Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

El Terror de México: NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1968)

It's odd that with Mexico being so close to the largely cloistered United States, we rarely see much of their cinematic output. It may surprise many American horror fans, but some of Mexico's horror films from the ‘60s and ‘70s can stand toe-to-toe with their European counterparts. Even the ‘80s brought in some classics.  Granted none of it is going to match the level of technology and financing wielded by Hollywood, but then again, I’m not much for that sort of thing anyway. The higher the budget and the amount of technology required to make a film has an inverted correlation to the intelligence and creativity. If I’m going to watch a movie that is short on smarts, I’ll take a low-rent exploitation flick every time.

Rene Cardona Sr was a Cuban immigrant to Mexico who in the span of his 82 years on this planet directed somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 films, acted in almost as many and put his son (Rene Cardona Jr) and grandson (Rene Cardona III) to work in the business. Cardona’s film career, starting in 1925 and continuing until 1982, spanned countless genres but predominantly stayed in the realm of the fantastic. From pirates and terrorists to zombies and santa claus… Yep, that’s right. He made a film about Jolly Saint Nick throwing down against The Devil's minions with the help of Merlin the Magician. And what do you need for a film with that high concepts like that? Luchadores! Many, if not most, of Cardona’s output starred the superheroes of pre-modern Mexico, the stars of the famous Lucha Libre. NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES is no exception, except here there are no famous Lucha stars.

Originally, and more accurately, titled THE HORRIBLE HUMAN BEAST, this film is one of those jaw-dropping drive-in classics that many people like myself, stumbled across in the video store back in the ‘80s. It’s lurid, cartoonish cover screaming to be rented and promising things that presumably it would never deliver. You could look at the black and white pics on the back of the Gorgon box and think “it’s from the ‘60s, it’s gotta be tame”, and you would be wrong. Even H.G. Lewis had trouble one-upping Cardona’s classic with his subsequent gore efforts THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970) and THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972), and to be totally honest, I’d take Cardona’s flick over either of those two.

The film opens with a female Lucha match between a red outfitted Lucy (Norma Lazareno) and a blue-clad Elena (Noelia Noel). These girls can take some bumps, and after many punches, kicks and flips Lucy throws Elena out of the ring in front of her police lieutenant boyfriend Aurthur (Armando Silvestre). Arthur looks at the fallen wrestler and cries out “this woman has been hurt!”. Sure enough, Elena's got a skull fracture, which puts her under the care of  a successful surgeon, Dr. Krallman (Jose Elias Moreno). In an ironic twist of fate, Dr. Krallman's son is bedridden with leukemia. Doe-eyed Julio (pronounced by the dubbers as “Joo-lee-oh”, Agustín Martínez Solares) is abandoned by the doctors who have given him not even days, but hours left to live. This just doesn’t sit well with pops who decides, with the aid of his not-very-hunch-backed assistant Goyo (Carlos López Moctezuma) to kidnap a gorilla from the local zoo to use for a heart transplant! The logic here being that a new heart is needed to pump new blood that is uncontaminated by leukemia. Sounds good on paper anyway! It should be noted that the film uses extremely graphic stock footage of a real heart transplant operation that is something of a stark contrast to the cheap, but effective gore effects used in the rest of the movie.
All goes according to plan except for the fact that once the operation is done Julio mutates from his prettyboy self into a stocky grappler with a face that looks like an ape... or rather he and Ben Grimm from the Fantastic Four were separated at birth. One of the two, you decide. Naturally nobody that ugly could be a nice guy and our Ape Man promptly escapes to engage in (as the trailer cries) “an orgy of terror”! I don't know about any “orgies”, but holy crap is this dude pissed off about something and everyone is going to pay! Well... everyone except boys with groceries that cheerfully whistle. Other than that? It's on like Donkey Kong!

