SLASHER MONTH: Just Before Dawn (1981)

Man, if all Jeff Lieberman did was make Squirm and Blue Sunshine, he’d already be way ahead of the horror game. But no, he also made this contribution to the slasher genre, which owes a major debt to Deliverance (it was called Survivance in France).

Shot in the Silver Falls State Park in Sublimity, Oregon as Mt. St. Helens erupted, this film reminds you of one very important fact: if George Kennedy tells you to stay away from the woods, you better listen.

After that encounter — and seeing the survivor of the movie’s first attack by the mountain family saying that he’s seen demons — a fivesome of teens still head into the woods for what they hope will be a fun time away from the rest of the world. Chris Lemmon — yes, Hulk Hogan’s Thunder In Paradise co-star — is in this, as is Gregg Henry from Body Double.

There’s more than just a killer in the woods — there’s a set of identical twins and an inbred girl and a strange church and crickets that seem to know how to get quiet every time a character shows up.

While the original script’s heavily religious themes were cut out — it was to end with the family forcing the final girl to handle snakes in a ritual — it’s still a pretty great take on a slasher, one more based in something that could happen, with little to none of the supernatural getting in the way of all that murder. And the way that the last bad guy is taken out — wow. Talk about visceral.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 14: Car Crash (1981)

DAY 14. THE MONSTER MILE: One about cars or racing.

If you’re going to make a race car movie in 1981 and you’re Anthony M. Dawson — ahem Antonio Margheriti — and you’ve got the Italians, the Spanish and some Mexicans interested in your film, you propose only one actor who can be in your film. Travolta.

Joey Travolta.

And oh yeah, John Steiner. Everyone loves John Steiner!

Paul (Travolta) and Nick (Vittorio Mezzogiorno, The House of the Yellow Carpet) are race car buddies who run afoul of the mob and a double-crossing antiques dealer named Janice (Ana Obregón, who is in Treasure of the Four Crowns and a fixture in the scandal sheets, what with being a Jeffrey Epstein client, a rumored affair with David Beckham that caused his wife Victoria to refer to her as a “geriatric Barbie” and paying her bodyguards to assault reporters). They get the perfect car to be winners — a red Trans-Am — and end up finally racing in the Imperial Crash, which seems like something out of Speed Racer in all the best of ways.

Steiner is Kirby, the person who is buying all the antiques off of Janice. He ends up flooding most of his estate and challenging our heroes to a race that destroys most of his home, crashes his car and drenches his butler. And he loves it!

This is a big dumb Italian version of a big dumb American race movie, which is something I never knew I wanted but totally know that I now love. You know what’s missing from those movies? Model cars and a synth-ed out soundtrack. This one has that, including a model train crash and numerous scenes of firepits being jumped, cars racing down hills, non-stop motor noise and protagonists who whip dynamite out of moving cars like they’re done it a million times before.

I’m not saying that I want Antonio Margheriti to direct everything I watch, but if the ratio was 75% Margheriti, this would be a much better life.

You can watch this on YouTube.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 11: El Macho Bionico (1981)

DAY 11: ¿QUE ES UN MURO FRONTERIZO?: Watch anything from Mexico, Central or South America.

I may have watched a few Mexican movies this year, so many that I’ve created a Letterboxd list of around a hundred movies to prove it. So as part of the Scarecrow Challenge, I wanted to find something a bit out of the ordinary. And I was inspired by Princess Lea, who played the brutal Fiera in Intrépidos Punks and who was menaced by the coke-sniffing monster in El Violador Infernal.

Lea was born in Montreal and somehow ended up in Mexico via Miami. She became known as Majestad de las Vedettes, a queen of cabaret, for her acrobatic dance routines. If Russ Meyer made Mexican movies, this is who he would have made his star. Now, I’m trying to watch every movie that she’s in, which led me to this movie.

Esteben (sex symbol Andrés García, who was Miguel in Tintorera…Tiger Shark), and his assistant Moi (Roberto “Flaco” Guzmán) survive a plane crash, but his verga does not. He has to travel to the United States where they make him “mejor mas fuerte mas rapido” thanks to the bionic rebuilding of his member, taking him from pito to pitote.

Directed by Rodolfo De Anda, who is normally an actor, this was based on Mauricio Iglesias’ novel, El Amor Es una Farsa. In addition to gaining a cyborg weenis, our hero also gains super strength, but it’s not enough to get the ladies, even when he dresses up as Dracula or rips out of a shirt like he’s the 70’s The Incredible Hulk right in the middle of a scene that makes fun of The Exorcist.

Our hero falls for Isela Vega, who was in The Snake PeopleLas Sicodélicas, Madame DeathBring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Lovers of the Lord of the Night, a movie she wrote, produced and directed. Yet when women are literally parading for his attention in the middle of the street, giving up all that sex for love is difficult.

What’s amazing is that The Six Million Dollar Man parody came out three years after the show was already off the air. Perhaps it had a delay in hitting Mexico. That said, I can’t think of many other movies that have a cybernetically augmented candystick, a mechanical meat missile, a Terminator-like 21st digit, a biomech bed snake or a robotic rogering ramjet.

As for Princess Lea, she’s only in this for the briefest of moments. Now I have to hunt down Muñecas de Medianoche (which features several vedettes), René Cardona’s Burlesque and Las Fabulosas del Reventón (which also has Tongolele from Isle of the Snake People).

SLASHER MONTH: Corpse Mania (1981)

Not all slashers are domestic, as we again test the “Is it giallo or is it slasher?” game with the Shaw Brothers-produced 1981 film Corpse Mania. It’s directed by Chih-Hung Kuei, who would go on to create the strange Curse of Evil and the “I don’t have a word good enough to properly convent the level of strange” film The Boxer’s Omen.

Inspector Chang is beginning to figure out that all of the dead bodies in his area all were visitors to the brothel of one Madam Lan and all fingers point to Mr. Li, a man who has already been jailed for defiling corpses, which really doesn’t seem like the kind of crime you get out of jail for due to good behavior.

Sure, you might know who the killer is from the moment the movie starts, but give this points for his bandaged get-up, inventive stalking scenes and not shying away from the gore, including a scene where the killer gets a corpse ready for, well, love and then admires it the more it draws maggots.

From real maggots crawling all over its actresses and astounding blasts of blood to a dummy thrown off a roof that’s so fake that Lucio Fulci would stand up and laugh out loud, this movie has it all. It’s fog and mood suggest a Hong Kong Blood and Black Lace if  Bava decided to take a break from all the sexualized violence to deliver a kung fu sequence.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Wolfen (1981)

Before he was getting beamed up into spaceships, Whitley Streiber wrote The Wolfen. It came out in a year that saw two other essential werewolf movies, An American Werewolf In London and The Howling. There’s a reason why this film isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the other furry releases of 1981. By comparison, it’s slow-moving and not as filled with either humor or menace.

Former NYPD Captain Dewey Wilson (Alberty Finney) has come back to the job to work with criminal psychologist Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora, The Cotton Club) to solve a violent series of murders, including a business magnate who was killed alongside his wife and gigantic Haitian voodoo bodyguard.

So what keeps killing people throughout NYC? Is it a wild wolf? Or Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos), a Native American activist who claims that he’s a shapeshifter?

Along the way, Gregory Hines plays a coroner, Tom Noonan is a zoologist and Tom Waits makes a cameo as a bar owner.

This is the only movie that Dustin Hoffman was ever rejected for. He really wanted the lead, but director Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock) wanted to work with Finney. For what it’s worth, he was removed from the film after reshoots and was replaced with John D. Hancock (Let’s Scare Jessica to Death), who supervised post-production and fixing some of the movie’s dialogue.

If this had been released in any other year but 1981, I think it may be more fondly remembered. It’s fine — a bit slow, but the idea of Native American skywalkers being wolf spirits that haunt New York is interesting. However, it’s a less successful take on traditional monsters than Steiber’s The Hunger, which would be made into a film two years later.

