JEAN ROLLIN-UARY: Night of the Hunted (1980)

While she was still working in adult films, Brigitte Lahaie met and worked for Jean Rollin on the movie Vibrations Sensuelles (Sensual Vibrations). He noted that she had a “distinctly different personality” and an “incredible charisma,” so he remembered her when he made The Grapes of Death a few years later as well as Fascination. He’d also go on record saying that she was the perfect woman.

In this movie, she plays Elizabeth, a woman suffering from a disease that is slowly taking away her memories and will soon make her a walking corpse. A man named Robert that meets her by accident believes there’s no way that can be true and attempts to save her from a very Cronenberg-esque clinic where doctors are keeping her under observation at all times. There, the patients make love and kill one another in equal measure as they descend into madness because all they can remember is the chemical rush of sex and death.

This is a film that starts out as a softcore, goes into noir, emerges into science fiction and then becomes something else, something uniquely Rollin as memories and connections are explored amongst horrific imagery and a bleak ending that maybe is hopeful depending on how you think about it.

Written in a day, shot in two weeks and a film that has no vampires, no beach, no ruined castles and just the coldness of the city — along with Lahaie’s moving performance — this is a departure but a rewarding one.

You can watch this on Kino Cult.

Cinematic Void January Giallo 2023: Dressed to Kill (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cinematic Void will be playing this American giallo on Wednesday, January 4 and Friday, January 7 at 7:00 PM at the Central Cinema in Knoxville, TN along with I Know Who Killed Me. For more information, visit Cinematic Void.

Let’s get this out of the way: Brian De Palma, much like giallo, was heavily influenced by Hitchcock. In fact, when an interviewer asked Hitchcock if he saw the film as an homage, he replied, “You mean fromage.” That said — Hitchcock died three months before the film was released, so that story could be apocryphal (it’s been said that the famous director made this comment to either a reporter or John Landis).

What is true is the interview that De Palma did after Dressed to Kill (Rolling Stone, October 16, 1980).  The director claimed, “My style is very different from Hitchcock’s. I am dealing in surrealistic, erotic imagery. Hitchcock never got into that too much. Psycho is basically about a heist. A girl steals money for her boyfriend so they can get married. Dressed to Kill is about a woman’s secret erotic life. If anything, Dressed to Kill has more of a Buñuel feeling to it.”

However, I’d argue that this film has more in common with giallo than anything the “Master of Suspense” directly created. That’s because — to agree with DePalma above — this film does not exist in our reality. Much like Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, it exists in its own dream reality, where the way we perceive time can shift and change based on the storyteller’s whims.

Yet what of DePalma being dismissive of Argento in interviews, claiming that while he saw the director as having talent, he’d only seen one of his films? Or should we believe his ex-muse/wife Nancy Allen, who claims that when she told DePalma that she was auditioning for Argento’s Inferno that he said, “Oh, he’s goooood.”

Contrast that with this very simple fact (and spoilers ahead, for those of you who worry about that sort of thing, but face facts, this movie is 37 years old): DePalma rips off one of Hitchcock’s best tricks from Psycho: he kills his main character off early in the film, forcing us to suddenly choose who we see as the new lead, placing the killer several steps ahead of not just our protagonists, but the audience itself.

And yet there are so many other giallo staples within this film: fashion is at the forefront, with a fetishistic devotion to gloves, to dresses, to spiked high heels, to lingerie being displayed and removed and lying in piles all over an apartment or doctor’s office. This is the kind of film that makes you stop and notice an outfit, such as what Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson, Big Bad Mama, TV’s Police Woman) wears to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the blue coat that Liz Blake (Nancy Allen, CarrieStrange Invaders) wears to meet Dr. Robert Elliot (Michael Caine, how could we pick any movie other than Jaws 4: The Revenge).

Then there are the music cues from Pino Donaggio, who also scored Don’t Look Now, Fulci’s The Black Cat and Argento’s Do You Like Hitchcock? The film not only looks the part, but it has the intense sound, too.

We also have characters trying to prove that they’re innocent, investigating ahead of the police. Or the son of the murder victim who wants to discover why his mother really died. Or her doctor, who has an insane patient named Bobbi who has stolen his straight razor and demands that she give him more time than the rest of her patients. All of them could be the killer. Giallo gives us no assurances that just because we see someone as the protagonist, there’s no reason they couldn’t also be the antagonist.