If drive-in movies were the only way you learned about human culture you would probably come to the conclusion that the female of the species lives most of their lives in the shower... and that there are a lot of bizarre non-human or quasi-human creatures who find them to be the most desirable thing on the planet to attack, since "attacking" is the only things that those creatures actually do (clearly Ape Man is not going to be holding down a desk job any time soon). Sure enough, the first apartment our Ape Man picks to bust into has a girl in the shower and Ape Man makes the most of it by throwing her on the bed and clawing her to death while seemingly having his way with her, creating a blood-drenched mess in a seemingly completely different apartment than the one he originally attacks her in! Also, Ape Man must be pretty damn dexterous in the nether-regions as the strategically placed towel never leaves her lap and even better, he makes sure that before exploring his animal passions, he carefully moves the towel so that no bearded clams are on the menu.

After Dr. Krallman manages to get Ape Man back to his basement laboratory he exclaims “I was prepared for everything, but not for this!” Ummm... really? You didn’t figure your kid would mutate into a homicidal ape-man? Huh. His learned analysis of the problem is that the heart is too strong for a human and that the blood pumps so hard into the brain that it damages the “superior parts” causing a transmutation to a primitive self! Of course, he realizes, if you were to transplant a human heart from a live donor, you could reverse the process and Julio would return to normal. And who better to donate than a wrestler who has had a head injury? To justify the fact that he is planning to kidnap and ostensibly kill one of the hospital’s patients, Dr. Krallman tells Goyo that because of her head injury, even if she does live, “she’ll be an idiot for the rest of her life.” Amigo, if that is your criteria for selecting donors, you don’t have to go to a hospital! Of course this doesn’t work, but because it’s an open heart surgery, it’s a good excuse to show off Elena’s lovely toplessness.

It doesn't take very long for Ape Man to make a comeback and the rampage begins a new! While some of Cardona’s earlier work has flirted with the drive-in staples of blood and boobs, none before or since whole heartedly embraced the exploitation elements like NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES. The blood flows in torrents and the gore is every bit as graphic as the Italian genre classics that followed it some 10-15 years later. In particular there is a scene where a man has his eye gouged out of its socket in extreme close-up that would later be mimicked in Antonio Margheriti's CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE in 1980. Some effects are rather amusingly inventive, such as in a scene where a police officer is instantly killed by having his scalp ripped off. This effect is achieved by having a mess of blood and prosthetics underneath a bald actor’s toupee. As silly as it is, I have to give them props for even coming up with it.

The movie wallows in drive-in exploitation and cobbles them together with elements from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” and even pays low-budget homage to KING KONG (1933) in the film’s final moments, with a strangely blasé child taking the place of Fay Wray. It all makes for a south of the border drive-in classic that even three generations of Cardona’s have never been able to top.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monstrous Mayhem: WENDIGO (1978)

Not to be confused with that Larry Fessenden flick, this is a regional B-movie about the curse of Native American myth Wendigo lensed in Wyoming. Frank, Connie and Eric are flown by helicopter to a remote location for some moose hunting. Their party increases by one when the helicopter pilot crashes his vehicle after he is hit by a strong gust of wind as he is leaving. No one seems to mind that they have no way back and hunting guides Defago and Billy continue on as normal. But it seems Eric has ulterior motives on this trip as he wants to snatch some treasure on an ancient Indian burial ground (never a good idea). Billy, the resident Native American, warns against it and tells the story of how Wendigo came into being after an Indian chief failed to feed his people and was burned alive. Well, naturally, the white man doesn't pay heed to this Native American superstition and soon the ghost monster Wendigo is out get 'em.

Wendigo attacks in big gusts of wind here and it makes sense because this film blows. This is some grade A Bill Rebane-style film making which means lots of walking in the woods and talking and then more walking in the woods. Nothing of note happens until the last ten minutes when Wendigo, who is seen on screen for a total of 3 seconds, causes a few guys to explode, one guy to fall off the cliff and makes Connie's head explode. Don't get too excited as all the effects are cheap. The funniest thing about the movie is Van Washburn Jr. playing Defago. He decides to do a Wyoming hunting guide with a Louisiana bayou style accent ("We go now an' BEE-LEE follow on foot").

