Monday, September 15, 2014

Drive-In Super Monster-Rama 2014 recap!

Few things are as exciting for me as the annual drive-in festivals hosted at the Riverside Drive-In. Considering I talk to people there who make the drive from as far away as Canada, I feel lucky I only have to drive about 45 minutes to see a late-night horror festival full of the kind of movies I grew up watching, and that just don't get made anymore. If you were there, then why did you not buy me something from the snack bar? And if you were not there, then here's a rundown of all the classic exploitation-schlock-adventure-horror-fantasy shenanigans!


Friday September 12th featured three films by Italian director Mario Bava, plus one classic "Exorcist" ripoff flick. The first movie to screen was "Kill Baby Kill" (1966), a definite high point in Bava's career. Full of signature Bava images, such as dramatic colored lighting effects and shadowy figures moving through brightly lit fog, "Kill Baby Kill" is a period piece set in a small Carpathian village haunted by the murderous ghost of a long-dead child. The gothic sets are stunning, especially a spooky villa inhabited by the dead child's grieving mother. At one point, the camera swirls round and round while characters are rushing up and down a spiral staircase, one of those beautiful and bizarre moments reminding you that you're watching a Bava movie.

"But I CAANT be your daughter, my name is Monica SHOOF-tun!"

Second was "Dr. Goldfoot on the Girl Bombs" (1966), a sequel to the previous year's "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine". Starring Vincent Price and Fabian, it's a spy caper spoof that makes "Get Smart" look like something meaningful and intelligent. Price's character is a villain who carries out a vengeful plot to murder a series of Generals by using a small army of "girl bombs"--beautiful female robots who explode when they are kissed and embraced. It is a pretty strange film, with Price constantly breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience, and...well, one of the sight gags in the movie is Price and his cronies escaping in a jet while the heroes chase him in a hot air balloon, which they use to fly up next to the plane, knock on the door, and gain entrance by pretending to be selling Fuller brushes. It was a strange choice for the Monster-Rama, but not entirely unwelcome, either. It was interesting the way Bava put his touch on the material, with a lot of cinematography that was immediately identifiable as his. Considering how different this film is compared to "Kill Baby Kill", it's curious that both were released the same year.

Probably the biggest deal for me on this particular program was "The House of Exorcism", a flick I've never seen on a big screen before. "Lisa and the Devil" is one of my favorite Bava films, a gorgeous nightmare of a movie, and "The House of Exorcism" is a garish splash of green bile all over Bava's Mona Lisa. Still, the film's strange history is interesting, and this cut of the film is definitely more appropriate for a drive-in festival than Bava's art house horror original. The barely-there plot introduces Lisa Reiner, a tourist whose body apparently becomes possessed, not by a demon but by a departed human spirit that trades places with her. It makes no sense, but it's a reason for Elke Sommer to spew green bile and swear words.


Finishing out Friday night was the original 1974 "Beyond the Door", directed by Ovidio Assonitis and his cinematographer, Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli. Originally, this slot was to be filled by Mario Bava's final 1977 film "Schock", which was released in the US and UK in 1979 as "Beyond the Door II", but a last minute change must have been necessary. "Beyond the Door" is a welcome addition to any drive-in festival though, a gloriously trashy example of exploitation filmmaking that kept the possession theme going for the evening. A blatant ripoff of "The Exorcist", "Beyond the Door" should really need no introduction to any fan of 70s horror--even if you've never seen it, you probably remember the pervasive spooky ad campaign with scary demon voices in it. Every time I watch "Beyond the Door", I wonder why Warner Brothers didn't sue its makers the way they sued the makers of "Abby", because even though the story isn't all that similar (and doesn't even feature an exorcism or an exorcist), it rips off the green bile, the rotating head, the levitation, the bedroom tantrums, all of it.


Another strong lineup featured on Saturday, starting with two Hammer Dracula films, 1970's "Taste the Blood of Dracula" and 1972's "Dracula A.D. 1972". Interestingly enough, these two seemingly different movies both had the same setup: some errant disciple of Dracula resurrects the Count via a Satanic ritual, which begs the question, why are people who worship Satan interested in Dracula? Isn't that kind of like saying Dracula is better? "Taste the Blood of Dracula" has the more fascinating story, with a group of three seemingly upstanding men meeting in secret to indulge in evil pastimes, apparently of the sex and booze variety. When they get bored with this and start looking for more excitement, they hook up with a man who talks them into resurrecting Dracula. One interesting moment has one of the men attempting to stake his vampirized daughter, only to have her awaken and drive the stake through his own heart, aided by Dracula and pals of course. Stake revenge! "Taste the Blood of Dracula" is one of the more fascinating Hammer Dracula films, with gorgeous period costumes and sets and a unique story. "Dracula A.D. 1972", on the other hand, seems to usually be regarded as one of Hammer's more ridiculous entries in the series. Played straight, it features another latter-day Dracula disciple who calls himself Johnny Alucard (hmmmm...) using a group of swinging London kids to bring Dracula back to life. Luckily, Peter Cushing is in this one as a descendant of Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing, and Dracula is out to wreck his life by turning his granddaughter Jessica into a vampire. There's lots of silly dialogue ("Ghastly, horrible, obscene murder!"), but it doesn't all seem to be unintentional, especially the scene where Van Helsing has to draw a diagram to figure out that "ALUCARD" is "DRACULA" spelled backwards. Geez, hasn't he ever seen "Son of Dracula"??



Third on the list was 1970's "Trog", Joan Crawford's notorious final feature film. A British production directed by Freddie Francis, "Trog" finds Crawford in the right place at the right time when spelunkers discover a hidden cave containing a living ape-man that Crawford immediately identifies as the missing link. But never mind that, not only is the world unimpressed with the fact that a real caveman has been found alive somewhere, but the locals want it destroyed because it killed one of the spelunkers. Additionally, no greater authority shows up to claim Trog, and Joan gets to keep him in a cage in her lab, where she teaches him to do things like throw a ball, catch a ball, and play with dolls. Eventually the obligatory rampage occurs, which features a few grisly moments like when a butcher winds up impaled through the head with a meat hook after getting on Trog's bad side. "Trog" borrows an ape suit from Kubrick's "2001", as well as recycled stop-motion dinosaur footage by Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien from Irwin Allen's 1956 film "The Animal World".

"Darling, when I say there should be Pepsi, I mean there should be Pepsi."

The fourth and final feature was "The House That Screamed" (1969), directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador ("Who Can Kill A Child"). Definitely a slow burn, the story concerns a school for wayward girls helmed by headmistress Fourneau (Lilli Palmer), who abuses the girls who gets on her nerves and tries to keep her own teenage son away from them at the same time. The problem is, the girls seem to keep "running away", which is to say some unseen character is murdering them, but WHO? The film's shadowy cinematography didn't translate well to the drive-in screen and some of the scenes were hard to make out, but the movie is full of spooky atmosphere and little touches that reminded me of later films like "Suspiria" and "Black Christmas".

The weather was appropriately chilly, with some great mist creeping in right around 3am Saturday night, just when "The House That Screamed" started to play. This was another great year for the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama. Many thanks to George Reis of DVD Drive-In, the Riverside Drive-In Theater, and everybody who made the journey to be part of the audience...hope to see you in April for April Ghouls!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Drive-In Super Monster-Rama 2014!

And oh yeah, this is tomorrow night.  Hope to see some of you there, say hi!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Boogey Man (1980) and Boogeyman II (1983): Death By Common Household Items.

In late 1980 came a piece of low-low-budget filmmaking called "The Boogey Man", directed by German director Ulli Lommel. Although technically the story bears only passing resemblance to John Carpenter's "Halloween", the ominous TV spots and trailers teased the film as being related to "Halloween" without ever really saying so, picking out the moments in the film that matched Carpenter's film visually and thematically (a child's hand wielding a kitchen knife, an ordinary looking house lit in a spooky nighttime blue, a young female protagonist being chased and pounding on the front door of a house to be let in) and repeatedly intoning "The Boogey Man!". The tag line also suggests that The Boogey Man has "returned", as if the movie is a continuation of something we're already familiar with.

A'la Rob Zombie, Lommel liked to make films featuring his wife, and "The Boogey Man" gives Suzanna Love a starring role. She plays Lacey, the primary chica-in-trouble who finds herself victimized by what appears to be a very pissed off Invisible Man. In the film's opening sequence, two young children (Lacey and her brother Willy) are traumatized when their mother allows her creepy boyfriend to tie Willy to the bed and torture him after the kids are busted peeking at them through a window. You know, while the couple is being all sexy together (and stuff). Their slutting around involves the boyfriend wearing a stocking over his head, making him extra creepy. Lacey goes and gets a large kitchen knife to cut the ropes binding her brother to the bed, and Willy uses the knife to stab the creepy boyfriend to death. Lacey witnesses the act in a mirror in their mother's bedroom.

Because it's hot to wear pantyhose over your head, right? It just is.
Stab stab stab stab stab!
Flash forward many years to when Lacey and Willy are adults living with their aunt and uncle on a farm. Lacey is now married to a slightly dim bulb named Jake, who decides that the thing to cure Lacey's persistent nightmares is to take her to the house where the murder took place years ago. When they get there, they discover that the current owners have it for sale, so they pretend they're house shopping in order to get a good look around. Despite the fact that the house has supposedly just gone on the market, the homeowners have gone out of town and left their teenage daughters and preteen son in charge of showing strangers around their home. Not exactly parents of the year, are they?

Lacey goes all mental when she enters the room where the murder happened. The mirror is still there, hanging on the wall in the exact location her mother had it, and Lacey sees the image of the creepy boyfriend lying on the bed looking at her. Despite the fact that she's in a stranger's home, she picks up a chair and smashes the mirror to pieces, causing everyone to come running. Her husband does the sensible thing, which is to pick up every single tiny shard of the mirror, put it in a bag, and bring it back to the aunt and uncle's farm, where he painstakingly reassembles it. Well OK actually that is not the sensible thing, nor is it what a normal person would do in a situation like that, but if it were not so, then there would be no movie. The broken mirror has released the murderous spirit of the dead lover, who is free to cause murder and mayhem anywhere a shard of the mirror exists. But uh oh, remember that teenage sister and her little brother back at the original house? A small forgotten mirror shard that Jake left behind begins to glow with a red light, and a telekinetic force animates a pair of scissors to slash the teenage girls to death and crush their little brother to death in a window. The Boogey Man is loose!

Death by window is so undignified.

Killer shard.

Yes, "The Boogey Man" is about an invisible killer causing harmful things to float through the air and go after the human beings in the movie. The fact that the Boogey Man is invisible never really seems to deter the script from trying for some elaborate set pieces, with no real villain to focus on. Each attack scene features an ominous heart beating and Michael Myers-style breathing, usually over a point-of-view shot. Other times we just see levitating objects, like knives and pitchforks, ready to stab somebody real good. The convenient placement of broken mirror shards allows the Boogey Man to do his thing, such as when Lacey takes her young son fishing and he unknowingly has a piece of the mirror stuck to the bottom of his shoe. The mirror reflects light across the lake to where two couples are having a beachfront weenie roast, and the Boogey Man stabs a guy through the back of the head. Or rather, a knife floats into the back of a guy's head while he's sitting in his car. In a moment of true inspiration, his girlfriend leans into the car, not realizing he's dead, and when she leans in for a kiss, she's invisibly shoved onto the knife blade too, which is now sticking out of his mouth. Unfortunately for the Boogey Man, the other couple leaves because they think their friends are sitting in the car making out.

Behold, John Carradine!
There's also some riffing on "The Amityville Horror", as Lacey's farm house home happens to have those weird Amityville attic windows that look like eyes, and there's also a Rod Steiger lookalike priest who tries to exorcise The Boogey Man with a big crucifix. John Carradine also makes an appearance as Lacey's shrink, confirming my lifelong suspicion that actors need money just like the rest of us. The whole thing is accompanied by a shrill, squelchy synth soundtrack that is reminiscent of John Carpenter's score to "Halloween III" (which actually came later than this). It makes the spooky atmosphere especially cheesy, but that's not really a bad thing in this movie. "The Boogey Man" is ultra low budget and sketchy, but it's an interesting idea for an exploitation flick.

Don't it make my shard eye blue?
It also made a lot of money. The movie cost an estimated $300,000 to make, and it grossed 4.5 million in the USA alone, with a worldwide take of about $35,000,000. Surely its status as a legendary banned Video Nasty in the UK only made people want to see the film more, and the lucrative business it did ensured that there would be a sequel.

"Boogeyman II", aka "Revenge of the Boogey Man", was filmed in 1981 but not released until 1983, and where the original film got away with some crazy shit, this sequel sinks faster than if they'd tied a cinderblock to its ankles and dumped it in the ocean. According to IMDB, Paramount was interested in making this sequel, but instead Ulli Lommel decided to film it independently at his own house. Suzanna Love plays Lacey again, because ya know, she's married to Ulli Lommel, and there's also a second writer/director in Bruce Pearn (aka Bruce Starr). Ulli Lommel himself co-stars in "Boogeyman II" as a sleazy Hollywood type who wants to make a movie about Lacey's experiences in the first film. How Lacey got hooked up with a sleazy Hollywood type in the first place isn't exactly clear, but the main concept is that she's visiting Hollywood to discuss the details of her paranormal slasher experiences.

She doesn't really want to be in this movie, you can just tell.
What I was not prepared for was the fact that almost two thirds of the running time of "Boogeyman II" consists of flashback footage to "The Boogey Man." And when I say two thirds, I really mean two thirds. It's possible that I nodded off into a hypnotic stupor, but I am pretty sure there was only about half an hour of original material in "Boogeyman II", and the rest of it was lengthy passages from the first film, so much so that you probably don't even have to watch the first film, you'd be better off watching "Boogeyman II" and then you'd get your double megadose of The Boogey Man all at once. Once the flashback footage is out of the way, there are some extraneous sleazy Hollywood types who are all are murdered by common objects floating through the air as if wielded by an invisible maniac. One death scene that got points at least for being ambitious is a set piece that takes place in a closed garage, where a man and woman are sitting in a car parked inside the garage. The man is killed when he hears a noise and stands up, his head and shoulders outside the open sun roof. He is yanked through the opening screaming, and the woman just sort of watches it and seems annoyed, then gets out of the car and starts calling for him inside the garage. While she's bent down looking for him under the car (?), a telekinetically-controlled ladder slaps her on the butt and knocks her forward so that her mouth is right on the tailpipe of the car. Death is instantaneous. Also make sure you don't miss the death by electric toothbrush and shaving cream.

Hey baby, don't bogart that tailpipe!
While it's nothing great, "The Boogey Man" is a notable drive-in exploitation flick and it has enough style and atmosphere that I would recommend it to anybody who's a fan of low budget horror films. There are a few gory shocks, including a character who is found impaled through the neck and pinned to the wall by a pitchfork. You know, something that we could KIND of relate to if we have a morbid imagination. "Boogeyman II" seems like an SCTV spoof with lengthy flashback scenes padding it out and halfheartedly tedious attempts at something original, and is only recommended if you have insomnia. Or possibly a shaving cream death wish.
"Godammit, why does everyone keep leaving their dirty dishes in the sink for me to do??!"

"But I don't FEEL sleazy...have you got any cocaine?"

Friday, September 5, 2014

Lisa and the Devil vs. The House of Exorcism

With "The House of Exorcism" featured as part of the lineup at next week's Drive-In Super MonsterRama, I thought this was a perfect excuse to gush about one of Mario Bava's most surreal works. If you're a huge Bava fan, or even just a TV junkie who watched a lot of cable movie reruns in the 1980s, you will probably already know this story, but in case you don't then read on.

"The House of Exorcism" began it's toad-vomiting celluloid life as another movie entirely. After a string of movies that did not do well at the box office, Mario Bava delivered a worldwide hit with the movie "Baron Blood", and producer Alfred Leone agreed to give Bava the money to finally make a project he'd been wanting to make for years called "Lisa and the Devil". Shot in 1973 with such notable acting talent as Elke Sommer ("Baron Blood"), Alida Valli ("Suspiria", "Inferno"), and Telly Savalas ("Horror Express"), "Lisa and the Devil" is one of Bava's most indulgent films, a dreamlike narrative full of cryptic moments that are never fully explained but which have an unsettling effect on the viewer. Sommer plays Lisa, a young tourist who becomes separated from the rest of her traveling party and finds herself alone in an unfamiliar city, where she has a bizarre encounter with a man who seems to mistake her for someone else. When he becomes aggressive, she pushes him and he falls down a long flight of stone stairs, apparently dead. Now convinced she has killed someone, Lisa runs off to find help in the apparently deserted city. When she finally finds other people, she's picked up by a married couple and their chauffeur, but after the car breaks down, they're forced to seek shelter in a nearby mansion. The mansion is inhabited by a Countess (Alida Valli) and her weird son Max (Alessio Orano), who is immediately smitten with Lisa and begs the group to stay the night. Overseeing everything is Leandro (Telly Savalas), the unflappable butler of the mansion, who just happens to resemble the fresco Lisa saw in the village square depicting the Devil carrying souls to the underworld. Nothing good comes of this arrangement.
"I refuse to speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me!"

"Lisa and the Devil" is a visual experience where the plot makes little obvious sense. There are recurring themes of mistaken identity, reincarnation, and characters who reappear as either corpses or mannequins, but the script never really states anything explicitly. There are several gruesome moments, but it's fair to say that "Lisa and the Devil" is a slow burn that never blazes. 

"Tell me the truth, does this hat make me look fat?"

"Mein gott, zis ees not Peck and Peck!"

Maybe that's why, when Bava finished the film and offered it to film distributors, nobody wanted it. With no companies interested in releasing the movie, it sat on the shelf until 1975, when Alfred Leone got the idea to try and recoup the film's costs by recutting it and creating an "Exorcist" cash-in, inserting newly filmed footage of Elke Sommer possessed and Robert Alda as an attending priest who attempts to exorcise Lisa's demon. Bava understandably at first refused to cut apart his Mona Lisa, and also objected to the content of the possession scenes, but eventually he got on board after Leone decided to direct the new scenes himself. The finished product, "The House of Exorcism", played American cinemas and drive-ins beginning in the summer of 1976. Although the new version was marketable due to its trendy possession theme, the new scenes with Elke Sommer shrieking in demonic ecstasy and spewing green bile are ridiculous, to say the least, and what we're really seeing is a series of over the top camp moments spliced into an art film. It does give the film a more concrete plot due to the constant narration as the demon speaks to Robert Alda and provides exposition, but it's ultimately meaningless. The arty qualities of "Lisa" never coalesce with the trashy puke-gasm that the possession scenes are obliged to give, so "The House of Exorcism" is one of the most schizophrenic movies you're likely to see in your lifetime. This in itself is a reason to be thrilled about it, not to mention the fact that the gorgeous Elke Sommer seems so committed to her character that she allowed herself to be made ugly for this trashy piece of exploitative filth. It's almost like performance art.

"Tell me your name!"
"I am known as Purloin!"
Fortunately, both versions of the film have remained in circulation for years, "Lisa and the Devil" playing on television frequently in the 70s and 80s and "The House of Exorcism" of course making the rounds in theaters in 1976 (and probably as the second or third feature at drive-ins for the remainder of the decade). IMDB claims that the original cut of "Lisa" premiered on television in 1983, but I distinctly remember watching it on TV late at night years before that, probably around 1977. The film made a deep impression on me, despite the fact that I had no idea what was going on, but I was caught up in its otherworldly atmosphere. "Lisa and the Devil" was the first Mario Bava film I saw, and actually may have been the first Italian horror film I ever saw as well. I remember being haunted by the eerie theme music, and also the bizarre ending of the film ("The House of Exorcism" unforgivably cuts the original ending and substitutes an obligatory but ultimately pointless scene where the priest performs an exorcism, not on Elke Sommer but on the house that contains the evil spirit haunting her). Even though "The House of Exorcism" is a grotesque mutilation of "Lisa and the Devil", you can still see a lot of the original beauty in this cut of the film, because Bava's outstanding cinematography is always present. Plus it's just really fun.