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Featured Post - The Giallo Marathon

Yep I'm back with another marathon. This is a first for me here at Crappy Movie Reviews as I've never spent much time on Gialli. The...

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Mummy’s Revenge (1975)

I wanted to watch a Paul Naschy flick and decided to not check out one of his werewolf outings but instead chose this mummy movie. That was a mistake… a big one. After a voiceover explaining that the Pharaoh was a bit of a jerk torturing women for fun, we see a priest and his men take him out. To punish him for his behavior they make it so that he can never pass on to the afterlife. That will come back to bite the people that find his tomb. 

Some archeologists find him and bring him back to London for study. A descendant of the Pharaoh shows up with his henchwoman and goes about bringing the old guy back to life. Oh, and if you haven’t caught on like most every other Mummy movie that follows this plot Naschy is both the mummy and his descendant. So, we get twice the fun, right? Well not really. Things happen, the day is saved… wait no it isn’t. Spoilers! Our heroine dies in the end. And the bad guys burn up. Basically, everyone dies. 

I didn’t like this movie at all. One of the things that I love about most of Naschy’s flicks are that they have their own sensibilities. Sure, he is a werewolf, but sometimes his lady friend is a vampire. Sometimes he is doing battle with vampires. Occasionally his werewolf is a misunderstood victim of the curse and other times he is a randy playboy revealing in it. There is a lot of variety. The Mummy’s Revenge feels like a rehash of the plot from the classic universal flick starring Karloff. There is nothing new or different and it is very predictable. I kept waiting for that special magic that you only get from his Spanish/Italian productions, but it never happens. That bummed me out. 

The movie also has several slow spots where it bogs down on him constantly stalking women because he needs to sacrifice a bunch of virgins to give himself immortal life and bring his lady love back from the dead. I’m not being vague or dismissive here as they never really set any rules. It is more an excuse for the mummy to run around grabbing ladies and then chaining them to a wall for sacrifice. Oh, and that brings me to something else missing. Naschy normally has a bit of sleaze in his flicks with lots of skin showing and many ladies are bedded and do some bedding themselves. The Mummy’s Revenge is noticeably tame when it comes to this. Though I watched the Spanish cut which is supposed to have the good stuff cut out. I’ll not track a different copy down though as I doubt that would save the movie. 

I’m being awful hard on the movie. There are some positives. The mummy makeup is decent, the dubbing is horrible in all the right ways, and we get a lot of kills. Seventeen people die in this movie, though most are tame and offscreen. We do get a crushed head, some throats cut, a nightstick thru the chest, and a woman ages to bones and dust in front of us. Though my favorite is a face getting ripped off. That is a decent effect. But in the end, none of these can redeem what ends up being a slow retread of a much better flick. Next time I’ll stick to his werewolf movies. 



 © Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Throwback Thursday - Exploring the Shelves: The Giant Bug movies

 edit: I've not done a Throwback Thursday in a couple of years so I thought it was time to dig into my archives and pull something out. This is an article that I wrote for Grindhouse Purgatory a few years ago. You may notice that the formatting doesn't match what I normally do here. I thought about changing it, but then decided that I wanted to keep it as close to how it originally appeared in print as possible. Enjoy!

 

I own way too many movies.  Really, I’ve reached the point where I can sit in my movie room starring at the 4,000 plus DVDs, Blu-Rays, VHS, and Laser Discs and don’t have a clue what to watch.  It drives my wife crazy.  Truth be told I know that there are movies that I want to watch but they just seem to get lost in the stacks of stuff.  So it occurred to me that if I had a reason, say writing a piece for Grindhouse Purgatory, it would help me get motivated.  So that is how I came upon the idea for Exploring the Shelves.  Not only do I get to organize myself enough to grab a movie to watch but I get to write about it as well.  Seems like a win win situation. 

So now comes the hard part.  What should the theme of my first Exploring the Shelves be?  Okay actually it wasn’t that hard because something came to mind right away.  See I’m a child of the ‘70s and I grew up watching the late-night horror host shows.  In addition to the classic Universal movies, they also played a lot of ‘50s Science Fiction.  Growing up some of my favorite creature features involved various giant bugs smashing everything in sight.  I can’t think of a better theme to start with than giant bugs.  Time to dig into my collection and knock the dust off a few classics and some maybe not so classic (but still fun damn it!). 

First up from 1957 we need to talk about the Deadly Mantis.  After a brief voiceover explanation of radar defenses (which plays into what happens later) we get to the good stuff.  The story here follows a prehistoric mantis that breaks loose from the ice and wakes up.  It is a bit chilly for him up north so he starts to make his way south.  Along the way he makes short work of an airplane, military outpost, and a few other items before the army and air force pull out the big guns to take care of him.  The mantis meets his end in a tunnel surrounded by wrecked cars.  We even get a good fake out at the end to give us one final scare.

Unlike some of the other giant bug movies this one isn’t afraid to show us the big guy right away.  In fact, we get a still of it right in the opening credits!  They were obviously very proud of the effects work and how the creature looks on screen.  I have to say for the ‘50s it does look really good.  They do a decent job mixing in the stock footage of jet fighters, navy ships, and artillery.  This is going to be a common theme in many of these movies and while it doesn’t match perfectly that is part of the fun.  Toss in a bit of ‘50s sexism with the lone female character and you have a quintessential example of the subgenre.

