Movie Reviews: Dragging You Kicking & Screaming Into The Grindhouse Edition

After poking around YouTube and other places, I've decided we're very near the end of civilization (I mean, how else do you explain this or this? Two events which I feel certain fulfill some Biblical prophecy heralding Armageddon!), so I figured I'd share my joyous mood by concentrating all my movie reviews today on horror, and including some of the most notoriously depraved grindhouse films in the genre (and a couple that aren't). These are films normal people only know about vaguely, if it all. You wouldn't want to watch more than one of these in a week, and luckily I didn't - I pulled them from years of files. Hell, most people wouldn't want to watch most of these at all, ever. Which is why I'm exposing you all to them in review form, so you will have knowledge of the depths of depravity human cinema has reached, and yet I will bear most of the psychic scarring on your behalf. Unless you click the YouTube links, in which case yer on yer own!


Beyond the Darkness (C, 1979) aka Buried Alive, Buio Omega, The Final Darkness, Blue Holocaust, In Quella Casa... Buio Omega) This, along with Make Them Die Slowly, was one of the most notorious sicko nobody-ever-heard-of-it Italian horror films that had us seeking out any horror videotape that came in an oversized box. It's a morbid, perverse, ultra-gory tale of necrophilia that helped cement Joe D'Amato's reputation as a sleazesmith without boundaries. I kind of like viewing it as a sequel to Love Story, in which Oliver loses his damn mind, so there's my recommendation for a double-feature to fuck with your friends. When an unbalanced young man's girlfriend dies, he digs up her body, takes it home, and taxidermies it (in extreme detail, including a scene where he eats her heart) and keeps it in a bed. He also kills a couple of girls so he can keep his secret, including a hitchhiker who gets her fingernails yanked out with pliers before she's killed, dismembered, and dissolved to greasy sludge in an acid bath, and a jogger who has her throat bitten out and is then burned up in a crematorium (the best acting in the whole movie). It's pretty funny that the psycho can handle all of this stuff, but the sight of his housekeeper's disgusting table manners makes him throw up. The psycho's housekeeper practices voodoo (which may have caused the girlfriend's death in the first place) and she helps him cover up his crimes because she's hoping to marry him, but of course that relationship only leads to more horror. The special effects are good, and rumors were spread that real corpses were used for the taxidermy and crematorium scenes, but they weren't -- the close-ups of organ removal were done using a pig carcass, and the crematorium just involved some good twitching and writhing by the actress. Overall it's an orgy of entrail-yanking, acid-bathing, eye-gouging, chunk-biting, brain-sucking, and other unpleasantries... but if you're drawn to movies bragging about how many countries they've been banned in, that's what you're looking for and this one delivers far more than most. Plus it's got a good music score by Goblin.

Beyond the Door (C, 1974) aka The Devil Within Her, Beyond Obsession, Chi Sei?, Behind the Door, Who Are You? This is easily my favorite Exorcist rip-off, even though a lot of people seem to hate it. Even the trailer for this traumatized people when it came on TV, and it scared the shit out of us when CBS used to run it on their Friday night late movie, one of the few Italian horror films to get network airplay. Juliet Mills (traumatizing all her “Nanny and the Professor” fanbase) becomes pregnant with a demonically-possessed fetus, which causes her to do enough Exorcist behavior to let the producers of the original win a lawsuit. There’s creepy levitation, a really nightmarish head-turn with a horrible frozen smile, one eye moving independently of the other, puking, and other possession niceties. There’s also some unique freakiness such as Mills eating a banana peel she finds in the street, dolls walking around the house, and more. All the while her husband is trying to make sense of it all, while an ex-boyfriend named Dmitri is desperately trying to ensure that the baby is born, because those are the terms of a deal he’s made with the devil (who opens the film as our narrator!) Some people find this all too derivative, as well as clumsy and too odd, but it’s the oddness that makes this movie great to me. Everyone in the film is a major weirdo even without the devil getting involved. Mills’ daughter is a slang-spouting smartass who carries a dozen copies of the Love Story novel everywhere she goes (that’s apparently where she learned her cussing). Her little brother drinks pea soup out of a can with a straw, likes wet, nasty dolls, and may be possessed by an invisible friend he hangs out with. Even Mills’ doctor has a neurotic habit of arranging candy in precise patterns on his desk. I like this attention to oddball detail, and the freaky musical score is also great at creating a crazy, absurd atmosphere. Some people react badly to some of the weird dubbed dialogue, but I think it adds to the off-kilter dream-logic feel of the whole thing. Fortunately (after an extremely long wait) this is now on DVD, thanks to Code Red. Juliet Mills has a commentary track and is a really good sport and still likes the film. She should; it’s very underrated if you ask me (and if you read all this, you did ask me, didn’tcha?)

Burial Ground (C, 1980) aka La Notti Del Terrore, Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror, Nights of Terror, The Zombie Dead, Zombie 3, Zombie Horror. Andrea Bianchi’s low budget, lack of talent, clumsy dubbing, ridiculous plot, and sometimes-lackluster special effects are all excused by the pacing of this zombie gorefest; the pottery-faced undead show up early and stay on the attack for nearly all of the film’s running time, dripping maggots, severing heads, biting out throats, gnawing guts, slicing eyes, and -- in the big crowd-pleasing show-stopper -- biting off a tit. A group of vacationers come to an old villa to see a professor who’s been working on ancient Etruscan ruins, and who has inadvertently raised lots of living dead. These visitors aren’t terribly bright, but they are horny, pairing off and screwing within minutes of their arrival. One “little boy” (played by a very odd-looking short fella named Peter Bark, who’s attracted a cult following even though he didn’t make any other films) even tries to get frisky with his own mom! The zombies look sculpted out of mud, and that look isn’t completely effective but you have to appreciate the effort; it’s a lot more interesting than just smearing some blue paint on a bunch of extras and telling them to walk funny. Most of the gore is pretty extreme and works well. Overall, the film is crippled by some dumbness, but it tries so hard and packs so much action in that you can’t help but forgive its shortcomings. One of my favorite zombie films.

Don’t Answer The Phone (C, 1981) aka The Hollywood Strangler. Infamous horror film is more notorious for its general tone than any kind of gore or graphic violence; it’s actually restrained in what it shows, but there’s a really misanthropic feeling generated here, as if the filmmakers are seething with hatred for everyone and most of all you for being an audience for sleazy shit like this. A husky rapist/strangler (Nicholas Worth in a little too good of a performance) is prowling Los Angeles and brutally killing women, wheezing with laughter at what he’s doing. He makes disturbing calls to a lady who does a psychiatric help line on the radio, faking a Mexican accent and complaining of headaches. He also finds victims by posing as a fashion photographer. He works out with weights, has a religious fixation, and is prone to crying jags. Some very cynical cops are trying to track him down, making inappropriate jokes about the victims they turn up. After several stranglings, the creep sets his sights on the doctor lady. There’s hardly any blood at all, so the killings aren’t gory in the least, but Worth does behave so violently toward the women (and acts so gleeful while he’s doing it) that it’s disturbing to watch... and the film’s cold-blooded approach to the events (sometimes it seems as if the filmmakers don’t realize how wrong this behavior is) makes it even more repellent. This film often lands in the same class as Maniac, in that it delivers what you were looking for in a way that makes you feel like a perverted scumbag for looking for it in the first place. Many copies of this on the market are cut versions, so be careful to find the full-length.

The Flesh and Blood Show (C, 1972) I like most of Pete Walker’s horror movies, but this one’s hard to stay interested in. A troupe of actors are hired to work on a mysterious theatrical project, and are instructed to live in an old ramshackle theatre on a pier, where they’ll rehearse. A killer who sounds like he has emphysema lurks around and murders them in not-terribly-interesting ways (knifing, one girl is guillotined), and eventually a mundane flashback (which had the saving grace of being in 3D when it was in theaters, and uses the process almost as ham-handedly as an SCTV skit) reveals why. There’s a lot of flesh on display, as the girls in the cast are frequently nude, but there’s scant little blood. This was filmed during that period when most of the guys in Britain looked like Herman’s Hermits. If this storyline intrigues you, you’re much better off with Stage Fright from Michele Soavi. This film has a good trailer, but that’s as far as it goes.

The Girl Next Door (C, 2007) aka Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. It’s very seldom that I’m almost afraid to watch a movie, but I had read the book by Jack Ketchum and knew it to be one of the most harrowing and disturbing literary experiences imaginable, and I couldn’t believe anyone had dared to film it. Fortunately, they did it really well, and even though it’s treading in Last House On The Left territory it feels much closer to art than exploitation sleaze... and they manage it without watering it down. Based (tragically) on a true case where a sick-minded sadistic woman named Gertrude Wright Baniszewski tortured a 15-year-old girl to death and involved most of the kids in the neighborhood in the crime. It’s so blackly evil that you’re almost forced into denial about the truth of it. Anyway, in a Stand By Me-like 1950’s, a pretty, sweet young girl and her polio-crippled little sister have to move in with their aunt and cousins when their parents are killed in a car wreck. Their aunt is a bitter, disturbed woman who likes to hang out with the neighborhood boys and give them beer and tell them how slutty and stupid women are and how scummy men are. She takes an instant hatred to the two girls and starts abusing and punishing them, making her sons and their friends watch it. Gradually the abuse gets more insidious and the kids start joining in, making a game of torturing the older girl, and it gets more and more vicious and extreme. The neighbor boy, David, knows this is all wrong and evil, but since he’s a kid he’s scared to stand up to an adult, and also afraid to go against the other kids, who might turn against him if he takes away their “toy.” So these horrors continue under the noses of the neighborhood, a secret-that’s -not-a-secret since the kids in the neighborhood all know about it... and nobody does anything to stop it. While this among the most horrifying films ever, it’s not strictly a horror film. It doesn’t set out to shock you; it just happens, and you’re shocked anyway because of the subject matter. The film doesn’t hold back, while still staying as discreet as possible. Not easy to watch, but an especially strong, heartbreaking film that will make you feel as helpless as neighbor-boy David as you watch it unfold. The same case was the basis for another film, An American Crime.

Hard Candy (C, 2005) A genius-level 14-year-old girl (Ellen Page) goes to meet her pedophile online “boyfriend,” and she has a big surprise in store for him, which is... she really, really hates pedophiles. She drugs his drink and ties him to a chair, then interrogates him, finds out where he keeps his porn stash, and eventually castrates him (with guidance from a medical textbook). She thinks he may have killed a local girl who went missing, but she doesn’t want to make it easy for him by just killing him... or does she? Intense film that’s mostly conversation, like My Dinner With Psychotic Andre; this could also work as a stage play, yet it keeps the suspense cranked up pretty high. And it manages to stay pretty intense even though you can’t really work up too much sympathy for the victim, since he is a child-molesting creep who deserves this nightmare and then some. This has a reputation of being really nasty, but it’s actually fairly restrained in terms of what it actually shows, so it must be the confrontational approach to controversial subject matter that had people rattled. Extremely well-acted and well-written, keeps throwing tricks at you. This is one of the most depraved things that sometimes shows up in Wal-Mart's $5 DVD bin.

