Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Curtains" (1983) d/ Jonathan Stryker

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Apologies for an erratic August as usual, review-wise, here, I've been squeezing in all my late summer partying, and along with that, comes the inevitable late summer slacking. How about you? Have an unforgettably raucous and decadent week in Bermuda that you documented with thirteen thousand pictures you're going to graciously share with the rest of us, via Instagram? Who cares. Cult movies are our champers in the tub here, snots n boogs, and here's a surprisingly proficient slasher from C to the -anada that utilizes one of the creepier giant sized little girl dolls in recent memory (it's got the face of that weatherbeaten broad down at the far corner of the bar who's looking for a Wednesday night charity pumpin', oof-ah.) and an effective latex hag masked giallo-style killer among a gathering of would-be leading ladies of the cinema that includes Lynne Griffin, Samantha Eggar, Lesleh Donaldson, and Canadian ballet dancer Anne Ditchburn. Oh yeah, Dean Wormser's in there, too, and throw in a nasty-looking sickle, just for kicks, while we're at it. The whole affair was directed by Richard Ciupka, under the alias Jonathan Stryker, the director character's name in the movie. I see what you did there...

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Not bad for starters, but seriously, where's the grapes, mirror fulla coke, and most importantly, the two other chicks? "Sorry, I can't hear you. As you can plainly see,  we're having eighties hot tub sex with each other."(Matt Berry voice)
Wow, that was a busy caption. Too many episodes of IT Crowd and Snuff Box rolling around in me brains, 'innit? Shoulda rolled with a simple play on words or something. Back to the story. After allowing marquee star Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) to get herself institutionalized to research her upcoming role as the highly disturbed Audra in his latest film, Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) conveniently forgets about her while she's among the loonies, and announces that he'll be re-casting the role on a private weekend at his out-of-the-way mansion in Variety magazine, which just so happens to have a subscriber in the same squirrel farm that Sherwood is indefinitely checked into. Naturally, she escapes in time to show up as an uninvited sixth actress to audition, since the original sixth woman is mysteriously snagged on a miserable looking little girl doll strategically propped up in the middle of the road in the rainy downpour, and promptly mowed down by a car before she can emote for the womanizing director.

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Tonya Harding takes it to another level. More at eleven...
Of course, there's still Patti (Lynne Griffin) the comedian/comedienne (...do we even distinguish between the two anymore? Just a thought.) whose flat, predictable jokes lead her to try out for the part, Laurian (Anne Ditchburn) the contorting interpretive dancer, Christie (Lesleh Donaldson) the ice skater who has a memorable slo mo incident on the frozen pond with our murderous pal in the hag mask, Brooke (Linda Thorson) the established actress, and Tara (Sandee Currie) the aspiring musician, all jockeying for position with the puppeteer Stryker, who's not ashamed to go from bedroom to bedroom in his inclusive elimination process. Nobody's too surprised to see Samantha, who's fresh from an asylum escape, and eager to bicker quietly in the shadows with Stryker, as the masked figure whittles down the would-be competition, each in their own creative manner, of course. These cinematic serial killers always seem to keep us well entertained over an hour and a half with their homicidal shenanigans, don't they? And wouldn't you know it, they even had the heart to throw in your obligatory twist ending, too. Thanks, guys.

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I'd feel worse for her if her shoulder wasn't visible in the bottom of the frame, Gods love 'er.
Lesleh Donaldson made quite a name for herself in genre movies during the eighties, appearing in Funeral Home (1980), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), and Deadly Eyes (1982) in succession at the outset of the blood-stained era. Lynne Griffin you'll no doubt remember from Benjamin "Bob" Clark's highly celebrated seasonal slasher opus, Black Christmas (1974), and perhaps one of the greatest cult comedies of the eighties, in Strange Brew (1983), as well. Ms. Eggar is no stranger to our favorite genre either, with titles like Cronenberg's The Brood (1979), The Uncanny (1976), The Exterminator (1980), and Demonoid: Messenger of Death (1981),  all under her belt. If you don't instantly recognize John Vernon as Dean Wormser from Animal House (1978), you'll surely recall one of his half million genre credits, from Dirty Harry (1971) to the Chiodos' Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). Synapse released a remastered print of the film on all formats earlier this year, each with a smattering of choice extras, so hunt it down, if you haven't already gotten it, that is,  me 'ol beauties. Like... Arrrrgghhhh. On the scale, this set of Curtains draws itself a respectable pair of Wops, and is well worth checking out. Nicely done, Canada. Nicely done.

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She's probably relieved that the killer's only cutting her head off, and not cutting footloose (Eff you, Kenny Loggins).
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Thursday, August 14, 2014

"The Shaolin Mantis" (1978) d/ Liu Chia Liang

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By 1978, the stars of director/fight choreographer, Liu Chia Liang, and HK leading man, David Chiang, were headed in two different directions. Chiang had once headed the biggest productions out of Shaw Brothers Studios, usually opposite Ti Lung, during the arm-swinging early seventies when fight choreography wasn't nearly as scrutinized, and elder Liu was well on his way to legendary status in the genre already, having already helmed such classics as 1976's Challenge of the Masters, Executioners from Shaolin (1977), and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin/ Master Killer (1978) the same year as this minor effort, seemingly meant to boost Chiang back to his former box office glory with Liu's special brand of martial magic.

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This particular chichi (Cecilia Wong) isn't served with Slim Jim's or Cheetos, but she still looks scrumptious.
After impressing the emperor (Hung Wei) with a methodically lackluster martial display, dismantling several martial experts including a Mongol (Lee Hoi San) and a monk (Liu Chia Hui, who else?), Wei Fung (David Chiang) is ordered to infiltrate the Tien Gang as a spy, and the longer his mission takes, the worse off all of his family will be for his procrastination: stripped of official titles, thrown in jail, beaten, and finally beheaded. Sheesh. Imagine if the emperor didn't dig his demonstration... It's a good thing he bumps into teenaged Tien Chi Chi (Cecilia Wong) as she's bullying her old tutor out the door, as he quickly talks his way into their residence as her new teacher, turning the frisky teen's focus to writing and reading rather than her preferred kung fu, which he pretends to know nothing at all of. Just as her Grandfather (Liu Chia Yung) discovers Wei's true background and intent, she becomes smitten with her tutor, and declares him her lover, forcing her angry family members to give Wei a martial mulligan, and not send him to his maker.

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Did you remember to bring all your weapons, David?
At this point Wei and Chi Chi are married, while elder Tien warns his granddaughter that if her husband should ever try to leave their home, he and his brothers will be forced to kill him, in the name of the rebellion. Enjoying married life and not very concerned about his family's lives back home, Wei finally suggests that they visit his parents together, spurring on the family/gang's traditional five guard showdown, which Chi Chi joins her husband in fighting. Elder Tien doesn't take the news very well at all, killing both his granddaughter and his sympathetic wife (Lily Li) in the process, with Wei barely escaping with his life. Right about here, Wei observes some mantises in the field (on the set, really), and develops the Mantis fist to combat Elder Tien's deadly Shadow fist technique, using the insects as his instructors. As Wei returns on his word to the Tien residence, the final showdown jumps off, with expected results. Where's that Shaw Brothers freeze frame ending? Oh, there it is.

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"...very good, and now, go catch your sifu a nice fat, pollenated bee."
Liu Chia Liang would also complete the amazing Heroes of the East the same year, so it's sort of easy to see how this effort sometimes gets overlooked. His middle brother, Chia Yung, who directed movies like Dirty Kung Fu (1978), Shaolin Warrior (1980), and 1982's The Fake Ghost Catchers, with Fu Sheng, also continued to act and perform in martial arts movies as recently as 2011. David Chiang, who crossed over in the Shaw/Hammer co-production The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires in 1974, would go on to appear in things like Shaolin Handlock (1978),  Shaolin Abbot (1979), and The Lost Kung Fu Secret under the silly pseudonym Garth Lo in 1980, and though he continues to maintain a high cinematic profile, for this guy, his best work came in earlier Shaw productions, such as Vengeance (1970), The Heroic Ones (1970), and Blood Brothers (1973). His mantis fist displays here won't force you to forget Feng Ko An any time soon, that's for sure. The adorable Cecilia Wong, credited here as Huang Hsing-hsiu, can also be seen in things like Renegade Monk (1978) with John Liu, Liu Chia Liang's Spiritual Boxer II (1979), and 1981's Old Master. On the scale, two Wops. Decent, but nothing compared to Liang's masterworks. Worth a look.

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"If you're gonna reverse jump twenty-five feet onto my gabled roof to safety, I suggest you do it now."
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"The Monster of Piedras Blancas" (1959) d/ Irvin Berwick

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You might recall that we covered the Black Lagoon trilogy a while back, well, in returning to that unmistakable killer amphibious humanoid-monster vibe, we'll look at 1959's The Monster of Piedras Blancas, an old fashioned gent-in-a-suit monster movie in possession of a bigger set of balls than other similar films of the era. Despite suffering from that eternally familiar cinematic setback, a sparse budget, Blancas boasts of a nifty monster suit, with elements borrowed from The Mole People and This Island Earth, sort of a drooly, angry Californian cousin to Universal's Gill-Man. On the opposite side of the coin, despite a brief running time of just seventy one minutes, much of the non-horrific events depicted here are a bigger drag than Little Jimmy's bum leg, and even more boring. Still...

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A-200 and a special comb couldn't rid Eddie of this particular crab infestation.
After both Renaldi brothers turn up headless and bloodless, a Constable (Forrest Lewis) and a doctor (Les Tremayne) are forced to scrutinize the jagged cliffs of an area known as Piedras Blancas, home to a legendary amphibious throwback to a fictitious prehistoric age fiend called the Diplovertebron, that's been fed and cared for, up to now,  by a lonely widowed lighthouse keeper named Sturgess (John Harmon). That is, until Kochek ups the ante by refusing to sell him the meat scraps he'd been using to quell the beast's hunger, causing the titular monster to embark on a head-severing jihad against the local populace, which includes Sturgess' lovestruck daughter Lucy (Jeanne Carmen) and her science-ified beau, Fred (Don Sullivan), who searches for new specimens when he isn't necking with Luce in his cramped Jeep, a vehicle he's got no reservations about loaning out to nearly anybody.

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"You fiend! Get back here with my believable expression of fear!!!"
When impossibly large fish scales, cautionary store clerk corpses, and headless little girls suddenly become abundant in the small village, the constable, doctor, and young protege' are forced to science for the answer to the horrific crimes, while Sturgess' own night investigation leaves him unconscious and injured at the bottom of one of Blancas' steep cliffs. Lucy ignores her father's orders and goes for a late day-for-night swim, catching the squinty eye of the drooling seven foot tall head-ripper from the icy depths, who later gaffles her unconscious curves from the lighthouse, carrying her Frankenstein-style out to the roaring surf, only to drop her like a hot potato at the chance to lumber back inside for a mano y mano square off with Sturgess at the top of said lighthouse, which may sound somewhat thrilling for a movie's conclusion, but in this particular case, is completely fumbled away by laughably anticlimactic dummy shots and wooden delivery of dialog.

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"How ironic is it that I'm here asking you if you've got a spare lobster bib?"
Director Irvin Berwick would take the director's chair only seven times in his life, Hitch Hike to Hell (1977) and Malibu Beach (1979) being his final two offerings. Les Tremayne, on the other hand, would famously appear in War of the Worlds (1953) and Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), as well as a full palate of voice work in animated features throughout the seventies and eighties. Forrest Lewis preceded his turn here with an appearance in The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958). Pinup dish, Jeanne Carmen turned up in Striporama (1953) uncredited as 'Venus Beauty', and 1957's Untamed Youth, opposite none other than blonde b-movie goddess, Mamie Van Doren. Pete Dunn is worth a mention if only for the fact that he not only portrayed a local yokel victim of the Monster, but also donned the rubber suit and fiddled with a prop severed head made to resemble his own likeness. That had to be kind of surreal for him, huh? On the scale, Monster manages to scrape together a pair of Wops for itself, though its historical genre significance is probably a bit more than that, in the grand scale of things. Worth a look.

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"I'd like to thank the Academy for this stunningly realistic prop dome, which I will no doubt cherish, at least until I get gun butted off the top of the lighthouse at the end of this picture..."
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Monday, August 11, 2014

"Promises, Promises! " (1962) d/ King Donovan

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A lot of folks these days are rediscovering Marilyn Monroe, albeit mostly through misquoted junk mail memes on social networks, but I digress...She was never my bag, personally, I was always more into Jayne Mansfield, the busty star of tonight's review, the movie that saw her become the first American actress to appear fully nude for Hollywood cameras. Publicity shots from the set appeared in the pages of Playboy in June of 1963, earning some consequent obscenity charges for Hugh Hefner. The film, on the other hand, was a big success for the bubbly-yet-brainy blonde with a party girl personality and 40-21-35 measurements. Phew. Also owns the distinction of having been banned in Cleveland, of all places.

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Rub-a-dub-dub, bubbly bub boobles, errr, boob bubbles...
Two married couples, the Brooks' and Banner's, respectively,  share a romantic cruise together, with Jeff Brooks (Tommy Noonan) downing Wild Turkey by the fifth in dealing with his wife Sandy's (Jayne Mansfield) obsession with having a child, despite four years together and nary a rug rat to show for their combined efforts, even though Sandy perpetually frolics around their cabin utterly nude. In the adjoining cabin, Claire Banner (Marie McDonald) has her hands full with her husband, King (Mickey Hargitay), a muscle-bound, health food nut/ perfectionist who plays tennis and lifts weights for kicks. Jeff, who may or may not be impotent since his time in the service,  has been seeing the ship's doctor (Fritz Feld), who prescribes him some aspirin as a placebo to finally impregnate his wife, though an alcohol-fueled mix up sees all four down the pills by mistake, leading to a blurred evening where spouses seemingly get swapped, or so Jeff believes and fixates endlessly upon, irl, and in fog machine-enhanced dream sequences.

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I'd have that look on my face, too, if I didn't have any scenes with Jayne, sans gear.
Sandy, under the impression that Jeff has gotten her pregnant, lip syncs a few forgettable pop tunes (though one she performs covered only in soap bubbles in the tub...Madonna!) and throws an extravagant baby shower where her swishy stylist, Babbette (T.C. Jones) models wigs and does impressions of Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, and finally, Jayne Mansfield (get it?). Meanwhile, Jeff is convinced that King is the baby's real father, and further drowns his sorrows, alienating his busty spouse, in the process. After that particular joke has been beaten into the low budget set floor with spiked baseball bats, Claire discovers that she, too, is pregnant, having just set Jeff's mind at ease, filling him in that King, is most likely impotent, himself. Oh,  these zany early sixties cruises that folks apparently used to take. So, who's fathering who's babies on this damned ocean liner, and where the fuck is Merill Stubing for these hijinks? Shaken, not stirred on that AMP martini,  Isaac...

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"I'm pitching an a- frame tent at the thought of cha cha-ing next to those chachabingos, baby!"
Jayne's bra-battering bobblers, once a gig killer early in Jayne's career, look fantastic here, without regressing too much into a wild eyed Neanderthal, pounding his hairy chest with a rock bat and screaming "Urrrrgghh!!!" into the Paleolithic night air, hopefully. I'm a man, though, and when a man like me sees women of such aesthetic beauty, I can only admire them in my own... many, inimitable ways and twirl the hair in my goatee. There's only one reason you're gonna wanna see tonight's movie, and that's Jayne, who, in turn, rewards the viewer with every last of her natural assets here, at their very peak and at the best possible angles, no less. The late movie critic Roger Ebert venomously dissed her for doing this one in his Chicago Sun-Times column...prior to his collaboration with Tit King Russ Meyer, I'd be willing to wager (two years prior, if you're splitting hairs). Never really appreciated any of that guy's opinions, but I appreciate that he had opinions, in the first place. Rare, these days! Since I also have a few opinions of my own, here are mine on tonight's review: Two wops on the scale, not many laughs delivered in the end, and heavy on the corn, but lots of Jayne to make up for it. Insert wolf whistle here.

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Seeing you rolling around like that is getting my Mickey all Hargitay.
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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Alice, Sweet Alice" (1976) d/ Alfred Sole

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Amid chants of "Oh, B.W., you apropos motherfucker!", I give you Alfred Sole's best movie, a religion-based period slasher full of atmosphere that's set in his hometown of Paterson-friggin'-New Jersey, of all places, here at the Wop on the holiest day of the week. Nevermind that this, like Romero's original Night of the Living Dead (1968),  turned up as one of those vhs titles that suddenly flooded the Halloween market of every cheap department store in all sorts of dollar releases back in the nineties, what we have on our hands is no less than a competent giallo-esque study in brutal violence and shocking death of Hitchcockian proportions that stands as one helluva white knuckle ride, at any damned price.

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"Two communion wafers?? God candle-strangles those who help themselves to His body in gluttony!"
Catherine (Linda Miller) really has her hands full with her two daughters, Karen (Brooke Shields), a whiny little princess about to receive First Holy Communion, and her older sister Alice (Paula Sheppard), a schizophrenic bully who keeps cockroaches as pets in a jar in the basement and terrorizes her sister in a yellow raincoat and translucent Ben Cooper-style mask. Naturally, when Karen is violently rubbed out with a votive candle then set ablaze inside one of the pews (...talk about overkill)  by someone in that very same ensemble, accusatory eyes all fall upon Alice, who just so happens to have her sister's veil stuffed in her pocket as her sister's smoldering body is screamingly discovered. The case for her innocence is not helped much when her zealous Aunt Annie (Jane Lowry) gets shanked up in the building hallway, by someone wearing the aforementioned weird disguise. Catherine's ex-husband, Dom (Niles McMaster), returns in time for his daughter's funeral, decides to stay until her killer is found, and is later lumped up with a pair of bricks, hogtied, and chucked face first into some empty liquor bottles from a high window for his troubles.

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"I thought she was self-assured,  and I really like that in a person...'til I saw her smoking in a bench compartment. Blew my whole image of her."
Meanwhile, the adolescent Alice is being pawed by the landlord, Mr. Alphonso (Alphonso DeNoble), a morbidly obese cat food-devouring egghead freak, the local pervo detectives are ogling her pubescent tits, and she's locked away to be psychoanalyzed, to boot. It's only when her father turns up smooshed in a back alley, with Karen's missing crucifix necklace lodged in his throat, that she's begrudgingly crossed off the list of murder suspects, to the horror of Aunt Annie, Alphonso, and most of Patterson, New Jersey, it would seem.When Alice is released, she abruptly dons the suspicious costume and gives her pet roaches a shore leave pass on a sleeping Alphonso's massive midsection, just as the real killer, in identical garb to Alice's, is sneaking into the building, to add Catherine to the growing list of victims. Aghast at his new pudge pouch-passengers, Alphonso lumbers screaming into the hallway, in time to bump into the killer, who perforates him full of air holes with a sizeable butcher knife before escaping into the street. The nearby detectives spot the suspect, sans mask, and set up a dramatic sting during Sunday mass in a wild finale that'll leave you well satisfied, after all is said and done.

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"Butterfingers! That's not the Cuneiform bone, that's a metatarsal...it's my turn to operate!"
Paula Sheppard would also turn up in Liquid Sky (1982). This Linda Miller happens to be Jackie Gleason's daughter, not the blonde dip with the annoying voice that Toho Kong had the hots for in the sixties. Besides this movie, Sole also helmed a porno, a softcore outing with Vanity and makeup fx by Rob Bottin, and that fucking Smothers Brothers movie that shall not be named aloud here within the hallowed walls of the Wop. It's a shame, too, because he really displays an excellent grasp of the medium here, his effort worthy of mention in the same breath as some of my favorite countrymen in the genre, and not that far a cry from, dare I say, perhaps Hitchcock himself, if he were having the rarest of off-days?  Only having you on, this guy directed Pandemonium (1982),  ferchrissakes. Still, tonight's entry is very good, so see it. Three wops.

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"I belieeeeve in miracles! Where ya from, you sexy thaaaaaang?"
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