31 August 2012

Rental Store - Data Communications/Chief's Video

This label on my copy of the Martin Kove 'Nam Vet revenge flick Steele Justice (review forthcoming) comes from Data Communications, in  Berrien Springs or Niles, two small villages in the southwest corner of Michigan.

But wait! This tag was also on the cassette, held on with scotch tape, and it's the same phone number as Data Communications! Hark, a clue!

28 August 2012

Warning Sign

United States - 1985
Director - Hal Barwood
CBS/Fox Video, 1986, VHS
Run Time -1 hour, 39 minutes

With virtually no introduction Warning Sign launches into a near apocalyptic real-world frightmare scenario set in the semi-rural American west. At a time when genetic engineering was still the stuff of science fiction, Warning Sign makes fiction out of science-fact by cashing in on post-Nam distrust of the Federal Government. Opening abruptly with an accident at a bio-engineering facility somewhere, an ensemble cast of second stringers makes this otherwise simplistic bio-terror film worth almost every minute. Later films like Outbreak and even 28 Days Later would use similar elements of disease induced (read “human-induced-disease”) apocalypse to terrify audiences, but neither had the level of contextual paranoia that sustains Warning Sign’s eerie relevance nearly three decades on.

In a small town somewhere in the U.S. it’s the end of the workweek at Biotek, a small government agricultural facility purportedly working on corn research. As the staff are getting ready for a weekend of hoe-downs and tractor-pulls however, the “plant genes” they’ve been working on suddenly turn a number of them into bloodthirsty zombie-like killers. Thus begins the ‘warning sign’ of the title, not with a bang or a whimper but more of a heavy sigh as the a Federal emergency management team shows up to reassure the angry townies that things are going to be just fine…….Just……fine.

Warning Sign is less about the pathology of microbes than papering over the rift in post-Vietnam American society between ‘real’ (small-town) America and the mysterious and deceitful Federal Government. Both are drawn two-dimensionally in Warning Sign, but the symbolism is clear; there is no longer any love (or trust) lost between the two. This is further emphasized by Yaphet Kotto’s role as the head of the Fed and the only significant character of color in the film, further emphasizing the estragement of the Government from the national average.

Cutting a path neatly down the middle of this mini-Culture War is County Sherriff Cal Morse (Sam Waterson) who only wants everyone to play nice. Conjuring up the ghost of good intentions, Cal teams up with his old buddy Dan Fairchild (Jeffery DeMunn,) a disillusioned former chemist at Biotek who believes that science should benefit everyone. Together these rational idealists restore a kind of lukewarm order to their filmic micro-universe by rote reliance on the salvation trope of ‘family’ without addressing any of the broader implications. Because in the land of rhetoric, it’s not the sickness you gotta treat, just the symptoms, right? Twenty-seven years after Warning Sign the American socio-political climate may have changed in timbre but not in tone.

 This nice Polish poster is from Wrongside of the Art where they have a number of other good posters and lobbycards.

20 August 2012

Night of the Bloody Apes

Mexico - 1972
Director - Rene Cardona
Something Weird Video, 2002, DVD
Run Time - 1 hour, 24 minutes

Hollywood is so prolific, churning out such a tremendous volume of visual distraction that it’s impossible to keep up. Even less so to follow foreign cinema. Hence it may come as a surprise to many United Statesians to discover that Mexico also has a film industry. Actually they have for quite some time. Many other countries do, but the American Academy only acknowledges one a year and those have been overwhelmingly European. But it’s true, Mexico has a film industry, and like its contemporaries, Mexican cinema has its own genre conventions. They have their classy commercial films and their grimy low budget exploitationers, both of which may or may not make the treacherous journey north. If the metaphor serves for what types of Mexicana are acceptable in Gringolandia then it should come as no surprise that the latter circulates somewhat under the radar. My own introduction to Cine Mexicano was not gentle. I was cast bodily into a grimy pit of vice from the get go, and while my experience remains limited (less and less so), it is forever colored by my first Night of the Bloody Apes.

Coming just under a decade after Blood Feast uncorked the gore-film upon unsuspecting Gringos, Night of the Bloody Apes went further and faster, taking cues from the then current European Mondo fad and mixing it up with a generous dose of nudity and Mexicana. The story concerns the distraught Doctor Krallman (a suitably ‘German’ name*) whose son Julio is dying of Leukemia. In an attempt to save him, the good doctor and his lurching, half-blind henchman replace the son’s heart with that of a gorilla. This gives ample opportunity for the showcase gross-out scene in the film; footage of an actual open heart surgery complete with squirting blood and still beating organ.

But what curative medical procedure ever works in horror? It is around this very failed operation that our film is also given a lease on life. The heart proves “too strong” for poor Julio, unleashing his deep animalistic urges during spells of apparent catatonia. When Julio passes out, the inner ape stirs and smashes his way onto the streets of Mexico City in search of men to kill and women whose clothes are easily torn off.

In a pursuit one would be hard-pressed to call ‘hot’, follows police Lt. Martinez. Still, his enthusiasm lies predominantly in chasing something that is; Lucy, a sturdy Luchadora who dresses in a red-devil costume before kicking ass. If it wasn’t for Lucy’s overzealousness in the ring, Lt. Martinez might not have been trying to solve the Ape-man murders at all. During a bout Lucy severely injures her opponent who ends up in the same hospital where Krallman works. A second grisly operation using the heart of Lucy’s comatose opponent coincides neatly with another violent-disrobing right across the street from Krallman’s home/basement-laboratory and the jig is up for his erstwhile eugenics project.

