Thursday, January 30, 2014

Short Movie: The Pervert (USA, circa 2011)

"A boy succumbs to the evils of perversion."

This month's short is from some dude named Adam Rosenberg. We first stumbled upon this little cute little gem some time ago while perusing that eternally entertaining black hole of ephemera, the Internet Archives, where it resides in the rubric Prelinger Archive Mashups. (Like the Short Film of the Month of April 2011, Helping Johnny Remember, The Pervert reuses material from the Prelinger Archives.) Since that day some months ago we have found The Pervert elsewhere, and as it has always given us a little giggle whenever we saw it, we figured it is time to share the short but giggle-inducing film with the readers of A Wasted Life. ("What readers?" one might ask, but that is a different story...) 
To quote imdb, "Adam Rosenberg is a director and actor, known for Manny (2009)" — and, indeed, though we never placed a name to the short, we caught Manny (full short) — image below — long before The Pervert, but forgot it relatively quickly 'cause though it is a highly disturbing short, it is simply a bit too Jan Švankmajer for us to fully go gaga over. 
In any event, we could find little info on The Pervert, and only slightly more on Rosenberg. So, while we were unable to find out when exactly the short was made, we were able to find out that Adam Rosenberg is partial to "backflips, potty humor, and General Tso's chicken". Rosenberg calls himself "an award-winning filmmaker and video editor"; according to his CV, which you can find online at his website, he is a Magne Cum Laude BFA graduate (3.9 GPA!) of the Virginia Commonwealth University Dept of Kinetic Imaging, 2011 and, going by his short film Adam Rosenberg: A Self Portrait, he wears ugly underwear. His CV doesn't say whether or not his is single, but if so, The Pervert would indicate that he is probably one for the ladies. As for what he looks like: he plays the doomed lad in his short film seen at the top of the page here.
The Pervert initially plays with the structure of the good ol' educational film before zooming off to... well, a great magazine collection, mildly nightmarish humor and an abrupt end featuring a cowboy. For The Pervert, Rosenberg appropriates a few minutes from one of the great pieces of anti-sex and anti-porn US propaganda, Perversion for Profit  (1965), which can be found in its full jaw-dropping idiocy and embarrassing length all over the web. As Wikipedia succinctly puts it, the propaganda "documentary" is "a vehement diatribe against pornography, the film argues that sexually explicit materials corrupt young viewers and readers, leading to acts of violence and 'perverted' attitudes regarding sex — including inclination toward homosexuality."
The "documentary" was a product of Citizens for Decent Literature (CDL), which, to quote Whitney Strub at Temple of Schlock, was "the pre-eminent anti-smut organization of the 1960s, nestled snugly between earlier Catholic pressure groups and later Christian Right ones. […] Founded by Cincinnati lawyer Charles Keating in the late 1950s, CDL amassed a rapid national following and exerted a powerful influence by the late Sixties, reaching its peak when President Richard Nixon appointed Keating to the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. Later Keating let CDL languish as he shifted his interests toward junk bonds in the 1980s, contributing to our current era of disaster capitalism during the Savings & Loan catastrophes of the Reagan era. Apparently sexual decency meant more to him than the financial sort." Perversion for Profit, one of the most popular downloads at the Internet Archives, is extremely popular for mash-ups. 
The host of Perversion for Profit, and thus the introductory host of Adam Rosenberg's The Pervert, is the 6'2" former Los Angeles-based  news reporter and talk show host George Putnam (14 July 1914 – 12 September 2008). A conservative Democrat (and good argument of the shortcomings of a two-party system), Putnam did go on record in the 80s that he no longer thought "the homosexual" a pervert but rather born that way, but in Perversion for Profit — and the sequences in The Pervert — he palpably conveys the feeling that the whole of the US should best wear a chastity belt and blinders. You can visit his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6372 Hollywood Blvd or, if you keep your eyes open, catch his brief appearance (always as a reporter) in the movies Fourteen Hours (1951 / trailer), I Want to Live! (1958 / trailer), Helter Skelter (1976 / trailer) and — gag — Independence Day (1996 / trailer).
 The short:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nero veneziano / Damned in Venice (Italy, 1978)

A fan-made tribute to Damned in Venice:

Hard to believe that such a dull film can be so enthralling...
Aka Die Wiege des Teufels and Venetian Black, Damned in Venice is the second movie we've seen from 1972 that presents one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Venice, in a less than glamorous or even attractive light. Like Also Lado's giallo The Child (1972), which shares an actor with this film (José Quaglio, here as the duplicitous Father Stefani), this leisurely paced, dank and moody horror film shows Venice as a grey city in decline, rich in atmosphere but decaying and oppressive, almost empty of people — a far cry from today, when even in the rainy off season, which is when we like to go, the city is still so full of tourists that every restaurant still feels no reason to cook a decent meal as all tables will always be filled anyways. Now, like then, the perfect location for the Son of Satan to come onto the world...
In the last of his directorial efforts, Ugo Liberatore, who has always been more active as a screenwriter (among others, he co-wrote The Mill of the Stone Women [1960 / trailer] and The Hellbenders [1967 / trailer]), presents a narratively flawed and somewhat diffuse and almost alienating if ultimately interesting and memorable horror story that most of the few who have ever seen tend to dismiss as an Italo take on Rosemray's Baby (1968 / trailer). To simply dismiss Damned in Venice as such does disservice to this overlooked and mostly forgotten movie, for it is related to Rosemary's Baby only in as much as that it, too, is about the Son of Satan being born unto this earth; other than that, and perhaps the concept of a mother's overriding love for her child, Liberatore's movie owes little to everyone's favorite Polanski flick — and shows a lot more naked nubile flesh, to boot, not to mention blood and gucky stuff.

Mark has a vision:

The plot involves the two orphans, the blind Mark (former Italo child "star" Renato Cestiè, also seen in Torso [1973 / trailer] and A Bay of Blood [1971 / trailer]) and his bitchy, semi-frigid virgin older sister Christine (former German nubile Rena Niehaus of Arabella l'angelo nero [1989 / What is eurotrash?] and Wilde Früchte [1977 / trailer]), who live with their less-than-loving Granny (Bettine Milne of House of Clocks [1989 / trailer]). Mark is plagued by frightful visions of a mysterious man and woman, and when one such vision inadvertently results in the incineration of Granny, the disharmonious siblings go to live with their sickly Aunt and Uncle Martin (Tom Felleghy of Black Emanuelle in Afrika [1978 / soundtrack], Seven Dead in the Cat's Eye [1973] and much, much more) in their squalid, run down and shuttered canal-front hotel. (A hotel in Venice that can't get guests? A canal-front hotel that fails? My, Venice was different in the 70s.) Before long, Christine is running a "hotel" populated by numerous attentive nubile who accept cash and, soon after, the man in Mark's visions, Dan (Yorgo Voyagis of Nosferatu in Venedig [1988 / trailer], Die Washing Machine [1993 / trailer], Delicatessen [1991 / trailer] and City of Lost Children [1995 / trailer]), shows up and Christine, who insists she is still a virgin, suddenly has a bun in the oven...
Heavy on symbolism, Damned in Venice is not as weird as it is strange, and is as equally discombobulating as it is dramaturgically confused and slow. Thus, it is also a hard film to recommend, particular to anyone who has a distaste for leisurely pacing and arty pretensions. One of our favorite arty spleens of the director is his use of the beautiful actress Olga Karlatos, who played Prince's mom in Purple Rain (1984 / the crappy song) and is familiar to most (if anyone) for the wood-impaled eye scene of Zombie (1979 / trailer)  — though she can also be seen in such semi-classics as Murder Rock (1984 / German trailer), Once Upon A Time In America (1984 / trailer) and Keoma (1976 / trailer) — in four different small roles of varying importance (as the woman in Mark's visions, his Aunt Madeleine, Vicky's mother, and the Midwife on the ferry), thus symbolizing just how fully evil is pulling the strings.*
That Mark, his blindness and helplessness a literal symbol for the fruitlessness and hopelessness of his attempts to prevent fate, doesn't notice is perhaps understandable, but that no one else does — or perhaps chooses not to — is almost funny. Are we all so blind to evil? In the end, everyone in Damned in Venice, whether good, evil or simply indifferent, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, is, like Mark, doomed to be a pawn of Satan. (Yep, if there is one lesson to be learned from this movie, it is "Trust no one"... or, maybe, "Evil always prevails" — two things currently emphasized and confirmed and personified by the NSA.)
In regards to acting, it is always a bit difficult to make judgment on an Italo film simply because the dubbing is always a minus (and dubbed this film is indeed, with its cast of Italians, Germans and Greeks), but in general everyone succeeds even where the makeup does not. One does often wonder, however, why the filmmakers didn't give blind Mark blind eyes like, say, those of Emily (Cinzia Monreale) in The Beyond (1981 / trailer). To the detriment of the movie, not only do his eyes simply look like eyes that can see, but more than once (or twice or thrice) his eyes obviously see when they shouldn't; had he been given blind contacts, the overall impression of both his blindness and his later regaining of sight would've been emphasized by this small detail.
Damned in Venice is overflowing with "scary" or "gross" or "decadent" events that don't really tie together but combine to create an oddly dreamy, almost narcotic mood in a Venice that, but for a singular fire scene aboard a water taxi, is unnaturally empty... but unnatural is the overall impression of this oddly distant supernatural thriller about the possible arrival of Satan's son — though for much of the movie one is never really sure if it isn't just that Mark is just delusional.
Overlooked and unknown, the film might not be everyone's cup of tea, but fans of oddly aloof and inconclusive horror films liberally sugared with scenes that are as half-normal or abnormal as they are played fully normal (Giogio's fuck scene while Mark is there, a well full of rats and snakes, all conversations with Father  Stefani [José Quaglio of — aside from The Child (1972) — Malastrana (1971 / trailer), L'occhio dietro la parete (1977 / soundtrack) and Gualtiero Jacopetti's Mondo Candido (1975 / Italian trailer)] that are played out in his private chambers) should find the film well worth watching. And even those who find the film a bore will probably still spit their beer at the movie's one major shock moment.

