Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wrongfully accused man vs the 5th Column

Saboteur (1942)
Starring: Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lane, Otto Kruger, Alan Baxter and Normal Lloyd
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A factory worker (Cummings) is wrongfully accused of an act of sabotage at an aircraft assembly plant that claimed the life of his best friend. When no one believes that he saw the real saboteur (Lloyd), he sets out to follow the only lead he has to clear his name before the police can catch him. His investigation and deseperate flight takes him clear across the United States and brings him face-to-face with Nazi agents at the very top of American society.

"Saboteur" was Alfred Hitchcock's first all-American production, and for anyone who has watched his British pictures from the 1930s there are a number of elements that will seem awfully familiar.

Like in "Young and Innocent," the hero in this picture must locate a man that only he knows to exist in order to clear his name. Like in "The 39 Steps," the destructive agents of a foreign, fascist power are hiding behind the veneer of wealth and respectability. And like in both movies, the hero has to rely on the assistance of a young lady (here played by Priscilla Lane) who believes him guilty and is initially trying to see that he gets captured by the authories.

While the three films share similar elements, they are utilized more effectively here, almost as if Hitchcock recognized what was best about those two previous movies and refined those aspects for use here. The pace is brisker and the tension is far higher throughout, until the end where the final few minutes are slightly mishandled.

Basically, our hero is cleared of all suspicion well before the film's famous show piece encounter high atop the Statue of Liberty. I suspect the logic Hitchcock and his screenwriters were using when they decided to put the hero in a position where he would have to save the life of the man who ruined his (and who wanted to ruin the whole country) was that they would underscore his basic decency, However, that climax would have been far more suspenseful if he had to save him or never see his name cleared.

But, letting the factory worker be heroic for the sake of being heroic and for plain respect for another human being's life fits with a theme that runs through the whole movie.

The most fascinating aspect of the film is the portrayal of the common American versus our country's elite. Throughout the film, the fugitive meets and is helped by everyday Americans who are more than willing to lend a hand to someone in trouble., even if it means risk to themselves. But whenever he encounters the rich, powerful or famous, they are either traitors who want to destroy the country they should be thanking for their good fortune, or they are dupes of those who want to destroy the country. Even the film's heroine falls into this category, as she starts the movie out as a typical celebretard who believes herself to be patriotic but who doesn't realize that "her people" are harboring enemies of America.

It seems either very little has changed since 1942, as America's elite still seems to be the place where those with the strongest hate for America and deepest love for its enemies can be found. How many rich and powerful and famous Americans are merely too stupid to see they are pawns of those who want to see America torn down once and for all instead of being actual evil and ungrateful traitors? Are Sean Penn and Danny Glover merely stupid, or are they Fifth Columnists on the magnitude of the villains at the top of the organizations in this film, just lacking in the logistical support from their buddies in Venezuela and Iran to fully bring their dreams to fruition? I hope we'll never know, but I would still wish fewer of American's elite would devote so much time and energy to tearing the country down.

This aspect of "Saboteur" makes it a film that still has something to offer modern audiences even beyond its expert pacing and well-orchestrated final confrontation on the Statue of Liberty (even if it could have been better with a slightly different structure to the overall ending).

Jesse James vs Frankenstein's Daughter

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)
Starring: John Lupton and Narda Onyx
Director: William Beaudine
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

After Jesse James (Lupton) is ambushed by lawmen during a stagecoach robbery, he seeks help for his wounded partner from a pair of reclusive doctors living in an abandoned Spanish mission. These doctors just happen to be the granddaughter and grandson of Victor Frankenstein, and they are carrying on the family business of trying to create life. Well, sort of. Will one of the Wild West's greatest outlaws survive his encounter with mad science, or will he become FrankenJesse?

When you take a third-rate western and merge it with a Z-grade Frankenstein sequel, you get "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter." Although the acting is better than I would have expected from a movie like this, the fact that it must have been made for $1.95 is laughably obvious. The height of the movie's badness comes when a kindly Mexican girl points Jesse to the place where the doctors live... and we are treated to perhaps the worst matte painting ever. (The Frankenstein Kids apparently live behind a giant, ametuerish landscape painting!) And things get worse once Jesse's partner in crime is monsterfied and rechristened Igor by mad scientiest Maria Frankenstein (Onyx.)

I'm giving this one Two Stars, because for all its badness, it is watchable in a bad western kind of way. If the film's pace wasn't so darn slow, it might even rate Three Tomatoes--the acting is okay, and the sheer foolishness of the concept is kind of fun. Too bad it wasn't better executed.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'SS Girls' defies genre classification

Every once in a while, I come across a movie that leaves me absolutely baffled as to what the director was trying to accomplish. One such film has made it into the line up for the "Nazis Quit Mini-Blogathon."

SS Girls (aka "Private House of the SS") (1977)
Starring: Gabriele Carrara, Marina Daunia, Macha Magall and Ivano Staccioli
Director: Bruno Mattei
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

This a film that defies classification beyond "Nazi softcore porn," because I can't figure out whether it's an ineptly made spoof or a VERY ineptly made drama. The only thing I know for sure is that it's ineptly made.

As the tide of WW2 turns against Germany, crazed SS officer and former church organist Hans Schellenberg (Carrara) is charged with creating a brothel where, while in the throes of passion, high-ranking military officers will be tricked revealing whether they are traitors to the Third Reich. To this end, a dozen or so young women are trained to be the ultimate weapons of sexual destruction by Hans' sadistic second-in-command (Daunia) and an expert prostitute (Magall).

Allowing for the bizarre premise--that anyone will be stupid enough to reveal they are planning high treason against a murderous dictator to a prostitute in a brothel run by loyal servants of said murderous dictator--the movie starts out logically enough, if goofy. The training sequences where the girls are trained as sexual soldiers (especially the bits where they are fencing in toga-like outfits) are unintentionally hilarious).