Header (C, 2006) aka Edward Lee’s Header So-sick-it’s-silly horror based on a novella by gross-out master Edward Lee. A hillbilly gets released from prison and moves in with his legless grandpa up in the mountains and start settling old scores by doing “headers.” The movie’s marketing tries to keep this act a secret, but since I believe a movie should sell itself by filmmaking and storytelling skill and not just to satisfy curiosity about what the title means, I’m going to tell you. So, if you don’t want a spoiler, you should skip to the rest of the review. Okay, a header is essentially fucking someone’s brains out. They drill a hole in the top of the victim’s head, cut a slit between the halves of the brain, and use the wound as a vagina. There ya go. Childish enough for you? Since the victims are dead when this depraved act happens, the movie’s actually less sick and disturbing than a lot of recent horror. In fact, it’s even kind of funny, because the hicks are very cartoonish and the whole thing is so over-the-top preposterous that you can’t take it seriously. Anyway, while the ex-con and his grandpa are killing girls and skull-fucking them, a corrupt ATF agent is making deals with drug dealers are working on the “header” cases. Everything comes together in a pretty ridiculous way, and the film’s fairly artless, but it’s entertaining -- at least, it is if you can handle the gross-out concept with a sense of humor. The film’s definitely not scary, because it’s too ridiculous, but I’m not sure it wasn’t intended to be a comedy, anyway. It’s gory, of course, but the effects actually aren’t that graphic and are pretty simple. The DVD has a very welcome bonus feature including interviews with Edward Lee and also horror author Jack Ketchum, both of whom seem like nice, cool guys. They have cameos near the beginning, playing cops.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (C, 1986) Henry is an uneducated ex-con who moves around a lot doing work like pest control. In the same way that some people are addicted to drugs, Henry’s addicted to murder; every once in a while he just has to kill somebody, usually a woman. He’s figured out it’s really easy to get away with it, if you just move around a lot, vary the methods, don’t set up a pattern, and don’t pick any victims to whom you have a connection. Henry drops in on an old prison buddy, Otis, and his sister. Otis is a stupid degenerate who’s content watching TV and making advances at practically anyone he meets (including young guys and his own sister) until Henry initiates him into killing as a hobby. Otis becomes an enthusiastic but imbecilic partner, videotaping killings and watching them back in slow motion. Eventually, though, Henry’s loner ways get the better of him and he has to move on and can’t leave anyone behind. Based on the crimes of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole (who was even more of a fuckup than Otis), this film shook everybody up when it came out. I’m not sure why everyone freaked out over it so much, because I’ve never found it all that shocking and other than one dismembering-a-body scene it’s not graphic (there’s almost no gore but the MPAA tried to give it an X rating just for the tone of it and its refusal to condemn its subject -- although it far from glorifies him, either. I don’t find it nearly as disturbing (even when it first came out) as the film’s reputation says, but it’s definitely a well-done and engrossing movie, and I’ve always liked it and had respect for it as a work of art despite that. Michael Rooker’s performance as the emotionally-dead sociopath is perfect. Must-see material, but just don’t expect something as transgressive as you’ve probably been led to believe. It’s a great examination of the banality of evil. Another Henry Lee Lucas-based movie that came out around the same time, Confessions of a Serial Killer, was a bit more disturbing to me, although not as well-made.

I Spit On Your Grave (C, 1978) aka Day of the Woman, I Hate Your Guts, The Rape and Revenge of Jennifer Hill. Buster Keaton’s grandniece Camile Keaton is a writer staying in a summer cottage, and she unfortunately attracts the attention of four total degenerates (one of them retarded) who chase her through the woods and rape her in scenes that are close to unwatchable. They’re some of the nastiest rape scenes on film because they go on for around 20 minutes, and because they happen in waves -- she gets away, gets caught again, gets away, gets caught again -- and because the guys are such scumbags and they egg each other on, semi-horrified by what they’re doing at first, but then getting delighted with it. They leave her for dead (and she almost is) but she recovers and starts plotting revenge. As the poster (one of the greatest in exploitation film history) touted, “This woman has just cut, chopped, broken, and burned five men beyond recognition, but no jury in America would ever convict her!” She doesn’t actually burn anybody -- just some clothes -- but she does hang, emasculate, axe, and motorboat-engine four men in totally-justifiable revenge. There’s not much in the way of gore, and only the castration scene comes close to equaling the rapes for cold-blooded nastiness. That’s one of the film’s drawbacks; the rapes are so hateful and the rapists such total bastards that no amount of revenge will feel like it’s settling the score. It’s a hard movie to watch (I resisted buying the DVD for years until I found it for $7 with two commentary tracks -- one from Joe Bob Briggs and one by director Meir Zarchi) and was an infamous title in the early days of videocassette rental, more as a can-you-take-it/ rite-of-passage thing rather than “entertainment.” Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel maxxed out the box office for this one by expressing great outrage toward it and its audience. That reaction is understandable because this film is about as far from “feel good movie” as it gets; it’s a confrontational assault on the audience, and you’re not really supposed to be entertained. You’re supposed to walk out feeling unclean and depressed. But Siskel and Ebert said it invites people to identify with the rapists, and I don’t think it does that at all. The “sex” in this can’t be mistaken for anything but sick violence, and is -- intentionally -- a turn-off. It’s an anti-rape film, taking any Hollywood sanitization off the act. I think Siskel and Ebert reacted so strongly because they were afraid of anyone thinking they were titillated, and were disgusted at assholes in the audience who tried to show off how “macho” they were by cheering things that likely disturbed them. Anyone would have to be insane to be titillated by this. Hard to watch, but important in exploitation history. The filmmaking is sometimes crude (Zarchi holds shots forever with no concern for pacing) and the special effects are extremely simple and homemade (but effective), and the acting is pretty good -- especially Keaton’s. The film is pro-feminist, but most feminists loathe it. No fun, but misunderstood.

