Bad Ronald (1974)

fMGK9MPxaWCyQAJ9qSfCVLUcsgvGreetings, readers, Bill here again – I know; how long has it been since I’ve written three reviews in three days? Probably not since I was single and working at the factory. Today’s review represents a weird crossing of streams between my movie reviewing life and my day to day, pay-the-bills real life. I’ve begun to develop a reputation around the office I work in as the go-to guy to answer questions about horror and “bad” movies.  My supervisor Elaina brought this film to my attention – apparently they showed it to her health class in high school! She described to me fond memories of how cheesy and weird this film was, and by chance I saw a copy for sale at Cinema Wasteland – in the hands of someone else as he was handing over the cash for it.  I mentioned this to Elaina, and she told me how eager she’d be to see it again, and I offered to track down a copy for her.  Well, I found it and ordered it, and she encouraged me to give it a watch before I turned it over to her.  It arrived today, so let’s give it a go, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Ronald Wilby is a good kid – shy, awkward, clumsy, and a bit lost in the fantasy world he’s created in his head for a story he’s writing and illustrating.  His overbearing mother (Kim Hunter, of PLANET OF THE APES) dismisses his ideas of being an artist, insisting that he become a doctor.  She’s very ill, but is delaying treatment until Ronald becomes a doctor and can cure her.  On the day of his 18th birthday, Ronald accidentally kills the ten year old girl next door when she mocks him for his awkwardness – picking her up in anger, she slips out of his hands and hits her head on a cinderblock.  Panicking, Ronald buries her in a shallow grave.  His mother is horrified at this – burying the body will complicate any claims that the girl’s death was an accident, and even if Ronald is acquitted, the negative publicity will ruin any hopes of him becoming a doctor.  They decide the best course of action is to convert a spare bathroom into a hiding space, replacing the door with a wallpapered drywall panel.  Ronald will live here, in this tiny space, until the matter blows over.

Unfortunately, Ronald’s mother soon dies of her illness and, since they’ve maintained the illusion that Ronald has run away and she lives alone, the house is soon sold to the Wood family.  They move in with no idea that Ronald is still there, and even less that he’s gone crazy from the isolation, retreating fully into the fantasy world he’s created in his head…

While this is far from the best 1970s made for TV movie I’ve seen, the narrative is pretty solid and the story remains interesting throughout – I attribute quite a bit of that to it being based on a novel by John Holbrook Vance; name not ringing a bell? He’s better known as Jack Vance, and he was a prominent sci-fi, fantasy and mystery author for many years, best known for the Dying Earth series of science-fantasy picaresques set millions of years in the future as the sun flickers on the edge of going out.  Human cynicism and the best-laid of plans going awry being recurring themes in Vance’s work, it doesn’t surprise me that this story originated from his pen.

I will allow that the acting is pretty terrible throughout, even coming from good actors and actresses like Kim Hunter and Dabney Coleman, who plays the patriarch of the Wood family.  Many of the performances come across as flat, listless and without emotion, and those that aren’t listless are almost histrionic in their overacting.

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The print of the film is pretty lousy looking, with the colors occasionally getting fuzzy and bleeding into each other.  It’s clear that Warner Brothers didn’t put any effort into restoring the film before releasing it as part of their “Warner Archives” collection of pressed-on-demand DVDs, just threw it out there to make a quick buck off the handful of people who want to see it.

Final Analysis: A solid story somewhat hampered by the performances and print quality, Ronald is nonetheless a satisfying creepy character whose descent into madness manages to be believable, if maybe a bit too quick – the scale of time over which events take place isn’t real clear, but no more then a week or two could have passed between Mrs. Wilby’s death and the Woods moving in, right? It’s a weird, moody little film that manages some really chilling moments, and worth a watch if it crosses your path.

Overall, I give BAD RONALD (1974)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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A Feast of Flesh (2007)

feastoffleshGreetings, readers, Bill here with a surprise morning review. I’ve got a lot of PTO from the office that I need to use or lose before the end of the year, and my car needed some work done on it so I figured while the Radiation Roadster is in the shop, I can sit down and watch one of the films I brought home from Cinema Wasteland this past weekend.  While I mostly picked up a stack of Hammer classics (which I’ll be working my way through over the next three weeks leading up to Halloween), I also spent some quality time at the Happy Cloud Pictures table with writer/director Mike Watt and his lovely and talented wife, actress Amy Lynn Best.  Mike and Amy are friends of mine, and I spent a lot of time at the con chatting up Mike about our respective writing work; in addition to buying his new book Movie Outlaw (which you should absolutely buy, along with its predecessor Fervid Filmmaking), Amy sold me copies of several of their films, including this one.  As always, the fact that Mike and Amy are my friends does not guarantee their film will receive a glowing review; A FEAST OF FLESH will stand or fall on its own merits today.

Spoilers ensue.

John has just won an invitation to the Bathory House, an exclusive, invitation-only brothel on the edge of town.  He intends to go with his friends Aaron and Jess, who want to experience a threesome before they’re married.  John also tries to bring his friend Seth along, but Seth is more interested in moping about his girlfriend Terri, who left him to move to New York.  When John recognizes one of the girls *as* Terri, he storms out to inform Seth.

As such, John is not there when Aaron and Jess become chow for the ladies of the Bathory House – yes, the prostitutes are all vampires, under the command of Madame Elizabet (Amy Lynn Best).  When John becomes aware of his friends’ untimely demise (and let me just say, talk about coitus interruptus!) he finds himself with a surprise band of allies – an organization of mercenary vampire hunters led by Sheridan (Mike Watt, who also wrote and directed the film – and I’d be willing to guess that the character name is a reference to Sheridan leFanu, author of Carmilla).  You see, Sheridan and Elizabet share an uneasy truce – so long as the girls of the Bathory House don’t turn any local women into vampires, Sheridan won’t stake them all and burn the House to the ground.  And by turning Terri, even by mistake, Elizabet’s stable of whores have violated the terms of that agreement.

This was a really refreshing vampire film.  The vampire, at least in its Eastern-European-via-Hollywood guise known so well to us today, has been reduced to a cheap, gaudy Halloween costume; on the one hand, you’ve got the decadent libertine, the hyper-romanticized Byronic boytoy for female audiences to get slippery over – Lestat, Edward Cullen, even Lugosi’s Dracula falls into this category.  On the other hand, you’ve got the predators – wolves in human skin that view humanity the way we view a bag of Cheetos.  It’s so goddamn rare to see vampires as actual characters in their own right.  The big one that comes to mind is Willem Defoe’s portrayal of Max Schreck/Graf Orlock in SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, and even that only slipped into the realm of “character” occasionally.

While most of the girls in A FEAST OF FLESH come across as bloody eye-candy, Madame Elizabet is a character first and a vampire second.  She’s a consummate businesswoman who controls the Bathory House with an iron fist – not because she’s an Ilsa-style dominatrix, but because that’s the way she keeps herself and her girls alive (or at least, undead).  Her first priority is survival at all costs, and she’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that survival – if that means killing, then she kills; if it means signing a mutual non-aggression pact with a band of vampire hunters, then she signs the non-aggression pact.  She’s smart, resourceful and unflinchingly determined to see that she’s done right by, and that makes her far more interesting and richly fulfilling a character to watch in action than someone like Lestat can ever be.

Amy Lynn excels here, and shows off just how much she can do with a cocked eyebrow, a tilt of the head or the set of her shoulders.  She’s not just an actress, she has legitimate screen presence.  There were a couple points where her delivery of dialogue came across a little flat, that another take could have maybe punched up, but I recognize the limitations of time and budget on independent filmmakers – and I’m thinking maybe Elizabet’s divorced enough from her human life that emotions are starting to not come as easily to her.

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And the fact that Mike and Amy had the self-respect as creators to not equate “strong, independent woman who happens to be a vampire” with “predatory lesbian” lifts Elizabet a step or two above most Carmilla adaptations.

On the other side of the conflict, most of Sheridan’s men are likewise simply warm bodies to pull triggers and hammer stakes, without a great deal of characterization involved.  We’re granted peeks into Sheridan’s backstory through flashbacks explaining the origins of his professional relationship with Elizabet and he’s as much a nuanced character as she is; he’s seen both sides of this conflict and has lived through others (at one point musing on how much he misses the simplicity of Ireland’s Troubles), enough so that he’s weary of conflict, and you can tell how worn down to his bones he is from untold years of fighting.  And yet, at the same time he’s reached the point where he can see no other alternative to ending his current feud with Elizabet’s girls then through overwhelming them with violence.  I kind of got the feeling towards the climax of the film that Sheridan at least was on a suicide mission, and that he would welcome the release of the grave.

I also think Mike and Amy’s real life off-screen relationship really enriches the relationship on screen between Sheridan and Elizabet.  Mike and Amy are in a place where I’d like to see my girlfriend Gina and I down the line, with their level of mutual warmth and playful, teasing antagonism of each other, still in love after years together.  And that playful antagonism comes out in Sheridan and Elizabet.  As repulsed as Sheridan is by what she is, he cannot help but feel some degree of affection for Elizabet, while she’s contemptuous of his response to her kind but respects him as a rival.  Their animosity ends up feeling like a much grayer area then most Van Helsing/Dracula types, and that makes the film far more interesting to watch.  Watch her hissing sigh of acknowledgement, her shoulders slumping in emotional defeat, as Sheridan comments that he knows that she knows what a bad idea the treaty was in the first place.  Watch his eyes as their fight comes to its inevitable, bloody conclusion.  Both of them regret what their existence has brought them to, and I can’t help but read an unspoken wish in both of them that things could have turned out differently.

Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into a movie about a brothel full of vampires.

The one thing I really didn’t care for in the film was the lighting.  A lot of scenes appear underlit to me.  In some shots it ends up being really beautifully moody, but in others it just looks like they were trying to make the best of what they could get out of an open window or a lamp on a nightstand.  With the film as sharply written as it is, the lighting is a distraction and makes the film look cheaper or tackier then it actually is.

Final Analysis: With a well-written script, thoroughly three-dimensional characters anchoring a diverse cast, beautiful gore effects and some quality fight choreography, A FEAST OF FLESH is the proverbial shining city upon a hill to which independent filmmakers should be looking to see how to make a good film on a small budget.  Look for horror icons Debbie Rochon, April Monique “Chainsaw Sally” Burril and her lucky sunovabitch husband Jimmyo Burril in cameo roles.  Anyone with an interest in vampire cinema owes it to themselves to check this film out.

Overall, I give A FEAST OF FLESH (2007)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Mutantis (2014)

mutantisGreetings, readers, Bill here again. Today I’ve got a screener that arrived in the mail the other day, a film inspired by the sleaziest of 1970s grindhouse monster movies. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a screener around these parts, and I’m eager to take a look-see at this film.  Without further ado, let’s take a look at MUTANTIS, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Dr. Joy, or “Father Joy” as he prefers to be called, has brought his stepchildren to the secluded Possum Valley, the site of a nuclear reactor and miles of trackless, uncharted wilderness, for a “camping trip.”  While at first it seems as though Father Joy has nothing more nefarious then the molestation of his shy and awkward stepdaughter Cindy on his mind, it soon comes to light that Father Joy has come to Possum Valley in search of the legendary Bigfoot…and he intends to use his stepchildren as bait to lure out the creature so the band of mercenary rednecks he’s hired can capture the beast.

You can imagine Father Joy’s surprise when he discovers that the creature lurking in Possum Valley isn’t a Bigfoot, but a mutant horror known as Mutantis – with its scaly torso, wattled neck, sharp-toothed beak and lobster claws, it’s a vicious horror that tears its victims limb from shattered limb.  Even worse, those it doesn’t tear apart are in for a far worse fate as Mutantis’ enormous, fire-engine red erection emerges from its scaly nethers.  With Father Joy overwhelmed by a monster far beyond his wildest imaginings, it’s up to square-jawed and majestically-sideburned gentleman adventurer Dr. William Fury to step in and save the day.

You know, I really struggle with films like this.  It seems like a lot of independent filmmakers are doing these sorts of 1970s throwback films, and honestly they’re not an easy thing to do well.  It’s very easy to fall into the trap of going so far overboard that they cease to be homages and become farces.  MUTANTIS dives headfirst into farce from the first reel.  From the ludicrous wigs and purposefully-clumsy dubbing through the constant references to masturbation, frequent scenes of castration and the regular interruptions from an intentionally-stilted on-camera narrator advocating traditional values and denigration of sin, there are not ten seconds in a row where the film takes itself seriously.  Shots of wobbling breasts are intercut at random, the monster suit is paper mache not due to a lack of funds but because it’s funny for it to be so.

