Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010)

Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) movie poster

director Mark Hartley
viewed: 09/16/2014

The documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed! tells the story of the heyday of American film production in the Philippines, which ran from the 1960’s-1980’s, more or less.  Like a lot of offshore business and production, the Philippines offered cheap labor and unregulated execution.  The results did include some brutal situations for some stunt performers, but it also seemed to open doors and opportunities for others, including directors like Eddie Romero, Cirio H. Santiago, and Gerardo De Leon.

Mostly, if just one person profited, his name was probably Roger Corman, who was always looking for ways to make and stretch a buck in the movie biz.

The most entertaining interviewees include John Landis, Jack Hill, Joe Dante and Allan Arkush.  And there seem to have been a fair amount of truly entertaining craziness especially in the heady days of the  1970’s where anything went.

Film production was not adversely affected by the coup of Ferdinand Marcos.  The films would have possibly outraged the regime if they weren’t bringing in the moolah for the government. A more incisive documentary would have maybe spent more time on the political history that paralleled this time of film production, rather that offering its ironic lip service, but this is more a sit back and laugh kind of take on the crazy times and the exploitation films that they garnered.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (2013)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (2013) movie poster

directors Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine
viewed: 09/16/2014

The documentary The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden tells one of those stories that researchers and documentarians might seek out for a lifetime and never find.  The world is indeed a wild place and the strangest stories have actually happened, the type that daunt fiction but are all the more compelling in their actuality.  If anything, it’s quite amazing that this story hasn’t been told before.

Actually, it was, sort of, twice, at least, in the memoirs of two of the surviving players in this strange narrative.

This goes back to the 1930’s, to Germany, and in particular to Friedrich Ritter, a physician, inspired by Nietzsche, who takes up with his lover, Dore Strauch, to abandon their families and civilization and to find or create their own Eden.   Their Eden is found on a small island of the Galapagos, off the coast of Ecuador, famed for Charles Darwin’s research and writings.  It’s utterly uninhabited by man and they set out to tame their little piece of the Earth.

Only they are not perfectly happy.  Nor after a short while are they alone.

Another German family lands on the island, this one comprised of a far more conventional husband, wife, and child, who though motivated by similar desire to escape into isolation, are not the radicals that Ritter and Strauch strive to be and by their very appearance there, ruin the isolation.

Only they are not the only arrivals.  Not long after Wittmer family establishes itself, yet another group of people land.  This group belongs to the Baroness Von Wagner and her two male companions.  Educated and urbane, the Baroness in every other way profanes the isolation with her bombastic personality, her flash for publicity, and her claims to the island itself.  Not to mention her plans to build a big tourist hotel there.

Here on the island of Floreana, there are less than a dozen souls, yet the enmity and animosity among them is vivid and deep, despite their idealistic intentions and their mostly shared nationality.

From this setting, two will disappear, never to be heard from again.  The prime suspect tragically dies in his attempt to flee the island.  And the whole thing comes to a rather abrupt ending with another death and suspicions of poisoning.

I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t turn into a more typically narrative feature film.  It’s so ripe.

The documentary features voices of actors reading from the writings of many of the players in the story, their own words.  There is interesting archival footage of the people as well, for their outpost was notorious for lots of false reasons, like projected nudism and wildness.  And the film-makers interview descendants of the people and other settlers, some who have more direct connection to the story of the 1930’s, others who are simply representative of the craved isolation from society that drove people to abandon everything to find a hidden nowhere.

This is one of the aspects that makes the film all that more interesting.  It’s a social study, really, of people on the fringe, but it’s also an emblem of the fading isolation of the globe.  How rapidly Floreana went from zero population, except for iguanas and tortoises and the like to human drama and tragedy.  It’s now a tourist destination, one that doesn’t require the sacrifices and risks taken 80 years ago, emphasizing the ever-shrinking world.

The documentary is well-done, giving a good background and context to the events and the characters.  It’s juicy as you will find and intriguing and interesting as you could want.

