Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Film Fun: Music from Movies – The Devil in Miss Jones (USA, 1973)

(Before the music, the film.) The title of this film, The Devil in Miss Jones, is of course a direct play upon the then (in 1973) 33-year-older Oscar-nominated (for best supporting actor and best original screenplay) comedy, The Devil and Miss Jones (1941 / full movie), starring Jean Arthur (17 Oct 1900 – 19 Jun 1991, of Shane [1953 / trailer]), the white supremacist Charles Douville Coburn (19 Jun 1877 – 30 Aug 1961), and methamphetamine addict Robert Cummings (9 Jun 1910 – 2 Dec 1990, of What a Way to Go! [1964 / trailer]).
Needless to say, the respective two Devil films have absolutely nothing in common.
9.3 sexless minutes of
The Devil in Miss Jones:
Way back in 2013, we took a look at The Devil in Miss Jones in the course of our R.I.P. Career Review of Harry Reems (Part III: 1973-74), where we really didn't look at the music at all. Back then, we wrote:
"Nowadays, the reigning form of pornographic film is extremely insipid and ruled primarily by HD unnatural, hairless bodies of plastic perfection pumping away tirelessly after the minimum possible setting of a plot situation. (Example: A naked man and woman meet in the bushes of a nudist camp and look in the direction of beyond the camera. She: 'Hey! That's my husband with that woman over there!' He: 'And that's my wife he's screwing!' She: 'Should we get even with them?' He: 'Yes. Let's fuck, too.' She: 'OK.' They pump away for 30 minutes.)
"But once upon a time, in the days of Porno Chic and before the dawn of video, pornography was a bit different. Yes, there were the plotless loops and hand-helpers for the raincoat crowd, but there were also those who saw the sex film as a viable genre with a future and actually tried to make sex an aspect of the film and not the only thing of the film. (Those are the filmmakers that made sex films like this one, in which the plot was integral to the story and the events shown, including the carnal activities that were actually the film's true drawing card.)
"It was a view shared, if but for a short time, by the press and critics, as can be seen by the serious reviews of films like this one that were found in publications such as Variety ('With The Devil in Miss Jones, the hard-core porno feature approaches an art form, one that critics may have a tough time ignoring in the future') or written by critics such as Roger Ebert ('The Devil in Miss Jones is maybe a three-star dirty movie. It's the best hard-core porno film I've seen, and although I'm not a member of the raincoat brigade, I have seen the highly touted productions like Deep Throat and It Happened in Hollywood [see Harry Reems, Part III].')
"That the public of the time likewise viewed the porn film as a viable genre can be seen by it reception: as the tenth most successful film of 1973, just behind Paper Moon (trailer) and Live and Let Die (trailer), it earned $15 million at the U.S. box office. Not surprising, actually, that much like films such as Die Hard (1988 / trailer) or Batman (1989 / trailer) have spawned untold sequels and reboots, The Devil in Miss Jones has suffered five screen and/or direct-to-video sequels — The Devil in Miss Jones Part II (1982), The Devil in Miss Jones 3: A New Beginning (1986 / scene), The Devil in Miss Jones 4: The Final Outrage (1986), The Devil in Miss Jones 5: The Inferno (1995), The Devil in Miss Jones 6 (1999) and more — not to mention unofficial versions such as Erwin C. Dietrich's Der Teufel in Miss Jonas (1974 / full NSFW movie) and his 'sequel', Was geschah wirklich mit Miss Jonas? (1976 / full NSFW movie) or real remakes like The New Devil in Miss Jones (2005).
"And, interestingly enough, a gay porn film entitled The Devil and Mr Jones (1974), which we refer to in Harry Reems, Part X, writing (among other things): 'Plot to The Devil and Mr. Jones: "Young Buck commits suicide and is tested to decide if he should go to Heaven or Hell. [Gay Erotic Video Index]" Somewhere along the way, someone gets fisted with a studded glove.'
"But let's return to the 1973 version, Gerard Damiano's follow-up to Meatball (1972) [Harry Reems, Part II], in which the filmmaker went a different route and dumped excessive goofy comedy for a serious if not slightly downbeat dramatic plot and ended up creating another acknowledged classic of the Golden Age. (Roger Ebert: 'The hard-core stuff aside, they maintain a very nice, moody, even poignant atmosphere that's a relief after all the frantic fun-seeking of Miss Lovelace and colleagues. [...] This is the first porno movie I've seen that actually seems to be about its leading character — instead of merely using her as the object of sexual variations.')
"The plot, as explained on numerous websites: 'Justine Jones (Georgina Spelvin of Al Adamson's Girls for Rent [1974 / trailer] and Wakefield Poole's Bible! [1974 / scene]), a spinster in her early thirties, takes her life — not because of anything that happened to her but rather because nothing ever happened to her. Each day a void, a nothingness, piled up on the nothingness of the day before. Confronted by the devil (John Clemens) and faced with spending an eternity in hell, she imposes the hypothetical premise: If I had my life to live over, I would live a life filled... engulfed... consumed by lust!!! This sets in motion a series of erotic encounters that reach far beyond the range of human experiences — an in-depth study of sexual behavior that transcends the norm and blooms into a true from of erotic art.' They fail to mention the rather depressing and ironic ending of the movie... Harry Reems appears as 'The Teacher', the man who helps school Miss Jones upon her return to earth."