In fact, the first half hour of the film plays like a slightly inept spoof of the "classic" Nazi brothel movie "Salon Kitty" (an influence the director acknowledges in an interview included on the DVD). The intense and creepy Nazi commander from "Salon Kitty" is replaced with Gabriele Carrara's Hans character, who starts out with a strange set-up (the greatest church organist ever, yet sexually perverse enough to count a brothel madame and a dominatrix among his close associates... not to mention the fact that he appears to in love with Hitler and Nazism that all he needs is a picture of The Fuhrer and a free hand to get satisfaction. But Hans is all the more rediculous due to the over-the-top performance delivered by both Carrara and the anonymous voice actor who performed the English-language dub for the picture. It's so bad that it becomes good as he mugs and minces his way through the movie, a performance so ludicrously extreme that I'm amazed that he didn't have a long and successful career as a comic actor starting with this movie. (I suspect it might have a little to do with the fact that he probably wasn't trying to be funny, although it's just as likely that he was a stage actor.)

Carrara's performance is so bizarre that I actually found myself liking Hans as the film unfolded, despite the fact he's absolutely repulsive in every way. Of course, my empathy for the character could arise from the fact that Carrara is the only one of two actors who give anything close to a performance beyond "Hi, I'm here for a small paycheck, and I'm putting forth a comparable effort." (The other noteworthy performance comes from Ivano Staccioli, who, as Hans' commanding officer General Berger, seems like he wandered over from a more serious-minded WW2 drama and isn't aware of the inane nature of the film he's in.)

Carrara and his character are at the most extreme and become fully ensconced as the film's bizarre comedic center when he puts a group of Nazi generals on trial for treason--his "girls" successfully loosening their tongues--while dressed like this:

Hans' "NAzi Pope" outfit is a great bit of mockery of the put-on pomp and circumstance of Hitler's Third Reich and so nonsensical that it would have been more at home in a film like "Airplane" than here.

Unfortunately, Hans' trial is both a comedic highpoint and the moment at which the film stops making any sense. With the generals out of the way, Hans' brothel gets used as a way to execute three extremely brutal officers (which begged the question wny they just weren't taken out and shot) and ultimately Hans himself. Hans' demise, and that of all the characters, take place on the very day Hitler commits suicide, and the closing scenes of the film are as strange as everything that led up to it, but are undermined by a out-of-the-blue conversion of Hans from Nazi worshipper to self-loathing Nazi hater, and a truly out-of-place speech by General Berger that seems designed to evoke the sentiment that "Nazis are people too, and the horrors of war are horrors of war, even for Nazis who are exterminating Jews in concentration camps and specially trained sex soldiers in brothels."

To top off an already bizarre experience, the film ends in the most literally incomprehensible way: The final few lines in the version I screeened were hadn't been dubbed into English but were spoken in Italian.

I've said very little about the sex part of this movie, which, obstensibly is its main selling point. This is because I think only the loneliest and horniest fans of these kinds of Nazi boob-fests will find what this film has to offer engaging. There is nudity throughout and there are plenty of naughty bits during the "sex boot camp" montage early in the picture, but it's mostly badly staged, indifferently filmed, and just plain boring. (Except for the scene where Hans almost gets it on with two ladies in a room lined with Nazi flags and busts of Hitler... but it's once again Gabriele Carrara's extreme over-acting that saves the scene rather than its supposed erotic content.)

In the end, despite my love for Gabriele Carrara in this, his only starring role, I can't recommend this movie.

'Mrs. Amworth' is a decent vampire tale

Mrs. Amworth (2007)
Starring: Magenta Brooks, Jim Nalitz, Daniel Ross, and Christy Sullivan
Director: Frank Sciurba
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Recently widowed Mrs. Amworth (Brooks) returns from years abroad to take possession of her family home and lands in the quiet town of Wilton... and soon mysterious deaths start occuring. Is it coincidence, or, is she, as the town doctor (Nalitz) comes to suspect, or is she one of the walking dead--a vampire? And if he's right, will he be able to stop her from destroying a young photographer (Ross) and his journalist wife (Sullivan)?

"Mrs. Amworth" is a vampire movie that's worth seeing for its very strong feeling of a classic vampire tale. In fact, this film conveys more of the tone, feeling, and subtext of Stoker's "Dracula" novel than any movie adaptation of it I've seen, including the one titled "Bram Stoker's Dracula".

The film a bit slowly paced--there are a few scenes that I'd even accuse the director of arranging the way they are because he was padding the film's run-time--but it's because of the pace that it captures the feel of traditional vampire stories so well. It also brings to the screen more effectively than any other vampire movie I've seen the underlying fear of The Stranger/Foreign that so permeated Stoker's novel. In this film, Mrs. Amworth is the outside corrupting influence that enters into a peaceful community and happy circle of friends, bringing death and terror.

For all my talk about "Dracula", this film is actually a loose adaptation of E.F. Benson's vampire story "Mrs. Amworth." The film contains some of the key scenes from the story, but they aren't set up very effectively, and they feel like they're included almost to make sure that there's more left of original source than its title. For example, Mrs. Amworth's apparent death by car accident is set up in the story from the beginning, and it could easily have been done so in the film, but instead it just sort of comes out of left field. (The film also has a different ending than the short story, one that I supposed was devised partly due to budget, partly to not make the film COMPLETELY traditional as far as vampire stories go. Being something of a traditionalist myself, and given that this movie feels VERY traditional to me, up until the ending, I wish they'd gone with something closer to the short story.)

In the final analysis, "Mrs. Amworth" is a decent, if unspectacular, vampire movie. The actors in the film are okay, although no one in particularly stands out; they all do a creditable job. The same is true of the cinematography and overall direction of the film... it's a solid bit of work, but nothing particularly spectacular. The script could have done with a little more polish, as some of the dialogue is flatter than pancakes, and, as mentioned above, some of the scenes feel like they've been padded.

As low-budget vampire films go, "Mrs. Amworth" is a good effort that's worth checking out.

(You can also read the short story upon which the film was based at my Fiction Archive by clicking here.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tectonic Tuesdays: Edwige Fenech

Continuing the series that demonstrates the scientific truth behind the divinely-inspired genius of Iranian holy man Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi who on April 16, 2010 uttered the following words: "Many women who do not dress modestly [...] spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes."

Case Study Two: Edwige Fenech

Italian actress Edwige Fenech spent the late 1960s and the 1970s disrobing in the pages of magazines and in a variety of European sex comedies, thrillers, and horror films. From 1968 through 1981, she was in 65 movies. After that, she turned mostly to television (and, for the most part) kept her clothes on.

In 1968, Fenech appeared in three films, including "Sexy Susan Sins Again", causing Illinois to be rocked by an earthquake. She was in nine films in 1969, and Spain, Morocco, Portugal and Kamchatka were all hit by severe earthquakes. She appeared topless or nude in anywhere from three to six movies every year throughout the 1970s, bringing about the 1972 earthquakes in Nicaragua and Australia; an earthquake and tsunami in the Hawaiian Islands in 1975; and the 1978 Santa Barbara quake that claimed 65 lives in California.

All because of the immodesty of Edwige Fenech.

Bava delivers badly done proto-slasher

5 Dolls for an August Moon (aka "Island of Terror") (1970)
Starring: Ira von Furstenberg, Ely Galleani, Maurice Poli, Teodoro Corra, William Berger, Edwige Fenech, Helena Ronee, Howard Ross and Edith Meloni
Director: Mario Bava
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A business magnate (Corra) invites four couples to spend the weekend at his isolated island retreat as part ofa strategy to convince a maverick scientist (Berger) to sell him the formula for a new industrial plastic. It's all fun, games, and fornication until someone starts murdering the guests.

"5 Dolls for an August Moon" is a mostly thrill-free thriller that is a jumbled, inept attempt at presenting a "Ten Little Indians"-style tale of murder and mayhem which features characters so generic most of them are impossible to tell apart, the most inexplicable recurring example of Stupid Character Syndrome I've ever seen on film and what is almost certainly the most inappropriate musical score since the invention of the talkie.

For those who don't know, Stupid Character Syndrome is where the characters in the film behave in a braindead fashion or fail to act on facts they know because it would cause a badly constructed story to fall apart. In the case of this movie, it's the way everyone seems to forget about Isabela, a cute young woman (played by Ely Galleani) who is also present on the island, except when they run into her or ask her whether she's seen this missing person or that missing person pass by.

Isabel doesn't seem to be living at the house, nor anywhere else on the island for that matter, but no one seems surprised or disturbed to meet her wandering about. In fact, no one is even disturbed when she engages in obvious suspicious behavior while bodies are piling up, nor does anyone attempt to make her account for her whereabouts. The mental blind-spot the characters have toward Isabel is so severe that late in the film a character states, "The murderer has got to be one of the four of us!", referring to himself and the other three characters in the room. BUT WHAT ABOUT ISABEL?! There were FIVE people still alive on the island when that phrase was uttered, but everyone had, once again, forgotten about Isabel.

(Now, it's possible I may have missed a throw-away line where they came to conclusion that Isabel was dead, but I doubt it. Either this character was added late in the process for some reason and no-one bothered to intergrate it more fully into already filmed scenes, or this script simply was worse than the average Bava film.)

In addition to a bad script with cookie-cutter characters and massive holes, the film suffers from some truly awful soundtrack music. It starts with the fact that it's mostly performed what sounds like a Hammond Electric Organ, and it gets worse because apparently the filmmakers thought that something that sounds like circus music was appropriate to play whenever a dead body is shown hanging in the freezer. This, of course, might indicate that the film was supposed to be a dark comedy instead of a thriller; if this is the case, it's as much a failure as a comedy as it is a thriller.

Even the direction and photography is weak and unispired in the film. If I didn't know Mario Bava helmed this picture, I might have said that the film was made by someone who wanted to be Mario Bava but who didn't have enough talent. A number of Bava signatures--filming images reflected in pools of liquid, shots of characters far away down a passageway, or shooting through lattices--are featured in the film, but while I sometimes feel like he's trying to show off how clever he can be as far as how he films a scene, I feel in this movie like he's doing a bad imitation of himself. (That said, the film does feature one of the neatest, most creative track-shots/revelation of a dead body that I've ever seen--when a tray of glass balls is overturned, causing them to spill down a spiral staircase and come to rest next to the latest murder victim.)

A single flash of genius, however, goes not make this film worth seeing.

I read somewhere (DVD Verdict, maybe?) that Bava hated this movie. I can clearly see why, as there are many reasons to not like "5 Dolls for an August Moon". They all add up to a recommendation that you skip this movie, unless you've set yourself the goal of watching all Mario Bava pictures, or you're doing a study on the creation of the slasher film genre. Like Bava's "A Bay of Blood," this film is an evolutionary ancestor of "Halloween" and "Friday the Thirteenth"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nazi scientists plot revenge on England

Counterblast (aka "The Devil's Plot") (1948)
Starring: Mervyn Johns, Robert Beatty, and Nova Pilbeam
Director: Paul Stein
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A Nazi scientist (Johns) escapes from a British prison camp and murders and assumes the identity of a bacteriologist recently returned to Britain after decades abroad. In this guise, he continues developing deadly biological weapons as part of a plot to avenge Germany's defeat in WW2. Pressure on him grows, and risk of exposure becomes ever greater, as another scientist (Beatty) becomes suspicious, he is forced to take a well-meaning woman (Pilbeam) on as an assistant, and other Nazis start to press him to speed up his research. Will something give before a deadly plague is unleashed upon the English countryside?

"Counterblast" is a well-acted, well-written thriller. The complexity of the characters, particularly Johns' Nazi scientist, makes the film even more engaging and elevates beyond so many other similar films. Pilbeam, in one of her last roles before her retirement from screen acting, puts on an excellent show as always, as the young woman who travels half way around the world to take a position with the man she believes to be an old and good friend of her father's, only to find herself increasingly isolated and ever deeper involved in a deadly and monstrous research project. As in other roles she played, she projects a charming mix of vulnerability and independence. She is the perfect foil for the handsome, romantic Beatty... and it's easily believable that the young doctor would fall in love with her as quickly as he does.

"Counterblast" is a rarely seen post-WW2 drama, but I think it's worth tracking down, particularly if you are a fan of Nova Pilbeam (an actress whose work isn't given the recognition it deserves).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A graphic novel for the girls of the house

Writer: Andi Watson
Art: Josh Howard
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After teenaged goth chick Lottie is busted trying to get into a night club using a fake ID, her parents send out of London to spend summer with her grandparents. Here, she gets a little variety in her life--learns about golfing and fishing, manages to win a cake decorating contest, and discovers that it is possible to survive without a cellphone--and learns that friends and possible romance can be found in places she never thought to look. She also becomes involved in a solving a mystery when a woman is murdered on her grandparents' golf courseher to spend the summer with her grandparents in the country... and her grandfather appears to be the most likely suspect.

"Clubbing" was one of the inaugural entries in the "Minx" line of graphic novels. These are books targeted at young teenage girls, and, as such, I am about as far away from being the target audience as possible.

However, a well-done book isa well-done book, and I enjoyed "Clubbing" quite a bit. Like any well-done juvenile fiction, the book can be read and enjoyed by kids and adults alike,

The basic storyline is one that I remember reading in countless mystery books when I was a kid, so juvenile fiction is apparently still juvenile fiction. The "big city kid goes to the country" is used with great effect here, particularly as writer Andi Watson ellicits such a perfect portrait of a spoiled rich girl who is somewhat out of her element. Kids and adults will both develop a strong liking for Lottie, smiling at her victories and feeling sorry for her during one particular scene where she tries to make friends and fails. (Some of her antics may be funnier to kids than adults, but they're consistently entertaining, and there's never a dull moment to be had.)

While the basic storyline is typical of juvenile fiction (I'm making an assumption here--it's been decades since I read my last "Hardy Boys", "Jimmy Bond", or "Secret Seven" novel, and I've let the whole Harry Potter thing pass me by, but since the Minx line is supposed to be all hip and cutting-edge and appealing for girls in their early teens, I think it's a safe bet that a talented professional like Watson was writing something appropriate for the target audience andthat therefore kids' lit is still kids' lit), Watson throws a twist into his tale at the end that I did not see coming. It's both funny, creepy, and he wrote which is one of my favorite lines from any fiction I've read recently, be it comics or "real" literature: "And that's the last I saw of Gran--as she was trying to hug an extra-dimensional horror."

(I don't think I'm spoiling too much by quoting that line... or by saying that this graphic novel put a twist on life in a quiet British village that's similar to that found in the movie "Hot Fuzz".)

As for the artwork, Josh Howard has a cartoony style that is both appropriate for the story and that should appeal to most readers. He also has a sense of layout and story-flow that few modern artists possess--it's a clear, easy-to-follow visual story-telling method that is remarkable because it doesn't call attention to itself. Howard is practicing graphic storytelling as it was done during the heyday of American comics, and it's nice to see such craftsmanship in a book that's supposed to be hip and new. If more up-and-coming artists and their editors and publishers had paid attention to these sorts of fundementals over the past 20 years, maybe American comics would be as big a business as they deserve to be.

"Clubbing" is a fun read that once again proves that comics can be used to tell all sorts of stories, and I think this is one that should appeal to just about every member in a household (except maybe the 9-year-old boy who thinks girls are yucky). The final page of the book sets up the potential for a sequel, and I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

Saturday Scream Queen: Barbara Crampton

Barbara Crampton is best-recognized by lonely housewives and unemployed men for her recurring roles on various day-time soap operas over the years. But for fans of horror and sci-fi movies, it's her roles in films from Full Moon and Empire Pictures that she is best known for.

Click here to read reviews of films featuring Barbara Crampton at The Charles Band Collection.

Friday, April 23, 2010

'Tiger Love' is a genre mish-mash

Tiger Love (aka "Legend of the Tiger" and "A Tiger's Love") (1977)
Starring: Stephen Tung and Hu Chin
Director: Lin Hsiu
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After nearly being killed because of a feud between her family and that of the young man she loves, a young woman (Chin) is rescued by a tiger who falls in love with her. She soon gives birth to the son of her lover, and she raises him with tiger in isolation. When he is old enough, he decides to seek out his father, but he ends up falling in love with one of a beautiful pair of twins from the same family that his mother belongs to. This revives the feud and starts a violent and tragic chain of events that leads to the destruction of both families and the transformation of a kind guardian into a revenge-seeking demon.

Part third-rate Kung Fu movie, part Chinese low-class "Romeo & Juliet", part "Tarzan Meets Mowgli", and part horror movie, "Tiger Love" is a mishmash of elements that somehow manage to work. Sort of.

The first 2/3rds of the movie are slightly lackluster and predictable, with so-so performances made to appear even weaker by seriously dodgy dubbing. It also doesn't help that the only truly likable characters to appear in the film are the tiger, the human he loves, and her dippy son (played by Stephen Tung). Even his love interest--whose name I don't know, because this film is so obscure that it's not even listed at so I can't research its cast list--is something of an obnoxious bitch. Gorgeous yes, but bitchy.

The martial arts fights that break out every now and then during the movie do little to add excitement to the film, as they are universally simplistic and run-of-the-mill. The film presents the idea that Stephen Tung's character was taught a unique form of martial arts by his mother's tiger guardian, but the idea is never used to any great advantage.

However, things get better in the last half hour or so. As the film moves toward its conclusion, it totally changes gears and mood, leaving behind the standard 1970s Kung Fu period piece romance/revenge flick tone and instead turns into a horror movie. Events cause the supernatural nature of the titular tiger to become fully manifest, and the films only truly exciting scenes follow. The final act of the film manages to elevate it from a low 5 to a love 6 rating, even if I would still have liked to see a slightly stronger ending.

Overall, a decent flick. It's not exactly great, but the sudden left turn into horror movie territory in the final act makes for interesting viewing.

'Shrieker' is nothing to shout about

Shrieker (aka "Shriek") (1998)
Starring: Tanya Dempsey, Jamie Gannon, Parry Allen, Roger Crowe, Alison Cuffe and Jenya Lano
Director: Victoria Sloan (aka David DeCotaeu)
Producers: Kirk Edward Hansen and Charles Band
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

College students squatting in a hospital that's been abandoned for over 50 years come under attack when one among them summons an extra-dimensional horror known as the Shrieker. Five must die so it's summoner can control it. Will mathmatics Freshman Clark (Dempsey) learn the secrets of the Shrieker in time to save herself and her "roommates"?

"Shrieker" is a straight-forward monster film with a "Ten Little Indians"-style who-dunnit element thrown in. It's so straight-forward that it almost feels like an outline of a movie instead of a full-fledged one. It's short on character development, short on logic, and short on suspense, because there's not enough time to include that sort of materal in its very brief running time of just over an hour.

The fact that it's so short is probably the best thing I can say about "Shrieker". The director had enough sense not to pad his film with a bunch of pointless "mood shots" or never-ending establishing shots. Although I probably wouldn't have been too annoyed if there had been a little gratioutous nudity to pad the film, particularly since Alison Cuffe and Jenya Layno at one point both wear outfits that could have been even skimpier.

In that vein, I should mention that "Shrieker" features a cast that seems to have been cast more for their good looks than their acting abilities, but with the breakneck pace at which the film unfolds, there's barely time to notice anything about the cast other than their good looks. (Everyone gives an adequate performance for a low-budget, direct-to-DVD film... no one embarrasses themselves but no one does a remarkable job, either.)

However, I would have liked to have seen SOME development of the creature in the movie, at least as far as a better explanation of the how, who and why of it being summoned. It's a cool looking beastie--one of the better efforts during the late 1990s as Full Moon beginning its decline--but it needed more of a backstory.

"Shrieker" isn't the worst film in the Full Moon catalogue, but it's far from the best. But it is a film you can safely ignore, even if you're the biggest Full Moon fan on planet Earth.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The most feared Nazi of them all: Ilsa

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)
Starring: Dyanne Thorne, Sandi Richman, Jo Jo Deville, Gregory Knoph, Tony Mumolo, Uschi Digard, Maria Marx, Nicolle Riddell, and Georoge "Buck" Flowers
Director: Don Edmonds
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Ilsa, the big-breasted Nazi commandant of a concentration camp (Thorne), supervises a series of "medical experiments" that involve torturing women in the most gruesome and unusual fashions. Her hope is to prove that women are more psyscially tough than men, so that Hitler and his generals were allow them to serve on the frontlines of war. She is also on a quest for the ultimate orgasm... and when the freakishly well-endowed prisoner-of-war Wolfe (Knoph) is placed in her camp, she may well achieve it.

I don't often use posters with all the logos and taglines in place to illustrate articles, but the original one for this movie captures everything it's about with such accuracy that I simply had to use it.

One of the truest statements on the poster is that it's a "Different Kind of X." This is a movie that puts the "porn" in "torture porn." The various female torture victims are completely naked while they are cut, stabbed, frozen, cooked, beaten, raped and everything else in between. Ilsa is a sadistic maniac who would give Jigsaw and his girlfriend from the "Saw" series nightmares.

This isn't the sort of film I watch because I'm looking for entertainment; if I hadn't declared the "Nazis Quit!" mini-blogathon, I probably never would have watched a Nazi torture porn film. The too realistic violence in films like this make me ache in the various parts of my body where I've had broken bones or deep cuts, and all the screaming sets my nerves on edge. I had an idea of what I was in for when I slated this film for review--it was legendary when I was a kid and I dissuaded my friends from trying to rent it back when we were young teens and my family was the first with a VCR in the neighborhood--but I had no idea how bad it was.

Not "bad" in the sense of incompetent filmmaking and lousy acting [for the most part... a couple of cast-members must have been sleeping with the director or producer in real life, or I can't see how they ever made it past an audition, and some of the put-on German accents are hilariously awful). No, I'm referring to the fact that five minutes doesn't pass in the film where there isn't a scene of violent sex or brutal torture. It is amazing how much they managed to cram into one movie.

There is so much crammed in here, so much that had me cringing and squirming and making me wonder if I'd ever have an appetite again that the film virtually flew by. I think this is quite possibly one of the most effectively paced films I've ever seen. In fact, I think the only other movie that's had that effect on me--causing me to lose track of how much is left of the movie--once I started watching films with an eye toward writing reviews was "JFK." As much as it made me uncomfortable, I have to give the director credit for keeping me engrossed even as I was repulsed by what I was watching.