Last House On The Beach (C, 1978) aka La Settima Donna, Terror. A trio of creeps rob a bank and then hide out at a Catholic girls’ school, where they terrorize a nun and her students in this Italian rip-off of Last House on the Left. The leader of the bank robbers tries to act nice while the other two are jerks (and one of them is a weirdo who puts on some of the girls’ makeup), but he’s just as bad as they are. One of them gets stabbed in the leg (or possibly the belly - the wound seems to move around) with a comb while trying to molest one of the girls, and he ends up with a dangerous infection. Most of their terrorizing is merely obnoxious (such as making everybody watch an embarrassingly-stupid naked-disco-dancing show on TV) but eventually they rape the nun and a couple of the girls, including a fatal assault with a walking stick (which is fortunately so non-graphic you can hardly tell what’s happening). Eventually the women get fed up with the bastards and decide to turn the tables. Nowhere near as mean-spirited or intense as the film it’s imitating, and sporting very little blood or nudity, but still unpleasant enough and also a bit tedious. This one’s mostly for Italian horror junkies who’ve already seen everything else a couple of times.

Lucker The Necrophagous (C, 1986) aka Lucker. Supposedly a legend on the underground tape-trading circuit (I was pretty active at the time and never heard of it, so I’m not sure how “legendary” it was), this is a sickie Belgian exploitation flick with more of a concept than a plot. A miserable schizophrenic escapes some pitiful police custody and goes back to stabbing people to death. He manages to pick up a prostitute even though he’s nearly catatonic, then he chains her to the bed, creepily rocks in a rocking chair for a while, stabs her, waits a month, then has sex with her slimy corpse. He licks his hands clean of cadaver-ooze after fondling her, which is pretty much the film’s highlight. Then he goes after a woman he missed the first time, resulting in more unpleasantness. And unpleasant is really the key word here, because the movie’s not really scary or suspenseful, and it’s not even all that gory, limited to just some blood-spitting-out (albeit in large quantities), a what-the-hell-is-that disembowelment (or is it an amputation? The special effects are so crappy and badly-filmed you can’t really tell what it’s supposed to be), and a not-very-convincing rotting corpse dummy. After that you’re just left with a lot of footage of women screaming and looking unhappy, and that’s never much fun to watch unless you’re a total creep. So see this only if you can’t stand to miss something that’s notorious (and you don’t mind being disappointed that it’s overhyped), or if you’re really into boring, nasty stuff. Blah. By the way, “necrophagous” means corpse-eater. What they wanted was “necrophilliac.”

Malabimba The Malicious Whore (C, 1979) aka Malabimba, Malicious Whore, Possession of a Teenager. After a séance raises a particularly lusty evil spirit at the family mansion, a girl named Bimba starts behaving like an out-of-control slut, saying obscene things to her grandmother, groping the butler, watching her relatives fuck, and humping her teddy bear. When that’s not enough, she tries to seduce her father and kills her paralyzed uncle by giving him a blow job. Then, in an attempt at some really ludicrous blasphemy, she makes inappropriate use of a stuffed Santa Claus doll, before rubbing up against her reflection in a mirror for a while. Then she tempts a nun into watching her dad have sex with her slutty aunt. Afterward, Bimba seduces the nun. Can Bimba’s possession be exorcised? And... does anyone really want it to be? Bizarre Exorcist variation without any of the usual possession-movie special effects; when you’re dealing with an institution as hung up about equating pleasure with sin as the church, you don’t need spinning heads and projectile pea soup to horrify them when a few intercut bits of hardcore porn footage will take you further for cheaper. As much of demonic repression film as a possession film, and not badly made, really. Vintage combo of Euro horror and porn, effectively handled. The location -- an old isolated castle -- gives the film both creepiness and class, and it does have an atmosphere that seems to elevate it above just being sleaze... even though that’s pretty much what it is. Most surprising is that it’s directed by Andrea Bianchi, who brought us such wonderful trash as Burial Ground.

