Monday, January 31, 2022

R.I.P.: Carol Speed

Carol Speed
14 March 1945 – 14 January 2022
Unbelievably, her passing passed us by. Carol Speed, born Carolyn Ann Stewart, died at the age of 76 in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on 14 January 2022. She has since been cremated. She was the first African-American homecoming queen in Santa Clara County, California, at William C. Overfelt High School, which doesn't even bother to list her as a notable alumni. As Carol Speed, she went on to do a limited amount of notable Blaxploitation films during the 1970s, including one of our favorites here at a wasted life, trash-film auteur William Girdler's classic Abby (1974). A singer, actor and author, the cute, bubbly and talented beauty never truly had the acting career that she deserved.
Go to:
R.I.P. Carol Speed (Part I: 1971-73)
R.I.P. Carol Speed (Part II: 1974-2006)

Friday, January 28, 2022

Short Film: Neighbours (Canada, 1952)

Here's a quirky little film from the early 50s exploring an age-old topic that can, on a metaphorical level, be used to represent anything from the current almost retro East/West conflict over  Ukraine to the relationship between the Democratic & Republican parties in the US. In its day, the common reading (if not intentional message) was that of French Canada and English Canada, with Jean-Paul Ladouceur (30 Dec 1921 – 21 Nov 1992) and Grant Munro (25 Apr 1923 – 9 Dec 2017) representing the respective sides. The closing text, presenting in fourteen languages, can be seen as the message the filmmaker Norman McLaren (11 Apr 1914 – 27 Jan 1987), pictured below, wants to impart.
"Norman McLaren was a legendary animator, but live human beings are his stop-motion medium in Neighbours (1952), another tale of how pettiness and greed can turn two respectable neighbors into the most horrific of enemies. An allegory that still rings true today, McLaren taps into the darkest recesses of human nature in a truly original manner. This film also stands out in Oscar history for being nominated in both the Live Action Short and Documentary Short category (winning the latter). [Oddball Films — the great but sadly departed site that introduced this film to us.]" 
Norman McLaren's
Neighbours (1952):

Scottish-born McLaren studied at Glasgow School of Art and, by way of NYC (1939-41) ended up in Canada with his Scottish-born "longtime companion" Guy Glover (5 Nov 1910 – 17 May 1988), whom he had met at the ballet in London in 1937. McLaren spent the rest of his life in Canada and ended up educating, promoting and shaping a whole generation of Canadian filmmakers. He had a penchant for experimentation, one that is found in Neighbours itself, which uses two techniques (pixilation & graphical sound) that, while not exactly new even in 1952, were and still are used relatively seldom. Pixilation, the stop-motion technique of using live actors as living stop-motion puppets, is perhaps the better known of the two techniques, as it enjoyed some popularity in music videos during the MTV generation — See: Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer (1986) and The Talking Heads's Road to Nowhere (1985). Less familiar is graphical sound, a technique originally explored in Moscow by Pavel Tager (1 Oct 1903 – 30 Jun 1971) in the mid-twenties. The method is used to generate the almost computer-like sound effects of the film's soundtrack; the blips, peeps and pops were achieved by scratches on the edge of the film in the shape of various "blobs, lines and triangles", which the projector reads as sound.
Interestingly enough, the version that won the Oscar is not the Neighbours here, which is a "reconstructed" version of the original version. According to David Curtis, in the Edinburgh Scottish Arts Council catalogue Norman McLaren (1977), McLaren removed the admittedly unexpected (and thus somewhat shocking) but consequent scenes involving the men's respective families to make the film more palatable to public taste. The scenes were reinstated after public sensibilities changed during the course of the Vietnam War.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Giant of Metropolis (Italy, 1961)

