On THE INVISIBLE MAN

Well directed and acted thriller is hampered by a thoughtless script

Writer/Director Leigh (SAW, INSIDIOUS) Whannell’s THE INVISIBLE MAN is a frustrating film. Anchored by a truly fantastic lead performance by Elizabeth Moss, the movie looks great, moves with purpose, has a deft sound design and innovative and refreshingly minimalist special effects. The fact that there are so many great things going for it, makes its flaws all the more glaring, chief among them a shockingly thoughtless script that threatens to derail the entire otherwise opulent affair.

Moss stars as Cecilia, a woman whose millionaire inventor husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has apparently kept her in a state of emotional and physical agony. Pushed too far by his abuse, she escapes, in a beautifully orchestrated opening sequence that relies on atmosphere, suspense, sound and of course, Moss’s ever-expressive face. With the aid of her sister, she seeks shelter with her friend James (Aldis Hodge), a single dad who lives alone with his teenage daughter. Living in terror that her maniacal ex will find her and finish her off, she spends her days a recluse until she finds out that the brute has apparently committed suicide and left her his fortune. As she slowly comes out of her shell, strange things begin to happen and soon, Cecilia comes to the conclusion that Adrian is not dead, but has instead perfected the science of invisibility and is now dedicated to making her life an even more special sort of Hell, one in which no one will ever truly believe her accusations of abuse.

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On BLOOD AND FLESH: THE REEL LIFE AND GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON

Intimate, uproarious documentary about the B movie legend is also a tragic true crime film

David (LOST SOUL) Gregory’s latest document of cinema eccentricity BLOOD AND FLESH: THE REEL LIFE AND GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON, is first and foremost a tragedy. It begins at the end, in 1995, when mainstream media headlines screamed about the grisly discovery of a “horror movie director” who was found entombed in the basement of his California home, the victim of a sociopathic handyman who then went on the lam. It was a sensational finale to a fascinating life making movies whose go-for-broke (in many cases, literally going broke) sensibilities served as a middle finger to good taste. Adamson made pictures that were often rightfully lambasted by the critics, but thrived primarily in the undiscriminating passion pit worlds where cheap, dark fantasy thrills served as background noise to whatever shenanigans were going down in the backseats. Indeed, the gentle, likable director lived to make movies but his sad, cruel death was something that even he couldn’t have imagined.

The son of pioneering Western movie star Denver Dixon, Adamson was literally raised in the movie business and soon fell into directing films in the late ’60s and ’70s, at a time when there really was a healthy market for movies like HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS, BRAIN OF BLOOD, BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR, BLOOD OF DRACULA’S CASTLE and, of course, his most notorious (and perhaps most successful) effort, the deranged DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. Adamson, along with his frequent collaborator, producer Sam Sherman, unleashed an endless supply of psychedelic skid row schlock , movies made with energy and oddball vision and starring many aging Hollywood legends, like John Carradine, The Ritz Brothers and Aldo Ray. Adamson’s work may not have been “good” by standard definitions of the word, but seen as a body of work it was -and remains – unique, colorful and admirably consistent.

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On THE TURNING

Director Floria Sigismondi delivers a serious-minded, stylish and surreal fever dream

Somebody somewhere screwed up the story and spread the belief that all horror movies had to tear you to pieces, saturating the screen with sadism and nihilism and other sorts of negative isms. They forgot that once upon a time, people turned to darker filmed fantasies to immerse themselves in beauty, to experience a sort of sinister, out-of-body, sensorial trip; to lose oneself in a work of macabre imagination, of somber moods and grandiose imagery. I can’t be sure exactly when jolts and jumps and spoon-fed, mundane logic superseded aesthetics in horror, but I know how lousy I feel when the world shrugs its shoulders in the wake of the release of a film – and a filmmaker – who has NOT forgotten what the essence of the genre is.

Such a picture is THE TURNING, and such a director is Floria Sigismondi, the artist whose landmark work making videos for David Bowie and Marilyn Manson (and many, many others) defined the look and feel of darker rock ‘n’ roll in the 1990s. Her 2010 feature film debut THE RUNAWAYS was a logical extension of her love of sound and image, telling the story of Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and the titular band in a visually flashy fashion. But that movie’s greatest power was when it dialed things down, when it focused on faces, inner voices and emotion. The brief sequence where a tired, homesick Currie hears Don McLean’s “Vincent” on the radio during a drive between gigs is in itself a small, moving piece of cinema as poetry and secretly encapsulates everything the movie is about. Her second film, the recently released THE TURNING is indeed a horror picture, yet another dive into the well-worn weird-world painted in Henry James’ novel “The Turn of the Screw”.  And while the trailer for this one speaks to appeal to the Friday night Blumhouse crowd, its PG-13 rating inviting almost all audiences in to see it, the actual film itself is something else, or rather it slowly, surely, becomes something else. In fact, THE TURNING has the ultimate effect of actually turning, of rotating, sensually, seriously. It’s a movie that begins as a whole and then sort of melts into a swirling death-pool of subconscious imagery and primordial terror. In other words, it’s the work of a great artist trying to remind the world of the real deal power of horror cinema and what it can do to its audience.

