CURTIS HARRINGTON WEEK: Mata Hari (1985)

13 year old me didn’t care about any 80s starlet that you’d care to mention. I’d already discovered the forbidden fruit that was Eurosleaze and with it, probably one of its classier stars, Sylvia Kristel. You know who agreed with me? Well, at least in the theory that he could make money off of her? Menahem Golan of Cannon, who came up with this movie just for her.

Curtis Harrington directed and he wasn’t pleased with the end product, but this was Cannon. He didn’t have final cut. “I wish I could have been involved in preserving what I felt was the integrity of the film. There were moments I felt were unreasonably cut. I’m not entirely happy with the cut. But (the people at Cannon) don’t care what I think,” he said at the time.

Even as a teen watching this with no sound on Cinemax, I knew that it wasn’t historically accurate. It’s about a fictitious love triangle between Mata Hari and two officers, one French and one German, who end up on the opposite sides of World War I. Despite Mata Hari exposing a German plot, she’s still arrested as a double agent and executed, even though everyone knows that she’s innocent, which wasn’t what I was looking for at 1:47 AM on Cinemax After Dark, you know?

This movie was chopped up to avoid an X rating, Kristel was dubbed and she was deep in her addiction by this point. As much as I love Cannon, they were not the studio to make this, but had that ever stopped them before?

WATCH THE SERIES: Mr. Vampire

There are five Ricky Lau-directed Mr. Vampire movies — Mr. VampireMr. Vampire II, Mr. Vampire III, Mr. Vampire IV and Mr. Vampire 1992 (the only direct sequel) followed by several connected movies by other directors, such as Billy Chan and Leung Chung’s New Mr. Vampire (these first six movies will be the ones that we’ll be covering), Lam Ching-ying’s Vampire vs Vampire and Magic Cop (AKA Mr. Vampire 5), Chan’s Crazy Safari (also known as The Gods Must Be Crazy II), Andrew Lau’s The Ultimate Vampire, Wilson Tong’s The Musical Vampire, Wu Ma’s Exorcist Master, Wellson Chin’s The Era of Vampires and Juno Mak’s tribute to this series, Rigor Mortis. There are also two TV series: Vampire Expert and My Date with a Vampire.

All of these movies have the Chinese vampire in common. Called the jiangshi, these hopping corpses of Chinese folklore are as much zombies as they are vampires. They first appeared in Hong Kong cinema in Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind.

Mr. Vampire (1985)

Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying) is pretty much Dr. Strange by way of Taoist priesthood, as he keeps control over the spirits and vampires of China from his large home, which is protected by many talismans and amulets, staffed by his students Man-Choi (Ricky Hui) and Chau-sang (Chin Siu-ho).

Master Yam hires Kau to move the burial site of his father to ensure prosperity for his family. However, the body looks near perfect, showing that it may be a vampire. Taking it home, Kau instructs his students to write all over the coffin with enchanted ink. They forget to do the bottom of the coffin, which means that the vampire escapes and murders his rich son, turning him into a jiangshi.

Wai (Billy Lau) is a policeman who is sure that Kau is responsible (he also has a grudge because a girl (Moon Lee) he likes has eyes for Kau), so he arrests him even as the vampire begins killing others. Kau’s students are tested by a vampire’s boat and also a seductive spirit, but when Master Yam becomes a fully vampiric demon, only the help of another Taoist priest named Four-Eyes (Anthony Chan) can save the day.

Based on stories producer Hung heard from his mother, this movie nearly tripled its budget at the box office. Just a warning — not just Italian movies have real animal violence. There’s a moment where a real snake is sliced apart instead of a fake one due to budget. The snake was used to make soup, but there’s no report on whether the chicken whose throat was cut on screen was used as stock after.

Golden Harvest tried to make an American version — Demon Hunters — with Yuen Wah playing Master Kau and American actors Jack Scalia and Michele Phillips (taking over from Tonya Roberts) were in Hong Kong to film scenes, but the movie was stopped after just a few weeks.

Mr. Vampire 2 (1986)

This film is more about a vampire family than continuing the story of the first movie, despite being directed by Ricky Lau and bringing back female star Moon Lee and Lam Ching-ying.

Archaeologist Kwok Tun-Wong (Chung Fat) and his students have found not just one jiangshi but a mother, father and their son, all kept still because of the magical talismans on their foreheads. Intending to sell the boy on the black market — who would want a child hopping vampire is a question we may not be able to answer — the talismans are removed and Dr. Lam Ching-ying (yes, Lam Ching-ying used his real name for the role), his potential son-in-law Yen (Yuen Biao) and his daughter Gigi (Lee) must stop the plague of the vampires.

Mr. Vampire 3 (1987)

Uncle Ming (Richard Ng) isn’t a great Tao priest like Uncle Nine (Lam Ching-ying), but like an HK version of The Frighteners, he has help from two ghosts. Big and Small Pai. He comes to a small town where supernatural bandits are ruling the night, all led by the evil — I mean, with a name like this, she should be malificent — Devil Lady (Wong Yuk Waan).

This movie has a first for me — evil spirits trapped in wine jars and then friend in hot oil. This is definitely closer to the spirit of the original film, which made fans pretty happy. Also, a witch with a skull inside her hair and a Sammo Hung cameo as a waiter!

If you’re used to the pace of American movies, you may want to drink plenty of Red Bull or Bang before starting this one.

Mr. Vampire 4 (1988)

Four-eyed Taoist (Anthony Chan) and Buddhist Master Yat-yau (Wu Ma) are neighbors, but engaged in a sort of humorous war of words, pranks and ideologies with each other. As a convoy passes their homes — including a vampire that is soon hit with lightning and becomes super powerful — they must put aside their dislike and work together.

You may miss Lam Ching Ying, who for the first time isn’t the lead in a Mr. Vampire sequel. There’s nearly an hour, however, where the two leads try to destroy one another with not a hopping bloodsucker in sight. So while the stereotypical gay character isn’t fun at all, there’s still the knowledge you’ll gain, like eating garlic to defeat a curse.

