Monday, May 23, 2011

The Devil’s Plaything (1973) (aka Vampire Ecstasy)

What the hell? really what the hell? I’m still trying to make some sense out of this movie. The plot is pretty simple but so buried under lesbian sex scenes and nudity that it’s very easy to lose track of just what is going on here.

A group of travelers arrive at a castle in Germany. Why I’m not quite certain but the castle is the residence of a long dead vampire known as the Baroness. The castle is run by the somewhat manly Wanda (Nadia Henkowa). Wanda and her “staff” spend their nights in the bowels of the castle, half naked and jiggling their breasts to the beat of conga drums while performing some type of satanic ritual. The rituals cause the guests to get rather horny and naked. Wanda turns out to be a vampire servant to the Baroness and has kept her spirit alive. She targets one of the guests as a vessel for the spirit of the Baroness and one by one recruits the other guests until her task is complete. Of course the only way to do this is to turn all the women into horny naked vampires. Like I said, a pretty simple plot is it not? Well it was pretty hard to discern amongst the horrible dialog, chop shop editing and lack of any kind of direction whatsoever. It there hadn’t been a copious amount of nudity and lesbian sex scenes, this movie would have been a complete waste of time. 

Three playthings and the the devil is not the man-thing with the tie.

Now for giggles the writers threw in an incest sub plot with two characters. Nico (Peter Malenkow) and his sister/cousin (the relationship wasn’t explained well or either I missed it entirely) who happens to be an expert in the occult. So there’s a lot of almost grouping and kissing between two especially at night when the vampires are dealing out their hip beat in the basement. In the end, the reborn vampire Baroness is quickly disposed of with a stake in the heart and signals the only bit of blood letting in the entire film.

The Devil’s Plaything was a disappointment in just about every facet of the genres it tried to play towards. The eroticism was low. You just can’t throw a bunch of naked chics on the screen, have them dance around in the basement with penis shaped candles and call it erotic. The execution was poorly done. The vampire story line was pretty weak and the violence was anything but. All in all a huge fail but one of those movies you have to see at least once to get a good chuckle out of it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Lost Artwork of VHS Part 4

I’m a huge fan of the Wizard Video releases from the 1980’s. This is one of the releases that I do not have in my collection. It is also a great piece of VHS nostalgia. Sister Streetfighter (1974) was released by Wizard in the “book box” format. This is a format that didn’t last very long in the VHS hey day. MGM made good use of the design for many of their early VHS releases. Wizard only released two other titles in this format, Parasite 3D and Bad Georgia Road. On the inside flap is a still shot of the movie and a caption. You can see why this didn’t fair well in the rental store market. I’m sure many of these didn’t survive because the flaps were torn and beat to oblivion due to mishandling by patrons.

As a casual fan of martial arts films, I possibly would have walked right past this one but if I was in the mood for some kung fu, I’m pretty sure I would have given it a rent. I remember seeing some of Sonny Chiba’s films on the old Black Belt Theater that used to air on WTVZ Channel 33 back in the mid 1980’s.

What I like most about this release is the amount of butt kicking that is going on here. Chiba looks to be “one up’d” by Shiomi. He’s only taken out two bad guys while she has laid out three! Apparently a “one man army” is no match for a “one woman death squad”. I also like the use of the phrase “got’m”. I’m guessing the illustrator felt that if he put the letter e in there, the m and exclamation point would have gotten lost in the poor fella receiving a face full of female foot? Hmmm….maybe the illustrator had a foot fetish and was just distracted.

Seeing this box on the shelf would have granted a rental. Heck it grants checking out the trailer on youtube! Enjoy!

(Love the bridge scene around the 1:10 mark!)

A shout out goes out to the facebook group Horror VHS Collectors Unite! and the fellow collector who let me use the picture of his incredibly rare Wizard Video release of Sister Streetfighter.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Survival of the Dead (2009)

In 1968, George A. Romero directed a little independently produced film about the dead coming back to life and eating the flesh of the living. Little did anyone realize that his film, Night of the Living Dead, was going to change the world of zombies forever. Flash forward 40 years and 4 sequels later and the living dead are still going strong.

I have always been a fan of Romero’s zombie films. From Dawn of the Dead (1978) to Land of the Dead (2005), I was on board with the directions Romero’s films were going. Diary of the Dead (2007) however left me feeling that Romero’s zombie storyline had run it’s course and should possibly be given the headshot that would put it to final rest. Survival of the Dead made me re-think that option.

Survival picks up as a continuation of the storyline and action of Diary. Sergeant Crockett (Alan Van Sprang) leads a small group of National Guardsmen through the every growing wasteland of the East coast of the United States. His group, Kenny(Eric Woolfe), Francisco (Stefano Colacitti) and Tomboy (Athena Karkanis) were introduced in Diary of the Dead, and are now on the run from their post and trying to survive.

We are also introduced to Patrick O’Flynn, an Irishman living on Plum Island off the coast of Delaware. His family has been feuding with Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) and his family for many years. The plague of the undead has done nothing to bring them together. O’Flynn’s posse is ready to shoot down all the zombies on the island while Muldoon wants to keep them “alive” until a cure is found. After a standoff, O’Flynn and most of this posse are exiled from the island.

Crockett and his group discover O’Flynn through a rare internet connection. O’Flynn is advertising Plum Island as a safe “utopia” and is instructing anyone that is watching to come down to the docks and make their way to the island. Crockett and his group head that way only to be greeted by gunfire. It turns out O’Flynn is sending people to the island but at a steep price. After a zombie attack O’Flynn and Crockett’s group make it to Plum Island on a ferry. Here they discover that Muldoon has been killing off the strangers O’Flynn has been sending over. O’Flynn gathers up his own posse of friends that had stayed on the island.

It is soon revealed that O’Flynn’s daughter Janet is a zombie. She spends her time riding a horse around the island much like she did while she was alive. Crockett’s group starts to dwindle down. Kenny is shot in a fire fight with Muldoon’s men. Francisco has been infected and is starting to feel the effects of the zombie plague. He is put down by Tomboy who is then captured by Muldoon’s men. As a nice twist we find out that Janet is a twin and her sister Jane is the zombie on horseback.

O’Flynn’s group and Crockett are soon captured and taken to Muldoon’s compound. Muldoon wants to prove O’Flynn wrong about the zombies. He believes the zombies can be conditioned to eat something other than human flesh. Muldoon uses Jane as an example by trying to get her to eat a horse. Muldoon has been keeping a livestock barn full of the living dead in order to experiment. A gunfight starts after Janet helps to arm Crockett and the men. Soon the zombies breech their confines and in true Romero fashion we are treated to lots of headshots and gut munching. In the melee Janet is bitten by her sister Jane. Muldoon and O’Flynn shoot each other Muldoon dies while O’Flynn is seriously wounded. Janet sees her sister actually bite the horse and takes off to find the fleeing Crockett and the rest of his group but as she is about to tell them what happened, O’Flynn arrives to shoot his daughter, saving her from becoming a zombie. Crockett and his group leave the island to find refuge somewhere else.

On the island the zombies are seen attacking the horse that Jane had bitten, proving that Muldoon must have been on to something. The zombiefied Muldoon and O’Flynn are seen on a hill together, silhouetted by the moon. The both draw their guns and pull the triggers but their guns are empty but their feud continues even in death.

Whew! That’s a lot going on and that is why Survival of the Dead stands out as one of Romero’s best zombie films since possibly Dawn of the Dead. I was not prepared for such a storyline and character development that was jammed packed into this film. Romero created a great blend of action, drama, gore and human social commentary that kept my attention throughout the film’s running time. There are no idle moments. There is always something going on to keep your attention. There are also a few jump scares that work effectively as well. Romero made great use of his locations. Lots of green rolling farm land to give you that open range feel and plenty of creepy wood land to make you feel secluded and trapped, not know what may pop out from behind a tree or brush.

Romero has proved to be the undisputed king of zombie mayhem. Survival of the Dead ensures that he can dish out the dead and give you a zombie film that actually makes you think. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Creepshow (1982)

Throughout the sub genres of horror cinema, the anthology film has always been one of my favorites. Movies such as Tales From The Crypt (1972), Vault of Horror (1973) and The House That Dripped Blood (1971) have always been fun outings. They offered four or five stories that featured prominent genre actors and delivered scares in a short period of time. Creepshow is one of my favorite anthology films of all time.

This feature was a collaboration of director George Romero (Dawn of the Dead) and author Stephen King (Salem’s Lot, Cujo) and is a tribute to the E.C. Comic books from the 1950’s. It presents five different stories all centered around a little boy’s comic book which has been thrown in the trash by his belligerent father (Tom Atkins). The beginning and end of each story is presented in animated format as if reading the comic book before transitioning into live action. Five stories are presented in this film.

“Father’s Day” is the first story. Nathan Grantham, a family patriarch murdered by his daughter Bedelia seven years earlier on Father’s Day, rises from his grave to take revenge on the guests of a dinner party that is held every year at his estate. All he wants is his Father’s Day cake which he keeps asking for while offing the guests. One of the guests is a young Ed Harris (The Abyss, Apollo 13) who shows off his incredible disco moves in one of my favorite cinematic sequences ever filmed.

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” is the story of a backwoods hick, played to the hilt by Stephen King himself, who finds that a meteor has crash landed into his back yard one dark night. King’s portrayal of a country bumpkin is hilarious and very over the top. Hoping to cash in on this discovery, Verrill accidentally breaks open the meteor and comes in contact with the glowing green goo found inside or as Verrill calls it “meteor shit”. A green grass like substance begins to grow around the meteor and on Verrill’s hand where he touched the meteor. Soon his entire body is covered in it as is his house and property outside. Verrill takes his own life and as the story ends the radio weather forecast calls for rain, rain and more rain.

“Something To Tide You Over” stars Leslie Neilsen as Richard Vickers, a wealthy nut case who takes revenge on his cheating wife Becky (Gaylen Ross) and her lover Harry (Ted Danson). Vickers buries the two up to their necks in the sand on his beach property. His plan is to slowly drown the as the tide comes in. He video tapes their deaths for posterity but is soon to find out that revenge is a dish best served…er wet? The two lovers come back as waterlogged and seaweed infested zombies. Richard finds himself buried up to his neck as well waiting for the tide to roll in.

“The Crate”, this is my favorite of the bunch. It stars Fritz Weaver (Re-Animator) as Professor Dexter Stanley. Stanley is called from a dinner party thrown by Professor Henry Northrup (Hal Holbrook) and his loudmouth drunk wife Billie (Adrienne Barbeau) to come to the university to investigate a crate that has been discovered under a flight of stairs. The crate is marked Artic Expedition and dating to the late 1800’s. Soon the contents of the crate is discovered to be some type of Yeti like creature that is rather hungry and eats the janitor and a student. Dexter goes to Henry for help. Henry decides that this crate is answer to all his problems, mainly his wife Billie. Henry cleans up the bloody mess at the university and lures his wife under the stairs for feeding time!

“They’re Creeping Up You” is the last installment and features E.G. Marshall as millionaire businessman Upson Pratt. Pratt is living in a “germ free” apartment which seems more like a hospital operating room. However he finds that he has a bug problem and keeps finding roaches. Before long he is over run with them and trapped in his own “bug free” apartment with no way out. The shock ending of this one will give you the willies for the rest of you life!

Creepshow ends with a great epilogue that features Tom Savini, who created all the effects work for the film, as a garbage man. He and his partner find the comic book in the trash and discover that an ad for a voodoo doll has been cut out. Inside the house of the little boy, his dad begins to suffer extreme pain in his neck while the camera finds the boy in his room jabbing a pin in his new voodoo doll.

What is so great about this film is it’s ability to really take on the form of a comic book. Scenes are sometimes framed in comic book style windows and moments of terror are back dropped with blue and red coloring. You really get the feeling a comic book has come to life and you are trapped inside it’s world of the macabre. The effects work by Tom Savini is top notch. Savini was the king of splatter by 1982 and the hottest effects man in the business. Creepshow, in my opinion, showcases his talents to full tilt boogie. His work runs the gamut with zombie corpses, bloody bullet hits, the crate creature (nicknamed “Fluffy”) and an Alien inspired chest bursting sequence. This movie really captures everything good about going to the movies and leaving your worldly cares behind for an hour and a half. A comic book adaptation of the film was released shortly after it’s theatrical debut and was illustrated by famed artist Bernie Wrightson. This adaptation also captured the feel and look of the old E.C. Comics of the 1950’s.

A sequel was released in 1987 but Creepshow 2 failed to score as well as the original. It was still an entertaining movie but just didn’t capture the look and feel that worked so well in the original.

I cannot end this review without thanking the good folks at Fantasmo Cult Cinema Explosion since they screened this over the past weekend. It was great to see this on the big screen the way it was always meant to be seen!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Lost Artwork of VHS Part 3

Here are two recent additions to my Wizard Video collection that really hit home concerning lost VHS artwork.

The Best of Sex and Violence (1981) is a compilation of titles that were available from Wizard Video and possibly other video companies. I say that because to my knowledge Wizard Video didn’t release Ebony Ivory and Jade, Tanya’s Island, Truck Stop Women or Alice in Wonderland (which I assume is some sleazy version of the classic Lewis Carroll book?). Nor did they release Night of the Living Dead, Tourist Trap or several other titles listed on the box. Wizard owner and founder, Charles Band, did own other video companies that did release some of those titles so I guess Chuck was just taking the time to throw the entire kitchen into this compilation of blood and boobies.

So if I was perusing the video shelves at my local mom n pop video store would this box have stopped me in my tracks? You’re ding dang right it would have! The title alone is worth a rental but the cover takes the cake! You got a bikini clad chic being accosted by some post apocalyptic backwoods man beast complete with machete, bullet belts, rifle and a seriously dangerous looking beard. At first glance he looks like a mutant ewok, maybe a cast off from Lucas’ set? 

The list of titles are also key to this release. Where else are you going to be able to take a sneak peek at movies like Zombie (Lucio Fucli’s undead masterpiece), I Spit On Your Grave, The Boogey Man, Sweet Sugar, Devil’s Wedding Night or Emanuelle Around The World? I also really like the way they listed the movies on the front cover. They are color coded to the words “sex” and “violence” in the main title. This way there is no mistaking what you are going to get with each title. 

The “big box” version of this release doesn’t include the titles on the front cover but does give us a larger canvas to assault our eyes with skin.

 Driller Killer (1979) has probably some of the most gruesome cover art in the Wizard Video cannon. There are no bones about this one. There is an electric drill in some guys cranium and blood flowing freely! There is just no way I could say “nah I think I’ll pass on this one” while coming across it on the shelf. This cover slaps you in the face as you walk by it, demanding your attention and your night’s rental fee. 

The only bad thing about this cover is the fact Wizard Video chose to show you the most gruesome scene in the entire movie! It’s a great ploy to get the customer to rent or buy but it’s a major let down once you get it home and pop it in the VCR. I remember being left feeling rather deflated afterwards. I was really hoping for a dose of gritty gore but ended up with a case of the yawns. It’s still a classic piece of exploitation but it’s a prime example of how video companies sucked you in quick with some great artwork because they knew the actual movie would be coming across a little half assed. Wizard was infamous for doing the same thing with their back of the box synopses. They would talk the movie up as if it was going to tear your heart out but in reality the plot was almost nonexistent. Not Wizard’s fault entirely, they were just trying to make the best of what sleazy exploitation they could get the rights to. Good on em though for getting my attention back in the day!