Beyond the 7th Door (1987)

Beyond the 7th Door (1987) DVD cover

director Bozidar D. Benedikt
viewed: 06/29/2018

Starring a cadaverous frog with a heavy metal mullet (Lazar Rockwood) and a game if oddly-clad young lady (Bonnie Beck), Bozidar D. Benedikt’s Beyond the 7th Door lies somewhere beyond typical movie making. Rockwood also sports a pronounced Eastern European accent and seems the most curious selection as a lead in a film.

“What the hell you wearing?” Indeed.

Right after Rockwood gets out of prison, his ex (Beck) drags him back into the crime game, targeting her bedridden employer’s castle-like mansion for an easy burglary. Unfortunately for the duo, they land in a series of traps, escaping one door at a time, in trying to get out with both booty and their very lives.

Straight outta Canada, it’s seriously a noble effort. Certainly ridiculous, it doesn’t lack in ambition. Rockwood’s Boris sports a charming utility belt of normal stuff that he puts to use, like a tape measure to try to retrieve something out of reach. It’s proto-MacGyver on a budget.

There is a certain class of us cinephiles that dig this crazy crap.

Savage Abduction (1973)

Savage Abduction (1973) movie poster

director  John Lawrence
viewed: 06/23/2018

The convoluted premise of Savage Abduction: a psycho is hired to murder the wife of a businessman. The psycho then blackmails the businessman into abduct two beautiful young women for the psycho to kill. The businessman subcontracts to a ruthless biker and his gang to do the abduction.

A relative lack of nudity and blood belie the sleaze and violence of Savage Abduction. The lead biker, Chelsea (Steve Oliver), viciously beats his moll and oozes violence from every pore.

I do have to say that girls naive enough to hitchhike with some bikers are bound to get into trouble. And bound to get bound.

The film’s ending is a moral morass, oddly open-ended message about this convolution.

Doppelgänger (1993)

Doppelgänger (1993) movie poster

director Avi Nesher
viewed: 06/09/2018

Drew Barrymore published an autobiography in 1991 at age 16, Little Girl Lost. Her transition into adulthood and into acceptance as an adult actress pitched her career by playing bad girls, or girls with a dark side. From Poison Ivy and Gun Crazy in 1992 to The Amy Fisher Story and Doppelgänger in 1993, her redemption trip in pulpy movies was complete.

It’s a little sad that it didn’t last longer, but I’ve always been happy that she was able to make it in Hollywood after a troubled childhood.

Doppelgänger may not be the best of this period, but it’s probably the weirdest. It’s a low budget thriller about a gal (Barrymore) with multiple personalities, one of which is evil.

But then there is the ending, where the whole thing goes off the rails and becomes a bizarre horror film with some intense and creative creature effects that may have made more of an impression than Barrymore herself.

I have a soft spot for this brief period of dark material, though Barrymore is much better suited to her eventual sweet spot of an actress in light romantic comedies.

Friend Request (2013)

Friend Request (2013) movie poster

directors Mario DeAngelis, Jason Falasco
viewed: 05/26/2018

After watching Ingrid Goes West, I figured I was up for a social media horror double feature.

This is not your friends’ Friend Request but a 2013 thriller starring and produced by Michael Anthony Hall. Hall is a besotted detective looking like Steve Bannon’s younger brother, attached to a case of serial torture with a new young female partner he of course hates.

It’s charmingly no budget, with production values maybe only one solid notch above Neil Breen or David DeCocteau. I guess I wasn’t the only one to notice the Shutterstock watermark go by twice on that one clip.

It’s sort of Seven meets social media, but from hunger.

Hall manages to keep it entertaining, especially if you like low budget schlock. Amusingly bad.

Homicidal (1961)

Homicidal (1961) movie poster

director  William Castle
viewed: 05/11/2018

Arguably, William Castle directed more movies before he became the William Castle we’ve come to know and love. I’m sure no character like Castle just suddenly started being William Castle, but it wasn’t until he began financing his own films and adding his persona and his requisite gimmicks that the real William Castle started making movies.

Homicidal was the fifth of these pictures and is often brushed off simply as a cheap response to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). While it’s no secret that Castle imagined himself a true competitor of Hitchcock, and Homicidal came out on the heels of Psycho, it’s maybe best to see it on its own terms than in comparison with Hitch’s masterpiece.

It starts with a pretty confusing, if titillating opening, in which Emily (star Jean Arliss) shows up at a Ventura, CA hotel and entices a bellboy to marry her toot sweet. Trying to follow along logically is the real rub, because when she stabs the justice of the peace and takes off, it takes a few minutes to make sense of what is going on. The whole plot is such a tangle of confusion and high weird nonsense, which could be great, but then when it’s all spelled out and done and everything makes sense, it’s less satisfying than when it was confusing.

