25 September 2009

To Sleep With A Vampire

To Sleep With A Vampire
United States – 1992
Director – Adam Frieman
New Concorde Home Video, 2002, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 21 min.

As you now know, there are few things I find more despicable than a vampire. I am however a shallow bastard and this film stars Charlie Spradling (Ski School,Wild At Heart.) It was also executive produced by Roger Corman. According to Beverly Gray in her book Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Life there was a period when cheap skin flicks were being filmed at Corman studios during the night on the same sets as other films. For these reasons I had to see for myself, so it was worth the 2 dollar price tag.

Jacob (Scott Valentine) is the perfect example of douchey vampire, he seems to think that exaggerated frowning counts as emoting his inner sorrow. His tragedy is that he looks so much like a low-rent John Cusack that no one takes him seriously. He hates his hunger for blood so he starves himself as long as he can until he has no other choice. On top of this he longs to experience the world of the day. Talk about a snobby tragedy, pick the one thing you can’t have and covet it. Isn’t that a version of the Oedipus complex?

So to solve this problem Jacob wanders around in the slums, looking for people more pitiful than himself, people that no one will miss since no one matters but him. So logically, he seeks his next victim in a woman of the night, someone whose pain he can sense. Nina (Spradling) a stripper at a club, that despite its location in the ghetto is fully crewed and patronized exclusively by white people. Jacob’s attraction to Nina goes beyond her physical attributes though, he’s into that suffering that he sensed. More specifically, her tequila swilling, pill popping, suicidal, homeless unfit-mother suffering. This is the purest undiluted essence of modern tragedy.

But it’s clear that Jacob is interested only in what he can get from her which to him apparently is a lot. This guy is the epitome of snarky stuck up asshole. He acts like a victim and then threatens everybody around him when he doesn’t get his way. Like a schoolyard bully he’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants whether its friendly passivity or violence. Jacob is just like the jerks I knew in highschool who had really hot girlfriends. One minute he’s giving her the puppy-dog and flowers act and the next he’s dragging her somewhere by the back of the neck. Just like those girls Nina gets the picture pretty quick and plays along to avoid the throttlings. She tries to lift his spirits with tales of her own mortal sufferings and a fake sunbath under the spotlights at the beach. For this he strips his all-black stirrup-pants vampire outfit to reveal a cornea rupturing leopard speedo.

When tooth-grinding Nosfericidal restraint in the face of his sleazy undergarments still isn’t enough to shut his whining up, Nina gives Jacob a private package-deal performance at the strip club. But he can’t drop the victim act and just doesn’t give a shit about anyone else. She’ll “never understand the emptiness of living forever,” so he throws yet another hissy fit to draw attention off of her sturdy rack and back onto himself.

In the end, Jacob gets what he needed from the first baby-frown moment, a helping hand into the great oblivion. Nina tires him out in horizontal fashion, and sends him into the great beyond, all purple sparkles and writhing; melodramatic and weepy spoiled bitch to the bitter end.

23 September 2009

Vampires Suck

I don’t like vampires.
I think the whole genre, fiction novels, films, fanciful costumage, is contemptible. Much of this stems from my political leanings. However, even before I was politically inclined, I hated vampires. In my mind, vampires are the fantasy fiction equivalent of the affluent elite. From Bram Stoker to Vampyros Lesbos, vampires are the cream of the bad undead.

So, vampires have never interested me. I don’t care how the rich live, or how hard it is, or the “emptiness of living forever.” Mostly because I don’t believe it. Vampires are an extreme case of accumulated differential advantage. The affluent subsist on the toil and sweat of others, the surplus labor of a million unsheltered who feather their nests. It goes the same for the Nosferatu, taking from those others materially, intellectually and viscerally for their own benefit and survival, perpetually and forever.
And yet the myth of accessibility leaves the rest of us thinking we have and want access to all of that, but in truth the elite always resists infiltration. This is why vampires never want to make another vampire, not because it’s actually hard being a vampire and they don’t want anyone else to suffer. No it’s because they don’t want to share the wealth. It’s why rich mommies and daddies don’t like it when their children marry commoners and why the Gecko brothers can’t get a fair shake, and why you will never actually get to be one of the Lost Boys.

