Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Humanoids From The Deep (1980)

This is what happens when The Creature From The Black Lagoon hangs out with Ben Roethlisberger for too long. HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP is from Roger Corman's New World Pictures and that right there should tell you enough that you know just what kind of movie you are about to watch.

The blue collar town of Noyo is highly dependent on their Salmon fishing industry and when The CanCo company has proposed to open a cannery that they promise will hugely expand the business for the fishermen. The Native American population is highly against the damage it will cause to the local ecosystem and it is a driving force for most of the main characters. When the CanCo companies test tanks break during a storm DNA altered Salmon are released into the wild and the larger fish that ate them have now mutated into human-like creatures with great brain capabilities that want to mate with human women.

The movie has a brisk run time of 82 minutes and it moves swiftly through them. The pacing is spot on, following Corman's formula for successful film making we never get a lull in the action (or boobs) of more than a few minutes. The acting is surprisingly good for the most part and the direction is solid. Much of the exploitative moments in the film were shot with the 2nd unit crew because the original director Barbara Peeters had shot a more shadow based suspense movie that lacked the critical ingredients for a Corman production. The original title for HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP was Beneath The Darkness in order to play it off as the suspenseful mystery that Peeters was directing for so that they could land some name actors. The special effects in HUMANOIDS are fantastic. The suits are convincing, far from too rubbery and they have good movement. The gore, which is plentiful, is stomach churning in the best way. Excellent prosthetic work here from Rob Bottin (The Thing, Robocop). There is even a creepy score from future Academy Award winner James Horner (Titanic, Braveheart). And if the ending doesn't make you stand up and cheer in the name of all things ridiculous and awesome you can go to hell (not really, but you should be cheering.)

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP is the whole package . Its fun (as any Corman should be), its scary, violent, action packed and sexy (as any Corman movie should be). Hell there is even a scene that may have been taken straight from the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. I only wish I had seen it sooner.


I'd like to quickly add in that Shout! Factory has done an incredible job restoring these Corman Cult Classics for their newer Blu Ray and DVD releases. These are B movies getting the Criterion treatment. It's a real shame that the Blu sales haven't been good enough to warrant future titles being released to get the HD treatment they deserve. Just go buy them, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spasmo (1974)

I adore the giallo genre. Italian thrillers that are usually as high on substance as they are on style and sex. They are fine examples of a perfect marriage of class and sleaze. Food stamps meeting Donald Trump if you will. They are fine film making while appealing to those who want nothing more than to see teen campers killed by a guy in a hockey mask. Of course not every title is this great, or even worth watching, but as a whole, I simply love them. It is a treat to get to see one for the first time as good Umberto Lenzi's SPASMO.

Christian (Robert Hoffman) is main stock hold and part heir to a plastics empire headed by his brother Fritz (Ivan Rassimov) which was left to them by their late father. He also seems to have his entire world turning upside down and becoming a sort of "bizarro" version of itself. The people in his life seem familiar but he can't put a finger on who they are. Their intentions may or may not be true and he can't figure out why. As everything starts to unravel he finds out that nobody is quite who they say they are, and their intentions certainly don't have his best interest at hand.

It can be quite hard to sum up a gialli and not give anything away, SPASMO makes it just a bit more difficult than usual. The true treasure here is in the story. Director Umberto Lenzi (Man From Deep River, Nightmare City) refrains from using the genre staples of a black gloved killer, relying heavily on gore and sex and goes straight for the psychological. And while I'll never complain about the black gloved killer, his choices are spot on. The story will mess with your mind as much as it does for our protagonist. The giallo genre is built heavily on the reveal of the killer and motive and SPASMO has a few reveals, each making the story better and better. It is a prime example of how less can be more.

Movies are a funny thing in the sense that even if you can't find a true flaw in a movie you may not love it simply because it just didn't sit right with you for whatever reason. For me SPASMO straddles the bottom tier of grade A gialli and the top tier of grade B. Maybe I just love the black gloved, highly exploitative examples that made the genre famous. Whatever the reason is I wouldn't say SPASMO is something you have to see to bust in to the genre, but it isn't far behind. In an interview Lenzi has said that for American markets George Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead) was hired to film gory scenes to better fit the genre, I don't see it aiding the film in any way. While I have no doubt of Romero's abilities to film a great scene (especially during his early days) I think SPASMO is as good as it possibly could be. It would be interesting to see the added scenes though, just to compare. In the same interview Lenzi clearly expresses his disdain towards Romero for that specific reason and claims he would never shoot additional scenes for another director's film if a production company came to him to do it. I'm not one to say either way. However he would add that he started the Italian thriller genre we have come to call "giallo" which I would love to have a conversation with him about. I respect him as a film maker, and I'm shamelessly a big fan of his work, but until someone proves otherwise the two Italian maestros Mario Bava and Dario Argento are responsible for starting and making famous the genre respectively. That said Lenzi certainly added some very worthy chapters to the story of the giallo which clings to life to this day and no one can refute that.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Earthquake 7.9 (1980 )- Grindhouse Experience chapter 8

Ugghhhh... I'm not even at the half way point of this project and my patience are already wearing thin for these movies. Not all have been awful, and there has even been a couple surprises so far but the overall package of them, from the films themselves to their transfer and framing is just a true test of patience.

Watching this movie on this particular day seemed like it could have been a sobering experience. A film about a massive earthquake crippling Tokyo just a few days after an earthquake (a full point bigger than the one in the movie's title) leveled a large part of Japan. The first 45 minutes of EARTHQUAKE 7.9 made sure that any emotions that life could carry into the viewing of this movie were thrown out the window. It had to have been the most melodramatic thing I've ever seen outside of a Lifetime channel movie. For a movie about a giant earthquake it takes until the halfway point of the movie to get to it. And the first half is bad music and lover's quarreling. Eventually we get to a decent low budget natural disaster survival movie. The effects were decent but the acting stayed way too dramatic for the duration.

Possibly the biggest problem that EARTHQUAKE 7.9, also known as Deathquake, Megaforce 7.9, had was that it just dragged on and on. The second half wasn't paced poorly but after the torture of the first half you had lost so much interest that you were hoping that the credits would start rolling at the end of each sentence. And once again the transfer sucked and the framing was worse.


Monday, March 14, 2011

The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932)

I've been in a classic horror mood of late, knocking out several I've never seen before including DEVIL DOLL and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, both from director Tod Browning. Next up was Charles Brabin's THE MASK OF FU MANCHU starring Boris Karloff as the title villain.

The race to find the tomb of Genghis Khan is on between Egyptologist Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) and the diabolical Fu Manchu who plans to use the sword and mask found in the tomb to claim himself as the reincarnation of the vicious ruler and lead the people of Asia and the middle east into a war to exterminate and enslave the white race. Shortly after, Barton is captured by Fu Manchu's men, and a group, including Barton's daughter and her fiancee set out to rescue him. Fu Manchu will stop at nothing to get his hands on Khan's relics to gain his power and start his war.

This is a nice example of a classic horror/adventure movie and while it may not be as well known as the Universal movies of the period (this was MGM) it is only a step below... maybe not even a full step. There are some great set pieces, the acting is solid top to bottom, and there were some creepy sequences such as men dressed as mummies simultaneously emerging from coffins in a museum to commit the kidnapping. The real star of the show here is Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu. You know him better as Frankenstein's Monster and The Mummy but he is just as good here. The man was capable of carrying on a conversation without saying a word. He does have plenty of lines here, and delivers them beautifully. He fully embodied the madman and you never thought of his other, more famous monsters.

THE MASK OF FU MANCHU pushed some boundaries for early film. There is an awful lot of racism going on, both in plot and dialogue. Stuff that would still have people in an uproar today. Whether its simply for the movie or a not so subtle undertone that the director and writers wanted is up for debate but it works well for the film. Unfortunately it was removed from the film for many years, so until fairly recently it wasn't easy to see the film in it's true form.

If you're looking for some classic horror that you may not have seen before this is a good one to check out.

A very solid 8/10

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Flavia The Heretic (1974)

FLAVIA THE HERETIC is a film that has been on my radar for some time now, but until today I had never gotten around to seeing it. The nunsploitation genre is one I find every bit interesting as I do entertaining. So it was quite a joy to be able to pop in the Synapse DVD of one of the most notorious films in the genre.

Gianfranco Mingozzi directs Florinda Bolkan (DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN) as the title character who is a nun in an Italian convent in the year 1600. After the convent is invaded by the Cult of the Tarantula who defile the alter with orgies, and other general blasphemy and insanity, Flavia begins to hallucinate and can no longer bare the Religious oppression that church life, and Christian life has forced upon her. She flees the convent and rebels until she is captured and punished for her sins.

That in a nutshell is FLAVIA THE HERETIC. You really do need to see it to get the full picture however. There are all the staples of the exploitation film- gore, copious amounts of nudity, taking a subject matter and using it in contrast to how it is normally viewed. FLAVIA goes deeper. It is obvious Mingozzi has something to say about feminism, more so the dominant status of males in the world and religion, and the inherent oppression that organized religion has always had. It is a well made film, with something to please many crowds. Gorehounds will have their bloody fun, the midnight movie crowd gets some surrealism and the arthouse crowd gets a film with deeper meaning. It really struck on every level with me, personal feelings towards any commentary the film had aside. It was successful in getting its message across, but most importantly it was successfully entertaining. What good is a message in a movie if you don't give a shit about the movie itself?

Everything works for this movie from the acting, to the direction, the set decoration is superb and the score is top notch (as expected from a future Oscar winner). I would say it gives Ken Russell's THE DEVILS a run for its money on best nunsploitation, but it does fall a bit short of that landmark film.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Grindhouse Experience Chapter 7: Poseidon Explosion (1973)

The Grindhouse Experience set has been a bit different through every movie. Some quality, some garbage, some laughs, some moments of me wanting to slam my head into a wall. Poseidon Explosion is another head scratcher.

Made in 1973, its title is an attempt to cash in that doesn't fit the film at all. It makes you think cheap... rip off... throw away... Its really none of them. I expected a large boat blowing up due to some crazy heist or plot to gain money or something that isn't too far fetched in the world of cheap cinema. Instead its a dramatic thriller about a city trying to save their region from a giant ship that is on fire and filled with highly flammable and explosive cargo. The problem is that for the duration of the movie it was the same damn thing over and over. A man on the ship yelling at other men on board about the fire, then yelling to the shore about how it "could blow any minute" then some drama in the town about it.

Its honestly on repeat for the vast majority of the run time. It wasn't poorly made, in fact its one of the better made film in this set so far. Its just painful to sit through. My attention span was about 30 seconds at a time for this movie because of it's repetition. The IMDB page says it has a runtime of 112 minutes but this copy was only around 80 minutes so I don't know which is closer to actuality since IMDB has been known to be wrong but it felt like something was missing. And honestly, on this night, that wasn't a bad thing. The 80 minutes dragged on and on. It could be a case of me not being ready or in the mood for what I was getting but I had no desire to see any more.

Maybe on another day it will sit better with me but that other day will be years away.