La residencia (1970)

La residencia (1970) movie poster

director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
viewed: 08/12/2018

A shade of giallo and Hitchcock’s Psycho tint La Residencia, so inaptly re-named in English The House That Screamed. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s elegant and sophisticated boarding school horror film could almost be a “Women In Prison” movie, “Young Girls In Reform School,” if you will.

Señora Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) runs her school for wayward girls with an iron fist, dishing out rigorous structure and necessary punishment with a flair of S&M.

“This is a boarding school, not a prison.”
“If it isn’t one, we’ll make it one!”

The repression and desire of the girls brought to mind Don Siegel’s The Beguiled , though the only roosters in this hen house is Señora Fourneau’s also repressed son, Luis (John Moulder-Brown), a gristly handyman, and the occasional visits by the hunky woodsman.

“None of these girls is any good. You need a girl like me.”

Mama Fourneau forces the Oedipal on Luis and let’s just say that the results are … “interesting.”

Another solid horror film from the director who also gave us Who Can Kill a Child?

Killer Workout (1987)

Killer Workout (1987) movie poster

director  David A. Prior
viewed: 08/11/2018

Not like I didn’t live through this period of world history and pop culture, but God those outfits God those hairstyles!

For starters David A. Prior’s Killer Workout a.k.a. Aerobicide turns a tanning bed into a toaster oven, while the main course features a killer with big safety pin.

Watching Killer Workout back-to-back with Death Spa makes me wonder about a history of popular exercise regimens. Like, could this be made today with Zumba or CrossFit? Probably not the latter due to all their fanatical licensing.

Other stray observations: sexual harassment, a lot of sexy gyration, leering, who were the few random guys working out with all the chicks? Pretty stylin’ cars.

Aerobicide is clearly the better title.

Death Spa (1989)

Death Spa (1989) movie poster

director  Michael Fischa
viewed: 08/10/2018

“I’m beta; you’re VHS.”

From the moment the Star Body Health Spa sign blinked out to just Death Spa,  I knew I was in for a good time.

Death Spa exudes high cheese aesthetics of somewhere in the Eighties. Plasticine, neon, leg warmers and pastels accessorize the glorious tackiness of the set design.

This movie is serious bananas,  in the best of ways. There’s a ghost in the machine that runs the highest tech health spa in Los Angeles. And that spells death in a huge variety of ways, getting wackier as the whole shebang marches on, as well as a goodly amount of nudity for the era.

I hadn’t thought of Merritt Butrick (RIP) in many years and never realized that he was born in my hometown of Gainesville, FL.

Women’s Prison Massacre (1983)

Women's Prison Massacre (1983) movie poster

director  Bruno Mattei
viewed: 08/07/2018

A weird avant-grade theater sequence belies the otherwise straightforward sleaze of Women’s Prison Massacre. And quality sleaze it certainly is.

Laura Gemser stars in what is likely the first Laura Gemser flick I’ve ever seen in which she didn’t get naked even once. The rest of the cast makes up for that in an abundance of flesh.

Albina the faux albino (Ursula Flores) is Gemser’s primary foil in the first half of the film, which is a sort of by the numbers “women in prison” flick. The formula takes a major twist when a quartet of vile male criminals are set to be temporarily housed in this women’s prison. They break out, take over, and sex and violence rule the roost.

It’s quality from a sleaze point of view if not from others.

Most amusing tidbit: “The sole bit of unintentional humor comes from the proliferation of expensive hosiery worn by the female cast, which was courtesy of the film’s main producer, a French undergarments company.” – Paul Gaita, AllMovie.

Five Minutes to Live (1961)

Five Minutes to Live (1961) movie poster

director Bill Karn
viewed: 08/04/2018

Johnny Cash stars as a bad boy in Five Minutes to Live (a.k.a. Door-to-Door Maniac). And even sings the title tune.

This low-budget home invasion noir also features Vic Tayback with a head of hair, and little Ronnie Howard.

Most interesting to me in reading up on the film is to realize that the script was written by Cay Forester, the vicitmized wife and mother at the core of the story. It’s Forester’s only screenwriting credit in a career in obscure noirs and television.

Of course, the real appeal of Five Minutes to Live is Johnny Cash, who carries a certain level of menace in his role and a ton of just being Johnny Cash to his credit.

