Sunday, August 29, 2021

Ánimas (Spain, 2018)

Based on José Ortuño's (Spanish language) novel of the same name, Ánimas is a flawed but highly intriguing Spanish art-horror film that seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it experience. Within the tapestry of the movie's often neon green and red color scheme and lighting, and the retro, grungy, neo-noir prop and stage design, a relatively slight but nevertheless intriguing narrative involving a limited cast of six main faces unfolds, a dreamy tale undulant of teenage angst, broken homes, abusive families, and unsaid and indistinct horrors that has more in common with surreally unsettling films like Jacob's Ladder (1990 / trailer) or  The Attic Expeditions (2001 / trailer) than the traditional run-of-the-mill, relatively conventional horror films that tend fill the market today.
Spanish trailer to
Ánimas opens by introducing us to Bram as a little boy, seeking refuge on the stairwell of a rundown apartment building from his abusive father, who has just broken the child's beloved yo-yo and is loudly releasing the rest of his rage on his wife (and Bram's mother) behind the closed apartment doors. It is here that Bram first meets the same-aged Alex, a neighboring little girl who teaches him the trick she uses to calm herself down in times of need — and thus the two form a friendship, one as tight as it is symbiotic, that obviously spans the years unbroken: we next see them again as late teens, on the cusp of adulthood, at school as Alex (Clare Durant of The Malevolent [2016 / trailer]) motivates Bram (Iván Pellicer) to muster his courage to approach the Asian classmate Anchi (Chacha Huang), with whom he soon forms a relationship.
Anchi, much like Bram's mother (Liz Lobato of The Birthday [2004 / trailer]) and his shrink, Karla Berger (Ángela Molina), expresses an antipathy against his platonic best friend, one that long remains baseless or incomprehensible to the viewer. Like Bram, Alex is seemingly nothing more than yet another troubled teen, admittedly one with a penchant for self-mutilation, but hardly a figure that could be viewed as automatically inviting dislike. And while Bram may have an abusive father (Luis Bermejo) to deal with, not to mention a distant and suicidal mother, Alex is faced by a threatening shadow and a dangerously bending reality, not to mention thorough desertion by her unseen mother, who literally moves out overnight taking everything with her.
Unluckily, just when it seems that Alex is in need of similar constructive support to that which she has give Bram over the years, he is in less and less need of (and has less time for) his former best friend.
Truly terrifying, Ánimas is not; and many of the scares are somewhat generic if not predictable. Even the final resolution is, to an extent, not all that unexpected to the truly observant. But visually, the film is a slow burn that is both fascinating and compelling, and it pushes at the boundaries of what is normally considered acceptable within a "realistic" horror film, be it the set design or the mood-inducing (and symbolic) lighting. And even if the narrative is a bit muddled, in retrospect one cannot help but realize that it is appropriate to the denouncement.
One might argue that Ánimas is, in the end, an exercise of style over substance, but the argument of whether one is better than the other is an argument that often raises its head within the arts, be it films or painting or literature, but has yet to be answered unequivocally. (If you like Van Gogh or Thomas Hart Benton, does that mean you aren't allowed to like Jeff Koons or Ai Weiwei? If you enjoy movies Last Year at Marienbad [1961 / trailer], are you not permitted to enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy [2014 / trailer]? Like Brazilian fish taco, no hairy cheese sausage?)
Any argument, whether pro or con, must, however, give credit to the filmmakers for at least trying to bend the rules of the very genre that they are obviously both well-informed about and respect. What's more, as light as its plotline might be, Ánimas obviously does not view the viewer as unintelligent. That alone is a rarity in film, as is the movie's wonderfully immersive mise-en-scene.
Hardly nondescript, easy-to-accept cinematic fodder, the movie will best appeal to those who like their movies different. Imagine a lazy, no-budget Wes Anderson directing a Spanish-language horror thriller, and then you get a slight idea of what to expect. We recommend Ánimas, but we don't expect you to like it.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Short Film: The End (UK, 2013)

A short "zombie thriller" directed by Raj Pathak and Crash Taylor, based on a story by Pia Cook and Tina Smith. Cook went on to scribe a few independent feature films, like 2 Psychos (2016 / trailer).
WINNER - Best Horror,
Limelight Film Awards 2014 
WINNER - Best Actress,
British Horror Film Festival 2014 
WINNER - 1st Place, 2014 online competition 
When on that rare occasion that the topic of "what if a zombie virus really broke out" raises its festering undead head, we are always surprised at the amount of people — regardless of weight, citification, lack of condition, diabetes, drug weaknesses, whatever — who see themselves as a Daryl (as in The Walking Dead) instead of a Barbara (as in Night of the Living Dead [1968 version]). 
This little zombie short, in any event, might not offer all that much new, but it still packs a punch. It is less a story than a snapshot of what transpires for two on-the-run survivors of a zombie apocalypse. And were a zombie apocalypse ever to truly happen, many a parental figure would probably be confronted with the same situation the mother in this short is. (And how would you decide?) She ain't no Daryl, she ain't no Barbara, she's just a normal mom named Tina (Shelley Draper) with a daughter named Sofie (Ava Nicholson) and a gun who, while on the run from zombies, takes refuge in a deserted farm. 
So, how could things get any worse? Go to YouTube and find out. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (Italy, 1980)

One might assume that if you combine the "talents" of Joe D'amato (15 Dec 1936 – 23 Jan 1999), Laura Gemser and George Eastman, you would end up with a mildly entertaining film. (Then again, maybe not.) In any case, if that is what one does assume, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead proves that one doth assume too much, for "Italy's first sexually explicit zombie film" is one damn boring film. Which doesn't mean that it doesn't have its appeal, it's just that the appeal it has is a bit like a major car accident: you might want to rubberneck, but do you really want to watch for over two whole hours? Regardless of how many dead bodies litter the street, it gets boring after awhile. That said, an accident of any kind probably makes more sense and has more coherence than this exercise in, well, cinematic, pornographic and horror ineptitude.
PG trailer to
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead:
Let's get the porn out of the way first. There is a palpable contractual division amidst the actors involved, in that it quickly becomes evident that Gemser, Eastman (nee Luigi Montefiori) and Playboy centerfold Dirce Funari (Italian issue, Aug 1978) had a "no-hardcore" clause, at least for the this film. In Funari's case, she was obviously willing to go further than either Gemser or Eastman (the latter never even manages to undo his belt or drop his trousers for his sex scenes), but true clinical detail is never shown in her scenes; even when she gives head or fingers herself, the scene is shot so you don't see anything. (The average 1970s "softcore" Great Uschi movie shows more.)
Not so with the fourth main character of the movie, played by some mustachioed guy named Mark Shannon, nee Manlio Cersosimo, who shows the full monty and even shoots a quick load in an early sex scene involving two hookers. The only truly memorable thing about his sex scenes, however, is that he has warts on his testicles. That alone says everything about how "hot" the obviously non-fluffed porn aspects of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead are. Indeed, when it comes to the explicit sex scenes, those of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead are so un-erotic, so high on the incompetently shot and framed and presented ick-level, that one could easily turn sex-negative — and that despite the fact that most of the lithesome, primarily A-cupped, heavily bushed women are actually very attractive. (Assuming D'amato did his own casting, the man was obviously a fan of A-cups.)
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead is definitely way too long for the slim story it proffers, though a more talented film-maker than D'amato, or at least someone with a bit more artistic drive or intention, might nevertheless have been able to make an interesting movie with the flick's bare bone(r)s. Some blame, of course, must also go to George Eastman, who may have gone on to become a talented and respected Italo-TV scriptwriter but displays absolutely no creative ambition in the script he provides here. The paucity of the movie isn't in any way improved by the insertion of a number of idiotic and/or extraneous scenes that do little to advance the plot but do pad the already excessive running time.
The opening and closing framing narration at a unisex insane asylum is a prime example of the unneeded. Here, we meet the obviously unhinged Larry O'Hara (Eastman) and the less-obviously unhinged Fiona (Funari), who easily sneak off to the basement to shag softcore with crazed abandonment. Whereupon, in flashback, we learn how the two came to be sex-crazed inhabitants of a loony bin. But therein, too, there is padding, sexual and zombie-wise.
For example, the first two zombie scenes of the movie: the first is of a local fisherman who is killed from behind (despite having one of the magic anti-zombie talismans that keep popping up throughout the film), and the second is of a disbelieving coroner who becomes lunch while preparing to dissect a "dead" body. Those scenes, while gory and perhaps funny enough, do nothing to advance the actual plot and have absolutely no real relevance to the rest of the movie. Once shown, they are never mentioned or referred to again, though particularly the death of the local coroner, one might think, would or should have some sort of narrative echo elsewhere in a traditionally plotted movie.
A few more padding scenes later — including those featuring warty testicles and a memorable "dance" scene in which a woman, definitely a compeer of sorts to Honeysuckle Divine, uncorks a Champaign bottle in a most creative manner — the actual narrative of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead finally kicks in. Ship captain O'Hara (Eastman, of way too many noteworthy films to include any here) gets hired by the visiting land developer John Wilson ("Mark Shannon", who supposedly began his career with an uncredited appearance in Stephen C. Apostolof's Motel Confidential [1969 / scene] and went on to such "classics" as Voodoo Baby [1980 / music], Porno Holocaust [1981 / music], and The Emperor Caligula: The Untold Story [1982 / trailer]) to take Wilson and his sexy receptacle Fiona (Dirce Funari of Escape from Women's Prison [1978 / trailer],  Midnight Blue [1979/ soundtrack], and Blue Movie (1978 / trailer]) — "I picked her up in a high-class gutter", Wilson tells O'Hara at one point — to the truly beautiful Cat Island, where the company Wilson works for plans to open a luxury resort. There, they run into what appear to be the only inhabitants of the "deserted" island, the beautiful Luna (Gemser) and her blind grandfather (an uncredited old man who was surely cast due to his facial tumor). Warning signs abound that the trio should skedaddle while they still can, but Gemser's bush and Wilson's capitalist greed keep them there until, well, it's too late and the zombies attack in an ungainly lumbering mass.
It is no spoiler to reveal that O'Hara and Fiona survive, as that is already revealed in the opening nuthouse scenes, but now they are cackling sex-obsessed crazies because, hell, that's what you become when you have sex with Gemser and survive a zombie attack on a tropical island.
For all the ineptitude displayed in Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, or perhaps because of it, the film does achieve a certain (if extremely low) level of watchability, especially since it does occasionally offer something to laugh and giggle or at least loudly snort at — including the consistently hilarious use of day-for-night shots, some amazing non-sequitur dialogue, and persistently incontiguous action. Unluckily, the few unintentional perks the flick might offer pretty much get lost in the movie's glacial pacing, which is so slow that by the time the see-it-coming-a-mile-a-way bite-the-dick-off scene transpires, the viewer is pretty much too anesthetized to care. And while some of the graphic softcore scenes do offer a level of humor or passable sleaze, the hardcore ones repulse: the movie would definitely be improved (though perhaps less memorable) by the removal of the warty-testicle scenes. (Which, we hear, one circulating version of the movie does.)
One might argue that Erotic Nights of the Living Dead does deliver what it promises, which is a mixture of porn and gore, but that is a bit like saying, dunno, that salami pizza is still an appreciatable salami pizza even if it doesn't go into the oven as long as it has dough, tomato sauce, cheese and salami. Is an uncooked pizza with all the promised or needed ingredients still a pizza worth eating?
A Schrödinger's cat question, perhaps, but while the predicate "good" is often subjective, there are nevertheless horror porn flicks out there that deliver their ingredients and remain both immensely watchable and "fun".  (Want a "fun" or "good" hardcore "horror" movie where the heavily haired sex scenes and the narrative work? Go for the surreally batshit Hardgore [1974] or the consciously culty  Thundercrack! [1975 / scene], neither of which have zombies but both of which never bore.) Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, on the other hand, is truly an example of a movie that contains what it promises but fails to succeed as porn or horror or porn horror, and thus delivers nothing that makes it worth watching.
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead is, basically, like an uncooked salami pizza... but it stinks like unwashed, warty testicles.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Film Fun: Music from Movies – Vampire Hookers (1978)

Vampire Hookers is a mid-career US/Filipino exploitation film of the Filipino grand trashmaster Cirio H. Santiago (18 Jan 1936 – 26 Sept 2008), a man we've looked at in passing in both R.I.P.: Jim Kelly, Part II (see: Stranglehold and/or Ultimatum [1994 / trailer]) and R.I.P. Dick Miller, Part IV: 1974-76 (see: TNT Jackson [1974 / trailer]), if not elsewhere on our blog. (For more info on the fecund Filipino exploitation scene of the 70s & 80s, we suggest the 2010 documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed [trailer below].)
Trailer to
Machete Maidens Unleashed:
Santiago's exploitation movies, this one included, are generally entertaining examples of terrible direction, bad acting, sloppy post-dubbing, harsh lighting, cheap effects, topless babes and primitive editing — in other words, enjoyably fun flotsam.
In the theatres and on the video shop self, Vampire Hookers (aka Vampire Hookers of Horror) was found under diverse titles, including Ladies of the Night, Night of the Bloodsuckers, Sensuous Vampires, Graveyard Tramps, Twice Bitten and more — currently, as we write this (18 Jan 21), it can be found on Amazon Prime under its Vampire Playgirls moniker. 
Trailer to
Vampire Hookers:
Over at the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review, which by saying that they "suspect that Vampire Hookers might have been better off as a comedy" reveal the startling fact that they didn't even realize that it is supposed to be a comedy, one finds a quick plot description: "Two US Navy sailors Tom Buckley (Bruce Fairbairn) and Terry Wayne (Trey Wilson [21 Jan 1948 – 16 Jan 1989] of Raising Arizona [1987 / trailer]) are on shore leave in Manila and looking to get laid. Fellow officer Eddie Taylor (Lex Winter) is set up with Cherish (Karen Stride), a beautiful local girl he meets in a bar. She takes him back to her place — a mausoleum in the local cemetery. Waiting there is the aging vampire Richmond Reed* (John Carradine [5 Feb 1906 – 27 Nov 1988] of The Monster Club [1981], Shock Waves [1977], The House of Frankenstein [1944] and so much more) and two other girls [Suzy (Lenka Novak) and Marcy (Katie Dolan)], who proceed to drink Eddie's blood. In trying to find what happened to their friend, Tom and Terry also stumble into the lair of the vampire hookers." 
* Trivia: John Carradine's "real" name, as in the one given to him at birth by his parents, was Richard Reed Carradine. 
"If you thought the nadir of vampire comedies was Freddie Francis' The Vampire Happening (1971 / trailer) or Carl Schenkel's Dracula Blows His Cool (1979 / trailer), then you haven't experienced Vampire Hookers. [...] Carradine entertains himself spouting Shakespeare throughout [and] in between some of the cheesier lines ('Blood is thicker than water' he says when one of his vampire babes says she would prefer a Scotch and water), but I wouldn't call it any more of a dignified performance than Vincent Price in Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984 / trailer). The other actors are hampered by the script ('It's not murder, it's dinner!') with Fairbairn coming across the best as the straight man while Wilson's Texan fraidy cat is grating. [...] The surprise ending will be no surprise to anyone who has seen The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967 / trailer), The Devil's Wedding Night (1973 / trailer) or either of the Count Yorga films (1970 / trailer & 1971 / trailer). The ubiquitous Vic Diaz (29 Jul 1932 – 15 Sept 2006) is once again on hand, here as moronic wannabe-vampire manservant Pavo who spends much time playing vampire — with a burlap sack cape and fake fangs — and farting. [DVD Drive-In]"
But before we here at a wasted life digress and begin rambling, let's look at the music to this film, both the soundtrack and the title track. The only person credited is the prodigious Bolivian-American composer and conductor Jaime Mendoza-Nava (1 Dec 1925 – 31 May 2005), a talented musician behind the music of a multitude of fondly and not-so-fondly remembered trash projects — including the soundtrack (but not the title song) presented in Film Fun: Music from Movies – The Black Klansman (USA, 1966). We would posit that Mendoza-Nava possibly wrote the music to the title track, Vampire Hookers, though the catchy tune has very little stylistic congruency to the composer's normal music. (Likewise, Mendoza-Nava was never known as a lyricist, so it is extremely doubtful that he wrote the fabulously tacky lyrics.) Try as we might, the identity of the singer remains a mystery we could not solve — indeed, online there is almost zero information about the song, which also seems to never to have had a release on vinyl (for which the world is definitely a culturally poorer place). We were able, however, to find the lyrics, which we present further below. 
Closing credits to Vampire Hookers
with the full song (almost):

Lyrics to Vampire Hookers: 
Don't get hooked by a hooker 
When you sail in seven seas 
Even though she's a looker 
She can bring you to your knees. 
She'll take you to the graveyard 
And try to ease your fears, 
But her friends out in the graveyard 
Have been dead for a hundred years.
They're the Vampire Hookers 
Yeah, they're Vampire Hookers 
Well, they're Vampire Hookers 
And blood is not all they suck!
These girls are illusions, 
They slit throats from ear to ear. 
They want you for transfusions, 
They'll never shed a tear. 
They make real Bloody Marys 
And have a grand old time, 
But you'll find out if you visit 
That your life's not worth a dime….
… To those Vampire Hookers 
Yeah, they're Vampire Hookers 
Well, they're Vampire Hookers 
And blood is not all they suck!
So if you meet a hooker 
And she seems so sweet and kind, 
Be careful if you date her, 
Your life may be on the line. 
They're beautiful and sultry 
But they're not what you expect. 
