Friday, January 31, 2014

The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1976)

When looking for a new film to watch, certain titles seem to leap out and grab you. A cool title plus some really good artwork are grade A attention grabbers when perusing the shelves at a video store (if there are any left in your area) or online. “The Witch Who Came From The Sea” certainly meets that criteria. 

The poster art and subsequent VHS/DVD cover art is a masterpiece. A bit of a copy of one of Frazetta’s paintings but that is beside the point. The point is, is that it completely sucks you in and you think oh I have to see this! Do you “have” to see it? Not really unless you like psychological horror films whose story has really nothing to do with Witches or decapitated heads. The “sea” part, okay well that’s in there so director Matt Cimber gets points for that. 

"Hey kid my eyes are up here okay?"
Molly (Millie Perkins) is a woman dealing with some serious mental issues. She entertains her two young nephews with stories about her seafaring father. Molly seems obsessed with her father and gets very offended when her sister points out his flaw of being a drunkard. Molly is also obsessed with good looking men that she sees on the television. In one early scene Molly ogles several men on the beach while they work out. Her fantasies become violent however which seems to leave Molly a little confused and a bit bewildered. 

Bedtime and razor blades....not a good mix.
Molly takes her fantasy to another level by seducing two young football players in a hotel room. She ties them up to the bed to have her way with them but it quickly turns into a blood bath. The scene is well shot with Dean Cundey’s cinematography being used to its advantage. The tension builds and builds as one of the men realizes how things are going to end. Thankfully (maybe?) his friend has passed out and is unaware of the carnage taking place just inches away from him.

After the murders in the hotel, we begin to learn more about Molly. Molly is a waitress in a bar located by the sea. She sleeps with the owner, Long John (Lonny Chapman) on a regular basis and there is a bond between them that isn’t really a romantic relationship but sort of teeters on the edge. Molly continues to obsess over the male form and turns her attention to a television commercial actor. She gets to meet him through an associate of Long John and forms a relationship with him. As with the other two men Molly again gets violent and in another well shot and somewhat gruesome scene, this new obsession is left to die. 

"So you want Hello Kitty with a dagger? ok."
An interesting part of Molly’s character is the fact that it’s never really made clear if she is indeed some type of bewitched woman. She seems to possess some type strength that only shows up when she kills. There are also a few quick flashback type scenes that hint to some weird and tragic event upon what looks like a raft adrift at sea with body parts strewn around a screaming woman. A rather “trippy” early 70’s kind of vibe going on with those quick moments. Is Molly really a witch or just a nutcase?

70's LSD moment
I think what drives this movie is the solid acting by Millie Perkins. She embraces the decent into madness of her character Molly pretty convincingly. This may be a low budget film but it’s one of those that seems to have been over looked for quite some time. In 2004 it found its way onto DVD with a 16X9 film transfer that was overseen by Dean Cundey. For those who might not recognize that name he is the man responsible for the shadowy frights of Halloween (1978) and other John Carpenter films such as The Fog (1980) and The Thing (1982), not to mention his work in big Hollywood productions such as Back to the Future parts II and III (1989, 1990). His directing is very telling in this movie and if you take a good look at his early work such as the Halloween films, you can really see it in The Witch Who Came From The Sea.

This movie is kind of like a traffic accident and I don’t mean that as an insult. It’s like driving by the scene of two mangled cars and you slow down to watch the paramedics load a victim of the wreck into the ambulance. The scene grabs you and you can’t look away. That’s the way this film grabbed me. It wasn’t spell bounding by any means but it really keeps your interest. Either that or I am just a sucker for these types of psychological flicks…….which I am so there.

Ah the good ole Uni VHS release. Nice sea foam green!
Subversive Cinema released this film onto DVD in a Special Edition that includes extras such as commentary tracks from director Matt Cimber, Millie Perkins and Dean Cundey. It also includes a documentary entitled “A Maiden’s voyage”.  When you think about it, that’s pretty cool considering this title is one of those cult titles that really has been gathering dust on the shelves of obscurity. So this film has a great title and some killer artwork so does that formula equal to a great film? For me yeah this one worked. Although I have to say that the artwork really threw me. I was totally expecting some 70’s Spanish horror to be honest, especially since Unicorn Video (the old VHS label it was released on) carried a vast amount of titles from that neck of the world. Completely surprised to see familiar names and faces when finally getting a chance to see it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blood Sucking Freaks (1976)

Throughout my short time here on planet Earth, I have seen many a flick. My earliest memories of video store rentals was at the Farm Fresh grocery store in my little city of Suffolk near the eastern coast of Virginia. The rental store was located in the middle of the store where they sold books and magazines. They had a big table in the middle with binders full of women……I mean binders full of artwork for the VHS rentals. They would take slipcases and flatten them down and slap them in so you could see the artwork and read the back. The slipcase had a library number on it so you could tell the clerk which movie you wanted. A very odd way to do it but I guess since shelf space was already nonexistent this method seemed like the obvious choice.

I remember flipping through one day and coming across Blood Sucking Freaks. It was on the Vestron Video label which kind of turned me off at first because I hadn’t caught a good horror flick on their label at that point. I loved the artwork and it just beckoned me to rent it. I surely had no idea what my VCR and I were in for!
Sardu, master of dinner etiquette

Blood Sucking Freaks was originally let loose in the theaters in 1976 under the title “The Incredible Torture Show” and really is an homage to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ “The Wizard of Gore (1970)”. The films stars Seamus O’Brien as Sardu. Sardu runs the local Grand Guignol theater which specializes in S&M style performances along with bloody torture shows. He also runs a white slave trade through the theater as well. He keeps his basement well stocked with wild women in a cage. Sardu is assisted by Ralphus, a demented midget played by Luis De Jesus. 

I think you're gonna need braces!
The performers for Sardu’s shows are not actresses but actually kidnapped women that are tortured and killed on the stage in front of an unsuspecting audience. Sardu’s “arch nemesis” is Creasy Silo a theater critic who is not impressed with Sardu’s “magic show” and refuses to write about the theater so that others will not seek out the theater for curiosity.  Sardu decides to kidnap Silo so that he will give the theater a good review and to put the icing on the cake also kidnaps New York City ballerina Natasha DeNatlie. His plan is to brainwash her and make her perform which will add some much needed credo to the theater’s name. Natasha’s boyfriend Tom Maverick teams up with Detective Tucci to find Natasha and find out what is really going on within the theater. The plot sounds pretty interesting right? Well for the most part it is but the kicker is the exploitation, simulated torture, deranged behavior and cheap splatter effects.

nummy eyeballs!
Our first peek into the madness starts right from the get go as a naked woman is delivered to the theater in a crate and she is suspended by chains. She is used in the next show having her thumb crushed with thumb screws and then her head crushed with vice placed around her head. Another woman is whipped and has her hand sawed off. To top that off Ralphus gouges out her eye and eats it. Just a taste of what to expect from this nasty…….pun intended.

Nifty one sheet.
There are many more scenes of torture and out right nastiness to keep the gorehound happy. A doctor is called in to examine one of the actresses and for payment he is given one on one time with one of the kidnapped women. He gropes her naked body while she is tied to a chair. He then proceeds to pull out all her teeth so that she doesn’t attempt to bite. He then shaves her head, drills a hole in the top and inserts a glass tube and sucks out her brains. Other atrocities include chainsaw amputation, decapitation via guillotine and the head’s mouth violated…ahem, human dart board and more! Oh goody! 

The effects work is amateur at best which is fine because of the nature of the film. It really ranks up there with Lewis’ cinematic wonders like Color Me Blood Red (1965), The Gore Gore Girls (1972) and Two Thousand Maniacs (1964). Even though the effects are cheap and the acting wooden, the underlying theme is still pretty sleazy and well that is the point.
Producer Joel M. Reed is proud.

...and Ralphus approves.
Troma Entertainment distributed the film theatrically after its original run. They were responsible for re titling the film to Blood Sucking Freaks. Troma also re-released it to home video under this title as well in a “Director’s Cut” both on VHS and DVD. I didn’t see a difference between the Vestron Video version I used to rent back in the day and the Troma VHS but I could be missing something. All the depravity seemed to be there! Fun times for all. Make sure you gather the whole family around when you sit down with this one.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Videos From Beyond the Gray.....

I’ve been a fan of horror since I was a kid. I remember spending many Sunday and Saturday afternoons catching monster flicks like Frankenstein, Godzilla and King Kong on television. They have been a part of me since Kindergarten. The home video boom hit me in the 1980’s. We had one VCR in the household and that was sufficient until my brother bought one. For what reasons I can’t really remember but that purchase started my movie collection. I would rent movies from the local mom and pop video store and make a copy for my personal collection. As my obsession grew so did my knowledge of all sorts of different horror films, especially those from Europe.  Films from directors such as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava were hard to come by and when I did find them, they were normally edited versions. I remember seeing Unsane (1982 aka Tenebrae) for the first time. I had a heck of a time tracking this Argento film down. I adored it upon the first viewing! I loved all the stylized violence and cinematography. I then discovered it was missing footage and there were no uncut version available through retail vendors. I wondered if I would ever see the film in the form that Argento meant it to be seen. 

Then one day I saw an ad in the back of Fangoria magazine for a mail order VHS company called Midnight Video. The ad said they specialized in UNCUT horror so I sent off for a catalogue. This started my journey into a whole new realm of horror film discovery. Within the pages of that Midnight Video catalogue were listings for films that were already on my shelf but in truncated form. There were film titles I had never heard of and many that I had only read about. After much perusing of the pages I finally decided that I would shell out my hard earned cash on Midnight’s Japanese print of Tenebrae. I was ecstatic when the UPS man delivered it to my doorstep. Finally I was able to see a Letterboxed version of this film in all its uncut glory! There was no packaging on the tape itself. It was housed in the Maxwell Industrial slipcase that it came in from Midnight’s vendor and the tape itself was adorned with a spine label and front label with the name of the film, its date and alias. I felt a little disappointed until I popped it in the VCR and watched it. A beautiful print it was. The quality was near perfect and mind you this was before DVD or Blu Ray. Many of Midnight's titles were sourced from Japanese laserdisc releases so that right there was a nice improvement over what most mail order companies were offering. No one could beat Midnight's quality!

As my interest in European horror films grew so did my shelf of VHS titles. Midnight Video introduced me to the films of Paul Naschy, Jess Franco and Amando de Ossorio, absurd Italian gore films such as Antropophagus(1980), impossible to find titles such as La Venganza De La Momia(1973) and Spanish sleaze such as Los Ritos Sexuales Del Diablo (1982). Midnight Video was also an introduction to genre actors Helga Line, Jack Taylor, Lina Romay and more. For me, Midnight Video opened the floodgates to a plethora of films that have become staples to my video diet for many years after I was introduced to them.

As video technology progressed and gave birth to the DVD format, Midnight Video was able to follow suit and offer DVDR versions of their titles. There was nice artwork on these early DVDR releases which included the artwork from original poster art. It was a nice change of pace compared to the bare bones VHS releases. As always Midnight Video offered the best print quality that was out there and truly uncut versions of their titles. This also ushered in a new digital era where Midnight Video launched their own website and stopped printing catalogs. If you happen to have one keep a hold of it because there are none left. The Midnight Video website offered an easy way to order the obscure titles you were looking for plus offered a section of the site dedicated to informing collectors of what was available out in the retail world. Many titles were being released by other DVD companies now that there was an ever growing interest in European horror and exploitation film. Many companies were claiming to offer uncut versions of these films but sadly some of the prints used were not truly uncut. Midnight Video offered a very detailed comparison of what footage was missing from certain titles and if they were presented in their correct aspect ratio. Midnight now offered more than just a place to buy obscure Eurohorror but also a place to learn more about the films themselves. 

Finally in 2010 Midnight Video did something I did not expect. They ceased to be! Midnight Video became Midnight Legacy. No longer was there a website offering DVDRs of hard to find titles but a true blue DVD and Blu Ray retail company. The first title they have made available is the 1980 Italian schlock fest Alien 2: On Earth. Midnight Legacy’s first release is presented in its correct 1:85:1 aspect ratio and features a gorgeous high definition transfer from 35mm original footage plus additional extra footage. The release also features some outtakes and a trailer for the film, a crowning achievement indeed for Midnight Legacy. You can drop by their website and check it out!