Tomie: Forbidden Fruit (2002)

Even though the fourth installment of this series was called Tomie: The Final Chapter – Forbidden Fruit, we all know that any sequel happy series that promises a final chapter are always liars.

Tomie Hashimoto writes vampire fiction and gets made fun of for being a Lolita by the other girls by day and lives alone with her distant and widowed father by night. One day, while trying to jewelry, Tomie H. meets Tomie Kawakami, who she brings into her fictional life. But their meeting was no coincidence.

Tomie H.’s father, Kazuhiko, was involved with Tomie K. years and years ago, back before she was murdered. He even named his daughter after her. Once Tomie K. meets him, she casts her spell and demands that he kill her daughter. He replies by cutting off her head and throwing it into the river, which Tomie H. finds the head and nurses it back into a larval state.

Like many teen relationships, a fight comes between them, so Tomie H. throws her friend off a building, which only brings her back stronger, so she kills her with an arrow and gets her father’s help to freeze and destroy Tomie K., who of course wins over the father and nearly kills our heroine, who is saved by a worker at the ice company.

She goes back to her fictional world, except now she has an ear of Tomie that she is growing to be her true friend.

Shun Nakahara, who directed this, is another young Japanese filmmaker who came from the world of adult video. I found this to be one of the more interesting Tomie movies. As for the lesbian tease of Forbidden Fruit, it’s mostly implied and refers to the pomegranate, which the two eat together in one scene.

Some Jewish scholars believe pomegranates were the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The fruit is also listed as one of the Seven Species of special products of the Land of Israel and symbolizes the mystical experiences of the kabbalah. Finally, look no further than the Songs of Solomon for this quote: “Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.”

So yeah, they’re totally talking about sex.

You can watch this on YouTube.

House On Straw Hill (1976)

“Nothing, but nothing, is left to the imagination!” Yes, this section 1 Video Nasty* is also known as Trauma and Expose.  It’s all about Paul Martin (an incredibly young and dubbed Udo Kier) is a writer who has rented a home in the country to finish his latest book. Writer’s block hits him hard, as does a fight with his girlfriend Suzanne (Fiona Richmond, Eat the Rich). That’s when he hires a new secretary named Linda (Linda Hayden**, The Blood on Satan’s Claw). And that’s where everything goes to hell.

From their first meeting, where Linda is intimidated by several men who eventually assault her — and she also eventually shotgun blasts them — our protagonist is obsessed with her, despite her constantly resisting her advances. She replaces the housekeeper — who is soon murdered — and when Suzanne comes back, Linda seduces her, just in time for Paul to crash his car into a river and his ex-girlfriend to be killed in the shower.

Director James Kenelm Clarke also made two soft core films, Hardcore and Let’s Get Laid, which also star Richmond. They’re much less scummy than this one, which pretty much the definition of the word. The alternate title that we reviewed this under sets up this being a takeoff of Straw Dogs, but it’s closer to a straight-up sex movie — minus all the murder.

This was remade by Martin Kemp in 2010 as Stalker, with Hayden appearing as Mrs. Brown.

You can watch this on Tubi.

*It’s the only British-made film to appear on the original list of these prosecuted films.

**She claims that this is the only movie that she regrets making and the end film was not what she had made originally.

Punk Vacation (1990)

A peaceful California town goes bonkers when a punk gang kills the owner of a diner who was just defending his daughter. Now, she and the entire town want revenge, but they’ve taken her hostage, leading to a battle of redneck vs. punks.

If you’re like me and you love movie punks who are the furthest thing from actual punk rockers, then good news. Punk Vacation is ready to give you the goods.

Director Stanley Lewis — not his real name — was a graduate from the American Film Institute who didn’t want his career tainted by this film. Come on, man. There are plenty of art films that have disappeared since 1990 and I’m not writing about any of those movies.

Like I said, the main issue is that the punks are anything but. They’re in their thirties and more of a biker gang from a 1960’s message movie than a bunch of guys who hang out at crust bars. Are they the heroes? Or are the horrible people in the town who we should cheer for? Or should we be all for the cop who is pretty bad at his job? I can’t tell.

None of the punks on this art are in the movie, in case you’re wondering. That doesn’t mean this is a bad movie. It just feels like the kind of movie that’s better for having John Rambo or Thunder or Indio or Billy Jack come to town than an all over place gang who sit on rocks and discuss the merits of stewardess school versus computer repair.

Also: No real vacation.

You can watch this on Tubi or buy it from Vinegar Syndrome.

Run, Angel, Run! (1969)

I’m not saying that all movies should have William Smith in them, but I kind of am. This was the 17th highest grossing film in 1969, which sounds like hyperbole but I’d like it to be true. It also has a Tammy Wynette soundtrack, which is another way into my heart.

Smith plays Angel, a motorcycle gang member who sells the real story of what it’s like on the inside to a magazine for ten grand — about $70,000 today — and earns the anger of every biker in the world. The word gets out — Angel is to be killed.

Unlike most biker films where the hero gets worse and worse, Angel actually finds a sheep farmer who gives him a brief moment to live a normal life off the road. Unfortunately, the gangs are never far behind.

Director Jack Starrett does some amazing things in this, like some incredibly dangerous shots of the gang on the road, shooting them with a camera that moves from biker to biker in the days before when a drone would make such a shot simple. He’s also gone wild with multiple split screens and dropped out audio and made this a living, breathing comic book.

Starrett’s wife Valerie plays Angel’s old lady, while Dan Kemp plays the kind rancher and Margaret Markov is his probably doomed daughter. Markov lights up the screen in plenty of Corman-era movies like The ArenaBlack Mama White Mama and The Hot Box.

I had a blast with this movie. It’s filled with drama and shot in a way that you totally won’t expect. Watch it and let me know what you think.

You can watch this on Tubi.

They Came from the Swamp (2016)

If you’ve been following along this week, you know exactly how much we love the films of William Gréfe. So this documentary — originally released by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures as a limited edition double disk (you can get it at Diabolik DVD) — is exactly the kind of thing that we devour, absorb and now, share with you.

Honestly, if you have the smallest interest in exploitation film or if you’re an absolute maniac who thrills at the very mention of names like Barry Mahon and Crown International Pictures, then you absolutely must own this. Luckily, if you buy the new He Came from the Swamp set, you get this film along with several of Gréfe’s films.

“If there were rules to making a movie, one indie director would break them all!” These are the kind of taglines that make me beyond overjoyed to watch a documentary and trust me, this one delivers.

As a Miami-based regional filmmaker, Gréfe transformed the Everglades into his own personal studio. This doc has everyone from Ross Hagen, Frank Henelotter, David F. Friedman and Fred Olen Ray to William Shatner, Herschell Gordon Lewis and many of the actors that worked with Gréfe on his many films all speaking about what it was like to be part of this magical time in low budget filmmaking.

If you’re the kind of person who obsesses about the extras on a DVD, then you’ve probably seen the work of director Daniel Griffith. It’s a real joy to see him expand his work to a full-length feature on one fascinating subject. I can’t wait to see his next movie, Celluloid Wizards in the Video Wasteland: The Saga of Empire Pictures.

The Arrow Video He Came from the Swamp box set is available at Diabolik DVD or from MVD. You can also learn more at the official site for the film.

Pitch Black (2000)

David Twohy started his time in Hollywood as a writer on films like WarlockTimescape and Critters 2: The Main Course before graduating to big budget films like The FugitiveThe ArrivalWaterworld and G.I. Jane. He started directing with the aforementioned Timescape and then really kicked his directing career into high gear with this sleeper of a movie.

The first of four appearances of the Riddick character* — which launched the career of Vin Diesel — this movie owes plenty to the Alien franchise but comes into its own thanks to plenty of suspense and great effects.

The ship Hunter-Gratzner is transporting passengers as they sleep, including a Muslim preacher named Abu ‘Imam’ al-Walid (Keith David) and his three sons, an arms dealer named Paris, a teenager named Jack (keep in mind the gender neutrality of the name), some settlers named Zeke and Shazza, as well as a bounty hunter named William J. John (Cole Hauser, the son of Wings) who is transporting a Furyan alien who can see in the dark named Riddick. Meteors bring their ship down on a planet of near-constant daylight — or so it seems — yet when underground creatures attack Riddick is offer amnesty if he can help everyone get out alive.

That wouldn’t be easy even if the planet wasn’t headed for an apocalypse that will allow the photo-sensitive monsters to run wild anything and everywhere they want to go.

The intriguing part of this movie is the journey that pilot Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell, the …Has Fallen movies) makes from someone willing to jettison the passengers to save her own life to someone who convinces Riddick to stay behind and help others, despite his criminal nature.

Originally, this was a stand-alone movie and Riddick was supposed to die, but Vin Diesel and the cast and crew fell in love with the character and saw the potential for more. In the original Nightfall script, Riddick wasn’t even a guy; she was called Tara Krieg.

PS: If you want to see the wreck of the Hunter-Gratzner, it’s still in the Australian desert and visible on Google maps. This is also the same area where The Blood of Heroes and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome were made.

PPS: The Robert Heinlein story Tunnel in the Sky has characters marooned on a planet threatened by a once-a-year danger and a character named Jack who is really female. Luckily, Heinlein wrote that and not Harlan Ellison.

The new Arrow Video release of Pitch Black is absolutely overloaded with all the extras you expect from this great company. It starts with a brand new 4K restoration by Arrow Films of the Theatrical and Director’s Cuts of the film, which were approved by director David Twohy. Then, you get two sets of archival commentary, a newly filmed making-of documentary, as well as new interviews with Rhiana Griffith, cinematographer David Eggby, visual effects supervisor Peter Chian and composer Graeme Revell. Plus, there’s behind the scenes footage, special effects tests, an introduction by Twohy, a Chronicles of Riddick Visual Encyclopedia, a short prequel narrated by Cole Hauser telling the tale of his character’s hunt for Riddick, the Dark Fury animated short (as well as the bonus features from that release), the Slam City motion comic, the Into Pitch Black TV special with further information of what happened before and after the events of the movie, a dance event that promoted Pitch Black and trailers for all of the sequels and video games.

You can get this from Arrow, who was kind enough to send us a review copy.

*The others are The Chronicles of RiddickRiddick and the animated The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (you can also count the shorts Pitch Black: Slam City and Riddick: Blindsided, as well as the video games The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. As stated above, all of these are shown on this incredible release.

SLASHER MONTH: Rest In Pieces (1987)

Along with Edge of the Axe and Deadly Manor, Spanish horror director José Ramón Larraz made this movie explicitly for the burgeoning American video rental market. It has all the cheap thrills you want, but it feels like a Michelin star chef just made you a mac and cheese pizza.

Helen Hewitt (Lorin Jean Vail, The Patriot) and her husband Bob (Scott Thompson Baker, Open House) have just moved into the country villa of her recently deceased Aunt Catherine. Everyone there is pretty much beyond rude and more in your face hostile to them both, which is only the start of the weirdness they endure. I mean, I would have given up when the corpse of Catherine sat straight up when Helen kissed her.

Actually, even before they get there, Helen learns that her father was Catherine’s ex-husband and that he died soon after she was born. Her aunt has held a grudge out against the family, but still gives her everything she owns before she commits suicide during the video will by drinking poison milk. Yes, you read that correctly.

Jack Taylor — who was in more horror movies than even I have watched, but I’ll list out the Nostradamus films, The Ghost Galleon and Female Vampire to start — plays a blind musician who plays a concert while everyone in the town conspires against the two newcomers. Euro horror queen Patty Shepherd also shows up as a character named, get this, Gertrude Stein.

It’s not great, but the idea of a great movie is in here. But you know me. This is exactly the kind of goofball horror that I love.

You can get this from Vinegar Syndrome.

SLASHER MONTH: Spellcaster (1988)

Charles Band bought a castle, Castello di Giove, to make movies in*, which gives this movie a great look. It’s so 1988 that it hurts, featuring an MTV-style channel that creates a contest where viewers will compete to find a $1 million dollar check hidden in the walls of the estate of the enigmatic Diablo (Adam Ant!), like some demented Willie Wonka or Amazing Kreskin trying to find his payday.

Let me tell you all right from the start, I absolutely love this movie.

This whole scheme has been created to help the career of music video vixen Cassandra Castle (Bunty Bailey, herself a music video girl with appearances in OMD’s “Talking Loud and Clear” and most famously in a-ha’s “Take On Me” and “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” as well as showing up in another Band film, Dolls) and VJ Rex (Richard Blade, who was a KROQ DJ and is now on Sirius XM’s First Wave channel).

Along with the heroic orphans from Cleveland named Jackie and Tom (Gail O’Grady and Harold Pruett), there’s also a moron from Jersey and several stuck up female contestants like Myrna, Teri and Yvette (Tricia Lind, Fright Night Part 2) who seem to be in this only to drive Tom insane.

The scheme is that Cassandra is holding the check so that she and Rex can split the money. But nobody counted on Diablo really being a spellcasting demon — hence the title — and killing off the contestants one by one.

Director Rafal Zielinski also made ScrewballsScrewballs IIScrewballs HotelRecruits and State Park, all video rental and cable favorites that I’ve watched more times than I’d care to admit.

One of the reasons this movie looks so good is because it was shot by Lucio Fulci’s regular DP, Sergio Salvati (ZombieContrabandThe PsychicCity of the Living DeadThe BeyondThe House by the Cemetery and many more films without the Godfather of Gore, including 1990: The Bronx WarriorsThunderThe Wax Mask and Ghoulies II). It’s also filled with imaginative FX, such as a room of zombies and a wooden chair that comes to life to kill off one of the contestants.

You can get this on blu ray from Vinegar Syndrome or watch it on Tubi.

*Castle FreakThe Pit and the PendulumNight of the SinnerMeridian and many more movies were shot in the castle.

Housesitter…The Night They Saved Siegfried’s Brain (made in 1987, finished in 2018)

A horror movie filmed entirely in Kalamazoo, Michigan including the Henderson Castle, WMU, Kalamazoo College and the Kalamazoo State Theatre, Housesitter sat on the shelf for more than thirty years before finally being finished, thanks to sound engineering from Skywalker Sound and final picture from Paramount Picture’s color department.

Andy (Richard Gasparian, who co-directed this and went on to work in animation) is an idealist medical student with an Elvis obsession. He’s obsessed with changing the face of modern science with his rat-to-brain transfer, which takes him to the Reinhardt Institute. Meanwhile, his professor and mentor Doc Crosby has a black and white lab that he’s been using to create something even more astounding than Andy’s goals —  brain pyramid from 13 unwilling donors so that he can fix his severely damaged brain.

Directed by Robin Nuyen, who played a thief in Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, this 1950’s by way of the 1980’s hybrid that has an Elvis fan — who has a doll of the King that speaks directly to him — as the only person that can save us from science.

I wanted to love this movie, as it feels like it should be a perfect fit for everything that I love. And it also has a slasher kill where someone gets drowned in the toilet. But it never finds the right balance between horror and goofiness, which is a tough line to tightrope walk. You may find yourself enjoying it way more than me, however.

Housesitter is available on demand and on blu ray from Leomark Studios

SLASHER MONTH: Three on a Meathook (1972)

While the slasher genre really starts in 1978 (or 1979, when Halloween really took off), there are movies before that are nascent starting points. This was William Girdler’s second film after Asylum of Satan, made with money from his trust fund. It’s based on Ed Gein, as are PsychoDerangedThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre and many, many, many more.

Filmed in and around Louisville, Kentucky, the home of the director (whose also wrote and performed much of this film’s score), this is the tale of Billy Townsend (James Carroll Pickett), who seems like such a nice boy. He helps four girls who have gone to the lake for vacation when their car breaks down. But Billy has secrets and a father (Charles Kissinger, who also appears in Girdler’s films AbbyGrizzlyThe ManitouAsylum of Satan and Sheba, Baby) who loves his son so much that he’ll help him get out of any trouble.

This has one of the best titles ever, as well as a great tagline — “WARNING: Not For The Bloody Mary For Lunch Bunch!” — and, as stated before, the notion of being an early slasher. It’s worth checking out to see where the form got its start. When I was a kid, this film’s cover freaked me out, as did the implications of its title. The actual film itself seems laid back and very 70’s, including an anti-Vietnam speech delivered directly to the camera.

You have to love a movie that is willing to totally forget any forward progress by having its antagonist decide to head downtown, watch some bands, see The Graduate and ponder life instead of continually killing people. You never see Michael Myers decide to take a break and grab a beer, you know?