Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Innocent Blood" (1992) d/ John Landis

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I've gotta admit, by the time director John Landis was busy churning out mainstream comedy fare like Spies Like Us (1985), Three Amigos! (1985), and Coming to America (1988), I wasn't really paying attention, and had kind of lost sight of him altogether after Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). In fact, I had no idea he'd made tonight's review until I saw the one sheet upon the wall of a certain vampiric witch I had been "staking down", so to speak...ahem, back in the nineties. Another twenty years would pass before I'd give it a look; nothing personal, I'd gotten deeper into obscure Italian directors by then and this effort, also known as "A French Vampire in America" (why stop there, says me, An Albanian Ghoul in Senegal is just screaming to be crowdfunded...) ,  was just one of those under-the-radar movies that I let slip by, for whatever reason.

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Marie (Anne Parillaud), a beautiful French vampire in America, with exquisite taste in food.
Marie (Anne Parillaud), a vampire starving for both sex and blood, sets out to "eat Italian" one night, and in doing so, naturally sets her sights on the local Mob, as headed by Sallie "The Shark" Macelli (Robert Loggia), coincidentally the very same crime syndicate that undercover cop Joe Gennaro (Anthony La Paglia) has been targeting. When she charms Tony (Chaz Palmintieri) out of his precious red stuff, using a shotgun afterwards to remove any tell-tale signs of vampirism and mimic a mob hit, Gennaro gets fingered by the press at the crime scene, effectively blowing his cover. She then targets The Shark himself, while he's putting the make on her at the crew's hideout, but she doesn't finish the job, and the neck-ravaged Don reanimates from his slab in the city morgue. Her further pursuit of the loose end mafisoso is temporarily thwarted by the persistent police officer, who tails her all over town, discovering that she's far different than the average beautiful, under dressed French girl with a yap full of coagulating blood, in the process.

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"You call this capocolla?!!? Madonna!! Where's the red peppers?",  snarls Sallie the Shark (Robert Loggia).
With his trusty lawyer, Bergman (Don Rickles) in tow, Sallie quickly adapts to life as one of the undead, greedily sucking the blood out of frozen chunks of meat, rapidly healing significant body wounds, and jumping from building tops like an Italian flea. Meanwhile, Marie comes clean about her condition to her police pursuer, and after allowing him to handcuff her from the rear, she finally convinces him to wax, plus tax her, solving her other missing desire from afterlife. She informs Gennaro that she has to re-kill Sallie before he can feed, otherwise his power will equal hers, but unluckily for her, after taking shelter from the destructive daylight in a frozen meat locker,  he's already dined on Bergman, and started adding his favorite goodfellas to his undead organization, two by two. Can the cop and the countess reel in the Shark and his thugs before it's too late? Will you ever see a vampiric Don Rickles agonizingly crumble into burning ashes in another movie? The answers to these and other pertinent questions can be answered when you screen this one for yourselves...

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"I'm all outta 'Rack of Campbell' back there, Boss...", notes the Roma Meats Man (Sam Raimi).
Like any Landis movie, there are genre celebrity cameos a plenty. Look for the likes of Tom Savini, Forrest J. Ackerman, Linnea Quigley, Frank Oz, Vic Noto, Sam Raimi, and even Dario Argento himself, among the director's fanged frames here. Besides Loggia AKA/ "Feech La Manna", there's also an awful lot of Sopranos regulars (naturally) like Tony "Paulie Walnuts" Sirico, Tony "Carmine Lupertazzi" Lip, and David "Richie Aprile" Proval, to name a few. John allegedly took on the film after Jack (Alone in the Dark, The Hidden) Sholder left the production, and his own Oscar (1991), a Sly Stallone mafia comedy, tanked like an M4 Sherman at the box office. Landis ultimately replaced that director's choices for the lead roles, in Lara Flynn Boyle and Dennis Hopper with Parillaud, who you'll remember as La Femme Nikita (1990), and Loggia. Though, it'd be hard to mistake Blood for an immortal genre classic, or even one of Landis' best works, for that matter,  it certainly never bores in its surprisingly even-handed delivery of the bloodsucking goods. It scores an average two Wops on the scale, but don't let that stop you from checking it out, just the same,  you might even like it more than I did.

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"I haven't done meth this pure since that Vegas bender with Humperdinck in '07!", exclaims Mr. Warmth.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"It Lives Again" (1978) d/ Larry Cohen

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Before he got freaked out by tigers in Apocalypse Now (1979), before Nic Cage romantically rendezvoused with Deborah Foreman in his health food store in Valley Girl (1983), and before he dealt in queer-stomping Vietnam jungle boots in 1993's Falling Down, Frederic Forrest lent himself to this second installment of Larry Cohen's micro-budgeted belligerent baby trilogy, 1978's It Lives Again. Also on board here are Kathleen Lloyd, who you'll remember foolishly swore at Satan's sedan in The Car (1977). She also starred opposite seventies teen dream, Leif Garrett, in Skateboard (1978). John Marley, of The Godfather (1972), Deathdream (1974), and even The Car (1977) fame, adds more dramatic validity to this effort than it deserved, really. Still, we press ahead...

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"You see Mork leave the planet last night? Nanoo-nanoo, man...", quips Frank Davis (John P. Ryan).
As the Scott's (Kathleen Lloyd, Frederic Forrest) watch the last of their baby shower guests leave the premises, a lone hanger-on named Davis (John P. Ryan) relates his awful story (see: It's Alive (1974) for details) to the couple, warning that they, too, are on the dawn of becoming parents to a homicidal mutant with a penchant for neck-chewing, and the government has been secretly monitoring their pregnancy with full intent to abort the feisty little rascal with a flurry of bullets the second he enters the world. It would seem that Davis is in cahoots with a group of doctors who see untapped potential in the bellicose babies, and have two other gore-geous little bastards caged up for monitoring and experimentation at a location to be named later. Leading the charge of infant-snuffing cops is a fellow named Mallory (John Marley), who seems to derive special joy from extinguishing the mutant babies' lives for some unknown reason, and his zeal unwittingly gets him held at gunpoint by Davis at a hospital full of cops and SWAT team members before he can carry out another death sentence, even clearing an escape route for the rogue doctors' eighteen-wheeler birthmobile. Of course, the Scott's little fanged darling is miffed-in-a-minute ornery from the outset, and never met a throat he didn't want to pounce on and gouge open with his muscular claws n' teefers.

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"...I snuck a teething ring in when the c.o.'s back was turned. I'll let you chew on it for a loosey."
When Jody ducks out of a theater (just as Bruce Lee's about to snap Jackie Chan's neck in Enter the Dragon (1973), too. How fuckin' cool is that?) to hop a city bus to meet up with her husband at the aforementioned location, her purse has been bugged by her own mother, who's adamantly anti-monster and working with the coppers, who are zeroing in on the morbid secret nursery coordinates by the minute. Meanwhile, the other two monster babies (Adam and Eve, lulz) aren't much in the mood to crawl through a maze in the hideout basement for analysis, and break the fuck out like the measles, chomping any neck in their path, and causing the usual one or two drops of blood associated with such attacks, by now. The Scott baby martyrs Davis in the woods after he helps the child escape the safe house before they can flood the place with gas, wasting his two mutant siblings in the sudden raid and further polarizing his parents; mom wants to show him love, while pop has sided with Mallory and company, eager to baptize his new son with bullets. How does it all wind up? That's for you to find out when you hunt down a copy for yourselves.

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"Scott, this is bike is broken. Can you help me? Ovah."

I picked this one up on a double disc with the even worse second sequel, It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1988). Must be a sliver of masochist in me, after all. Cohen, who offered up blaxploitation gold in Black Caesar (1973) and it's rapid-fire sequel, Hell Up In Harlem (also 1973), would go on to take the chair on efforts like God Told Me To (1976), Q (1982), and 1985's The Stuff, unforgettable stuff, indeed. You'd definitely think FX God Rick Baker had grown too large for a production like this by 1978, having already tackled projects like King Kong (1976) and Star Wars (1977) in the four year interim between the 1974 original and It Lives Again. Apparently not. Still, the man would again give us jaw-dropping, eye-popping stuff in genre classics like Altered States (1980), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Ghost Story (1981), and even Videodrome (1983), so let's not make too disparaging an adjudication on him here. On the rating scale, It Lives Again matches the score of the original, an impressive feat if said score hadn't been a single Wop. But it was. And it still is. Approach with caution.

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"I'll whack you execution style if you don't turn off Anne Murray already...", warns Scott (Frederic Forrest).
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Monday, January 18, 2016

"The Human Tornado"(1976)d /Cliff Roquemore

In the year of the American bicentennial with films like Taxi Driver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Carrie, and Rocky all going knuckles up at the box-office, moviegoers had some tough choices to make. Or, they could have just checked out the movie with a one-sheet that boasts of fifties R n' B singer Rudy Ray Moore in patchwork pimp gear, twister-punching his way through a whirlwind o' white folks, and been done with it. Knowing cult audiences were instantly enamored with Moore's legendary signature rhyme-spouting, lady-pleasing, shotgun-blasting, karate-kicking, ferocious, mackadocious antidote to no business, born insecure, junkyard rat soup-eating motherfuckers, Rudy rolls him out for a righteously raucous round two, with many of the usual suspects, i.e. Lady Reed, Jimmy Lynch, Howard Jackson, and even Lord Java himself. If you're going in looking for a blaxploitative good time machine ride back to the funky seventies, you've come to the right place, I'd wager. Let's make it, fellas...

I think this one speaks for itself. High water mark in the series.
After what can be called one of the most memorable title sequences ever filmed (I've yet to ever see anything like it, many of you who've seen it will agree), we catch up with that bad motherfucker Dolemite (Rudy Ray Moore) as he's putting his weight on the sheriff's wife, just as the sheriff (J.B. Baron) and his deputy are raiding the joint for an arrest. This leads to some harsh words, one "Biiiiiiitch! Are you fo' REAAAAAAAL?",  a firefight, some dead bodies, and Dolemite rolling his bare ass down a hill in slow motion to the getaway car. Twice. He then blows up the pursuing police with a twelve gauge blast (of course, he dramatically raps as he joins the rank of cinematic cop killers) , forcing him to go on the lam, hijacking a gay dude's car to California(...where they are already, as anyone can clearly see), where one of his people, Queen Bee (Lady Reed) herself, wears outfits that make Mummers look understated and runs a nightclub where he promptly lays down some dozens-style insult comedy in a kaleidoscope of crazy-looking seventies gear on stage, and several kung fu hookers that pledge allegiance to Dolemite work out of. Only problem, a mobster named Cavaletti has designs on the Queen's action, shutting down her club, and even taking two of her girls hostage. Only one isn't technically a girl. Are you surprised by that at this point? Me, neither.

"Mules didn't bruise mah hide cuz I done doubled my size on Fatburgahs an' fries, can you dig it?"
When he's not enjoying post-coital watermelon(!!!) with old flame Hurricane Annie, he's buying new shoes and searching for clues to the performers' whereabouts, as detective/ sped up kung fu bad ass as he is pimp. Adding to the madness, is Cavaletti's old mother, who's a dungeon-dwelling, woman-torturing creep, and his middle-aged wife, who's a nymphomaniac with some heavy hangers and a serious case of jungle fever, can you dig it? Dolemite interrogates the bitch, and by "interrogates" I obviously mean, puts it on her so hard that the fucking ceiling collapses and the bedroom is totally destroyed by their lovemaking session (like a human tornado, this bad cat), which, in the end,  yields the very answers he was looking for. This leads to a full-on, sped up kung fu battle royale at the private party at Cavaletti's mansion, which looks more than a little like Dolemite's pad from the initial reel, but who's paying that much attention, baby? Howard Jackson is in attendance, both as himself and as Dolemite's obvious stunt double, for those kicks higher than knee level and punch combinations faster than your average slow jam. You'll have to see how it all wraps up for yourselves, though. See it!

"Ooooo-eeeee!This Stylistics record got my Skene's glands secretin' like a mufucka!"
Moore followed this one up with The Monkey Hu$tle, opposite the venerable Yaphet Kotto,  the same year. 1977 brought us Petey Wheatstraw, while '79 saw more than Willie Stargell publicly boogie-ing to Sister Sledge, also bringing the premiere of Moore's legendary Disco Godfather. Despite a myriad of glaring technical shortcomings much like its predecessor a year earlier, this sequel chooses to play up its obvious limitations for even more laughs, and if a blaxploitation flick is to be judged on the outrageously dated seventies gear, shuckin' and jivin', cartoonish dialog, wooden performances, across-the-board racial stereotypes, high rise afros, low rent martial arts, etc., found within it,  then we might just have the Citizen Kane of pimp flicks on our hands tonight, after all. On the scale, Tornaaaaaaada earns thee Wops the easy way, on the ornately decorated mackin' cape of the late, great Rudy Ray. Can you dig it?


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Zombiethon" (1986) d/ Ken Dixon

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Much coveted of late among handle bar-mustachioed genre collectors of the day are the vhs releases from Wizard Video, often packaged in oversized cardboard boxes with eye-grabbing art. Back in the early to mid-eighties, when I was very much obsessed with such things myself, Wizard, as run by B-movie staple Charles Band, was certainly among my favorite companies, my small box copy of Fulci's Zombi (1979) was among my first purchases, as was my big box H.G. Lewis' 2,000 Maniacs! (1964), which was released under the Force label (File Under Useless Info: pre-dating the big box Continental release, which had a gory screenshot instead of the original poster art that Force chose). Thirty years later, I sat down to a later Wizard release, in tonight's review, Zombiethon, a compilation of genre clips much like the company's others, The Best of Sex and Violence (1981) and Filmgore (1983), that I'd last seen thirty years ago as an impulse rental at one of my local video store haunts, drawn in... by the big box and the excellent art. What else?

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You don't find roses growing on stocks of clover, so think it over.
After watching a grown woman in a schoolgirl outfit being chased by a low budget zombie into the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, she finds herself surrounded by a low budget zombie audience, intent on watching splattery highlights from zombie movies that just so happened to be available for purchase, in most cases, on Wizard Video. It all starts off promisingly enough, with Fulci's Zombi (1979) providing neck-bitten cops, zombie v. tiger shark, Olga Karlatos' eye v. wooden splinter, and Auretta Gay's toothy tracheotomy at the mouth of the wormy eyed poster zombie highlights. It's mostly downhill from there. A robotic-looking cyborg zombie harasses a sunbather and then Jean Rollin's dreadfully inept Zombie Lake (1980) is next, and many underwater full crotch shots of aquatic tarts about to be fatally dunked by green-skinned nazis follow. If you weren't goose stepped to sleep by the last clips, Jess Franco's amateurish Oasis of the Zombies (1982) also provides some nazi zombies, rotten for all the wrong reasons.

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"I was turned to steel in the great magnetic field when I traveled time for the future of mankind, y'know..."
Next to enter the living dead-packed theater on Wilshire Boulevard for a linking segment are a young woman and her small daughter, after which Riccardo Fredda's Fear aka Follia omicida (1981) serves up some nightmarish giallo weirdness and precious little zombie action. Fake bats, fake spiders, a chainsaw, perhaps, but not a whole helluva lot of zombies. Things don't improve from there, with Chevalier's Dr.Orloff's Invisible Monster aka/ The Invisible Dead (1970) as the next film to be featured. Was that a fucking invisible gorilla I just saw? Franco is again represented, with scenes from his 1973 effort, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, a notoriously incoherent mess, further butchered by cuts, where he appears in a supporting role, roaming the halls and spouting nonsense to a severed chicken head. After more corny rubber-masked zombie gags at the theater, it seems only fitting that the unfulfilling compilation wraps up with excerpts from Ted V. Mikels' Astro Zombies (1968), a movie that  neither John Carradine's three thousand dollar contribution nor Tura Satana's bountiful bobblers could save.

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Take a coffin, built for two, add a girl and a ghoul, that's a game for me and you now!
I'd already seen or owned all but one of the movies featured in Zombiethon by the time I'd seen it (more historical minutiae: I screened it with 1986's David DeCoteau's Dreamaniac as a double bill, as they'd both turned up on the shelves the same day) so my enthusiasm for the production was terse at best, to begin with. In the end, it lasted slightly longer than my attention span after throwing their Atari release of Halloween into the ol' wood grain 2600 console when I was fourteen. Thirty years later in the era of dvd and Blu-ray, I'm no longer excited by the lure of Wizard's catalog (certainly not replacing them on vhs for a hundred a pop, either), but that doesn't stop me from occasionally biting on Charles Band's disc releases, as a trip down Nostalgia Road, to a time when that huge box full of lurid imagery actually did mean the world to me. On the scale, one Wop sounds about right.

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I sit and wonder, why oh, why you left me, oh Sandy...
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

"Sixteen" (1973) d/ Lawrence Dobkin

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The trials and tribulations of turning sixteen are taxing enough without throwing ignorant swampy genetics into the mix, as we find in 1973's Sixteen, the subject of tonight's review, the late end of a teensploitation double feature I screened at the spot the other night. The low budget effort was the follow up for sultry blonde Georgia-born star, Simone Griffeth, who'd debuted in Swamp Girl with country music star Ferlin Husky, two years earlier. I fondly think of her as the "Marcia Brady, Backwoods variant,  of Seventies Exploitation Flicks" during this stage of her career, personally, but some of you woprophiles out there might see it differently. We all have valid opinions on things, man. Accompanying Ms. Griffeth this time around are the likes of Mercedes McCambridge, who you'll remember as the caustic voice of Pazuzu in The Exorcist, that same year, and Ford Rainey, who later lent his eyeball to the production of Halloween II (1981) as Dr. Mixter.

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Bruvver n' Naomi (Simone Griffeth) got an incesty zest fer lahff.
After coming into eight thousand dollars in folding money as a settlement from the government, who are building a road through the swamp, and subsequently, through their property in said bog, the Irtley clan are beset with a plethora of problems that they previously thunk were exclusive to city slicker-types. Gone are the halcyon days of teenage siblings Bruvver and Naomi (Simone Griffeth) frolicking lazily through the bottoms, occasionally stopping for some voodoo trinkets from Aunt Ada (Maidie Norman), or an innocent skinny dip in a filthy pond followed by a round of the top party game on the Appalachian Trail, "Hey, sis...whut's 'is heyuur?" After rolling, Ingalls-style in a horse-drawn buggy, into town to collect their loot, there's much general store aisle carousing, and maybe a secret bottle of mountain dew (actual moonshine, not gamer fuel, in this case) thrown in for good measure. Back at the shanty, the family is pestered by a money-hungry preacher, who's also out to drain Pa (Ford Rainey)'s bottle. Ma (Mercedes McCambridge) sends him a-running in the end with some well-placed mop fu. They decide to bury their troublesome new ducats under the shack, and celebrate their good fortune by taking a bus to thet tharr carnival, God bless 'em.

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If'n that aint worth a quarter, I'm the granddaddy of all liars, I reckon.
Temporarily blinded by the cheap shininess of the fair, the ignorant family gets split up and preyed upon by unscrupulous carnies when Ma and Pa are forced to leave the fairgrounds with young water-squirting, tire-flattenin' J.C. (who's named after Penny's not the saviour, btw) on the last bus out, having done zero to find their kids up to that point;  not even a loudspeaker notification from these bumpkins. Meanwhile Bruvver has been entranced by a busomy over-the-hill tent stripper named Carmelita (Beverly Powers), after leaving Naomi, screaming at newfangled scares on her own, in the middle of the haunted house attraction. Luckily for her, she's rescued by Jake (Peter Greene), the resident carnival stunt rider, who's got designs on turning her out in front of an audience of creepy carnies, after his show,  later on. Carmelita finds out that the toothy hayseed has come into money, so she takes him out to a bar and gets him knackered on whiskey. Meanwhile, the Irtleys sit around the shack 'til the mule train comes back. What transpires next, is something you can discover for yourselves when you snag a copy of this rarely seen seventies swamp oddity.

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Add an eight track of Survival of the Fittest and an ounce of spooky papyrus to the mix, I'm going in. Don't bother sending a search party.
The actor/director Dobkin mostly took the chair for television productions like Hawaii Five-O, Charlie's Angels, Vega$, etc. Dedicated cult fans will also recognize Simone as Annie Smith, in 1975's Death Race 2000, the dynamite-looking driving partner of Sylvester Stallone. She's done a whole mess of television since then, as well, having retained (if not, increased) her innocent charms and beauty along the way. I'm normally a brunette guy, but Griffeth is surely upon my list of top shelf genre blondes of the decade. She looks great here, too, and makes this otherwise pretty pedestrian swampy backwoods dramedy worth a look, for sure. On the scale, a standard Two wops sounds reasonable.

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That's fucking oyster bib city right there. You kiddin' me?
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"Kitten With a Whip" (1964) d/ Douglas Heyes

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In the fifties and sixties, it's no surprise that a subgenre of films concerning juvenile delinquents became wildly popular, thanks, in part, to legendary performances by the likes of Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Vic Morrow. Before too long, there were widespread cinematic snot-nosed punks abandoning the sock hop for hot rod-fueled games of chicken on the railroad tracks, trading their malted milk and penny loafers for flick knives and cigarettes. Necking parties, jazz records, beat room for squares in this scene, man.
Tonight's review focuses on one of these movies, centered around a bad girl, as portrayed by superlative sex kitten and titilating target of Elvis' Vegas veiner, Ann-Margret, whose flowing red locks certainly had to be a harbinger of the movie mischief to come. C'mon, even the Romans knew about gingers.

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"I'd be two Oscar Goldman-balls deep in that, last night...", quips Grant (Richard Anderson).
David (John Forsythe) is a wealthy enigma who runs a detective agency full of smoldering hot birds from behind the anonymity of a speakerphone-no, wait, that's the wrong role. David is an aspiring politician who's on the verge of a paramount pow-wow with influential people, as he's constantly reminded by his smothering straight-laced chum, Grant (Richard Anderson). His wife and kids are briefly out of town, but he's hoping his upcoming bid for office will bolster his strained marriage. Only,  he comes home to find a troubled, transient teenager named Jody (Ann-Margret) fast asleep in his bed. After she serves him up an obligatory sob story, complete with war wounds and freshly whipped up insta-tears, he springs for a new outfit for the hard luck story before giving her a ride to the nearest bus station and seeing her off like a decent, God-fearing American would. Just when he's about to divulge his crazy story to Grant, a public television reveals that Jody may or may not have set fire to the reform school she's just dramatically escaped from, shanking up one of her matrons in the process, leaving the poor old girl in critical condition. What was that crazy story you had for me, Dave, old bean? Oh...oh, nothing.

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"Everything's so creamy!", notes Jody (Ann-Margret).
Thinking he's dodged a fucker of a bullet, he comes home to...Jody, who's just dyed her hair red and fresh from a shower, with blackmail on her mind, fire in her eyes, and passion on her lips. Naturally, David is forced to comply with the venomous vixen's slightest whim, which include some close calls with Grant and nosy neighbors, tense phone calls from the missus, and an impromptu jazz party with three of the smoky somethin's closest associates, which lead to all sorts of delinquency, Dad: straight razor fights, blowing pot, listening to records and dancing... and it's not long before a visibly frazzled David is spotted on the streets of fucking Tijuana (of all fucking places), wearing a bloody-sleeved cardigan, and clutching a bottle of booze, by the very would be-constituents he's been avoiding while desperately dealing with the home wrecking hoolies. That's some pickle that flame-headed flapper's gotten you into, boyyo. If you want to see how it all turns out, I suggest you hunt down a copy for yourselves.

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"Bosley, get my Angels on the horn...Charlie's cardigan-deep in trouble, daddy-o!"
Apart from his work here, Heyes also directed an episode of Night Gallery, three episodes of Thriller, and nine of the original Twilight Zone series. If the motel scene seems vaguely familiar, it's because Norman Bates himself famously prowled the very same set four years earlier.
Many folks throw Kitten on their "Worst of" lists, thanks in part to that show involving that snarky nerd and his space puppets whose name eludes me at the moment. Don't listen to the naysayers concerning this one, kids. It's saturated with plenty of everything that makes movies of this nature so damned entertaining. The story is a hoot, the dialog is a scream, the characters' philosophy is kooky,  the rear-projected car rides are snicker-worthy, and then, on top of all that, there's Ann-Margret. She goes from doe-eyed innocent to strait jacket nuts and back at will, and there's not a man in all of history who wouldn't get reeled in by this tasty little slice of strawberry shortcake. The movie's worth multiple viewings for her, alone. On the scale, three wops, and a strong recommendation.

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I'd let Ann have me, and I wouldn't even charge. The sweetest kittens have the sharpest claws, as they say.
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Saturday, January 9, 2016

"Mr. Sardonicus" (1961) d/ William Castle

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Tonight we return to the wonderfully gimmicky world of William Castle, the B-Movie King of the 50's and 60's, the filmmaker responsible for such beloved genre schlock as House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), and a driving inspiration/cinema idol for later directors like John Waters and Robert Zemeckis. His publicity gimmicks were legendary; from life insurance policies in case theatergoers died of fright with Macabre (1958), to "Percepto", shock buzzers fastened to the bottom of theater seats, in The Tingler (1959), to the "Punishment Poll" of tonight's feature, where audience members held up card with glow in the dark thumbs to vote whether or not the titular fiend, Sardonicus, should suffer further or not. Of course, legend has it that no audience ever voted to pardon him for his crimes, bypassing the kinder, gentler ending that Castle himself said was filmed and screened a few times... however unlikely the existence of such footage is, say I.

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"I misplaced the Twister mat, we'll have to play Leech-face again, instead...," quips Krull (Oscar Homolka).
Enter Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis), a David Hasselhoff lookalike/eminent physician in 1880's London, whose groundbreaking work with tissue massage (pronounced MASS-age, of course) and proficiency with experimental instruments such as the "hypodermic needle" have traveled as far as Gorslava, a central European region beset with dry ice and miniature landscapes, where a certain mysterious Baron named Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe) has requested the good doctor's presence through an urgent letter penned by his wife, Maude (Audrey Dalton), a former flame of Cargrave's. Robert is deftly carriaged off  past crappy set pieces to the carshole by Krull (Oscar Homolka), not to be confused with the British big budgeted sci-fi adventure of the same name, rather, he's a one-eyed grinning underling of the Baron, who gets his kicks laying live leeches on the faces of screaming servant chicks who've effed up. How difficult is it to hire good help these days, indeed.

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"Del Shannon! Delllllllll! Oh my GODDDD!!! I LOOOOOOOOVE YOU, DELLLLLL!"
 At the aforementioned carshole, Sardonicus proves an enigmatic chap, draping his grill in an emotionless Ben Cooper-looking mask at all times, and sickeningly slurping slop in secret in his chambers like Michael Moore on a bottomless vat of chicken rice soup at Old Country Buffet. He relates his tragic tale to the physician, in hopes that it will sway him to lend his talents to the Baron's current facial dilemma. It seems he was once a humble normal-faced Euro-peasant married to a hypergamous greenback-crazy harlot, when a winning lottery ticket is mistakenly buried with his father, forcing him to explore the definition of "ghoul" on a personal level, by digging up his dad's corpse and rummaging through his pockets for the winning numbers. Only, he's shocked to find his father's remains locked in a sardonic death-grin, and so shocked, in fact, that his own facial muscles are frozen in the same expression, leading to his current state of lonely solitude, save for that infrequent call from Hollywood, asking him to stunt double for Cesar Romero. Will Cargrave give the Baron's rotten puss a revitalizing rubdown? Will Maude make off with her former flame, who's never enjoyed the company of another woman since? If you're not sure of the answers to these and other questions, I suggest you pick up a copy of Sardonicus, and answer them for yourselves...

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That new Whiskey toothpaste has done wonders for your bicuspids.
Castle, a favorite of mine since I was knee high to my old man's 1930's shoeshine box, may have been the last of the true Hollywood showmen, always adding mirth and mayhem to his low budget productions with goofy gimmicks and corny cameos, and tonight's review is no exception to any of these concepts. Speaking of my old man and regarding Sardonicus, he'd often tuck his upper lip up into his face and stare at you until you mentioned something, back then. Yeah, Dad, yeah. Mr. Sardonicus. I know. I blame the Famous Monsters of Filmland cover art by Basil Gogos on Issue 126 for the frequent annoyance. He also did a horrendous imitation of Peter Lorre that we won't elaborate further upon. Sardonicus is available in a five movie box set collection of Castle cult classics that's inexpensive enough that you've got no good excuse for failing to see it. Two Wops.

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"If they don't get the joke...pull the rope and let them choke! Ooh, hoo, haa-haa, haa-haa! How delicious!"
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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

R.I.P. DVD? Not so fast.

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"DVD's are obsolete!", cry the beard-necked betas, as consumerist as they are OCD,  as they scramble to unload each and every cumbersome dvd in their movie collections yesterday, if not sooner, replacing them on the wing with shiny new blu-rays of the same movies they just got rid of, in many cases. If they've bothered to research the BD release before their purchases en masse, credit card poised for assault in one hand, margarita in t'other, I wouldn't be lying if I said I'd be fucking startled by this. From where I'm standing, though, I see none of that going down. Obsolete how? Obsolete as VHS, which was officially read it's last rites over twenty years ago, last I checked, yet it remains a popular format for these same cats, who pay hundreds of bucks for a flimsy video cassette in a big bulky cardboard box, not unlike the thousands that once cluttered up my party palace on Cherry Street. I'd been collecting them since 1981, and it took me some eighteen years to finally give in, and upgrade everything to DVD, after my buddy Doc effortlessly demonstrated their overall superiority over, say,  an ancient Paragon VHS of  Fulci's Gates of Hell with tracking issues throughout, or my Media VHS release of Night of the Living Dead, which jittered, flipped, ghosted, and was scorched with tracking lines, beginning to end, to me. I didn't need much coaxing, my endless bookshelves of VHS and to a lesser degree, Beta, had transformed my beloved digs into the back of a pick up truck at an outdoor flea market of late, some toothless hag buying makeup for a nickle out of a plastic bucket and spitting, "Ya got Ghostbustuhs in theah?", in my general direction, without missing a beat. It took me fucking years to amass such a thorough collection, and just as long to get my current one up to specs, but making the video tapes disappear was as simple as leaving crates behind, as I moved my address around quite a bit, for a minute there. No e-Bay auction scratch, no trades, no gifts. Double Live Gonzo.

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Obsolete since 1995. 
Along comes blu-ray, a concept I can appreciate when executed properly, though I've seen some pretty bad transfers of Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and Dawn of the Dead (1979), and less extensive extras on some releases along the way since the outset that lead me to believe that not every BD copy is the definitive edition to own, by a long shot. Then there's the subject of  fare like micro-budgeted eighties shot-on-video slashers, and even the historic genre turds of yesteryear from icons of rotten cinema like H.G. Lewis, Ray Dennis Steckler, Andy Milligan, Larry Buchanan, Ed Wood...and countless others. Do ...movies, ahem, like Chooper (1971) or The Ghastly Ones (1967) really need a hi-def special edition BD release? What good is 1080p gonna do something like Blood Freak (1972)? I've got an all-region dvd player for all the foreign releases I've acquired over the years, the only way to find many of them for decades, and a Playstation to upconvert the region-free discs to blu-ray quality anyway. And what about 4K blu-ray on the horizon? Is that gonna spark everyone into a sudden collection-wide purge of all ordinary blu-rays for the latest players and media? If it's all the same,  I'm gonna sit this latest technological phenomenon out, and let you young, snot-nosed punks enjoy it for yourselves. I'm comfortable with a collection as complete in my eyes as it's ever been, though I always seem to find a new, undiscovered rarity destined for my shelves in my travels, and I'm pretty cool with that. It's one of the perks of getting older and wiser, I guess.

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Watching the glorious blu-ray, I saw Michael lurking in the background the whole time. R.I.P. shadows. I liked having you around.
Does any of this disclosure reveal me as a lesser example of genre fanatic? How many times do I have to purchase Army of Darkness (1988) if I've already got one that suits me? Also, I've got five or six releases of Dawn of the Dead (1979) as it stands, and I'm not especially spun on the concept of adding any more to that number in the future. There's actually quite a few movies that I have multiple copies of, for whatever reasons sounded good to me at the time, I'd presume. They're called "favorites", of course, but even favorites can be exhausted, and most of mine have already reached that point. I'm not saying I'll never pick up a special edition steelbook/mediabook BD that's too good to pass up along the way, because I probably will. I'd just advise you not to hold your breath while you're waiting for that to occur, O magnificent Blu-Ray. Partying isn't cheap, and movies aren't my sole inclination, either, as you may have guessed by now. Speaking of which, let me wrap this up and get back to some of those unnamed inclinations. My rambling can be endless.

Up DVDs!

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