The Iron Rose (1972)

The Iron Rose (1972) movie poster

Jean Rollin
viewed: 09/15/2014

After watching one of Jean Rollin’s worst films, Zombie Lake (1981), I felt it behooved me to screen one of his better films (that were available on Netflix Streaming).  I chose The Iron Rose of which I had read good things.

I’d noted that Zombie Lake didn’t feel much like a Rollin film.  The Iron Rose does almost from the get-go, starting on the French seaside, possibly even the very beach where The Nude Vampire (1970) comes to an end.  It’s a very evocative space, somewhat overcast, but what makes the seascape so haunting are the eroded pilings of old piers lined up into the water.  Tapering and variously rotted and black, Rollin shoots them from several angles, pondering some melancholy sense of death or disintegration.

The narrative of The Iron Rose is about two young lovers who bike out to a cemetery to picnic and make love, get lost in the darkness of the graveyard as night descends and strange terrors ensue.  The film is not the least bit typical of such a scenario.  What ensues is the cruelty of individuals, the madness and love of death, a poem of eerie wanderings and strangeness.

I have to wonder about the film’s production because it looks like a real cemetery in which is was shot and real headstones, markers, and bones.  Is that a real skull that the boy smashes on the ground?  When they make love in a pit, are those real skeletons in the earth underneath them?  It looks strangely opportunistic and the props don’t look manufactured.

Again I would say that there is a strong, almost feminist trope in Rollin’s work.  That despite some also very typical gratuitous nudity (actually this movie is the most chaste of his I’ve seen in that respect.)  These contrasting points…certainly seem ironic if truly occurring together, but there you go.

This feels like a small film.  It’s short.  86 minutes.  Is mostly about two primary characters.  Takes place almost entirely in one primary setting (not entirely though, there is that odd sequence in the train yard with the old steam engines).  It’s concision and smallness add to its poetic effect.  It’s almost not even a genre picture at all.

Rollin has continued to grow in my interest and estimation.

Ugetsu (1953)

Ugetsu (1953) movie poster

director Kenji Mizoguchi
viewed: 09/15/2014

I began this year with a plan to watch many of the “great films” that I had never seen, but then got sidetracked on an alternate path to watch “the worst” movies of all time.  The alternate path has been more attuned to my present place in the world, but I have been feeling the need to return to my original, possibly more lofty goal.

I’d never seen Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu, nor any of Mizoguchi’s other films.  All I really knew was he was a big name and I was familiar with the titles of several of his movies.  And that these were among the Japanese films that Janus originally brought to America and now reside on Criterion, both arbiters of what has come to be known as “World Cinema”, certainly the World Cinema that came to define the term.

Ugetsu is an elegantly shot feature, based on Ueda Akinari’s “Ugetsu Monogatari” (“Tales of Rain and the Moon”).  Set in the 16th Century, the story follows the lives of two couples who work together in a small village as ceramic craftsmen.  Genjurō (Masayuki Mori) is the master artisan who seeks money for his wife and child. Tōbei (Eitaro Ozawa), his assistant, seeks glory as a samurai.  The war-torn province is both serious threat to their lives and their families, but also opportunity to cash in on their dreams.

At great risk, the two men manage to rescue their latest batch of ceramics and head out across the fog-strewn lake while fighting and piracy reign the night, heading to a larger town to try to sell their wares.  Once in the city, with sales raging successfully, Tōbei runs off and buys armor, abandoning his friend and wife, seeking glory and wealth, which he eventually falls into not through honorable battle but through sneakier means. Genjurō, on the other hand, is seduced by a noble lady who admires his work and is keen to find a husband.

Both Genjurō and Tōbei’s wives suffer in their absence.  Tōbei’s wife is raped and turned to prostitution.  Genjurō’s honorable wife is murdered in the pestilence and famine that rule the land in his absence.  Both men lose everything in the greedy profiteering that sends them.  Genjurō’s story falls into the fantastic as his seductress turns out to be a ghost and when he finally escapes and returns home, he meets his wife’s ghost. Tōbei encounters his wife in a brothel, horrified by what has become of them, he discards all his armor and trappings, takes her back and returns to the village.

