Candleshoe (1977)

Based on the Michael Innes novel Christmas at Candleshoe, this live action Disney movie is all about con artist Harry Bundage, who is looking for lost pirate treasure inside Candleshoe, the country estate of Lady St. Edmund (Helen Hayes in her last role). He gets street-smart American orphan Casey Brown (Jodie Foster) to pretend that she’s the rich lady’s granddaughter, who has been missing since she was four years old. The estate is actually barely holding on, except that its lone servant Priory (David Niven) and four foster kids have been hustling to pay the bills. Of course, our heroine will figure out that she really belongs at Candleshoe and stay in England, but the treasure hunt is still pretty fun.

Director Norman Tokar made plenty of Disney movies like The Happiest MillionaireThe Ugly DachsundThe Apple Dumpling Gang The Cat from Space and No DepositNo Return, which also has Niven in the film).

Foster passed up Pretty Baby to make this movie, only getting a few days off after finishing Freaky Friday.

Audrey Rose (1977)

Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by Frank De Felitta — who also wrote the sceenplay, as well as The Entity and Dark Night of the Scarecrow — this is the story of Bill and Janice Templeton, who are being hounded by a mysterious stranger who just wants to meet their daughter Ivy. That man is Elliot Hoover (Anthony Hopkins), a lost soul whose wife and daughter — Audrey Rose — died eleven years ago on the night that Ivy was born. He believes that she is his daughter.

Man, the 70s, huh? This movie takes that decades love of reincarnation and the occult — before we backtracked into the Satanic Panic of the 80s — and concocts a world where Higgins — John Hillerman plays a prosecutor — must deal with holy men claiming past lives are possible and hypnosis bringing Ivy back to her last incarnation. And then it ends with a quote from the Bhagavad-Gita? Ah man. What a decade.

Poor Robert Wise. He had to follow this one up with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He made much better movies before that, like The Curse of the Cat PeopleWest Side StoryThe HauntingThe Sound of Music and The Andromeda Strain. However, as goofy as this gets, I kind of admire this movie. It’s cornball psychic hokum, but the best kind of carny BS — because it believes its own BS.

By the way, Brooke Shields tried out for this movie and even had the claim that she posed for the art of the paperback cover, which wasn’t BS.

As for De Felitta, he tried some BS to sell his book sequel For Love of Audrey Rose to the rubes, claiming that he’d heard his five-year-old son suddenly be able to play ragtime music on the piano.

Junesploitation 2021: The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (1977)

June 29: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie— is gangsters.

In Italy, they call this movie Il cinico, l’infame, il violento, which means The Cynic, the Infamous, the Violent. This poliziotteschi is a sequel to another Umberto Lenzi film, 1976’s The Tough Ones, with Maurizio Merli playing the role of Inspector Leonardo Tanzi in both movies.

Luigi “The Chinaman” Maietto (Tomas Milan, The Big Gundown, Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!) escapes from prison and sends two of his men to kill the man who put him away — Tanzi. He’s left for dead and even the newspapers print that he’s dead, but he’s just biding his time, waiting to get revenge.

Tanzi just wanted to stay retired — it looks like he’s become a giallo author — but now he’s a vigilante who comes up against Maietto and American syndicate boss Frank Di Maggio (John Saxon).

This movie boasts three writers whose work pretty much hits every side of the Italian exploitation experience. There’s Lenzi himself, who made everything from Eurospy films (Super Seven Calling CairoThe Spy Who Loved Flowers008: Operation Exterminate), Westerns (A Pistol for a Hundred Coffins), giallo (OrgasmoA Quiet Place to KIllOasis of FearSo Sweet…So PerverseSeven Bloodstained Orchids, SpasmoEyeball), cannibal movies (Man from Deep RiverCannibal Ferox), peplum (IronmasterSamson and the Slave Queen), horror (Nightmare BeachGhosthouseDemons 3Hitcher in the Dark) and so much more. Then you have Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote so many films that I love, including The Whip and the BodyThe PossessedThe Sweet Body of DeborahDay of AngerAll the Colors of the DarkTorsoMy Name is Nobody and tons of other great films. And then there’s Dardano Sacchetti, who wrote just about any Italian genre film worth watching.

Man, somehow Junesploitation has led me to many Italian crime films. For this I am very excited!

Norman J. Warren Week: Prey (1977)

Editor’s Note: Bill Van Ryn, the man, the myth, and the legend behind Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum contributed this November 15, 2020, review when we unpacked Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion box set. We’re bringing it back for our “Norman J. Warren Week” of reviews.

Norman J. Warren’s unique brand of low budget bat shittery is all over the damn place. While not always totally satisfying (I’m looking at you, Inseminoid), when he’s hot, he’s hot. 1977’s alien freakout Prey is one of the hot ones. It’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach blends elements of D. H. Lawrence’s The Fox, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a dash of Night of the Living Dead thrown in for the hell of it, and this is no accident — the script was being written while filming was progressing, with Warren taking on the project based on the premise alone.

MV5BOTIxYTJlMGQtNTEwYi00MDU2LWEwOGItNTU0ZWI1NWIyYjg4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQwMzQ1MA@@._V1_

And oh, what a premise. Prey gives us the story of an alien creature who arrives on Earth in a spaceship (unseen by us, other than a colored light show that could have just been a groovy light from Spencer gifts) and immediately encounters two Earth people who are having a romantic tryst in a parked car. He murders both of them, assuming the identity of the man, whose name is Anderson. This being capable of interstellar travel uses a futuristic walkie talkie to communicate with some home base (apparently off-world, which…wow! That’s some wi-fi!), and appears to be on a mission to observe us in our natural habitat. He also likes to eat meat, and that’s it. Total carnivore, this alien.

He moves on and discovers a large secluded estate nearby, where lovers Jessica and Josephine are living an isolated life together. They encounter some mutilated rabbits, which Jo attributes to the work of a fox. They also find our space-hopping buddy “Anderson” (wink wink), seemingly injured, and even though Jo reacts with immediate total hostility, Jessica is excited to finally get someone to talk to other than Jo, who is suspiciously dedicated to making sure Jessica never, ever goes anywhere on her own. They take him back to the house and allow him to stay, which turns out to be a really bad idea on so many levels. 

I adore the fact that this movie is so low budget that it doesn’t even attempt to present any convincing alien technology, but it does have some built-in style that expensive effects could never buy. The manor where most of the action takes place is a fantastic location, with wooded areas bathed in muted green and overcast skies — this is England, after all — and amid all these earth tones are a few scenes with shockingly bright red gore. And for sheer “What the hell am I watching?” kicks, just wait until you see the weird slo-mo scene where Anders and the women roll around screaming in a shallow pond. There’s something almost S.F. Brownrigg about Warren’s work, despite their visual style being different. They both have the ability to create a memorable atmosphere in their films, despite having no visible budgetary advantages.

Anderson mostly stumbles around in a daze, acting like he has no idea what parrots are, or plants, or why people bring them into their homes for decoration. He doesn’t know any locations, either, claiming to be from London after he hears one of the women suggest it.  When they press him for his first name, he says “Anders”.  His hostesses serve him a vegetarian dinner — Jo goes total OG meatless preachy on him — but he responds by vomiting and rushing out of the house to find some more animals to mutilate for dinner.  He also doesn’t know anything about sex, and he spies curiously on Jessica and Josephine having screaming sex together. Jo develops a theory that Anders is an escapee from a local mental institution, and later on we come to realize she may have been doing some projecting when she came up with this idea.  

That’s one of the interesting things about this weird movie, there is actually an intriguing relationship between these two women, and the script ends up surprising us about one of them, but it exists uncomfortably alongside the fact that one of the characters is a flesh-eating alien, which sort of steals the spotlight.  For this reason, I suggest multiple viewings of Prey. In fact, it should be a tradition. 

* Be sure to check our “Exploring: Amityville” feature where we look at all of the legit Amityville films — and even more of its bogus sequels.

The Believer’s Heaven (1977)

The basics of this movie: Fire-and-brimstone preacher Estus W. Pirkle gives a sermon to his followers, explaining what Heaven looks like.

Yeah, that’s kind of what it’s about, but that’s like me saying Edwige Fenech is a girl. The Believer’s Heaven is the kind of insane cinema that secular filmmakers could only dream of conceiving.

Pirkle made three movies — If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? and The Burning Hell are the first two parts of the trilogy — and all three of them have stuck in my mind way longer than any blockbuster I will see this year. Or any other year.

To get his gospel into the world, he relied on a former sinner. Ron Ormond started his entertainment career as stage magician Rahn Ormond, married a vaudeville dancer named June Carr, wrote books about psychic surgery and then made a string of movies that are just as odd as these movies, including Please Don’t Touch MeGirl from Tobacco Road and the astoundingly unhinged The Exotic Ones, which is also known as The Monster and the Stripper. It took multiple near death experiences for Ron to find the Lord, but once he did, he started making the same kind of grab you by the balls cinema that he did for weirdos like you and me, but now he was doing it to save our souls.

This film isn’t filled with the brutality of the first two films but is just as odd and that’s a blessing. From views of a decidely science fiction heaven to moments where Pirkle’s congregation and Ormond’s family act out psychodrama to an ending where those not whole on Earth — like three children with leprosy — are brought Tod Browning style center screen to sing.

“Don’t you get so tired and worn out sometimes? The work hours are so long and the night’s rest is so short, the labor is so strenuous that you don’t feel like you can take it much longer. Or perhaps sickness and suffering have so weakened your body that you even long to die. Have you not wrestled with sin and temptation so long that you welcomed relief? Thank God that there is a place where the Saints of God shall rest from their labors.” So says this film, but man, when you have Pirkle basically berate you for an hour, do you worry that maybe you might spend eternity with him? Man, I hope so. That would be my Heaven, getting to make a fourth movie with Ormond and the reverend.

I’m beaten down by life some days, but when nothing else would do, this movie lifted me.

You can watch this on byNWR.

Death Promise (1977)

Yet another example of the end of the world New York City of the late 1970s, Death Promise — not a threat, but a death promise — is all about the residents of a tenement building (but not Tenement) are being forced out of their homes by a realty company who goes past shutting off the air conditioning, power and water to murder, not to mention lighting fires in the hall and releasing rats, the bad guys kill off Charley’s old man boxer father, the man who was trying to keep the tenants all together in the face of these slumlord tactics.

Fortunately for the audience — and bad for the antagonists — Charley (Charles Bonet, Way of the Black DragonThe Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce LeeDon’t Go in the House) and his friend Speedy (Speedy Leacock) are martial arts experts, making this movie the result of a one night stand between Enter the Dragon and Death Wish.

Beyond just ruining the board members of Iguana Realty’s lives, our friends are now planning on murdering each and every one of them. Well, it wasn’t called Maim Promise, so that makes sense.

To get his revenge, Charly’s master Shibata (Thompson Kao Kang, who was the action director of this movie, as well as a stuntman who appeared in movies like The Karate Killers; sadly he was killed by a Hong Kong cop in what was called a “trivial street quarrel”) reads him a letter from the dead dad, which sends him to study under Ying (Tony Liu, who was in The Big BossEnter the DragonFist of Fury and many more), where he learns how to take out everyone in his way. That means throwing stars, arrows to the head and death by rats.

Brought to theaters by Howard Mahler Films, the same people who brought From Beyond the GraveThe Big Doll HouseThe Killer Must Kill AgainDeep Red and Devil’s Express to your grindhouse, this movie boasts an incredible Neal Adams-drawn poster.

You can watch the Rifftrax version on Tubi or get the Vinegar Syndrome blu ray at Diabolik DVD.

Highway Racer (1977)

Armando Spatafora was known as an Italian “flying squad” police officer who drove a Ferrari 250 GTE as his patrol car. That’s because the Alfa Romero cars they were driving just couldn’t keep up with the crooks any more. This fast response unit — known in Italian as Squadra Mobile — was tasked with catching cops by any means necessary.

According to Super Car Tribe, Enzo Ferrari was involved with the project because he thought that he could sell police cars to all major cities in Italy. Amongst all the police officers, Spatafora proved to be the fastest and showed so much skill that Enzo offered him a place on the Ferrari factory racing team. Spatafora was loyal to the police force and said no.

This film features several of the real stunts from Sparafora’s police career, such as jumping over the famous Spanish Steps in the center of Rome.

Highway Racer was also the first of six films that Maurizio Merli (The Tough OnesMannaja) made with director Stelvio Massi (Mark of the CopConvoy Busters). If you’re looking for a high speed Italian crime movie with some out of control stunts, well, you really can’t do much better.

Highway Racer is one of five movies on Arrow Video’s Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977. These films are great examples of the Italian poliziotteschi genre and the set includes high def versions of this movie, Savage Three, Colt 38 Special Squad, Like Rabid Dogs and No, the Case Is Happily Resolved. There’s also an interview with historian Roberto Curt on this disc. You can get it from MVD.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Notti Porno nel Mondo (1977)

Not to be confused with Emanuelle and the Erotic Nights — that’s the safer one — this film finds Joe D’Amato and Bruno Mattei at the helm, starting things off with Laura Gemser appearing as Emanuelle with one m, saying, “It’s your old friend Emanuelle again…”  before taking us on a journey.

What a horrific journey it is!

Also known as Sexy Night Report, there’s a 70-minute edited version of this movie that’s still pretty rough. But man, the unedited one? You need to wash your eyes with fire after watching it.

Sure, this being a mondo means most of the footage is faked. So yesh, while a good portion of this one is beyond unreal, with scenes like a man in an ape costume “performing” with an exotic dancer and another where an Amsterdam red light girl shows off for a crowd before choosing a man from the window watchers, leaving his wife outside. Then, the movie descends into what I can only imagine Sodom and Gomorrah looked like to Lot’s wife before she was turned into seasoning.

Yes, in case you wondered if you were still watching a mondo, we have chickens getting their heads cut off, rituals in foreign countries, ping pong balls being launched out of a special place, a magic trick that turns someone into a hermaphrodite and, of course, a man’s member being chopped off again and again, as the scene is replayed from every angle, looking faker and faker each time.

It’s like Mattei — Jimmy Matheus! — and D’Amato — uncredited! — were thinking, “We’ve shown these raincoaters naked women for the last ninety minutes or so. Let’s show them a pisello get sliced off and then someone get their head cut off to remind them who we are.”

We get it, Bruno and Joe. Or Vincent Dawn and Aristide Massaccesi. Or David Hunt and David Hills.

Marina Hedmann — speaking of extra names, she was also known as Marina Lotar, Marion Bibbo, Bellis Marina Hedman and many, many more —  from Emanuelle in America, La PretoraPlay Motel and plenty of adult films (she was one of the first Italian actresses to appear in porn) appears.

If this looks way better than it should, despite being shot all in the same room even though they claim it’s all over the world, because Enrico Biribicchi shot it. He lent his skills to plenty socially unredeeming movies, including The Return of the ExorcistEmanuelle in AmericaEmanuelle and the Last CannibalsBuio OmegaErotic Nights of the Living Dead and Porno Holocaust. He was also the cinematographer for Antropophagus.

This being a Mattei movie, rest assured that plenty of recycled footage appears. There’s some stuff from several Erwin C. Dietrich movies, some of Jess Franco’s Mondo Erotico and even stuff from D’Amato’s Eva Nera*.

Notti Porno nel Mondo is absolutely ridiculous, a movie that I would never recommend to anyone but absolute maniacs with no taste whatsoever. If you read this far, that’s probably you.

*Thanks to Adrian on Letterboxd for figuring out where those scenes came from.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Women’s Camp 119 (1977)

After The Night Porter and Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS opened the sewer gates of sleaze, the rest of the world’s exploitation auteurs rushed to get their own German ladies of sin pictures into the grubby eyeballs of reprobates brave enough to find a grindhouse of drive-in willing to show these pictures.

Well, Bruno Mattei made two of them. This one and Private House of the SS, which has an absolutely berserk performance by Gabriele Carrara to go for it. This one has, well, a scene where dead soldiers are brought back to life by women rubbing their naked bodies all over them and homosexual soldiers try to get cured by watched naked women, which does not work.

Ivano Staccioli plays the camp commandant who gets things done, joined by Marta (Ria De Simone, who pretty much played the scheming wife in Mattei’s Cuginetta, amore mio!) to lead the women into whatever fresh hell Mattei has in mind.

If you watch one movie where a healthy uterus is transplanted into another one, followed by a scene of a female commandant forcing herself on a prisoner, you know…man, I really have no taste whatsoever, huh?

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Casa privata per le SS (1977)

As World War II comes to a close, the top Nazi officials have become crazed when it comes to discovering anyone who wants to overthrow Adolf Hitler. Their plan? Train ten of the most beautiful prostitutes to protect Der Fuhrer.

Sure, that seems like it’ll work.

The director may be listed as Jordan B. Matthews, but we all know that that’s Bruno Mattei, whose frenetic mania is on full display here, as nearly every fetish — and then some — is on display as these frauleins do their good girl best for the fatherland.

Hans Schellenberg (Gabriele Carrara) has been tasked with training the women, along with Luciano Pigozzi as Prof. Jürgen and the super-intense Frau Inge (Marina Daunia, Escape from Women’s Prison, Women’s Camp 119), who is gorgeous even with the gigantic scar on her face. Plus, Macha Magall (The Beast In Heat), Gota Gobert (Savage Island), Monica Nickel (A Woman in the Night), Tamara Triffez (Salon Kitty) and Ivano Staccioli as Oberstgruppenführer Berger show up.

The training montage — which includes everything from hunchback aardvarking to dressing up in togas and blasting machine guns — is simply astounding in its complete ridiculousness. Then Schellenberg begins dressing like a Nazi pope and conducting masses.

Man, this movie is as scummy as it gets and you may just adore wallowing in its brash inanity. I say this as a compliment, as if we’ve learned anything this week, it’s that I just can’t seem to hate a Bruno Mattei movie.