The Blazing Temple (1976)

Part of the same cinematic universe as The 18 Bronzemen and Return of the 18 BronzemenThe Blazing Temple finds the temple, well, burning. Set ablaze by Emperor Yong Zheng, the 106 surviving Shaolin make a vow to enter the imperial palace and get their revenge.

Despite the fact that General Kim is firing cannons into the temple, the same rules apply: no one can leave unless they face the 18 Bronzemen. One abbott realizes that he’s dooming his students, so he opens another way to escape and gives abbot gives the 18 styles of kung fu to Siu (Carter Wong), then dies.

The burning of the temple is often discussed in these movies but now you get to see it. While not the best martial arts movie I’ve seen, Joseph Kuo is a fine director and this is worth watching to see Wong in a lead role.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Haunts (1976)

Director Herb Freed (Beyond Evil, TomboyGraduation Day) wrote this movie with his wife Anne Marisse. They were inspired by the repressed memories he experienced after she saw a car accident.

It starts May Britt, who had stopped acting when she married Sammy Davis, Jr. After their divorce in 1968, she struggled to work her way back in to acting. She plays Ingrid Svensen, a Swedish farm girl — Britt was 42 when this was made — living with her uncle Carl (Cameron Mitchell) and trying to get past the memories of being molested by her father and the suicide of her mother. There’s also a masked killer stalking the small Northern California town she lives in, using scissors to mutilate its victims. Even worse, the town butcher continually assaults her, bringing back the horrific memories of her past abuse.

Yet this is not a straight giallo. It might even be an F-giallo. It’s definitely one strange film, one with no easy answers and even Mitchell said that it was “very strange” and he had no idea of the director’s vision. By the end, we’re left wondering if any interaction that Ingrid had was ever real. In fact, was she ever real?

I should mention right now that Aldo Ray is in this. I know some people that would be upset if I didn’t. You should read Bill’s review.

How this hasn’t been released by a botique label kind of freaks me out. It’s a slice of weirdness, one that completely has the bottom fall out by the end, then find itself with a haunting closing scene, filled with steam and entropy.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 29: Watch the series: Freaky Friday (1975, 1996, 2003, 2018, 2020)

Freaky Friday started as a novel written by Mary Rodgers, based on Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers by F. Anstey, a story in which the protagonists are father and son. In Rodgers’ book, 13-year-old Annabel Andrews and her mother spend time in each other’s bodies. The novel was so popular that Disney as made it four times an Rodgers also mae several sequels herself, such as A Billion for Boris/ESPTV and Summer Switch (which ABC made into TV movies). The major difference between the novel and the films is that an outside influence switches the mother and daughter against their wills.

Freaky Friday (1976): “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day.” That’s all it takes to start off this crazy adventure for Ellen Harris (Barbara Harris) and her daughter Annabel (Jodie Foster).

Based on the 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers — who also wrote the screenplay — the magic that switches the mother and daughter in this movie is quite simple. In Friday the 13th, all you have to do is say, “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day” and it happens.

Actually, this whole thing reminds me of Goofy Minds the House, a 1977 Disney Wonderful World of Reading storybook that features the character Goofy and his wife switching jobs for one day and learning that they both have rough lives. That story was based on a Norwegian folktale and taught me that women were much stronger than men. Also — Goofy once had a wife named Mrs. Geef and Mrs. Goof, but now he’s thought to be dating Clarabelle the Cow, so something happened at some point. Perhaps even odder, Goofy was once called Dippy Dawg.

But I digress.

Just as much as that story is part of my childhood, so is Freaky Friday, a movie that I know for a fact that I saw at the Spotlite 88 Drive-In in Beaver Falls, PA.

Ellen Andrews and her daughter Annabel are constantly battling with one another until they switch places, which enables each of them to see life from the other side, connect better with other people and, of course, water ski.

The cast of this movie is made up of people that a five year old me would see as big stars, like John Astin, Dick Can Patten, Charlene Tilton, Marc McClure and, of course, Boss Hogg. Strangely enough, George Lucas wanted Foster for the role of Princess Leia, but her mother wanted her to complete her contract to Disney.

Disney can’t seem to stop remaking this movie. And really, no one else can either, because it’s the mother of body switch comedies, including 18 Again!All of Me, Dream a Little DreamVice Versa and Freaky, a film which combines the Friday the 13th of this story with the slasher side of the holiday.

Freaky Friday (1995): This made-for-TV movie has Shelly Long as Ellen and Gaby Hoffman (the daughter of Warhol superstar Viva) as Annabelle. A pair of magical amulets causes the two of them to switch bodies in this version and waterskiing has been replaced with diving.

Ellen is also a single mother dating Bill (Alan Rosenberg) and designing clothing, which is the 90s version of being a housewife. What livens this up is a great cast with Drew Carey, Sandra Bernhard, Carol Kane and the much-missed Taylor Negron.

Writer Stu Krieger wrote The Parent Trap IIA Troll in Central ParkZenon: Girlof the 21st Century and Phantom of the Megaplex while director Melanie Mayron is probably best known for playing Melissa Steadman on Thirtysomething even though she has more than sixty directing credits on her resume.

The other big change is that when Annabelle is in Ellen’s body, she tells Bill exactly how much she dislikes him, thinking it will push him away. Instead, he proposes.

Forgive me for being weird, but…do these characters ever have to make love in these bodies? Because, well, that could be awkward.

Freaky Friday (2003): I spoke too soon about the sexual side of Freaky Friday, as this movie, while chaste, does not shy away from the fact that Jake (Chad Michael Murray) has feelings for Anna (Lindsay Lohan) no matter if she’s in her body or the body of her mother, Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis). The attraction that Jake feels, while mental, is way hotter than the way Marc McClure reacted to Barbara Harris.

Written by Heather Hach (Legally Blonde: The MusicalWhat To Expect When You’re Expecting and a gym teacher in this movie) and Leslie Dixon (OverboardLoverboy, the 2007 Hairspray) and directed by Mark Walters (who worked with Dixon again on Just Like Heaven; he also directed Mean GirlsGhosts of Girlfriends Past, the gender-swapped He’s All That and Mr. Popper’s Penguins), this take on the story retains the single mother idea from the 1995 TV movie and has Mark Harmon play Ryan, the potential new father in Anna’s life.

Lohan’s character was originally written as a goth girl and she didn’t think anyone would relate to that, so she showed up dressed like a preppie. Somehow, she was convinced to play a grunge girl instead. I mean, she has a band called Pink Slip and plays guitar instead of water skiing or driving.

The McGuffin that drives this film is a pair of fortune cookies mixed with an earthquake switches bodies for Anna and Tess, which leads to Anna lecturing teachers and Tess being more loud and wild.

As for the casting, it really works. The original idea was for Jodie Foster to play Tess, but she didn’t like the stunt casting. Then, Annette Bening and Kelly Osbourne were going to be the leads — with Tom Selleck as Ryan — but Bening dropped out and Osbourne’s mother got cancer.

Probably the only downside is that this movie falls back on that Hollywood cliche of Asian people being able to magically change lives.

Is it weird that I know that the band Orgy taught Jamie Lee how to play guitar? Why do I have these facts inside my head? And how weird is it to hear “Flight Test” by the Flaming Lips in a Disney movie? Or Joey Ramone covering “What A Wonderful World?”

Freaky Friday (2018): It’s wild that Steve Carr made Next Friday and a Freaky Friday sequel. And this time, I had no idea I was getting into a musical. Cozi Zuehlsdorff from the Dolphin Tale movies is Ellie Blake and her mother Katherine is played by Heidi Blickenstaff, who played the role on stage. Seriously, this is a full-blown bing singing musical and also a version of the story that leans in on Ellie being a total slob with a filthy room, a girl who always wears the same clothes every day and who would totally be the kind of arty disaffected young girl who I’d be too shy to talk to and leave mixtapes in her locker. Or maybe text her Spotify links now, I guess, right?

A magical hourglass — given to Ellie by her late father, a Freaky Friday story beat retained from the last few versions — is the storytelling device that switches the daughter and mother. There’s also a scavenger hunt that an entire school is absolutely obsessed by, making this also an updating of Midnight Madness.

This was the first Disney movie made from one of their stage plays and it didn’t get great ratings. It’s fine — obviously there are a ton of different versions of Freaky Friday for you to watch. I’d place it slightly ahead of the Shelley Long version, but way behind everything else.

Freaky (2020): By all rights, I should hate this movie, a semi-remake of Freaky Friday that instead subverts the source material by turning it into a slasher. But you know, it ended up hitting me the right way and I was behind it pretty much all the way.

Directed by Christopher Beau Landon — yes, the son of Michael — who wrote Disturbia — that’s not even a word — and several of the Paranormal Activitymovies before directing the Happy Death Day films. If you liked those, well, this will definitely give you more of what those movies offered, this is set in the same universe — Landon said that, “They definitely share the same DNA and there’s a good chance Millie and Tree will bump into each other someday” — and was originally titled Freaky Friday the 13th.

Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton, Big Little Lies) is a teenager who has been tormented by bullies, both of the teenager and teacher* varieties. Meanwhile, the urban legend of the Blissfield Butcher continues, as he keeps killing her classmates. Now that he possesses a McGuffin called La Dola — an ancient Mayan sacrificial dagger — he looks to gain even more power. But when he runs into our heroine — her mother (Katie Finneran, who is great in this) has left her behind at a football game where all she gets to do is wear a beaver mascot costume — she battles the Butcher and when he stabs her, they end up switching bodies.

So yeah — this turns into a body swap comedy and you’d think, after the gory as hell open, this is where they lose you. But no — if anything, this gets way more fun.

Millie’s friends make for some of the best scenes in the film. Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) have been with her through the worst parts of high school, so having their best friend in the body of a killing machine is just another trial to be endured.

Speaking of that killer, Vince Vaughn shines in this. There’s plenty of silly physical comedy, but also some really nice scenes like when he admits to the love interest that she left the note he treasures (body swap pronouns are a little hard) or when he has a moment with her mother while hiding in a changing room.

Landon — who wrote the movie along with Michael Kennedy — said that the film was influenced by the Scream series, along with Cherry FallsFright NightJennifer’s BodyThe Blob and Urban Legend. There’s also a fair bit of Halloween in here, particularly the opening series of murders, and references to Heathers, Child’s Play, Creepshow, Galaxy Quest, Carrie, The Faculty, The Craft and Supernatural. There’s also a bottle down the throat kill that came directly from the 2009 slasher remake Sorority Row.

I had fun with this. Here’s hoping you do the same.

*The funny thing is that the teacher that is the worst to her is Alan Ruck, who knows a thing about bring bullied, what with playing Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 22: Demain les mômes (1976)

Yvette and Philippe (Niels Arestrup) somehow escaped the end of the world, which was mainly caused by really loud noises, and have tried to start over again. Then she gets murdered and he tries to find humans anywhere, only to discover a group of small children. He believes that he can teach them everything they know how to survive as well as how to bring back civilization. They have ideas of their own.

Tomorrow’s Children was directed by Jean Pourtalé and you know, I don’t think I’ve seen a French post-nuke movie. You can spot a young Emmanuelle Béart in the cast, too.

If you’ve seen Late August at The Hotel Ozone, you may see a fair bit of that movie in this one. For some reason, before Mad Max, movies about the end of humanity were depressing affairs. I mean, in those movies, kids do madcap things like throw weapons that cut off the heads of bad guys and not kills wives and eat dogs.

Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers: The Big Racket (1976)

Both of the Enzo G. Castellari movies on Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers push action further than anything we’ll see on screens this year, both films backed with brutality and danger both in the film and in making it, as there are no computers to make these stunts look like they’re spitting in death’s face. They’re all real, all true, pure guts and balls and power.

Nico Palmieri (Fabio Testi) is one man against a crime syndicate that starts with robbing a small town and charging them protection money, but has aims much higher. Nico’s hands are tied by the system so he forms his own squad of vigilantes who have each been damaged by the mob: a criminal named Pepe (Vincent Gardenia); Piero Mazzarelli (Glauco Onorato), who has been crippled by the gang; Luigi Giulti (Renzo Palmer), whose daughter was raped by the gang and who then committed suicide (this scene is Death Wish brutal and it’s even worse when you realize that it’s Castellari’s daughter Stefania playing the role), Gianna Rossetti (Orso Maria Guerrini), an Olympic marksman whose wife Anna was assaulted and killed by the mob — after they urinate all over her and set his house on fire, making them beyond Death Wish 3 goons — and the mercenary Doringo (Romano Puppo).

Nico’s lost his badge to take down crime. Will his gang be able to stop the crimewave?

There’s a scene where Testi is in a car that goes down a hill. We watch it slowly fall apart and glass flies directly at the actor and it looks truly harrowing because, well, it was. When you don’t have budgets and you don’t have time and all you have is guts, you shoot the movie.

The end of this movie is apocalyptic. Bullets fly, cars explode, fire is everywhere and by the end, even the shotgun that Testi grips can’t solve everything. His rage closes the movie, as crime doesn’t go away just because you’re a good man trying to save the world.

The Arrow Video limited edition of Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers has this movie and The Heroin Busters. Both films have brand new 2K restorations from the original 35mm camera negatives by Arrow Films, with restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks and newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks. Both movies aso have new audio commentaries on both films by critics Adrian J. Smith and David Flint and the limited edition packaging has reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch, as well as an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Roberto Curti and Barry Forshaw. If that’s not enough, you also get twelve double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproduction artcards.

The Big Racket also has new video interviews with co-writer/director Enzo G. Castellari, Fabio Testi, Massimo Vanni and editor Gianfranco Amicucci. There’s also a new appreciation and career retrospective of composers Guido and Maurizio De Angelis by musician and disc collector Lovely Jon, a trailer and image gallery.

You can get Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers from MVD and Diabolik DVD.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Les Emmerdeuses (1976)

This movie has so many Jess Franco picadillos.

Pina and Tina (Lina Romay and Pamela Standford) are two nightclub dancers who would rather be spies. If you say, hmm, have I seen this before, I ask you to remember that you are now within the Jess Franco Cinematic Universe, a place where all exotic dancers are either spies, possessed or possessed spies.

Most of the movie is them talking directly to us, when they’re not having sex, or being attacked by Duran the monster man or dressing up in a catsuit. Yes, it’s another Red Lips movie, if not in name, because these girls go by Golden Panther.

What it does have is the most valuable prize in all of the JFCU. No, not Ms. Romay’s quim, but diamonds. Yes, diamonds have been stolen from a millionaire with the cursed Franco name of Radeck. So they do what anyone would when it comes to steal them back. They conceal them inside their sex or within Monica Swinn’s fake penis that she’s packing to dress like a man.

The name translates to Pain in the Ass but this movie is anything but. It’s a truly joyous find within the multitudes of Franco films and one woven into so many of the films he made before this. How did Dr. Orloff not show up?

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Shining Sex (1976)

Lina Romay was once married to actor Ramon Ardid, who had introduced her to Jess Franco, who was using him as a still photographer on his movies, and having his wife increasingly appear in the role Soledad Miranda once had, that of the central focus of his camera, mind and crotch’s obsession.

After the death of Miranda, Franco was still grieving. Sure, he was married to Nicole Guettard — and would be until 1980 — who worked as a script consultant on his movies and even was in a few of them, the team of Franco and Romay would slowly grow from professional to something more after her marriage to Ardid broke up in 1975 and ended in divorce in 1978, even though Ardid continued working with Franco until 1980.

Franco and Romay would form a team for four decades of work, living together from 1980 until her death and finally getting married in 2008. She’d appear in more of his movies than anyone else and even as she ages, Franco never ceases to find her beauty and explore it, sometimes with zoom lenses that feel gynecological. But who are we to put our hangups on their love? How rare is it to find someone that you share like-minded feelings about art and sex and stay with that person nearly forever?

This time around, Lina is Las Vegas showgirl Cynthia, whose routine has impressed Alpha (Evelyne Scott) and her slave Andros (Guettard). Of course, this leads her into their bed, except for all the epithets that you can throw at Jess Franco, he’s no mere pornographer.

That’s because Alpha is from far beyond our pitiful planet and the lovemaking closes with Cynthia being covered with a sparkly lotion that forces her to do the bidding of Alpha and Andros, which goes from carnal acts to killing those that know too much about them, which includes Dr. Elmos Kallman (Olivier Mathot), Dr. Seware (Franco) and spiritualist Madame Pécame (Monica Swinn).

I can’t even imagine that this movie was once intended to play movie screens, places that would become altars for the worship of what Franco found most holy, Lina Romay’s sex displayed big, bold and covered in glitter up there on the silver screen, plot and normalcy be damned.

Franco’s obsession — beyond Romay — is always women who have the power to kill through physical, vampiric or sexual means. Empowered by this alien substance, Lina/Cynthia has become biblical verse writ large — “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” as well as the words of the Bhagavad Gita, as recited by Oppenheimer, as he watched the death cloud he has created take physical form — “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Sex can kill and it can take a talkative young woman freely giving of her body and transform it into the literal angel of death, using the lifegiving power between her thighs to snuff out anyone that must be destroyed.

The nuclear frisson of the lust and love and obsession and eventual lifelong partnership of Franco and Romay would knock both of their marriages apart and probably wasn’t easy for anyone in either of their families, but when you discover that kind of love that the Bible only ascribes to the Lord — “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One.” — woe be to anyone who was in their way.

Unlike some cultists, Franco wanted the entire world to worship with him, to partake from what he saw as perfection. Shining Sex indeed.

You can get this from Severin.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Die Marquise von Sade (1976)

Lady Doriana Grey (Lina Romay, who else?) haunts a castle while her twin sister has been under the care of Dr. Orloff in his asylum, but we never see him. And we do know they have a strange psychic connection beyond their similar looks.

That’s not the only problem Doriana has.

It turns out that she can’t properly experience le petite mort, as they say, and her lovers end up taking the big sleep as a result of making love to her. That’s what keeps both of the sisters young, but it’s the bliss — and feelings of life running out — that are making the other sister even more unhinged.

Also known as Die Marquise von Sade, this has Monica Swinn as the reporter who figures this out and Raymond Hardy is also in it. He was Romay’s husband at the time and let that walk around your brain because this entire movie feels like Jess making love to his muse — and future wife — with his camera, every zoom being a thrust, every long look at her body a longing sigh either in his heart or probably loins, a union of just the two of them making tender love through the glass lens, rainbow in the skyline behind her, dead woman in the bathtub, multiple Linas into infinity.

Also — it’s pretty much Female Vampire, but you’re either going to love this or think Franco is a hack.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Weiße Haut und schwarze Schenkel (1976)

Look, when you have a movie called White Skin, Black Thighs and Jess Franco directs it, you may know what to expect.

What I did not expect was to see a love making scene where people are horizontally dancing on what appears to be dry ice, as smoke pours out all over the place.

One of the movies that Franco made with Erwin C. Dietrich, this is pretty much a remake of Le Journal d’une Nymphomane — thanks Adrian from Letterboxd — this is mostly a series of couplings with only the slightest of connecting story, but hey — there’s an alien that lives in the basement and he gets to make love to one of the actresses, which is pretty wild, when you get your mind around it.

There’s are some great production values, but someone must have yelled at Franco to keep his hands off the camera, because there are no zooms in and out. In fact, I felt kind of strange watching one of his movies without the constant camera moves.

The main story is about Marga (Diotta Fatou, who is also in Franco’s uncredited Girls in the Night Traffic and Swedish Nympho Slaves) trying to kill herself after catching her girlfriend Lena (Kali Hansa, Night of the SorcerersDemon Witch Child) making love to Victor Kühn (Erik Falk) on stage.

Franco said in a commentary track that Hansa disappeared after this movie, possibly back to her native Cuba “because she was against Fidel Castro…she wanted to be there to fight him because she was a very strong woman. I never heard about her again.”

Victor is married to Lola (Pilar Coll, Around the World In 80 Beds) and when she finds out that her man has led a woman to her suicide attempt, she’s not mad. She is upset that he slept with a black woman, however, and then ends up exploring her other more sapphic side with Lena, so man, that rich Kühn couple just can’t resist that lady, huh?

All in all, this wasn’t as good as the film it’s remaking, which is true nearly all of the time but always definitely true when it comes to the many, many times Franco tried to make his movies again.

KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: God’s Gun (1976)

I had no idea that this Italian Western was an Israeli co-production and just a few years before they’d make it to the USA, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus would work with The Irwin Yablans Company and Cannon Film Distributors to bring this movie to screens all over the world.

Sam Clayton (Jack Palance, as always, a grinning force of complete menace) and his gang have taken over Juno City, stabbing men and assaulting women before leaving the town in the bloody dust. No man will ride out to stop them, except Father John (Lee Van Cleef), a holy man who rides out unarmed and takes the guilty gang members to jail.

The gang breaks them out of jail and kills the priest, sending a young boy named Johnny (Leif Garrett!) to Mexico to bring Lewis, the twin brother of the dead man of the cloth, and he comes back with vengeance on his mind, even if it turns out that Clayton ends up being Johnny’s father.

Also known as Diamante Lobo and A Bullet From God, this is Lee Van Cleef’s last filmed Western (and second movie with Garrett). It was a rough film for Richard Boone, who had started having health problems, then got drunk and walked off the set, leaving the Israeli location before he even dubbed his dialogue. He’d say in an interview, “I’m starring in the worst picture ever made. The producer is an Israeli and the director is Italian, and they don’t speak. Fortunately it doesn’t matter, because the director is deaf in both ears.”

That deaf director was Gianfranco Parolini, better known in America as Frank Kramer, and the maker of some wild stuff like SabataYeti: Giant of the 20th CenturyKiss Kiss, Kill KillThe Three Fantastic Supermen and writing If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death. It was written by John Fonseca, whose career is all over the place, acting in The Uranium Conspiracy (also produced by Golan), serving as a dialogue coach and even shooting stills on the sets of Don’t Open Till Christmas and Slaughter High.

How did I get this far without telling you Sybil Danning is in this movie? Am I slipping?

This may not be the best Italian Western you’ve ever seen, but honestly, the end with Palance rambling in a cemetery and alternating between being paternal and horrifying, well, that’s worth the price of this blu ray. And Lee Van Cleef? Always just right.

The Kino Lorber blu ray release of God’s Gun — I’ve never seen it look this good, as I own it on multiple Italian Western public domain sets — has a brand new 2K Master, audio commentary by Repo Man filmmaker Alex Cox (!), a trailer, subtitles and a great reversible cover. Here’s to more movies like this coming out on blu ray! You can get this from Kino Lorber.