While this is without question a sleazy B-movie, it's a testament to its effectiveness that it's very watchable (assuming you want to watch scenes of rape and torture). When a film works as hard to be as offensive as this one is, it is usually boring or unintentionally hilarious. Neither is the case with this film. Heck, I wish there were scenes that were unintentionally funny, because I might be able to have some dinner right about now if there had been. (The closest we get is when Gregory Knoph tries to act, or even deliver lines. It's little wonder that this was his first and only screen credit.)

There are few films I've seen that make Nazis more disgusting that how they are portrayed in "Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS." The sad part is that many of the horrible acts shown in this film probably were perpetrated on human beings in real life.

If you're looking for a sleazy Nazi movie, you won't go wrong if you can lay your hands on a copy of this movie; it seems to be out of print in the United States--I borrowed the copy I viewed from a friend who gave me a long warning about the film, because he knows my tastes do not run in this direction. (He also lent me some other, lesser Nazi "torture porn" films which I will watch for the blogathon once my stomach settles.)

However, if you're a pain-numbed gorehound who thinks "Saw" is for pussies and "Urban Flesh" is too tame, maybe you will find yourself disappointed with what this, unarguably, superior early example of the "torture porn" horror subgenre.

Welcome to the dead-and-breakfast

House (2008)
Starring: Reynaldo Rosales, Heidi Dippold, J.P. Davis, Julie Ann Emery, Michael Madsen, Allana Bale. Leslie Easterbrook, Lew Temple and Bill Moseley
Director: Robby Henson
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Two couples (Dippold & Rosales and Davis & Emery) are trapped in an isolated country mansion-turned-hotel with murderous proprietors on the inside and a serial killer on the outside. It soon becomes apparent that there's more to the house than meets the eye, as the four victims are not just stalked by killers but also haunted by visions of deeply held, dark secrets. And is the mysterious girl who offers help and cryptic advice (Bale) a fellow prisoner or just another player in a sick and deadly game?

There is a lot to like about "House", particularly if you enjoy haunted house movies that are free of gore and sex. (I'm not entirely sure why its even rated R, as I've seen more foul language, sexuality, gory violence, and intense scenes in some PG-13 horror films.)

Sadly, it a far from perfect and in the end the flaws weigh more heavily on the film than that its good parts. It's better than most contemporary horror films because it breaks with them in a number of areas, but it's still not going to be counted among the classics.

Picture Perfect Wednesday:The Nazi Party!

Even the Nazis are celebrating the fact they were bombed into historical oblivion 65 years ago.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tectonic Tuesdays: Britney Spears

To honor the most wise Iranian holy man Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, who revealed the true cause of earthquakes, I am instituting a new series of posts: Tectonic Tuesdays!

Imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi revealed to us the following: "Many women who do not dress modestly [...] spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes."

These posts will provide scientific proof for his Allah-inspired (or maybe crystal meth-inspired, but wisdom is wisdom, right?) vision.

First Case Study: Britney Spears

Between the years of 1998 and 2001, Britney Spears left behind her wholesome Mouseketeer Image in favor of super-stardom as a barely clad teenaged pop-music sensation. She was the best-selling female musical artist of the time.

The American city of San Francisco and the island nation of Japan were rocked by massive quakes in 1998, the first year Britney Spears disrobed in public. In 1999, Turkey and Taiwan suffered massive earthquakes. In 2000, the Indonesian island of Sumatra was rocked by a 7.9 earthquake. 2001 saw both coasts of the United States of America hit by large earthquakes, while India suffered the Buhj quake and numerous aftershocks.

All because of Britney Spears' immodesty!

Come back next week for more evidence of Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi's great wisdom, as I present another woman who might make the earth move beneath your feet.

Monday, April 19, 2010

'Nine Lives' isn't worth part of one life

Nine Lives (2002)
Starring: Amelia Warner, David Nicolle, and Paris Hilton
Director: Andrew Green
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A group of idle rich college friends get together at a remote Scottish manor house to celebrate a birthday party. However, when one of them discovers an old book that has been hidden for centuries, a restless, murderous spirit is unleashed. One by one, the friends start dying.

"Nine Lives" had the potential to be at the very least an average slasherflick. It's got a great location, it's got a cast of talented young actors and actresses (although Paris Hilton basically seems to be playing herself... but she does a better job at it than, oh, 50 Cent did), and it's got an interesting threat. However, just about everything about the film is executed badly, and the result if a movie that's more boring than scary.

Every horror film has to have pointless bickering among the characters, but in "Nine Lives", the pointless bickering is excessive, repetative, and drones on and on and on. The film relies more on Stupid Character Syndrome (where characters do idiotic things because if they didn't, the plot would grind to a halt and everyone would be safe from the monster) than any other movie I think I've seen. A couple of the worst examples:

*The characters think a room that's got giant windows and French doors along the entire outer wall is a safe place to "lock" themselves in.

*They IMMEDIATELY split up into small groups to search the house, and the idiocy that is compounded upon this is so gross that words fail me).

Aside from inadvertantly painting its protaganists as Gold Medal winners in the Upperclass Twit Olympics, the script for "Nine Lives" has the further problem of not explaining the "why" of the angry ghost. How did it come to be in the book? How did being housed in burned out pages relate to his eyes being plucked out and force-fed to him? Who made the book? (The implication is that it was the Angry Ghost himself, but that makes absolutely no sense.) How did reading it release the Angry Ghost? Why did it jump from person to person in the way that it did? Why did the screenwriter not bother giving the Angry Ghost some personality toward the end? Did the filmmakers really think the voice-over bit in the end was a decent wrap-up to the film, or make any sense as to what came before it?

"Nine Lives" also commits one of the greatest sins of the modern slasher flick: It has boring kills. Characters get stabbed, they fall down, and they die. That's it. That's simply not good enough, iif you already have a story that relies on the characters being braindead to work and you have a killer than makes Michael Myers look like he has a magnetic personality.

Like so many substandard horror movies, "Nine Lives" is first and foremost a parade of missed opportunities. It's particularly sad to see it happen here, because of the good cast and the nice set-up.

The cause of earthquakes revealed byHojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, Imam of Imams!

For decades--literally, since the Mad Mullahs and Idiot Imams issued death fatwas against Salman Rushdie, and the government of Iran backed them with a bounty--I've been writing and saying that Islam is a force for evil and repression in the world.

However, I have to eat my words. One of Islam's great thinkers and holy men has found a way to stop the very forces of nature itself, to prevent earthquakes! Read his words of wisdom and gasp in awe over the glory and insight that Islam and Allah can bring to us puny mortals!

'Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,' Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

Ah, the wisdom and insight of a Muslim cleric! Is there anything so glorious (save for the wisdom and insight of a senile American born-again Christian tele-evangelist)? You can read more about the words for the ages from the brilliant Hojatoleslam by clicking here, or you can continue to gaze upon images of the cause of earthquakes since the dawn of time.

You can click on the pictures to see more detail of these earth-shaking creatures. You can also click on the "Saturday Scream Queens" picture to the right for similar image. But remember to cover and lock up your daughters... because they cause the earth to move if you don't!!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Weird Science brings sexual perversion 'From Beyond'

From Beyond (1986)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon
Director: Stuart Gordon
Producers: Brian Yunza and Charles Band
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A pair of physicists (Combs and Sorel) create a machine that causes our dimension to merge with another. They end up unleashing horrors--and sexual perversion--unlike any our world has ever seen before.

"From Beyond" is one of those gory, goopy movies that you do NOT want to watch while eating. If you like fast-paced monster movies with a high quotient of mad doctors--there is only one out of the five major characters who isn't a doctor who is unhinged in some fashion--and you don't mind sexually-themed horror, then you'll enjoy the heck out of this movie.

With excellent special effects--particularly during the final battle against the monstrous creature from beyond--and great performances by all the actors, this movie is a fun ride. Although only the first few minutes of the film is actually based on H.P. Lovecraft's story of the same title, Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton both capture the obsession and the madness that was a hallmark of many of his characters and stories. Further, the creatures and the entire style of the movie evokes the atmosphere of Lovecraft's writings. Even better, the film provides some great laughs to offset the terror, with Ken Foree (best-known for his role in the original "Dawn of the Dead") serving double-duty as comic relief and Macho Action Hero and succeeding equally well at both.

"From Beyond" is an excellent movie to show at a Halloween party where adults or older teens make up those in attendence. If you want to get a copy to show, make sure you get the unrrated DVD director's cut, because it features some really cool scenes that were cut to earn it an R rating during its original release--such the scene where Dr. Bloch (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) has her brain sucked out through her eye-socket and some of the bits of a tentacle-beast from Dimension Lovecraft getting to know Dr. Katherine McMichaels really well.

Saturday Scream Queen:Natasha Henstridge

Model-turned-actress Natasha Henstridge made her mark on horror films not as a screamer but by causing the screaming in her role as the beautiful-but-deadly monster in the three Species movies.

Henstridge continues to devide her time between modeling and acting, appearing in a mixture of films and television series.

'Maximum Risk' is a safe bet

Maximum Risk (1996)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Natasha Henstridge, Zach Grenier and Jean-Hughues Anglade
Director: Ringo Lam
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Alain (Van Damme), a French police detective, learns that he has a twin brother when the brother turns up violently murdered in Nice. Deciding to solve the mysterious death of the brother he never knew, Alain assumes his brother's identity and finds himself in the middle of a tangled conspiracy involving violent Russian mobsters, corrupt FBI agents and his brother's beautiful girlfriend (Henstridge).

"Maximum Risk" is a fast-paced action thriller with a well-written script that's performed by a talented cast. Although it is predictable, the storyline is sensible and action-packed with expertly staged and photographed fight- and chase-scenes scattered evenly throughout the film. (In fact, if I have a complaint, it's that there are too many chase scenes and car crashes in the film. By the time we get to final one, I'd grown tired of watching crashing cars.)

However, the film makes up for this with an ending that's far more intelligent than what actions films usually offer up. Instead of offering a quip and then executing the villains in cold blood, Van Damme's character behaves a little more like the honest and good cop that he's supposed to be... and by letting those who are truly the most evil villains in the film live, he not only subjects them to the humiliation and disgrace of a trail but he also ensures that their partners in crime will suffer similar fates. (This is the exact opposite of the idiotic ending in "Transporter 3" where the bloodlust of the writers actually leads to justice not being served when a main witness against that film's real villains is murdered by the hero in cold blood.)

"Maximum Risk" is a well-crafted action film that, strangely, was deemed a failure when it first appeared in 1996 and is one of the film's that some analysts blame for damaging Van Damme's career. Why that is, I can't figure, because while the film did tank at the US box office, it went on to make more than twice what it cost to make in other countries. A movie as good as this that also ended up more than paying for itself should have helped Van Damme rather than hurt him. (Of course, I far from understand the business of movie making... I just know when I've just watched a good movie.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

'Half Past Dead' is enjoyable crap

Half Past Dead (2002)
Starring: Steven Seagal, Ja Rule, Morris Chestnut, Kurupt, Nia Peeples, Bruce Weitz, and Claudia Christian
Director: Don Michael Paul
Steve's Rating: Five of Ten Stars

There are some films that I know are crap, yet I enjoy watching them for one reason or another. "Half Past Dead" is one of those.

In "Half Past Dead", FBI agent Sasha Petrosevitch (Seagal) goes undercover in a brand-new, hi-tech prison and runs afoul a plot to break out a deathrow inmate (Weitz) who knows the location of 200 million dollars of stolen gold.

The story is far-fetched and highly illogical in the way it unfolds, the action sequences thrilling but unrealistic to the point where they become goofy, the dialogue is awful, and the acting is even worse. (Steven Seagal should have done more movies more movies with rappers who are trying to pass themselves off as actors... they make him look like he's delivering an Oscar-worthy performance.)

This is a rediculous action movie any way you look at it, but I have a great time whenever I watch it.

The film will also forever hold a soft spot in my heart, because it was the first time I had a firm visual for what it looks like when some near-human aliens from my long-running "Star Wars Roleplaying Game" campaign gets into a fight. I will never tire of watching the Nia Peeples wire-fu scene for that reason.

"Half Past Dead" is highly recommended if you're looking to add an action film to the line-up of a Bad Movie Night... but it's not good for much else. The Five Rating it's getting is a very low Five.

While this was a better film that "On Deadly Ground", it's still pretty damn awful, and it was another rung in the ladder that brought reduced him to direct-to-DVD stardom. (Seagal likes to blame an FBI investigation, but the blame is found far closer to home than he probably wants to admit.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

The fairer sex plays the dirtiest game

I continue to mark the well-deserved ass-kicking Nazi Germany received 65 years ago.

Miss V From Moscow (1942)
Starring: Lola Lane, John Vosper, Howard Banks, William Vaughn, Kathryn Sheldon, Paul Weigel and Noel Madison
Director: Albert Herman
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When a top female Nazi spy is killed by the Allies, a Russian agent that bears a striking resemblance to her (Lane) is sent to Paris to infiltrate the Nazi intelligence apparatus. But when she draws the attentions of a love-struck Wehrmacht colonel (Vosper), an over-sexed downed American bomber pilot (Banks) and the suspicions of Gestapo operatives (Sheldon and Madison), her mission and very life are placed in jeopardy.

"Miss V From Moscow" is a fun little spy movie where many chuckles will be had at the interchanges between the beautiful Russian spy who is passing herself off as one of Hitler's favorite agents, and the German Army Colonel who is smitten with her, partly because of her beauty but mostly because of her connection with his beloved Fuhrer.

One scene is both hilarious and chilling, when Miss V and Colonel Heinrick attend a speech by Hitler. Heinrick is so enraptured during that scen that one keeps expecting him to throw his underwear at the stage, or perhaps even faint after squeeling like a school girl, but he is also not really listening to what Hitler is saying. The scene would perhaps be even funnier if it wasn't for the fact that it is probably an accurate portrayal of how much of the German people reacted to Hitler.

For the most part, though, the humor arises from the Russian agent using double-entrendres to respond to Heinrick whenever he prasies Hitler--giving what to Heinrick sounds like equally adoring and loving comments.

Aside from Lola Lane and John Vosper, no one really stands out. The rest of the cast are decent enough but they are playing as part of the background, not rising above the supporting roles that they play. (Howard Banks is extremely annoying as the "dashing airman", but I blame 1940s cinematic tropes more than I blame the actor for this; he's basically filling the role of "wise-cracking trouble-maker" that would be a reporter or a private detective if this wasn't a movie about a lady spy.)

This is a fun, fluffy flick if you have a taste for old-time low budget movies, but it's not worth going out of your way for. It's not bad, but it's also not especially good.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Uwe Boll's best movie so far?

Given the negative reputation that German director Uwe Boll has among many movie fans, and some jokes that are offered in this film, I was tempted to included it as part of the "Nazis Quit!" mini-blogaton. Ultimately, I chose to just post it like any other review. It is, after all, the very best picture so far from the reputed cinematic weapon of mass-destruction himself. (That said, I am of the opinion that Boll's reputation is inflated by critics and movie-goers who need to watch more films before they start throwing labels like "worst movie ever" and "worst filmmaker ever."

Postal (2008)
Starring: Zack Ward, Dave Foley, Chris Coppola, Jackie Tohn, Larry Thomas and Vern Troyer
Director: Uwe Boll
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

An unemployed factory worker (Ward) teams up with his con-artist uncle (Dave Foley) to steal a shipment of highly collectible dolls and make their fortune selling them. Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden (Larry Thomas) wants to steal the same dolls for far more nefarious purposes.

Any movie that mocks Osama bin Laden and the homicidal idiots who find him an inspiring figure is one that I automatically have a favorable disposition toward. The world needs works of art that disrespects them in every way possible. Mockery of the Lions of Islam were the highlights of "American Dreamz" (2006) and "An American Carol" (2008)--the only good part of the latter film, actually--and it's a definite highlight of this film. (The funniest joke in the whole film involves Taliban terrorists, an SUV, and the celebratory firing of automatic weapons.)

However, Osama and his fellow psychotic murderers are not the only target in this dark farce that is loosely based on a first-person shooter computer game. The trashier side of American culture and consumerism, the more vicious side of American corporate culture, and the capacity of human beings to buy into the most ridiculous notions if they are presented in a cloak of religious authority. (Although, amusingly, it is a couple of the Muslim criminals who are the prime target of ridicule in the film who come to their senses regarding the lies their leaders feed them.)

As much as much as this movie amused me, I also feel it went too far on too many occasions. Too many of the jokes are simple gross-out gags or taken so far that they cross the line from funny into intentionally and heavy-handedly offensive, while writer/director Uwe Boll tries to cram too much into the film. Basically, almost like the was trying to make a film in the classic Abrams/Zucker mold but failed to understand that those comedies had relatively simple storylines jammed with weird puns and sight gags, while Boll jammed his film with plots and subplots until nothing got the proper amount of time.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Christina Ricci

Barely standing 5-feet tall, Christina Ricci is perhaps the lit'lest of all Scream Queens. From kid-friendly horror comedies like "Casper" and the big-screen adventures of "The Addams Family" through offbeat chillers like "Sleepy Hollow" and straight-up horror flicks like "Cursed", Ricci has proven that big scares can come in small packages.