Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pigs (1972)

When it comes to 70s drive-in movies, there's crazy, then there's pig crazy. In "Pigs", an absolute riot of blood, murder, incest, and 70s doom, the craziness is of the swine variety. Although I love it, I also feel bad for people who were lured into thinking it was about killer pigs. There are pigs in it, and they eat bodies, but that's kind of like someone getting ahold of "Silence of the Lambs" and retitling it "Cellar" and making it seem like it's about a killer basement.
Lynn practices her stab-aerobics routine.
Written and directed by the prolific character actor Marc Lawrence, who starred in several hundred movies and TV shows, this one seems to have been tailor made for his daughter, Toni Lawrence. 

Lynn discovers she does not have enough pocket change to pay the toll rates for "beyond the grave".

As the movie opens, we learn that getting a baby is kind of like going grocery shopping. A voiceover, presumably from a maternity nurse, states "Here's your baby daughter, Mr. Hart!" and we see a proud, happy papa leaving the hospital with an infant wrapped up in blankets. No actual mother is in sight. A flash-forward series of images explains that the baby grew into a young girl whom Daddy liked to feel up, that is until one night she murders him with a kitchen knife. Her name is Lynn, and she is seen talking to a psychiatrist, asking where her father is. Apparently she forgot about stabbing him to death. She insists to a doctor "It's a lie!", prompting the shrink to commit her -- this is done with a large rubber stamp that marks Lynn's file COMMITTED -- and sign her up for immediate shock treatment. Conveniently for Lynn, a slutty nurse seduces an old fart doctor right there on the ward, leaving her nurse's uniform behind alongside her car keys. Lynn steals the uniform and the keys, somehow instinctively knowing which car belongs to the poor nurse, and she's off and running. She is accompanied by her own 70s doom song that encourages her to keep on drivin', cause someone is waiting for her down the road to take her in.
"I told you someone was waiting down the road, dearie."
That someone is a scary-looking nutcase named Zambrini, who we meet just as he is feeding a freshly-exhumed corpse from the local cemetery to the pigs that he keeps penned up behind his house. In an important soliloquy and plot exposition, he explains to the corpse that the pigs once stumbled upon a drunk guy sleeping it off in a field and ate him. Of course the thing to do was to encourage their appetite for human flesh instead of just killing the damn pigs. Lynn shows up at Zambrini's "diner", which is really just a farmhouse set back in a field with a large front window. Somehow when characters step inside the door, it becomes a diner (movie magic at work!), and sooner than you can say "Alice Hyatt", Lynn is hired as a new waitress at the farmhouse diner.

Zambrini shows Lynn to her room without saying more than a few sentences to her, and in a moment of intense foreshadowing, Lynn opens up the bathroom medicine cabinet and finds....A STRAIT RAZOR! Pretty soon the locals come sniffin' around, and Lynn meets Sheriff Dan Cole, who tells her that not only is the registration expired on "her" car, it's a missing vehicle. For some reason, Dan does not seem to think this is unusual, and doesn't report it. A sleazy customer named Ben comes in and tells Lynn that Zambrini was a circus performer who fell off a high wire (or something) and was pronounced dead, only to reawaken at the morgue. How's THAT for a circus trick? Ben begs Lynn for a date, and when she finally gives in, he drives her into the middle of nowhere in his pickup truck and tries to rape her. Dan drives by in his squad car, immediately sensing that Ben is up to no good, but darn that laid-back sheriff, he just lets it slide and drives Lynn back home. Lynn pays Ben back by inviting him into her bedroom the next night, putting on a sexy strip show for him, then slashing him to death with Zambrini's razor. Zambrini walks in and comforts Lynn, then disposes of the body by feeding it to those handy pigs out back, you know, the ones that like to eat corpses? A beautiful friendship has begun.

"SHOULD I have kept on driving?"
Although the focus of the film is Lynn and her stabby ways, there is also an implied supernatural element. Zambrini's closest neighbors, two elderly spinsters (played by Catherine Ross and Iris Korn), seem to suspect what Zambrini is up to, and they believe that whenever Zambrini feeds a new corpse to the pigs, another pig appears in the pen, the reborn embodiment of the tormented soul that's been fed to the animals. They and Lynn also experience auditory hallucinations of pigs snuffling and squealing around their bedroom windows.

Don't look at me, I didn't know what that shit was he was feeding us.
For a cheap drive-in screamer, "Pigs" is ambitious in the way it attempts to develop Lynn as a character, and Toni Lawrence carries a few difficult scenes extremely well. Periodically throughout the film, she makes phone calls to some disconnected phone number and thinks she's talking to her father; Toni has this multilayered life that she's created for Lynn, where she sometimes appears normal on the surface, but she'll give this sneaky look before slipping off to the payphone to make one of her imaginary phone calls. She's got this secret life, and she's found a secret place to carry out these strange impulses. Another scene features her playing with her hair and staring off into space while Sheriff Dan questions her, and while he seems frustrated by the fact that she won't either look at him or answer his questions, this apparently isn't enough to set off enough warning bells in his thick head. He's a classic 70s tool who's too dumb to connect the dots, and ya gotta love that.

"Zambrini! Bring me the cleaver!"
Aside from the low budget, the worst thing "Pigs" has going for it is its very slow pacing. It takes a long time to get going, and really it never takes off running. It just smolders in its own doomy atmosphere, until an admittedly gory finale where a body is dismembered and fed to the pigs on camera in a series of rapid-fire cuts. In terms of low budget cinema, it's not as technically proficient as the films of S.F. Brownrigg, and not quite as over the top as an Andy Milligan movie. There's a very interesting angle, though, in depicting the way Lynn makes her escape and manages to fall through the cracks and disappear by finding an isolated, rural location. The spare dialogue during certain portions of the film also gives it an effect that is either hypnotic or boring, depending on the viewer. There's a little bit of humor in the way the old ladies are depicted, as well as some fun at the expense of the throwback locals that Lynn encounters in her new job as the local diner sexpot, but you have to admire the way the remainder of the movie tells its sick story straight-faced.

Although "Pigs" is the title by which it is most commonly known, this film was released with so many other titles it's amazing. It was first released in 1972 as "The 13th Pig", after which it was re-released as simply "Pigs". Later it reappeared as "Blood Pen", "The Secret of Lynn Hart", "Daddy's Deadly Darling", "Roadside Torture Chamber", and "Daddy's Girl". But even more strange and confusing was when the film was reissued with a newly-shot opening scene depicting Lynn as possessed and receiving an exorcism, which fails when Lynn kills her father. This version was released as "Lynn Hart, the Strange Love Exorcist", often shortened to simply "Love Exorcist". On home video, it also was known as "Horror Farm" and "The Killers".

Monday, September 14, 2009

There's got to be a Monday after.

In this sick world, there are two kinds of people: those who came out to the annual Drive-In Super Monster-Rama (belatedly view the lineup here), and those who wish they did. I only got to go on Saturday night, where vampire movies from the 70s reigned supreme. The Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania is the perfect place for it, surrounded by trees and very spooky all on its own. But throw in four 70s drive-in movies in a row, and your geek-o-meter might just reach stratospheric heights. I know mine sure did.

Of course you can still GO to drive-ins, they do exist. Finding an appropriate movie to watch at the drive-in is another matter. Who really wants to see "The Time Traveler's Wife" from their car? Even cheapo horror remakes seem wrong for it. They're too glossy and the people in them are too pretty. The movie needs to be cheap, sleazy, and/or just plain bizarre to make it worthwhile to me. The Monster-Rama solves this by digging up 35mm prints of horror flicks from days gone by and stringing them together with battered trailers and retro intermission reels featuring animated hot dogs. This year they showed a great refreshment stand ad that was clearly modeled after the trailer for "ALIEN".

Ah, but what of the actual movies they showed? This year's lineup was definitely inspired, and included a few flicks that I was watching for the first time ever. Here's a recap:

The Vampire Lovers (1970): Who knew a movie from 1970 could be the very definition of lesbian vampire porn? Ingrid Pitt plays Carmilla, a sexy vampire gal who hails from a vampire family, the Karnsteins, all decapitated or otherwise deceased except for her. She likes to reinvent herself every so often, kind of like Madonna does, only Carmilla not only changes her hair color, she slyly changes the letters of her name around so as to throw smart people off her trail, alternately being known as Mircalla and Marcilla. No matter what you call her, she's very into ripping off the blouses of nubile women and kissing their boobs. She goes about insinuating herself into a household with one particularly sexy young woman, Emma, and when Emma's dad goes out of town, it's time to step up the lesbian seducing and biting. Unfortunately for her, Peter Cushing arrives and chops off her head before she can change her name to Carmalli.

Next up was The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula (1974), which was the last Dracula flick made by Hammer Studios. You know you're out of ideas when you start to come up with crazy ideas like the one for this movie, which involves a family of martial-arts experts who enlist the help of Professor Van Helsing to rid their small Chinese village of vampires. Yes, it's a kung-fu Dracula story, with Peter Cushing literally the only link to the glories of Hammer's yesteryear (Christopher Lee got one look at the script and decided to sit this one out). This movie was an incomprehensible mess, apparently re-edited from one that made slightly more sense than this did, but I still enjoyed watching it, and it was mercifully short. There were a couple of kung-fu brawls, most of them involving the living vs. the undead, and then it was over.

The third flick was The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), and much to my happiness, the print that was shown here actually had the movie's alternate title on it, Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride--there's something about alternate titles that really turns me on. This one does have Chris Lee in it, as well as Peter Cushing, playing the Dracula and Van Helsing roles once again. Dracula finds himself resurrected, apparently by a Satanic cult, and he takes up residence in a high rise office building that's been built on the site of the church where Van Helsing killed him in the previous film, Dracula AD 1972. This time, the Count uses his new Satan-worshipping friends to enact his latest scheme: commission the development of a new strain of bubonic plague, then commit suicide by wiping out all of humanity with it. The original title is the one that actually describes the movie, of course, since Dracula does not get married in it and one thinks that a wedding ceremony would be the last damn thing on Dracula's mind. Some Satanic rites, however, are right up his alley. Actually, if you thought a kung-fu Dracula movie was weird, how about a James Bond/Dracula movie? Well that's kind of what The Satanic Rites of Dracula is. Oh, and it has Joanna Lumley in it, aka Patsy Stone. She gets the movie's best line, when she's rescued from a basement full of chained-up vampire chicks. One of her male rescuers recognizes one of the imprisoned vampire girls, and when he goes to unchain her, Joanna wails "Oh, STOP HIM! She's a VUM-PARR!"

The final drive-in masterpiece was Vampire Circus (1972), little-seen and only recently issued to home video. I remember catching it on late night TV as a kid, and as you might expect, there is a circus in it made up of vampires, not that the dimwit villagers who visit the circus catch on soon enough. I mean, even though the circus people turn into bats and leopards right in front of their eyes, why on Earth should the villagers suspect them of being vampires? Hmmm? The print for this one was elderly and had turned pink after many years in storage, I would presume, but sitting outside under the dark sky with crickets chirping in the woods on either side of me, I didn't care. Part of the reason was that it was getting to be 4am and I was more concerned about falling asleep. But that was always part of the fun of going to the drive-in, too. Could you or would you stay up for the second feature? Only geeks like me would actually want to sit through second features like Don't Look In The Basement. Come to think of it, maybe I'll get lucky and the Monster-rama will include THAT on one of its lineups for next year! I can only hope.