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On HITCH HIKE TO HELL

A look at the shocking yet sophisticated 1977 indie psycho-thriller

Director Irvin Berwick (MALIBU HIGH) may not have made many movies in his day, but – as we all know – quality trumps quantity and his 1977 exploitation psychodrama shocker HITCH HIKE TO HELL is not only his best work, it’s one of the weirdest and most potent pictures of its kind, and that’s saying something considering the company the movie kept during that most sensational era of “passion pit” drive-in potboilers. And really, “quality” is a subjective term. By conventional standards, the shoestring-budgeted HITCH HIKE TO HELL isn’t a particularly well produced work. But man, does it pack a disorienting, primal punch.

The film tells the tawdry tale of Howard (Robert Gribbin), a dry-cleaning delivery driver who is seemingly happy, upbeat and well-liked by all. Certainly the wayward women hitchhikers he picks up dig his company. He’s kind and a good listener. But the problem is, when said runaway ladies start taking trash about their domestic lives – specifically griping about their mothers – Howard starts to get dark. Then, he gets darker. Within minutes, Jekyll become Hyde and Howard drives his poor passengers to a remote locale, yanks them screaming out of his van and beats and savagely rapes them before brutally murdering them. And then it repeats.

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On MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES

1957 Lon Chaney biopic is a beautifully made classic

Generally speaking, contemporary horror fans tend to associate the name Lon Chaney with the legacy of his son, Lon Chaney Jr, the man who was – and will forever be – Universal’s THE WOLF MAN. But of course, the more seasoned cinephile knows the elder Chaney was one of the founding fathers of special effects and fantasy-film performance art during motion pictures’ pioneering silent birth. He was known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” and he was indeed just that, a virtuoso creator who literally did it all and perfected the craft of making the most hideous of visages sympathetic, likable and sometimes, even lovable.

In the late 1950s, perhaps due to the birth of television and the renewed interest in monsters, Chaney’s legacy enjoyed a resurgence, with late night horror shows screening Chaney classics like THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE MAN WHO LAUGHED and magazines like Famous Monsters offering beautifully painted covers of the master’s various guises. Enter Joseph Pevney’s Cheney biopic MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES starring the legendary Jimmy Cagney and co-written by R. Wright Campbell (writer of a handful of classic Roger Corman westerns). The 1957 Universal production was initially criticized for its altering of key facts in Chaney’s life and for the casting of Cagney, who was by this time a bit long-in-the-tooth to play the actor during his youth. But no matter. Time has proven this fine film to be the classic it is and now, thanks to Arrow Video’s licensing of the title for Blu-ray, we can reappraise the picture.

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On SOLE SURVIVOR

 

Thom Eberhardt’s eerie 1983 chiller is a memorable, haunting horror classic

For years, no one talked about Thom (NIGHT OF THE COMET) Eberhardt’s 1983 chiller SOLE SURVIVOR. It haunted video stores. It drifted across late night cable TV. That’s where I saw it. But no one else I knew had seen it. I had no one to share my enthusiasm over the film with. I was God’s lonely man. And before the internet, there were no communities to join. There was no way to find a copy of it to purchase, which is what I so wanted to do. But I did find a copy, eventually. And I watched it again. And I estimated that it just might be the scariest movie I’d ever seen. When I was writing for Canadian horror magazine RUE MORGUE in my “Mad Musings of a Schizoid Cinephile” column, I wrote enthusiastically about the movie. Suddenly I was getting letters from people who had read that rave and had scoured eBay for that elusive Vestron VHS. A cult was swelling. And when Code Red licensed the film for DVD in 2008, they put my quote on the back of the box.

It was a moment of triumph!

These many years later, I’m not so sure it is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen anymore. But it’s certainly one of them.

The film stars Chloe Sevigny-by-way-of-Gaylen Ross look-alike Anita Skinner as Denise Watson, the single living passenger found amidst the grim debris and broken bodies of a catastrophic plane crash. After the initial shell-shock subsides (her blood spattered, PTSD-fueled nightmares feature a wide eyed, gut-leaking torso, an image that froze my veins as a kid), life slowly carries on, save for one rather distressing turn of events; it seems that everywhere that poor Denise goes, hollow-eyed, slack-jawed zombies follow. They stare at her through restaurant windows; they harass her in public parks; they block her way on country roads. They’re everywhere, all the time and, alarmingly, their numbers are multiplying.

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On EMANUELLE AND FRANCOISE

Joe D’Amato’s trashy sex drama is as lurid as they come

Even among the skeezy depths of Joe D’Amato’s cinematic oeuvre, his 1975 sex thriller EMANUELLE AND FRANCOISE is a jaw dropper. The director made his share of unofficial sequels to the popular Silvia Kristel-starring erotic EMMANUELLE movies, most starring the lovely Laura Gemser, but this trashterpiece (also known as EMANUELLE’S REVENGE) is among the best and is almost as cheerfully vulgar than his crown-jewel of vileness, the disturbing 1977 entry EMANUELLE IN AMERICA. Echoing the plot of the decade-and-change later Lucio Fulci softcore drama THE DEVIL’S HONEY, EMANUELLE AND FRANCOISE wallows in perversion to tell its operatically extreme tale of vengeance and sexual humiliation and though D’Amato’s lens captures ample upset, the entire thing is just so damned entertaining and groovy (Joe Dynamo’s funk soul score is a marvel) that you can’t help but kinda love it.

D’Amato regular George Eastman (the monster-man in ANTHROPOPHAGUS and ABSURD and the lead stud in EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD) stars as Carlo a preening svengali-esque hustler brute who toils on the back-end of the entertainment business, grafting gigs and delighting in the exploitation and degradation of his lover, the sweet-natured and fragile Francoise (Patrizia Gori). As the film opens, Carlo subjects the girl to one blow too many and she jumps in front of a train.  Enter Francoise’s sister Emanuelle ( in this incarnation played by SALON KITTY’s Rosemarie Lindt), who traces the sad tale of her sister’s decline via letters, with each despicable incident leeringly illustrated by D’Amato for the audience’s outrage and titillation. Soon, Emanuelle hatches a plot to seduce, trap and torture the bastard, locking him in a room armed with a two-way mirror, drugging him and subjecting him to endless images of her getting off with a succession of lovers, both male and female.

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On KILLER NUN

 

Anita Ekberg screws the scenery in this wonderfully tasteless shocker

In the annals of the unsavory subgenre known as “nunsploitation’, director Giulio Berruti’s late-from-the-gate shocker KILLER NUN stands tall, a truly nasty piece of work that has so much fun reveling in bad behavior that it’s a grim joy to behold. And that can’t be said for many of the post-THE DEVILS “nunsploitation” ilk, as they’re often depressing, claustrophobic affairs. Now back on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video, hardcore fans and newly minted habit-horror-hounds alike can go another round with this psycho-horror classic and marvel at its delightful tawdriness.

The movie stars Fellini favorite Anita Ekberg (LA DOLCE VITA) – here, well into middle-age but still a goddamned knockout – as the deranged Sister Gertrude, a woman whose religion-fueled madness has caught up with her. Respected by her peers (and, in the case of some of her fellow nuns, lusted over), Gertrude is deeply, profoundly mentally ill and after tormenting weaker souls around her, begins self-medicating her increasingly disturbed condition with heroin addiction, serial sex with both fellow sisters and male strangers and eventually, wholesale murder.

Apparently based on a real case of convent carnage, KILLER NUN is most assuredly trash, but what beautifully crass trash it is. Ekberg dives deep into the role, making Gertrude a manic marvel, veering between the most jaw-dropping atrocities and yet tempering the character with empathy, pathos and remorse. This woman is sick and sculpted by her surroundings and is seemingly unable to stop her free-fall from happening. She’s a pathetic creation. But one doesn’t really watch KILLER NUN for its wrenching drama. No, the true pleasures to be found here are gleefully grotesque and often hilariously cruel. My favorite is the unforgettable sequence where Gertrude screams at an elderly woman for taking out her dentures at the table then proceeds to grab the old lady’s teeth and stomp them to dust while laughing maniacally. As the woman recoils in shock, Gertrude snaps out of her derangement and apologizes. Hours later, the poor gummy granny dies of a heart attack! Nasty? Sure. Tasteless. You bet. But scenes like this (and there are plenty of them) are SO outrageous that Berruti is inviting us to laugh. And we do. Well, at least some of us will.

FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN/BLOOD FOR DRACULA legend Joe Dallesandro also shows up as a doctor but the dubbed actor has little to do but look square-jawed and concerned while Paola Mora threatens to steal scenes from Ekberg as a horny sister who is in love with Gertrude. But never mind the supporting cast, this is Ekberg’s show all the way, her wild, aging eyes popping from her face while cackling like a lunatic with every fresh transgression. She’s goosed by a lush, eerie score by the great Alessandro Alessandroni (THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE), who over-the-top sonics match Ekberg’s mania.

Arrow provides a crisp 2K transfer from the 35mm camera negative. There are the usual flurry of interesting extras packed into the rear end of the disc, most edifying being Kat Ellinger’s thorough video essay tour of the nunsploitation genre and a brand new interview with Berutti himself. A remarkable, macabre and truly mad movie and a marked improvement over the previous Blue Underground release.

On TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN

A closer look at the sleazy but intelligent 1972 exploitation film

It’s arguable that the greatest sorts of exploration films dial back their visually explicit shocks in favor of the power of suggestion. The most obvious example might be PSYCHO, with its skillfully edited shower scene making us think we see more than we do. But that’s not particularly fair, as PSYCHO was made by a major filmmaker and studio and released during a period where nudity, sex and extreme bloodshed were simply not on the mainstream menu. But later, the same Ed Gein-centric source material was mined for THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, a 1973 release that was produced at a time when all manner of gushy thing was allowed and accepted on screen. And yet, CHAIN SAW, one of the most brutal and notorious pictures of its kind in the world, refused to show too much either, using sound and suggestion and style to to turn stomachs and smack its audience senseless. Other films, like 1971’s BLOOD AND LACE, 1973’s THE BABY et al also proved ample sleazy and upsetting while teetering between PG and R and using theme and tone to their advantage.

Which brings us to 1972’s harrowing and hideous and unforgettable trash sorta-classic TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN, now widely available via a splendid, feature-packed Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, a restored 2K visual upgrade from the long out-of-print Something Weird Video DVD release, where it was paired with the icky and awesome THE TOY BOX. The film is as perverse and seedy as they come, telling the tale of the emotionally disturbed young woman Jamie (a fascinating one-shot turn from Marcia Forbes), who we first meet masturbating in bed to one of her many stuffed animals as she breathlessly chants “daddy, daddy”, a sweaty session interrupted by her braying mother, who chastises her and accuses her of being “just like her father”. Seems Jamie’s dad was a cad who tom-catted around and eventually bailed on the family, leaving the vulgar mother to smother her only child. Though MIA, Jamie’s pop has continued to send her toys, which she keeps littered around her room and whose presence have contributed to her bizarre, sexually stunted, childlike state of mind, where she yearns for daddy’s love while yearning for other more carnal pleasures.

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Interview: Norman J. Warren

A career discussion with the legendary British exploitation film director

The eccentric exploitation films of British filmmaker Norman J. Warren are certainly flawed and nowhere near as angry or socially-minded as his contemporary, Pete Walker, but they have a charm all their own.

Films like INSEMINOID (aka HORROR PLANET), PREY (aka ALIEN PREY), TERROR, SATAN’S SLAVE and of course, his final film to date, BLOODY NEW YEAR, offer nothing save 90 minutes (or less) of pure, down and dirty phantasmagorical escapism; well-crafted genre romps made to distract, shock and titillate.

And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Warren’s roots were in short films and eventually included, as many European genre director’s early credits did, soft core porn comedies; but it is with horror and dark fantasy that we concern ourselves and that put the charming director on the small stretch of the cult film map he now occupies.

So then, in honor Vinegar Syndrome’s delicious recent Blu-ray re-release of his first horror movie, 1976’s SATAN’S SLAVE, we’re happy to present this interview with the one and only Norman J. Warren.

ALEXANDER: After your initial short film experiments in the mid ’60s, your first feature-length picture was 1968’s A PRIVATE HELL, a naughty film, no?

WARREN: Yes, it was! There were of course many films like it around from Germany and Sweden, sexploitation films we called them then and still do, but none really that were made in England. So when Her Private Hell came along, it suddenly became this enormous hit and I think that it was because it was homegrown. It was also one of the first sex films to really tell a coherent story. So while it was still pretty far from being a great film, it was unique and box office wise it was an amazing hit, which did me a world of good, I assure you!

ALEXANDER: The BBFC have always been notorious for their hatred of horror…but what were their views on the sexploitation film? How much could you show without getting your figurative knuckles rapped?

WARREN: If you were to see HER PRIVATE HELL now, it would seem innocent, naïve and really, it was never that bad. But still, the censor was very particular about what you could put on screen. If you had a bare breast you couldn’t show the nipple. And of course the guy still had to keep his pants on in bed or else you had to cover him with a sheet. So it was a very innocent time. My film did run into trouble, however, even though most of my nudity was only shown from the rear. I made only one more sexploitation film called Loving Feeling the following year – in color and in cinemascope – and by that time the censor had relaxed. We could at this point show the nipple and show SOME female frontal nudity. Things were beginning to change.

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