Vampires are an excuse for death to be tragic and glamorous all at the same time, why we fear and understand Gary Oldman’s lust for Wynona Ryder. They are tailor made for Goths, hence the term “goth”, derived from an hyper-idealized overly dramatic architectural style traditionally associated with vampire lore. Vampires are dramatic because there are few things more interesting to the ticket buying public than a rich person suffering hardship. And why not, they have it all, but their lives are ever so tragic. Or so we are led to believe.

Let’s face it, vampires are all about fake drama, and as Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt have taught us affluence is all about emphasizing drama where there isn’t any. The affluent can’t deal with drama because they can afford to shield themselves from it if they want to. Drama is the tired parasite of the average man because s/he lives on a razor’s edge of have/have not, you can, or you cannot. There is no drama in yes or no if it is an everyday question, only when one or the other is unusual. That’s why the affluent and vampires have to create their own thin veneer of tragedy and drama. It's the importance of dressing the part to prove you are Goth enough to verify your emotional agony.

Yeah, I get it, the oligarchy rules us all with tragic flamboyance. The distraction of our submerged desire to be one of the cool kids masks our revulsion at the abandonment of temporal value. We know we dismiss our humanity by achieving privilege. Because in our compulsion to protect it we must distance ourselves from the covetous masses lest that privilege be diluted.

Vampires are the barely-fictional personification of extreme social elitism, and hence, I have no sympathy. 200 years of fancy talking and arrogance in costume doesn’t dull the metaphor for me, give me the proletarian zombie any day.

15 September 2009

The Lawless Land

Lawless Land
United States – 1988
Director – Jon Hess
MGM/UA Home Video, 1989, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 21 min.

I love post-apocalypse movies mostly because I enjoy seeing how others envision the surviving social order and infrastructure after a nuclear (or some other) holocaust. However, if The Lawless Land is supposed to be post apocalyptic, or as the box claims “after the inferno of WWIII”, then color me disappointed. As much as I like explosions and well rendered watercolors, this cover art is just dumb. It cries out in the faces of the two characters: Here is this explosion/bike/car thing and I’m trying hard, but am I supposed to care? The single sentence of narration that opens the film; “the Southern continent, after the collapse,” may be the only on screen clue that there was any kind of apocalypse at all, whatever it was.

OK, I will assume that there was some kind of apocalypse, that it was an “inferno”, and this is after it. Strangely, this post-apocalypse is quite remarkable in its complete lack of visual post-apocalyptic cues. What quickly becomes obvious is that it is in fact simply a colonized South American country, and judging by the climate, southern Peru/northern Chile. The indigenous population, referred to as “Inca” at several points are subjected to poverty, toil and degradation in some kind of mine operated by the ruthless white elite.

In fact the more I think about it, this movie right down to the title is a barely subtle indictment of the US and corporate backed Chilean military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Consider for a moment the brutal repression that the people of that country suffered. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to think that the CIA sponsored collapse of a hard won people’s democracy might be considered apocalyptic by the people who suffered under it. By that logic it follows that the subsequent 16-year fascist rule would fit the post apocalyptic bill.

All of this doesn’t make the movie any less flat because it's quickly stepped over. The protagonist Inca by the name of Falco, shacks up with the daughter of the Chairman Oppressor, Diana (Amanda Peterson of Explorers). Her dad is seriously pissed at the threat of a shitty Romeo and Juliet ripoff and hires a bounty hunter played by "Leon", an actor named with as much commitment as this movie has to a message.

I'll wake you up when its over.

Here the film gets plenty of mileage out of the remarkably authentic sets to be found in Chile. First it’s into the streets where Falco and Diana flee from ready-made curfews, roadblocks and a heavy police presence that minimizes the cost of hiring extras (crucial when your movie is produced by Roger Corman.) Then into prison where Falco’s nipples are hooked up to a car battery while the Chairman watches without satisfaction. And finally when our new-wave hero escapes, out into the desert where the film drifts to a lazy end. A mixed bag of confusing temporal cues and secondary characters have passed by with little mention. Like Falco’s namesake, a telekinetic falcon that pops up for a scene iliciting short lived anticipation. But ultimately it too goes the way of the films commitment to its initial metaphor; ineffectual, ignored and quickly forgotten.