Frisco Jenny (1932)

Frisco Jenny (1932) movie poster

director William A. Wellman
viewed: 08/04/2018

Frisco Jenny Sandoval (Ruth Chatterton) was raised in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, among the remnants of the Barbary Coast. She’s a young girl in love (and “in the family way”) when the 1906 earthquake hits and devastates the city and more specifically, Jenny herself. Poverty and begging alongside the slum preachers isn’t feeding her baby, so Jenny turns to the oldest profession and her own self-reliance.

William A. Wellman’s Frisco Jenny is pre-code Hollywood telling stories that would soon be deemed to salacious or racy to be frankly depicted in the years to follow. Jenny creates an empire, initially through managing other prostitutes, but then other madams as well. Her sly and not altogether on the level attorney Steve Dutton gets her out of many a jam, but also sets her up to lose her child into a wealthy foster family, setting the stage for later tragedy.

The character of Jenny is self-reliant and self-made, despite the limitations available to her and her reality of her times. The film’s empathy lies with her. And it’s interesting to see how empty the promises of the preacher, and later the grandstanding and self-righteous district attorney, typical emblems of societal correctness, echo hollowly.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) movie poster

director Lamont Johnson
viewed: 07/30/2018

I’ve got a soft spot for Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, and I think it still merits its place.

Sure, it’s another Star Wars knock-off, and some of the effects look worse than their Roger Corman brethren. But it’s got Molly Ringwald in possibly the best Molly Ringwald role (and movie) of all time.

“I’m not a scab girl and I’m not out of my diapers!”

Executive produced by Ivan Reitman, Spacehunter is pretty fun early 80s sci-fi in 3D and primed for a PG audience. It’s also got Ernie Hudson and Michael Ironside. Oh yeah, and the “spacehunter,” Peter Strauss.

I hold no illusions over the greatness (or lack thereof) of Spacehunter, but for some reason I just have always enjoyed it.

Hollywood Vice Squad (1986)

Hollywood Vice Squad (1986) movie poster

director Penelope Spheeris
viewed: 07/28/2018

I’ve got nothing but (ever increasing) respect and appreciation for Penelope Spheeris. Her 1980s movies reflect her keen interest in Los Angeles, its characters, its denizen. Hollywood Vice Squad perhaps comes off more anomalously, but still presents a picture of street culture in line with her other work.

Hollywood Vice Squad plays a like a little bit of old school exploitation. The crimes depicted purportedly were “based on true events” and Ronny Cox’s Captain Jensen lectures the mother of a runaway on the dark truths of the asphalt jungle.

The episodic drama/comedy doesn’t have much tension but it’s relatively fun. Carrie Fisher has a decent role as a young cop trying to break the glass ceiling in the vice squad. Frank Gorshin makes for a wonderful baddie, and he lights his cigarettes with stylish flips.

“Chile con carne to you too.”

Imitation Girl (2017)

 Imitation Girl (2017) movie poster

director Natasha Kermani
viewed: 07/27/2018

The always appealing Lauren Ashley Carter stars in Imitation Girl as NYC-based porn actress and as the alien who takes on her image on arrival on Earth somewhere in the Southwest.

Natasha Kermani’s debut feature is ambitious and sincere, though not as strong as it would like to be.

Vaguely in the mold of say, Brother from Another Planet or maybe Under the Skin, this low budget science fiction takes on the experiential discoveries of intelligent alien life come to Earth and learning about the world. Kermani plays with the doppelganger motif, contrasting disillusioned New Yorker Julianna with her wide-eyed and fascinated double.

The Prowler (1951)

 The Prowler (1951) movie poster

director  Joseph Losey
viewed: 07/27/2018

Written by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (though attributed to Hugo Butler), The Prowler (1951) is a solid film noir from director Joseph Losey. Losey himself would be himself blacklisted not long after. As would Butler, as well.

Van Heflin stars as a shifty cop called in to investigate a “peeping Tom” by unfulfilled housewife Evelyn Keyes. Heflin shows up as soon as his shift ends and tries to insinuate himself with the lonely former dancer, connecting over their shared origins in Indiana. 

Van Heflin sparks and fans the flames that eventually lead to murder and beyond.

The stand-out of the film is the site of the finale, the ghost town of Calico where the couple hides out to give birth in secrecy. Ghost towns were in better shape in 1951 than they are today, I reckon. Actually, the set design is really evocative, the half destroyed home in an isolated valley where the couple attempts to set up house, the flawed and ruined attempt at the American dream.

Trumbo’s voice peeks out through the radio, the disembodied husband, who returns as specter in a dramatic moment.

Good stuff.