Mar 4 2015

The Abductors (1972)

abductorsGinger McAllister — aka 1971’s Ginger — is back and sluttier than ever in The Abductors! The blonde bimbo-cum-superspy (Cheri Caffaro, Too Hot to Handle) cuts short her pool time in the Caribbean to take on another do-or-die case “just for fun” from her paisley-leaning boss (William Grannel, Carnival of Blood).

This mission — slightly more James Bondian because she’s given swallowable “radar disks” — involves finding out who and what are behind the kidnapping of four attractive teenage girls. As viewers, we’re privy to the answer: These cheerleader types (one of whom is played Jeramie Rain, aka Sadie of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left) are sold to rich, old, white men willing to pay “up to $100,000” for their services — in other words, sex slaves, but with the classier title of “mistresses in bondage.”

abductors1Ginger’s investigation instantly introduces her to a dapper (by 1972 New Jersey standards) advertising agency owner (Richard Smedley, The Naughty Stewardesses), who assists her endeavors by publicizing an undercover hottie (Laurie Rose, The Suckers) in the market in hopes of luring the abductors to snatch the bait. He also climbs aboard Ginger, because hell, who doesn’t? If she’s not conducting her secret-agent business in a transparent shirt with no bra underneath, she’s conducting her secret-agent business in a macrame top with no bra underneath — either way, those clothes are coming off before long, whether you want them to or not. Action of the sexual kind is more prevalent than that wrought by weapons, vehicles and fisticuffs.

The “ick” factor is thicker with Don Schain’s sequel than with its predecessor. Not only was he obviously cool with shooting then-wife Caffaro being missionaried and manhandled — he wrote and directed the damn thing, after all — but he’s keen on depicting each curvy hostage being milked by villainous hands, and posits that rape will turn a woman into proverbial putty — and that goes double for virgins. Even Ginger herself is party to the misogyny, being gifted with the strange habit of jacking off her male enemies after she’s captured them. No wonder Ms. McAllister’s third and final chapter was titled Girls Are for Loving. —Rod Lott

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Mar 3 2015

Spider Baby (1967)

spiderbabyThe Merrye children of Spider Baby don’t seem like they would have much to be merry about. The poor kids suffer from a rare neurological disorder particular to their bloodline. As a narrator helpfully tells us in the opening, at around the age of 10 or so Merrye family members regress to a “pre-human condition of savagery and cannibalism.”

Incredible, but true.

Okay, so it’s not really true. But try telling that to the slobbery, tongue-wagging Ralph Merrye (Sid Haig, House of 1000 Corpses) or his creepy sister Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn, Pit Stop). And then there’s incorrigible Virginia (Jill Banner, The President’s Analyst), who believes herself to be a spider, trapping victims with a rope before “stinging” them with a flurry of butcher knives to the head.

spiderbaby1The only thing standing between the murderous Merryes and civilization is the kindly figure of Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) as the family’s longtime chauffeur and now caretaker for the plum-crazy brood. And when Lon Chaney Jr. is the beacon of normalcy, you’ve got problems, friend.

From an irresistible opening theme song by Chaney Jr. to its could-this-be-the-end-question-mark resolution, Spider Baby spins a web of pure exploitation gold. You should expect nothing less from the debut picture of Jack Hill, the B-movie writer/director of Switchblade Sisters who would help launch the career of Foxy Brown herself, Pam Grier. The film was shot in 12 days in 1964, but languished on the shelf for several years after the producers went bankrupt.

Spider Baby is a cautionary — albeit funny and macabre — tale of inbreeding run amok. Do not miss. —Phil Bacharach

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Mar 2 2015

The Maze Runner (2014)

mazerunnerHungering for more teenage postapocalyptic games? The Maze Runner is one of the best of that crop, while still visibly suffering from the core problems plaguing all the others: undercooked narrative, overelongated time and an overall feeling of genericness and déjà vu. Directed by newcomer Wes Ball, the blockbuster is based on James Dashner’s novel — the first in a series, of course!

Our protagonist (Dylan O’Brien, The Internship) is … well, he doesn’t even remember his name at the film’s start, when he awakens in an industrial elevator racing up from an underground who-knows-what and into a primitive village of several dozen boys who once were in his position. Once a month, out pop fresh supplies and new blood. Deep into the second act, the makeshift community gets its first and only female (Kaya Scodelario, Moon) and the movie doesn’t even broach the subject of what really would happen to the poor girl.

mazerunner1They live in harmony — or at least compared to Lord of the Flies — captive and surrounded on all four sides by insurmountable walls that, on clockwork occasion, widen to a gap to reveal a labyrinth. At great risk to their lives, those tasked with entering have one goal: Find an exit.

See, this towering, ever-changing maze is populated with grievers. No, not widows sobbing over the death of their spouse, but giant robot spiders. (And that brings up a pet peeve I have with these kind of movies: What’s with all the needless vocabulary changes, invented lingo and only-us language? Why can’t it suffice for giant robot spiders to be called that? It’d cut down on the movie’s need to explain things.) Watching Thomas — that’s our hero’s name, once he hits his head hard enough to recall it — and his fellow runners maneuver the maze’s dangers is like watching a live-action adaptation of the board game Mouse Trap, or at least a YA variant on 1997’s Cube, but less fulfilling. —Rod Lott

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Mar 1 2015

Reading Material: March into These 3 New Books on Cult Movies

bisforbadDon’t be dissuaded by the rather extended-pinky subtitle of B Is for Bad Cinema: Aesthetics, Politics, and Cultural Value, part of State University of New York Press’ ongoing “Horizons on Cinema” series. (Also don’t be dissuaded that Leos Carax’s critically revered Holy Motors adorns the cover; co-editors Claire Perkins and Constantine Verevis have some ’splainin’ to do regarding that curious choice, and try to in their introduction.) Available in both expensive hardcover and affordable paperback, this is a livelier-than-anticipated collection of intelligent essays addressing not-always-intelligent film. Nothing encapsulates the approach better than Jeffrey Sconce’s truly funny “Explosive Apathy”; if you never thought an academic piece would examine Hollywood’s physics-ignorant love of shooting characters walking toward the camera in slow motion as a fireball rages behind them, think again. Amid evaluations of William Friedkin’s notoriously (and arguably?) homophobic Cruising and Guy Green’s muddled Magus come works on botched subtitle translations, the technique of rear projection and the various DVD commentaries of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. While the book’s concept remains not quite clearly delineated upon reaching the back cover, its contents are strong enough to survive without the overarching cohesion.

qtFAQEmbarrassing as it is (especially when spoken aloud), the subtitle of Quentin Tarantino FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Original Reservoir Dog rings true: There’s a lot I didn’t know about one of my favorite directors, and Dale Sherman has compiled an infinitely readable history of the man and his movies in a paperback package just shy of 400 pages. Last seen authoring another book in Applause’s FAQ series (2013’s Armageddon Films FAQ), Sherman fashions an honest-to-goodness narrative in Tarantino’s rise from high school dropout and video store clerk to multiple Academy Award winner and indie-film revolutionist. The road to his Reservoir Dogs debut is paved with far more stops than the “overnight sensation” label would have you believe, and the level of detail Sherman employs to tell that tale also is applied to the behind-the-scenes stories of each subsequent project. Also discussed: everything from grindhouse fare to Green Lantern — can you imagine Tarantino directing that? He considered it “for a second,” and fans will enjoy their hours spent reading this FAQ, excusing a few “royale” errors.

noirwesternAs David Meuel demonstrates throughout The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range, 1943-1962, more examples of this unusual marriage of shadows and saddle sores exist than I would have guessed. The McFarland & Company paperback gives Meuel — who penned Women in the Films of John Ford for the publisher last year — 11 chapters (not including intros and outros) to discuss representative works of “the dark cowboy.” Among them are such iconic Westerns as William A. Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident, Delmer Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma and Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; Meuel divides his essays thematically and/or by director, yielding pieces both knowledgeable and enlightening. The one digging into maverick Sam Fuller’s subversive contributions to the genre was my favorite, and stands as a great litmus test for any book browser considering taking the ride. I only wish the author had extended his scope beyond ’62, but at least his afterword acknowledges a post-date existence and influence. —Rod Lott

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Feb 26 2015

Empire of the Apes (2013)

empireapesMan, oh, man — the balls of Mark Polonia to place a copyright notice right on the title screen of Empire of the Apes. This is the $1.98 version of 20th Century Fox’s venerated Planet of the Apes franchise, still going strong after nearly five decades in existence. How a rip-off this brazen, this transparent could exist in an industry environment so litigious that the word “butler” ignites a legal firestorm, I’ll never know. Perhaps it’s flown so far under the Hollywood radar as to render itself stealth. It sure doesn’t fall under the First Amendment protection of parody, because Empire is too fan-fictiony to resemble a spoof, even by honest error.

Three barely dressed women (the credits don’t bother to give them names, so I won’t, either) imprisoned on a spaceship make their way to an escape pod, which promptly crash-lands on a (but not the) planet of apes. Clearly just men behind masks, these primates wear denim jeans and trench coats and footwear from Cabela’s. They also talk! Despite being so advanced on the evolutionary scale, they are confused by the women and their weapons; one ape accidentally shoots his own head off, to the delight of his poo-flinging brethren. At least I think they’re laughing; it’s tough to tell since their mandibles move to approximate speech patterns, yet their voices echo inside the masks rather than emanate from within.

empireapes1When it comes to dialogue, the ladies — or “the primitives,” as the script by director Polonia (Amityville Death House) calls them — get all the USDA-choice lines, from “‘Behave’ rhymes with ‘slave’” to “What are you gonna do, put us in a cage and feed us bananas?” (Ba-dum-bum.) As if commenting on the females’ collective performance, one ape warns, “It is best if you do not speak.” I agree.

Empire is not a better movie than the most recent “real” Planet of the Apes chapter, 2014’s Dawn of the, but if — and only if — you have just 60.77 percent of the time to watch … —Rod Lott

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