gene Kline (Greg Mullavey) has recurring nightmares about the atrocities he was forced to view while a soldier in the Vietnam War. He comes to the conclusion that the only way to set things right is to kill all those responsible for the atrocities he witnessed and was forced to participate in. He sends all his former Army buddies letters telling them he is coming for a visit and then kills them in ways that are fitting to their war crimes. The first man he visits, he ties to a bed, inserts a needle and tube in his arm and slowly bleeds him to death. He then travels to Texas, to the home of Gil Perkins (Clayton Wilcox) and his wife Susan (Carolyn Ames). Gil and Gene go hunting, get drunk and talk about the "good times" in Vietnam. That night, Gene goes to the Perkins' bedroom, makes Susan tie-up Gil (after he pumps a couple of bullets into his hand and leg) and then rapes Susan ("Shut up, you slant-eyed bitch!"), making Gil watch (Gil screams, "She wasn't even there!"). Gene then kills them both (off-screen). Gene's wife, Laura (Meredith MacRae), becomes worried when Gene doesn't come home, so she calls his psychiatrist, Dr. MacLaine (Eric Morris), for some help. Laura finds an address book with the names of Gene's Army buddies and gives it to the doctor. Meanwhile, Gene travels to San Francisco to visit Army pal Les Drago (Roger Cruz), who is now a stage actor. After some sightseeing, Les takes Gene to the theater, where Gene forces Les to perform Shakespeare and them makes him swallow an overdose of pills while reminding him of the children they killed in Vietnam. After calling his wife and saying his goodbyes, Gene travels back home to Los Angeles to visit Walter Miller (Bill Michael), a fellow P.O.W.. After watching Walter parachute out of a plane, Gene stabs him numerous times with a bayonette in a field after talking about their time in the war camp. Laura and Dr. MacLaine drive to Walter's house after talking to Walter's wife, Georgia (Laurie Burton), on the phone. In a scene sure to raise goosebumps, Gene confronts the pregnant Georgia in her bedroom, knife in hand, just as she goes into labor. Rather than kill her, Gene delivers the baby. When Laura and Dr. MacLaine arrive at the Miller's home, they find Georgia and the baby safe in the bedroom. Laura finds Gene dead in the backyard, swinging from a tree, a rope around his neck. His nightmare is now over.  This grim revenge thriller, directed/produced/scripted by the late Paul Leder (I DISMEMBER MAMA - 1974; THE BABY DOLL MURDERS - 1993), benefits greatly by Greg Mullavey's tortured performance as a man without hope. Mullavey, a regular in many of Leder's films, is a top-notch actor who was woefully underutilized in films, but he gained a modicum of recognition starring as Louise Lasser's husband on TV's MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN during 1976 to 1978. This film is Mullavey's show all the way, as he quietly travels from town to town, leaving bodies in his wake, letting the punishment fit the crime. Leder films most of the scenes statically, mainly in medium or extreme close-ups, all the time letting the camera linger on Mullavey's agonizing, tortured face. Leder was never a great filmmaker (his daughter, director Mimi Leder [DEEP IMPACT - 1998], and son Reuben Leder, a TV producer and writer [WALKER, TEXAS RANGER {1993 - 2001}], found much more success in the business than he did), but he always turned out interesting, low-budget mysteries and thrillers (SKETCHES OF A STRANGLER - 1978; THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT - 1987). Co-star Meredith MacRea was Mullavey's real-life wife at the time (they were divorced in 1987). MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING is a short (73 minutes), unapologetic look at a damaged Vietnam veteran. It's bloody without being graphic and relies on Mullavey's acting talent to convey an atmosphere of hopelessness. It's not for everyone's taste (it generally gets panned when reviewed), but I liked it. Available in a hard to find DVD from Jef Films. The print I viewed was a grainy dub of a Dutch-subtitled VHS. Rated R.

NAKED YOU DIE (1968) - This late-60's giallo opens with a black gloved killer strangling a woman taking a bath and stuffing her nude body in a trunk. During the opening credits, we follow the trunk; it's first strapped onto the roof of a taxi, then loaded onto a train and, finally, strapped to the roof of a van that contains the new hires heading to the all-girls St. Hilda College. Some of the new hires include: riding teacher Richard Barrett (Mark Damon), a good-looking chap who headmistress Miss Transfield (Vivienne Stapleton) doesn't trust with her young female staff and students; and gym teacher Mr. Di Brazzi (John Hawkwood), who plans to teach the students skin diving and has brought the equipment with him. We learn that most of the students are away for the holidays (only six have stayed behind) and the schoolgrounds also contain a zoo, full of exotic animals looked after by the elderly Professor Andre (Aldo De Carellis). When student Betty Ann (Katleen Parker) goes down to the basement to collect a piece of her luggage, she notices the trunk (the one with the body in it) and pays for it with her life. The killer strangles her and leaves her lifeless body in the basement. When the other students notice Betty Ann is missing, Miss Transfield searches the basement, but by then the killer has moved her body. When Miss Transfield and her assistant, Mrs. Clay (Ludmila Lvova), search the grounds and come up empty, they put the rest of the girls on a curfew. Of course, one of the girls, Lucille (Eleonora Brown), breaks curfew and finds Betty Ann's body in the bughouse of the zoo. She believes the creepy groundskeeper, La Floret (Alan Collins), is responsible, but when Richard (who is having a fling with Lucille) checks the bughouse, Betty Ann's body is gone. As La Floret watches outside, peeping onto the women's shower, he spots the killer strangling Cynthia (Malisa Longo), who the killer mistakenly thinks is Lucille. Police Inspector Durant (Michael Rennie) is called in to investigate Cynthia's death and Betty Ann's disappearance and the killer murders La Floret to keep him from talking to the police. Can Lucille convince Inspector Durant and Richard that she is telling the truth? The killer has a few more people to dispose of before the motive becomes clear (the first murder of the woman in the bathtub plays an important part in solving the mystery).  This giallo may seem tame today, but for 1968 it was quite daring, with it's scenes of nudity mixed with murder. Director/co-scripter Antonio Margheriti (using his "Anthony Dawson" pseudonym), who also directed the gothic giallo SEVEN DEATH IN THE CAT'S EYE (1973), the gore-filled CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980) and dozens of other films in many other genres, has fashioned a murder mystery (Italian maestro Mario Bava gets a co-story credit) that's easy to solve early on if you really try. Maybe I've seen too many giallo films in my lifetime to be partial, but this was an easy one to solve. But, since this was one if the first crop of films that kick-started the modern-day giallo genre, it should be required viewing to fans of the genre, if just to see how far the boundaries were pushed when giallo caught fire in the 70's. This film contains restrained nudity (just quick flashes and no full frontal) and violence (the bloodiest it gets is a shot of a sickle sticking out of La Floret's stomach), nothing like the sights on view in 70's giallo films. This film may also be too comedic for some giallo fans' tastes, especially the finale, which is a take-off on James Bond films. Michael Rennie (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL - 1951; THE POWER - 1968) is wasted here in what amounts to nothing but an extended cameo. I would still recommend this film for fans of Margheriti's body of work and for those interested in late-60's giallo films. Also known as THE YOUNG, THE EVIL & THE SAVAGE (released theatrically in the U.S. under this title by American International Pictures with 12 minutes of footage edited out), SCHOOLGIRL KILLER (on U.S. VHS from AIR Video using this title and shorn of nearly 15 minutes of footage), THE MINISKIRT MURDERS and SEVEN VIRGINS FOR THE DEVIL. On-screen title: NUDE...SI MUORE. Also starring Sally Smith, Patrizia Valturri, Franco DeRosa, Ester Masing and Sylvia Dionisio. Available in a nice widescreen uncut print on DVD from Dark Sky Films. Not Rated.

NIGHTMARE (1973) - Haunting and deliberately paced supernatural thriller that is based on a play called VOICES, written by Richard Lortz, which played on New York's Broadway at the Barrymore Theater in 1972 for only eight performances (with Richard Kiley and Julie Harris starring). The film stars David Hemmings (DARK FORCES - 1980) as Robert and Gayle Hunnicutt (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE - 1973) as Claire, a married couple who are on a boating holiday with their young son David (Adam Bridge), when the unthinkable happens. While drunk and making love on the boat as they are docked near a dam, little David takes a stroll across the dam and disappears. Robert and Claire panic when they find David's life jacket at the foot of the dam and their extensive search of the area (in which the police get involved in) turns up nothing. It's believed that David fell in the water and drowned, with the strong currents carrying him away to places unknown. Claire tries to kill herself by overdosing on sleeping pills, but Robert stops her. Another suicide attempt by slitting her wrists with a razor lands Claire in a sanitarium, where she and Robert separate for a while. They reconcile by taking a car trip to Claire's dead aunt's country home, but they nearly don't make it there when the extremely foggy road nearly causes a head-on collision with another car. Once at the country home, Robert makes crass jokes about suicide while Claire can only think about the day they lost David and her stay at the sanitarium. Both are dealing with the loss of their son in their own way, but neither are doing a good job at it (She accuses Robert of having a lover while she was committed and Robert just wants to get her drunk and make love, which is what led to this whole disaster in the first place). The country home has no electricity or heat, so they must rely on oil lanterns and the fireplace (when they try to light candles on a candelabra, a strange breeze blows them out), but the lack of basic modern necessities leads to further problems, like Claire hearing the voices of children and telling Robert that there is something wrong with the house and they should leave. It's clear to the viewer that Robert and Claire should no longer be together because the harder they try, the worse it gets. When the truth comes out that Claire's family is rich and Robert may have married her only for her money, which he still hasn't seen a penny of thanks to Claire's nasty mother, the question becomes: Did Robert bring her to the house to kill her (the thought of it excites Claire, who accepts death more than life) or to drive her crazy? Is Claire actually seeing the ghostly visages of children Jessica (Eva Griffith), John (Russell Lewis) and their mother (Lynn Farleigh) or is this part of Robert's plan? Claire believes she is psychic and tells Robert that when David first died, she went to a medium (Peggy Ann Clifford), heard David's voice and is convinced that David is still alive. When Robert also begins to see and hear the ghosts (after he and Claire make love for the first time since David died), it sets the stage for the film's eerie final reveal and seals the fate of our two main characters.  While nothing more than a two character filmed stage play, director Kevin Billington (THE LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD - 1971) and screenwriters George Kirgo & Robert Enders (also the Producer) had the good sense to have accomplished actors David Hemmings and Gayle Hunnicutt (who also appeared together in FRAGMENT OF FEAR [1970] and were actually married to each other at the time, divorcing in 1975) speak the words and make the most of the limited locations (80% of the film takes place in the main room at the country estate). Billington also makes the wise choice to show Claire's thoughts and flashbacks as a series of tightly edited shock cuts, which are effective and unnerving. While NIGHTMARE (also known as VOICES) is nothing more than two great actors insulting each other for ninety minutes, it still has the same creepy vibe you'll find in THE UNINVITED (1944), THE INNOCENTS (1961) and THE HAUNTING (1963). Those looking for a more conventional haunted house thriller like THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) will be disappointed, though. The ending may remind people of CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962), but let's remember that this film was made years before CARNIVAL would find cult success on home video. It should be noted that David Hemmings (who passed away in 2003) was not only an accomplished actor, he also directed a great deal of American TV during the 80's & 90's, including episodes of MAGNUM P.I. (1980 - 1988), WEREWOLF (1987 - 1988) and QUANTUM LEAP (1989 - 1993) and was once quoted as saying during his long sabbatical as an actor: "People thought I was dead. But I wasn't. I was just directing THE A-TEAM (1983 - 1987)"! A Mirisch Video Company VHS Release. Not available on DVD. Not Rated.

NIGHTMARE COUNTY (1971) - You gotta love a film that opens with a quote from John F. Kennedy ("Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.") and then immediately shows two hippies being brutally gunned-down as they step out of their VW Beetle, doused with gasoline and set on fire. Then the real film kicks in. Too bad. In a small town that survives on it's orange orchards, a group of migrant workers, mainly hippie types, have been toiling in the orchards for months and wish to vote in the town's upcoming elections, but can't since they have no permanent residence in town. Their savior turns out to be Jonas Smith (director/screenwriter Sean McGregor), an ex-townie who returns to his hometown riding on a motorcycle and signs over his late father's farm to the migrant workers, giving them a permanent address and, therefore, a right to vote in the upcoming elections. This doesn't sit too well with the local political bigwigs, including the Mayor, Judge and Sheriff, who team together to harass Jonas every opportunity they get. It doesn't help that Jonas rekindles his romance with County Clerk Eva Michaels (Gayle Hemingway), who happens to be the Sheriff's daughter and a romantic interest for Harlan (Chase Cordell), the Sheriff's deputy. At least Harlan thinks he's the romantic interest, but Eva only has eyes for Jonas. As election night draws nearer, things in town get downright dangerous, especially when the migrant workers register to vote. When Jonas discovers that one of the workers, a hulking dude named Cowboy, killed the two hippies in the beginning of the film because they were going to tell Jonas that he was using heroin, Jonas kicks him out of the group, with Cowboy vowing revenge. Election night comes and all of the cronies are voted out of their offices, replaced by "long haired hippies", so the cronies devise a plan to drive the hippies out of town before they come into power. The Sheriff and Harlan begin arresting the workers on trumped-up charges and offer them all a deal: Do hard county time or get the hell out of town. Things backfire for the cronies when TV reporters and camera arrive in town and an outpouring of positive public opinion for the hippies turn things around, but just like JFK, his brother Robert or Martin Luther King, all good causes come with a deadly price to be paid.  This terribly dated film, made in 1971 but not released until 1975, is full of "Us vs. the Establishment" dialogue and scenes of hippie abuse (always a good thing in my book), but the violence level is much too tame for it's own good. The biggest problem in director/scripter Sean McGregor's  (GENTLE SAVAGE - 1973; DEVIL TIMES FIVE - 1974) BILLY JACK (1971) rip-off is that he decided to cast himself in the lead role of Jonas. He's simply terrible in the role, as he couldn't act his way out of a paper bag and whenever he opens his mouth, his pronounced lisp makes it very hard for the viewer to understand a single word he is saying. After a promising violent opening, the film quickly deteriorates into a young against the old scenario and, besides a couple of fistfights and an instance where a pressure hose is turned on a bunch of hippies in a jail cell, nothing much happens until the finale, where Cowboy, strung-out on junk, invades Eva's home, smashes her face into a mirror and then rapes and kills her (off-screen). The Sheriff then gets into a knock-down, drag-out fight with Cowboy (I've never seen more breakaway furniture in one room since a Wild West barroom fight), killing him, grabs his daughter's dead body and carries her to a televised press conference, where he shoots Jonas two times in the chest on live TV in the downbeat finale. Toss in a music soundtrack filled with sappy hippie ballads with titles like " Grass Of Solution", "Gods And Raging Winds" and the titular "November Children" (the film's early release title), and what you end up with is a film that tries to address serious issues, but hasn't got a clue in it's tiny little head how to do it. There's a reason why this sat on a shelf for over four years. It's horrendous and was outdated before it was even finished. Also starring Jody McCrea, Beau Gibson, R.N. Bullard, Woody Lee, Robert Reynolds, Michael Verona, Conchita Thornton, Duke Douglas and Ted Wilde. Originally released on VHS by Family Home Video and not available on DVD. Rated R.

NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON (1973) - David (Dack Rambo) and Jill (Rebecca Dianna Smith) have just gotten married in a big ceremony on Jill's widowed father Henry's (Pat Hingle) sprawling Mississippi estate. They have a big hurdle to clear before they can have their honeymoon: Henry has a family tradition to interrupt all family honeymoons by having the entire clan sing beneath the window of the honeymoon suite all night long. David and Jill, looking to break that tradition, hop into a car in the middle of their wedding reception and speed off, with Dad and the rest of the family in hot pursuit. They manage to lose the posse by hiding out at a remote motel in the Louisiana bayou. They decide to go for a swim when they witness Lee (John Beck) and Sandy (Roy Jenson) murder Mr. Carroll (David Huddleston) over a deal gone bad. Lee (who is a psychopath) and Sandy corner the couple, where they knock out David and rape Jill (off-screen). David wants to go to the police but Jill stops him, because she does not want anyone (especially her father) to know she was raped. David and Jill are now two totally different people than they were a couple of hours before. They drive down the highway to go to their honeymoon suite and, when they arrive, they are just two broken human beings. Unable to consummate their marriage (would you be able to?), they argue for a while and then Vietnam veteran David decides revenge is the best answer. Using the info he heard Lee talk about at the murder scene and using the phone book for his first clue, David and Jill embark on a journey where they meet more violence and death before they learn that nothing will change the way they really feel about each other.  Never available on home video in any format in the U.S. (when will MGM open their vaults and start releasing these forgotten gems?), NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON played on TV during the 70's and early 80's before disappearing into the ether. Director Elliot Silverstein (THE CAR - 1977) has made a film that's not especially violent (it's rated PG), but it is a very intense film. Made back in the day when films rated PG weren't just kid's films, the change in tone from freewheeling to menacing is quite shocking to the system and although we never see much of the violence, the threat hangs heavily in the air. The scene where Jill calls her father on the phone to tell him what happened and then realizes that she can't bear to do so is a wonderful piece of emotional cinema. Although talky in spots, it acquits itself by continually surprising the viewer as the screenplay (by S. Lee Pogostin) never panders or talks down to the audience. This is an adult story where the bad guys are extremely bad (Lee threatens Jill with a knife by saying, "Quiet knives are for loud girls.") and the good guys find out that doing bad things always comes with a price. Be prepared to pay it. This is an excellent underappreciated thriller that, unfortunately, is not available to the general public. Also starring Jay Robinson, Dennis Patrick, Jim Boles and Dennis Burkley. I got this on DVD-R in an excellent print from a seller who wishes to remain nameless (for legal reasons). Search the internet for this one. Rated PG.

NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR (1969) - Ah, memories. I was 16 years old when I first saw this flick on a triple bill with WOMEN AND BLOODY TERROR (1970) and NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER (1972) in 1973. I was disappointed, to say the least, when these films failed to live up to their titles (see ad mats). Well, I’m older now and decided to review these films with a more mature mind (insert your own joke here). They’re still trash, with WOMEN hardly worth a mention because it’s basically a soap opera with a couple of gunshots thrown in, but NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR does contain some horrific moments (STRANGLER is the best of the trio). All the films were directed by Joy N. Houck Jr. (CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE, a.k.a. DEMON OF THE LAKE - 1976 and THE BRAIN MACHINE - 1977) and two of them feature Gerald McRaney (TV’s MAJOR DAD [1989 - 1993]). In NIGHT, McRaney portrays Wesley, a confused man prone to blackouts (complete with a superimposed hypno-wheel to give you a headache) with a domineering religious fanatic mother. When his fiancee is stabbed in the head at a church confessional and a nurse friend is axed in the chest, Wesley is arrested and charged with both murders. Out on bail, he must figure out if he indeed did the murders during his blackouts or if someone else is involved. It doesn’t help his case that he spent 13 years in a mental institution for accidentally shooting his brother when he was 5 years old. Or was it him? It won’t be hard for you to figure out (Hint: Mother did it.). Wildly outdated, with garish colors, 60’s fashions and hairdos (you can see that even in 1969, McRaney was beginning to lose his hair) and spots of fake gore (axe attacks, stabbings and a severed hand), one can only view this film as an obscure artifact from a baby boomer’s childhood. It’s neither good or bad, it just is. Also starring Gaye Yellen, Herbert Nelson and Evelyn Hendricks with an appearance by an awful rock group called "The Bored". No longer available on a legitimate video label (Paragon) or on DVD or Blu-Ray, NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR can be purchased through various internet order outlets including Video Search Of Miami (VSOM; long defunct) or eBayRated R.

NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER (1979) - "I gotta feeling it's gonna be another goddamned New York day." Those words, spoken by police Lt. Tonelli (Richard Castellano), perfectly describes what is about to happen to ex-cop-turned-truck driver Sean Boyd (James Brolin). Sean is a divorced dad who has custody of his young daughter Kathy (Abby Bluestone) and today is Kathy's 13th birthday. While walking her to school, Kathy is grabbed by mistake by delusional kidnapper Gus Soltic (Cliff Gorman), who thinks he is taking the daughter of rich real estate investor Hampton Richmond Clayton III (Marco St. John). As Gus gets away with Cathy in his car, Sean commandeers a cab (driven by a young Mandy Patinkin) and gives chase. And what a chase it is. When both Gus' car and the cab crashes, Gus takes Kathy down into the subway system, with Sean close behind. The chase then leads from the subway to the streets of Times Square, where Gus steals a phone company van and Sean grabs a station wagon belonging to a street preacher (Barton Heyman). The chase continues until Sean crashes the wagon and Gus finally gets away with Kathy. Gus brings Kathy to his dilapidated tenement building (he complains to Kathy about how all the "spics and niggers" have ruined his neighborhood), but he doesn't believe Kathy when she tells him that her father is not wealthy. Lt. Tonelli (who is always complaining about his daughter's upcoming wedding) arrests Sean and brings him downtown, where he runs into old cop nemesis Sgt. Otis Barnes (Dan Hedaya) who, when Sean was a cop, reported Otis for being on the take. Otis tries to give Sean the old rubber hose treatment, but Sean knocks him out, escapes from the precinct and begins his long search for Kathy. Gus calls the Clayton household and demands one million dollars in ransom, still not aware that he has the wrong girl (the man simply won't believe Kathy). The Claytons call the cops and Lt. Tonelli takes Gus' second call, pretending to be Mr. Clayton and suddenly realizes that Gus has Sean's kid. Not only does Sean have to look for his daughter, he must now also dodge the vengeful Otis, who is looking to kill Sean. As Lt. Tonelli sets up the ransom drop, Sean goes through a series of encounters, including a porn house peep show, a guard dog training center and fighting a vicious street gang, as he inches closer to Gus and Kathy.  This is one of those films where the City of New York is just as valid a character as the rest of the cast. This is the old New York City, before Rudy Giuliani grabbed it by the shirt collar and shook all the dirt out of it. This is New York City when you could find a hot dog vender on every corner and Times Square was still full of hookers, porn shops and grindhouses. This is New York City when, as soon as you park your car in a "bad" neighborhood, gangs would strip it on the street in a matter of minutes. Ah, the good old days! I almost have a tear in my eye thinking about it. NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER is a gritty, grimy thriller that pulls no punches and definitely is not a postcard for New York City tourism. Sean meets the dregs of society, including slimy porn shop workers, pimps, hookers, street gangs and, of course, crooked cops. All is not hopeless for Sean, though, as he does find some helpful people, including a hooker (porn legend Sharon Mitchell) with an important clue, a dog trainer (Julie Carmen) who helps him get through a bad part of town and a couple of cabbies, one who is the only cabbie willing to drive him to Gus' neighborhood. The film's highlight is when Otis chases Sean through the busy streets of New York, firing his shotgun at Sean without caring about all the innocent pedestrians that may get in the way. As Otis is blowing apart newstands, hot dog carts and store windows while Sean is ducking for cover, it looks like the pedestrians on the streets were truly not aware what was about to happen, adding greatly to the realism. The film also takes an unusual turn when Gus and Kathy begin to actually talk to each other, talking about her weight problem (she's a little on the chunky side), his abusive mother and how his neighborhood has literally gone to the dogs, thanks to greedy real estate developers (his reason behind the kidnapping). Gus talks to Kathy as he would to an adult, revealing a lot about his motivations behind all this. James Brolin and Cliff Gorman have never been better, but director Robert Butler (who is mainly a TV director, who occasionally left that medium for theatrical films, like TURBULENCE [1997]) wisely lets New York City take center stage and it never looked more like a junkie begging for a fix than it does here. It just oozes sleaze. I wonder if then-Mayor Ed Koch knew what he was signing-on for here when he OK'd the permits for this. This is a true unsung classic just screaming out for a long-overdue DVD release. Also known as PURSUED and NEW YORK KILLER. Also starring Linda G. Miller, Sully Boyar, Dorothy Lyman and a cameo by porn star Serena. A Media Home Entertainment Release. Rated R.

NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER (1972) - Dated racial revenge thriller with an unusual storyline and an even more unusual leading man. The film opens with Vance (Micky Dolenz of The Monkees) meeting his sister Denise (Susan McCullough) at the New Orleans airport. Denise has just flown in from Vassar and has some important news to tell Vance, but she wants to wait to spill the beans until they get to the house of their older brother Dan (James Ralston), a strict Southern lawyer who makes Archie Bunker look like the Pope. Once they are at the house, Denise tells Vance and Dan that she is quitting school because she is getting married next week in New York. Oh, and by the way, she's pregnant and her new husband-to-be is black! Vance, the more liberal of the two brothers, is slightly shocked, but seemingly takes the news in stride. Dan, on the other hand, flies into a blind rage, slapping Denise repeatedly about her face while screaming, "You let a degenerate nigger enter your body?!?" and demanding that she get an abortion. Dan disowns Denise on the spot when she refuses and threatens to kill her "nigger boyfriend", while rubbing Vance's face in the fact that he is marrying Vance's ex-girlfriend Carol (Ann Barrett) because "she couldn't take any more of your nigger-loving ways!" Vance trys to talk Denise out of the marriage ("These things just don't work'"), but seems to come over to her side once he sees how serious she is about it. Denise flies back to New York and is walking in a park with her black boyfriend Jesse, when a hippie on a bicycle (Michael Wright) carrying a guitar case stops by a park bench and opens the case, which contains a high-powered rifle. He takes careful aim and kills Jesse (attentive viewers will notice that we never see Jesse's face), much to Denise's horror. Denise writes an entry in her diary that says, "The only thing I know is that Dan is responsible for Jesse's death! And Vance - I just don't know about him - Vance?" Someone wearing black Army boots, black gloves and a "Peace" symbol belt buckle then sneaks into Denise's apartment and drowns her in the bathtub. He strips her naked, slits her wrists with a razor and positions her body in the tub to make it look like a suicide; taking a few of Denise's belongings (including her diary and a photo of Vance in the Army) before he leaves. We then follow black priest Father Jessie (Chuck Patterson) as he returns to New Orleans after a long absence in a seminary. Father Babbin (Stocker Fontelieu) informs Jessie of Denise's suicide (he was a family friend since childhood) and asks him to mend the huge rift between Vance and Dan that the suicide caused. Vance has become an alcoholic and shows up at the wedding of Dan and Carol blind stinking drunk. Father Jessie breaks up a fight between Dan and Vance by punching Dan in the face (Dan calls Jessie a "damn black nigger" in church) and escorts Vance outside (but not before a soused Vance calls the wedding "beauty and the bigot"). It's not long before a series of murders begin, all intricate booby-traps that seem to be rooted in Vietnam. Carol is bitten in the face by a poisonous Asian snake that was delivered in a vase of roses that came from Vance's flower shop. Dan, of course, blames Vance, although it is clear to the audience that the killer wears gloves (this time they are white) for a reason. After Dan is forced to shoot and kill his black gardener Willie (Warren J. Kenner) when he holds a knife to Dan's throat (Dan fired Willie for having the gall of talking to Carol without his permission, which led to the death of Willie's sick wife due to him having no money for her medicine), the same hippie that killed Denise's boyfriend attempts to kill Dan (It seems Dan refuses to pay the Mob for the contract hit he put on Jesse in the park, which is a real stupid move), but he is shot and killed by a passing cop before he can fire his rifle. The real killer steps-up his murder spree, killing Vance's new bride, Anne (Katie Tillie), with a booby-trapped, curare-soaked spring-loaded arrow that impales her back when she sits down in the passenger seat of Vance's car. This makes Vance think that Dan was responsible, so he goes to Dan's house and stabs him in the chest, but Dan shoots and kills Vance with a pistol. The killer reveals himself to a dying Dan (it's really no surprise) and thrusts the knife deeper into Dan's chest after explaining to Dan why he did what he did and declaring, "This jive-ass nigger got you all!" A savvy police detective, Lt. DeVivo (Michael Anthony, who is quite good here), has the final laugh when the killer believes he got away with it all.  The first thing you'll notice about NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER (also known as IS THE FATHER BLACK ENOUGH?, which is a much more appropriate title and a nice play on words; DIRTY DAN, in which the poster artwork concentrates on Dolenz's older brother; and ACE OF SPADES, which is just downright racist) is how well Micky Dolenz (HEAD - 1968; DEADFALL - 1993 and the all but lost KEEP OFF MY GRASS! - 1972) holds his own here. A lot of people don't realize that he was a child actor before he became a member of The Monkees. He's actually pretty good as a brother that's torn between two sides: His strict Southern family upbringing and his own conscience, which changed once he served in the Vietnam War. Although the storyline is way too dated (although I can still imagine some Southerners rooting for Dan), director Joy N. Houck Jr. (NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR - 1969; WOMEN AND BLOODY TERROR - 1970; CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE - 1976) and screenwriters J.J. Milane, Robert A. Weaver and Jeffrey Newton keep the film moving at a brisk pace, even though it is rather obvious who the killer is. The Jesse/Father Jessie connection is just too much of a coincidence to be overlooked (especially since we never see Denise's boyfriend's face). James Ralston paints a rather broad stroke as Dan, who is not only a Southern bigot, he's a lawyer, to boot (double hiss!). There's some nice early 70's New Orleans photography and some violent scenes (the car seat booby-trap is a doozy) to keep viewers entertained and there's an air of sleazy 70's exploitation that you just can't replicate in films today. On those points alone, I would recommend NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER. Also starring Harold Sylvester Jr. and Ed Brown. Originally released on VHS by Paragon Video and  available on DVD from Vinegar Syndrome and AGFA. Rated R.

NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS (1974) - This is one of those films which played throughout the 70’s and 80’s under numerous titles such as LAST HOUSE-PART II; THE NEW HOUSE ON THE LEFT, SECOND HOUSE FROM THE LEFT, TORTURE TRAIN, LAST STOP ON THE NIGHT TRAIN and LATE NIGHT TRAINS. The first three alternate titles suggest that it is a sequel to Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972). Don’t you believe it. What we have here is a sleazy Italian thriller about grue-some sexual murders committed aboard a travelling train during the Christmas holiday. Two nubile young girls, on vacation from their parents, get more than they bargain for when they are held captive on the train by a trio of degenerates (a psychopath, a drug addict and a nymphomaniac!). They force the two girls to strip, give the drug addict a hand job and pull a peeping tom passenger into the rail car and force him to rape one of the girls. When the drug addict has trouble raping the other girl, who is a virgin (He exclaims, "She’s as tight as a frightened asshole!"), he tries to loosen her up by shoving a knife up her vagina! Needless to say, she dies and the other girl tries to escape by jumping off the train but dies in the attempt. The parents of one of the girls meet the train at the junction to pick up their daughter. When she does not come off they figure she took a later train. The father (who is a doctor) is asked to help a woman who is bleeding from the leg. It turns out the woman is the nymphomaniac and before long the parents are inviting the trio over to their house, neither party knowing who the others are. Circumstances lead the parents to find out the truth and they exact bloody revenge. Hey, wait a minute. This could very well be a sequel to LAST HOUSE! Although slow in the beginning, the film picks up steam (pardon the pun) in the middle and never lets up. Director Aldo Lado (WHO SAW HER DIE - 1972; THE HUMANOID - 1979; DISOBEDIENCE - 1981) leaves nothing to the imagination as you’ll view rapes, knifings, beatings and two impalements to the groin (one male, one female) all under the subtext of nonviolence. Not a bad little flick if you’re in the right frame of mind (say, the mind of a sick psychopath!). Starring Flavio Bucci, Macha Meril, Gianfranco De Grassi, Enrico Maria Salerno and Irene Miracle. Music by Ennio Morricone. Available on video in many cut versions. Luminous Film & Video Wurks (who no longer seem to be in business) use to offer a pristine uncut version (with German subtitles), the only way to watch it for a long time. Now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Blue Underground fully uncut and in widescreen.

PACT WITH THE DEVIL (2002) - I am a huge Malcolm McDowell fan. So huge, in fact, that I could watch him painting a house for two hours. That being said, I have noticed lately that he's been appearing in, how should I say this, less than stellar films. But he always seems to rise above the material. This is one of those films. In this modern retelling of the Dorian Gray legend, McDowell stars as Henry, a manager of a fashion photographer who, in 1980, discovers Louis (Ethan Erickson), a handsome gofer on a photo shoot who Henry thinks could be the next big male supermodel. Henry manages Louis' career and he indeed becomes the next big thing. Henry opens up to Louis about growing old (He says, "By 50, every man has the face he deserves.") and tells him the story of Dorian Gray and gets the brilliant idea to change Louis' name to Dorian. Dorian goes home half-drunk and stares at a huge framed head shot of himself that Harry had taken. He stares at the photo on the wall and writes "Dorian" in his own blood on a mirror opposite the photo. From that moment on, Dorian's life will never be the same. No matter how much punishment Dorian dishes out to his body (with drugs, alcohol, sex or violence), it does not seem to affect him. His photo, on the other hand, shows all the effects of the abuse. As time passes by, Dorian becomes hugely successful but, privately, is a wreck (but always looks perfect) as he abuses drugs, abuses women and abuses life, all under the watchful eye of Henry. Dorian begins a slow spiral into depravity which ends in a double murder.  Told in a series of flashbacks, PACT WITH THE DEVIL opens up at the scene of the double murder, with Henry telling Detective Giatti (Ron Lea) Dorian's story as the bodies are taken away. Since we are not privy to who is murdered or the reasons behind the murders, Director Allan A. Goldstein (DEATH WISH V: THE FACE OF DEATH - 1994; VIRUS - 1996) teases the viewer throughout the running time (not necessarily a bad thing), but anyone familiar with Oscar Wilde's novel won't be surprised by the outcome. As always, McDowell steals the show as the smarmy manager who we all know is just the Devil in disguise. He can be threatening by just raising his eyebrows and be your best friend by doing the same exact thing. The ever-changing photo of Dorian is also a good visual gag. As Dorian is abusing himself, the photo really takes a beating. Ethan Erickson must have been in the makeup chair a few times as, by the end, he looks like a rotting corpse in the final photo. This is an average film made above-average by Malcolm McDowell's performance and some perverse situations. Harry Alan Towers was one of the producers on this Canada/UK production. Also known as DORIAN. Also starring Jennifer Nitsch, Christoph Waltz, Victoria Sanchez, Karen Cliche and Amy Sloane. A DEJ Productions Release. Rated R. For other good McDowell performances in the same vein, see my reviews of ISLAND OF THE DEAD (2000) and THE BARBER (2001).

THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1975) - I consider this film the equivalent of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), but with a much more realistic premise (screenplay by Gabriel Burgos, Vincente Aranda and Joaquim Jordà). The story finds seven rich men of high standing in society (including Paul Naschy, Alberto De Mendoza; Antonio Mayans, Tomás Picó, Emiliano Redondo, Ricardo Palacios and Berta Berry) arriving at the palatial mansion of Carla (Nadiuska; GUYANA, CRIME OF THE CENTURY - 1979) for a weekend of drink and debauchery all in the name of...the Marquis De Sade! All the men sit around a table (wearing grotesque rubber masks) deep in the basement of the mansion, when all the women to be used as sexual playthings arrive, including Berta (Theresa Gimpera; CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD - 1973), Lily (Maria Perschy; THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE - 1973), Julia Saly, Diana Polakov, Leonia Devine, Estela Delgado and Carmen Platero. Just as the sexual gameplaying is about to begin, the mansion begins to rumble and glasses and plates fall off the table. The intrepid Professor Fulton (De Mendoza) deducts that a few atomic bombs went off and by his findings they have two days to collect all the food and water they will need to survive for two months deep in the mansion's sub-basement before the radioactivity is blown-in by the winds. The men decide to take a trip to the local town to get as much food and bottled water as they can, only to discover that every citizen has turned blind from the bright flashes of the bombs' lights (a fact that is actually true; that why scientists and observers wear special glasses when they watch atomic or nuclear bombs go off; if they didn't, they would go blind). When one of the men overreacts and shoots seven of the blind people dead, the guys stock-up on as much food and water as they can and head back to the mansion, but not before Victor (Pico) snaps the neck of the offending man who killed all those innocent people. Once back at the mansion, they learn that the blind people don't need eyes to exact revenge, begin to storm the castle and at first they are unsuccessful (My favorite line comes when Borne [Naschy] asks Prof. Fulton if they are safe and he replies rather glibly: "Yeah, and the Easter Bunny shits jelly beans!"). Pretty soon the group of unaffected people begin to act strangely, like Pico walking on all fours naked while wearing a grotesque pig mask and constant bickering between the group. The mass of blind people manage to kill a couple who run away and, in one of the film's most effective scenes, the blind people break through the ceiling of one of the rooms and lower the corpses of the dead couple ever-so-slowly to the floor, showing that eyes are not necessary to kill (the eyes of the dead woman are cut out!). The remaining people hear a warning on a transistor radio telling them that "The War is over! The War is over!" and to head for the nearest highway to be picked-up by the government and be moved to safety. That is exactly what our intrepid group try, but they are being followed very closely by the blind people, who catch one women, put a pistol in her mouth and pull the trigger. Sooner or later they catch up and kill most of the group, until all that is left are Prof. Fulton and Lily (who were to be paired up as sexual partners before this all began) and they manage to find the main road and are picked-up in a government bus by people wearing radiation suits. Thinking they are finally saved, they don't notice that the bus is being pumped full of poison gas. The last time we see Prof. Fulton and Lily, they are being dumped in a mass grave in a quarry by the government they trusted. While not one of director Leon Klimovsky's better films (he's also directed WEREWOLF SHADOW - 1971; DR. JEKYLL VS. THE WOLFMAN - 1972; A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE - 1973; VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES - 1973 [all starring Paul Naschy]; THE VAMPIRE'S NIGHT ORGY - 1972, and many more), this film does make some good points on how the rich believe they deserve more than the "peasants" and them surviving the atomic blasts unscathed proves that fact. But like all caste system beliefs, it comes back to bite you in the ass, as these poor "peasants" prove to the super-rich and influential. All the money and influence you had is thrown out the window in a situation like this and I believe this was Klimovsky's way of showing it. While the gore is sparse (this isn't really about blood and guts anyway, but revenge), this DVD by Code Red offers two versions: an abridged widescreen anamorphic print that can best be described as in poor shape. It is missing the first five minutes of the film (including the credits) and is full of frame jumps, dialogue cut-off and emulsion scratches. The DVD also offers a fullscreen 82-minute version (the running time of the U.S. theatrical version; the Spanish version [the title is "Último Deseo"] runs 12 minutes longer) that was taken from a 1 inch Sun Video tape. I still prefer the widescreen version because it is sharper-looking and is really not missing anything important, except for the head-scratching discussion about Lenin and Stalin in the beginning of the film (it actually plays better if you never heard that conversation).  While THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK is not perfect, it is a perfectly fine way to spend 82 minutes of your time and not be bored. When this was originally released to theaters, all the actors were given Anglicized names (Paul Naschy became "Paul Mackey", Maria Perschy became "Maria Pershing" and so on), even though it looked like most of them were speaking English that was over-dubbed, and it was listed as being distributed by "Sean S. Cunningham Films Ltd.", he of FRIDAY THE 13TH fame. When Cunningham was contacted about his involvement with this film, he was honestly confused about the whole situation, since he never heard of the film! It seems the unscrupulous unknown distributor, who released this film theatrically in 1980, just after Cunningham's film became a bonifide smash hit, decided to use his name to increase revenues. I don't know whether it did or not, but VHS tapes and even the Code Red DVD list Sean S. Cunningham as the producer and presenter, a claim I still find highly dubious today. Goya Award® winning director/screenwriter Vicente Aranda (THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE - 1972), who passed away on May 26, 2015 at age 88, was one of the screenwriters here. It's the only screenplay he was involved with where he wasn't the director. Released on VHS by budget company Star Classics, with a DVD & Blu-Ray release by Code Red. You can try to find the DVD, but good luck unless you want to spend a lot of money on eBay or Amazon from sellers looking to rip-off anyone they can. I enjoyed the film, no matter the controversy that surrounds it. Also starring Gumersindo Andrés, Gonzalo Tejada and Adolfo Thous. Rated R.

PERFECT VICTIMS (1988) - A sick thriller that's truly a product of it's time. A psychotic man named Brandon Poole (Tom Dugan), mad at the female race because he's contracted the AIDS virus, travels around in his pickup truck infecting women with the disease. Brandon, who works for a moving company, picks his next two victims, aspiring models Carrie (Jackie Swanson) and Melissa (Nikolette Scorcese), when he moves their belongings into a new apartment in Los Angeles. When in the apartment during the moving phase, Brandon drugs the milk in the refrigerator and returns that night to find them passed out on the floor. He breaks into the apartment and what he does next in unbelievably sadistic. He spits through a plastic tube directly into Carrie's nose (!) and then cuts his wrist and bleeds into Melissa's mouth. He then rapes Carrie and when he hears her baby crying in the next room, he screams to Carrie, "I have news for you, slut. Your kid is an orphan!" Police Lt. Kevin White (Clarence Williams III) is assigned to investigate when Carrie and Melissa are brought to the hospital. He at first thinks that the girls are nothing but two cokeheads, but when the medical report comes back that their assailant is infected with AIDS, he knows that there's a new type of serial killer on the loose. Liz Walters (Deborah Shelton, also one of the Executive Producers), the owner of a modeling agency who just signed Carrie and Melissa to contracts, shows up at the hospital concerned about her newest charges. When she appears on TV and condemns the vicious acts of violence, calling the rapist an "animal", Brandon views it and begins stalking her. His first attack on Liz is unsuccessful, thanks to a stun gun in Liz's purse and the sudden appearance of her boyfriend, Steve (Lyman Ward; CREATURE - 1984). After infecting another woman he meets at a bar and killing a nosy co-worker and the prostitute he is with, Brandon begins calling Liz on the phone ("Hello, bitch!") and tells her that she, Carrie and Melissa are "dogmeat" and will not escape his wrath. Lt. White gets an important clue from an old guy walking his dog (genre vet John Agar) and Liz picks up Carrie, her baby and Melissa and brings them to Steve's seaside villa, which is protected by guard dogs. They stupidly put the guard dogs in the garage, which gives Brandon the chance to enter the house and terrorize the three women (and the baby). It's gonna be a long night.  The idea of an AIDS-infected serial killer was daring for it's time (it's not even mentioned on the VHS box and any mention of AIDS was edited out of the TV prints!), when contracting the disease was considered a death sentence. We have, of course, come a long way since then, but this film is so sleazy in it's depictions of the way Brandon infects his victims, it's hard to shake-off the dirt. Director/co-scripter/composer Shuki Levy, who would later give us BLIND VISION (1992; also with Shelton, who was once Levi's real-life wife) and was one of the main people responsible for unleashing the extremely popular kid series, THE MIGHTY MORPHIN' POWER RANGERS, to TV in the mid-90's (still going strong on TV, with a major motion picture released in March of 2017!), delivers a film that is devoid of humor (The closest it comes to humor is when Clarence Williams III introduces his character to a hospital nurse by saying, "Hello, I'm White!", or when one of Brandon's co-workers says to him, "Why don't you lighten up Brandon? Take a dump or something!") and that's hard to watch in spots, especially the rape scenes. Some scenes bring up the emotional impact of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), especially the attack on Carrie and Melissa early in the film. If you aren't aware that Brandon has AIDS when this attack takes place, it loses resonance, so a second viewing is required for this scene to pack an emotional gut-punch. Tom Duggan (NIGHTWISH - 1988) is just plain nasty as the woman-hating Brandon. Looking at his pock-marked face and hearing his Southern drawl as he spits out vitriol, calling women "pigs", "stupid twats" or worse, is as horrendous a villian as you'll ever see in 80's cinema. I wouldn't exactly call PERFECT VICTIMS entertaining cinema, because it's not. What it is, though, is cinema of the extreme, a dirty little film that doesn't shy away from showing us something really seedy and demented. It brings everyone's fear of AIDS (whether justified or not) front and center, a scare film and a cautionary tale from the unsure late 80's. The ending is a little too pat (it feels like it was tacked-on at the last minute to give audiences something to feel good about), but there's also a shocking last-minute discovery hidden in Brandon's apartment that sent chills down my spine (it proves that he has been doing this for quite some time). Not for everyone's tastes, but well-made. Filmed under the more appropriate title HIDDEN RAGE. Worth Keeter (DOGS OF HELL - 1982) was First Assistant Director. Also starring Geoffrey Rivas, Phil Roberson, S. Marc Jordan, Lorinne Vorzoff, Alan Berger and Jill Jacobson. An Academy Entertainment Home Video Release. Rated R.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER (1974) - Comedic psycho-thriller starring Michael Callan (FREEWAY - 1988) as Adrian Wilde, a nature-cum-fashion photographer (dog photos are his specialty) with more than one shutter out of synch. The first time we meet Adrian, he has talked aspiring model Quinn (Susan Damante) into posing nude in his studio (all tastefully done, since this is a PG-rated film) before taking her to a secluded section of Griffith Park for the conclusion of the photo shoot, where he poisons Quinn's drink and takes photos of her in the throes of death. After placing her corpse back in her car, Adrian heads home to have dinner with his overbearing, alcoholic mother (Barbara Nichols: THE POWER - 1968), who constantly belittles him every chance she gets. Adrian was seriously scarred emotionally as a child when he discovered his mother screwing some random guy and was nearly strangled by mom's lover when he was caught spying on them. It seems Mrs. Wilde hasn't changed much since Adrian was a child, as she still has affairs with younger men, including Adrian's friend Clinton (Associate Producer Spencer Milligan). Adrian's childhood psychosis forces him to kill women, with each victim being a temporary replacement for the disgust he has for his slutty mother. Over-the-hill cops Lt. Luther Jacoby (Harold J. Stone; MITCHELL - 1975) and Sgt. Sid Collins (Edward Andrews) are assigned to investigate Quinn's murder, but they have few clues to work with. Luther can't seem to get over the surprised look on the face of Quinn's corpse and he vows to find her murderer. When forensic pathologist Joe Hennesey (Jed Allen) ties Quinn's murder to an earlier killing of another young woman, Luther and Sid realize they have a serial killer on the loose. Adrian kills middle-aged Karri Stephenson (Betty Anne Rees) next when he comes to her home to take photos of her prized schnauzer and she makes a pass at him (He throws a clock radio into her bathtub, electrocuting her, after screaming over-and-over, "Don't kiss me, Mother!" in a scene that will have you howling in [unintentional?] laughter). Adrian's favorite hangout is a bowling alley (One day I'm going to do a list of genre films that have scenes of bowling alleys in them, as there are just too many for it to be a coincidence), where he and Clinton spend their time bowling a few frames, hatching hair-brained schemes and ordering beer from pretty waitress Candy (Patty Bodeen), who has the hots for Adrian. Adrian steps-up his killing spree (he strangles the owner of a dog show and hangs another model in a deserted mansion) and starts to get sloppy, leaving clues at the crime scenes which Luther and Sid slowly begin putting together. But before they can arrest Adrian, he is stabbed to death by Candy (the only woman Adrian showed any romantic interest in), who has a deadly secret from her past and is much more psychotic than Adrian could ever hope to be. Her secret is a doozy and makes for a fitting and ironic demise for poor Adrian.  While THE PHOTOGRAPHER could never be accused of being a good film (it's just too disjointed to gel as a whole), it is still a fun film to watch, if only for the strange predilections of nearly every main character. Director/producer/screenwriter William Byron Hillman (who remade this film in 1982 as DOUBLE EXPOSURE, with Michael Callan returning as Adrian Wilde) certainly gives his characters some strange habits, whether it's Adrian's hatred of women (he's not gay, but he performs some uniquely outrageous monologues, where he looks into a mirror and takes on the personae of both his mother and his younger, boyish, self that must be heard and seen to be fully appreciated); Mrs. Wilde's nightly excursions to get soused and laid; Clinton's obsessions with dogs and stolen merchandise; Luther's promise to himself to stick to a healthy diet while partner Sid crams junk food into his mouth in nearly every scene he is in; and, finally, coroner Joe trying to create the perfect tomato soup or eating opulent meals in the morgue. Callan overacts shamelessly as Adrian (at one point he growls like a dog while chasing one victim [there's a lot of images and talk of dogs strewn throughout the film]), so much so, he quickly becomes more a caricature than character, but he's a hoot-and-a-half to watch. Director Hillman (who also made the David Heavener actioner RAGIN' CAJUN - 1991) may have been reaching for something a little more serious than the final product (although there are many examples of intentional humor to be found here), but he has fashioned a weird little flick that deserves to be a camp classic, John Hayes, the director of such genre fare as DREAM NO EVIL (1970), GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE (1972) and MAMA'S DIRTY GIRLS (1974), was one of the Executive Producers. THE JEFFERSONS' (1975 - 1985) Isabel Sanford puts in a cameo as Mrs. Slade, a witness who breaks the case wide open. Also starring Liv Lindeland, Jennifer Leak and Ronda Copeland. Originally released on VHS by Charter Entertainment and still awaiting a DVD release (Sage Stallone and Grindhouse Releasing own the DVD rights, but have been dragging their feet on getting this released). Rated PG, but remember, this is the 70's version of a PG, not the sissy PG of today.

