March 13, 2006

Disturbing Images and Pleasant Surprises

Suncoast Video's parent company filed for bankruptcy, so the company buying the chain is closing many of the stores, including the one closest to me. The last time I stopped by, they were in the middle of a huge clearance sale. I hadn't planned on getting anything, but walked out with a few items at a terrific price.

One of those items was a five-pack of oldies grouped under the title "Vampire Collection, Volume 2". One big selling point for this batch was that each film was international: one from Canada, one from Italy/Spain, one from Germany/Spain, and a pair of USA/Philippine offerings. So let's take a look at each of them, shall we? (in the extended entry).

The Thirsty Dead

Here's the blurb on the box:

Beautiful young girls are being kidnapped off the streets of Manila by a death cult that needs their blood in order to remain immortal. This film is violent, full of nudity and a favorite of hardcore horror fans.

That sounds like an interesting variation on the vampire theme, and you can't go wrong with nudity and violence, eh?

I really want to hate this movie, because the synopsis is a crock of shit. Despite the fact that the violence is almost non-existant and "full of nudity" translates into zero nudity, I liked the film anyway.

"The Heroine, played by Meredith Baxter Birney's ugly brother in drag, is about as stupid as a bag of hammers." - IMDB Reviewer

Four ladies are kidnapped one by one by guys who look like Buddhist monks. They're taken under the city and loaded into a canoe which the monks paddle deep into the jungle. White slavery is mentioned a few times, but instead, it comes out that they're being held by an ancient jungle tribe that has found the secret of imortality and worships a talking decapitated head encased in a block of cherry jello.

These tribespeople are all young and beautiful and spend their days doing arts and crafts and being gentle and dressing in fashionable pastels. The Buddhist looking guys are their hired guards and dress like sumo wrestlers so you can tell them apart. The kidnapped girls all get makeshift bikinis to wear. The "jungle" tribe also live in a maze of caves.

Anyway, the tribe stays young by drinking the blood of young ladies in an ancient ritual. One of the kidnapped ladies is invited to join the tribe because of some vague prophecy. She declines, which causes all sorts of problems. Escapes are made, the smartass character falls to her death into a pit of rats, and the hero sacrifices himself for his true love.

Sounds silly? You bet. Kind of dull too in spots, and the acting is pretty bad. Calling it horror is outrageously overstating the issue, but there's something oddly likable about the whole thing.

Disturbing Image: Buddhist monks flogging octagenarian women.
Pleasant Surprise: An appearance by Vic Diaz as a police inspector. You might remember him as the corrupt Vietnamese Colonel Trang in The Boys From Company C.

Blood Thirst

Whoohoo, a Vic Diaz double feature! He plays a cop again in this one, also set in the Philippines. And once again the "vampires" are not the traditional kind.

Young girls are being murdered in a most unusual way. When their bodies are found, they've been drained of blood through incisions cut into their forearms. The local police are mystified so the chief inspector (Vic!) asks his American friend, a world-renowned criminology expert (specializing in sex crimes, although there is nothing sexual about the murders other than the fact that all of the victims are young, pretty girls), to assist him in discovering who is behind the grisly murders. The American character is supposed to be James Bond-like, but he's just annoying, all the more so when every woman in the vicinity goes into heat whenever he acts like an ass.

This movie is confused about what it wants to be. History's goofiest monster makes a few appearances for no particular reason, which leads you to think it might be going for horror. But the majority of the movie plays strictly as a detective flick. For a while it's almost a romance movie, when the ingenue falls for the hard boiled dick (I always wanted to use that line).

A local nightclub figures prominently, as do ancient South American blood cult immortality rituals (deja vu) and a blond belly dancer. The appearance of the monster is completely pointless, although there are enough plot twists to keep you interested. Once again, the movie is more entertaining than it has any right to be. Still no nudity though, and the presence of Vic Diaz only partially makes up for that lack.

The Vampire Night Orgy

No Vic Diaz here, although we are treated to some very nice, if rather small, boobs (pleasant surprise!).

A group of people are together on a charter bus, heading for a town where they've been hired by an aristocratic family for their various domestic skills (gardener, lady's maid, tutor, chauffeur, and so on). The bus driver has a heart attack and dies, almost wrecking the bus in the process. Since it's late and everyone is shaken by the driver's death, they decide to turn off the road and spend the night in the nearby village rather than continue on to their destination.

The village is strangely silent and deserted. Not abandoned, just seemingly depopulated, as the group finds when they go into the village inn and find the bar well-stocked and the rooms made up and comfortable. They do find one other person at the inn, another traveler who has stopped for the night.

