Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Blood Drinkers (1964)

aka Kulay Dugo Ang Gabi

(I watched the dubbed-by-local-talent, re-cut version of the film made for the American market. Sense and nonsense of the original might be quite a bit different.)

A certain Dr. Marco (Ronald Remy as a proto-Telly Savalas) and his entourage come to a small Filipino country community. As he is wearing a cape and sunglasses and his people consist of the equally cape-wearing assistant Tanya (future Darna Eva Montes), a hunchbacked gentleman and a murderous little person, it is quite obvious these must be vampires.

They have come for a reason - Marco's great love Katrina (Amalia Fuentes with a blond wig) has some not closer defined illness and needs lots of blood and the heart of her lost twin sister Charito (Amalia Fuentes without the wig) to recover.

Their mother, who is now under the vampire's spell, had once given away Charito to a poor family for mysterious reasons that are never spelt out.

Now, most vampires would just abduct Charito and be done with it, but Dr. Marco sets a rather complicated plan in motion, beginning with the murder and vampirization of the young woman's foster-parents. Nothing about the plan does much good of course, and only alerts the local priest and the awesomely hairdo-ed city boy Victor de la Cruz (Eddie Fernandez) to the evil one's plans.

This is a weird one, and I feel quite lacking in context to put the film in its proper place.

The Blood Drinkers has a certain affinity with Mexican horror of the same time with its mixture of gothic horror tropes and aesthetics with a rural pop (look at the fashion) and pulp sensibility, but also adds quite a bit more Catholicism than the Mexican films do, leading to a splendid friction between disparate elements.

The Blood Drinkers was inevitably produced by Cirio H. Santiago and directed by Gerardo de Leon (both of Blood Island fame and infamy, well and dozens of other exploitation films), and both men keep to their either slap-dash or just cost-conscious approaches to their respective fields. Instead of silly little things like complicated camera-setups or framing (although that doesn't work out too bad here), the visual star of the film is the decision to film large parts of it in black and white that was later on tinted, mostly in quite striking red and blue tones. This lends the film a mood of unreality which fits its rather illogical plot-progression and jumpy editing perfectly, lending the air of a dream to flaws that were probably based on mere incompetence or lack of funds.

"Competence" isn't the word that comes to mind when talking about the movie's narrative either. It's not just that it doesn't make much sense, but also that the dramatic emphasis is put on the wrong scenes or on the shoulders of a frankly ridiculous looking rubber bat (supposedly a much beloved element of the American producers), it's also that parts of the narrative are just plain strange. For example, the characters seem to be able to see the tint their scenes are presented in (red of course being the colour of evil here) and comment on it. And why is the scene in there in which Marco and Katrina are shortly healed from their vampirism by a little prayer of the priest, only to be cursed again by the Christian god in a display of what I can only describe as pure asshattedness? I can't help but use the old "dream-logic" explanation again.

Among its other wonders, the film also features some rather surprising hints of SM in the relationship between Marco and Tanya, when we learn that she isn't just kinda sweet on her boss and jealous of his eternal beloved, but that some of the feelings seem to be reciprocated. At least he whips her and then sucks the resulting wounds in a very sexual way.

The only thing I found myself really disapproving about the film was the disappointingly weak ending that more or less consists of the vampire disappearing and the priest explaining that evil is eternal. It's rather shameful for a film promising a final confrontation between a horde of vampires, our young heroes, the police and a Catholic procession, but what can you do?

Now, is it a "good" film? Most probably not. However, it is one of the cases where all flaws of a film come together in such an interesting way that it becomes exactly the sort of dream-like experience I'm after in my movie-watching, while at the same time offering a valuable look at a Filipino horror film from the early 60s.


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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In short: XX: Beautiful Hunter (1994)

Orphan girl Shiori (Makiko Kuno) has an impressive streak of bad luck. As if the whole being an orphan thing wasn't enough, she is adopted by an evil Catholic secret society and trained to become one of their killers (or Warriors of God).

The grown-up Shiori is well loved by the organization's boss, a priest usually just called Father (Koji Shimizu), for reasons of him being a sleazy, blind old man and her being ruthlessly efficient.

Until she makes a mistake on a job and lets two journalist witnesses escape with some very incriminating photos. The first of the two is easily hunted down, but Ito (Johnny Okura) the second one is more of a problem. His attempts at lying low aren't too successful, but when Shiori finds him, she for once in her life isn't just able to kill him. As it goes in films like this, all her carefully suppressed sexuality explodes and she falls in love with him.

Both have to go on the run together, always trailed by Shiori's former colleagues.

Beautiful Hunter is the second part of the XX series, a handful of Japanese girls with guns films made for the video market. As such, the film always has to fight against its low budget, but director Masaru Konuma was veteran of intelligent smut filmmaking enough to be able to roll with it. Although the lighting and colour schemes betray the film's year of production, the film has a distinct 70s feel to it, with much of the scenes as carefully laid out by Konuma as his Roman Porn films for Nikkatsu were and more than one moment of guerilla filmmaking.

Not surprisingly, Konuma seems to be more interested in the script's sado-erotic undertones and the sexualisation of violence with the gun as phallus stand-in than in the actual action scenes and even finds some honest human emotions in the ritualised sex and the sadism. At times, it looks as if the director is trying to marry pulpy exploitation in the style of a Kazuo Koike manga with the sado-masochistic psychological clarity of some of his earlier films.

He is not completely successful with it for two reasons. Firstly, as much as he tries to ignore the plot or the non-sexual implications of girls with gun cinema, the film still needs to function as part of the genre or at least do something, anything with the genre's clichés. Alas, it just doesn't.

Secondly, Makiko Kuno is good enough when she doesn't have to show emotions, but has her problems with the more emotional scenes, coming off less as someone with lessened affect than slightly bored.

Still, while Beautiful Hunter is less successful than I'd hoped it to be, it is a very interesting and worthwhile film with a handful of aesthetically impressive scenes. I always prefer a film with ambitions it doesn't completely fulfill to a film that isn't even trying.


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Monday, September 28, 2009

Music Monday: Reasons Edition

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Killdozer (1974)

An oil company sends a crack construction crew (I always wanted to use that phrase) to an island somewhere far away from civilization. The men are supposed to build a base camp for some never defined project. The lowly workers don't much like their rather cold and aloof foreman Kelly (Clint Walker, whose schwarzeneggerian inability to emote becomes a minor plot point), but that is not going to be their core problem for too long.

