Archive for the Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Dances the LAMBADA (1990)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Dance Crazes, Dancing Girls! with tags , , , , , , , on July 18, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

LAMBADA (1990)

bbblambadaposterWelcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

It’s summertime, and my series on the Golan-Globus years at Cannon Films continues with something a little different for the Israeli cousins, Menehem Golan and Yoram Globus.  Things were getting rough for Cannon, and they owed a lot of people a lot of money, especially after SUPERMAN IV (1987) flopped at the box office.  They needed a cheap hit, something they could exploit and make a few million for capital.  However, Pathe’, headed by Giancarlo Parretti, bought Cannon Films in 1989.  Golan didn’t like the way the company was going, so he left Cannon.  Globus, however, stuck around and put out many more dubious features.

But what about that hit?  Even with the infusion of money Pathe’ brought to the table; the company needed something to give them clout.  Menehem Golan and Yoram Globus had big hits with their dance musicals BREAKIN’ and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (both 1984).  What if they went back to their 1980s musical roots (Menehem Golan had even directed THE APPLE, a ludicrous futuristic musical in 1980).  Oddly, the cousins hit upon the exact same exploitable fad at the same time, releasing two movies within a month of each other about the same topic—Brazil’s “forbidden dance,” the Lambada!  With Cannon and Pathe’ behind him, Yoram Globus managed to get BREAKIN’s director Joel Silberg and as choreographer, the immortal Shabba Doo (one of the original Soul Train Gang).  The movie was titled simply LAMBADA, sometimes accompanied by the subtitle SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE!  Goram created the jaw-droppingly awful THE FORBIDDEN DANCE, in which a Brazilian princess tries to save the rain forest by shaking what her mamma gave her.  But we are here to discuss LAMBADA, universally considered the better of the two competing Lambada movies.

First, let’s clarify—just what the hell is a lambada, and can I get it with refried beans?  The lambada is a two-beat based dance that became popular for about ten minutes during the 1980s, especially in South America.  Originating in Brazil, it is similar to the salsa or the meringue, except the legs are kept arched.  Men are to wear long pants and either no shirt or a wife-beater while the ladies are supposed to wear extremely short skirts which would twirl around and expose the still-popular thong underwear.  This is most probably why the dance is forbidden.

Enough with the educational lecture.  Let’s watch LAMBADA (1990), and let’s dance!

The movie starts at a huge pool party, with one annoyingly preppie guy emerging from the water, fully clothed, screaming, “Brewskies!”  Everyone is waiting for Dean, your typical blonde, muscular jerk from every 1980s flick, played by Ricky Paull Goldin, a major soap opera star who was in THE GUIDING LIGHT, ANOTHER WORLD, ALL MY CHILDREN, and THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.  Everyone is dancing to a terrible rock and roll song, including one couple that gets so caught up in it that they end up underwater in the fountain.

At Stonewood High, math teacher Kevin ‘Blade’ Laird, played by J. Eddie Peck of DANGEROUSLY CLOSE (1986) and a regular on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, teaches his privileged white class, the gals all drooling over his buns sheathed in his tight pants.  Student Sandy, played by Melora Hardin—who played Jan Levinson on THE OFFICE as well as roles in movies like 17 AGAIN (2009) —even asks if he would consider posing for a calendar, but he gets her back on track to geometry excellence.  Laird seems rather dull, living quietly with his pretty wife and his son, Rudy.

Melora Hardin as Jan in LAMBADA.

Melora Hardin as Sandy in LAMBADA.

Sandy catches her boyfriend Dean with ‘some ditz’ with four looks and nine breasts.  She slams her ice cream cone into his groin and joins some friends to go to a hot new dance club called No Man’s Land (no, it’s not a lesbian club).  This place has a cop car hanging upside down from the ceiling, so you know it’s awesome!  Aaaand, there’s our first thong sighting to the song ‘Gonna Set the Night on Fire.’  Everyone is doing the lambada to a Gloria Estefan wannabe!

Guess who pulls up to the club on a motorcycle?  Yep, at night, Kevin Laird takes off his glasses, changes his name to Blade, loses his shirt, and dances like it ain’t forbidden anymore.

Sandy asks, “What is that?” and her friend answers, all agog, “The Lambada!  Can you believe they outlawed it in Brazil?”  And Sandy spots her math teacher dirty dancing with a thong-master (you could have a drinking game where you do a shot every time you spot a thong!).  Sandy flees.  Perhaps, she was afraid of being sent to the blackboard?

There is a master plan at work.  After some lambada dancing, Blade takes a bunch of underprivileged kids into the back room and teaches them calculus!  If only he could get his rival Ramone, played by Shabba Doo himself, to join them in their lessons.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to do math problems when everyone is dancing and drinking in the next room.  I know I’d pick math – NOT!

Sandy is finding it difficult to concentrate in her own math class, letting loose with some crazy fantasies involving various angles and salsa music and a shirtless teacher.  It’s DIRTY DANCING (1987) meets STAND AND DELIVER (1988).

Principal Singleton appoints Laird to head math instructor, but he’s a prude who fires teachers for dating other teachers.  What is he gonna think about Laird’s alter-ego Blade?  Laird’s son, Rudy, has a discussion about ‘greasers’ and why Daddy is a ‘greaser’ because he is Mexican.  The wife is even giving him crap about not seeing him enough.  Pressure from all sides!

Back at No Man’s Land, Sandy decides to dance with Laird, as she’s hot for teacher.  The feud with Ramone heats up.  “You gonna make those girls coconuts, man?  Brown on the outside and white on the inside?” Ramone taunts.  That’s enough for Ramone’s girl to dance with Blade.  And, yes, her name is Pink Toes.  Sandy cuts in while the song lyrics go, “Say you got a big one?  I’m the kind of girl who likes to do the nasty dance!”  Yowza!  At first, Blade resists her charms, but soon he’s teaching her how to do the forbidden dance.  She says, “Math class is over.  Next is biology, and if you’re lucky, anatomy.”  He says, “School’s over, Sandy!”  She ends up with Ramone.  Shabba pulls a shiv, and there’s a fight on the dance floor.  It ends with Laird taking Sandy home on his motorcycle, which he rides into and out of the club, parking it by the dance floor.  I want to be this cool.  I will never be this cool.

This student gets an "A" in LAMBADA.

This student gets an “A” in LAMBADA.

Dean happens by when Mr. Laird is dropping Sandy off at her house.  He hates that she’s with some biker, but he likes that she’s dressed “like a slut”.  Trouble is brewing for our favorite teacher/artiste.

The night class is going to get their GEDs in the pool room, including an African-American guy dressed like Jughead and called Ricochet.  Ramone misses a shot at billiards, and Mr. Laird teaches him the rectangular coordinate system, aka the geometry of pool.  Bets are made, and a protractor is pulled out of his pocket and used to calculate the angles needed to make a shot.

The next day in the all-white school, during computer class, some geek called Egghead programs one of the computers to play some beat box music, and the class erupts into a choreographed dance number you have to see to believe.  There is a lot of leg grabbing and hopping.  And every damn kid in the class can actually bust a move, including, yes, some break-dancing moves.  They are nearly caught by the principal and a member of the school board.

The entire computer class busts a move in LAMBADA.

The entire computer class busts a move in LAMBADA.

Sandy will not leave well enough alone, trying desperately to seduce Mr. Laird.  She really is a little tramp.  When he finally convinces her he isn’t interested, she heads for the club…and Ramone!  They proceed to dance it up like there’s no tomorrow in a very good scene where the two actors/dancers go wild on the floor.

When Mr. Laird takes the underprivileged kids to his school to take a test-run on a GED test on the computers, Dean finds out and sets out to expose the math teacher for the hip-shaking, shoulder-swaying, motorcycle-riding stud that he is.

Will the principal discover Laird’s night-time extracurricular activities?  Will Sandy seduce him away from his wife?  Will the ragtag motley group of adorable poor kids beat the rich kids in a super quiz?  Will anyone know what a Lambada is in five more years?

LAMBADA is a silly movie—ok, a very, very silly movie, but it was made for teens and on that level it isn’t bad.  The plot is stale, but the actors give it their all, even the ones who can’t act a lick.  Enthusiasm counts for a lot, and this movie has that in spades.  It’s a goofy little movie with super-sexy leads, some decent dancing, a nice message for the young ones, and some winking, knowing dialogue.  These guys knew they were making a dumb movie, and they did it with the utmost sincerity.  Thus, making it all the funnier.  I don’t know to what extent the filmmakers wanted to poke fun at themselves, but they succeeded nonetheless.  This film’s a hoot!  It helps that this is a flick trapped in the late Eighties.  The hair is high, the make-up is garish, the costumes include a lot of pastels, and the music is loud and trapped someplace between Miami Sound Machine and Ricky Martin.

Mr. Laird teaches Ramone about the  rectangular coordinate system!

Mr. Laird teaches Ramone about the rectangular coordinate system!

On a side note, the cinematography is quite good, full of neon and smoke.  LAMBADA was shot by Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli, who also photographed STARCRASH (1978), TENTACLES (1977), MIDNIGHT RIDE (1990), and the unbelievable SONNY BOY (1989).  He raises the whole movie up by a half a star.

I give LAMBADA two and a half rectangular coordinate systems out of four.  Math rocks!

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: LIFEFORCE (1985)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 1980s Movies, 2013, Aliens, Ancient Civilizations, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Science Fiction, Space, Special Effects, Tobe Hooper, Vampires with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

LIFEFORCE (1985)

bbblifeposterWelcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

It’s summertime, and my series on the Golan-Globus years of Cannon Films continues with a movie that arrived with an enormously high pedigree.  Based on a brilliant science fiction novel by Colin Wilson, directed by Tobe Hooper, one of the hottest horror directors on the planet, written by Dan O’Bannon,  the man who penned ALIEN (1979), musical score by Henry Mancini (who won four Oscars and wrote scores for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, 1961, THE PINK PANTHER, 1963 and VICTOR/VICTORIA, 1982), photographed by Alan Hume (EYE OF THE NEEDLE, 1981 and RUNAWAY TRAIN, 1985), and with special effects by John Dykstra (STAR WARS, 1977, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, 1979 and DJANGO UNCHAINED, 2012).  A budget of $25,000,000 was awarded to Hooper, and the largest sound stages in London were rented to accommodate the gigantic and elaborate sets.  What was the story these incredible filmmakers were set to create, using such a distinguished group of creators?

Naked space vampires attack London.

Yep, LIFEFORCE (1985) is a big budget B-movie that pulls out everything except the kitchen sink to entertain you.  Hell, there may actually be a kitchen sink in the middle of this glorious mess. 

When Halley’s Comet makes its side-swipe of Earth, a spaceship is sent to scientifically analyze the rock, but the crew instead discovers an ancient ship hidden in the tail of the comet.  Steve Railsback (HELTER SKELTER, 1976 and THE STUNTMAN, 1980) plays Col. Tom Carlsen, and he makes the decision to lead an exploratory crew into the ship to investigate it, since it will be seventy-six years until the comet returns.  The group invades the ship, which seems very organic and looks a lot like the pictures my doctor gave me of my colostomy!  Near the spaceship’s “rectum,” they find desiccated corpses that resemble giant bats.  Outside, the ship starts to unfurl a huge device that looks a lot like an umbrella, while inside, Col. Tom discovers three nude corpses, two men and one full frontal in your face female (Mathilda May, who bravely remains unclothed through pretty much the whole film, causing fifteen year old boys everywhere to instantly fall in love).  The three space nudists are sealed in glass cases, perfectly preserved, so they are brought back to the ship for further examination.

Open up and say ahhh!

Open up and say ahhh!

Thirty days later, the same ship enters the Earth’s atmosphere.  A fire has destroyed the interior, and it appears as if the entire crew has perished, but the three naked people are still in their coffins.  So, the humans do what they always do in these movies—they bring the aliens back to Earth, to the European Space Research Center in London, to be precise.  Did you know that an early word for ‘comet’ is ‘disaster’ which means ‘evil star?’  That’s what the news is saying about Haley’s Comet as it gets closer and closer to its flyby of Earth.  Fun factoids like that abound in LIFEFORCE!

The casing around the bodies pops open, and Dr. Hans Fallada (Frank Finlay of MURDER BY DECREE, 1979 and CROMWELL, 1970) and Col. Colin Crane (Peter Firth of EQUUS, 1977, TESS, 1979 and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, 1990) intend to dissect the bodies.  Before they can, one of the guards is compelled to touch the female, which makes her wake up and clutch him in an embrace of death.  Green lights shoot around them as she sucks the lifeforce out of the man, leaving him a shriveled husk.  It’s a terrific scene, scary and cool, and it allows for her escape.  This is witnessed by Dr. Fallada and another man, Dr. Bukovsky, who is approached by the girl, who tells him to “Use my body.”  And, yes, a naked girl walks right out of the space center, stunning several guards in the process with a lightshow of blasting electricity.

The Army is called in and informed that the escape pod was missing from the retrieved spaceship.  The doctors decide to autopsy the weird husk of the guard, but Bukovsky is ill (uh-oh!) while Dr. Fallada believes that the girl (“The most overwhelmingly feminine creature I have ever encountered.”) is dangerous (duh) and loose in London.  Meanwhile, those two naked guys blow up their crystal coffins and try to walk out of the building, even after being shot several times.  The two male models, er, space vampire minions, are fed a grenade, which leaves nothing but little bits behind.

A husk comes to life!

A husk comes to life!

As the autopsy on the guard is about to begin, the husk sits up, moaning like a zombie, and it motions the surgeon towards it.  Compelled, the man steps into its arms, and those wild blue lights start again as the surgeon’s life is sucked from his body and the husk grows back its skin to become the guard, all healed and confused now.  It’s another terrific scene, with the guard looking incredibly happy and satisfied once he has returned, then he goes into shock as he sees what he has done.  So, the abilities can be passed on, within two hours!

A naked girl is discovered in Hyde Park, little more than a husk, but it’s not the vampire.  So now she has clothes and looks like anyone else.  The guard who was revived goes crazy two hours later in his cell, and then, in agony, he withers into a husk and dies.  Dr. Fallada says, “As I suspected, once the victims are transformed, they need regular infusions, otherwise…”  And the huskish guard dies while the pathologist he attacked explodes into dust.

The desiccated girl they discovered in Hyde Park is hooked up to electrodes and strapped down in a lab.  In a horrific scene, the scientists watch as she awakens and struggles with the bonds before exploding.  At the same time, the spaceship’s escape pod re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere in Texas, and Col. Tom Carlsen is rescued and immediately flown to London.  Tom relates what happened on the ship.

When the three specimens were transported aboard the ship, everyone starts feeling drained with the exception of Col. Tom Carlsen.  On the trip back to Earth, the astronauts begin acting strangely, destroying the radio and controls, and then they start dying one by one, their very lives sucked out of them.  Finally, Carlsen was the only one left, and he knew somehow that the girl was causing the deaths, so he torched the ship and launched himself in the escape pod.  But, he also felt attached to the girl, almost as if he was leaving a lover. 

Col. Crane is informed that a needle-like shape has emerged from the tail of Haley’s Comet and is headed toward Earth!  Meanwhile, Col. Carlsen is having weird, erotic dreams in which the female vampire exchanges her lifeforce for his, giving and taking, making him into a creature like herself. 

Dr. Fallada hypnotizes Carlsen, and he discovers the girl is in contact with Carlsen’s mind and vice versa, so Carlsen can see where she is.  She now inhabits a different body, and she is searching for a man to draw energy from, but only enough to feed, not to kill.  When she picks out a victim, Carlsen spots the license plate number so they can track her. 

Meanwhile, that alien needle thing in space is getting closer.  And it looks like a big space-asparagus.

Dr, Fallada starts discovering several parallels between the space vampires and the vampires of European folklore.  Plus, the girl the vampire inhabits is a nurse at a hospital for the criminally insane, where Dr. Armstrong (Patrick Stewart of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and X-MEN, 2000) is the head doctor.  Together, they visit the possessed nurse, and Carlsen discovers the vampire girl has stepped into another body.  Carlsen roughs her up to find out where the creature has gone, and he discovers she is now inside Patrick Stewart!  They dose him up with sodium pentothal before hypnotizing him to track the original vampire girl’s location.  Of course, during the sessions, Carlsen is again struck with that same overwhelming sexual urge he gets whenever he is around the girl’s presence, as if she is the feminine in his mind, and this leads to a male/male kiss complete with crazy blue lights and poltergeist activity.  Carlsen and the Army learn the infection is spreading through London.  The two males didn’t die; they jumped into the two guards who shot them.  Luckily, Dr. Fallada knows the true way to kill a vampire – by shoving a steel sword through the center of life, two inches below the heart, and he manages to kill one of them.  The other male escapes into the city.

Time to suck out some lifeforce.

Time to suck out some lifeforce.

While transporting Dr. Arnold back to London, he loses all the blood in his body, and it escapes to form a figure of the girl, a great scene, gruesome and uber-cool.  This is when Carlsen reveals the truth about what occurred on his spaceship, a tale of lust, murder, and spiritual awakenings. 

Soon, London is on fire.  Zombies and husk-monsters are running through the streets.  The plague is spreading.  The weird spaceship is swiftly approaching.  NATO is called in and quarantines the city.   The prime minister tries to life-suck his secretary!  And the Earth’s future lies within the libido and sexual prowess of Col. Carlsen.  Will true love be able to stop the spread of alien-vampirism? 

LIFEFORCE isn’t perfect.  Steve Railsback overacts shamelessly, chewing the scenery and spitting it out with a veracity usually relegated to low rent small-town Shakespeare Theater.  Also, if you couldn’t tell by the synopsis, this is one complicated and convoluted plot.  You really must pay attention to keep track of all the players on the board. This is, after all, a story about naked space vampires.  It’s not King Lear

However, the screenplay, especially in the extended director’s cut, is quite intelligent for a genre picture, even though it never quite gets as good as the novel on which it was based.  It has an abundance of references to the Quartermass films of the 1960s, especially the brilliant FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).  Dr. Fallada is our Quartermass stand-in, and Frank Finley does a more than capable job. 

Mathilda May and Steve Railsback do some dirty dancing.

Mathilda May and Steve Railsback do some dirty dancing.

The special effects range from very good to dazzling, especially in the insane ending when London erupts into chaos as the vampires collect lifeforces from humans.  Henry Mancini’s music is full of great majestic marches, reminiscent of John Williams’ scores, elevating the movie to a higher level.  Also, Tobe Hooper does a good job of reigning in all the various plot elements so that it all (almost) makes sense.  Hooper has taken a lot of flack in recent years for becoming a hack, with such dreadful movies as CROCODILE (2000) and MORTUARY (2005) to his (dis)credit.  LIFEFORCE, however, shows that the man could direct a big picture and that POLTERGEIST (1982) was no fluke.  He frames this movie as a wink at the audience, providing ample scenes of monsters, destruction, sex, and just sheer audacity, while never taking himself (or the film) too seriously.  These are, after all, say it with me, naked space vampires.  All in all, it’s a campy, fabulous good time.

Scream Factory has released LIFEFORCE in a great Blu-Ray/DVD set filled with interesting extras.  The complete version has also been color-corrected by Tobe Hooper, making this the best this movie has ever looked.  And the sound is especially amazing on this disc.  Crank it up for those final twenty minutes of insanity.

I give LIFEFORCE three naked space vampires out of four. 

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes On NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Movies, 2013, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Evil Spirits, Kung Fu!, Ninjas, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)

bbbninjaposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

It is summertime, and a young(ish) film critic’s thoughts turn to summer movies.  I don’t need authentic period atmosphere, beautifully written scripts, believable characters, or somber drama; I need explosions, monsters, muscular men with huge guns, explosions, beautiful women partially clothed, crazy action scenes, and explosions.  When I was growing up, one studio really embodied the world of summer entertainment.  Even most of their fall and winter movies seemed like displaced summer features.  Join me as I enter the world of Cannon, as owned by Golan and Globus.

Cannon Films, aka The Cannon Group, had been around since 1967.  Owned by Chris Dewey and Dennis Friedland, they produced and distributed many films, both artistic and exploitative over a twelve year period, including JOE (1970), FANDO AND LIS (1970), and NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE (1976).  In 1979, facing heavy debt, the two men sold Cannon to a pair of Israeli cousins, Menahem Golan (who had already directed the horrifying disco musical THE APPLE – 1979, as well as the Israeli version of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, LEMON POPSICLE – 1978) and Yoram Globus who had served as producer for Golan’s films.  During the 1980s, the team managed to tap into the zeitgeist, releasing a massive amount of B-pictures.  In 1986 alone, they released 43 movies to a film-hungry public.  And, yes, most of them contained some form of explosions, monsters, or other exploitable/marketable production facet.  The two cousins were notorious for attending Cannes and selling pictures to the money men with nothing but a one-sheet poster or a concept or a billboard for a movie yet to be written.  This is how the world discovered such gems as ENTER THE NINJA (1981), THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN (1982), TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983), BREAKIN’ (1984) and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984), MISSING IN ACTION (1984), RAPPIN’ (1985), LIFEFORCE (1985), DEATH WISH 3 (1985), THE DELTA FORCE (1986), THE NAKED CAGE (1986), COBRA (1986), INVADERS FROM MARS (1986), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987), and CYBORG (1989).  Interestingly, they were also known for their distribution of art films, releasing many of the 1980s best quality films.  For every Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling opus, we got John Cassavetes’ LOVE STREAMS (1984), Andrei Konchalovsky’s RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985) and SHY PEOPLE (1987), Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1985), or THE ASSAULT (1987 – winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film).  By 1989, the cousins had spent themselves into a very large hole.  Following several box office flops, Cannon was taken over by Pathe’, an arm of the MGM Studios, and Cannon changed forever.  Interestingly, for a brief time, Cannon was the low budget arm of Pathe’ and was run by Italian horror maestro Ovidio G. Assonitis (BEYOND THE DOOR – 1974, TENTACLES – 1977).  The end of the 1980s brought the end of Cannon Films as a Golan and Globus production.  Still, they left a legacy of outrageously whacky summer movies.  I will be writing about many of them during this summer, reliving those days at the drive-in when Chuck Norris blasted away hundreds of Vietnamese without a trace of irony, when ninjas raced across American rooftops, when monsters invaded the earth in new and wicked ways.  Welcome to the world of Cannon Films.

We begin our look at Cannon with NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984).  Why should we start with part three, you may ask?  The answer is simple.  Not only does this movie have ninjas running rampant in America, but it also has ghosts, exorcisms, and medicinal Jazzercising.  Cannon had already released the hit films ENTER THE NINJA (1981) and REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983), tapping into a public’s undiscovered love of a great ninja movie.  Both starred Sho Kosugi, an All Japan Karate Champion and character actor.  Strangely, in ENTER THE NINJA, Kosugi was the bad guy, facing off against an aging Franco Nero.  After the amazing success of the first film, Kosugi became the good guy for the second movie, whooping ass in Salt Lake City and putting evil drug dealers in their place.  Despite his problematic English, Kosugi had the martial arts skills, and the ninja was scheduled to be brought back a third time.  In the meanwhile, however, POLTERGEIST (1982) had been a huge hit, and the country was also in the throes of aerobic-exercise fever.  What better way to bring back a master ninja than to have him battle a demonically possessed Jazzercise instructor?  Umm…

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION begins with a ninja in a Bronson Canyon cave, rolling back a big fake rock to reveal a cache of ninja weaponry, beautifully lit from below.  How the electric light was rigged in a cave in the middle of nowhere is a matter for others to ponder.  We are already off to the next scene…Ninjas stalk the golf course!  A rich white guy who is playing golf with his six bodyguards is attacked by the evil ninja.  Within a few minutes, the rich guy, his girlfriend, and all bodyguards are dead.  The police arrive in force, but despite being shot more than twenty five times, the ninja manages to kill at least thirty cops (I lost count) and escape into the desert.  He even manages to bring down a police helicopter using ninja stars, a hilarious scene that was obviously shot on the ground!  Lucky for him, a sexy telephone line repair woman, Christie (Lucinda Dickey, en ex-Solid Gold dancer and star of the forthcoming BREAKIN’ and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO—both 1984—and possibly the worst actress to ever headline a motion picture) is in the neighborhood.  When she tries to help him (who doesn’t want to help a bleeding guy with a sword wearing ninja gear?), she is possessed by the evil ninja’s spirit and takes the sword back home with her.

Ninja Shokosugi vs. Black NInja

Ninja Sho Kosugi vs. Black NInja

When she is interrogated by the police, one of them comes on to her as if they are in a sleazy singles bar.  This is Officer Billy Secord, who was at the blasting of the evil ninja along with several other cops who managed to survive the massacre, played by the smug, hirsute Jordan Bennet.  He stalks Christie, calling her home (which is uber-Eighties cool, complete with actual arcade games, a dance floor, neon signs on the walls, and a Nagle print).  Christie, it turns out, doesn’t only fix the phone lines, but she is a Jazzercise instructor as well!  Billy follows her to one of her classes, and she shuns him again.  On her way out of the gym, she prevents a bunch of guys from raping a woman from her class, ripping a metal beam from a fire escape and beating the crap out of them.  Billy, turned on by this display of martial artistry, drives her home, where she seduces him in the unsexiest seduction of all film history.  By utilizing one gruesome bit of product placement, she covers her chest in V-8 Juice, which the lucky cop slurps up.  Then, Billy removes his shirt, exposing shoulders and a back so hairy he appears to be wearing a sweater.  Later, while Billy sleeps, Christie wanders to her closet, which glows.  She watches as the ninja sword she took from the evil black ninja floats on a visible string all over the room.  When Billy awakens, he proves his detective skills by telling her how beautiful her sword is . . . forgetting that the sword is evidence in a multiple murder of a few dozen policemen!

Take that yuppy scum!

Take that yuppy scum!

As their vegetable-juice based romance blossoms, Christie sees Billy’s partner and recognizes him as one of the men who shot the ninja who possesses her.  That evening, her arcade game goes all TRON on her, zapping her with lasers as wind blows through her room, and maniacal laughter rings through the place.  Her hair gets much bigger, making her resemble Adam Lambert with less make-up.  She heads for the Bronson Canyon Cave, retrieves some ninja weapons, and kills Billy’s partner.  Christie knows something is terribly wrong, although Billy remains blissfully unaware.  When she starts losing larger amounts of time, she decides to work out, doing hours of aerobics in her apartment to heal herself.  Jazzercise as alternative medicine doesn’t work, so Billy takes her to a doctor first, who tells her that, “Medically, you’re a very fit young woman. No evidence of any abnormality in the brain, no tumor, you have a strong heart, your diet is better than average. You are under severe stress, of course, but otherwise Doctor Bowen, the psychiatrist you saw, says there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from your exceptional extrasensory perception and your preoccupation with Japanese culture. No harm in that!”  He then consults a cop in the “Asiatic Division” who recommends a healer, played by James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA – 1986, THE VINEYARD – 1989).  He ties her up, and her hair grows bigger than ever, really making her look like Adam Lambert!  He tries to exorcise her, but he isn’t strong enough.  Fire erupts, lightning and thunder resound in the room, and Christies does some amazing gymnastics while being chained up.  “You fools!  You cannot stop me!  I am ninja!”  The Asian Max Von Sydow informs Billy that “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.”

Finally, Sho Kosugi shows up, called by several elders in the Chinese community.  He wears a stylish eye-patch, and he follows the various crime scenes of the evil ninja/Christie picking up on clues we, the viewers, don’t get to peruse.  The ways of the ninja are, indeed, inscrutable.  Through a flashback, we find out that Kosugi has been hunting the black ninja since he killed Kosugi’s family and threw a ninja star into his eye.

Christie doesn’t recall the exorcism, but she finds two more of the cops who had shot the black ninja during the slaughter of half the police department.  When our heroine returns to her home, she faces all kinds of poltergeist activity in her apartment.  “No, you don’t,” she shouts.  “Not again!”  While things blow up around her, fog and evil laughter flood the apartment, plates float around along with the sword.  She does what anyone would do when confronted by the occult.  Yes, she’s back to trying to Jazzercise the demon from within her, working out to loud, dreadful disco music and ignoring the chaos around her.  It doesn’t work, and the forces pull her into the closet a la Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST (1982).  When she emerges, she is in full-on ninja mode.

Ninja Possesses Lucinda Dickey!

Ninja Possesses Lucinda Dickey…or is it Adam Lambert?

At Billy’s partner’s funeral, she climbs some tall trees and shoots several cops with arrows, killing the two she recognized.  It’s another police massacre, with at least ten dead officers by the end of the chase scene.  There are some pretty cool stunts here, with Christie (or her stunt double under all that ninja gear) pulling men off the back of motorcycles and fighting her way through the cemetery, swinging from tree to tree.  Luckily, Sho Kosugi appears and pursues the rogue ninja.  There’s a good fight between them in a half-finished abandoned house with ninjas hanging from beams and bursting through floors.

The cops, thinking Kosugi is the bad guy, take him into custody, while Billy finally figures out his girlfriend is killing every cop in the county, returns to her apartment.  He confronts an amnesiac Christie and marches her at gunpoint to a Japanese Temple above the town (what?!) where orange-robed monks practice kendo and where the final confrontation will occur.  Thus begins the final battle, which is over-the-top crazy, filled with great stunts and shoulder pads on Christie that have to be seen to be believed.

Ninja Adam Lambert Lives!

Ninja Adam Lambert Lives!

Will Christie kill Billy, the last police officer left alive who shot the black ninja?  Will Kosugi smack the evil out of Christie?  Will I ever be able to drink another V-8 Juice again?

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is certainly not a good film, but it’s a fabulous sort of time capsule for the Eighties.  Full of blaring disco music (Body Shop by Dave Powell is especially atrocious), martial arts, aerobics montage scenes, video game references, and more bad acting than you can shake a Japanese sword at, it is never boring!  The hair, the tight jeans, the sheer number of leg warmers – combining ninja action and supernatural horror into one huge laughable concoction, NINJA III never fails to entertain.

I give it three V-8 Juices out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes on DEADLY PREY (1987)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 80s Movies, Action Movies, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Exotic Locales, Grindhouse, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Fun, Tough Guys!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on June 6, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

DEADLY PREY (1987)

bbbpreyposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

The 1980’s offered a veritable cornucopia of action heroes at the drive-ins and the grindhouses.  If you had a good set of muscles, an unidentifiable accent, and a glorious mullet, you could star in your own action movie.  We saw the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Rutger Hauer, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Oliver Gruner, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and, of course, Arnold Schwartzenegger.  You also got Ted Prior.  “Who?” you may ask.

Ted Prior’s brother, David Prior, was one of the owners of Action International Pictures (you know, the other AIP that made ultra-low-budget flicks).  When you are also the head screenwriter and director for the studio, what do you do to help your family?  You make them into action stars, foisting them onto the general public like huge slabs of meat.  With mullets.  Ted had starred in a few other low budget movies, including SLEDGEHAMMER (1983), KILLER WORKOUT (1987), and SURF NAZIS MUST DIE (1987), all of which I recommend, but his career was stalled in direct-to-video-Hell.  David wrote a screenplay for him, a FIRST BLOOD (1982) rip-off called DEADLY PREY (1987).  Shot on the extremely cheap, this must be one of the greatest bad movies of all time, the kind you can watch dozens of times with friends and (hopefully) a few cases of beer.  You will never forget it.

We open on a man in rags, fleeing from a small group of what look like National Reserve members in a thin forest.  As the terrible synth music pounds away, the rock-band-meets-military-looking group close in on the man, shooting and throwing hand grenades. One of the hunters shoves a gun into his navel, claiming, “You’re dead meat, fat boy.”  The fat boy hits him with a rock, knocking him out, but soon a black-tank-top-wearing, Rayban-sporting, mulleted guy shoots him and then shoots the poor jerk he hit with the rock!

David Campbell (KILLZONE, 1985, THE KILLING MACHINE, 1994) plays Colonel Hogan, who recruits men who like to hunt other men for fun, recruiting them for his own private army of mercenaries.  However, they need practice, so they randomly kidnap people so the new recruits can stalk and kill them through the aforementioned thin forest.  He tells Black Tank Top Guy to go find another victim, “a mean one this time!”

This prey fights back!

This prey fights back!

Mike Danton (Ted Prior), complete with the greatest mullet ever sported in any movie, is awakened by his wife Jaimy (terribly played by Suzanne Tara).  Half asleep, he takes out the garbage wearing tiny cut-offs and a long sleeved t-shirt.  The evil dudes hit him over the head and throw him in a van as Jaimy watches.  She runs inside and calls – no, not the police – her father, played by the great Cameron Mitchell (CAROUSEL, 1956, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, 1978, NIGHTMARE IN WAX, 1979, WITHOUT WARNING, 1980, and over 225 more movies and TV shows!).  He’s an ex-cop, and he tells Jaimy he’ll see what he can do.  The actress playing Jaimy can barely remember her lines.  She is truly dreadful, and Cameron Mitchell just looks like he wants to strangle this bimbo, like he is yearning for the times when he co-starred with Jayne Mansfield.

Meanwhile, Col. Hogan gets a visit from the man who pays the bills, Don Michaelson, played by the a sleep-walking, barely awake Troy Donohue (A SUMMER PLACE, 1959, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD,-1965, and CRY BABY,-1990 ), who gives Hogan three months to get these mercenaries trained…”Or else!”

Black Tank Top Guy has taken Mike Danton’s shirt away, leaving him in just his cut-offs.  He growls, “Run.”  Mike growls, “You’re gonna die.”  But, he does run, and the rest of the movie is pretty much Mike running from these mercenary-wannabes and setting traps and killing them off by what seems like the hundreds!  You see, Mike Danton was a Vietnam Vet ex Green Beret (never mind that he looks about twenty-three years old).  He starts leaping out of bushes, and from behind trees, stabbing them one at a time until only one man is left alive.  He questions the terrified man, and it turns out Mike knows Col. Hogan. 

Another group of soldiers is sent out after Mike, looking suspiciously like the actors in the first group.  I think they could only pay twenty stuntmen, so they just keep reappearing.  This time, Mike is hurling sharpened sticks and twigs at them, killing them like flies.  Curiously, he never takes their guns so he could shoot at his enemies.

More than once, Mike is four feet off the ground in a tree with no leaves and nobody sees him until he leaps on them.  Sometimes, he wears a little garland of leaves as a disguise, but sheesh, people!  Look up sometimes…or at least raise your eyes.  You’re supposed to be soldiers!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Coming across a couple dozen bodies, Col. Hogan remarks, “I know this style.  Mike Danton?”  Black Tank Top asks, “You know him?”  Of course, the music swells, and the Colonel answers, “Know him?  I trained him.”  Cue audience groaning.

Meanwhile, Mike drowns some guys, pops out of hiding holes in the ground to growl at people, shove more twigs through men’s chests, snap his dislocated shoulder back into place, eat a live worm for nourishment (ew), and, in one of the greatest scenes in movie history, he rolls a bunch of obviously Styrofoam boulders off a ridge at a mercenary.  The rocks miss the dude, but he looks around, probably embarrassed, and then just falls over dead.  I suppose the boulders scared him into a heart attack!

There’s even a touching part where Jaimy sits by her fire at home, yearning for her husband, while Mike sits by a fire, roasting a rat he’s caught.  Ah, romance!

Mike sneaks up on Hogan and threatens him, though he doesn’t look too scary in those cute little cut-offs.  Instead of killing the head bad guy, he talks some trash then leaves him alive so he can return to the woods and slaughter a few hundred more mercenaries.  If you think I’m kidding, you haven’t seen Mike Danton in action.  This movie must have one of the highest body counts in the history of crappy action flicks. 

At one point, a mercenary actually shoots Mike, but his pecs deflect the bullets.  There’s also a Rambo-esque scene in which Mike rises up with a machine gun from the water and blasts ten men away. 

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

Yes, Jaimy’s going to get kidnapped.  Yes, her father will try to infiltrate the compound.  Yes, one of the mercenaries will switch sides to help Mike because he saved him back in Nam.  No, nobody ever does call the cops, who could’ve easily handled the situation. 

But who needs cops when you have Mike Danton?

DEADLY PREY is chock-full of bad acting, hilariously clichéd dialogue, dubbed gunshots,  ridiculous fight scenes, terrible synthesizer music, headbands galore, continuity errors (the director couldn’t keep track of who was dying either, as bodies move position and the same soldiers keep popping up), and mullets galore.  There’s really nothing good in it—and that’s what makes it so ludicrously wonderful!  Everyone acts like they’re making SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), the screenplay delivered with such gravitas and earnestness that it ratchets the film up to a whole new level of awful.  A glorious level!  I mean, there’s this huge compound with tanks and trucks and helicopters everywhere, located seventy five miles from Los Angeles, and nobody’s suspicious?  Mike fights five bad guys, but when we cut back to them there are now seven and when we cut back again there are five!  Not to mention the speech Cameron Mitchell gives about the way the rich treat the poor in a vain attempt to add some kind of theme to the film.  Or the trap Mike sets in which a soldier steps into a lasso, the rope tightens around his foot, pulls him across the ground, and then flings him into a tree full of spikes!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

And according to IMDB, later this year, Ted Prior and David Campbell will be reuniting for a sequel, DEADLIEST PREY!  Be still my heart! 

I wonder if he can still fit into those cut-offs?

I give DEADLY PREY three and a half mullets out of four. 

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Barbara Steele, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, European Horror, Family Secrets, Ghosts!, Gothic Horror, Italian Cinema, Italian Horror with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965) bbbtcposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

First of all, this movie has one of the greatest titles in the horror pantheon.  Come on, who wouldn’t pay good money to see TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)? There’s gonna be terror, creatures of some sort, and possibly some graves.  This title is up there with some of Al Adamson’s best movie monikers, like HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970) or BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR (1972).  Fortunately, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is a much better film than anything Adamson ever attempted, and there’s actually quite a bit of truth in that unbelievable title.  TCFTG is one of many European gothic horror films that found their way across the pond.  These movies, made with little money but lots of imagination, were often stylish and bizarre.  The women were beautiful and possessed only costumes with plunging necklines.  The heroes were strong-jawed, masculine men with hair all over their bodies.  The doctors were all mad.  The castles (of which Europe has in large quantities—hurray for cheap locations!) were always decaying.  And the zoom lens was quite often hyperactive.  It was as if France, Spain, England, and especially Italy were attempting to out-Hammer Hammer Studios.  Sometimes, they did, but often they fell short.  Still, they were dripping with gothic atmosphere and sheer spookiness.

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE has an ace in its pocket, however, as it stars the lovely Barbara Steele, Queen of Euro-horror and the main attraction of such other films as BLACK SUNDAY (1960), PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), THEY CAME FROM WITHIN (1975), and the original PIRANHA (1978).  Her face was all ice-queen, innocent one minute and warped with wickedness in the next, with cheek-bones that could cut glass.  She often played more than one part in these films: the good sister and the bad or the burned witch and the woman she later possesses.  And she could pull it off!  She had a sort of otherworldly look to her that prevented her from becoming a true box office star, but she could work those horror movies (and the fans) like nobody else, becoming a cult figure later in life.  She’s still working, too, having just starred in THE BUTTERFLY ROOM (2012), an Italian/U.S. co-production that is a disturbing psychological horror film.

Anyway, Barbara Steele is fabulousness personified, and if you’ve never watched her movies, go and rectify that immediately.  Now, on to today’s feature presentation, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE!

The great Barbara Steele in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

The great Barbara Steele in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

Filmed n gloriously moody black and white, we don’t even have to wait five seconds before we get our first fast camera zoom!  A man having a drink in a tavern sees a hand outside the window (Zoom in on that hand!), and he dons his hat and coat and rushes outside into the streets of some unnamed village circa 1920 or so.  He stumbles to his horse, and the animal decides it doesn’t like him any longer, rearing back and kicking the man in the face, opening up his skull in a gruesome scene. 

As credits roll, so does a man driving a primitive automobile to a decaying castle (natch), Villa Hauff.  This is strong-jawed, young attorney, Albert Kovac, played by Walter Brandi (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR,-1965, THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, 1960, CURSE OF THE BLOOD GHOULS, 1962…oh the sheer joy of those titles!).  He greets the daughter of the deceased Dr. Hauff, Corinne, played by the lovely Mirella Maravidi (I KILL, YOU KILL, 1965).  Albert has been sent for to look over Dr. Hauff’s will, and he isn’t even disturbed that the man is now dead…or by the box of disembodied hands in the foyer!  The daughter takes him to her step-mother, the doctor’s second wife, Cleo, played by the wonderful Barbara Steele.  She informs him that Dr. Hauff has been dead for a year after falling down the stairs.  So, who sent the message to Albert’s office?

A storm comes out of nowhere, and the attorney is invited to spend the night until the weather breaks.  The women are at the villa to transfer Dr. Hauff’s corpse from his grave in the ground to the family crypt, per the dead man’s wishes.  It turns out the good doctor was a practitioner of the black arts, a kind of sorcerer.  And the villa was erected on the ruins of a fifteenth century hospital where the victims of the plague in the area all died after having their hands cut off so they couldn’t spread the disease. 

Before going to bed, the attorney finds a recording from the doctor all about the plague victims that were buried in the garden.  He also claims that he’s summoned the victims from their graves and now he is among them.  Corrine bugs out, claiming she’s seen her father walking the hallways.  Mom, however, doesn’t believe in the supernatural and calms her down a bit. 

Severed hands of plague victims in the foyer..l

Severed hands of plague victims in the foyer..l

The next morning, Albert finds that an owl has flown into the engine of his car and destroyed it (What? Does this happen often in Europe?).  During the day, Albert falls for Corinne, Corinne freaks out several times, seeing her father stalking the countryside, and various villagers shake their heads and mumble about the anniversary of Hauff’s death.  The village’s new doctor is murdered, discovered by Corinne and Albert (who don’t seem very worried about it).  The coroner states it is a case of heart failure, even though there are long scratches covering the man’s face and acid burns on his cheeks.  The villagers believe anyone who was present at Hauff’s death (such as this new doctor) is marked to die.  Sure enough, three of the five people who were in the house when Hauff tumbled down the stairs have died mysteriously.  The fourth person on the list of witnesses is murdered and felt up by a pustule-ridden rotten hand.  There is a fifth witness signature, but it’s illegible.  Who will be the fifth victim of the Hauff Curse?

Albert, still hanging around after two days without a client, is present for the disinterment of Dr. Hauff’s corpse.  The gardener opens the casket, revealing an empty grave.  Cleo, wearing one fabulous hat, is stunned by the revelation.  Albert figures out that the fifth name on the list is his boss, who was busy and didn’t come to the Villa Hauff when summoned.  Only, now he really is coming to the moldering manse.  When the attorney, Morgan, shows up, he is instantly attacked by Hauff.  Only, nobody else sees it!

When night falls, all the secrets behind Dr. Hauff’s mysterious death will be disclosed.  Passions will be ignited, and the handless plague victims will rise from their graves to avenge the doctor’s name while unleashing a virulent new strain of the plague.  It’s a creepy, surreal finale that does include terror, graves, and creatures!  Will anyone survive?

Only—if the plague victims’ hands were chopped off and displayed in the foyer—then why do they have hands when emerging from their graves? 

Plague victims rise from the dead in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

Plague victims rise from the dead in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is full of spooky atmospheric touches like a maid with her own secrets, cobwebbed corridors, violent thunderstorms, curses, a mute gardener, sweeping music, one eerie song about pure water, odd dubbing, elaborate sets, and creepy sound effects.  Despite the effectiveness of the movie, the director, Massimo Pupillo (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) didn’t like the end product, so the film was originally credited to producer Ralph Zucker.  In a weird twist, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE played on a double bill in America with BLOODY PIT OF HORROR!  Wouldn’t that have been a fantastic night at the drive-in?

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE isn’t the best Euro-schlock-horror to be made in this period – it’s no BLACK SUNDAY – but it’s an eerie little film, buoyed by terrific atmosphere and the wonderful Barbara Steele. 

I give it three owls in engines out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Meets the CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

Posted in 1940s Films, 2013, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Carnival Chills, Classic Films, Mad Doctors!, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on May 9, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

Capposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Universal Studios was THE place to go for great horror movies in the early days of cinema.  From DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931) to THE MUMMY (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), Universal spent money on their horror films, creating atmospheric, beautifully made monster pictures that still hold up to viewings today.  In between their A-Pictures, however, they churned out lots of fun B-movies as well.  These movies didn’t have the best directors in the canon; nor did they employ the top box-office actors.  They utilized lots of money-saving stock footage and re-used sets from the big movies.  This doesn’t mean the films weren’t often very entertaining.  Many of them exude a certain second-tier charm that makes them more than bearable.  Often, they are as much fun as the big productions.  Some examples of these B’s were MAN MADE MONSTER (1941), NIGHT MONSTER (1942), and our feature presentation, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943). 

While circus animals are being unloaded from a ship, Fred Mason (Milburn Stone, Doc Adams from GUNSMOKE, also in INVADERS FROM MARS – 1953) meets his fiancé and secretary, Beth (Evelyn Ankers from THE WOLF MAN, 1941 and THE PEARL OF DEATH, 1944), who is dressed in great clothes.  She kind of resembles Auntie Mame in every scene of this movie; the costumes are that fabulous!  After playing kissy-face, he tells her about all the big game he has brought back for his circus, including Cheela, a huge female gorilla (okay, a man in a pretty decent gorilla suit).  He introduces Beth to the gorilla as a crate holding a tiger bursts open and the wild beast escapes.  Fred grabs a chair and tames the snarling tiger (more on this footage later).  It’s actually a hell of an exciting opening! 

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Beth tells Fred all about her little sister, Dorothy (played by Martha Vickers as Martha MacVicar) —from THE BIG SLEEP (1946) and THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944)) —who has developed a glandular problem and was taken to the Crestview Sanatorium.  Dr. Sigmund Walters is a well-known doctor who specializes in the glandular issues between races.  The good doctor has changed several people who were deformed, making them normal by messing with their pituitary gland.  His nurse assistant helps him with his experiments with sex hormones, where he wants to take human hormones and transplant them into animal subjects. 

In his very first starring role, John Carradine (STAGECOACH, 1939 and THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, 1968, and over three hundred other shows and films) plays Dr. Walters, a mad scientist (is there any other kind, especially with Carradine on hand?).  Walters is obsessed with glandular disorders and charming young women.  He joins Beth and Fred to have a look at the circus, where they are all waiting on famous lion-tamer Clyde Beatty to answer them about his new act.  We get to see these beautiful animals, lions and tigers especially, caged, fed, and trained. 

Cheela, the gorilla (of my dreams —sorry, couldn’t resist) attacks one of the handlers.  Carradine is instantly smitten by the looks and talent of the gorilla.  He wants to buy her, but the circus says no.  So, he pays a thief to steal the animal.  “It’s a deal, mister.  You got yourself a monkey!”  Instead of paying the thief, Dr. Walters pushes the man into the cage, where Cheela kills him!

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

Once in the lab, Walters begins his nefarious experiments, and Dorothy is included in this mysterious research with Cheela.  Why does he want to turn a gorilla into a hot woman?  Who knows?  Maybe he can’t get a date any other way.  Dorothy starts to die on the operating table, but the gorilla changes through the magic of stop motion photography (like in THE WOLF MAN, 1941) into a sexy young woman, played by Acquanetta (who only had one name, much like Cher or Madonna and was known as the Venezuelan Volcano in press releases and also played in JUNGLE WOMAN, 1944 and DEAD MAN’S EYES, 1944).  Using his nurse’s glands, Walters finishes the experiment.  He saves Dorothy for future surgeries.  He renames the ape-woman Paula Dupree.  Acquanetta plays her as a mute, acting pretty much with only her eyebrows, although she looks stunning doing so.

Meanwhile, back at the circus, Fred gets to try out his new act, mixing lions and tigers in the same cage with himself.  Once again, the animal footage is terrific, exciting and scary and realistic.  The two big cats actually get into a fight, which was supposedly staged and filmed in a single take.  They really look like they’re tearing into each other.  This is not a film for PETA!

Walters brings Paula Dupree (aka Cheela) to the circus, where the animals go crazy, sensing her unnaturalness.  She steps into the lion cage, and the big cat is so afraid of her it backs away.  Fred believes she may be the best lion-tamer of all time.  He hires her, and she becomes a part of the act.  She also falls in love with Fred.  Rut-ro!

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

When Paula/Cheela sees Fred kissing Beth, she gets angry and starts to change back into a gorilla.  Her teeth grow to gigantic form, her skin turns darker, and hair begins sprouting all over her body, her brow becomes huge.  The transformation is primitive and crude, but it works in context.  It’s created by the great Jack P. Pierce, who also created all the classic make-ups for the Universal monsters like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. 

She immediately goes after Beth in her home, determined to kill off her romantic competition, but she’s interrupted by a landlady.  The poor older woman is jumped and chewed to death.  Paula escapes, but Dr. Walters knows he needs to perform more operations to get her hormones back to normal.  Things aren’t looking good for Dorothy, who’s still at the sanatorium!

Will Dr. Walters get Paula’s glands back in order?  Will Fred be able to control all those big cats without the help of Paula, and with a big thunderstorm on the way?  Will Paula kill Beth and get the love of the man she adores?  How the hell does Beth afford those terrific glamorous outfits on a circus secretary’s salary? 

Tune in to find out, but it all ends in a spectacular circus finale with crazed big cats, a huge storm, and a lovelorn gorilla.  Watching the stunt footage, I can’t believe somebody didn’t get killed during the filming of these scenes. 

A credit at the beginning of the picture reads “We hereby make grateful acknowledgement to Mr. Clyde Beatty for his cooperation and inimitable talent in staging the thrilling animal sequences in this picture.”  In other words, thanks to Clyde (a world famous lion-tamer) for letting us borrow all your scenes from THE BIG CAGE (1933), a jungle adventure in which Beatty performed the thrilling lion-taming acts.  In fact, it’s rumored that Milburn Stone, a rather bland leading man, was only hired onto CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN because of his diminutive stature and resemblance to Clyde Beatty.

Other than Stone, however, the acting is quite good for this sort of picture.  Evelyn Keyes looks gorgeous in her beautiful outfits and is completely natural, even when spouting dubious dialogue.  Acquanetta is also unbelievably beautiful, and she does a good job, working the whole movie in short, sequined dresses and pantomiming everything she does.  She’s like an animal in a lot of ways, the way her eyes follow things, the way her lips curl when disappointed or angry, and the way she stomps more than walks.  Also impressive is John Carradine in a low-key role.  I love me some John Carradine, and in this film he could’ve turned into the later Carradine, mugging for the camera and camping it up as a mad doctor.  Instead, he reigns his performance inwards, and we can easily see how he could charm women.  He also exudes an innate intelligence.  The man was a terrific actor, and it’s too bad he was relegated to high-camp roles so often in his later years.  A lot of people should watch his earlier work to see how good he truly was. 

As noted before, the gowns in this movie are pretty spectacular for a B-picture.  This is due to Vera West’s costume design.  West was the gown designer behind most of the Sherlock Holmes movies of the 1940s, as well as THE GOOD FAIRY (1935), GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1934), MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935) and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), as well as ALL the major Universal horror films of the thirties and forties.  She designed the gowns for 342 movies, almost all at Universal. 

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN was directed by stalwart Edward Dmytryk, who also helmed such classics as THE CAINE MUTINY (1954), CROSSFIRE (1947), BACK TO BATAAN (1945), and HITLER’S CHILDREN (1943).  The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Dmytryk started working at Universal as a messenger boy at the age of fifteen.  Later in life, he was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten who refused to cooperate with HUAC and Joseph McCarthy.  He refused to name names as communists, and he ended up in prison.  After a few months, he testified again, informing on several “communists.”  He always believed he had done the right thing, but he was never forgiven by the rest of Hollywood, and his career stalled out in the 1970s. 

Overall, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN is a bit predictable, but that doesn’t lessen its entertainment value.  This is a fun movie, and it moves amazingly swiftly.  That’s a lot of plot and action for 61 minutes!  The acting is generally very good, the make-up is cool, and the big cat action (thanks again Clyde) is truly jaw-dropping.

I give CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN three glands out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

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Bills’ Bizarre Bijou visits the COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 60s Movies, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Hillbillies, Just Plain Fun, Revenge!, Romance, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

by William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

VideoBox Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

In the wild, wild world of exploitation films, bits and pieces of one movie can often make a ‘guest appearance’ in another film, spliced into the new film as padding for the running time, or as a way to save on the budget.  Most of the time, this created annoying sequences that have nothing to do with the movie you’re viewing at your local drive-in, distractions to the main plot.  Other times, the footage was inserted so well a casual viewer never noticed he’d been duped.  A lot of film buffs, such as me and you, my fans in the dark, take great pleasure in noticing such scenes and shouting out, “Hey, that was stolen from INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES!”  It’s a fine, old exploitation tradition, and we at the Bijou salute the filmmakers who managed to pull it off.

In 1960, Larry Buchanan, the infamous director of such sublimely awful fare as THE NAKED WITCH (1961), ZONTAR, THING FROM VENUS (1966), MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967), and THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1981) started shooting a hicksloitation epic called SWAMP ROSE.  Starring Lacey Kelley (NUDE ON THE MOON – 1961, THE DEAD ONE – 1961), the unfinished film dealt with a moonshiner obsessed with a woman of easy virtue.  This footage was purchased by M.A. Ripps, who wanted to make it into a hit drive-in feature, as he so famously transformed the movie BAYOU into POOR WHITE TRASH (1957).  New director Eric Sayers used many Buchanan regulars: (Anabelle Weenik (going by Anne MacAdams) of CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (1967), A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY (1970), DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973); Max W. Anderson of HIGH YELLOW (1965), IN THE YEAR 2889 – (1967); and THE NAKED WITCH herself Libby Hall (as Libby Booth)).  Sayers shot a whole new storyline with these actors, including an unbilled woman to take Lacey Kelley’s role (and they don’t look much alike) using only bits and pieces of Larry Buchanan’s SWAMP ROSE.  There is a scene with Lacey Kelley walking down the street, her boom-boppa-boom stride mocked by a little girl, some scenes in a park, and a chase between a crazed hillbilly moonshiner attacking Lacey that make up most of the old footage.  Everything else is newly shot with actors from other movies.  Confused yet?  You won’t be once you watch COMMON LAW WIFE (1963), Sayers’ adults-only white-trash melodrama set in Texas.  It’s easily one of the greatest exploitation films from the period.  Other than a few film stock mis-matches and a character that switches actresses several times, you’d never know this was once two films edited into one trashy grindhouse gem.

But what about the story of COMMON LAW WIFE?

The film opens on a typical night at the Raineys’ rather tacky abode.  Old man Shug is playing darts in his bathrobe before drinking the biggest damn glass of wine in existence.  When his live-in mistress, Linda, tells him he’s not supposed to drink, he throws five darts at her head, embedding them into the wicker chair behind her.  He asks, “Do you want me to put one right between your eyes?”  Turns out, she’s lived with him for five years, and it’s taken a toll on her beauty.  He wants her to get out so his niece Jonelle (“Call me Baby Doll”) can come live with him.  “What’s she got?’ she shrieks.  Shug answers, “My attention right now, which you haven’t.”  Linda, shocked says, “Why she’s your own blood niece!  That’s incest!”  He replies, “Words don’t mean much to me.  I’ve already sent for Baby Doll.  Go pack your things.”

In New Orleans, we are introduced to Jonelle, a gorgeous stripper in a nightclub who resembles Traci Lords.  She packs her dresses and heads for rural Texas to stay with her uncle (Eww).  Turns out, Jonelle’s sister, Brenda, is married to the Sheriff, Jodi, who was having flings with both sisters during high school.  Jodi’s more than a little interested in rekindling his torrid affair with Jonelle, while good wife Brenda stays at home.

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple!

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple! (Ewwww)

Meanwhile, Linda consults a lawyer and discovers she’s lived long enough with Mr. Shug Rainey to be his common-law wife.  Mrs. Rainey buys herself a wedding ring and informs Shug that she is his legal wife, and if he wants his niece serving him in his house (Eww), he has to divorce her and pay alimony or give her the house.  Secretly, though I have no idea why, she loves the old dude.

Jonelle kick-starts her affair with Jodi (what a nice sisterly thing to do), but she throws a hissy fit after he says he doesn’t want to help her murder Shug for the old man’s money.  In spite, she gets up and starts stripping and dancing in front of what looks like several farmers and their wives who are either shocked or bemused.  She leaves with another old beau, Bull, who takes her out to the swamp to see his moonshine still.  Ah, romance in Texas!  When he gets fresh, she runs away through the swamp.  This whole part is Larry Buchanan’s, and it’s a bit rougher and grittier than the newer footage. 

She runs all the way back to her sister’s house (the actress changes here), but Brenda has figured out what’s happening between her husband and Jonelle.  She tosses her sister out of her house, but not before Jonelle steals the booze.  With nowhere to go, Jonelle hunts down Bull and they return to the swamp (wait, wait, didn’t he try to rape her the previous night?  Ah, romance in Texas!) 

The original Jonelle.

The original Jonelle.

Jodi goes after her (the heel!) and tracks her to Bull’s house, where a gunfight erupts over Jonelle.  He abducts her to his home, where the cold facts about their past relationship come to light.  Brenda catches them together and holds them at gunpoint!

Will Jonelle get one over on Linda?  Who will get old man Shug Rainey’s money when he dies? What about the cyanide-laced bottle of whiskey?  Will we ever get to see a full print of SWAMP ROSE?  Probably not, but this common-law version is a real hoot!

COMMON LAW WIFE is filled with great, hateful dialogue delivered in authentic, delightful accents.  It was Grace Nolan’s only writing credit, and I wish there’d been a lot more.  Some choice cuts of the nasty, mean-spirited dialog include:

“I was a stray cat lookin’ for a home, and I took it however I could.”

“Folks around here might think the circus has come to town.”  “They might be right!”

“From now on, this is my house.  And I don’t want any tramps hangin’ around it!”

“The only way I’ll see any of that old man’s body is over his stinkin’ dead body.”

“You couldn’t hit a bull with a bass fiddle.  Let alone that cap gun.”

“I met a couple of strangers in town today, and they claimed they didn’t know you.  You want their names so you can bat a thousand?”

“You’ve put on weight.  City food must be good.”

“A girl can learn a lot of lessons in the dark.”

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

The black and white photography is crisp and full of noir shadows.  The music is great jazz, heavy on the sax and trumpet, but the composer is unbilled.  Who knows where that great score came from?  The acting is campy and over-the-top, as it should be in a swamp melodrama like this one.  And the ending is brutal and shocking in a way few films of that era ever were.  COMMON LAW WIFE may be confusing sometimes, what with actresses switching and film stock not matching, but it’s loads of fun.  It’s like Douglas Sirk on tainted moonshine. 

I give COMMON LAW WIFE three and a half revolving actresses out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl