No unifying theme, just whatever I felt like typing up out of the big-ass notebook of untyped-up stuff.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (C, 2008) Hilarious-yet-touching documentary about determined, loveable loser metal band Anvil, who are still going despite no success since the early 80’s. Singer/guitarist Lips (known for playing his guitar with a vibrator) and his soul mate Robb Reiner formed a band at around 15, swore to never stop, and kept their vow despite the band holding them back in life and their tours and album releases basically disappointing them over and over again. Robb is a laid-back, steady kind of guy, anchoring the band, while Lips is an emotional maniac, making big plans that always fall through and throwing tantrums and testing Robb’s patience (which, fortunately for Lips, seems akin to Job’s). The more you see of this story the clearer it becomes that even though Lips is in his 50’s, he’s actually still 15 years old. He got bigger but he didn’t grow, and it’s both weirdly-charming and frustrating to everyone in his orbit. The band’s definitely not without talent (I used to be a big fan and still have their early stuff on vinyl) but they have a lot of tough luck and make some bad decisions due to their enthusiasm running over their common sense. The move’s funny and kind of a real-life Spinal Tap, but it’s also endearing and a portrait of a great enduring friendship, maybe even more than it’s a portrait of a band; the friendship’s certainly been more successful. Great documentary, and should be fascinating even to non-metalheads. For Anvil fans, it might be surprising to watch the legends working day jobs like driving trucks for a children’s catering service. As much of a drag as their career seems to be through most of it’s running time, you’ll be happy for them at the end. Hey, who doesn’t love an underdog?
Eye of the Devil (B&W, 1967) aka 13. Moody, atmospheric horror in which David Niven, heir to an ancient vineyard, has to return home to his ancestral estate to keep an appointment with fate. His wife (Deborah Kerr) and children show up against his wishes and discover that strange things are happening, involving a cult of robed Druid types and a pair of odd, emotionless blond twins. One is a boy (David Hemmings) who terrifies Kerr by shooting doves with arrows, and the other is a girl (Sharon Tate, who’s gorgeous to the point of cruelty) who has hypnotic powers. Tate changes a frog into a dove and almost talks Kerr into walking off a high parapet. Kerr becomes terrified by all the strange behavior and wants to escape the estate, and save her husband from sacrifice. The film is slow and artificial, but it’s very well-made (excellent black and white photography) and does evoke a good bit of creepiness despite a predictable and simple story. The main reason to seek it out, though, remains Sharon Tate. Jim Carroll told us “it’s too late to fall in love with Sharon Tate,” but you may not be able to help yourself. Damn. It’s unsettling watching her be so cold and evil (and so goddamn beautiful) knowing the tragic fate that was waiting for her. That provides whatever frisson Niven’s fictitious plight lacks.
Just some of Sharon's scenes edited together, but warning: the music they put over this is fucking awful Gwen Steffani gack, so the great visual side is almost made unbearable by the audio.
Watch the whole movie online starting here.
Flesh and the Spur, The (B&W, 1956) The print I saw on the Alpha DVD was sepia-toned black and white, but this was supposedly filmed in color. John Agar brings his bad-movie magic to this Western, and for just a second or two he’s even playing twins. When his brother (himself) is killed with his own gun by an escaped convict, Agar sets out to track down the killer, equipped with the twin of the fancy stolen revolver. On the way he saves an Indian girl from an outlaw and partners up with Mike Connors (still going by his college-basketball nickname, “Touch”), who’s on the shady side and isn’t to be trusted. They also join up with a snake oil salesman and his daughter. Connors gets in a bar fight using spurs as weapons, and Agar finds the stolen gun in the possession of a member of the notorious Checkers gang. After a big shoot-out with the gang, Indians attack and stake Agar’s Indian girlfriend out on an anthill. The surprise ending really isn’t such a big surprise at all. Unusual, kinda-slow Western with a bit of a sadistic edge and a sleazy feel to it without ever getting graphic.
Grace (C, 2009) A young expectant mother with strict vegan beliefs (she doesn’t even want her cat to kill rats) is injured in a car accident, and her baby dies inside her. She decides to carry it to term anyway and gives birth to a dead baby. By some horrible strength of will she brings the baby back to life and names her Grace. There’s something very seriously wrong with little Grace, though; she attracts flies and shows signs of decay, and she craves blood. The baby’s need for blood drives the mother’s desperation past her principles… WAY past. This is a really sick horror film but it’s actually more restrained than you’d think; the tone stays low-key and while it’s definitely blood, the gore isn’t gratuitous; the filmmakers seem to understand that when your subject matter is over the top to begin with, a less-is-more approach will be the most effective. It’s basically Bob Clark’s Deathdream with an infant substituting for the returned soldier, but it works, and the taboo of blood on an infant’s face (remember the freak-outs people once had at the end of Saga of The Draculas, or the notorious excised footage from Tombs of the Blind Dead?) still provides discomfort. Not particularly scary, but disturbing without being merely exploitative.
Hanging Woman, The (C, 1973) aka La Orgia De Los Muertos, Return of the Zombies, Beyond the Living Dead, Dracula The Terror of the Living Dead, Terror of the Living Dead, The Orgy of the Dead, Zombie 3: Return of the Living Dead. Serge (who looks a bit mod for the 1800’s) returns to claim a villa he’s inherited and learns all kinds of crazy things are going on in the village. As soon as he arrives he finds a woman hanging in the cemetery. She’s autopsied (pretty graphically) and her grey, stitched-up corpse becomes one of the insane local gravedigger’s (Paul Naschy) secret love objects. One of his female relatives is into witchcraft and raises a ghost during a séance. Meanwhile, a male relative has been experimenting with raising the death with electricity. There’s a lot of searching through crypts and the dead (which look really pale, creepy, and deader than most zombies) start to walk, and decapitations and other acts of violence are imminent. Despite moments of bone-headedness, this Spanish horror film has some good atmosphere and enough creepy movements to make it worth looking for. It remained pretty obscure despite being released on multiple video retitles.
Hell’s Angels (B&W with color sequences, 1930) Howard Hughes pulled out all the stops in this World War I air-war epic, making use of tinting and early color film for some sequences, and working out great special effects, plus taking some advantages of the pre-code state of the industry to push some sexual content envelopes and sneak in a few profanities and some surprising violence. At $3.8 million, it was the most expensive movie ever made ’til that time. Three buddies are drafted into the war, one on the German side even though his time at the University of Oxford has made him more sympathetic to the British than his own country. He’s made a bombardier on a zeppelin and tricks them into dropping their bombs in a lake instead of on Trafalgar Square. The other two are brothers fighting over the same girl (Jean Harlow in her first major role, and in her only color footage) who’s sluttish, but only one of them knows that. Their squadron’s getting whittled down from too many patrols and drawing nearly-suicidal missions. They get stuck flying (while drunk) a huge captured German bomber into enemy territory to take out a factory, and the massive battle that results is the showpiece of the film. It’s very intense and makes you wish the movie had spent more time on fight scenes (there are only two but both are outstanding), instead of the rather-stiff melodrama. Shots of pilots burning and dying in agony are pretty shocking even today, and Hughes used vintage war-surplus planes, so it’s close to the real thing (other than the ridiculously-tight machine gun bullet patterns). Three pilots died filming them, and Hughes himself crashed a plane doing a trick that stuntmen refused to carry out. Contains one of the most overwrought death scenes in cinema history, but overall a classic and a must for dogfight fans.
Some of the dogfight highlights somebody used to make a Manowar video. Pretty badass.
Lineup, The (B&W, 1958) Shipments of heroin are being smuggled into the country from the Orient, hidden inside statues, dolls, and the handles of knives and forks. Psychotic professional killer Eli Wallach (who is brilliant in this role) and his associate are trying to track down all the travelers who are bringing in the dope-laden merchandise so they can recover it all for their boss-no-one-ever-sees, The Man. The cops are trying to stop the flow of drugs and prevent Wallach from killing any more people. And that’s about all the plot you need for a great noir film, especially when Don Siegel’s directing; that’s more than enough for him to make a masterpiece. The DVD also features a funny and informative commentary track with Eddie Muller and James Elroy (who seems to be making a conscious effort to be politically incorrect; Elroy is a huge douche bag, but an amusing one). This was adapted from a TV series of the same name, but Siegel apparently dispensed with the TV aspects quickly.
Watch the whole thing online starting here.
Naked and Violent (C, 1970) aka America: So Naked, So Violent, America Cosi Nuda, Cosi Violenta. Exploitation maestro Sergio Martino deals himself into the mondo-movie sweepstakes with this indictment/exploration of America’s sleazy, violent, brutal superficiality. Scenes depict bums on the Bowery, hippies at a huge Stones concert, football, porn and strippers, druggies, racism (the condescension of the filmmakers here is really more racist than what they depict), a retracing of JFK’s death route, rednecks shooting hung-up rabbits, the patheticness of inflatable sex dolls, hitchhikers, hippies doing stupid rituals, Hari Krishnas, cops finding a suicide in the desert (man, did that look staged), drag races, the Amish, a black man being beaten by rednecks (almost certainly staged, since they’d never have allowed the crime to be filmed), an orgy of people wearing Halloween masks, preparation of a body for a funeral, body painting, the giant garbage dump of NYC, cockroach-eating hippies, bikers, war protestors (including a hippie getting his fingers cut off so he could never hold a rifle, which has got to be staged -- even hippies aren’t that stupid), a home for retarded children, and other stuff. Most of this is far too mundane to be “shockumentary” material, and the fact that the Italians found this all so weird and spectacular may say more about them than it does about us. Dreadfully boring and for mondo film completists only. The MYA DVD is typically shoddy, sporting a faded and battered print.
Razorback (C, 1984) People usually laugh when they hear this is a horror movie about a giant pig, until they get a look at the damn thing. It actually gave me a nightmare once. Some reporters researching kangaroo hunters in the Australian outback think the worst they have to deal with are some degenerate Mad Max-ish punks, but then a vicious boar as big as a minivan shows up and starts eating folks. When a reporter disappears, her husband goes to Australia to find out what happened to her, and after dealing with some psychotic local color and having visions while lost in the desert, he discovers his wife’s wedding ring in a boar turd. That’s a helluva way to have the news broken to you. Teaming up with a vengeful old boar-hunter whose grandson was also eaten by the beast, he’s set for a possibly dark fate. Stylish and underrated Aussie horror, kind of like a landlocked Jaws. Very gritty, with lots of dirt, mud, and derelict machinery for atmosphere. The Warner Brothers DVD-R is overpriced (like all of them are) but until they wise up enough to give it a legit silver-disc release, it’s worth seeking out.
Watch the whole thing online starting here.
Sick Girl (C, 2007) The “no thinking” light comes on early in this low budget (but still more budget than brains) horror film, when the titular heroine, Izzy (who looks like a poor man’s version of Ellen Page from Hard Candy) beats up a nun and pisses in her face in front of a busload of witnesses and her only punishment is to have to walk the rest of the way home. She also drives around with bloodied-up classmates in her trunk, and nobody notices. Izzy has an incestuous crush on her older brother, who’s serving in Iraq, and she’s very protective of her younger brother, who’s being picked on by bullies. She catches the three bullies and makes one kill the other two, then keeps the remaining jerk in the barn with a couple of other disliked classmates. She tortures them in various ways, putting bags of starving rats on their heads and worse. This doesn’t help her situation much even though the law remains oblivious to it all. The film isn’t badly made as indie horror goes (and the standards are very-goddamn-low right now), and somehow never manages to feel all that grim despite the subject matter, but never really becomes a comedy, either. Still, unless watching someone slice a guy’s dick off, jam it over a spike, and then rape a girl with it appeals to you somehow, there’s not much reason to look for this one, and far more reason to avoid it. Despite some talent it’s pretty much a look-at-my-chewed-up-food type of thing.
Sniper, The (B&W, 1952) Unusual and pretty shocking for its time film-noir/psycho flick in which a trouble guy (Arthur Franz) with misogynist frustrations goes on a killing spree with a rifle, targeting women. He’s driven by compulsions that he’s trying to fight (he tries contacting psychiatric help and writes “please stop me” letters to the cops, and even intentionally burns his hand on a stove in hopes that the emergency room personnel will think that’s weird and get him evaluated) but his rage (and apparently sexual desire, since the killings seem to be an erotic release for him) keeps building and getting out of control. Soon a serial rampage is under way, and the police (especially the department psychologist) are struggling to catch him and put an end to it. The film (directed by Edward Dymtryk) is extremely well-made and the killings are shocking even without gore; they’re sudden and violent and cleverly staged. The approach to the killer is surprising in that it’s sensitive without really being sympathetic; Franz is obviously a man who wants help yet is still monstrous, and he’s victimizing himself as well as his prey. One of the first movies to tackle serial killers seriously.
Tell me this ain't brutal:
Terminal Island (C, 1973) aka Knuckle Men. After the death penalty is abolished, California starts sentencing murderers to an island 40 miles off the coast, where prisoners (already declared legally dead by the state) roam free and unsupervised to do whatever they want to each other. The movie’s main claim to fame is that Tom Selleck is in the cast, playing a mercy-killer doctor who’s stoned on mimosa powder most of the time, but Barbara Leigh (who posed for many Vampirella magazine covers) was a bigger draw for me. There are only four women to the forty men on the island, and they’re used as slave labor as well as free whores, and also serve as something to fight over. A small group of outcast convicts capture the women and give them better treatment, which inspires a couple of the women to reveal their expertise in chemical warfare and make poison darts, gunpowder for grenades, and methods of inspiring bees to attack the genitals of mean fellas. They decide to use these skills to attack the bad-guy larger tribe, but unfortunately the leader of that bunch manages to get a shipment of assault rifles smuggled onto the island. Nobody said exploitation flicks had to have any plausibility to be good. The DVD is unfortunately a cut-for-TV print, complete with bleeped-out cuss words and a lot of nudity removed, but it’s worth watching anyway, and can usually be found cheap.
Trailer cut-up and rescored by somebody who thought they could improve on the original. They're pathetically wrong about that (nobody ever improves on classic trailers by adding their own dumbshit), but it's all I could find.