Mr. Vampire 1992 (1992)

After three sequels, it’s finally time to make an actual sequel to Mr. Vampire, with Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying), Man-choi (Ricky Hui) and Chau-sang (Chin Siu-ho) all coming back.   What a wild story they’ve been brought back for, as the soul of an aborted fetus lives within a statue before seeking to take over the fetus that is growing within Mai Kei-lin (Wuki Kwan), the one-time love of Master Kau.

There’s also The General (Billy Lau), Mai Kei-lin’s husband, who is bit by his vampire father and seeks to escape his curse with the help of Kau.

Also — this is a comedy.

What’s most amazing — to me — is that I found my copy of this in my small Western Pennsylvania hometown, in the literal sticks, an all-region DVD that I can only assume came from a foreign exchange student at one of the local small colleges, as there were several other similar films. $1 later and my movie room has hopping vampires on the shelves.

New Mr. Vampire (1987)

Don’t confuse this New Mr Vampire with Mr. Vampire 1992. This installment was directed by Billy Chan and has Chung Fat and Huang Ha as rival brothers Master Chin and Master Wu, with Chin Siu-ho (playing Hsiao Hau Chien) and Lu Fang (known as Tai-Fa) as their disciples.

This is my least favorite of the jiangshi movies I’ve seen, except for the fact that the filmmakers seem intent on making John Carpenter pay for taking so many Hong Kong movie mythos for Big Trouble in Little China by outright stealing music from Halloween and Escape from New York.

Are you willing to take a journey into the world of Chinese vampires? Let us know what you find. Remember, if you get bit, just take a bath in rice milk, then grind down their fangs or drink their blood to heal yourself.

Sno-Line (1985)

Also known as Cocaine ConnectionTexas Snow-LineTexas Godfather and The Milkman, this movie comes straight out of Beaumont, Texas. Sure, some talent has been imported, like Vince Edwards (Dr. Ben Casey!) who plays the kind of, sort of hero Steve King (nobody in this is the good guy), Paul Smith (Pieces, Bluto from Popeye) as a local crime boss, Phil Foster (Frank DeFazio from Laverne and Shirley) and June “The Bosom” Wilkinson (The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, Macumba Love) in her first movie in 25 years.

A snow line is a connection for cocaine between multiple cities, here Houston to El Paso, and King is a New York lawyer who has spent a year growing his business in the Lone Star state. All the coke gets moved through a dairy, so when you get milk, you get snow. But the whole story is super slow and there’s nobody to root for. But yeah, director Douglas F. O’Neons did his one and done movie here, working from a script by Robert Hilliard, who also wrote Valentine Magic on Love IslandVasectomy: A Delicate Matter and shows up as an actor in Keaton’s Cop.

I mean, the poster is a million times better than the movie, but Paul Smith does go nuts and kill a gator, which is pretty much the high point of like ten movies, right?

You can watch this on YouTube.

JOE D’AMATO WEEK: L’alcova (1985)

Ugo Moretti wrote the Carroll Baker giallo Paranoia AKA Orgasmo and for that, we should be thankful. This is another of his scripts — based on The Alcove by Judith Wexley* — which is the story of Elio De Silveris (Al Cliver), a war veteran, who returns from the Second Abyssinian War with a prisoner of war. That POW, Zerbal, ends up being Laura Gemser and you know exactly where a Gemser and D’Amato movie is going.

While the master of the house was in combat, his wife Alessandra (Lilli Carati, Escape from Women’s Prison) had an affair with Elio’s secretary Wilma (Annie Belle, who dated Cliver from 1975 to 1978; she’s also in House On the End of the Park and Absurd). Now that he’s back home working on his book, Mrs. Elio is getting with the African princess and who can blame her?

There’s also Elio’s son and a gardner who are part of the coupling and decoupling in the house, which soon becomes a place of jealousy and then Elio gets the bright idea that he should start making adult movies — in 1937! — and soon there’s a power struggle for who really is in control. And then Zerbal enacts a ritual to prove once and for all who really is the master in this whole love square. Or hexagon. Or man, who knows, it’s a lot of people.

When D’Amato is making an adult film that works, it really works. This is one of those, a movie where the story is just as important as all the horizontal moments.

*Much like most of the quotes in Fulci movies and the Necronomicon, this book does not exist.

JOE D’AMATO WEEK: The Pleasure (1985)

Oh man, this movie. You know, Joe D’Amato did a lot of adult-themed movies but he did them because — well, up until it was straight porn — he knew how to do them right. And weird, too.

Gerard (Gabriel Tinti) mourns the death of his mistress Leonora (Andrea Guzon), who has left behind tape recordings of their lovemaking, which he listens to as he records his memoirs, bringing back memories of meeting her in the midst of acarnivall and taking her in public and then inside an opium den alongside the exotic Haunani (who else but Laura Gemser?).

Now, as he readies her body for burial, he must raise her children Ursula (also Gurzon) and Edmund (Marco Mattioli), whose constant nervous outbursts about class-related issues can only be calmed by allowing him to nurse on a woman’s breast, even his sister’s, because hey Joe D’Amato directed this.

Also — Ursula is sexually obsessed with the older man and listens to the audiotapes to the point that she re-records them in her own voice and even threatens to auction herself off the highest bidder, meaning that Gerard must face off with uncaring police and fascist military types to keep her modesty. And she’s working in the same house of ill repute that her mother worked in, which is run by Rosa (Dagmar Lassander).

Lili Carati also appears as Gerard’s roommate and occasional lover and the lover of Edmund for a time. Carati was a model turned actress who was in To Be TwentyEscape from Women’s PrisonL’alcovaChristina and played the Occultist in Violent Shit: The Movie, which was dedicated to her as she died before it was released.

