Nothin' but the cheap stuff

This week's episode of What's Z Talking About And Why Should I Care? will focus on movies available really cheap on DVD. You can find these on low-priced multi-title box sets or possibly even in your local Dollar Tree. Some are probably public domain so you might be able to download 'em off the 'net, if you were disposed to go with such low-quality. In any case, here are the reviews. Enjoy!


Astral Fiend, The (C, 1976) aka The Invisible Strangler, The Astral Factor. A psycho with mother issues learns how to harness the power of his mind while in prison, and he uses his new powers of telekinesis and invisibility to escape from prison, bury a cemetery nightwatchman alive, and strangle girls. Cop Robert Foxworth is assigned to investigate, which seems to irritate him. The killer targets celebrities because his mother was a former showgirl, and Elke Sommer is a likely target. He uses his powers to run cops over with their own cars, and Elke sings Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” The killer uses scuba gear to get one victim who’s been hidden on a boat (Marianna Hill, from one of my favorite movies of all time, Messiah of Evil). How can the cops ever catch a killer they can’t see? Far from riveting, but it’s a passable cheapie if you’re forgiving. The “turning invisible” special effects look like transporter effects from Star Trek and the “glowing eyes” he gets when using telekinesis aren’t far removed from the retsyn “ting!” in an old Certs commercial.

Watch the whole thing here

Brain Machine, The (C, 1977) aka Grey Matter, The E-Box, Mind Warp, Time Warp. Incredibly boring, static sci-fi that’s hard to stay interested in and really isn’t about anything. Filmed in Mississippi in 1972 and not released until 1977, this involves subjects taking part in some psychological experiment to determine “truth.” The subjects include priest James Best, a young Gerald “Major Dad” McRaney, an obnoxious slob, and an airheaded girl from Tennessee. People in remote areas monitor them on TV screens while delivering lines full of meaningless technical jargon (“Integrate CIC circuit probe mode 3, mark T, minus 10 and counting” - shit like that) as they sit around talking about nonsense or occasionally having watery flashbacks where they talk about different nonsense, which somehow puts their lives in peril. Meanwhile in the outside world, agents from the program go around shooting people to keep secret plans from getting out. It seems to have something to do with being able to record thoughts as TV images, and it gets out of hand; how, exactly, is never really clear. Much of this is shot in computer labs, in basements next to bare wiring, and other “technical”-looking locations. It’s amazing that they ever thought such incoherency was worth filming, and I deserve some kind of endurance merit badge for sitting through the whole thing. I hope you like establishing shots of buildings and swimming pools, ‘cuz you’re in for it.

Watch the whole thing here

Forest, The (C, 1982) aka Terror in the Forest. Lurid video boxes doth make fools of us all. If you never picked this up during the VHS-rental 80's, I bet you know somebody who did. This is what happens when cheapo slasher-in-the-woods horror meets something like Escape From Witch Mountain and does the hokey pokey (needs more pokey and a lot less hokey). A group of nobody-ever-heard-of-'ems (several of whom look vaguely like heard-of-'em's Robert Reed, Shelley Hack, or Tony Danza) decide to get away from it all by going to a remote section of woods for hiking and camping. Once they get there they see echo-voiced ghosts of a brother and sister, and their mother. Their father -- a grizzled guy in a trucker hat and dirty tee shirt -- is still alive and living in a cave, venturing out to kill hikers with a big knife, then eating them. Flashbacks reveal he murdered his unfaithful wife, and then the kids died at some point and their ghosts go around warning campers that their dad is a lunatic. The body count is low and the gore very weak, and the slasher guy is more likely to inspire yells of "wipe your mouth" than fear (he goes around with grease stains around his lips like clown paint). Pretty pathetic and often laughable (a fight between two guys - one of whom is wielding a pitchfork, the other half a bicycle - really cracked me up) but if you've seen every other dead camper movie you might as well see this one, too. It's on DVD as part of the Suspense Classics 50 movie pack, so at least you won't be spending much money; you really don't want to invest much more than time in this dud.

Watch the whole thing here.

Haunts (C, 1977) aka The Veil. Ingrid, a farmer of Swedish ancestry, is plagued by memories of childhood incest. Her main problem, however, is that some rapist maniac is attacking women in the community and killing them with scissors. He tries to attack Ingrid a couple of times and leaves a murdered bar floozy in her chicken pen. Her goat also ends up dead. Sheriff Aldo Ray tries to help but he’s pretty sickly, and there are too many potential suspects -- an awkward guy who’s new in town, a jerky farmhand who wears fancy shirts, her twitchy uncle Cameron Mitchell... Ingrid is a nervous wreck to begin with, so all this stalking-and-slashing has a bad effect on her. The film is helped by having a kind of S.F. Brownrigg feel to it, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense and gets lost along the way. It has enough worthwhile moments to deem it worth sitting through, but its flaws badly cripple it.

Clip available here

Project: Kill (C, 1976) aka Total Control, The Guardian. Given Leslie Neilsen's later silly roles and his deadpan approach to them, when you catch one of his older serious roles now you keep expecting a punchline. In this action flick by William Girdler, Neilsen plays an instructor of supposed counter-assassins, which are actually being used as government hit men. Highly trained and programmed for killing, Neilsen decides to quit without going through deprogramming. The people behind the project want him back before he can blow the whistle on them, and Philippine gangsters want to find out what he knows. Neilsen’s second-in-command is sent after him. Meanwhile, he’s falling in love with Nancy Kwan, getting in car chases, shooting people, and going through withdrawl from the drugs they were using to control him. His second-in-command is having troubles of his own, fending off grenade attacks in passenger trains and punches in the jaw from his female companion, as well as getting in kung fu battles with thugs. IT’s weird watching Leslie beat the hell out of guys, but he’s fairly convincing. Mediocre overall but worth a look, and available very cheap on DVD.

Watch the whole thing here.

Stryker (C, 1983) Italian Road Warrior rip-off has a very Toby Keith-looking Steve Sandor driving around the post-apocalypse desert, fighting a bad-guy tribe for water, which is a very rare and prized substance. Everybody seems to have enough gasoline and bullets in this version of the future, however. An Amazon tribe kills a lot of bad guys with arrows. The bad guy leader looks like Anton LaVey and has a hook for a hand because Stryker cut the real one off. The women have found a hidden spring, which makes them a big target for the bad guys. There’s also a tribe of midgets, for no apparent reason other than audiences dig the fuck outta some midgets. This isn’t as bad as many Italian Road Warrior films because at least they’re using actual hot rod cars, instead of goofy golf-cart things like so many others. The version of this on DVD (as part of the ultra-crappy “Grindhouse Experience Vol. 2” set) is struck from a banged-up videotape and is missing about three minutes of not-so-special gore and nudity. There’s no real plot to this movie, just a premise, and yet I have a poster for it on my bedroom wall.

Clip available here.


Tortured Angels (C, 1982) aka Strike of the Tortured Angels. Trashy Hong Kong women-in-prison film apparently inspired by some of Roger Corman’s efforts (they wanted a Pam Grier so bad that they stuck an afro wig and blackface on one of the taller Asian girls!). Women in some Chinese prison spend so much time pointlessly abusing each other that the guards don’t even have to do anything, except make the girls sunbathe. The girls engage in all sorts of incredibly ignorant behavior, such as trying to make each other eat huge chunks of timber, setting pigs loose and riding on them, and throwing chairs around. Suddenly there’s a long flashback to show that people in the outside world are obnoxious, too (“Here, have some beer, you’ll feel pretty good!”), and then several of the girls escape during a boat trip (guess it’s not a maximum security joint). After that there’s a lot of soap-opera junk and everybody yells at each other a lot (I would hate to get nagged by any of the women who dubbed this film; talk about strident voices!) and there’s a blackmail plot against a guy who’s planning to marry for a PhD (I know that sounds carzy, but it’s only because it is). Every time you think this movie’s gotten as stupid as it can get, it pulls out a new trick and tops itself. For the most part, though, it’s just boring. Available as part of the “Grindhouse Experience” DVD bootleg collection, with burned-in Dutch (I think) subtitles (whatever language it is, their word for “END” is “SLUT,” which was a pretty funny way to cap this one off).

Couldn't find a clip, so here's the ever-popular monkey washing a cat.

Twisted Nerve, The (C, 1968) Rarely seen (although available super-cheap on the Box Office Gold 50-movie pack from Mill Creek, now out of print and not quite as cheap) British psycho horror that offended audiences with some controversial exploitation of retardation. When he gets caught shoplifting, a young, immature sociopath mama’s boy named Martin pretends to be a retarded guy named George so he won’t get in trouble. He uses his retarded act to get pretty Haley Mills to “adopt” him out of sympathy, and insinuates himself into her household while occasionally sneaking out to stab enemies with scissors or hack them with a hatchet. Mills eventually figures out that “Georgie” is pulling a scam and that he’s actually a dangerous psycho... but Martin knows he’s been found out, and that means Mills is in big trouble. This is an early entry into the Psycho-inspired British horror cycle, and while it’s a bit overlong, it’s pretty compelling and packs some tension. The soundtrack includes a little whistled tune by Bernard Hermann, and that’s one of the things Quentin Tarrantino stole in Kill Bill (it’s what “nurse” Darryl Hannah is whistling). The controversy over the association of “mongoloidism” with insanity led the producers to put a voice-over disclaimer on the opening credits, claiming there was no scientific basis for the entire movie. Ouch.

Clip with the whistling so you'll remember the tune

And what post would be complete without a totally-whorin' link to my Twitter feed? Which I like to think is the written equivalent of that monkey washing that cat.


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