REPOST: Guyana: Cult of the Damned (1979)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This film was originally written about on January 16, 2019. We’ve brought it back for our Mexican horror celebration as an object lesson in the fact that life and good taste are both cheap in this cinema that is such a part of our hearts.

René Cardona Jr. didn’t stop with making a softcore porn shark movie with Tintorera…Tiger Shark or the utterly baffling Bermuda Triangle. Now, he’s back to shock you senseless with the kind of true retelling of the Jonestown Massacre, Guyana: Cult of the Damned. He’s no stranger to strangeness — after all, his father made Santa Claus vs. The Devil.

Reverend James Johnson — just pretend they say Jim Jones —  the fanatic and paranoid leader of the Johnson Temple — again, let’s just say People’s Temple — is about to move his 1,000 followers from San Francisco to Johnstown — Jonestown — in the jungle of Guyana, all so he can create a utopia that’s far away from the sins of the rest of th world.

If you know anything of the real tale, Johnson soon gets out of control, inflicting brutal punishment on anyone that dares go against him. He becomes convinced that a conspiracy — the same one that killed both Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X — is ready to take him out.

That’s when Congressman Lee O’Brien — Leo Ryan — goes on a fact finding mission and discovers that it’s more like a slave colony than heaven on Earth. And if they don’t get the people out now, they’ll soon go to Russia. By the end of the film, Johnson has unleashed hit squads on the Congressman, the reporters he’s brought along and the defectors they’re saving from Johnson. And that’s when everyone starts drinking the Kool-Aid (for the sake of fact, it may have either been that brand or the generic Flavor Aid, which they camp also had in its supplies; the flavor was grape, in case you’re wondering).

This movie is rife with historical fallacies, but what can you expect from a Mexican grindhouse movie that was released 14 months after the actual incident? You may notice that most of Johnstown was white in this film, while the reality is that most of the People’s Temple members were black. Also, Susan Ames — Susan Amos — is murdered in this movie by a man with a knife, but the truth is that she killed her two youngest children and then herself with a butcher knife and asked her daughter Liane to kill her, then kill herself.

There are two cuts of this, with the Mexican cut adding 8 more minutes of torture and gore, if you’re looking for that kind of thing. I mean, if you’re reading this far, you probably are.

Stuart Whitman (the boxing priest from Demonoid) owns this movie as the Reverend. He’s just chewing the screen up, as he totally should, giving huge speeches and being a maniac. This is like a dream scum movie role and Whitman grips it and wrings all he can out of it. It’s pretty much as perfect casting as you can get.

Gene Barry plays the Congressman, Bradford Dillman (Piranha) plays the doctor of Johnstown, Yvonne De Carlo plays Susan and you even get a special guest appearance by Joesph Cotten! And look out for Hugo Stiglitz from Nightmare City and Nadiuska, who played Conan the Barbarian‘s mom!

There was a later TV movie, Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, which won Powers Boothe the 1980 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special. But for my money, I always go with the grindhouse version of things. This is a sordid, grim affair and that’s pretty much why you’re going to watch it.

La Tia Alejandra (1979)

Arturo Ripstein, who also made The Castle of Purity, directed this film, which tells us of the black magic — or maybe not — within the titular aunt Alejandra (Isabela Corona, who started her career as a diva of the screen in the 30’s) causing chaos just by existing.

Alejandra arrives to stay in the house of Lucia, Rudolfo and their three children. A bitter older woman given to mood swings, the children eventually begin to torment her, by which point she reveals her witch nature (if you’ll pardon the pun).

She finds ways to get back at each of them, choking out her nephew through sorcery and setting the house ablaze when one of the children burns her face. This is a film that presents magic as a fact of life — and in some cultures it is — and those who believe that we have aged out of the occult in modern times must pay the price.

As the great conspiracy writer James Shelby Downard once said, “Never allow anyone the luxury of assuming that because the dead and deadening scenery of the American city-of-dreadful-night is so utterly devoid of mystery, so thoroughly flat-footed, sterile and infantile, so burdened with the illusory gloss of “baseball-hot dogs-apple-pie-and-Chevrolet” that it is somehow outside the psycho-sexual domain.”

Except in Mexico. And yeah, Brujeria is real.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video (1979)

Michael O’Donoghue is one of my heroes. A major contributor to National Lampoon and the first head writer of Saturday Night Live, he was also the first performer to utter a line on that series. When he returned to the show in 1981, as Dick Ebersol hoped that he could add back a sense of the old days to the program, O’Donoghue screamed, “This show lacks danger!” As he said this, he spraypainted the word on the wall, but ran out before finishing the word. It must have worked. Catherine O’Hara quit before she was even in a sketch.

O’Donoghue was fired after writing the never-aired sketch “The Last Days in Silverman’s Bunker”, which compared NBC president Fred Silverman to Hitler, with John Belushi coming back to play the man and a giant Nazi eagle clutching the NBC logo already constructed.

He was hired back by Lorne Michaels in 1985 and he wrote a monologue for Michaels’ friend Chevy Chase that started, “Right after I stopped doing cocaine, I turned into a giant garden slug, and, for the life of me, I don’t know why.” Needless to say, he was gone again.

After a lifetime of chronic headaches, he would die from a cerebral hemorrhage but left behind some wicked humor that still adds up. I always refer to his attack on SNL, referring to it as “an embarrassment. It’s like watching old men die.”

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that NBC would pay him to make a parody of Mondo Cane, including using the Riz Ortolani song “More.” It was also to feature a performance of the Sex Pistols playing “My Way,” but the owners of that song’s copyright would not allow that to happen.

The copy I have of this movie was the version released on home video in the early 1980s by Mike Nesmith’s Pacific Arts label. The Shout! Factory release is missing the theme from Hawaii Five-O.

Much like any mondo, this is a journey through a strange world, with everything from Dan Aykroyd showing his webbed toes and worshipping Jack Lord, Kalus Nomi in a dream sequence, swimming cats, a Tom Schiller-directed take on nudie cuties, Laserbra 2000 and a restaurant where patrons are yelled at.

Tons of famous people are in this, including Carrie Fisher, Teri Garr, Debbie Harry, Margot Kidder, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman, Golda Radner and Paul Shaffer.

Oh yeah — the haunting theme to Mondo Video? That’s “Telstar” with singer Julius La Rosa on vocals, both in English and Italian.

Much like a real mondo, this film at times is uneven and makes little sense. But when it’s good, it’s really good. You can watch this on YouTube.

80 Blocks from Tiffany’s (1979)

Along with Albert Brooks and Tom Schiller, Gary Weis created small movies that were an integral part of the early Saturday Night Live. He also directed The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash and music videos for The Bangles song “Walk Like an Egyptian,” as well George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” and Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.”

This film goes into the day-to-day life of what it was like to be a member of a gang — either the Savage Skulls and Savage Nomads — amidst the end of the world that was 1979 in the South Bronx. The title refers to the distance between this hell on earth and the opulent jewelry store which is much further away than any physical distance between here and the Upper East Side.

Obviously, things have always been bad. I doubt they’ll get better. But let me tell you, as a seven-year-old watching this world on WOR, I really believed the world was about to end. I still feel that way today, perhaps more than ever before.

You can watch this on YouTube.

NBC Special Treat: New York City Too Far from Tampa Blues (1979)

After ABC-TV found late-afternoon, weekday rating success with their Afterschool Special, NBC quickly followed with their weekday Special Treat anthology series that debuted in October 1975 and ran for eleven seasons until its 1986 cancellation.

While not as popular ABC’s trailblazer or CBS-TV’s Schoolbreak Special knockoff, Special Treat had its share of standout episodes.

Sunshine’s on the Way (November 1980; You Tube) starred Amy Wright (The Amityville Horror ’79) as a musician and nursing home volunteer who tries to boost the spirits of a legendary jazz musician portrayed by Scatman Crothers (The Shining).

Another was December 1975’s The Day After Tomorrow, aka Into Infinity, which concerned the interstellar mission of the Altares. Produced by Gerry Anderson between the first and second seasons of Space: 1999, it starred Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon) and Nick Tate from that show, along with Ed Bishop from Anderson’s UFO. (Trailers on You Tube/You Tube.)

But it’s this musical entry from November 1979 during the fifth season, based on the book by award-winning young adult author T. Ernesto Bethancourt, that’s best remembered by the wee-rockers.

Alex Paez (as an adult, he returned to acting to star on ABC-TV’s NYPD Blue and CBS-TV’s CSI: Miami) stars as Tom, a 14-year-old Puerto Rican kid who moves from Florida to Brooklyn with his family. He finds solace—to the dismay of his hardworking father—in an acoustic guitar he was taught to play by his Uncle Jack. Along with a 12-year-old bongo-playing Italian kid, Aurelio, they become the “Irish” Griffith Brothers. With costumes made by Tom’s mother based on Greg Guiffria’s Angel, they win the local church talent show with their original composition “New York City Too Far from Tampa Blues.”

Everybody checked-out the book from the school library (Kirkus Reviews)—and everybody watched the movie. Then we all went out and bought our first Angel albums. And we were drawing griffins in pastels-on-velvet in art class alongside our portraits of Eddie, Iron Maiden’s mascot. Pair that with our Black Sabbath and Nazareth tee-shirts and long hair . . . to say “Mr. Hand” was a bit concerned is an understatement.

Of course, the full movie is on You Tube.

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.

Vampire (1979)

Before he made  Hill Street BluesL.A. Law and so many more shows, Steven Bochco made Vampire, a made for TV movie featuring so many of the people beloved by this site. This movie is a revelation, as I had never seen it before.

Richard Lynch stars as Anton Voytek, a handsome millionaire vampire who has used his undead power over women for centuries before coming into the orbit of vampire hunters John Rawlins (Jason Miller from The Exorcist, ironically the father of two future vampires: Joshua John Miller played Homer in Near Dark and Jason Patric was Michael in The Lost Boys) and E.G. Marshall.

The vampire’s lair is disturbed when a new church breaks ground, but his hoarded wealth allows him to quickly move up in modern society so that he can hunt down Rawlins, the architect that he blames for being awake.

Kathryn Harrold (who battled vampire bats in Nightwing and Luciano Pavarotti in Yes, Giorgio), Jessica Walter (Arrested Development), Barrie Youngfellow (also in the vampire film Nightmare In Blood), Michael Tucker (who would later be on L.A. Law), Jonelle Allen (who would one day play evil witch Lucinda Cavender in The Midnight Hour), Scott Paulin (who was the Red Skull in the 1990 Captain America) and Joe Spinell (if I have to tell you who he is, please never come back) all appear.

Originally airing October 7, 1979 on NBC, this was directed by E.W. Swackhamer (the original Spider-Man made for TV movie, Terror at London Bridge) and was intended to be the pilot for a continuing series. After all, Voytek escapes at the end.

1979 was a big year for vampire movies, with Herzog’s Nosferatu the VampyreNocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula, Frank Langella’s turn as DraculaLove At First BiteThirst, Salem’s Lot and The Curse of Dracula, which was part of Cliffhangers!, an NBC-TV series that gave birth to multiple made for TV movies that were re-edited from the episodic content like Dracula ’79 and World of Dracula.

This is way more than worth your time. You can check it out on YouTube:

She’s Dressed to Kill (1979)

Gus Trikonis — yes, the same man that brought you Nashville GirlThe Evil, Supercock and Take This Job and Shove It — directed this made for TV movie, which originally aired on NBC on December 10, 1979.

Also known as Someone’s Killing the World’s Greatest Models, it’s pretty much a giallo made for late seventies TV audiences.

Jessica Walter — star of this era’s made for TV fare and the future Lucille Bluth — stars along with Joana Cassidy, “Woman of a Thousand Faces” Eleanor Parker, Corinne Calvet (a one-time starlet who was sued by an ex-husband of using voodoo to control him), Ripley’s Believe It or Not! co-host Catherine Shirriff, Barbara Cason (Exorcist II: The Heretic), Clive Revill, Jim McMullan and Connie Sellecca. They’re all trapped at a fashionable party in the mountains as one by one they’re killed with no way to escape.

1979 was a magical year. Drink it in and watch this on YouTube:

Misterio en las Bermudas (1979)

You have to give it to Santo.

He’d only have a few more movies after this — The Fury of the Karate ExpertsThe Fist of DeathChanoc and the Son of Santo vs. the Killer Vampires and Santo vs. the TV Killer — but you have to give it to him to keeping up on the trend and heading off to the Bermuda Triangle.

Two beautiful women, Silvia and Sandra, have disappeared thanks to some aliens who can disappear with a touch of their belts, much like the aliens in Santo vs. the Martian Invasion.

It’s up to our pals Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras to battle the evil Dr. Gro and find them amongst the vanished ships within the Bermuda Triangle.

The best part of this movie is when the trio gets interrupted while they are lifting weights and then follow the evildoers in a series of cars. Check out Mil’s ensemble — tight shorts, no shirt, a cumberbund and original Nikes.

Keep in mind that Santo was 60 when this was made and he could still kick alien ass. There’s also Iranian karate princesses and assassination, all within a movie supposedly about pro wrestlers and the Bermuda Triangle. There’s also a scene where Mil is carrying home his groceries and a bunch of rudos attack him on the docks, so he throws an entire brown bag of his purchases at them and then does all of his trademark spots. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in a film.

The end of this movie blows my mind. After a beginning where a child finds a Santo mask covered in seaweed, this entire movie has been one long story that ends with a guy saying, “And they were never seen again. The predictions of the apocalypse are coming true. The end of the world is near.”

Then, a nuke goes off. Movies like this make me so happy and I am so overjoyed to share this level of absolute malarky with you, dear friend.

You can watch this on YouTube:

Licensed to Love and Kill (1979)

Charles Bind is back — from his last film, No. 1 of the Secret Service — even if Gareth Hunt from The New Avengers is playing him now. It’s time for a Lindsay Shonteff written and directed version of Bond.

You can also find this movie under the titles An Orchid for No. 1The Man from S.E.X. and Undercover Lover.

This time out, Bind is called in to investigate the disappearance of Lord Dangerfield, which leads him to meet his daughter Carlotta Muff-Dangerfield (Fiona Curzon, Frightmare) who is called “Lotta Muff.”

Yes, that happens. There’s also an American Senator named Lucifer Orchid. Here you thought Bond movies were bad at names.

Genre fans will be happy to see Deep Roy (Fellini from Flash Gordon, Teeny Weeny from The NeverEnding Story), as well as cannibal star Me Me Lai (The Man from Deep RiverLast Cannibal WorldEaten Alive!), Imogen Hassell (Toomorrow) and Toby Robins, who went on to play Melina Havelock’s mother in the For Your Eyes Only.

At this point, the Bond films were already a parody, so this movie just takes the ridiculousness even further.

Moonraker (1979)

Could James Bond be relevant in a post-Star Wars world? If Moonraker had anything to say about it, yes. Up until GoldenEye, it was the highest-grossing of the series, making $230 million worldwide.

But wait — didn’t the end credits of the last film promise James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only? Sure they did. However, the producers chose the novel Moonraker because of the aforementioned Jedi-starring George Lucas film.

One could also argue that Hugo Drax’s plan is exactly the same plan as Karl Stromberg’s in The Spy Who Loved Me: blow up the world and go away to build your own civilization. This time, it’s in space versus underwater.

Here’s the weird thing: for such an iconic British character, this movie’s shooting was moved from the tax heavy UK to France. This is also why Michael Lonsdale was cast as Drax instead of James Mason and Corinne Clery was Corinne Dufour. Ah, the 1965–79 film treaty in action. Well, I have no complaints about Clery, who is also in Yor Hunter from the Future and Fulci’s The Devil’s Honey.

Lois Chiles (Creepshow 2) had originally been offered the role of Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me, but was in temporary retirement. In actuality, bad reviews had sent her back to acting school and she ended up getting the role of Holly Goodhead when she was seated next to director Lewis Gilbert on a flight. Jaclyn Smith had almost signed for the part but had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts with Charlie’s Angels.

This is perhaps the silliest of the Moore movies — well, there’s also him bedding Grace Jones in A View to a Kill — and it’s nearly overflowing with effects and gadgets. But hey — Jaws turns good, gets a girlfriend and opens a bottle of champagne by biting into it. So there’s that.

There remains an urban legend that Orson Welles was making his own version of this movie, as Fleming intended it to be filmed as early as 1955. The rumor is that 40 minutes of raw footage exists with Dirk Bogarde as Bond, Welles as Drax, and Peter Lorre as Drax’s henchman.