A poster from MTC Europa Video

14 September 2009


United States - 1985
Director - Robert Clouse
MGM/UA Home Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 30 min.

This film is well known amongst martial arts fans as one of the most laughably inane American attempts to dip into the pool of Eastern mystique. Ninjers and a white guy on the cover and you've got a winner. Whomever came up with the idea that a second rate gymnast from the American Heartland could be sold as a ninja secret agent in Eastern Europe needs to give me a call, I have a bridge to sell 'em.

As awesome as that premise sounds right before each and every time I watch Gymkata, nothing beats its sincerity of execution. Sheer rapturous optimism infuses every moment and lends a sortof ethereal Valhalaesque quality to the subsequent, whatever it is. It was the 80's and anything was possible if you believed it hard enough. As long as it feels, reeks and literally sweats genuine commitment, it will end up a good movie. (See also anything by Sho Kosugi)

If only I could believe that municipal stone monuments were equipped with standard pommel horse handles. But to name all the ridiculousity would tarnish Gymkata's veneer of, well, mystique. Thakfully, Gymkata came out on DVD a couple years back and can still be found.

11 September 2009

New Stuff

On a recent trip to my homeland I scored a good haul of video cassettes. Historically this has not been the case, but I think they are beginning to realize that it's not worth holding on to a lot of their old inventory. Even in the backwoods of New Mexico the death of VHS is being felt; nobody rents them anymore,and those few that do are probably not going to watch Lovely But Deadly or Joysticks. Some of these have already gotten the writeup, the others will soon. If you're keeping track though you know that I still haven't gotten to all the junk from the last big haul, namely To Sleep With A Vampire, I just know that's going to hurt a lot so I'm scared.
I've added a few new links to other great movie blogs so please visit those there's a reason they're there.

Here's another awesome Charles Bronson Poster I found somewhere a long time ago.

I changed the format of the posts a little bit in the last few months, adding running times which help identify the particular version of the film in question, and by going to full front and back box scans. Some of the older posts have been updated to include these additions, and a few posts have new images.
Finally, unless anyone complains I'll continue posting brief writeups of films which are outside the scope of my goal just so I can scan and post the old VHS box art under the tag Just the Box.

10 September 2009

Women's Prison Massacre

Italy - 1983
Director - Bruno Mattei
Vestron Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 29 min.

It hardly seems necessary to elaborate the plot of this film since in broad strokes it is so similar to many others in the genre. In fact this one is so similar to another film in particular, Violence In a Women's Prison, that thinking it might be the same film under an alternate title, I almost didn't bother watching it. In Violence, Laura Gemser is an undercover reporter investigating the claims of, ahem, excessive violence in a women's prison. In this one, she is no longer undercover, but actually imprisoned because she was betrayed by someone. It has pretty much the exact same cast as Violence, and as I came to suspect fairly quickly, is in fact a sequel to the earlier film.

Although on this VHS box the director is listed as Gilbert Roussel, it's obvious from shot one that Bruno Mattei is at the helm again just one year after giving us the stark repugnance of Violence.
There is a distinct difference between the Women In Prison Films of Italy and those of the US (I'll throw in the UK too). In the Italian films the antagonist always ends up being men. Despite the fact that it takes place in a women's prison, and the warden and guards are also women who enjoy subjecting the inmates to various denigrations. In the end, the perpetrators are always men; usually directly, but sometimes merely indirectly, through the physical or psychological coercion of the warden et al.

The Italians focus on male violence against women, as brutal as it can get. It's an attempt to elaborate real life behavior to its logical extreme. It's male violence fantasy, call it hard WIP.
In the US more often than not the focus is what men suspect or wish that women did when they weren't looking. Catfights and lesbianism, sure there's violence, and for the most part the women are still reliant on men, but really it's about women's power struggles within the confines of prison (and society at large). How do they work out their own power heirarchy . It's male sexual fantasy, soft WIP

Put it this way, I have never seen an Italian WIP comedy, and I have never seen an American WIP where the protagonist gets raped by a man.

Mattei is a case in point (though I can think of numerous others) where the focus of the film is really direct physical male violence against women. In the case of Women's Prison Massacre a number of violent male prisoners are transferred to the bleak cavernous womens prison before their execution. A list of their melodramatically brutal prior crimes is elaborated several times at length on screen. And then of course they escape their chains and subject the inmates and the guards to predictably gruesome acts, it is a massacre after all. The whole thing is scored by the cheesy suspenseful synthesizer music (here by Luigo Ceccarelli) which seems to have been required by Italian law in every exploitation film between 1975 and '85. As much as I am a completist and I'm glad I have and can watch these Italian WIP films, I find it difficult to actually enjoy watching them. For that reason I can only tentatively recommend Violence In a Women's Prison and Women's Prison Massacre.

Both films are available on DVD from Mediablasters, but since I found this nice VHS tape on my last trip down to my hometown in New Mexico I thought I'd share more of my thoughts on the genre with you.

07 September 2009

Some Came Running

Some Came Running
United States - 1958
Director - Vincent Minelli
MGM/UA Home Video, 1988, VHS
Run Time - 2 hours, 17 min.

When I was 18 I took an intro to film class one of my first semesters in college. At the time all I watched was horror films, my favorite being the subject of my final paper for that class, Dawn of the Dead.
What I wasn't expecting was this movie, Some Came Running which came about three quarters of the way through the semester. It blew my mind and I remember being almost embarrassed to mention it to my friends because it was so removed from my realm of comprehension.
I'm still a little inarticulate when it comes to this film.

Much of my fascination I'm sure comes from Dave's (Frank Sinatra) struggle with himself, and his emotional struggle between his ideals of love and the reality, a struggle which in many ways I felt, and still feel I share. Much of this is played out in the intense relationship between Dave and Ginny (Shirley MacLaine) and the way in which they eventually (mostly him) come to reconcile their shortcomings and heal each others damage.

I'll be honest, this movie is intense and it still affects me.

This image courtesy Wayne Melton Movie Reviews

Some Came Running is based on a novel by James Jones (which I recently bought and started reading), the writer who also penned the book From Here to Eternity which became the film of the same name that was Sinatra's screen debut and (justifiably) won him an Academy Award. MacLaine is a beautiful and phenomenally talented actress; another of my favorites is The Apartment starring her and Jack Lemmon. Author Jones also served in the Pacific Theatre in World War Two and his experiences at Guadalcanal were the inspiration for the excellent film The Thin Red Line. Hey, the guy's a good writer.

Until a couple of years ago Some Came Running was unavailable on DVD so I hunted down this tape. I was going to do a lengthy writeup for that reason as well as it's status among my guiltiest pleasures, but when I checked online today there it was. Fortunately for you, and me I guess, it was released on DVD late 2008 and you can watch it yourself, which you should, along with the other films based on Jones work.

Slaughter In San Francisco

Here's the box art I have, but the tape within is a Rhino Home Video cassette released in 1990, so whatever.

United States - 1974
Director - Wei Lo
Front Row Features, 1997, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 28 min.

An interesting take on a Chuck Norris film, but I guess I have to admit it's only barely a Chuck Norris film. Actually, it's just a piece of the Norris puzzle, and if like me you feel the need to be complete, you have to have all the pieces. This is the only movie in which Chuck plays a "bad guy", unless you count the thinly veiled racist patriotism and mass murder "justice" in many of his later roles. Don't let my cynicism shake you, I eat this shit up.

This actually plays out like a wannabe Bruce Lee movie. Since it came in the wake of the Lee tragedy, and of course in light of Norris's close association with Lee, that is no surprise. But it's a poor substitute for Bruce, while a vague and generic plot just about chokes off the Chuck Factor.

The lead is a Chinese American cop in San Francisco, Officer Don Wong, played by, uhm, Don Wong. Along with his partner, the token black guy, they form the do-good friendly cop team, the cheesy movie definition of protect and serve. While taking his son to school one day, the partner stops the car to help some people loading a panel truck, only to be kidnapped. His wife calls Wong, but it does no good and the partner is killed. Wong busts some heads, but gets himself fired from the force. Unwilling to let the case rest, Wong continues to investigate, between shifts at his new job as short order cook in a Chinese restaurant. No, really.

Although two old people are framed for the murder by some more corrupt cops, Wong knows better and after asking them some questions, it occurs to him that the arrogant and contemptuous hot chick who’s living nearby with several known thugs and dating a shady white dude who is the brother of San Francisco's biggest drug kingpin is probably the obvious answer. It's lucky Wong knows kung fu.

Norris doesn't really act any different than in any other Chuck Norris movie, or even play a different character. It's really just the poorly and unnecessarily dubbed dialogue that comes from his mouth, and the big ass cigar he chews on for a few seconds. Oh except for the whole drug czar thing, I forgot that. I’m beginning to suspect that people were so used to dubbing kung-fu movies that even American martial arts films had to be dubbed to be taken seriously back then. Then again this is a Golden Harvest picture so there may have been no English original.

We're treated to a few laugh inducing scenes of Chuck living it up in his mansion, chomping his cigar and training his class of karate kids. Every lesson must be accompanied by a climactic demonstration of devastation delivered to boards and reinforced by, whoops some cigar chomping and evil dubbed laughter with the trademark Norris towel around the neck. There's Chuck. Swoon. He cackles and grins appropriately, eliciting monotonous sycophantic head noddery from his lackeys. His one weakness though, may be his admiration for good fighting skills. He offers the crafty Wong a job, and the whimpering of recalcitrant hot chick and a misplaced desire for revenge lead Wong to accept, with obvious motive.

Even if it seems silly and sometimes painfully staged, it's fun to watch Norris recieve the beat-down. He's clearly good at on screen fighting, and he's just coming into his game here, so the risk is just about worth the final reward. Strangely in retrospect it feels almost like Game of Death in that the real star is not present for the bulk of the film, and only in the final fight does the true gold lie waiting.

Some alternate VHS covers including the alternate title and two tape covers from the Critic Online VHS cover gallery.

Poster from Imp Awards

Poster from MovieGoods

And this thing from Asian Cinema.blogspot.com

05 September 2009


Australia - 1987
Director – Karl Zwicky
Sony Video Software, 1988, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 30 min.

I don’t like narration, particularly when it’s vague and arcane and meant to add suspense to a film that appears about to not otherwise have any. I wasn’t expecting this to be Australian either and that’s set me off balance a little. A well-paced scene of a motorcyclist getting beheaded is nice, but ultimately it’s all implied and happens offscreen. There better be something redeeming, that’s the only way implied gore is tolerable, when there’s another hook.

When our protagonist Mark takes a drive in the woods and witnesses a girl getting kidnapped he tries to rescue her. A graphic and prolonged scene of her attackers fondling her is a bit unsettling and suggests this is actually going to be visceral. The attackers turn out to be mulleted Australian hillbillies who capture and sodomize Mark while wearing furry masks. I’m thinking it was less for having interrupted their city-girl raping than for having the audacity to sport a wee dust-ruffle mullet of his own. Mark later escapes after pickaxeing one of the hillbillies in the skull, traumatized to the point of losing all social grace and common sense. Worse than the yellow sweatshirt over a white button-up he's already wearing that is.

His first decision is to trust the two attractive women and the old guy in a robe who rescue him. These total strangers offer him limitless riches and sex if only he’ll “do the right thing” which he interprets to mean crushing and suffocating his co-workers to death and robbing and strangling his harpy of a wife.

Even though Mark is clearly desperate for financial gain his primary motivator quickly becomes the twins. Okay, my primary motivation became the twins, I did say that this movie needed another hook after all (and yes, all the deaths are still off-screen). Cleo and Helen are it and Mark and I keep hoping for more. It doesn’t matter that despite the notorious reliability of financial market speculators the old guy hasn’t proffered any actual cash. What matters is that the girls have delivered on their part of the bargain, repeatedly, at least in Mark’s head. I suspect that he’s hallucinating the whole thing, they are a bit out of his league and he’s still wearing the same filthy sweatshirt from the hillbilly ordeal.

I bought this movie based almost exclusively on the bad cover art which turned out to be deceptively accurate. It’s the title that doesn’t make much sense. It did make me think of a boob-sprinkled Aussie Cannibal Apocalypse plot, the trauma of tiger cages in ‘Nam and viral cannibalism replaced with hillbilly sodomy and shallow male fantasy. (guilty) The money is thrown in there just to round out the insanity. C’mon, hot Aussie nympho twins isn’t possibly enough to make a guy crazy right, but it will save a movie.

A Japanese clamshell VHS and an Italian DVD. I like the distributors logo on the VHS.

A UK VHS clamshell insert from It's Only A Movie(.co.uk).

03 September 2009

Pro Basketball's Funniest Pranks: Vol. 3

Pro Basketball's Funniest Pranks: Vol. 3
United States - 1993
Display America Inc., 1993, VHS
Run Time - 30 min.

This seems like it's going to be awesome. It's not what you would expect, basketball pranks, I dunno, like greased basketballs, maybe cold water showers, uhhhhhh. What do basketball players think is funny? Oh, I guess it's just dumb Candid Camera shit, or maybe if you're too young to remember Candid Camera, and/or you speak Spanish, in which case it's dumb Lente Loco shit. Either way it's bad physical humor. Maybe I was unusual, but at the age of 10 in 1990 I though hand-buzzers and dribble glasses were actually funny. It wouldn't be the first time I was accused of being born too late, I did volunteer to serve in Vietnam, in 2002.
But I'm not the only one; to think dribble glasses are funny that is, at least circa 1990, or '93 to be exact, when Sir Charles Barkley was still playing for the '76ers, or more acurately, still playing. Apparently someone out there thought there was money to be made by filming pro-basketballers playing dumb 40 year old pranks on each-other. And maybe there was, hell for all I know they (the producers, not the team, note the logo-less jerseys) did make a killing. Maybe the jokes were even funny.

In any case, my roommate found this VHS tape at an estate sale and generously thought it would be a fun watch and contribution to my obscure useless video collection. He would've been right if the actual factory tape had been in the box. Instead there was this mysteriously labeled home video. 2nd Half. It is actually basketball related! NO! It is not the second half of a basketball game, rather it is the entire game, starting with the 1st half. And it was taped in 2000. And the commercials got skipped so we couldn't even laugh at that. Lame.

Or maybe not. That's a pretty good prank I guess.

02 September 2009

Cannibal Apocalypse

A nice VHS cover from It's Only A Movie(.co.uk).

Italy - 1980
Director - Antonio Margheriti (Anthony M Dawson)
Various distributors, various dates, various formats, but pretty much gone.
Run Time approx. 1 hour, 36 min. (according to IMDB)

Don't fault me for posting on this movie just because it had a DVD release (which is now out of print I gather). I'm bringing it up so that I can gather a bunch of VHS and poster images in one place and because I'm going to reference this film in an upcoming write-up. One of the reasons I've never done full writeups for movies like this is because they are well known and popular, cult-classics if you will. Plenty of people have written/spoken about these high-profile exploitation films. I still love 'em, but it doesn't give you any new information to hear me ramble. In any case...

Though he's had a long string of exploitation successes, for my tastes, Antonio Margheriti really hit home with this Cannibal Apocalypse. A bunch of soldiers in Vietnam (check) are held in tiger cages and starved. Finally they are fed human flesh (check) which they consume eagerly, infecting themselves with some kind of spreadable zombie/cannibalism disease, whether physical or psychological, it doesn't matter, they just do. Rescued by John Saxon (check) and some haphazard gunfire and explosions (check) they return to the States and start killing and eating people (check) while John Saxon ogles his underage neighbor (check). Whew.
Talk about exploitation, I can think of few instances in which genre cliche's are combined with such recklessly brilliant abandon, and spearheaded by John 'effing Saxon. This is one of the reasons why Margheriti is a genius, he doesn't care if it makes logical sense or it fits in (even in a hypothetical "film" world).
Every November I celebrate American Thanksgiving (the Canadians have one too) by giving thanks for the worlds largest as-yet untapped food-source; people. Writing this has convinced me which film to start off this year's celebration.

Thanks to the various sites from whom I borrowed the following images.

Another VHS cover, this time from Antionio Margheriti.com

This is the version I have on DVD, but I got the cover scan from It's Only A Movie(.co.uk).

Poster image from Honors Zombie.

Alternate titled poster from Friki Tu Puta Madre.

A third poster I got from Wrong Side of the Art.

And hey, why not, a one sheet from Grindhouse Database