You'll be begging them for mercy 
[As they bite you in the neck 
They're the Vampire Hookers 
Yeah, they're Vampire Hookers, 
Well, they're Vampire Hookers 
and blood is not all they suck! 
But to return to the movie: "[...] Vampire Hookers is a gonzo bit of WTF, where Carradine's pimp bloodsucker makes wild claims like 'Shakespeare and Walt Whitman were both vampires.' Startlingly inept, yet never less than entertaining in that 'what the hell is even going on?' fashion [...]. This is absurdist weirdness of the highest order, peaking with a ten-minute orgy scene where the most titillating aspect is all the tan lines visible on these ladies of the night. [BirthMoviesDeath]"
Of the three titular vampire hookers, Marcy (Katie Dolan) and Cherish (Karen Stride) came from and returned to obscurity with this relatively obscure film, though brunette Karen Stride did do some nude modeling and had negligible to minor appearances in three other even more obscure movies: the blackly funny Runaway Nightmare (1982 / trailer), the lost Stella Stevens vehicle Ladies Night (1983), and Three-Way Weekend (1979). The third vampire hooker, the blonde Suzy (Lenka Novak), does however deserve a second look, if only because she exuded an aura in her few film appearances that indicated that her talent lay not just in the jiggle of her inviting breasts. (We mention her in passing in our Babe of Yesteryear entries Uschi Digard, Part X: 1977 and Marilyn Joi, Part IV: 1977-80.)
Lenka Novak — that's her above on the cover of the Dec 78 issue of Oui magazine — had a very brief career before disappearing, but she is remembered by many for her absolutely unforgettable appearance in the classic "Catholic High School Girls In Trouble" skit found in Kentucky Fried Movie (1977 / trailer), the skit we look at in both Babe of Yesteryear entries mentioned above. She has an un-credited appearance in some of the footage Al Adamson shot and added to Käpt'n Rauhbein aus St. Pauli (1971 / a song) to make Nurses for Sale (trailer), a film we glance at in R.I.P. Heinz Reincke and Janine Reynaud, Part II – 1969-2000, but alongside Vampire Hookers, all her major credited film appearances happened between 77 & 79:  Moonshine County Express (1977 / trailer), Coach (1978 / trailer) and, credited as Hana Byrbo, The Great American Girl Robbery (1979 / trailer), the last of which is also looked at in Marilyn Joi, Part IV: 1977-80. But then, Ms. Novak disappeared… until 1988, when she suddenly reappeared one last time for a small part in the unknown horror comedy, Slaughterhouse Rock (1988 / trailer) and then disappeared again.
To the common knowledge reiterated above, we might add: Prior to Lenka Novak's short film career, as Olivia Paddon (and occasionally Olivia Elliot or Lonka Berova) she was extremely active in Europe as what would now be considered an often under-age glamour model. (The collection of 50 different cover appearances was found at Vintage Erotica.) Boobepedia lists her place of birth as Shrewsbury, UK, but most other sites say she is of Scandinavian origin. In 2019, JR-Sploitation was nice enough to claim: "Lenka is still alive and well and residing in the Los Angeles area. She is a very active person and enjoys the outdoors, traveling and hiking. She is 62 years old now and was from Sweden originally. She started her career off as a nude model over in Europe [...]. This was several years before her Playboy appearance and was also in several other US nudie mags such as Oui and Juggs. She got married at the end of the 80s and started a family afterwards and decided to drop out of the public spotlight."
Anyways, should you ever get around to actually watching Vampire Hookers and find yourself liking it, then let us briefly draw your attention to the film's scriptwriter Howard R. Cohen (12 Aug 1942 – 3 Apr 1999). He went on to write and direct diverse films of greater and lesser non-note, including a guilty pleasure of ours, the more funny than it deserves to be if not downright quaint PG-rated horror comedy Saturday the 14th (1981 / trailer); a film we think sucks, Space Raiders (1983); and a breast-centric cult-film fav, Barbarian Queen (1985 / trailer). (The last film, you might recall, features the actress Lana Jean Clarkson [5 Apr 1962 – 3 Feb 2003], whose star was already fading when she met her tragic end at the wrong side of Phil Spector's gun.) At the same time that Cohen & Santiago made Vampire Hookers, they also joined forces to make the cult samurai Blaxploitation film, Death Force (1978). Both VH & DF were shown together as a double bill at more than one low-rent movie house (which is perhaps why Vinegar Syndrome combined them for a double DVD release in 2013). 
Trailer to
Death Force (1978):
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