The threat-laden soundtrack by Pino Donaggio:

* We liked the Last Supper, too, but felt it wasn't really sleazy enough...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

R.I.P.: Alexandra Bastedo

Alexandra Bastedo

 (9 March 1946 – 12 January 2014)
The mostly forgotten (outside of the Commonwealth) 60s sex symbol Alexandra Bastedo, a "devoted animal rights activist" and vegetarian, died the other day of cancer. We here at A Wasted Life rather liked her exotic eyes and her prime 60s figure and her filmogaphy, which we take a look at below...

13 Frightened Girls
(1963 / dir. William Castle)

(Aka The Candy Web) Alexandra Bastedo made her film debut in this quaint and dated lesser outing from the great William Castle. In a typical Castle publicity stunt, the famed producer/director searched the world for young female talent — "Teenage Diplomats" — to play the given female schoolgirl character representing real nationality (and, in turn, be the girl driving the bus in a certain scene for the print released in their individual country as well as introduce the trailer meant for their homeland). The England (Bastedo's country), Sweden, France, and German versions of this sequence are presented as bonus material on the 13 Frightened Girls DVD in the William Castle Film Collection box set from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. In the end, not all were really from the country they represented (Judy Pace, for example, also making her film debut here was an American, not a Liberian), but most — like Alexandra Bastedo, as the English "Alex" — used their real names in the movie. The title is a direct play upon Castle's earlier (and better) horror film, 13 Ghosts (1960 / trailer), but is also not fully true: the move features 15 not-so-frightened girls.
TV Guide hates the movie: "This idiotic spy film aimed at juveniles features Kathy Dunn as the daughter of an American diplomat on a holiday in London. She stumbles onto a political murder and informs Murray Hamilton (of Seconds [1966 / trailer] and Hysterical [1983 / trailer]), a CIA man she has a schoolgirl-crush on. Through her father's connections, Dunn has access to many foreign embassies and becomes known in the espionage world as 'Kitten', a hunted agent. Hamilton finds this out and goes to the Swiss boarding school she attends to save her from disaster. [...] His [Castle's] direction is usually bad, and the screaming gaggle of girls he 'discovered' get on one's nerves after a bit."
The Dissolve, however, is kinder: "Forget the horror-movie title, which was changed in some places to the more tonally apt The Candy Web. 13 Frightened Girls is like a Disney version of a spy picture, completely devoid of anything objectionable, aside from some outdated notions of gender roles. It's colorful, with some of the chipper overtones of juvenile fiction, and some of the despondent undertones of the Cold War era. [...] Mostly, it’s sturdy. What gets forgotten in all the reminiscences about Castle's shillery is that the man was a competent, crafty director, not some hapless hack. Without his gimmicks, Castle's films probably would've been mostly forgotten, because they aren't that good. But they're good enough that fans can give thanks that those gimmicks existed, because they've kept his work alive in B-philes' hearts and minds."
Judy Pace, who plays the Libyan student, was actually from the US and grew up to be the "personification of black beauty" in the 60s and 70s and is found in such great films as Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970 / trailer) and Frogs (1972 / trailer)...

The Liquidator
(1965/66, dir. Jack Cardiff)

Alexandra Bastedo's (uncredited) part is so tiny in this spy caper — she appears somewhere as a radio operator — that we include the movie here only because it was directed by Jack Cardiff (who later directed The Freakmakers [1973]) and features both a great credit sequence and groovy title track.
 Title Sequence and Track of The Liquidator (1965):
The Liquidator was based on the first (published in 1964) of a series of eight pulp novels written by the British pulp author John Gardner, whom should not be confused with the serious American author John Gardner who wrote Grendel. MGM hoped to develop a franchise from the espionage spoof, but eventually vetoed the idea. DVD Talk says The Liquidator is "an upscale production that can boast a good leading man in Rod Taylor and a creative director [...]. Saying that The Liquidator has dated isn't enough, as its problem is a tonal friction that gripes many a SuperSpy® contender. The comedy wants to be slapstick-broad and tongue-in-cheek cynical at the same time. It wants to sell sex, yet is too tame to present any real sexual content. Finally, the audience will be way ahead of most of the plot developments, especially the story's main 'twists'. Just the same, Taylor and Cardiff put on a lively show."
An opinion shared, for the most part, by The Mystery File, which says that "Thanks to the cast and a script that closely follows Gardner's novel, this spy spoof works both as a send-up of Bond and as damn good spy film on its own." They explain the plot as follows: "Rod Taylor is well cast as Boysie, a handsome amoral bungler, coward, and general screw-up, who is mistaken by Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard of The Third Man [1949 / trailer]) of MI6 for a cold-blooded killer when they meet during the fall of Nazi-held Paris. Twenty years later Mostyn is second in command of MI6, and a series of defections and had headlines [sic] has convinced his boss (Hyde-White of The Cat and the Canary [1979]) that what the service needs is an executioner, a liquidator who will rid them of embarrassment before it gets that far. Mostyn remembers Boysie, whom he finds burying his partner (they owned a pub together) whose wife he has been having an affair with. Mostyn jumps to conclusions, and before he can protest, Boysie finds himself the private executioner for the British Secret Service. And it isn't a bad life. He has a lush apartment, a nice stipend, a sexy sports car, a parade of beautiful girls, and there is always the sardonic Mostyn's secretary Jill St. John (of The Concrete Jungle [1982 / trailer]) — if only there wasn’t that silly rule about inter-service romance. Then the first problem arises. They actually want Boysie to kill someone..."
Lalo Schifrin — Bikini Waltz:

Doctor in Clover
(1966, dir. Ralph Thomas)

Alexandra Bastedo's has another (uncredited) part as "Nurse at Party" in this, the sixth in a series of British comedies that began with Doctor in the House (1954 / clip) and ended with Doctor in Trouble (1970 / trailer) but continued long after as various TV series in Britain. Like the Carry On series, the Doctor series in all its forms is proof positive of England's refined nature and cultural importance.
The year it came out, Doctor in Clover was one of the 15 best British box office draws; in its land of origin, it was shorn a full four minutes to get the then applicable A-rating ("children must be accompanied by adults"). TV Guide kindly describes the movie as "a dreary, depressing, unfunny comedy." The plot? Let's look at Brit Movie Co for that: "More comical situations at Saint Swithins Hospital, Leslie Phillips (of The Gamma People [1956 / trailer]) is on call in place as Dr Gaston Grimsdyke, who is more interested in the nurses than the patients. Grimsdyke loses his job as medical officer at a women's prison, so he enrolls in a refresher course with his old medical tutor Sir Lancelot Spratt (James Robertson Justice) — who is determined to make a successful physician out of him. There are some complications involving a rejuvenation serum, which is accidentally injected into the irascible Sir Lancelot, causing him to wreak havoc at a party." As the trailer informs us, the movie introduces another mostly forgotten 60s sexpot, "a beautiful young sexstacular French star in her first British film, Elisabeth Ercy".
Elizabeth Ercy, seen above from the movie, was born in Dresden, Germany on 20 July, 1944; she went on to star in that great, depressing horror film The Sorcerers (1967), directed by Michael Reeves, the man behind Witchfinder General (1968). Unlike that of Alexandra Bastedo, Ercy's career ended soon thereafter.
 Trailer to The Sorcerers (1967):

That Riviera Touch
(1966, dir. Cliff Owen)

Alexandra Bastedo's career takes a step forward: she receives on-screen credit as the "Girl at roulette table" — but the real cheesecake factor of the movie was the Canadian-born Suzanne Lloyd (born on November 11, 1934 in Toronto) as the deceitful Claudette, who retired at the "young age of 40".
That Riviera Touch was a vehicle for the English comedy due (Eric) Morecambe and (Ernie) Wise, whose partnership lasted from 1941 until Morecambe died in 1984. Primarily a TV phenomena and unknown outside of the land of fish and chips, they made three of movies together in the 60s, of which this is the second; like Doctor in Clover above, it was one of the top 15 British box office hits of 1966. Brit Movie Co calls the movie "a routine comedy" and complains that "despite many colourful shots of the Côte d’Azur and a riotous closing sequence involving a helicopter and water skis the duo are unable to sustain feature length narratives and ultimately the film is lacking in laughs."
Film 4 explains the plot to "this, the second and best of their so-so big-screen outings": "Eric and Ernie star as traffic wardens who, thanks to a muddle up with British royalty, find themselves holidaying in the south of France. There, they become involved with Le Pirate (Paul Stassino of Die Screaming Marianne [1971 / trailer]), a Gallic thief who intends to use the hapless pair to smuggle his goods overseas. Of course, it's not long before pandemonium reigns as our comic heroes cross swords with all sorts of villains and almost come to blows over the comely thiefette Claudette (Lloyd).
Opening Credits — Bastedo's Name Is There:

The Scales of Justice: The Haunted Man
 (1966, dir. Stanley Willis)
As the website Radio Sounds Familiar explains: "The Scales of Justice [was not a TV series but] was a run of thirteen British cinema 'B' films made between 1962 and 1967 at Merton Park Studios in London by Anglo-Amalgamated. They were based on real criminal cases and each film was introduced by the famous crime writer Edgar Lustgarten. The titles [above] feature the symbolic scales held by the statue of Justice, which is located on top of the dome of The Old Bailey. In the opening narration she is described as having ' her right hand, the Sword of Retribution, and in her left — The Scales of Justice'." Only later did they actually end up on TV.
The plot of The Haunted Man: "Actor Bill Kenton (James Ellis, who plays "Psycho Ward Guard No. 1" in Re-Animator [1985]), injured trying to prevent a raid on a shop, returns to his career, to find that he cannot remember his lines. Forced to leave the theatre, he becomes a man obsessed with finding the thief." Alexandra Bastedo, who can be seen cuddling with Keith Barron (of Nothing But The Night [1973]) in the background of the screenshot above, plays "Laura". All thirteen instalment are now available on DVD.
 Trailer to Nothing but the Night:

 Casino Royale
(1967, dir. Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Richard Talmadge and possible others)
Alexandra Bastedo appears somewhere in this, one of the most legendary cinematic fuck-ups in the world, as "Meg". We saw the film many a year ago, long before we even registered that was a "Alexandra Bastedo", and had we even known of her we surely wouldn't have seen her amongst the plethora of much more famous names that flit, explode, crawl, dies, walk, run, whatever across the screen. If we remember correctly, the only thing we really like about the movie was (spoiler) that everyone dies...
The BBC is right when they saw "the film itself may defy description" and "the lurid sets and costumes amount to two hours of Technicolor madness". Is the film good? No. Is it jaw-dropping and entertaining? Yes — in a mostly train wreck sort of way. A flop with the critics, it was a popular hit and made a profit despite the movies explosive budget (which went from 6 to 12 million dollars while filming). It works much better now due to the nostalgia factor than it did when it came out and tried, so desperately, to be (to quote La Cinema Dreams) "like Barbarella (1968 / trailer), Myra Breckinridge (1970 / trailer), and The Magic Christian (1969 / trailer) [...] a 'head film' from the start. A head film being a movie that either courted young, college-age audiences by attempting to cinematically replicate the psychedelic drug experience, or one that was best appreciated in an altered mind state."
As TCM explains the plot: "The original James Bond (007) retired following his star-crossed love affair with Mata Hari [...]. But as the international crime organization known as SMERSH threatens world domination, he agrees to come out of retirement. After his longtime superior McTarry ('M') is killed, Bond goes to Scotland to console McTarry's widow, Lady Fiona, unaware that the woman he encounters is actually a SMERSH agent. Bond's charms are such, however, that Lady Fiona gives up her life of espionage and retires to a convent when Bond declines her offer of love. To outwit his enemy, Bond decides there should be more than one 007 agent. He enlists the services of Vesper Lynd, the world's richest and most seductive spy; Evelyn Tremble, the inventor of a foolproof gambling system; Cooper, a strong-arm agent trained to resist women; and Bond's own daughter, Mata Bond [...]."
 Casino Royale Theme Song:

The Champions
(TV series, 1968-1969)
While this British "cult" TV series "filled with intelligent, intriguing characters, exotic settings and fabulous cars (DVD Verdict)" is not whence we know Alexandra Bastedo, it would seem it is whence most do, as virtually every obit we read was apt to say something along the lines as what Wikipedia does: Alexandra Bastedo is "best known for her role as secret agent Sharron Macready in the 1968 British espionage/science fiction adventure series The Champions." Indeed, Boot Hill quotes the actress as have said: "Apart from becoming a household name in England, Scotland and Wales, I became an international star, particularly in Spain and South America where they called me La Bastedo." We here at A Wasted Life, however, are not familiar with the 30-episode series, which supposedly also ran in the US on NBC in 1968, a time when our tastes were still more oriented towards shows such as Batman (1966-1968) or The Monkees (1966-1968).
Classic Film and TV Café explains the basic set up around which the series was constructed: "Three secret agents, being pursued by bad guys, crash land their plane in the Himalayas. All but dead, they are found by an elderly man who takes them to an ancient city occupied by a secret civilization (shades of Shangri-La). Not only are our heroes healed, but they are 'made better.' They gradually learn that they have been given superhuman powers: they can communicate telepathetically, their senses are heightened, and they possess great strength. They can also 'sense' when danger in imminent or when one of them is in trouble." They fought international threats for 30 episodes before succumbing to the deadliest of all TV enemies: low viewer ratings.
Other than Bastedo as the semi-superwoman Sharron Macready, The Champions also featured the fellow super-people Craig Stirling (Stuart Damon) and Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) and their non-super boss Tremayne (Anthony Nicholls of Night of the Eagle [1962 / trailer] and The Omen [1976 / trailer]).
At one point (2007), Variety announced that Guillermo del Toro would be doing a film version of the movie, but it would seem that nothing ever came of it. 

Go here for Part II
Go here for Part III 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Necromancy / The Witching (USA, 1972)


Bert I. Gordon is one of the great heroes of low budget schlock and treasured guilty pleasures, mostly from the third quarter of the 20th century. Director, writer, producer, auteur, the man is still alive but hasn't made a film since his 1990 horror film Satan's Princess (1990 / full movie); a fact that might have changed by the time you read this, as although it has hardly received the fanfare the news perhaps deserves, the good man is currently making his first film in over 25 years, the thriller Secrets of a Psychopath, due out in 2014 and starring a typically (for him) career-stalled, genre-laden name, Kari Wuhrer (of Thinner [1996] and Anaconda [1997]). One can only hope that that film is more akin to his classic trash — Beginning of the End (1957 / trailer), with its classic scene of a dumb man screaming silently; The Amazing Colossal Man (1957 / trailer), with its memorable hypodermic-needle harpooning scene; Attack of the Puppet People (1958 / trailer); War of the Colossal Beast (1958 / trailer); the teen-heavy Tarantula (1955 / trailer) spin Earth vs. the Spider (1958 / trailer) ; the fun, unjustly maligned and overlooked ghost story Tormented (1960 trailer / full movie); the nasty thriller The Mad Bomber (1973 / trailer); and the undeniably horrible but hilariously entertaining duet The Food of the Gods (1976 / trailer) and Empire of the Ants (1977 / trailer) — and less like his duds, Picture Mommy Dead (1966 / German trailer), Burned at the Stake (1981) and all his comedies (though, in truth, How to Succeed with Sex [1970] is of note for being such an unfunny comedy that is funny in its unfunniness and really deserves to be seen just to even learn how funny unfunny can be).
Necromancy, aka The Witching, Rosemary's Disciples and Horror Attack, we are sad to say, is not one of Gordon's better films, either in terms of being fun and trashy or serious and scary (not that one ever really expects the latter from a Gordon film). Of all the titles the film has had, Rosemary's Disciples is perhaps the most apt, for the core narrative thread is stolen directly from Polanski's much more successful Rosemary's Baby (1968 / trailer): hubby Frank Brandon (Michael Ontkean) falls in with coven of devil worshippers and trades off his wife Lori Brandon (Pamela Franklin) for... a hedonistic lifestyle and a good job in a toy factory!?

Michael Ontkean sells 7-Up:
Instead of having the events based around an apartment building full of witches, however, the events are moved to the difficult-to-reach, small, rural town located somewhere in California called Lilith. (Here alone, the astute already know something is rotten in the state of Denmark, as the town is named after Adam's first wife Lilith, the world's first feminist who smartly chose to leave the Garden of Eden for her own personal freedom away from the domineering Adam.) Unlike in Rosemary's Baby, however, our endangered heroine — who just had a miscarriage back in the big city — should not give birth to the devil's baby, but rather give up her life so that the dead son of the town's patriarch Mr. Cato (a slumming Orson Welles) can return to life...
The version we put in our DVD player was the re-release version from 1983, The Witching / Horror Attack, which is graced with an entirely new opening scene of a Black Mass featuring a lot of male and female frontal nudity from people that appear nowhere else in the movie as well as an Orson Welles stand-in wearing a goat's head so as to hide the fact it's a different actor. The scene is neither needed or in any way horrific, but as we here at A Wasted Life do like pointless nude scenes we tend to see the added scene as perhaps the best one in the whole confused and mostly incomprehensible movie.
But the fact that The Witching is a new, re-cut version makes it a bit hard to place the blame of the movie's total failure upon Bert I. Gordon, as aside from the added nudity, the confusing ghostly female (Anne Gaybis of Wham! Bam! Thank You, Spaceman! [1975 / trailer]) spouting inane tirades to our heroine is also a new addition. In any event, we find it doubtful that the original version, Necromancy, could have been all that much better than the re-release, especially since the terrible one-note performances of Pamela Franklin and Michael Ontkean are so typical of the performances found in most Gordon films. (OK, Michael Ontkean, whom most people know as Sheriff Harry S Truman from the classic TV series Twin Peaks [1990-1991], was always better looking than he was good at acting, but Pamela Franklin proved her stuff at a variety of ages in a number of memorable films, including The Innocents [1961 / trailer], The Nanny [1965 / trailer], And Soon the Darkness [1970 / trailer], and The Legend of Hell House [1973 / trailer].) The best acting of the movie, aside from Orson Welles' obvious walk on non-performance, is that of the actor playing Dr. Jay, Harvey Jason, who looks like and conveys the hedonistic quality of a refugee from the Golden Age of Porn, the perfect quality needed for a person that has given himself over to the total hedonistic abandonment the coven members practice and enjoy. (An interesting tidbit of trivia: he and Pamela Franklin met for the first time on the set of this movie and are still happily married today.)
Overly talky and expository, The Witching is nevertheless often messy and incomprehensible. But for all the bad acting and dialogue and loose plotting and pointlessly arty cinematography and editing, it is the dislikably whiney and overly helpless heroine, Lori (Franklin), which becomes the most annoying aspect of the movie. Indeed, she does more damage to the flick than all the other flaws combined: forever ignoring the facts she is confronted with — including both dead bodies and honest town folk that don't hide their religious affiliations — and refusing to flee from the imminent danger, Lori literally whines her way to her fate. Had Lori only been given a brain and at least a little mettle, The Witching might have at least achieved some character identification and, through that, some effectiveness as a lightly arty exercise of third-rate, mildly moody horror. An understandable and sympathetic heroine would also have given the depressing ending a lot more punch, because the viewer might have still at least cared...
Necromancy, aka The Witching, Rosemary's Disciples and Horror Attack, is a dud of a horror movie that is not scary, interesting nor funny. Not imperative viewing.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Ten Best in 2013

