director Shunya Itō
I was so gobsmacked watching Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973) that I headed for Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion, the first film of Shunya Itō’s trilogy. Weirdly, I couldn’t get subtitles to go on it, but I went ahead with the movie anyways.
More conventionally a “women in prison” movie than Beast Stable, it’s still a hyper-stylized affair with the wildest tilting cameras, dropping 90 degrees, capturing at full width the full height of the image, just sideways. This effect is used to command the space in weird and new ways, not just a tilt for wonky perspective but a whole different approach to the use of the frame. And Itō does it effectively in spades.
It’s the introduction of Meiko Kaji as Nami Matsushima, a.k.a. Scorpion, the taciturn killer lady with “looks that kill”. It’s interesting how the film is structured, opening with a prison break before delving in flashback exactly how Nami got into prison.
This movie is a riot. A prison riot, if you will.
I fell fast for this series and Meiko Kaji and Shunya Itō. Color me enthralled.
directors Samuel M. Sherman, Brett Piper
I’ve been experimenting with something that most normal people who write extensively about movies have done for years: take notes while watching. I’m not sure I was ever much of a note taker, case in point:
- Laser disc repair
- Laser death ray fries pet rat
- Cult film trivia factor 10: Zita Johann of The Mummy (1932) and the amazing The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) and Scott Schwartz, Flick of the classic A Christmas Story (1983). Talk about your 7 degrees of Kevin Bacon (does anyone talk about 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon anymore)?
- Interesting at the same time nonsensical
- The ending devolves into straight up expressionism
Now, having read up on Raiders of the Living Dead and its pathway to creation, I’m surprised it made any sense at all.
director Ray Dennis Steckler
You make a dozen or so films, one would assume that you learned a thing or two. Maybe so if your name isn’t Ray Dennis Steckler.
The Las Vegas Serial Killer comes from the end of Steckler’s primary run of movie-making, a little past the porn and a would-be return to drive-in fare. In fact, it’s a semi sequel to The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher (1979) as Jonathan K(C)lick, the stranger(?) of that picture (I suppose I should have watched that one first).
Out on parole early, he’s right back at it, but this time in Las Vegas.
There is a perversity to the killings that offer a sense of real sleaze, but the story is quite confusing as it features these other two guys also sleazeballing Las Vegas and robbing people. What these two storylines have to do with one another would be speculation on my part.
This is the second Steckler movie to feature random footage of a rodeo as somewhat non-sequitur padding. One of several to feature a burlesque show and the first of his I’ve seen to feature any amount of nudity.
But it’s doubtlessly Steckler.
director Arthur Crabtree
While not a really great film, I’m willing to bet if I’d seen Horrors of the Black Museum as a kid, I might have really dug it.
It’s a wacky concept, so specific. Scotland Yard has a “black museum”, essentially a museum of crime and criminality. Though initially created to educate and enlighten the police, it’s long been an actual museum.
In Horrors, someone has taken these curios and started re-using them, perhaps the most unusual and outlandish. The eye-popping beginning has a young woman receive a fancy new pair of binoculars that stab through to her brain. Another involves a guillotine bed.
See, there is genuine fun here. Moderate fun, but fun.
Director Arthur Crabtree had just come off the extremely fun Fiend without a Face (1958). It’s not a must-see per-se, but I’m happy to have watched it.
director Sergio Garrone
Django the Bastard is one of the many “false” Djangos. The “false” or “onofficial” Djangos way outnumber the official Djangos, with Wikipedia accounting for more than 30 made and marketed (the latter verb being perhaps more key than the former) just between 1966-1971.
Django the Bastard is Anthony Steffen, returning from the near dead (or even further than that) to exact revenge on the Civil War officers who set his troop up for slaughter. His schtick is to make a wooden cross marker for their graves and put the relevant date (today) on it before shooting them down.
It’s solid stuff, though not your top drawer Italian Western.
It did have me thinking that if the human race forsook revenge, we’d have a lot fewer movies, stories, and narratives.
director David Markey
This Circle Jerks documentary works mostly as an oral history of the band, interviewing, not exclusively but almost, members of the band for their recollections. It starts out with a lot of old bad video with muddled sound from the band’s heyday in the earliest of the 1980’s. So much so, it seems like it’s going to be quite a slog.
But interestingly, the rest of the story unfolds, and while it’s far from a masterful work or even necessarily compelling, the tale of this band tells something different from what one might of thunk.
As well known as the Circle Jerks were for their name and skanker cartoon dude, they had one pretty great album, Group Sex (1980). They were a big hit in LA at the time, a minor supergroup made up of ex-members of Redd Kross and Black Flag. But personnel changes shifted things on a near constant basis. While singer Keith Morris and guitarist Greg Hetson were ever-present, the rhythm section went through a series of transitions that were more significant than in some groups.
