Tuesday, July 11, 2017

13 Groovy Movies Dying For A Blu-Ray Release!

Everyone's got their list of movies they would love to see restored and reissued on Blu Ray. With great companies like Scream Factory, Severin, Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome, Garagehouse and Code Red rescuing little-seen movies from total obscurity, it seems like anything is possible. So here's my wish list of titles that would make me scream.

- Crazed (aka Slipping Into Darkness) (1978)

One of the most haunting performances I've seen in a film is the sensitive portrait Laszlo Papas creates of a troubled young man with a diminishing grasp on reality. Although heavily influenced by Psycho, the story really lays on the pathos in its grim depiction of the inner turmoil of its two main characters, played by Papas and Beverly Ross.  What Crazed lacks in polish is more than compensated for by its unflinching willingness to show its characters stripped of security and comfort. Most likely not the film that the viewer will expect, but a harrowing experience that should not be allowed to disappear.

Dream special feature: an interview or commentary with Laszlo Papas and/or Beverly Ross.

- The Child (1977)

Carrie meets Night of the Living Dead via The Bad Seed is one way you could describe The Child, but that's not really giving this imaginative movie its due. The material is derivative, but the execution of the film is shockingly good, considering that it appears to have been cobbled together with scotch tape and a glue gun. Something Weird gave this a DVD release, and a Blu Ray could actually end up making this movie look even worse by revealing too much, but since this is a fantasy list, I'd love to see someone give this movie a good going-over with some digital equipment to clean it up as much as possible. Enhance the colors, do your best with the shoddy audio track, and especially clean up some of the visual noise that goes with the territory of filming a movie like this on cheap film stock.

Dream special features: What would Rosalie Cole say today about her youthful acting adventure playing a telekinetic psychotic zombie-loving little girl? We'd love to know. Also, a director's commentary would be great.

- Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby (1976)

Made-For-TV sequel Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby is about as strange as they come. True, the film doesn't equal the original in any regard, and the story doesn't add up in a number of ways, but this full-speed-ahead whacked out movie is as groovy as burnt orange shag carpeting with an avocado couch. It's also got a memorable cast, including Patty Duke, Donna Mills, Ray Milland, Tina Louise, and Ruth Gordon reprising her role from the original film. It needs to be seen on Blu Ray.

Dream special feature: A few TV spots would be sufficient, although it would be far out to hear anybody from this production talk on camera.

- The Folks At Red Wolf Inn (1972)

Is it any surprise this film is on my list? Code Red announced this as an upcoming title about 4 years ago, but it obviously never materialized, and rumor has it a decent print could not be located in order to create the HD transfer. I'm not sure if that's true, but this cannibalism classic is just dying to be rescued from obscurity with a proper restoration.

Dream special feature: A full length commentary with star Linda Gillen, naturally.

- The Pyx (1973)

One of Karen Black's finest roles, she plays a prostitute whose suspicious death is under police investigation, and the story's unique framing device tells the tale in both flashback and present tense. The film's marketing materials made it look like a supernatural thriller, but it's more of a brooding crime drama than Omen-wannabe.

Dream special feature: Karen's original recordings for the songs featured on the soundtrack.

- Don't Look In The Basement (1973)

Where is the deluxe Blu-Ray presentation for this classic drive-in movie? S.F. Brownrigg's work needs to be exhumed and studied for its unique brooding quality, as well as its bizarre sense of humor. Basement is perhaps his best-known film, and it got its first HD presentation as part of a double disc package for the recent Don't Look In The Basement 2 home release. This print, however, was presented grindhouse style, with most of the grain and scratches intact. While I love that idea, I still won't be happy until we get a lovingly restored Blu Ray that gives the movie its due.

Dream special features: The various opening sequences featuring the film's numerous titles, particularly the original title The Forgotten (which would ideally be the print used for the transfer).

- I Dismember Mama (1972)

Originally released as Poor Albert and Little Annie, this nasty little movie was remarketed as a slasher and promoted by giving theater patrons an "upchuck cup" in case they experienced any stomach distress. What they probably didn't expect, however, was that their stomach distress would be caused by a depiction of an adult man attempting to "marry" an 11 year old girl he makes off with after murdering her mother. Zooey Hall's performance rivals that of Laszlo Papas from Crazed in its brutally realistic depiction of a likable young man being consumed by his dark side.

Dream special features: the original and retitled openings, and perhaps an interview with Zooey Hall.

- The Bride (1973)

Prolific daytime TV actress Robin Strasser would probably prefer that this film be forgotten, but her performance as a neurotic young woman who has an epic meltdown on her wedding day is surely one of the more unique items on her resume. Although her screen time in the film is limited, she reaches levels of hysteria in her big scene that rival Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. The Bride also features some unusual art direction, lighting and camera work, particularly the scenes that appear as dream sequences. A full exhumation of this obscure oddity would be great.

Dream special features: various retitled poster gallery or title sequences. If anyone could convince Robin Strasser to talk on camera about this, that would be spectacular as well.

EDIT: Apparently, Code Red has released this film under one of its alternate titles, Last House On Massacre Street! Get it here:

Get it here!

- Warlock Moon (1973)

Another rarely-seen gem, this mixture of cannibalism, witchcraft and Satanic conspiracy is very similar in tone and presentation to The Folks At Red Wolf Inn, but has its own unique atmosphere with supernatural overtones. Laurie Walters is a young college student in trouble when her new boyfriend (Joe Spano) takes her on an adventure to explore an isolated abandoned spa. The location is everything here, with the brooding resort bringing out the best in the actors. One scene between Spano and Walters in an empty swimming pool is a tense moment that plays like improvisation, captured by a handheld camera for an authentic feel.

Dream special features: the complete version of the film, with the brief missing scenes that were omitted from the DVD release.

UPDATE: This has since been released on Blu Ray with the additional footage, get it here!!

- Mausoleum (1983)

This fantastic early 80s monster freakout is all about Bobbie Bresee being either exposed in the nude or defiled with demonic makeup and appliances, the most alarming of which outfits her with a pair of killer breasts. No, I mean LITERALLY killer breasts, each with its own fanged mouth. Although it's played mostly straight, a few wink-wink moments reveal that the filmmakers were in on the joke, too. Marjoe Gortner and LaWanda Page also make this worth looking at. A Blu-Ray transfer would really make the film's colorful presentation pop.

Dream special features: Bobbie Bresee, naturally. She did a commentary for a DVD release, so she's not averse to talking about Mausoleum.

- Horror High (1973)

The out-of-print Code Red DVD for this 1970s "teenage Dr. Jekyll" screamer could use an upgrade to Blu Ray, hopefully one that will accentuate the movie's freaky lighting and color schemes.

Dream special features: the film's weird soundtrack on an isolated audio track, as well as interviews with Pat Cardi and Rosie Holotik. Don't forget to port over the interview with star Austin Stoker, or better yet, bring him back for a commentary with Cardi and Holotik.

- Corpse Eaters (1973)

It goes without saying that a movie about zombies eating people may be inspired by Night of the Living Dead, but this ultra-obscure Canadian zombie flick also seems to be a direct descendant of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. Created by a drive-in owner with the express intent to exhibit the film at his drive-in, this movie is unbelievably cheap looking and the scenes are often crudely realized by the actors, but holy moley is this thing weird and unusual. This may be the most unrealistic film on the list, since Corpse Eaters never really received any kind of official release outside of its original drive-in run, but who knows--maybe the fact that it was purchased by a disreputable distributor and then shelved means that there is at least one nice print laying around waiting for be scanned. This movie is in dire need of a Blu-Ray rescue.

Dream special features: Just seeing Corpse Eaters get a restoration would be a dream in itself.

- The Children (1980)

A leak at a nuclear power plant creates a cloud of noxious yellow gas that drifts across the New England countryside; when a school bus drives through it, the children on board are all transformed into murderous zombies that have the ability to burn their victims alive in 15 seconds with the touch of their hands. Although played with a straight face, there are plenty of winks in the film regarding its cynical, satirical statement on familial dysfunction and parenthood gone wrong.  Troma issued a horrible looking DVD that somehow didn't even look as good as the VHS release. Someone really should clean this up this memorable trash classic and give it a definitive release.

Dream special features: an isolated track with Harry Manfredini's score, which is very similar to Friday the 13th.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Strange Love Of "The Bat People"

Relationships aren't easy at all. Sure, love is usually great at first, because we're on our best behavior, but eventually the masks we wear start to slip, our significant others finally see the real us, and the tests truly begin. We grow, we change, priorities can be rearranged, and suddenly your love's in jeopardy, baby.

Flapping around American drive-ins circa 1974 was a strange love story called "The Bat People", a horror flick that was distributed by American International Pictures and was frequently paired with other AIP releases like "Frogs", "The Deathmaster", and "Dr. Phibes Rises Again". It was also released with the title "It Lives By Night" and was featured that way on "Mystery Science Theater 3000", a snarky TV show for people who think it's cute when an audience talks during a movie.

It's true that "The Bat People" is not a perfect film, but it's certainly not one of the worst ever made. The budget is painfully low, and although the actors all have good moments, the quality of the performances fluctuates, leading me to believe the director only had a few takes to work with in each scene. The approach to the monster is minimal in a 1950s sort of way, with only a few brief glimpses of some very cool Stan Winston makeup FX. Interestingly enough, it works especially well when the makeup is shown in closeup, as the two main characters share an intimate moment.

The film does have that essential nightmare dread that was so common in the 1970s, but it comes not from the horror elements. This movie is a romance at heart, with a couple who suddenly find their love threatened by something seemingly insurmountable. Many werewolf type films have this as a backdrop, but the fascinating thing about "The Bat People" is how this seems to be where the script's heart is, and it finds a way to give its formerly doomed lovers the strangest happy ending. It also finds a way to join werewolf and vampire iconography into one creature, similar to the 1950s film "Blood of Dracula". Its main characters are a recently married couple named John and Cathy, who are on a tour of a cave when John is bitten by a bat. Blackouts, seizures and hallucinations follow, and John discovers he is transforming into a bloodthirsty man-bat creature that preys on human beings.

Adding to the sense of disorientation and isolation for the couple is the fact that this all occurs while they are away from familiar surroundings, in a strange place where they've come to combine John's research on bats with a late honeymoon. Although we glimpse others in the area, many of the scenes are filmed in a dark, small town that often seems curiously vacant. John's nightmares and hallucinations are filmed in an arty fashion, with bats and people shot on empty black backgrounds. The expanse of the desert and the hollow caves add a lot of bleak atmosphere to the film.

Once John's crimes have caught up to him, he disappears, leaving Cathy alone and unsure what to do, in a motel room in a strange town that she doesn't even consider leaving without her husband. To ramp up the emotional drama, the sleazy local police sergeant who is investigating John's murders attempts to lure Cathy's allegiances away from John, coming on to her and then reacting violently when she rejects his advances. John himself is, in a strange sense, "running out" on Cathy, as most of his victims happen to be sexy young women.

These other potential "relationships", however, are not for John and Cathy, and even the weird supernatural problem they're facing can't break them up (not to mention that John has now become a murderer). At first John abandons Cathy for her best interest, and he tells her he is happy in this new life he has discovered. But both of them are too devastated to lose one another. John shows up in the hotel room and they make love. When she awakens, John is gone again, but there is something different; either because of something John did to her, or as a realization she makes on her own, Cathy begins to hear the eerie rustling sounds that John heard before he was transformed. She realizes she can change also, and in the strange happy ending, Cathy walks into the cave where she knows John is waiting. The meddling cop is killed by a swarm of bats, freeing John and Cathy to begin their new existence together.

It shouldn't go unsaid that, given this film's notoriety as a "bad movie", its poor reputation has a lot to do with the way it was marketed when it was retitled from its early conceptual titles "Winged Death" and "Angel of Fear". The poster art for the wide release of "The Bat People" depicts an entire colony of creatures living underneath a spooky graveyard. OK?? That's totally not this movie, and anybody who really expected it must have felt like every kid who ordered Sea Monkeys and discovered they weren't really humanoid sea people who could be trained to do tricks. Even though the title could be seen as evocative of the film's subtle conclusion, when indeed we learn there will now be not one but two bat people, the title promises more than the humble film can deliver. Nobody really expects the movie to care about the doctor and his wife more than it cares about the horror elements.

Even with some really great Stan Winston creature designs, the film cannot effectively sustain any real terror, and the horror scenes are better at creeping along in the shadows instead of lunging. There are several murders, but they're almost played for laughs, like one victim we see making out in a truck with a boy and complaining that someone sold her oregano instead of weed. The violence is very PG, but there is one disturbing scene where the sergeant's speeding car is attacked by bats that splatter all over the windshield in gory detail, like rotten fruit dipped in red paint.

The bizarre love triangle between Stewart Moss, Marianne McAndrew and Michael Pataki actually comes off better. Pataki is especially good, finding an intriguing mix of brutish hero, corrupt cop and predatory perv. Stewart Moss's character seems to be a hopeless square who finally finds the nerve to give in to his animal instincts. McAndrew's character is required to constantly rationalize her husband's antisocial behavior, the ultimate loyal wife who not only defends her man's decision to steal an ambulance and endanger the lives of everyone he nearly flattens with it, but also sacrifices her own humanity and transforms as he did, even if her change is not shown on screen.

What MST3K would never tell you is that "The Bat People" has a strange, dreamlike quality just perfect for a late night drive-in movie. There is a cavernous, artful emptiness to it, an atmosphere of existential dread amid the silliness, and the strangest thing of all could be how the script always keeps its focus on the feelings of its two lovers. For something so derivative, it manages to do the unexpected.
*previously published in "Secret Scroll Digest" and the October 2016 issue of Drive-In Asylum.