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!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: PRAY FOR DEATH (1985)

Newton’s third law of motion states “to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction”. This may be a principle of physics, but I believe it also applies to the way humans are wired in general. What is the action movie cliché? They pushed him too far, now he’s going to push back! The same can be said of the film industry when controlled by censorship, and the film industry is fueled by the demands of the audience. If a child is allowed to have anything they want except ice cream, what is that child going to want more than anything else? Of course it’s going to be ice cream. Cinematically this was demonstrated in bold print by the Franco era in Spain. Here in the US, it’s the ‘80s.

The ‘80s started off with the Iran Hostage Crisis (technically November of ’79), setting a tense mindset for the decade. The “Action Movie” was invented as a release for some of the political tensions, the rise of terrorism, corporate oppression and even worse, drugs and sex turning from acceptable recreational pastimes into a deadly debilitating epidemic. Horror movies played the same role, releasing the tension and dealing with public fears, but the one thing the majority of the public was not afraid of, was something the minority was. So flipped out about all the things that were going on in the world, a few religious wingnuts, scrambling for an explanation, decided that art and entertainment were to blame for all of the world’s ills. Actually, this is nothing new, but in the ‘80s it reached a fever pitch. Filmmakers wanted to deliver more cathartic thrills, and Jack Valenti and the MPAA, feverishly worked to deny them.

Behind the scenes at the MPAA offices.

“But hey,” I hear you say, “isn’t censorship unconstitutional?” The answer is yes! To get around the fact that they were doing something unconstitutional Valenti and company stated that they were only providing a “voluntary” service that would rate the content of the films. Never mind that in order to get your movie shown or advertised, it had to have a rating. There was also a fee involved. Filmmakers had to submit the film, pay a fee based on a sliding scale determined by the film’s budget and receive some vague reports as to what they needed to remove from the film to obtain a specific rating. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the bigger your budget, the more connected you were and the more preferential your treatment. If you had a big budget movie like say ANGEL HEART (1987) were given specific instructions that allowed their films to get through with minimal submittals (excessive “buttock thrusts” during the sex scene, in case you were curious), and stuperstar movies like say, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984) could slide through with a PG rating after showing a man getting his heart ripped out of his chest. Smaller budgeted movies, such as the notorious HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986/1990) which was, like many other low-budget movies, given the cryptic reason that the “tone is too dark” for an R-rating. This requires edits based on the guesswork of the producers and costly resubmission, sometimes, as in the case of LEATHERFACE (1990), leading to re-shoots of scenes that were considered simply thematically offensive (a child setting off a contraption that kills someone is considered X-rated content).

Some of these movies that were heavily oppressed by the MPAA gained cult status simply because of this. The ‘80s had not only Jason Voorhees sending moral outrage throughout the minions of bible cults, but apparently 15th century covert operatives got their panties in a bunch too. While post-cert England has always been fussy about martial arts weapons in movies, we, the enlightened Americans, have never really had issues with that until Sam Firstenberg’s REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983) came along. Of course, few martial arts films made in the US were as bloody as REVENGE. Newton’s law kicks in here as well. Whenever a movie (not made by Spielberg) sets a precedent for violence, the MPAA will come down hard on those that follow. Ask any director of the FRIDAY THE 13th sequels and they will recount the nightmare of multiple submissions and indirect answers.

Following the success of REVENGE, Firstenberg toned down the violence in favor of supernatural hokum for NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984), and Emmet Alston took the reins for his jaw-droppingly fromage-laden espionage/jungle actioner NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985). 1985 also saw the last of Sho Kosugi’s proper ninja films, and the most notorious, PRAY FOR DEATH. Easily the most infamous ninja movie of all, Gordon Hessler decided to go back to the themes that made Sho a household name in the first place. A good man, who is secretly a ninja, wronged by the mob and out for bloody revenge. Worked great for REVENGE, right? At this point the MPAA had a bone to pick with Sho and they weren’t about to let him continue to damage the mental health of this great land, and maybe make a few extra shekels in the process.

Hessler decides that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Here Sho plays Akira Saito, a Japanese man who has descended from a long line of shinobi and secretly trains with his father. His wife Akia (Donna Kei Benz) talks him into moving his family to the violent land of America. Once there the old man who sells them the house, Sam (TV vet Parley Baer) tells him it’s a bad neighborhood and to keep their doors locked (I guess escrow already went through). So now you know shit’s gonna go down. For some reason the local mob uses the shed behind their new house as a drop point for stolen merchandise. After a dirty cop decides to steal a pricessless necklace instead of leaving it in the shed, the mobsters decide it’s time to crack some skulls! Their first suspect is Sam, who they catch on the way out of town. They decide that sorting through all of his stuff (which is all tied to his car) is too time consuming, so they simply beat him to death and set his car on fire. Hey now, these are the same guys who think that nothing is conspicuous at all about armed guys in suits stopping in a suburban neighborhood, and going into someone’s back yard to make illegal deals! This is actually one of the first cuts in the movie. In the edited version Limehouse Willie (James Booth in a slimy role that he wrote for himself) hits Sam's car with a crowbar, shouting “liar!” He then raises the crowbar to hit Sam, and we cut to Limehouse's henchmen dousing the car with gas. In the uncut version, Limehouse beats Sam repeatedly with the crowbar, shouting “liar!” with each hit, until one of his lackeys stops him, apparently feeling that it is acceptable to kill someone with a crowbar, but hitting them after they are already dead is an embarrassing breach of etiquette. I realize that beating ol' gramps to death with a blunt object isn't exactly a nice thing to do, but if movie mobsters only did things that would only be acceptable behavior in films such as, say PETE'S DRAGON (1977), there would be no need for the ninja to get revenge and thus no movie. Which is exactly what the MPAA wanted. And probably Leonard Maltin too.

Of course one thing leads to another, one of Saito’s kids (Shane Kosugi) is kidnapped, his wife and that same unlucky son are run down by a car, and finally the wife is assaulted and murdered in the hospital. Now Saito is going to “go back to the shadows” and enforce Newton’s third law. Oh yeah, time for some equal and opposite reaction, muthafuggas!