In the morning, all is normal again. The villagers are back, serving breakfast pastry to their guests and the mayor makes an appearance to explain that last night was a local festival held in the cemetary, explaining everyone's absence. When it comes time to leave, the bus won't start, and neither will the car of the other traveller. The group is invited to stay a few more days until the local "guy with the car" stops by, then he can go to another village with a mechanic and bring back help. They are all to be guests of "The Countess", who rules the area with a benevolent hand.

Now, pastry works for breakfast, but people expect meat for lunch and dinner. A big creepy guy with an axe goes into the smithy and tells one of the assistants, a cripple, that he's there "on behalf of the Countess", and after a brief struggle removes the guy's leg. He was a cripple anyway, so it's not like he's gonna miss it, right?

"This film is great fun for those horror fans that also like all-you-can-eat buffets." - from the box description of The Vampire Night Orgy

So the next scene shows the travellers digging in to great platters of meat for dinner. Yum! Later, there's more fun when someone finds a finger on their tray, and the immediate "damage control" performed by the mayor must be seen to be believed.

Cannibals aren't vampires though, so where do the vampires come in? Oh, everyone in the village is a vampire, and the Countess is the Queen of the gang. By day, the travellers munch on long pig and bitch about the extended stay (gratis, because not a one of them has money to pay for anything), and by night they get picked off one by one by the villager bloodsuckers. Eventually the guy with the car and boob girl manage to escape (barely!) and when they return the next day with the police, the village isn't there. The signpost is gone, and it appears on no maps of the area. Very mysterious.

So far, this movie collection is batting .1000, because this was an excellent offering for the genre. I purposely didn't talk about some of the subplots that really added to the scare-factor, including one accidental death that's among the creepiest scenes I've ever seen (disturbing image). Bon Apetit!

The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman

Originally realeased as La Noche de Walpurgis in 1971, this is one in a series of ten movies where the werewolf character Waldemar Daninsky is played by Paul Naschy, (the "actor" psuedonym for actor/writer/director Jacinto Molina, a legend in Spanish horror films).

Paul Naschy, aka Jacinto Molina

Yes, there are the usual plot inconsistancies and "huh?" moments here, and as is often the case, the dialogue translation is among the most frightening parts of the film. On the other hand, the lead actresses are truly beautiful and there are nice cleavage shots (but no outright naked boobs, dammit), and the overall atmosphere of the film is outstandingly moody. What almost sinks this film, at least the version on this DVD, is the crappy sound quality. I've run into it before, where everyone sounds like they're shouting their lines up from the bottom of a well, and it can really ruin a film watching experience. The fact that this movie can overcome this usually fatal flaw is a testament to it's strength. Is is a good movie? No, not really. But it is entertaining enough to keep your interest, and the plot is deep enough to make you think.

Plot? With a title like that? Ha! Yes, oh yes, there is plot enough for the long-time horror fan, and far more than the slasher-flick kiddie of today is used to. Truth be told, sometimes there is a little too much plot, and the movie slows down here and there while pointless little side stories get dealt with.

The storyline tells of two beautiful women who are trying to complete their university thesis (???) about ancient folklore. They travel into a remote region of Northern France to look for the tomb of the legendary Countess Wandessa, a black magic adept who also practiced vampirism to achieve immortality. She was supposedly temporarily killed when a special silver cross was thrust through her heart.

When the ladies get lost, they almost run out of gas before meeting up with Waldemar Daninsky. He tells them that he is a writer looking for solitude. Apparently he's had enough solitude though, because he invites the ladies to stay at his country place until the handyman ("the guy with the car") stops by in a few days, and then he can get them some gas.

A mentally unbalanced sister makes an appearance to stir up the situation, and there are definite clues that all is not as it seems. Fortunately (for the story, rather less fortunate for the characters), the old documents and notes that the ladies bring, combined with the ancient papers that Daninsky has, are enough to tell them exactly where the tomb of the Countess Wandessa is supposed to be located.

They find the tomb and for some reason beyond fathoming (no matter how much you shout "don't do it", you know she's going to), one of the ladies removes the silver crucifix from the body of the dead Countess. Mayhem ensues, caused by both the reanimated vampire queen and Daninsky's werewolf.

And thus comes the ethical dilemma. You see, Daninsky was looking for the cross because the only way his soul could find peace was to be stabbed through the heart with the crucifix by someone who truly loved him. He was planning on having his unstable sister do it, but she becomes one of the Countess' vampire groupies, as does the girl who originally removed the cross. He has no choice but to take the other girl into his confidence, which is ok because she's falling for him.

He's conflicted about setting the Countess free again, especially since her plans include nothing less than handing Satan total control of Earth in exchange for invincible immortality. He wants to find peace (translation: permanent dirt nap), but achieving that at the expense of everyone else on Earth makes the price too high, so he and his new girlfriend frantically search for the hiding place of the Countess before Walpurgis Night, which is when hell is (literally) to break loose.

The ending is only so-so, and once again the story slows down when it most needs to speed up towards the climax, but still, this was another winner.

Disturbing Image: There's plenty of bare chest shown, unfortunately it's mostly the muscular torso of the lead actor.
Pleasant Surprise: The better looking of the two scholars (IMHO) gets major screen time in a wispy nightgown. I can completely relate to the goth tendency towards sexy vampire grrrls.

Reverse the above headings if you're so inclined.

Oh yes, one last note. For God's sake, if a man of science ever nonchalantly scoffs at folk tales or superstition just before doing something to disprove same, run like hell. It might save your life.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

On the plus side, this Canadian offering has one of the best movie titles ever. On the down side, there isn't a vampire to be found in it since this is strictly a zombie movie. What the heck is it doing in this Vampire collection?

An early effort by Bob Clark, who went on to direct Porky's, A Christmas Story and Turk182! (among others you've probably heard of), this flick approaches greatness by going the way of zen: simplicity without being simplistic. The sets are basic, few, yet extememly memorable and well done. The atmosphere is dank and moody, and the character interaction rings true with a few glaring exceptions. The show is stolen by Orville, who doesn't have a single line and stays dead until almost the final scene.

Alan is the leader of a group of people out on a midnight excursion. Apparently he's the owner of a theatrical company, and everyone else are actors and/or stage crew. Alan is obnoxious as hell, dictatorial, abusive, unfunny and must be some sort of genius because every time one of the others shows the least sign or rebellion or resistance, his mere threat of kicking them out of the troupe causes them to backpedal and commence sucking up. The recurring rebel/threat/simpering fawning cycle gets old quickly.

One thing is certain though, Alan (and it's hard to over-emphasize what an asshole he is) has these people under his thumb. With Alan acting as tour guide, they make a late-night arrival at a secluded burial island. Part party, part "theatrical experience", part black-magic experiment, the entire group is obviously aware of the final plans and are, if not neccessarily active participants, at least willing to overlook a little grave robbing.

"Get out of the grave, Alan. Get out of the grave and let an artist show you how to call a curse down on Satan!." - Val, from Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

Alan selects a grave and the group quickly exhumes the coffin. After a little fun and games, they take the original occupant, Orville, to the caretaker's cottage. Once there, there are some more scenes of bickering, exploring, minor chills and major mockery of Orville's earthly remains. Eventually they get to the point of the whole evening, and Alan dons a robe and dabbles in a little amateur black magic over Orville, reading a reanimation spell from an ancient grimoire.

One of the actresses, Anya (Alan's real-life sister) is seemingly "in tune" with the spirit world and wigs out at the goings on, and here is where we get this movie's most disturbing image. Anya is growing more and more hysterical, and she falls to her knees in front of Orville's body, begging him for forgiveness for what they've done. It's chilling to watch as she sees and hears something none of us can, and the realization comes over her that they are not forgiven, and that revenge will be forthcoming. Truly frightening.

Still, nothing happens, as apparently it takes a while for the spell to take effect (but you know it's going to sooner or later). And when it does, it's all chaos and fun. These aren't terribly fearsome zombies, and the group are able to safely repel several attempts at gaining entry into the cottage. A nice touch is the fact that there are just enough zombies to prevent their escape back to the boat. They overwhelm with numbers and there are quite a few zombies, but the cemetary wasn't that large, so the place isn't wall-to-wall undead. It also adds to the fun that the living have nothing that will put a zombie down permanently. You can push or punch or kick and they're clumsy enough to fall, but without that head shot, well, they're just gonna get back up and come again.

This indie flick was created on a shoestring budget of just $50,000 dollars, and sometimes it shows. There isn't a lot of gore, and some of the special effects are pretty cheesy.

Few of the main characters are even remotely likable and it's hard to care when one dies, especially since they basically get what's coming to them. But the movie works, and partly it's because you realize that in a weird twist the zombies are kind of the good guys here and you find yourself urging Orville to come to life so he can kill that jerk Alan, preferably slowly. Orville displays the patience that the dead are famous for, but when his time comes he makes the most of it.

Fun little movie. Recommended.

Unlike another recent acquisition, a three-pack called The Fear Files, these five movies are long on story and quality (for B-movies) and short on gratuitous nudity. There's a place for both styles in my universe, and now, if you'll excuse me, I've a hankerin' for a tall glass of warm V8.

Posted by Ted at March 13, 2006 05:33 AM | TrackBack
Category: Cult Flicks

I ADORE "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things"!!!!

Posted by: BLUE at March 13, 2006 01:42 PM

Ted,if you got any Vamp chick vids I wanna borrow `em.

Posted by: Russ at March 13, 2006 11:30 PM
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