Sunday 25 February 2018

The Alley Tramp (1968)

The Alley Tramp is a good girl gone bad 1968 sexploitation flick directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis. The credits list Armand Parys as the director (and give every member of the cast and crew a phony French name) in a desperate attempt to give the impression that this is a classy French production. But it’s neither classy nor French and H.G. Lewis was indeed the director.

Lewis was an important figure in exploitation cinema in the 60s but somehow I’ve always found his movies to be not quite as much fun as they sound like they’re going to be. The Alley Tramp is no exception. The threadbare plot isn’t a problem. Plenty of sexploitation film-makers could have taken such a flimsy idea and made a highly entertaining film out of it. Lewis’s approach just seems lifeless, as if he just wanted to get it over and done with.

The plot revolves around young Marie Barker (Julie Ames). Marie is sixteen, but she’s not exactly sweet sixteen. Her mother has always feared that one day she’d run wild and now she’s convinced that those fears have turned out to be well-founded. What sets Marie off is the sight of her parents having sex (which is apparently a very rare occurrence in the Barker household). As everyone knows this is a sight that can trigger nymphomania in teenage girls, and Marie is soon running amok sexually.

Her first target is her good-natured third cousin, Phil. Phil is a decent enough young man but he is utterly unable to resist Marie’s very determined advances.

Marie’s mother Lily (Amy Heath), already suffering from extreme sexual frustration, suspects that her husband is having an affair (which he is, with his secretary) and since her chances of ever getting any marital sex seem remote she decides to have an affair as well. She picks Herbie as a good prospect, or at least a good prospect for a woman who likes it rough (as Lily does).

Inevitably things get complicated, with Marie seducing Herbie. After having an abortion and then seducing the doctor in the hospital Marie is packed off to a mental institution. But all is not lost. Her parents are assured that nymphomania is a treatable medical condition.

The sex scenes are pretty much what you expect in a 60s sexploitation feature, the sex mostly taking place under the bedclothes with the men keeping their jockey shorts on at all times. There is however plenty of nudity, including frontal nudity, and including at least one remarkably explicit shot that Lewis presumably hoped (rightly as it turned out) that he could get away with. Or perhaps he was so uninterested he didn’t notice it himself.

Julia Ames and Amy Heath are both quite attractive (with Amy Heath looking rather young to be the mother of a sixteen-year-old) and they both spend plenty of time naked.

This film features some of the worst acting you will ever come across. That turns out to be its saving grace. Julia Ames is atrocious but she’s enormous fun especially when she goes completely over-the-top in the scene in which Marie finally snaps and lets her mother know exactly how things are going to be from now on. It’s a gloriously epic piece of overacting. Amy Heath is no slouch in the overacting department either. Between the two of them they turn what could have been a dull film into a deliciously entertaining exercise in bad but thoroughly enjoyable film-making.

There is also a brief go-go dancing scene. More go-go dancing would have helped but we have to be grateful for what we get.

Something Weird paired this one with another sexploitation film, Over 18…And Ready! (which I haven’t watched yet). The Alley Tramp looks terrific. There’s the usual array of Something Weird extras.

The Alley Tramp is I suppose a borderline roughie, although it lacks the edge to qualify as a fully-fledged member of that species.

It has to be admitted that this is far from being a classic of the genre but it is a must-see movie for true connoisseurs of excruciatingly bad acting. If you’re a H.G. Lewis completist you’ll also be interested.

Saturday 17 February 2018

The Frozen Dead (1966)

The Frozen Dead might be a schlocky sci-fi/horror B-movie with a close kinship to cheap and lurid 1950s mad scientist movies (and to both zombie and Nazisploitation movies) but it has enough odd interesting qualities to make it worth seeing. Although the majority of these kinds of movies tend to be American or European this is actually a 1966 British production.

Dr Norberg (Dana Andrews) appears to be a dedicated and kindly medical researcher living in a comfortable country house not too far from London. He’s German but the war has been over for more than twenty years and he’s popular and well-respected in the district. In reality though the war never did end for Dr Norberg. He’s actually a stalwart Nazi Party member and his medical research is far from innocuous. In the closing stages of the war he perfected a method of freezing people so that they could be revivified many years later. He froze twelve Nazi officers and they’re in his basement laboratory.

Actually to say that he perfected the method is a slight exaggeration. Defreezing people turned out to be more difficult than he anticipated and so far the ones he has defrozen have ended up with severe brain damage. He is however working hard to refine his techniques.

This has suddenly become critical. He has just been informed that the Party actually has 1,500 frozen Nazis in storage and now they want them all revived so that the Third Reich can be reborn.

To add to his troubles his much-loved niece Jean (Anna Palk) has arrived back home from a school in America earlier than expected. She knows nothing of his past or his work and he really doesn’t want her finding a basement full of deep-frozen Nazis.

On the other hand an opportunity has come his way. He has finally been able to obtain a completely fresh human head which he has been able to sever from the body and keep alive. This may give him the keys to understanding how to revive his frozen comrades successfully without damaging their brains.

This might sound like an incredibly trashy film. It is a trashy film but it’s a cut above most films of its type. There are some genuinely effective and atmospheric images. The head without a body is very well done and quite creepy.

What really sets it apart is the performance of Dana Andrews. Andrews was a fine actor who by the 60s found himself relegated to low-budget shockers but he hadn’t forgotten how to act. He plays his role pretty straight and makes Dr Norberg a mad scientist who despite being a Nazi does have some good qualities. He’s a Nazi with ethics! And his German accent is subtle and convincing.

Anna Palk is quite good as the niece. Alan Tilvern plays Norberg’s assistant Karl Essen and he also manages to deliver a fairly non-hammy performance. Philip Gilbert is the weak link as young American scientist Ted Roberts who agrees to help Norberg with his experiments. Look out for Edward Fox in a small role as a brain-damaged Nazi zombie.

Nazi fever really took off in the 1960s and fuelled a whole series of mostly Z-grade sci-fi horror flocks as well as even more lurid fare. Nazis became an obsession in television action adventure series as well. Nazis were simply everywhere in the world of 60s pop culture.

What makes this movie interesting is that it has all the outrageousness that the plot outline would lead you to expect combined with a certain British quality of understatement. It’s as if writer-director Herbert J. Leder (who was actually an American) was trying to make a quality sci-fi horror movie in the tradition of Hammer’s celebrated Quatermass films. With a limited budget and ludicrously over-the-top subject matter it’s not surprising that he falls short of his objective but at least he gave it the old college try.

On the whole this is a silly but reasonably well-made fun movie. It’s low-budget but the production values are certainly not rock-bottom. And it does have that surprisingly complex performance by Dana Andrews to give it a touch of unexpected class.

The Warner Archive disc offers a very good anamorphic transfer. The colours look great.

The Frozen Dead is pretty entertaining. Zombies, a memorable mad scientist, a head without a body and snap-frozen Nazis - what’s not to love? Recommended.

And if you love Dana Andrews in this movie he's also good as a mad scientist in the excellent Crack in the World.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Platinum Pussycat (1968)

Platinum Pussycat (also released as The Losers) is a 1968 sexploitation movie that creates its own little sub-genre. We could call it sexploitation noir, or maybe noirsploitation. It’s a strange little movie but it’s fascinating and it’s entertaining.

Some guy called Hollister gets stabbed to death. His girl Dena (Sandy Roberts) didn’t do it but she is the prime suspect, mainly because she didn’t play things too smart after the murder. She picked up the knife, left her prints all over it, then ran before the cops arrived. So it’s not surprising that the police figure she’s the murderess.

In desperation she turns to her ex-boyfriend Mike Baron (Jeff Baker). Mike’s an ex-cop and he’s one tough hombre. The only trouble is that he knows Dena pretty well and he doesn’t trust her one little bit. He is however persuaded to help her hide out for a while, at the apartment of a lady artist friend of his. This works out very badly indeed for the lady artist, and pretty badly for Dena as well when a couple of hoods show up. They rape Dena and kidnap her and then they torture her.

This makes Mike pretty mad and when Mike gets mad people get hurt. They get hurt real bad.

At this point the plot, pretty shaky to begin with, starts to gain quite a bit in complications and lose quite a bit in coherence. It seems that Hollister was mixed up with a Soviet spy master and the whole thing revolves around some stolen documents and the money that was to be exchanged for said documents. Everybody involved was trying to double-cross everybody else and now there are lots of people prepared to commit all manner of mayhem to get their hands on the documents, or the money, or both.

So basically this is a spy thriller. And while it might be a bit incoherent it’s really no more incoherent than a lot of the mainstream spy movies of the mid to late 60s. It was an incoherent kind of decade.

You might now be asking what happened to the sexploitation angle? Well you needn’t worry about that. The spy thriller plot is interspersed with lots of sex and lots of nudity. The sex scenes don’t always make much sense. I have no idea where the two lesbians came from but this is a sexploitation movie and so it had to have lesbians, and it does. And they get down to some hot girl-on-girl action as well as a threesome with a particularly nasty gangster.

All the female cast members get naked at some stage. Mostly the sex and nudity is what you expect from early to mid 60s sexploitation - no frontal nudity and while the sex scenes try to be steamy the guys keep their underpants on. This suddenly changes midway through and we get a ten-minute interlude with fairly explicit (by the standards of 1968) sex and some frontal nudity. This little interlude was shot in colour while the rest of the movie is in black-and-white. It is of course quite possible that this sequence was shot separately some time after the rest of the movie.

There’s a very obvious film noir influence here and I suspect it was particularly influenced by John Boorman’s Point Blank which came out in 1967. Lee Marvin’s performance in that film might well have inspired Jeff Baker’s performance in this film. In fact this movie has a pretty strong claim to be considered as an authentic neo-noir. Not a great neo-noir, but considering the ultra low budget it’s better than you might expect. There’s even an actual action set-piece as the finale.

Sandy Roberts can’t really act but she’s cute and she knows how to look seductive. She has the femme fatale role and she carries it off reasonably well.

The really interesting performance comes from Jeff Baker. I’m not claiming he was any great shakes as an actor but he sure as hell was hardboiled. Mike Baron is your basic hardboiled movie private eye on steroids. This guy could eat Mike Hammer for breakfast.

The impression of incoherence is perhaps mainly due to the soundtrack, with its odd mix of random noise, pop songs and voiceover narration that manages to make the details of the plot much more difficult to untangle. In fact it’s probably easier to follow the plot if you ignore the voiceover narration altogether.

Retro Seduction Cinema have released this movie as part of a double feature, paired with The Sexploiters. It’s a two-disc set and there are oodles of extras. They’ve done a fairly reasonable job with the transfer. The source material clearly had some problems. There’s some severe print damage in places but mostly the image quality is quite good. Sound quality is OK but with a few dropouts.

Platinum Pussycat might not make a whole lot of sense but it’s certainly action-packed, by which I mean it’s packed with actual action as well as sex. As a sexploitation movie it clearly belongs in the roughie category but it tries hard to be a film noir and at times it succeeds. It’s oddly hypnotic and fascinating. Most of all it’s fun. Highly recommended.