Sunday, July 1, 2012

Listomania: William's June Jaunts of Movie Joy

Damn it!  It is July 1st already?  Does this mean 2012 is officially half over?  Well, since Tom handled the Listomania solo last month, I guess I better get on it.  Despite going mad doing my TWO-MINUTE WARNING theatrical vs. television versions write-up (which garnered me a Pulitzer nomination, by the way), June was still a pretty active viewing month for me with 27 films seen.  That breaks down to 20 DVDs, 5 VHS titles, 1 theatrical viewing (PROMETHEUS), and 1 computer viewing.  I even managed to muster enough energy to review KING OF THE STREETS and THE THEATRE BIZARRE during the month. Below are some of the more interesting titles that crossed my eyeballs this past month.

Michael and Roberta Findlay’s FLESH trilogy – I’m a huge fan of Roberta Findlay’s solo work as a director, but I’d never seen the softcore FLESH trilogy that she worked on with her then husband Michael that started their careers in exploitation success.  THE TOUCH OF HER FLESH (1967) opens with Richard Jennings (Michael Findlay, hiding behind the name Robert West) finding out his wife is cheating on him.  This sends him running into the streets, where he is hit by a car and loses his right eye.  Released from the hospital, wheelchair bound Jennings decides to enact revenge on his wife and a bunch of other women he deems slutty.  He easily succeeds in his task during the film’s scant 75 minute running time.  The next year delivered the ambitious sequel THE CURSE OF HER FLESH (1968).  Having disposed of his wife, Jennings now focuses on killing her lover Steve (Ron Skideri).  His rather complex plan involves running a small NYC theater where Steve is an actor.  That seems like a lot of work, actually.  Jennings then convinces Steve’s girlfriend to go through an even more elaborate set up to get his ultimate revenge.  Naturally, he is successful because Jennings is, like his one eye, focused.  Having acquired his revenge, the third film, THE KISS OF HER FLESH (1968), has Jennings in full bloodlust overdrive as he seems to be attacking any immoral female he sets his eyes, er, eye on.  But he may have just met his match in the all-knowing Maria (Uta Erickson).  So the duo battle it out as Jennings devises his most sadistic tortures.

"OMG! Look at that fine ass Shine-O-Mat!"
I managed to watch all three of these films over a two-day period and that is how I would suggest best watching them.  One of the more enjoyable aspects of this trilogy is the fact that you actually follow Richard Jennings exploits over the course of the films.  Ambitious, no doubt, for a grindhouse trilogy that is basically there to show paying pervs as much female flesh as possible.  But the film’s excess also results in their downfall.  There is so much T&A on display here that it becomes boring.  The segments of nekkid girls up on a go-go stage seem to go on for days.  I’d never thought I’d say this, but I was more interested in the story and exploits of Jennings than the voluptuous ladies revealing all for the camera.  The B&W photography (done by Roberta under the pseudonym Anna Riva) is very sharp at times and the NYC and surrounding area locations are awesome to see (Tom: “Is it sad that the location shooting captures our interest more than loooong scenes of ladies getting naked?”).  They may not have intended it, but the Findlays captured the era amazingly, from the dilapidated apartments to the amazing appliances.  The films can also be damn creative when they want to be.  A perfect example is the opening of CURSE where the opening credits are graffiti that Steve is reading on a bathroom wall as he takes a piss.  The third film is definitely the sleaziest of the three with Jennings creating out there methods of death (he poisons his own sperm!) and cracking wise while he sounds like W.C. Fields.  If I weren’t so lazy, I’d probably do a version that whittles down the series’ 3 hours and 45 minutes to an awesome 90 minute sleaze classic that focuses on Richard Jennings character arc.  Damn, did I seriously think of doing a Findlay fan edit?  I’ve lost it.  One of the more amusing things about this series is Earl Hindman made his screen debut as the hero (and killer of Jennings) in the third film.  He went on to be Wilson in Tim Allen’s sitcom HOME IMPROVEMENT.  No wonder he always hid his face!

Of course, Something Weird flicks are like Lay’s potato chips in that you can’t have just one.  So after getting a taste with the FLESH trilogy, I immediately hit some other SWV flicks I’d had for a while but not watched.

CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT (1968) - Psycho cat Virginia (Eileen Lord) is disappointed she can't go with her hunter brother on safari in Africa. So she decides to do the next best thing - hunt humans in NYC! She brings three men acquitted of murder to her house and offers them a deal. If they can stay alive for the 24 hours after getting a letter stating the hunt is on, they will each collect $100,000. First up is Mr. Freeman, a washed up actor who murdered the husband of his mistress when he came home unexpectedly. He gets offed rather easy as he is lured to do a play and we know actors can never resist being in the limelight. Next up is Rocco (played by boxer Jake LaMotta), a former pro-wrestler who stomped his opponent to death in the ring. This burly guy gets offed after he becomes enraged when Virginia keeps taunting him over the phone saying he isn't really the champ. Wow, he was easy. Finally, we have a junkie Buddy, who caused his girlfriend to OD. Can you guess how he is lured out? Yep, he needs his fix and just can't stay inside, despite earlier narrowly escaping Virginia with her crossbow. This is worth seeing for two reasons. First, it is wild to see LaMotta, the inspiration for RAGING BULL, onscreen in his sweaty and growling glory. Second, the lead performance by Eileen Lord is simply marvelous. She is so over-the-top and loony that she makes it work. Some softcore footage has been shoehorned into the film to pad it out, but I think the best stuff comes from the proper thriller the film intended to be.  As with the FLESH trilogy, it is a movie time capsule of 1960s NYC.

JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (1975) - Following a stint in Vietnam, Johnny Firecloud (Victor Mohica) returns to the small town of his upbringing, only to encounter trouble at ever turn. Sheriff Jesse (David Canary) gives him a hard time for no reason and Johnny constantly finds himself butting heads with rich man Colby (Ralph Meeker), who disapproved of Johnny's pre-war relationship with his daughter June (Christina Hart). Colby gets Johnny locked up on a fake charge (the sheriff is in his pocket) and then hangs Johnny's grandfather by "accident." This prompts Johnny to bust out of jail and spend the last 40 minutes hunting and killing everyone who was involved with his granddad's death (including George "Buck" Flower). Tom’s been championing this one for years and I finally got around to it.  It is really a great movie, mixing 1970s vigilantism with one pissed off Indian. The violence in the film's last half is really over the top with effects by Joe Blasco that make it look like a slasher movie. But the film establishes a nice build up to these events, even if some of it isn't very subtle (graffiti on the jail cell wall reads "to hell with niggers and Indians!"). It features great performances from the entire cast and Canary gets to really shine in a role that is more complex than the standard thug cop.  And you get the classic line, “One of these days, you and me gonna tangle assholes.”

DIRTY WAR (1984) - Top mercenary Paul (Pierre Oudrey) is in high demand. The first ten minutes of this film sees him running around in a battlefield, blowing up a chemical plant, and saving the Pope from an assassin. But when Paul wants to "get out" of the organization, Mr. Fox (Mariano Vidal Molina) doesn't take too kindly to the idea and sends goons led by Kurt (Frank Braña) to convince him to do one final job. Paul goes on the run with his girl Virginia (Carol James), but as everyone knows, you can't escape the organization (whatever it is). Juan Piquer Simón had made two of his goofiest movies (PIECES and THE POD PEOPLE) in the two years prior to this, so I was hoping this would be just as entertaining. Sadly, it is not as this is a pretty straight forward crime flick. There are a few funny bits thanks to some of the dubbing (like when Virginia first meets Paul's friend Bob and he says, "You got a problem with blacks?") and some nonsensical bits (like the organizations men shooting laser sounding guns during a raid; it's never explained or mentioned again). But most of it is just the same old, same old. They did shoot in lots of different places (Milan and Munich to name a few) and got Pope John Paul II to do an unwitting "cameo" (he gets around as he was also in a Bruce Le flick).

GRAVEROBBERS (1988) - Nora Mae Edwards (Elizabeth Mannino) is a waitress at a tiny diner who gets swept off her feet by wealthy John Henry Cox (David Gregory). Well, not really. She accepts his marriage proposal after knowing him for all of three minutes ("I've waited for something like this my whole life"). He takes her to his home of New Bury, New York and they get married in the Cox family funeral home (ah, romance!). Of course, things aren't as they seem in this small town and soon Nora Mae finds out the locals are all horny necrophiliacs because, well, they just are. This low budget horror film comes from writer-director Straw Weisman and producer Lew Mishkin (son of William). It is really a mixed bag as the production is pretty horrendous at points (the music changes sound like someone moving the needle to separate tracks on a record and the voiceovers are horrendous) and the script is a total nightmare (they couldn't think up a better story than a random guy picking up a waitress; why not have them start as college sweethearts and he is finally taking her home to meet the family?). Yet there is something oddly compelling about the film. Maybe it is the small town or the gore effects. Or maybe it’s just that I'm not that discerning of a viewer? I would only recommend this if you have the desire to see a guy riding a motorcycle at top speed which causes his skin to peel off.  Ah, screw it, I’ll save you 89 minutes and show it to you here:

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  3. You were right. Findlay's Flesh trilogy is perfect for marathon viewing. The way the crazy and the skin gets ramped up with each installment gives the series a perfect pace. I about lost it with the poisoned semen bit.


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