Saturday, August 31, 2013

Demented (1980): Linda Spits On Your Grave

Not a film about Juggalos....

Someone I can't remember (probably either Confucius or Helen Steiner Rice) once said that there are no strangers, just friends we haven't met yet.  If movies were people, "Demented" is like one of those friends you wish you'd never met. Annoying, cheap, loony, offensive, obnoxious, flaky, boring as hell...and yet, so insane that you have a crazy story to tell afterwards. It is something so questionable that I hesitate to even give it any attention. You may not want to encourage this new friend named "Demented" any further.

In the opening scene, Linda Rodgers (Sallee Young) is raped in a horse stable by four miscreants with stockings over their heads.  One might think that a movie which dares to open with a gang rape scene might have something more substantial to say, but apparently a less explicit version of "I Spit On Your Grave" is what the filmmakers were going for here, since the rest of the movie is utterly lightweight and silly. Linda returns home from a "sanatorium" (their word, not mine) with her husband Matt, played by Harry Reems. Yes, the porn star Harry Reems, veteran of the notorious "Deep Throat" as well as numerous other porn flicks and stag reels. Here he proves that his porn career was probably the wiser choice, as he doesn't have any real acting chops. That's OK though, because Sallee Young has even less acting talent. She blows most of the dramatic moments by either whining in a nagging voice or reacting as if she's completely insane at any given moment, which kind of makes it hard to take a movie about rape and revenge seriously. Matt brings Linda home and seems to be devoted to her recovery, despite the fact that we later learn he's been dallying with some common tramp who apparently doesn't have any empathy for Linda and is only concerned about the fact that Matt is a doctor and has money she can siphon out of his bank account. 
See this? People keep "innocently" doing shit like this to Linda. Why would the gardener greet her like this?
Linda seems to be alright for about two seconds at home, until she's left alone and starts seeing hallucinations of her attackers, who have since been caught and imprisoned for what they did to Linda. This makes it somewhat confusing for her when four young men from the neighborhood have a chance encounter with her in front of her house and apparently decide right then and there to start fucking with her and driving her out of her mind. They return wearing bizarre masks and break in while her husband is out, chasing her through the house and threatening her, for apparently no reason other than "it was in the script". She escapes them the first time by locking herself in a room, and when her husband returns home, he's not entirely sure anything really happened due to Linda's previous hallucinations. The police aren't able to do much either, with no evidence of the four men being there, so Linda feels even more helpless. Matt isn't much help to Linda, either; even though he seems genuinely sympathetic to her, he keeps caving in to the demands of his mistress, Carol (Kathryn Clayton), who forces him to leave Linda alone so Matt can come over to her apartment and do the nasty. Linda's sister, Annie (Deborah Alter) also arrives for a visit, but Linda seems to resent her visit and chases her off by acting hostile.
"HEY, lady, nice wallpaper!"

This is the main problem I had with "Demented," it walks a line between serious and ridiculous, and it stumbles back and forth between the two like a drunk performing an unsuccessful sobriety check. The opening rape scene is pretty harrowing, because here's this female character we don't know yet who is brutalized by four men at once. The shock value is short-lived though, because Sallee Young's performance is so off, the character's credibility quickly evaporates after she starts to have dialogue.  Her delivery is shrill, especially in the scenes where she's supposed to be terrified and she goes up into this Minnie-Mouse-via-Katherine-Hepburn register of speaking. The scene where the four boys first attack her in her home ends up being laughable due to Young's absurd screaming. Remember the opening scene in "Blow-Out", where the co-ed in the shower opens her mouth and emits this ridiculous scream that deflates the entire scene? That's what's going on here, but for REAL. Shit like that happens, and then we have Harry Reems's character acting like a douche, leaving his traumatized wife all alone so he can go stick it to some gold digging lingerie model. Occasionally some effective moments get through, like when Linda confronts her final victim and cooks him a steak before killing him, asking him "Why were you so mean to me? Why didn't you stop?" Everyone was just so pathetically mean to Linda, and not only her rapists. But usually when she had any dialogue at all, I just wanted her to shut up, which made me feel like a bad person.
"Huh? Are you telling me you can actually take lessons for acting?"
So back to the plot...well, you see where it's going, don't you? Linda's creep of a hubby leaves her alone again, and the boys break into the house while Linda is sleeping, wearing their Joker masks. One of them (we never know most of their names) goes upstairs to "get" Linda and bring her downstairs. He climbs on top of her, unaware that she's armed herself with a meat cleaver under her pillow. One whack in the neck later, he's dead and Linda's finally off the deep end. That's when Sallee Young slips into her "crazy" voice, which sounds a lot like Ginger from Gilligan's Island. She goes downstairs and somehow isolates one of the boys, even though there are now three of them. After giving him alcohol and letting him pass out, she sets her sights on another one, taking him up into the bedroom, "seducing" him, and then castrating him with a piece of piano wire. She murders the other two, and then when her husband comes home she murders him for good measure. The end.
"I'm demented, and I LOVE it!"
"Demented" is interesting mainly due to its seeming obscurity.  It was directed by Arthur Jeffreys, for whom this is his only credit on IMDB. 'Nuff said? It was written by Alex Rebar, who has a slightly better reputation in cult films, having portrayed "The Incredible Melting Man" in 1977 and written 1974's "Beyond the Door". But where "I Spit On Your Grave" and "Last House On The Left" were shocking and graphic, "Demented" pulls most of its punches, and is neither bloody enough nor shocking enough to be noteworthy. Even the castration/emasculation has no blood and is completely implied--somehow Linda performs the entire thing without even pulling down his pants. I'm not sure what to think of the way it plays Linda's traumatic rape for the sake of making her go homicidal on a quartet of kids who weren't even really responsible for her assault. If it had any dramatic impact then it would be easy to justify having it in the film, and instead it fails because its own low budget and ineptitude on the part of the actors (all are guilty here, not just Salley Young). But these are all accusations that were already leveled at every "rape and revenge" movie in the genre, starting with "I Spit On Your Grave."  I have to admit, I enjoyed how utterly stupid "Demented" is, but it's the kind of movie you only watch one time in your life. I'm not sure where "Demented" is coming from, but I do know I was glad when it went back there.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's coming!

What!? Only one more weekend until the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama!!?? Yes, it's true! Scores of retro monster movie lovers will descend on the Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, PA to watch this year's fantastic lineup of eight fright flicks--all of them featuring none other than Peter Cushing. Egad!

Also, don't forget to vote for the Riverside to win a free digital projector at the link below. Vote every day for the next eleven days!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Keep My Grave Open (1976)

They're not kidding, fella. Believe me.

Few films are as hallowed in my humble world as 1973's "Don't Look In The Basement", directed by low budget auteur S.F. Brownrigg. With a modest five films in his repertoire, four of them are horror films, the last of which was 1976's "Keep My Grave Open". Having never seen it before, I was pleased to discover that it was indeed like his other films, ultra low on budget and deliriously high in rural gothic atmosphere. Like a Texan John Waters, Brownrigg made most of his no-budget films with recurring actors and actresses, and many of them appear in this one. The most notable is lead actress Camilla Carr, whose role in "Don't Look In The Basement" was that of Harriet, the unbalanced, murderous woman who thought her baby doll was a real baby.  Here, Carr plays Lesley Fontaine, a disturbed young woman who lives in an isolated rural mansion, and whoo baby does she ever go off the deep end.

Brownrigg opens the film with a lengthy sequence involving a transient man hitchhiking along a rural road.  He comes to a large house off the beaten path, and wanders up to it. Finding nobody at home after calling out numerous times, the man goes inside and raids the refrigerator of some food, including a large steak. When he takes the food away and builds a fire to cook the steak, he is swiftly approached by a shadowy figure that kills him with a large sword.

As the hitch hiker is killed, Brownrigg uses one of my favorite horror movie tropes: someone strikes a death blow with a knife, and there's an abrupt jump cut to a butcher chopping meat in a deli. This is where we meet Lesley, doing her grocery shopping in a small general store (replacing those stolen groceries, of course), but when she returns to the mansion, we learn that she seems to share it with "Kevin", an off-screen person that refuses to answer her from behind his locked bedroom door. It isn't long before we realize we will never see Kevin, and that Lesley has a dual personality thing going on. A few people come into contact with the reclusive Lesley, including her psychiatrist, Dr. Emerson (Gene Ross) and a young man named Robert (Stephen Tobolowsky) who tends to Lesley's horse. Dr. Emerson seems to know all about "Kevin", although we're not sure exactly who Kevin is, or was, or if he ever was.

Lesley dresses up like Kevin though, and goes all stab-happy. First Robert's girlfriend Suzie (Ann Stafford) gets skewered, and her death scene is the film's best: "Kevin" locks her in her room, but Suzie doesn't know she's in trouble, completely oblivious to a moment where the sword comes stabbing inward at her from between the door and the jamb. She slowly starts to panic until she's frantic and she gets impaled while leaning against the door again. We learn that Kevin is/was Lesley's brother, and also that Lesley's problems stem from her incestuous attachment to him. In an overly indulgent sequence, Brownrigg shows Lesley making herself as sensual as possible for Kevin, putting on makeup and a dress and then drifting weirdly to Kevin's bedroom, where the camera gets on top of her in bed for what seems to be a first-person sex scene. Camilla Carr makes Lesley a very compelling anti-heroine, the heartbreaking way she meticulously makes up her face and dresses in order to seduce Kevin into loving her. Just as she's "rejected" by Kevin, Robert arrives and she refocuses her seductive tactics on him, ultimately blackmailing him into having sex with her and then dressing up like Kevin to dispatch Robert with the sword.

The film is meandering and slow paced, and Brownrigg is definitely an acquired taste. The murder sequences are not the point of the film, although they're definitely intended to titillate the audience with the potential for blood and guts. Alas, "Keep My Grave Open" is much more reserved than the bloody "Don't Look In The Basement", and here Brownrigg seems less concerned with the murderous aspects of Lesley's breakdown. Her rampage is a lot like Catherine Deneuve's extended freak-out in "Repulsion", mostly based on what's going on in Lesley's warped mind.  There's isn't much of a story here, as it's just a matter of people who are unfortunate enough to wander into Lesley's path, but there is indeed depth to Lesley's character. At the film's conclusion, she reveals to Dr. Emerson the fateful event that seems to have caused her fractured psyche: a moment when Lesley's cruel and abusive aunt caught her innocently changing her dress in the same room as her brother and tormented her for it. When Lesley tries to seduce Emerson, he instead leaves to bring help for Lesley, which she knows will lead to the discovery of her crimes. Rather than face up to her actions, Lesley commits suicide by overdosing on pills; when she drops the glass pill bottle in her sink, she scoops up the pills as well as the broken glass and swallows both.

Maybe the strangest thing about "Keep My Grave Open" is how it never really gives the viewer a definitive answer about Kevin's identity. All along we've assumed Kevin to be either dead or a figment of Lesley's imagination, but as she stumbles out onto the front porch and slowly dies from the pills, Kevin's shadowy figure emerges onto the balcony above her, watching. She looks up at him and we're not really sure if he's there, or if she's imagining him. But then he appears the next day at Lesley's grave, too, dressed exactly as Lesley used to dress when she committed murders while wearing his clothes. He then returns to the mansion and speaks to Lesley, who is no longer there, the same way she spoke to him when he wasn't there.

Brownrigg made his films for audiences who were usually viewing them late at night as B features in a drive-in theater, and even though he didn't have much money to make these movies, he understood how to make them watchable and interesting. Some directors just threw these kinds of movies together and didn't care about the final product, but S.F. Brownrigg was definitely an artist and had a unique downbeat vision. Several sequences in the film seem to be more lengthy that necessary, possibly to pad out the film to feature length (it already runs just barely under 80 minutes), but it's this kind of indulgence that makes me think of Brownrigg as an auteur. Lesley's 'makeup' scene goes on and on, giving us excruciating closeups of her lips, but combined with the disorienting soundtrack music it also has a hypnotic effect, especially considering it occurs at night in the mansion, while Lesley's madness is in full swing. Another lengthy sequence occurs when Lesley stalks a prostitute she has brought back to the house for "Kevin". When Lesley appears in her Kevin outfit, the prostitute takes off, and unlike the other victims in the film, she fights back effectively, wounding Lesley and almost getting away. Almost.

"Keep My Grave Open" benefits greatly from Camilla Carr's performance, but most of the other actors are good, too. As I mentioned before, there are several holdovers from "Don't Look In The Basement", including Gene Ross, Jessie Lee Fulton, and the wonderful Annabelle Weenick, whose performance as Dr. Masters in "Basement" was unforgettable. The soundtrack music was done by Robert Farrar, who scored all of Brownrigg's horror films, and it's extremely similar in tone, with repeating riffs that effectively communicate the films anxiety and unstable atmosphere. Unfortunately, S.F. Brownrigg only made a few films, but the ones he left us with are worth revisiting, just to get that grungy, creepy feeling that he was so good at creating.

Whoever created this alternate title card was definitely not trying. At all.

Kevin finally appears...or does he?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Time Walker (1982): Mummies, mummies...MUMMIES

Please don't reveal our shocking twist ending...oh wait, never mind.

Usually when I write about these favorite (and unfavorite) films of mine, I spoil most of their surprises, but I do include a disclaimer over there in the side bar, too.  I warn you.  The people who made "Time Walker" aren't so polite, because at some point during this movie's life, someone decided to retitle it "Being From Another Planet". Sadly, this nifty little twist is just about the most interesting thing the film has to give, and talk about giving away your pie with breakfast...imagine if "Fight Club" had been titled "They Were Both The Same Person". Even with the non-spoiler title "Time Walker", the film's poster positions the film as if it's about a malevolent alien. So, since the producers of "Time Walker" didn't care about spoiling their movie, neither do I.

"Time Walker" opens with an archaeological dig inside King Tut's tomb. A team from the "California Institute of the Sciences", spearheaded by Professor Douglas McCadden, discovers a sarcophagus and takes it back to said "California Institute of the Sciences" (which might not be a real thing, since it only has one reference on Google not related to this movie). Once there, they open it and discover a mummy covered in green dust, which they hypothesize is some sort of dormant mold. When they x-ray the mummy, the radiation activates the mold, which now consumes the flesh of anybody who touches it. It also brings the mummy back to life, and it has an agenda: a scheming college student named Pete (Kevin "Lucan" Brophy!) discovers a hidden compartment in the sarcophagus that contains five "crystals", which he naturally steals and tries to get money for. Nobody believes him that they are 2000 years old, probably because they're totally not 2000 years old and look just like the decorative prisms you can buy in any new age store or bead shop. So instead, the kid gives them to hot college chicks, which puts them in harm's way when the mummy starts tracking them down to reclaim them.
My name is Lucan, I live on the second floor.
Check out that hi-tech computerized security system!
The "mummy" of course is not a mummy at all, it's an alien being that was discovered in the desert by ancient Egyptians. When they brought it back to nurse this "stranger" back to health, the green mold killed anybody who touched him, including King Tut. The bodies were sealed inside the tomb to keep the mold from killing anybody else, and now these fools have unearthed it. Ha!

OK, I admit I'm totally in love with that cheesy concept, and it could have made "Time Walker" a really enjoyable movie. I love the idea that it's a walking mummy movie, and it turns out to be an alien being. There are some cult luminaries in the film, not the least of which is Austin Stoker ("Abby", "Assault on Precinct 13", "Horror High"), who doesn't have a big enough role. Sometimes it IS the size that counts, people, and when you have a recognizable name, you go with that. James Karen is also in the cast, playing a sleazy university bigwig...isn't it crazy that James Karen appeared in this the same year he appeared in Spielberg's Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist"? Nina Axelrod ("Motel Hell") is here too as the "good girl" female lead, Susie. Interestingly, another cast member of "Assault on Precinct 13" appears here in a minor role, Darwin Joston. 

"Oh it's not a mummy, it's an alien? BFD, my face is still rotting."
As it stands, though, this movie is only mildly appealing. It's compellingly silly enough to be enjoyable as a bad movie, but I can't figure out what the filmmakers were going for here, because it's a PG rated horror flick with very little gore and a modest body count. The director, Tom Kennedy, has only a few IMDB credits. "Time Walker" is his only directorial credit, and he seems to have worked mostly in TV, which might explain why this film resembles a TV movie in both its presentation and content. The cinematography is mostly unremarkable, with only a few spooky movie tropes in use here. There are numerous mummy point-of-view shots that are tinted green, but not much terror on hand at all. One mildly suspenseful sequence has the mummy going after Susie while she does research in the library, which is apparently abandoned because she does not encounter one single person when she starts screaming and running from it. There's also a menacing moment when one of the crystals ends up in the possession of a ditzy coed who is babysitting, and it's in the baby's crib when the mummy comes to collect it. The mummy doesn't actually kill many people though, and it doesn't hurt the baby. The coed though ends up with the green mold on her, which eats her face off when the doctors x-ray her. The mold scenes are really the only gory moments in the entire movie, and there are only two of them.  
No no no, that's his hand, his HAND.

The biggest thing that makes "Time Walker" look like a TV movie is its conclusion, which is one of the lamest climaxes in stupid movie history. The alien, which actually doesn't want to hurt anybody, collects all of his crystals, which he uses to transport himself home by inserting them into a triangular device. McCadden gets shot when one of the villainous goons in the movie tries to shoot the alien, and the alien grabs ahold of him and together they vanish in a cheesy neon special effect shot. Then immediately afterwards, the words "TO BE CONTINUED...." come up, and the credits roll. Yeah, the filmmakers decided a movie doesn't really need a proper ending, not when you can just throw the words "TO BE CONTINUED" up and insinuate there will be a sequel.
If that's not a "Xanadu" moment, I don't know what one is.
Up until that point, "Time Walker" manages to limp along in its bandages, full of stilted acting, mildly effective special effects, and super cheesy music. Don't miss the rollicking frat party scene, where those crazy 30-something college kids have a mummy party and rock out to a song called "Mummified". 
"Hold on just a century...YOU'RE not Richard Dreyfus...."

As of this writing, you can watch "Time Walker" on YouTube here:

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hey friends, be sure to visit to read about Honda's program to donate digital projectors to keep drive-ins in business! It costs $80,000 for a theater to convert to digital, something most drive-ins cannot afford, so it means lights out for them forever. If you've been to the Riverside Drive-In, especially for the Drive-In Super Monsterama, then you probably already know about the theater's pledge drive to purchase a digital projector. If you've got a little shing-a-ling to donate to them, I know they'd certainly appreciate it, but even if you can't, you can visit their link at the Project Drive-In website and vote for them to win one of the digital projectors!  Thanks for looking. You can vote once a day, so visit and vote for the Riverside often!

Here's the link to vote:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Patrick Still Lives (1980): Telekinetic Coma Revenge

I remember 1978's "Patrick" was one of those films with a super-scary ad campaign and when I finally caught it on HBO or wherever, it was totally boring. I guess there's only so much you can do with a guy lying in a hospital bed with his eyes wide open. Well, leave it to Italian exploitation filmmakers to show us how to do it the RIGHT way, dammit.  "Patrick" did enough box office in Italy to justify them making their own unofficial sequel to the film "Patrick Still Lives".

Just like "Zombi 2", "Alien 2: Sulla Terra", and a whole bunch of other 2s and 3s, "Patrick Still Lives" was not produced by anybody associated with the original "Patrick", and is the cinematic equivalent of fan fiction. Oh but what fanfic it is! While I remember fighting to stay awake watching "Patrick", I never once got bored watching "Patrick Still Lives". This movie is nuts-a-roni.
"But you don't understaaaand...after this scene, all I do for the rest of the movie is lie in a hospital bed! Wahahahaaaaa..."

Actually "Patrick Still Lives" is more of a remake than a sequel, since it reimagines the entire scenario. Whereas the original Patrick was in a coma after murdering his mother and her lover, THIS Patrick has a different background. He's stranded on the side of the road with his father when a small bus drives by, and someone throws a bottle (or something) out of the window at him. It strikes him in the head, gets his face real bloody, and apparently after screaming for 30 seconds he falls into a coma. At some undisclosed point in time later, Patrick's father invites the passengers of the bus to a free vacation at his semi-deserted "resort", where an honest to goodness mad scientists laboratory houses a comatose but telekinetic Patrick.  It also gets them within harm's way so Patrick can kill them in various bizarre ways.  The "experiment", conducted by Patrick's father, involves the use of three other comatose patients, as well as a small staff of white-coat stooges. That's about as deep as it gets, and since there's no real mystery in the story itself, this really is a movie about bizarre murders. The victims are almost entirely loathsome people in every way, which we already know because they so callously tossed a bottle out of a moving vehicle. We never even know who tossed that fateful bottle, and apparently Patrick doesn't care, either. They are slobbering alcoholics, shrewish manipulators, and arrogant pricks, so the movie doesn't even want you to care when they die.

"Don't worry, Patrick. We've got plenty of green lights and complicated machines."

And die they do, in bizarre ways that usually don't make any sense, even with the concept of telekinesis. The first victim dies when he goes out for a midnight swim and suddenly a telekinetic wind blows up. For some reason, the pool starts boiling, and even though he's hanging onto the side of it, he never tries to pull himself out. The body is lying on the ground NEXT to the pool the following morning, boiled, but the doctor explains the death to the other vacationers as something that can happen to any alcoholic. I was trying to absorb the impact of that statement when I suddenly realized the other purpose for "Patrick Still Lives": to show gratuitous nudity, most of it female. Unless you count one scene where Patrick has telepathy-sex with a nude woman who writhes on a suspiciously comfortable-looking couch next to his hospital bed, the movie has no sex scenes, just a lot of nakedness. It was seriously "Showgirls"-level stuff. And it's not just brief nudity, either. One scene shows a woman sleeping nude (and conveniently uncovered) while a man sneaks into her bedroom to rifle through her belongings. Another unforgettable moment is when a woman struts down to the pool wearing a two-piece red outfit, the top part of which she has removed and is swinging casually around in her hand. There's a great moment when one nude woman puts on a robe, of course never bothering to fasten it in the front, and does a total Sharon Stone from "Basic Instinct 2" and crashes a dinner party. But what really made me take notice is when a scene was included that not only shows a nude man getting out of bed, but he also turns a little for a frontal glimpse...a rarity in a non-sexual scene. It reminded me a little of Sam Elliot's nude scene in "The Legacy" (which, unfortunately, did not include a glimpse of anything frontal). I suddenly thought "Ohhh...THAT'S why straight guys put up with all this stupid shit if there's naked women in a movie!" It was a momentary revelation.
This man is dead due to a fatality.
Admit it. We've all approached a dinner table semi-clothed and said something like this.

That's the way, uh huh uh huh I LIKE it, uh huh uh huh.
The silliness of the script made it difficult to relate to what was going on, and there isn't much in "Patrick Still Lives" that is scary. The manor is well lit for a spooky movie, and the film has a strange atmosphere, but the characters are utter "Burial Ground"-level morons. As if nobody in the small party of people can make the connection about what they all have in common, like...that time we threw a bottle out the window and that guy fell into a coma?  The movie comes with English subtitles where the doctor has a classic bad-movie line and says one of the deaths was "due to a fatality." There's also a really ridiculous visual effect the movie keeps repeating, where the screen goes green and a pair of superimposed eyes confronts each victim before their deaths. It's very Pac-Man, after you swallow the blue ghosts. 

These eyes, are flyin'.

Stripping is always sexier when this is your background.

GREG: What's the matter, Alice? ALICE: Oh, just lost my head...or FOUND somebody's...
Speaking of "Burial Ground", "Patrick Still Lives" was filmed at the exact same manor, and there are some great set pieces involving the house and grounds. The pervasive gore reminded me a lot of "Burial Ground", too. One victim is cornered in a large, barren courtyard and hanged by a hook through the neck, while another is decapitated by a car window. One unfortunate woman is ripped apart by 'vicious dogs' in the basement--that is to say, normal dogs eating meat embedded in a mannequin. But there's one murder that ranks up there with one of the more disturbing things I've ever seen: a woman is gored lengthwise by a long fire poker, goes in one end, and slowly makes its way until it's poking out of her mouth. Sicko!

Agents are supposed to help actresses avoid this kind of scene.

...and she never threw another bottle out of a vehicle again!