Thursday, 26 March 2020

Mr Mari's Girls (1967)

Mr Mari's Girls is a 1967 sexploitation film from New York that just doesn’t quite make it.

This movie is a series of five vignettes with a framing story. All five segments deal with girls who have gone to Mr Mari for assistance and advice. Mr Mari is an eccentric millionaire who helps out young women who get themselves into various kinds of trouble. At first you could be forgiven for thinking he’s some kind of not-too-conventional therapist. We soon figure our that this is far from being the case.

The first case concerns a young housewife with a gambling problem. Now she’s got a fairly nasty hoodlum demanding the money she owes him. Until she can pay the debt she’s going to have to keep the guy sweet with sexual favours. Only Mr Mari can get her out of this mess.

Then we move on to the story of a young deadbeat female junkie. She needs a fix real bad which means she needs money real bad. She usually gets money by turning tricks or posing nude for a somewhat sleazy photographer. She turns up at his studio but he decides she’s just too off her face to do any posing so he kicks her out. But Mr Mari will of course help her.

These first two segments definitely belong to the rough genre - girls forced into sleazy sex, girls getting slapped around, an atmosphere of moral squalor and menace. But not too extreme (the roughie genre could get very extreme). If you like this sort of thing it’s done reasonably well here. And there’s lots of nudity and the girls are rather pretty.

After that we get a startling change of pace - the tale of a young college student who is worried she might fail her English exams. She asks her professor for some private tutoring but she’s really hoping that if she can get friendly with him (real friendly) he’ll make sure she passes. This one is played for comedy and the girl’s attempts to seduce the professor really are quite amusing.

Then there’s the case of the butch lesbian and her blind lesbian artist girlfriend. Luckily she’s a modernist artist so being blind is no disadvantage at all. This segment might be a bit bizarre but somehow it manages to be bizarre in an uninteresting way.

The final case brings us a further change of pace - now we’re in B-movie crime thriller territory with a young gangster planning an ambitious robbery. His gang includes two young women, but whether they’re willing accomplices or not is an open question.

Then there’s the surprise twist ending although I have no idea why it takes anyone by surprise since the groundwork for it has been pretty obviously laid. But it is an outrageous ending at least.

The framing story is the most interesting element in the film. Mr Mari seems at first to be an amazingly generous benefactor to young ladies down on their luck. As the story progresses it becomes clear that he’s actually encouraging the girls in their vices. Rather than a benefactor he’s a master manipulator. He doesn’t lay a finger on any of his girls but it’s clear that he gets his psychological (and presumably sexual) thrills from watching the girls dance like puppets while he pulls their strings. He becomes a more and more sinister character but the dark side or Mr Mari is, cleverly, revealed very gradually. And it’s Mr Mari’s dark side that gives this movie its edginess and could have made it a semi-roughie sexploitation classic.

So what went wrong? Partly it’s the slow pacing. Partly it’s the fact that most of the segments, after some promisingly sleazy buildup, just don’t offer enough of a payoff. Partly it just pulls its punches a bit too much. But it has to be said that the framing story is a good one.

One odd thing about the film is that it gets less sexy as it progresses. The first few segments are jam-packed with naked women, and very attractive ones. The later segments have less nudity and the women are much less attractive, and the sexual tension pretty much dissipates.

The cinematography is pretty good. It all looks fairly slick.

This one comes as part of a triple-header release from Something Weird (along with Two Girls for a Madman and Tortured Females). Not much in the way of extras here but hey, you are getting three movies. They certainly found a good print from which to source the transfer.

This movie is flawed and it’s too slow but it’s not entirely without interest. If you’e going to buy the triple-header disc anyway then it’s worth giving Mr Mari's Girls a spin.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Firecracker (1981)

Firecracker (AKA Naked Fist) is a 1981 production from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. It was shot in the Philippines with Cirio H. Santiago directing (and co-writing they script and acting as executive producer). This is a martial arts action movie and on the whole it delivers the goods.

Susanne Carter (Jillian Kesner) arrives in the Philippine to look for her sister Bonie, a reporter who has gone missing. The trip quickly lets her to The Arena, a kind of extreme martial arts night club. And the fights are definitely extreme, usually ending with the loser ready to be carted off to the hospital. And on special nights there’s an extra added attraction, fights to the death. The Arena is run by Erik (Ken Metcalfe) and we have no doubts that he’s a bad guy.

The star attraction is a young American fighter named Chuck (Darby Hinton). Susanne has been warned that Chuck is seriously dangerous and to keep away from him but it’s pretty obvious as soon as she meets him that she’s hot for him.

As it happens Susanne is a martial arts expert herself, and she’s pretty dangerous as well. Obviously there will be fireworks between these two.

The smart thing for Susanne to do would be to leave things to the police and that’s exactly what they advise her to do. Naturally she takes no notice.

Erik and his crew are into narcotics dealing as well as martial arts and there’s a nasty power struggle going on (which involves some large-scale running gun battles).

Susanne keeps looking for clues to her sister’s disappearance and gets attacked by gangs of thugs seemingly every few minutes. Jillian Kesner apparently really was trained in karate and it shows. She approaches the fight scenes with gusto and her moves look convincing. She’s also getting more and more attracted to Chuck. She just loves those bad boys.

We can guess what the climax is going to entail, which is OK because we’re looking forward to it.

It has to be said that Firecracker hits the ground running. Within the first few minutes there’s a karate fight to the death and Susanne, in her underwear, gets attacked by two goons whom she despatches in the first of her many many fight scenes. From this point on the action doesn’t let up.

And the fight scenes are pretty darned good.

For an 80s Roger Corman flick there’s not as much T&A as you might expect and you have to wait a long time for it. When it does arrive it’s done quite well and it has a sleazy perverse edge to it. One of the highlights is the fight scene in which a thug takes a swipe at Susanne with a rather nasty blade. She survives unhurt but the blade neatly slices through her bra strap (she’s already lost her dress in the course of the fight). If you’re going to show boobies, and in a Roger Corman exploitation film you obviously do have to, you might as well do it with a certain amount of style.

There’s also a very kinky sex scene in which Susanne has her clothing and then her underwear removed, very slowly, by a couple of very sharp knives. In this scene Jillian Kesner finally does some acting, conveying Susanne’s emotional state quite effectively. She’s very turned on but just a bit afraid, although whether she’s afraid of him or afraid of her own lust is hard to say. Given a certain piece of information which is known to the viewer but not to Susanne it’s actually a surprisingly powerful and erotically perverse scene.

Unfortunately the acting in general is stupendously awful. Having her underwear sliced off seems to be the only thing that awakens Miss Kesner’s limited acting talents. The other cast members are just awful.

But this is an exploitation movie so who the heck cares about the wooden acting? There’s an abundance of action, some nice location shooting and a fair bit of perversity. Added to which is the fact that when Miss Kesner finally does get naked she looks remarkably attractive.

Firecracker is packaged with T.N.T. Jackson and Too Hot To Handle in Shout! Factory’s Lethal Ladies Collection Volume 1 DVD set. The transfer is pretty good, with just a very few moments of print damage.

Firecracker isn’t going to give you any insights into the human condition but it will entertain you. You can’t complain about that. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

recent posts on my other blogs

Some recent posts on my other blogs, with links.

On Classic Movie Ramblings -

Girls in Prison (1956), a reasonably entertaining American exploitation movie on the women-in-prison theme.

Jungle Girl (1941), a great jungle adventure serial.

Plus the three movies from Kino Lorber's excellent Mamie van Doren boxed set -

Guns, Girls and Gangsters (1959), which delivers exactly what it promises and is wonderfully entertaining.

The Girl in Black Stockings (1957), pretty enjoyable B-movie murder mystery fare.

Vice Raid (1959), not as lurid as it would like us to think it's going to be but with a slightly sleazy atmosphere.

Mamie is in fine form in all three movies.

On Vintage Pop Fictions -

Leigh Brackett’s novella Black Amazon of Mars, a terrific sword-and-planet adventure tale. Plus the extended novel version, People of the Talisman, also pretty good.

John Norman’s fairly politically incorrect Tarnsman of Gor, so you can find out what all the controversy was about.

On Cult TV Lounge -

The Green Hornet (1966-67), which had the misfortune to be seen as a Batman clone although it's actually something quite different (and in my view better).

The Samurai, Fuma Ninja (1963), a Japanese productionwhich I think is the best kids' action-adventure series ever.

The Invaders season two (1967-68), still probably the best alien invasion TV series ever.

Mission: Impossible season 3, just as good as the first two seasons and tragically the last season to feature Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Cater.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Frauleins in Uniform (1973)

Of all the exploitation movie genres I think most people would agree that nazisploitation movies are about the nastiest. I admit it’s a genre I’m not entirely comfortable with and I can generally cope with even the roughest women-in-prison movies. So Frauleins in Uniform (AKA She Devils of the SS and originally titled Eine Armee Gretchen) mightn’t sound like quite my cup of tea. But Frauleins in Uniform is not your ordinary nazisploitation movie. It’s rather good-natured. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a nazisploitation movie for the whole family but it’s definitely entirely lacking in the sadism and cruelty usually associated with the genre. There are no torture scenes. There are no scenes of women in chains or being beaten.

Whether it’s a nazisploitation movie you’ll actually enjoy depends partly on your tastes and partly on the mood you’re in.

At times it’s more like a sex comedy. In fact it’s a bit like a cross between a sex comedy and one of those comedies about army life. At other times it’s kind of bleak and rather sad. It’s a world gone mad with people doing their best to cope.

Also unusual is the fact that it not only features wartime action scenes, they’re actually quite good.

It is very late in the Second World War and the Germans are clearly losing. In desperation they are calling upon German womanhood to don uniform and fight for the nation’s survival. We follow a group of such girls, all eager to do their duty. Of course they’re also motivated by a desire for adventure. And then there’s the fact that all the men are at the front. Which means that the best place for a girl to be is at the front with the men, serving beside them. And, much of the time, serving under them. Literally. It is important to maintain the men’s morale and these girls are confident that they know ways to lift a man’s morale.

Some of the girls end up serving in communications units, and some in anti-aircraft detachments. They are proud to be in uniform but they’re also proud to shed their uniforms when necessary for the cause. Such occasions for what one might called non-uniformed service arise frequently. Luckily these young women can undress with a rapidity and efficiency that would make a drill sergeant weep for joy.

Of course under conditions of such stress love blooms just as quickly as sexual desire.

This is a movie that certainly does not ignore the horrors of war but it deals with them in an interesting manner. It’s not even the slightest bit sympathetic to the Nazis but these girls (and the men with whom they become involved) are just ordinary people. They may be sex-crazed but they’re basically nice girls. Insofar as the movie has a message it’s more of a general anti-war message. In war morality collapses. And not just sexual morality. Casual brutality becomes commonplace, on both sides (the scene of an Allied fighter-bomber machine-gunning terrified unarmed women is pretty harrowing).

Also interesting is that it actually makes sense that they’re all at it like bunnies. If you could get blown to bits in an air raid at any moment you grab every moment of pleasure that’s offered. It’s a very rare sex movie in which the ubiquitous coupling actually serves the plot.

It’s all strictly softcore but there’s a lot of sex and a truly stupendous amount of nudity. And it has to be said that the girls are extremely pretty. While the sex and nudity are sometimes played for comedy these elements are never really crass. There’s an odd innocence about it. There’s also an odd desperation about the sex.

Erwin C. Dietrich directed and it’s fairly typical of his efforts, both in the copious quantities  of female flesh on display and in the overall lack of mean-spiritedness. He ticks most of the classic sex movie boxes - there’s a shower scene (which is very light-hearted) and of course there’s some lesbian sex.

While it’s a fascinatingly different softcore movie that doesn’t mean it’s a great movie. It’s rather disjointed and it tries to follow the stories of too many of the women rather than focusing on the three main characters, Marga, her sister Eva and Marga's friend Ursula. It’s also a movie that can’t decide if it wants to be a light-hearted sexy romp, a sex comedy or something more serious. So the mood is wildly inconsistent.

It does however have an odd charm. It’s so very odd and it avoids the clichés of its genre so completely that it’s rather appealing. If you have a thing for lovely women in uniform (or lovely women slipping out of their uniforms) it’s pretty much a must-see. Even if that’s not your thing it does offer wall-to-wall frontal nudity, the women are beautiful and the female characters (even the most cheerfully immoral of them) are likeable. Plus there’s lots of stuff getting blown up. I probably should add that if you’re hoping for a Girls With Guns movie you’ll be disappointed. None of these girls touches a gun. They are at the front but they are not front-line soldiers.

The Full Moon Grindhouse Collection DVD offers a very good anamorphic transfer. There are a couple of other DVD releases and there’s even a Blu-Ray release.

If you’re looking for genuine nazisploitation then Frauleins in Uniform is not for you. But if you’re looking for something different this one might appeal to you in which case I’d highly recommend it.

Monday, 2 March 2020

The Giant Behemoth (1959)

The Giant Behemoth (Behemoth the Sea Monster), released in 1959, sounds like a typical 1950s Hollywood monster movie but this one was an Anglo-American co-production filmed in Britain with a mostly British cast.

It’s another case of a giant monster created by radiation. It starts in a fairly low-key way. A fisherman in Cornwall is found dead on the beach with symptoms that could suggest radiation burns. Plus there are thousands of dead fish. American marine biologist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) certainly suspects that radiation could be the cause. Professor James Bickford (André Morell) is more cautious but he certainly intends to investigate. The body of the dead fisherman has already been buried but there’s another fisherman with burns on his hands which really do look very much like radiation burns.

Tests on the dead fish reveal lots of radioactivity and some strange cells.

Karnes has come up with a wild theory that they’re dealing with a gigantic sea monster, like the behemoth of biblical prophecy. Professor Bickford is sceptical at first but reluctantly comes around to the idea that Karnes may be right.

The wreck of a freighter seems to conform the sea monster theory. It’s hard to explain the damage to the ship in any other way.

A consultation with an eccentric palaeontologist provides more bad news. He’s convinced it’s a dinosaur and this type of dinosaur always returns to fresh water to die. And this beast is so radioactive it has to be dying. Which means it will try to return to the Thames to die. The palaeontologist also informs them that not only is this monster radioactive, it’s electric as well. Like an electric eel. So it can project radioactivity at anything in its path.

Pretty soon the monster is loose in the Thames. Some way has to be found to stop it but they can’t blow it up - they would spread radiation everywhere.

If you’re tired of seeing Tokyo get stomped by giant monsters this is your chance to see London get stomped instead.

The miniatures work is not too bad. As for the stop-motion effects, special effects legend Willis O’Brien was in charge. Some of the effects are excellent, some not so good. The location shooting in Cornwall for the early scenes is one of the highlights.

This movie has many similarities to the Eugène Lourié-directed 1953 monster flick The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms which is hardly surprising given that Lourié was involved in The Giant Behemoth as well.

André Morell was a fine actor and he gives the movie some gravitas and some class. Gene Evans is quite good as well.

The Giant Behemoth is played very straight. The subject matter might have suggested a high camp approach but the actual approach taken is the exact opposite with some real effort being put in to maintain tension and build atmosphere. The scientific stuff, wile wildly far-fetched, is fun with some great 1950s high technology used to establish the nature of the threat.

For aviation geeks there’s some rare footage of an Armstrong-Whitworth Sea Hawk jet fighter.

The Warner Archive DVD release offers a very fine anamorphic transfer. Very unusually, there’s an audio commentary as well.

The Giant Behemoth is surprisingly effective. Despite the outlandish concept it’s never played for laughs. The impression it gives is that the people involved were trying to make a monster movie that was a cut above the usual run of such movies. To a certain extent they succeeded. It’s still a cheap monster movie but it’s a good cheap monster movie. Recommended.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

The Nude Vampire (1970)

The Nude Vampire (La vampire nue) was Jean Rollin’s second feature film, and the second in his vampire cycle. It was released in 1970. If you’re not familiar with Rollin’s work you may go into this movie expecting a straightforward erotic horror movie. If so you’re going to become very disoriented very quickly. Rollin was a surrealist. By that I don’t mean that he used surrealist images and techniques to add some atmosphere. This movie is surrealism all the way through.

All of Rollin’s horror movies are surrealist but that’s particularly true of his vampire films. The later vampire films, like the superb Fascination, are slightly more subtle but they’re still surrealist. The early movies are about as surrealist as any movies can get, and I’m not just talking about horror films. Very few directors ever attempted to push surrealism as far as Rollin did, and very few succeeded in making it work as well as Rollin did.

Trying to disentangle the plot of The Nude Vampire is like trying to make sense of a dream. You can gain some glimmerings of understanding, you can even get some real insights into dream states, but if you insist on logic you’re lost. It’s not that there isn’t a plot, it’s just that logic won’t help you.

A young man is rather concerned that his very wealthy father M. Radamante has kidnapped a young woman. The young man, Pierre Radamante, thinks his dad may be doing something relatively harmless like hosting occult sex parties for the decadent rich. In fact his dad is up to something much weirder.

There’s plenty of decadence here. There are for instance bored rich people playing Russian roulette. But it’s not what it seems - they’re a kind of cult. They worship the kidnapped girl. Who may not have been kidnapped. The girl is a vampire, or perhaps M. Radamante is right that she simply has a rare blood disease. She cannot tolerate sunlight. Any wounds she suffer heal almost instantly. She drinks blood. Perhaps this is really a science fiction film.

M. Radamante has his vampire and he intends to discover her secrets. But can he hang on to her? And will he realise that the situation is not at all what it seems to be and that he really has no idea what he is dealing with.

This movie is all about the images and the mood and these were always Rollin’s strengths. The images are disturbing, not in the sense of offering gore or overt terrors, but simply in conveying a sense that we’ve entered a world in which the rules are different.

There are characteristic Rollin touches. There are clocks. There are two young ladies who appear to be twins. No clowns, but he does manage to include a scene on his beloved beach at Dieppe, the beach that features in so many of his films.

There are some wonderful shots. Solange eavesdropping on the twins for instance, a beautifully composed scene.

Rollin had little in common with other practitioners of the erotic horror genre who were active at the time. He had his own style and seemed indifferent to the preoccupations of his contemporaries. The obvious movie with which to compare The Nude Vampire is Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 1983 exercise in surreal eroticism, La Belle Captive.

And why did Rollin make so many vampire movies, and all of them concerning female vampires? Not because he had any interest in vampire folklore but for the very simple practical reason that compared to other types of horror films they are more aesthetically pleasing. You can cast pretty women in them. And the opportunities for combining horror and eroticism are so much greater. That’s Rollin’s explanation and there’s no reason to doubt it.

There’s no sex and not as much nudity as you might expect. The girls do get to wear some wild costumes though. And there are the masks.

Some of his later vampire films work better as horror films although I think it’s fair to say that Rollin never did make anything resembling a conventional horror movie. The Nude Vampire is a truly bizarre movie but the imagery is extraordinary. If you’re new to Rollin, start with Lips of Blood or Fascination but if you’re a Rollin fan this one is essential viewing. On that basis The Nude Vampire is highly recommended.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

From Hell It Came (1957)

From Hell It Came may not be the silliest of 1950s monster movies but it certainly has to rank in the top five. This is the infamous killer tree trunk movie.

It opens on a small Pacific island, a US colony, with the execution of a native prince named Kimo. He’s the victim of a plot by a rival and an evil witch doctor to usurp power. Kimo was accused of helping the Americans to poison the previous chief. Kimo vows to come back from the dead and take his revenge.

The island is suffering from an outbreak of plague. The new evil chief blames the Americans. Since the Americans did explode a hydrogen bomb on a nearby island and since the fallout from the explosion did drift on to the island and cause radiation sickness it’s not difficult to see how the  new chief persuaded his people that the Americans are the bad guys. In fact of course the Americans are only there to help and to bring the natives the advantages of modern science and medicine. Spearheading this philanthropic mission are Dr Arnold (Tod Andrews) and Professor Clark (John McNamara). They’ve both been on the island too long and they’re clearly going a bit stir-crazy. Luckily they have plenty of booze.

Complicating things for Dr Arnold is the presence of beautiful American lady scientist Dr Terry Mason (Tina Carver). He’s hopelessly in love with Dr Mason but she’s a career gal.

The American scientists have an uphill struggle to convince the natives to trust them but seem to be making progress when a strange tree trunk appears in the native cemetery. The locals are inclined to think it’s the spirit of Kimo that has come back in the form of the the monster Tabanga and he’s looking for vengeance. The American scientists are sceptical until they discover that the tree trunk has a human heartbeat!

The smart thing to do would be to hit the tree stump with a massive dose of herbicide but if they did that we’d be denied the excitement of seeing a rampaging tree stump creating mayhem.

And this is not just your regular homicidal shrub. Remember that hydrogen bomb I mentioned earlier. This is a radiation-enhanced homicidal shrub!

The evil witch doctor has his own plans for the Tabanga. If he can force it to do his bidding he will have an unstoppable weapon in his possession. He will be able to expel the hated Americans from the island and he will have supreme unchallenged power. No-one can stand against the Tabanga. Of course the Tabanga is just a tree with a bad attitude that moves incredibly slowly and doesn’t seem to have any superpowers but by the standards of the island it’s a super-weapon.

You might be wondering how a movie with a premise like this could possibly void descending into utter silliness. This movie doesn’t even try to avoid that fate - it dives head-first into the deepest pit of silliness it can find.

The three leads are unexciting if competent. The major annoyance is Linda Watkins as the predatory widow Mrs Kilgore. Her accent may well be the worst I’ve ever heard. I assumed she was trying for a cockney accent but then she mentions returning to Australia, so instead of being the worst cockney accent in cinema history it turns out that this is the worst Australian accent in cinema history. Added to which her acting is generally excruciating. You will find yourself praying that she will be one of Tabanga’s first victims.

The makeup effects are impressive in their own way. They wanted a walking tree trunk that looked just slightly human and that’s what they got. It looks really dumb but it does look like a slightly human tree trunk.

You have to admire the cast for being able to play their scenes in this move while keeping a straight face.

Apart from its silliness it’s a movie made with at least a moderate degree of competence. Dan Milner was no Ed Wood. It is excessively talky in the early stages and once the action starts it’s not all that exciting. But compared to some of the worst 50s sci-fi movies (like The Beast of Yucca Flats) it’s enjoyable in its goofiness.

The Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD offers a remarkably good anamorphic transfer. This might be a terrible movie but it looks great.

For all its many flaws From Hell It Came is oddly endearing. If you’re in the mood for a very silly monster movie it’s fun. Recommended.