But to get to the music. The soundtrack to The Devil in Miss Jones was composed by the relatively unknown industry stalwart, the Boston-born songwriter and composer Alden Shuman (14 Nov 1924 – 3 May 2002), and as far as we can tell, it is the only feature-film soundtrack he ever composed. Amidst all the instrumental compositions Alden Schuman composed for The Devil in Miss Jones, he refitted the composition I'm Coming Home and added lyrics written with his brother Earl Schuman (2 Aug 1923 – 13 Feb 2019) to come up the MOR theme song likewise entitled I'm Coming Home. As sung by then 29-year-old Linda November (photo above from 1963), a once very busy background and advertisement-jingle singer, the song is an underappreciated and unjustly overlooked easy listening masterpiece, delectably tender and depressing, waiting for rediscovery. (It's only flaw is that the only versions we can find of it are all too short.) For whatever reason, Linda November was credited neither on the credits nor the LP release for her vocals — a common occurrence, once upon a time, for studio singers. 
I'm Coming Home 
sung by Linda November:
Once upon a time, Linda [Ellen] November was known as the "Jingle Queen": it is estimated that she may have sung on around 22,000 different jingles (including this one). During the mid-60s to the mid-70s, she was a busy background singer, and her vocals are found on such tunes as Frank Sinatra's The World We Knew (1967), B.J. Thomas's Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head (1969), and Gloria Gaynor's version of I've Got You under My Skin (1976). She was also one of the four female vocalists for the disco flash-in-the-pan Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps and is heard on their charting version of Baby Face (1976).
More interestingly, she was one of the original vocalists supplying the female vocals on the hit songs Candida (1970) and Knock Three Times (1971) by the group Dawn. (When the studio band Dawn subsequently became the touring band Tony Orlando and Dawn, singers Telma Hopkins [of Trancers (1984 / trailer) and Trancers II (1991 / trailer — see R.I.P. Richard Lynch)] and Joyce Vincent Wilson took over the singing chores. Nevertheless, the original versions still feature November's vocals.) During the last quarter of the 20th century, she was also worked regularly as a lounge singer in Atlantic City. In 2001, she and her husband Artie Schroeck moved to Las "Why?" Vegas, where she now lives in semi-retirement. 
Alden Shuman —
The Devil in Miss Jones: 

Alden Schuman's instrumental soundtrack to The Devil in Miss Jones is anything but the deliciously funky grooves found in most Golden Age porn, though some typical disco and/or funk tones and sounds occasionally wave their hand (for example, in the background piece The Teacher). For the most part, the music is an immensely listenable selection of mostly subdued and melancholic piano-driven pieces (for a very small group of musicians) that could easily come from some tearjerker Hollywood drama or love story — and not necessarily a B-production. It is a truly excellent soundtrack, one which works as effectively and affectively touching music on its own. Were it not the soundtrack to a porn movie, albeit a "serious" movie of the genre, it might well have become a classic contemporary soundtrack.
SFW trailer to the remake (2005):
Though Boston-born, Alden Shuman and his lyricist brother Earl were both based in New York City, and it is perhaps this proximity to fellow New Yorker, director Gerard Damiano that led to Shuman getting contracted for the soundtrack. Why he didn't get more such jobs after this one is a mystery, and arguably a possible loss.
The title track, btw, is not the only time Alden Shuman worked together with his songwriter brother, Earl Shuman. Indeed, as far back in the late 1950s the two of them, together with the Marshall Brown (21 Dec 1920 – 13 Dec 1983), wrote the C&W standard Seven Lonely Days. (Other, possibly less important compositions include Chuck & Bill's prime rockabilly tune Way Out There [1957] and the Sammy Kaye ear-grater The Banjo's Back in Town.) 
Patsy Cline singing
Seven Lonely Days:
(For a hilariously terrible disco version, go here.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Night of the Vampires / Cave of the Living Dead (Germany / Yugoslavia, 1964)

Warning: extreme verbosity ahead! 
Filmed as Der Fluch der grünen Augen ("The Curse of the Green Eyes"), the title was changed a slightly more logical Cave of the Living Dead for its UK release and, when Brit-born horror-film producer and financier Richard Gordon (31 Dec 1925 – 1 Nov 2011) brought it to the US, the equally appropriate Night of the Vampires. (In the States, Gordon released the movie as part of a double-bill with the unknown Antonio Boccaci's lone directorial effort, Tomb of Torture a.k.a. Metempsycho [1963 / trailer].)
