Zaat (1971)

Zaat (1971) movie poster

director Don Barton
viewed: 03/04/2018

Was ist Zaat?

“Filmed enitrely on location in Florida.” Florida trash is the best trash.

It takes a truly mad Nazi scientist to transform himself into a half-human half-walking catfish creature that doesn’t look a bit like a catfish. And then to look in the mirror and recognize that he doesn’t really look how he thought he would but to be still okay with it and then go and try to mutate all aquatic life into something new with his formula.

Of course, it’s a lonely life for the world’s only walking catfish-man, so he needs to abduct pretty girls to try to mutate into a mate for himself. And kill people at random as well.

Zaat is a notoriously bad movie, a “best worst” movie truly among the pantheon of bad. From concept to execution, it’s super silly and strange, in an utterly Floridian sort of way.

Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Myra Breckinridge (1970) movie poster

director Michael Sarne
viewed: 03/04/2018

Myra Breckinridge is a hot mess, maybe the original hot mess.  Hot, however,  like an unevenly microwaved potash might be.

In its day, it was a spectacular car wreck of a movie, a big budget adaptation of a touted novel by Gore Vidal, called at the time a novel that could never be filmed. This no doubt had more to do with its story about a man who undergoes a sex change operation and then comes back to Hollywood to upend the traditional male identity in as many ways possible.

In the film, Rex Reed becomes Raquel Welch (a scenario that if medicine to actually perform, a lot more folks would be up for sex changes). It plays out as knowing modernist comedy, arch, though not really camp, or maybe it’s more of an imitation of camp?

More than anything, it’s a mess. I don’t know how the novel plays out but in the film, Myra’s politicized and erudite criticism of the movie industry, patriarchy, sexism, a whole spectrum of topics, culminates in her raping a bland, good-looking actor with a strap-on. That scene is pretty horrific and played for laughs?

Most people wound up blaming director/co-writer Michael Sarne for the box office bomb. Sarne was thrown into the deep end on the picture, a cavalcade of drama and craziness on set. But he manages some interesting stuff as well, using classic movie images and sequences to comment comically on the story.

To my mind, Myra Breckinridge is indeed a mess, but an interesting one. For one, I thought Raquel Welch was great. Mae West’s rendition of “Hard to Handle” might be second place in the nadir race next to the rape scene.

An interesting spectacle and a hot mess.

The Grand Duel (1972)

The Grand Duel (1972) movie poster

director Giancarlo Santi
viewed: 03/03/2018

Giancarlo Santi’s The Grand Duel isn’t itself quite grand. It features some excellent sequences, stylishly shot, but it shifts back and forth between more dramatic scenes and comic ones, giving an odd, unsettled tone.

Apparently, it suffers the impact of They Call Me Trinity (1970), a watershed of sorts for the Spaghetti Western, in which a successfully comic tone was then forced upon many other comers, signalling the beginning of the fade of the genre.

This was Santi’s first film as head director, having worked alongside Sergio Leone and other notable Italian filmmakers. The comedy is particularly odd in its placement, coming right after some very serious dramatic sequences, really throwing off the vibe.

The cast is good, in particular Klaus Grünberg, who plays a pockmarked pretty boy sadist (also clearly meant to be read as homosexual and not in a progressive way). Grünberg exhibits the malice of a good villain.

The Duel itself comes at the end, and even as the dramatic climax happens, the music breaks into a more jovial tune, a final punctuation of the film’s mixed-up sensibility.

Dominion (1992)

Dominion (1992) VHS

director Todd Sheets
viewed: 03/02/2018

“You used to be so cool, mom. You were the flower child from the sixties who got stoned all the time. All I want to do Is go to a concert. Not to get so wasted I don’t know who or how many times I got poked.”

Dominion is a mind melter. A trip to an alternate reality. If you like ‘em bad, you’ll love this stuff.

