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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: Grapes Of Death (1978)

French director Jean Rollin is an acquired taste even for Euro-cult enthusiasts.  His projects are often disjointed and ill-conceived affairs improvised with no real shooting script, assuring them dubious distinction. However, discriminating film buffs such as yours truly will gladly tumble through the veritable briar patch to reach the occasional Elysian field.  Those moments, whether intended or accidental, are unusually sublime and transgressive, often elevating Rollin's films far above their shallow trappings.

In Grapes Of Death (aka Raisins de la Mort), Jean Rollin leaves behind his usual inclination for pale, languid, scantily clad bloodsuckers to try his steady hand at a zombie picture.  The result is easily one of his most accessible works and what some consider to be the first French gore film.  It offers exceptional atmosphere, genuine suspense, glops of goo and even a logical script (a rarity in Rollin's realm), for those of you into that sort of thing.

In the opening, an experimental pesticide is seen being sprayed on some crops and one worker becomes violently ill due to inhalation.  He boards a train and ends up sharing a coach with a young woman named Elizabeth, on her way to the south of France to reunite with her lover.  Before she arrives at her destination however, the sickly man changes into a pus-oozing maniac and attempts to violently assault her.  She escapes off the train car into the remote countryside, only to find the strange affliction has infested the entire region, making its victims apparently ravenous for human flesh.

Along her journey she encounters people in different states of the sickness, leading the distressed damsel to conceivable peril at nearly every turn.  First stumbling upon a family just giving over to the change and barely making it out alive; then crossing paths with a disoriented blind woman exiled from her village (an early precursor to The Beyond's striking 'Emily' character, if you ask me) whom Elizabeth agrees to help back home.  Unfortunately, they get a shocking 'heads up' as to the dire extent of the outbreak upon their arrival.  Quite literally, in fact.

Her luck finally changes when she meets two beer-guzzling laborers (beer being key) who eventually determine that the outbreak can likely be traced to a recent grape harvest.  Now knowing the cause, but not the cure, Elizabeth embarks on the final leg of her detour of dread.  Ultimately, what she finds will never be blunted by a fine bottle of Chianti, let me tell you.

If one aspect of a Jean Rollin film can always be appreciated, it’s his impressive camerawork. Unusually beautiful and moody locations, careful tracking shots and hyper surreal sequences tend to be his norm.  One of Grapes Of Death's true strengths is its pastoral setting; the ruined French countryside and its strange rock formations lend strongly to the story's sense of alienism and decay. (Much like Jorge Grau’s seminal Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, which shares certain sensibilities.)

Rollin's zombies are definitely an unusual breed from the era.  They are capable of conscious thought even in their madness, making their plight even more tragic than George Romero's own relatable revenants. Garish colors are used for the boils, lesions and various skin abnormalities that decorate the diseased denizens giving them a most bizarre appearance.  Several impressive set pieces are used to great effect and the blood runs almost as freely as…well, wine. (shut up)  The strong environmental subtext running through the film is as relevant as ever, too, making it all one fantastic bit of alleGORY.

At times Grapes Of Death does meander as slowly as a dead man walking, but the curious stops along the way make the trip all the more hypnotic.  Minimal dialogue adds to this composition of decomposition, adding to the already dreamlike quality.  And for you miscreants in the audience, 70's porn star and Rollin-muse Brigitte Lahaie is given yet another opportunity to expose her comely assets in a coincidental role that is as mysteriously effective as it is nonsensical.

If you are new to the Jean Rollin aesthetic then this is a fine place to start, especially considering its straight forward narrative.  Awash in the weird (this is still a Rollin film after all), at times grotesque and visually impressive, it gives the zombie fan a distinct ‘raisin’ to cheer. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself again.)  Drink it in.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pure Guava promo 1992

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Next Pictorial, Next Movie

from Playboy, September 1980
in promotion of Cheech And Chong's Next Movie

(click pics for larger images)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review: Blood Freak (1972)

Thanksgiving.  A time of remembrance.  A time for family.  A time for friends.  A time for hearty meals.  A time to stay the hell away from the tainted turkey or you might end up like our subject in question.

If you have an insatiable appetite for the bad like I do, then you are in luck, because today I'll be serving up the half-baked goodness of Brad F. Grinter's Blood Freak; an anti-drug, pro-Christian splatter platter that has to be seen to be believed.  Produced on a shoestring budget, this cuckoo crusty has to be one of the most eccentric offerings to ever play the exploitation circuit.

"Some of my sister's friends are pretty far out."
This story is about a girl with a problem, we're told by a seated chain smoking narrator in the opening of the film.  Then he rambles on authoritatively about "catalysts" and a "person who brings about change".  We then cut to Herschell (script writer Steve Hawkes), a muscle bound vet who walks the straight and narrow with happening sideburns and a 50's greaser-style quiff that would make Elvis jealous.  He helps Bible-thumper Angel with a flat and then she takes him over to her sister's house.

"One little toke isn't going to hurt him."
Sister Anne plays yang to Angel's yin, as fate would have it; at the time entertaining a party full of stoned hippies and some nitrous-taking guests who look like they really belong in a bingo hall.  When a slutty blonde hits on him, Herschell refuses her advances, to which she spits back in contempt, "You're nothing but a dumb bastard who doesn't know where it's at anyway!"

One of Angel's church brethren offers him a job on a farm and sin-loving Anne decides to conspire with the requisite local sleazy dealer to get him hooked before 'saved'.  Aided by some prodding ("how can such a big hunk of a man be such a coward?"), a skinny bikini and a fat joint, she eventually coerces him into bed and her lascivious lifestyle.  His employer, meanwhile, decides to use unsuspecting Herschell as a guinea pig for his modified turkey experiment.  Soon the poor guy is seen puffing out Reefer Madness style and experiencing painful withdrawals from whatever crazy shit was in those birds that he ate.  Catalysts indeed.

"I'm not a coward."

Soon Herschell's drug cocktail and its effects cause him to become violent and things spiral out of control until he becomes a gobbling, bell bottom wearing, turkey-headed monster that kills addicts and feeds on their "junkie blood".  Hey, it could happen.  Anne is shocked ("gosh, you sure are ugly"), but he still must be a damn good cluck in the bedroom because she desperately attempts to stick to the roost and find a cure for her man's, uh, condition.

Some very strong Christian propaganda is worked into the narrative, which really takes the already bizarre enough proceedings completely over the top.  In fact, the air is so thick with heavenly pretension that one has to wonder if Blood Freak was intended to be shown at revivals.  This seems unlikely, however, considering all the fowl (sic) drugging and bloodletting that awkwardly transpires.

Our earnest narrator (director Grinter) also breaks dramatics sporadically to smoke more and drop cautionary speeches like, "the paths of life are predictable and we repeat them again and again. Ride on!" and "be careful what you pray for."  Just wait for his coughing fit though, that's the best.

Blood Freak is poorly composed and the acting is atrocious, but for fans of H.G. Lewis and the like it's full of win.  By the end we've borne witness to gratuitous pot use, junkies fixing, slit throats, screaming sound loops, bad edits, one feast of a dream sequence, one real decapitated turkey and one fake leg removal via table saw.  I think Anne sums it up best when she tells her friends, "It's so weird. It's like out of Star Trek, or the Twilight Zone!"  Blood Freak is definitely out there; you'll be wondering if it's you or the cast who's more in orbit by its resolution.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Remembrance Of Ingrid Pitt...

Ingrid Pitt was well known to Horror fans for her starring roles in
The Vampire Lovers, Countess Dracula, The House That Dripped Blood and The Wicker Man.
Her beauty, poise, elegance and grace, along with considerable acting chops,
assured her an undying popularity within the genre.
Also a screenwriter and novelist, in addition to running a Horror memorabilia
roadshow in the UK and USA, her enthusiasm and contributions will never be forgotten.

Goodnight, my Countess, may your spirit burn eternal.

(click pics for larger images)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: Don't Go Near The Park (1981)

Listen and take caution, my friends.  A bold disclaimer scrolls across the screen warning us, the hapless viewer, that Don't Go Near The Park is based on actual occurrences.  I’m sold immediately as the next scene reveals a caveman wearing flannel.  Then “16 years ago” a boy is seen fishing who suddenly gets attacked by an old man who rips his guts open.  The fiend greedily eats his entrails (what passes for FX brought to mind a refrain of “my insides have a first name, it’s O.S.C.A.R”) and then he awkwardly time-lapses back into youthfulness.  Rest assured, seems we are in for a doozie with this one!

Back in present day, we are introduced to what I will generously refer to as 'the plot'.  It seems that some 12,000 years ago, a brother and sister are cursed by their hagly mother for no other apparent reason than she’s just a bitter (and poorly make-upped) old bitch. They are sentenced to infernal damnation unless the brother can fertilize a willing virgin and surrender a daughter to sacrifice (by consuming her innards) when she turns 16.  If the doomed siblings can achieve this feat then they are awarded eternal life.  Ah, but of course.

In a series of disjointed, badly acted scenes we then see Linnea Quigley taking her first of what will be many cinematic showers; fall in love way too quickly with the ill-intentioned time traveling Neanderthal; give her precious flower to him; squeeze out a youngin’; and in the closest thing to a story arc, kick the daughter out after she grows tired of her cursed hubby showering her with all his affection.

Now here’s where things finally get interesting.  As 'Bondie' (Tamara Taylor) experiences life as a runaway, her chastity and her father’s fate both swing in the balance.  Lucky for her (and him) she wears a magical glowing amulet Daddy gave her which can apparently thwart rapists and obstruct brake pedals among other wonders.  Along her perilous travels she encounters two other young drifters (including an 8 year old who feels her up while sleeping, forcing her to exclaim “keep it in your pants, I’m sick of people trying to molest me.”) and we’re suddenly thrown into the dramatics of an after-school special sponsored by mescaline.  Not to even mention that whole 'Daddy's desire to consume his daughter before her cherry pops' subtext.  If there’s any higher power in the cosmos The Lifetime Channel will be optioning this shortly.

Think I’ve revealed too much?  Not even close.  We’re only about one-third of the way into this puppy and brother and sister still have more gut munching to do to preserve their youthful appearance; exploitation mainstay Aldo Ray enters the picture; we endure shaky-cam and flashbacks, pot smoking, creepy eye-patches, nightmares, dream sequences, transformations, splashes of gore, a stupefying zombie finale and all the bad acting, dialogue, editing, lighting, effects and soundwork you could ever ask for in a film about a park.  And I know you’ll never rest easy without discovering the fate of poor Bondie and her compatriots, either.  Absurd on so many levels that it becomes sublime, Don’t Go Near The Park is a “got to see it to believe it” offering that has Mystery Science Theater victim written all over it.  Kudos, Mr. Foldes.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Sunday Funnies

Mr. Natural & Flakey Foont in "A Gurl In Hotpants"
Robert Crumb 1971

(click images for larger pictures)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: I Drink Your Blood (1970)

"Let it be known that Satan was an acid-head!  Drink from his cup!  Pledge yourselves, and together we'll freak out!" exclaims Horace Bones in one of the most ham-fisted opening monologues in cinematic history.  Bones considers himself the first born son of Lucifer and leads a cult of ill-minded hippies in demonic sex, drug and sacrificial orgies.

When their van breaks down outside Valley Hill, a small town practically deserted due to a controversial dam development project, the hellish hedonists take up residence in an abandoned hotel and begin to harass the sparse locals.  They assault a young woman and soon after her veterinarian grandfather confronts the hooligans.  The old man is quickly beaten down by the group, ridiculed, dosed with LSD and sent on his merry way.

Now as it turns out, the only place for these "Sons and Daughters of Sados" to find sustenance is a bakery that caters to construction workers in the area.  Pete, the old man's grandchild, finds an opportunity to enact revenge on the bunch in the form of a rabid dog.  The boy shoots the canine, collects the tainted blood and injects it into meat pies sold to Bones and his minions.  All hell literally breaks loose as the contaminated crew fall victim to the virus and in their delirium give over to their bloodthirsty impulses.

To call I Drink Your Blood a humorous romp might seem misguided, but the balance of jolts and jests do keep things infectiously light-hearted.  For every shock thrown into the script there is an element of wild black humor as well.  Director David Durston's surprising segues between calamity and comedy give the film a giddy energy which keep the proceedings from ever feeling too unpleasant.  The absurd nature of the story exhibits both wit and charm and leaves plenty of room for excessive violence.

I Drink Your Blood's technical merits do leave it firmly in the exploitation realm for better or for worse.  Fans of the genre will undoubtedly find much amusement in the feature, however.  There's a healthy allotment of flesh, gore, over the top acting and spirited dialogue to securely capture the viewer's attention.

For a small budgeted production it's assembled and photographed favorably and the acting suits the mood perfectly.  Bhaskar's charismatic turn as Horace Bones is a wonder to behold and George Patterson's Rollo ("Satan was a black man!") elicits considerable weight as well.  Lynn Lowry (The Crazies) pretties up the cast as a mute (a part written for her exclusively) and renders one of the more harrowing images in the picture.  The weakest link in dramatics is Riley Mills as precocious and vindictive Pete; his smugness and awkward line readings hamper the otherwise earnest performances, giving the film an unwanted contentious air.  You'll be begging for Pete's disposal before the end of it, trust me.

David Durston's sensational film also managed to break some ratings boundaries, being the first to receive an 'X' based solely on its barbarity.  More importantly for entertainment's sake, by never taking itself too seriously, it becomes a triumph in comedic horror as well.

Overall, I Drink Your Blood stands out as an exemplary piece of early 70's shock cinema.  It also serves as a timely comment on the hidden violence in Small Town, USA.  The sensational aspects of the narrative exploit fears of youth culture, Satanism, LSD hysteria, and Manson-like cults.  Released only a month after Manson's sentencing, there can be no doubt this was an attempt to cash in on the media frenzy.  Check it out, the power of Satan compels thee!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em!

a twisted Paul and obviously blazed Linda McCartney

Keith Richards displaying the 'hand chillum' method

Jimi Hendrix back in the haze

 Stooges-era Iggy Pop getting skinny

 Bob Marley paying praise to Jah

 Phil Anselmo 'down' with the herb

Ozzy and some of his best buds

Fishbone's Angelo Moore getting horny with it

 Sublime bussin' on the choice nugs

 Stone Age rocker Josh Homme blasting off