On a personal note this movie has always been a favorite of mine.  I remember watching it on our local Friday night movie show Big Chuck and Little John.  The end of the movie, which takes place in a creepy fog, really scared the heck out of me.  Sitting on the couch with my Dad being scared of what would happen next is one of my earliest movie watching memories.  Might be my nostalgia talking but I’d give The Deadly Mantis a solid 3 out of 4 stars.

The next movie I want to talk about is Them! from 1954.  The story starts with a couple of New Mexico Highway patrolmen responding to a call about a little girl wandering in the desert.  They find her and what is left of her family’s camper.  A few more bodies pile up and soon an FBI agent (James Arness a couple years removed from his turn as the alien on The Thing from Another World) along with scientists are on the trail.  Seems some giant ants have come out of the wilderness to challenge man as the dominant species on Earth.  Much mayhem ensues and eventually the bugs (are ants bugs?) are destroyed.

Here we have another common theme from ‘50s Science Fiction movies.  The giant ants in Them! are spawned by the nuclear tests conducted in the desert.  If you know anything about the ‘50s it is that everything was either credited to nuclear power or blamed on nuclear bombs.  I’ve also always thought that the cast in the one was stellar.  Arness is really good in his role as the FBI agent.  The rest of the cast is solid as well and includes Edmund Glenn (Miracle on 42nd Street, The Walking Dead with Boris Karloff).  Even old Daniel Boone himself Fess Parker has a brief but memorable appearance.

Them! also does a wonderful job of creating some genuinely scary atmosphere and tension as it keeps the audience from seeing the ants for a good portion of the movie.  When you do get to see them it is worth it.  Clearly they are puppets but they look great.  In fact this is one time where the on screen creature looks much better then what is on the poster.  I mean seriously what is up with those goofy eyes?  This movie hit early on during the monster craze of the ‘50s when the studios were spending some good money and taking these movies seriously.  It shows in quality of cast, writing, and effects.  This is the gold standard of the giant bug movie and deserves a 4 out of 4 stars. 

Let’s move forward a bit for 1975’s The Giant Spider Invasion.  This has the most unique origin story for our large stars.  A meteor or something like that hits Wisconsin.  Somehow its impact creates a black hole.  Honestly, I'm not trying to be vague about this because that movie doesn’t explain the details.  So, the black hole becomes a doorway to another dimension.  One apparently populated by giant spiders.  They start off in eggs that look like geodes and are filled with diamonds.  When they hatch, they are no bigger than tarantulas, but eventually get the size of a house.

I’m a big fan of regional filmmakers.  The guys that made movies specifically for the drive-in market in the Midwest and South like the director of this movie Bill Rebane.  Movies like this were made on a shoestring budget and were filled with “B” level stars if you were lucky.  The Giant Spider Invasion is an excellent example of this.  The most familiar face in the movie is that of Alan Hale, the skipper from Gilligan’s Island.  In fact, his first line in the movie is “Hello little Buddy” so you know they were cashing in on his appearance.  The other notable face is Barbara Hale from the old Perry Mason show.  Overall, the script is solid but nothing special.  This is a creature feature that was cashing in on the success of Jaws only this time with spiders.  Hell, there is even a line in the movie where someone mentions that the spider makes the shark from Jaws look like a goldfish.  Oh, and there is some stock footage of military jets in this one too (recurring theme…)

Again, I’m a big fan of regional filmmakers and of Rebane’s movies in particular.  One of the things that he does best is getting the most out of his special effects.  Whether it is a Bigfoot costume or building a set to make a ghost attack look good he gets some bang out of his buck.  Here you have a rather legendary bit with the giant version of the spiders being made to fit on a VW Beetle.  Watch in the shots that you never get to see its legs touch the ground when it moves.  If you did then you would see the wheels of the car.  This kind of ingenuity is what has always made me a fan of the independent regional filmmaker.

Okay so while I'm a fan of movies made on a low budget I will say that this one doesn't stand up well when compared to something like Them!.  The cast, story, and effects work on The Giant Spider Invasion while fun aren’t as good as they would have been with more resources.  You have to appreciate this movie for what it is and what it was made to do.  Quickly made for a specific market and to take advantage of the new creature feature craze I can appreciate The Giant Spider Invasion.  But realistically the best I can give it rating wise is 2 ½ out of 4.

Let’s jump back into the ‘50s with another classic Black and White entry into the giant bug genre.  More giant spiders except this time they are from earth and stalk around the desert.  Yep, I’m going to talk about 1955’s Tarantula. 

Familiar face and genre vet John Agar plays a doctor named Matt Hastings with a practice in a small desert town.  After they find a body that seems to be ravaged by a disease that shouldn’t have been so advanced it sets Hastings to investigating the goings on with a local scientist.  In an effort to help feed the world the scientist has created a formula to speed the growth up of animal tissue. After an accident a tarantula escapes and grows and grows.  Much mayhem and destruction ensue. 