PLOT OF FEAR (1976) - "We're all corruptible, all of us can kill." This is a very interesting hybrid, a mixture of "poliziottesci" and giallo genres by the director of MONDO CANE (1962) and BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971), that also has a wicked sense of humor that will make you laugh at some of the sights and sounds, as well as make you cringe, sometimes at the same time. A film that can make you do that is worthy of your time.
     A man in a toga named Mattia Grandi welcomes prostitute Laura Falconieri (Greta Vajant; BALSAMUS, MAN OF SATAN - 1970) into his home (where opening his front door is akin to opening a safe!). It's time for some S&M, as Laura slaps Mattia hard across the face (he kisses her hand and says he hopes his face didn't hurt it!). Mattia says, "Do it again!" as Laura puts her hands around his neck, choking the life out of him and leaving a drawing from a book of children's fairy tales next to his dead body. Then, Daniele Patucchi's (SACRIFICE! - 1972) funky music score fills the room as the opening credits play, where we see Laura traveling home on a bus. When the bus stops at her destination (she's the only passenger), she tries to get off, but the door doesn't open. She screams at the bus driver to open the door, when she sees a black-gloved (what else?) figure coming towards her, large wrench in hand. The figure then splits her head open with it, leaving another drawing from the same children's book on her dead body.
     Inspector Gaspare Lomenzo (Michele Placido; THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE - 1977) is in charge of investigating the deaths of Mattia and Laura, so he and his assistant, Giotto (co-screenwriter Enrico Oldoini), pull-in a group of prostitutes and question them. One hooker tells the Inspector that Mattia was into S&M, so he should question prostitutes from the fetish area in Porta Volta. He is then chewed-out by the Chief Inspector (Tom Skerritt; THE DEVIL'S RAIN - 1975; who doesn't dub his own voice) for not investigating any of the eight other murders committed during the day (Rome was tough in the '70s!). He tells the Chief Investigator that Mattia and Laura's murders are connected, because both of them had pages from the same book, a German children's fairy tale titled "Shock-Headed Peter", on their bodies. The Chief Inspector tells him to find a connection and to make it quick. Some other detectives then chime-in with their own theories of the crimes. One detective blames it on a sexually permissive society hooked on violent movies and TV shows, while another says, based on the theories of Freud, the killer is a lunatic who wants to get caught. Inspector Lomenzo doesn't recognize that detective and asks his name, and it turns out he is not a detective at all, but rather a thief that has been collared, showing the Inspector the handcuffs on his wrists!
     We then see the killer pasting the newspaper obituary notices for Mattia and Laura into a scrapbook. Inspector Lomenzo goes home, where he meets a "foxy chick" on the elevator. He goes home to his black girlfriend Ruth (Mary Ruth League), telling her about the foxy chick he has seen on the elevator several times (he even makes a "jungle bunny" joke!). We are then at the offices of sleazy private investigator Peter Struwwel (Eli Wallach; STATELINE MOTEL - 1973; who also doesn't dub his own voice), who has cameras and other electronic surveillance equipment throughout the building so he can keep tabs on his associates and look at young female asses! He has his associate Pandolfi (Jacques Herlin; SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON - 1966) record a conversation he is having with Angelo Scanavini (Quinto Parmeggiani; WEEKEND MURDERS - 1970), a friend of Mattia and Laura who is not satisfied with how the police investigation is going.  He tells Peter he believes their murders have something to do with an event that happened at "Villa Hoffmann" four years earlier. He was at Villa Hoffmann with a group of people who called themselves the "Wildlife Friends" and a prostitute was accidentally killed. The Inspector questions Peter about Villa Hoffmann, but Peter seems more interested in rubbing all his electronic equipment in the Inspector's face, knowing full well that the police department can't afford such things, but he does give the Inspector important information on Villa Hoffmann's owner, big game hunter and black marketeer Hoffmann (John Steiner; DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS SPECIAL SECTION - 1976). But the Inspector has more pressing matters, namely a hooker that is tied to a tree by the killer, doused in gasoline and burned alive, another page from the German fairy tale book left by her burned dead body (a really graphic and well-done sequence). We then see Angelo Scanavini go home to his sick mother (his front door is protected by the same safe-like device as Mattia's), where he hears his mother's day nurse moaning loudly in the bathroom, masturbating! When she leaves, Angelo sits down in front of the TV and watches a live interview program, where one of his friends is talking about Italy's bad economy. Suddenly, while his friend is talking, he is shot in the head! (I told you Rome was a tough town!). Is this killing related to the other murders? You're damn right it is!
     At a party with his girlfriend, the Inspector notices the foxy chick is sitting on the couch. She notices him, too. Ruth, who is a model, leaves the party with a photographer named Evelyn. The Inspector, thinking Evelyn is a woman, is shocked to discover she is actually a man (and a good-looking one), so Ruth leaves the party with him (and disappears for the rest of the film), giving the Inspector the perfect opportunity to meet the foxy chick. Her name is Jeanne (Corinne Cléry; HITCH-HIKE - 1978) and they begin a love affair. The Chief Inspector wants him to investigate the man killed on live TV, not knowing that it is linked to the three other murders he is currently investigating. (we watch the killer paste the man's obituary announcement into the scrapbook).
     This is what happens in the first 30 minutes of the film, as we discover what actually happened at Villa Hoffmann four years earlier. The "Wildlife Friends" were having a "wildlife orgy" with a bunch of prostitutes and are "playfully" torturing young prostitute Rosa Catena (Sarah Ceccarini; NAZI LOVE CAMP 27 - 1977), making her believe that they are going to feed her to a live tiger kept on the grounds. She has a heart attack and dies, but Hoffman doesn't want the police to know about the orgies, so they cover-up Rosa's death, having a doctor pronounce her dead of cardiac arrest at another location. At this orgy were all the murdered people, as well as Angelo Scanavini and Jeanne, all of them witnessing Rosa's death. We must figure out who is responsible for the murders and what the pages in the German fairy tale book represent (If you know German, you could have guessed who was responsible almost immediately!). We learn that anyone can kill, given the right circumstances (and the killer's name is mentioned in this review).
     Half the fun of discovering who the killer is is the trip director/co-screenwriter Paolo Cavara (DEAF SMITH AND JOHNNY EARS - 1972) takes us on. When we first see the Wildlife Friends in action, they are watching an animated porn cartoon that must be seen to be believed (it has to do with a twirling mechanical penis being inserted into a woman's bottom!). The film is full of weird set-pieces like this, most of them humorous. The film wouldn't have worked if not for the exceptional performance of Michele Placido as the Inspector, a tour-de-force of bewilderment and humorous asides. His seduction of Jeanne is worth the price of admission alone, as it is both funny and sexy (Jeanne: "Are you in love with me?" Inspector: "Yeah, but pretend I didn't tell you!"). As with most giallo films, there is some extreme nudity (Corrine Clery never looked more beautiful), as well as some graphic violence, including the burning of the hooker and Angelo Scanavini's death, where he is hit by a car and his face goes through the windshield. We also take a trip to a slaughterhouse where, among the slaughtered pigs, hangs the body of another male member of the Wilderness Friends, a meathook sticking out of his neck and other sights, some bloody, some humorous (such as the Inspector questioning a drunk woman). While it's hard to ignore Tom Skerritt and Eli Wallach speaking in voices that are not their own (they both have distinctive speech patterns, although the person who dubs Wallach does a very good job of matching his lip movements), there is much to enjoy here, more than enough to overlook a couple of hiccups. I wish Paolo Cavara made more films like this, but he died rather young at the age of 56 in 1982. The wonderful screenplay was written by Cavara and co-star Enrico Oldoini (who would turn to directing, making BYE BYE BABY - 1988, and many others), with an assist from Bernardino Zapponi, who was responsible for the script of Dario Argento's DEEP RED (1975) another giallo that used children's nursery rhymes as a central plot device.
     Shot as E TANTA PAURA (a literal translation of the review title), this film never has a theatrical or legitimate VHS release in the United States. It made its first appearance on these shores on DVD, from Raro Video. As with most Raro releases, the picture is stunning and it is offered in its original Italian with English subs or English dubbed. Extras on the disc include interviews with Enrico Oldoini, actor Michele Placido (who is still making films up to this day, even directing a few) and Paolo Cavara's son, Pietro, who offers us insights on his father's body of work. Also included is a PDF file containing background on this film, written by Fangoria's Chris Alexander (which I have scanned HERE). Another great package from Raro and cheap, too (less than $9.00 and worth three times that!). No Blu-Ray at the time of this review, but Raro usually turns their DVDs into Blus, so look for one in the future. Also starring "Eddy Fay" (Edoardo Faieta; YETI: GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY - 1977), Claudio Zucchet (BURIAL GROUND - 1980), Enzo Robutti (THE EYE BEHIND THE WALL - 1977), Cecilia Polizzi and Mario Mercalli (THE TEENAGE PROSTITUTION RACKET - 1975). Not Rated.

POINT OF TERROR (1971) - More soap opera than anything else, this film still has enough exploitative elements to qualify it as a thriller. Over the opening credits, we watch lounge singer Tony Trelos (the enigmatic Peter Carpenter; VIXEN - 1968; BLOOD MANIA - 1970), dressed in a horrendous red frilly jumpsuit, crooning his tune "This Is..." at a cocktail bar called the Lobster House ("No Cover. No Minimum."). He then, for some unknown reason, begins to scream and we find out it was all a nightmare. He wakes up at the beach, where he is relaxing and catching some rays. Along comes Andrea Hillard (Dyanne Thorne; ILSA: SHE-WOLF OF THE SS - 1974), the sexy wife of wheelchair-bound record executive Martin Hilliard (Joe Marston; THE DISEMBODIED - 1957), and they strike up a conversation. She agrees to come to the Lobster House to hear him sing (and to start a romantic relationship). Andrea brings along boozy friend Fran (Leslie Simms; AUNTIE LEE'S MEAT PIES - 1991) to the Lobster House, where they watch Tony belt out "Drifter Of The Heart". Andrea invites Tony back to her house, where she agrees to cut a record of an original song Tony has wrote and then they make out a little. Martin hears and sees the whole thing and when Andrea brings Tony to the recording studio to sing "Lifebeats", everyone likes what they hear, even Martin, who gets a phone call from one of his cronies at the studio. Martin tells his crony to release the record (hey, he likes to make money just like the rest of us!), but it will be the last recording of Tony's career, because he will make sure that his contract will ensure that he will never cut another record again. When Martin spots Andrea and Tony making love in the huge built-in pool (Thorne nudity alert!), he waits for Tony to leave and confronts Andrea. They get into a terrible fight (It seems Andrea was drunk one night when driving her and Martin home, which resulted in an accident that put Martin in the wheelchair. She may also have been involved in the stabbing death of Martin's first wife, where, in flashbacks, we see someone in a mask stabbing her over-and-over with a huge knife, the only really bloody scene in the entire film.) and Andrea uses Martin and his wheelchair like some mock bullfight, where Martin falls in the pool and drowns. The police deem it an accident, but little does Andrea know is that Tony never really left. He watched the whole murder just out of sight. At Martin's funeral, Tony meets Martin's daughter Helayne (Lory Hanson), a beautiful young woman who Andrea made Martin send away to boarding school in Europe when they were married. It's apparent that it is love at first sight for the both of them, but Andrea threatens to destroy Tony's career (even after telling her that he saw her murder Martin) if he gets any closer to Helayne. While Andrea is away for a month on business, Tony ignores Andrea's threats and romances Helayne (taking her on a romantic horseback ride), even after Fran tells her that Tony and Andrea were having an affair. Helayne doesn't care because she actually cares about Tony and they quickly get married in Tijuana, Mexico. When Andrea comes home and finds out that Tony has married Helayne, she laughs in his face, telling him that Helayne will get none of Martin's vast fortune, because there is a stipulation in his will that states if Helayne gets married before she turns twenty-five, she is cut out of the will. When Tony tells Andrea that he doesn't care (turns out he loves Helayne as much as she loves him), Andrea gets pissed-off and tells Tony his recording days are over. Tony tells her that he'll find some other way to make a living, which further infuriates Andrea and she begins kicking him in the nuts and biting his leg. When she jumps on Tony's back, he twirls her around and she falls over the fence by the swimming pool and dies on the rocky shore over a hundred feet below. The detective involved in the case determines it is an accident (while he helps himself to all the deserts and fruits at the poolside!) and Tony and Helayne are free to continue their happy marriage. Well, almost. Just before they got married, Tony's sometimes-girlfriend Sally (Paula Mitchell; THE MAD BOMBER - 1972) informs him that she is pregnant. Tony told her to get an abortion and when he got back from Tijuana, he would check in on her. After Andrea's death, Tony gets a call from Sally and she wants him to meets her at her house. Once there, Sally unloads a few bullets into Tony's chest and Tony falls down to the ground. He screams his last dying breath and suddenly wakes up on the same beach as we saw in the beginning of the film. Yes, this was all a nightmare, but when Andrea stops by to introduce herself, Tony realizes that he is about to relive the nightmare all over again. Ah, the circle of life!  Director Alex Nicol (THE SCREAMING SKULL - 1958), who also acted on TV [most notably on the original THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode titled "Young Man's Fancy" - 1962, and the original THE OUTER LIMITS episode titled "Moonstone" - 1964] and in such films as BLOODY MAMA (1970), THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED - 1971 and THE CLONES (1973), does what he can with the weak script by Ernest A. Charles (his only film writing credit; he also appears here as the food-stealing detective) and Tony Crechales (HOUSE OF TERROR - 1972; IMPULSE - 1974; THE GREAT SKYCOPTER RESCUE - 1980), but the film doesn't really add up to much. This was the last film in the short-lived career of Peter Carpenter (who co-produced and co-wrote the story of this fim with Chris Marconi and starred/co-wrote in the previously-mentioned BLOOD MANIA, also co-produced by Marconi and co-written by Crechales [which was paired with this film for many years as a theatrical double bill by Crown International Pictures]), who the IMDb lists as passing away in December of 1971 and co-star Leslie Simms (in a DVD interview extra; she says that Marconi was gay and that the definitely straight Carpenter's real first name was "Page", which his agent made him change to "Peter") claims he died between 1978 to 1981 of complications due to pneumonia. Whatever the truth, it's a shame, because Carpenter could have been a fairly decent leading man in B-films (he actually sings all the songs in this film, too) and he is clearly the best thing about this film (well, besides Thorne's naked breasts, that is). He even does some full backside nudity, so you can see his ass, a treat for all the ladies and gay men in the audience. Carpenter only made four films, including (besides the three already mentioned) LOVE ME LIKE I DO (1970), a wife-swapping drama also starring Dyanne Thorne. POINT OF TERROR definitely has that early-70's vibe, with the long sideburns, funky hairdos and colorful clothes, but besides that, Thorne's nudity and Carpenter's acting, there's not much to recommend here. The story is so old hat that it has been done a thousand times before and the leisurely pace kills any potential this film had. Not released until 1973. Also starring Al Dunlap, Dana Diamond, Tony Kent and Roberta Robson. The print used for the DVD, from Scorpion Releasing, looks sharp, colorful, mostly blemish-free and is shown in it's original aspect ratio. Rated R.

PRIVATE OBSESSION (1994) - Lee Frost returns! After nearly 20 years away from directing, Lee Frost comes back to the fold with his take on Stephen King’s MISERY (1990). A somewhat crazed fan named Richard (Michael Christian, who is also the Associate Producer) kidnaps world-reknown model Emanuelle (Shannon Whirry) and locks her in a specialy built area of his house complete with breakproof glass, electronic locks and hidden cameras. Richard begins a slow, torturous campaign to turn Emanuelle into his idea of the perfect woman. Richard knows that she is an advocate of women’s rights and keeps her locked in the room, playing one of her televised speeches over and over again on a TV set next to her bed. When she unplugs the TV, Richard turns off the water, takes away her clothes and refuses to give her anything to eat until she plugs the TV back in. After a couple of days without water or food (she stoops so low as to drink some water from the toilet tank!), she gives in and plugs the TV set back in. Richard turns the water back on, buys her some expensive clothes and cooks her a gourmet dinner. She gets drunk, does a striptease in front of the camera and has hot sex with Richard. After the act is done, Emanuelle unsuccessfully tries to escape, which really ticks Richard off. He takes all her clothes, towels and blankets and turns off the water again until she repents and tells him that it is a man’s world and she will do whatever he wants. Richard accepts her apology and has sex with her again. The tables are turned when Richard is duped by Emanuelle and gets trapped in his own escape-proof rooms. It is now Emanuelle’s turn to play her televised speech over and over again to an unappreciative Richard. And she likes it! Completely devoid of violence, this low-budget erotic thriller relies heavily on the ample naked charms of Shannon Whirry (ANIMAL INSTINCTS - 1992) and the unrated, so-close-to porn, sex scenes. Michael Christian (POOR PRETTY EDDIE - 1973; a.k.a. HEARTBREAK MOTEL; a.k.a. BLACK VENGEANCE) plays Richard as someone who doesn’t need to resort to physical violence to get his way (even Emanuelle’s kidnapping is painless). Richard would rather use mental torture than harm Emanuelle physically. Bo Svenson and Rip Taylor (sans hairpiece) have cameos as a private dick and travel agent respectively. Lee Frost not only wrote and directed, he also edited (he shows some editing prowess in a scene involving a doggie door), wrote the lyrics to some of the songs and puts in a brief appearance as a private dick named Jerry. This film is basically a two character play, and while it is slow going in some spots, it does hold the attention due to Whirry’s uninhibited performance. This is not the best film of Frost’s career, but new Frost is better than no Frost at all. Welcome back, Lee! A Triboro Entertainment Group Home Video VHS & DVD Release. Unrated.

THE PSYCHIC (1977) - This is one of director Lucio Fulci's least talked about films of the '70s, yet it is one of his most accomplished, reminding me of Dario Argento's DEEP RED (1975) in tone and storytelling. You have to really watch this film to fully appreciate it, as all the clues are there to solve the mystery, but they are cleverly hidden, so it will take keen eyes to spot them. This is a giallo film with horror overtones and it is a good choice for those who like to use both their brains and their eyes, making it a very satisfying experience (I hated this film when I first saw it in a theater, but is was drastically cut to achieve an R-Rating).
     Dover, England October 12, 1959 11:45 AM: Little schoolgirl Virginia (Fausta Avelli; RINGS OF FEAR - 1978) is in Florence, Italy and suffers from "visions". This particular vision shows her mother (Elizabeth Turner; CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE - 1980) driving to the top of the white cliffs of Dover, getting out of her car and then committing suicide by jumping off the top of the cliffs, her face tearing away as it hits the rocks on her way down (a very good and gory effect). Little Virginia screams and then we are transported to 1977 Italy, where the adult Virginia (Jennifer O'Neill; THE FLOWER IN HIS MOUTH - 1975) is driving to the airport with her husband Francesco (Gianni Garko; NIGHT OF THE DEVILS - 1972) and then watches him as he flies away on a small plane on business. On the drive home, Virginia has another vision, where she sees an elderly woman being murdered by a man with a limp, who then walls her up in bricks, hiding her body in a house. Pay very close to this vision, because it contains nearly all the visual clues to solve this mystery and there are many. After the vision is over, Virginia is snapped out of her trance by a policeman knocking on her car window, as she subconsciously pulled the car over to the side of the road. Virginia then goes to the office of her good friend, parapsychologist Luca Fattori (Marc Porel; LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN - 1976), and tells him about her latest vision. Luca is familiar with her visions, as he tape-records every one, which his secretary, Bruna (Jenny Tamburi; THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR - 1975), transcribes, writing them down in a journal (which is also important in solving this mystery).
     A short time later, Virginia, who is an interior decorator by trade, decides to surprise her husband by restoring his childhood home, which he hasn't been to in many years. As soon as the caretaker (Vito Passeri; Fulci's DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING - 1972) takes Virginia into the house, where all the furniture and wall hangings are covered in dusty white sheets, she gets the eerie feeling that she has been there before. As she starts removing the sheets from the living room, she realizes this is the same room as her latest vision, same mirror, same red lampshade, same everything, only a dresser is blocking the area where she saw the old woman being walled-up. She moves the dresser and begins destroying the wall with a hand pickaxe she found in the basement, eventually finding a skeleton behind the bricks. The police are called in, but Inspector Rossi (Paolo Pacino) is rightfully baffled as to how Virginia knew there was a body in the wall, as she told him this was the first time she was physically in the house, but she saw the murder of an old woman in a vision (Would you believe her?). When the police take the skeleton away, the forensics department determines that the skeleton is that of a model who disappeared in 1972...oh, and she was only 35 years old. That can't be says Virginia, the woman in her vision was much older, but when the Inspector shows her and Francesco a photo of the model, Virginia remembers seeing her on a magazine cover in her vision, but what can that possibly mean? Francesco then confesses that he dated the model long before he met Virginia, but one day she just disappeared and he never saw her again. The Inspector arrests Francesco on suspicion of murder and throws him in jail, while Virginia tries to prove him innocent, with the help of Luca, Bruna and her journal (which Luca didn't even know that she created).
     Virginia remembers a yellow taxicab in her vision and Bruna, who is a veritable encyclopedia, mentions that taxis didn't become yellow in this town until 1972 and since there were only 16 yellow cabs in 1972, they should question the drivers to see if they remember the model and where they took her. They hit pay dirt with one of the drivers, who remembers picking up the model (He remembers her wearing a miniskirt, saying, "I saw everything!"), but she wasn't alone. She was with a bearded man...who walked with a limp and the driver dropped them off at an art gallery (Which Virginia and Luca go to, picking up another clue from her vision, a Vermeer painting). They then discover that the bearded man is Emilio Rospini (Gabriele Ferzetti; THE SMILING MANIACS - 1975), who was a Superintendent of the town back in 1972, but he is now a professor at the university.
     The only problem is, according to Virginia, the man in her vision didn't have a beard and according to photos from 1972, Emilio always had the beard. In the next scene (which takes place in 1977), we see a barber shaving off Emilio's beard, telling the barber that his wife thinks he looks better without it. It the becomes obvious (at least to me), that Virginia's vision didn't take place in the past, it's a vision of the future (it makes perfect sense, the hole on the wall, Emilio shaving off his beard, the old woman still being alive, as Virginia saw her recently, etc). But the questions then become: Why did Virginia have a vision of the future, since all her other visions were of the immediate present or the past? Why did she have this specific vision? Can she stop it from happening and can she get her husband and the police to believe her? (Francesco doesn't believe in visions, even after being thrown in jail) Is Virginia's life in danger?
     Francesco's sister, Gloria (Evelyn Stewart; THE NIGHT CHILD - 1975), smokes the same hand-rolled cigarettes (in yellow rolling paper) as in Virginia's vision and she blames Virginia for putting her brother in jail. Virginia does get a clue from Gloria that places her husband in the United States when the model was killed, but it is not enough proof for the Inspector or the Police Commissioner (Fabrizio Jovine; Fulci's CONTRABAND - 1980) to get her husband released from prison. The old woman from Virginia's vision calls Virginia and leaves a message on her answering machine, telling Virginia that she can "help" her. Help her how? When Virginia plays back the message for Luca, he tells her to forget about it, it is probably a crank call.
     Virginia gets an idea on how to free her husband, so she pretends to be a reporter for the New York Times, goes to Emilio's house and discovers that the old woman is actually Emilio's rich wife, Giovanna (Lorendana Savelli). When Giovanna leaves the room, Virginia accuses Emilio of killing the model, telling him she knows he was having an affair with her. As more clues from Virginia's vision become clear, it becomes obvious that Virginia herself is responsible for the actions in her vision. If Virginia never accused Emilio of sleeping with the murdered model, his extremely wealthy wife would have never knew (she overheard Virginia's accusations against her husband). She threatens to divorce Emilio, leaving him penniless, which is why he must kill her before she contacts a lawyer, but he never gets the chance to brick her up (Watch the film to find out why). Not only is Virginia guilty of a future crime, her actions may be responsible for her own murder (by someone close to her). Can Virginia stop it before it happens? It doesn't turn out the way you think it will.
     This may be Lucio Fulci's most intrinsically plotted film, as nearly every scene has an important clue to solving the mystery. Since we basically know whodunit (but do we really?), the film becomes a really tense thriller as we wonder if Virginia will collect all the clues in time and solve her vision.  The screenplay, written by Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti (Argento's THE CAT O' NINE TAILS - 1971; Fulci's THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY - 1981) and Roberto Gianviti (SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS - 1972; FIVE WOMEN FOR THE KILLER - 1974), is well thought-out and makes perfect sense, but just like any vision (or dream), it takes time to make clear, putting the clues together in a cohesive whole. The biggest stumbling block that Virginia has to go through is that no one will believe her, not her husband, not the police, not even Luca, but it will become clear to the viewer why certain people are too quick to refuse, as they have hidden agendas and secrets of their own that they don't want exposed in a vision.  Virginia doesn't help herself when she stages the crime scene to fit her vision (knocking over a statue, leaving the mirror wide open to be shattered, moving furniture around), which only leaves her wide open to harm from people she thought she trusted. You will also question some of Virginia's actions, but it will all become clear during the film's white-knuckle finale, which I won't give away here. Those expecting a Fulci gorefest, in the vein of his ZOMBIE (1979) or THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982), are going to be disappointed (there's just the opening suicide and later shots of a bloody head), but those who like a crackling good mystery (Such as Fulci's A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN - 1971), with a thought provoking ending, are going to be rewarded in spades. I'll just leave you to think about this: Not all limps are permanent.
     Shot as SETTE NOTE IN NERO ("Seven Notes In Black") and also known as MURDER TO THE TUNE OF THE SEVEN BLACK NOTES, this film was released theatrically in the U.S. (under the review title) severely compromised and missing several key scenes by Brandon Chase's Group 1 International Distribution, with a fullscreen VHS release (using the U.S. theatrical print) by Lightning Video and, later, a budget VHS release by Video Treasures. The uncut widescreen DVD from Severin Films is troublesome, because it was first released with the volume level so low, you had to turn the sound up all the way to the max just to hear anything (and it still wasn't enough). Severin supposedly fixed the problem on later pressings, but Amazon still sells the original pressing (I should know, I purchased one in 2017!). No Blu-Ray yet in the U.S. (at the time of this review), but look for that to be rectified soon, as most of Fulci's output has been released in that format. Also starring Riccardo Parisio Perrotti (Fulci's MURDER-ROCK: DANCING DEATH - 1984), Bruno Corazzari (Fulci's FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE - 1975), Salvatore Puntillo (DEEP RED - 1975), Franco Agrisano, Veronica Miichielini, Luigi Diberti (THE STENDHAL SYNDROME - 1996) and Ugo D'Alessio as the Art Gallery Owner. The edited theatrical version is Rated R, but the Severin DVD is Not Rated.

