Saturday, March 31, 2012

Short Film: Male Restroom Etiquette (2006)

My babe and I used to meet after work every other week at a Thai greasy spoon located at the edge of a park known locally here in Berlin as "Goat Square" (Zickenplatz). The food there is hardly a culinary delight, but it's cheap and the place has a huge front plate-glass window that offers a great view to the free-standing public toilet house across the way at the edge of the park. The public toilet has since been converted to a Döner stand, so the view is less entertaining than it used to be. Back when we still went to the greasy spoon and the house was still a toilet, it was also a gay cruising spot – but only for in-the-closet German working class husbands and Turkish Men (with a capital M), not out-of-the-closet normalos. The traffic was heavy with mustached men in Wal-Mart-equivalent clothes who looked like your neighbor's father or your local Turkish butcher, the bellies were bigger than the muscles, and it was fascinating to watch the "mating rituals" of the micro-society in action – the furtive eye glances, the reaction to show interest or rejection, the speed in which some went in and out and left and other went in and out and in and out and in and out. We sometimes wondered what the dance was like inside, but we never went in to find out – the greasy spoon had its own toilet for customers.
So, what does the above have to do with this film? Not much really, other than that when I first saw this fun little tutorial regarding men's restroom etiquette, that public John suddenly came to mind again – the restroom etiquette there would surely have been worth a film as well.
But this film, which has been floating around the web for well over six years now, does not tackle the etiquette of public sex in toilets; it sticks to meat and potatoes: How you and I and John Doe should act in that great haven of relief, the Men's Room. Too few men seem to know these seemingly self apparent rules – as evidenced by all the men who deem it necessary to fart Beethoven's Fifth in full when using the urinals – so for the sake of social improvement we thought it time to share this fun, funny and tasteful tutorial with our public. Learn from it – and help prevent bio-hazards and the downfall of civilization as we know it today.
This
machinima film was created by Phil "Overman" Rice – aka Zarathustra Studios – using "The Sims 2, Sim City 4, MOHO, and other tools." He is also the narrator of the film which, according to was listed in the 2009 Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition as the most viewed Sims video uploaded to YouTube.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)




The feature-length debut film of the underappreciated director David Schmoeller – who went on to do other interesting genre oddities of varying quality such as Netherworld (1992, trailer), The Arrival (1991 / trailer), Puppetmaster (1989 / trailer) and Crawlspace (1986 / trailer) – is probably one of the weirdest and unjustly forgotten horror films of the Golden Age of Horror. Sure, it's one of those films you know you've heard of, that you think you've heard of, but you just don't know where or why or what was said – it simply has that ring of familiarity like, dunno, Motel Hell (1980 / trailer) or Vacancy (2007 / trailer). And like the former of the two films just named, in terms of creativity, of surreal creepiness, of total uniqueness, Tourist Trap definitely deserves a broader reputation than it has. Really, after we saw it, we could only wonder why the fuck we waited so long to pull the DVD down off our shelf.
That Tourist Trap is going to be something different is already indicated as the credits roll due to the notably eccentric main title music by Italian composer Pino Donaggio (Don't Look Now [1973 / trailer], Piranha [1978 / trailer], Dressed to Kill [1980 / trailer], The Barbarians [1987 / trailer] and dozens of other fab films), probably one of the oddest title score to ever grace a horror film. But it fits the film well, a film that may be low on gore but is nevertheless strong and nightmarish enough to deserve a higher rating than the PG it was given upon its original release. (To quote the director: "That rating stunned us. And it killed the movie.")
Which is not to say that the storyline, in its most basic summation, in any way indicates originality: a group of twens on vacation stumble upon a back-road tourist trap when their car inexplicitly breaks down and they consecutively meet their fates. Wow. How creative – a variance of a basic plotline (with or without dark stormy nights) that has been regurgitated in hundreds of ways since before Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934 / fan trailer)* on up to Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 / trailer) and long past Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses (2003 / trailer) or the unjustly maligned 2005 version of House of Wax (trailer). But it is here that it should be pointed out that the director, David Schmoeller, attended the Universidad De Las Americas in Mexico City, where he studied with directors Luis Buñuel and Alejandro Jodorowsky – something that shows in this film, if only in a more naturalistic and earthy manner. Yes, the story is old, but damn! He sure takes it in a different direction! But for all its surrealistic horror, for all the preposterousness, for all its insane nuttiness and black humor, Tourist Trap never tips into camp or stylistic excess or intellectual pretentiousness: the film is good old fashion meat and potatoes, only the herbs and spices come from another planet. (One briefly visited planet is that of Jess Franco's 1968, surrealistic cinematic dreamscape Succubus, which is brought to mind in a short scene that echoes the death scene of Bella Olga [Nathalie Nort] in Jess Franco's far less satisfying art film.)
Initially, Tourist Trap almost seems to be a low budget version of TCM, primarily due to its off-road setting and the art direction and special effects of Robert A. Burns, who did the same job (uncredited) on Hooper's classic. But Tourist Trap takes the basic premise of the psycho hicks in the middle of nowhere a step further by adding an "über-natural" (vs. "supernatural") plot element and mannequins – an idea already explored by director David Schmoeller in his Oscar-nominated student film The Spider Will Kill You (1976) – to take the film down a side road all of its own. The road may be paved with the expected deaths of a bodycount film, but it is nevertheless a twisted journey, and the final turn is simply batshit crazy! This film is simply cool.
Another strong plus to the film that definitely deserves mention is the convincing cast, which includes the always enjoyable Chuck Connors (Walk the Dark Street [1956 / full film], Hot Rod Girl [1956 / full film], Kill Them All and Come Back Alone [1968/ German trailer], Soylent Green [1973 / trailer] and Last Flight to Hell [1990 / trailer]) as Mr. Slausen, the owner of the tourist trap, and a young and undeniably hubba-hubba Tanya Roberts (Forced Entry [1975 / trailer], The Beastmaster [1982 / trailer] and A View to a Kill [1985 / trailer] braless in a tube top** as the not-Final-Girl Becky – were this the only film of hers that we had ever seen, we would even say she can act. Rounding out the two above-mentioned names are the equally game but less known Jocelyn Jones (The Great Texas Dynamite Chase [1976 / trailer]) as the prim Molly, Jon Van Ness (Hospital Massacre [1982 / full film] and The Hitcher [1986 / trailer]) as the wanna-be hero Jerry, Robin Sherwood (Death Wish II [1982 / trailer]) as Eileen, who just has to go outside alone, and Keith McDermott as Woody, whose death, which virtually opens the film with a bang, also promptly reveals that Tourist Trap is not a by-the-numbers. Y'all did good, folks! Have a beer on me!
And as for the rest of you: watch this undeservedly underappreciated film now. You won't regret it.
*OK, you're right: the people taking shelter in The Black Cat aren't twens, but the core set-up of strangers stuck in the middle of nowhere endangered by those they take shelter with is the same basic generic situation.
**No full-frontal nekkid booby scenes in this film, kids – Darn!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

R.I.P.: Robert Fuest

NOTE: This post includes one trailer embedded from Video Detective. The default settings at Video Detective are set so that embedded videos begin playing immediately. Thus, you will have to let the one video—the Wuthering Heights trailer—play to the end before you can enjoy the sequential presentation and go through the embedded objects on a one-by-one basis. A Wasted Life apologizes for the idiocy of the default settings of Video Detective, but the video embedded here is unavailable elsewhere.

Robert Fuest
30 September 1927, London, England –21 March 2012, London, England

"Movies are not art anymore. They are product. You have to smuggle art into them."

Robert Fuest was an English film director, screenwriter, and production designer who worked mostly in the horror, fantasy and suspense genres and on television. His output of feature films was meager at best, but many have since become cult classics and include at least two of our favorite films, the black comedies The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972). Perhaps his greatest talent was to overcome meager budgets with great production design and style, liberally seasoned with visual and verbal dry humor.
Born in Croydon, South London, on 30 September 1927, he went on to graduate from Wimbledon School of Art with a diploma in design; he subsequently gained his art teacher diploma at Hornsey College of Art. Following his national service in the Royal Air Force—where was supposedly involved "in a tiny way" in the Berlin airlift—he became an instructor at Southampton School of Art. In the late 50s, he became a TV series production designer, and by 1961 he was working on the classic show The Avengers. Eventually, after his independent film Just Like a Woman (1967), he began directing episodes as well, before moving on to do a limited number of fines films that varied in commercial success.
Robert Fuest's career as a feature film director ended much too early, and his subsequent career as a TV director also ended by 1987, when he did his last job, an episode for the little-remembered "true" supernatural tales TV show Worlds Beyond, and then returned to teaching, this time at the London International Film School. After retiring, he concentrated full-time on painting.
Robert Fuest died on 21 March 2012. He is survived by his wife, Jane, and their daughter Rebecca, and his former wife, Gillian, and their sons Adam, Ben and Aaron.



(1961-1969)
Classic title track:

Robert Fuest began his career as production designer in the late 50s on the British program Armchair Theatre (1956-74), whence he moved on to the classic television series The Avengers where, in 1968, a year after his directorial debut with the low budget film Just Like a Woman, he was finally given the chance to direct an episode (Game, aired 23 Sept 1968). (Fans of Dr Phibes might recognize the bad guy in the 9-minute clip shown below.) Fuest went on to do seven more episodes: They Keep Killing Steed (11 November 1968), The Rotters (16 December 1968), My Wildest Dream (17 December 1968), Take Me to Your Leader (10 February 1969), Pandora (10 March 1969) and Take-Over (14 April 1969). Considering the exceptional art and production design of his later projects, this pop-art influenced program was probably right up his alley.
9 minutes of Game:




Just Like a Woman
(1967)
Few people seem ever to have seen this low budget comedy, Fuest's directorial debut, which he also scripted. It was once available on DVD, but now can only be had at a hefty price at online auction houses. At Amazon, the plot is described as thus: "Scilla (Wendy Craig [of The Nanny (1965 / trailer) and The Mind Benders (1963 / full film)]) is fed up with her husband (Peter Jones). His fondness of the bottle and flirtatious behavior with the stars of his numerous television productions drives her to leave him to his selfish ways. She quits her job as a singer on one of his shows and moves in with a friend planning to build herself the ideal home, one designed perfectly for baths and parties. Just Like a Woman captures the bright swinging sixties. It's bold, colorful and sometimes surrealist design is seen through the wary eyes of the bickering couple as they try their best to be more 'kooky' and daring than the other." Dennis Price appears as the "Bathroom Salesman"



