Thursday, September 26, 2013

Short Film: Boys Beware (USA, 1961)

"What Jimmy didn't know was that Ralph was sick; a sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious; a sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual: a person who demands an intimate relationship with members of their own sex."

This month's Short Film of the Month has been chosen less because we find it good — which we don't — but because we find it upsetting and jaw-droppingly idiotic. And as it "shocked and awed" us so much, we thought we would share it. Rest assured, this is a as much of a hate film as, say, Fritz Hippler's infamous anti-Semitic film The Eternal Jew / Der Ewige Jude (1940 / full film), but whereas Hippler's "documentary" focuses on the filth that is the Jew, who we all know want to do nothing other than murder and eat Christian children and then screw their mommies so as the degenerate the purity of the race (when they aren't busy bringing financial ruin to the Western world), this "educational" film here focuses on the sick pervert that is the homosexual, who of course is only interesting popping your son's cherry and converting him into one of his own.

"One never knows when a homosexual is about. He may appear normal and it may be too late when you discover he is mentally ill."

Perhaps somewhere in the film there is a glimmer of a valid message that one should be wary of strangers, but this scrap of a legitimately educational message is lost in the vitriol of the hate-mongering viewpoint of the filmmaker, Sid Davis (1 April 1916 — 16 October 2006), pictured above, who makes a rare appearance in one of his own films here in Boys Beware as the man at the beachside public restroom who is hot for the joystick of "Bobby".
Davis, called by one online source "the Roger Corman of educational films", supposedly began his filmmaking career as a child stand-in (and even appeared in the Our Gang series) and continued doing stand-in work into the fifties, particularly for his personal friend John Wayne, for whom he was a regular stand-in for almost a decade (1941-1952). Wayne even supposedly lent Davis the money to make his first educational scare film, The Dangerous Stranger (1949 / full film). The short film was a big success, and over a period of some 27 years Davis went on to make estimated 150-200 "educational" films of varying veracity and pedagogic usefulness but that nevertheless enjoyed great popularity amongst the teachers of the American Way. These films, and real estate, made him a millionaire.

"The decision is always yours, and your whole future may depend on making the right one. So no matter where you meet a stranger, be careful if they are too friendly."

Davis's films, which were seldom written with the involvement of any specialists on the topic at hand, were morality plays that played on the fears of his audience, the American youth, warning them against any form of misbehavior, for that would surely lead to death. To quote the NY Times, his "movies are squarely in the tradition of cautionary literature for children, whose best-known example is probably Struwwelpeter, the German tale of the dreadful fate of a dreadful child, which has been traumatizing young miscreants since the mid-19th-century. Mr. Davis's films, most live-action, some animated, are 16-millimeter equivalents. They are small mirrors of postwar anxiety in an age when juvenile delinquency [and drugs and sex and any form of breaking the norms or being an individual or different] was perceived as a looming threat."

"Public restrooms can often be a hangout for the homosexual."

Shot in that hotbed of homosexual activity, Inglewood, California, USA, Boys Beware has been referred to by some as the Reefer Madness (1937 / full film) of homosexuality films, and indeed its technical finesse and excessive hammering of its misinformation is comparable to that classic and entertaining anti-pot film, but Boys Beware is far more hateful in its unabating ignorance and self-righteousness than that earlier Poverty Row exploitation-cum-morality play. And as such, it is also a bit harder to laugh at — for while it would be nice to think that bigotry and hatred and simple lack of knowledge that it so loudly espouses is a thing of the past, we all know it is not.
For a well-written and thoughtful commentary on Boys Beware — in other words, exactly that which you do find here — we recommend Movie Magg's discussion of the short film found here.

"The companionship, the praise, the friendly attitude dispelled any misgivings Mike might have had about going with a stranger. He probably never realized until too late that he was riding in the shadow of death, but sometime that evening, Mike Merritt exchanged his life for a newspaper headline."

Personally, we would love to do a modern version of Boys Beware, but change the white homosexuals out recruiting chicken into blackface Negroes who, in turn, are in pursuit of the virtue of the white-skinned virginal...
Oh, wait a minute! D.W. Griffith sort of already did that in Birth of the Nation (1915 / full movie), didn't he?
Davis, like Roger Corman ever a man to cut corners where he could, saved the time and expenditure of a new idea or script or music by remaking Boys Beware in 1973 as Boys Aware, which we have embedded below as an extra.

Boys Aware (USA, 1973)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Demonium (Germany / Italy, 2001)

To tell the truth, after watching this flick we almost decided not to review it — but then we stumbled upon some photos of a nekkid Joe Zaso online and we had to have a reason to share at least one of them. We just wish we could at least say that we liked the film as much as we like the sight of Zaso's buff bod...
We went into this film thinking we knew what we were going for. After all, the work of director Andreas Schnaas is not at all unknown to us, and we immensely enjoyed his later splatter film, Nikos the Impaler (2003), for what is was: an enjoyably laughable, super-low-budget, badly acted and blood-drenched piece of trash not lacking a certain level of irony. And, indeed, we figured Demonium would be more of the same but set in a different genre: Italo goth instead of New York City supernatural slasher. And modern Italo goth the film was, but as for the rest, it was not at all what we expected. Why? Well, 'cause our DVD — graced with a red, German-language "No sale to minors" label — proved to be cut: at 81 minutes, it's four minutes shorter than the 85-minute length given on imdb and 39 minutes shorter than the 120-minute length given at Wikipedia. Damn! Whatever happened to the old German-language "Neue Version" label they used to slap on cut versions? Our guess is that someone finally figured out that they were the quickest way to make sure no one bought your DVD.
In any event, it seems the only thing cut from the film was the blood, guts and gore, for the film we saw doesn't have any. Instead, all it has is a crappy script lifted from any given version of A Cat and the Canary or its numerous imitations, a yitload of bad acting and mostly ugly actors, some hilarious accents, and the production and directorial finesse expected of William Beaudine, were he still alive and making films. Tell us: why bother even releasing a Schnaas film cut of its gore excesses? Is that not like making a hamburger without a patty, licking the slit of a blow-up doll, masturbating without an erection, voting in the USA, or drinking water to get drunk? As in: totally fucking stupid? By removing the goo and groo, all that is left is a badly shot student film lacking any and all irony or intentional humor with a trite and predictable and at times downright stupid plot featuring ugly people whose acting talent is of similar caliber. In other words, at least in the case of Demonium, the missing minutes of carnage means that there is nothing left to the film to make it worth watching.
Demonium opens with an interminably long and turgidly lifeless sex scene between two truly ugly lovebirds, Rasmus Bentley (Andrea Bruschi) and the blind Maria (Claudia Abbate), a scene that tries its hardest to make viewers choke on their beer in unfettered disgust and nausea. Bentley then goes to work to close the deal that should make the two rich, and while he is out a deformed personage enters the apartment. Cat and mouse is played and then Bentley comes home and he and his ugly love-of-his-life both die — and then it's flashback time! Yep, a story that could easily have been told in consecutive order is for some odd reason instead told in flashback, and a long one at that: easily three-fourths of the flick. Well-structured the script is not — but then, nothing about the [cut] film indicates that anyone involved is capable of doing anything related to film well, be it scriptwriting, acting, editing, lighting, directing, whatever. (Hell, though the film was supposedly shot in 35 mm, even the DVD transfer is so second rate that the viewer sometimes feel as if they are watching the world's worst 3D flick without glasses.)
As of the flashback, the movie turns gothic in that it is set in a difficult-to-reach European castle in which a mad scientist is murdered and all his heirs gather not only for the reading of the will but also for the stipulated spent nights required to make them eligible for their inheritance. But little do they know that the mad scientist also left behind a mysterious discovery that his lawyer, Rasmus Bentley, and his S&M/B&D housekeeper, the not-yet blind Maria, want to get their mitts on — and are willing to kill for. (OK, here already the story already begins to fall apart: since none of the heirs even know the formula exists, why kill them to steal it?) Whatever.
Somewhere in the plot there is also a deformed monster in the basement, the Mad Doc's son, who eventually is walled up alive but manages to break out to show up at the beginning of the film for the first double-death — two deaths that already steal much of the momentum from the rest of the film because the viewer already knows what will eventually befall the two über-assholes once they get what they want.
Demonium may be shot in what looks to be a castle, but beyond that its aura and mood is anything but gothic — in fact, the movie has absolutely no mood or aura to speak about at all. All the actors with the exception of Joe Zaso not only evidence a uniform lack in thespian talent, but their various accents are so thick that their turgid and nonsensical dialogue is often difficult to understand. (Zaso almost seems to be making fun of this with his character, a sex-obsessed alpha male Russian artist named Viktor Plushnikov, whom he ladles with a stereotypical accent straight from Rocky and Bullwinkle [2000 / trailer].) Aside from groo and gunk cut from the film, the movie is missing a few other things that might have helped made it an enjoyable piece of trash: a tad bit of suspense might have helped, not to mention some intentional humor or irony, and perhaps a single character with whom the viewer might identify... and tits, of course. If there was any amount of notable nudity in this movie, it must have been taken out with the blood and slime. (But then, considering the calibre of the female flesh, perhaps the lack of breastage is a mercy.)
In the version we saw, Demonium is a totally worthless piece of shite: it features absolutely nothing that in any way would justify wasting one's time to watch. Crap can be fun when done right — see Nikos the Impaler (2003) or, for other German no-budget trash, Jochen Taubert's Ich Piss' auf deinen Kadaver (1999) and/or Zombie Reanimation (2009) — but nothing appears done right in the cut version of Demonium.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

5 Minutes to Live (USA, 1961)

(Spoilers.) If we are to believe the article found in the Saturday, 21 January 1961 issue of the Toledo Ohio Blade, the movie seems to be the end result of a wife's need for occupational therapy: Bel-Air housewife Mrs. Ludlow Flower Jr., aka Cay Forester, a former actress found mostly in B-films (such as Queen of the Amazons [1947 / full movie], Strange Impersonation [1946 / full movie], Blonde Savage [1947] and the classic noir D.O.A. [1950 / trailer / full movie]), asked for and received the permission of her husband, real estate executive Ludlow Flower Jr, to write a movie; by dinnertime that day she had the plot, and six months later 5 Minutes to Live was finished and ready to be made.* And once the film actually went into production — produced by hubby Ludlow Flower Jr — Mrs. Ludlow Flower Jr. even ended up taking over the main female role, thus returning to drive-in screens after a ten-year absence as the third headlining star behind the lead credit of "Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot."

Full Movie — Cay Forester in Blonde Savage (1947):
Personally, we find it a bit odd that 5 Minutes to Live is so thoroughly unknown; we know tons of Cash fans, and not one of them had ever heard of the film when we asked them about it — a film that if nothing else is of note for being Johnny Cash's feature-film debut and first starring role. Hell, Cash doesn't even mention it in the only autobiography of his we have on our bookshelf — Man in Black (Warner Books, 1975) — but then he was in the midst of his pill-popping speedfreak days when he made the movie, so perhaps he couldn't really remember it all that well in his cleaner years. Or perhaps it was simply an unpleasant memory for him; according to Michael Streissguth in his book Johnny Cash: The Biography, Cash wasn't paid cash up front but was forced to take a percentage deal... seeing that the film wasn't exactly the biggest hit, it probably hardly brought in the money. Likewise, it really didn't help him break into Hollywood, either: despite Cash's own desire to break into the movies, it was another ten years before he had another feature film role, alongside Kirk Douglas, in the western A Gunfight (1971).
Whatever the reason the movie has been relegated to obscurity, however, it is not that the movie is absolutely terrible: hardly a masterpiece in many ways, it nevertheless moves quickly enough, even has one or two shocks, and age has given it a nice patina. Hardly imperative viewing, but good enough for a rainy afternoon — and face it, it's got Johnny Cash in it! (Watch it now before the remake comes out: Jan de Bont, who hasn't made a decent film since Speed [1994 / trailer], is set to remake it as a John Cusack vehicle within the near future.)
The plot is relatively simple: Johnny Cabot (Cash), a guitar-playing psycho hiding out in a sleazy motel with his curvaceous, rent-paying babe Doris (Midge Ware of Untamed Women [1952 / trailer: see below]), is hired by Fred Dorella (character actor Vic Tayback of Mansion of the Doomed [1976 / trailer] and Blood and Lace [1971 / trailer]) to take a bank manager's wife hostage so as to force the manager to empty the bank's safe. A "fool-proof" plan, as Fred calls it, but as we all know, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley." (Robert Burns, 1785.)

Trailer to Untamed Women, with Midge Ware:
That 5 Minutes to Live is low budget is pretty obvious in both the almost threadbare production values and the less-than-fully-developed script, but director Bill Karn (Ma Barker's Killer Brood [1960 / trailer / full movie]) does a good job with what he has. He handles the action scenes rather well and takes everything as far as he probably could at the time, thus the visuals often borderline on the sleazy and the situations the tawdry. 
Despite all that and an occasional shock and/or surprise as well as an overall solid framing and visual composition, however, he can't really do all that much about giving 5 Minutes to Live any real suspense because most of the movie is told as a flashback by an arrested and overly loquacious Fred, so long before Mrs. Wilson (Cay Forester) is even taken hostage we already know that the robbery is doomed to fail. As a result, the supposedly suspense-building twist, that Mr. Wilson (Donald Woods of 13 Ghosts [1960 / trailer], The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms [1953 / trailer] and Dimension 5 [1966 / trailer]) is having affair and planning to leave his wife anyways, is hardly the narrative sucker-punch that it is supposed to be. One can only wonder why they ever chose the framing device for this movie, for it adds nothing but running time (Ah-Hah!) and the movie would have been a lot more nerve-wracking and tense without it. And thus far better, of course.

Johnny Cash sings 5 Minutes to Live:
Cash's casting is an obvious gimmick playing upon the singer's bad boy image, but he does well with his one-note character: beady-eyed, stone-cold, unemotional and sadistic, it is just as easy to believe that he wouldn't blink an eye when shooting the woman he shares his bed with as it is that he would terrorize his hostage just to ease his boredom and make the time pass more quickly. What is much harder to believe, however, is that he would ever have a soft spot for kids; this convenient point plays a key role in the climactic events but never comes across as anything other than superficial and contrived. Still, for most of the movie, Cash exudes a psychotic placidness that literally seethes with simmering violence and emotional disregard, and this helps carry the movie far more so than the sometimes almost contrived acting style of the lead female, Cay Forester... if you get down to it, she is actually out-acted by the 8-year-old playing her son, no one less than Ron "Opie/Richie" Howard. Indeed, many of the secondary and tertiary characters — for example, both country singer Merle Travis as the spineless lackey Max and Pamela Mason (of The Navy vs. the Night Monsters [1966 / trailer] and Wild in the Streets [1968 / trailer]) as Mr. Wilson's surprisingly frumpy mistress Ellen Harcourt — make a better thespian impression than the stiltedness of Cay Forester as Mrs. Wilson.
The true flaw of 5 Minutes to Live is the script, which displays a little bit too much no-budget sloppiness — starting, of course, with the self-castrating framing sequence. At one point close to the end, for example, a cop gets shot dead and not even his partner seems to care enough to even take note that he's left the world of the living. Likewise, Cabot's decision to eliminate his girl, despite the fact that she's followed him on the run and is paying his way, purely due to the disparaging accusations of a man he just met (Fred, the head of the robbery plan) that she's the one who fingered him in New Jersey, is a little less than understandable. It does, however, do well to underscore just how ruthless Cabot is — which in turn makes it thrice as hard to believe that he would have such moral compunctions when it comes to kids.
As for the extended period of time that Cabot and Mrs Wilson spend together at her home, the sadistic head games he plays with her are disturbing, but nevertheless it eventually gets hard to believe that he would sexualize everything so much and then never actually rape her.** Likewise — though this is surely simply a by-product of the time, when housewives were housewives and unlike today were not expected to ever take the bull by the horns — Mrs. Wilson not only lets one-too-many chances of escape flit by unnoticed, but she is also unbelievably maladroit with a fire poker. (One can only assume that in all cases she was worried she might break a nail.) At least the final revelation made by Mr. Wilson at the end of the movie is a pleasant twist, turning as it does the movie's implausibly timely dues ex machina into a clever solution to buy time.
In the end, however, despite the narrative flaws and uneven acting, 5 Minutes to Live remains an interesting film (in no small part due to Johnny Cash) that not only chugs along at a decent pace but also keeps the viewer riveted. The movie is far from a masterpiece, but hardly a waste of time — particularly if you're a fan of Johnny Cash.

As An Extra — Johnny Cash Sings I Walk the Line in German:

* A fine public interest story, but it fails to take into consideration that the credit sequence states that the movie is based on a story by Palmer Thompson and adapted by Robert L. Joseph.
** According to the American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures, when the movie was re-released as Door-to-Door Maniac in 1966 by Robert L. Lippert (a producer of The Last Man on Earth [1964], among others), new footage — including a rape sequence — was added. The public domain version found everywhere — and reviewed here — has all the sadistic foreplay but not the actual event... unless, of course, it was conveyed so "decently" that we missed it. But if the latter is true, then one can only say that Mrs. Wilson sure never shows any emotional scars from the event and smiles away into the sunset at the end of the movie...
The Full Movie — 5 Minutes to Live:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

R.I.P.: José Ramón Larraz

1929 (Barcelona) — 03 Sept 2013 (Málaga)

"José Ramón Larraz (born 1929 in Barcelona) is a Spanish director of exploitation and horror fims such as the erotic and bloody Vampyres (1974). Larraz began making films in England, then in 1976 apparently relocated his operations back to Spain. He made many different types of films, but is best known for his horror films. His last few horror films were Spanish/ American co-productions. He apparently retired from filmmaking in 1992 at age 63." (Wikipedia, retrieved 05.09.13)
It was José Ramón Larraz's great film Vampyres (1974) that first even made us conscious of the concept of "Eurotrash". Years ago, in La La Land circa 1984, on a stoned late-night jaunt with some friends downtown on Broadway, the neon marquee of the now long defunct grindhouse Cameo Theatre sang a Circe song of a two-buck quadruple screening. While we no longer remember all the titles, one was "The Voyage of Tanya" and the other Vampyres...
In all truth, it was the sexy sounding "The Voyage of Tanya" that drew us into the theatre, which at night was less a grindhouse than a flophouse where the unified snoring of the homeless sometimes drowned out the dialogue up on screen, but the decidedly sexy-sounding title turned out to actually be a kiddy film originally titled Paddle to the Sea (1966 / first 10 minutes). We sat through it anyway — at less than 30 minutes, it's a relatively short film — and then were confronted with Vampyres, perhaps the first Eurotrash film we ever saw outside of a Hammer film on TV (if Hammer even counts as Eurotrash).
The Trailer to Vampyres:
It bowled us over: so stylish, so arty, so full of strangely sexy ladies, so bloody — and so much sex. To simply quote Pete Tombs at Fangoria: "[His] early, low budget, quickly shot works have the unmistakeable stamp of an 'auteur' [...]. Like all his best work, they share a slim scenario, a small cast, an isolated rural location, and the atmospheric woods and misty 'golden hour' landscapes that nurture his dream spaces. There's something old fashioned about many of Larraz's films (it's no surprise to discover that one of his favourite US movies was the 1946 Robert Siodmak chiller The Spiral Staircase [trailer]) and yet there is something almost indefinably modern about them too. It's in the way they are framed, the way the shots are cut, the camera angles: that's where his artist's eye comes in and it's what makes the best of his films special and timeless."
In a later conversation with friends, the term "Eurotrah" popped up, and from then on we knew one of our favorite "genres", if one can even call Eurotrash a genre...
In any event, Vampyres was a film from José Ramón Larraz, and though we have never seen another film by the good man, we hold him dear in our heart for the experience he gave us and the horizons he opened... And now he has died. 
We take our hat off to him — may he Rest In Peace.

Part II (1970-1978) is found here.