Whence the German "Green Eyes" title is derived is a bit unfathomable when watching the English-speaking dub: firstly, the film is in B&W so nary a green eye is ever seen, and secondly, never once in any of the dubbed dialogue is there a reference to green eyes. (To black skin, yes; to green eyes, no.) Perhaps that is different in the original German version of the movie, which is what we would have preferred to view, but, unluckily, the only free-viewing version we could find online, at YouTube, was Cave of the Living Dead. (Having seen this film in English as a wee pre-peach fuzz lad, we thought we would give it another go.) 
Full film:
Somewhere out there on the web, there is a terse, krimi-appropriate plot description that misses half the point of the film: "The police inspector tracks down the killer responsible for the deaths of seven young girls." Yep, there's an inspector out to solve the mystery of who's killing the girls, but Cave of the Living Dead quickly turns into what the film's title implies: a vampire movie.
Oddly enough, for a long time vampires were not exactly a popular topic for German cinema. Oddly, we say, because when it comes to film history, the vampire genre seems to have first popped its fangs within the German-speaking world. The early pioneering film-makers Richard Oswald* (5 Nov 1880 – 11 Sept 1963) and Arthur Robison** (25 June 1883 – 20 Oct 1935), for example, made the lost silent Nächte des Grauens / A Night of Horror (1916), which allegedly*** was the first film to ever feature a vampire-like character. Six years later, the great and now skull-less F. W. Murnau (8 Dec 1888 – 11 March 1931) made the first true masterpiece of the vampire film, Nosferatu (1922 / faux trailer / full film). And just as the sound era was germinating, the Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer (3 Feb 1889 – 20 Mar 1968) made, as a German/French co-production, the beautifully surreal masterpiece Vampyr**** (1932 / trailer / full film). One would assume that with such an illustrious start of the genre in the German-speaking countries, the genre would see at least an occasional revival in them, but: Nope. After Vampyr, nothing for 32 full years, until the normally rather pedestrian Hungarian director and screenwriter Ákos Ráthonyi (26 Mar 1908 – 6 Jan 1969) — the noble "von" that he was apt to use was apparently an affection — made this odd B&W semi-krimi cum horror film here.*****
* Richard Oswald was the director of the seminal Anders als die Andern a.k.a. Different from the Others (1919 / scene / full surviving film) and other fun stuff like both versions of Unheimliche Geschichten, a.k.a. Uncanny Tales (1919 / full film) and The Living Dead (1932 / full film), Hoffmanns Erzählungen / Tales of Hoffmann (1916 / full film), Graf Cagliostro / Cagliostro (1929 / full film), the sci-fi eugenics drama Alraune (1930 / trailer / full film) and so much more. Like Dr. Bessels Verwandlung a.k.a The Transformation of Dr. Bessel (1927), which we mention only to have an excuse to embed below the absolutely fabulous poster from its original release.
** The filmography of Arthur Robison is not as long as that of Oswald, possibly due to his early death at the age of 52, but he did make the undisputed Expressionist masterpiece Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination a.k.a. Warning Shadows (1923 / full film), the first version of The Informer (1929 / clip), and the sound remake of The Student of Prague (1935 / full film). 
*** To simply quote Filmsite: "Allegedly, the earliest significant vampire feature film (although a lost film) was director Arthur Robison's German silent film Nachte des Grauens (1916), aka Night of Terror, featuring a strange, vampire-like character. Some sources disagreed and described the vampire as a costumed ape-man ('Artist kills all rivals in his role as ape man')." 
**** And, to extent, a vanity project. Not Dreyer's vanity, but that of the French-born, gay Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg (12 Dec 1904 – 20 Feb 1981), who agreed to finance the film only if he could star in it. Vampyr is, in any event, one of the best and most beautiful horror movies ever made. Watch it now. 
***** We wouldn't bet an arm on it, but Der Fluch der grünen Augen might actually be only the third post-WW2 German horror film, possibly only preceded by the 1958 financial success and cult favorite, The Head a.k.a. Die Nackte und der Satan (trailer / full film) and the enjoyable disasterpiece that is Ein Töter Hing  im Netz (1960) a.k.a. Horrors of Spider Island (1962). Literally translated, BTW, the German title of The Head is "The Nude and the Devil" and, of Horrors of Spider Island, "A Corpse Hanging in the Web".
As a film-maker, going by his films we have seen, Ákos Ráthonyi was hardly the world's most creative director. Indeed, his singular Edgar Wallace krimi, 1961's The Devil's Daffodil (with Joachim Fuchsberger & Christopher Lee), is arguably one of the worst of the 32 Rialto Wallace krimis, albeit one of the most financially successful of the B&W Wallace films. (And, for the trivia-minded, it is the only B&W Rialto Wallace not to feature Eddi Arendt [5 May 1925 - 28 May 2013] in the cast.) Perhaps the financial success of that production is what led Ráthonyi to co-produce and co-author and direct Der Fluch der grünen Augen, the title of which not only very much in the style of the German krimi titles of the time but is, as already mentioned, an odd amalgamation of the krimi genre with the vampire film.
In a notable foreshadowing of where director Ráthonyi's directorial career was to go — namely, into the realm of German T&A sexploitation with St. Pauli Herbertstrasse (1965 / about Herbertstrasse), Jungfrau aus zweiter Hand not a.k.a. Second-hand Virgin (1967), Der nächste Herr, dieselbe Dame not a.k.a. The Next Man, the Same Woman (1968), and Zieh dich aus, Puppe a.k.a. Take Off Your Clothes, Doll (1968) — Der Fluch der grünen Augen includes an extremely gratuitous, if enjoyable, strip-for-bed scene by the film's shapely lead female character, the intelligent Maria (Karin Field*), who shows not only a lot of skin and some sexy black matching undergarments but extensive side-boobage. Later, during the final scenes of the movie, she even runs around with the front of her blouse ripped open displaying her black bra. Not exactly that common in "respectable" films of the time.
* It should perhaps be noted here that for some odd reason, most online [current, as on 15 Aug 2021] sources confuse the lead females and female characters of the movie. Karin Field does NOT play the character Karin Schumann; she plays Maria, the assistant to the Professor. Likewise, the actress Erika Remberg (15 Feb 1932 – 10 Nov 2017), who's also found in the Circus of Horrors (1960 / trailer) and Radley Metzger's The Lickerish Quartet (1970 / trailer), does NOT play Maria but, rather, Karin Schumann.
Here at a wasted life, we cannot help but wonder what happened to Karin Field, who made her film debut in this movie and went on to a litany of noteworthy sleaze and cult projects — e.g., Franco's The Demons (1973 / trailer) and Alone Against Terror (1983 / full film no subs, with Lina Romay); Web of the Spider (1971 / trailer), Antonio Margheriti's remake of his own earlier film, Castle of Blood (1964); the infamous Victor Bruno vehicle, The Mad Butcher (1971 / trailer); the fun Wallace krimi Der Bucklige von Soho aka The Hunchback of Soho (1966 / trailer); Rolf Olsen's exploitative Das Rasthaus der grausamen Puppen (1967 / trailer); the unknown Legend of Horror (1971 / trailer); the gag-inducing Heintje, Ein Herz geht auf Reisen (1969, with Heinz Reincke) Radley Metzger's The Alley Cats (1966 / trailer); Target Frankie (1967) with Joachim Fuchsberger, Schwarzer Markt der Liebe (1966 / trailer) and the cheesy Erotik im Beruf – Was jeder Personalchef gern verschweigt a.k.a. Sex in the Office (1971 / full film). Enquiring minds want to know: Whatever happened to Karin Field?
With a typically bopping krimi soundtrack playing in the background — composed by the forgotten German film composer Herbert Jarczyk (10 Feb 1913 – 21 Oct 1968) — Insp. Frank Doran (Adrian Hoven*), a compulsive flirt with an eye for women, arrives at the distant, backwaters village where the gals are a-dying. No sooner there than does he promptly meets the attractive Molly (Karen Field), the assistant to the mysterious Professor von Adelsberg (Wolfgang Preiss** [27 Feb 1910 – 27 Nov 2002]) and books a room in an inn where, that same night, Gal #7 (Erika Remberg) dies. Frank promptly runs into idiot local cops, stone-walling villagers, stone-walling red herrings like the village doctor (Carl Möhner [11 Aug 1921 – 14 Jan 2005] of Rififi [1955/ trailer],  She Devils of the SS [1973 / trailer],  Swinging Wives [1971 / trailer],  Don Sharp's Callan [1974], Radley Metzger's  Carmen, Baby [1967 / trailer], and the Jerry Cotton flick Death and Diamonds [1968 / full film]) and the mute Thomas (Emmerich Schrenk [2 Nov 1915 - 2 Oct 1988] of They're Too Much [1965 w/ Walter Giller]), not to mention the less obvious red herring of John (John Kitzmiller [4 Dec 1913 – 3 Feb 1965], see Uncle Tom's Cabin at Babe of Yesteryear Marilyn Joi, Part III or RIP Herbert Lom), the Black servant of the Professor. Throughout the film John has to deal with a lot of overt and semi-overt racism,*** and if he initially appears to be a possible tool of evil, he quickly reveals himself to be a somewhat simple, hapless person and trusted ally who is willing to overcome his own fears to lend a helping hand. (If you want to see some truly unbelievable overt and semi-overt racism as expressed in German genre films of the time, dare we suggest the non-Rialto Wallace krimi The Avenger [1960]?) It is a bit of a shame, however, that for all the importance Kitzmiller's character ends up having — he saves Frank at one point, and even stops an attacking female vampire later — his persona, for most of the film, is very much a Mantan Moreland (3 Sept 1902 – 28 Sept 1973) homage.