The key to Homicidal is Jean Arliss, who apparently landed the lead by coming in dressed as both her striking blonde self and also as a convincing man. Gender gets bent but not broken in Homicidal, and Castle is more interested in “the twist” than in the underpinning pop psychology that could have made this more salacious.

Still, pretty fun stuff.

 

Kalifornia (1993)

Kalifornia (1993) movie poster

director Dominic Sena
viewed: 05/09/2018

“If you looked in the dictionary under poor White Trash, a picture of Early and Adele would have been there. But I knew if I was gonna be a good writer , I’d have to ignore the cliches and look at life through my own eyes.”

Kalifornia is such a screenwriter’s film that the main character is of course a writer. And that writer is David Duchovny, perched on the cusp of The X-Files here in 1993, not yet big time famous.

Actually, Kalifornia features a cast that was pretty red hot in 1993. Namely, Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis, Early and Adele, as mentioned above. Also, Duchovny’s photographer girlfriend, played by Michelle Forbes, who would also go on to lots of notability on the small screen.

Conceptually, Kalifornia has a pretty good set-up, with Duchovny and Forbes having picked up Pitt and Lewis as road trip help, driving across the country researching horrible murder scenes. Only, they’ve not just picked up cartoons of White Trash, but their own genuine serial killer.

For my money,  only Lewis is able to infuse her character with elan and esprit de corps, eclipsing the script’s shortcomings. Pitt runs into a bit of a wall with Early, hocking snot rockets, having to be vicious and cruel, and also be a decent bloke.

Is it me or is it funny that this only came one year before Natural Born Killers?

Cardiac Arrest (1980)

 Cardiac Arrest (1980) movie postere

director Murray Mintz
viewed: 04/18/2018

Unheralded, probably because it’s not very good, Cardiac Arrest is a detective thriller on the streets of San Francisco. Going by the movie poster, it was marketed as a horror film, and sadly, that’s a guarantee for disappointment.

Clumsy writing and directing in this picture is probably a testament to why it’s one of very few Murray Mintz movies.

But one thing it does have going for it is that it’s very fucking local San Francisco crime horror picture. The locations are very neighborhoody, not places non-locals would know or recognize largely. And it’s a lot of a city that no longer exists.

The most recognizable star is Max Gail (then Detective Stan “Wojo” Wojciehowicz of Barney Miller). But it also features local actors Michael Paul Chan and Marjorie Eaton, as well as then local newscaster, David McElhatton.

It’s so local they even mention the Main Street in my neighborhood, Taraval. So it’s that local.

Yeah, it’s no great shakes, but the old San Francisco angle made it worth my while.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde (2017) movie poster

director David Leitch
viewed: 04/11/2018

Atomic Blonde fetishizes neon more successfully than it fetishizes the Eighties. Though the soundtrack is heavily retro, the aesthetic is much more a 21st century one.

Charlize Theron kicks a lot of ass and looks great doing it, which is really what this movie is about more than anything.

The end of the Cold War Berlin setting is an interesting choice for a throwback spy flick. But the story doesn’t have much intrigue. I mean, how could the turncoat be anyone other than James McAvoy? He’s not just the only other actor of note but the only character given any development. It’s also kind of funny how Theron towers over him in bare feet or heels.

The highlight is the drawn out stairwell fight scene.

I dug the music and all but by the only tracks truly from the period setting of 1989 were Public Enemy and Ministry. Is that just me being nitpicky?

Nightmares Come at Night (1972)

Nightmares Come at Night (1972)

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 03/26/2018

The nonsensical montage that runs through the title sequence of Nightmares Come at Night is quite the preview of the nonsense to come in the film.

It’s psychedelia-cum-psychosis-cum-psych-out. A psychotic break as art film and artsy nudity. And Jess Franco at his most narratively challenged and still primed on LSD?

Amazingly awful English dub, both in words and acting rounds this one out.

“Life is all shit”

Indeed.

Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby (1999)

Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby (1999)

director  Matthew Bright
viewed: 03/25/2018

I just read a possibly apocryphal trivia note on IMDb that said that Doris Wishman was originally set to direct Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby.

If only.

Freeway II embodies the exploitation aesthetic in a lot of ways. It’s a black comedy that tries to out-sleaze its predecessor at every turn, which it does easily. In Freeway (1996), Matthew Bright laced mordant humor throughout the movie while also playing a lot of it like a straight drama. Freeway II is so much more over the top, it’s a lot harder to take seriously.

I’ve liked Natasha Lyonne since first seeing her in Slums of Beverly Hills and she’s great here, with her raspy New York voice, world-weary but still wide open.

I think if Vincent Gallo had somehow managed to not be quite so hilarious, he might have been really scary as Sister Gomez, the evil witch of this fairy tale version of Hansel and Gretel, much less pointed than in the earlier film.

Freeway is both fun and well done. Freeway II fun but much less compelling.

If Doris Wishman could have made this film… If only.