some random movie reviews

No unifying theme this time, since I'm lazy and uninspired and just mining some of my vast untyped-up-yet backlog. I'll try to add a few pictures and trailers to spice it up.

Aztec Mummy, The (B&W, 1957) aka La Momia Azteca, Attack of the Aztec Mummy A kinda-goofy professor tests his reincarnation theories by using a hypno-wheel to return a girl to her past life as an Aztec princess, where she got involved in a forbidden romance with a warrior named Popoca. As punishment they made him drink a sacred elixer and then buried him alive and sacrificed his girlfriend in a tiresome ritual that seems to be endless! To prove that it was an actual past-life memory and not just a hypnotized fantasy, they have to go to the tomb and find artifacts that appeared in the memory. For some reason, an arch-criminal called The Bat follows them there. They search out the tomb and finally (and I do mean finally, since she shows up in about the last 15 minutes of an 80 minute film) Popoca the Mummy emerges and menaces sleeping children and carries off women. He's pretty creepy, but he's photographed so dark you can barely see him, and you spend a certain amount of time staring at a black screen when he's around. This Mexican monster flick should have been great, but the pacing is leaden (slowed down even more by the utterly-dispensable "Bat" subplot) and it doesn’t deliver enough mummy-attack time to reward your patience.

Boys Next Door, The (C, 1985) aka Big Shots, Blind Rage, Death Takes A Holiday, No Apparent Motive. Bo (Charlie Sheen) and Roy (Maxwell Caulfield) are a couple of high school jerks who've just graduated and are headed for a lifetime of factory work, which they're not happy about. Roy, in particular, isn't happy about much of anything; he tells Bo that he has "bad stuff inside of him" and is angry all the time. He proves it when he and Bo head off for L.A. for the weekend and their little party trip turns into a killing spree. They start with a gas station attendant, and that's got some slight motivation to it, but soon they're killing completely at random. Bo's kind of shocked by it, but he goes along with it while suprisingly-efficient cops try to track them down. This movie is better than you'd think and came from director Penelope Spheeris's good period, when she was making angry, alienation films and working through her hellish James Elroy-esque adolescence. Then Wayne's World came along and fucked it all up, but, hey, a lady's gotta make a living. Anyway, this is a nicely done American nightmare with believable performances by Sheen and Caulfield. Even if you don't like them, it's worth watching just for the badass Plymouth Roadrunner they're driving.

Gang War (B&W, 1940) aka Crime Street. All-black-cast "race film" take on the old 30’s gangster flicks plays kind of like a rough no-budget version of Scarface. A light-skinned hoodlum named Meade takes over the Harlem rackets through brute force, killing off or intimidating all the competition. He starts by killing off the town’s top crime boss, and then he and his men start forcing all the juke joints to use his jukeboxes instead of his rivals (apparently those were really lucrative back then). While his crew does a hostile takeover of the Harlem underworld, Meade tries to win over a rival’s girlfriend; oddly, his ruthlessness doesn’t extend to his love life, because he plays Scrabble with his girl and kisses her like a third-grader! These movies tend to require music almost as much as Bollywood movies do, so there’s an overlong nightclub scene and even a weird bit where rival gangsters force Meade’s girlfriend to sing to him over the phone to keep him busy while they kill one of his men (named “Slickum.”) This causes more violence, and matters come to a head. It’s technically crude, with a bad over-reliance on newspaper headline montages and multilayered images, but it’s also fast-moving and has more shootings than most Cagney films. There are also some pretty good big-old car and motorcycle chases (watch close to see a motorcycle cop dump his bike on a wet street!). Cheap, rough, and derivative, but still good enough to deserve a reputation. Check it out.