PRAY FOR DEATH really signaled the end of the violent ninja movies. Even Mats Helge toned down his RUSSIAN NINJA, the 1989 follow-up to his gory classic NINJA MISSION (1984). For one, Sho Kosugi wanted to pursue other types of projects and like Bruce Lee before him, there was really no-one else to fill his lethal footwear (though like Lee, that didn't stop anyone from trying). Also, the film had a brutal time making it through the MPAA’s meatgrinder. It was heavily edited and that cut version was distributed to almost all other markets. Even countries that normally only buy the unedited versions of films for distribution, such as Japan and Holland, for whatever reason ended up with the censored release. This has led to long speculation about the graphic content that it once held. It’s long been believed that there was some very extreme footage left on the cutting room floor that warranted an X-rating. Years back I finally got my hands on the long rumored uncut version of DEATH WISH II (1982), and that film had some footage that understandably caused some sphincter clenching in the MPAA’s screening room. It has long been thought that PRAY FOR DEATH ran along the same lines. I’m here to tell ya, it ain’t so. If anything, PRAY FOR DEATH is the epitome of the MPAA’s total lack of objectivity and extreme hypocrisy in the ‘80s.

The basic cruxt of the movie is a back and forth between the mob’s main lackey, Limehouse and Saito. After Saito goes to the docks to meet with Limehouse to get his son back, Saito is shackled and Limehouse uses a balisong to slice Saito’s chest. In the cut version we see Limehouse over Saito’s shoulder doing the cutting, there is a few reaction shots from both and then a shot of a line of blood across Saito’s chest drawn by the knife. In the uncut print, there is a shot of the knife starting to cut into Saito’s chest before the reaction shots. Apparently two shots of a knife drawing a line of blood across someone’s chest is X-rated! Later there is a shot of Limehouse slashing his own forearm with the balisong to get into the hospital where Saito’s wife and son are. There is no prosthetic effect in either of these shots, simply the old trick of having a tube on the opposite side of the blade that pushes a bit of blood out as the dull knife is moved across the skin. Oldest trick in the book and apparently… X-rated!

Once Limehouse is in the hospital he heads to Aiko Saito’s room where it has often been rumored a major edit occurs. In fact, this is true. Almost the entire scene is missing from the cut version. Limehouse enters the room slams a strip of gauze over Aiko’s mouth and then a big clumsy cut to the cops and the detective in the hospital. It has often been speculated that the scene was a graphic rape, complete with genital mutilation. This is only partially true. In the uncut scene, Limehouse savagely beats Aiko with a closed fist three times, rips her top open and lifts one of her legs up. We cut away to a police detective and a patrolman in the hallway, so if he does rape her, it is completely implied. We cut back and he’s making a grunting, stabbing motion and lifts a bloody pair of scissors. None of the stabbing is shown, but it could be taken as implied that he is stabbing her in the abdominal region. Either way, it is a rough scene, but X-rated? Hardly. So extreme that the entire scene had to be cut? Totally ridiculous, but the MPAA had an agenda, and they would not be denied.

The second of the two major cuts in the film is the scene where Limehouse machineguns dirty cop Joe Daley (Matthew Faison) in a supremely cheesy Italian restaurant (why are Mafioso types eating at a Fuzio’s type of place?). Limehouse is shown firing the gun, but the shot of Joe and his contact being peppered with lead is missing, as is the rest of the violence. After Limehouse presumably kills Joe, he shoots up the restaurant decorations, is shown nudging Joe's corpse with his shoe, spits on the floor and that’s it for the cut version. In the uncut version of the sequence, Limehouse guns down some of the diners hitting the restaurant decorations in the process and we see Joe’s body face-down on the floor. Limehouse uses his foot to turn him over showing him covered in blood, then Limehouse spits on his corpse. Yep, that’s X-rated too! But wait! It gets better. Limehouse hears some whimpering coming from behind the bar, so he walks over looks down at someone off camera and says “hey, what’s the matter? I ain’t gonna hurt you”, a quick insert shot of a girl standing up and then he fires two shots and we cut to a quick insert of the girl dropping out of frame. Not even a squib is present in this bit and the girl isn’t even in the same shot, but somehow, yes, this is X-rated material! Will pointed out something that I completely missed. This cut was undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction to the infamous McDonald's massacre of the Summer of 1984. The second largest one-day, single-person mass murder in recent US history, having that scene in a film mere months after the fact probably was a little too close to the bone. Regardless, it's not the responsibility of a supposedly objective ratings board to decide what the public, or in fact the world, is in the mood to see, but to rate the content of films to advise the movie-going public. A concept Valenti only gave lip-service to.

The rest of the missing footage is little bits here and there that add up to quite a bit. While in the hospital Limehouse is attacked by some cops and he fights them off with his fists and a pair of scissors. It’s hard to tell he’s even stabbing them with the scissors, except in the uncut print there is a shot of one of the cops on the floor with a pair of scissors sticking out of his chest. You got it… X-rated! When Saito kills Limehouse's boss with the folding super-shuriken thing, there is an extra shot of the door swinging open, showing that one of the spokes punched through the door and a patch of blood. During the climactic battle in the mannequin factory, Limehouse stabs Saito in the leg with a square dowel rod. In the cut version you see the rod going into Saito’s leg via forced perspective (it’s pretty clear that it’s going behind his leg). In the uncut version Limehouse gives it a couple of twists after sticking it in. Also there are several shots of the rod in the wound, an extra shot of it getting twisted in the wound and blood running out and a shot of the broken rod being pulled out of the wound. Is it violent? Well, yeah. But that's why we have an R-rating; to advise people that the content of the film might not be for the squeamish. Just in case the title PRAY FOR DEATH and the image of a ninja in body armor didn't deliver the message and you went into the theater expecting THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG (1975).

It’s easy to speculate on the missing footage from Limehouse’s final comeuppance, but there is no extra footage of him meeting his end in the saw blade. There is, however, a quick close-up shot of his bloodless hand impaled on the log and a shot of his leg being stabbed. The shot of his leg being stabbed is particularly surprising since it is simply a shot of a hand quickly stabbing a piece of black cloth, again, without any blood or effects whatsoever!

While the US never went through the insanity of England’s notorious “video nasty” era, we definitely had our own version of wildly inconsistent censorship that in hindsight seems even more absurd than it did at the time. Things like this make it even more grating to read the likes of Eli Roth whining about the MPAA, parroting the filmmakers of the ‘80s who could barely get their films rated R, even after cutting them to pieces.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Gweilo Dojo: THE INSTRUCTOR (1983)

“I'll get you. I’ll mangle you. You turd.”

If you immediately find joy in lines of dialogue like that, THE INSTRUCTOR is a film for you.  A relic from an era where white guys at a karate school could pool together enough money to make a film (aka the late 70s/early 80s), this is the kind of cinema we live for here at Video Junkie.  Is it cheaply made?  Yes.  Is it going to replace ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) as a martial arts classic? No.  Is it entertaining as hell?  Freakin’ A!

THE INSTRUCTOR opens with, naturally, The Instructor (Bob Chaney) jogging with his student Thumper (writer-producer-director Don Bendell).  They seem unaware that they are being followed by a ninja (who picks his nose) before running into some of their kid students at the park.  Meanwhile, a ragtag gang battles by some railroad tracks with swords and trash cans (I’m told that’s how they settle things in Ohio). After playing a bit of soccer with the kids, The Instructor and Thumper continue their jog, but head back because The Instructor has a bad feeling.  Turns out he was right as the ninja has attacked the kids.  But these kids use their masterful moves to knock the guy down and the ninja bolts.  Alas, a man must jog and our heroes keep going until they stumble upon the gang forcing this ninja geek to molest a woman from the gang named Cookie (Shirley Bendell, Don’s wife).  Or as Thumper so hilariously puts it: “Sir, look! That woman’s being raped!”  This leads to a big fight scene where Thumper gets KO’d and The Instructor takes out everyone.  Our heroes find out the ninja is a guy named Fender, who may or may not be mentally challenged, and he says he was following them as he wanted to learn Bud Hart’s moves. “Don’t confuse me with Bud Hart,” The Instructor sternly warns.

The Instructor & his hair!
So who the hell is this Bud guy?  Turns out he is the Bud Hart (Bob Saal), an asshole karate instructor from a rival school.  How much of an asshole is he?  He drinks beer and reads Playboy with his feet up on his desk while others train.  Oh yeah, he also raped and killed The Instructor’s wife Debbie.  The two groups get into a big scuffle at a banquet, but The Instructor’s cooler head prevails.  No doubt due to that insulation on his head he calls hair.  You see, he is a good guy and seems to harbor no ill will toward anyone, despite the fact that his wife was raped and killed by his former best friend. Bud is in cahoots with the local mob and is hired to rough up some union guys. In return, Bud asks the mob to send some boys to trash The Instructor’s school.  This involves them throwing some papers on the floor (the horror!) and attempting to rape The Instructor’s new love interest Dee (Lynday Scharnott).  Despite all of this recreational violence, the men still carry on a civil relationship and agree to meet at a big tournament.  This is where Fender really loses his cool.  Wanting some black belt glory, he steals Thumper’s trophy and, when confronted, beats Thumper to a pulp with it.  The Instructor immediately suspects hothead Bud and an insane 20 minute chase ensues all over Akron, Ohio.

The Instructor & his rage!
I’ve got Tom to thank for sending this movie my way.  I mistakenly sent him an email after getting 15 minutes into it and commenting on how amazing it was.  I should have waited until I finished it because nothing could prepare me for this film’s finale.  Seriously, this chase has to be seen to be believed.  They go from cars to motorcycles to a foot chase in what is seemingly a high-speed tour of Akron.  Not to mention these is one of the craziest car stunts I’ve ever seen on film in this movie.  They do the standard car flying through the bed of a semi bit, but manage to sneak a camera person into the bed of the truck, placing them mere feet from the action. Additionally, the car achieves some amazing air time. Seriously, look at the first 45 seconds of this clip.  I was dying because that car looks weightless and seems like it is just going to keep going into the sky like the end of GREASE (1978) or something.  No joke, this is insanely dangerous and insanely cool.

I seriously wish more movies featured chases like this.  Every film needs the battling combatants to fight at a waterfall then stumble upon a logger on his lunch break and have them incorporate his axe and chainsaw into their fight. Another amazing thing about this chase is the entire pursuit springs from one bad assumption (The Instructor thinking Bud beat up Thumper).  So essentially we have the wrong man being chased.  I assume the message is letting anger control you emotions can result in you doing bad things.  But The Instructor gets off with a $500 fine and suspended sentence in the end.  Classic stuff!  And don’t get me started on the Fender character.  That guy is hilarious.  Something is obviously wrong with him as when one of the young kids knocks him down in the opening, he responds by saying to one of the young boys, “Why you little SLUT!”  WHAT!?!  Later, when he is pondering stealing the trophy, he sees a girl he likes and he sits doe-eyed in front of her while his voiceover ponders the most outrageous things (“If I was a black belt she would like me. And if she did, I’d punch her in the face.”).  Here is his delivery of the incredible line I opened the review with:

Remember: Fender is watching you!
The marital arts also leave a lot to be desired, despite some legit talent in the cast.  There is lots of Lanky White Guy Fu on display that would make Christopher Mitchum envious. Anyone expecting something as cool as the cover featured above will be sorely disappointed.  The action depicted (guy kicking another guy on a motorcycle in his helmet) is basically in the film, but let’s just say there is world of difference between concept and execution.  But one has to remember this was shot in 1979/80 when things weren’t as refined as we expect today.  Believe it or not, early reports in Variety had famous karate instructor Ed Parker listed in the cast. Sadly, he eventually wasn’t in the film.  Bob Chaney is still in the martial arts business, having moved out to California where he runs his school. Don Bendell also stayed in the business when he moved out to Colorado.  He also became a prolific author.  Neither man has made a film since and that truly saddens us here at Video Junkie.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mondo Millard: THE TERRORISTS (1980?)

Watching movies late at night can be a completely different experience from watching them early on. When I was growing up, I found that the best movies were on late at night anyway. Well, at least “best” in my mind. No television station would ever dream of running their hacked-to-pieces print of BLACK SUNDAY (1960) during any hours when respectable individuals might flip past it and write letters of protest to the station. It seems more appropriate anyway. At night when your mind is more relaxed and ready to accept the unfathomable weirdness of your own mental cinema in sleep, movies about witches, giant mutations and even military investigations seem much more entertaining. Wait, military investigations? Yes, you heard me. Nick Millard’s inscrutable logic, incomprehensible plots and editing that appears to have been done via a rusty chipper-shredder, work much better in the wee hours of the morning. Trust me.

Opening with the line “Morgan has just come on duty” and the shotgunning of a schmoe in what appears to be a park-ranger uniform on a palm-tree filled street, Millard kicks off a plot of international terrorism, as only he can do. Morgan, as it turns out, was an American Army Corporal in Germany (uhhh, that sure looked like San Francisco!), and was the first victim in a strike against American military supplying arms to South American dictators. As we learn, the terrorist “organization” calling themselves Guerra del Pueblo, singled out Cpl Morgan as he was the son of a Congressman back in the states. So basically Millard wanted to make a movie about the, then, hot button issue of South American terrorism, but found himself in Germany, thus the scenario of the Congressman’s son. I am in awe.

Of course the US is up in arms about the whole affair and sends in uber hoden-zerschlagung investigator Captain James Luke (Millard regular Marland Proctor) from the US Army Criminal Investigations division to get to the bottom of the killings. Of course Luke has a bad reputation of leaving a trail of corpses in his wake and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of him, much less the CO of the Berlin base. Luke finds himself teamed up with Berlin’s “best” detective, Inspector Steger (Hans Grabinger), who is co-incidentally also known for leaving a trail of corpses in his wake, which causes his girlfriend to leave him at one point (one of many of Millard’s non-sequitur subplots). Steger is introduced in the act of “investigating” the shooting by going into an apartment building, climbing some stairs and knocking on the door of an elderly lady with coke-bottle glasses and saying “an American soldier was shot yesterday, did you see anything?” and simply walks away after she says no. Clearly the Berlin PD were having a little joke with the US Army, or are in desperate need of good recruits to balance out the stats!

As it turns out Guerra del Pueblo is Professor Karl (Millard himself), who teaches classes on foreign economics at a Berlin university. In his off time, he and his angry girlfriend plan on culminating their attack on America by assassinating the president who is visiting Berlin at the end of the week, and presumably will not identify himself as a German pastry. Actually, there are plenty of fumbling attempts to draw a parallel to that famous “Berliner” of the ‘60s, but Millard’s shotgun approach to scriptwriting ensures that they are never focused into a tangible plotline. Nor are the multitude of oddities that spring up around every corner. After Captain Luke is introduced, in his next scene he is suddenly wearing a black sling on his left arm. To explain this, local reporter Andrea Hueller (Irmgard Millard in another standout performance), who is supposed to be interviewing him about the killing, asks him how he lost the use of his left arm. Luke replies that it was in Seol and there was a large shipment of heroin on it's way to the United States. Just as it seems like we are going to get some deep back story, Hueller switches gears into a new line of questioning. They also quickly throw out the information that Luke "had no part" in Vietnam. Wait, what the hell is that supposed to mean?

Shot on 16mm, it feels like sort of a poor man’s Lindsey Shonteff, except Millard plays everything with deadly gravitas. The terrorist organization is actually just a couple, and no, that’s not a typo it isn’t Guerreros del Pueblo, which would make sense, but Guerra del Pueblo. Of course coming to a Nick Millard film expecting everything to make sense is a losing gambit. At one point Captain Luke and Inspector Steger hit the town to go bar hopping, abruptly the film cuts to a ‘70s stag loop of a girl in front of a curtain doing a strip routine, with no sound except for some sax music, faint sounds of heavy breathing and occasional grunting from the camera operator! The loop goes on for so long (six minutes!), there was a point where I thought I that maybe I fell asleep during that last blink and woke up to stag reel at the end of the movie. The film then cuts back to a shot of a bar and we are left to make the conclusion that Luke and Steger were enjoying a show. Psssshh! Segues are for the weak!

This film in particular showcases Millard’s, uhhhh… “style”. The camera never moves, it’s permanently on close up or mid, and Millard only knows one editing technique, the jump cut. This gives us scenes that cut back and forth between talking heads, more talking heads, and people firing pistols that never run out of bullets until after they’ve already fired twenty rounds. Be it from a six-chamber revolver (that inexplicably is shown loaded with five bullets) or from a double-barrel, side-by-side shotgun, nobody reloads until the end of the firefight. It feels like Millard shot these pick-ups to show that he was paying attention, but then forgot where to insert them during the editing process. In fact Millard is simply using them as a convenient way to end a gun fight when one of the shooters reloads just a bit faster than the other one. Millard is also a fan of the time tested device copped straight out of western where one of the shooters makes a risky move that either pays off or is fatal. This sequence is a shining example of Millard’s style of shoot-out. Will put it best when he said that it reminded him of a sight-gag from an episode of The Naked Gun.

There are more things inane and insane packed into the scant 57 minute running time than most no-budgeters could ever dream of. Your sense of time becomes completely distorted with segments of improperly framed talking heads cutting back and forth that feel like they are going on way too long juxtaposed with his action scenes that hyperactively cut back and forth between people firing guns that feels way too short. This in addition to Millard’s usual leaden acting (Irmgard Millard playing Proctor’s love interest!) and some of his bizarre framing choices really make this verge on a surreal experience.

I actually enjoy Millard’s “action” films more than his horror films. Everybody does no-budget slasher flicks, particularly after the SOV era became a reality. There’s a landfill’s worth of ineptly made, no-budget, back yard serial killer flicks, but not a lot of these budding auteurs try to make action thrillers. Action thrillers with a grand scope and a budget slightly smaller than their last tax rebate after restocking the liquor cabinet. Nick is that visionary.

Nick Millard hates chins

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mondo Millard: DEATH NURSE (1987) and DEATH NURSE 2 (1988)

Since we just reviewed Nick Millard’s DOCTOR BLOODBATH (1987), it seems only appropriate to tackle his DEATH NURSE series.  Shot around the same time with the same cast and crew, this two film series brought back Priscilla Alden.  Alden is best remembered as Ethel from CRIMINALLY INSANE (aka CRAZY FAT ETHEL), perhaps Millard’s best horror film.  By far the most professional thespian to grace Millard’s cinematic assaults, Alden had returned for CRIMINALLY INSANE 2 (1987) and then went on to this double feature of dreck that can be seen in some ways as a quasi-continuation of the CRIMINALLY INSANE series.

Welcome to Shady Palms Clinic where you’re in good hands with Dr. Gordon Mortley (Albert Eskinazi) and his sister nurse Edith (Alden).  Well, that is if you trust mentally unbalanced individuals to handle your healthcare needs (sounds like US healthcare alright).  You see, our deranged duo has a racquet going on where they kill their patients, feed them to the rats in the basement (stock footage once again), and then bill the insurance companies for extended stays.  Yeah, they put the shady in Shady Palms.  Of course, all this killing isn’t for naught.  Dr. Mortley is just refining his craft on various surgeries.  Don’t pay attention to their fact that he is actually a veterinarian and his sister flunked out of nursing school.  They actually do house a patient they don’t kill in alcoholic Louise (Irmgard Millard), mostly because Dr. Gordon likes her and keeps giving her alcohol even though she is trying to detox.  

The proper way to watch DEATH NURSE
As Burke & Hare demonstrated before, all this killing ain’t easy and it takes a toll on the sadistic siblings.  Gordon is becoming increasingly tired of dragging folks down to the basement and Edith spends a lot of the film sleeping on the couch and having nightmares (of old Millard features, naturally).  More trouble arises when social worker Faith Chandler (Frances Millard, Nick’s mom) drops off a tuberculosis patient, Mr. Davis (Millard himself), and then starts getting all nosy and wanting to see him again after he has been killed.  This requires a WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S (1989) set-up where they have the corpse laying in bed waving.  More trouble arrives when health inspector Mr. Smith shows up about rat problem and says he will have to close them down. That’s a butcher knife in the gut for you, Mr. Smith. Then Mrs. Chandler brings another new patient to the clinic – herself!  Seems she was so impressed with their care that she decides to check in for a few days for no reason.  Yup, that’s a stabbing for you too, Mrs. Chandler.  Louise sees this killing and you know what that gets her?  A stabbing with a big ol’ needle.  Finally, the uncle of one of the victims shows up and he is a cop.  He gets suspicious by the funky smell outside and opens the garage door. The film ends with him pounding on the door, demanding to be let in.  Dramatic cliffhanger!

Well, I won’t leave you in suspense and will jump right into my DEATH NURSE 2 (1988) review.  The cop pounds on the door demanding to be let in after his horrible discovery in the basement (we’re never shown what he saw) and Edith opens it and stabs him with a big butcher knife. Well, this is what happens but Millard does it in his own unique way: the sequel opens with the guy being killed, repeats the footage from part one of him walking down to the basement and then cuts back to him being killed again.  You’ll figure out this was supposed to be a flashback during his death, but Millard can’t be bothered with silly stuff like editing transitions to actually indicate this is something that happened previously. 

Business is picking up once again at Shady Palms as John Sawyer, the replacement of now-dead Mrs. Chandler, calls them up and wants to place homeless bag lady Brownie (Irmgard Millard again!) in their institution. According to Sawyer “the merchants have been complaining to the Mayor” about her.  Ha!  Like San Francisco only has one homeless bag lady walking around and the Mayor personally handles the case.  Anyway, Brownie shows up and proves to be on the same level as her caretakers as she whips out a butcher knife and chases Edith in circles around a coffee table with it.  The nurse subdues Brownie with the promise of some
In this corner: Brownie & the butcher knife!
sherry, but stabs her when she goes for a drink.  Gordon drags her to the basement and all is good.  Well, except Brownie is one hardened hobo and ain’t dead!  She crawls up from the basement and stabs Gordon before Edith finally finishes her off.  This move makes Albert Eskinazi the luckiest “actor” ever as from this point on all he does is lay in bed.

Mr. Sawyer brings more business Shady Palms’ way when he drops off political powder keg Mischa (played by the guy who was the Polish poet in DOCTOR BLOODBATH). “He thinks taxes should be totally abolished. Thinks the whole country is headed toward socialism,” Sawyer warns.  Holy crap!  Did I just enter some kind of Fox News time warp?  Anyway, his blathering about “capitalism is good” will only get him one thing in San Francisco.  That’s right – a meat cleaver
to the throat.
And in this corner: Edith & the meat cleaver!
Damn, Edith is sure feeding the rats well.  Of course, Edith gets a big surprise when there is a knock on door and she opens it to see Mrs. Faith Chandler stand there alive and well.  Cue non-transition to Faith being killed in part one.  But this isn’t Faith, it is her twin sister Charity Chandler (Frances Millard again) who is looking for her missing sister.  This old lady is so worried about her sister that she visits Sgt. Gallagher (Nick Millard again!) and even does her own old lady stakeout.  When she breaks into the house, she discovers her dead sister in the basement and you know what that gets her?  A stabbing!  Around the same time, Gallagher shows up with a search warrant because rats have dragged human remains onto the street. Edith knows the game is up and she plops down on the couch while Gordon lies in bed upstairs.  The end!

Edith or Ethel? You can have both!
I honestly had no intention of watching or reviewing both of these.  But after viewing one Nick Millard film, you can feel his influence seep into your body, grab your brainstem and not let go until you acquiesce and watch another film of his.  He truly has that kind of power.  To tell the truth, these two 1-hour features probably add up to about an 80 minute movie if you remove all of the scenes of Edith laying on the couch and having nightmares.  Millard once again tries to get as much mileage out of his old film footage and recycles the major death scenes from CRIMNALLY INSANE in both of these films. This creates an interesting scenario for the viewer because – if they are so inclined – they can see these films as a continuation of Ethel’s exploits.  For the less Millard inclined (aka smart people), CRIMINALLY INSANE 2 ended with Ethel taking over the Bartholomew halfway house (again played by Millard's pink San Francisco abode).  Who’s to say she didn’t change her name, pretend to be a nurse, recruit her crazy brother and then open the clinic here.  I’m going to go with that theory because, frankly, that is all these films have in order to be interesting.                 

Can you believe this house is in San Francisco?
Like all of Millard’s shot-on-video efforts from the 1980s, these are both an assault on the senses.  The editing is a mess and, as mentioned earlier, you have to figure out on your own when they are going back to flashbacks.  The video-matography is horrid and Millard becomes addicted to the zoom like Jess Franco (tip: if the camera zooms in on Edith’s face, someone’s gonna die).   Once again, the Millard household is the setting for a majority of the production.  I’m pretty sure I have the layout of this house down.  The Millard band of players is also all on hand and it is hilarious watching these back-to-back to see the people killed in part one show up in part two in new roles.  No joke, that is what my friend and I used to do as kids when we made movies – put on a hat and boom, you’re a new character!  Alden, who passed away in 2007, is actually way too good an actress to be stuck in stuff like this.  She has the maniacal laugh down perfect and it is a shame it was never used in more professional productions.  I guess Millard must be a heckuva nice guy in order to get her for these new movies, cuz I know he ain’t paying scale.  Perhaps the most terrifying thing about these films is the scene where Millard has his own mother - who produced these films (and later became a pornstar at age 83, no joke) - wandering around in a nightie.

Mama Millard reacts in horror to, uh, herself:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mondo Millard: DOCTOR BLOODBATH (1987)

We previously touched upon the chaotic cinematic career of director Nick Millard with SATAN’S BLACK WEDDING (1974).  Even if the man made some truly awful movies, we could always find solace that they were shot on film. So what happens when you remove that tiny aesthetic veneer?  You get something like DOCTOR BLOODBATH.  Yup in the 1980s Millard made the switch to video and proceeded to show the world that the only thing separating CRAZY FAT ETHEL (1975; aka CRIMINALLY INSANE) from BOARDINGHOUSE (1982) was a chemical visit to the darkroom.  It was a move that looked as if Millard stood tall and screamed “I can suck with the best of them” from the streets of San Francisco.

DOCTOR BLOODBATH lets you know right away how things are going to be by opening the credits with the onscreen title BUTCHER KNIFE.  Screw matching the title on the box!  And these aren’t just any old credits, no sir.  Millard reuses the blood smearing credits from ETHEL, even though no one listed in that film is in this film.  The film proper begins with Dr. Roger Thorn (Albert Eskinazi) arriving at the house of a young woman to tell her there has been a complication in her post-abortion tests.  “I didn’t know you made any tests,” she says before letting him inject her, making her obviously not the smartest girl in the world.  She faints, he takes her upstairs into the bathtub, he walks downstairs to get a knife, he walks back upstairs and then he stabs her to death.  Doctor Bloodbath certainly lives up to his name.

Later he arrives home to catch his wife Claire (Irmgard Millard; hey, it rhymes!) just before she leaves for the Garden Club Awards Banquet.  But this crafty chick is actually cheating on him with a Polish poet who lives in downtown San Francisco in a one room apartment.  Wow, talk about trading up.  We’re not quite sure if the good doctor knows this, but he doesn’t really have the time to care because he is busy killing off all of his old abortion patients.  He kills a girl with a meat cleaver, he kills a girl with a screwdriver, and he kills a girl with a hammer.  The cop on the case somehow knows this is all the work of the same guy.  “It’s him. This guy just used a different weapon this time,” he says with perceptive authority.  We also see Thorn perform an abortion where he hallucinates that he is stabbing a bloody baby doll with his butcher knife.  Man, this is some deep stuff.  Things take another dramatic turn when Claire finds out she is pregnant and her lover wants nothing to do with her (“that dirty, rotten no good Pollack” she says) and she asks her husband for an abortion.  He obliges and then kills her in bed the next morning. He then kills the maid (footage from SATAN’S BLACK WEDDING) and then calls the police to confess.  We then get shots of Thorn in a mental asylum.  The end.

And the winner for best supporting unibrow is...
Goddang!  This is the kind of film that defines our tag cinemasochism.  Running just 57 minutes, it felt like it was going on for days.  Like Millard’s shot-on-video CRIMINALLY INSANE 2 (1987), this is about as ugly a film as you can get. No joke, I made better looking videos as a teen.  You get wind whipping the microphone with fervor; there is no music during 99% of the movie; you get choppy editing; the color balance is so off that the blood appears black sometimes; and you get “cinematography” that seems to point out every single flaw on the actors’ faces.  Seriously, lead Eskinazi’s hair between his eyebrows should get a co-starring credit. Even more bizarre is Millard reusing old footage from his other films for the most random stuff.  For example, he uses one shot of a detective from an earlier film just to have a guy say, “We’re all done down here.”  He even tries to wedge Priscilla “Ethel” Alden in crazy house climax by putting in footage from the end of CRAZY FAT ETHEL.  The fact that these inserts were shot on film makes their inclusion stand out even more.  If I were an academic type, I’d theorize Millard is getting all Meta on us.  Alas, I’m just a Vidoe Junkie and know he is one cheap mofo.

Despite the lack of any sort of production values, the film did hold my attention for the simple fact that we once again get to see more of Millard’s troupe in action and visit the Millard’s impressive San Francisco abode.  Eskinazi will be instantly familiar to fans of Millard’s action flicks (he was one of the hitmen in .357 MAGNUM [1977] and the teacher/terrorist in THE TERRORISTS [197?]).  And Millard’s own wife Irmgard was also the female reporter in his one-hour action epic THE TERRORISTS.  Here is the truly amazing scene where she reveals to her lover that she is pregnant.

Fans of Millard’s films will also recognize the interiors of his house that he has used over and over and over in his career.  Hell, the first murder shows Dr. Thorn walking up the stairs past that familiar rug thing hanging on the wall. Then he drives to his own home and his wife comes down the exact same stairs.  Even funnier to me was a nurse walking into a room that is supposed to be the doctor’s office and I spot the bullet holes in the door from his magnum opus .357 MAGNUM (1977).  Classic!  Like the interior of his home, Millard doesn’t seem to have changed much as we jump from one decade to the next.  I’m willing to bet those filled in bullet holes are still there and for that, I love him.



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Listomania!: Thomas' January 2012 Viewings

Oh crap, it's over a week into the new month and I'm already slackin'! I'll follow Will's less-is-more lead and give you four meatier reviews. Didn't we start out with ten? Next month we should be down to two.

THE STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940): An ambitious investigative journalist, Mike Ward (John McGuire), helps send a down-on-his-luck drifter (Elisha Cook Jr) to the chair for the murder of a diner owner. Never mind that there isn't a shred of evidence and never mind that Ward is furthering his career by writing up the story in unobjective prose. Gradually Ward starts suspecting that he sent an innocent man to the chair and a stranger with a white scarf (Peter Lorre) is the actual killer. Often cited as the first film-noir, this low-rent B title was shot on the quick by RKO, due to the fact that they had Lorre on contract for another two days (stories like that just warm the cockles of my cynical heart). Clearly writer Frank Partos (who was nominated for an Oscar for the 1951 thriller HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL) was aiming for a scathing condemnation of shoddy, unethical journalism and an unreliable justice system. Some of it works, some of it doesn't and most of its faults are due to the quickie production. Writer-turned-director Boris Ingster goes hog-wild with surrealist and expressionist influences during the impressive nightmare sequence, but McGuire's over-the-top scenery-chewing in every single scene really lets this one down. Worth seeing for noir and Lorre fans, but there is a reason this has been hard to get a hold of for so many decades.

TERMINATOR WOMAN (1993): Picture it. Videostore. 1990s. Jean-Claude Van Damme as far as the eye can see. Oh hey, there's a mess of Billy Blanks movies and Cynthia Rothrock for days... Yep, it's all about kickboxing flicks. Be it cyborgs (thank you Albert), secret tournaments, or a cop whose deadly weapons are not just his hands, but his feet too, you get some sort of martial arts that, right or wrong, was usually packaged as kickboxing. Karen Sheperd (not to be confused with Congresswoman Karen Shepherd) has always had a place in our martial arts shrine due to her amazing karate skills that were put to good use in great movies such as the Yuen Biao, Cynthia Rothrock classic ABOVE THE LAW (1986). Why she never broke out like Rothrock is a mystery. Amazing fighting skills plus knock-out looks? That should have translated to a series of ever-worsening DTV action flicks. Baffling, right? I think maybe this movie solves the mystery.

Two cops with a love/hate history that dates back to Jay (Jerry Trimble) having his pride handed to him by Julie (Karen Shepard) in a karate match (don't all great relationships start that way?) are grudgingly teamed up on an assignment to escort a drug-ring witness back to South Africa to pin-point a cache of gold.

Qissi's idea of showcasing Karen's killer kicks
En route, our two karate kops are attacked by the drug lord Alex (Michel Qissi). Alex manages to easily kidnap Julie (what does that say about Jay?), while trying to grab the witness and the gold for himself. Michel Qissi got his start in the filmworld by being Van Damme's training buddy from the old country. After working on Van Damme's movies, he finally has a chance to direct and co-star in his very own rock-bottom actioner. Too bad he doesn't have a freakin' clue how to direct a fight scene, because we didn't show up for the dialogue. Well, yeah, actually we kinda did do that, but hilarious dialogue is worthless without a good, four-limbed butt-whuppin'. It isn't so much that there are not enough action scenes, it's that they are really short, two punch affairs that are heavily edited to imply the fight instead of showing it to you. Instead of the intense choreography and wide shots of an old Jackie Chan or Corey Yuen, we get the choppy patchwork of a Jason Statham movie. No shakey-cam, though. Points in Qissi's favor there. Trimble gets a chance to shine, well, glimmer, maybe, but Karen Sheperd is sadly wasted here, though her under-cover uniform includes a black-spangly busier that is nothing short of arresting... Yeah, yeah, stop groaning.

HUMONGOUS (1982): Seems like this off-shoot of the backwoods/deformed killer subgenre struck a chord in a lot of people, not just me, as it has developed a bit of a following over the past few years. Opening with a surprisingly brutal sequence (particularly in its uncut form) in which a party on a remote island is disrupted when a drunken rape turns into a bloodbath when the victims dogs attack the rapist and literally tear him to shreds. Flash forward 40 years and a group of teens (of course!) are taking a boating trip that would take them past the site of the rape, the legendary Dog Island. After rescuing a man lost at sea (who delivers the obligatory warning), they run aground in the shallow reefs and are forced to investigate the creepy island and learn its dark secret. Back in the day this movie scared the livin' crap out of me, and it seems I was not alone on this one. Unlike so many of the similar films that would follow, it didn't have ethnically diverse teens who are all fun-lovin' kids desperately trying to connect with it's audience in a way that only people who are completely out of touch try to be. These kids have some serious issues and there is no token black guy to provide embarrassing comic relief. Director Paul Lynch (who had some success with a little film called PROM NIGHT in 1980) actually makes the most of his meager budget to provide a creepy atmosphere of isolation with minimal music and foley work. The characters mention that the island is too quiet, and it is. No chirping birds or sounds of life. Saves money and adds atmosphere! The ending sequences that take place in almost total darkness are very effective with snatches of light showing you just what you need to see to allow the creature to seem more horrifying than it no doubt would fully lit as today's test audiences would demand. It may not be quite as terrifying as it was back in the day, but there's a lot to like about this creepy little bastard.

DANGEROUS COPS (1987): The Japanese get a cut of the cheeseball '80s cop-comedy with this slick and incomprehensibly Japanese outing that even with subtitles, I can't figure out if it's a subversive satire or to be taken at face value as a "straight" action-comedy.
There are those that like to see homoerotic metaphors around every corner (someone once made the claim that the tag-line for John Carpenter's THE THING was homoerotic). I guess in some ways the buddy/cop movies of the '80s are easy targets for that sort of this sort of thought and it was up to the Japanese to take it one step further.

The first feature film based on an incredibly popular TV show, we have two, sharp-dressing, loose-cannon cops, Taka-yama (Hiroshi Tachi) and Oshita (Kyôhei Shibata), who have no luck with the ladies or the bad guys or their hot-tempered chief. After tearing up the city on a wild car chase, they find themselves investigating the murder of a scientist at a cancer-research lab. Apparently someone has stolen their research and now our cops must track down the villain. But they sure aren't going to make it easy on themselves.

Nobody does blackface like the Asians
I wonder who helped finance the film?
It doesn't take very long to get a lead and after another chase, the duo is confronted with a hostage situation and end up returning to the police station handcuffed together. This is where thing get weird. Instead of walking into the station, they tango into the station, complete with a rose in teeth and... a big dip complete with a big kiss. Ummmm... what the fuck am I watching? After this debacle they are quickly bounced around on various demeaning assignments, such as "masher" detail in which they must hang out in public restrooms, and yes before you ask, this includes a scene with a shocked and outraged matronly woman. Yep, that man-in-a-woman's-bathroom gag translates into any language. One bit involves them being on "hobo" detail, in which Oshita dresses up as a rastafari "hobo" and carries around a boombox. Nothing is funnier than being homeless! All the while they continue to try and chase down leads on the big case. Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying "what about all that homo stuff you were talking about?" Ok fine, when Taka is all depressed because the villain isn't falling for their plan, Oshita puts on a little one-man, song and dance number on a stage just for him. No, really. During a tense moment Taka is seen stroking the bowed head of the young rookie officer. Plus there is tons of other bits here and there that are just things that straight men would not do. Errr... not that there's anything wrong with that!

To be fair there are some fun moments in the film and some of the throwaway jokes are actually pretty funny. There's moments such as when Oshita, in his bright, black and yellow patterned shirt goes to a high-class bar in which the dress-code requires a tie. He is given a loaner, which is a red tie, and the pregnant pause and look on his face before pointing out that the tie would clash with his shirt is well played. So is the bit where Oshita goes to buy groceries for the safehouse where they are holding an accessory to the crime and ensures that he picks out the perfect white wine for dinner. Funny, but, hmmmmm... See what I mean?

The movie moves at a breakneck pace trying to cram in an entire season's worth of gags, action and pointless sub-plots in addition to laying on the '80s kistch with a trowel. While some stuff doesn't translate at all (a Japanese character printed on a fan is changed to a presumably bad word with a single piece of tape), director Yasuharu Hasebe throws enough stuff at the wall to ensure that something sticks and does it with oodles of hyper-stylized '80s sensibility.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Listomania!: William's Jumping January 2012 Viewings

Urgent telegram from VJ Headquarters reads: “Oh crap! –stop- It’s the 1st. –stop-.”  Damn, how did February sneak up on us like this?  Well, it did and somehow January flew away. Probably the plethora of movies I watched helped it in doing that as I took in 32 movies during the 31 days in the first month of the year.  That broke down to 25 DVD viewings, 4 streaming movies, 3 VHS movies and 0 theatrical screenings (a first).  One of my New Year’s Movie Resolutions has been to watch more stuff I haven’t seen before instead of revisits.  It is a conscious attempt to whittle down that ever growing collection of films on the dreaded “to be watched” list (hard with Tom shipping me tons of glorious DVD-Rs).  I guess I’m off to a good start as 27 of the 32 screenings were features I had never seen before. Below are a five of the new titles that stuck with me the most, for better or worse.

SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937) - Detectives Kelly (Hugh Herbert) and Dempsey (Allen Jenkins) inadvertently find themselves on the trail of criminal The Octopus when they rescue Vesta Vernoff (Marcia Ralston) in the middle of a rain storm. The trio end up at a lighthouse and are soon joined by 5 other folks drawn to this location. One of them The Octopus, who is hoping to get the formula to some sort of death ray. Oh, and there is also a real octopus that is snatching folks at random. I got the Warner Bros. Mystery set recently on my friend Marty's recommendation with the explicit instructions to watch this feature first because it is really out there and that is no lie. Running just under an hour, this is essentially a slapstick comedy to showcase Herbert's comedic talents, but there is so much oddball stuff going on here. You have a Captain Hook, who has a hook hand (naturally) and a fear of clocks; two loony cops who shoot at everything; an underdeveloped romance; inadvertent drug addiction; deep sea diving; and even an octopus that switches off lights with its tentacles. Believe it or not, it all makes sense in the end. One of the best things was a character transformation done via old school in-camera trickery that comes off incredibly well.  You can check it out here (obviously don’t click if you don’t want film spoilers):

ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION (1994) - Singer/stripper Delilah (Jessica Mark) is stalked by a creepy ex-mercenary (Jimmy Broome), who likes to leave severed fingers in her dressing room. Justifiably spooked, she hires private eye Brit Alwood (Charlie Spradling) for protection but that ends rather quickly when the psycho shows up in Brit's office minutes after the hiring and kills her. So it is up to Jo Alwood (Maria Ford), Brit's stepsister, to take on the job and stop this killer. Not only that, but she has to deal with sleazy mafia type and former adversary Sonny Luso (Bob McFarland), Delilah's funder who is upset she is too racy and wants her to be more "like Peggy Lee" (what!?!). 

I can't believe how long this B-movie masterpiece has eluded me. I don't want to oversell it, but this is about as perfect an exploitation film as you can get with director Charles Philip Moore (DEMON WIND) cramming in everything he could. Essentially a riff on 1992's popular THE BODYGUARD (and a remake of Moore's earlier BLACKBELT [1992], a BODYGUARD rip-off with Don "The Dragon" Wilson that went into production when news of Costner's vehicle hit and beat it to release by 6 months), the film ups the violence and nudity to insane levels. If a fight isn't happening on screen, most likely one of Delilah's nudity filled shows is. Moore reaches the pinnacle during a nighttime assassination attempt where Ford thwarts the goons with her kickboxing skills while clad only in a g-string. You read that right – naked kickboxing!  It is the type of thing you would expect from a HK production (ESCAPE FROM BROTHEL did it in 1992), but not readily seen in US stuff. The bloody shootouts (done in not-so-glorious slo-mo) also echo the HK style at the time. The production tried to get the Philippines to stand in for Hawaii but it doesn't work.

VICE RAID (1960) - Syndicate crime boss Malone (Brad Dexter) wants to get do-gooder vice cop Whitey Brandon (Richard Coogan) out of his hair so he sets up a rather intricate plot of framing him. Malone gets "model" Carol Hudson (Mamie Van Doren) to come into town and falsely claim that Brandon tried to extort her during a bust. Thankfully, the department is prone to believing the testimony of floozies over their most decorated cop and Brandon is fired. So he sets out to get his revenge and receives an unlikely ally in Carol after her teenage sister is raped by one of Malone's hoods. This was actually my first Van Doren film and I rather enjoyed it. She is definitely a looker and you can bet the soundtrack fills with swooning jazz when she enters the picture. She is also pretty decent as an actress. Also of note is Juli Reding, who has one scene early on as a "model" who is more than proud to show her magazine work to Brandon ("Close it up or you might catch cold.") Coogan, looking a bit like Robert Stack, is good in the lead, if a little stiff. Director Edward L. Cahn definitely won't be accused of doing anything inventive during the proceedings, although there is a nice dummy fall during the final shootout. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

THE POSSESSION OF NURSE SHERRI (1978) – Hard to believe we’ve been blogging for almost 2 years on bad movies and this is our first Al Adamson mention.  Al gives us his take of THE EXORCIST. A cult leader has a heart attack in the desert while performing a ritual to raise a follower from the dead and subsequently dies on the operating table at a local hospital. No big deal, he'll just turn into a glowing green blob and possess Nurse Sherri (Jill Jacobson) to get revenge on the doctors who he feels killed him. This is bad news for Sherri's lovelife as her boyfriend Peter (Geoffrey Land) was one of the docs. Peter notices the changes in Sherri and it seems only a blinded former NFL player with knowledge of voodoo (!) who is a patient can offer the way for two nurses (Marilyn Joi and Mary Kay Pass) to help release Sheri from this transcendental terror. If you are familiar with Adamson's work, you'll know what to expect here as this has lots of static shots that go on too long and flat acting. There is also one of the funniest and most random car chases when a drunken follower confronts Peter – who is oddly not intrigued by this man's story, despite knowing his girl is now possessed – in a parking garage. They then burst out onto the city streets and end up in the desert within minutes.  The poor follower survives having the roof of his car ripped off and leaps out just before it drives off a cliff and explodes (the film’s highlight).  The Shock-o-rama DVD offers an alternate version of the film title simply NURSE SHERRI and it is actually really interesting. It removes all of the drunken follower bits (including the car chase) from the POSSESSION version and replaces them with nude scenes.

BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS (1970) – It is even harder to believe that this is our first Andy Milligan mention on the blog.  Maybe we are still somewhat sane?  Here awful auteur Andy attempts to do the story of Sweeney Todd...with a budget of $50.  Ooof!  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (John Miranda) lets you know his business right away as he cuts a man's throat in the first three minutes (he pulls a towel over the victim's face and the guy reacts as if he is being pulled back, despite his attacker letting go at one point). Sweeney pockets the valuables and the rest goes into the meat pies of Mrs. Lovett (Jane Hilary). Things get complicated when good girl shop worker Johanna (Annabella Wood) wonders where her boyfriend disappeared to.

Good God!  Only Andy Milligan could drag down the exploitation material found in the Todd story. You know what the other adaptations of that Penny Dreadful were missing? How about looooong scenes of people talking and talking and talking. To be fair, there is about a minute of pretty good stuff in here, mostly coming from some meat cleaver attacks. Milligan recreates the 19th century about as well as I can waltz and I'm pretty sure one scene has a shot of a modern era heater in the back and light switches. Miranda's Sweeney looks like a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Bowzer from Sha Na Na, but he is, surprisingly, a decent actor. The rest of the cast is there, local theater English accents and all (believe it or not, he actually shot in England). Look for "fortnight" to be said twice within the first ten minutes.  This was only my second Milligan feature (I lost my Milligan virginity to the similar THE GHASTLY ONES) and I’m not sure if I want to go back for more.