Let’s toss in a little moral ambiguity here, too. Kate is a woman who is bored with her life. She’s raised a son and seen her marriage lose any hope of sexual frisson. Liz is a prostitute — no slut shaming here, she’s a strong businesswoman more than anything  — but she’s also a practiced liar, as a scene shows her deftly manipulating several people via phone to get the money she needs to buy stock based off an insider tip she receives from a client. Dr. Elliot is obviously attracted to Kate but claims that his marriage prevents him from having sex with her. Yet it seems like he has secrets beyond informing the police of the threats of his obviously unbalanced patient Bobbi. And then there’s Peter, Kate’s son, who has no issues with using his surveillance equipment to spy on the police or Liz. If this character seems the most sympathetic, keep in mind that he is the closest to the heart of DePalma, whose mother once asked him to follow and record his father to prove that he was cheating on her.

And finally, we have the color palette of Bava’s takes on giallo mixed with extreme zooms, split screens and attention given to the eyes of our characters. The blood cannot be redder.

The film opens with Kate in the shower. While the producers asked Dickinson to claim that it’s her body, it’s really Victoria Johnson (Grizzly) as a body double. Her husband comes into the shower to make love to her, but she finds it robotic and not the passion she feels she deserves. Directly after, she tells Dr. Elliot that she’s frustrated and attempts to seduce him, but he rejects her.

More depressed than before the appointment started, she heads to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Despite being surrounded by inspiration, such as the statue of Diana by Saint-Guadens, West Interior by Alex Katz and Reclining Nude by Tom Palmore (a tip of the hat to the amazing I Talk You Bored blog for an insightful take on the film and the research as to what each work of art is), she absentmindedly writes entries in her schedule. Planning the holiday meal gets her through the mindlessness of her life, flowing penmanship reminding her to “pick up turkey” instead of slowing down and appreciating not just the artwork around her, but the people. There’s a young couple in lust, if not love. There’s a young family. And then, there’s a man with dark glasses who catches her eye before brazenly sitting down next to her.

We are used to male characters chasing after female characters who aren’t defined by anything other than being sex objects. Instead, we have Kate pursuing the man, making the first move, the second move, even the third move until we realize that she was just following the man’s breadcrumbs.

Of note here is that color plays an essential role in the scene, as does expected manners. Kate is a wife and mother, she is who society expects to have virtue and she is clad in all white, but her intentions are anything but pure. She finally has what she wants — the thrilling sex life that she may have only read about in trashy paperbacks.

This scene is a master class in how to pace and move a scene. Imagine if you will the words on the page: Kate follows a mystery man through the museum. And yet, those are just eight words. What we get is nearly nine minutes of wordless pursuit, yet it never grows boring.

Finally, Kate follows the man out of the museum but she’s lost him, until she looks up and sees her glove being dangled from a taxi. But blink and you miss death in the background, as Bobbi blurs past the camera.

When we catch up with Kate — it’s hours for her but it’s seconds for us, because this movie is a dream universe — she’s waking up in bed with a stranger. There’s a gorgeous camera move here as DePalma moves the camera backward, an inverse of how a lesser director would have treated this scene. Instead of showing the two lovers tumbling through the apartment, removing clothes at every turn, we see Kate reassembling herself so that she can move from her fantasy world become reality toward her real world that will soon become a nightmare. The camera slides slowly backward as she gets dressed, remembering via splitscreen and sly smile how her she doesn’t even remember where her panties have gone. Yes, she’s still wearing white, but under it all she’s bare, her garments lost in a strange man’s house. A man whose name she doesn’t even know.

So now, as she emerges from realizing her sexual fantasies, she feels that she must make sense of it. She wants to write a note to say goodbye but doesn’t want to overthink it. Maybe she doesn’t even want it to happen again. And then she learns more of the man. It starts with his name and then becomes more than she ever wished to find out: his health report shows that he has multiple STDs.

Kate leaves the apartment and makes her way to the elevator where she tries to avoid the eyes of anyone. And in the background, we see an ominous red light, ala Bava. Bobbi — death and punishment for sin — is coming.

The death scene — I hold fast to my claim that The New York Ripper is close to this film but made by a director who doesn’t have the sense to cut away from violence — DePalma stages his own version of the shower scene. But more than Psycho, we’ve come to identify with Kate. She’s a woman fast approaching middle age that wants a thrill and yet, she’s punished by disease and death. She didn’t deserve this and her eyes plead not to the killer as much as they do to the camera. And to us.

Here’s where we have to wonder aloud of DePalma’s long-discussed misogyny. This film was protested by women’s groups, who stated in this leaflet that “FROM THE INSIDIOUS COMBINATION OF VIOLENCE AND SEXUALITY IN ITS PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL TO SCENE AFTER SCENE OF WOMEN RAPED, KILLED, OR NEARLY KILLED, DRESSED TO KILL IS A MASTER WORK OF MISOGYNY.” Is DePalma guilty of the slasher film trope of “you fuck and you die?” Maybe. Perhaps if she had remembered her marriage, at best she wouldn’t be here. At worst, she wouldn’t have had forgotten her ring in the stranger’s apartment and she would have survived.

The way I see it, the death of Kate allows us to make the transition from past protagonist to new heroine, as the doors open post-murder to reveal a grisly scene to Liz and her john. The older man runs while Liz reaches out to Kate, their eyes meeting and fingers nearly touching. Kate’s white purity has been decimated by the razor slashes of Bobbi, the killer. As their transference is almost complete, Liz notices Bobbi in the mirror. Remember that we’re in a dream state? Time completely stops here so that we get an extreme zoom of both the mirror and Liz’s face. She escapes just in time, grasping the murder weapon and standing in the hallway, blood on her hands as a woman screams in the background, figuring her for the killer.

At this point, the film switches its protagonist. Unlike the films of David Lynch, like Mulholland Drive, this transference is not a changed version of the main character, but her exact opposite. Where Kate wore white, was older, had a marriage and child, yet slowly came to feel like an object to the men in her life, Liz wears black, is young and single, but is wise to the games of sex and power. She isn’t manipulated, turning the tables on men by using their need for her personal gain. Kate may have seen sexual fantasy as her greatest need, but for Liz, it’s just a means to an end.

Kate and Liz are as different as can be. For example, Kate goes to the museum to find some inspiration. Liz only sees art as commerce, spending plenty of time explaining to Peter how much money she could make off acquiring a painting.

Dr. Elliott discovers a message from Bobbi on his answering machine (these machines and the narrative devices they enable must seem quaint and perhaps even anachronistic to today’s moviegoers). Once, Bobbi was his patient but he refused to sign the paperwork for their (as the pronoun hasn’t been defined, I’ll use they/their) sex change. In fact, Dr. Elliot has gone so far as to convince Bobbi’s new doctor that they are a danger to herself and others.

The police, however, have arrested Liz and Detective Marino (Dennis Franz, TV’s Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue) doesn’t believe a word she has to say. There’s a great moment here where Liz goes from wide-eyed ingenue to knowing cynic in the face of Marino’s misogynistic tone. Meanwhile, Kate’s son Peter (Keith Gordon, Jaws 2Christine) uses his listening devices in the station to learn more about his mother’s death than the police are willing to let on.

He begins to track Liz, obsessively noting the times that she comes and goes from her apartment. And he’s doing the same to Elliot’s office. But he’s not the only one tracking people. Bobbi has been stalking Liz, including a sequence where our heroine goes from being chased by a gang of black men to talking with an unbelieving police office to Peter saving her from Bobbi with a spray of mace.

Because Peter has seen Bobbi also emerging from Dr. Elliott’s office, so he joins forces with Liz to discover who she is. That means that Liz uses her chief weapon — sex — to distract the doctor long enough to discover Bobbi’s real name and information. We learn that Liz’s mental sex game is as strong as her physical attributes here — she says that she must be good to be paid as well as she is. She knows exactly the fantasy Dr. Elliott wants to hear. But perhaps she also knows the fantasy that the mainly male slasher/giallo viewer wants: the woman submitting to the killer holding the knife.

Peter watches outside in the rain when a tall blonde pulls him away. Has he been taken by Bobbi? No — Liz returns to have sex with Dr. Elliott, he has been replaced by the killer. Bobbi lifts the razor as Liz helplessly crosses her arms in front of her face for protection. But at the last minute, the blonde who grabbed Peter outside is revealed to be a police officer, as she shoots Bobbi through the glass. That shattered pane also breaks the illusion and mask of Bobbi, revealing that Dr. Elliott is the man under the makeup and clothes.

The killer is arrested and goes into an insane asylum, as Dr. Levy explains that while the Bobbi side of his personality wanted to be free, the Dr. Elliott side would not allow them to become a true woman. Therefore, whenever a woman broke through and aroused the male side of the persona, the female side would emerge and kill the offending female.

Inside the mental asylum, a buxom nurse attends to the male patients. The room is bathed in blue light. This cool lighting scheme echoes Mario Bava’s films and the movie has moved from a dream version of reality to pure dream sequence. It’s intriguing to me that Carrie and Dressed to Kill both start with a shower scene and end with a dreamed threat to the surviving secondary heroine.

Within the asylum, Dr. Elliott overcomes the nurse and slowly, methodically folds her clothing over her nude form. As he begins to either dress in her clothes — or worse molest her dead body — the camera slowly moves upward as we realize that there is a gallery of other patients all watching and screaming. This scene reminds me of the gallery of residents watching a doctor perform surgery, yet inverted (have you caught this theme yet?) and perverted.

Bobbi emerges once again and because she is death, she cannot be stopped. Liz is bare and helpless in the shower and nothing can protect her from being slashed and sliced and murdered — except that none of this is real. She awakens screaming in bed with Peter rushing in to protect her. And for the first time in the film (again, thanks to I Talk You Bored for noticing), she is wearing white.

Many find this a hard movie to stomach due to its misogyny. I’ll see you that and raise you that it’s a misanthropic film that presents all of humanity, male and female, in negative terms. The men in this film are actually treated the way women normally are in films, as either silent sex objects seen (Warren Lockman), sexless enemies (Kate’s husband), shrill harpies that need to be defeated (Detective Marino) or sexless best friends who provide the hero with the tools they need to save the day (Peter). Seriously, in another film, one would think Peter would have sexual interest in Liz, but despite her double entendres and come-ons, he remains more concerned with schedules and numbers and evidence.

Bobbi, the combination of male and female, comes across as a puritan punisher of females who benefit from sex, either emotionally or monetarily. Or perhaps they are just destroying the sex objects that they know that the male side of their brain will never allow them to become. Interestingly, Bobbi’s voice doesn’t come from Michael Caine, but from De Palma regular William Finley (The Phantom of Phantom of the Paradise).

What else makes this a giallo? The police seem either unwilling to help at best or ineffectual at worse until they tie things up neatly at the end. And the conclusion, when the hand emerges not from the doorway — but the medicine cabinet — to slash Liz echoes the more fantastic films in the genre, such as SuspiriaAll the Colors of the Dark and Stagefright, where reality just ceases to exist. At the end of all three films, the heroine has confronted the fantastic and may never be the same.

In the first, Suzy narrowly escapes from hell on earth to emerge laughing in the rain. Is she happy that she survived? Has she achieved a break with reality? Is she breaking the fourth wall and laughing at how insane the film has become, pleased that the film’s torture is finally over?

In the final scene of All the Colors of the Dark, the fantasy world has been shown to be all a ruse, yet our heroine, Jane, is now trapped in the dream world. She can tell what will happen before it does, she knows that her husband has both slept with and killed her sister, but he has saved her from a fate worse than death. Yet all she can do is shout, “I’m scared of not being myself any more. Help me!”

And in Stagefright, the final girl walks not just out of the scene but out of reality itself as she defeats the killer. She has transcended being an actress to removing herself from fiction.

In all these films, the characters have not been unchanged by their experiences with the dream world. In Dressed to Kill, the final dream sequence renders Liz truly frightened for the first time in the film. It’s the only time we see her as vulnerable — even when faced with an entire gang of criminals on the subway, she retained her edge. As Peter reaches out to comfort her — the only sexless male in the film and not just a sublimated one like Dr. Elliott — she recoils from his touch before giving in to his protective embrace.

In the same way, we are changed by the film. It has thrilled us or made us think or even made us angry. True cinema — true art, really — makes us confront what we find most uncomfortable. Sure, we can deride and decry many of this film’s choices, but the fact that I’ve devoted days of writing and over three thousand words to it speak to its potency. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far.

PS — I’ve often discussed — in person and on podcasts — that I experienced so many R rated movies for the first time via Mad Magazine. I’m delighted that I could find the Mort Drucker illustration for his skewering of Dressed to Kill.

AMANDO DE OSSORIO WEEK: Pasión prohibida (1980)

Teresa (Susana Estrada) is an exotic dancer who leaves her work to go back to her small town fpr the funeral of her father. Once there, she meets Miguel (Emilio Álvarez), the younger brother she never watched grow up — as she escaped to the big city — and falls in lust with him. He feels the same attraction, yet wants the simpler life of marrying Marisol (María Rey).

A Spanish sex movie about a small fishing village and an incestual love. Hmm. Sounds like Jess Franco, hmm? Nope. This was made by Amando de Ossorio. It’s not as sexy or as strange as you want it, but you know, once you’ve seen this done ala Jess, it’s kind of hard to live up to it. It’s nice that de Ossorio stretched out and tried something new, but I kind of like when he’s killing people in the jungle or the Spanish countryside in slow motion with synth doom blasting over all the carnage.

DISMEMBERCEMBER: Christmas Evil (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie was on the site all the way back in December 22, 2017.

I learned about this movie from John Waters and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that John Waters has never let me down. He said of the film, “I wish I had kids. I’d make them watch it every year and if they didn’t like it, they’d be punished.”

Christmas Eve 1947: Harry Stadling (played later in the film Brandon Maggart, who is the father of Fiona Apple) watches his father — dressed as Santa — get sexy with his mother. He gets so upset that he smashes a snowglobe and uses it to slice up his hand.

Fast forward to 1980: Harry wants to be Santa. He sleeps in costume, his home is constantly decorated for the holidays, he works in the Jolly Dreams toy factory and keeps a book of who is naughty and who is nice. Of note, the toy factory was owned by the family of producer Edward R. Pressman and was known for making the board games Triominoes and Mastermind.

Harry notices an employee that called in sick is at the bar, even after he had to fill in for the man on the assembly line. He gets so mad that he smashes one of his dollhouse figures and cancels Thanksgiving. There’s a bright spot, though, as his boss announces that if they increase production, they can give toys to the kids at a hospital.

Harry realizes that everyone sees him as a loser, so he has a nervous breakdown and becomes Santa. He starts making toys in his basement and steals toys from the factory to give to the hospital. But he also does some insane things — like leave dirt on a bad kid’s door. And oh yeah — he murders a bunch of young adults who make fun of his costume, an act which his co-workers witness.

Harry goes full nutzoid, destroying his nephews’ gifts and replacing them with toys he’s made and killing a co-worker and leaving more toys behind. He attends the company Christmas party and dances to an increasingly faster and more frenetic version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” before threatening to put people in his bad book.

Then, Harry activates the assembly line and makes more toys before getting his van stuck in the mud. He escapes a mob who recognizes him as a killer before making it to his brother’s house. A battle ensues between the two, but Harry escapes and he’s forced to drive his van off the bridge by the mob. But in his mind, the van flies off like Santa’s sled to the words of “The Night Before Christmas.”

Obviously, this is not the movie to share with the kids. But if you’re an adult who has had it up to here with the holidays, by all means, this is the tonic you’re seeking.

You can watch this on Tubi.

ARROW VIDEO SHAW SCOPE VOLUME 2 BOX SET: Ten Tigers of Kwangtung (1980)

The Ten Tigers of Kwangtung were a collection of Chinese martial artists from Guangdong Province during the Qing dynasty in China. Said to be the greatest fighters in Guangdong during the Qing era, these heroes trace their style to the Southern Shaolin school. Their first film apperance is in Ten Tigers of Shaolin and they even show up in the Jackie Chan movie Around the World in 80 Days, with Sammo Hung acting as Wong Fei-hung.

Directed by Chang Cheh and featuring an all-star cast that includes the Venom Mob, Ti Lung and Fu Sheng. It begins with two mysterious strangers in town who are hunting martial arts masters and killing them with the goal of killing the Tigers and their new disciples.

This may be a confusing movie for some, as the narrative quickly flashes back and forth from yesterday to today. That may be because of its chaotic history, as the movie started filming in 1978 and was restarted again in 1980 utilizing a new crew of actors since some of the cast had left Shaw Brothers.

All that being said, this movie is fun because it has such as cast of stars all in one film and ends with one of the wildest closings in any Shaw Brothers movie, which is really saying something. There are a lot of characters to keep track of and this could have really been ten movies to get through this much material.

ARROW VIDEO SHAW SCOPE VOLUME 2 BOX SET: Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

Shimmy shimmy ya, indeed. If there’s one thing Hong Kong movies have in store, it’s always plenty of sequels. And yet, we welcome those here with open arms.

Directed by Lau Kar-leung, this is the spiritual second film in a trilogy. Unlike the first and last movie in said triad, Gordon Liu does not play San Te, but instead an imposter monk Chu Jen-chieh, who just so happens to look like the master of the 36th chamber.

After using his likeness to the famed warrior to help his friends — a scheme that doesn’t last all that long — Jen-chieh runs to the temple, where he’s soon kicked out. Only when he meets San Te is he given the opportunity to build scaffolds all around the temple and renovate the entire complex.

From high above the school, Jen-Chieh is able to watch all of the forms of the monks. Finally, when asked to dismantle his work, he rebels and runs through the chambers with ease. That’s because he changed his work to practice each of the forms, which was exactly the plan of the smiling San Te.

In spite of himself, our hero has become an expert at kung fu. Another lesson from San Te. Jen-Chieh saves his village and continues his training.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: House of the Dead (1980)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Van Ryn is the genius behind Groovy Doom and the zine Drive-In Asylum. This was first on the site on November 28, 2018.

Ultra low budget films really turn me on sometimes, and House of the Dead has another sexy thing going for it: it’s a horror anthology. It’s one of those obscurities that received a very limited theatrical release, and was then relegated to cruising the backwaters of VHS. A recent blu ray resurrection by Vinegar Syndrome is a welcome chance to get acquainted with one of the more imaginative films of its type.

For some reason, the film was packaged theatrically under the misleading title Alien Zone, which says nothing about the actual content of the movie. It’s actually a supernatural film that deals with a man who finds himself lost in a rainstorm. He’s just come from seeing his mistress, and takes a taxi back to his hotel in order to phone his wife. The cab leaves him off in an area that isn’t familiar to him, and it drives off, leaving him stranded down a dark alley. A strange, older man emerges from the darkness and offers our protagonist a chance to get out of the rain, taking him inside the building and giving him coffee. The protagonist soon realizes his host is a mortician, and the old man insists on giving him a tour of the facility. The individual stories emerge as the mortician opens each casket and letting the protagonist look at the bodies.

House of the Dead gives you some bang for your buck, because it has four stories — five if you count the wraparound segment. The tone is definitely that of an old EC comic book, with nasty people doing horrible things and then suffering some kind of karmic justice. The first is about a schoolteacher with a disdain for children who is confronted by monsters, the second deals with a serial killer who lures women to their doom inside of his apartment, the third is about two dueling detectives who set out to murder each other, and the fourth shows an arrogant businessman’s rapid transformation into a derelict after he is trapped and tormented inside a warehouse of torture.

The stories are intriguing, although a few of them are awkwardly realized. Most disappointing is the story about the serial killer, because it starts out so damn good. It’s a found footage short, a collection of private films shot by the killer on a hidden camera. Each one shows him inviting a different woman to the apartment and finding ways to lure them into perfect position so he can murder them in front of the camera. It becomes increasingly disturbing, and you wonder where the story will go, and then suddenly it is over and it went nowhere. It had such an interesting setup, too, with a non-linear timeline and intercut news footage of the subject being attacked by camera-wielding reporters while being arraigned.

The best of the four stories by far is the fourth, which is a damn near brilliant piece of film. Most of it is performed solo by actor Richard Gates, who portrays a cocky businessman with a serious lack of empathy for others. He is confronted by a derelict outside of what he thinks is his office building, and he dismisses the man rudely, yelling after him “Why don’t you get a job?” Once inside the building though, he realizes he has walked into an unfamiliar storefront, with a vacant office space inside. Lured to an open elevator shaft by noises from below, he leans inside too far and falls down into the shaft, landing on his face. It’s a brutal moment that looks terrifyingly real, even though it’s just clever editing. This begins a gradual erosion of his humanity by some unseen antagonist; he is now in a Saw-like chamber of horrors, where he is wordlessly tormented by a falling elevator, a room where a wall of blades threatens him, and ultimately a prison cell where he is fed only bottles of alcohol. A door automatically opens some undetermined length of time later and he emerges into daylight, himself now a drunken man in a dirty suit approaching passersby for help and being rejected.

The film has a distinct visual look, which is often difficult when shooting a low budget movie. It’s not exactly striking, but it does creep into your brain a little by what it *doesn’t* show you. This movie does “anonymous and vacant” extremely well. Alleys are dark and vague, with strategically lit doorways and dark alcoves. That abandoned building is both ordinary looking and totally sinister, with simple but effective traps for its victim, almost like anybody could have set it up. Even the “house” of the title, which is purported to be a funeral home with a mortician’s workshop, is rendered onscreen only as a series of vague hallways and dim areas lit only by carefully directed lamps and bulbs, leaving most of the rooms in shadows.

A lot of the wraparound story is clunky, to say the least, like the awkward way the mortician narrator abruptly disengages from several of the stories, especially the ones with protagonists who don’t end up dead on screen (after all, he’s explaining to someone how these people ended up corpses in a funeral parlor). But the runtime is short (79 minutes), and it contains a few moments that are effectively creepy. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d hope to find in a budget DVD collection.

CAULDRON FILMS BLU RAY RELEASE: Beyond Terror (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on April 10, 2021.

Cauldron Films has released this on blu ray with a 4K restoration from the original negative and  commentary by film historan Kat Ellinger, plus an image gallery with soundtrack. You can get it from MVD.

Written and directed by Tomás Aznar, this Spanish biker/slasher/occult freakout thrilled me with every single frame. It starts with one of a group of robbers posing as a prostitute before she brutally knifes a man, then she joins three others to rob a bar.

Taking a middle-class couple hostage and holding out in the home of an old woman and her grandson, they act just like you’d expect a home invasion biker gang to behave, killing everyone in their path when they’re not screwing in churches.

Before they kill her, the grandmother prays to Satan to destroy the bikers and from there on, they see ghastly visions of her dead grandson, you know, when they’re not having sex and killing more people or being chased by Ossorio-like Templars through a desiccated chapel. Oh yeah — there’s also supposedly a fortune guarded by those very same Blind Dead-ish mummies in the catacombs beneath the ruins.

It’s packed with menace, gore, sex and meanness — exactly the kind of Eurohorror that always played well over here. It has that glorious shot on film soft darkness that I love so much, as well as drugs, shootouts and a final twenty minutes that are a delirious thrill ride.

Más allá Del Terror was never released ever in the United States until now and I have no idea why.

PS – Fans of Warren Comics will spot the art that was lifted for the German VHS release. It’s the Frank Frazetta cover of Vampirella #11.

CAULDRON FILMS BLU RAY RELEASE: Contraband (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally ran on the site on March 1, 2018.

Cauldron Films has released this before, but this is a reissue without slipcover of their astounding looking release of Fulci’s gangster masterpiece. Along with a 4K restoration from the original negative, this has new interviews with writer Giorgio Mariuzzo, actress Ivana Monti and actor Saverio Marconi; archival Interviews with actors Fabrizio Jovine and Venantino Venantini, cinematographer Sergio Salvati and composer Fabio Frizzi; new commentary by film historians Troy Howarth, Nathaniel Thompson and Bruce Holecheck; an image gallery; trailers and a reversible cover with alternate artwork. You can get it from MVD.

Imagine Fulci making a cop movie. Imagine that the budget ran out two weeks in. Imagine that real mobsters paid for the film, asking for a title change and for more violence (like Fulci was going to say no). Don’t imagine. All of these things are wonderfully true and make Contraband such a weird addition to your Fulci collection.

Luca Di Angelo smuggles near Naples with his brother Mickey. They have a close call with the police and suspect a rival gangster, Scherino, of turning them in. After sharing their concerns with their boss Perlante, one of Mickey’s prize horses is killed and a fake police roadblock leads to Fulci paying homage (or straight up ripping off, depending on your perspective) to the scene where Sonny dies in The Godfather. Luca escapes death while his brother is not so lucky. Despite warnings that he should leave town, he has a speedboat funeral for his brother and vows revenge. Breaking into Scherino’s house, he almost kills the man before running into his henchmen. He gets his ass kicked, but his life is spared after the boss tells him he had no part in the death of his brother.

Adele, Luca’s wife, wants him to forget this life. But he’s in deep after discovering that a vicious French criminal named The Marsigliese is responsible. We meet this criminal during a drug deal, where he responds to a bad batch of heroin by burning a woman’s face with a blowtorch. If you haven’t realized that you are watching a Lucio Fulci movie, this would be the point in the film where you realize that fact.

The Marsigliese starts killing all of the Mafia leaders so that he can become the sole boss of Naples. Even Perlante is nearly killed, only being saved by the fact that his chief capo was having sex with his mistress and triggered a bomb under the bed. After a meeting between Luca, Perlante and The Marsigliese, where they discuss working together, Luca warns his fellow smugglers that if the French boss has his way, there will be more drugs, more overdoses and more problems — with less money for all of them.

The police are using all of the intercine battling to round up smugglers, but Scherino saves Luca and suggests they work together. They meet at Perlante’s house, but Luca smells The Marsigliese’s cologne. That’s when gunmen bust in and shoot everyone but Luca, who escapes by crashing through a window. Scherino is mortally wounded, but not before shooting Perlante in the neck, killing him.

Again, in case you wonder who directed this film, The Marsigliese kidnaps Adele and demands Luca turn over his smuggling operation over the phone…and then plays him the sounds of our hero’s wife being beaten and gang-raped. Luca unites all of the retired mob bosses and old guard bosses, who are sick of hearing about the Frenchman taking over. They take out most of his men and Luca guns him down in a garbage-strewn alley in a scene packed with blood spraying everywhere.

Adele and rescued and Morrone, the leader of the old school mob guys, tells the police that he has no idea who Luca is.

Contraband was made as Fulci was starting to claim his gore crown. It’s his only crime movie, but it’s not a bad effort. And if you’re looking for his trademark tics, as you’ve read above, this film is full of them. It has way more blood and guts than any film of this type and subverts the genre it should be in, so it’s quite similar to how Fulci treated sword and sorcery with Conquest. This may not be one of his best-known films, but it’s worth checking out.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Cataclysm (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on August 31, 2017. If you want to know more about Night Train to Terror just read this.

Have you ever seen Night Train to Terror and wondered — what would one of that film’s portmanteau sequences be like if they were expanded to an entire movie? Good news! Well, maybe. Your wishes have come true.

The final story of Night Train, “The Case of Claire Hansen”, was really a film called The Nightmare Never Ends (alternatively known as Cataclysm and Satan’s Supper). It boasts three directors. Amazingly, it was written by Philip Yordan, who not only won the Academy Award for Broken Lance in 1954, but also provided a front for blacklisted Hollywood writers (he was Bernard Gordon’s front for The Day of the Triffids)!

This is my favorite of all kinds of movies — a film I discover at 5 AM when the rest of the world is asleep and wonder if it can really be true and if I am not still asleep. To say that this is a batshit insane film is to do a disservice to the phrase batshit insane. I feel ill-prepared to share its wonder with you, but I’m sure going to try.

There are two stories going on here:

Nobel Prize-winning author James Hansen (Richard Moll of TV’s Night Court and House) and his devoutly Catholic wife Claire (who is a surgeon, which totally comes into play later) decide to go to Vegas to both celebrate James’ new book and to get away from Claire’s nightmares. Wondering what James won the Nobel Prize for? He wrote a book that proved that God is dead. Now, he’s planning a TV special to tell the whole story to the whole world (he’s preaching the bad news!). Well, alright. And that Claire — seems that she’s been dreaming about volcanoes. They decide to go see a magician, who puts Claire into a trance in seconds.

That’s when we learn the real secret of what has been bothering Claire — Nazis! She dreams of a handsome young officer who kills a room of other officers and an all-female string orchestra. After the show, Claire invites him to dinner after he tells her that a demon is after her. He never makes it — he is killed and a 666 tattoo is left on his scalp.

Remember when I said there was a second story?

Mr. Weiss is super old and out of it, but totally recognizes a Nazi when he sees one. Pretty and rich Olivier is being interviewed during the intermission of the New York Ballet and he looks exactly like the Nazi officer who killed Weiss’ parents at Auschwitz (and he’s also the Nazi from Claire’s dream). Weiss is a Nazi hunter, believe it or not, and he calls in his neighbor Lieutenant Stern (Cameron Mitchell, who has been in more movies than there have been movies, but let’s call out Blood and Black Lace as one of the best of his films). They go to the ballet and follow Olivier to his extravagant mansion, all the while Stern tries to convince the old man that this cannot be the man who tormented his childhood. Weiss grabs his Luger and goes to kill Olivier, but an unseen demon kills him and leaves a 666 on his body.

Oh yeah, there’s also a priest named Papini who is a homeless man that tries to protect James and Claire, even telling her how to kill Olivier.

There are also numerous characters who show up and just die, like Stern’s partner and Claire’s nephew. Even better, there are numerous disco scenes, which feature some wonderfully horrid songs and Olivier seducing Claire’s nephew’s fiancee (so many degrees of separation) until he takes off his shoe to reveal a furry hoof!

As to not skip any exploitation genre — we’ve already had Nazis, tough cops, disco and the occult — Claire goes to visit a black spiritualist who unexpectedly goes off on a ramp, pushing the film toward blaxploitation!  “I am a black man–a (N WORD) in your country. You are a rich woman, I’m sure you have many powerful friends…but they couldn’t help you! You had to seek the help of a (N WORD)!” It’s so insane and doesn’t fit into the movie at all.

Neither does the scene where Papini is killed by Ishtar, Olivier’s assistant (who is only in this one scene). It’s the chance to add some skin to the film and even more blasphemy.

Seriously — this film has blasphemy in spades. If you’re in a metal band that needs samples about religion and the devil, you should totally give this a watch. You’re going to find tons of samples.

Every single actor in this film either reads their lines in monotone or screams them as loudly as possible — sometimes within the same sentence. The lone exceptions are Richard Moll, who is the best actor in here and Mitchell, who is the gruffest cop of all time.

Nearly everyone in this movie (and the related Night Train to Terror) was somehow also involved with another movie that destroyed my brain cells, Cry Wilderness — which was featured on the latest season of Mystery Science Theater. A Bigfoot meets E.T. epic of pure maniacal weirdness, it was also written by Yordan and was directed by Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, who created the wraparound story for Night Train to Terror. Seems that Visto International Inc., a small theatrical motion picture production and distribution company, produced these films in the early 80s magical era of cheaply made independent films. Plus, both films (or all three, if we can cross-over between Night TrainNightmare and Wildernessfeature the acting skills, if you will, of Tony Giorgio, Maurice Grandmaison and Faith Clift.

Let me see if I can summarize the ending of this — after Oliver kills everyone else, Claire hits him with her car. She throws the body in the trunk and takes him to surgery, where she and her nephew’s girlfriend give him open heart surgery, complete with blood spraying and puking. Oh yeah, there’s also stabbing and slapping and screaming. And the bad guy wins!

Holy fuck — this is certainly a slice of cinematic goofball awesome that I won’t soon forget. Make no mistake — it’s a horrible film. But at the same time, it’s also a great one!