Aug 24 2016

Killing Spree (1987)

killingspreeIf my best friend dared to wear a fall-foliage shirt around me, I might be so inclined to murder him, too. In Tim Ritter’s gore-rific Killing Spree, however, at least Tom Russo has a few more compelling reasons on top of that.

The lanky, wild-eyed Tom (Asbestos Felt, Girls Gone Dead) has a cute and sexy wife in Leeza (Courtney Lercara, Slaughterhouse), a former stewardess who now stays at home. But Tom also has an inability to let go of the past — specifically, the pain lingering from being cheated upon in his first marriage; therefore, he’s paranoid over what — or whom — Leeza does while he toils away at his blue-collar job.

When he finds written evidence that Leeza laid his closest pal, Ben (Raymond Carbone, Ritter’s Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness), despite the guy being grossly overweight, old enough to be her grandfather and all-around repellent, Tom loses his shit. And I mean loses it. Okay, so maybe the 40 percent pay cut at work is partly to blame, but pissed is pissed, so Tom wreaks vengeance on Ben … but only after separating the head of Ben’s new teen girlfriend (fellow Truth or Dare alum Rachel Rutz) from her torso and tossing it his way.

killingspree1While that should put an end to things, alas, it’s only a warm-up. Tom keeps finding new diary entries: the electrician who came to fix the ceiling fan, the TV repairman who knows karate, the Mexican drapery deliveryman, the dopey lawn-care dude in the Pretenders tour T. At one point, our hero hilariously freaks out by screaming what we’re all thinking: “Why is she writing all of this down?

Infidelity is a bell that can’t be unrung, and as Tom grows more and more unhinged and untethered from reality, Felt takes his character gloriously over the top, back ’round the planet, and over the top once more. As the man’s name conveys, Felt is something else; he devotes his all — novelty thong included — to the part. Without him, Killing Spree still might be a hoot to watch, but that’s an alternative I don’t wish to picture. When Tom goes into cuckoo-cuckold mode, Ritter assists his leading oddball with the simplest and cheapest of special effects for 16mm film: flipping the switch of the red lightbulb to saturate the room. It’s like the True Value version of the Dario Argento gel.

It’s also a fine example of Ritter doing what he can with what one assumes was a sack of spare change saved from a month’s worth of cigarette runs to the Circle K. Although transparently cheap as Bazooka Joe bubble gum — and even less nutritious — the direct-to-VHS Killing Spree is never not deliriously, deviously and devilishly entertaining. —Rod Lott

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Aug 23 2016

Observance (2015)

observanceLike a lo-fi take on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, Joseph Sims-Dennett’s Observance puts the troubled Parker (Lindsay Farris, Primal) behind the telephoto lens of a camera perched in an abandoned apartment wallpapered in Asian newspapers. For reasons unknown even to him, he’s been hired to spy on Tenneal (Stephanie King, TV’s The Code), whose home sits opposite.

Grief-stricken and anxious for distraction, Parker can’t help but poke at the scab and wonder what’s up, and a peek into her past sends him — and the story — down uncharted territory. Clearly, what’s going on across the street is not as important as what’s going on inside his own head. Without revealing too much, Sims-Dennett (Bad Behaviour) starts channeling David Lynch, and Lynch begets another David, as in Cronenberg. You’ll never look at tar the same again.

observance1Well-acted and shot with a handheld grip, the purposely vague Australian thriller can be as confounding as it is intriguing, to those unaccustomed to its paranoid bent. To want a little less Conservation and a little more action from Observance is missing the film’s point and denying oneself the rewarding pleasures of its slow burn. —Rod Lott

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Aug 22 2016

The Bat People (1974)

batpeopleAs part of their honeymoon, Dr. John Beck (Stewart Moss, Raise the Titanic) and Cathy (Marianne McAndrew, Russ Meyer’s The Seven Minutes) tour the Carlsbad Caverns. Itching for a quickie, Cathy breaks away from the group to look for a humping spot … and proceeds to tumble into a crevice full of creepy-crawlies. Being a he-man hubby, John leaps to her rescue, but in doing so is bitten by a bat.