D’Amato used his real name — Aristide Massaccesi — as his cinematogapher credit for this film. It looks gorgeous, with a dreamy close that echoes the first scene of the film. D’Amato often gets discussed as someone who didn’t care about the movies that he was making. One look at this movie — which also echoes his other major success Buio Omega — and you’ll know that he did have his heart in this movie.

JOE D’AMATO WEEK: Zombie 5: Killing Birds (1985)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally talked about this somewhat of a sequel to Zombie back on January 8, 2020. You can get this from Vinegar Syndrome or watch it on Tubi. We featured this on our weekly video show, there’s even a cocktail to go with this movie after the words!

Fred Brown comes home from the Vietnam war, finds his wife in bed with a new lover, and goes wild, killing her and both of his parents. As he cleans off his knife, a falcon tears out his left eye and blinds him in the other before he says goodbye to the son he’s spared. Also: it’s the same house from The Beyond!

That’s just the beginning of this film, a movie that I can’t even begin to piece together. Most importantly, I question why Robert Vaughn would have signed on for it. Did he need money this badly?

But don’t get me wrong. This is a 1980’s Filmirage movie with controversy at the heart of who created it. That means that no matter what, I’m going to love it.

There are three different people who could have directed this movie.

Aristide Massaccesi, who you probably would know best as Joe D’Amoto. Most of the crew members believe that he was the director. In an interview in the book Spaghetti Nightmares, he said, “It seemed to me that the most sensible thing was to give the job of directing the dialogues to Michele Soavi’s assistant, Claudio Lattanzi, while I took care of the special effects scenes. In the end, I let Lattanzi sign as the director.” He was also the cinematographer of this movie under his alias Fred Sloniscko, Jr.

Claudio Lattanzi, who assisted Soavi on his documentary film Dario Argento’s World of Horror and was an assistant on his film Stage Fright. D’Amoto, who also produced the latter, offered Lattanzi a chance to direct Killing Birds when Soavi turned down the film as he was about to make The Church with Argento.

The controversy doesn’t stop there, as even who wrote this movie is under suspicion.

Over Christmas of 1986, Claudio Lattanzi wrote a story called Il Cancello Obsoleto about a record producer who invites a rock band to a deserted house to record a tune, without knowing that Nazi soldiers are buried there. This sounds like a combination of Sodoma’s Ghost — which wouldn’t come out until 1988 — and 1989’s Paganini Horror.

D’Amoto asked him to replace the rock band and the Nazis with killer birds, wanting to call the movie Talons. However, Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi claim that the movie was based on their script Artigli, which means…Talons.

The truth is probably that D’Amoto didn’t want his name in too many places, so he just did what he always did — just about everything and either gave people credit or used one of his many names to cover the rest.

Anyways…

Twenty years later, a small group of college seniors, Steve Porter, Mary (Leslie Cumming, Witchery), Paul, Anne (Tara Wendel, who is also in Ghosthouse and Tenebre), Rob, Jennifer (Lin Gathright, who is also in D’Amoto’s Eleven Days, Eleven Nights, Part 2) and a local cop, Brian, are looking for the green billed woodpecker, a rare species which went extinct four years after this movie.

Fred Brown, that man who went wild on his family, gives them plenty of info and they use his old home as a base, but find nothing but a rotting corpse. But then all sorts of even stranger things — odder than a corpse in a truck — happen.

That’s when the kids start dying left and right, like a zombie beating Jennifer to death, Brian being burnt to death, Mary getting killed by a zombie, Rob getting choked by getting his necklace caught in a generator and another zombie getting Paul.

It turns out that Steve is Brown’s son from all those years ago and the dad tells them that the zombies only killed those who were afraid of them. Well, yeah. They’re zombies. Finally, he tells them to leave and we hear him scream. That’s the end!

Charitably, this film is a mess yet I loved nearly every single frame of it. It’s pointless and confusing and even its titles don’t line up, because it’s called Killing Birds–Zombi 5 in Italy and Zombie Flesheaters 4 in the UK.

God bless you, Joe D’Amoto.

BONUS: Here’s the drink!

Zombi Bird

  • .75 oz. Kraken
  • .75 oz. secondary rum of your choice
  • .5 oz. 99 Bananas
  • .5 oz. lime juice
  • 1.5 oz. pineapple juice
  • 1.5 oz. orange juice
  • 1 tsp. grenadine
  • Dash of orange bitters
  • Maraschino cherry
  • Mint
  1. Combine Kraken, rum, 99 bananas and juices in a shaker filled with ice.
  2. Pour into a glass, then drip in bitters, cherry and finally grenadine to watch the color turn red. Garnish with mint.

Manchurian Avenger (1985)

When in Denver (Fairplay, Colorado), you might as well review another of that city’s homegrown films — more so when you review The Spirits of Jupiter and that film’s James Aerni, who got a VHS marquee position as that film’s crazed sheriff — appears, in his second and final film.

Explosive? Thrills? Not the film I watched.

First, before we get to the Charles Bronson lookalike on the cover, let’s clear up the title: It’s not a rip on the Frank Sinatra-starring Manchurian Candidate (1962), a film which deals with a person, especially a politician, used as a puppet (aka assassin) by an enemy power. The title refers to a geographically overlap of Russia and Northeast China — the homeland of our hero.

Okay. That’s settled. Now for the Charles Bronson question: that’s Asian lookalike Bobby Kim.

Kim — and not the Centennial State or James Aerni, both which brought us here in the first place — is the real selling point: for we loved Kim for years from his work in his best known and U.S. successful film, Kill the Ninja (1984). And we also get Bill “Superfoot” Wallace — who debuted in A Force of One (1979) with Chuck Norris, as well as Killpoint (1984) with Leo Fong. As for the rest of the cast: So it goes with most of the SOV and 16-to-35mm blow ups out of Denver: we’re dealing with a gaggle of one-and-gone thespian and auteurs: this time with director Ed Warnick and QWERTY warrior Timothy Stephenson. Eh, what else would you expect from a film first screened locally in 1982 . . . that finally received mass (well, not that mass) distribution via VHS, two years after the fact.

So, when you have the world’s premier Tae Kwon Do master in Kim, and a full-contact world champion in Wallace, what’s not to likey, here?

Well, everything: for it all stinks like those rotted, wet market pangolin carasses that caused the COVID outbreak.

Yeah, this ain’t no Killpoint or a Ron Marchini-Leo Fong joint like Murder in the Orient (1974). But the proceedings sure to have that “kung-fu western” déjà vu stank of the Jackie Chan two-fer of Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights — only with none of the charms . . . or acting . . . or action . . . or everything else. And there’s nothing here to warrant an R-rating.

So Joe (Bobby Kim) returns to Colorado after many years to help the man who raised him. That upbringing is the result of the gang murder of Joe’s father, years ago: a murder tied to a lost cache of gold. Now, with his step-dad/guardian murdered, Joe teams with his sister and his fellow, ass-kicking brother to bring the gang to justice — and find the gold. Diego, the main villain’s henchman, of course, joins forces with Joe (hey, just like in Murder in the Orient), after Joe throwing-star decapitates a snake ready to strike Diego.

On the upside, regardless of the film’s discipline failures: Bobby Kim freaks us out with the moves that we came to see. And the supernatural villainy is pretty decent: because, as in any Asian arts films, humans from the Far East have the ability to control the wind and summon afterworld warriors (hey, like in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China).

Ugh, but it’s not enough.

There’s way too many budgetary wide-shots with no reverses, mediums, close ups, etc., which is utterly frustrating. The dubbing is out-of-sync. The racism is out-of-another-time ugly-offensive — even if we are in the old Colorado Wild West. The Mexican accents are worse than the Asian-to-English dubbing. And outside of Kim and Wallace, the thespin’ is tragic and the action is clumsy. So, yes, you’re hitting the big red fast forward button, and backing up, when you see a hit of ass-kicking, a(super)foot.

I dig Bobby Kim. And Kill the Ninja is my ’80s nostalgia, martial arts classic. But this Rocky Mountain Low is a gulch you need to pass as you head on up to Chen Lee’s spaghetti western/kung-fu hybrid with The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (1973) and The Return of Shanghai Joe (1975). At least both of those films have a real — and not a faux — Klaus Kinski thespin’ up the joint with class and style.

Man, that’s enough of this. This more digital ink than this deserves.

There’s no freebie streams, but this has been remastered-restored (?) to DVD, so Google on, brave QWERTY warrior, if ye must. There’s two more clips to sample HERE and HERE. You need more low-budget films made in Colorado? Then check out Mind Killer and Night Vision.

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

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN CLASSICS: Night Train to Terror (1985)

EDITOR’S NOTE: You know, someone else was supposed to write this and didn’t send anything, but we all know that I was fated to write about Night Train to Terror right?

I first shared my thoughts on this film on October 19, 2018 and in Drive-In Asylum #14 which you can buy right here.

This version combines elements of past articles, as well as the full reviews of the films within the movie. My dream is that Vinegar Syndrome releases a box set of this movie — they put out the original blu ray — along with all of the complete films and interviews with the surviving cast and crew. I’d be overjoyed to contribute to this set if it ever happens. This movie continues to obsess me.

I’m planning on a tentative Night Train to Terror zine at some point. Let me know if you’d be interested in reading it or contributing.

For better or worse, there’s never been another movie quite like Night Train to Terror. And how could there be? This isn’t just one movie — it’s three movies in one. None of these movies felt releasable on their own, so much like Spookies or Fright House, those three movies were all shoveled into one furnace, much like how coal powers the engine.

Unlike those films, which just jams the stories together, the stories here are linked by a framing sequence of a band that’s traveling through the night on, well, a night train to terror. All the while, God (Ferdy Mayne, last seen as Count von Krolock from The Fearless Vampire Killers, who felt this movie was so poor that he penned a letter to its director) and Satan (Tony Giorgio, who wasn’t just Bruno Tattaglia in The Godfather but the Playboy Club’s in-house gambling expert. He’s also the sheriff in another film that may possibly melt your mind, the Bigfoot-centric Cry Wilderness) are just a few cars down, debating whether or not the band will live to see their next destination. Meanwhile, the night porter makes faces at the camera years before single camera shows like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm made such mugging de rigueur.

Get to know the band. After all, you’re going to see them between each and every story as they repeat the chorus of the song over and over — and over — again. They only take breaks to ask if they can get some hamburgers and beer, only to learn that there’s no food on this train. And that some call it the Heavenly Express and some call it Satan’s Cannonball, but they do guarantee to deliver every passenger to its right “dest…tin…ation!” Obviously, neither of the things people call the train are as good as Night Train to Terror, but that’s a moot point.

To determine the fate of these breakdancing fools — seriously, being in a band with fifty people has to be the worst ever because you split the door money every which way — the Divine Creator and the First of the Fallen decide to watch three different stories, at least one of which was a totally unfinished movie. 

The Case of Harry BillingsJohn Phillip Law (an angel in Barbarella and forever in my heart Diabolik) has been manipulated into working for the spare body parts black market. You know how it goes, right? This story is packed with nonsensical jump cuts, unnecessary surgery, gratuitous nudity and Richard Moll, who wasn’t even there for most of the scenes, with a double playing most of his action scenes. You can tell because the second version of him has incredibly hairy arms. While this movie wasn’t finished before it was pulled into this film, it was later completed and released on VHS as Scream Your Head Off.

It was also released as Marilyn Alive Behind Bars nearly a decade later. Much like Terror, Sexo Y Brujeria, this movie was partially made years before and then finished a decade or more later. And you’ve seen it before. And the fact that this movie was actually finished makes me overjoyed beyond belief.

So even though this movie was already somewhat released twice — and shot twice, as there were nude and non-nude versions of some scenes — Carr decided to go back, grab Danger: Diabolik star John Philip Law despite the fact that he looks much older than he did in 1981 and make the movie that he always intended to film. For some reason, he also hired Francine York (Secret File: Hollywood) to play Marilyn Monroe. Or maybe she’s just a woman who has been driven mad and believes she’s Norma Jeane Mortenson.

In this longer version, Harry Billings was driving home with his new wife when he got sideswiped and she died, which leads to him sleeping barefoot on her grave. He tries to jump off a bridge on the very same road where this accident happened and gets brought to the asylum of Dr. Brewer and Otto (Richard Moll) to abduct women whose brains will be lobotomized. Some of this new movie is shot on video, some are from the original footage and it’s all strange because characters suddenly become a decade older or younger.

As messy as the chapter within Night Train to Terror is, the full-length story is even more deliriously insane, packed with continuity, time-lapse, sound quality, film to video and just plan weird errors. I also absolutely love that it exists and that it’s even stranger than I thought that it would be.

The Case of Gretta Connors: nice young girl used to work at the carnival. A man visits her booth and pays her to go out with him and before you know it, she’s a porn star. Again, that’s how life goes. 

One day, a college guy named Glen (Rick Barnes) sees the girl — Gretta — on a stag loop and falls in love, eventually finding her and starting a relationship, which leads her old Hollywood producer sugar daddy husband to bring him into a suicide club. This club has a baroness and a guy who looks and acts like Jimi Hendrix, all playing games like letting a giant claymation beetle fly around and sting one of them to death or lie in sleeping bags until a giant ball crushes one of them. Back to Jimi — he’s electrocuted as he yells song lyrics. 

Again, like the other stories in this film, there’s another long version of the film that has multiple titles: The Dark Side of Love, Carnival of Fools, Gretta or Death Wish Club.

The full film claims that it’s loosely based on Erskine Caldwell’s book Gretta, but this goes so many strange places that I really have no idea if that’s true.

Pre-med student Glen Marshall falls for Gretta (Meridith Haze, who is astounding in this movie and I wished she’d done more than just this role) the first time that he sees her in an adult film. However, she’s owned by George Youngmeyer, her Hollywood producer husband who bought her at the carnival.

The Bloody Pit of Horror believes that this character is pretty much writer Phillip Yordan, who may have never fallen out of love with Cat People actress Simone Simon and just treated the rest of his wives like Youngmeyer.

Now, if you’ll excuse us for a second and hold on to your valuables, the train is going to take a quick detour to explain Phillip Yordan.

Phillip Yordan is the listed writer on nearly a hundred movies, including DillingerDetective Story and Broken Lance, a movie he won the Best Original Story Oscar for, despite it being a remake of 1949’s House of Strangers and the fact that he allegedly didn’t write a single word of the actual script.

That’s correct. Some believe that many of the movies he wrote were actually a front for blacklisted writers, who still wanted to make films, giving Yordan all the credit and half the paycheck.

Yordan was literally a factory at one point, writing for nearly every studio even when he wasn’t supposed to because of pesky little things like contracts.

In the late 1950s, Yordan finally got caught. He mixed up two scripts, delivering a Fox script to Warner Brothers and vice versa. Seeing as how he had a deal at Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck threatened to get him blackballed at all the major studios. A few years later, his secretary would claim that she was the real writer of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond and things got so bad that Columbia demanded that he have an office on their lot where they could watch him write, guaranteeing that he was the author.

Despite these new rules and heightened surveillance, Yordan was still hustling scripts at other studios. He got caught again and forced to return his paycheck.

This time, he really was told you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.

Yordan then showed up in Spain, working for Samuel L. Bronston, using folks like Ray Bradbury, Ben Barzman, Arnaud D’Usseau, Julian Halevy and Bernard Gordon to write scripts. It’s pretty widely accepted that Gordon, not Yordan, wrote The Day of the Triffids, for example.

And yet…

By the mid 60s, Yordan was back in the good graces of Hollywood, a survivor working as a script doctor on movies like Horror Express — also a horror movie set on a train — and Psychomania. At the end of his life, he worked as an adjunct screenwriting instructor at San Diego State University and was writing scripts for movies like The UnholyMarilyn Alive and Behind Bars (which is also part of Night Train to Terror), Cataclysm (ditto), Cry Wilderness and this movie.

In an article by the FIlm Noir Foundation, “The Phillip Yordan Story,” there’s a very telling sentence: Yordan’s furtive 50-year history in Hollywood is reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors denouement in The Lady from Shanghai.

Back to Death Wish Club, which was the full story, and goes even deeper.

In the movie, when Glen finally tracks down Gretta, she thinks that she’s a fish and as such won’t leave her bathtub. To solve the issue, Youngmeyer asks Glen to visit, make love to her in front of him and then he’s allowed to take her home. However, he warns her that she’s in the fourth dimension and never explains what that means.

Our protagonist gets more than he bargained for as Gretta turns out to be the kind of sexual dynamo that he’s only read about in the letters pages of men’s magazines. She’s only happy when a man is making love to her. Otherwise, she’s selling your TV set, bringing in a piano and parading in front of your mother naked. She’s a fantasy woman for Glen but removed from the fantasy male gaze of pornography she remains trapped within the role of the fantasy male gaze pornography object which is perfect in ten-minute onanistic blasts — pun intended — but potentially exhausting in real life.

Greta is also turned on by the adrenaline that comes from putting herself in near-death situations, along with a club of others who have survived death. This coterie has some real maniacs, including Federico Libuse, Contessa Pacelli and Prince Flubutu, who we are led to believe is Jimi Hendrix.

After surviving the deadly sting of a claymation Tanzanian winged beetle, Glen decides that no sex is worth all of this. He tries to get back with his normal former girl and back to his normal life but she tells him that there’s no way that he can ever be free from Gretta.

There’s a new problem, though. Gretta has overdosed and is dead. Youngmeyer proves it by taking Glen to her funeral. Lost, our kind of, sort of heroic figure makes his way back to the club where he first saw her playing piano and it turns out that Gretta is still there, but now she has become a he and is now the piano playing noir tough guy Charlie White. She hasn’t left the suicide club either, which means that Glen gets pulled into a contest where they must all survive a homemade electric chair as well as being forced at gunpoint to get in a sleeping bag and be in the path of a deadly multi-ton wrecking ball.

So can our protagonist get the man he’s in love with to become the woman he’s alternatively afraid of and sexually attracted to again? Will he have to break into her wedding The Graduate style and do some kung fu? Why is Gretta glad that Chopin is dead?

Death Wish Club is an astounding piece of moviemaking. It’s very David Lynch without trying to be, which is the best kind of film, a movie that’s near occult-level weird because the people making it were all very damaged or just had no clue how humanity behaves because they came here from a parallel planet where this is how men meet women. It is the very definition of monkeys in a room banging something out and finding nirvana.

Let’s discuss the other Yordan in this.

If you’ve seen this movie, you’ve seen the band that appears between each segment, singing the song “Everybody but You.” The main singer and breakdancer is Byron Yordan, son of Phillip. He also appeared in the Mormon film that most of this same crew made, Savage Journey, as Brigham Young’s second son.

Of the other band members and dancers, only Melanie Montilla (Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo), Richard Sanford (a guest spot on Magnum P.I.), Dina Lee Russo (who sang “Let the Good Times Roll” on the soundtrack of the wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat), Angela Nicoletti (the ex-fiancee of Guns ‘n Roses rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin; she appears in the video for “Sweet Child O’Mine” and The Real McCoy, a documentary by Andy McCoy who was the lead guitarist of Hanoi Rocks) and Rick Arbuckle (who worked on the sound of plenty of cartoons like Rugrats and Rocko’s Modern Life).

What’s really amazing is that this song was written by Joe Turano, who just four years later was one of the singers for Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

The Case of Claire Hansen: A surgeon battles a demon who was once a Nazi who is also in conflict with a Holocaust survivor who is best friends with Cameron Mitchell. Additionally, the surgeon is married to Richard Moll — back again with a constantly changing hairstyle and color — who inexplicably was awarded the Nobel Prize for writing a book that proves that God is dead.

This story has it all, as it has a swinging disco, a magical black man who calls out our heroine for America’s history of racism, more claymation scenes in the place of practical special effects because claymation was the CGI of the past, an ex-priest named Papini who has a 666 tattoo and as much of a 90-minute movie as you can fit into 30.

The full version is The Nightmare Never Ends (alternatively known as Cataclysm and Satan’s Supper). It’s a much larger story than what ends up in Night Train to Terror.

That previously mentioned Nobel Prize-winning author is James Hansen (Richard Moll, who is in this movie twice, as we said before, but also seemingly had a deal to be in nearly every oddball early 80s horror movie like HouseEvilspeakMetalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-SynThe Sword and the Sorcerer and The Dungeonmaster) and his devoutly Catholic wife is Claire (Faith Clift, who was the wife at the time of Yordan and whose career is made up of films he had something to do with, like Horror ExpressCaptain Apache, Savage Journey and Cry Wilderness). As the movie begins, they’ve just arrived in Vegas to celebrate his new book and to hopefully escape her nightmares.

Oh yeah — James won Nobel Prize for writing a book that proved that God is dead. Now, he’s planning a TV special to tell the whole story to the whole world. In short, he’s preaching the bad news!.

In Vegas, who puts Claire into a trance and we learn what the real problem is.

Nazis.

That’s right. Every night she dreams of a handsome young officer who kills a room full of other officers and an all-female string orchestra. After the show, Claire invites the magician 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.

Meanwhile, Mr. Weiss (Marc Lawrence, another talent who was damaged by the blacklist instead of helped like Yordan; he also directed the incredible Pigs AKA The 13th Pig, Daddy’s Deadly Darling, Horror Farm, Daddy’s Girl, The Strange Exorcism of Lynn Hart, The Strange Love Exorcist and Roadside Torture Chamber) is an older gentleman who just so happens to have survived the Holocaust and suddenly sees the man who made his life hell at Auschwitz on a TV program about the New York Ballet.

That man is now the rich Olivier (Robert Bristol) and in case you didn’t put the two stories together, he’s the man inside 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 former priest named Papini (Maurice Grandmaison, who plays Brigham Young in Savage Journey and is, you knew it, also in Cry Wilderness) who is now homeless. He spends most of the movie trying to protect James and Claire, even telling her how to kill Olivier.

This is a movie that doesn’t miss any exploitation genre. You get Nazis, tough cops, disco and the occult and then Claire goes to visit a black spiritualist who unexpectedly goes off on a rant, pushing the film toward blaxploitation!

He nearly derails — sorry for the pun — the entire film by just how powerful his performance is, yelling at her: “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)!”

Meanwhile, Papini is killed by Ishtar, Olivier’s assistant who we have never seen before. This is the scene for the infamous foreign buyers as it’s the only nudity in the film and perhaps the main generator of blasphemy. This film is actually all blasphemy. If you’re in a metal band, you owe it to yourself to track it down and get samples.

Making this film even more deranged is the fact that nearly 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. Strangely enough, Moll used to date Lawrence’s daughter Toni, but when we asked her, she wasn’t sure if she had met the actor yet. I’d say probably not as this was only his second role.

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 none of it works, because the bad guy wins!

But wait — does this prove that God is alive?

Well, he’s on the train still!

Are you ready to hear the song one more time? Wouldn’t you just love to see the band die in a giant train disaster? Good news — you have your wish granted. Except God has taken their souls up to heaven as we see an animated train choo-chooing up the clouds, where the nameless band will forever sing their song, driving cherubim and seraphim crazy for eternity.

To say Night Train to Terror is a strange movie is to say that I am sort of interested in the films of Joe D’Amato.

How can you not love a movie where Satan is credited as being portrayed by Lu Sifer and God by Himself? That said, if you decide to buy a ticket on this train, prepare to never escape the song that plays throughout. I sometimes go for a few days free of its power and then I start laughing about one of the lines in it, start to sing it and it goes on for hours.

It’s also a movie with no less than five directors:

John Carr had a career that was tied to Yordan. While he wrote the first movies that he directed, like the western The Talisman, The Star MakerBuster Ladd and Fugitive Lovers, he also made Death Wish Club, Marilyn Alive Behind Bars/Scream Your Head OffToo Bad About Jack and Dead Girls Don’t Tango — along with “The Case of Harry Billings” and “The Case of Gretta Connors” in this film.

Phillip Marshak, who directed the “The Case of Claire Hansen” segment, started in Hollywood as an assistant for Jerry Lewis and opened Georgie Girl, which was one of the first gay bars in Los Angeles. He also directed several adult films, such as Dracula SucksNight FlightSpace VirginsIntimate Lessons, the bi-sexual western The Savages and Blue Ice, a porn film in which a detective digs up an ancient book with the power to turn any woman into a nymphomaniac that’s wanted by Nazis who survived World War II. He also, of course, directed Cataclysm, which is where “Claire” came from.

Tom McGowan, also credited as a director of the “Claire” chapter, wrote the Russ Meyer movie Cherry, Harry & Raquel! and also directed Savage Journey.

Gregg G. Tallas is also credited for directing parts of “Claire” and is the only person in this production who can claim to be a graduate of Stanislavski’s famous Art Theatre in Moscow. He also directed the Eurospy movies Espionage in Tangiers and Assignment Skybolt.

Jay Schlossberg-Cohen directed the actual “Night Train” segment as well as another movie that you can almost see as a continuation of the same cast and crew from this movie.

Cry WildernessA Bigfoot meets E.T. epic of pure maniacal weirdness, it was also written by Yordan and was directed by Schlossberg-Cohen. The origin of this movie is that Visto International Inc., a small theatrical motion picture production and distribution company, produced films in the early 80s magical era of cheaply made independent films.

After having some success with another Bigfoot movie in 1978 that made $4 million off a $150,000 budget (I can’t find any listing of what film that was, as Visto looks to have only made four movies), Visto hired Yordan to write a new bigfoot movie, but then asked him to cut out horror scenes and not have any violence, profanity or sex.

Yordan replied that this would make the movie be about nothing and they replied that that was exactly what they wanted.

It’s also what they got.

This is the kind of movie that demands that you be OK with the fact that Bigfoot can show up and visit young Paul Cooper and warn him that his father will die unless he leaves his fancy school behind and, well, cry wilderness.

It’s also a movie where seasoned outdoorsmen have no idea how to properly handle weapons, continually pointing them directly at people, planting the muzzle of rifles into dirt and even running with their fingers directly on the trigger.

There are also mystical Native Americans, a park ranger who never wears his uniform, raccoons who know how to knock on doors, a child who is obsessed with said raccoons to the point where he allows them to get in the kitchen sink and eat, a bad guy principal who is the worst Xerox of William Daniels ever, a school that’s cool with a student wearing a Bigfoot medallion as part of his uniform and moments where the film goes completely out of focus. Make those numerous moments.

Are you cool with seeing Bigfoot’s zipper? How much b roll footage is too much? And are you ready for earnest country rock and a movie that feels like it was made in 1978, not 1987?

How can you see these movies?

  • Night Train to TerrorTubi, Vinegar Syndrome (out of print)
  • Marilyn Alive Behind Bars: It was released on DVD but is out of print and not streaming
  • Scream Your Head Off: It was released on VHS but never DVD and is not streaming
  • Death Wish Club: Tubi, an extra on the Vinegar Syndrome Night Train to Terror blu ray
  • CatacylsmThis shows up on Mill Creek box sets and you can find it on YouTube
  • Cry Wildnerness: Tubi, the Netflix MST3K riffed version or a double DVD with In Search of Bigfoot from Vinegar Syndrome

Just remember:

“Daddy’s in the dining room,
Sortin’ through the news.
Mama’s at the shopping mall,
Buyin’ new shoes.
Everybody’s got something to do,
Everybody but you.

Come on and dance with me, dance with me
Everybody’s got something to do,
Everybody but you.

Sister’s on the telephone,
Gossipin’ again.
Junior’s at the arcade,
Smokin’ with his friends.
Everybody’s got something to do,
Everybody but you.”

Thanks to Mike Justice for his help on this article.

VINEGAR SYNDROME BLU RAY: Nothing Underneath/Too Beautiful to Die (1985/1988)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally featured Nothing Underneath and Too Beautiful to Die on June 17, 2020 and December 28, 2017. We’re beyond thrilled that Vinegar Syndrome is releasing these on an amazing double blu ray set, as we need more 80s giallo to come out in the U.S.! Here’s to someday getting Obsession: A Taste for Fear in the same format soon!

Vinegar Syndrome has amazingly released both of these films on a double disk set, making them look way more gorgeous than the battered bootlegs I’ve relied on for years. There are two commentary tracks for Nothing Underneath (The Hysteria Continues! and Rachael Nesbit) along with interviews with screenwriters Enrico Vanzina and Franco Ferrini, composer Pino Donaggio and actor Tom Schanley. Too Beautiful to Die has a commentary by Nesbit and an interview with writer/director Dario Piana, as well as storyboards for an alternate ending and deleted scenes.

Nothing Underneath (1985): I really like 1988’s Too Beautiful to Die, a movie that was sold as a sequel to this movie. They don’t have much to do with one another, but when has that ever stopped the Italian exploitation industry?

A serial killer roams the city of Milan, dispatching gorgeous models with the flash of his scissors. Meanwhile, Yellowstone Park ranger Bob Crane senses that his sister needs him, so he flies across the world to interact with the rich and famous. Can he save her? Will he be targeted by the killer? Will Donald Pleasence ever say no to a movie?

The first time I saw this, I didn’t like it all that much as the sequel is just so strong. But after some rewatches, I’ve come to appreciate it, as this is a movie that features the man who was Loomis eating a meal at the Wendy’s salad bar.

Too Beautiful to Die (1988): I came across this film on YouTube and had no idea what I’d be watching. I’d give it five minutes and then be done with it, I said. And then I realized that the film was nearly over and I’d been quite interested in the proceedings. Life’s funny like that.

Written and directed by Dario Piana, this sequel to Nothing Underneath is the only giallo I’ve seen that has both Huey Lewis and the News and Frankie Goes to Hollywood (you got close, Body Double) on the soundtrack. A major point of the film is that the models are trying to put together a video for Frankie’s “Warriors of the Wasteland!”

Let me see if I can summarize this one quickly for you. A fashion agency is shooting videos that feel very BDSM and feature really long, intricate daggers. Those models are all prostitutes, except for one, who won’t give in and have sex with an old man in a whirlpool, so everyone rapes and kills her. Her car goes off a cliff, but an autopsy proves that she was shot in the head first. That said — everyone who was there starts getting killed, one by one.

Some of the death scenes are really well shot and the murder weapon is quite insane looking. One of the murders, with a model falling off a large building into water, looks particularly good.

BONUS!

Sotto il vestito niente – L’ultima sfilata (2011): There’s a goofy part of me that loves Nothing Underneath and Too Beautiful to Die because they’re trying to keep the giallo alive in the sad dry years of the mid 80s before everyone realized that they could make money making Basic Instinct and Cinemax After Dark clones because hey, those movies are just giallo with less style and verve.

I have no idea want this other than me, much less greenlit it and gave them the kind of budget that let them shoot all over Europe, have a great look and even get Lady Gaga on the soundtrack. Then again, Too Beautiful had Huey Lewis and the News, Toto and Frankie Goes to Hollywood while Nothing Underneath had Murray Head and Gloria Gaynor, so there you go.

Rest in peace, Carlo Vanzina. You made two fashion gialli and they’re both ridiculous and I love them. Shout out to Dario Piana, who went from making Too Beautiful to directing The Death of Ian Stone and a Lost Boys direct to video sequel. Please come back to giallo and making another movie with a ridiculous sword weapon.

Even better, this was written by Franco Ferrini, whose Eyes of Crystal is a great latter day giallo, as well as The Stendhal SyndromeDial: HelpOperaPhenomena and Red Rings of Fear, speaking of a third film in a giallo trilogy that no one realizes is a trilogy. He was joined by Enrico Vanzina, who worked with him back on Nothing Underneath.

Anyways, let’s get to this one. The first big surprise is that Richard E. Grant is in this. He plays stylist Federico Marinoni, who is enjoying big success at the Milan Fashion Festival along with his partner Max Liverani and their top model Alexandra Larsson. But there ends up being a murder, the wrong people see the bodies and the intrigue begins.

This isn’t part of the Vinegar Syndrome release of the first two films, so I had to get a non-subbed version off a Russian site that had a Soviet translator screaming the dialogue over the Italian soundtrack, which is a very disorienting way to enjoy cinema.

ARROW BLU RAY RELEASE: Legend (1985)

This Ridley Scott movie has always stood out from his other work to me, as it’s quite literally a children’s story about the most archetypical battle between the good of Jack (Tom Cruise) and evil of the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry).

Much like how the original fairy tales were incredibly dark, this movie is filled with morbid imagery and a villain that may overwhelm viewers, making them love him more than the protagonist.

The death of the unicorn in this film is a moment that many 1980’s children will remember as quite possibly the end of said childhood. The true star of this movie remains Curry, who is absolutely incredible (as always). He spent five and a half hours a day just to get into the makeup, which then needed a full hour of bathing to remove all the adhesive. One day, Curry grew impatient and claustrophobic, removing the makeup and some of his own skin. He was off the film for a week to recover.

Interestingly enough, the European and director’s cut of this film don’t use Tangerine Dream, but instead feature music by Jerry Goldsmith. There was also a Bryan Ferry song, “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” that features Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and a music video for that as well.

If you look in n Meg Mucklebones’ swamp and when the unicorn is chained up, you can even stop Pazuzu from The Exorcist. Much like many of Scott’s early efforts like Blade Runner — and several other films on this list — this movie wasn’t considered a classic when it was released. But today? Today it certainly is. This Arrow Video limited edition blu ray has, well, everything you ever wanted to see about this movie, including the high definition 1080p versions of the U.S. theatrical cut (a new 2K restoration from original materials including a 4K scan of the original negative) and the director’s cut.

The U.S. version has commentary by Paul M. Sammon, author of Ridley Scott: The Making of His Movies, a reconstructed isolated score by Tangerine Dream, an isolated music and effects track, a featurette on the making of the film, a feature that compares the versions of the film, The Directors: Ridley Scott and the Bryan Ferry video “IIs Your Love Strong Enough?” The director’s cut has a Ridley Scott commentary, a documentary on the making of the movie, a promotional feature, alternate and deleted scenes, storyboards, screenplays, trailers, TV commercials and a stills gallery.

You also get an illustrated perfect-bound book with new writing by Nicholas Clement and Kat Ellinger, as well as archive materials including production notes and a 2002 interview with Charles de Lauzirika about the restoration of the director’s cut. Then there’s a large double-sided poster with newly commissioned artwork by Neil Davies and original theatrical artwork by John Alvin, glossy full-color portraits of the cast photographed by Annie Leibovitz, six double-sided postcard-sized lobby card reproductions and a reversible sleeve featuring the Davies and Alvin art.

If you love Legend, you need to get this set from MVD or Diabolik DVD.