Nightmare (1981)

Nightmare (1981) movie poster

director Romano Scavolini
viewed: 08/24/2018

Freudian mama obsession, primal sexual trauma dominate Romano Scavolini’s 1981 movie, Nightmare.  Scavolini, unlike most slasher filmmakers, delves into the painful psyche of his killer, far from the faceless or deathless killers of many films. He even gives attention to the concerned and invested medical care, both in therapy and medications, that attempted to restore him to sanity.

There’s definitely something strange and palpable here, and this extends to the dysfunctional family of the killer’s ex-wife. A piece of shit 9-year old makes single parenting (and babysitting) a fucking “nightmare”.  And it’s this sense of realism that imbues the rest with some gravitas.

There are some awesome NYC shots before the film moves down the coast to Florida.

I found the computer technology that the psychiatrists use to hunt the psychopath interestingly speculative and futuristic and yet so deeply of their time.

It’s easy to see why this film impacts even those deeply steeped in the genre as something unusual and evocative.

Slime City (1988)

Slime City (1988)

director Greg Lamberson
viewed: 11/29/2017

“Flesh Control”

Slime City clearly owes its body horror inspiration to Cronenberg’s The Fly, but it’s glorious effects  are straight up Street Trash colors. This Incredibly Melting Man is not quite Rick Baker level but some cool cheap gloopy gloop melting slime effects.

This low-budget, New York-shot horror film has some real character. The Frank Henenlotter connection is interesting, but highlights the fact that Slime City doesn’t quite have Henenlotter’s gleeful mordant humor.

Props to the prostitute, not with a heart of gold but a stomach of iron, to pull off his gluey bandages and still wanting to get it on with him.

But, yeah, that Black Knight-esque finale really seals the deal. When the head cracks open and the brain pops out and starts crawling around…that is the stuff of which dreams are made.

Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977)

Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) movie poster

director Joe D’Amato
viewed: 09/06/2017

Ah, Laura Gemser…

I was first introduced to Laura Gemser and Emanuelle in Black Emanuelle (1975) and Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976) via Skinemax in the 1980’s. Lots and lots of skin and flesh and pretend sex (I’m sure I never saw a hardcore version of this stuff). Storytelling isn’t exactly secondary but certainly not the primary in this film series. Laura Gemser is the remarkable beauty so often in her altogether that drove this whole thing, and though I haven’t seen one of these things since the 1980’s, it’s really nice to see her again.

Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, of course, is a “Black Emanuelle” movie and a cannibal flick too. Two exploitation tropes meet up and what do you get? A cannibal flick with a lot of sex scenes. Director Joe D’Amato goes all in for the cannibal bits too, some reasonably good gore.

The tastelessness of the cannibal genre is full-on here. Racism being core to this particular genre.

But really, I can’t help but think that the most bizarre moment comes early in the film when Gemser is undercover in a NYC mental ward when she basically sexually assaults a patient in a straight-jacket and then photographs her private parts.

The New York Ripper (1982)

The New York Ripper (1982) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 06/26/2017

Lucio Fulci takes giallo to New York and finds it a city full of perversity. Sex is on sale on every corner, live sex acts are applauded like great theater, open marriage is a license for the licentious, and even the cops shack up with prostitutes. If you think you aren’t full of smut, you’re probably repressing something.

It’s in this landscape, the still very gritty New York City of the very early 1980’s, that a serial killer who talks like Donald Duck takes to great extremes of sexual violence, like the unleashed Id of a sick society.

It’s a filthy, gritty giallo with primo gore effects to make even the least squeamish to grimace or cringe. It’s also Fulci at the top of his game, delving into the depths of sleaze to come up with a gruesome classic.

It also seems to take a cue from perhaps Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979) or even William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980), delving in the darkness of the city and the openness of lurid sexuality. God knows this is our lost New York.

The New York Ripper lives up to its reputation.

Smithereens (1982)

Smithereens (1982) movie poster

director Susan Seidelman
viewed: 03/04/2017

I’m pretty sure I first caught wind of Smithereens via the old USA Network’s great weekend show Night Flight. It’s another film on Rolling Stone‘s 25 Greatest Punk Rock Movies of All Time.

Directed and co-written by Susan Seidelman (who would go on to direct Desperately Seeking Susan a couple years later), offers views of early 1980’s NYC through the prism of a narcissistic hanger-on. Wren (Susan Berman) isn’t at all the nicest of girls. We first see her stealing a pair of sunglasses from an unsuspecting hand in the subway where she goes to paste her photocopies of self-promotion all over the place.

When newcomer Paul (Brad Rijn) spots her and tries to make friends with her, little does he realize what a bottomless hole of a person she is. Her eventual comeuppance takes the form of rocker Eric (Richard Hell), someone slightly above her in coolness and street cred (he’s got an album out), but who proves to be as much of a user and manipulator as Wren herself.

The portrait of Wren is interesting. As shallow and selfish as she is, striving for something of fame or notoriety, it’s not entirely unsympathetic. She finds herself at the end aimless and alone,  but perhaps her story still goes on somewhere.

Berman was a nonactor before the film and she gives a great performance as Wren. Seidelman populates the film with a lot of interesting small performances from characters like Wren’s friend or the prostitute who propositions Paul to even the cheap floozy that Eric has just tossed aside even after marrying her. These women are interesting in their own ways, even in their small roles.

Richard Hell is very good in the movie too. Which is interesting because only a couple years earlier he was pretty bad in Blank Generation.

Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977)

Andy Warhol's Bad (1977) movie poster

director Jed Johnson
viewed: 01/17/2017

I don’t know how I never got around to seeing Andy Warhol’s Bad, directed by Jed Johnson, before. I’m actually a little fuzzy on the Andy Warhol-produced cult features that I HAVE seen. Even those would have been in the Eighties.

Bad is “like” John Waters, but also not quite like John Waters as well. Waters’s films are far more camp, more hilarious, less slick, less polished. But they share a sense of dark satire, not only of American culture, but of American genre films too. So cultural critique but also cinematic play. And a mordant sense of black humor.

Carroll Baker stars as the stay-at-home matriarch, clad in what would be even for the time a sort of retro-chic middle-Americana, who runs a DIY electrolysis clinic from her kitchen and a handy hit-person service by phone. Susan Tyrrell steals the show as her frumpy daughter-in-law who is constantly feeding her freakish baby whom she seems to be in utter horror of. Perry King enters the scene as a young hunk wanting to break into the assassin business, of whom Baker is not to certain, as she primarily employs women killers.

There is a lot more to it, but it’s sharp and funny, bizarre and cool. And campy, just a very different vibe than John Waters. Different but easily shelved next to him.

Pretty great, in my estimation.

Cruising (1980)

Cruising (1980) movie poster

director William Friedkin
viewed: 11/12/2016

After re-watching William Friedkin’s classic The Exorcist (1974) earlier this year, I was interested in seeking out other film’s of his that I’d never seen.  The notorious 1980 thriller Cruising hadn’t exactly interested me, but it seemed like a significant omission from my viewing history.

There is something of the Exploitation film about it.  Cruising is a crime flick in which a youngish cop (Al Pacino) goes under deep cover into New York City’s gay leather scene to hunt a serial killer targeting gay men.  It isn’t pure Exploitation, there is an aspect of sympathy toward the gay scene, though it’s fistfuls of titillation in the gay bars.

There are aspects of time and place and representation that are somewhat powerful.  I particularly have been interested in the New York of the 1970’s and 1980’s, the grittier pre-Giuliani New York.  I don’t know how many of the extras were locals of the scene or just actors, especially since the controversy around the film and its depictions of gay life even in the days of its production.  But there is something here, something of a time and place and people that is no more.

As a thriller, its effects are somewhat muted.  I’ve always had a problem with Pacino, though he’s quite low-key here.  The edginess of the question of his character’s “descent” into gay life seems the most continuingly problematic aspect of the film.  It’s also kind of bizarre that they just picked a guy to do deep cover because he “fit the look” rather than he had any skills and abilities to blend in or had psychological preparation for the work.

I guess it is curious to wonder how the film would have been with its excised 40 minutes of additional footage of the interior of the leather bar that were cut to escape an X rating.  I think that could have cemented the film one more significantly one way or another.

The Sentinel (1977)

The Sentinel (1977) movie poster

director Michael Winner
viewed: 10/21/2016

As per the Stanislavski line, “there are no small parts, only small actors,” you get a movie like The Sentinel in which a lot of big actors show up in a wide range of roles.  Packed with folks like Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, and Martin Balsam but also up and comers like Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo (oh my), and that cool Christopher Walken guy.  John Carradine!  And these aren’t even the leads!

Actually, I saw The Sentinel as a kid and always remembered liking it.  I couldn’t remember much about it but a big house and something evil or demonic or what-have-you.  Really, it’s best not to know what’s coming because the ending really is a twist.  And I think that is really what turns The Sentinel into something above the par.

At times it feels like a Rosemary’s Baby (1968) wannabe.  But it’s a little more odd, much more Catholic, if not quite as nearly as eerie.  Michael Winner’s direction if proficient, if not really full of terror.  There are some interesting FX moments, including a serious face-slashing.

The final sequence where the story becomes finally exposed is the film’s best and most vivid.  Winner employs a bunch of people with extreme deformities (to play visions of hell), co-mingled with some with make-up on, something that you don’t see so much of by 1977.  I’m somewhat curious about this.

Beverly D’Angelo has both a nude scene and one of the most hysterically funny masturbation scenes ever set on film.

My daughter wasn’t overly impressed by it, saying, when’s it going to be scary?  Not a connoisseur yet sadly.

1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982)

1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) movie poster

director Enzo G. Castellari
viewed: 09/02/2016

You know the old saying, “They don’t make ’em like they used to.”  That rings true in so many ways, even in wonderful garbage cinema of Italian knock-offs.

Is 1990: The Bronx Warriors the best Italian knock-off of The Warriors (1979) and Escape from New York (1981)?

Amazon just added a number of weird/cool Italian titles to its Prime streaming service, numerous notable classics and cheese.  I do not understand their content strategy or promotion planning and it’s probably the worst format I use for finding content (movies).  But this was a good content dump, several films I’ve seen or been wanting to see.  So, I’m grateful.

It’s hard to know what to add about Enzo G. Castellari’s genre rip-off goof-fest that others haven’t said with greater passion or knowledge.

Vic Morrow, I like him more all the time.  Fred Williamson, always cool.

I remember my first time driving through the Bronx in 1989 (only a year before this movie was supposed to have taken place), and having been well-fed on America’s portrayal of the Bronx as a super-scary hell-hole.  New York in the 1980’s was probably pretty intense and there was a lot of run-down structures as the city crept toward the end of the the 20th century.  Still, it was a fascinating landscape.


Special Effects (1984)

Special Effects (1984) movie poster

director Larry Cohen
viewed: 08/15/2016

It’s easy to see why people would link Larry Cohen’s 1984 thriller Special Effects with movies like Peeping Tom (1960) or especially Body Double (1984).  It’s a relatively obscure movie about a film-making, murderous obsessions, and doppelgangers, and it’s ripe for the pairing.

Larry Cohen never fails to be interesting, and Special Effects stands up, even with some rather odd casting, and Cohen’s moderate budget.  A young Eric Bogosian stars as a dark-minded auteur, and Cohen populates the film with a ton of interesting character actors in small roles.  The girl of the film turns out to be Zoe Lund, so notable from Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 (1981).  What might be most notable is that she didn’t speak in that film and here she’s got to play two parts.  There is a stiltedness to her somewhat leavened by her interesting looks.

More problematic is her primary foil, down and out hero Keefe (Brad Rijn, whose rather limited filmography reflects his less than ample skills).  Between Rijn and Lund, Special Effects could easily have tanked with no survivors.  It’s a testament to all else that it remains as entertaining and interesting as it does.

This was a first time watch for me and I could easily imagine how this movie could grow on one through further re-watchings.