You know what happens next, yet you will watch The Bat People regardless. (Directed by Airport ’77‘s Jerry Jameson, the film is known alternately as It Lives by Night.)

batpeople1Allow me to spell out the obvious: John starts turning into a man-bat. The first thing that something is awry is when his eyes roll back in his head before hitting the ski slopes, and he shakes violently. Thanks to the facial tic, it looks like an uncontrollable orgasm every time it happens … and it happens a lot across 91 minutes: at the hospital, in a hot tub, while fleeing the police — you name it. Eventually, hairy hands give way to a full transformation into the titular (but singular) creature, which looks less like a bat and more like a Planet of the Apes denizen confined to the short bus. Adding insult to injury is that the changed doc likes to slaughter people — you know, like real bats do.

Michael Pataki (Dracula’s Dog) co-stars as a perverted sheriff who’s on to Mr. Beck’s crime spree, but really just wants to get into Mrs. Beck’s silky britches. Interestingly, Moss and McAndrew were married in real life, and their union remains unbroken today; not even this AIP stinker could kill it. Actually, for all its chintziness, The Bat People sent one career soaring: that of Stan Winston, here (in his first feature) credited as “Stanley” and eventually the Oscar-winning effects artist of Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Aliens and other movies that illustrate he clearly got better (as did the gigs). —Rod Lott

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Aug 20 2016

Guest List: Roberto Curti’s Top 5 (Technically, 7) Unlikely Superheroes in Italian Cinema

diabolikaAuthor and film historian Roberto Curti is such an expert on Italian genre cinema, he literally wrote the books on them: 2013’s Italian Crime Filmography and 2015’s Italian Gothic Horror Films, both published by McFarland & Company. And he’s still writing them! In fact, Curti has two new books out this summer: Tonino Valerii: The Films for McFarland and, through Midnight Marquee, Diabolika: Supercriminals, Superheroes and the Comic Book Universe in Italian Cinema. It is the latter title — lavishly illustrated in full color with film stills, lobby cards, poster art and, yep, comic book panels — that inspires and informs his Guest List for Flick Attack.

goldface1. Goldface (Goldface il fantastico Superman, 1967)
Born in the wake of the success of the El Santo series and conceived for the South American market, the eponymous protagonist of Bitto Albertini’s flick is not the kind of superhero one would often see, especially in this era of big-budget Hollywood adaptations. In the glorious tradition of Mexican luchadores films, Goldface is a meek scientist who moonlights as a popular and invincible masked wrestler. He has no superpowers, and his outfit (pale blue leotard, red cape and golden mask) is rather ugly-looking. He has a peanut-munching black sidekick named Kotar (!) who speaks exactly like the “poor negroes” in 1930s films, and together they ride a motorbike like a cut-rate version of Captain America and Falcon. Still, despite its obvious shortcomings, there’s fun to be had watching Goldface il fantastico superman, mostly because the titular Goldface, played by Espartaco Santoni, is regularly replaced in the action scenes by ace stuntman Attilio Severini, who performs some incredible (and very dangerous) stunts, with no special effects whatsoever. Albertini recalled filming a scene where Severini falls into the Venezuelan sea from a helicopter from no less than 100 feet high, in barracuda-infested waters … a detail neither the stuntman nor the director had been informed of prior to shooting. Nothing could stop Severini. When he got the news that filming for Anthony Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire was about to begin in Cinecittà, Severini ran to the production office in a hurry. “I’m doing that one, I’m doing The Fall of the Roman Empire!” he claimed. “By the way, how high is that fall going to be?”

3supermen2. The Three Supermen (The Fantastic Three Supermen, 1967; 3 Supermen in Tokyo, 1968; Three Supermen in the Jungle, 1970; Supermen Against the Orient, 1973; The 3 Supermen in the West, 1973; 3 Supermen Against the Godfather, 1980; Three Supermen at the Olympic Games, 1984; Three Supermen in S. Domingo, 1986)
The longest superhero film series in Italy, spreading over three decades with eight official entries plus a number of rip-offs, was created by Gianfranco Parolini, who later moved on to the Western with the Sabata series starring Lee Van Cleef. Parolini took the concept from his sword-and-sandal flick 3 Avengers and developed it within a spy-cum-science-fiction context. Conceived as amiable comedies for audiences of all ages, the Three Supermen films are about a trio of unlikely heroes in bulletproof red leotard and cape, and the plots usually feature an FBI agent recruiting two acrobat thieves (one of them mute) to perform some dangerous mission, involving duplicating or shrinking devices, or even time machines. The gags mostly rely upon never-ending fistfights à la Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, and the leads are expert stuntmen such as Aldo Canti (aka Nick Jordan) or Sal Borgese; the latter (playing the mute of the trio) usually has a scene in drag in each film. Another invariable moment has the Three Supermen madly laughing and making faces in their bulletproof costumes as their adversaries vainly attempt to dispatch them via machine guns and the like. The Three Supermen’s adventures around the world reflected the nomadic quality of Italian popular cinema and its capability of vampirizing whatever was “hot” from time to time, before jumping onto the next filone, from the exotic jungle adventure to the gongfupian, from the Trinità-style spaghetti Western to the short-lived Amazons fever briefly sparked (at least in Italy) by Terence Young’s film War Goddess (1973), for the Shaw Brothers-co-produced Super Stooges vs. Wonder Women (1974), a spurious entry in the series starring Canti. The results, understandably, were less cinematically successful than symptomatic of the decline of the Italian film industry; eventually the series was taken over by producer-cum-director Italo Martinenghi and the Three Supermen landed in Turkey, a market where the idea of adults acting silly in colorful costumes still made for profitable results at the box office. After the series’ swan song, the abysmal Three Supermen in S. Domingo (co-starring Martinenghi’s son Stefano as one of the hero trio), Martinenghi tried to revive the Three Supermen franchise in the late 1980s in a different media: comic books, with a series titled I fantastici 3 Supermen. The magazine went on for four years, with at least 15 issues, before consigning itself to a well-deserved oblivion. Born as a fake adaptation of an imaginary comic book, the Fantastic Supermen ended up in a real one, for good.

superandy3. SuperAndy (SuperAndy, il fratello brutto di Superman)
Superman’s “ugly brother,” as the Italian title states, is played by the bearded, beak-nosed Italian-American Andy Luotto, a voice actor who dubbed the English versions of Italian films in Rome and became a cult celebrity in Italy, thanks to the TV show L’altra domenica (which also featured a young Roberto Benigni), due to his lunar look and idiosyncratic behavior. Directed by the expert Paolo Bianchini, the movie is basically a spoof of Richard Donner’s Superman, with the newborn superhero being sent away from planet Trypton to Earth … and ending up in a middle-class Italian family. The film then concentrates on Andy as the unlikely superhero, by juxtaposing his superpowers with his clumsy persona and following his love story with a girl who does not recognize him when he is not wearing his costume (as people normally do with Clark Kent). The result is an endearing, naive little film that even attempts a satiric discourse on capitalism: SuperAndy’s handsome brother, SuperKid, has become a TV personality and an advertising model in Hollywood, and is exploited like a slave by an evil agent (played by none other than Michele Mirabella, the unfortunate librarian of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond). Ten years earlier, the transition from the small to the big screen would have been something rather common for an actor (see, for instance, the Diabolik spoof Arrriva Dorellik, starring singer Johnny Dorelli). However, by the end of the 1970s, it was a risky move. True, TV’s most popular shows drew in audiences of millions, but Italian cinema was rapidly falling in a comatose state. What is more, filmgoers had become much more demanding in their tastes. No wonder SuperAndy, il fratello brutto di Superman turned out to be a flop, despite Luotto’s popularity. The actor then gave it another try with Grunt! (1983), a parody of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest for Fire he wrote, directed and starred, which turned out another flop.

bathman4. Bath-Man (Bath-man dal Pianeta Eros, 1982)
Here’s something that must be seen to be believed: a hardcore porn comedy featuring an alien mustached superhero (Manlio Cersosimo, Italy’s answer to Harry Reems) who wears a Batman cape, mask and costume (apparently director Antonio D’Agostino did not care about copyright) and has a female sidekick named Klito-Bell (aka Bath Baby). Their superpowers, needless to say, are of a sexual nature. Bath-Man’s enemies are also liberally drawn from Bob Kane’s comics: The movie features a Catwoman whose raygun turns straight people into homosexuals, a Poker (sic!) who wears a jester’s costume and hat and has two Catwoman types nicknamed “Pussy-girls,” and a flamboyantly gay Penguin lookalike. Speaking of rip-offs, there are even “homages” to A Clockwork Orange and a music score that “borrows” from Serge Gainsbourg’s Je t’aime, moi non plus. Needless to say, it was shot on a shoestring: Instead of a Batmobile, the hero has to make do with a battered bycicle. How could the result be even remotely exciting to the raincoat crowd is anyone’s guess; however, Bath-man dal Pianeta Eros is so awfully bad, it demands a viewing from all fans of weird cinema.

jeegrobot5. Enzo Ceccotti, Jeeg Robot (Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot, 2015)
Gabriele Mainetti’s debut – a surprise word-of-mouth commercial and critical success in its home country, and the winner of seven “David di Donatello” awards, Italy’s equivalent to the Academy Awards – tells the story of an “accidental superhero” with a realistic approach (a bit like in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy), but immersed within the problematic Italy of the new millennium, and does so with wit and irony. The protagonist (played by Claudio Santamaria) is some sort of a modern-day Accattone (like the petty thief in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film of the same name) who acquires superpowers after jumping into the putrid Tevere River to escape the cops. He lives in Rome’s disreputable Tor Bella Monaca district, full of pimps and drug dealers, and the first thing he does after learning about his super-strength is rob an ATM machine; only with time he will develop a social conscience, thanks to a slightly retarded girl who believes he is Jeeg Robot (the protagonist of Go Nagai’s manga and anime Steel Jeeg, immensely popular in 1970s Italy), and even knits him a wool mask to wear during his exploits. His antagonist (played by the talented Luca Marinelli, an astonishing cross between a young Tomas Milian and Night Train Murders’ Flavio Bucci) is an ex-talent show contender, who uploads his criminal deeds to YouTube and is after popularity rather than money. Despite its title, Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot is deeply Italian in the way it depicts the country’s malaise (the social angst among the lower classes, the widespread criminality in the suburbs, the younger generations’ superficiality and narcissism), and yet for its narrative and spectacular qualities, it can be savored abroad as well. On top of that, it is something that cannot be seen for the previous entries in this list: a truly remarkable movie, and an instant cult item that proves how Italian cinema still has vital blood in itself. —Roberto Curti

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Aug 18 2016

Kill Squad (1982)

killsquadMoments after attempting to seduce his sexy wife (Cherilyn Basile) with hot talk of their booming electronics company’s quarterly earnings, Joseph Lawrence (Jeff Risk, an apt surname for this tyro) is shocked to find himself cock-blocked. Thugs led by Dutch (Cameron Mitchell, Gorilla at Large) break into the Lawrences’ living room, rape and murder the missus, yet leave Joseph merely confined to a wheelchair for life (and his voice dubbed by Russell Johnson, the Professor of Gilligan’s Island!), all because the couple wouldn’t sell!

Upon release from the hospital, Joseph calls upon his Vietnam vet pal, Larry (The Enforcer‘s Jean Glaudé), he of the Fisher-Price Afro, for assistance. From his beloved rose garden, Joseph lets his vengeance-dripping wishes be known: “Fragrance opens a man’s mind,” he says. “I want you to assemble a squad.”

A Kill Squad, dammit!

killsquad1With writer/director Patrick G. Donahue (Troma’s They Call Me Macho Woman!) sparing viewers no detail, Larry goes about recruiting a Village People-esque Rainbow Coalition of revenge: a Gold’s Gym ‘roided honky, a black cowboy, an Asian gardener, a Hispanic construction worker, a Jewish businessman in the insect trade — ‘Nam buddies one and all. We meet each prospective squad member as he happens to kung-fu several dudes at once for some flimsy disagreement or another; as the fight concludes, Larry and the others (increasing in number at each stop, like The Little Rascals used to do) just walk up and say, “Joseph needs you,” and boom — the Kill Squad is complete, no questions asked. Instead of group health insurance, they get matching camo uniforms. To up the intimidation factor, they know simple math; as the movie’s tagline has it, “12 Hands … 12 Feet … 24 Reasons to Die!”

From there, Kill Squad enters its second cycle of agonizing repetition — one that carries the actioner through the back half. Donahue’s chockablock formula goes like this: The members approach a(n) [insert one item from Column A] and say, “We’re looking for a man named [insert one item from Column B],” and then a fight breaks out, as does a jazz-funk theme heavy on that plunky Seinfeld bass, ending with a squad member getting [insert one item from Column C] by a mysterious man in Diabolik black. Repeat until only one man survives!

killsquadchart

Imagine if The Expendables truly were expendable and not at all famous (most of these guys never acted before or after), and that’s Kill Squad. It’s like Agatha Christie’s First Blood, but also M. Night Shyamalan’s Fists of Fury, because a Big Twist awaits … that you can see coming from the clichéd mile away. However, that’s exactly the kind of thing you want from a no-name VHS action flick with delusional intentions. You’ll love it! —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.