His helper Billy is also a riot whose real Indian name would be He Who Walks with Cliché. There is this ridiculous bit where Billy strips down to a loin cloth and does some sort of ritual before stumbling upon Connie naked in the woods. So what do two nekkid folks do when they meet up? Get it on, of course! The filmmakers get points deducted for, sadly, only showing Connie's back. For shame! The most interesting thing is that one of the stock music tracks is the same one that Romero used a few years later in the Jordy Verrell segment of CREEPSHOW. The strangest thing is this flirtatious exchange between Connie and Mike the pilot.

Connie: You can serve all the apple sauce in the world but it's never apple pie.
Mike: Not even a slice?
Connie: It's not supposed to be on the menu.
Mike: I see. Well, I guess that lays our spoons on the table, doesn't it? 
But, you know, I always carry a fork just in case.

To quote Jack Burton, "I don't even know what the hell that means!" Of course, the most unforgivable sin is that they only show the monster on screen for, I kid you not, 3 seconds. The "clearest" look you get at the beast is during the end credits (see right). I can endure long conversations as long as you give me some crazy beast to make up for it. Not the case here. Director Paul Kener fails on every level here. Below is a video of the film's special effects highlight. For anyone wondering, what is going on here is a guy is trying to escape but the darn Wendigo wind sucks him up into the air and causes him to explode. Somewhere a field is missing its scarecrow.

Amazingly, Kener made one more film, a slasher called SAVAGE WATER. Amusingly, he has Connie reading a book in this with that title and "See the amazing motion picture" printed on the back. I'll get right on that. In the meantime, marvel at this amazing box art that brings up more questions than answers. First, nothing that cool happens in the movie. Second, why is a guy in a prison jumpsuit bursting from the skull? Third, who builds a train track into a large skull with only a one tooth gap opening? Questions, questions.

US Video (ha!) sure knew how to sell 'em I guess as evidenced by that and this artwork for Kener's SAVAGE WATER. Props to the 12-year-old who drew them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Vehicular Violence: CRASH! (1977)

Charles Band didn’t always suck. No, seriously, it's true.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that when confronted by the box art for DEMONIC PUPPET DOLLS: THE CURSE OF THE GINGERBREAD BLOOD BONG 5 on your video store shelf (wait, do they still have those anymore?). But stumble across your dusty copy of TOURIST TRAP (1979) and it’ll all start coming back. MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976), LASERBLAST (1978), and CRAWLSPACE (1985), TRANCERS (1985), and, of course RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and FROM BEYOND (1986). Not to mention the 3-D epics we looked back on last week, PARASITE (1982) and METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED SYN (1983). Even though I like some of Band’s Full-Moon stuff, they were mostly just too pandering and ham-handed to measure up to the old stuff. Flood-lit productions that looked like they were shot for TV, half-assed screenwriting (if there even was a script), low-grade acting and a general sense of lack of respect for their own product. Band was frequently compared to the legendary Roger Corman, but Corman had much more respect for his movies and encouraged creativity no matter how fast they were thrown together and in spite of their the minuscule budgets. However back in the days of Empire Pictures and before, Band arguably came close to living up to that comparison.

Band’s second film as director and producer is the notoriously scarce horror-thriller-car-chase flim CRASH! (1977). Shot for under $100,000 in Piru, California (damn near a stone’s throw from where PHANTASM II [1988] was shot a decade later), this is about a schizophrenic a film as you are likely to find. Or not find, as the case may be, since it hasn't been available on video since the early '80s and even then it was only available on a few small European labels. It’s a fun ride, but it feels like he had two scripts that could have been segments in a TWILIGHT ZONE-ish anthology film, but instead of making a third story, he decided to interweave them into one movie and STILL has a hard time hitting the 80 minute mark! Only Charlie Band.

CRASH!, released in Germany under the rather misleading but infinitely cooler title DRACULA’S DEATHRACE, stars off with… a crash! Not so fast sparky! We have to be treated to a black screen with white credits appearing and disappearing for just long enough to make you want to start digging under sofa cushions for the remote control. An admittedly nifty James Bond-meets-Aaron Spelling score by TV composer Andrew Belling helps pass the time. This won't be the last time Band uses some unimaginative padding to stretch this feature out to a measly 81 minutes, there's more where that came from.