“We got a call from a lady that was real upset. Evidently her daughter went to participate in a satanic ritual.”

Buccaneer’s Girl (1950)

Buccaneer's Girl (1950) movie poster

director Frederick de Cordova
viewed: 02/28/2018

Yvonne De Carlo stars as a plucky stowaway on a ship overtaken by pirates in Buccaneer’s Girl. Dumped in New Orleans, she becomes an entertainer, working for Elsa Lancaster at a “school for girls” (read: brothel), and she gets mixed-up with the noted pirate, his political foes, and his secret identity as well.

De Carlo gives it her all and pumps life throughout the Technicolor 77 minutes filled with action, romance, and song.

It is what it is and it’s pretty darn entertaining.

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972)

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972) movie poster

director Andy Milligan
viewed: 02/26/2018

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! is an Andy Milligan movie up and down but it’s also producer William Mishkin’s masterpiece of titling.  You get rats coming and werewolves going when you ask your auteur to shoot an additional 20 or so minutes of footage to a picture already in the can for some time. Apparently, inspired by the success of Willard, Mishkin had Milligan  add in a killer rats subplot. Not only did this give us that title but more interestingly, it gave us Andy Milligan himself.

“Well, when one brings as many little creatures of the night into the world as I, one forgets a little sex now and then.” Is this Andy Milligan getting all self-reflexive on us?

Because this is Andy Milligan, in character as Mr. Micawber, a rat-looking dude, selling flesh-eating rats, who ate both his left arm and half his face off, to Monica Mooney (Hope Stansbury). We also have Andy Milligan in another guise as an unnamed gunsmith selling a pistol and homemade silver bullets to a Miss Diana (Jackie Skarvellis). Both of these sequences were shot in New York, supplementing the werewolf movie Milligan had previously filmed in Britain.

But how fascinating it is to see Andy Milligan himself on camera! Albeit in deep character and make-up, hamming it up with apparently glee. As disjointed as these additional sequences are, I found them most enjoyable, especially the Mr. Micawber one.

Milligan is such an enigma. Lost as he is to life and time, save for his extant films and their utterly uniquely Milligan-esque character. The Milligan we know today is pieced together from his work and subsequent lore for present day fans he probably never imagined that he would ever have.

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! is Milligan does Milligan. And I love it!

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther (2018) movie poster

director Ryan Coogler
viewed: 02/25/2018 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

“A kid from Oakland walking around and believing in fairy tales.” This may describe writer/director Ryan Coogler as a kid, though these are the words he gave N’Jadaka to say about his childhood fantasies of Wakanda. But it also may describe many children to come, having been instilled with a fairy tale to which they can relate, Marvel’s superhero Black Panther.

Black Panther is a superhero movie like no other, none especially of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. As much as Disney and Marvel have allowed directors to add their character and tonality to the movies and franchises that they’ve crafted, Coogler has gone leaps beyond that and has made something not just personal but ideological, creating a world within Marvel’s universe of an idealized, though flawed, politicized metaphor and heroic figures very different from the norm of typical cultural and ethnic diversity of their fleet of characters.

No other Marvel enterprise has striven to be anything more than entertainment. Coogler has given the world something much more rare and still developing in its significance. He has deeply imbued Black Panther with a cultural awareness of not just African-American identity but identity within the whole of the African diaspora. Coogler also offers a healthier image of feminist identity in superhero garb than even one single frame of Wonder Woman.

When the film opened in Coogler’s hometown of Oakland, local reporter and native Bay Area son, Peter Hartlaub, was on scene at the Grand Lake Theater to witness not just the latest blockbuster, but a cultural happening, one that Coogler himself parachuted in for at the last minute, surprising movie-goers.

All this is not  to say that Black Panther is wholly successful even as the genre film it is. Some of the plot elements are stronger while some are more shaky. The same could be said for some of the visual design and digital effects. As interesting a conflict as arises out of  N’Jadaka’s resentment toward T’Challa and Wakanda, I didn’t feel that Michael B. Jordan’s character was as well-developed as he could have been.

But Black Panther is going to be so much more than its shortcomings.

And at the end of the day, I’ll take as much Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, and Leticia Wright (my favorite of the film), as Coogler will give us.

Alleycat Rock: Female Boss (1970)

Alleycat Rock: Female Boss (1970) movie poster

director Yasuharu Hasebe
viewed: 02/22/2018

It’s Akiko Wada who dominates Alleycat Rock: Female Boss, first flick in  Nikkatsu studio’s girl biker gang film series, pumped out in quick succession in 1970-1971. Wada is the tall, 5’8″, semi-androgynous, semi-sexually vague biker gal/throaty singer, who tangles first with one of two rival low-level yakuza gangs from the seat of her motorbike.

She casts an interesting figure in the hands of Yasukaru Hasebe, the same director who would film episodes #3 Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (1970) and #4 Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal (1970). Hasebe strives to capture the vibe of the time and place, swinging his camera around with drunken frenzy inside the nightclub where a variety of bad to sometime almost good 1960’s style Japanese bands try their hand at psychedelic pop and rock.

Ultimately, it’s Meiko Kaji, who starred throughout the series and then on into better pictures in the Female Convict Scorpion series and later Lady Snowblood films. I say later but all of this stuff came flying out in a period of only five years.

Hasebe jumps into topics like sex and violence and youth culture, the music, the vibes, the intermingling races, painting a picture of changing Japan. But he’s not a master behind the camera and his films tend at best to be “interesting” if not flat out good.

I’d say the same here, but that Wada is an interesting and ambiguous figure as played out in Alleycat Rock: Female Boss, whatever that title is supposed to mean.

Revival of Evil (1980)

Revival of Evil (1980) screenshot

director Brian Barkley
viewed: 02/21/2018

“Disrobe and prepare to fill the font of ecstasy.”

Almost every line in Revival of Evil, this satanic panic exploitation documentary, is pure gold. The version I watched was oddly updated with more modern images of evil rock bands who didn’t exist when this film was made.

“You have good karma and bad karma. If you did something good in a prior life then this will come back to you in this life. If you did something evil then this will come back to you in this life. For instance, when the Romans were persecuting the Christians, when it came back in full the Romans were no were no longer Romans, they became Jewish and the Christians became the Germans and in that respect the Romans became persecuted in a brand new era for something they had done a long time ago.”

People are crazy. Crazy is timeless.

Nightbeast (1982)

Nightbeast (1982) VHS cover

director  Don Dohler
viewed: 02/19/2018

I enjoyed The Alien Factor so much, I jumped right in and watched Don Dohler’s Nightbeast!

Between The Alien Factor and 1982, Dohler sharpened his skills across the board. Nightbeast starts out with some nice visual effects of a spaceship coming from another planet and crashing on Earth. In Maryland. In the same cast of characters from The Alien Factor played by the same exact people.

Well, Don Leifert, the most interesting guy in The Alien Factor is this time a motorcycle thug named Drago. The sheriff (Tom Griffith with a supreme perm), the mayor, the doctor and the coroner are all the same folks. With a couple new young ladies thrown in.

Nightbeast, though, is full-on gore stuff, unlike the earlier film. And though there is only one beast in this film, he gets up to a lot of laserblasting and disembowelment and other good stuff. And also there is superfluous nudity (the new young ladies and Tom Griffith’s butt).

More than all the spice, the film has a much more action-packed pace. Dohler, as I mentioned, seemed to have learned a lot in the interim. Well, not enough to direct a super-awkward sex scene.

It’s kind of funny that the best actor, Leifert, gets a sort of not so interesting role, and that the dullest of the cast, Griffith, is essentially the star and hero.

Who am I kidding? The Nightbeast is the real star and all of the great practical effects and designs that Dohler pulled off.