"What does the sacrifice of a man matter when it serves to further the progress of science? Nothing."
Yotar (Roldano Lupi)
(Warning: spoilers and verbosity ahead!) We admit that when we tossed down the 50 euro-cents at the thrift shop for The Giant of Metropolis, we did so less due to the DVD cover (top of the page) or backside synopsis than for the backside graphics, which feature the trimmed beard and smoothly chiseled muscles of that walking wetdream that was Steve Reeves (21 Jan 1926 – 1 May 2000 / see: Ed Woods's Jailbait [1954 / trailer] and/or R.I.P. Umberto Lenzi Part I and Part II). 
Trailer to
The Giant of Metropolis:
But, no: Reeves does not appear in this film. Instead, the muscles — and what impressive muscles they are! — belong to a name familiar to us from spaghetti westerns and Italo-crime flicks, Gordon Mitchell (29 Jul 1923 – 20 Sept 2003), below not from the film, a manly man whom we had never placed mentally in the peplum genre, despite his extensive presence in it. Indeed, it is the genre in which his career as an actor finally (and truly) took off.
Born Charles Allen Pendleton, Mitchell began his pursuit of stardom when he moved from displaying his fabulous physique at Venice's Muscle Beach to flexing his muscles alongside Mickey Hargitay (6 Jan 1926 – 14 Sept 2006, of Lady Frankenstein [1971]), Brad Harris* (16 Jul 1933 – 7 Nov 2017, of The Freakmaker [1974]) and Reg Lewis (23 Jan 1936 – 11 Feb 2021, packing a basket further below) on stage behind Mae West (17 Aug 1893 – 22 Nov 1980). The Giant of Metropolis is the third movie** of the plethora of movies that Mitchell was eventually to make in Italy, where he came in the hope of reiterating Reeves's peplum success after roughly a decade of never making it past the job of background extra in Hollyweird. And though Mitchell may never have achieved the international fame and cult status of Reeves, Mitchell's acting career ended up both lasting far longer and being far more diverse and interesting than that of Reeves.
* That is a very young Brad Harris in the GIF at the bottom left of this page, proving to an amazed Jane Russell that he is as much of a grower as a shower.
** The Giant of Metropolis followed The Centurion (1961 / scene) — where he is credited as "Mitchell Gordon" on the Italian posters — and Atlas against the Cyclops (1962 / full film).
In The Giant of Metropolis, in any event, craggy-faced Mitchell's muscles are easily just as droolably impressive as those of Reeves, as is the smoothness of the skin of the parts of his hairless body we see onscreen. (As the film naturally lacks a full frontal, one can only fantasize about how thorough Mitchell's shaving regime was — considering the times, however, there was probably an unsightly, nose-tickling swath remaining.)
"No one is more powerful than me. I have enslaved all the people of the world."
Yotar (Roldano Lupi)
The Giant of Metropolis is a rarity, to say the least, in that it is an odd amalgamation of science fiction and peplum, something we only ever remember seeing before in the Luigi Cozzi-directed Lou Ferrigno flick, Hercules (1983 / trailer), one of the few movies we caught in a cinema that we ended up walking out on. The Giant of Metropolis, if nothing else, is a far more enjoyable slice of kiddy trash than that version of Hercules. (Although, who knows: today, almost 40 years after that theatre experience, we might actually find the Lou Ferrigno movie enjoyable. Tastes change.)
"Perhaps, before we are destroyed, Yotar will realize he has been mistaken. He's not evil. He's only blinded by science."
Nevertheless, one is hard pressed to flat out say that The Giant of Metropolis is a good movie, though it is easy to lay the blame on the main (but not only) reason why: with six people working on the screenplay, the narrative is an obvious case of too many cooks spoil the brew. It's a mess: it's slow moving and convoluted, disconnected and illogical, and with brimming with turgid dialogue — you name a flaw a screenplay can have, and The Giant of Metropolis probably suffers it.
Still, the inanely irrational narrative is easy enough to follow; indeed, the third-rate DVD release we watched was dubbed only in German and had no subtitles in any language, not even for the long explanatory Italian text that scrolls interminably on the screen before the movie actually begins, but we nevertheless were able to follow the narrative.* (Here we should probably admit that unlike most Americans living in Berlin, we speak and understand German. But we assume the movie would be equally comprehensible in its English dub.)
What one cannot read onscreen, one can read online: "In 20,000 B.C., on the continent of Atlantis, now lost beneath the waters of the ocean, there lived a people who had developed an amazingly advanced civilization and who ruled all other people on earth... Obro, a man born in the east dared to probe the mystery of the City of Death. His gigantic strength and courage were pitted against Yotar, the evil King, in a struggle to the finish.... When the scientists of Metropolis attempted to penetrate the secret of death, nature rebelled, causing universal destruction... Love alone triumphed... And remained the sole source of life."
And what a narrative it is, indeed. And as it starts, Metropolis cum Atlantis is still dry land. The movie opens with a long line of men seen marching along the edge of a barren landscape, and as soon as they get close enough to be identifiable, the elderly leader (Mario Meniconi) collapses and dies — prior to his last breath, however, he manages to give a lengthy explanatory speech that more or less repeats everything told in the Italian scroll before conceding his leadership to his "son", Obro (Mitchell), and bidding him to continue to Metropolis to change the city's evil ways. To pad a few minutes of time, the unity of the group is lost and half turn around while Obro and a few stragglers continue onwards — only to be reduced to skeletons by the deadly magnetic cloud the city of Metropolis uses to do away with unwanted trespassers.
But wait! Obro awakens unscathed! And before Yotar (Roldano Lupi [8 Feb 1909 – 13 Aug 1989] of Women of Devil's Island a.k.a. Le prigioniere dell'isola del diavolo [1962 / full film]), the dictatorial ruler of the city of science can finish saying "Can there be a blood stronger than our own? Perhaps we are confronting an entirely new force in the world surrounding us?", Obro is a prisoner of Metropolis, a city populated by revived dead people (huh?) without a will of their own.
"No matter how much you torture me, you will suffer worse. Some day, you will rule a city of the dead. You will reign over a wasteland. Your power is based on a criminal use of science. It will destroy you! You will die miserably."
Obro (Gordon Mitchell)
In general, the "action" of the movie, like the stilted and pretentious dialogue, is laughable at best. After a shackled Obro conveys a message of warning to the insulted Yotar, who plans to grant his pre-pubescent son Elmos (Carlo "Marietto" Angeletti) immortality by replacing his son's brain with the brain of his (as in Yotar's) semi-dead father — maybe something got lost in the translation here, but that's what we understood — forces Obro to fight a giant (Aldo "Kronos" Pedinotti [30 Mar 1940 – June 2007]). Obro overcomes the giant, but loses the subsequent battle with a half-dozen cannibalistic dwarfs, who are about to chow down on their conquest when Yotar, as evil kings are always apt to do in bad films (e.g., King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword [2017]), decides Obro should be spared…
"Stranger! At last you shall learn there is a strength mightier than yours, a living creature that will crush you and who will make you see that you are nothing."
Yotar (Roldano Lupi)
As perhaps to be expected, an imprisoned Obro gives Yotar's wife, Queen Texen (Liana Orfei of Mill of the Stone Women a.k.a. Il mulino delle donne di pietra [1960 / trailer]), who recognizes the insanity of her husband, the opportunity to help Obro escape and literally go underground. A pep talk later by Egon (Furio Meniconi [22 Feb 1924 – 12 Dec 1981, of And God Said to Cain a.k.a. E Dio disse a Caino... [1970 / German trailer]), an equally observant upper-level underling of Yotar, Obro is slinking around the secret passageways of the castle eliminating the guards and soldiers one by one (literally so, as they seldom attack en mass). Somewhere along the way, Yotar's daughter Mecede (Bella Cortez,* below, not from the film) does a modern dance as foreplay to what is inferred to become a rather lifeless off-screen orgy and then soon flies the coop. In a totally unexpected and truly original twist of the narrative, she ends up hiding in the same underground cave as Obro, where the two promptly fall in love.
* Cuban-born beauty Alicia Paneque, above, who changed her name to Bella Cortez when she entered the Italian film biz, made about 11 films — including two more with Gordon Mitchell, Vulcan, Son of Jupiter (1962 / full movie) and Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens (1964 / trailer), and one of Christopher Lee's most obscure Italo-horrors, Challenge the Devil a.k.a. Katarsis (1963 / trailer) — before marrying, retiring from films, and moving to obscurity in the US. She never did another movie, but for that she does do Facebook.
The Giant of Metropolis is so anti-science and so pro-faith that it could easily be mistaken as a Christian film, but no, as directed by Umberto Scarpelli (25 May 1904 – 15 May 1980), it is an extremely static movie filled with long shots and long takes, excess moralizing and excessive portending of doom (none of which Yotar listens to), and extremely incompetently staged fight scenes. It is not surprising that Scarpelli was thereafter once again relegated to assistant director for the remainder of his career, for while he might be able to achieve a balanced screen and does occasionally toss in an interesting 360-degree shot, he never manages to imbue the movie with any real life (as is perhaps fitting for a movie about a city full of somnambulants), not even during the climactic destruction of the city.
The true heroes of the movie, when it comes to the people who had something to do with the making of The Giant of Metropolis and who probably gave the movie all the aspects that make the movie interesting (aside from Cortez's cleavage and Mitchell's muscles), are probably the cinematographer Oberdan Troiani (23 Sept 1917 – 28 Feb 2005), the costume designer Giovanna Natili, and set designer Giorgio Giovannini (26 May 1925 – 31 Mar 2007). Without doubt, it is the sets, costumes and cinematography that truly make this movie so different, so bizarre, so striking — and all that, combined with the cleavage and the muscles and the almost hallucinatory dialogue, is what gives the relatively slow-moving movie its fun factor.
Troiani, for example, does wonders with his camera, taking full effect of the lurid colors and swirling fog and shadowy sets. One has the feeling that had the direction only been a bit more creative or experimental, he would have easily mastered any task the director might have requested. (True, the cinematography does stumble during the ineffectual climax, which uses some overly obvious stock footage of seaside waves, but then the climax is narrative bullocks as it is. Really: the continent and/or city sinks into the sea, but there happens to be a nearby beach for specific characters to retreat to via underground secret passageways? That they reach from a flooding courtyard?)
As for the sets, they might scream low budget and are continually revamped for different scenes, but they are truly a visual treat and work very well. That they are so impressive becomes less of a surprise when one looks at the other projects that Giovannini was involved in as production designer or art director over the course of his career, which spanned from before the masterpiece Black Sunday (1960 / trailer) through The Last Man on Earth (1964) and Planet of the Vampires (1965 / trailer) and past Fellini's Satyricon (1969 / trailer) and Casanova (1976 / trailer) to The Name of the Rose (1986 / trailer) before ending with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988 / trailer).
As for the costumes supplied by the unknown Giovanna Natili, they are a total hoot. Like the weaponry of the lowly guards and soldiers, the outfits worn by the upper echelons serving the Yotar are as memorable as they are uncomfortable, impractical and totally ridiculous. Oddly enough, for all the enjoyable "fashion" excesses of the men, the women usually remain in bikini-inspired outfits and either loosely diaphanous or tight-fitting wraps typical of most Italian peplum — but, then, who really wants to look at hot women dressed ridiculously?
The Giant of Metropolis is far from a good movie, but despite its numerous flaws it is both enjoyable and interesting to watch, and in many ways almost verges on uniqueness. Unluckily, at least the versions we have stumbled upon (on our DVD and all over the web), the film stock itself is well past its prime. But though scratched and faded, it still reveals that The Giant of Metropolis was once a colorful movie of visual delight. (Its narrative incompetence, on the other hand, will never dilute.) We recommend it, if with reserve.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

More or Less "Best of" 2021

"Best of" is always relative here at a wasted life, as the films we give good reviews don't always show up in our end of the year round-up while films we trash do. This is because our choice is based less on quality than staying power: how often we think back upon a film, or the general feeling it stirs when we think about it again. Likewise, we usually watch so much crap that coming up with a "Top 10" is almost close to impossible — a problem exacerbated by the fact that some years (like 2021) we don't actually review all that many films: of the 48 blog entries in 2021, only 24 were actual feature film reviews.
All that aside, here is our selection: the nine movies we watched in 2021 that we found the most noteworthy, for whatever reason, and in no particular order. Click the linked titles to read the original reviews.


Escape Room
(USA, 2019)


"Escape Room is a nail-biting blast."
a wasted life (6 March 2021)

Trailer to
Escape Room:

The Bar
(Spain, 2017)

"A great film for our age of paranoia and conspiracy theories."
a wasted life (17 April 2021) 

Trailer to
The Bar:


All My Friends Are Dead
(Poland, 2020)

"Definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but if you are the type that enjoys a blackly funny body count, this tightly shot grotesque will probably offer you a pleasant evening's viewing."
a wasted life (18 June 2021)

Trailer to
All My Friends Are Dead:

Exhibitionisten Attacke
(Germany, 2000)

"The apogee of filmmaking inability, and a visual and moving illustration of a total lack of anything remotely professional, be it the mildest capacity to tell a story, act, direct, do special effects or gore, anything."
a wasted life (12 July 2021) 

5 minutes of total inability:

Little Monsters
(Australia, 2019)

"An enjoyable rom-zom-com that is much better than it should be, above all due to the screen presence of Lupita Nyong'o, looking absolutely smashing in her yellow summer dress."
a wasted life (1 August 2021)

Trailer to
Little Monsters:

(Spain, 2018)

"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."
a wasted life (29 August 2021)

Trailer to

The Corpse Vanishes
(USA, 1942)

"To simply dismiss The Corpse Vanishes as a threadbare Lugosi vehicle that pulls out a cheap version of every cliché ever found in any other Lugosi film and barely manages to string them together to make a less-than-coherent and extremely ridiculous plot actually does the movie great disfavor."
a wasted life (13 September 2021)

Trailer to
The Corpse Vanishes:

The White Buffalo
(USA, 1977)

"Go in expecting nothing, you might even find it enjoyable."
a wasted life (6 October 2021)

Trailer to
The White Buffalo:

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

"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."
a wasted life (24 Nov 2021)

Full movie:

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Saint Sinner (USA, 2002)

A Sci-Fi television movie, which made it to Europe as a DVD release, based on a film treatment by Clive Barker, and his name draw is fully exploited in the film's true full (and rather clumsy) title, Clive Barker Presents Saint Sinner.
Seeing how uneven "Clive Barker flicks" generally tend to be (take for example, The Book of Blood [2009]), it is understandable that one might approach this relatively obscure and for the most part forgotten slab of small-screen horror with trepidation. Unexpectedly enough, however, particularly considering its pay-TV origins, Saint Sinner proves to be more entertaining than one might expect. Of course, you have to swallow a lot of pretty bizarre (perhaps stupid) ideas incorporated to drive the narrative, but if the concept that some "Pacific Northwest" monastery anno 1815 has a working Time Portal in their repository of relics sounds okay to you, then you probably shouldn't have to many objections to any plot point of the film.
Trailer to
Saint Sinner:
Saint Sinner opens by introducing us to the undeniably delicious young monk, Brother Tomas Alcala, (Greg Serano of Undocumented [2010 / trailer]) lounging almost nude in the sun on a field, eating a ruby red apple as he enjoys the down-blouse view of the swinging breasts of a wench washing clothes at the nearby riverside.
Yep, it is pretty obvious that Tomas is not much of a Godly monk, much less a saint. So it is hardly surprising that one evening, for no truly logical reason, the impulsive lad breaks all monastery rules and enters the relics repository with his cellmate and not-so-warm "brother" Gregory (Antonio Cupo of American Mary [2012 / trailer], photo below not from this film). Long story short, Tomas accidentally frees two ravenous succubae, Munkar (Mary Mara of Bound [1996 / trailer]) and Nakir (Rebecca Harrell Tickell of Sugar Creek [2007 / trailer]), who kill Tomas's bro and then hightail to the 21st century. Guess who follows them...
Munker and Nakir basically fuck-feast their way through the johns of Seattle, while Tomas promptly gets arrested as the main suspect of their first meal. Luckily, thanks to a shared hallucination of a killer slug and other stuff, he manages to turn one of the pursuing detectives, Dt. Rachel Dressler (Gina Ravera of Showgirls [1995 / trailer]), to his side. The question is, who is hunting who now?
How closely the narrative follows Barker's original treatment we know not, but luckily teleplay-writers Doris Egan and Hans Rodionoff (the latter the director of Trance [2010 / trailer]) don't go the stranger-in-a-strange-land path and pretty much allow all three fish-out-of-water acclimatize to the new century more or less instantly.
Likewise, while the narrative is very much one of redemption for Tomas, the redemption aspect is not overplayed. There is a bit of the typical God's will and/or plan platitudinizing, but then that is to be expected in any film featuring demons and a Christian monk with a mission. If one is willing to accept the idea of zombies or vampires or werewolves or whatever horror is your pleasure, then one really should be able to accept the idea of God for 1:30 hours.
Though saddled with a lowly budget of only $4 million, director Joshua Butler (Deathlands [2003 / trailer]) makes a better flick than might be expected. For the most part, neither the acting nor the CGI are in any way embarrassing. Neither, for that matter, is the overall look of the movie: "real" feature films often look cheaper and cheesier than this thing. The plot may be a bit cliché — killer demonesses kill and feed on men, hero tries to stop them — but once the film hits the 21st century and the fucks-from-hell start having fun, the slime and icky scenes go a long way to keep the viewer entertained.
Is Saint Sinner scary? No, but is does have its repugnancy-factor and a few nightmarish scenes that do shock — for example, the first John and the poor rent-a-cop on the Ferris wheel. The big showdown is less knock-down than possibly expected, but it does involve the birthing of a "baby" that should have been aborted and a lot of slime. The ending is a bit of a happy downer, but it does help to make the movie seem a bit less TV.
On the whole, however, the story of Saint Sinner is less a solid narrative than a thread used to string together the diverse shock and effects scenes. But that the film strings them together half-way successfully already makes the movie a lot better than many a mainstream summer blockbuster. If we gave stars, Saint Sinner would be two of four; on a peter-meter scale, the first scene did get our imagination lubricated, but everything in the film after Tomas pulls on his tunic for the first time is pretty much sex-negative: you have sex with women, you gonna die.