Wuthering Heights
(1970)
AIP—the fine folks that helped bring you such fun stuff as Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Conqueror Worm (1968), Black Mama, White Mama (1973), Coffy (1973) and more, more, more—set up production facilities in England during the 60s & 70s, and somewhere between all the exploitation they produced they managed to pop out this film, the first color version of Emily Bronte's only novel, the classic tale of doomed love, Wuthering Heights. The screenplay was supplied by Patrick Tilley, who went on to do the screenplays for the trash-film faves The Legacy (1978 / trailer) and The People That Time Forgot (1977 / trailer) before disappearing. The plot, as explained by film fanatic: "A gypsy foundling named Heathcliff (Timothy Dalton) is brought by Mr. Earnshaw (Harry Andrews) to live with his daughter Cathy (who quickly becomes Heathcliff’s closest friend) and son Hindley (who is jealous of his new 'stepbrother'). When they grow up, Cathy (Anna Calder-Marshall) and Heathcliff become romantically interested in one another, but find their passions hindered by social mores." While Anna Calder-Marshall is pretty much unknown today, Timothy Dalton of course went on to become a household name by starring in such fine fare as Sextette (1978 / teaser), Flash Gordon (1980 / trailer), The Doctor and the Devils (1985 / trailer), The King's Whore (1990 / trailer) and Hot Fuzz (2007 / trailer). DVD Drive-In points out that "although not a big hit at the time of release, the AIP version of Wuthering Heights is often cited as the best, surpassing the Laurence Olivier/Merle Oberon take from 1939 (trailer)," and that "even if you're not a fan of classic romantic literature, fans of British horror films will no doubt have enough to keep them interested here."
Trailer:

Trailer provided by Video Detective



And Soon the Darkness

(1970)
Trailer:


The blogspot A Special Way of Being Afraid says: "Hands down one of Fuest's best pictures (and an unsung gem of a 70s chiller), And Soon the Darkness relies on evocative minimalism and clean, uncluttered shots to make both daylight and the wide-open French countryside sinister." Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell, the producers of The Avengers, were the force that brought this film into production, and they pulled in Fuest to direct. Clemens—the man behind the scripts of such noteworthy films as Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974 / trailer), The Watcher in the Woods (1980 / trailer), and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973 / trailer)—co-wrote the script with equally talented scribe Terry Nation, the writing talent behind (among other projects) Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971), See No Evil (1971 / trailer) and The Tell-Tale Heart (1960 / full film). And Soon the Darkness—which starred Starring Pamela Franklin (of The Innocents [1961 / trailer], The Nanny [1965 / trailer], Necromancy [1972 / trailer], The Legend of Hell House [1973 / trailer], Satan's School for Girls [1973 / full film] and the intensely trashy Food of the Gods [1976 / trailer]); Michele Dotrice (of The Witches [1966 / trailer] and The Blood on Satan's Claw [1971 / full film / trailer]); and Sandor Elès (of The Evil of Frankenstein [1964 / trailer], Countess Dracula [1971 / trailer] and 1,000 Convicts and a Woman [1971 / trailer])—did OK financially, but it was hardly a smashing critical or financial success when it came out. As Wikipedia points out, "Time Out called it 'nasty', and the New York Times said it displayed 'poverty of imagination'." The years, however, were kind to it, and it gained both cult popularity and high praise by word-of-mouth. The simple setup, as Classic Horror explains, features "A sunny day, a quiet road, rural France: three things not normally associated with suspense...but the basis for terror in Robert Fuest's And Soon the Darkness. […] Two young, pretty English nurses (Jane, played by Pamela Franklin, and Cathy, played by Michele Dotrice) are on a bicycling holiday, pedaling through the quaint villages of French farm country. When the long stretches of lonely roads and endless cycling begins to wear on them, they have a spat. Jane rides off to leave her friend sunbathing on the side of the road. When she returns a little while later, Cathy has disappeared."
Full film:


A remake of the film was made in 2010, this time with set in Argentina and featuring two US American females (Amber Heard [of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006 / trailer), Zombieland (2009 / trailer) and The Ward (2010 / trailer)] and Odette Annable [of Cloverfield (2009 / trailer) and The Unborn (2009 / trailer)]). The under-appreciated but hunky Kiwi actor Karl Urban plays the dubious male "hero"…
Trailer to the remake:




The Abominable Dr. Phibes
(1971)
This is the first film by Fuest we ever saw, and we loved it! We were lucky enough to catch it an art house in San Diego in a double feature in the 1980s where, oddly enough, it wasn't shown as with its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again but that other great Vincent Price vehicle, Theatre of Blood (1973 / trailer). We can't remember what bowled us over more, the great (if sometimes somewhat cheap-looking) art deco art design or the beautiful Vulnavia. ("Vulnavia" was the last film appearance of the starlet Virginia North, who previously had bit parts in Deadlier Than the Male [1967 / trailer], Some Girls Do [1969 / trailer] and On Her Majesty's Secret Service [1969 / trailer]; she died of cancer in 2004.) The Abominable Dr. Phibes promptly became another one of our numerous favorite Vincent Price films. The Abominable Dr. Phibes is, in the end, a witty body-count film about the crazed but the deviously intelligent Dr Phibes, who is out to kill the ten people he blames for the death of his beloved wife Victoria (Caroline "Hubba-Hubba" Munro). His murders are inspired by the ten plagues of Egypt as found in the Old Testament (though some creative liberties are taken), and he is always one step ahead of the dedicated but bumbling police (Peter Jeffrey & John Cater). The climax has Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotton, who that same year also did Lady Frankenstein [1971]) fighting to save his son from the ninth plague, the death of the first born. As the website British Horror Movies puts it, "Even in 1970 The Abominable Doctor Phibes must have been seen as a bit 'off the wall', and 30 years of late night TV showings have not diminished its power to shock and amuse. Phibes is a totally amoral killing machine, ably assisted by his faithful servant Vulnavia. Does he have any justification for his crimes? No—the only thing his victims are guilty of is trying to save the late Victoria's life—which, with the best will in the world, is no reason to find yourself: a. drained of blood; b. eaten by locusts; c. devoured by rats; etc, etc. But Phibes isn't just a series of grisly deaths. Even armed with the knowledge of exactly who is responsible for this series of murders, why he's doing it and what for, the viewer can still derive a great deal of enjoyment from the wonderful faux 1920s sets, the sparkling dialogue and the utter craziness of the premise." If you haven't seen this film yet, we here at A Wasted Life recommend highly that you do!
Trailer:




Dr. Phibes Rises Again
(1971)
The success of The Abominable Dr. Phibes ensured that no time was wasted to churn out a sequel, and if Dr. Phibes Rises Again isn't quite as good as the first film it still comes damn close—it does up the camp, which is a plus, but it also has a lot more plot holes and inconsistencies (like the fact that Phibes is suddenly so verbose, despite the fact that the first film established he couldn't talk without his plugged in Victrola) and turns the good doctor from the crazed but mildly understandable revenge-driven killer of the first film to a simple if ingenious cold-blooded killer who downs everyone whether they deserve it or not. Vincent Price is back as the crazed doctor, this time searching for the Pharaoh's Tomb in Egypt, where the River of Life flows, so as to revive his wife (still played by an unmoving Caroline "Hubba-Hubba" Munro). Vulnavia is back, too, but of course with a new face, as is hardly surprising to anyone who saw how she ends in part one—in real life, however, Virginia North's replacement by the attractive but unknown then and unknown now Valli Kemp was not due to some mild attempt of obtuse logic but rather because North was pregnant at the time. The true babe of the film was the lead damsel in distress, Diana Trowbridge, played by the beautiful (despite her hairdo) but under-appreciated Fiona Lewis (The Fearless Vampire Killers [1967 / trailer], Villain [1971 / fan trailer], Lisztomania [1975 / trailer], Drum [1976 / full film / trailer], Tintorera: Killer Shark [1976 / trailer], The Fury [1978 / trailer], Strange Behavior [1981 / trailer] and Strange Invaders [1983 / full film / trailer])—we used to dream of her at night—who ends the film with the wonderfully ironic line "Don't worry, darling, it's not the end of the world." Robert Quarry (A Kiss Before Dying [1956 / trailer], Agent for H.A.R.M. [1966 / trailer], Count Yorga, Vampire [1970 / trailer], The Return of Count Yorga [1971 / trailer], Deathmaster [1972 / full film / trailer], The Midnight Man [1974 / trailer], Madhouse [1974 / trailer], Rollercoaster [1977 / trailer] and more than a dozen Fred Olan Ray films) plays Darrus Biederbeck, Dr. Phibes's nemesis in the film, and he actually turns out to be the more likable and understandable of the two, which makes the ending of the film much less satisfying than it should be. Still it's a fun, fab film and combined with its predecessor, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, it makes for an excellent double feature—which is how we first saw it decades ago at the Beverly in LA.
Trailer:




The Last Days of Man on Earth
(1973)

"What are you going to do now?"
Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre)
"Well, for a start, I'm going to sit here and get smashed out of my mind. And I also have it on very good authority that the world is coming to an end. I thought I'd go home and watch it on television."
Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch)
Aka: The Final Programme. We have yet to see this film, and in fact had never heard of it before this career review, but we must say it sounds intriguing and the still photos we've found promise an eye-pleasing visual smorgasborg in the style we like. Any film that Mick Jagger supposedly turned down as being "too weird" has to have something going for it—although, going by most of the few films he's been in, his taste in scripts, with the exception of Performance (1970 / trailer), seems to be particularly middle class. The Final Programme is based on the novel of the same name by Michael Moorcock, who supposedly hated the film. According to the website Notebook, Fuest "[…] damage[d] his reputation with this beautiful and witty take on Michael Moorcock's psychedelic sci-fi novel (the first in the Jerry Cornelius Quartet, and the only one with anything resembling a plot). Made with snazzy color-supplement visuals and swingin' sexiness, but with a bitter proto-punk attitude (Fuest inclined more to booze than pot), the film was too cool for the room in 1973, and still is." The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre, a website that seems seldom to like the films we do, says: "The Avengers set in an entropic future with trippy sets, sci-fi jargon and apocalyptic nonsense. The messy plot involves a program invented by a brilliant physicist that makes use of a super-computer, some scientist brains and an incubator to create a new kind of being. The microfilm containing this secret is the main focus of most of the movie as siblings, spies and scientists fight each other and strange booby traps against a backdrop of an anarchical Europe in order to get hold of this prize. Colorful, but never manages to pull itself together in any way." (We here at A Wasted Life assume that since that website derides the film, we would surely find it grand.) The lead character, Jerry Cornelius, is played by Jon Finch, whose cinema career has long since floundered but is also found in such grand and less grand films as The Vampire Lovers (1970 / trailer), The Horror of Frankenstein (1970 / trailer), Hitchcock's sadly overlooked and incredibly nasty Frenzy (1972 / trailer), Breaking Glass (1980 / trailer), Lurking Fear (1994 / trailer), Bloodlines: Legacy of a Lord (1998 / fan-made trailer), and Anazapta (2002 / trailer).
Trailer:




The Devil's Rain
(1975)

Trailer
:


Satanism was a hot topic in the USA in the 70s—sort of like saving your virginity is today—and Fuest jumped on the bandwagon for his next film project, which was set in the US for a change. Who knows what Fuest's version of this film would have been like, for that which you see is a re-cut made by the distributor, but this film, atop of the total lack of success of The Last Days of Man on Earth, was rather an impediment to the further development of Fuerst's career; in fact, most sources seem to agree that with The Devil's Rain, a classic piece of it's-so-bad-that-it's-good celluloid flotsam, the last nail was hammered into the coffin of his career as a feature-film director. (Our loss.) What a cast: aside from three-second shots of John Travolta, in his first feature film appearance, and Anton LaVey (see: Satanis, The Devil's Mass [1970 / full film]), major speaking parts are had by Ernest Borgnine (Deadly Blessing [1981 / trailer] & Willard [1971 / trailer]), Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino (The Food of the Gods [1976 / trailer], They Drive by Night [1940 / trailer]), Fritz Lang's While the City Sleeps [1956 / full film], The Hitch-Hiker [1953 / full film]—which she directed—Beware, My Lovely [1952 / trailer], On Dangerous Ground [1952 / trailer] and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes [1939 / trailer]), William Shatner (The Intruder [1962 / trailer]), Keenan Wynn (Piranha [1978 / trailer]), Tom Skerritt and the long-forgotten Joan Prather. Even for its time the film is total trash—and not just because it features Capt Kirk—but now it's also prime and enjoyable trash with the patina of the 70s; you'll love it, particularly whenever anyone melts, though it is a bit slow at times. (We saw it at the tender age of 13 and thought it way cowabunga—one day, we plan to see it again, which is why the full film is embedded below.) The plot, according to TV Guide: "[…] Set in the Southwest but shot in Mexico, […] the story concerns Skerritt's efforts to locate his missing family. The trail leads to a cult of Satanists controlled by Borgnine, who is the reincarnation of a 17th-century witch. Borgnine captures a bunch of souls in a bottle, but his plan backfires when the bottle is broken, the souls are released, and the 'Devil's Rain' descends upon the cult, melting them. […]."
Full film:




The New Avengers

(1976)
Fuest returned to television after the debacle that is The Devil's Rain, and his first jobs ended up being for the revamped and revived series, The New Avengers, a program that lasted only two seasons, though it was hardly as terrible as everyone likes to say it was—rather unlike the film version of The Avengers (1998 / trailer) that came out some 22 years later and rather sucks. In The New Avengers, Steed was back in his bowler, but his sidekicks were new: he was now assisted by a manly James Bond type named Gambit (Gareth Hunt of The Man from S.E.X. [1979 / trailer] & Bloodbath at the House of Death [1984 / trailer])—about whom Pop Matters says "Gambit comes off as a really pissed-off hairdresser with a license to kill"—and the expected butt-kicking female Purdey (Joanna Lumley of James and the Giant Peach [1996 / trailer] and The Satanic Rites of Dracula [1973 / trailer]). Fuest did two episodes in the first season, The Tale of the Big Why & The Midas Touch. The former should be average, but the latter is considered one of the better episodes of the series. The following plot explanations are taken from the website Digitally Obsessed:
The Tale of the Big Why—"This engaging caper episode features the mystery of Burt Braden (George Cooper), just released from prison, who retrieves a piece of evidence from a well. A pair of criminals, sensing fortune, kill him, but the evidence is nowhere to be found. They follow Braden's tracks, as do Steed, Purdey and Gambit, leading them through cropdusting, phony antiques and trashy paperback novels. This episode features a particularly prominent laid-back jazz score that helps make it an enjoyable spree worth three and a half martinis."
The Midas Touch—"Professor Turner (David Swift) is obsessed with gold, and has concluded the best way to obtain it is through marketing biological weapons to the highest bidder. In a storyline that's chillingly up-to-date, Steed and company must deal with Midas (Giles Millinaire), whose touch can impart nearly every deadly disease known to man. This episode […] sparkles with visual bric-a-brac and high camp flavor. Particularly striking is Midas' appearance as the Red Death, recalling Chaney's Phantom of the Opera (1925 / full film). There are even some Tarantino-like moments where Gambit and Purdey discuss Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948 / trailer) during a wild car chase. A terrific episode, one of the best since Diana Rigg left the series."

Opening credit sequence:




Three Dangerous Ladies
(1977)
Little is verifiably known about this direct-to-video anthology, but it seems to be an early and very distant cousin to Night Train to Terror (1985) and other thrown-together anthology films of its ilk in that this "trilogy of terror" was not a 100% planned, original project but rather an amalgamation of previously existing footage brought together to create a horror anthology, one without any interlinking scenes albeit with a linking narration. But unlike Night Train, the three episodes of Three Dangerous Ladies were at least pre-existing shorts and not mercilessly edited-down films. Still, little is known about the background of this direct-to-VHS project, second-hand copies of which can still be found (at exorbitant prices) on some on-line sources. The narratives of all three tales of the film seem to circle around women, hence the title of the anthology. The first short, entitled Mrs. Amsworth, is based on an E.F. Benson short story of the same name that appeared in the June 1950 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries; a tale about a vampire woman living in small-town England, the film version was originally made in 1975 as a pilot episode to a proposed 1975 British TV series called Classics Dark and Dangerous that never came to be. Directed by Alvin Rakoff, the man who brought us the enjoyably terrible piece of flotsam Death Ship (1970 / trailer), the blogspot Taliesin meets the Vampires says: "The short really contains nothing resembling gore, even the feed doesn't show blood at all. That said it manages to generate a tangible atmosphere, in a very ghost story type of way. A fine short that (fairly) accurately tells the original tale." Episode II, entitled The Mannikin, is based on a Robert Bloch tale from 1937 and stars Ronee Blakley (of The Driver [1978 / trailer], A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984 / trailer] and A Return to Salem's Lot [1987 / trailer]) and Keir Dullea (of BrainWaves [1983] and Black Christmas [1974 / trailer]); it is the only known film by its director, Don Thompson. Preceding the wonderfully outrageous trash flick The Manitou (1978 / trailer) by more than a few years—Bloch's short story, in turn, beat Graham Masterton's book The Manitou by 38 years—a basic element of the plot is similar: a woman (Blakley) develops a huge growth on her back that gives birth to a demon, to the ultimate detriment of her doctor (Dullea). Robert Fuest supplied the third episode of the trilogy, entitled The Island and based on a tale of the same name by L.P. Hartley, which rather fails to do justice to the anthology film's title for the lady involved is not very dangerous—she's dead. To severely edit the plot description from Rare British Film Reviews: Lt George Simmonds (John Hurt) visits his lover (Jenny Runacre) who lives on a remote island. Simmonds is surprised to encounter his lover's husband, Mr Santander (Charles Gray), whom he believed was abroad. Santander seems to know that his wife has lovers, and claims that he has returned because his wife has run up considerable bills. Santander leads Simmonds to a room where he finds Jenny seated and dead from a single bullet; recovering from the shock, he finds that Santander is gone. The butler Collins (Graham Crowden) tells him that Mr Santander is in South America; Simmonds checks his revolver and finds that one bullet has been fired and Collins phones the police to report the murder. Rare British Film Reviews also claims that Fuest's short, like Mrs. Amsworth, was originally made for British television and aired there in 1978; indeed, both films share the same producer, William F. Deneen, while the middle segment was produced by Jim Hanley.



10. Revenge of the Stepford Wives
(1980)
Aka (in France) Electric Police; advert taken from the website StepfordWife.com. A few years and a couple of ABC After School Specials later, Fuest directed this made-for-TV sequel to the 1975 horror film The Stepford Wives (trailer / full film), the first of three made-for-TV Stepford films (it was followed by The Stepford Children [1987] and The Stepford Husbands [1996]). The plot, according to j.hailey at imdb: "A TV reporter (Sharon Gless) arrives in Stepford to do a story on the American town with the lowest crime and divorce rates and the tightest real-estate market (no one ever leaves). She needs an assistant, and after interviewing the seemingly-plastic women of Stepford, jumps at the chance to hire the down-to-earth Megan (Julie Kavner), who's married to a newly-hired cop (Don Johnson of The Harrad Experiment [1973 / trailer], A Boy and His Dog [1975 / trailer / full film], The Hot Spot [1990 / trailer] and Machete [2010 / trailer]) who hasn't yet moved into the town. Four times a day a siren sounds and every woman in town takes a pill (they each claim it's a thyroid condition). Accidents start to happen, Megan disappears for a couple of days, and the reporter realizes something is amiss. When Megan returns as a full-fledged Stepford wife, it's time for action." B-Movie Detective says that "[…] Fuest's usual quirky touch is sadly absent from this film, which is probably has the most anonymous feeling of any of Fuest's work" and that the film is "an uneven TV sequel to a cult classic [that] is general well-acted and has several very good ideas, but [its] uninspired direction and unimaginative writing refuse to allow the film to rise above being simply mediocre." Rest assured, any all the Stepford films of the last century are more entertaining than the abysmal remake of The Stepford Wives from 2004 (trailer).
The full film:




Aphrodite
(1982)

In 1982, after almost a dozen kiddy TV flicks, including a frigging Peanuts flick entitled The Big Stuffed Dog (1981), Robert Fuerst directed his last feature-length film, Aphrodite—a European erotic film, of all things (or, to quote Wikipedia "a French soft-core exploitation film"). Made in France in English with a semi-international cast—Horst Buchholz was German—the film is based on the 1896 novel by Pierre Louÿs' (his first), Aphrodite – Ancient Manners (Aphrodite – mœurs antiques). A hard copy of the film is very hard to find nowadays, though there is an English-language German DVD release floating around; and while Netflix might not have it, you can watch the English-language version at this porn site here. The film is a bit slow, as "erotic" films tend to be, and the (lesbian, hetro and, yes, homo and bisexual) sex is all simulated, as it also tends to be in "erotic" films, but Valerie Kaprisky does look delectable in the full monty with a full bush. (OK, some of the stuff gets close to be "real", but with exception a few stoking finger scenes, the film can hardly be said to be clinical in detail.) In a probably unintentional reference to the great Jesus Franco, much of the action takes place at the residence of one "Count Orloff", a character played by Yves Massard, who actually acted in two early Jess Franco films, Vampiresas 1930 (1962 / first 4 minutes) and Queen of the Tabarin Club (1960). Oh yes, the plot… to use the synopsis found all over the Web: Harry (Horst Buchholz) is a young millionaire on holiday; he takes his yacht to a Greek island, and stays in the mansion of his friend, Count Orloff. The Count organizes a feast there, for three days and three nights, which is the re-enactment of the love cult of the Goddess Aphrodite. Harry will meet Pauline (Valérie Kaprisky) there, a young woman who becomes his goddess... Movie House Commentary says the film is "basically […] a series of inane conversations followed by sex scenes." Those who just want the sex without the conversations might want to watch this NSFW edit at xHamster.com; look hard enough you might see some uncut sausage with the hairy bags, but looking just in passing you'll see some full-on pre-Brazilian taco salad sandwiched between a lot of love pillows.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Laughing Dead (USA, 1989)




Wow! The stories behind some films are sometimes even more interesting than the films themselves! According to Cold Fusion Video, which in turn credits Fangoria for the tale, The Laughing Dead, the directorial debut of Thai Renaissance Man Somtow Sucharitkul, is the result of a chance meeting between Sucharitkul and special effects master John Carl Buechler* in a supermarket line. Sucharitkul had moved to Hollywood with the idea of breaking into films, but after two years he still hadn't gotten further than an occasional script for Saturday morning animation series (C.O.P.S and Dinosaucers). Buechler's advice was that to get the movie business to let you make movies, you had to make a movie, and to do the latter a low-budget horror film is the best. The two decided to collaborate, and Sucharitkul tossed together a script based loosely on the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations and got a bunch of buds and fellow writers together to act in it.
Thus the film was finished – and never released in the US. If Cold Fusion is to be believed, The Laughing Dead remained in limbo stateside because the rich-kid backer nixed the distribution when he suddenly got cold feet: if the film were a success, his father might cut off his living allowance and force him to go into business for real. Nice story, who knows if it's true, but we would tend to agree with Cold Fusion in stating that the kid had nothing to worry about. (So: Does anyone know why Sucharitkul's follow-up directorial effort, a "gothic punk" adaptation of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream entitled Ill Met by Moonlight [1994], was never released anywhere at all?)
In any event, we picked up our relatively low-quality, England-made DVD of The Laughing Dead over eBay, which is probably the best place to look if you ever want to watch this mildly entertaining horror film that offers some good belly laughs, some truly fine old school gore sequences and a pleasant stop-animation demonic dinosaur fight, a nicely low budget sheen, no visibly exceptional directorial talent, and a rather clumsy film script.
In other words, The Laughing Dead is not a good film, but it is an enjoyably entertaining one, once you get past the turgid first 30 minutes needed to set up the framework for the film's meager death count (of somewhere around five, excluding the bad guys and miscellaneous Mexican children).
The acting is truly abysmal, swerving between unadulterated mugging and blank-faced inability, with Sucharitkul, who takes on one of the lead roles as the Mexican-demon-god-worshipping and child-murdering Dr. Um-Tzec, faring the best: he actually manages to infuse his inane dialogue and presence with a knowing irony that helps render his presence and dialogue entertaining – the scene in which he muses about becoming a stockbroker once he no longer has to spend all his time killing kids, for example, is priceless.
One of the biggest flaws of the film is that the story introduces way too many dislikable characters that one naturally expects to die painful deaths – the crystal-carrying New Ages yuppies Wilbur (Larry Kagen) and Clarisse (Krista Keim) being the best example – only to have them not only survive unharmed, but actually assist in saving the day. (For a low-budget gore film, way too many non-essential characters survive.) Likewise, the script is oddly clunky for a supposedly professional writer; not only does it meander and most characters remain either stereotypes or ciphers, but the introduction of some characters – the archaeological student Cal, for example – is oddly out-of-the-blue, while many scenes also seem oddly tacked on (the dead girl in the road scene, for example). But then, it's these flaws and the general idiocy of the events in general that, combined with the special-effects highpoints, make The Laughing Dead pleasantly funny – had the film achieved any true level of professionalism, it would probably not be half as enjoyable as it is.
And the plot of this wanna-be Al Adamson horror film with professional special effects? Opening with a child sacrifice, The Laughing Dead quickly moves to Tucson to introduce Father O'Sullivan (Tim Sullivan, seen in many a Z-film), a caring priest who has slowly lost his faith since, some ten years earlier, he knocked up a nun. Leaving the next day for his annual educational tour to Oaxaca for the "Laughing Dead" celebrations, not only is the young love-struck parishioner Laurie (Premika Eaton, Sucharitkul's younger sister) stowed away on the bus, but O'Sullivan's sin of the past, Tessie (Wendy Webb), joins the tour with their now ten-year-old, foul-mouthed son Ivan (Patrick Roskowick), who doesn't know who his dad is. (Next to Sucharitkul, he has some of the best dialogue of the film.) This and that happens and O'Sullivan gets his heart exchanged with that of the great Death-God Um-Tzec and then kills a few people before Ivan gets kidnapped for him to sacrifice to the god so as to free the god onto the world and those westerners that haven't already gotten killed take up arms – crystals and basketballs – to stop the sacrifice and save the world. The special effects are truly top notch, with the scene of the guy who dies when he gets his own hand stuffed down his throat, a woman ripping open her chest, the through-the-knifed-stomach birthing scene, and the final showdown of the were-dinosaurs being the high points of the film.
The Laughing Dead in short: A bad but entertaining gore film that takes awhile to get rolling but delivers both enough unintentional laughs, intentional laughs and professional gore effects to go well with beer and weed. But as a calling card for breaking into Hollywood, well, it's no wonder Sucharitkul's career has hardly been stellar – the film is like a term paper with a dozen misspelt words, bad grammar and terrible structure. It might not matter at Troma U., but at Hollywood High they still expect more.