One of their bulldozers - and the largest and prettiest at that - hits a strange meteorite while digging.

A cheap blue energy effect roasts the youngest of the men (future TV darling Robert Urich) and floats into the dozer. No one actually understands what has happened or why, which seems reason enough to blame Kelly who just shrugs and plans the next day's work. Kelly has seen something, but isn't willing to accept it.

Soon, the dozer starts to act up, as if it had a will of its own and not a lot of love for the meatbags around it. First, it goes for the crew's only radio, then it slowly begins to hunt the men down and kill them.

Tensions between its designated victims run as high as ABC and the mediocre acting abilities allow. Fortunately, our heroes might be chumps, but they know who their true enemy is (a big yellow taxi, um, dozer) and that it is only proper to challenge him/it/whatever to a duel between alien-possessed and human-driven construction vehicle.

When that doesn't work out, they just steal their next plan from The Thing From Another World. And that without a scientist.

Killdozer is one of ABC's TV movies of the week, and therefore burdened with a combination of low budget, short shooting time, not much special effects and at best mediocre acting.

To my delight, the people in charge of this production (and, seeing that this is TV, I'm not sure if that means director Jerry London) seem to have taken these problems as a challenge.

If you have no money, it's a an idea Roger Corman would surely approve of to just drive a handful of construction vehicles through a sandy backlot in California, and just film them moving around a little, while your actors are trying to look construction worker-ly. What do you know, it might even work!

The film is based on one of the weaker stories of the great SF short story writer Theodore Sturgeon, who is also listed as co-writer of the script. He and his writing partner Ed MacKillop (with only this single credit on IMDB to his name, therefore smelling of someone using a pseudonym) do a fine enough job of keeping the film's pace a little faster than that of most TV movies, yet probably too slow for the less patient viewer. That's of course not the film's problem, but the viewer's.

If you want to have fun with Killdozer, you'll obviously somehow have to live with (or even like) the very silly basic premise and be able to accept a big yellow dozer representing a malevolent evil from outer space. Of course, someone who can't do that doesn't have too much business watching fantasy and horror films at all, especially in cases like this where the script does its best with the premise by playing everything as straight as possible, trying to ease the viewer into the necessary suspension of disbelief. If you decide to suspend it, the film even gives you lots of perfectly annoying/awesome synthesizer throbbing and thrashing as a bonus.

The characters are a little cliched, but more out of a necessity to work with the film's running time of not even 70 minutes than out of stupidity, and it is a positive surprise how unsympathetic each and every one of them is allowed to be without falling into the "they asked for it" trap of horror movie victims.

It's really a neat little movie. In its small, unassuming way, it applies the techniques of cheap, yet conscientious filmmaking to the TV movie formula of its time and succeeds nicely.

Killdozer will probably be too workmanlike for some, but I have to say that I had quite a bit of fun with it. Honestly, how many films about a possessed bulldozer are there? And how many of them feature an awesome construction vehicle duel?


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Saturday, September 26, 2009

In short: Night of the Demons (1988)

(Not to be mixed up with all the other movies titled Night of the Demon/s)

Angela (Amelia Kinkade), the only goth in town, invites a bunch of horror movie stereotypes - among them our heroine, the whiny virgin girl to end all whiny virgin girls Judy (Cathy Podewell) and 80s horror strip icon Linnea Quigley - to her Halloween party in the old haunted house at the edge of town.

The house has quite an unpleasant history, what with it having been built on ground the Indian population identified as cursed, and once having been a funeral home whose owners were then one day found dead, their body parts scattered all over the grounds.

It will come as it has to come. The kids will be locked inside the building, Linnea will drop her clothes, and demons will possess a few of the kiddies. There will be screaming and running around. Oh my.

Night of the Demons is cheesy 80s horror distilled to its bare essence - never has the hair been bigger, never the heroine more annoying, seldom the concept of what is supposed to be scary less scary.

The film nearly exclusively consists of pilfered parts of other, mostly better or at least more entertaining films. The main inspirations here were obviously Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies and Lamberto Bava's Demons, but where the former films have Raimi's creative drive and humor, and the latter Italian bugfuck insanity, this one is just coasting on other people's achievements and copying some surface features without ever showing much of a clue about what to do with them. It is a perfect example that it's not enough for a filmmaker to be a genre fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of those who went before; if one doesn't have a single idea of one's own, one won't make a worthwhile movie. That way, only Hatchet and Rob Zombie films lie.

If its models are a feast, Night of the Demons is more like a warmed up microwave hamburger, filling, but forgettable and possibly constipating. In fact, about an hour after watching it, I have already forgotten most of the film. The only memorable parts to me were the inexplicable scene in which one of Quigley's breasts eats her lipstick (that way, unhinged entertainment lies), a pointless sub-plot about a Halloween-hating old man (that way, filler and digression lies) and the strange fact that in this most cliched of all horror films, the black character Rodger (Alvin Alexis) ends up to be the male survivor and sort of hero (that way, the future lies).

That's not enough to make up for all the laziness and cheese, nor for the big hair, but it is at least something.


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Friday, September 25, 2009

On WTF: El Trono Del Infierno (1994)

Mexican genre films of the 90s aren't exactly known for their quality, and I wouldn't say El Trono Del Infierno is an exception to the rule of crappiness, although it's sometimes more than a little awesome.


In my review on WTF-Film, I'll explain what is so supposedly awesome about the movie and what quite a bit less. Expect an actor-director with ego problems and big hair and a lot of filler.


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Thursday, September 24, 2009

In short: Zombie Hunter Rika (2008)

Initially, Japanese schoolgirl Rika (idol Risa Kudo, who is not one of those members of her guild with any acting ability) and her best friend Nami skip school to visit Rika's grandfather and get some important life advice. When they arrive in the small town where the genius surgeon ("Just like Black Jack!", we are informed) and swordmaster lives, they stumble into the beginning of a localized zombie outbreak - "zombies" is how you call camembert-faced people with movement disabilities, right?

The Japanese government is at fault this time. An experimental euthanasia drug to get rid of all those pesky old people has turned out to have some problematic side effects.

Worse for Rika, grandpa is utterly senile and his gold digger wife is trying to poison him to finally be able to spend his riches with her low-life boyfriend. The first larger zombie attack ends with Rika getting bitten. Fortunately, grandpa has still enough brain juice left to amputate his granddaughters bitten arm, well, to hack it off with a sword to be precise, and stitch on a new one.

Rika's new member is the arm of a dead American zombie hunter (don't ask) in a sort of package deal together with his magic sword, which will come in handy.

The local exposition machine, made corporeal by the zombified but intelligent scientist Takahashi (only genuine with his self-built muzzle to stop him from spontaneously eating people), explains that all problems will be solved and all the undead people will become alive again if just someone kills the zombie boss Grorian. So our obligatory motley bunch of survivors (Rika, Gramps, Nami, Takahashi, an otaku, a sushi cook and hippie/drop-out type - a representative cut of Japan's population) proceeds to stumble through the woods in the traditional manner until it is time for the final fight.

Yes, this is definitely one of those films, consciously silly, full of loving but moronic references to Japanese pop culture clichés and only peopled by the worst possible stereotypes. There are bad (but mostly physical, yay) special effects, terrible acting, but also maid zombies, a rubber arm, a zombie who has stolen Godzilla's breath weapon, sword-swinging schoolgirls and zombies.

Zombie Hunter Rika was produced for the DVD market and has the obvious non-budget that comes with the territory, but its director Kenichi Fujiwara tries a bit harder than many others in his part of the business and gives the film a little more drive, sometimes even a sense of silly enthusiasm, although there still are some dull moments. However, if one is inclined to, (and I always am) one can find a lot of love for the less savory parts of pop culture and moronic entertainment in general in the film, which seems to me to be a perfect fit for a film that is definitely situated in the less savory parts of pop culture and generally quite moronic entertainment.

As I said, acting and special effects are bad, yet they are also exceedingly enthusiastically done, and a little enthusiasm goes a long way in the realm of the bad zombie movie, even if it might be misguided.

Compared to something like Onechanbara, this is genius-level entertainment, measured with a slightly more strict standard, it is a fun little film if you don't expect it to be The Machine Girl.


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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nick the Sting

aka Gli Amici Di Nick Hezard

The dirty rotten American businessman Robert Clark (Lee J. Cobb) spends most of his business life doing extremely illegal deals. His newest one is a little insurance fraud. He hires a burglar to steal highly valuable jewelry from his own villa to get at the insurance money and be able to sell the valuables later on. Usually, that's the sort of theft we here approve of, but Clark also kills the burglar, just to be sure he isn't talking.

And that's not safe enough Clark. He also puts the small-time conman Nick Hezard (Luc Meranda) in possession of a piece of the stolen jewelry, so that the police and the insurance company will blame the whole business on Nick and unknown accomplices. Then it's just the little business of murdering Nick and his fence and Clark's perfect crime is done. Too bad for Clark that he doesn't kill Nick, but a friend of Nick's.

The young conman wants revenge, although he isn't the type to go into all guns blazing action hero mode, so he plans on doing the biggest con of his career on Clark. With the help of his pimp mother (Valentina Cortese) and a bunch of old partners of his conman father, he gets to work. However, it's not as easy as he would have wished for, with Clark's henchmen and an insurance inspector (William Berger) and a cop on his trail.

Did you love The Sting? Well, a lot of people in Italy obviously did, and if there is one thing for certain when it comes to the Italian film industry of the time, then it's its incredible hunger for the production of cheap rip-offs of everything that has made even a little money.

Nick the Sting has the definite advantage over other second row caper movies of having been directed by Fernando Di Leo. Today (at least outside of Italy), Di Leo is mostly known for his harder Eurocrime and cop movies, but he of course also made a lot of Western or whatever else the genre of the day might have been.

It turns out that Di Leo's snappy sense of pacing is useful in a caper movie as well as when showing the more brutal film version of gangster life like in Milano Calibro 9, and so whatever faults Nick the Sting may have, being slow or boring certainly isn't one of them. And if any kind of chase or a little brawl is needed to liven up the proceedings, Di Leo is the right man to deliver them with surehanded enthusiasm.

Neither is the acting a problem, although I find Meranda more convincing when he is not donning silly disguises, but I'd put that inherent ridiculousness more on the genre conventions (which require broadness and obviousness of disguises as to let the viewer feel superior over the hero's victims) as on the actor. Everyone else seems to have a lot of fun with her or his role, giving the film a bit of a party feeling that seems only too fitting when one keeps in mind that one of the pleasures of films of this type has always been to watch clever working class criminals sticking it to the rich, brutal gangster types in a less bloody variation on the "little man strikes back" theme. Nick the Sting even puts further emphasis on this part of its subtext by giving the conpeople an appearance of community and social responsibility for each other the big gangsters and the police seem to lack.

One could of course go on and criticize the film's script for the much too complicated scam its heroes are setting up, but another pleasure of the genre lies exactly in this baroque complexity that is meant to demonstrate the good guys' cleverness. After all, it's not supposed to be a realistic scam, because then the victims would be poor old people and the protagonists much less sympathetic, it's supposed to be an idealized and utopian version of a scam where no one really gets physically hurt, and only the real bad guys are hurt at all - where it truly hurts them, their bank accounts. (Please imagine Billy Bragg and Wilco playing "The Unwelcome Guest" here).

A more troubling problem of the plot is its closeness to the original The Sting, and I would decry the film's near plagiarism loudly and violently if not for the fact that I didn't find myself caring much about things like intellectual property while watching.

Instead, I was having quite a fun time with one of the friendlier genre films coming from Italy.


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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In short: The Black Falcon (1967)

A shadowy and evil organization known as "The Black Falcon" terrorizes Hong Kong with unspecified shadowy and evil deeds. The World Insurance Organization (don't ask me) sends in its best man, Zhang Shijie (Paul Chang Chung), sworn brother to James Bond.

The Black Falcon's mastermind is a certain Mister Tan, but nobody in the organization speaks directly to him and nobody knows exactly where he lives. Fortunately, Zhang's superiors have a brilliant plan to find Tan. Our man Zhang will have to charm himself into the trust of Tan's daughter Julie (Jenny Hu) and get her father's whereabouts out of her. The charming part works out wonderfully. Julie hasn't seen her father for several months, though and doesn't have the slightest clue where he might live.

Worse for Zhang is the fact that the Black Falcon is on to his tricks and tries to murder him repeatedly. After a few other complications are dealt with and Julie is in the clear about who Zhang his and how evil and shadowy an evil and shadowy organization the Black Falcon truly is, the two team up to, um, drive randomly around the countryside, I guess.

The Black Falcon, directed by ex-Nikkatsu director Takumi Furukawa isn't exactly the crowning jewel of the spy movies the Shaw Brothers produced in the wake of the James Bond fever that seemed to have gripped Asia (or at least Hong Kong and Japan) especially heavily. The film's problems are twofold. Firstly, The Shaw's favorite secret agent Paul Chang Chung isn't the ideal casting for a super suave, super smart agent (here called a "detective", but who cares). While he knows how to handle himself in a fight and isn't exactly a bad actor, he also isn't all that charismatic or sexy, so that one has to trust the assurances of the script regarding his charisma and sexiness, instead of actually seeing them on screen.

Secondly, the script lacks any feeling of propulsion, and while we get to see a fair share of action, there never seems to be much of a reason for anything that happens except those boxes on the list of "things that belong in a spy film" the scriptwriters used. If our supposed hero has a plan, it doesn't show on screen too much.

While these flaws (and its pitiful lack of Lily Ho) are enough to keep the film from being more than a qualified recommendation, it also has a few virtues.

Furukawa's direction is fast and snappy and more often than not delightfully pop, and while the film isn't a satisfying whole, you can't blame Furukawa's ability for staging fun action sequences and set pieces for it.

There is a lot of fun to be had when the film gets through one of the classical motions of 60s spy films after another, most of them very expertly executed. As long as you are able to go with its semi-cheap, glossy surface charms and don't look for meaning or narrative, The Black Falcon is a fine time.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

Music Monday: Going Home Edition

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ark of the Sungod (1983)

aka Temple of Hell

The gentleman burglar Rick Spear (David Warbeck) has come to Turkey to combine a pleasurable holiday with his girlfriend Carol (Susie Sudlow) with a little light burglarizing. Keeping Carol out of the loop of what he's doing for a living is surprisingly easy. The woman's a real airhead, but at least she will turn out to be a very practical airhead without much of a propensity to scream during the course of the movie, so the film already has one better on the middle part of the Indiana Jones trilogy (there is no fourth film).

Rick's burglary business is easy work for a professional, even with a random cultist trying to kill him while he is acquiring the tools of his trade from the shady Mohammed (Ricardo Palacios), but it also turns out to be a benign sort of trap laid by Rick's old buddy Lord Dean (John Steiner). Dean wants Rick to find and steal the scepter of king Gilgamesh for him. The artifact is securely tucked away in a lost temple somewhere in the mountains of what should be Iraq. An expedition in the 30s found it, but didn't manage to open the large, golden door leading into it. Obviously, an expert burglar will succeed where archeologists have failed.

Finding the last survivor of the old expedition (our dear old friend Luigi Pigozzi aka Alan Collins) to learn where exactly the temple is located will be the least of Rick's problems. He'll also have to cope with more cultists and the bumbling henchmen of a certain Prince Abdullah (Aytekin Akkaya, if you believe the IMDB the man who played Captain America in 3 Dev Adam) who is planning on using the scepter to...rule the world. Mwahahaha. I see kidnappings in Carol's future.

Ark of the Sungod (and might I mention the complete lack of an ark in the film?) shows director Antonio Margheriti in full cheap-skate Spielberg mode, although I would argue that while Indiana Jones might be the commercial reason for the film's existence, the serials the Lucas/Spielberg films were based on are the company in which the Italian film really belongs in spirit of quick and dirty fun and by virtue of its cheap but effective production values.

The archeological adventure part isn't as important for the film as one might think. Mostly it is a very (yes, pulpy and serial-like) succession of fistfights, stunts, model-driven car chases (in fact one of the best model-driven car chases in movie history), and gleefully absurd humor.

Some would call the plot and the plotting here dumb and juvenile, but I find the lightness of touch this film shares with Margheriti's other adventure movies much too knowing and endearing to be this humorless about it. There's also a friendly little bunch of stereotypes to offend the easily offended, but taking offense here would mean putting a weight on a film it never was meant to take.

What Ark of the Sungod has going for it is an infectious feeling of fun and enthusiasm that comes through in Warbeck's sarcastic swagger, Akkaya's insane ranting, the relish with which Margheriti presents the location shots made in Turkey and the shrugging disinterest for common sense that runs through much of the film.

Like many of the director's best films from this phase of his career, Ark of the Sungod possesses a slightly post-modern feel. It is a movie very conscious of being a movie and of being stitched together out of parts of other movies. Margheriti is of course very adept at being irresponsible and playful about it without the need of great gestures to demonstrate how clever he is.

Ark of the Sungod is a boy's own adventure with all the problems that entails, but it seems to know that these problems are mostly dangerous for and in those boy's own adventures that decide to take themselves much too seriously. The only thing Margheriti takes seriously is having some fun while making his film, which in his case more often than not produced a fun film.


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Saturday, September 19, 2009

In short: Superzan Y El Nino Del Espacio (1973)

Silio (Claudio Lanuza, possibly the son of the film's "director" and "writer" Rafael Lanuza), a gold-skinned alien boy from the Andromeda galaxy lands in his space Trabant on our poor little planet know what? This is just much too dreadful to write about.

Let us just say that this one is even worse than the first Superzan film, pure dreadful, condensed boredom in a bag, achieving the unachievable by being as boring as a film only consisting of filler without having any actual filler in it, an awesome trick senor Laruza must have been pretty proud of, probably worse than anything else that Agrasanchez productions ever called a lucha and/or superhero movie (just think about that!). Let us furthermore fill the rest of this little text with quotes from the awesomeness known as The Middleman (thanks, Wikiquote) to bring my spirits up again and spare you the pain of gosh-darn Superzan:


The Middleman: Special Agent Watson, slacking off the dress code, I see.

Wendy: Oh, I don't do dress code after sundown.

The Middleman: It's bad apples like you that put Mr. Hoover in a dress.


Wendy: Uh, Sensei Ping. Like an unborn lotus festering in the mud waiting to blossom, I come to you with humble greetings to beseech your guidance, most awesome...

Sensei Ping: (laughs) Did The Middleman tell you to recite the most hallowed verse of greetings to Sensei Ping?

Wendy: Uh, yes.

Sensei Ping: He is such a comedian. You know, most of us masters of the martial arts are actually very laid back.

Wendy: Really?

Sensei Ping: No! (slaps her)


Wendy: Uh, why is my car being surrounded by a bunch of lucha libre wrestlers?

Sensei Ping: That is a very long story for another day, my impudent young weasel.


The Middleman: (pre-recorded) Dubbie, if you're seeing this, I have perished in the Underworld. Hopefully, we've stopped a thousand years of fire. If not, you might want look into getting an asbestos umbrella. Or a really good insurance policy.

The Middleman: (pre-recorded) Dubbie, if you're seeing this, we were unable to stop Varsity Fanclub, the Clotharian rebel fleet opened up a warphole, and their armada has reduced the planet Earth to a smoking cinder. I'm not sure how you managed to survive, but "Good for you!"


Aaah, that's much better.


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Friday, September 18, 2009

On WTF: The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964)

I've never been much of a fan of Del Tenney's movies (camp will only get me this far), but while watching his brilliantly titled Gothic proto-Giallo The Curse of the Living Corpse I had to revise my opinion of them and him a little - there are ambitions and good ideas in the film, and I'm going to tell you all about them in my write-up on WTF-Film. Expect a young Roy Scheider and Carnival of Soul's Candace Hilligoss and many a monologue.


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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Three Films Make A Post: My Sister Is A Werewolf

Rest Stop: Don't Look Back (2008): aka We're not stinking calling it Rest Stop 2.

While I had quite a bit of fun with John Shiban's Rest Stop as a neat, weird and focused if unoriginal little B movie, its sequel is just a retread of the first one with every flaw maximized. It's especially lacking in the sense of strangeness the first film achieved from time to time, and replaces it with a bit more torture. Note to filmmakers: torture without emotional context makes for a boring movie.

The slightly larger cast isn't used too well either and mostly helps to make the film feel bloated and unfocused. And the ending does make no fucking sense whatsoever.


High Plains Invaders (2009): Alien CGI effects that everyone calls "bugs" although they look nothing like bugs attack a Western town. Tragic train robber James Marsters and his small band of survivors fight back.

Typically depressive SciFi Channel stuff, held a mile away from being entertaining in any way or form by the usual: sloppy direction, sloppy editing, sloppy script and sloppy acting (with Marsters and female lead Cindy Sampson as exceptions I'm at least willing to call professional). Of course the effects and the actors never seem to actually interact, of course the film ignores everything it could have learned from the history of B-movies, of course it wastes a fun basic idea. It's so sloppy and just plain lazy that I'd even rather watch the Western episodes of the revived Outer Limits again.


Filial Son (1975): If you have seen your share of Taiwanese wuxia films, you'll more or less know the plot of this one. It's the usual vengeance business, with unagreeably little weirdness and an agreeable interest in its female characters.

The few words about this on the 'net are quite negative, but I found the film to be quite solid. It is true, Mo Man-Hung's direction is neither subtle nor does it ever deviate from genre standards. Fortunately, I happen to like the genre standard.

The film is cheaply but solidly made, with nice enough acting and unexceptional fights, and while I have seen this sort of story told about a million times - and often better - Filial Son is entertaining enough for what it is, unless you expect every film to be a timeless masterpiece.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nomads (1986)

A disheveled man screaming something in French (Pierce Brosnan and his terrible "French" accent) dies in the ER room of doctor Flax (Lesley-Anne Down). The last few words he whispers to her trigger something in her and she is possessed by him, or at least his memories, and she starts to wander LA in a trance-like state, all the while flashing back to what happened to the man.

It turns out that our man Pierce wasn't the hobo the script says he looked like, but rather a famous anthropologist (as if such a thing were possible) named Jean Charles Pommier. Pommier and his wife Niki (Anna Maria Monticelli) had spent the last ten years on the move, studying everyone from the Inuit to African nomad tribes, and have now decided to semi-retire to a nice university job in Los Angeles to settle down and produce a child.

The house they chose isn't a good place for them, though. On the first day, someone writes a charming little message about sex and death on their garage door, and - worse - another one inside their garage. The same someone has left some rather disturbing newspaper clips about violent crimes in the garage. It seems as if someone was murdered in the new family home.

Pommier quickly jumps on the Mad Max rejects (among them Adam Ant and Mary Woronov) in a black van he regularly sees driving around the house as the culprits. He's instantly obsessed with them, grabs a camera, wanting to do some anthropologizing on them. He follows them through LA and learns that they never seem to sleep and don't do much else than to threaten people, sometimes playfully, sometimes in a more dangerous fashion. The scientist develops the theory that he has stumbled upon a tribe of true urban nomads, not much different from the ones he has studied all of his life.

But some close and puzzling encounters show that he is only half right. These aren't nomads, but the evil spirits all nomads he studied were afraid of, and once having come in contact with them, there is no escape into a saner world for Pommier anymore.

And it seems as if there also isn't much of a chance for a normal existence for his loved ones, or people like Flax whose lives he somehow touched.

Before director John McTiernan went and built the house we know as the American action film of the 80s with films like Predator and Die Hard, he made this deeply flawed, but highly interesting urban horror story.

Let's start off with the film's biggest problem - Pierce Brosnan's typically dreadful performance that culminates in the worst French accent you'll ever hear outside of a comedy, but isn't any good in any other aspect either. Making him the leading man here is a very puzzling decision - he can't act, he can't do the French, and pretty boy anthropologists are even less believable than square-jawed 50s scientists. Personally, I would have gone with a French actor for my French lead character, preferably someone with a little talent, but hey, I just watch this crap. Of course, if you feel the need to see a very naked Pierce Brosnan, you will have the chance here.

The rest of the actors is basically alright, but neither Down nor Monticelli have much to do beyond the usual hysterics.

Another problem are the evil spirits themselves. You know, mock punks aren't too frightening even at the best of times, and the "threatening" stuff these guys are up to isn't anything to write home about.

So, if the main actor just sucks and the baddies aren't frightening, why do I still think that this is one of the lesser known horror films from the 80s more people should see?

For once, it's the script, to my surprise also by McTiernan. While I wouldn't exactly call it subtle, it is still rather on the clever side. The basic concept of nomadic spirits haunting the streets of LA just is a brilliant idea and the sort of thing that might not be all that original when you are a reader of contemporary fantasy novels, but is nearly never done in movies.

It is also a script that respects the intelligence of the viewer to understand its concept, spelling out as little as possible, but keeping its mythology logical, even going so far as to not ruin everything with a smartass ending.

McTiernan's direction also has its moments. Again, it isn't subtle, and some of the "cock rock plays to darkened streets while 80s rejects roam" moments are quite annoying, instead of moody as they are probably meant to be, but after some time, McTiernan falls into a slightly hypnotic rhythm that impressively manages to convey the thinning of the borders between the things that are urban reality and those that are urban fantasy.

In the end, that is more than enough to make up for Brosnan and the film's shocking eightiesness. At least it is for me.


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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In short: The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974)

The merry band of rich idlers who are sucking most of their money out of the unreasonably rich Patrick Davenant (Chris Avram) is moving its newest party to an old theatre in Davenant's possession. The building has been shut down and closed for one hundred years (as it will turn out to the day, which is never a good sign in movies). Nobody's really sure whose idea it was to go there, but it was certainly a swell one, so Patrick, his fiancee Kim (Janet Agren), his ex-fiancee Vivian (Rosanna Schiaffino), her new fiancee Albert (Andrea Scotti), Patrick's incest-loving daughter Lynn (Paola Senatore) and her boyfriend Duncan (Gaetano Russo), Russell (Renato Rossini) - whose position besides being Kim's lover I was never able to find out, Patrick's lesbian sister Rebecca (Eva Czemerys) and her girlfriend Doris (Lucretia Love), don't care.

As you have probably already surmised, as soon as everyone is introduced, someone tries to murder Patrick, and a figure in a black cape with black leather gloves and a silly and/or frightening mask stalks the annoying people of oh-so-dubious morals, killing them off one by one. Even the fact that someone has locked them in with the killer doesn't seem to phase anyone too much, so - when they are not getting killed or talking ominously - our protagonists still find the time to get naked a lot.

Can all this (well, probably not the nakedness), as well as some very minor supernatural manifestations, be caused by the curse that is supposed to lie on the theatre?

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats is not a lost classic of the giallo genre, whatever the interesting setting or the supernatural tropes used could make one hope.

Director Giuseppe Bennati's sense of style isn't well developed enough to transform the standard (that is, rather confusing and difficult to take seriously) giallo script into something aesthetically pleasing. It's not that there aren't any moments of style or excitement at all, but those are more happening on account of the nice, atmospheric theatre and the visual conventions of the genre than anything Bennati is doing. A film like this really helps one appreciate the inventiveness of a great craftsman-director like Sergio Martino more, who, given the same script, would have made a much classier movie, especially one holding together better than this one.

Everything about the film is total giallo standard. The acting - as it well should - fluctuates between bored staring and shrill hysterics, but I didn't find it to be all that effective. The murders are on the nastier side of the giallo spectrum, yet they too don't make too much of an impression. The shocking ideas are there, but nobody seems to be willing to actually go through with them.

And there's the problem with this film - all elements of a satisfying giallo with supernatural trappings are there, but the film just plods along somehow, with enough spikes to keep one watching, yet not enough to keep one interested.

It's the old song again: it's a perfectly alright film, and therefore not very memorable.


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Monday, September 14, 2009

Your host in another guestblogging shocker (and in a different context): Nosferatu

When the gracious CRwM of the always thoughtful And Now The Screaming Starts invited me to take part in his yearly blogging anniversary project in which he invites other bloggers to take a look at the world of silent movies, I was obviously glad for the possibility to take my blathering into good company (and onto yet another blog).

Now my post is up and you can read  my version of what Murnau's Nosferatu is all about. While there, why not take a look at some other, rather excellent posts?


Music Monday: This will hurt me more than it'll hurt you edition

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

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Meat Grinder (2009)

Thailand in the 70s. The noodle vendor Buss (Mai Charoenpura) had a very disturbing childhood consisting of general abuse, paternal rape and being sold into marriage when Dad got her pregnant. The only point of light growing up was her Mum, but neither her incessant talk of vengeance nor mother's tendency to poison and chop up people (especially men) who displease her nor Mum's own abusiveness are what I typically associate with a positive influence.

Grown-up, Buss just gets by living with a little girl she herself abuses. Her gambler-rapist asshole of a husband seems to have absconded, but has left her his debts with a bunch of gangsters.

Out and about to sell her noodles, Buss is being sucked into the aftermath of a pro-democratic demonstration that is brutally struck down by the police. Attapon (Rattanaballang Tohsawat), one of the demonstrators saves her from close contact with the forces of "law" and "order", starting off something that will turn into a love affair.

Alas, Buss carries a dark secret around: she tends to solve problems like her mother did, and so her husband, his lover and soon the gangsters have all been made the base of some tasty noodle recipes.

That's the sort of thing that can really trouble a relationship, as can Attapon's way of giving Buss a reason for jealousy.

Ah, it's the old tale of a mentally disturbed person, chopping up her problems and making delicious meals out of them. However, you have probably seldom seen this story told as Meat Grinder does.

Someone seems to have warned the film's director Tiwa Moeithaisong against the evils of linear storytelling, and so the excessively simple story is told by him in an excessively complicated way. There's an abundance of flashbacks, sequences whose reality stands in doubt, missing transitions, transitional sequences that are only shown after the viewer has already puzzled out what must have happened and a scene that would have made the final twist in many a horror film but is here just a throwaway point right in the middle of the film.

Used without care, this could make for just a sloppy film, but Moeithaisong is very obviously far from careless. To my eyes, he seems to use this delinearization technique to put the film's viewer in the same state of mind Buss is in: caught in a seemingly endless repetition of abuse and violence (privately and in the public sphere) that makes it difficult to understand what is happening to her or when or why. After a certain point is reached, the film seems to say, it doesn't even matter anymore if you are the abused or the abuser, the victim or the killer.

Stylistically, Meat Grinder is a successor to the weirdness of Eurohorror and the special brand of insanity found in the independent and grindhouse cinema of the 70s, full of classically grimy violence. Moeithaisong doesn't try to imitate the older films, though, he instead uses modern filmmaking possibilities (for example my hated colour filtering, just this time used with thought) in the same spirit of freedom and nastiness and with the same interest in the social the older films had.

Mai Charoenpura does a fine acting job as Buss and is as believable when she's chopping people up as she is in the softer and more subtle moments of the film that make her Buss more than a monster, and the film is all the better thanks to her efforts.

I have read that a part of the film's narrative disjointedness could have been caused by the dubious hands of Thailand's censorship powers (who are also responsible for a neat warning text on my print whenever a cigarette appears on screen), chopping as merrily away at the film as the film's heroine would at them. If that is true, I have to congratulate them, for the film would be quite a bit less interesting with a more linear, clearer narrative, while what of violence is still on display isn't exactly nauseating to me, but more than enough to be pleasantly unpleasant.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

In short: Haunted (1976?/1979?/1982?)

In the 1860s, the Native American sorceress Abanaki (Ann Michelle) is killed for no good reason in the traditional way all frontier communities dealt with their witches, namely by being tied naked to horse and left in the desert. Abanaki of course curses her killers and their descendants.

About a hundred years later, the small Western town where all this happened has turned into a ghost town. Only two young men, their psychosomatically blind and depressed mother (Virginia Mayo) and their uncle (Aldo Ray), who is madly in love with mum, still live there, and Patrick, the older brother, is not planning on staying much longer. Tomorrow, he'll pack up his mum and get her into a sanatorium, and he and his brother aren't going to stay in town after that.

A woman named Jennifer Baines (Ann Michelle) gets stuck in the ghost town. Is she Abanaki reincarnated come to take vengeance? People discuss reincarnation. A pay phone is installed in the graveyard next to the ghost town. People talk melodramatically. Virginia Mayo out-melodramatizes everyone else. Patrick has sex with Jennifer, leading to more melodramatic and kitchen philosophical talk and some fine analysis of gayness. Aldo Ray goes mad! (He has probably heard the film's music). Dark secrets are sort of unveiled. There are pay-phone calls from beyond. Ballads play. Aldo Ray burns.

Haunted is yet another of the mighty peculiar films the great years of American local independent filmmaking have brought us.

I must admit that I have not much of a clue what director/writer Michael A. DeGaetano intended to do here. Is it an homage to classic Hollywood melodrama that accidentally got mixed up with a horror film? A parody? An early example of post-modern filmmaking? An arthouse film about memory that is betrayed by the incompetence of its actors? I certainly don't know, and I am also less than sure that DeGaetano knew what he was doing.

I find Haunted quite a bit more difficult to like than many of its brethren in spirit, in part probably because the classic era of the Hollywood melodrama is not as evocative for me as it seems to be for DeGaetano. On the other hand, however, I find it equally difficult to agree with the handful of reviews of the film which call it things like "a pile of crap". Haunted is just much too careful, confusing and confused to run under the trash label. The film also completely lacks in the hack and slash mundanity that is often used to hide a lack in imagination in horror films.

Still, Haunted is more a mystery than a film, a riddle instead of a coherent narrative - if you want to call it a narrative at all. As such, it's the sort of movie many a viewer will find boring or just plain annoying. With this one, I honestly can't blame anyone not being interested in. I'll probably have to watch it another dozen times or so before I know what I truly make of it.


Friday, September 11, 2009

On WTF: Oh! My Zombie Mermaid (2004)

As a self declared wrestling film expert who doesn't actually like wrestling, I send my gaze into the direction of Japan and get rather excited about Oh! My Zombie Mermaid, the best zombie mermaid and wrestling film without a zombified mermaid.


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Thursday, September 10, 2009

In short: Iron Mistress (1969)

aka Iron Petticoat

The swordswoman known as the Iron Mistress (Han Hsiang-Chin) leads a merry band of Sung Chinese against their unloved new Mongolian overlords.

They are not real patriotic revolutionaries, though, but more a bandit gang that does only care for certain group of victims, and not every member of the group is as high-minded as their leader.

For that reason, the enemies of the mistress aren't putting as much effort into catching her and her men as they could if they'd take them as a real threat to the Mongol dominion. Until the gang frees some of their captured men who are supposed to be beheaded, that is. After this, the efforts to capture them get a bit more enthusiastic.

Now that the authorities have put their minds to it, it's not too difficult to find the Mistress' mountain hide-out, and even easier to pick a date for an ambush; if you are evil, you are bound by law to disrupt a wedding.

The core quartet of fighters escapes from the cowardly attack and does not decide to take bloody vengeance (that would be exciting), but rather to learn from a local scholar how to be more responsible patriots.

Iron Mistress really isn't the most exciting of Taiwanese wuxia films. Far from the mad, madly entertaining excesses of Weird Fu, but equally distant from the artfulness of someone like King Hu, this really deserves the description "bog standard".

It's not a bad film in any way, instead everything about it - from fight choreography to acting - is perfectly solid and mindnumbingly bland, giving new proof to my pet theory of mediocrity, not ineptness, being the  main enemy of entertainment.

It is even more of a shame that most of the film is so dreadfully boring when one takes a look at its production values. Far from the quarry-based martial arts films one tends to connect with Taiwan, this one has some nice locations and some good looking sets, but it refuses to make good use of them.

As regular readers might have noticed, I find competent, mediocre films like Iron Mistress exceedingly difficult and frustrating to talk about, because there really isn't much of interest to say about them. All elements you'd usually associate with a decent film are present, but not one of those elements has enough character to make it worth talking about.


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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The House That Cried Murder (1973)

(This is based on the UK cut of the film known as No Way Out that is - if you can believe the IMDB here - missing twelve minutes of footage.)

The pampered rich man's daughter Barbara (Robin Strasser) falls in love with David (Arthur Roberts), one of her Daddy's (John Beal) employees. She really really really wants to marry David and live with him in the only thing she ever managed to accomplish, a rather strange looking house that she built herself (or, I surmise, designed).

Daddy is less than supportive of the idea because he thinks that David (and let me quote the wisdom of Daddy here) "stinks", but he is helpless when confronted with Barbara's talent for incessant whining. Unfortunately, it turns out that his analysis of David's character was quite excellent, although he could have added enormous stupidity to the man's unsavory character traits. The dear boy meets his former girlfriend Helen (Iva Jean Saraceni) during the wedding reception and promptly jumps on her while the reception is still running. Too bad for him that Barbara stumbles into the unlocked room where he and Helen are having their fun. Barb gets understandably hysterical, pokes David's arm a little with a pair of scissors and flees in her bloody bridal gown.

Since nobody else knows of his acts of douchebaggery, David lets Helen move in with him and mumbles things about divorce.

Barbara's (nameless) Dad shows a certain amount of sympathy with him, explains why he salutes the flag, but also tells David a funny little story about what happened when Barbara had a falling out with her pet chicken (spoiler: it didn't end well for the chicken).

Of course, strange things begin to happen to David and Helen, starting with the customary disquieting phone calls, nightmares and anonymously gifted bridal gowns and ending in the gift of a chicken head on a pillow.

For most of its running time The House That Cried Murder is a less than satisfying experiment in making a psychological thriller. The plot could probably have made a nice little film when directed as a Giallo by an Italian director (and I think even Umberto Lenzi would have been enough). Alas, director Jean-Marie Pelissie doesn't seem to know what he's doing for most of the time. For much of the film, with the exception of one dream sequence, there is not much sense of style on display. The direction is not so much bad (as in technically inadequate) as without creativity.

Neither the script with its total obviousness in everything nor the dreadful but enthusiastic actors are able to pick up the slack, but at least the combination of an extremely bad Easy Listening soundtrack (that sometimes, yet not often enough, transforms into a typical 70s horror soundtrack), the overenthusiastic acting and general silliness gets highly amusing. That's probably not what the film has in mind, but I take my fun where I can get it.

Another way to have fun with The House That Cried Murder lies when you look at it in its function as a time capsule for early 70s bourgeois fashion and culture. I find the things like this endlessly fascinating, especially when the low budget of a film leads to most actors in the background appearing in their usual day to day clothes. There's also one of the worst (and least plausible) wedding bands in film history on display.

And then suddenly, unexpectedly, the film's final ten or fifteen minutes change tone and pace from what came before completely and provide a perfectly mad finale in what I can only identify as an EC Comics style when everything climaxes with and in the true feeling of weirdness I usually hope for in films like this.

You might call this too little, too late, yet fifteen good minutes of cinema are still more than someone like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich has been able to achieve in a whole career, so I don't see much reason to complain.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In short: Dead of Night - A Darkness at Blaisedon (1969)

Secretary Angela (Marj Dusay) has - to her surprise - inherited the impressive, if somewhat run-down, Blaisedon Manor. Unfortunately the manor is more or less the main part of her inheritance, so she will not be able to keep her fine new home. Selling it turns out to be more difficult than she expected. Whenever she is showing the house to a potential buyer, strange things start to happen. Why, one could think the house is haunted!

Angela herself doesn't believe in ghosts, but she thinks it prudent to let professional ghost hunters take a look at the house to disprove the fears of the ignorant. She turns to the psychic investigator Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Matthews) and his assistant Sajid Rowe (Cal Bellini). The salivating Fletcher is just all too willing to take a look at her problem (and probably everything else she will let him look at), so the trio decides to spend the night in Angela's manor.

As soon as they arrive some heavy spooking starts to happen. It seems as if one of the past owners of the house feels a very close connection to Angela, and a terrible secret is revealed.

Dead of Night was supposed to be the pilot episode for a Dan Curtis-developed horror TV show, but, as so often happened in Curtis' career, the TV gods didn't allow for more than the pilot, which would then be shown as a short TV movie.

In this case I'm not at all surprised by the project's lack of success. I really don't think 1969 was the year for a show like this promised to be, all gothic trappings, bad weather, spooky howling and no single contemporary idea in sight. It is horror at its coziest, with no threat to anyone's sleep at night.

Another problem I see is the blandness of Fletcher & Rowe, who are in desperate need of some character or at least a gimmick to make them seem interesting. Curtis could at least have thrown us an electric pentacle.

All this doesn't mean I didn't have my fun watching it. While surprise female director Lela Swift doesn't do very stylish work, her cobwebs and thunderstorms are done nicely enough, and she's obviously not out to bore us.

And I actually like cozy horror and think that it has its place in the genre as much as gore fests or grim and grimy looks at the human condition.


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Monday, September 7, 2009

Music Monday: Moody Edition

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

La Momia Azteca (1957)

aka The Aztec Mummy

Dr. Almada (Ramon Gay), a Mexican Doctor of SCIENCE(!), presents a group of his jaded peers with his theories about the use of hypnosis to help people to remember their previous lifes.

Surprisingly, his public thinks this preposterous, especially when Almada has to admit that he has never tried to actually hypnotize someone to find out if his theory holds. You see, the "remember a former life" part makes the procedure mortally dangerous for the present life, and Alamada, not being a mad scientist, really does not want to let anyone get hurt in any way.

He can't resist when his fiancee Flor (Rosa Arenas) offers herself as a willing test subject, though, and soon listens to a rather interesting story. Flor once was a temple virgin - and therefore born to be sacrificed - named Xochi. Alas, the forbidden love between her and the warrior Popoca (Angel Di Stefani) destroyed her chance for a real nice sacrificial death. Instead, the priesthood kills them both in a (long and boring) punishing sacrificial ceremony.

That'll teach 'em.

Listening in to Almada's experiment through a window is the delightfully dressed masked science villain the Bat, known and feared (or so a voice over explains) for grafting animal parts onto other animals (will that get important later on? Umm, no).

But the Bat isn't going to be a problem in the short run. Much more important for Almada is that he now knows that his theory is true, but he still can't prove it. Unless...he breaks into the secret temple in the ruins of Tenochtitlan whose position he now knows thanks to Flor's memories and grabs something called The Aztec Breastplate. How this is supposed to prove his theory, I don't know, but I'm no doctor of SCIENCE(!) myself.

For some reason, this breastplate is also the key to the lost treasure of the Aztec Empire, which explains the interest of the Bat in the whole thing - at least somewhat.

Of course, poking around in the hidden temple and absconding with an artifact as Alamada does brings the curse of the gods upon him, or rather the mummified remains of Popoca, shambling, shambling ever onward.

La Momia Azteca is one of the classics of the Mexican horror wave, and very typical of it in the way it takes elements of the Universal horror films of the 30s (in this case of the mummy films), mixes them with pulpy serial business like the Bat and transfers them into contemporary Mexico.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't say that the film does this all that well. Even for a film of its time, La Momia Azteca suffers from some terrible pacing problems. Two thirds of the film are already over when the mummy finally appears, and those two thirds aren't exactly filled with thrills. Instead, director Rafael Portillo treats us to many a scene of bad science, odious comic relief in the form of a "cowardly and superstitious" student (Crox Alvarado) and Almada's little brother's tendency to hide and follow the Doctor around.

And don't get me started on the Bat, a criminal scientific mastermind who never does much criminal or scientific and is dispatched in what must be one of the least entertaining ways in film history - he just gets arrested without much of a fuzz. I don't have the slightest clue why he's in the film at all.

It's not all bad, though. The actors are playing their cliché roles with a certain gusto, especially Rosa Arenas nails the all important hysterical tone needed for the reincarnated lover of a mummy perfectly. But, most importantly, every scene where the mummy itself appears is golden, from the perfect 50s monster movie score to the pleasantly desiccated monster design. It's just too bad that there's so little mummy in this mummy film.

Mostly, La Momia Azteca feels like a dry-run for the beauties of lucha cinema, already merrily mixing classic horror with the pulpy and the gothic, but still missing the all-important ingredient of the masked, crime-fightin, monster-catching wrestler.

Well, that or a script that makes better use of the elements it already contains.