Thursday 29 December 2022

The Abnormal Female (1969)

The Abnormal Female (1969) is included on a Something Weird triple-header DVD along with Ted V. Mikels’ One Shocking Moment and the truly bizarre The Maidens of Fetish Street. The three movies are by no means the cream of the crop as far as 1960s American sexploitation films are concerned, in fact far from it, but they do provide a look at some of the oddities spawned by this fascinating genre.

The credited director on The Abnormal Female is George Rodgers, with the screenplay credited to Martin Lathrop. This movie is the sole movie credit for both these guys but it was pretty common practice to make movies such as this using pseudonyms so there’s probably no way of knowing who actually made this film.

The Abnormal Female dispenses with plot altogether. The idea is that there’s this psychiatrist who is treating a bunch of women for severe sexual dysfunctions. The women’s stories are then presented to us in flashbacks.

These women are so sexually perverted and dysfunctional that they actually enjoy sex. They clearly need a psychiatrist to teach them to become normal women, in other words to stop enjoying sex. This may well have been an intentional joke on the part of the film-makers. The sexploitation film scene was after all not just a money-making activity. There was, on the part of at least some of the people involved, that they were reacting against the puritanism of Eisenhower-era America and pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable entertainment.

You do have to remember the historical context. Just ten years earlier Hollywood movies were showing married couples sleeping in separate beds and a mere glimpse of a nipple was considered to be disgustingly pornographic. It was only in 1959 that it became possible for erotic movies to be made reasonably openly without the film-makers facing the prospect of imprisonment for obscenity. Even in the 60s it was necessary to be extremely careful.

It’s startling just how quickly American sexploitation movies evolved. In 1959 Russ Meyer made the first nudie-cutie (the delightfully good-natured The Immoral Mr Teas). At that time you could show T&A but you couldn’t even hint at actual sexual activity. You had to find a way to present naked girls in a totally non-sexual context. By 1969 you could make a movie like The Abnormal Female, with lots of female frontal nudity and some pretty graphic simulated sex scenes. It’s much more graphic than similar movies made a year or two earlier.

So back to the movie itself. The good doctor’s first patient is a sadist. She gets off on whipping her boyfriend and subjecting him to horrors like the lemon juice torture. Yes, I also had no idea that it was possible to have a lemon juice fetish. She’s the only patient who engages in sex that could be seriously described as kinky.

The second patient’s perversion is that she has sex with a man who isn’t her husband. That’s bad enough but her real perversion is that she enjoys it.

The other patents are into things like threesomes and casual sex. You know, shocking stuff like picking guys up in bars and taking them home. One girl is so twisted that she has sex with a guy in the back seat of a car. I honestly had no idea that a woman could be so depraved.

What you always hope for in classic American sexploitation movies are wtf moments and this movie does have a few (such as the aforementioned lemon juice thing). What really makes this movie weirdly intriguing is the bizarre tone. We have girls who are having sex and they look like they’re thinking about what colour the new curtains for the living room should be. Or the girls look vaguely confused. Or just bored. It’s as if the director forget to tell them to look like they were enjoying sex and it didn’t occur to the actresses themselves.

One thing that has to be said is that the women in this movie are definitely attractive. And they get very naked very frequently.

The highlight for me was the discotheque scene. This girl is cruising for men and she joins a guy on the dance floor. This discotheque has a dance floor that could best be described as intimate. It’s about the size of a living room in a very small apartment. In fact I’m pretty sure the scene actually was shot in the living room of a very small apartment. The dance floor is crowded with couples. OK, it’s not that crowded. There’s a grand total of one couple. Which is just as well. There wouldn’t have been room for two. And paying extras would have blown the budget which, let’s face it, may have amounted to a few hundred dollars.

There are much much better sexploitation movies than this one. The sex scenes manage to be moderately explicit but oddly un-erotic, although the very lack of eroticism is perhaps bizarrely erotic (it depends on your tastes).

The transfer is rather good. Something Weird really had a knack for finding decent quality prints (and often the original negatives) of movies such as this that had been long forgotten.

And you do get three movies plus some typically odd but amusing Something Weird extras.

Tragically these Something Weird releases are becoming hard to find.

The Abnormal Female is a movie best enjoyed with lots of beers and lots of popcorn.

Monday 26 December 2022

Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)

It’s a shocking admission to have to make but I had never seen Earth Girls Are Easy. I know, one of the most culturally significant motion pictures of the 80s has somehow passed me by. Until now.

Valerie (Geena Davis) is a manicurist. She lives in the Valley. She is facing a huge personal crisis. She and her doctor boyfriend Ted haven’t had sex for two weeks. Two whole weeks. Two long long weeks. Valerie is frantic. Especially given that they’re about to get married.

Her friend Candy (Julie Brown) has the answer - a makeover. To Candy a makeover is the answer to every problem. Valerie goes blonde, she looks absolutely gorgeous and she pus on some very sexy lingerie. If this doesn’t break her sex drought nothing will. Unfortunately it all goes horribly wrong. Valerie is all set for some steamy times with Ted but Ted (who doesn’t know she’s home) arrives home with another woman. Will all the silliness in this movie the most implausible thing is that a man who has Geena Davis ready to rip his trousers off would chase other women.

Valerie is devastated but the following day something happens that gives her something else to think about. Three furry aliens crash-land their spaceship in her swimming pool. The three aliens had been heading to Earth in search of women. They’ve been in space a long time. They’re suffering as much as Valerie from a sex drought.

Valerie handles the situation pretty well. Compared to finding Ted with another woman having aliens land in her pool seems to her like a minor crisis. And they’re very friendly aliens. They’re kinda sweet.

But there is one thing she’s going to have to do. She’s going to have to make them look human. She’ll need Candy’s help. These aliens are going to need heavy-duty makeovers but fortunately Candy is equal to the task. The aliens now look quite human so Candy figures it would be cool to take them nightclubbing. The trouble is that the aliens look human but they don’t behave like humans. They’re also incredibly horny so once they catch sight of a nightclub full of girls they won’t be easy to control.

They get more and more out of control and much craziness ensues. Valerie finally breaks her sex drought. OK, it was with an alien, but when a girl needs some loving what can she do? And she certainly enjoys it.

She can’t quite get Ted out of her mind. Maybe she should forgive him? A weird romantic triangle is developing between Valerie, Ted and the alien leader Mac (Jeff Goldblum). Meanwhile the other two aliens, Wiploc and Zeebo, head off to the beach with the zonked-out surfer dude pool guy Woody (Valerie has to have her swimming pool drained because there’s a spaceship in it). Woody has told them that there are lots of girls at the beach. They naturally cause mayhem.

This is not just a science fiction comedy, it’s a science fiction comedy romance musical. The music is of course very 80s but if you love 80s music you’ll be totally blissed out. I certainly enjoyed the music.

This is an 80s movie on steroids. I suppose you could see it as a gentle satire on the shallowness of American culture but it’s all done in a very light and good-natured way. It might be send up 80s pop culture but it’s doing it with love. Mostly it’s just a movie that wants to have fun.

The musical interludes are fun, with the ’Cause I’m a Blonde number being a highlight.

Geena Davis is gorgeous and bubbly and adorable, and she’s very funny. Jeff Goldblum is good if rather restrained as the alien spaceship commander Mac. He’s the only member of the alien trio who has any sense of responsibility. Goldblum and Geena Davis have to do at least a little bit of serious acting as well as being funny and they manage it extremely well.

I find that a little bit of Jim Carrey goes a long way but his comedic style is well suited to the material here. Add Damon Wayams and you’ve got three likeable if troublesome aliens. Michael McKean almost steals the picture as the surfer pool guy Woody.

Earth Girls Are Easy
was a box office flop at the time. I guess it was just too relentlessly quirky. Since then it’s built up a definite cult following. Apart from its other attractions it offers 80s nostalgia overload. Surprisingly it hasn’t had a Blu-Ry release. This needs to happen. It does however look quite OK on DVD, in a perfectly acceptable 16:9 enhanced transfer. There’s not a lot in the way of extras.

This is a very very silly very goofy movie but it’s genuinely funny and it has plenty of charm and it’s romantic in an offbeat way. Comedy is always a matter of taste and it’s a movie you’ll either love or hate. I loved it. Highly recommended.

Saturday 24 December 2022

The Fourth Victim (1971)

The Fourth Victim is a giallo which stars Carroll Baker, and that in itself is surely enough reason to give it a watch.

It is not however quite so simple. This is one of those movies you can bring up whenever you get enticed into one of those “is it a genuine giallo or not” discussions. There are those who are happy to describe any stylish European murder mystery thriller made between around 1968 and 1978 as a giallo. In that sense The Fourth Victim certainly qualifies. Purists on the other hand expect a true giallo to include a number of key ingredients which this movie lacks.

The Fourth Victim is also not an Italian film. It’s a Spanish-Italian co-production and it was directed by a Spaniard, Eugenio Martín. Giallo purists tend to consider the giallo to be a distinctively Italian genre (although there certainly are non-Italian films which satisfy all the necessary giallo criteria).

The Fourth Victim boasts a fine opening sequence which is guaranteed to get the audience intrigued. A beautiful blonde girl is lazing in the pool, reclining in one of those transparent inflatable floating chair things which you tend to see a lot of movies of this era. She is smoking a cigarette. All very innocent, until you notice that the cigarette has burnt all the way down to her fingers and she hasn’t reacted. Maybe she’s asleep? But of course she isn’t asleep.

We discover that the woman is a Mrs Anderson and by the time her husband Arthur Anderson (Michael Craig) arrives home she is floating face down in the pool, very dead. Then things get a bit strange. Before calling the police Anderson and the housekeeper dry off the body, dry off her hair, remove her bathing suit and dress her. The doctor arrives and is quite happy to sign the death certificate.

The insurance company which insured the life of the late Mrs Anderson is not at all happy. This is the third wife that Arthur Henderson has lost. All three died in accidents. All three were heavily insured. Superintendent Dunphy of Scotland Yard is not happy either (the movie is set in England). Henderson is charged with murder, but acquitted. This all happens within the first few minutes so I’m not giving away any vital spoilers.

The twist is that we, the audience, have absolutely no idea if Arthur Anderson is guilty or not. The circumstances of his wife’s death were a bit suspicious but there is no real evidence of his guilt.

Then Julie Spencer (Carroll Baker) enters the picture. While looking at slides of his late wife diving into the pool he hears a splash which sounds exactly like a woman diving into a swimming pool. It is a woman diving into a swimming pool. His swimming pool. It turns out to be a neighbour, the aforementioned Julie Spencer. While Arthur has been away she has been sneaking into his property to use the pool.

Julie seems keen to get to know Anderson better. Anderson isn’t a complete fool. It crosses his mind that she could be a cop or an insurance investigator or a journalist. But she is a beautiful fascinating woman. Is she going to be wife number four?

And who is the mysterious blonde woman hanging around Julie’s house? In fact there are several mysterious blondes in this movie.

Michael Craig is a fine actor. He was nominated for an Oscar, but oddly enough as a writer rather than as an actor. He gives a nicely understated performance. He keeps us off balance - we can’t decide what to make of Arthur Anderson.

Carroll Baker did her best work as an actress in European movies in the late 60s and the 70s. She was perfect for these kinds of movies. Like Michael Craig she is able to keep us off balance.

So we have two protagonists, both likeable and sympathetic, but either one could be hiding a dark secret.

The screenplay by Vicente Coello, Santiago Moncada and Sabatino Ciuffini is equally effective at keeping us guessing. We get a whole succession of plot twists and they’re managed very skilfully with some nice misdirection.

There are dangerous games being played but we don’t know what the games are or how many players there are. The one thing we’re sure of is that we can’t be sure of anything.

Eugenio Martí­n wasn’t a director who specialised in a particular genre which possibly explains why he hasn’t gained major cult status. I’ve seen three of his movies now and they’re all excellent so you can class me as an admirer of his work. He made a number of interesting and excellent movies in the early 70s. Horror Express is his best-known work but A Candle for the Devil (1973) is every bit as good.

The Fourth Victim
doesn’t have the extreme stylistic flourishes that you would expect to see in a giallo but Eugenio Martín isn’t interested in wowing us with visual extravagances. It’s a handsome movie and by no means entirely lacking in style but the director is mostly concerned with creating an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion and in keeping us interested in the two enigmatic protagonists.

This film was made at a time when Spanish censorship was pretty strict so there’s no sex and no nudity. There’s also no gore. On the other hand it’s fast-paced and has a nicely devious plot.

Severin’s release (it’s on DVD and Blu-Ray) offers a pretty nice transfer. The main extra is an interview with Eugenio Martí­n’s biographer Carlos Aguilar.

The Fourth Victim is only mildly giallo-esque but it’s a well-crafted twisty psychological thriller and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Add the fine performances by Michael Craig and Carroll Baker and this one gets a highly recommended rating. It would make a nice double bill with the slightly earlier Carroll Baker giallo-esque thriller, The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968).

Thursday 22 December 2022

Perils of Nyoka (movie serial, 1942)

Perils of Nyoka (AKA Nyoka and the Tigermen) is a 15-part 1942 Republic serial directed by William Witney. Republic’s serials were almost always very good but the ones directed by Witney were very very good indeed.

This is a top-notch serial and it’s consistently entertaining. It contains absolutely everything you could want in a serial and all the ingredients are blended perfectly. Immense fun.

My full review can be found at Classic Movie Ramblings.

Monday 19 December 2022

Logan’s Run (1976)

Logan’s Run was released in 1976. It came towards the end of the golden age of science fiction movies which began with the release of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was an era of big-budget major studio science fiction films that aimed to be more than just space operas. They tried to address big ideas and big issues, things like the meaning of life, the destiny of our species, what it means to be human. This era produced movies like Colossus: The Forbin Project, Silent Running, Westworld, Soylent Green and Demon Seed - movies that were noticeably lacking in space battles and laser pistols.

These were Hollywood movies but other countries made similar movies. There were Soviet movies like Solaris and British movies like A Clockwork Orange.

It was an era which came to an end with Star Wars. After that the studios wanted space operas.

Logan’s Run was based on a novel by William F. Nolan.

There’s been a catastrophe brought about by overpopulation (an obsession in the 1970s) and pollution. In response an immense domed city has been constructed. It is a self-contained world, totally isolated from the world outside. The people inside the city believe there is nothing outside the city. The citizens of the city have everything provided for them and their lives revolve around pleasure. There’s just one minor drawback to life in the city. It ends at the age of 30. There’s not a single person over that age in the city.

When someone reaches the age of 30 they undergo the ritual of the Carousel. They are vaporised but it is not necessarily death. Those who are worthy go through renewal. They are reborn.

At least that’s what everyone in the city believes. That’s what Logan 5 (Michael York) believes.

A very small number of misfits refuse to go to the Carousel. They try to escape from the city. They are known as Runners. They are invariably caught and terminated by the Sandmen.

Logan is a Sandman. Logan is 26. He has four years to go but he isn’t worried. He has absolute confidence that, as a Sandman, he will be renewed when he reaches 30.

Everything changes for Logan when he meets Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter). He’s in the mood for sex so he picks a girl from the Circuit. It’s a kind of hook-up thing. There’s no emotional involvement, just sex. Nobody in the city wants emotional involvement. They just want pleasure. Logan is therefore very surprised when Jessica refuses to have sex with him. And he’s disturbed by some of the things she says. She seems to be sceptical of the whole renewal thing. She wears a medallion in the form of an ankh.

Logan then gets an important assignment. He is to penetrate an organisation that assists Runners. The ankh is the symbol of that organisation. The organisation helps Runners to find a place called Sanctuary. Logan is to pose as a Runner. While being briefed for his mission by the central computer Logan learns some horrifying facts.

Through Jessica Logan hopes to contact the Sanctuary organisation but things get very complicated for him. He discovers feelings that he didn’t know he was capable of. He discovers feelings that he didn’t know anybody was capable of. He ends up playing a dangerous game, a game which involves multiple levels of betrayal. He discovers that there is a world outside the city but to which world does he belong? Does he he belong to either world? And he has to decide what to do about Jessica 6.

He also has to decide what to do about Francis 7. Francis is a fellow Sandman and is Logan’s closest friend but if Logan is a Runner Francis will try to hunt him down.

There’s a surprising amount of emotional nuance in this movie. Logan is torn in his loyalties. He has to betray everything in which he has always believed or he has to betray the Sanctuary people whom he has persuaded to trust him. He he has to betray Francis or betray Jessica. He doesn’t know which of these choices he will make. When he tells Jessica he is a Runner and wants her help in finding Sanctuary he is lying to her. Logan however is already having doubts about the things he has always believed in. And now he finds himself experiencing very strange feelings towards Jessica. He doesn’t just want to sleep with her. He wants to be with her all the time and protect her and spend his life with her. This is love, but to Logan (who has been brought up to believe that the only possible relationship between a man and a woman is a sexual one) it seems like a bizarre perversion.

Jessica has some complexity as well. The idea of love is as novel to her as it is to Logan. There is also the question of whether she can trust him. She is also not at all certain if she wants to stay in the city where everything is familiar or venture into a strange and terrifying thing called the outside world. The very idea of not being in the city terrifies her.

There’s also an ideological dimension to the world. The city is a classic utopia which is really a dystopia. It’s a totalitarian society. No dissent whatever is allowed. Children are thoroughly indoctrinated into a set of beliefs. Logan for example is genuinely shocked when he picks Jessica up on Circuit and she refuses to have sex with him. It’s not that he’s upset about being sexually rejected. He simply cannot imagine anyone turning down the chance of casual sex. Only a misfit or a dangerous rebel would do anything so outlandish.

It’s interesting that Logan’s motivations are entirely personal. He doesn’t have a sudden ideological conversion. He never does express any interest in the welfare of society. He cares about his individual happiness and he comes to care about one individual woman. We have to decide if he’s right - if the happiness of individuals is more important than the welfare of the state.

Logan’s Run also offers plenty of action, and the action scenes are excellent.

The film ran into major censorship problems. There is some nudity but originally there was a lot more. The studio insisted it be cut to get a PG rating. The scenes of people getting blown to bits were of course no problem in that respect. That’s just good clean family fun. But nudity is of course shocking and horrifying and the censors weren’t about to let impressionable young people get a glimpse of the naked female body.

It’s a beautifully shot movie (with Ernest Laszlo doing the cinematography). The city is all bright colours and everything is clean and sparkling and excessively cheerful. It’s like a gigantic shopping mall. Once Logan makes his run we get to see plenty of grime and squalor. The special effects were absolutely cutting edge in 1976 and they’re great fun to watch today. A lot of money was spent on this movie and it shows.

The Blu-Ray release include an informative audio commentary (apparently dating from the 90s) with director Michael Anderson, star Michael York and costume designer Bill Thomas. There’s also a documentary on the film.

Logan’s Run has its problems. There are some plot points that stretch credibility. While I love the look of the movie it does look more like the 1970s than the 23rd century. It drags badly in the third quarter. The ending however is quite good. Some criticisms by modern reviewers are a bit unfair. The city does look like a shopping mall, but for me that works. And that’s the future we ended up getting - a society that revolves around shopping. The city is vulgar and garish, but again the movie was quite prescient. And it’s the last of the line of late 60s/early 70s major studio sci-fi films aimed at a grown-up audience. After Star Wars grown-up sci-fi movies would be few are far between. Highly recommended.

Thursday 15 December 2022

Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade (1978)

Emmanuelle (1974) having been a gigantic hit by the late 70s everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon. One of the most successful attempts to do so was the Italian Black Emanuelle series. The awesome thing about all these Emanuelle rip-offs (which changed one letter in the heroine’s name to avoid legal problems) is that they had virtually no connection whatsoever with the original movie or the original character, other than the fact that they were skin flicks filmed in exotic settings.

Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade, directed by Joe D’Amato, was the seventh of the Black Emanuelle films. The Black Emanuelle movies made a star out of Indonesian actress Laura Gemser.

In the Black Emanuelle movies Emanuelle, rather than being a French diplomat’s wife, is an investigative photo-journalist. In Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade she’s in Nairobi, trying to get an interview with an Italian gangster named Giorgio Rivetti (Venantino Venantini). Emanuelle has her friend Susan (Ely Galleani) helping her out. Susan likes sex. She likes sex a lot. Her car breaks down a lot but that doesn’t worry her because she knows a really good mechanic. He might not know much about servicing cars but he knows how to service Susan.

Rivetti has some business deal cooking with Prince Arausani (Pierre Marfurt). He’s having trouble getting the prince to close the deal. In exchange for an interview Emanuele agrees to do what she can to persuade the prince to see things Rivetti’s ways. Emanuele is very good at persuading men.

This part of the film is mostly an excuse for some bedroom romps. We also see Emanuele taking a shower with Susan, which provides some of the girl-on-girl action which was obligatory in 70s softcore movies.

Then the real plot of the movie kicks in. Emanuele saw something in Nairobi Airport which intrigued her - a man boarding a plane with a girl in a wheelchair. Shortly afterwards she sees the man and the girl again, but there’s no wheelchair in sight. Emanuele is after all a journlist and she has a good nose for a story. She definitely smells a story here. After doing a bit of digging around she realises she’s stumbled onto a white slavery racket. It’s run by an American businessman, Francis Harley (Gabriele Tinti).

Being an ace girl reporter Emanuele decides to go undercover, posing as an ambitious girl down on her luck who is willing to consider prostitution as a career option.

Emanuele manages to infiltrate a high-class brothel in San Diego. What she really wants to do is to find out what happens in the Annexe - the girls are forbidden to go there so there must be something really shocking going on. Unfortunately Emanuelle gets caught and she’s in danger of being lobotomised.

There are a lot of problems with this movie. The first half hour has no connection whatsoever with the rest of the film. The pacing is slow. The suspenseful parts aren’t very suspenseful. But mostly what’s wrong is that it promises shocking subject matter but it doesn’t deliver. It just isn’t shocking at all. So there’s a high-class prostitution ring. Apparently we’re supposed to be horrified that such things go on. There’s a bit of nastiness but it has no edge to it and makes no impact. We never feel that Emanuele is in real danger.

The impression this movie gives is that no-one involved was all that interested. There’s a noticeable lack of energy. Romano Scandariato should have been told to toss his screenplay out the window and start again.

There’s an astounding amount of female frontal nudity and there are lots of sex scenes. What’s surprising is that the movie doesn’t feel the least bit sleazy. It’s too laid-back. The bits that are supposed to be sleazy fall flat. We feel vaguely that we should be horrified when Emanuele gets raped but the scene lacks impact and five minutes later Emanuele seems to have forgotten all about it.

And when all is said and done the villains don’t seem very villainous. You can’t help feeling that if nosy reporters like Emanuele would stop hassling them they’d just run their fancy brothel without doing any great harm to anybody.

The girls in the brothel seem to be very well paid and rather cheerful. We’re supposed to believe that they’re slaves but they just don’t act like it. They just don’t give the impression that they feel brutalised or exploited. They giggle and gossip a lot. The Italian gangster, Rivetti, seems like a really nice guy. Francis Harley, the chief villain, comes across as a pretty nice guy. Even Madame Claude, who runs the brothel, seems rather pleasant. She’s a lesbian but she’s not a wicked predatory lesbian. She just likes girls.

The Full Moon DVD offers only the English dubbed version and the dubbing is atrocious. That’s obviously not Full Moon’s fault and the transfer is pretty good. This movie was also included in the DVD set from Severin, Black Emanuele’s Box vol 2.

Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade just seems too lighthearted. It delivers plenty of skin but that’s about it. Not worth bothering with unless you’re a Laura Gemser completist.

I reviewed the first movie in this series, Black Emanuelle, years ago. It's also not great. And aeons ago I reviewed Emmanuelle, which really is worth seeing.

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Sorceress (1995)

There have been several movies with the title Sorceress but there are two in particular which are likely to get confused. There’s Jack Hill’s 1982 sword & sorcery flick (which is by the way an excellent fun movie) and there’s the 1995 witchcraft-in-the- modern-world horror film. To add to the confusion the 1982 movie was written by none other than Jim Wynorski, who went on to direct the 1995 movie. The 1995 movie has also been released as Temptress (which was in fact Wynorski's origonal title).

The 1995 flick begins with a naked witch (we soon find out her name is Erica, played by Julie Strain) performing a ritual. Amelia (Linda Blair) is waiting for her husband Howard to get home from work. He doesn’t make it home. Whether Erica is actually responsible for this is not entirely certain but the viewer has very very strong reasons to believe just that. Erica certainly believes it. Erica believes she is a witch.

Amelia is a witch as well. This will be a battle of the witches movie.

Things don’t turn out the way Erica planned. She ends up being the one who is dead.

Erica is (or was) married to Larry Barnes (Larry Poindexter), who works in a top L.A. law firm. Howard is a junior partner in the same firm. Larry had been in love with Carol (Rochelle Swanson) but he married Erica. Erica told him that was because she cast a spell on him. Literally.

Erica is quite generous with Larry. For his birthday she gives him a really thoughtful present - her sister Maria (Toni Naples, who was also executive producer on this film). Larry had always wanted to have sex with Maria and now he can.

Then there’s a murder. Amelia’s gardener Stan is suspected of murdering his while family.

Larry and Carol get back together. Larry feels a bit guilty about this, given that Erica has only been dead a few days, but Carol is hot to trot and now that Erica’s dead he realises it was always Carol he loved.

But Carol starts to behave strangely. She starts to resemble Erica, not just in appearance but in behaviour. Larry is pretty disturbed by this.

Maria tries to warn him that it’s all witchcraft and that it has something to do with a necklace Carol found, a necklace called a glynska.

While the plot pauses regularly to make room for sex scenes (which is not a complaint - the sex scenes are well done and fairly hot) the plot never gets forgotten and a genuine sense of menace starts to build. People start to get killed. The sexual tensions build, and it’s those sexual tensions that cause people to get killed. While there’s plenty of sex it would be incorrect to describe the sex scenes as gratuitous - the plot is driven to a considerable extent by sex.

This is a very woman-centric movie. The men - Larry, Howard, Larry’s buddy Don - are totally passive. It’s women’s jealousies, loves, hatreds, passions and desires that drive the action and the men are powerless.

The acting is, surprisingly perhaps, pretty good. Rochelle Swanson and Toni Naples are extremely good, Julie Strain projects the right sort of seductive evil and it’s always fun to see Linda Blair (and she manages to be chillingly witchy). The male cast members re ll perfectly competent.

Jim Wynorski doesn’t get much respect as a director but he did make a few fun movies, such as Deathstalker II. The fact that he has made so many trashy movies has led a lot of people to dismiss Sorceress as mere trash. It is trash, but it’s good trash. And it’s well-crafted trash. It’s unashamedly an exploitation movie. It’s worth pointing out that Wynorski honed his skills working for Roger Corman and this movie is like Corman’s better efforts - packed with entertainment value, fast-paced and slick. Like Corman Wynorski has the knack of making modestly budgeted movies that are well-made and look more expensive than they are.

Amusingly the house which was used as Larry’s house was actually owned by a bunch of real-life witches.

Synapse have released this movie on Blu-Ry and DVD. This release is the uncensored director-approved cut. The transfer is excellent and there are two audio commentaries.

Sorceress is sexy fun. And it’s also a genuine horror movie. It has acres of female nudity, some genuinely scary moments and plenty of style and energy. Don’t take it too seriously. Just enjoy the ride. Highly recommended.

Saturday 10 December 2022

Damnation Alley (1977)

Damnation Alley is a low-key 1977 post-apocalypse science fiction movie. Perhaps a bit too low-key.

The movie was based on a novel by Roger Zelazny which he expanded from an earlier novella.

It start with an all-out nuclear war. The men of the 123rd Strategic Missile Wing have survived, at least until another disaster strikes. Four survivors set off on a cross-country journey to Albany, because that’s the only place from which they’ve ever picked up radio signals indicating that there might be other survivors. Denton calls the route to Albany, which skirts areas of high radioactivity, Damnation Alley.

The nuclear war has tilted the Earth’s axis, sending the weather totally crazy. The sky is filled with auroras and radioactive clouds.

They make their journey in two top-secret armoured Landmaster vehicles, which are kind of like a cross between an SUV, a tank and a motorhome. They’re kind of cool, sort of.

In a post-apocalyptic movie you expect roaming bands of mutants but you don’t get that in this movie. In fact the crew of the Landmaster encounter very few humans of any kind. The dangers they face come mostly from the hostile environment.

There are very few action scenes, which again is not what you expect in this genre. The major hazards of post-apocalyptic life seem to be bugs. Gigantic scorpions and armoured cockroaches, that sort of thing.

There is an encounter with radiation-scarred hillbillies.

Four men set off on this journey, some die and two extra passengers are picked up. There’s Billy, a frightened teenaged boy. And there’s Janice (Dominique Sanda), a showgirl they find in an abandoned casino in Las Vegas.

The special effects are at times a bit iffy but this was a 70s movie and I tend to think of iffy special effects as a feature rather than a bug. And it has to be said that the killer cockroaches are very well done and very scary. And the weird skies give this movie a distinctive feel - you really do get the impression that the nuclear war changed absolutely everything and that the world is now a very disturbing place.

The encounter with those killer roaches in Salt Lake City is certainly the highlight of the movie. It’s extremely well shot, it’s creepy and it’s scary.

This was a major studio big-budget production. The visuals (such as the weird skies) are quite impressive. There’s some fine location shooting. But this is a movie that bears little resemblance to Star Wars, which the studio had in production at the same time. There are no epic battle scenes. Damnation Alley had a troubled production history with numerous script rewrites. The original concept was very ambitious but the film fell victim to constant budget cuts. The original cut of the movie was much much longer and included more action scenes and a romantic triangle sub-plot which was eliminated entirely. Which is a pity, since it meant that Janice becomes a minor character and it also has the effect of making the uneasy relationship between Denton and Tanner less interesting.

The main attraction here will be the two leads, George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent. Peppard was always fun and enjoyed huge success on television in the 70s and 80s with Banacek and The A-Team. He has a southern accent in this movie, or at least he thinks he’s doing a southern accent. Peppard plays Major Denton, a bit of a martinet who still clings to the military mindset. Jan-Michael Vincent is Tanner. Denton used to be his commanding officer. Tanner was always out of place in the military and he’s a good-natured rebel. Vincent later starred in Airwolf on TV.

As a result of the many script rewrites and the fact that about 45 minutes was cut from the film by the studio the characters feel undeveloped. We never find out what is really bugging Denton. We never find out why Tanner is a rebel or why he and Denton have such a tense relationship. We don’t really get to know Janice. And unfortunately the movie doesn’t have quite enough action or excitement to compensate for the thin characterisations.

Signal One’s Blu-Ray release includes two audio commentaries (plus loads of other extras). I only listened to one of the commentaries, the one with Paul Talbot. He gives an enormous amount of fascinating information about the history of the movie from the time the film rights were bought in 1970 to the time it was finally released in 1977 and he offers plenty of insights into how various effects were achieved. The 16:9 enhanced transfer looks very good (the movie was shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ration which director Jack Smight uses effectively).

There’s also a US Blu-Ray release, from Shout! Factory.

Damnation Alley clearly should have turned out to be a better movie. The potential was there. It just doesn’t really engage the viewer. We don’t get interested in the characters because all the scenes that offered us insights into their emotions and motivations seem to have been ruthlessly cut by the studio. As it stands it’s still not really a bad movie, certainly better than its reputation would suggest, but a bit flat. Worth a look.

Tuesday 6 December 2022

Bad Timing (1980)

Nicolas Roeg was one of the most interesting and provocative directors of the 70s and 80s. He made very few feature films and only a tiny handful were commercial hits. Roeg was too innovative and cerebral for mainstream tastes and mainstream critics, quite apart from the sometimes disturbing eroticism of his films. Roeg pretty much made the movies he wanted to make and he made them the way he damn well wanted to.

Bad Timing, released in 1980, is typical of his work. Roeg plays around with narrative. The story is told in a series of flashbacks.

As the movie opens Milena (Theresa Russell) is being rushed to hospital in an ambulance, in Vienna. With her in the ambulance is Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel). At this stage we have no idea what the relationship is between these two.

We slowly start to piece things together. Milena has taken an overdose of pills. Attempted suicide is likely. Alex is being interviewed by a policeman at the hospital and from this point on the movie shuttles back and forth between the present and the past and we start to learn about the tumultuous relationship between Milena and Alex.

The policeman is very concerned about the time question. Alex phoned for the ambulance at 1.30am. He wasn’t in the apartment when Milena took the overdose. He knew about it because she telephoned him earlier in the night to tell him she was going to kill herself. What the policeman is interested in is the timing of Milena’s telephone call. Alex is extremely vague about this, which naturally makes the policeman even more interested. We the audience know when Milena called but we don’t know the reason for the time discrepancy.

Milena is clearly a bit of a wild child. She obviously drinks a great deal. Her behaviour is extravagant and perhaps a little eccentric.

The attraction between Milena and Alex was immediate. Alex is a psychiatrist. He seems a bit bookish. He also seems a bit out of his depth with Milena. He’d like his life to be under control, but nobody’s life is going to be under control once they get involved with Milena.

It proves to be a stormy relationship. Alex is jealous of the other men in Milena’s life. There are other men in Milena’s life but it’s not absolutely clear if she’s actually unfaithful to Alex. But it’s easy to see why he suspects that she is. He’s almost certainly right. And then there’s the husband she forgot to tell him about. The husband is a Czech, Stefan Vognic (Denholm Elliott). By coincidence Alex does some work for American Intelligence and at the moment he’s doing a profile on, you guessed it, Stefan Vognic. It’s all top-secret so Alex has no idea if Vognic is some kind of spy or if he’s under some kind of suspicion.

The case of Milena’s attempted suicide has now passed into the hands of Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel). Netusil isn’t entirely satisfied. It’s not that he has any actual suspicion that any kind of crime has been committed, but it worries him a little that Alex’s story is so vague. Netusil is a cop and it’s in his nature to worry whenever anything doesn’t seem to add up neatly.

There’s no attempt to offer a conventional connected narrative. What we get are brief snippets of Alex and Milena’s life together. Mostly the flashbacks are Alex’s memories but on occasions they’re Milena’s.

This is not to say that this movie is incoherent. It’s not the least bit incoherent. At the time the movie was released some viewers (and critics) found Roeg’s approach disorienting, and they found the rapid-fire editing very disorienting. But in fact we do get a perfectly clear picture of Alex and Milena’s life together and it’s not the slightest bit difficult to piece the narrative together. You just have to be patient.

Roeg used similar techniques in his other movies, techniques like intercutting sex scenes with other scenes. He did this in Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell To Earth.

In the course of his investigation Inspector Netusil visits Alex and Milena’s apartment. We then get rapid intercutting that gives the impression that Netusil is witnessing scenes between Alex and Milena. This technique works well. Netusil is a good cop. It’s as if he’s seeing things that he surmises must have happened, and we assume that they did happen.

It’s significant that at one point we see Alex delivering a lecture on voyeurism, and that he does work for an American spy agency. Alex believes that we are all in a sense spies or voyeurs. Inspector Netusil, being a policeman, is of course in a sense a spy. And of course the viewer of the movie is a voyeur of sorts.

Alex and Milena are hopelessly wrong for each other. Alex likes to have his life organised and planned out. Milena lives in the moment. Alex is not an overly nice guy, he’s very controlling, but maybe he was just never going to cope with Milena. Maybe she was always going to bring out his dark side.

The problem is that they're both obsessed and it's a sexual obsession. They really can't get along together but they cannot overcome that sexual obsession. In Alex's case it becomes an obsession with control as well as sex.

And maybe in the end it all comes down to bad timing. Had they met five years later Milena might have been ready for what Alex was offering - marriage and commitment. Maybe everything that happens to us comes down to that - something happening at the right time can be the best thing that ever happened to us but the same event at the wrong time can lead us to disaster.

Art Garfunkel is surprisingly extremely good. It must have been a difficult and harrowing role for him, since his real-life girlfriend committed suicide while he was making the movie.

This is one of four movies Theresa Russell made with Nic Roeg (to whom she was married for quite a while). She’s superb here, playing a woman who is certainly not an obviously sympathetic character but Russell makes us care about her. Milena is an accident waiting to happen, but she’s confused and unstable rather than evil.

It’s fun seeing Harvey Keitel playing a sympathetic character. Inspector Netusil is a good cop but he’s a cop who uses his brains rather than his fists. And he’s basically a pretty decent guy, even a nice guy. Casting Garfunkel and Keitel in this movie proved to be masterstrokes. They’re faced with challenging roles and they deliver the goods with slightly offbeat performances.

There’s certainly some disturbing eroticism in this movie but to reveal details would mean revealing spoilers.

The Criterion DVD offers an excellent 16:9 enhanced transfer (the movie was shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio). There’s a British Blu-Ray release from Network. The Criterion DVD is the version I watched.

Bad Timing is a dark and disturbing masterpiece. Very highly recommended.

Friday 2 December 2022

Trip With the Teacher (1975)

Trip With the Teacher is a Crown International release in 1975 so you know it will be low-budget, somewhat trashy and probably quite entertaining.

Miss Tenny (Brenda Fogarty) is a schoolteacher who’s taking four teenaged girls on a camping trip in the desert. They’ll be looking at stuff like archaeological sites. The girls are much more interested in boys and it doesn’t seem likely they’ll find many of them in the desert. They’re in a school bus, driven by the good-natured Marvin (Jack Driscoll).

The bus is being followed by three guys on motorcycles. Jay (Robert Gribben) is a nice enough guy. He turns out to be the closest thing this movie has to a hero. He only met the other two guys a short while back. Pete (Robert Porter) seems a bit wild and maybe a tiny bit unstable. It’s Pete’s brother Al (Zalman King) who is the worrying one. We very quickly find out that Al is crazy and mean and evil, and totally unpredictable. An old guy as a gas station spills petrol on Al’s bike. So Al kills him. Al is that kind of guy.

The bus breaks down and the three guys on the bikes stop. Whether they’ve stopped to help is another matter.

Marvin can’t fix the bus. Of course that should be no problem. When the three bikers reach the next town they can phone for someone to come out to help Marvin with the bus. Al says they’re prepared to make the call, on one condition. He wants one of the girls to ride off into the desert with him.

The girl in question thinks it’s a great idea. As soon as the girls spotted the bikers they went totally man-crazy. But Miss Tenny is not about to let any of the girls in her charge ride off into the desert with some strange guy on a motorcycle, especially a guy as disturbing as Al. If Miss Tenny knew that Al had just committed a brutal murder she’d be even more worried.

Things start to get nasty. Al commits another murder. He doesn’t want any witnesses left around, and Miss Tenny and her schoolgirls were all witnesses. They all end up in an isolated shack. Miss Tenny and her girls are prisoners. We’re not sure exactly what Al’s intentions are because he’s so crazy and unpredictable but it’s certainly possible that he intends to kill all the women. It’s highly likely he intends to do other things to them first.

By now we’ve figured out that Pete pretty much does what his brother tells him to do. He probably wouldn’t be actively evil on his own but under Al’s influence he’s dangerous.

A night of horror follows for the women.

There seems to be no escape. Offering any kind of resistance just makes Al crazier and meaner.

It’s a pretty nasty movie that today still packs quite a punch. There’s no gore and not a great deal of nudity. The violence is mostly not graphic but it’s very intense and at times quite shocking.

Earl Barton was a dancer who appeared in a few movies in the 50s. This was his only feature film as a writer-director and that’s a pity. He knew how to build suspense and he knew to create an atmosphere of paranoia and terror. He also understood pacing. The movie starts slow but the pace gradually picks up and leads to an exciting and tense finish. Why didn’t this guy get to make more movies?

The big drawcard here for cult movie fans has to be the presence of Zalman King. He was a bad actor, but he was a truly great bad actor. He is always fun to watch and he’s in top form here, playing Al as a guy who could explode into violence and madness at any moment. King goes outrageously over-the-top and makes this movie seriously menacing.

Robert Porter as Pete is overshadowed by Zalman King but he gives a fine creepy performance.

Brenda Fogarty is very solid as Miss Tenny, giving the character just a bit of depth. The actresses playing the girls are all pretty good as well.

This movie is included in Mill Creek's Drive-In Cult Classics 32 Movie Collection, a DVD set which includes interesting oddities such as Pick-Up (1975) as well as drive-in titillation like The Babysitter (1969). Lots of fun sleaze in this set. I believe that Trip With the Teacher has been released on Blu-Ray by Vinegar Syndrome.

Trip With the Teacher is very much a drive-in exploitation movie but despite the low budget it’s very well-crafted and genuinely harrowing. It’s one of those movies that turns out to be a whole lot better than you’re expecting it to be. Highly recommended.