While its debt to H.G. Lewis et al. is evident, Cardona is also in some ways the Mexican version of Italy’s Mario Bava. After working on his father’s films (they co-wrote this one) Rene Cardona Jr. went on to direct his own low (and not so low) budget horror films, some of which, Beaks and Tintorera, we’ve covered here at LVA. I hate to make apple/orange comparisons that rob films of their individuality. If doing so will make the Cardona legacy and Mexican Cinema tangible and hopefully more accessible however, then the overgeneralization is worth it. Night of the Bloody Apes is among my favorite monster/splatter films. It is a beautiful example of the ‘serious’ exploitation filmmaking that is all but impossible in our current age of post-Scream meta-irony. Loaded with budgetary shibboleths and logic loopholes, it plows earnestly ahead with little more than coincidental interest in "art."

 This sleeve comes courtesy of Itsonlyamovie.co.uk

This one from Lars Jacobsson

A poster from Radio Magma

*Mexican movies of this and earlier eras (see LVA's coverage of the Aztec Mummy) loved to give the bad-guys European names. This was part of a larger project to establish a distinctly Mexican national identity as separate from European or American influence which then, as now, was often considered more ‘pure’ and important because it was whiter. Night of the Bloody Apes (a remake of Cardona’s own 1962 film Doctor of Doom) would seem to suggest that these dangerous foreign influences are just going to fuck Mexico up.

10 August 2012

Rental Store - Video X Tron

I did just a tiny bit of research on this one and turned up a fair amount of history. Video X Tron was a small chain based out of Boca Raton, Florida. They had about 10 stores in the area. In 1990, as Blockbuster was violently expanding like a Capitalist Christian Cancer, they acquired Video X Tron and performed their censorial abortion. Adult titles were quickly purged and family friendly minimum-wage clones began spitting on your microwave popcorn.

I found this label on my copy of the James Hong directed, low budget teen sex comedy Teen Lust back in April. The box and tape were slathered in Blockbuster stickers, but I could tell that there was something more interesting underneath. With the help of a little bit of lighter fluid I found these X Tron labels. Odd that the statutory rape comedy Teen Lust passed the Blockbuster morality test, but not consensual adult sex? Oh well, Christian duplicity is nothing new.

06 August 2012

Lone Runner

Italy - 1986
Director - Ruggero Deodato
Media Home Entertainment, 1989, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour 23 minutes

Predating 1987's Swayze soaked sleeper Steel Dawn by a full year, Lone Runner confirms (because I saw it second of the two films) that after the apocalypse there will be a big demand for metrosexual hair styles. Of course that's entirely because the 80's were so damned awesome that the future, even if it's a post-apocalyptic one, will be just like the 80's. When society falls to its knees only heroes will have designer sculpted stubble.

Last time I found myself at the short end of the Deodato stick was back in 1968's Phenomenal, but Lone Runner offers a strong challenge for supremacy of the bummer pile. Fortunately, Deodato had the good sense to kindof remake it a year later, or at least re-imagine it in a far more entertaining way with 1987's Barabarians. I've seen my share of post-apocalypses, even Italian post-apocalypses (the best kind), and to be honest, most of them are pretty lame. Lone Runner's robed nuke-mutants and endless wandering can't be any worse than She Wolves of the Wasteland right?

I feel like I should give Lone Runner another chance just to be fair, but the memory is such a disappointment that I'm not sure I can muster it. Perhaps it's one of those films that is a drag the first time because you have such high hopes that the crash is all the more profound. Next time I'll be ready for you Lone Runner, next time your stupidity will be fun.

03 August 2012

Dangerously Close

United States - 1986
Director - Albert Pyun
Media Home Entertainment, 1988, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 36 minutes

Either you love it or you don't really care enough to have a strong opinion. Dangerously Close is an early film from auteur Albert Pyun. Sandwiched between other 80's Pyun classics The Sword and the Sorcerer and Vicious Lips, Dangerously Close is surprisingly unembelished. In fact it's downright vanilla, following a lower class kid who goes to an elite school only to discover that the rich students are not particularly friendly towards the lower classes.

Numerous other films have covered similar territory, at LVA we've met Zombie High and Brotherhood of Justice, but its a story that comes directly from the pages of history. Ever since the inception of private property, the Haves have tried to keep out the Have-Nots. United Statesian cinema loves to tell the story of the poor kid who fought back and kept his dignity. If he won the girl that's because love is more valuable than riches. If he won the riches, it's because, darnit, this country is GREAT, and anybody can achieve anything if they set their minds to it. I would argue that it is the power of such myths that makes this country great. That films in which we sympathize with the po' folks keep getting made and out in the real world we continue to idolize the vampire elite.

01 August 2012

Nemesis 4: Cry of Angels

United States - 1996
Director - Albert Pyun
Avalanche Home Entertainment, 1996, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 23 minutes

Thanks to NIRVANADOREMI for this entertaining collection of scenes featuring some of the best Blanca Copikova scenes from Nemesis 4. Just watch this a few times and you're set for a week.