Aug 15 2017

Nightmare Beach (1989)

Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare Beach is the movie I wish Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers had been: one that did away all the annoying narcissists posing as characters. Also known by the uninspired, T&A-leering title of Welcome to Spring Break, Lenzi’s Beach depicts what would happen if, during that week of collegiate revelry and bacchanalia, a freshly charred Death Row inmate appeared to come back to life to get the ol’ from-the-grave revenge — and did so while clad in motorcycle gear. You may laugh, readers, but it could happen to you!

In scene one, greasy biker gang leader Diablo (Tony Bolano, Band of the Hand) is executed for the murdering a young woman, but vows from the electric chair that he was framed and he’ll return to make ’em all pay — you know, the usual garbage threats. Yet shortly thereafter, as beer-guzzling, sex-hungry breakers descend upon Fort Lauderdale, a helmeted mystery man in black rides into town. He’s kind of like Grease 2’s Cool Rider, but with a crotch rocket whose backseat is jerry-rigged to give his passengers an ass-frying, heart-stopping mass of high voltage.

A cop named Strycher (John Saxon, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) investigates, as does fallen football hero Skip (Nicolas De Toth, The Invisible Kid) when his walking STD of a best bud (Rawley Valverde, Made in America) vanishes while on the prowl for a quick birth-canal rental. Helping Skip out in the hunt — and his potential love life — is a bartender named Gail (Primal Rage’s Sarah Buxton, she of the bee-stung lips), who happens to be the sister of Diablo’s victim.

As the man behind the infamous Cannibal Ferox, Lenzi unsurprisingly shoots this film’s “shocking” death scenes with glee, almost as if he can’t wait to harm the worst of his story’s worst as quickly as we’d like to see them go. Bolstering my theory: The most obnoxious character of all takes a savage beating, courtesy of Diablo’s biker buddies … and then gets killed by the moto-villain. I’m also guessing Lenzi knew the movie’s big “mystery” was as solvable as a Highlights for Children puzzle page, because he attempts to distract with subplots that have nothing to do with anything, from multiple wet T-shirt contests and a serial pickpocket to Nightmare Beach’s idea of running joke: an enterprising young woman (Christina Kier, in her only role ever) separating old, fat guys from their cash by turning tricks in her hotel room. —Rod Lott

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Jul 7 2017

Orloff Against the Invisible Man (1970)

That Awful Dr. Orlof gains a second “F,” but loses usual director Jess Franco, in Orloff Against the Invisible Man, fifth or so in the loosely bound sex-science series, depending on who you ask.

Having received vague word that someone has fallen ill at Professor Orloff’s castle, Dr. Garondet (Paco Valladares) wants to get there to render aid, yet requires assistance. Complicating matters is that damn near every villager shudders at the mention of Orloff’s name and refuses to help. Once the good doctor finally arrives, he learns that Orloff’s daughter, Cécile (Brigitte Carva, in her one and only role), sounded the medical alarm under false pretenses: No one there is sick.

Well, not physically, perhaps …

Cécile is concerned about her father’s mental state. However, when Dr. Garondet consults Orloff (Howard Vernon, The Diabolical Dr. Z), the professor says essentially the same about her! Orloff then proceeds to sell Dr. G a lengthy explanation, which we see play out in extended flashback. It involves his latest and greatest experiment: making an invisible man!

Orloff created him out of revenge for his colleagues’ years of scorn and insults; director and co-writer Pierre Chevalier (Panther Squad) created him because having a transparent foil sure cuts down on your monster movie’s budget. Alternately known as Dr. Orloff’s Invisible Monster and too many other titles, the film is full of such rudimentary effects as floating household (castlehold?) items and, increasingly, more prurient ones, like ripping off ladies’ clothing. The only thing more unintentionally amusing than a young women’s roll in the hay with an unseen partner comes at Against’s end, when we get a peekaboo at that see-through rascal. You’ll laugh at the reveal.

You also wouldn’t know Franco was not involved if you happened to miss the credits, because not only does Vernon reprise his Awful role, but Chevalier (purposely or not) imitates Franco through awkward pauses, out-of-focus close-ups, OB-GYN-style gazes and general nonsense. As a nearly harmless lark, this Eurohorror flick of suspect aptitude packs a nutritionally empty wallop to the ol’ pleasure sensors. —Rod Lott

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Jul 3 2017

Hunchback of the Morgue (1973)

You’ve gotta give it to Paul Naschy. In Hunchback of the Morgue, the Spanish horror icon casts himself as a hideous freak reviled by all, and yet still finds a way to write his character into a nude bed-down with a ready and willing hot lady, per his usual.

Naschy’s sympathetic Gotho lives in a tiny town, where he clerks for the local hospital morgue. Everybody in the village seems to hate him — kids pelt him with rocks, doctors openly make fun of him and then Rodney King him — everybody, that is, except Ilse (María Elena Arpón, The House That Screamed), his friend from childhood. And she promptly dies.

For safekeeping, Gotho carries Ilse’s lifeless body into the bowels of the place, suggesting that Naschy and director/co-scribe Javier Aguirre (who partnered that same year for Count Dracula’s Great Love) have drawn influence not just from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, but another great of Gothic literature: Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. Splayed across a slab of rock and open to the cave’s fetid air, her face is feasted upon by rats; when Gotho limps in to discover this ghastly sight, he torches them. Set aflame for real, the shrieking vermin cry hop about like Mexican jumping beans. (PETA would be most displeased.)

And that’s just scratching the oily, sleazy surface. Soon, one Dr. Orla (Alberto Dalbés, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein) enters the picture and enlists Gotho in obtaining the bodies of dead female prisoners for an experiment in creating artificial life. Orla succeeds, resulting in a growling, primordial poop monster that we don’t see until the final scene and seems to have shuffled in from a neighboring set. In other words, this movie has everything: the fabulous Maria Perschy (Five Golden Dragons); the equally fabulous and fleetingly naked Rosanna Yanni (Two Undercover Angels); brutes of men who spill beer all over their chins, as if their lips contain no working nerves; and ace detective work like this: “According to our investigation, he’s retarded mentally.” —Rod Lott

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Jun 27 2017

Tragic Ceremony (1972)

Half a dozen years before she Spit on Your Grave, Camille Keaton toplined a supernatural slice of Italian horror titled Tragic Ceremony. In the film from Riccardo Freda (Murder Syndrome), Keaton’s plain Jane and her three guy friends of varying unlikability hop in a dune buggy after a rough-and-tough day of carefree yachting, only to run out of gas after evening falls and a downpour, well, pours. The foursome lucks upon a mansion whose owners, Lord and Lady Alexander (A Bay of Blood’s Luigi Pistilli and Thunderball’s Luciana Paluzzi), welcome them inside for cheese and salami and shelter with all the Gothic trimmings.

Late that night, the youths learn why the Alexanders are such gracious hosts: They’ve gathered their pals for a full-blown black mass, and require Jane as the pièce de résistance. (In other words, I think she is the subject of a sacrifice!) But her buddies put this party on ice and rescue her in the nick of time, albeit by having to commit murder to do so; the robed participants turn on one another, too, because when in Rome. Most notably, one guy takes a sword to the noggin, which immediately goes halfsies. I must not be the only one who finds this bisection (courtesy of effects wizard Carlo Rambaldi, 1976’s King Kong) the highlight of this sequence, because Freda later trots it out a couple more times for instant-replay kicks, making it this film’s equivalent of Sybil Danning’s infamous top-ripping scene in Howling II.

Then our quartet flees the house to safety. Whew! The end … except it’s not — Freda still has half a Ceremony to go! Unfortunately, coming after the misplaced climax, it’s the least interesting half.

The remainder finds death coming after Jane and the guys individually, Final Destination-style, to finish what it started. At least another of Rambaldi’s nifty gore gags pops up (look out for the grooming scene!), so it’s not as if the movie totally withdrawals its syringe of cheap pleasures on this downward slope. It does, however, unravel into a mess of an ending upon an ending upon an ending, as needlessly convoluted as Tragic Ceremony’s original title in its native Italy: Extracted from the Secret Police Archives of a European Capital. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jun 24 2017

Awakening the Zodiac (2017)

While the identity of the Zodiac Killer remains unknown, several popular theories connect him to men who since have passed away. But when has that ever stopped Hollywood from exploiting an exploitable concept? No stranger to other wacky “what if”s on the silver screen, San Francisco’s notorious serial killer of the late 1960s and early ’70s comes alive — with pleasure! — in Awakening the Zodiac.

Tired of living in a shitbox (their words) in a trailer park, blue-collar couple Mick and Zoe Branson (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Shane West and Hell Baby’s Leslie Bibb) play a lottery of different sorts by bidding on the contents of storage lockers in arrears, in hopes that whatever contents are inside will exceed their investment. On their latest, they go halfsies with Mick’s buddy, Harvey (Matt Craven, Happy Birthday to Me), who owns a pawn shop. While excavating the wares, Harvey finds a box of 8mm films: homemade snuff reels, shot by none other than the Zodiac Killer. They know this because, helpfully, the madman appears in an all-black costume befitting of a superhero, complete with chest insignia.

Because the FBI’s case against the Zodiac remains unsolved, a beaucoup reward remains up for grabs. Hurting for money, our trio reasons if only they can discern the name of the locker renter, they can cash in and be able to crawl out of their miserable small-town lives. Instead of letting the law do that detective work, they stupidly attempt it themselves, starting with a couple of good ol’ B-and-Es. Who’d’ve thunk it, but in doing so, these rubes attract the ire of the actual Zodiac (Stephen McHattie, Watchmen), who emerges from retirement and hasn’t lost his thirst for bloodshed in the ensuing decades.

It goes without saying that Awakening the Zodiac packs nary a fraction of the punch of David Fincher’s 2007 true-crime masterpiece, Zodiac, and you’d be a fool to expect it to. Although inspiration is drawn from the real-life crimes, most explicitly in the time-warped prologue, historical accuracy is not on the mind of director/co-screenwriter Jonathan Wright (Nostrum), who’s more concerned with leveraging the boogeyman’s brand-name infamy into a marketable hook and letting it lie there. Marginally functional yet utterly predictable, the movie squanders its limited creepiness and becomes a victim of its own stupidity; it even takes the time — and wastes ours — to have Harvey explain the concept of ciphers to Mick and Zoe — the stuff of workbook pages geared toward third-graders. Bibb and Craven exude more energy than the film deserves, while West just does that thing he always does, which is to say he stands around with his face scrunched into what looks like a balled-up fist. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.