This is another really well-made movie.  The special effects are solid if a bit dated.  We get to see the spider tear down a house, toss a truck in the air, and do battle with the air force.  It all looks great on screen.  They do a wonderful job of blending the footage of a real tarantula with the actors.  There are a couple of times that they use a puppet, but mostly they avoid that.  Also, there are some decent makeups on the actors that are afflicted with the disease that first puts the Hastings character on the case that are gruesome looking for the ‘50s.

In addition to the previously mentioned Agar the movie also has another familiar face in the cast as the scientist that causes the whole giant tarantula problem.  Leo G. Carroll makes a rare appearance in a genre movie.  He is much better known for being a favorite actor of Alfred Hitchcock in many of his classic films.  A very young Clint Eastwood makes a blink and you’ll miss it appearance as a fighter pilot dumping napalm on the Tarantula (stock footage of jets again).  The director of the movie is another favorite of mine, Jack Arnold.  Not only did he make some other great sci-fi movies during the ‘50s (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, It Came from Outer Space) but he later made some of the better Blaxploitation movies with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. 

Clearly there was a lot of talent involved in make Tarantula and it shows.  This is one of the better giant bug movies and played a lot on late night movie shows.  I even recently saw that Svengoolie out of Chicago was playing it on his show, so the tradition continues.  This movie falls in between Them! and The Deadly Mantis.  It doesn’t quite get to the quality of the first but is better than the latter.  I’d have to give this one 3 ½ out of 4. 

Well, the time has come to talk about some Bert I. Gordon movies…  Where should I start?  I guess at the beginning would be as good as any so that would be 1957’s The Beginning of the End. So far, we have seen Spiders, Ants, and a Mantis all trying to replace human beings at the top of the food chain.  What other intimidating insects could filmmakers possibly enlarge to terrorize filmgoers?  Well, I suppose grasshoppers might be a good idea.  Yeah, actually that is probably a terrible idea.

Okay so to be fair they aren’t supposed to be grasshopper but instead are locusts.  They get into some crops that were irradiated with the atom (as all good ‘50s creatures were) and go on a killing spree.  The locusts lay siege to Chicago and the military decides that the only option is to nuke the city!  Luckily our intrepid male lead (Peter Graves playing a scientist) figures out a way to broadcast a mating call to lure the locusts into the lake killing them in the process. 

I really enjoy many of Gordon’s movies but Beginning of the End isn’t one of them.  This is a very early effort from him, and it shows.  The pacing is terrible with the movie being really slow at spots, especially the beginning.  When we finally do get to see the giant insects they aren’t that scary.  I mean grasshoppers…  Really?  It is clear that this was also an early effort at his signature special effects.  Gordon used a lot of photographic plates to put the creatures into the scenes in his movies.  Here it is very crude.  We get to see live grasshoppers crawling over pictures of buildings.  It looks very bad on screen and makes me laugh but not in a good way.

Like I said this is a weak movie.  The only redeeming value for me is getting to watch Peter Graves chew up some scenery.  The fact that he plays it so seriously in such an absurd movie is the only reason that I used to sit thru this when it was playing on TV in the wee hours of the morning.  This is by far the weakest of the movies that I’m going to cover here.  I give it 1 out of 4 stars for Graves’ performance alone.

Gordon returned with another giant bug movie in 1958 with Earth vs. The Spider.  This is a bit of a Tarantula knock off with many of the same scenes lifted and done not quite as well. The story starts off with a man driving alone at night when he sees something in the road.  He screams and there is a crash.  The next day we meet his daughter and her boyfriend.  They go looking for him and find a cave with a giant spider in it (another tarantula!).  The pair head back to town and convince their science teacher that something is in the cave.  They return with the sheriff and sure enough find the spider.  They kill it (or so they think) and bring it back to the local high school.  Sure enough it was only stunned and it wakes up hungry!  Much mayhem ensues as you would expect.

Like I’ve said this as a lot of similarities to Tarantula.  First is the fact that it is a tarantula.  But we also get a scene with it attacking a woman in a house.  Additionally, they create some gruesome effects (at least for 1958) involving human beings, this time victims of the spider instead of mutations like in Tarantula.  So they are definitely following a similar formula.  But for a creature feature to follow a formula, especially one from a successful movie doesn’t bother me much.  I just thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it.

There is a lot to like about Earth vs. The Spider.  I’ve always liked the fact that it deviated from a common theme in ‘50s science fiction and allowed an adult to immediately believe and act on information from the teenage protagonists.  As a big fan of these kinds of movies that is unusual.  It is also clear that Gordon has started to perfect his techniques in bringing oversized critters to the screen.  You get many shots with photographic plates being used to bring the giant bugs to life, but they have a much more realistic feel to them.  In Beginning of the End, they seem flat and look like pictures, but in Earth vs. The Spider there is more perspective used.  It looks like the spider is in the scene with the actors. 

While not a great movie this one is a guilty pleasure of mine.  I tend to watch it every couple of years and always enjoy myself.  Overall, it is a solid effort from a filmmaker that always aimed to entertain.  I’d give it 2 ½ out of 4.

We finally get to my favorite Bert I. Gordon giant bug movie.  It is cheesy as hell, but also a ton of fun.  I’m speaking of 1977’s Empire of the Ants.  In this one Joan Collins plays a real estate hustler trying to sell some lots in a new development in what I think is supposed to be Florida.  She takes her clients out to the isolated location and soon they find out that giant ants have already made their home there.  We the audience know that they have been mutated by some illegally dumped toxic waste.  The rest of the movie is them trying to get away from the ants.  When you think they have made it there is another twist to the story.

This is the 3rd and final crack that Gordon takes at giant insects as the star of his movie and of them it is the best.  He pulls all his old tricks out to bring the ants to life.  We get the real insects crawling around on photographs that match the actual locations.  The cast and creatures are put together in scenes with different uses of rear projection that works pretty well.  But what really sets this movie apart are the puppets that are used for the close ups.  Sure, the size of the ants changes quite a bit when we go from rear projection to puppets, but that is part of the charm. 

For Empire of the Ants Gordon put together the best cast that I think he had in any of his movies.  The two big names that jump out are Joan Collins and Robert Lansing (who also is half of the human/roach hybrid in the nest).  Toss in a very well-paced story and dialogue that is put together nicely to make one of the most entertaining Bert I. Gordon efforts of his career.  This is another of those movies that played a lot in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s on both cable and the late-night movie shows.  It never disappointed me then and still doesn’t now.  I’d give this one 3 out of 4.

Let’s go back to the ‘50s again with The Black Scorpion from 1957.  An earthquake wakes up a volcano in Mexico as well as freeing up some rather large underground scorpions.  They go on a rampage killing a bunch of locals and just when you think it is over the audience finds out that some escaped.  If that isn’t bad enough there is one particular scorpion that is bigger and tougher than the rest.  After it kills off the others the army is left to deal with the biggest and meanest one.

Now if you are fans of Grindhouse Purgatory you probably know that Pete already talked about this gem in the last issue.  I totally agree with everything that he said.  The stop motion effects work are top notch and a nice departure from what the other movies were doing to bring the bugs to screen.  The Black Scorpion also has a lot more atmosphere going for it than any of the rest of the movies except for maybe the end of the Deadly Mantis.  If you sit in the dark watching this one it will have some scary moments.  We also get some nice set pieces where the scorpions take out a train, attack a stadium, and fight each other.  If you have never seen The Black Scorpion, it is really worth tracking down a copy.  I give it a solid 3 out of 4. 

There are so many of these movies that I had to leave some off the list for various reasons.  Movies like the Wasp Woman from 1959 and 1958’s The Fly are technically giant bug movies.  I mean they are only people sized but that is still big for a bug.  Peter Graves appeared with a giant bug before Beginning of the End when he starred in Killer’s from Space.  While it is technically an alien’s invading Earth flick there are some giant critters including a bug in it.  1957’s The Monster from Green Hell has giant wasps attacking people in the jungle after a space probe crashes and mutates them.  Since we are on the giant wasp theme Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods from 1976 also has an oversized wasp flying around causing issues.  But like Killer’s from Space, it really isn’t all about the giant bugs so I left it off my viewing list.

You might have also noticed that I stopped with the ‘70s.  That doesn’t mean the fun ended there.  The 80’s gave us the Fly Remake and The Nest (there was a giant man cockroach hybrid!).  In the 90s we had Skeeter, Ticks, and Mimic.  The 2000’s gave us movies like Infestation and Mansquito.  Hell, last year alone we had Spiders and Big Ass Spiders!  Movies like this have been with us since the ‘50s and don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.  I think that is a good thing.

I know that I have probably left out some great movie off my list.  But that is what is fun about this hobby.  Just when you think that you have seen them all or remember them all another one pops up.  So if you think I’ve forgotten anything or disagree with any that I did include feel free to give me an email at gutmunchers@gmail.com.  I’d love to hear from you. 

Until next time I dig thru the shelves have fun and keep watching movies. 

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Dire Wolf (2009)

Time for some more Fred Olen Ray in my life! This time I check out a gem about a science experiment gone horribly wrong. Things kick off with a science lady doing science stuff. A critter gets out of a tube kills a security guard and spoilers… the science lady! Then we meet an OCD sheriff and his adopted son who is a park ranger. Stuff happens, Gil Gerard calls some agents… we only ever see him on the phone, but it is Buck Freaking Rogers! Eventually we find out that the crazy science people made a half man half dire wolf hybrid. That explains the terrible Halloween werewolf costume! Another science guy is killed, and the military loses their weapon when the critter is killed by our heroes.

This isn’t a good movie, but it is fun. Director Ray knows what he is doing and manages the audience’s expectations nicely. The sets are super cheap and the monster, which we see early, is too. The plot is straightforward and follows most if not all the monster movie tropes we are used to. It’s by the numbers here folks and that isn’t a bad thing. The familiar path does have the movie dragging a bit in the middle and the who lives and who dies is predictable. It would have been some fun to see a twist or two, but we don’t get that. Still, I found the movie to be worth a watch.

Seriously... Fred Olen Ray is awesome!
I say that because the execution is solid and the cast entertaining. In addition to Gil Gerard, we also have another favorite Maxwell Caulfield as Sheriff Parker. He is clearly having fun playing up the quirky aspects of his character, especially his OCD. Though that doesn’t end well. But it is funny. The rest of the cast I recognize from other low budget productions and honestly, they are all okay. Of course, the above is helped with a decent script and a tight runtime of eighty-six minutes. This makes the previously mentioned slow spots brief and therefore bearable. Let me just say this again, Fred Olen Ray knows how to make a fun flick on the cheap.

The characters are introduced after some killings, the story tosses in enough fodder to give a decent body count. The gore is on a budget and mostly forgettable, but there is a decent kill with a victim getting shredded on screen. In addition to the nods that I was enjoying to the genre in general I loved the fact that they basically lifted the ending from Thing from Another World to defeat the creature in the big finale. Again, no original but sort of fun to see a movie fan like Ray tip his hat to a classic.

Fred Olen Ray’s stuff is a mixed bag for me. Some are decent and some are downright awful. But the one constant is his love for the horror and sci-fi genres. Dire Wolf feels like an old school cheapie monster movie from the fifties, and I think that is why he was going for. If it was then he hit it out of the park. If that isn’t your kind of movie then maybe this one isn’t for you.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Dracula vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane Duncan

The title of this book caught my eye as I was poking thru my to read pile. It sounded like it could be some exploitive fun and I had just finished some heavy reading, so I thought ‘What the Hell’ and dove in. I wasn’t expecting much but I’ll be damned if this wasn’t a great time. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The plot of this book is straightforward. It is set during World War II, specifically in Romania near Transylvania. Van Helsing and his beautiful daughter are members of the resistance doing their best to sabotage the German war effort. To that end the British send a couple of agents in to help them, including the grandson of Harker who stopped the vampire alongside the elder Van Helsing! They do battle with the Gestapo, but when things heat up and begin turning against them the decision is made to release Dracula. See Van Helsing didn’t destroy him but instead imprisoned him with a stake thru his heart.

So, the vampire is released and while annoyed at being trapped for so many years decides that he dislikes the Germans even more than his old foe. Plus, he is not only free to, but encouraged to vent his bloodlust on them. Eventually the Nazi’s figure out that a vampire is running loose and that brings Hitler himself to see Dracula, who they have captured. This leads to a prison break, lots of dead Germans, a close call for old Adolph, and a twist that I admittedly saw coming but still enjoyed.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book, as I’ve already said. The story is told thru a series of journal entries, an unpublished novel, and reports back to Berlin by the local Gestapo thugs. This could have ended badly as the narrative keeps switching between characters, but Duncan handles this with an expert touch. In fact, it was fun to hear events from different characters as their voices come thru clearly in the writing. This made the characters, both good and bad, jump off the page and that itself made the book even more engaging. There is a lot of action in this one and the story never drags.

The attacks are laid out in brutal fashion and described with some glee by the author. Arms, legs, and heads are severed. Necks are snapped and mundane things like guns and explosives are used to dispatch the “bad” guys. If you want some gore in your horror novel, then Dracula vs. Hitler is the one for you! I was also pleased at the detail used in setting the historical scene. Of course, being such a fantastic tale, some liberties are taken, but as a history nerd I couldn’t nitpick the book at all. I love that so much attention was paid to the small details including uniforms, equipment, and dates.

There is one thing that didn’t bother me but might disappoint others. Beware that spoilers are coming. Don’t get mad at me I did warn you. Okay… ready? Dracula and Hitler never actually fight. They are in close proximity to each other, but someone always intervenes at the last minute to prevent an actual showdown. Though given that Dracula is an immortal undead creature it wouldn’t be much of a scrap. Still, it was something that I thought I’d mention.

I highly recommend this book. It is one of the best blind reads that I’ve had in a long time. I had no idea what I was getting and what I got was great. I’m going to be on the lookout for more material from this author. Do yourself a favor and track down a copy. 

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, September 13, 2021

Water Wars (2014)

This is an interesting movie that recently popped up on my radar. It was pitched to me as a Filipino Mad Max clone directed by Cirio H. Santiago, who worked on some of my favorite drive-in flicks like TNT Jackson, Vampire Hookers, and The Big Bird Cage. This was the last movie he directed, and Roger Corman produced it! It was so disappointing.

The movie is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth where the most important resource is water. The oceans and rivers have dried up and warlords control their territory by hoarding it and doling it out as they please. One of those warlords is Bane, played by Michael Madsen. He captures a beautiful blonde lady who has a tattoo that lets them know she, according to legend, belongs to a tribe that has a pure natural spring. Realizing the power this would bring him Bane tortures her to reveal the secret location.

Another beautiful blonde gets into a bar fight and is saved by Slade. He is our good guy/mercenary. She offers him a bunch of water to save her sister, the other blonde. He assembles a team of mercenaries, and they go off to save her. They do so and then are betrayed by a dude that was of course going to do that. Bane and the boys show up to attack the nice people and Slade saves the day. Some sad shit happens and then it rains. On a world that is a desert, but it gives him a dramatic scene at the end so cool… I guess.

If that plot sounds a bit thin there is a reason for that. This movie is filled with footage from other movies. According to IMDB there are four flicks cut into this one. Almost all the action sequences aren’t new and most of it doesn’t match. This includes a bit with characters that have nothing to do with the story and never get names! Some of the reused footage is from an earlier movie that this is supposed to be a remake of! What happened? After poking around a bit, I think I have found the answer.

Santiago was only able to work on this movie for a few days before getting sick. Jim Wynorski was brought in to finish the movie. I like the guy, but I don’t think he had much if anything to work with here. If that wasn’t enough of a concern Wynorski’s name is nowhere on the credits that I could see so it appears even he disowned this one. I also noticed that Santiago sadly passed away six years before this movie was released. That means that is sat around for a while. It has the feel of a release that was tossed together to try and salvage the money spent on a doomed project.

I know that this review has been light on the merits or lack of for Water Wars as a movie. That is because this incoherent mess of cobbled together excerpts doesn’t feel at all like a movie at all. If you had any question as to where I stand on Water Wars I hope that answered it. Stay far away from this turkey.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Naked Girl Murdered in the Park (1972)

Well, this is a movie that has an interesting title that has nothing to do with the story. Things kick off in Berlin towards the end of the Second World War. We see a man and a creepy girl planting a bomb next to a woman and a young boy. They are using the bombing raid going on outside to cover their crime I suppose. Okay movie you have me interested.

Then the action moves to present day… nineteen seventy-two. There is a dead guy on a haunted house ride. It looks like he was killed for the cash he had on him. Though the insurance company that just wrote him a million-dollar life insurance policy is suspicious. So, they assign their best man, Chris, to investigate. He gets close to one of the daughters of the deceased man, Catherine, and by close, I mean between the sheets close. Hey this is a Giallo, so people get naked and grown-up hug a lot.

Catherine eventually takes him to meet the rest of the family which consists of her mother and sister. Mom is wearing a ring that we saw the girl from the flashback wearing. I wonder if that means something! Yeah, it does. More murders happen, mysteries are resolved, and an evil plan is exposed. Along the way we get an old guy murdered in an amusement park and a naked girl killed on the front lawn of an estate. But oddly enough not a single naked girl murdered in a park. Damn it movie you lied to me!

This movie hits many of the hallmarks of the Giallo genre. You have a really good mystery that goes thru some twists and turns before being solved. The requisite sleaze is on display with several ladies and fellas disrobing on screen. The opening with the Nazi killing the family and escaping with the young girl sets the scene and when you find out more ends up being very creepy. The movie is laying the groundwork for a fun plot before we even meet the main cast. That is a nice trick.

As we watch things play out, we are given enough red herrings that the solution isn’t obvious. Though I’ll admit I did figure it out after one of the false suspects was eliminated. Still, it didn’t ruin it for me because while I knew the who and why the how escaped me. When we the viewer find out how it was done it makes sense. Though you have to jump thru some mental hoops to get there, it is plausible. Nothing worse than feeling cheated by a mystery that is solved with information you didn’t have or that is so impossibly complicated it would have never happened. They did a good job avoiding that with Naked Girl Murdered in the Park, despite the misleading title. Yeah, I just can’t let that one go.

There are a respectable seven murders in this one. Well okay one of them isn’t murder but an accident. Sadly, there isn’t the blacked gloved killer moving around thru POV shots and the violence is mostly kept offscreen. Still, it works for this story and the rest of the movie is so strong that I was okay with it. All in all, this is a movie worth checking out.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, August 30, 2021

Death Falls Lightly (1972)

The Giallo fun continues with this one. The action kicks off with a POV shot of someone sneaking around an apartment. They eventually find a woman sleeping in the bed. Then we watch as a man excitedly drives to his friend’s house for help. Apparently, the woman we saw sleeping was his wife and she was brutally murdered. He knows the police will blame him, because it is always the husband, so he asks for help. The Judge, his friend, gets on the phone and starts setting things up. It seems that no one really likes Giorgio, the panicked man, but they have to help him. Why? We find out later. 

Giorgio and his girlfriend Liz… maybe he did kill his wife… are hidden away in a yet to open hotel. We watch them go a bit stir crazy while his friends try to figure out who the real killer is. This leads to some stuff that I don’t want to spoil in my review but be warned it gets confusing before it all makes sense. I will say that along the way we find out that Giorgio smuggles drugs for an organization that funds all sorts of important political figures and because he makes them so much money, they feel obligated to protect him. Eventually we do find out who killed his wife and why they did it. It was oddly simple and wasn’t a great payoff for the complicated and confusing plot. 

This is a hard one for me to recommend. The story is interesting, and I was kept guessing for a good long time as to who the killer was. So, there it succeeds in a way. Unfortunately, one of the reasons for this was due to a confusing and at times incomprehensible script. The movie waits until the very end to explain the role that the Judge and the police play in the story. There is also a far-fetched bit with a director and his cast of actors that sort of spoiled things for me. When the story stays with Giorgio and Liz it is much better. Them going stir crazy being locked up in the empty hotel and wandering around in the dark provide the best scenes. 