Maniac (C, 190) I first encountered this notorious grindhouse sickie when I bought my first issue of Fangoria, where it had an uber-disturbing spread full of scalping sequences and torn-off heads. It was enough to make me afraid to buy Fangoria for a while. Charles Manson and Altamont killed off hippiedom, and I think that article in Fango killed Famous Monsters. The plot to this movie is negligible: a crazy guy (Joe Spinell) with a mother-fixation (she apparently abused him pretty badly as a kid) murders women, scalps them, and then nails the scalps onto mannequins that fill his cramped, dirty, lonely bedroom. He talks to them, cries, and wakes up screaming from nightmares. The fact that he seems to be completely horrified by the depraved acts he’s driven to co probably put off more of the audience than the extreme gore did; Spinell is a top-notch actor and seems really sad and terrified throughout. He’s getting no thrill from the killings, just tormenting himself. The killings are numerous and extremely gory (with excellent effects work by Tom Savini, who has a bit part and gets his head blown apart with a shotgun), and photographed in a cold, dead way that makes you feel grotty for even watching them. Even though it’s a collection of cut throats, stabbings, shootings, and scalp-removals, this ain’t no safe, fun, Friday the 13th. It outraged critics, women’s groups, and even was too much for some of the griundhouse crowd who usually thrived on this stuff. Less believable than the killings is the subplot where knockout Caroline Munro gets interested in dating this fat slobby sweaty whiney psycho.

The YouTube guy blocked embedding, but you can click here to see the trailer.

Night Of The Seagulls (C, 1976) aka Night of the Death Cult, Night of the Blood Cult, La Noche De Las Gaviotas, Terror Beach, Blind Dead 4. A doctor and his wife move to an isolated village by the sea to take care of the townsfolk, but they're an odd, unfriendly lot who aren't exactly welcoming. They warn the couple to leave, and not to go out at night, ever. Someone is going out at night, though - a procession of robed figures who leave village girls chained to a rock. The reason for the terror soon becomes clear; a cult of undead, mummified, eyeless Templar knights crawl out of their crypts in a nearby castle at night, mount their rotten zombie horses, and head to the beach to collect those girls who are left as sacrifices to keep the Templars from coming into the village and killing everyone. The skeletal, slow-moving Templars carve the hearts out of the girls as an offering to their batrachian stone idol and they feed on the rest of the flesh. Spirits of the dead girls return as seagulls that scream all night, and the rites draw crabs out to feed on the remains. The doctor, with help from Teddy the village idiot, learns of the sacrifices and sets out to put a stop to them. Fourth and final film in Amando de Ossorio’s great Blind Dead series is basically more of the same, but that’s not a bad thing if you love the Blind Dead, who look really moldy and mildewed here, and who take as much of a beating as they dish out when they’re set on fire and such. There’s not really that much gore in this one, which relies instead on atmosphere and the sight of the eerie Templar mummies. The movie inspired songs from doom metal band Cathedral, and skinhead band The Templars (who, as you might guess, are huge fans of the series). A lot of public domain versions popped up on cheap compilation DVDs under the “Night of the Death Cult” retitle, but you’re better off with the Blue Underground version.

Sister of Ursula (C, 1978) aka Curse of Ursula, La Sorella Di Ursula. Bizarre, sick, sleazy giallo in which a couple of pretty sisters (Barbara Magnolfi from Suspiria and Zombie’s Stefania D’Amario) visit a coastal village, even though Barbara has some psychic precognitions that being there is a really bad idea that will result in death. Nobody heeds her, though, because she also claims their father is coming back... and he’s dead. Regardless, people in the very-sexually-active community do start getting killed. Some psychotic (who’s only shown as a pair of eye, like Bela Lugosi in White Zombie) is paying whores to have sex while he watches, then he slashes the men with some kind of exotic knife and rapes the women to death with a giant phallus. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the psychology going on here, but it’s still a fairly well-done giallo with no fear of causing outrage and a strong emphasis on packing in as much softcore sex as possible. The gore is fairly restrained but you don’t need buckets of blood when you’re working with an idea that disturbing.

Snuff (C, 1976) aka Slaughter, American Cannibale, El Angel De La Muerte. This is a film that's far more infamous to those who haven't seen it than those who have, and the hype surrounding the marketing campaign is a lot more interesting than the crappy movie itself. Masters of sleazy exploitation Michael and Roberta Findlay (who also brought you such classics as Shriek of the Mutilated ) helped finance a terrible Argentinian horror film that was so bad they knew they'd have to come up with a gimmick to sell it... so they tacked on four minutes of extremely fake gore footage that was supposedly the actual murder of one of the actresses by a deranged crew member. Then they marketed it as an actual snuff film ("The film that could only be made in South America... where life is CHEAP!") and hired people to stand in front of theaters protesting it. Outraged critics did the rest of the work in drawing in the rubes, by predictably refusing to see the movie (if they had they'd've easily spotted the fakey gore effects and laughed this sham off), and writing scathing articles condemning the sickness of a society that would allow actual murder as entertainment. Proving that the best way to make something desirable is to declare it taboo, the morbidly curious flocked to the film and the critics achieved the exact opposite of their goal, much like the Catholic church's "banned book list." The DVD release retained this taboo spirit, coming in a brown-paper-bag design with no logos (pssst, it's from Blue Underground) and no features (not even a menu or chapter stops, annoyingly enough). The movie itself is a nonsensical thing intended as a cash-in on the Manson murders. A hippie cult leader named Setan commands a group of druggie killers whom he's told to provide him a baby for a sacrifice. An actress named Terri London flies in to make a movie, and she gets pregnant and becomes a target for the cult. Some members of her film's crew get knifed, and there's a lot of footage of a carnival, as well as a surreal angry conversation about arms dealing with Israel, which is hilariously weird. The cult punishes its own members by cutting between their toes with a knife or with public sex (which sparks a ridiculous flashback involving lost turtles, cow milking, rape, severed hands, and a girl who talks like Mr. Bill). They pull off a few unspectacular mass killings, but none of it makes much sense and there's not even much blood. Then you get the phony snuff footage, which consists of some unconvincing cutting, a finger severed with some dikes wire cutters (you can clearly see the real finger bent under the appliance), a hand cut off with a Skil saw (the real hand is stuck through a hole in the mattress while a too-skinny fake wrist is cut through), and then a way-too-narrow fake torso is clumsily disemboweled while sandwich bags full of blood and pig entrails are pulled out. The film runs out as the killer holds up some intestines and screams (which is a pretty impressive final shot even though it's phony). It's not that sick of a movie in and of itself, but the fact that people showed up hoping to see a real murder is sick enough. Of value more as a curio than a film.

Storm Warning (C, 2007) A rugged Aussie fella and his French girlfriend takes some unwise turns while boating up some inland canals and get lost in a storm. Seeking shelter, they go to a cabin on a remote island, only to discover it’s a marijuana farm run by two mean-spirited degenerates and their even-meaner father. They can’t let the couple go (even if they wanted to, which they don’t) because they know about the greenhouse full of pot plants. They break the guy’s knee and threaten to rape the girl, but she fights back with some overly-complicated and implausible traps. Things get a bit contrived, but when you’re seeing truly sadistic scumbags meet deserving ends, you don’t mind a little contrivance. It’s flirting with the torture-porn genre a bit, but manages to avoid it, and has well-done gore. One of the better entries on the usually-execrable Dimension Extreme label.

Unseen, The (C, 1980) Unfortunately the title of this film proved apt, because hardly anyone saw it. Hopefully the DVD release will give it a second chance, because it’s pretty good. The amazing-bone-structured Barbara Bach is a TV reporter who, with her two-girl film crew, has to stay at the isolated home of Sydney Lassick (the guy who really wanted his cigarettes in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) to cover a Dutch festival in a nearby town. There’s a large, severely retarded abused product of incest living in Lassick’s basement, though, and even though he doesn’t mean to, he can cause serious harm. As a bonus, Lassick is homicidally crazy himself, and is perhaps even more dangerous than his son/brother. There isn’t much in the way of gore, but there’s a very dark, twisted atmosphere that should elevate this above most of its contemporaries. It’s somewhat notorious for a lack of political correctness, but it’s also unique in having a sympathetic treatment of the killer.

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