Honestly, I saw less of films like DEATH PROOF, MACHETE or HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN in MUTANTIS, and more of THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA.  CADAVRA is built around a careful skewering of the tropes of 1950s sci-fi movies, and as much as it winks over those tropes, it still shows a great deal of love for those films, straight down to the use of authentic shooting locations and musical cues taken from those films, and manages some solid humor built off tropes combining in ways that they never were in the 1950s.

Unfortunately for MUTANTIS, it only has a few jokes up its sleeve, and goes through a number of variations on each theme – Father Joy’s obvious sexual interest in stepdaughter Cindy, the monster’s drive to procreate with anything that moves, bad 1970s hair, and awkward references to “free love” vs. “the establishment.”  It burns through these jokes pretty quickly, and then descends into anarchic sexual and scatological humor – Father Joy eating feces off the ground and announcing that due to his mastery of “all fields of science” he is confident that it is Bigfoot scat, for example, or the revelation that Mutantis has been alternating between mating with its own mother and its own father for months prior to Joy’s arrival.

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I can see what the filmmakers were trying to do, and I can see where they were coming from.  Some majestically sleazy films, including BLOOD FREAK and SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED, are pretty clearly a part of MUTANTIS’ DNA, but where MUTANTIS is silly and cheesy on purpose, those films were made with the intent of being taken seriously.  I think if MUTANTIS had taken its concept and played it straight instead of being intentionally-bad, I would have enjoyed it a lot more then I did.

And let’s be frank, on the face of it MUTANTIS is fantastic – a monster born of toxic waste and black magic threatens an unscrupulous scientist who uses his own children as bait to lure the creature out.  I’d watch the hell out of that! But when that plot is used as no more then glue to hold a bunch of castration jokes together, I can’t help but come away disappointed.

Final Analysis: MUTANTIS is just plain not a good movie, and works very hard to look and feel as terrible and inept as possible.  And this, to me, is a damned shame, because underneath the dick jokes is the nucleus of what could have been a really fantastic throwback to the environmental monster movies of the 1970s.  Unfortunately, the trend in “intentionally bad” movies just comes across to me as an act of supreme laziness – why bother putting in the work to make a “good” movie when you can half-ass it and claim it’s “intentionally bad”? With just a little extra effort – and honestly, it really isn’t that much more then went into making this film look like crap – it could have been something really stellar.  And it’s just kind of sad what could have been and wasn’t.

Overall, I give MUTANTIS (2014)…

barrel of toxic waste

ONE BARREL OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Dinosaur Island (1994)

600full-dinosaur-island-posterWell, fuck. Good evening, Readers, Bill here again. I’d initially planned on watching and re-reviewing Jim Wynorski’s entertaining 1989 superhero flick THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING tonight, because I’ve had a hell of a day and it’s not getting better yet. It looks like my DVD copy of RETURN got chipped somewhere along the way and won’t play now. So, firing up Netflix, I type in Jim Wynorski’s name because by God, I will have a Wynorski flick on my TV tonight if it kills me.  Let’s see, NOT OF THIS EARTH, already reviewed it, GARGOYLE…pass, aha! DINOSAUR ISLAND, a co-production between Wynorski and that archdeacon of direct-to-video cheese, Fred Olen Ray! Dinosaurs, cave-babes (and hot damn, do I ever love me some savage cave women) and two of my favorite filmmakers? Sign me the hell up.

Spoilers ensue.

Captain Jim Briggs (Ross Hagen, of SIDEHACKERS and ANGEL) of the U.S. Army is escorting, with the aid of Sgt. Healey, three would-be deserters home for court-martial after they attempt to steal a tank.  The plane their on goes down for unexplained reason, and these five are the only survivors, washing up on a seemingly uninhabited and definitely uncharted island.  I say seemingly uninhabited, because they soon run afoul of the island’s inhabitants – a tribe of busty, mostly-blonde bimbos in buckskin bras and G-strings!

These women, under the rule of QUeen Morganna (Toni Naples, of DEATHSTALKER II and SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II), are a society of lipstick lesbians surviving without the company of men.  While they initially plan to execute the five men, they change their minds when they see that one of the men has a Smiley Face tattooed on his arm – according to the ludicrously detailed prophecy on the tribe’s sacred scroll, the bearer of this mark will be the one to free the tribe from the predations of the Great One – a gigantic Tyrannosaurus!

Before long the guys are fighting dinosaurs and teaching the women – especially “April” (Antonia Dorian, who would go on to work with Wynorski in such classics as THE BARE WENCH PROJECT and THE WITCHES OF BREASTWICK), “May” (Griffin Drew, who would go on to appear in DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS) and “June” (Michelle Bauer, of such classics as SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIME BALL BOWL-A-RAMA and HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS) – the joys of heterosexuality.  But can these goofball wannabe heroes take down the Great One?

I’m starting to think that Jim Wynorski is the spiritual successor to Russ Meyer.  While not aiming for the grit and sleaze that Meyer so frequently achieved, Wynorski’s obvious enthusiasm for the female form and eagerness to combine large numbers of bare, bouncing breasts with cartoonish storylines and cheeseball special effects makes him the modern day go-to for silly boobie movies, and honestly, those are the boobie movies I like best.

This collaboration between Ray and Wynorski is everything I could ever want it to be, and a couple other much-beloved names appear in the credits as well – DINOSAUR ISLAND was presented by Roger Corman and the dinosaurs were created (the opening credits claim “genetically engineered and trained”) by John Carl Buechler, who’s given us such classics as CELLAR DWELLER.

The dinosaurs here are brought to life by a variety of means, including stop-motion animation, animatronics (the Tyrannosaurus that is the “Great One” previously appeared in CARNOSAUR) and even, in one sequence, a hand puppet enlarged and matted into the shot! The quality varies wildly, with the hand puppet looking absolutely terrible, with prominent “blur” around the puppet from the bluescreen or chromakey used to combine it with footage of the actors.  Meanwhile, the Tyrannosaurus looks pretty good for a film of this caliber – not quite Spielbergian, but nothing’s looked as good as Spielberg’s dinosaurs since then.

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The best special effect the film has, of course, is also the cheapest – it’s the boobs.  Yes, I’m a chauvinist pig.  Believe me, I know.  But goddamn it, I like boobs, and the frequency with which the women in the film took their tops off meant my eyes didn’t leave the screen for a minute.  Yes, it’s blatant titillation and it’s just as blatantly geared towards the heterosexual male gaze, but nobody held a gun to these women’s heads and made them bare their bodies.  They read the script, understood that there would be nudity involved in taking the roles and decided to take the roles.

It’s a shame Becky LeBeau only appeared very briefly in a pre-credits sequence, I always enjoy her as an actress (no, seriously) and wish she’d had more screentime here.  Honestly I would have swapped her for Griffin Drew.

The acting pretty much doesn’t rise above the level of cheesy, with Skeemer (one of the mutinous GIs, played by Richard Gabai, who also appeared in ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS and NIGHTMARE SISTERS) seemingly attempting to binge on the scenery.  Most of the women here are not outrageously talented, giving flat, awkward line readings and sometimes struggling to properly emote as called for by the script.  The guys are for the most part hilariously bad – the mutineers are total goofballs (not to mention some of the flabbiest GIs I’ve ever seen in a movie) hamming it up to pig farm levels while the officers take being the straight man in a comedy routine to the extreme, playing their roles with all the humorlessness they can muster.

Final Analysis: Is it a good movie? If you want cheesy, goofy fun with rubber dinosaurs and topless women, this will hit the spot.  I had a lousy day at work today and DINOSAUR ISLAND took my stress away and replaced it with a couple good belly laughs, which is exactly what I was looking for.  And I will say, given that at no point is DINOSAUR ISLAND unaware of exactly what it is and what it’s trying to do, and given that it really achieves what it sets out to do, I have to give it some kudos for that.  Jim Wynorski, Fred Olen Ray, thank you for DINOSAUR ISLAND.  It was a lot of fun and exactly the sort of movie I needed today.

Overall, I give DINOSAUR ISLAND (1994)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Nightbeast (1982)

NightbeastGreetings, readers, Bill here again. Today I was combing through my DVD collection and realized it’s been ages since we’ve looked at the work of Don Dohler – all the way back in 2012 when I reviewed THE ALIEN FACTOR! As Baltimore’s *other* favorite homegrown filmmaker, Don Dohler’s never received the recognition that John Waters has received, but that doesn’t make Don’s films any less interesting and enjoyable, and they’re well worth a look for anyone interested in the independent scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

An alien shuttlecraft passing through our solar system collides with an asteroid and comes crashing down to earth.  Just before the ship explodes, a hulking reptilian alien in a silver jumpsuit manages to pull itself clear of the wreck.  Clearly upset about the destruction of its ship, the creature soon guns down a trio of hunters, a horny couple it interrupts as they’re making out, and even a couple of kids! Man, when was the last time you saw a kid get killed in one of these things? Last one like this I can think of was MUTANT

Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith, seemingly reprising his role from THE ALIEN FACTOR) is soon called in to deal with the threat, but when he realizes that bullets seem to bounce right off the creature and its ray pistol is very good at reducing humans to scorch marks on the ground, Cinder calls for a tactical retreat.  A new plan is in order; Cinder calls in an old friend, Bill Perkins, who’s said to be a crack shot.  Maybe, if the Nightbeast can be disarmed, a way can be found to destroy it before it claws, chews and disintegrates its way through Perry Hills, Maryland…

I think the reason Don Dohler’s films never took off is that they’re too conservative.  NIGHTBEAST, ALIEN FACTOR…they’re basically 1950s-era alien-on-the-loose movies shot on color stock and with a lot more polyester in the wardrobes.  By 1982, the old formula wasn’t going to grab people the way it had thirty years earlier.  Sure, NIGHTBEAST has a level of gore that would have been impossible in 1955, and a sex scene that would have blown the censors’ fuses, but otherwise it doesn’t feel all that different from a film like THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES or IT CONQUERED THE WORLD.

Which is not to say it’s not fun; if you enjoy the classics of the 1950s then Dohler’s stuff is a more then welcome addition to the canon.  You just have to be cognizant of what you’re in for.

For what it’s worth, I think the alien suit here is, if not the most imaginative, surely the most technically accomplished of Dohler’s works.  With a big, forward-slung head dominated by a fang-filled maw that seems to stretch wider than ear to ear, warty, wrinkled skin, and enormous paw-like hands that suggest both talons and suckers, it’s an impressively physical creation.  It casually disembowels people, decapitates people, rips off arms with a single swipe of its claws, and even eats its victims.

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What really makes the monster interesting is that for all its brutal savagery, it’s still clearly an intelligent being with a technology and culture of its own.  It barely uses its claws on anybody until the blaster pistol it carries has been destroyed, clearly favoring technological murder over using its physical attributes, and of course throughout the film it’s wearing a silver lamé jumpsuit.  Given how often in movies we see aliens running around naked as jaybirds (including the Spielberg version of WAR OF THE WORLDS, SUPER 8, COWBOYS AND ALIENS, E.T., CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL to name just a few) or, if they are clothed, looking just like us (such as THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and any number of low budget 50s films), it’s really interesting to see a vicious brute of an alien that’s still got pants on.  The only other example I can think of is James Arness in the 1951 version of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.

While the film’s focus is largely on Sheriff Jack Cinder and of course the Nightbeast itself, I have to say I think Dick Dyszel (better known as horror host Count Gore De Vol) steals the show here, reprising his role as Mayor Bert Wicker from THE ALIEN FACTOR.  He plays Wicker as a sleazy, self-aggrandizing career politician more interested in his own advancement then the well-being of his constituency, and as the film goes on a man crawling deeper and deeper into a bottle in the face of a situation that he can’t solve by kissing asses.  As flat as much of the cast appears, Dyszel’s scenery chewing stands out all that much more.

Final Analysis: A fun little monster movie that exemplifies the Dohler Formula: A good-looking Beast, plenty of Blood, and a couple bared Boobs (and let me just say, Perry Hills Maryland appears to be the sort of town where nobody wears bras) to be seen.  It’s not the sort of film that’ll be showing up on Turner Classic Movies any time soon, but it’s an enjoyable little watch and a sterling exemplar of the sort of regional independent cinema we seem to have lost somewhere along the way.  Troma put out a “director’s cut” on DVD packaged as a double feature with the documentary “Blood, Boobs and Beast” about Dohler’s life and career, which I definitely advocate checking out as well.  As an added bonus, Troma uploaded the full film to Youtube to be seen there.

Overall, I give NIGHTBEAST (1982)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

Watch on Youtube:

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Return of the Evil Dead (El Ataque de los Muertos Sin Ojos, 1973)

ReturnblinddeadWhat’s this? An unofficial sequel to THE EVIL DEAD? The hell it is! Look at the copyright date, fools! If you know Spanish, you’ve already figured out that this is a film in the Blind Dead series, of which we’ve previously watched the first in the franchise, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD. Today we’re watching the second film in the series, which is also known as RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD and ATTACK OF THE BLIND DEAD, but the Blue Underground DVD that I have lists it as RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD, so that’s what I’m calling it here.  Let’s take a look at what the Templars have in store for us this time, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

In the 13th century, the village of Bouzano, Portugal rounded up and executed numerous members of the Order of the Knights Templar, who had been corrupted into devil worship and black magic during their time in the Levant.  As the peasantry burned out their eyes with torches, the Templars swore revenge, claiming that their magic had rendered them immortal.  Now, 500 years later in the 1970s (that math doesn’t add up…) Bouzano is throwing a gigantic festival to celebrate the pentacentennial of the Templars’ execution.  The mayor of Bouzano sees being able to oversee the event as a huge political coup for him, and with enough whiskey flowing he expects to ride the celebration right into reelection.

Into Bouzano comes Jack Marlowe (Tony Kendall, of YETI, GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY and a couple of the various Django knockoffs including DJANGO DEFIES SARTANAS) to oversee the fireworks display, and he soon runs into an old flame, Vivian (Esperanza Roy), who’s now working as secretary to the mayor’s right-hand man Dacosta (Frank Brãna, of PIECES, SLUGS and THE POD PEOPLE).  When they try to rekindle their old romance, they soon find themselves in an old cemetery, where the caretaker Murdo (José Canalejas, of the original DJANGO and HORROR EXPRESS) warns them of the legend of the Templars.  After the pair leave, Murdo sacrifices a young woman to resurrect the Templars!

Before long, the Blind Dead are marching inexorably on Bouzano, intent on taking their long-awaited revenge on the townspeople, and Marlowe and Vivian are attempting to convince anyone who’ll listen that the undead Templars are on their way.  But will anyone listen to them until it’s too late?

I’ve watched RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD a few times now, and it’s just not as good as I want it to be in the wake of its predecessor.  Actually, let me amend that statement; it’s just not as original as I want it to be in the wake of its predecessor.  RETURN starts strongly enough (though giving the Templars a modified origin story and expanding the monastery of Berzano into the village of Bouzano), and the opening shot of a Templar’s eyes being burned out is one for the ages.  And the final act of the film is one of the tautest thriller sequences I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.  But in between…I like the efforts to convince authority figures that the Templars are coming, and I like the irony as those efforts move up the chain and the mayor attempts to call the governor, only to be given the same curt brush-off that the mayor gave to the rail operator who tried to call him.  But for the most part the middle of the film feels entirely too much like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for my tastes, with characters at odds with each other holed up in a house as the undead mill about outside, and the living seemingly more interested in bickering among themselves then surviving.

The Templars are still as stylish and impressive as ever. shrouded in gravemold-stained robes and surcoats, their flesh withered and drawn tight over creaking bones.  They’re also much, much more prominently on display here.  Whereas in TOMBS the Templars really just showed up at two points in the film, here they rise from their graves fairly early on and are wandering about for the remainder of the movie, hacking up and drinking the blood of anyone they come across.  De Ossorio designed the Templars in addition to writing and directing the four films of the franchise, and you can tell he’s proud of the work he did on them.  And to be fair, I’d be proud too – I stand by my assertion that the Blind Dead represent some of the most iconic and visually impressive non-Dracula undead on film, and I love the way they vaguely blend elements of vampire, zombie and mummy into an all together new sort of ghoul.

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Tony Kendall makes for a charismatic and inspiring leading man, and I liked the way the film balanced him dealing with two threats; the mayor and Dacosta threatening his love life and possibly his life, full stop, on the one hand, while on the other he’s got the Blind Dead threatening to kill and eat him and Vivian.  He’s thoroughly competent in a way that Roger in the preceding film flat out isn’t.  I’m glad to see he’s in YETI – GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY because I’ve had my eye on that film for a while and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in action.

Final Analysis: While drawing more heavily on American zombie traditions (such as they were in 1973) then I’d prefer, RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD is an enjoyable enough romp.  It’s always a pleasure to see the Templars in action, and we’ve got a pretty solid cast on display, including a fantastic crowd of extras for the Templars to hack their way through.  The film trades some of the suspense and building dread of the first film for mayhem and bloodshed, but the same can be said about what ALIENS did in following up on ALIEN.  The blood flows every bit as cartoonishly red as we’d expect from D’Ossorio’s Italian counterparts, and the final sequence actually had me on the edge of my seat before reaching a denouement that feels, appropriately, like something out of a traditional ghost story.

Overall, I give RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD (1973)…

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FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE

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Child Bride (1938)

child-bride-movie-poster-1938-1020197250Greetings, readers, Bill here – I took today off work to get some repair work done on my car, and now that that’s done (or as done as it will be until some parts come in), I thought I’d settle in with some trash cinema. Going through my DVD collection, I realized it’s been a long while since I’ve reviewed anything from pre-1960, and dug out my “Cult Classics” collection from Mill Creek Entertainment, which contained 20 1930s-era “social hygiene” films – the earliest of exploitation cinema, carried from town to town by huckster promoters and screened as “educational” to disguise some degree of the prurient content.  This film is pretty damn prurient if I do say so myself – ostensibly an exposé on the practice of old men marrying young girls in the Ozarks, it’s the sort of greasy cinematic sumbitch that got the Hays Code put into place.

Spoilers ensue.

In the backwoods community of Thunderhead Mountain, school teacher Ms. Carol, a mountain girl herself who got educated before returning to Thunderhead, campaigns against the practice of child marriage.  This does nothing to endear her to the local community of greasy, illiterate old men, and her betrothal to the assistant district attorney will not protect her from their wrath.  The only thing keeping her from being dealt with violently are the Coltons, Ira and his wife Flora, who agree with Carol’s crusade.  Also on Ms. Carol’s side is Angelo, a dwarf (Angelo Rossitto, of FREAKS and MAD MAX 2: BEYOND THUNDERDOME, as only two examples from a filmography spanning sixty years) who’s something of the laughingstock of the community for his size, though still valued for his help with the moonshining.

Ms. Carol’s main enemy in Thunderhead is Jake Bolby, who also happens to be Ira Colton’s partner in the moonshining business.  After a falling out with Ira over the division of profits, Jake riles up the sleazy perverts to tar and feather Ms. Carol (if not worse besides), only to be stopped by Ira and Angelo.  Enraged and bitter, Jake soon finds the opportunity to stab Ira to death and begin “courting” his young daughter Jennie (Shirley Mills, who’d appear as Ruth Joad in THE GRAPES OF WRATH two years later).  Now Ms. Carol needs to become the protector…

You know, compared to the stuff that came out in the 1970s, this film about ignorant, possibly incestuous redneck child sex slavery is positively tame.

Jake Bolby is as sleazy and unrepentant a villain as you could ever ask for, an utter and complete degenerate who’ll cross any moral and ethical line to ensure he gets what he views as his.  Played even more broadly then the rest of the cast, he stands out above even talented actors like Rossitto and Mills.  With every lurching step and bug-eyed, cackling leer he just completely sells himself as a filthy, despicable pedophile who should be suck-starting a 12-gauge.

Shirley Mills gives a surprisingly nuanced and rich performance, which no doubt goes a long way towards explaining why she had an actual career after this film, as opposed to 85% of the rest of the cast.  Still, it’s pretty unsettling to see a 12 year old put forward as a sex symbol, even in a film like this where the audience is intended to be repulsed by the idea of a man finding a 12 year old girl marriage material.

The thing that really grabs me here is the opening title scroll, included in order to pass off CHILD BRIDE as an educational, morally-upright film.  It includes reference to encouraging the audience to push for legislation against child marriage.  It staggers me to think that there were places in America where you could marry a 12 year old as late as 1938, and I guess in that sense the film proves educational even today in 2014.

Final Analysis: An hour-long peek into an entirely different era of cinematic history, a time when you could show anything on the screen as long as you made the vaguest of pretenses that it was educational.  While overall nothing to be too excited about, it’s always nice to see Angelo Rossitto on screen, here six years after his landmark performance in FREAKS.

Overall, I give CHILD BRIDE (1938)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Bat Pussy (1973)

Bat-Pussy-movie-poster-1973Greetings, readers, Bill here. Now, don’t expect this to become a regular thing, but today we’re departing from our normal routine of reviewing horror/cult/B-grade/Z-grade/schlock cinema, though staying within the purview of the grindhouse with an early ’70s pornographic film. I only decided to review this because it’s so weird and so terrible (and I’m not one to trash talk 1970s porn) that it doesn’t really work as erotica, even to the most desperate.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Buddy and Sam, a drunken redneck couple (he’s got an impressive set of ‘chops and an illegible tattoo on his right buttock, she’s flabby, freckled and has a gigantic red beehive hairdo) sit around naked and discuss their prospects for earning some money.  As Buddy paws through an issue of Screw magazine, he hits on the great idea of making a sex film.  The two initiate with some oral, but get so caught up in trading slurred, twangy insults and belittle each other’s skills and techniques that the entire concept of making a fuck film dissipates into the Aether.  “What is this shit,” he mumbles from between her doughy thighs, “y’all gotta stop coming in my mouth,” then as he attempts to mount her, “Tomorrow I’m gonna fuck mah secretary right in the ass, then come home an’ you can suck mah dick.”  The guy’s a real Casanova, let me tell you.  Of course, she comes back with, “Yah wouldn’t know how ta fuck yer own grandmother!”

Meanwhile, across town, Dora Dildo (aka The Mighty Bat Pussy) waits in her Bat-Cave (Bat-Basement is more accurate, with a sign taped to the wall proclaiming, in scrawled Magic Marker, this to be Bat Pussy’s lair) for any sign of crime.  How does she know a crime’s being committed? Because, as the narrator intones, “her twat begins to twitch.”  Becoming aware of the redneck couple’s desire to make a fuck film, she leaps into action, pulling on the oversized T-shirt and droopy shorts of Bat Pussy.  “Someone’s tryin’ tah make a fuck film in mah holy Gotham City,” she drawls, “an’ ah cain’t allow that!” Taking off on her Hippity-Hop (a Batmobile would have been out of the budget), she races to the scene to stop them.

I think this film’s left me sterile.  This is the sort of sex film you show teenagers to encourage abstinence because it just makes the act of fornication seem so repulsive, so utterly disgusting that it seems unthinkable to perform.

The fucking redneck couple are a fucking nightmare.  Neither one of them looks like they’d bathed the day of the shoot, for starters, and Buddy can neither achieve nor maintain an erection.  Sam’s aggressive, chewy blowjobs apparently do nothing for him, because he remains flaccid throughout, while a couple close up shots of him fingering her or spreading her loins suggest that she’s completely dry.  It’s a shame, because they’re both okay looking people, but they have the sexual charisma of a bucket of sand.  I’m guessing that they might be a real-life couple because their bickering banter comes so naturally as to suggest years of honing their craft against each other, and I’m thinking that’s why they were hired.  Probably the producers were in some greasy spoon diner in the middle of nowhere, heard these two going at it, and decided they’d be entertaining to watch grinding their uninspired genitalia together.

Bat-Pussy

Bat-Pussy is no better, and between the costume and the fucking Hippity-Hop I wish they’d skipped the schtick – not that the schtick matters that much, because pretty much the second she shows up in the redneck couple’s bedroom she’s naked and grinding between them, without a pause in the bickering, of course.  No sooner does she dive into bed then Sam is rolling her eyes and responding to her husband’s request to be allowed to fuck Bat Pussy with a dull, “Whah not, y’all fucked every other woman in this heah town…” and him replying, “y’all don’t know how tah suck a dick, Bat-Woman knows how tah suck a dick!” Again, decent enough looking woman but the slurred, drawling speech meant I could practically smell the whiskey these three were sweating.

Also, other than the blowjobs and a few shots of women being fingered or masturbating with a dildo, I’m thinking a lot of the sex here was simulated.  During a sequence of lesbian cunnilingus it’s pretty obvious that Sam’s head is no closer then a foot away from Bat Pussy’s loins while most of the thrusting and male-on-female oral sex is wildly unconvincing.

Final Analysis: Are you a porn historian, looking for early examples of the porno parody? Are you so utterly jaded that nothing arouses you except dingy, trash-talking rednecks having unsatisfying sex? Do deep southern drawls get you hot? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, BAT PUSSY might be for you.  Otherwise…I’d say it’s worth at least a watch in the same way a train wreck is worth looking at, but for the most part it’s pretty repellent.

Overall, I give BAT PUSSY (1973)…

barrel of toxic waste

ONE BARREL OF TOXIC WASTE.

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The Beast Within (1982)

beastwithindvd-aGreetings, readers, Bill here. Now, a couple weeks ago when I reviewed C.H.U.D., I mentioned having to decide between reviewing that and tonight’s film, 1982′s THE BEAST WITHIN, and that I’d decided to wait to re-review THE BEAST WITHIN until I got the Blu-Ray; I’d previously covered it many years ago, early in Radiation-Scarred Reviews’ history, and never felt like I really did the film justice. Well, I’ve got the Blu-Ray that Shout! Factory put out, and I’ve got some free time tonight (something that’s all too rare a luxury some days, it seems) so I thought it’s time to give this film another look and see how my feelings on the film have changed.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Ronny Cox, of ROBOCOP and TOTAL RECALL, and Bibi Besch, of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) are driving through Nioba, Mississippi on their honeymoon when their car stalls out in some mud.  When Eli makes the trek back to the nearest gas station to call for a tow, something breaks its chains and escapes from an isolated basement, stalking through the storm-drenched woods until it stumbles across Caroline, whom it throws to the ground and violently rapes.  Whatever it is, it’s got oddly-segmented legs and a pulsating, veiny back.  Its work completed, it staggers back to the basement to die.

17 years later, Eli and Caroline have a new problem; their son Michael is gravely ill, dying of a sudden pituitary imbalance, and the doctors are baffled; the best they can come up with is that the illness may be genetic.  With that, Eli and Caroline are forced to admit the possibility that the “man” who raped her may be Michael’s biological father.  With Michael in the hospital, Eli and Caroline return to Nioba to try and investigate and find the man who attacked her that night.

While the locals, most of whom belong to the extended Curwin clan, get wind of Eli and Caroline, they do everything they can to thwart their investigation.  Meanwhile, Michael wakes up in the hospital, pulls on a jacket and hijacks a car, driving to Nioba, driven by an inexorable need to be in Nioba.  A mysterious voice emanating from an old, overgrown basement calls to him…something is moving, growing under his skin…and as the buzzing of cicadas builds, the 17 year time frame starts seeming awful significant…

THE BEAST WITHIN is a much smarter, more sophisticated film than I’d initially given it credit for a couple years back.  I think what gave me trouble the last time around was that it had been presented to me in the guise of a straight-forward monster-on-the-loose romp, when the real “beast within” in the film is more of an Edward Hyde, the capacity for evil within everyone.  Director Phillippe Mora (HOWLING II and III) has assembled a spectacular cast headlined by Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch; but the supporting cast has some true gems as well.  Legendary character actor R.G. Armstrong (PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID) appears as the Nioba town doctor, L.Q. Jones (THE WILD BUNCH) is the sheriff, Luke Askew, another fantastic character actor (EASY RIDER, ANGEL UNCHAINED) plays the greasy local coroner, and Don Gordon (EXORCIST III, THE OMEN III) puts in a great performance as Nioba’s control-freak, nepotistic mayor.

While Paul Clemens, who plays Michael MacCleary in the film, only had a handful of films to his credit when he made this, he does a fine job with the role; if he seems weak it’s only in comparison to the men and women with decades of talent and experience surrounding him.  Additionally, Clemens plays himself as the monster once he undergoes a horrific transformation at the climax of the film; a lifelong horror fan, Clemens was apparently more then eager to take the role and enthusiastic about the makeup appliances.

The monster suit is excellent, though not particularly cicada-y; it’s veiny and leathery and has big bulging eyes.  Even better, I think, then the final suit is the effects used for the transformation sequences; much of it is relatively down-played, such as the beginnings of a crack in Michael’s back, but when the time comes for the Beast Within to become the Beast Out and About, all bets are off.  The air-bladder and rubber skin effects of the previous year’s AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON are cranked up to 11 and combined with a hefty dose of spewing slime.  The effects are wonderfully gross, and hold up pretty well to this day.

The Beast Backstage.

The story is a bit on the convoluted side (Mora’s noted that when United Artists released the film, several key narrative scenes were cut), and I think in places the “mystery” of Michael’s origins are dragged out a little too much; the story of who Michael’s father was, how he became the monstrous thing he became and how he’s influencing Michael from beyond the grave could have been tightened up without losing the sense of building dread that Mora worked so hard to achieve – and ultimately, I think the pacing here works against that sense of dread, because the audience picks up the threads and starts figuring out how they tie together a lot faster then the characters do, and I know by the time the film reached its climax I was beginning to get impatient with the cast.

The biggest problem I have with the film? The buzzing of cicadas on the soundtrack is this horrible run-through-a-synthesizer noise instead of an actual recording of actual cicadas.  Who thought that was a good idea?

The Scream! Factory Blu-Ray release is sublime.  There’s no other word for it.  The colors are crisp and bright, the print is beautiful, and I can see the events on screen so much more clearly then I could on the older MGM “Midnight Madness” DVD release.  One of my biggest complaints with the film in the past was how little of Michael’s mutant form we got to see; well, now that the picture’s been sharpened I can actually f’ing see him!

Final Analysis: While at times excessively slow-moving and ultimately over-thinking the building of its mystery a little too hard, overall THE BEAST WITHIN is a smart, effective film about all-too-human evil, especially the sort one finds in extremely small, close-knit communities where blood ties are stronger then the rule of law, manifesting itself as a superhuman evil, while at the same time providing an excellent twist on the werewolf theme that was popular in horror in the early 1980s and a deliciously visceral take on the old canard about “the sins of the father.”  The Scream! Factory Blu-Ray release is visually stunning, and even if I didn’t like the film itself any better this time around, the crisp colors and beautifully restored print on the Blu-Ray would earn this film an extra barrel in the ratings.

Overall, I give THE BEAST WITHIN (1982)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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The Astro-Zombies (1968)

The_Astro_Zombies-249921643-largeGreetings, readers, Bill here again with a film by a true cult movie, the unforgettable Ted V. Mikels. With his impeccable handlebar mustache, the giant talon hanging from a chain around his neck, somehow-wider-than-ear-to-ear grin, and bevy of beautiful women (plus a castle to house them in), Mikels is a true one of a kind original, the kind of larger-then-life character who, if you saw them in fiction, would think them to be too outrageous to be believable. Tonight we’re watching one of Mikels’ best-known films, THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, starring John Carradine (of BIGFOOT and THE FACE OF MARBLE), Tura Satana (FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!) and Wendell Corey (REAR WINDOW, WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET) in his final film role. Without going on any further, let’s settle in with this cult classic, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

The CIA is deeply interested in the work of rogue scientist Dr. DeMarco (Carradine), whose work on organ transplants and thought transference, financed by the American space program (on the grounds that it’d be really useful to be able to beam information directly from a computer to an astronaut’s brain while he’s in flight), was progressing along very interesting lines prior to his termination from the space agency.  Fearful that Communist spies might try to tap DeMarco and steal his work on thought-transference, CIA agent Holman (Corey) is assigned the task of locating and safeguarding DeMarco.

The CIA is right to be concerned, as a Communist plot is afoot to try and steal DeMarco’s work, spearheaded by the villainous dragon lady Satana (Tura Satana, rocking both the cocktail dress and the kimono just as vivaciously as she did the black leather in FASTER PUSSYCAT!), her agents hounding – and gunning down – Holman’s underlings every step of the way.

Meanwhile, DeMarco is using his techniques to create an army of Astro-Zombies, crazed undead cyborgs that roam the streets of L.A. butchering pretty girls left and right! Well, okay, there’s one Astro-Zombie wandering around killing people, but that’s because DeMarco was forced to utilize a criminal brain in its construction (shades of Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN) and he’s hoping to recapture and reprogram it, but in the meantime, the rest of these Astro-Zombies won’t build themselves…

You have to respect Mikels’ vision.  With Commie spies, square-jawed G-men, dancing girls, mad scientists, bouncing boobies and solar-powered cyborg zombies, THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES honestly should be a surefire win.  I say should, because while it’s certainly entertaining in concept, in practice it manages to feel both overloaded and underloaded.

I say overloaded because there’s so much going on that none of it ends up feeling fully developed, and subplots pop in and out with abandon, rarely getting resolved in any meaningful fashion.  I say underloaded because I feel like you could cut 20 minutes from the film without impacting the story any, and long stretches of the movie just kind of drag.  Such is the price of having a mad genius behind the camera, I suppose.  I think not just the film, but the script itself could have used a firmer hand at the editing stage – I found it particularly irritating how nothing is ever explained or given reason until after it’s over, if at all – What DeMarco’s trying to achieve isn’t made clear until after he’s stopped from achieving it, and the same goes for Satana.  We’re left with strings of scenes divested of any sense of meaning and that makes it a much harder film to pay attention to.

The Astro-Zombies themselves are fun creations, and certainly visually arresting; With a big skull head implanted with various technical bits-and-bobs, particularly black lenses filling the eyesockets and a metal grill shaped like Jack Nicholson’s manic grin over the mouth, they’re a lot more interesting to look at then the average man in a rubber mask, and I feel like some of their scenes kind of prefigure the tension and attitude of later slasher movies, though some tighter editing and some less-egregious day-for-night photography would probably emphasize that prefiguration more.

What really grabbed me here was Tura Satana, and not just for the obvious reasons; the only other film I’ve ever seen her in was FASTER PUSSYCAT, and her conniving secret agent here is a far cry from the brash, overbearing uber-amazon (or should I say mammazon) that Russ Meyer had her playing.  While her character Varla in FASTER PUSSYCAT never speaks below a contemptuous snarl, the character Satana here is soft-spoken because she can afford to be; she doesn’t need to raise her voice to utterly dominate the other agents in her cell, she can do it with just her piercing eyes and a languid drag on her cigarette.  And if that’s not enough…she’s packing heat.  I feel like Mikels gave her a much greater opportunity to act, and she makes the most of it here.  She does so much with an arched eyebrow or a leisurely hand gesture and is generally the best performer in the film outside of maybe Carradine, and he’s not exactly stretching his acting muscles in the familiar role of authoritative mad scientist.

tura

Even more interesting is the emphasis Mikels places on Satana’s legs.  Obviously, Russ Meyer was something akin to the Platonic Ideal of a slavering boob-hound, and he dressed his actresses (or undressed, as the case may be) to emphasize their chests as extremely as possible.  While Tura was never nude in FASTER PUSSYCAT, her all-black ensemble and thick black mane draws the eye to the paleness of her face and cleavage.  In ASTRO-ZOMBIES, she wears a variety of dresses cut high up the hip and perches on chairs or sprawls across couches in positions calculated to show the maximum amount of bare thigh allowable by the standards of 1968.  While I don’t think it’s humanly possible to actually de-emphasize Tura’s bosom, Mikels comes pretty damn close in some scenes, and it shows how much a movie can reflect the mind of a filmmaker; Mikels isn’t the obsessive boob-hound that Meyers was, and so that’s not where his focus with Tura as an actress is.  If it weren’t for those penetrating eyes, it’s almost hard to believe it’s the same woman in both roles, the differences in how she’s shot are so extreme.

Final Analysis: THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES is not a name that will ever echo in the annals of great horror cinema the way, for example, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE do; instead it’s found a different sort of notoriety, the notoriety of being bizarre and unlike anything the viewer has seen before, and it’s more then a little incoherent, but it’s the sort of film that, for the aficionado, is worth watching once, if maybe not worth watching twice.  Tura Satana gives a great performance, John Carradine is in his natural habitat, there’s some bare breasts during a nightclub scene and the monsters are solar-powered undead cyborgs.  You’ll probably want the 91 minutes back when it’s all over, but while it’s going on it’s a weird ride.

Overall, I give THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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