July Movie Review blowout

Well, I was gonna parcel the reviews out for the rest of the month, but that was when I was doing that novel-marathon thing, and since that went snafu thanks to my lovely prostate adventure (it's doing a good bit better now, although remains a nagging presence... but, that's pretty much life as I know it, lucky me), I think I'll just put the rest of the pre-prepared reviews up here and just come up with something else (or at least type in more reviews) next week. No excuse not to 'cept laziness! So, here's a bunch of 'em.


Smell of Honey, A Swallow of Brine (B&W, 1966) aka A Smell of Honey. Old-school skinflick about a teaser from Hell. Devilishly-cute (aside from this terrible blonde pompadour hair thing she's rockin') named Sharon (Stacey Walker) gets her kicks seducing guys and then screaming "rape," just to wreck their lives. She also leads on her lesbian roommate Paula, just to shoot her down -- "I may be a bitch, but I'll never be a butch!" But then our heroine (if you really wanna call her that) starts having too much fun making men crazy and runs into a guy who's already crazy, and nowhere near the gentleman the previous victims have been. David L. Friedman produced this sleaze classic and padded it with a lot of tedium (necking, getting dressed, taking baths -- although I'm sure those were considered the "good parts" in their day they're pretty dull now), but it's all nicely shot. The print quality of the DVD is pretty rough -- very choppy, with frequent damage. Something Weird probably dug up the last print on Earth, but the transfer is super-sharp, at least. The dream sequences are impressive and include SM (whipping and castration), strip acts, running through the meadow, etc.

Best I could find was a Something Weird clip compilation, that has a few seconds of the movie in it. Ah well, better than nothin'.

Streets of Fire (C, 1983) I love Walter Hill’s stuff and think he’s an underrated action director (not that he’s not highly respected -- I just think it’s still not enough), but this is one of his films that didn’t do a whole lot of box, and I think I know why: it’s a “rock and roll fable”... but the music’s not very good. The songs are lame and sound like leftover Meat Loaf (meaning the fat guy who does “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” -- I’m not being surreal). Other than that it’s very stylish (oh my god and how) and original, and even where it’s not good it’s at least interesting. It’s set in some weird alternate universe that’s like the 1950’s, but also futuristic. Diane Lane (an old hand at this after starring in Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains) is a rock diva, Ellen Aim, who’s kidnapped by psychotic greaser Willem DaFoe (who was so small-time back then he's not even mentioned in the trailer despite having a pretty big part) and his motorcycle gang. A laconic soldier named Tom Cody (Michael Pare) is called back to his wet-streets-and-neon city to rescue her. He teams up with a butch chick named McCoy, who can ‘bout match him in ass-kickery. Rick Morranis goes along, too, but doesn’t help much with the violence. Cody rescues Ellen and helps the Bombers motorcycle gang live up to their names by blowing up their bikes, but Willem vows to steal Ellen back. They also have trouble with some cops, just to provide more action. Most of the movie takes place at night and seemingly underground; even during car chases there’s a metal roof instead of sky. Hill also seems to be using some of the same tricks with the dialogue that he used in The Warriors, where lines never overlap and the speaker is usually in the frame; I think this is to make it seem more like a comic book, but that’s just my theory. Critics are widely split on the sldedgehammer-fight finale, some claiming it’s anti-climactic and others thinking it’s a highlight. It’s not bad. Lee Ving from the great punk band Fear is one of the bikers. Too bad he didn’t get to do the music, or people might still remember this film exists. One song, “I Can Dream About You,” was a hit, but still sucks (it was the 80’s, people enjoyed shit). Overall, it’s an interesting experiment in style and grows on you with repeat viewings, despite its flaws.

Superfly (C, 1972) aka Super Fly. One of the major blacksploitation flicks, this is a story of a total anti-hero -- a drug dealer named Youngblood Priest (played with intense cool and groovaholic sideburns by Ron O’Neal) who’s trying to make one final major score so he can get out of the game and retire. The movie benefits immeasurably from an astounding score by Curtis Mayfield -- you’d have to go to Leone/Morricone or Seigel/Schifrin to find a movie whose music adds as much to the atmosphere, and it’s still one of the best soundtrack albums ever. A lot of the time the music score is all you hear; it’s strong enough that they let is serve instead of dialogue, or as backing for a still-photo montage in the middle. Visually it’s powerful but crude (there are a few bad editing choices -- ever notice how, during the part where Priest chases down a junkie, it looks like he ends up in his own house? He kicks the puke out of him and then answers a knock at the door -- that’s a confusing transition), with sleazy ghetto locations everywhere. Priest’s car was borrowed from a real-life pump named K.C. in exchange for giving him a part in the movie (he’s the guy in the red hat in the club where Curtis Mayfield is playing). Ron O’Neal unfortunately died of pancreatic cancer on almost the same day this was finally released on DVD. This spawned two sequels -- the ill-regarded Superfly T.N.T. directed by O’Neal and a 20-years-later sequel, Return of Superfly, that didn’t really have much to do with this. Before Scarface came out, this was the big gangsta flick everybody watched. People were wearing “Superfly coats” and hats for a year or two after this came out, so its influence stretches beyond the cinema.

This dude is bad! And he ain't just fly... he's super fly!

And, just because it's Curtis Mayfield, baby, yeah, here's a couple of songs from the soundtrack. Suitable for worshiping.

...tryin' to get over...

...I'm your mama, I'm your daddy...

...Freddie's on the corner now, if you wanna be a junkie, wow, remember Freddie's dead...

Swamp of the Ravens (C, 1974) aka El Pantano de los Cuervos. Really bizarre, obscure Spanish horror with atrocious dubbing and plenty of gore (some of which is provided by real autopsy footage) and some really weird music. A renegade medical experimenter (i.e. mad scientist) named Dr. Frosta is hard at work in his swamp laboratory trying to revive the dead. His many failures just get dumped into the swampwater out the back door, where they sometimes float up to stare at him, ala Carnival of Souls. His girlfriend can't handle his obsessive overwork so she leaves him for a lounge singer who sings freakish tunes about "dead robot ladies" but he eventually abducts her to use as a subject, anyway. He also works on a leper and is blackmailed by the leper's crippled friend. Meanwhile, the police are finding corpses and body parts all over and trying to figure out what's happening. By that time, Frosta has some necrophilia going on with the girlfriend. He decides the cops are going to close in on him eventually, so he doctors his undead servant to look like him and has him set himself on fire so they'll think he's dead. Very strange movie; the gore effects are pretty good (in some cases real, including medical specimens of babies in jars and a real autopsy -- which isn't fully capitalized on since it's shot from a distance of a dozen feet or so) and there's creepy atmosphere in the murky, misty swamp with trees full of corpse-fattened ravens and plenty of zombies (even if they never really do anything but stand neck-deep in the swamp and peek through the water-weeds). It doesn't really go much of anywhere, but it makes up for that in sheer weirdness. Damned near a lost film; the DVD print is sharp but does have a little color instability because some of the reels were starting to go red.

Tank Commandos (B&W, 1959) Gritty low-budget WWII action with a group of G.I.’s in Italy, trying to blow up a bridge the Nazis are using to move their tanks. The bridge is hidden, because it’s a foot or so underwater, so it’s a mystery how the troops are moving so much, and the demolition team has to figure out where it is, then destroy it. The problem is there are a lot of German troops in the way. Inconvenient! Some of the melodramatics get to be a bit much, but things don’t stop moving, so it delivers.

This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (B&W with color sequences, 1967) aka Tonight I’ll Eat Your Corpse, Esta Noite Encarnarei No Teu Cadaver, This Night I’ll Make Your Corpse Incarnate, Tonight I Will Make Your Corpse Turn Red, Tonight I Will Enter Your Corpse, Tonight I Will Paint In Flesh Color. Jose Mojica Marins’ sequel to the infamous At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul picks up right where the first film left off. Coffin Joe recovers and goes back to work trying to find a “superior woman” to breed with, so she can bear the son of the “superior man” and he can become immortal through blood and become the savior of mankind. he’s very Nietzschian. To weed out his superior woman, he locks a bunch of kidnapped candidates in a room and covers them with spiders. When they fail to exhibit superiority, they’re killed in a snakepit. A truly creepy-looking scrawny hunchback helps him. Finally he finds a superior woman -- she doesn’t even mind that he killed her brother -- and gets her pregnant. But of course he has cursed luck. In one incredible scene he has a nightmare where a black figure drags him out of bed and into a graveyard, where wormy hands break through the soil and drag him down to Hell, which is in color. It’s a frozen, snowy place where living bodies are embedded in bleeding walls of ice and demons whip whatever’s sticking out, and bodies are crucified upside down and diagonally and covered with snakes. It’s all brilliantly surreal and bizarre and insane. Like other Coffin Joe films, this is the disturbing -- but artistic -- expression of a sick mind. Has some extremely creepy moments. In Portuguese, with subtitles.

I don't speak Portuguese, and I'm pretty juvenile, so Coffin Joe's opening statement is more funny than scary to me...

Tarantula attack!

Tiger Fangs (B&W, 1943) Famous animal trapper (not famous actor -- I would emphasize this more, but see the movie and he'll emphasize it plenty himself) Frank Buck stars in this wartime jungle B-flick. A series of deadly tiger attacks are disrupting harvesting on a big rubber plantation, which slows down exports of valuable rubber to the allies. The natives think it's the work of "chindags" -- humans who turn into tigers. Frank Buck shows up and goes on safari to catch the tigers -- or chindags -- responsible. He finds a camp with a guy named "Taco" abusing a caged tiger, and the boss of the camp "smells like a Hun!" -- probably because of his sinister habit of referring to everything as an "excellent pleasure" and because he appears to be fattened on der veinershnitzel. A girl finds a black leopard in her bedroom, and there’s a tricky plan to open tiger cages using fast-growing bamboo shoots. Frank figures out it’s all a Nazi plot and manages to foil it in time to keep our jeeps and trucks rollin’ rollin’ rollin’. If the elephants are on our side, who can stand against us? Nothing amazing but a decent just-under-an-hour run through the jungle.

Vampire Bat, The (B&W, 1933) aka Blood Sucker, Forced To Sin. Creepy old creaker that combines Dracula and Frankenstein. A town is besieged by bats, and bodies are found drained of blood. The locals, o’ course, blame vampires, but the constable thinks a human is responsible. He’s right: mad doctor Lionel Atwill is draining people’s blood to feed a blob of living tissue he’s created in a tank. Since Herman the village idiot (Dwight Frye, who’s great at this stuff) likes bats (“they’re soft... like cat!”) and plays with them, he’s blamed. But it’s really Atwill, with help from a hypnotized assistant. His other assistant, Fay Wray, finds out what’s going on, and boy is she in trouble. Old and cheap but very good, one of those public domain titles that used to show up late nights on low-budget TV channels but which you have to seek out on cheap DVDs now instead. Or watch it online starting here.

Virgin Among The Living Dead (C, 1973) aka Zombie 4, Christina: Princess of Eroticism, Christina: Princesse de L'eroticisme, Among the Living Dead. A young lady named Christina comes to a shabby seaside town to visit her family at the ill-regarded Monserrat mansion, despite warnings from the locals. Her family is a bunch of cold, staring weirdoes. One dies as soon as she shows up, gasping that Christina should "run! run!" They sit this relative's corpse in a chair and chant a funeral mass in Latin (but one cousin paints her toenails during it, and Uncle Howard Vernon has a cigarette going). Her female cousins slash each other's breasts with scissors and lick off the blood, and they put dead bats on Christina's bed. Other family members play with a severed hand. Christina inherits the house and everything else, but for some reason her increasingly-freakish relatives don't move out. Her dead father appears a few times (once creepily floating through the woods with a noose around his neck) and tells her to run away. And you'll probably guess the reason she should heed his words long before she does. This has some really creepy scenes but doesn't make a lot of sense; where that's because director Jess Franco (who also appears as a mute idiot servant, probably so he wouldn't have to pay another actor) was being experimental and surreal, or just because he's a pathetic hack who can't tell a linear story to save his miserable life, is debatable. In any case, it's a rare Franco film in the sense that it actually works; I can't stand Franco, but this one's weird and creepy. The old videotape and TV prints make even less sense and look much junkier, because they're missing a lot of nudity and contain pasted-in scenes of black-toothed zombies that were shot by Jean Rollin, in an attempt to beef up the "zombiness." One TV print I saw repeated those scenes several times just to bring it up to a standard running time, making it an even bigger mess; see the definitive DVD edition if at all possible.