* For some odd reason, as manly as his character is supposed to be in the movie, Adrian Hoven (18 May 1922 – 28 April 1981) set off our gaydar alarm in this movie, but seeing that in real life he was married three times it would seem our 'dar is not as reliable as it used to be. Hoven, an Austrian actor, producer and film director, had his fingers in the pie of many an interesting slice of Eurotrash, including: Mark of the Devil (1970, with Herbert Lom) & Mark of the Devil Part II (1973); Franco's Succubus (1968), Two Undercover Angels (1969) & Kiss Me Monster (1969), all with Janine Reynaud; The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried (1971), co-directed by David FriedmanCastle of the Creeping Flesh (1968, with Janine Reynaud), the boobs in the jungle flick, Liane: Die Weisse Sklavin a.k.a. Nature Girl and the Slaver (1961 / full film); the hilariously awful Die Insel der Amazonen a.k.a. Seven Daring Girls (1960 / 8 minutes);  the wanna-be Wallace krimi with Schlagermusik, Das Rätsel der grünen Spinne a.k.a. The Mystery of the Green Spider (1960 / title track); the Wallace krimi Secret of the Red Orchid (1960 / trailer) and so much more.... 
** Wolfgang Preiss is, of course, familiar from films such as The Boys from Brazil [1978 / trailer], the Bryan Edgar Wallace flick The Mad Executioners [1963 / trailer], the cult fave Mill of Stone Women / Drops of Blood [1960 / full movie]), but the regular role that perhaps has kept his face most familiar to the folks that watch the type of movies that we here at a wasted life do is the titular role of the evil genius in Fritz Lang's The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960 / trailer) and all the subsequent sequels, The Return of Dr. Mabuse (1961 / full movie), The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962 / scenes), The Terror of Doctor Mabuse (1962) and Dr. Mabuse vs. Scotland Yard (1963 / trailer). In that sense, his penultimate feature-film appearance in Chabrol's miserable Dr. M [1990] is very much an homage to his most famous role.
Like so many krimis, the criminologist aspects of the movie are a joke. Evidence is treated cavalierly or dropped from the plot (e.g., the tube of poison blood that is so hard to get but then is tossed onto a table and never looked at again), logical behavior is lacking (e.g., the local police's acceptance of Frank's position simply from a letter he gives them, the thoughtlessness with which he leaves valuable equipment overnight in an unlocked car, and Frank's boss's total refusal to send assistance because it'll wake up the media), women are there primarily to flirt with in the most unsubtle manner, and very little actual detecting is done. (And for being a confirmed urbanite, Frank sure accepts the concept of vampires easily. Must have been the babes dancing in the cooking fire of the local witch [Vida Juvan (17 Jun 1905 – 4 Oct 1998)].) Likewise, the behavior of Molly is less than believable: she likes to take nighttime walks alone despite the deaths of six local girls, she displays remarkable aplomb when confronted with the Professor's lack of reflection and his ability to open locked doors, and is even willing to go wandering deep in the cavernous catacombs at his request despite knowing he ain't kosher.
And let's not forget the vampires. Although there are photos out there showing a line of coffins each occupied by a female vampire in black, in the version we saw that particular image never shows up. The main vampire presence throughout the movie, after the appearance of the first masked vamp, is the undead Karin Schumann. Once, she is accompanied by a second vampirette, but in theory there must be a grand total of seven floating around looking for lunch — so why don't any of them feed? Up until Molly gets attacked, they display a remarkable restraint and only ever go after one other person, Frank (and fail). And while they, like normal, fall into a comatose-like sleep during the day, in a rare exception to the current lore (admittedly as established by the film Nosferatu and not literature), the vampires appear impervious to sunlight: when they retrieve the undead Karen sleeping at the bottom of a dry well, nothing happens when they carry her through the sun-lit street to the morgue.
Considering how many Euro-vampire flicks had already hit the market by the time this movie got released — Hammer Films, anyone? — Cave of the Living Dead is pretty retro even for 1964. It eschews color and gore for little more than two dots on the neck and B&W shadows and contrasts. To the advantage of the film, it must be said, for the at times almost silent-film-like appearance of the movie gives it an added appeal that helps to glide over the movie's numerous continuity, narrative and logical flaws. The first attack of the vampire, a foreboding of which already arises when Karen loses her crucifix, is truly effective: the looming shadow against the house, the clawed hands rising to the window, the way the attacker seems to simply float into the room — there are "good" horror films out there that don't have a sequence as effective as this. An interesting, almost imperceptible aspect of the film is how everyone in the film who is alive almost always has clouds of moisture appear in front of their mouths when they speak due to the coldness of the setting; this condensation is never seen by the Professor or the undead. And while Molly does eventually take on the role as the damsel in distress, both before and later she displays an independent streak and bravery that is an enjoyable change from the milquetoast madchen typical of most horror films of the day and before.
All in all, Cave of the Living Dead is far more an enjoyable film than it is a good one. It will surely appeal to the child within you, if not to the adult fan of somewhat tacky Eurotrash films that you are now. Give it a go — hell, you can watch it for free on YouTube, so why not?
Lastly, an appeal to the masses: Anyone know the name of the artist that did the illustrations (example above) used for the opening credit sequence?

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Short Film: Le Balayeur (France, 1990)

Thank you, boing boing, for leading us to a forgotten animated short from the past: the first short film of the Frenchman Serge Elissalde (born 30 July 1962 in Besançon, Doubs, France). The English title is generally The Streetsweeper.
The plot, as supplied at imdb: "A crotchety streetsweeper keeps his street clear of dirt and dust, and of people and cars. He pushes them down a drain hole along with the trash. Then, a small child appeals to him when her ball rolls down her drain. He goes to work, fishing out all that he's shoved in, in search of the ball. But success with helping someone brings new problems."
Serge Elissalde's
Le Balayeur:
Like Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions (USA, 1991), our Short Film of the Month for August 2012, Le Balayeur was screened long ago on MTV's Liquid Television. If you know/knew that show, "Then you probably also remember when MTV was good — which almost makes you one old fart, to say the least. But for those of you who don't know what Liquid Television was, it was an 'animation showcase' that appeared regularly on MTV (and BBC 2) in the 1990s that featured all sorts of fun original 'alternative' cartoons and short films, some of which — Beavis and Butt-head and Æon Flux, for example — went on to spawn their own series and/or movies."
Le Balayeur was a one shot, Serge Elissalde was not; he has gone onto a successful career in film and is still kicking around...
Enjoy his short, and try not to lets the questionable visual depiction of the streetsweeper himself turn you off. The short is a product of a time when even someone like the great Grace Jones saw nothing wrong with a music video like the one to Slave to the Rhythm, which was cut primarily from previously released commercials.
Grace Jones –
Slave to the Rhythm:

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Terror Tract (USA, 2000)

An anthology film set in upper middle-class suburban America, involving a real estate agent (John Ritter [17 Sept 1948 – 11 Sept 2003] of Bride of Chucky [1998], Stay Tuned  [1992 / trailer], Americathon [1979 / trailer], The Other  [1972 / trailer] and I Woke Up Early the Day I Died [1998 / trailer]) who, while showing houses to a young newlywed couple, Alan (David DeLuise) and Mary Doyle (Allison Smith  of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday [1993 / trailer]), reveals the secret story of each abode. (The Law, in CA: "[A]ny death on a property [peaceful or otherwise] needs to be disclosed if it occurred within the last three years. The seller must also disclose any known death in the home if the buyer asks. [realtor.com]") The result is three tales of mild EC-like terror and an entertaining wrap-around segment that is, in the end, the best and funniest segment of the movie. All segments were written by Clint Hutchison, who later wrote and directed The Conjurer (2008 / trailer) but seems to have since left the biz; the directorial chores for Terror Tract, however, he shared with Lance W. Dreesen, who went on to do the cheesy werewolf tale Big Bad Wolf (2006 / trailer) and some Christian propaganda flick. 
Trailer to
Terror Tract:
For some inexplicable reason, Terror Tract won a variety of genre film festival awards, including Best Feature at the 2002 Shriekfest and the Audience Award at the 2001 Award Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film (BIFFF). "Inexplicable" not because the anthology film is all that terrible, but because it really isn't all that special. It is a passably entertaining, if flawed, evening's distraction, but the three core stories are as predictable as day and night.
As mentioned, the wrap-around sequence is lots of fun: the film starts with an ironic progression of scenes, from earthworm to the scene in an automobile's rear-view mirror, and closes with a wild ride of escape from suburban hell which, combined, come across a bit as if they were directed by a David Lynch with a sense of humor. Had the three main stories within displayed half as much wit, Terror Tract would truly be noteworthy as a black comedy.
The last and best main segment, Come to Granny, is likewise effective enough, even if it does suffer, much like the other two preceding main segments, Nightmare and Bobo, from an excess of predictability. Unlike those two episodes, however, the characters of Come to Granny at least all react believably to their respective situations and the main women, Dr. Helen Corey (Brenda Strong of Starship Troopers [1997 / trailer]) and eye-candy girlfriend Jasmine (Shonda Farr of A Couple of Days and Nights [2005 / trailer] and Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman [2000 / trailer]) manage to infuse their respective characters with a bit more realistic personality than the almost generic female characters (namely, cheating wife and loving wife) of the other two episodes. The narrative concerns a young man, Sean Goodwin (Will Estes of May [2002 / trailer] and Magic Valley [2011 / trailer]) who wakes up one day to discover he has some sort of mysterious link to the bloodthirsty Granny Killer that allows him to see the maniac's next murder before it happens. He seeks out a psychiatrist, Dr. Corey, for help, but she begins to suspect that he himself might actually be the killer...
While Come to Granny does manage to establish a certain level of tension and unease, Nightmare and Bobo, the preceding segments, do not. And while the segments in general might display a dash of humor here and there, and even a certain amount of horror, neither shines.
The worst of all segments is undoubtedly the first, Nightmare, wherein a cheating trophy wife (Rachel York) and her stud muffin (Carmine Giovinazzo) are caught by her sadistic husband (Fredric Lehne of Man's Best Friend [1993 / trailer]) and, in the process of barely managing to save their own lives, kill him. She swoons and has nightmares while stud muffin disposes of the body, unluckily with some sorely needed car keys. Two or three nightmares (of the return of the waterlogged, undead husband) later, the predictable end ensues, lightly spiced with indications that maybe the hubby returned after all. The tale works well all the way up until the husband is dead, after which the brainlessness of the two survivors makes you want to see them dead. The preference to dispose of the body instead of taking advantage of the amount of evidence within the bedroom that would prove that the cheating lovers were caught in a kill or be killed situation reveals a stupidity that is echoed again and again in all their actions throughout the rest of the segment, a segment that is most memorable for the insufferable performance of Rachel York as the weak-willed, milquetoast trophy wife who in no way would ever be capable of maintaining a mask of innocence and ignorance even if she hadn't been hung out to dry in the final scene.
Bobo almost manages to charm its way into the viewers heart simply because of the presence of a then still relatively unknown actor named Bryan Cranston (of Drive [2011 / trailer], Isle of Dogs [2018 / trailer] and Dead Space [1991 / film]). The plot is basically Bryan Cranstan (or, to be exact, his character, lawyer Ron Gatley) verses a homicidal monkey. About the only things that were unexpected in the narrative are his decisions: 1) not to share the news that the monkey killed the dog with his one-note-character of a loving wife Carol (Jodi Harris), and 2) to bury the body of the seriously over-killed animal catcher (Marcus "Buff" Bagwell of Day of the Warrior [1996 / trailer], L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies: Return to Savage Beach [1998 / trailer] and 4:Go [2017 / trailer]) — Ron obviously did not believe in his own capabilities as a lawyer. The tale is tragic but predictable to the end, and not helped any by the shrill performance of the bratty daughter Jennifer (Rye of Cahoots [2001 / traihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53FrDqoyPecler]).
One cannot fault the direction, as both directors display a clear understanding of how to structure a shot and keep the visuals interesting. Likewise, but for the previously mentioned exceptions, most of the acting is pretty good. (Indeed, even characters with as little presence as Loving Wife Carol are at least natural and not "acting".) The biggest flaw is simply that the stories themselves never truly shine, and it is hard to truly get involved with a tale in which the ending is foreseeable from the start. The soundtrack is also a bit schizo: Terror Tract opens and closes with an overly orchestrated, bombastic score that feels immensely out of place, but luckily the music becomes less overt and in your face during the movie itself.
So, is Terror Tract worth watching? Well, the first segment, Nightmare, definitely isn't, while the wraparound definitely is. The remaining two segments, though flawed, are entertaining enough that one's time does not seem wasted. So, sure, give it a go if you don't have to pay for it. Otherwise, perhaps you would do better to seek out some past, better anthology classic that you have yet to see. There are, after all, so many of them out there.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (USA, 1965)

"The year: 2020. The moon has been explored and colonized and the next space goal is about to be reached – the first landing by man on the planet Venus. Scientists profoundly hope that life, similar to that on Earth, may be found on this planet where so many physical conditions are like our own. Three rocket ships of an international expedition – the Sirius, Vega and Capella, after having successfully traveled 200 million miles are in the final stages of their journey..."
Fan-made Trailer to
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet:

Well, when it comes to Venus having "so many physical conditions are like our own", global warming hasn't gotten that far yet, though it surely shall. Dunno when the fact that Venus is hot and barren became general knowledge, but this flick sticks to the There's-Life-On-Venus motif that previously led to such fine (?) pulp fiction like Edgar Rice Burrough's anemic Carson Napier of Venus series.
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet enjoys some minor infamy and cult appreciation for what it is: a bottom of the barrel Roger Corman-produced repackaging of a Russian film featuring new scenes with a slumming Basil Rathbone (13 June 1892 – 21 July 1967) and semi-slumming Faith Domergue* (16 June 1924 or 1925 – 4 April 1999). Although some claim that the original 1962 Russian film, Planeta Bur (or "Планета Бурь") is a good film — Re: Rockets from Russia: great Eastern Bloc science-fiction films — our guess is that while it might work better as a whole, the original film is probably just as turgid.
* Ms. Domergue — above, not from this film — a Howard Hughes "discovery" at Sweet 15, is probably best remembered today as a Howard Hughes discovery (a relationship she cast light upon in her 1972 bio My Life with Howard Hughes) or as a scream queen with some notable B-films to her name. The difficulties of the production Vendetta (1950 / not the Italian poster below), the film that Hughes made to make her name, are legendary, but neither that flop nor Where Danger Lives (1950 / trailer) made her an A-star. Those of us from the days of local Creature Feature shows remember her from B classics like This Island Earth (1955 / trailer), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, see: Ray Harryhausen), Cult of the Cobra (1955 / trailer) and The Atomic Man (1955 / trailer). The end of her "illustrious" career included Eurotrash like Lucio Fulci's One on Top of the Other a.k.a. Perversion Story (1969 / trailer) and Alberto De Martino's The Man with Icy Eyes (1971 / music) as well as simple states-side trash like Blood Legacy (1971 / trailer), Psycho Sisters (1974 / trailer) and The House of Seven Corpses (1974 / trailer).
For this Roger Corman release, which never even hit the theatres but went straight to television, Corman pulled in the young filmmaker Curtis Harrington** (17 Sept 1926 – 6 May 2007) — his only previous feature credit then being the idiosyncratic Night Tide (1961 / full film) — to reshoot some scenes with the previously mentioned West Bloc "stars". Rathbone, along with the sets he appears on and the clothing he wears, was pulled over from Harrington's other concurrent Corman-produced re-cut of a Russian film, Queen of Blood (1966 / trailer). This film here, however, was possibly the deepest point in Rathbone's career until 1967's Hillbillys in a Haunted House (trailer), which is arguably at least a bit more psychotronically fun than Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet.
** Harrington came from an art-film background, as can still be noticed in Night Tide, and went on to do a variety of oddly entertaining feature films, including Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971 / trailer / co-written by Jimmy Sangster), What's the Matter with Helen? (1971 / trailer / with Yvette Vickers), The Killing Kind (1973 / trailer) and the original (as in not credited to Allan Smithee) version of Ruby (1977 / trailer), as well as some "classic" TV horror films, How Awful about Allen (1970 / full film), Killer Bees (1974 / full film) and Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978 / trailer / with R.G. Armstrong).
As for Faith Domergue, one can only assume the paycheck was good because even for her career her shot-in-half-a-day scenes in Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet are a notable deep point, as is her general appearance in the movie: her extremely uncomplimentary hairstyle, which looks much more like a motorcycle helmet than hair, pretty much negates any possibility of recognizing her once-smoldering beauty. Harrington, in any event, was so proud of his work on this film that his film credit is "Written and Directed by John Sebastian". (The ever-popular "Alan Smithee" only gained use in 1969 with Death of a Gunfighter [trailer].)
But to get to the film, which supposedly more or less follows the exact plotline of the original Soviet version, but with Faith Domergue's character "Marsha" replacing Kyunna Ignatova's "Masha" and the addition of Rathbone's phoned-in Prof. Hartman.
Set last year, in 2020, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet starts off with three spaceships named, respectively, the Niña Vega, Pinta Sirius and Santa Maria Catella having arrived at Venus, whereupon the Catella is promptly destroyed by a rogue meteor, putting serious dents in the planned mission. (The amount of emotion Prof. Hartman expresses upon hearing that a ship has exploded is hilarious; most people show more emotion when someone burps.) Plans rearranged, two cosmonauts and their robot John go to Venus and, when it comes out that their landing was less than successful and they are now stranded, three more men go down to the surface to find and save their colleagues. The only female onboard, Marsha, orbits the planet in the Sirus, present as a character merely to prove that women are flighty and emotional and to add some "will she or won't she" non-tension regarding disobeying orders and also going to the planet — the film is not at all subtle about its women-are-inferior attitude.
What transpires on the planet, all which is from the original Soviet film, is actually rather intriguing, if slow and dated and occasionally really, really cheesy. The rubber-suited alligator men are hilarious, if not oddly familiar — Star Trek: Arena (scene) anyone? — while the man-eating plant with long tendrils would look at home in an Ultraman (1966 / original intro) episode.
The true stars of the film are the cosmonauts' flashy hover-car, a retro-beauty of dated futurism in which we would definitely be proud to cruise Hollywood Blvd (or any blvd., for that matter), and the robot John. The best scene in the entire movie (next to the quick cut of him flexing his steel toenails) involves him carrying two cosmonauts through a river of molten lava: his self-preservation program suddenly kicks in, so he decides he has to lighten his load.
Unluckily, his fate in Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet pretty much ensured that the planned version of The Forbidden Love of Robbie the Robot and John never got made, thus robbing the world of what surely would have been a groundbreaking gay classic. The final scene is also nicely ironic: the rocket takes off and flies away seconds too early to make what would truly be a momentous discovery.
On the whole, however, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet is tacky and turgid and extremely dated. The dubbing is atrocious, the acting ranging from stolid to somnambulant to passable to terrible. We were never actually fans of MST3K, but we cannot help but feel that had MST3K tackled this baby here, their version would have been an improvement. Definitely not required viewing.
BTW: Three years later, in 1968, Roger Corman, ever out for the buck, hired Peter Bogdanovich to re-use the Planeta Bur footage yet again. Bogdanovich's "film", Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, is actually the more entertaining version of the Planeta Bur regurgitations, if only for the pulchritude of the prehistoric women, which includes the pneumatic Mamie Van Doren (of The Girl in Black Stockings [1957]), Bogdanovich's then-wife Mary Marr, Del Tenney's wife Margot Hartman (15 Aug 1933 – 11 Apr 2020), and diverse unknowns.
Scenes from
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women: