Day 22 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 22. Separation. Alienation. Aloneness. If you scream alone in the woods and no one is around to hear it, are you really screaming? For today’s movie, I went with The Witch, a film where one of the main characters choose all three because of his pride.
It all starts when William’s interpretation of the New Testament leads him to being banished from the plantation where his family has moved to from England. Instead of the safety of being around others, now he and his brood have to live within the forest.
One day, when the oldest daughter Thomasin is playing with the youngest, Samuel, the baby disappears, stolen by a witch and devoured. William insists that a wolf stole the child while his wife is decimated for the rest of the film. William’s lies move the story further in motion — he takes Caleb hunting deep in the wood when he has promised his wife he would not and he sells her father’s cup for hunting supplies. Meanwhile, Mercy and Jonas, the twin children of the family, insist that they speak to the goal named Black Phillip while contending with Thomasin that they are also witches.
The next morning, son Caleb leaves to see if he can get food for his family, thereby keeping them from selling Thomasin into servitude. She goes along with him, but their dog chases a hare and their horse throws Thomasin as Caleb is lost in the woods, eventually being seduced by yet another witch.
Soon, all Hell is literally breaking loose. Caleb returns, near death, and throws up an apple before his violent death. The twins forget how to pray and go into a trance. And the mother is convinced that Thomasin is behind it all.
Up until this point, the film moves at an incredibly slow pace. Get ready. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it gets more and more demented, paying off everything you’ve been waiting for.
The first film for Robert Eggers, this shot in natural light film is something to behold. It seems much more confident than a first film would suggest. There is also a lot of attention paid to supernatural detail, such as the Enochian language used throughout for the witches.
I’ve debated the end of this film so many times. Is it about Thomasin’s escape from teen to full womanhood? Is it the sin of William’s pride destroying his entire family? Is it about the fact that evil actually exists and that it may claim even the most pious? Or is the issue that William only sees the hellfire and brimstone of the Gospel when he should be preaching the literal Good News, the celebration of Christ conquering death? Would Thomasin desire to live deliciously if her life had not been so oppressive? Is it about the divide between mother and daughter? Is it a Satanic parable?
BONUS: Listen to Becca and Sam discuss The Witch on our podcast.
Day 21 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 21. Opiate of the Masses. The power of the Scarecrow compels you to watch a religious film! I’ve been dying to watch this movie, as I’ve known parts of it from Negativland’s song “Christianity Is Stupid.” Once Nicolas Winding Refn added it to his site www.bynwr.com, I knew this would be my pick.
The title of this film references Jeremiah 12:5: “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”
The director, Ron Ormond, started his career in vaudeville doing magic, before making B picture Westerns and exploitation films such as Mesa of Lost Women, Untamed Mistress, Teenage Bride/Please Don’t Touch Me and films such as 40 Acre Feud, which starred country star George Jones. After that, he spent much of the 1950’s writing books with Ormond McGill about magic and psychic belief, such as Religious Mysteries of the Orient/Into the Strange Unknown, The Art of Meditation and The Magical Pendulum of the Orient.
It gets stranger. By the 60’s, Ormond moved on to producing roller derby for Leo Seltzer and making films like The Girl from Tobacco Road with cowboy star Tex Ritter and The Monster and the Stripper, an inordinately bonkers film that plays like a variety show packed with exotic dancers, contortionists, rockabilly and a swamp monster played by musician Sleepy LaBeef that was filmed in the studio of a Methodist Church with exteriors shot on location in the Okefenokee Swamp.
Then, well, Ormond crashed his single-engine plane near Nashville and had a Paul on the road to Damascus moment. Soon, instead of making movies that’d play in drive-ins for horny teens, he’d be converting them to the will of God. Yet this movie proves that he lost none of his exploitation edge. After all, his son’s godfather was Bela Lugosi. Now, Ormond was woke to the teachings of one Estus Pirkle, who was convinced that America faced its greatest danger from Communism.
In their follow-up to this film, The Burning Hell, Pirkle would speak to the horrors of the afterlife while Ormond matched him with the kind of imagery that could only come from a junk movie pioneer who nearly smashed a plane into the unforgiving Earth. Actually, he crashed another plane in 1970, after finishing The Monster and the Stripper, so two signs from God were enough to get Ormond on board. Because after all, Pirkle would preach hellfire and brimstone like this: “Hell is forever. 10,000 years from now, every sinner will still be in Hell. 100,000 years from now, every sinner will still be in Hell. 1,000,000 years from now, every sinner will still be in Hell. 100,000,000 years from now, every sinner will still be in Hell. 1,000,000,000 years from now, the inhabitants of Hell will still be sinning, cursing, crying, swearing, and in a pain that no mortal man has to experience now.”
But let’s discuss this movie because it truly boggles the mind.
As Pirkle reads a sermon, we see an America that is made up of Southern accents and good Christian folks getting decimated by Communists with the worst accents you’ve ever heard. They force people to renounce their faith, accept Castro as their personal savior and shoot their own mothers when they’re not shoving bamboo sticks into children’s brains through their ears, making those kids puke all over the place. This entire sequence is shown up close and in person. Christians are shot, stabbed, hung, tortured and murdered. Their children are made to hang them and drop them onto spikes. It’d be frightening if it wasn’t so over the top. I’ve always had the belief that Christians have way better Satanic imagery than most Satanists, as this movie and the Jack Chick tract The Beasthave both shown me. But look — don’t take it from me. See it for yourself!
This film was often played in churches and in tent revivals, where at the end, there would be an altar call. Supposedly, this movie achieved its goal of saving a million souls, which was now the box office that Ormond was now really concerned with.
Pirkle promised that hundreds of dead bodies would litter the streets of our towns and tens of millions of Americans would be killed by Communists within the next 24 months. He also found the time to shame a good Christian girl who witnessed but had the temerity to wear a mini-skirt while doing so. And he also drops bon mots like “Are you aware that less than sixty years ago there was not one Communist in the world, whereas today Communism controls one billion, one hundred million people?”
I know that I grew up Catholic and that warped me beyond belief, but I really am glad that I never attended any tent revivals growing up. I would have ended up speaking in tongues, handling snakes, drinking poison and saving people with psychic surgery.
Seriously, this movie messed with my mind on a level that Alejandro Jodorowsky could only dream of. This is a movie where Communists machine gun Baptists into a giant unmarked grave as the camera luridly moves amongst the carnage and a small boy says, “Where’s my mommy? Where’s my daddy?” before another Communist monster with an accent like Dracula demands that the kid step all over a painting of Jesus, which leads to that cherubic child getting beheaded rather than turn his back on Christ and his head tumbles into the ground in dramatic slow motion while a member of the audience within the audience screams and gives up her hippie ways and finds her way back to the Lord while the ghost of her mother cries from an open casket.
This isn’t just the best religious movie I’ve ever seen. It may be the best movie ever made.
Want to see the whole thing? Fuck yes you do. I posted a YouTube link above and if you join the ByNWR site, you can see the best quality version of this film that exists.
Day 20 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 20. VIDEO STORE DAY. The most important day of this challenge. Watch something physically purchased from an actual video store. If you live in a place that is unfortunate enough not to have one of these archival treasures then watch a movie with a video store in it at least. #vivaphysicalmedia! Sadly, the last Family Video locations that were within a half an hour of our house closed at the beginning of the year. It was incredibly depressing, despite the fact that we bought a lot of films in the closing of the store. But it felt like going to the estate sale of one of your best friends. I teared up a bit in the parking lot, because there’s nowhere left other than Redbox to look for new films. And well, those boxes may be convenient, but they just aren’t the same.
That means that I had to look for something with a video store scene in it. And that leads me to The Lost Boys, a movie that pretty much sums up the 1980’s, the days when video was king.
When I first put in The Lost Boys, my wife mentioned that she would watch it for a few minutes. Of course, she ended up watching nearly the whole thing, remarking how attractive every guy in it is, how she dressed as Star for Halloween as a little girl and reciting the dialogue word for word. After all, she says, it is the perfect 1980’s movie.
Michael (Jason Patric, who my wife also loves in Speed 2: Cruise Control) and Sam Emerson (Corey Haim, whose 976 hotline was called by my wife every single day) are the children of divorce, moving with their mother Lucy (Dianne Wiest, who my wife loves in Practical Magic) to the tourist town of Santa Carla.
They’ll be living with their strange grandpa (Barnard Hughes, Sisters) and trying to acclimate to what just might be the murder capitol of the United States (it used to be Youngstown, Ohio, a town I grew up close to). Just look at the boardwalk — it’s covered with posters of missing kids.
At a concert (once, SNL was funny and did this sketch based on this scene) featuring a shirtless and oiled up man playing saxophone (he’s actually called The Believer if you read the Vertigo Lost Boys comic book that came out in 2016). Michael falls in love quickly with Star (Jami Gertz, Less than Zero), which brings him into the orbit of the Lost Boys, led by David (a perfect Kiefer Sutherland).
Meanwhile, Sam is meeting Edgar and Alan Frog (Corey Feldman, another of my wife’s 976 call loves and Jamison Newlander, who is in the 1988 remake of The Blob), two comic shop working kids who are really fearless vampire killers. They claim that Santa Carla is the hometown of numerous vampires and that his brother could be one of them.
Tying into today’s theme of video stores, the kids’ mom soon meets Max (Edward Herrmann, Overboard), a kindly video shop owner who seems at odds with the Lost Boys that run the boardwalk (Bill S. Preston, Esq. himself, Alec Winter, is amongst their number).
The divide between brothers before and after puberty is clearly delineated by this film, as Sam is content to sing old soul songs in the bathtub with Michael is out there chasing strange women, hanging from railroad bridges and watching rice turn into maggots. You can also see this movie as the struggle between growing up and growing away from your family. Or dealing with a mother who is starting to date again and how that changes your perceptions of her. There’s also the fact that the title itself is a reference to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan stories, boys who will never grow up.
Of course, everything leads to a final conflict between the Emersons and the Lost Boys, with Max as their secret leader. I always loved how the video store owner’s goal all along was to finally find a mother for his motley collection of vampiric ruffians. The way he reacts when she isn’t afraid of them at the video store telegraphs this upon repeated viewings. And does anything beat grandpa’s last line? “One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach: all the damn vampires.”?
After starting his directing career with The Incredible Shrinking Woman and D.C. Cab, Joel Schumacher really did an amazing job on this film. You can almost forgive him for his work on the Batman films. No, not really. You can never forgive that.
This really is the perfect 80’s film. I always felt for the vampires more than the humans. Never grow up. Never die. Never age. How does that sound bad? Sure, you have to kill other gangs on the boardwalk, but is that such a rough life?
There were plans to make a sequel named The Lost Girls with David returning as the villain — noticeably he’s the only vampire that doesn’t dissolve — but it just never worked out. There are several direct to video sequels to this that I’ve never seen, Lost Boys: The Tribe (featuring brother Angus Sutherland as the lead vampire) and Lost Boys: The Thirst. A fourth film was in the works, as well as a Frog Brothers TV show, when Warner Premiere went out of business.
Finally — I just want to mention how perfect this scene in What We Do in the Shadows is.
Today’s Scarecrow Psychotronic challenge is 19. VHS DAY. Watch something on the greatest physical format known to psychotronica. If you don’t have access to a VCR watch something originally shot on video. While I don’t have Night Train to Terror on VHS, my copy has been bootlegged from one, complete with tracking issues and multiple gen quality.
God (Ferdy Mayne, Count von Krolock from The Fearless Vampire Killers) and Satan (Tony Giorgio, The Godfather) ride a train, discussing the fate of three people while a band makes a music video. If you’re ready to watch three movies get edited into one and ready to check your brains at the station, then you’re ready for Night Train to Terror.
A portmanteau made up of one unfinished and two previously released movies, this is one strange bit of 1980’s video store craziness. The train is doomed to go off the tracks, so God and Satan play for the souls of not just the band, but the people in the stories that follow.
In The Case of Harry Billings, John Phillip Law (Danger: Diabolik!) has been manipulated into working for the spare body parts black market. This was a film called Harry that was never finished until it was put into this film, although it was later released on VHS as Scream Your Head Off.
The Case of Gretta Connors concerns a carnival girl turned porn star who is in a suicide club and in love with her Hollywood producer old man husband and young boytoy. This was later released as 1983’s Death Wish Club. If you want one movie where giant beetles fly around and kill people who get sexually excited by death…
Finally, we have The Case of Claire Hansen, in which a surgeon battles Satan with the help of an old man who survived the Holocaust and Cameron Mitchell. Oh yeah — Richard Moll plays her husband and his hair changes throughout the story. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because we already watched and shared this movie. It’s the batshit crazy film known as The Nightmare Never Ends.
All of these films are linked together by writer Philip Yordan, who history has told us was merely a front for blacklisted writers, with his lone Oscar for Broken Lance truly belonging to Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
I don’t know if this review can prepare you for the sheer mania that this film has in store for you. Nothing in it makes sense, to the point where you’re unsure as to whether that’s it’s a David Lynch style movie or just plain ineptitude. There has never been a movie like this before or since and that’s no hyperbole.
Vinegar Syndrome released a DVD/blu-ray combo of this and it’s packed with extras, including an interview with producer/director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen and assistant editor Wayne Schmidt, as well as the full version of Gretta.
Day 18 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is Psychotronic Documentaries: The real authority on the occult, ufos, ghost hunters, conspiracy theories etc. They’re all real, accurate and true, right? After a week of documentaries, I had to go deep and find something truly off. And guess what? I succeeded.
This film promises so much. During Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, it states that a cabal of Nazi magicians and technicians discovered the secrets of anti-gravity and space travel from extraterrestrials.
This one hits every point you’d want it to. Hello Tesla! Hello Thule Society! Hello Maria Orsic and her Vrilerinnen, psychic girls who serve the Vril Gesellschaft, with long hair that acts as a cosmic antenna to contact occult beings from beyond our reality. Hello Black Sun! There’s also Germany’s Antarctic colony Neuschwabenland and psychic messages telling all of the Vril Society that no one will remain on this Earth.
But it doesn’t stop there. Flying wings! Flying saucers! Nordic aliens meeting with Eisenhower and Pope Pius XII! Hidden Nazi bases post World War II! Operation Paperclip! Aliens helping Nazi NASA scientists create our space program! There’s so much in this movie that it seems like the serious version of Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America!
Throw in some Roswell, Peter Levenda (who may or may not be the Simon who wrote the 1960’s Simon Necronomicon), Skull and Bones, Freemasons and more for a simmering stew full of saucer sauciness!
But don’t take it from me. Check out James Nichols site for the original essay or watch this via the link above or on Amazon Prime.
PS – Your author used to read old BBS message boards in the pre-internet phone based modem days on a Commodore 64. I was reading the Krill Papers that would eventually find their way into the book Behold a Pale Horse and there was a whole FOR YOUR EYES ONLY warning about how aliens killed Kennedy and showed our government a hologram of the Crucifixion, claiming they orchestrated the entire thing. It was at this time that my computer crashed and I became convinced — perhaps under the influence of a bottle of Jack Daniels and two Snapple Ice Teas that made for a horrifying mixed drink — that frogmen and Men in Black were coming for me, so I woke up our entire house in an abject panic. Ah, youth!
Day 17 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 17. Die Laughing. “Hello?” “I don’t think comedy belongs in horror.” “You got the wrong number, pal.” I’ve picked a movie that got a bad rap when it came out but time seems to have been kinder to, Jennifer’s Body. I missed it on the first go-round, so let’s get into it.
Jennifer’s Body was written by Diablo Cody, who became known for the blog and book Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, as well as the screenplay for Juno. Since then, she’s done script revisions on the new Evil Dead as well as writing Ricki and the Flash and Tully.
Named for the Hole song, this is a film about not just demonic possession, but dealing with high school and the changes that childhood friendships go through. Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) have been friends since childhood, but times are changing.
Yet at the very start of the film, Anita is locked in a mental institution and unafraid to attack anyone in her way. She flashes back to her high school days with Jennifer, who was her the exact diametrical opposite. Where Anita is quiet, rude and withdrawn, Jennifer is loud, snide, sexy and popular.
Everything changes on the night that they attend a concert at the local dive bar, Melody Lane, to see Low Shoulder. While the band plays, a fire explodes across the bar and kills everyone inside, except the band, Jennifer and Anita. The band leaves with Jennifer over Anita’s protests. Later that night, she shows up bloody and shaking, devouring the inside of Anita’s mom refrigerator and spewing black fluid all over the linoleum.
Yet the next day, Jennifer is just fine. But things aren’t fine any longer. The town is devastated by the fire and the captain of the football team has been devoured in the woods. The only people who are doing well are Low Shoulder, whose heroism in the fire has been noted. Now, they want to make a charity performance at the school.
A month later, Jennifer is growing paler and needier, accepting a date with the school’s most emo kid, Colin, to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. While Needy is losing her virginity to Chip, Jennifer is murdering her date.
Needy finds Jennifer drenched in blood and that’s when the secret comes out: Low Shoulder had tried to sacrifice her for fame and fortune, but since Jennifer wasn’t a virgin, she remains permanently possessed. Her first victim was the foreign exchange student that night after the fire. When she has eaten someone, she can survive any injury, feel no pain and becomes even more beautiful.
Needy does her research and learns that Jennifer is a succubus who can only be killed when she is hungry. She warns Chip not to attend the school dance, where she feels that Jennifer will feed on everyone. She even breaks up with him, but he comes anyone to his doom. The two girls battle in Jennifer’s bedroom before Needy is able to stab her best friend in the heart with a box cutter, ending her reign of terror.
Unfortunately, Jennifer’s mother only sees her daughter being killed, which is why Needy is in the asylum. As we come back to the beginning, Needy learns that a non-fatal bite from Jennifer has given her powers. She soon escapes, hitchhikes to Low Shoulder’s motel (of all people, Lance Henriken gives her a ride) and gets revenge for her and Jennifer.
Personally? I liked it. There’s a great moment during Needy’s first sexual encounter with her boyfriend where she notices all of Jennifer’s victims watching, much like the theater of corpses from An American Werewolf in London. I liked the relationship between the girls and am glad they didn’t follow through on the original plans to have a sex scene between them, as I felt that would have jumped too far into pure titillation.
It’d be interesting to see how this film would fare if made today. In a February 2016 New York Times interview, director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, The Invitation) said that the studio’s all-male marketing department had no idea what to do with the movie, even suggesting that Megan Fox do live sex chats on amateur porn sites to drum up interest in the film. Obviously, the #metoo moment came at the right time.
The only downer to this film for me is how close it is to Ginger Snaps. It hits so many of the same story beats that one wonders exactly how many times Diable Cody watched it. That said, the music is decent and this movie will keep you entertained for 90 minutes.
Day 16 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 16. Petey Wheatstraw presents. Watch a movie featuring African-Americans in the starring roles. Bonus if it’s written and/or directed by an African-American. We’re happy to answer all of those challenges with a brand new movie — Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott’s sequel to their 1995 film Tales from the Hood.
This was a difficult movie for me to write about, to be perfectly honest, for several reasons. First, I love the original. Often, it’s hard for me to warm up a band’s new album because I am so into what came before and I need to push past that. I had this DVD sitting on my to watch pile for some time until I could be ready to watch it. And I’ll be frank: it is not nearly as good as the original. But in the twenty plus years since the original came out, a lot of good — and bad — has happened in the American experience.
Which leads me to the second part that makes this movie hard for me to share my opinion on: I’m a white male that was born in a small town with a handful of black people in it. This is very much a horror movie made for a post-black lives matter and #metoo world. And yes, I can have an opinion on the actual film, but when there are moments that may feel heavy handed and obvious to me, they may also feel incredibly poignant and earnest to others.
Keep this in mind when I bring up points in this article. Because I really liked parts of this film. I know why they did what they did. I think my major issues with it were the lower budget, which can’t really be helped, and that there’s an inconsistent morality through the stories. Yet I found a lot of things to like in it. I’ve used the Frank Capra quote “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” before. And this movie is anything but boring.
The movie starts with Robo Hell, where we meet Dumas Beach, a rich white prison owner who is creating an army of artificial intelligence Robo Patriots that can learn from firsthand experience, as well as secondhand stories so that they can become predictive.
He hires Mr. Simms (Keith David here, instead of Clarence Williams III who has retired from acting), a storyteller who will use his collection of tall tales, legends and parables to better teach these robots and prepare them to police America’s neighborhoods and borders.
Dumas asks him to tell the robots about the people who will fill his prisons, so the first story is all about black lives mattering. In Good Golly, two friends, one white and one black, visit the Museum of Negrosity, which features a history of racist propaganda, books and dolls. The white girl wants a golliwog doll named Golly Gee for her collection, but the owner refuses. Nothing there is for sale, it’s there to teach a lesson. That night, the kids come back and try to steal it, but everyone is killed by Golly Gee and the other golliwogs, other than the one girl. She is impregnated with Golly Gee’s horrible children, who burst forth from her stomach, killing her. Also, one of Miss Cobbs’ dolls shows up from the original, but he really serves no storytelling purpose other than fan service.
Here’s where my issues begin: every character in this scene other than the museum owner is a stereotype. Yet this is a chapter about stereotypes and how racist characters are the first marketing characters, a subject I found fascinating as I come from an advertising background. When the owner says to Golly, “How dare they call you a stereotype? You’re just the creation they designed you to be!” it resonates.
That’s where I have to figure out how to discuss this film. Parables are simple stories that need stereotypes and easily understood iconography to impart a moral message. They share some employment of those storytelling tools with exploitation films, which use stereotypes to create sensationalized narratives that make money, morals be damned. My issue here is trying to figure out when Tales from the Hood 2 wants to be a morality play and when it wants to titillate and entertain.
The next part, The Medium, feels like it’s on the side of the latter. A pimp named Cliff Bettis has given up the life, giving five million dollars to a foundation and building two magnets schools in the hood he once used for his own ends. Three criminals try to extort and torture him to find the money, but after Bettis accuses one of them of being a willing bitch in prison, it goes too far and he’s killed.
That’s when we meet TV psychic John Lloyd (obviously John Edward, the TV cold reader) who uses trickery and eavesdropping to make money from an audience that thinks he can speak to the dead. The three men think that they can get the money from the other side by kidnapping Bettis’ girlfriend and using Lloyd’s psychic powers.
However, the seance goes wrong and Lloyd discovers that he really has the power as Bettis possesses him. That’s when Bettis begins using mental powers and murders the three men before taking over Lloyd’s life, using his pimp mindset and real psychic powers to become even more successful.
Here’s my issue with this segment over every single other one in this film. As you’ll discover, this movie wants people to understand the sacrifices of the generations before them and make better choices. If Bettis really has made a foundation and is helping improve his neighborhood, he quickly abandons that plan and simply murders everyone in his path before becoming an even bigger swindler. Nobody learns anything. No lives get bettered. It’s just revenge for revenge sake and seems to feel morally hollow versus other moments that will follow.
Date Night is a much simpler affair, where internet predators end up facing vampires after a game of Cards Against Humanity that goes on way too long. It’s one thing to have fun and play it at a party. It’s another thing to spend endless time on it in a film when it doesn’t really move the plot forward. This story is by the numbers and doesn’t raise the questions that the other stories do.
The Sacrifice is the longest and most troubling part of the film. It concerns a councilman, Henry Bradley, whose white wife has had several difficult pregnancies. She fears that her visions of a boy about to be lynched will make all the difference, as she thinks that boy doesn’t think her child deserves to be born.
It turns out that Bradley is a Republican who is helping William Cotton run for governor. To ensure that less black people will vote, he’s working on shutting down voting sites in their neighborhoods. Bradley’s mother is aghast and as time goes on the baby begins to slowly disappear.
The black child is, of course, Emmett Till, and the theme of this episode is that the black people of today must honor the sacrifices of those who have gone before. At one point, the world makes a startling narrative shift, where we see what the world would be like if Till, Carol Denise McNair (who was killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing), James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mamie Till had not made their sacrifice.
Now, instead of running on a platform to return Mississippi to its old values, Cotton leads a paramilitary KKK to Bradley’s house. The doctor and Bradley’s white wife have turned against him. And the only way out is for him to die the same way as all of these martyrs if he wants the world to be better and his child to live.
This is where the morality/exploitation question really hit me. It’s an audacious gambit here and really a grandstand that demands to know why black people, knowing the past, would vote for people that want to “make America great again.” You can say that you’re taking the race out of things, but if we’ve learned anything from Golly Gee, it’s that racism is so ingrained in our American DNA, you can never take race out of anything else ever again.
Like I said earlier, I can have an opinion on the quality of the film but not on the content of this scene. I can say that it feels exploitative to me, but the truth is, this segment may empower someone. Or it may make them think. It certainly did that for me. So often we forget everything that everyone has worked so hard to change. I try not to get political on this site, but my constant real life worry is that the last two years have erased so much progress. And often, I use horror movies as an escape. But exploitation can often be morality and vice versa and perhaps they can both serve the same purpose. This movie doesn’t have a square up reel ala IIsa, She Wolf of the SS, so I think it really wants to be more sermon than sensationalism.
Finally, the framing device, Robo Hell, ends with the Robo Patriot showing how it can identify ex-cons and illegal immigrants. But now, it’s predictive abilities, powered by Mr. Simms’ stories, allow it to see the most immediate clear and present dangers to American civilization. And that threat is obviously Dumas Beach and his people, who are so complicit in his crimes that they must die as well. We get Old Testament justice mixed with low comedy wordplay (Dumas Beach is really Dumbass Bitch) and Mr. Simms reveals that he is Satan as he takes the evil white rich old man to Hell.
The fact that the devil has a higher moral standing than someone who seems to be a red hat wearing Republican is not lost. It’s just another of the interesting stances that this movie takes.
Executive produced by Spike Lee and written and directed by the same team who produced the original, Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott, this one really is much more of a mixed bag than the first film. I wanted to love this and ended up left with more questions than answers. That isn’t to say I hated the film. I can see why other critics would attack this film. It’s not subtle at all. It has noticeable flaws, like the cheesy robot in the wrap around. And the vampire story could be removed and make this a much better movie. Yet Keith David is great. And I actually thought a lot more about the issues raises here than I have in any other movie I’ve watched this year. That’s what a good moral story should do, right? I just wish this had a better point of view of whether it wanted to educate or entertain when it struggles to straddle the line and do both.
Day 15 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 15. Easterns. The Asian continent has produced so many exotic cinema treasures. Watch one. I’ve been dying to dig into this movie, which was inspired by the Tōru Shinohara manga.
Nami “Scorpion” Matsushima has been dealt the absolute worst of hands. Her boyfriend, the crooked cop Sugimi, has used her body to curry favor with the Yakuza. When she tries to murder him on the steps of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters, she is sentenced to hard time and given the number 701.
The films opens with a failed escape attempt between Scorpion and Yuki. However, one knows that Scorpion’s revenge is inevitable. It’s been said that Meiko Kaji decided to play this role using only her face, without speaking a word, and that choice would create an iconic role for her.
This is the kind of jail Roger Corman movies dream of being. Nude female prisoners are forced to walk up and down stairs while hooting guards watch from below and threaten them. And while Matsushima deals with dehumanization behind bars, a Yakuza and police plan to murder her is underway, blackmailing fellow convict Katagiri into making an attempt on her life.
But Matsushima won’t be broken. After being attacked and defending herself in the shower, she spends days tied down in solitary confinement, with hot miso soup being poured all over her and she’s still managed to injure her captors. Then, she is forced to dig holes for two days and nights, yet never tires, even digging against the entire combined mass of the prison.
There’s an insane moment of magical realism here where another convict finally makes an attempt on Matsushima’s life and her face transforms into a Kabuki-like as our heroine deftly steps aside and the warden’s eye pays the price. Soon, the female prisoners have taken over, raping the men and setting the entire building ablaze. Only one body can’t be found at the end. If you guessed Scorpion, you’d be correct.
Soon, she’s an angel of death, gliding into and out of the real lives of the men who thought they could destroy her, effortlessly and wordlessly dispatching them with neon red arcs of blood before calmly walking back into the prison.
This is a film of zooms, of neon, of horrible men and a woman who is willing to endure anything it takes to return their violence a thousand times. It’s also an incredibly stylish film and inspired Kill Bill. It’s director, Shunya Ito, has Scorpion character as “the ultimate rebel.” I’d describe this film as the art house and the grindhouse making violent, bloody, ultra technicolor love in slow motion.
With three direct sequels and several remakes, this is a film series you can really get plenty out of. Luckily, it’s now easy to find, as it’s streaming on Shudder.
Day 14 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is Westerns. Hats and boots are a must on this trail, y’all. Yeehaw! I chose Lucio Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse…, which was made years before he became known as the Godfather of Gore.
Salt Flats, Utah. 1873. Professional gambler Stubby Preston (Fabio Testi, Contraband) is arrested the moment he steps off the stagecoach, thwarting his plans to win money from the town’s casino. It turns out that he’s actually lucky, because the town has become a vigilante mob that burns that den of iniquity to the ground, leaving only Stubby and three other criminals alive: Bunny (Lynne Frederick, Phase IV), a pregnant prostitute, a black man named Bud and the alcoholic Clem (Michael J. Pollard, Bonnie and Clyde).
The four are given safe passage out of town by the sheriff, who gives them a wagon and horses for all of their remaining money and possessions. Soon, they are traveling with a Mexican gunman named Chaco (Tomas Milian, Don’t Torture a Duckling) who saves the group from lawmen, only to torture one of the remaining lawmen in front of the group.
Nevertheless, everyone agrees to take peyote together. The four wake up tied up as Chaco (Milian claims he based his performance on Manson) taunts and beats them, shooting Clem and raping Bunny in front of the entire group.
There have been rumors for decades that Frederick and Testi were having an affair during this film. Testi was dating Ursula Andress at the time, who was incredibly jealous. Some evidence is that even when Frederick’s scenes were all wrapped, the two actors improvised scenes that would include the two of them, including a love scene that has been lost. During the aforementioned rape scene, Milian was so into character and so rough that Testi’s reaction in that scene is real.
The four manage to get the gravely injured Clem onto a makeshift stretcher and follow Chaco and his gang as they kill everything in their path. Finally, they find a ghost town where Clem dies, Bud loses his mind and Stubby and Bunny admit that they love one another — just in time for her to die in childbirth and Stubby to leave her son to a town made up of only men.
Stubby hunts down Chaco, learning that the sheriff set up the events of the entire movie. Enraged, he murders every single person there, leaving Cacho alive so that he can torture him. When Chaco reminds him that he raped Bunny, Stubby shoots him without a word, as he walks into the sunset with only a stray dog as a companion.
Four of the Apocalypse… is influenced by Easy Rider and attempts to offer up a journey of redemption, but you have to understand that Fulci is at the helm. That means that as soon as you have a tender, feel-good moment, you’re going to be given moments of pure gore, like people skinned alive or used for food. Yet there’s also art to be found, thanks to Fulci’s first of ten collaborations with cinematographer Sergio Salvati. It’s also the first time Fulci would work with Fabio Frizzi on the soundtrack. The result is unlike anything you’ve heard in a spaghetti western.
Day 13 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is And on the 13th Day There Was Only Black and White. Greyscale is also acceptable. There was no choice for me other than the master’s finest work: Mario Bava’s seminal Black Sunday.
This was Bava’s directorial debut — although he had already directed several scenes without credit in other films. By 1960’s standards, this is a pretty gory film, leading to it being banned in the UK and chopped up by its US distributor American International Pictures.
In the 1600’s, the witch Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele, creating her legacy as the horror female supreme) and her lover Javuto are put to death by her brother. Before she is burned at the stake and has a metal mask hammered to her face, she curses their entire family.
Several centuries later, Dr. Thomas Kruvajan and his assistant, Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson, Frankenstein ’80) ae traveling to a medical conference when their carriage breaks down. Of course, they’re in a horror movie, so they wander into an ancient crypt and release Asa from her death mask and getting blood all over her face.
That’s when they meet her descendent Katia (also Steele), whose family lives in the haunted castle that of the Vajdas. Gorobec instantly falls for her and really, can you blame him?
All hell literally breaks loose, with Asa and Javuto coming back from the dead, possessing Dr. Kruvajan and concocting a plan to make Asa immortal by stealing Katia’s youth. Can good triumph against evil? Can you kill a vampire by stabbing wood into its eye socket? Which one is hotter, good or evil Barbara Steele?
A note from reader Edgar Soberon Torchia: “The blood from Dr. Kruvajan’s hand does not get all over Asa’s face. While fighting a bat he breaks the glass covering her face in the tomb. The blood in a piece of glass elegantly falls drop by drop into the empty cavity of Asa’s right eye.”
Thanks for setting us straight!
A lover of Russian fantasy and horror, Bava intended this film to be an adaption of Nikolai Gogol’s 1835 horror story “Viy.” However, the resulting script owes more to Universal Studios-style gothic horror. AIP cut or shortened the branding scene, blood spraying from the mask after it was hammered into Asa’s face, the eyeball impaling and the flesh burning off Vajda’s head in the fireplace. And in the Italian version, Asa and Javutich are brother and sister in an incestuous relationship.
Black Sunday has left quite an impression on fans and filmmakers alike. Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula contains several shot-for-shot homages, as does Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. And Richard Donner based the cemetery scene in The Omen on the moment when Barbara Steele appears with her hounds.
For a director who is so well known for his work in color, Bava has just as much skill in black and white. The sets were actually created in monochrome, with no color, to add to the dark mood.
My favorite scene in the film is when Bava creates a split screen effect where Steele’s two roles come together, as Asa intones, “You did not know that you were born for this moment. You did not know that your life had been consecrated to me by Satan. But you sensed it, didn’t you? You sensed it… That’s why my portrait was such a temptation to you, while frightened you. You felt like your life and your body were mine. You felt like me because you were destined to become me… a useless body without life.”