The film’s final moment, with the families again together, working more humbly in their old homes, has a classic beauty, as the child brings the mother’s grave some food, as her voice from beyond speaks (unheard) of her ever-presence.

I don’t know what all the writing about the film has been about, though I know that this film had many admirers in the United States like Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese.  It seems that this film is possibly an admonition against the Japanese during WWII, those who sought personal achievement, either in wealth or power or glory, abandoning their families, their humility, and losing everything.  As a moral tale, the lesson seems clear.  But, coming as the film does in 1953, it seems a very reasonable interpretation.

It is indeed a lovely film.

Zombie Lake (1981)

Zombie Lake (1981) movie poster

directors Julian de Laserna, Jean Rollin
viewed: 09/14/2014

I’ve come to develop a liking for Jean Rollin over the past couple of years.  A handful of his films are available on Netflix streaming, not necessarily the best ones, mind you, but it can always be interesting to explore the heights and lows of a career.  And besides, I’ve been also cultivating my appreciation for truly bad movies too.

There are other European directors of a similar period, who fairly or unfairly, are often possible to group together, different as they may be.  And a couple of these directors also have a number of flicks up on Netflix streaming as well.  Two that I am thinking of here are Spaniard Jesús Franco and Italian Mario Bava.  Interestingly enough, Franco has a film available called Oasis of the Zombies (1982), which, like Zombie Lake here, is also about zombie-fied Nazi soldiers.  Apparently, Rollin stepped in on Zombie Lake when Franco stepped away.  I guess that he went on to make his own Nazi zombie movie.

Nazi zombies first came into my life in the far more modern and contemporary Norwegian film Dead Snow (2009).  I think it even struck me as unusual.  But in researching this topic now, the lodestone of the subgenre seems to be Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves (1977).  I’d say, “who knew?” but obviously somebody did.

Rollin apparently denied working on Zombie Lake, because it was so awful.  Oddly, he appears onscreen as a detective who gets attacked by some green-skinned soldiers.  This is easily the worst of Rollin’s films that I’ve seen so far, and it really doesn’t feel that much like one of his films at all.

Villagers attacked some Nazi soldiers during the waning period of WWII, throwing their bodies into the “Lake of the Damned”.  All it takes is some skinny-dipping beauties to bring them back.  And they are this weird breed of green-hued zombies, the kind you can make up yourself with a trip to the local drug store for Halloween paraphernalia.

The only weird and vaguely interesting trope within this whole thing is a love affair between one of the soldiers and one of the villagers, which begat a child before the soldier was turned zombie.  Upon arising, this one “good” Nazi zombie seeks out his young teen daughter (you do the math, it doesn’t make sense) and she recognizes his amulet and we have a loving reunion.  I’ll give that points for weird.

All in all, it seems fair to suppose that this is among Rollin’s weaker non-porn films (not that I’ve seen any of his porn films either, mind you).  My survey of Rollin’s work is still in its infancy, but his films linger in my mind, long after.  There is something about them.  Maybe not Zombie Lake, but you know.

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965)

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965) movie poster

director Robert Gaffney
viewed: 09/13/2014

First of all, this guy:Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster (1965) still

Second of all…do you still need a second of all?

Filmed around San Juan, Puerto Rico and parts of Florida, this is a pretty marvelous bad movie.  These space aliens, with their titular monster in tow, have come to Earth to seek women to help repopulate their planet diminished by nuclear war.  Earth, in the meantime, has started sending cyborgs into space as part of the space program, a “sort of Frankenstein”, who gets blown up but falls back to our planet to get his face blasted by the Martians.

Really, our hero is a robotic First Man into Space (1959) kind of thing, his wiring gone awry and his face melted into burnt toast, he attacks almost as many people as the aliens.  Only, he does recognize his former nurse, an abductee of the visitors, and helps the enslaved women and her escape, fight the space monster, and blow up the ship.

There’s a pretty groovy 1960’s garage rock soundtrack provided by The Poets and The Distant Cousins, giving the film its additional flair and character, if the black-and-white beaches and Old Town San Juan weren’t enough, we’ve also got a young veteran actor James Karen as Dr. Adam Steele (you know him as the guy who didn’t bother moving the bodies for the tract housing in Poltergeist (1982).

I watched this with the kids on the pure silliness of the aliens.  It is a tad slow.  But Clara kept asking me “What makes this a bad movie?”  And all I could tell her was that it was a little boring and the monster didn’t fight “Frankenstein” til the very end.  Frankly, it’s biggest shortcoming might be that it’s not quite as campy as it could have been.  Still, it’s pretty cool.

Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)

Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971) movie poster

director Al Adamson
viewed: 09/13/2014

Now this is a bad movie!  I watch a lot of bad movies.  Well, lately in particular I’ve been watching a lot of bad movies and enjoying them quite a bit.  Discerning between enjoyment and self-torture is probably a variation in personal taste for anyone who might tackle such a program.

Up until now, I had never seen an Al Adamson production.  I can’t say how emblematic or not Dracula vs. Frankenstein is.  But I can tell you a few things.

The movie features Lon Chaney, Jr. in one of his final roles.  It also features Russ Tamblyn and Forrest J. Ackerman in small parts.  It also notoriously features J. Carrol Naish in his final role.  With his dentures clacking hysterically through much of his dialogue.  This has to be a certain all-time high of hilarious badness.

For a film made so much on the cheap, with such strange things like the most-glopped-together-looking face of Frankenstein ever, it manages to capture a certain zeitgeist, too.  It’s 1969 and features a Las Vegas show tune, hippies, bikers, LSD and the Santa Monica pier.  Such a strange, strange amalgamation of things.  As terrible and hackneyed as it is, I want to travel back in time to the pier and see some of this stuff first-hand.

While Dracula and Frankenstein do eventually battle like in the movie poster, it’s not nearly as vivid — in fact it’s kind of hard to see in the woods or forest where this goes down in half-darkness.  The poster certainly promises something that is sort of delivers yet doesn’t deliver at all.

Wow.  And Wow again.  It’s so awful.  And so sort of awesome.

Dinosaur Island (1994)

Dinosaur Island (1994) movie poster

director Fred Olen Ray, Jim Wynorski
viewed: 09/12/2014

Dinosaur Island is really weird.  Is it a throwback cheap-o film?  Is it satire?  What the heck is going on here?

This thing was made in 1994.

The movie often gets derided for having the worst dinosaur effects ever.  The dinosaur effects are a combination of what looks like stop-motion animation and other practical real world creations.  It’s hard to believe that they were done seriously.  The film is largely, quite clearly a comedy.

It’s also a T&A flick of note.  In fact, the extraneous nudity by the “cavewomen” starts from the opening of the film in a strange, voodoo-like dance with boobs-a-poppin’.  There are even a couple of soft-core love-making scenes.

Actually, according to Wikipedia, the film is a re-make of Untamed Women (1952), which would lead me to think that that is a double feature of true amazingness.

It’s the story of a small crew of military dudes, supposedly half of them in trouble or being shipped to be court-marshaled, who crash onto an island of buxom cave women and bloodthirsty dinosaurs.  Sex, violence, and marriage ensues.  Oh yeah, and some super-hackneyed comedy.   Even the comedy seems like it had to be satire.

It’s just enough weirdness and cheese that makes this kind of worthwhile.  Strange and insipid, tacky and terrible, it’s almost enjoyable.  Redoubtably odd.

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

Tokyo Gore Police (2008) movie poster

director Yoshihiro Nishimura
viewed: 09/12/2014

On a recent little bit of internet digging, which I sometimes refer to as “research”, I tumbled intentionally down a hole looking for “the most disgusting movies ever made” and I strangely found some rather keen and typical themes.  What disgusts one might not disgust another, but there do indeed seem to be a number of films that consistently make these lists, but unsurprisingly not all of these are readily available from Netflix (streaming or DVD) or HuluPlus.

One odd variant from that fact is Tokyo Gore Police, which is available on Hulu, along with a few other modern Japanese horror/science fiction films that seem to want to push the boundaries of taste, culture, and anyone’s available hot buttons.

It’s set in a futuristic Tokyo with a privatized police force and villains who take drugs that allow them to morph their wounds into weapons, very Cronenberg-esquely.  The precedents for things like this also tie into Tetsuo: the Iron Man (1992) as well as a lot of bondage, manga, anime, and you name it in this utter mash-up of things and ideas.

To its credit, some of the practical effects of prostheses and dismemberments, growths and spurting blood are very nice.  And the film has a few real surprising images and ideas up its sleeves.  There is even a very camp Paul Verhoeven quality to the satire and the commercials depicting this madcap future state.

But the film’s biggest shortcoming is the cheapness of its look which I think is due to the type of high definition video it seems to have been shot on.  Some video these days is almost indiscernible from film, but some video still looks a lot like video and I’ll be the first to admit that I have a personal snobbery and dislike for video.  I am willing to bet that if this movie had been shot on film, I might have liked it a whole lot more.

Don’t get me wrong, this is just my opinion, but it effected my liking for the film.  I just kept thinking how crappy and TV so many shots looked, which was definitely not drawing me in.

I have been watching lots of “bad” movies lately and it’s not cheapness for cheapness sake that I have been revolting against.  Some cheapness has great charm.  Some bad moviemaking has great charm.

Some bad movie-making is just annoying.  And I’ll say it again.  This comment on Tokyo Gore Police has got everything to do with my disdain for the aesthetics of the camera here.  Right or wrong.  I don’t care.

First Love, Last Rites (1997)

First Love, Last Rights (1997) movie poster

director Jesse Peretz
viewed: 09/08/2014

Back in 1998 or 1999, just before I started writing this diary of films, I stumbled upon Natasha Gregson Wagner in Another Day in Paradise (1998), and I was smitten.  The daughter of Natalie Wood, she definitely bears resemblance to her famous movie star mother, but for me, personally, I was just “like WOW.”  I tracked down a few other films she had been in.  She’d gotten good reviews for Two Girls and a Guy (1997) but I found I preferred some of the more trashy movies she made like Modern Vampires (1998) and later Vampires: Los Muertos (2002).  These were starring roles, more screen time.  She has had smaller roles in bigger movies like Lost Highway (1997) and High Fidelity (2000), but by the time I was getting into her, she moved into more television and hasn’t made movies as much.

She was the first actress that I uniquely singled out when I began this blog, though I’ve have several actresses and a few actors that I like enough to see just about anything they are in.  But I’ve been stymied on a couple of her films.  In particular, this one, First Love, Last Rights.

This indie movie from the heyday of the American Indie movie period in the 1990’s has fallen somehow through the distribution cracks into uber-obscurity.  Do you see the tiny image I found of the movie poster?  You can’t really find a larger one.  There is no Wikipedia page for this film.  Netflix doesn’t even have an entry for it in its database.

It’s based on a short story by Ian McEwan and stars Wagner and Giovanni Ribisi as a pair of libidinous lovers somewhere down in Louisiana.  He’s a young guy from the north.  She’s a local gal with a strange, wily, weirdo father who tries to convince Ribisi to invest in eel traps and makes some intimidation conversation about him sleeping with his daughter.  Their relationship goes from hot to cold as they live their lives on the fringe of the world.

Both Ribisi and Wagner are very good in their roles.  And you know, it’s actually a pretty good movie.  It’s typical of the indie films from that period in being a tale of quirky people yet relatively naturalistic.  A story of a love affair, its joys and its tedium.  And then there is the rat in the wall.  Or is there?

I was very surprised to find this on Hulu, pleased and surprised.