31 May 2010

La Momia Azteca & Friends

Mexico - 1957
Director -Rafael Portillo
BCI Entertainment, 2008, DVD
Run Time -1 hour, 20 minutes

These movies have been popping up on my radar for at least fifteen years, probably longer. If my memory serves, they have never really been favorably compared to U.S. films of the same time or genre. Because of that I always remained reluctant to see for myself, assuming the prejudicial conclusions of U.S. writers were "true" rather than simply opinions. I let someone else make up my mind for me, thinking I would be disappointed and/or bored.

To fall back on an old aphorism, my tastes have matured, and these days I can better appreciate the subtle differences that contextually flavor old films.  Hence, when I spotted this set for 6 dollars brand new, I snatched it up instantly. The box itself is pretty sorely lacking in the design department, but once you open it up and see the three amazing slim DVD cases, it's worth it just for the art. The cases are clear and have the poster on the front (top and below) and the one sheet on the inside under the disc (right). A great deal of my movie lust is built upon an appreciation for packaging (hence all the box scans), and despite a general lack of special features, this DVD set has it in spades.

La Maldicion de la Momia Azteca (Curse of the Aztec Mummy)
Mexico - 1957
Director - Rafael Portillo
Run Time - 1 hour, 5 minutes

The first film was pretty slow, just like U.S. monster movies at the time, but the audio and picture quality in this case was pretty bad too, mostly the outcome of a bad source I suspect, but the sequel has both a higher production value and better reproduction on the DVD.
In Maldicion I detected a number of elements of the Mexican social climate of the 1950's, particularly the philosophy of Jose Vascocelos. The Mexican national identity was envisioned as one of "mestizaje," the mixing of races which Vasconcelos posited was the "La Raza Cosmica," (The Cosmic Race) an ideal people which incorporated all the best elements of the Mexican people from indigenous to Spanish.

The primary antagonist of the Momia Azteca films is "El Murcielago," or The Bat, whose true identity is that of Dr. Krupp, a man who was disbarred from practicing medicine for conducting inhuman hybridization experiments on animals and people. His medical practices, and even his name (Krupp munitions) reflect a heavy prejudice against the German and European conceptions of eugenics in which darker races could "pollute" whiter races. In Mexico as I mentioned, the Cosmic Race was closer to perfection because it incorporated all the best elements of all races in the nation. In La Momia Azteca this is clearly the case, as the protagonists are Mexican scientists with a healthy respect for modernity ("objective scientific inquiry") and indigenous culture (the mummy). They are true liberals in the classic sense.

Mexico - 1958
Director - Rafael Portillo
Run Time - 1 hour, 5 minutes

In La Momia Azteca Contra El Robot Humano we get the lengthy recap footage that is typical of cut-budget horror sequels. Of course, here, La Momia is pushed even further toward symbolism when he must directly confront Dr. Krupp and his diabolical creation El Robot Humano. It doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to assume that the mummy has become something of a symbol of Mexican identity, while Krupp's robot has become the embodiment of foreign imperialism. The robot after all was created explicitly to rob the mummy of its riches.
But I still find it important to occasionally remind myself that these broad social ideas were probably not present in films because the director or writer was sitting there thinking, "Lets make the bad guy an amoral European to contrast the earthy practicality of out nationalist Mexican hero." But they were making their movies at a time when these ideas of national character were stirring in the popular consciousness. After all, it was roughly around this time that the ruins of the Templo Mayor were first being "discovered" beneath modern Ciudad Mexico.

So, considering all of this, La Momia bears a much closer resemblance to Godzilla than to any Universal Monster because he becomes symbolic of his homeland, and hence the "monster hero". I'm giving nothing away by pointing out that, like Godzilla, La Momia actually wins in the end, defeating Krupp and El Robot and returning, treasures in hand to his tomb with the cheers of the audience, and the blessings of our Mexican scientists to send him on his way.

After almost two decades I finally got to see La Momia Azteca in action, and the timing couldn't have been better. Old Popoca damn near looks like he's smiling.

28 May 2010

Human Desire

United States - 1954
Director - Fritz Lang

The World According to Gumby

The World According to Gumby
United States
F.H.E., 1987, VHS
Run Time – 30 minutes

The Big Eye
• Outcast Marbles
• Tail Tale
• Haunted Hot Dog
• Indian Challenge

This is a short one. When I rented these as a kid I didn't understand the concept of running times and I was always profoundly disappointed when they were over after only five episodes. As a result I often ended up watching the same tape four or five times before returning it. Maybe that's why I feel compelled to gather them all together in the archive now; so I can play a constant loop of Gumby as my mind degenerates into psychosis.

Too Late For Tears

Too Late For Tears
A.K.A. Killer Bait
United States - 1949
Director - Byron Haskin
Starring Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore and Dan Duryea

Spanish language poster from Dr. Macro

Courtesy The Night Editor

These two are from Backalley Noir.

A VHS tape that came up on Ioffer.

24 May 2010

Games of Survival

United States - 1989
Director - Armand Gazarian
Rae Don Home Video, 1989, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 25 minutes

I can generally get behind a movie that’s clearly been made with sincerity and sysiphean determination, especially if the end result is still a sad and trashy mess. With some very glaring budget constraints, Games of Survival, with title singularized exclusively for the box, does pretty well for itself in the sad and trashy department. The overall plot however is absolutely crucial to these restrictions, for the story hinges on a suspension of disbelief which has very little physical evidence to anchor it. Let me explain. The plot is actually rather complex, and concerns an intergalactic bad-guy(s) who have enslaved numerous other planets. For some reason they find the momentary benevolence to allow a representative of each of the slave cultures to fight it out to see who’s home planet will be spared their evil wrath. All of this is channeled in such a way as to avoid including any of the physical aspects of the story that might make its budget (even more) painfully obvious. Virtually all of this backstory with the exception of a static shot or two of the bad guy is revealed in the dialogue between characters in the rest of the movie.

”The rest” consists entirely of the captive slaves who have been “transported” to their arena of combat, A.K.A. modern Los Angeles to engage in poorly choreographed combat over a trophy orb. In the meantime they have to pretend to be perplexed and frightened by Earth culture and technology a while filming on location, on video in the streets of LA. This entire unsubstantiated explanation approach to the motivational background of all of the characters is, if not terribly original, is at least well done in Games of Survival. It doesn’t make “the rest” any less believable even though it is just a bunch of muscular dudes in goofy barbarian outfits pretending to beat each other up. In fact, it’s all pretty damn hilarious, and the fact that it's all dropped in your lap with a bunch of excuses makes moments like this encounter with the strange convenience food of Earth downright hilarious:

Sure, the guy might just as well be from the South Georgia Islands and still have no idea what a frozen pizza is, but the fact that he is an extra-planetary barbarian with a guido pompadour mullet makes it so much more entertaining to watch him pretend to be perplexed. Maybe his planet was called New Jersey?

I thought this was going to be terrible, I really did. Just look at the cover, this guy looks like a total jackass with his cheap goggles on. The person who gave it to me said it was gonna be pretty bad too, and I respect that guys opinion. But the 75% that wasn’t obscured by rolling static was actually quite entertaining, for a fly-by night shot on video picture anyway. Iwas also rather amused by the fact that Games of Survival was released by Rae Don Home Video, a company I had not heard of until I was handed this tape. Browsing through the covers at Criticonline suggests that Rae Don was perhaps preemptively doomed by the limited appeal of their catalog. But of course, like Games of Survival itself, the absurd simplicity of the whole premise is a work of art.

Tim Kincaid Interview

Well, I tried.
I wrote several e-mails to one of my favorite trash-movie directors, Joe Gage/Tim Kincaid asking for an e-mail interview. Alas, he declined to even acknowledge my request at all. I think it was because my questions were too "political", apparently he doesn't like that. Fair enough I guess.
On his blog he did recently post a link to another interview so that will have to do for now, but I have not given up.

22 May 2010

Spooky Midnight VHS Assault #2: How to Spot Counterfeit Beanie Babies

The edition of this box is limited.

How To Spot Counterfeit Beanie Babies
United States - 1998
Director - History and Fate
SCI Inc., 1998, VHS
Run Time - Infinity

Conspicuous disposable wealth rectum.

The watermark of ruin on the vacuous post-scarcity consumption behavior of neo-millennial America. A civilization in decline, wrecked upon the polyps of an ossified cultural mandate.

 The cheerful babble of DOOM drowning out the loneliness of bored, self-important affluence.

 Eat your children.

21 May 2010

The Street Fighter

(Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken)
Japan - 1974
Director - Shigehiro Ozawa
MGM/CBS Video, 1981, VHS
Run Time -1 hour, 15 minutes

Nice very early oversize box from MGM Home Video, when they were still partnered with CBS. In 1982 MGM bought United Artists and CBS left to join Fox. The simplicity of the cover design somehow makes up for and even enhances the low quality source image. I personally would have used the poster art (below,) but admittedly that wouldn't have fit in with the other MGM boxes of the time which primarily used film stills.
I like The Street Fighter (though this version is missing some sixteen minutes), but prefer The Executioner (Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken) which came out the same year.

Poster courtesy IMPAwards.

Fighting Duel of Death

Hong Kong - 1983
Director - "Kurt" Wang
Congress Video Group, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour 28 minutes

Flash Future Kung Fu

Hong Kong - 1983
Director - Kirk Wong
Tai Seng Video Marketing, 2000, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 22 minutes

18 May 2010

Mexican "Wetback" Films

Since I am ridiculously jealous of the Mexican VHS boxes over at Satan's Hope Chest, all I can do is point you in his direction and proffer these movie posters.
I know you're probably thinking, the term "wetback" is racist, and you're right, but the literal translation of the term "mojado" is "wet person" or "wetback," and in general both terms have come to refer to anyone who crosses the U.S.-Mexico border "illegally." Hence the term used in this specific context  means simply "someone who clandestinely crosses the border" and is racist only when used in an Arizona context, as a blanket classification for anyone who doesn't "look white" and therefore is subject to persecution.

Mexico - 1986
Director - Ricardo Franco

A U.S.-Mexico co-production about "A migrant gringo who wished he was from this side of the border." Also known by its U.S. title "In 'n Out."

Mexico - 1981
Director - Fernando Duran Rojas

The Bracero Program was a U.S.-Mexico bilateral agreement to send Mexican laborers to the United States to work during the Second World War when there was a shortage of domestic labor. "Bracero" roughly translates to "person with arms", or "working arms," which leaves little to the imagination. The program lasted from 1942 until roughly 1964. Ironically after the war, the Eisenhower administration approved and deployed "Operation Wetback" in 1954 to deport large numbers of Mexican immigrants who were in the country "illegally." This just goes to show that border enforcement is predicated on U.S. need for cheap labor, nothing else.
One can only presume that Las Braceras were women who traveled north to find work, and this poster suggests that it wasn't working in the fields with their male comrades.

Mexico - 1986
Director - Alberto Mariscal
 I have been eagerly awaiting the relaease of Robert Rodriguez' Machete ever since the first post-Grindhouse rumors of a feature film. I'm feeling significantly less enthusiastic now that it has morphed into an all-star ensemble-cast mega-picture, but I'm still curious.This film, in both this poster and it's plot appear to be remarkably similar to Rodriguez film...
In Mauro (which I haven't seen; can't find it), ex-con Mauro (Mauricio/Maurice) gets out of prison and crosses the border in search of Johnny Ventura (Hugo Stiglitz) a drug smuggler who betrayed him because Maura was in love with Ventura's woman, Oralia. When he finds Ventura he takes his revenge and returns to Mexico with Oralia to live in peace.

Mexico - 1979
Director -Alejandro Galindo
Pretty straighforward title on this one, but it's hard to find any real information on the plot, English or Spanish.

This is just a sampler of many, many Mexican movies about undocumented U.S.-Mexico border crossing. Perhaps not so strangely, there are far fewer American films on this subject.

17 May 2010

I Spit On Your Grave

J'irai cracher sur vos tombes ( aka I Spit On Your Grave)
France - 1959
Director - Michel Gast
A 1959 French film based on a novel in which a light skinned black man returns to the town where his brother was lynched. Seeking revenge upon the murderers he joins their gang and ends up getting involved with one of the girls. Sounds basically like a French race-mixing exploitation film along the lines of the American model vis-a-vis I Crossed The Color Line and I Passed For White.

Day Of The Woman (retitled as I Spit On Your Grave in 1980)
United States - 1978
Director - Mier Zarchi
I Spit On Your Grave as most of us know it, is a pretty notorious film. I personally heard of it long before Thriller: A Cruel Picture or Cannibal Holocaust. It was so notorious that it spawned a number of remakes, sequels and "re-titlings" for video. An official remake is set to be released later this year.There are also several bands with albums titled "I Spit On Your Grave," and various plays on that title, and I found a few foreign websites that were sketchy so I didn't download any of their images.

This Italian poster for the Mier Zarchi movie makes it look like a fetish/slasher along the lines of Fulci's New York Ripper doesn't it?

This Wizard Video sleeve is from It's Only A Movie.co.uk. Wizard Video was an imprint of Charles Band's Empire Pictures.

Japanese sleeve from the incredible Japanese VHS Hell.

Ms. 45
United States - 1981
Director - Abel Ferrara
Perhaps not an explicit spinoff , but the theme is exactly the same. Admittedly, there have been a great number of rape-revenge films made, but Ms. 45 was made almost immediately after I Spit On Your Grave, so its hard to deny the connection. Poster from IMPAwards

Naked Vengeance
Philippines - 1985
Director - Cirio H. Santiago
Naked Vengeance was an unofficial remake directed by Roger Corman's Philippine man of action and all around exploitation gristmill Cirio Santiago. Cover scan from Vestron Video International.

United States - 1993
Director - Donald Farmer
The cult status of Zarchi's film generated a plethora of titular and thematic spinoffs including the Eden Entertainment I WIll Dance On Your Grave series, many of which were simply previously existing low budget films released under a deceptive series title and cheap cover artwork. However, the series did include the film Savage Vengeance which was an unofficial sequel to Day Of the Woman that stars (under pseudonym) Camille Keaton in a reprise of her DoTW Jennifer role.

Girls For Rent (retitled for video as I Spit on Your Corpse)
United States - 1974
Director - Al Adamson
When this film was released on video it was retitled, probably to conjure associations with the Zarchi movie. It is now available on DVD from Troma.

I Spit On Your Corpse, I Piss On Your Grave
United States - 2001
Director - Eric Stanze
Not sure about this, apparently a pretty rough film. I thought I had seen it in high-school, but the date is way off for that.

I'll Kill You, I'll Bury You, and I'll Spit On Your Grave Too!
United States - 1995
Director - Thomas R Koba

IMDB gives a date of 2000 for this one, but the box appears to say 1995. I swear I saw it when I was still in high school back in the 1990's, so who wins that one? Before I knew my ass from my elbow I remember mistaking it for the Zarchi film and being sorely disappointed by its low quality. The VHS box above confirms my story since it is basically the same "design" as the Eden I Dance On Your Grave series from the 90's, right down to the reused and cobbled cover image.

I Spit On Your Remains
Japan - 2005
Director - Yoshiyuki Okazawa

Oyle bir Kadin ki
Turkey - 1979
Director Naki Yurter
It think its a little presumptuous to simply call it "Turkish I Spit On Your Grave," as if the Turks have no actual creative spirit of their own. According to IMDB the title translates to "A Woman Like That" and I find it difficult to believe that Day of the Woman was released in US theaters in November of 1978, then made it to Turkey and was remade by a Turk and released by 1979. Unless the director saw DoTW in the US, the turnaround is just too quick. It took the "Turkish Star Wars" five years to appear after the release of the American film.

I Spit Chew On Your Grave
United States - 2009
There is no IMDB page for this film, but since the arbiters of corporeal substance, Amazon have it for sale, it must be real.