*Buechler is also a genre film director in his own right and has directed a variety of memorable and unmemorable B-films, including Curse of the Forty-Niner (2002 / trailer), Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1991 / trailer), Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988 / trailer), Cellar Dweller (1988 / trailer) and Troll (1986 / trailer).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dr. Chopper (USA, 2005)




Dr. Chopper is the first of five full-length direct-to-video films that New Jersey born director Lewis Schoenbrun has made to date (March 2012), and while we have no idea what the quality if of his other illustriously titled films, we can only hope that they aren't any worse than this piece of shit. (In truth, however, when looking at the trailer to his "film" The Amazing Bulk [2010 / trailer], it is easy to assume that they well might be.)
Seeing, however, that for all the flaws found in Dr. Chopper, the actors are at least kept in frame, the sound mic is never to be seen (though the sound often sucks), and the camera is usually in focus, perhaps the true failing to the film lies less with the director than with "scriptwriter" Ian Holt, whose cobbled-together script throws half-baked ideas together with disparate clichés to create a variety of scenes that ignore any true sense of flow, build no tension, and garner no true laughs. Holt, who has a problem keeping track of just how many cannibal nurses there are to his story (though you only ever see one to two at the same time, they seem to vary between two to four and even reappear after supposed death), also appears briefly in the opening sequence as one of the broadly acted detectives, but his acting can hardly be faulted: it is 100% congruent to low quality thespian talents evidenced by all actors involved, who alternate between continual somnambulistic lethargy (Robert Adamson) and sporadic Shakespearian histrionics (Costas Mandylor).
But let us not be too harsh on this film, for it does have a redeeming factor. Or rather, two redeeming factors: the immobile plastic mounds gracing the first female victim (Tamara Nelson) who, despite strapped down on the operating table in the opening scene with a ball-gag in her mouth, screams like the best of them as the nurses rip out her eyes. Yes, them thar hills may undoubtedly be 100% artificial, but nekkid titties are always a plus – regrettably, throughout the rest of the film, all other females, graced with far more realistic proportions, never get past their bras despite the fact that virtually all of them find a reason to take off their shirt. Had Schoenbrun made his film a mini-melon festival, the movie would at least have a continually present element of interest, but by demurring to the modesty of his cast, he robs the film of anything and everything that might have helped make the film worth watching as you do the dishes or change the kitty box or iron. As it is, however, Dr. Chopper is not sleazy enough to enthrall, not scary enough to interest and not funny enough entertain, but is bad enough to bore. And the "big" mid-film twist is obvious from the very second Nick (Robert "Lethargic" Adamson") tells his girlfriend Jessica (Chelsey Crisp) that among the possessions of his just-deceased mother is a deed to a cabin in the mountains.
Dr. Chopper opens by introducing the titular Dr. Copper (Ed Brigadier, who just recently killed himself, on February 26, 2012), a reputable chopper-riding plastic surgeon who, in his search for immortality and eternal beauty, goes off the deep end and begins murdering people for their organs; he and his two crazy nurses, however, are never jailed for they simply disappear once uncovered. Twenty years later, in the backwoods region of Lake Tatonka – "Friendly Place for Happy People" – he and his now acne-faced cannibalistic nurses harvest their needed food and body parts from lesbian campers, sorority girls, and fun-loving teenagers; the group of five (Nick, Jessica, [Butch Hansen], Reese [Chase Hoyt of Legion of the Dead (2005 / trailer)] and Tamara [Ashley McCarthy]) that the film focuses upon the most are of the latter subgenus.
Yep, that 80-plus-year old Dr Chopper in his leather outfit and WW II goggles is a scary sight, and he and his pocket-faced vixens are well nigh impossible to stop! But in the end, not only do they underestimate Jessica's "inner-bitch", but they piss-off the local sad sack of a park ranger with a tragic past (Costas Mandylor, the ex-husband of Talisa Soto, who, as evidenced in the film Mobsters [1991 / trailer], was once sorta good looking) by killing someone he didn't like in the first place...
That the filmmakers intended to make a funny slasher is obvious by both the flick's premise and congruent title – but the best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry. And in the case of Dr. Chopper, they fail miserably. So if you choose to watch this piece of brain-dulling flotsam, don't say you weren't warned...
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