Not gonna lie... I want that groovy wallpaper
If you haven’t figured it out yet the genre of Gialli leans heavily into the killing and sleaze. I mean I keep talking about it so you really should know that by now. The movie does give us a good bit of skin on screen, from both genders. A lot of “naughty” business is gotten up to in Death Falls Lightly, so expectations were met. Kill wise we get a measly three with two of those happening at the very end. And the wife dying isn’t even on screen. So here we have a murder mystery without any murders for a long time. Some movies might be able to get away with that but not a Giallo like this. The one kill we do get to see happen is very tame, even by the standards of the early seventies. Here my expectations weren’t met. 

The at times confusing plot coupled with the lack of good death scenes ruined the movie for me. It had potential and fans of the genre might be interested in checking it out once, but there are much better movies out there to watch. I can’t recommend Death Falls Lightly. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Friday, August 27, 2021

Torso (1973)

This is what I would consider one of the best Gialli ever made. It has everything you could ask for. A decent mystery as to who the killer is that keeps you guessing until the end. Lots of sleaze and nudity because… well that is what makes a Giallo a Giallo. Fun kills with some decent gore effects work. And finally, a wonderful bit towards the end where we get emotionally wrung out with one of the characters watching in silent horror as her friend’s bodies are butchered. Good times, but then I guess I should backtrack some and talk about the plot.

Our story is set or at least starts off at the campus of a large university. We see students working on their art degrees, which is why they are in Italy. Lots of paintings and statues around. One of the girls goes off with her boyfriend in her Cooper Mini to have naughty grown up times with him. This leads to her and him both being killed, which is a shock to the other girls. When another of their friends also ends up dead one of them, Dani, with a rich uncle sends them to his villa in the country to get out of town and possibly out of danger. This includes an American named Jane who arrives late after driving up rather than taking the train with the others. This is important later as between that and being laid up in bed after hurting her ankle she isn’t around when the killer takes everyone else out.

The black gloved killer thinks he has killed everyone and is leaving town when he hears some of the locals talking about the fourth girl. This means he needs to head back to finish her off. He is in the middle of doing this when the doctor treating her realizes something is wrong and goes to check on them. There is a huge and well-staged fight sequence before the killer gets what is coming to him and the day is saved. Also, we finally find out who the killer is and why the crimes were committed. I won’t spoil that here, but I will say it wasn’t random.

I’ve already mentioned that the mystery is good. There are a lot of suspects and the film does a great job not cluing you in too early as to what is going on. What I especially appreciate about Torso is when they do pull back the proverbial curtain and show you the truth it all makes sense. I love Italian movies, but the plots aren’t always easy to follow and make some odd leaps in logic. Here it is satisfyingly straightforward. While I admit some of the characters are here simply to raise the body count there is an effort to connect them to the bigger storyline. So again, some effort was put into the script.

Being a Giallo you expect some nudity and naughtiness. We get a lot of that from the sex scene that plays under the opening credits to the ladies who enjoy each other’s company there is no end to that sort of thing in Torso. If you don’t want to see that sort of thing then honestly the Giallo genre isn’t for you. This is a staple, and it is nicely done here.

Something else fans expect are decent kills and gore. Again, the movie delivers the goods with a respectable nine kills. Throats are cut, girls strangled and drowned. My favorite kill has to be death by Mini Cooper. Ever wanted to see a guy’s head squished by a bumper? If so, then Torso is the movie you have been waiting for! A lot of the kills are offscreen and seen after the fact, but they stage them so well that it wasn’t a big deal. We also get an extended gag with bodies being dismembered. While it isn’t explicit the sound effects used sell the scene are almost better than any gore could have pulled off.

I love this movie and highly recommend it. This along with Bay of Blood are a couple of Gialli that clearly influenced the Slasher genre of the late seventies and eighties that I grew up on. For that alone it is worth checking out. But again, this is a fantastic movie that has a lot of stuff going for it.  If you haven’t seen Torso, then stop reading and go track down a copy. It is easy to find out there, but if you have the option the Blue Underground Blu-Ray is the way to go.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

This is another movie that falls into the Giallo category, but at times doesn’t feel like one. As I explain the plot, I think you will see where I’m coming from. As the movie opens, we are met with a beautiful blonde woman, played by Mimsy Farmer. She is getting ready and while leaving her apartment stops to turn all the lights on. Her name is Sylvia, and she is a big shot at a chemical company. We are also introduced to her boyfriend who is annoyed by how much she works. The movie makes a point to show us how driven she is. There are also some other friends and neighbors, but really no one else matters.

As the story unfolds, we see that Sylvia had a traumatic childhood. Her father died when she was young and she walked in on her mother with another man, who was very creepy about it. It is also hinted at that she might have killed her mother. This becomes important when she not only bumps into the boyfriend but starts to see what I think is the ghost of her mother, the titular Lady in Black. You might have noticed that there aren’t any murders yet. Well, they do come in the end but I’m not sure that they actually did. Why? I think that Sylvia was either hallucinating or crazy the entire time. The events in the movie may or may not have happened. Yeah, this is one of those flicks.

