Frogs (1972)

Frogs (1972) movie poster

director George McCowan
viewed: 09/29/2015

“It’s the day that Nature strikes back!”  Indeed.

Frogs is a notorious example of a “natural horror film” or environmental revenge horror.  The notoriety is for taking a very unscary, unlethal animal and promising true terror, notoriety for hilarious lameness.

Sure, frogs aren’t inherently scary.  But the funny thing about Frogs is what it does have going for it.  The cast includes the terrific Ray Milland, here older and in a wheelchair, still the best actor on the screen.  It features a young and hunky Sam Elliott, and solid B-list actresses Joan Van Ark and Judy Pace.  The parts of the film that work are the parts that are usually missing from horror films, the rather solid establishing of the rich Southern family on their plantation-like island home.  Where the film fails is in its death scenes and overall general concept.

The frogs aren’t even really the main monsters.  There is death by lizard, by snake, by alligator, by snapping turtle, even by Spanish moss.  Why frogs get top billing?  Are they the commanders in chief of nature?

A memory was triggered about another horror film with a frog in its center, 1953’s The Maze, which I caught several times as a child, with recurring disappointment.  Somehow, still, I have to think that the monster in The Maze was a little more satisfying than the critters in Frogs.  But it’s also interesting that despite failing at the part of a horror film that usually redeems a bad horror film, Frogs has a few qualities lifting from abject lameness.

The Cannibal Man (1972)

The Cannibal Man (1972) movie poster

director Eloy de la Iglesia
viewed: 09/27/2015

It’s interesting to consider that the movies that got dubbed as “video nasties” by the British Director of Public Prosecutions were in some part selected because of the video cover art and not necessarily the content within.  I’ve been perusing a few of the films that I hadn’t seen before since watching a documentary on the topic, Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010), and it’s been an eye-opening sludge through the virtual video stores of the early 1980’s, brimmed with dubious films from as much as a decade earlier.

Eloy de la Iglesia’s The Cannibal Man is a curious case of a film.  For one, there is no cannibalism in it. Its Spanish title, La Semana del asesino, “The Week of the Killer”, is closer to accurate.  While assuredly bloody with both some gruesome effects and scenes from a real-life abattoir, it’s much more psychological of a horror film, almost a male version of Repulsion (1965), or maybe more specifically a closeted gay man’s version of Repulsion.

Marcos (Vicente Parra) lives like a squatter in the poorer slum of his city, works blandly in a slaughterhouse, and seems a semi-normal nice guy.  But one night, on a date with the young woman from a wealthy family, he accidentally kills a cab driver in a dispute, and then his life moves off the rails.  There is a class issue in dispute, but even more significantly, he meets a young man with whom he develops a strong homoerotic relationship with.  Now, he’s forced to cover his crimes with more bloodshed, while repressing himself in ways both clear and unclear.

It’s been suggested that this film had a political agenda, a critique of life under the Franco regime.  I can’t personally contextualize it that far, but the homoerotic relationship is quite plainly spelled out.  It’s interesting how at the end, it is this relationship that compels Marcos to turn himself in rather than to kill his would-be lover or commit to him.  Actually, I’d have to say that there might be a variety of ways to interpret these aspects of the ending, though I don’t know what else to pull from it at this point.

Less of a shocker and more of a complex moral and emotional film, quite surprising in its way.  Not exactly what one thinks of when one thinks of “video nasties” whether or not someone got a meat cleaver to the face or not or buckets of cow blood stream freely throughout.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) movie poster

director Philip Kaufman
viewed: 09/27/2015

It’s tempting to think that every generation gets its own Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Though it’s really this version of the film that even brought that into being, the first re-make of the original adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel “The Body Snatchers”.  The 1956 film by Don Siegel, echoed explicitly here in Philip Kaufman’s re-make, loaded with Red Scare paranoia of one kind or another was certainly a thing of the 1950’s.  But what is the working metaphor here, in the late 1970’s?

Whatever the subtext, Kaufman’s film is a terrific horror tale, developing the scares and paranoias through a subtly building freak-out where the regular people are getting replaced with vegetable doppelgangers, lacking emotion, but able to accusingly point and howl menacingly as all get out.

The film stars Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, features a cruel pop-psychiatrist Leonard Nimoy, a young Jeff Goldblum and an always evocative Veronica Cartwright.  And, perhaps notable as well, a damp and gray late 1970’s San Francisco, whose muted exteriors are not the stuff of postcards but of mundane nightmares.  Vividly captured as well.

Kevin McCarthy, star of the 1956 film and Don Siegel, director of that classic, both appear in brief cameos, McCarthy’s as an almost continuum of where the older film left him in 1956 suddenly still freaking out on cars threatening the doom of “They’re coming!  They’re coming!” like that was all he’d been doing for 22 years.  Siegel interestingly has joined the dark side as a cabbie with ulterior motives.

So it’s not Communism, nor is it the fear of the Red-baiting Commie haters. It’s a gelatinous space seed blown on solar winds, not seemingly tied to one ideology or another.

The effects are more gruesome, in full color, though not necessarily the key to making this film compelling.  The most striking image of the film (perhaps besides the howling, pointing people) is the human-faced dog, a thing of nightmares.  This freaky image seems to have been handled in the most simplistic of ways.  It seems a mask of a human face on an actual dog, and the kicker, the creepiest moment, when the dog’s tongue runs out of the mouth and licks its face, it was probably just a dog…licking the mask.  Still, so effectively edited in, it’s a standout shocker to this day.

Kaufman’s Invasion is rich and eerie work.  Subtext or no.

Killer Nun (1978)

 

Killer Nun (1978) movie poster

director Giulio Berruti
viewed: 09/26/2015

Killer Nun is another of those “video nasties” as they were dubbed in the UK back in the reactionary 1980’s.  While it’s got a middle-aged Anita Ekberg as a mentally-disturbed, heroin-shooting nun, having sex, both hetero and lesbian, and eventual murders, thus living up to its Killer Nun title, I kind of prefer one of its alternates, “Deadly Habits”, but I’m always one for a pun even in “nunsploitation”.

Yeah, it’s got sex and drugs and violence and nuns.  Maybe if you’re Catholic or were raised Catholic, the whole nun thing has a bit more teeth.  But really, this Italian exploitation flick is a jumble of hot topic nonsense.

Actually, I think it hurts my brain to try to pry more out of it regarding this film.

Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass (2010) movie poster

director Matthew Vaughn
viewed: 09/26/2015

Kick-Ass 2 (2013) somewhat ruined Kick-Ass (2010) for me.  The original had been one of those films I liked when it had come out and was curious to see again.  But in the interim, I caught parts of it on TV and then saw the really bad sequel, which was still made up of enough of the parts of the original to really make you wonder what you liked about it in the first place.

Well, this viewing was for my 13 year old son who was interested in seeing it.

On viewing again, the two true fact emerge as from initial viewing.  Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz (as Big Daddy and Hit Girl, respectively) are the best things about the film.  Cage’s misguided loving parenting and wheezy, goofy nerdiness play well off the foul-mouthed 12 year old girl who is ultimately the kick-ass machine of the movie.  And the film features a few good set pieces of action by director Matthew Vaughn that hold up well, five years later.

Felix liked it okay.  Clara thought it was funny.  I’ve warned them off the sequel.

Creature (1985)

Creature (1985) movie poster

director William Malone
viewed: 09/25/2015

Of all the Alien (1979) knock-offs in all the solar systems of the world…

Actually, after completing re-watching the Alien series a few years back, I got kind of interested in the Alien knock-offs.  I did get around to watching both Galaxy of Terror (1981) and Forbidden World (1982), both Roger Corman productions with various strengths and weaknesses.  Ultimately, I kind of petered out on the subject before getting to them all.

Creature, though, is most certainly an Alien rip-off, rather unabashedly, though also rather abysmally.  What Alien had going in originality, style, design, and production value, Creature has…well, none of those things.

In a race for mining rights on the moon Titan, a German team and a US team land in a race to land first dibs.  What they land first dibs on is death at the hand of an ancient monster, stuck in some hibernation sleep for hundreds of millennia.   On top of a very poor man’s version of the Alien monster, it also has a parasitic brain thing that allows it to reanimate corpses and use human trickery to lure unknowing spacefolk to various forms of death.

This is a D-list film with a C-list cast.  The biggest star is an old and avidly screen-chewing Klaus Kinski as an (unsurprisingly) evil German spaceman.  It also features Lyman Ward (the dad from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) anyone?) as well as Diane Salinger (Simone from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)), the latter as the big tough space army broad.

As amazingly cheap as this film is, it’s not entirely unappealing.  With a knowing nod to The Thing from Another World (1951), it also in other ways echoes of Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965) an admitted influence on the 1979 Alien.

My experience with the Alien knock-offs has yet to have me recommend the venture, nor to complete it myself.

Breeders (1986)

Breeders (1986) movie poster

director Tim Kincaid
viewed: 09/23/2015

 

Since watching Entrails of a Virgin (1986), I began to wonder why more horror movie monsters and villains weren’t explicit rapists.  I assume that because rape is so real-world horrible, horror films, for all their blood and guts (or just scares) and fear-invoking, are essentially escapist fantasies allowing us to tap those feelings of fear with fun rather than facing one of the worst crimes that occur with truly frightening frequency in the real world.  Perhaps the classic monster movie image of whatever creature carrying off the damsel in distress is an implicit, though codified suggestion of not only death, but rape as well.

Well, then you get a movie like Breeders.   Where rape is exactly what the monster is after.

It’s a wonderfully awful horror film with copious gratuitous nudity, hysterically bad acting, and some equally bad directing that turns into a movie that is indeed so bad as to be good.

It’s the mid-Eighties in Manhattan.  And someone is raping virgins, splashing them with acid, and erasing their memories.  That someone is usually a disguised monster, from outer space, who lurks in the underground tunnels beneath the Empire State Building.  A Dr Gamble Pace (the truly awful Teresa Yvon Farley) has stumbled on this thread at Manhattan General, and she enlists the help of a Detective Dale Andriotti (Lance Lewman) to help solve these crimes.

Who knew it was so easy to find virgins in Manhattan in 1986?

As for the effects, the monster is a rather bad job of a black rubber suit, though there is one scene when one of the men is shedding his flesh suit, chest bubbling, that is pretty decent.  The ending with the “nest” and the naked girls lounging provocatively,…well, like a lot of the movie, it’s pretty darn funny.

In the end, though, it’s kind of a twist on the 1980’s slasher trope of punishing the sexually active while sparing the virginal goody “last girl”.  Here, a little bit of sex might spare you getting raped by a monster from outer space.

I, Madman (1989)

I, Madman (1989) movie poster

director Tibor Takács
viewed: 09/21/2015

I, Madman was recommended by a friend as an old favorite.  I wasn’t familiar with it, but queued it up and as Netflix listed it as “Very Long Wait”, it’s taken a while to get around to it.

It’s a strange and cool movie starring Jenny Wright (who I was familiar with in the 1980’s from The Wild Life (1984), St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), and Near Dark (1987), among others).  Here she plays a young bibliophile and used bookstore clerk, who has just stumbled upon the only two books by an obscure pulp writer named Malcolm Brand.  Brand’s books, “Much of Madness, More of Sin” about the attempts to make a jackal-boy and later the titular “I, Madman” which tells the story of an obsessive lover who has sliced off his facial features when rejected, turn out to not be pulp fiction, but confessions!

Though the film tries to tie its aesthetics to the Los Angeles film noir, it’s near campy storyline might be more akin to the Italian giallo.  Fiction and reality blur for Wright’s young Virginia.  Her cop boyfriend (Clayton Rohner of other 1980’s flicks like Just One of the Guys (1985) and April Fool’s Day (1986)) is tasked with solving the murders of a number of young women with lips or ears removed.

The make-up effects are great.  And I have a soft-spot for stop-motion monsters when they show up.  That, and the film’s tone, which is fun, not necessarily “tongue-in-cheek” but not out for pure thrills and chills, makes for a very fun movie.

Tibor Takács also made the 1985 film The Gate, which I remember liking well, but can’t really remember anything else about it.  I’ll definitely be queuing that up for a re-visit.

The Boogeyman (1980)

The Boogeyman (1980) movie poster

director Ulli Lommel
viewed: 09/20/2015

As I said, in writing about Island of Death (1976), “(a)fter you watch the documentary on Video Nasties (2010), it’s time to watch a “video nasty” (or two.)  A video nasty (or two) from the notorious list of 72 films cited by the Department of Public Prosecution.

The Boogeyman would be that “or two”.

Written, directed, and co-produced by German-born Ulli Lommel (who interestingly also made Blank Generation (1980)), The Boogeyman is an oddity even in the wonderfully weird world of 1980’s horror films.

It opens with a scene in which two small children watch through a window as their mom drunkenly tries to get it on with a man on her living room couch.  She’s slipped off one of her nylons and has placed it on his head, mashing his features as was once common with bank robbers.  The kids are caught out and the older boy is tied up to his bed.  The three year old sister gets a big kitchen knife and cuts him free, which the boy then takes to the mother’s bedroom and stabs the man to death.

While it has echoes of the opening of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), this film isn’t really a slasher in the purest sense.  In fact, it’s going to go off the rails of logic and expectation.

Long story short, the film moves into the present and the children are now adults, the boy mute since the incident.  Haunted by the events, the girl goes back to the old family home, and sees in the mirror of the bedroom in which the murder happened, an image of the dead man.  She smashes the mirror, which releases the spirit and for unknown reasons, her husband takes the mirror home to reassemble it.  The unseen spirit commences to kill people in a weird variety of ways.

The film is full of logical ellipses, jumps in story, suggesting either some real issues with the script or editing or who knows.  Some of the film is unintentionally funny (quite funny in fact) and then it also gets really bizarre at the very end.  I don’t care to spoil any of that for you.  It’s very odd.

As the film is actually not amazingly made, but occasionally evocative, sometimes quite evocative, and occasionally hilarious, I have strangely mixed emotions about it.  It does go to show how random that list of 72 “video nasties” really was, though.

Island of Death (1976)

Island of Death (1976)

director Nico Mastorakis
viewed: 09/20/2015

After you watch the documentary on Video Nasties (2010), it’s time to watch a “video nasty” (or two.)  A video nasty (or two) from the notorious list of 72 films cited by the Department of Public Prosecution.

I wasn’t too familiar with Island of Death, though I had already added it to my Fandor queue (as Fandor specializes potently in their Cult section).  It’s a Greek exploitation film.  Who knew such a thing existed?

Apparently inspired by the commercial success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), writer/director/producer Nico Mastorakis cranks out a film of full-on perversities, a litany of bad behavior, and joie de vivre for creative murder.  A young, nice-looking couple find their way to the Greek isle of Mykonos and start wreaking havoc.  Sex in a phone booth while talking to the man’s mother, then a morning rape and murder of a small goat.  Both of the lovers seduce others, both kill or torture and show great glee, and take lots of photos on their vacation.

Robert Behling plays the libidinous murderer who cracks out with judgmental, pious snipes at everyone else, seemingly barely repressing his violence.  The very cute Jane Lyle is less of a driver but a very willing collaborator with her partner, just as cruel, if a little less driven by bloodlust.  They kill a homosexual couple that had befriended them, an “older” woman, a lesbian heroin addict, a house painter, a detective on their trail, anybody who looks at them funny.  And when the tables are turned, and Lyle is attacked in her bathtub by two hippie satyrs, Behling uses a speargun and a toilet to dispatch their attackers.

The film contrasts beautiful shots of the couple frolicking through the grass and flowers, strolling the beaches of the bright blue Aegean Sea, with these acts of total decadence and cruelty.  Is it the ugly Americans?  Behling sounds American but Lyle is clearly British.  Who are these two and what do they represent?

Well, the film turns on its final sequence.  When the two are finally suspected of wrongdoing, they flee to the countryside, to a rural shepherd who lives in a hut.  He takes them in, feeds, them and lets them sleep in the hay.

***Spoilers ahead***

And then he rapes them, first the girl, then the guy, who clicks photos of the girl’s rape.  The shepherd beats and sodomizes the guy, while Lyle watches in bemused revenge, eventually, letting the shepherd have his way.  The shepherd then throws the man into a pile of quicklime, trapping him.  While he calls out for help, wary of rain igniting a chemical change that will mean his ugly death, the girl ignores him.  Let’s him die.

Oh yes, there is the plot twist that turns out that these two are siblings.

There is a wildness to the a-morality in the film, an adherence to a sense of flouting social constructs and slashing taboos.  The couple, handsome and pretty as they are, are ugly monsters as well, probably insane, completely without conscience or care, lusting in decadent viciousness.  But what does it all mean?  The man delusionally envisions Mykonos as edenic, as the people as good and pure, and then he is taken down by a goodly, sleazy man of the earth, perhaps more animal than man?

I don’t know.  This movie is quite shocking in its way, not so much in what it throws in your face, as much as what it seems to be saying.  Or is it saying anything coherent?  It’s pretty bananas.