Australia After Dark (1975)

Burlesque, body-painting, snake-eating, mud-wrestling, alien landings, a gay wedding, and Satanism. Yep, director John D. Lamond (FelicityNightmares) pretty much watched Mondo Cane and said, “I borrowed a 16mm print of it and ran it on a closed circuit cinema thing and stopped and started the projector and looked at it. It ran on a sort of cycle – pathos, humour, oddity, nudity. I thought okay, what I need to do is shoot about fifty sequences, cut it into something coherent and pacey, and made it on the same sort of thing. I’d have something sexy, then something odd, then something really way-out, then something light hearted. And always do it tongue in cheek, and not have any sequence in the film run longer than about two minutes. And anything sexy, I’ll make it way-out or pretty.”

The British cut of this movie is twenty minutes less than the Australian one. That should tell you exactly how much content is in this for maniacs who need to watch Kiwi girls dance nude underwater or gratuitous milk baths.

Yes, body painting, alcoholism amongst the Aborigines, black masses and strip clubs are all side by side Down Under. I love that one of the people in this movie is named Count Copernicus. Ah, mondo!

You can get this from Severin.

The Soul Collector (2020)

An old man, fated to collect souls for eternity, seeks atonement after trading his daughter’s soul in this feature film debut by South African writer-director by Harold Hölscher.

The bankrupt William Zeil returns with his new wife, Sarah, and adopted daughter, Mary, to the family farm he inherited from his estranged father, with the hopes of starting a new life. Lazarus (the incredible Tshamano Sebe), the farmhand who took care of William’s father in his lonely, final hours, assists them in settling into their new, rural surroundings.

Despite Sarah’s misgivings, Young Mary and the elderly, but spry Lazarus quickly develop a bond as kindred spirits, and William finds a “connection” to his later father through the mysterious, but charming old man. But Lazarus carries a burdensome, dark secret with him, literally, everywhere he goes: a demon child with its insatiable appetite for human souls. And the family soon discovers they should have heeded the local’s weariness of Lazarus’s return from wandering afar.

This moody, supernatural exploration of South African folklore — originally known as 8 in its homeland — with a Blumhouse-level of production quality on par with the likes of Get Out and Ma — is rife with gialloesque insect metaphors regarding eternal life and man’s relationship to nature with it’s talk about moths and worms — and carries a J-Horror vibe of the tales of Toshio (Ju-On, aka The Grudge) and Sadako (Ringu, aka The Ring). The film comes with the occasional subtitles when the local, indigenous peoples speak their native tongue, which may turn off the few; but the production values, cinematography, and acting in this non-Hollywood jump-scares cookie cutter on a budget are expertly crafted and more than compensates for the subtitling.

The Soul Collector is via TriCoast Worldwide and Rock Salt Releasing is coming soon to select theaters, digital and On Demand platforms courtesy of Scream Factory. You can learn more about the film at 8themovie.com.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Disclaimer: We discovered this movie on social media and were intrigued by the trailers. We weren’t sent a screener or sent a review request.

Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971)

Five years after Africa Blood and Guts, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi returned with this movie, which is pretty much one of the roughest films I’ve ever made it through.

This was shot primarily in Haiti, where the directors were the guests of Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, who gave them diplomatic cars, clearance to film anywhere on the island and as many extras as they required to be used as slaves being treated exactly as slaves were. They were also invited to a nightly dinner with Duvalier himself.

If your mind isn’t already blown, stick around.

Goodbye Uncle Tom is based on true events in which the filmmakers explore America in slavery times, using published documents and materials from the public record to make what they consider a documentary, even claiming to go back in time to achieve this level of realism.

This movie was made in opposition to the claims that Africa Blood and Guts was racist. It didn’t work, as Roger Ebert would say, “They have finally done it: Made the most disgusting, contemptuous insult to decency ever to masquerade as a documentary.” He also stated that “This movie itself humiliates its actors in the way the slaves were humiliated 200 years ago.”

The movie was originally released in Italy in a 119-minute version and was immediately withdrawn. I’ve read that the directors were sued for plagiarism by writer Joseph Chamberlain Furnas. It was then re-released with 17 more minutes of footage.

The directors’ cut shows a comparison between the horrors of slavery and the rise of the Black Power Movement, ending with an unidentified black man’s fantasy of living out William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner. In that book, Turned is divinely inspired and given a mission from God to lead a slave uprising and destroy the white race.

This ending upset American distributors so much that they forced Jacopetti and Prosperi to cut more than thirteen minutes of racial politics that would upset their audiences. Pauline Kael still said that the movie was “the most specific and rabid incitement to race war,” a view shared with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who said that Goodbye Uncle Tom was a Jewish conspiracy to incite blacks on white violence.

This movie is not for everyone. But I feel that it needs to be seen. I rarely get political on this site, but in truth, I feel that we as a country have not done enough to understand the roots of the black experience. While an Italian exploitation film isn’t the best way to learn more, it’s a start.

It’s no accident that Cannibal Holocaust would eventually use the music of Riz Ortolani to juxtapose the horrific images on screen with the beauty of his compositions. The composer had been working with the duo since Mondo Cane, where his song “More” nearly won an Oscar.

But make no mistake that this movie, while intending to be educational and anti-racist, still employs the tools of the mondo and exploitation. How else do you describe the conceit that these filmmakers have gone back in time, taking a helicopter with them that they use to fly away from the terrors of the plantation at the end?

In 2010, Dr. David Pilgrim, the curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, said that when he showed this film to a class, it led to some major traumas. “On the day that we watched Goodbye Uncle Tom three students had unexcused absences, several cried while watching, one almost vomited; most sat, sad and disgusted. I taught for another fifteen years but I never showed that movie again.”

He went on to say that the film “is a more truthful portrayal of the brutality and obscenity of slave life than was Roots; however, I have some major problems with the film. I find it ironic that a movie that explored the exploitation and degradation of Black people was filmed in a way that exploited and degraded Black people. In some ways Goodbye Uncle Tom was just a XXX movie set against the backdrop of slavery; the “peculiar institution” served as an excuse to show sexual and violent gore. Jacopetti and Prosperi told a great many painful truths about slavery but they debased hundreds of Blacks to make the film.”

“I said all of that to say this: Jacopetti and Prosperi were not the messengers that I would have selected, and their implied assumptions about Blacks are troubling, but they made a movie that accurately portrayed the horrors of slavery. Of course, it is the case that a realistic depiction of the savagery of slavery would be difficult to watch no matter who made it. This is why when you finish watching Roots you may feel that a family has overcome great oppression and a nation has become more democratic; whereas when you finish watching Goodbye Uncle Tom you just feel sick to your stomach.”

That says a lot about this movie in a better way than I can, but I’m still going to try to sum it up: this is a well-made movie that may have been made with the best of intentions, but was made by two people who only had the experience to make exactly what they made. It is a movie made about slavery that used slave labor. It is a movie that offended both liberals and conservatives, those that believed in tolerance and those that were racist, those that were black and people who were white. This is a message movie that had its message taken away by American producers, leaving two hours of shock with none of the moral it so desperately needed.

If this movie upsets you, perhaps you needed to be upset. You should be less upset about a movie made nearly fifty years ago and more upset about our nation’s history of racism and intolerance. And you should definitely be upset about the lack of civil rights in our country today. I’m writing this after a day of nationwide protest, with police cars ablaze and crowds of protesters and the press teargassed.

If you choose, you can watch this on Tubi.

Monster: The Josef Fritzl Story (2010)

In this sickening story, Elisabeth Fritz tells the story of how her father Josef kept her locked in a cellar for 24 years, during which time she gave birth to seven incestuous children before she was eventually freed from a life of beatings, rape and torture,

This is not the strangest tale director David Notman-Watt has created. He also did a TV show with former Happy Mondays frontman, Shaun Ryder, who was abducted by aliens when he was 15 and traveled the world to meet others who had been taken by UFOs.

This is a rough tale, but if you enjoy true crime, you can watch it on YouTube.

 

Secret Rites (1971)

When you say, “Sam, would you like to watch a movie about 1970’s witchcraft from the director of I Am a GroupieThe Girl from Starship Venus and Blood Tracks?” the answer is always going to be yes.

This 47-minute movie is packed with narration from the women about to enter witchcraft and appearances by Alex Sanders, the English occultist responsible for founding the tradition of Alexandrian Wicca during the 1960s.

Sanders was known as the “King of the Witches,” with his skyclad female followers — naked to the unoccult leaning — getting plenty of attention in the era of this film.

Watch as Penny — the girl who thinks she might make a good witch — joins Sanders’ coven! Come now! Into my coven! To become Lucifer’s child! And you also get to see a Wiccan wedding, which is notable for the amount of full frontal male nudity that it has. Flaccid dong, will you take this magickal childe?

This movie is absolutely awesome. I mean, it’s no Witchcraft ’70 — and what is, really? — but it’s one of the more entertaining things I’ve watched as of late.

Ecco (1963)

Offsetting the globetrotting shock of this film — watch a woman bite off a reindeer’s scrotum with her bare teeth! — is the voice of George Sanders, perhaps way too sophisticated a man for such an endeavor. That said, money is money, and it’s time for Gianni Proia to take us all around This Shocking World (the other title for this mondo).

Beyond the expected lesbians and strippers — show me a mondo that doesn’t have those and it’s amazing that I am seeing them as commonplace at this point — you also get a trip to the original Grand Guigol and get to watch a man repeatedly impale himself.

The US version — re-edited with a new commentary by absolute maniac Bob Cresse and with an Italian title that means “look here” — adds scenes from World by Night No. 2, another Proia mondo, with bodybuilding showgirls, Roller Derby and some vacation footage. Consider it like watching snaps from holiday, except the vacation goers have no compunction showing you absolute filth.

You can get this on a double blu ray — along with The Forbidden — from Severin.

The Forbidden (1966)

Get ready for sixty-six minutes of pure scum from 1966, presented by Lee Frost (who wrote Race with the Devil and directed A Climax of Blue Power, along with The Thing With Two Heads) and Bob Cresse (whose Olympic International Films also brought The Scavengers and Love Camp 7 to the not so silver screen).

AGFA, who got the print of this out to the world all over again, says that it is “packed with staged scenes of Swiss lesbians, L.A. rapists, Parisian tarts and Nazi strippers.”

There’s also a sexy karate school commercial that for some reason has a girl taking a shower, murder and lots of strip club footage because it was 1966 and that’s the kind of thing that wasn’t widely available yet.

There’s also a great jazz/surf rock soundtrack under the hyperbolic narration. This had to blow minds fifty years ago. Today, it’s all pretty tame. But hey — somebody had to break ground, right?

You can get this on a double blu ray — along with Ecco — from Severin.

The Killer Shrews (1959)

During World War II, Ray Kellogg was a US Navy Lieutenant as part of the O.S.S. Field Photographing Branch. That’s where he met John Ford and when Kellogg came back to the U.S., he headed off to 20th Century Fox, where he eventually became the head of the special effects division and helped invent CinemaScope.

He directed four films: The Giant Gila Monster; My Dog, Buddy; and The Green Berets, which he co-directed with John Wayne and Mervyn LeRoy.

But today…today we’re here to discuss the fourth of his films: The Killer Shrews.

James Best has the lead in this movie as Captain Thorne Sherman. Best is probably best known for playing Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard, but he was a classically trained actor. So was Sorrell Brooke, who played his partner-in-crime Boss Hogg. The two often delighted in improvising most of their scenes together. And while they were working with younger and even untrained actors, by all reports they treated everyone incredibly well.

In addition to acting, Best was also a painter of some renown, a writer, a black belt and even ran an acting school, counting Burt Reynolds, Gary Busey, Clint Eastwood (who posted the insurance bond on Best so he could be on Dukes as the actor had a history of heart attacks), Roger Miller, Glen Campbell, Regis Philbin, Lindsay Wagner (who was his family babysitter before he encouraged her to act) and Quentin Tarantino as his students. Here’s some trivia: he was also a cousin of the Everly Brothers.

So why did he do this regional horror film? “I did the original The Killer Shrews as a favor. I made a movie with Sammy Ford, who was friends with a special effects man, Ray Kellogg, who wanted to direct his own picture. And we looked at the original’s script, and he didn’t have hardly any money whatsoever, but I did him a favor by acting in it. Ken Curtis, of course, was producing it from the start. I like Ken, and he wanted me to do it, so I went down there to Texas where we shot this thing. I didn’t realize it was so cheap. I mean, it was really cheap. For me it was a blast, but it was so bad! I think it was voted the worst picture of the year at the time. And then it caught on as a drive-in cult film, and believe it or not, after so many years I noticed that it was playing all over the place.”

Sherman and his crew are delivering supplies to a remote island that’s manned by a group of research scientists led by Marlowe Cragis (Baruch Lumet, who was a Yiddish theater actor), research assistant Radford Baines (Gordon McLendon, a former pirate radio operator who went on to create one of the first mobile news units in American radio, as well as the first traffic reports, jingles, all-news radio station and “easy-listening” programming; he also produced this film, The Great Gila Monster and Escape to Victory), Marlow’s daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude, the Swedish daughter of a steel factory manager that had been Miss Sweden for 1956; her Universal Pictures contract wasn’t successful, although she was in the TV show Love That Bob and the Rowan and Martin movie Once Upon a Horse…), her about to be cucked fiancee Jerry (Ken Curtis, who was the lead singer for the Sons of the Pioneers on their big hit “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” before he was Festus on Gunsmoke) and the man who takes care of all of them, Mario.

They picked the wrong research lab to visit, because it turns out that the scientists have been experimenting on shrews to test a serum that will shrink humans to reduce world hunger. But the problem is that the drug makes shrews twice as big. You’d think they would have figured that out long before they started injecting shrews, but I’m no scientist.

Before long, the shrews show up — The Rats Are Coming! The Shrews Are Here! could be another title for this — and chew right through the walls of the lab, along with anyone that gets in their way. The humans confound these monsters by using oil drums as suits of armor and making it to the beach, just in time for Ann’s fiancee to get eaten alive when he stays behind. She and the manly hero celebrate with a kiss as they leave behind the island and the shrews to their fate.

The beauty — or horror — of this film is that the close-ups of the shrews are all hand puppets, while the long shots are coonhounds with giant rugs over them. This is the same effect technique that was used in the rat movie Deadly Eyes twenty-three years later.

A sequel, Return of the Killer Shrews, was produced in 2012, bringing back best after fifty-four years as Thorne while Bruce Davison (Willard himself!) taking over the role of Jerry. It also features Best’s Dukes co-stars John Schneider and Rick Hurst. There was also a parody remake in 2016.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi. It’s also available in color on Amazon Prime or you may choose to hear riffing over the movie from Mystery Science Theater on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (2019)

Back when we first discussed A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge,we touched on the story of Mark Patton, whose role as final boy Jesse was once said to be only subtext, but really is one of the first out gay characters in a mainstream American horror film. There’s no subtext at all as you watch this movie with eyes beyond its 1985 release.

Patton — the star of this film — has struggled with his anger over his horror role for years, as he felt betrayed as the filmmakers knew that he was in the closet. That, again, was the world of 1985.

Director Jack Sholder (Alone in the Dark, The Hidden) claims that at the time that he made that film that he didn’t have the self-awareness to think that the film had any gay subtext. Meanwhile, writer David Chaskin(I, Madman, The Curse) would state that Patton played the role in too gay of a way.

So what is the truth? And where do we go from here?

This film, directed by Roman Chimienti (who also worked on Wrinkles the Clown) and Tyler Jensen, this movie is at once a look back at 1980’s horror films, an examination of the reassessment of them decades later, fan culture and Patton’s story. Any one of these could have made for a great documentary, but I feel that the need to work them all into one story leads to somewhat of a lack of focus.

That said, the scenes of Patton finally confronting Chaskin are quite emotional and the examined thought that the star is finally getting the notoriety for the role that once ruined his life is pretty interesting.

I wanted to love this more than I did, but again, the lack of focus at times bothered me. Some may see Patton as someone who never got past his grudge against Hollywood, but I’m of the mind that we can’t judge someone’s life because we have not lived it. I may have grown up in the years of people being forced to stay in the closet and the aftermath of AIDS, but I never directly confronted either of these life events that obviously shaped who Patton is today. Of all things, he’s a survivor, which is the most life-affirming part of this interesting film.

You can learn more on this movie’s official website and Facebook page. It will be streaming on Shudder soon.

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

Literally, how did this get made?

Bruce Willis was originally the lead, but allegedly dropped out in the aftermath of divorce procedures from his wife Demi Moore. He was replaced by Val Kilmer, who had limited availability and unlimited anger issues after he too got divorce papers. Then Rob Morrow quit because the script kept changing. Brando left after his daughter committed suicide and upon his return, he would refuse to learn his lines and only listen to an earpiece.

Oh yeah — Richard Stanley also had been fired days into production and replaced with John Frankeheimer, who saw this as anything but his dream project.

I mean, what could go wrong at this point?

After spending four years developing the films, Stanley had come to work with New Line, who responded by going behind his back to offer the film to Roman Polanski. Furious, Stanley got a meeting with Brando, who unexpectedly — or not, as Stanley had undergone a magick ritual to gain the actor’s trust — proved very sympathetic to Stanley’s vision. That said, Stanley was beyond familiar with the source work, as well as its connections with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which became Apocalypse Now, which still fascinated Brando. Even better, Stanley was directly related to African explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who had been the inspiration for Conrad’s lead character — and Brando’s role — Kurtz.

That said, days into filming, Stanley was having difficulty with New Line executives and Kilmer, who was a legend of ego on this film. At one point, the former Batman burned a crew member in the face with a cigarette.

Stanley was fired, but disappeared, finally showing up in dogman costume and acting in the very movie that he was to direct. Oh yeah — the full fury of nature would also destroy much of the set.

This movie is an example of actors off the literal rails, with Brando’s wearing an ice bucket on his head with the idea that he had mutated into a dolphin and the bucket was to cover up his blowhole. He also pushed for Nelson de la Rosa, the world’s smallest man, to be his mutated twin. Brando was obviously in a much better movie than the one that we’re watching.

Meanwhile, the actors playing Doctor Moreau’s children had a better time than anyone else, pretty much using the movie’s long periods of downtime getting up to alcohol and drug-addled craziness. Again, they were in a much better film than ended up getting unspooled on the screen.

Charitably, this movie is a mess. Would it have been better if Stanley stayed on board? Well, it certainly wouldn’t have been boring.