Year 5 of A Wasted Life's "Ten Best Films in XXXX" list... the rules, as they have crystallized over the past five years:
1. The films need not be made in the year in question (2013), they need only to have been viewed for the first time and reviewed that given year.
2. They need not even be good films, they need only to have left an exceptional impression or been in some way memorable enough while watching that they achieved a level of "unforgettableness" that makes them, in our non-humble opinion, worth watching — if only one time.
3. Short Films of the Month are as a rule excluded from the list, one: because simply by dent of the fact that their being chosen as a Short Film of the Month already makes them recommended, and two: the "Ten Best" list is for feature-length films only.
4. The order in which the films are presented is immaterial. This is not a countdown list, going from "tenth best" to "best". As far as we are concerned, all films presented are equally deserving of their placement.
This year, there were a total of 60 blog entries here at A Wasted Life, of which one was the Ten Best Films in 2012 list, 12 were short films and five were R.I.P. Career Reviews of notable folks who have gone on permanent vacation — Harry Reems (six instalments and counting), Ray Harryhausen (3) Jim Kelly (2), Haji (1) and José Ramon Larraz (3) — with a total of 15 instalments. Thus, in grand total there were only 31 feature films reviewed this year, the lowest amount since this ego-stroking blog first went online. And with such a low amount of movies, it is perhaps not surprising that for the first time we weren't able to come up with a full ten movies for the list. This year, we only have an "official" nine — and a forced nine at that.
That said, we must admit that there are two feature-length films that probably would have made the list, but don't due to rule Number 1: in the case of the two old German flicks directly below, we not only didn't watch them in 2013, but the reviews were actually written almost a decade ago and we've seen both movies a couple of time since then. Thus neither makes the final cut, though we like them both and can only say watch them if you have the chance — no German Edgar Wallace or Brian Edgar Wallace krimi is ever a total waste of time. Of the two below, Der Rote Kreis is probably the better one, while Der Frosch mit der Maske, being the first of the historical Rialto Wallace series, is more historically relevant. Both make for worthwhile viewing, no matter whatever flaws they might have. But, in any event, they are not an official part of The Ten Best in 2013 list and are presented here only because, well, because we want to present them here.

Der Frosch mit der Maske
(Germany / Denmark, 1959)
Aka: The Fellowship of the Frog

German Trailer:

Der Rote Kreis
(Denmark / Germany, 1960)
Aka: The Crimson Circle

German Trailer:

The Sadist
(USA, 1963)
Aka Sweet Baby Charlie and Profile of Terror. OK, we break a rule here. Here at A Wasted Life, we are listing The Sadist in the first position on this list because, well, it was truly the best movie we saw this year and deserves a First Place rating. Almost unknown, this film seriously needs to be rediscovered and shared and finally given the credit it deserves. Searing black and white for a nasty, hard-boiled story told in real time. We would list this movie up there with Detour (1945 / fan-made trailer / full film), The Honeymoon Killers (1969 / trailer) and Night of the Living Dead (1968 / trailer / full film) as one of the best low budget B&W genre movies we've ever seen. Watch it. Now. Or go die.
Full movie:

Wheels / Tockovi
(Republic of Yugoslavia / Serbia, 1999)
A well made, East Bloc wanna-be Tarentino movie that saves itself by displaying a lot of personality — Wheels is low budget, bloody, nihilistic and funny as hell. Good luck finding it, but it's worth the search...

 (French, 1975)
Jess Franco (12 May 1930—2 April 2013) at his artsy-fartsy, decadent best. Definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but we found the amalgamation of ugly people, sex and violence amazingly intriguing. Without a doubt, one of our favorite Franco films to date, full everything you might expect from the infamous auteur, god rest his soul. Also, we really must say that Franco's longtime muse Lina Romay (25 June 1954—15 February 2012), who gets naked a lot in this movie, never looked better than she does here... The blogspot Ninja Dixon has a nice plot description, which we'll use again here: "Bored upper class is enjoying a simulated black mass including a human sacrifice. Something for the rich and famous to tickle their boring lives and hopefully tickle their sex-lives even more. But in the background the defrocked priest and now adult author Mathis Vogel (Uncle Jess himself) is slithering around taking detailed notes about the masses. He's still a strong believer and wants to save these poor women from Satan and the only way to do it is to slaughter them as a sacrifice to God!"

Dirty War
 (Spain, 1984)
Hitman vs Hitman scene:
Aka Guerra Sucia. Regrettably enough, we've been unable to locate a trailer from this movie anywhere online, but the outtakes here give you a good idea of what to expect. Is Dirty War a good movie? No fucking way — it's a fucking Juan Piquer Simón movie, for Christ's sake, so it's a mess. But, as is often the case with his movies — his real masterpiece Slugs (1988) being the best example — Dirty War takes on that special otherworldliness that only true craptastic movies have. As we say in our review, Dirty War [...] is "a crappy, trashy piece of shit, actually. But [...] it is also a wonderfully entertaining piece of flotsam that occasionally verges on surrealism." We loved it, and can only say: watch it, you'll hate it.
Chase scene:

Piranha 3DD
 (USA, 2012)
This movie makes it onto our list only by the tip of a nipple. The original Piranha (1978) is one of our favorite idiosyncratic exploiters from the Golden Age of Exploitation, so we were very prepared to totally hate Alexandre Aja's 2010 remake Piranha 3-D... but we didn't. We really enjoyed it. Still, despite all the T&A and gore, there was an undercurrent of Puritanism in the movie that we could have done without, and which costs that film its place on this list. This Puritanism, however, is totally lacking from the direct-to-DVD sequel that followed two years later, Piranha 3DD. Piranha 3DD is a totally infantile T&A-heavy piece of unapologetic trash; the story is dumbed down, but the amount of silicon and blood and guts remain more or less the same — and all that graced with a totally meta self-referential performance by one of our most-hated performers, David Hasselhof, that works so well that we almost became a fan. (Almost.) Perhaps if we had a broader selection of movies to choose from, Piranha 3DD wouldn't make the cut of this list, but beggers can't be choosers and besides, who can truly hate a movie about killer prehistoric piranhas that invade a pool park full of buxom babes?
Red-band Trailer:

From the makers of that Nippon masterpiece Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl (2009), yet another tasteless, P.I. and blood-drenched masterpiece. The influences of Hieronymus Bosch and Sigmund Freud are a lot more obvious this time around than the Pop Art extremes found in VGvsFG, but this year-older movie is nevertheless just as bat-shit crazy. You like fountains of gore? Hot Asian babes? Nightmarish imagery? Racially incorrect characterizations? This film is for you...

(USA, 1974)
Opening scene:
Aka Horror Whore and Sadoasylum. The first hardcore fuck film to ever make its way onto one of our "Best Films" lists. Hardgore is an unbelievable piece of flotsam from the early Golden Age of Porn that defies categorization and believability. What were they thinking when they made this movie? But for one scene, Hardgore totally fails as a visual aid to your greased palm — in fact, despite genital detail and constant exchange of body fluids, this body-hair heavy porno movie is sure to keep you limp or dry — if not, you can rest assured that you are probably not normal. Hardgore is definitely not a good movie; in fact, it is not a movie that probably deserves any form of recommendation... but it is an indescribably jaw-dropper; a unique oddity that hits 100 on the bizarre scale. And as such, we might not recommend it but we do have to say it was one of the most "memorable" movies we saw in 2013, and thus rightfully earns it place on this list. Watch it — if you dare.
Naked woman (Dianne Galke) running down the hall:

(USA, 1934)
An early non-masterpiece of exploitation displaying truly Ed Woodian directorial and narrative finesse, Maniac is one of the great Guilty Pleasure of filmdom. Read our review to learn about this great movie and its equally notable filmmaker...
Full movie:

5 Minutes to Live
(USA, 1961)
Another movie that probably wouldn't make the cut had we a greater selection to choose from. 5 Minutes to Live is hardly a masterpiece, and it suffers from a very weak female lead (Cay Forrester) and a terrible framing structure; but, for that, it is relatively well shot and edited, moves at quick enough pace, has one or two decent shocks and stars the great Johnny Cash as a violent psycho. The last alone makes the movie worth watching on a rainy day. Of course, you can just wait until the Jan de Bont remake is released, but then you won't have the pleasure of watching a drugged-out Cash making his feature-film acting debut.
Full movie:

Movie of Special Mention
With 5 Minutes to Live, our list of The Ten Best Films in 2013 thus ends — one film short of a full ten fingers. And since we are one short, we've decided to bend the rules a bit (again) and add this "Movie of Special Mention". It is one of the many films we saw this year that we didn't get around to writing about... but even if we had, we couldn't put it on the list 'cause we've seen it two or three times before. Nevertheless, we feel this movie deserves more attention than it ever gets, and thus we present it as our unofficial tenth movie.
(USA, 1953)
Daughter of Horror aka Dementia is an under-seen surreal, semi-feature-length expressionistic noir nightmare that has, amongst those who have watched it, as many detractors as fans. We are definitely fans. Made in 1953 and released in 1955, Dementia is the only known movie from the unknown filmmaker John Parker and, until Re/Search wrote about it in their influential volume Incredibly Strange Films, it was best known (if at all) as the movie being watched in the original version of The Blob (1958) when the blob invades the cinema. Long in the public domain, it is easy to get a hold of nowadays, though usually in the re-release version with an added narration by Ed McMahon. Watch it. Now. Or go die.
Full movie: