Sunday, January 25, 2015

Emanuelle in America (1977)

[Unrelated: I don't waste enough time with this blog, so I've started another one that will cover pro wrestling.  Please check it out here if you wish and thank you.]

Emmanuelle was a very successful 1974 French erotic film starring a white lady.  As happens in our world of commerce, ripoffs and spinoffs emerged.  The most successful ripoff was the Black Emanuelle series, starring the exotic blacktress Laura Gemser.  "Black" as in, yes, that kind of black, as there were practically Emanuelles for every race, like Black Jesus or Asian Santa Claus (cf. Yellow Emanuelle, which is a real thing).  Emanuelle in America was the fourth Gemser Emanuelle outing and, by this time, the series had almost gotten as weird as it was gonna get.  


Look at that set design and ass framing!  That bear literally died from happiness when this scene was shot.  Say what you will about Euro sleazemaster Joe D'Amato, he had a directorial vision.  Even when his films were pretty bad, there was usually some interesting stuff happening visually.  Unless the frame was entirely taken up with close-ups of penises lancing vaginas. 


Look at that, goddamnit!  The 70s!  A table disguised as a cigarette box makes a nice contrast to your vulva fruit paintings.  That's (black) Emanuelle and her beau having romantic times at home.  Em will soon leave on randy adventures, though.  Emanuelle in America often plays like some attention-deficient sitcom where unlikely scenarios unfold, but don't really affect anything else that might happen.  Like when Emanuelle infiltrates a harem of women owned by a rich dick!


This is after she almost gets killed by some model's boyfriend.  He delivers this line—"I'm gonna marry her and she's never gonna have to take her clothes off ever again!"—then Emanuelle gives him a blowjob until he runs away crying.  But then it's time to infiltrate the harem!  The other girls are known only by their Zodiac signs and Em's a Virgo.  Lolcats~ get it?  It's funny because she's a slut!  Anyway, Emanuelle and the girls become fast friends.  At one point, they entice her into the pool by saying, "Come on in!  It's like chicken soup!"  


She also solves the problems of a neglected harem girl while they're both glisteningly naked.  Then another girl masturbates a horse.  Yes, this really happens, unfortunately.  I kept hoping it would be a short scene with maybe just simulated horse/girl sex, but no such luck.  Joe D'Amato, you son of a bitch, you've gone too far.  Fuck the 70s for real.  As with Cannibal Holocaust, I'd counsel getting an edited copy of this if you can, as you're not really losing any of the thematic nuances of Emanuelle in America if you skip the scenes of a horse's engorged cock.


That's a palette cleanser and you're welcome.  But let's go back and ask, even if you did want to put horse masturbation into your film for some reason, why would you put it in the first thirty minutes?  Where can the film go from there?  In this case, we go to Italy, land of gondolas and the incredible Paola Senatore.  Yes, Emanuelle in America is back in Italy before half of this movie has elapsed.  Emanuelle saves a troubled marriage with her marvelous baby cannon, then jets off to a party full of transparent blouses and albino rapists.


Some parts of this movie that try to be light-hearted just play as weird and gross.  Like the girl in the giant cake who is immediately beset by an aged Senator, who apparently tries to snort her tits off.  Senators take quite a kicking in Em in Am, as we will see.


Okay, yeah, so like after the party, Emanuelle infiltrates a brothel full of male prostitutes.  The only women we see are super-attractive, btw, because hot women clearly are the most likely group to pay for sex.  Emanuelle sees something creepy while she is surreptitiously watching people bang.  It's a couple copulating in front of a movie screen, which is displaying a violent snuff film.  Emanuelle investigates this by going to DC and seducing a Senator, who has decorated his Washington home with posters for SUZANNE'S PUNISHMENT SCHOOL.  These scenes have the movie's last great line, "I should allow fluid to be spilled over me more often!"


Turns out that snuff films are real!  And Emanuelle uncovers the story!  But the newspaper refuses to print the story, so she throws a fit and storms out...


...and ends up in a song-and-dance number with some happy tribe ruled by a guy with a seashell bra.  What the fuck, Emanuelle in America?  This movie is the most schized-out thing ever filmed.  Parts of it are a blast, but other parts are extremely boring, especially the lovingly-shot penetrations near the film's end.  None of it is cohesive at all.  It's like they had ten different scripts for this project and just decided to film them all and put them together one morning.  Gemser's hot and so is Senatore and I like the set design, but some of the badder elements here are stomach-churningly bad.  Not even close to my favorite thing, but it's certainly an experience.  


**1/2

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Shadow of Chikara (1977)

Firstly, this has nothing to do with that other Chikara.  Changing its name more than a moody teenager, this obscure western/horror/action thinger is also known as Demon Mountain, The Ballad of Virgil Cane, The Curse of Demon Mountain, and (my favorite) Wishbone Cutter.  Joe Don Baker IS Wishbone Cutter in this film, a Civil War commander who sprints off after the South gets smacked down.  You'll probably know Joe Don from Walking Tall or the MST3K version of Mitchell.  Be assured that his performance style has not changed for this film.


Spoiler: The South loses the Civil War.  We see it here, inexplicably scored with The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down".  Informed of a cache of river diamonds by a dying comrade, Cutter heads out with his half-Irish/half-Indian scout Half-Moon O'Brien.  There are some very brief bursts of potential in these scenes, with the Indian delivering lines like "I don't know anything about stones, except arrowheads and flints!"


Along the way, they have all sorts of amusing adventures.  They find a presumably-raped woman in a red dress in the woods and learn that her name is Drusilla Wilcox.  This movie has wrested the absurd-name crown from Bloodsucking Freaks.  They also run into backwoods hillbilly mutants.  Parts of this seem proto-Sharknado in their apparently intentional badness.  But then other parts are just long and draggy.


According to Indian legend, the mountain is supervised by a giant eagle named Chikara.  Bad luck certainly seems to befall them once they start the upward climb.  In one horrifying scene, a bunch of horses and riders pitch off the mountain to their deaths.  Surely this is just movie magic!  If not, this film has wrested the crown of being-a-total-asshole from Cannibal Ferox.


One scene encapsulates the dull heart of the film.  Wishbone and Drusilla sit and stare blankly down a dark hole as their compatriot tries to put a bunch of diamonds in a bag.  But the first bag has a hole in it!  So they have to throw down another bag.  This takes a few minutes.  Then he drops his torch.  This is the climax of the film!  The lol is on you, the viewer, if you watch this.  So take my advice and don't.


**

Monday, January 12, 2015

As Above, So Below (2014)

Yikes, people really hated this one!  It seems found footage has become the Tara Reid of film techniques—first loved, then tolerated, and now the object of inexplicably savage scorn and mockery.  "Why would they keep on filming while they're running away?"  Really, now, would you love this movie if it built up to a monster encounter and then it ended abruptly because someone dropped the camera and ran away?  A: no, you wouldn't.  People who complain about the conceits of found footage are like people who complain about roller coasters because "they all just go up and down and in loops".  Yes, that is what roller coasters are/do!  Found footage horror has people using cameras when they probably realistically wouldn't because otherwise there wouldn't be a movie!  GNARR! 


That's Scarlett, she's an academic adventurer in the Indiana Jones vein.  Her dad died before he could find the Rose Key, but she finds it in the first few minutes of this movie.  Girl power!  Then we travel to Paris, where she enlists the aid of Aramaic expert/old bell repairer George to assist her in locating the legendary philosopher's stone.  This premise is admirably ridiculous and it's capped by a scene that will divide viewers.  George translates an Aramaic document straight into rhyming English couplets on the spot.  !!!  This is so far-fetched that it became charming to me.  I can't believe the moxy of the filmmakers/screenwriter that they just pitched this out there!


So then the pair and a cameraman meet up with some French layabouts and travel into the catacombs beneath the city.  This was filmed in the catacombs for real and the setting really serves to make the film more compelling.  The atmosphere in the dark tunnels is just delightful—you couldn't pick a better place to execute jumpy, found footage horror.  The movie quickly dives into the surreal side of horror, with hallucinatory visions of pianos and firey cars, and also more practical monster attacks.  I'm not screenshotting the monsters so as not to spoil, so enjoy the following derpy faces.


The cast acquits itself effectively, but the film's real selling point is its batty script.  It's like they scanned my brain for things I'd like and somehow put them all into this movie.  Alchemy!  Dante quotes!  Bad Siouxsie and the Banshees jokes!  It's all here.  I loved that the film doesn't explain everything to death either.  There's nothing worse than a film that presents some arcane enigma and then breaks out the PowerPoint and the laser pointers and demystifies it entirely.


This isn't as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark or [rec], but it kind of plays like a mashup of both.  I like the fast-paced action-y side of horror, so I was super-pleased about that.


If you can't stand found footage, this won't convert you.  But if you're tolerant and able to ignore the carping of crowds of critics, As Above, So Below just might find a place in your heart.


***1/4

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Barbarian Queen (1985)

Barbarian Queen gets fancy at the outset, with a girl posed above her own reflection in a limpid pool.  But don't throw your TV out the window in disgust—the movie quickly lives down to its trashy title, as our girl is captured and bondaged by the barbarian version of a Duck Dynasty guy.  I love the framing in this scene, very reminiscent of local commercials for furniture stores or carpet wholesalers.  


Santa and his henchmen attack the girl's village and ruin its day.  Some wacky editing choices give us the arrow version of the magic bullet theory and the film spoons out its first taste of uninspiring battle scenes.  These are generally filmed very close-up and scored with monotonous metal clanging.  


This attack happens on Princess Amethea's wedding day.  Poor, doomed Lana Clarkson gives the titular performance you'd expect from a film of this pedigree.  Some of the rare fun in the movie derives from its loony, dated choices, such as the omnipresent headbands on the barby girls.  


I'm insecure about the amount of time I worried over the female costuming.  Obviously, I appreciate skimpy fur/leather bikinis, but why top that with thick fur pimp coats?  What the fuck climate is this supposed to indicate?


The bad guy costuming is even more puzzling.  Fur-lined all black and hats worn indoors.  Plus these Romans(? It's not that clear who these guys are, but they do have gladiators, so let's go with Romans) don't appear to have any females in their tribe.  We only ever see rapey men, who maintain harems full of abducted ladies.  I hope no future anthropologists ever try to interpret the past using only Barbarian Queen as a primary source.


They will probably be pretty displeased, although they might dig Katt Shea's fun performance and sometimes skimpy outfits.  I'm happy that Shea had a pretty lengthy directorial career after she'd done her time in this kind of thing.  


This is a poorly-constructed story.  In what is nominally an excuse to blend boobs and death, we endure eons of bad dialogue, so when something crazy finally does happen (like a Jewish torture scientist tying a pretty-naked Lana Clarkson to a rack), it's hard to care.  It's like getting rewarded with a French kiss, but only after you listen to a five-hour timeshare presentation.  In the great carny tradition, Barbarian Queen most likely owes its famed name to a cool poster and the reluctance of disappointed attendees to admit they actually saw it.  There's definitely better barby girl fare to be found; don't waste your life on this, pls.


*

Friday, October 31, 2014

Nightbreed: The Director's Cut (1990)

It's officially Halloween and I have stuff to do tomorrow, so consider this your wrapping-up post for the October smorgasbord of dreads.  You can read all about the producer-meddling tragedy and restored-footage triumph of Nightbreed right here.  This Director's Cut adds roughly forty minutes of new stuff to the chopped-up theatrical version.  I saw that version of Nightbreed when I was in high school, but can barely remember anything about it.  Fans have raved about the corrected "Cabal Cut", so let's just see if this film has been elevated to epic status.


Boone has problems.  He's plagued with dreams about a place called Midian, a nocturnal deathscape full of monsters.  Seeking help, he sees a psychiatrist named Decker (David Cronenberg!) who, get ready to be shocked, gives him medication.  Decker also informs Boone that the police are looking for him, in connection with a series of brutal slayings.  Boone has a lover named Lori.  


Fascinating, but what about the monsters?  After a very Broadway-style dream prologue, they arrive in brutal fashion, torn between attempting to eat Boone and attempting to free him.  The monsters, if you will, are the Nightbreed, the last remnants of supernatural races hunted almost to extinction by man.  Most of them look better than the one below, so don't panic.


Director/writer Clive Barker deliberately directs the audience's sympathy to the Nightbreed.  It's obvious that a lot of care has been taken in rendering them and their underground world, too.  For a film made in 1990 on a relatively tight budget, the creature effects here are just superb.  But the monsters also get to act and we frequently zoom in on emotional faces, almost like some bizarre version of Cats.


I thought some of the non-monsters also gave good performances.  This is Deborah Weston as Sheryl Ann and she doesn't get a whole lot of film time.  But her performance and Barker's decisions in one scene are just golden.  We slowly pan around an emoting Sheryl Ann as plangent country music blares from a car.  The look in her eyes tells us she just wants to be loved.


You know who else is a good actor?  David Cronenberg!  I don't know if he could handle a wide range of Gary Oldman-style roles, but this part—a cold, clinical psychologist—was pretty much made for him.  


One of the cool things about Nightbreed is that there are multiple tiers of good guys and bad guys with some folks occupying the grey-shaded midway.  It's a really strong character movie, despite its giant corps of monsters.  This compensates for a few of the flaws that do exist.  Sometimes the budgetary restrictions are easy to read and scenes that should convey an epic feel look like they were shot too tightly.  And sometimes the monster FX do fail to live up to their usual excellent standard.  Don't hate me, but one sometimes wishes for a little CGI concealment in those moments.  


Overall, I liked this.  I still don't think Nightbreed is a classic horror film and I think it says something that it hasn't engendered the kind of cult that even Hellraiser (with its many very witless sequels) has.  But, make no mistake, it's a very fun film and pretty much a must-see for anyone who loves monsters in their natural habitats.  Enjoy Satan's birthday today, I love you guys and gals!


***1/2

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Full Moon of the Virgins (1973)

A good rule of thumb for these movies is that the cooler the title, the more sucky the film itself is likely to be.  That's certainly true of Full Moon of the Virgins, which is also called The Devil's Wedding Night, clearly a standout title.  But it turns out that the devil's wedding is, like all weddings, fucking excruciatingly boring.  And if, like me, you are tempted by the title, this review should set you straight.


Besides getting rooked by the title, I was also fooled by the early scenes, which seemed to promise a great crossover.  A young occult enthusiast plans to travel to the castle of Dracula to locate the legendary Ring of the Nibelungen.  And he's taking bling consecrated to Pazuzu as protection!  That's like three icons of the fantastic getting married.  But then the movie slumps into its glacial pacing and we get what would ordinarily be filler shots: people talking at a table, a guy riding a horse across miles of nothing.  But these scenes are what this movie is all about!


You might see Rosalba Neri as the castle countess and start to hope.  Don't.  Because most of her scenes involve talking at a table.  There is some mid-movie sex, including aristocratic lesbianism, and I'll never knock naked Rosalba Neri, but she can't save this mess. 


The titular full moon signals that Neri will use the Ring (the absurd thing below) to entice a whole five virgins to her castle for a ritual that involves reincarnation, a wedding, transformation into shitty bats, all the usual fare.  Let me be clear: this movie is boring.  I will have to choose more wisely for tomorrow's entry if October is to be saved.


**

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Waxwork (1988)

Definitely one of the world's more successful horror/comedy hybrids, Waxwork wins my heart from the start by casting names like Patrick (The Howling) McNee, Deborah (April Fool's Day) Foreman, and Zach (Gremlins) Galligan.  Gremlins is probably the best reference point for the goals here: we get smarter-than-average comedy paired with horror scenes that often get laudably graphic.


A waxwork is opening and the guy dressed like Willy Wonka is its proprietor.  He offers a sneak peak to two girls who obviously haven't seen Demons.  They invite four of their friends, one of whom skips out on a massive paper assignment, risking the wrath of his Nazi-sympathizer history prof.


They misspelled "fascism", but these scenes are still a good prologue for what's to come.  Waxwork constantly hustles between laughs and frights, but plays them all with a good dose of fun.  Striking the balance well is pretty tough, but this movie does a great job at keeping things moving and keeping us from overdosing on cutesy dross.


The horror aspect of the film comes to the fore once we learn that people can magically fall into the waxworks, whereupon they must survive encounters with werewolves, vampers, and many other golden oldies.


The inventiveness and level of detail in these scenes should be commended.  The makers obviously knew that the monster scenes were going to be highlights because they put a lot of thought into framing and rendering very striking sets.  They got the pentagram right!  Good job, movie!


The creatures and their deaths are pretty spectacular, too.


Although Waxwork does seem to have a weird impalement fetish.


It's great fun throughout and the one that irked me was the portrayal of the Marquis de Sade.  Not that this actor does a bad job, it's really just that I'm tired of seeing Sade depicted as a romance novel coverboy instead of a puffy mutant, as he actually was.


But Waxwork should get credit here, too, because its portrayal of BDSM as an interest of relatively normal people was way ahead of its time.  Plus this leads to some superb Deborah Foreman acting, when her eyes fill up with embarrassment about her behavior.  If Deborah Foreman had done more ponderous & preachy films and fewer fun ones, she'd definitely have more actress acclaim.  She definitely had the skills.  But I'm grateful that she's one of ours.


We as viewers are lucky because the film ends with its strongest scenes.  What had been basically an anthology film with a really thick wraparound story ends up as an amazing monster mash.  The waxworks come to life just in time for an elongated battle royal with some senior citizens.  If that doesn't sell you on Waxwork, nothing will.


***