PUNK VACATION (1987) - If you haven't read the profile of RaeDon Home Video in the "Video Companies Of The 80's" section of this site, I would recommend that you do so before reading this review. It may give you some insight as to why RaeDon released some of the worst films on VHS; films so bad that even Troma would turn their nose up at them. PUNK VACATION fits perfectly into RaeDon's canon of pure crap, but it is crap that's strangely fascinating. A gang of motorcycle-riding punks (both male and female) stop in some podunk California town and kill the father and rape the sister of Lisa (Sandra Bogan), who all run a small café/gas station. Lisa's boyfriend, Deputy Steve Reed (Stephen Fiachi), responds to an alarm at the café and hits one of the punks with his car, sending him to the hospital, along with Lisa's sister, who is now catatonic. Ramrod (Roxanne Rogers), the leader of the punks, refuses to leave this sleepy little burg until they rescue their comrade in the hospital, but Lisa is so enraged she tries to stab the hospitalized punk with a pair of scissors, but fails. Steve tells Lisa to leave the punks to him and the police, but she tells him that she'll handle this on her own terms. Lisa grabs a pistol and heads to the punks' temporary hideout, where she tries to capture them but ends up as their prisoner instead. Ramrod, who incredulously changes her appearance to look exactly like Lisa (!), goes into town and enters the hospital, where she unsuccessfully tries to free her handcuffed comrade before barely escaping herself. When Steve realizes that the punks have Lisa, he has Deputy Don (Don Martin) help him try to rescue her. They sneak-up on the barn where the punks are hiding (Steve shoots the punk's lookout with a rifle he has outfitted with a cucumber silencer!) and rescue Lisa, but not before shooting Ramrod in the hand and another punk in the leg. Steve, Don and Lisa (who is only wearing her bra and panties until Don, not Steve, offers her his jacket!) escape into the rocky terrain and, eventually, to town with the punks not far behind (Steve kills another punk on a motorcycle). After burning all their dead in a huge bonfire, Ramrod (shouting "Kill the Pigs!") leads the rest of the punks on a raid of the town. They cut off the town from outside interference and begin their attack, but the police have formed a posse full of gun nuts, who begin hunting down the punks on the outskirts of town. After a pretty even match between the punks and the police, Lisa ends the ordeal by wounding Ramrod and allowing her and the rest of the punks to leave town. I guess she forgot about her dead father and comatose little sister. She not only turns the other cheek, she totally fails in her role as a vigilante. What a fucking disappointment she turned out to be, not to mention failing to satisfy our taste for bloody revenge.  Although competently filmed, one-and-only-time director Stanley Lewis manages to botch nearly every other aspect of the film; hiring hammy amateur actors (Louis Waldron, who portrays Sheriff Virgil, should win some type of bad acting award for over-emoting as a stereotypical Southern hick sheriff); forgetting that action films should at least have a handful of action scenes (there's really none until the anemic finale); and padding the film with unnecessary filler. The screenplay, by Lance Smith and Harvey Richelson, does try to be humorous at times (Ramrod elects one of the punks to be the military leader because he had some ROTC training in high school!) and portrays some of the punks (though not all) as normal teenagers looking to have one final childish fling before becoming and acting like adults, but the majority of the film is just extremely stupid people (both the punks and the townspeople, especially Steve and the cops) doing the most asinine things at the most inopportune times. If you don't mind the stupidity of it all and the almost total lack of bloody violence, PUNK VACATION may scratch that small itch you have for little-seen regional rarities (filmed in and around Santa Monica, California). All others stay away. Also starring Patrick Reynolds, Billy Palmieri, Robert Garrison, Kevin Lewis, Delta Giordano, Jesse Galante, Gary Retmeier, Allegra Swift, Karen Renee and Raymond Fusci. A RaeDon Home Video VHS Release. Believe it or not, this was released on Blu-Ray & DVD from wonderful new label Vinegar Syndrome in its original aspect ratio. Who would have thought we would see the day?. Unrated.

RABID DOGS (1974) - After robbing a pharmaceutical company of their weekly payroll (and leaving several dead), Doc (Maurice Poli), Thirtytwo (Luigi Montefiori) and Blade (Aldo Caponi) take innocent bystander Maria (Lea Lander) hostage and hijack a car with a father (Riccardo Cucciolla) and his sick, unconscious son on board. I do not want to spoil the outcome but you will experience what is probably the sweatiest, most-claustrophobic terror-filled ride of your life. This is filmmaking at it’s best, since 90% of its’ running time takes place inside the close confines of a car and yet never gets stale or repetitive. Not very graphic by today’s standards, this film still raises the hair on the back of your neck due to realistic performances, natural scenery, implied rape and degradation (Maria is forced to urinate standing up while Blade and Thirtytwo laugh hysterically). Add to that a totally surprise ending and what you have here is a totally unique and worthwhile discovery. Directed by the late maestro Mario Bava (PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES - 1965; A BAY OF BLOOD - 1971) in 1974, it was never completed due to a key investor being killed in a traffic accident. The film sat in legal limbo for over 20 years and was completed by star Lea Landers and others using Bava’s editing notes (the same way Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL [1958] was reconstructed recently). A new opening was filmed (it makes sense after viewing the ending) and it was released on DVD only in 1997. It’s a shame it wasn’t released in 1974, because it would have given Mario Bava more respect than he had received in his later years (he was 60 when this was made). In Italian language with English subtitles supplied by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog fame. If you have a DVD player (everyone should!), this is an important film to add to your library. Besides, it’s the only way you’ll discover why Montefiore’s (a.k.a. George Eastman) character is called Thirtytwo! RABID DOGS (Cani Arrabbiati), also known as KIDNAPPED, is available from Lucertola Media (and is now long OOP) and by Starz Home Entertainment. Remade in 2015 as a French/Canada release using the same name. Not Rated.

THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972) - After watching director Emilio P. Miraglia's THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971), I just had to watch this giallo film, which was Miraglia's last directorial feature. It's a pity he never made any thing else, because this is a very entertaining mystery with many visual touches, great atmosphere, copious nudity and bouts of graphic violence. Fans of the giallo genre should check this out.
     A little girl named Kitty is singing to her doll, which she has named Elizabeth, on the property of her family castle. Her sister Eveline skips up to her and steals her doll, running away with Kitty chasing after her. They run into the castle and into their grandfather, Tobias Wildenbrück's (Rudolf Schündler; SUSPIRIA - 1977), bedroom. Tobias tells Eveline to give the doll back, but Eveline looks at a macabre painting in his room and she says, "Kitty is the Black Queen and I am the Red Queen". She then grabs a dagger and stabs the doll seven times, screaming "I hate you! I hate you!", much to the horror of Tobias and Kitty. Eveline then cuts the doll's head off, holds it in the air and laughs maniacally. Kitty tackles her sister and after a short while she calms down. Eveline tells her grandfather that whenever she looks at the painting, "I felt something inside me."  Tobias tells the two young sisters the story of the painting: "Many, many years ago, the Red Queen and the Black Queen lived in this castle. They were sisters like you two. They'd hated each other since they were children. The Black Queen silently put up with the Red Queen's wicked schemes, waiting for the time when she could have vengeance. When the Red Queen fell in love with a man, The Black Queen finally got her revenge and murdered her sister one night while she was sleeping. She brutally stabbed her seven times. Legend has it that it that a year after her death the Red Queen came back to life, spreading terror. She murdered six innocent people. The seventh was the Black Queen.  At peace once again, the Red Queen returned to her grave, but the same thing happened a hundred years earlier, and a hundred years later, always in this castle and always between two sisters, and it will keep happening every hundred years." (If you think this was a harsh tale to tell children, think of the Grimm Fairy Tales. They were just as violent, if not moreso.). When Kitty asks when it is going to happen again, Tobias says, "Fourteen years. In 1972 to be precise." Grandpa then tells his nurse to throw the painting away. So begins this gruesome tale of the macabre.
     It is now January of 1972 and Tobias is much older and feeble, as his other daughter, Franziska (Marina Malfatti; SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS - 1972), is taking care of him. Tobias hasn't seen Kitty or Eveline in months. While Grandpa is in bed, a woman in a red cape and holding a dagger approaches him. He has a heart attack and dies (1 down, 6 to go). Franziska hears her grandfather calling her name, runs to his bedroom and finds him dead, the Red Queen running through the castle grounds, laughing. An adult Kitty (Barbara Bouchet; CRY OF A PROSTITUTE - 1974) attends her grandfather's funeral, where Franziska's husband, Herbert (Nino Korda; FIRE, ICE & DYNAMITE - 1990), tells Kitty that as Tobias' favorite daughter, she will get the lion's share of the inheritance and his and Franziska's share will be half of Kitty's. Herbert then tells Kitty that he saw the Red Queen last night running through the park and that she looked just like Eveline. Kitty says that is ridiculous and has a flashback to a few months earlier. Kitty and Eveline are fighting on the castle grounds and when Kitty slaps Evelyn, her head hits a stone pillar, cracking her head open and falling into the lake, dead. Franziska silently tells Kitty that she and Herbert know Eveline is dead (no one else does), but are they trying to scare Kitty?
     Kitty works as a professional photographer, shooting women modeling clothes for Springe's Department Store. Kitty's boyfriend is Martin Hoffmann (Ugo Pagliai; SHADOWMAN - 1974), an executive at Springe's. Kitty brings Martin to the reading of her grandfather's will. In the will, Tobias says the the splitting of his fortune will not take place until the beginning of 1973. He has chosen a Mr. Bauer to be the executor of his will, giving him an envelope containing instructions on how he is to split his fortune and it is not to be opened until the beginning of 1973. This takes everyone by surprise.
     Eveline's boyfriend, Peter (Fabrizio Moresco; DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT - 1972), pulls a knife on Kitty and wants to know where Eveline is (Kitty has told everyone Eveline is in America). He tells Kitty that he really doesn't want to know where his girlfriend is, as he wants money and plenty of it. He will return later to collect. The Red Queen strikes again, stabbing Springe executive Hans Meyer (Bruno Bertocci; MILANO CALIBRO 9 - 1972) seven times in the back in the parking lot of the department store (2 down, 5 to go). The Red Queen laughs and runs away. Model Lulu Palm (Sybil Danning; DAY OF THE COBRA - 1980) finds Hans' body and screams. Police Inspector Toller (Marino Masé; KIDNAP SYNDICATE - 1975) questions Lulu and the staff, where Lulu tells him that Hans was always looking for a sexual thrill and that she procured prostitutes for him. We also learn that Martin will inherit Hans' position as general manager of Springe's.
     The police have a drawing of the Red Queen based on eyewitness accounts and Kitty notices that it looks just like Eveline. She wonders how Eveline could have been connected to Hans Meyer. When Kitty gets home there is a message on her answering machine from Eveline, who says she is coming to kill her. Kitty begins to believe that Eveline is alive,  so she and Franziska go to the castle's basement cell where they both hid Eveline's dead body. They find blood on the walls (and plenty of bats!), but Eveline's decomposing body is still there. We then find out that Martin is married to a crazy woman named Elizabeth (Carla Mancini; THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS - 1973), who has escaped from her asylum cell. She tells Martin that she is visited by Eveline often in her asylum room and told her that she will kill Martin if she keeps seeing Kitty. The Red Queen then kidnaps Kitty's assistant Lenore (Maria Antonietta Guido), throws her in the back of a van and then stabs her seven times in the torso, her private parts and her legs (3 down, 4 to go).
     Lulu shows up at Martin's front door, strips naked and says, "Even the police know I'm an incredible nymphomaniac!" They then make love (Who can turn down a naked Sybil Danning???). Martin admires a necklace Lulu is wearing and all she will say about it is, "I only wear it on special occasions. An old friend gave it to me." Elizabeth shows up in front of Martin's apartment. The Red Queen gives Elizabeth her dagger and when she climbs over a dangerous iron fence, the Red Queen pulls her leg out from underneath her and she impales herself under her chin by the fence's sharp spikes. The Red Queen laughs and drives away in Martin's car. Elizabeth's last words are, "Eveline, Eveline..." (4 down, 3 to go). Inspector Toller begins to look at Martin as a major suspect. The Inspector receives a phone call from a woman telling him to talk to Rosemary Muller (Maria Pia Giancaro; WHEN WOMEN PLAYED DING DONG - 1971), Hans Meyer's secretary. The Inspector believes that she is also Martin's new lover, since she resigned her position when Hans was killed. Martin feels the walls closing in on him, so he begs Kitty to tell the Inspector where Eveline is. Kitty finally confesses to Martin that she killed Eveline and in a flashback we discover just how Herbert and Franziska knew about her death. They were both there and helped Kitty cover-up the crime. Kitty begins having nightmares of Eveline stabbing her. Peter shows up, rips off all Kitty's clothes and rapes her when she won't give him any money.
     We then find out that Peter is a drug addict and is working in cahoots with Rosemary. But why? While high on heroin, the Red Queen gets Peter to come to Martin's car, snags his coat in the car door and drags him to his death, his head getting caved-in when it hits a light pole (5 down, 2 to go). Will there be a sixth and seventh victim? Remember what Tobias told his two young granddaughters and figure it out for yourself. Is Eveline alive? You must be nuts if you think I am going to give it away. I have given you enough clues for you to play Sherlock Holmes.
     Wonderfully shot, with some fluid, nightmarish visions (the shot of the Red Queen running to Kitty's bed beats anything that Dario Argento has given us) and the mystery element is actually well thought-out and not as outlandish as other giallo films (Screenplay by Miraglia and Fabio Pittorru [THE WEEKEND MURDERS - 1970]). All I will tell you is this: Pay close attention to the necklace Lulu is wearing and think of one character whose name is mentioned, but is never seen (it is mentioned in this review). It's hard to believe that Emilio P. Miraglia never directed another film after this (as far as I can discover, he is still alive, but in his early-90s [at the time of this review]). Based on EVELYN and this film, it's easy to see that he knew what he wanted in a shot, as the widescreen image always has something going on, important information that is lost when cropped for fullscreen presentations.
     Released theatrically in the United States in a severely hacked-up edition by Cannon Group Film Distributors titled both FEAST OF FLESH and BLOOD FEAST, both titles paired with director Joel M. Reed's BLOOD BATH (1976). These editions were Rated PG and are missing all the nudity and bloody gore that make this film so special. Never released on VHS in the States, it is available on uncut widescreen DVD from NoShame Films (as part of the long OOP "The Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen Box Set") and on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video. This review is based on the print I saw streaming on Amazon Prime. It is not only uncut and in widescreen, but also in the original Italian language with English subtitles. It looks gorgeous, like it was shot yesterday. This is a very creepy giallo that will stay with you long after the film ends. Oh, yes: Beware of the rats! Also known as HORROR HOUSE. Also featuring Sisto Brunetti, Dolores Calò, Nestore Cavaricci and Alfonso Giganti. Not Rated.

RINGS OF FEAR (1978) - This relentlessly sleazy giallo was supposed to be director Massimo Dallamano's final entry in his "schoolgirls in peril" trilogy (the first two films were WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? [a.k.a THE SCHOOL THAT COULDN'T SCREAM - 1972] and WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? [a.k.a THE COED MURDERS - 1974]), but he tragically died in an automobile accident before production began (he does get credit as one of the six screenwriters). Directorial reigns were handed over to Alberto Negrin (this is his only theatrical feature) who is a well-known Italian TV movie and mini-series director. Based on this film, I would have liked to see Negrin direct more feature films.
     The film opens with the body of a young woman wrapped in plastic in the trunk of a car. Someone throws her body off a cliff to the raging river below. Inspector Gianni Di Salvo (Fabio Testi; CONTRABAND - 1980) is called-in when her nude body is found, her vagina bloody and disfigured. The body is that of Angela Russo and the Inspector calls her mother (Helga Liné; THE LORELEY'S GRASP - 1973) to come and identify the body. She brings her very young daughter, Emily (Fausta Avelli; THE PSYCHIC - 1977) to the morgue (!) and she seems very troubled. Emily tells the Inspector that her sister belonged to a clique known as "The Inseparables" and that he should talk to Paola (Elke Ohrner) and Virginia (Brigitte Wagner), who were Angela's friends at the all-girls school she was a student at. We are then whisked to the girls locker room, where they strip naked (If they are young girls, I'm a monkey's uncle!), take showers and it reveals that they are not alone, as someone is peeping on them through a hole drilled in a wall. The Inspector questions the school's headmistress, Miss Graham (María Asquerino; HOUSE OF INSANE WOMEN - 1971) and when he doesn't get the right answers from her, he yells out, "Someone with a cock this big raped Angela Russo and threw her in the river!" It turns out that this school is a hotbed of sex, as we watch Virginia making love to Max van der Weyden (Tony Isbert; REST IN PIECES - 1987) in the school's church. The Inspector finds a drawing of a cat in Angela's diary and when his assistant, Don (Bruno Alessandro), is driving him, he sees the same drawing spray-painted on a billboard (What's the connection?). It seems that little Emily is also playing detective, as she hands a "clue" over to the Inspector. It is a dart that was used to make Virginia's horse bolt. Could someone be trying to kill her? The Inspector rushes to the school, barges into the girls' sleeping quarters and wakes them up. Why does Miss Graham act so suspiciously?
     Max is killed when the Yamaha motorcycle he is riding on is forced into the path of an oncoming bus, the killer leaving a note on his body that says: "Run towards the black shadow. Death will come to Legion". It is signed "Nemesis". Someone tries to kill the Inspector by setting his trailer on fire, but he escapes. He is having a very bad day, because when he goes to the apartment of his girlfriend Christina (Christine Kaufmann; MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE - 1971), she says she is leaving him. His superior, Chief Inspector Louis Roccaglio (Ivan Desny; WHO? - 1974) wants the case solved as fast as possible, so the Inspector goes to the home of Michael Parravicini (Jack Taylor; WAX - 2014), a teacher at the school who sleeps with his students. When he shows him the note left on Max's body, Michael gets very nervous. The Inspector also notices that the drawing of the cat is on Michael's Jeep (Hmmmmm...). We then see Virginia getting an abortion, intercut with a flashback she has where she witnesses Angela getting raped with a large dildo at an orgy (This film gets sleazier by the minute, especially the POV shot from Angela's vagina as the dildo is about to enter it!). Someone tries to kill Virginia by putting marbles at the top of a staircase (!) and she falls down the stairs, seriously hurt but not dead. The Inspector goes to the hospital, where Paola wants to talk to him but not at the hospital. The Inspector never gets to talk to her, as she is murdered that night. He talks to Paola's father (Ricardo Merino), but gets nowhere. The Inspector is certain that Michael is the killer, so he takes him on a rollercoaster ride (!), threatening to throw him off if he doesn't confess. All Michael is able to tell the Inspector is that the two dead girls were friends with Max and he is being blackmailed by someone who has compromising photos of him having sex with the schoolgirls. That night, Michael is stabbed in the neck by Nemesis. The police find Michael's body wrapped in plastic and floating down the river. On his body is a police case file that says the Chief Inspector dismissed a case of Michael having sex with an underage girl.
     The Chief Inspector explains the case to the Inspector. He was paid to look the other way when the school held orgies. He then commits suicide in front of the Inspector by jumping off a bridge (!). Just who is the killer? You wouldn't believe me if I told you. All I will say is that  one of the killers will never be punished. I have given you the clues. Now it is your turn to play detective.
     This Italy/West Germany/Spain co-production is one of the most lurid giallo films I have ever seen and that's saying something. The film, originally titled ENIGMA RUSSO ("Red Enigma") is also known as RED RINGS OF FEAR, TRAUMA and VIRGIN TERROR. Under any title, this is sleazy entertainment of the first degree, as director Alberto Negrin tosses in plentiful nudity, lots of perverse situations and lots of weird POV shots, like the vagina/dildo, a spray paint nozzle painting the screen black, a corpse looking up from the water and a bureau drawer opening up to reveal a naked Virginia. Negrin co-wrote the screenplay with Massimo Dallamano (THE NIGHT CHILD - 1975), Peter Berling (who acted in such films as MANHUNT [1972]; he has an uncredited cameo in this film), Marcello Coscia (LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE - 1974), Franco Ferrini (DEMONS - 1985) & Stefano Ubezio. This may be sleaze, but it's Grade A sleaze. If Riz Ortolani's brassy score sounds familiar, it is because it was "borrowed" from Dallamano's SUPER BITCH (1973). If there is one negative complaint about this film it is this: Why give Christine Kaufmann second billing if she is just going to appear in a couple of scenes and then disappears completely in the middle of the film?
     Originally released uncut on fullscreen VHS by Wizard Video (under the title TRAUMA). Full Moon released a fullscreen DVD (which they mistakenly credit Arthur Kennedy as one of the stars), a port of the Wizard Video print, as part of their "Full Moon Grindhouse Collection" in 2013. But the one you really want to get is the Blu-Ray from Scorpion Releasing, under the title RED RINGS OF FEAR. It is the only way this film should be seen, as it is a spotless print and the colors pop. I am glad that films like this are getting the deluxe treatment on Blu-Ray. Also starring Wal Davis, Taida Urruzola, Fabián Conde, Tony Valento, José Nodar and Carmen Carro. Not Rated.

SCREAM FOR VENGEANCE (1979) - In this atypical low-budget thriller, a foursome of masked burglars break into the house of a wealthy jewelry store owner and hold his wife and daughter hostage while three of the burglars drive the owner to his store, where they plan on grabbing a small fortune in diamonds and jewels. While the three burglars are driving to the store with Dad, the lone cackling burglar, Luke (Bob Elliott), begins undressing and feeling-up the tied-up teenage daughter while holding a butcher knife to her throat. Mom kicks Luke in the nuts and then kicks the ski mask off his face, revealing his identity. Luke loses it and viciously slashes Mom's throat and repeatedly stabs her in the chest and stomach, then turning his attention to the daughter, whom he rapes and then kills with his silencer-equipped pistol. At the jewelry store, Dad sets off the alarm and the burglars shoot him several times with their silencer-equipped pistols. As they run out of the store with their loot, the burglars are spotted by Jenny Bradley (Sally Lockett) and Mark Davis (Nicholas Jacquez), who were just leaving the Laundromat. They are taken hostage and driven to the burglars' hideout cabin in the woods. As luck would have it, Jenny is the granddaughter of a wealthy Senator, so the burglars have hit a double payday. Not only did they get the jewels, they now plan to ransom Jenny to her grandfather for a bundle of money. Alas, they never get the chance to do so. Jenny and Mark, who have never met each other before that night, pretend to be engaged to throw their captors off balance. They overpower and kill one of the burglars when the other three head to town for supplies and grab a shotgun, a .45 and a .38. They then steal a pickup truck and head towards civilization, but are immediately spotted by the other three burglars and the chase is on. Mark kills another burglar with a shotgun blast through the windshield, but during the chase, their pickup is disabled, forcing Mark and Jenny to flee into the woods. Luke and the last remaining burglar flank the couple on both ends, wounding Jenny in the leg with a rifle shot. They are recaptured for a short time, but turn the tables on their captors. Jenny shoots the other burglar several times in the back and the rape-happy Luke gets a pitchfork in the gut after he seriously wounds Mark and tries to sexually assault Jenny. Even though they have just met, Mark and Jenny have come to depend on each other and eventually fall in love.  Though ultra-low-budget, this regional thriller (lensed in Spring Hill, Missouri) is remarkable for a few reasons. It's well-acted by a cast of unknowns, has an effective music score and contains bursts of eye-opening graphic violence and nudity. Director/screenwriter Bob Bliss (who, as far as I can tell, has never directed another film) manages to tell a compelling story with a meager budget and a cast of non-pros (who also don't seem to have appeared in anything else), which only adds to the film's strange atmosphere. It starts out as a crime drama, turns into a chase actioner and ends as a revenge thriller. While the film is technically sloppy in spots (the editing is choppy and there are some bad camera setups), the overall tone of the proceedings is dark and brooding. You are never sure what is going to happen next, as the film switches gears so often, the viewer is left off-kilter and uncertain what the next scene will bring (I was certain that Mark was a jerk and a gigolo, especially when he comes-on to Jenny in the Laundromat, but he steps up when the situation demands it). Don't get me wrong; this film has no higher aspirations than a cheap thriller, but it's down and dirty, with plenty of violence (bloody bullet squibs, a brutal stabbing, the pitchfork impalement) and two very uncomfortable rape scenes (especially Luke's rape of the daughter in the beginning, as he runs the knife across her body while saying things like, "Sixteen and never been...kissed!"). At it's core, SCREAM FOR VENGEANCE tells a simple story rather effectively. If you can get past some of the technical shortcomings and several of the actors' 70's porn-style bushy moustaches, I think you will find yourself liking this. Also starring Walter Atamanuik, R.E. Roudebush and Steve Scearchy as the other burglars. Featuring Leonard Belove, Jane McMahon and Susie Gardner as the unfortunate family that sets the whole film in motion. The version I viewed was ripped from a Dutch-subtitled VHS tape. Released on VHS in the U.S. by Magnum Entertainment under the title VENGEANCE, but this uncut tape is long OOP and very hard to find. Most grey market seller offer the Dutch version on DVD-R because it is also uncut. The British VHS on the Intervision label is missing nearly two minutes of footage. Not Rated.

SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE (1973) - The unexpected arrival of young Corringa (Jane Birkin) at the Scottish MacGrieff Castle couldn't have come at at better, or worse, time, depending on who you talk to. The financially-strapped MacGrieffs, Lady Mary (Francoise Christophe) and her mentally ill son Lord James (Hiram Keller), have just hit-up Corringa's mother, Lady Alicia (Dana Ghia), for a loan, but she refuses, telling Lady Mary that Corringa will soon inherit the family fortune on her rapidlly approaching 18th birthday. The sexually liberated Corringa (who was just expelled from school) accidentally throws her Bible in the roaring fireplace and you know what that means: Something bad is about to happen. At dinner, the mad Lord James insults everyone at the table, forcing Lady Alicia and Corringa to get up and walk out of the room. Family physician Dr. Franz (Anton Diffring), who loves Lady Mary, explains to everyone left at the dinner table, including Father Robinson (Venantino Venantini) and Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann), that when Lord James was a child, he killed his sister and spent some time in an insane asylum. Dr. Franz begs Lady Mary to sell the castle, but she stubbornly refuses. Could she be hiding something? That night, Lady Alicia is savagely attacked in her bedroom by an unseen gloved assailant and killed, while Corringa finds a hidden passage in her bedroom and is assaulted by the same assailant when she follows the passageway to the castle's basement. The only witness to both crimes was an orange-haired tabby cat and, at Lady Alicia's funeral the next day, Lady Mary orders that the cat be locked-in Lady Alicia's crypt. Lady Mary now hopes that Corringa falls in love with her son, which will in turn infuse the family fortunes and save the castle from foreclosure. This is where things get weird. Corringa discovers that Lord James keeps a live circus gorilla in his artist studio, Dr. Franz is sleeping with Suzanne (who is bisexual) in some plan to gain control of the castle (Corringa's sudden appearance has thrown a monkey [ahem!] wrench into their plans) and the butler, Angus (Alan Collins), is murdered by the gloved killer when he sets the cat free from the crypt. As more people are killed, the question becomes: Who is the killer and what is his/her motive? Is it possible that the killer is a vampire? Or is it the gorilla? (Wouldn't it be sweet if it were a vampire gorilla?) Alas, it's none of the above, as we find out Lord James may not be mad after all and one member in the castle isn't who they say they are.  This French/Italian/German co-production, directed by Antonio Margheriti (CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE - 1980; TIGER JOE - 1982; ARK OF THE SUN GOD - 1983), using his frequent pseudonym "Anthony M. Dawson", is a decent, if uneventful and soap opera-ish, murder mystery. It's like a cross between the gothic horror films of the 60's (which includes Margheriti's CASTLE OF BLOOD - 1964) and the giallo films that became so popular in the 70's. As with most giallo films of the 70's, most of the action in SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE takes place at a secluded location. Here it is a castle and, like all giallos (gialli?), there is no shortage of suspects. The addition of a gorilla as one of the suspects is indeed offbeat, but it is only used sparingly (a good thing, too, because it's nothing but a man in a cheap gorilla suit) and you know it's only use is as a red herring. It's nice to see Anton Diffring (CIRCUS OF HORRORS - 1960) playing such a callous character, but he doesn't dub his own voice, so it's a little distracting. The murders on view are restrained for a giallo. While blood splashes on the walls and there are some macabre sights on view (including rats eating a corpse in the beginning of the film, which is an important clue in solving the mystery), we never actually see the murders committed, as they are either filmed in the shadows or the camera moves away before the killer strikes. As with YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY and CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT (both 1972), a cat witnesses every murder and plays a key role in unmasking the killer. Cats, you gotta love 'em! This is an OK mystery that will entertain you as long as you don't expect buckets of gore. On-screen title: SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CATS EYES. Also starring George Korrade, Serge Gainsbourg and Bianca Doria. Originally available on VHS from Prism Entertainment. Available on DVD from Blue Underground. Not Rated.

THE SLASHER...IS THE SEX MANIAC! (1972) - During the '70s & '80s, hundreds (if not thousands) of Italian genre films were released to U.S. theaters, many of them renamed with lurid titles. I miss those days. Thanks to companies like Blue Underground, Severin Films, Scorpion Releasing and Code Red (just to mention a few), these films are finding a new life on DVD & Blu-Ray, many of them uncut for the first time in the States (the majority of these film were edited to achieve an R-Rating). Which brings me to this film, a shockingly sleazy giallo full of nudity and blood.
     In a small Italian town full of "prominent" citizens, a serial killer is murdering unfaithful wives, by slashing their throats, breasts and vaginas. Police Inspector Capuana (Farley Granger; AMUCK - 1971) is put in charge of finding the unknown killer, but he will have to tread lightly because, if he doesn't, the "important" citizens in this town could get him fired. The killer also leaves intimate photos next to the bodies of his naked female victims, with the man in the photos having his face scratched out with a razor blade. Inspector Capuana believes that the man in the photos is that of the killer, but he has to prove it to his superiors. We then watch the killer (who refers to himself as "The Avenger") as he stalks his latest victim, a young housewife named Serena (Femi Benussi; STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER - 1975). When she meets her lover in a park, we watch the killer snap photos of them together, like some psychotic private investigator. She takes her lover to her beach house and, when he leaves, the killer strikes. He is wearing a long black overcoat, black gloves, large black hat and a black stocking over his face to obscure his identity (he looks just like the killer in Mario Bava's proto-slasher BLOOD AND BLACK LACE - 1964). He chases Serena to the beach, where he slits her throat and stabs her repeatedly (a strong, atmospheric sequence filmed in slow-motion).
     We then get to meet some of the film's red herrings (or not): There's Gastone (Luciano Rossi; CONTRABAND - 1980), an autopsy room worker who may be a necrophiliac (He says to Serena's corpse, "You're much prettier than when you were alive!") who lives in the house of Professor Casali (Chris Avram; A BAY OF BLOOD - 1971), who also acts suspiciously and tells Inspector Capuana that the killer is probably impotant or a homosexual (WTF?!?). We also meet several other men and women who could be the killer (giallo films are not biased about the sex of a killer), including Franca (Annabella Incontrera; CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT - 1972), who is cheating on her husband, hotshot lawyer Paolo Santangeli (Silvano Tranquilli; THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE - 1972). Nearly everyone in this film has something to hide, even Inspector Capuana's wife, Barbara (Sylva Koscina; MANHUNT - 1972), but what is she hiding? (It doesn't take a genius to know her secret).
     We then watch Lilly (Susan Scott; TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM - 1977), who is the next door neighbor of Franca, Paolo and their teenage daughter Bettina (Angela Covello; TORSO - 1973), making love to Paolo in a hotel room. When she gets home, her crippled husband (Benito Stefanelli; BATTLE OF THE AMAZONS - 1973) acts like he knows she is cheating on him. That night, while Bettina is walking her new boyfriend, Piero (Fabrizio Moresco; DUCK, YOU SUCKER - 1971), out of the house, she spots the killer murdering Lilly by her pool. She reports it to Inspector Capuana, who finds more photos next to Lilly's body. Only this time the photos hold an important clue to the killer's identity. That night, Franca tells her daughter that she must go visit her sick grandmother, but she is actually meeting her lover on a train. Before she gets the chance to meet her lover, she is savagely murdered by the black-clad killer in her train cabin. Inspector Capuana questions Paolo, who tells him that he knew his wife had a lover, just as she knew he had a mistress (He callously says, "The best of families manage without principles."). After getting reemed out by the Superintendant of the police (Philippe Hersent) for acting like a "rookie" when questioning Paolo (The superintendant thinks that a "prominent" man like Paolo is above questioning!), the Inspector gets closer to finding the real killer.
     We are then transported to a tarot card reader telling the fortunes of Renata (Krista Nell; THE FEAST OF SATAN - 1971) and Giannina (Irene Pollmer), two of Barbara's best friends, telling both of them not to go home because it is not safe. They ignore her warnings and we then watch the unfaithful Renata getting killed by The Avenger in her bathroom while waiting for her lover, Gianni (Andrea Scotti), to arrive. The killer slices Renata's throat and stabs her in the vagina (!) before Gianni confronts the killer (It is at this time that we get a close look of the face behind the black stocking). The killer slices Gianni's hand and gets away. When Barbara learns her best friend was killed, she implores her husband to quit the police force, but he refuses, telling her that he loves his job. Gastone confesses to the Inspector that he is the killer, but is he? I'll never tell, because I never give the killer's identity away in any giallo film I review, but I always leave enough clues for you, the reader, to play detective. I will tell you this: The Inspector gets a phone call from the killer, which he records. After listening to the tape several times, he realizes that Barbara is cheating on him. The Inspector sets up a trap with his wife as bait, but instead of saving her, he lets the Avenger kill her (That will teach her for cheating on him!) and once the killer is through, Inspector Capuana enters his house and shoots the killer dead.
     The original title of the film is RIVELAZIONI DI UN MANIACO SESSUALE AL CAPODELLA SQUADRA MOBILE ("Revelations Of A Sex Maniac By The Head Of The Flying Squad"); it was distributed under the title SO SWEET, SO DEAD when originally released in the U.S and other countries (that's the title of the print on the excellent Code Red Blu-Ray, even though it is sold under the review title). The film contains some ingenious sequences, including the previously mentioned beach killing scene and the shot of pussy willows hiding Lilly's vagina when she gets out of bed after having sex with her lover (How's that for symbolism?). There's also a scene where Barbara and her girlfriends get nude massages. What does this have to do with the plot, you may ask? Nothing really. I just mentioned it because it was hot. This film gained some notoriety back in the day (1976), when William Mishkin (whose company distributed this film) hired Straw Weisman (the director of DEADMATE - 1988) to shoot some hardcore sex scenes (featuring Harry Reems, Kim Pope, Marc Stevens & Tina Russell) and insert them into this film, renaming it PENETRATION. When the late Farley Granger (who was gay in real-life) found out he was starring in a porno film, he threatened legal action, which forced Mishkin to pull the film from porno theaters in the U.S. (it continued to play across Europe). Directed deftly by Roberto Bianchi Montero (THARUS, SON OF ATTILA - 1962), with a twisty screenplay by Montero, Luigi Angelo & Italo Fasan, this film doesn't shy away from full frontal female nudity and gory deaths, making this a good bet for fans of giallo flicks.
     Originally released on fullscreen VHS by Monterey Home Video (as THE SLASHER), which was shorn of nearly 20 minutes of footage, with a DVD release by Mya Communications (it is also available on fullscreen DVD on Amazon from Desert Island Classics, but it is just a port of the edited VHS version). The Code Red Blu-Ray is the only way to go. While the disc is lacking in extras (just a trailer for this film and other Italian genre films), the print is flawless. I'm really beginning to become a huge fan of Code Red's output. Also starring Sandro Pizzochero (as Barbara's lover, Roberto), Jessica Dublin, Paul Oxon and Ivano Staccioli. This film has a huge cast of seasoned pros. The Blu-Ray can be purchased from Diabolik DVD. Rated R.

SOMETHING CREEPING IN THE DARK (1971) - "When will this nightmare end? There are too many things we don't understand!" You can say that again! It's time once again to turn back the clock and watch a film that doesn't get a lot of play. There's a reason for that. It's part supernatural horror, part crime drama, part giallo and completely boring. I don't know what kind of audience this film was made for, but it surely wasn't for someone like me (and I can be very forgiving!).
     Donald Forrest (Giacomo Rossi Stuart; THE BLOODSUCKER LEADS THE DANCE - 1975) and his wife Sylvia (Lucia Bosé; THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE - 1972) are driving down a rainswept road to visit Sylvia's friend, who is recuperating from rhinoplasty (a nosejob). It's quite obvious by the way they are snapping at each other that their marriage is on the rocks. Also on this road on this dark and thunder-stormy night are escaped killer Spike (Farley Granger; THE RED HEADED CORPSE - 1972), who is being chased by Inspector Wright (Dino Fazio; this film's Producer) and a detective named Sam (Franco Beltramme; PLAY MOTEL - 1979), as well as Dr. Williams (Stelvio Rosi, as "Stan Cooper"; THE HANGING WOMAN - 1972), his assistant/nurse Susan (Mia Genberg) and Professor Lawrence (Francesco Lavagnino, this film's music composer; this being his only acting role). Spike races by everyone, with the Inspector and Sam close behind him, when he notices that the bridge is washed out, the raging river rising quickly. Spike pulls over to the side of the road and the Inspector uses his car to block his way. They exit out of the car, their guns drawn, Spike raising his hands above his head. Spike then tries to escape, knocking Sam to the ground and pulling out a switchblade, but a knife is no match for the Inspector's gun, so he gives up, the Inspector calling him a "stinking murderer". When everyone on the road realizes that they can't make it to their destinations, they all converge on a mysterious house by the bridge. The Inspector knocks on the door and the house's owner Joe (Gianni Medici, as "John Hamilton"; FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD - 1969) answers. The Inspector asks to use the phone, but Joe doesn't want to let anyone in, so the Inspector uses his position to make him open the door, which Joe does. Dr. Williams wants to use the phone first, saying that he was on his way to the hospital to perform an emergency operation, but the Inspector says his business is more important. The Inspector calls his station, but as he is about to tell them his location, the phone goes dead. The Inspector tells everyone that they must stay at the house for the night, because all the roads are flooded, which doesn't please Joe but, once again, the Inspector uses his position to get Joe to change his mind. We then discover why Joe has taken this stance: He has his unnamed girlfriend (Giulia Rovai) staying in a bedroom and tells her not to leave the room or make herself known to anyone else.
     Once everyone gets settled in, Spike starts to play the piano and Sylvia stands there enthralled, daydreaming that she is making love to Spike while holding a bloody switchblade in her hand. The Inspector orders Spike to stop tickling the ivories and handcuffs him, Sylvia asking Spike what it feels like to kill a person, pissing off the Inspector. Spike gives her a long, elegant speech on what it means to take a life, which then pisses off Donald. Joe then tells everyone that this house actually belongs to the estate of Sheila Marlow, who died last year in a "mysterious, tragic death", according to Professor Lawrence. The Professor then tells everyone that Sheila enthralled both men and women with her beautiful looks and that she had a strong interest in the occult. "If she were born a hundred years ago, she would have been labeled a witch and burned at the stake", continues the Professor, also telling everyone that Sheila was accused of killing her husband, but was acquitted at her trial. Why does the Professor know so much about Sheila?
     Joe says that Sheila held many seances before her mysterious death and shows them the table where she held her seances. Sylvia wants everyone to hold a seance to contact Sheila, telling them that Donald is an excellent medium, but he wants nothing to do with it. Sylvia, the Professor, Dr. Williams and Susan hold a seance to contact Sheila, where everyone at the table twitch like epileptics and Donald becomes possessed by the spirit of Sheila, talking in her voice. "It's dark! Give me a voice, give me a face!" says the possessed Donald and, suddenly, the wind blows open the doors, Donald laughing like a maniac. Dr. Williams is forced to slap Donald about his face to snap him out of his trance. But there is a more serious problem: Spike has escaped, knocking out Sam and running outside. The storm has stopped, so the Inspector and Sam go outside to look for Spike and soon find him, Spike saying he couldn't go any further because water has surrounded the house, making it impossible for him (or anyone) to leave. We then discover that Dr. Williams and Susan met the Professor just hours earlier. They picked him up at the side of the road, the Professor telling them that his car had broken down and he needed a ride. Is it possible that this house was his intended destination?
     Just like most giallo films, everyone seems to be harboring a secret, even the buttoned-down and staid Susan. Did fate deliver them to this house or is there a more down-to-earth explanation? Why does Joe tell the unnamed girl not to make herself known to anyone else? Why is Spike always smiling? Why is Susan the only one with a suitcase and what's in it? Why is Donald so easily possessed? Is he really a medium or is it all an act? What is the real reason Professor Lawrence was hitch-hiking? Why is Dr. Williams no longer worried about the emergency operation he was going to perform? What secret is the Inspector and Sam hiding from everyone else? Is Spike really a killer or is he being set up? Why do all the clocks stop in the house at midnight? Is Sheila's spirit roaming the house and is she deadly? All these questions and many, many more will never be answered, because this film is full of many so unanswered questions and not a single one of them is properly explained!
     The biggest problem with this film is it can't make up its mind which genre it belongs in. This was director/screenwriter Mario Colucci last directorial effort. He was assistant director on the horror film THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (1960) and then directed mostly forgettable films, including the spaghetti western REVENGE FOR REVENGE (1968). While this film has some fine, moody cinematography (by Giuseppe Aquari; THE KILLER RESERVED NINE SEATS - 1974), it really doesn't matter, because the film is all over the place, mixing haunted house themes (the camera floats to the ceiling to convey Sheila's spirit), with hamfisted crime and mystery elements, making this strange stew indigestible. It just doesn't work here, although the cast of seasoned pros give it the old college try, but even they can't hide the film's creaky plot. Case in point is Donald's death, as he sits in a chair, a bullet in his chest. He rambles on and on, talking in riddles, trying to get us to believe something supernatural is going on, but it doesn't wash, as it feels unnecessary and false (and spirits don't shoot bullets!). The whole film feels false and doesn't contain an ounce of believability. We don't give a damn what happens to anyone here, as they are all worthless pawns in a losing chess game..
     While there is some female nudity, especially by Joe's nameless girlfriend, it, too, seems forced, as it was inserted into the film to get our minds off the absurdities of the plot. Mario Colucci's  screenplay is as bland as his direction. Filmed as QUALCOSA STRISCIA NEL BUIO ("Something Creeping In The Night"), this film obtained a U.S. theatrical release (distributed by Joseph Green Pictures), but I can find no legitimate U.S. VHS or disc release. I purchased this film on DVD-R through Amazon from an outfit called Rogue Video. Imagine my surprise to discover that the disc was in anamorphic widescreen and the print used looked flawless, without one single emulsion scratch or speck of dust or dirt. I may just have to purchase more little-known films from them if they look and sound like this one. I just wish the film itself was better, but that is not the fault of Rogue Video. Not Rated, but there is no graphic violence on view, another reason why this film is such a bore. The cop-out finale gives us no explanation if anything supernatural is happening, ending with the Professor saying, "It's not for us to know, only to believe or disbelieve.", as the camera pans to a photo of Sheila and we then hear a woman laughing. Need I go on?

SOUNDS OF SILENCE (1989) - Swedish director Peter Borg follows-up his weird horror film SCORCHED HEAT (1987) with this, a supernatural murder mystery involving ghost children, personal demons and death (and, thankfully, no Simon & Garfunkel on the soundtrack). Struggling American photographer Peter Mitchell (Peter Nelson) learns from lawyer Larry Haughton (Troy Donahue; BLOOD NASTY - 1989; in a quick booze money cameo) that he's inherited a house in Sweden when his spinster relative, Annie Holst (Elsa Gastrin), died in her sleep. Never knowing that he had such a relative, Peter still hops on a plane with novelist fiancée Sarah (Kristen Jensen) and her deaf son Dennis (Dennis Castillo) and heads to Sweden. They are met at the Swedish airport by lawyer Thomas Hansen (Rico Ronnback), who hands Peter the keys to the house and written directions on how to get there, but otherwise mysteriously avoids answering any of Peter's other questions. Of course, Peter manages to get lost on the drive, but whenever he asks the locals where the "Annie Holst House" is, he is met with cold, quiet stares. Peter eventually finds the house, which turns out to be a forty-room mansion, but it is Dennis who immediately senses something is wrong here. Annie's housekeeper, Margaret Johnson (Vanja Rodefeldt), tells them the story of Annie's illegitimate son Bill (Jonas Iversson), who was put in a nearby orphanage (Annie couldn't bear the shame of having other people know she had a child out of wedlock), but died with all the other orphans in some catastrophic incident when he was a young boy. Annie loved her son, even after he died, so she and Margaret would make weekly walks to the deserted orphanage to talk and hug Bill's ghost. Bill begins appearing to Dennis, leading him to the orphanage and slowly giving Dennis clues as to really what happened that fateful night. Dennis also has nightmares about a creepy kid and a ghastly-looking man carrying a cane, but they may not be nightmares at all (Dennis wakes up the following morning with muddy feet, like he's been walking in his sleep). The deaf Dennis convinces Peter that Bill is real, but Peter cannot see him (Maybe the photos he has taken will prove Dennis correct?). As Dennis and Peter get closer to the truth, it becomes apparent that some people involved in the catastrophe are still very much alive and would rather not have the truth uncovered. A visit from lawyer Thomas and Sarah nearly getting raped by plumber Frank (Johnny Harborg) leads Peter, Dennis, Sarah and Thomas to the home of elderly Charles (Gunnar Ohlund), who Dennis instantly recognizes as the older version of the man with the cane that haunts his dreams. It turns out that Charles was in charge of the orphanage during the deaths of the children and Dennis believes that he is a murderer. After Thomas is killed by Frank, Dennis and the ghost orphans have a final showdown with Charles and Frank in the unmarked graveyard next to the orphanage. The final score: Ghost Children: 2. Bad Guys: 1.  As far as supernatural thrillers go, SOUNDS OF SILENCE delivers it's fair share of shivers (especially when the ghostly children appear), but the mystery angle is way too easy to figure out since the cast of living suspects is very small. Director Peter Borg, who co-wrote the script with Marc Fiorini, fills the screen with creepy, fog-shrouded visuals and the use of a deaf kid as a conduit for ghostly revenge is a novel idea, but the film is so lackluster in nearly all other departments, including acting (at least the main actors here don't speak Swenglish, that odd combination of Swedish/English that permeated Borg's SCORCHED HEAT) and the storyline (Sarah is a poor excuse for a mother, as she doesn't believe a word her son tells her in sign language. Truth be told, Dennis would be lucky to have Peter as his step-father, even though he doesn't understand sign language at all.), that it moves at a snail's pace (At 105 minutes, the film runs at least 20 minutes too long). The lack of any substantial blood or violence (just a hand being cut with a knife and the after-effects of Thomas getting hit on the head with a sledgehammer) will also turn-off those looking for more than a simple ghost story. There are some scares to be had here, but only for those that can look past the shortcomings. At least the deaf Dennis doesn't miraculously get his hearing back in the finale. That's something, anyway. Proceed at your own risk. Also starring Bruno Desire, Hasse Andersson and Peter Borg as Young Charles. Available on VHS from Magnum Entertainment. Not available on DVD. Not Rated.

SPASMO (1974) - "I have a razor in my room. It's big, sharp and sexy!" Weird giallo that begins with a necking couple discovering what they think is a woman hanging amongst the ruins of an old Spanish fort next to the ocean. They are relieved, but weirded out, when they find out that it is only a life-like latex doll. We are then introduced to Christian Bauman (Robert Hoffman) and his girlfriend. They are near the same Spanish fort when they discover a female body lying on the beach. After being led to believe it's another latex doll (thanks to the eerie opening credits), we soon discover that it is actually Barbara (Suzy Kendall; THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE a.k.a. THE PHANTOM OF TERROR - 1970) who, for some reason, is passed out. Before she can explain to Christian why she is on the beach, she disappears, but leaves behind a thermos with the word "Tucania" printed on it. Christian is instantly smitten with Barbara and traces the thermos to a yacht named Tucania, owned by the mysterious Alex (Mario Erpichini). At a party on the yacht, Christian hooks-up with Barbara (after he callously ditches his girlfriend), but a hired killer named Tatum (Adolfo Lastretti) is watching the boat. Barbara brings Christian to a motel for some mattress dancing, but she makes him shave his beard first (She says, "I'm very suspicious of men with beards."). While he is in the bathroom shaving, Tatum appears and there's a struggle for his gun. Christian shoots Tatum in the stomach and he and Barbara are about to split when Alex arrives. All three of them go back to the yacht when Christian realizes that he left his necklace in the motel bathroom (he removed it when he was shaving). He goes back to retrieve the necklace only to find Tatum's body missing. Christian and Barbara hide out in an empty seaside mansion, only to discover that they are not alone. After finding a bloody pair of pruning shears, they discover that the mansion is occupied by strange couple Malcolm (Guido Alberti) and Clorinda (Monica Monet). Soon, Christian begins to doubt his own sanity, as the yacht and Alex disappear, Tatum (who looks no worse for wear) shows up at the mansion looking to finish his job and a multitude of life-size latex dolls are found scattered throughout the town, all missing limbs or with knives sticking in them. Is Christian going mad or is something strange and sinister going on? Bet on the latter, as Barbara seems to be influencing Christian's actions and the appearances of a man called Luca (Franco Silva) and Christian's brother Fritz (Ivan Rassimov) play an important part in unlocking the mystery. And what does Clorinda have to do with Christian's mysterious past?  This maddening mystery is all over the map, with scattershot acting (Robert Hoffman and Suzy Kendall make for stiff leading actors) and a script that bites off more than it can chew (there a way too many subplots to keep track of), but director/co-scipter Umberto Lenzi (ALMOST HUMAN - 1974; ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH - 1976) manages to throw in some perversity and a lot of weird visuals to keep you watching till the end. The sight of numerous female dolls strewn about town, tied to trees with legs or arms missing, is an eerie sight and the importance of their discovery isn't made clear until the film is nearly over. And it's a doozy. While most of the film turns out to be nothing but your standard "Drive your brother crazy so you can inherit your father's business" scenario, there are some good points to this film, including an evocative Ennio Morricone score, some decent deaths (including a nasty death-by-car scene) and some atmospheric camerawork, but, surprisingly, very little blood. A sequence I found utterly ridiculous was the home movie that Ivan Rassimov (THE HUMANOID - 1979) watches towards the end of the film. It's so tightly edited and well-shot, it's hard to believe that it was shot by anyone who didn't have a masters in editing and cinematography. The film also contains almost no nudity, unless you count the exposed breasts on the latex dolls. The lack of blood and nudity was done purposely by Lenzi (who reveals in an interview on the DVD that Lucio Fulci was originally slated to direct, but dropped out to make another film), who wanted this film to be more psychological and show the "darkness of the human soul." SPASMO is nothing exceptional, but it is diverting enough to keep you entertained for 93 minutes. Too bad that the leads are so damn stiff and boring, though. Also starring Maria Pia Conte, Luigi Antonio Guerra and Rosita Tirosh. This did get a U.S. theatrical release in the mid-70's (with a lurid and misleading ad campaign), with an extra ten minutes of gory footage (shot by George A. Romero, of all people!) to beef-up the death scenes. Umberto Lenzi calls this extra footage "reprehensible" in the interview on the DVD. Be aware that the widescreen DVD released by Media Blasters/Shriek Show is the original Italian cut of the film and is missing those inserts. Available on DVD & Blu-Ray from Scorpion Releasing. Not Rated.

STORM WARNING (2007) - Australian lawyer Rob (Robert Taylor; THE HARD WORD - 2002) and his French wife Pia (Nadia Fares; THE CRIMSON RIVERS - 2000) take a small motor/sailboat out on the ocean for a little fishing/pleasure cruising when an approaching storm forces them to find safety in a twisty tributary of a swampy enclave. This place is the antithesis of safe. After passing many disabled and derelict boats on their journey, the bickering duo are forced to leave their craft when they run out of navagatible water and have to make their way on foot. They get hopelessly lost and stumble upon a farmhouse, which, at first, seems deserted, but, as I am sure you can guess, is anything but. It is actually the home of a family of psychotic pot farmers, which includes father Poppy (John Brumpton) and brothers Jimmy (David Lyons) and Brett (Matthew Wilkinson). Rob is a bit of a wuss ever since he was violently mugged a few months earlier, so Pia wears the pants in the family. She's going to need those balls, as the inbred family takes pleasure in making life unpleasant for the duo, first stealing their clothes and making Pia show her naked ass to them and then threatening to castrate Rob unless Pia kills and cooks a wallaby (a small species of kangaroo) for dinner. When Rob and Pia try to escape and are recaptured, Brett breaks Rob's leg and the brothers try to rape Pia, even when she reveals that she is two months pregnant, but they are cut short by Poppy, who has bigger plans for her. It seems Daddy wants her all to himself (He says to Brett: "You can have him [Rob] if you want, but the Sheila is mine!"), but Pia is not about to go down without a fight. She turns into a French female Rambo and before this stormy, rain-filled night is through, there will be three brutal deaths: one by fishing gear and a head-bashing; one by a bottle with a very jagged opening (you gotta see it to believe it), followed by the even sharper teeth of a canine; and one by the spinning blades of an airboat. The French, they are a funny race (and, according to this film, not ones to be fucked-around with).  Although it takes a while to get in gear, STORM WARNING turns out to be a bloody, if preposterous (Why in the hell would you lock your prey in a barn full of potential weapons?), horror flick. Director Jamie Blanks (URBAN LEGEND - 1998; VALENTINE - 2001), who also composed the film's effective music score (a mixture of electronica and traditional Australian instruments), and veteran Australian film screenwriter Everett DeRoche (LONG WEEKEND - 1977; PATRICK - 1978; ROAD GAMES - 1981; RAZORBACK - 1984) deliver a small bodycount, but pile-on the degradation and abuse and, when the deaths do come, they are bloody and memorable. It may be a little too hard to swallow when, all of a sudden, Pia becomes a master of boobytraps, but the results are hard to ignore. There's a nasty death by fish hooks that's bound to make a lot of viewers turn their heads in disgust, but it's a walk in the park compared to Pia's homemade IUD device, which I guarantee will not soon be forgotten once you see it put into action (Let's just say you should always check every orifice for sharp objects before sticking your dick into it and, if you forget to, don't let the hungry family dog see the results!). Although this film is nothing but a riff on a story made popular by THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), director Blanks and scripter DeRoche turn the premise on it's head, making it an absurdist black comedy (With lines of dialogue like, "I smell the cunt of a bitch who's going to die!", how could it not be?) which presents the lone woman character as a strong individual (Rob is absolutely worthless here and the other male characters have no redeeming qualities whatsoever) and leaves no room for a sequel (unless the inbred family's dog wants to get revenge, but I doubt it because he's pretty well-fed by the end of the film). An enjoyable piece of bloody fluff which has no higher aspirations than to entertain. A Dimension Extreme Films DVD Release. Unrated and bloody well proud of it.

(STRANGE) SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM (1976) - This is a good action/mystery film, known for its pulse-pounding car chase (by Rémy Julienne and his team of precision stunt drivers; he was also second unit director) which, in my opinion, has yet to be beaten. It also stars many familiar Canadian actors, most of them still alive (at the time of this review).
     The film opens with Dr. George Tracer (Martin Landau; WITHOUT WARNING - 1979) having a heated conversation with Louise Saitta (Carole Laure; NAKED MASSACRE - 1976) on the grounds of a college campus in Montreal, but we don't hear what they are arguing about. She then calls her brother, Tony Saitta (Stuart Whitman; GUYANA: CRIME OF THE CENTURY - 1979), a Captain on the Ottawa Police Force, but he is too busy breaking up a bank robbery to take the call. A short time later, Dr. Tracer is called to the college to treat a female student who has overdosed. That student is Louise and, when he discovers she is faking it to make him look like a fool, he gets very upset because a bunch of students at a party laugh at him, including his son Robert (Jean LeClerc; THE UNCANNY - 1977). It is obvious that Dr. Tracer and Louise are lovers and when she drops dead at the party of an apparent overdose, Tony comes to Montreal with partner Sgt. Ned Matthews (John Saxon; CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE - 1980) to investigate her death.
     Tony meets a cadre of potential suspects, all who attended Louise's funeral. Julie Foster (Tisa Farrow; ANTHROPOPHAGUS - 1980), a blind student at the college who was Louise's best friend, tells Tony that his sister was very troubled the last few weeks of her life, but she doesn't know why. Tony searches Louise's apartment and finds some photos that pique his interest. Tony believes his sister was murdered, so he has a talk with her ex-boyfriend, Fred (Dave Nichols), who tells him about and argument he saw between Louise and Dr. Tracer. When the autopsy results come back and Tony discovers that his sister was poisoned, he confronts Dr. Tracer, who tells Tony he did not murder Louise and he can prove that he gave her a stimulant during her fake overdose, as those pills are still in his medical bag. He retrieves the bag and opens it, but the pills are not there. Dr. Tracer begs Tony to ask Margie Cohn (Gayle Hunnicutt; LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE - 1973), as she saw him giving Louise the pills at the party. Sgt. Matthews did background checks at everyone at Louise's funeral and tells Tony that Margie is known to sleep around. Sure enough,  when Tony goes to question Margie, he finds her sleeping with Robert. She backs up Dr. Tracer's claim about the pills, but she will not swear to it in a court of law.
     Meanwhile, we watch some unknown killer murdering a woman by bashing her head in over and over with a metal pipe and dumping her body at a construction site. It turns out the victim wasn't a woman at all, but rather a transvestite who happened to be Margie's brother. Tony and Sgt. Matthews go to arrest Dr. Tracer, but he has his lawyer waiting for them at his house. That doesn't deter Tony, who slaps the cuffs on the doctor and brings him to the station. Sgt. Mathews does an extensive background check on Dr. Tracer and finds a photo of Louise wearing a necklace that is familiar to Tony, but he can't place it...yet. After learning about Margie's brother's death, Tony searches for some transvestites that can clue him in on what the brother was up to before his death. He finds two of them, one who beats the snot out of Tony, sending him through a balcony window. Tony finally gets the upper hand, sending the tranny through the other balcony window and shoving a hot curling iron up the ass of the other tranny (!). One of the trannies has a key to a locker at a bus station and when Tony goes to open it, he is attacked by two men, who turn out to be detectives who were surveilling the locker. When Tony opens the locker, he finds the necklace. Julie tells Tony that his sister gave her a necklace a day before she died. Tony then talks to a dwarf stoolie at a racetrack and chases a suspect into a crowded public bathroom, where he does what all good detectives do: kick-in a stall door (interrupting a priest taking a crap!) and shoving the suspect's head into a sink full of water when he refuses to talk (at least it was a toilet bowl!). This leads to the car chase I talked about at the beginning of the review.
     Tony lays waste to the streets of Montreal while chasing a crater-faced suspect (Jerome Thibergien; RABID - 1977), as they play bumper cars with innocent drivers, destroy fire hydrants, empty boxes and other things that we demand from a good chase (no flower or fruit stand though). The chase ends when Tony and the suspect flip their cars on a highway and Tony gets some vital information from the suspect. It leads him to a jewelry store where the necklace was stolen during a heist. What Tony discovers he almost can't handle.  His sister is not as innocent as he believed, which forces him to free Dr. Tracer. When Tony sees a composite drawing of one of the suspects at the jewelry heist, it turns out to be Louise in disguise. Since a person was killed in the heist, was Louise responsible?
     This film brought a flood of memories back to me since it was one of the films that played endlessly on HBO during its early years. Director Alberto De Martino (THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER - 1963; THE TEMPTER - 1974; BLOOD LINK - 1983), using his frequent "Martin Herbert" pseudonym,  films this like a giallo film, as we don't know who the killer is, there are plenty of red herrings and deaths, as well as some funny dialogue. When the blind Julie says she heard a certain person kill Margie, Tony and Sgt. Matthews find that person dead, hanging from his neck. Sgt. Matthew turns to Tony and says, "Maybe Julie can identify him!" Besides that one line of dialogue, John Saxon is wasted here in a thankless role. The screenplay, by "Vincent Mann" (Vincenzo Mannino; HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK - 1979) & "Frank Clark" (Gianfranco Clerici; DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING - 1972), is very twisty, but it is not hard to figure out who the killer really is.  Half the fun of watching this film are the events that lead up to the reveal, such as the tranny fight (which was heavily edited for its TV showings) and the excellent car chase. This is Stuart Whitman's film all the way. I was surprised to learn that Whitman was still alive (he turned 90 in February 2018), as I haven't seen him in anything for years. He's quite good here, as are the supporting cast, especially the late Martin Landau (My friend since the mid-'80s. I called him "Uncle Marty"). This was made during the summer break, when he was on hiatus filming SPACE: 1999 (1975 - 1977) and 18 years before he won an Academy Award® and Golden Globe® for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in ED WOOD (1994).
     Filmed as UNA MAGNUM SPECIAL PER TONY SAITTA ("A Magnum Special For Tony Saitta") and also known as BLAZING MAGNUM, this film has a U.S. theatrical release (under the full review title) from American International Pictures (A.I.P.), with a fullscreen VHS release by Vestron Video in 1985. The DVD and Blu-Ray, from Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber, is in its OAR and uncut. It looks and sounds great, especially the squealing tires during the chase scene (My neighbor from the next apartment heard it and wanted to know what I was watching. He stayed and watched the rest of the film with me, borrowing my disc so he could watch the full film. If that isn't an endorsement, I don't know what is!). Films like this could have only come  from the "anything goes" '70s and I'm glad I lived (and survived) that decade. Also starring Jean Marchand, Anthony Forrest (KILLER'S MOON - 1978); Julie Wildman (THEY CAME FROM WITHIN - 1975). Andrée St-Laurent and Peter MacNeill (CATHY'S CURSE - 1977). Rated R.

TERROR ON ALCATRAZ (1986) - Aldo Ray portrays real-life Alcatraz escapee Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood portrays the same character in ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ - 1979, which gets name-checked here) in this fictional horror thriller. Years have passed since his escape (and the closing of Alcatraz as a prison) and Frank is a bitter and violent man (he puts a cigarette out on girlfriend Mona's breast for removing a newspaper from his suitcase!) who needs to return to Alcatraz to retrieve a key that opens a safety deposit box full of stolen loot. After killing a former Alcatraz guard who use to torture him (he slits his throat with a straight razor and then impales him on a piece of wood), Frank hops on a boat as part of a sightseeing tour of Alcatraz. One member of the tour group, Greg (Scott Ryder), an avowed Alcatraz expert, recognizes Frank, but no one else believes him. Franks stays on Alcatraz while the other tourists embark back to port. A group of young tourists decide to sneak back on to Alcatraz to check out Greg's claim, which pisses off Frank, since he's been planning this caper for years. He then proceeds to kill the tourists and Park Rangers, so he leaves no witnesses. Since Greg knows the most about the island, he becomes the unofficial leader of the group, but he proves more stupid than knowledgable. Frank plants a meat cleaver in the face of Kenneth (Gary Gorman) as he's tooting on some cocaine. He then kills a female Park Ranger by drowning her in a vat of water. Greg proves to be a complete idiot as he tries to talk Frank into letting him live. Frank repays him by splitting his head in two with the meat cleaver. After killing another Ranger by disembowelment (off-screen) and taking his uniform and hanging (off-screen) tourist Dean (Peter Kienaas), last remaining Terry (Lisa Ramirez) and Clarissa (Alisa Wilson) run for their lives as Frank snaps the neck of Matthew (Peter Rodriguez), a militant Indian. Frank kills everyone but Terry (the police blame Indian Matthew for all the murders and don't believe Terry's story about Frank), finds the key and sets out to retrieve his loot. In a finale that seems to never end, Frank meets a surprising demise in the bank vault, when someone related to his past gives him his comeuppance.  This film works better as a brochure for Alcatraz tourism than it does as a thriller. It takes over 45 minutes to set up the plot (and character quirks) before the first tourist murder takes place. Until then, the film plays like an actual tourist documentary, as the on-location photography and tour guide narration by Ranger Emily (Veronica Porche Ali)  and Greg takes up much of the screen time. When the murders finally kick in, it's really no big deal, as the deaths aren't that original and only a couple are bloody. Aldo Ray skulks around the prison in an overcoat and fedora, looking like some third-rate Mickey Spillane (and did we really need to see his overweight hairy man-boobs as he walks around shirtless in the beginning and end of the film?) and screaming his lines ("I'm gonna kill YOU!") like a madman without a cause. I'm sure if the real Frank Morris were alive, he would take offense to this. I like to think this film was made to piss him off and make him come out of hiding. It didn't work. It's a pretty mild film, marred by weak acting (even Ray, in a rare end-of-career starring role, is pretty one-note), lame effects (the bloodiest effect is the last shot of the film) and a finale that never ends. It takes 20 minutes after leaving Alcatraz for Ray to get to the bank vault. First he goes out to dinner with girlfriend Mona (Sandy Brooke), complains about his steak and refuses to pay the bill! I wonder what director Philip Marcus (KANDYLAND - 1987) was trying to achieve here? It's part horror, part thriller and part pseudo-documentary, none of it very good. Also starring Robert Axelrod, Phildi Carlo and Nancy Wheeler. A Trans World Entertainment Home Video Release. Not Rated.

TOGETHER BROTHERS (1974) - When a well-respected black street cop nicknamed Mr. Kool (Ed Bernard) is viciously gunned-down in the street one night and it is witnessed by little boy Tommy (Anthony Wilson), his brother H.J. (Ahmad Nurradin) and his gang of teenage friends try to protect Tommy while they try to find the killer. The trauma of witnessing the murder has struck Tommy dumb, so Tommy's grandmother (Frances E. Williams) hires Dr. Johnson (Glynn Turman, in a glorified cameo) to help him. Dr. Johnson tells H.J. to stay close to Tommy, because he could snap out of his condition at any moment. During Mr. Kool's funeral, Tommy breaks free of H.J. and his friends and is almost icepicked by the unseen killer (H.J. says to Mr. Kool's widow, "He was really a together brother." to which she replies, "What my husband died for was bullshit!"). The police (including the black officers) look down on H.J. and his gang (One black officer says to H.J., "He believed in you and look where it got him."), so H.J. does his own investigation into Mr. Kool's death. He and his gang go to the Spanish part of town to talk to gang leader Vega (Richard Yniguez) and ask him to help steal some files pertaining to Mr. Kool's arrests out of the police station. Vega and H.J. stage a fake rumble between their gangs as a diversion to pull the police out of the station so H.J. and Vega can enter the station and steal the files. Once he has his hands on the arrest records, H.J. doles out names of recently released felons that may have had a grudge against Mr. Kool for his friends to track down. Their investigations lead them to whorehouses, run-down tenement buildings, a poolhall (where they get the shit kicked out of them for asking questions) and other places kids have no places being in. They strike out with everyone on the list, until they find out that a psychotic baby kidnapper (and homosexual) named Billy Most (Lincoln Kilpatrick, who also starred in CHOSEN SURVIVORS the same year) was just released from prison and he had a definite grudge against Mr. Kool. When Billy Most discovers H.J.'s investigation, he knifes and kills H.J.'s girlfriend and then goes after Tommy. H.J. nearly shoots Billy Most, but Tommy suddenly breaks his silence and calls out his name, stopping H.J. from becoming what Mr. Kool preached against: Becoming a criminal.  Although this film gets called a blaxploitation film in many reference books and web sites, that about as far from the truth as you can get. Even though the majority of the cast is black, this is a straightforward thriller that deals with friendship, loyalty and the search for the truth amongst a population of pimps, hookers, low-level criminals, drug addicts and even transvestites in this unnamed town of urban blight (actually filmed in Galveston, Texas). Director William A. Graham (HONKY - 1971; CALENDAR GIRL MURDERS - 1984) keeps everything as real as possible, by filming on locations that are bleak and colorless, hiring a group of non-pros that makes up most of the cast (making most of the interplay seem loose and natural) and making the violence suspenseful without being too graphic. Mr. Kool's death is shocking, as the killer pumps a full clip into his body and then strips him down to his underwear, just to add insult to injury. The final third falls apart once we find out who the killer is and his motivation for killing Mr. Kool is revealed (it's a little too melodramatic for my taste and doesn't fit in with the realism of the rest of the film), but TOGETHER BROTHERS is a fine, little-seen thriller from the mid-70's that holds your interest throughout. This is an adult film about how kids can do the right thing, sometimes doing it the wrong way, but doing it with the best intentions. Although this film is rated PG, it's definitely not made for younger kids, as it is full of foul language, adult situations and violence. This was made during the time when a PG rating didn't automatically mean dumbed-down kiddie fare. I miss those days. Also starring Nelson Sims, Kenneth Bell, Owen Pace, Kim Dorsey and Craig Campfield as Maria, the ugliest, hairy-chested transvestite you will ever see. Since this is the 70's, he pays for his transvestism with his life. This film has never been legally available on home video in the United States, probably because 20th Century Fox (who released this to theaters) didn't want to pay for the music of the two Barry White (and the Love Unlimited Orchestra) songs that are on the soundtrack. Maybe that will change in the future, now that Mr. White is no longer with us. The gray market DVD (on the Blax label) has a decent fullscreen print, along with a couple of trailers (one has the Something Weird Video bug burned onto it) and a really racist Merrie Melodies cartoon, titled "Jungle Jitters" (black cannibals cook a white vacuum cleaner salesman, "Hold the onions!") as extras. Rated PG.

TORMENTOR (1972) - Many people consider this a minor film in the giallo genre and I must agree, although it has a certain style all its own. The mystery element is not quite up to snuff although the film as a whole is quite entertaining, even if it is for all the wrong reasons. Granted, it's no DEEP RED (1976) or TORSO (1973), but what is?
     Rome: Professional photographer Kitty (Susan Scott; THE SLASHER...IS THE SEX MANIAC! - 1972) is looking for her performance artist boyfriend Alberto (Robert Hoffmann; SPASMO - 1974) through a coin-operated telescope and spots a man in a large black hat and black gloves killing a woman in her apartment. Just as she is about to see his face, the telescope goes black, needing another coin. She misses seeing his face, but gets the address of the apartment by the building's number (57) and notices a chestnut vendor and a customer near the murder scene. Susan and Alberto go to the police and talk to Inspector Merughi (George Martin; THREE SUPERMEN IN THE JUNGLE - 1970), but he has a problem believing her since she cannot identify the killer and all she has is a building number and not an actual address. Alberto, who performs an art show where he stabs mannequins (!), shows some photos that Kitty took of his show to TV and film scorer Marco (Simón Andreu; NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS - 1973) in hopes that he will use them ion a TV dance show he is scoring (Alberto says about Kitty's photos: "It's the only thing she does well, besides making love." !).
     Kitty calls her friend, newspaper reporter Lidia (Anuska Borova), in hope of finding out who was killed, but Lidia tells her that no body has been found yet (The first time we see Lidia, she is naked and trying to make love to Marco, but he is not able to "rise" to the occasion. When Kitty asks if she has heard the news, she says, "Dear Marco is impotent, how about that?" !!!) The Inspector pays Kitty and Alberto a visit in their apartment, telling them that the have found the body of a female dancer, so Kitty retells him the story and says that the killer wore a black hat, just like the one Alberto owns (Why does Alberto look and act guilty all the time?).
     We then see the killer, who walks with a cane, pick out his favorite straight razor and knock on the door of Rocco, the chestnut vendor (Gualtiero Rispoli). When he answers the door, no one is there. He hears something outside his window, so he opens it and the killer grabs him around the neck with the curved handle of the cane and then slashes his throat with the razor. Lidia arrives at the murder scene and tells the Inspector that this may be the work of a sex maniac (WTF?!?). The forensics team find cane imprints in the soil outside the vendor's window, the same cane prints that were at the scenes of two other murders, including the dancer's (The Inspector turns to his assistant Lolli [Rodolfo Lolli] and says, "Give me the files on all deviants and sex offenders with leg disabilities." Double WTF?!?!?!?).
     We then see someone sneaking into Kitty's bedroom, pulling the covers off her sleeping naked body and taking photos of her. It is then revealed to be Alberto, who is in the habit of taking naked photos of his girlfriend without her permission. The inspector suspects Alberto is the killer because, the last time he saw him, he was walking with a limp. Alberto tells him that he sprained his ankle, but his reason is very suspicious, especially when the Inspector shows Alberto a photo of him with the dead dancer at a performance art show he enacted a couple of months earlier. Alberto explains that he always gets drunk at his shows and doesn't remember everyone he meets, before he storms out of the Inspector's office. Alberto becomes front page news as the major suspect in the string of murders. As we well know, in giallo films, the person we suspect the most of being the killer usually isn't. Alberto gets a phone call from Marta (Nerina Montagnani), an old lady who tells him that for $2,000 she will tell him who the killer is. Before Alberto can get her the money, Marta is savagely killed by the razor-wielding killer (she grabs the razor with her hand before he slices her throat, leaving a deep gash in her hand). Alberto goes to the Inspector with a recording of Marta's phone message and asks if the Inspector is going to pick her up. The Inspector replies, "Yeah, in a meat wagon!" Alberto couldn't look more guilty if he tried.
     We then see Marco playing piano as a dancer, with the smallest breasts I have ever seen on a grown woman, prances around him and Lidia. Lidia then gets a phone call from her twin sister Sylvia (also played by Anuska Borova) because she has something important to tell her concerning Marco, but she blows her sister off (Why can't people tell important news over the phone?). We the see the black-gloved killer slicing the neck of a dancer named Magda Hopkins (Cristina Tamborra) while she is sleeping in her bed. Marco plays piano while looking at the article on Magda's killing. Lidia strips naked in front of him and they make love.
     The Inspector tells Alberto that he wants to use Kitty as bait to lure the killer. Kitty agrees to do it because Magda was her friend. We then see Kitty dressed as a prostitute, walking the streets of Rome's dirtier district (When she asks for $100 from a creep who tries to pick her up, he says, "For a hundred bucks I could get the greatest lay in the world, you stupid whore!" and then he drives away). The Inspector and Alberto are watching her from an unmarked car, but so is the killer, who is watching her from the shadows of night. When Kitty thinks she is getting into the killer's car (She holds up his cane), the Inspector and some police cars block his way, only it turns out to be the Chief of Police (Orlando Baralla) and the Inspector ends up with egg on his face (Everyone seems to have a cane!).
     Lidia thinks she has the story of her career when she locates Nina Ferretti (Rosita Torosh), the woman who was the chestnut vendor's customer during the original murder, but when Nina arrives at the dance academy to talk to Lidia, she sees a framed photo on a desk, screams and runs away. She drives to a phone booth and calls the police, telling the Inspector that she know who the killer is (But she doesn't tell him who it is over the damn phone!). Before Nina can make it to the Police Department, the killer is waiting for her in the backseat of her car, strangling her and then slicing her throat (The film's most inventive scene, as the wiper blades are cleaning away the rain that is falling outside, but they can't wipe away the blood that sprays on the inside of the windshield).
     Alberto thinks he has it all figured out, since all the murdered women were dancers. Alberto sets up a trap with the help of Kitty and the dance academy secretary (Anna Liberati), who was Magda's lesbian lover (!), but first they must stop while Kitty takes a bathroom break (She says, "It must be the emotion. I've gotta go pee-pee!"), twice! Just who is the killer? I'll never tell, but it doesn't take a genius to figure it out because there are so few red herrings here.
    Besides some highly risible dialogue (the dubbers were having loads of fun here) and Kitty unable to control her bladder during the finale, this is a fairly entertaining giallo flick. Shot under the title PASSI DI DANZA SU UNA LAMA DI RASOIO ("Dance Steps On The Edge Of A Razor") and also known as DEATH CARRIES A CANE (a much better title than the review title, since there isn't much tormenting going on), this film concludes with a tense finale in a greenhouse, where the Inspector shoots the killer just as he is about to murder Kitty and then we hear a long-winded explanation from Lidia on what the killers' motivation was (it's quite unbelievable, but adheres to giallo conventions).
     This Italy/Spain co-production, directed by Maurizio Pradeaux (CHURCHILL'S LEOPARDS - 1970; DEATH STEPS IN THE DARK - 1977), is nothing special, but it is good for a laugh. The screenplay, by Pradeaux, Alfonso Balcázar (SCHOOL OF DEATH - 1975), Arpad DeRiso (CROSS CURRENT - 1971) and co-star George Martin is nothing special, but I was not bored in the least. I know that is faint praise, but I have seen more than my share of uninteresting giallo films that offered nothing but boredom. Susan Scott (real name: Nieves Navarro) and Simón Andreu also appeared together in DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (1971) and DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972), two other giallo films, both directed by Luciano Ercoli and unrelated to this film.
     Originally released on fullscreen VHS by Wizard Video in the mid-'80s with a fullscreen DVD from Full Moon to follow in 2013 as part of their "Full Moon's Grindhouse Collection". Unfortunately, that is all there is available legally in the States (at the time of this review) and my review is based on this DVD. The print is soft-looking, but watchable. There are lots of close-ups of eyeballs. Oh, well, beggars can't be choosers. I just hope that Raro Video releases a widescreen version of this film in the future. They have given lesser giallo films their chance to shine, so I hope they do the same for this one. Also starring Serafino Profumo, Carlo Carli, Elisa Mainardi, Salvatore Borgese and Giovanni Pulone as the fireman Kitty runs to when she spies the original murder, but he says he can't report it because he is cheating on his wife! Rated R.

TORSO (1973) - This is one of the best giallo films ever made. I know that's a pretty big statement and a lot of people are going to disagree with me (hell, I review dozens of giallo films on this site and I usually love them all), but this film, especially in its original Italian uncut form (which is a mix of English language and Italian/with English subtitles), deals with sexuality and, especially, sexual violence, in such a frank and brutal way, once you watch it (and I mean really WATCH it, not put it on while you are doing something else), you will never forget it. The film opens at a photo-shoot (or rather, a secret photo-shoot), where we see Carol (Cristina Airoldi) and Flo (Patrizia Adiutori) making love to some unknown man as the camera clicks away. An eyeless doll hides one of the girl's private parts, as we see the man striking the doll's hair and sticking his fingers into its empty eye sockets (How's that for symbolism?). We then switch to Italian Professor Franz (John Richardson; FRANKENSTEIN '80 - 1972), who is teaching a class on painter Perugino and his fascination with St. Sebastian, as the camera pans across the students in the class (Cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando has a way of making all the girls look innocent, while the men and male teens look like they are hiding something or leer like sexual perverts. You'll be seeing a lot of both in this film). After the lecture is over, students Jane (Suzy Kendall; SPASMO - 1974), Daniela (Tina Aumont; LIFESPAN - 1974) and Stefano (Roberto Bisacco; HANDS OF STEEL - 1986) confront Franz on why he was so harsh in his assessment of Perugino's later career. Franz gives a brief explanation and leaves, but to the viewer, we see that both Jane and Franz are interested in each other. Stefano ask Daniela if he can give her a lift home, but she brushes him aside, saying she is going home with Jane. Stefano looks really mad (as do two motorcycle thugs standing next to him) and then, for some reason, seems to follow Flo and her boyfriend John (Fausto De Bella) as they drive off, which Daniela notices. The next time we see Flo and John, they are parked at an abandoned building making out in the car. John then notices someone in a gray ski mask and black leather gloves (a giallo staple) is watching them. He gets out of the car and chases the stranger, but when John doesn't return, Flo gets nervous, turns on the car's headlights and gets out to look for him. The black-gloved stranger reaches into the car and turns off the lights, so Flo returns to a car, only for the stranger to strangle Flo with a red & black patterned scarf, fondle her breasts and then graphically cut open her chest with a knife. As the camera pans back we see John's dead body, his throat slit wide open (a really graphic image, especially for 1973), as the shot expertly turns to daytime with Inspector Martino (Luciano De Ambrosis) and his squad hovering around John's body. He interviews a bum who discovered the body, but gets nowhere with him (The bum tells the Inspector that he was about to take a crap outside, but once he saw John's dead body, he became constipated!). We then see the mysterious Roberto (Luc Merenda; KIDNAP SYNDICATE - 1975) buying the same exact patterned scarf that killed Flo from street vendor Gianni (Ernesto Colli; AUTOPSY - 1975), while he and Gianni leer at the miniskirt-wearing Carol, who once hearing of her friend Flo's death, screams out "No! No!" and runs away. Because of Flo's untimely death, classes are closed for the day at the University, so Franz asks Jane if she would like to get a drink with him, which she readily accepts. Franz tells Jane that he is pleasantly surprised that an American could show so much interest in Perugino (you really should Google him) and Jane replies that she doesn't know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult. Franz and Jane hit it off rather nicely and, as this meeting ends, Franz asks her to go to a music concert with him in the near future and she says yes. As Jane is walking to her car, she notices Carol arguing with Daniele's Uncle Nino (Carlo Alighiero; THE CAT O' NINE TAILS - 1971) and hears Nino say that he wants to break-off his relationship with Carol because of the circumstances going on, it could become public knowledge and ruin him. Nino then spots Jane and drives away quickly. Stefano picks up a hooker (Rosaria della Femmina) from the street and they go back to her place. When he is unable to perform, the hooker calls him "queer", which seems to set off a trigger where Stefano becomes violent, slapping the hooker and then putting his hands around her neck, but somehow stops himself from strangling her. Carol, who is acting extremely jittery, spots Roberto leering at her (there's a lot of leering going on in this film) through a cafe window, and then blows-off Daniela, instead jumping on the back of a motorcycle of one of the two thugs we saw earlier in the film. We see Carol smoking a joint at the party, while the two motorcycle thugs fondle her breasts, When they try unbuttoning her pants, she pushes their hands away and tells them no. She then leaves the party and ends up in a foggy marsh, with the two thugs jumping on their motorcycles trying to find her (One of them says, "I'll strangle that bitch!"), until one falls off his bike and they decide it's not worth the trouble. The ski-masked killer is not so forgiving, though, as he strangles Carol with the same patterned scarf that killed Flo, only this time he graphically pokes her eyes out with his fingers (subliminal frames pop-up showing the fingers going into the doll like we saw in the beginning of the film) before he fondles her breasts and cuts open her chest. Inspector Martino is clueless and appeals to the University students to offer up some clues. Daniele tells Jane that the last time she saw Carol was when she jumped on the back of a motorcycle and maybe she should tell the Inspector. Jane tells her that she has an over-active imagination and since the two motorcycle thugs are also University students, she shouldn't get them in trouble without more concrete proof. Once at home, Daniele gets a threatening phone call (if you look close enough, you can tell who is making the call), telling her to keep her mouth shut or she will get strangled with a red & black scarf. Her Uncle Nino arrives and when Daniele tells him about the phone call, he tells her that she should take a few of her female friends to his country estate for the weekend for some rest and relaxation. Before Daniele and her friends go to the country estate (Jane has something to do and will join them later), Daniele is nearly sexually assaulted by Stefano (who professes his love for her, saying she and him were meant to be together forever), and Gianni the scarf seller, after being interviewed by Inspector Martino, makes a phone call to someone saying that he has to sell his business (it's obviously a blackmail call). The next time we see Gianni, he is stuffing two bundles of cash into his sports-coat, but someone driving a car crushes Gianni's head over and over with the bumper of his car against a stone wall (it's the first time in quite a while that I nearly turned my eyes away because this scene is so graphic and that's quite a compliment!). Now that we have enough red herrings to fill a sardine can, including Uncle Nino, who leers at his nearly naked niece while she is getting a neck rub from Jane, we have to figure out exactly who the killer is. It could be any man still alive at this point, even the country estate's village idiot (Enrico De Marco). Nearly every male holds some deep dark secret, so it won't be easy to spot the real killer (and I'm not going to tell). I will tell you that the last 25 minutes of the film is a white knuckle ride (and nearly dialogue-free), as the late-arriving Jane falls down a flight of stairs and sprains her ankle, so when the killer arrives and murders all the girls in the house, he has no idea Jane is in an upstairs bedroom knocked out with a sleeping pill. When Jane wakes up, she watches horrified as the killer (we still don't know who it is, but some of the suspects have been murdered or are revealed as nice guys) cuts up her friends into pieces with a tree branch saw (really graphic) and stuffs their body parts in a burlap sack so he can bury them outside. Will Jane survive or succumb to the killer? I've given you all the clues to figure it out, so it is up to you to discover the answer to that question.  Brilliantly directed and co-written (with Ernesto Gastaldi; ALMOST HUMAN - 1974) by Sergio Martino (YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM... - 1972; SCREAMERS - 1979; THE GREAT ALLIGATOR - 1979; AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK - 1983; and many others), who was not afraid to make a film like this, especially at a time when sexual violence was frowned upon and was usually relegated to porn films. While there is plenty of beautiful full frontal nudity, including lesbian lovemaking, nude sunbathing and naked swims in the country estate's lake, much of the nudity is used for opposite effect, showing how some women use their sexuality to get what they want. Only in this film, they pay for such sins with their lives and Martino doesn't pull away when the violence happens. Those who saw this film in U.S. theaters in the R-Rated version are in for a treat, as the widescreen Blue Underground Blu-Ray offers us two versions of the film: The 90 minute unedited English cut and the 93 minute Italian cut, which is the preferable way of watching it. Most of the Italian version is in English, but what isn't is in Italian with English subtitles. The copious nudity and graphic violence is really an eye-opener, much of it missing from the U.S. theatrical version and all VHS tapes. The Italian cut offers the film with its original Italian title, "I Corpi Presentano Tracce Di Violenza Carnale", which translates to "The Body Shows Traces Of Carnal Violence". It's a much better title than the well-known English one because it conveys exactly what you are about to see when you put your Blu-Ray into the player. The killings are unflinching and very graphic for the time. It blows away anything you see in FRIDAY THE 13TH, made seven years later, out of the water. The killer's motivation has to do with the way he sees women. As a child, he saw his younger brother fall off a cliff and die while trying to retrieve a female friend's doll, so he equates women with dolls and death, cutting their limbs off as easy as pulling the legs and arms off a doll (and poking their eyes out, too!). There are also some great POV shots and beautiful sweeping photography (pay attention to the scene where Jane leaves Franz after having a drink with him and then going to her car and try not to be impressed). The last 25 minutes will have you gripping your chair until your knuckles are white, as Jane tries to find a way to alert the town below that she is in trouble (First using a mirror in the sun to try and get someone's attention from her bedroom window, but it doesn't work). There a scene where Jane tries to retrieve the key from the other side of the locked door (using the old "newspaper slid under the door while she pokes the key with a hairpin to make it drop on the newspaper" trick) that will have you shitting your pants when you think she has failed, but it has only alerted the killer that she is in the house and he puts the key on the newspaper. If you want a good, old-fashioned murder mystery, look somewhere else. But if you want a take-no-mercy, nudity-filled, graphic and brutal look at a sexual deviate on a killing spree, you can do no better than TORSO (also released in some countries under the title CARNAL VIOLENCE). Believe me, it's that good (be on the lookout for gratuitous shots of J&B Scotch bottles, another staple in Italian films). Also starring Angelo Covello, Carla Brait, Vincent Crocitti, and Luciano Bartoli & Gianno Greco as the motorcycle thugs. Originally released in a severely cut fullscreen print on VHS from Prism Entertainment, with a nearly uncut print on DVD from Anchor Bay years later. The Blu-Ray from Blue Underground is the most complete you are ever going to see it and it looks nearly flawless, to boot. If you want to watch it the way it was meant to be seen, this Blu-Ray is your only real choice. A Blue Underground Blu-Ray Release. Originally Rated R, but this uncut version is Not Rated and rightfully so.

THE VISITATION (2005) - This supernatural thriller starts off on a strong note, but soon deteriorates once it reveals it's religious agenda. Pentacostal priest Travis Jordan (Martin Donovan) lost his faith three years earlier when his wife was brutally murdered by an unknown serial killer (he carves numbers into his victims' bodies while crucifying them). Suddenly a mysterious stranger by the name of Brandon Nichols (Edward Furlong) enters the town of Antioch and a series of "miracles" begin to occur: Travis' dead and buried dog comes back to life. New town vetenarian Morgan Elliott (Kelly Lynch) gets into a serious car accident and walks away without a scratch. Brandon holds an old-fashioned town tent revival and begins healing people with serious health issues (a paraplegic can suddenly walk; a woman's cancer is cured; etc.) as long as they profess their love and devotion to him. The townspeople, including once-suspicious Sheriff Brett Henchle (Richard Tyson), who had an inoperable brain tumor until Brandon laid his hands on him, begin to worship Brandon as the Second Coming of Christ, but Travis has severe doubts about Brandon's (and the trio of black trenchcoat-wearing strangers he brought with him) motives. He's right, of course. The people Brandon "healed" begin acting violently (even Travis' dog) and begin attacking all those who oppose or doubt Brandon's powers, as Travis and Morgan, who's son Michael (Noah Segan) is also under Brandon's spell, join forces and dig (literally) for the truth. It also seem Brandon's healings don't last very long and those people cured must go back to Brandon and ask for more healing, which requires more of their soul. Travis must regain his faith in God, as his investigation reveals that when Brandon was a child, his preacher father crucified him on a fence for asking help from a rival preacher (his father was sexually abusing him) and Brandon made a deal with the Devil for his release. The Devil gave Brandon temporary healing powers as long as he kills one believer in God every three years and one of Brandon's victims was Travis' wife. Now, Travis must save new love Morgan from becoming Brandon's latest victim and also save Antioch from eternal damnation.  Based of Frank Peretti's novel of the same name (his father was a Pentacostal preacher), THE VISITATION grabs you with the mystery elements and works well as a supernatural thriller for nearly half the running time. It begins to fall apart when the Christian imagery becomes abundantly clear and the pretty flimsy CGI (swarms of insects come flying out of the mouths of those possessed) start taking center stage. If Martin Donovan's character seems familiar, it's probably because it bears a striking similarity to Mel Gibson's in M. Night Shyamalan's SIGNS (2002). Just substitute the Devil for the aliens. Edward Furlong is downright creepy as Brandon (Lord knows he's had a tumultuous private life since appearing in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY [1991], which nearly wrecked his acting career) and a cast of genre vets, including Randy Travis, Ellen Geer, Pricilla Barnes, Joe Unger and Don Swayze do their best with their underwritten roles. Director Robby Henson, who also gave us the excellent crime drama THE BADGE (2002), the religious-themed THR3E (2006) and the horror film HOUSE (2007), supplies a lot of atmospheric scenes and disturbing images, but the film falls apart during the latter half, thanks to the heavy-handed religious subtext (others may find this appealing, but I don't like to be force-fed religion). I really wanted to like this but, once the film ended, I felt cheated a little. Produced by Namesake Entertainment, who also made the LEFT BEHIND series and HANGMAN'S CURSE (2003), all Christian-themed genre films. Released on DVD by 20th Century Fox. Rated PG-13.

WHAT BECAME OF JACK AND JILL? (1971) - This Amicus Production, from producers Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, played in the States on a double bill with THE STRANGE VENGEANCE OF ROSALIE (1972) and then disappeared from view, never receiving a TV showing or a home video release (in any form) in the U.S. I'm not sure if it was a rights issue or if Twentieth Century-Fox, the U.S. theatrical distributor, just didn't have any interest in releasing it to TV or home video (a fate that has befallen many films from the 60's & 70's), but JACK AND JILL is a good psychological thriller that definitely doesn't deserve to sit in obscurity. Thankfully, I was able to get my hands on an uncut print (it was trimmed in the U.S. to receive a PG rating), taken from a battered 35mm print. Johnny Tallent (pop singer-turned-actor Paul Nicholas; SEE NO EVIL - 1971) lives with his elderly grandmother Alice (Mona Washbourne; FRAGMENT OF FEAR - 1970), stealing money from her purse, medication from her nightstand and waiting not-so-patiently for her to die so he can inherit her fortune. Johnny's girlfriend, Jill Standish (Vanessa Howard; GIRLY - 1970), is sick of waiting and tries to talk Johnny into quickening Grannie's demise (Johnny's favorite hangout is the graveyard, where he sits opposite his grandfather's tombstone. Next to it is a blank tombstone, where Jill writes "Gran!!" on it in lipstick). Gran and Johnny have differences of opinion about the way Johnnie lives his life (She wants him to get a job and he see no use in it), but Johnny is able to control her by catering to her every need and scaring the wits out of her with fake stories about "Youth Power" (In one telling scene, Gran and Johnny are watching a riot on TV involving police and young people. Gran says, "Young people. Why don't they wait?" Johnny replies, "No one waits today, Gran. There's no guarantee there'd be anything to wait for."). Johnny hopes to scare Gran into a fatal heart attack by continually telling her untrue horror stories about how young people are taking over the world and making decisions about the fate of the elderly, using scare tactics like cutting stories out of the newspaper (that have nothing to do with "Youth Power", but making her believe they do) or having Jill call her on the phone, pretending to be the Census Bureau and asking Gran her age. Pretty soon, Johnny has Gran so scared, she refuses to take her heart medication (he tells her that the leading source of friction between the young and the elderly is that modern medicine makes the elderly live too long, robbing the young of their future), but the old bird refuses to kick the bucket, no matter how many horror stories he tells her. Jill becomes impatient with Johnny's progress (they originally agreed on a five year "schedule" to get Gran six feet under) and they finally get Gran to have a fatal heart attack (how they do it is quite fascinating), but like all perfect murders, mistrust between Johnny and Jill leads to their downfall, especially when Gran gets her revenge at the reading of her will.  This is a very British production that is basically a three-character play, with 85% of the film taking place in Gran's house. Director Bill Bain (this is his only theatrical film, although he had directed many episodes of British TV, including episodes of THE AVENGERS [1961 - 1969], THE PROTECTORS [1972 - 1973] and UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS [1971 - 1975] before passing away at the age of 52 in 1982) and screenwriter Roger Marshall (AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS - 1973) break-up the "staginess" of the production by visualizing Johnny's daydreams, such as when he imagines himself in a Nazi uniform and orders a bunch of soldiers to gun down a line of old people standing next to a wall or when he dreams that he has a machinegun and shoots Gran in her bed. Johnny's psychological torture of Gran is about as cruel (and original) as you'll see in any film, whether it's writing "Out With The Oldies" on a neighbor's wall so Gran can see it out her window; frightening her with made-up stories of old people being carted away by the youth movement; or the final, fatal straw: when Johnny and Jill stage a mock youth protest in front of her home, making Gran believe they are coming for her and giving her a fatal heart attack. Like all good psychological thrillers, there's a nasty sting after Gran's death (I won't spoil it here) that sets the stage for a fitting finale. If you get a chance to catch this film (it can be downloaded from some popular torrent sites), by all means do so, because, besides some dated verbal slang, clothing and hairstyles, this is about as satisfying as thrillers get. Also starring Peter Copley, Peter Jeffrey, George Benson, Angela Down, Patricia Fuller, Renee Roberts and Lillian Walker. Originally Rated PG, but the version I viewed restored some minor nudity, violence and language that was cut for its U.S. theatrical release.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (1972) - Excellent giallo film full of full-frontal nudity, extreme scenes of violence and a corkscrew mystery. In other words, everything we expect from a film in this genre.
     Enrico Rosseni (Fabio Testi; CONTRABAND - 1980) a teacher at London's St. Hilda's Catholic Girls School, is having an early morning illicit tryst with eighteen year-old student Elizabeth Seccles (Christine Galbo; LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE - 1974) on a rowboat in a park, when it is interrupted when Elizabeth sees a topless young woman running in fear and the the quick reflection of a knife in the early morning sun, as the killer stabs the young woman between her legs. Enrico thinks it is all in Elizabeth's head, as he saw nothing. Elizabeth is sure of what she saw, but when Enrico refuses to believe her, she leaves on her bicycle and peddles her ass back to her dorm building (with Enrico following her and smiling in his car). Once at his home, Enrico hears on the radio that a young girl was found murdered in the park, but before he can hear any more, his wife Herta (Karin Baal; DEAD EYES OF LONDON - 1961), changes the station. Telling his wife nothing, Enrico drives to the park and is shocked to discover that the murdered girl is Hilda, a student who was a member of his gymnastics team. When he arrives at the school late (telling Herta, who is also a teacher at the school, that his car broke down), Enrico is surprised to see that Police Inspector Barth (Joachim Fuchsberger; SCHOOL OF FEAR - 1969) is waiting in his office to talk to him. Since Hilda was a member of his gymnastics team,The Inspector asks him if there was any trouble in the young girl's life. Enrico says he cannot think of anything, even though Herta looks at him suspiciously and someone is spying on him through an opening in his office door. Enrico then meets Elizabeth and tells her not to say anything to anyone about their affair. Later that day, Herta throws a newspaper at Enrico, the front page showing a photo of him standing on a bridge at the park when he went there earlier to check on the dead girl. Herta now knows that he didn't have car trouble, but how much does she really know?
     Enrico has a talk with his gymnastics team, where one student, Janet Bryant (Pilar Castel; BARON BLOOD - 1972), tells him Hilda was troubled, but she doesn't know why. The Inspector, after seeing Enrico's photo in the newspaper, questions him again, only this time he is more assertive, telling Enrico that he is hiding something and, eventually, he will find out what it is. Enrico says nothing and the Inspector leaves his office. We know Enrico couldn't possibly be the killer, because he has an airtight alibi (that he can't tell anyone), so just who is the killer? The Inspector then questions Hilda's parents, Mr. & Mrs. Erickson, asking them if Hilda had a boyfriend. Mrs. Erickson (Maria Monti; NIGHT OF THE DEVILS - 1972) says no, her daughter would have told her and Mr. Erickson (Giancarlo Badessi; CALIGULA - 1979) wants to know if his daughter was raped. When Mrs, Erickson leaves his office in tears, the Inspector tells Mr. Erickson yes, Hilda was viciously raped, with a knife between her legs. The students go to the school's church to confess their sins, as we see someone's POV, spying on them as they confess to Father Webber (Marco Mariani; YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM... - 1972) and Father Herbert (Antonio Anelli; BYLETH: THE DEMON OF INCEST - 1972).
     Elizabeth sneaks away on her bicycle to meet Enrico at their new love nest, where we notice that she is being followed by someone in a car. When she gets to the love nest (an apartment Enrico rented just for the two of them), Enrico gets a hang-up phone call, which he says must be a wrong number since no one knows they are there. When he gets home, Herta accuses him of sleeping with Hilda, which he flatly denies. They are then paid another visit by the Inspector, who shows Enrico a pen that was found next to Hilda's dead body. When Herta leaves the room, Enrico confesses that the pen is his and tells him about his affair with Elizabeth and what she saw at the park, begging the Inspector not to tell anyone what he just told him, especially his wife.
     The killer then strikes again. Janet gets a phone call from the killer who pretends to be Mr. Erickson and asks her to return a book to him that Hilda had. Janet grabs the book and goes outside her dorm building, where the black-gloved killer grabs her (Janet drops her adorable white kitten, who meows at the killer) and throws Janet in the trunk of his car. The next time we see Janet, her feet are tied together, her hands tied behind her back and her mouth is taped, as the killer drags her by her feet through the park, ripping off her blouse (exposing her breasts) and panties (exposing her you-know-what) and then shoving his big knife up her hooch, killing her. Elizabeth wakes up from a vivid nightmare and remembers something important she saw when Hilda was killed. She calls Enrico and tells him to come over (enraging a sleeping Herta) and when he does, she tells Enrico what she saw (a conversation we are not privy to). The next morning, when she finds out what happened to Janet, Elizabeth has a talk with teacher Prof. Bascombe (Günther Stoll; THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY - 1971), who then calls a faculty meeting. Elizabeth tells them that the man who killed Hilda had a beard and wore a long black habit, like a priest. When the school's headmaster, Mr. Leach (Rainer Penkert), asks Elizabeth what she was doing in the park so early in the morning, she replies she was with a boy, which relieves Enrico, who is at the meeting (so is Herta). Mr. Leach then says the boy may have seen something, too, but Elizabeth says no, he didn't even believe her (a not-so-subtle dig at Enrico). Teacher Joseph Kane (John Gayford) asks Elizabeth if she saw the priest's face and she says no (both Father Herbert and Father Webber are at the meeting). After the faculty meeting is over, Enrico thanks Elizabeth for keeping his name out of it and we discover Mr. Leach knows about their affair, telling Enrico he will tell no one else, but he should be more "careful" (Believe me, all these trivial details are important). I know what you are thinking: So who is Solange and what role does she play here? Be patient...
     We are then in the girl's shower (lots of gratuitous full-frontal nudity) and someone is peeping on them through a hole in the wall. Elizabeth is in her love nest taking a bath, when she hears someone entering the apartment. Thinking it is Enrico, she invites him to join her. It is not Enrico at all, but the killer, who drowns Elizabeth in the bathtub and makes a hasty retreat (all of it from the killer's POV). Enrico can hide his affair no longer, as the Inspector arrests him and makes Enrico give him a sample of his hair. The school faculty and the newspapers label Enrico a "sex maniac" (Joseph Kane says to the Inspector, "I never did like that Italian!"). Herta wants to talk to the Inspector, but he tells her, at this moment, he is too busy to talk to her, as he is questioning all the male members of the school (He doesn't believe that Enrico is the killer, even though he arrested him to make the public calm down). When Mr. Leach tells the Inspector what Elizabeth told the faculty about the killer being bearded and wearing a long black habit, he gets down and dirty with everyone, including the priests at the school. When Elizabeth's autopsy reveals that she was still a virgin, the Inspector tells Herta, which takes her by surprise (it takes us all by surprise!). The Inspector releases Enrico from custody and he tells Herta that he must find out who killed Elizabeth, Herta vowing to help her husband.
     The Inspector, acting on a tip, interrupts a class Herta is giving and asks the girls if they ever saw a priest with a beard. One of the girls, Susan (the prolific Carla Mancini; THE HANGING WOMAN - 1973), tells the Inspector that she saw Hilda and Janet  with a bearded priest, but she does not know his name. When the Inspector leaves, Herta grills the students even more, reporting what she learned to her husband. This leads Enrico to a black photographer (actor unknown), who tells him that all the dead girls were customers of his, wanting him to take nude photos of them (as the photographer is talking to Enrico, a completely nude young girl, who is white as a ghost, is waiting for him to take her photo!). The photographer also tells him that he didn't want the girls to end up like "Solange".  Enrico asks the photographer who Solange is and he replies that she was "some young chick who disappeared" after he took some nude photos of her. This leads Enrico on a troubling journey on discovering who Solange really is and why her disappearance is related to the three current murders. As in all good giallo films, we discover Solange was involved in something very seedy and she is the daughter of someone very close to Enrico. But who could it be? Is it the peeper, who likes to spy on the girls taking showers? Could the peeper be someone that Enrico is very close to? Or could the person be both the killer and the peeper? And is Solange still alive? I'm afraid I won't say who the killer is or any other pertinent plot points, besides telling you that it leads Enrico on a journey full of dead dogs and even more murders, the killer's name being revealed in this review. The clues are there, so start deducing!
     This Italy/West Germany co-production was the first of director/co-screenwriter Massimo Dallamano's (THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY - 1970; THE NIGHT CHILD - 1975) intended "schoolgirls in peril" trilogy, his second film in the trilogy being WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (a.k.a. THE COED MURDERS - 1974). Unfortunately, Dallamano was unable to direct the third and final chapter of his trilogy, as he died in a car accident in Rome in 1976. The film was eventually made, after his screenplay was reworked (he gets a co-screenwriter credit), as (RED) RINGS OF FEAR (1978), directed by Alberto Negrin. Fabio Testi (THE BIG RACKET - 1976) also appears in that film, only this time he was upgraded to Inspector. This film has a very complex plot (based, in part, on Edgar Wallace's "The Clue Of The New Pin"), but it is never boring, thanks to a cast of pros (Joachim Fuchsberger appeared in many of West Germany's Edgar Wallace mystery films of the '60s as a law official, my favorite one being THE INN ON THE RIVER - 1962) and Dallamano's tight direction. Some critics complain that the film is too long (at 103 minutes), but the screenplay, by Dallamano and Bruno Di Geronimo (FLAVIA THE HERETIC - 1974), details Enrico's long journey on discovering the truth and the toll it takes on everyone's lives, time needed to peel back the layers of the story and uncovering the truth. And Dallamano delivers a great giallo film that contains all the ingredients we demand from this genre, namely an unknown black-gloved killer, plenty of eye-opening female nudity, lots of sex and violence and a crackling good mystery. Dallamano was a talent who died way too soon. I wonder how many good films he would have made if he didn't pass on at the age of 59. Also helping this film are Aristide Massaccesi's (a.k.a. "Joe D'Amato") dream-like photography, shot just before he would direct his first film, DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (1973) and Ennio Morriconi's (SPASMO - 1974) haunting music score, filled with a female chorus harmoniously chanting. Once you hear it, you will never forget it, just like the film itself.
     Filmed as COSA AVETE FATTO A SOLANGE? (a literal translation of the review title), this film received a U.S. theatrical release under the review title and as THE SCHOOL THAT COULDN'T SCREAM by Hallmark Releasing, who also released it as TERROR IN THE WOODS, BLOOD RELATIONS and the unbelievable title THE RAH RAH GIRLS! I can find no legitimate U.S. VHS releases on this film under any title during the 80s & 90s, just from gray market sellers such as Sinister Cinema and CineFear. This review is based on the uncut, anamorphic widescreen DVD released by Media Blasters/Shriek Show in 2002. It looks and sounds terrific for a DVD released early in the New Millennium, but it is low on extras, just some trailers and an art gallery of posters and lobbycards for this film. The DVD does come with a nice booklet (remember them?) that I have scanned for your viewing pleasure HERE. Be aware that Arrow Video has released a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack of this film that is heavy on exclusive extras. Arrow is also releasing a combo pack of Dallamano's second film in the trilogy (At the time of this review, it is due to drop in August 2018), which I have pre-ordered (look for a review shortly). If I love this disc (which I know I will), I will purchase Arrow's release of this film, so look for an amendment to this review describing the extras. Look for Joe D'Amato in a quick cameo as a C.I.D. officer. Also starring Claudia Butenuth, Vittorio Fanfoni (EYEBALL - 1975), Giovanna Di Bernardo, Antony Vernon, Emilia Wolkowicz (THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER - 1963) and Camille Keaton (TRAGIC CEREMONY - 1972; I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE - 1978) as Solange. The edited theatrical version was Rated R, but this uncut version is Not Rated.

WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS (1993) - It was a slow week at the video store, so I decided to rent this film even though it seemed the usual video fodder, at least by the synopsis on the video box. Boy, was I wrong! This is a true unknown sleeper that is must viewing for all mystery fans. When seven severed hands are discovered one rainy night in a Texas town, Police Chief Martin Sheen (doesn’t he ever take a rest?) and his crew try to figure out why the hands (from young girls ages 5-13) were numerically tattooed. Enter a forensic expert (Ally Walker in a knockout performance) to assist the police in solving these crimes. Ally (who has a dark past and a "Don’t mess with me" attitude) methodically fits the pieces of the puzzle together for a really startling (and sick) conclusion. That’s all the plot that I’m going to give away because this is one of the few mystery films that had me fooled and I want you to experience the same jolts that I did on the first viewing. On second viewing, I realized that all the clues were well laid out (some of them are hidden in conversations) but it was possible for the viewer to solve it before the final 15 minutes. God, I love this type of film because you have to use your brain as well as your eyes. You not only watch this film, you get involved in it. Also starring Ron Perlman (CRONOS - 1992) and Rob Knepper (WILD THING - 1987). Directed and written by Michael Cohn (INTERCEPTOR - 1992), who has real talent in both categories. A Prism Entertainment Home Video Release. Rated R for scenes of severed body parts and foul language. You would be nuts to pass this one up. A sequel was made in 1998, titled WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS II: PERFECT PREY (Dir: Howard McCain). Avoid it as it does not star anyone from the original. It's a real letdown.

WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972) - France 1968: A young girl has her head bashed-in with a rock by some gloved killer while she is riding her sled in the snow. The killer buries the girl's body in a shallow grave in the snow and when her body is discovered, the police investigate, but her homicide goes unsolved. Venice, Italy 1972: Famous sculptor Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) picks up his young daughter, Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi), at the airport. Roberta has come to spend some quality time with her father since her fashion model mother, Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg), lives in London (Mom and Dad's marriage is going through bit of a rough patch). Franco dotes on Roberta, taking her everywhere, even to the house of his agent, Serafian (Adolfo Celi), where she overhears a heated conversation between a young couple. Serafian also gives her a necklace depicting the zodiac sign of Aquarius, her birth month (February). It's apparent Roberta is being stalked by the same killer who murdered the young girl in France four years earlier (the killer's POV shots looks like the unknown assailant is looking through a black lace veil) and the unthinkable happens. Roberta is abducted on the street while her father is having an afternoon tryst with Gabriella (Rose Marie Lindt), Serafian's beautiful assistant. When Roberta doesn't come home, Franco goes looking for her, but comes up empty. He calls the police and a couple of days later her body is discovered floating in the canals. Elizabeth comes to Venice for the funeral and to try to fix her marriage to a distraught Franco, who blames himself for his daughter's death. When Franco discovers that the death of a young girl a year earlier bears a striking similarity to his daughter's death (both were found floating in the canals and were sexually assaulted), he begins his own investigation (which includes a strange game of ping pong while questioning an informant, who tells Franco, "If you can't play ping pong, don't get mixed-up in politics!"). Franco's investigation will bring him into the world of the rich and influential (involving some of his closest friends), some of who are involved in a string of child molestations, sexual perversions and brutal murders. Gabriella is strangled in a movie theater and one of the main suspects is stabbed to death in his home, but Franco gets some help from the crippled son of a murder victim, who shows him a film that unmasks a society that partakes in sick sex games, some involving children. Franco must find the identity of the individual who's back is only seen in the film, before the killer murders Elizabeth, himself and gets away with a string of child killings that dates back to 1968, where this film began.  This intriguing giallo, a co-production between Italy and Monaco, offers a great mystery for fans of the genre and gives a rare starring role to one-time James Bond George Lazenby (THE MAN FROM HONG KONG - 1975), a personal favorite of mine. Unfortunately, Lazenby doesn't supply his own voice in the English dub track, which diminishes his performance somewhat, but he manages to convey quite a bit of emotion as a father out for revenge. Director Aldo Lado (SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS - 1971; NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS - 1974; THE HUMANOID - 1979) gives us stunning panoramas of Venice (his home town), from the sad funeral procession by boat through the canals to various landmarks used as backdrops as the story unfolds. The fog-shrouded streets and canals are used to great effect here, providing atmosphere and menace to many scenes. Director Nicholas Roeg would use Venice much to the same effect in his similarly-themed DON'T LOOK NOW (1973). Lado reigns-in the blood and gore on this film, letting the mystery elements and sleazy undercurrents of sex and perversion grab us instead. All the women, including Anita Strindberg (YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM... - 1972), disrobe as often as possible and Ennio Morricone's score (which contains a child choir that sings a haunting "la-la-la-la" theme every time a murder occurs) elicits the right amount of creepiness to the proceedings. This is also one of the first films that I can remember where a telephone answering machine was used as a plot device. Aldolfo Celi (EYE IN THE LABYRINTH - 1972; MANHUNT - 1972) manages to be menacing with a minimal amount of dialogue. He was one of Italy's best utility actors in the 60's, 70's & 80's and greatly enhanced any film he appeared in. Lado explains (in an interview on the DVD's supplements) how Italian censors made him put a final line of dialogue in the film, since the killer was a pedophile and (gasp!) a religious icon. The line of dialogue is as obvious as it is ridiculous and nearly ruins the effect of the entire film. Still, WHO SAW HER DIE? is an enjoyable murder mystery that should please diehard, as well as casual, giallo fans. Also starring Peter Chantal, Piero Vida, Jose Quaglio, Dominique Boschero and Allesandro Haber. Originally available on DVD as part of a four-film box set called THE GIALLO COLLECTION from Anchor Bay Entertainment and now available as a stand-alone DVD from Blue Underground. Also available on DVD as part of MIDNIGHT MOVIES VOLUME 4: THRILLER TRIPLE FEATURE (Three discs; one per film), also from Blue Underground Not Rated.

THE WIND (1986) - Best-selling mystery author Sian Anderson (Meg Foster), who boyfriend John (David McCallum) refers to as a "ballsy wench", takes a breather from her hectic metropolitan lifestyle and rents a house in the ancient (and creepy) seaside Greek village of Monemvassia from a jovial Elias Appleby (Robert Morley). After showing her around the deserted village (most of the occupants are in Switzerland, spending the money they made during tourist season), Elias leaves Sian with a cryptic warning: "Beware of the wind." Sure enough, as soon as Elias departs, a mysterious howling wind appears and with it enters enigmatic stranger Phil (Wings Hauser), the house's caretaker. Sian's life is about to get strange. Working on her latest mystery novel, Sian (who signs her books with the male pseudonym "Sean Anderson") imagines Phil killing Elias as she types her next chapter. The problem is, it may all be true, as she spies on Phil burying something in the town's ancient cemetery. She goes outside to investigate, but the gale force winds prevent her from making it to the cemetery. Convinced that Elias is dead, Sian calls John back in the States for help, but all she gets to tell him is that a murder has been committed before the line goes dead. Sian's extensive knowledge of ways to murder people, thanks to research she has performed for previous novels, makes her believe that Phil is out to kill her. It seems she is right when Phil breaks into the house brandishing a sickle, forcing Sian to barracade herself in the attic. Phil then calls her on the phone, admits to killing Elias and freaks out when Sian calls him insane. When Elias' wife shows up looking for her husband, she ends up with a sickle buried in her back. It's not long before Sian and Phil start playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, but just who is the hunter and who is the prey? John is able to get in touch with the local Greek police and Kesner (Steve Railsback; THE SURVIVALIST - 1987; ED GEIN - 2000), an American seaman stranded on the island due to bad weather, agrees to go check-up on Sian to make sure she's OK. He arrives at the house, searches it and tells Sian that there's no danger present, but in a few short moments he will end up with a sickle in his back, too. The ending is as enigmatic as Phil, who may be the killer or who may be nothing more than an innocent victim in Sian's over-productive mind. Does the wind really kill Phil or is it nothing but a plot device for Sian's next book? Does it really matter?  This creepy little film, filmed in Greece and Los Angeles by director/producer/co-scripter Nico Mastorakis (ISLAND OF DEATH - 1975; THE NEXT ONE - 1981; NIGHTMARE AT NOON - 1987), is an effective psychothriller with plenty of atmosphere and some genuine scares. The always-present sound of the howling wind on the soundtrack enhances the feeling of dread, as does the sight of the fog-enshrouded deserted village streets at night. This film taps into that fear that most visitors to foreign countries seem to have: Being stranded in a strange land with no way to escape and not understanding the language. Only Mastorakis puts a twist on it. Even though it takes place in a small coastal town in Greece, all the protagonists are American (or British, if you count David McCallum). Meg Foster (THEY LIVE - 1988; LEVIATHAN - 1989; IMMORTAL COMBAT - 1994), with those haunting, steely blue eyes, is very good here as an author who lets her writing go to her head. Wings Hauser (VICE SQUAD - 1982; MUTANT - 1984; DEAD MAN WALKING - 1987) is not given much to do here but act crazy. It may seem like he's overacting and is too "out there", but there really is a reason for it, as the ending reveals. Die-hard mystery and thriller fans will see the surprise ending long before it's disclosed, but it doesn't matter much since the film has a definite nasty edge to it. While there is no nudity and very little blood, THE WIND (also known as EDGE OF TERROR) is a suspenseful thriller good for at least one viewing. Check it out. Also starring John Michaels and Tracy Young as newlyweds who nearly become victims in the finale. Originally released on VHS by Lightning Video and available on DVD in a fullscreen no-frills edition from Simitar or a deluxe widescreen edition by Mastorakis' own label, Omega Entertainment. Not Rated.

WOLF LAKE (1978) - Before I go into reviewing this film, a little history is required. You may have seen this film on TV in the late 80's to early 90's under the title THE HONOR GUARD. I would advise you to try and ignore this version because it completely alters the original ending of the film and omits important pieces of plot that are necessary to enjoy the film. In other words, a typical TV bastardization of a film that has something to say, but TV doesn't think we are adult enough to take it. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, on with the review. The film opens with Vietnam War deserter David (David Huffman) carrying the lifeless body of his girlfriend Linda (Robin Mattson) to a dock at a secluded lake deep in the woods. So begins a series of quick flash-forwards that populate the first half of the film, tantilizing and teasing us of the action to come. Old World War  II buddies Charlie (Rod Steiger), Wilber (Jerry Harding), George (Richard Herd) and Sweeney (Paul Mantee) arrive at a secluded lakeside cabin by plane for a hunting trip and meet David, the caretaker. Immediately Charlie makes a wisecrack about David's unkempt appearance, mocking his long hair and beard (calling him a "bearded lady"). Wilbur manages to calm David down and sees that David is quite handy with a rifle, learning that he served in the Marines (or did he?). Wilbur deducts that David is a deserter, waiting deep in the woods for amnesty to come. Wilbur tells David that Charlie lost his son in Vietnam, so he better not find out David's secret.  The other three war buddies begin to ogle Linda, who acts as cook and maid in the cabin. Charlie gets on the wrong side of Linda, who lifts up her blouse to taunt Charlie. Charlie gives Linda a slap in the face. Almost immediately Wilbur tells Charlie that David is a deserter (nothing like having a close friend!) and Charlie begins a spiraling plan to taunt David, at first shooting his high-powered rifle near David while he is working on the dock, telling David that he's not going to leave this place alive and culminating in the debasing rape, and eventual death, of Linda. David finally ditches his pacifist ways and begins to systematically kill the four hunters, but not before taking some licks himself. I will not destroy the rest of the film for first-time viewers, and there are about to be many, since this film is not very well-known. Director/writer Burt Kennedy, who usually directed Westerns, does a fine job here in creating tension that finally leads to slaughter. Kennedy did step out of the Western genre now and then, as he also directed the TV movie ALL THE KIND STRANGERS (1974) as well as THE KILLER INSIDE ME (1976), both starring Stacy Keach. Rod Steiger (AMERICAN GOTHIC - 1987), who was known to ham it up occasionally, gives a fine, semi-restrained performance here as a Father who can't understand why anyone would desert their country (or him, for that matter, as we find out later in the film). David Huffman (BLOOD BEACH - 1981, who was murdered in 1985 by a thief as he was walking out of a theater) is also good as someone who can only be pushed too far before reaching the breaking point. Pacifism be damned! Everyone else in the film, Mattson (ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? - 1978), Hardin  ("Deep Throat" on the first season of THE X-FILES), Herd (SCHIZOID - 1980; TRANCERS - 1985) and Mantee (THE MANITOU - 1977) are given precious little to do except to die, although Hardin does try to act as the voice of reason in several scenes. This is basically a film about contrasting personalities, one who loves his country so much and is willing to kill for it and one who loves his country so much that he has to kill because of it. The TV version has a completely different ending as the one who died in the original lived and the one who lived, died (and omits all the flash-forward and the rape). WOLF LAKE (which was filmed in Mexico with Canadian money) should be your cup of tea if you liked DEATH WEEKEND (a.k.a. THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE - 1976), another Canadian film which shared the same tone, if not the same plot. This is grim stuff and not for the faint-hearted. Some people have complained, saying that the flash-forwards give away too much of the plot. I think that they serve to show everyone that we knew revenge would eventually happen anyway, considering the circumstances. A Prism Entertainment Release.

THE ZERO BOYS (1986) - A group of weekend warriors, known as the Zero Boys, win their latest war games tournament (which is a combination of paintball guns, blank pistols and special effects technician-supervised bullet squibs, played at a Mexican village ghost town) and head off for a weekend of fun and relaxation with their girlfriends in the deep woods. Steve (Daniel Hirsch; SKY HIGH - 1985), the leader of the Zero Boys, brings his opposing team leader's girlfriend, Jamie (Kelli Maroney; NIGHT OF THE COMET - 1984; CHOPPING MALL - 1986), along for the ride, since he won a weekend with her on a side bet. Before you can say "murderous backwoods hillbillies", the young guys and gals find themselves in a heap of deadly trouble. Jamie hears a woman scream, so they all go to investigate. They find a trail of blood which leads them to a seemingly uninhabited farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and, being the geniuses that they are, decide to spend some time there celebrating fellow member Rip's (Jared Moses, who sports a ridiculously fake patch of white in his dark hair) birthday and partake in booze and sex. Right on cue, a violent storm appears and everyone opts to leave. Alas, someone has tampered with Steve's truck, so everyone is forced to spend the night. The Boys search the area and find a room in the barn with a two-way mirror and video equipment. It soon becomes apparent that the unknown occupants are deranged killers making snuff films for their personal enjoyment. The (at first) unseen killers taunt the Zero Boys, kidnapping Trish (Crystal Carson) and taping her torture session before returning her to the group (still alive with a plastic bag over her head). It gets deadly after that, as Rip is shot through the back with an arrow and is instantly killed while the trio of backwoods hicks chase the rest of the group through the forest at night using a crossbow, a machete and a big-ass knife. Encountering spike-filled and other booby traps, the Zero Boys (and girls) fight back, using their war games training to turn the tables on the hillbilly clan. A typical 80's-style "surprise ending" reveals that all their hard-fought victories may have been for nothing.  This is one of Greek director/producer/co-scripter Niko Mastorakis' (ISLAND OF DEATH - 1975; THE WIND - 1986; NIGHTMARE AT NOON - 1987) weakest films, helped in part by the revelation during the middle of the film that the weapons the Zero Boys carry are, in fact, real and not paint guns or blank-filled semi-automatic weapons. To make matters worse, the Zero Boys waste more of their ammunition shooting at objects rather than the hillbillies (they waste over four clips of ammo shooting-up the torture room, when using a pipe or a piece of wood would have accomplished the same thing). Don't get me started on the dynamite and stun guns the Zero Boys have conveniently packed for their fun weekend. To show you how completely embarrassing and unrealistic this film really is, Joe Estevez, who plays the head of the hillbilly can, appears here using the pseudonym "Joe Phelan", a nom-de-plume he has used several times since (such as Mastorakis' TERMINAL EXPOSURE [1987]). This from an actor that has starred in more than his fair share of crappy films (ARMED FOR ACTION [1992] anyone?) using his real name. The violence on view is also fairly restrained (arrow impalement, speargun bolt to the leg, death by spiked pit) and the finale, where Jamie tries to electrocute the head hillbilly by shoving her stun gun in a lake, defies all logic. Since most of the violence takes place in the dead of night and the film is woefully underlit, why put yourself the trouble of watching it? A total misfire from beginning to end. Also starring Tom Shell, Nicole Rio, Gary Jochimsen, John Michaels and Elise Turner. Originally released on VHS by Lightning Video and later released on budget DVD by Simitar Entertainment. In 2003, director Mastorakis released a re-edited version of this film on DVD (he also did this for many of his other films) through Image Entertainment. Since I haven't seen this version, this review only pertains to the original version, but you can put a colorful bow on a pig, but in the end, it's still a pig. Rated R.