Love From A Stranger (B&W, 1937) aka A Night of Terror. Carol wins a lottery and her boyfriend doesn’t accept her good fortune very well, so she dumps him and marries a suave new guy, Gerald (Basil Rathbone). He acts devoted to her, but reacts with rage if anyone goes into the cellar, where he spends a lot of time locked away, secretly developing photos and then crazily destroying them. He has violent outbursts and makes weird accusations, and it soon becomes clear that he’s not only a madman but a serial killer who’s obsessed with being able to “at one moment hold someone in your arms at the next to hold some thing!” Basil goes all out and his unhinged performance is scary; all his slick and well-mannered portrayals of Sherlock Holmes have not prepared you for the screaming batshit rage he unleashes here, which is especially shocking since the film has a refined British tone otherwise. Based on an Agatha Christie novel.

Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, The (C, 1971) aka Lo Notte Che Evelyn Usci Dalla Tomba, The Night She Arose From The Tomb, The Night Evelyn Left the Tomb. The all-time classic title (with the all-time classic poster depicting a skull-faced woman in a nightgown holding up a severed head under the legend “THE WORMS ARE WAITING!” - when I was a grad student the guy I shared an office with had an original of this poster hung up on our cubicle wall, which was a great source of pride for us) isn’t quite backed up by the movie itself... but then what could live up to that hype? Anthony Steffan (The Stranger’s Gundown) is a demented pervert named Alan who deals with being cuckolded by his late wife by bringing home redheads, dressing them in thigh-high boots, and whipping them... and, apparently, murdering them. Threatened with being committed, Alan tries to cure himself by getting married... but that doesn’t help. In fact, it seems as though his late wife Evelyn has returned from the grave and is stalking Alan. A few killings are happening, too (a guy gets snakebit, a woman is eaten by foxes). Is the supernatural at work, or some sinister human plot? This giallo ends up Shakespeare style with the set covered by dead cast members, but there are only a couple of gory instances, making up for it with a little nudity, including the eerily-hot Ericka Blanc doing a strip-tease in a coffin. To see any of this you’ll need the NoShame uncut DVDE, since the public domain versions (which are so numerous as to be almost inescapable) tend to be cut.

Northville Cemetery Massacre (C, 1976) aka Northfield Cemetery Massacre, Freedom R.I.P., Harley's Angels You'd think this was a horror movie with that title, but instead it's one of the best biker flicks ever made. A motorcycle gang (played by the Scorpions of Detroit) start getting hassled by cops almost as soon as the opening credits are done. They get thrown in jail for not wearing helmets (which is apparently a huge crime, 'cuz the cops even wear helmets to drive their car), get run through a car wash, and have a wedding... which also gets hassled by cops. One of the deputies rapes one of the girls and blames the bikers for it. Her dad is hellbent on revenge, and the biker-hating rapist cop instigates some vigilante action and gathers a group of gun nuts to hunt down the gang and kill them all. At first the gang thinks a rival gang is doing the shooting and almost starts a war, but the vigilantes tip their hand by opening fire on the rival gang, too, and a lot of biker funerals start happening (which the cops also hassle). The vigilantes attack a funeral, but now the bikers are armed, too, and you have the titular massacre. The gunfights are Peckinpah Wild Bunch taken to the next level, complete with some amazingly well-choreographed gun shots and the best blood squibs ever (which they accomplished by using squibs in the guns, too, to keep the timing perfect). Filmed cheap on 16mm, but looks great and is professionally-handled and captures bikers a lot better than any Hollywood flick. Shot in 1971 (as Freedom R.I.P.) but not released until 1976, when the biker movie thing was already pretty much over. It looks newer than that, somehow. Great stuff.

Taken (C, 2008) Liam Neeson is a government troubleshooter who retired because he wanted to spend more time with his daughter Kim, or at least as much as his embittered ex-wife will begrudge him. He reluctantly agrees to let Kim go to Europe for the summer, even though he’s an overprotective dad and thinks Europe is far too dangerous for a 17-year-old. Turns out father knows best, because she gets kidnapped by Albanian white slavers while she’s on the phone with him. Working from the tiniest of leads and fighting against a very small time-window before recovery would be impossible, he sets to work trying to track down the kidnappers so he can kill them all and get his daughter back. The man’s driven, smart, resourceful, and capable of some pretty impressive and ruthless violence, and he’s quickly turning the slagheaps of Paris upside down and giving them a good shake. It’s always good to see an action film that doesn’t require you to turn your brain off while watching, and this one has exceptionally good pacing and a confident performance from Neeson, and it never gets too implausible.

Uninvited (C, 2003) aka 4 Inyong Shiktak Quiet, slowly-paced Korean horror about a lonely man who’s haunted by two little dead girls he saw on the subway; their mother had poisoned them and left them on the train, and he didn’t realize they were dead until he saw it later on the news. They show up at his kitchen table and it understandably freaks him out. While helping a narcoleptic woman who had a fainting spell, he discovers that she, too, can see the dead girls, and while asking her about it, he learns that she’s haunted by a few things of her own, such as the idea that she saw a woman’s eyes as she flew past her window during a suicide leap. The story is a little confusing (as most recent Asian horror tends to be) and is almost too slow-moving (I had to watch this in several installments because I kept falling asleep), and it’s creepy but not very scary (although scenes of a baby dropped off a balcony and a child being run over by a truck are pretty shocking). It’s not essential as horror, but it is beautiful-looking and does have a sad, disquieting cumulative effect, if you’re patient.

Velvet Vampire, The (C, 1971) aka Cemetery Girls, The Devil Is A Woman, The Waking Hour, Through The Looking Glass. A free-spirited young couple, Lee and Susan, meet a seductive (and pretentious as hell) woman at an art gallery and go to visit her at her home in the desert. The woman (Celeste Yarnall, who could be Lynda Carter’s twin sister) is named Diane LeFanu (in obvious homage to Sheridan LeFanu, who wrote “Carmilla”) and she’s a vampire (even though she can walk around in daylight). She and her male servant feed on some of the locals (like a dune buggy mechanic and his girlfriend) and eat bits of raw liver, but only has sex with her guests (or watches them have sex through a two-way mirror). But then Diane’s metabolism kicks in, making her more bloodthirsty, and even our not-very-bright swingers start catching on that there’s something wrong with her and they want to leave... but Diane wants them to stay, one way or another. Fairly standard vampire tale perked up by eroticism (the women here are all really pretty) and some style (including weird dreams of beds in the desert). There are moments of creepiness but overall the pace is a little too slow.

Zorro’s Black Whip (B&W, 1944) 12-chapter Republic serial has nothing to do with the Zorro character beyond the fact that the heroine (that’s right, heroine) dresses a little like him. An evil crime boss named Hammond tries to stop Idaho from gaining statehood, because then federal marshals could stop his gang. A masked hero called The Black Whip fights him vigilante-style, but he’s killed in the first chapter. His sister (smokin’ hot Linda Stirling) assumes his identity; how she has the same riding/shooting/brawling/bullwhip skills isn’t clear, and as good as she looks in all black, it’s a shame to put a mask over that gorgeous face. When she’s not going mano-a-mano physically, she’s battling corruption in her day job as a newspaper editor. When she’s not fighting, one of her male associates is, so there’s constant (if somewhat repetitive) action. Cliffhangers usually involve explosions or falls off of cliffs, and one really scary one involving a pitchfork. The stuntwork is better than the acting, or the scriptwriting for that matter, but it’s still entertaining stuff, and any serial with Linda Stirling is irresistible (even though you know that most of the time you’re seeing “the Whip” it’s just a small stuntman in the costume). Strangely for a Western, there’s a lot of use of telephones; I guess Idaho had phones before they had statehood. Lots of furniture-damaging fistfights; if you see any kind of railing in a room, you can bet it’s going to end up trashed.

(the following picture is also of Linda Stirling, but from another serial, The Tiger Woman. I love the very patient "Okay, I'm wearing a kitty-cat-head hat, but, what the hell, it's a living" look on her face:

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