As the 80’s wore on, the band put out less and less important records while Hetson had his other foot in Bad Religion (an apparent point of contention). They re-formed in the 90’s and cashed in on a major label deal in the wake of Green Day in what looked like a point of embarrassment. They also regrouped to cash in on playing some large venue gigs in the 2000’s.
The upshot is that the real hardcore punk scene didn’t make anybody any money. Even the more legendary bands, notable names like the Circle Jerks were just getting by, and though they had more fame and notoriety, that didn’t add up to much at the end of the day. And when “punk broke” in the 1990’s, they were just another group on the sidelines of the scene getting turned to capital.
More than anything, I’m glad to have learned how the nerdy guy from Repo Man (1984), Zander Schloss, wound up playing bass for the band. That always seemed kind of weird. Though he also seems like a cool guy in reality.
director Takashi Miike
It’s gotta be said, Takashi Miike is outré there. Or at least he was at one point, for quite a while.
The iconolclasts of contemporary cinema are rather few and far between. Or otherwise maybe too obscure?
Gozu comes from Miike’s ripest period and seems to rank for many among his best movies. And that seems a fair assessment.
Absurd and comic, Gozu is the spiritual journey of a young yakuza flunky, Minami (Hideki Sone), and his crazy (really, really crazy) boss and best friend, Ozaki (Show Aikawa), who winds up dead and then disappears. Minami finds himself adrift in a very David Lynchian world, trying to figure out where his “brother” got off to. The journey is a prolonged and surreal, punctuated with strange and awkward humor.
If you think you know where this film is going,…well, let’s just say that the last half hour features twists that aren’t just unforeseen but gruesome and vivid.
Of all of Miike’s films I’ve seen, Gozu feels the most Lynchian. I’m not sure I’ve thought of David Lynch in his other works, but this one takes that vibe, runs with it, and then smacks down with some of Miike’s most intense stuff.
director Al Adamson
Al Adamson’s cinematic output is actually widely variant in qualities and constructs. One thing that they don’t vary in is that they are all sublimely BAD.
Levels of badness do vary though.
Brain of Blood is by some measures a more cohesive picture, one that Adamson shot in one go and doesn’t re-use a bunch of old elements. Production values look vaguely higher. But don’t worry, it’s bizarre and bad.
There’s quite a bit more gore in the way of a brain transplant, the movie’s raison d’être, is titular element.
Some mad scientists have a bit more intelligence and capability than others. With a surgical assistant (Angelo Rossitto) who can’t see over the edge of the operating table, you’ve got to imagine that staffing isn’t one of his strong points either. He’s not to worried about the quality of the bodies he’s willing to work with either.
It’s junk. I like it.
director Sergio Bergonzelli
Sergio Bergonzelli quotes Sigmund Freud, suggesting that the title, In the Folds of the Flesh, is straight-up Freud. And if you’re going to name drop Freud, you better be prepared to go full-on-gonzo Freud.
And Bergonzelli does not disappoint.
The film jumps out from the get-go with a decapitated head. It’s the result of incestuous rape and a handy sword hanging on the wall. And when mom helps bury dad and sends his boat off to make it look like a drowning, a local criminal catches on. Years later, blackmail will ensue on the traumatized clan, but of course, they are crazier and far more dangerous than any old criminals.
It’s bizarre and laugh out loud funny in its absurdity (and that could just be describing the outfits). Grown up brother and sister go at it like sex maniacs. Don’t even think about touching the daughter’s wig, or shooting the pet vultures. Or triggering mom’s memory of surviving a Nazi death camp(? – in the film’s most bizarre aside).
It’s lunacy. Sheer lunacy. And when the return of the repressed comes around (in plot twists that are mind-bendingly hard to fathom), well,…the film doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts.
Still, this is bizarre and fun stuff.
director John Hayes
Not exactly all over the place, Dream No Evil doesn’t exactly stay in one place either.
The stunning redhead Brooke Mills stars as the adult version of an orphaned girl who never gave up thinking her father would come back for her. Adopted into a family who runs a touring church, for whom she does nightly high-dives, she scours the country for an old man that could be her old man. And when she has a traumatic encounter with a pimp for the elderly, she drops off into a fantasy world.
Edmond O’Brien shows up as her long-lost Pa, though whether he’s real or not, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
While it’s mostly sort of lackluster, it’s also kind of compelling. Kind of.
A few shades of Psycho or Repulsion on a budget.