Coming at Ya! (1981)

Every few years, 3D comes back in vogue. This 1981 film led a new wave of movies with enhanced depth and mostly stuff coming, well, at ya Dr. Tongue-style that included ParasiteFriday the 13th Part IIIJaws 3-DAmityville 3-DSpacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and Treasure of the Four Crowns, which comes from the same people who made this movie.

It came about when Xerox salesmen Gene Quintano and Lupo took their office supply company into filmmaking, along with actor Tony Anthony, who had appeared in plenty of Italian Westerns like the increasingly, err, strange series of The Stranger films.

Filmed in a process called both SuperVision and WonderVision, the real star of this movie isn’t the acting or the story, but the very in your face 3-D effects. Even the actors joked about that, with Anthony saying, “You wouldn’t make Citizen Kane in 3-D. This is escapism. This is The Perils of Pauline. It’s a laugh. It’s enjoyment.”

They went so far as to have one of the film’s producers, Gene Quintano, play the film’s villain Pike Thompson. In 1981, he told The Washington Post that he appeared in the movie “mostly as a matter of economics. Tony is the star and he’s very good but this is not an actor’s film. I mean, Robert Redford is not going to be sweating it out. The real star is supposed to be the 3-D.” He would go on to write King Solomon’s Mines for Cannon, as well as Police Academy 3: Back in Training and Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, as well as writing and directing Honeymoon Academy and National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon Part 1, two films that I missed out on during our week of Police Academy movies. Also, if he ever comes to Pittsburgh, he could probably get a beer at any bar for free just by telling them he wrote Sudden Death, which along with Night of the Living Dead and Striking Distance form pretty much the holy trinity of movies made here (you can also claim that FlashdanceSlap ShotDawn of the DeadCreepshowMartinRoboCopThe Silence of the Lambs or Kingpin and could be on this list, but never Stigmata, which was actually filmed mostly in Vancouver. Also, ironically given Anthony’s quote, the original The Perils of Pauline was shot in Yinzer Country.). Man, I went off on a tangent.

Filmways bought this movie and it ended up becoming a minor success, easily using up the 90,000 3-D glasses they thought they’d need. 1981 was a big year for that company, as they bought out AIP and released The Fan, Blade Runner, Halloween II and Ragtime.

Bank robber H.H. Hart (Anthony) loses his wife (Victoria Abril, who would one day be in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) to kidnappers on the day of his wedding in a scene that feels like it had to have influenced Kill Bill. She ends up being sold as a prostitute to the evil Pike Thompson (Quintano) and our hero has to rescue her. That’s pretty much the whole story, but you’re really here, like we already said, to see stuff fly out of the screen and the film’s strange monochromatic style mixed with bursts of color.

Anthony and director Ferdinando Baldi had also worked together on Blindman — an Italian Western ripoff of Zatoichi — and the incredibly weird Get Mean.

If you listen carefully, during the bat attack scene, some of the screams have been recycled from Argento’s Inferno.

Anyways, like everyone has told you, this movie is really just about fun and not the idea that it’s going to change your world. If you want to see darts, snakes, guns, beans, rats, spears, hands, spiders, a bowling ball, bats, gun barrels, swords, cowboys, a yo-yo, a pinwheel, gold coins, apple peels, flaming arrows and a baby’s ass come at you, well, this would be the movie you are looking for.

You can watch this — not in 3D — on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Drive In . . . Saturday?! Punk Night II

Rock ‘n’ Roll Week at B&S About Movies was a smashing success . . . one that can’t be contained in just one Drive In Friday* featurette! So, for this week only, we’ve opened up the Drive In for a special Saturday edition for you old punk codgers n’ sods. You know who you are . . . you were in middle school or high school during the advent of the cable TV boom and a fan of the USA Network’s “Night Flight” Friday night video programming block, channel surfing HBO and, later on, haunting the shelves of your local video store . . . so you’ll remember seeing these four punkumentaries. It’s been years since I’ve watched these gems myself, so this’ll be a fun night for all.

Oi! Hey, ho! Let’s go! All Aboard for Punk Night!

1. Punk In London (1977)

Director Wolfgang Büld bounced around the Germany film and TV industry since the early ’70s and made his English language debut with this German-produced documentary that accompanied the release of a coffee table book of the same name. The film features live performances — some of the footage and sound is of questionable quality — from some of the scene’s top bands, such as the Adverts, the Boomtown Rats, the Clash, the Lurkers, the Jam, Killjoys, the Sex Pistols, Sham 69, the Stranglers, and X-Ray Spex.

Büld followed up this document on the rise of punk rock with a sequel on “the fall” of punk rock, 1980’s Punk and Its Aftershocks, which featured the rise of the new, more commercial crop of ska, new wave, and mod bands that pushed out the punks, such as Madness, Secret Affair, Selector, and the Specials. As with any old VHS reissued to DVD, the reissues company had to tinker with the sequel and give it a new title (the lame “British Rock”) and edit out some footage from the original cut. Ugh!

The restored DVD digital rip of Punk in London currently streams on a variety of VOD platforms, but you can watch it for free on Flick Vaults’ You Tube channel. You can view a complete track listing of the bands and songs that appear in the film on Discogs.

Büld’s other punk documents include the hour-long 1980 TV document Women in Rock (leftovers not used in Punk In London), which centers on the German tours of British metalers Girlschool, along with Brit punkers the Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Nina Hagen (Cha Cha), along 1978’s with Reggae in Babylon centered on the career of English reggae pioneers Steel Pulse. Büld made his narrative, dramatic debut with the German language (dubbed into English) film debut of Nena (of “99 Luftballoons” fame) in Gib Gas – Ich will Spaß! (Hangin’ Out).

2. The Punk Rock Movie (1978)

And you thought the footage featured in Punk In London was rough . . . the grainy, shaky images and muddy sound of this debut film by British punk scenester and club DJ Don Letts makes Büld’s works look like award winners . . . but we thank Letts for gearing up that Super-8 camera to chronicle those 100 glorious days in 1977 when Neal Street’s fashionable disco The Roxy booked punk bands in the venue where Letts spun records.

The live acts and backstage interviews include Alternative TV, the Clash, Generation X (Billy Idol), Eater, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Slaughter and the Dogs, the Slits, Subway Sect, and X-Ray Spex. So, regardless of its home movie quality, the film serves as a vital document of London’s then burgeoning punk rock scene.

Letts went onto form Big Audio Dynamite with Mick Jones (after his firing from the Clash) and directed a number of short-form music videos (the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah”) and long-form TV and DVD documentaries, such as 2005’s Punk: Attitude (Euro TV/U.S. DVD) and Westway to the World, his 2003 Grammy Award-winning documentary on the Clash.

The Punk Rock Movie is available on a few VOD streaming platforms, such as Amazon Prime (region dependent), but there’s a VHS rip available on You Tube. You can review the film’s full track listing on Discogs.

Intermission: Punktoons!

. . . And Back to the Show!

3. D.O.A (1980)

London-born Polish documentarian Lech Kowalski’s feature film debut (he made a few shorts and TV films) centers around the 16-mm footage he shot during the Sex Pistols’ 1978 seven-city club ‘n’ bars tour of the United States — their only U.S tour — that ended with the band’s demise. The behind-the-scenes interview footage features the now infamous “John and Yoko” bed-inspired interview of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (You Tube). To fill out the short running time, Kowalski cut in performances and interviews with Iggy Pop, along with the Clash, the Dead Boys, Generation X, the Rich Kids (featuring ex-Pistols bassist Glen Matlock), Sham 69, and X-Ray Spex.

Lech’s other rock documents are 2002’s Hey! Is Dee Dee Home, about the life and times of Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone (1952-2002), and 1999’s Born to Loose: The Last Rock ‘n Roll Movie, concerned with the life and career of Johnny Thunders (1952-1991) of the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers (the second, at one time featured, Richard Hell from Blank Generation). Meanwhile, footage from D.O.A appeared in Julien Temple’s 2000 Sex Pistols document The Filth and the Fury (which I went to see in a U.S art house theatre setting).

This one’s not streaming as VOD, but we found two VHS rips on You Tube HERE and HERE to enjoy. You can view the full track listing of the film on Discogs.

4. Urgh! A Music War (1981)

. . . And we saved the best-produced documentary for last: this one dispenses with the backstage tomfoolery and goes right to the stage with professionally-shot footage compiled from a variety of 1980-era shows held in England, France, and the United States. And there’s a couple of reasons why the Police spearhead Urgh! A Music War: Not only were they the most commercially radio-successful “new wave” band of the groups featured; Derek Burbidge, the director, helmed several videos (the famous “Roxanne”) for the Police (he also did Gary Numan’s “Cars”), while Miles Copeland, the brother of the Police’s drummer, Stewart Copeland, managed the Police and operated IRS Records, which produced the film. The film briefly appeared in U.S. theatres via Filmways Pictures (seen it in an art house theatre, natch), but gained its cult status due to its frequent airings on HBO and the USA Network’s “Night Flight” video block.

Beginning in 2009, Warner Archive (the successor-in-interest to Lorimar Pictures, who co-produced with IRS) released an official DVD-R of the movie — burned on a made-to-order basis. As result, this one’s not available as a cable PPV or VOD online stream and the freebie You Tube and Vimeo rips don’t last long. However, searching “Urgh! A Music War” on You Tube populates numerous concert clips from the film. The bands you know in those clips are the mainstream MTV video bands the Police, Devo, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, Gary Numan, Oingo Boingo, Wall of Voodoo, X, and XTC. The lesser known bands featured — that some know and most don’t — include L.A.’s the Alley Cats, the Dead Kennedys (Terminal City Ricochet), Magazine (off-shoot of the Buzzcocks), the Fleshtones (Peter Zaremba hosted IRS: The Cutting Edge for MTV), Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, 999, Pere Ubu, the Surf Punks, and Toyah Wilcox (Breaking Glass).

You can view the film’s full track listing on Discogs while you listen to the soundtrack in its entirety on You Tube: Side A/B and Side C/D.

All images of the ’80s original issue VHS covers — the cover arts I remember when I rented them — are courtesy of Discogs.

* Be sure to join us for Sam’s “Drive-In Friday: Movie Punks” featurette.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

Penelope Spheeris may be best known for Wayne’s World, but her life and films are more than just one movie.

Until the age of seven, Spheeris grew up in a traveling carnival until her father was stabbed after intervening in a racial dispute. After his death, she grew up in California trailer parks with a succession of stepfathers, yet still graduated high school voted “most likely to succeed.”

Working at Denny’s and IHOP in Los Angeles — one wonders if she even encountered David Lynch — she put herself through UCLA and started her career producing short films with Albert Brooks, several of which aired during the first few seasons of Saturday Night Live.

Between DudesSuburbia and two of the Decline films, Spheeris has shown her understanding of punk even as she lays bare some of the sillier moments of the kids caught up in its wake. The decline of Western civilization could mean many things here. It could be a reference to Lester Bangs’ review of The Stooges’ Fun House, where a friend remarked that this album had to be the signal of the end of it all. Or it could be a reference to Germs singer Darby Crash Darby reading Oswald Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West).

The bands within this movie — as well as the punk rock fans — gave Spheeris some amazing access to their lives, warts and all. While some bands like Alice Bag Band and Catholic Discipline may not be well known, X, the aforementioned Germs, Fear, the Circle Jerks and Black Flag should be recognized by anyone, not just punk fans.

After the film was screened in Los Angeles, punk music fans got into so many fights and caused so much chaos that L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates wrote the filmmakers a letter asking them not to screen the film again.

This series of movies was only available in bootleg form for years. This was because of licensing issues for all the songs and Spheeris not wanting to go back and relive them. She didn’t need the money, but then she decide dthat she’d rather be remembered for these films than her more commerical work.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi. There’s also the official site which has press clippings and more info on the films.

REPOST: Demonoid (1981)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This originally ran on the site on January 1, 2019. I love this movie so much and hope that it convinces you to check it out.

My wife wants to go away on a fancy vacation. While horror films have forever enriched my life, they’ve also damaged her chances of going anywhere. The tropics? Have you seen Zombi? A resort like Sandals? I assume that Laura Gemser will show up and I’ll be boiled in a pot. And now, thanks to this movie, we can also cross Mexico off the list.

As much as horror may have curtailed my partner’s opportunity to globetrot, it’s also imparted several important lessons to me. To wit: if your mine is over a Satanic temple where left hands were severed to honor demons and every single worker refuses to go any deeper, perhaps it’s time to find a new mine. And if by chance you discover a miniature coffin with a hand inside it, just leave it where you found it. Don’t take it back to your hotel room. This is why I’ve made it forty-six years on this Earth without being possessed or dealing with a face-melting cult in the desert.

My true joy in the movie Demonoid comes from reading the review that it received when it was released in 1981 and laughing in their prose faces. How can anyone dislike a movie where a possessed man decides that old school Las Vegas is the best place to hide out? Who can dismiss a film where Samantha Eggar obviously dressed herself in some of the most astounding fashions that the early 80’s could unleash? The woman wears an ascot and oversized orange counter to explore a mine (let’s be fair, every outfit she wears in this movie are a paradox, somehow both gorgeous and ridiculous at the same time). And damn anyone who speaks ill of Stuart Whitman! This former boxer and soldier had already played Jim Jones — I’m sorry, James Johnson — in Guyana: Crime of the Century, released less than a year after that tragedy? Here, he plays a battling Catholic priest who we just know could win over Ms. Eggar if he didn’t have that pesky collar and angel on his shoulder to worry about.

Maybe they weren’t watching the Mexican cut (Macabra!), which has more dialogue, more death and a different ending? Look, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. And most of those critics, they never got pleased all that much anyways. Demonoid is worth the whole lot of them. Would they dare to feature an ending so downbeat after 98 minutes of rooting for our British heroine? I dare say no. They’d be afraid to insert so many flashing shots of a demon raising his fist, they’d be too concerned about a soundtrack that practically screams in your face and they’d sooner hide behind their film theory books than make a movie in 1981 that feels like it came from 1974.

Demonoid is why I watch movies. Samantha Eggar screaming at the top of her lungs while a mine explodes all around her? There. An appearance by Haji, she of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Bigfoot, Supervixens and the wonderfully titled Wam Bam Thank You Spaceman(whose real name Barbarella Catton wasn’t sexy enough for a stage name)? You got me. Overacting in nearly every scene? I’m riveted. A poster that promised nubile ladies reclining for a fallen angel carrying a gigantic sword? I might have piddled a little.

Keep your Oscar picks and guilty pleasures. I have no such taste or qualms. Give me Demonoid or give me a severed left hand!

This article originally appeared in Drive-In Asylum #13, which you can get right here!

Stripes (1981)

On his way to the premiere of Meatballs, Ivan Reitman got a great idea: Cheech and Chong join the army. He pitched it to Paramount Pictures and they greenlit the film instantly. The stoner duo’s manager loved the movie, but they wanted full creative control. That’s when Reitman got another great idea. He decided to revise the script for Bill Murray and Harold Ramis.

Within a few hours, John Winger (Murray) loses his job, his apartment, his car and his girlfriend. So he does what anyone else would do. He talks his friend Russell (Ramis) into joining the army.

After getting treated like, well, rookies by Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates) and angering Captain Stillman (John Larroquette), our men at least get some romance from MPs Louise Cooper and Stella Hansen (Sean Young and PJ Soles, who gets “the Aunt Jemima treatment,” a scene that Murray totally improved making her reaction genuine).

There’s a great cast here, with Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty and John Candy joining Ramis from SCTV, as well as Judge Reinhold and even a brief part for Bill Paxton. John Diehl is also pretty awesome as Cruiser.

By the way, that scene where John Candy gets his head shaved? He had no idea it was going to happen. That’s why he looks so depressed when he picks his hair up.