I'm lazy and uninspired this week, but rather than blowing the blog post off for the week, here's some movie reviews.
An Angel For Satan (B&W, 1966) aka Un Angelo per Satana. One of the harder-to-track-down of Barbara Steele’s black and white Italian gothic horrors, at least until the nice DVD release paired with The Long Hair of Death. A cursed statue of one of Barbara’s ancestors from 200 years ago is dredged out of a lake, and the artist who’s restoring it uses Barbara for a model since she looks remarkably like the statue. Barbara soon becomes schizophrenic, sometimes taking on the persona of another ancestor who died trying to destroy the statue. During the periods when she’s possessed by this spirit, she engages in some kinky cruelty, like seducing and then whipping a half-wit and teasing other men just to cause strife. She even starts a lesbian relationship with her housemaid, just to ruin things between her and her boyfriend. Barbara does a great job carrying off the dual act, and this film has lots of atmosphere and stands up well with the rest of her canon.
Crooked Trail (B&W, 1936) aka Lead Law. You don’t have to go to Brokeback Mountain to find gay cowboys. It’s kinda hard to explain this one any other way. Johnny Mack Brown is Jim Blake, a big friendly guy who’s good enough with his fists and gun to be a marshal but just wants to make his fortune panning for gold instead. On his way west he saves a scumbag outlaw named Harv Tarlton from dying in the desert (after he’s just tried to kill a Mexican for his water). Harv is attracted to Blake and wants to be partners, and he and Blake build a cabin and move in together and affectionately wrestle around in the yard. Blake’s got his eye on a local girl, but Harv doesn’t approve, saying “you better quit givin’ her those meaning glances out of your soulful eyes!” Blake marries her, which makes Harv really jealous. He glares at them from behind curtains and makes Blake’s new wife nervous. Some other characters also notice: “Maybe he wanted Helen himself. You reckon he’s jealous because Jim married her?” “No, Kurt, he’s jealous of her because she married Jim!” “Say, you’ve hit it!” Meanwhile, Harv is robbing gold from everyone in the area, but when people accuse him of it, Blake defends him because he’s blind to all Harv’s faults. Finally Harv’s jealousy leads him to try to break up the marriage so he can get Blake back all to himself. The homosexuality’s never mentioned outright, but characters are often noting how “strange” things are, and that “something’s wrong”; it’s pretty obvious that this is an intentional plot point. It’s pretty unusual for an old B western, and Harv’s obsessive jealousy is actually creepy.
Death Race (C, 2008) In a time when Hollywood is so contemptibly uninspired that they can’t seem to come up with anything that’s not a remake (either of something foreign or domestic) , a sequel, or an old comic book story, I don’t know why they cheated themselves by claiming this was a remake of Death Race 2000. It bears the original absolutely no resemblance other than being about a sport involving automotive mayhem and a few character names. Basically, around 2012 the economy collapses (ha, how far fetched, that we’ll still have an economy by 2012!) and one method the government comes up with for generating revenue is blood sports involving prisoners. When a popular mask-wearing driver called Frankenstein dies in an armed-car race, the prisons decide to secretly replace him with someone else. The only driver they know skillful enough to pull it off is America’s favorite British hard guy Jason Statham. Problem is, he’s not in prison. So they frame him for murdering his wife and give him an offer he can’t refuse. The evil warden doesn’t like his attitude, though, so she tries to sabotage Statham and pit him against his strongest competition, Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson, being very badass). But Statham’s focused on getting revenge against everyone who was in on his wife’s murder. Some good casting (it’s always good to see Deadwood’s Ian McShane, and Natalie Martinez is great eye candy as Statham’s navigator) and great special effects, with loads of gunfire and car crash mayhem -- what more could you ask for? Well, maybe better lighting and less frantic editing pace, so you could get a better look at it all, but that’d be too nonconformist and original nowdays. But, even those drawbacks aren’t unbearable and not as bad as what they do in most action films now. Even though this sometimes looks like a videogame, it’s one of the few action flicks I’ve seen lately that made me make definite plans to watch it again soon… but car-mayhem movies are my favorite thing, so your mileage may vary.
A Demon For Trouble (B&W, 1934) Bob Steele - his tough-guy cowboy image suffering from an overabundance of lipstick and pancake makeup - is a happy-go-lucky wise guy who’s drifting across the desert Southwest, looking for bronc-busting work. He gets framed for murdering the brother of a girl who’s just sold her ranch and has to go on the run. Dyer, the crook who actually had the girl’s brother killed, is running a scam where he buys ranches and then has his men rob the people he bought it from when they’re on their way to the bank; that way he gets the land and keeps his money, too. Dyer’s also planning to marry the girl whose brother he had killed. He’s very bad. It’s up to Bob to put a stop to all this and clear his name, but the law and the bad guys are all after him. There’s plenty of action in this one, but the fistfights are laughably bad and look more like one guy insisting on dancing with the other, despite resistance. A little acrobatics liven them up, though. Nicely plotted oater.
Female Prisoner: Caged! (C, 1983) aka Joshu Ori, Prison Heat. Have you got a fascination for all the various bodily fluids? Then get the hell away from me and lock yourself away somewhere with this drooly, sweaty, pissy, spermy, bloody, glandular-oozespoitation fest. The Japanese pinky-violence envelope gets pushed into a puddle as the new inmate at a women’s prison discovers the place is a cavalcade of nonstop sex, most of it icky. Rapes happen, girls gather to get pissed on by a construction worker, people masturbate, they wet the bed, the ugly old warden makes them lick her feet, girls fight over sperm that oozes out of one girl’s crack, and there are lots of beatings. And there’s about as much plot as a porno movie… which this basically is, although if any of the sex here turns you on you probably also pitched a tent during that scene in Deliverance. Most of the women aren’t all that pretty (although the guard who wears lingerie to administer floggings is pretty hot) and they’re kept grimy and sweaty and mistreated, so it’s even less attractive. Just about every bare ass is covered with zits or bug bites. I really don’t know what the filmmakers were aiming for; apparently there’s some niche that I haven’t found yet despite considerable degeneracy on my part. Since they couldn’t show genitals they got around it by doubling up on fluids. Not very appealing unless you’re just entertained by looking at nasty sights… but if that’s the case, you could squat naked over a mirror and save yourself some rental money.
The Hellcats (C, 1967) aka Biker Babes. The police are struggling to bust a motorcycle gang but not having much luck until a female narc’s boyfriend is killed by a sniper, and she agrees to infiltrate the gang. The bikers party a lot, which for them consists of doing stupid dances to bad music and spraying each other with a lot more beer than they actually drink. When not engaging in oafish behavior, they run drugs for an organized crime syndicate. The undercover girl teams up with a male narc and they become part of the gang, going to their highly un-fun looking parties, where people crawl around on the ground a lot, or get stretched between two motorcycles, either to prove their manhood or their stupidity. Our heroes manage to work their way up into the organized crime rackets but by then you’ll probably be asleep, and the big brawl at the end won’t be enough to wake you up. It’s about as dull as biker movies get. A lot of the music is stock library stuff you probably heard on science filmstrips in high school, and the original songs would be more at home in a Sid & Marty Kroft kid’s show than a biker flick. And despite what marketing is desperate to have you believe, it’s not a female bike gang; it’s mostly guys with a few girlfriends around.
The Pom Pom Girls (C, 1976) aka Palisades High. This Crown International drive-in movie is so completely plotless that you can’t even impose one on it. A couple of high school football players and cheerleaders hang around trying to have fun in an irresponsible manner. They drive around, chug beers, play pranks on rival schools, steal a fire truck so they can spray water at people, dump food on each other’s heads, have sex, cut class, punch out their coach, fight over girls, and do a chicken run toward a cliff (which seems an attempt to inject some eleventh-hour substance on the film, but even that is torn away). I would say it’s episodic, but really, there aren’t even episodes, just random-whatever’s-happening-at-the-moment stuff. If you’re looking for a story, you’re better off with an Archie comic, but these were mainly intended to be background noise while the audience made out at the drive-in. None of these “high school kids” looks younger than 25. Available on cheap-as-hell drive-in DVD collections, which is the only reason I ended up seeing it.
Religious (C, 2008) Bill Maher makes guys like me happy and pisses off the rest of the world with this comedic documentary/ indictment on the absurdities of religion. Traveling the world to visit representatives (both wise-in-their-way and outright wacky) of various religions and asks them questions from an atheistic perspective. The answers he gets are never satisfying and reveal that people have faith in gods just because they want to and not due to anything even remotely empirical, and some of their defenses are hilarious. Despite that, the tone isn’t really mocking, and even though Maher’s interviewees do come across as deluded, most of them also seem sincere and well-intentioned, and Maher seems to like them even if he strongly disagrees with their conclusions. And, whatever they’re lacking in pragmatism, they approach the debates as if they’re going to win them; they’re as convinced of their side of the argument as Maher is of his. Maher does allow them their say… if only because their own words are usually the strongest argument that they’re wrong. He does conclude at the end that religion is a dangerous artifact that mankind needs to outgrow, but he’s a lot more fair and honest with his targets than Ben Stein was with the doctored interviews and irresponsible (and utterly wrong) claims made in Expelled, which came out around the same time. Definitely recommended to those who feel like the only sane person trapped in an asylum, but not destined to make believers all that happy. But, given the disproportionate number of religious movies that come out, it’s nice that we’re allowed at least this much. Thanks, Bill!
The Van (C, 1976) aka Chevy Van, My Love Van. A California teen named Bobby is perpetually horny-to-the-point-of-distraction (he can’t even drive through green lights if there’s a girl to look at) but he has several strikes against him. First, he’s a pretty homely rascal, with scraggly red hair and a perpetually-creased face. Second, he appears to be simpleminded, constantly laughing for no reason and bouncing up and down. Yes, Bobby is a textbook case of unusable, so he figures he can compensate by buying a tricked-out van. Saving money from his car wash job, he buys a rolling love nest complete with waterbed and mirrored ceiling (and hopefully shock absorbers in the driver’s seat because Bobby just can’t drive without bouncing up and down with idiot glee). After pulling a few pranks (giving his co-workers beer laced with castor oil and locking the men’s room) he starts trying to pick up girls at the pizza parlor. Mostly he strikes out, but one counter girl with a hugenormous ass busts his waterbed. His friends get more action Bobby’s van than he does (mainly because he’s got the seduction skills of a rapist) and he even ends up hitchhiking. Finally he screws the girlfriend of a musclebound van-drag-racer named Dugan (“Nobody, nobody, calls Dugan a turd!”) and ends up having to race him to keep his van. Will our hero find fulfillment? Who cares, he’s a moron. Dumb ‘70’s hedonism, typical of the drive-in fodder that Crown International used to turn out. Danny DeVito has a small role… and that’s not supposed to be a joke but I guess it’d work as one. Even though the van’s a Dodge, the movie got retitled “Chevy Van” after the terrible Sammy Johns song that gets played over and over.