Be warned spoilers are coming. While not a traditional Giallo The Perfume of the Lady in Black is a decent mystery. While watching the movie I kept wondering if Sylvia was being gaslighted. For those who don’t understand that reference I was thinking that those around her were using her childhood trauma to their own advantage. Perhaps pushing her over the edge for control of the company or some inheritance. I’m thinking that the characters were written and portrayed to that end as they seem creepy for the sole purpose of messing with her. Whether that is the talk of black magic and human sacrifices, the fortuneteller bringing up her past, or the bit with the tennis racket and the blood there are lots of spots where characters are pushing her buttons.

I was sold on the above premise as it made the most sense especially when I saw all of the characters, including those who died, show up for a secret meeting. Is there where they get together to split up the spoils of their plan? Kind of. Sylvia’s body is laying on a slab and they cut her open and start feasting on her organs. Honestly, I have not a damn clue what is going on here. I suppose it might be some horrible hallucination by Sylvia or it might just be the movie being weird for the sake of being weird. Not sure but in the end, I don’t think I care.

I was intrigued from start to finish with The Perfume of the Lady in Black. The story is engaging because it has a surreal feel to it. From the little girl who invades Sylvia’s home, to the weird bit with her walking in on her mother and the other man there is always something surprising showing up on screen. I was never bored, and while confused at times there was enough to sink my teeth into that I was never frustrated by the story. Mimsy Farmer is excellent in the role and if I’m to be honest is also a very beautiful woman. That is important because we do get the requisite naughty bits that all good Italian genre flicks provide.

Since I’m on the subject of expectations I think Giallo fans might be a little disappointed in the fact that this is mostly a bloodless movie. Other than one obviously fake dead cat, a finger, we only get a bash to the noggin’, and a couple of clever attacks. The best gag is the one at the end where she is sliced open and eaten, which they linger on and don’t pull back from showing. That is a good bit of effects work, but that is about all you get. If you are looking for a bloodbath this isn’t the movie for you.

I will freely admit that The Perfume of the Lady in Black isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of a good time. It is slow and has an overly complicated nonsensical plot. This is the kind of movie that requires you to not only watch closely but be willing to fill in some blanks for yourself. I really liked it, but I can’t argue with someone who hates it due to what I’ve pointed out above. Is that a recommendation from me? I’m going to leave that up to you… much like the movie does.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, August 23, 2021

Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

Time for another entry into Argento’s Animal Trilogy. I’ve already covered Four Flies on Grey Velvet, so I suppose it is time to check out Cat O’ Nine Tails. Yes, I also just realized that I’m covering them in the reverse order that they were released. That wasn’t on purpose, but since they don’t connect to each other it isn’t a big deal.

The action starts off with Karl Malden’s character, Cookie, a blind man, walking down the street with his young niece. Because he is blind his hearing is much better than normal, so he overhears a conversation in a parked car about blackmail. Stopping further along he asks his niece to look back and see who is in the car. This bit becomes important later. The next day there is a ruckus across the street from Cookie’s house, where he also heard the threat. It is a medical facility doing special research on genetics and a guard was assaulted during a break in. Though it appears nothing was stolen. Later a doctor from that facility is killed and Cookie’s niece notices from his picture in the paper that he was the man from the car.

Cookie seeks out the reporter who wrote the story about what at first appeared to be an accident. But when they have the photographer blow up the picture, he tells them someone shoved the man in front of a train. Before they can see it for themselves the evidence is stolen, and the photographer killed. This leads to even more murders as they attempt to solve the case. Eventually the murderer tries to warn them off and when that doesn’t work targets them. All of this leads to an explosive and fun conclusion.

I love this movie and in general really dig all of the Argento directed Gialli. Here the story is solid and easy to follow. While it maintains the mystery until the very end nothing feels forced or overly coincidental. The characters do rational things, except maybe the killer who is supposed to be unbalanced so that is okay. The bodies pile up as the suspect list is narrowed. Many times the pool is narrowed because the suspects end up dead. The story is setup so that we see both Cookie and the journalist doing their own poking around before coming together to pool resources. That keeps things fresh as we jump back and forth between them. When we get to the end it all makes sense. Though I was a bit put off by the fact that the reveal points us towards a character that we hardly get to meet. Then again, the characters are also shocked so I guess that was the point.

The kills in the movie are very brutal and well-staged. We only get five, but they are memorable. The first is a crazy gag where someone is rolled between a train and the platform as they are crushed. It is obviously a dummy, but I’ve not seen that before and it was interesting. We get a couple strangulations that linger on the person slowly dying. While not graphic it is disturbing and will stick with you. Finally, there is a bit with an elevator and hands getting shredded by a cable that was nice and bloody. All in all, this was some good stuff.

In case you were wondering yes, the movie does check the sleaze and nudity boxes that most fans expect when sitting down to watch a Giallo. I also wanted to mention the leads. Malden is great as Cooke and James Franciscus does a fine job as the journalist. When they are on the screen together the movie is even better. We also get some of the creative shots and lighting you would expect from an Argento project. There is even a killer car chase as well as a foot pursuit on a rooftop that are staged awesomely.

Cat O’ Nine Tails is a fantastic entry into the Giallo genre. If you haven’t checked out one of these movies yet and are looking for a place to dip you toe into the waters this is another excellent place to start. I highly recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer