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.

Bride of the Monster (1955)

Bride of the Monster (1955) movie poster

director Ed D. Wood, Jr.
viewed: 09/08/2014

Gloriously recreated “making of” scenes of Bride of the Monster featured in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994) demonstrate the heartfelt affection that Burton and team had for Wood and this picture in particular.  Ed D. Wood, Jr. has gone down as the “worst director of all time” and fair enough.  At least his bad movies are incredibly fun and utterly enjoyable.

Bride of the Monster really might be his real masterpiece.  It’s a sight better than Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), though it features some classic silliness, almost non sequitur dialog, cardboard performances, and a weirdly intercut octopus, it does feature Bela Lugosi in his final speaking role, delivering a badly-written but impassioned performance that somehow sums up this whole strange affair.  The film is bad but it was made badly with love.

What’s the movie about?  There’s a mad doctor (Lugosi) with a monster in a swamp (the octopus) plus the ever-present Tor Johnson and the brutal henchman.  And something about a race of atomic supermen.

Oh, the 1950’s, they really did offer some great stuff.

I have to file this one under my growing list of movies that are indeed bad but that I’ve found myself enjoying more than hating, like Robot Monster (1953) and The Horror of Party Beach (1964).  And another truly great movie poster.

High School Hellcats (1958)

High School Hellcats

director Edward L. Bernds
viewed: 09/08/2014

This piece of 1950’s teensploitation has a great moment in its opening, with tough girls in the ladies room, smoking and threatening violence.  Sadly, that moment belies most of the rest of the picture.  It’s mostly tepid rebellion with a very pedantic moral lesson driven home throughout.

The Hellcats are a girl gang (made up of all the girls it seems) led by lead hellcat, Connie (Jana Lund).  She hazes the new girl Joyce (Yvonne Lime) by tricking her into wearing slacks to school (Oh no she DIDN’T!!! Am I right?!)  She bosses the kids around, but you see, these kids are just looking for family and leadership.  Their parents are not involved with their lives enough, going to work or playing bridge, leaving them to eat sandwiches!  That’s why these girls are out of control.

They do throw a party where booze is around and the lights go out for a game of groping.  Only wouldn’t you know it, Connie falls down some stairs and breaks her neck.  And it turns out that the house they are in was broken into because the people that lived there were out of town.

Really, inside the group, the problem is Dolly (Susanne Sidney) who has her own Machiavellian scheme to take over the gang.

Well, not every exploitation flick lives up to its genre.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) movie poster

director Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 09/07/2014

Jim Jarmusch’s vampire movie, Only Lovers Left Alive, takes a spin on vampire mythos through a typically Jarmuschian lens.  The age old vampires here are Tilda Swinton with long, tangled locks, sexy beast Tom Hiddlston looking pure rock star, elder statesman John Hurt is Christopher Marlowe (yes, that Christopher Marlowe), and Mia Wasikowska as eternally precocious vixen.  They live by night, of course, have lived for centuries.  Hiddleston in a derelict district of Detroit, Hurt and Swinton in Tangier.

The are aged, ageless hipsters, not the shallow ones that everyone disdains, but the old school hipsters who don’t go out anymore because it’s too much effort and too much the same.  They stay cloistered with their aging analog technologies.  They can stroke an object and tell its place and date of creation.  To them, non-vampires are “zombies,” you know, wannabes, poseurs, humanity.

Hiddleston’s Adam and Swinton’s Eve are old souls, still much in love, though growing so tired of living.  It’s tedious, you know.  Swinton flies to Detroit to meet her man.  But the trouble arises when Ava shows up.  She’s still a party animal, likes the nightlife, loves to boogie, drinks way too much blood.

Acquiring the liquid of life is typically done through underground connections at hospitals, to ensure purity.  People aren’t usually preyed upon.  And blood is somewhat like heroin, though the effect is brief and also nourishing.  Most blood is tainted these days, you know.

I actually enjoyed the movie more than many of Jarmusch’s more recent films.  It’s been described as “languid” and “droll”, which are both apt adjectives.  These vampires are hipsters, but original hipsters, the artists, the rock stars, the people who knew all the “great ones” in their day.  And wouldn’t it be great if we all looked so well as we aged and rued the changes in the world.

Don Jon (2013)

Don Jon (2013) movie poster

director Joseph Gordon-Levitt
viewed: 09/07/2014

I, like apparently a lot of people around the world, have a thing for Scarlett Johansson.  I think she’s very attractive, sure, but she’s developed into quite a good actress/movie star.  She’s been on a run of good and interesting roles in the past year or two and some of her roles seem to resonate interestingly against other roles she’s played.

Frankly, if it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I’d have been interested in Don Jon at all.

I really like Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  He’s almost at the level of my appreciation that I would be interested in most things that he works on.  This, his first writing/directorial role in a feature film, would have interested me, if the whole thing didn’t seem like the movie trailer told you everything you need to know about the film.  And I don’t discredit the movie trailer in this case.  The film is relatively simple.

A guy (you should read this with a serious New Jersey accent since everyone in the film has one — except for Julianne Moore) loves porn and masturbation above sex, though with his love of cars, girls, sex, family and religion, he gets a lot of physical contact.  He finally meets a girl that he’s super into but she becomes disgusted by his porn habits and lying and quits him.  Soul-searching he learns from an older woman in a class of his that he had just been very selfish and shallow and he learns to be a better lover.  But the girl still doesn’t want him back because she’s as shallow as he was.

I think if you love Jersey Shore, you might love these characters.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

It’s fine as a film.  I just didn’t care for it.

It could actually be an interesting parallel/contrast point with Spike Jonze’s Her (2013).  It’s another Scarlett Johansson relationship flick from 2013, only in that one, she’s a disembodied voice, artificial intelligence with none of the body that drives Gordon-Levitt so wild in Don Jon.  She is a person but much less so that her artificial counterpart in Her, but it’s still not lacking in the contrasts.  What attracts people to one another, what a relationship really is between two people (beings), even sex versus sex with self/computer.  She is both ideal girl and impossible girl.

Only the artificial one has great depth. The real one is kind of artificial and shallow.

I don’t know.  After thinking about the counterpoints between Lucy (2014) and Under the Skin (2012), maybe I’m just getting cross-eyed with my Scarlett Johansson movies.  Or is she genuinely picking roles that offer stark and keen contrasts?

Last comment on the subject for now.  Somewhere I heard the argument between “great actors” and “great moviestars”.  Great actors are what people always talk about and roles are written for and awards are given.  Great moviestars, in this argument, are actors who generally play themselves or at least not outside of a relatively tight range, but who find directors and roles that utilize them exceptionally well.  The former might be your Philip Seymour Hoffman type, the latter might be your George Clooney type.  I don’t know that I think that all actors could be reduced to these generalities, but it is interesting to consider actors like Johansson who play in a range of movies, sometimes roles that aren’t inherently interesting like Black Widow in Captain America or something, other times playing a bit more of a “role” with the accent like here.

I don’t know.  She’s always been beautiful, sexy.  She’s developed a lot and has gotten more interesting and has made her roles more interesting too.

The comparison/contrast is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.