Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Warriors Two" (1978) d/ Sammo Hung

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Sammo Hung Kam-Bo is probably just as important a name in martial arts cinema as anybody else you could think to mention. Being head of the Seven Little Fortunes Peking Opera group with Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao until he was sixteen, working with Shaw Brothers and Bruce Lee, starring, directing, and coordinating action sequences in countless movies dating back to 1977, and even being considered a pioneer in the Hong Kong New Wave of the eighties and crazy Jiang-Shi hopping vampire sub-genre of the era, there's few highs that this portly pugilist has yet to reach. Tonight's review is famous for it's technically authentic depiction of the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu, a close quarters fighting style reputed to be developed by a nun named Ng Mui and later made popular by one of Grandmaster Yip Man's students, a guy by the name of Bruce Lee. You may have heard of him. Wasssaaaaaah!!! Yeah, that bad motherfucker.

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"Forget you ever knew me as 'Beardy'. You must call me "Mustachey" now."
After a dramatic formal introduction to Master Tsang (Liang Chia Jen), who's the fourth expert in succession of the secret Wing Chun technique, and Cashier Wah (Casanova Wong), who, we're told, will be the fifth master of the style, we're introduced to a real sinister cunt named Mo (Feng Ko An), who's scheming to be elected mayor after having assassinated the current one, with the help of his cronies, Thunder (Tiger Yang), Master Yao (Dean Shek),  and Iron (Lee Hoi San), among others. Of course, standing in the way of Mo's future misuse of power is the well-respected Master Tsang and his pupils, which include Porky (Sammo Hung), who carries buckets of shit through the streets for a living, since he regularly gets cheated out of his wares. Wah overhears Mo's evil plans and unwittingly lets Master Yao in on his secret, earning him a near fatal beatdown at the hands and feet of Mo's henchmen, only to be saved by Porky in the nick of time. The stubborn Tsang takes Wah in as a pupil, and a lengthy, entertaining and informative training sequence is what follows.

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"This is the pressure point dummy. Down here, are the pressure point dummy's impressive genitals...", notes Master Tsang (Liang Chia Jen).
The aloof mayor is warned of the impending danger by Porky, but he laughs off the warning and is set upon in the forest by Mo's henchmen, despite the able Monkey style defense of his bodyguard (Liu Chia Yung), who also perishes in the end. Porky also hides news of Wah's mother's murder from him, but when Tsang himself is later ruthlessly cut down by Mo's assassins, they hand deliver the master's lifeless corpse to the school on a gurney, spurring on a large scale battle that Tsang's young proponents are ill-prepared for. Porky mixes up the names of their foes as mapped out in their revenge plans, but dispatches his spear-wielding opponent just the same, though his female classmate's butterfly swords are permanently negated by Mo's swordsmen. Meanwhile, Wah's victory flushes out Lord Mo, who removes his obviously fake old guy appliance, to reveal that he's really a young, gothy-looking Northern Mantis King who could probably use a V8. Insert obligatory rock 'em, sock 'em martial fight to the finish followed by freeze frame end title, right about here.

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"I get all like this when I try to chat up the sweeties!", confesses the mayor's bodyguard (Liu Chia Yung).
Casanova Wong was one of the best cinematic kickers ever (just watch his scene in Game of Death II/ Tower of Death (1981) to see what I mean),  and this movie only helped prove that his top half was also very good, indeed. Feng Ko An displays some serious Northern Mantis technique, as usual, and only some silly wire fu shenanigans in the final reel mar an otherwise excellent appearance from him. Liu Chia Yung is the middle brother of Liu Chia Liang, and his monkey sequence cameo is worthy of note here. Liang Chia Jen, or "Beardy" as he's come to be known, shines as the stoic martial instructor, sans beard, and has several amazing displays in this one. Then you've got Sammo Hung himself, directing, choreographing, acting, doing stunts, pulling off broad physical comedy, and also showing off some top shelf martial skills that fans of his movies have come to expect on a regular basis. This one's a classic all around, and if it's not on your shelves, you've got nobody to blame but yourselves. Four wops, and my strongest recommendation.

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"Movement number eighteen...praying mantis overindulges on strawberry preserves..."
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"El Buque Maldito" (1974) d/ Amando de Ossorio

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We really oughta check out another cult classic from Spanish director Amando de Ossorio as things heat up with August just around the corner, this time around,  the third in the "Blind Dead" series popularized by the eyeless, bloodsucking ghouls who share the name of the knighted order, of French origins,  protecting those on holy pilgrimage, dating back to the First Crusade, the Knights Templar. In the first two efforts, Tombs of the Blind Dead  (1971) and Return of the Evil Dead (1973), we saw the murderous hooded zombies drawn by sound terrorizing their hopeless mortal victims on Terra firma, in tonight's review, known alternately as The Ghost Galleon and Horror of the Zombies, the Templars take their atrocious acts out to sea. Genre regs Jack Taylor, Maria Perschy, and Barbara Rey are all on board for the mummified, mist-enshrouded, miniature model mayhem.

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"...but I don't wanna listen to Lightfoot records down in the hold!"
As Howard Tucker's (Jack Taylor) latest publicity stunt, two young Spanish models in bikinis are shipwrecked in a small boat in the middle of no-fucking-where-at-all. Their employer, Lillian (Maria Perschy) discloses the secret details to Noemi (Barbara Rey), also a model and one of the stranded girl's roommate/lover, to boot, so she's extra sassy about her little darlin' being returned safely to her. Meanwhile, a strange regional phenomenon occurs when our floating heroines are suddenly surrounded by humid climate, and a thick fog which conceals an otherworldly galleon ("It's only a model." "Shhh."), which they naturally decide to explore in their bikinis, one at a time. Of course, below deck, there are six or so wooden sarcophagi containing about a dozen Knights Templar (like clowns in a Volkswagen) who slowly rise when the sun sets and methodically surround the inquisitive bits of Spanish crumpet, killing them violently, eventually.

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"I don't know, the bunny from Donnie Darko? I'm terrible at shadow puppets!"
Tucker vows to find his missing models, after letting one of his henchmen kidnap and rape Noemi, all of which Lillian doesn't seem to have much of a problem with, as she joins Howard, Sergio, Noemi, and a schizo-professor named Gruber, who at first,  insists that the girls will never return, then later jumps at the opportunity to do the exact same thing, as they all embark by boat to the area where the girls were last heard from (judging by the apparent size of the miniature galleon, I'm guessing somewhere in an Alicante bathtub). The search party finds what its looking for, and after boarding the galleon, Noemi gets screamingly parted out by the hooded ghouls while the others stumble upon the Templars' amassed riches in a hidden room below deck. After fending the eyeless Knights off with a burning cross and hokey exorcism cantation from the professor (lucky he had that memorized, eh wot), the men toss the caskets overboard, and float off on a plank of wood while the whole enchilada goes up in flames, which engulf the professor, still aboard. Sergio gets neck-shanked in an aqua-ruck, leaving only Lillian and Howard to wash ashore, exhausted, in the end. But then there's those pesky Templars, resilient as all Hell...

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This might not be very scary, but you have to admit, it is pretty metal.
de Ossorio would follow this one up with La noche de los brujos / The Night of the Sorcerers (1974) and 1975's The Possessed before revisiting the Knights Templar for the fourth installment, Night of the Seagulls (1975). Perschy's genre credits during the seventies were many, appearing in such fare as House of Psychotic Women (1975), Exorcismo (1975), and El jorobado de la morgue (1973), all opposite Spanish lycanthrope extraordinaire,  Paul Naschy. The same goes for Taylor, who appeared in things like Franco's Female Vampire (1973),  Leon Klimovsky's Vampire's Night Orgy (1974), and Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Rest in Pieces, later in his career, in 1987. Tonight's review has enough atmosphere and vintage horror feel to muster up a pair of Wops on the scale. Check it out.

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"We've got these cool (After) Life Alert bracelets. See?"
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

"Thumb Tripping" (1972) d/ Quentin Masters

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Here's a lost counterculture gem from the guy who would later bring you the Joan Collins-fest, The Stud (1978)(a cinematic streeetch for Joanie, it were, playing slappers n' all), about hitchhikin' hippies, such a popular exploitation film subject back in the seventies, i.e. The Hitchhikers (1972), Teenage Hitchhikers (1975), Hitch Hike to Hell (1977), and even Autostop rosso sangue (1977), whose U.S. release title was, of course,  Hitch Hike. Tonight's review borrows less from films of that ilk, though, and more from Joe(1970) or Easy Rider (1968), a non-judgmental time capsule of the era starring the likes of Meg Foster, Michael Burns, Marianna Hill, and, as you may have guessed from the interesting one sheet art above, the one and only Bruce Dern.

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"Shoplifting turns me off, maaaaan.", exclaims Gary (Michael Burns) the good hippie.
After getting dumped in a more hippie conducive area for loitering on the Cali beach by the local fuzz, Gary (Michael Burns), a collegiate ride thumber on hippie-hiatus, meets Chay (Meg Foster), a party girl with eyes that could chill a glass of Kentucky bourbon, and they decide to hitch hike together, vowing to accept every possible ride along the way. Gary scolds Chay for shoplifting, and they eat bread in the grass together.  Smitty (Bruce Dern) and his aptly-monnikered driver, Simp (Larry Hankin), make them regret their promise early on, speeding recklessly along, hogging the road in their yellow hot rod, while Smitty rambles wild-eyed, playing with his switchblade. Things get worse when they're picked up by an angry, abusive mother (Joyce Van Patten) whose own teenage daughter flew the coop to Hippie-ville on her. They parts ways after Chay lays the moral skitz on her, and they're soon picked up by a bennie-popping trucker named Diesel (Michael Conrad) who offers Gary fifteen bucks to pop Chay in the slice, while she hippie-grooves by the jukebox, turned on by the older guy's grasp on life, herself.

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"You're in no position to laugh at my satin baseball jacket. I've got a switchblade, and I will use it. I will. I WILL."
Gary's objectification of Chay and phony moral high ground amount to naught in the end, as Diesel locks him in the back of the eighteen-wheeler over night, helplessly forced to squash leftover oranges in jealousy over the sounds of his "girlfriend" locating her G spot's twenty with her horny good buddy. After a brief spat, they're given a lift by a young married couple in a convertible, Jack (Burke Byrnes) being the obligatory testosterone-n-booze fueled working stiff, and Lynn (Marianna Hill), a bubbly, busty blonde who knows how to pass a fella a can of beer as he's speeding down the highway in broad daylight. As a result of their reckless only-in-the-seventies asphalt sauce up, the men swap partners while drunkenly cooling off in a lake. Too much vodka leads the girls to stumble into a bar packed with yokels, making an embarrassing spectacle of themselves and leading to their eventual violent "don'tcha come back now, y'hear?" expulsion from the establishment, after a jealous, juiced up Jack gets roughed up in the process. Gary drives them home, and the young hitchers adventure ends, as they part ways as friends.

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"You kids ever drink vodka from the bottle while driving down the highway in a convertible in broad daylight before?"
Michael Burns enjoyed a long career of television roles, before and after this effort. Recently, Meg Foster showed up in Rob Zombie's Lords of Salem (2012), a movie I have yet to see. Her eyes are unforgettable. Burke Byrnes later turned up in made-for-tv The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977) and Prophecy (1979), and even later in Witchboard (1986) and Child's Play 3 (1991). Mike Conrad you may or may not remember as Sgt. Esterhaus on long running television series, Hill Street Blues, while Hill would later show up in genre efforts like Blood Beach (1980) and Schizoid (1980). If you can track down a copy, you'll appreciate it, especially for Dern's scene, another quality mental case performance to add to his resume. On the scale, Tripping scores a pair of Wops, worth a look.

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Awwwww. What an adorable little freeloader.
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Friday, July 18, 2014

"Rituals" (1976) d/ Peter Carter

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Just when you thought it was safe to tuck the entire mutant redneck sub-genre off to sleep for twenty years or more (I'd be cool with "or more" by now), along comes this grimy little early survival horror entry from our pals in the Great White North, reminiscent at times of Boorman's Deliverance (1972), and Lieberman's Just Before Dawn (1982), which came over a half decade later, but I happened to see prior to tonight's review, also released ten minutes shorter, as The Creeper in 1977. Hal Holbrook of  The Fog (1980) et al, takes center stage here, along with the film's producer, Lawrence Dane, though the real star of the picture is the dense-then-desolate Ontario landscape, intensifying the harrowing feeling of isolation that steadily grows amid the main protagonists throughout, in this obscure Canadian shocker.

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"Who's Jeffrey Dahmer and why is he throwing us a 'Stag Party' ?"
We're introduced to five doctors as they embark on their yearly vacation, backpacking fifteen miles into the wilds of Canada this time around, with a destination called the "Cauldron of the Moon" by local Indians, as the optimum fishing spot for six days free from humanity, before they're picked up by the plane that dropped them off. Almost instantly, things go wrong, as all five men's hiking boots are lifted right under their noses from their campsite on the first night. D.J. (Gary Reineke) volunteers to hike off in the direction of a hydroelectric dam up river, to find help, while the others are left to bicker among themselves, smoke pot, fondle blow up dolls, and drink excessively. Except someone or something has left a stag's headpiece, freshly skewered on a bloody stake, as a grim memento. The remaining campers, shaken up by the experience, decide to follow D.J. towards the dam, but  someone hurls an enormous beehive bursting with angry bees at the men like a shrapnel grenade, killing Abel (Ken James) in the process, before the treacherous foam of the rushing rapids hides crippling bear traps, which leave Martin (Robin Gammell), D.J.'s gay brother, unable to even stand on his own.

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"I'm only on the edge of my seat because I've been crucified to it..."
Forced to stretcher a burdensome and steadily worsening Martin through impassable forest and a rocky waterfall, Harry (Hal Holbrook), a Korean war vet who cut off his alcoholic father, and Mitzi (Lawrence Dane), are driven past the point of breaking, snapping at each other, as they stumble upon Abel's head on a stake in the same manner as the stag, with x-rays dated from the World War II era attached to it. The doctors surmise that whoever is responsible for their predicament is exacting vengeance upon them for what terrible maltreatment they've suffered at the hands of other doctors in the past. Soon the overgrown forest becomes a burned out, post-apocalyptic landscape, with sheer rock faces set against a dreary sky. The men come upon the dam, which has long since been abandoned, looking as though it had been bombed out during the war. D.J.'s battered body, barely clinging to life, and impaled to a chair, is also discovered, and Harry is forced to put the dying man out of his lingering misery with hands that are accustomed to saving, not taking lives. On a far off plateau, the silhouette of a man is seen, watching intently...

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Tune in next week on "Fucked Dynasty" when Cousin Zeke will show us how a burst roadkill 'possum can feed twenty-five of your nearest and dearest kinfolk...
Peter Carter you may remember as the director behind The Intruder Within (1981), an Alien-inspired made-for-tv ripoff. He's truly inspired here, with some exemplary use of atmosphere, cinematography, soundtrack, and solid acting performances from the cast to whip together a slightly disturbing, though mostly bloodless and altogether boobless ride (you're only kidding yourself if you're expecting a gore-drenched bloodbath from a Canadian film made in 1976), rendered obscure by poor distribution (maddest props to the folks over at Code Red for the definitive dvd restoration and release, to date) , that's sure to satisfy genre fans looking for something that's different, yet the same... much like Cheech and Chong's band uniform concepts, I guess. To me, the whole experience was excellent, indeed, genre movies the way they used to make 'em. Three wops, and a strong recommendation. See it!

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...followed by Wicker Man, M.D., check your listings for details.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Hand" (1981) d/ Oliver Stone

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Long before Tom Cruise sat in a wheelchair wearing a crepe wool mustache in front of his lens, Oliver Stone was cutting his cinematic teefs on genre films, like tonight's entry, a psychological thriller that bases its terror off of the concept of the homicidal runaway right mitt of one Michael Caine. Were this one produced in the sixties, much fear would generate itself within the hearts of vodka bottles, everywhere. As far as Michael goes, his appearance is merely one in a string of movies (The Swarm, The Island, Jaws: The Revenge, etc.) he made simply for the paycheck, after Jon Voight, Christopher Walken, and Dustin Hoffman all turned the role down, with his earnings used to put a down payment on a new garage. Also aboard, possibly to finance new home renovations, are the likes of Andrea Marcovicci, Annie McEnroe, Bruce McGill, and Viveca Lindfors.

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Quick thinking, damming up that arterial spray with your face, baby.
Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) is a professional cartoonist (his meal ticket is a Conan rip-off named "Mandro") who, while discussing his failing marriage with his wandering wife Anne (Andrea Marcovicci) in the car, manages to get his hand severed by oncoming traffic. "It's so ugly...", sobs Jon. He later retraces the accident, scouring the grassy field for his missing mitt, and finding his signet ring, instead. With his successful comic strip facing a new artist and direction, and his wife getting pawed up by horny yoga instructors, Jon's disembodied hand comes to life and ganks back the signet ring. Meanwhile, Jon's seeing lobster dinners clench up like a fist, and cold water shower nozzles turning into grasping hands, despite getting fitted up with a metal Terminator-esque replacement prosthesis. After a mysterious scribbling out all of the new artist's storyboards terminates his tenure with the publisher, he's accosted in the street by a wino, who's soon victimized by Jon's wandering killer hand. He accepts a job teaching at a university in California, and leaves his sketchy wife and their daughter behind, in New York.

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"I suppose I'd really enjoy squeezing one of those."
Faced with a classroom full of deadbeat yokels and a family that won't be visiting any time soon, Jon's growing feelings of inadequacy, anger, and frustration are interrupted when his signet ring somehow returns to his possession during a late night storm. He starts sleeping with Stella (Annie McEnroe), one of his students, but when she makes Christmas plans in an L.A. motel with another teacher, Brian (Bruce McGill), she gets facepalmed by the crawling digits of death, instead. Anne and Lizzie make it just in time for Christmas, with news of relocation to San Francisco with the yoga instructor spurring the horrible hand into further destructive action. When Brian pieces together Jon's blackouts with Stella's disappearance, he's choked to death in his jeep. With Anne leaving permanently in the morning, the hand sneaks into the bed and manhandles her, forcing Jon to go mano a mano with the crawly killer out in the barn. He bites the hand, which, in turn, squeezes his nuts. What a battle. When the cops later discover Brian and Stella's putrid corpses in the trunk of Jon's car, it's the squirrel farm for him. A psychoanalyst tries to force Jon to take responsibility for his horrific hand-based homicides, but then there's that damned hateful hand...

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"Do what? A Jaws sequel?? You think I'm barmy, do ya!!"
Charles "Roger Rabbit" Fleischer shows up in a cameo, as does director Ollie Stone, as a bum, of all things. Marcovicci, who appeared in A Vacation in Hell (1979), would later turn up in Larry Cohen's The Stuff (1985), while Annie McEnroe, who made her debut in Snowbeast (1977), would also appear in Howling II (1985) and Manhunter (1986). She would go on to marry Hand's producer, Edward R. Pressman after meeting him on the set. Viveca Lindfors you'll remember as Bedelia in the memorable "Father's Day" segment of George A. Romero's Creepshow (1982). The murderous mitt effects were hand-led (sorry) by Carlo Rambaldi, whose team included no less than Stan Winston himself. Stone would famously go on to direct such fare as Platoon (1986), The Doors (1991), Natural Born Killers (1994), and Any Given Sunday (1999), none of which you'll ever see reviewed here. As someone this particular hand didn't really grab, I hold up my own mitt, still attached, with one tattooed finger supplying the number of Wops this one deserves. Approach with caution.

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You'd get C.T.F.O.ed too... if you handed me a Rush album for my birthday, or somethin'.
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

R.I.P. Tommy Ramone

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                                01/29/52 - 06/11/14

"Death Ship" (1980) d/ Alvin Rakoff

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While Loni Anderson and Donna Dixon were setting a course for adventure during the fourth season of  popular television series, The Love Boat, director Alvin Rakoff was taking his latest film project in the opposite direction. Signed on for the ghostly gestapo goings-on are the likes of George Kennedy, who'd appear in Jeff Lieberman's Just Before Dawn, the same year, Richard Crenna, two years removed from his work on Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell, Nick Mancuso, who'd just battled phony vampire bats in Nightwing (1979), and Sally Anne Howes, who formerly fancied flying through the air in a fantastic jalopy with Dick Van Dyke.

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"Once I was Truly Scrumptious, now I'm Barely Appetizing!", exclaims Margaret (Sally Anne Howes).
Ashland (George Kennedy) runs the last pleasure cruise of his no nonsense captain-dom aboard a luxury liner, with its passengers enjoying a costume ball that's suddenly interrupted by a phantom Nazi-era freighter that abruptly sinks it. After pulling Ashland out of the brine, the life boat party consisting of Ashland's successor, Trevor (Richard Crenna), his wife, Margaret (Truly Scrumptious with a groovy perm), his children, Robin and Ben, Jackie (Saul Rubinek), the ship's lounge singer, Nick (Nick Mancuso), unknowingly comes upon and boards the very ship that put them in their current predicament. The freighter dumps evil Nazi ballast water onto Nick and Trevor as they struggle to get a semi-conscious Ashland on board, turning the three men's uniforms an ominous shade of grey, and foreshadowing things to come. An animate hoist winch snags Jackie's foot, and as the anchor is raised, dumps the Jew into the ocean to drown. An otherworldly Kraftwerk-esque voice tells Ashland to take command of his new ship in German, as Nick gets brained with the hoist winch. "This ship seems to have a life of it's own...", notes Sylvia (Kate Reid).

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"This vessel will be hearing from my lawyer!!", whines Jackie (Saul Rubinek).
The forty year old rustbucket for the Reich runs itself, doors open and close on their own, dusty 78 rpm records play themselves, and a film projector turns on and off at will. The kids flip through issues of Signal magazine dedicated to the fuhrer. Nobody seems all too concerned by any of this. Eating forty year old hard candies gives Sylvia a poisonous ugly grillpiece and she's strangled the fuck out by Ashland who's spurred on by those haunting German voices inzide his het. In full German naval officer's garb, Ashland tells Trevor that he's merely a pretend captain, and he plans to sail his new ship to eternity. The kids are scared shirtless...err, shitless. At least somebody is. Lori (Victoria Burgoyne) takes a blood shower as a German military war march is broadcast throughout the ship. Ashland overhand tosses her nude, red body into the water, and Nick calls him a "cuh-razy bastard" for doing so. Nick and Trev trail Ashland to the nazi-ed out captain's quarters (with obligatory framed Hitler portrait behind a curtain) in Gargoyles (1972)-style slo-mo, and Nick swan dives into a net full of human remains. The ship, afterall, needs blood to survive, as Ashland so eloquently states, into a microphone full of reverb. Then more things happen...

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"Ve hope you vill find ze V.I.P. Cabin to your likink, Herr Gibson..."
I can remember being drawn in by the fantastic one sheet art, as seen above, in British quad form, back in the day while thumbing through the entertainment section of the New York Post, a habit I'd picked up to see what new horror movies were being released in the city. I still ended up waiting until it turned up on late night premium cable: Prism, Showtime, etc. to finally see it for myself, and hadn't really watched it since, as I'd never felt a great desire to revisit it for any reason, until now. A little lethargic in building up to the final reel, but there's some decent atmosphere throughout, if not especially burdened with gore like many of it's peers during the era. On the scale, Death Ship scores a deuce for originality, mixing haunted house gimmicks with nazis on a ship a la de Ossorio, and surprisingly doesn't live down to its many damning critics over the years. Check it out.

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"I don't let just anyone swab my poop deck...", laughs Lori (Victoria Burgoyne).
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