A dream sequence, starts the movie, with a couple of long-haired flower-children in a van, tooling along, wind blowing through their blond hair... suddenly they are run off the road by a ‘67 black Camero convertible that has no driver. The van apparently was hauling a load of nitroglycerine as it flips over and erupts in a giant ball of flame with such force that it manages to rip the hair right off the driver’s head! Not to worry though, the “driver” is a department store mannequin who is amusingly separated from his wig. Kim (Sue Lyon) suddenly wakes up from her dream, in which she was the passenger and got to keep her golden locks firmly attached to her cranium, and drives around with her blond tassels blowing in the wind... in her ‘67 black Camero convertible (cue ominous music). She stops at E-Bay, or what they called it back in the ‘70s, “a drive-in swap-meet”, and wanders around her blond tassels blowing in the wind. Finally, ignoring the number one swap meet rule “Never Buy Anything from Reggie Nalder”, she buys a small black idol from a creepy hippy (?!) to take home to her older husband Marc (José Ferrer), an expert in such stuff. By this time you will probably have had just about enough of seeing Kim drive around, walk around, stand around, her blond tassels blowing in the wind and will probably enjoy the next sequence even more because of it.

Marc, bitter about having a hot, young wife who survived a car-crash that left him in a wheelchair, decides she can keep the damn trinket and kicks her skinny ass to the curb! Kim packs up and drives off only to have a Doberman leap into her car at 40 miles an hour and start ripping her up like Hunter S. Thompson had just shouted “Nixon!” She crashes and wakes up in the hospital with amnesia and an acute case of red-eyed possession that allows her to control inanimate objects with wheels (like, um, cars and wheelchairs) with her mind. All the while clutching the idol that now serves as her keychain. While her husband is plotting to finish the job (we find out that it was his dog that attacked her!), the doctor at the hospital and the local cop try to solve the case of her missing identity and attempted murder. Meanwhile, every five minutes or so we cut to the driverless Camero running someone off the road, being chased by the cops and causing things to just blow up for no reason whatsoever!

Obviously inspired by DUEL (1971), GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974), THE EXORCIST (1973) and TWILIGHT ZONE, you would probably think Band lifted the idea of the black killer car from THE CAR (1977) and the possession from THE MANITOU (1978) as well, but CRASH! was actually released four months prior to THE CAR and a year and a half prior to THE MANITOU. Band has said that the distributors wanted three things (no, not boobs, blood and a beast), as many car crashes as possible, “name” actors and it needed to be shot in scope. Band obviously took those demands with grave sincerity as he rounds out the cast of inexpensive aging veterans, with the man who was the definition of the term, John Carradine, and slams, flips, and crushes dozens of cars in the most gratuitous ways imaginable. And when I say “gratuitous”, I ain't just whistlin'! In one scene the Camero simply speeds through a small town and causes every car in the area to suddenly wreck and explode, along with a gas station, in a massive display of incendiary pyrotechnics. Unfortunately for those of us stuck watching the film on cropped video releases, he took the last missive just as seriously and uses every inch of that scope screen for his cavalcade of vehicular car-nage, leaving many jaw-dropping car stunts cropped to the point of being near unwatchable. Think Fulci’s THE BEYOND (1981) cropped to a 1.33:1 ratio (as in the US release 7 DOORS OF DEATH) with vehicle quarter-panels replacing the bridges of noses and you’ll get the idea.

Even though it's not the best of his early work, is relentlessly padded (including an almost complete replay of all of the car scenes back to back, with a sepia wash, under the guise of a post-amnesiac “flashback”) and it feels like some stoner in a projection booth got bored and spliced together two completely different movies, this is a fun drive-in flick that is screaming for a DVD house like Shout! Factory to give it a nice widescreen release.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Revenge of the '70s & '80s in 3-D!

Welcome to our 3-D special! This week (and as usual we may stumble a bit into the next) we will be rambling on about some of our favorite and not-so-favorite 3-D films from the '70s and '80s.

I saw THE HOUSE OF WAX (1953) on the big screen back in 1980 (if I remember correctly) with about a hundred other kids my age in a local Stockton theater back when theaters had one giant screen and multiple isles of seating like an opera-house. It was like being in school when they showed science films except no adults were around to keep us in line, there were three times the number of kids and it was a freakin' Vincent Price horror movie in 3-D! What more could you want from a Saturday afternoon? In spite of the only real 3-D effect in the entire movie being the infamous paddle-ball scene, I was totally hooked. I’ve been a huge 3-D fan ever since and will gladly suffer through an anaglyph bootleg for a few cool 3-D moments. Even crappy movies are entertaining in 3-D, well at least only if the 3-D works properly (more on the 3-D killers in coming days). With modern circular polarization (as opposed to the linear polarization of the ‘80s), we’ve hit a new high in 3-D technology. No more color issues, no more ghosting, no more eye-strain and possibly headaches. The 3-D effects are crisp, clean and breath-taking when the film is made for 3-D projection, making dire swill like THE FINAL DESTINATION (2009) a total blast from beginning to end. How long with this boom period last? Well if the short-sighted studios don't screw it up again by doing stupid things like bad conversions, my fingers are crossed that the format will move into the mainstream and some of these older classics (and maybe not-so-classics) will be re-released in the new format. Of course with Universal finally releasing METALSTORM (1983), one of my favorite 3-D films ever, on DVD in a full-screen, bare-bones, 2-D edition, I don't have a whole hell of a lot of hope. Then again, Universal has never been either smart or cutting edge.







COMIN' AT YA! (1981)




3D Sexploitation Movie Posters

JAWS 3-D (1983) & THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE (1983)

A*P*E (1976)



PIRANHA 3D (2010)


SPIDERS (2000) vs. SPIDERS (2013)


BAIT (2012)




SECTOR 7 (2011)


The "Never Got Made" File #18: ESCAPE FROM BEYOND (1984)

We wind down our one week look at 3-D movies (which, naturally, ran for two weeks) with a sad glance at another "whatcouldbeen" flick. From 1981-83, 3-D looked like the gimmick that would keep on giving for filmmakers. Nobody could have seen (bah-dah-dah) how quickly 3-D would drop out of public favor. What cruel irony that Tony Anthony, one of the guys responsible for making 3-D popular again in the early '80s, couldn't get his 3rd feature made. COMIN' AT YA! had been a runaway (and unexpected) success. Anthony quickly re-teamed with producer Gene Quintano and director Ferdinando Baldi to make the highly enjoyable Indiana Jones riff TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS for Cannon films. Cannon was high on the project and 3-D so they planned a third 3-D feature with Anthony, despite TREASURE not performing at the box office. Behold ESCAPE FROM BEYOND!

Cannon announced the film in early 1983 and ran ads in the Variety and Hollywood Reporter. In October 1983, they ran a huge ad two page ad for the feature in Variety (above). Along with a projected 1984 release date, the film promised continuing Wonder-Vision 3-D and something called "The Flying Optical Frame"! Baldi was, once again, listed as the director and Reb Brown and Richard Lynch announced for the cast. Let that sink in a minute...Reb Brown...AND...Richard Lynch! No doubt Tony Anthony was going to be in the cast too.

Before any shooting took place, Anthony spoked with genre mag Cinefantastique in 1983 about the project. The film was to be shot on a budget of $5 million in Spain and Italy for a 1984 release. The film was originally described as a "space opera" but that idea what scrapped when SPACEHUNTER came out. As far as the plot goes, here is how Anthony described it:
"The story's roots are planted firmly in the pulps of the '30s: Spaceman Jimbojudd is an interplanetary bounty hunter who is accidentally thrown into a dimension where magic and madness are one and the same. Armed with his wits and a beautiful companion, he must survive a series of deadly encounters before his climactic battle with Cainem, an evil man with incredible powers."
So, yeah, that sounds like it could be badass. No doubt the spaceman would have been Reb Brown and Richard Lynch would have essayed the villain Cainem. I'd love to meet either guy and hear exactly how the production folded.

In addition to advertising in industry mags, Cannon also printed up a program filled with some preliminary artwork inside to sell it at film markets. Here are some pics of what was inside and, if this stuff looked half as cool as it does in art form, I think we would have had a pretty bitchin' 3-D movie. Alas, it was not meant to be and the film never got made.