Best I could find was some of the soundtrack music, which is pretty freaky.

Wandering Ginza Butterfly (C, 1972) aka Gincho Wataridori. Nami (Meiko Kaji) gets released from prison (she served time for her part in her girl-gang's murder of a yakuza boss) and finds work as a bar-hostess. She hangs around some major players, gambles, scams men who mistake her for a prostitute, and hustles pool. Much of the money she scores she sends to the widow of the yakuza she killed, because she suffers from guilt. Then some mobsters start trying to take the widow's nightclub as payment for a debt, showing up to scare off business to ensure she can't raise the money to pay it off. Nami steps in to save the day with a high stakes pool game (the pool room even has a Paul Newman poster as homage to The Hustler). When the sore-loser gangsters try to welsh on the bet, Nami has to show their dishonorable asses that she's just as good with a blade as she is with a cue. The movie's not exactly action-packed -- the fight scenes are a long time coming and are relegated to the last five minutes, but they're well-done and splattery -- but since it's a Meiko Kaji film you won't mind the slow pace too much since there's plenty of gorgeous to look at. Kaji's character isn't her standard ice queen, so she gets a chance to emote a wider range than usual (smiling, even! When's the last time you saw that?) and has more dialogue. She also has several songs on the soundtrack, which is always a plus. The series continued (and concluded) with Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler.

"Guts and courage lay under her skin!"

Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler (C, 1972) aka Gincho Nagaremon Mesuneko Bakuchi. Meiko Kaji is back for this sequel, and this time she's got Sonny Chiba for a co-star. Kaji rescues a girl from a life of prostitution by winning her contract in a game of cards, then sets out to find a killer named Hoshiden, who murdered her gambler father years ago. While gathering information she does a lot of gambling and befriends Chiba, who actually plays a klutzy goof. At one point he tries to cover a gambling bet by throwing his pants on the table, and later he flashes her while taking a bubble bath. He also tries to act as a pimp for brothel and has a friend demonstrate a bidet, and that might be funny if Gilligan was doing it. When the father of one of Kaji's friends kills himself, he leaves behind information about where she can find her father's killer. The killer finds her instead, but taking a hell of a beating isn't enough to stop Kaji when she's set on revenge. This sequel is inferior to the first film for several reasons. First, Kaji has less screen time, and the movie really suffers when she's not in it. You'd think Sonny Chiba could pick up the slack, but they only use him for comedy, and that's not his strong point. Who puts Sonny Chiba in a movie and uses him as a clown? He does turn badass in the last five minutes when he and Kaji take on a house full of yakuza in a satisfying finale, but you have to wait through a lot of silliness to get there. Second, Kaji is kept in a stiff, shapeless kimono with her hair up and pulled back (and since she has the perfect hair, this is a real shame). Also, a lot of time is spent gambling with cards; this lacks the kinetic energy of the billiards in the first film, plus, as a Westerner, the rules and meanings of these cards are completely alien to me (and likely to most of you as well), so the drama of turning cards over is lacking. "Wow, a peony! Is that good?" This is by no means a bad movie (all Meiko Kaji films are essential), but just expect a step down from the first one.

Climactic kickass!

Zatoichi's Revenge (C, 1965) aka Zatoichi Nidan-Kiri, The Blind Swordsman's Revenge. Great, more-straightforward-than-usual entry sees the blind swordsman paying a visit to his massage-instructor, only to find out that he's been murdered and his daughter's being forced into prostitution. There's a lot of local girls who are having to work in brothels to pay off debts, and Ichi's teacher was killed as part of a "Rob Roy" type scheme; an official loaned him some money, then had him killed and robbed. Ichi has a clue that a certain samurai did it, so they're destined to duel. Ichi also deals with a crooked dice-tosser who's working for his enemies. Ichi piles up plenty of bodies in the process of setting things right.

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